SNOW IS WARM IN CALIFORNIA

Snow is warm, the scientists agree;

But if I explain this, would it be poetry?

“Winter kept us warm” is from T.S. Eliot,

But The Waste Land does not say a lot.

Don’t let the footnotes fool you; a show

Of learning isn’t learning. Can I explain? Snow

Is water vapor, and water vapor is the true

Greenhouse effect, not CO2.

Snow, therefore, is warm; what Eliot meant

Was emotional; he wasn’t of a scientific bent—

Oh but he was. He kept it mostly hidden;

The tradition he inherited was: poetry comes to one unbidden,

In a romantic shower of rain

As spring hurtles itself along the small English plain

Where the gray mist shows gray trees dripping

Outside a vine covered window where Aldous Huxley is tripping,

As he dies, but tries to live inside LSD;

Look through the window; you’ll see lots of poetry:

Wrinkled, clutching, hands, and a man about to go

Into a sweet afterlife of warm snow.

 

WHAT IS ROMANTICISM? MORE THAN YOU THINK.

Romanticism is the attempt to bring what is important in life into poetry.

It is about love and romance only indirectly.

Take the following poem. The author is Edmund Waller, imprisoned for a year in the Tower of London for a political plot; born in 1606, he does not belong to the group of 19th century poets known as “the Romantics,” advertised as rebelling against 17th and 18th century poetry. The poem, however, is pure Romanticism—the much anthologized “Go, Lovely Rose:”

Go, lovely rose!

Tell her that wastes her time and me

That now she knows

When I remember her to thee,

How sweet and fair she  seems to be.

*

Tell her that’s young,

And shuns to have her graces spied,

That hadst thou sprung

In deserts where no men abide,

Thou must have uncommended died.

*

Small is the worth

Of beauty from the light retired;

Bid her come forth,

Suffer herself to be desired,

And not blush so to be admired.

*

Then die, that she

The common fate of all things rare

May read in thee;

