THE POEM REACHES OUT

The poem reaches out.  The poet doesn’t care.
The poem does what a person in love wouldn’t dare.
The poem says precisely, without motive or riot,
The secret of the secrets crying in the quiet,
Secrets which the banner-strewn world tells
To the drowned, where the large wave swells,
To the buried, where the winds whistle in the deep wells,
To the dead, where the lizard listens to the bells.

Crash and clang. The dead world makes noise,
The creaking, metallic run where the passive experience their joys
On the train, after it leaves the station. The hearts
That were there, go home, and, in fits and starts,
Wish for the journey to start back again
So the return might be able to return again.
We went there, again, to the toad in the fen,
To the frog in the lake.
They listen for you—forgotten, for my sake.
I cannot place your eye.

A poem falls to the bottom of the lake
In a capsule, warm and dry.

 

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70 Comments

  1. Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

    May 6, 2016 at 2:29 am

    The Poems Speak

    Simple, plain and simple, we,
    for life is plain and simple.
    Picture an ocean, for example, wild and deep,
    filled with millions, even billions more
    of shapes that thrive and grow beneath.
    Fish and squid and spreading fans,
    algae and anemone pressed tight in the liquid
    static of time with the sharks and whales
    and starfish; the pantheon of phylogeny.
    But stand on a beach one day and see
    the always roll and constant blue
    on the surface of the sea,
    the uneventful ever same
    of pure simplicity.

    We just clear and modest are
    and brief, because life is brief.
    Imagine a forest, rich and full, branch and leaf,
    the countless, colored forms that live and climb
    and crawl within. Birds and beasts and butterflies,
    snakes and snails and many-legged things,
    compressed in the dynamic
    solid of time with the tigers and bears
    and men; the evolutionary mystery.
    But stand and look someday at trees,
    a canopy old but always new,
    the surface of a sea of green,
    the spreading constant always plain
    of still simplicity.

    That complicated seems so often simple
    and that simple so complex,
    so find the purpose in the fluid rhyme
    of what we do not see.

    Copyright 2008 – Softwood: Seventy-eight Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

    • thomasbrady said,

      May 6, 2016 at 8:29 pm

      Gary,

      You have only one flaw, the one Poe reprimanded the Transcendentalist poets for: the didactic.

      Tom

      • powersjq said,

        May 10, 2016 at 3:08 pm

        Feh. All poetry–even bad poetry–teaches. Great poetry teaches itself. Sidney: “But even in the most excellent determination of goodness, what philosopher’s counsel can so readily direct a prince, as the feigned Cyrus in Xenophon? Or a virtuous man in all fortunes, as Æneas in Virgil? Or a whole commonwealth, as the way of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia? I say the way, because where Sir Thomas More erred, it was the fault of the man, and not of the poet; for that way of patterning a commonwealth was most absolute, though he, perchance, hath not so absolutely performed it. For the question is, whether the feigned image of poesy, or the regular instruction of philosophy, hath the more force in teaching.”

        Can we have Poe’s actual words on this subject?

        • thomasbrady said,

          May 10, 2016 at 3:59 pm

          It has been assumed, tacitly and avowedly, directly and indirectly, that the ultimate object of all Poetry is Truth. Every poem, it is said, should inculcate a moral; and by this moral is the poetical merit of the work to be adjudged. We Americans especially have patronized this happy idea; and we Bostonians, very especially, have developed it in full. We have taken it into our heads that to write a poem simply for the poem’s sake, and to acknowledge such to have been our design, would be to confess ourselves radically wanting in the true Poetic dignity and force:—but the simple fact is, that, would we permit ourselves to look into our own souls, we should immediately there discover that under the sun there exists nor can exist any work more thoroughly dignified—more supremely noble than this very poem—this poem per se—this poem which is a poem and nothing more—this poem written solely for the poem’s sake.

          With as deep a reverence for the True as ever inspired the bosom of man, I would, nevertheless, limit, in some measure, its modes of inculcation. I would limit to enforce them. I would not enfeeble them by dissipation. The demands of Truth are severe. She has no sympathy with the myrtles. All that which is so indispensable in Song, is precisely all that with which she has nothing whatever to do. It is but making her a flaunting paradox, to wreathe her in gems and flowers. In enforcing a truth, we need severity rather than efflorescence of language. We must be simple, precise, terse. We must be cool, calm, unimpassioned. In a word, we must be in that mood which, as nearly as possible, is the exact converse of the poetical. He must be blind indeed who does not perceive the radical and chasmal differences between the truthful and poetical modes of inculcation. He must be theory-mad beyond redemption who, in spite of these differences, shall still persist in attempting to reconcile the obstinate oils and waters of Poetry and Truth.

          Dividing the world of the mind into its three most immediately obvious distinctions, we have the Pure Intellect, Taste, and the Moral Sense. I place Taste in the middle, because it is just this position which, in the mind, it occupies. It holds intimate relations with wither extreme; but from the Moral Sense is separated by so faint a difference that Aristotle has not hesitated to place some of its operations among the virtues themselves. Nevertheless, we find the offices of the trio marked with a sufficient distinction. Just as the Intellect concerns itself with Truth, so Taste informs us of the Beautiful while the Moral Sense is regardful of Duty. Of this latter, while Conscience teaches the obligation, and Reason the expediency, Taste contents herself with displaying the charms:—waging war upon Vice solely on the ground of her deformity—her disproportion—her animosity to the fitting, to the appropriate, to the harmonious—in a word, to Beauty.

