WHEN YOU LOSE LOVE

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When you lose love, the experience of kindness is painful.
You’d rather have them back, disdainful.
When you lose love.

When you lose love, everything seems trivial and mild.
You’d rather have them back, when things were wild.
When you lose love.

When you lose love, conspiracies prevent a love that’s new.
Life looks backwards. Rumors of them are everything to you.
When you lose love.

When you lose love, you knock on the door of your tomb
Which was their house. You wish you would die soon.
When you lose love.

 

YOU ALWAYS KNEW THIS

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When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Join the mainstream.

Independent thought is a dream.

Like what other people like, and you’ll survive.

The end of philosophy isn’t truth. It’s staying alive.

There is nothing beyond conformity.

Conformity is how we live. Poetry

Has no soul. It’s only vocabulary.

You! Say something new and leave the pack.

You won’t be coming back.

Write to us. Tell us what you find.

Is it useful? Good! We want to be useless and blind.

 

 

LIFE IS SIMPLE IN LATE OCTOBER

Baseball is more interesting when runs are few.

Love is best when I don’t know. And so I love you.

I whiff when you throw fast, and when you throw slow.

I love you, anyway. You just never know.

To guess fastball, and win it all

1-0, with a fly ball almost foul, that just makes it over the wall.

To win you with a poem, or something stupid I say.

A kiss. A wish that reaches you from far away.

Never mind the dinners and the wedding ring.

I like it when you don’t think you can but I tell you, you can sing.

You don’t believe in yourself. You never do.

You get upset at nothing. And I love you.

You made me hate you. But I keep on loving.

I was nervous, but my mind keeps moving.

Two strikes, two outs. You don’t smile.

I once thought I could hit a baseball a mile.

But you throw too hard. I can’t hit you.

I just stick my bat out. I steal. That’s all I can do.

Bring it. Hate me. I still love you.

Baseball is more interesting when runs are none, or few.

NOR’EASTER, SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS

A ravaging storm of rain and wind,

On the final Halloween weekend,

Empties the streets of this Halloween town.

Witch’s hats are blown by the blast.

The ghouls of hell are gone at last.

The Christian preachers tried their best

To shame false gods in Halloween dress.

They laughed. Now nature’s wind and rain

Brings normalcy back to the streets again.

Normalcy is my God, much more

Than the harrowing spectacles of Christian lore,

Priests with their earnest, “Be good!”

Or more sly: “Find religion in pond or wood.”

(Just give me exercise and decent food.)

Discipline establishes space and room

For me to know a certain serenity in gloom,

Chaos, betrayal, misfortune.

Calmly, I light a cigarette in the wind.

A cigarette brings me closer to God.

Not “a smoker,” one smoke and I feel odd.

Tingling, I feel the need to shit; I fart;

Relaxing the body is the best medicinal art

And the secret to sex. I felt relaxed with you,

But the problem, of course, was you; we always feel

Troubled by others. We know only the self is real.

Sometimes we doubt the existence of our mask,

But the true self will never tell, so please don’t ask.

I smile. How to explain normalcy to you?

A Marxist, you want to change the world. How best to feel

What I feel about the rain, the wind, and the leaves falling?

Is that your phone? Someone’s calling.

Better take it. A cigarette, like God, changes your view

With a feeling, a small feeling which has nothing to do

With the view, but changes the view.

That’s all I need to know of God. Or Marx. Or you.

 

 

 

 

VEILS, HALOS & SHACKLES: INTERNATIONAL POETRY ON THE OPPRESSION AND EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN

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Charles Adès Fishman and Smita Sahay have compiled an heroic anthology of poetry.  Veils, Halos & Shackles: International Poetry on the Oppression and Empowerment of Women; Kasva Press; Fishman, Sahay; Ed., 2016, 555 pages.

The topic of rape is a horrifying one.  It will not take long for readers of this anthology, readers of manners and decency, to be completely horrified and aghast—the systematic, contemporary, and worldwide brutalizing of women and children is not a dainty subject.

In this remarkable and necessary anthology, brutality against women is often told starkly, in what is essentially prose incident and prose vignettes—poetry sometimes takes a back seat, or poetry comes to the rescue. The topic hinders poetry. Poetry, in this atmosphere must fight to live and breathe.

Either the horrific incidents themselves do not allow poetry to come anywhere near, or the poets, brutalized by the incidents, or stung by the terrible news, are too traumatized to produce poetry.

Weaponized gossip is occasionally the go-to strategy, especially when the incidents occur in more middle class settings. It might be teachers using papers written by their students. One poem begins (and notice the pure prose):

The part-time teacher sometimes has her students read their English IA papers in front of class. She has not read them yet. She asks for volunteers.

A beautiful woman stands in front of the class and reads a paper in which she states that her husband beat her…

Judy Wells “The Part-Time Teacher Sometimes Fears For Her Students’ Lives”

Veils, Halos & Shackles does not get mired in one kind of politics; the perspectives come from everywhere—they are brief, but numerous, and the poets also add prose remarks to their poems.

This book, I am happy to say, has great documentary worth.

The poems tend to be the quick, through-a-keyhole type of horror—not the long arc of fictional, Stephen King, horror. But this is, unfortunately, very real. There are things here you would never want to look at, but which poetry somehow must tell—horror in sad, banal, mundane glimpses.

Poetry almost feels superfluous in recounting these terrible incidents. Poetry, like civilized decency, is ashamed, is tactfully silent, as the suffering unfolds. Unfortunately, or not, Veils, Halos & Shackles only sometimes has poetry. To be true to its subject, this was necessary.

The Socratic injunction against the danger of poetry was not the paranoid ravings of an old man. The best poem about a street fight will feature neither the street nor the fight.  If the poet is weak enough to believe that a poem on a street fight is all about the street fight, then street fighting will win, and poetry will lose.

Is there history, or science (why is there brutality?) or politics in these poems?  Yes, and no.  There is no systematic effort to present science, politics or history.  Yet the nature of the subject—and the poets in this anthology are from all over the world—make it impossible for these poems not to be, in some manner, political and historical—if not scientific.  The anthology has a fullness, in this regard, and is an important record, if only for that.  The editors have done a wonderful job in making this book feel like the world.

But does the subject itself hinder the pleasures of poetry?  To some degree, this might be said to be true.  The more we are appalled by a vast, society-wide problem, the more merely a reaction to it pains us to such a degree that even if the reaction contains understanding, stretching upwards into art, we find it difficult, if not impossible, to have anything to do with that reaction at all.

Poetry walking into the fires of the world cannot survive the fire—if it does, it’s not poetry.  Or, so many instinctively believe.

And if news of the horror needs to be spread, let something more efficient, like prose, do it.  Poetry is the end of existence, not the means; it is the message, not the messaging service.  We should spread the news some other way.

The poet, when reporting contemporary, dire, emergencies, naturally begins to talk in the more urgent, and plain accents, of prose.  It can’t be helped.

Prose can be three things, and only three things.  The truth. Story. Propaganda. Poetry traditionally avoids all three of these, but during an emergency, what is called “poetry” tends to follow the dictates of prose.

Poetry, as it is mostly written today, then, can be three things: The truth. Story. Propaganda. The third is perhaps the most common, since it’s so easy to mix up the first two, and the confusion between the first two ends up, often, being the third, even when the attempt at truth and story is done with the very best intentions.

Propaganda is best when it disguises itself as concern for the oppressed.

The message of concern only advertises the triumph of the wicked, and the end result is just more winning for the wicked, as the innocent are frightened and the good are demoralized. This is the danger. Men are hated. Then men become worse. The illiterate brute fears nothing in front of the ineffectiveness of poetry, which is nothing but unintentional propaganda for what they do. Shelley warned of this, pointing out that poetry has a higher calling, creating love and beauty itself, the true poetry avoiding the problem of the dyer’s hand, stained by reportage of the very horrors poetry must fight by other means.

Many of the poets in this large anthology, about 250 of them—and many are widely published—are aware of this danger—poetry which reports oppressive behavior may give cheer to the oppressor, since poetry which replicates the helpless tears of the oppressed is exactly what the oppressor feeds on. Because of this awareness that weakness breeds weakness,  a few of the poems in Veils, Halos & Shackles urge the women in abusive relationships to murder their oppressors.