How small a part of time they share,

That are so wondrous sweet and fair!

~~~

In examining this poem, we need to recognize some important things which will be missed if we merely list its formal properties—the worst way, obviously, to understand the essence of anything.

Facts defeat the fact, and this is why Socrates belongs to poetry’s wisdom more than Aristotle.

Moderns will be put off immediately by “Go, lovely rose!” But this is to fall into the error just mentioned—the facts cloud the fact.

“Go, lovely rose!” is, in its essence, a fact which eclipses the facts.

The facts are these: Poems say “Go, lovely rose!” but people, especially people today, do not.

The sounds of “go” and “lovely” and “rose” placed together are no accident, and therefore contrived, therefore limiting, and therefore insincere. It is a person speaking through a poem, and not a poem speaking as a person. So say the scholars, with their facts, today.

The facts of “Go, lovely rose!” point to technique—forced resemblances viewed throughout the poem, a damning list of rhythms and rhymes.

But the mystery is this. The following, too, is from another 17th century poet, James Shirley, from his book, Poems, published in 1646—when poets called their books “poems,” since this is what everyone happily understood them to be:

Within their buds let roses sleep,

And virgin lilies on their stem,

Till sighs from lovers glide and creep

Into their leaves to open them.

(from “The Garden”)

The facts, here, point to poetic language, too—sound similarities of great beauty. The rhythm of “into their leaves to open them” is exquisite. Whole libraries of 21st century poems don’t contain poetry like this.

Romanticism, as generally understood, began with Wordsworth’s revolutionary decree that poetry should speak as people do; but looking back, this is confusing, because Wordsworth’s poetry has much more in common with the 17th century poets than with poets of the 20th century.

OK, the scholars admit, Wordsworth said it, but didn’t do it; that came later.

And since poetry of the moderns established itself in the universities, as poets in the 20th century began to teach creative writing, poetry gained an educated sheen surpassing even the 17th century bards (think of Eliot’s footnotes, etc) before poetry finally succumbed to Wordsworth’s homely advice—in the far looser, award winning, efforts published under the name of “poetry” today.

So again, what is Romanticism?

Is Romanticism finally rhyming about flowers?

And if so, how can such a narrow definition even concern us today?

Well, here’s the fact that defeats the fact.

Romantic poetry is poetry which imitates life.

Modern poetry has only an accidental connection to life—for modern poetry is an activity in which self-expression is primary; and the individual, to be an individual, owes nothing to life—within any framed expression (poem) of an individual as an individual. Life, here, is meant in the sense in which it is always meant—life for everybody, and not for the individual. Not everyone is romantic. But life is romantic. Life is a set of conditions which furthers itself. Just as romantic conditions are necessary for romance, so the romantic poem is a set of conditions for romantic responses. The conditions created by romantic poems—beauty, the awareness that beauty quickly dies—are therefore sincere; they reflect life.

The connection between life and poetry is important. Why? Because we have seen, in the last 100 years or so, how poetry can get away with all kinds of shit—and this is one of the things we moderns admire about poetry: it can do whatever the hell it wants. It can be disorderly, and be simply for itself, and not a condition for anything. It can raise its voice. It can be vulgar. It can attempt to frighten, or shock. And it pretty much does this all the time now, even in, and especially in, the academically lauded sphere.

Once license becomes licensed, license tends to become all there is. And nothing will be protected once license is king, except license, since license is the end of all activity qua activity. Poetry is an activity. Life, which completely surrounds us, is not. The moderns are acutely aware of how efficient, modernized existence is a nexus of supporting activities—oil drilling is an activity which supports driving cars, and driving is an activity which supports commuting to work. Protesting oil drilling is also an activity, caught in the great activity nexus, a corrective response to oil drilling—and the correction itself is an activity. Education is an activity which carefully separates itself out into other activities, and one of these activities is poetry. And so on.

The activity, separated out from life, becomes, by the further activity of advertising in the modern world, an activity which is an end in itself. Advertisements for automobiles do not include scenes of cars being driven to work, or for errands—though this is what automobiles are mostly for; no, the advertisements always show driving as a beautiful and exciting activity, reveling in the self-contained activity of driving itself. This is how the advertising industry (the new poetry) depicts driving. Advertising, like any other activity, is not life.

Poetry, then, or modern poetry, is an activity, and known, and defended as such, as an activity which is for itself, just like any virtuous activity, such as driving, of which modern society tacitly approves. It is not quite accurate, then, to say “poetry can get away with all kinds of shit.” Poetry is free, as a modern activity, to be free within its identity as the activity which defines it as a modern activity, supporting, in otherwise unrelated ways, other activities which comprise the modern world. Poetry is an educational activity which promotes linguistic self-expression, and just as a car in an advertisement is never depicted as a commuting tool stuck in traffic, poetry advertised as such by those who nurture its existence in the university, present poetry as an activity which seeks license for its activity: linguistic self-expression in the free and experimental mode. The poetry is not “doing whatever it wants,” but is free in a different manner. It is by the approved nature of its activity qua activity, defined as self-expression in words, practiced experimentally and freely, that it can do anything at all. And since within this framework, it pursues license as an end in itself—which all activities, as advertised, do, and since license always promotes more license, poetry has become increasingly disorderly, since only life is truly conditional and contingent in a manner which requires order (intra-semblance) as a necessity.