          An immortal instinct, deep within the spirit of man, is thus, plainly, a sense of the Beautiful. This is what administers to his delight in the manifold forms, and sounds and odors, and sentiments amid which he exists. And just as the lily is repeated in the lake, or the eyes of Amaryllis in the mirror, so is the mere oral or written repetition of these forms, and sounds, and colors, and odors, and sentiments, a duplicate source of delight. But this mere repetition is not poetry. He who shall simply sing, with however glowing enthusiasm, or with however vivid a truth of description, of the sights, and sounds, and odors, and colors, and sentiments, which greet him in common with all mankind—he, I say, has yet failed to prove his divine title. There is still a something in the distance which he has been unable to attain. We have still a thirst unquenchable, to allay which he has not shown us the crystal springs. This thirst belongs to the immortality of Man. It is at once a consequence and an indication of his perennial existence. It is the desire of the moth for the star. It is no mere appreciation of the Beauty before us—but a wild effort to reach the Beauty above. Inspired by an ecstatic presence of the glories beyond the grave, we struggle, by multiform combinations among the things and thoughts of Time, to attain a portion of Loveliness whose very elements, perhaps, appertain to eternity alone. And thus when by Poetry—or when by Music, the most entrancing of the Poetic moods—we find ourselves melted into tears—we weep then . . . through excess of pleasure, but through a certain, petulant, impatient sorrow at our inability to grasp now, wholly, here on earth, at once and forever, those divine and rapturous joys, of which through the poem, or through the music, we attain to but brief and indeterminate glimpses.

          The struggle to apprehend the supernal Loveliness—this struggle, on the part of souls fittingly constituted—has given to the world all that which it (the world) has ever been enabled at once to understand and to feel as poetic.

          The Poetic Sentiment, of course, may develop itself in various modes—in painting, in Sculpture, in Architecture, in the Dance,—very especially in Music—and very peculiarly, and with a wide field, in the composition of the Landscape Garden. Our present theme, however, has regard only to its manifestations in words. And here let me speak briefly on the topic of rhythm. Contenting myself with the certainty that Music, in its various modes of metre, rhythm, and rhyme, is of so vast a moment in Poetry as never to be wisely rejected–is so vitally important an adjunct, that he is simply silly who declines its assistance, I will not now pause to maintain its absolute essentiality. It is in Music, perhaps, that the soul most nearly attains the great end for which, when inspired by the Poetic Sentiment, it struggles—the creation of supernal Beauty. It may be, indeed, that here this sublime end is, now and then, attained in fact. We are often made to feel with a shivering delight, that from an earthly harp are stricken notes which cannot have been unfamiliar to the angels. And thus there can be little doubt that in the union of Poetry with Music in its popular sense, we shall find the widest field for the Poetic development. The old Bards and Minnesingers had advantages which we do not possess—and Thomas More, singing his own songs, was, in the most legitimate manner, perfecting them as poems.

          To recapitulate, then:—I would define, in brief, the Poetry of words as The Rhythmical Creation of Beauty. Its sole arbiter is Taste. With the Intellect or with the Conscience, it has only collateral relations. Unless incidentally, it has no concern whatever with Duty or with Truth.

          A few words, however, in explanation. That pleasure which is at once the most pure, the most elevating, and the most intense, is derived, I maintain, from the contemplation of the Beautiful. In the contemplation of Beauty we alone find it possible to attain that pleasurable elevation, or excitement of the soul, which we recognize as the Poetic Sentiment, and which is so easily distinguished from Truth, which is the satisfaction of the Reason, or from passion, which is the excitement of the heart. I make Beauty, therefore—using the word as inclusive of the sublime—I make Beauty the province of the poem, simple because it is an obvious rule of Art that effects should be made to spring as directly as possible from their causes: no one as yet having been weak enough to deny that the peculiar elevation in question is at least most readily attainable in the poem. It by no means follows however, that the incitements of Passion, or the precepts of Duty, or even the Lessons of Truth, may not be introduced into a poem, and with advantage; for they may subserve, incidentally, in various ways, the general purposes of the work:—but the true artist will always contrive to tone them down in proper subjection to that Beauty which is at atmosphere and the real essence of the poem.

          • powersjq said,

            May 14, 2016 at 2:10 pm

            Truth is the satisfaction of Reason. Poetic Sentiment is the pleasure derived from the contemplation of the Beautiful. Therefore didactic poetry–which sets out to teach (the Truth, one would suppose–must fail as poetry. Got it.

            I recognize the Romantic elements here (shades of Kant, Shiller, Goethe, and Novalis), though Poe seems to be building up something original and not entirely coherent. Doesn’t Taste need education, too? How are we to know the Beautiful for itself and name it without access to Truth? Can we be deceived about Beauty?

            • thomasbrady said,

              May 14, 2016 at 3:08 pm

              Powers, Vulgarity masks itself as art and this will deceive the Taste of one who intellectualizes and reasons ugliness as art.

              So I would say education fails unless it “teach” all three parts at once, and all three parts help and teach each other, which is a paradox because each part, to harmonize, must be radically different.

              Love must be lost before it can be found. Education and Romance are one. Parts must constantly find and lose each other. The poetic sentiment of beauty must turn its back on Truth and the sadness of this is why, as Shelley says, our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

              One must obey Poe. To understand. There is a paradoxical Truth to work through to ‘get’ Poe. It is why genius is rare, even though we are all born with it.

              Too much vulgarity on the highway entraps the tender heart.

  2. Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

    May 7, 2016 at 1:16 am

    Tom: Fuck you.

    Gary

  3. Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

    May 7, 2016 at 1:17 am

    Your one flaw is the inability to write poetry.

    • powersjq said,

      May 10, 2016 at 3:01 pm

      Surely he has more than one. But he does write excellent criticism. Although in this instance I think he misses the mark.

  4. Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

    May 7, 2016 at 1:44 am

    From Mirriam-Webster:

    Full Definition of didactic:

    1) a: designed or intended to teach
    b: intended to convey instruction and information as well as pleasure and entertainment (didactic poetry)

    2) making moral observations

    No shit, Sherlock. Duh!

    P.S. Did I mention that you should kiss my ass?

  5. Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

    May 7, 2016 at 1:52 am

    Such a gracious host you are.

    (And so dense!).

  6. Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

    May 7, 2016 at 2:53 am

    You are criticizing a rose for being red.

    You have criticized a poet for writing poetry to the purpose of poetry: to teach and instruct and inspire in a pleasurable and memorable way. What other purpose could poetry have?

    And you dare to critcize the empty, shallow, politically motivated modernists.

    Whose side are you on, anyway?

  7. Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

    May 7, 2016 at 4:05 am

    There! Pipe that in your smoke and put it!

