IT’S NOT FINISHED YET, I SAID

When the muse looked in on me,
I suppose she was just being kind,
But I don’t like to see
Anyone reading my mind.

When the muse looked in on me,
My poem was almost done.
The purple clouds nearly covering
The marvelous, setting sun.

She smiled at the clouds,
She smiled at the sun.
Then she looked at me as if to ask,
Are you sure you’re almost done?

Is the sunset the way you want it?
Because I’ll change everything, for free.
It was something about the way she said it.
The poet wasn’t me.

NO BOOBS! VANITY FAIR, DECEMBER 2014, PART TWO

In the “Vanities” page of December’s issue, Diana Bang, a 33 year old unknown actress, is photographed in a white Gucci dress—she’s appearing in a new film with Seth Rogen and James Franco.

Also “Vanities” features this: “What your preferred greeting style says about you: Handshake, Hug, Kiss On the Cheek, Kiss on the Lips, Biting.” Of course no one prefers to do these things: custom is most of it, and secondly, it matters with whom, but it’s a whole lot more interesting if the focus—the essence of every Buzzfeed quiz—is on what “you” prefer. The “noted examples” add a touch of history: Handshake: Grant and Lee. Biting: Hughes and Plath. You at the center, with the famous all around. Intoxicating.

You are either famous, or contemplating the famous: what we know is not for any purpose; our knowledge merely shoots upward, like a rocket, into the atmosphere of fame and greatness, to never return. Or, if it does, it falls in our lap as a Gucci handbag.

“Fanfair and Fairground:” promotes envy in miniature: a half a dozen pages filled with holiday gift ideas in tiny photos (with prices) and nothing too small and inexpensive or too large and expensive is excluded: things the classy rich give to one another in a swirl of cigarette smoke and pine needle scent while sitting on big pillows on the veranda: oh we don’t know, we can hardly imagine it, we are not rich; but why should we indulge in this mockery and this envy? It is not fitting. These things are clever and beautiful; we should be pleased that the world has the time and knowledge to make these things; and the middle class can afford some of this.

It is difficult to fight off envy as we eye gift after gift we will never give or receive; it makes us ill to think of how much we will never have, of how many lovely things inhabit the world, of how impossible it is to grasp all that is good; it is why, we assume, that people reading these types of magazines always skim them, turning pages quickly and impatiently; to stop and truly examine, we would be overwhelmed. We would be stung by how really meager our existence is. Vanity Fair, thou hast shown me for who I am; thou hast blinded me; I am brought to my knees. Return me to my plain existence; don’t make me buy things I cannot afford. Don’t make me vain in vain.

New books!

Of such interest!

Tempting us with a title and one descriptive line! (Book review not needed!)

Biographies of the rich and famous!

Who are they, really?

Find out!

Find out!

Coffee table books!

This:

“David Rockwell revels in the emotional side of architecture…”

Oh God!

Stop!

The “emotional side of architecture!”

“…architecture, in the idea that buildings and parks, restaurants and hotels, museums and theaters, exist to stimulate our imaginations and, in the end, to make us happy. In What If...? The Architecture and Design of David Rockwell (Metropolis), he shows us how architecture—whether applied to a JetBlue terminal or a Nobu—is not so different from a stage set: it’s the special effects that make it work. Rockwell—whose firm is celebrating its 30th anniversary—is so good that he makes you wonder why everyone doesn’t admit that the secret ingredient of design is fantasy.”

Fantasy!

Why didn’t we think of that!

“Fanfair: Hot Type” gives way to “Fanfair: Private Lives,” even more horrifying:

“Growing up surrounded by beauty—between a farm in Scotland and Christmases with their grandparents (the previous Duke of Devonshire and his wife, ‘Debo’) at the 297-room family seat, Chatsworth—sisters Isabel and Stella Tennant have turned to gilding the objects around them.”

Well, of course they have!

“In 2012, supermodel Stella happened to notice some sample panels with gilded lines on weathered mahogany propped up in her sister’s kitchen and wanted to make them into a lamp. ‘Before I knew it, she’d had oak bases made by a local carpenter,’ recalls Isabel, who studied decorative arts before becoming a gilder.”

Are you getting this? “Supermodel.” “Weathered mahogany.” “Before I knew it.” People of action. People who do things. Supermodels and weathered mahogany. Kill me. Now.

On the same page is “Heaven in a Handbag:” “The design came from Belgian Shoes, says Hayden Lasher of her eponymous handbag line. Like the classic slippers—brought to the States by her great-great-uncle Henri Bendel in 1956—Lasher’s bags are handmade in one style, offered in different colors, and embellished with the iconic Belgian bow.”

Diminished by a “Belgian bow.” Why am I living? Why do I go on living? Why?

“Fanfair: Hot Gifts:” “From haute roller skates [$1,200] and electric cars [$28,000] to African-made bags and Darth Vader toasters, an eclectic array of gifts for everyone on your holiday list…”

I’m in hell! A hell of gifts!

“Fairground” celebrates “the inaugural Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit, sponsored by Discovery Communications and presented in association with the Aspen Institute.” There is a full page photo: “Elon Musk arrived in his Model S Tesla before speaking…at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, in San Francisco, where the packed house included media moguls…and a myriad of innovative thinkers…” And pictures follow of famous and old smart and beautiful & young smart people.

We are mad with envy. This is worse than perfect pictures of still-young Angelina Jolie—her stare on the cover which says “you will never be as happy as me,”—who has no boobs.

It’s these royal farms in Scotland, these gift ideas, these gatherings of the innovative and the famous which finally brings us to our knees—we are made even more miserable because it makes us miserable—we accuse ourselves in an endless downward spiral of ineptitude and guilt because of the endless gilders and gifts and supermodels and dukes.

We continue to scan the ads:

Banana Republic: b&w photos of sweaters, rough wood.

Van Cleef & Arpels: flower diamond & ruby earrings. Why show off the earlobe? We don’t understand earrings. We just don’t.

Feria: L’Oreal Paris: hair color—“Red To Dye For”

Ralph Lauren: Polo Red. Scent needs to be subtle. Red? No. 

Those who wear too much cologne or perfume are more offensive than smokers. There are laws against smoking.

Giorgio Armani: A large pair of sunglasses which makes a woman look like an insect. Congratulations.

Longines: Kate Winslet with horse and watch: “Elegance is an attitude” It helps the attitude to have makeup crew and horse. Nice to know that Kate can tell you what time it is.

Lancôme: La vie est belle “The Fragrance of Happiness.” Julia Roberts and her famous smile, looking over her shoulder. That tiny mole underneath her eye! Like an old friend.

There are no breasts in the entire magazine. Women are either flat, or the models’ breasts are concealed. What does this mean?  Is it that Modern Life is anti-woman? Or is ‘no boobs’ considered dignified and respectable? Is the ‘no boobs’ position pro-woman?

All those famous Modern Artists (Warhol, Johns, etc) in the 1982 Odeon restaurant photo: males. The updated photo in VF with women: not one woman is famous. Is it that women love beauty and generosity—therefore they will never dominate the clever, scheming, severe line, hard-edge, intellectualized world of Modern (conceptual) art?

Next to a Cartier ad, Graydon Carter, in his “Editor’s Letter,” compares Jeff Bezos of Amazon to the mean Mr. Potter in Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life.

A funny interview with Amy Poehler at the end of the magazine: “What is the trait you most deplore in others? People who can’t read my mind.” Oh, if only we could.

In its “The 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair Poll,” VF reveals that Democrats believe “someone who is greedy” is “more likely to be successful,” while Republicans believe “someone who is selfless” is “more likely to be successful.” Honor reigns.

A spotlight on the actor playing Martin Luther King Jr. in Hollywood’s Selma reveals he is British! Hip hip hurray!

“The Publishing Dispute That Absolutely No One Is Talking About” is about an English magazine for old people who Americans have never heard of—a funny and sophisticated one that embraces the idea that the end is near, instead of sugar-coating it (as Americans tend to do).

“The World’s Most Driven Uber Customer” sizes up Uber, the phone app for wheels (when a taxi can’t be found) which is worth millions—and one thinks, why didn’t I think of that and how did these guys make millions so quickly with such an obvious idea, starting out with nearly nothing—but is never quite explained: how the rich get rich remaining elusive to the rest of us, even though it is made to look easy (it is about who you know, isn’t it?) in the insouciant style of Vanity Fair.

VANITY FAIR: NAUGHTY AND CLASSY

image

Thomas Brady with the December 2014 issue of Vanity Fair: nothing shall escape him.

Let us read the issue cover to cover. Scarriet will confront art culture as it lives in a literary fashion magazine, the giant, distinguished, even historic, glossy, Vanity Fair, which has the good manners to visit its subscribers once a month and look exactly like Elle and Vogue. We picked this particular December 2014, 212 page issue (including ads) very much at random; also we need something to do as we sit in our cafe across the street and drink coffee and write poems. Anyway, the New England Patriots are cheating again; we have no desire to watch football.

Vanity Fair is a great glimpse of the zeitgeist: it is pictorial, smart and extremely well-connected to billionaire wealth; serious, yet whimsical; it sucks up to the famous in a friendly way, yet has a certain combative, independent swagger one would expect from billionaires. It dwells in the rarefied air of the politically non-partisan, though it does aspire to be politically correct—because when you’re that rich, you need to at least appear earnest and moral.

But Scarriet readers need to know the history; ignorance on this point is not trifling; there have been other, older magazines called Vanity Fair, but this one belongs to the Conde Nast empire, a publishing empire, a fashion empire, a society pages empire, whose spirit can be encompassed in the following way: the ostentatious, modern art-collecting, immoral rich feeding their habit of feeling better about themselves by making the moral middle class as jealous of them (the rich) as possible. One could put it more simply, as a friend did, calling Vanity Fair a “status symbol.”  But Vanity Fair is, in fact, more than “status” and more than “symbol.”