Poetry today is highly disordered. It no longer has specific conditions, because this would get in the way of its hard-earned freedom. Romantic poetry, however, is a condition, and this is the whole point of Romantic poetry, and why it does not resemble license-seeking modern poetry.

I don’t like disorderly poetry.

Even if its disorderliness allows it to be about anything it wants.

Orderly and comely poetry is the effect which literary Romanticism promotes, and this orderly condition, like a pleasant bedroom with a fireplace, this atmosphere (merely atmosphere to the modern reader who is quick to find overt romanticism superficial) belongs to the very process which makes conditions infinitely multiply, which makes romantic poetry a reflection of life—due to that very conditionality.

I like beautiful lines of poetry intentionally made, thus made with greater frequency than in colloquial poetry, in which poetic lines emerge accidentally from the prose—and I read entire books recently published in which not one line of poetry can be found, so dense is the book with the honest and colloquial prose of self-expression.

But the Romanticsm we are seeking in this essay is not merely what might be called the sonorous, superficial beauty of “Go, lovely rose!” Once we reject license in self-expression, which includes the commandment to sound how “real” people talk, as the primary criterion of poetry, the poem is now, ironically, free to imitate life, with all its contingencies, with greater facility.

Life, after all, continually alters things, enforces things, and imposes conditions, from without, on what we are doing; it isn’t Waller, then, who artificially approves of “Go, lovely rose!” Life  demands it; Waller isn’t permitted to speak colloquially (though he could) because a higher end is demanded—and higher ends are hidden within the conditions necessary to life. The concision of the poem’s opening, the lovely concision of its drama, like a simple pawn move in chess, operates beyond self-expression and towards conditionality itself. In order for the poet to speak, he sends “a lovely rose” to speak for him. The single word, “rose,” becomes a character in a drama. Self-expression, by any means possible, is replaced by a concise imitation of life, by any means possible. The poem’s message is enforced by the poet telling the rose what to say to his potential beloved. Waller is not expressing himself. He is writing a poem. “Go, lovely, rose!” achieves three things quickly and simultaneously; the swift expression of: beauty, drama, and theme. Mathematical expression annihilates self-expression. Romanticism is not the point at all. Conditionality is. The wooed, in every instance, must be won. The poet is presenting the example of the rose to the reader, by comparing rose and beloved; the alacrity of the expression itself matches the urgency of the message: beauty (rose, person) fades. One aspect of the poem is necessitated by other aspects of the poem, and all of these aspects are dependent on life, or wisdom about life, which gives rise to the poem as poem.

To illustrate Romantisicm from another angle, let’s look at its typical pejorative treatment by a 20th century critic: Delmore Schwartz on the romantic Yeats.

“…some of Yeats’s poems are full of a wisdom which must commend itself to and convince every man, Buddhist to Seventh Day Adventist. The second part of “A Dialogue of Self and Soul” is a passage the equal of Dante and Shakespeare at their best. But in general, the point of view of Yeats’s verse is romantic in its assumptions and its conclusions.”

Note the assumption that “romantic” is bad, while the authors who gave the world Beatrice, Juliet, and Ophelia are held aloft as the highest standard.

Schwartz continues:

“Even when he sees and understands much more than the romantic poet, the lurid glow of romanticism nevertheless hangs over the scene.” …

“An easy instance is such a poem as “The Scholars.” These academic figures, bald-headed, coughing and respectable, would be dumbfounded, the poet suggests, if they met Catullus or the other poets whom they edit and annotate, making a learned text of the lines

“That young men, tossing on their beds,

Rhymed out in love’s despair

To flatter beauty’s ear”

“How utterly banal a view! No doubt, some scholars are worthy of contempt for the reasons advanced by the poet. It is not a question of the character of the scholar, past or present, nor is it necessary to suppose that scholars are handsome and heroic figures. What one finds essentially wrong here is the romantic triteness and stupidity of the attitude, the implied contempt for learning because it is painstaking and not spontaneous, the schoolboy’s view of the absentminded professor, and the Bohemian’s notion of academicism: ‘All (that is, all the scholars) think what other people think,’ Yeats wrote, thinking what other people think.”

—Delmore Schwartz, “An Unwritten Book,” from Selected Essays; originally published 1942, The Southern Review

Schwartz, the Modernist, thinks of scholars as contributing to an important and valued activity, complete and worthy in itself. He concedes there might be some inferior scholars, as Yeats depicts them, but not all of them can possibly be that way—otherwise the “activity” of scholarship would be invalid, which, as Schwartz understands it, is impossible.  But when Socrates said he could not automatically transfer his wisdom to another person who happened to sit down beside him, the Athenian did not mean some, he meant all. The romantic poet, according to “The Scholars,” owes his poetry to desire, not scholarship—the former writes the poem; the latter merely edits it.

The “spontaneous” is the immediacy of beauty, the glory of unhindered free speech, the brevity of wit, the quickness and certainty of love, the leap of understanding (eureka) by the  scientist, and yet this term is the object of Schwartz’s scorn; the “painstaking” is a scholarly virtue, for Schwartz, attempting at a young age to please his New Critic masters, as he calls Yeats’ theme “trite” and “stupid.”

Here’s the thing. The “activity” is always “painstaking,” and sometimes evil, whereas romanticism never is. Schwartz, a brilliant short story writer, poet, and critic, currently enjoying a revival thanks to Ben Mazer and others, is nevertheless wrong in this instance, poisoned by the Modernism of his time.

It is true that the “painstaking” is often for the good—laying transatlantic cable, Mozart hand-writing his music, etc—but life in poetry is always a good, while any painstaking activity, weighed in the balance, is always, in itself, bad. “The Scholars” is a great poem.

The romantic poet participates in life, which includes love. The scholar belongs to an activity—which is different. This Schwartz view sees only a series of activities, with practitioners sometimes more, or sometimes less, skilled at the activity at hand. Romanticism is not an activity, however; it is life. Yeats does not say there should be no more scholars—there will always be scholars, just as there will always be cakes and ale.

