THE MORAL SMUT PARADOX

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Poetry, once beautiful, has become merely eccentric; more troubling, currently, is the vast indifference, and even revulsion by the public for the art, despite valiant efforts at subsidy, chiefly the commerce and spread of university MFAs.

Some say we have a glut of poets—the MFA, a pyramid scheme when all pay for a small number who teach—poets read poets in a purely careerist context, even as real poetry hides in cracks and crevices—but “too many poets” and MFA criticism seems a small concern beside the tremendous indifference of the general public.

Why can’t poetry live outside of school (and Slam bars) and thrive in the public square, with cooking and napping and sports?

Because poetry is either

1) too easy or

2) too difficult:

1) Rhymes for imbeciles

2) Footnotes for specialists in which the content and syntax of a Newsweek essay stirs up in the reader a puzzle: why is this called poetry?

Surely there is a middle ground—between the banal pop lyric and the mangled prosy essay, between “We will, we will, rock you” and William Carlos Williams’ stupid plums, between Victorian pillow talk and academic vertigo—a middle ground of highly skilled, original poetry which pleases poet and non-poet alike—

A middle ground accessible to non-poets while alerting the poets that obscurity is over: Shelley, Keats, Byron and Dickinson are back.

This will do 3 things:

1. Make poetry better.

2. Make the pictorial and musical arts better as poetry inspires them once again

3. Revive public interest in poetry—even as the narrow creds-mongers howl in protest

The chief objection to a modern Romanticism revival (desperately needed since the pretensions of Pound and Williams mowed over the beauty of Millay) will come from the Institutional Art Theorists, who say the history of art (no matter how driven by actual folly) is more important than art, that poetry requires a “learned” context of historical change and development—as phase trumps the thing itself.

Old models—think of Greek Tragedy, cave paintings, Emerson’s doggerel, will be improved upon, yes, certainly, but the improvement comes from the original poet, not the impotent university scholar/historian who learnedly and belatedly cheers on change. The cheering in universities needs to stop and beautiful originality needs to begin.

The university historian says Keats is dead—because history is more important to them than art.

But there is an even deeper issue we need to address:

The poet, if he is worthy the name, avoids what chiefly cripples all moral expression: smutty morals, or moral smut, the heart and soul of most middle class literature.

We speak of best-selling literature in which morals are highly overt, and in order to be overt, makes smut overt as well, thus inflating even more the overt moral content, feeding and encouraging low-brow taste in the process, and dragging down in a mania of good intentions all literature into that “realism” of bad taste in which readers slum free of guilt.

The alternative: the “fantasy” genre, fares no better and is similarly in thrall, as it exploits moral smut even more overtly, using racy bad taste increasingly as its “ideal” weapon.

This earnest and vastly popular state of affairs not only makes for bad literature, it reduces the middle class population which consumes it into a species of reader entirely ill-equipped to appreciate beautiful good taste, which is the Eldorado of the Poet.

This is not to say that a certain amount of raciness and bad taste and excitement cannot drive certain types of popular literature—we are not saying there cannot be cakes and ale. Let there be cakes and ale. But when ale becomes excessive, infecting even so-called highbrow literature, and when good taste for its own sake is no longer cultivated, we reach that threshold in which the elevated feelings no longer stir, real moral beauty no longer excites, and the poor body drags along without a soul.

We also understand that lovely flowers grow in dirt, etc.  That contrast is required between low and high. Shakespeare was great at this, but his greatness—what other word is there for it?—kept the low in its place. Low is low—unless we are suckered after long exposure into admiring it.  Addicted, we continue to feed on what makes us ill; judgment atrophies, taste becomes bloated with sentimentalism, discernment wastes away, obscurity becomes robust in a pretentious miasma, and the best that’s left are sneering sophisticates with steely hearts.

The great poet resists overt morals—and the smutty bad taste which invariably feeds on it.

The prose novel, with its earthiness and scope, will sometimes benefit from this phenomenon.

But poetry is far more susceptible to the disease of which we speak.

The paradox of Moral Smut insidiously sweetens, destroying the healthy vigor of poetry, and its art, and Taste, in general.

 

 

 

14 Comments

  1. January 20, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    Poetry is never taught in Colleges or in Universities. Several thousands and thousands turn out from Universities. At least not even 1% are poets. Poetry is the expression of emotions of a person. All can’t express it. It goes into him and comes out in a transformed form.

    World is the class room for a poet. Poetry comes anywhere and everywhere. It may be the death bed or a burial ground. Only expressions and emotions shall change. Poetry has nothing to do with the education of a person. It reflects only the maturity of a person.

    Shakespeare, T.S.Eliot etc., cannot continue to hold headlines forever. Days change and taste also changes. Few haiku poems present a view in a way never expressed by anyone in the world.

    We have to accept and honor the change. It is inevitable for the new to come and the old to go. It is the order of the world. We have to thank god for blessing us with such new stocks again and again.

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 20, 2015 at 9:52 pm

      Yes, it is probably safe to say that poetry cannot be taught. Literature cannot be taught. Criticism of Literature can be taught, and from that the student either becomes a poet—or not.

  2. Smut Support said,

    January 20, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    Shout out to alla my peeps (esp. the Noochinator):

    • nooochinator said,

      January 20, 2015 at 6:37 pm

      Bless you, Smut Support! Tom Lehrer, Frank Jacobs, and Alfred E. Neuman made me what I am today — so how do I sue for irreparable damage?