  8. thomasbrady said,

    May 7, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    Gary,

    If instruction were pleasure, then instruction would be the end, not the means, which, of course, is absurd.

    I’m certain you feel that your poem is a pleasure to read, and thus the instruction in it: ‘observe the ocean, observe the forest, notice how the complexity and the simple, etc’ is, by pure logic, a pleasure to read, as well.

    But this is to assume that poems are not comprised of elements or parts, which again, is an absurdity.

  9. thomasbrady said,

    May 7, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    Now one could respond:

    All poems are really just a set of instructions.

    So, on this basic level, all poems are didactic.

    When one looks at a sunset, one is being “instructed” by the scene to enjoy it, based on the information presented to the eye.

    So, what the hell is wrong, Gary might say, with a poem presenting enlightening information to the reader??? Get off your high horse, Graves, you asshole.

    But this, again, is to miss very real distinctions in the world, and by doing so, one slights imagination and insults all that loves, and is, poetry.

    Instruction and pleasure do exist, and they exist separately.

    Poems do have parts, and they exist separately.

    The poet often hides in the “whole” of his poem, the way a person hides in the “pride” of himself as an honored and dignified and respected person. But to criticize a “part” of a poem may be an honor to that poem, if that poem is beautiful, but only has one flaw in it, like a tumor in a child, and then it would be very foolish to resent criticism of a part of a poem.

    These are different:

    Life is brief. Spoken by the poet.

    And “Life is brief!” Spoken woefully by a character in a poem.

    The imagination attends to the latter, not the former.

    Here is just a small illustration of the nuance involved.

    • Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

      May 8, 2016 at 5:03 am

      Incoherent
      adjective
      1. without logical or meaningful connection; disjointed; rambling:
      2. (of spoken or written language) expressed in an incomprehensible or confusing way; unclear.
      3. not able to talk or express yourself in a clear way that can be easily understood
      4. not logical or well-organized : not easy to understand

  10. noochinator said,

    May 7, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    From the blog of music critic Alex Ross:

    Sibelius famously remarked to his fellow composer Bengt von Törne: “Never pay any attention to what critics say. Remember, a statue has never been set up in honor of a critic!” Not quite true. Commenters at Felsenmusick point out that the Canadian artist Joe Fafard made a statue of Clement Greenberg, and that there is a statue to the literary critic Charles Augustin Saint-Beuve in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. Also, I seem to remember seeing a statue of the Russian critic Vladimir Stasov — dedicatee of ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, subject of several extraordinary portraits by Ilya Repin — in St. Petersburg. These, however, are obviously the exceptions that prove the rule. The way I see it, critics can play a useful cultural role, but composers should ignore what they say, even when it’s positive. Praise can be as unnerving as criticism, as Sibelius learned after paying too much attention to Olin Downes [, an American music critic known as “Sibelius’s Apostle” for his championship of the Finnish composer’s music].

    http://www.therestisnoise.com/2006/03/statues_of_crit.html

    • thomasbrady said,

      May 7, 2016 at 3:15 pm

      Psychologically, criticism, both positive and negative, is problematic. There is no doubt about that.

      Of course all of us, in every moment of every experience, feel gradations of pleasure—we are all, no matter how much we protest, critics.

      Criticism is the dark hidden river that feeds the world. Few dare to navigate those intelligences, those feelings, those fecund streams!

  11. M.T. Graves said,

    May 7, 2016 at 10:25 pm

    Didactic poetry is fine – but it must present values worth becoming didactic about. And of course, you stalwart Scarriet regulars know EXACTLY what those values are… and so to state them would be superfluous (and unpoetic).

    • powersjq said,

      May 10, 2016 at 3:10 pm

      Statements of worthwhile values can never be superfluous, though they obviously run the risk of being sententious. But then, whether sententiousness is a good thing or not might be a mere question or taste. There have been epochs that adored Seneca.

  12. Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

    May 8, 2016 at 3:05 am

    “Don’t bow down to critics who have not themselves written great masterpieces.”
    ― Lawrence Ferlinghetti

    “It is a thing of no great difficulty to raise objections against another man’s oration, it is a very easy matter; but to produce a better in its place is a work extremely troublesome.”
    ― Plutarch

    “Being a critic is a terrific method for killing your love of art”
    ― David Toop

    “Hate the critics? I have nothing but compassion for them. How can one hate the crippled, the mentally deficient, and the dead?”
    ― Ronald Harwood

    • powersjq said,

      May 10, 2016 at 3:13 pm

      Oh, poop. Only two things matter about poetry criticism. Firstly, whether it says anything worthwhile about poetry in general. Secondly, whether it gets any poet that reads it thinking about how to make his next poem better.

      • Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

        May 11, 2016 at 5:06 am

        If I may paraphrase:

        Those who can write, do.

        Those who cannot write teach.

        Those who cannot write or teach become critics.

        • Anonymous said,

          May 11, 2016 at 11:15 am

          Those who can’t write criticism, teach. Those who can’t teach, write.

          • noochinator said,

            May 11, 2016 at 12:17 pm

            Those who can, do. Those who can’t do, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach gym. — Woody Allen

        • powersjq said,

          May 14, 2016 at 2:15 pm

          Most who can write, write badly.
          Those who can write well, still write badly most of the time.
          Those who cannot criticize well, write well entirely by accident.
          Those who cannot teach, do not know what they are about.
          Those who cannot learn from criticism, are doomed to repeat it.

          • thomasbrady said,

            May 14, 2016 at 3:13 pm

            Powers, I agree. Nicely said.

          • Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

            May 15, 2016 at 12:48 am

            Doo wha
            ditty ditty
            Dum
            Ditty do.

          • Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

            May 15, 2016 at 1:23 am

            That is to say, and to confirm my point:

            “singing Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do”

          • Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

            May 15, 2016 at 1:26 am

            “Those who cannot learn from criticism, are doomed to repeat it.”

            This appears to apply mostly to critics, no?

            • Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

              May 15, 2016 at 2:57 am

              Here’s the story on critics:
              J.K Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, spoke to the graduating class of Harvard in June 2008. She didn’t talk about success. She talked about failures. Her own in particular. I absolutely love her quote.
              “You might never fail on the scale I did,” Rowling told that privileged audience. “But it is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.
              She should know. The author didn’t magically become richer than the Queen of England overnight. Penniless, recently divorced, and raising a child on her own, she wrote the first Harry Potter book on an old manual typewriter.
              Twelve publishers rejected the manuscript! A year later she was given the green light by Barry Cunningham from Bloomsbury, who agreed to publish the book but insisted she get a day job cause there was no money in children’s books.
              What if she stopped at the first rejection? The fifth? Or the tenth?
              The Beatles: They were rejected by many record labels. In a famous rejection, the label said, “”guitar groups are on the way out” and “the Beatles have no future in show business”.
              Stephen King: His first book Carrie was rejected 30 times and he threw it in the trash. His wife retrieved it out of the trash and encouraged him to resubmit it. The rest is history. He has sold more than 350 million copies of his books. (He’s also made many adults fear clowns too.) “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”
              Margaret Mitchell. Gone With the Wind was rejected 38 times before it was published. It took Judy Blume two years to find a publisher.
              Frank Herbert. Dune, considered one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time, racked up 20 rejection letters before being picked up.
              Frank L. Baum – (The Wizard of Oz) – “Too radical of a departure from traditional juvenile literature.”
              William Golding – (Lord of the Flies) – “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”
              John le Carre – (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold) – [sent from one publisher to another] “You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.”
              Sylvia Plath – “There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.”
              Joseph Heller – (Catch-22) – “I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say…Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level.”
              George Orwell – (Animal Farm) – “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.”
              William Faulkner – (Sanctuary) – “Good God, I can’t publish this!”
              Jack Kerouac (On the Road) – “His frenetic and scrambled prose perfectly express the feverish travels of the Beat Generation. But is that enough? I don’t think so.”
              Rudyard Kipling – “I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”
              Richard Adams – (Watership Down) – “Older children wouldn’t like it because its language was too difficult.”
              Kenneth Grahame – (Wind in the Willows) – “Irresponsible holiday story.”
              D. H. Lawrence – (Lady Chatterley’s Lover) – “For your own sake do not publish this book.”
              Louisa May Alcott – (Little Women) – “Tell Louisa to stick to her teaching; she can never succeed as a writer.”

              • thomasbrady said,

                May 15, 2016 at 12:52 pm

                Gary,

                These are publishers, not critics.

                Recognition is a complex process and not always related to quality.

                Are Rowling, King etc critic-proof because they are famous? Of course not.

                Critical genius is not less than poetic genius. A poet has an easy task, one might say, compared to the sculpture who makes life in marble. But here we demean thought and judgement compared to physical labor. Just so with critical genius. Critical thought is not easy and is valuable.

                • Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

                  May 16, 2016 at 2:14 am

                  Please name just one critic with “critical genius” who has never been wrong.

                  Just one.

                  • thomasbrady said,

                    May 16, 2016 at 11:12 am

                    “Wrong” applies to poets and critics. The critical faculty is far more open to the charge of “wrong” than the faculty which subjectively invents. I’m not here to damn poets and extol critics. Please don’t assume this. Poetry of Shakespeare, Dante, Milton. When are they wrong? Rowling and S. King are wrong, period. For me, their very existence as writers is just wrong. Think of the vastness of that distance. Never wrong versus completely wrong. Poe said a long poem does not exist, and so Milton, after a half hour, is no longer a poet, after a half hour, Milton is “wrong.” This is a brilliant critical observation no one in a million would make—though many might feel—but Poe made it. Criticism can bound and leap, too. Pope, another great critic AND poet (my point is that the two share a great deal) said poetry is simply what has often been thought, but rarely said. Criticism said that about poetry. Does that mean criticism is better? Yes. Because the laws of a society is the key to a society, not wants and wishes. But laws are necessary because there are wants and wishes. The superior intelligence has trouble separating poetry and criticism as two worthy twins. Thought of the many is what poetry and criticism both draw from, in the form of music or judgment.

                    • powersjq said,

                      May 16, 2016 at 2:08 pm

                      “Rowling and S. King are wrong, period. For me, their very existence as writers is just wrong.”

                      Unless you’ve actually read them–or enough to speak with confidence–this is the merest prejudice. Poetry surges up from the depths of language–the language that every child speaks. King and Rowling are both very good storytellers, and occasionally they are fine writers. (Remember: judge an artist by her best work, not by the average of her performances.) There’s nothing wrong with enjoying humble fare. And there’s nothing wrong with a taste for the finest delicacies. A crucial aspect of good taste is a broad palette.

                      The insights that illuminate language from above are flung into orbit with terrifying force. Poe’s remark about the brevity of poetry is provably wrong. But maybe he’s right and Milton’s wrong. Wait. Maybe “wrongness” is most useful not as a _standard_, but as an opening _question_. First we ask whether Poe’s right, then we stop caring, because the stakes and the terms of the debate are patently more interesting than the outcome.

  13. Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

    May 8, 2016 at 3:39 am

    I almost forgot my favorite:

    “The fastest way to become famous is to throw a brick at someone who’s already famous.”
    – Walter Winchell

  14. Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

    May 8, 2016 at 4:15 am

    Dinner with Critics

    One night a man had a fine dinner,
    prime rib and lobster,
    music and laughter, hors d’oeuvres;
    fine red wine.
    Later that night, after his murder,
    the coroner sliced open a pink
    and blue sack of stomach,
    emptied it of leftover lobster
    and prime rib. A faint sour smell
    of red wine.

    Copyright 2010 – Ponds and Lawns: New and Corrected Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

    Critics

    Screw all of you people!
    I know what’s good!
    I know what I like
    so I write what I should.
    I write what I feel,
    I select every word
    because I know it feels right.
    If it comes from the heart
    it’s good stuff.

    And many have known this,
    knew what was good!
    Polonius was right!
    They knew it was rough,
    but they followed their dreams
    and kept on, fought the good fight.
    Eventually somebody heard.

    If it comes from the heart
    it’s always good stuff.