The reporter and the poet are not the same. The world needs both. And they should not be confused—when they are, propaganda grows like mold and problems multiply. Rather than be a helpless reporter, the poet offers brutal advice, but this unfortunately fails; it only deepens the sense of helplessness and despair, in which our world, and the attempt at poetry, founders.

Then there is the acute problem of symbol and metaphor—we think, without thinking, that metaphor is the soul of poetry, and even a figure as illustrious as Aristotle thought it so; but when we describe the disgust and terror of this topic in other terms (symbols) the poetry’s gain is the world’s loss; the problem remains, as it is simply given another name, and so despair actually deepens, and poetic wisdom mocks itself.

History, story, journalism, and statistics, are the moral lenses typically offered when widespread brutality occurs—poetry adorns, pleads, humiliates itself, digresses, sketches, symbolizes, paints, condenses, and gasps in such a manner that the very brutality which is the enemy now emerges grinning, in a new guise, not chastened; the oppressor, once banal, is now decorated with the laments of its victims. Poetry cannot harm it. Poetry, by its very nature, does not operate morally, but with faculties more sensual and ironic and complex, such that mere brutality has nothing to do with it at all.

Despite this, the editors have found poems which are stunning examples of poetry, avoiding the trap of harm, venality, stupidity, hunger, and menace breeding more of the same. The editors have still, despite all we have said, produced an important and bountiful anthology. There is hope for humanity.

Here is a poem from Karen Alkalay-Gut, which we meet early in the anthology—arranged alphabetically by author. The variety of the poetry in this anthology recommends it. This poem by Alkalay-Gut is rare for its pure accessibility and brevity.

Guy Breaks Up With A Girl

Guy breaks up with a girl
she tries to kill herself
girl breaks up with a guy
he tries to kill her

either way it’s her fault

This sad tendency is true. The difference between the genders, in that nebulous state of impulsive human desire, where the male oppresses the female, describes the whole subject of the book in an instant. What editor would not want to include this poem?

But what of men who die from love? Or where no one is at fault? What of this?

Or what of the men who would never say if the man “tries to kill” the girl it is “her fault?” What of this?

A poem is not a poem when it leaves itself open to indignant prose responses. Poetry does not belong to sad tendencies. Especially when they are objectively expressed.

Are all women self-effacing, and all men murderous? The poet is not a statistician, who furthers the news of cruel probabilities.

In “Guy Breaks Up With A Girl,” the subject triumphs; the evil, in fact, triumphs, not poetry.

On a certain level, this is the best poem in the book.

On another level, it is not a poem at all.

Here, then, is why this piece deserves a look. It describes the gulf—on two levels—which is the sorrow of us all.

The gulf between men and women—is it real, is it wide, is it imagined? How real? How wide? How imagined? Is it from birth? Is it from society? If it’s from society, does that mean the individual is innocent? How we answer—or do not answer—these questions—is how we write poetry on this topic.

It seems to me that women should never hate all men. If this horror is to be overcome, shouldn’t women fight the horror with the percentage of men who are good, and also hate the wrong?

Linda Pastan, one of the better known poets in the anthology, writes a poem with the same sentiment as “Gut Breaks Up With A Girl:”

On Violence Against Women

when Adam took
that second bite
he said

you’ll get what
you deserve
and spat out the pits

and led Eve
in lockstep
from the garden

and oh
the sweetness
of blame

continues
toxic
down the ages

Unfortunately, Pastan is right. Blame is sweet.

The truth of women wronged is such that perhaps I am too fastidious to speak of gender theory and society and poetry and blame; I should recognize it is the topic which is more important, even as I quote Shelley. But I trust the reader will understand what I am saying.

The following, by Sampurna Chattarji, is my favorite poem in the anthology; it does not shy away from the topic—none of the poems in this anthology do—but it manages to embrace the topic and its profound terror without succumbing to what it works in. It has a deeply informed subjectivity; there is no straining after reporter’s facts, there is no general bitterness, which causes so many poems to run aground. It achieves poignancy in the simplest and truest manner possible.

As A Son, My Daughter

When you grow up,
you will be a healer
loved for your smile
and your sorceress skill.
You will be a composer
of concrete dreams,
songs of towering glass.

You will be the one
to split the gene
and shed light
on every last particle of doubt.

You will know numbers so well
that you will reject them all
save two,
for they will be enough
to keep you engaged endlessly
in running the world,
efficient and remorseless,
a network of binary combinations.

When you grow up,
you will be all that I am not.
Wise, patient, with shiny long hair
and good teeth,
radiant skin to go
with your razor intellect,
as brilliant as you are beautiful.

You will be a wife
and a mother,
your children will be
brilliant and beautiful,
exactly as I see them,
perfect miniatures
of all
that I am not.

I brought you up as a son,
my daughter,
fierce and strong and free.
But now, now
that you are, have become,
all that I am not,
you are too fierce, too strong, too free.
Your hair is too short.
Your absences too long.
You fear nothing.
You frighten me.

The paradox is that poetry can speak of the horror of women brutalized, both systematically and randomly. But poetry escapes blame; it escapes its subject—or, rather, it elevates the subject, which is a paradox, since the wrong, the horror, cannot be elevated.

The miracle is not that that Veils, Halos & Shackles, a poetry anthology, contains no poetry, but that it does.

Wrong begets wrong. And poetry must conquer this begetting, not just the original wrong.

Men, hurt by women, for whatever reason, often rescue themselves by retreating into a “man’s world;” men’s escape from women is expressed in the following “humorous” bumper sticker: “Wife and dog missing. Reward for the dog.”

Diane Lockward saw this bumper sticker on a pickup truck in New Hampshire, and she came up with this fine response, a beautiful, redemptive and poignant poem, “The Missing Wife:”

The wife and dog planned their escape
months in advance, laid up biscuits and bones,
waited for the careless moment when he’d forget
to latch the gate, then hightailed it.

They took shelter in the forest, camouflaged
the scent of their trail with leaves.
Free of him at last,
they peed with relief on a tree.

Time passed. They came and went as they pleased,
chased sticks when they felt like chasing sticks,
dug holes in what they came to regard
as their own backyard. They unlearned
how to roll over and play dead.

In spring the dog wandered off in pursuit
of a rabbit. Collared by a hunter and returned
to the master for $25, he lives
on a tight leash now.

He sleeps on the wife’s side of the bed,
whimpering, pressing his snout
into her pillow, breathing
the scent of her hair.

And the wife? She’s moved deep into the heart
of the forest. She walks
on all fours, fetches for no man, performs
no tricks. She is content. Only sometimes
she gets lonely, remembers how he would nuzzle
her cheek and comfort her when she twitched
and thrashed in her sleep.

What woman—or man—could read this poem without being profoundly moved?

Another major theme in this anthology—of perhaps the most important topic of our time—is that the aftermath of abuse is as terrible—perhaps more so, lasting a lifetime—than the abuse itself.

Bruce Pratt’s irony perhaps makes the point the best; his poem “According To A Spokesman” begins:

Raped, beaten, and thrown down an embankment,
left by her three male attackers for dead,
her injuries are not life-threatening.

The truth is that the “injuries” are always “life-threatening.” Sexual abuse of any kind destroys lives, innocence, and every part of life, once and forever—the defense against the wrong after the wrong has happened, cannot speak, unless to dismiss the wrong—but the wrong can never be dismissed, even if the person, in certain instances, bravely escapes the worst effects. The morality of the issue is such that nuance is not possible, and since poetry excels in nuance, translating a wrong into poetry is the most difficult task there is.

Hina Panya’s remarkable poem, “The Gallery,” gets at the sorrow of the anthology’s topic by having a mother in a gallery opening of her son and stopping in shock before a portrait of her own battered face, a memory (she thought) her son was too young to remember. The poem’s three stanzas use first person, third person, and finally second person, in a very effective manner.

Rochelle Potkar’s “Friends In Rape” attempts a strategy we only occasionally find in Veils, Halos & Shackles—the poem uses the point of view of the abuser—the poem inhabits the “logic” of the male friend’s thoughts as he decides his “brimming love” needs to connect him to his female friend: “Should love not translate?” “Maybe she is just shy” “Doesn’t she smile at each one of your jokes?” “I will be gentle”

Potkar’s strategy flirts with danger—drama illustrating wrong by allowing wrong to speak, concedes too much; it enters that realm where Milton made Satan too attractive. If the entertainment industry gives us villains who seduce, in dramatic fashion, as the audience is forced to listen to villains’ “logic,” or even view villainous audacity and energy, wrong may ultimately win. On the other hand, Shakespeare allowed Iago to speak freely, and who can say this was not a good idea? We are tipped off to how evil works. Potkar is doing us a service; after all, the poem is called “Friends In Rape,” and so I think she is wise to show us what the “friend” is thinking.

