MORE PROSE BRACKET MADNESS: HEMINGWAY VERSUS MRS. MILES

Image result for hemingway

Poetry was going down the tubes fast in 1936.

Mad Edna Millay (“what lips my lips have kissed and where and why…”) was about to be replaced by a grey suit…

Paul Engle, with his Iowa Masters Degree (for a book of mediocre poems) and his Yale Younger Poetry Prize (for the same book of mediocre poems) was launching the Iowa Writer’s workshop, which would change the poetry landscape forever—millions of students and professors rushing in where Shelley (a drop-out) feared to tread.

In the 19th century Byron performed physical acts of daring.

In the 20th century, there was no Byron. There was Wallace Stevens—who got beat up, by Hemingway, a prose writer.

The poets were not swimming the Hellespont. They were becoming professors.

Blame it on the Russians, if you want.

College loans (for bad poets) in the United States began with Sputnik.

Paul Engle raised money—for his Iowa Workshop, and later, for his International Writing Program at Iowa—from the Rockefeller Foundation, to fight communism.

Engle writing to the Rockefeller Foundation in 1960, in the wake of the successful Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957:

I trust you have seen the recent announcement that the Soviet Union is founding a University at Moscow for students coming from outside the country…thousands of young people of intelligence, many of whom could never get University training in their own countries, will receive education … along with the expected ideological indoctrination. 

Poetry training in the United States became “indoctrination,” too.

But it was different.

The CIA funded Modern Art to counter Soviet Realist Art—this is crazy, but it happened.

Engle’s “indoctrination” was of a perfectly harmless kind: an anti-indoctrination indoctrination in the unique American way:

Earn a degree and become a poet! Teach others, so they can earn a degree and become a poet! Poetry! Freedom! Freedom! Money! Poetry Workshops! Freedom! Poetry! Money! Poetry! Freedom!

It was exciting. I knew the extrovert Paul Engle—in person.  Poetry! Freedom! Money! is precisely the kind of energy he gave off.

Here in the 21st century, the faucet cannot be turned off.  Trained university poets, training, granting, publishing, are now a flood. The game is on. Fame and poetry are hidden away. If money is like water, poetry is being written on it.

Hemingway (informally tutored by the crazed and clever poet, and modern art collector, Gertrude Stein) was the muscled prose writer who enjoyed vast fame—as poetry was dancing its strange, crooked dance into the university.

This is what the public thought they wanted. Hemingway:

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.

Real simple prose is almost like poetry sometimes.

Something was going on here.

Prose, simple as a fist, is poetry?

Poetry can easily rush into complexity, and the temptation is great for poets to fling themselves upwards in a funeral pyre of words—but the funeral is theirs.

Poetry is anti-complex.

Hemingway was a poet—(when he wasn’t writing badly, which he often did)–if simplicity is poetry.

And when pretense and experiment is the only other game in town–-it is.

Up against Hemingway, in the 2017 March Madness contest, is Mrs. L. Miles.  Yes, that was her moniker when she published her book on phrenology in 1836.

This is not poetry.  This is real prose, extraordinary for what it says:

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.

Certainly this applies to the twin vision of poetry and prose, and we think it explains why millions, without poetry in their souls, can fool us into thinking they love us, and are sane.

 

 

Advertisements

WOODY ALLEN HAS A LAUGH AT HEMINGWAY IN HIS LATEST FILM

Allen directing: 1920s Paris is a mere backdrop to the chief concern: get the pathetic lead character laid.

I found Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris, to be a somewhat amusing good time, as Owen Wilson plays the lastest young stand-in for the Woody persona: schlubby romantic who charms us with a blend of humility and humor.

I couldn’t help but think that Woody Allen, filmmaker, resembles Billy Collins, poet, but Collins is relatively more successful in his field than Allen is in his right now, only because there is no blockbuster mainstream success in poetry to compete with Collins.  In poetry today, Woody Allen is the blockbuster.

