Art may be defined in the following way: an excellent example of excellence in the particular mode of that excellence.

Art is the example, the thing represented is the excellence.

Art is the borrower of excellence, but once that excellence is borrowed, the borrower becomes excellent, since excellence is purely excellent whether excellent in itself, or borrowed.

Because the thing is excellent, excellence exists, and therefore an excellent example must exist, whether an example par excellence is necessary, or not. Hierarchy exists, whether we want it to, or not.

The excellent example may be actual, or simply inferred as such.

For instance: The real and excellent example of a woman is excellent without any qualifications. A beautiful woman is not like a beautiful work of art; she is a beautiful work of art, given our incontrovertible definition above, and this is true without irony, and understood immediately, despite the fact that a woman par excellence shares countless physical attributes with other women.

Duchamp’s readymade art—the famous toilet, for instance, is art, also, because we infer that here is the best example of its kind—we do not know that it is the best factory-made toilet there is—but when it stands alone by itself, presented as an example, and we note a certain utilitarian beauty in its form, we give in to the general idea that here is an example par excellence—just as when we gaze, in reality, upon example la femme par excellence. Had we a real familiarity with the types of factory-made toilets, we might look at Duchamp’s piece and laugh: “That’s a poor example of a toilet! That’s not art!”

Warhol was actually spoofing Duchamp, not society, or the marketplace, or anything more profound, with his Brillo boxes and soup cans—no one could ever confuse Warhol’s ‘plain store item’ exhibit with an example par excellence—the only possible excellence is the beauty of the satire on Duchamp’s artificial trick, which featured a more mysterious, stand-alone object.

This is why Duchamp’s piece belongs to Modernism—art mocking the real—and Warhol’s to post-Modernsim: art mocking art, or more specifically, art mocking modern art that mocks.

In a democracy, we are all supposed to vote for the best people running for office. But the whole point of a democracy is that there are no “best” people; so we see the great dilemma. This is why a democracy is a necessary evil, thwarting excellence at every turn and creating art which looks like trash. In democracies, the artist makes art for the janitor—art that should be thrown out.

Duchamp (Modernist) made art of a factory piece, in which the example was inferred to be an excellent example of its (low) type. Warhol (Post-modernist) satirized this by presenting replicated examples (boxes, cans)—obviously not excellent. Post-post modernism seeks an even more iconic, primitive statement to escape this modernist chain of mockery—and so it arrives at what is essentially trash—but trash which cannot be thrown away by workers (janitors) who perform this important function within the institution. A hierarchy is established by the presentation of the lowest imaginable low (trash) which nonetheless is untouchable (janitors cannot touch it) because it “belongs” to the artist and curator, who are higher on the professional chain than the janitor. If this comes across as pathetic, it is; but let the reader attend any contemporary exhibition these days at a college or a museum, and see what is now passing as “art.” The janitors’ hands itch.

Preventing the janitor from doing his job, the “art” (trash) is displayed in a gallery and receives accolades, and no one is allowed to toss it. The Post-post artist re-positions himself outside democracy by frustrating the worker (janitor) and (symbolically) makes himself an “elite,” a person who is—excellent.

Capitalism and democracy are excellent examples of the ready-made and the throw-away, and it is easy to see this “excellence” in the culture, the politics, and art.




In the “Vanities” page of December’s issue, Diana Bang, a 33 year old unknown actress, is photographed in a white Gucci dress—she’s appearing in a new film with Seth Rogen and James Franco.

Also “Vanities” features this: “What your preferred greeting style says about you: Handshake, Hug, Kiss On the Cheek, Kiss on the Lips, Biting.” Of course no one prefers to do these things: custom is most of it, and secondly, it matters with whom, but it’s a whole lot more interesting if the focus—the essence of every Buzzfeed quiz—is on what “you” prefer. The “noted examples” add a touch of history: Handshake: Grant and Lee. Biting: Hughes and Plath. You at the center, with the famous all around. Intoxicating.

You are either famous, or contemplating the famous: what we know is not for any purpose; our knowledge merely shoots upward, like a rocket, into the atmosphere of fame and greatness, to never return. Or, if it does, it falls in our lap as a Gucci handbag.