Kirtland Snyder’s poem “Intimacy” takes arms against the ‘historical violent male conquest problem’ head on, in one of the most impressive poems in the book, with heroic meter and blasting rhetoric, a sensitive message that swaggers to make its point.  The poetry, as poetry, is strong in a 19th century sort of way, which Snyder obviously intended somewhat ironically—but it’s impressive as poetry, nonetheless.  The message, however (the poem is addressed to a sword-wielding, penis-wielding cartoon of a man) is a bit overblown—neither civilization as we know it, nor the successful male, belongs solely to the sword and penis, if at all, as the poem will have it. Stereotyping, which Snyder chivalrously uses to bash the stupid, bullying male, finally helps no one. It doesn’t reduce violence, it doesn’t increase enlightenment, nor does it produce very good poetry. But Snyder’s poem, considered purely as pyro-technics, is really good in parts—here’s the first stanza:

If you’re lucky in life you will learn to love a woman,
you will learn to keep moving inward on the long journey
to the heart, your most audacious enterprise,
like trying to find the source of the Nile with the Nile
your only map, a living watercourse through a dark
continent whose deepest wellspring you will name Victoria.

The superficial theme eventually kidnaps the poem, but it’s a great poem, nonetheless.

When the majority of the poems are not painting savage incidents which make us turn away in helpless disgust, they occasionally sing out a will to survive, advertising the strength of the woman who survives. Do any of these poems—which address the pain of rape and murder and abuse explicitly—cure the pain, or reduce the suffering, of any of the countless victims? Certainly, writing poems is better than silence. Certainly, it is better to share.

This plague of women suffering must end. All must be vigilant. Men must learn to love. Only through love, and through words informed by love, can we enter paradise.

If you purchase only one book of poetry, please purchase this one.

—the Scarriet editors, Salem MA 10/22/2018

 

 

 

THE WOMEN HAVE NO EYES AND THE MEN HAVE NO EARS

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The women have no eyes and the men have no ears,
When it comes to love. The man doesn’t care what the woman hears:
Songs and poems belong to others—songs are not what the man fears.
The woman will listen to a song with her whole heart,
Contemplating its meaning, tearing every word in the lyric apart.

When the man first starts to speak to her of love, the woman knows
This is the moment to listen with her whole being, and be still.
To listen! The man thinks: what a strange way to be beautiful.

There is always something missing in the universe.
Entropy belongs to love and love always makes things worse.

The man wants the woman inside his eyes.
He feels uneasy, precisely because she listens well.
The man wants to look, but when she listens for the prize,
He doesn’t know what to say—and looking at her listening, is unable to tell
How he feels, or who she is. She hears
Hesitation. Loss. Because women have no eyes. And men have no ears.

 

 

 

POETRY IS A TRANSLATION FROM A LANGUAGE WE DON’T KNOW TO ONE WE MIGHT

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From the unknown emerges what the known was meant to be.

A carefully scripted version of a perfect me.

Take my word for it, these words

Are as unfathomable as sea birds

Flying very fast across long seas.

My idea could be an idea of an idea that pleases,

But if the poet is irritated by any little thing,

The idea will be a flight without a wing,

A perfect arrow which parts the air,

Which you thought you saw: an idea of here. An idea of there.

How fast it traveled! Did you see

What it was? That could have been me.

Poetry is a translation from a language we don’t know to one we might.

I think you have seen those symbols when the symbol is a symbol of mourning in the night.

TO NOT BE POPULAR

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To not be popular, I made a bad recording of my song,

And sent the recording to only the best philosophers

Who knew a sad ballad when they were young;

All I find interesting, is a little bit wrong.

Because I slept well, I slept late, and to find the quiet day

I had to hurry, and looked a mess,

Before the morning, singing and misty, slipped away.

I love Nietzsche, but disagree with Nietzsche, nonetheless.

I sincerely hope you’ll find my praise, when I love you, sincere,

Because I’m jealous and hate everybody down here,

Except when they mind their own business and behave;

Rebellion disgusts me—do laundry, clean, cook, work, eat, shower, shave,

And save your pretentiousness for one more gullible;

I care what you’re doing, not whether or not what you do will sell.

If you are too successful you’ll face expectation’s hell.

I expect you won’t love me unless it’s completely unexpected,

And we can be safe and unpopular together,

Our sweet irrational love a sexy description of the weather,

In a copse of oaks and elms. The good love is when lovers are neglected.

You discerned my song was good.

Hidden, we spoke openly at last, because we hadn’t, and because we could.

But there is more to who we are.

We are good, too; we’ll make plans for a distant planet and star.

Don’t forget the hoary, bearded philosophers

Were young and vain once.

They knew their vanity,

And then became philosophers.

 

 

 

I WANT TO SAY NO TO HIM

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I want to say no to him

Because he has the feeling that all

Will say yes to him. He’s beautiful and tall,

And neither a woman, nor a man,

Can describe him; if you knew

Him for a minute, you would want to hold him, too.

But I don’t think his kind

Deserves to be happy. I feel kind

Towards him, but I hate him, too.

He confuses me, and I think this has probably happened to you:

Jealousy makes you hate what you should love.

But since love is unwise, isn’t it? you trust what combats love

Even if you begin to doubt yourself, and you don’t know

What in the world you need to feel.

Is God, and the stupidest emotions elicited by God, equally as real?

I see it in my thoughts, wherever they go.

I want to make him miserable. Watch me, friends!

I will say no, I will say no, I will say no.

He will see me proud in my new shoes. He will know how the story ends.

 

 

 

 

YOU DO THAT

You add the numbers. You be the secretary. I’ll please the boss and get fat.

You make sure things are running correctly. You do that.

The swearing-in ceremony was boring. He’s upset. Thanks to you, it came off flat.

The ceremony needs more peaches next year. You do that.

You’re lean and hungry—and good with figures. So don’t be a rat.

I’m the lover, here, got it? The books must be clean. You do that.

Isn’t our boss handsome? A little boy, really, a puppy to my sexy cat.

I’ve got this. He needs me. You make it work, please. You do that.

I’ve got a million things on my mind. He stood. I sat.

How many lives do I have now? Oh you’re the best, dear. You do that.

ALL THAT CRAWLS

All that crawls, walks and flies,

All that is beautiful, and more beautiful, dies.

Love that shoots up in flames of love, like fire,

Dies in the fire burning and dying, dies in its own desire.

We thought love would last forever, but knew

Even as we loved most intensely, this wasn’t true.

We argued—Romantic versus Modern—an argument primitive and wild,

The oldest argument—for and against the child.

There on the stairs she stood.

Beneath every sky I knew she was good.

Long futurity, the only repair for the question of death,

Was ours to kiss, the mouth, the lips, inside the lips, and the breath.

We kissed on the stairs, and more stairs, to escape the eyes

That might see us. But the love that sees itself, still dies.

See the love in the moon, the moon in tempestuous skies.

We had questions and arguments. I said only the child

Makes fires over graves, and turns horror to the responsible and the mild.

 

 

 

YOUR PAJAMAS

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Your pajamas were made a thousand years ago
In the cool, etruscan shade,
By people dreaming of romance and sex.
Are thousand year old thoughts of love needlessly complex?
Add cold weather and bring in the heater,
Cold culture, the Pinot Grigio, the speculation on Tyrannosaurus rex.
Is it the closet or the stock exchange
Which is needlessly complex?
They cover themselves in virtue because the letter
Of the law is in their purview—but is this better?
Cost and rationale are what Rosalinda expects.
Is the spirit of the law needlessly complex?
Rosalinda is nice to animals.
We note the law form, the dog poop, the ex.
Selling improvements, we see we are punished especially today
By the needlessly complex.
We know it is really about the gossip, the acting,
Not the nudity or sex.
I can’t believe she loves him! Is she blind?
What notes did the oboe play? May I hear them again?
Rosalinda makes no sense. Nor is she kind.

 

 

WHEN WE WRITE A GOOD POEM

Image result for poe baudelaire and cigarettes

When we write a good poem

It is we who write the poem

It is we—it is really we—even if it seems me,

Solitary, glimpsed, standing beneath a tree,

Smoking in the cold rain,

Is the one writing the poetry.

