LIFE IS A LONG ROOM

Longroom london

Life is a long room

With something happening at the other end

Which has nothing to do with you,

But which you watch, unnoticed,

Sipping your coffee, settled back in your chair,

No one, you think, paying attention to you,

Some small event

You may end up remembering more than 

These casual participants will;

Often sad to think how little people remember,

Yet this is part of the glory of memory, finally,

Is it not? What you remember, so it makes you cry?

A small crowd has gathered,

An elderly lady in a yellow coat;

They are petting and admiring a dog,

One of those handsome hunting dogs,

Noble, quick, anxious to please;

The conversation is dictated by the visible, outdoor life,

Solid animals, old houses in suburban neighborhoods at the center

Of old power and influence.  Was there music playing?

You know how much is out of reach,

How much slips away, how empty

Is your heart that knows.

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TOO SHY TO TALK , HE WRITES POEMS; TOO SHY TO LIVE, SHE TALKS

In the wasteland of the winter garden,
Words on a rock remain;
Dead vines fail to cover what the flowers did,
A sentimental poem carved in a rock
Announces what the garden hid
Spring and summer and fall—
What did the poem say: did she care at all?

But this was the poem’s theme:
She did not care.
But now she does, in winter’s dream,
Death forcing love to love the cold and bare.
She made her heart hard. She talked.
The poem was right. She did not care.

POETRY IS OLD

Poetry is old, and God is old, but older still
Than even God, is institutional will,
Is professionalism perched on the shepherd’s old hill.

The professional points to the paper,
Telling artist and lover what to do.
No love here. Yes, we mean you.

It has nice clothes and a nice demeanor
But beware—there is nothing meaner.
It will send millions of souls to slaughter
As it discourses on the properties of water.

Revenge is sweet,
But even sweeter
When mingled with kisses.
She went to meet her,
She called her in.
When did professionalism begin?
It tries to cover up—but becomes—sin.

Professionalism is sexless and more powerful than sex.
Whatever is sexy, the sexless wrecks.
Love is a pitiful, awkward dance.
Against professionalism it hasn’t a chance.

There was rock music,
But what came later?
Curatorial corporate music
In a glass elevator.

Professionalism killed Mozart
And Michelangelo, too.
Eliot wore a suit
While the bombs flew.

Professionalism is clever: It precisely creates
What publicly it hates.

The priests were evil,
But universal God was good.
Professionalism’s priests
Have no God;
Professionalism is God, understood?

Michelangelo, broken by the gulag,
Modernist, paints a soul with a rag.
Soviet? Yes! So what?
What kind of art do you do?
Manage investments. Professionalism is coming after you.

SWEET SIXTEEN IN BRACKETS THREE AND FOUR

The Scarriet March Madness Poetry competition brings out the good times in everyone.

Spoiler: Results precede list of contests below.

When we judge poems we know them better than when we merely read them.

When we judge, we come face to face with the sea of meaning and are forced to entertain the following truth: meaning exists or it does not; since meaning is vast and misty to the ordinary understanding, and there is a tendency to equate poetry with mist, we assume in error that it is not this simple: but it is this simple; the poet who attempts to slyly evade meaning (like the painter who colorfully adorns and is merely abstract in an attempt to be mysterious) fails.

We either understand the poem (or a part of the poem) or we do not.

This of course does not mean that when we understand the poem, it succeeds. We may understand and reject. But to the wise judge it is easy to see when the poet is deliberately trying not to be understood in order not to be rejected. These efforts are the worst failures of all, even though they are sometimes considered successes—so do so many fear rejection.

When musical poetry supports a banality, at least we have the music—this was the 19th century view, or so it seems to us moderns, who, instead, scorn the music which sells itself to banality, and would rather put faith in unadorned speech which says something, and, even if it doesn’t really ‘say something,’ we like it anyway if it does so without condescending to musicality, which is considered the highest insult, so long was the musical error indulged in previously.

We start with music and fit in ‘saying something’ or we start with ‘saying something’ and hope it rises to music; the former is considered the 19th century way and the latter the new way, or, the currently accepted way. Then of course there is the third way, accepted today in some circles, that this ‘fit’ and ‘rise’ itself is false. And further, this third way can be even more radical and call ‘saying something’ false as a rule—in poetry, or, perhaps, altogether. And as we travel the circle towards ultimate skepticism we may end up back at pure music and the stern post-post modern conceptualist is suddenly transformed into the lisping Romantic heartsick tuneful dandy.

These considerations go into:

Pope toys with Williams, Mazer rips Rilke, Chin punishes Gluck, Ransom downs Dante, Sassoon and Ashbery in OT, Shelley nips Parker, Byron hammers Harper, and Milton murders Bernstein. The dictum, ‘it means something or it does not’ requires a focus, a narrowing, a simplicity, perhaps more than anything else. In poetry as in life, to be unduly mysterious is the sign of the pompously creepy.

BRACKET THREE

Milton: Virtue could see to do what Virtue would By her own radiant light, though sun and moon Were in the flat sea sunk. But he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts Benighted walks under the mid-day sun; Himself is his own dungeon.

v.

Bernstein: What do you mean by rashes of ash? Is industry systematic work, assiduous activity, or ownership of factories? Is ripple agitate lightly? Are we tossed in tune when we write poems? And what or who emboss with gloss insignias of air?

***

Byron: She walks in beauty, like the night Of cloudless climes and starry skies; And all that’s best of dark and bright Meet in her aspect and her eyes; Thus mellowed to that tender light Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

v.

Harper: We reconstruct lives in the intensive care unit, pieced together in a buffet dinner: two widows with cancerous breasts in their balled hands; a 30-year-old man in a three-month coma from a Buick and a brick wall; a woman who bleeds off and on from her gullet; a prominent socialite, our own nurse, shrieking for twins, “her bump gone”; the gallery of veterans, succored, awake, without valves, some lungs gone.

***

Shelley: Hail to thee, blithe Spirit! Bird thou never wert, That from Heaven, or near it, Pourest thy full heart In profuse strains of unpremeditated art. We look before and after, And pine for what is not: Our sincerest laughter With some pain is fraught; Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

v.

Parker: My love runs by like a day in June, And he makes no friends of sorrows. He’ll tread his galloping rigadoon In the pathway of the morrows. He’ll live his days where the sunbeams start, Nor could storm or wind uproot him. My own dear love, he is all my heart,—And I wish somebody’d shoot him.

***

Ashbery: The time of day or the density of the light Adhering to the face keeps it Lively and intact in a recurring wave Of arrival. The soul establishes itself.

v.

Sassoon: I lived my days apart, Dreaming fair songs for God; By the glory in my heart Covered and crowned and shod.

BRACKET FOUR

Dante: There is a gentle thought that often springs to life in me, because it speaks of you. Its reasoning about love’s so sweet and true, the heart is conquered, and accepts these things.

v.

Ransom: For I could tell you a story which is true; I know a woman with a terrible tongue, Blear eyes fallen from blue, All her perfections tarnished — yet it is not long Since she was lovelier than any of you.

***

Chin: A flower and yet not a flower A dream and yet not a dream At midnight he comes to my bed At daylight he returns to the dead

v.

Gluck: Night covers the pond with its wing. Under the ringed moon I can make out your face swimming among minnows and the small echoing stars. In the night air the surface of the pond is metal.

