IS SCARRIET BASEBALL BACK?

Ebbets Field, Brooklyn 6/15/38 - Dodger fans this night ...

When Scarriet was young and the Scarriet editors more ambitious, an entire 154 game poetry baseball season happened: two leagues, 20 teams, and a world series in which the Philadelphia Poe defeated the Rapallo Pound 4 games to 1.

Teams were built around an American poet and every position was filled with figures (not only poets) associated with the team’s poet-manager.

The sports writing sounded like this:

Whitman picked up Gaugin, Melville, and Aaron Copeland as starting pitchers, but all three were hard-luck hurlers.  There was an odd chemistry to the Whitman club that never clicked: Robinson Jeffers, D.H. Lawrence, William Rossetti, Edgar Lee Masters, Bronson Alcott, Lawrence Ferlinghetti were in a lineup together that never hit in the clutch, didn’t run the bases enough, failed to move runners over, and even fought in the clubhouse; it was a mess.  Whitman’s verve never carried over to his interesting mix of players.

William Carlos Williams shared last place with Whitman; the lineup of Duchamp, Creeley, Rexroth, Duncan, Snyder, Loy, Noguchi, and Spicer just didn’t provide enough punch.

Mallarme and Hollander hit for Stevens, Dos Passos and Picasso for Cummings, and Dickinson got hitting from Keats and TennysonFrost was in the race for a while, getting good offense from Hardy, Larkin, Oliver, and Wordsworth.

After his heralded signing at mid-season, Jesus Christ of the Frost proved to be human on the mound at 10-5.  Pound and Eliot could not be caught.

The final standings:

AL

rapallo pound                       100-54   –
london eliots                          97-57    3
new england frost                  91-63    9
amherst emily                       78-76   22
hartford stevens                    75-79   25
cambridge cummings            72-82   28
new york moore                    69-85   31
iowa city grahams                  67-87   33
brooklyn whitmans                 61-93   39
new jersey williams                61-93   39

NL

philadelphia poe                   92-62    –
brooklyn ashberys                 89-65   3
boston lowells                       85-69   7
cambridge longfellows           83-71   9
new york bryants                   82-72  10
concord emersons                 79-75  13
maine millays                        75-79  17
tennessee ransom                 70-84   22
hartford whittiers                  66-88   26
new jersey ginsbergs            49-105  43

Why was the Pound so successful?  A bunch of players, added after the season was underway, wildly defied expectations.  Here’s a little commentary with the world series lineups:

The Philadelphia Poe’s projected starting lineup:

Gilmore Simms, RF.   Hurt for most of the year (Samuel F.B. Morse filled in admirably).  Simms can run.

Charles Brockden Brown, SS.    A slap hitter who advances runners.  George Lippard, another native Philadelphian, is the reserve infielder.

Charles Baudelaire, 2B.   Gap hitter, makes contact.

George Byron, 1B.    When Byron couldn’t play, Alfred Hitchock took over.  Byron slugged 29 homers.

Thomas Moore, C.    Excellent on-base percentage.

Fydor Dostoevsky, 3B.    Hit over .400 with 2 outs and runners in scoring position.   Team-leading 47 doubles.

Virginia Poe, CF.   Swift as a deer in center.   Surprising power: 17 homers.

Fanny Osgood, LF.     League-leading 14 assists.  Very hard to strike out.

Alexander Pope, P.     Great sacrifice bunter.

And, for the Rapallo Pound:

Aleister Crowley, CF.   Took over for Wyndham Lewis.  Crowley hit three triples in the Pound’s pennant-clinching victory.

Hilda Doolittle, 2B.   Great D from H.D.  She’s been nursing a sore ankle.  Flaubert may start instead.

William Butler Yeats, SS.  The best glove anyone has ever seen.  A disappointment at the plate, but does get on base.  Francis Villon, his replacement, can hit.

Ford Madox Ford, 1B.   41 homers, 134 RBIs.

James Joyce, LF.   .311 batting average.  Back from a late-season injury.  Basil Bunting was his replacement.

James Laughlin, 3B.  The New Directions kid wasn’t expected to hit.  He slugged 39 homers and batted .340.   MVP numbers from a mere editor.

Ernest Fenollosa, C.  Steady, handles pitchers well.  Missed the month of August.  Margaret Anderson of the Little Review is the back-up.

Benito Mussolini, RF.  Great clubhouse presence.  A gun for an arm in right.  Few go from first to third on him.

Marquis de Sade, P.   Chats with the opposing catcher the whole time he’s up.

Pound and his team were frankly, scary. But Poe, and his team were not intimidated, as the two clubs met in the world series.

Here’s a recap of the five games:

Game One

Philadelphia rightfielder Gilmore Simms homered in the bottom of the 14th inning as the Philadelphia Poe edged the Rapallo Pound in the first game of the World Series, 5-4.

The Pound took the early lead as Francois Villon hit a 2-home run in the first inning against Philadelphia starter Alexander Pope.  Manager Ezra Pound chose to start Villon at shortstop over Yeats, who has not hit well this year.  In the second inning,  Aleister Crowley made it 3-0 as he scratched a hit, stole second and third, and came home on a sacrifice fly by Ford Madox Ford.

Sade, the eccentric Rapallo starter, kept the Poe in check until Alfred Hitchcock, starting in place of Lord Byron—unable to play because of dizzy spells—doubled, and came home on a two-out single by Dostoevsky in the bottom of the fourth, to make it 3-1.

Pope, the Philadelphia starter, then scored a run for the Poe in the fifth to make it 3-2.  Sade hit Pope, who then went to third when Simms’s grounder to Villon was thrown into centerfield trying to get a force at second, and Pope scored on Baudelaire’s single to left with two outs.

Philly tied it in the bottom of the sixth on back-to-back singles by Thomas Moore, Dostoevsky, and Virginia Poe.

The Pound went ahead, 4-3, in the top of the seventh on a homerun by Benito Mussolini.

Then, in the bottom of the ninth, with Sade still on the mound, having retired the side in order in the seventh and eighth, James Laughlin, the young third baseman for Rapallo, allowed a grounder to go under his glove, allowing Virginia Poe to score the tying run.  She was on second with two outs, after a bloop double.

Richard Wagner and then Filipo Marinetti pitched well in relief for the Pound, while Winfield Scott and then Jaques Lacan kept the Pound in check into the middle of the 14th inning.

Charles Olson came in for the Pound in the bottom of the 14th, got two easy outs, and then faced Poe leadoff hitter William Gilmore Simms.  On the first pitch, a high fastball, the South took the North deep, and the Philadelphia Poe are up 1-0 in the first Scarriet World Series.

Game Two

Ernest Fenollosa drove his second homerun deep into the Philadelphia night against Poe reliever Conan Doyle to snap a 5-5 tie in the top of the ninth, and give the Rapallo Pound a victory over the Philadelphia Poe, to knot this tense series at one game apiece.

The contest now heads to Rapallo for game three on Saturday.

Alexander Humboldt yielded singles-hitter Ernest Fenollosa’s first of two shocking grandslams on a hanging curve in the second, then allowed a run in the third, before settling down and pitching well until he was lifted for a pinchitter in the bottom of the eighth.   Samuel F.B. Morse went down swinging for the Poe, and the game moved to the ninth, tied at 5.  Pound starter H.G. Wells left the contest in the bottom of the sixth when he allowed the Poe to tie the score with two runs, on a Charles Brocken Brown two-run double off the wall.

Poe reliever Jules Verne walked the bases loaded, after retiring the first two Pound batters he faced in the top of the ninth.  Poe then brought on Arthur Conan Doyle, and Fenollosa took his first pitch fastball deep to left-center.

Louis Zukovsky picked up the win in relief, as he held the Poe scoreless in the seventh and eighth, pitching out of jam in the eighth.  Hugh Kenner came in for the Pound to pitch a scoreless ninth.

After Fenollosa’s first grandslam in the top of the second, Charles Baudelaire got the Poe on the board in the bottom of the second with a two-run homer off H.G. Wells, to make it 4-2.

Game Three

It began with Blavatsky and ended with Dostoevsky.

Ezra Pound’s obtuse opinion of Russian Literature (“I have omitted the Rhooshuns.”  —How To Read) came back to haunt him yesterday, as Fyodor Dostoevsky broke a 0-0 tie in the 14th inning (Poe won the first game of the Series in 14 innings!) with a single punched through a drawn-in infield, scoring Philadelphian George Lippard.  It was Dostoevsky’s birthday, and surely the most exciting one of his life.

The Pound were bewitched for 10 innings by Lord Bacon, not quite in command of his 3 pitches, as the Pound left 12 runners-on-base, 7 in scoring position, threatening to score numerous times.  The French hero Lafayette pitched shutout ball for the next three frames.  Percy Shelley pitched the bottom of the 14th.  The Englishman struck out the Pound’s James Joyce, coming after him with 3 straight fastballs with two outs and the bases loaded to give the Poe a heart-stopping 1-0 victory, and a 2-1 series lead.

The Rapallo fans screamed themselves hoarse.  The game took six hours and eleven minutes to play.  Numerous celebrated authors were spotted in the stands: Homer, Socrates, and Dante were sitting together, as a matter of fact.  T.S. Eliot, of course, was on hand, and in the front row, accompanied by his lawyer John Quinn and the author Aldous Huxley.

The game was stopped at one point, when Poe complained to the umpires that team Pound was dimming the lights when it was team Poe’s turn to bat.
The lighting was apparently the same; no one was sure whether Poe’s complaint was legitimate, or not, but the managers almost came to blows, as Pound went ballistic.  The game itself was almost called.  The Rapallo fans, who were not privy to the discussions on the field, had no idea what was happening, but some started to take the field when they saw Pound rushing the Poe dugout.  It took three quarters of an hour to restore order.

The Pound’s Madame Blavatsky spun her black magic for 7 shutout innings; she was lifted for Harriet Monroe after walking two straight batters to start the top of the 8th.

Harriet Shaw Weaver pitched a scoreless 10th and Dorothy Shakespeare kept the Poe quiet in the 11th and 12th; Pound’s most successful reliever, Richard Wagner, entered wearing his cape for the start of the 13th, and promptly struck out the side, but he quickly got into trouble in the fourteenth, when suddenly he couldn’t find the plate with his magnificent curve.  George Lippard pinch-ran for Samuel F.B. Morse, who was struck on the knee by Wagner with a 3-0 fastball.  Two more walks loaded the bases, and with two outs, Fyodor Dostoevsky made “the Rhooshuns” proud, with perhaps the most important hit for the Poe all year.

Game Four

Samuel Taylor Coleridge scattered 11 hits and helped his team with a bases-clearing double as the Romantic poet led the Philadelphia Poe to an easy Game 4 win over Olga Rudge and the Rapallo Pound.

The Poe came into game 4 leading 2-1, with both wins coming in 14 inning contests.  The Pound missed countless opportunities to score in Game 3 and the team now seems haunted by those missed opportunities.  Rudge, who was 19-5 during the regular season, was not sharp, and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska fared no better in relief.

Gilmore Simms, who won Game One with a 14th inning homer, tripled to lead off the game and scored on a Baudelaire double, setting the tone for the one-sided contest.

Coleridge described his performance as “unreal,” telling reporters after the game he could not remember what he did on the mound, or with the bat.  “I honestly don’t recall the game at all,” he opined, his curls dangling sweat, looking oddly cherubic as he looked upward from the bench in front of his locker, blinking into the photographer’s lights.

Game One starter, the Marquis de Sade, goes for the Pound tomorrow to stave off elimination.

Game Five

Alexander Pope allowed 3 hits over seven innings to lead the Philadelphia Poe to a 5-1 victory over the Marquis de Sade and the Rapallo Pound. 

Osip Mandelstam hurled a pefect eighth for the Poe, and General Winfield Scott pitched the ninth, yielding a solo homerun to James Joyce, as the Poe won the first Scarriet World Series title by winning three straight at Rapallo, the Pound’s home park.

Arthur C. Clarke, starting in left field for Fanny Osgood, was the batting hero for the Poe, with 3 hits and 4 RBIs.

Lord Byron had the other RBI for the Poe, as he delivered a two-out single to knock in Charles Brockden Brown to start the scoring in the third, after looking foolish on the previous pitch by Sade, Byron falling down as he chased a slow pitch out of the strike zone.   “Poetry is nothing more than a certain dignity which life tries to take away,” Byron said later in a jubilant clubhouse.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

BREAKING NEWS

Scarriet may play another baseball season!!

And add more teams!!

More poets!!

Stay tuned.

 

MORE POST-MODERN BRACKET PLAY IN SUBLIME MARCH MADNESS!!!

Image result for blade runner

Celebs are everywhere for this first round match up! We feature a Hollywood film—as it takes on a mere poem!

Marla Muse: I influence the movies too, but not nearly as much as I would like.

Aww, Marla, you don’t know nuttin’ about da movies!

Marla Muse: That which merely jars the senses makes people dumb and dumber.

Dumb and Dumber!  One of my favorites!

Marla Muse: Anyway, whatever aspires to the sublime, I am there.

Another one of my favorites—Blade Runner.

Rutger Hauer:

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark
Near the Tannhauser Gate.
All those moments
Will be lost in time, like tears
In the rain. Time to die.

Taking on Hollywood is Brian Rihlmann, with this untitled poem:

we used to joke about it
on days when you could—
his possible ethnicity
his identity…
the “who?” of this man
she kept from you
for 45 years—
even in her final breaths

and the crackle of the crematory flames
told you nothing
nor the rising smoke
nor the box of her ashes
you carried up the flank of Mt. Rose
and scattered in sight of that pond

once, when I hiked up there
alone….after we had died, also
I spoke to her—
“you know you fucked her up….
don’t you?” who were you protecting?”

“mother—your shield was nothing
but a sword…
and she is still falling on it.”

Rihlmann’s poem is like a whole movie.

It’s an interesting thing. You can watch a two hour movie and think, “The essence of what I saw could fit on a small post-it note”—especially if it’s an intimate family drama where people fight and there’s a love/sex scene or two, and a family secret is revealed, and after the credits roll over sad music with a car driving down the road, you’re left with a feeling: this wasn’t bad, it calmed me down, because I was able to forget about my problems for two hours, but finally, it really doesn’t matter, other than X can really act, and why is that same English dude in almost every film I see?

And then you read a 22 line poem in about 25 seconds—and damn if it doesn’t kill you, and feel like an entire movie.  A two hour movie on a postage stamp.

So what wasted more of your time and money?

Brian Rihlmann advances!

Astonishment rises up from the crowd.  Hollywood starlets, in a cloud of perfume, ascend to congratulate the poet, Brian Rihlmann.

~~~~~~~

Speaking of movies, the Scarriet Madness Committee saw this poem on You Tube and decided it was extraordinary.  The poet is Jeff Callaway, and “The Greatest Poems Of All” video is linked in the comments below.

The greatest poems are never written down,
But lonely and forgotten before pen can be found,
The greatest poems never find the ink,
In the time it takes you to think;
Slowly with time they fade,
And face the guillotine of jilted poems
And unrequited lovers,
Or glued to my own vague memory
Of what could have been
If only I’d had a pen,
And the recollection
To keep repeating what it was
I was trying to say.

The greatest poems are girls
Who poured Dewars on the rocks
Down their breasts with a splash of water
As I drink it off.

The greatest poems lick the ink
From the tip of my idea.
The greatest poems of all get drunk
From the bottle, straight, no chaser,
No requiem for a dream,
No teen queen Chinese angels on a silver screen,
No Hollywood homecoming queens,
Leaping side to side in ecstasy,
Or just beautiful girls who once
Gave me their phone numbers,
Or girls back in high school
Who kissed me, and later became strippers,
Midnight sirens to madness, mad, drunkard,
Barroom brawls, bras, panties, imported beers.

The greatest poems of all, who put my drinks
On my tab, and heavenly broads
Who brought me elixers which I did drink
Down into my self the likes of abinsthe,
Sugar, laudunum, or I read
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,
Mad at midnight, typing poems furiously
Toward glory, or mayhem, or maybe for
Nothing at all, or maybe just
For the greatest poems of all.

So here, here! to the greatest poems of all!
To bikini contests, to Bikini Kill, to Bukowski,
To Rimbaud and other roughnecks,
To the wet T-shirts at Cedar Isle,
And to the Cedar Creek Lake rememberers
Who still remember all of the greatest poems of all.

To Siberian huskies named Molly who lived in Dallas Texas
With dirty filth, and to dirty filth,
To pain and pills and poems,
To words that slide into lyrical oblivion;
Sometimes these can be
The better rhymes of all times,
Dare I say the greater poems that can rhyme
From poets here today, like drunken
Ramblings, drunken one nighters,
Far beyond driven, drunk drivers,
In Dracula, no more drama before hot actress,
Sexy angel poetess,
Prostitutes, politics, and to the Texas outlaw press,
And to all of the greatest poems of all.

To Polly, to Pam, to the paranormal,
To the ghosts of the greatest poems of all,
To the ghouls, to the grim reaper,
To death, and its poetic casting call for us all;
I’d like to give a shout out to the gangsters,
Of the ghettos of Grand Prairie,
To the hypodermic hipsters of Plano
Who never made it, never got to hear
The greatest poems of all.

To poems that got kicked out of Magnolia
For drinking salt shakers, fat jokes, plastic chairs,
Who never swept the petty shit,
But always pet the sweaty shit,
From shinola to shangri-la,
From 26th and San Gabriel to the angel Gabriel,
From trumpets to cherubim,
To these crazy, insane, hot American chicks
Who love poets, poems, and Palm Pilots,
To an Austin poetry renaissance, or to purgatory.

How ’bout another round of drinks
To the greatest poets and poems of all.

Jeff Callaway’s opponent is a poem also plain-spoken, without pretense.

“How I Got That Name” by Marilyn Chin.

I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin.
Oh, how I love the resoluteness
of that first person singular
followed by that stalwart indicative
of “be,” without the uncertain i-n-g
of “becoming.” Of course,
the name had been changed
somewhere between Angel Island and the sea,
when my father the paper son
in the late 1950s
obsessed with a bombshell blond
transliterated “Mei Ling” to “Marilyn.”
And nobody dared question
his initial impulse—for we all know
lust drove men to greatness,
not goodness, not decency.
And there I was, a wayward pink baby,
named after some tragic white woman
swollen with gin and Nembutal.
My mother couldn’t pronounce the “r.”
She dubbed me “Numba one female offshoot”
for brevity: henceforth, she will live and die
in sublime ignorance, flanked
by loving children and the “kitchen deity.”
While my father dithers,
a tomcat in Hong Kong trash—
a gambler, a petty thug,
who bought a chain of chopsuey joints
in Piss River, Oregon,
with bootlegged Gucci cash.
Nobody dared question his integrity given
his nice, devout daughters
and his bright, industrious sons
as if filial piety were the standard
by which all earthly men are measured.

*

Oh, how trustworthy our daughters,
how thrifty our sons!
How we’ve managed to fool the experts
in education, statistic and demography—
We’re not very creative but not adverse to rote-learning.
Indeed, they can use us.
But the “Model Minority” is a tease.
We know you are watching now,
so we refuse to give you any!
Oh, bamboo shoots, bamboo shoots!
The further west we go, we’ll hit east;
the deeper down we dig, we’ll find China.
History has turned its stomach
on a black polluted beach—
where life doesn’t hinge
on that red, red wheelbarrow,
but whether or not our new lover
in the final episode of “Santa Barbara”
will lean over a scented candle
and call us a “bitch.”
Oh God, where have we gone wrong?
We have no inner resources!

*

Then, one redolent spring morning
the Great Patriarch Chin
peered down from his kiosk in heaven
and saw that his descendants were ugly.
One had a squarish head and a nose without a bridge
Another’s profile—long and knobbed as a gourd.
A third, the sad, brutish one may never, never marry.
And I, his least favorite—
“not quite boiled, not quite cooked,”
a plump pomfret simmering in my juices—
too listless to fight for my people’s destiny.
“To kill without resistance is not slaughter”
says the proverb. So, I wait for imminent death.
The fact that this death is also metaphorical
is testament to my lethargy.

*

So here lies Marilyn Mei Ling Chin,
married once, twice to so-and-so, a Lee and a Wong,
granddaughter of Jack “the patriarch”
and the brooding Suilin Fong,
daughter of the virtuous Yuet Kuen Wong
and G.G. Chin the infamous,
sister of a dozen, cousin of a million,
survived by everybody and forgotten by all.
She was neither black nor white,
neither cherished nor vanquished,
just another squatter in her own bamboo grove
minding her poetry—
when one day heaven was unmerciful,
and a chasm opened where she stood.
Like the jowls of a mighty white whale,
or the jaws of a metaphysical Godzilla,
it swallowed her whole.
She did not flinch nor writhe,
nor fret about the afterlife,
but stayed! Solid as wood, happily
a little gnawed, tattered, mesmerized
by all that was lavished upon her
and all that was taken away!

Edgar Allan Poe, in his “Philosophy of Composition,” said the ideal length is about 100 lines for a poem aiming to be popular but also critically admired.  His “Raven” was 108 lines.

Since Poe’s time, popular poems with critical weight tend to be about 20 lines (Do Not Go Gentle, The Road Not Taken) and this may be the result of shorter modern attention spans.  Eliot’s Prufrock (and Eliot secretly studied Poe) is about 150 lines.  I’m not sure what Poe would have thought about haiku.  Perhaps Poe’s formula is a bit of a stuffy old joke—yet surely a poem’s length is not without some significance in the way it makes an impression on us.

Marilyn Chin’s poem is 95 lines.

Jeff Callaway’s poem is 82 lines, so they’re both in the neighborhood of what Poe was asking for.

At the ‘100 line’ length, you feel like you’re reading something.  You’re in something.  You’re an audience to something. The poet (how long was “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner?”) has you, so to speak.  The poem better be good, if it has any chance to be liked, if it’s more than 20 lines.

Songs we listen to should last, minimally, about 2 minutes, and Poe’s formula then, equates reading a poem, in terms of time, with listening to a song.

What is “The Raven,” if not a performance piece—thus a song recording?   And is it any accident, that Jeff Callaway’s rather lengthy poem now sits in You Tube as a ‘song performance?’  Marilyn Chin’s poem is about her, and the self-worth one needs to pursue a poem about oneself certainly needs to rise to the level of a performance.  Otherwise, you are too humble, and let’s face it, no good poet is humble.

These poems by Chin and Callaway, brought together briefly by March Madness 2020, have a similar raucous, yet resigned, spirit; in a way, they are both happy/sad drinking songs.

We like their lengths. We like them both exceedingly.

They insinuate themselves into the evening, resting on every leaf surrounding the arena, and upon every tongue in the arena, poems meant to be, in our contest, a moaning and a groaning, of the sublime.

 

 

ROMANTIC BRACKET PLAY IN THE SUBLIME MADNESS TOURNEY!

Image result for Tennyson

The fan turnout has been unbelievable for this year’s Madness tournament. Everyone is flying to Madness Island for these games.  And Marla Muse has been quite the hostess.

Marla Muse: I love the Romantic poets!

In Round One play, first seed artist/poet William Blake (the Tyger), who died in the first quarter of the 19th century, takes on 16th seeded author and wit Oscar Wilde, who died at the 19th century’s close.

Blake’s Tyger should terrify any opponent; Blake’s music is like a hammer, like Beethoven, or like heavy metal—what simplicity, what power: “Tyger, Tyger, burning bright in the forest of the night.” One has no problem imagining Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin singing this.

Wilde’s essay “The Critic As Artist” is like the music of Ravel:

We are sometimes apt to think that the voices that sounded at the dawn of poetry were simpler, fresher, and more natural than ours, and that the world which the early poets looked at, and through which they walked, had a kind of poetical quality of its own, and almost without changing could pass into song. The snow lies thick now upon Olympus, and its steep, scraped sides are bleak and barren, but once, we fancy, the white feet of the Muses brushed the dew from the anemones in the morning, and at evening came Apollo to sing to the shepherds in the vale. But in this we are merely lending to other ages what we desire, or think we desire, for our own. Our historical sense is at fault. Every century that produces poetry is, so far, an artificial century, and the work that seems to us to be the most natural and simple product of its time is always the result of the most self-conscious effort. There is no fine art without self-consciousness, and self-consciousness and the critical spirit are one.

Interesting contest, because Wilde insists on the “self-consciousness” of the “critic/artist” in the face of Blake, perhaps the most impetuous, and least self-conscious, artist who ever lived.

Blake romps, to the blood-curdling yells of his fans, and advances to Round Two.  So long, Oscar!  You are right.  The artist needs the self-consciousness of the critic. The bullied child is full of knowledge.

~~~~~~~~

Goethe’s poetic drama, Faust v. Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” a poem as iconic as Blake’s Tyger.

We kept the devil away for two millennia, thanks to the Christian religion—whether the “devil” really exists, or not.  Life is merely the play of our imagination—so say the non-religious; so why then, do they object to Christianity so much?  If Christianity is real, or it’s poetry, it’s still pretty good poetry.  In this passage from Goethe, Faust, the professor, woos a Christian peasant:

Gretchen: You don’t believe in God?

Faust: Do not misunderstand me, my love, my queen!
Who can name him?
Admit on the spot:
I believe in him?
And who can dare
To perceive and declare:
I believe in him not?
The All-Embracing One,
The All-Upholding One,
Does he not embrace, uphold,
You, me, Himself?
Does not the Heaven vault itself above us?
Is not the earth established fast below?
And with their friendly glances do not
Eternal stars rise over us?
Do not my eyes look into yours,
And all things thrust
Into your head, into your heart,
And weave in everlasting mystery
Invisibly, visibly, around you?
Fill your heart with this, great as it is,
And when this feeling grants you perfect bliss,
Then call it what you will—
Happiness! Heart! Love! God!
I have no name for it!
Feeling is all;
Name is mere sound and reek
Clouding Heaven’s light.

Gretchen: That sounds quite good and right;
And much as the priest might speak,
Only not word for word.

Faust: It is what all hearts have heard
In all the places heavenly day can reach,
Each in his own speech;
Why not I in mine?

Gretchen: I could almost accept it, you make it sound so fine,
Still there is something in it that shouldn’t be;
For you have no Christianity.

Faust: Dear child!

Gretchen: It has long been a grief to me
To see you in such company.

Faust: You mean?

Gretchen: The man who goes about with you.
I hate him in my soul, through and through.
And nothing has given my heart
In my whole life so keen a smart
As that man’s face, so dire, so grim.

Faust: Beloved child, don’t be afraid of him!

“Feeling is all,” says professor Faust, wooing by expanding Christian love to include sex. A great speech, Gretchen acknowledges, though not quite true to the words of my religion. This “not quite” is finally the only “not quite” there is.  Faust says religion is whatever good thing our hearts hear, but Gretchen’s Christian heart won’t be melted by that, and then she mentions Mephistopheles, and again, without learning, she instinctively understands, in the most innocent simplicity, that something is not right. First she rejects the idea of “what Faust’s individual heart thinks” and then she rejects “how the devil’s individual face looks.” For Gretchen, a standard judges the individual. Faust comes from the opposite direction—the individual is supreme. Gretchen eventually is seduced—because she is an individual.

Everyone knows Emily Dickinson’s great poem. But here it is no match for the mesmerizing Faust!

Goethe advances!

~~~~~~~

Coleridge’s Kubla Khan versus Karl Marx’s Das Kapital.  Third seed, fourteenth seed.

Why do we include Marx in a sublime contest with poets?

Because this idea shook the world:

“There is a physical relation between physical things. But it is different with commodities.”

There. It is that simple.  With one blow, Marx broke everything in two. A  ghost inhabited every object.

Trade, or capitalism, existed long before Marx—the word “commodity” came into use in English in the 15th century.

A country has excess grain and trades it for coffee, and now it has grain and coffee, two things instead of one.

Commodity meant “convenience” or “advantage,” and it was a good thing as long as trade produced a greater variety for everyone.

But as trade became more sophisticated, commodity pricing—trade for the sake of trade—replaced things themselves.

Commodities were still things, up until Marx.  As trade became weaponized, a commodity was now more valuable and sacred than a thing.

And this happened just when mass wealth began to upset the old hierarchical order.  A new hierarchy of hoarded wealth emerged, and Marx was the bitter result.

We say “bitter result,” because with bad faith trading, things were no longer what they were; everything was ephemeral and relative, and nothing was stable.

The sublime slid into the fast and the commonplace in a manner that was nearly sublime.  Marx is nearly sublime, but not finally sublime. He fell into what he criticized.

Kubla Khan by Coleridge is sublime.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

Coleridge advances.

~~~~~

Shelley (the Cloud) v. Hawthorne (the Scarlet Letter)

The passage from Nathaniel Hawthorne is lovely and sublime:

She inherited her mother’s gift for devising drapery and costume. As the last touch to her mermaid’s garb, Pearl took some eel-grass, and imitated, as best she could, on her own bosom, the decoration with which she was so familiar on her mother’s. A letter,—the letter A,—but freshly green, instead of scarlet! The child bent her chin upon her breast, and contemplated this device with strange interest; even as if the one only thing for which she had been sent into the world was to make out its hidden import.

Now here is the excerpt from Shelley’s “The Cloud:”

I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,
From the seas and the streams;
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.
From my wings are shaken the dews that waken
The sweet buds every one,
When rocked to rest on their mother’s breast,
As she dances about the sun.
I wield the flail of the lashing hail,
And whiten the green plains under,
And then again I dissolve it in rain,
And laugh as I pass in thunder.

And since in Shelley’s divine poetry, he captures the roving and playful essence of Hawthorne’s Pearl, Shelley advances.

~~~~~~~

John Keats v. R.H. Horne

The Englishman Richard Henry Horne (1802-1884) fought for Mexican independence in the 1820s, was a literary friend of Elizabeth Barrett (before she became Browning) and Charles Dickens in the 1840s, called himself the “father of the Australian wine industry,” as he spent most of the 1850s in Australia, and spent the last 25 years of his life in London. He published plays, and an epic poem, “Orion,” which Edgar Poe praised in 1844. From “Orion:”

There, underneath the boughs, mark where the gleam
Of sunrise through the roofing’s chasm is thrown
Upon a grassy plot below, whereon
The shadow of a stag stoops to the stream,
Swift rolling toward the cataract, and drinks,
While ever and anon the nightingale,
Not waiting for the evening, swells his hymn—
His one sustained and heaven aspiring tone—
And when the sun hath vanished utterly,
Arm over arm the cedars spread their shade,
With arching wrist and long extended hands,
And grave-ward fingers lengthening in the moon,
Above that shadowy stag whose antlers still
Hung o’er the stream.

The painting here is quite admirable, and there is a certain Miltonic force to Horne’s long poem—all but forgotten today.

Keats, who lived less than a third of Horne’s long life, rose to remarkable fame, and Horne was one of the few, early on, to praise Keats.

From Hyperion:

Deep in the shady sadness of a vale
Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn,
Far from the fiery noon, and eve’s one star,
Sat gray-hair’d Saturn, quiet as a stone,
Still as the silence round about his lair;
Forest on forest hung about his head
Like cloud on cloud. No stir of air was there,
Not so much life as on a summer’s day
Robs not one light seed from the feather’d grass,
But where the dead leaf fell, there did it rest.

How interesting it would be, if Horne would win…

Holy God!  He does!  R.H. Horne advances!

~~~~~~~

Marla Muse: Blake, Goethe, Coleridge, and Shelley—not much surprise that these advance. And R.H. Horne in an upset!

How many outside this tournament even know who Horne is, Marla?

Marla Muse: I see quite a few fans studying their programs with puzzled looks!

Is it not strange that Richard Horne wrote thousands of letters to Elizabeth Barrett, before Robert ran away with her? And Poe, who loved “Orion,” also corresponded with Elizabeth, when she was still Barrett, and that Poe dedicated his 1845 Poems to her?

Marla Muse: O that is sweet! And speaking of which, look who is coming this way!

Elizabeth Barrett versus Pushkin!!

Both of these entries are stunning!

First Elizabeth Barrett, from her epic poem, The Drama of Exile:

On a mountain peak
Half sheathed in primal woods and glittering
In spasms of awful sunshine, at that hour
A lion crouched,—part raised upon his paws,
With his calm massive face turned full on thine,
And his mane listening. When the ended curse
Left silence in the world, right suddenly
He sprang up rampant, and stood straight and stiff,
As if the new reality of death
Were dashed against his eyes,—and roared so fierce,
(Such thick carnivorous passion in his throat
Tearing a passage through the wrath and fear)—
And roared so wild, and smote from all the hills
Such fast keen echoes crumbling down the vales
To distant silence,—that the forest beasts,
One after one, did mutter a response
In savage and in sorrowful complaint
Which trailed along the gorges.

I don’t think many of our March Madness fans are acquainted with this side of Elizabeth Barrett!

“Which trailed along the gorges.” What a vast, dramatic scene she paints!

This is masterful.

And a lyric poem from Pushkin, who is so adept at breaking one’s heart:

If I walk the noisy streets,
or enter a many thronged church,
or sit among the wild young generation,
I give way to my thoughts.

I say to myself: the years are fleeting,
and however many there seem to be,
we must all go under the eternal vault,
and someone’s hour is already at hand.

When I look at a solitary oak
I think: the patriarch of the woods.
It will outlive my forgotten age
as it outlived that of my grandfathers’.

If I caress a young child,
immediately I think: Farewell!
I will yield my place to you,
for I must fade while your flower blooms.

Each day, every hour
I habitually follow in my thoughts,
trying to guess from their number
the year which brings my death.

And where will fate send death to me?
In battle, in my travels, or on the seas?
Or will the neighbouring valley
receive my chilled ashes?

And although to the senseless body
it is indifferent wherever it rots,
yet close to my beloved countryside
I still would prefer to rest.

And let it be, beside the grave’s vault
Young life forever will be playing,
and impartial, indifferent nature
Spreads, forever staying.

Which is more sublime?

Pushkin, who puts his whole, melancholy life into one beautiful lyric poem?

Or Barrett, who displays artistic unity in one sublime passage?

Elizabeth Barrett wins!

~~~~~~

And look who we have now!

Marla Muse: I don’t think I can contain my excitement!

Byron versus Poe!!

This is one of the biggest crowds we’ve ever had for March Madness. Poe against Byron.  The fans are merry, not melancholy, as the excitement lifts up even the most melancholy and literary of spirits.

Sometimes we swear the sublime is simply that which is terribly sad.

Is there anything sadder than this excerpt from Byron’s poem, “Darkness?”

The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirr’d within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp’d
They slept on the abyss without a surge—
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir’d before;
The winds were wither’d in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish’d; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them—She was the Universe.

This is so beautiful: “as they dropp’d they slept on the abyss without a surge.”  Listen to this, children!  This is poetry.  No mere fop, Byron.

Poe counters with an ‘end of the world’ tale of his own; not everything Poe wrote became famous. The entry is a passage from Poe’s neglected “Conversation of Eiros and Charmion” (two spirits named after Cleopatra’s attendants) which imagines a comet approaching earth; people are terrified, then realize the comet is merely made of gas, and can do no harm.  Halley’s comet (1835) would have been seen by Poe a few years prior to writing this tale, and, in 1832, there actually was a “comet panic” in which scientists miscalculated, and said a comet was going to hit the earth.  Poe’s stories tend to be based on facts, or at least actual scary events.

The prevalence of oxygen in the comet has a pleasurable and life-giving effect at first, as it moves into our atmosphere.  Then Poe brings the hammer down:

It had been long known that the air which encircled us was a compound of oxygen and nitrogen gases, in the proportion of twenty-one measures of oxygen, and seventy-nine of nitrogen, in every one hundred of the atmosphere. Oxygen, which was the principle of combustion, and the vehicle of heat, was absolutely necessary to the support of animal life, and was the most powerful and energetic agent in nature. Nitrogen, on the contrary, was incapable of supporting either animal life or flame. An unnatural excess of oxygen would result, it had been ascertained, in just such an elevation of the animal spirits as we had latterly experienced. It was the pursuit, the extension of the idea, which had engendered awe. What would be the result of a total extraction of the nitrogen? A combustion irresistible, all-devouring, omni-prevalent, immediate; — the entire fulfillment, in all their minute and terrible details, of the fiery and horror-inspiring denunciations of the prophecies of the Holy Book.

Why need I paint, Charmion, the now disenchained frenzy of mankind? That tenuity in the comet which had previously inspired us with hope, was now the source of the bitterness of despair. In its impalpable gaseous character we clearly perceived the consummation of Fate. Meantime a day again passed — bearing away with it the last shadow of Hope. We gasped in the rapid modification of the air. The red blood bounded tumultuously through its strict channels. A furious delirium possessed all men; and, with arms rigidly outstretched towards the threatening heavens, they trembled and shrieked aloud. But the nucleus of the destroyer was now upon us; — even here in Aidenn, I shudder while I speak. Let me be brief — brief as the ruin that overwhelmed. For a moment there was a wild lurid light alone, visiting and penetrating all things. Then — let us bow down, Charmion, before the excessive majesty of the great God! — then, there came a shouting and pervading sound, as if from the mouth itself of Him; while the whole incumbent mass of ether in which we existed, burst at once into a species of intense flame, for whose surpassing brilliancy and all-fervid heat even the angels in the high Heaven of pure knowledge have no name. Thus ended all.

Which deserves to win?  The sublime poetry of Byron? Or the hypnotizing prose of Poe?

The March Madness committee fears a riot—whoever wins, both sides loyal and passionate, as one might expect of those souls who gather beneath the banner, Byron, or the banner, Poe.

But the crowd is calmer than expected. Deadly quiet, even.

And with a whisper comes the result: “The winner is the poet, Lord Byron!”

~~~~~~~

And the final First Round contest in the Romantic Bracket—Cornelius Matthews versus Lord Tennyson!!

Everyone knows this by Tennyson. His sublime poem, The Splendor Falls, quoted in its entirety:

The splendor falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story:
The long light shakes across the lakes,
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.
.
O hark, O hear! how thin and clear,
And thinner, clearer, farther going
O sweet and far from cliff and scar
The horns of Elfland faintly blowng!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying:
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.
.
O love, they die in yon rich sky,
They faint on hill or field or river:
Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
And grow for ever and for ever.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying.

This may be the most iconic poem ever.

Marla Muse: It makes me want to faint!

Oh, Marla, people love to catch you when you fall!

Marla Muse: I know! (laughter)

Cornelius Matthews wrote a 34 stanza poem called “Wakondah,” from which has been selected one beautiful line, selected once, for praise, by Poe, in a review in which he otherwise mocked the work.

And then we find in a letter from Poe to Matthews—where Poe asks Matthews for R.H. Horne’s address—that Poe, in his review of “Wakondah,” was only kidding, and has since become terribly ashamed, and sorry.

Ah, Letters!

The line is:

Green dells that into silence stretch away

Magnificent!

It will be amazing to see if a single line of sublimity can beat Tennyson.

But first we must attend to Marla Muse.

She has fainted.

THE 2020 SCARRIET MARCH MADNESS CONTINUES

Image result for Romantic Painting of War

In case you missed it, here’s the Classical lineup:

Homer
Plato
Aristotle
Sophocles
Ovid
Horace
Virgil
Dante
Petrarch
da Vinci
Shakespeare
Donne
Milton

G.E. Lessing
Thomas Gray
Edmund Burke

Imagine the colossal stadium for this event! The ringing of metal, the roaring of engines, the strenuous efforts of athletes down through the ages—how does it compare to this? The sublime utterances of the most sublime writers in recorded history?  Striving to be the most sublime? Is this not sublime in itself—to contemplate this battle of the sublime?

These figures of world history do not ask for mere responses.  This is not the attention-getting trash of the merely avant-garde.   These ideas and feelings tower over you and demand you contemplate them, or die.  The sublime obliterates the self, and leaves in its wake a new self, made of nobler things.  This is not what you may know, but what you must know.

Welcome to the March Madness Sublime Tournament!

The banners are golden and the gods are here to watch.

There has never been a red carpet like this.

Homer, ravishment. Plato, ultimate beauty. Aristotle, art. Sophocles, fate. Ovid, wit. Horace, criticism. Virgil, drama. Dante, morals. Petrarch, faith. da Vinci, seeing, Shakespeare, enchantment. Donne, verse. Milton, poetry. Lessing, aesthetics, Gray, elegy. Burke, political psychology.

To predict who wins the Classical bracket, the experts suggest we ask “Considering what these titans represent, what does the world need most—what can we least do without?”  da Vinci would say, ” We need to see!  We need to know how to look!”  Burke would caution, “if citizens are not taught how to think, and get along with each other, we are doomed.”  And so forth.

 

And now, here is the second bracket the March Madness Committee has selected for the Sublime 2020 March Madness:

 

ROMANTIC

1) Blake (the tyger)

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
.
In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?
.
And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
.
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
.
Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

2) Goethe (faust)

Gretchen: You don’t believe in God?

Faust: Do not misunderstand me, my love, my queen!
Who can name him?
Admit on the spot:
I believe in him?
And who can dare
To perceive and declare:
I believe in him not?
The All-Embracing One,
The All-Upholding One,
Does he not embrace, uphold,
You, me, Himself?
Does not the Heaven vault itself above us?
Is not the earth established fast below?
And with their friendly glances do not
Eternal stars rise over us?
Do not my eyes look into yours,
And all things thrust
Into your head, into your heart,
And weave in everlasting mystery
Invisibly, visibly, around you?
Fill your heart with this, great as it is,
And when this feeling grants you perfect bliss,
Then call it what you will—
Happiness! Heart! Love! God!
I have no name for it!
Feeling is all;
Name is mere sound and reek
Clouding Heaven’s light.

Gretchen: That sounds quite good and right;
And much as the priest might speak,
Only not word for word.

Faust: It is what all hearts have heard
In all the places heavenly day can reach,
Each in his own speech;
Why not I in mine?

Gretchen: I could almost accept it, you make it sound so fine,
Still there is something in it that shouldn’t be;
For you have no Christianity.

Faust: Dear child!

Gretchen: It has long been a grief to me
To see you in such company.

Faust: You mean?

Gretchen: The man who goes about with you.
I hate him in my soul, through and through.
And nothing has given my heart
In my whole life so keen a smart
As that man’s face, so dire, so grim.

Faust: Beloved child, don’t be afraid of him!

3) Coleridge (kubla khan)
.
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
   Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
.
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
   The shadow of the dome of pleasure
   Floated midway on the waves;
   Where was heard the mingled measure
   From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
.
   A damsel with a dulcimer
   In a vision once I saw:
   It was an Abyssinian maid
   And on her dulcimer she played,
   Singing of Mount Abora.
   Could I revive within me
   Her symphony and song,
   To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

4) Shelley (the cloud)

I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,
From the seas and the streams;
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.
From my wings are shaken the dews that waken
The sweet buds every one,
When rocked to rest on their mother’s breast,
As she dances about the sun.
I wield the flail of the lashing hail,
And whiten the green plains under,
And then again I dissolve it in rain,
And laugh as I pass in thunder.
.
.
5) Cornelius Matthews (Wakondah)
.
Green dells that into silence stretch away
.
.
6) Keats (hyperion)
.
Deep in the shady sadness of a vale
Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn,
Far from the fiery noon, and eve’s one star,
Sat gray-hair’d Saturn, quiet as a stone,
Still as the silence round about his lair;
Forest on forest hung about his head
Like cloud on cloud. No stir of air was there,
Not so much life as on a summer’s day
Robs not one light seed from the feather’d grass,
But where the dead leaf fell, there did it rest.
.
.
7) Pushkin (thoughts)

If I walk the noisy streets,
or enter a many thronged church,
or sit among the wild young generation,
I give way to my thoughts.

I say to myself: the years are fleeting,
and however many there seem to be,
we must all go under the eternal vault,
and someone’s hour is already at hand.

When I look at a solitary oak
I think: the patriarch of the woods.
It will outlive my forgotten age
as it outlived that of my grandfathers’.

If I caress a young child,
immediately I think: Farewell!
I will yield my place to you,
for I must fade while your flower blooms.

Each day, every hour
I habitually follow in my thoughts,
trying to guess from their number
the year which brings my death.

And where will fate send death to me?
In battle, in my travels, or on the seas?
Or will the neighbouring valley
receive my chilled ashes?

And although to the senseless body
it is indifferent wherever it rots,
yet close to my beloved countryside
I still would prefer to rest.

And let it be, beside the grave’s vault
Young life forever will be playing,
and impartial, indifferent nature
Spreads, forever staying.

8) Byron (darkness)

The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirr’d within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp’d
They slept on the abyss without a surge—
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir’d before;
The winds were wither’d in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish’d; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them—She was the Universe.

9) Tennyson (the splendor falls)

The splendor falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story:
The long light shakes across the lakes,
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.
.
O hark, O hear! how thin and clear,
And thinner, clearer, farther going
O sweet and far from cliff and scar
The horns of Elfland faintly blowng!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying:
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.
.
O love, they die in yon rich sky,
They faint on hill or field or river:
Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
And grow for ever and for ever.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying.
.
.
10) Poe (conversation of eiros and charmion)

It had been long known that the air which encircled us was a compound of oxygen and nitrogen gases, in the proportion of twenty-one measures of oxygen, and seventy-nine of nitrogen, in every one hundred of the atmosphere. Oxygen, which was the principle of combustion, and the vehicle of heat, was absolutely necessary to the support of animal life, and was the most powerful and energetic agent in nature. Nitrogen, on the contrary, was incapable of supporting either animal life or flame. An unnatural excess of oxygen would result, it had been ascertained, in just such an elevation of the animal spirits as we had latterly experienced. It was the pursuit, the extension of the idea, which had engendered awe. What would be the result of a total extraction of the nitrogen? A combustion irresistible, all-devouring, omni-prevalent, immediate; — the entire fulfilment, in all their minute and terrible details, of the fiery and horror-inspiring denunciations of the prophecies of the Holy Book.

Why need I paint, Charmion, the now disenchained frenzy of mankind? That tenuity in the comet which had previously inspired us with hope, was now the source of the bitterness of despair. In its impalpable gaseous character we clearly perceived the consummation of Fate. Meantime a day again passed — bearing away with it the last shadow of Hope. We gasped in the rapid modification of the air. The red blood bounded tumultuously through its strict channels. A furious delirium possessed all men; and, with arms rigidly outstretched towards the threatening heavens, they trembled and shrieked aloud. But the nucleus of the destroyer was now upon us; — even here in Aidenn, I shudder while I speak. Let me be brief — brief as the ruin that overwhelmed. For a moment there was a wild lurid light alone, visiting and penetrating all things. Then — let us bow down, Charmion, before the excessive majesty of the great God! — then, there came a shouting and pervading sound, as if from the mouth itself of HIM; while the whole incumbent mass of ether in which we existed, burst at once into a species of intense flame, for whose surpassing brilliancy and all-fervid heat even the angels in the high Heaven of pure knowledge have no name. Thus ended all.

11) Elizabeth Barrett (the drama of exile)

On a mountain peak
Half sheathed in primal woods and glittering
In spasms of awful sunshine, at that hour
A lion crouched,—part raised upon his paws,
With his calm massive face turned full on thine,
And his mane listening. When the ended curse
Left silence in the world, right suddenly
He sprang up rampant, and stood straight and stiff,
As if the new reality of death
Were dashed against his eyes,—and roared so fierce,
(Such thick carnivorous passion in his throat
Tearing a passage through the wrath and fear)—
And roared so wild, and smote from all the hills
Such fast keen echoes crumbling down the vales
To distant silence,—that the forest beasts,
One after one, did mutter a response
In savage and in sorrowful complaint
Which trailed along the gorges.