Compared to Billy Collins, can we say Tennyson is real cinema? Or is Milton’s “Paradise Lost” akin to a D.W. Griffith epic? Woody Allen appeals to the same audience as Billy Collins does: their feel-good humor is the same, but, amazingly, these days Collins probably has the larger audience, though Woody Allen is more of a household word.

How much influence film has on the public at large is a debatable point, but the question begins to take on some reality as film gets a history.  Do cinephiles dare to look back and stare this question in the face?  By the time Woody Allen released Manhattan in 1979, it felt like American culture worth thinking about was Woody Allen; the zeitgeist was being shaped before our eyes by this standup comic turned movie maker. Every film of his was an intellectual must-see. Woody Allen was both intellectual and anti-intellectual, the Guru of Laughter; Allen’s films were mainstream and iconoclastic at once; Woody Allen embraced and poked fun at fashionable rebels— the voice of common-sense getting laughs in a crazy world.

The ebbing of Allen’s importance after Manhattan is probably three-fold: 1. Allen’s brand of stand-up cinema began to be eclipsed by the splashy Spielberg era which began with Jaws in 1975, 2. Who can maintain that kind of hold on a public for that long—the decline was inevitable, and 3. The Eww Factor.

I wonder if anyone remembers the two Oscar nominations the critically acclaimed Manhattan received: one was for Allen’s writing (Best Writing; Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen) and the other was Best Supporting Actress for the role of Tracy, a 17-year-old girl dating Isaac, the 42-year-old, twice-divorced TV writer, played by Woody Allen.

That Manhattan nominated actress was the young and sexy Mariel Hemingway, grandaughter of the first wife of the author of Moveable Feast, a woman who co-stars in that book by then-husband, Ernest Hemingway, on 1920s Paris—where hip and sexy Modernism festered in a metropolis of timeless beauty.

Mariel Hemingway is precisely where the Eww Factor whispers started. Woody Allen reacted to the Eww Factor by rejecting it, marrying the saintly Mia Farrow—and then did what Irish wit Oscar Wilde sarcastically recommended. Middle-aged Woody Allen found the best way to resist temptation was to give in to it:  You think I’m Eww?  Well, I’ll show you Eww.  In your face, world.

Welcome to modernism.

Allen’s new film is hackneyed in many ways, but has garnered good reviews, and it’s probably because the director of “Manhattan” found a good hook for himself: A contemporary, nostalgic, regular-guy time-travels to 1920s Paris.

Gil, the Everyman, is engaged to a sexy but practical woman who shares none of his nostaglia for 1920s, writing-life, Paris.  She has an affair with a wolfish, British, history professor who is smarter and more credentialed than Gil. Like all Woody Allen leads, Gil, played simply and clumsily by Wilson, is inferior to everyone around him, but his humor and his lust keep us interested.  Cheating is always a good thing in Woody Allen films—they are always a re-shuffling of relationships, and they improve things.  This is how the brilliant Woody Trope pushes away pesky morality.

Gil has a fling with a mistress of Picasso’s, who happens to be nostalgic for 1890s Paris, and herein lies the main theme of the picture: there is no Golden Era;  be happy today with a partner who likes to walk in the rain like you do—Gil’s girlfriend who cheats on him hates even Paris in the rain.

Woody Allen’s Paris is picture- postcard-and-TV-episode 1920s Paris; the atmosphere evoked is hardly beyond what might be necessary for a TV sitcom.  The famous Modernist writers and artists who inhabit 1920s Paris are insubstantial—and so is the soundtrack, the editing, and the cinematography; the whole atmosphere is spotty, at best, and the plot is very weak.  Allen’s directing style of having characters stutter, appear awkward, or have nothing to say, in what feel like ad-libbed moments of ordinary life, are embarrassing at times, sometimes just annoying.  I understand the intention: it helps the moments of humor—and with Woody Allen it’s always the undercutting, common-sense variety.

For instance, after Gil arrives in his hotel after his first time-traveling bout (he climbs into a car at midnight and returns in the wee hours) the camera simply shows him in bed staring with a wide-eyed WTF? expression—and this is one of the funniest moments in the movie.