      • Smut Support said,

        January 20, 2015 at 10:44 pm

        Ha ha – 2 of 3 same formative influences here!
        But in my case Famous Monsters magazine must be substituted for Frank Jacobs (not sure who he even is).
        Now I return to that difficult wavering line, that Apache Dance between Victorian pillow talk and academic vertigo.
        Over and out.

        • thomasbrady said,

          January 23, 2015 at 12:11 pm

          I was formed by Nina Simone, Alfred Deller and Shakespeare…

  3. noochinator said,

    January 21, 2015 at 10:46 am

    Frank Jacobs, born 1929, was MAD magazine’s go-to guy for parodies of great poems (and he still makes occasional contributions). He schooled me in appreciation of poetic rhythm without my even knowing it (and then Scarriet brought me to the M.F.A. level). Here is Mr. Jacobs’ “The 1981 Night Before Christmas”:

    http://raggedclaws.com/2011/12/24/look-here-read-the-1981-night-before-christmas-or-a-final-visit-from-st-nicholas/

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Jacobs

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 21, 2015 at 12:52 pm

      So full of pessimism and gloom. Mad always seemed dirty to me, even as a child, before I knew what dirty was. Satire, unable to be original, has the temperament of Milton’s Satan. Very clever, though. Amusing in a gloomy context.

      • Smut Support said,

        January 21, 2015 at 1:18 pm

        Tom you are right – Mad IS dirty and full of cynical and nihilistic satire. But I couldn’t discern that at age 10. Tom Lehrer is very similar in that way. I will think twice before letting my own kids fill their heads with that stuff…

      • noochinator said,

        January 21, 2015 at 1:20 pm

        MAD teaches that 99% of everything is bullshit, which is true, but the danger is that readers can end up thinking that 100% of everything is bullshit, which is not true…

        • Ashu अशु said,

          February 12, 2015 at 7:07 am

          Well said, from another creature of Mad! And of comic books. I went on to get a PhD in Sanskrit epic poetry from Cambridge university. I like to say that I never really changed genres: comic books all the way to the top.

          • noochinator said,

            March 27, 2016 at 10:50 am

            Many self-help books today teach us that YOU are fine, YOU are great, YOU are wonderful. But what about all the other people in the world? Well, THEY, as we all know, leave a lot to be desired. THEY are very different from YOU… as you will discover shortly, when you read…

            MAD’s “THEY” and “YOU” Book

            by Frank Jacobs

            THEY
            …are a bunch of “Yes”-men.

            YOU
            …show proper respect to superiors.

            *********************************

            THEY
            …are cheap.

            YOU
            …have learned the value of thrift.

            *********************************

            THEY
            …have lousy taste in clothes.

            YOU
            …believe the “inner you” is more important than surface appearances.

            *********************************

            THEY
            …let their kids run wild, like a pack of wild animals.

            YOU
            …believe in self-expression for young people.

            *********************************

            THEY
            …bad-mouth everyone they know.

            YOU
            …tell it like it is.

            *********************************

            THEY
            …are pushy.

            YOU
            …show self-assertion.

            *********************************

            THEY
            …would con their own Mother for a buck.

            YOU
            …have a keen mind for business.

            *********************************

            THEY
            …are a bunch of neurotics who couldn’t cope if it weren’t for their “shrinks”.

            YOU
            …benefit from professional advice.

            *********************************

            THEY
            …are weak jellyfish who can be talked into anything.

            YOU
            …are flexible.

            *********************************

            THEY
            …are a bunch of reactionary squares.

            YOU
            …have a deep regard for tradition.

            *********************************

            THEY
            …ruthlessly claw their way to the top.

            YOU
            …take advantage of every opportunity.

            *********************************

            THEY
            …get drunk and embarrass everyone around them.

            YOU
            …are the life of the party.

            *********************************

            THEY
            …are never on time.

            YOU
            …pride yourself on not being run by the clock.

            *********************************

            THEY
            …can’t hold onto a job.

            YOU
            …enjoy discovering new worlds to conquer.

            *********************************

            THEY
            …throw their money away, gambling.

            YOU
            …are intrigued by the laws of probability.

            *********************************

            THEY
            …are insensitive practical jokers.

            YOU
            …have a well-rounded sense of humor.

            *********************************

            THEY
            …can’t be trusted to keep a secret.

            YOU
            …believe in open communication.

            *********************************

            THEY
            …go along with every ridiculous, half-baked new fad or craze.

            YOU
            …are a disciple of the New Age.

            *********************************

            THEY
            …camp out, get blisters and are eaten alive by mosquitoes.

            YOU
            …enjoy roughing it.

            *********************************

            THEY
            …are fault-finding nit-pickers.

            YOU
            …have a good eye for detail.

            *********************************

            THEY
            …bore everyone by showing endless slides of their vacations.

            YOU
            …enrich your friends by exposing them to your discoveries in remote foreign cultures.

  4. Smut Support said,

    January 21, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    Abandon all hope, ye who enter here:

    http://tinyurl.com/o85vxr7

  5. Diane Roberts Powell said,

    January 21, 2015 at 10:00 pm

    Is this smutty or just plain silly?


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