***

Rilke: His gaze, from passing on the bars around him, has grown so weary, no more can it bear. It seems as if a thousand bars surround him. Beyond those thousand bars, there is nowhere.

v.

Mazer: I talked the universe out of my head, and you were my mirror. I was understood! The poetry we wrote was more than good, it was unreal and real. Now what we feel descends to that world which exists beyond the grave. Where no one sleeps, and language is our slave.

***

Williams: munching a plum on the street a paper bag of them in her hand They taste good to her They taste good to her They taste good to her

v.

Pope: But as the slightest Sketch, if justly trac’d, Is by ill Colouring but the more disgrac’d, So by false Learning is good Sense defac’d. Some are bewilder’d in the Maze of Schools, And some made Coxcombs Nature meant but Fools. In search of Wit these lose their common Sense, And then turn Criticks in their own Defense.

INSULTING LOVE

A stare is an insult,
Although it be filled with love,
For if the rain comes,
It has to come from above:
He has to say hello,
He has to state his case;
He can’t just make her wet
By looking into her face.

She might feel his love
And really want to play
But when you look with love,
There’s very little to say.

The body is excited,
The grass with the dew is wet.
The love shimmers.
Perhaps you’ll talk to her yet.

TEASDALE AND MICHELANGELO IN SWEET 16!

Michelangelo, the great Renaissance artist, does not belong to the English-speaking poetry canon.

Michelangelo’s success in this year’s Scarriet March Madness perhaps proves nothing—after all, this tournament features excerpted lines, not entire poems.

The experiment has nonetheless proved interesting. First, Michelangelo is an interesting discovery. His poetry is good. Even in the English translations available.

And secondly, with the assertion that “a long poem does not exist,” Edgar Poe, in the mid-19th century, ushered in a new criterion. It is really very simple, and Scarriet has followed Poe’s insight to its logical conclusion: poetry is poetry in as much as it pleases immediately, and in its smallest parts: prose can be unremarkable as it builds; poetry we define as that which is remarkable right away: it is poetry as much as it makes an impression right away—in one line, or a few.

Therefore, let’s be frank: the modern prose poem, which takes time to unfold and make its “poetic” impression on the reader, hasn’t got a chance in this tournament.

And let’s be even more frank: what is the advantage of writing poetry which is not poetry?

Or, to put it another way: is there anything wrong with the type of writing which makes a strong impression immediately?

We cannot think of any reason—touching on pleasure, usefulness, or pedagogy—why this type of writing does not deserve the highest acclaim, should not be considered an expression of the highest virtue.

And yet—who writes like this anymore:

Fate is a wind and red leaves fly before it Far apart, far away in the gusty time of year—Seldom we meet now, but when I hear you speaking, I know your secret, my dear, my dear.

Which poet today produces work like the above—to critical acclaim?

None.

And yet here is that type of writing which deserves notice—which moves, entertains, pleases on its own and also demonstrates what language itself can do.

And poetry—which is the very best at doing the most important human activity of all: expression—chooses another path, the same path which prose treads.

We find this whole state of affairs—and we love prose—just a little disconcerting.

So let us throw, a little sadly, rose petals at Sarah Teasdale, and congratulate her, with the rest.

Of course, Tennyson, won.  Is the following old, or good?  We say it may be old, but it is also very, very good—whatever else we call it.

My heart would hear her and beat, Were it earth in an earthy bed; my dust would hear her and beat, Had I lain for a century dead; Would start and tremble under her feet, And blossom in purple and red.

Tennyson probably asked for tea in the way any person would—and when writing poetry such as this, he was practicing to make poetry of the highest order—which it is.

It seems a little ridiculous to condemn verse such as this as “old-fashioned.”

This would be like calling the work which graces the Sistine Chapel “old-fashioned.”

The label “old-fashioned,” applied to Tennyson, and to great verse, should make a person of good taste wince, and cringe.

Here’s the Sweet Sixteen from Brackets one and two:

Michelangelo (d. Marlowe)

Teasdale (d. Dowson)

Eliot (d. Arnold)

Wordsworth (d. Merwin)

Coleridge (d. Wylie)

Poe (d. Frost)

Keats (d. Khayyam)

Tennyson (d. Marvell)

SECOND ROUND MARCH MADNESS ACTION!

BRACKET ONE

Marlowe: Was this the face that launched a thousand ships And burnt the topless towers of Ilium? Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss. Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again. Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips.

v.

Michelangelo: Thus thy sudden kindness shown to me Amid the gloom where only sad thoughts reign, With too much rapture bringing light again, Threatens my life more than that agony.

***

Dowson: I cried for madder music and for stronger wine, But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire, Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine; And I am desolate and sick of an old passion, Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire: I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.  

v.

Teasdale: Fate is a wind, and red leaves fly before it Far apart, far away in the gusty time of year—Seldom we meet now, but when I hear you speaking, I know your secret, my dear, my dear.

***

Eliot: With the other masquerades That time resumes, One thinks of all the hands That are raising dingy shades In a thousand furnished rooms.

v.

Arnold: The Sea of Faith Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled. But now I only hear Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, Retreating, to the breath Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear And naked shingles of the world.

***

Wordsworth: She dwelt among the untrodden ways Beside the springs of Dove, Maid whom there were none to praise And very few to love.

v.

Merwin: Naturally it is night. Under the overturned lute with its One string I am going my way Which has a strange sound

 

BRACKET TWO

Coleridge: Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,’Twas sad as sad could be; And we did speak only to break The silence of the sea!

v.

Wylie: Avoid the reeking herd, Shun the polluted flock, Live like that stoic bird, the eagle of the rock.

***

Poe: I was a child and she was a child, In this kingdom by the sea, But we loved with a love that more than love—I and my Annabel Lee—

v.

Frost: Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, And spills the upper boulders in the sun

***

Khayyam: Come, fill the cup, and in the fire of Spring Your winter garment of repentance fling: The Bird of Time has but a little way To flutter—and the Bird is on the Wing.

v.

Keats: Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men Look’d at each other with a wild surmise Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

***

Marvell: Had we but world enough and time, This coyness, lady, were no crime. We would sit down, and think which way To walk, and pass our long love’s day.

v.

Tennyson: My heart would hear her and beat, Were it earth in an earthy bed; My dust would hear her and beat, Had I lain for a century dead; Would start and tremble under her feet, And blossom in purple and red.

 

 

CLIMB DOWN INTO THE CAVERNS OF SLEEP

Climb down into the caverns of sleep.
Kiss limbs you’ve never kissed.
Laugh at sorrow—at the comedic, weep.
Desire what you never desired,
Look for what you never missed.

What you cannot know
Creeps up on you at last.

Sleep is warm, maternal and slow,
That her children, the dreams, may be bright and fast.

When you climb down into the caverns of sleep,
Beware; this depth may be illusion
And your fate, which seems serious and profound,
Is only sleeping on the ground:
What you love is neither good nor deep.

A POEM BY V. MUTHU MANICKAM

End of the World by ahermin

Only One!

Only one who can abundantly give
Only one who can endlessly live

Only one who can love purely
Only one who can offer anything surely

Anything, only one who can, predict
Anyone, only one who can, protect

Only one who can protect anywhere
Only one who can cure everywhere

Only one is omniscient
Only one who can be omnipresent

Only one who can be ultimate
He is one! Of course, only one!!

—V. Muthu Manickam

MARCH MADNESS FIRST ROUND—PLENTY OF UPSETS!

image

The biggest upset?