12) R. H. Horne (orion)

There, underneath the boughs, mark where the gleam
Of sunrise through the roofing’s chasm is thrown
Upon a grassy plot below, whereon
The shadow of a stag stoops to the stream,
Swift rolling toward the cataract, and drinks,
While ever and anon the nightingale,
Not waiting for the evening, swells his hymn—
His one sustained and heaven aspiring tone—
And when the sun hath vanished utterly,
Arm over arm the cedars spread their shade,
With arching wrist and long extended hands,
And grave-ward fingers lengthening in the moon,
Above that shadowy stag whose antlers still
Hung o’er the stream.

13) Hawthorne (the scarlet letter)

She inherited her mother’s gift for devising drapery and costume. As the last touch to her mermaid’s garb, Pearl took some eel-grass, and imitated, as best she could, on her own bosom, the decoration with which she was so familiar on her mother’s. A letter,—the letter A,—but freshly green, instead of scarlet! The child bent her chin upon her breast, and contemplated this device with strange interest; even as if the one only thing for which she had been sent into the world was to make out its hidden import.

14) Marx

There is a physical relation between physical things. But it is different with commodities. There, the existence of the things qua commodities, and the value-relation between the products of labor which stamps them as commodities, have absolutely no connection with their physical properties and with the material relations arising therefrom. There it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. This I call the Fetishism which attaches itself to products of labor, so soon as they are produced as commodities.

15) Emily Dickinson (because i could not stop for death)
.
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.
.
We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –
.
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –
.
Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –
.
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –
.
Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –
.
.
16) Wilde (the critic as artist)

I should have said that great artists worked unconsciously, that they were “wiser than they knew,” as, I think, Emerson remarks somewhere, but it is really not so.

All fine imaginative work is self-conscious and deliberate. No poet sings because he must sing. At least, no great poet does.  A great poet sings because he chooses to sing. It is so now, and it has always been so. We are sometimes apt to think that the voices that sounded at the dawn of poetry were simpler, fresher, and more natural than ours, and that the world which the early poets looked at, and through which they walked, had a kind of poetical quality of its own, and almost without changing could pass into song. The snow lies thick now upon Olympus, and its steep, scraped sides are bleak and barren, but once, we fancy, the white feet of the Muses brushed the dew from the anemones in the morning, and at evening came Apollo to sing to the shepherds in the vale. But in this we are merely lending to other ages what we desire, or think we desire, for our own. Our historical sense is at fault. Every century that produces poetry is, so far, an artificial century, and the work that seems to us to be the most natural and simple product of its time is always the result of the most self-conscious effort. There is no fine art without self-consciousness, and self-consciousness and the critical spirit are one.

