GETTING OUT OF HERE

I told her in the language I learned, that cigarettes had stained her hands.

The viceroy, we were told, counted each brick during lunch.

Where the great oceans strip the slumbering lands

Of their pebbles, the shady, development driveways,

Shore line drives, embankments, porches, featuring

Older, but still coveted, ‘one hit wonder’ bands,

In photographed restaurants by the sea,

Each one run very professionally,

Where the Irish in the other room crooned for her and me—

“The Times They Are A Changing” was the best cover

Sung liltingly and softly for me and my temporary lover—

The oceans slowly removing the white sands

And leaving golden mud, the roaring fish,

All those feeling pain, unseen by us,

Where mists and rains soak the crumbling sands

Stretching up north to the protestant cities

Where still more scholars forcefully talk; studies

Of every variety, conducted in the depleted foreign lands,

We told each other! We found out! over drinks, all legitimate studies

Found the one who is misunderstood is not the one who misunderstands.

RELAX

Image result for paul simon and carrie fisher

Why can’t I enjoy this joy?

She is my tree, my poem, my ploy

In the ground, a certain sound,

A pleasant, lucky love I found.

But love is never finally enjoyed.

You make each other agitated.

We did. I drank. I couldn’t sleep.

Love is beautiful, passionate, and deep.

But it’s jealous. In one second, I became a creep.

She is my swan among the swans

On the bronze lake that stretches forever

Among shadows where shadows turn into her.

But love does not go well for anyone.

Love burns. A sun inside a sun.

We must die. We must pay the tax.

And when you’re in love, you can’t relax.

 

 

 

A FEW REMARKS ON NEO-ROMANTICISM PART 2

When contrast goes, everything goes.

Romantic poetry gave way to modernist poetry, but was is it revolution—or evolution?

Critics of poetry—the few who are left—don’t care to ask; the question gives too much credit to the romantics.

The whole of poetry has its divisions—and these divisions are historical and scholarly, but scholars also study the whole, the whole which is implicit in these divisions. The divisions are “classical,” “romantic,” and “modern;” the contrast provides the textbooks published since the early 20th century their food.

But since among the critics, romantic poetry is considered dead, the divisions and the whole are, for the present moment, gone.

Romantic poetry loses value, vanishes, and therefore, the literary history of poetry vanishes.

Banish what comes before love and you banish love.

The creative writing industry—like all industries, little concerned with love—arose with modernism—the tradition and the past has vanished; the writing program poet writes in a default present; glancing at the past is still done, but hidden idiosyncratic influence on a student writer is not the same as a thriving public tradition.

The poet Keats may have appeal, but the default setting for creative writing poets is: don’t sound like Keats. Rhyme is not modern. Rhyme may sound more poetic, but the trope of modernist poetry is: ‘modern’ is more important than ‘poetry.’ Modernist poetry is an interesting scholarly division, indeed.

Modernist poetry is free to rhyme, or not to rhyme, but freedom, the ostensible revolutionary driving force, is not free—in order to advance, rhyme is eschewed. It is not forbidden, of course. The forbidden is stronger when not spoken. No modern has ever said ‘don’t rhyme.’ Eliot will call Shelley immature. The clock ticks, and modern injunctions are by the wise silently understood. We are in the present now. Hushed voices. The celebrations are over. Switch on the electric light, watch the news reels, and quietly write your résumé.

Contrast is everything. Modernist poetry exists to shed the romantic.

But as Eliot pointed out in “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” the future changes the past within any tradition—the tradition is not just the past. 

If modernist poetry has done two things—eclipsed romanticism and run its course as an experiment, the whole tradition will wither on its ‘future end,’ and thus will wither altogether.

Randall Jarrell, the American poet and critic, college roommate of Robert Lowell—the first Writing Program teacher-poet superstar, who studied, with Jarrell, under Modernist New Critic god John Crowe Ransom—did ask the question:

Is modernist poetry revolutionary or evolutionary?

Jarrell asked the question at exactly the right time, when America was winning the greatest war in history. Modernism is, in fact, American.

Today, romantic poetry implies an English accent, or a European accent. A real American is modernist, or romantic with a smirk.

Talk of rhyme and modernism always goes off the tracks as an argument, because modernist poetry launched in 1914, and yet there was still rhyme making headlines everywhere: Yeats, Kipling, Frost, Millay—even Eliot, the leader, rhymed, to rapturous effect.

But Kipling and Yeats died before the 1930s were out. World War One, that essentially European conflict, had actually given rise to more rhyme than ever. It was World War Two, which ushered in the American century and the Iowa Worskshop, which killed rhyme, and killed it most defiantly in college, as GI Bill students learned belatedly that rhyme was dead and Modernism, born in 1914, killed it—a complete myth created by the American University in the 50s and 60s when everyone was climbing into the van to taste the candy of free verse. Pound and Williams were resurrected, and seemed to have, by their own genius, murdered rhyme in 1922. But Pound and Williams were obscure failures as late-middle aged poets. The Writing Program (“come to Iowa! you, too, can be a poet!”) with its long runway from the 1930s to the 1980s, finally murdered rhyme. Iowa (born of the New Critics) made modernist poetry seem a wildly successful revolution which happened during the 1917 Russian one.

In his 1942 essay, “The End of the Line,” Jarrell called modernist poetry “romantic,” and so “evolutionary” is his answer.

The American World War Two behemoth of confidence, cunning and swagger is at the heart of modernist poetry.

Here’s how Jarrell’s essay begins:

“What has impressed everyone about modernist poetry is its differentness. The familiar and rather touching “I like poetry—but not modern poetry” is only another way of noticing what almost all criticism has emphasized: that modernist poetry is a revolutionary departure from the romantic poetry of the preceding century.”

Jarrell, back in 1942, is saying what no one says anymore—romantic poetry (still written in the 1930s by Yeats and Auden) is the default poetry; romantic poetry is that which the public understands as—poetry.

Modernist poetry hijacked poetry, and lured it into the van by promising poetry eclectically easy to write—stoned, hippie, free verse. Modernist poetry—though no one dared say it, so heroic did everything American seem in the 1940s—was a bullying, university-writing-workshop, American phenomenon. The New Critics’ textbook in all the schools praised Pound and Williams and kicked around Poe’s romantic rhythms in “Ulalume” by way of the futuristic novelist, essayist, (bad) poet and Englishman, Aldous Huxley—then peddling LSD—in California. America was suddenly the modernist magnet drawing everything in. The CIA was throwing money at Modern Art and Paul Engle. Communism threatened Europe. Rhyme hadn’t worked.

Here is Jarrell again, from that 1942 essay:

“Romantic once again, after almost two centuries, became a term of simple derogation; correspondingly, there grew up a rather blank cult of the “classical,” and poets like Eliot hinted that poets like Pound might be the new classicism for which all had been waiting.”

Somewhere in liberal, educated American minds, while Jarrell penned his essay in the first years of WW II, Pound and Eliot represented grandiose, over-educated, fascist, “classical” poetry which would triumph if Europe remained under Hitler’s control. Pound and Eliot both had an odd hatred of Russia—even before it became Soviet. But this does make sense. Pound’s “Imagism” piggy-backed on the world-wide Japanese art and haiku rage in 1905, due to Japan’s surprising win over Russia in the Russo-Japanese war. And Britain had been Japan’s ally in that war, the nation where Pound came to make his fortune.