Bracket Two: Elinor Wylie (b 1885) 16th seed, knocks off number one seed Shakespeare! “Let Me Not Admit Impediments…” fell to “I was being human, born alone; I am, being a woman, hard beset. I live by squeezing from a stone The little nourishment I get.” Good for you, Elinor. Women everywhere are now wearing Wylie T-shirts.

Another shocker in Bracket Four thrilled poetry fans: No. 1 Seed Homer (“Sing in me Muse”) was edged out by John Crowe Ransom’s “Practice your beauty, blue girls, before it fail. And I will cry with my loud lips and publish Beauty which all our power will never establish, it is so frail.”

Lines of a highly developed music are the successful ones so far.

Translations are at a disadvantage, generally. Michelangelo, however, advanced past Blake in another upset in Bracket One. Michelangelo is ignored as a poet, perhaps, simply because he was such a great artist.

Michael S. Harper pulled off the only upset in Bracket Three, where every higher seed advanced except Wilfred Owen, who lost to Harper’s

“Those four black girls blown up in that Alabama church remind me of five hundred middle passage blacks, in a net, under water in Charleston harbor so redcoats wouldn’t find them. Can’t find what you can’t see can you?”

A traditional sort of lyric beauty doesn’t always win.

But icons of yore did tend to prevail.

Milton, with his solemn music, for instance:

“The world was all before them, where to choose their Place of rest, and Providence their guide: They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow Through Eden took their solitary way.”

Did have trouble beating this by Patricia Lockwood:

“The rape joke is that you were 19 years old. The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend. The rape joke it wore a goatee. A goatee. Imagine the rape joke looking in the mirror, perfectly reflecting back itself, and grooming itself to look more like a rape joke.”

The Lockwood had a certain tragedy, strangeness, focus, and interest.

This by Byron, however:

“Though the night was made for loving, And the day returns too soon, Yet we’ll go no more a roving By the light of the moon.”

Had no trouble dispatching the following by Graham, which feels flat by comparison:

“On my way to bringing you the leotard you forgot to include in your overnight bag, the snow started coming down harder. I watched each gathering of leafy flakes melt round my footfall. I looked up into it—late afternoon but bright. Nothing true or false in itself.”

We will not reveal the precise score of the game, as we do not wish to embarrass Ms. Graham.

Joining Wylie in another upset victory for women, Gluck, 14th seeded in the Fourth Bracket, outlasted Pound.

Plath and Sexton did not advance, however, as Wordsworth’s “No motion has she now” proved too much for Plath’s “a man in black with a Meinkampf look” and Sexton’s “her kind” lost in what must be considered an upset to Ben Mazer’s “Harpo was also, know this, Paul Revere…”

The pure audaciousness and oddness of Mazer’s humor proved unique, and too much for Sexton to handle.

There is a certain lyric majesty and poignancy which sometimes can appear to take itself a little too seriously in a reader’s mind when it comes up against a certain clever type of opponent.

The momentary matchup means a great deal in terms of critical judgement.

And thus the thrill of Poetry March Madness.

Here are the 32 survivors after the first round of play:

Bracket One:

Marlowe (def. Auden), Michelangelo (def. Blake), Dowson (def. Von Duyn), Eliot (def. Swenson), Wordsworth (def. Plath), Merwin (def. Emerson), Arnold (def. Dunbar), Teasdale (def. Dickinson)

Bracket Two:

Wylie (def. Shakespeare), Coleridge (def. Stevens), Frost (def. Barrett), Keats (def. Raleigh), Poe (def. Whitman), Khayyam (def. Swinburne), Marvell (def. Seeger), Tennyson (def. Gray)

Bracket Three:

Milton (def. Lockwood), Byron (def. Graham), Shelley (def. Carson), Harper (def. Owen), Ashbery (def. Millay), Sassoon (def. Larkin), Parker (def. Rich), Bernstein (def. Reznikoff)

Bracket Four:

Ransom (def. Homer), Dante (def. Donne), Gluck (def. Pound), Chin (def. Longfellow), Mazer (def. Sexton), Pope (def. Pushkin), Rilke (def. Carroll), Williams (def. Ginsberg)

Congratulations to the winners!

 

 

 

VERSE BE NOT PROSE

Verse, be not prose, though some have called you
Jingly and silly, for, you are not so,
For, those whom you think, you overthrow
With inanity, no, this is not true.
From rhyme and love and every grace you own
Much pleasure flows—sing your song anew
And soon the best will appreciate your tone,
Will love and know that verse is ever true,
Whether it sing of fate, chance, kings, or desperate men,
Or with poison, war and vanity dwell,
For, as prose goes why cannot you tell as well?
Why should you be ashamed by comparison?
One brief rhyme can say as much, I think,
As a novel. You save not only souls, but ink.

 

CONCEPTUALISM AND THE ART OF OUTRAGE

Michael Brown: immortalized by Kenny Goldsmith?

Edgar Poe’s “effect”-as-the-basis-of-fiction is the seed of Conceptualism and the avant-garde as we know it.

That poetry should be beautiful was a necessary caveat in Poe’s mind: effect-science needs genres and reasons and exactitude as it moves literature towards self-consciousness and away from “This happened in my town yesterday. Let me tell you about it.”

The poetry world is currently befuddled and outraged because the Conceptual poet Kenny Goldsmith—who read (in a paisley suit) plain traffic reports as “poetry” at the White House (yea, where Barry lives) a couple of years ago—recently gave a “poetry reading” in academia in which the actual, detailed autopsy report of Ferguson’s Michael Brown was the sole text.

Poe would say, first: Goldsmith’s effort is the very opposite of the poem; the poet does not surrender to the news of the day (Ferguson, etc) but finds, first, a precise effect, and then works on bringing about that precise effect in the reader. Poe’s notion has nothing to do with suppressing discussion of “the news;” it merely says: give the news of the day to the news of the day and reserve poetry for poetry—both in practice and in theory.

To know what poetry is, we think, is very useful to the poet, who is doing something a bit more complex than going to the store and picking up an item:

“What did you want me to buy, again?” “I dunno.”

If we don’t know what to get at the store—and this destroys every reason for the visit, we imagine it might be slightly important to know what the poem is—as one sets about writing one.

Just an idea.

So we find an effect.

The artist thinks: First, what effect shall I pick? Second, how shall I bring about this effect in the audience?

Immediately we are aware of conflation, the type which occurs when avant-garde Conceptualism brings together as one, painting and poetry—the two disappear in the outrageous effect produced by the Duchamp jest. The art, all of it, dies into idea. Michael Brown’s autopsy becomes a pure thing subordinated to pure effect.

The conflation in Poe’s effect-method is artist/audience: to test the effect, the artist stands in for his audience: simple, even simpler than going to the store for an item; the item (effect) is had immediately, because the artist immediately becomes his own audience as the effect is tested.

Kenny Goldsmith does not have to visit the store to purchase a particular effect—any item at the Outrage Store will do.

We know of no one who has really thought through to the end what Poe meant when, in “The Philosophy of Composition,” Poe spoke of choosing some “effect” to use—Poe has been accused, in every quarter, of starting with the “The Raven” already written, and working backwards in a synthetic fashion; in other words, he cheated. And no one really writes that way, ever, say the sneering Poe-critics. Life and art are open and random; talk of “grand design” in this day is highly suspect (“what are you, a religious nut?”) even when talking of poetry.