I write because I don’t like pain—

None of us do, and there’s that “we” again—

And poetry finds a way

To make a poem from pain for you today.

The secret is, a little poison is good,

And this is what the poets have always understood.

The best thing for me

Is the cigarette of toxicity

Because a little poison is good.

This is the secret poets have always understood.

When the leaves fall, and the air turns chill,

We contemplate what it means to be ill,

But when mother gives us sugar and carbohydrates

We love with our tongue what our inside hates;

We do not know what’s happening inside

Or where the slender lovers hide,

But when poison flies into me

I understand what’s going on immediately.

Everything I feel from the cold rain

Pushes the poetry out, as a cure for pain.

It was sugar—not cigarettes—which made me insane.

I thought we loved sugar, but we

Grew into wisdom; we cannot be

Poets, if we lie about the house and eat;

We go, instead, to dreary places where meat-eating smokers meet

And we talk of all the ways we

Write poems. This is exceedingly interesting to me.

 

 

 

 

VISTAS

Image result for porter square cambridge

The beauty of the particular scene,
If there are streets, or not, or the streets are picturesque,
Doesn’t matter. The artist finds shadows and certain perspectives
And makes great photos in neighborhoods where no one would want to live.
Every space on earth, bare or not, has vistas.
Vistas with their length, their laws of vision, entice the eye,
Making even this crappy part of town interesting in all its views.
Don’t trust art—or should we call it art? Don’t trust the eye
Which makes near and far boulevards crowding but stretched in the eye
In the morning when fog surrounds the sky—those cheap white buildings
Appear nice in the distance. Do you see what I mean?
Vistas are beautiful, even if there is no beauty to the scene.
The mathematics of sight is more
Beautiful than art, the mathematics of vista finally forgives,
And makes this ugly stretch of the world beautiful—
Where nothing wants to live, but lives.

 

TO NOT HAVE LOVE IS TO HAVE LOVE

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To not have love is to have love,
Because everyone knows love is desire.
Love you don’t have, but want, is love.
This is why I seem cold, with my burning fire.
I have love. I have you. Because I have desire.
I do burn. And my burning is so hot
I cannot show it. I seem cold. But I’m not.
I have love. I have desire. I have you
Because I do not have you now.
I had to have had love to not have love,
And to not have love is to have love.  I wondered how
You were cold. But I don’t wonder that anymore.
Love is to not have love. Love the god does not have love, I’m sure.

To know love we had to see a body—
Bodies the only object of human love.
So bodies are the basis of the process
By which love is more when having is less.
And so bodies always fade when they are loved,
And the face loved shows a mysterious distress.
Bodies are the gateway to desire;
Bodies obey the disappearing law.
Bodies turn away and say goodbye.
You loved the body. Now it must die.
In my mind is the volcano of the past.
Desire! Desire! Only desire will last.
The longing madness loves the most.
Love sees the body. But the body is a ghost.
The body is not real. The love we hold
In love, is what we held.
I saw her on the other side of the hill in the mist and yelled.

 

 

YOUR ATTITUDE

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Your attitude is terrible. No,

That’s not it. You are all attitude.

You know, all one sees now are relationship

Videos on the “narcissistic” personality,

On how exactly men and women love differently.

Those psychology films are wrong. He lost his grip,

Hart Crane, the poet. And went over the side of the ship,

And in the rolling, gray waters was lost forever.

But you’re nice; you imitate Wordsworth,

And write careful poems, defending the prickly earth.

Meanwhile, you anxiously watch those videos

Invoking your narcissistic ex, counting your woes,

Trying to figure out how men and women are different,

And why love fails—crazy sighs within excrement.

You haven’t had a thought since two thousand three;

You read political articles, which agree with you, eagerly,

But if you saw words that at last could save your soul

You wouldn’t touch those words with a ten foot pole.

It’s not that your attitude is good or bad.

You don’t think at all. That’s why you are sad.

He’s a narcissist, and, of course, she is. And the sorrow

Alters, depending on whatever one happens to imitate tomorrow.

There hasn’t been an original thought here

Since the bikini. Since beer.

To know how much crowds hate crowds,

A crowd has to be in one, because alone,

The crowd inevitably begins to miss its favorite jerk.

But at least you get along with people at work,

Serving the crowd—which deceives itself inside its misery.

Have you seen a child, imitating

Everything—everything? All everyone is,

Men and women, are big fat jerks, all the same,

A great imitation and mockery machine,

Taking revenge against authority

When Wordsworth wouldn’t let them do this or that.

Two things exist: Blank imitation. Blank infinity.

Feel your way. Things seem to stick up, from the page, or the canvas, endless and flat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I DON’T WANT TO SEE YOU

Dear Rosalinda. Stop coming into my café where I write poetry

Wearing leather. Your black boots with elaborate buckles? Excellent.

“I don’t want to see you if I can’t have you” is not what I meant.

That sentiment is boring, and in bad taste.

All the work you did on your appearance shouldn’t go to waste,

So go ahead. Let’s see your jacket and your combed hair.

I’m writing poetry. Go ahead and look good. It’s only fair.

Just want you to know I’m noting every particular, the sound

Of your voice, the way you hold your hands, the emotions

Which play across your face, the things you say, how much you seem

To want me, or don’t want me; I notice these things confidently

As if I were in a dramatic, egotistical waking dream.

I can write poetry when the café is crowded, I don’t care,

Rosalinda. Or that other café. You can go there.

 

INDIAN POETRY OCTOBER

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India is just like America.  Why does it seem this way, as I review Indian poetry in English? Scarriet continues the project inspired by Linda Ashok.

Welcome to October.  (This 7-poet-reviewed series began in February.)

Hoshang Merchant was born in 1947.

He writes mostly in English, lives in Hyderabad, India, and has been educated in America, Iran and Jerusalem. He writes a searing love lyric—operatic and tragic.  Witness his poem, “Scent of Love:”

It is raining a small rain
A gentle rain
over all the world
Gentle like that love which is so hard
to sustain or to receive or to reciprocate
Because men are greedy: They bite and tear

You from the mountains I from the plains
I from the city You from the forest
I a hunter And you a deer
The city is full of the smell of my dear today

The musk mingles with the rain
Its scent spreads
This morning I lie in bed dreaming of you
I was to be hunter but I’m an inert deer

Sensing danger you wait
And I sense danger with you
Why is the world so crazed for venison?
I wonder at a living creature
Who must so eat a living creature!

And suddenly the wounded doe dies for you
She has dragged herself to you to die before you
Her stag
Did she not stay one night inert
When you slew her in bed
Just as tonight I wish to slay you?

Does not our passion only bring suffering
And do we all not die daily a little
Satisfying our longings?
Play go play though your scent drives me wild
And I have myself become wild in my love for a wild thing

Slay or be slain
And your hand will not be cleansed of blood ever again
The pain the pain of love is everywhere
And the scent of this musk cannot be washed even in a rain.

Time and space does not permit printing more of Merchant’s poems, but I cannot resist presenting the opening stanza of “My Sister Takes A Long Long Time To Die:”

It was the dark of winter
When the illness came like a thunderclap
They isolated an Indian girl in the Chicago snow
Hoping this Indian disease would go away
But it was America that had killed her
The sickness in us is named America
And the long long time of waiting does not die.

There is a certain timeless passion in the poetry of Hoshang Merchant.  Passion (is this a paradox?) tends to turn poetry into prose—the poetry is ruined by what it contains. This seems to be the chief dilemma of the modern poet. If the poetic furnace from the 15th century is still hot; why not use it? There is something about Merchant’s poetry which reminds me of the old English and Italian sonneteers.

*

Shriram Sivaramakrishnan is like many poets.

The feeling and thinking and method of poetry is all one—it is as if life were speeding up and we were near death and the most honest and significant thing about life needed to be spoken in as few words as possible.

That’s what poetry is and that is its delight. Modernism has long banned the “romantic rhyme” as the model for poetry, though it remains so in the popular taste.

With the rise of the Instagram poets, however, the pithy epigram (is it really a poem?) is replacing rhyme.

The ‘scientist poets,’ many who come from India, however, have something different in mind.

Poem #1: A Glass of Water

A glass of water.

How simpler can the truth be?
Water — that indomitable spirit of nature —
civilized at the work of man.