    Copyright 2011 – Mortal Remains, Gary B. Fitzgerald

    Poets & Critics

    A pandemonium of shoots and stems and tendrils,
    new growth and life and creeping vines,
    many colored flowers, great oaks and pines,
    gentle bamboo and birds and beasts…
    a forest growing beautiful
    and natural
    and wild.

    Others come here, collect these leaves and petals,
    take them home to identify and classify and file,
    press them inside books.
    They compare these specimens to one another
    then leave them dead, numbered
    and forgotten
    in the pile.

    Copyright 2011 – Mortal Remains, Gary B. Fitzgerald

    • powersjq said,

      May 10, 2016 at 3:41 pm

      Alone, I dine on the critics,
      their spleens mottled truffles
      shaved over mashed gristle.
      My belches taste like champagne.

      Alone, I gather the world
      into pockets and boxes.
      I table bits of death
      and order them to speak
      in rhythm, to number love
      and leave its measure
      in every living eye.

  15. thomasbrady said,

    May 8, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    Creativity is simply criticism in reverse. The vanity of the critic is no worse than the vanity of the poet. But the poets are passengers—it is important the critic can fly the plane. Plato is the greatest poet. Shelley said so and we love Shelley for his boyish lack of vanity. Good poets are inside Plato’s Republic, the bad, pompous, didactic ones are outside. The Chinese poets were government officials. A lecture from a nature poet. How tedious. Poetry is about love: every great poet knows this. See Dante, Petrarch, Shakespeare, Poe, Shelley, Keats, Byron. Or poetry is about poetry, to mitigate the pains of love, the heartsick talking to their poetry is poetry. Science? Instruction? Lecture? Just say it in good prose, then. Don’t wrap it up in poetry. You’ll only demean poetry and common sense. Much nonsense hides behind “poetry.”

  16. noochinator said,

    May 8, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    Here’s theatre critic Addison DeWitt on his vocation:

    “I have lived in the theatre as a Trappist monk lives in his faith. In it I toil not, neither do I spin. I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the theatre — as ants to a picnic, as the boll weevil to a cotton field.”

    • powersjq said,

      May 10, 2016 at 3:42 pm

      This is lovely.

  17. Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

    May 8, 2016 at 10:05 pm

    The Pedant

    So many verses read, references compiled,
    so many titles quoted and remembered;
    a wealth of prosodic structure understood.
    You have studied every poet from Petrarch
    to Poe to Plath and none of it
    has done you any good.

    You have never quite experienced exactly
    what the poet’s count and meter said you should,
    done that of which all these poems speak.
    Vicariously you lived, your chips untendered,
    your connection weak and for all intents and purposes
    now almost dead and past your peak.

    You have traded all your living, the edge and energy,
    the colors of the life that set you on this path
    for the lives of all the others that you’ve studied,
    dissected and dismembered, and never found
    that truth of which you seek, the epiphany
    you always thought you would, that now,
    you finally realize, you never really could.

    Copyright 2010 – Ponds and Lawns: New and Corrected Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

  18. thomasbrady said,

    May 9, 2016 at 1:57 am

    Gary,

    Congratulations. You defied the Scarriet editors.

    And survived!

    Marla Muse would like to present her special prize to you, an honor reserved for those few who have defended themselves under fire so admirably.

    “He gazed at the gods and did not blink.”

    Please see her in the back.

    Well done, Gary.

    Tom

  19. Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

    May 10, 2016 at 12:14 am

    Well, I hope we’re friends again. We’ve known each other a long time.

    Just don’t beat up my children.

  20. Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

    May 10, 2016 at 1:38 am

    I don’t know if I ever mentioned how I originally discovered poetry blogs on the internet, but it’s kind of funny. In 2005 I submitted my first book to the Pulitzer Prize competition. I learned that Ted Kooser was one of the judges. Since my poetry was Nature oriented/bucolic and, in my opinion, also modern and conceptual in design, I figured I was a shoo-in.

    I didn’t win, but the press release announcing Claudia Emerson as the 2006 winner also noted that she had been selected by Ted Kooser as the winner of the Witter Bynner award some time earlier. I was outraged. First of all, Witter Bynner was a personal hero of mine due to his translation of the Tao Te Ching, so I noticed this ‘coincidence’. Hmmm, I wondered, isn’t it interesting that the very guy who was on the Pulitzer nominating committee also knew the winner personally and had actually picked this individual for a previous award.

    I went to Google and typed in ‘poetry scandals’. I then discovered Foetry, which at the time was all about Jorie Graham having selected her husband as a prize winner somewhere. At any rate, there was nothing about Kooser or Emerson, but the rest is history. There I met Alan Cordle, Monday Love and some character named Tom West. I found Harriet (Poetry Foundation), Silliman, Poets.net, et. al. Eventually, there was Scarriet. I’ve been checking in ever since. Unfortunately, everybody’s on Facebook now or out of the comment business. It has, however, been a long time since I first discovered poetry on the internet and I’ve been forever grateful.

    Jeez…now I’m starting to feel old.”

  21. Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

    May 12, 2016 at 12:59 am

    Thomasbrady said:
    Creativity is simply criticism in reverse. The vanity of the critic is no worse than the vanity of the poet. But the poets are passengers—it is important the critic can fly the plane. Plato is the greatest poet. Shelley said so and we love Shelley for his boyish lack of vanity. Good poets are inside Plato’s Republic, the bad, pompous, didactic ones are outside. The Chinese poets were government officials. A lecture from a nature poet. How tedious. Poetry is about love: every great poet knows this. See Dante, Petrarch, Shakespeare, Poe, Shelley, Keats, Byron. Or poetry is about poetry, to mitigate the pains of love, the heartsick talking to their poetry is poetry. Science? Instruction? Lecture? Just say it in good prose, then. Don’t wrap it up in poetry. You’ll only demean poetry and common sense. Much nonsense hides behind “poetry.”
    “A lecture from a Nature poet. How tedious.”, he says. Really?

    Here is a list of poets known for their ‘Nature’ poetry. Recognize any of them?