But we know what Poe means, and we can easily demonstrate what he means.

Let’s say the effect chosen is: happiness—you choose to make the audience happy.

A good effect, but too general, so we narrow the definition to make it more effective. “Making the audience happy by removing the fear of death.” This is sufficiently unique, and this is precisely what John Donne did when he penned his famous “Death Be Not Proud.”

It matters not if death be not proud came into Donne’s thoughts “randomly,” (many poets will tell you a poem begins with a single phrase that just pops into their head) and it matters not that Donne wrote the sonnet without any fussing over “which effect shall I choose?” The fact remains that “I am Soothed by Learning Death is not as Fearful as Supposed” is the design “Death Be Not Proud” has on us: it has this effect on any lay person who reads it; it has an argument, one that can be paraphrased (yes, the New Critics were wrong) and all of Donne’s sonnet’s parts line up behind its effect.

Donne went to the store (even if subconsciously) looking for a specific, singular, item (effect and execution) and, to our pleasure, found it.

Goldsmith’s success (notoriety, attention) arose from the same process:

What shall I do to my audience?

Outrage them.

How shall I do so?

I shall pick a contemporary news item which already bespeaks outrage, and I shall choose some manifestation of this outrage and present it as my “poem.”

Now do we see who “cheats?”

It is not the author of “The Philosophy of Composition.”

It is the avant-garde “poet,” Kenny Goldsmith.

***

In other news:

John Crowe Ransom advanced past Elizabeth Bishop 61-60 in the Wild Card Round. Ransom’s “it is so frail” was finally too much for Bishop’s “the art of losing is hard to master” in the final minutes of the extremely close contest: both teams were brilliant, but the edge went to Ransom’s tender and emotional plea, which seemed finally less conscious, if that nuance can be at all understood.  It is very hard to say goodbye to the Bishop, as Ransom moves on.

Bishop’s loss put the VIDA count for Scarriet’s 2015 March Madness at 25%—which we think is pretty high, considering the tournament reflects the canon throughout history.

 

SCARRIET 2015 MARCH MADNESS—THE GREATEST LINES IN POETRY COMPETE

BRACKET ONE

1. Come live with me, and be my love, And we will all the pleasures prove That hills and valleys, dales and field, And all the craggy mountains yield. (Marlowe)

2. Every Night and every Morn Some to Misery are born. Every Morn and every Night Some are born to sweet delight, Some are born to sweet delight, Some are born to endless night.  (Blake)

3. Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine; And I was desolate and sick of an old passion, Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head: I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion. (Dowson)

4. April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. (Eliot)

5. No motion has she now, no force; She neither hears nor sees; Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course, With rocks, and stones and trees. (Wordsworth)

6. If the red slayer think he slays, Or if the slain think he is slain, They know not well the subtle ways I keep, and pass, and turn again. (Emerson)

7. The sea is calm tonight, The tide is full, the moon lies fair Upon the straits;—on the French coast the light Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. (Arnold)

8. When I am dead and over me bright April Shakes out her rain-drenched hair, Though you should lean above me broken-hearted, I shall not care. (Teasdale)

9. The soul selects her own society, Then shuts the door; On her divine majority Obtrude no more. (Dickinson)

10. We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile. (Dunbar)

11. This is the waking landscape Dream after dream walking away through it Invisible invisible invisible (Merwin)

12. I made a model of you, A man in black with a Meinkampf look And a love of the rack and the screw, And I said I do, I do. (Plath)

13. It is easy to be young. (Everybody is, at first.) It is not easy to be old. It takes time. Youth is given; age is achieved. (May Swenson)

14. There is no disorder but the heart’s. But if love goes leaking outward, if shrubs take up its monstrous stalking, all greenery is spurred, the snapping lips are overgrown, and over oaks red hearts hang like the sun. (Mona Von Duyn)

15. Long life our two resemblances devise, And for a thousand years when we have gone Posterity will find my woe, your beauty Matched, and know my loving you was wise. (Michelangelo)

16. Caesar’s double-bed is warm As an unimportant clerk Writes I DO NOT LIKE MY WORK On a pink official form. (Auden)

BRACKET TWO

1. Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds Or bends with the remover to remove. (Shakespeare)

2. In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran Through caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea. (Coleridge)

3. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of Being and ideal Grace. (Barrett)

4. Say to the Court, it glows And shines like rotten wood; Say to the Church, it shows What’s good, and doth no good: If Church and Court reply, Then give them both the lie. (Raleigh)

5. Helen, thy beauty is to me Like those Nicaean barks of yore, That gently o’er a perfumed sea, The weary, wayworn wanderer bore To his own native shore. (Poe)

6. Some for the Glories of This World; and some Sigh for the Prophet’s Paradise to come; Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go, Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum! (Omar Khayyam)

7. Yet it creates, transcending these, Far other worlds and other seas; Annihilating all that’s made To a green thought in a green shade. (Marvell)

8. The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea, The ploughman homeward plods his weary way, And leaves the world to darkness and to me. (Gray)

9. O hark, O hear! how thin and clear, And thinner, clearer, farther going! O, sweet and far from cliff and scar The horns of Elfland faintly blowing! Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying, Blow bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying. (Tennyson)

10. I have a rendezvous with Death, At some disputed barricade, When Spring comes back with rustling shade And apple-blossoms fill the air. (Seeger)

11. I have put my days and dreams out of mind, Days that are over, dreams that are done. Though we seek life through, we shall surely find There is none of them clear to us now, not one. (Swinburne)

12. When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d, And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night, I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring. (Whitman)

13. O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, Alone and palely loitering? The sedge has withered from the lake, And no birds sing. (Keats)

14. Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village, though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow. (Frost)

15. If her horny feet protrude, they come To show how cold she is, and dumb. Let the lamp affix its beam. The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream. (Stevens)

16. I was, being human, born alone; I am, being a woman, hard beset; I live by squeezing from a stone The little nourishment I get. (Wylie)

BRACKET THREE

1. The world was all before them, where to choose Their place of rest, and Providence their guide: They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow Through Eden took their solitary way. (Milton)

2. Though the night was made for loving, And the day returns too soon, Yet we’ll go no more a roving By the light of the moon. (Byron)

3. I arise from dreams of thee In the first sweet sleep of night, When the winds are breathing low, And the stars are shining bright. (Shelley)

4. What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle Can patter out their hasty orisons. (Owen)

5. We have heard the music, tasted the drinks, and looked at colored houses. What more is there to do, except to stay? And that we cannot do. And as a last breeze freshens the top of the weathered old tower, I turn my gaze Back to the instruction manual which has made me dream of Guadalajara. (Ashbery)

6. Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives. Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives. (Sassoon)

7. Why is it no one ever sent me yet One perfect limousine, do you suppose? Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get One perfect rose. (Parker)

8. The shopgirls leave their work quietly. Machines are still, tables and chairs darken. The silent rounds of mice and roaches begin. (Reznikoff)

9. It’s not my business to describe anything. The only report is the discharge of words called to account for their slurs. A seance of sorts—or transport into that nether that refuses measure. (Bernstein)

10. I came to explore the wreck. The words are purposes. The words are maps. I came to see the damage that was done and the treasures that prevail. I stroke the beam of my lamp slowly along the flank of something more permanent than fish or weed. (Rich)

11. When I see a couple of kids And guess he’s fucking her and she’s Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm, I know this is paradise Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives (Larkin)

12. I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground. So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind: Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned with lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned. (Millay)

13. Those four black girls blown up in that Alabama church remind me of five hundred middle passage blacks in a net, under water in Charlestown harbor so redcoats wouldn’t find them. Can’t find what you can’t see can you? (Harper)

14. It’s good to be neuter. I want to have meaningless legs. There are things unbearable. One can evade them a long time. Then you die. (Carson).