The longer one studies life and literature, the more strongly one feels that behind everything that is wonderful stands the individual, and that it is not the moment that makes the man, but the man who creates the age. Indeed, I am inclined to think that each myth and legend that seems to us to spring out of the wonder, or terror, or fancy of tribe and nation, was in its origin the invention of one single mind.

~~~~~~~~~

Some interesting choices here!  Karl Marx??  And who is R.H. Horne? And Cornelius Matthews?  Perhaps only the Scarriet March Madness Committee knows for sure.

 

 

 

 

MARCH MADNESS 2020—THE SUBLIME!!

Image result for goya the giant

The sublime requires size.

The small, or that which aims at the small, cannot be sublime.

It’s really that simple.  And when we can be simple, we should be.  And this very idea has in it something of the sublime itself.  The sublime is not complex.  It is large, first, or, perhaps, complex in a large manner.

A large space is required; the sublime requires a long view.

I point out the simple, even grotesquely simple, criterion of sublimity to check those runaway intellectual arguments which will naturally veer away from a properly sublime definition.  There will always be something small about any intellectual argumentation, no matter how good it is.

The sublime is a fact, and cannot be argued into, or out of, existence.

The sublime is not necessarily that which takes a lot of work on the part of the artist. It simply is—or it should at least seem that way.

Searching through many pages of literature for examples of the sublime is a depressing task, for as one skips over many passages and poems because they do not quite reach the level of the sublime, unfulfilled expectations begin to sadden one on many levels; we say to ourselves: “I seem to remember letters being better than this. The sublime, after all, is the ultimate measure.” As we pass on more and more work, deciding it’s not worthy, searching for the ultimate begins to demoralize us. We can’t argue away this gut feeling.

But we push on, and when we find the sublime, we are happy.

An argument can be thorough, or decisive, or convincing. It can never be sublime.

But if a description is an argument, and if any piece of rhetoric either describes or convinces us of anything not mundane, then haven’t we excluded poetry from the sublime, if we say an argument can never be sublime?

Can an argument have dimensions? Can words have magnitude?

Certainly words can describe, and therefore whatever is a description of the sublime falls under the category of sublime poetry.

We should remember that Edmund Burke, in his famous mid-18th century essay on the sublime, said poetry was the better vehicle for the sublime than painting. He was thinking mostly about Milton and the Bible.

Painters and architects need material resources, a vision embodied and fleshed out, constructed, built, displayed, functioning in the eye with the depths and shadows of every massive, material, fact. Terrible echoes must sound and sigh; they must be real. A true glittering must struggle with the shadow over the abyss. A heavy door to the unknown must open suddenly to the wind.

The poet needs no materials, no edifices, no walls, no howling distances, no rock, no river, no eyesight aching, no pitiless view, no shadow from stone, no darkness deepening over drafty ruins, no bleak night times of silent stars.

Poetry, then, can be small, as long as what it describes is large.

Poetry has two choices: be modest or sublime. Prose is acquainted with every subject, every nuance; this the poet knows; the poet knows the only way to move the heart is by being humble—or its opposite.

Is it true that modern poetry has no sublime tradition?

No spark, no faint shower of light falling from beyond, no echo of Homer, Dante, or Milton troubles the modern eye. What creates the sublime? What storms greet our poetry now?

But we shouldn’t be hasty.

There may be plenty of sublime poetry in our day. We just need to look for it. Perhaps it’s there, but we have forgotten how to see it.

***

Edgar Poe, who lived on the other side of the abyss from today’s colloquial, modern sensibility, loved the sublime perhaps more than anything.

Modesty and sublimity are not values we assign to poetry anymore.

It says something about our age, that when it looks at Poe, it doesn’t see the sublime, but registers “macabre.”

But Poe was sublime all the way.

Not only in his poetry and fiction—but in his non-fiction, which included criticism.

In this review of William Ellery Channing, Poe, the critic, ridicules the attempt to be sublime:

My empire is myself and I defy
The external; yes, I rule the whole or die!

It will be observed, here, that Mr. Channing’s empire is himself, (a small kingdom, however,) that he intends to defy “the external,” whatever that is — perhaps he means the infernals and that, in short, he is going to rule the whole or die; all which is very proper, indeed, and nothing more than we have to expect from Mr. C.

Again, at page 146, he is rather fierce than otherwise. He says;

We surely were not meant to ride the sea,
Skimming the wave in that so prisoned small,
Reposing our infinite faculties utterly.
Boom like a roaring sunlit waterfall.
Humming to infinite abysms: speak loud, speak free!

Here Mr. Channing not only intends to “speak loud and free” himself, but advises every body else to do likewise. For his own part, he says, he is going to “ boom” — “to hum and to boom” — to “hum like a roaring waterfall,” and “boom to an infinite abysm.” What, in the name of Belzebub, is to become of us all?

Poe didn’t think much of Channing, the child of the preacher; Channing the Younger was a poet mentored by Emerson; Poe reviled Emerson’s didactic, sermonizing circle of New England Transcendentalists. Their whole attitude can be summed up in the couplet of Channing’s quoted above: “My empire is myself and I defy/The external; yes, I rule the whole or die!”  According to Poe, there was a way to do literature and “I rule the whole or die!” just wouldn’t do.

We wouldn’t know it (because who carefully reads widely in Poe’s critical prose) but Poe, at least in his own mind, to an extreme degree, was very forward thinking.  In the first few paragraphs of his review of Drama of Exile and Other Poems by Elizabeth Barrett, Poe says quite a bit against antiquity, and in favor of plain, modern, common sense:

1) He writes that he will not treat Barrett as a woman, but as a writer, as he points out that women should no longer be treated in a patronizing way by male authors.

2) Of Elizabeth Barrett’s long poem, “Drama of Exile” is the story of Eve, inspired by Greek Tragedy, Poe writes:

The Greek tragedies had and even have high merits; but we act wisely in now substituting for the external and typified human sympathy of the antique Chorus, a direct, internal, living and moving sympathy itself; and although AEschylus might have done service as “a model,” to either Euripides or Sophocles, yet were Sophocles and Euripides in London to-day, they would, perhaps, while granting a certain formless and shadowy grandeur, indulge a quiet smile at the shallowness and uncouthness of that Art, which, in the old amphitheatres, had beguiled them into applause of the Œdipus at Colonos.”

“It would have been better for Miss Barrett if, throwing herself independently upon her own very extraordinary resources, and forgetting that a Greek had ever lived, she had involved her Eve in a series of adventures merely natural, or if not this, of adventures preternatural within the limits of at least a conceivable relation — a relation of matter to spirit and spirit to matter, that should have left room for something like palpable action and comprehensible emotion — that should not have utterly precluded the development of that womanly character which is admitted as the principal object of the poem. As the case actually stands, it is only in a few snatches of verbal intercommunication with Adam and Lucifer, that we behold her as a woman at all. For the rest, she is a mystical something or nothing, enwrapped in a fog of rhapsody about Transfiguration, and the Seed, and the Bruising of the Heel, and other talk of a nature that no man ever pretended to understand in plain prose, and which, when solar-microscoped into poetry “upon the model of the Greek drama,” is about as convincing as the Egyptian Lectures of Mr. Silk Buckingham — about as much to any purpose under the sun as the hi presto! conjurations of Signor Blitz.

3) Poe then scolds Milton—who has influenced Barrett—in the following manner:

She [Barrett in her introduction] has made allusion to Milton, and no doubt felt secure in her theme (as a theme merely) when she considered his “Paradise Lost.” But even in Milton’s own day, when men had the habit of believing all things, the more nonsensical the more readily, and of worshipping, in blind acquiescence, the most preposterous of impossibilities — even then. there were not wanting individuals who would have read the great epic with more: — , could it have been explained to their satisfaction, how ind why it was, not only that a snake quoted Aristotle’s ethics, and behaved otherwise pretty much as he pleased, but that bloody battles were continually being fought between bloodless “innumerable angels,” that found no inconvenience m losing a wing one minute and a head the next, and if pounded up into puff-paste late in the afternoon, were as good “innumerable angels” as new the next morning, in time to be at reveille roll-call: And now — at the present epoch — there are few people who do not occasionally think. This is emphatically the thinking age; — indeed it may very well be questioned whether mankind ever substantially thought before. The fact is, if the “Paradise Lost” were written to-day (assuming that it had never been written when it was), not even its eminent, although over-estimated merits, would counterbalance, either in the public view, or in the opinion of any critic at once intelligent and honest, the multitudinous incongruities which are part and parcel of its plot.

This is all by way of the sublime.  One can see that Poe has very definite opinions on how one should go about writing in the sublime manner—one still needs to have both feet on the ground, even as one takes a certain fantastic license.

Here is Poe once more, from the “Drama of Exile”review, taking Barrett to task for being sublimely annoying:

But in the plot of the drama of Miss Barrett it is something even worse than incongruity which affronts: — a continuous mystical strain of ill-fitting and exaggerated allegory — if, indeed, allegory is not much too respectable a term for it. We are called upon, for example, to sympathise in the whimsical woes of two Spirits, who, upspringing from the bowels of the earth, set immediately to bewailing their miseries in jargon such as this:

I am the spirit of the harmless earth;
God spake me softly out among the stars,
As softly as a blessing of much worth —
And then his smile did follow unawares,
That all things, fashioned, so, for use and duty,
Might shine anointed with his chrism of beauty —
Yet I wail!

I drave on with the worlds exultingly,
Obliquely down the Godlight’s gradual fall —
Individual aspect and complexity
Of gyratory orb and interval,
Lost in the fluent motion of delight
Toward the high ends of Being, beyond Sight —
Yet I wail!

Innumerable other spirits discourse successively after the same fashion, each ending every stanza of his lamentation with the “yet I wail!” When at length they have fairly made an end, Eve touches Adam upon the elbow, and hazards, also, the profound and pathetic observation — “Lo, Adam, they wail!” — which is nothing more than the simple truth — for they do — and God deliver us from any such wailing again!

But let’s look at Poe selecting a passage of Barrett for praise.

And he loves this because it’s sublime, though he doesn’t use the word:

It is not our purpose, however, to demonstrate what every reader of these volumes will have readily seen self-demonstrated — the utter indefensibility of “The Drama of Exile,” considered uniquely, as a work of art. We have none of us to be told that a medley of metaphysical recitatives sung out of tune, at Adam and Eve, by all manner of inconceivable abstractions, is not exactly the best material for a poem. Still it may very well happen that among this material there shall be individual passages of great beauty. But should any one doubt the possibility, let him be satisfied by a single extract such as follows:

On a mountain peak
Half sheathed in primal woods and glittering
In spasms of awful sunshine, at that hour
A lion couched, — part raised upon his paws,
With his calm massive face turned full on shine,
And his mane listening. When the ended curse
Left silence in the world, right suddenly
He sprang up rampant, and stood straight and stiff,
As if the new reality of death
Were dashed against his eyes, — and roared so fierce,
(Such thick carnivorous passion in his throat
Tearing a passage through the wrath and fear)
And roared so wild, and smote from all the hills
Such fast keen echoes crumbling down the vales
To distant silence, — that the forest beasts,
One after one, did mutter a response
In savage and in sorrowful complaint
Which trailed along the gorges.

There is an Homeric force here — a vivid picturesqueness in all men will appreciate and admire. It is, however, the longest quotable passage in the drama, not disfigured with blemishes of importance; — although there are many — very many passages of a far loftier order of excellence, so disfigured, and which, therefore, it would not suit our immediate e to extract. The truth is, — and it may be as well mentioned at this point as elsewhere — that we are not to look in Miss Barrett’s works for any examples of what has been occasionally termed “sustained effort;” for neither are there, in any of her poems, any long commendable paragraphs, nor are there any individual compositions which will bear the slightest examination as consistent Art-products. Her wild and magnificent genius seems to have contented itself with points — to have exhausted itself in flashes; — but it is the profusion — the unparalleled number and close propinquity of these points and flashes which render her book one flame, and justify us in calling her, unhesitatingly, the greatest — the most glorious of her sex.

 

***

The history of the sublime can be summed up this way—in the 18th century, the idea of the sublime caught fire and exploded; the sublime was the dominant aesthetic well into the 19th century; then it vanished into the human-centered realism of modernism. Longinus was translated into English in the early 18th century—Longinus defined sublimity as ecstasy for the learned; Burke, an advocate of emotion linked to thought, called it terror, at a safe distance; Kant called it more reasonable than the beautiful, since it participates in the unknown and great thoughts and ideas launch into, and participate, in the unknown. The Romantics were swept up into greatness as they contemplated and breathed the sublime. Wordsworth used the sublime to be more than a nature poet, Coleridge’s best poetry burned with it; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein spoke to the fearful heart of it; Shelley, Byron, and Keats were what they were because of it; the glorious,18th century flame finally expired in the magnificence of Poe, who is called, by the small-minded, “macabre,” instead of what he really is—sublime.

***

THIS YEAR’S MARCH MADNESS HAS THE FOLLOWING FOUR BRACKETS: CLASSICAL, ROMANTIC, MODERN, AND POST-MODERN.

HERE ARE THE 16 MARCH MADNESS 2020 CONTENDERS—IN THE CLASSICAL BRACKET:

1) Homer (iliad)

Friend! You will die—but why moan about it so?
Remember Patroclus? He was better than you.
Look! I’m handsome and stronger—
A marvelous father, my mother a deathless goddess—
But thanks to fate, I, too, will be brought low.
At midnight, maybe at noon, a mortal will kill me, too—
From a spear, by chance thrown, or a singing arrow.

2) Plato (symposium)

The mysteries of love?  Begin with examples of beauty in the world, and using them as steps to ascend, with that absolute beauty as one’s aim, from one instance of physical beauty to two and from two to all, from physical beauty to moral beauty, and from moral beauty to the beauty of knowledge, until from knowledge of various kinds one arrives at the supreme knowledge—whose sole object is absolute beauty, to know at last what absolute beauty is.

3) Aristotle (poetics)

Having distinguished the parts, let us now consider the proper construction of the Fable or Plot—the most important thing in Tragedy. We have laid it down that a tragedy is an imitation of an action that is complete in itself, as a whole of some magnitude, for a whole may be of no magnitude to speak of. Now a whole is that which has beginning, middle, and end. A beginning is that which is not itself necessarily after anything else, and which has naturally something else after it; an end is that which is naturally after something itself, either as its necessary and consequent, and with nothing else after it; and a middle, that which is by nature after one thing and has also another after it. A well-constructed Plot, therefore, cannot either begin or end at any point one likes; beginning and end in it must be of the forms just described. Again: to be beautiful, a living creature, and every whole made up of parts, must not only present a certain order in its arrangement of parts, but also be of a certain definite magnitude. Beauty is a matter of size and order, and therefore impossible either in a very minute creature…or in a creature of vast size—one, say, 1,000 miles long.

4) Sophocles (oedipus rex)

Speak not to these or me. Thou art the man,
Thou the accursed polluter of this land.

5) Ovid (art of love)

It is art to conceal art.

6) Horace (ars poetica)

There are some mistakes we forgive. The string doesn’t always give the note that the hand and the mind intended: it often returns a high note when you ask for a low. The bow won’t always hit what it threatens to hit. But when most features of a poem are brilliant, I shan’t be offended by a few blemishes thrown around by carelessness or human negligence. But what then?  If a copyist goes on making the same mistake however much he is warned, he is not forgiven; if a lyre-player always gets the same note wrong, people laugh at him. I’m even angry when Homer nods, though a doze is OK in a long work.

7) Virgil (aeneid)

I abandoned you, and caused your grieving.
I abandoned you, and caused your death.
And now those same gods compel me to search in these shadows,
Where death reigns, and gruesome night is all.

8) Dante (inferno)

“These have no longer any hope of death;
This blind life of theirs is so debased,
They envy all—even others’ final breath.

The world does not permit them any fame;
Mercy does not care for this moaning mass;
Let us not speak of them, but look, and pass.”

And I, who looked again, beheld a banner
Whirling, moving in a frenzied manner,
Bobbing up and down, leading the creatures,

Who thronged, piteous, in great numbers,
Filling the circle. I could not believe
Death had undone so many.

9) Petrarch (la gola e ‘l sonno et l’otiose piume)

Greed and sleep and slothful beds
Have banished every virtue from the world,
So that, overcome by habit,
Our nature has almost lost its way.

And all the benign lights of heaven,
That inform human life, are so spent,
That he who wishes to bring down the light
From Helicon is pointed out as a wonder.

Such desire for laurel, and for myrtle?
‘Poor and naked goes philosophy,’
Say the crowd intent on base profit.

You’ll have poor company on that other road:
So much more I beg you, gentle spirit,
Don’t turn away from your great undertaking.

10) da  Vinci (notebooks)

The first intention of the painter is to make
A flat surface display a body
As if modeled and separated from this plane,
And he who most surpasses others in this skill
Deserves more praise.
This accomplishment,
With which the science of painting
Is crowned, arises from light and shade—
Chiaroscuro.
Therefore, whoever fights shy of shadow
Fights shy of the glory of art
As recognized by noble intellects,
But acquires glory according to the ignorant masses,
Who require nothing of painting other than beauty of color,
Totally forgetting the beauty and wonder
Of a flat surface
Displaying relief.
The art of painting embraces and contains within itself
All visible things. It is the poverty of sculpture
That it cannot show the colors of everything
And their diminution
With distance.

11) Shakespeare (the tempest)

Be not afraid; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.

12) John Donne (death be no proud)

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

13) Milton (paradise lost)

Some natural tears they drop’d, but wip’d them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide;
They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.

14) G. E. Lessing (laocoon)

Objects which exist side by side, or whose parts so exist, are called bodies. Consequently bodies with their visible properties are the peculiar subjects of painting.

Objects which succeed each other, or whose parts succeed each other in time, are actions. Consequently actions are the peculiar subjects of poetry.

All bodies, however, exist not only in space, but also in time. They continue, and, at any moment of their continuance, may assume a different appearance and stand in different relations. Every one of these momentary appearances and groupings was the result of a preceding, may become the cause of a following, and is therefore the center of a present, action. Consequently painting can imitate actions, also, but only as they are suggested through forms.

Actions, on the other hand, cannot exist independently, but must also be joined to certain agents. In so far as those agents are bodies or are regarded as such, poetry describes also bodies, but only indirectly through actions.

Painting, in its coexistent compositions, can use but a single moment of an action, and must therefore choose the most pregnant one, the one most suggestive of what has gone before and what is to follow.

Poetry, in its progressive imitations, can use but a single attribute of bodies, and must choose that one which gives the most vivid picture of the body as exercised in this particular action.

Hence the rule for the employment of a single descriptive epithet, and the cause of the rare occurrence of descriptions of physical objects.

I should place less confidence in this dry chain of conclusions, did I not find them fully confirmed by Homer, or, rather, had they not been first suggested to me by Homer’s method. These principles alone furnish a key to the noble style of the Greek, and enable us to pass just judgment on the opposite method of many modern poets who insist upon emulating the artist in a point where they must of necessity remain inferior to him.

15) Thomas Gray (elegy in a country churchyard)

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds.

16) Edmund Burke (introduction. on taste)

The mind of man has naturally a far greater alacrity and satisfaction in tracing resemblances than in searching for differences; because by making resemblance we produce new images, we unite, we create, we enlarge our stock; but in making distinctions we offer no food at all to the imagination; the task itself is more severe and irksome, and what pleasure we derive from it is something of a negative and indirect nature. A piece of news is told me in the morning; this, merely as a piece of news, as a fact added to my stock, gives me some pleasure. In the evening I find there was nothing in it. What do I gain by this, but the dissatisfaction to find that I had been imposed upon? Hence it is, that men are much more naturally inclined to belief than to incredulity. And it is upon this principle, that the most ignorant and barbarous nations have frequently excelled in similitudes, comparisons, metaphors, and allegories, who have been weak and backward in distinguishing and sorting their ideas. And it is for a reason of this kind that Homer and the oriental writers, though very fond of similitudes, and though they often strike out such as are truly admirable, they seldom take care to have them exact; that is, they are taken with the general resemblance, they paint it strongly, and they take no notice of the difference which may be found between the things compared.

 

LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!

 

THE NEO-CON CON

British warships in the Far East, 1920s 

A sensitive and historical piece appeared in the Federalist, recently: Are Neocons Really Back In The Trump Administration? 

A delicate piece indeed, even going so far as not to offend the neo-cons themselves, calling their globalist war dreams egalitarian.

The globalist warmongers (Bush and Clinton) may be rooted in 1930s Trotskyism, as this article says, but their roots are deeper. Neo-cons, like liberals, trace their political philosophy back to the British Empire, which fought and befriended-only-to-betray the great American Experiment which came into existence as a counter to the empire’s globalism, taxes, and slavery. The American patriots, underdogs in 1776, have always been underdogs, but miracles keep occuring; one of the biggest was oil, which transformed the world economy in the early 20th century. It’s said often, but oil really did enable the USA, blessed with deposits of black gold beneath places like Texas and Pennsylvania, to materially usurp the British Empire.

In the 19th century, Britain practically did rule the world. This is not a conspiracy theory. They did. And it wasn’t all that long ago. Five or six generations ago. That’s not a long time ago. It’s not ancient history. Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was feted by London, and lectured throughout England and America leading up to the Civil War from his work, “English Traits,” on the glory of the British Empire from a racist perpective—yes, this is true—inspired T.S. Eliot, in 1949, whose grandfather knew Emerson, to scorn and attack the pre-Civil War patriot, Edgar Poe, who died in 1849. History teaches anyone who courts her that spans of years are actually very short. And we bring up Emerson/Poe/Eliot as just one cultural, historical example of how deep and entangled the relationship between the British Empire and America is.

In 1860, the America of Washington, Hamilton, and Franklin really was on the ropes, with their old ally France occupying Mexico, and the snake, the Cofederacy, supported tacitly by Britain. Lord Russell was Britain’s prime minister then, grandfather to the great philosopher Bertrand Russell, the great, free thinking, philosopher, who, in his old age, was obsessed with World Government as the way to save the world. Kind of funny, innit?

A few years later, in the Bush era, the ruling political principle of Tony Blair and Bush was to plunge the USA into reckless, destabilizing wars. It’s what Neo-cons love to do, on behalf of the New World Order—the new British Empire.

The CIA, formed shortly after WW II, got too close to MI6, a love affair started, and American intelligence helped the USA fight on as the sophisticated, ivy league, version of the British Empire. The oil of Iran contributed to the glory of Britain until the oil deal ran out in 1979, and Tehran got a fanatical new leader to hate America and roil the middle east. To this day, American politics can be measured by how much one despises the post-1979 regime in Iran. Deplorables hate the regime. John Kerry kind of likes it.

Oil, which still makes America a colossus, is hated by the anti-fossil fuels movement, another political, fault-line, flash-point, if there ever was one.

Bernie, the commie, hates fossil fuels. The left must hate fossil fuels. This has nothing to do with science. (The left falsely believes CO2 is a pollutant. CO2 is necessary for life.)

One would suppose the Greens would hate Trump more than anyone, and they do.

Trump’s “basket of deplorables” is American patriotism pure and simple, hated equally by the two heads of the old divide-and-rule British Empire, called by various names: the Deep State, the New World Order, the DNC plus RINOs, the neo-cons, liberalism. And they rule chiefly with the help of three things: masses who want free stuff, China and Iran.

In this picture we are painting, it is telling how quickly, in 2016, the Left went full-blown McCarthyite. Another indication that behind the scenes the neo-con right and the liberal left were always the same.

Russia is especially hated by the Bertrand Russell/Winston Churchill/BBC faction of the UK.

Mother Russia was America’s ally in the mid-19th century, freeing her serfs when we freed our slaves.

Russia was our friend when the Britain of Lord Russell, and her new ally, France (of Napoleon III, not Lafayette—there’s a reason why Lafayette is named after so many places in America) almost ruled the world in 1860. So it makes sense in this context that Russia is hated (more so than when they were the Soviet Union!) and vociferously called out—on NBC and in the New York Times and in the Washington Post—as being Trump’s friend, and puppet master, by both liberals and neo-cons.

1930s international Trotskyism as the origin of the neo-cons? Perhaps. But we should take an even wider view. The true root of the neo-cons (and their liberal abetters) is 1860s British Empire/Imperial France/Free Trade/Opium Wars globalism.

After all, no one made international mischief like the globalists of London—who, when they could no longer steal oil from Iran, turned it over to the mullahs, to ensure that country would hate the United States. Think of one of the great liberals, Jimmy Carter, and the recent declassified documents showing Jimmy’s State Dept and Jimmy Carter himself, talking with the killer himself, Khomeini, to get him over from Paris and into Tehran where great mischief could be made. Jimmy and his ilk hates Trump. Khamenei hates Trump. Prince Charles hates Trump. Jussie Smolett hates Trump. Meryl Streep hates Trump. And even you, dear reader, in order not to be called a rube by an ivy league, white collar, snot, would be out of your mind, not to hate Trump. He’s crude, and his wife is prettier than your girlfriend.

But let’s keep our fingers crossed. Trade deals. Peace. True democracy. Calm before the doom and gloom on the left, right, and middle. (CBS is almost as scary as Alex Jones.)  A growing economy. And love, too, right? Love. Can’t we also have that?

J. ALFRED PRUFROCK AND THE RAVEN

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I wish I had a loud voice,

Then people would have no choice

But to listen to me. In a restaurant,

Around friends, I would get what I want.

My friends, and even those who run the restaurant

Would have no doubt.

I would be heard. And later, with her, alone,

I could reveal the truth: “I only shout

And boast to be heard. I chose

That voice for gain,” I could whisper.

And then she would take off her clothes…

But I don’t have a voice based on a plan.

I have the voice any man

Could listen to, or not.

I’m a working stiff who commutes.

I’m careful. There isn’t any plot!

A warning: this sad poem will quietly fade away.

Is that okay?

I’m not the man people need to see.

There’s nothing about me

Which rises above something marvelous

I might say in my poetry.

I even hold still in an emergency.

I’m the softest voice you ever heard,

As quiet as that solemn bird.

 

 

THE EXQUISITE EDGAR POE

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Edgar Poe was born on January 19, 1809.

Poe is a figure of opposites—which is what all successful people are.

First, it makes you enigmatic, which is always good, and it makes you enigmatic in a manner both complete and accessible, since opposites imply both depth and self-conscious unity, in a readily discernible manner. This will always make a character more attractive, and if not always appealing—some prefer consistency to complex magnitude—well, if today you don’t like this, tomorrow we’ll have its opposite. ‘I will always find a way to make you like me.’

Readers find Poe both emotional and mathematical.

One of his great themes was the double.

His essay on the physical universe, Eureka, was the first serious explanation of the Big Bang; it was read by Einstein, and Poe’s stunning scientific treatise is more influential than anyone will probably know. In it, we find the great opposites of the beginning when there is “nothing,” and the “bang” which produces “everything,” as matter expands into difference—which is how matter exists.

It is no surprise, then, that Poe’s detractors took to stealing from him those opposing qualities which make him truly who he is. He wrote humorous tales, but they focused soley on the ones concerned with murder. He laughed as often as he wept, but to suppress all that was great about him, all they had to do was appeal to our belief that he wept only, for we, the non-great, all share this low character—which takes delight in weeping for clowns and laughing at the sad. We laugh at Poe’s weeping, unable to accept he laughs, too. It makes us feel better. Genius, when experienced nakedly, has this way of making us, because we lack genius, feel miserable. And we don’t want to feel that. No one wants to feel overwhelmed by anyone. Hero-worship has a rule: it must have warmth and passion, but have a narrow, mean focus. Poe’s planet is both tropical and icy; but out of pride, we see him only as winter.

Poe is seen as ‘oddly this way.’ And therefore he doesn’t speak for us. He only represents a part of us. Poe has been damned with faint praise by the wise at Harvard and Oxford for so long, he is damned. He’s not perceived as one of us: an American speaking to Americans. But he was completely and soberly American in a time when Europe sneered at the upstart republic; Poe seems European, not because he strove to be that way; he was—and we have trouble seeing this—an American showing the world he could be anything he damn wanted. And seeming to be European was just one of his strategies. He lived and wrote for half his adult life in Philadelphia and New York, but somehow is boxed in as a Southerner who is a little too stiff, with a faint smell of gin, and worse, also falling into bohemian poverty which he hated—so on a personal level everyone has a reason to faintly dislike him. We’ve dressed him in borrowed clothes, in an outfit we’d like to think he wore—but Poe wears the world, the world doesn’t wear him. The default Poe that Americans “know” is not Poe, and since the private person belonging to his genius is to us a blank, the widely disseminated default simply lives on, reinforcing, inevitably, everything about him that is cheap and wrong. This happens to all of us; it’s just more magnified and unfortunate in a great writer.

For America’s sake, it’s a pity, because we lost somewhere in our Letters this true spokesman—who also happens to be one of the greatest geniuses who ever lived.

The opposites of good and evil will forever have a hold on our souls, not only in fiction, but in reality.

Poe was the Benjamin Franklin American good to colonialism’s world-cranking evil.

Poe belonged to the United States of America in its fragile, puritan, chaste, brilliant, heroic beginnings.

America is not the underdog anymore. But this is no reason to misunderstand and ignore America’s Shakespeare. Poe was not pretentious, so wouldn’t care, surely, that he’s B-movie popular. But ironically, no writer wrote for the educated few as much as Poe.

Whitman said America was “a poem.” But Poe, only 10 years older than Whitman, though he seems several lifetimes older, was America as “a poet.” Just as ‘America as a poem’ expands the definition of a poem, Poe’s ‘poet’ wrote more than poetry—murder mysteries (!) in which Dupin, an amateur, foils the chief of police, a professional. One coast of Poe barely knows the other. His laughing mountains barely know his sad valleys.

Britain, who had poets galore (America, before Poe, only school-boy imitators) was fast becoming the prose fact of the world. Places like India were colonized in reality, as America was colonized in the minds of brilliant but homely citizens like Thoreau and Emerson, who succumbed to the idea that locomotives were useless, even as U.S. manufacturing was the only thing keeping the United States free of colony status. Emerson (homely) and Poe (pretty) hated each other and Harold Bloom (homely) actually took up this quarrel, heavily on the side of Emerson. Anyone who does not consider themselves belonging to the world of locomotives will prefer Emerson, believing against all evidence that they are pretty, for taking the side of Emerson, simply because they are against locomotives.

America, with her locomotives, was the British Empire’s nightmare.

In Poe’s day, America was David to the British Empire’s Goliath, and the stone in David’s sling was not poetry; it was a locomotive. Poe was on the side of David and his locomotive, unlike Emerson’s friend Thoreau, for instance, who, unwittingly, by spurning the locomotive, sitting by his pond, played into the hands of the British Empire of colonies and holdings and farms and ponds and rivers and mines and booty and no borders. The romantic American belongs, at last, to Great Britain, and the Modernists, as Randal Jarrell surmised, were Romantics becoming so worldly they were no longer Americans—Henry James, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound— globalist white men who sneered at Poe—the world’s great literary inventor—as provincial, immature, and backwater, so devious and self-assured were they. Eliot really let loose against Poe in “From Poe to Valery,” only after American-turned-British Eliot won his Nobel.

The “smart set” thought Poe “boyish.” But this is always how worldly, defensive neurosis dismisses a clear-eyed god.

Poe, as a critic, desired two things: Always be original. Never be obscure. He called Thomas Carlyle an “ass” for being obscure.

Poe was loudly and confidently Romantic-as-Modern; no antiquarian, Poe. Look at how he defines old versus modern long before “the Modernists” appeared, in his review of a British Literature anthology:

“No general error evinces a more thorough confusion of ideas than the error of supposing Donne and Cowley metaphysical in the sense wherein Wordsworth and Coleridge are so. With the two former ethics were the end—with the two latter the means.”

Poe prefers Coleridge to Donne. But Poe finally understood exquisite and delicate imagination is far more important in poetry than ethics. Which is an idea so new that almost no one believes it. Eliot, the leading critic of the 20th century, preferred Donne to Coleridge, and now ethics in poetry is everywhere, threatening to overthrow both fancy and imagination (which Poe, ever-grounded, said were closer than we think).

In his review of the British anthology edited by S.C. Hall, Poe quotes from four poems, the first of which he does not like, a much anthologized specimen you may know, by Sir Henry Wotton:

1

You meaner beauties of the night

That poorly satisfy our eyes,

More by your number than your light,

You common people of the skies

What are you when the sun shall rise?

2

You curious chaunters of the wood

That warble forth dame Nature’s lays,

Thinking your passions understood

By your weak accents; what’s your praise

When Philomel her voice shall raise?

3

You violets, that first appear

By your pure purple mantles known,

Like the proud virgins of the year

As if the spring were all your own,

What are you when the rose is blown?

4

So, when my mistress shall be seen

In sweetness of her looks and mind,

By virtues first, then choice a queen,

Tell me if she were not designed

Th’ eclipse and glory of her kind?

And here’s the last poem which Poe quotes, by Marvell, which Poe loves:

“It is a wondrous thing how fleet

‘Twas on those little silver feet,

With what a pretty skipping grace

It oft would challenge me the race,

And when ‘t had left me far away

‘Twould stay and run again and stay;

For it was nimbler much than hinds,

And trod as if on the four winds.

I have a garden of my own,

But so with roses overgrown,

And lilies that you would it guess

To be a little wilderness,

And all the spring-time of the year

It only loved to be there.

Among the beds of lilies I

Have sought it oft where it should lie,

Yet could not till itself would rise

Find it although before mine eyes.

For in the flaxen lilies shade,

It like a bank of lilies laid,

Upon the roses it would feed

Until its lips even seemed to bleed,

And then to me ‘twould boldly trip,

And print those roses on my lip,

But all its chief delight was still

On roses thus itself to fill,

And its pure virgin limbs to fold

In whitest sheets of lilies cold.

Had it lived long it would have been

Lilies without, roses within.”

Most of us either like, or dislike, old rhyming poems. Leave it to Poe to start a war between two old gems few would bother to distinguish from each other.

Of the first poem (Henry Wotton), Poe says,

“Here everything is art—naked or but awkwardly concealed. No prepossession for the mere antique…should induce us to dignify with the sacred name of Poesy, a series such as this, of elaborate and threadbare compliments…stitched apparently together, without fancy, without plausibility, without adaptation of parts—and it is needless to add, without a jot of imagination.”

Of the Marvell, Poe, in swooning rapture, calls “the portion of it as we now copy…abounding in the sweetest pathos, in soft and gentle images, in the most exquisitely delicate imagination, and in truth—as any thing of its species.”

Whether writing on the mysteries of the universe, the mystery of a stolen letter, or on the delicate accents of poetry, Poe is a literary treasure—strict but passionate.

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

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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

 

“DAMN TRUTH AND LOOK ON BEAUTY TILL IT BEGINS TO HURT”

Anand Thakore, poet and musician

Whenever poetry is discussed, the smartest person in the room (or on social media) inevitably defines poetry as a linguistic construction—meant merely to please.

The greatest enemy of poetry?  Prose meaning which can be paraphrased.

Auden said it: In poetry, the desire to “fiddle around with words” is more important than “having something to say.”

This was the message of I.A. Richards and the New Critics—who were more influential than anyone realizes, especially among the learned and the influential.

Drain your poems of “truth.” Any traces of learning? Put them in footnotes at the end. T.S. Eliot, a New Critic, finally, did this with his most famous poem.

Indian poet Anand Thakore on Facebook recently: “the only way to learn how to read poetry is to damn truth and look on beauty till it begins to hurt”

Some would say this puts too much burden on poetry to be beautiful; it narrows poetry, inhibits it, cutting off poetry from verbal expression, which is the core of what poetry is. Poe was accused of being too “narrow” by American critics, especially by those who preferred Whitman.

But as Thakore goes on to say: “…pure truth-talk has other forms of discourse better suited…much neo-classical 18th century verse  fails… because poetry gets reduced to desperately ‘neat’ encapsulation of truth and deprived of it’s essential function.”

Thakore’s point is that it takes an even greater confidence in poetry’s verbal expression to believe it can succeed without the “neat encapsulation” of “pure truth-talk”—better suited to prose—as poetry defines itself as a unique (and valuable) genre in itself.

Thakore nicely encapsulates the New Critical philosophy: Poetry isn’t truth, but (and here Thakore quotes I.A. Richards) “pseudo-statements of musical, linguistic and emotive power.”

But here’s the rub. To really make his point, Thakore was forced to walk back the Keatsian equation of Beauty and Truth—according to Thakore, what Keats said wasn’t really “true.”

Sujatha Mathai wasn’t buying Thakore’s distinction, jumping in to defend poetic or ecstatic truth: “I feel truth is in the sense of a state of BEING. If I am moved to ecstasy by a wonderful sunset, I can feel Beauty is Truth. And that is all I need to know.”

One can read this to mean that a sunset is like a philosophical truth—or a poem; neither imply practicality or self-interest.

Philosophical wisdom, ecstatic moments, sunsets, and poetry have no practical merit in and of themselves.

The “ecstatic” position Mathal expressed is a humbler one than the New Critics. Those who argue for ‘ecstasy as a state of being’ may not be conscious of it, but what they are really expressing is the following:

It isn’t that Keats is saying “beauty is as important as truth!” but rather, “Truth? Meh. It merely pleases us as beauty does.”

When we state Keats’ formula in this more modest way, it is not sublime-sounding; it’s almost flat out disrespectful. Comparing sunsets to philosophical truths can have no other conclusion but this modest one: truth is (only!) beauty.

Thakore (the smartest one in the room) started the ball rolling with the New Critic I. A. Richards. Here is Thakore in his own words on Keats’ famous formula:

“Keats’ famous concluding lines ‘truth’s beauty/beauty truth’…comprise an ecstatic pseudo-statement that is of value not because it is ‘true’ but because it is beautifully constructed and acheives a balance between two paradigms—the aesthetic and the epistemological—in a way hitherto unthought of in verse.”

This doesn’t sound disrespectful, even as it says the same thing: the truth expressed by Keats isn’t worth a feather, or, a pretty feather is all it is. Using the word “epistemological” feels the same as when Mathai uses “BEING.” It refers to a broad view, that’s all; the equivalent of “we have room to talk about this later.” But the diminishment of the Poetry as Truth formula in every sense remains.

Mandakini Pachauri (this is all from the same FB discussion) quoted Dickinson’s “I Died For Beauty,” one who died for truth and one who died for beauty in the tomb finally covered in moss, but Thakore wasn’t impressed:

“It’s just a mundane reworking of the Keatsian paradigm.”

Dickinson, in Thakore’s view, violated the poetic rule: making truth (an established “paradigm”) the center of a poem. Truth and Beauty walked into a bar…

Here is Scarriet’s response to the conundrum of truth and beauty in poetry:

Truth directs our actions in the most ironic fashion possible. Truth questions our senses by directing our senses. Facts are mundane. Truth, which uses facts, is profound. Poetry follows truth’s path from the mundane to the profound. Remember this was Wordsworth’s formula expressed in the Preface to Literary Ballads: poetry takes the plain and makes it remarkable. Recall also this was Wordsworth’s poetical mission—his colleague, the more supernatural Coleridge, was ascribed the reverse: going from the remarkable to the plain. The path is what is important, not the direction; and the poetic path is the same as the truth’s. But this doesn’t mean what poetry says, or the things on the path, are true. 

Neither the Romantics nor Scarriet disagree with Thakore so far.

But back to truth. To put it more simply: Truth is when you realize your prison is a palace or your palace is a prison. A poem is a prison striving to be a palace.

Ode On a Grecian Urn: “Bold lover, never never canst thou kiss (Prison)…”ever will thou love and she be fair!” (Palace)

Truth is always a flash of insight, more connected to ecstasy than we realize. Beauty is slower and slowly fades.

Truth is so quick, it belongs to eternity.

How a poem is constructed—to which Thakore gives priority—is this truthful, or beautiful? The construction may be beautiful, but the “how” definitely belongs to truth.

Let us make the following supposition:

If you believe Truth and Beauty are different, you will be all the more moved by the speaking out of the phrase at the end of Keats’ poem. The anguish is what moves us, not the truth.

And if, instead, we believed Truth and Beauty were the same before we read Keats’ poem, we would also be moved by the ending of Keats’ poem.

Why?

How can a truthful disagreement have zero effect on how much we are moved by Keats’ utterance at the end of his poem?

In the second instance our ego would be moved—‘the stupid world thinks they are different, but Keats the poet agrees with me!’

This proves what Anand Thakore is saying. The construction of the poem is the “truth;” there is no truth, per se. Had the ‘truth/beauty’ phrase been at the beginning of the poem, phrase and poem would have failed.

And yet, if the critical approach we take to Keats’ poem is true, does it not indicate that truth matters in poetry?

Poetry is an antidote to crude, ephemeral, or mistaken feeling, not an indulgence in it.

How do we escape feeling, but through truth?

Thakore also implicitly favored truth over beauty with his “hitherto” remark. Originality is a factor in poetry’s value, and the fact of originality belongs to truth, not beauty. Poe famously argued that originality was crucial in judging poetry.

Truth, not beauty, is what the highest poetry attains. Beauty is a secret joke in the formula, for beauty is secondary to truth; beauty is what fools us. Truth, however, is not such a fool as to not see the value of the foolish. Truth reveals the palace as a prison, or the prison as a palace—and what this means is that the beautiful is not definite; beauty is the variable in the equation. The poem’s construction is definite. The law of how a poem is ideally ordered or constructed is a tangible truth in itself. Beauty is a disease to truth’s health. We love a disease, however, to cure ourselves of it. Poetry fools us into understanding beauty as its truth. And this is beautiful.

 

POETRY MAGAZINE’S INDIA ISSUE, JULY/AUGUST 2019

Image result for poetry in india

Poetry’s India issue is not an India issue.

In the globalist introduction by editors Kazim Ali and Rajiv Mohabir, we are told countries do not exist; only colonies and far-flung sub-cultures do.

In their introduction to Poetry’s “Global Anglophone Indian Poems,” the editors wish to erase the nation of India:

“Indian” is the wrong word to encompass  and label diasporic subjectivities of South Asians that descend from a system of indenture.

This sounds like something one would hear in the British Foreign Office around 1933.

Narratives flip. History repeats. The optimism of Indian independence from the British in the middle of the 20th century has been replaced by the pessimism of learned, anti-colonialist academics, who hold that there was no “Indian” independence from the “British” after all—because, according to Ali and Mohabir, “There is no such thing as cultural purity—Indian or not.”

A nation—which gathers together differences in a happy embrace—is this possible? It was not, according to the British Empire, whose very rule depended on division, nor is it anything the editors wish to get behind, spending most of the introduction asserting India isn’t real. Because nothing “culturally pure” exists. Which we all know, but…

“Culture” is a term always used broadly, and in terms of connection—and this is the very essence of the word; and this aspect of it shouldn’t inspire fear, unless one wants to get rid of culture altogether. We all admire gardens, and gardens grow, even as they remain gardens. Nations are nations in as much as they have a culture which binds the nation as a nation together, and this is a good thing. The editors, however, see danger:

The notion of a culturally pure India is a dangerous weapon leveraged to maintain social distance, as in some cases it fans anti-Muslim and anti-Black politics.

Is “social distance” civility? What do they mean by this?

And what exactly is “Muslim politics?” And is “Muslim” or “black politics” ever “pure,” and, because of this “purity,” is it, too, “dangerous?”

Or is it only the “culturally pure India” which is “dangerous?”

Division is always good, according to the editors—since the greatest unity India ever achieved was “an India that does not exist today, except for in histories kept by elders: a pre-partition British India, a single landmass owned by white masters.”

God forbid Indians get to rule a “landmass.” Better, according to the editors, that Indians are divided—to the point where they don’t really exist.

For Ali and Mohabir, Indian unity of any kind is either non-existent, white, or bad. India as a Hindu country is something the editors cannot bring themselves to even mention, as this, perhaps to them, is the ultimate horror. They refer to Hindus once—in the first paragraph, as if the religion practiced by a billion Indians, 4 Indians in 5, were a minor anomaly:

On the one hand, “Indian” languages were always transnational, or—in more modern times—global. Regional languages encountered one another, as well as Farsi and Urdu, during Mughal conquests; the concepts of Hindi as a national language and Hindustan as a national space were both developed in response to the perceived foreign influence of the northern empire builders. Crosspollination existed between the Urdu-speaking Mughals and Farsi- and Arabic-speaking cultures, both in spoken and written literatures. Queen Elizabeth I and Emperor Akbar the Great were exchanging letters in Urdu and English through their translators before there was a British East India company.

This is their first paragraph. What does this mean?

I understand protecting minority rights—constitutions and laws cover this; but to forever and preemptively assume the majority is the devil, and to always undermine it on principle isn’t exactly the recipe for a strong and happy nation.

The editors point of view seems to be that anything which has anything to do with “indenture” and “diaspora” is the best thing of all. A kind of strange, unholy, celebration of the results of the British Empire keeps breaking out in the rhetoric of the editors. Are the “white masters” hiding in the wings? In high rises in London? In the editorial offices of Poetry? We hope not.

That British Empire was quite a thing. “Colonies” and the “indentured” and “diaspora” everywhere. Did the British make India? Yes, absolutely, according to Ali and Mohabir—exemplifying the truth that the British “Divide and Rule” Empire still lives, spilling into everything, even the rhetoric which attempts to summarize the topic in a short introduction:

The earliest Indian poetry in English, including those poems by nationalist anti-colonial poets like Rabindranath Tagore and Sarojini Naidu, were poems from the British literary tradition. It would take a new generation of Indian poets, who included the Kala Goda poets Arun Kolatkar, Adil Jussawalla, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, and others, to begin developing a new Indian English aesthetic that drew not only on British influences, but local traditions as well as global ones.

Just as the British Empire both made and destroyed India, it continues to erase all sense of what anyone might say—including these editors, Ali and Mahobir—about Indian poetry in English.

The Indian “nationalist anti-colonial” poems were “poems from the British literary tradition.”

Got that?

Indian literary independence was British.

Therefore, Ali and Mohabir say,

It would take a new generation to begin developing a new Indian English aesthetic that drew not only on British influences, but local traditions as well as global ones.

But what is British influence if not “global,” thanks to its global empire? And how could poets like Tagore not have been influenced by “local traditions” back then, writing poems from “the British literary tradition?”

One can see how any attempt to extract “India” from “English” is hopeless. That is, if one ignores the content of poems and puts them into implicitly denigrated categories such as the “British literary tradition,” the only discernible aesthetic gesture made by the editors—whose introduction is otherwise lost in politics. Their aesthetic point begins with a platitude made regarding “tradition” and reasons from that nothing into more nothing. All the editors say is true—if truth is a circle starting at nowhere and ending at no place.

And now we come to the poetry selection.

As one might expect, there is no “British literary tradition” anywhere in sight.

The poems in the “Global Anglophone Indian Poems” issue of July/August Poetry, establish themselves right away as that which could not possibly belong to any tradition at all, except perhaps this one: Poems in English That May As Well Have Been Written in Urdu Since No English Speaker Can Understand Them. This will show those British white devils! And anyone who speaks their language!

The interesting thing about the 42 “Indian” poems in the Poetry Indian issue is that almost all of them sound like they could have been written by Ezra Pound—redolent of that flat, unthinking, anti-Romantic, anti-lyricism which roams the desert looking for an oasis of sweet rhyme intentionally never found, for the journey is to punish such desires.  And in this desert we rarely come across a person who speaks as a real person about some accessible thing that matters in a life really lived. It’s poetry that vaults at once past actual life, and any Romantic ideal of actual life, into some abstract library of learned reference. What we get is not Kishore Kumar as a poem (if only!) but a condescending or ironic reference to Kushore Kumar—in the abstract, attenuated, machine-like speech of the anti-lyrical, footnote, poem.

One of the better poems in the portfolio, by Arundhathi Subramaniam (it actually has a somewhat personable and lyric beauty) happens to contain the Kushore Kumar reference, a footnote gesture less annoying than usual. I also enjoyed the poems by Nabina Das, Rochelle Potkar, Sridala Swami, Jennifer Robertson, Ranjit Hoskote, Mani Rao, and Hoshang Merchant, though in most cases I’ve seen better examples of their work elsewhere. I’ve written about these poets in Scarriet. I compared Swami to Borges, praised Subramaniam as a “lullaby” poet, called Potkar a wonderful discovery, and even placed these poets into this year’s Scarriet Poetry March Madness. But here they are in Poetry. And of course I am happy for them.

Have I soured on the Indian poetry in this special edition of Poetry because I read the introduction first, and that soured me? Or were my expectations too high, thinking the venerable Poetry magazine would offer the best Indian Poetry selection I had ever seen?

Here’s the first poem we meet in the volume. It’s a kind of flickering, black and white, news reel of broken images, half-memories, abstracted references. Modernist to the core. What is it saying? We are not sure, exactly. India was never free, never happy? The ends of lines and the end of the poem, swoon towards their termination in an Eliotic whimper. What we do know is the poem is vaguely complaining, inglorious, and trying its best not to sound poetic (because the Romantics are not allowed).

Freedom (Nabanita Kanungo)

It would try to lisp a dumbness sometimes—
the language of welts rising slowly on the panes,
a cracked blur of riot-torn air,
confused which year it was.
.
The last time it made a sound was when
it crinkled on its way into a bin,
a great plot of justice. I wasn’t born, then;
my father was.
.
It must have been whole once,
for you could still conceive it like a dream,
a gloriously illegitimate thing, though;
until a country was torn out of its heart one day
and you saw its impaled ghost in the moon.
.
My grandfather told me we had slept so long
with a flag over us, we couldn’t run when
machetes poked us awake amidst still-dreaming heads
rolling in the streets like marbles struck in game.
.
There was nowhere to go and we went nowhere,
with its face slumped on our backs
and history books that said what had happened is the past,
.
until sixty years later, a community’s threats betraying
her voice, a poor nun requested me
to leave my month-old job in a convent
where I’d studied since childhood.
.
I keep trying to find its shape in photographs, old letters,
the wind of stories trapped in some cancerous throat, dying …
.
a tattered roof in the stars, a tent flying off
with meanings barely gathered into a heap.

One imagines a Modernist school teacher shaping this poem—and what is ironic about this, of course, is that Modernism was the period when the English were still (cruelly) ruling India. The Greeks, the Romantics, where is their influence? Why is Indian poetry ruled by a style belonging to early 20th century American Anglophiles, like Pound and Eliot? Pessimistic, anti-Romantic Pound and Eliot? Why? Poe fought for American literary independence—and was rejected, even reviled, by the Anglo-American modernist establishment (Eliot hated Poe as much as he hated Shelley).

Look how the first poem in the volume ends: “with meanings barely gathered into a heap.” Why should Indian poets linger in the tidal pools of late British Empire despondency? “Because we have troubles!” Of course you do—but why is the aspiration and promise and identity of the poetry you choose the sour, anti-Romanticsm of your British masters? The ones even British poets like Shelley found objectionable? Indians, what are you thinking?

What is the editorial mission of this Indian Poetry portfolio?

Poems not enjoyed as poetry, but deemed useful as vague, Modernist, teaching-sorts-of-things?

And as much as this may be somewhat useful, and wide-ranging, the editors have somehow managed, even in this case, to present a narrow vision of Indian poetry. Not so much Wall of Sound, as Wall of Pound. Indian poets stuck in a desultory, lost-in-time, Modernism. The editors have put Indian Poetry in a certain container, coloring what it contains. It doesn’t have to be this way. The Indian poets writing in English have access to a long tradition of poetry in English, including every sort of world historical poet translated into English. There’s no reason they must, in such large numbers, wear the stiffness of Anglo/American Modernism.

Trapped in the dullness of this anti-poetry (referencing all sorts of cultural things in a stilted manner) one dutifully marches through the gray maze of this highly learned affectation thinking: is Indian poetry today the attempt to smash the “British Literary Tradition,” in solidarity with a few dead, white, male, American poets, who killed their “British Literary Tradition” with the cudgel of Ezra Pound? (Never mind that the “British Literary Tradition”—whatever shallow idea one has of it—didn’t have to be “killed,” and why with Ezra Pound?)

I have discovered many poems by Indian poets lately, many of them poets in this Poetry issue, as well as many excellent amateurs who by dint of their academic outsider status, would never be selected for a collection like this.

I’m convinced the quality of Indian poems in English today is equal, or greater, to, the quality of poems written in the UK and America.

Yet Indian poets get scant attention.

Unfortunately (and this is nothing against the poets themselves represented here) you would not know this quality exists from Poetry’s India issue—which is a terrible shame.

It’s almost a betrayal.

When I was younger, I naturally thought poetry was everything, and editing was nothing. Now I’m beginning to think the opposite is true. I could name exciting Indian or Indian-background poets I admire, poets who don’t write like Ezra Pound, but write with honesty and vigor, and inhabit a variety of styles in a thrilling, even memorable, manner, and yet one might be moved to go find a poem by these poets and be underwhelmed—since no poet publishes poems of equal quality.

The selection matters.

Every poet—because it is finally the poems, not the poet, which matter—has bad and good poems.

It is important we find and assemble the good ones. Critics and reviewers must judge. This is all they are supposed to do.

Let me name some wonderful poets left out of this selection: Linda Ashok, Anand Thakore, Ravi Shankar, Medha Singh, Daipayan Nair, Kushal Poddar, Sharanya Manivannan, Sarukkhai Chabria, Joie Bose, Menka Shivdasani, Ranjani Murali, Akhil Katyal, Jeet Thayil, Sushmita Gupta, Urvashi Bahuguna, N Ravi Shankar, Abhijit Khandkar, Arun Sagar, Aseem Sundan, Sukrita Kumar, CP Surendran, Nalini Priyadarshni, Divya Guha, Arjun Rajendran, Aishwarya Iyer, Sophia Naz, Meera Nair, Arun Sagar, Tishani Doshi, Huzaifa Pandit, Bsm Murty, Sumana Roy, Aakriti Kuntal.

Sensual, hopeful, colorful, wise, spiritual, romantic, scientific, wry, affectionate. And yes, anti-Modernist. That’s why I love these poets.

It may seem an act of sour grapes to list a few of my favorite poets the editors missed, and there’s a danger an incomplete search of their work will disappoint. The last thing I wish to bring to Poetry’s Indian Poetry party is bitter words and no answers. Even passable Ezra Pound imitators deserve better than that.

 

ON TO SWEET SIXTEEN!

Image result for the wife and the dog planned their escape

The Bold Bracket

How can poetry be bold?  Only by going against the grain of what we expect poetry to be.

All art is trapped in its traditions.

Even the experimental exists within the bounds of what the polite audience has come to expect.

So poetry can never be bold in actuality, and, if so, it is not poetry.

This may sadden the impolite and the avant-garde, but we’re afraid it’s true.

The spectrum might look something like this: Beautiful on one end, and disgusting, on the other.

Art swims in one direction, towards the beautiful. If it partakes of the bold, it may get away with a certain amount of disgust, or shame.

The gradations are extremely fine.  Poetry may travel through the embarrassing, or an excess of emotion, to get near the beautiful, for human feelings are always of interest—even if it is a recognition of no interest.

But the only way for a poem to be shocking is to be somewhere on the disgusting scale.

The poet who says they are against war will never shock, never stun, never surprise, since this sentiment is so common among poets, and lacks originality, and also the idea itself is not necessarily beautiful.