If Woody Allen’s film took itself too seriously, and went for serious atmospheric motifs, it would only appear to be emptier and sillier than it actually is.  Woody Allen knows his limits, and sticks to them.  He knows there’s no talent around that can really show us Hemingway in 1920s Paris, so when Hemingway looks squarely at pathetic Gil and spouts cartoonish, macho Hemingway-speak, those who have read Hemingway laugh, and that’s all Woody Allen is going for in this film.  Obviously, the cliched Woody Allen persona is going to have a laugh at the expense of the cliched Ernest Hemingway character.  You could have guessed that right from the start, and Woody Allen, and the critics apparently, are satisfied with this.

Vincent Canby (1924-2000), who ruled the roost for years as film critic at the NY Times, was perhaps the greatest ‘make-or-break’ reviewer ever, supported Woody Allen, and Canby was also a huge Hemingway fan.

Vincent Canby panned Alan Rudolph’s The Moderns (1988), a powerful film that takes a hard look at the Eww Factor of 1920s Paris and the modern art world: the sex, the fraud, the thuggishness and the despair.  Rudolph’s film de-romanticizes the Moderns with smokily atmospheric beauty and his Paris simply blows Woody Allen’s away.   The film also has a good plot and a great performance by John Lone (The Last Emperor), one of many wonderful things about The Moderns completely overlooked by Canby.

It’s strange how angry some people get when de-romanticizing Modernism is de-romanticized.  Canby’s companion of many years, Penelope Gilliat, who reviewed films for the New Yorker, died at 61 of alcoholism. Canby was perhaps offended that his beloved Hemingway was portrayed by Rudolph as a drunk; but Hemingway was a drunk, and film critics ought to be more objective; Canby belittled a great picture, and hopefully Woody Allen’s fluffy movie will get a few people to see The Moderns, a stunning, overlooked film.

LONDON CALLING: AMY LOWELL AND THE MODERNISTS

Readers of Scarriet know Literary Modernism is essentially a reactionary movement, an “avant-garde” of male-dominated fascism, feudalism, futurism, and blood-primitivism.  This is the chief reason why great female poets like Elinor Wylie, Edna Millay, and Amy Lowell were, and still are, kicked to the curb by the ‘Pound Era’ Dial magazine clique. 

And the shame is that women  today ignorantly go along with Pound’s “revolutionary” agenda, believing the lies of a small, influential, men’s club clique. 

There’s only three female poets one is allowed to really respect: Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne MooreBishop’s mentor and Eliot/ Pound Dial magazine clique-member, and Emily Dickinson from the 19th century.  That’s it.  Gertrude Stein, perhaps, but she was more important as an art collector. All the other ‘great’ poets, like Ezra Pound and D.H. Lawrence, are men.  (And the only respected female critic in the world, Harvard University’s Men’s Club Modernist apologist, Helen Vendler, agrees.)

If we look at London in the summer of 1914—right before that insane war—and the dinner hosted by Amy Lowell, sister to the president of Harvard, we see a drunken Ezra Pound misbehaving with a bathtub, ridiculing the hostess-poet as, at that precise moment, the Imagistes, as they called themselves, were split in half:

Some of the Imagists stay with Pound, because he gets them published in the only game anywhere, Harriet Monroe’s Poetry.

Some go with Amy Lowell, because of the money and the Lowell name and because she sincerely believes in Imagism (and Japanese prints) and will put her devotees in her popular anthologies—H.DH.D.’s husband, Richard Aldington, John Gould Fletcher (Imagist and Fugitive), and even D.H. Lawrence, Amy Lowell becoming Lawrence’s only American friend.  S. Foster DamonLowell’s official biographer, is one of The Eight Harvard Poets, a collection edited by Stewart Mitchell, also an editor of The Dial and one of many male poets who made a career of absuing and ridiculing  Amy Lowell.

Pound’s trump card at Amy Lowell’s London dinner is Ford Madox Ford, sexist pig, War Propaganda Minister for His Majesty, gentleman, lover of war, and hater of the Hun, and by far the most influential person at that July, 1914 dinner, one of the original Imagistes; Ford, grandson of a pre-Raphaelite, is the first one to meet Pound off the boat when Pound goes abroad in 1907.  