‘Taught manners,’ let us say,
to display socially acceptable behaviour
to remain stoic and lend herself to the
whim of the organized mind,

that is, to contain her primal fury:
that which moved continents into civilizations
and made landmass levitate like china dolls;

into a palpable parameter
for further fiddling,
a ripple will disrobes her
into poetic verses
to quench this carnal thirst.

but contained, she was
as in petri dish
under the microscopic lenses
of a microcosmic species,
in whose sacral dimple
even a tail had chosen not to grow.

**

Keki Daruwalla, born in 1937, belongs to the generation of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, learned in the primitive, yet new.

New Criticism is the chief influence—it seeks human transcendence among the stoic and half-sublime creatures of nature—bees and fish figure prominently—in a style of taciturn, flinty, ice-cold lyricism.

Fish

The sea came in with her and her curved snout
and her tin coloured barnacles
and long threaded rose moles
patterned on her body.

The sea brought her and her curved snout
and her rose moles and her eyes still translucent
as if half aware and half unaware
of the state of her body.

The sea came in with her and her scimitar snout
and her translucent eyes
greying into stone.

The sea brought her in,
wrapped in seaweed
and slapped her on the sand,
all five feet of her
with the armour of her scales
and the filigree of her rose moles.

The tide kept coming in
but couldn’t disturb her
or her resting place –
she was heavy.

The sea fell back but even
as the thin-edged foam line receded,
it went to her once more with a supreme effort,
rummaged among her barnacles
and left.

Tide and fish are powerfully invoked in the poem’s repetitive language. A simple, yet magnificent, work.

***

C.P. Surendran writes the startling lyric. A small observation which is yet significant is what this poet does particularly well. The following poem is a masterpiece of this:

Prospect

While you were sleeping
A dog yawned in the sun
And in the distance,
A train, blindfolded by a tunnel,
Window by window
Regained vision.
I thought of all the things
That could happen
When we are looking away,
The universe we miss in a blink.

A Friend in Need displays the rueful, mathematical precision of an old Romantic.

He sits in a chair
Whose fourth leg’s his.
He loves this chair.They used to make love in it.
That was when the chair
Had four plus two plus two,
Eight legs. Days with legs.
Since then there’s been a lot of walking out.
Now the chair’s short of a leg
And he’s lending his.

The best poems are when the language writes it (or is this misanthropic?)—language can say more than one wonderful thing at the same time—like harmony in music. Every assertion of this poem—simple in the extreme—says two precise things, proving language was the writer—it wasn’t just the poet complaining.

Surendran’s helpless longing is beautifully rendered by the passive possessives—“leg’s his” and “he’s lending his.” The “He loves this chair” couldn’t be anything but that, since we know by the poem he does love, given the subject of the poem—and the chair as the place where they made love—a variation on bed, is a surprise keeping with the charm of this clear, sweet, sad eight-legged poem.

****

Nitoo Das doesn’t mind being called a “feminist” poet. She deflects the male gaze with—in a poet’s irony—exactly what the male gaze seeks, (with a little added wit.)

How To Write Erotica

Treat it like a hoax. Wear
suitable clothes. Gauzy.
Be slippery. Create calligraphic circles.
Cite flowers. Reveal the vanilla, declare
the hibiscus. You’re allowed
to be slightly long-winded.
Also, abstruse. Don’t be afraid.
Be kaleidoscopic. Fractalise. Read Nin.
Better still, read Sappho. Surreal
and slow. Steer clear
of the opaque. Quirkiness is useful,
so is translucence. Spank
words carefully. Include
lots of skin, mouth,
tongue. However aesthetic
breasts work the best. Linger.
Startle with a sudden mention
of death. It should be clear, you’re not
improper. Sigh, hush,
hiss a bit. Confuse
memory. Clarify: there could be two
or three or four bodies involved,
but not necessarily. Be serious.
Throw in a few bones
to close.

The genius of this poem is that the poetry writes the erotica—the theme is embraced, and is dignified, and in command, because, as the poet knows, “erotica” is a “how to”—the whole approach in which the poet slyly tells us “how to write erotica” is proper—therefore it is delightfully sly when she writes, “you’re not improper.” Morality is not the issue, since “how to” is merely that.

The poem triumphs because the poetry is deliciously good: “Reveal the vanilla, declare the hibiscus.”

Phrases “Sigh, hush, hiss a bit” succeed because the poem is called “How to write erotica—and the poet presents to us how language can be cunningly erotic even as it is “not improper.” The joke is that the “erotic” in the hands of a skilled poet is both erotic and proper; “Treat it like a hoax,” is how the poem opens, and everything that follows—from “wear suitable clothes” to “Fractalise” to “Read Nin. Better still, read Sappho” to “However aesthetic breasts work the best”—succeeds in both directions—the poem is erotic, and yet the poetry and the wit creates the most delight.

The eroticism of Nitoo Das is not cheap, just as a nude by a great painter never feels pornographic. Who knows why this is so? Who knows why “How To Write Erotica” is erotic, and yet not?

Literature can be exciting in so many ways.

*****

Kiriti Sengupta is an admirer of Rabindranath Tagore (Nobel Prize in Literature, 1913) which is apparently controversial for the new poets—perhaps it’s similar to American academics who feel they are too modern and sophisticated for Poe. Sengupta translates Bengali poetry into English. He’s written a trilogy which combines fiction, memoir, and poetry. His English poetry comments on contemporary events in the heroic mode.

The Untold Saga

It only took two hands
to kill the evil; it only took
the trident to destroy the opponent.
Yet autumn arrives through your
larger-than-life avatar teamed with
the ten arms. Like many women
you followed the husband; you had
several other weapons to fight the war…

Durga, was this a conscious decision?

Legends say you emerged from the gods,
the presiding male dignitaries while Asura
remained unfailingly blessed—invincible.
You won, but you didn’t claim a reward!

That you are formally worshiped twice a year
made no difference to the gasping Nirbhaya,
who gave up to the penetrating rod the scoundrels
dug into her motherly cave through the birth route.

And that Nirbhaya followed death/deterred her from creating an epic!

[Poet’s Note: Nirbhaya died from fatal injuries following gang-rape in Delhi in 2012.]

******

Ankita Shah is a political poet reacting to war, refugees, and artificial, unnecessary, divisions created by, and in the wake of, war.

A video performance of Ankita Shah’s bilingual poem, “Go Back To Your Own Country,” went viral on Facebook.

Political poetry will always have a niche, and the political poetry niche in India appears to be exactly the same size as the political poetry niche in the U.S. We are not sure why this is.

*******

Thanks for reading!  We will see you in November!

 

 

 

TEASING: A NEW PSYCHOLOGICAL LOOK

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Teasing is a psychological state which is crucial to understanding human nature, and yet, as far as I know, it has never been given its due.

Teasing is ubiquitous—most of us tease, consciously, or impulsively—but teasing is also highly ambiguous and complex—part of its nature is to disappear into other modes—humor, cruelty.

But why does teasing fall completely below the radar of social science? Apart from its hiding capacity, the most obvious reason why teasing as a legitimate psychological category eludes researchers, scholars, and distinguished and credentialed pedants of all stripes, is that teasing refuses to take itself, or others, seriously—therefore it naturally eludes all serious study.

The pithy remarks of an Oscar Wilde belong to the comic stage or the quotation book; serious scholars shudder at the idea of Wilde’s teasing wit upending their authoritative conclusions. One of teasing’s many manifestations is wit, destructive wit—the enemy of science, philosophy, and religion. “The best way to resist temptation is to give into it,” laughs Oscar. Teasing is walled off—even as it promotes wise laughter—from the wise investigations of the pundit.

I will now give teasing the prominence it deserves.

Let me posit the two most obvious modes of human behavior and psychology, which occupy the opposite sides of the behavioral spectrum—fighting on one side, and cooperation, affection, or love on the other. We’ll call it love, for simplicity’s sake. Hate and love. The fighting impulse and the loving impulse.

Teasing, as I see it, is perfectly suited to connect the two, to occupy the third, or middle ground which partly interacts with hate and partly interacts with love. Teasing, as is well known, and which I have observed above, is an extremely common behavior which covers a great deal of ambiguous psychological territory—teasing can be affectionate and humorous; we tease those we like, we tease those we want to like more, and we tease those with whom we feel extremely comfortable.

Teasing can be neutral—we tease to find out much a person can take, and this can be part of just getting to know a person, though it can seem invasive, even if it’s done out of friendliness or curiosity.