The U.S.and the Soviet Union’s victory in Europe in 1945 signaled the end of Europe’s hold on American poetry forever.

World War One ruined Europe’s beautiful, romantic reputation—overnight Europe became a quaint shop for American dollars, as Hemingway and Stein lived cheaply in Paris.

But even after the romantic-destroying horrors of WW I, Europe kept on rhyming.

World War Two wrecked Europe a second time, American money was now worth even more, and this time around, romantic, rhyming finally stopped.

The old syllabus was torn up. Iowa was about to “make it new.” The 1914 Pound, who lost, (and was even humiliated by Amy Lowell) somehow, in 1945, won. This is how much the American century was turning things upside down.

Pound, and his two pals, Williams and Eliot, had made it. Rhyming was over.

Poe, who fought the British Empire in Letters a century earlier, could not have foreseen, nor would he have approved of, modernist poetry’s 1945, ruin-and-flames victory. Poe hated Britain’s might, not its poetry. Poe admired Keats, Shelley, and Tennyson; it was the British government and Britain’s clandestine designs against her former colony, which Poe called to account.

Jarrell reminds us the word “Romantic,” in poetry, was once a “term of simple derogation.” The Romantic poets once challenged the establishment, and were hated back in their day as irreverent youth—and now Eliot and Pound hated them anew. Was Modernism revolutionary or reactionary? The attack on the twenty-something Shelley’s love energy by the older, professorial Eliot is one argument for “reactionary.”

Randall Jarrell to the rescue. His solution was simple. Modernism was just an extension of Romanticism. He is correct, to some degree.

As he brilliantly observes, “all Pound’s early advice to poets could be summed up in a sentence half of which is pure Wordsworth: Write like prose, like speech—and read French poetry!”

In his essay, to prove modernism is an extension of romanticism—which can go no further, which is why he titled his essay, “End of the Line”—he lists qualities both modernism and romanticism share:

1. Experimentalism, Originality

2. Formlessness

3. Emotional, violent

4. Obscurity, inaccessibility, specialized

5. Lack of restraint or proportion

6. Emphasis on parts, not wholes

7. Preoccupation with sensation

8. Dreams, stream of consciousness, irrational

9. Irony of every type: Byronic, Laforguian, etc

10. Fauve or neo-primitive elements

11. Contemporary life condemned, patronized

12. Individualism, isolation, alienation

13. Dislike for science, industrialism, progress, preferring theological and personal

Lists are an insidious way of reasoning. Jarrell has merely complied qualities which don’t conform to classical poetry, letting the sheer number of qualities discover some over-lap between romanticism and modernism—and there are some. But even were this list completely true—perhaps it is—-qualities cannot really describe a poem. “Ode to A Nightingale” can have all sorts of qualities ascribed to it by any junior professor, and any average poem with enough detail in it can claim those qualities, as well. But do the poems have the same value?

Criticism would do better to throw out such lists and pounce on one quality, more important by far, than all the others: originality.

What is the one factor which make 99% of contemporary poetry unreadable to the educated reader, whether it is the romantic/religious poetry all over the internet, the platitudes of the political poets, or the meandering prose of workshop poets?

They lack originality.

Without originality, nothing else in a poem works.

Originality is as mysterious as the virgin birth.

How can a poet be original?

The educated, who are obsessed with valid sources and the truth of their work, are, by their very status as educated, made to copy and copy again, and nothing more.

Footnotes and citations alone make the educated real; an academic’s “poem” of a dozen lines requires a hundred footnotes if their work is to have real merit, approved by the scholars. Otherwise one is attempting to be a wit, like Oscar Wilde—who wrote how many well-known poems?

What do the amateurs, the romantics or would-be politicians of the slam bars and the world wide web do? They, too, like the educated, copy.

Instead of historical facts, the amateurs copy, over and over again, every platitude and mawkish, well-meaning sentiment which already exists, and are repellent to the educated, as lovely and earnest as they may be, for the very same reason: they parrot, they repeat, they plagiarize, they ape, they copy.

Originality is the prize which eludes them all—no matter their rank in learning, no matter what they choose to write on.

Then we have the professional musicians, who put “poetry” into their sometimes extremely popular ballads and rap songs.

The trouble with this kind of poetry is that either the video or the music gets in the way, or the lyrics are horribly bad. Occasionally a fragment, a chorus, will achieve a certain poetic beauty, and this is better than nothing, but finally a fragmentariness is the rule.

Or it becomes a parody, or a parody of a parody, like those rap songs whose topic and rhymes are so transparently over-used, ridiculous, and offensive to good taste, that Weird Al Yankovic is apparently the author. “Lick me like a lolly pop,” just to pick an appalling phrase at random—the ability to joke about sex (a topic which, on some level, everyone must take seriously at some point in their lives) is a bank with endless supplies of cash. “Lick me like a lolly pop” (and everything it rhymes with) is sexy if it’s true, but at the same time ridiculous (funny) as both linguistic construct and fiery (anti-) moral statement. It succeeds, then, in the song/poem category, for the vast audience of those who need what oddly amoral language is able to give them.

Often, with music fans, and other amateurs, it’s enough to get a taste of what something is—in this case, poetry—without having to go further—risking humiliation, distraction, or getting pulled away from the comfort of one’s shallow, yet practical, sheep-existence.

Modernist poetry’s greatest enemy is faux romantic poetry (rap, Instagram poetry, etc) such that good romantic poetry (who writes that, anymore?) is seen as the enemy, too.

The second greatest enemy for modernist poetry is itself. For two reasons. First, the modern art joke of Duchamp’s toilet-as-museum-art is a great joke—but can be only told once; it only works once. Unfortunately this does not prevent this joke from being told over and over again, whether it is “noise-as-“music,” “trash-as-art,” or “refridgerator-note-as-poem.” Most times the poet is not even aware that they are re-telling the Duchamp Joke—they convince themselves that their prose reflection is really a majestic poem, and swept up in the Program Era atmosphere, others agree.

To catch the elusive unicorn of originality, the modernist poet has his final recourse—in what Jarrell calls ” differentness.” This “differentness” is often just the retold Duchamp Joke, but sometimes it avoids even this, and with a great deal of cleverness and panache, heaping up as many fascinating broken images as possible, the modernist poet really does avoid the trite, the offensive, the clichéd, and the unoriginal.  But only to fall into the abyss of the profoundly trivial, the deeply obscure, and the sublimely inaccessible. Like visiting wintry crags in some far flung mountain range on the other side of the world, only the wildest and most insane imaginations (perhaps one in a million) go there, or care to, or can.

The poem both original and accessible is the only one worth writing.

The reason for modernism’s break from romantic poetry—if romantic poetry is assumed to be what poetry is for the general public—will permit anything in the name of that reason, including political sermons, and anything eliciting complaints of “that’s not poetry.”

Originality, however, can never be the reason for the break. The original poet is not allowed to cheat—not allowed to be original by producing something which is not considered a poem. This was already done by Duchamp. One is not allowed to do this again. Originality cannot be the reason for the shift from romantic to modernist.

The classical, romantic, modernist division consists, if valid, of original Classical, Romantic, and Modernist poems.

But true originality, the ultimate criterion, transcends historical divisions—an original poem written today cannot be an original romantic poem, or an original modernist poem—the original does not comprehend historical divisions, otherwise it would not be truly original.