“Fanfair and Fairground:” promotes envy in miniature: a half a dozen pages filled with holiday gift ideas in tiny photos (with prices) and nothing too small and inexpensive or too large and expensive is excluded: things the classy rich give to one another in a swirl of cigarette smoke and pine needle scent while sitting on big pillows on the veranda: oh we don’t know, we can hardly imagine it, we are not rich; but why should we indulge in this mockery and this envy? It is not fitting. These things are clever and beautiful; we should be pleased that the world has the time and knowledge to make these things; and the middle class can afford some of this.

It is difficult to fight off envy as we eye gift after gift we will never give or receive; it makes us ill to think of how much we will never have, of how many lovely things inhabit the world, of how impossible it is to grasp all that is good; it is why, we assume, that people reading these types of magazines always skim them, turning pages quickly and impatiently; to stop and truly examine, we would be overwhelmed. We would be stung by how really meager our existence is. Vanity Fair, thou hast shown me for who I am; thou hast blinded me; I am brought to my knees. Return me to my plain existence; don’t make me buy things I cannot afford. Don’t make me vain in vain.

New books!

Of such interest!

Tempting us with a title and one descriptive line! (Book review not needed!)

Biographies of the rich and famous!

Who are they, really?

Find out!

Find out!

Coffee table books!


“David Rockwell revels in the emotional side of architecture…”

Oh God!


The “emotional side of architecture!”

“…architecture, in the idea that buildings and parks, restaurants and hotels, museums and theaters, exist to stimulate our imaginations and, in the end, to make us happy. In What If...? The Architecture and Design of David Rockwell (Metropolis), he shows us how architecture—whether applied to a JetBlue terminal or a Nobu—is not so different from a stage set: it’s the special effects that make it work. Rockwell—whose firm is celebrating its 30th anniversary—is so good that he makes you wonder why everyone doesn’t admit that the secret ingredient of design is fantasy.”


Why didn’t we think of that!

“Fanfair: Hot Type” gives way to “Fanfair: Private Lives,” even more horrifying:

“Growing up surrounded by beauty—between a farm in Scotland and Christmases with their grandparents (the previous Duke of Devonshire and his wife, ‘Debo’) at the 297-room family seat, Chatsworth—sisters Isabel and Stella Tennant have turned to gilding the objects around them.”

Well, of course they have!

“In 2012, supermodel Stella happened to notice some sample panels with gilded lines on weathered mahogany propped up in her sister’s kitchen and wanted to make them into a lamp. ‘Before I knew it, she’d had oak bases made by a local carpenter,’ recalls Isabel, who studied decorative arts before becoming a gilder.”

Are you getting this? “Supermodel.” “Weathered mahogany.” “Before I knew it.” People of action. People who do things. Supermodels and weathered mahogany. Kill me. Now.

On the same page is “Heaven in a Handbag:” “The design came from Belgian Shoes, says Hayden Lasher of her eponymous handbag line. Like the classic slippers—brought to the States by her great-great-uncle Henri Bendel in 1956—Lasher’s bags are handmade in one style, offered in different colors, and embellished with the iconic Belgian bow.”

Diminished by a “Belgian bow.” Why am I living? Why do I go on living? Why?

“Fanfair: Hot Gifts:” “From haute roller skates [$1,200] and electric cars [$28,000] to African-made bags and Darth Vader toasters, an eclectic array of gifts for everyone on your holiday list…”

I’m in hell! A hell of gifts!

“Fairground” celebrates “the inaugural Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit, sponsored by Discovery Communications and presented in association with the Aspen Institute.” There is a full page photo: “Elon Musk arrived in his Model S Tesla before speaking…at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, in San Francisco, where the packed house included media moguls…and a myriad of innovative thinkers…” And pictures follow of famous and old smart and beautiful & young smart people.

We are mad with envy. This is worse than perfect pictures of still-young Angelina Jolie—her stare on the cover which says “you will never be as happy as me,”—who has no boobs.

It’s these royal farms in Scotland, these gift ideas, these gatherings of the innovative and the famous which finally brings us to our knees—we are made even more miserable because it makes us miserable—we accuse ourselves in an endless downward spiral of ineptitude and guilt because of the endless gilders and gifts and supermodels and dukes.

We continue to scan the ads:

Banana Republic: b&w photos of sweaters, rough wood.

Van Cleef & Arpels: flower diamond & ruby earrings. Why show off the earlobe? We don’t understand earrings. We just don’t.