Vanity Fair, along with Women’s Wear Daily, Glamour, GQ, Allure, Vogue, House and Garden, Architectural Digest, Golf World, Details, Conde Nast Traveler, The New Yorker, Self, Teen Vogue, The Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and hundreds of U.S. newspapers, is a monopolizing publishing empire whose first acquisitions were Vogue and Dress—quickly renamed Vanity Fair, by a German immigrant, Conde Nast, (a Georgetown U. classmate of Robert Collier) who had successfully increased the advertising revenue of Collier’s—a muckraking, leftwing, sophisticated journal—as its advertising director.

Enter the real-life model for Jay Gatsby: Frank Crowinshield, a Boston Brahmin life-long bachelor, social elite hobnobber, and modern art collector, editor of Vanity Fair from 1914 to 1935. Crowinshield, whose family tree includes the DuPont family, published Aldous Huxley, T.S. Eliot, and Gertrude Stein, and was the first editor to publish reproductions of Matisse and Picasso, as well as the work of erotic artist Clara Tice, the “Queen of Greenwich Village” in 1915, after her run-in with the Vice Squad. Frank also ran with the Modernist circle of wealthy modern art collector Walter Arensberg, which included Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, William Carlos Williams, and Louis Ginsberg, Allen Ginsberg’s socialist, nudist camp, poet father; as well as the Algonquin Roundtable of Robert Benchley and morbid wit Dorothy Parker.

In other words, FC ran with everybody. He was a founding trustee of MOMA. Crowinshield’s niece married Harvard football star and businessman Frederick Bradlee, whose son, Ben Bradlee, became the famous editor of the liberal newspaper Washington Post, which toppled a conservative president. A 2004 issue of Vanity Fair revealed the identity of Deep Throat.

The Vanity Fair party began during the Modernist/connected super-rich/European royalty’s genocide of World War One and ended in 1935, during the Great Depression, as Vanity Fair folded, and hid in the arms of Vogue.

In the meantime, the Newhouse Empire, presently worth billions, now called Advance Publications, Inc., bought Conde Nast. Advance publishes Vanity Fair and its European editions. This octopus is huge.  When you own Vogue, Teen Vogue, House and Garden, the Discovery Channel, and the New Yorker, you own the elite brainy literary fashionable politically correct mind of the United States. You are golden and you make more golden.

Si Newhouse, Advance Publications Chairman and CEO, who owned the obscenely priced Jackson Pollock No. 5 drip painting, relaunched Vanity Fair in 1983. VF’s current editor, Graydon Carter, succeeded Tina Brown in 1992. Brown edited the New Yorker (VF’s only glossy culture rival) from ’92 to ’98 and in 2000 was appointed a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire). So don’t fuck with her.

Vanity Affair is known for its 1991 Leibovitz cover of a naked, pregnant Demi Moore, a 1996 expose of the tobacco industry, a 2006 photo shoot of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ daughter who up until then had been “hidden,” and other glorious promotions of fine art and fine literature, such as “scoop” interviews with Jennifer Aniston (after her divorce from Brad Pitt) and Martha Stewart (after her release from prison.) You get the picture. Media firepower.

THE COVER: closeup face of Angelina Jolie—non-smile smile and icy blue eyes which resemble two planet earths perched in almond-shaped beauty—with the words:

PERFECTLY AWESOME! ANGELINA JOLIE Visiting War Zones, Directing an Oscar Contender, and Life as Mrs. Pitt —by Janine Di Giovanni photos by Mario Testino p.152.

In other words, she is Angelina Jolie and you’re not. Wouldn’t you like to experience life as Mrs. Pitt as you visit War Zones and direct Oscar contender films?  Of course you would! Actually, you wouldn’t be able to handle that in a million years, and that’s the point, too.

At the bottom of Vanity Fair‘s cover is:

Also, Photos That Should Never Be Taken —by James Walcott

Walcott writes of the Selfie, which is of you, and which cannot compete with the cover portrait of Jolie. Obviously.

At the top:

ANJELICA & JACK: HER NEW MEMOIR! [as if powerful Jolie shaming you weren’t enough…Anjelica Huston!]

also:

Van Gogh: Suicide or MURDER?

How to save a 100,000 ton DROWNING SHIP

The World’s most DRIVEN UBER Customer

The PUBLISHING Dispute That Absolutely Everybody Is Talking About

The PUBLISHING Dispute That Absolutely Nobody Is Talking About

So that’s Vanity Fair’s December 2014 cover (dominant color, white). And now we dive headfirst into its inside pages.

A barrage of ads hit one first (and I always look for the ones that can make me smell good):

RALPH LAUREN fold-out ad: The Ricky Bag (alligator). How big is the bag? 2 pics of it, but by itself. The simple black style emphasized. Gold lock right in the middle of the bag sends unspoken message to proles: gold protects; you have no gold to protect. B&W photo of Ralph and wife, black tie tux, black pants suit, she rides a horse in the other full page pull out photo, gold button jacket, jeans ; elegance w/ hint of working class ‘real.’

ESTEE LAUDER

“Rare Discovery, Rare Luxury. Introducing Re-Nutriv. Diamond Dual Infusion. Energize the 100 million skin cells on your face.” Black background. Silvery gold bottle w/ liquid curtain stream.

GUCCI

Snake skin knee boots on young, flat-chested model, lips slightly open, fragile yet surly expression, upward gaze, bare shoulder, long bare arm, one leg bent awkwardly horizontal on wicker chair.

DIOR

Small handbag, vague urban landscape at night, ‘string’ headlights, model in simple gray cloth coat, hair pulled back, lips slightly open, heavy eye makeup, faint lipstick; sense of night-vision, on-the-go, in-a-hurry, head-turned, straight-on gaze, almost as if coolly facing a night stalker.

LANCOME

“New Collection. L’Absolu Rouge” Black model reclining above scattered, fat pink and red rose blossoms, mouth half-open to show teeth, almost as if talking, diamond stud earrings, very red lipstick, lipstick in foreground with phallic shapes.

PRADA

3 teenage girls, expressionless, full lips, mouths closed, standing stiffly looking straight at viewer, in ancient-looking, grassy park, broken wall in background, similar outfits, 2 wearing pants, 1 dress, stitched-outline collars, pockets, straight, masculine wear.

TIFFANY & CO. New York Since 1837 (4 pages)

Model small in snowy, NYC Central Park cartoon-landscape, short red high-heel boots, short gray coat, running to large cold ring perched on little stone bridge

Night, winter, 5th ave, 23rd street, cartoon-landscape, man pulling sled with 2 large rings and young boy and girl.

CELINE

White handbag with model’s arms, hands in handles, black raincoat, can’t see model’s face; opposite, close up of severe, blue-eyed, mannish woman.

OMEGA

Soft-focus, white atmosphere, Nicole Kidman reclining, lips closed, slight haughty smile, gold band, white watch face.

GUESS

2 young models, Chinese and blonde, full lips, hair back, but blowing in wind, in high-grass, sloping, meadow, samurai-like outfits, warriors advancing down hill, bare arms, legs, necks.

VANITYFAIRAGENDA.COM

“Follow: see & hear, eat & drink, events, shop, video, offers”

CLINIQUE

White electric scrubbing brush machine with bow. “The gift of great skin just got better. Meet our new skin changer.”

CHANEL Fine Jewelry

Close -up side view of Grace Kelly-looking model in white feather boa with slim diamond-encrusted crown. “White gold and diamonds. Plume de Chanel”

CLINIQUE

Photo of fine face powder pouring. “90 seconds to flawless. With Clinique, pretty is easy. Foundations, Concealers, Powders. So you look perfect in any light.”

GREY GOOSE

Out of focus, outdoor urban, soft, bluish. “World’s best tasting vodka. Give the gift.”

MICHAEL KORS Only at Macy’s, Macys.com, MichaelKors.com

“The new men’s fragrance for the ultimate jet setter.” Mountain lake, woman in white bikini facing lake away from viewer, wet, straight hair, man looking at viewer, blue eyes, smallish under thick brows, hair combed straight up, Shakespeare-mouth, 5 day red-blonde mustache/beard, white shirt, one nipple showing, sunglasses in hand, wearing watch.

L’INSTANT CHANEL

Front-on B&W shot of Asian woman in black turtleneck, long fingers on face. Watch with black face, diamonds on border, gold band.

COACH New York

B &W photo, young model, full lips, blue eye, fur collar coat, leather handbag, flower design, under her arm, hair covering face, facing page, closer shot of bag.

J’ADORE Dior

Gold color background color scheme, Charlize Theron, bare back yellow dress, lips slightly open, looking in distance across viewer, phallic bottle in foreground.

BVLGARI

Diamond encrusted watch, model w/ shades, gold purse, smiling, bare arms crossed, no hair on arms.

CLARISONIC

“We promise to transform your skin.” Large close-up smiling face, electric scrubbing brush.

Now that our skin is clear, and we have our watch, handbag, boots and lipstick on, it’s time for:

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Photo slices “From Left: Russell Brand (page 188): Angelina Jolie (page 152); Anjelica Houston (page 192).”

FEATURES

“152 Woman of the Year. Director, globe-trotting humanitarian, Oscar-winning actress, newlywed, mother of six,and now an honorary Dame—how does Angelina Jolie do it?”

“160 VF Portrait: Salman Khan. Starting w/ a video tutorial for his niece…Salman has led a revolution in learning.”

“162 The War of the Words. One of the world’s largest publishers, Hachette, is battling Amazon over e-book revenues.”

“168 Collage Education. Spotlight on Jean-Charles de Ravenel, whose collages, now on view in L.A., create deeply personal histories.

“170 New Girl at the Kit Kat Club. Spotlight on Emma Stone, fulfilling a childhood dream as Cabaret’s latest Sally Bowles.”

“172 NCIS: Provence. Attacked for questioning the legend of Vincent Van Gogh’s suicide in their 2011 biography of the artist, two Pulitzer Prize-winning authors present new evidence, enlisting a leading forensic expert in a case for murder.