Rhyme gives the poet more opportunities to produce an original poem. To say nothing of versifying harmony. Verse contains prose, and so verse is capable of being more original than free prose, not less. Verse has more possible moves on its chessboard than prose does.

If certain content is not considered romantic, and therefore not poetic, this has nothing to do with originality; barring from the poem certain kinds of content (“lick me like a lolly pop”) arises from how expectations of life informs and shapes the poem. This idea, that “life” writes the poem, is a truism for all poetry—some modernist critics have tried to own this truth exclusively for modernist poetry, since the modernist poem is more “impure,” but none of the three divisions has a monopoly on the ‘content censor.’ What cannot go in the poem sums up the content of a poem. The childish belief that ‘ here is what my poem is about and here are the details’ indulges in a false positive, and this is how any poet fails, whether romantic or modernist; for the truth is more severe—the genius excludes much more than he heaps up. There are fewer modernist geniuses for the sole reason that they are childishly “free,” and tend to put anything in.

To return to Mazer’s poem, which we quoted in Part One of “A Few Remarks.”

Mazer is not only an important poet; he is the escape.

Mazer, who is exquisitely modernist/romantic, is the ‘way out,’ (a small, trembling light, but visible,) from poetry’s 21st century crisis, the solution to Jarrell’s “end of the line” despair.

Ben Mazer, with his profound modernist/romantic originality, has scraped the bottom of poetry as it is understood as poetry in its Jungian, shadowy depths.  We sense the step upon the ancient rock, the slow, delicious, vibration in the ocean which signals the discovery of the walls of the room we know as the universe.

The holiday poem of his (a sketch, merely) which I plucked at random, quoted at the end of Part One of this essay, is illustrative of how the search for originality is hindered neither by subject nor common speech. Romantic tools (sensual, forceful, rule-based) aid poetic spirit and creative excitement.

A virgin snow remade the world that year

Is the first line which bursts upon the reader—the theme sings to us immediately; there is no prologue of pedantic delay—like a dear, familiar joke, or a winning card laid down, the effect is almost more than immediate.

Three kings had heard the rumor from afar

Continues the theme without delay—for the sake of immediacy, it’s a stock “three kings” image, with one important variation—“rumor” sounds modern. And the “r” sounds of “rumor” melt into the line’s “r” sound.

and wandered from the East by guiding star.

The third line’s iambic pentameter gives “guiding” wonderful movement. Mazer, in every one of his poems, does small things like this effortlessly. He has studied. He has read. He feels. In large measure, all.

The first three lines set up wonderfully the splendid:

The sacred place was frosted with the sheer

The “sheer” end-rhyme is perfect, after “far” and “star,” with line one’s “year,” and introduces the simple bass-line sublimity of

anticipation of a world to come.

A quick glance at these deceptively simple, first five lines is demonstration enough.

But to look at the final line. The last line makes a bold statement:

It was the most spectacular thing that’s ever been.

The pastness of the final line’s utterance is what is key. A million other poets would reject this line as untrue, or mundane, but Mazer understands one could sit around forever arguing about what is “most spectacular.” It is not meant literally—and yet it is. And herein lies the secret of the line. First, it’s in the past—the reader wasn’t there—so it can be stated as “true.” But Mazer was there, because he wrote the line, and so the self-conscious romantic individualist should say it, is forced to say it. Why? Because the god-coming-to-earth theme permits it. The idea of the divine Christ inspiring the divine poet permits it. And finally, the greatest secret of all for the line’s perfection—the last line is a divine and glorious boast: “it was the most spectacular thing that’s ever been” refers to the poem itself—even to the last line itself, which just at this moment, has slipped into the absolute and unreachable past.

Mazer, the modernist romantic—and classical, as well—has discovered the alpha and the omega.

The irreducible.

 

 

THE FEMALE WRITES A POEM

“The hostility to association of fine art with normal processes of living is a pathetic, even a tragic, commentary on life as it is ordinarily lived.”

My favorite gender was a queen

In light makeup, when her sleeves were green

And her youthful mouth crimson red

And the crown came off and she put her head next to my head.

The cameras made sure things were secure around the royal bed.

The queen and I could see two thousand years of history,

But it took a lot of reading to actually know

The significance of Greenland and Marilyn Monroe.

However, to know who was coming that day for tea,

And which rivalry was dangerous, and which jealousy was already dead

Took no education at all.

That day her DNA held me in thrall.

Put on your coat to meet the other coats and face the day.

Your father was president. That means he had a certain role to play.

Before it all happened, certain arrangements had to go a certain way.

Since everyone is born confused, only the simple needs to be explained,

But the simple keeps throwing people off.

They live out simple explanations before the longer ones

Get themselves into their souls,

So they lose sleep, and go to pot, and are continually burdened with a cough.

It’s luck. It’s inheritance.  Baudelaire, and the rest, are fools.

Yes, there will be those simplistic, effortless ones,

Who, better endowed by nature, hate man-made rules,

The womanizers who are stupid but go to the best schools;

But they are weak, they are not Renaissance artists, they can’t compete with you.

They hate the crowd, but are the crowd. That commie, John Dewey, too.

 

 

 

 

A FEW REMARKS ON POETRY, CHRISTIANITY AND NEO-ROMANTICISM— PART ONE

Image result for 3 wise men renaissance painting

The following essay is offered as nothing more than an intoxicating drink, with a few unique qualities—most of the musings here you’ve probably heard before; sometimes it’s only emphasis that matters.

Recall the scene in the Meno: Socrates proves all knowledge is recollection (which means the soul is immortal) by suggesting to an unlearned child the means to answer a difficult geometrical problem.

The Platonist poet, Shelley, agrees:

Reason is the enumeration of qualities already known; imagination is the perception of the value of those qualities, both separately and as a whole. Reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitudes of things. Reason is to imagination as the instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow to the substance.

Knowledge involves a certain humility; humans, the Platonist knows, do not invent; “reason” is merely “recollection,” or, as Shelley puts it, “enumeration of qualities already known.” Qualities are not invented, imagined, or discovered; qualities are, as the (grounded!) Romantic understands, “already known.” And the “imagination,” according to Shelley, “is the perception of the value of those qualities, both separately and as a whole.” Imagination is the “perception of the value of those qualities.” Imagination doesn’t create, or invent; the whole process is far more mundane (says the Romantic!); “perception of value, with an eye to “separately and as a whole.”

This is not easy stuff, but easier, since the Platonist grasps how really modest and small human intelligence is—the “imagination” is the “agent” perceiving the “value of qualities already known,” by using “reason” as an “instrument.”

This intoxicating drink I offer, with a little help from the Romantics, should calm and relax you, if nothing else.  Complexity, discovery, labor, be gone.

This is what I intend to do.  Give you a whiff of poetry, Christianity, and Neo-Romanticism.  You can even close your eyes and find your way.

You know this stuff.

You know it’s true.

But you’ve forgotten.

This essay, “A Few Remarks on Poetry, Christianity and Neo-Romanticism,” should not be taken any more seriously than if flowery letters stating the same should be found on the side of a bottle. When we say seriously, sometimes, what we drink, and the label embellishing it, is serious indeed, but not in the manner of truth, but only of pleasure—so drink, and become intoxicated, and see what pleasures follow; nothing found in this Scarriet essay will necessarily be true; you’ll find only random observations made by a poet for the sake of poetry.