Even as the occasional poet will avoid cakes and ale—and be the much better poet for it.

Life is finally the critic. Life is finally the poet.

Romanticism, a term which arose, in fact, as a subtle form of abuse by modernist scholars, happens to describe, quite often, the true poetic effect—which the painstaking, modernist scholar is unable to grasp.

Sometimes the light does not go on.

 

THE INTROVERT

Image result for two lovers on a walk in renaissance painting

There was a conversation I had—

Superficial when I laughed;

Sincere, when I was sad.

I’m thinking, where is this conversation going?

Why do I hang between ignorance and knowing?

I’m sorry I don’t understand the poem.

Why is life a conversation,

Suddenly in the middle, and never done?

Either I agree or disagree,

And then, after that, do I have to reply?

Why did I chuckle? Who am I?

Why is silence so uncomfortable?

I’m not forthcoming. Shame makes me dull.

I didn’t pick this conversation. I never do.

Otherwise it feels like someone’s coming after you.

People are great! But I hate these halting talks,

And the wordy observations we make on our walks.

If you only knew how I hate this. The full

Rot of it all. Rosalinda? Hey. Are you comfortable?

 

THE LIE OF NOW

Image result for shakespeare's sonnets the young man in renaissance painting

The lie of now

Is my truth against the grave.

The truth is what will happen.

So now can lie, and save

Everything. It doesn’t matter how,

Or whether I’ll be happy. I am happy now.

I won’t be happy then, and the proof

Is what we know of death, and what we learn of truth.

Don’t dismiss my folly so fast;

The untruth of now is better than the past,

Which is so true,

It includes me, and kissing, and you.

But the future is completely wrong:

No you, no kissing, no song.

Nothing. Yet completely true.

So kiss me, now. Now is all I know of you.

 

WHY DID YOU SIGH

Image result for ancient statue in renaissance painting

Why did you sigh?

Perhaps this is why:

You will always be

Someone else’s subjectivity.

We are trapped in the cutting net of ourselves.

You cannot be private, or alone.

You never are. You are forever known

By another’s knowing.

You cannot arrive. Someone else is going.

You cannot love. Someone else is hating.

You cannot achieve. Someone else is waiting.

Your charity is futile, too.

In every sense, you are not you.

You are an object—never your own.

This is why you sigh. And cry. And groan!

Nothing is certain, but that you

Are not. The sighing and the groaning, too.

And so, this is why

I smile, when you sigh,

I laugh, when you stumble downward and cry.

I will fall, too,

The same, but far from you.

Oh yes, I hear your plea.

But my hearing is your fee;

You? You? You? Give everything to me.

SAYING IT WITHOUT SAYING IT

Image result for sleeplessness in painting

Saying it without saying it

Is the entire creed of the poet.

He will read you, slowly, Swinburne,

Or Wordsworth. To love? Or learn?

He wants you to live beside

His verses of inspiration; the fertile ground

Where, together, you and he may hide,

Greenery shaped to your desires—

Whether it is wet, or steep, or round.

The poet announces when the poem is over;

He says when the inspiration quits;

He loves you almost as much as he loves other poets.

A poem keeps reading him.

A semi-colon keeps him up.

A poem has the night figured out;

It knows every moment. Though sleepless and full of doubt.

He failed to say whether he would be

Able to live with you. Read his poetry;

There you might hear

Of pearl and white; that was a tear;

He didn’t say; he didn’t say;

He failed; it’s true—he loved you entirely.

And aren’t you a poet, too?  Don’t we cry, “I didn’t love them enough?”

Why can’t you say it? “I love! I love!”

 

THE ATTEMPT TO OWN

Image result for man reading the newspaper in painting

The attempt to own the things we see

Is impossible. It was easier to own me.

All you had to do was fall in love—and be

Everything that I might call my poetry.

Now I register everything you do,

Even faintly, by a rumor, but it’s you; it’s you:

In things I read about—we no longer talk,

In things I remember—we no longer walk

Side by side; in things—is that really you,

Doing, I hear, what I know you never used to do?

You are changing for the better, you

Own me. It’s nearly nothing. But you do.

 

 

WHEN YOU SEE SOMEONE WHO LOOKS HAPPY

Image result for woman laughing in black and white photo

When you see someone who looks happy

It is no proof they are happy.

You and I have been around long enough to know that.

Happiness is inarticulate and solemn as a cat.

Someone who makes a great deal of noise is not happy.

They are letting off steam. (But I wouldn’t tell them that.)

If you see someone with a chainsaw, who is trying to get things done,

Or a clerk, in a freezing mist, who insists he has to run,

You don’t think of happiness, or song.

Do you see that woman over there, the one who is laughing?

She loved me once.  Ask her if there is something wrong.

OREGON

Image result for oregon black and white photo

So you’re going to Oregon!

Rosalinda! Why is the one

Remaining—who says goodbye—

Always full of tears,

And the one who leaves for Oregon

The one who hasn’t cried in years?

Go to Oregon.

I don’t care. I’m not one

Who usually cries.

But Oregon? You caught me by surprise.

In the quaint Northeast I have my books.

Go then. Go to Oregon, with its mountain looks

And its colorful meadows, vast.

I still have my tears. I still have the past.

You will leave the mess

Of your other decisions, always saying yes,

Ignoring my no.

Okay. You never listened to me. Go.

I will put to bed every decision you made.

Enjoy the dark you love. I’ll enjoy my shade.

You have no family and friends there, you

Are just going. Go. I hate the going, too.

There you go. To Oregon, with your dry eye.

And of course! You don’t know. You don’t know why.

 

 

 

 

 

DANGER

Image result for sheep and dog in renaissance painting

Man’s best friend viciously attacks the stranger.

What you felt was love. Or was it danger?

Stand up for yourself until this ends.

The truth doesn’t matter. As long as you have friends.

The isolated tree is not really alone.

You, in bed. Your isolated groan.

One of many in your head, as you can’t sleep.

A comfort, I suppose, if your friends weep.

If they can’t do anything, are they friends?

Take this letter, give it to the boy

Who sings, and writes poetry, and guards the sheep.

Protection is the beginning of the ploy.

Is this defense? Or what it defends?