15. On my way to bringing you the leotard you forgot to include in your overnight bag, the snow started coming down harder. I watched each gathering of leafy flakes melt round my footfall. I looked up into it—late afternoon but bright. Nothing true or false in itself. (Graham)

16. The rape joke is that you were 19 years old. The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend. The rape joke it wore a goatee. A goatee. Imagine the rape joke looking in the mirror, perfectly reflecting back itself, and grooming itself to look more like a rape joke. (Lockwood)

BRACKET FOUR

1. Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of that man skilled in all ways of contending, the wanderer, harried for years on end, after he plundered the stronghold on the proud height of Troy. (Homer)

2. And following its path, we took no care To rest, but climbed, he first, then I—so far, through a round aperture I saw appear Some of the beautiful things that heaven bears, Where we came forth, and once more saw the stars. (Dante)

3. With usura, sin against nature, is thy bread ever more of stale rags is thy bread dry as paper, with no mountain wheat, no strong flour with usura the line grows thick with usura is no clear demarcation and no man can find site for his dwelling. Stonecutter is kept from his stone weaver is kept from his loom WITH USURA (Pound)

4. I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin. Oh, how I love the resoluteness of that first person singular followed by that stalwart indicative of “be,” without the uncertain i-n-g of “becoming.” Of course, the name had been changed somewhere between Angel Island and the sea. (Chin)

5.  Dreaming evil, I have done my hitch over the plain houses, light by light: lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind. A woman like that is not a woman, quite. I have been her kind. (Sexton)

6. I loved you; and the hopelessness I knew, The jealousy, the shyness—though in vain—Made up a love so tender and so true As God may grant you to be loved again. (Pushkin)

7. We cannot know his legendary head And yet his torso is still suffused with brilliance from inside, like a lamp, in which his gaze is turned down low, burst like a star: for here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life. (Rilke)

8. So much depends on the red wheel barrow glazed with rain water besides the white chickens. (Williams)

9. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night. (Ginsberg)

10. The Walrus and the Carpenter Walked on a mile or so, And then they rested on a rock Conveniently low: And all the little Oysters stood And waited in a row. (Carroll)

11. What dire offense from amorous causes springs, What mighty contests rise from trivial things; Slight is the subject, but not so the praise, If she inspire, and he approve my lays. (Pope)

12. Harpo was also, know this, Paul Revere. And Frankenstein, and Dracula, and Jane. Or would you say that I have gone insane? What would you do, then, to even the score? (Mazer)

13. Come, read to me a poem, Some simple and heartfelt lay, That shall soothe this restless feeling, And banish the thoughts of day. (Longfellow)

14. So Penelope took the hand of Odysseus, not to hold him back but to impress this peace on his memory: from this point on, the silence through which you move is my voice pursuing you. (Gluck)

15. Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so: From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow. (Donne)

16. I lost two cities, lovely ones. And vaster, Some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster. The art of losing isn’t hard to master. (Bishop)

17. Practice your beauty, blue girls, before it fail; And I will cry with my loud lips and publish Beauty which all our power will never establish, It is so frail. (Ransom)

FIFTY SHADES OF GAY: THE SCIENCE OF EXCLUSION

Is the exclusionary ever a good thing?

In a democracy, not really.

The exclusionary is always a bad thing.

Philosophers champion “freedom” to make the choice to be exclusionary an important value, a good thing. But if the result is exclusionary, it is always bad, because the exclusionary result is always bad in a free, and open, and friendly society.  We want to give people “choices,” the freedom to be exclusionary—but in vain.  And here lies the crux of all political disagreement, and war, and tyranny.  In a just society, the exclusionary must be excluded.

Yet the exclusionary sentiment has been creeping into vital aspects of modern life since the modern as an aesthetic brand became synonymous with the progressive.

And the modern (in art) and the progressive (in politics)—in terms of every kind of intellectual validation—are, we are told, without question, good things and breed good people, who love, without reservation, democracy.  This is not to say the modern in art cannot be strange, but it is always strange in the inclusive, not the exclusive, sense.  The progressive makes war on the exclusionary.

When the anti-exclusionary virtues of the Modern and the Progressive are questioned—in works such as Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind, Dana Gioia’s Can Poetry Matter, or Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae, the antibodies move, the professors leap from their chairs, and the warrior ants swarm, to protect the Modern Progressive Queen.

We do not intend to champion, or condemn, the works just mentioned, and works like them: the reader will be mistaken if they think this is our intent; we merely note an intellectual phenomenon of contemporary life.  We are merely exploring a principle, the principle of exclusion.

The exclusionary is chiefly seen in how we exclude those who do not think as we do. The progressives see fit to exclude conservatives. And why? Because conservatives are exclusionary. Thus the irony.

Progressives say: we exclude only those who are exclusionary.

But everyone is exclusionary—aren’t we?—and so progressives exclude more than they at first realize.

Paradise is not so easily attained, even in our own calculations in our own bedrooms. Progressive inclusivity steers us, by a simple twist of fate, into this, our present time, our present day: an exclusionary, estranged, lonely, culturally crass, icily-techno, nightmare: an old, sick, aging population without poetry, without beauty, drowning in ugly commercialism, puritanical political correctness, and non-fat yogurt.

Progressives, who are the loudest, are also the most unhappy, tripped up by a logic they hardly understand.

Mozart-hating progressives cannot tolerate those who only love classical music—since ‘only loving classical music’ is an exclusionary position, and it doesn’t matter if it is a matter of taste—and taste cannot be judged. The anti-exclusionary trumps even in matters of taste.

For the smart, progressive, post-modern individual, there is but one evil: the exclusionary. Embrace everybody and every taste (except the exclusionary) or you are a scumbag. This is the implicit mantra of the cool person.

To criminalize is to exclude, and the progressive does not like to criminalize, does not like to judge, and will exclude only those who, it is deemed, themselves too sternly exclude.

Do not judge the traitor—the country, not the traitor, is wrong.

Do not judge the woman who has an abortion—the judgement, not the woman, is wrong.

Do not judge the thief—the circumstances, not the theft, is wrong.

Do not judge the moment—the future, tied to old-fashioned considerations, is wrong.

Do not judge the adulterer—the marriage, not the person, is wrong.

Judge only restrictive judgement—the only thing that is truly wrong.

If we are to properly and fairly judge, we will pronounce only against those who judge too strongly.

As one can see, the whole formula is simple, and it is intellectually easy to be included in this far-reaching and politically influential club—which ISIS, and every rightwing fanatic under the sun, will come after, and kill.

The mental ease of belonging to the non-exclusionary club is the secret to its popularity, and since judgement is dour, one is not only welcomed lovingly, but one assumes a happier visage automatically; and since morals exist for the happiness of all, happiness is properly combined with its moral, non-exclusionary agenda, as well.

So, all is good?

Yes!