Woman of the Year: How does Angelina Jolie do it? We assume she gets a little help. The article reveals that Jolie is a member of the highly exclusive Council on Foreign Relations, with guys like Kissinger, David Rockefeller, and U.S. Presidents. First you belong to Skull and Bones, then you become a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Or your dad makes Midnight Cowboy.  It’s no wonder then, given her membership in the New World Order, the VF article respectfully reveals nothing: no gossip, no flaws, just some boilerplate about Jolie attending U.N. Refugee meetings, working on a film about Bosnian Muslims (during the time President Clinton bombed Belgrade), and her latest, Unbroken, about a WWII Pacific Theater POW, who was her Hollywood neighbor. Jolie looks great in the photos in a cheekbone/lips/blue-eyes beaming with confident stare sort of way, though the pictures do not personally attract us; she is still young—has not hit her mid-40s yet, when inevitably the woman’s youthful blush finally dies, in a flurry of covers, foundations, and powders, U.N. or no U.N.

VF Portrait: The piece on Salman Khan, serendipitous founder of the on-line Khan Academy, a learning tool for kids, has less than a page of text and wastes the talents of Annie Leibowitz (just a photo of a nerd in front of a desk) but helpful, perhaps; we didn’t know about this free website.

The War of the Words: The “e-book pricing” story involves “the future of publishing, maybe of culture.” This is surely an exaggeration, but this reads like a fair and balanced piece, succinctly outlining the battle for book readers’ souls between Amazon and the Big Five Publishers, with best-selling authors siding with the publishers, and smaller, self-publishing authors with Amazon—who benefited from a recent Justice Department anti-monopoly lawsuit against the Big Publishers. But isn’t Amazon the monopoly, here? the article asks. Anyway, it all seems to hinge on Amazon having the right to sell e-books for $9.99 and, less, if they so desire—with the Big Five wanting to charge $14.99. Apple is a de facto ally of the Big Five as it competes (with partial success so far) in the e-trade with Amazon. We can’t help but side with Amazon; we have little sympathy for Monopoly Publishers and their overrated big name authors and high prices. We worked in a bookstore years ago, and recall how major publishers discontinued inexpensive paperbacks (a few bucks a pop) and introduced Trade Paperbacks instead—for 15 bucks.  VF has done well to give us a fair and clear view of this fight, which author Keith Gessen characterizes as West coast/new capitalism vs. East Coast/old wealth.

Collage Education: This is a “spotlight,” with only a quarter page of text and a photo of the artist (French) in his studio in the Bahamas. It reeks of self-congratulatory Modernism: the ubiquitous, aristocratic movement still going strong, in which any fragment or smudge after World War One by someone with a French name is  considered the most profound and socially relevant gesture in the history of humanity. Excuse the yawn; we must quote the first paragraph in its entirety:

“It is rather unusual today to come across an artist today who uses the old technique of collage in a new creative way—the first collages were created by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso in France in the early 20th century. Jean-Charles de Ravenel, the subject of an exhibition this month at Hollyhock, in Los Angeles, is one such artist, a titled Frenchman who lives in and works out of a studio which literally drips down from a seaside villa on an island in the Bahamas. He has not forgotten that collage found its roots in the European Dada movement as a reaction to the First World War. The method allowed artists such as Hannah Hoch to challenge sexist and racial codes in turbulent Weimar Germany, and the American artists such as Man Ray to solarize photomontage portraiture in the 1930s. Even the great Matisse produced staggeringly beautiful, colorful cutout works during the last creative period of his life (currently on exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.)”

The Modernist art movement was aristocratic and fascist; it is disingenuous to pretend every Art-inflected Modernist heroically opposed the worst elements of humanity in the 20th century as seen in the terror of the first two World Wars—which is inevitably the rhetoric we get whenever those artsy-fartsy artists and their wealthy friends are described. But the Modern Art Investment Scheme is the fertile soil from which VF grew—so we’ll always get this corrupt type of cheerleading in every page of the Conde Nast Empire, even as VF, with its wealthy independence, manages to get things right in other areas.

There is a highly prevalent, nutty idea that the Modernist loosening of morals between the wars acted as some kind of hindrance to fascism. No. It fed it. Speaking of which, we have the next VF spotlight, the newest Sally Bowles of naughty Cabaret, Emma Stone. The Kit Kat Club. Enemy of fascism? Hardly. A joyous full color picture of scantily clad cast members at the bar is included with a couple of paragraphs of text, revisiting Christopher Isherwood’s Nazi Berlin inspired 1930s invention.

NCIS: Provence: Van Gogh’s murder story doesn’t produce anything new—the book’s authors revisit their 5 year old thesis (a decent and plausible one) which speculates Van Gogh was shot by a young cowboy bully who hung out with the artist at the time of Van Gogh’s death—a bullet to the abdomen. What is interesting is how the ‘death by suicide’ story accidentally found its way into the popular imagination, helped by a popular biography and a Hollywood film, and is clung to by scholars simply out of habit, with peevish belligerence. The murder of Poe story is far more complex and important, but Poe will never get a fair hearing in any Conde Nast publication (Poe was recently vilified in The New Yorker; it’s a small world) since Poe’s artistic-unity high standards were precisely what the ragtag, found poem, low-brow disguised as high-brow Modernism of Vanity Fair and its sister publications rebelled against.

More ads:

TORY BURCH

A model who looks like Naomi Watts, in a navy turtleneck sweater, with a happy smile of dreamy anticipation (life is good) for Tory Burch My First Fragrance. The square bottle with its orange case sits unobtrusively in the lower right; on the lower left, Tory Burch’s signature.

ROLEX

The crown logo. 2 pages with a couple of pictures—one a close up—of “Cellini The Classical Watch by Rolex'” white, lined watch face, with 2 dials, very confusing. We never understood all the fuss about watches. Perhaps some are impressed with utility plus design plus beauty. We say, “meh.” Beautiful wrists are spoiled by watches. They are about as interesting to us as the pillbox hat. We suppose they keep the Swiss out of trouble.

“Continued from page 44” TABLE OF CONTENTS

“177 The Devil and Dr. Kildare Spotlight on the revival of David Rabe’s Sticks and Bones, starring Richard Chamberlain, Holly Hunter, and Bill Pullman.”

“178 Salvage Beast by William Langewieshe Marine salvage master Nick Sloane has seen it all—ships that are sinking, burning, breaking apart, or severely aground—and his rescue operations are the stuff of high-seas legend.”

“185 Do Tell, Maestro Spotlight on the charismatic Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda, as he takes Rossini’s William Tell on tour.”

“186 Prima Galleristas Spotlight on 14 top female art dealers, gathered to re-create a famous (nearly all-male) portrait. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.”

“188 Russell Brand, Seriously by David Kamp Since his BBC Newsnight interview went viral last year, Russell Brand—yes, the comedian, skirt chaser, and recovering addict—has emerged as a political firebrand. With his book Revolution, Brand aims to turn his audience into a movement.”

“192 The Big Fabulous by Anjelica Huston In an adaptation from the second volume of her memoirs, the author recalls her 1973 move from New York to L.A., where the 21-year-old model fell in love with Jack Nicholson, lost her larger-than-life director father, and became the actress she wanted to be.”

VANITIES

“99 Bang-Up Job The meaning of greeting.”

FANFAIR & FAIRGROUND

“103 31 Days in the Life of the Culture Slim Aaron’s snowy mountain scene. My Desk: Ridley Scott. Hot Type. Private Lives: Stella and Isabela Tennant’s sisterly collaboration; Hayden Lasher’s ladylike bags with a Belgian twist. Punch Hutton’s Holiday Gift Guide. A bounty of festive beauty.”

The Devil and Dr. Kildare: Off Broadway with Richard Chamberlain, Holly Hunter, and Bill Pullman in Rabe’s Tony-award winning play about a Vietnam vet. The VF 2 column Spotlight mentions that Chamberlain, 80, came out of the closet in a 2004 memoir. Chamberlain, “America’s original TV heartthrob,” is quoted, “pretending to be someone else for many, many years…is a terrible way to live.” Pretending for a living and pretending in your life, too. Must make you crazy. Chamberlain, looking damn good for 80, wears Calvin Klein in the B&W photo. Hunter, with her arm on Chamberlain’s shoulder, poses with a twisted torso in a dress by Zac Posen.

Salvage Beast: This long article states the amazing: “With 100,000 large merchant ships in the water at any time, scores sink, burn, break apart,run aground, or explode each year—often with toxic consequences. It is Captain Nick Sloane’s job to board troubled vessels and salvage what he can.” This is one of those stories too large for popular consumption; it is too vast, too weighty, too complex, for  easy good guy/bad guy political takes; it is a story one meets in The National Geographic: one gazes in wonder at the photos for a few seconds, and then never hears about the story again—precisely because it is too big for anyone—liberal or conservative—to deal with. Political correctness cannot get near it: pirates, environmentalism, insurance fraud, manly rescue heroics, shipping of vast amounts of cargo for the world’s welfare fight for attention, and all fail: one just looks on in wonder, perhaps lingering on the part about saving oil-soaked penguins, and then moves on. Merchant shipping may one day be on our radar, like Big Tobacco or Global Warming, when the Left can pinpoint simple wrong and soft, lily-white lawyers can make easy money.  VF is watching out for you.

Do Tell, Maestro:  “A rare thing happened this past August during the Mostly Mozart festival, at Lincoln Center. At the first of two performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, led by Gianandrea Noseda, the music director of Tealtro Regio Torino, the audience broke into loud, spontaneous applause after every movement.” Good for you, Noseda, who “raised the money to tour” Rossini’s “rarely heard William Tell.” Bravo to this half-page spotlight.

Prima Galleristas: A 2 page photo by Leibovitz of : “14 of today’s influential women gallerists. The photo is not exhaustive—the universe of important women dealers is now too large for one photograph—but a re-creation of an image by Hans Namuth at Manhattan’s Odeon restaurant in 1982. That photo (which you can see on page 206) was a record of the moment’s most powerful art-world figures, nearly all of them men.”  The count, for the record, of the so-called forward-looking (but in fact, reactionary) Modern Art 1982 snapshot? 18 men to 1 woman. Modernism: a Men’s Club playing a simple crass joke on the public. It is still going on, but it’s nice to know there’s some women gallerists out there now, keeping Modernism’s art joke alive. Peggy Guggenheim will always be a Guggenheim.