Feria: L’Oreal Paris: hair color—“Red To Dye For”

Ralph Lauren: Polo Red. Scent needs to be subtle. Red? No. 

Those who wear too much cologne or perfume are more offensive than smokers. There are laws against smoking.

Giorgio Armani: A large pair of sunglasses which makes a woman look like an insect. Congratulations.

Longines: Kate Winslet with horse and watch: “Elegance is an attitude” It helps the attitude to have makeup crew and horse. Nice to know that Kate can tell you what time it is.

Lancôme: La vie est belle “The Fragrance of Happiness.” Julia Roberts and her famous smile, looking over her shoulder. That tiny mole underneath her eye! Like an old friend.

There are no breasts in the entire magazine. Women are either flat, or the models’ breasts are concealed. What does this mean?  Is it that Modern Life is anti-woman? Or is ‘no boobs’ considered dignified and respectable? Is the ‘no boobs’ position pro-woman?

All those famous Modern Artists (Warhol, Johns, etc) in the 1982 Odeon restaurant photo: males. The updated photo in VF with women: not one woman is famous. Is it that women love beauty and generosity—therefore they will never dominate the clever, scheming, severe line, hard-edge, intellectualized world of Modern (conceptual) art?

Next to a Cartier ad, Graydon Carter, in his “Editor’s Letter,” compares Jeff Bezos of Amazon to the mean Mr. Potter in Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life.

A funny interview with Amy Poehler at the end of the magazine: “What is the trait you most deplore in others? People who can’t read my mind.” Oh, if only we could.

In its “The 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair Poll,” VF reveals that Democrats believe “someone who is greedy” is “more likely to be successful,” while Republicans believe “someone who is selfless” is “more likely to be successful.” Honor reigns.

A spotlight on the actor playing Martin Luther King Jr. in Hollywood’s Selma reveals he is British! Hip hip hurray!

“The Publishing Dispute That Absolutely No One Is Talking About” is about an English magazine for old people who Americans have never heard of—a funny and sophisticated one that embraces the idea that the end is near, instead of sugar-coating it (as Americans tend to do).

“The World’s Most Driven Uber Customer” sizes up Uber, the phone app for wheels (when a taxi can’t be found) which is worth millions—and one thinks, why didn’t I think of that and how did these guys make millions so quickly with such an obvious idea, starting out with nearly nothing—but is never quite explained: how the rich get rich remaining elusive to the rest of us, even though it is made to look easy (it is about who you know, isn’t it?) in the insouciant style of Vanity Fair.



Academies once cultivated talent discovered in the few for the good of society—apprentices, born in poverty or not—started with talent.

Today, academies serve the opposite purpose—anyone willing to go into debt defines the art school: cultivating talent into genius (or genius into talent) is not the purpose at all; today’s academy instead is a sandbox that collects money; the child who hates science, math, people, and literature, a mere slob, but who fancies “art,” goes to “art” school.

This venture is loved by the Left, because it is democratic and gives every slob a chance, and loved by the Right because it makes money.

Thus today’s academy is fully supported politically despite being the most loathsome venture on earth.

Common sense no longer applies, for institutions and systems are administered on “agreement” between Leftist benevolence on one hand, and Rightist monetary gain, on the other.

What is good for society at large has no say: all that counts is that the exaggerated principles of the two parties see eye to eye: 1) Does it give every slob a chance? 2) Does it rob them, as well?

Liberal arts, writing, and art education is vanity—we “go to college” to impress family and friends with the phrase, “I am studying,” and great amounts of debt purchase this vanity.

Once there was one Hogarth in a million.  Now everyone is an Andy Warhol.



Kenneth Goldsmith: Not one concept in his head.

If you are really curious about beer, the expert will tell you there are only two kinds: ale and lager.

Likewise, there’s only two kinds of wine: red and white.

I can glance out my window right now and see the sunlight increasing as the clouds disperse, and then notice the artificial light over my desk steadily burning.

Neither the outside light nor the inside light are considered “art,” but what visual art does not take account of it?

We understand terms like the “art of beer” or the “art of wine,” even as we might say to ourselves, “Well, that’s not really art—maybe science…”

But the moment we tackle the “art of art,” we come up against that sort of learned confusion which may befuddle in a pleasant manner those seasoned and learned enough to enjoy such a thing, but which ultimately derails all true understanding.