The defense of poetry is, by now, an old practice; half-wits do it; narrowing the subject of poetry to include “Christianity and Neo-Romanticism” is nothing more, really, than an attempt to peak interest in the drink. Philosophy is my beach-reading; if “A Few Remarks” is philosophical, good—think of it as amusement in a philosophical vein.

To state the Neo-Romanticism theme simply: the first criterion of poetry is beauty, in all its particular attributes, heightened by the imagination, and everything else flows from this highest category.

Beauty is advantageous for two reasons—imagination must be present to an extraordinary degree, since imagination first began as the urgent invention to create happiness when faced with sorrow, and beauty is happiness; secondly, beauty also requires harmony, and therefore a certain order and rigor is always necessary to carry off that harmony. Beauty, then, keeps poetry enthusiastic, since happiness is the best motivator for enthusiasm, and at the same time beauty requires expertise and skill to add the necessary harmony to the imaginative attempts to be beautiful.

With Neo-Romanticism, then, beauty is the top category—for the practical reasons just given, and this stricture need not be onerous; beauty was chosen precisely because beauty is not onerous—and naturally, all other elements may of course be present (so modern irritation with the flimsy idealism and ineffectual prettiness of “beauty” does not get the upper hand), just to remember that beauty is the measure and general design which prevails, even as the frightening (with its sublime attributes), the humorous (profound, or sublime wit) and other qualities contribute, in descending order, to that harmonizing effect the Romantic poet is known for, whether it is Byron laughing, Coleridge weeping, Keats gasping, Shelley sighing, Wordsworth philosophizing, Tennyson singing, Millay regretting, Eliot whispering, or Mazer dipping his dreaming toe in the dreaming springs.

Harmony is the leading trait of beauty, and while most poetry refers to things outside of itself to win favor (the poet serving as a kind of rough, honest, social messenger) harmony demands all interest reside within the poem itself (easy political sentiments, in this case, fail) and so how the parts fit is crucial. We know instinctively, but not rationally, how the parts of a beautiful face harmonize to give us pleasure—the trick surpasses our understanding; the same nose on another face is merely a beautiful nose on an ugly face; judgment of the whole is all. The poem cannot refer; its beauty must be its own, and only harmony can achieve this, for ‘a poem’ as it exists as ‘a poem’ is not beautiful; several parts harmonizing is the poem’s only chance.

The poem as a self-enclosed entity is imprisoning—harmony must be freeing, even as it forces parts together to make them fit. Parts must dwell beside each other in interesting and freeing ways, even as they harmonize as a whole—this is the key to beauty. Eyes must be able to flash like stars and be vastly different from mouth, nose, and chin—even as these eyes live on the same beautiful face as those other features: the nose—what can it possibly have to do with the eyes? It’s all a mystery, but certainly not a trivial one, since beauty and harmony are certainly not trivial.

Yet in many respects the harmony of a face is quite simple—and almost without harmony—compared to the harmony of a piece of music, or a poem. All a pretty face needs is: pretty eyes, check, pretty nose, check, pretty chin, check. How do these harmonize? It is not so much harmony, as a mere list of pleasing attributes. More profound and mysterious by far is the notion of the face itself. What is a human face, and why does it please? Then we would need to posit material considerations which have nothing to with lofty notions of beauty and harmony, and yet, these considerations are profound nonetheless: the eyes see, the mouth speaks and tastes, etc. The face is part of a living thing thriving in the world. The beauty of an eye is a poetic idea, since the eye is an instrument for seeing, and yet the seeing action of the eye-instrument is part of its beauty—practical considerations harmonize with beauty.

Harmony is an ever-widening process, even as it belongs to the limits of its action as a harmonizing whole, with a defined beginning, middle, and end.

We must ask, therefore, what practical considerations belong to the poem, as we explore its harmony and beauty. The upper idea hiding a subordinate idea is a crucial way a poem harmonizes, just as a piece of great music allows us to hear different threads simultaneously.

This brings us to Christianity, as it pertains to practical life harmonizing with beauty.

The poet makes choices, in the imagination, to allow us to perceive the more beautiful result. The poet, like the priest, must take practical matters and somehow harmonize them with beauty for the sake of imaginative fancy.

The “virgin birth” is just such an imaginative fancy, which pleases the Christian—but not the atheist, who sneers, “Virgin birth? Bah! Impossible! this absurdity brings down, like a house of cards, your entire religion.”

But the Romantic, who might be an atheist, will, as a poet, nonetheless tell the objecting atheist, “please hold that thought.”  Is religion not a series of interconnecting ideas, rather than facts?

The “virgin birth” is not a fact, but an ideaan idea which lives in a universe of other ideas; Keats’ “negative capability” defines the poet as one who can entertain doubts, who can temporarily dwell where answers are suspended, so that fancy (imagination) has a chance to build a harmonizing aspect of things, which moves us happily forward into a better reality.

Religion is a poetic, not a factual, response, to the world.

Harmony and imagination is the religious way.

The factual world (virgin births do not occur) is not a poetic one.

Or it is, if God is a poet.

Secularism is the poet (as fact-master) attempting to be God (as fact-master).

Religion posits God as the one true poet.

For virgin births do occur in the factual world.

The universe itself was a virgin birth. No scientist knows how the universe came into existence, and we doubt whether it was made by daddy light and mama darkness, or any other myth the primitive imagination might invent.

Imagination grows and matures with monotheistic religion. The immaculate conception is a profoundly scientific concept. The one universe was born, not by evolution, but in a manner absolutely mysterious and unknown. This is the fact of existence. The religious fancy, the poem, and the scientific fact, come together, in the harmonizing imagination, as one.

The harmonizing relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament, in which the new obeys, and yet miraculously fulfills, and surpasses, the old, pertains to the strategies of poetry itself, and the inner harmonizing character of poems.

The parts come from the whole, and not the other way around.

God coming to earth requires a virgin birth, since there is no immortal element on earth; there is no immortal dad to impregnate the mortal mother. One needs to hold off the objection, then, to the virgin birth, in order for the God-coming-to-earth story to proceed.

The sacred story of Christ is a great poem, and so feeds poetry, if poetry harmonizes fully, and across the board, and, if we think of the trope of everyone writing the same poem, every time a poet writes a poem, as more than mere linguistic expression, not as a mere fragment of a song or a fragment of a plaint, or a fragment of a protest, or any factual observation the would-be poet might want to indulge in, we can understand a poem as a poem coming into being.  And this exists as a cloud of mystery, not as ‘writing poems for Christ,’ or anything so obvious or silly.

A virgin birth also avoids, for aesthetic reasons, sex, the messy core of messy reality. The raw fact of sex is not condemned or avoided, for sex certainly does have its harmonizing place in the world.

But what to do about sex is not a trivial matter, and has profound practical considerations. In The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews must choose whether she wants to be a nun, or not.

Her choice belongs more to religious behavior, than to religious poetry. Religion is in the world, as much as the secular is.

However, we did mention earlier that good harmony keeps its parts, to a certain extent, free from each other. Harmony, which pulls together, should also be freeing. The freedom to choose to be a nun and serve the religion that way, belongs to a profoundly harmonizing challenge.