The snake in the garden is simply the selfish one who opposes democracy, who opposes happiness for all:

The rich person who wants to keep others down, the priest who wants others to feel guilty, the cop who wants to stifle his fear by making others fear, the man who wants to boss a woman, the bully who bullies simply because they can do so, picking on animals, the weak, the planet.

How wonderful life would be, if not for those meanies who deceptively sweeten power and mean behavior!

Isn’t it obvious to all what is good?

Well, no—because of that deceptive sweetening.

But it is good, then, all this self-congratulatory non-judgement.

Good to know what the good is, and to know that you are good.

But you are not good. You just say you are.

The progressive’s dream is an idle dream.

Your “good” is a baseless fantasy.

You, the modern progressive, belong to your “group” only to belong.  You belong to ‘the glue’ and nothing else. You are—glue. You belong to the political faction as a political faction, and for no philosophical basis, or truth. Your mind has been captured and put in a dark room. As George Harrison put it in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps:”

I don’t know why nobody told you how to unfold your love.
I don’t know how someone controlled you, they bought and sold you.
I don’t know why you were diverted, you were perverted, too.
I don’t know how you were inverted, no one alerted you.

Those who oppose gay marriage are called exclusionary.

Why?

That’s easy. Because only marriage between a man and a woman count for them.

When it comes to marriage, what is exclusionary?

By the simplest rules of natural logic, the only non-exclusionary match is the following:

Man/Woman

This is easy. It excludes neither man, nor woman.

Black/White is always better than Black/Black or White/White.  Always.

Black/White is less exclusionary—and calls us into the progressive future.

As in the black/white example, all other marriage arrangements are exclusionary, and for immediately obvious reasons:

Man/Man

Excludes woman.

Woman/Woman

Excludes man.

In precisely the same way White/White and Black/Black excludes.

Woman/Woman/Woman/Woman/Man

This example might be more difficult to discern, but Woman/Woman/Woman/Man is highly exclusionary, as well.

Woman/Man/Woman/Man is also exclusionary, simply because any longer list allows for exclusionary combinations.

I guess we could call this fifty shades of gay.

The only combination which is not exclusionary is Man/Woman.

Now we might object vigorously in the following manner: A society which defines marriage as Man/Woman must be more exclusionary than a society which defines marriage as Man/Woman and Man/Man and Woman/Woman.  This may seem correct, but it is not, simply because the unit Man/Woman is not exclusionary, while the unit Man/Man is, and therefore any society which has more of the latter must be a more exclusionary society, since it contains more exclusionary units.

The freedom in which Man travels across space and time to link up with Woman or Man merely deceives us that the “choice” is a non-exclusionary counter to the exclusionary result of Man/Man. The result is what finally matters to progressives—not imaginary “freedoms.”   Freedom is the chimera of the right wing.

The logic here (as old-fashioned and exclusionary as it may appear) is inescapable.

Man/Woman is the only unit which does not exclude.

Except if we posit the notion that man excludes woman and woman excludes man, and therefore gender itself is wrong because it is exclusionary.

Is gender itself wrong?

Is nature wrong?

Some would go so far as to say to be human is to know nature as a wrong.

It is tricky to question nature, and our essay’s scope will not us allow to pursue this question.

We will only say that humans are tricky, and our place in and against nature measures everything that we are.

In our strict mathematical logic, then, the only way to embrace homosexuality in a non-exclusionary way, the only way to embrace exclusionary gender combinations, is if we posit that gender itself is exclusionary—which it is.

Yet we are trapped by this logic, since homosexuality is acutely aware of gender—it not only chooses based on gender, it exists because of gender.

Is homosexuality, then, democratic?  No, it is not.

Homosexuality is either exclusionary, or cancels itself out.

Yet the exclusionary may be the way human evolution is heading.

Freedom may be too much to resist.

MOURNING BEAUTY

Desperately, I prayed:
Ease the pain, but don’t let the memory of the sweetness fade.
Nothing sweetens like love:
Nothing hurts like love betrayed.

I used my poetry to seduce
And I was burned for playing—
Now my poetry’s words
Are only used for praying—
Black ink appropriate
For everything I’m saying.

I do not mention love,
Or beautiful eyes, or her, or me.
I pay homage to old buildings, old people,
A path leading to a river, a tree.

WINTER IS THE SEXIEST SEASON

Winter is the sexiest season—
When I get you by the fire, you won’t need a reason.
But let me list a few, as I am holding you.
The luxurious dark comes on with only a brief nap
And night, arriving early, allows us to unwrap
For bed: to remove the clothes from your secret shoulders
And put my toes upon your toes under the bedclothes.
The snowy wind hisses and blows against the window—
How many reasons? How many reasons are we missing?
Think of some, a reason will come, as we are kissing.
When the year is warm, we see too much.
When death’s around, I die for your touch.
In summer, too much is seen.
The sexual isn’t green,
It’s the color of your skin,
When you are out and I am in.

COPY CATS

The sincere look of an asshole.

There are some people who are such gossip hounds, they care more about the gossip surrounding a relationship they are in, than the relationship.

And this same pathetic, loser, gauche, “selfie,” assholery defines our age, an age defined by editors and producers, not creative artists, an age defined by raunch, not love.

Boomers, who experienced the renaissance of popular music in the 1960s, are no doubt applauding the 7.2 million dollar juror decision against Robin Thicke, 38, and Pharrel Williams, 41, who stole Marvin Gaye’s Got To Give It Up for their boring and derivative Blurred Lines, which used the ubiquitous formula of big production sexy video to create a “hit” among the “cool” lemmings.

We are not bitter; we find this all hilariously funny, and we are not saying there should be no cakes and ale, or that no good music is written today, or that assholes only cropped up recently.

Marvin Gaye was shot to death by his preacher father.  Life is a roller coaster of moral ambiguity and it always will be.  We understand.

All musicians and artists steal. The Beatles were derivative.

Sex sells. Not today, but always.

We know. We get it.

But perhaps one of the reasons the 1960s was a renaissance of popular music was that there was a small window of time in which the creative artist was the producer, and called the shots.

And this is a good time to reflect at how fortunate we are to be running a blog where we can write a poem for the ages and publish it. For free. In five minutes.

We are fortunate, because the art and artist and the production of that art—writing, editing, publishing—exits as one, and is never mucked up by middle men.  With Scarriet, product and producer and production exist together—in a God-like way—in one, condensed, hyper-creative, white-light impulse, with no distractions (unless one counts the comments of Diane Roberts Powell.)  It is a creative person’s paradise.  And comments—honest and astute ones—are finally great for the truly creative person, as well, and not distractions at all.  Comments are good, finally; they do not belong to ‘middle man hell.’

So let us leave love to the lovers, not the rumors.

Let us leave music to the musicians, not the big industry producers.

Let us leave writing to the writers, not the big industry editors.

Thank you.

 

THAT WOULD BE YOU

That would be you,

Thinking the thoughts and doing the things we all do.

Sitting by yourself looking down

At the pretty world with a pretty frown.

And you and that nose,

You think you’re very pretty, I suppose.

I said you were pretty.

And I would be one who knows.

SHE MAKES THEM BLUE

image

After casting about for a long time for a name for themselves, they came up with “Jefferson Airplane,” which meant absolutely nothing. –The New York Times

Public places for secret lovers are few,

But minds can go anywhere—

And they do.

The erotic is the only thing that’s true.

It is because of her

That I say hello to you.

O cruel hierarchy!

O feeble poetry.