But a poet who says they are in favor of war may shock enough to triumph—in terms of the other end of the spectrum.

A pro-war poem would be considered shameful and disgusting.

As these 8 poets in the Bold Bracket of the 2019 Scarriet Poetry March Madness attempt to advance, we might add to our pleasure, as we view the competition, if we keep this in mind.  Where are the poets on the scale of the beautiful versus the disgusting?  And is there any irony in how they manipulate this scale?

Diane Lockward, the no. 1 seed in the Bold Bracket, attempts to get by Linda Ashok, a poet and editor from India.

“The wife and the dog planned their escape” is Lockward’s line and when two of the noblest creatures in the universe, a “wife” and a “dog” are planning an “escape” we are in the middle of a thrilling and moral adventure, even if we don’t know the underlying situation. Our hearts are moved purely: “The wife and the dog planned their escape.”  This is way up on the Beautiful side of the scale.

Linda Ashok offers, “When you have a day, let’s meet and bury it.”

This is far up on the Beautiful scale, too. And why? Because it is speech. It talks to you. It is not in the third person, like “The wife and the dog planned their escape.”

The poet who is speaking is making an offer to another person to escape—all of us are trapped, and we rarely “have a day,” and now another person wants to meet you and “bury” the day—this could mean anything; is it to forget? Or be with a person? Or bury the day for later use?  The phrase is intriguing, but it also sounds like an idiom people use every day, which has its dangers when the goal is to make original poetry.  When Paul McCartney dreamed “Yesterday” and first wrote it down he was afraid it was stolen, and was not original. This bedevils every poet—poetry’s coin is the word, which people use all day every day. Poetry is the “escape” from the common place; we want to “bury” the common day, the common word.

When writing in the third person, we tend to operate within the realm of the incomplete: “The wife and the dog planned their escape” sounds like the beginning of a story.  It is nowhere near complete, and this is its charm: “The wife and the dog planned their escape.”

When writing in the first person, as in speech, “When you have a day, let’s meet and bury it,” the operative condition is completeness.  There’s more finality when someone utters something, and this surely fits the bill: “When you have a day, let’s meet and bury it.”  This is the plan: “When you have a day, let’s meet and bury it;” we are not talking about someone talking about a plan: “The wife and the dog planned their escape.”  The third person is farther away, in every sense, and this is why the third person tends to exist in the wide, long views of novels and fiction, that expansiveness the introverted poet in his cave, who likes things to happen immediately, does not envy.

Still, the long view of “The wife and the dog planned their escape” still works in a poem.  The poet can be extroverted. The poet can say more things than fiction can.  The success of a poem obeys no rules.

“The wife and the dog planned their escape” by Diane Lockward advances to the Sweet Sixteen.

****

Aseem Sundan tangles with Robin Richardson, who lives in Canada and edits an all women review.

Aseem Sundan’s “How do I make the paper turn blood red?/How do I make everyone read it?” is bold—but also helpless and desperate.  Since poetry can never really be bold, it helps when the bold turns in on itself as it does here: “How do I? How do I?”

Robin Richardson pleads in a very similar manner, “Please let me be a blaze. I will destroy,/I mean create again this place.”

Aseem Sundan makes a bolder, more particular, and more universal statement, to our ears.

Aseem Sundan “How do I make the paper turn blood red?/How do I make everyone read it?” has made it to the Sweet Sixteen.

****

Eliana Vanessa, a young poet from New Orleans clashes with Khalypso, a very young poet from Sacramento, California.

Vanessa: “I’d rather be outside, with him,/turning stones in the rain,/than here,/listening to the hum/of so many skulls, alone.” This conjures up all we have seen so far in this bracket: first person speech, finality, pleading and, of course, the bold.

Khalypso has given us what feels more like the beginning of a story, “to wake up/strangers & sticky & questioning.”

The “poem” (closed) versus “the story”(open) can produce great tension in poetry; and every device imaginable—point of view, rhythm, syntax, character, mystery, clarity—contributes.  The risk of closing the opening too quickly or being too open in a closed manner may find the writing to be obscure.  We always need to know certain things.

In a close contest, Eliana Vanessa wins.

****

Edgar Poe will only advance to the Sweet Sixteen if he defeats Daipayan Nair.

Edgar Poe “boldly rides” with “Over the mountains/of the moon,/Down the valley of the shadow”

Daipayan Nair is an urgent, prolific poet.

Poets who achieve anything tend to be one of two types: massively prolific or eerily precise.  Some poets work and work on each poem and each poem is a gem. The prolific poet is like a garden run wild; from the massive output, a few gems drop.  The sum total of great poems in each case tends to be the same.

Poe was a master of haunting precision who did not spend a lot of time writing poems.  The vast majority of his output was prose.

Poe’s opponent in the 2019 March Madness, Daipayan Nair, is prolific, but since his best poems tend to be brief, Nair has many properties of the poets who modestly court, with a serious face, the exact. Daipayan doesn’t orate like Whitman, or shout like Ginsberg. (Okay, maybe sometimes!) He etches delicately on glass the roaring furnace of his feelings.

“I run, run, run and run/Still I don’t reach my birth/I don’t cross my death” by Daipayan Nair is similar in spirit to Poe’s lines.

The Poe, as one might think, is fanatical in its simplicity—over the mountains, and down the valley, I go.

Daipayan Nair’s is divided: “I run, I run, I don’t, I don’t.”  We should note the verbs: “reach” my birth and “cross” my death.  Is to reach one, to cross the other? A marvelous terror is implied. Running never seemed so desperate and sad.

The moon looks down on Poe’s followers, who cannot believe the result.

Diapayan Nair has reached the Sweet Sixteen!

****

Still to come:

The Mysterious Bracket

Jennifer Barber mixes it up with Sridala Swami.

Srividya Sivakumar takes on Nabina Das.

Aakriti Kuntal has to deal with Kushal Poddar

Merryn Juliette and Michelina Di Martino go toe to toe.

****

The Life Bracket

William Logan, the poet and critic, squares off against Sam Sax.

Danez Smith attempts to defeat Stephen Cole.

Divya Guha with take on Alec Solomita

N Ravi Shankar will play Kim Gek Lin Short

****

The Beautiful Bracket

Mary Angela Douglas has her hands full with Sharanya Manivannan.

Ann Leshy Wood must duel Jennifer Robertson.

Medha Singh will take on Raena Shiraldi.

Sushmita Gupta goes up against C.P. Surendran.

****

 

 

 

 

POETRY MARCH MADNESS 2019 ROUND ONE ACTION

One of the contestants in the Bold Bracket—Kolkata’s great poet, Joie Bose

In the Bold Bracket, first round play has been prefaced by some wild fans’ marches—the “Fan March” is a tradition in Scarriet’s March Madness Tournament.

The crowds for Diane Lockward’s “The wife and the dog planned their escape” is a woman’s march for the ages—thousands of women dressed as canines, carrying signs “Woman’s Best Friend,” topless women with signs, “Topple the Patriarchy!” We have never seen anything like it. “Bold First Seed, Woman is the First Seed! Go Diane!” scream many placards.

Diane’s opponent is sixteenth seeded Aaron Poochigian, a Classics professor who translates from Ancient Greek, and writes narrative verse—which sounds like contemporary prose—we don’t know how some poets manage this, but they do, rhyming only for themselves, not for me and you. But into the Madness comes this, beating its Homeric drums: “beyond the round world’s spalling/margin, hear Odysseus’s ghosts/squeaking like hinges, hear the Sirens calling.” Unfortunately, Homer did not write in English—attempting to write like this, Byron should be the model; if one is to jangle and jingle in a narrative, one must go about it self-consciously, and make a whimsical pact with the reader. This type of poetry will never work if you boss the reader around with Miltonic airs; Poochigian tells the reader to “hear” a “squeaking,”  a “squeaking” which sounds “like hinges,” while simultaneously telling the reader to “hear the Sirens calling,” a feminine rhyme (they are Sirens, after all) echoing “spalling.” The tone is pedantic, which is unfortunate, because the meter is really good—note all the wonderful trochees: “spalling, margin, squeaking, hinges, hear the, Sirens, calling.” He has a good ear; now Poochigian needs to let his hair down and have fun; drop the pretense and study Byron.

The Diane Lockward fans are relentless, mocking the use of the word, “spalling;” they feel Diane has nothing to fear from Poochigian’s nerdy and pretentious versifying—“The wife and the dog planned their escape” is accessible, thrilling, and nuanced—delightful as we imagine how a dog and a wife, as animal and human, might “plan” in secret to escape the husband.

Diane’s fans are right. She wins easily against  “hinges squeaking” “beyond the round world’s spalling margin.”

“The wife and the dog planned their escape” advances to the second round of play.

Also in the Bold bracket, No. 2 seed Aseem Sundan “How do I make the paper turn blood red?/How do I make everyone read it?” clashes with Hoshang Merchant “I have myself become wild in my love for a wild thing.” The delight is the sweet resignation conveyed, even as “wild” is the adjective—a truly great line of poetry. But Sundan’s “red” has produced an uncanny originality and force; a transcendent urgency emboldens his red shirted followers into a frenzy; near-riots occur throughout the day outside the arena—the Riot Muse Police are called. Inside the arena, Aseem Sundan confidently wins.

In the third Bold Bracket contest, it is Menka Shivdasani “I shall turn the heat up,/put the lid on./Watch me.” versus Linda Ashok “When you have a day, let’s meet and bury it.”

Both contestants evince the quotidian: Menka is cooking (dangerously?) and Linda is suggesting an appointment (dangerously?)  In both cases, women are daring us not to see them as ordinary; the strange or the threatening within a common circumstance threatens to happen, or merely happens to threaten. Do not take the woman, or any chore, or her day, or any action she might be doing, for granted. Linda Ashok’s is more interactive; it is less boastful, and more potentially thrilling—a sexual encounter which neither party will remember, or regret, is implied, but it could be any number of things the poet wants. Linda cools her opponent—and with cool concision, makes an appointment with victory. Linda Ashok moves onto the second round of play.

In our fourth Bold bracket game, It’s John Milton versus Edgar Poe.

Milton’s “Paradise Regained” excerpt is a paean to glory:

“Glory, the reward/That sole excites to high attempts the flame.”

Poe used Milton’s “Paradise Lost” as his example when Poe issued his famous “a long poem does not exist” formula; Poe felt no fear in puncturing poets of reputation; and elsewhere he found fault with Milton’s abstractions and angels. Is this contest a chance for Milton to get his revenge?

The robed followers of Milton file into the March Madness library where they chant, while dreaming. They even sing Milton’s glory in vestibules. Some are dressed as angels, with play wooden swords. One sign says, “Long Poems Do Exist!”

Poe’s march is large and ebony-endowed. No zombies, vampires, or werewolves, because Poe did not actually write about such things. Good taste was everything to Poe. “Poe was murdered!” reads one placard. “Poe Has Been Slandered by the Literary Establishment as a Drunk and a Drug Addict!” Some hand out copies of Poe’s lovely and sober handwriting to repair the genius’s distorted reputation.

The game should be amazing. A few fights break out between Baltimore Ravens jerseys with a sign “Poe was Murdered in Baltimore! Re-open the Case!” and robed rebel angels. A beautiful woman dressed as Satan is arrested.

Poe: “Over the mountains/of the moon./Down the valley of the shadow”

Milton: “Glory, the reward/That sole excites to high attempts the flame.”

“Glory,” Milton says, is the only “reward” which “excites to high attempts” the “flame,” and “flame,” we assume, stands for “glory.” So “glory” is the only thing which “excites” “glory” to “glory?” Or is “flame” the human soul, or is it human aspiration? The whole thing does sound “glorious,” if a bit abstract. Milton’s iambic line defends the trochaic “glory” in terms of rhythm quite nicely.

Poe’s Bold bracket entry has an immediate, haunting quality, pure and soundless, despite its cry. Yet Milton’s bold flame and rhythm are also silently and scarily glorious.

Poe is more visually pleasing than Milton—“Glory” in the abstract cannot quite compete with mountains and shadow—and Poe’s rhythm is snakily titanic, as well.

Poe, as hell erupts, wins.

Daipayan Nair is matched up against Philip Larkin’s “They fuck you up, your mum and dad,” one of the boldest and best known lines in all of poetry.

Daipayan Nair is bold as well: “I run, run, run, and run/Still I don’t reach my birth/I don’t cross my death”

Mr. Larkin states a pessimistic fact. Daipayan is not stating a fact, but it is true what he says; life is a long search in which we find neither our birth nor our death, though we always have a feeling we will. “I run, run, run, and run/Still I don’t reach my birth/I don’t cross my death” says this beautifully.

Daipayan Nair wins. Larkin’s followers throw papers about in the library in protest.

Joie Bose and Eliana Vanessa tangle with evocations which vibrate the throat and tickle the brain:

“I am a fable, a sea bed treasure trove/I am your darkness, I am Love.”

“I’d rather be outside, with him,/turning stones in the rain,/than here,/listening to the hum/of so many skulls, alone.”

This is a clash in a singing cave. Criticism, to go and judge these women poets, must be sinning and brave.

Magic beauty from New Orleans (Eliana) and Kolkata (Joie) seethe in epic dimensions; color whips up in darkness.

Both of these make us wonder—love as fable, treasure, and darkness. The choice between “turning stones in the rain” and “listening to the hum of…skulls” is intriguing; there is no choice in “I am a fable, a sea bed treasure trove/I am your darkness, I am Love;” there is fable, treasure, and darkness, and the inevitable blending of the three. Is this more fantastic than the “hum of skulls” and “turning stones in the rain?” Criticism can hardly decide. Intoxicating odors linger from candles. The atmosphere is heavy. Fans can hardly see. They feel the contest on their skin. They doubt from start to finish. The game proceeds in waves.

Both Kolkata and New Orleans suggest the strange and the ambiguous, but “the fable” of Joie Bose finally has more coherence—and yet there is something about those wet stones and humming skulls.

Vanessa drowns Bose at the singing end, and moves to the second round. Scarves and weeping.

Robin Morgan is suffering from illness, and with a tenacity which puts fear in her opponents, she brings to the loud arena, “Growing small requires enormity of will.”

Robin Richardson, her opponent in the First Round Bold Bracket, looks around to find what she is playing: it is both large and small.

Robin counters Robin with, “Please let me be a blaze. I will destroy,/I mean create again this place.”

Ambiguity versus ambiguity. One is very powerful. One is more hesitant, and says please.

Robin Richardson, in a wink, manages to destroy and create. She wins.

The final contest in the Bold Bracket features one name versus three, a living poet living out the ambiguity of her time against one certain, in the grave:

Walter Savage Landor thunders from the tomb, “I strove with none, for none was worth my strife” and Khalypso, doubtfully, “to wake up/strangers & sticky & questioning.”

And, doubtfully, since all Madness must be so, Khalypso, in a flurry of gasps, wins.

 

MARCH MADNESS!! 2019!!

Image result for battlefield in renaissance painting

It’s here once again.  Poetry March Madness!!

Previously, Scarriet has used Best American Poetry Series poems, Speeches by Aesthetic Philosophers, and poems of, and inspired by, Romanticism

This year, our tenth!—and we’ve done this once before—lines of poetry compete. 

The great majority of these poets are living contemporaries, but we have thrown in some of the famous dead, just to mix things up.

The line is the unit of poetry for ancients and moderns alike—moderns have argued for other units: the sentence, the breath—but to keep it simple, here we have fragments, or parts, of poems.

Is the poem better when the poetic dwells in all parts, as well as the whole?  I don’t see how we could say otherwise.

What makes part of a poem good?

Is it the same qualities which makes the whole poem good?

A poem’s excellent and consistent rhythm, by necessity, makes itself felt both throughout the poem and in its parts.

A poem’s excellent rhetoric can be strong as a whole, but weaker in its parts—since the whole understanding is not necessarily seen in pieces.

This is why, perhaps, the older, formalist poets, are better in their quotations and fragments than poets are today.

But this may be nothing but the wildest speculation.

Perhaps rhythm should become important, again, since rhetoric and rhythm do not have to be at war—rhythm enhances rhetoric, in fact.

Some would say modern poetry has set rhythm free.

No matter the quality under examination, however, any part of a poem can charm as a poem—with every quality a poem might possess.

Before we get to the brackets, let’s look at three examples in the 2019 tournament:

Milton’s “Glory, the reward/That sole excites to high attempts the flame” is powerfully rhythmic in a manner the moderns no longer evince. It is like a goddess before which we kneel.

Sushmita Guptas “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love” also has rhythm, but this is not a goddess, but a flesh and blood woman, before which we kneel and adore.

Medha Singh’s “you’ve/remembered how the winter went/as it went on” is so different from Milton, it almost seems like a different art form; here is the sad and homely, with which we fall madly in love.

And now we present the 2019 March Madness poets:

I. THE BOLD BRACKET

Diane Lockward — “The wife and the dog planned their escape”

Aseem Sundan — “How do I make the paper turn blood red?/How do I make everyone read it?”

Menka Shivdasani — “I shall turn the heat up,/put the lid on./Watch me.”

John Milton — “Glory, the reward/That sole excites to high attempts the flame”

Philip Larkin —“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.”

Eliana Vanessa — “I’d rather be outside, with him,/turning stones in the rain,/than here,/listening to the hum/of so many skulls, alone.”

Robin Richardson — “Please let me be a blaze. I will destroy,/I mean create again this place.”

Khalypso — “to wake up/strangers & sticky & questioning.”

Walter Savage Landor —“I strove with none, for none was worth my strife”

Robin Morgan — “Growing small requires enormity of will.”

Joie Bose — “I am a fable, a sea bed treasure trove/I am your darkness, I am Love.”

Daipayan Nair — “I run, run, run and run/Still I don’t reach my birth/I don’t cross my death”

Edgar Poe — “Over the mountains/of the moon,/Down the valley of the shadow”

Linda Ashok — “When you have a day, let’s meet and bury it.”

Hoshang Merchant — “I have myself become wild in my love for a wild thing”

Aaron Poochigian — “beyond the round world’s spalling/margin, hear Odysseus’s ghosts/squeaking like hinges, hear the Sirens calling.”

****

II. THE MYSTERIOUS BRACKET

Jennifer Barber — “Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly”

Percy Shelley —“Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery.”

A.E. Stallings — “Perfection was a blot/That could not be undone.”

Merryn Juliette — “grey as I am”

Michelina Di Martino — “Let us make love. Where are we?”

Sukrita Kumar — “Flames are messengers/Carrying the known/To the unknown”

Ben Mazer — “her room/retains the look/of the room of a stranger”

Richard Wilbur —“The morning air is all awash with angels.”

Sridala Swami —“There is only this book, and your one chance of speaking to the world is through the words in it.”

Nabina Das — “under the same ceiling/fan from where she/later dangled.”

Kushal Poddar — “Call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer.”

Meera Nair — “How long can you keep/The lake away from the sea”

Ranjit Hoskote — “The nightingale doesn’t blame the gardener or the hunter:/Fate had decided spring would be its cage.”

Aakriti Kuntal — “Close your eyes then. Imagine the word on the tip of your tongue. The warm jelly, the red tip of the quivering mass.”

Srividya Sivakumar— “I’m searching for coral and abalone deep in the dragon’s lair.”

Sophia Naz — “Deviants and dervishes of the river/lie down the length of her”

III. THE LIFE BRACKET

William Logan —‘I’ve never thought of you that way, I guess.’/She touched me then with the ghost of a caress.”

Danez Smith — “i call your mama mama”

Divya Guha — “The shaver missing, your greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you.”

N Ravi Shankar—“You are nude, sweet mother,/so am I/as the bamboos creak a lullaby”

Rupi Kaur — “i am not street meat i am homemade jam”

June Gehringer — “I don’t write about race,/ I write about gender,/ I once killed a cis white man,/ and his first name/ was me.”

Marilyn Chin — “by all that was lavished upon her/and all that was taken away!”

Sam Sax — “that you are reading this/must be enough”

Dylan Thomas —“After the first death, there is no other.”

Stephen Cole — “I feel the wind-tides/Off San Fernando Mountain./I hear the cry of suicide brakes/Calling down the sad incline/Of Fremont’s Pass.”

Alec Solomita — “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high”

Kim Gek Lin Short —“If truth be told/the theft began/a time before/that summer day.”

Lily Swarn — “The stink of poverty cowered in fear!!”

Semeen Ali — “for a minute/That one minute/contains my life”

Akhil Katyal — “How long did India and Pakistan last?”

Garrison Keillor — “Starved for love, obsessed with sin,/Sunlight almost did us in.”

****

IV. THE BEAUTIFUL BRACKET

Mary Angela Douglas — “one candle grown lilac in a perpetual spring”

Ann Leshy Wood — “where groves of oranges rot,/and somber groups of heron graze/by the bay.”

Medha Singh — “you’ve/remembered how the winter went/as it went on”

Yana Djin — “Morning dew will dress each stem.”

John Keats —“Awake for ever in a sweet unrest”

Sushmita Gupta — “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love.”

William Shakespeare —“Those were pearls that were his eyes”

A.E. Housman —“The rose-lipt girls are sleeping/In fields where roses fade.”

Raena Shirali — “we become mist, shift/groveward, flee.”

C.P. Surendran — “A train, blindfolded by a tunnel,/Window by window/Regained vision.”

Dimitry Melnikoff —“Offer me a gulp of this light’s glow”

Jennifer Robertson — “ocean after ocean after ocean”

Sharanya Manivannan — “burdening the wisps of things,/their threats to drift away.”

Philip Nikolayev — “within its vast domain confined”

Ravi Shankar — “What matters cannot remain.”

Abhijit Khandkar — “So I write this poem and feed it to the ravenous sea.”

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE NEW LITERACY

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After the child has learned his alphabet and become fluent in their native tongue, when a desire to be a writer takes over, what is the “literacy” which comes next?

There are stages of literacy in which proficiency surpasses itself, but usually we stop short, or venture outward into a verbosity without order.

The order of the alphabet, the sentence, the paragraph—for prose; the line—in the more ordered, or perhaps messier, poetry, is not impressive; it is merely the literacy of anyone—the student, the rank amateur, the mediocre scribbler.

What is the further literacy which marks the pro?

Are there measurable and greater stages? And of what do they consist?  Larger vocabulary? Greater life experiences? Wider reading?

Yes, but does this sum it up?

It’s rather commonplace to think of the novel as merely a series of letters, or epistles—some put this as the origin as the novel; Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein this way.

The great writer rests on this as their crutch—the hidden progress they made from the alphabet to the missive.

All one has to do is write correspondence, and the letter of correspondence is the unit—and enough of these allows the novel, or short story, to exist.

But the poet is lost in the wilderness. The line is a meager unit, but it’s all the poet has. The stanza has no internal organization, per se, except a rhyme, or a refrain—but today these devices are ones poets almost entirely reject. Also, the stanza isn’t much lengthier than a line.

But there is a unit which the poets, even the modern ones, have been using, and rather secretly.

This unit is the sonnet.

Think of the most famous poems in the canon.

Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind is 5 sonnets strung together.

As is the Ode to a Grecian Urn by Keats: 5 sonnets.

Eliot’s Prufrock is 11 sonnets.

Poe’s Raven, when you break its long line in half, is 15 sonnets.

We remember Poe saying the Raven was an ideal length for the popular poem—108 lines.  One could see this unique work of Poe’s as a sonnet-slayer. The sonnet emerges uneasily from it, and it must be admitted that calling any lyric poem an ‘X number of sonnets’ is not always proper, or simple.

Plath’s Daddy is, as we might expect, a formal monstrosity, 4-5 unwieldy sonnets, threatening all the time to be a greater number of shorter sonnets, or murdered sonnets bleeding into each other, even as the unit, the sonnet, is glimpsed; her poem is undermining, and embracing, the sonnet-form as a unit, simultaneously; the poem is both extremely formalist, yet subversive in its formalism—and the sonnet is the underlying reason.

Ginsberg’s Howl is also roughly 15 sonnets—that is, the better known, first, part of the poem equals 15 sonnets. The whole of the poem is 21 sonnets.  The second (Moloch!) and third (Carl Solomon!) parts of Howl are 3 sonnets each. The more famous part, the first one, lacks cohesion—its disordered rebellion finally fails to find poetic unity.  This probably increased its notoriety as a modern, or post-modern work, but there is something which happens when poems are rebellious—they merely sink into prose.

But the point here is that every well-known lyric poem in English is perhaps best understood as a sequence of sonnets—not lines.

And we don’t even have to mention the sonnet in literature itself—the giants who used it: Shakespeare, Milton, Michelangelo, Dante, Petrarch, Sidney, Wordsworth, Yeats, Millay; and what was Dickinson, writing, really, if not the sonnet? How many significant poems are, if not sonnets, precisely, near-sonnets?

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address consists of three sonnets, with each sonnet corresponding to the three rhetorical turns made in the address, 1) The civil war testing the great proposition 2) We cannot dedicate, we cannot hallow, this ground 3) But we will dedicate, and what we dedicate will not perish.

And wonderful coincidence! An excellent piece on the sonnet’s effect on modern and contemporary poetics, “Petrarch’s Hangover, An Argument in Five Sonnets,” by Monica Youn, was just published this week. Here it is.

The secret literacy of great poetry?

The unit of poetry is not the line, but the sonnet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

MARCH MADNESS 2018 —SENTIMENTAL AND WORTHY

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This year’s Scarriet 2018 March Madness Tournament is a contest between great sentimental poems.

We use Sentimental Poems because sentimentality in the United States has long been seen as a great fault in poetry.

It is necessary we bring attention to a crucial fact which is so obvious many overlook it: In the last 100 years, it is considered a virtue for the poet to avoid sentimentality.

But poetry does not belong to the factual.

Ever since Socrates pointed out that Homer wasn’t trustworthy when it came to chariots, law, war, or government, the fact that poetry is not factual has been understood and accepted.

As science grew in stature, it was only natural that Plato was seen as more and more correct—science, the eyes and ears of discovery, made the imagination of lyric song seem feeble by comparison.  Entertainment, Plato feared, could take the place of truth—and destroy society, by making it tyrannical, complacent, sensual, and blind.

Plato’s notion, to put it simply, triumphed.

Homer was no longer considered a text book for knowledge.

Poetry was just poetry.

Religion and science—one, an imaginative display of morals, the other, an imaginative display of reason, became the twin replacements of poetry for all mankind.

Poetry still mattered, but it belonged to entertainment and song, the frivolous, the sentimental—as much as these matter, and they do.  The sentimental was not considered a bad thing, but it was never confused with science. Nor was poetry confused with religion. Religion, with its unchanging sacred texts, was society’s moral guide; a poem springs up suddenly in a person’s mind, a fanciful thing, a piece of religion for the moment—not a bad thing, necessarily, but ranked below science and religion.

Poetry sat on the sidelines for two thousand years.  Homer made it glorious, Plato killed it, and then Science and Religion, for a couple of millennia, were Homer’s two important substitutes.

For two thousand years poetry was sentimental, not factual.

Religion bleeds into poetry (quite naturally) —Dante, Petrarch, Shakespeare, Milton—and in the rival arts, painting, and music—helps religiosity (high sentiment) to thrive and not be overthrown by science (fact).

Music and painting were especially glorious—we use the word without irony—(and religious) during the Renaissance, becoming almost scientific; musicians like Beethoven proved music is more than entertainment—it enriches the soul as much as religion.  Plato would certainly have approved of Bach and Beethoven, if not Goya and Shelley.

Poetry crept back into good standing (since being dethroned by Plato) through religion’s back door—as religion—especially during the Enlightenment and the 19th century—became more and more disgraced by science.

Modernism changed all that.

In the beginning of the 20th century, poetry (together with painting and music) decided it didn’t need religion or science.

Perspective (the mathematics of seeing), which developed in Renaissance painting, is science.

Cubism, Collage, (2-dimensional fragments) and Abstract painting’s color-mixing do not constitute scientific advancement.

Speech and versification enhance each other in poets like Pope and Byron—this has a certain scientific validity—poetry dribbling off into awkward prose, as it pretends to “paint” an “image,” does not.

Verse exists as written music.   Verse, like music, is a system of notation.  Beethoven’s notes do not float around experimentally on the page—Beethoven’s genius exists both in the notation, and in what the notation projects, with the sound of musical instruments. Beethoven’s genius also lies largely in the realm of the sentimental. Which is not a bad thing at all. Sentimentality occupies the battle-ground middle between religion and science—the genius of the modern is found more in artists like Beethoven and Byron, than in the more self-conscious “modernist revolution” of the 20th century—which was largely a step backwards for art and poetry, as talkers like Ezra Pound and John Dewey gained ascendancy.

Here’s an example of the pseudo-science which infested 20th century Modernism: Charles Olson’s idea that poetry is expressed as “breath,” and can be notated as such, on the page.  Yes, people breathe as they read verse, but “the breath” has nothing to do with verse in any measurable way.  A sigh is dramatic, sure. But a sigh isn’t scientific. Yet no one laughed at Olson’s idea. Modernists took it seriously.

And here in 2018, in the wake of Modernism with its sharp-pointed, experimental, unscientific irreverence, poets continue since 1900 to frown on anything sentimental, associating it with flowery, Victorian verse—when the sentimental belongs to the genius of great poetry.

Poetry is sentimental.

Bad poetry is sentimental only because all poetry is sentimental.

The damaging mistake Modernism made, dumping anything pre-1900, in its pursuit of the non-existent “new” (never really described or defined) was the insistence that sentimentalism was bad.

It was a logical mistake, as we have just shown: all poetry (since Socrates knocked off Homer) is sentimental, not factual; Modernism’s childish, fake-science, tantrum against the sentimental was a gambit against religion, which was already collapsing before the advent of science.

Modernism did not embody scientific glory—unless skyscrapers as architecture belong to science.

The 20th century engineers and physicists (far closer to Leonardo da Vinci than William Carlos Williams) were scientific; religion lived on in the lives of the poor, even as Nietzsche-inspired, 20th century professors said God was dead; and meanwhile the Modern poets dug themselves into a hole—rejecting religion, while proudly beating their chests (Modernism’s crackpot identity was male) before the idol of pseudo-science. Modern poetry fell into oblivion, where it still exists today—secular, unscientific, unsentimental, unmusical, without a public, or an identity.

Sentimental poetry did live on throughout the 20th century—poetry is sentimental, after all.  It continued to thrive, in popular music, but as poetry, it mostly thrived beneath the Modernist headlines.

To highlight this argument, Scarriet’s 2018 March Madness Tournament will feature great sentimental poetry.

Before we start, we’d like to define the issue in more detail.

We do not assert that mawkish, simplistic, hearts-and-flowers, unicorns-and-rainbows, poetry is good.

But tedious, pedantic, dry, prosaic poetry is not good, either.

We simply maintain that all poetry, and the very best poetry, is sentimental, rather than factual—despite what Modernist scholars might say.

It is necessary to point out that verse is not, and cannot, as verse, be somehow less than prose, for verse cannot be anything but prose—with the addition of music.

Verse, not prose, has the unique categorical identity which meets the scientific standard of a recognizable art, because verse is prose-plus-one.  Verse is prose and more.  Here is the simple, scientific fact of verse as an identifying category, which satisfies the minimal material requirements of the category, poetry.

The objection can be raised that the following two things exist

1. prose and

2. prose which has a poetic quality, but is not verse

and therefore, poetry can exist without verse.

But to say that prose can be poetic while still being prose, is really to say nothing at all; for if we put an example of prose next to prose-which-is-poetic, it only proves that some prose writing samples are more beautiful than other prose writing samples.

This still does not change this fact: Verse is prose-plus-one.  Prose can be enchanting for various reasons; it can have a greater interest, for example, if it touches on topics interesting to us—but the topic is interesting, not the prose; the content of prose can have all sorts of effects on us—secondly, and more important, prose can certainly appeal for all sorts of sensual reasons, in terms of painting and rhythm and sentiment, and this is why we enjoy short stories and novels. But again, verse is all of this and more; verse is, by definition, prose-plus-one.

To repeat: Verse is more than prose. Prose is not more than verse.

What do we mean, exactly, by sentimental?  Isn’t there excellent verse which is not sentimental at all?  No, not really, if we simply define sentimental as the opposite of factual.

We might be confused here, because a fact can be sentimental; a simple object, for instance, from our past, which has associations for us alone—there it is, a souvenir, a fact which can move us to tears.

Just as verse is prose-and-more, the sentimental is fact-and-more.  Poetry adds sentiment to the fact.

Here are two examples of good poems, and because they are poems, they are sentimental; they are not sentimental because they are good, or good because they are sentimental.  The sentimental is a given for the poem. And because facts come first, and sentiment is added, poems use facts, even though poems are not factual.

Think of Byron’s famous lyric, “We Shall Go No More A Roving.”  The sentiment is right there in the title. “No more!” Something we did together which was pleasantly thrilling will never happen again.  

If this Byron lyric not sentimental, nothing is.   But we can state its theme in prose.  The sentimentality can be glimpsed in the prose, in the preface, in the idea.  The verse completes what the prose has started.

Facts, and this should not be surprising, do a lot of the work in sentimental poetry.  One of the things which makes Byron’s gushing lyric gloriously sentimental, for instance, is the fact that it is not just I who shall “go no more a roving,” but we shall “go no more a roving.” This is a fact, and the fact contributes to the sentimentality; or, it might be argued, the sentimentality contributes to the fact.

Carl Sandburg, born in 1878, got his first break in 1914 when his poems were accepted by Poetry, the little Modernist magazine from Chicago—where Sandburg was raised. Sandburg was initially famous for his “hog butcher for the world” poem about Chicago, but the Modernists (including the academically influential New Critics) withdrew their support as Sandburg gained real fame as a populist, sentimental poet. Sandburg even became a folk singer; his poem “Cool Tombs” was published in 1918, and you can hear Sandburg reading this masterpiece of sentimentality on YouTube—and you can hear Sandburg singing folk songs on YouTube, as well.  What is sentimental about a “cool tomb,” exactly?  Is it the sound-echo of “cool” and “tomb?” The sentimental in poetry proves the sentimental is not always a simple formula.

Shelley’s “Ozymandias” might be preferred by Moderns, because on the face of it, this poem doesn’t seem very sentimental at all.  Shelley’s poem is factual: a traveler sees a ruin. Shelley describes the facts as they are—here’s what the traveler sees.  But upon reflection, one recognizes how powerful the sentiment of the poem is—a great thing existed, and is now gone.  And yet, what is gone was evil, and the poem mocks its loss, and the final image of the poem is simply and factually, “the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

However, and we don’t need to push this point more than necessary, the whole power of Shelley’s poem is sentimental.  The fact of the statue, half-sunken in the sands of a desert, is just that—a fact.  Were it only this, the fact would not be a poem—all poems, to be poems, must be sentimental; the sentiment is added to the fact.

The poet makes us feel the sentimental significance of the fact; this is what all poems do.

And now to the Tournament…

Our readers will recognize quite a few of the older poems—and why not?  The greatly sentimental is greatly popular.

Most will recognize these poems right up through “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot.

The half-dozen poems composed more recently, in the fourth and final bracket, will not be as familiar, since sentimental examples of verse no longer get the attention they deserve; we bravely furnish them forth to stand with the great sentimental poems of old.

“Sentimental” by Albert Goldbarth is not actually sentimental; the poem is more of a commentary on sentimentality by a pedantic modern, in the middle of the modern, anti-sentimental era.

“A Dog’s Death” may be the most sentimental poem ever written, and it comes to us from a novelist; as respectable poets in the 20th century tended to avoid sentimentality.

The poems by Sushmita Gupta, Mary Angela Douglas, Stephen Cole, and Ben Mazer we have printed below.

The great poems familiar to most people are sentimental—at the dawn of the 20th century, sentimentality was unfortunately condemned.

Here are 64 gloriously sentimental poems.

Old Sentimental Poems—The Bible Bracket

1. Western Wind –Anonymous
2. The Lord Is My Shepherd –Old Testament
3. The Lie –Walter Raleigh
4. Since There’s No Help, Come Let Us Kiss and Part –Michael Drayton
5. The Passionate Shepherd to His Love –Christopher Marlowe
6. That Time Of Year Thou Mayst In My Behold –William Shakespeare
7. Full Fathom Five Thy Father Lies –William Shakespeare
8. Adieu, Farewell, Earth’s Bliss –Thomas Nashe
9. The Golden Vanity –Anonymous
10. Death, Be Not Proud –John Donne
11. Go and Catch A Falling Star –John Donne
12. Exequy on His Wife –Henry King
13. Love Bade Me Welcome –George Herbert
14. Ask Me No More Where Jove Bestows –Thomas Carew
15. Il Penseroso –John Milton
16. On His Blindness –John Milton

Newer Sentimental Poems—The Blake Bracket

1. Why So Pale and Wan Fond Lover? –John Suckling
2. To My Dear and Loving Husband –Anne Bradstreet
3. To Lucasta, Going to the Wars –Richard Lovelace
4. To His Coy Mistress –Andrew Marvel
5. Peace –Henry Vaughan
6. To the Memory of Mr. Oldham –John Dryden
7. Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard –Thomas Gray
8. The Sick Rose –William Blake
9. The Little Black Boy –William Blake
10. A Red, Red Rose –Robert Burns
11. The World Is Too Much With Us –William Wordsworth
12. I Wandered Lonely As  A Cloud –William Wordsworth
13. Kubla Khan –Samuel Coleridge
14. I Strove With None –Walter Savage Landor
15. A Visit From St. Nicholas –Clement Clarke Moore
16. When We Two Parted –George Byron

Still Newer Sentimental Poems—The Tennyson Bracket

1. England in 1819 –Percy Shelley
2. To ___ –Percy Shelley
3. Adonais–Percy Shelley
4. I Am –John Clare
5. Thanatopsis –William Cullen Bryant
6. To Autumn –John Keats
7. La Belle Dame sans Merci –John Keats
8. Ode to A Nightingale –John Keats
9. How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways –Elizabeth Barrett
10. Paul Revere’s Ride –Henry Longfellow
11. Annabel Lee –Edgar Poe
12. Break Break Break  –Alfred Tennyson
13. Mariana –Alfred Tennyson
14. The Charge of the Light Brigade –Alfred Tennyson
15. My Last Duchess  –Robert Browning
16. The Owl and the Pussy Cat –Edward Lear

Even Newer Sentimental Poems—The Sushmita Bracket

1. O Captain My Captain –Walt Whitman
2. Because I Could Not Stop For Death  –Emily Dickinson
3. The Garden Of Proserpine –Charles Swinburne
4. The Man He Killed –Thomas Hardy
5. When I Was One and Twenty  –A.E. Housman
6. Cynara –Ernest Dowson
7. Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock  –T.S. Eliot
8. Not Waving But Drowning  –Stevie Smith
9. Nights Without Sleep –Sara Teasdale
10. What Lips My Lips Have Kissed –Edna Millay
11. Sentimental –Albert Goldbarth
12. Dog’s Death –John Updike
13. Utterly In Love –Sushmita Gupta
14. I Wrote On A Page Of Light –Mary Angela Douglas
15. Waiting –Stephen Cole
16. Number 5 (December Poems) –Ben Mazer

Utterly in Love –Sushmita Gupta

Of all the remarkable,
Things and feelings,
In my life,
You are one.
And I guard you,
And your identity,
In the deepest,
Quietest corner,
Of my heart,
With a passion,
That some show,
For religion,
And if not religion,
Then they show it,
For revolution.
But me,
I am a mere mortal.
I only know,
To love you,
And love you secretly.
Secretly,
I melt in a pool,
By your thoughts.
Secretly,
I wish,
That you would,
Mould the molten me,
And give me,
A shape,
A form,
And eyes,
That twinkle,
Like far away stars.
And me,
With twinkling eyes,
And fragrant body,
From loving you,
Shall love you,
Even more.

I Wrote On A Page Of Light –Mary Angela Douglas

I wrote on a page of light;
it vanished.
then there was night.

then there was night and
I heard the lullabies
and then there were dreams.

and when you woke
there were roses, lilies
things so rare a someone so silvery spoke,

or was spoken into the silvery air that

you couldn’t learn words for them
fast enough.
and then,

you wrote on a page of light.

Waiting –Stephen Cole

I believe if She were here
She would tell me
The cold winds are departing.

The message delivered
Thoughtfully,
If only I was listening.

Comfort to the discomfort
With her warming words.
The void filled,
Recognized,
For what it lost,
Otherwise,
It could not be filled.

For Her,
The rules are absent by rules.
She always knows what to say
As only for the proper need,
She construes,
According to sidereal secrets
Of the long, long day.

Number 5 (December Poems) –Ben Mazer

I was at the Nuremberg Rallies pleading with my wife,
I love you, I love you, more than anything in the world!
As she looked off to see the dramatic spectators,
she turned to me and said, you hate my guts.
I wept, I pleaded, no, it wasn’t true!
I only married you because I love you!
There is no force to plead with that can change her course,
now everything is quite its opposite,
and yet she said, “I wish that it were true,”
and would not answer “Do you love me?”
or contest “You do! You love me!”
What are we then? Man and wife
hopelessly lost and separated in strife
and worser grief than was known to despair
at using words like markers, no means yes,
when Jesus Mary Magdalene won’t you bless
the two true lovers, their heads to your thighs,
and let this nonsense out in bursts of tears and sighs.

THE LOVE OF ANNABEL LEE: SEX SCANDALS AND THREE ICONIC AMERICAN POEMS

The rose is no longer a rose?

There are three types of love/poetry/sentiment/politics.

Poe, Eliot, or Ginsberg.

All of us participate in these categories. The three types belong to all of us, to some degree.

Warning. This will not be an exercise in saying which is better.

Divide, we shall not.

This is not one of those “Which poet/lover are you?” exercises, in which a sad little person attempts to find out ‘who they are.’ Games such as these merely indulge human vanity. The question here is not “what are you?”

The question is, “what is it?”

What is love?

It is always better to be a scientist than a gossip—especially when gossip gets the upper hand.

Love has a number of elements:

1. Practical, or natural.

2. Moral, or sentimental.

3. Traditional, or cultural.

How is it useful? How is it personal? How it social?

Love is a wave—it has its own existence and reason for being.

The person is the particle in that wave; a person is unique, and is not the wave—but the wave nonetheless impacts the individual.

Whether a woman has children, or not, love—as it relates to children—will impact all women, and all human beings.

Nature, the mother of us all, has a great interest in reproduction.

Intimacy—or love—in its all phenomena, contributes to reproduction.

And further, Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ aspects (fighting, attractiveness, territory) intersect with reproduction, so nature interacts with love in ways brutal and rough, so that love finally sits with characteristics many do not consider loving at all.

So the first consideration—the practical, or natural one—defines love in such a complex manner that love hides, or lurks—and is manipulated by things we don’t recognize as love, at all.

This is why many scholars argue that love is a human invention.

Nature is interested in babies, not love.

But even if we accept that love is a human invention, belonging to society—the third consideration (customary, social) above—it would not make sense to pretend that the natural doesn’t impact society, or that the natural doesn’t matter in love.

Finally, we have the middle distinction: the moral or sentimental, and this is how love matters to the individual—how it makes us feel about ourselves, how it affects our feelings; in other words, matters “of the heart.”

So these are the three basic elements of love: nature, society, and the heart.

Society is what causes people to call certain aspects of love “weird, or perverted.” Society is what makes people “cry at weddings,” and makes people have weddings, and gives priests, or the state, authority to marry people. Society makes rules on abortion. Society has a great deal to do with love.

Society also has a great deal to do with “the heart,” and how individuals feel about love in their hearts.

Many feel “in their heart” exactly what society expects them to feel.

For many, the aspects of love we call, on the one hand, “society” and on the other, “the heart,” are precisely the same.

Further: since society—to a certain degree, successfully—reflects natural, or practical functions of love, there are many individuals who unite all three aspects of love—nature, society, the personal—in their hearts; love is their child, their husband, and their heart.

But love is not always so simple, or successful, or happy.

Love can be as simple as gravity—as relatively simple as the pull, or the dance, of the planets. Love, simple or not, operates in all human beings.

But navigating society, nature, and the heart, proves difficult for most of us, to say the least.

Biology is difficult, and biological reproduction involves sex; reproduction involves picking out whom to have sex with, and whom to reproduce with.

And to make things even more complex—and here we seem to leave the natural, or practical, realm altogether—sex exists for itself, and sex occurs a great deal without having anything to do with biological reproduction.

And society must ‘come to grips with’ this apparently random, and pleasure-or-power-driven, sexual activity—which seems to exist outside of the practical concerns of nature.

But speaking of “power-driven,” nature does care about power—and this is at the heart of Darwin’s view of nature—turf wars, mates competing for mates, and the whole martial aspect of nature belongs to all varieties of non-reproductive, sexual, and sexually-related, activity.  Sexual activity never stands on its own. It always has an object. This is true, whether we are talking about reproduction in marriage, a love sonnet, casual dating, rape, or purely-for-pleasure, kinky, sex.

Try as we might then, we cannot think of sex as somehow apart from nature, or apart society. Sex always belongs to the nature-society-heart formula, as does love, from which sex springs. Love does belong to one thing, then, as itself, within the three main considerations: nature at the top, influencing society, which then influences the individual.

Love should be seen, and can be seen, as one, with all its parts connected and related.

Love obeys nature, but how society views love can have a radical impact—think of Islam, versus the Modern West. The woman covered from head to toe versus the woman in a bikini. Or the Old South in the United States, when cousins married. Or ancient and not-so-ancient cultures with harems, or “child brides.” Homosexuality and the Non-Binary is accepted, or not, differently, by different cultures in different places and times. Society, attempting to reflect nature, manufactures how individuals feel about love—we are all caught in society’s web. Family, a microcosm of society and nature, also influences how individuals feel about love. Objectivity is nearly impossible; some look towards nature to find the objective truth of love; others cast away objectivity altogether, and listen to the vibrations of their hearts (which could mean testosterone hormone therapy).

Every radical and different view of love can be traced back in one direction to nature, and in the other direction to the heart. Love always connects to the three considerations: nature, heart, society.

How should men and women relate to one another? Nature created man, woman, and reproduction. But society created so much more, and society makes the rules. And in our hearts, we may agree, or not, with a part, or all of, society’s rules. But no matter how deeply love winds through our hearts, we cannot escape love defined by society, and, in turn, defined by nature. Conversely, no matter how strong nature and society are, the heart wants what it wants.

Poe’s “Annabel Lee” may be the most iconic love poem in existence. “Annabel Lee” represents a certain kind of love.

We all know the beautiful poem—“I was a child and she was a child.”

The Annabel Lee love is innocent, not worldly. It escapes nature—that is, reproduction—since a “child” is too young to reproduce. Society is present—we get the beloved’s full name, implying parenthood, genealogy and the record-keeping aspect of society. But children are not yet full members of society. So in that sense the beloved belongs to society, but not quite. Also, a child qua child belongs to nature—what is more natural than a child? But since the child has a name given to her by society, and she is not an adult, she doesn’t belong fully to nature, either.

The poet says “you may know” this maiden; and this “may know” is significant.  This situates Annabel Lee in the center of ordinary society—she is not famous (you “may” know her) but she’s not a recluse, or an unknown living in nature, either—precisely because you “may know her.” Or, Poe could be slyly implying that you, the reader, may be aware, or not, of the exquisite sort of love he is describing. Either way, it works. The poet needs society to speak, and be understood by others.

The “Annabel Lee love” belongs to society, and hopefully, to you.

“And this maiden she lived with no other thought/Than to love and be loved by me.”

Here’s the third element—the personal, the heart: “no other thought.”

Poe, in “Annabel Lee,” quickly sketches the trinity: nature, society, and the heart.

The poet takes care to establish the three as one: she is a child (nature), she has a name (society), and she “lived with no other thought than to love and be loved by me” (heart).

We do get introduced to her as a “maiden”—-before we get introduced to her as a “child.”

“Maiden” is more societal in terms of love’s rules, than “child,” and only when called a “child” in the second stanza (she is called a “maiden” in the first) do we get the transcendent passion blurted out: “but we loved with a love that was more than love.”

The impossible attempt to transcend, to escape, love—which is determined by nature and society—is seen in these two famous phrases from the poem: “no other thought than to love” and “loved with a love that was more than love.”

This attempt to transcend love, to be “more than love” leads to the elaborate trope which continues to the end of the poem: angels “coveted her and me.” Annabel Lee dies, envied and killed by the entire universe—“angels,” “kinsmen,” those “older and wiser”, “demons”, nature (a “wind” which “chills” her).

This transcendent love—what might be called the ultimate romantic love—all encompassing, pure, innocent, monogamous—fully existing in nature, society, and the heart—is tenderly hymned in a divinely beautiful, poem of ideal, musical expression. It belongs very much to the 19th Century, to High Romanticism.

Poe presents sweet, ideal, transcendent love, the kind which belongs to our dreams.

But the Annabel Lee love will inevitably lead to envy, disapproval, and death.

The tone of “Annabel Lee” is Shelley’s “sweetest songs tell of saddest thought.”

Melancholy, the sadness of idealism inevitably spoiled, hovers over “Annabel Lee.”

Yet, finally, the ideal—though it must die—is expressed, and finds its way into our hearts, and lives.

The tone of melancholy isn’t accidental, but primary—precisely because the ideal is placed, by the poet, in the world which destroys, and casts it out. The ideal doesn’t exist pristinely and abstractly on a blackboard—it suffers inevitable death and decay—and produces its natural result, melancholia—by facing its ridicule and downfall, in the actual world of brutal nature and envious kinsmen. Even the “winged seraphs of heaven” are jealous—the whole thing is even worse than we think. The established ideal envies new ideals which strive to be more ideal.

The ideal is always tragic.

Idealism is the most profound manner in which the horror of the real is known. The ideal can hide—but also reveals—the real.

There is no victory, no escape, in any attempt to be ideal, for ultimately it is vanity—songs and poems which are ideal are finally abstract and do live apart from reality (the final, true reason for the melancholy) and so it both is, and isn’t true, that the ideal “lives” in the poem and in our hearts, and does not die. The ideal always hits the wall, always disappoints, always sinks into despair and sorrow. But because it is ideal, we continue to seek it, even if it gives us sorrow—and the beauty which accompanies the sorrow becomes the one, real thing we do experience, and is valid, and gives lasting pleasure.

T.S. Eliot’s early 20th century poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and Allen Ginsberg’s mid-20th century poem, “A Supermarket in California,” follow directly in the footsteps of “Annabel Lee,” Poe’s mid-19th century masterpiece.

Eliot and Ginsberg’s poems, like “Annabel Lee,” despite being “modern,” are both melancholic, idealistic, iconic masterpieces on love.

All three poems feature characters with full names:

Annabel Lee. (Imaginary woman)

J. Alfred Prufrock (Imaginary man)

Walt Whitman. (Real man)

All three of these lyric poems end with the trope of water: forgetful, drowning, memorable water.

Romantic love is satisfied to provide a lovely sounding first name—but in these three poems love is examined in a larger context.

The Romanticism of Poe in “Annabel Lee” is a romanticism already a failure, albeit in a beautiful way.

But Eliot, a few generations, later, follows Poe naturally, with the hyper-sensitive male suffering a Hamlet-like indecision in the presence of…not Annabel Lee, but a number of women. Eliot originally called his poem “Prufrock Among The Women” and this seems to be part of the problem—there are too many choices, perhaps?

“And I have known the arms already, known them all…And how should I begin?”

Alfred Prufrock doesn’t form a union with Annabel Lee. There is no “Annabel Lee love” in “Prufrock.” In contrast to “Annabel Lee love,” Prufrock’s love is the modern situation of secret desires, without any love.

Allen Ginsberg, 100 years on from Poe, and 50 years on from Eliot, in his poem “A Supermarket in California,” describes heaven in the following manner:

“Tasting” item after item in a supermarket while “never passing the cashier.”

Like Prufrock, the narrator in “A Supermarket in California” is unlucky in love, but with Ginsberg, the issue of class is implied—perhaps if he wasn’t a poor slob, he could have Annabel Lee?

The Walt Whitman in Ginsberg’s poem is a less refined Prufrock, with a hint of the wandering, the predatory, the scandalous: “lonely old grubber…eyeing the grocery boys.”

Ginsberg presents us a picture of breeding nature as it relates to love: “Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!”

Despite this picture, the melancholy and the lonely prevail in Ginsberg’s poem: Poe’s melancholy amid the plenty. Prufrock’s sadness amid the salad.

“Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in a hour.” Nature (“babies in the tomatoes”) is not enough; nor is society (“doors close in a hour”).  The restless, nocturnal heart needs some place to go.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets begins with “From fairest creatures we desire increase”—-in this dense phrase Shakespeare’s genius expresses love in the framework of nature/society/heart even quicker than Poe does in “Annabel Lee,” which, in its melodic melancholy, establishes love as hopeless ideal. In Shakesspeare’s Sonnet #1, “increase” is 1. nature, the “desire” for that “increase” is 2. society, and to “desire” the “fairest” constitutes matters of the 3. heart.

Is the healthy when all three are one?

The great rash of sexual harassment cases making headlines currently, are matters of nature (sex drive, power and dominance) and the heart (secret, squeamish lusts, and desires).

But while they reflect nature and the heart, they are making headlines precisely because they don’t fit societal norms.

But one might say they are making headlines because they do fit society’s “norms,” and this is precisely the problem—societal reform, which protects and respects women, is necessary.

Society is the focus in these current scandals—and how we as citizens/individuals feel about these sexual harassment cases.

Our reactions are filtered through our politics (as accusations hit those on the left or right), politics which significantly define many individuals.

The politics of the “cashier.”

The current political landscape, some argue, is why all these scandals have suddenly become public—they are driven by 1. frustration with the success of Trump, and 2. the hubris of Bill Clinton.

As individuals, we chiefly feel “glad it isn’t me,” and “let the courts and the individuals affected decide how to proceed,” and “hope this scandal brings down a politician I don’t like.”

But somewhere in our hearts we also perhaps bitterly realize that nature and the heart never change—the plethora of scandals will do exactly nothing to change the human heart and the laws of the jungle.

Society—as it rather ineptly attempts to mitigate the horrors, encourage the pleasures, and administer justice—is too large and corrupt to improve anything.

Many don’t finally trust that these scandals will make things better—even if secret, taxpayer-funded payoffs by congressmen are exposed.

A scandal always means an individual has been caught. A heart has been found out. The secret heart which is wrong has been seen—but too late, we feel, for prevention, for good to be done, even as we glory in selected shame and punishment.

What is normative in society, as it pertains to love, happens slowly over time—it doesn’t happen as a result of scandal. Scandal is not the cause, but merely the effect of what society at any given moment happens to see.

The case of Poe—was this southerner Roy Moore’s ideal?—in which a chaste and studious twenty five year old man marries a thirteen year old virgin—and both remaining happy in a faithful and artistic marriage, as long as they both live—is considered foul today.

The 21st century American citizen, who condemns Poe—lives by a code in which one has numerous partners, induces numerous heartbreaks and quarrels, divorces numerous times, and aborts offspring along the way—and this, in society’s eyes, is considered perfectly acceptable.

Scandal gets at a truth—but not the whole truth. And endless curiosity may get at a greater truth, or not.  Meanwhile, public opinion frets, the law acts, and the vulnerable continue to live in fear, and perhaps take risks to further themselves.

The truth of love lies in the endlessly complex interaction between nature, society, and the heart—as it plays out in different cultures, and local politics, over many thousands of years—the single thread of love twisting and turning, like a snake—partly in pleasure, partly in shame, and partly in agony.

 

 

LOVE IS AN ACT: IN PRAISE OF ROMANTICISM

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It is time to be honest about love.

We are going to argue that love—truly romantic love—rejected as cheap and backwards these days, will save the world.

First, we admit that love is rare, and it dies rather quickly. Everyone experiences this. We like something if it benefits us, and all sorts of human relationships are based on practical arrangements. Love, and here we will skip a definition, since it refers to what most of us have experienced at some point: it is mad, complete, mystical, and full of desire. It is not friendship. It can strike us before puberty, but after puberty, the charisma involved largely partakes of sexuality.

It is a truism to say love requires focus. Love must be intense, have intensity—if it is what we know as love, it must be intense—and this brings us to love’s desire for beauty. It wouldn’t make sense for love to involve many things, for this would be to dilute and diminish by spreading too thin, all that love is, and we agree love must have intensity.

Love must have a physical dimension, and to have the force and importance love requires, love should be rare, but not so rare as to be beyond human possibility, and a certain social comprehension. Individual human beauty fits this criterion—human beauty is rare, invokes intensity and focus, and though rare, is accessible.

In the same manner that durable, attractive, and rare metals such as silver and gold will always signify value in terms of wealth in society, human beauty, whether we like it or not, is the coin of love.

We begin with individual human beauty.

But now we have two more elements.

These elements are based on the idea that love is an act.

Do we mean in the sense that “acting” is fake? “To be able to act” is simply what a successful person is able to do. One can say that beauty is “fake,” in the context of love; but this is to assume that the attractive, which is desired, is insincere, but how so? Acting, like beauty, might be construed as fake in “matters of the heart,” but this view, in the name of a fake “depth,” is the superficial one. If something is truly desired, and if any action, including “acting,” belongs to the category of achieving what is desired, how can it then be deemed superficial? We are forced to use acting, action, and act, and all these three words imply—since we are not talking of friendship or the spiritual, but the concentrated madness of love.

When we say “acting,” we do not include lying, or being dishonest in any way which hurts the beloved. We mean “acting” with the goal of loving one person. The “act” is for love, not for “playing around.”

After beauty, there are two layers of “acting” involved:

One: micro-acting, which refers to the natural charm of the person, an unconscious extension of physical attractiveness, and

Two: macro-acting, which involves the actual “behavior of love;” making vows and uttering words of promise, committment, passion, excitement, praise and, naturally, love.

Micro-acting is crucial. One can be physically attractive, but have very little actual charm. Physical beauty is necessary, but even necessary is micro-acting, the way a person smiles, their personality, how they “act.” We have all seen the attractive face which loses all its beauty the moment we experience that dull something in the person behind it. Beauty exists cleverly and minutely.

Macro-acting takes work.

Micro-acting is just the way the person is.

All three, personal beauty, micro-acting, and macro-acting, mutually enhance each other, and all three are present in love.

Acting, even as we are describing it here, in a heightened, non-pejorative way, is typically seen as wretched, superficial, dishonest, and unseemly.

But what we are saying here is that acting is at the heart of romantic love, and romantic love could not exist without it.

Romantic love is not necessary to marriage and children; there are many societies where marriage is arranged, or where women are second class citizens, or worse, and therefore breeding does not require love at all.

Here we notice two things. Romantic love, which may lead to marriage and children, is not necessary to these two things.

But when it is, it requires women to be free and equal to men.

If this is true, is the western tradition of romantic love directly involved in equality for women?

And if romantic love does require “acting,” is this why romantic love is easy for other societies to disparage, and why romantic love is increasingly viewed as insincere, useless, and crazy—especially with increasing contact between the west—and societies (Islam, for instance) which put more of a premium on breeding, and submissive women, than romantic love?

Recall that the major trope of romantic love as “madness” comes from Plato, who opined human breeding farms as a national ideal. (Plato redeems himself in other places, defending love, and the equality of women, but his pragmatic side had moments in his famous society blueprint, “The Republic.”)

What if romantic love is the true path to free and equal women, to a free and equal society, and love itself?

What if romantic love faces grave danger before the more practical forces of not only societies which enslave women, but groups who view romantic love as a backwards and superficial act?

Much has been made recently of the unlikely alliance between feminists and Muslims—how could these two groups possibly be allied?

Both oppose romantic love.

Islam prioritizes modesty—marriage in which the woman is subordinate.

Romantic love does not fit into this scheme.

Feminists (and many sexual progressives) dislike romantic love—since it prioritizes attractive and flirtatious females. Indicted here is the great western tradition of dead white male literature of the roaming, independent, pining male poets, and their beautiful female muses.

But the great tradition of romantic love does not feature enslaved, uneducated, subordinate women. Nor does it feature empty-headed, sexual bimbos, either.  And women can be beautiful in millions of different ways.

The Romantic poets, Keats and Shelley, loved educated women.

Equals. Women who could appreciate their poetry. Women (think of Mary Shelley) who were writers, as well.

Poe’s “Ligeia” is an entrancing, mentally and spiritually powerful, woman. Poe rejected as a literary ideal the merely sexual or physically attractive female. Flirtatious women meant nothing to Poe. But the woman poet was a source of great admiration for the American.

The great tradition of Romantic love features strong women. Otherwise it is perverted Romanticism.

Two wars. One should never fight two wars.

Women do not put on uniforms and go to war against other women. Men do that.

In nations where men fight other men and keep their women veiled and subordinate, men fight two wars, one against men, and another against their women.

These societies which fight two wars tend to lose out to the countries in the west—whose women are free and educated—the result of the western romantic literary tradition.

Here’s to Romanticism—often portrayed as reactionary, but it is quite the opposite.

Our readers have noticed we have championed the poet, Ben Mazer, who is just now bringing out his Selected Poems to a great deal of acclaim.

Ben Mazer and Scarriet are leading the revival of Romantic poetry.

We must admit that romance is an act—in the superficial meaning of that word.

We must admit to love’s superficiality.

Even as we defend it.

It is through poetry that micro-acting and macro-acting become one; and the poet achieves the charm of the lover—which all desire to possess.

Romantic love may just be the answer to world peace.

If the world heeds this essay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE POINT OF THE POINT

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Poe, the first to clearly articulate the theory of the origin of the universe in the Big Bang (see his 1848 scientific essay, Eureka,) said a long poem does not exist.

Da Vinci—and we believe this is similar—said the point is the essence of geometry and painting.

Matter—and pain and sorrow—require relation. Put everything in a point, and you have pure spirituality without matter, and in the suffering and estrangement and separateness of the suddenly emerging explosion outward of matter (and the universe as we know it) we lose the point. Brevity is the entire concept in a nutshell—speed and speed-in-space mutually self-defining each other. Brevity is where Truth and Beauty live together. In the very word, brev-i-ty, 3 syllables sound with a velocity in precise ratio to the physical properties of the universe of that word. Brevity is the universe seen in a grain of sand, the soul of wit, and everything. Brevity is the flower genius crawls on. People who cannot stop talking are not geniuses; they make geniuses wince. Genius is the end of superfluous talk.

What if we applied Poe’s idea of brevity to life?

And not just brevity, but a decreasing dream we chase in our dreams?

Movies, for instance. We tend to remember films as a few brief scenes.

And more precisely: a favorite film tends to contain one arresting, favorite scene, and that scene contains one splendid moment we cannot forget: the scene within the scene: like the ever-fleeting moment of pleasure we, in the longer duration of our days, vainly seek—the point (invisible) within the point (slightly less invisible).

The point, as da Vinci felt compelled to tell us, has no substance—like the zero in mathematics which makes numbers exponentially increase; the point is more than infinitely small; it is smaller than small. It is nothing.

They say a great part of smoking’s addiction, or pleasure, is the fleeting, unsatisfying, nature of it, as you pull smoke into your lungs, feeling that faint jolt of warmth, the ever decreasing movement of the nicotine high, the whole strange act of the fire between your fingers, the fussiness of the habit which you own and owns you, alongside the stinky, unhealthy drawbacks—what is this pursuit but the search for the point—which exists, but does not exist—of the point, which is no point? A long smoke does not exist—though a habit of years, and all its fixings, is long.

The life of pleasure is like a pyramid.

The base of the pyramid is the sum of all our sensations.

As we travel up to the point at the top of the pyramid, with its decreasing volume, pleasure increases, and finally maximum pleasure is achieved at the top—and here at the apex of the pyramid is the vanishing point; the highest pleasure belongs to its end.

The pyramid, or triangle, belongs, as it happens, to perspective in painting; our sight, as da Vinci knew, lives in different triangles which expand outwards in mathematical precision from the eye. The point we seek is the nirvana of pleasure—but the point is also its end.

The triangulation of sight creates perspective—the soul of painting, geometry, and astronomy.

Perspective makes sudden sense of the chaos of sensation.

Ultimate pleasure is something we seek, but never find, and this motivates all movement and desire; the aesthetic translates the sweep and hurry of desire into the proportionate brevity of beauty—rather than allowing desperate desire to find the end, and its destruction.

Here is the summation of morality, art, religion, and civilization.

Limits on pleasure are necessary, but they can be either nicely, or crudely constructed.

Limits can be oppressive, and grow into a hatred of pleasure itself.

But if necessary limits on reckless and suicidal desire are hated, this can also result in loss of morals, taste, wisdom, aesthetics and vision.

Enemies of love exist on both sides.

Both sides aim for our doom—pleasure on one hand, and our protection against it, on the other.

Limits will always seem oppressive, even though they are necessary, and this is why Poe’s formula is the secret to wisdom and happiness—the idea of the brief poem enables us to love limits, and this is our salvation.

The greatest vanity of fake religion is that which puts the limitless universe within us. This is not a sign of God, but chaos. Understanding ourselves as small and limited and precise is what is truly godlike.

The brief poem is more beautiful and gives more pleasure than the long poem, for, as Poe wisely points out, we are physically unable to be greatly inspired for a long period of time.

As human beings, we are always calculating: how much expenditure of effort should I make for this amount of happiness? Is this the best bargain, the most pleasure, for my money, I can get?

And so Poe’s idea is a matter of the greatest practicality.

Now, when it comes to pleasure—the question always arises: will my pursuit of pleasure lead to all sorts of trouble? Unwise eating habits? A nightmarish, heartbreaking, violent, debilitating love affair?

But if we see that pleasure—which we blindly run after—exists in brevity, in very small pieces, or moments, we can more easily manage our reaction to its seductions.

The typical strategy is pretending seductions do not exist, or blocking them out completely. This may work for some, but not for the poet, not for the person who wants to experience pleasure.

How do we experience pleasure, yet mitigate the dangers and the follies?

By understanding the brief and elusive nature of pleasure. By understanding the seduction of pleasure (the point) is actually more real than pleasure itself (the point within the point). By managing our perception of pleasure, we can enjoy pleasure, and defy its punishments.

The first thing we need to do is to break up perception—and the experience of sensation—into brief moments of experience. The second thing is to realize this scattered existence is the real one, and all attempts to bridge moments into coherency is delusional and impossible. Coherency is based on a triangle. But this fact has nothing to do with happiness, so we should cease pretending, in these fake-profound religious sorts of ways, that the ultimate workings of life have anything to do with our happiness. Math is the answer. This is good news—math is comprehensible—and bad news—our long religious dreams are in vain.

As social creatures, who write long books, go for long walks, have long, flirtatious conversations, lie awake for entire sleepless nights, earn Ph.Ds, get married forever, make long term plans, and live in a long universe, we naturally unite moments in our minds, leaving out the less pleasurable, and more mundane, moments of the optimistic arc of our fantasies and dreams.

No matter how seduced we are, we can still reflect on how actually silly our desire is—the sweet rush of a bite of cake, which will eventually give us a stomach ache, or the grasping of that attractive body, which will eventually descend to bodily limit and boredom. But this is not to say we have to block or depress attraction—for suppression can make things worse; the strategy involves indulging in the beauty of the moment—so that beauty is experienced as it is best experienced—in its truly momentary state, where it can be appreciated without leading you into the dangers of trying to possess it—which we all know (unless we are a psychotic rapist, or some kind of debilitated addict), is impossible.

If we obey the law of brevity, we can feed our hungry minds—-and know this is all the luckiest get to have, anyway; we don’t succumb—and this is crucial—to jealousy of others, for this—jealousy of others, which is always a delusion—makes us act irrationally, more than anything else.

Gaze on that forbidden body part for a few seconds. That’s the best you will have, anyway.

Enjoy those eyes. You can never talk to them, or possess them. No one can. They belong to no one—but look at them, briefly, with pleasure.

The sun is not yours. Therefore enjoy it. It is too large to enjoy. But you can, because the sun, for you, is actually small.

Enjoy the placid and calm joy of not indulging, because actually, in stolen moments, you are indulging yourself with the greatest satisfaction. The point inside the point belongs to you. The point is not the point, but the point inside the point is yours, despite what everyone might say, those blabbing nonstop, who annoy you, those who may, or may not, be your dear friends.

Life is how you love your movie. Without being able to hold life (how it rushes by you!), you can enjoy those brief scenes, those brief moments of it—which is exactly how you enjoy your favorite films. You do get to eat your cake and have it—if you stop worshiping long movies and larger-than-life movie stars—and you make yourself in your own life by far the greatest film—which it is.

The long poem does not exist.

Only one life, with brief ones.

 

 

 

POETRY BRACKET ROUND ONE: FANNY OSGOOD VERSUS JOHN DONNE!

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Fanny Osgood

There were many exquisite women poets in the 19th century, but since “modern” means more than “women” in poetry, very few of them are read anymore.  Dickinson, really. And that’s it.

In this contest the great John Donne takes on an American poetess from the 19th century, rumored (rumor only!) to have had an affair with Edgar Poe.  He supported her in reviews.

She spoke not—but, so richly fraught
With language are her glance and smile,
That, when the curtain fell, I thought
She had been talking all the while.

–Fanny Osgood

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

–John Donne

Why do we think these 19th century women poets were not modern?  They were.  And one can certainly see why they thought they were being “modern.”

Just compare the two—John Donne:

For those whom thou [a personified Death] think’st thou dost overthrow

to Fanny Osgood:

She [an actual person] had been talking all the while.

Fanny Osgood is a modern writer.  Why is she forgotten, then?

T.S. Eliot—part of the male Poetry & Criticism clique, with Pound, of High Modernism, (only Marianne Moore was allowed to join the club as a token)—championed the “Metaphysical Poets” (the term was actually coined by Samuel Johnson, who found fault with the same group) and Donne was one of these heralded ‘Metaphysicals’ for Eliot, who busily damned Shelley, Milton, and Shakespeare, and unlike Poe, seemed to find no female poets to his liking.

Donne, sounding like a school boy, tells someone named “Death” you’re not so “mighty” and you cannot “kill me.”

The whole thing is laughable, and really belongs more to Theosophical Wit than Poetry.

Donne is done in by his own logic; he says that if a nap is good, death must be better—and yet we wake up from a nap.

The chief secretary of the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal (Donne’s position for a while) also says that “our best men” end up with Death, but this, apparently makes Death bad, the same as when “desperate men” go with him.

And Death is apparently not “mighty” because he hangs out with “war.”

The real wit is achieved at the end, which basically says if we do wake up after we die, as with a nap, then, and only then: “Death, thou shalt die.”  Which is only to be expected.

Contrast this with Fanny Osgood’s passage in March Madness 2017.

According to Poe, this is the best kind of poetry, “breathing Nature,” with “nothing forced or artificial.”

Osgood describes beautifully a woman who speaks without speaking.

Here are the two quatrains which precede the one quoted:

Now gliding slow with dreamy grace,
Her eyes beneath their lashes lost,
Now motionless, with lifted face,
And small hands on her bosom crossed.

And now with flashing eyes she springs—
Her whole bright figure raised in air,
As if her soul had spread its wings
And poised her one wild instant there!

She spoke not—but, so richly fraught
With language are her glance and smile,
That, when the curtain fell, I thought
She had been talking all the while.

Fanny Osgood has defeated the immortal John Donne!  A mighty upset!  Death, art thou shocked?

FEBRUARY POEMS BY BEN MAZER, REVIEWED

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As the shadows lengthen on American poetry in the 21st century, one is naturally prepared to think there was a noisy, sunny noon of poetry with noisy, popular poets.

But there never was such a thing.

We had, in our early days, the British imitators: William Cullen Bryant, (friend to Lincoln) with his “Thanatopsis”; the splendid, dark Poe; dashing in his prose but solemn and brief in his poetry; Emerson and Thoreau asserting nature, not poetry, in due obeisance to the arrogant British idea that her late colony was still a wilderness; Whitman secretly reviewing his own poems, waving a private Emerson letter in the public’s face as way of validation, but Whitman was almost as obscure as Dickinson—no, America has had no sunny noon of poetry; Ben Franklin, the diplomat-scientist-founding father, representing our mighty nation of pragmatists, had little use for the muse.

To put things in historical perspective:

Emily Dickinson caught on with modern critics as a force to be reckoned with in the 1930s.

Billy Collins was born in 1941.

A few years after Billy Collins was born, Ezra Pound—friend to both anglophilic “Waste Land” and haiku-like “Wheel Barrow”—caused a brief stir as a traitor in an Allied cage. The New Critics liked Eliot, Pound, and Williams and gave them critical support, some notice. Otherwise they had probably died. And the canon would be ruled instead by the wild sonneteer, Edna Millay, the Imagist, Amy Lowell, perhaps the cute scribbler E.E. Cummings.

The New Critics, the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and the Creative Writing Program Era, all began to flower in the late 1930s/early 1940s, around the time Collins was born—and, a few years earlier, you had Frost (discovered in England, not New England, right before the First World War, as Harriet Monroe was starting Poetry with money from Chicago businessmen—and help from foreign editor Ezra Pound) and then another generation back, you have the end of Whitman’s obscure career. And then a couple generations further back, the often disliked, and controversial, Poe, who mocked the somewhat obscure Transcendentalists—including Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Unitarian friend, William Greenleaf Eliot,  founder of Washington University in St. Louis, T.S. Eliot’s grandfather.

So not only is there no noisy noon of American poetry, no period when gigantic dinosaurs of American Verse ruled the earth, one could almost argue that we are still in the early morning of our country’s poetic history, way before noon—the noon has not even happened yet, as much as we often posit that American poetry is an abandoned field at sundown, where the 21st century MFA mice are playing.

Even if good poetry abounds in America today, it has no center, no fame, no visible love; Billy Collins, who sells a few books, was a teen when Allen Ginsberg, son of poet Louis Ginsberg, who knew WC Williams, achieved a bit of rock star fame through an obscenity trial. Allen Ginsberg has been dead for 20 years.

What of poets born after 1950?

Who knows them?

Where are the biographies and critical studies?

How can the greatest country on earth have no poets anyone really knows, for two whole generations?

Who is a young poet that we know?

Is the thread broken?  Is the bowl shattered? Will the sun never shine on this doorway again? What has happened to American poetry?

This sobering preface of mine (some might call it too sweeping and hysterical) is written by one who is proud to announce his critical study of the poet Ben Mazer is soon to be published by the noteworthy Pen and Anvil Press.

Who is Ben Mazer?

Born in 1964, he is the best pure poet writing in English today.

We use the word “pure” knowing the term is sometimes abused—Robert Penn Warren ripped Poe and Shelley to pieces in a modern frenzy of “purity” hating: sublime and beautiful may also, complexly, mean “pure.”  The heart has its reasons for loving purity—which all the Robert Penn Warren essays in the world can never understand (the essay we have in mind by Warren is “Pure and Impure Poetry,” Kenyon Review, ed. John Crowe Ransom, 1943—when Billy Collins was two years old).  If “beautiful and sublime” seem too old-fashioned, too “pure” for one’s taste, I assert “purity” as it pertains to Mazer means 1. accessible 2. smooth 3. not tortured.

Mazer has published numerous books of poems.

Mazer is also the editor of a number of important books, including the Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom (a neglected, but extremely influential figure)—Mazer’s large book reviewed by Helen Vendler in the NYR last year.

February Poems is Mazer’s latest book of poems, following hard upon December Poems. The two are a pair—marking the sudden unraveling of an ideal marriage.

The first poem in “February Poems” goes like this:

The sun burns beauty; spins the world away,
though now you sleep in bed, another day
brisk on the sidewalk, in your camel coat,
in another city, wave goodbye from the boat,
or study in an archival library,
like Beethoven, and thought is prodigy.
Do not consume, like the flowers, time and air
or worm-soil, plantings buried in the spring,
presume over morning coffee I don’t care,
neglect the ethereal life to life you bring.
O I would have you now, in all your glory,
the million-citied, Atlantic liner story
of what we were, would time come to forget
being so rich and passing, and yet not covet.

This poem falls from the first word to the last with a temporal perfection not seen since Milton. One may recognize Robert Lowell, too, who was somewhat besotted with Milton—Mazer’s a better poet than Lowell, however.

Look at how in “The Sun Burns Beauty,” every line is packed with sublimity discretely spoken, none the less sublime for the discretion:

“The sun burns beauty.”  Lovely double meaning. Consumes beauty, but also is beautiful. “Burns” quickly gives way to “spins,” as the poem, like a heavenly orb, picks up weighty speed: “another day, brisk on the sidewalk…wave goodbye…” the stunning plea: “Do not consume…presume I don’t care…neglect the ethereal life to life you bring…” and the conclusion, worthy of a sun which is burning beauty: “O I would have you now…of what we were, would time come to forget being so rich and passing, and yet not covet.”  Magnificent.  How long have we waited for poetry like this?   It’s truly timeless in the tradition—a word we can use without any qualification or irony.

We mentioned purity above; another way of getting across what I mean is Mazer’s use of Eliot’s Objective Correlative.

Eliot’s Objective Correlative is not a blackboard term for Mazer; it lives in his poetry. Eliot asked that the poem’s emotion match the object. Eliot’s request is a simple one: the reader doubts the poem’s veracity if the poet is unduly excited by a mundane object.

The poet’s emotions tell him what to say; and it is with our emotions we read the poem.

Much is made in poetry (naturally) of the skill in using words—Mazer clearly has a wonderful vocabulary and all that; yet also, in Mazer’s poetry, fact does match feeling; it’s not a word-game—Mazer’s trajectory isn’t words.  Mazer understands the Objective Correlative.

T.S. Eliot represents the Modernist counter to the perceived hyperbolic imbalance of the Romantics: Wordsworth getting terribly excited by a flower, Byron yawning at the end of the world—it cuts both ways.

Eliot’s objective critical dictum was a correction—and Mazer, who, in many ways, is Romanticism redux, instinctively, now, well into the 21st century, obeys Eliot’s dictum—but flexibly.

We’ve got Wordsworth and his famous dictum from “Lyrical Ballads:” poetry helps us to see the mundane as extraordinary, using plain speech, which goes against Eliot’s rule—and Mazer is not only a Robert Lowell, an Eliot, but a Wordsworth.

Mazer sounds Modern.

As he revives Romanticism.

And, I dare to say, the Enlightenment—when the Metaphysicals provided poetry heft and light.

Revival is always open to the charge of retrograde.

But how many layers of post-modern experimentation are there?

Before the public gets bored?

Oh, yes, that happened about 75 years ago.  When Billy Collins was born. And critics were rising to an appreciation of Emily Dickinson.

John Ashbery, born in 1927, had a head start on Mazer—Ashbery added Romantic verbosity to Modern dryness, irony, archness, in a painterly, foggy mix of not quite making sense. Mazer, if it must be said plainly, is a little better than Ashbery. Mazer does make sense.

The poems in Mazer’s February Poems do not, for the most part, have titles—to the worshiper who would carry around this book of love, like a holy book of some sorts, the page numbers will suffice to identify the great passages within.

These lines which begin the poem on page 7 speak out plainly and passionately but with the greatest mystery:

All grand emotions, balls, and breakfasts,
make little sense, if nothing lasts,
if you should leave the one you love,
inexplicable as Mozart’s star above

This passage at the top of page 8, a new poem, may be a statement for the ages:

The living are angels, if we are the dead in life
and immaculate beauty requires discerning eyes
and to ask incessantly who you are
is both our strength and doubt in faith, to know
what we must appear within ourselves to know:
that we do love each other, that we know who each other is
by putting ourselves in the hands and the eyes of the other,
never questioning the danger that rides on words
if they should misstep and alter a logical truth,
or if they should signify more than they appear to,
whether dull, indifferent, passionate, deeply committed
or merely the embodiment of a passing mood,
some lack of faith in ourselves we attempt to realize
through the other who remains steadfast in all the flexibility of love.

This is stuff which could be read at weddings on top of mountains around the world.

The poem which resides at page 15 goes like this, (and observe how “love” in the first line both is invaded, and invades, the “fiercest passion”—as Mazer has crafted the syntax):

The fiercest passion, uncommon in love,
yearns to be understood, do incalculable good;
must penetrate the beloved’s eyes, give rise
to beauty unmatched anywhere above.

Note the lovely internal rhyming: “understood and good” in line 2, “eyes” and “rise” in line 3, are but two examples.

We’ll continue with the whole poem, “The fiercest passion, uncommon in love:”

Infinite stasis exploring tenderness,
substantially is the basis of all bliss,

“Infinite stasis exploring tenderness” !!

although ethereal, indelible,
not subject to the chronologic fall.
And yet vicissitudes will upset this,
and forces will keep true lovers apart
too many years, breaking the sensitive heart,
that pours its passion in undying letters,
while hope’s alive to break the social fetters,
incalculable agonies poured into great art.
Bribes the organist, locks the door,
unwilling to suffer any more,
must make his grand statement to the world,
all his grief, anger, and love hurled
back at the gods which all his genius spited;
his biography says love was unrequited.
We live in the shadow of his despair,
grief so great, where there is nothing there.

And here it ends. This is not egotistical…”We live in the shadow of his despair” refers to the “shadow” of the poem itself (its inky visage) living to the readers as they read, and the “grief” of the poet is “so great,” the poem disappears (“nothing there”)—the very opposite of egotistical; it is grief conveyed powerfully.

The entire book—February Poems—contains lines such as these—which belong to an expression of love poetry rarely seen.

The poems range from greatest bliss:

The moonlight is incomprehensible.
My lover’s lips are soft and rosy pink.
Who could understand love which transfigures night,
when night itself does the transfiguring?
She sleeps. Awake, I hold her in my arms,
so soft and warm, and night is beautiful.

…In sleep she moans and shifts, embracing me.
I can’t budge from where I lie, but am content.

(excerpt from poem on pg. 16)

To acute despair, not merely told, explained, but in the poetry itself, lived:

The vanishing country roads have vanished.
There, the steep descent into the new, different town.
We are together, and we look around.
What are these flags and trees that grasp and clutch
the infinite progress of our former selves,
of love so great that it must be put away,
not where we left it, but where we can’t reach;
why should eternity itself miss you so much?
The music of a thousand kinds of weather
seep into the trees, sweep into the leaves that brush
your shoulder lightly where I left my heart,
once, long ago, when we first made our start
to drive so many miles to here together.
But where is here? The place we are apart.

(poem, “Vanishing country roads,” pg 64)

To pure sublimity and beauty and joy:

The greatest joy known to mortal man,
shall live beyond us in eternity.
Catching you ice-skating in mid-motion,
cheeks flush, winter pristine in our hearts,
ineffable, permanent, nothing can abolish,
when the deep forest, buried in snow’s white
holds the soul’s eternal solitude,
when, melting coming in, each particular
that stirs the senses, is the flight of man
to unspoken urgencies, garrulous desire
continually fulfilled, the captured stances
that drift like music in the light-laced night,
shared words in murmurs soft as downy sky,
the stars observe with their immortal eye.
Furious, presto-forte homecoming
races into the eyes and fingertips,
confirming and commemorating bells
resounding with our vulnerable desire
in momentary triumph that’s eternal.
Life passes on to life the raging stars,
resonances of undying light.
All years are pressed together in their light.

(“The greatest joy known to mortal man” pg 17)

We wish for a whole generation of young readers to spring up, profoundly and happily in love—following in the footsteps of Mazer, in his growing fame, in his mourning—clinging fast to their torn and re-smoothed copies of February Poems.

 

 

POE VERSUS TRUMP: PROSE— ROUND ONE—MADNESS

This contest should evoke much amazement and laughter, as it pits the greatest writer to ever perform in English—Edgar Allan Poe—against Donald Trump, in Scarriet’s 8th annual March Madness Tournament, in which the playing is performed by Great Historic Words—which are what? The words themselves? Or the vast realities behind them?

This is not a play on words. We are playing with words. For high stakes. Like playing with fire, almost.

“Make America great again” does contain great meaning. America was once a David, a hero who conquered the British Empire—of which it was a part—and now America, run by an emotionally fed, corrupt, uni-party, “Deep State,” is in danger of becoming another British Empire itself, a mischief-making giant dragging after it misery, chaos, and pain.

Poe (1809-1849) belonged to the fiercely cunning and pragmatic America—mesmerizing poetry was only one part of Poe’s weaponry. Poe defied the British—the world’s superpower, then, and not always friendly to America—circles in Great Britain had secret designs to destroy her upstart colony.  Poe helped create both science fiction and detective fiction—thought, curiosity, cunning, for the masses. Poe, in all he wrote, was the Ben Franklin of American Letters.

Franklin wrote, “Write with the learned. Pronounce with the vulgar.”

Poe wrote: “I will not be sure that men at present think more profoundly than half a century ago, but beyond question they think with more rapidity, with more skill, with more tact, with more of method, and less of excrescence in the thought. Besides all this, they have a vast increase in the thinking material; they have more facts, more to think about. For this reason, they are disposed to put the greatest amount of thought in the smallest compass and disperse it with the utmost attainable rapidity.”

Yes. Get to the point.

Now, more than ever.

Good advice.

“Watch how I get to the point” is reserved for Mozarts, for really good poets. Maybe for an Oscar Wilde giving an after-dinner speech. The rest of us should just get to the point. Quickly.

Poetry is occupied for its beautiful effects in its paying attention to the sweet immediacies of rhythm—the short story, on the other hand, has truth as its goal, by the very ratio in which artificial, formal, beautiful, and mathematical considerations are abandoned. This was Poe’s chief decree.

And yet. Just as Plato banned poetry from his Republic—in itself, a poem, to those who can read the great philosopher in the original Greek—so Poe’s prose nonetheless has a kind of beauty:

“During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.” Poe (1839)

In a way, this famous prose passage of Poe’s does “get to the point.” The narrator of “The House of Usher” arrives at that house in the first sentence. Lesser authors would spend a page, or two, describing the countryside, the horse, the rider, the rider’s thoughts, the previous day’s journey, and so on.

Poe, with the long sentence, gives us a sense of length, duration—since the tone is melancholy, length is proper; brevity would give us a completely different mood: “So there I was. Riding to Usher.”

But the genius of Poe gives us seeming length—in one sentence—for Poe has also, in getting right to the point, brought the reader, in a sad and drugged, melancholy state, to the House of Usher—by the end of the very first sentence of his tale.

We don’t know about women in pink hats, but we think Poe himself would admire “Make America Great Again,” or MAGA, as a political slogan, as it says a lot in a few words—the brevity itself adding urgency to the plea.

“Make”

Making is better than talking. Manufacturing is better than blather.

“America”

Nice. You’re running for president of ___.

“Great”

Sound-wise, it chimes with “make” and “America.” Meaning-wise, it signals a go-for-broke, dominating, expansive, winning attitude. Great has just the right ultra-confident vibe; after all, America is often called the “greatest nation on earth.”

“Again.”

Recalls history, tradition, destiny, while implying “America is tarnished and requires a certain amount of urgent restoration.”

Should Poe win, who was being read in Russia before he was being read in France?

Should Poe win, who was a maverick, and thumbed his nose at MSM?

Should Poe win, who is an MFA Writing Program all to himself?

Should Poe win, the last real literary genius, who was a scientist, as well?

Poe wins.

Make America great again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

T.S ELIOT AND ELIZABETH BARRETT—POETRY ROUND ONE IN THE MADNESS

Image result for ts eliot

We know there’s something magical about Scarriet March Madness tournaments—the pairings so often feature uncanny resemblances without any conscious intent by those putting together the brackets.

Look at this one:

Two of the most famous lines in poetry.

Elizabeth Barrett’s “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

T.S. Eliot’s “I measure out my life with coffee spoons.”

There’s counting, or measurement, in each offering.

Poetry, of course, the poetry people love (we don’t know about that formless modern stuff) involves counting—the measurement of beats—what the professors call meter.

We might note here that Plato said “art” and “measurement” were exactly the same thing.  And even here in 2017, we kind of see what he means.

Anyway, is it any accident, then, that two of the most famous lines in poetry, one from 19th century England, and the other from 20th century America, involve counting?

T.S. Eliot’s family traces back to Massachusetts and a Unitarian grandfather who knew Emerson—Emerson and Poe were enemies, and Eliot excoriated Poe in “From Poe to Valery.”

Poe and Barrett were correspondents before Browning famously entered Barrett’s life, and Poe dedicated his Poems, 1845 to Barrett.

Do these facts “count,” when we study the poetry?

Barrett’s sentiment is an expansion of a singular love: how do I love thee? Let me count the ways is a glorious movement outward from the one.

True love is geometry.

Eliot’s moves in the opposite manner—Life (his life) is chopped up, subtracted, despairingly made smaller, even as there is an adding, a counting of the ways: coffee spoonful after coffee spoonful.

Fascinating, really, how two similar tropes work in completely opposite directions: the optimistic 19th century, the pessimistic 20th century.

We may as well throw in this quote from Eliot right here:

The essential advantage for a poet is not to have a beautiful world with which to deal; it is to be able to see beneath both beauty and ugliness; to see the boredom, and the horror, and the glory.

 We should allow Barrett to have her turn, too. She wrote the following:

If you desire faith, then you have faith enough.

Elizabeth Barrett is like a large, comfortable Victorian pillow.

T.S. Eliot is like a black-and-white horror film.

Eliot wins—only because the zeitgeist forces us to choose him.

SCARRIET MARCH MADNESS 2017: GREATEST WORDS OF ALL TIME

Image result for mural of american revolution

SONG

1 Even little cuckoos in their clocks, do it. Let’s fall in love. –Cole Porter

2 We kissed in a field of white and stars fell on Alabama, last night. –Mitchell Parish

3  Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.  –McCartney

4  I was dancin’ since I was eight. Is it wrong to dance so late? –T. Rex

5  Will you miss me, Miss Misery? –Elliott Smith

6  Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in  –Cohen

7  Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.   –Newton

8  Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.  –anonymous

9  This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.   –anonymous

10  Hear that lonesome whipporwill? He sounds too sad to fly. The midnight train is whining low. I’m so lonesome I could cry.  –Hank Williams

11 Bound for a star by an ocean, you’re so very lonely, you’re two thousand light years from home.  –Rolling Stones

12 Fly me to the moon and let me play among the stars. Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars.  –Sinatra

13 Take your protein pills and put your helmet on.  –Bowie

14 Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.  –Paul Simon

15  Send my credentials to the house of detention.  –The Doors

16 O say does that star spangled banner yet wave—o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?  –F. Scott Key

POETRY

1  Soft went the music the soft air along –Keats

2  For I have known them all already, known them all: Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons; I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.  –Eliot

3  Let the more loving one be me.  –Auden

4  Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me.  –Dickinson

5  Death, be not proud  –Donne

6  I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow –Roethke

7  He who mocks the infant’s faith Shall be mocked in age & death –Blake

8  There’s nothing worse than too late  –Bukowski

9  Two roads diverged in a wood and I—took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.  –Frost

10  Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying; blow, bugle, answer echoes, dying, dying, dying.  –Tennyson

11 Green dells that into silence stretch away  –C. Matthews

12 She spoke not—but, so richly fraught with language are her glance and smile, that when the curtain fell, I thought She had been talking all the while. –Fanny Osgood

13 As if the star which made her forehead bright Had burst and filled the lake with light –Read

14 And birds and streams with liquid lull Have made the stillness beautiful –Amelia Welby

15 How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.  –Barrett

16 So we’ll go no more a roving, So late into the night, Though the heart be still as loving, And the moon be still as bright.  –Byron

FILM

1  “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” –Gone with the Wind

2  “What seems to be the problem? Death.” –Blade Runner

3  “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” –Godfather

4  “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” –Chinatown

5  “You’ve got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well do ya, punk?” –Sudden Impact

6  “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” –Wizard of Oz

7  “I coulda been a contender.”  –On The Waterfront

8  “Bond. James Bond.”  –Dr. No

9  “Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By.”  –Casablanca

10 “I want to be alone.”  –Grand Hotel

11  “Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.” –Dracula

12  “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”   –Jaws

13  “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”  –Streetcar Named Desire

14  “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” –Hamlet

15  “Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.”  –King Kong

16  “Elementary, my dear Watson!”  –Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

PROSE

1 During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing along on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. –Poe

2  Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.  –Nabokov

3  It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. –Orwell

4  And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.  –F.Scott Fitzgerald

5  In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.  –Hemingway

6  Justice?—You get justice in the next world; in this world you have the law.  –Gaddis

7  The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.  –S. Crane

8  She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom.  –Hawthorne

9  A loving heart is the truest wisdom.  –Dickens

10  He kissed her, and she quivered as if she were being destroyed, shattered.  –D.H. Lawrence

11  When a true genius appears in this world, you may know him by this sign, that all the dunces are in confederacy against him.  –Swift

12 The loss of one eye does not destroy the vision. The deafness of one ear does not wholly deprive us of hearing. In the same manner Tiedman reports the case of a madman, whose disease was confined to one side of his head, the patient having the power to perceive his own malady, with the unimpaired faculties of the other side. –Mrs. L. Miles

13 Always forgive your enemies—nothing annoys them so much. –Oscar Wilde

14 A dinner party is the last triumph of civilization over barbarism. Conversation depends on how much you take for granted. Vulgar chess-players have to play their games out; nothing short of the brutality of an actual checkmate satisfies their dull apprehensions. But look at two masters of that noble game! White stands well enough, so far as you see; but Red says, Mate in six moves;—White looks, —nods;—the game is over. –Oliver Wendell Holmes

15 I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.  –M. L. King

16 Make America great again. –Donald Trump

Scarriet is proud to unveil another annual (is it our eighth one already?) March Madness Poetry Tournament—in the past, we have used Best American Poetry poems, contemporary poets’ lines, aesthetic philosophy, and now we have seized the populist moment by presenting what we call a “Greatest Words” contest.  Popular speech has its own reason for existing, and the poetry (and wit) is in the brevity, obviously, but also we note that words are so adept at pointing to other things; for instance, “Make America Great Again,” (too controversial?) has worlds of meaning within it—we can ask, “What is America?” and “what does it mean to make America great, and “great again?” etc etc  One does not have to see this as a ‘pro-Trump’ entry—though an entry, nonetheless.

Let the games begin!

WHAT IS A BAD POEM?

 

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A good poem needs 2 things.

Most have the first: an anecdote, theme, or story which supports the poem.

The second is why 99% of poems fail.

It is because the anecdote, the reason for the poem, is a thousand times better than the poem.

One attempt to fix this is to write a poem which is so brief, the anecdote is the poem.

The other is to make the poem so lengthy that it forgets, for many lines, its theme. Both of these attempts fail.

99% of poetry stinks.

One might counter this with a list of exemplary qualities which every poem requires to be successful. But the problem with this is that such lists can go on forever. We believe the simple “anecdote” warning above beats every list in the world.

And further, any lengthy list of what makes a poem good can actually do harm, as striving to satisfy many elements of expression may destroy the poem’s unity. Wit lessens options; it doesn’t expand them.

Pope’s phrase is exemplary: ” what oft’ was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.” A poem needs but 2 things ever: ‘what people are thinking’ and the ‘better expression of it.’ The ‘better’ is the rub. And ‘what people are actually thinking’ helps, too.

Pope, the Augustan Wit, belongs to an era lost to our day—flying beyond the Romantics and the Moderns, so that Pope is hardly considered a poet at all to those who long ago bought into aesthetic statements such as the “Red Wheel Barrow.”

The fetish of the romantically tinged image of the early Modernists struck a blow against philosophical wit—to no effect, really.

Wit looking at objects is all poetry is, and has ever been.

The Romantics—who the Moderns and Post-Moderns have never quite escaped—countered the Augustan Wits with heart.

But as we examine the Romantics from our modern future, we see the Romantics were Wits, too.  Read Byron.

Today, most poetry has neither wit nor heart: no, that may not be quite true.  It often has heart, but no wit.  Or wit, but no heart.  The good poem tends to have both: a good theme sweetly expressed. But modern poetry has mostly left this combination behind, in the name of (what to call it?) a modernity which considers itself too modern for any broad sense of sweetness, virtue, or virtuosity.

Modernity has replaced the Muse. Today poets write as they are taught: to write against the past, instead of adding to its glories. One criterion exists in the Post-Modern, Creative Writing Program Era: Whatever you do, avoid the Iconic Past. Write in any manner you like, just as long as you don’t sound like Byron!

A good example of how this Modern Stupidity has replaced the Muse is the following poem which every modern loves.

In this poem, the ten year old who rhymes is secret code for Keats, Poe, Byron.

And the schoolteacher (cunningly dismissed, as well) in this poem is nothing more than tradition and poetry itself, replaced by the 20th-century, business model, vanity of the Creative Writing Program—which became a kind of solution during Bunting’s lifetime to the insulting woes described in the poem. Bunting’s clever poem seems to be a defense of poetry. It’s not. It’s a defense of modern poetry. And there’s a very important difference.

~

What the Chairman Told Tom by Basil Bunting (1900-1985)

Poetry? It’s a hobby.
I run model trains.
Mr. Shaw there breeds pigeons.

It’s not work. You don’t sweat.
Nobody pays for it.
You could advertise soap.

Art, that’s opera; or repertory—
The Desert Song.
Nancy was in the chorus.

But to ask for twelve pounds a week—
married, aren’t you?—
you’ve got a nerve.

How could I look a bus conductor
in the face
if I paid you twelve pounds?

Who says it’s poetry, anyhow?
My ten year old
can do it and rhyme.

I get three thousand and expenses,
a car, vouchers,
but I’m an accountant.

They do what I tell them,
my company.
What do you do?

Nasty little words, nasty long words,
it’s unhealthy.
I want to wash when I meet a poet.

They’re Reds, addicts,
all delinquents.
What you write is rot.

Mr. Hines says so, and he’s a schoolteacher,
he ought to know.
Go and find work.

~

We almost feel sorry for Tom, the sorry-ass modern poet who writes “rot,” but still wishes his “rot” to earn him a living. Is the speaker of the poem attractive? Not exactly, though his honest approach is the entire merit of the poem—take this away, and there’s no poem. Now, it is true: wrestling with how to make a poem better than “writing advertisements” or more significant than “a hobby” are valid questions, but Bunting’s poem isn’t interested in that; it only wants us to assume the poet is honorable—simply in the face of the “unkind” chairman’s remarks. Unfortunately, the “rot” the chairman mentions, as everyone who attempts to read most poetry knows, despite the poem’s self-pity, is depressingly real.

Bunting’s poem has heart—but no wit.

Bunting’s poem is good, raw anecdote—with a dubious agenda.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR! 2017 SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100

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1 Bob Dylan. Nobel Prize in Literature.

2 Ron Padgett. Hired to write three poems for the current film Paterson starring Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani.

3 Peter Balakian. Ozone Journal, about the Armenian genocide, won 2016 Pulitzer in Poetry.

4 Sherman Alexie. BAP 2015 ‘yellow-face controversy’ editor’s memoir drops this June.

5 Eileen Myles. Both her Selected Poems & Inferno: A Poet’s Novel making MSM lists.

6 Claudia Rankine. Citizen: important, iconic, don’t ask if it’s good poetry.

7 Anne Carson. The Canadian’s two latest books: Decreation & Autobiography of Red.

8 Paige Lewis. Her poem “The River Reflects Nothing” best poem published in 2016.

9 William Logan. In an age of poet-minnows he’s the shark-critic.

10 Ben Mazer. “In the alps I read the shipping notice/pertaining to the almond and the lotus”

11 Billy Collins. The poet who best elicits a tiny, sheepish grin.

12 John Ashbery. There is music beneath the best of what this New York School survivor does.

13 Joie Bose. Leads the Bolly-Verse Movement out of Kolkata, India.

14 Mary Oliver. Her latest book, Felicity, is remarkably strong.

15 Daipayan Nair.  “I am a poet./I kill eyes.”

16 Nikky Finny. Her book making MSM notices is Head Off & Split.

17 Sushmita Gupta. [Hers the featured painting] “Oh lovely beam/of moon, will you, too/deny me/soft light and imagined romance?”

18 A.E. Stallings. Formalism’s current star.

19 W.S. Merwin. Once the house boy of Robert Graves.

20 Mary Angela Douglas. “but God turns down the flaring wick/color by color almost/regretfully.”

21 Sharon Olds. Her Pulitzer winning Stag’s Leap is about her busted marriage.

22 Valerie Macon. Briefly N.Carolina Laureate. Pushed out by the Credentialing Complex.

23 George Bilgere. Imperial is his 2014 book.

24 Stephen Dunn. Norton published his Selected in 2009.

25 Marilyn Chin. Prize winning poet named after Marilyn Monroe, according to her famous poem.

26 Kushal Poddar. “The water/circles the land/and the land/my heaven.”

27 Stephen Burt. Harvard critic’s latest essay “Reading Yeats in the Age of Trump.” What will hold?

28 Joe Green. “Leave us alone. Oh, what can we do?/The wild, wild winds go willie woo woo.”

29 Tony Hoagland. Tangled with Rankine over tennis and lost.

30 Cristina Sánchez López. “I listen to you while the birds erase the earth.”

31 Laura Kasischke. Awkward social situations portrayed by this novelist/poet.

32 CAConrad. His latest work is The Book of Frank.

33 Terrance Hayes. National Book Award in 2010, a MacArthur in 2014

34 Robin Coste Lewis. Political cut-and-paste poetry.

35 Stephen Cole. “And blocked out the accidental grace/That comes with complete surprise.”

36 Martín Espada. Writes about union workers.

37 Merryn Juliette “And my thoughts unmoored/now tumbling/Like sand fleas on the ocean floor”

38 Daniel Borzutzky. The Performance of Being Human won the National Book Award in 2016.

39 Donald Hall. His Selected Poems is out.

40 Diane Seuss. Four-Legged Girl a 2016 Pulitzer finalist.

41 Vijay Seshadri. Graywolf published his 2014 Pulitzer winner.

42 Sawako Nakayasu. Translator of Complete Poems of Chika Sagawa.

43 Ann Kestner. Her blog since 2011 is Poetry Breakfast.

44 Rita Dove. Brushed off Vendler and Perloff attacks against her 20th century anthology.

45 Marjorie Perloff. A fan of Charles Bernstein and Frank O’hara.

46 Paul Muldoon. Moy Sand and Gravel won Pulitzer in 2003.

47 Frank Bidart. Winner of the Bollingen. Three time Pulitzer finalist.

48 Frederick Seidel. Compared “Donald darling” Trump to “cow-eyed Hera” in London Review.

49 Alice Notley. The Gertrude Stein of the St. Mark’s Poetry Project.

50 Jorie Graham. She writes of the earth.

51 Maggie Smith. “Good Bones.” Is the false—“for every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird”— poetry?

52 Adrian Matejka. His book The Big Smoke is about the boxer Jack Johnson.

53 Elizabeh Alexander. African American Studies professor at Yale. Read at Obama’s first inauguration.

54 Derek Walcott. Convinced Elizabeth Alexander she was a poet as her mentor at Boston University.

55 Richard Blanco. Read his poem, “One Today,” at Obama’s second inauguration.

56 Louise Glück. A leading serious poet.

57 Kim Addonizio. Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writing Life came out in 2016.

58 Kay Ryan. An Emily Dickinson who gets out, and laughs a little.

59 Lyn Hejinian. An elliptical poet’s elliptical poet.

60 Vanessa Place. Does she still tweet about Gone With The Wind?

61 Susan Howe. Born in Boston. Called Postmodern.

62 Marie Howe. The Kingdom of Ordinary Time is her latest book.

63 Glynn Maxwell. British poetry influencing Americans? Not since the Program Era took over.

64 Robert Pinsky. Uses slant rhyme in his translation of Dante’s terza rima in the Inferno.

65 David Lehman. His Best American Poetry (BAP) since 1988, chugs on.

66 Dan Sociu. Romanian poet of the Miserabilism school.

67 Chumki Sharma. The great Instagram poet.

68 Matthew Zapruder. Has landed at the N.Y. Times with a poetry column.

69 Christopher Ricks. British critic at Boston University. Keeping T.S. Eliot alive.

70 Richard Howard. Pinnacle of eclectic, Francophile, non-controversial, refinement.

71 Dana Gioia. Poet, essayist.  Was Chairman of NEA 2003—2009.

72 Alfred Corn. The poet published a novel in 2014 called Miranda’s Book.

73 Jim Haba. Noticed by Bill Moyers. Founding director of the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.

74 Hessamedin Sheikhi. Young Iranian poet translated by Shohreh (Sherry) Laici

75 Pablo Larrain. Directed 2016 film Neruda.

76 Helen Vendler. Wallace Stevens champion. Helped Jorie Graham.

77 Kenneth Goldsmith. Fame for poetry is impossible.

78 Cate Marvin. Oracle was published by Norton in 2015.

79 Alan Cordle. Still the most important non-poet in poetry.

80 Ron Silliman. Runs a well-known poetry blog. A Bernie man.

81 Natalie Diaz.  Her first poetry collection is When My Brother Was An Aztec.

82 D.A. Powell. Lives in San Francisco. His latest book is Repast.

83 Edward Hirsch. Guest-edited BAP 2016.

84 Dorianne Laux. Will always be remembered for “The Shipfitter’s Wife.”

85 Juan Felipe Herrera. Current Poet Laureate of the United States.

86 Patricia Lockwood. Her poem “Rape Joke” went viral in 2013 thanks to Twitter followers.

87 Kanye West. Because we all know crazy is best.

88 Charles Bernstein. Hates “official verse culture” and PWCs. (Publications with wide circulation.)

89 Don Share. Editor of Poetry.

90 Gail Mazur. Forbidden City is her seventh and latest book.

91 Harold Bloom. Since Emerson, Henry James, and T.S. Eliot are dead, he keeps the flame of Edgar Allan Poe hatred alive.

92 Alan Shapiro.  Life Pig is his latest collection.

93 Dan Chiasson. Reviews poetry for The New Yorker.

94 Robert Hass. “You can do your life’s work in half an hour a day.”

95 Maurice Manning.  One Man’s Dark is a “gorgeous collection” according to the Washington Post.

96 Brian Brodeur. Runs a terrific blog: How A Poem Happens, of contemporary poets.

97 Donald Trump. Tweets-in-a-shit-storm keeping the self-publishing tradition alive.

98 Ben Lerner. Wrote the essay “The Hatred of Poetry.”

99 Vidyan Ravinthiran. Editor at Prac Crit.

100 Derrick Michael Hudson. There’s no fame in poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE VOTE FOR NOTHING

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“In Fum-Fudge great is a Lion with a proboscis, but greater by far is a Lion with no proboscis at all.” Lionizing, Edgar Poe

There is a vote for nothing.

We can desire nothing. We can think of nothing. We can move towards nothing.

We can choose nothing.

It is a very pleasant thing.  I think I will do nothing today.

We love and need and want nothing, like nothing else.

When love speaks to us—and what is more desired than love?—it whispers “sweet nothings.”

When we are in pain, we always feel something: whatever is hurting us, we feel.

The opposite of pain is simply to feel—nothing.

To feel nothing is bliss.

When we are truly comfortable with a friend, we can be at ease with them—doing nothing. That’s the test of friendship.

In friendship, in love, we find it meaningful and reassuring and pleasant to be next to someone we care about, doing absolutely nothing.

Nothing is the elixir of those voting for Hillary.

Voters for Trump want lower taxes and less regulations to stimulate business and grow the economy and create jobs and wealth.  They want borders against illegal immigrants for the safety and success of all Americans. Things like that. Agree with it, or not, to vote for Trump is to vote for something.

Likewise, with Jill Stein.  One votes for her to help protect the environment.

The libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson.  We know what that means. You are voting for the philosophy of less government and more individual freedom regarding issues that don’t harm others.

Ah, but none of these votes reach the profound bliss of nothing.

These voting choices preach good, but good with conditions: goods which are good, but which must be worked for.

But a vote for Hillary.

What is a vote for Hillary?

It is a vote for nothing.

Many people are voting for Hillary just… because… she is… a woman.

Just as strong friendships exist when two friends can hang out together doing nothing, so it is with the unconditional love of one woman for another.

You are a woman.  She is a woman. That’s it. That’s enough. It is nice just knowing there is another one similar to you in your presence. And of course this can work with any group with which you identify.

Just wanna be with my peeps. Nothing more.

It is the utterly simple companionship based on nothing—just two people occupying the same space together, in the simplest kind of empathy.  Nothing else is required.  Nothing.

What did Hillary do when she was a senator?  Everyone agrees.  Nothing.

In any manner that can be measured, in terms of speech, or policy, or legislation—what has she contributed?  Nothing.

What is her legacy?  Nothing.

Hillary is most famous for the nothing of erased emails, the nothing of vanished documents, the nothing of unnamed villains conspiring to make it seem she has done something wrong.

In Hillary’s case, we look in vain for something.  Does she have a personality?  Is there anything, when we look at her?

No. There is nothing.

A vote for Hillary says: let the future be the same as the present.  No change, please.  Nothing.

It is her secret appeal, if she has one.  No, there isn’t any appeal.

But of course, it is a greater appeal than any other.

The appeal of, and for, nothing.

And to argue with the Hillary Clinton status quo of blissful, unthinking nothing?  Is there anything we can say?

No. There is nothing.

We argue for—something—in vain.

 

 

 

 

SOME CRITICAL OBSERVATIONS

We have nothing against line breaks. But line breaks do not substitute for punctuation. And lack of punctuation is not poetic.

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

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

Writing workshops = a modern money-making scheme. We can objectively read our own work. It is brainwashing to say otherwise. If you can’t edit your work, solo, you are no writer. Criticism belongs to the newspaper, the public square, the lecture hall, not the private, writing workshop, classroom—and so the latter should not exist. The writing workshop can only exist as “invite-only” mischief, as behind-the-scenes reputation making, as institutional thievery of what should remain private in the writer’s house. Good professional criticism has been killed by the Writing Program era.

Any piece of writing can be ridiculed. The question in every particular case is always: should it be? This ‘should’ applies on many subtle levels so that a literary critic is truly the most important member of any modern society. But Criticism has been taken from society and imprisoned in a textbook. Socrates was the first really good one. Critics don’t belong in the classroom—it is a perverse waste of talent for troublesome, cynical ends.

Reading. That’s really all literary education is. Throw in purely material considerations of metrics, a few mechanical prose issues. Anything else is dubious, and perhaps damaging.

As Alexander Pope said, the spirit is more important than the letter. Don’t nitpick. On the other hand, grammar is 50% of writing. Poets who can’t punctuate kill themselves. Poe was a fierce critic, but only to rebuff really bad writing. A Poe critic belongs in a newspaper, not workshops. The old English major is better for writing because reading is better for writing. Workshops are pathological and unnecessary. If teaching writing is your gig, we are sorry. Of course it’s not your fault—it’s the landscape today.  Just pretend you are a literature teacher. And for God’s sake, make them read Plato. Be confident they will get enough empty modern certainty on their own.

E. E. Cummings used punctuation a lot. Semicolons abound in many of his poems. He went to Harvard. He used stanza, rhyme, repetition, parenthetical marks, and least of all, the line break, for poetical emphasis. He was a meticulously formalist Romantic poet who belonged to the modernist, 1920s, Dial clique of Moore, Williams, Pound, and Eliot, eloped with money-bags Scofield Thayer’s wife, won an annual Dial award just like the rest of them (with a substantial cash award) and went on to outsell them all.

Cummings fooled everyone into thinking he was modern. Clever guy.

A good writer fools others.

But not you.

NEW SCARRIET ESSAY: EVERYTHING IS HARD TO SEE

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“…that we as one might separate the curtain.” –Ben Mazer, December Poems

Calling someone something never makes it true.

Truth itself is deaf to the facts of what we say.

What you put in your poetry is not your poetry.

It is best not to be certain of anything.

You might feel you are certain of race, but the massive mixing of the races is its most singular feature, so your eyes could not be racist even if they wanted to be. The more stupid a person is, the more abstractly and intellectually certain they are about things. To triumph in politically motivated libel and slander is the insidious achievement of a certain kind of neocon, anglophilic, intellectualism which dominates not only thinking in highbrow circles, but a great amount of the power brokerage of the world itself.

The pitch of rhetoric (as obvious as that moment when a clanging train roars past you) changed around 1900—this change is typically labeled “Modernism”—but the change really occurred when imperial Britain and imperial America joined hands in the Gilded Age of Teddy Roosevelt and the Spanish American War.

The heroic America which burst upon the world in the 18th century was defined more than anything as a Quarrel With Empire Britain. When the American/British quarrel ended—its last gasp the Confederacy (secretly and tacitly) supported by Britain/France and opposed by Russia—America effectively became an English speaking extension of London.

America that had been the glory of the world disappeared; the new Anglo-American world leader—even as unprecedented technological innovation continued unabated in the booming, democratic, American colony—made sure food became “fast,” made sure the arts declined, the Middle East was crushed, and saw to it that insane war, secretive strong-arming, and shrill, controlling, divisive rhetoric became the norm.

Today, due to the hard work of Modernism since the mid-19th century, almost all highbrow, power brokering, rhetoric is aimed at this intellectual certainty: you are a hater, you are destroying the planet, what you put in your poetry is your poetry, and you must go broke educating yourself to know this.

This is the messed-up but beautiful world of the 21st century.

Philosophy once sought doubt, and ran from intellectual certainty.

Genius—da Vinci, Ben Franklin, Poe, Mozart—once received a certain amount of devotion.

Now this devotion is frowned upon, because in some abstract sort of way, insinuated by the intellectual management of the new world order, this devotion participates in “hating.”

Children are geniuses in the way they learn, because they do not learn one way. Crippling pedagogy harms them but little; unfortunately, when the student is older, and socialized fitting into society becomes pedagogically imperative, pedagogy does cripple and harm.