Russell Brand, Seriously: “British comedian Russell Brand—the ex-junkie bad boy famous for his debauchery, his brief marriage to Katy Perry, and his tight leather trousers—would seem like the last man to emerge as a legit political thinker and voice for the disposed.” We disagree. Debauchery and politics go hand in hand. “I’m not voting,” Brand told the BBC, “out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery, deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations now, and which has now reached fever pitch where you have a disenfranchised, disillusioned, despondent underclass that are not being represented by that political system.” Generations. Imagine that. Actually, Republicans are saying this, too. The only thing mildly interesting about this quote is that Democrats, libertarians, liberals, communists, and Tea Party Republicans would all agree with it. And if you need to get one thing about VF, it is this: escape the Blue State/Red State nonsense and you are on the way to becoming a true aristocrat, a true citizen of the world. In the high stakes world of VF, it is always personal, never, in the boring, trivial American sense, political—who cares whether someone is a Democrat or a Republican (how boring and middlebrow!). For instance: “Brand was, until August, in a serious relationship with a wealthy woman: namely, Jemima Khan, the daughter of the late billionaire corporate raider Sir James Goldsmith (and, as it happens, VF’s European editor-at-large). Khan is an associate editor of the liberal magazine New Statesman, and it was her recruitment of Brand to guest-edit an issue that precipitated his notorious appearance on Newsnight.” So here’s what it’s is all about: “Brand is quite something to experience in person.” If you are a boring person, it doesn’t matter what the fuck your political opinions are.  We love this quote from Brand, which is a true we’re-too-rich-to-care VF quote: “We all get excited by the Blairs, Obamas, and Clintons, with their well-rehearsed gestures and photo-op affability, but when push comes to shove, we’re dealing with cunts.” Blimey.

The Big Fabulous: We just can’t get interested in Anjelica Huston’s vague, perfunctory recounting of her non-relationship relationship with Jack Nicholson, the L.A. Laker fan whom she had no children with, and met in 1973. A lot of photos.

And so ends Scarriet’s part 1 look at December 2014 Vanity Fair.

IS SHE NECESSARY?

Is she necessary because of her kisses?
Or for that beauty which this beauty otherwise misses?
That beauty is hers, hers the beauty that she
Lavishes when her eyes float and she kisses me
And her breasts come out, which I love to kiss—indecently.

And this beauty that loves her beauty is mine
That longs for all beauty but would much rather on her beauty decline.

Sadness in a song is lovely, but in a person something divine,
For when I heard on the street, Cry Baby, Cry, its sad melody
Invoked by a street guitar, I thought this pleasure
Is similar to being with her
And so the secret came to me
Of why I loved her who is now gone;

It was the sadness in her soul, and this old song
Helped me to realize how love is both a pleasure and a wrong,
As sadness struggles to be happy
And cannot be happy in the melody of a melodious song.

She is necessary. And who can blame her that she
Eventually found this—and me—to be wrong?

 

I FOUGHT IN THE WAR OF LOVE

I fought in the war of love
With a thousand others fighting.
The movie set was a dream,
From the fluttering flags of the ships to the red lapping waters.
(The ships were tipping, and as they burned, had trouble righting)
I studied Western Love and the Mediterranean.
I struggled to keep up with history in vain,
To keep up with books. Research was a drain.
She was sweet, had a sense of humor,
But saw everything in the context of dying.

As always happens when you love,
I always vaguely had the feeling she was lying.

I kept telling myself: don’t provoke;
Burn; enjoy it until it ends.

Now I write a poem for every
Reminder the executioner sends.

THE POET DOES WHATEVER HE WANTS

The poet does whatever he wants,
In the soul the soul-things flaunts,
In the soul a little song he sings
Which he loves because you love these things.
The secret is that a little song
Is what the whole song is, no matter how long,
That the lengthy and the forbidden
Is only interesting because it’s hidden.
If you bring it out in the light of day
The poet laughs at it because it has nothing to say.
Go with the poet, who does whatever he wants.
He laughs, he ridicules, he taunts,
And if you are the target, don’t be sad,
The poet loves you and doesn’t want you to be sad.

ONE HUNDRED GREATEST FOLK SONGS (PERFORMANCES) OF ALL TIME

pete-seeger

Pete Seeger: Song owes more to him than anyone else.

It is fitting this Scarriet List of Greatest Folk Songs should appear in the wake of Pete Seeger’s passing (January 27, 2014). Folk music (who has done more for it than Pete Seeger?) occupies a stronger place on the other side than any other kind of art: the dead, the ignored, the forsaken, live heroically in the music of people like Joan Baez, Buffy St. Marie, and Bob Dylan.

All 100 songs listed here can be heard on the web—this is democratic, and Pete would approve, though he would encourage lovers of music to play, not just listen, and the simple playing: the singing, the strumming of chords on a simple instrument, is what allows anyone to enter simply into this heroic world of folk, and make its music, its words and feelings, its story-telling, morals, myth, poetry, and truth their own.

We should say right from the start that this list is a typical Scarriet project, stamped by our now famous anti-bullshit animus. We delight in smashing common wisdom on our way to the truth: truth naturally begins with opinion, even stupid opinion, as it makes its glorious way forward; minds held by stupid opinion are the greatest obstacle to truth, and moving them is rare, for to move them is usually to offend them, and no one wants to offend— and this is the reason truth hides. Sometimes it is wise for the truth to hide, for offending someone can be unforgivable, and may undo more than it mends. But truth starts with opinion and we start with the opinion of this List.

It is our opinion that good folk music has nothing to do with the trappings commonly associated with folk music: the horribly scratchy fiddle, the whiny hillbilly vocals, and all those “genuine” quirks that get in the way of real expressiveness and smoothness and emotion. We simply do not abide these traditional “folk” qualities, for they are not necessary, and chase modern audiences away from the true glory of the art: poignancy, an underrated sense of humor, melody, elevated dramatic feeling, the nobly human uncannily expressed in an orderly and devotional display of simplicity and sincerity.

Pete Seeger brought two important things to the art: 1. an actor’s sensibility and 2. clarity.

We cannot emphasize the latter virtue enough, for nothing has spoiled folk music—as it is popularly known, than a certain muddy and whiny quality—which Seeger demolished: listen to Pete Seeger’s recordings and hear the beautiful simplicity and clarity of the song’s forward movement, the melodic precision, the lovingly articulated coherence of story-message, the unobtrusive, never fussy, and yet dramatically insistent banjo or guitar, the never over-emoted emotional quality, the balance of all the elements, all the while respecting the intangible roughness and depth of the song itself. A child can appreciate these songs, even before knowing all the adult facts of the lyrics.

Seeger never hung around in a song too long, showing off licks or lyrics or mannerisms, trying the patience of the listener—important in a genre which features ballads of sometimes great length and the almighty guitar.

Seeger always kept two things in the foreground: the listener and the song. This paid enormous dividends; Seeger had a tremendous underground influence on the renaissance of melodic, clear-as-a-bell-chiming, sweetly emotional, 60s popular music.

One might put it crudely and simply this way: Pete played hillbilly music without trying to sound hillbilly. Pete was a self-conscious outsider: he approached Appalachian music, black people’s music, poor people’s music, gospel music, world music, whatever you want to call folk music, from a Collector’s point of view; Pete Seeger came from a wealthy, well-connected, accomplished family, approaching the work of poorer families from an archeological point of view, and his privileged position easily could have damned him had he been less naturally talented and less astute. But he “got it,” and he “owned it” (his song-writing just one of the ways he showed it) and did it with taste, kindness and élan—and the rest is history.

Pete Seeger was not precisely original. But that’s what Folk Music is about.

This is also what Folk Music is about:

Cares about history.

Great songs written by Nobody (anonymous).

Hides inside Rock/pop/ jazz.

Songs that make you hunch forward and listen (not background music).

Many voices/versions/styles of the same song.

Story and feeling over style.

THE LIST

1. Barb’ry Ellen –John Jacob Niles.   The Ballad of Barbara Allen (Anonymous) as lo-fi Wagnerian opera.

2. When I Lay Down To Die –Josh White.  Threatens to turn into a jazz or a blues standard, but plaintively refuses.

3. Danville Girl –Pete Seeger.  This is what Country, Jazz, Rap, Rock, and Classical can’t quite do: poetry nonchalantly humanized.

4. The Whistling Gypsy Rover –Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.  Irish exuberance. Joy with almost nothing.

5. House of the Rising Sun –The Animals. Just so we know: the best of rock music comes from folk music.

6. Goodnight Irene –Leadbelly.  Folk music is the poignant attempt to fix life’s wrongs with a few chords.

7. When First Unto This Country –The New Lost City Ramblers.  The Beatles conquered the world with hooks like this.

8. St. John’s River — Erik Darling. Unspeakably poignant and clear in guitar and voice.

9. The Three Ravens –Alfred Deller. A counter-tenor for the ages, a slain knight, loyal beasts, an immortal tune.

10. Turn, Turn, Turn –Pete Seeger.  Wisdom and song, why not?

11. Deportees –Cisco Houston.  Social commentary never had a smoother voice.

12. Ananias –St. Buffy Marie.  This Native American woman has one passionate and powerful voice.

13. Rags and Old Iron –Nina Simone  An old man selling old scraps and she makes it immortal. How’s that?

14. 500 Miles –Joan Baez.  This whole list could just be her.

15. Pretty Polly –The Byrds.  Doesn’t end well for Polly, presumably because she is pretty and is dating someone named Willy.

16. Down on Penny’s Farm –Bently Boys.  “Hard times in the country, down on Penny’s farm.” Very melodic hard times.

17. Pretty Peggy-O –Bob Dylan.  From 1962, before he was an icon, and he’s really having fun. One of his best recordings.

18.  East Virginia –Pete Seeger.  Compare this version with Buell Kazee’s (a master) and you can hear why Pete Seeger is so good.

19. Come All You Fair And Tender Ladies –Pete Seeger.  Such a beautiful song and sung with a melancholy swiftness.

20. She Moved Through the Fair –Anne Briggs.  A slow folk masterpiece where the voice and the lyrics do it all.

21. King of the Road –Roger Miller.  This might not be real folk music to some, but I think the sheep can stray a little bit.

22. T for Texas. –Jimmie Rodgers.  The ‘Singing Brakeman’ was a TV star.  “I shot ol’ Thelma, just to see her jump and fall.”