In another major religion, all women of the religion are forced to be nuns. Here the woman is free of the agonizing moral, social and religious choice which women in the Catholic faith must choose for themselves. Julie Andrews did not know what to do. The West has such a demand for choice and freedom, the whole thing for many people can be overwhelming. But the more freedom, the greater necessity there is for harmony and poetry.

Any religiosity seems horribly quaint in the face of modern, secularist advance.  I speak a little of Christianity (of which I am ignorant) just to appease the title, “A Few Remarks on Poetry, Christianity, and Neo-Romanticism.”

Quickly, before I lose all respect, I would like to examine, for pure pleasure alone, a recent sonnet by Ben Mazer, the contemporary Neo-Romantic poet.

A virgin snow remade the world that year.
Three kings had heard the rumour from afar
and wandered from the East by guiding star.
The sacred place was frosted with the sheer
anticipation of a world to come.
The shepherds and the animals were dumb
with gazing out the windows for the far
approaching kings, the radiant Hamilcar.
The old world would be disappearing fast;
the marvels that they saw they knew would last.
The wind stood patient on the bare swept sill.
Guests stood in silence on the little hill.
The three kings from a distance could be seen.
It was the most spectacular thing that’s ever been.

The Neo-Romantic aspect of this will be quickly seen.  When, against our will, there’s no escape, and we surrender to poetry’s predicament, this is love, romance, and all the helplessness implied, as expressed by again, Shelley, in his Defense of Poetry:

Man is an instrument over which a series of external and internal impressions are driven, like the alternations of an ever-changing wind over an Æolian lyre, which move it by their motion to ever-changing melody. But there is a principle within the human being, and perhaps within all sentient beings, which acts otherwise than in the lyre, and produces not melody alone, but harmony, by an internal adjustment of the sounds or motions thus excited to the impressions which excite them. It is as if the lyre could accommodate its chords to the motions of that which strikes them, in a determined proportion of sound; even as the musician can accommodate his voice to the sound of the lyre. A child at play by itself will express its delight by its voice and motions; and every inflexion of tone and every gesture will bear exact relation to a corresponding antitype in the pleasurable impressions which awakened it; it will be the reflected image of that impression; and as the lyre trembles and sounds after the wind has died away; so the child seeks, by prolonging in its voice and motions the duration of the effect, to prolong also a consciousness of the cause. In relation to the objects which delight a child these expressions are what poetry is to higher objects.

In order for this formula, which Shelley has evoked, to work: the ‘human lyre’ which “seeks, by prolonging in its voice and motions the duration of the effect, to prolong also a consciousness of the cause,” we must first really be a lyre, and be literally ‘played’ as a passive instrument; this passivity is the secret to human joy: settling into a dark theater and allowing images to wash over us as we sit there passively—far removed from drudgery and reason and understanding and work of any kind—one is simply a passive lyre. This is why Poe, ‘the Last Romantic,’ championed poetry which aspired to beauty and music and condemned the didactic poem—for didactic poetry slides over into the realm which belongs to labor and pain, and not thoughtless, passive, joy, the surrender necessary to experience poetry in a state of true excitement.

This is not to say poetry (words) benefits from a darkened theater, but the idea of inescapable focus is the same—poetry is different from film, but their joy is based on the same thing: trusting passivity, which frees us from the irritable ‘reaching’ we normally do, in thought or action, and we think naturally here of Keats’ Negative Capability. Sensuality (sound) in poems works like the brightened screen in the cinema—the sensual, unconscious device of passive joy, used to produce the higher version of harmony which attempts to surpass itself.

If this passive, first, step of delight is not allowed to occur, the next step: “which acts otherwise than in the lyre, and produces not melody alone, but harmony, by an internal adjustment of sounds or motions…” cannot occur.

To intellectualize, in the common light of day, the horrors of the world, in the spirit of a utilitarian lecturer, will deprive poetry of Shelley’s cinematic mission, and will end up on the other side of Neo-Romanticism; this is why prosaic Modernism is so hostile to Romanticism—as Scarriet has demonstrated in a number of articles over the last ten years.

In Part Two, we will examine Mazer’s poem more closely as we breathe in Neo-Romanticism.

 

 

THE WITCH

Image result for witch in movies

“must be the season of the witch” —Donovan

A witch lives inside your soul, you say?

A witch, you hate, but love anyway?

The witch escaped the granite home

And rides the lurid windy foam.

The witch of office politics

Feeds a fire with different sticks.

It’s furiously cold outside.

Statistics of witches stretched and lied.

The newspaper sings a holy song:

A covered stereotype with a bomb.

This witch has no address.

Her body sways. She says no and yes.

The beautiful witch

Eats my soul. Love is homeless. Love’s an itch.

Take me into the shade.

Kiss me. I’m afraid.

Politics is the invention of the witch.

Politics is shameful and wild.

They crowd the hill to kill the child.

The last virgin to ever innocently mourn,

Succumbed to lesbians in porn,

Acting more real than any play.

Nothing stands in the witch’s way.

Strict and covered is the Muslim rule.

Life strays too much.  Make life a school.

Christ made too much of the beautiful word.

Now it’s more simple. The poor and a sword.

Our most famous film is about a witch,

The most famous play has three of them,

And the greatest poem is Dante’s Hell—

His Paradise only a pale diadem.

Dante and Beatrice—he was ten and she was nine.

Red is the poet, and red is the wine.

Wake, and get in the car by nine.

All the papers said she was in it,

The woman who inspired the poet.

But now the woman is on her own.

There’s a mixture of every crimson tone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GONE ALL THE TIME

Image result for bierstadt paintings

Gone all at once, and gone all the time,

Love feels impossible;

Love won’t stay, so it feels sublime.

Ineffable! Uncanny! Yet, there you are,

Drinking coffee, or riding in the car.

From the height of the lover

I look down on the friend,

Sublime from the great height,

Bliss on high, mixed with fright:

You might say goodbye. These beautiful cliffs could end.

I saw you from a distance, before you were gone.

How strange to recognize the tiniest example

Of what I loved in tears.

We loved each other, but you won.

You walked into the building, with your own anxiety and fears;

It could have been a moment ago, or many years.

When I saw you, it seemed, as usual, you were leaving me,

But you must go, you will go, mentioned in my poetry.

I see you going, you will go, because my poem ends,

And you put the poem aside, and said, “let’s be friends.”

But I tear up the poem; it mustn’t be nice, it must be sick.

Why is sublime love always made of this one trick?

It’s not fair that I think—but you get to go on,

As when I saw you from a distance enter that building; can I win, for once?

I want to be the one who is gone.

 

 

WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH THAT?

Image result for angel blowing golden horn in renaissance painting

There’s so much interest to life
When you gain a small advantage
And feel that little joy of revenge,
Even if it’s small, but it usually is small,
Since small and petty is the object of your scorn:
She sneered. Now you loudly blow the golden horn.
Because there’s so much interest to life,
Your poem will never amount to much,
Which is good. Poems triumph in death. That’s what they’re for.
But this is life. Be careful before you walk out the door.
Make it known you have more dignity
Than her—soft! let her be the one who’s small.
There’s so much interesting revenge in life.
Life is amazing! Life has it all!
She’s not going to read your poems.
But you can plot a nice little revenge right now.
Poems won’t do that. Poems don’t know how.

WHY POETRY MUST BE GOOD

Image result for a fool in renaissance painting

Poetry must be good—otherwise we have a robot/zombie universe under obligation to like poetry.