Ford Madox Ford hated Amy Lowell at first sight, and his scorning her in 1914 as a “neutral,” is not insignificant. Pound serving Ford, and later, Mussolini, is no accident; Ford really believed in a world of hereditary aristocracy, dog-eat-dog, ‘who’s side are you on?’, rapacious bigotry, and Pound learned his fascism partly from his relationship with the imperialistic Ford Madox Ford, War Propaganda Minister of the British Empire.

Ernest Hemingway, who met Ford in 1920s Paris, and who was physically repulsed by the monstrous Ford, relates first-hand that Ford saw the world in terms of a strict heirarchy, with English gentlemen at the top of the heap: Henry James was not even good enough to be a gentleman, because he was American, and Pound suffered the same flaw in Ford’s eyes.  Nazis and fascists, such as Pound, were wanna-bes before the Crown of Empire Britain and its bejeweled Euro-cousins; fascists were mere thugs with a love/hate relationship with their blue-eyed masters in London.  Pound, defeated in an Imagist p.r. war by Amy Lowell (she was a far more popular and influential Modernist than Pound in the 20s) ran and hid in Italy, seeking a higher Modern pedigree in Roman fascist primitivism and ‘classical’ hyperbole, trading one type of bombast (his so-called Imagism) for another (his unwieldy Cantos).

Not only was Ford at the center of early Imagism, and an effete, philandering, warmonger English gentleman, but he later traveled to America to network with the cranky, philandering Allen Tate and the reactionary Fugitive/New CriticsTate, with friends John Crowe Ransom, Paul Engle (a Fugitive judge gave Engle his Yale Younger Prize) and Robert Penn Warren, will create the Writing  Program empire, so the Modernist Dial-clique, rejected outright by the public, can find their dreams fulfilled as they slip inside the ‘new writing’ university canon-apparatus.

The Language Poets are a mere continuation of reactionary Modernism—the Imagists sought to strip away and destroy Victorian discursiveness and morality, just as the Language Poets seek the same end in a slightly fancier and more “advanced” theoretical manner.  One can trace Charles Bernstein’s mentors, for instance, right back to WW I era Oxford and  Cambridge.

Imagism was a movement which was popularized not by Pound and his friends, but by the American aristocrat Amy Lowell.  Yet Lowell was still put in her place by the top-dog aristocrat Ford and his despot-on-a-leash Pound. 

Imagism was not original with Ford or Pound.  The stunning Japanese victory in the 1905 Russo-Japanese War made Japanese art suddenly prized among the wealthy and the fashionable; a haiku rage ensued (what a coincidence!) right before the birth of what was re-named Imagism.  Mere prejudice hides the profound Japanese influence, just to give all the glory to Pound’s “theories” (slapdash, mad-scientist manifestos) and his pal William Carlos Williams’ red wheel barrow. 

Reading the commentaries, one would think Pound invented the image and the art of China and Japan himself, such is the ignorance of that whole Amy Lowell-dominated period in American literary history.

The Amy Lowell story is a complicated one, but it’s interesting to note that Lowell was attacked by the same Pound-clique who viciously attacked Edna Millay: men like Ford Madox FordHorace Gregory, the now-forgotten Bollingen Prize winner, and Hugh Kenner, Pound’s adoring admirer and lackey, author of The Pound Era—in that work Kenner condemns Lowell as the “hippopoetess” and treats her shabbily throughout.

It is true that the Imagistes were ridiculed (and justifiably, to some extent) as a group—think of Witter Bynner and Arthur Davison Ficke’s ‘Spectrist’ literary hoax in 1916, which aimed its satire at the Imagist school: Pound and Lowell were often bruised by the same poker.  Bynner, Harvard ‘o2, and Ficke, with an art dealer father who imported Japanese art in the late 19th century, were both older than Pound, and Pound’s Imagism to these fellows—and many others at Harvard, or in Greenwich Village, or traveling abroad—was narrow, historically short-sighted, and pretentious. 