23. The Wind And The Rain (from Twelfth Night)  — Alfred Deller.  Lovely, haunting.

24. Old John Hardy –Clarence Ashley.  One of the first “hillbilly” 1920s recording artists. Set the standard for Pete Seeger.

25. All the Pretty Little Horses  –Odetta.  The ultimate lullaby.

26. This Land Is Your Land  –The Weavers.  Woody Guthrie’s national anthem.

27. The Titanic  –Pete Seeger.  The best version of this great song. “It was sad when that great ship went down.”

28. Little Mattie Groves  –John Jacob Niles.  A long ballad sung by the master with the strange voice.

29. Wagoner’s Lad  –Joan Baez.  Mournful and melancholy, just like we like it.

30. How Can I Keep From Singing?  –Pete Seeger.  One of those ‘throw your head back and righteously sing’ songs that Pete does so well.

31. It Ain’t Me Babe  –Bob Dylan.  Dylan was a folk music sponge—as all the best are.

32. John Henry  –Big Bill Broonzy.  And of course Pete Seeger’s version is great, too.

33. Midnight Special  –Creedence Clearwater Revival.  A rock group that rocked folk.

34. Darling Corey  –Pete Seeger.  A perfect rendition of a perfect song.

35. Scarborough Fair  –Simon and Garfunkle.  Folk rock masters sing a folk classic.

36. Handsome Molly  –Mick Jagger.  If your heart is broke, keep movin’!

37. He Got Better Things For You  –Bessie Johnson’s Memphis Sanctified Singers.  A rousing gospel number. Where would folk be without gospel?

38. Bells of Rhymney  –John Denver.  Church bells in Welsh mining towns imitated by a 12 string guitar.  Pete Seeger wrote it.

39. Go Way From My Window –John Jacob Niles.   “You were the one I really did love best.” Bitter-sweet song.

40. Sitting On Top of the World. –Doc Watson.  A wonderful happy-sad song.

41. True Religion  –Erik Darling.  From the album of the same name which is one of the best folk records ever made.

42. Abolitionist Hymn  –Hermes Nye. The greatest Civil War Ballad balladeer.

43. When Johnny Comes Marching Home  –Nana Mouskouri.  A lovely melancholy version.

44. Blow The Man Down –Woody Guthrie.  Not too many good recordings by WG.

45. Santa Anna –Hermes Nye.  A pretty song about the Mexican General.

46. The Cutty Wren –Ian Campbell Group. One of the greatest British ballads.

47. Amazing Grace  –Judy Collins.  Classic song and singer.  Her 1966 “In My Life” album is underrated masterpiece.

48. The Ballad of the Green Berets  –Barry Sadler.  Five weeks at no. 1 in 1966. Tune borrowed from another folk song.

49. Sixteen Tons  –Tennessee Ernie Ford  “And what do you get?”

50. Shenandoah  –Pete Seeger. Just a timelessly great song.

51. Where Have All The Flowers Gone?  –Joan Baez    Pete Seeger based it on a Russian folk song.

52. Green Fields  –The Brothers Four  Languidly beautiful.

53. And I Love Her  –The Beatles  Paul’s glorious contribution to the genre.

54. O Mistress Mine Where Are You Roaming   –James Griffett The great sub-genre of Shakespeare tunes.

55. Eve Of Destruction. –Barry McGuire  Folk music always had something to say.

56. I Started A Joke  –Bee Gees.  They were folk crooners first and foremost.

57. If I Had A Hammer  –Peter Paul and Mary  They covered Seeger and Dylan.

58. Puff the Magic Dragon  –Peter Paul and Mary  Great harmonies and they wrote songs, too.

59. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue  –Bob Dylan  Dylan sings this to Donovan in “Don’t Look Back.”

60. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away  –The Beatles  John’s glorious contribution to the genre.

61. I’ll Never Find Another You  –The Seekers  Powerful song.

62. Tom Dooley  –Kingston Trio  “Hang your head, Tom Dooley, hang your head and cry. You killed poor Laura Foster, you know you’re bound to die.”  Morality.

63. Man Of  Constant Sorrow  –Bob Dylan. Another early 1962 gem of the folk genre.

64. All My Trials  –Joan Baez  This lullaby originally came from the Bahamas.

65. Rock Island Line  –Leadbelly “Oh the rock island line is the line to ride.”

66. Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream  –Pete Seeger  Composed by Ed McCurdy. Official anthem of the Peace Corps.

67. When The Saints Go Marching In  –The Weavers.  A rousing song by a group that could do rousing.

68. Lady Jane  –Rolling Stones.  A ‘fake’ old folk song?  Perhaps. But a good one.

69. Going To California  –Led Zeppelin  Underneath it all, this was a folk group.

70. Catch The Wind  –Donovan. The English Dylan has made a lot of great music.

71. Ramblin’ Boy  –Tom Paxton  A very sweet song.

72. Little Boxes  –Malvina Reynolds.  “And they’re all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.”

73. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down  –The Band.  Poignant anti-war number.

74. Alice’s Restaurant  –Arlo Guthrie. A long work by Woody’s son.

75. Suzanne  –Leonard Cohen. His singing is not for everyone, but that’s folk music for you. Singing in the shower music.

76. Angeles  –Elliott Smith.  He said he wasn’t a folk singer. He was. His album Either/Or is a must-own.

77. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald  –Gordon Lightfoot. A folk radio hit.

78. If I Were A Carpenter  –Tim Hardin. Drugs. Died at 39 after getting lost in the 70s.

79. Kisses Sweeter Than Wine  –The Weavers.  Jimmie Rodgers version is good, too.

80. Mr. Bojangles  –Jerry Jeff Walker.  Many a folkie wished they had written this.

81. Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright  –Bob Dylan. He could do protest. And love.

82. At Seventeen  –Janis Ian.  The 70s began in folk and ended in disco.

83. Hallelujah  –Leonard Cohen.  He produces iconic songs over decades.

84. Bridge Over Troubled Waters  –Simon and Garfunkle

85. Old Man  –Neil Young  A great folk voice and sensibility.

86. Big Yellow Taxi  –Joni Mitchell.  Her sweet grumble with the world.

87. City of New Orleans  –Willie Nelson.  Great lyrics. True American song.

88. We Shall Overcome  –Pete Seeger. Folk music as moral greatness.

89. Just Like A Woman  –Bob Dylan.  He had a great bedroom style, too.

90. You’re Lost Little Girl  –The Doors. Had a certain William Blake folk sensibility.

91. Crossroads  –Robert Johnson. Blues is folk at the crossroads.

92. To Love Somebody  –The Bee Gees. Written for Otis Redding right before he died.

93. One  –Johnny Cash. The ultimate unplugged voice.

94. Your Cheatin’ Heart –Hank Williams. Folk cheats with country.

95. That’s Alright Mama –Elvis Presley.  He was a folkie at heart, too.

96. Hello In There   –John Prine.  The saddest song ever?

97. And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda  –Eric Bogle.  Cry in your beer, laddie.

98. When This Cruel War Is Over  –Hermes Nye  A gentleman singer with a gift for melody.

99. She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain  –Pete Seeger.  He did a lot of children’s music. Which perhaps says a lot.

100. The Golden Vanity  –Pete Seeger  Great song. Great story.

THE LAST STAR

The morning sky’s cloudy variety,
The horizon’s depth of yellow
With a mass of lights and darks nearer and slowly moving,
A painting filling the window,
Is the sacred work of the last star,
Beauty too close to be too far.

I took my trip around the universe
To make all past trips
Seem but a prelude
To an orbit which never says goodbye,
And found a light lighting a last star,
Beauty too close to be too far.

With the beautiful sequence
Of flowers and green streams of leaves
In dark woods too shadowy
For vanity to spot itself in dappled paths,
I put myself in the power of a last star,
Beauty too close to be too far.

Unlikely beauty! With hair
Half-covering the face with eyes
Almost too nice for a mouth surprised
By lips of a faint luxury,
A lamp turned slightly down within—
As if she and star were kin!
A light glowing like a last star:
Beauty too close to be too far.

 

IF YOU ANTICIPATE THIS: A PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDY

Not everything is possible with love,
But passion definitely gives you a shove.
You may have been competitive and agitated before,
But love has made you compare yourself to others a little more.
Since you thought about that stranger and what he seems to be,
I’m not sure you can still be in love with me—
He hasn’t thought of you, or maybe in his mind
I am the poet and you are not his kind.

UNTRUE

You loved me loving your love
Which loved love but not me,
A song without meaning sung melodiously,
A bird singing but not to the other bird—
Love speaking beautifully without meaning a single word.

Yes, we did the loving
Since I loved you loving love, too.
Awful deception!
Such love! But neither one of us to the other one was true!

We loved love and were loved for that;
Our love could love our love without loving me or you,
And that was our fate—
Passionate love, longing love, but forever to ourselves untrue.

FAG HAGS, COCK TEASES, AND RICHARD WAGNER

Richard Wagner. We need infinite patience for love—and Wagner’s exquisite music.

Civilization exists because people grow old—otherwise there would be no civilization at all.

A beautiful woman growing old and losing her looks is the source of all Tragedy.

Nietzsche had the insane idea that Dionysian music was the birth of Tragedy.

We think our Idea makes more sense.  We speak, of course, of “real,” Tragedy, not mere tragedy (misfortune).

In fact, high-brow, middle-brow, and low-brow can be defined precisely this way: how each one of them ages.

High-brow, as we might expect, ages gracefully. The high-brows have the best defense against the curse, using elegance and learning and wit and art to fight the good fight.

Middle-brow women have a lesser (but strong) defense: feminism.

The only problem with feminism is that its anti-aging strategy is much too self-evident: impugn the (young) beautiful woman and the desire she elicits in order to make older women seem more reasonable and satisfied. This is why feminism is a middle-brow phenomenon: feminism’s strategy is embarrassingly obvious to the high-brow sensibility, but too subtle for the low-brows—who simply don’t understand why it should exist: a man is either chivalrous and attractive, or not—feminism to the low-brow is superfluous.

As for the low-brows, everyone knows the low-brows age horribly, usually in an orgy of boozing and tobacco.