    Alfred Lord Tennyson
    John Keats
    Emily Dickinson
    William Shakespeare
    Percy Bysshe Shelly
    Robert Frost
    Samuel Taylor Coleridge
    William Wordsworth
    W. B. Yeats
    Gary Snyder
    Mary Oliver

    Need I go on?

    The very concept of an “Art critic” is probably the most preposterous thing ever devised. First off, all art (and poetry) is purely subjective. What makes one person cry may make another cringe. It is purely a matter of personal preference.

    Secondly, art (and poetry) EVOLVE. What would Shakespeare think of Blake? What would Blake think of Poe? What would Poe think of E.E. Cummings? What would Cummings think of John Ashbery?

    Third, who the hell is ANYONE to deem what is “good” and impose that judgment on anyone else or anyone else’s work?

    There is no more ridiculous thing in the word than the concept of a “poetry critic”.

    • Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

      May 12, 2016 at 1:40 am

      That has to be the coolest typo I have ever made. I meant to say:

      “…more ridiculous thing in the world…”, but I typed:

      “…more ridiculous thing in the word…”

      Works either way. Talk about your Freudian slips.

      (Yes, I admit it. Words turn me on.)

    • thomasbrady said,

      May 12, 2016 at 10:11 am

      Gary, you’re great. Defending a tedious lecture from a nature poet, you name a bunch of respected poets. That’s an argument?

      Poetry doesn’t evolve. Now you sound like one of those haughty art critics. Poetry is rhythm—and the pulse felt on the wrist of an Ancient Greek is the same as your own.

      Your “everything is purely subjective” belief translates to might makes right; if played out, this belief is the ultimate fascist, bullying one. No citizen will ever believe that anything matters but their subjective opinion. And how does that work for society? It doesn’t. If there are no shared values, what finally emerges is the pure power of the bully. “All is subjective” has a kind side, sure. “I don’t want to impose my beliefs on anyone else.” A paradise of sweetness and kindness, I suppose. But it also leads to the estranged, the boring, the sterile, the stupid, etc. because unfortunately not all the pure subjective souls are nice or wonderful like you. And once they start acting like bullies, what can you do? Since there are no shared beliefs of any kind, since it is all ” subjective?” What do you do?

      And just by naming Shakespeare as an argument, you show that you don’t really believe that everything is subjective. Whatever you and I both understand by the name, Shakespeare, indicates 1. everything is not subjective and 2. critical opinion—which you so revile.

    • powersjq said,

      May 16, 2016 at 1:54 pm

      “The very concept of an ‘Art critic’ is probably the most preposterous thing ever devised.”

      Hardly preposterous. Most ideas for poems, paintings, buildings, etc. are junk. What should we invest our time, energy, money in? Every poet is his own toughest critic. And if there’s a decision to make that has consequences for lots of people, then we’re going to have to have a conversation. Alacazam. Now everyone’s a critic

      “[A[rt (and poetry) EVOLVE.” And therefore standards of artistic quality evolve, too, which means the critic’s opinion can never be timeless or universal–this is your argument, yes? But the _problem_ of how to winnow good art (worthy of time, energy, attention, etc.) from bad (worthy of the dustbin) is perennial. If we often find a different era’s standards to be unhelpful, we nevertheless find both their basic _tools_ for thinking the problem (definitions, distinctions, comparisons) and their _approach_ to the problem to be useful.

      “[W]ho the hell is ANYONE to deem what is ‘good’ and impose that judgment on anyone else or anyone else’s work.” I don’t know, maybe a teacher, who can’t teach everything, but thinks it worthwhile to teach _some_ poetry. Or a publisher. Or a poetry fan with a limited budget. Or anyone who believes art is worthwhile but who has limited resources. (Or were you asking how anyone can judge _your_ work?)

      • Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

        May 17, 2016 at 10:31 pm

        Well said. But seriously, have you ever met anybody who read the opinions of critics before deciding to actually read the poetry?

        • thomasbrady said,

          May 18, 2016 at 12:07 am

          Gary,

          Criticism is like advertising for poetry. Think of it that way. Rather than as an adversarial, smart-ass, unfair entity. Criticism is the atmosphere of a society or mind which poetry swims in. The better the atmosphere the better the life in it. A lot of bad poetry and very little criticism go hand in hand.

        • Anonymous said,

          May 19, 2016 at 11:44 am

          I would not say that every toe dipped into poetry need first to ask which corner of the pool is warmest. Diving in can be a great entrance. The are three ways to aim your dive: chronological, alphabetical, and random (e.g., whatever Google puts highest in your search). So let’s say none of these three feels quite right to you, and you just want a hint of where to begin.

          An example (using myself): let’s say you were thinking about starting to read someone like Sir Walter Scott. This guy’s famous, important in English letters generally, and so there’s no shortage of opinions on his work. He’s written a lot of stuff, but he’s most famous for his novels. Where to begin with his poetry? You poke around on the interwebs, and you run across this:

          http://www.worldwideschool.org/library/books/gnrl/collections/EssaysinLittle/chap14.html

          You read a bit, and this has the texture and feel of good criticism. In it, Lang suggests that “every one who wants to read Scott’s poetry should begin with the “Lay [of the Last Minstrel].” So you do. And the “Lay” is really very good. And there’s no way you would have discovered it without Lang’s help.

          Criticism seeks to set up signposts that give direction to the newcomer. Whatever the writer may feel about having signs that say “this good ->” and “this bad ->” pointing at his works, anyone who travels the Republic of Letters, vast as it is, quickly comes to understand the value of directions (even if he doesn’t necessarily need them at that moment). The only other options, as I said above, are to proceed chronologically, alphabetically, or randomly. If none of those appeal or avail, you need criticism.

          • thomasbrady said,

            May 20, 2016 at 2:51 pm

            Thank you, anonymous. Criticism is not about brainwashing or bullying. That’s brainwashing and bullying, not criticism. A poet who is highly defensive about their own work can be a brainwashing bully. Brainwashing and bullying can be done by anyone and has nothing to do with Criticism, per se.

            Criticism is a guide, that’s all. It’s the brain of the eyes. Good criticism lays out examples, shares work from many ages and writers and presents it. End of story. Nothing wrong with that. If you are a nature poet, and there’s a million examples of nature poetry out there, you should count good criticism which knows something about nature poetry as your friend—that is, if you yourself as the poet are not a brainwashing bully.