The unmentionable is the only thing that’s true.

They have their wives and girlfriends—

But they think about her, too.

I’m thinking of her

As I say hello to you.

I wish I could describe her face.

But why? To further advertise my disgrace?

Do I need further proof so you

Might know why she makes me sigh—yea, me too?

Don’t start. We shouldn’t talk. What do you want me to do?

They play guitar far better than I.

But the best songs are poetry,

And album names, and names of bands, too.

She Makes Them Blue.

 

HISTORY IS A SEQUENCE, NOT MORALS

History is what happened after what happened.

Morality and love wait their turn in line

With slavery and murder. Your country

Is good or bad depending on what is president;

Who is considered good is dependent on who you are talking to:

The Christian inside-out, the unfaithful Jew,

The heart-sick Muslim, the movie-going American,

Who secretly has the hots for you.

The road map shows a road that winds around

Towards the sea,

Where a band of Salem merchants made history.

Good cooking is the secret to good marriage;

She was looking for salad ingredients

And he was looking for a rhyme, dreaming, distracted, by the salad bar.

There is a kind of ordinary life which defies the drama

Of TV crime shows, romance; I would like to inhabit that unpretentious life!

And cook for you in an ordinary marriage.

What can we do if Washington owned slaves?

Or not enough died for the cause? This is what happened

When I stood for a moment at the salad bar

And dreamed of history, and the soft underbelly of things.

 

 

 

 

 

WHEN A WOMAN TURNS INTO A MAN

image

When a woman turns into a man,

Can she do everything a man can?

When a man turns into a woman

Does he know more about the human?

Or is the sex the only thing we see?

A new type of sexuality?

Do we hunger for a new type of touch?

Do we sometimes touch ourselves too much?

Do we think about ourselves in the mirror,

Always wishing our loveliness were nearer?

Is this why we withdraw our hand,

Saying goodbye to love forever?

One day we will understand

The sea, the tropics, and the frozen land.

MAKIN’ COPIES: ART VERSUS LITERATURE

Hybrid, collage portrait. Which has less charm? Modern poetry or modern art?

SCARRIET HAS ELEVATED THE FOLLOWING SCARRIET COMMENT (ON “WHY POETRY SUCKS NOW”) FROM ONE OF OUR READERS (‘MIKE’) TO THIS ARTICLE (WITH OUR REPLY BELOW):

Hey y’all.

As an art school trained painter and a self inflicted poet, I find it interesting to observe the differences between visual art and literature; or more specifically, the difference between drawing and writing.

In visual art (drawing), one is challenged to “represent” what they “see” by way of marks on paper. Initial attempts are typically awful. Continued failure leads to frustration and abandonment, or else the determination to “learn” how do draw. Such learning requires one to engage in the reciprocal activity of practicing drawing “methods” while simultaneously understanding the nature of the visual forms those methods are meant to capture. It is only through this interplay of method and understanding that one can begin to draw what they see.

At which point one realizes the meta-lesson of drawing, which is that nobody draws what they see. You can only draw what you KNOW about what you see. That knowledge… visual knowledge… is not the same as vision. After all, most everyone has two eyes by which to see… but most people cannot draw beyond the primitive. And the reason is that their knowledge of visual forms and methods is (well)… primitive.

A further implication is that the drawing (as art object) is not equivalent to the visual perception of the subject matter of the drawing. In other words, a drawing of an apple is not an apple. The drawing is a representation only… a mental construct… a methodological translation of visual perception via the artistic form of a drawing.

All of this might seem terribly boring and inapplicable to the subject at hand. But if you indulge me for another minute… and lay your egos aside… then maybe I can make my point. Which is this. I have never gotten the impression that writers consider writing to be a “methodological translation” of (let’s say) interior thoughts and feelings, into the artistic form of the written word.

I think the reason for this is that we are all able to speak and write with some proficiency from an early age. I could also include the activity of contemplating ideas in our minds, and of subconscious processes… which we (kind-a) assume to be language based. These very powerful tools (thinking, reading, writing, speaking) allow us to think and imagine VERY GREAT things. Yet when we attempt to write it down… it’s not so easy. And this is no different from the artist… who might peer out into some beautiful landscape and be filled with desire to represent what he perceives and feels, yet be unable to do so. But whereas the artist is forced to reconcile his failures with the need to learn a method and to grasp the nature of visual form (as a translation between vision and representation)… I wonder if writers see their failure in these same terms.

Or does the writer simply “work harder”… or “write what they know”… or “keep plugging away”… or “writer’s write”… or “never give up”…. or a thousand other ways to say the same thing… admonishments to pound away at reality… that somehow representations will condense NOT out of understanding, but of somehow aligning the monkeys in our brains to coincidentally type out the works of Shakespeare. But just as a drawing is not the hand’s record of the light striking your retina… the written word is not a passive record of the mind’s ability to cogitate and speak out loud. But I wonder if writers know this? Or does the immediate accessibility of language mask the distinction?

Another aspect of this distinction is that in the visual arts, the impact of artistic theories are well understood, and are considered to be highly relevant. In fact, any good art school program is going to require a thorough grounding in the history of art from ancient times to the present day. This is an enormous investigation into cultural history. Artists are meant to take such things very very seriously, and are meant to understand that the nature of artistic method and form and meaning derive from such cultural moments as have occurred over time.

But I have to wonder if writers think of writing in the same way. For instance… do writers ever wonder about the writing skills of ancient Egyptians? Because artists are very aware of the art of ancient Egypt.

Visual artists are taught to understand that ancient architectural forms are rooted in archetypical associations that the human species has evolved from out of their prehistory. Are there any analogous ideas that writers possess about their own artistic heritage? Are writers schooled in the social and artistic shifts underlying the sea-change of the Late Gothic transition to the early Renaissance? Visual artists sure are. In fact, they make Pilgrimages to Rome and Florence and Venice just to lay their eyes on the art… to sit under the sun and absorb the aura of history, and thereby to connect with the meanings of these things. Do writers do such things? Or are words just words and everyone has them and all you need to do is pound away at a typewriter until it just pops out of you? Is writing like a piano… a music making machine that you only need whack at until a tune emerges? And when it does, you claim it as your own, and marvel at the mystery of your own origin… and try not to consider that it might all be happy accidents and the accommodating of the random.

I don’t mean to sound cruel, but I think that writers have no sense of these things, or of writing as an activity distinct from the basic language skills of talking and thinking and jotting stuff down. In truth, most visual artists don’t give a damn about the things I’ve waxed on about. The difference is this… that they are supposed to… whereas writers have no such presumption built into their activity.

And so it should come as no surprise that when poetry falls victim to the ravages of modernist or post- modernist theories of everything… that writers should twist in the wind and wonder what the hell is gone wrong. But such things are no surprise to visual artists, who only need look around and see all the crap contemporary art floating about the world. We see it everyday too. But at least we know what it is, and why it is. Because we are trained to know these things. Because art comes out of theories and methods… not out of the naive ability to speak words and have thoughts. Bad theories and absent methods lead to the destruction of art. The alternative isn’t to abandon ideas, but to understand that good ideas must be asserted. In the visual arts, such advocacy is mistakenly assumed to be a return to the art of the past… to neo-classical style paintings of nudes and heroic figures in togas. Which is ridiculous. But this is no different a mistake than when some poets try to defeat bad post-modern poetry by adopting the writing styles of Chaucer and Shakespeare.