True admiration is as far away as possible from the obligation to like something.

Some people are very good at creating obligations.  It’s called sales.

We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings.

Writing poetry is good, so how dare we cast aspersions on it?

That’s the thing. We are obligated to like poetry—whether it is good, or not.

So if the poetry is not good, and we support it, and read, and write it, and say we like it—but we don’t, what does that do to the soul?

It sells it out. It sickens it.

And further, if an industry arises, if a system of promoting poetry, not because it’s good, but just because it’s poetry, advances, what will this do?

Not only will this kill poetry—never mind killing the soul—it will cultivate a climate in which we invest time, money, and ego, in an inferior product.

And what will this do?

It will create an unspoken resentment of poetry which is actually good.

Do you see the problem?

Do you see how murder of the soul begins with being nice?

Poetry must be good.  It’s not a question of it should be good.  It must be good.

But what necessitates poetry being good?  And how can something as simple as a bad poem ever be banned or suppressed?

There is no answer.

After a long silence, in laughter we face the awful truth of the death of our souls.

 

 

 

NOW THAT HE’S EARNED HIS FAME

Image result for woman smoking and reading in painting

Now that he’s earned his fame,

Or lucked into it—who is he?—life will never be the same.

He loved you and was famous in your breast.

You loved him, but you couldn’t love the rest.

The others gradually took notice.

You only loved him the most.

But now that he’s gone—you told him goodbye,

And he actually had a tear in his eye—

You know him only through his work

And he’s beautiful, but only you know he’s an insecure jerk.

How is it that he’s getting younger?

Sometimes you regret losing him,

But there are cigarettes and devices

Invented just for you, the invention

Itself was invented for the broken heart.

Anyway, your face still entices;

He really loved you and fell apart

Before you left him and he found fame.

You love others but it will never be the same

As when his mouth was on you after he softly called your name.

 

DON’T YOU KNOW WHAT LOVE IS

Image result for jester singing in renaissance painting

Don’t you know what love is?

It’s me talking to you right now.

Thank God the poem mediates.

Unsupervised human interaction hates

Intervention by song or poem

When not involving one they love.

The ugly singer sings his song

So beautifully. But only to the air

Which holds the shy abashed lovers

Not willing to speak, distant, there.

Distance is the measure we know

And only that. “You have to let them go.”

You’ve heard that advice. Pretend

You don’t love. Right up to the very end.

 

THIS POEM SHRINKS FROM ITS TITLE

Image result for angel detail renaissance painting

This poem shrinks from its title.

The clamor elicited by vulgarity

Is not that different as when sad beauty

Looks sadly away in the sight of your rival.

A poem, written by the lonely and free

Is not to be trusted, even when it’s me.

I have to check myself. I called my poem

A name so vulgar and disgusting, I took

The wise step of changing it. The book

Should never be ashamed of its author.

Things people say about my book

Should be nice. Look no further

Than this. Here she is. Take a look.

They say one shouldn’t write poems

On poems. Blame her, that now a title

Of a poem is the topic of a poem.

Look, Tom. Isn’t she beautiful?

EXAGGERATION

Related image

You must know I’m not usually excitable,
But how long must I be calm and pleasantly glad?
I have read about love. It was sad.
The man paced outside the window. The woman
Covered her arms in folds of crimson and myrtle.
The tradition arrived every night this year.
Every woman attended. This is no exaggeration;
They crowded, they pushed ahead—even the dearest woman.
I affected learning. I thought this decision up in my own mind.
The poetry readings, seminars; failures in oak,
Scratches, graffiti, partly undressed tables, inside and outside the mind.
I affected poetry. It did no good. I was too calm;
I went on in hushed tones about my childhood;
Stood near her by the window, even laughed.
It wouldn’t do to repeat it now, even if I could.
There is a need to exaggerate, even without drama or poems,
To not flag, to make oneself happy; to pretend a woman’s figure
Will make one happy, and this is all a man needs.
Life is dull. We exaggerate. And so it proceeds.

THAT ADVICE DOES NOT PERTAIN TO ME

Image result for christmas in renaissance painting

That advice does not pertain to me.

I can hate and love at the same time.

I can hear in the wrong note the note that’s right.

The best thing language can do is rhyme.

Language can pun and law can be technical—

Use that, but don’t let it use you.

Let the day teach you patience in the night.

Never let minor things or second-hand things tell you what to do.

They say the best thing is to love yourself,

But that advice does not pertain to me.

My wretched lover did nothing but love herself.

God is one, stupid is two, and wisdom is three.

The popular oppositions are the ones you want to avoid.

Look for the reason. Otherwise you’ll only be annoyed.

The reason for the whole thing is both more, and the whole thing.

You can figure it out. Even love.

Look for those sad reasons, as you smile and sing.

 

 

 

NO EVIDENCE OF A CRIME IS EVIDENCE OF A COVER UP OF A CRIME

“point me to the man—I’ll find a crime.”

No evidence of a crime is evidence of a cover up of a crime.

Since you never said you hated me, this proves you hated me the whole time.

Since I suspected you of hating me, even as we kissed,

Now that you have reason to hate me, I must examine evidence I may have missed.

The poet cannot hear the deep state. Unofficially, official innocence is drowned.

Them have a mind which can read a mind to see where your betrayal is found.

You were guilty, even in the beginning, of hatred towards me,

I understand your hate, I do understand it—despite your love—retroactively.

And of course I suspect you, now, of even more crimes.

Love? Love? No. These are doubtful, suspicious times.

You don’t need a final image. Justice? I’ll show you how.

I’ve got her on the phone. Get out of my office. Now.

 

 

 

 

IN DECEMBER

Image result for sun low in sky winter

In December it is evening every day.
The horizon fog holds the sun from dream to dream,
And the dream of evening is where we stay.
Winter is for the wealthy, who go away.
The final, bending solar beam
Makes itself comfortable in the one dream,
Which we saw when night and summer welcomed in eternal day;
The glaring sunshine knew
Sorrow quickly, and things mourned were few.
I remember we rhymed December with remember.
The memory of one dark December
Is forgotten now, or I never knew.
I’d remember every December, and if I knew how, I’d remember you.
December’s dark streets and empty trees
Are lights and delights now for these.
Memory is a skill for the not so sorrowful who write:
A helpless, flaming purge against eternal night.

PERFECTION IMPERFECTLY SEEN

Image result for man reflected in store window

Perfection imperfectly seen

Might seem skinny, or fat, or in-between;

Perfection, imperfectly heard,

Might sound desperate, sweet, or absurd.

And a poem is ruined by an incorrect word.

Into the mirror goes the brave and iconic,

Convincing her to love—but it comes out as comic.

When I saw my reflection suddenly

In a city window, I knew it wasn’t me,

My slump, my visage, my mystery.

Is imperfection reality?

The imperfect tends to remind the heart

Imperfection will be at the end, if it existed at the start.

If you are paranoid when you fall in love,

Your paranoia will be greater in love.

Perfection imperfectly glimpsed

Will teach the sad to sadly convince

Himself that hope is an accident

And her love for him is not quite what she meant.

There is more trouble I never see

Than your face showed to me—

I remember how it spoke to me of my sorrow imperfectly.

 

 

 

 

INDIAN POETRY DECEMBER

Image result for india in december

December is here, and now Scarriet has looked at 77 Indian poets who write and publish in English, with one more month and seven more poets to go—84 in all, and what an illuminating exercise this has been!