Teasing can also be vindictive, insulting, terrible.

And teasing can seem cruel, even if this is not its intention.

We would expect nothing less of this far-reaching cloud of ambiguity which unites hate and love.

What is life but a tease?

The mature soul understands the tease of admiring and desiring things which we both hate and love—the teasing mixture.

The craven person and the child don’t deal in hybrids—they only love or hate.

Maturity deals with the hybrid, and is resigned to being teased constantly.

The immature person viciously avoids being teased, and takes a sadistic delight, quite often, in teasing.

Teasing, then, is good and bad.  Which should be expected, since hate sits on one shoulder, and love on the other.

Teasing rounds out love and hate as a three-part psychology—and teasing, itself, exists in three parts, friendly, neutral, and hostile.

Satire, a form of teasing, can run the gamut from hostile to elevating, depending on how it is seen; satire can be a nasty political weapon, or it can use literature to gently seek truth.

Poetry, which today is mostly officious and uptight, once indulged in the sweet rivalry of teasing.  Who can forget Byron teasing the poet laureates of England, William Wordsworth and Robert Southey?

“Go little book, from this, my solitude!
I cast thee on the waters—go thy ways!
And if, as I believe, thy vein be good,
The world will find thee after many days.”
When Southey’s read, and Wordsworth’s understood,
I can’t help putting in my claim to praise—
The first four rhymes are Southey’s every line:
For God’s sake, reader! Take them not for mine.

Teasing has this most important property: the ability to defuse hate (because it is comedy) and the equal ability to defuse love (because it is ridicule)—teasing can lead to war or love, with cunning or accidental, suddenness.

Teasing can be sweet and appropriate, or embarrassing and clumsy, depending on all sorts of psychological, material, and personal skill factors, both natural and learned.

Is it any wonder that ubiquitous, ambiguous teasing belongs prominently in the middle of the two most defined poles of human behavior—the fighting impulse, and the cooperative one?

Further, teasing is a directional indicator—it can be an intellectual vehicle to move towards love, or an intellectual vehicle to move towards hate. Or it can simply exist for itself, a buffer against hate to “keep the peace,” a buffer against love to “remain grounded.”

Most of us, in fact, live in the ambiguous state of teasing all the time, with a cloudy, occluded, semi-curious, bemused view of all those “higher” issues that escape teasing, and make life serious, or thrilling, or sublime, or tragic. We giggle at the serious, and feel protected, and rather content, in our “teasing” bubble, as we stay clear of serious hate on one side and serious love, on the other, each pole dangerous for different, and perhaps similar (!) reasons. Teasing is a highly effective means to deal with hate—to ridicule what we dislike, so that we laugh, an effective way of dealing with our own anger and dislike. And satire is a way for us to safely contemplate love—aren’t comedians, with their worldly, urbane personalities, genuinely wise when it comes to the dangers, extremes, and follies of love?

The danger is, that if we laugh too hard, we will never love, again.

Just as if we hate too much, we will never love again.

It may be comfortable to always mock, but teasing is also wrapped up in fear. Teasing is real; it is not just an occasional strategy.

Teasing eclipses love and hate. Teasing also eclipses real feelings.

Some people never reach a state of sublime love—it’s nothing but Romantic poppycock to them—the goal of love is merely a sad, or perhaps an amusing, tease to them; either they have no partner, or, if they do, it is a lover or husband whom they don’t quite love—but they tease them, sometimes affectionately, sometimes cruelly, and these feeling-states are really the best they can do, so vast is that middle ground of teasing, hovering between hate and love.

The thing about teasing is that it allows us to tease, but it also teases us.

In this ambiguous, granular state of continual confusion, in the middle-ground, teasing mode, we glimpse the warrior and the lover, truly sublime figures who truly live, dimly, as in a mist. The teasing state really doesn’t know anything. Teasing is an attitude, not knowledge. Teasing has no true feelings, though it has a general sense of what they are, since it exists beside hate and love. In the teasing state we ridicule all those who take life seriously. We intellectualize, but in a fraudulent manner. We know ourselves to be frauds. We only know small things at small moments. All we can do, with any vigor at all, is mock.

The whore has no philosophy. Those completely without love, the whore and the recluse, represent the two extremes—the whore teases; the recluse is teased.  The whore and the recluse are both anti-social. Society finds it difficult to function if there are too many of these in their ranks.

And those with extremist views (who politicians cynically weaponize) become even more extremist when they are teased about their views.  When someone tells you that you are wrong, that is one thing, but when someone tells you are wrong as they are laughing, that is another thing altogether.

Teasing, in itself, is neither good nor bad. It is a highly social way of behaving—it can mollify, it can lead to friendships, but it can also incense and enrage.

A recluse shies away from teasing.

A whore loves to tease.

It is a cliché to say the whore is stupid, but it’s always true. All they can do is tease. They laugh at both hate and love, and this is their intellectual position, the intellectual position of all who remain in the ambiguous state of mockery and bland, mindless, ambiguity.

To the whore, all intellectuals to them are one person: Woody Allen, a guy who talks very fast, in a high voice. If the Woody Allen makes them laugh, they are OK, but if the intellectual should turn “serious,” the whore only hears a high voice talking too fast, and nothing the intellectual says when the intellectual is being “serious” matters, or makes any sense. Which is probably true, since most intellectuals are frauds.

The whore sees men in three ways; they are either rapists, or a Woody Allen—who might occasionally amuse them by making them laugh—or finally a man with a hairy mustache, a nice stubble, who mumbles in French, in a deep voice, and has a big jaw and tiny eyes (see! I tease) whom the whore perhaps wishes to sleep with. Of course the man with the mustache, whom the whore favors, is not a real person, as unreal as the whore herself—a mere collection of errant atoms—who teases, and is teased, by a reality that remains shut to them, in their ambiguous state of mockery and stupidity. There is nothing they can know, and their “philosophy” is “we cannot know anything!” The male equivalent to the whore is the cunning, ambiguous, fake-intellectual man who is determined to tease the whore whom he is attracted to—to give her a dose of her own medicine. Knowledge is absent. Everything is impulse. All intellectuality in this realm is merely teasing, to give oneself a temporary, mocking, advantage.

There is nothing wrong with living in the teasing state—it is where everyone, except the psychopath, or the genius, lives. It belongs to the sad, charming smile of humility; it resides with humorous affection. It is a guard against extremes. It is the mystery in which we dwell with a smile.

But life is not truly lived, or experienced to its fullest, obviously, if the middle ambiguous, teasing realm is the only place we live.

What we mock aloud in polite company could be what we truly hate and abhor, but it could be just as easily what we secretly desire.

Mockery pushes aside everything, the bad and the good. Teasing can just as easily kill love as mitigate hate.

What remains in our hearts as secret, inarticulate, unspoken, mysterious desire will be forever vanquished by the mockery of polite company, by the stand up comedian, by the “common sense” prudence of smiling, daily life.

How can we truly live—not vicariously, but in ourselves—the beautiful, the good, the passionate life?

And how can we tell the difference between “ourselves” and whatever happens to be filling ourselves up, and needs to be ridiculed away?

We cannot.

The only way to know if something is both real and good, is by its ideal existence, as glimpsed in, and through, the beauty of artistic wisdom. The test of what you love is if it is immune to ridicule and mockery.

Two obstacles commonly stand in the way when a person attempts to reach the beautiful and the sublime—the impulsive mockery of the whore, and the cunning mockery of the fraudulent intellectual.

You will know the good by this: if what is bad mocks it.

I recently heard one of our contemporary sages (Alain de Botton) speak on the subject of love to a large audience. As a so-called philosopher who writes popular books, it was apparent to me after a few minutes why he has more notoriety than most contemporary intellectuals; it could have been the educated English accent, but I think it was more due to the fact that his lecture was more like stand-up comedy; he had the educated audience tittering as he spoke of love, of which he was, of course, mocking, as a quite impossible, and rather imaginary thing. The target of his mockery was Romanticsm, which he claimed sprang up in the “middle late 18th century,” with its emphasis on love as “special feelings” that mysteriously claim us when we happen to meet our “soul mate.” Romanticism, a view which we still have not escaped, according to de Botton, Romanticism, a response to arranged marriages of the past, based on property and such, was a nice thing, he acknowledged, but it was doomed to failure, since seeing love as the joining of two “angels” who are “made for each other” would inevitably lead to disappointment and probably lead to adultery. We all contain “crazy,” de Botton said, and he got a big laugh when he suggested the following wedding present: the bride and groom should exchange books which outline exactly how they are crazy and impossible to live with, up close, and in close quarters.