Why is ‘a lovely woman growing old’ the subject of trashy B movies, and not fine art?

Because part of the strategy of growing old is not mentioning it—only middle-brow Hollywood fare starring Betty Davis and Joan Crawford would have the bad taste to revel in the horrible idea, which is better left hidden from sight. This is why Hollywood succumbed to middle-brow and even low-brow kitsch: it dared to treat the Great Tragic Subject directly.

High-brow artists like Wagner and Shakespeare understood that one never treats the Great Tragic Source directly; it is better to hide the True Tragedy (a woman growing old) behind things like the folly of young lovers and adultery.

Comedy (Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor) which presents foolish old lovers is merely the flip side of Tragedy.

The death of beautiful young lovers is beautifully Tragic, and Tragic in a beautiful way because it avoids beauty growing old. The true subject is hidden, but is there, nonetheless, as the impatience of young lovers is simply the understanding that old age is not far off.

The pride of the aging woman is not to be toyed with, and this pride is the key ingredient in Tragedy. It is this understanding which informs high-brow taste and makes high-brow taste the exquisite set of tacit understandings that it is.

In Love in the Western World, Rougemont’s wonderfully subtle treatment of the Tristan and Iseult myth makes it clear that these famous lovers were not simply two attractive people who had the hots for each other—chastity, selfishness, and lack of desire were in the mix, too (as well as a love-potion, royal intrigue, and misunderstandings).  The true object of the two lovers, according to Love in the Western World, was Death.

Death is a valuable idea because it covers up the real truth: why is death welcome? The author of Love in the Western World, a high-brow and scholarly treatment of love, does not say, and does not ask—instinctively in the name of good taste. Death is the default alternative once aging becomes too advanced. Aging is the real Enemy, the real essence of Tragedy, not Death. Once age destroys beauty, death simply becomes preferable—death is never the goal.

Time is directly related to aging, as death is not, for death does not need time, but aging does. It is aging which is real, not death. Time and its sister, Space, are the two aspects of the universe which we experience most directly; the end of time or space (infinity) we do not experience: our death is never real to us. Our aging is.

Feminism, the middle-brow strategy of middle-aged dignity, has taken such a beating from high-brow and low-brow elements in the last 50 years that a new strategy has recently replaced it. Economic difficulty adds a twist—middle-brows either fear, or actually fall, from middle-class status, or aspire to a wealthier status, and so are forced to face other sensibilities. Feminism doesn’t ‘look happy’ among other sensibilities; but the gay lifestyle, because it implicitly involves sex (sexual orientation is how we describe it, after all) has more je ne sais quoi. So we witness the middle-aged woman, fighting against age, not necessarily renouncing her feminism, but announcing she is gay.

Feelings of scornful revenge against the aging beauty (especially if she is a cock-tease) primarily comes from unhappy men. A gay woman, then, escapes this indignity, by running into the arms of female sexuality (or at least female cuddling and affection which excludes short-sighted, greedy male desire).

There is roughly the same nuance to the gay strategy—women running to women to escape the indignity of aging in the eyes of men—as the feminist strategy, making it a mostly middle-brow lifestyle choice.

To make sure the world knows, we often hear the term “openly gay” used to describe the middle-brow individual today. “Openly gay” does not mean the individual has sex in public. Well, how would we know what they really are, otherwise? Of course “openly gay” sex in public would not be civilized. “Openly gay” has a certain implicitly built-in, hidden aspect in a ‘good taste’ sort of way (an aspiration towards the high-brow without quite reaching it is always implicit in every middle-brow strategy). The unseemly, low-brow ‘male gaze’ longs to witness the sex act; the gay, middle-brow, middle-aged woman does not have to answer questions about what happens in the bedroom, anymore than anyone else does, and so the dignity of the strategy is preserved. Low-brow breeding (children) is the only thing which really gives the game away. Children and youthful beauty are the two things which traditionally are not hidden away, the way, let’s say, being gay, can be hidden in its entirety.

To renounce sex is not a bad way to age with a little more dignity. There is nothing more undignified than old-looking people ostentatiously going after sex—even if they get it—for no one believes old-person sex defies the horror of old age. If it doesn’t work as pornography it doesn’t work as immortality.

Baudelaire’s complaint against Nature was Nature’s lack of sympathy for the old; civilization, according to the French poet, keeps the aged alive, while Nature lets them die. But here is more talk of death, when the real agony is getting old itself; we strategize tastefully by making death the issue, and it is no surprise that this is a chief strategy of poets, who belong to high-brow realms of Taste more than other vocations. Did Petrarch let Laura grow old? Did Dante let Beatrice get old? Of course not. Shakespeare’s Sonnets (printed privately) ushers in modernity more than any other work, for the “breeding” portion of this book fearlessly references wrinkling and old age, a poetic, high-brow, Good Taste taboo. The aging trope in Shakespeare’s Sonnets is such an offensive taboo, that it hides for many what the whole book is about, and up to the present day, critics still interpret the Sonnets as a courting manual, auto-biographical confession, or advice to a royal person, (it is not these things) and cannot admit what it really is: a self-consciously age and death-defying boast by a guy (immortal poet) who was starting to look old.

If you are starting to look old, only civilization can save you. An aging population is a kind one, (it has less street crime) but the trouble is, if breeding does not pick up again, the aging population is threatened with extinction. The dignity of homosexuality—all the various strategies of renouncing sex, from the fag hag to the monk to ‘love the planet/squelch the humans’ “liberal” politics—once fertility returns as a civilized necessity, reverts back to an indignity.

In the necessity to re-populate, young beauty is sacrificed to breeding (low-brow) and is renounced as a subject of art (high-brow). The poem turns to cooler subjects: urns with lovers who cannot kiss but remain forever fair. Loveliness that lasts forever is a lofty ideal advanced in the face of the young beautiful mother who quickly ages as she populates a depleted realm. In this case, the aging of a beautiful woman serves a purpose, at least.

The poet of the Sonnets would say to the woman: if you don’t produce children, you will get old and ugly, anyway.

Which gets an imperious slap in the face.

A slap exhibiting the pride which hides beneath all Tragedy and is at the heart of all Civilization.

A slap exhibiting the pride which is crushed daily—by Nature.

 

 

 

 

 

THE AVANT-GARDE IS LOOKING FOR A NEW (BLACK) BOYFRIEND

Cathy Park Hong: “Fuck the avant-garde.”  But does she really mean it?

For its whole existence, Scarriet has hammered away at Modernism—and its Avant-garde identity—as nothing but a meaningless, one-dimensional joke (the found poem, basically) tossed at the public by reactionary, rich, white guys in order to make it ‘cool’ to stifle truly creative efforts accessible to the public at large.

The controversy surrounding Scarriet’s claim lies in this one simple fact: the Avant-garde (Ron Silliman, et al) identifies itself as politically Left.

In Leftist circles of the Avant-garde, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot are championed for their poetry, not their politics.

We might call this Pound/Eliot phenomenon the Art-Split: Bad Poet/Good Poetry.

By accepting this “Split,” the reactionary, white, male, Avant-garde is given license to dress in Left-wing clothing.

You have to believe, of course, that Pound’s poetry is important and good, and that Hugh ” The Pound Era” Kenner’s trashing of Edna Millay, for instance, was a good and noble effort to debunk old-fashioned “quietist” poetry, and not chauvinist, jealous bullying.

Leftist Ron Silliman has no taste for Edna Millay, and the “Split” allows this to appear perfectly normal.

The embarrassing and obvious truth: 1. accessibility to the public at large is democratic, 2. befuddling the masses is reactionary, gets a yawn, too—because of the “Split.”

The reason the “Split” works as an excuse is that it appeals to both Left and Right intellectuals: the greatest ‘am I an intellectual?’ test is if one is able to grasp (and embrace) the idea that a person can be bad but still write good poetry.

We do not believe this is true; we believe the opposite: one cannot be a bad person and write good poetry. If the poet is a truly bad person, the “good” poetry was most likely stolen, or written before the soul of the poet became  rotten.

And this is why Modernists hate the Romantics—because the Romantics were poetic individuals, while the Modernists (because of skyscrapers and aeroplanes and women getting the vote and other lame excuses) were not.

The “Split,” the source of so much modernist mischief, is a red herring.  The almighty “Split” even makes one think Ezra Pound must be a good poet: one must believe this is so to have intellectual, avant-garde creds—simply for the reason that for so long now, the “Split” has ruled over Letters.  The wretched, sophistical, school-boy “And then went down to the ship,/ Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and/ we set up mast and sail on that swart ship/” is somehow good because Pound is badAnd because it is wretched, it is avant-garde, and because it is avant-garde, it is wretched, and therefore better than, “What lips my lips have kissed and where and why.”  This is how those who think themselves very good judges of poetry convince themselves that Ezra Pound is a great poet.  Yes, it is truly frightening.

Despite the “Split,” rumblings about the reactionary nature of the Avant-garde were bound to start, as Scarriet does influence the culture it observes.

Witness the explosion of Left indignation in the latest Lana Turner Journal as the “Split”-fooled Left vaguely catches on.

We have Kent Johnson, an imaginative and brilliant man, in “No Avant-Garde: Notes Toward A Left  Front of the Arts,” reduced to the most pitiful, quixotic Old Leftism it is possible to imagine. In his essay, he imagines splendidly well, and he knows a great deal, but he’s very bitter, obviously, as the ugly truth—the Avant-garde is, and has always been, reactionary—sinks in.

We have Joshua Clover, in “The Genealogical Avant-Garde,” complaining in the same vein.

The current avant-gardes in contemporary Anglophone poetry make their claims largely by reference to previous avant-gardes.

The genealogical avant-garde is defined by a single contradiction. It has no choice but to affirm the very cultural continuity which it must also claim to oppose.

The “Split” is always rationalized.

The “Split” in this case, however, is not Bad Poet/Good Poetry, and in some ways it is far less problematic.

The “Split” now imploding due to common sense is: Bad Mainstream/Good Avant-garde.

The Avant-garde, as the progressive intellectuals finally understand it, is the Mainstream—and thus, bad.  Had they been able to see, 100 years ago, the nature of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, F. O. Matthiessen, and their New Critic allies, they would not have taken so long to understand the clever reactionary agenda.