            • powersjq said,

              May 21, 2016 at 12:37 pm

              Sorry, Tom. This was me. Not sure why it marked the comment as Anonymous. I thought I was logged in.

              • thomasbrady said,

                May 23, 2016 at 2:53 pm

                Powers,

                Please don’t apologize. We love getting things from Anonymous. So mysterious. So romantic. Like a secret admirer.

                To everyone: If you accidentally post as Anonymous, no need to tell us. We prefer to be blissfully unaware.

                And we know who you are, anyway. 😉

                • powersjq said,

                  May 30, 2016 at 12:09 pm

                  I figured it would be obvious it was me. Your attitude toward anonymity is becoming in a host. I believe mine toward wearing your own name is becoming in a guest. 🙂

                  • thomasbrady said,

                    May 30, 2016 at 1:35 pm

                    Like a tyrant, poets want many anonymous admirers. Anonymous implies many. There are too many to know. Fame knows nothing but its fame. Admiration knows nothing but its admiration. Love knows nothing but its love.

  22. Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

    May 14, 2016 at 1:16 am

    Tom:

    You said: “Defending a tedious lecture from a nature poet,…”

    It would be helpful if you could specify the particulat ‘tedious Nature poet’ of whom you speak. Perhaps then we could have a more intelligent discussion.

    • thomasbrady said,

      May 14, 2016 at 10:00 am

      Gary: Agreed that if we focus only on that phrase we have no argument. You say nature and I say tedious and without specifics, we are not saying anything.

      The gist, however, from all that has been said above, is apparent. Didacticism, by critical observation, is a poetic flaw. Poets own no divine right. Democracy = poets and critics. Shake this out any way you like, in the context of defending your own poetry, etc. but that’s the unmovable rock sticking out of the water.

  23. Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

    May 15, 2016 at 2:55 am

    The Past

    I need some solidity,
    a wall of stone
    to lean upon and rest.
    Enough of this fluidity.
    I’m drowning in a sea
    of unfamiliarity and
    ignorance where
    no solid rock exists.
    The people can not recall
    who came first,
    Mozart or the Beatles,
    Kennedy or Jefferson.
    They think Shakespeare
    was once a king,
    and you speak of
    Rome and Athens?
    How can someone find
    their mother’s grave
    if they don’t even know
    where they were born?

    Copyright 2008 – Softwood: Seventy-eight Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

  24. Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

    May 15, 2016 at 3:38 am

    The point here is that to criticize poetry for being didactic is to criticize birds for flying, fish for swimming, zebras for being striped and leopards for having spots. Teaching and inspiring are not only the very origin of poetry but also the very purpose and meaning of its continued existence. That poetry which contradicts this fact is called MODERNISM.

  25. thomasbrady said,

    May 15, 2016 at 12:36 pm

    I’d rather a person love Mozart’s music than know when he was born.

    This is what the Modernists do: their whole reason for being, their evil in a nutshell is they say: you can’t love Mozart or you have to temper your love of Mozart because of when he was born.

    No, Gary, poetry is a being, not a telling. There is no “wisdom” that needs to be told. It doesn’t exist.

    • powersjq said,

      May 16, 2016 at 1:20 pm

      “There is no ‘wisdom’ that needs to be told.”

      Someone should tell the Hari Krishnas and Jehohava’s Witnesses. I know we moderns like to think these people are howling at the moon, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s a wisdom that needs their baying.

      There are at least two ways to speak wisdom. One: tell a compelling story. Two: lay out a compelling argument. There are surely wisdoms that shouldn’t be spoken too loudly or in the wrong company, and wisdoms not worth telling, and wisdoms that flat-out can’t be told. I am suspicious of any _human_ wisdom that claims it doesn’t need telling.

  26. Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

    May 16, 2016 at 3:22 am

    The Editor

    “I’m not finding many references in this poetry.”

    “This is true… I write poems, not puzzles.
    It’s not an English test, you know.”

    “Yes, but shouldn’t there be more depth?
    I’m not seeing much history.”

    “Depth? I wrote about a beautiful Tiger Swallowtail
    eaten by an ugly featherbare, old grackle.
    What does that mean? Explain this mystery!
    What value is put on beauty by death?
    What purpose the esoteric and arcane?
    A poem should be a pleasure…words to enjoy,
    to enlighten, make easily plain.
    It should be old but familiar, even if new,
    not an enigma that requires a degree to explain.
    Let the students study the scholars.
    Let the rest of us hear poetry.”

    “I see…”

    “You don’t!
    A poem is like a happy barking dog that
    simply sees what he sees
    which your critical obfuscation clearly muzzles.
    Today is the assassin of reference and depth!
    Virgil and Homer…what do I care?
    We all read them years ago.
    Here is the price put on beauty by death:
    today is now, and now is wagging his tail.”

    Copyright 2008 – Softwood: Seventy-eight poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

    • powersjq said,

      May 16, 2016 at 1:41 pm

      “I’m not finding many references in this poetry.”

      — The language itself has depths, whether the poets uses them consciously or not. And the reader has depths, too, of which the poet can surmise only a little. (This critique of a crappy editor is a critique of crappiness, not of editors or criticism.)

      “A poem is like a happy barking dog that / simply sees what he sees.”

      — A poem that aspires to be doggerel will probably succeed. A dog barking because he’s happy is neither a poem nor poetic. A poet barking like a dog is something else, something more–perhaps something witty–though I hesitate to call it a poem. And a line of rhythmic words, read/heard by a speaking/reading human, that infuses the image of a barking dog with the feeling idea of happiness–that’s a poem.

      “Let the students study the scholars./ Let the rest of us hear poetry.”

      The word “student” is from the Latin “studere,” meaning “eagerness.” The word “scholar” is from the Greek “skhole,” which means “leisure.” (See? Depths. Whether you intended them or not.) It is the eager, leisured listener who both discovers and savors the depths of the poem. Depth is in the reader and in the language–not in the poem (or the poet). As for “the rest,” let them have their “easily plain” surface. But best make it sweet, or they’ll spit it out.