The genius resists mainstream intellectualization. The genius knows that what you put in your poetry is not the poetry. The genius doubts all the “hating” rhetoric. The genius—the genius in everyone—naturally feels alone.

When you experience confusion: is that a man or a woman? Casually, walking along the street, for a moment, innocently, we may not know. Or, is that my friend? Or someone else? Our eyes may play tricks on us. We are overjoyed when we know, for doubt is the opposite of happiness.

Imagine the horror of losing memory and peering with confusion at everything. Would beauty and love still be apparent if memory were gone, if pleasurable things were not attached to friends, or the familiar? Is this the thrill of the opium dream, when beautiful sensations exist purely on their own?

Is beautiful oblivion a bad thing?

It is a bad thing, for one reason only—the dreamer realizes that he or she is alone.

Loneliness is the aching burden of the genius, who tends to get from others only two things: malicious envy or vacuous praise.

Criticism is the flip side of, and just important as, poetry.

Nature, of course, is the Genius. All we think of as ‘human ingenuity’ is nothing more than observing and then pragmatically using nature’s gifts.

We see the reflection in the lake. Reflecting upon that reflection, the mirror is born, the camera is born, the cinema is born, and every technology pertaining to receiving, storing and using pictures.

Nerd-ball mathematics belongs to every insight, whether conscious, unconscious, draped in intellectuality, or not.

The refinement of science into the social sciences—business, advertising, arts, pedagogy, entertainment and administrative success–this refinement is the chief feature of Modernism (Anglo/Americanism) and probably has more to do with lying than truth. It is simply how Empire controls things: rule the seas, then lines of journalism, story and communication—in which divisive and libelous rhetoric is effected to divide and conquer, stir up, or pacify, depending on the situation.

The genius seeks to get out from under the cloud of social sciences and see reality as it really is.

The genius revels not in measurement chopped-up, but measurement.

The genius seeks the whole, not the partial.

Mathematics is how nature is largely understood, and old genius and new genius copy her mathematically—whether in architecture or sending a man to the moon.

Empire is what we read about in the paper. It is not life, which triumphs every day; poetry reflects the vibrations of this triumph.

They talk about “mindfulness” these days, but of course there is nothing new here; it is more of what the genius who copies nature has always known: be attentive; observe how nature does things.

Mathematics can be used frivolously as well: pie charts of marketing surveys, the observation that it takes 10,000 hours to become truly proficient at something. This is social refinement, the sort of semi-interesting thing people like Malcolm Gladwell traffic in, but this is a far cry from genius itself.

Geeky math is always a good place to start: why are ugly people smart? Because they desire the proportion denied to their looks and pursue it with a vengeance in their brains. Even beauty can be willed.

Mathematics is on the side of the good poets; good poetry has interesting (mathematical) rhythm—it supports what they say, so what they say sounds better, and this excites the brain in a way that inspires original thinking: how something is said impacts what is said—the counter-intuitive reality of this increases the efficiency of what-thinking, as how-thinking is concretely and intuitively felt.

Mathematics is the complete mind of nature: the genius is always listening to it.

When a woman sits at her dressing table before her mirror, she is not striving to be beautiful, but young. Youth is what the clock of nature gave her. Nature gave to her what her parents gave to her—once she passes the parenting age, nature’s beauty is gone—and there is no human substitute possible. Men decay quickly, too. This is never as tragic, since men are horrors no matter how they look. Most of the time men deserve to crumble.

Everything is manifest in mathematical nature. Nature is a clock.

As I write this, my home town of Salem is hosting, for the eighth year in a row, the Massachusetts Poetry festival, and throughout downtown every imaginable workshop on poetry is offered—it’s the Age of the Workshop—with the naivé but successful marketing belief that whatever hodgepodge thing you put into poetry becomes poetry.

But what you put into poetry is not poetry.

How you say what you are is poetry.

Poetry is hard to see.

The poetic genius travels into the valley of the clock alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

DAVID BITTNER AND THE THÉÂTRE DES VARIÉTÉS: NOSTALGIC JOURNALIST’S QUEST FOR ARCANE FACTS LEADS TO UNLOCKING OF IOWA SYNAGOGUE’S OLD SECRET

Percival Goodman, architect

One of our readers, David Bittner, who sometimes posts, in Comments, long, reflective pieces of self-induced musings not necessarily connected to the Scarriet article or poem above, has placed us in a dilemma; he has placed with us, unsolicited, both by mail and electronically, an article he has written entitled “Nostalgic Journalist’s Quest for Arcane Facts Leads to Unlocking of Iowa Synagogue’s Old Secret.”

We are utterly charmed by David Bittner; he represents something which we consider important, though we can’t quite identify it—a spirit from a bygone era: a rambling, observant innocence—which, I think most of our readers will discern, is a spirit that differs from our cranky and beloved Scarriet.

We at Scarriet—our strangely named Blog—aspire to expound a high-sounding, credible, youthful yet scholarly, Zeitgeist of Poetry and Culture in a manner serious, Germanic, Romantic, racy, tragic, traditional, classical, critical.

Bittner offers a blast of nostalgia, humility, playfulness.

We pound. He dances. We dart. He skips. We flog. He chuckles. We romanticize. He defers.

We wish to publish him, but how can we do so, without betraying ourselves editorially? Our readers will see Bittner’s writing on Scarriet and think, ‘What the hell is going on?’

But we do pride ourselves on being inclusive. If we sometimes court controversy, we never intend to hurt; we seek to enlighten, to join hands.

We cannot turn Bittner away.

We found a solution.

We will marry his essay to remarks made by America’s greatest genius, in the fictional narration of his famous “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” The solemn will be paired with the playful.

Bittner’s stated theme is “quest for arcane facts leads to unlocking…old secret…”

In Bittner’s essay, the way to the “secret” is filled with detours, and Poe perhaps can tell us why:

The mental features discoursed of as the analytical, are, in themselves, but little susceptible of analysis. We appreciate them only in their effects. We know of them, among other things, that they are always to their possessor, when inordinately possessed, a source of the liveliest enjoyment. As the strong man exults in his physical ability, delighting is such exercises as call his muscles into play, so glories the analyst in that moral activity which disentangles. He derives pleasure from even the most trivial occupations bringing his talent into play.

And so Poe introduces his tale, and before he gets to the actual mystery and its horror, he recounts how the narrator of the tale and his seclusive, humble companion, the amateur detective Dupin (a model for the later Sherlock Holmes) are walking along the streets of Paris together, for about fifteen minutes, without speaking:

We were strolling one night down a long dirty street, in the vicinity of the Palais Royal. Being both, apparently, occupied with thought, neither of us had spoken a syllable for fifteen minutes at least. All at once Dupin broke forth with these words:

“He is a very little fellow, that’s true, and would do better for the Théatre des Variétés.”

“There can be no doubt of that,” I replied unwittingly, and not at first observing (so much had I been absorbed in reflection) the extraordinary manner in which the speaker had chimed in with my meditations. In an instant afterward I recollected myself, and my astonishment was profound.

“Dupin,” I said gravely, “this is beyond my comprehension. I do not hesitate to say that I am amazed, and can scarcely credit my senses. How was it possible you should know what I was thinking of—?” Here I paused, to ascertain beyond a doubt whether he really knew of whom I thought.

“—of Chantilly,” said he, “why do you pause? You were remarking to yourself that his diminutive figure unfitted him for tragedy.”

This was precisely what had formed the subject of my reflections. Chantilly was a quondam cobbler of the Rue St. Denis, who, becoming stage-mad, had attempted the rôle of Xerxes, in Crébillon’s tragedy so called, and been notoriously Pasquinaded for his pains.

“Tell me, for Heaven’s sake,” I exclaimed, “the method—if method there is—by which you have been enabled to fathom my soul in this matter.” In fact I was even more startled than I would have been willing to express.

“It was the fruiterer,” replied my friend, ” who brought you to the conclusion that the mender of soles was not of sufficient height for Xerxes et id genus omne.

“The fruiterer!—you astonish me—I know no fruiterer whosoever.”

“The man who ran up against you as we entered the street—it may have been fifteen minutes ago.”

And with that, we present David Bittner:

***

AS I enter my dotage, I have found myself eager to get answers to some questions that have had me wondering since I was young.  For instance, I would like to do DNA-testing that might tell me more about my ethnicity. Raised in an observant Jewish home, am I in a straight line of descent from the ancient Israelites, or am I also partly Slavic, as I suspect? The Slavic may not show very much in my phenotype, but I think it must be there in my genotype! And what is my exact height in feet and inches? As one nurse put it to me recently, “It looks like you are 5′ 5” smack dab !”

Three years ago I took a short trip to Rockford, Illinois, which I consider my second home town. Born in Omaha, Nebraska, I spent most of my formative junior high and high school years in Rockford. Imagine the jolt I got when I went to have lunch at the Sweden House, a very nice, new restaurant in the mid-60s (and the place where my high school graduation party was held), and found a sign on the door that said, “This property is condemned.”

The next day I took a bus into Chicago to see the famous Brookfield Zoo. My mother had told me this was no doubt the origin of my dreams since childhood about a fabulous park with rectangular pools and flower beds, lots of fountains, and an old blue-uniformed ticket-taker with a white walrus mustache. Now, as I made my first visit to the Brookfield Zoo since 1957, I saw no mustachioed, old ticket-taker, but there unmistakably were the rectangular pools and flower beds and fountains that I remembered. I think that St. Helena could not have felt any surer about the holy places she identified in fourth-century Palestine, than I felt about these familiar, old features of Brookfield Zoo.

Another story that goes back to early childhood concerns the two summer vacation trips we took to Lake Okoboji, a popular resort in Iowa. On one of these two trips I accidentally dropped parts of a children’s tea-set, made by the well-known Ohio Art Company, right into Lake Okoboji. Of all the miniature metal utensils that I had just lost, I particularly liked the blue teapot and the way its blue lid fit so exactly into the top. So in the late 1980s, when I saw the very same tea set, in mint condition, on sale for $50 at a West Palm Beach, Florida flea market, I had to have it. If affects me in the same way today as it did originally. It is cunning!

And I wanted to find my all-time favorite “Peanuts” comic strip again. It was about Peppermint Patty getting drowned out by her classmates’ laughter when she got up to present her science project on “toast, before and after.” Patty began, “Now, on this board is a slice of untoasted bread, and…” The whole next panel was filled with Patty’s classmates chortling, “HA, HA, HA, HA, HA, HA.” It reminded me of my own ridiculous seventh grade science project. I turned my saucer sled upside down, painted it red with two big green spots for eyes, and attached two pipe-cleaners to the top for antennae. I called my creation a “Martian.” I wrote a few pages supposedly describing its locomotive, alimentary and sensory systems. I never found out exactly what grade Mr. Hill, our popular P.E. Dept. head, who also taught science, gave my project, but I can definitely tell you that it was not among those selected for display in that year’s school science fair. But it’s much more important to me now to have this cartoon drawn by Charles Schulz in 1970. I found it in The Complete Peanuts, volume 10. These volumes were produced surely, but slowly.

Now, related to all these Proustian tea-cakes stories and the “George Webber” story of quest for identity, told by Thomas Wolfe in his novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, is another story from my youth that lurked as a question mark in my mind until recently. Really intent this time on getting an answer, I found it by surfing the internet and digging through library books and journal articles.

I will explain. And now I come to the main subject of this whole article. When I was a teenager, in temple youth group in Rockford, several of us participated in a “conclavette” held at Temple Emanuel in Davenport, Iowa. We were struck to see how the second half of the Shema prayer had been carved in English on the stone façade of Temple Emanuel. Of course we all knew what it was supposed to say, which was, “The Lord Our God is One.” But the two final letters of the phrase—N and E—made the whole six-word phrase, carved in the streamlined, sans serif, International style of Bauhaus, beg to be read as, “THE LORD OUR GOD IS OK.” We all noticed it and laughed. But was it real or just our imagination?

Now, I have often thought that somebody could write a good thesis on the decline of the typewriter as an instrument for creating ambiguous messages, with the rise of the computer. There used to be many traveling salesmen who took typewriters with them on the road. These typewriters were used primarily to write business reports. But once in a while you would hear the story of some distraught, lonely salesman typing a letter to his wife from the road. He would manipulate the typewriter keys to create words and messages with double meanings. For instance, he might type, sloppily, “May is beautiful. I wish you were her.”  The same possibility does not exist in computer-land. (And if the computer had not largely replaced the typewriter, imagine what a field day “birthers” and other detractors of President Barack Obama could have had with the names “Omaha” and “Obama.” Participating in the Nebraska Democratic presidential caucus in 2008, I had to do a double-take when I saw certain posters and placards that were being hoisted.)

Or there is the following story that my cousin Harry’s sister Ruth used to relish. (Both Harry and Ruth are deceased now.) In the 1930s, Ruth served as administrative assistant to Dr. Philip Sher, president of the Jewish Federation of Omaha. While Ruth was still new to her job, she signed some of Dr. Sher’s routine correspondence with a simple abbreviation of his name: “Dr. P. Sher.” Of course Ruth had no idea that she had created an embarrassing double entendre. But it so happens that a prominent Yiddish term of endearment for a little boy is a “pisher.” My great-aunt Dora Arbitman, for instance, used to call me, “a little pisher” when I was that age. At any rate, Dr. Sher noticed the great similarity of his initial and last name to the slang Yiddish word, “pisher,” and he was not amused.

And then there was my typewritten gaffe, written accidentally on purpose, just to shake up the gals in the composition room of The Fond du Lac (WI) Commonwealth Reporter, where I was a summer intern in 1969 and 1970. In one of my accident reports, about a Mr. Puckaway’s auto mishap, I typed F instead of P. (And there really was this Mr. Puckaway, who was involved in a car-crash. I did not make him up.) Sure enough, soon three young women came running upstairs to the newsroom, ostensibly to wag their fingers at me, but it was obvious to me, from their friendly laughter, that I had actually made their morning.

Once again, opportunities and excuses for ambiguity, such as seen in most of the preceding scenarios, do not exist in Computerland. But that still leaves stonemasonry and other traditional media to offer possibilities for mischief-making and honest accidents. Touring Morocco in 1994, I was shown the tomb of a Sultan where, it was speculated, some little stars of David in the paved floor may have been the work of an unknown Jewish architect’s assistant who was just using the Star of David to scrawl the equivalent of, “Kilroy Was Here.”

Or how about the famous epitaph, “O Rare Ben Jonson,” on the grave of the great English dramatist Ben Jonson (1573—1637)? The “O” and the word-fragment, “rare,” were intended to spell the Latin word, “Orare,” which means, “Pray for.” But the “wrong” phrase has actually been considered so much more suitable than the “right” one, that no one has disturbed it for almost 400 years. And let’s not forget Richard Nixon’s solemn criticism of black leftist youth’s “Du Bois” Clubs in California for supposedly using phonics to create unfair competition for the Boys Clubs of America. (As a private citizen in the mid-60s, Nixon served for several years as president of the Boys Clubs of America.)

Then let us consider the little blue-and-white six-pointed stars and other Jewish symbols that Berta Hummel (Sister Maria Innocentia) used freely in her artwork, upon which the later Hummel figurines were based. Some of the angles of Berta’s stars may look a bit askew compared to those of other “Mogen Dovids,” old and new, but they were still recognizable enough as “Jewish stars” to make Hitler angry at the young nun. He forbade the sale of any Hummel work in Germany. Hitler also didn’t like Sister Berta’s depictions of the Stations of the Cross. Maybe Berta’s pictures just made it plain that most of the ones doing good things were Jews, and most of the ones doing bad things were Romans! (The author’s aunt by marriage, the late Shirley Bittner, was Sister Berta’s niece or great-niece. The family is not sure which. I think it is simply not that important to them. But, a convert to Judaism herself, my aunt certainly exhibited no anti-Semitic leanings, and she now rests in Omaha’s Mount Zion Cemetery, a very well-kept little Jewish cemetery of her own choosing.)

And now, as my favorite example of ambiguity in arts and crafts, I turn to my friendship of 40+ years with Gerard and Sonia Teller, formerly of Strasbourg, France, now of Jerusalem, Israel. I have many fond memories of them and their four children. One Friday night in the summer of 1973, we had just sat down to the ritual Sabbath Eve meal. I picked up the silver Kiddush cup (the goblet used for blessing the wine) by my place-setting and casually examined it. What should I discover, but that stamped onto the bottom of the cup, all by itself, was the figure, 800. I think it was probably a foundry mark. But I showed the cup to Gerard and Sonia and said, “Regardez! Cela date de Charlemagne!” It gave us all a good laugh. (As any educated person ought to know, in the year 800, Charlemagne became the first Holy Roman Emperor.)

As we have seen in this example from France, ambiguity may be imposed on certain letter groups. Some people do this to make trouble, others for more humane reasons, like humor. Or, an artist like Sister Berta Hummel may use graphics to make a political statement—gambling on this statement’s whole possibility of meanings to keep her out of prison. The reasons for these bloopers just vary widely. They may include everything from damage control, to theatricality, to playfulness, to carelessness, to opportunism, to simple mistakenness, and to malice.

I think that Percival Goodman, widely acknowledged as the king of American synagogue architecture, and the man who designed Temple Emanuel of Davenport, would come under the “playful” category. Wikipedia tells us that Goodman believed in using “dramatic” and “attention-getting” “accents” to make motorists notice the new synagogues of outlying suburbia. Goodman designed more than 50 synagogues, himself, coast to coast. These “dramatic accents” and Goodman’s coy description of himself as “an agnostic converted by Hitler” make it very believable that this was a man who would think nothing of writing, “THE LORD OUR GOD IS OK” on the wall of a synagogue. Goodman said, “I don’t have any notion of what God is all about; I’m very suspicious of the whole notion of God. Therefore I can only deal with men. Well, that’s not as high an aspiration as God, and therefore the work I do will always be secular.”

And so I have satisfied myself, after 40 years of uncertainty (including the frustration of unanswered phone calls, letters, and e-mails to Temple Emanuel), that the quality of being “OK” must have been an addition that Percival Goodman made to the 13 traditional attributes of God. He was a real intellectual and a well-meaning man. So was his brother, Paul Goodman, with whom Percival co-authored numerous books on philosophy and religion. And so was Somerset Maugham, the famous English author, who was hard to pin down on what he believed. At times he flaunted atheism—mostly to shock people. But during his final illness at the age of 91, he felt the return of faith and said he would accept people’s prayers. So maybe we could say something like that about Percival Goodman—that if he used sans serif to stir things up, maybe it didn’t mean that he was altogether sans seraph.

The author wishes to thank the Omaha Public Library’s reference staff for their great help in the preparation of this article. He will be happy, when possible, to furnish book and page references, for factual material cited herein.

***

So there is David Bittner’s article, carved in all its glory on Scarriet, to remain forever, side by side with Scarriet’s glorious poems. Amen. Paul Goodman, mentioned above in the article, is the illustrious author of Growing Up Absurd, and he and his brother advocated for an intimate, car-less Manhattan. Percival Goodman was not a God-man, but it seems he was an OK-man. Thank you, David Bittner, for a warm, funny, informative and delightful essay!

 

IN FEAR OF DOGGEREL

We recently attended a poetry reading in Harvard Square and we had the great pleasure to hear the world’s greatest living poet, Ben Mazer, read his magnificent poem, “An After Dinner Sleep,” a poem of about 350 lines which closes his new book, The Glass Piano.  It was a cinematic experience, the sort of poem in which you get comfortable, close your eyes, and listen in a state half-way between sleep and waking.

If cinematic poetry doesn’t start a renaissance in poetry, nothing will.

Here’s the thing: and we might as well begin with Keats’ phrase: “fine excess.”  We all know that poetry is known for concision, and this is all well and good, but we must say, we fear this idea, once having got its nose in the tent, now occupies the whole of it, crowding out everything else.

For, as the wretched Pound pointed out—and many, many writers before him—prose, as much as poetry, should not waste words; poetry has no special hold on concision.

We do not mean, “If you have nothing to say, shut up.” No, if you have nothing to say, you are probably the poet we want to hear from.  But this is neither here nor there. We are speaking from a purely technical standpoint.

To say poetry is concise is like saying painting is concise—well, of course it is; it belongs to its frame, not the world. But if this truism took root, the pinnacle of art would be the fifteen-second sketch. Notwithstanding the infinite charm of the master creating a world with a few strokes, we think it time for poetry to throw off the burden of having to say little. Once and for all, let us declare that to be concise is not necessarily to be poetic.  Poe, who said, “a long poem doesn’t exist,” also said a small one doesn’t exist either: there must be sufficient pressure on the wax to create the impression.

Without having to specify length, what this means is, the poet, and the artist in general—for art has suffered from Modernist theories as much as poetry—should use all the tools in the tool box—and why not?  The thing we don’t like about abstract painting is not abstract painting; it is the fact that we once had the pleasure of pictorial representation and all the interest of color which abstract painters revel in.  The thing we don’t like about cartooning, or the vague sketch, or the Red Wheel Barrow, is not the principle which these uphold, that suggestion is perhaps the most important thing in art there is—it is.  But too much reliance on suggestion is suggestive no more.  The paltry is finally not poetic.

This essay comes to damn the poet who goes in fear of doggerel, the poet who plays it safe, who hides behind the “experimental,” a code word for “this is not what I really can do, as an artist, I’m just thinking out loud here, don’t mind me, but if you find something that’s clever here, well, I’ll take a compliment or two, why not?”

Fear of the tight rope turns into the earth-bound, fake bravery of the “avant-garde.” Clowning around on the piano and never getting down to playing a real piece has profited many a hack since 1900.

To be cinematic in poetry is difficult, for one is firmly in that temporal mode perfected by Homer and Tennyson with the added pictorial heft.  The purely discursive, or the obscure, will not do.  Cinematic poetry requires the whole art, which does not eschew the discursive or the suggestive, or any of the other tricks of the poet, by any means—no, but it requires them all.

Poetry, like the film, has motion as its medium; it pitches forward, and does so, like film, with all sorts of markers, pauses, ends, flashbacks, jump cuts, call them what you will—but you get the idea.

Every one of these temporal tricks is enhanced by meter and rhyme.

This is not some moral or bitter argument against the “avant-garde;” again, we are speaking purely from a technical point of view.

To make the poetry that does the most, that is whole and cinematic: meter and rhyme simply help drive that engine. To go in fear of the doggerel is a fear we must abandon.

The poems which win both the popular and the critical taste are cinematic poems; we love them like films, and the truly literate know they are better than films: Prufrock, Kubla Khan, The Raven, The Cloud. But we live in times of horror, in which an appreciation of classical music and great painting and beautiful poetry is fading; there are millions, even fairly intelligent and somewhat nice people—or those who can pass as such—too thick and dense to appreciate beauty in the arts. This is the greatest tragedy of our age, a violence against beautiful feelings which points to more material suffering in the future.

(Scarriet, in the last 5 years of its existence, has produced thousands of lines of original poetry, and so what if half, if 60% is doggerel? We don’t care. For what has been achieved, it is more than worth it.)

We do not recommend Mazer lightly, nor is our argument here to be taken lightly.

It may save poetry.

And everyone’s life.

 

BLACK SUN PRESS AND THE SUPPRESSED, DIONYSIAN SIDE OF MODERNISM

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Millay: Official Modernism hated her: a leftist woman who rhymed and loved.

The revolt of Modernism in poetry against Victorian decorum was complex and extensive, and featured a great deal of sex.

So why is one tale told? The one dominated by the limp, morbid barrenness of sexless, Shelley-hating, T.S. Eliot—and that dry-as-dust, boring, petals-on-a-black-bough-red-wheel-barrow poetry?

Is this why poetry today finds itself in a cul de sac, without a public, in the ruins of a Creative Writing pyramid scheme which has collapsed into piecemeal, self-promoting, illiteracy?

Modernism in the early 20th century was dominated by powerful femme fatale poets—and yet the one female poet included in the accepted Story of Modern Poetry is: the brittle, spinsterish, Marianne Moore!

The revolt against the Victorian—as the Modern Poetry history has been written, codified, and solidified is so…Victorian.

Not that we care about sex, per se; we just find it interesting how things played out.

The Victorians—which the wild, crazy and free Moderns rebelled against (one can include Emily Dickinson as a Victorian, since she wrote and lived in that era, if one wants) —were actually bolder in their poetry than the Modernist rakes and waifs (Eliot, Pound, Moore, Stevens, Williams) who successfully overcame the now largely forgotten Victorian/Romantic influence, and succeeded them. The Victorians are far more enjoyable to read (and they sold much better in their day, too).

Maybe that’s the rub: enjoyable. Sexual excess, or enjoyment of any kind, wasn’t the ticket to become canonized in the schools: the Modernist revolution had to seem safely aesthetic—a topic for professors, in order to gain a footing in academia, since despite their “rebellious nature,” legitimate inclusion was what the successful ones were after. That meant the Moderns had to be writing a “new” kind of poetry. Even though it was boring, and the public didn’t care for it.

The fussy, heavily brocaded, Victorian, Elizabeth Barrett Browning—who wrote some really exceptional poetry which has been ignored and shut away for a century—became a wife in a secret elopement to Italy.

The leader of the Modernist rebellion, T.S. Eliot, a lifelong virgin, shut away his wife forever.

Here we have two stories presented side by side:

Modern poetry is not the story of a door opening; but of a door shutting—on so much of what was pleasing about the 19th century—but also on the alternative, Dionysian, Romantic side of 20th century modernism, too.

Eliot appealed to poets who couldn’t get laid.

True, Edna St. Vincent Millay got old.

And died.

But everyone gets old and dies.

There was a whole Modernist movement which exploded right after World War One, before, during, and after the publication of the morbid “Waste Land,” a different modernist movement which frightened guys like Eliot—led by brash young women and featuring Persian love and Poe and Hindu sex. (One of these types of women even married Tom Eliot, and—are we surprised?—it was a complete disaster.)

Here is the critic and Pulitzer Prize winner, Carl Van Doren, writing in Harper’s in the 1930s about America’s great moral transformation during the Age of High Modernism as WW I came to a close; he does not talk about Pound or Eliot. He talks about Edna St. Vincent Millay:

At home the old-fashioned family had broken up. The young could get into automobiles and almost at once be miles away. They could go to the movies and at once be worlds away. Dress and speech had become informal in the emergency of the War. The chaperon had disappeared. Boys leaving to be killed, it might be, had claimed the right to see their girls alone, and the sexes had drawn together in a common need and daring. After the War they were still not divided. The sexes would be comrades, they thought.

The early poems of Edna Millay are the essence of the Younger Generation.

How this genii—real Modernist poetry—was put away in its bottle is certainly a staggering historical fact, but something there is in us now that makes us want to let it out again.

To get a strong whiff from that bottle is just a google click away.

Search “Black Sun publisher Harry Crosby.”

You want real modern poetry?

Not Williams. Not Eliot. Not Stevens. Not those guys the clammy hand professors teach you in school.

You want the true modern poetry of that era? Take a swig of the drink, Harry Crosby.

The story of Modern poetry which has been sold to us: that Pound and Williams and Moore are the vital pieces, is without aesthetic merit, and its virtue is really that of a particular school program, and it exists as just that—a story—told by the critics and poets and historians who invested (and are still invested) in the Writing Program as the only viable institution of post-war pedagogy.

Government oversight of education, the publishing of textbooks, the editorship of periodical literature, the purse strings of grants and prizes and forums and money and awards, fell into the hands of the New Critics and their allies: John Crowe Ransom and T.S. Eliot both belonging to the same generation of early Modernism—and not just poetry, but art, music, fashion, government, war, the architecture/building trades, espionage, banking, international in outlook—and all the more effective because it was run by pals, a tight-knit group. Of course it is much too extensive to detail here. But very briefly then:

John Quinn, attorney, art collector, British intelligence, worked with Eliot and Pound to negotiate publication of “The Waste Land” (with pre-purchases) so Eliot would win the Dial Prize even before Pound had finished his edits—Quinn, the same individual most responsible (even getting an export bill passed in the U.S. Congress) for the Armory show, which brought Modern Art to America—Eliot wins, and meanwhile, purchase of the new art by insiders is highly, highly lucrative.  Who wouldn’t want to be in on all that phenomenal networking? Eliot and Pound certainly were. Without Quinn’s work behind the scenes, who knows if Americans would even know of Eliot, or Duchamp, or Picasso? Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom’s right-wing Southern Agrarian/New Critic associate, reviews “The Waste Land” favorably, helps start the Creative Writing program at Princeton. Paul Engle, the father of the Program Era at Iowa, is given his Yale Younger Prize for his MFA poetry book—by a judge who is a member of Ransom’s New Critic group from the early Fugitive magazine days at Vanderbilt. Robert Lowell, as Creative Writing teacher at Iowa, is the first “poet-teacher star” of the Program Era; Lowell’s psychiatrist happens to be another member of Ransom and Tate’s circle, who recommends Lowell leave Harvard to befriend Tate and Ransom, which he does. We see that all the annual Dial Magazine Prize winners in the 1920s become the canonized Modern poets: Eliot, Williams, Pound, Moore (and Cummings, who ends up running off with the Dial editor’s wife). Ford Maddox Ford, War Propaganda Minister during World War I in England, the first to meet Pound off the boat when the latter leaves America for England, will later cross the Atlantic to help start the Writing Program Era with Ramsom and Tate.

We do not present this information as some nefarious plot; the world was smaller then; we present it languidly, merely as a picture of the clever ambitions of the cleverly ambitious, who were in the right place at the right time, and who happened to possess a certain amount of talent: Eliot, in poetry, the most brilliant. John Crowe Ransom, just from his two essays which Ransom published in the 1930s, “Criticism, Inc.” and “Poets Without Laurels,”— a blueprint for universities taking up the official role of teaching the new writing, and the best explanation of amoral Modernism—was a close second.

But as we said, these were the brilliant architects who made themselves and their “new” Modern identity—an austere looseness, a dryness, a deathly cynicism—the accepted mode for the university, and it required tweedy, learned, respectability to make it happen, even as it was Shelley and Byron hating—which guys like Eliot and Tate and Ransom, with their brilliance, learning and inside track, provided.

But what of the vast majority of the Modernists, who impulsively did what true rebels do?

These “lesser” moderns crossed paths with the more successful ones, such as Pound—but they lived for the poetry, for the revolt, for the sex. These were the Moderns who wrote beautiful love poems and threw themselves off ships, as Pound and Eliot grew old and famous. What of these “lesser” moderns? Many of these “lesser” moderns, some more respectable and less feverish than others, kept writing poetry that rhymed, made sense, and repeated the great, old themes that never die. What of them? Should we continue to bury them?

And speaking of revolt, we are not simply advocating here for the resurrection of an alternative clique of poets who worked between the wars in the hectic days of the early 20th century. This is about more than that. It is about shedding narrow, modernist aesthetic bias and embracing great poems of all eras, and having the guts to call a bad poem a bad poem, even if it was written by William Carlos Williams. Look at this poem by the currently suppressed 19th century poet Elizabeth Barrett; the way she uses “revolt” is timeless, and will break your heart:

Little Mattie

Dead! Thirteen a month ago!
Short and narrow her life’s walk.
Lover’s love she could not know
Even by a dream or talk:
Too young to be glad of youth;
Missing honor, labor, rest,
And the warmth of a babe’s mouth
At the blossom of her breast.
Must you pity her for this,
And for all the loss it is—
You, her mother with wet face,
Having had all in your case?

Just so young but yesternight,
Now she is as old as death.
Meek, obedient in your sight,
Gentle to a beck or breath
Only on last Monday! yours,
Answering you like silver bells
Lightly touched! an hour matures:
You can teach her nothing else.
She has seen the mystery hid
Under Egypt’s pyramid.
By those eyelids pale and close
Now she knows what Rhamses knows.

Cross her quiet hands, and smooth
Down her patient locks of silk,
Cold and passive as in truth
You your fingers in spilt milk
Drew along a marble floor;
But her lips you can not wring
Into saying a word more,
“Yes” or “no,” or such a thing.
Though you call and beg and wreak
Half your soul out in a shriek,
She will lie there in default
And most innocent revolt.

None of Eliot’s “escape from emotion” here.

Poe said poetry was mostly mathematical—and he was correct, since rhythm is essential to expressive speech, whether metrical, or not—and mathematics is essential to quantity associated with rhythm. Eliot carried this formula further and mistranslated it to mean lack of feeling—quantity, after all, is not associated with feverish human emotion; but it is not emotion, but its expression which matters to the poet—so Eliot is only partly correct, and when his half-truth was received as a truth, it created a race of poets who turned their back on so-called “sentimental” poetry, such as this example of Elizabeth Barrett’s, a tender and beautiful poem banned by 20th century professors because of its excess “emotion” and “sentiment.” The schools are wrong. The amateurs are correct. The expression of feeling should not to be avoided in the art of poetry. More feeling isn’t better, necessarily, but it is never necessary that feeling (we mean its expression) be critically censored.

We think the best tradition for poetry is, first and foremost, the tradition of good poems—more than successful members of super-successful, networking cliques’ poorer ones.

For the truth is: Millay is a far better poet than not only Moore, but the guys, like Pound.

Certainly, “new” aesthetics can and should be studied (even if they haven’t done anyone a lick of good) but good poems written by the flesh and blood poets who lived in the same era as the better known, tweedy, experimental poets, deserve our attention, too.

Completely by chance today, as we perused old issues of Harper’s magazine, we came upon this poem by Archibald MacLeish. It is a love poem (horrors!). It was published in 1929, when Pound and Eliot were still nearly unknown, before they became famous as Axis defenders and post-WW II Modernist school subjects.

MacLeish, like the poets Frost and Millay, wrote poems people liked to read—and he was read. He was a wealthy friend of wealthy heir Harry Crosby, who—if you googled him by now—you know Crosby published MacLeish, Hart Crane, Poe, love poems, in exquisitely crafted books, a few copies at a time, and died at 29 with a young women in a suicide pact in a painter friend’s studio.

Here is a Modernist poem, the kind of poem which is now suppressed, just like Millay and Teasdale and Dorothy Parker and Ella Wheeler Wilcox and Elinor Wylie and countless other women poets are suppressed, locked away by the Moore/Williams /Pound Official Modernism professors. We close with the MacLeish poem:

To Praisers of Women

The praisers of women in their proud and beautiful poems,
Naming the grave mouth and the hair and the eyes,
Boasted those they loved should be forever remembered.
These were lies.

The words sound, but the face in the Istrian sun is forgotten.
The poet speaks, but to her dead ears no more.
The sleek throat is gone and the breast that was troubled to listen:
Shadow from door.

Therefore, I will not praise your knees and your fine walking,
Telling you men shall remember your name as long
As lips move or breath is spent or the iron of English
Rings from a tongue.

I shall say you were young and your arms straight and your mouth scarlet.
I shall say you will die, and none  will remember you;
Your arms change and none remember the swish of your garments
Nor the click of your shoe.

Not with my hands’ strength, not with difficult labor
Springing the obstinate words to the bones of your breast
And the stubborn line to your young stride and the breath to your breathing
And the beat to your haste,

Shall I prevail on the hearts of unborn men to remember.
What is a dead girl but a shadowy ghost,
Or a dead man’s voice but a distant and vain affirmation
Like dream words most?

Therefore, I will not speak of the undying glory of women.
I shall say you were young and straight and your skin fair—
And you stood in the door, and the sun was a shadow of leaves on your shoulders,
And a leaf on your hair.

I will not speak of the famous beauty of dead women.
I shall say the shape of a blown leaf lay on your hair,
Till the world ends and the sun is out and the sky broken
Look! It is there!

BEN MAZER’S THE GLASS PIANO AND THE POETRY OF INTELLECTUAL IMMEDIACY

Who walks here? Poe? Eliot? Mazer?

Just a glance at the titles of the poems in Ben Mazer’s new book, The Glass Pianoreleased Nov. 1 (Madhat Press) thrills this reviewer:

Lupe Velez with a Baedeker: Irving Thalberg with a Cigar
Autumn Magazines
My Last Dutchman
One dresses in the darkened gloom
Spread over the vast sinking town
Tonight my lover lies
Why is it some old magazine; like a wheelbarrow
The poet does his finest work in sin
Graves and waves are signified by rows

Pop culture is one thing; poetic, in the true sense of the term, is something else: the current swarm of poets in our Writing Program era often mix these two up.  Poetry can use pop culture; but amateurs aflame with various aspects of pop culture (or hipster culture) have it so that pop culture uses poetry, which is…ugh…so wrong.

In Mazer’s brief lyric, “Autumn Magazines,” poetry is using pop culture, not the other way around. It is difficult to pinpoint why, but Mazer, in his poetry, absolutely gets this distinction. In this poem, poetry asserts itself.

Autumn Magazines

The falling leaves of autumn magazines
are framed by nature. Frost said you come too.
Your gowns and sandals crown your nakedness,
Each season justifies all that you do.
The sidewalks spread out their appearances,
the towers and the gilding celebrate
the dates and calendars, commemorate
and underneath it all there’s only you.

The ending “you” is endearingly romantic and Romantic. Nearly all “serious” poets today avoid the gesture, fearing critical rebuke for its “pop song” component; such fear, however, dogs only the lesser poets, not poets like Mazer (we will be bold enough to point out Scarriet is the leading example of this style) who are in such command and control of their poetic gift that “pop” elements do not turn their poetry into “pop,” even when pop sentiments are used without irony.

The all-mighty “you” is a standard in sentimental song, sure, but this doesn’t mean the suave poet cannot borrow its mysteries and charms—charms, by the way, which belong to Dante and Petrarch (among others) and also belong to the trope no poet should do without: pronoun mystery—is the “you” the beloved, God, or the reader, etc etc?

Further, Mazer’s genius can be seen in the way he incorporates one of the greatest jazz standards, “Autumn Leaves,” into the idea of autumn magazines, (poets will be sentimental about magazine numbers, and why not Autumn?) beginning his poem as the famous song begins: “the falling leaves…” Then he introduces the idea of “framing nature,” a trope on a trope on a trope, and when he quotes Frost, another brief lyric is referenced, which references autumn leaves (“rake away…to clear a spring”) and Frost, in his lyric, also makes romantic use of “you.” Mazer’s poetic sensibility fills every bumper to the brim.

Now, the Difficult School, which we revile, rejects the immediacy of pop sensibility—but immediacy is actually what these two, pop culture and poetry, share.

This is why, in the titles of poems listed above, we can see immediately that Ben Mazer is a poet.

If one cannot see this, one should probably not try and read Ben Mazer; one will find oneself feeling like a yokel at the opera, or Ron Silliman before the throne of Poe.

If Lupe Velez with a Baedeker does not resonate with you; if you don’t feel the thousand feelings Autumn Magazines inspires; if My Last Dutchman does not bring a curious, appreciative smile to your lips, you have no business reading poetry. 

And to those who object that a a few words cannot prove mastery, we would ask, how many notes of Brahms’ first symphony does one have to hear before sublimity invades one’s soul?  Poetry is made of one thing: words—words which impress immediately if we are in the presence of the true poetic gift.  The Renaissance painters felt they were superior to the poets—they were, in as much they could depict immediately the face that the poor poet had to supply in pieces—but the poetic art has caught up with painting since the Renaissance, the poets coming to understand how a drop may intimate the sea. Of course, a fool may drown in a drop, but Mazer, who appreciates every drop, intimates oceans.

“Lupe Velez with a Baedeker: Irving Thalberg with a Cigar,” the first poem in the book, directly quotes T. S. Eliot’s “Burbank with a Baedeker, Bleistein with a Cigar” in its first two lines, and then we meet the name, Lupe Velez.

We shall not weigh down this review with references—Mazer’s poems are not weighed down with them; they float over our heads (or drift beneath our feet)—there is no need to “know” or “learn” as one reads a Mazer poem; one burns with it as one reads. Poems that weary us with their facts and their information—Mazer’s poems never do this, and not because Mazer doesn’t “know stuff;” he knows that poetry is not about that, thank God. He doesn’t let pedantry spoil his poetry—which so many otherwise brilliant poets do. He doesn’t allow the hiding of pedantry to spoil his poetry, either, which a smaller, more elite class of poets do; Mazer offers no pedantry, and this puts him almost in a class by himself. He uses what we know, or, more accurately, what we want to know, to entrance. Mazer lays the streets and paths and alleyways as if he were making a poem and then writing a poem in the one he has made—he creates the mind which reads the poem.  But he uses your mind. Many readers will find Mazer’s poetry uncanny in a familiar/strange sort of way, and this is the reason.

Why is Mazer such an important poet? Because he is a return to this impulse, the one voiced by Alexander Pope’s “what oft what thought, but ne’ver so well expressed” and the Romantic sublime, in which what we are able to feel, experiencing a world we all share, is the template, and we find our experiences to be breathtaking—thanks to the poet, who has not only done the work putting together his expression, but the work of joining his feeling to ours.

This remains true, even in the first poem in the book, if we have never heard, for instance, of Lupe Velez; the poem has much to do with her; the poem would not exist without her; no Mazer poem would exist without its unique underpinnings, and so, in that sense, the poet walks among us and is one of us; but the poem makes no effort to inform us of Lupe Velez—the poem is not made small, or trapped by this; reading The Glass Piano is not an exercise in learning, in the weary, worldly sense, but if one should gather the important facts of Lupe Velez—a Mexican actress who broke into U.S. Silent screen movies in the 1920s and successfully moved into sound—one will have learned something of Mazer’s poetic universe, not an isolated fact.  Mazer’s poetry is a symbol for a unique mind that is, itself, a symbol—one reads, literally, Mazer’s vision, of which the poems can only say so much—which is why, perhaps, he is prolific, and also why—too busy to “plan” in the ordinary sense—Mazer’s momentum builds in his longer poems, which seem to be planning themselves as they pitch forward, like life, so that suddenly turning off the main thoroughfare of patient exegesis (you are in an outdoor theater; movies are ghosts etc) you find yourself in a picturesque side path of discursive majesty, the words gaining weight as they fly, the vision really there and real. Mazer is almost like a scientist discovering his poems—and, as they are read, because one gets the idea that Mazer conceives them in the gentle heat of his brain (Mazer is gentle; he has a touch) with the same speed with which they are read, inspiration is able to feel the animal. The long poem (roughly 300 lines) which concludes the book, “An After Dinner Sleep” is immortal, and joins Mazer’s “Divine Rights” at the top of his winding stair.

Mazer chooses Lupe Velez (and Eliot) to begin his book, and says nothing about her, except in hints. (It is not necessary to read Velez’s heart-breaking suicide note.)  We quote in full the first poem of the book. Thalberg is another early figure in film, a producer of Grand Hotel (1932) and early monster/horror films. Mazer’s genius is perfectly content to feed on kitsch, populism, history, camp.

Lupe Velez with a Baedeker; Irving Thalberg with a Cigar

The smoky candle end of time
Declines. On the Rialto once.
With Lupe Velez. Prepared the crime.
But Irving’s valet was no dunce.

Had seen Tirolean dances there
before. And though she was no whore.
Perhaps was hired by the state.
Yet would not scare. And knew no fate.

Time’s thick castles ascend in piles,
The witnesses to countless mobs.
Each with intention, torches, throbs.
Bequeath the coming dawn their wiles.

Yet Irving was not meant for this.
He books the first flight to the States.
He suffers to receive Lupe’s kiss.
While all around the chorus prates.

There’s something does not love a mime.
Tirolean castles built to scale.
There was a mob. There is no crime.
These modernisms sometimes fail.

Mazer trusts the reader to “fill in” what is necessary; all great artists do this; some phrase from a favorite poet, for instance, reverberates in the mind; we recall the scene, the feeling, and yet, not all the words, and running to the book, we open it and find the passage: what? was it only these few words? Which depicted so much?  Indeed it was. Mazer has this gift: a few strokes of the brush: a world.

It is astounding how much this brief lyric conveys: we read each line like a chapter in a novel.  When was the last time we said a poem had “atmosphere?”  Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott?”  Poe’s “The Raven?”  Mazer’s poems have atmosphere (some more than others). Many poets have attempted to lay on atmosphere, but they fail, since atmosphere in poetry cannot be described or explained or accomplished with adjective—-poets are not painters; they cannot paint. The poet must find another way. Mazer finds another way. In “Lupe:” First, by using terse, yet dramatic speech. Second, referencing atmospheric templates (“Tirolean castles”). Third, finding the precise word, even as the other part of his brain is bringing the poem off in terms of beginning, middle, and end.

The narration is coolly involved in the action of the poem: the poet speaks with speech, not with emotion or personality, and this discipline is perhaps the most important “less-is-more” formula there is, and very hard to do. “These modernisms sometimes fail” comes to us from an uncanny place—there is no human, emotional, “straining after,” even though the poem as a whole is frightfully emotional.  It is as if the poem were so emotional that it could only speak without emotion.

The importance of the words is paramount; this is all the poet has, and Mazer is clever enough to know that none of the traditional tools of storytelling will make the words of the poem important: things like ‘a moral’ or ‘the story’ or ’emotion’ remove us from the importance of the words themselves; Mazer’s words seem like they are being spoken (or quoted) from some removed place—and what better way to make this impression than by a subtle, downplayed, insinuation of moral and story and emotion, so the action of the words themselves remain paramount?  And, secondly: hauling in familiar quotes and references from film and literature—the authority of feelings and experiences which belong to us, but lie beyond?  “Would not scare” echoes the ‘steely yet mournful night’ ending of Lowell’s “Skunk Hour.” “There’s something does not love a mime” intimates a “something” that wrecks walls, quoting Frost, with “mime’s” jokey alteration implying everything from silent film to the stoic reticence of Mazer himself.

To paraphrase Yeats, poems should be boldly designed, and yet appear design-less, and Mazer, who claims to compose unconsciously, his poems dictating themselves to him nearly complete, is able to revel in that inevitable surprise one (does not?) look for; one could almost say that the poetic is, by its very nature, unconscious design.

Who can argue with the unconscious, or Mazer’s stated idea in the book’s afterword interview with critic Robert Archambeau, that all composition is revision and all revision is composition?

There should be no conscious intent in poetry, according to this smooth-lake view—a view propounded by the New Critics, the ultimate Quietism of T.S.-Eliot-Learning-and-Conservatism, which defies 1. conscious Conceptualism and 2. conscious Ethnic/Ethical Poetry, these two Schools currently at war, as the School of Mazer (Romanticism, Frost, Eliot) makes its move.

Mazer eschews both the rattle of the gizmo avant-garde and the sloganeering of the ethnic/ethical.

Yet he has more to “say” than either.

Edgar Poe, the fountain of modern literature, quietly inspired T.S. Eliot, who, in the spirit of Anglo-American Modernism, publicly excoriated Poe, after he, Eliot, won the Nobel in 1948. Shelley was attacked earlier by Eliot, in the 1930s.

“These modernisms sometimes fail.”

Why not, as Mazer does in “Lupe,” rhyme like Percy Shelley, hint at Mary Shelley’s creature, and wrap it in an atmosphere of T.S. Eliot? Or Poe?

Why not force a wedding between Modernism and Romanticism?

This reconciliation is due, and Mazer, more than any living poet today, is showing the way. This may be, at the moment, his raison d’etre.

Ben Mazer, perhaps the most remarkable poet alive today, has in his bones that Poe, that poet of shadowy art, flowing into that Eliot of hedonist umber; Mazer struggling to emerge, newly, as that perfection which knows itself as such—latching onto the perfect atmosphere blindly, but perfectly blind—Mazer writing from the unconscious (the bones), not as an ‘automatic writing’ Ashbery, in the tradition of Harvard’s William James and his student Gertrude Stein, but in a tradition much less ‘laboratory,’ and more ‘organic.’ Ben Mazer—the Coleridge of Cambridge, shall we call him? Mazer inhabits the Harvard Square of Prufrock’s Eliot—not Longfellow (who lived there), or 100 years later, Ashbery (who studied there).

It’s a subtle thing, perhaps, but Mazer, who is sometimes compared to Ashbery, is far more Eliot: Eliot rejected the Romantic poets’ music reluctantly, with a frown; Ashbery did so completely, with a laugh.

The excitable, yet mathematical, purple of Poe (“organic” if nature is Platonically made of math) did flow into the tortured, beige suavity of Eliot—a fact difficult to detect not so much by the casual reader, but by the scholar—and in Mazer’s auditory onslaughts, his chaste intelligences, and his world-as-art acrobatics, Eliot’s prophetic Tradition-which-reveals-the-past-by-the-present has come true.

To demonstrate, we quote in full another poem from the new book. It is 13 lines. Most of the poems in this book, are in fact sonnets, 14 lines in length.

The title, “Spread over the vast sinking town,” (the poem’s first line) immediately puts us in mind of:

As if the towers had thrust aside
In slightly sinking, the dull tide…
Down, down that town shall settle hence…” (“The City in the Sea,” Poe)

The second line of Mazer’s poem, “Which winter makes seem half asleep” recalls Eliot’s “The winter evening settles down” from “The Preludes.” A significant word, “curled,” is found in both the Mazer and the Eliot poem.

Mazer has yanked together Eliot’s “Preludes” and Poe’s “The City in the Sea.”  Mazer’s poem begins:

Spread over the vast sinking town
Which winter makes seem half asleep

And notice, in the poem that follows, with what skill Mazer blends Poe’s melancholy spondaic/dactylic music with Eliot’s modern imagery couched in the merrier, yet ironic, iambic; initially the poem trips along in a nimble, 19th-and-20th-century mix, pausing for a moment at the precipice of what might become delicate sarcasm, before it settles into a work perhaps owing more to Poe—or is it Eliot?—but nonetheless achieving, in the end, a work poignant, uncanny, and original, even as it remains steeped in a strange, familiar, hybrid ambience.

Spread over the vast sinking town
Which winter makes seem half asleep
A bus begins its movement down
Across a bridge into the steep
Wide view of the familiar sights
The site of many rowdy nights
But now inhabitants have thinned
Discouraged by the winter wind
And one less one is in the world
Because our faith and will have curled
And folded on the mantel bare
To leave unborn without a care
One whom God’s glory wanted there.

“God’s glory…” Who, today, could invoke this, and be solemn and serious and reputable and true? Mazer may be the only one. The ticket, of course, is the music.

Mazer doesn’t always rhyme this methodically. Today it is almost considered critical suicide to rhyme, unless your name is A.E. Stallings.  As for truth: there is never a reason not to use punctuation, but there it is—occasionally poets feel the need to carve words alone in iron.

But as for rhyme: Poets do not rhyme for two simple reasons: 1. Contemporary fashion and 2. it is very difficult to do.

Mazer is steeped and skilled in the art—from both a practical and an historical perspective, both one and two do not trouble him; he is good enough not to care for contemporary fashion.

When Mazer does not rhyme, he does tend to sound like Ashbery, or a kind of Waste Land Ashbery—Old Possum is usually lurking behind the drapery.

In Glass Piano Mazer has bet heavily on rhyme.  And we are glad that he has.

Mazer’s poems are dreamy and contemplative; if there are two types of lyric, one, the conscious, busybody, Go Do Something, Mazer’s poetry fits I Am The Something; Mazer doesn’t plunder memory for the sake of finding things out, so much as drawing near to what one is wary of finding out. In the first kind of poem, morality often beats you with a stick. In Mazer’s poetry, morality is kind, and wears a cloak.

In the poem just quoted in full, whatever it is in the poem that is “folded on the mantel bare” hints at a memory of an abortion, perhaps? and oddly, other poems in the book which use the word “mantel” seem to hint at the same thing, but in a very delicate way. Mazer’s work is far too aesthetically layered to take any overt moral positions; here Mazer is like Shelley, who asked poetry to explore moral causes—not accessible, worldly, moral effects; below the surface in Mazer’s poetry there does seem to be a deep, ancient conservatism, one that is expansive in its nostalgia, an icy Weltschmerz, but one capable of skating on slippery levity; Mazer’s poetry is happy with the pluralism of existence, with its nostalgia—Mazer feels it, yes, but is not depressed or overwhelmed by it. Occasionally there is a wave of ticket-stub sentimentality, a feeling of poor old dad in his twilight study with the old-literary-magazine compendium, but Mazer never indulges in the merely rueful; there is a quickness to his melancholy.

The I Am Something poem, the one that says ‘Everything you need is here,’ does feature a passive poet—looking out windows, trapped in darkness—and, as a corollary, a passive reader, too–but we get an active poem; the Listen To Me! I Am It! Quietly! poem that, in itself, has everything we need. The passageways may be dark, but they are Mazer’s, and we travel them with trembling delight. We aren’t just reading words. We are moving in what they project.

Because of Mazer’s discursive and melancholy hyper-awareness of the fleeting struggling to cohere, those poems he knits with meter and rhyme (stitched to mingle and collide) tend to bring a happier result than his free-verse Ashbery ones.

Mazer makes quiet use of humor; we actually wish there were more of it in this book. Mazer’s subtle humor enriches the melancholy, instead of merely intruding on it.

A good example of Mazer’s sense of humor can be seen in the following poem, which we quote in full, and which exemplifies all we have been saying so far. Note the brilliant, philosophical ‘Phoenix’ joke. Jokes have designs on us.  Mazer’s genius is the receptive, unconscious kind.  His humor is quiet, and for that, all the more powerful, and brings out in him a related, yet different kind of genius, one we would like to see him pursue more often.

Meanwhile you come to me with vipers’ eyes
to ask, Is there one among us who never dies?
I look into the bottom of my pack of lies
and answer, The Phoenix, though Lord knows she sometimes tries.
You take my answer in your sort of stride,
and once again the stars align and ride
into our lives, upon the carpeted floor,
and the high mantle where you look no more
for evidence of what has gone before;
all stammers slightly,
and the evening closes up its door,
wrong or rightly; colorfully and brightly
some vestiges or trace of memory
falls on the wall; you close your eyes to see.

Mazer is obscure, but not hopelessly so, and because of the sad music, we never mind. We never feel, as we often feel with Ashbery, that there is some kind of parody going on, and Mazer is stronger for this.

All poetry, even—especially?—great poetry, has a shadow-self vulnerable to parody; “The Raven” was parodied upon its publication, immediately and often. One could say Modernism itself, in many ways, is a parody of the 19th century sublime—the spirit of Ashbery’s parody lives, partially hidden, in Eliot’s suffering heart. After all, Eliot anointed Auden and Auden, Ashbery. Is Mazer their successor?

Mazer is revolutionary, in our view, because, for the first time since Tennyson, poetry is once again allowed to be itself, to produce symphonies—with no need to parody, or feel self-consciously modern.

Mazer’s poems seem to say to us: Among all your sufferings, look! this lighted window really is for you. The couch of art, with its faint, sad music, belongs to everyone. You may all rest here.

Mazer is doing something wonderful and important. No one should resent this. Mazer is it. This review would have been better had we just copied his poetry.

We close with a passage from his magnificent poem, “An After Dinner Sleep:”

Now the two sisters have returned to London.
If one is done, the other must be undone.
You strain your eyes through columns, chance to see
the early return of the Viscount-Marquis.
Your monthly pension takes you on a spree
to Biarritz, Bretagne, Brittany,
and you will not be back till early fall,
and then again might not return at all,
the garish drainpipes climbing up the facades
all violently symbolic, and at odds
with simple pleasures countrysides bequeath
to girls with dandelions between their teeth.
There is no fiction that can firmly hold
the world afloat above the weight of gold,
but all your progress drains out to the lee
of million-fold eternal unity.

THE TRUTH ABOUT METRICAL POETRY

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The truth about beautiful and accomplished metrical poetry is lost and hidden because the most important truth of it has nothing to do with its form: the secret lies with its content.

Of course we should talk of iambs and rhyme and all that is formal, but the entire discussion always trails off into impotent, hollow rhetoric that leaves even the most enthusiastic and diehard formalist deeply unsatisfied—like one of those New Formalist poems one thinks one ought to perhaps like as one dully admires it.

And why?

Because the formalist element of a poem—and it is accurate to say element, not elements—should always be that poem’s effect, not its cause. And if the cause is ignored, what kind of effect do we have? A meaningless one.

It takes a certain amount of genius to foreground a cause which seems wholly unrelated to its effect, but this is what has to happen if we are to have any meaningful understanding of formalist poetry.

The whole problem with free verse (the choice now in sophisticated and influential circles) is that we have a cause without an effect; we have the sun sans heat and light; we have a picture of the sun, but not the sun; we have a picture of poetry, but not poetry. We read a picture, but we do not hear a picture, and poetry should be heard.