Because he’s a fraudulent intellectual, he neglected to mention that Romanticism was espoused way before the 18th century—one quickly thinks of Plato’s “Symposium,” of Dante and Petrarch—but more importantly, his description of Romanticism was superficial and naive, taking platitudes of synopsis scum which rise to the top of the ocean as the truth of the matter, all so that he could have a target set up for ridicule and mockery. Talking very fast, like most intellectuals, he had to be a Woody Allen—be funny—to get in good with his paying audience. At one point he made fun of Keats’ death by consumption at a young age—early death was a convenient way to end the silly love experiments of the Romantics, don’t you see? Right. Ha. Ha. And the audience, not embracing his words, but the whole attitude of mocking cynicism upon which his lecture was based, obediently laughed.

The Romantic poets, Shelley and Keats, did not naively believe in lovers as twin “angels;” their poetry is full of beauty and despondency—the anguish of the true lover in the face of whorish artificially, as personified by cynical, whorish buffoons like Alain de Botton, with their educated facades.

I only allude to this talk on Romanticism because great poetry—and the major Romantic poets are exemplary—is perhaps the best way to escape fraudulent intellectualism and the continual prison of mockery and teasing, and move closer to genuine philosophical interest and the life we wish to passionately live.

But the prison (and herd-like safety) of the teasing realm is not something that I can say I have escaped. I do not mean to set myself apart as a true intellectual, or as one who has achieved genuine love.

We are all finally trapped by teasing.

Something as primitive as our own bodily pain we feel cannot be mocked. But it can. The reason I might feel a tremendous pain in my nether regions as I hurry to find a restroom is precisely my pain letting me know I must perform this duty.

But were I later to recall this “pain” in front of my peers, as part of a more elaborate story, or not, the atmosphere would of course be one of laughter.

Mockery cannot be escaped.

Were I, myself, to claim that I know love, or that I, myself, am not a fraudulent intellectual, even within the bounds of a self-conscious essay such as this, I would be ridiculed and mocked.

As I should be.

We are always more teased, than teasing.

And hate and love do belong to a misty distance, a tease of a true passion we may never know, or need to know, or be worthy to know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

POETRY, ROSALINDA, WILL NOT HELP

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Poetry, Rosalinda, will not help your causes.

Poetry is not speech, but the delicate pauses

Between the speech which finds its way

In blinding light or darkness—saying what it says by what it doesn’t say.

Poetry dignifies its subject. The poet is a stupid ape

Who invades poetry with talk of murder, acid attacks, and rape—

“Rape is bad” was never, and will never be said, in a poem—

Not because the statement isn’t true, or shouldn’t be known;

When you say the bad is bad, it’s not a poem.

When you put such things in poems, vain and stupid ape,

You seek to dignify yourself—“look at me! I’m against rape!”

Other stupid apes, who seek to praise themselves, give you prizes,

Further dignifying the poetry which merely repeats what poetry despises.

Everything has a dual nature: what it is, and the container of what it is;

The flower does amazing things—but in the appearance of a flower;

In pain, an hour seems infinite; in pleasure, an hour doesn’t seem like an hour;

The hour of pleasure went by so fast

Dear love is more than what it was—fear belongs to a distant past,

But the hour—the hour—is fresh and new,

And will always be an hour—exactly an hour. Despite me. Despite you.

The poem is the subject; it cannot be

Who you are, and no matter how much I love, have anything to do with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHY LOVE?

The educated reader of today is certainly aware that love poetry appeals to the popular taste, and probably wonders occasionally if there is a critical, definitional connection between love and poetry.

But we have never seen the case made philosophically.

Love and poetry both belong, generally, to social, polite behavior, and love is an endless source of interest—all writing, laws, and human behavior revolve around love—and though we could expand on love’s definition, and include things like marriage, divorce, prostitution, and abortion, what we really mean by “love” here is courtship or Romanticism—what we usually mean when we refer to the love poem.

Forgetting the fact that “love” is a source of interest in itself, the question: are love and poetry good for each other? Aesthetically? Scientifically? Is the question I want to ask.

I don’t know if recent history can help us—20th century Modernist poetry was famous as a movement which chucked the “hearts and flowers” of 19th century poetry (“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”)—but Modernists would be quick to point out that their revolution was not to consciously reject love poetry, but to simply expand poetry’s subject matter.

But hadn’t Byron, in his popular long poems, already done that? Byron wrote his share of love poetry, but he published two long poems, to much acclaim, which chattered on, in verse, about everything under the sun.

Perhaps it is best not to get embroiled in changes of fashion and taste; poets proclaim “revolution” mostly to get attention; I wish to ponder the twin existence of love and poetry in a purely scientific manner.

My entrance into solving the puzzle began when I seized upon a quote which I have thought about many times before—a pithy remark made by a non-poet philosopher from the 19th century. John Stuart Mill, in a rather brilliant, and today, mostly ignored, essay, defined “eloquence” as that which “supposes an audience” and is “heard,” while poetry, its “antithesis,” is “overheard.”

And thanks to John Stuart Mill (epitome of English, liberal, worldly genius) I think it is possible to explain, scientifically, why poetry and love are suited to each other to an extreme degree—despite the fact, that the educated, reasonable person will invariably insist, “A poem can be about anything! The poetry is what finally counts, produced by the poet as a whole person—there is no reason to defend any narrowly defined subject matter!”

Mill’s quote reveals a crucial distinction—we have “subject matter” (what the poem is “about”) on one hand, but there is something else just as important—the conveyance of the “subject matter”—is it “heard” by an “audience,” or is it “overheard?”

And upon this distinction, the great mystery is revealed.

If poetry is that which is “overheard,” and not “eloquence” which  is “heard” by an “audience,” this fact, which does appear to be an important truth, a truth which exists apart from “subject matter,” is that which truly defines and narrows poetry.

For what is it, but the talk of passionate lovers, which is “overheard?”

By contrast, the usual discourse of numerous subjects, declaimed to an “audience,” is not poetry—how often do we read “poems” which are arguments made for “the world,” the “audience” who represent the “world,” assembled to hear the wisdom of the legislator or the sermonizer—and without being able to put our finger on it, the “argument” put on display by the poet, fails to move us, sounds pompous, too obvious, too calculated to convince, too direct and transparent in the manner it speaks to us? (Or poets, wisely fleeing from pomposity, nevertheless err by blindly seeking what they feel is the opposite—the trivial and the obscure, which also disappoints.)

The lover who is “overheard,” on the other hand, comes from a place of shame, of flawed desire,  of subjective anguish and despondency, and is not meant to convince at all, but is like a “scene” or “drama” which we witness by accident, and for that reason, is more nuanced, more original, more driven by accident and the problematically unique, more embellished by subjective seeing—which turns out to be a more lively way of seeing!—more mysterious, more emotional, more cloudy, and yet more clear (because we are seeing what we weren’t supposed to see) and where the inability to explain is the very thing which explains.

All this—shame, subjectivity, cloudiness, confusion, negative capability, beauty for its own sake, urgency for its own sake—is it not felt and spoken most strongly by love? Or hate, which is the partner of love, since both belong to passionate, subjective intercourse, alive to what is most important to the slightly confused individual?

None of this would be tolerated by an audience assembled for instruction, or any sort of worldly rhetoric meant to clarify or solve an issue. Imagine a speaker on How To Recover From Alcohol Addiction speaking passionately about the pleasures of intoxication—and only that. It would either be taken as a joke, or seen as something foolish and dangerous.

Poetry will never solve alcohol addiction. Poetry is alcohol addiction.

Addiction is what we “overhear;” when we see a person, not wearing a public dress, not prepared for public disquisition, being an addict. The poem is for the shamed and covert “addict,” not for the convert seeking sobriety, not for the one seeking to expose the dangers of addiction.

Not for public consumption is the celebrity secretly glimpsed in their bathroom. And exactly so, is the poem an overheard document—which appeals to curiosity alone.

Curiosity alone! How much of human interaction belongs to this?

But the snare is not the same as the treat.

Poetry is “overheard” and this defines it absolutely.

The disgusting and the appalling, not proper for a general audience, is also “overheard.”