To 99% of the scholars, poets and artists living during the first part of the 20th century, calling that time “the Pound era” would have seemed nothing but a joke.

It didn’t help Amy Lowell’s reputation to die in 1925 at the age of 51.  Like the premature death of Poe in the previous century, Lowell’s death provided an opening for a certain hyena-and-jackal element to move in and re-write history in their favor.

Amy Lowell championed Frost (who was there in London in 1914, too, keeping a distance from the Imagists; but Lowell helped Frost, anyway) and Lowell championed Keats; she was open to other cultures, dared to live openly with a woman, and smoked cigars, and had an extensive life-long correspondence with D.H. Lawrence, and also was the champion of Imagism, and still going strong in all this at the moment of her death—but upon her demise she was assailed by the Poundclique (who begged for money to her face, while making snide remarks about her obesity and her ‘not knowing her woman’s place’ behind her back) and her reputation is still falling as we speak.

A theory why Pound’s reputation got a tremendous bump in the 40s: Pound was chosen as a scapegoat/buffer/distraction by an anglo/Harvard/Fugitive-centered literary establishment with its own closet rightwing (even Nazi) sympathy.  Giving Pound, the bigot, a Bollingen Prize was a smokescreen, and was done less for Pound than (secretly) for them.

It was, in fact, the Bollingen prize-receiving members of the Poundclique who abused Edna Millay and Amy Lowell, and as Lowell is forgotten, so is Keats a little more forgotten (the Pound/Eliot Modernists are notorious Romanticism-haters) as, meanwhile, the Pound-Modernist clique men’s club grows apace in reputation.

The shake-up, when Pound is no longer useful, will happen, sooner or later; dedicated historicism, distanced enough from the era, at last, will investigate and clear up the matter; the reader may see this Scarriet defense of Amy Lowell as a preliminary writing on the wall.

And Imagism, what was it, finally? 

Oh, nothing, really.  The image was nothing new in poetry.  Nothing new at all. 

Just as there was nothing new about painters influencing the New York School. 

E.E. Cummings, one of the Eight Harvard Poets, and also part of the Dial clique, having married the publisher’s wife, was a respected abstract painter—many people forget that, and they said back  then that Cummings’ white spaces in his poetry were due to the fact that he was a painter. 

It might be a great selling point for a manifesto styled for an up-and-coming avant-garde academic. 

But meaningless, really.

DIE NOW TO LIVE

In his “A Moveable Feast,” the memoir many now consider Hemingway’s best work, about Paris ’20s modernists,  Hemingway remarks there was a WW I poet/survivor in the cafes and some resented him for showing off his missing arm too much. I thought that was telling. The WW I Wounded Poets are not famous at all, the WW I Dead Poets, very famous.  This sort of indicates that there is a time and a way to die that is expected of poets.

Everyone loves a good story—the arc of a poet’s life, from birth to death, either grabs the imagination, or not.  A poet who dies in a war is a good story; one who survives with a missing arm is just depressing. “Can’t he cover that thing up?” People don’t want to be reminded of the unpleasantnesses of life.

When you are young, you have to be a killer to get fame and fortune.  Then when you get it, you can become the beloved elder statesman.  Is that what happened with Pound?

POETIC FAME AND TIME OF DEATH

A RANDOM SAMPLING:

  1. POE                39   MURDER?
  2. BYRON            36  GREEK INDEPENDENCE
  3. KEATS             26  T.B.
  4. SHELLEY          29   DROWNING
  5. PLATH             31   SUICIDE
  6. BROOKE          27   WW I
  7. OWEN             25    WW I
  8. RIMBAUD         37    CANCER
  9. FROST              88   OLD AGE
  10. T.S. ELIOT        76   OLD AGE

The point isn’t really when you die or how you die, but a combination of factors: 

Had Frost or Pound died young, they would probably be unknown. 

Had Sylvia Plath lived a long life, she would most likely be unknown.