CINEMA AND POETRY: A REVIEW OF THE UNCOLLECTED DELMORE SCHWARTZ, BEN MAZER, EDITOR

Image result for DELMORE SCHWARTZ

I began to think about a whole lot of things as I was finishing Ben Mazer’s introduction to The Uncollected Delmore Schwartz, just published by Arrowsmith Press.

How does a poet exist in an unpublished, uncollected, or unnoticed state?

How much does the critical and editorial apparatus impact how society apprehends a poet?

Ben Mazer—and hopefully, very soon, many more—will be answering these questions as they pertain to the wonderful, but increasingly neglected writer, Delmore Schwartz (1913-1966).

I was thinking about the cinema, the modern poet as movie-lover, and how this might contribute to the “uncollected” reality of Delmore Schwartz—an author editors and publishers have never known quite what to do with.

Delmore Schwartz burst upon the world in 1937, by way of the Partisan Review crowd in New York City.

Ben Mazer, born in New York City, and raised in Cambridge (Delmore attended Harvard) and a splendid poet himself, is also a daring and sleuth-like editor: Mazer’s ‘Uncollected Schwartz” is a gem.

Mazer’s well-researched work features various genres: poem, story, essay, review, symposium memoir. Which is nice, because Schwartz excelled at them all.

But is this the problem of Delmore Schwartz’s reputation?  “Various genres?”

The poets America loves generally don’t get involved in other aspects of writing.

Where are the essays of W.S Merwin, the plays of Robert Frost, the criticism of Emily Dickinson, the novels of T.S. Eliot, the short stories of Ezra Pound?  No, somehow it diminishes the poet to not be, in terms of output, a poet.  The occasional essay on poetry is allowed, but that’s it.

Schwartz, the writer of variety, is like Poe, in this regard.

But even as Poe worked in, and even invented, or furthered, a number of genres, the 19th century Virginian—limited critically by the “macabre” label—stuck mostly to short pieces—and Poe mostly finished, thankfully, what he started; the single exception, a play.

Schwartz abandoned what seems like hundreds of writing projects.  A prodigy lauded early in his career, winning praise for a short story, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities,” Schwartz became bogged down in overly ambitious attempts at the long and unwieldy—a pity, for this modern talent should have followed Poe’s advice: the complexity of modernity requires brevity.

Schwartz didn’t use Poe as a guiding star. Both writers shared a certain quixotic arrogance; Poe obeyed form as a writer; Schwartz often did not, and ended up without an epidermis.

Looking back, Schwartz was best, by far, as a short story writer—as good as anyone in the 20th century—but his splendid efforts in this genre, strangely, seem to have only added to a literary reputation of promise followed by insanity, failure and waste.

No one, including Schwartz himself, wished Schwartz to be pegged as a writer of short fiction. The fiction world doesn’t always know what to do with poets, especially the ones who enter as poets first, fiction writers second. Had the order been reversed, Schwartz might have enjoyed a greater social stability.

Schwartz had two sides:

1. the doubtful, sentimental, highly emotional, poet

2. the crass, witty, profoundly wise, and pitiless, critic.

Fiction allowed these two sides to often mingle and shine.

Literary essays allowed Delmore Schwartz insights to peek out.  I’m not a big fan of High Modernism, but when Delmore writes on Stevens, Eliot, Auden, I feel a certain pride. Delmore’s intelligence as a critic is stunning.

Schwartz drowned in modernist self-pity, focused too much on the contemporary in his essays, and wasted too much time on long poems.

Otherwise, there was no stopping Mr. Delmore Schwartz.

One could argue Schwartz is a major poet. But poetry was a disturbing, and not really a friendly, medium for him.

The acerbic, joking, philosophy, the impatient, stuttering, thin-skinned, reflective, doubting, self-pity—all these things which the complex torrent of Delmore Schwartz was—freely articulated in poetry of the loose and modern manner, resulted more often than not, in opportunity by a genius missed.

The moderns who encouraged him were the “modern” moderns, the ones who turned their backs on Poe and everything before Rimbaud, and who liked the idea of residing in 1922 and nowhere else. The obscure heft of Joyce and Pound were unfortunately touchstones for New York City’s highly introspective genius, one who passionately saw through Pound, the person, and rejected him. Rimbaud began it all for the “modern” moderns, and so it’s not at all surprising Schwartz found himself, as a yet lauded and reputed poetic prodigy, hurrying into print a translation of Rimbaud, an imaginative English version of the Frenchman’s “Season in Hell”—almost universally ridiculed in the press for its translation errors; and as the bad reviews came in, the nervous prodigy’s honeymoon was over. Schwartz already had a personality that doubted. He didn’t universally like everyone, and he was not universally liked. When his reputation took a hit, it was pretty bad.

As we advance into the early middle of the 21st century, High Modernism is due for a hard look; well, at least it may help us understand and revive Delmore Schwartz.

Delmore’s survey of Wallace Stevens is the best thing, for my money, in Ben Mazer’s The Uncollected Delmore Schwartz. The mind of Delmore Schwartz is a treasure—without a doubt, this is the singular fact I have come away with in my recent acquaintance of the author who died at 52 alone, in a midtown Manhattan hotel.

Did cinema kill poetry? Schwartz’s guilty pleasure was going to the movies.

Poetry came apart, losing its lyric, leather-bound anthology, fireside, charm, somewhere in the middle of the 20th century, and for Schwartz this was always a good thing, because he belonged to his time, and he sums up the existence of Stevens as an “art for art’s sake” poet—almost ruefully, almost pejoratively—as due to “industrialism.”  The Wordsworthian whine, which didn’t stop with Modernism: the machine produces sorrow.

Stevens, according to Schwartz, is an “Art-man.” The poetry of Stevens smoothly and matter-of-factly occupies the museum, the concert hall, the ivory tower seminar room, the library, the poetry reading. Stevens is for Art, as opposed to the “life” of “disorder,” “presided over by the business man and the Philistine…”

Schwartz acknowledges the danger of this attitude, claiming it inhibited poets of the “Art-man” school in the late 19th century, but Delmore allows Stevens a triumph in it, for going, with a certain amount of intelligent self-consciousness, all in with it. Down with “industrialism.” Up with Wallace Stevens.