Reading a picture is a highly complex act, just as writing and reading free verse is a highly complex act.

This highly complex act, however, this highly complex set of circumstances—interpreting a complex set of visual signs—is not poetry, because absent from the act of interpreting a complex set of visual signs is the crucial “cause and effect” reality mentioned above—a mysterious one, in which “what the poem says” is the poem’s cause and “the formalist element” of the poem, its effect.

For too long this simple truth has fallen on deaf ears.

All “saying” has formalist qualities, and free verse, as well as poetry, exploits this fact. Agreed.

But real poetry exploits the formalist aspect of “saying” in a more radical manner—by turning these complex elements into one element—the singular and unified effect which exists only because of the poem’s cause—what the poem “says.”

The strait-jacket aspect of a limerick unsettles the scholarly and serious poet; it does so because of the strictly burlesque and humorous illustration of—not the limerick itself—but the all-too-obvious truth we are attempting—right now–to convey. The limerick’s formalist achievement is singularly successful, and its success is based on the very principle turned on its head: the formalist template of the limerick is the cause—and what it “says” (bawdy humor), the effect.

For there is a relationship, and the more inevitable that relationship, and the more the effect is the formalist aspect, rather than the content of the poem, the closer we are to true poetry.

Poetry that is obviously bad, we say, is when formalist properties force the poet to say something in a certain way. The lady is from Spain because Spain is going to rhyme with something, we think, as we experience the limerick (the non-serious poem).

But something else is going on: what really matters to the limerick reader is not whether the lady is from Spain, or where she is from; what matters is that we are going to find out very quickly something highly embarrassing about this lady, and that is the true delight, the true reason for the popularity of, the limerick. What the limerick “says” about the Spanish lady is the primary fact: the “saying” is the effect, not the cause.

But in the poetry that we truly admire, poetry without outrageous humor, the “saying” is properly the cause, and the singular, unified, accomplished aspect of the poem’s formal existence, its effect.

And the truly accomplished poem will never be about Spain—only a limerick would be that bold; the truly accomplished poem will convey an idea expressed (and experienced) as nearly as possible by a unified formal effect (like the limerick, singular and formally self-contained, but far more original and unique).

The key here is idea—and now we hit at the crucial point; the “saying” should be a passionate idea, and not facts about Spain, or the king of France, or crossing a busy street on a snowy Sunday with one’s sweetheart, or any of those subjects the New Formalists express with misguided confidence regarding formalist elements, in which what they “say” gets draped in the fabric of various formalities.

If one is not careful with what one “says” in a poem, formalist or not—the poem will fail.

The New Formalist poet understands the error of making the form the cause—which is the degrading aspect of the humorous limerick—but does not understand how to transform what is properly the cause—the “saying”—into the formalist effect.

And here is where Poe in his “Philosophy of Composition” was correct (and sorely misunderstood). The content of the poem should not be factual, should not be what we might “say” about something: Spain, or the lady from Spain—the content should be an idea, or what Poe called “an effect,” in other words, a design on the reader, which, for our present purposes, we can call an idea. The idea of the death of a beautiful woman is just that, an idea, and how this idea is conveyed by the poem’s formalist element (not elements, but a unified element) is all we expect of the poet, once the idea (the cause) is chosen.

Importantly, the idea should already contain, in itself, the feelings which the dry, clinical workings of the formalist element shall embody.

And to return to the limerick once more, for here is the crucial thing we are trying to say: it is commonly thought that the limerick is all about its form—its rhyme scheme—but, in truth, the chief character of the limerick is “what it says,” because the form causes “what it says” to jump out at us.

This is what all burlesque, or poorly realized, or prosaic attempts at poetry do: “what is said” jumps out at us—its content is its effect. But in real poetry, the content should only be its (hidden!) cause.

The poem which meets the criterion of fine art does the opposite of the limerick, and other types of failed poetry: what it “says” does not “jump out at us,” as the poem’s effect; what the truly beautiful poem “says” is hidden—the cause behind the poem’s formalist effect. The great poem “says” something, but in an entirely different manner from the limerick—and the free verse poem.

The public, which knows very well what a limerick is, also instinctively knows what this other kind of formalist poem is, hungers for it, unconsciously, but does not get it—since free verse has become the sophisticated choice of “real poets.”

A poem, with the highest possible achievement of its poetic formalist effect, demands for this effect a proper cause—which is an idea fitting this “highest possible achievement” in terms which the greatest poets implicitly and imaginatively understand. The idea is nearly everything. And the idea’s transformation into a singular formalist effect demands not just formalist skill, but a radical idea—which is sufficiently august for a poet’s all-important skill at things like meter, rhyme, stanza, and refrain.

 

A WORD ABOUT LITERARY ACTIVISM

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The white guys of High Modernism

“Literary activism” has taken center stage recently among the chattering classes, those academics and journalists whose job it is to tell the working class how to live.

Is music a supplement to speech, or is it anti-speech?

Well, it depends on whether you hum or sing.

Mere humming is music which is anti-speech.

Singing music, however, (and that would include wordless Mozart) is clearly a supplement to speech.

Poetry, in the 20th century, went from anthologized, lyrical quietism by the fireside, to avant formalism in the classroom.

Poetry went from singing to humming.

It went from the musical wit of Byron to: red wheel barrow in the wastes of white space.

Lyrical quietism, so named today, was universal, personal, political, as well as…lyrical.

Avant formalism was apolitical, abstract, elitist, and just happened to be…white and male.

To put it simply: the crazyites (as Edgar Poe named them) won, even as Pound was put in a cage.

The recent surge of “literary activism” marked by ethnicity, with all its accompanying buzzwords (“struggle” and “voices” and “change”) is nothing more than a passionate reaction (or correction) to the white elitist character of the Modernism (the Men’s Club of Pound, Eliot, Williams) which destroyed the Universal Poetry of the People (dubbed ‘lyrical quietism’ by the avants).

The new “subversive” academics, the highly ethical and ethnic voices of “literary activism,” currently making headlines in the textbooks and Blog Harriet (The Poetry Foundation blog of Poetry magazine—famous because of the right wing Pound and Eliot) are semi-literate and reactionary, like their masters, the white “subversives” of 20th century Modernism, who shook off the highly literate and song-worthy revolutionary spirit of accessible 19th century poetry heroes such as Keats, Byron, and Poe.

Literary Activism does not sing, it hums.  It doesn’t speak, it produces a tune to which everyone must dance, an easily understood music—yawn in the face of the Odes of Keats because their author is white and male.

Keatsian Aesthetics is the enemy of the Ideological State—because the State is in a continual mode of “correction,” the on-going communist/fascist revolution which never ends; the war against whatever is old—running continually.

The reactionary nature of an Emerson or a Pound is hidden as long as these men are identified (and they are) with change.

Emerson’s imperialist, neo-liberal, racist “English Traits” is ignored in favor of his “The Poet,” which (subversively) attacks the aesthetics of Poe—the essence of whom, beauty, is not hidden: the subversion of Emerson leads straight to Pound and his white, male avant inheritors.

The soul-crushing politics of literary activism produces poorly written odes against “capitalism.”

God forbid we buy and sell. The ideological State does not approve of exchange. It does not approve of singing, of words, of speech, which create mutual influences: this is why dialogue is such a powerful tool and why the first clue to a bankrupt human being (crippled by ideology) is how difficult it is to have a conversation of discovery with them; they immediately quarrel and disagree the moment they are confronted with having to think as they talk. They can only talk about what they already think—they will not tolerate true dialogue, and the anger displayed always surprises the innocent lover of wisdom.

Exchange has one drawback. It is morally blind. Slavery is an instance of this, and the State which made the moral choice to end slavery is a good, not an evil.

But slavery has its origins in economic inequality—the slave trade persisted as long as it was profitable; the slave trade did not operate because it was a moral or an amoral practice; in the same way, thievery will always exist if there is economic inequality—morals mean nothing to the starving man.  If there is no honest exchange, it is due to one reason and one reason only: too much dishonest exchange: but the fault is not with exchange (capitalism) but with morals, and here we see by the very term, “honest exchange” that the two elements are really the same. The whole Marxist separation is false, and the intrusion of morals, per se, a mere Victorian illusion. The intrusion of morals becomes, in fact, capitalist competition by other means.

The good State wants good exchange. Exchange (song, thought, trade, capitalism) is a good, as long as it fosters further exchange. Slavery is an evil precisely because it prevents (by reducing a person to a commodity) further exchange. By faulting exchange itself, however, we actually perpetuate an evil, even as this anti-exchange folly is morally sugar-coated by the Marxist.

The State mind doesn’t like the music of singing; it prefers humming that pre-made tune.

The ethnic character of literacy activism innocently demolishes the ‘whole’ human being—who is forced into the prison of perceiving itself chiefly as black or gay or female. Instead of offering highly literate females, it offers illiterate females praising females—which is hurtful to females and does not advance their cause at all. Yet this reactionary practice is considered progressive.

In this instance it is easy to see why.

It is precisely because “literary activism” today is an unspoken correction against the embarrassingly white, male, elitist (and fascist/communist) character of avant Modernism: which destroyed the glory of lyrical quietism—the glory of Enlightenment Byron and Romantic Edna St. Vincent Millay.

The new literary activism is amending ‘old fogey John Crowe Ransom white male Modernism’—but is unfortunately at the same time an unwitting extension of the avant trampling of true poetry.

Caveat Emptor!

THE END OF FORMALISM

“I would counsel Lysias not to delay, but to write another discourse, which shall prove the lover rather than the non-lover ought to be accepted.” –Socrates (The Phaedrus)

Wouldn’t you say, a thing can only be so strong when it is based on weakness?

For instance, intoxication can make us brave, but it does so because we are not brave, and so intoxication’s “bravery” exists because of weakness and so intoxication as a “good” will always be seen as a weakness and be understood as such.

Likewise, verse (poetry) adds to language a music above and beyond language’s meaning.  Since all would agree that conveying meaning is the highest purpose of language, and poetry is a good in that it makes it more entertaining to get meaning from language—the weakness announces itself to everyone: poetry feeds meaning the way intoxication feeds bravery.

The brave don’t need intoxication.

Good readers don’t need poetry—to entertain them and keep them focused in order to get meaning from a text.

We may or may not want to leave aside Socrates’ argument in the Phaedrus that the lover (mad) is a better life-partner than the friend (practical, sane). As Socrates points out, everyone (lover and non-lover) wants beauty and the lover/poet is finally better able to provide this than the practical type.

But just as Psychology has largely left behind Freud and Jung and literary invention that gave birth to Psychology itself—for psychotropic drugs and their practical effects, Plato is hardly studied any longer in school, and therefore it is safe to say that intoxication and verse are no longer seen as strengths at all.

Madness is the way we denigrate a thing, especially in our race to absolute reason in the realm of the humanities: women and earth have been dominated too long by “crazy” white males. So this is why verse has been abandoned. Its “intoxicated” aid to reading is rejected as unnecessary and insane: a weakness, a wrong, to be dispensed with.

For, yes, we should admit it—verse is a silly, entertaining thing that makes reading a greater amusement for a kind of mind easily bored by reading for meaning.

Verse exists because of a reading weakness—just as intoxication is sometimes necessary for bravery.

We dare not suggest here—but because we are crazy, we will—that bravery is nothing more than intoxication itself, or that verse enhances and elevates meaning and is closer to meaning than naked meaning itself is, at least in some select and really important instances.  But we’ll throw it out there nonetheless.

Verse is, obviously, formalism.

Today there are three ways critics and poets attempt to downgrade verse (formalism.)

One: They make sure we know that Socrates wore a toga. They make the whole question of formalism historical: form exists in forms and these forms: sonnets, heroic couplets, etc belong to certain historical periods with specific historical conditions.

And therefore we either cannot use these forms today or we must self-consciously subvert them.

An ABAB rhyme scheme is the equivalent of using “thou” and “thee.”

The stream of history in which all forms must exist carries them away.

So forms—all forms—formalism itself, in one simple (historical) step, is swept away.

Of course, despite the scholars’ opinion re: forms and history, we find formalism persists.

But where it does persist, the scholars simply point out that its persistence is not scholarly:

Rhyme belongs to hip-hop and other kinds of pop music. It doesn’t “feel right” in poems today that wish to be taken seriously, as scholarly works.

According to this anti-formalist approach, a poem cannot “work on its own terms;” it is always felt and understood in terms of historical conditions.

The “rules” for writing a sonnet are certainly legitimate, and verse does have a valid existence, but, according to the historical anti-formalist reading, only in a museum sort of way.

The “historical” downgrading of formalism is a very powerful way to downgrade formalism because it is both conservative and radical, since it simultaneously plays the “respect for history” card and the “now” card. Form is respected, but forms are obsolete, says the historical scholar.

The conservative New Critic John Crowe Ransom told his 1930s readers that writing like Byron was no longer possible. The “historical” view justifies every kind of experimentalism—even as it trumpets its tweedy respect for history.

Two: The scholars make form—not forms—the only thing that matters.  A highly abstract macro (form) kills the micro (forms).

This, too, is a very effective way to downgrade formalism:

This whole anti-formalism method can be summed up with T.S. Eliot, who wrote that even prose scans.

Even the loosest free verse has “form;” white space on the page has “form.”

This argument is far more insidious than number one above; so much so, that it resembles a CIA brainwashing tactic, and is probably the top reason for poets giving up on verse altogether—in a turn-about that courts insanity; destroying formalism in this manner argues that because white exists, snow cannot exist.

Form is what matters.  And form is such a naturally large category that the formless resides there. Formalism (the quality dismissed) merely concerns itself with various antiquated forms.

And here one notices how much this resembles the historical argument: The poet is expected to explore form itself as it applies to the present. Sonnets and Elizabethan England both belong to a formalism of the past.

So here’s a second reason not to write a sonnet.  First, the sonnet is relegated to the past. Second, form should be the focus; sonnets are merely forms.

And if that were not enough, there’s a third way.

Three: Avoid the subject altogether and make poetry all about content: form is expressed by what we say.

Just as the second reason strongly resembles the first reason—both emphasize form over forms—the third way that downgrades formalism resembles the second reason, for saying “form is nothing” is logically the same thing as saying “form is everything.”

Helen Vendler, obsessed with the “heterogeneity” and “stylistic originality” of poets like  Graham and Ashbery, is, in her essentially New Critical style, a mixture of Two and Three. She has written:  “Poetry not intelligible with respect to contemporary values of society could not be read.”

Surely, however, all critics like Vendler understand that a pure prose content purely isolated from all musical considerations cannot possibly denote anything poetical.

The poetical is prose meaning dipped in the coloring of musicality and moods. Content is always the ground from which we start, but it is not the poem itself.

Bravery (truth) is not intoxication (poetry).

To asset that ‘form is content and content is form’ is to lose both—is really to assert nothing.

Formalism is downgraded in three distinct ways, but it’s all the same pedantic strategy, a convincing but hollow set of deconstructions.

Listen in on any discussion of formalism and you get one or some combination of these three anti-formalist positions we have just presented: there is little else, except perhaps a kind of vague, well-meaning gesture towards “poems that work” in whatever manner happens to suit the historically grounded and socially acute poet. Virtues are slyly assumed to exist outside of formal properties, with the added assumption that “stylistic originality” and forms cannot co-exist.

But the truth is, there can be more “originality” in a sonnet than in all the works of Ashbery.

This is a truth which overturns all the abstract claims of heterogeneity in terms of form versus forms.

For we are always assuming that heterogeneity is going to be more original, but there is no basis for this belief at all.

New York City is a large complex place, but so long as we point to New York City in our minds as “heterogeneity,” able to stand as the ideal which transcends the petty, self-important enclosures of mere formalism, we miss the much larger point that New York City really consists of tiny neighborhoods, and all poetry, if not all reality, exists, and is accessible and knowable, in the city block, or the building, or the room: the reality is not a scholar pointing to abstract “form;” the reality is understood in what hides in a building in New York City—a sonnet, perhaps.

Yes, it actually makes more sense to look at all literature as a great string of sonnets than to wallow in pretentious abstractions (and billions of details merely elucidated for their own sake—or to fit into heterogeneity theories.)

Sonnet by sonnet is not the way to read, obviously, but the point is that this makes more sense than any of the methods advertised by the anti-formalist school.

Think of a literacy of the sonnet, rather than of the line, or the sentence, or the word, or the phrase.  What a literacy that would be!

Couldn’t the sonnet be the building block?  And wouldn’t it be a healthy mind who thinks in those terms?

Shelley’s great Ode (West Wind) is a short series of sonnets.

And one can read the Gettysburg Address—as four sonnets.

 

….

Now let us ask, after exposing the ravings of the anti-formalists, this more pertinent question: what is poetry’s purpose?

Flowers are not condemned to exist under glass, as the sonnet is—and why not?

The answer is obvious: because flowers serve a purpose.

Flowers attract bees—this attractive quality helps define for us what a flower is, and, although we are not bees, so powerful and overflowing is the flowers’ attractiveness, that we, bee-like, admire the flower for its flower-like qualities.

What if poetry is a language of dissemination which, like the flower, is attractive in order to disseminate?

And what if this attractive quality is timeless and demands cultivation and protection?

The gardener is not asked to admire the flower but protect, grow, and breed the flower, for all eternity.

If the gardener merely admired the flower and did not protect, grow, and breed the flower, in terms of what we understand a flower to be, we would call her a very poor gardener.

Further, if the gardener greatly admired flowers, but assured us that flowers had long since served their purpose as flowers, and now should exist in museums only, we should not only find this great admirer of flowers a poor gardener, but, despite their learned admiration, an enemy of flowers.

Those who downgrade formalism in the three ways outlined above—condemning traditional forms of poetry to sterility and “learned” curatorial irrelevance—are like the gardener who may admire flowers, but is their enemy and destroyer.

Poetry today is being destroyed, especially by those who currently study and practice it. A museum-admiration of poetry is an evil and insidious thing.

To seek for the elusive rationale or reason or purpose or use, of poetry can be compared to the search for a loved one in a crowd.

The similarities defeat us, not the differences.

“Is this the one you seek?” ask the ignorant but well-meaning searchers, and they bring us person after person, with face and arms and legs and every particular human quality—but no, this is not our beloved!

We are not looking for a type—we are searching for a unique quality.

Just as we look for a championship baseball team, celebrated through the ages, and are deterred most in our search, not because it hides beside an object like a fire engine, but rather next to a losing team—which also has pitchers who throw at 90 mph and hitters who can hit a ball 500 feet.

The poem’s reason that we seek, to the ordinary eye, looks very similar, in the great scheme of things, to a great deal of other writing.

Poetry’s purpose, ignored by theoretical moderns—blends in.  And—because we are blind to it, it can eventually kill us.

We scan the crowd for the one we love and die if we do not find her.

We search for: not forms, not form, not content, but attractiveness.

The pedants ignore the raison ultima because they fear it will be “a type,” thinking “type” itself is defined by form, but never content. But here they wildly err.

To specify poetry with formalism alone is to take poetry over to mathematics and music—and this is not 1) a general thing nor is it 2) anything to do with content—precisely because content is never specified (the purpose of poetry is never mentioned)—since we assume whatever is said can and will be said, heightened by the formal qualities, of course, but not determined by them. Yet how can the content of speech not be determined by its formal qualities in a systematic manner? Music does determine how speech speaks and once this is conceded, the poetry’s ultimate rationale must at last be acknowledged, for how speech speaks cannot but determine what speech speaks.

Yet we never hear in discussions of formalism what poetry must say.

We can discuss stocks and bonds in verse and never mention poetry’s purpose. We can allude to Eliot’s objective correlative and never mention poetry’s hidden purpose, since Eliot’s astute formula never escaped the blackboard to actually walk about. Eliot was using this formula to attack whole historic periods of poetry when, he felt, content and form were estranged; the tweedy Modernist condemned the Romantic poets this way—Eliot was finally downgrading formalism historically, not philosophically—and so an opportunity was missed: Eliot was essentially saying what the conservative Ransom was saying when Ransom said we can’t write like Byron anymore: Modernism ignoring poetry’s true purpose by saying “form, not forms.”

We are free to say anything in poetry now, said the 20th century Anglo-American Modernists, making the reason disappear in a general loosening of form to fit more and more varieties of content. But why the Modernists hated Byron, was that Byron said more interesting things while rhyming than the Modernists did in free verse.  This is why the chief Modernists like Eliot and Ransom tried to bury Byron (and Romantics generally).  Byron didn’t fit the Modernist formula.

Sure, many ruefully viewed the Modernist agenda as a simple mistake: poetry-turning-into-prose; well, everybody did, but no one had the pedagogical reasoning to stop it. Verse was the “metronome” and poetry-as-prose, the “musical phrase” was how crazy Pound cleverly put it. (“Prose scans,” in other words.)

No one stopped to think that a metronome was a perfectly useful tool for Beethoven, as he created profound “musical phrases.” Beethoven was hidden, like poetry’s reason, in the “room” of Modernist “verse.”

Robert Penn Warren, the New Critic co-author of the influential, mid-20th century Understanding Poetry textbook, wrote an essay defending “impure poetry” against “pure poetry,” another Modernist act in the drama of hiding poetry’s purpose. Poetic content was now, according to Warren: “all and any content not determined in the least by form.” The purpose of poetry was gone. Modernism had blithely killed it.

It wasn’t that form gradually loosened due to formal considerations; form wasn’t freeing up form—content was, in the sense of ‘anything goes,’ anything can now be said: the lyrics were eliminating the music, so to speak; this, and only this, is what was meant by “impure poetry” and its triumph. (Understanding Poetry included a savage attack on the attractively musical verses of Poe, even as it championed Pound and Williams; Warren’s essay savaged Shelley; Eliot impolitely attacked Shelley, as well: Poe and Shelley were wretched examples for Modernist delectation of scorned, “narrow purity.” Remember, the New Critics were considered “conservative” in their views. But chucking formalism was universally done in the Modernist era.  This is what the Pound clique did: they also attacked Edna St. Vincent Millay. (See Hugh Kenner’s nasty remarks on her).

But if formalism, as all must concede, has what must be described as legitimate formal qualities (to define it as formalism as such) what does it mean to say, as the anti-formalists said, that content can be whatever it wants in an “impure” triumph? Here is a “room” which has certain formal qualities, identifying itself as a “room” of poetry (as opposed, to say, a dinner menu) and yet, when content enters this room, the room itself only exists to leave the content untouched and free to express itself however it chooses, and any restriction upon the content is condemned as a backwards step towards an unwanted, old, and “pure” poetic practice.

Of course defenders of the “impure” never admit the absolute disconnection of form and content outright— in each specific poem, they say, form and content do their dance: both form and content are equally valuable; the “impurity” we defend is only to say (they point out) that formalism is no longer a straitjacket; formalism no longer is severe in its restrictions, no longer blindly formal in its dictates.

Poetry’s purpose remains hidden, however. What is said in the poem is said, and afterwards, the “everything is form” explanation is bent to the content’s will—this is the anti-formalist ‘explanation number two:’ making formalism a blindly obedient (and essentially nonexistent) shadow of content. Whatever facilitates the saying (or meaning) that is not the saying (or meaning) has an existence, in the same way that “prose scans;” but nothing that can be called art need exist at all—the poem speaks; the content speaks and asserts itself, and simply by way of formalistic properties manifesting themselves in a perfectly ordinary “grammatical or anti-grammatical” manner, this then becomes the “formal triumph” which mirrors the “ordinary” content speaking in its artless cunning, free of all artificiality, fulfilling the prophecy of Modernism’s expansive and articulate poetic quest.

There is no need to make any decisions about content; all that needs to be proclaimed, proclaim the anti-formalists, is that historically we are expanding our ability to provide content as formalism drops away: jettisoning all formalistic strategy, as content becomes all (and thus, nothing!) This is what Eliot meant by formalism hiding behind the drapery of loose poetry: historical poetry’s actual existence as such, is old Polonius—and the prying pedant is soon to be stabbed and killed in T.S. Eliot’s Critical Modernism’s play.

But how can the form of poetry—if it is really form-–not predetermine content? It must. Otherwise it is not really what we mean when we speak of poetic form. How can poetry as a formal practice not have a real existence as an actual piece of form and as an actual piece of content?

If we are true poets, we do not wish to blindly kill the beloved (poetry’s reason); we wish to find them in the crowd.

How will I my true love know from another one? —Ophelia, Hamlet

We listen to Beethoven and hear an actual musical content; the music inspires specific feelings—based on its formal qualities. To say that poetry does not do the same thing is to deny poetry’s existence altogether. Which is what we said earlier is happening in fact: poetry, in academia—where it now mostly resides—has become a museum exhibit in its formalism, an inconsequential exercise in its contemporary use. It does not matter that superior poetry is being written today in obscure quarters—the public simply does not exist for it, and so it does not exist.

We said that in recent history, formalist considerations never usher in the least interest in specific categories of content, with Eliot’s objective correlative formula the one major (ineffective) exception. But before Modernism, poetry’s purpose is acknowledged; poetry is given an identity based on what it does—and what it expresses in terms of content.  The greatest example in literature, perhaps, can be found in the dramatic dialogue between Socrates and Phaedrus.

The modern lyric was called a “love letter” by Dante. Shakespeare made the sonnet a courting device for love and breeding—and thus was not far off from the “love letter” idea; the two greatest poets of all time (Eliot himself was explicit: “Dante and Shakespeare; there is no third”) have no trouble acknowledging the purpose of poetry which is now hidden: poetry, as much as it does exist formally, does yet have a use within, and obedient to, its purely formal existence.

The novel can be said to have originated as a series of letters (sonnets?) and the greatest fiction can be defined as an unfolding of love (or its opposite, hate: see the war-like Homer).

The sonnet—formalism—shall return.

Poetry, grown by philosophy and love, will be a living flower, once again.

 

IMPORTANT AND TRUE

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This is hard to refute: Nothing is important and true if it is merely important and true to you.

At the college where I work, I heard a humanities professor remark recently: the abstract is the basis of education.

By abstract, the professor means: All that is wise, good, and important is true for everyone, not just you.

The children who “get this,” grow up to be productive members of society; those who don’t, become those half-formed dreamers who merely survive, or worse, criminals.

Most of us are comfortable thinking that there is a ‘selfish curve;’ the more selfish you are, the more you ultimately suffer; the religious find contentment knowing God’s justice ultimately takes care of everything, but that doesn’t mean everyone isn’t irked when they witness selfishness in others; the religious are still motivated to “spread the word of God,” even though their all-powerful God will “take care of everything at last, anyway.”

This contradiction is not a minor thing. If God is all-powerful, why do you behave as if He were not?

You (the religious) are busy “spreading God’s word,” even as God, beyond all words and beyond all understanding, inhabits, in a vast, just, material, eternal manner, everything. Why so busy, then?

I could believe every single thing you (the religious) say as you “spread God’s word” and still find you excessively ignorant and redundant and tiresome—and tell you in all sincerity to please go away and never show your face around here again.

There. As you may have guessed, Scarriet is not a religious place.

And this sentiment is precisely where we are in the world today, with the secular world becoming increasingly exasperated and emboldened in their objection to religion, especially as it manifests itself around social media-driven flashpoint issues and events.

Anti-religious extremism threatens more and more each day to become mainstream, at least in the West, thanks to academia and social media, where the religious find their antiquated mists lifting before the winds of progressive and intellectual arguments; secular common sense is nearly impossible to resist as the “love of Jesus” is turned against every religious prohibition under the sun.

The immutable Abstract God needs human representatives—with human stories and human logic. When servants of the Abstract God debate with the professor/artist/social worker class, who represent The Abstract Benefits of All People, the servants of The Lord lose, and they lose because they are humorless and antiquated, and because Equality is the abstraction which trumps everything.

This does not mean the religious ultimately lose—they will surely never go away—and they do not ultimately lose for the following reason: Equality, or even the need for it, is, alas, an abstract theory, not an abstract reality.

Abstraction, itself, at its most powerful, exists as a reality, not a theory.

Those quiet ones, who skip the debate, knowing the One True Real Abstraction, God’s Justice, takes care of everything, and not in some theoretical equality-type manner, but with every unequal thing and person fitting into the great scheme at last, miraculously and imaginatively, the quiet ones who skip the debates, are the ones you should listen to, when you have a moment—not the self-assured ones on the left or the right.

To return to “you” and how your feelings are never the most important thing:

According to our wise secular professor, what you happen to feel is never as important as the abstracted feelings of the many.

But not only is Religion on the run in the West, but a counter-force, Romanticism seems to be making a quiet comeback.

The Romantic does value “your” singular feelings.

This is because “the you” is finally an abstract idea, as well, and those who defend “the abstract” find themselves trapped by the whole theoretical notion of “the abstract”: once we begin to sociologically impose abstract models onto everything, in the name of a benevolent but coarse system of benefits for all, the theoretical destroys everything in its path. Theoretically, the “you” joins the “many,” and science becomes farcically anecdotal, all in the name of abstraction, and of words abstractly used, with “them” and “you” swapped and traded in the blink of an eye.

The Romantic persists in being “wrong” in the face of all the wise theorists; the Romantic denies the abstract with passionate feeling: Ovid’s “I hate and love.”

The Romantic is worth listening to, because there are two kinds of Abstraction.

Our professor friend, who we quoted in the beginning of the essay, refers to the Abstract Abstract.

The Abstract Abstract is the abstraction we find in psychology, sociology and literature textbooks, the essential content of the non-religious liberal arts education: generalized information applied anecdotally and then traced back to the generalized information in a rough ‘what’s best for all’ sort of way.

In these liberal arts scenarios, passion is always reserved for “blind evil,” which does the things we professionals are appalled by, and cannot understand, as we, rationally, in the course of our liberal arts education, pursue our sane pedagogical goals: marriage for everybody, love for everybody, riches for everybody, etc etc.

But the Romantic and the religious refer to something else: the Real Abstract.

The Real Abstract is The Whole Universe, literally, that dynamic, grand design of the whole which God (whether or not He really exists) is short-hand for.

It is why Edgar Poe ventured to call his essay on the Universe a poem—the unity of the subject called for it.

The abstract is truly one thing and one thing only: the material, finite universe as it really in fact exists.

The rigor of this abstraction puts to shame the mere ‘good for all’ theory practiced by the liberal arts colleges.

Example: there is no such thing as a kind review. We never argue for something in a generalized manner: the one (poem, book, world, etc) contains many things, which, by necessity, if the whole of which the parts are a part is worth anything at all, succeed and fail as things to varying degrees. So instead of saying, ‘this is a great ___,’ we instead say which parts of ____ in any given ____ are good and which are bad.

How many reviews of friends’ poetry books and chapbooks are thorough, and truly objective?  They are almost never objective. They always feel, due to friendship and kindness, like advertisements: you must read this great book!

Passion is required for truth, and passion, by definition, is Ovidian, containing love and hate. The truly unique whole of the universe is both loving and hateful. The Real Abstract contains both beauty and necessity.

The merely Abstract Abstract, however, the one we get from the liberal arts professor, is necessary, but not beautiful: proper goodness must prevail, so that the poet, who is both student and customer in the new professional university environment, receives the proper flattery and is pleased—each part in the Abstract Abstract must exist abstractly, pleased to be an unreal part of what is essentially a pleasing, artificial (abstract) agenda.

The uneasy way the universe actually fits together produces the passion that is at once the cause and the effect of  its meaning—for those who attempt to comprehend it. (Poe perhaps having come the closest?)

Abstractly speaking, the universe, today, in our progressive age, is a “rainbow” of benevolent mixing.

What does this “rainbow” symbol mean, anyway? What does it actually mean?

Be nice to everyone. Accept differences. But isn’t this too general to mean anything?

A friend once asked us if Joan Rivers was mean or funny. The answer, of course, is both. The funny and the mean are inextricably mixed.

“Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?” will always sound in fair Verona’s streets.

Let us look at an actual example.

A black conservative judge, who opposes gay marriage, and his white wife comprise two races and two genders. The vast majority of gay couplings comprise one race and one gender.

Which couple most resembles a “rainbow?”

If there is no rational reason to oppose gay marriage—we cannot think of one; Scarriet certainly does not oppose gay marriage—perhaps it is only a “rainbow” impulse that does oppose it: is that an irony, or what?

Our benevolent “rainbow” idea belongs to the Abstract Abstract, one of those ideals, which, upon inspection, is found to be one of those liberal arts ideals whose “truth” is a highly convincing symbolism for the sake of an abstract good: robbing from the rich is “good” in similar abstract ways.

The Real Abstract consists of social minutia, flawed expression, breeding, borders, hierarchy and competing interests over time—messy and vastly complex mixtures, not given to easy Abstract Abstract ideals.

Hate and love, as a mixture, is never easily understood; love by itself and hate by itself, are far more easily understood, and they are understood more easily—because they belong to the Abstract Abstract, not the Real Abstract; the Abstract Abstract is what tends to be taught—in the schools.

We can gently refute our wise professor after all: very often what is true and important is true and important—to you.

WHAT IS POETRY? LISTEN TO ALEXANDER POPE

Pope: No awards or degrees. Self-taught. Banned from higher education in his native England for being a Catholic. World famous.

Alexander Pope was 20 when he wrote his rhymed “An Essay on Criticism.” This single essay contains more memorable poetry quotations than the entire 20th century produced.

We want to focus on one from that essay, which might save poetry from the wretched state it is currently in:

“What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.”

In their mania for “the new,” the modern poets (who have no public) constantly strive for what has never been thought before—and no wonder the results are sometimes pleasantly odd (at best) but mostly baffling, obscure, and unreadable.

Since thought and language are profoundly linked, any random combination of words, sentences or phrases will, in theory, produce “new thought.” If only this were true! We would all be poets, and all poetry magnet kits, Shakespeare.

It is easy to illustrate, with the help of Pope’s quote, this “new thought” folly, but this does not mean this folly has not been highly seductive.

Unfortunately, bad things seduce.

The Moderns, if anyone has any doubt, are to blame. We mean those men born in the latter part of the 19th century—Pound, Eliot, and William Carlos Williams.

Who has “thought” in white spaces on the page: how “oft” has that been thought before?  If you take this question too seriously, be careful; you might have the Modernist virus—which holds the utterly baffling “new” to be more important than common sense.

Pound’s Imagism, which led to his friend, Williams’ “no ideas but in things” further points to the insanity at issue; what sort of “thought” runs about in and between “things?” Isn’t it people (like Pope) who think?

If by “things,” the Modernists meant a sort of no-nonsense materialism (da Vinci on perspective or Poe on verse) than surely they would have said so (if they could actually bring themselves to do such a thing) but they didn’t; they really did mean things: a poem that reverently mentions a wheel barrow. This is really what it was all about. Yes, it really was crazy. A Duchamp conceptualist art joke. Ha ha.

T.S. Eliot represented the “serious/educated” fake side of Modernism, the counter-weight of gravitas in the Modernist scam.

Sexless, morbid Eliot—who hated Shelley—was like the sexless Ruskin and his “pre-Raphaelite” movement—eclectically raising certain art moments far above others: champion the Middle Ages at the expense of Raphael and the Renaissance: Ruskin—who famously and publicly attacked the great American poet, Whistler.

Eliot, when he was not whimpering about the end of his beloved British Empire in “The Waste Land,” theorized that Milton and the Romantics were saddled with a “dissociation of sensibility,” unlike the “Metaphysical poets.” It was actually taken seriously in some circles that Byron, Shelley, and Keats lacked fusion of thought and feeling, while Donne did not. Taking nonsense like this seriously was just what the Modernists did. Eliot attacked “Hamlet” and the work of Poe, for good measure. Modernism had to kill certain things before it, so it, itself, could be taken seriously. This is what it means to be “new” and “modern,” and Anglo-American, and teach in college.

The New Critics, the American ‘T.S. Eliot’ wing of Modernism, with their stern, tweedy advice that a poem was not something which could be “paraphrased,” was another weapon against “what oft was thought.”

Imagine the horror. Thousands and thousands of poets writing poems that cannot be paraphrased.

What could be paraphrased was too close to Pope’s “thought,” and the whole era of Pope and his Romantic Poet admirers had to be done away with: John Crowe Ransom (b. 1888) advised that we can’t write like Byron anymore, and the influential New Critic textbook, “Understanding Poetry,” held up as models little poems by Williams and Pound (on “things” and nothing else) and featured an attack by the Anglo-American Aldous Huxley against America’s Shakespeare, Edgar Poe.

Not only does casting aside “what has oft been thought,” cripple accessibility and thought, it also damages expression—since it leaves the poet nothing to express, a problem solved by Ashbery (given the Yale Younger by Auden, an Anglo-American friend of Eliot’s).  Ashbery—praised by the Poe-hating Harold Bloom and other academics—and his brand of refrigerator magnet poetry, is the natural result of the whole process, the decline which started when Modernism kidnapped the arts in the early 20th century—a decline from common sense to mystical snobbery.

Pope’s point: Expression should be new, not thought. This is poetry: new expression, not new thought.

The modern poet has been seduced by the idea that “If I don’t come up with new thoughts, I must be stupid!!”

But this idea is stupid.

Because here’s the secret: it really has all been thought before, and the most interesting thought is what has been running through the thoughts of everyone for centuries: you, as one poet, can’t compete with that. So don’t even try.

Don’t wreck yourself on expression trying to come up with original thoughts.

Original thoughts, which are truly that, are actual ideas which no one has ever entertained before. If one should be so fortunate to come up with one of these—if one is supremely lucky and fated to win the ‘idea lottery,’ why would one ever think that a ‘winning ticket’ like this should be inserted into a poem?  (Those things nobody reads anymore.)

Of course the reply might be: but according to you, Pope did, and you are spending this essay of yours defending Pope.

But Pope belongs to history, and here is where the picture of our essay gains its third dimension. We have spoken of 1) thought, 2) its expression—and the third, which is: ‘what has gone before,’ Pope’s “what oft was thought.”

We must assume that Pope’s advice—his thought—was “thought before”—Pope’s very idea, expressed in 1712, that what poetry really is, is whatever has been previously thought but now expressed in such a way that—what?

Had been thought before, but Pope crystallized it with his expression.

The message is this. Be humble, as the speaker for your tribe: take their thoughts and express them so that the thought is transmitted in the most efficient manner possible. Here is the essence of invention and beauty, for beauty, by definition, is that which expresses what it is immediately, and invention, in all cases, is nothing but that which takes our wants and brings them to us in less time. Beauty and invention do not create the wants, they serve them. Likewise, the poet does not create thoughts, but merely serves them.

A poem, as directly opposed to what the New Critics said, is not only that which can be paraphrased, but that which travels in that direction to an extreme degree.

Pope was—is—a crucial historical marker, and his “Essay” could not help but influence poetry that came after—not in the fake way that Modernism tried to usher in change and influence, with its influence of the thoughtless new for its own sake, sans want and sans beauty—for Pope had expressed a thought in such a way that gave that thought new currency, new force, new appreciation, for the sake of generations coming after, who need to understand anew the delicate ideas that fade away in utilitarian light.

There is a war, as Plato said, between philosophy and poetry, what is matter-of-factly good for the state and what is ecstatically good for the individual—“clean your room” (public projects) on one hand, and “what are you doing in your room?” (private desires) on the other—and this conflict is timeless, and its resolution is the secret of all human activity that can be called policy or art.

Pope’s admonition for poetry: “what oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed,” is precisely a blockbuster quotation because of its efficiency in resolving the philosophy/poetry conflict for the good of humankind; poetry can err in one of two basic ways: it can be too didactic in a public-minded manner, or too creepily and anti-socially private (obscure). Poetry, because of what it is, must err in one direction or the other, always attempting and failing at a happy medium; Pope erred, as a poet, towards the didactic, and Poe and the Romantics were a correction in the other direction. Yet the greatness of Pope’s formula remains—a Platonic ideal, feeding with its ideality poets of all kinds, as they move with their poetry towards public/private gratification.

Modernism’s “progress” is merely a Shadow Movement, moving in a faulty direction, downwards, backwards, a mere reaction to the True Progress of Great Poetry—which expresses beautifully what we all in our hearts know.

THE POETRY COMMUNITY LOSES ITS MIND

Over the weekend, thanks to Reb Livingston, we became aware of a brewing scandal in the poetry community.

Scarriet feels compelled to respond to the ‘anonymous sexual abuse outing document found in AWP restroom controversy,’ not because we have any special interest in it, per se, but because we believe the scandal currently poisoning po-biz manifests aesthetic attitudes of significant pedagogical importance.

Scarriet is a boutique—a high-end, up-scale, boutique, of what might be called expensive, high-fashion poetry and poetry criticism; we produce clothing and accessories for the soul, and we make no apologies for the beauty, love, truth, good taste and wit that we produce; and nor do we apologize for appealing to an elite class of soul (which has nothing to do with advanced college degrees or any of the credentialing nonsense that characterizes the pyramid scheme of so-called “professional” poetry, with its animal grunting and network stroking). We take poetry seriously, and don’t come around here with that ‘pyramid’ nonsense please. Our readers generally know, and do not.

This controversy has nothing to do with us, of course, because we are free of the odor of po-biz, and merely roll around in poetry. But this scandal affects us because it impacts how the world sees and practices poetry.

Scarriet is a high-end boutique precisely because we live the poetry, and can respond to a controversy like this without passion or self-interest.

Our position is this: poetry, some time around the beginning of the 20th century, was, in a series of adroit political and pedagogical maneuvers by Modernist poets, wealthy individuals, and government officials, coaxed away from its public role and public use to become a playground of pretense and experiment (all in the name of public and pedagogical improvement more accurately reflecting real life, etc).  Seducing poetry away from what it had been turned out to be wildly successful, since the seduction had a democratic appeal: obscure, fragmentary prose became the ‘poet’ standard anyone could reach, and, at the same time, one could ‘learnedly be modern’ and reject the ‘fussily moral’ past. (‘Could’ is not quite accurate; one did—the two necessarily went hand in hand.)

It is important to note here that “what poetry had been” is more accurately what poetry is-–as shown with poetry—by the best poets of the past. Shakespeare set a high standard, Poe set a high standard, Keats and Shelley and Tennyson set a high standard, Whitman and Wordsworth and Barrett set a high standard, not in the sense that professors are required to make us understand their poetry—the standard is a real one, in which accessible music joins accessible rhetoric in a highly skilled manner, clearly conveying things which the public is interested in: chiefly, relations between the sexes; moral philosophy; good taste; refinement; interest in nature and science; philosophical wit; wisdom, fears, loves and hopes common to all.

This high standard—which gave pleasure to a reading public, also took its inevitable place in the schools with the rise of universal public education.

Modernism piggy-backed into the schools as it managed to standardize itself there, and, gradually replacing the ‘old’ poetry with the “Red Wheel Barrow” and “The Waste Land,” used the force of its school-validation in combination with the rise of the Creative Writing Industry (Iowa, Paul Engle and his friends, the highly government-and-think tank connected New Critics, including Robert Lowell) as poet-teachers increasingly joined the piggy-back phenomenon in an orgy of self-interest that cut out the old standards and left no room for Byron. Poetry was no longer a public enjoyment—it was something only professors could teach, and as poetry became more experimental, inaccessible and obscure, the self-interested professor became more prominent in what became essentially a pyramid scheme of teachers/wacko explainers on the inside, and everybody else (including the public) on the outside.

Which brings us back to the scandal: an ugly manifestation of the ugly things which naturally occur whenever favors replace standards.

We don’t need to take sides here; we only need to point out—as we have just done—in the simplest manner possible, a truth, which, despite the brevity, we are certain everyone immediately understands (remember when poetry was like this?).

The accusers, in the current scandal, are accused of slandering the innocent (slander: 1. an important trope in Shakespeare, 2. used to destroy the reputation of America’s great standard-bearer, Edgar Poe).

The truth has yet to come to light. Accusations themselves can murk up the light on their own. We do not know the truth and do not speak of it, obviously. The rage of the accusers does not equal the truth; but their rage could be based on a truth; we are not taking sides. As we pointed out earlier, we have the luxury of not taking sides, since we stay clear of all po-biz insanity, and care for poetry alone.

The accusers open their letter (following a list of the accused names of the men) with a profundity which needs saying and which we agree with:

It has finally come to the attention of the literary “community” that women are abused and experience gendered violence just like women in all other social spheres of the world. The humanities do not save us, the assumed “humaneness” of the poet or writer does not exist. We say “community” in scare quotes because we have no shared actual commonality or trust that forms the bedrock of self-identified communities.

Yes. Poets and poetry need no special protection or defense, and it’s the Modernist (and contemporary) poets and their fans who play this ‘poet immunity’ card the most, even as they trash the reputations of a Poe or a Shelley. The accusers are right to expose this douchebaggery. And no more hiding behind “community,” either, which is code for the Creative Writing Era favoritism douchebaggery which has cynically steamrolled the standards of old.

But the accusers don’t get it entirely right, and come close to spoiling everything, for they go on to summarize:

This is a statement against the straight male cisgender patriarchy that enables this behavior: not only bringing direct harm to women, but those who have knowingly stayed silent while your fellow writers abuse people in positions of lesser power.

So we are to believe that gay men and women cannot, and do not, abuse women? How can one be interested in justice—and be so utterly naive?

The accusers, in their wrath, are strangely divided—they expose douchebaggery and yet they are victims of it, in almost equal amounts.

The reason for this is simple, as well. Since poetry has lost its public, there has been an increasing attempt in some circles to make poetry relevant to a public again by making poetry (poetry!) simply about hot button, political issues. But there are things like the essay which already exist for this. Here, again, we see the whole thing unfolding simply and naturally, due to the original Modernist error.

And now we bring our notice to a close, secure that Scarriet is the only sane, up-scale island left in poetry today. We are happy. We are  proud.

 

 

POE AND COLERIDGE PURSUE FINAL FOUR DREAM!

Poe:

In the greenest of our valleys,
By good angels tenanted,
Once fair and stately palace —
Radiant palace –reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion —
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair.

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow;
(This –all this –was in the olden
Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A winged odour went away.

Wanderers in that happy valley
Through two luminous windows saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute’s well-tuned law,
Round about a throne, where sitting
(Porphyrogene!)
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn, for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And, round about his home, the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.

And travellers now within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows, see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a rapid ghastly river,
Through the pale door,
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh –but smile no more.

 

Coleridge:

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
  
 The shadow of the dome of pleasure
   Floated midway on the waves;
   Where was heard the mingled measure
   From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
  
A damsel with a dulcimer
   In a vision once I saw:
   It was an Abyssinian maid
   And on her dulcimer she played,
   Singing of Mount Abora.
   Could I revive within me
   Her symphony and song,
   To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

MARCH MADNESS FIRST ROUND—PLENTY OF UPSETS!

image

The biggest upset?

Bracket Two: Elinor Wylie (b 1885) 16th seed, knocks off number one seed Shakespeare! “Let Me Not Admit Impediments…” fell to “I was being human, born alone; I am, being a woman, hard beset. I live by squeezing from a stone The little nourishment I get.” Good for you, Elinor. Women everywhere are now wearing Wylie T-shirts.

Another shocker in Bracket Four thrilled poetry fans: No. 1 Seed Homer (“Sing in me Muse”) was edged out by John Crowe Ransom’s “Practice your beauty, blue girls, before it fail. And I will cry with my loud lips and publish Beauty which all our power will never establish, it is so frail.”

Lines of a highly developed music are the successful ones so far.

Translations are at a disadvantage, generally. Michelangelo, however, advanced past Blake in another upset in Bracket One. Michelangelo is ignored as a poet, perhaps, simply because he was such a great artist.

Michael S. Harper pulled off the only upset in Bracket Three, where every higher seed advanced except Wilfred Owen, who lost to Harper’s

“Those four black girls blown up in that Alabama church remind me of five hundred middle passage blacks, in a net, under water in Charleston harbor so redcoats wouldn’t find them. Can’t find what you can’t see can you?”

A traditional sort of lyric beauty doesn’t always win.

But icons of yore did tend to prevail.

Milton, with his solemn music, for instance:

“The world was all before them, where to choose their Place of rest, and Providence their guide: They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow Through Eden took their solitary way.”

Did have trouble beating this by Patricia Lockwood:

“The rape joke is that you were 19 years old. The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend. The rape joke it wore a goatee. A goatee. Imagine the rape joke looking in the mirror, perfectly reflecting back itself, and grooming itself to look more like a rape joke.”

The Lockwood had a certain tragedy, strangeness, focus, and interest.

This by Byron, however:

“Though the night was made for loving, And the day returns too soon, Yet we’ll go no more a roving By the light of the moon.”

Had no trouble dispatching the following by Graham, which feels flat by comparison:

“On my way to bringing you the leotard you forgot to include in your overnight bag, the snow started coming down harder. I watched each gathering of leafy flakes melt round my footfall. I looked up into it—late afternoon but bright. Nothing true or false in itself.”

We will not reveal the precise score of the game, as we do not wish to embarrass Ms. Graham.

Joining Wylie in another upset victory for women, Gluck, 14th seeded in the Fourth Bracket, outlasted Pound.

Plath and Sexton did not advance, however, as Wordsworth’s “No motion has she now” proved too much for Plath’s “a man in black with a Meinkampf look” and Sexton’s “her kind” lost in what must be considered an upset to Ben Mazer’s “Harpo was also, know this, Paul Revere…”

The pure audaciousness and oddness of Mazer’s humor proved unique, and too much for Sexton to handle.

There is a certain lyric majesty and poignancy which sometimes can appear to take itself a little too seriously in a reader’s mind when it comes up against a certain clever type of opponent.

The momentary matchup means a great deal in terms of critical judgement.

And thus the thrill of Poetry March Madness.

Here are the 32 survivors after the first round of play:

Bracket One:

Marlowe (def. Auden), Michelangelo (def. Blake), Dowson (def. Von Duyn), Eliot (def. Swenson), Wordsworth (def. Plath), Merwin (def. Emerson), Arnold (def. Dunbar), Teasdale (def. Dickinson)

Bracket Two:

Wylie (def. Shakespeare), Coleridge (def. Stevens), Frost (def. Barrett), Keats (def. Raleigh), Poe (def. Whitman), Khayyam (def. Swinburne), Marvell (def. Seeger), Tennyson (def. Gray)

Bracket Three:

Milton (def. Lockwood), Byron (def. Graham), Shelley (def. Carson), Harper (def. Owen), Ashbery (def. Millay), Sassoon (def. Larkin), Parker (def. Rich), Bernstein (def. Reznikoff)

Bracket Four:

Ransom (def. Homer), Dante (def. Donne), Gluck (def. Pound), Chin (def. Longfellow), Mazer (def. Sexton), Pope (def. Pushkin), Rilke (def. Carroll), Williams (def. Ginsberg)

Congratulations to the winners!

 

 

 

CONCEPTUALISM AND THE ART OF OUTRAGE

Michael Brown: immortalized by Kenny Goldsmith?

Edgar Poe’s “effect”-as-the-basis-of-fiction is the seed of Conceptualism and the avant-garde as we know it.

That poetry should be beautiful was a necessary caveat in Poe’s mind: effect-science needs genres and reasons and exactitude as it moves literature towards self-consciousness and away from “This happened in my town yesterday. Let me tell you about it.”

The poetry world is currently befuddled and outraged because the Conceptual poet Kenny Goldsmith—who read (in a paisley suit) plain traffic reports as “poetry” at the White House (yea, where Barry lives) a couple of years ago—recently gave a “poetry reading” in academia in which the actual, detailed autopsy report of Ferguson’s Michael Brown was the sole text.

Poe would say, first: Goldsmith’s effort is the very opposite of the poem; the poet does not surrender to the news of the day (Ferguson, etc) but finds, first, a precise effect, and then works on bringing about that precise effect in the reader. Poe’s notion has nothing to do with suppressing discussion of “the news;” it merely says: give the news of the day to the news of the day and reserve poetry for poetry—both in practice and in theory.

To know what poetry is, we think, is very useful to the poet, who is doing something a bit more complex than going to the store and picking up an item:

“What did you want me to buy, again?” “I dunno.”

If we don’t know what to get at the store—and this destroys every reason for the visit, we imagine it might be slightly important to know what the poem is—as one sets about writing one.

Just an idea.

So we find an effect.

The artist thinks: First, what effect shall I pick? Second, how shall I bring about this effect in the audience?

Immediately we are aware of conflation, the type which occurs when avant-garde Conceptualism brings together as one, painting and poetry—the two disappear in the outrageous effect produced by the Duchamp jest. The art, all of it, dies into idea. Michael Brown’s autopsy becomes a pure thing subordinated to pure effect.

The conflation in Poe’s effect-method is artist/audience: to test the effect, the artist stands in for his audience: simple, even simpler than going to the store for an item; the item (effect) is had immediately, because the artist immediately becomes his own audience as the effect is tested.

Kenny Goldsmith does not have to visit the store to purchase a particular effect—any item at the Outrage Store will do.

We know of no one who has really thought through to the end what Poe meant when, in “The Philosophy of Composition,” Poe spoke of choosing some “effect” to use—Poe has been accused, in every quarter, of starting with the “The Raven” already written, and working backwards in a synthetic fashion; in other words, he cheated. And no one really writes that way, ever, say the sneering Poe-critics. Life and art are open and random; talk of “grand design” in this day is highly suspect (“what are you, a religious nut?”) even when talking of poetry.

But we know what Poe means, and we can easily demonstrate what he means.