The confusion is due largely to the great blurring between art and reality mentioned above: if the artificial light above my desk behaved more like the sun on a partly cloudy day, we might even call the constantly changing light emitted by the light bulb above my desk, “art,” just because of  the way the man-fashioned bulb above my desk cunningly copies nature’s changeable light.

This year’s Conceptualism hullabaloo, which happens to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Armory Show which brought modern art to America, is a debate forcing us to acknowledge what is nothing less than art’s most important idea since art began: imitation.

Both John Keats and Kenneth Goldsmith must confront this reality: Art is a pale representation of nature.

Goldsmith’s avant-garde solution is to focus entirely on “representation.”

Conceptualism, in Goldsmith’s case, or in the case of Warhol/Duchamp’s found objects, is a terrible misnomer.

Goldsmith and his Found Poetry takes Nature, or Reality and “finds” it as Poetry, and “find,” here, means purely represent.

We are free to ignore the actual work of Goldsmith’s, as many have pointed out, but this is not due to Conceptualism; it is because of its opposite: Representation.

Reality is art’s flesh, and until art lives, it is not art, but reality.  (How art lives is something we’ll get to in a moment.)

We err whenever we do not understand art as reality first, and art, second.

Plato offended (certain easily offended) artists with this practice: he saw art as reality first—what does art do within reality? was the most important question for Plato.

Found Poetry is an ineffective challenge to Plato, seeking to reverse Plato’s ‘look-at-art-as-reality’ admonition; superficially, Found Poetry is looking at reality as art, but the moment we look at reality as art, we look at art as reality-Plato’s strategy!

To look, as Plato does, at “art as reality,” is to see reality “showing through the art,” as it were; this “look” is the “harsh look of the cynical Critic,” who refuses to see the art on the artist’s terms.

This “look” is, in artistic terms, the methodical “look” which offends aesthetic passivity with its real-life action.

The “raw fact” of art, no matter how intricate, is not allowed to lie there passively; the active Platonist Critic places art in a context of reality—and does not allow it to remove itself into a pure, amoral, state where reality is walled off from the representation (the art).  Once “this wall” is allowed to go up, art is free to make rules for itself that have no connection to reality and to proclaim itself purely valid apart from reality, which, on a grand scale is similar to a person withdrawing from reality into a dream, or a wealthy person cutting themselves off from the everyday needs of others.

Art has moved in this direction, away from Plato, away from art as reality, and towards art as pure art, for over a hundred years, now.  This very movement is defined as Modernism by John Crowe Ransom, in his brilliant essay, “Poets Without Laurels.”   Impressionism in painting, Imagism in poetry, Abstract Painting, a poem like “Sea Surface Full of Clouds” by Wallace Stevens, these are all attempts, along with Found Poetry, to escape Plato and his Conceptualism and to enter into a world of attenuated representation, the sensuality of partial imitation, that is sensual imitation without mind, reason, or morals.  Modernism, for Ransom, not only moves in the direction of “pure art,” or “art for art’s sake,” but it is also a movement of science dividing itself into finer and finer partitions.

The beginner learns about the science of beer or wine, starting with ‘ale or lager,’ ‘white or red,’ but this beginner’s lesson contains all that the expert knows—when it comes to science.  As science gets down to the details of its field, the broader truths must be constantly kept in view, and this should be true of art, as well.

Visual art is concerned with these two: Color or line.

Writing?  Prose or poetry.

These divisions involve the science of art, which is much easier to understand than the art of art.

Plato can be scientific about art, even while morally condemning it, and one could argue it is the scientist in him that morally condemns it, while at the same time, examining it on a purely material level—which Plato did, even though Aristotle took it a little further; Aristotle broke most famously with Plato with his “catharsis” theory, telling the lie that we can “purge” our emotions by bathing in what triggers them.

Even Tom Wolfe got it wrong, then, with his withering critique of Modern Art when he called avant-garde painting the “painted word.” This, again, errs, in the way we have just illustrated: Modern art is not conceptualist; it is merely crudely (purely) representational.   Like Poe’s “Purloined Letter,” it is so obvious, everyone has missed it.   What we call “Conceptualist” is just crudely imitative.

How could so many have been so wrong regarding Conceptualism?