The reason cinema is so important for Delmore Schwartz—his break-out short story, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities,” literally takes place in a cinema as the protagonist watches a “movie” of his parents prior to his birth—is manifold.

Schwartz’s youth coincided with film taking its place as a form of entertainment and art—but which was it? Poetry was losing out to other distractions, and cinema was one.

Film was a guilty, time-wasting pleasure for a poet like Schwartz, but it was a vital connection to “philistine life,” too. Schwartz was not Stevens, and cinema was one central reason: poetry for Stevens was purely aesthetic; Schwartz belongs more to the news-reel voice-over, the screen play, the drama, realistic but flickering, the movie of the peanut-crunching crowd. The hard-nosed, factual, aspect of film represented an important antidote to Schwartz’s morbid, fatalist, autobiographical nature.

The fatalism of film—a memory captured, to never be escaped—seen through his autobiographical obsession—his family divorce drama seeps into almost everything he wrote—underpins his iconic story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.”

Fortunately, Schwartz cared too much about people (his writing is very social) to be overly distracted by the horrors of “industrialism.”

Schwartz, who deeply admired Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, had a love-hate relationship with all the art movements around him—with a stammering, clumsy, combative, social persona, mixing uneasily with his genius, he couldn’t be as intellectually independent as he should have been; his “connections” in the intellectual circles of the John Crowe Ransom’s Kenyon Review, the Partisan Review, and Harvard, where he met Laughlin, the editor of New Directions, were all important to him, more than he realized, or wanted to admit, and so the natural, original, impetuous, lonely greatness that was Schwartz kept trailing after the divided, humiliated, tortured, social animal that was Schwartz.  He unconsciously attempted to resolve this by uncritically admiring the aesthetic writings of his contemporaries (saving his critical energy for gossip towards them as individuals) and so the poet he was meant to be was colored, like the dyer’s hand, by much of the inferior work of his time.

His genius, in the fiction and the essays, mostly won out. In his poetry, it mostly did not. He absolutely nails Stevens in a manner which is fully sympathetic, but manages to diminish him, which is only proper, since Schwartz was, it seems to me, the wisest of his circle (a judgment I am well aware will not be taken seriously because  “High” Modernism is to this day, yet overrated, and due to the reputation of “crazy” Delmore Schwartz).

“A Note on the Nature of Art,” the second essay in Mazer’s collection, is first-rate in a perfectly logical manner; it patiently explains the difference between the “expressive” and the “critical-expressive” and doesn’t allow social reality to roll over aesthetic reality, which it will do, unless the critic is familiar with Aristotle and common sense—which Delmore happily was.

The essays are 30 pages of the book; putting aside the poems, of which there are 15 pages—the best one, I think, is “Sonnet,” published in 1950 in the Kenyon Review—we have an excellent 20 page story, and a 5 page memory on his Jewishness, also good; the essays occupy the bulk of what is excellent, as well as the story and the small prose memoir, proving once again, at least for me, that we should not look to Schwartz’s poetry as the best example of his work.

For me, as way of quick example, “the worms of fear spread veined” and “but the elation and celebration of the motions/of energy everywhere,” from two different poems, reside as things scattered on the surface; these quotes don’t feel integrated wholly into their poems—too much of his poetry features interesting parts which are not quite fused; there is a unconnected quality which I don’t meet in the prose, and which curtails my enjoyment of the verse. The longer poem, “Dr. Levy,” which Mazer cites for especial praise in his introduction, has emotional sincerity, but it feels more like a short play of not-quite-realized profundity, than a truly realized poem.

True, some of the poems in this volume are high school poems—ironically, there is one on Poe.  Schwartz didn’t care for him.  In his introduction to his long, prose poem, Genesis, Schwartz says he will write like a modern; he will not write like Swinburne—which of course means Poe.

The story in the volume, “An Argument in 1934” is wonderful; the lucid presentation of three, young, intellectual friends, interacting socially, is sensitive, highly observant, and subtle, without being busy or overbearing, and the theme: realism triumphing over the intellectually abstract, is expressed through both dialogue and action in a clear and poignant manner.

This review is not meant to devalue Schwartz as a poet; I just think his fiction is superlative. Profound. Funny. Timeless.

And this is good news: Ben Mazer is set to edit more Delmore Schwartz—the Collected Poems has been green-lighted by FSG, which is very exciting, indeed.

Hopefully “The Uncollected Delmore Schwartz” will be the start of a Delmore Renaissance.

I’ll close by quoting “Under Forty” from a symposium published by the Contemporary Jewish Record:

The contrast between the authority of the public school teachers and the weakness of the Hebrew school teacher is one which makes the child wonder what reason can justify the emphasis upon Jewishness. I remember my own extreme admiration for the rabbi who spoke to us on Sundays. It seemed to me that he could prove or disprove anything, and that he could find profound meaning in any story or incident. But I took this to be a personal gift; he was a very wise man; he seemed more intelligent than any of the teachers in public school. But then I merely wondered why he limited himself to what we then called temple, and I had no way of knowing that his dialectical and interpretative skills were an inheritance.

 

*******

The Scarriet editors, Salem MA 11/14/19

 

SHOULD POETRY BE INSPIRED BY POETRY THAT DIES

Image result for white sands of arabia

Should poetry be inspired by poetry that dies?

By a black burden on a page, just because it cries?

In a trivial moment I became permanent

To you. All art is the art of surprise.

The composer sought symmetry

In such an outward manner, the Jew

Who looks inward nearly despaired.

Mozart is Arab in his outward look.

The extrovert who loves is never prepared.

What you read in a book may change

Your world view in such a way

You will contemplate white sands all day.

You may dimly feel what dimly comes next.

You may lose your temper at a party.