  27. thomasbrady said,

    May 16, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    Powers,

    The idea of a “story” and how it impacts literary judgment is wonderful food for thought.

    I have read Rowling and King and simply cannot stomach their writing enough to stay with their “story.” Rowling is bloated, King, workmanlike and terse—different, but equally bad.

    But here’s the thing about a “story.” It has a “pay-off” factor. Stay with the story, we are told, get to “know” the characters, get involved in the arc of it and its details, and eventually you will be in the grip of the story.

    But I rebel against this. I won’t be sold a story that tells me a story will eventually be good. Drive this car. It will break down every five minutes for the first 50 miles. But it will drive like a dream as you pull into your destination. Uh…no thanks.

    I would not want to read the story of “Hamlet” written by Rowling or King.

    I want to be thrilled and moved from the very beginning. Because I know it’s possible. That’s what poetry can do. Story is not enough. Story, which tells me to delay my gratification, is a sales trick.

    • powersjq said,

      May 17, 2016 at 2:50 pm

      So perhaps we’re making a distinction between “the telling” of a story vs. “the plot and characters”? This makes sense to me. And I too value the telling. I’ve had books recommended to me that I simply cannot read because the telling is unsatisfying. (I seem to recall that the first story of the sixth day in Boccaccio’s _Decameron_ levels exactly this critique at bad storytellers.)

      Your description of King’s style as “workmanlike and terse” seems accurate to me. I often enjoy those qualities in his prose, though I also find that it can create a droning effect. I’ve never really tried Rowling, and I doubt I will.

      “Story is not enough. Story, which tells me to delay my gratification, is a sales trick.” Maybe you’re being too hard on story. I counter with Alberti on the pleasure of simply thinking an invention (the seed of a novel or a painting):

      “A beautiful invention has such force, as will be seen, that even without painting it is pleasing in itself alone. Invention is praised when one reads the description of Calumny which Lucian recounts was painted by Apelles. [Lucian De calumnia, 5] I do not think it alien to our subject. I will narrate it here in order to point out to painters where they ought to be most aware and careful in their inventions. In this painting there was a man with very large ears. Near him, on either side, stood two women, one called Ignorance, the other Suspicion. Farther, on the other side, came Calumny, a woman who appeared most beautiful but seemed too rafty in the face. In her right hand she held a lighted torch, with the other hand she dragged by the hair a young man who held up his arms to heaven. There was also a man, pale, ugly, all filthy and with an iniquitous aspect, who could be compared to one who has [p. 90] become thin and feverish with long fatigues on the fields of battle; he was the guide of Calumny and was called Hatred. And there were two other women, serving women of Calumy who arranged her ornaments and robes. They were called Envy and Fraud. Behind these was Penitence, a woman dressed in funeral robes, who stood as if completely dejected. Behind her followed a young girl, shameful and modest, called Truth. If this story pleased as it was being told, think how much pleasure and delight there must have been in seeing it painted by the hand of Apelles.”

      • thomasbrady said,

        May 17, 2016 at 3:51 pm

        Powers,

        Yes, perhaps there’s something misanthropic about my suspicion of story.

        I like that passage by Alberti. It reminds me a little of how da Vinci writes, defending painting against the poets (at the time painters were considered mere laborers) and also G.E. Lessing’s wonderful “Laocooan,” an essay on the difference between poetry and painting/sculpture.

        Reading the Alberti, I suddenly thought that reading a story, in some ways is like watching someone as they paint a picture. Normally we gaze upon a painting and see so much at once, and we see so much at once because the painter has worked patiently in obscurity, and alone, until done. Reading a short poem is similar; the poet may have taken a year to write the poem—we read it in a few seconds.

        Now, with a story, mechanically it is more like a painter painting a complex mural—as we watch. The act of reading a story is a social act, for there we are at the “painter’s” shoulder as they work. The “painter” story-teller cannot help but imagine the viewer “right there with them,” and this actually propels the story-teller, almost in a kind of imaginary conversational trance, to make all sorts of remarks…”the first thing I am going to paint for you…”

        • powersjq said,

          May 17, 2016 at 5:24 pm

          I find Lessing’s distinction between spatial and temporal arts useful only as a jumping off point. Your remarks here seem to penetrate more deeply. You say:

          “I suddenly thought that reading a story, in some ways is like watching someone as they paint a picture. Normally we gaze upon a painting and see so much at once, and we see so much at once because the painter has worked patiently in obscurity, and alone, until done. Reading a short poem is similar; the poet may have taken a year to write the poem—we read it in a few seconds.”

          This seems to drive at the feeling derived from participating deeply in an act of creation–art as a “social act”–and the artistic feeling derived from being struck, all at once, by a fait accompli. The latter is the shock Oedipus receives when finally accepts what he’s done–what Aristotle calls “recognition” (anagnosis). Blam! We’re overwhelmed. I think most art theory in our culture takes this experience as normative.

          The former is something not well discussed in our tradition. When Eco and Chesterton defend the detective story as one of the fundamental literary genres–the getting to the bottom of something, bit by bit–I think that’s the same sort of experience. The meaning of a story unfolds in stages (chapters), with the meaning of each part sensible only given the context of the whole. Telling such a story is obviously an art in itself. I can’t offhand think of any resources for making sense of the slow, stepwise “social act” of building up artistic meaning. Myth theory? Political theory? Communication? Rhetoric? Maybe architecture… maybe.

          Exciting idea.

          • thomasbrady said,

            May 17, 2016 at 9:50 pm

            Yes! The detective story, which mimics the Socratic dialogue! The “social act” as a way of arriving at wisdom, solving a crime, telling a story. The crime story is the most popular type of story. The reader re-solves the mystery. The sudden, fait accompli revelation of painting is different. The viewer doesn’t re-paint the painting. They cannot. Spatial recognition doesn’t permit this. And this is why a “mystery” exists! Precisely because we can’t re-paint a painting. So “story” or dialogue is necessary to solve the mystery of the “painting,” the “scene,” the “crime scene.”


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