We can easily blame it on two things:

First, Modernism, a movement which is all about “moving ahead, about being self-consciously “modern” while forgetting the past.

And secondly, confusing art and science.

Science tells us there are but two kinds of beer: lager and ale.

Science, too, could also sound wiser by saying: beer as beer is more essential than the distinction between larger and ale.

Science, like criticism, can say anything, can be everywhere at once.

The poor artist, however, needs to imitate and make a certain kind of imitative sense to be effective, even if it is laying on pure color as an abstract artist.

Critics are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, not poets.   Unless we call Plato a poet (which he was, according to Shelley).

One of the results of the movement known as Modernism has been the elevation of prose poetry over its cousin, verse.

Verse, in Modernism’s eyes, is crudely denotative, rather than suggestive—the key to poetic prose.

Just as every discriminating artist is concerned with both line and color, every writer should create art that both denotes and suggests.

If we look at the matter scientifically, we will find that metrics can aid both denotation and suggestion, and the same goes with prose meaning.

Modernism, with its crippling -isms, needs to be done away with at last.

Drink all kinds of beer.

Don’t call Kenneth Goldsmith a “Conceptualist” ever again.


Scarriet:  Hi, John.  I’ve always wanted to interview you.  What do your poems mean, anyway?

Ashbery:  I don’t know.

S:  OK, let’s move on…let’s talk about your ballclub, the Brooklyn Ashberys.

A:  Sure.

S:  Three weeks ago, your team was 8-20, in last place in the Scarriet  American League, 11 games out.   Since then, you’ve moved to within 2 games of .500, winning 15 of 20, and now you trail the first-place Longfellows by just 6 games, with a little over two-thirds of the season to go.  What happened?

A:  We’ve been doing better…

S:  Why?  Was it the addition of Al [Albert Camus] and Sal [Salvador Dali]? Look at their numbers since they’ve been in your lineup: Dali, 12 homers in May, Camus, 26 RBIs.  And what about [Andy] Warhol’s turn-around?  He made that crucial throwing error to go 0-6, but since then he’s 4-0.

A:  Andy has turned it around…

S:  You swept the first place Lowells.  How did that feel?

A:  It felt pretty good…

S:  You knocked them right out of first, capping a 16-4 run last week…Andrew Marvell threw a shutout in that series, and 2 games later, recent acquisition Rae Armantrout picked up a win in relief while getting the winning hit in extra innings in a 7-6 thriller!

A:  It was thrilling, yes.

S:  And this weekend you came into Philadelphia and split a 4 game series with the Poe—Wittgenstein blanking the Poe in game one.  That must have made you feel great!

A:  It did.

S:  This has to be so amazing for you, watching Lord Bacon pitch…seeing Marvell out-duel Shelley as your team wins 2-1…What do you think of all this?

A:  Frank needs to get on base more…

S:  O’Hara!  I was going to ask you about him.  He’s not doing much at the top of your lineup so far this season…James Tate has picked it up, though…

A:  Yes.

S:  O’Hara seems a little impatient at the plate…

A:  We need him to score…(starting to cry)

S:  Are you OK, John?

A:  I’m fine, I’m fine.

S:  Well, congratulations on a fine season so far…it’s a lot of pressure…poetry and…I know you want to win…OK…thanks, John!

A:  Thank you.

Now here’s the Standings with Top Performers so far…


1. Camb Longfellows  29-19  GB –    Top hitters: A. Manzoni, Dante, W. Irving,  Pitching Leaders:  Horace 7-3, G.W. Greene 6-2, Ticknor 5-3

2. Bos Lowells        28-20  GB 1  Hitters: R. Browning, Chaucer, J. Pierpont,  Pitchers: Henry Adams 6-1, O.W. Holmes 4-2

3. Phil Poe              27-21  GB 2   Dostoevsky, Alfred Hitchcock, Fanny Osgood, Pitchers: Pope 6-4, Lord Bacon 6-1

4. NY Bryants        26-22 GB 3   Thomas Cole, James Fenimore Cooper, Pitchers: Abe Lincoln 5-4, Alexander Hamilton 5-4

5. Concord Emersons    25-23  GB 4   Swedenborg, Carlyle, Thoreau, Pitchers: William James 5-4, W.E. Channing 5-2

6. Maine Millays         24-24  GB  5   George Dillon, Shakespeare, Euclid, Pitchers: Philip Sidney 6-2, Sophocles 4-3

7. Brklyn Ashberys     23-25  GB 6   W.H.Auden, Dali, Camus, Sartre, Pitchers: Wittgenstein 5-3, Andrew Marvell 5-4

8. Hartford  Whittiers      21-27  GB 8   Dickens, Alice Walker, Pitchers: William Lloyd Garrison 6-5, Richard Wright 2-1