And stay. But still feel cheated out of sex.

It doesn’t matter. The genius won’t sit still

For anything. And you will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MOTHERHOOD

Image result for mary and jesus in renaissance painting

Motherhood would not be possible

If a woman always and only loved her man.

She doesn’t love you.

Find another. Do what you can.

Sacred motherhood, when the quiet, placid woman

Is filled with the tender love of her child,

Is the last flower you pick, the last flower which grows in the wild.

Life is a monologue; you have one opinion, not your own.

Dramas and fictions convince you two

Are talking. But no. It’s only you.

The more you agree, the more you feel alone.

There are never two talking. We speak to ourselves.

This is loneliness. The insight into hell.

Unless you are a woman who doesn’t want a man.

Then you are doing very well.

I DON’T KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN NOW

Image result for mirror in renaissance painting

I believe, because I see

The mirror, and in it, my beauty,

I need to act a certain way,

And that’s because of what the mirror shows me every day.

Sometimes I excuse myself and go

To seek a good mirror, a mirror in private.

Why I do this, I don’t know.

My beauty pleases me in private,

And when someone from the crowd

Stares at me, in a place where privacy is not allowed,

So that their stare becomes, for me, a mirror, in fact,

I find myself attracted by their lack of tact,

And then, at once, I carefully teach myself how

To repay them. My poems have always lacked

A way to see and believe. How

Can words presently believe, and see,

The embarrassing, private, fact of my beauty?

My poems are only involved with knowing,

Not seeing, but only knowing what will be,

Because to know the future is the only way to know how.

But since you looked at me,

With the beauty of your being, glowing,

I don’t know what will happen now.

 

 

WHEN, IN SLEEP, THE UNLUCKY FEW

Image result for waking from sleep in renaissance painting

When, in sleep, the unlucky few, share everything,

Nothing is theirs. Their waking is like poetry.

Too late for them to say what they really mean.

They shared their agony in pleasurable dreams,

Saying aloud what should not be said aloud.

To the children, this was wrong. The dreams’ authorship

Had no business being anything to them.

As if evangelicals were princes of dreams,

In sleep, things came to light in words.

There was a great noise in those dreams—

A talking congregation of what had migrated before—

What would have to go into the poem as “birds”—

They told them—and by announcing to them—

And deep in sleep, this was naturally unwise—

They loved her! They loved her!—

They heard what they should not have heard,

And their poetry, too, was defeated, too late to revise.

Her name was the poem,

Her name, the confession and the word.

 

THE GREATEST HATE

Image result for lit tents at night

Too much love—then we merely like.

Too much hate—then we dismiss—

The greatest love and the greatest hate

Are when these two have equal weight—

Then we die. Suffer. Kiss.

The greatest hate is mixed with love;

Love is sweeter, mixed with hate.

The doubt you feel when she makes you wait

Is a feeling made from love and hate.

Romance suffers. Then she relents.

And all perfumed, kind love erects its lighted tents.

Love needs hate for strength,

But one devours the other, at length.

Without hate, love’s passion dies.

Without love, hate lacks suspense and surprise.

The greatest kiss, with tongue and teeth,

Brushes what’s above, and dines on what’s beneath.

Hate me. Watch as I destroy the math,

The illogical hell which heats the bath.

I’ll love you if love has time

Tomorrow to love when it throws away this rhyme.

 

 

 

SLEEP, WHICH I REJOICE IN

Image result for sleep in renaissance painting

Sleep, which I rejoice in,

Is, I realize, not my friend.

Having slept when you walked by—

I’m now awake. And cry.

I miss you—so much.

What is sleep’s, compared to your touch?

What is sleep’s gigantic mouth

Compared to yours, the warm, wet south—

Which tickles me in your green, informing weather—

Life—our consciousness of our being together?

Asleep to love,

I miss being awake to love,

The state when I see you, and you see me,

The absence of which, is why I write my poetry.

I sleep angelically, to avoid sin,

But am assailed by dreams, which put me in

Hopeless, foggy, situations, where I miss,

Because of excuses and sleep, your trembling kiss.

I would sleep, to forget how much I cry

Thinking how I slept when you, half asleep yourself, walked by

On the way to—who ever knows?

Time loves us. But goes.

 

THE CUTE, NOT THE DOG

Image result for the dog in renaissance painting

The poem, not the man.

Can the word do more than the elephant can?

The picture, not the woman.

Do I want to look, or hear a sermon?

The beauty, not the person.

Your body loathes the person

Who thinks about you.

Your shape doesn’t know what to do.

The shape of your heart

Doesn’t love. Only the heart

Strives to ask, and loves the art

Of asking. There is a left handed

Way to walk. The foot demanded

Poetry. And left the poet stranded.

Iambic pentameter is alive.

Take a step. Count to five.

The only thing the picture does

Is make it possible, later on, to love.

Or I might love the picture now.

I won’t love you. I don’t know how.

 

A RHYME THAT’S RARE

Image result for telescope in painting

Crying the long tear

Because in my lung, a tear.

You should have been here.

There were three triangles on stage.

The show was for one precisely your age.

Up into the half light, I could see

The tiniest window in my poetry,

Which five scientists, around a telescope,

Having looked into, froze all scientific hope.

My poetry would not be studied, nor read.

The life seen on this particular star is dead.

Did you see me moving around?

Does this poem have sound?

I saw it. I saw Emily Dickinson there.

Not her. A poem and a rhyme that’s rare.

 

 

 

YOU’RE ONLY HAPPY IF THAT SAD DAY

Image result for sad Satie

You’re only happy if that sad day

Which made more sadness has gone away.

Because it’s gone, and because it was truly sad,

The happiness is, today seems glad.

Yesterday was sadder than today—

You, by comparison, are not as sad.

If you were sadder then, good news!

Sadness then is beautiful news!

Today, you’ll be able to hear the blues—

Chopin, Debussy, and sad Satie,

The music you listened to with me—

Today, you can hear it without crying,

Calm in the sadness you are feeling now,

Dreaming by the low blue valley now.

The love which hurt you—because I was lying,

Becomes, in the notes of our familiar song

The artificial sadness you felt all along

Because truth was yours, and I was wrong.