Here’s what I learned and am learning. Indian poetry in English rivals Britain and the USA.  Let’s stop ignoring India.

Thanks, again, to Linda Ashok.

Now let’s look at this month’s poets:

Sharanya Manivannan is young (born in 1985) and writes of romantic episodes with feeling; the goal is: memories enhanced by tokens traced in the poetry become the reader’s. Wordsworth did this to wonderful effect with daffodils—the highest accomplishment of lyric poetry, in which Romantic pure feeling replaces poetry’s old task—history, scripture, satire—because the yellow flowers are both the memory and the reality; Wordsworth made sure reader and poet were on the same page; nothing gets in the way of daffodil fever.

The dilemma of describing a wonderful love affair is that the more wonderful it was, the more difficult (impossible) it is to describe. The love poet labors uphill; good Romantic poetry is  impossible. Classical, 19th century, Romantic poetry does not describe real love. Romantic poetry is a paradox, which is why no Modern has been able to replicate Keats, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, or Shelley. The Moderns somehow did not get it. Perhaps because they look to old poetry, centuries-old poetry, much older than the Romantics, which depicts wild and passionate love in all its forms, with wit and natural imagery. The difference is, the love of the 19th century Romantics belonged to imagination, not love. In successful 19th century Romantic poetry, love has to be in the poetry itself, not only remembered. The “remembered” is all poetry is—except for the occasional poetic genius. Wordsworth: “And then my heart with pleasure fills,/And dances with the daffodils.”

Manivannan is as close to the Romantics as any poet we have had the pleasure to read. Here is her poem, “Keeping the Change,” attempting to keep what is gone:

In the French Quarter I wrote you
love poems in yellow ochre,

unscrolled them like a trellis
of bougainvillea, paper
petals too intense to abandon,
too fragile to keep. How many
shots of thirty rupee citrus vodka
could we get for a ten dollar

bill? Everywhere you went you
told them to keep the change,

placing it palm-down back on
the table, so when I picked up

your hand to kiss it after, I
smelt metal on your skin.

I don’t know what you came
here looking for, but it
wasn’t in the cobblestone,
or in the rock-bordered

coastline, it wasn’t in the
prayer-dome or in anything
you filled those palms

with when I lifted those
dresses I bought on those
streets over my head,

needing you the way a vine
of thorns needs a spine.

And this much later, a
coffer in my memory still

rattles—your coins too
cheap to care for, too heavy
to carry.

But I have a weakness
for copper and weight, and

I have collected them all,
handfuls of ore and residue.
They function like paperweights,

burdening the wisps of things,
their threats to drift away.

This is a wonderful poem, even as it resembles, at moments, the slangy, breathless, love poem which has become a dreary cliche since Modernism made the informal everything.

But this is to say nothing—it is like saying 19th century masterpieces of poetry threaten to become too rhyme-y.  So what? An age has its idiosyncrasies, and it’s good to see Manivannan in her time rise above her time with this magnificent poem.

*

Priya Sarukkhai Chabria is a student of the love poem; the tanka (strong examples of medieval Japanese women’s poetry) classical Indian love poetry (explicit yet ornate, natural metaphors watching over human desire in poems bawdy or not). She tackles many old forms and stories and histories.  What I like is the attempt is Romantic—love and love beautifully remembered, whether it is considered moral, or not.

The challenge is the same. How does love live in the poem?  Perhaps the love cannot live in the poem?  Then how is the love poem interesting? What can the poor poem do, but be a lascivious peep hole of lost memory?

Sarukkhai Chabria, translator and scholar, as well as poet, has consciously tried to imitate the most passionate and witty love poetry of India’s past. She’s aware that speech, not just imagery, conveys the complexity of love in the most accessible yet intriguing sort of way:

She says to her girlfriend:

He said to me: Keep faith.
So I kept a stubborn faith in
him that grew
with every obstacle.
Swollen, taut, ready
I held this close within myself
feeling his absent presence
fill me full.

Suddenly—
this small spill,
for him a little thing.
His rapid pulling out of me
peels away my very skin.

I’m earthworm worming
in the red slush
open
to flaming skies.

Do we, the reader, want to be inside the very love of others? What do we make of her final image?  Does love poetry belong to the cheap and voyeuristic? How noble must the love be? What must we see? Not see?

These questions are answered if we return to the Romantics like Wordsworth. It isn’t about the love. It’s about the imagination. It is not a question of whether poetry should hold love at arm’s length, or not. The imagination is the filter, the authority, the judge, and the passion. This is why 19th century British Romanticism was a true renaissance of poetry—which the world neglects at its peril.

Sarukkhai Chabria is doing a good service by studying, translating and writing poems of love.

**

Ravi Shankar is a brilliant poet. If we can generalize, the best poets do five things well—1 use the language, 2 see, 3 feel, 4 think, and 5 manage the first four in a poem.

In poem after poem, the American poet Ravi Shankar, excels at all five. He prefers the loose sonnet form—four stanzas of three or four lines. He builds poems. Most poems are written. Shankar’s poems, like most we remember, are built.

No one would ever be foolhardy enough to say a poem must be this or that.

However, to reject completely the idea that a poem is something we recognize as a poem is to miss out, perhaps, on the secret.

We enter a house and recognize it as such—it is not a tunnel; it is not a field; it is not a forest. It is a house.

Shankar seems to have stumbled upon poem—and the result (of course poems and houses are infinite in their variety) is always poetry of the highest order.

“Buzzards” is a classic example—every word in the poem profits its neighbor, until the last startling phrase hugs the theme and crowns the whole.

Gregarious in hunger, a flock of twenty
turn circles like whorls of barbed wire,
no spot below flown over uncanvassed.

The closer to death the closer they come,
waiting on wings with keen impatient
perseverance, dark blades lying in wake

until age or wound has turned canter
into carcass or near enough for them
to swoop scrupulous in benediction,

land hissing, hopping, tearing, gorging,
no portion, save bone, too durable
to digest. What matters cannot remain.

“Contraction” is equally accomplished.

Honest self-scrutiny too easily mutinies,
mutates into false memories
Which find language a receptive host,
Boosted by boastful embellishments.

Self-esteem is raised on wobbly beams,
seeming seen as stuff enough
To fund the hedge of personality,
Though personally, I cannot forget

Whom I have met and somehow wronged,
wrung for a jot of fugitive juice,
Trading some ruse for a blot or two,
Labored to braid from transparent diction

Fiction, quick fix, quixotic fixation.
As the pulse of impulses
Drained through my veins, I tried to live
Twenty lives at once. Now one is plenty.

There are more Shankar poems like this: the language Shakespearean, the themes razor sharp, the expressiveness iconic.

It might as well be said. Ravi Shankar is at the top of the heap. There is no better poet living; we suspect a painful, heart-breaking, rueful quality prevents his work from being universally admired.

And another thing: we live in an age of social confusion.

The poem, in our time, which makes an impression on us like pigeons which wheel in a flock over our heads and come to a perfect rest on a church roof, is no longer the standard.

A dubious conversation of intense feeling we don’t quite understand, but puzzle over, is the model of the day.

Shankar’s poems are a product of these days, nonetheless; time will prove Shankar’s work to be excellent in every way it is possible to measure.