9. Tenn Ransom       20-28  GB 9   Andrew Nelson Lytle, L. Trilling, Pitchers: Randall Jarrell 6-2, I.A. Richards 4-3

10. NJ Ginsbergs    17-31 GB 12  Bob Dylan, Pitcher: Mark Van Doren 6-4


1. London Eliots           30-18  GB –   Top Hitters: Donne, Aldous Huxley, Top Pitchers: B. Russell 8-2, Churchill 5-1, Corbiere 6-2

2. Amherst Emily          29-19  GB 1    Plath, Keats, Austin Dickinson, Pitchers: Higginson 5-4, Virgil 6-3, Sam Bowles 5-1

3. Hartford Stevens      26-22 GB 4   Mallarme, Hollander, Pitchers: Santayana 5-3, Vendler 6-2, Debussy 3-1

4. NE Frost           26-22 GB 4   Larkin, Wordsworth, Donald Hall, Pitchers: Carl Sandburg 6-4, Bobby Burns 6-2

5. Rapallo Pound         25-23 GB 5   Ford M. Ford, W. Lewis, Villon, Pitchers: R. Wagner 4-0, Olga Rudge 4-1, Sade 2-0

6. Iowa City Grahams     24-24 GB 6   Robert Pinsky, Donald Justice, Pitchers: Ramke 6-4, Winters 5-4, Sontag 3-1

7. NJ Williams      22-26  GB 8   Gary Snyder, R. Duncan, Pitchers: P. Whalen 6-3, R. Silliman 4-2, Stravinksy 3-0

8. Brklyn Whitmans    21-27  GB: 9   William Rossetti, Ferlinghetti, Pitchers: Oscar Wilde 7-4, Swinburne 6-3

9. Camb Cummings   20-28 GB 10   A. MacLeish, J. Dos Passos, Pitcher: Sigmund Freud 4-0

10. NY Moores        17-31 GB 13   Lincoln Kirstein, Pitcher: Stevie Smith 2-0

The Brooklyn Ashberys have been on fire since adding Dali, Camus Sartre, and Ionesco.

The Cambridge Cummings have been lifted by the addition of Freud.  

The Rapallo Pound adding Sade, H.G. Wells, and Blavatsky to their pitching staff has paid off handsomely so far.

The Concord Emersons continue to win despite poor performances from Marx and Nietzsche.

The Tennessee Ransom has struggled recently despite Aristotle in the middle of the lineup.

The London Eliots are a monster since the addition of Churchill and Huxley.

The Cambridge Longfellows have quietly moved into first, getting good contributions from foreign writers and splitting 8 tough games with the Philadelphia Poe.

The Boston Lowells remain hot, despite getting swept by the surging Ashberys.

 Poe has taken 7 of 8 from Emerson.   Jingle that.


Why is contemporary poetry such a vexation?


Poetry, one of our favorite writers once said, should be a passion, not a study.

But why shouldn’t poetry be a study?  What’s wrong with poetry and study?

Poetry and study are oil and water.

Study’s observational rigor demands factual results, not happy ones.

Poetry, contra study, seeks happy results, not factual ones.

Modern poetry, however, has turned the truism upside down.  Seduced by the apostles of modernism, William James, William Carlos Williams, T.S. Eliot, and John Dewey, among others, our poets don’t care for poems which are happy results so much as poems whose results are in the broadest sense, true—which ought to be an improvement, and in some ways, is an improvement.

On the other hand, poetry lost its public when it began to use study rather than passion as its guide.

The public demands poetry full of whimsy, passion, froth, delight.   The public will pardon the poet when he calls a chicken a pig, as long as the poet does not appear to be great and wise while doing so, or mumble into his sleeve while doing so, or pretend to be some priest of the yellow-skinned moon while doing so; the poet must not do so while counting every feather on the chicken.