But now they are finally getting it.

Cathy Park Hong (writing in Lana Turner no. 7) definitely wants a new boyfriend.  And it ‘aint Ron Silliman.

To encounter the history of avant-garde poetry is to encounter a racist tradition.

Poets of color have always been expected to sit quietly in the backbenches of both mainstream and avant-garde poetry. We’ve been trotted out in the most mindless forms of tokenism for anthologies and conferences, because to have all white faces would be downright embarrassing. For instance, Donald Allen’s classic 1959 and even updated 1982 anthology New American Poetry, which Marjorie Perloff has proclaimed “the anthology of avant-garde poetry,” includes a grand tally of one minority poet: Leroi Jones, aka Amiri Baraka. Tokenism at its most elegant.

Mainstream poetry is rather pernicious in awarding quietist minority poets who assuage quasi-white liberal guilt rather than challenge it. They prefer their poets to praise rather than excoriate, to write sanitized, easily understood personal lyrics on family and ancestry rather than make sweeping institutional critiques. But the avant-gardists prefer their poets of color to be quietest as well, paying attention to poems where race—through subject and form—is incidental, preferably invisible, or at the very least, buried. Even if racial identity recurs as a motif throughout the works of poets like John Yau, critics and curators of experimental poetry are quick to downplay it or ignore it altogether. I recall that in graduate school my peers would give me backhanded compliments by saying my poetry was of interest because it “wasn’t just about race.” Such an attitude is found in Craig Dworkin and Kenneth Goldsmith’s anthology, “Against Expression,” when they included excerpts from M. NourbeSe Philip’s brilliant “Zong!,” which explores the late 18th century British court case where 150 slaves were thrown overboard so the slave ship’s captain could collect the insurance money. The book is a constraint-based tour-de-force that only uses words found in the original one-page legal document.  Here is how Dworkin and Goldsmith characterize Zong: “the ethical inadequacies of that legal document . . . do not prevent their détournement in the service of experimental writing.” God forbid that maudlin and heavy-handed subjects like slavery and mass slaughter overwhelm the form!

The avant-garde’s “delusion of whiteness” is the luxurious opinion that anyone can be “post-identity” and can casually slip in and out of identities like a video game avatar, when there are those who are consistently harassed, surveilled, profiled, or deported for whom they are.

Even today, avant-garde’s most vocal, self-aggrandizing stars continue to be white and even today these stars like Kenneth Goldsmith spout the expired snake oil that poetry should be “against expression” and “post-identity.”

From legendary haunts like Cabaret Voltaire to San Remo and Cedar Tavern, avant-garde schools have fetishized community to mythologize their own genesis. But when I hear certain poets extolling the values of their community today, my reaction is not so different from how I feel a self-conscious, prickling discomfort that there is a boundary drawn between us. Attend a reading at St. Marks Poetry Project or the launch of an online magazine in a Lower East Side gallery and notice that community is still a packed room of white hipsters.

Avant-garde poetry’s attitudes towards race have been no different than that of mainstream institutions.

The encounter with poetry needs to change constantly via the internet, via activism and performance, so that poetry can continue to be a site of agitation, where the audience is not a receptacle of conditioned responses but is unsettled and provoked into participatory response. But will these poets ever be accepted as the new avant-garde? The avant-garde has become petrified, enamored by its own past, and therefore forever insular and forever looking backwards. Fuck the avant-garde. We must hew our own path.

Yes, “fuck the avant-garde.”  But we might just add that it is the avant-garde that has always been the problem; in this case, the tail wags the dog.

The New Critics (ex-I’ll Take My Stand Old South reactionary agrarianists) got an “in” when they launched their textbook, Understanding Poetry in the late 30s—it praised Pound and attacked Poe.

Popular poets like Edgar Poe and Edna St. Vincent Millay were the Mainstream “good” ambushed by the clique of Eliot, Pound and the New Critics.

How blithely and unthinkingly Cathy Park Hong takes up the “quietist” definition of the avant-garde (and ostentatiously Left) Silliman.

Unfortunately, they will get fooled again.

INEVITABLY, I FIGHT AGAINST THE INEVITABLE

If you want to create a certain mood,
Strike the following keys.
Use this rhythm and you will never be misunderstood.
The blues are actually angry. The melancholy taint is just a tease.
I’m tired of that smell the homeless have
Which sometimes invades the cafe I love.
Or the perfume worn by everyone
Reminding me of one I loved.
The most beautiful star, they say,
Appears to lovers as they fall asleep at break of day.
When I dared to argue
With you—no longer scared of you—
I found you had nothing to say.

PHILIP NIKOLAYEV AND THE POETRY OF PERSONAL RELIGION

Radical individualism is the only dignity there is.

There are only two types of people: the conformist and the non-conformist—the drudge and the peacock—the square and the hip—the cowardly prig and the brave sensualist—the dullard and the dandy—the meddler and the artist—the ones who don’t get it, or don’t quite get it, and the ones who do.

The true artist, the truly different, the truly sublime, the smartly beautiful, the enlightened ones—these are all radical individualists, or those who deeply accept and understand and support the radical individualist; all the rest are merely drudges who fret about ‘the good of society’ in a prying, jealous, overbearing sort of way, as they overcompensate for the fact that as individuals, they lack that spark which the first group has.

This is the Ur-division in Life and Society, the template and atmosphere, the body and thought of all social and political activity, as various obstacles present themselves to the journeying soul longing ‘to get it,’ ‘to be accepted,’ and ‘to be loved.’

Not love or be happy, for this straightforward activity betrays right from the start, an ignorance of the division—which is more important than anything else. This is the great instinctual ‘leap of faith’ that the potentially ‘cool’ person, the radical individualist, must choose as their life’s philosophy or their life’s religion.

It is why people socially do things. It is everything. It makes people vote in a certain way, pick certain friends and activities, and think the thoughts they think. The loss of pure love and pure happiness is merely the cost for obedience to this powerful division which is at the heart of social ‘understanding.’

The cool is defined against the not-cool; here is where individualism itself begins, because to choose otherwise (from the very start of the soul’s journey) is to sink hopelessly into the morass of dullness and jealousy and side with the shallow, meddling, superficial drags, who worry passively, or actively into existence, all sorts of jealous rules to make a dully, oppressively and lemming-like society acceptable and functioning as a society—which by definition has a duty to curb the charismatic and pleasure-seeking individual.

It does not matter if this division is factually true or not; psychologically and linguistically it is true; factually it has no real existence except as it is manifested socially—and this, as they say in the old country, suffices. We dress and shout and dance the way we do—for this division.

At one time the charismatic individual was an ideal ruler to lead society; but with the complex, advanced evolution of society, the charismatic individual instead rules in quite the other way now: against an orderly society, against society itself—as the radical individualist.

Philip Nikolayev is largely self-made and extremely talented: has advanced degrees, is multilingual, an influential editor (Fulcrum), read in other countries, has a family which includes a wife-poet! is a published poet himself— there is no way he cannot feel himself to belong to the elitism of the radical individual—he truly is one.

Why shouldn’t he advocate, then, for the poetry of personal religion?

A successful artist talks to us as his own priest, not in the language of priests—this is no surprise.

The individual qua individual is threatened by nothing—those who do not speak the language of the individual, but who participate in the language of the tribe, of society, and those rules which govern society and make society possible, cannot possibly harm the individualist, protected by that personal religion of his own making. The individual can enter an orthodox church and enjoy its sights and sounds, visit cities and countries and observe customs and manners, and he can write freely on anything which he finds to be significant; as long as rules do not censor him, he is free.

But who is interested in reading the individualist?

Other individualists, with a view for affirmation?

Or the anti-individualist, with a motive to find fault and censor?

The audience is one of two kinds, then: the friend or the bureaucratic foe, more indifferent, in most cases, especially in the United States, than foe.

The trouble here is that it is not enough to write and publish—criticism, audience reaction, being read, and truly responded to, are crucial for the writer.

Am I really being read, the poet wonders, or just flattered?

The other individualists don’t care what you write in the following very real sense: you are simply incapable of offending them— which may be good for friendship, but is fatal to literature, since it guarantees the absence of Criticism, which is necessary to literature.

Meanwhile, the other audience (society) is indifferent critically for a separate reason—they don’t speak the language of the individualist.

There is no friction or spark in either response—the poem slides easily down the throat of the individualist and falls indifferently at the feet of  the drudge. This is not to say other individualists may not enjoy what you produce; they may acquiesce and fully comprehend and joy in recognizing what is communicated—but there is no criticism, no interesting response. As much as the individualist enjoys the uniqueness of what you produce, the drudge will be unable—as drudge—to recognize the value of the unique communication, trained as they are only to recognize good and bad recipes for society, so no helpful response comes from that quarter, either.

This is the pitfall of the poetry of personal religion—not because of what it is, but because of its failure to actually live outside its unique origins.

The non-conformist offends the conformist—but only on the conformist’s terms, only where the conformist lives. If non-conformity does not offend, it fails in its task; it is eaten alive by this failure—for this is what non-conformity implicitly lives to do: offend those drudges who are asleep, non-artistic, or cruel.

There is still hope, however, for the radical individualist: there is a third audience between the sympathetic friend and the indifferent other: the rival poet, who is neither friend nor foe, but a combination of both.

What directs all poets to profitable activity is the rival—here the poet knows what to do, how to excel, and is guided in very specific ways to be successful.

Every famous poet succeeded against a rival and only understood how to be interesting in the context of what the blessed rival was doing. Popularity, as literary historians concede, is mostly earned by writers who enjoy success for a brief time and then are forgotten. The literary canon is full of poets who were neither popular with wide audiences, nor lifted up by friends, but made their mark in ‘rival poet’ contexts.

With the rival, the (helpful, motivating) question can truly be asked as it cannot be asked elsewhere: am I cool? Am I one of the chosen?

One must ask this question to oneself as a poet: am I good?  To oneself, as a matter of course, but it also needs to be asked by others.  Friends in your clique won’t give you an answer; they will only flatter you. And the others, those uncool, non-artists, the conformists, who don’t care for poetry and would rather focus on society and its ills?  They will most likely tell you, poetry isn’t good, or it’s silly; they are incapable, even if they cared, to tell you if you are a good poet, or not.