***

Abhay K, is like many Indian poets, an important compiler and translator, as well as a poet. He has published “100 Great Indian Poems,” most of them not originally in English.

He is also a diplomat. “Of Drugs and Drug Addicts” falls into the didactic category, but it’s an arresting and important poem, nonetheless, and is not without irony: the powerful “need help themselves” is as ironic as the very notion that the greatest addiction involves no apparent “addiction” at all. Power is a tricky concept; without power, we can’t effect good, either, yet all of us understand immediately the point which “Of Drugs and Drug Addicts” makes.

When we talk
of drugs and drug addicts,
we never talk of power,
the deadliest drug of all.

Cocaine, heroin or grass,
everyone knows,
are harmful for all,
and we have made them illegal
passing laws
but everyone craves power,
the deadliest drug of all.

Once tasted,
it surpasses the most addictive of drugs,
making a person mad,
numbing his senses
to the suffering and pain
of the millions
waiting in vain

for their deliverance
through these prophets insane,
power addicts, abusers,
who need help themselves.

****

Harnidh Kaur is in her mid-20s, and she’s what is loosely known as an “instagram poet,” with “followers,” if not “readers.” She voices concerns, which are called poems.  Enlarging the context of what poems are, and what they do, can be challenging, or so open-ended, poems no longer are.  But why should we care what poems are?  When context is “followers,” or “readers,” (the more, the better) perhaps democracy is enough to define poetry—so that we don’t need to define poetry at all.  The narrow definition of poetry by someone like Poe, for instance, can comfortably sit off to one side, and instagram poetry can do its thing. Everyone should be able to be happy.

did love seem like the scariest thing you ever did
because every time you tried to love
you made an unwanted political statement?

This is a good question.

Does it matter whether this is a poem, or not?

*****

Shalim Hussain is a political poet who hides his politics behind beautiful poetry, so that one wonders, is this poetry more beautiful because of the politics, and how can that be? We know beauty doesn’t allow her charms to be handled by others. She owns them, and will not permit their use for other ends. Politics, too, eager to be adorned by beauty, hasn’t got time for beauty, save as an adornment, for so much has to be explained. Politics is attached to history, religion, and all those things which requires scholarship and time.

Poetry which lends its voice to politics is dutiful in the extreme—it is anxious to be poetic, knowing there is too much to explain without metaphors and myths, and now there is so much work to do: myth, metaphor, politics will overwhelm and confuse, if the poet is not expert in sorting it all out.

I love the lines in this poem—“His downy heart bleeds over the bliss beneath” and many others are exquisite, delicate, first-rate. I love this poem—but honestly, it is difficult to know exactly what is happening—and the explanation at the end is not poetry, but an explanation.

The topic and the lines are so beautiful, however, that we’ll take it.

Witness the beauty of Hussain’s poem:

Dighalipukhuri*

One claw on a bar,
and the crow
lifts the other to his lips
and blows the day’s first puff.
His view races the smoke through the fencing,
conductors spank their buses on-
“Dighalipukhuri. Dighalipukhuri.”

Long pond.

He stares at a chirping he can never touch,
at entwined buds,
and pigeons floating together in air bubbles,
and lovebirds in love rows,
their heads under their wings.
His downy heart bleeds over the bliss beneath.

At home his vulture
awaits him,
the spear in her hair and
a carcass in her beak.

Here he makes his day long,
sometimes swoops down and scoops up a
beakful of love from the face
Dighali.
Love the blushes of hyacinths
skimmed behind the boats.
The trees smell of Duryodhana’s incense
and Bhanumati’s anklets still tinkle beneath the paddle-boats,
her tumeric and potfuls of milk
and wedding tears
and a few thousand years of love.

He will return to blow the night’s last mists.

(*Dighalipukhuri, literally, ‘long pond,’ situated in Guwahati is an ancient pond frequented by lovers. It is connected by an underground tunnel to the river Brahmaputra and was supposedly dug for Duryodhana and Bhagadatta’s daughter Bhanumati’s wedding bath.)

******

Jerry Pinto is a novelist as well as a poet—which is often a hopeful sign to some; they cannot help but think, ‘A novelist! A good chance the poetry won’t be bullshit.’ But others may worry, ‘A novelist! Treason may be lurking! Not a real poet, perhaps!’ Neither of these positions are at all fair. Let’s thrust aside these predjudices, and read the following with an open mind.

Prayer

Lord of the linear narrative,
Show me the point at which I should begin.
Stop me when I have said as much as I should.
Regulate my voice, I boom too much
And my whispers are shrill.
Feed me words on those long, slow afternoons.
Allow me the grace of serendipity—
To find lost continents on my tongue.
Give me the gift of silence,
And then set me adrift.

*******

Seven more remarkable poets for this December installment!

We’ll see you in January!

 

WHAT IF I WANT TO THINK ABOUT IT THAT WAY

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What if I want to think about it that way?

That you said this, or that, just to see what I would say?

That you had one talent, and it was this:

You kept secrets from kiss to kiss;

You never told me what I wanted to know

Even when we were intimate. What a show.

You sold more tickets to me

Than I could buy; my frugality,

My philosophy, my gallantry,

Paced for hours outside the tent,

In agony. And then in I went.

You were the one I wanted,

Because you were the one I wanted,

And you made it like it was no big deal.

You understood perfectly

How profound the philosophy

That says knowing wants what it wants,

More than anything that is real.

 

YOU SHOULDN’T BE HAPPY

Image result for crucifixion renaissance painting detail

You shouldn’t be happy,

And yet somehow you’re happier than me.

And now you hope I’ll make you happy. We’ll see.

I know the stupid are sometimes happy,

But I can’t make myself stupid. I’ve seen. I see.

This could be a huge mistake. Expecting happiness from me.

You seem to have what you want. And God! you write poetry.

Life should crush your type. And yet you’re happy.

Maybe I’m bitter—but I have the right to be.

I’m realistic. I’m not a dork who writes poetry.

Life has been a real shit show for me.

I think your luck is about to end. I see

You gave me a card and wrote me a poem. Really?

 

 

 

 

YOU CANNOT SAY WHAT YOU DIDN’T LOVE

You cannot say what you didn’t love.

When all is gone and only this poem is left,

How will it help if this, too, is bereft?

All is gone. So let this speak of love.

It was love you wanted. You know

Inquisitions always lead to lies

And fast love hates love that’s slow.

But now that you have lived, the same living dies

That made you live. If you love

A poem, that poem must speak of love.

Now let me tell this poem to do

What cannot be done. Love you.

 

SHE CHEATED ON ME

Image result for movie audiences

She cheated on me. In the movie—

Not in the book—the loving pages

Lovers of literature will always preserve.

Editors and publishers’ wages

Will forever cherish our love.

Lovers of love will make our book theirs.

If you fall prey to the movie, you get what you deserve.

The producer of the film wanted the film to reflect

His soul—not a beautiful one, with all due respect.

The soundtrack was popular, and the movie sold.

Our serene love would have left audiences cold.

The Oscar award which everyone prizes,

Was pinned on the actor twisting in his surprises.

But read the book. It opens with the following:

“One day I saw a woman wearing a T-shirt

With one word in large letters—

Maybe it was stupid, or maybe it wasn’t that bad,

But why did it seem inevitable

That she—wearing a shirt with the word, SOUL—turned out to be sad?”

 

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