The public does not like a lot of mumbo jumbo.  A line or two of folly is fine, but pretentious stretches of more than that will not be tolerated, never mind entire landscapes of bombast like “The Four Quartets” or Canto Number One. Forced to read the entire Cantos, out will come the pitchforks and torches.  Oh, and deriding the public of pitchforks and torches will only sever relations between poet and public further.  ‘Torches and pitchforks’ is a metaphor.  The public is smarter than that—or not.   It is those who blame the public rather than the poet who are most far gone.

The public will not put up with too much fooling around; the public prefers the poem of the happy, or finished, or beautiful result.

Poets fell out of public favor when they began to engage the world for the world’s sake and lost sight of poetry as a certain instrument with certain uses for happy results.

No one consciously made poetry into a study; they merely embraced Dewey’s idea of experience as the key to aesthetics.

As far as the public goes, how could experience leave poetry so bereft?   One would think experience is the one thing the public qua public understands.  The public may not know its Sacred Wood, but the wood of experience it knows.

Dewey said two crucial things re: the public, art, and experience.  He said 1) experience was crucial and 2) the public did not associate art with experience.  (Yes, like all modern poetry theorists, he blamed the public.  Bad move.)  It’s right here in the very first paragraph of Art As Experience, first published as a book in 1934:

“In common perception, [that’s the public, by the way] the work of art is often identified with the building, book, painting or statue in its existence apart from human experience.”

Dewey’s whole strategy, his whole philosophy of art,  is laid out in that single sentence.

Dewey’s intelligence was such that he could discuss painting and poetry at the same time, but he rode painting’s wave; the “New York School” of poetry followed in Dewey’s wake, but ironically, poetry, like a great sea, dissolved Dewey’s ideas—his wordy formulations triumphed alongside paint and clay but crashed and burned in the theoretical sky of that wordy art, poetry.

The brainy theorists of modernism pushed poetry ahead too quickly for public taste.  The fine arts are erected in the public square; museums force public taste to follow its lead, but taste in poetry dwells more privately and cannot be shaped by cultural fiat.   A Ginsberg is no match for a Warhol, a Pound is no match for a Guggenheim, in forming public taste.

Despite all its braininess, scientists pay no attention to modern poetry, just as they pay no attention to Dewey’s “experience;” after all, our experience on earth is that the sun, not the earth, is moving; science has proved the opposite; a poem describing an experience of the sun moving across the sky would not be modern, per se.   Poets can experience a poem as they write a poem—the very writing of a poem is an experience, and the reader shares in this experience, but this is not unique to moderns, nor does it signify the poem in question will be good.

The experience of language which reader and poet share is facile.  The free-association style of Ashbery, for instance, produces an experience on many levels, a complex experience which is open-ended and arbitrary, and due to the remarkable nature of language, is an experience which is actual in every sense, even if ol’ Ashbery is half-asleep and absent-mindedly laying on linguistic paint as randomly as he can.  If we grant this experience—reading stream-of-consciousness writing in a trance—is a genuine experience—and I don’t see how it is not a genuine experience—then Dewey’s “experience” becomes less than advertised.  If the act of reading meets the experience test, any experience within the reading experience (if such a thing does exist) will not actually be able to distinguish itself from its surroundings.

If the experience of poetry is the experience of reading, if mechanically these two are the same, if the reading experience is what greets all readers of poetry and no poetry would be experienced without the reading experience, it is safe to say that poetry’s unique qualities (whatever we dare say they are) cannot possibly belong to experience, per se.  Poetry cannot distinguish itself as poetry from the experience of reading, or any experience at all without having qualities which somehow set poetry apart from the experience of reading, and thus all other experience.

The more expansive poetry’s subject matter and formal properites become, the more poetry disappears into the reading experience, for it is the reading experience which is actually expanding, not poetry.

As poetry is currently defined, reading


is a reading experience precisely the same as reading poetry.

Reading Pig is fraught with ambiguity: why pig?  What does not only the word, but the fact that someone wrote pig mean?  Pig contains an infinite number of associations—once associations begin to flow, there is no end to that meandering river, and so in this sense Pig contains as much associative knowledge as a play by Shakespeare and thus generates as much experience, for associations, potentially infinite, are the key to any reading experience.

Experience has nothing to do with the happy result of a poem.  The term, as used by Dewey and the modernists, is empty.

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