This is where the rival comes in. The rival knows poetry like you do, but won’t flatter you, will fight you, in fact, and this is where greatness and fame is made, in this nexus of rivals.

The greatest poet of them all—Shakespeare—wrote specifically about this in his Sonnets.

The greatest Romantic poets Shelley, Keats, and Byron all attacked the Alpha Romantic of the Day, Wordsworth: mocked him, called him disappointing, ridiculed him, said he was obscure, pulled his beard.

Poe, America’s Shakespeare, attacked Wordsworth a little later in the same spirit, and turned every well-know writer of his day into a rival: chiefly Longfellow and Emerson.

Our Canon today has been shaped by these battles: and we the living unconsciously and naively pick sides in what we think is a reasonable, peaceful spirit.

Had Pound not got his Imagism ass kicked by Amy Lowell, he would have remained mired in triviality.

T.S. Eliot—whose grandfather knew  Emerson—attacked both the Romantics and Poe (for this latter, vicious attack, see “From Poe to  Valery” 1949).

The most famous rivalry of all: Homer and Plato.

We don’t have the time to elucidate these rivalries here, but most readers will be familiar with them—though many readers, even those who consider themselves avant-garde, admittedly don’t read poetry or literature this way (they are blissfully naive and do not figure into this discussion—let them remain naive).

Who is Philip Nikolayev’s rival?

Has he any?

Poetically, no.   Because Nikolayev is too good in a pure, self-deprecating, completely witty and skilled sort of way.

Also, Nikolayev has no avant-garde rivals because he writes “for the ages,” a quaint idea these days, no doubt.

There is a certain pure excellence in Nikolayev’s work which cannot be rivaled.  Philip Nikolayev is that good.

This is not to say that any small example of a writer’s work will not show the division discussed above.

Take this wonderful poem of Nikolayev’s, which can be found on The Poetry Foundation site:

Hotel

Time to recount the sparrows of the air
Seated alone on an elected stair,
I stare as they appear and disappear.

Tonight the deck supports tremendous quiet,
Although the twilight is itself a riot.
I’m glad I’m staying here, not at the Hyatt.

My pen, eye, notes, watch, whiskey glass and hell
All hang together comfortably well.
Pain is my favorite resort hotel.

 

The poet is an individualist, a non-conformist: therefore, he is not staying at “the Hyatt.”  But Hyatt is a rhyme; the individualist, self-deprecating stance is seasoned by wit.

Nikolayev uses lyric wit to rise above the division.  He is aware of it and playfully and wittily fights against it, which makes him a better poet for that reason alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE INTEGRATION OF POETRY AND LIFE

The integration of poetry and life may be the most important question of all.

Interesting aspects of life, beautiful, useless glimpses of life—is this poetry? And the rest of it, life, as useful, as lived, or as the subject of philosophy or science, is this the life which is not poetry? Is this division valid?

Or is poetry a sub-category of philosophy in the division above, poetry not a “glimpse” of something “interesting and useless,” but rather a unique and useful branch of life understanding itself (philosophy)?

Or is this division not valid at all, since both sides are made of life, and poetry is something separate and apart?

And does poetry exist apart specifically in a world of words, interesting as a word-product, without any necessary connection to life?

And here we say “necessary,” because poetry may certainly use words which naturally signify life (because this is what words do) but in terms of what poetry is, it does not matter what is signified.

Yes. This is what poetry is: a word product without any necessary connection or reflection of life.

This is what Byron meant when he said:

“Poetry is nothing more than a certain dignity which life tries to take away.”

This is what Shelley meant when he said:

“A poet would do ill to embody his own conceptions of right and wrong, which are usually those of his place and time, in his poetical creations, which participate in neither.”

According to Shelley, poetry reflects the future: life which does not exist yet, and words have the unique ability to reflect life which is not life, what we sometimes refer to as the imagination.

The imaginative gardener can take what already exists: flowers and plants, and put together a garden which has never existed, portraying a unique dreamscape of beauty which is of this world, using the materials of this world, yet imaginatively invokes, and is, the future—a transformation of nature by poetic vision.

In so much as the gardener does this, the gardener is a poet. And in this way, anyone who transforms the material world is a poet. Note that we say transform, not merely reflect, or imitate—which is the traditional Aristotelian definition of poetry.

Aristotle’s definition is tepid, and Plato feared poetry precisely because his vision of it was greater, Plato deeply understanding poetry’s ability to not merely imitate, but transform. In fact, poetry fails at imitation (as Plato zealously pointed out) but poetry does something even more significant (and wonderful and dangerous): it creates the future, for good or ill.

Aristotle’s reasoning is so: poetry imitates good and bad people and it is perfectly reasonable and even good to do this, for how can we know the good if we don’t portray the bad? And out of this reasonable imitation springs the “freedom” to make art, and the justification for all destructive human freedom and license—since in Aristotle’s vision, the imitation of life is at the heart of all human making.

Aristotle’s famous qualification that poetry is more philosophical than history because poetry shows ‘what could be’ rather than ‘what is’ (as history does) is a monkey wrench; history and philosophy are both concerned (or should be concerned) with the truth; poetry is radically different; to give poetry (false) philosophical properties only furthers poetry’s (false) license to depict all sorts of bad things in the name of poetry’s freedom. The vision of Plato (which dares to radically critique poetry) is vastly different.

The wise know Aristotle’s oft-repeated and ubiquitous formula is wrong; the wise know that the whole Aristotelian project, adopted by the intellectual rabble of every cynical era, is misguided; and if we pay attention to visionaries like Plato and Shelley, to visionaries of the Renaissance and Romanticism, we will see that poetry’s power lies in making a new Good, not simply imitating whatever life happens to toss our way, or worse, abetting badness by cynically celebrating (with the cheering mob) its imitation in poetry, art, spectacle, learned books, etc.

As Poe points out, poetry is concerned with Taste, not Truth; and this quality, relegated wrongly to embellishment and triviality in our era, is a world of profound influence; Taste lives on the border of Truth, its province is Beauty, fed by Truth which is nearby, but Taste is grasped or understood by the instantaneous transmission of the Good (what we feel in our gut) which sidesteps the usual academic authorities—which is why academia balks at any consideration of Taste in cynical eras. “Give us the ugly truth,” scream the poets in cynical eras, “Beauty and Taste are old-fashioned and effete!”

Poets who cynically reject Poe’s poetry tend to also ignore Poe’s profound accomplishments in prose—for it is the whole of Poe’s project, seen and understood in its entirety, which proves the importance of qualities properly distributed and arranged across the whole range of reality’s projection in the transforming mind of the genius who serves humanity.

In our example of the gardener who profoundly transforms nature using her own materials, we find the poet, who is one step potentially more profound than the gardener, only because words can take and re-transform life in a manner potentially more significant than recombining the already existing beauty of flowers and plants.

Here is why 99% of poetry and its talk these days fails—poets and critics today assume a relationship, or an integration of life and poetry in which the two appear to serve each other, but do not: over here is some topic of life, interesting as a separate topic in a manner not connected to poetry whatsoever, and then over here we have the “poet” or the “poetry” and lo and behold! the two are yanked together in a manner which ostensibly brings more interest to both— but because the yanking together is utterly superficial, the interest is actually mitigated, and even dissolves, as the yanking exemplifies unconsciously a false idea of poetry. Poetry is, in the simplest sense, putting A next to B to create C, yes, but this alone is not enough, and this formula, when persisted in, quickly wears out its welcome. Arrangement requires a poetic purpose: the creation of a new Good, and without this purpose driving the project, the combining gesture is unfortunately a hollow gesture, and, problematically, not understood as such by the ignorant who merely go through the motions of  what they assume is poetic activity. Because they are gassing on about some interesting aspect of life, the ignorant think that it will be all the more interesting because of its mere proximity to po-biz. It is like when someone introduces their poem with a long story and then the poem is read, and we wish they had stopped with the story. This is the state of poetry today.

The true poet has ‘no story’ to introduce his poem—for the integration is in the poem, and when, in error, it is displayed as ‘story’ followed by ‘poem,’ it represents the unnecessary split which signals the falsity and the error, persisted in by those who naively think ‘story and poem’ is twice as good as ‘poem.’

We might be accused of this error: we earlier said Poe is understood in the entirety of his productions; so we appreciate his poems in light of his prose. No. The poem of Poe exists for its own sake, and succeeds on its own, without the help of anything else ‘to make it interesting,’ and this is precisely how we are defining poetry. The crowding in upon poetry of all these other matters ‘to make it interesting’ is the very thing which kills poetry, and it is done because of the Aristotle project which sees poetry imitating, and thus sharing its existence, with our place in the world at present, and also having a philosophical aspect which, in the same way, makes it necessary that poetry share the stage with all sorts of interests which are really beside the point, and hopelessly dilute the poetic enterprise.

Poetry is not a vehicle to make life more interesting. There are those who constantly seek to make life more interesting and these are those who are not poets and will never understand poetry and generally do not appreciate good taste. They are bored by the placidly beautiful, even though an appreciation of the placidly beautiful is the secret to heaven on earth.

The riot is even now at our doors; the useless activity which seeks the interesting and tramples on taste.

Life is coming for us.

Take my hand, poet.

Let us quietly flee.

THE POEM I CANNOT WRITE

The poem I cannot write
Sits on a shelf in the middle of the night,
The subject, you,
Hidden from every reader’s point of view—
Who still may see you by a little light
Even as the midnight rainstorm covers you.

The poem I cannot write
Has a long and lovely body, but poor eyesight,
Is made of misty words,
Huddled on a wire that none use, like birds,
Huddled—babies, too—in the spring, like birds,
Huddled in winter—grown—like huddled
Things of rare moment—
Of which those poems, which were truly poems, lent
Extra qualities of beauty pertaining
To rainstorms unwritten
(I handed you a note—were you smitten?)
Because in every poem you were in, it was raining.

When, at last, you come into my sight,
The rain having almost destroyed the night,
Sun of gold and light!
You will be,
Like my poetry,
The poem I cannot write.

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