You can finally enjoy the saddest song

Like others, and the others who are strong

Make you strong, too,

The others who always seemed happier than you.

You were often sad—but never mad!

None could be as sad

As you—who loved, and because you loved, were gladder

Than all that now compares to something sadder.

Today you can listen to Satie

Though you once listened to him with me.

 

 

 

 

WHITE

Image result for ginger people south park

That “ginger” episode of South Park was hilarious.

Oh hello there. Welcome to my poem on the white race.

I knew a blonde guy with freckles, a boyish handsome face,

Who wanted to be Italian. He thought they

Looked better than him.  In leather, like Andrew Dice Clay.

He used to sarcastically call a young woman, “mom,”

Who was a single mother. She was darker than him. Maybe half Italian?

He used her living room table

For war games. Cotton balls as puffs of smoke. This ranks

Pretty high in my amusing memories. Models of German and Russian tanks.

He knew facts of the Eastern Front in World War Two

And was amazed, but chuckled about it, too.

It’s how a growing mind contemplates

Woe. It asks how this horror compared to that horror rates,

And laughs, even as it ravenously debates

The choices a young man must make,

As it has, then eats, then has, then eats its cake.

He pronounced “the crawling chaos” in scary tones and laughed,

Aware of how ridiculous it was to admire H.P. Lovecraft.

And this would go on in a drunken haze,

Jokes about H.P. Lovecraft amusing us for days.

Ich bin white. Hetero and white.

Therefore I speak from a frightening height.

We discussed King Crimson and Emerson.

The 20th century, in the kitchen, limped on.

Halloween and the World Series. Laundry. Then to the bar.

Later to a party. I felt pale, and wished I

Were more interested. A freckle on her thigh.

I was gentle, and listened to her

Describe Tom Augenthaler as a cur.

Who was she? What was going to happen?

We can’t all be failures by gradual degrees.

Some fall. Some open a box. And remove mighty armies.

Going back to the beginning of time

I imagine every race indulged in sin.

(The air up here is thin.

Poetry slowly invades my skin.)

He left Wall Street. History and similitude

Are how we, who inherit the world,

Laugh. We laugh, and lose the world.

 

 

THE LOVE SONG OF THE CEO ENVIRONMENTALIST

 

To make oil more valuable, the oil men

Pretended oil supplies were doomed.

So business and scarcity together,

Like honored, chaste love, in the 20th century, bloomed.

Oil, as plentiful as water, was the new gold.

Since oil isn’t really rare,

The suppliers and their allies had to scare

The public, to whom all that oil was sold.

Just as you did. Darling, every day

You made it clear: you would take your love away.

Your delightul supply

Was limited, pushing up my demand;

Love streamed freely into my eye,

But yours was the blinding sand

Which made my philosophy die.

I formed a picture of you in the street,

A hazy picture, aesthetic, and sweet

Which people in my mind traversed.

Like Rockefeller, you got me. I was the poet, cursed,

To bring you homage, anxiety, and tears.

The marketplace of the heart made you rich in those years.

You carried out your threat. Your price rose.

Romance kissed. But supplies froze.

I gave you all I had, but could not afford

To stay with you, my beautiful landlord.

There is no art, Baudelaire. There is no derangement.

Poetry and love is a business arrangement.

The greatest aesthetic belongs to God.

Not the paintbrush, Baudelaire. The rod.

Innocents die in accidents. Is the Creator to blame?

The senators are silent. The price of oil is still the same.

 

HEROIC VULGARITY

Image result for moon in renaissance painting

The Raven was replaced by pigeons

In the picture above the entrance of the museum,

When it was decided in January of 1923,

From the moment we first read Wallace Stevens,

When modernism alerted us to society crashing around you and me,

What the horrific perspective of the Art-man told:

Society was menacing, and art had better be bold,

Navigating the irony of the mock heroic

In accents mocking the mockery,

So as not to be too disparaging of the sublime,

Considering in 1923 it was about damn time

For the industrial revolution to finally say

What exactly it was doing to banks and artists in the present day.

Hart Crane, as you know, was sick of it all,

Either writing The Bridge or jumping from the boat,

Which made us think of poetry that imitated Hemingway

Grabbing Gertrude Stein by the throat.

Cigarettes more available, and possibly the cinema, too,

Struck Delmore Schwartz as a meditative tool

For post-war social products and Marxist art—

Tossed into the verdant pool

Surrounding meditation itself, as well as the diseased and bloated heart.

John Crowe Ransom will no doubt have something to write

On this poem written on 1923, which I wrote after reading the Platonism of Schwartz last night.

Unless T.S. Eliot, who is me, goes ahead

And writes something on the matter, instead.

Ben Mazer, then, will find nothing to say.

He’ll just go. He’ll be down the stairs, cautious on the path, under the moon, and away.

 

 

 

POETRY CLIMBING INTO LOVE

Image result for moon in renaissance painting

The details don’t matter

Is what they say.

The band was crazy and just started doing things that way.

And people followed. Pitifully, because they followed.

The details don’t matter.

Think of everyone you love. Do you care about their details?

No, you just love them. The details don’t matter.

Oh but they do.

Now comes the part of the poem which turns; the theme becomes new.

(It changed—so it must true.)

Details matter a lot.

How complex, this rot.

How nuanced, this dying, which is all;

A dying which began when you were small.

Dying, so everything has to be done quickly.

Nothing can wait. The bad

And the good both happen fast

(Ahh that’s right. The past.)

So you aren’t sure if your luck

Is leading to some other disaster, or not,

Thinking and doing tied up in the rot

That is happening; you aren’t really thinking at all.

Your life, both fast and slow, the innumerable details which appall,

Don’t stop accumulating, they

Are the monster and the dribbling lagoon.

The poem’s middle ground is the moon.

“Do something, poem!” you cry,

Regretting and embracing the big goodbye,

As you paint the lean, abstract moon

With the regrets that must come soon—

In such a way that a poem’s art

Will recognize, hunt down, eat every juicy part.

You know what will be there in the end?

Strange laughter, coming from a strange friend;

The insults, the comforts, we doubt, (but like a dog—what do you want?) attend.

 

 

 

 

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