The history of any art does not exist to be mindlessly rejected or mindlessly copied. What good can come out of mindlessness? It exists as a repository of ideas from which some meaningful “next thing” might emerge. Who knows what it is. I try to make this point to visual artists… but nobody seems to give a damn. So now I’m making it here in this poetry blog. And this is an uphill battle I suppose, because writers are not trained like visual artists, and they may not be aware of what they are really trying to do. So maybe writers should stop screaming about bad poems, and begin instead the difficult task of understanding the nature of the writer word at all.

SCARRIET RESPONDS

One of the Scarriet editors works at a large, urban, liberal arts university (once a teacher’s college), which recently acquired an art school; Scarriet covers not only the decline of poetry, but how art, poetry and philosophy mingle, so you can imagine our excitement at finding this learned and lengthy comment on our “Why Poetry Sucks Now” post, a delightful comment which Scarriet has elevated to a post of its own.

“Art comes out of theories and methods…not out of the naive ability to speak words and have thoughts.”

So says the “art school trained painter,” who reminds us that “nobody draws what they see…they only draw what they KNOW about what they see…visual knowledge is not the same as vision…” and “do the writers know this?” Further: artists know art is a “methodological translation” of reality, where writers, by comparison, seem to be mere “passive” (and random!) recording devices of what is universally accessible to all: language.

We agree entirely with the gist of this, and though we are a writer, not a painter, we feel no insult at all, and we are illuminated by the truth of what this painter has—written.

The truth of painting’s superiority to writing was put most forcefully by da Vinci, who said the experience of the eye is the beginning and proof of all science: discontinuous quantity (arithmetic), continuous quantity (geometry) and perspective the holy trinity of astronomy and all human knowledge—painting as the body, poetry merely its shadow. Body (substance and its measurement) trumps Blah Blah Blah. Absolutely.

However, there is a “writing method” tradition—embodied in full by Edgar Poe (unfortunately not taught in writing programs) who we never tire of quoting; the following, from the Master, reflects the thinking of our art school trained painter:

There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story. Either history affords a thesis—or one is suggested by an incident of the day—or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative—designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue, or authorial comment, whatever crevices of fact, or action, may, from page to page, render themselves apparent.

I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view—for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable source of interest—I say to myself, in the first place, “Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select? Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can best be wrought by incident or tone—whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone—afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.

Poe rigorously asserts the secret of all composition—and all morals: in the beginning (the intention) we discover our end (the effect)—and the myriad details, of drawing or writing, fall into place, or should fall into place, in the execution. By this method, these are eliminated: The random, the details which overwhelm, and self-indulgence.

The point our painter makes in his comment—that we draw what we know about what we see, not what we see—is, we feel, a reiteration of Poe’s method, and here an important point about ‘knowing’ should be made.

The separation between knowing and seeing does not exist because seeing needs correcting or is insufficient—the natural seeing humans do reflects nature’s efficiency: perspective which makes distant objects small, for instance, is the perfect solution to the over-crowding of the visual field: and understanding perspective is an understanding which is not distinct from seeing, but is the same as seeing: the “knowing” the artist is engaged in is nothing more than a selecting, a framing, a focusing—and not something superior to seeing; it is the very same thing Poe refers to when he says, “Of the innumerable effects, or impressions…which one shall I, on the present occasion, select?”

Here is the vital point: the distinction which our art school trained painter makes between vision and visual knowledge is different than we suppose: “visual knowledge” is not something which stands above and apart from “vision;” quite the opposite: vision is the whole, visual knowledge is the part, of the whole thing. Vision is natural and perfect, visual knowledge is imperfect and contingent. Visual knowledge is the narrow “effect,” of which vision is the cause, and the connection between visual knowledge and vision is seamless. All training, all knowledge, is nothing more than focus: both the artist and the writer do not see more; they see less than the layperson; all knowledge is knowledge of what to ignore: what not to see, what not to write, what not to draw.

Modern poetry errs in making poetry subordinate to prose-ideas; modern art errs in making painting subordinate to collage-ideas.

The answer is not simply, “less is more,” but how (to what end) does the artist make less more?

Plato (and who cares if he wore a toga?) is another thinker who tells us that vision (reality) trumps visual knowledge (art), since vision is the true knowledge of which visual knowledge (art) attempts to unfairly usurp—not because knowledge should not be trusted, but because knowledge is not what we think it is: the vision IS the knowledge, the vision (reality) contains far more perfectly and ultimately the knowledge, of which art-knowledge (and writing-knowledge) slyly hides—especially if the untrustworthy student falls in love with representation, illusion, and dream passionately spun by the sophist for all sorts of partially realized reasons dripping with bad taste.

The “methodological” in our art school painter’s “methodological translation” of reality contains two simple things: first, the focus, or selection, we just discussed above (the selective nature of reality informing the selective nature of human vision) and second, the good.  We finally want to do good, to produce good, to have a good effect, and here, of course, we refer to Plato’s ‘the good,’ which has other names: justice, happiness, beauty.

Things go haywire when the hubris of human knowledge thinking itself superior to natural seeing, sensing, and feeling takes precedence. “I’m not drawing what I see!” cries the sophisticated painter, “I’m working within  specialized knowledge!” Ah, so this is why your painting is bland, trivial, confusing, with lines and colors leading nowhere, a hybrid collage of no real purpose. And the poet who writes poetry which rambles incoherently, having no coherence or lasting interest, is mistakenly certain in that human knowledge which is entirely separate from the effect the poem is actually having. This error arises from the belief that “visual knowledge” is superior to “vision.”

But the objection might come: No! The ‘good’ resides in human knowledge, in human attempts at it, not in simple vision, not in haphazard, unadorned reality, not in nature, red in tooth and claw.  You wrongly assume that “this is the best of all possible worlds” and that to merely copy the beautiful and perfect world is enough, and no ideas are necessary; you say the real method is to simply frame part of (what is called by you) “reality.” No, sorry.

But this objection misses several important points: Vision, as it operates everywhere, is efficient and remarkable, and is not the same as “nature, red in tooth and claw.” This is to confuse reality with our special feelings about it. Reality is not “unadorned” or “simple,” and copying it is never simple. “Copying” reality is a highly complex endeavor—our art school trained artist puts it succinctly: “most everyone has two eyes to see, but most people cannot draw beyond the primitive.” Exactly. Human pride believes the complexity resides in the imposition of method, when true method copies nature with da Vinci’s open eyes.

The artist and the poet are finally united by the philosophy which begins with an effect—a design guided by the morality of justice/beauty in terms of what scientifically the senses, as senses, understand, measure, and know.

ROMANCE

Is Romance a dance

Born not to last?

So we find ourselves

Mourning romantic things in the past?

Is it doubt and forgetful death

Which lends charm

To love—a charm in every sighing breath

So charming we forget the alarm

That is sighing in company with love’s sigh

So love becomes indistinguishable with death?

And we don’t see the sorrow—beautiful sorrow!—in her eye

Which makes her eye beautiful

But is the very sorrow

Which will fall in love with sorrow

And say goodbye?

I’m afraid it is so.

One left me, even as love was at its height;

We had spent many a delirious night

In each other’s arms,

And when, in disbelief, I asked her,

In icy tones, she said: “I don’t know.”

Love melted into sorrow.

I fled to madly analyze the past.

She smiled calmly on tomorrow.

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