But love ensures the poem will be something else—not meant to be heard, and yet, the most beautiful thing (we never should have heard it) we have ever known.

HAPPY IS VERY SMART

Image result for venus weeping in renaissance painting

Happy is very smart, and this is why

There is so much injustice.

The miserable die in misery.

Unhappiness cannot think;

Therefore, the miserable cannot be happy.

Before thought—sweet thought!—is possible, joy

Must surge through the body,

Exciting our thinking. The goal

Cannot exist. We are immediately happy

With the world to be happy. I don’t remember why

I am happy, and in your cloudy misery,

You are unable to follow my thinking.

You read what I am saying, and disagree.

You are certain wisdom is not joy, but misery,

Life, you say, is difficult, short, and bad—

You think it’s idiotic to think smart is glad.

“The survivor,” you say, “facing harsh reality,

Is not some grinning fool.

Before you are happy, you need to work—or go to school.

And further, because life is sad and brief,

Joy needs help from wine or the aromatic leaf.

Happiness is not from intelligence, it is from a certain worth

Attached to men.  Unlike me, you—a man—are less close to the earth.

To say happy is smart, and that you have joy, or don’t,

Is the stupidest thing. Don’t say that again, don’t.”

She went on, refuting my poem for quite a while.

Feeling like a child, I looked at her and smiled.

She looked at my smile. I thought she would smile, but she did not smile.

 

 

POE AND BAUDELAIRE: THE KISS AND THE SNEER

Image result for italian seascape at night renaissance painting

“Woman, a slave and yet vainglorious, stupid and unashamed in her self-love” -Baudelaire

“She was a child and I was a child in this kingdom by the sea” -Poe

*

Women with skin of ivory, and beautiful black hair

Are women you might love as Poe, or love as Baudelaire.

Women who pull the collar of their coat around their neck,

Or look out at the sea, eating Italian cookies, from their breezy deck;

She tries not to think of me as she sips her bedtime tea,

In the prison of her pride, and when she sleeps, she writhes upon the key,

The key of simple love, which if she took it out, would set her free.

I was a gentleman, and wrote her poems, in vain.

She stood upon her phone. She pressed her lovely face against the window pane.

She let me have a kiss—

Upon her mouth, which was voluptuous—

But nothing hurt me like that mysterious sneer,

Which feeds heartbreaking love—the only thing lovers feel, when feeling is sincere.

I told her I was helpless, which was all she wanted to know.

She didn’t tell me things. Her mystery was severe.

I told her everything I wanted her to know.

I was afraid of her. But only because of love.

And now, in these warm October days, I strangely love,

Breathlessly, aesthetically,

One could say pathetically,

Like Edgar Allan Poe.

I imagine her dreaming, restlessly on that key,

And, in her horror, she sits down next to me,

And we clasp hands; we wander to a late night shop with wine,

And we know what we want, immediately,

And she wakes, horrified she spoke to me.

I loved the kiss, but I can’t forget the sneer,

Which feeds heartbreaking love—the only thing lovers feel, when feeling is sincere.

 

 

 

 

POETRY IS THOUGHT, PROSE IS INCIDENT

Image result for 19th century british painting

THE REASON there are so few good poets is not difficult to understand. The poet is sensitive to an extreme degree, and because of this, makes a big deal out of the small.

This is both a gift and a curse.

Admirable is the person who can produce something marvelous from an idea or two, from almost nothing.

But those who make something big out of what is small tend to be worrisome and unreasonable at best, and hot-headed psychopaths at worst—the kind of person who worries themselves sick over a rumor, or explodes over a slight, and this weak, anxious temperament (always making a big deal out of the small) is unsuited for calm and lengthy poetic contemplation.

The accomplished poet is paradoxical; they are cursed with a personality which makes a big deal out of everything—and yet, miraculously, they are also slow to anger, even-tempered, thick-skinned, and calm.  They have to be, to write poetry.

The poet is in possession of that faculty which transforms the trivial—mere words, syllables, sounds—into sublime speech—and this uncommon, visionary character which fantastically creates the grandiose from nothing, is naturally the sort of person who is volatile in the extreme—but the poet, has a dual nature; is both extremist and conservative at once.

Such a person, with two powerful and absolutely opposing psychological tendencies, will, as a rule, be extremely uncommon among any population.

This is why poetry does not progress—we look back at previous eras and find genius randomly distributed; we observe in our own day a greater number of persons with leisure to write, thousands of writing programs encouraging poetry, and increased material conditions for sharing poetry, without any signs that poetry as a rule is better, or that poetic genius is expanding itself in any measurable way.

It even seems that genius is diminishing, and poetry is getting worse. Perhaps, in total, it is not getting worse—there are just more poets and so, more bad poetry. But poetry does not, by any measure, seem to be mechanically improving.

Poetry does not improve—because there is an algorithm for the good poet which does not change.  The good poet—as a poet—will create something out of nothing.  The weak person—as a person—will create something out of nothing. The good poet cannot be a weak person.  The good person cannot be a good poet.  Therefore, personality-wise, the great poet is impossible.

If what we have just said about the paradoxical task of poetry—making “the small big,”—seems to be mere psychological claptrap; nothing more than silly theory, the following, perhaps, will be better received.

It refers not to the person, or the poet as a person, but the poem—and therefore, is, perhaps, a better explanation for why the good poet is not common at all.

Poetry is thought and prose is incident.

Alarming incidents, thrilling incidents, horrific incidents, which writers recount, seek, embellish, and share, are told, sought, worked up, and shared for the simple reason that this is the life blood of all story-telling, that which thrills and excites.

Exactly. This is precisely the problem. Incident detracts and distracts from the great poem; incident belongs to fiction, not to poetry. Poets who share sensational incidents are actually harming themselves and their art—using what they think is necessary, but which is actually the opposite.

One incident, thoughtfully presented, is the soul of the poem. Fiction, by its very nature, is a series of incidents. The horrific or outlandish incident has the necessary space in fiction to live, breathe, and be believed.

An incident which is verifiable and viable outside of the poem does not belong in the poem.

A political reality does not belong in the poem.

The hour does not belong in the poem. The hour can be presented in fiction and the reader can think about that hour. But only the hour which thinks in a moment belongs in the poem.

Only thought belongs in the poem. Not incidents which live on their own.

There is a reason why Pope described poetry as, “What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed,” and not, what oft was seen and completely understood and ne’er so well recounted.

Innumerable poets fail to understand this, and this is why, for more than any other reason, there are so few good poets.

 

WHEN I LOVED IT WAS ONLY TO LOVE

Image result for black and white photo of venice

When I loved it was only to love,

It was not to see the moon, or the five stars,

Or feel, in my hand, ever so slightly, the sweat of your hand,

Or be at the beginning of a long line of cars,

Or be a king lying in a tomb in a foreign land,

Or to weep at some black and white film’s end, a projector

In the old cinema humming somewhat behind my seat and above.

When I loved it was only to love.

It was not to hear, or to write a magnificent song,

Or sleep in the bottom of a boat in Venice when daylight rose,

Or be savagely sad, indignantly right, or happily wrong,

In a mist somewhere, deciding and not deciding

What cooperation, if any, I needed, from those I did not love.

When I loved it was only to love.

Or maybe I lie, and what I also had to do

As I loved, smiling, or not smiling, at you,

Was to be sane and gentle, and not go mad,

And when love inevitably ended,

To be happy for that saving grace, that you, too, were sad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WE SCAN THE NEWS TO SEE

Image result for black and white photo of celebrity reading the news

We scan the news to see

If the criminals are being punished,

And when they were caught, and how.

You don’t need to read the news.

The guilty are suffering for what they did. Right now.

We scan the news, but what we really want to see

Are the innocent—and how completely unlucky.

And the truly wronged? That’s me. Do you want me to explain?

It’s enough to say I’m happy.

The weatherman appears to be happy, as he says something about rain.

 

THESE CONGRESSMEN CANNOT BE POETS

These congressmen cannot be poets.

Poetry does not follow money

Or the distribution of money.

Poetry lives in a realm of dreams

Where money is not money. Where nothing is what it seems.

Poetry is not the shirtless man with a beer.

Poetry is not that. Poetry is here.

Poetry belongs to the child, who first learns

Beauty will not hurt you, but the beautiful burns.

Do children in the womb dream? They do.

They do not dream of money. They dream of you.

 

 

 

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