Let’s say the effect chosen is: happiness—you choose to make the audience happy.

A good effect, but too general, so we narrow the definition to make it more effective. “Making the audience happy by removing the fear of death.” This is sufficiently unique, and this is precisely what John Donne did when he penned his famous “Death Be Not Proud.”

It matters not if death be not proud came into Donne’s thoughts “randomly,” (many poets will tell you a poem begins with a single phrase that just pops into their head) and it matters not that Donne wrote the sonnet without any fussing over “which effect shall I choose?” The fact remains that “I am Soothed by Learning Death is not as Fearful as Supposed” is the design “Death Be Not Proud” has on us: it has this effect on any lay person who reads it; it has an argument, one that can be paraphrased (yes, the New Critics were wrong) and all of Donne’s sonnet’s parts line up behind its effect.

Donne went to the store (even if subconsciously) looking for a specific, singular, item (effect and execution) and, to our pleasure, found it.

Goldsmith’s success (notoriety, attention) arose from the same process:

What shall I do to my audience?

Outrage them.

How shall I do so?

I shall pick a contemporary news item which already bespeaks outrage, and I shall choose some manifestation of this outrage and present it as my “poem.”

Now do we see who “cheats?”

It is not the author of “The Philosophy of Composition.”

It is the avant-garde “poet,” Kenny Goldsmith.

***

In other news:

John Crowe Ransom advanced past Elizabeth Bishop 61-60 in the Wild Card Round. Ransom’s “it is so frail” was finally too much for Bishop’s “the art of losing is hard to master” in the final minutes of the extremely close contest: both teams were brilliant, but the edge went to Ransom’s tender and emotional plea, which seemed finally less conscious, if that nuance can be at all understood.  It is very hard to say goodbye to the Bishop, as Ransom moves on.

Bishop’s loss put the VIDA count for Scarriet’s 2015 March Madness at 25%—which we think is pretty high, considering the tournament reflects the canon throughout history.

 

SCARRIET 2015 MARCH MADNESS—THE GREATEST LINES IN POETRY COMPETE

BRACKET ONE

1. Come live with me, and be my love, And we will all the pleasures prove That hills and valleys, dales and field, And all the craggy mountains yield. (Marlowe)

2. Every Night and every Morn Some to Misery are born. Every Morn and every Night Some are born to sweet delight, Some are born to sweet delight, Some are born to endless night.  (Blake)

3. Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine; And I was desolate and sick of an old passion, Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head: I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion. (Dowson)

4. April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. (Eliot)

5. No motion has she now, no force; She neither hears nor sees; Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course, With rocks, and stones and trees. (Wordsworth)

6. If the red slayer think he slays, Or if the slain think he is slain, They know not well the subtle ways I keep, and pass, and turn again. (Emerson)

7. The sea is calm tonight, The tide is full, the moon lies fair Upon the straits;—on the French coast the light Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. (Arnold)

8. When I am dead and over me bright April Shakes out her rain-drenched hair, Though you should lean above me broken-hearted, I shall not care. (Teasdale)

9. The soul selects her own society, Then shuts the door; On her divine majority Obtrude no more. (Dickinson)

10. We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile. (Dunbar)

11. This is the waking landscape Dream after dream walking away through it Invisible invisible invisible (Merwin)

12. I made a model of you, A man in black with a Meinkampf look And a love of the rack and the screw, And I said I do, I do. (Plath)

13. It is easy to be young. (Everybody is, at first.) It is not easy to be old. It takes time. Youth is given; age is achieved. (May Swenson)

14. There is no disorder but the heart’s. But if love goes leaking outward, if shrubs take up its monstrous stalking, all greenery is spurred, the snapping lips are overgrown, and over oaks red hearts hang like the sun. (Mona Von Duyn)

15. Long life our two resemblances devise, And for a thousand years when we have gone Posterity will find my woe, your beauty Matched, and know my loving you was wise. (Michelangelo)

16. Caesar’s double-bed is warm As an unimportant clerk Writes I DO NOT LIKE MY WORK On a pink official form. (Auden)

BRACKET TWO

1. Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds Or bends with the remover to remove. (Shakespeare)

2. In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran Through caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea. (Coleridge)

3. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of Being and ideal Grace. (Barrett)

4. Say to the Court, it glows And shines like rotten wood; Say to the Church, it shows What’s good, and doth no good: If Church and Court reply, Then give them both the lie. (Raleigh)

5. Helen, thy beauty is to me Like those Nicaean barks of yore, That gently o’er a perfumed sea, The weary, wayworn wanderer bore To his own native shore. (Poe)

6. Some for the Glories of This World; and some Sigh for the Prophet’s Paradise to come; Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go, Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum! (Omar Khayyam)

7. Yet it creates, transcending these, Far other worlds and other seas; Annihilating all that’s made To a green thought in a green shade. (Marvell)

8. The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea, The ploughman homeward plods his weary way, And leaves the world to darkness and to me. (Gray)

9. O hark, O hear! how thin and clear, And thinner, clearer, farther going! O, sweet and far from cliff and scar The horns of Elfland faintly blowing! Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying, Blow bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying. (Tennyson)

10. I have a rendezvous with Death, At some disputed barricade, When Spring comes back with rustling shade And apple-blossoms fill the air. (Seeger)

11. I have put my days and dreams out of mind, Days that are over, dreams that are done. Though we seek life through, we shall surely find There is none of them clear to us now, not one. (Swinburne)

12. When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d, And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night, I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring. (Whitman)

13. O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, Alone and palely loitering? The sedge has withered from the lake, And no birds sing. (Keats)

14. Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village, though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow. (Frost)

15. If her horny feet protrude, they come To show how cold she is, and dumb. Let the lamp affix its beam. The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream. (Stevens)

16. I was, being human, born alone; I am, being a woman, hard beset; I live by squeezing from a stone The little nourishment I get. (Wylie)

BRACKET THREE

1. The world was all before them, where to choose Their place of rest, and Providence their guide: They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow Through Eden took their solitary way. (Milton)

2. Though the night was made for loving, And the day returns too soon, Yet we’ll go no more a roving By the light of the moon. (Byron)

3. I arise from dreams of thee In the first sweet sleep of night, When the winds are breathing low, And the stars are shining bright. (Shelley)

4. What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle Can patter out their hasty orisons. (Owen)

5. We have heard the music, tasted the drinks, and looked at colored houses. What more is there to do, except to stay? And that we cannot do. And as a last breeze freshens the top of the weathered old tower, I turn my gaze Back to the instruction manual which has made me dream of Guadalajara. (Ashbery)

6. Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives. Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives. (Sassoon)

7. Why is it no one ever sent me yet One perfect limousine, do you suppose? Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get One perfect rose. (Parker)

8. The shopgirls leave their work quietly. Machines are still, tables and chairs darken. The silent rounds of mice and roaches begin. (Reznikoff)

9. It’s not my business to describe anything. The only report is the discharge of words called to account for their slurs. A seance of sorts—or transport into that nether that refuses measure. (Bernstein)

10. I came to explore the wreck. The words are purposes. The words are maps. I came to see the damage that was done and the treasures that prevail. I stroke the beam of my lamp slowly along the flank of something more permanent than fish or weed. (Rich)

11. When I see a couple of kids And guess he’s fucking her and she’s Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm, I know this is paradise Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives (Larkin)

12. I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground. So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind: Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned with lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned. (Millay)

13. Those four black girls blown up in that Alabama church remind me of five hundred middle passage blacks in a net, under water in Charlestown harbor so redcoats wouldn’t find them. Can’t find what you can’t see can you? (Harper)

14. It’s good to be neuter. I want to have meaningless legs. There are things unbearable. One can evade them a long time. Then you die. (Carson).

15. On my way to bringing you the leotard you forgot to include in your overnight bag, the snow started coming down harder. I watched each gathering of leafy flakes melt round my footfall. I looked up into it—late afternoon but bright. Nothing true or false in itself. (Graham)

16. The rape joke is that you were 19 years old. The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend. The rape joke it wore a goatee. A goatee. Imagine the rape joke looking in the mirror, perfectly reflecting back itself, and grooming itself to look more like a rape joke. (Lockwood)

BRACKET FOUR

1. Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of that man skilled in all ways of contending, the wanderer, harried for years on end, after he plundered the stronghold on the proud height of Troy. (Homer)

2. And following its path, we took no care To rest, but climbed, he first, then I—so far, through a round aperture I saw appear Some of the beautiful things that heaven bears, Where we came forth, and once more saw the stars. (Dante)

3. With usura, sin against nature, is thy bread ever more of stale rags is thy bread dry as paper, with no mountain wheat, no strong flour with usura the line grows thick with usura is no clear demarcation and no man can find site for his dwelling. Stonecutter is kept from his stone weaver is kept from his loom WITH USURA (Pound)

4. I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin. Oh, how I love the resoluteness of that first person singular followed by that stalwart indicative of “be,” without the uncertain i-n-g of “becoming.” Of course, the name had been changed somewhere between Angel Island and the sea. (Chin)

5.  Dreaming evil, I have done my hitch over the plain houses, light by light: lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind. A woman like that is not a woman, quite. I have been her kind. (Sexton)

6. I loved you; and the hopelessness I knew, The jealousy, the shyness—though in vain—Made up a love so tender and so true As God may grant you to be loved again. (Pushkin)

7. We cannot know his legendary head And yet his torso is still suffused with brilliance from inside, like a lamp, in which his gaze is turned down low, burst like a star: for here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life. (Rilke)

8. So much depends on the red wheel barrow glazed with rain water besides the white chickens. (Williams)

9. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night. (Ginsberg)

10. The Walrus and the Carpenter Walked on a mile or so, And then they rested on a rock Conveniently low: And all the little Oysters stood And waited in a row. (Carroll)

11. What dire offense from amorous causes springs, What mighty contests rise from trivial things; Slight is the subject, but not so the praise, If she inspire, and he approve my lays. (Pope)

12. Harpo was also, know this, Paul Revere. And Frankenstein, and Dracula, and Jane. Or would you say that I have gone insane? What would you do, then, to even the score? (Mazer)

13. Come, read to me a poem, Some simple and heartfelt lay, That shall soothe this restless feeling, And banish the thoughts of day. (Longfellow)

14. So Penelope took the hand of Odysseus, not to hold him back but to impress this peace on his memory: from this point on, the silence through which you move is my voice pursuing you. (Gluck)

15. Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so: From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow. (Donne)

16. I lost two cities, lovely ones. And vaster, Some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster. The art of losing isn’t hard to master. (Bishop)

17. Practice your beauty, blue girls, before it fail; And I will cry with my loud lips and publish Beauty which all our power will never establish, It is so frail. (Ransom)

MAKIN’ COPIES: ART VERSUS LITERATURE

Hybrid, collage portrait. Which has less charm? Modern poetry or modern art?

SCARRIET HAS ELEVATED THE FOLLOWING SCARRIET COMMENT (ON “WHY POETRY SUCKS NOW”) FROM ONE OF OUR READERS (‘MIKE’) TO THIS ARTICLE (WITH OUR REPLY BELOW):

Hey y’all.

As an art school trained painter and a self inflicted poet, I find it interesting to observe the differences between visual art and literature; or more specifically, the difference between drawing and writing.

In visual art (drawing), one is challenged to “represent” what they “see” by way of marks on paper. Initial attempts are typically awful. Continued failure leads to frustration and abandonment, or else the determination to “learn” how do draw. Such learning requires one to engage in the reciprocal activity of practicing drawing “methods” while simultaneously understanding the nature of the visual forms those methods are meant to capture. It is only through this interplay of method and understanding that one can begin to draw what they see.

At which point one realizes the meta-lesson of drawing, which is that nobody draws what they see. You can only draw what you KNOW about what you see. That knowledge… visual knowledge… is not the same as vision. After all, most everyone has two eyes by which to see… but most people cannot draw beyond the primitive. And the reason is that their knowledge of visual forms and methods is (well)… primitive.

A further implication is that the drawing (as art object) is not equivalent to the visual perception of the subject matter of the drawing. In other words, a drawing of an apple is not an apple. The drawing is a representation only… a mental construct… a methodological translation of visual perception via the artistic form of a drawing.

All of this might seem terribly boring and inapplicable to the subject at hand. But if you indulge me for another minute… and lay your egos aside… then maybe I can make my point. Which is this. I have never gotten the impression that writers consider writing to be a “methodological translation” of (let’s say) interior thoughts and feelings, into the artistic form of the written word.

I think the reason for this is that we are all able to speak and write with some proficiency from an early age. I could also include the activity of contemplating ideas in our minds, and of subconscious processes… which we (kind-a) assume to be language based. These very powerful tools (thinking, reading, writing, speaking) allow us to think and imagine VERY GREAT things. Yet when we attempt to write it down… it’s not so easy. And this is no different from the artist… who might peer out into some beautiful landscape and be filled with desire to represent what he perceives and feels, yet be unable to do so. But whereas the artist is forced to reconcile his failures with the need to learn a method and to grasp the nature of visual form (as a translation between vision and representation)… I wonder if writers see their failure in these same terms.

Or does the writer simply “work harder”… or “write what they know”… or “keep plugging away”… or “writer’s write”… or “never give up”…. or a thousand other ways to say the same thing… admonishments to pound away at reality… that somehow representations will condense NOT out of understanding, but of somehow aligning the monkeys in our brains to coincidentally type out the works of Shakespeare. But just as a drawing is not the hand’s record of the light striking your retina… the written word is not a passive record of the mind’s ability to cogitate and speak out loud. But I wonder if writers know this? Or does the immediate accessibility of language mask the distinction?

Another aspect of this distinction is that in the visual arts, the impact of artistic theories are well understood, and are considered to be highly relevant. In fact, any good art school program is going to require a thorough grounding in the history of art from ancient times to the present day. This is an enormous investigation into cultural history. Artists are meant to take such things very very seriously, and are meant to understand that the nature of artistic method and form and meaning derive from such cultural moments as have occurred over time.

But I have to wonder if writers think of writing in the same way. For instance… do writers ever wonder about the writing skills of ancient Egyptians? Because artists are very aware of the art of ancient Egypt.

Visual artists are taught to understand that ancient architectural forms are rooted in archetypical associations that the human species has evolved from out of their prehistory. Are there any analogous ideas that writers possess about their own artistic heritage? Are writers schooled in the social and artistic shifts underlying the sea-change of the Late Gothic transition to the early Renaissance? Visual artists sure are. In fact, they make Pilgrimages to Rome and Florence and Venice just to lay their eyes on the art… to sit under the sun and absorb the aura of history, and thereby to connect with the meanings of these things. Do writers do such things? Or are words just words and everyone has them and all you need to do is pound away at a typewriter until it just pops out of you? Is writing like a piano… a music making machine that you only need whack at until a tune emerges? And when it does, you claim it as your own, and marvel at the mystery of your own origin… and try not to consider that it might all be happy accidents and the accommodating of the random.

I don’t mean to sound cruel, but I think that writers have no sense of these things, or of writing as an activity distinct from the basic language skills of talking and thinking and jotting stuff down. In truth, most visual artists don’t give a damn about the things I’ve waxed on about. The difference is this… that they are supposed to… whereas writers have no such presumption built into their activity.

And so it should come as no surprise that when poetry falls victim to the ravages of modernist or post- modernist theories of everything… that writers should twist in the wind and wonder what the hell is gone wrong. But such things are no surprise to visual artists, who only need look around and see all the crap contemporary art floating about the world. We see it everyday too. But at least we know what it is, and why it is. Because we are trained to know these things. Because art comes out of theories and methods… not out of the naive ability to speak words and have thoughts. Bad theories and absent methods lead to the destruction of art. The alternative isn’t to abandon ideas, but to understand that good ideas must be asserted. In the visual arts, such advocacy is mistakenly assumed to be a return to the art of the past… to neo-classical style paintings of nudes and heroic figures in togas. Which is ridiculous. But this is no different a mistake than when some poets try to defeat bad post-modern poetry by adopting the writing styles of Chaucer and Shakespeare.

The history of any art does not exist to be mindlessly rejected or mindlessly copied. What good can come out of mindlessness? It exists as a repository of ideas from which some meaningful “next thing” might emerge. Who knows what it is. I try to make this point to visual artists… but nobody seems to give a damn. So now I’m making it here in this poetry blog. And this is an uphill battle I suppose, because writers are not trained like visual artists, and they may not be aware of what they are really trying to do. So maybe writers should stop screaming about bad poems, and begin instead the difficult task of understanding the nature of the writer word at all.

SCARRIET RESPONDS

One of the Scarriet editors works at a large, urban, liberal arts university (once a teacher’s college), which recently acquired an art school; Scarriet covers not only the decline of poetry, but how art, poetry and philosophy mingle, so you can imagine our excitement at finding this learned and lengthy comment on our “Why Poetry Sucks Now” post, a delightful comment which Scarriet has elevated to a post of its own.

“Art comes out of theories and methods…not out of the naive ability to speak words and have thoughts.”

So says the “art school trained painter,” who reminds us that “nobody draws what they see…they only draw what they KNOW about what they see…visual knowledge is not the same as vision…” and “do the writers know this?” Further: artists know art is a “methodological translation” of reality, where writers, by comparison, seem to be mere “passive” (and random!) recording devices of what is universally accessible to all: language.

We agree entirely with the gist of this, and though we are a writer, not a painter, we feel no insult at all, and we are illuminated by the truth of what this painter has—written.

The truth of painting’s superiority to writing was put most forcefully by da Vinci, who said the experience of the eye is the beginning and proof of all science: discontinuous quantity (arithmetic), continuous quantity (geometry) and perspective the holy trinity of astronomy and all human knowledge—painting as the body, poetry merely its shadow. Body (substance and its measurement) trumps Blah Blah Blah. Absolutely.

However, there is a “writing method” tradition—embodied in full by Edgar Poe (unfortunately not taught in writing programs) who we never tire of quoting; the following, from the Master, reflects the thinking of our art school trained painter:

There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story. Either history affords a thesis—or one is suggested by an incident of the day—or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative—designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue, or authorial comment, whatever crevices of fact, or action, may, from page to page, render themselves apparent.

I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view—for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable source of interest—I say to myself, in the first place, “Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select? Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can best be wrought by incident or tone—whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone—afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.

Poe rigorously asserts the secret of all composition—and all morals: in the beginning (the intention) we discover our end (the effect)—and the myriad details, of drawing or writing, fall into place, or should fall into place, in the execution. By this method, these are eliminated: The random, the details which overwhelm, and self-indulgence.

The point our painter makes in his comment—that we draw what we know about what we see, not what we see—is, we feel, a reiteration of Poe’s method, and here an important point about ‘knowing’ should be made.

The separation between knowing and seeing does not exist because seeing needs correcting or is insufficient—the natural seeing humans do reflects nature’s efficiency: perspective which makes distant objects small, for instance, is the perfect solution to the over-crowding of the visual field: and understanding perspective is an understanding which is not distinct from seeing, but is the same as seeing: the “knowing” the artist is engaged in is nothing more than a selecting, a framing, a focusing—and not something superior to seeing; it is the very same thing Poe refers to when he says, “Of the innumerable effects, or impressions…which one shall I, on the present occasion, select?”

Here is the vital point: the distinction which our art school trained painter makes between vision and visual knowledge is different than we suppose: “visual knowledge” is not something which stands above and apart from “vision;” quite the opposite: vision is the whole, visual knowledge is the part, of the whole thing. Vision is natural and perfect, visual knowledge is imperfect and contingent. Visual knowledge is the narrow “effect,” of which vision is the cause, and the connection between visual knowledge and vision is seamless. All training, all knowledge, is nothing more than focus: both the artist and the writer do not see more; they see less than the layperson; all knowledge is knowledge of what to ignore: what not to see, what not to write, what not to draw.

Modern poetry errs in making poetry subordinate to prose-ideas; modern art errs in making painting subordinate to collage-ideas.

The answer is not simply, “less is more,” but how (to what end) does the artist make less more?

Plato (and who cares if he wore a toga?) is another thinker who tells us that vision (reality) trumps visual knowledge (art), since vision is the true knowledge of which visual knowledge (art) attempts to unfairly usurp—not because knowledge should not be trusted, but because knowledge is not what we think it is: the vision IS the knowledge, the vision (reality) contains far more perfectly and ultimately the knowledge, of which art-knowledge (and writing-knowledge) slyly hides—especially if the untrustworthy student falls in love with representation, illusion, and dream passionately spun by the sophist for all sorts of partially realized reasons dripping with bad taste.

The “methodological” in our art school painter’s “methodological translation” of reality contains two simple things: first, the focus, or selection, we just discussed above (the selective nature of reality informing the selective nature of human vision) and second, the good.  We finally want to do good, to produce good, to have a good effect, and here, of course, we refer to Plato’s ‘the good,’ which has other names: justice, happiness, beauty.

Things go haywire when the hubris of human knowledge thinking itself superior to natural seeing, sensing, and feeling takes precedence. “I’m not drawing what I see!” cries the sophisticated painter, “I’m working within  specialized knowledge!” Ah, so this is why your painting is bland, trivial, confusing, with lines and colors leading nowhere, a hybrid collage of no real purpose. And the poet who writes poetry which rambles incoherently, having no coherence or lasting interest, is mistakenly certain in that human knowledge which is entirely separate from the effect the poem is actually having. This error arises from the belief that “visual knowledge” is superior to “vision.”

But the objection might come: No! The ‘good’ resides in human knowledge, in human attempts at it, not in simple vision, not in haphazard, unadorned reality, not in nature, red in tooth and claw.  You wrongly assume that “this is the best of all possible worlds” and that to merely copy the beautiful and perfect world is enough, and no ideas are necessary; you say the real method is to simply frame part of (what is called by you) “reality.” No, sorry.

But this objection misses several important points: Vision, as it operates everywhere, is efficient and remarkable, and is not the same as “nature, red in tooth and claw.” This is to confuse reality with our special feelings about it. Reality is not “unadorned” or “simple,” and copying it is never simple. “Copying” reality is a highly complex endeavor—our art school trained artist puts it succinctly: “most everyone has two eyes to see, but most people cannot draw beyond the primitive.” Exactly. Human pride believes the complexity resides in the imposition of method, when true method copies nature with da Vinci’s open eyes.

The artist and the poet are finally united by the philosophy which begins with an effect—a design guided by the morality of justice/beauty in terms of what scientifically the senses, as senses, understand, measure, and know.

LOVE MEANS KILLING YOUR RIVALS: THE DILEMMA OF EITHER/OR

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Either/Or. The Shah or this guy. 

Scarriet is the best poetry site in the world for many reasons, and one of those reasons is that we are not enslaved by any political ideology, as most American poets and intellectuals are.

Be either/or, they say. Choose, choose! Be a Democrat, not a Republican! Be ‘one of us!’ Be loyal to our side!

But to pick a side is to fall into the either/or trap, which breeds fanaticism on either end.

To not choose is the true choice, the wise, Socratic choice which supports true science and democracy.

To say we avoid political ideology, and we do not choose sides, does not mean we ignore the ugly cultural, ideological, impact that the political has on poetry and love; we know love means killing all our rivals, we are more fanatical than any political fanatic in our understanding of love—this informs our deep understanding of poetry; we embrace aesthetics, but we don’t hide inside an aesthetic bubble. We approach politics—and everything—from a position of common sense. Sometimes we fight. Sometimes we escape into our bubble. But don’t ask us to choose between Khomeini and the Shah, or between Democrats and Republicans, please. It ain’t going to happen.

We come from a liberal background; we were not raised with guns in a redneck environment; we know the New York Times and the Washington Post; we are quite familiar with “All Things Considered,” we sound like Woody Allen at times, and we have taken lately to launching into a British accent, for a whole host of reasons, the least of which is to show a kind of hopeless allegiance to the great tradition of deft, daffy, self-effacing, humorous, and confident Anglo-Americanism. We don’t ‘go’ to church. We like Sarah Palin because she wants cheaper and more accessible oil—-not because she’s a Republican. We think it idiotic to worry about whether someone is “smart” in politics; engineers who build spaceships and buildings and oil rigs should be smart; politicians should be big-hearted and childlike and funny, and not afraid to say dumb things. Bring it on. Bring on dumb. Politicians should always be dumb in a curious, evolving sort of way, and the press, full of really dumb people, and the voters—talk about dumb—need to embrace dumb and not pretend to be too smart for it. There? See? If one must discuss politics, there is no reason to get all political about it. If Hillary Clinton (criminal and ogreish—does she come from Iran?) is smarter than Sarah Palin, can anyone name one smart thing Hillary Clinton has done or said? I’m waiting. Some of Clinton’s opinions correspond with yours?  Good. But that is no indication of smart, and you are really dumb if you think that. No, really, you are. “I can see Russia outside my window,” is delightful, and if it doesn’t pass muster in a game of Jeopardy, that doesn’t matter. Believing Jeopardy-smart is truly smart is really, really dumb. And Jeopardy is one of our favorite shows.

Science is never done asking questions, and the idea that the Global Warming Debate “is over” has to be one of the dumbest things ever—and yet all of those who insist the debate “is over” (we laugh every time we see this) don’t even know what CO2 is, and think that “carbon emissions” is the same thing as pollution. And then we have the indignant “debate is over” (ha ha ha) crowd changing their terminology from “global warming” to “climate change,” and we are expected to believe this crowd is “smart” and those who oppose them are greedy oil barons, not ordinary people challenging Big Environmentalism, asking for more affordable oil prices for the poor. A “smart” person does not count the number of “scientists” who “agree” with them, when that “agreement” is only boilerplate. A “smart” person never believes polls—which, by their very nature, even if the respondents are scientists, will never be scientific, because who is asking and to what exactly does the response pertain—cannot articulate the problem, never mind be the “answer” to the problem. What was the question, again? Oh, that’s right: Why don’t some people believe the “debate is over?” And what was “the debate,” again?  Oh never mind. The “smart” ones will figure it out. Those politicians and those journalists who are “smart.” Right.

The point here, of course, is not who is finally “really” right and who is finally “really” smart.

Democracy is not a “smart” contest or a “who’s right?” contest. The whole point of democracy is that it is not either of these things.  If you are not the kind of person who is good at crossword puzzles or Jeopardy, you still should vote. We encourage you to vote. And we also encourage you not to think Jeopardy-smart is smart.

The Big Dumb is Those Who Think They Are Smart—so “smart” that the “debate is over,” as they insist you need to choose their side. These are the truly dumb.

There are millions of people who think they are “smart” because they believe in “evolution,” or, at least they think they are smarter than “creationists.”

This is colossally stupid.

First of all, believing in “evolution,” in terms of practical science, in practical matters of every kind, is nearly meaningless. Second of all, believing in “evolution” means what, exactly? That you have read the “Origin of Species?” That you’ve read a little Darwin, a lot, or just know generally who he is? And, again, this “knowledge of evolution” is truly useful in what way? And do you seriously believe this makes you on any scale whatsoever, “smarter” than anybody else?

What also makes “evolutionists” remarkably stupid is they loudly congratulate themselves as they compare themselves favorably to “creationists.” First of all, the issues involved have nothing to do with each other, since Darwin says nothing about creation, that is, the origin of the universe. Nor does religious thought need to be scientifically verified on matters that science in general is at a loss to explain. Edgar Allan Poe’s Eureka is the best scientific essay on the creation of the universe; few have read it, and therefore it is safe to say virtually everyone is ignorant of creation; so no one—not university professors, not scientists in laboratories, can say they are “smart” in this area at all, evolutionists or not. So the situation is, we have blockheads, politically motivated, referring to others as blockheads. Is that stupid? Yea, it is. So don’t brag about Darwin, okay, stupid?

How then, should we proceed? Democratically, of course. That is, always begin sympathetically with the person, not the opinions. Because if we start with the opinions, making all sorts of assumptions about what is right and what is wrong about those opinions, or who is smart or not, based on those opinions, we prejudice the person, who has a whole complex network of opinions based on how they decipher complex reality as a person—and a person, in a democratic society, no matter how much their views differ from yours, is inviolable.

By respecting the person and what they bring to the table—not any one opinion—will not only help create a freer and more democratic society, it will provide a better environment to examine opinions in a scientific and respectful atmosphere, and utilize those opinions that are best for society in the long run, in a flexible, adaptive and truly evolving manner.

By cutting off debate prematurely, democracy suffers.

Never give in to Either/or.  That’s the mark of a Third World Country.

American intellectuals, it is sad to see, are leading advocates of Either/or. Which only shows how corrupt American intellectual life has become since the American Revolution.

The common, contemporary, American, liberal or conservative intellectual belief is this: No opinion or value system should be treated with equal deference and respect in an intellectual setting. We cannot expect this, and we should not expect this.

But we should expect this. This common intellectual belief is wrong. This idea that not all value systems should be treated equally is wrong, even for an intellectual setting, as opposed to, let’s say, the voting booth.

On the contrary: Every opinion and value system should be treated with equal deference and respect, since these things only exist as they connect in a complex manner to a human being—who should always be treated with deference and respect. A creationist could be brilliant in all sorts of practical and scientific ways—for reasons not readily apparent. Not only because the creation of the universe is still a mystery, but because there are countless examples in history of great scientists (both practical and theoretical) who were deeply religious.

Science is too complex to bar anyone’s entrance into it, even if a particular opinion held by that person goes against our taste, or sense of right and wrong. If we do feel deeply that an opinion is wrong, we should examine it in the context of the person who holds that belief.

In a truly scientific atmosphere, those opinions that really are harmful and wrong will more quickly, under objective examination, fade away, than if we try to repress them.

Let us say we find abhorrent any objection to homosexuality, so that in the intellectual setting of psychology, we take every step to ban anyone who argues for homosexual rehabilitation.

But in the human sciences, human opinion of all kinds should be sacred; all humans should be treated equally, and let the opinions clash without prejudice, and see what comes of it. It is important to understand here that in this essay we are not defending any value system or opinion, but only asking for a true spirit of inquiry that in the long run will advance learning and practical good. If human beings, as human beings, object to homosexuality, this is valid—in the human sciences. If any opinion is not true or right or good, it is still a scientific opinion. This is the crucial point of this whole essay. Science means inquiry, not truth. If we allow the objections to homosexuality to get a full hearing, a full study, only then will change truly occur. Just to take a very narrow look at one aspect of behavioral context: Heterosexual males are often pathologically jealous of their female partners. Heterosexual males can feel threatened by the homosexual male who is able to befriend potential heterosexual female partners—precisely because that profound jealousy is absent. If real phenomena like this is part of the mix, and includes a truth heterosexual males may not normally admit when asserting a prejudice, this is surely part of the science of the whole topic, and should not be suppressed.

Why a person holds a belief is always more important than the belief itself.

If the issue is really heterosexual jealousy—or whatever perceptual threat homosexuality poses to the heterosexual—this does not mitigate in any way the importance of the issue in the form of scientific inquiry, whether it is prejudicial, or not.

The problem of rehabilitation is acute, since human science examines, but does not coerce. Prejudice is so entrenched in humans in so many ways, that human science finally fails as a science, as religion takes over.

Either/or is just as important to avoid in the realm of human science as it is in politics.

Defer, defer. Be wise, like Socrates.

A great deal of inquiry, especially in the humanities, does not depend on facts; indisputable facts, such as: ‘the American Civil War ended in 1865,’ are not the issue here. Humanist inquiry hinges on many divergent opinions held by many different kinds of people— and all opinions must be welcome.

Religion is the most seductive Either/or there is. This is why we don’t go to church.

But then we come at last to Holy Love, and here, finally we succumb, we must succumb, and only here, in love, do we surrender to Either/or. Only in love. Oh, God! We choose!

And when the bitter circumstances of love, infected by politics and science and religion, destroy us and break our heart in two, we have one more thing to turn to: divine poetry.

As poets, especially, we must be alive to people first, opinions second, and we really must favor what is, in fact, true inquiry over prickly political biases based on what is glibly considered intellectually “smart.”

And all of this is crucial not because politics is not important, but because, even to the poet, it is.

 

 

 

THE LAMB THAT’S LOST

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Is all we see or seem but a dream within a dream? --Edgar Poe

We love the lamb that's lost,
Not the lamb that's here---
That's why nothing---nothing---is clear---
We love the lamb's that's lost,
Not the lamb that's here.

That's why when you speak
I always disagree---
Because the thing you love
I cannot hear or see.

Lost! Lost! Lost!
What we love is lost,
The valley in our mind
That we have never crossed.

I can't explain the lost to you---
The explanation is lost, too...

That's why you're a mystery,
Smiling and near---
We love the lamb that's lost,
Not the lamb that's here.



SCARRIET ROCKED 2014!

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Thomas Brady: the simpleton who writes it all

In the 365 days of 2014, Scarriet brought you half that many original items: poems of lyric poignancy, articles on the popular culture, essays of Literary Criticism, the occasional humor piece, and the Literary Philosophy March Madness Tournament—in which Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Freud, Baudelaire, Woolf, De Beauvoir, Marx, Maimonides, Wilde, Poe, Emerson, Wordsworth, Pope, Wollstonecraft, Butler, Rich, Frye, Mallarme, Adorno, and 44 others sought immortality against one another in an orgy of wit and game.

Without further ado, here (with publication dates) are the most notable of the past year:

1. The One Hundred Greatest Hippie Songs 2/13.  This wins based on numbers. Over 15,000 views for this post alone in 2014, and it is averaging 120 views per day for the last 3 months, with views increasing, nearly a year after its publication. It’s always nice when an article has legs like this. We’re not sure what ‘search engine magic’ has made 100 Greatest Hippie Songs so popular. Prophetically, in the piece, we wrote, “All American music is hippie music.”

2. This Novel Has More Information Than You Need 9/18.  An essay provocative and charming at once.

3. No Boobs! 11/27. Hilarious (part two) satiric commentary on the December issue of Vanity Fair

4. The Problem With Rhetoric 5/1. Pushing the intellectual envelope is perhaps what we do best. In this essay we argue that reason does not exist.

5. Integration of Poetry and Life 11/3.  Another nice essay of essential Scarrietesque provocation smoothly rendered.

6. Marjorie Perloff, Adam Kirsch & Philip Nikolayev at the Grolier 9/15. Wearing a journalist’s hat, we meet Perloff, debate her, win her over, and demolish Concrete Poetry for our readers, as well.

7. Poe and the Big Bang: “The Body and the Soul Walk Hand in Hand” 3/10. Poe does most of the lifting here; a crucial addition to Scarriet’s campaign to lift the slander-fog hiding the world’s greatest mind.

8. Badass, Funny, But Alas Not Critic-Proof 6/27.  Tough love for the poet/professor David Kirby. And for those who fret Scarriet is too rancorous, relax; ‘The Kirb’ is still a FB friend. We don’t flatter—that’s the secret.

9. Is Gay Smarter Than Straight? 2/3. Only Scarriet would dare to ask—and really answer this question.

10. Rape Joke II 6/14.  We delivered a true poem; it offended one of our loyal readers for not being feminist enough; even though our poem was true, it was somehow supposed as an insult against Lockwood. We stand by our poem which is true, if imitative. We value originality, but since when was art that imitates a bad thing? We also admit we wrote the poem to become well-known. We played it up on twitter. So what? Scarriet believes everyone deserves to be famous.

11. Poe v. Wordsworth 8/18. March Madness contests are always excuses for brilliant essays. We made use of a wonderful book: Michael Kubovy’s The Psychology of Perspective in Renaissance Art.

12. “I Still Do” 10/13 Nice poem.

13. Chin & Weaver at the Grolier 7/21. Meeting up with California-based Marilyn Chin at a reading becomes an excuse to write an essay on the laws of poetic fame.

14. Painters & Artists Need to Shut Up 6/23.  Usually we pick on the poets.

15. Rage In America 7/7.  A political corrective to Jim Sleeper’s Fourth of July essay.

16. Poetry Hot 100 10/8.  Scarriet releases these now-famous lists several times a year. Valerie Macon topped this one.

17. What Does The History of Poetry Look Like 12/2. We often bash T.S. Eliot and the Modernists; here we lay down a genuinely insightful appreciation of Eliot’s Tradition.

18. Valerie Macon! 10/6. The credentialing complex destroyed Macon. We did a radical thing. We looked at her poetry, after she graciously sent samples.  Memo to the arrogant: her poetry is good.

19. 100 Greatest Folk Songs 11/17.  Not just a list: an assessment aimed at revival. Don’t just reflect the world. Change it.

20. The Avant-Garde Is Looking For A New (Black) Boyfriend 11/8.  A popular zeitgeist post inspired by Cathy Hong, which got po-biz stirred up for a few days.

21. Religion Is More Scientific Than Science 12/15.  An interesting discussion of free-will. Yes, we take comments.

22. Poetry, Meta-Modernism, & Leonardo Da Vinci 1/6.  Da Vinci compares poetry and painting in fascinating ways.

23. De Beauvoir v. Rich 4/22.  Scarriet’s March Madness contest yields essay on Behaviorism and Feminism.

24. Sex, Sex, Sex! 10/19. An interesting essay (obviously) in typical Scarriet (Are you serious?? We are.) mode.

25. Philip Nikolayev 11/15.  An excuse to try out ideas while praising a poet and friend.

26. “Poetry Without Beauty Is Vanity” 10/17.  A lyric poem which ‘gets’ rap.

27. Harold Bloom v. Edmund Wilson 8/13. Wilson was a real force in March Madness and so is this essay.

28. Fame: Is It Really Hollow? 7/2.  An exciting essay using Scarriet standbys The Beatles and Poe.

29. 100 Greatest Rock Songs Of All Time 5/9. The definitive list. Another constantly visited post.

30. 100 Essential Books of Poetry 5/21. People love lists. We get it now.

31. “Not Everyone Is Beautiful” 6/5.  A lovely little poem.

32. All Fiction Is Non-Fiction 5/19.  Scarriet makes the counter-intuitive simple.

33. The Good Economy 12/30.  We nail a simple but brain-teasing truth which rules us all.

34. Fag Hags, Cock Teases, and Richard Wagner 11/11. A bitter essay on a complex topic.

35. 100 Greatest Jazz Vocal Standards 10/14. And the Scarriet hits just keep on coming.

36. Hey Lao Tzu 10/27.  Scarriet takes down the wisest of the wise.

37. Ben Mazer At The Grolier 10/20.  The Neo-Romantic genius gets the Scarriet treatment.

38. “A Holiday Poem” 12/14.  An offensive poem written from a persona; it’s not our opinion.

39. Misanthrope’s Delight 6/11. An amusing list which makes light of misanthropy.

40. “What Could Be More Wrong Than A Poem Stolen From A Song?” A lyric gem.

And that’s our Scarriet top 40 for 2014!!

Be sure to read these if you missed them!

Scarriet thanks all our readers!

And especially the great comments! You know who you are! Always welcome and encouraged!

Happy New Year, everyone!

 

THE AVANT-GARDE IS LOOKING FOR A NEW (BLACK) BOYFRIEND

Cathy Park Hong: “Fuck the avant-garde.”  But does she really mean it?

For its whole existence, Scarriet has hammered away at Modernism—and its Avant-garde identity—as nothing but a meaningless, one-dimensional joke (the found poem, basically) tossed at the public by reactionary, rich, white guys in order to make it ‘cool’ to stifle truly creative efforts accessible to the public at large.

The controversy surrounding Scarriet’s claim lies in this one simple fact: the Avant-garde (Ron Silliman, et al) identifies itself as politically Left.

In Leftist circles of the Avant-garde, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot are championed for their poetry, not their politics.

We might call this Pound/Eliot phenomenon the Art-Split: Bad Poet/Good Poetry.

By accepting this “Split,” the reactionary, white, male, Avant-garde is given license to dress in Left-wing clothing.

You have to believe, of course, that Pound’s poetry is important and good, and that Hugh ” The Pound Era” Kenner’s trashing of Edna Millay, for instance, was a good and noble effort to debunk old-fashioned “quietist” poetry, and not chauvinist, jealous bullying.

Leftist Ron Silliman has no taste for Edna Millay, and the “Split” allows this to appear perfectly normal.

The embarrassing and obvious truth: 1. accessibility to the public at large is democratic, 2. befuddling the masses is reactionary, gets a yawn, too—because of the “Split.”

The reason the “Split” works as an excuse is that it appeals to both Left and Right intellectuals: the greatest ‘am I an intellectual?’ test is if one is able to grasp (and embrace) the idea that a person can be bad but still write good poetry.

We do not believe this is true; we believe the opposite: one cannot be a bad person and write good poetry. If the poet is a truly bad person, the “good” poetry was most likely stolen, or written before the soul of the poet became  rotten.

And this is why Modernists hate the Romantics—because the Romantics were poetic individuals, while the Modernists (because of skyscrapers and aeroplanes and women getting the vote and other lame excuses) were not.

The “Split,” the source of so much modernist mischief, is a red herring.  The almighty “Split” even makes one think Ezra Pound must be a good poet: one must believe this is so to have intellectual, avant-garde creds—simply for the reason that for so long now, the “Split” has ruled over Letters.  The wretched, sophistical, school-boy “And then went down to the ship,/ Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and/ we set up mast and sail on that swart ship/” is somehow good because Pound is badAnd because it is wretched, it is avant-garde, and because it is avant-garde, it is wretched, and therefore better than, “What lips my lips have kissed and where and why.”  This is how those who think themselves very good judges of poetry convince themselves that Ezra Pound is a great poet.  Yes, it is truly frightening.

Despite the “Split,” rumblings about the reactionary nature of the Avant-garde were bound to start, as Scarriet does influence the culture it observes.

Witness the explosion of Left indignation in the latest Lana Turner Journal as the “Split”-fooled Left vaguely catches on.

We have Kent Johnson, an imaginative and brilliant man, in “No Avant-Garde: Notes Toward A Left  Front of the Arts,” reduced to the most pitiful, quixotic Old Leftism it is possible to imagine. In his essay, he imagines splendidly well, and he knows a great deal, but he’s very bitter, obviously, as the ugly truth—the Avant-garde is, and has always been, reactionary—sinks in.

We have Joshua Clover, in “The Genealogical Avant-Garde,” complaining in the same vein.

The current avant-gardes in contemporary Anglophone poetry make their claims largely by reference to previous avant-gardes.

The genealogical avant-garde is defined by a single contradiction. It has no choice but to affirm the very cultural continuity which it must also claim to oppose.

The “Split” is always rationalized.

The “Split” in this case, however, is not Bad Poet/Good Poetry, and in some ways it is far less problematic.

The “Split” now imploding due to common sense is: Bad Mainstream/Good Avant-garde.

The Avant-garde, as the progressive intellectuals finally understand it, is the Mainstream—and thus, bad.  Had they been able to see, 100 years ago, the nature of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, F. O. Matthiessen, and their New Critic allies, they would not have taken so long to understand the clever reactionary agenda.

But now they are finally getting it.

Cathy Park Hong (writing in Lana Turner no. 7) definitely wants a new boyfriend.  And it ‘aint Ron Silliman.

To encounter the history of avant-garde poetry is to encounter a racist tradition.

Poets of color have always been expected to sit quietly in the backbenches of both mainstream and avant-garde poetry. We’ve been trotted out in the most mindless forms of tokenism for anthologies and conferences, because to have all white faces would be downright embarrassing. For instance, Donald Allen’s classic 1959 and even updated 1982 anthology New American Poetry, which Marjorie Perloff has proclaimed “the anthology of avant-garde poetry,” includes a grand tally of one minority poet: Leroi Jones, aka Amiri Baraka. Tokenism at its most elegant.

Mainstream poetry is rather pernicious in awarding quietist minority poets who assuage quasi-white liberal guilt rather than challenge it. They prefer their poets to praise rather than excoriate, to write sanitized, easily understood personal lyrics on family and ancestry rather than make sweeping institutional critiques. But the avant-gardists prefer their poets of color to be quietest as well, paying attention to poems where race—through subject and form—is incidental, preferably invisible, or at the very least, buried. Even if racial identity recurs as a motif throughout the works of poets like John Yau, critics and curators of experimental poetry are quick to downplay it or ignore it altogether. I recall that in graduate school my peers would give me backhanded compliments by saying my poetry was of interest because it “wasn’t just about race.” Such an attitude is found in Craig Dworkin and Kenneth Goldsmith’s anthology, “Against Expression,” when they included excerpts from M. NourbeSe Philip’s brilliant “Zong!,” which explores the late 18th century British court case where 150 slaves were thrown overboard so the slave ship’s captain could collect the insurance money. The book is a constraint-based tour-de-force that only uses words found in the original one-page legal document.  Here is how Dworkin and Goldsmith characterize Zong: “the ethical inadequacies of that legal document . . . do not prevent their détournement in the service of experimental writing.” God forbid that maudlin and heavy-handed subjects like slavery and mass slaughter overwhelm the form!

The avant-garde’s “delusion of whiteness” is the luxurious opinion that anyone can be “post-identity” and can casually slip in and out of identities like a video game avatar, when there are those who are consistently harassed, surveilled, profiled, or deported for whom they are.

Even today, avant-garde’s most vocal, self-aggrandizing stars continue to be white and even today these stars like Kenneth Goldsmith spout the expired snake oil that poetry should be “against expression” and “post-identity.”

From legendary haunts like Cabaret Voltaire to San Remo and Cedar Tavern, avant-garde schools have fetishized community to mythologize their own genesis. But when I hear certain poets extolling the values of their community today, my reaction is not so different from how I feel a self-conscious, prickling discomfort that there is a boundary drawn between us. Attend a reading at St. Marks Poetry Project or the launch of an online magazine in a Lower East Side gallery and notice that community is still a packed room of white hipsters.

Avant-garde poetry’s attitudes towards race have been no different than that of mainstream institutions.

The encounter with poetry needs to change constantly via the internet, via activism and performance, so that poetry can continue to be a site of agitation, where the audience is not a receptacle of conditioned responses but is unsettled and provoked into participatory response. But will these poets ever be accepted as the new avant-garde? The avant-garde has become petrified, enamored by its own past, and therefore forever insular and forever looking backwards. Fuck the avant-garde. We must hew our own path.

Yes, “fuck the avant-garde.”  But we might just add that it is the avant-garde that has always been the problem; in this case, the tail wags the dog.

The New Critics (ex-I’ll Take My Stand Old South reactionary agrarianists) got an “in” when they launched their textbook, Understanding Poetry in the late 30s—it praised Pound and attacked Poe.

Popular poets like Edgar Poe and Edna St. Vincent Millay were the Mainstream “good” ambushed by the clique of Eliot, Pound and the New Critics.

How blithely and unthinkingly Cathy Park Hong takes up the “quietist” definition of the avant-garde (and ostentatiously Left) Silliman.

Unfortunately, they will get fooled again.

THE INTEGRATION OF POETRY AND LIFE

The integration of poetry and life may be the most important question of all.

Interesting aspects of life, beautiful, useless glimpses of life—is this poetry? And the rest of it, life, as useful, as lived, or as the subject of philosophy or science, is this the life which is not poetry? Is this division valid?

Or is poetry a sub-category of philosophy in the division above, poetry not a “glimpse” of something “interesting and useless,” but rather a unique and useful branch of life understanding itself (philosophy)?

Or is this division not valid at all, since both sides are made of life, and poetry is something separate and apart?

And does poetry exist apart specifically in a world of words, interesting as a word-product, without any necessary connection to life?

And here we say “necessary,” because poetry may certainly use words which naturally signify life (because this is what words do) but in terms of what poetry is, it does not matter what is signified.

Yes. This is what poetry is: a word product without any necessary connection or reflection of life.

This is what Byron meant when he said:

“Poetry is nothing more than a certain dignity which life tries to take away.”

This is what Shelley meant when he said:

“A poet would do ill to embody his own conceptions of right and wrong, which are usually those of his place and time, in his poetical creations, which participate in neither.”

According to Shelley, poetry reflects the future: life which does not exist yet, and words have the unique ability to reflect life which is not life, what we sometimes refer to as the imagination.

The imaginative gardener can take what already exists: flowers and plants, and put together a garden which has never existed, portraying a unique dreamscape of beauty which is of this world, using the materials of this world, yet imaginatively invokes, and is, the future—a transformation of nature by poetic vision.

In so much as the gardener does this, the gardener is a poet. And in this way, anyone who transforms the material world is a poet. Note that we say transform, not merely reflect, or imitate—which is the traditional Aristotelian definition of poetry.

Aristotle’s definition is tepid, and Plato feared poetry precisely because his vision of it was greater, Plato deeply understanding poetry’s ability to not merely imitate, but transform. In fact, poetry fails at imitation (as Plato zealously pointed out) but poetry does something even more significant (and wonderful and dangerous): it creates the future, for good or ill.

Aristotle’s reasoning is so: poetry imitates good and bad people and it is perfectly reasonable and even good to do this, for how can we know the good if we don’t portray the bad? And out of this reasonable imitation springs the “freedom” to make art, and the justification for all destructive human freedom and license—since in Aristotle’s vision, the imitation of life is at the heart of all human making.

Aristotle’s famous qualification that poetry is more philosophical than history because poetry shows ‘what could be’ rather than ‘what is’ (as history does) is a monkey wrench; history and philosophy are both concerned (or should be concerned) with the truth; poetry is radically different; to give poetry (false) philosophical properties only furthers poetry’s (false) license to depict all sorts of bad things in the name of poetry’s freedom. The vision of Plato (which dares to radically critique poetry) is vastly different.

The wise know Aristotle’s oft-repeated and ubiquitous formula is wrong; the wise know that the whole Aristotelian project, adopted by the intellectual rabble of every cynical era, is misguided; and if we pay attention to visionaries like Plato and Shelley, to visionaries of the Renaissance and Romanticism, we will see that poetry’s power lies in making a new Good, not simply imitating whatever life happens to toss our way, or worse, abetting badness by cynically celebrating (with the cheering mob) its imitation in poetry, art, spectacle, learned books, etc.

As Poe points out, poetry is concerned with Taste, not Truth; and this quality, relegated wrongly to embellishment and triviality in our era, is a world of profound influence; Taste lives on the border of Truth, its province is Beauty, fed by Truth which is nearby, but Taste is grasped or understood by the instantaneous transmission of the Good (what we feel in our gut) which sidesteps the usual academic authorities—which is why academia balks at any consideration of Taste in cynical eras. “Give us the ugly truth,” scream the poets in cynical eras, “Beauty and Taste are old-fashioned and effete!”

Poets who cynically reject Poe’s poetry tend to also ignore Poe’s profound accomplishments in prose—for it is the whole of Poe’s project, seen and understood in its entirety, which proves the importance of qualities properly distributed and arranged across the whole range of reality’s projection in the transforming mind of the genius who serves humanity.

In our example of the gardener who profoundly transforms nature using her own materials, we find the poet, who is one step potentially more profound than the gardener, only because words can take and re-transform life in a manner potentially more significant than recombining the already existing beauty of flowers and plants.

Here is why 99% of poetry and its talk these days fails—poets and critics today assume a relationship, or an integration of life and poetry in which the two appear to serve each other, but do not: over here is some topic of life, interesting as a separate topic in a manner not connected to poetry whatsoever, and then over here we have the “poet” or the “poetry” and lo and behold! the two are yanked together in a manner which ostensibly brings more interest to both— but because the yanking together is utterly superficial, the interest is actually mitigated, and even dissolves, as the yanking exemplifies unconsciously a false idea of poetry. Poetry is, in the simplest sense, putting A next to B to create C, yes, but this alone is not enough, and this formula, when persisted in, quickly wears out its welcome. Arrangement requires a poetic purpose: the creation of a new Good, and without this purpose driving the project, the combining gesture is unfortunately a hollow gesture, and, problematically, not understood as such by the ignorant who merely go through the motions of  what they assume is poetic activity. Because they are gassing on about some interesting aspect of life, the ignorant think that it will be all the more interesting because of its mere proximity to po-biz. It is like when someone introduces their poem with a long story and then the poem is read, and we wish they had stopped with the story. This is the state of poetry today.

The true poet has ‘no story’ to introduce his poem—for the integration is in the poem, and when, in error, it is displayed as ‘story’ followed by ‘poem,’ it represents the unnecessary split which signals the falsity and the error, persisted in by those who naively think ‘story and poem’ is twice as good as ‘poem.’

We might be accused of this error: we earlier said Poe is understood in the entirety of his productions; so we appreciate his poems in light of his prose. No. The poem of Poe exists for its own sake, and succeeds on its own, without the help of anything else ‘to make it interesting,’ and this is precisely how we are defining poetry. The crowding in upon poetry of all these other matters ‘to make it interesting’ is the very thing which kills poetry, and it is done because of the Aristotle project which sees poetry imitating, and thus sharing its existence, with our place in the world at present, and also having a philosophical aspect which, in the same way, makes it necessary that poetry share the stage with all sorts of interests which are really beside the point, and hopelessly dilute the poetic enterprise.

Poetry is not a vehicle to make life more interesting. There are those who constantly seek to make life more interesting and these are those who are not poets and will never understand poetry and generally do not appreciate good taste. They are bored by the placidly beautiful, even though an appreciation of the placidly beautiful is the secret to heaven on earth.

The riot is even now at our doors; the useless activity which seeks the interesting and tramples on taste.

Life is coming for us.

Take my hand, poet.

Let us quietly flee.

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