The poets’ life arc makes great stories. The more the arc mirrors the poet’s work, the better.

Think before you die, poets.

Dying in WW I did poets’ fame a world of good.  Surviving WW I (does anyone remember that poet with one arm…what’s his name?) did you no good at all.

There are no 1960s poets of  note…that’s hard to believe.  The ’60s poets who get respect are musicians…Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, John Lennon etc  Ginsberg is the closest thing, yet he was more a 50s poet…he was already bald in the 60s, which is so non-60s…  America does not have one iconic ’60s poet.   The ’60s were a bad time to be a poet, period.

Was this because peoples’ lives became their poetry?  Who needs poetry when one is living a hedonistic lifestyle?

Supposedly the New Critics were conservative because they said, ‘the text is all’ and thus moved all consideration away from the poet himself, hedonistic, or not.   But how can there be poetry without the poet?  How can we consider, in a Platonist, philosophical manner, in a true pedagogical manner, the poetry—without the poets?

THE PHILOSOPHY OF PUNCTUATION

 

The beginning of punctuation is the beginning of speech.

BEER ON TAP

requires no punctuation; nor does this:

BAR

And what of a sign from God?

THOU SHALT NOT KILL

Signs have authority, but no human speech.  Speech begins with:

BAR!

Or:

THOU SHALT NOT KILL?

As soon we add a little punctuation, we have speech.

When I asked my freshmen English Composition students to define a comma, they said, “a pause…a stop,” but I said, “no, no, no!  Commas are not traffic cops; commas flow; punctuation is not about stopping any more than dancing is about stopping!”

We might think of a comma as an aside. 

We could think of punctuation in terms of Shakespearean drama.  Commas set aside what is ostensibly less important:  “Here comes Mrs. Fiddlefaddle, and she’s wearing that silly flowered hat!”  The part of the sentence after the comma—and she’s wearing that silly flowered hat—is whispered directly to the audience. 

Edgar Poe said a “treatise” was desperately needed on the topic of punctuation, and he wrote: “If not anticipated, I shall, hereafter, make an attempt at a magazine paper on ‘The Philosophy of Point.'”  

“That punctuation is important all agree; but how few comprehend the extent of its importance!  The writer who neglects punctuation, or mis-punctuates, is liable to be misunderstood—this, according to the popular idea, is the sum of the evils arising from heedlessness or ignorance.  It does not seem to be known that, even where the sense is perfectly clear, a sentence may be deprived of half its force—its spirit—its point—by improper punctuation.  For the want of merely a comma, it often occurs than an axiom appears a paradox, or that a sarcasm is converted into a sermonoid.”  —E. Poe,  from “Marginalia”

A book I must get my hands on is A Dash of Style: The Art and Mystery of Punctuation by Noah Luckeman, W.W. Norton, 2007.  I saw it advertised on-line today, as I was searching for Poe’s mini-treatise on the dash.

The gloss on the book says, “Why did Poe and Melville rely on the semicolon?  Why did Hemingway embrace the period?” 

I can’t wait to read what Mr. Lukeman says, but I already have a theory on Hemingway: Papa was a combination of God and bar sign.  Hemingway’s writing is often characterized as plain, and his writing’s lack of commas and semicolons is probably what makes it seem plain, more than anything else. 

As for the semicolon, it’s a wonderful tool, especially in the hands of someone who knows how to use it;  adept use of the semicolon can take my breath away!

ERNEST HEMINGWAY AS CREATIVE WRITING INSTRUCTOR

Student : I’m writing the best I can.  Just as you do.  But it’s so terribly difficult.

“Professor” Hemingway: You shouldn’t write if you can’t write. What do you have to cry about it for? Go home. Get a job. Hang yourself. Only don’t talk about it. You could never write.

Student: Why do you say that?

Prof. Hemingway: Did you ever hear yourself talk?

Student: It’s writing I’m talking about.

Prof. Hemingway:  Then shut up.

Jeez, Hem, a Paul Engle you ‘aint!  That’s no way to build an MFA program!

%d bloggers like this: