FAME AND LITERATURE

Emily Dickinson—hidden away as fame; childless, but mother of us all.

Most poets have—even published ones—very few readers. Even the supposedly famous poets these days have no public, really. The situation of poetry is nearly a crisis—but enough of that. There’s already a surfeit of crisis-rhetoric today. I’m not talking here about how rotten and cheap and prosaic contemporary poetry is—my point here has nothing to do with that. The point of this Scarriet essay is even more embarrassing, if that’s possible: literature is fame; the two are synonymous.

What I say is true. Fame and literature are the same. Pound and Poe—who couldn’t be more different—understood this; the navigation a poet travels to become famous is the poetry, is the whole subject matter of the poet, is the very poet himself.

The two (poetry and fame) cannot be separated.

Is this a cruel thing to say?

I’ll be honest. I published a book on Ben Mazer’s poetry because he was the most famous poet I knew. Mazer—Romantic, avant-garde, it makes no difference—possesses a shadowy, but not quite an actual, sense of what I’m talking about.

I don’t know anyone who does.

I’m not speaking of personal ambition, with mere pleasure as the goal.

Fame and Literature are one. It’s such an obvious fact in the blatant way I am expressing it that even Scarriet didn’t understand it until the insight hit us yesterday—greatly obvious truths remain hidden to the sophisticated, and even published or unpublished cabbie poets who write about “real life” are sophisticated; the very act of being a poet, no matter how humbly, gives one that sophistication which bars one from the obvious truths. You feel it in your bones, sure, but you don’t come out and say it as I am saying it.

Scarriet specializes in too-simple-to-notice truths. Poe was murdered. The “Dark Lady” is a pun on black ink and the sorrowful nature of the written word. “Modernism” is a far-right, Creative Writing business.

Scarriet (since 2009, founded by Alan Cordle of Foetry.com as a mockery of Blog Harriet) is prominent enough to attract seekers after poetic fame. (Charles Bernstein hates me based on what I wrote about him in Scarriet, according to a trusted source.)

In my rather helpless musings on this—“who are you to ask me to take notice of you? I’m not famous; I can’t make you famous”—the truth that an educated, literary, public exists which I may inhabit, notwithstanding—the simple truth, ‘literature is fame,’ plucked me suddenly out of the crowd.

Emily Dickinson is literature—because we talk of her, not because of what she has written. Who among the sophisticated would take notice of this recluse today? None. Hypocrites! You wouldn’t. She would be admired by a few friends, as friends. She would have no literary existence. Those beyond her friends, those slightly more prominent in the poetry-pecking-order (“how many books have you published? where do you teach?”) would ignore her. You would. Don’t lie. Those who happened to see her work would say to themselves, “Hmm. No wonder she isn’t published. One just cannot emote in clumsy half-rhymes upon ‘immortality’ this way. Amateur.”

But now all is different for you and Emily; she is famous—therefore you convince yourself: “oh, this is good!”

Hypocrite. You have no idea whether any poetry is really good or not. Emily Dickinson is famous because others talk about her and because others talk about her, you do, too.

To hide the humiliating fact that her fame alone is what has converted you to the “truth” that she is now worthy, because our minds can convince us of anything—Keats is somewhat good, Cid Corman is good—you practice a liking, done automatically since it is part of the happy entrails-buzz fame (vicarious or not) bestows.

Is this essay’s indictment meant to deconstruct not only your feelings, but literature and fame? Like the infinite—an idea that may, or may not, finally exist (does the universe go on forever?)—fame is untouchable; it is the constant in my equation. You, the inconstant one, with the rest of the hypocrites, having your frothy opinions about which poetry is “good” and which poetry you “like,” find your anchor in fame—in the vast poetry pecking order of fame. Ben Mazer has published many books of poetry, but none with a major publisher, so William Logan will not write on him. Logan is famous for his sharp critical teeth—but his teeth chew on what others think, not thought. He returns from the hunt hauling big game; anything less would be embarrassing. William Logan makes no exception to his reviewing rule; even he lives, like all of us, by fame—from which poetry cries and is indistinguishable.

***

Postscript.

We may still ask: why is ____ famous, but I submit the answer will never be forthcoming, for fame is its own reason for being, therefore analysis cannot enter. Does anyone doubt that God exists and is beyond us, forever clothed in mystery? And that the only living proof of God’s existence which can ever exist (every other proof learnedly and cleverly posited and just as learnedly and cleverly refuted) lies in a path and a small girl—why would you ever announce, cruelly, the end of that path? That she and all whom she loves will vanish and die? Why would you ever do that?

Is there any doubt that fame inspires all greatness to exist—the thrill of fame is the highest, the very opposite of being buried alive—which is the worst condition, as Poe intuited. Fame for the artist is when you know every exciting thing you do is watched and therefore you automatically rise to the glory of the great, lived, non-secret, secret—participation for its own sake.

Did the man who wrote “Yesterday” and “Let It Be” and “Eleanor Rigby” in the 1960s then write nothing of note as an experienced musician for 5 decades? Why did genius manifest itself only in that five year window of towering, exciting, miraculous fame? The answer is self-evident.

If you have ever seen the video of a famous person’s face through time—a fat faced child, the often homely youth, and then the first photo when they are “famous”—the beauty arrives like a miracle—the fire in the eyes, the facial muscles knowing what to do in the face, it is the receptivity of the now ferocious attention re-broadcast and seen as the light, the fire, the joy, the secret knowledge, eternal and ephemeral, of—fame.

Salem, MA, USA
5/8/22

MODERNISM, OR COLLAPSE-CHIC

John Quinn: Contemporary Collector Extraordinaire - American Book Collecting
Joyce, Pound, QUINN, Ford Madox Ford, Paris 1923

John Quinn (1870-1924) attorney for Pound and Eliot, modern art collector, and the guy who made the Armory Show (1913) happen, is a neglected but important figure from the American Midwest who ended up working for British intelligence and upon his death was in possession of the original manuscript of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” with all the valuable cross outs and edits. The following is a conversation with my literary friend, X___ and you can see how it inspired this Scarriet article; I’ve decided to let the inspiration be seen in its raw form. I came up with the phrase “Collapse Chic” during the conversation with my brilliant acquaintance. Some things are best dropped right from the tree onto the grass:

He must have meant something to TSE for Tom to give Quinn the ms. The Reid bio of Quinn won the Pulitzer, talks of British intelligence and Aleister Crowley and Tammany Hall (Horace Greeley, Poe’s enemy, was also mixed up with Tammany corruption). The book of all books on Modern Letters 1850 to 1950 waits to be written. I’m too lazy to write it.

“No, it is simply a financial transaction. Quinn was collecting, and the ms. obviously meant less to TSE than the dough. Back then, collecting mss. of living authors was somewhat rare.”

Do we know how much, or whether money even changed hands? We always focus on the authors themselves in terms of making their own reputations, but I see it differently. I believe it’s people like Quinn “behind the scenes” with money and connections and legal expertise who are driving the car, not TS Eliot. My guess is that timid and doubtful Eliot was only too happy to give the ms. to Quinn as the best guarantee of his legacy. It was Quinn who negotiated deals for Pound and Eliot. Pound was still editing The Waste Land when it won the Dial Prize. It was a fait accompli. And these sorts of things happened because guys like Quinn know how to stack the deck. Quinn wasn’t collecting modern art out of love. Nor was John Dewey. “Love” of the “new” in Modernist circles was simply what they call “buy low and sell high.” Quinn was not purchasing the ms. from Eliot as some starry-eyed fan. Eliot was beholden to Quinn. Of course literary professors with 20/20 hindsight will disagree with me. But they might be wrong…

…I just looked it up. Eliot wanted no money—he gave his ms. to Quinn as a means to “preserve” it (Pound’s edits needed to be preserved was Eliot’s “reason”—I think it was probably more so that one could see some beautiful lines by Eliot which Pound nixed. Eliot trusted the worldliness of Quinn; he was hedging his bets.) Quinn as a matter of honor nevertheless gave Eliot $140.00. It was later sold by Quinn’s niece for much more.

“I think Eliot could easily have entertained both reasons. He had a complicated and many-layered mind–and he was not above naivete. Remember, too, that he was shocked and appalled by Pound’s scheme to have a bunch of people back Eliot with the equivalent of his salary for five years. Remember, too, that the manuscript was of the greatest poem of the Moderns.”

It was clear Eliot had talent, but I doubt anyone thought The Waste Land was going to be a best-seller. It was either Pound’s way (hitting up wealthy dames) or the American way—teaching writing, a career European literati thought beneath them. Turned out the Americans knew best: the New Critics getting the new writing (and Frost) into the schools was a fortuitous path, probably easier than getting Duchamp and modern art into museums. Looking back it’s hard to know what was inevitable and what took real work and scheming.

“Of course many plans for plumping this author or that have come to nothing. (Delmore Schwartz thought Genesis was surefire and kept warning [James] Laughlin that there was a “conspiracy” against him.) The Waste Land, however, had fairly robust criticism against, but college students took to it rapidly. Probably it spoke to their feelings about the collapse of culture after the war. Now we have Amanda Gorman for that.”

Who prevents the “collapse of culture,” though? If The Waste Land deftly reflects “collapse;” like the dyer’s hand, it participates in it. And should all poets & artists go on reflecting & recording the “collapse of culture,” until the “collapse of culture” accelerates the world into Gorman and illiteracy? My problem with Modernism (as brilliant as guys like Eliot were) is that it finally marks collapse and collapse only, unless you think the Cantos or 4 Quartets or Finnegans Wake will save us (I doubt it). Schwartz, like my parents, were haunted by Adlai Stevenson’s loss. Delmore was also angered by Pound’s Bollingen, but to me Schwartz (with Berryman, Jarrell, Lowell) represents the next generation dragged down by Modernist “collapse-chic.” There was nothing great or noble to inherit, just estrangement, and not a good, revenge-of-hope, Romantic kind of estrangement, just undisciplined, resigned, half-hearted Marxist, literary-pretentious, estrangement.

“I don’t think anyone can stop a Gorman, who answers a felt need. There have always been poets like her, and they’ve usually been forgotten very quickly. / Honestly, I don’t worry about whether poetry is or isn’t contributing to collapse. It can only reflect its times–well, or badly. Im glad to have Frost to appreciate, and glad to have TSE, EP, Moore, Stevens, and WCW.”

“Collapse-Chic,” which grew out of our Quinn conversation will be the next pro-Romantic, anti-Modernist Scarriet rant. Collapse-chic propelled the Modernists and their Waste Land flagship— but conflagration followed in its wake, a “burnt ends” prophecy. The only public splash poem since has been “Howl.” Talk about Collapse-chic. Plath/Sexton. The gibberish of Ashbery and Black Mountain, Jorie Graham, billions of forgettable workshop poems. Surely I can’t deny your “what is, is” philosophy; I embrace it every day. TSE is miles better than EP (who had his translating, lyric moments) Moore (meh) Stevens (Keats-lite, fun sometimes, I’ll admit) WCW (never liked). Tending that coterie will be a progressively lonely island in the years ahead, a black mountain head sticking out of a vast, politically correct, sea. I’m putting my money in Plato-Dante-Shelley (Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe, Pushkin, Heine, Tennyson, Whitman, Dickinson, TSE, Millay, Bishop, Justice, Larkin, Mazer).

“Can’t argue with many on that list at the end, though my mansion has more flats.”

And there ends the essential conversation which produced Collapse-Chic. I could have added hundreds more poets to my list and my literary friend many, many more, obviously.

Who is my literary friend? I will never tell. He might be English, you say?

Romantic poems by the dead have been my tarot cards, telling me how to act.

Books have been nearly my all. But the living occasionally amuse. I amused myself by handing Camille Paglia a poem of mine out of respect for her; what an idiot I could be!

Has poetry made me an idiot?

Am I part of this “collapse” which I am perhaps too arrogantly advertising? Yes, indeed. I think we are all in its net. Letters has become primitive. Don’t let the “sophistication” of a Charles Olson or any avant poet, or long-winded novelist, fool you. Letters is primitive now compared to the 19th century. Maybe this “collapse” is a good thing, or something necessary to go through for the sake of a “revolution.” I doubt it. I just think it’s a collapse. We may as well admit it.

I have had the good fortune to interact with the best literary minds of the last 100 years, all by accident, really. Paul Engle. I remember him quoting Yeats to me, “If it doesn’t sing, it doesn’t talk!” Paul Engle was a man of great energy and force. Donald Justice was sensitive and kind. Engle, when I knew him, was at Iowa’s International Writing Program—where I interned as an Iowa student. Engle retired and left the famous Iowa Workshop to poets like quick Marvin Bell and calm Donald Justice, among others; Engle confided to me he wasn’t impressed by the new generation; Paul hosted 30 writers lavishly in Iowa City (including stipends to travel the U.S.) every year: dignified female writers from Norway, slovenly writers, European frankness, Egyptian cigarettes, Indian song moments, at the Mayflower hotel in Iowa City! In Harvard Square, Helen Vendler laughing in my face when I asked her about Poe. I told Galway Kinnell after a reading at the Longfellow House that his poem on Shelley was mean, after I told him “When One Has Lived A Long Time Alone” was his best poem. I informed Harold Bloom at a book signing he was unfair to Poe and surprised when he said, in a melancholy tone, “yes I was intolerant.” I witnessed Philip Nikolayev politely destroy the great critic Marjorie Perloff in a concrete poetry debate at the Hong Kong restaurant. Life moves fast, but so does Letters. Be careful what you say. There are so many reasons to be forgotten.

The Collapse may include the collapse of you, as infinitely chic as you are.

LOOKING BACK AT SCARRIET 2021

I’ve edited Scarriet since September 2009, when Alan Cordle, who I met on the poetry-contest-exposing website Foetry, created Blog Scarriet as an alternative to the Poetry Foundation’s Blog Harriet—which banned poets (yours truly included) from Harriet’s Comments for being “off-topic” (whatever that means; digression is a sign of intelligence in my book) and soon thereafter Blog Harriet (Poetry magazine’s online site) erased Comments as a feature altogether. Poets like Eileen Myles and Annie Finch were regulars on the Harriet Comments; it was a lively good time, I thought, but management didn’t see it that way, which is fine; Harriet managed to birth Scarriet (indirectly).

Poetry and its politics boils down to one question: Is this a good poem?

Alan Cordle’s question on Foetry.com was narrower: did you take contest fees to publish the winner’s book and was that winner your friend? I did not personally expose anyone; I was just an online participant on Foetry because I was curious about Alan’s quest, which seemed to me a sincere attempt to correct a wrong. Today I still believe this.

I broadened the investigation (watering it down to something more intellectual and benign) to Is This A Good Poem? This question is the ruling spirit of Scarriet. I understood, during my unofficial Foetry membership, that poets are allowed to be friends and help each other. This will always happen, and why not? But what ultimately matters is that the best poems are praised (no matter who writes them, or what manifesto is attached to them) and the worst poems are noticed as such.

This gives rise to a sweet philosophical complexity: how do we know what a good poem is? Who are you as a critic (and a person) to make this judgment? Are you, the judge, able to write a good poem? Who are the famous poets who write bad poems? Who are neglected poets who write good poems? What inhibits us from being honest about this?

Anyway, that’s me and Scarriet in a nutshell.

The poet Ben Mazer is a friend of mine. I have written a book on Ben Mazer—which praises his poetry. I defend him as a writer of good poetry, and the friendship matters less in the ratio of how well I defend him as a poet—and how good he actually is compared to poets not on my radar.

Ben was hanging out with the poet Charles Bernstein last year and Ben said, “Charles doesn’t like you.” This flattered me, as I hadn’t realized a poet of some note knew of me or Scarriet. There’s never any excuse to be a jerk—I have been, at times, in the past, in an effort to have strong, honest, opinions—and make a name for myself.

I’ll take this moment to apologize to anyone I may have offended.

I judge (dead and living) poets in the Scarriet March Madness “contests.” A few of these poets I know, but how good they are, and how I am able to articulate how good they are, is on display for all to see, though how well I know this or that poet, is not always known. Those who know me, know I have very few poet pals, and I try very hard not to get close to bad poets. ūüėÜ I met Marilyn Chin as a friend (not a close friend) a long time ago at Iowa before her career took off. I know Philip Nikolayev because I know Ben. I’m a shy person; my life is not full of friendships with poets—not even close. I think this helps me as Scarriet editor. (Yes you’ll notice Mazer and Chin showing up often, but some things can’t be helped, and I honestly believe they are both really good). I also met Dan Sociu in Romania in 2016, and I do think he’s a good poet. If an unpublished poet is good, I will say so. Discovering truly good poets takes a great deal of time and work—I wish I could do more in this area, but no one alive can single-handedly offer this kind of justice to the Poetry world.

I apologize for this laborious introduction; I wanted to look back at 2021:

January “Winter Threw Its Shadow Over the River of My Years” (1/30) is perhaps the best poem of this month because of its poetic cohesion; a poem can have a great idea, but unity is all. A Jeopardy poem, a CIA poem, a NFL rigging poem (life as “rigged” courts self-pity, but Scarriet siezes on the theme a lot) a love-revenge poem (another common theme) but again, interesting topics don’t make a poem good—but (I don’t think I’m wrong) an accessible idea (no matter how simple) is necessary. “Bored” (1/4) is one of the best of the month, and “My Iranian Girlfriends” (1/3) is subtle and witty.

February “I Can Confirm” (2/1) sounds like Blake, which no Scarriet poem tends to sound like. “In The Evenings” (2/9) is richly poignant, probably the best Scarriet poem of early 2021. Scarriet Poetry Hot 100! (2/15) is always exciting. Amanda Gorman is no. 1, Cate Marvin no. 2 (“Republican Party Is Evil” poets really talk like this), followed by Louise Gluck (Nobel), Joy Harjo (3rd term laureate), Don Mee Choi (National Book Award), Jericho Brown (Pulitzer), Noor Hindi (“Fuck Yr Lecture on Craft, My People Are Dying”), Naomi Shihab Nye (Emma Thompson reads her poem “Kindness” on Instagram to 2.3 million views), Wayne Miller (wrote article on talking about poetry online at Lithub) and William Logan (the critic/poet) rounding out the top 10. Also on the Top 100 list, the wonderful fugitive poets Mary Angela Douglas and Stephen Cole—I discovered them not too long ago online. As an experiment, a letter to my dad is published as a poem (2/21). “Now That The Poem Is Over” (2/22) works well.

March “This Poem Can Only Speak For This Poem” (3/7) , “Happy Marriage” (3/11), and “The Object” (3/26) (on musical fame), are the best poems. March Madness—the topic is Pop Music—(3/20) runs through early April, with interesting essays on your favorite artists and bands as they compete with each other. Nina Simone and Led Zeppelin are among those who go far. The tourney includes Spanky and Our Gang (“Sunday Will Never Be The Same”), as well as Dylan, Elvis, and Frank Sinatra.

April Many good poems this month as spring 2021 inspires love poems—not maudlin but suave and biting. Failed love poems unfortunately plague Scarriet, but in certain months real wit, rather than bitterness, accompanies the love. This month seems to be one of them. A Brief History of U.S. Poetry revised (4/30). Check out this post! Scarriet literary history at its best.

May continues with lots of good poems. “When You See Me You Insult Me” (5/25) is a classic Scarriet love poem (who hurt you so badly, Scarriet poet?) and the first of many great literary essays arrives on 5/31—a look at the critic Harold Rosenberg, who hadn’t really been on Scarriet’s radar previously.

June Poems of high quality continue. Book announcement of Ben Mazer and the New Romanticism by Thomas Graves (6/26).

July I read “Weather Poem” by Dan Sociu (7/5). Another audio feature—2 of my songs on YouTube (low-fi) (7/8) Self-indulgent, perhaps; I’ve composed many pop songs never given professional treatment for one reason or another. “Man, Those Decades In American Poetry Went By Fast” (7/11) Another historical re-posting. Finally, an essay: “The Four Quartets Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha” (7/19) in which an overrated work is just one of the things looked at.

August Some of the poems which begin to appear are slightly revised poems written long ago. Three reviews appear this month: The poems of Ruth Lepson (8/1), poems of 14 Younger Poets published by Art and Letters press (8/18) and poems of Daniel Riffenburgh (8/22). Many definitely prefer Scarriet’s prose to its poetry.

September A rather odd article in which the timelines of Delmore Schwartz and Giuseppe Verdi are compared and some observations on the partially neglected poet Schwartz are made. (9/12) An article on Tom Brady and NFL stats (9/26) Scarriet has a very opinionated, love-hate, relationship to sports. Old original poems continue to see the light of day.

October A great month for prose (and poems of decent quality continue) as Scarriet seems to be enjoying one of its best years. “One Hundred Years of Pulitzers” is a revealing historical survey (10/18). “The Poem Defined” (10/21) is a fine essay. Another Poetry Hot 100 (10/27) features the unstoppable Kent Johnson as no.1. The month ends with the scintilating “100 Greatest Poems by Women” (10/31).

November has more Scarriet essays. “Trickle Down Verse” (11/8). “The Good” (11/10). “The Textbook Which Changed Everything: Understanding Poetry” (11/19). In the autumn of 2021, Kent Johnson and his avant friends on FB goaded me into defending my core principles and beliefs. Thanks, Kent! Also this month, you can hear me recite Poe’s “For Annie” on video on my phone, one evening alone in my house, holding my copy of Library America Poe gifted to me by Hilton Kramer many years ago. (11/16)

December The year ends with an essay on Ezra Pound’s The Spirit of Romance, as I attempt to come to grips with this figure who was the subject of a Kent Johnson inspired online debate, “Can a bad person write good poetry?” (12/11) Poems on ‘poetry politics’ (inspired by Kent Johnson and friends) and politics—similar in theme to poems from January 2021, close out the month.

Happy New Year.

Thomas Graves (aka Thomas Brady and Scarriet Editors) Salem, MA 1/1/2022

EZRA POUND AND THE SPIRIT OF GOOD BEHAVIOR.

The Spirit of Romance | Ezra POUND

Ezra Pound in The Spirit of Romance, scholarly ruminations published in London when he was 25 by the cream of 1890s Fabian/Yeatsian literary society in 1910 informs us that the style of 19th century Romanticism in poetry (“spirit of romance”) can be found in classic ancient texts.

Well duh. Plato and the ancients, Provencal and Dante, fed Romanticism. We all know this. It’s a truism. Re-discovery of Plato, Dante, Petrarch, Shakespeare defines Romanticism.

Everyone also knows Pound has a tendency to rant. Unlike his other jottings gathered into what might be called works of criticism, The Spirit of Romance is relatively sane. In this work he quotes a lot of medieval poetry (equal or surpassing in length his own commentary), declares Dante and Shakespeare top dogs of the poetry world, and questions the worth of Whitman, deriding the former’s optimism in comparison to Villon’s earthy pessimism—this rather mundane observation is as surly as Pound gets. He does voice an unsupported antipathy to Petrarch. So, the weirdness is there, even in this early work of criticism (his prose becomes increasingly crazy—albeit interesting—as he ages) The soon-to-be Vortex Master and Traitor is practicing to appear scholarly. People will do this occasionally in Letters. Even Pound.

I’m afraid it won’t be very entertaining to skewer Pound in The Spirit of Romance—where he somewhat behaves himself. Pound must have said to himself at a young age: “I may as well put together one respectable book of prose.” This was good for his future reputation: to have one sane book of prose to go with his early lyrics (good, if uneven) and his “Cantos” (very uneven).

In this work he does say odd things.

“The history of literary criticism is largely the history of a vain struggle to find a terminology which will define something.” Pound does not tell us who is writing (vainly) this “history of literary criticism.” It is Pound, perhaps.

“Certain qualities and certain furnishings are germane to all fine poetry; there is no need to call them either classic or romantic.”

Pound, here again, states the obvious. But a couple of pages later he contradicts himself:

“Speaking generally, the spells or equations of ‘classic’ art invoke the beauty of the normal, and spells of ‘romantic’ art are said to invoke the beauty of the unusual.”

Coleridge and Poe have already said all that needs to be said on classical balance and romantic strangeness.

Pound, however, being Pound, is quick to equate Romantic excess with the “barbaric.” Four pages later: “the barbaric and the Gothic mind alike delight in profusion” and here Pound adds a footnote: “Spanish point of honor, romanticism of 1830, Crime passionnel down to Sardou and the 90’s, all date from the barbarian invasion, African and oriental inflow on Mediterranean clarity.” No surprise that Pound, like his American predecessor, Emerson, (“English Traits”) learnedly indulges in a certain amount of poisonous cultural commentary, sticking it to large ethnic populations.

In this first chapter of his book, which focuses on The Golden Ass by Apuleius (b. 125 A.D.) Pound describes the childish “romantic” literature he despises: “The mood, the play is everything; the facts are nothing.” Perusing The Golden Ass, “you read, as a child who has listened to ghost stories goes into a dark room; it is no accurate information about historical things that you seek, it is the thrill which mere reality would never satisfy.”

In chapter two, Pound quotes the splendid poet Arnaut Daniel profusely; Pound’s enthusiasm for grownup medieval literature helps him build his case against the so-called child-like Romantics, Shakespeare, and fantastical, populist literature of all kinds—a daring critical gambit.

Mr. Pound, in the final analysis of his career, is half-a-scholar and half-a-poet; sane prose and popular fiction to flesh out his accomplishments may be lacking, but his principled devotion to literary “reality” makes him a lightning rod for learned-literature-no-one-reads, literature eventually happily subsidized by the government in the schools, thanks to Pound’s allies, the well-connected and well-funded New Critics.

Pound’s scholarly weight rests almost entirely on translation—this is problematic (leaving aside Pound’s issues generally) when it comes to popular poetry in English.

Here is Pound in chapter two:

“Daniel’s poetry is more likely to claim interest than a record of opinions about it. His canzone, which Dante cites among the models of most excellent construction, opens:

Sols sui qui sai lo sabrafan quem sorts
Al cor d’amor sofren per sobramar…

Only I know what over-anguish falls
Upon the love-worn heart through over-love…”

Edgar Poe elevated American letters in a number of ways; going back in time to examine other tongues and their translations was not one of them; Pound filled a niche precisely in this manner—which is why, perhaps, if you like Pound, you won’t like Poe (Harold Bloom’s formula—NYR 10/11/84—was: if you like Emerson, you won’t like Poe).

Poe aimed at the common reader—not scholars, and this choice shouldn’t be an issue for anyone, especially since the pedagogy of Poe had an educational motive. Poe famously said “poetry is a passion, not a study.” Pound shows a similar spirit when he says above in discussing Daniel, “…the poetry is more likely to claim interest than a record of opinions about it…” Ironically, Pound then presents a translation—which is not the poetry—it’s Daniel in English prose—as well as the original, which for the lay reader is not poetry, either, since it is in a foreign language. One of Ezra’s favorite tactics is to use foreign languages (in which he lacked fluency) to talk down to his readers: “It will be helpful to compare Shakespeare to French prose, and if you don’t know French…” Pound may earn points as a scholar, but the common reader loses out.

Modernism is defined by its internationalism—seen most, perhaps, in scholarly interest which naturally results in prose translation—which conveniently overlaps with its production of original poetry—in prose.

The translator inevitably fails at poetry—even as, per his meticulous scholarship, he wins at it, since translation is a failure to produce the genuine article; translation, by its very nature fails, because it is a record of content and form standing apart. The translation scholar perpetuates the very division all original poets dread: the failed poem, but manages to do so in a context of linguistic supremacy. Even the fluent translator is a victim of translation’s sword. As Pound himself says in chapter four, among a great deal of translated passages from El Cid: the “interest is archeological rather than artistic.”

Why was Pound so interested in love poetry from centuries ago? Similar sentiments expressed by poets in English from his own time—the 19th and 20th centuries—receive from him nothing but scorn. Amazingly, however, he says a couple of passing nice things about Shelley in The Spirit of Romance. Yes, I know. Who is this guy, Pound?

The sentimental can sometimes sound more poised translated into prose—especially to those, like Pound and William Logan, averse to the sentimental. Translation courts the technical and superficial, which naturally eats away at feeling; at one remove, sighs and tears are more excused, and may even be embraced in a scholar’s historical context. Arnaut Daniel is not really blubbering; it only seems that way in the translated English prose (or English verse, if the translator is more daring).

The common English-speaking reader finds in Frost or Poe accents they can fully grasp—nor can the high learning of translators match the common reader’s experience of Frost or Poe—whatever kind of translated poetry or terminology. Society—since most of its citizens are not scholars—requires populist poetry. Highbrows often forget this. Frost, not Pound; Poe, not Emerson, inspire the vast amount of readers. There’s no need to choose sides—but as we know, poets and scholars, especially the ambitious ones, are as turf-driven as any animal in the wild. Thus Henry James and T.S. Eliot called Poe “immature,” “primitive;” Emerson called Poe “the jingle man.”

The polite, patient grownup—or the inspired, excitable, child—both of these contribute to Letters; if Poe lifts up the middle-brow (or the low-brow), surely this is just as important as Pound tickling the fancy of the foreign language dilettante.

And if Poe appeals to the high-brow (and he certainly does) and also sells more books, it’s silly to begrudge that.

Poets and critics should put personal differences aside.

Society and poetry—it is no exaggeration to say—depend on it.

THE TEXTBOOK WHICH CHANGED IT ALL—UNDERSTANDING POETRY

Yale University Staff - YACOLF19 Understanding Poetry

“The subject is exceedingly simple; one tenth of it, possibly, may be called ethical; nine tenths, however, appertain to the mathematics” –The Rationale of Verse- EA Poe

If you are reading this, it is almost a certainty that your ideas on poetry have been directly or indirectly shaped by this book. If you have anything to do with American poetry, this brief essay is about you.

England produced some pretty good poets—Milton, Byron, Keats—at a time when Greek and Latin was the only literature taught in school. It wasn’t until Matthew Arnold’s advocacy in the late 19th century and the publication of the widely used school textbook Understanding Poetry (Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren, 1938, 1950, 1960, 1976) in the United States, that anything like contemporary poetry actually entered school rooms. In the wake of this crude, hysterical, pistol-shootin’, Southern boy, bombastic, textbook, the most force-fed canon in the history of Letters since the King James bible, the poetry of Longfellow, Poe, Dunbar and Millay, which the public adored, was chased from the academy forever.

The only “professional” poetry, after the appearance of Understanding Poetry, was poetry stamped with the approval of the textbook’s authors and their friends.

The term, “professional,” as used by CIA funded John Crowe Ransom in his essays on what he termed “Criticism, Inc.” or “Criticism, Ltd.,” published at this time, was not meant to elevate the vocation of poetry in general, but to pave the way for a clique’s attempt to separate themselves out as the only authority.

It is a clich√© by now to say that everything is political. I will show that the textbook Understanding Poetry was nothing but an embarrassing, slipshod, power grab by a connected bunch of radical cowboys. Understanding Poetry, a nicely-sewn hardcover from Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, is anti-historical, extremely judgmental, and illogical. Nothing about it is actually “professional.”

Understanding Poetry looks at only one poem by Edgar Poe—to mock it.

Here is what it says about “Trees,” Joyce Kilmer’s iconic poem: “This poem has been very greatly admired by a large number of people. But it is a bad poem.”

Adelaide Anne Procter—one of only a few women selected for analysis by the authors (the book is at least 95% male)—is treated this way:

Even though the work of Adelaide Procter, who is known now only as the author of “The Lost Chord,” was once greatly admired by Charles Dickens, most modern readers of poetry would find this poem bad. Most readers who admire it probably do so because they approve of the pious sentiment expressed in it. Such readers go to poetry merely to have their own beliefs and feelings flattered…

The authors are anxious to create a schism in poetry.

The “Red Wheel Barrow” (which they unequivocally praise) contains nothing so obvious as a sentiment or an idea—therefore it is now, within the context of the textbook authors’ mandate, safe to like. It is the authors who sniff out a “pious sentiment” in Procter’s poem, “The Pigrims,” which as a poetry textbook subject, deserves to be treated as a poem. Procter’s poem uses a number of literary elements—rhythm, rhyme, imagery, and contrast in a perfectly competent manner. The problem the “professional” authors have with this poem is their problem: as New Critics, they cannot get beyond the simple fact that every poem under the sun will express either some kind of sentiment (which can be summarized or paraphrased) or none at all. The theme of “The Pilgrims” is: Do not despair: others with God-like stature have it worse than you. The textbook authors go on to call Procter’s poem, and anyone who might enjoy it, “stupid” because the poem, according to them, is not fresh or new.

The problem, however, is that the authors are raising the bar impossibly high. Some themes will always be popular. No completely original poem is possible—the imagination does not create; it must use old material. The complete absence of any sentiment or theme whatsoever, like we find in “The Red Wheel Barrow” or “In a Station of the Metro” (this little poem by Pound is lauded as “new and surprising”) is treated by Brooks/Warren as achieving a transcendence of sorts—nothing is preferable to something, due to the New Critics’ hostility to paraphrase. For Brooks/Warren, random imagery sans theme wins them over (especially when produced by a member of their clique) as “new” and “fresh.” Most everything else is clich√© or doggerel.

Rhythm gets no close analysis from the authors, even though this element divides poetry from prose; they only express the opinion that too much of it is a bad thing (their reason for condemning “Ulalume”).

The poems they champion are those which are as close as possible to prose—and have no discernible sentiment—thus their keen interest in poems of mayhem and gore treated disinterestedly. The poetry of Poe these critics of poetry reject, while, ironically, embracing the popular trope of Poe’s fiction.

The authors bar most of the poetry canon and replace it with examples written by their friends. The safe filler of the book consists of misplaced canon-material tucked away into chapters in a way that fails to tease out what is most important about them. Poems of metrical excellence are put into chapters on “Tone” and “Descriptive Poems.”

We might conclude that by dismissing Adelaide Procter’s Christian poem, the authors felt too many Christians were reading too many bad Christian poems—one can surely understand this as a legitimate concern; the authors, however, don’t print good Christian poems in the canon by way of comparison; their sincerity extends only as far as scorning “pious sentiment” in a single poem and leaving it at that. Dante, Petrarch, and the entire “Divine Eros” tradition—and all romance, love or religious poetic traditions—are left out of the book altogether.

The question one expects a textbook to ask is: how should a poem best express a sentiment? A poetry textbook shouldn’t be involved in policing or curbing the sentiments themselves—especially those which are world historical and immensely popular. The authors, crusty, secular, and outspoken in the extreme, cannot help themselves. They plead for neutrality, as a matter of principle, but cheer for some sentiments over others throughout the book—and the problem is compounded by their failure to recognize that sentiment manifests itself in a host of unspoken ways. They seem to think poems are able to escape sentiment (which they generally believe is bad) simply by not being overtly sentimental. Thus they think depicting a red wheel barrow is not sentimental—which it horribly is. This particular error in taste infects nearly all of their judgments.

Curiously, they don’t even mention haiku—dare I assume it’s because they’re anxious to champion their friends Pound and Williams and their haiku-like poems, lavished with epithets “fresh” and “new?”

The book as a whole is not only filled with strange hit-and-miss assertions, it reeks of chummy provincialism. The advertising is deeply off—they call their text Understanding Poetry, not, as they should, Understanding the New American Poetry.

In their introduction, the authors, a couple of yahoos from the South (members of a Tennessee gang called the Fugitives, and later the New Critics) quote a Longfellow poem, and in the spirit of Poe, without mentioning the master, fault the Longfellow poem, “A Psalm of Life,” as crudely didactic. These boys, Brooks and Warren, ain’t playin’ around.

“This poem seems to give a great deal of good advice.”

Imagine this said in a bar somewhere in the deep South after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of Massachusetts has taken a seat and is looking around.

“But granting that the advice is good advice, [here Brooks and Warren look at each other and grin] we can still ask [they move closer to Longfellow] whether or not the poem is a good poem.”

After appearing on pg. 8 of this 584 page textbook (third edition) with this one poem, America’s favorite poet, Longfellow, is never seen again.

Edna Millay, Dorothy Parker, and all the women who dominated English and American poetry after Byron, out-selling the men during those decades, never quite appear in Understanding Poetry. Not so, H.D., Pound’s one-time girlfriend—she has two of her poems discussed. The Pound clique is carefully promoted, side by side, with the New Critic circle—the American wing of Pound’s Modernist operation.

“The poet is a man speaking to men.” Wordsworth, a tough son of a bitch who hiked a lot, states the central theme of the book’s introduction.

After the “message-hunting” of Longfellow readers is dismissed, the authors quickly deny the “emotion and sensation” school. The taste of an apple, or a good cry, is better in real life. Poetry can’t compete with these, the authors say. Fair enough, and so far within their introduction the authors are doing okay.

What about “fine sentiments in fine language?” Now we are in the realm of their fellow southerner, Poe. In a word, Beauty. Or as Brooks and Warren put it, “a poem as simply a bundle of melodious word-combinations and pretty pictures.”

The authors straighten their spines and lift up their chins.

No.

Brooks/Warren are sure of that. None of that pretty, elegant stuff.

The authors quote Hamlet: “whips and scorns of time…the law’s delay…To grunt and sweat under a weary life…”

For Brooks and Warren “grunt and sweat” demonstrates that “great” poetry doesn’t need to be pretty or elegant. This proves it.

No doubt the entire passage (Hamlet’s famous To Be or Not To Be speech) taken as a whole, could be called an example of “fine sentiments in fine language,” even if some parts are not absolutely beautiful; certainly the Hamlet speech meets the standard of the sublime—which Poe would gladly substitute for beauty, as would all his Romantic brothers and sisters.

But the authors are adamant: Get the pansies out of here. Poetry ain’t got no part of the ‘greeable and we have shown that to everyone’s satisfaction!

Once they have acquainted their readers with the rude depictions and harsh emotions of “drama” in the hands of Master Grunt & Sweat Will Shakespeare, there is no turning back for these gentlemen from Tennessee. The die is cast. They fire their pistols not only into the ceiling but into the gas lamps—and burn down the tavern. Official Verse Culture is leveled—thanks to Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren. A genuine American poetry (something resembling the prose poems of William Carlos Williams and the newspaper clipping rants of Whitman and Pound) will be erected in its place.

Poetry, per the violence of these professors, will do violence to the old order and every sensitive mind.

Brooks/Warren go on to assert: “The relationship of the elements in a poem is what is all important,” a truism, really—a piece of pedantry intended to soften their final conclusion:

Poetry isn’t poetry. According to the authors it’s “drama.” Woo hooo! Damn straight!

The summary to their introduction over the dead bodies of Beauty, Message, and Sensation, in their own words:

“But the fundamental points, namely, that poetry has a basis in common human interests, that the poet is a man speaking to men, and that every poem is at center, a little drama, must not be forgotten at the beginning of any attempt to study poetry.”

Admittedly, at first blush, this does sound pretty sensible. Poetry as dramatic speech. Even Dana Gioia, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Samuel Johnson, and lords Tennyson and Byron might agree.

The “drama” does have much to recommend it; however, the erosion of poetry begins with the assigning of elements to poetry—which exist and can be much better developed or made the object of applause—elsewhere. Can poetry compete with mediums or genres better equipped to envelop audiences in the dramatic—whether it’s videos of street fights on You Tube, popular music, TV, film, or Drama (theater) itself?

The introduction must be judged largely a failure. Yes, it does make sense that one cannot eat a poem like an apple, and a poem should belong to “common human interests” (as opposed to the interests of turtles) and speech does play a large role, obviously, in poetry.

And “drama,” if we stretch out the definition, (recall the authors praise the ‘Red Wheel Barrow’ at some length) can certainly vaguely denote the art.

But why exclude, as the authors do, emotion? Or “fine sentiments in fine language?”

Elsewhere in the book’s introduction, a close reading of Troilus and Cressida—naturally calling on Shakespeare as often as possible to prove their poetry-as-drama thesis—Brooks/Warren write:

“The images of the first five lines, as we have seen, are closely bound together to define a certain attitude.”

Notice how they are precisely imprecise. Defining poetry as “drama,”—and yet eschewing both emotion and what they call “beautiful statement of some high truth,”—they walk an insane tightrope of delicate inference: “images….which define a certain attitude” is how they manage to evade both strong feeling and truth— neither of which, apparently, is allowed.

But “drama” without “fine language or sentiment” is the trope they are going with.

Introducing the first chapter of the book, Narrative Poems, they begin in the following way—and notice the examples they provide:

“We have said that the ‘stuff of poetry’ is not something separate from the ordinary business of living, but itself inheres in that business. We hear someone say that a farm boy has suffered a fatal accident while cutting a block of wood with a buzz-saw; or we read in the newspaper that a woman has shot her sweetheart; or we remember that there was once an outlaw from Missouri named Jesse James who was killed by treachery.”

Poetry instruction as Texas Chain-Saw Massacre.

Imagine millions of HS and college students introduced to poetry defined this way.

Dante compared poetry to a love letter.

The Understanding Poetry authors want poetry to compete with murder stories in newspapers.

Good luck with that.

They are determined to rid poetry, once and for all, of “fine sentiments and fine language.”

These are some scary New Critic outlaws who have rolled into town!

Robert Frost, fresh with a host of Pulitzer prizes, is all too ready to assist them.

Understanding Poetry, for the first time in Academia, makes the swimming pool safe for living poets, as friends of the authors are welcomed into the canon of their textbook, provided with free towels and bathing suits. Come on in, Wheel Barrow! The water’s fine!

If you are Edward Arlington Robinson, Joyce Kilmer, Edna Millay, Edgar Poe, or any number of classic poets from outside England or New England, careful. There’s sharks.

Frost is a perfect guest: old, respectable, a genuinely good poet, and, most importantly, still alive. Living poets (even if they are mediocre) can now be read next to the dead greats. As long as they are fortunate enough to know the textbook authors. The living Robert Frost was iconic enough to make good cover for this move. Today we take such gambits very much for granted, since “the new” is now the pragmatic norm in poetry studies.

There are 6 Chapters in Understanding Poetry; the first one, as mentioned, is Narrative Poems, (murder ballads, mostly) followed by 2. Descriptive Poems, (the silliest kind of poetry is descriptive—strange this gets its own chapter) 3. Metrics, 4. Tone (this is where Ulalume is savaged), 5. Imagery (another word for Descriptive. By now it feels the chapter categories of Understanding Poetry lack a certain sense), and finally, 6. Theme: Statement and Idea.

The theme of Understanding Poetry itself: real life horror, articulated plainly and without sentiment, steps to the fore in the first chapter—Narrative Poems.

The first poem under observation is Robert Frost’s “Out, Out—” a poem I never wish to read again; the poem concerns a Vermont village boy’s buzz-saw accident in front of his sister as she calls him into supper; the boy dies that night in the hospital; the whole thing is described in a chillingly matter-of-fact manner, for the maximum horror-effect, apparently. Frost was experimenting with something—will simple description heighten the horror of a horrible event? Whether or not it succeeds as a poem, the authors only know it is the one they want to set the tone of their book.

The last four lines of “Out, Out—“, a poem of 35 lines:

No one believed. They listened at his heart.

Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it.

No more to build on there. And they, since they

Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

Whatever stoic virtue the poem has doesn’t save it. The poem is a monstrosity; but in their mission to define poetry as whatever lacks feeling, while cultivating general human interest with just the right combination of images, the authors consider this poem pure gold.

After “Out, Out—,” we get a bunch of anonymous murder ballads, in which the authors praise the ballad’s ability to condense a story—as it “shows” instead of “tells,” a great virtue, according to the authors, who forget they have defined poetry as “speech.” Poetry can only “show” by telling—the truism that it is better for poems to “show” is a nullity. To tell ironically is the closest a poem can come to “showing,” which it never actually does. Imagists fall into great error on this point.

The Narrative Poem chapter also includes 3 poems by A.E. Housman—the authors seem to prefer him to Longfellow because Housman is a secular Longfellow; “Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree” is a decent ballad, meeting the authors approval with plenty of tragedy, blood, and stoicism. “Hell Gate” by Housman has nothing to recommend it; the story is muddled and its music uninspired. The authors write, “We feel immediately that we are not dealing with salvation in the Christian sense.” Perhaps this is why they selected this mediocre poem? The third Housman poem, “Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries” is praised because the authors recommend its cynical message (every soldier only fights for “pay;”). Longfellow is not allowed to articulate a theme, but apparently Housman is.

I’m not sure why the authors don’t include Poe’s ballad “Ulalume” in the “ballad” chapter; they confine themselves almost entirely to anonymous ballads, and when they briefly discuss “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” at the end of the chapter, they make the mistake of saying that Keats is “using the pretense of ballad simplicity,” as they assume that here we have a “modern poem” pretending to be an authentic ballad. Keats died in 1822. When do the authors think “Frankie and Johnny” was composed? The very essence of the subject seems to elude them.

A naval engagement from “Song of Myself” is the soaring highlight of Chapter One. There’s not much of a story told, but the authors enthuse over seemingly irrelevant “details,” and the following makes them especially happy:

“The hiss of the surgeon’s knife, the gnawing teeth of his saw,/Wheeze, cluck, swash of falling blood, short wild scream, and long, dull, tapering groan…”

In the Afterwards to Chapter One the authors admit they have a problem:

“Indeed, it is not easy, except in regard to the use of verse, to make an absolute distinction between poetry and prose fiction.”

Poetry, they say, has “concentration,” “sharpness of selected detail,” “appeal to the imagination” and “intensity.”

These are too vague to mean very much.

What can be going through the minds of the students forced to read this textbook?

Chapter Two, Descriptive Poems, begins with an assault on a chestnut by Robert Browning, as the authors continue their scorched earth policy against “Official Verse Culture.” Actually, they do make an interesting observation: “mood” and “thought” are often the same. Whether Browning brought the authors into a temporary state of sanity, it is not certain. In the last comment on the Browning, the authors write: one critic felt this poem sucks. Do you agree? It’s OK. Browning will survive.

The Descriptive Poems chapter (Two) is a nod, after the “ballads” chapter (One) to poetry as a rather simple art form—resembling fiction, just more condensed.

Language does not interest our authors, nor aesthetics, nor the Socratic, nor epistemology, nor philosophies of composition, nor fancy v imagination, nor cultural or social content, nor anything beyond things like:

“A lively sense of the perceptible world with its sights, sounds, and smells, is fundamental to poetry.”

Chapter Two devolves into poems about the seasons; Shakespeare, Shelley, Wordsworth, Keats, and T.S. Eliot (“The Preludes”) go to kindergarten. Along the way, a couple of H.D. poems, Pound’s petals on a bough poem (lovingly discussed) and the following poem (quoted in full) by James Stephens, “The Main-Deep:”

The long rolling,
Steady-pouring,
Deep-trenched
Green billow;

The wide-topped,
Unbroken,
Green-glacid,
Slow-sliding,

Cold-flushing,
On—on—on—
Chill-rushing,
Hush-hushing,

Hush-hushing…

This poem fills the authors with wonder. They discuss it at length, quoting approvingly the line “Hush-hushing.” They consider the poem splendid—and write solemnly on it. The author was a close friend of Joyce.

By the time we reach page 119 and chapter 3 Metrics, it is no surprise that Brooks/Warren embrace T.S. Eliot’s strange assertion that prose scans—and therefore poetry and rhythmical language really don’t have much to do with each other.

“What is poetry?” we might ask at this point.

The authors only know what it is not. It is not iambic pentameter. The following, they say, is iambic pentameter, and this is not poetry:

A Mr. Wilkerson, a clergyman.

This pretty much sums up the metrics lesson of Chapter Three.

I’d like to end this look at Understanding Poetry with their take on Metrics, because I think their attitude towards formalism is where they do the most damage, but I’ll sum up Chapters Four, Five, and Six, first.

Chapter Four, “Tone,” is the chapter where we find things by E.E. Cummings and the textbook’s comedic poems (Ogden Nash); and this is where “Ulalume” is treated comically and slaughtered. After “Ulalume” is killed off, the authors reprint “Luke Havergal” by Edwin Arlington Robinson and “Voices” by Walter de La Mare with little comment, implying these two poems are failures as well, mostly because of their exaggerated rhythm, and then, accompanied by a great deal of earnest laudation, Brooks/Warren offer their colleague Jonh Crowe Ransom’s poem, “Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter,” a poem which revels in a child’s death—describing her in its final (rhyming with “stopped”) line: “Lying so primly propped.”

The next poem is “After the Burial” by James Russell Lowell (the 19th century is generally not favored by the authors). The end of Lowell’s poem:

That little shoe in the corner,
So worn and wrinkled and brown,
With its emptiness confutes you,
And argues your wisdom down.

Here’s what the authors say about Lowell’s poem: “Many readers have found this poem disturbing. They find it disturbing because, on one hand, they know that it was written as the expression of a deep personal grief, and on the other hand, they think it is a bad poem.”

Chapter Five (Imagery) is where they put Tennyson, Hart Crane, Marvell, Donne, Auden, and Dickinson—who seems to be the only woman poet the authors can stomach, besides H.D. and Marianne Moore—she was included in the final “Poems for Study” section—no commentary)—two women belonging to Pound’s clique.

Chapter Six—“Theme: Statement and Idea” features still another poem by Housman, George Meredith, Donne, and finishes up with heavy-hitters: 3 well-known poems by Frost, Gray’s “Elegy,” Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” Blake’s “London,” Emerson’s “Brahma,” “The Force That Through the Green Fuse” by Dylan Thomas, Eliot’s “Prufrock,” (with a long, respectful, discussion), Melville, Jarrell, Yeats (and a long discussion), “Shine, Perishing Republic,” by Robinson Jeffers, “The Return” by John Peale Bishop (similar in theme to the Jeffers—no patriotic songs or poems in this book!) and finally “Kubla Kahn,” “Lycidas,” and “Nightingale” (a long discussion) and “Urn” by Keats.

Our New Critic authors do select some powerhouses of “Official Verse Culture,” (necessary if their textbook is to have any weight at all) but it’s clear their intention is to destroy it—by their omissions, their commentary, and the careful organization of their themed chapters. All in all, a very clever hit job. The book also had to make their friends, such as Ezra Pound, WC Williams, and John Crowe Ransom, very happy, indeed.

On page 151, a single line by the otherwise excluded Millay, in a onomatopoeia discussion in the Metrics chapter, is mocked by John Crowe Ransom. This must have given the boys in the office a good chuckle.

Millay’s line: “Comfort, softer than the feathers of its breast.”

Ransom: “Crumpets for the foster-fathers of the brats.”

The first purpose of Understanding Poetry is to prove the authors’ paramount notion—poetry is 95% prose meaning and 5% poetic effect. An interesting idea—like saying a person missing a face is still a person.

Their higher purpose seems to be to replace poetry of the working and middle classes and esteemed by professorial verse-expertise and inspired by a love of verse in general, with the “new” poetry written by their friends. This intent is perhaps more difficult to prove—though it coincides with the first purpose above—and reading this book, what is one to think?

“The Blindness of Samson” by Milton is quoted—the metrical variation of iambic and trochee in the first five lines is pointed out—but I still can’t help but laugh at the ‘buried alive’ (in blindness) theme—the authors, throughout the book, in their poetry selections, are uncommonly fixated on macabre fiction strategies of Poe—even as they reject Poe, the poet.

Brooks/Warren, in the Metrics chapter, fully quote another Milton poem, “On the Late Massacre in Piedmont,” featuring “martyred blood” and “Mother and infant” tossed from cliffs—pointing out this poem has “precisely the same rhyme scheme” of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?”

Really? One has to wonder: are the authors critics or sadists?

They don’t discuss stanza forms—the pinnacle of verse mastery. They do, at least, because it is such a popular trope—thanks to poets like Shelley, Poe, and Alexander Pope—pay some attention to “sound and sense,” but why they feel compelled to compare a famous love poem with a massacre poem simply due to a similar rhyme scheme is just bizarre.

There is more torture of sorts when they discuss the metrics of Milton and Barrett in the following manner:

“To sum up, we may say that the relation of rhetorical pauses to the line pauses of a stanza provides a principle of vital vibration analogous to that provided by the relation of rhetorical accent to metrical accent.”

Got that?

There are different kinds of pauses.

Actually, no. Verse contains only one kind of pause. Speakers, yes, can interpret pauses as wildly as they choose—but this does not alter the verse as written.

“Vital vibration” sounds like something which might inspire the daft Charles Olson and the whole nutty avant school, which hears things in the ether– poetry to neither you nor I, but to them alone.

“After Long Silence” by Yeats (a rare modern who could pull off verse—Auden and Larkin the youngest poets who fit that mold) is reprinted, followed by two difficult sonnets of Shakespeare, Hardy, Ben Johnson,Cowper, Hopkins—not the greatest examples of metrical excellence, frankly, especially for a student exposed to the blurry pedagogy of the authors, but this is all in preparation, no doubt, for the final act of the Metrics chapter: a lengthy commentary on two free verse poems by William Carlos Williams. “By the road to the contagious hospital” and “The Red Wheel Barrow,” including a revisit of “Pear Tree” by H.D.

The authors’ conclusion is that “free verse” is, indeed “verse”—in every sense of the word.

Need I say more?

Thomas Graves, Salem MA

THE GOOD

Changing Ezra: Pound's Punctuation Choices | Modern Poetry ‚ąę The MOD Blog

When arguing with my peers about Pound and my belief that a bad person cannot write good poetry, a gulf has opened and I feel terribly lonely; no one accepts “only good produces good,” my premise, or even pretends to understand it. To understand it is to agree with me—how can the bad be good?—so how do I make them understand? How do I impress upon them that the good is good, and cannot be bad? Personally, I cannot move without being greeted by the good—it informs my meditations and my hopes—but behind it lurks the bad: death, loss, the grinning contrarian.

The trouble I am having, I think, is with the very argument itself—one for our times. It points to something so large we cannot see it—the Good. It is like God, a concept whose very size prohibits comfortable and intimate understanding.

Let me present as best I can the argument against me.

Tom. We are not comfortable with your thesis…it has a strong religious smell around it…you are the holy idiot which the smart, secular, set must keep at arm’s length. This “good is good” idea of yours is too simple; you are forcing us to apologize for something (the bad) which has within it energy, mystery, duality, room, flexibility, perception, calculation, and pleasure. We cannot give that up or seek forgiveness for it. Whenever we gaze at your Good—this good which produces the good—it goes out of focus. You have only concepts: the vague idea that the good is good and the bad is bad—and somehow they cannot mix. Even on a conceptual level your argument seems inflexible and naive. Meanwhile, we present not concepts, but Pound (and we know he had bad in him) and the poems (which we know has good in them). To cleanse Pound (you haven’t the power) you would need to cleanse the poems—and we don’t want you to do that.

I cannot listen to such arguments.

First, I will judge Pound’s poems, not the other way around. My conceptual integrity (good is good, bad is bad) is no hindrance to my close and intimate reading of Pound’s specific poems, Pound’s specific behaviors and how others have judged and defended them.

Second, my definition of bad and good as that which will not be mixed—by definition they will not be mixed—does not prevent my perception of their mixture in the greater world.

Third, this “holy fool,” “religious” whiff you’re getting is simply the result of your own lack of sophistication on the matter; the person who attempts to understand the world from the highest or the most removed, abstract, perspective, is practicing philosophy, not religion—the reason the two were once, for all practical purposes, the same, is that the lens of highest perspective and the God-lens are both great study aids.

Perspective is always good. The bad lacks it.

Energy and flexibility could be the wriggling of what is trapped and in despair. Perspective will tell us that. The hard-to-understand might be bollox or it might contain insight. Perspective (another name for the good) will tell us that. The dire straits of the worm is the thrill at the center of any adventure story; the serene perch of the eagle may be boring, by comparison, but perspective owns the thrill; the trapped only suffer it.

Criticism is more difficult than poetry. Criticism, to be good, must be thorough. A poem is not bound by thoroughness. We love a poem precisely because it is an intellectual act which relieves us of the obligation to be thorough. A poem acts on us, literally, in seconds. Think of your favorite Emily Dickinson poem, or the “petals on a black bough” poem of Pound, or the wheel barrow poem by Pound’s friend William Carlos Williams. The curtain is coming down even as it is going up, in such performances. There is no expectation of thoroughness at all. A lecture by a critic keeps the curtain waiting.

We cannot be as the poem when we speak on the poem; the poem’s gravity, as strong at it is to us, when we feel that particular poem is good, a gravity of silent and speechless force, weakens when we listen to the critic’s words telling us why the poem is good. The poem’s wit has no words, even as wit belongs to words. This is the “thoroughness” of the good poem—it makes words useless altogether. The great poem would make the critic and his words unnecessary.

Still, criticism must use words and must be thorough, even if the advertisements and the poems succeed thoroughly and powerfully in another manner even in the same city where the critic wearily resides.

But what if the critic is seduced? Why shouldn’t the critic be seduced? Critics live with poets (they are often companions) and the poets seduce with mere cries—the seconds it takes to glimpse a red wheel barrow scene—and now what is thoroughness but a dream? I will be a critic—go on stage, wearing my suit and tie, talk for an hour or two, on what? it doesn’t really matter—the trustees of the college only ask that I am sober.

There was once Greek and Latin, but no English poetry, taught in the schools; and yet English poets of genius were produced.

The Relationship between Big and Small is the essence of all instruction and learning.

The good which is Big is too big to see. And the bad…

Here are the war broadcasts.

Here are the Cantos.

Here are petals on a bough.

Class dismissed.

TRICKLE DOWN VERSE

Ezra Pound | The Fiend

The example of Pound is central and the teasing out of his good—the good is always what matters—only the good produces the good—even if we need to go into the maze and the well to prove it.

The “cakes and ale” argument attempts to refute the idea of the good person (or the good in the person) as the sole means by which the good poem is made. Heroes are lusty, flawed; cakes and ale sold, served, and consumed; physical beauty, the highest good, in a moment’s impulse, and with a laugh, whored.

So the bad poet writes the good poem (a piece of cake, a drink of ale) and the dream of the good vanishes, like God and the dinosaur. Nothing but appetite is left—and its party discipline critique. Life is caught between the Whore and the Pistol; life is either the Drug or the Drug Police.

The expensive poem is sought but all we get is cheapness, the ink stained mimeograph of the college student freeing himself of college, bucking the drug police, consuming cakes and ale.

The expensive poem is the Ezra Pound chess set with its grey sea and rose red squares, bordered in silk. The Goodly Frere is one king, and Pound himself, the other. Li Po and Villon pawns, T.S. Eliot one of the bishops. Bah! There shall be no peace! Because what is this? War Propaganda minister and pre-raphaelite and U.S. writing program dean Ford Hueffner Ford is one of the knights. Allen Tate, too. James Joyce the liquid rook, Lady Bank Note a queen. And what’s this? Mussolini is one of the pieces…

An expensive chess set, indeed…

It’s Ezra! pal to Eliot (Auden), Williams (Ginsberg), Oppen (Stalin) who draws everyone into the black hole of his person and his friends and his influence—the black hole, the gotterdamerung, the last wheezing fit, the death consummation of the final orgy, Romanticism befouled by Modernism, the beautiful perishing in the copying machine’s embrace.

Charles Bernstein’s Buffalo (Super Bowl losers) rebellion of nothing, crying over “Official Verse Culture” (already dead! A black hole! either that, or the last hope and Bernstein too stupid to see this Gerald Stern asks Bernstein in Tuscaloosa 1984 literary conference with Lady Blank Notes Vendler and Perloff and other Ack-ademic toadies Names names give me names who are the “policeman poets” of “Official Verse Culture?” Bernstein silent shuddering weak can’t name one thinks of Pound’s many arms, feels the sucking of Pound’s gravity, sees Jarrell flying by on a broom “We’re all romantics!!” Bernstein lacks a language, sweats, stammers, Vendler gives him a look ‘oh come on charles we had such high hopes for you’ the other wymyn in the room feel nothing but disgust finally squeaks, “eliot.”

Trickle Down Poetry. Ack-ademic wheezing soipcism of theological brain dead theorectumical inaccessible pretense poetry. Romanticism spoilt. Nuttin’ left to do. Be gag-ademic and consume grants and ale. Be spoilt brats and committ suicide or long long pee in pants as tenured prof. Go live on a farm. Write dingle berry old man poetry.

Who spoilt Romanticism? Who drove the final stake into chaste, picture of horror, poe? who killt Schiller and dishonored the wan sonnet dream?

Pound. He swore he would eliminate what had just happened—Keats (Pound was in fact keats-lite) and Shelley and Byron and Tennyson and Millay and Edwin Arlington Robinson and do a HALF-good job of diving back into the good, accessible, fresh air civilization folk culture of more ancient times, be a lusty Ruskin of PRE Milton/Raphael with help from Eliot who went back to Metaphysicals while damning Hamlet and Milton and Shelley and Poe under the banner of FAKE TWEEDY RELIGION—Pound, the half-Romantic, went back to times of poetry covered in mist—indulging in Romantic-lite, making concoctions that were part folk poetry and part ass-puke, making a witches brew of half-baked chaos so that Modernism could legitimately be a pile of stinking license for trickle down, whored out folk verses, and whatever it wanted to be, as long as it wasn’t good.

The bad, in the name of cakes and ale, know exactly what good is—and don’t want it. Actively revile it.

This is what every poet learns early on, and we might as well go all in, what every soul learns early on. The good is hated by the ‘cakes and ale’ crowd and they don’t want it. And this crowd is everywhere.

I just wrote a good poem. Do you want to see it?

If it’s really good? Nah. Get that shit out of here.

But if it smells like beer? Yah. Let me take a look.

Bad people write good poetry.

This simple formula, bad people write good poetry, if believed, does what?

It moves mountains. It lifts up the bold and murders all who stand in your way.

It eliminates the good.

Pound is essential, because he is the license maker who was partly good—studied and wrote/translated examples of folk poetry which is accessible and is the secret to the art:

the revolutionary peasant formula is not complicated—teach the young to write and think clearly, have a strong imagination (sympathy) a sense of beauty, a love of virtue and invention, love the old, the outdoors, other people, use grammar, be musical, humorous, philosophical, never pedantic and be as crazy and passionate and unique as you want and don’t be afraid to be fucking GOOD even if all your “mentors” and potential mentors hate you for it).

Pound was partly good: The Ballad of the Goodly Frere, The Merchant Rivers Wife. You know the good ones. I don’t have to tell you.

Pound was also bad. Again, I don’t need to tell you. The dribble writing, the dribble of his associates. His behavior, his crackpot literary opinions, the whole Modernist, pre-raphaelite schtick of utter and bogus license.

This Pound hybrid, which finally dragged down the good and left a bunch of Charles Olsons and Charles Bernsteins and Trickle Down advocates and cakes and ale puke in its wake, this Hybreed, is why Pound has essentially become the gatekeeper of all poetry and how, hated, or secretly loved, he DEFINES everything. Was he a secret agent? I don’t know, but Pound, you pirate bastard, goddamn, you did it.

And by far the worst legacy is the philosophical bankruptcy of the conniving, innocuous-seeming formula: Bad people write good poetry. This is the expense we finally cannot afford.

THE ONE HUNDRED GREATEST POEMS BY WOMEN

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Feminist Author of The Yellow Wallpaper

This is a silly idea. Why a list of women poets? Is this because I like poetry—or women?

And if I made such a list—let’s say the top 100 poems, wouldn’t half the poems be Emily Dickinson’s?

What would this do for equity and equality?

If there are differences between men and women—and if poetry is humankind’s most delicate and subtle expression, why are there no means to tell whether or not a poem—by its poetry—has been written by a man or a woman?

There is a far greater gulf between a 19th century poet and a 20th century poet or between Emily Dickinson (b. 1830) and her ‘hearts and flowers’ peers than between men and women poets.

How, then, would a list of women poets mean anything at all?

There are two reasons yet standing which might urge one to compose such a list.

Women poets have been neglected—and here is a way to honor them.

The topic or POV chosen for a poem is not insignificant—could this, at least to some degree, define women’s poetry?

The Romantic poets, by confining poetry to certain universal topics—nature, love, subjective feeling—tended to put men and women into the same poetic box, the same hill, the same wood. Was this a good thing? A subtle trick to bring man into woman’s more sensitive and tender orbit and to break down the walls between the two? Perhaps Romanticism knew what it was doing!

As I peruse an old anthology of “Great Poems by American Women” (dutifully following footsteps) I am struck by this: many neglected women poets wrote fantastic stanzas—and yet there are too many flaws in the poem as a whole to be remarkable. Emily Dickinson was wise, I think, to make her poems brief—genius often comes in short bursts—brevity is no reason to doubt the genius. I would hate to see beautiful stanzas by forgotten poets languish, so perhaps the best thing is to highlight greatness wherever I find it, and not worry about the “greatest poems.”

Many forgotten sisters were as good as Dickinson—but in stanzas alone. And women, especially in the 19th century, also wrote many great but slightly imperfect poems.

I will plunge forward, then, at random, and collect a few lights before they fade.

I think I will begin with Sara Teasdale (b. 1884) who is not entirely neglected, but does not enjoy real fame. It might be because she does not have a striking biography. Certainly very few are talking about Sarah Teasdale. You can tell us of your Sappho or Emily Dickinson, but look at these two poems by Teasdale. Are they not moving in the extreme?

The Kiss

I hoped that he would love me,
And he has kissed my mouth,
But I am like a stricken bird
That cannot reach the south.

For though I know he loves me,
To-night my heart is sad;
His kiss was not so wonderful
As all the dreams I had.

I Shall Not Care

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.

I shall have peace as leafy trees are peaceful,
When rain bends down the bough,
And I shall be more silent and cold-hearted
Than you are now.

“I Shall Not Care” represents perhaps the highest perfection of the art. The intention fits the result, and as we dreamily fall towards the result rhythmic beauty abounds.

Christina Rossetti, a wonderful 19th century poet from England, has a poem similar in theme to “I Shall Not Care” and it is very beautiful. It would surely make the list, as well. My guess is that three quarters of the list would be 19th century poets; women poets (especially in America) dominated the 19th century. I wonder why?

The first stanza of Sarah Teasdale’s “The Kiss” lacks a subtle rhythm and the transition from I was ‘kissed on the mouth’ to ‘I am a stricken bird’ feels a bit jarring but the poet is saying a great deal in 8 lines and the poem as a whole succeeds wonderfully, I think. “As all the dreams I had” says so much.

The following poem of two stanzas by Charlotte Perkins Gilman has a much wider sweep; it does not belong to the canon but perhaps it should:

A Common Inference

A night: mysterious, tender, quiet, deep;
Heavy with flowers; full of life asleep;
Thrilling with insect voices; thick with stars;
No cloud between the dewdrops and red Mars;
The small earth whirling softly on her way,
The moonbeams and the waterfalls at play;
A million million worlds that move in peace,
A million mighty laws that never cease;
And one small ant-heap, hidden by small weeds,
Rich with eggs, slaves, and store of millet seeds.
        They sleep beneath the sod
             And trust in God.

A day: all glorious, royal, blazing bright;
Heavy with flowers; full of life and light;
Great fields of corn and sunshine; courteous trees;
Snow-sainted mountains; earth-embracing seas;
Wide golden deserts; slender silver streams;
Clear rainbows where the tossing fountain gleams;
And everywhere, in happiness and peace,
A million forms of life that never cease;
And one small ant-heap, crushed by passing tread,
Hath scarce enough alive to mourn the dead!
        They shriek beneath the sod,
            ‚ÄúThere is no God!‚ÄĚ


There are millions of poets who have never written a work as fully realized as “A Common Inference” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Her poetry in general is spoiled by an inclination for the didactic—but this poem should be high on any list.

We might as well get right to this and print the following without further ado as perhaps the greatest sonnet ever written:

Euclid Alone Has Looked On Beauty Bare

Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare.
Let all who prate of Beauty hold their peace,
And lay them prone upon the earth and cease
To ponder on themselves, the while they stare
At nothing, intricately drawn nowhere
In shapes of shifting lineage; let geese
Gabble and hiss, but heroes seek release
From dusty bondage into luminous air.
O blinding hour, O holy, terrible day,
When first the shaft into his vision shone
Of light anatomized! Euclid alone
Has looked on Beauty bare. Fortunate they
Who, though once only and then but far away,
Have heard her massive sandal set on stone.

The author is Edna Millay, who has a gossipy biography, but wrote many selfless and timeless poems.

America really was given its song by women. Poe dedicated his Poems 1845 to Elizabeth Barrett. Once the era of Byron was over, the women took over poetry. Julia Ward Howe (b. 1819) wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

How many know that “America the Beautiful” was written by a woman? Here is the final stanza of the poem by Katherine Lee Bates (b. 1859):

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

And this, too, was written by a woman:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
‚ÄúKeep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!‚ÄĚ cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!‚ÄĚ

Emma Lazarus (b. 1849) joins the company of women who gave us soaring rhetoric—the highest pinnacle of sublime expression actually belongs to women.

“The New Colossus” and “Euclid Alone Has Looked On Beauty Bare” are similar; both, strangely and magnificently, recall Shelley’s “Ozymandias” (“two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert”).

It is no exaggeration to say that women poets dominated the late 19th century and early 20th centuries to such an extent that the Pound/Williams “revolution” nearly obliterated the stunning decades of women’s lyric accomplishment. Any success which that “revolution” may have had depended a great deal on making women feel ashamed that their glory was merely an imitation of Shelley, Thomas Moore, Byron and Poe.

Two things had to happen at once. Pound and Williams had to gain readers for themselves (obviously) but those readers first needed to be convinced that Shelley, Byron, and Poe were less than satisfactory. TS Eliot (loyally ran interference for Pound—who introduced Eliot to poetry society) viciously trashed Shelley and Poe (the melancholy Eliot possessed an iron fist). Eliot was the smoother and more talented enforcer of Pound’s rather crackpot ambitions.

The women poets of Pound’s day (and somewhat earlier) are forgotten—or dismissed as hopelessly sentimental—which if you read their best work is absolutely not true, even if we insist that any kind of sentiment is always bad. Marianne Moore was the one prominent, praised, female in the Modernist men’s club, and she wrote explicitly against the beautiful poetry which elevated her sisters:

“You do not seem to realize that beauty is a liability…” opens Moore’s odd poem, “Roses Only,” and she continues without irony in a prose lecture, ending, “Your thorns are the best part of you.” O mind of ice! She belonged to the Eliot/Williams/Pound clique, and one can see why. Ted Hughes reported that Moore did not hide the fact that she preferred him to Sylvia. Why am I not surprised? Plath’s “Daddy” would of course be on the list, as well as a poem or two by Sexton, who was just as good as Plath. I find Moore insufferable and she would not make my list. Bishop, anointed by Moore, I’m told, would make the list with “The Fishhouses.” That description of the cold water!

In Poe’s lecture, popular in its day, finally published as “The Poetic Principle,” in which Poe famously warns against both the “long poem” and the “didactic poem,” the first poem the Virginian quotes for praise is by Shelley; Poe also quotes approvingly Thomas Moore, Byron, and Tennyson.

One can see how mainstream poetry criticism once judged poetry—simply by quoting Poe’s “Poetic Principle:”

“The rhythmical flow, here, is even voluptuous—nothing could be more melodious.”

“The versification, although carrying the fanciful to the very verge of the fantastic, is nevertheless admirably adapted to the wild insanity which is the thesis of the poem.”

Sara Teasdale’s “I Shall Not Care” exemplifies the kind of poem Poe praised—he was especially keen on contrast: for instance, between the happy, oblivious, life just above the grave and the grave. Teasdale’s “though you should lean above me broken-hearted,/I shall not care” aches with the moral drama Poe loved.

The Pound/Williams revolution had to get rid of all of this. With a manifesto or two, they did. Flowery doggerel fell without a fight. The best of the rest is barely hanging on.

Let’s quote the first stanza of Mary Ashley Townsend’s “Creed,” which goes on for seven uneven stanzas. This is glorious:

I believe if I should die,
And you should kiss my eyelids when I lie
Cold, dead, and dumb to all the world contains,
The folded orbs would open at thy breath,
And, from its exile in the isles of death,
Life would come gladly back along my veins.

I said Emily Dickinson chose well to make her poems brief. 19th century poets who composed musically took risks—the smallest metrical lapses can ruin poems committed to formalist and musical strategies, and the longer your poem is, the more it has a chance of being ruined by mistakes, even subtle ones—it’s the difference between a long foul ball and a home run.

But Dickinson embraced more than brevity. Unity exists in Dickinson, too.

Harriet Monroe (b. 1860) has a brief poem:

A Farewell

Good-by: nay, do not grieve that it is over—
The perfect hour;
That the winged joy, sweet honey-loving rover,
Flits from the flower.

Grieve not,—it is the law. Love will be flying—
Yea, love and all.
Glad was the living; blessed be the dying!
Let the leaves fall.

This is a compressed lyric on a melancholy subject but still manages to be wordy and matter-of-fact: “it is the law,” “Let the leaves fall.” To describe a bee with this many words: “the winged joy, sweet honey-loving rover” is a bit much.

“A Farewell” is an accomplished poem. To write a poem of this type may look easy, but it is not.

Harriet Monroe is not known for her poetry, but for founding Poetry magazine and knowing Pound. Gradually the journal Poetry stopped publishing poetry like Teasdale’s. Today the magazine is unreadable.

Now let us look at Dickinson:

I Never Saw A Moor

I never saw a moor,
I never saw the sea;
Yet know I how the heather looks
And what a wave must be.

I never spoke with God,
Nor visited in heaven;
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the chart were given.

Emily doesn’t waste words—her poem makes Harriet’s poem sound like a lengthy treatise by comparison.

Emily’s poem is mystical and personal—I know nothing, but I know.

Harriet’s poem is impersonal and this makes it weaker; often I hear the “lyric I” faulted—one might as well fault the lyric itself.

Speaking of faulting the lyric itself, the Modernist revolution of WC Williams and Ezra Pound demanded that hard, impersonal, thing-ism replace Romantic sentimentality—banished forever was the German Romantic poet Goethe’s “Eternal Feminine.” Song, feeling, and beauty had to go.

A poet is always looking for irony to elevate simple passion and sentiment—it’s a common sense strategy for all writers. Only the most reckless, French Revolution radical, in a manic frenzy and bleeding from the eyes, would eliminate passion and sentiment from the process itself, since feeling is the very ground of all human expression. Once thing-ism becomes the decree, anything associated with feeling must be cast aside; once feeling is banished, hundreds of poetic attributes associated with feeling are (passionately!) banished, as well.

But of course feeling was not banished forever. How can it be? At the very worst, the Pound/Williams revolution and its various obscure camp followers was only a corrective, a turning away from the excesses of Romantic rhyme and sentimentality. This is how it was, and still, is generally seen. The fact is, Williams and Pound as poets themselves are not very remarkable and their revolution was really not influential except that it provided license to a host of bad prose poets. 20th century poets succeeded in spite of Pound and Williams (and M. Moore) and this is the truth. We need not trouble ourselves over Pound and Williams.

There was one great drawback of High Modernism, however:—for poetry, especially—it discouraged the Romantic, formalist template, which was never, in itself a bad thing. Poetry can expand without murdering; if metrical skill is not encouraged and admired, what happens to it? As a skill not easily attained in the first place, it begins to disappear. And those not skillful at all rush in to be crowned as the poet involved in a different kind of difficulty, one that puts off readers—yet pleases certain critics of questionable talent defined by large ambition and their friendships—with these same less than talented poets.

Poetry certainly did embrace personal feelings even as the 20th century, beating back Romanticism in a fashionable fit, went on. If you can’t talk in rhyme, like a Wordsworth or a Byron, if you aren’t that one in a million Millay or Frost who has the talent to talk in rhyme, well then of course you start expressing yourself passionately in prose. When metrical skill finally stopped being a pre-requisite in the late 20th century, the entire scene began to fill up with bad rhyming poets, really difficult prose poets and Billy Collins. This was probably worse than the 19th century which had good rhyming poems, bad rhyming poems, and good prose—which people were generally wary of calling poetry.

But it’s no use in crying over spilled milk. Poets are ultimately responsible for themselves.

Let me copy “The Drowned Mariner” by Elizabeth Oakes-Smith (b.1806)

A MARINER sat on the shrouds one night;
    The wind was piping free;
Now bright, now dimmed was the moon-light pale,
And the phosphor gleamed in the wake of the whale,
    As he floundered in the sea;        
The scud was flying athwart the sky,
The gathering winds went whistling by,
And the wave as it towered, then fell in spray,
Looked an emerald wall in the moonlight ray.

The mariner swayed and rocked on the mast,        
    But the tumult pleased him well;
Down the yawning wave his eye he cast,
And the monsters watched as they hurried past
    Or lightly rose and fell;
For their broad, damp fins were under the tide,      
And they lashed as they passed the vessel’ s side,
And their filmy eyes, all huge and grim,
Glared fiercely up, and they glared at him.

Now freshens the gale, and the brave ship goes
    Like an uncurbed steed along;        
A sheet of flame is the spray she throws,
As her gallant prow the water ploughs,
    But the ship is fleet and strong:
The topsails are reefed and the sails are furled,
And onward she sweeps o’ er the watery world, ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†
And dippeth her spars in the surging flood;
But there came no chill to the mariner’ s blood.

Wildly she rocks, but he swingeth at ease,
    And holds him by the shroud;
And as she careens to the crowding breeze,        
The gaping deep the mariner sees,
    And the surging heareth loud.
Was that a face, looking up at him,
With its pallid cheek and its cold eyes dim?
Did it beckon him down? did it call his name?        
Now rolleth the ship the way whence it came.

The mariner looked, and he saw with dread
    A face he knew too well;
And the cold eyes glared, the eyes of the dead,
And its long hair out on the wave was spread.        
    Was there a tale to tell?
The stout ship rocked with a reeling speed,
And the mariner groaned, as well he need;
For, ever, down as she plunged on her side,
The dead face gleamed from the briny tide.        

Bethink thee, mariner, well, of the past,‚ÄĒ
¬† ¬† A voice calls loud for thee:‚ÄĒ
There’ s a stifled prayer, the first, the last;‚ÄĒ
The plunging ship on her beam is cast,‚ÄĒ
    Oh, where shall thy burial be?        
Bethink thee of oaths that were lightly spoken,
Bethink thee of vows that were lightly broken,
Bethink thee of all that is dear to thee,
For thou art alone on the raging sea:

Alone in the dark, alone on the wave,        
    To buffet the storm alone,
To struggle aghast at thy watery grave,
To struggle and feel there is none to save,‚ÄĒ
    God shield thee, helpless one!
The stout limbs yield, for their strength is past,        
The trembling hands on the deep are cast,
The white brow gleams a moment more,
Then slowly sinks‚ÄĒthe struggle is o’ er.

Down, down where the storm is hushed to sleep,
    Where the sea its dirge shall swell,        
Where the amber drops for thee shall weep,
And the rose-lipped shell her music keep,
    There thou shalt slumber well.
The gem and the pearl lie heaped at thy side,
They fell from the neck of the beautiful bride,        
From the strong man‚Äôs hand, from the maiden’ s brow,
As they slowly sunk to the wave below.

A peopled home is the ocean bed;
    The mother and child are there;
The fervent youth and the hoary head,        
The maid, with her floating locks outspread,
    The babe with its silken hair;
As the water moveth they lightly sway,
And the tranquil lights on their features play;
And there is each cherished and beautiful form,      
Away from decay, and away from the storm.

Elizabeth Oakes-Smith was popular in her day and also lectured and wrote plays. She made the claim after Poe’s death that his death was due to a physical assault, a claim which history has mostly ignored.

“The Drowned Mariner” has the high feeling and passion which Williams and Pound sought to eliminate—but this 20th century poem by Marilyn Chin also has strong feelings, and of a more personal nature:

How I Got That Name

I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin
Oh, how I love the resoluteness
of that first person singular
followed by that stalwart indicative
of ‚Äúbe,‚ÄĚ without the uncertain i-n-g
of ‚Äúbecoming.‚ÄĚ  Of course,
the name had been changed
somewhere between Angel Island and the sea,
when my father the paperson
in the late 1950s
obsessed with a bombshell blond
transliterated ‚ÄúMei Ling‚ÄĚ to ‚ÄúMarilyn.‚ÄĚ
And nobody dared question
his initial impulse‚ÄĒfor 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 ‚Äúr.‚ÄĚ
She dubbed me ‚ÄúNumba one female offshoot‚ÄĚ
for brevity: henceforth, she will live and die
in sublime ignorance, flanked
by loving children and the ‚Äúkitchen deity.‚ÄĚ
While my father dithers,
a tomcat in Hong Kong trash‚ÄĒ
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‚ÄĒ
We’re not very creative but not adverse to rote-learning.
Indeed, they can use us.
But the ‚ÄúModel Minority‚ÄĚ 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‚ÄĒ
where life doesn’t hinge
on that red, red wheelbarrow,
but whether or not our new lover
in the final episode of ‚ÄúSanta Barbara‚ÄĚ
will lean over a scented candle
and call us a ‚Äúbitch.‚ÄĚ
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‚ÄĒlong and knobbed as a gourd.
A third, the sad, brutish one
may never, never marry.
And I, his least favorite‚ÄĒ
‚Äúnot quite boiled, not quite cooked,‚ÄĚ
a plump pomfret simmering in my juices‚ÄĒ
too listless to fight for my people’s destiny.
‚ÄúTo kill without resistance is not slaughter‚ÄĚ
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 ‚Äúthe patriarch‚ÄĚ
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‚ÄĒ
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!

Can we find any meeting point between these two poems, “The Drowned Mariner” and “How I Got That Name?” One flies downward on the wings of a visionary dream, the other flies outward by way of reference, autobiography, and history. Both use real life (a horrific shipwreck tragedy impacted Oakes-Smith personally)—no one ever said Romanticism was not real; it just sounds to modern ears more removed from reality. Is this merely a matter of taste and fashion? This must be the common sense view—and since the Modern defines Romanticism as lacking common sense (how can we take the swooning music of Shelley seriously? etc) the Modern is forced to admit: yes, it is just a matter of taste and is trapped in the long arc with Romanticism forever.

THE GREEN AND THE BLACK: DELMORE SCHWARTZ AND A TALE OF TWO CENTURIES

The Most Fatiguing of Occupations‚ÄĚ* | You Do Hoodoo

A narrator of an autobiographical tale pleads with his parents not to marry—their courtship is up on the screen in a documentary/romance. ‘Don’t have children,’ he yells at them, helplessly, ‘what are you doing?’ An usher in the dream cinema says, ‘Wait, what are you doing? You can’t say whatever you want in a theater.’ A microcosm not only of a life but of a removed and powerful feeling for and against that life—“In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” by Delmore Schwartz (1913-1966) has a poetic transcendence condensing thousands of movies and novels.

At 21, in July, 1935, near the calendar day of his death, Delmore Schwartz wrote perhaps the best short story in English (go read it now if you haven’t).

Get ready.

A Delmore Schwartz revival is coming.

The only possible breakthrough equivalent in American Letters, equal to Delmore’s tale, which did not involve obscenity issues or cunning self-promotion, was Poe’s Raven/Philosophy of Composition/”A long poem does not exist” phenomenon a century earlier.

Like Poe, Delmore was no blue-blood who belonged to a well-established clique. Poe was an impoverished orphan, cut off by a wealthy guardian. Schwartz was a Jew trying to succeed in a world with WASP Harvard at its center and he was also bitterly aware of an inheritance denied him—a Great Depression and corrupt lawyers ate into his father’s legacy which would have made Delmore quite well-off.

Delmore was acutely aware of his outsider Jewish immigrant background even as he ran in Allen Tate’s Modernists circles in a vain attempt to be the next Ezra Pound. He was both arrogant and brilliant enough to half-laugh at this dilemma, ignore this dilemma, perhaps, even as one suspects it pushed him towards paranoia and madness.

Poe and Delmore were outsiders, yet so extraordinarily adept at poetry, fiction, and criticism—all three—they threatened to outstrip every Anglophile above them.

Poe tangled with the wealthy Harvard professor, Longfellow, and thumbed his nose at Emerson. Poe also wrote devastating reviews against New England circles—the same circles which would produce the American-turned-Britisher T.S. Eliot (Eliot’s grandfather, who knew Emerson, left Harvard Divinity School to co-found Washington University in St. Louis).

Delmore was a bit more ingratiating than Poe. Schwartz was pals with nearly everyone, from big shots like Pound, Eliot, Tate, and Ransom, to second-tier figures like Berryman, Jarrell, and Lowell. James Laughlin, who used his Steel fortune inheritance to float Modernist-literature-which-didn’t sell (New Directions) was Delmore’s publisher; a year younger than Delmore, Jay loved to ski and was prone to depression and Delmore bossed him around—when it came to making publishing decisions, it was the blind leading the blind.

Inside positions, top appointments, tenured professorships eluded Delmore, and in the end, Delmore was just as much of an outsider as Poe.

Delmore’s longest term of employment was as an English Composition instructor at Harvard, correcting endless “themes” (freshman papers). He should have been given a chair in his honor and a couple of small seminars of graduate students to teach, but the fates were not kind to him—given how much talent and intellectual ambition he had.

Delmore’s age consisted of short lyric, simple painting, poignant story, strident essay, and cement architecture, but just as the Civil War with its body count shocked the delicate aesthetic community of Poe’s, World War Two and its Boom swamped the introspective, modernist, pessimism of Delmore—a film fan and a philosopher, who lamented TV’s popularity.

Schwartz was on top of the world in 1938—and lost to it by 1943—drinking and popping pills. He did pick himself up a few times, no doubt breathing a sigh of relief when newspapers announced the Axis Powers lost in 1945. Delmore was seeking to add to his fame during a window of time in the early 40s when Pound and Eliot headed up the clique he labored in and no one was sure which side was finally going to win the war. Delmore’s biggest award was the Bollingen Prize (awarded to him in 1959)—a prize made famous by Pound, who won the first-ever Bollingen in 1948 after escaping hanging for treason.

A lady’s man, Delmore would re-marry in 1949 (Elizabeth Pollet, a beautiful blonde novelist who married someone else in 1948 when Delmore got cold feet, admitting she loved Delmore the whole time) and his stories, reviews, and anthologized poems secured his reputation during the late 40s, but as his biographer put it, 1947 saw the “beginning of his worst depression—from which he never entirely recovered”—at this time, “Allen Tate, in Sixty American Poets, concluded that Schwartz had not ‘lived up to his early promise.'” Delmore knew this to be true—but hated someone else saying it.

Delmore did say it, in a journal entry, quoted by Robert Phillips in the introduction to the selected Letters:

“I must think of the house on Ellery St: where I lived alone, drank until I was a problem drinker, fell in love foolishly and vainly wasted the years when I should have been at the height of my powers: during most of the Second World War and after…”

Delmore does not blame his failure on the United States—but this is what Delmore-intellectuals all like to say, by way of some crude remarks made by Baudelaire. Dwight MacDonald, one of Delmore’s oldest friends from the Partisan Review days, in his introduction to Delmore’s Essays, compares Delmore to Baudelaire’s Poe. Here is MacDonald quoting Baudelaire:

“In Paris, in Germany, he [Poe] would have found friends who could easily have understood and comforted him; in America he had to fight for his bread.”

Delmore came to believe this rubbish (the food of nearly every literary intellectual) that Europe is superior in every way to America. Here is Delmore in a letter (8/8/1957) to the English poet Stephen Spender:

“English publishers…do not believe that the best of all books is the bankbook and the writing of poems a self-indulgent hobby…”

This is ironic, since Spender was being secretly paid by the CIA (this would have been “paranoia” had anyone said it then). Here Delmore’s naive side is on display: the belief in the nobility of English publishers; the cynical side of Delmore was constantly ridiculing president Eisenhower.

Delmore was always complaining about the “Almighty Dollar,” and he did face money problems—this did belong to his decline.

Middle-aged Delmore was like the Rolling Stones, who made money touring, long after they stopped writing good songs—only Delmore’s 1930s reputation was used by others (Recommend/review my friend’s book! Be our mag’s poetry editor! Write an introduction for our anthology!) while no one paid Delmore much money; he was fairly stable in the 1950s until his second wife left him—this, combined with his poverty, and everyone using him, and his non-existent belief-system, finished him. Delmore was a dead man walking for the last ten years of his life.

In the last third of his career, Delmore had no center, no belief, nothing to fall back on, except poetry—which he wasn’t able to write. It would be wrong to make too much of Delmore’s Jewishness. Delmore was whatever he wanted to be; he could admire Heine and discuss Jews with Karl Shapiro, but then turn around and say to Robert Lowell (in a 1/27/55 letter):

“I am…a royalist in literature, a classicist in politics..and an Anglo-Catholic in all questions of lyric poetry.”

Delmore said his favorite of his own poems was “Starlight Like Intuition Pierced The Twelve,” written, he said, in 1943, because it had him liking Christianity without having to believe it. Delmore’s madness may have been partially due to his inability to feel genuinely about anything.

As James Atlas describes Delmore in the 1940s—only the second decade of his career—and yet, sadly, the beginning of the end:

“Delmore’s most famous epigram, that ‘even paranoids have real enemies,’ could well have served to characterize Harvard’s intellectual climate, for he was hardly alone in being competitive, high-strung, and temperamental, and had only to elaborate and refine real instances of rudeness in order to arrive at the conspiracies he found so dramatically satisfying.”

Atlas, again: “Bowden Broadwater refused to invite the Schwartzes [Delmore and his first wife, Gertrude] to his parties because ‘they are always imagining that people are talking about them, and they glower from corners.'”

The only certain thing about Delmore’s entire life and literary career is the perfection of the tale, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities;” everything else is ambiguous and painful.

First—and what gets the most attention—mainly because the embarrassment was fictionalized so well by Delmore’s friend, Saul Bellow, is Delmore’s personal destruction: he died, childless and alone, from a heart-attack at 52, looking like an old man.

Second, is the poetry, which is decidedly minor: three anthologized poems, but no great poems, towering above the rest, were ever produced. The world waited, but it never happened—yet he’s remembered as a poet.

Third, he did go on to produce more fiction, mostly realistic and autobiographical, occasionally transcendent or surreal, but none of it has the poetic intensity of “In Dreams,” which has a vivid, searing quality lacking in Delmore’s other stories—which often read like he took a vacation from the calling that produced that first masterpiece. He never escaped the autobiographical fire which burned so brightly in the tale which introduced him to the world—he didn’t use it; he let it use him. He never “got over” things—he picked at them. He suffered from insomnia his entire life. Was this his fault? Do we love him in spite of it? Yes, we love him: no, we don’t blame him; but this is beside the point.

Fourth, the criticism, which is surprisingly polished, even-handed, and likable. And this is somewhat disappointing, given Delmore’s genius. In the critical prose we get Delmore’s Dr. Jekyll side. His essays are full of phrases like “We ought to remember that perhaps…” Pound, though it’s clear Delmore had no illusions about him, is defended as a beautiful and historically important poet who must be read over and over again. Delmore repeats all sorts of Modernist truisms—Rimbaud was great because he hated the bourgeoisie and capitalism and yet Rimbaud failed because his hatred was too extreme, and yet, this too, makes Rimbaud great. There is a faint sympathy for things like Christianity (one can feel Delmore always trying to come across as calm) but every time Christianity is mentioned, it is “dying.” A diligent errand-boy for Modernism, we are continually reminded, “The age in which one exists is the air in which one breathes.” Capitalism isn’t dying, but it’s hateful. The Romantics (old-fashioned, every one) wrote about “nature.” Poe (who Schwartz, like all Modernists, never admitted to, nor actually seemed to, have read) was “naive.” Twentieth century letters, for Delmore, quite simply pours from the head of Rimbaud (and Blake). Because “Christianity was dying.”

In “Rimbaud in Our Time,” Schwartz writes, “[Rimbaud] attempted to return to an ancient purity, a time previous to Europe, and Christianity, a pagan culture: ‘I am a beast, a Negro’… But he cannot accomplish this departure because Europe is everywhere.”

The Rimbaud of “I am a beast, a Negro” is one of those big, stupid ideas which poets and intellectuals should examine, dismiss or refine, not feed. Schwartz was certainly not the only one guilty of this; the young Delmore strove to please a Modernist hierarchy which mostly accepted him; he belonged to that camp and willingly, or unwillingly, breathed that air.

Delmore favored a “special language” for the poets (he adored Finnegan’s Wake) and privileged the didactic over beauty in poetry. If we believe Delmore’s own words, it was because he was stuck in “his age.”

Delmore loved to gossip, joke, and argue—and exceptional at all three, these three inform his work—which continually struggles to rise above gossip, joke, and argument—and reach the level of literature.

He made two great mistakes in his late 20s, following his initial splash.

First, rushing into print a poorly translated Rimbaud.

Second, spending five years writing and publishing a long, didactic, Greek-chorus, autobiographical, prose poem full of exclamation points.

If someone were bent on ruining his career, they could not have given him better advice to that effect.

Glancing at Understanding Poetry 3rd edition, the textbook used in all the schools (the surest way to fame, actually) during Delmore’s lifetime as he sought the lasting respect and recognition he never got, what do we see?

The influential textbook, put together by two New Critics (the unofficial group Schwartz lovingly worked for and with) is filled with Delmore’s rivals, their poems prominently illustrating poetry lessons.

Only one of Delmore’s poems sits at the back of the book, within almost 100 pages of poetry merely reproduced for extra reading, or “study” as the book puts it.

What is this poem?

It is the “Heavy Bear” poem which appears in Delmore’s first book, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” named after the tale, but which contains mostly poems—of uneven quality—published by James Laughlin at his family estate in Norfolk, Connecticut. Laughlin was pushed into publishing by his friend Ezra Pound (who Laughlin stayed with in Italy after graduating from Harvard). Both publisher (Jay) and writer (Delmore) were in their early 20s.

“The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me” (untitled in the book) depicts a person clumsy with appetite and anxiety—a poem of adolescent trepidation and nervousness, which unfortunately contains the lines “Climbs the building, kicks the football,/Boxes his brother in the hate-ridden city.”

One knows poets through textbooks. Unfortunately, for Delmore, “The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me” sitting in the back of Understanding Poetry was not enough to keep his poetry in print.

Pound and Williams were used to illustrate lessons (paltry ones—but nonetheless) in Cleanth Brooks’ and Robert Penn Warren’s tome.

Another poem in Delmore’s first book shows the same theme, but here adolescent anxiety mars the writing itself:

I am to my own heart merely a serf
And follow humbly as it glides with autos
And come attentive when it is too sick,
In the bed cold of sorrow much too weak,
To drink some coffee, light a cigarette
And think of summer beaches, blue and gay.
I climb the sides of buildings just to get
Merely a gob of gum, all that is left
Of its infatuation of last year,
Being the servant of incredible assumption,
Being to my own heart merely a serf.

(first stanza)

This is the humble, depressed side of Delmore—he also could be imperious, caustic, and manic.

The pairing of a young, arrogant, writer with a younger publisher (one who was more into skiing than literature, to boot) was bound to lead to disaster. Schwartz was prolific, as well as a genius—but poor publishing decisions can ruin the relationship between public and writer—unless that writer is a Milton or a Poe.

Poor reception—lack of sales—introduces doubt, and this was terrible for a writer like Delmore, a young, sensitive, outsider.

Delmore’s second collection of poetry did not appear until 1950, and was savaged by Hugh Kenner, author of the Pound Era. Vaudeville For A Princess, a thin, rather unattractive, hardcover published by New Directions, was not well received.

The first poem which greets the reader in Vaudeville is “On A Sentence By Pascal:”

“True eloquence mocks eloquence.”
Did that Frenchman mean
That heroes are hilarious
And orators obscene?

Eloquence laughs at rhetoric,
Is ill at ease in Zion,
Or baa-baas like the lucid lamb,
And snickers at the lion,

And smiles, being meticulous,
Because truth is ridiculous.

Then follows a short essay, “Existentialism: The Inside Story,” which ends, “As for me, I never take baths. Just showers. Takes less time.”

And the second poem in the book, begins:

The mind to me a North Pole is,
Superb the whiteness there I find,
The glaring snows of consciousness
Dazzle enough to make me blind,
Until I see too much, in this
Resembling James’ governess.

And the final stanza:

The mind resembles all creation,
The mind is all things, in a way;
Deceptive as pure observation,
Heartbreaking as a tragic play.
Idle, denial; false, affirmation;
And vain the heart’s imagination—
Unless or if on Judgment Day
When God says what He has to say.

This sort of writing may be amusing—but if you wish to be taken seriously as a lyric poet after a 12 year absence, this is not the way to do it.

The only poems Delmore was known for were three—including “Heavy Bear”—included in his first book, all written before he was 25.

The one book of ‘poems only’ which Delmore published was his third collection, Summer Knowledge, Selected Poems, issued 5 years before his death.

Vaudeville for a Princess, his second collection, which biographer James Atlas calls a “slight achievement,” includes dazzling yet bizarre essays, including cynical summations of Hamlet and Othello by Shakespeare—missing what’s great about these plays and explicitly saying they have no meaning—a glimpse no doubt, into Delmore’s soul.

Writing in the Age of Freud, Delmore, in all his work, wrote almost exclusively about himself—and whether he is a great author depends on how much he understood himself—which this reviewer believes was just enough to make Delmore Schwartz a worthy object of study.

In one of the essays in Vaudeville, we read this about a literary party:

“he was making unkind remarks about editors and critics. This caused an awkward silence because several of the critics were friends of his host and his host was a very kind man…” “I had been warped by being forced to earn my living as a literary critic…”

In another essay from Vaudeville, “Don Giovanni, Or Promiscuity Resembles Grapes,” we get insights on being a playboy which ring true—one comes away believing that Delmore was that breed of melancholy and guilty seducer who may have significantly ruined his literary career and his sensitive nature with screwing.

The sonnets which close out Vaudeville is not a “slight achievement;” they are wonderful, but they do tend to be a little didactic. There are three kinds of poets—the bad ones, the ones worthy of study, and the ones who produce poems we just plain love: Delmore, I think, belongs to the second category—which is no mean feat.

The treatment of Delmore in Delmore Schwartz, The Life of an American Poet, by James Atlas, is like most other responses to Schwartz as a literary figure—respectful, when not being condescending.

It is true that Delmore became paranoid at the end of life, but Atlas is clearly not happy with 36-year old Delmore’s behavior during a cocktail party (“Delmore’s suspicions about his friends were by now verging on paranoia”) but one can understand why Delmore might be upset:

“When William Empson, just back from China and sporting a Mao suit, volunteered that giving the Bollingen Prize to Pound was the best thing America had ever done, Delmore turned on him and accused him of being a traitor to England because he was a Communist. The Mizeners, who lived next door, heard Delmore shouting long after the last guests had gone home.”

Atlas ends the anecdote with “Delmore shouting” as if this proves Empson was reasonable and Schwartz was not—clearly it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Hayden Carruth describes the poet’s decline in 1952, when Schwartz was 39:

“He still looked rather boyish like that old photograph in the Oscar Williams’ anthologies, but his features were somehow softened, hazy, blurred, and his voice was so quiet that I had to bend my head to hear him. I had the impression of great sadness and sweetness. It was as if he was lost and knew he was lost, and had given up caring about it. The exhilarated spirit his older friends remember was never apparent to me, but rather a quietness and a desire to cling to little things—little actions and objects—as if from a simple attachment to littleness for its own sake. He looked and spoke like a defeated shipping-house clerk.”

To see how brief the career of Delmore Schwartz actually was:

Schwartz was born in 1913. The composer Verdi was born in 1813.

By 1840, Verdi’s two young children, a girl and a boy, and his wife, were dead of illness. Verdi’s only son died before he was 2.

Life was not easy in the 19th century, but people were tougher perhaps.

In the year Delmore was born, in Brooklyn, in 1913, a statue of Verdi was placed in his home town in Italy. Delmore died not too far from Verdi Square in mid-town Manhattan.

In 1842, Verdi’s opera Nabucco—the subject: Jews in exile—debuted, in the spirit of unification of Italy. “Song of the Hebrew Slaves” from that opera made Verdi famous.

By 1942, decisions by Laughlin and Schwartz were seriously undermining Delmore’s literary career.

Schwartz’s career theme was alienation—Verdi’s, the opposite, even though suffering and sorrow belonged to Verdi’s life and art.

Verdi had been hit with loss of wife and children. Schwartz, according to Delmore’s biographer, mourned the death of James Joyce, his favorite baseball team (the Giants) not doing well, and Adlai Stevenson losing to Eisenhower in the 1952 election—Schwartz said president Eisenhower would be like “Julius Caesar.”

1847, Verdi’s opera Macbeth opened.

With the poor reception of Vaudeville for a Princess in 1950, Delmore’s career as a poet is nearly over. A book of essays never appeared when Delmore was alive. His fiction was good—but didn’t sell. The public thought of him as a poet, or a critic—but the only poetry really known of Delmore’s was published in 1938.

1851 Rigoletto

1853 Il trovatore

1853 La Traviata

1857 Simon Boccanegra

1959 Summer Knowledge, Delmore’s Selected Poems—reprinted old ones, a few new ones—is published.

According to the Atlas biography, in the late 50s “Editors were magnanimous and deferential to his reputation…Poetry encouraged him to submit verse and paid for it in advance (an unprecedented gesture for Poetry…both William Maxwell and Howard Moss at The New Yorker isolated what was publishable from the disorderly manuscripts he submitted…the quarterlies regularly accepted his work, whatever its quality…

1961 Successful Love (stories) is reviewed by Time and Newsweek. Delmore attends the party in which Norman Mailer stabs his wife. By now Delmore’s life is torn by paranoid episodes and poverty.

1865 Don Carlos

1966 Delmore dies on July 11th, (the birthday of Verdi’s son)

1871 Aida

1874 Requiem

1887 Othello

1893 Falstaff

1901 Verdi dies.

But enough bad news about Delmore Schwartz.

I said a revival was coming. What about that?

Thanks to the work of Ben Mazer and the kindness and receptivity of the Schwartz estate and the publishing house FSG, the Collected Poems of Delmore Schwartz should make an appearance as early as next year—Mazer is finishing up his monumental task as we speak, not only collecting Delmore’s poems but discovering ones never seen before.

Mazer has also asked for new essays on Schwartz—which will be coming out even sooner, from Madhat Press.

There is also The Uncollected Delmore Schwartz, already recently published, from Arrowsmith Press, Ben Mazer, editor.

Schwartz produced enough work—not just poems—and was personally involved in so much of 20th century letters, even if he is judged, finally, as a minor poet—and this is open to argument, let the arguments begin—he must be seen as a major literary figure who has too long been neglected and out of print.

There is plenty to cheer about in the career of Delmore Schwartz:

Here he is, writing to Ezra Pound:

“you seem…to have slowed up…in the old days you were in the middle of everything. Now you seem to have your gaze trained on Jefferson and Social Credit…and a phenomenon like Auden…does not seem to exist for you…” (1938 letter)

“I have been reading your last book, Culture. …A race cannot commit a moral act. Only an individual can be moral or immoral… I…resign as one of your most studious and faithful admirers. Sincerely yours…” (1939 letter)

Go, Delmore!

Here he is, in his essay “The Isolation of Modern Poetry,” correcting T.S. Eliot:

“It is said that the modern poet must be complex because modern life is complicated. This is the view of Mr. T.S. Eliot, among others. ‘It appears likely,’ he says, ‘that poets in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult.'”

“But the complexity of modern life, [Delmore points out] the disorder of the traffic on a business street or the variety of reference in the daily newspaper is far from being the same as the difficulties of syntax, tone, diction, metaphor, and allusion which face the reader in the modern poem. If one is the product of the other, the causal sequence involves a number of factors on different levels, and to imply, as I think Mr. Eliot does, that there is a simple causal relationship between the disorder of modern life and the difficulty of modern poetry is merely to engender misunderstanding by oversimplification.”

Delmore is right. In fact, Poe, in pointing out how complex civilization had become in his day, asked for brevity in the face of greater hurry due to modernity—which is quite different from difficulty.

T.S. Eliot is wrong. Thank you, Delmore.

Here is Delmore, in another essay, instructing Yvor Winters—who attempts to theoretically isolate every element of poetry:

“One does not start with meter, nor with the explicit statements, but with both, taken together. Their relationship is one of reciprocal modification; each ‘characterizes’ the other, and they cannot be separated, a fact upon which Winters himself insists. This fact is often forgotten. One is offered examples of sublime verse and nonsense rhymes with the same vowels or in the same meter, in order to show that meter is not expressive. This is the error correlative to that of Winters. Mr. Eliot himself was once guilty of it, in a lecture. He read several verses of Tennyson, and then lines with the same meter and rhyme-scheme from a nonsense ballad of Lear. The audience giggled; Mr. Eliot concluded that here was indeed a problem, and then passed hurriedly on to another subject.”

Delmore not only cuts down Winters, he humbles Eliot. Delmore was a real critic.

Here is a poem from the sonnet sequence in Vaudeville, which has both clarity and mystery, and speaks to something not only important to Delmore and to poets, but to all of us:

How Each Bell Rings And Rings Forever More

This life is but fireworks at the fancy shore
Among the summer people, drinking gin,
Chilled by the vanity and the senseless roar
Of breakers broken quicker than a pin,
By the moon broken, soaring and unheard,
–Thus we are tossed! by powers from afar,
By puns on rocks in Christ’s most obscure word,
Or, when the moonlight glitters, by a star!

Look well and you will see there is no stay:
No one takes back a word, but once for all
What has been said can never be unsaid
No matter what trash and newness every day
The fresh years bring and break and take away:
This is the poet’s power, this is his dread.

Let the revival of a writer in the middle of it all, on every level, begin.

ART & LETTERS I4 INTERNATIONAL YOUNGER POETS, PHILIP NIKOLAYEV ED. REVIEWED

Poetry today is crying out for criticism. There is hardly an honest word said about poetry since Ezra Pound said he didn’t like the Russians or Thomas Brady said he didn’t like the Red Wheel Barrow and Thomas Brady doesn’t count because that was me.

Poetry is both the easiest and the most difficult thing to do. The shame of failure is two-fold: 1. Unable to do something which is easy 2. Bitter to discover our vanity had convinced us of immense self-worth, since actually writing great poems is a million-to-one long shot. Failure in poetry is unacceptable. Reviewers, take heed.

It is probably unwise to preface a review of young poets with these words—can young poets handle the truth? Do they deserve it?

Yes and yes.

Youth has everything going for it, especially failure, which is the best path to success. Every poet deserves a chance to understand failure. Also, truth is hardly the proper word—unless I mean “true to myself.”

I wrote (and still write) bad poems. The seduction is the ease of writing the inconsequential in a therapeutic trance. Also, poetry exists in a well (there is puffery but no true public) and therefore poetry expects a rescue crew—not condemnation.

To attempt honest criticism is the fantasy of a crank; honest is a goal of no possible joy—the expectation is kindness and cheering on. To fail to meet this expectation is both to fail to please and to fail generally.

Better to say nice things. The bad will fade away on its own.

But the bad does not fade away at all. It repeats itself in subsequent generations in the form of millions of poems (puffed with great effort) in millennia going forward.

There is a duty, then.

A reviewer ought to be a critic who flushes out poison.

This can be done in a generous spirit, with learning and elan. The poison can be flushed out without having to look at the poison.

The duty can be a cheerful one, then.

Poets, be not afraid.

The first poet in 14 International Younger Poets (from the new and exciting Art and Letters press) is Avinab Datta-Aveng. He has the most pages in the volume. Perhaps because he has a book coming out from Penguin. We are not sure. His first poem has an intriguing title: “My Mother’s Brain.” The title could be tender, tragic or cheeky, depending.

It is a very impressive poem. It features excellent lines:

Unremembered line in my mind

Muttered mother I only heard murder

And an outstanding ending:

…small birds make
A line at the mouth of the gutter
Rushing with rain water.
Crowds clamor to see the view,
The unbearable beauty of the rest
Of the world renewed each time
By what you will never utter.

Greatness hits us right from the start!

Now I’d like to say a word about meaning.

As far as the meaning of poems, there are three kinds.

We don’t understand but understand we are not supposed to understand.

We don’t understand but we believe perhaps others do understand—we believe we may be missing something.

We understand.

A poem which reminds me of “My Mother’s Brain,” Bertolt Brecht’s “Vom armen b.b.,” belongs to the first type. The narrator smokes his cigar, intimates he is not a good person, says he was carried by his mother in the womb from the black forest to the town. We don’t finally understand exactly what the poem is trying to say, but Brecht makes it clear he doesn’t understand, either.

I put Datta-Areng’s poem (it is more complex than Brecht’s poem) in the second category. Unlike one and three, two might possibly be annoying to one without a good dose of negative capability.

Blake Campbell’s “The Millenials” is my favorite poem in the volume. The idea is realized and the versification is exquisite. I have italicized the best parts:

What tempts us to this world
That light has half-erased—
Distraction’s abstract toxins, love
Distilled for us to taste?

No silence here, no slumber;
No slackening this tide
Of lies and knowledge. We are left
Unable to decide

Between them. Sudden flashes
Scorch most of what coheres.
At once the distance shrinks and grows
And flickers with the years.

The cold blue light we live in
Unreels us by the yard
In strips of snapshots someone else
Will find and disregard.

To prove this triumph of “The Millenials” is no accident, from Blake Campbell’s”Prism:”

You say I’ll surely ace it. How the sun
Spends its abundance brightening your eyes,
Your beauty I have yet to memorize
From every angle. How could anyone?

This is not just good; it is Best of All Time good.

I should say something about rhythm.

A poet usually decides between “forms” or prose. “Free verse” is an unfortunate term—it clouds the topic.

T.S. Eliot and Ben Mazer, two masters of poetic rhythm—good for both verse forms and other kinds of poetry—dismissed free verse. Eliot: “it can better be defended under some other label.” And Eliot: “there is no freedom in art.” And Ben Mazer, in a remark after a poetry reading: “it all rhymes.”

The masters of poetic rhythm typically do not wish to discuss prosody.

“Scansion tells us very little.” —Eliot. And again, Eliot: “With Swinburne, once the trick is perceived, the effect is diminished.”

Leaving-out-punctuation is a trick to make prose sound like verse. As with the Swinburne-trick, however, a trick won’t sustain great poetry; rhythm is the secret, and everything besides is nothing but embellishment: rhyme, mood, syntax, idea. A certain completion involving the other elements is great, but without a rhythmic identity uniting the poem, it is dead. This is nothing but a reviewer’s opinion, but can it hurt to offer it?

Formalism—as it survived in the mid-20th century—seems to be finding its way back into poetry.

“Formalism,” as a precise term, like “free verse,” deludes us, as well, however. Check out every masterpiece of poetry. Shelley’s “Ozymandias” is far more like a pop hit by the Supremes than a lump in a museum. Rhythm, not form.

To repeat: poets see two paths: forms or free (prose). But the third way is rhythm—bursting the “forms” or breaking out of “prose;” this aspiration to music (which is what it is) is not properly defying prose, but visual art—the temporal counter to the spatial. If the poet is not able to struggle with these opposing and dancing vectors (music, speech, idea) in their mind at once, a dreary prose results.

I’m happy to report that none of the poets represented here suffers from the affliction of dreary prose.

Editor Philip Nikolayev, in his modest introduction, calls these poets simply poets “he is lucky enough to know.”

Philip Nikolayev keeps very good company.

The urgency of speech, whether in William Blake’s “Tyger” or Raquel Balboni’s “

Relics in disguise foamy mouths through the screen
you can always break into my room through the porch

You can always break into my car with your steel fist.

from “Twin Cars” is the engine. We may think Blake’s tyger is described, or Balboni’s porch, but it never is. Prose is the launch-pad and poetry rockets towards an image it never reaches. As Mazer says, “It all rhymes.” Emerson called Poe “the jingle man” pejoratively. But now we can finally begin to see Emerson’s remark as praise—as, in the early 21st century, poetry is refined into one of those narrow categories John Ransom said was Modernism (division of labor) itself. Romanticism is beginning to return (Swinburne hiding in the backseat perhaps) precisely in this way.

Describing something perfectly in a poem? To quote Blake Campbell, again, “How could anyone?” But rhythm can be perfect. It simply and actually can.

All the poets in 14 International Younger Poets have their individual charm.

Zainab Ummer Farook resembles William Carlos Williams.

Flamboyant in the shade of a clean slate,
we had three of our walls painted pink

Emily Grochowski, Gertrude Stein.

Avoided writing.
A void in writing.
A voided writing.

Chandramohan S, Marianne Moore.

Now, the history of humankind
Snores in my language.

Susmit Panda, Seamus Heaney

I found a curious bronze head by the lake,
and, baffled, showed it to the village folk

all lands glimmer upon the brows of kings.

Justin Burnett, Creeley, but “Witchcraft Heights,” more Williams.

In winter I stuck out from the snow—
Freezing in the gutted grot,

Regretfully, I recall
That innocent numbness,

When white adhered to white,
And I hid.

Sumit Chaudhary, Robert Penn Warren, Marvin Bell, Auden.

feeling from dazzle so far removed
into the arms of things that move.

Paul Rowe, Dylan Thomas.

upon the crumpled glass of Aegean twilight;
volcanic wasps rise, sulfurous effusions,
mercurial breath that carves the crater, admits the flood,
shapes the ochre crescent, mirrors what’s above.

Shruti Krishna Sareen, Baudelaire.

In a riot of colour, the lawn is ablaze
The red silk cotton tree seen half a mile away
Hanging brooms of bottle brush scarlet sway
The waxy crimson poppy petals glaze

Andreea Iulia Scridon, Plath.

When they listen to my somniloquy,
the angels weep in compassion for my misery.
They erase the veins on my legs,
put back together my head,

Kamayani Sharma, Mark Strand.

His face slipping out of doorways ajar,
Like keys falling from Manilla envelopes.

Samuel Wronoski, Jorie Graham.

Otherwise, the day was practical and made of minutes
when nothing happened whatsoever.

Blake Campbell, Bishop, Ransom, Roethke.

The sleeping earth retains her tiny lives,

And even stripped of leaves, the paper birch
Subsists on what has been and what is lost.
But what in other living things survives.

Raquel Balboni, Leslie Scalapino, Ashbery, Eliot

To get to the end of the endless thinking and write it
down again from the beginning.

Avinab Datta-Areng, Geoffrey Hill

On a terrace an old man squints
At the sun, as if trying hard
To pay attention to his genealogy,
To the point at which a rupture occurred.

The resemblances I mention are by no means definitive—it only applies to this volume and springs from my own limited knowledge; poetry is a world in which you don’t need to know a poet directly to be influenced by them, or, occasionally, be them.

Every poet must ask themselves: am I in the wave? Or is the wave me?

In the context of this question, 14 International Younger Poets is a delight.

Thomas Graves, Salem MA August 17th 2021

THE FOUR QUARTETS HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA

Muriel Rukeyser with fellow poets Randall Jarrell, Wallace Stevens, Alan  Tate, Marianne Moore in 1955 | Jewish Women's Archive
Randall Jarrell with friends. Was Modernism revolutionary—or snobby?

Everyone seeks respectability—even the outlaw and the ruffian seek it on some level, even if they don’t say so.

The desire for respectability lies at the core of civilized life. The desire for respectability is so ingrained, we hardly wish to admit to ourselves naked emperors are everywhere, though inside all of us know this to be true.

This operates powerfully in Letters—where all poets are potentially critics—and most critics have a burning desire to be respected as poets.

No one who seeks a literary reputation today will dare to speak above a whisper against two things in particular—nothing is considered greater, nothing more honored, in Letters, than The Four Quartets (1943) by poet/critic T.S. Eliot (who won the Nobel Prize in 1948) and the literary criticism of poet/critic Randall Jarrell. Poetry and the Age is Jarrell’s iconic book of criticism published in 1953.

This could change.

Reputations rise and fall—in minutes.

This has been true for quite a while, however: The agony of the poet has been acute for 100 years.

For 100 years a discussion of poetry has been replaced by “why isn’t poetry read?”

There was a time, shortly before World War Two—around the time many people alive today were born—when T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Randall Jarrell were unknown—and if you “weren’t there,” it is hard to understand that names as common now as Cartier, Chanel or Gucci were obscure, and it was very likely they would remain obscure.

Crazy luck, hard work, networking, all the accidents of the “luckily met” and unpredictable outside influences bubble up into notoriety and fame.

Critics hesitate to trace or embrace this winding truth; it is easier (since they “weren’t there”) to assert, “Why, he’s…he’s…Ezra Pound! He wrote this! And that!”

Given the current political climate (I hear Walt Whitman was just cancelled) and given that Jarrell, Eliot, and Pound were conservative white men, any fame they have is still in jeopardy—as it always is, of course, for all of us.

Which is why we work hard, have children, write poems, criticize, talk.

Talking and poetry are very close to each other. Talking can take the form of sealing a publishing deal, composing a poem, or writing a critical essay. And inevitably proper names are attached.

In conversation, there is “the poetry” and “my poems” and every person in Letters means the second when they talk about the first.

Great poets are found by fame, after working for a long time alone.

The minor poets network, form cliques, and bash the great poets. Fame is like food, only more so—there is only so much to go around, but occasionally fame can feed a few if they are lucky to be merely standing next to it.

A minor intellect seeking fame is an embarrassment—unless it is successful; then it goes from humiliation in the street to a “literary revolution” which makes it on to a syllabus.

The minor poet or poet-critic in a state of fame-seeking arousal inevitably exhibits circular and contradictory reasoning in every instance—this is how we know (if we read carefully) what is going on. They will hate romantic poetry because it is romantic poetry. They will say criticism is dull as they impute criticism in a manner as dull as humanly possible. They will cry out in despair that no one reads widely anymore—as they habitually name-drop the same handful of their poet friends.

Or wishing desperately to solidify their reputation (a radical one) in old age, they will write heavy-sounding, pontifical nonsense:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation. *

* What stands out is the helplessness of the weak and circular reasoning: we perhaps speculate today perpetually on tomorrow. Or, time exists but a time machine doesn’t. To prevent too much “time present” abstraction, the poet reaches out for a “rose-garden” and the “unheard music in the shrubbery, And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses Had the look of flowers that are looked at.” But it’s too late. We know for certain this isn’t the T.S. Eliot of Prufrock; this is an old poet twenty years past the peak of his powers.

Randall Jarrell demonstrates in his criticism better than anyone the phenomenon I sadly describe (“the look of flowers that are looked at”)—Jarrell was poised between two ages—the success of the Modernist Revolution in real terms (young Eliot’s haunting compositions) and the success of the Modernist revolution in institutional terms (“Four Quartets,” the Nobel, the college syllabus), the institutional success threatening to wipe out the earlier one with its flood of cheap radicalism and ambitious credentialism.

Additionally, Jarrell exhibits the ambition of a brilliant writer in the thick of the Modernist ascendancy tantalizingly close to the first rank but clearly confined to the second (no one reads his books of poems; some who are influential read his criticism). Randall Jarrell had connections: Robert Lowell, John Ransom—but he knew who the real stars were (aging but established): Whitman (the only one who was dead), Pound, Eliot, Williams, Stevens, Bishop, Moore, and, of course, Frost—and here was a wrinkle.

Frost, like Auden to a much lesser degree, (no we don’t mean a wrinkled face) was more famous than every Modernist poet combined. Robert Frost wrote the kind of famous rhyming poems the public still adored—the same public the Modernist revolutionaries hated, but were now courting in the college syllabus (an end run appeal).

Jarrell was torn. (Rereading Jarrell today we can see how much this ruined him.) Jarrell hedged his bets, placing a lot of chips on Frost even as he heaped adoration on WC Williams.

Keats was rumored to have been “killed by a criticism” (it wasn’t true) but Jarrell was, in fact, hospitalized for depression by a negative review of his poems. The Romantics were tougher—they fed on virtuosity and Nature. The Modernists lived on reputation, experimental-poetry-with-something-to-prove, and reviews.

To attempt to love both Frost and Williams is to be unconscious as a critic. It keeps one from being clear; one ends up repeating innocuous observations instead of really reading the work: writing whole reviews in which the subject’s poems are not quoted, gushing that Whitman, Frost, and Williams are “American”—as if calling some American poet “American” in a positive sense can possibly mean anything.

Jarrell lovingly reviews Frost but with all sorts of hesitancy and qualifications—he knows he is taking a risk by praising a poet ordinary people (the kind who have never heard of Ezra Pound) like. “Frost has limitations of a kind very noticeable to us.” Jarrell takes pains to examine what he considers lesser-known Frost poems. He quotes this “least familiar” poem and afterwards explores its philosophical weight, “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep:”

The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.

As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull.

The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be—
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.

They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?


How can one reconcile Jarrell’s (somewhat guilty, true) admiration of “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep” (he compares it to “Housman) to his schoolboy crush on Paterson (Book I)? “I read it [Paterson] seven or eight times, and ended lost in delight.”

No one who likes Frost could possibly like Williams:

“Stale as a whale’s breath: breath!/Breath!”

“Clearly!/speaks the red-breast his behest. Clearly!/clearly!”

To understand Frost, we need to ask: Is poetry really nothing but this: Wisdom which rhymes. Or is it rhyme which is wise? Unconscious critics don’t ask these questions.

There is nothing to understand about “Stale as a whale’s breath: breath!/Breath!” There just isn’t. God save us from that wheel barrow. From those plums.

Poetry is refined talk. Conscious refinement in itself is a boon in many ways to society. To clobber refinement for some “primal truth” is the stuff of revolution—which ends in nightmare.

Poems we unconsciously like should be a red flag. Admiring “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep” is a conscious activity—to admire Williams is to be unconscious.

Those born in the late 19th century (Thomas Eliot was born in 1888, WC Williams was born in 1883) were swept up in the exciting novelty of the age (cinema, looser sex, the Russian revolution, the automobile, the Great War)—and therefore were impatient (loose sex, cars, and movies make one impatient) to be revolutionary artists.

Radical art of the early 20th century! Old people never understand—but now they really didn’t understand. The 1960s truly began in the 1920s.

By the time Jarrell publishes Poetry And the Age WC Williams is 70 years old and just beginning to get a respectable name for himself—“The Red Wheel Barrow” is ancient history.

What else to call it? It was “the age;” it swept people along and it swept the arts and everything else along with it—it had nothing to do with choices; the poets had to be this way. They had to write poetry that was different. And they did. And no one read it. But the revolution could not be stopped: You will either read our poetry, or you will listen to us complaining that you ought to read it and if you don’t read it, we will take over the schools and become professors—and make you read it. And this is exactly what happened. The revolution succeeded even as it failed. The “old” was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the “new,” by revolutionaries who robotically obeyed “the age”—even against their will. They were sorry they didn’t rhyme often enough, but they couldn’t help it. It was the “Age” of Jarrell’s title. The “Age” must be fed.

Randall Jarrell describes the revolution in poetry of his time—and its failure. He is a bitter revolutionary:

“Since most people know about the modern poet only that he is obscure—i.e., that he is difficult, i.e., that he is neglected—they naturally make a casual connection between the two meanings of the word, and decide that he is unread because he is difficult. Some of the time this is true; some of the time the reverse is true: the poet seems difficult because he is not read, because the reader is not accustomed to reading his or any other poetry. But most of the time neither is a cause—both are no more than effects of that long-continued, world-overturning cultural and social revolution (seen at its most advanced stage here in the United States) which has made the poet difficult and the public unused to any poetry exactly as it has made poet and public divorce their wives, stay away from church, dislike bull-baiting, free the slaves, get insulin shots for diabetes, or do a hundred thousand other things, some bad, some good, and some indifferent.”

We (the modern poets) Jarrell insists, are not obscure; we (and he smiles sadly and whimsically) are not read—for no reason that anyone can tell.

In the same essay he writes: “If we were in the habit of reading poets their obscurity would not matter; and once we were out of the habit, their clarity does not help.” He’s in a philosophical quandary. Plainly, “obscurity” and “clarity” are nothing and everything to him.

Jarrell is a regular mess. He knows something is wrong, but is sure nothing is wrong.

“The general public [in this lecture I hardly speak of the happy few, who grow fewer and unhappier day by day] has set up a criterion of its own, one by which every form of contemporary art is condemned. This criterion is, in the case of music, melody; in the case of painting, representation; in the case of poetry, clarity.”

It’s difficult to know whether or not Jarrell comprehends how much he is like a dog chasing his tail. He is certain contemporary poets (of which tacitly he is one) are not obscure, but even if they were, it would not matter, but he understands they are not read (in fact they are condemned!) and he does not know why they are not read, except they seem to be condemned for lacking clarity. Yet clarity is not a factor because this is not what makes poetry popular. Jarrell’s indulgence in self-torture is touching, if not horrifying.

“Is Clarity the handmaiden of Popularity, as everybody automatically assumes? how much does it help to be immediately plain? In England today few poets are as popular as Dylan Thomas—his magical poems have corrupted a whole generation of English poets; yet he is surely one of the most obscure poets who ever lived.”

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night is obscure? The popular poems of Dylan Thomas are not obscure, but rather than debate this, it’s better to concede Jarrell’s point: “obscurity” is only a matter of education—the obscure is only so to the unlearned. Yet—this is but a truism. Something else is bothering Jarrell. What is it?

Here’s a clue:

“Many a man, because Ezra Pound is too obscure for him, has shut forever the pages of Paradise Lost.”

If we were to arrest Jarrell and seize his papers we would see what sort of spy-mission he is on.

Jarrell’s lament is that not enough people read contemporary poetry. But he doesn’t stop there. He points out that Shakespeare is difficult (obscure). He repeats a survey which says that half of Americans don’t read books.

He doesn’t come right out and compare Milton to Pound. And yet he does, anyway.

Milton is Beethoven and Pound is a toy trumpet. And yet. Jarrell mourns that no one reads Milton. Jarrell mourns that no one reads Pound. The message for new audiences interested in poetry, students, anyone who is not enamored of the old, great poetry and yet is curious about poetry in general is this: The damned stupid public understands neither Milton nor Pound. Milton is dead. The damned stupid public will mock you even more for loving what’s gone. But Pound, at least, is…alive. He’s…new.

In his essay, “The Age of Criticism,” Jarrell complains that too many writers are writing criticism but he doesn’t point out a single good critic. On page 81 we get an elaborate anecdote in which Jarrell takes a condescending tone towards a poet who asks Jarrell about Paterson: is it really any good? We are supposed to think, as we read this, “Of course Paterson is good!”

On page 82 we get, “To the question ‘Have you read Gerontion?'[Eliot 1920]—or some other poem that may seem difficult to people—I’ve several times heard people reply: ‘Well, not really—I’ve read it, but I’ve never read a thorough analysis of it, or really gone through it systematically.” Jarrell’s point is that too much criticism has addled the brains of readers who would otherwise be reading T.S. Eliot (Eliot! Pure! In the flesh!) like mad. Jarrell seems unaware that no one read the Modernists (in their little magazines of the 1920s) until they began to seep into the university—on the backs of criticism. What happened, of course, is criticism took on a life of its own—failing to properly reward the leaders of the revolution. And this has made Jarrell either melancholy, or ambitious for the sake of the revolution he hopes will make famous those in his generation, too.

In another anecdote, this one on page 15 in the book, a worldly and wealthy gentleman on a ship to Europe asks Jarrell who his favorite American poets are and Jarrell says “Oh, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost.” In short, the gentleman, who Jarrell otherwise highly admires, answers, “I don’t believe I’ve heard of them.” We are supposed to believe this a very great tragedy.

Why does Jarrell tell this story? Is he trying to say Frost and Eliot are equally obscure? In the mid-20th century Frost was a hundred times better known than T.S. Eliot. And it’s probably still true.

Is Jarrell pretending to hate the briar patch of “obscurity”—where all great poets now reside?

We need to read the first page of the book, from the essay, “The Obscurity of the Poet,” to find the answer:

“When I was asked to talk about the Obscurity of the Modern Poet I was delighted, for I have suffered from this obscurity all my life. But then I realized that I was being asked to talk not about the fact that people don’t read poetry, but about the fact that most of them wouldn’t understand it if they did: about the difficulty, not the neglect, of contemporary poetry. And yet it is not just modern poetry, but poetry, that is today obscure. Paradise Lost is what it was; but the ordinary reader no longer makes the mistake of trying to read it—instead he glances at it, weighs it in his hand, shudders, and suddenly, his eyes shining, puts it on his list of the ten dullest books he has ever read, along with Moby Dick, War and Peace, Faust, and Boswell’s Life of Johnson. But I am doing this ordinary reader an injustice: it was not the Public, nodding over its lunch-pail, but the educated reader, the reader the universities have trained, who a few weeks ago, to the Public’s sympathetic delight, put together this list of the world’s dullest books.”

To the “delight” of the working-class “Public,” even the “educated reader” finds Paradise Lost dull.

We almost think Jarrell is delighted by this, as well, perhaps in a fit of schadenfreude, because, after all, no one reads his (Jarrell’s) poems, but we are not sure. (He actually inserts an original poem into the first essay of the book.)

But recall again Jarrell’s words: “Many a man, because Ezra Pound is too obscure for him, has shut forever the pages of Paradise Lost.”

The prize was almost won—the Modernist revolutionaries of the 1920s were coming into their own—but then suddenly everyone stopped reading poetry!

Or, as Jarrell complains in his essay, “The Age of Criticism,” everyone is writing only criticism. The “literary quarterlies” each contain “several poems and a piece of fiction”…the rest is criticism. The rest is criticism. The words have a dull uneasy sound; they lie on the spirit with a heavy weight.” Jarrell says the criticism is good and bad—but in the essay he quotes not one word of any of it, but Jarrell makes it pretty clear that it’s almost all dull—and the quarterlies should be printing the poems of Ezra Pound, instead.

How would Jarrell have reacted to what came after him—he complained there was too much criticism. What would he have thought of the rise of Theory? Or the rise of poetry, where no readers exist who are not poets, and every poet has the ambition of a Randall Jarrell and every day poems are published which sound like this?

“Stale as a whale’s breath: breath!/Breath!”

“Clearly!/speaks the red-breast his behest. Clearly!/clearly!”

He would have been horrified, and I don’t think he could have seen this coming because he made the mistake so many intellectuals make—he underestimated the people; he looked down on them; he made judgments based not on merit and the long view, but on the sorts of distinctions which thrill us in the moment.

He made the mistake of thinking William Carlos Williams was better for people than the New York Daily News. It’s not. Jarrell was a utopian, a snobby one at that—and this made him blind to grounded, democratic principles. Look at this brilliant passage, which shows that he should have known better than to think, in terms which are nothing but pure snobbery, that the Modernist poet was going to save the world:

“When Mill and Marx looked at a handful of workingmen making their slow firm way through the pages of Shelley or Herbert Spencer or The Origin of Species, they thought with confident longing, just as Jefferson and Lincoln had, of the days when every man would be literate, when an actual democracy would make its choices with as much wisdom as any imaginary state where the philosopher is king: and no gleam of prophetic insight came to show them those workingmen, two million strong, making their easy and pleasant way through the pages of the New York Daily News. The very speeches in which Jefferson and Lincoln spoke of their hope for the future are incomprehensible to most of the voters of that future, since the vocabulary and syntax of the speeches are more difficult—more obscure—than anything the voters have read or heard. For when you defeat me in an election simply because you were, as I was not, born and bred in a log cabin, it is only a question of time until you are beaten by someone whom the pigs brought up out in the yard. The truth that all men are politically equal, the recognition of the injustice of fictitious differences, becomes a belief in the fictitiousness of differences, a conviction that it is reaction and snobbishness or Fascism to believe that any individual differences of real importance exist.”

Yes, Mr. Jarrell, “individual differences of real importance exist,” beginning with Shakespeare put beside WC Williams. The assumption that a person who reads the New York Daily News cannot understand Lincoln or Jefferson is nothing more than a snobby assumption on your part—nor did these “workingmen” pass on WC Williams because Williams was “obscure” or “difficult” or Williams had too much in common with Abraham Lincoln. They rejected him for more basic reasons, which anyone, even a professor, or a great critic like yourself, should be able to understand.

THE POETRY OF INFORMATION

Allen Tate Poems > My poetic side

Nature is excellence everywhere all the time. Art is excellence—extremely rare.

Not only is nature’s excellence more abundant, nature is excellence itself; nature defines excellence—as does that extremely rare excellence art produces, which is why Pope, and the Enlightenment generally, called the Greeks “Nature.”

Not only is the poet’s excellence rare—it is very often a channeling of nature’s.

Truly original art (existing completely apart from nature) which is excellent is rarer still.

The wailing of an honored blues singer imitates the wailing of a babe (nature). Poetry that resents nature—a poem (I’m thinking of no poem in particular, only one that would) which complains, for instance, of loud and unruly children will fail. This failure will be signified by reasonable Criticism—which is Nature. Can you imagine a poem seriously complaining about misbehaving children? I can’t.

All good Criticism, like anything else people produce, comes from Nature.

Art cannot compete with Nature. It may (and often does) run away from it. This is fine. However, Art cannot challenge Nature. It will fail miserably (whether some critic knows it or not).

Nature is ordered, but often appears chaotic—artists who attempt chaos as a way to imitate nature have succeeded wildly (we call it Modernism) but only due to a lapse of judgment (sometimes referred to as the New Criticism).

Everyone agrees poetry died around the middle of the twentieth century.

According to some, like the fearsome critic William Logan, this happened in the wake of a Modernist Renaissance which took on, and quickly exhausted, everything new to be done in poetry.

Robert Lowell was the first casualty of that Early Twentieth Century Modernist moment, failing to rescue the iambic pentameter as he went slowly mad.

Robert Lowell, the mad poet, left Harvard to study with Allen Tate and John Crowe Ransom, a couple of mad (New) Critics.

Most—who don’t care about New Criticism, and who are more radical than Logan—agree poetry died, but are glad it died; in retrospect, that wasn’t poetry, they say, that was Victorian. What is now (still) called “poetry” is better—more “honest” and “raw.” The word, “raw,” was the very term Lowell himself used, as he promised he would try to be more “raw” as the New England Lowell, former pupil of the New Critics, and former Iowa Workshop instructor, made peace with the Beats. Even as the Beats, and every generation following, became poetry workshop instructors.

Others, more pedestrian, looking for reasons why poetry collapsed, blame poems which stopped rhyming. Poetry no longer had form. Poems simply became the receptacles of Everything—and therefore became Nothing.

Two things did happen in the middle of the twentieth century, which had nothing to do with how people wrote poems: the rise in mass popularity of Writing Programs and Blues Music.

Writing poetry simply couldn’t compete with these two things.

The same poet/critic/professors who stopped rhyming due to the success of early twentieth century Modernism ran the Writing Programs. They told poetry to stop rhyming.

Meanwhile, blues music, which everyone loved, was rhyming like crazy.

The post-modern poets were caught in the middle. Poetry, as both an art and a social practice, didn’t know what to do.

But finally the poets had no choice. Not being blues singers, they listened to the Writing Programs. They stopped rhyming.

The death of poetry in the middle of the twentieth century was not the poets’ fault.

Blame the Critics.

The Critics were guilty of embracing chaos—because Nature sometimes seems chaotic. (But it’s not. It’s ordered.)

Criticism, or rather lack of Criticism, killed poetry.

The New Critics are much to blame—they were not New Critics; they were “No” Critics; as one reads what they wrote, one realizes this. As one reads the New Criticism, one finds there is a lot to chew on. But beware. Don’t take it too seriously. You will choke. New Criticism is not nutritious. Most of it is confusion—though it is intelligent.

The New Critics didn’t like Modernism, but Modernism liked the New Critics.

To establish itself successfully in the academy, Modernism needed to look smart, respectable, academic. The New Critics were successfully recruited. Both sides shook hands.

Nerds became thugs; the tweedy New Critics agreed to murder poetry—as they murdered judgment.

They decided modernist poems—the “new” poems—needed to speak. Under the sway of modernism, they decided they didn’t trust Criticism at all.

The New Critics were avatars of the Writing Programs. In the Writing Programs, poetic reputation no longer grew in the wild; it could now be manufactured in academia. This was “the deal.” The affected learning of the New Critics (dressed in tweed) was enough to make the Writing Programs respectable—finally “respectable” in the way crazy Robert Lowell was respectable.

If you think this is hyperbole, let’s quote Allen Tate, a New Critic, from his essay, “Is Literary Criticism Possible?”

When I first taught a college class, about eighteen years ago, I thought that anything was possible; but with every year since it has seemed a little more absurd to try to teach students to “evaluate” works of literature, and perhaps not less absurd to try to evaluate them oneself. The assumption that we are capable of just evaluation (a word that seems to have got into criticism by way of Adam Smith) is one of the subtler, if crude, abuses of democratic doctrine, as follows: all men ought to exercise independent judgment, and all men being equal, all are equally capable of it, even in literature and the arts. I have observed that when my own opinions seem most original and independent they turn out to be almost wholly conventional. An absolutely independent judgment (if such a thing were possible) would be an absolutely ignorant judgment.

Shall the instructor, then, set before the class his own “evaluations?” He will do so at the risk of disseminating a hierarchy that he may not have intended to create, and thus may be aborted, or at least stultified, the student’s own reading. It is inevitable that the instructor shall say to the class that one poem is “better” than another. The student, in the degree of his intelligence, will form clear preferences or rejections that will do little harm if he understands what they are. But the teaching of literature through the assertion of preference will end up either as mere impressionism, or as the more sinister variety of impressionism that Irving Babbitt detected in the absorption of the literary work into its historical setting.

In the beginning of this essay, Allen Tate agonizes over the “humanities” as something which merely has an odor of the past (one teaches time periods) but no truth, and therefore, except for grammar, cannot be taught, unlike “natural science.”

Modernism blew everything up and Robert Lowell, the first “great” poet who came along after this explosion, went mad because he couldn’t go forward—and wasn’t allowed to go back.

And it was the teachers who wouldn’t allow him to go back.

The teachers, like Allen Tate and John Crowe Ransom, went mad, so the poets went mad, too.

Teachers are supposed to steer the ship; they are supposed to rescue the troubled students. The New Critics did the opposite.

Allen Tate is obviously a brilliant, well-educated man. Listen to that subtle pedagogy! But what is it aimed at? What is its end? He is teaching despair. He is teaching mental breakdown.

Here’s what the New Republic had to say (pretty accurately) about Tate 10 years ago:

In the galaxy of American modernism, Allen Tate is now a black hole. The authority that made him, in the 1930s and 1940s, one of the most formidable figures in American poetry, mentor and superego to a generation, has collapsed. Neither his strenuously ambiguous poems nor his orotund essays in literary interpretation (he was one of the deities of the New Criticism) are still commonly read. In both realms, Tate seems to represent a version of modernism scarcely more acceptable than the politics–Agrarian, neo-Confederate, quasi-fascist–that put the seal on his obsolescence.

Of course it is wise to say, when Tate says, ‘when I had what I thought was an independent thought, it turned out to be a conventional thought.’ Yes. This is good. This is why you are a professor. You are the true gatekeeper of literature, because you can tell the truly independent thought from the conventional one.

Yet Tate goes on to wring his hands that if he “evaluates” and “asserts preference” he will create debilitating hierarchies based on personal weakness, or worse, “sinister” elimination of the art of literature itself.

Mind you, these are not political hierarchies Tate is warning against—no judgment at all, for Tate, is the best thing of all. This is the blank, the leveling, which every sincere and successful revolution seeks. Pull down the old walls—then, later, build anew.

John Crowe Ransom was, like Tate, suffering a crisis in teaching literature.

And like Tate, Ransom counted himself as a poet more than a teacher, anxious to have his poetry taught by professors who unfortunately were oblivious—too interested in “evaluation” and “history” (not Ransom or Tate)

Of course, who can blame them? They were ambitious poets—and there is nothing wrong with that. We can forgive them for this.

But to continue:

Now Ransom, from his essay, “Criticism, Inc.”

“Here is contemporary literature, waiting for its criticism; where are the professors of literature? They are watering their own gardens; elucidating the literary histories of their respective periods.”

There it is, in black and white. The lady, Contemporary Literature, has no suitors. What is to be done?

And now let’s return to the highbrow-yet-know-nothing agenda of the “No” Criticism revolution. Here is what Ransom says Criticism is not and cannot be:

“I should wish to exclude: 1. Personal registrations…2. Synopsis and paraphrase…3. Historical studies…4. Linguistic studies…5. Moral studies…6. Any other special studies which deal with some abstract or prose content out of the work.”

Ransom was just as brilliant as Tate, and this narrowing of Criticism by Ransom is brilliant even as it is completely insane.

Don’t get me wrong. If a poet wish to throw off all Criticism in their pursuit of glory, all power to them.

But these gentlemen, Tate and Ransom, are speaking as school teachers. As higher education administrators. As critics.

Ransom, like Tate, is the teacher giving up his role as teacher—it is the madness of professors leading to the madness of the world.

Nor does Ransom in this essay want Criticism which is more social or practical, either:

“I do not suppose the reviewing of books can be reformed in the sense of being turned into pure criticism.”

Finally, he says,

“I know of no authority. For the present each critic must be his own authority.”

This manages to simultaneously contradict every rule, habit, and principle “conservative” Ransom and Tate stand for—while asserting perfectly their perfect madness.

And even so Ransom persists in asserting:

“Studies in the technique of the art belong to criticism certainly. They cannot belong anywhere else, because the technique is not peculiar to any prose materials discoverable in the work of art, nor to anything else but the unique form of that art.”

And then Ransom serves up, after closing off all lanes of Criticism, his own interesting idea:

“I intrude here with an idea of my own, which may serve as a starting point of discussion. Poetry distinguishes itself from prose on the technical side by the devices which are, precisely, its means of escaping from prose. Something is continually being killed by prose which the poet wants to preserve.”

If poetry can be made a subject of study delicately separated out from prose, Ransom thinks he can, by this maneuver, inform true Criticism—of prose!

Again, this is brilliant—but absolutely nuts.

On at least two levels.

One: Poetry is opposed more to painting than prose; poetry and prose are both temporal art forms.

Two: How can one (outside of one’s own mind) assert a “unique form” of an art which is free of all the “abstractions” of all that is traditionally associated with Criticism—without entering an Alice-In-Wonderland-World inside a nutshell?

The New Critics and their empty brilliance (which served Modernism—and Pound’s coterie) existed for a practical purpose. To bury professors who taught Homer, Plato and Keats and usher in the catch-all-as-catch-can Writing Program era—which took poetry away from reviewers, critics, the public—and placed it safely in universities.

Since then, Criticism and Poetry have continued—but oddly.

It isn’t really that poetry is dead.

It is that Independent Poetry Criticism—of Evaluation and Hierarchy—is dead.

The professor has become the poet and the poet has become the professor.

And that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.

Tate and Ransom knew this all along. It wasn’t too many mint juleps or madness (maybe they were mad, who knows?). It was brilliance and ambition. And certainly everyone forgives them.

I’ve heard people defend the Poetry Workshop by saying, “We don’t just write our poems—we are students of poetry in the traditional sense, too!”

No doubt! This fits right into the idea of the poet and the professor becoming the same.

I’m sure this is true. As Poet-Critic Ransom put it, even as he was narrowing Criticism down to a barely visible point: ” A very large volume of studies is indicated by this classification.” The “classification” he is here referring to, is his “exclusion” of everything traditionally associated with Criticism—both outside and inside the classroom.

We can argue all day about what Criticism was before Tate and Ransom took their axes to it, but this would take us far afield; right now let’s just say one very important task a critic had was to make sure no lies were told about the poets.

The last thing a critic should be is self-interested, but this unfortunately occurred when the poet-professors of New Criticism and Pound’s clique shook hands.

Criticism stops evaluating—but that doesn’t mean all sorts of fussy, faux-learning cannot explode in the meantime.

This is exactly what happened. The Keats professors were buried. But “knowledge” grew.

What replaced the old poetry (which in retrospect, seems narrow) is what can only be called:

The Poetry of Information.

Workshop poems tend to be extremely informative.

They are written after long study.

The vast learning of Poetry rolling over weak Criticism is what Ransom and Tate within the academy wanted.

It’s a childish wish among poets too brilliant and ambitious to understand what Oscar Wilde (d. 1900) laid out so beautifully in his master-work, “The Critic As Artist.”

Tate, the professor, was ashamed of his job as a professor in the humanities department. Here is Tate from his essay again:

Of the humanities, the division with which as poet and critic I am presumably most concerned, one must speak with melancholy as well as in ignorance. For into the humanistic bag we throw everything that cannot qualify as a science, natural or social. This discrete mixture of hot and cold, moist and dry, creates in the bag a vortex, which emits a powerful wind of ineffective heroics, somewhat as follows: We humanists bring within the scope of the humanities all the great records—sometimes we call them the remains: poetry, drama, pre-scientific history (Herodotus, Joinville, Bede)—of the experience of man as man; we are not concerned with him as vertebrate, biped, mathematician, or priest. Precisely, reply the social scientists; that is just what is wrong with you; you don’t see that man is not man, that he is merely a function; and your records (or remains) are so full of error that we are glad to relegate them to professors of English, poets, and other dilettanti, those “former people” who live in the Past. The Past, which we can neither smell, see, taste, nor touch, was well labeled by our apostle, Mr. Carl Sandburg, as a bucket of ashes…No first-rate scientific mind is guilty of this vulgarity. Yet as academic statesmen, the humanists must also be practical politicians who know that they cannot stay in office unless they have an invigorating awareness of the power, and of the superior footwork, of the third-rate mind.

Again, the combination here is of sheer brilliance and deep, hopeless, madness and depression. The New Critics did not like what they were doing. They were professors lured by the new poetry. Note how deeply ashamed of the “Past” Professor Tate is. That was their problem. “I want to be a famous poet like Keats (d. 1821)!” Tate must have thought. “But how can I be a famous poet if fame in poetry belongs to the past—and Keats?”

Thanks to Writing Workshops, poetry, as it seeks fame, is as academic as ever.

The world of poetry in John Crowe Ransom’s day was similar to ours—fame for the poets was elusive (Pound and Eliot were not yet famous) and the professors didn’t understand how elusive it was for contemporary poets—because they kept on teaching—before the Writing Program Era took off—Homer and Keats.

Slowly this would change.

Academia would make respectable—in the middle of the twentieth century—those revolutionary Modernists from the century’s beginning.

The essays by Tate and Ransom glimpsed here belong to the period in-between the Modernist explosion (when nothing was certain and things were exciting, doubtful, somewhat pessimistic, and ambitious) and the material rewards which eventually followed.

We now live in an era where Criticism is dead, the English major is dead, the Writing Program still pays the bills, and poets are not famous.

And Blues Music is still much bigger than poetry.

The poetry in favor right now, more so even than overt political poetry, is the Poetry of Information.

The following is a contemporary poem which is an example of this.

Steven Cramer teaches writing, and is one of the best poets writing today. Cramer is as brilliant as Tate and Ransom—and these two were, indeed, brilliant.

“Elegy for Little Richard” is beyond evaluation or rank—it is simply a fantastic poem, teeming with information. The most respected poetry has existed in this mode pretty much since Robert Lowell.

Since Robert Lowell, poetry is now a perfect blend of the “raw” and the “cooked.”

But before we quote this poem in full, let us, for comparison, look at one stanza from a poem in favor prior to the Modernist revolution. It evinces beauty, not information.

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my sense
As though of hemlock I had drunk
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not thru envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thy happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green and shadows numberless
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

One might call this a selfish poem—the “news” is about the poet, and how he is feeling. There is no “information” provided, in the conventional sense. Keats is no professor.

And now our contemporary poem:

Elegy for Little Richard

Satori can surge upon you on the subway,
lectured Dr. Tufail in Intro Zen.

The mire gives us the very substance of art,
goes Lorca’s Play and Theory of the Duende.

A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom,
reflected Little Richard in a Macon

Greyhound terminal’s greasy spoon,
up to his biceps in Georgia suds, boss-

man piling on pot atop pot atop pot‚ÄĒ
and that’s exactly what I meant at the time.

Of the two strains of modesty, false
and true, he knew neither.  I put that little

thing in it, he said of Little Richard‚Äôs Boogie‚ÄĒ
gospelized flop, in no way Tutti Frutti,

green as air before a downpour. Always
had that thing, but didn’t know what to do

with that thing I had.   For consistency,
he‚Äôd win the Whitman Contradiction Prize‚ÄĒ

Gay?  I founded Gay. I wore makeup
and eyelashes when no men were. But once

a chartered flight caught fire in a dream,
Jesus Christ made men, men; women, women,

sermoned Minister Richard Penniman.
Satori, Duende: daemon versus demon‚ÄĒ

one draws from light; the other swills
in Bier-stink at the Star Club, Hamburg,

1961. He didn’t open for The Beatles;
The Beatles opened for him. Backstage,

he’d preach from RevelationsWe’d all
sit around and listen, just to hear him talk,

remembered Lennon, whose dying mono-
syllable, yeah, I’ll never not recall, down

to the loaf-sized radio the news dirged
through (I call that time my decade-long

lost weekend).  His own One and Only,
for years an ancient star I didn’t know

wasn‚Äôt dead‚ÄĒin fact it was the Fab‚Äôs
blandish cover of his Long Tall Sally

that schooled the Beatle-daemonic
white mass of us: don’t sit so still; sex

sings best in tongues, if not yet drag;
Truth’s not only Beauty but Raw Joy.

When this hits us early in the poem, we laugh—it’s a shock. A brilliant, humorous effect. Cramer’s a genius.

A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom.

Cramer’s poem is a riveting lesson. It gives us literary criticism in places we wouldn’t expect, and so much more.

“Elegy for Little Richard” is a delight: autobiographical, deeply thematic, linguistically glorious, as well as informative.

The two-line stanzas do not appear to be organized to impart sound—they exist more to hurriedly and efficiently impart information.

The epic fallacy, said Poe, was a lot of short poems strung together to make an epic.

There is no reason why Poe’s formula cannot exist in a shorter poem, where a shorter poem exists only as a sequence of small poetic glimpses: “green as air before a downpour,” “the other swills in Bier-stink at the Star Club” and “Truth’s not only Beauty but Raw Joy.”

We might say that “green as air before a downpour” is Keats—this is John Keats kept alive in poetry today.

To say nothing of “Truth’s not only Beauty but Raw Joy.”

It is a wonderful and beautiful phrase: “green as air before a downpour.” To say “this is like Keats” does make sense.

But no—we need to be more rigorous.

The poetry Keats wrote is defined chiefly by its rhythmic quality—Keats wrote poems rhythmically cohesive. Poems of Information are nothing like this at all.

Information belongs to Man, not Nature.

Pieces of poems are not poems.

The minor poets have written beautiful lines and phrases, but they are minor poets because they have written no major poems. Poe, the critic, often collected beautiful lines from minor poets in his reviews.

Like music laid asleep in dried up fountains

Plain as a white statue on a tall, dark steep

Green dells that into silence stretch away

And the list could go on of lovely phrases by poets no longer read.

But if we quote the following line, we see immediately it belongs to something greater, something immensely popular:

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

This belongs to a wider, rhythmic sea—a famous poem, full of rhythm, which has nothing to do with the Poetry of Information.

The differences are more vital than the similarities—we are talking about two different forms of art.

The Poem of Information began with Robert Lowell (or perhaps that poem by T.S. Eliot with all the footnotes?)—student of Ransom and Tate (but did they “teach” Lowell anything? Doubtful)—think of that poem, which the critic William Logan calls Lowell’s last major poem—“For The Union Dead.” There is a lot of information in that poem—the cars in Boston have “fins” and the Boston Aquarium—have you heard?—is closed, and there is this statue in the Boston Common… It is a very fine poem, but it is scattered, and has no cohesive rhythm.

Here is the second stanza:

Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled
to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.

Beautiful, in itself, but does it need—aesthetically—to belong, in any sense, really, to this, a few stanzas later?

shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gaudens’ shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage’s earthquake.

There is no “art” which unites the two stanzas. Information belonging to itself is paramount.

Poetry’s rhythmic strategy is absent.

This is what makes Keats Keats.

Rhythm.

I might as well quote the poem evoked by Cramer’s “Truth’s not only Beauty but Raw Joy.”

To get the stark difference, in terms of rhythm and cohesiveness, quotation (because otherwise we might not believe it) is probably necessary; the first and last stanzas should suffice; notice, unlike the Lowell, how much the two stanzas resemble each other:

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
    Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
    A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
    Of deities or mortals, or of both,
        In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
    What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
        What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

……..

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
    Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
    Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold pastoral!
    When old age shall this generation waste,
        Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
    ‚ÄúBeauty is truth, truth beauty‚ÄĚ‚ÄĒthat is all
        Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Keats sustains the theme—and the rhythm. There is no overriding desire to provide information—in the sense that we understand that term. Information is not barred from the poem—the poem is merely doing other things; information is not necessary; it would merely distract. Information in itself, by its very nature, is distracting. Whatever distracts from the theme—even if it is interesting itself, or relates in some indirect way to the theme—is not artful.

Poetry once implied concentration—not a lot of parts lying about on the ground. Parts were not bad in themselves; the point was to gather them into the poem—to welcome them, and not forget about them.

Can we finally evaluate anything here?

No, we are not ready for that. The world created by Tate and Ransom, and practiced by Lowell a half-century ago is still the air in which we swim. We cannot rank or judge. The Poetry of Information will not be out of fashion at all soon.

What if a poet tells us that if he did not turn on the news, or consult an encyclopedia, or do research on something he sees on a walk, he would have nothing to write about? Should we take him at his word?

Poets—and even the critics—have long since given up being concerned about these sorts of things.

I’ll close by quoting two contemporary, neo-Romantic poems.


I Never Give Out My True Love’s Name

I never give out my true love’s name.

Is love my god? My god is shame.

In the dreaming garden I walked along,

Too ashamed to sing a song.

Love may be the moon, smooth and bright.

But shame rules the details of the night.

All I whisper when no one’s there

From my true heart? Shame doesn’t care.

The sad images which lie in my heart

Belong to love. But shame rules my art.

Shame rules all I see and hear.

Love hides. Never spoken. Though here.

Shame lives with millions. Do I blame

Love? Shame is not afraid of love. Shame

Is an army of poetry. Shame is not afraid.

Do not love your love, he said. And I obeyed.

This poem—one of my own—is aggressively anti-informative.

And this one, by Ben Mazer, from “The King,” also springs more from pure imagination:

XXXVI

for Isabel Biderman

Finally to see with eyes of onyx and jade –
what’s always there. Cleopatra with her crown
gives O’s for X’s, gives X’s for O’s
perpetually working towards the city’s center
by katty-corner, wishes too grand to grant
– for who can both live in the rarest palace
and be its guest? Passing again and again
brings nothing closer – a few feet in the end
and all is different. Different and the same!
A better life, taller and rising to heaven
(the dog escapes, returns according to plan).
Fabulous laughter lives in the hereafter.
The cat withdraws into its impregnable dream.
The actor leaving the palace is just a man.



SCARRIET POETRY BASEBALL ALL-STAR-BREAK STANDINGS AND STATS!

An Essay on Modern Education-Jonathan Swift-1740 ‚Äď Advocatetanmoy ...

Swift. The Dublin Laureates are only 2 games out of first in the Glorious Division—thanks to his 12-1 record.

MODERN DIVISION

NEW YORK BUYERS ROCKEFELLER¬† 43 37 –
PHOENIX UNIVERSE SPIELBERG   42 38 (1)
MANHATTAN PRINTERS WARHOL 40 40 (3)
PHILADELPHIA CRASH BARNES 36 44 (7)
ARDEN DREAMERS HARRIMAN 36 44 (7)

WINS

Hans Holbein Printers 5-1
Marcel Duchamp Printers 6-2
Mark Twain Buyers 11-6
Paul Engle Buyers 10-7
Margaret Atwood Dreamers 9-6
John Crowe Ransom Crash 7-5

Relief

Pablo Picasso Crash 9-3
Jean Cocteau Universe 3-0
Czeslaw Milosz Universe 5-2
John Cage Printers 5-2

HOME RUNS

Elizabeth Bishop Buyers 22
Sharon Olds Dreamers 19
Aristophanes Printers 19
John Updike Printers 19
Dylan Thomas Buyers 18
Edna Millay Dreamers 17
Juvenal Universe 15
Bob Dylan Universe 14
Robert Lowell Buyers 14
Louis MacNeice Dreamers 14
Stephen Spender Crash 14
Paul Celan Universe 11
Garcia Lorca Printers 10

The closest race in the league is the dogfight in the Modern Division between Rockefeller’s Buyers (who once led by a wide margin) and Spielberg’s Universe—a game apart, and the Printers are only 2 games away from the Universe. Robert Lowell has been hot at the plate for the Buyers, Bob Dylan for the Universe. Pitching-wise, Mark Twain has been hot again for the Buyers (and leads the division in wins), and Raymond Carver (replacing Randall Jarrell in the rotation) has been hot for the Universe (4-2). MLK Jr is 3-2 in his 8 starts since joining the Universe, and Spielberg has added Jean Cocteau (3-0) to the bullpen, a move he feels will put the Universe over the top. But Andy Warhol’s Printers made moves, too. Hans Holbein the Younger joined the rotation, and is 5-1. Paul Klee is a new lefty starter (3-3). Toulouse Lautrec (3-2) filled in admirably for the injured Duchamp (a toilet fell on his toe). Aristophanes and John Updike have both slammed 19 homers for manager Brian Epstein and his Printers. John Ashbery, who has seven homers from the lead off spot, and is one of the best fielding third basemen in the league, predicted the Printers would win it all. “Why shouldn’t I say that?” he asked. The Crash and the Dreamers, tied for last, are not that far out (seven games) and so every team is truly in the hunt in this division. John Crowe Ransom of the Crash did not win his first game until the end of May, and now at 7-5 he’s among the pitching leaders. John Dewey is 3-0 in July, Wittgenstein and Pater are 2-1 in July. Has the moment arrived for the Crash? Picasso has won 9 games for the Crash in relief. Franz Werfel has replaced the injured John Gould Fletcher in left, and has already begun hitting homers. Stephen Spender leads the Crash in that category. Stevie Smith, playing for the hurt Louis MacNeice, clubbed four homers for the Dreamers, and the home run power of Edna Millay (17) and Sharon Olds (19) has been on display all year for Pamela Harriman’s club. MacNeice himself has 14. The Dreamers have been doing everything they can to fix their bullpen (Germaine Greer has been a huge disappointment) but relief pitching is a tricky affair. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera have joined the team, but all sorts of off-the-field issues have resulted in not much action—a blown save by Kahlo.¬† Jean Paul Sartre, however, has gone right to work—he’s 2-3 in relief in some very close games. As for the starting rotation, William Godwin pitched well but went 1-4 filling in for Simone de Beauvoir (2-7), losing to Ransom 4-3 on her first start back. Mary Wollstonecraft has joined the Dreamers and is 3-1 in 8 starts. Anais Nin is 8-8. Margaret Atwood has regained her early season form, and is 9-6. Don’t count out the Dreamers!

PEOPLES DIVISION

KOLKATA COBRAS S. RAY 47 33 –
SANTA BARBARA LAWS DICK WOLF 41 39 (6)
BEIJING WAVES MAO 39 41 (8)
TOKYO MIST KUROSAWA 36 44 (11)
LA GAMERS MERV GRIFFIN 35 45 (12)

WINS

Jalal Rumi Cobras 11-3
Rabindranith Tagore Cobras 11-7
Mahatma Gandhi Cobras 10-6
Lao Tzu Waves 10-6
Yukio Mishima Mist 9-6
Yone Naguchi Mist 8-5
Oliver Wendell Holmes Laws 8-6

Relief

Confucius Waves 7-2
Mark Van Doren Laws 4-1
Menander Gamers 6-3

 

HOME RUNS

John Donne Laws 18
Vikram Seth Cobras 18
Li Po Waves 17
Jadoo Akhtar Cobras 16
John Lennon Mist 15
Billy Collins Gamers 15
Hilda Doolittle Mist 15
George Harrison Cobras 14
Eugene Ionesco Gamers 14
Thomas Hardy Laws 14
Karl Marx Waves 13
Tu Fu Waves 13
Sadakitchi Hartmann Mist 11

The Kolkata Cobras have 3 good hitters and 3 good pitchers, and a six game lead in the Peoples Division. Vikram Seth is tied with the division lead in homers with 18, Jadoo Akhtar has 16 round-trippers, and George Harrison, 14 (though Harrison strikes out way too much). We could also mention Allen Ginsberg of the Cobras, batting .301 with 7 homers. The three big starters for the Cobras are Rumi, Tagore, and Gandhi. Kabir Das has improved in the bullpen; the Cobras have been healthy, and don’t plan on any big moves. The Laws, in second place, are also healthy; they added Ferdinand Saussure to their relief corps, but otherwise are staying with the team they’ve had since the beginning, and has arrived at the all star break 2 games over .500: Martial, Donne, and Thomas Hardy with 40 homers in the middle of the lineup, Aristotle, their ace who was hot, but lost 4 straight as they hoped to close in on the Cobras, Bacon, 10-4 since going 0-5 to start the season, Horace 4-2 in the last 5 weeks, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, pitching well, but not getting run support lately, as is the case with Aristotle. Donne is the only one hot at the plate right now. The Waves are 8 back, and slipping a bit lately, as Lao Tzu has been their only consistent pitcher; Confucius made a big splash in the beginning of the year, winning all sorts of late inning games—he’s just 1-0 in the last 5 weeks; Voltaire and Rousseau continue to disappoint. Tu Fu and Karl Marx have cooled off at the plate somewhat. Brecht and Neruda are not hitting. “The whole team has dropped off,” Jack Dorsey, the Waves manager said, “and it’s time we get back in this. We have an amazing team.” The Tokyo Mist got a boost when Yukio Mishima (9-6) replaced Heraclitus, and Yone Naguchi has quietly compiled an 8-5 record, but the two top starters for the Mist, Basho and Issa, have been a study in frustration. Issa gets no run support; Basho’s ERA is too high. Haruki Murakami (2-1) may be the bullpen ace they need, but it’s too early to tell. The Mist would love to have some of relief pitcher Kobe Abe’s (2-7) losses back. The Mist are not really hitting right now. John Lennon and Hilda Doolittle lead the team with 15 homers apiece—but most of those were hit in May. The Mist are a game out of last place—occupied by the LA Gamers. Billy Collins is probably the hottest hitter for the Gamers right now, which isn’t saying much; he has 15 dingers (We can imagine Collins writing a poem on the word ‘dinger’) and Ionesco is right behind him on the team with 14. Collins, the left fielder, and Joe Green, the third baseman, came within an inch of a nasty collision chasing a pop foul down the left field line last week. “We almost lost 20 homers,” manager Bob Hope said. And maybe 20 errors. Collins has been a circus in the field. If a last place team is going to make a run, it will be the Gamers. Merv Griffin’s club has added the following to their pitching staff—Democritus (5-5) is now starting for E.E. Cummings. Charlie Chaplin (2-1) is now starting for Garrison Keillor (1-2), who replaced James Tate (5-5).¬† Woody Allen (2-2) has replaced Antoine de Saint Exupery (0-1), who replaced Derrida (1-6). Muhammad Ali (2-1) and MC Escher, a lefty relief specialist, have joined the Gamers bullpen, which has been mostly patrolled by Menander (3-2) and Morgenstern (2-2). Charles Bernstein is 0-4. Clive James joined recently, and is 1-1. Gamers fever is still high!

SOCIETY DIVISION

BOSTON SECRETS BEN FRANKLIN 51 29 —
NEW YORK WAR JP MORGAN 42 38 (9)
WESTPORT ACTORS WEINSTEIN 40 40 (11)
FAIRFIELD ANIMALS PT BARNUM 38 42 (13)
VIRGINIA STRANGERS DAVID LYNCH 31 49 (20)

WINS

Alexander Pushkin Secrets 10-1
Amy Lowell Animals 11-2
Plato Secrets 13-5
Walter Scott War 11-5
George Byron Actors 7-4
Moliere Secrets 8-5
Chaucer Actors 8-5
Erich Remarque War 10-7
Alexander Pope Strangers 8-7
Gaius Petronius Actors 8-7

Relief

Thomas Jefferson Secrets 4-1
HP Lovecraft Strangers 4-2
Sade Actors 6-4

Home Runs

Emily Dickinson Secrets 19
Thomas Nashe Actors 18
Theodore Roethke Strangers 18
Stephen Crane War 16
Hafiz Actors 14
Arthur Rimbaud Strangers 14
Robert Frost Secrets 14
Harry Crosby War 13
Francois Rabelais Strangers 11
Wallace Stevens Animals 11
Woody Guthrie Secrets 11
Seamus Heaney Animals 10
Amiri Baraka Actors 10

Ben Franklin’s Secrets own the best record in the league (51-29) and have the biggest division lead (9 games). Pushkin and Plato have nearly half the Secrets wins, while Moliere, their fourth starter, has a nifty 8-5 mark, as Poe, their ace continues to struggle (6-7)—but most of it is due to low run support. Poe threw his first shutout right before the all star break. The Secrets’ Emily Dickinson leads the Society Division with 19 homers; Frost has 14, Woody Guthrie 11, and Kanye West leads the team in homers over the last couple of weeks; he now has 7, as does Nathaniel Hawthorne, the Secrets lead off hitter (.299, 9 stolen bases, 6 triples). With a solid, Founding Father, bullpen, the Secrets have no real weaknesses, and Boston has got to feel happy about the way things are going—although manager George Washington never looks happy. The second place War are 4 games over .500, have been getting good starts from Walter Scott and Erich Remarque, and manager Machiavelli is hoping Shakespeare (7-7) will come back stronger after his rehab (newly signed Julius Caesar is 2-2 with a shutout in his absence). The War’s Stephen Crane leads JP Morgan’s club with 16 homers, and Harry Crosby has been a surprise with 13. Jack London is new in the Wars bullpen, which has been shaky. The two Connecticut teams, Harvey Weinstein’s Actors (Byron and Chaucer their best pitchers, Nashe and Hafiz their best hitters) and PT Barnum’s Animals (Amy Lowell 11-2 the only star so far; they’ve added AA Milne in the bullpen) have some catching up to do, eleven and thirteen games back, respectively. Norman Mailer (3-3) is a new pitcher for the Actors.¬† Finally, the Strangers. They are 20 games out. David Lynch and manager Bram Stoker made a big move and got Franz Kafka. He’s 0-2 in relief and 0-6 as a starter. Salvador Dali is new, and he’s 1-2, stepping in for Becket (3-8). The Strangers ace, Alexander Pope, is either brilliant or so-so; he has 4 shutouts, but he’s 8-7. Theodore Roethke has cracked 18 homers for the Strangers (Rimbaud has 14, Rabelais has 11) but the team strikes out too much and hits into too many double plays. Twenty games out in this division may be too big a climb for David Lynch’s Strangers. Manager Bram Stoker merely stared at us coldly when we mentioned this.

GLORIOUS DIVISION

FLORENCE BANNERS DE MEDICI 46 34 —
DUBLIN LAUREATES NAHUM TATE 44 36 (2)
LONDON CARRIAGES QUEEN VICTORIA 43 37 (3)
BERLIN PISTOLS EVA BRAUN 34 46 (12)
DEVON SUN JOHN RUSSELL 34 46 (12)

WINS

Jonathan Swift Laureates 12-1
John Ruskin Sun 6-1
Andrew Marvell Carriages 12-3
Virgil Banners 10-4
Percy Shelley Banners 11-5
William James Pistols 9-5
Leonardo da Vinci Banners 8-4
Virginia Woolf Carriages 9-8

Relief

Livy Laureates 9-3
Bertrand Russell Sun 6-3
Richard Wagner Pistols 5-3

HOME RUNS

William Yeats Pistols 25
Friedrich Schiller Banners 18
Charles Dickens Laureates 18
Henry Longfellow Carriages 17
William Wordsworth Sun 17
Aphra Behn Laureates 17
James Joyce Pistols 15
Ted Hughes Pistols 14
Alexandre Dumas Laureates 13
Robert Browning Carriages 13
Arthur Tennyson Carriages 11
DG Rossetti Banners 11
HG Wells Sun 10
Matthew Arnold Sun 10
GB Shaw Carriages 10

Right now the Glorious Division is a 3 team race—the Banners, led by the bat of Friedrich Schiller (Keats is finally starting to hit a little) and a great starting rotation, led by Virgil and Shelley, are in first. But right behind the Banners are the Laureates, who now have Pascal (3-1) and Robert Louis Stevenson (4-1) in their starting rotation to go with Jonathan Swift (12-1), and they’ve picked up JD Salinger and Hans Christian Anderson in relief, just in case they need them. Charles Dickens, Aphra Behn, and Alexandre Dumas are smashing homers for Nahum Tate’s Dublin club, who were playing quite well even before they made these changes. Watch out for the Laureates. Some see them as a populist joke. Especially since they’ve added Pascal, and with the way Swift is pitching, they are not. The Carriages are in third, and in the thick of it, too. Paul McCartney has smashed 9 homers from the lead off spot (and is batting .340), George Bernard Shaw has clubbed 10 off the bench, and then you have Tennyson, Browning, and Longfellow belting out 41 between them in the middle of the order. Andrew Marvell (12-3) is London’s towering ace, but after that, including the bullpen, the pitching is thin. To remedy a weak bullpen, they just added Descartes. In limited use, Charlotte Bronte and Charles Lamb haven’t been too bad in relief. Virginia Woolf (9-8) has tossed a lot of innings as their no. 2 starter. If the Carriages keep hitting (and they do win on the road) they can take this thing. The Devon Sun and Berlin Pistols, tied for last at 34 and 46, and 12 games out of first, have pretty good bullpens (Bertrand Russell anchors the Sun pen, Richard Wagner, the Pistol’s) they can hit the ball out of the park (Yeats, Joyce, and Ted Hughes for the Pistols, Wordsworth, HG Wells and Matthew Arnold for the Sun) but starting pitching is their doom. The Pistols’ T.S Eliot lost his first five starts and has battled back to 9-9. The Pistols’ Ezra Pound began the year at 1-3, including losses of 27-3, 24-7, and 22-14. Pound was replaced by Hemingway (0-2) and then Horace Greeley (3-6). Maybe they will try Pound, again. The moody William James is the Pistols best starter. He’s 9-5.¬† After Santayana won 3 in a row in May, he can’t win. The Sun’s woes are similar. Emerson is 6-10. John Stuart Mill (4-6)—spelled by Ruskin, the Sun’s best pitcher so far—Aldous Huxley (6-8), and Thomas Carlyle (5-10) have been no better than Emerson. Ruskin, who helps Thoreau and Russell in the bullpen, has 4 shutouts (his phenomenal run when he briefly replaced Mill); the rest of the staff has one (Emerson). Maybe it’s time to put Ruskin back in the starting rotation. “I will pitch where the manager [Winston Churchill] wants me to pitch,” said Ruskin. Churchill, and the Sun’s owner, John Russell, likes Emerson, Mill, Huxley, and Carlyle. So we’ll see.

 

EMPEROR DIVISION

Rome Ceilings Pope Julius II¬† 44 36 —
Paris Goths Charles X  41 39 (3)
Corsica Codes Napoleon Bonaparte 41 39 (3)
Madrid Crusaders Philip II 40 40 (4)
Rimini Broadcasters Fellini 38 42 (6)

WINS

Francisco Goya Goths 7-2
Ludovico Ariosto Ceilings 9-4
George Orwell Broadcasters 7-3
Homer Codes 10-5
GWF Hegel Codes 9-5
George Friderik Handel Crusaders 8-4
Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand Goths 10-6
Samuel Taylor Coleridge Broadcasters 6-4
John Milton Ceilings 8-7
Oscar Wilde Goths 7-6
Wolfgang Goethe Goths 7-6

Relief

Maurice Ravel Broadcasters 4-0
JS Bach Ceilings 9-5

HOME RUNS

WH Auden Codes 20
Anne Bradstreet Crusaders 19
Sophocles Goths 19
Heinrich Heine Goths 18
Victor Hugo Codes 18
Aeschylus Crusaders 16
Euripides Ceilings 14
Mary Angela Douglas Crusaders 13
Rainer Maria Rilke Broadcasters 12
Robert Burns Broadcasters 12
Jean Rancine Codes 12
Edmund Spenser Ceilings 11
Torquato Tasso Goths 10
Anne Sexton Broadcasters 10

The Ceilings still lead the Emperor Division, with a 3 game lead over the recently surging Goths—tied for last not long ago. The Ceilings once invincible starting pitching has faltered, and they look human and beatable. Milton went 7 straight trips to the mound without a win; Dryden got hurt and has only won once since early June; Augustine is win-less in his last nine starts; Ariosto, however, continues to pitch well, Bach is still a miracle in the bullpen, and Euripides and Blake are hitting and scoring runs. Goya came out of the pen where he was 3-0 and has won 4 as a starter for the Goths, replacing Baudelaire (2-9) in the rotation.¬† Thomas de Quincey is a recent bullpen acquisition. Tasso, playing for the hurt Ronsard, has 10 homers, adding to the melancholy duo of Sophocles (19) and Heine (18) for the Goths. W.H. Auden has smashed a division-leading 20 for Napoleon’s Codes, 41-39—like the Goths, and Homer (10-5) and Hegel (9-5) have emerged as their lethal starting duo. In a tight division race, Madrid’s Crusaders (4 games out) and the Remini Broadcasters (6 games behind) are in striking distance. The Crusaders, a .500 team for a while now, are being lifted by music: Handel (8-4) leads the team in wins; Mozart (3-2) and Beethoven (4-1) who joined the team in June, hope to eventually push them over the top. Joan of Arc is the new lefty in the bullpen. The Crusaders have plenty of pop with Anne Bradstreet (19 homers), Aeschylus (16 homers) and Mary Angela Douglas (13 homers)—the contemporary poet who won a starting job off the bench—replacing an injured Saint Ephrem at shortstop—when she starting hitting homers. The Broadcasters are Fellini’s team, and this currently last-place team is difficult to define: Rilke and Burns lead them in homers, Mick Jagger leads them in stolen bases, Jim Morrison leads them in doubles, Anne Sexton leads them in batting average, George Orwell, who is both starter and reliever, leads them in wins, Samuel Taylor Coleridge is their best starting pitcher right now, and Maurice Ravel is slowly becoming a star in the bullpen. “The musicians are beginning to change Scarriet Poetry Baseball,” Ravel said. “A memorable phrase of music is just a good as an epigram.”

 

 

IN THE GLORIOUS DIVISION, A TALE OF THREE TEAMS

Percy Bysshe Shelley lost poem to go public at University of ...

Shelley (9-5) pitches for the Florence Banners—the team to beat in the Glorious Division.

The Florence Banners are the glory of the Glorious Division. Look at their pitching staff: Dante, who throws fastballs with such ferocity, hitters are afraid to stand in against him; Shelley, who throws curve after delicate curve, as memorizing as a snake; Virgil, whose hard slider apparently comes from the underworld; Leonardo da Vinci, the lefty, whose mixture of speeds defies belief; and Boccaccio, who comes out of the bullpen like a cloud, a large dark one, which puts an end to everything. And everywhere you look, there is a Rossetti: Christina, William, Dante Gabriel, and in the middle of the lineup, John Keats, almost more Italian than English. And two modern spots of light: Ben Mazer and Glyn Maxwell.

But Keats only has four home runs for de Medici’s Banners—who are 35 and 29 and share first place with two other teams.

The Carriages of London, owned by Queen Victoria, are 35-29, and not exactly filled with the greatest of all time: pitchers William Hazlitt, Virginia Woolf, and Charles Lamb.  Hitters Elizabeth Barrett, Sylvia Plath and Paul McCartney.

Neither do the Dublin Laureates seem that scary. The rather pedantic Edmund Burke is 0-6 in his last 7 starts for Dublin. Their no. 2 starter, Thomas Peacock, has been replaced by Robert Louis Stevenson.  Their lineup features JK Rowling, Boris Pasternak and Oliver Goldsmith. But they, too, are 35 and 29.

The Laureates have won a host of one-run games, especially in the late innings—they get better as the game goes on, and don’t make mistakes in the field or on the base paths. Jonathan Swift joined the Laureates on May 1st, and with his command of 4 pitches and quiet confidence, now owns the best record in the league: 10-1. And don’t forget Livy. He is 8-1 in relief.

Andrew Marvell, the ace of the Carriages, is 10-2.¬† Charlotte Bronte is 3-1 and Charles Lamb is 3-0, in relief.¬† On the back of Marvell, the Carriages are doing the little things to win.¬† Virginia Woolf out-pitched John Stewart Mill in a marvelous 1-0 outing, helped by a bases-loaded, game-saving catch by Philip Larkin in right field. Tennyson’s two out, opposite field, looping, single off an impossible-to-hit-pitch brought in Paul McCartney, who had walked, and then was bunted over to second by Larkin, for the game-winner.

As for the other first place team, those awesome Banners, Virgil, 7-4, has arm tenderness, and will miss 3-4 weeks, Dante is only 6-6, and Boccaccio has been out-dueled a number of times in relief. Shelley has been a monster, logging 9 wins.

Tied for last are the Berlin Pistols—featuring Ezra Pound (demoted to the bullpen), pitching ace T.S. Eliot, and Ted Hughes (13 homers)—and the Devon Sun at 28-36.¬† Ralph Emerson is 4-3 in his last 8 starts for the Sun, and Lord Russell’s team has been powered by Wordsworth’s 9 homers in the Sun’s last 20 games.

William James has been the best starter for the Pistols at 8-4. T.S. Eliot beat Dante and the Banners 1-0, this week, tossing a one-hitter. The Banners are no longer alone in first, but every team in the Glorious Division will be gunning for them.

We caught up with Paul McCartney, shortstop and lead off hitter for the Carriages, after Andrew Marvell shut out the Sun in Devon.

Scarriet: Welcome to my interview, Paul.

Paul: Oh that sounds…ominous.

Scarriet: This won’t hurt a bit. I promise. Your team’s playing well, you won by a shutout today.

Paul: Oh Andrew Marvell, luv watching him pitch, you know? I have to remember I’m in the field playing the game, because, you know, you get mesmerized, kind of, watching him, do his thing… He’s so good!

Scarriet: Do you see John and George much?

Paul: Not really. They’re both in the what’s it called…the Peoples Division, right? Yeah George is with the Cobras in India…and John, with Yoko, is with the uh….Mist. They’re together, that’s nice. I chat with George…and John… on the phone, sometimes, you know, just say hello…

Scarriet: I did want to touch on the two English teams, the comparisons people have made between the Sun and the Carriages. You’ve heard the talk?

Paul: Oh yeah, when they were first getting this thing together, John told me, “Don’t play for the Sun, man! You belong on the Carriages.”

Scarriet: The Sun have a reputation for being that part of England that wants to rule the world, the British Empire, oppressing everyone…people compare the Sun to the Pistols…while the Carriages..

Paul: —are more like tea and biscuits and…mum. Yeah.¬† I mean, look, someone said Wordsworth—and Waldo Emerson, you know, they’re nice, and they play for the Sun, but those guys are bastards! (laughing)

Scarriet: Wordsworth did take someone out at second with a nasty slide last week, did you see that?  And Emerson throws at hitters quite a lot.

Paul: Oh I could never write like them! They’re great.¬† But, there’s not a lot of comfortable, human stuff in their writings, really…look at “English Traits” by Emerson…the English race and how it rules the world!¬† John tipped me off on that one, Emerson, watch out for that cat…and I dunno, what can you say against Wordsworth?¬† Daffodils. I love that one. I never could read the long stuff, though…he’s not one I could have a pint with…too stuffy for my taste…

Scarriet: What’s the biggest difference between the Scarriet Poetry Baseball League and rock music?

Paul: Drugs. (laughing)¬† There’s no drugs in Scarriet Poetry Baseball. Queen Victoria would never… Seriously, you really have to be in top form all the time to compete with these great writers…everything is on the line all the time…big crowds…you can’t slip up….

Scarriet: Does that bother you?

Paul: (nervous laughter) Not really. No, I quite enjoy it, actually. I never depended on drugs to write my songs. It’s just a matter of freedom and relaxation sometimes, you know, I’m not advocating anything, except a little freedom, and I understand everything has a time and a place. It’s all good, really. I’m enjoying myself doing this.

Scarriet: You’ve played well—even hitting home runs from the lead off spot, and the Carriages are tied for first. Congratulations.

Paul: Thanks. Yes. Batting first is not easy. The first time up, especially. But I use it to judge how the pitcher is doing that day, and I’ll tell my teammates—“watch out guys, he’s throwing hard today, or…this is what his strategy seems to be…”

Scarriet: Communication.¬† Yes, and you steal bases… I don’t think anyone realized how athletic you are…

Paul: Music is very physical. People don’t realize that.¬† And poetry, or music…you don’t just write it with your mind… the body is the mind…it’s a lot of it, really…but uh…yeah…I enjoy it…the fresh air…the competition…the company is nice…

Scarriet: We’re so glad you could talk to us, Paul. And we’re happy to hear Scarriet Poetry Baseball agrees with you!

Paul: Thanks.

Scarriet: Good luck the rest of the year!

Paul: You, too.  Bye now.

 

 

 

PISTOLS SCRAMBLE BACK—EVEN AS POUND IMPLODES

William James - Psychology, Pragmatism & Books - Biography

William James, the Nitrous Oxide Philosopher. Savior of the Pistols?

Who really likes Pound’s work?¬† The crackpot rantings in prose, the so-so verse, occasionally good as robbery.¬† Forget the politics and the strange, dangerous, hidden, unsavory, life, and the fact that nobodies, for whatever reason, won’t shut up about him, as if every writer who knew Pound needed Pound to tuck them in at night. Who can stand him?

The Berlin Pistols have demoted Pound to the bullpen after his last five starts, in which the Pistols lost 16-11, lost 27-3, won 3-2 (Pound got a no decision) lost 24-7 and lost 22-14.

“We had to stop the bleeding,” Heidegger, the Pistols’ pitching coach, said.¬† “It was bit embarrassing, but it’s just one of those things. Pound will collect himself, and he will be back. Something like this can happen to anyone.”

But as a team, even as Pound, one of their starters, was self-destructing, the Pistols turned it around.

It began with a 2-0 shutout thrown by William James in the Florence Banners’ home park.

At the time, the Pistols were 5-13.

After playing 17-13 ball in their last 30 games, the Pistols are now 3 games out of second place.

Ted Hughes, James Joyce, and William Butler Yeats are providing the power for Eva Braun’s club.

Ernest Hemingway and Horace Greeley have tried to fill Pound’s starting role, without much success.

Rumor has it the Pistols might give Rufus Griswold a shot.

The Devon Sun and the London Carriages of the Glorious Division both represent the glories of Britain and its Empire, but the Sun is less sunny; Lord Russell, who owns the Sun, was the Prime Minister, in the mid-19th century, in charge of looting the world and destroying the United States; his grandson, Bertrand, stellar out of the bullpen for the Sun, cuckolded the young American, T.S. Eliot.  You get the idea: arrogant, profane, as well as entitled. Wordsworth, the green and sensitive face of Empire, leads the Sun with 9 home runs.

The Sun are fading a bit, but they received a glowing performance by John Ruskin.

Who is Ruskin?¬† He was an art critic who coined ‘the pathetic fallacy’ was the intellectual founder of the Pre-Raphaelites, was sued for libel by James Whistler, and lost, and as a result, resigned his professorship at Oxford.

Stepping in for the injured John Stuart Mill, Ruskin won 2-1, and then over his next four starts, made history.

Perhaps urged on by his mound opponents’ pitching, Ruskin pitched not one, not two, not three, but four consecutive shutouts for the Sun, and every game was 1-0.

You can’t make this up.

This is why we play Poetry Baseball.

Will the league now sign James Whistler?

Another savior: Jonathan Swift, signed at the beginning of May by the Laureates, to replace Leigh Hunt.

Swift has won 6 of his 8 starts, with a 3.49 ERA, as Dublin is in second place, only 2 games out of first—tied with the Banners of Lorenzo de Medici.

Shelley, da Vinci, Virgil, and Dante are a solid starting core for the Banners, who are 16-8 at home, but only 9-15 on the road. Friedrich Schiller leads the Banners with 12 homers.¬† John Keats is still in a slump, batting .214 with 2 homers. The Banners were the favorite to win at the start of the season. They will probably need a rejuvenated Keats to put them over the top. “What ails thee, John Keats?” the Banners fans cry.

Andrew Marvell has been a real ace for the first place Carriages, Charlotte Bronte and Charles Lamb have won 6 games in relief, and Tennyson leads Queen Victoria’s team with 10 homers; Robert Browning has 9.

GLORIOUS DIVISION STANDINGS

Carriages Queen Victoria 27-21
Laureates Nahum Tate 25-23
Banners de Medici 25-23
Pistols Eva Braun 22-26
The Sun PM John Russell 22-26

WINS

Andrew Marvell, Carriages 7-2
Percy Shelley, Banners 7-4

Jonathan Swift, Laureates 6-1
William James, Pistols 6-2

John Ruskin, Sun 5-1
Leonardo da Vinci, Banners 5-2
Virgil, Banners 5-4
Emerson, Sun 5-5
Virginia Woolf, Carriages 5-6
T.S. Eliot, Pistols 5-7

Santayana, Pistols 4-4
Samuel Johnson, Laureates 4-4
Dante, Banners 4-5

Relief

Bertrand Russell, Sun 5-1
Livy, Laureates 5-1

Charles Lamb, Carriages 3-0
Charlotte Bronte, Carriages 3-1
Dana Gioia, Laureates 3-2

HOMERS

Yeats, Pistols 16
Dickens, Laureates 16

James Joyce, Pistols 15

Aphra Behn, Laureates 13

Friedrich Schiller, Banners 12

Lord Tennyson, Carriages 10
Ted Hughes, Pistols 10

Robert Browning, Carriages 9
William Wordsworth, Sun 9
Alexandre Dumas, Laureates 9

 

 

 

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE BERLIN PISTOLS?

General Snobbery | Film and Philosophy

The philosopher. Heidegger. Pitching coach for the Berlin Pistols in the Glorious League.

The Scarriet Poetry Baseball League is organized this way:

The Emperor Division (5 teams)   LAST WEEK

The Glorious Division (5 teams)   THIS WEEK

The Secret Society Division (5 teams)

The Peoples Division (5 teams)

The Modern Division (5 teams)

We already looked at the Emperor Division—two teams (11-5) with ancient and renaissance grandeur are tied for first; Napoleon’s Codes (Homer, Hesiod) and the Ceilings of Pope Julius II (Milton, Spenser), followed by the sturm & drang Goths of Charles X, featuring Goethe, Baudelaire, and Wilde, and these two teams are tied for last: the Broadcasters of Fellini, a modern unit of Jim Morrison, Rilke, Nabokov—and the Crusaders, owned by Philip of Spain, a devout team of Thomas Aquinas, Mary Angela Douglas, Bishop Berkeley, and St. John of the Cross.

WH Auden (Codes), Henrich Heine (Goths) and Aeschylus (Crusaders) lead the Emperor Division with five home runs.  Milton of the Ceilings is the ERA leader with 1.15.  Chauteubriand (Goths) and Kant (Codes) have 3 wins.

Some wonder why Auden is playing for Napoleon, but some teams hire anyone they think can help them win.

The season has just started, but the pitching of the Ceilings (11-5), led my Milton, is the story of the Emperor Division so far; they’re allowing about two runs per game, and that’s how you win titles.

~~~

The Glorious Division is dominated by British icons from Shakespeare’s time to our day.

On top of that division right now, with a 12-4 record, are the Carriages, led by Tennyson’s 7 homers and Andrew Marvell’s 3 wins and 1.30 ERA.

As you know, versifying skill means good defense in the field and the ability to get on base, popular works of fiction of any kind means power, and philosophical, transcendent, or critical acumen translates into great pitching. Marvell was more than just a great lyric poet; he was a politician, wrote long satires, and convinced the new government after Cromwell not to kill Milton.  Marvell is the ace of a pitching-rich ball club.

The Carriages, owned by Queen Victoria, with manager Prince Albert, pitching coach Joseph Priestly, are a tough, no-nonsense, team, marked by high seriousness. Look at their pitching staff: Marvel, Virginia Woolf, William Hazlitt, Henry James, Jeremy Bentham, Charlotte Bronte, and Charles Lamb. (The more introverted Emily Bronte recently joined the Goths.) George Bernard Shaw has slammed 5 home runs off the bench, including two pinch hit game winners, giving the Carriages a tremendous boost; Longfellow has 4 round-trippers from the cleanup spot, and Robert Browning has also drilled four home runs batting fifth. Paul McCartney has 3 home runs and seven stolen bases at the top of the order. The Carriages are absolutely the team to watch in the Glorious Division.

The Laureates are owned by 17th century Poet Laureate of England Nahum Tate, who was born in Dublin. His most popular work was an edition of King Lear, re-written with a happy ending. This gives you an idea, perhaps, of the nature of this team. The Laureates are in second place in this division full of strong modern teams, and much of it is thanks to Livy’s strong work in the bullpen, and the offense led by Alexandre Dumas, Charles Dickens, and Aphra¬† Behn (14 homers between them). Sara Teasdale has hit 3, and JK Rowling, 2.¬† The Laureates, who play in Dublin, are similar to London’s Carriages: popular writers tend to have pop in their bat, and the Laureates have plenty of that, and clutch hitting, too. Their starting pitchers are not overpowering, but manager Ronald Reagan and pitching coach Bobby Kennedy feel they can get the job done: Edmund Burke, Thomas Love Peacock, Samuel Johnson, and Leigh Hunt are all healthy and have pitched fairly well. The Irish-Anglo scientist Robert Boyle was picked up to help Dana Gioia and Livy in relief.

The Sun are in third place with a .500 record. They are owned by PM Lord Russell. Winston Churchill (!) is their manager. Lord Palmerston is their pitching coach. The Sun has a modern, worldly scope, fed by the pride of the British Empire, and could dominate this division if it ever clicks into gear. Ralph Waldo Emerson (if one looks deeply into his biography, Waldo is just as British as he is American) is their ace; John Stuart Mill will be out for a while, and John Ruskin will replace him as the no. 2 starter, Aldous Huxley is starter no. 3, followed by Thomas Carlyle. Bertrand Russell, Thoreau, Joshua Reynolds, and Christopher Ricks are in the bullpen. Basil Bunting has been an unlikely power source for the Sun, with 6 home runs batting eighth! Kipling, Wordsworth, and Matthew Arnold are the big bats, but largely silent, so far.  Aside from two unusual games, totaling 60 runs, team Sun has not scored much.  They massacred the Pistols 27-3, and also beat them 23-18.

The Banners, of Lorenzo de’ Medici, the fourth place team at 7-9, have not been hitting much either, but their pitching staff may be the best in the whole league: Dante (Ficino filled in recently), Shelley, Virgil, Leonardo da Vinci, Boccaccio, Bronzino, Botticelli, and William Rossetti.¬† The Banners hitting features Keats (no home runs yet), Friedrich Schiller (5 homers to lead the team), and DG Rossetti (one home run) in the 3,4,5 part of the lineup. Ben Mazer has been a pleasant surprise for the Banners, with 3 homers from the lead off position.¬† The Banners will certainly give the Carriages a run for their money. Queen Victoria has to respect de’ Medici.

What’s wrong with Eva Braun’s Pistols?¬† They are 5-11, but it feels like they are doing much worse. The pitching coach, Martin Heidegger, has been under fire, as the team has allowed a whopping 121 runs.¬† The Pistols have been hitting, especially Joyce and Yeats (8 homers each!). T.S. Eliot, their ace, is 0-4, and has been getting worse with each start. Three of the Pistols’ five wins have come when William James has started, and James had to leave a tough 3-1 loss with depression. Pound is 1-1, and started the horrendous 27-3 loss; he didn’t want to come out, and people are wondering whether Randolph Churchill, Winston’s son who married Pamela Harriman, has the stuff to manage this team. It’s great that Randolph’s father is Winston Churchill, but do the Pistols need someone tougher to lead them?

Standings

Carriages 12-4¬† —75 runs, 57 against

Laureates 9-7¬† —82 runs, 76 against

Sun 8-8¬† —-95 runs, 73 against

Banners 7-9 —48 runs, 49 against

Pistols 5-11 —82 runs, 121 against

Leaders  WINS

Marvell 3-0, ERA 1.30¬† –Carriages
Shelley 3-1 ERA 1.78¬†¬†¬† –Banners

Hazlitt 2-1 ERA 3.09     -Carriages
W James 2-0 ERA 3.10  -Pistols
Woolf 2-2 ERA 3.65      -Carriages
Carlyle 2-1 ERA 4.42     -Sun

Livy 3-1 ERA 2.99¬†¬† –Laureates ¬† Relief Pitcher
Gioia 3-1 ERA 3.20 –Laureates¬†¬† RP

C Bronte 2-0 ERA 2.33 -Carriages RP
B Russell 2-0 ERA 2.73 -Sun  RP

Leaders HRS

Joyce, Pistols 8
Yeats, Pistols 8

Tennyson, Carriages 7

Bunting, Sun 6

GB Shaw, Carriages 5
Dumas, Laureates 5
Dickens, Laureates 5
Schiller, Banners 5

Behn, Laureates 4
Longfellow, Carriages 4
Browning, Carriages 4

Scarriet Poetry Baseball News

 

THAT I CAN SIT HERE AND TURN THESE PAGES AND NOT DIE: BEN MAZER’S LANDMARK EDITION OF HARRY CROSBY’S POEMS

The arrest of Dora Marsden, 30th March, 1909

SELECTED POEMS OF HARRY CROSBY, Ben Mazer, ed, MAD HAT PRESS, 6/22/20

DECEMBER 10, 1929

That I can sit here and turn these pages and not die,
As you did, Harry Crosby, when the time was right,
Saying goodbye to Caresse, as you and Josephine turned out the light,
Every poem leading up to your death was just the way it had to have been,
Unless we don’t know that—because of freedom.

No one published your poems for 87 years, until Ben Mazer,
Who finds everything in the darkness of letters, like a laser.
I think of the Tell-Tale Heart when the old poetry had to die
And new poetry opened the door and shot light into the dark room onto the eye.

I can hear T.S. Eliot breathing low
In the stuffy rooms at Cambridge
When during the weekend Pound decided to come down.
Now, after another 27 difficult years, Robert Lowell sits there, remorseful, in his dressing gown.

The sun! give me the sun,
The true dawn, or none.
Give me the diary, Harry, give me the gun.
Was there freedom,
Too much freedom, too much—or absolutely none?

Ben Mazer, poet and editor, born in 1964, is saving poetry from its 20th century catastrophe.

He personally rescued Landis Everson, the most obscure figure of the San Francisco Renaissance, and found him publishing outlets.

He edited The Selected Poems of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman (Harvard University Press).

He edited the Complete Poems of John Crowe Ransom (The American South’s T.S. Eliot), noticed in a review by Helen Vendler in the New York Review of Books.

He recently received the green light from FSG to compile the first Collected Poems of Delmore Schwartz.

And now, perhaps the most exciting of all.  Harry Crosby.

Ben Mazer is seeing into publication this year, as editor, the Selected Poems of Harry Crosby, allowing the world to see this central figure for the first time since this Back Bay rich boy (nephew to J.P. Morgan) danced on the world’s stage and self-published his poetry almost 100 years ago.

Crosby belonged to poetry’s One True Circle which overlapped, as one would expect, with the worlds of High Finance, War Profits, and Modern Painting.¬† Crosby knew Hart Crane, Ezra Pound, DH Lawrence, among others, and was mentored by a wealthy gentleman, Walter Berry (Crosby got his book collection when Berry died in 1927 a few days before Crosby’s 30th birthday) who knew Henry James and Marcel Proust.

Crosby, however, has been utterly forgotten.

Why?

This is what makes Mazer’s project so exciting. Crosby exemplified, perhaps more than any other poet, the One True Circle of 20th Century Anglo-American Poetry, the Who’s Who of Modern Poetry All Intellectuals Know.¬†

Crosby was the craziest of all.¬† The really embarrassing one.¬† He was loved.¬† But he was excluded—that is, written out of the canon.¬†

The insane, tabloid, side of the One True Circle is embarrassing, and much of it is not fit for school.

A 20th century poet, to be known, had to be taught in school.  Ezra Pound and WC Williams were as unknown as Harry Crosby, when a couple of government-connected New Critics, in the middle of the 20th Century, put Pound and Williams in a college textbook, Understanding Poetry.

License.

The license of those times, the moral looseness of the One True Circle itself, was one kind of very real license. This was widely understood.

The poems selected for especial praise by the editors of Understanding Poetry were two very brief ones—one by Williams, and one by his U Penn friend, Pound—describing plainly, a red wheel barrow, and petals on a black bough.

Poems praised—and yet poems anyone could write.

The other kind of license was the one for the public at large.

The poetry establishment, without directly saying so, was giving the public license.¬† The Petals-and-Wheel Barrow clique was rather priestly and private, but it’s implicit message to the reading public was loud and clear: to be a Byron was now a snap—poetry was now extremely brief and extremely easy.

Harry Crosby did not write a two line poem on flower petals or a five or six line poem on a wheel barrow.

Crosby went Williams and Pound one better.

Harry Crosby produced a one line poem:

a naked lady in a yellow hat

Crosby was too hot to handle for a college textbook in the 1930s; Crosby made the tabloids when he shot himself on December 10th 1929, in a suicide pact with his mistress.

Pound and Williams were more attractive.

First, they were alive; second, their poems were austere and moral compared to Crosby’s—who more accurately (and this was a problem in itself) reflected the unfettered, anything-goes, private-parties-of-the-rich sensibility of the One True Circle.

But now Pound and Williams are also dead.

And we can handle anything.

And as we disentangle ourselves from the selling of poetry—the selling that was very consciously done by the One True Circle in the 20th century— and view poetry and the One True Circle more discerningly, we can welcome Harry Crosby into the wider fold, and allow him his rightful place in a pantheon which may be sordid and embarrassing, but is necessary, not only for historical study, but for poetry, itself.

Mazer is also, for those who know his work, perhaps the most important American poet writing today.  His Selected Poems is recently published.

Americans don’t speak much of 21st century poetry. The whole thing is too embarrassing.¬† Too painful.

There isn’t one critically acclaimed, popular, anything in poetry left.

There’s merely a cool kids list which changes every few months.

There is no poetry, in terms of centralized recognition.

We now live in the Great Empty Hangover of a 1920s Gatsby party.

New Jersey poet Louis Ginsberg was a Nudist Camp member, and belonged to the One True Circle—in particular: Alfred Kreymborg/WC Williams/Ezra Pound/Wallace Stevens/Man Ray/Duchamp. His son was Allen Ginsberg.

Ginsberg, who gained fame, like Baudelaire and Joyce, from obscenity controversy, died in 1997.

Maya Angelou died in 2014.

John Ashbery—known for poetry which “makes no sense,” associated with Modern Art circles in New York City, including Peggy Guggenheim—a modern Gertrude Stein, who was awarded his Yale Younger Poets Award by W.H. Auden, died in 2017.

No one has replaced these figures.

A few replacement figures may exist, poets who knew Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, for instance, but the magnetic pull which holds pieces of inspiration together—think of Plato’s Ion—just isn’t strong enough. These figures may be on poetry lists, but the public doesn’t know them.

The total absence of poetry in the 21st century, its complete de-centered, trivial, existence is the void now faced by Mazer with his lantern.

Here’s an example. The Essential T.S. Eliot was just published (April 2020), reprinting the better-known poems and one essay, “Tradition and the Individual Talent.”

The only thing new in the Essential T.S. Eliot is the introduction by Vijay Seshadri. A nice essay.¬† He has the slick, academic, ‘priesthood patter’ down—Pound and Eliot are profound and wonderful in all sorts of (World War One! The Horror!) ways.

However, in this new, rather sizeable introduction, no one after the middle of the 20th century is mentioned.  

I find this very interesting. The occasion of reprinting T.S. Eliot, in 2020, is cause for not even the faintest flutter in the post-Eliot Tradition.

So what is all this fuss about the Tradition, then?

Does it stop with Eliot and Pound?

Walt Whitman makes an appearance in the introduction—Seshadri tells us Eliot and Whitman are opposites, but also informs us that both were reactionary in their politics and both were influenced by a terrible war.

The most recent figure mentioned in Seshadri’s introduction is Hugh Kenner.¬† Seshadri reminds us that Bertrand Russell—son of Lord Russell, Prime Minster of England when Whitman was writing—slept with Eliot’s wife. Well, what would an examination of the One True Circle be, after all, without a Harry Crosby type of anecdote?

Eliot, and especially his associate, Ezra Pound—-both unknown and hungry during World War One—as mature, middle-aged, literary figures, both bet, essentially, on the Axis Powers to win World War Two. The second half of the 20th century, therefore, saw the entire sensibility of poetry, unlike the booming, victorious-over-Hitler, United States itself, become a high brow contest to see who could best apologize for what we were told was the best of our poetry—which had lost.

The worst “loser,” the embodiment of all that was lauded in the “new” poetry, was Ezra Pound—a T.S. Eliot objection away from being hung as a traitor in Italy in 1945. Ezra Pound, the irascible, cash-handy, “Make It New” deal-maker, the flesh of the poetry that was supposed to carry us forward to new heights of insight and interest.

But a curious thing happened.

As the 20th century went on, the “new” poetry, instead of taking us forward, took us back.

Poetry kept returning to Ezra Pound, Imagiste poet of World War One; it kept going back to T.S. Eliot and The Waste Land, which will be a hundred years old in 2022; this was the narrative: Pound, Eliot, Pound, Eliot.

But what of us?¬† What of the next generations?¬† Well, you had Ashbery, the late 20th century god, chosen by Auden—who had been chosen by Eliot.¬† There was simply no escape.¬† The One True Circle, which began in William James’ mental laboratory, kept shining. The rest of us could go to hell.

The One Circle trapped us in so many ways.

The 1970s pot-smoking professors trapped us, with their unreadable doctoral theses on Finnegan’s Wake and The Cantos.

There was the poetry itself which trapped us, the poetry which now anybody could write, and they did: your professor, your classmates, all the while doing the necessary obeisance to the “new” poetry—the crappy sort of poetry so easy to write—it only had to be obscure enough, which made it possible for anyone to believe they were a poet—as long as poetry that was actually good was kept, as much as possible, out of sight.

The poetry that was actually good was anything studied, anthologized, and written, prior to the existence of the One True Circle—that is, whatever Pound and Eliot dismissed: Milton, Poe, Shakespeare.

The past had to be read selectively, based on the One True Circle’s recommendations—one couldn’t just love old poetryno, that was forbidden.¬† Villon, yes.¬† The “French Symbolists.” Yes. Rimbaud was terribly, terribly cool, even in a Bob Dylan, son of Woody Guthrie, sort of way. Even though no one knew what Rimbaud was talking about. (For a while we didn’t know what Dylan was talking about.) Obscurity was always good.¬† So Rimbaud was good. Baudelaire was good, no, great, because he was completely wretched. It was as if Baudelaire were alive during WW I!¬† So he was good. And French, of course, was good. A few tortured passages by Donne. Yes. That was okay, too. Pre-Raphaelite was very good. Because it was prior to the Renaissance, you see. And the Renaissance, because it was truly good, was very, very bad. Byron, Poe, Milton, Elizabeth Barrett, Edna Millay, Sara Teasdale. No way.¬† Millay and Teasdale were especially annoying, because they wrote a little too much beautiful poetry that actually was good, and they also had the audacity to be contemporary.¬†Hugh Kenner, the Pound fan, was quick to dismiss Millay. And those in the One True Circle nodded silently.

So here we are in 2020, with a big poetic nothing.

We are still talking about Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, or Pound’s friend, WC Williams.

And exactly in the way the New Critics wanted us to talk about them.¬† The “difficult,” academic-priestly, text-centered way, is how we appropriately baffle ourselves.

There is only one thing which can be discussed outside the text.

World War One’s horrors.

It isn’t so much that we shouldn’t be talking about Eliot.¬† Certainly, we should. He was a good poet, and a good critic, and the Great War did happen, after all.

But what about everybody else?  What about the big future nothing which the cloudy, morbid, obsession with Modernism has created?

We hear, over and over again, how Eliot’s entire poetic being was a casualty of WW I, (the way “mad Ireland hurt” Yeats “into poetry”—Auden) but Modernist critics never stop to think how maybe the reader is a casualty of Modernism, which came about, as every Modernist is quick to point out, in de rigueur wretched tones, because of a horrific war.¬† If the horrific war was real, and Modernism’s reaction to it was real, then here is the Romantic poison drunk during the French Revolution—only we can’t talk about the French Revolution, because the One True Circle needs to be historically exclusive, as we see time and time again. Go back—but only to Pound and World War One, please. Stop there. And then, and only then, perhaps, you may perhaps travel indirectly back—as long as you don’t lose the thread, and forget that it connects to Pound—to, let’s say, Rimbaud, the anti-Romantic.

And never, never say the Modernist poets were part of the same group that produced World War One.¬† Always portray the Modernist poets as victims of the Great War.¬† Even if Ford Maddox Ford worked in the War Propaganda Office. Whatever you do, don’t mention that! Modernism was a burning cauldron heated by the fires of World War One.¬† And it melted everything.¬† That is all.

We bet on the Pound clique, and lost.

After the war, Pound had to be rescued; somehow World War Two had to be forgotten; unlike WW I, there was no WW II poetry of any note.

The Bollingen Prize—the first one—in 1949, was the stamp of approval, the swift and necessary repair of Pound’s reputation. Had Pound been quickly shot as a traitor, the poetry of our age would look entirely different.

The Bollingen Prize was presented to Pound, (amid howls of protest, of course) by three judges W.H. Auden, TS Eliot, and Conrad Aiken.

The One True Circle had to defend itself; it almost imploded, as World War Two made World War One temporarily irrelevant.  Thank God for the Bollingen and 1949!

New Critic and Southerner Allen Tate, who New Englander Robert Lowell worshiped (his eyes on the One True Circle) helped start the Writing Program at Princeton—where professor RP Blackmur taught the younger Princeton creative writing professor John Berryman how to drink—ending in Berryman’s suicide at the U. of Minnesota.

Princeton eventually took over the Bolligen Prize, which was the unofficial life blood of the One True Circle, as the 20th Century progressed, and they give out the Bollignen Prize to this day, the prize itself over-shadowing poets whom no one knows.

The Bollingen continues, but it only exists because Pound had to be saved.

Bollingen, by the way, is the name of the house of Carl Jung. The Bollingen prize originally had non-poetry money attached to it (normal for how poetry grew during the 20th century). Fortunately for the One True Circle, it fell into the lap of Pound’s friend, T.S. Eliot, and the two other judges, who were both Eliot’s friends, at the Library of Congress.

Conrad Aiken and Eliot were old Harvard friends—Harvard profs William James (sometimes known as the Nitrous Oxide Philosopher) and George Santayana, a bachelor who lived the last 20 years of his life in fascist Italy, were the two greatest influences on Aiken and Eliot (as well as Wallace Stevens).

Ralph Waldo Emerson—the antithesis of Poe and friends with T.S. Eliot’s New England grandfather—was William James’ godfather—and William James was the brother of the Great, Inscrutable, Expat, Novelist Henry James. William James was the founder of the first Psychology Department in the United States, at Harvard—and it could be said that William James might be the beginning of the One True Circle, if we must trace it back. (Though it’s in the nature of any True Circle never to be understood.) William James (also known as the Stream-of-Consciousness philosopher, though of course he didn’t invent stream of consciousness) also taught Gertrude Stein (one foot in the Nonsense Poetry Business, one foot in the Modern Painting Business)—she is of course an important member of the One True Circle.¬† (This game is very easy, but don’t let the ease fool you.)

Eliot was very much like the trans-Atlantic Henry James. The distinguished magazine, The Atlantic, was where Henry James was first published—by William Dean Howells, the editor set up there by Emerson. Eliot’s early tea-cup poetry resembles the novels of Henry James.

The One True Circle is almost entirely made up of men—but women were extremely influential behind the scenes, just as a great deal of non-poetry money was behind the scenes.¬† Pound needed lots of ready money to be the influence he was, and this mostly came from Pound’s female contacts.

Eliot’s first book (it was really a “pamphlet” according to Seshardri), Prufrock and Other Observations, was subsidized by Pound’s wife and published by the Egoist, a vital Modernist magazine, (Conrad Aiken was the first to review Prufrock and Other Observations—do you see how it works?) and yet the magazine itself, prior to being the Egoist, had been a radical feminist one, The New Freewoman, run by Dora Marsden, before it became, still under her leadership—but guided increasingly by Pound—the Egoist.

Marsden was too radical for even her radical feminist cohorts; she lived the last 40 years of her life as a broken recluse.¬† She was a passionate believer in radical individualism, feminism, and free love. This is somewhat ironic, given the fact that the mature, “conservative” Eliot excoriated the young Shelley for advocating free love.¬† Eliot’s career was born on the shoulders of “free love.”¬† Eliot never had to apologize for his abuse of Shelley, however, because Shelley, the stunning Romantic poet, was persona non grata to Pound’s One True Circle, anyway.

Letters in the 20th century decided to make an American poetry hero out of Ezra Pound and to make College Writing Programs (‘you, too, can be a poet’) the key to success in poetry.

The result: American poetry no longer has a public.

Of course, what happened, happened.  Nothing written here is the attempt to make it all go away. Quite the contrary. We might as well go into it even deeper, if we are to come out of it, and start anew.

Harry Crosby and his Black Sun Press is an important part of that story.

It was suppressed then, and Ben Mazer is bringing it back to light, now.

Mazer’s introduction to Harry’s poems is mostly factual. He details Harry’s life as WW I soldier, poet, and lover. He praises the poetry as having that quality where every reader can see something different in it. He lauds its sincerity. The introduction ends this way:

A notable occasion in Harry’s life was when he witnessed Lindbergh’s landing in Paris on May 20, 1927. On August 1, 1929, he decided that he wanted to learn how to fly. Soon he was taking lessons, and going up with an instructor. Then, he became more and more impatient as he yearned to be allowed to fly solo, but continued to be sent up with an instructor. He was determined to fly solo before departing for America. Finally, on Armistice Day, November 11, Harry completed his first solo flight. Five days later he and Caresse sailed for New York on the Mauretania. On November 18, Harry received a radiogram from Josephine: “IMPATIENT.” On November 22, the Crosbys docked in New York. The next day, Harry visited Josephine before the Harvard-Yale football game. Harry saw much of Josephine in the next two weeks. The final entry in Harry’s diary reads:

One is not in love unless one desires to die with one’s beloved

There is only one happiness it is to love and to be loved

One can get lost in the tabloid excess of Harry’s life.¬† But there was a tragic Romantic figure beneath the excess—a deeply sensitive man who loved.

The poems of Harry Crosby are bright, fanciful. Here are two samples:

I am endeavoring to persuade a Chinese professor who is at work on a torpedo which he expects to shoot to the sun to allow me to live in the centre of this torpedo

And

a giraffe is gorging himself on sunflowers a Parisian doll is washing herself in a blue fingerbowl while I insist on their electrocution on the grounds of indecency

Crosby’s poetry has a quality which represents the times in which he lived better than anything else that was being published then.

T.S. Eliot thought.

Harry Crosby lived.

The following is one of the most interesting things I found in the book.

This excerpt—from a critical piece Crosby published in the summer of the year he died—proves that Harry belonged, at least in his own mind, to the One True Circle.¬† You can tell by his likes and dislikes. The following perhaps reveals too much. There is a cult-like worship of those in the One True Circle, which may have even unsettled the members of the One True Circle themselves.¬† Did Crosby hate Amy Lowell because she was against the U.S. entering World War One—which made his uncle, J.P. Morgan, rich?¬† Amy Lowell was dedicated to poetry. Pound, police commissioner of the One True Circle, did nothing but ridicule her. And why did Crosby reject a beautiful poet like Edna Saint Vincent Millay?¬† Perhaps Millay wanted nothing to do with the One True Circle? After all, not everyone liked Ezra Pound.

A well-known phenomenon in the East is the False Dawn, a transient light on the horizon an hour before the True Dawn. The False Dawn = the poets sponsored by Amy Lowell and the Imagists who flickered for a brief instant on the horizon before they dwindled into the Robert Hillyers and Humbert Wolfs, the Edna Saint Vincent Millays, the Walter de la Meres, the Benets and Untermeyers, the Auslanders and Teasdales who spot with their flytracks the bloated pages of our magazines and anthologies. Once again the general reader has been deceived by the False Dawn and has gone back to bed (who can blame him?) thus missing the True Dawn which has definitely appeared on the horizon harbingered by T.S. Eliot, heralded by the Morning Star of Joyce and heliorayed with the bright shafts of Hart Crane, E.E. Cummings, Perse and MacLeish, Gertrude Stein, Desnos, Eluard, Jolas and Kay Boyle.

—Harry Crosby, 1929

Thank you, Ben Mazer.

Harry Crosby and the True Dawn (there was some truth) will always be looking for us.

Those “bright shafts.”

~~~~~
Salem MA, May 1 2020

SCARRIET BASEBALL OPENING DAY

Ano Meria-Agios Georgios Road

Napoleon convinced Homer the fate of Greece lies with central Europe; the torrential rains in Corsica which delayed both opening game ceremonies and the game itself didn’t seem to bother Napoleon one bit. He smiled the whole time, and even toasted several dignitaries, and the fans, at one point, to tremendous cheers, with champagne from South Africa (watered down).

Homer scattered seven hits in a lengthy and soggy, complete game, 5-3 win over the visiting Rimini Broadcasters in an epic contest marred by heavy Mediterranean rains, as Napoleon’s Codes prevailed over a persistent Federico Felini team in the first game of the season.

The first pitch of the year delivered by Homer was a strike.¬† Knee high, on the outside part of the plate, where Homer pretty much stayed all day (and into the night—this was a long game.)

The Broadcasters took an early 1-0 lead against Homer and the Codes in the second as Robert Burns walked (Corsica fans thought ball four was strike three) and scampered home on a Jim Morrison double.

The Codes stormed back in the bottom of the fourth, taking the lead for good. The Broadcaster starter, the noble Leopardi, seemed bothered by the muddy mound, and fell at one point delivering a pitch. Homer himself began the scoring with an infield single. After Callimachus fanned, Derek Walcott drew a walk and Jean Racine drove in two with a slicing triple that took a funny hop off the wall past Anne Sexton in right. Racine then scored on a Victor Hugo sacrifice fly.

Wole Soyinka and WH Auden both hit solo homers in the seventh, chasing Leopardi.¬† Auden, the English poet, was asked after the game, once again, why he was playing for Napoleon’s team.¬† “Because it’s a good team,” Auden said, “and I love the limestone cliffs of Corsica overlooking this ballpark.” Soyinka, sitting nearby, with a big laugh, called out, “limestone cliffs, baby!”

Not too far away, in Paris, the other Emperor Division contest saw the home Goths trounce the visiting Crusaders 9-5, as Johann W. Goethe earned the opening day win and also knocked in three runs. Thomas Aquinas never looked comfortable on the mound for Philip II’s Madrid team, as he couldn’t find the plate in the first. Somber and humble afterwards in the clubhouse, Aquinas said simply, “God was not with us this day.” Smiling through tears, he added, “He’s not always with us for every little thing we want. I need to pitch better….”

In one other game to report, in the Glorious Division, London was happy as Queen Victoria’s Carriages hosted an opening day win against the Berlin Pistols and starting pitcher T.S. Eliot.

Andrew Marvell, with ninth inning help from Jeremy Bentham, stopped the Pistols, 2-0, besting Eliot in a pitching duel which saw Robert Browning and Elizabeth Browning slam solo homers to provide the scoring for the home team. Eliot struck out 15 hitters, including Henry Longfellow four times, but Marvell never allowed a Pistol past second base as his big curve was accurate and a wonder to watch.

Pistols starting pitcher Ezra Pound, hanging out in the bullpen with Hemingway, Heidegger, Hugh Kenner, Wyndham Lewis, John Quinn, and Olga Rudge, got into a shouting match with some London fans in the seventh inning, and then after the game complained bitterly that the Pistols “gave Tom no run support after he pitched such a great game; I think I might have to put myself in the lineup; when you can’t hit the ball hard, you have to manufacture runs! Maybe I’m crazy, but I think we should win every game!” William Yeats, hitting in the cleanup spot for the Pistols (0-3 with a walk and a strikeout) grumbled as he left, “It’s still early. We have a lot of games to play. This is a terribly good team.”

Reporting from Corsica, Paris, and London, this is Scarriet Poetry Baseball news.

 

THE SEASON BEGINS! SCARRIET POETRY BASEBALL!

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This is the first world baseball league in history!!!

25 teams, 500 poets, is a lot to take in, but that’s why we’re here to guide you.

Marla Muse: Is that snow outside?

Yes, Marla, snow is falling outside the commissioner’s office here in Salem, Massachusetts…

On April 16th!¬† But to continue…

There’s been a lot of recent signings as teams attempt to fill their rosters. And Boston took Franklin’s team from Philly.¬† Philly already has a team: The Crash.

We suggest you generally familiarize yourself with the teams, and pick a favorite team to win the championship–why not?¬† We assure you, these games will play out, for real; no hidden hand will determine the winners.

The Emperor Division

THE BROADCASTERS

Fellini’s Broadcasters is a team of flamboyance and show.¬† They know how to live and die.¬† A sexy team.¬† Motto: Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name. Home park: Rimini, Italy on the Adriatic coast.

Starting Pitchers Giacomo Leopardi 5, Ben Jonson 5, Nabokov 5, Coleridge 5, Relief Pitchers Valery 5, Hitchcock (new) 5, Walter Benjamin (new) 4
Robert Burns CF, Rilke 2B, Mick Jagger SS, Charles Bukowski 1B, Jim Morrison LF, Anne Sexton RF, Gregory Corso C, Sappho 3B,
Anacreon, Ingrid Jonker, Edmund Waller, Omar Khayyam, Swinburne

THE CODES

How would the emperor Napoleon pick his team—not knowing who might obey him or laugh at him behind his back? Napoleon was a law-giver, a conqueror, and larger than life, and poets either mocked and disparaged him (Byron, Oscar Wilde, Shelley,) or wrote him knee-bending odes (Victor Hugo, John Clare). The character of this team is difficult to define. Napoleon has brought together the best he can find, if they don’t actively hate him. Motto: Let the More Loving One Be Me.¬† Home park: Corsica, on the Mediterranean sea.

Napoleon’s The Codes Starting Pitchers Homer 6, Cicero 6, Hesiod 5, Logan 4, Relief Pitchers Kant (new) 6, Balzac (new) 6, Edmund Wilson 5
Racine CF, Victor Hugo 2B, W.H. Auden SS, Callimachus 1B, Soyinka LF, Villon RF, Tati-Loutard C, Derek Walcott 3B
John Peale Bishop, Jules Laforgue, Mina Loy, John Clare, Marcus Aurelius (new), Oliver Wendell Holmes (new)

THE CRUSADERS

This is the Christian team—owned by Philip II of Spain. There had to be one! Motto: If in my thought I have magnified the Father above the Son, let Him have no mercy on me. Home park: Madrid, Spain, near the Prado.

Spain’s Philip II’s The Crusaders SP Aquinas 5, GK Chesterton 5, St John of the Cross 4, Tolkien 4, RP Handel (new) 6, Plotinus (new) 5, Lisieux 4,
Aeschulus CF, Hopkins 2B, Saint Ephrem SS, Countee Cullen 1B, Phillis Wheatley LF, Joyce Kilmer RF, Hilaire Beloc C, Anne Bradstreet 3B
John Paul II, Mary Angela Douglas

THE GOTHS

Charles X of France escaped to England and enjoyed a lavishly supported stay during the French Revolution; he became King after Napoleon, tried to return France to normal, whatever that was, but radicals forced him to abdicate; his team is the Goths—apolitical cool people. Motto: Every great enterprise takes its first step in faith. Home park: Paris, France.

Charles X’s The Goths SP Goethe 6, Chateubriand 6 Wilde 5, Baudelaire 5, RP AW Schlegel 5, T Gautier 5
Sophocles CF, Herbert 2B, Herrick SS, Ronsard 1B, Novalis (new) LF, Catulus RF, de Stael C, Heinrich Heine 3B
Pater (to Printers), Gray, Saint-Beauve, Marot, Irving Layton, Thomas Lovell Beddoes

THE CEILINGS

Pope Julius was a learned pope; he’s got Milton, Michelangelo, (a fine poet, by the way) Petrarch, Euripides, and William Blake. The Ceilings. Not a bad team! Motto: They also serve who only stand and wait. Home park: Rome, Italy.

Pope Julius II’s The Ceilings SP Milton 6, Dryden 6, Ludovico Ariosto 6, Swift 6, RP Bach (new) 6, GE Lessing 6, Augustine (new) 6
Spenser CF, Petrarch 2B, Wiliam Blake SS, Michelangelo 1B, Camoens LF, Tulsidas RF, Euripides C, Ferdosi 3B
James Russell Lowell, Kwesi Brew, Klopstock, Pindar, RH Horne

~~~
The Glorious League

THE PISTOLS

A lot of these teams are owned by mysterious conglomerates.¬† For the sake of controversy, we’re calling this Eva Braun’s team, but no one knows who really owns this team.¬† The murky rich. Pound signed with the Pistols, and brought along some friends. Motto: A life subdued to its instrument. Home park: Berlin, Germany

Eva Braun’s The Pistols¬† SP T.S. Eliot 6, George Santayana 5, Wagner 5, Pound 4, RP Wyndham Lewis 4, Kenner 4, Ernest Hemingway 4, Heidegger (new) 4
DH Lawrence CF, Stein 2B, Yeats SS, Ford 1B, A. Crowley LF, Hughes RF, Jung C, Joyce 3B
Balla, Martinetti, Dorothy Shakespeare, A.R. Orage, John Quinn, Olga Rudge

THE CARRIAGES

This is Queen Victoria’s team—Tennyson, Paul McCartney, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Henry James. You get the idea. Motto: Theirs but to do and die.¬† Home park: London, England

Queen Victoria’s The Carriages SP Marvell 6, V. Woolf 6, Hazlitt 5, H James 4, RP Jeremy Bentham (new) 4
CF Longfellow, 2B Tennyson, SS Paul McCartney, Geoffrey Hill 1B, Sylvia Plath LF, Philip Larkin RF, Browning C, Elizabeth Barrett Browning 3B
Theocritus, Suckling, Bronte sisters (new)

THE BANNERS

If you want glorious, haunting, human-centered, aestheticism, look no further than Medici’s the Banners. Motto: The One remains, the many change and pass. Home park: Florence, Italy

Lorenzo de Medici’s The Banners SP Dante 6, Shelley 6, Virgil 6, da Vinci 5, RP Boccaccio 6, Joshua Reynolds (new) 5, William Rossetti 5
CF Swinburne (new), 2B Keats, SS Thomas Moore, Friedrich Schiller 1B, C. Rossetti LF, D.G. Rossetti RF, George C, Cavalcanti 3B
Glyn Maxwell, Ben Mazer, Philodemus

THE SUN

Lord Russell, Bertie’s grandfather, was prime minister of Great Britain when France was on their side (under Napoleon III) and America was being ripped apart by the Civil War. French-Anglo Colonialism was wrapping up the globe; Emerson and Thoreau were part of the conspiracy—Poe was dead; the USA would return to England as a bucolic colony. A no-borders paradise run by smart people. Motto: A good indignation brings out all one‚Äôs powers. Home park: Devon, England

PM Lord Russell’s The Sun SP Emerson 5, JS Mill (new) 4, Aldous Huxley 4, Thomas Carlyle 4, RP Bertrand Russell (new) 5, Thoreau 4, Christopher Ricks (new) 4,
CF Southey, Kipling 2B, Wordsworth SS, Walpole 1B, Margaret Fuller LF, Basil Bunting RF, Sir John Davies C, M Arnold 3B
Joy Harjo, Marilyn Chin, Macgoye,

THE LAUREATES

Nahum Tate, a 1692 British Poet Laureate, rewrote King Lear with a happy ending. Many own the Laureates, but we think Tate’s story is an interesting one. Motto: Luck is bestowed even on those who don‚Äôt have hands. Home park: Dublin, Ireland

Nahum Tate’s Laureates SP Edmund Burke 5, Thomas Peacock 4, Samuel Johnson 4, Leigh Hunt 4, RP Livy (new) 6, Dana Gioia 4
CF Goldsmith, Sara Teasdale 2B, Rod McKuen SS, Charles Dickens 1B, Dumas LF, Aphra Behn RF, Pasternak C, Ghalib 3B
JK Rowling, Verdi

~~~
The Secret Society League

THE ACTORS

Weinstein produced smart, progressive films, and this team, the Actors, reflects that, to a certain degree.¬† The jailed owner belongs to the league’s timeless ghosts; justice prevails, even as things are and are not. Motto: I am no hackney for your rod. Home park: Westport, Connecticut, USA

Harvey Weinstein’s The Actors SP Byron 6, Chaucer 6, Henry Beecher 5, Petronius 5, RP Sade (new) 6, Gide 4
CF Baraka, Hafiz 2B, Skelton SS, Knight 1B, Langston Hughes LF, Gwendolyn Brooks, RF Marilyn Hacker, Audre Lorde C, Thomas Nashe 3B
Clifton, Page, Jim Carroll

THE STRANGERS

The Strangers definitely have filmmaker David Lynch’s stamp. Motto: So still is day, it seems like night profound. Home park: Alexandria, Virginia, USA

David Lynch’s The Strangers SP Pope 6, Nietzsche 5, Beckett 4, Paglia 4, RP Lovecraft 4, Bloch (new) 4, Philip K Dick (new) 4
CF Rabelais, R. Graves 2B, Riding SS, Roethke 1B, Verlaine LF Kees RF, Rimbaud C, Mary Shelley 3B
Labid, Satie, Burroughs, Fernando Pessoa

THE ANIMALS

It’s a little difficult to define P.T. Barnum’s team, the Animals.¬†¬† Is it spectacle?¬† Animal-friendly?¬† We’re not really sure. Majesty and love are incompatible. Fairfield, Connecticut, USA

P.T. Barnum’s The Animals SP Ovid 6, Melville 5, Verne (new) 5, Robert Bly 4, RP Darwin (new) 5, Nerval 5
CF Jack Spicer, Stevens 2B, Edward Lear SS, Heaney 1B, Mary Oliver LF, Marianne Moore RF, Jeffers C, Ferlinghetti 3B
Scalapino, Kay Ryan, Saint Saens

THE WAR

J.P. Morgan did fund World War One.  This is his team, The War. Motto: The fire-eyed maid of smoky war all hot and bleeding will we offer them. Home park: Madison Avenue, New York, New York

J.P. Morgan’s The War SP Shakespeare 6, Sir Walter Scott 5, Erich Remarque 4, David Hume 4, RP Aldington 4, Gibbon (new) 5,
CF Stephen Crane, Keith Douglas 2B, Sidney SS, Apollinaire 1B, Harry Crosby LF, James Dickey RF, Howard Nemerov C, Brooke 3B
Alan Seeger, T.E. Hulme, Untermeyer

THE SECRETS

America’s team! Motto: We come in the age‚Äôs most uncertain hour and sing an American tune. Home park: Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Ben Franklin’s The Secrets SP Poe 6, Plato 6, Pushkin 6, Moliere 5, RP F. Scott Key 5, Jefferson (new) 5, Monroe (new) 5, Madison (new) 5
CF Hawthorne, Woody Guthrie 2B, Frost SS, Cole Porter 1B, Kanye West LF, Paul Simon RF, Emily Dickinson C, Carl Sandburg 3B
William Cullen Bryant, Amy Lowell, Bob Tonucci, Stephen Cole, John Prine, Dolly Parton (new), Willie Nelson (new)

~~~
The People’s Division

THE COBRAS

The great literary tradition of India: the Calcutta (Kolkata) Cobras! Motto: Is it true that your love traveled alone through ages and worlds in search of me? Home park: Kolkata, Bengal, India

Sajyajit Ray’s Cobras SP Tagore 5, Rumi 5, Kabir Das 4 (new), Herman Hesse 4, RP Ghandi 6, Nissim Ezekiel (new) 4, Krishnamurti (new) 4, Faiz Ahmad Faiz 4
Allen Ginsberg CF, Sen 2B, Anand Thakore SS, Nair 1B, Thayil LF, Muktibodh RF, Vikram Seth C, George Harrison 3B
Sushmita Gupta, Rupi Kaur, Meenakshi, Dhoomil, Jussawala, Ramanujan, Persius, Doshi, Meghaduta Kalidasa, Nabina Das, Sophie Naz, Linda Ash, Medha Singh

THE MIST

Yoko Ono and her husband are the double play combination for the Tokyo Mist. Motto: In Kyoto, hearing the cuckoo, I long for Kyoto. Home park: Tokyo, Japan

Kurosawa’s The Mist SP Basho 6, Issa 6, Heraclitus 5, Noguchi 4, RP Kobo Abe (new) 5, Suzuki 4
CF Gary Snyder, Ono 2B, John Lennon SS, Robert Duncan 1B, Doolittle LF, Richard Brautigan RF, Sadakichi Hartmann C, Corman 3B
Shikabu, Philip Whalen, Yukio Mishima (new), Haruki Murakami (new)

THE WAVES

Red China, with some ancient aesthetics, Chairman Mao’s The Waves. Motto: Death gives separation repose. Without death, grief only sharpens. Home park: Beijing, China

Chairman Mao’s The Waves SP Voltaire 5, Lucretius 5, Rousseau 5, Lao Tzu 5, RP Khomeini 4, Lenin (new) 4, Engels (new)¬† 4
CF Marx, Li He 2B, Tu Fu SS, Ho Chi-Fang 1B, LF Li Po, RF Billie Holiday, Brecht C, Neruda 3B
Wang Wei, Gary B. Fitzgerald, Wendell Berry, Lu Xun, Bai Juyi, Guo Morou, Baraka, Guy Burgess, Louis Althusser (new)

THE LAWS

The Law and Order producer calls the shots on this team—which is, frankly, hard to characterize. Motto: In poetry everything is clear and definite. Home park: Santa Barbara, California, USA

Dick (Law and Order) Wolf’s The Laws SP Aristotle 5, Lord Bacon 5, Horace 5, Yvor Winters 4, RP Van Doren 4, M L Rosenthal 4, David Lehman 4
CF John Donne, Jane Kenyon 2B, Donald Hall SS, Gottfried Burger 1B, LF Thomas Hardy, RF Machado, Martial C, Akhmatova 3B
Justice, Campion, Seidel, Ajip Rosidi

THE GAMERS

The league needed a Light Verse team, and this is it, and it’s more than that—Merv Griffin’s The Gamers! Motto: He thought he saw an elephant that practiced on a fife. Home park: Los Angeles, California, USA

Merv Griffin’s The Gamers SP Lewis Carroll 5, James Tate 4, E.E. Cummings 4, Morgenstern 4, RP Menander 4, Charles Bernstein 4
CF Betjeman, Thomas Hood 2B, Noel Coward SS, Tzara 1B, Ogden Nash, LF Billy Collins, RF Wendy Cope, Eugene Ionesco C, Joe Green 3B
Riley, McHugh, XJ Kennedy, WS Gilbert, Tony Hoagland

~~~
The Modern Division

THE DREAMERS

Pamela Harriman married Winston Churchill’s son, the producer of The Sound of Music, and New York Governor Averil Harriman, before she ran the DNC.¬† Her team is the Dreamers. Motto: Not the earth, the sea, none of it was enough for her, without me. Home park: Arden, New York, USA

Pamela Harriman’s¬† The Dreamers SP Simone de Beauvoir 4, Floyd Dell 4, Anais Nin 4, Marge Piercy 4, RP Germaine Greer (new) 4, Louise Gluck 4
CF Sharon Olds, Edna Millay 2B, Jack Gilbert SS, MacNeice 1B, LF Rukeyser, RF Louise Bogan, Carolyn Forche C, Richard Lovelace 3B
Propertius, Swenson, Jean Valentine, Stevie Smith, Stanley Burnshaw, George Dillon

THE PRINTERS

Andy Warhol is the ruling spirit of The Printers. Motto: The eye, seeking to sink, is rebuffed by a much-worked dullness, the patina of a rag, that oily Vulcan uses, wiping up. Home park: East 47th St, New York, New York

Andy Warhol’s The Printers SP Duchamp 6, Marjorie Perloff 4, Stephanie Burt 4, Mark Rothko 4, RP John Cage 4, RP Blackmur (new) 4, Guy Davenport (new) 4
CF Aristophanes, James Merrill 2B, Hart Crane SS, Kenneth Koch 1B, LF John Updike, RF Lorca, Andre Breton C, John Ashbery 3B
Schuyler, Thom Gunn, Isherwood, Lou Reed

THE BUYERS

Rockefeller didn’t want to spend too much on his team—will Whitman, Freud, Twain, and Paul Engle be a championship rotation of starters?¬† Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop are the double play combination. Motto: Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it may be all maya, illusion? Home park: Chicago, Illinois, USA

John D. Rockefeller’s The Buyers SP Walt Whitman 5, Freud 5, Twain 5, Paul Engle 4, RP Vendler 4, Wimsat (new) 4, Beardsley (new) 4
CF Penn Warren, Elizabeth Bishop 2B, Robert Lowell SS, Duke Ellington 1B, LF Jack Kerouac, Edgar Lee Masters RF, Rexroth C, Dylan Thomas 3B
Jorie Graham, Harriet Monroe, Carl Philips, Richard Hugo, Alexander Percy, Alcaeus, Franz Wright

THE CRASH

AC Barnes, the wealthy modern art collector, sold his stock right before the Crash of ’29—John Dewey was his aesthetic philosopher. Motto: But for some futile things unsaid I should say all is done for us. Home park: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

A.C. Barnes’ The Crash SP John Crowe Ransom 5, John Dewey 4, Wittgenstein 4, Walter Pater 4, RP Jackson Pollock 4, I A Richards (new) 4, K Burke (new) 4,
CF Allen Tate, Richard Howard 2B, WC Williams SS, Donald Davidson 1B, LF John Gould Fletcher, RF Stanley Kunitz, Stephen Spender C, Archilochus 3B
Merrill Moore, Andrew Nelson Lytle, Luigi Russolo, Anne Waldman, Cleanth Brooks, Harold Rosenberg

THE UNIVERSE

Steven Spielberg’s The Universe is very Hollywood: progressive and American. Motto: I know why the caged bird sings. Home park: Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Steven Spielberg’s The Universe SP Harriet Beecher Stowe 5, Harold Bloom 4, Randall Jarrell 4, Margaret Atwood 4, RP Foucault (new) 4, Milosz 5,
CF Delmore Schwartz, Bob Dylan 2B, Paul Celan SS, Anthony Hecht 1B, LF Philip Levine, RF Galway Kinnell, Maya Angelou C, Chuck Berry 3B
James Wright, Stephen King, Larry Levis, Juvenal, Alice Walker,

~~~

Opening Day Games

Rimini Broadcasters v. Corsica Codes SP Giacomo Leopardi, Homer

Madrid Crusaders v. Paris Goths SP Aquinas, Goethe

Berlin Pistols v London Carriages SP TS Eliot, Andrew Marvell

Florence Banners v Devon Sun SP Dante, Emerson

Westport Actors v Virginia Strangers SP Byron, Pope

Connecticut Animals v New York War SP Ovid, Shakespeare

Kolkata Cobras v Tokyo Mist SP Tagore, Basho

Beijing Waves v California Laws SP Voltaire, Aristotle

Arden Dreamers v Manhattan Printers SP de Beauvoir, Duchamp

Chicago Buyers v Philadelphia Crash SP Whitman, John Crowe Ransom

The Opening Ceremony Poem, read by Commissioner Thomas Brady

We hope you enjoy the game.
It’s not about fame.
It’s about the game.

 

PLAY BALL!

SCARRIET POETRY BASEBALL—HERE WE GO!

Lord Byron In Albanian Dress - 1813 Painting by War Is Hell Store

George Byron in a pensive mood, before taking part in the opening day Scarriet baseball ceremonies.

Happy Easter!

Scarriet has expanded and restructured its baseball league!!

Gone the 2 leagues of 20 teams led by 20 American poets—Eliot, Pound, Frost, Poe, Williams, Stevens, Moore, Dickinson, Millay, Jorie Graham, Ginsberg, Ransom, Cummings, Whittier, Whitman, Bryant, Longfellow, James Lowell, Ashbery, and Emerson.

Now poets like Emerson, Eliot and Poe can be player/managers—to contribute to their teams both at the plate and in the field.

The field is more international—Scarriet Poetry Baseball is now 25 historical teams from all over the world.

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

The gods and muses must be pleased with our ten years of Poetry March Madness and our first Poetry Baseball season, where poetry is worshiped through time and space in a manner which no one has ever seen.

Fortunately one of the Muses has always been here to help us, Marla Muse.

Marla Muse: They are indeed pleased, Tom!

You have spoken to the other muses who live in other realms, in those shadowy timeless realms where time is one and poetry lights up suns distantly—

Marla Muse: Yes, and they approve! The stars in the heavens love you more than you know… I would rather die than see poetry die.

This baseball season is different. Mysterious and wealthy owners throughout time and space are bidding, some in secret, for players to fill their rosters.

In the Great Emperor League, we have the Broadcasters. Their motto is “Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name” and they feature Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison, Gregory Corso, Anne Sexton, Bobby Burns, Omar Khayyam, Rilke, Coleridge, Leopardi, Anacreon, Sappho, and Ingrid Jonker.¬† They are rumored to be owned and funded by a business group led by Federico Fellini, and their ballpark is in Rimini, Italy.

These ballclubs are timeless, in every sense of the word (these teams compete, with actual statistics, where chance unfolds out of space, out of time) but real money, blood money, purchases these players.  We know JP Morgan, for instance, wanted Shakespeare and bid heavily to get him.

The Pistols, who play in Berlin, are said to be associated with Eva Braun, but this cannot be confirmed; one older muse claims to have overheard Eva say, “I take care of this. Adolf is too busy talking to bankers and architects. He doesn’t have time for poetry.” But honestly we cannot say who owns the Pistols.

Nahum Tate, owner of the Laureates, for those who do not know, re-wrote a popular King Lear with a happy ending (after Shakespeare’s death when, for a long period, the Bard was out of fashion,) and was chosen as Poet Laureate of England in 1692.¬†

Dick Wolf produces Law & Order on television, and appears to have a controlling interest in the Laws, playing out of Santa Barbara.¬† He’s got Aristotle, Lord Bacon, and Horace.

John Rockefeller opened his purse to get Walt Whitman, and he thinks that will be enough to win a championship.¬† We don’t know.¬† We do know baseball is all about pitching.¬† All you need is a few good arms which dominate, defense behind them, and some clubhouse chemistry, and not too many injuries. It’s a crap shoot, in many ways, and this is why Rockefeller grumbled he wasn’t going to waste money on superstars who hit home runs and have a high batting average. He’s probably right.¬† A team that wins 2-1 is better than a team that wins 7-4, by pure mathematics, even though the former score wins by 1 and the latter by 3 runs. It’s the ratio that counts.¬† 2-1 = 2. 7-4 = 1.7¬† This simple reason is why defense wins in every sport. Rockefeller is using this formula, and the oil baron was also advised that you can’t buy a pennant—throwing money at sluggers doesn’t do any good; it’s 90% pitching and luck. Just put a a poet with critical depth on the hill and three good versifiers in the infield and sit back.

Some of the rosters might have some question marks, but that’s what happens in a free market.¬† It’s an historical fact that Longfellow did meet Queen Victoria in person. But no one expected him to play for her!

And W.H. Auden just “wanted to play for Napoleon, I don’t why.”

Marla Muse: I can’t wait for the season to begin!¬† Spring is in the air! Around Rome, and in those still fairer isles… Let’s forget about plagues and the starvation for awhile. Songs are going to sing.

Here then, are the Teams, their Mottoes, and the preliminary rosters—they are always changing (there’s a big minor leagues!)

~~~~~~

THE GREAT EMPEROR LEAGUE

Federico Fellini, Rimini  The Broadcasters [Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name]
-Mick Jagger, Sappho, Gregory Corso, Charles Bukowski, Paul Valery, Anne Sexton, Omar Khayyam, Robert Burns, Ben Jonson, Coleridge, Jim Morrison, Edmund Waller, Nabokov, Rilke, Giacomo Leopardi, Anacreon, Ingrid Jonker, Swinburne

Napoleon, Corsica The Codes [Let the more loving one be me]
-W.H. Auden, Homer, Hesiod, Racine, John Peale Bishop, Edmund Wilson, Mina Loy, William Logan, Irving Layton, Villon, Jean-Baptiste Tati-Loutard, Wole Soyinka, Jules Laforgue, Derek Walcott, Callimachus, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius

King Philip II, Madrid The Crusaders [If in my thought I have magnified the Father above the Son, let Him have no mercy on me]
-Saint Ephrem, G.K. Chesterton, Tolkien, Thomas Aquinas, Hilaire Beloc, John Paul II, Saint Theresa of Lisieux, Joyce Kilmer, Saint John of the Cross, Mary Angela Douglas, Anne Bradstreet, Phillis Wheatley, Countee Cullen, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Aeschulus

Charles X, Paris  The Goths [Every great enterprise takes its first step in faith]
-A.W. Schlegel, Baudelaire, Goethe, Oscar Wilde, Walter Pater, Madame de Stael, Chateaubriand, Sophocles, George Herbert, Heinrich Heine, Robert Herrick, Clement Marot, Ronsard, Saint-Beuve, Catulus, Thomas Gray, John Clare, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Theophile Gautier

Pope Julius II, Rome  The Ceilings [They also serve who only stand and wait]
-Milton, Michelangelo, William Blake, Robert Lowell, Petrarch, G.E. Lessing, John Dryden, Klopstock, GE Horne, Ferdowsi, Ariosto, Luis de Camoens, Swift, Tulsidas, Edmund Spenser, Kwesi Brew, Pindar, Euripides

~~~~~

THE GLORIOUS LEAGUE

Eva Braun, Berlin The Pistols [A life subdued to its instrument]
-Ted Hughes, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, W.B. Yeats, Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce, Hugh Kenner, Wyndham Lewis, DH Lawrence, Alistair Crowley, George Santayana, F.T. Marinetti, Giacomo Balla, Richard Wagner, Jung

Queen Victoria, London The Carriages [Theirs but to do and die]
-Lord Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett, Robert Browning, Longfellow, Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath, Hazlitt, Paul McCartney, Geoffrey Hill, Henry James, Andrew Marvel, John Suckling, Virginia Woolf, Theocritus

Lorenzo de’ Medici, Florence The Banners [The One remains, the many change and pass]
-Percy Shelley, Dante, William Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, DG Rossetti, John Keats, Marlowe, Guido Cavalcanti, Glyn Maxwell, Ben Mazer, Friedrich Schiller, Thomas Moore, Philodemus, Virgil, Stefan George, Boccaccio, Leonardo da Vinci

P.M. Lord John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, Devon The Sun [A good indignation brings out all one’s powers]
-Emerson, Horace Walpole, Thomas Carlyle, Thoreau, Wordsworth, Rudyard Kipling, Aldous Huxley, Matthew Arnold, Sir John Davies, Margaret Fuller, Robert Southey, Marilyn Chin, Joy Harjo, Basil Bunting, Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye

Nahum Tate, Dublin¬† The Laureates [Luck is bestowed even on those who don’t have hands]
-Ghalib, Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Peacock, Leigh Hunt, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Sara Teasdale, Pasternak, Louis Simpson, Dana Gioia, Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke, Aphra Behn, Rod McKuen, JK Rowling

~~~~~

THE SECRET SOCIETY LEAGUE

Harvey Weinstein, Westport CT The Actors [I am no hackney for your rod]
-John Skelton, Langston Hughes, Henry Ward Beecher, Chaucer, Amiri Baraka, Lord Byron, Hafiz, Thomas Nashe, Marilyn Hacker, Petronius, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jim Carroll, Lucille Clifton, Etheridge Knight, Audre Lorde, Jimmy Page, Andre Gide

David Lynch, Alexandria VA  The Strangers [So still is day, it seems like night profound]
-Jones Very, Alexander Pope, William Burroughs, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Robert Graves, Laura Riding, Weldon Kees, Berryman, Mary Shelley, Rabelais, Charles Simic, Eric Satie, Labid, Roethke, Camille Paglia, HP Lovecraft, Nietzsche, Samuel Beckett

P.T. Barnum, Fairfield CT  The Animals [Majesty and love are incompatible]
-Ovid, Gerald Stern, Robinson Jeffers, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Seamus Heaney, Jack Spicer, Kay Ryan, Leslie Scalapino, Mary Oliver, W S Merwin, Melville, Camille Saint Saens, Edward Lear, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Gerard de Nerval, Robert Bly

J.P. Morgan, Madison Avenue  The War [The fire-eyed maid of smoky war all hot and bleeding will we offer them]
-Shakespeare, Louis Untermeyer, Apollinaire, T.E. Hulme, Richard Aldington, Rupert Brooke, Sir Walter Scott, Philip Sidney, James Dickey, Harry Crosby, Keith Douglas, Wilfred Owen, Howard Nemerov, Stephen Crane, Erich Remarque, Alan Seeger

Ben Franklin¬† Philadelphia¬† The Secrets [We come in the age’s most uncertain hour and sing an American tune]
-Paul Simon, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Edgar Poe, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, F. Scott Key, Cole Porter, Plato, Hawthorne, Pushkin, Walter Raleigh, Moliere, William Cullen Bryant, Amy Lowell, Emma Lazarus, Carl Sandburg, Pete Seeger, Natasha Trethewey, Amelia Welby, Woody Guthrie, JD Salinger, John Prine, Kanye West, Stephen Cole, Bob Tonucci

~~~~~

THE PEOPLE’S LEAGUE

Sajyajit Ray, Calcutta The Cobras [Is it true that your love traveled alone through ages and worlds in search of me?]
-Tagore, Allen Ginsberg, Jeet Thayil, Rupi Kaur, Anand Thakore, Dhoomil, G.M. Muktibodh, Rumi, A.K. Ramanujan, Samar Sen, Daipayan Nair, R. Meenakshi, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Hermann Hesse, Persius, George Harrison, Adil Jussawalla, Tishani Doshi, Sushmita Gupta, Vikram Seth

Kurosawa,  Tokyo  The Mist [In Kyoto, hearing the cuckoo, I long for Kyoto]
-Basho, Hilda Doolittle, Robert Duncan, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, D.T. Suzuki, Yone Noguchi, Yoko Ono, John Lennon, Kobayashi Issa, Lady Izumi Shikibu, Cid Corman, Sadakichi Hartmann, Heraclitus, Richard Brautigan

Chairman Mao, Beijing  The Waves [Death gives separation repose. Without death, grief only sharpens]
-Tu Fu, Lucretius, Karl Marx, Voltaire, Rousseau, Guy Burgess, Amiri Baraka, Brecht, Neruda, Li Po, Li He, Bai Juyi, Lu Xun, Guo Moruo, Ho Chi-Fang, Yen Chen, Billie Holiday, Khomieni, Lu Ji , Wang Wei, Lao Tzu, Gary B. Fitzgerald, Wendell Berry

Dick Wolf, Santa Barbara  The Laws [In poetry everything is clear and definite]
-Ajip Rosidi, Aristotle, John Donne, Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon, Donald Justice, Anna Akhmatova, Thomas Hardy, Thomas Campion, Frederick Seidel, Antonio Machado, Mark Van Doren, David Lehman, Lord Bacon, Martial, ML Rosenthal, Horace, Gottfried Burger, Yvor Winters

Merv Griffin, Los Angeles  The Gamers  [He thought he saw an elephant that practiced on a fife]
-Lewis Carroll, James Tate, E.E. Cummings, Tony Hoagland, Ogden Nash, Billy Collins, Eugene Field, W.S. Gilbert, Thomas Hood, Noel Coward, X.J. Kennedy, John Betjeman, Wendy Cope, Tristan Tzara, Heather McHugh, Charles Bernstein, Jack Spicer, James Whitcomb Riley, Joe Green, Menander, Morgenstern

~~~~~

THE MODERN LEAGUE

Pamela Harriman, Arden NY The Dreamers [not the earth, the sea, none of it was enough for her, without me]
-Sharon Olds, Edna Millay, George Dillon, Floyd Dell, Dorothy Parker, Stanley Burnshaw, Richard Lovelace, Stevie Smith, Louis MacNeice, Louise Bogan, Louise Gluck, Jack Gilbert, Marge Piercy, Carolyn Forche, Muriel Rukeyser, Jean Valentine, May Swenson, Propertius, Anais Nin, Simone de Beauvoir

Andy Warhol, East 47th St The Printers [the eye, seeking to sink, is rebuffed by a much-worked dullness, the patina of a rag, that oily Vulcan uses, wiping up.]
-John Updike, Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, James Merrill, Hart Crane, Lorca, Thom Gunn, Stephen Burt, Frank Bidart, Mark Rothko, Marjorie Perloff, John Quinn, Duchamp, Aristophanes, Christopher Isherwood, Andre Breton, Lou Reed, John Cage

John D. Rockefeller, Chicago The Buyers [Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it may be all maya, illusion?]
-Walt Whitman, Alcaeus, Edgar Lee Masters, Kenneth Rexroth, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Helen Vendler, Jorie Graham, Franz Wright, Mark Twain, Robert Penn Warren, Paul Engle, William Alexander Percy, Richard Hugo, Carl Philips, Harriet Monroe, Duke Ellington, Dylan Thomas, Jack Kerouac, Sigmund Freud

A. C. Barnes, Philadelphia  The Crash [But for some futile things unsaid I should say all is done for us]
-Allen Tate, John Gould Fletcher, John Crowe Ransom, John Dewey, Cleanth Brooks, Donald Davidson, Merrill Moore, Walter Pater, Wittgenstein, Andrew Nelson Lytle, Archilochus, Anne Waldman, Stanley Kunitz, Jackson Pollock, WC Williams, Luigi Russolo, Stephen Spender, Richard Howard

Steven Spielberg, Phoenix AZ  The Universe [I know why the caged bird sings]
-Maya Angelou, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Bob Dylan, Margaret Atwood, Paul Celan, Czeslaw Milosz, Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell, Anthony Hecht, Galway Kinnell, Philip Levine, Larry Levis, Claudia Rankine, Harold Bloom, Alice Walker, James Wright, Juvenal, Chuck Berry, Stephen King

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

Ballpark Road Trips in Review: 2018 - Ben's Biz Blog

 

 

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 Tennyson.  Frost 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¬†¬† ‚Äď
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¬†¬†¬† ‚Äď
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‚ÄĒunable to play because of dizzy spells‚ÄĒdoubled, 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‚Äôs obtuse opinion of Russian Literature (‚ÄúI have omitted the Rhooshuns.‚Ä̬† ‚ÄĒHow 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôt 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 ‚Äúthe Rhooshuns‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äúunreal,‚Ä̬†telling reporters¬†after the game he could not remember what he did on the mound, or with the bat.¬† ‚ÄúI honestly don‚Äôt recall the game at all,‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôs 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.¬†¬† ‚ÄúPoetry is nothing more than a certain¬†dignity which life tries to take away,‚ÄĚ Byron said later in a jubilant clubhouse.

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

BREAKING NEWS

Scarriet may play another baseball season!!

And add more teams!!

More poets!!

Stay tuned.

 

XXX POEMS BY RAQUEL BALBONI

XXX POEMS COVER.png

Arts & Letters is a new journal—with poetry and nice color reproductions of art, printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In the center of the activity around this simple, modest, but essential magazine (and small press) is Ben Mazer, the important writer/editor, currently editing the Collected Poems of Delmore Schwartz for FSG; and who offered to the public around two years ago his Selected Poems.

Arts & Letters¬†is not burdened with an agenda, or mission; it’s primarily a clique of avant-garde friends. We think this is wise, because this is all Pound and the avant-garde “movements” really were. We suppose there were a few manifestos back in the 1920s, but in 2020 the avant-garde is more established, more relaxed.¬† Who needs manifestos?

Our favorite passage in Ms. Balboni’s book (actually, Feb March Arts & Letters) is this one, which concludes her first poem in the book, from page 4:

i always forget what you look like
can i borrow some photos
or act all surprised

We love this delicate turn on romance: you remember, you want to remember more, but surprise is good, too.

Ms. Balboni is best when she’s being a bit funny, or when she’s describing the psychology of love and attraction.

We find in this a kind of wild, deadpan humor:

Never try again to photograph the four unlit candles on the mantle in the fun house mirror.

We sense in Ms. Balboni’s poetry the formula articulated by Mr. Eliot 100 years ago: poetry as an escape from emotion—with the highly emotional those who need to escape. There is little emotion in Ms. Balboni’s poetry, but underneath the poetry, emotion desires to well up—it just never does. For instance:

i bowed to it in a shaky collapse
i wept over the trouble it took to find it there,
some center.

Is this due to her art, or the personality of Ms. Balboni? Or is it wrong to ask this? Should we focus on her poetry alone?

When someone keeps a diary, are they thinking, or being emotional?  Both. The diary is the attempt to reconcile thought and feelings.

What is poetry? Lyric poetry is: a diary—in which third person is changed to second.

The most interesting poems of Ms. Balboni use the word “you” frequently, and we like the ones which teasingly shudder about sex.

The use of “you” converts the mere diary writer (who writes of “him,” “her,” or “them”) to a poet; the risk is that in the public view, for protection, the diarist-now-poet’s rhetoric becomes more hidden, more obscure–and some would say, this act of obscuring is the poetry, is the art.

In the poem, “Come,” the longest poem in the volume, beginning on page 37, we get this passage to fire up the bookworm:

Using the wand in public spaces
Masturbating in the library
The library truly makes me horny
So what turns you on and how can i do it
Also makes me cum i wish
Do it all again for another chance
To see how you make me come

A few lines later, a terribly good description of what it means to be in love:

I usually think about this person most of the time but not intentionally in this new way that has been brought out in the open.

In the poem which begins on pg 23, “Healing Magic Through Words,” the poet appears as sensitive but stoic, fighting, perhaps, for her life. It begins, proudly:

You are so special
but I am more special

In the middle of the poem, the diary-turning-into-a-poem speaks:

I need to talk to you to get these thoughts in the open, when i have them to myself i have trouble fully believing in them

Ms. Balboni is very good at this: getting right to the point about something important, and being original about it. At the end of “Healing Magic Through Words,” she is getting drunk at a bar:

Drinking more, i fill my own glass to make sure there is enough for me then i give you the rest. We are close and i touch you so much more now. I expect and accept the pain later too in your bed.

This poem feels honest and brave, but we have to be careful when we assign morality to poetry. A poem which wears morality on its sleeve is no poem.

Ms. Balboni thinks—even when she is trying, for the sake of the poetry, not to think. Those who think, often offend those who feel.

To be less offended, poetry has gradually moved away from thinking (the Metaphysical poets) and towards feeling (the Romantics) and has gone even deeper into feeling, in the practice of the Moderns, who, with nervy touchiness, write obscure poetry which critics (the last vestige of thinking in poetry) can hardly understand. The pendulum will swing back, as it must, towards Romanticism, not for the sake of Romanticism, but for the criticism of it, and only in order that poetry in general swing back towards beauty, clarity, and thinking. Where Apollo, beaming and deep in thought, waits.

Punctuation is used little, if at all, in most of these poems.

In the second poem of XXX Poems, the poet experiments with the period. She uses it.

The poems which use no punctuation are no worse, and are often better, than the ones which do. The semi-colon is used once in the volume, on page 30. We find it in a writhing passage about aliens, after the word “continue;” perhaps, unconsciously, Ms. Balboni doesn’t like the semi-colon; many writers don’t; does creativity need it?

At times the poet becomes impatient with everything.

Body art
Secret art
Not doing anything art
Being so fucking high art
Fuck this im stupid art

But the next line rescues us from this impatience, because it is similar, seems more clear-headed somehow, and it’s also funny:

Obscurity is holding me back from being my full freak self

The one poem which rises out of the book’s searing ruminations into what might be called a story, or a Hawthorne tale, is “She,” on page 27, which begins with the lovely and mysterious:

She was in a secret relationship with one patch of trees in the woods

The poem turns out not to be a story—that’s not the kind of poem these are. The poem focuses on the “she” in the same, strange mood established at the start, in such a way that we soon believe the poet may be talking about herself. And yet somehow it does seem to be a story. This proves that Ms. Balboni is not your ordinary lyric poet; she is able to handle things.

Ms. Balboni is self-observing, without being self-serving. “She” is not actually a story, but it’s cohesive, coherent, and realized, in the way the best lyric poems are. These quotes will give you an idea:

what a mistake that was
getting to know her creepy bitch

~

she probably already knew i was
a freak let me tell you

she brought a Charles Bukowski book
and read it in the woods
the book with a title about horses and long days
her notebook had creamy paper dazzled with cold ink
and the smell of nauseous nicotine smoke,
of a deep breathing girl
leaning on a fence

she’s mine i think
but she’s like a barn cat
and i am the barn

I follow the directions to a ghostly hill wondering

~

She lived in a house that looked like a treasure chest
red rubies blue velvet emerald green

~

all i wanted was to see her up close
to see the way her arms blended with her neck
the sweet creamy skin, the smooth organ so there and soft
although it seemed my eyes played tricks on me when i looked at all

Ms. Balboni is poised for greatness; but she’s an introvert, and this may hinder her. Or perhaps not. Her book is full of observations such as the following, which uncannily depict love, and which only the sensitive introvert, perhaps, understands, because poetry, introversion, and love are the same:

People are outside having fun i am inside having fun

 

—Salem MA, Feb 2, 2020

 

 

THE EXQUISITE EDGAR POE

Related image

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 and scientific treasure.

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‚ÄĒ
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‚ÄČ…
.
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, 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.

 

A FEW REMARKS ON NEO-ROMANTICISM PART 2

BEN MAZER: POEM FROM HIS FORTHCOMING BOOK | Scarriet

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 r√©sum√©.

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 was the American David to Britain’s Goliath, but he admired English Romantic 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, became 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 reviled them anew. Was Modernism revolutionary or reactionary? The attack on 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 compiled 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, keen on valid sources informing 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.

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, again and 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 the fragment prevails.

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, it seems 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 amoral phrases are 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. Unfortunately this does not prevent this joke from being told over ad infinitum, whether it is “noise-as-“music,” “trash-as-art,” or “fridge-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.

Second, 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 clich√©d, and the unoriginal. ¬†But only to fall into the abyss of the profoundly trivial, the deeply obscure, and the sublimely inaccessible.

Modernism’s break from romantic poetry—if romantic poetry is assumed to be what poetry is for the general public—permits anything—especially whatever elicits 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 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 each of the three divisions require originality. 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 so many moderns are childishly “free,” and aim only to put things in.

To return to Ben 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.

With his profound modernist/romantic originality, Mazer has scraped the bottom of poetry—as it is understood as poetry in its Jungian, shadowy depths. ¬†We sense the step up upon the ancient rock.

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.

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 the first line’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 the 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.

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.

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.

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

The irreducible.

WHITMAN VS. MAZER—THE SENTIMENTAL POETRY MARCH MADNESS CONTINUES

 

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The sentimental, as this 2018 March Madness Poetry tournament is finding out—as poems smash into each other in the particle accelerators of Scarriet’s aesthetic criticism—refers to any emotion at all, even anger.

Emotion, which the Modernists sought to distance themselves from—because the Victorians and the Romantics were too emotional in their poetry—is the beating heart of any poem; the poem cannot survive without emotion.

Are poems truth, as in scientific truth?  Even those who hate emotion, would not make such a claim (it would be an emotional one).

So if poems are not scientific documents, what are they?¬† They are sentimental documents—as much as feeling can be registered in a scientific (aesthetic, philosophical, psychological) manner.

The Modernists were fashionably reactive, but rather bankrupt philosophically and critically—the New Critics’ objected shrilly to the relevance of¬† the reader’s emotional response to a poem (yes, poems may make us feel something, they conceded, but this was not as important as the objective description of the poem as a thing).

T.S. Eliot, the father of New Criticism, famously¬† called poetry an “escape from emotion,” but he was confusing Poe’s formula that verse was 90% mathematical and 10% moral.

Poems can certainly be written, as Wordsworth said, in “tranquility,” even as powerful feelings flow between poet and reader.

The poem itself is not emotional.

The whole question of “escaping” emotion, or counting emotions bad in a poem, the way emotions are bad if one loses one’s temper in real life, is besides the point.

The mathematical is not emotional, and verse is largely mathematical—even prose poetry relies on rhythm, which is music, which is math.

But should the poet invent, and impart, emotion as part of the poem’s effect?

Yes, and this is a truism.

Aristotle says emotions can be “purged” by poetry. Aristotle was arguing with Plato, and looking for a way to praise emotions, but the “purging” idea is incomplete.¬† Let’s say a poem elicits disgust—how does this “purge” anything?¬† Does this mean we will never feel disgusted, again?¬† Of course not.¬† The poem has given us a feeling of disgust where there was none before, and whenever we remember the poem, we are disgusted.

The emotional content of a poem can include some “bad” emotions—fear or sorrow, for instance—disgust should probably be avoided altogether, but even disgust may be used, sparingly, perhaps—but the poem itself should do more than just produce an emotion, or a combination of emotions; the emotions of the poem must be accompanied with—what?¬† And here’s the mystery; here’s what the poet must decide with each poem.¬† All we know is that every poem should be highly sentimental, in the old, less pejorative, meaning of the term.

In the Fourth Bracket, the Sushmita Bracket, we feature some living poets, who don’t give a damn what contemporary critics think, and find joy and weeping in the poetic euphoria of grand, old, high sentiment.

Ben Mazer—one of the greatest living poets (tell us how he is not)—gives us a poem burning on emotional jet fuel.

As we have said, the “emotion” of a person and the “emotion” of a poem are two different things.

Personal emotion could indeed be something we would want to “escape” from, to tamp down, to control, etc.

A poem, however, understands no such social limits or niceties.

The more the poet understands this crucial distinction, the better the poet will be; those who do not understand this distinction produce poetry which is either purely dull, or purely offensive.

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 famous poem by Walt Whitman is Mazer’s opponent.¬† We copy the first stanza.

O Captain! My captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red.
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

Many know and admire this poem, and Walt Whitman was embraced by the moderns—Pound put out a hand to Whitman (while ignoring Poe, and other important figures of the 19th century.)

Those who admire Whitman’s poem, when pressed, would probably not remember “But O heart! heart! heart!/O the bleeding drops of red.”

What respectable poet writes anything like this today?

And yet, “O Captain! My Captain!” is a great poem, a powerful poem, a memorable poem, with a wonderful rhythm—if Whitman had checked himself and said, “I can’t write nonsense like O heart! heart! heart!” who doubts but that the poem would never have seen completion, would never have been written at all?

The only drawback to Whitman’s poem is that it exhausts its theme in the first stanza, and the next two stanzas merely recapitulate the first.¬† It is a bold and lovely poem, however.

Ben Mazer, similarly, pours on the sentimentality in his poem—the poet is vulnerable in the extreme.¬† The hysterical and desperate nature of the poem is announced at once, with, “I was at the Nuremberg Rallies pleading with my wife.”¬† This alone, marks the poem as genius, and then Mazer presents the searing, simple words of an actual, intimate conversation, which adds to the drama, and then Mazer ends the poem with a direct, emotional plea at the highest possible pitch.

Mazer’s poem has four parts, with the poet’s position never wavering—the first part announces the setting and situation, the second part features a dialogue, the third part presents a key, yet hopeless turn in the dialogue, “I wish that it were true,” and in the last part, the poet seeks divine assistance, after beginning the poem with a reference to earthly power.

There’s no crying in poetry?

Yes there is.

Mazer wins.

FEBRUARY POEMS BY BEN MAZER, REVIEWED

Image result for feb poems mazer

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.

 

 

REFINE THE BRUTE

When I’m asked for an opinion on modern American poetry, I want to do more than list poems and poets I like, though this is probably the only adequate response. Anything else will be sure to confuse as much as it enlightens.

But I cannot resist the injunctions, so fraught with discipline is my soul, even though it inhabits a bestial body.

Before poems are offered up, however, I have a desire to show my thoughts on what poetry is, and what it does, and what it is supposed to do, if it is worthy to be called, poetry, of which “modern” and “American” are even more hopelessly vague.

Surely poetry has a certain pedagogical use.

Verses and rhyme help us significantly in two ways: verse helps us to learn a language and helps us to learn to love a language.

Poetry can most simply be defined as language at play.

How can one love a language which is complex and unmusical?

Unless one is hopelessly misanthropic and affected?

Language can confuse more easily than anything else—because a chaos of meaning is more chaotic than chaos itself.

Language should never confuse—if it is worthy to be called language.

How can the most complex thing on earth do us good as a cheerful and loving guide?

This is the whole question, and poetry, in its beautiful robes, is always near, emerging elegantly from the shadows, with the answer.

Poetry, to cast away all pretense and confusion, then, is for the learning-book, the school lesson; poetry is the teacher of language.

Poetry is language for the child.

The child, who lisps wants and thoughts in the world of his mother, all at once enters the next phase—and grows slowly into a speaking and feeling citizen—with the help of poetry.¬†

At the end of this phase, perhaps harsh and complex and unmusical language awaits; but this middle path should be guided by simple and playful and happy versification, which fills the senses and the muscles of learning—with confidence and joy.

The student of poetry is the student of poetry for students.

For teaching is what poetry does.

Student, to some, is an unfriendly word; it implies anything but joy. We would prefer the poet as someone who learns from nature, outside the school’s walls.¬† Student implies shallow breathing and pitiless annoyance.

Student may have unfortunate institutional associations, but the athlete trains, the baby animal learns, the lover knows the beloved, and poetry casts knowing lovingly over all creatures who speak.

Poetry is a stream for all the speaking tribes.

Poetry is wisdom that is more than wisdom.

A student of poetry is the best thing to be—for once the adolescent has imbibed poetry’s waters, something divine will stay in him forever.

Poetry does not exist for itself, or to convey “truths” among sophisticated grownups—who need “news that stays news;” poetry is only very indirectly connected to the fussy things necessary to move among the trials and griefs of mature life. Poetry’s influence is wide and strong enough to trick sophisticates into thinking that poetry is a sophisticated enterprise. But the true poets know better.

Poetry can belong to “truths;” it can belong to, and be, anything; it is, for many, the speech of strangeness, the speech of estrangement, the speech of enormity, the speech of iconoclasm, the speech of vain maturity shot through with terrifying irony, and yes, speech which can dare to say anything.

Yes. The stream is the sea.

However, before it is any of these things, poetry is food for the student eternal.

Poetry should turn language into a beautiful instrument, both for exterior expression, and for inner thoughts of the highest enterprise and pleasure.

To be great, poetry must know where it belongs.

Poetry serves language.

Language does not serve poetry.

Poetry exists as a lover of language—not to “know things” or to express “knowledge,” though what it expresses can, obviously, relate to knowledge and knowing.¬† Knowing isn’t what it is—just as a stove is not heat.

A child will have plenty of opportunity to grasp things about the sordid, factual world.

Language—which poetry serves—is how we navigate the world. Language—which poetry serves—is not merely a repository of facts.

For the doubting adolescent, language, beautiful language, is the way to swim through the intellectual sea. The intellectual sea shouldn’t be poured into the novice’s mouth.

Since poetry is language, poetry makes both the mind and its objects beautiful—language which belongs to poetry appeals to both the sense and the senses. Language which belongs to poetry revels in fluency, revels in delight and a practiced ease, with which to contemplate and think.

As an example, we offer a recent poem of our own composition, which demonstrates how poetry belongs in language—not just in the macro-sense (to which we typically think poetry belongs, making sublime, insightful, emotional, grandiose observations and pronouncements, etc)—but in the micro-sense: poetry is, more than anything else, speech which punctures pretense, speech which spreads harmony, grace and civilization.

YOU SAW MY COMMA, YOU SAW WHAT I SAID WAS NICE

You saw my comma, you saw what I said was nice;

The shouting world that you see has nothing to do with me,

But I, at least, can prove to you, with the way I write,

That I am kind, nice to kiss, and safe—even sweet to be with at night.

It really is true that we have nothing to do with the world,

Although we are in it. The unseeing world

Has been manipulated against its will,

Or not: maybe the whole world meant to do it this way,

And the world is exactly as it should be, every day;

Though we don’t believe this, and I don’t believe this,

And please just kiss me—and do me a favor: don’t believe a single thing I say.

****

But to really be convincing, we offer an example of one of the greatest poetic speeches:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:/Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer…or to take arms…

Great old poetry from our mother tongue obviously throws its influence over contemporary American poets, though some, to be “more contemporary” push away the old—though every poet knows this is impossible. But if we look at this famous verse, immediately we see it appeals to the child: One or Zero. Either/Or. Binary language lies beneath computer language and a great deal more—difficulty, however, is not Shakespeare’s aim: child-like clarity and truth, rather. “The pangs of disprized love, the law’s delay, the insolence of office” is not the speech of long, tortured disquisition; it is the truth spoken quickly; now the mathematical simplicity of one or nothing is further complicated, but simply: the added issue is this: nothing is not really nothing—“but that dread of something after death…” But in the end, it still comes down to one or zero, because uncertainty is still zero.

And this is a truth which gives the lie to the “Difficult School,” and every kind of inadequacy and pretence which kills poetry in our day and makes it so unappealing to the public: “uncertainty is still zero.”

This is why William Blake’s lovely, child-like ballads to “Innocence and Experience,” mark the return of Shakespearian genius in the poets which came to be called “the Romantics” by critics who had no other word, just as “Modern” is no word at all to describe anything literary. Perhaps if we mean to say “stupid,” like that plum poem (Christ!) by Carlos Williams.

There is only good poetry.

There are no eras.

There is no liking poetry which is “about” something you like.

You’re not liking poetry, then.

There is no scholarship—especially the kind that exists to prove that Ezra Pound is more important than Edna Millay. Most people don’t care. A small percentage care, but most of that small percentage doesn’t get it. Poor poetry.

Intellectuals in the West chiefly care about “equality,” which translates into going backwards from their superior intellects into something worse—for the sake of that very “equality” they love.

The poor hate “equality,” which is why popular music, for instance, the entertainment of the poor, is so unequal: The “hit” songs get played over and over again. And for a simple reason, which no doubt goes over the intellectuals’ heads—on account of the intellectuals being so intellectual: Good songs are good because they sound good, and even better, with more listens.

So everything popular is not equal. Prose make all poems equal. That’s why prose-as-poetry appeals to intellctuals. This alone is the point. It isn’t that the intellectuals hate verse, or that the Pope hates naked women. Equality is solemnly the aim.

So to quickly review American poetry: ballads sung by the poor, evince a great deal of poetic genius, and this informs the great shadow poetry of America: popular music, which our Mother Country joyfully “invaded” in the 1960s, with phenomenal numbers like “House of the Rising Sun.”

Edna Millay is a great genius of American poetry (see her sonnets, etc).

Then there is the great counter-tradition, began in the 1930s at Iowa, in which American poetry lives entirely in the university—and¬†two crucial things happen in the Creative Writing frenzy of the Writing Program Era: 1. Intellectuals take the “popular” element out of poetry in the name of what is largely pretentious “scholarship” and 2. Poetry is taken hostage by a business model which replaces disinterested learning of poetry with shameless ‘Be a Writer!’ institutional profit-share scheming.

The New Critics, the counter-tradition, institutional champions of mid-20th Century American poetry, awarded Iowa’s Paul Engle his early 30s Yale Younger Prize. A New Critic (Fugitive) was Robert Lowell’s psychiatrist when Lowell left Harvard to study with New Critics Ransom and Alan Tate and room with Randall Jarrell.

What about the Beats? The street-wise response to Lowell? The problem with the Beats is that they produced one famous poem, “Howl,” which no one reads to the end, and Robert Lowell, who was a Writing Program teacher at Iowa, and a Frankenstein monster of the tweedy New Critics, actually has more loony, real-person, “confessionalist” interest than the Beats do. Ginsberg’s “Supermarket In California” is easily his best poem, and it is probably no accident that this poem is an homage to Whitman—the canonized creation of Emerson (the prose of the Sage of Concord was stolen by Whitman and turned into poetry) and Emerson was 1. the godfather of William James (inventor of stream of consciousness and Gertrude Stein’s professor) and 2. friends with T.S. Eliot’s grandfather—and here are the roots of every leaf of American modern experimental poetry.

When I went to Romania this last month, I met David Berman, student of the late James Tate. Berman, an underground indie rock star (Silver Jews) and estranged from his millionaire right wing lawyer father—is a truly delightful person, as funny and smart a man as you will ever meet. James Tate won his Yale Younger in the 40s and has a Creative Writing degree from Iowa.

America poetry is Iowa. Quirky, intelligent, funny. Very, very conveniently in prose. This is the kind of poem you read once, are vastly impressed, but with each successive reading, all interest dissolves—because the intelligence has striven with billions of stars and trillions of grains of sand—and lost.

This is poetry that is really stand-up comedy.

John Ashbery, and his friend Frank O’hara, are also funny.

Ashbery, who was awarded the Yale Younger by W.H. Auden (talented Brit anointed by T.S. Eliot) in the 1950s, makes no sense, and so he is considered slightly better of the two (Ashbery, O’Hara) by intellectuals, since before Ashbery’s poetry everyone is equal (equally befuddled). ¬†To think there was a time, not that long ago, when Byron complained he couldn’t understand Wordsworth.

Billy Collins, the best-selling American poet today, belongs to the James Tate/humorous/Iowa School. But since he is clear, although he is clever, and writes in prose, like every critically acclaimed poet in America, Collins is not appreciated by the intellectuals. His clarity bugs the intellectuals—who invariably confuse obscurity of expression with obscurity of subject, favoring the former, against all good sense.

I traveled to Romania with Ben Mazer, who is struggling to break the mold, who is perhaps the only American poet today seriously attempting to write verse in which verse writes the poetry.

Slinging words around in a half-comical or half-fortune cookie wisdom fashion, and avoiding all the excellences which the Romantics evinced, is the norm today—and one never bucks the norm, if one knows what is good for one. Unfortunately, avoidance of the past is bad. It prevents one from traveling to the future.

Then there is political poetry, which invariably falls into the category of poetry which is “about” something which the reader is already prepared to identify with, the political poet carefully avoiding any thing which might be called poetry to get in the way of what the “poem” is preciously and importantly “about.” This kind of poetry will always be written since poetry left poetry roughy 100 years ago, a time when, unfortunately, in America,¬†the literary word “modern” began to be taken seriously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NALINI PRIYADARSHNI TANGLES WITH RICHARD WILBUR IN THE SOUTH

Richard Wilbur, back at the end of the 20th century, told Peter Davison, then poetry editor of the Atlantic, “I love Bill Williams’s poems but his critical opinions seem to me to be nonsense. He was forever saying that if you write a sonnet you are making a curtsey to the court of Elizabeth I–”

Well, Dick, in some ways, Bill (WC Williams) was right.

The sonnet, as a form, just has a way of sounding polite and respectful, no matter how many ‘bad words’ you toss in there.

But on the other hand, is this a bad thing?

In a nutshell, this is what went completely wrong with American poetry in the early 20th century—and we still have not recovered.

American poetry split decisively into two camps: and both were dead wrong.

And the fatal error was thinking the choice you had was only between these two.

One camp, let’s call it the WC Williams camp, said: Get rid of the sonnet!

The other camp, let’s call it the Richard Wilbur camp, said, But we can make the sonnet impolite!

The truth is: the sonnet, as a form, is polite, and there’s nothing at all wrong with this.

A form, like the sonnet, which always sounds polite, no matter how selfish and rude the author, is a wonderful invention—a gift to the world.

But it shows nothing but ignorance of form in general to then assume that all forms are like the sonnet.

Just as it is ignorant to insist that poetry should not be beautiful, or romantic, or worshipful, or respectful, if that is, indeed, what certain forms do best.  If you want to slap a person in the face, use your hand.  And yet a curtsey, depending on to whom it is made, or where, or when, can be even more devastating than a slap.

Nalini Priyadarshni, from Punjab, India, enters our 2016 March Madness Tournament with the following:

Denial won’t redeem you or make you less vulnerable. My unwavering love just may.

Poetry once appealed to sentiment and fed on sentiment and grew large and popular on sentiment and quieted crowds with sentiment and gloried in sentiment.

Until one day, poetry was demeaned and shamed with the relatively recent term (early 20th century) that’s entirely pejorative: sentimental.¬†

One can see Pound in the transition period using the word sentimentical.

This line of Priyadarshni’s (singing with a strong iambic/anapestic rhythm) could defeat armies.

Richard Wilbur, who is 95, and honored with the second seed in the South, very much belongs to that overly-intellectual century (the 20th) in which poetry lost its way, asserting itself in thousands of tragically over-thought strategies.

Here is Wilbur asserting himself, without sentiment, as poets in the American 20th century were wont to do, strongly, forcefully (one can almost hear the fist thumping on the desk: not, not, not!):

not vague, not lonely, not governed by me only

Wilbur was a formalist, and like so many formalists in the 20th century, had to apologize for it in all sorts of unconscious ways, yearning to be serious, but falling into spasms of light verse here and there, almost against his will; writing as delicately as he could with a modesty that signaled to his peers he wanted nothing to do with courts and queens and monuments.

This contest is sentiment—of the most loving and powerful kind: Priyadarshni—against whatever it was respected poets were trying to do in the 20th century: Wilbur.

Who will win?

 

 

W.S. MERWIN TAKES ON JULIE CARR

Poets should not depend on things, on pictures, on colors: that’s for painters.

All the best poets know that “no ideas but in things” is the worst possible advice for the poet.

Ideas use things in poetry, but poetry is speech.¬† Adding measured emphasis (metrics) is never unwise; our own experiments (too complex to write about here) show music to be a poetry too excitable for words, but still containing ideas—which live behind every good image in every good poem.

When reading essays: read what they think.

When reading poems: read what they do.

But in both cases, the essence is an idea.  Philosophical acumen is the basis of all artful communication.

The greatest poets have always warned: avoid cheap politics and avant-garde tricks, which are just excuses to be lazy and stupid.

Classical learning is the only learning.

Small beer is small beer.  Snot on the sleeve is snot on the sleeve.

There’s nothing magical out there. Daddy Ezra can’t help you. Only classical learning and your pretty face can.

William Stanley (W.S.) Merwin has been publishing poetry for 60 years; he managed to make contact with icons in his youth—guys like Pound and Robert Graves and Berryman and Blackmur and T.S. Eliot—he’s a pretty famous poet (also a translator), but unfortunately, no famous poems. Merwin abandoned punctuation in his poetry in a beat/hippie move when he was in his 40s—when he was in a bit of a crisis and leaving Europe for good and coming back to America in the late 1950s.

Merwin understands that poetry is speech, and leaving off punctuation was the earnest attempt to make ‘speech-which-is-not-speech,’ or trembling, misty poetry, and to a large extent he has succeeded in that regard.

Merwin has said that in abandoning punctuation, he was leaving the page where punctuation nails things down to embrace how people talk, which is almost the same thing, though it misses the point of punctuation, which helps talking—it does not hinder it.

But Merwin is a good poet because he plays with ideas, and came to realize Pound was dead wrong about the image, and so much else. “The intellectual coherence of Pound’s work is something that I don’t any longer believe in.”¬† (Paris Review interview, 1986).

you know there was never a name for that color

One can see in this one line Merwin, the poet, rejecting all the painter’s tricks—those the silly Imagists insisted poets try—and instead, exploding with iambic and anapest rhythms, raining down upon us an idea, in the implied question: what does it mean, exactly, when a color doesn’t have a name?

Merwin, first seed, will be tough to beat with this one.

Julie Carr began as a classical dancer, and to dance, you need music, and poetry is a kind of dance to music—we don’t hear the music but we see the dance, the poetry.

Julie Carr is also a mother, and still young, and as soon as she turned to poetry, she accumulated awards; reading her, one gets the feeling when it comes to the flags and banners of poetic speech, she got it, and got it quickly.

Either I loved myself or I loved you.

This line has a kind of delicious despair, a romantic power; there is an intoxicating idea in the symmetry displayed in “Either I loved myself or I loved you.”

We have no doubt this contest will be a very interesting one.

 

 

 

WHY POETRY SUCKS NOW PART TWO: IMAGINE THERE’S NO IMAGE

Scarriet’s wildly successful essay, Why Poetry Sucks Now, [May 16, 2013] published almost 3 years ago and with more readers every day, is due for a sequel.

Not because of anything in the news. Poetry still sucks.

The Modernist revolution which destroyed poetry was about one thing: the image.

The modernist poetry movement, “imagism,” got the ball rolling.

The modern art scam overlapped clique-wise, with the poets.

Gertrude Stein (poet and art collector with her brother, Leo) studied with William James.

Poets Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot’s lawyer was John Quinn, a modern art collector who made the 1913 Armory Show (introduce the European modern painting to America) happen.

John Dewey was part of the early 20th century buy-low-sell-high modern art scam, explicitly elevating abstract art over representational art in his series of Harvard lectures, Art As Experience, dedicated and written for his friend A.C. Barnes, wealthy modern art collector.

Duchamp arrived in America to party with Walter Arensberg, wealthy modern art collector whose friends included poet W.C. Williams of Red Wheel Barrow fame.

Painting, keeper of the image, destroyed it.

Poetry, the temporal art, embraced it.

The con was two-sided and weirdly related.

Money (gold) versus Wisdom.  And who won?

Art critics and ‘buy low-sell high’ collectors teamed up and built modern art museums to validate the scam.

Modern Poets and modern poetry critics (known as the New Critics—the tweedy, respectable-seeming wing of the revolution) wrote one highly influential textbook, Understanding Poetry.

These poets and critics also began the Writing Program era, which took the study of literature away from literature as literature and put it into the hands of “new” writers teaching “new” writing.

When we despair today at how much poetry sucks, we should turn our eyes to the image, for that one small idea hoodwinked everyone.

Modern poetry began its journey into pretentious mediocrity with an idea:

Poetry which centers on the image is an advance over the old poetry which does not.

What is unbelievable about the influence of this modernist movement (similar to a bowel movement, in that many were pushing it) is the following:

First, the idea is bankrupt.¬† Old poets didn’t use images?¬† Really??

Second, it was introduced by a few cranks who put out a few issues of wretched little early 20th century modernist magazines no one read.

This, of course, was Pound, and a few of his friends, in London, leading up to World War One, borrowing from haiku (a recent rage due to the 1905 Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese war) and giving their coterie a French moniker: Imagistes.

The whole thing would be laughable.  But it is not.  Because it caught on, far, far beyond what it actually was.  The hoodwinked hoodwinked others and the hoodwinking accelerated, and took on a life of its own.

None will deny the mundane truth of what we are blandly asserting.

The first step in destroying poetry was Pound’s Imagiste circle before WW I.¬† Then his school chum’s “Red Wheel Barrow,” then a poetry textbook (Understanding Poetry) that was taught in all the schools starting in the 30s, put together by their friends the New Critics, and then Paul Engle (Engle’s Yale Younger was awarded to him by a member of the New Critic circle) began the Writing Program at Iowa– Robert Lowell, the first star Program teacher at Iowa was sent to study with New Critics, Tate and Ransom, by Lowell’s psychiatrist, and—you guessed it—this psychiatrist of the family Lowell was part of the New Critics. It couldn’t be any more bizarre. And successful. The New Critics were good at exploiting academic and federal education ‘money and influence’ connections.

If you look at any educated discussion of poetry today, whatever issues might pertain to it, its history, its practice, its appeal—and we are talking about all poetry—the name Ezra Pound, the term Modernism, the idea of the “image” as something “new” which left behind the “old” poetry of Victorian temporality and rhyme, will either be directly referenced or be the unspoken, underlying trope in 99 cases out of a hundred.

Another mundane point of fact: the New Critic authored textbook Understanding Poetry singles out for high praise Pound’s Petals on a wet black bough imagist poem, his friend WC Williams’ Red Wheel Barrow imagist poem, and uses an Aldous Huxley essay to ridicule the popular poetic rhythm of Edgar Poe.¬†

Who, and what, Pound and his small circle of friends really were, and what their so-called “idea” actually was, is perhaps 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times less meaningful than what its subsequent influence has become, an influence that has created mass psychosis in poetry.¬† It is one of those things in human history that cannot be fully comprehended.

But there you have it.

The image, in poetry, has beaten meter (the temporal, rhythmic aspect of old poetry) into submission.

True, there’s been a revolt against the small, tame, “imagist” poem—one thinks of something like “Howl,” the sort of blah blah blah poem which is far more common today than any poem which makes imagery its god.

But the point here is that in the 20th century imagery was the cudgel that crushed all the beauties of sound which once belonged to poems.

And to make your language sound good, you have to be really good at that language.  It goes along with a truly good education.

The ubiquitous charge against the bad, “sing-songy” poem is legitimate.¬† Writing poems of exquisite rhythm is very difficult to do.¬† But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Or that we should pretend banal prose has rhythm.

Today one can still hear every learned, respected, inside academic poet and critic talking about how important the image is, how the image is figuratively and literally, the thing, the only thing that really matters. Because the image (and recall the Writing Program and Imagist advocates are the same) “shows instead of tells.” ¬†That’s the Writing Program mantra: Show Don’t Tell. (Like abstract painting: don’t depict, like the old historical painters; just show us shape and color.)

The Modernist, Imagist, Poetry/Modern Art P. R. Machine, for practical, money, power-grab reasons, effectively destroyed, in a couple of years in the 20th century, the wisdom and practice of two millennia—centered on this once-upon-a-time, common-sense notion—one which must seem very strange to the currently brainwashed “poets” and “artists”—Painting belongs to picture and poetry belongs to music.

We’ll say it one more time: Painting belongs to picture and poetry belongs to music. This is the old truth that has been overturned.

Painting is now conceptualist propaganda, as drawing and perspective are dying out, just like great poetry.

Poetry has come to mean bad, chopped-up, prose, and has no real public.

Reality has been flipped: Painting is blah blah blah.¬† And poetry can’t write a memorable sentence.

Poetry’s latest foray (see Kenneth Goldsmith) is towards conceptualist propaganda (see painting).

Painting’s beauty and truth is spatial in nature, and depicts a moment of reality, using all the wonders and advantages which belong to the eye. Poetry’s beauty and truth is temporal in nature, and depicts moments which unfold, using all the wonders and advantages of the ear.

The tone-deaf, scheming Modernists took one look at the common sense of two millennia and said, “Nah.”

And you wonder why poetry sucks now?

 

 

 

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

image

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!

A WORD ABOUT LITERARY ACTIVISM

image

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 assert 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.

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!

 

 

 

REMEMBERING ROD MCKUEN: POPULAR POET, SONGWRITER

Rod McKuen, with Frank Sinatra. McKuen sold 100 million records and 60 million books.

Scarriet owes a great debt to the cross-over genre of Poetry As Song/Song As Poetry.

Our most popular and oft-visited post is The Top One Hundred Popular Song Lyrics That Work As Poetry, published a year and a half ago, which gets thousands of hits a week.

Scarriet embraces the accessible in poetry and believes Pound and Williams killed the art.  We love Romantic poetry and believe Shakespeare, Keats and Poe represent the pinnacle of modern achievement, and that since then there has been a great falling off.

So we ought to acknowledge the passing of Rod McKuen (April 29 1933—January 29 2015) who was a popular American poet and songwriter in the French chanson tradition.

Not that we love McKuen’s poetry; it is wretched, for the most part. But the songwriting aspect of his popularity, and the way poetry and songwriting in popular culture mysteriously intertwine ought to be addressed, and we will address it here very briefly.

A popular song works its magic in a moment-to-moment fashion and will not stand still for profound contemplation; as much as poetry is like popular song, that poetry repels, by its very nature, the profound, or the deep.

But we can go even further: whatever is monumental (think of Michelangelo’s David) makes its impact on us immediately—any art product achieves true, popular, success quickly and superficially.

This partially answers the question pertaining to Rod McKuen.

How can something be bad and also good?

This question best sums up the aesthetic phenomenon in philosophical terms.

To put it as simply as possible:

To be popular, one must be bad, for to triumph in the eyes of the many is to court that which is low and unlearned.

And yet to stand apart from rivals by achieving popular success is good.

To court the low, however, even in a successful manner, is, in the final analysis, bad.

And thus the critic Julia Keller called McKuen “gooey schmaltz that wouldn’t pass muster in a freshman creative-writing class” which “the masses ate up with a spoon, while highbrow literary critics roasted him on a spit.”

The complexity enters when we reflect that “the masses” are—to call them bad or good, or unlearned or learned, is to impose an artificial idealism upon nature—which, by its very existence, transcends all man-made judgements, no matter how “highbrow.” If “the masses” want “schmaltz,” it would be stupid not to give it to them, and whether it “passes muster in a creative-writing class” is beside the point.

Just as human painting fails miserably when compared to reality, all that is literarily highbrow also fails in the same way. ¬†To court nature, by appealing to “the masses” directly, with “schmaltzy” poetry, is a strategy which not only courts success, but bests the “highbrow” at its own game, since the “schmaltzy,” by definition, is precisely an expression of weakness and failure characterized by the tremendous gap between attempts by the most supreme highbrow formulations of art to capture reality and magnificent, infinite reality itself—which dwarfs all human aspirations to artistically render that reality.

The spark that sets aflame any given artist’s popularity is always a complex crossroads of effort, luck, timing, and so forth, as complex as any highbrow artwork itself. Rod McKuen’s life and fame, then, deserves as much study as any other artist’s life and fame: Ezra Pound, or James Joyce, for instance.

Schmaltz is timeless, and if Pound avoided it in poetry more unique than McKuen’s, this only means Pound succeeds (in relative terms) in the lower order of humanity’s vain efforts to compete with nature and reality, whereas McKuen succeeds (in relative terms) in the higher order of reality itself, in which human schmaltz is a million times more prevalent than any quality we might extract from the work of Pound.

We find ourselves unable—and we challenge anyone else to—say one thing which makes Pound more important than McKuen, that would not immediately draw suspicion of merely saying¬†that which sounds highbrow but has no real meaning at all.

For what is human expression which we term ‘art,’ but expression by people and for people, and for that purpose alone?

Science is another thing, and all agree schmaltz has no place there.

But to judge poetry and song by standards which have nothing to do with them is to founder on the mercantilism of creative-writing and the wind-blown delusions of highbrow criticism, and to ultimately descend to even lower depths of pretense and folly.

THE WORK OF HUNTERS IS ANOTHER THING

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.

“To please the yelping dogs” ends a thought, begins an iambic pentameter line, but doesn’t finish that line, as the poet’s argument resumes in the middle: “the gaps, I mean.”

In Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall;” the poet describes the gaps in the wall which occur, strangely, because of freezing (“frozen ground-swell”) —what is ‘frozen’ moves.

The lines, as a whole, in Frost’s poem, move languidly, argumentatively, conversationally, (“The gaps, I mean”)—in case you didn’t get it, this is what I mean; the poem, flying in the face of the canon, dares to be informal, informality as slack as a poem may get: obscurity is too slack.

“I mean” is the opposite of obscurity, the poet not ashamed to add words to make himself understood better. But in pentameter!

Charm, even of the most insouciant kind, like everything else, requires context, and the canon nicely provides it. That’s what the Tradition is for: to make things more interesting as we play handball against it, not to glumly tower above us.

Pure difficulty, pure obscurity, is never charming.

I pray, before I go to bed each night, that contemporary poets understand this.

And so here is the great crossroads of Modern Poetry in this great Frost poem of the early 20th century; two types of slackness, two roads:

The informal, which bends a few rules.

And the obscure, which breaks them all.

One leads to pleasant informality, to modern charm; the other to stupid oblivion, to slack shit.

“To please the yelping dogs” is a phrase that stays in our memory and we think for a simple and mysterious reason: to us it represents that sensual, animal life which pleases those who don’t care for poetry. “Yelping dogs” perfectly describes a life without refinement, without soul, without philosophy, without poetry. Frost uses the phrase in his poem to indicate what he does not mean.

Most people are satisfied with the “yelping dog” life, and that is all they need. Everyone needs some “yelping dog” life, but those who enjoy nothing else should not stray anywhere near poetry; they will hate its simplicity, and they will spoil it. For “yelping dog” may apply to poetry, as it may apply to everything else: an eager, noisy, social, chaotic, spirited, life can, and will, invade everything, even the so-called fine arts; it can overrun them; few are able to resist the “yelping dog” life, which is why genius and truly great art is rare. How, for instance, did the wonderful poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay get trampled? Why is “yelping” poetry, rather than beautiful poetry, critically embraced today?

Dana Gioia, reviewing Garrison Keillor’s anthology Good Poems, wrote: “Keillor’s tone is obviously designed to rile anyone who holds the conventionally high critical opinion of Moore and Plath (and the conventionally low one of Millay).”

Think on it! The “conventionally high critical opinion of Moore and Plath and the conventionally low one of Millay.”

This critical ranking is true, and it happened in a few years—Millay tumbled from her perch in the 1930s.

Except for “Daddy,”—the rhyme-song of wife-anguish which emerged from Plath as she suicidally removed herself from the world of John Crowe Ransom’s Kenyon Review, the magazine of proper Modernism (be as dull and obscure as you possibly can)—the poems of Plath and Moore do not amount to very much, while Millay’s poems rock the house down (What Lips My Lips Have Kissed and Where and Why; Dirge Without Music; And You As Well Must Die, Beloved Dust; I Being Born A Woman and Distressed; If I Should Learn In Some Quite Casual Way); Moore and Plath present difficulty for its own sake.

Reading Marianne Moore’s poetry (“all these phenomena are important. One must make a distinction however…”) is like peering without understanding at the complexity of a car’s engine; reading Millay’s verse is like driving that car.

So how did this happen? How did Moore and Plath gain ascendance over Millay? It had to take a lot of “yelping dog” distraction. Moore belonged to the well-connected Dial clique of Pound, Williams, Cummings, and Eliot; Plath panted after their ascendency; Millay was rudely pushed aside by that same clique, Hugh “The Pound Era” Kenner, and a few others, providing the critical hammer blows to Millay’s reputation. The point is, it only took one well-connected clique to take Millay down, because the majority of her countrymen only cared for the “yelping dog” life. The poetry garden really has but a few gardeners (critics who set the tone).

Millay is like a supersonic jet plane—it has the potential to take a lot of people on wonderful rides, but not if it is grounded. The battle for poetry will always take place among the few, because the “yelping dogs” are so distracting, and make sure that it is only the few that care enough and focus enough on poetry to truly decide poetry’s fate. Most are simply not refined enough to fight this fight. But the fight must be fought, since poetry is a door to that which truly refines the soul.

How is the soul refined? By love, of course.

And what does poetry have to do with love?

Nothing.

Which is precisely why it takes a remarkable soul to effect the marriage; most do not see the marriage as necessary; they are like those who take for granted that light and heat permeate glass—never thinking what this common phenomenon means.

The holy marriage of poetry and love, with Beauty the priest who joins them, is a radiant truth that civilizes humanity, but tumbles into obscurity and critical censure with barely a sigh, for love is socially embarrassing, and poetry, embarrassing as well, especially in the world of the yelping dog.

Only a superhuman effort can make such a marriage accepted; the poet has to court the world, not merely describe it, and this effort makes or breaks the would-be poet. Millay wrote of love, Moore, bric-a-brac. In the fashion of the hour, bric-a-brac, while the dogs yelp, is enough for the professors’ seduction, and in the Program era, ushered in by Ransom and Moore’s Dial clique, the bric-a-brac poetry professor became all-important.

One can still see contemporary poetry critics making half-hearted, half-conscious, desultory gestures in love’s direction: for instance, see Dan Chiasson’s recent review in the New Yorker of the latest book of poems by Alaska poet Olena Kalytiak Davis, which thrills to the 51 year old poet’s “sexual power” and “romance,” going so far as to say, “authentic pining in poetry, though hard to come by, is probably necessary for any poet who wishes to become a classic.”

Here is Chiasson kind of getting it, but don’t hold your breath for a Millay revival happening any time soon.¬† (A few poets today following Millay confuse the vulgarity for the art.)

So many are seduced by the Marianne Moore bric-a-brac school, not because they love bric-a-brac, necessarily, but because they think ‘crunchy poetry’ will leave behind the embarrassments of heart-breaking love, and allow poetry to talk about more things, to cover more ground and more moods, pushing into areas usually confined to the political essay or the long novel. Frost, gabbing casually forever.

But the bric-a-brac wish is in vain.

Like the legendary Faust, the poet tempted by verbose worldly riches—by poetry that attempts what prose is better fitted to do—leaves behind Millay and dies beneath the heavy objects of a modern bric-a-brac poetry only the very few are canny enough to know was a terrible danger, a foolish gambit, from the start.

Even as they know of the terrible danger of love—and the pining poetry, fainting for all mankind, which dies in its arms.

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 bad.¬† And 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‚Äôve 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‚Äôs classic 1959 and even updated 1982 anthology New American Poetry, which Marjorie Perloff has proclaimed ‚Äúthe anthology of avant-garde poetry,‚ÄĚ 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‚ÄĒthrough subject and form‚ÄĒis 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 ‚Äúwasn‚Äôt just about race.‚ÄĚ Such an attitude is found in Craig Dworkin and Kenneth Goldsmith‚Äôs anthology, ‚ÄúAgainst Expression,‚ÄĚ when they included excerpts from M. NourbeSe Philip‚Äôs brilliant ‚ÄúZong!,‚ÄĚ which explores the late 18th century British court case where 150 slaves were thrown overboard so the slave ship‚Äôs 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: ‚Äúthe ethical inadequacies of that legal document . . . do not prevent their d√©tournement in the service of experimental writing.‚ÄĚ God forbid that maudlin and heavy-handed subjects like slavery and mass slaughter overwhelm the form!

The avant-garde‚Äôs ‚Äúdelusion of whiteness‚ÄĚ is the luxurious opinion that anyone can be ‚Äúpost-identity‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôs 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 ‚Äúagainst expression‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúpost-identity.‚ÄĚ

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.

BADASS, FUNNY, BUT ALAS, NOT CRITIC-PROOF

David Kirby: Makes a good salary. Doesn’t go to Olive Garden.

Philip Sidney, back in the 16th century, defended poetry against the charge that poetry is nothing but a pack of damn lies rather snarkily: “The poet never affirmith and therefore never lieth.”

Call this the Smart-Ass Defense: Poetry can be as naughty and lying as it wants to be because it’s only playin.

So Plato’s objection is put to rest, if we just don’t take poetry seriously.

But the rub here is that Sidney—who wasn’t “playin” when he died fighting Spain for Queen Elizabeth—was a secret Platonist.

The Shadow of Plato covers all: between science, religion, censorship and Ezra Pound, no one takes poetry seriously these days.

In the 19th century, poetry found its place as an expression of love, and this worked for awhile: you express love, but affirm nothing; love in its pure, unrequited state: OK, not bad.

But hubris struck hard in the 20th century as the poets suddenly wanted to be taken seriously again.¬† Poets woke up to the fact that Plato had won.¬† They didn’t like that, really.

Yes. Taken seriously.  Not as a way to learn Latin. Not as a way to learn Greek. Not as a way to express love.  But seriously.  We are Modernist!  We are serious! We are interesting!  We are historically significant!

Seriously?

Ezra Pound and a few friends began an Imagiste movement.¬† They made a manifesto.¬† But no one took them seriously.¬† You’re just doing haiku, they said.

But haiku is pretty serious stuff.  It affirms the natural fact, anyway.

Some kind of serious progress, in the name of “serious,” was being made.

But no one read these Modernists, printing their little poems in their little magazines. Yet something was happening in the world, something weird.  Everyone was getting very serious.  The Nazis. Modern art. It was all very, very weird.  And serious.

And international.¬† Ah, here was something.¬† For Plato’s moral objection to art was based on making the state a strong, defensible entity.¬† Morality is defense. The good is a wall.

But Internationalism has no walls. 

Nazism was internationalist. Communism was internationalist. Modernism was internationalist.

Eliot in London, Pound in Axis Italy, Stein in Paris, Auden and Isherwood in Berlin and China, Bauhaus and Duchamp in New York.

But World War II defeated internationalism.¬†¬† The USA—and nationalism—emerged as strong as ever.¬†¬† Would the poets ever beat Plato?

Then came poetry—serious, international poetry’s—big chance: the university.

The Creative Writing Program model replaced the English Major model: living poets replaced dead poets.

Affirmation was back. You don’t pay tuition fees to poets unless you take them a little bit seriously.

Pedagogy in a university is nothing if not affirming and serious, and this pedagogy—we see it in Understanding Poetry, the New Critic’s textbook (the New Critics, allied with Pound and Williams)—brought Modernism into the Academy.

Game changer.

Poetry is serious again.  Poets are now professors.  They collect salaries.  And their students now choose Creative Writing over Study of the Past.

So here we are in the present, and now we turn to our sordid tale of Professor Kirby, poet and fun-loving bad-ass known affectionately to his friends as “The Kirb.”

Since poets are affirming again, they are no longer critic-proof; for critics may now call them out—and, to put it bluntly, accuse them of lying.

This is what happened to David Kirby—depicted above in a photo gracing the cover of his latest book of poems, A Wilderness of Monkeys.

In a review of A Wilderness of Monkeys, here’s what a critic said:

 

I have an issue with David Kirby’s A Wilderness of Monkeys. I have a problem with this poetry!

But first, consider this: Kirby’s poems are fun, crazy, free-fall, a tumbling of words, a stream of whatever. Is he going somewhere? Is this random? Is it okay to be random? What does it all mean? Who really was the fattest president? Is Kirby simply being funny? Can a book of poetry be a series of jokes?

In ‚ÄúLegion, For We are Many,‚ÄĚ he writes:

I’m doing a couple of yoga stretches in
a quiet corner
of the Atlanta airport because my
flight’s delayed,
though having said ‚ÄúAtlanta airport,‚ÄĚ
I realize
that I don’t have to say “my flight’s
delayed.‚ÄĚ

I love that! Poetry can be so self serious! As with Alexie, it’s nice to see some humor!

‚ÄúMassages by Blind Masseurs‚ÄĚ starts off:

My tree guy and I are watching as the
man with the chipper
arrives, and I say, “Mr. Pumphrey,
every once in a while
I read that somebody gets tired of his
wife and knocks her
on the head and passes her through
one of these chippers,‚ÄĚ
and he says, ‚ÄúI know, Mr. Kirby‚ÄĒ
terrible isn‚Äôt it?‚ÄĚ and then
he says, “And it doesn’t do the chipper
any good either.‚ÄĚ

Hilarious. A number of the poems in this collection are just as strange and funny.

But still, I have an issue. It lies in the poem ‚ÄúGood Old Boys,‚ÄĚ where David Kirby mentions people who got take-out from the Olive Garden and left their puppy nearly to die in an overheated truck cab. He derides them, saying,

Besides who gets
take-out from the Olive Garden?
You miss out on the endless
breadsticks and salad that way.

Here, here is the rub. Mr. Kirby writes about Olive Garden as if he actually goes to that restaurant. But in the author’s photo on the back of the book, Mr. David Kirby sits on a porch next to a black wrought iron fence, wearing a smart haircut and a splendid poet’s uniform of black sport coats and (I believe) dark jeans, with a Robert O. Lawton Professor of English at Florida State University annual salary of $127,080. All of which leads me to believe he has not set one foot inside an Olive Garden for the past 15 years.

If this is true, clearly it undermines his credibility as a poet who can write authentically about Olive Garden! Even if he has gone there recently, we may guess that he went with irony, with a ‚Äúslumming‚ÄĚ self-awareness that he was going someplace faux-classy like Olive Garden.

So tell us Kirby: what is the deal with Olive Garden? We want to give you a fair shake. We’d like to give you credit. Author photos and biographies can be deceiving. People are different ways. But we just don’t know. This anti-review may just have to leave off with a brocade of doubt stitched into its David Kirby section.

(Then again, that may be the point of an anti-review.)

The whole review, by Joe Hoover, which looks at a number of poets, can be found here.

Ever since Ezra Pound settled in fascist Italy, began his fascist Broadcasts, and was lauded in the influential New Critics’ textbook, Understanding Poetry, and the Program Era began in earnest, poetry is serious business.

Sure, here we have Olive Garden in this instance, as opposed to Mussolini and the Cantos in the other, but here’s the real issue: the poet now affirms, and is meant to be taken seriously.

John Ashbery is critic-proof, because no one quite knows what he is talking about.¬† Ashbery “never affirmith,” sly devil.¬† He belongs to Sidney’s world.¬† Poetry as a waking dream, perhaps.

Not Kirby.¬† He, with his professor’s six figure salary, belongs to the new poetry of affirmation. He writes truthfully of real things: Olive Garden.

Or, and perhaps this is what annoyed the reviewer: “Good Old Boys.”

Working class people from the South.¬† People who don’t make 127,080 a year. People like the orphaned newspaper reviewer, Edgar Poe, slammed for his “pure poetry” in the same textbook that praised Ezra Pound and his friend William Carlos Williams, poets of real things and natural facts.

Kirby, as a poet, has a great sense of humor, as Mr. Hoover—who seems like a pretty good reviewer—points out; but wit can hide a sting, and in this case, Mr. Hoover finds Kirby’s sting offensive: professor Kirby uses Olive Garden to “deride” the “good old boys” of his poem.

When your poem contains the following information, “good old boys who got take-out from Olive Garden left their puppy nearly to die in an overheated truck cab,” you are affirming.¬†

When you affirm, you make the mistake of not listening to Philip Sidney.  As a poet, you open yourself up to a world of hurt.

The critic, like a pickerel waiting in the reeds, strikes: “Mr. Kirby writes about Olive Garden as if he actually goes to that restaurant.”

Uh oh.

“But in the author‚Äôs photo on the back of the book, Mr. David Kirby sits on a porch next to a black wrought iron fence, wearing a smart haircut and a splendid poet‚Äôs uniform of black sport coats and (I believe) dark jeans, with a Robert O. Lawton Professor of English at Florida State University annual salary of $127,080.”

Ouch.

Does he really make that much money? 

Affirmative, captain.

“All of which leads me to believe he has not set one foot inside an Olive Garden for the past 15 years.”

The stinger has been stung.

The reviewer has strayed from the poem to the poet.

But remember that Sidney said, “the poet never affirmith.”

Once you affirm, not only is your poetry fair game for the Platonist critique, but so are you.

Rumor has it that Kirby is incensed, but the whole thing can, perhaps, be laughed off as a tempest in a teacup.

But we see Kirby v. Hoover as a significant skirmish in the endless campaign by the poets to 1) be taken seriously and 2) defeat Plato—who would never pay a poet 127,080 a year.

 

 

 

THIRTY TOP MASS APPEAL POETRY MOMENTS IN U.S. HISTORY

 

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1. “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe is published in the New York Evening Mirror, January 29, 1845

2.¬† Robert Frost reads “The Gift Outright” at John F. Kennedy’s inaugural, January 20, 1961

3.¬† Martin Luther King delivers his “I Have A Dream” speech, August 28, 1963

4. Dead Poets  Society, starring Robin Williams, released, June 9, 1989

5. Neil Armstrong’s moon landing speech, July 20, 1969

6. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” first played at flag-raising ceremony on Fort Warren, May 12, 1861

7. Lincoln’s “Gettysburg address,” November 19, 1863

8. Cassius Clay, boxer and poet, defeats Sonny Liston,  heavyweight champion, February 25, 1964

9. “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus recited at the Statue of Liberty’s Dedication, October 28, 1886

10. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan released, May 27, 1963

11. “The Star-Spangled Banner” first published, in Baltimore, September 20, 1814

12. Sylvia Plath’s suicide in England, February 11, 1963

13. Japan wins Russo-Japanese War, starting Haiku rage in the West, September 5, 1905

14. “Old Ironsides” by Oliver Wendell Holmes published in Boston Daily Advertiser, September 16, 1830

15. Jack Kerouac reads his poetry on Steven Allen show (with Allen on piano), November 16, 1959

16. James Russell Lowell delivers “Ode” at Harvard Commemoration, July 21, 1865

17. Mick Jagger reads Shelley’s “Adonais” at Brian Jones’ memorial in England, July 5, 1969

18. Ella Wheeler Wilcox publishes her most famous poem in New York Sun, the year she publishes controversial Poems of Passion, February 25, 1883

19. Dana Gioia publishes his essay, “Can Poetry Matter?” in The Atlantic, May, 1991

20. “Mary Had A Little Lamb” by Sarah Josepha Hale published, May 24, 1830

21. Actor Jimmy Stewart reads poem “I’ll Never Forget A Dog Named Beau” on the Tonight Show, making Johnny Carson cry, July 28, 1981

22. Ronald Regan’s Challenger Disaster Speech, January 28, 1986

23. Maya Angelou reads “On the Pulse of Morning” at Bill Clinton inaugural, January 20, 1993

24. Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha” published, November 10, 1855

25. Ezra Pound wins Bollingen Prize with NY Times headline: “Pound In Mental Clinic Wins Prize for Poetry Penned In Treason Cell,” February 20, 1949

26. “Rapture” by Blondie released, January 12, 1981

27. “The Music Man” by Meredith Wilson opens, December 19, 1957

28. Elizabeth Alexander reads “Praise Song for the Day” at Barack Obama’s inaugural, January 20, 2009

29. Publisher Horace Liveright makes offers for works by Pound, Eliot, and Joyce, January 3, 1922.

30. Favorite Poem Project launched by poet laureate Robert Pinsky, April 1, 1997

 

STEPHANE MALLARME AND JOHN CROWE RANSOM CLASH IN THE MODERN BRACKET!

A 19th century Frenchman of pure Modernism tries to win against a 20th century American university reformer.

MALLARME:


French readers, their habits disrupted by the death of Victor Hugo, cannot fail to be disconcerted. Hugo, in his mysterious task, turned all prose, philosophy, eloquence, history, to verse, and as he was verse personified, he confiscated from any thinking person, anyone who talked or told stories, all but the right to speak. Poetry, I believe, waited respectfully until the giant who identified it with his tenacious hand, a hand stronger than that of a blacksmith, ceased to exist; waited until then before breaking up.

Does the need to write poetry, in response to a variety of circumstances now mean, after one of those periodical orgiastic excesses of almost a century comparable only to the Renaissance, that the time has come for shadows and cooler temperatures? Not at all! It means the gleam continues, though changed.

That prosody, with its very brief rules, is nevertheless untouchable: it is what points to acts of prudence, such as the hemistich, and what regulates the slightest effort at stimulating versification, like codes according to which abstention from stealing through the air is for instance a necessary condition for standing upright. Exactly what one does not need to learn; because if you haven’t guessed it yourself beforehand, then you’ve proved the uselessness of constraining yourself to it.

The faithful supporters of the alexandrine, our hexameter, are loosening from within the rigid and puerile mechanism of its beat; the ear, set free from an artificial counting, discovers delight in discerning on its own all the possible combinations that twelve timbres can make among themselves.

It’s taste we should consider very modern.

The poet who possesses acute tact and who always considers this alexandrine as the difinitive jewel, but one you bring out as you would a sword or a flower only rarely and only when there is some premeditated motive for doing so, touches it modestly and plays around it, lending it neighboring chords, before bringing it out superb and unadorned; on many occasions he lets his fingering falter on the eleventh syllable or continues it to the thirteenth. M. Henri de Regnier excels in these accompaniments of his own invention as discrete and proud as the genius he instills into it, and revelatory of the fleeting disquiet felt by the performers faced with the instrument they have inherited. Something else, which could simply be the opposite, reveals itself as a deliberate rebellion in the absence of the old mold, grown weary, when Jules Laforgue, from the outset, initiated us into the unquestionable charm of the incorrect line.

Speech has no connection with the reality of things except in matters commercial; where literature is concerned, speech is content merely to make allusions or distill the quality contained in some idea.

Contrary to the facile numerical and representative functions as the crowd at first treats it, speech which is above all dream and song, finds again in the Poet, by a necessity that is part of an art consecrated to fictions, its virtuality.

 

 

 

RANSOM:

 

There are three sorts of trained performers who would appear to have some of the competence that the critic needs. The artist himself. The philosopher. The university teacher of literature.

Professors of literature are learned but not critical men. The professional morale of this part of the university staff is evidently low. Nevertheless it is from the professors of literature, in this country the professors of English for the most part, that I should hope eventually for the erection of intelligent standards of criticism. It is their business.

Criticism will never be a very exact science, or even a nearly exact one. But neither will psychology.

Rather than occasional criticism by amateurs, I should think the whole enterprise might be seriously taken in hand by professionals. Perhaps I use a distasteful figure, but I have the idea that what we need is Criticism, Inc., or Criticism Ltd.

The principal resistance to such an idea will come from the present incumbents of the professorial chairs. But its adoption must come from them too. The idea of course is not a private one of my own. If it should be adopted before long, the credit would probably belong to Professor Ronald S. Crane, of the University of Chicago, more than to any other man.

Crane argues that historical scholarship has been overplayed heavily in English studies.

The students of the future must be permitted to study literature, and not merely about literature.

At the University of Chicago, I believe that Professor Crane, with some others is putting the revolution into effect in his own teaching, though for the time being perhaps with a limited program, mainly the application of Aristotle’s critical views.

This is not the first time that English professors have tilted against the historians, or “scholars,” in the dull sense which that word has acquired.

The most important recent diversion from the orthodox course of literary studies was undertaken by the New Humanists.  The New Humanists were, and are, moralists.  Mr. Babbitt could make war on romanticism for purely moral reasons.  But this is certainly not the charge that Mr. T.S. Eliot, a literary critic, brings against romanticism. His, if I am not mistaken, is aesthetic, though he may not ever care to define it very sharply.

Following the excitement produced by the Humanist diversion, there is now one due to the Leftists, or Proletarians, who are also diversionists. Their diversion is likewise moral. Debate could never occur between a Humanist and a Leftist on aesthetic grounds, for they are equally intent on ethical values. But the debate on ethical grounds would be very spirited, and it might create such a stir in a department conducting English studies that the conventional scholars there would find themselves slipping, and their pupils deriving from literature new and seductive excitements which would entice them away from their scheduled English exercises.

On the whole, however, the moralists, distinguished as they may be, are like those who have quarreled with the ordinary historical studies on purer or more aesthetic grounds: they have not occupied in English studies the positions of professional importance. In a department of English, as in any ongoing business, the proprietary interest becomes vested, and in old and reputable departments the vestees have uniformly been gentlemen who have gone through the historical mill. Their laborious Ph.D.’s and historical publications are their patents. Naturally, quite spontaneously, they would tend to perpetuate a system in which the power and the glory belonged to them. But English scholars in this country can rarely have better credentials than those which Professor Crane has earned.

It is really atrocious policy for a department to abdicate its own self-respecting identity. The department of  English is charged with the understanding and the communication of literature, an art, yet it has usually forgotten to inquire into the peculiar constitution and structure of its product.

 

Mallarme (b. 1842) and Ransom (b. 1888) each represent the two primary modes of attack with which Modernism effected its gains against Philosophical and Literary Tradition in the last century and a half.

Mallarme is insouciant candlelight, the tremulous ecstasy of the “incorrect line,” fitting the informal student, or guest, with the intoxicating mask of “poet,” imbued historically with all that term signifies, so he or she, so fitted, might be invited to the masque.

That most of Mallarme is nothing but glittering surface, moustache-pedantry, and name-dropping does little to diminish the charm of its eleven-fingered poetic style, but how much more really intoxicating when elevated to a position of money and respect by the pedagogical behemoth of the American university system. This is what the Program era did, starting with a muddy patch called the University of Iowa, aided by ‘power point’ efforts of New Critics like John Crowe Ransom.

One can hear Ezra Pound’s faux aesthetics in the accents of Mallarme and recognize the excitable Ezra’s ‘outsider’ sneering at the old English professors in Ransom’s calmer approach.¬† The motives and goals were the same: Gates. Barbarians. Storm.¬† Pound, Eliot, Williams and the New Critics were the barbarians, and all were on the same page—not the silly aesthetic one, but the one that counted. They won. Mallarme’s masque now walks the quiet carpets of the university. English students, as Ransom wanted, no longer know anything “about literature.”¬† They do literature. And according to the Creative Writing Program poets who teach them, they do it well.

 

WINNER: RANSOM

 

 

HOW THE LEFT HURTS POETRY

Uhhh…excuse me…ahem….can I ask just one more question?

As enlightened as we know ourselves to be, we may as well admit it: the Left hurts poetry.¬† (Doesn’t perfectionism always let us down?)

But does the Left really hurt poetry?

Let’s begin with ideology.

Ideology turns poetry into rhetoric, but this is really not the issue, for if ideology presents bias, so does love, and the lyric and love can walk hand in hand.

We might say Modernism has been unkind to romantic love and Romantic poetry, (when is the last time you heard a contemporary poet praise Byron?) that hard-headed Modernism has sought to escape the feverish, the romantic, the emotionality of bias, and this might be true, but rhetoric and ideology of all kinds has not only persisted, but expanded, in poetic expression in the modern era.

The great drawback, one might say, is that ideology requires explanation, and poetry has less time than prose for explanations.

But this, too, is a thin objection, for poetry, and art in general, is perfectly capable of explaining things; we just expect it to do so with greater art or greater concision.

If Marxism, or Leftism, is a legitimate subject, or a legitimate philosophy, for mankind, and for the poet, why shouldn’t it work as material for poetry?

Before the whole matter is settled, however, we turn back, almost nonchalantly, like Columbo, for one more small clarification.

Poetry is no longer a popular art form; it merely breathes on life support in college, and even then, in its fragile state, in forms most people no longer recognize as poetry.

And this couldn’t make the Marxist poet, or critic, any happier.

The reason for this is quite simple: The Leftist equates the good of popularity with the evil of “market forces,” and so any chance for poetry’s mass appeal is killed in the cradle by those who believe bohemian martyrdom is preferable to bourgeois triumph: obscurity is preferable even to democracy, and the self-fulfilling prophecy of Marxism therefore, condemns poetry to appeal to the few.

Leftism hurts poetry, but it has nothing to do with ideology.  It has nothing to do with Leftism as a set of ideas or beliefs.

The problem lies in the Left’s tendency to apply the term “market” (a bad) to what is basically poetry’s audience (a necessity).

Poetry has been a Leftist activity ever since “make it new” (ironically popularized by a fascist).¬† Modernism, or as it was once called, Futurism, makes change paramount, and since the progressive (in terms of politics) also makes change paramount—for different reasons, perhaps—change, whether driven by right-wing Futurism or left-wing Progressive-ism has become the ruling animus of poetry.

Poetry has defaulted heavily to Leftism ever since WW II found the “make it new” poet disgraced, and on the losing side.¬† But almost as proof that change is the real issue, (not Left or Right) Pound is still worshiped as a Modernist poet—since change for its own sake is the true high god.

The market won, Pound lost, and poetry, progressive not only in politics, but in everything, forces change as the constant issue.

Desire for change inevitably finds opposition in whatever resists change, even if what resists change is democratic, or is grounded in common sense.

Poetry itself has no opinion, one way or the other, on change, nor do poetry’s origins have anything to do with change, per se.

The war for change being fought by progressives takes place outside of poetry’s walls—and this is not an anti-progressive statement, but merely a matter-of-fact one.

When the market becomes the enemy, all that is democratic and popular also, in quiet and hidden ways, then becomes the enemy, too.

Poetry can be anything it wants, and it can be a shouting match if it wants to be, and it can be a hectoring force ushering in change for all the standard and visible causes: race, women, gays, the poor, and the environment.  As we pointed out above, the issues themselves are not the issue.

But just as Marxism hinders poetry by making popular appeal a bad thing, so do all sorts of ideological issues—which feature ‘struggle for change,’ for these have the tendency to make poetry renounce pleasure, immediacy, and accessibility for things so complex that rhetoric itself breaks apart in attempting to comprehend it.

Again, it is not the issues, nor the ideology, nor the complexities themselves which are a bad thing; the damage to poetry is done indirectly by forces or circumstances which inherently foster obscurity—that makes a democratic art (whatever kind of art that might be) impossible.

There is no going back.¬† We don’t think poetry can simply drop these issues, or should.¬† Poets will just have to figure out ways to be true to their ideals while working harder to be popular.

But just to give one example of how complex the problem has become:

Eileen Myles, the lesbian poet, on twitter, attacked the film about two young lesbian lovers, “Blue is the Warmest Color,” calling it a “hate crime” against lesbians, and the resulting conversation by lesbian poets, mostly supporting Myles’ remarks, featured a great deal of graphic sexuality, along with how a lesbian relationship does or does not resemble, favorably or unfavorably, a heterosexual relationship.¬† Eileen Myles is politically astute, if nothing else, and one could easily call a discussion like this political, and most poets writing on this subject, no matter how sexually frank, would still think of themselves as making “progressive” contributions of a political nature to society at large.¬† But it was really difficult to tell, for example, what Myles’ political objections to the movie were, besides a feeling she had that it did not depict the lesbian lifestyle as a universally happy one.¬† But what “lifestyle” is universally happy?

The question here is not that ‘lesbian sex’ will never be a popular, or a popular topic for poetry; the only case we are making here is that we should not, on Marxist principles, or any other principles, condemn popularity for its own sake; for a democracy, after all, resides in the popular will.

But homosexuality, as a “progressive” topic, does have its pitfalls; it will lead us into obscurity and away from the popular taste, and will have a great deal of trouble in making itself accessible and meaningful, in either a political or an aesthetic manner.¬† Homosexuality, looked at aesthetically, inevitably becomes Rabelaisian, as any sexuality would, whether or not the topic is “progressive,” or not.

And now Columbo needs to make one more little point of clarification, if possible…

What sort of political influence does poetry have?  It has none. 

Pound’s broadcasts from Italy in support of the Axis powers during the war were of little consequence, according to Pound apologists.

The right-wing character of Eliot/Pound Modernism and Southern Agrarian/New Critic Modernism dominated poetry in the first half of the century; some like to point to Robert Lowell, who was influenced by Ransom and Tate, as an important Leftist: Lowell opposed the Vietnam War—and Lowell also, in a personal way, reconciled highbrow, “cooked” poetry with the “raw” poetry of the Beats, but this was not seriously on the nation’s radar screen, and truly, the confessional-ism of poets like Lowell and Ginsberg was more Modernism swerving back toward the excitement of Romanticism than anything political.

So there you have it.  Poetry, as a study and a practice, right now in the United States, may be Leftist, but Leftism in poetry is actually of very little consequence, except in the manner outlined above, and from that very important standpoint, Leftism has hurt poetry.

Perhaps the whole question lies closer to the issue of the sacred versus the secular, and poetry finally residing closer to the former as an art form—but that discussion is for a future time.

We point out this issue with Leftism, not as any form of censorship—but only as a warning, and a challenge.

THE TWO TRADITIONS

Thomas Eliot: He won!

There will always be two traditions. With the greatest philosophical rigor we claim this to be true, and  by the simplest possible mathematical reasoning, it is.

The Tradition will always be: those works that stick to each other as notable over time, comprising what cannot help but exist— due to both formal and imitative significance—as that which is definable as the—Tradition.

In poetry, these works are palpable and visible and real. This is not some abstract, theorizing gambit at work. Plato’s philosophy, Dante’s Commedia, Shakespeare’s plays, Pope’s essays, Shelley’s odes, Poe’s fiction, Dickinson’s poems, Eliot’s criticism are the Tradition— and this is a certainty, and not for argument.

This defining Tradition can only be opposed by one other tradition—the opposing tradition, which, because by definition only one tradition can exist, is not a tradition, but will be called one and will be believed (by some) to be one, as such, and exists, therefore, as a shadow exists next to a body.

There is one Tradition, one Body (made of actual works that comprise a recognized canon) and not two. We can see this logically: there is one universe and we can divide the universe up in any number of ways without violating the idea of one universe, and so, without quibbling about the fluctuating content of the Tradition, we acknowledge with simple logic the Tradition as definitionally one.

Waiting impatiently in the wings, of course, is the “other” tradition, waiting for its moment on stage, the anti-tradition, the new tradition, the different tradition, etc, etc, the inevitable shadow to the body.

Because the Tradition is, by definition, one, it cannot, without destroying its identity, admit another tradition. But just as a body may have a shadow, and just as there may exist both a thing and a desire for a thing, a Shadow or Desire Tradition has a shadowy existence which blooms in rhetoric and thought: and here is where tradition number two “exists.”

No further traditions can exist, even though “multiple counter-traditions” may dance on the tongues of a thousand professors.

Either a new work, or a new group of works, connects to the Tradition, or a new work or a new group of works desires to connect to the Tradition; in terms of what a tradition is, then, “multiple counter-traditions” is a mere shadow of a shadow, without any existence at all.

We hope the reader is following the logic of our theme and noting its iron-clad character.

We now turn to our specific case.

The canonical work has two things going for it: a formalist excellence as well as a content that enlightens or instructs in the way it reflects the world outside of it. The Tradition is not a series of works which comment and talk only to each other; art is not some place where artists speak a similar “art language” to one another; the Tradition is not a club or clique of self-imitators.

Poetry is precisely that which counteracts the ‘in-the-know’ coterie-mind and speaks to the newcomer. The word is like money: it does its job on everyone equally. One can narrow one’s appeal to a specific audience and it may elicit giggles and applause from a certain type, but playing to a type will inevitably keep one out of the canon, because the Tradition reflects the world at large and appeals to it as something immediately pleasurable— not as something one has ‘to get’ by having specialized knowledge. There is nothing wrong with specialized knowledge and universally popular art may contain specialized knowledge as one of its side features—which may be exploited by those who are endeared to that sort of thing— but it is never the source of its ultimate appeal.

The counter-tradition, as we pointed out above, is a desire to be a tradition, but a desire for a thing is not the thing, no matter how strong the desire and its rhetoric; this is why there is really only one Tradition. But the shadow Tradition can be a very convincing thing.

The most convincing and cunning shadow Tradition of all is the one constructed by T.S. Eliot in the beginning of the 20th century, the one outlined in his now iconic essay, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” in which he flattered the Tradition by saying it was self- aware, a living chain of succession that lives anew with each work that is added to it.

T.S. Eliot, however, was a flatterer and a liar. The Tradition is not self-aware. The Tradition is not a clique of self-imitators, a club in which only art-speak is spoken. If we buy Eliot’s premise, it follows that art is only about other art (the key to post-modernism) which is the great lie of the coterie-mind. Coteries and specialized knowledge do have their place, but the Tradition, if it is one, has no place for the temptations of coteries and specialized knowledge.

The Tradition is not a series of works aware of each other; every canonical work stands on its own, reflecting the world beyond art, even as it revels in formalist mastery.

Is there occasionally a self-conscious echo among works? Of course. But this is not the ruling animus of the works which make up the Tradition, as Mr. Eliot would have us believe.

The works themselves don’t know they are in a Tradition.

We are aware of the Tradition.

The Tradition, however, is not self-aware.

Unbelievable as this may sound, the Tradition was not waiting to be blessed by the addition of Modernism.

Modernism did not change the Tradition. Modernism is interesting only in that it existed, and exists, as a cunning attempt to join the Tradition.

We mentioned T.S. Eliot, whose brilliant attempt to enter the Tradition on behalf of himself and his Modernist friends is the defining moment of Modernism itself.

“The Waste Land,” with its numerous self-conscious echoes of canonical works in the Tradition, was the embodiment of Eliot’s earlier theory expressed in “Tradition and the Individual Talent:” works talk to each other. But of course they don’t.¬† Don’t tell T.S. Eliot that—that’s his ticket to the Big Dance.

Of course then there is the added bonus that Eliot is writing of a world ruined by post-world-war modernist calamity ostensibly never seen before, which the Tradition, hyper-aware of itself, in Eliot’s new view, will obviously welcome in order to move forward as a self-consciously historical entity.

History examines the Tradition from outside; the Tradition, however, is not itself self-consciously historical—this is the crucial difference which “Modernists” do not get.

Eliot’s theory pitches us forward into that state where art has no independent existence, but is only art talking to art, or, professors talking to each other, endlessly, in ivory towers.

This state of things—Eliot’s coup, we might call it—fortunately (for the Modernists) occurred with two other events: the take-over of literature by the university and the rise of modern art in partnership with modern poetry.

Pound and Eliot’s lawyer, John Quinn, who negotiated the book deal for “The Waste Land,” and secured Eliot the Dial magazine prize while Pound was still editing the soon-to-be-famous work, was the instrumental figure in making the Armory Show happen, the 1913 tour that made Duchamp famous and brought cubism and modern art to America. Quinn not only made the welcoming remarks at the show, he went to the U.S. Congress and successfully changed import/export laws to facilitate bringing European paintings to the U.S.

Painting witnessed content disappearing into technique as art became more abstract, a precise mirroring of what was happening to poetry in the reverse, poetry chucking its technique (metrical language) for the sake of content (imagery). The experiment simultaneously murdered the healthy fullness of both arts, but because the experiment was new, it appealed to the idea Eliot had advertised: the Tradition was not exemplifying the Best, but self-consciously unfolding the New.

Art, it was discovered, could be validated simply by hiring enough critics and building enough museums, with the added stimulus of huge profits gained in buying unknown Picassos which in a self-prophecizing frenzy, appreciated in value as the century progressed.

The Modernist scheme—academic, intellectual, aesthetic, monetary, institutional, ribald, exciting, fashionable—with the ordinary philistine masses sputtering and howling in ineffective protest—climbed heights after WW I which no one could have predicted.

Modern art successfully infiltrated modern life. Tall buildings and million dollar abstract art did some kind of Bauhaus dance which only the rich can understand.

Meanwhile, modern poetry toiled in university classrooms, gaining converts to Pound and Williams one student and one professor at a time, with help of the New Critic textbook “Understanding Poetry,” which extolled in its pages “The Red Wheel Barrow” and “A Station at the Metro.”

The New York School sealed the deal, as Harvard poets O’Hara and Ashbery, friends of modern art money, Peggy Guggenheim, mingled with abstract artists, writing poems secretly supplying what painting no longer had to offer.

Painting and poetry collapsed into each other. The Tradition wobbled. All fall down.

We read that Williams was an important counter-tradition to Eliot. Who could be more unlike than Williams and Eliot? But then we realize that Williams and Pound and Eliot all belonged to the same experimental, ‘make it new,’ Modern Art/Modern Poetry crash-the-canon clique.

If Eliot had not successfully crashed the Tradition, his friend Pound, and his friend Williams, would have lacked legitimacy—for all counter-traditions need a body in order to be its shadow.¬† All that we find in Eliot that we do not find in Williams, then, is precisely that which got Eliot into the Tradition.

Eliot made it into the mother ship; Williams throws rocks from below.

The excellent works of the Tradition have originality as one of their features; the new is worthy, but only if it is good.

In the new order established by Eliot, however, the Tradition, we are told, values the new over the good.

Poets cease using meter; this fact, becomes, by dint of time passing, a piece of the Tradition; but this is to confuse history with the Tradition; the latter demands excellence, the former does not.

The early 20th century Imagistes borrowed from haiku, which became the rage in 1905 in the wake of the stunning Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War.¬† This key aspect of Modernism was not new; nor was prose poetry new, either.¬†¬† In this case history helps us to select the truly original as a criterion for the Tradition: which is nothing more than a collection of excellent models of literature—one of those excellent features being originality.

One of Eliot’s gambits was to write poems, like “Sweeney Among the Nightingales,” with references to “Agamemnon” and “The Convent of the Sacred Heart.”¬† This alone will not get you into the Tradition.

We now copy the work of four Modernist poets:

Two, by Hulme (a founder of Imagism who was killed in WW I) and Williams, are in the imagist tradition; Pound references, as Eliot did, old literature (the myth of Daphne and Apollo) and finally, we copy Eliot’s excerpt from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

Note the dismal flatness of the first three poems; the Eliot is the only one that moves, the only one that has real interest.

“Autumn” by T.E. Hulme

A touch of cold in the Autumn night —

I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded,
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.

“Approach of Winter” by W.C. Williams

The half-stripped trees
struck by a wind together,
bending all,
the leaves flutter drily
and refuse to let go
or driven like hail
stream bitterly out to one side
and fall
where the salvias, hard carmine–
like no leaf that ever was–
edge the bare garden.

“A Girl” by Ezra Pound

The tree has entered my hands,
The sap has ascended my arms,
The tree has grown in my breast –
Downward,
The branches grow out of me, like arms.

Tree you are,
Moss you are,
You are violets with wind above them.
A child – so high – you are,
And all this is folly to the world.

From “Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot

The yellow fog that rubs it back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

By the road to the contagious hospital under the surge of the blue mottled clouds driven from the northeast-a cold wind. Beyond, the waste of broad, muddy fields brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen patches of standing water the scattering of tall trees All along the road the reddish purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy stuff of bushes and small trees with dead, brown leaves under them leafless vines- Lifeless in appearance, sluggish dazed spring approaches- They enter the new world naked, cold, uncertain of all save that they enter. All about them the cold, familiar wind- Now the grass, tomorrow the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf One by one objects are defined- It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf But now the stark dignity of entrance-Still, the profound change has come upon them: rooted, they grip down and begin to awaken – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15536#sthash.lLrMAEX9.dpuf
By the road to the contagious hospital under the surge of the blue mottled clouds driven from the northeast-a cold wind. Beyond, the waste of broad, muddy fields brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen patches of standing water the scattering of tall trees All along the road the reddish purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy stuff of bushes and small trees with dead, brown leaves under them leafless vines- Lifeless in appearance, sluggish dazed spring approaches- They enter the new world naked, cold, uncertain of all save that they enter. All about them the cold, familiar wind- Now the grass, tomorrow the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf One by one objects are defined- It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf But now the stark dignity of entrance-Still, the profound change has come upon them: rooted, they grip down and begin to awaken – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15536#sthash.lLrMAEX9.dpuf

Eliot was clever enough, with his fake Criticism, to knock down a few entrance-doors to the Tradition; but a few of his poems will keep him there.

The Tradition will finally welcome Eliot, but, as Eliot probably knew all along, it will not admit his friends.

Fragmenting counter-traditions finally become a crowd of shadows, with the dogs fighting it out in the dark, below those beacons of the influential and the blessed.

DREAMS, FALSE GODS, FAKE THEORIES, AND THE SENSUS COMMUNIS

In the beginning of J.D. McClatchy’s introduction to his book of essays, Poets on Painters, the poet and anthologist quotes Pound, and before he does so, McClatchy provides a quotation—an introduction to his introduction—from the modern art critic, Harold Rosenberg.

Let us quote the whole of McClatchy’s wonderful first page:

An artist is a person who has invented an artist. —Harold Rosenberg

It could be argued that modern poetry was invented by the painters.¬† Certainly when in 1913 Ezra Pound reviled the mannered blur of Victorian verse and called for the “shock and stroke” of a new poetry based on the image, he defined it with a canvas in mind: “An ‘Image’ is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.” Only such an image, such a poetry, could give us “that sense of sudden liberation: that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits; that sense of sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art.” (By “greatest,” Pound means both oldest and newest, both Giotto and Gaudier-Brzeska.) All the paraphernalia of modernism, in fact, seem largely pictorial. The convulsive energy of high modernist poetry, its use of collage and cubist fractioning, its vers libre expressivity, its sense of the natural object as adequate symbol, of technique as content, of organic form, of dissociation and dislocation—these derive from the example of painters. When Pound demanded “direct treatment of the thing,” and William Carlos Williams urged “no ideas but in things,” the thing they had in their mind’s eye might as well have been the painter’s motif.

And so here it is once again: Painting and poetry, the “sister arts;” pictura ut poesis. (As is painting, so is poetry.) We look at, or hear of, the image. Abstractly, intellectually, it makes perfect sense.

But what does it mean to say, as McClatchy, says, that “modern poetry” was invented by the painters? Hasn’t poetry always had imagery? And what makes the image in modern poetry a “freedom from time limits and space limits?” Why do we take Pound’s rants seriously? And how is the “new poetry based on the image” different from haiku? The self-advertising, self-promoting nature of Pound’s Modernism is a machine that refuses to rest. Is “technique as content” an advance or a regression when it makes content simply disappear? It is wonderful that things are happening in Pound and Williams‘ “mind’s eye,” but what happened to the “mind’s ear?”

It was not until the Renaissance that painting got respect, trailing behind poetry as a liberal art for centuries, and da Vinci placed painting far above poetry with a vengeance, comparing eye and ear in a way impossible to argue with: sight is the superior sense.

Everyone knows the best way to know something is to put something similar next to it.

The poets of the Middle Ages understood poetry when compared to religious confession—Homer, a mural of a battle scene—the Chinese poets, a simple picture, which the early 20th century Imagists found to be an enthralling counter to Victorian verbosity—and various poets from all ages have known poems as something similar to song.

This method is not mere comparison, nor does it enhance either thing—it diminishes both, and this diminishment is knowing, for that which is too large cannot be known. The poem walks through painting’s fire and by this we see more purely what poetry is. Likewise, the poem’s fire which purifies painting also shows us what poetry is, too.¬† Leonardo, in favoring painting over poetry, did poets a great favor.¬† For the first time, after centuries of poets vaguely aspiring towards the “pictura ut poesis” of Horace, poets saw, in diminishment, what poetry really was.¬† This was a gift, for the simple mundane reason that smaller is easier for an artist to handle.

da Vinci really poured it on and God bless him:

If you, historians or poets or mathematicians, had not seen things through your eyes, you would be able to report them feebly in your writings.

Now, do you not see that the eye embraces the beauty of all the world?¬† The eye is the commander of astronomy; it makes cosmography; it guides and rectifies all the human arts; it conducts man to the various regions of this world; it is the prince of mathematics; its sciences are most certain; it has measured the height and size of the stars; it has disclosed the elements and their distributions; it has made predictions of future events by means of the course of the stars; it has generated architecture, perspective and divine painting. Oh excellent above all other things created by God! What manner of praises could match your nobility? What races, what languages would they be that could describe in full your functions…? Using the eye, human industry has discovered fire, by which means it is able to regain what darkness had previously taken away. It has graced nature with agriculture and delectable gardens.

Poetry arises in the mind and imagination of the poet, who desires to depict the same things as the painter. He wishes to parallel the painter, but in truth he is far removed… Therefore, with respect to representation, we may justly claim that the difference between the science of painting and poetry is equivalent to that between a body and its cast shadow. And yet the difference is even greater than this, because the shadow of the body at least enters the sensus communis through the eye, while the imagined form of the body does not enter through this sense, but is born in the darkness of the inner eye. Oh! what a difference there is between the imaginary quality of such light in the dark inner eye and actually seeing it outside this darkness!

We might (especially if we were a poet) say to da Vinci, a painting is just as unreal as a poem—both are illusions representing absent things. This is the key point, not what a marvelous thing the eye is. But all that aside, it’s exciting to think that Shakespeare, the Renaissance poet, is responding to da Vinci, the Renaissance painter, and da Vinci’s “darkness of the inner eye,” as one sensitive soul to another:

When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright are bright in dark directed;
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow’s form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so?
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay?
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.

Shakespeare in this sonnet is saying to da Vinci: you are correct! A poem lives in darkness. A poem is a pitiful dream, lit only by one thing: praise and love and worship of an ideal “thee.”

Shakespeare makes no effort to body forth a particular image—he leaves that to the painter. Socrates said the poet who resides in his ideal republic should praise worthy persons: Shakespeare is doing precisely this: praise is at the heart of his dark dream brightened only by “thee.” This is the ideal poet in the ideal republic praising the ideal “thee” in poetry defined by da Vinci, and it easily fits into the context of Plato’s ideality as well as Aristotle’s definition of tragedy as human action portraying persons better than they are.

Praise is the torch which Shakespeare uses to survive poetic darkness. The poet, Shakespeare, agrees with the painter, da Vinci, in order to make poetry of the dark.

Shakespeare has no illusions that poetry is like painting.

It is the differences and the limits in the two arts that brings out the best in them.

Shakespeare, in his humility, got it.

Pound, in his arrogance, did not.

Harold Rosenberg’s “An artist is a person who has invented an artist” is mystical and intriguing, but perhaps, for poetry and the arts, the pendulum has swung as far as it can in the direction of the Sly Artistic Ego.

Is it time to listen to artists like da Vinci again, who said an artist does not mystically self-invent, but “embraces the beauty of all the world?”

WHY ART IS CONSERVATIVE

We should never confuse artistic place with artistic spirit, nor either one of these with artistic truth.

Just as the Jews and the early Christians measured everything against Rome, capital of Empire, so in our time, London, Paris or New York has served to validate the artist.

Either the village artist came to learn in Paris, or Paris came to exploit the village artist. Replace ‘village’ with ‘bourgeois,’ or ‘conservative,’ today, and still the final arbitrator is the faceless and inscrutable committee of the avant-garde, sitting with its tentacles in the middle of a great city.

Great artist validated by great city is one of those truths supremely obvious to the extent that the even more obvious meaning is missed.¬† In Ellen Williams’ Harriet Monroe and the Poetry Renaissance, look at how one great city draws the “bohemian artist” away from another great city: it is ever and always, with a certain scholarly mind, all about place:

Floyd Dell, the leader and as it were founder of the new artistic bohemia, brushed aside Harriet Monroe’s requests for poetry and prose, and had to defend himself against the charge of being “standoffish” not long before his departure for New York to join the staff of the Masses.

Dell’s departure reminds one that the turnover within the local bohemia was high. Perhaps 1912 was a significant moment in a progressive centralization of American society. Edgar Lee Masters, who had come up to Chicago in the generation before from a small Illinois town, had joined the local bar, married a local girl, and settled down to family life. But the young people with artistic aspirations who came to Chicago in 1912 from other, smaller middle-western towns departed in a few years for New York, or after the war, for Europe. Thus Dell left for New York late in 1913; Margaret Anderson moved the Little Review to New York late in 1916, after some two years’ publication in Chicago; and Sherwood Anderson was spending more time in New York than in Chicago by 1918. This “upward” mobility of the leadership would tend to diminish the influence and weaken the identity of the local bohemia.

Several factors, then, kept Poetry from being the voice of the new generation in Chicago, whatever general stimulation it got from them or gave them. Ezra Pound, operating by letter all the way from London, remained the principal avant-garde stimulus in its editorial counsels.

Just an aside: Margaret Anderson’s Little Review was the original publisher of Joyce’s Ulysses—the obscenity charge which put Joyce on the map was brought by the U.S. Post Office after Pound inserted excerpts of Ulysses into Margaret Anderson’s magazine.¬† Pound’s editorial digs were in London, and from there, Pound, the creepy, egotistical, gadfly, mediocrity, with the help of two women, Margaret Anderson and Harriet Monroe, shaped not only 20th century poetry, but 20th century fiction, as well.¬† If Harriet Monroe had not happened to visit a shop owned by publisher Elkin Matthews in London and found a couple of Pound’s books just published by Matthews, in her trip around the world in 1910, the world might be a different place.¬† Bohemian creds (which Pound had) have long been vital, even though the poetry produced might be unreadable today, because revolutionary ideals go a long way to inspire a certain type of ambitious fraud—when ‘conservative’ and ‘bourgeois’ are enemies to blanket, blank-check, bohemian thrills.

A funny truth about Harriet Monroe, poet, founder and editor of Poetry, is not that she covered, as a journalist, in 1913, the Armory Show of Modern Art in New York, or that she came up with a great business plan for her little magazine, or that she adored Shelley, or that she had many reservations about the avant-garde poetry she published, or, that she allowed herself to be deluded into thinking the great con-man Ezra Pound was a poetic genius; no, it was this: Harriet Monroe’s brother-in-law invented the skyscraper.¬† She even published a memoir on him—John Wellborn Root.

This is just the sort of fact that eludes the fact-finder: the fact of place, the fact of the important city, the fact of Monroe’s commercial connections are layers such that less obvious facts cover the more obvious ones. Bohemians are always the last ones to get the most obvious facts—that Pound was a con-artist, for instance.¬† The importance of place is one of those facts that keep most avant-garde critics busy in their obscurantist mission: do everything to distract the audience from the show-off, tasteless, inferiority of the art itself.¬† Every time we read of the adventures of some self-important, “rule-breaking” avant-garde cabal, we always notice how the geographical locale, whether we are in the actual city, or outside the actual city, or on the west coast, or on the east coast, or the Left Bank, is the most crucial thing.

The way a thing is advertised is not the thing, but the advertisement, with enough repetition, often becomes the thing, while the latter (the thing itself) practically disappears.  This is pretty much how avant-garde art works.

How ridiculous to think that it matters whether a poet is working in Chicago, or New York, or anywhere.¬† Or riding a motorcycle.¬† Or walking. Travel literature is a legitimate genre, we suppose, but why do so many confuse it with aesthetics?¬† Wearily, we are forced to learn of Harriet Monroe and Chicago, due to factual curiosity about Poetry magazine—and when was factual curiosity a criterion for art?¬† Only when art is made for sinking.

This is not to say that what an author does in body as well as spirit is not important—of course, occasionally, it is—we object to superficial and semi-obvious facts covering up the truth.

We always laugh, for instance, when critics list poets from a certain era—let’s say the 1890s—and since we haven’t heard of them, or read them, we’re all happy to assume that every last one of their works is awful, (as we continue to not read them) in comparison to Ezra Pound, the “revolutionary,” writing in 1910, and which we assume that many, if not most of his poems are exciting and new, not to mention “revolutionary.”¬† Or Pound’s friend, William Carlos Williams, “revolutionary,” too!

As long as we buy into the great “radical” art steam-rolling “conservative” art scheme, the great scholarly avant-garde ship keeps sailing along with Harriet Monroe, captain and Ezra Pound, first mate.

As soon as Rome became Christian, Christianity became conservative; when Paris recognized impressionism, impressionism became bourgeois; when New York bought abstract art, it sold for millions.

The skyscraper, the fact of the modern city, stands for many things, and it drives both commercial and democratic concerns.¬† The fact of the skyscraper is both radical and conservative, and in its balance, represents our age, which is both conservative and radical—which distinguishes all complex, civilized ages.

The skyscraper is democratic and commercial in its practical side of things; thus with the skyscraper the radical and the conservative are forever fused.

The trump card of the 20th century avant-garde was in getting itself called “modern” or “modernist.”¬† The name, “modern” became its chief selling point. This is another one of those obvious truths so obvious we hardly notice its real impact.¬† Victorian buildings are frilly; but the modern skyscraper (and modern art) is not.

As simplistic as this is, it is the stuff of artistic rivalry and ambition—the battle for the soul and the money of everything; this kind of artistic argument is nearly everything.

One could write a 17 volume treatise on verse, and all in vain, if it were shown, or more importantly, believed, that verse, was frilly.  Game over.  William Carlos Williams wins.

Take these four terms: conservative, radical, banker, poet.¬† They might very well define art for all time, believing, as we do, that the poet is always radical, the banker always conservative.¬† Belief in this formula has defined our age—but even as we recognize the force of the formula, we should recognize its falsity on a deeper level.

The poet becomes radical only when the banker fronting the poet is radical; in truth, art, in its primary existence, is conservative.

Socrates, the (lone) radical philosopher, pitted himself against Homer, the (popular) conservative poet; it was (O irony!) the triumph of Plato as an artist which made art into a radical vocation.¬† Shelley, the radical poet, faded away into Victorianism, or conservative poetry; Modernism rejected Victorianism so as to get back to Shelley—but something went terribly wrong along the way: the radical was kept, but everything else was rejected, including popular taste.¬† There is the lonely genius who, for the good of mankind, ought to get a hearing, and then there is the mediocrity—lonely because obscure.¬† These two should never be confused, but sometimes they are, especially if the latter is a clever s.o.b. who does a neat little dance in front of a skyscraper.

Art is conservative because of the phrase just used in the above paragraph: “Popular Taste.”¬† Homer was popular, but was censored by Plato on the matter of “taste.”¬† Since then, artistic success (favored by critic and mass audience alike) demands popular include popular taste.¬† The idea is actually democratic—taste refers to conditions which favor great masses of people respecting one another and treating each other well.¬† Mass appeal is required, but with something more: an unspoken sense of fitness and beauty, which, if we remember, Socrates accused Homer of violating, since Homer’s gods, superior beings, often acted from whim and cruelty.

One might think that radical art—and for many, these two words, radical and art, go hand in hand—is that which precisely offends popular taste.¬† But this is to put too much faith in shock, and not enough in art.¬† The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem, Massachusetts¬† is currently running an exhibit called “Future Beauty: Avant-Garde Japanese Fashion,” and we enjoyed our visit thoroughly, as we found ourselves more convinced that fashion is art, and we received, in addition, a happy insight: the avant-garde dress fashion was able to please us for the very reason that we are familiar with 1) the human body and 2) a dress.¬† It is precisely from these foundations of universal knowledge so vital to all fashion that the “new” (truly bizarre and truly avant-garde) was able—not always, but sometimes—to please us.

If we accept that fashion is art, and for this art to work, note how the human body and the dress comprise a conventionality and a tradition that is eternal, we get a glimpse into the absolute conservative nature of artwork that calls itself avant-garde.

The truth, that even in bouts of experimentation, art is a highly conservative medium, may be unsettling to some, but we realize those it might unsettle are immune to that sort of thing, anyway.¬† For all artists, in all mediums, it is important that the standard—whatever it happens to be—is established in the popular mind.¬† The eternal nature of this standard is not something we can take lightly; if a poet, for instance, writes poetry in which some in medias res, avant-garde experiment is the starting-point, the chance of it having mass appeal is nil; the poet must always return to the true starting-point of what the poem, as defined by the popular taste, happens to be.

THE SANE FACE OF INSANITY: THE INSANE SCHOOL OF POETRY, PART II

Robert Lowell: ‘I’m a Poem!’ versus ‘I’m a Lowell!’

The worst sort of insanity, as we all know, is insanity that wears a suit and puts on a sane, reasonable face—and wins over the public.¬† This is the worst insanity of all.

The New Critics were a perfect example, in poetry, of insanity masking itself as sanity, with an impotent philosophical approach; New Criticism was well-received precisely because it was impotent; it finally meant nothing even as it said a lot; New Criticism was flighty and¬†malleable—which is the worst thing a good philosophy should be.

The New Critics made pronouncements that were nothing but truisms, such as: the proof of poetic worth is in the poem, not in the poet’s biography, not in the poet’s intent, and not in any perceived emotional impact on the reader, and these led to critical debates as to which part in the signifying chain should we look at, after all, and back and forth, and blah blah blah.¬† It wasn’t an argument or a philosophy that finally mattered; it was merely arguing for its own sake that mattered; the critical faculty was replaced by distractions: hair-splitting by academic suits.

The philosophy which defines poetic worth, a noble enterprise in any age, was replaced by revolutionaries of the will whose agenda was simple: explode poetic worth in the name of a sly, personal ambition.

This is why Robert Lowell,¬† whose claim to fame was that he was a Lowell, adorned himself with the “only the poem matters” New Critics, from the moment his shrink (Merrill Moore, one of the Fugitive/New Critics!) sent him to Vanderbilt to study with John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate.

The New Critical Sybil was all Vanderbilt men, Rhodes scholars, initially self-published in their short-lived magazine, The Fugitive, briefly Far Right Southern Agrarians, Writing Program Era founders (one of the Fugitive group awarded Iowa’s Paul Engle his Yale Younger prize) textbook authors, and respectable, suit-wearing supporters of Ezra Pound’s bearded, swear-fest revolution, abetted by the Anglican version of the New Critics, tweedy T.S. Eliot, follower of insane, but primly dressed, Jules Laforgue.

Warren and Brooks’ Understanding Poetry, the successful New Critics’ textbook, blanketing high schools and colleges in multiple editions from the 1930s to the 1970s,¬† singled out for high praise two poems of insignificant worth, two mediocre Western imitations of haiku, Williams’ “Red Wheel Barrow” and Pound’s “At A Station At the Metro,” while punishing “Ulalume” by Poe in a vicious send-up by creepy Aldous Huxley.¬† There is nothing more hateful to insanity than to see itself transformed into measured art.¬† Insanity prefers, in every instance, to be itself: nonsensical, unfinished, random, ego-ravaged, mean.¬†¬† If we understand how it all goes down, it makes perfect sense that Williams and Pound, privileged members of Allen Tate’s cabal, were honored in a textbook for poems best characterized under the heading, drivel, by the “only the poem matters” New Critics.¬† We can hear Williams’ howls of protest—I do not abide these right-wing formalists!—as he is honored (the Dial prize, for instance) by his friends.

The test is: are you afraid of the well-made poem, or not?

We all know the protests:

Bu-bu-bu the well-made poem is too much like a song!

Bu-bu-bu the well-made poem makes me feel too self-conscious!

Bu-bu-bu the well-made poem isn’t the language of real speech!

The protests—we’ve heard them for a hundred years—are by now well-known, and the dirty little secret, of course, is this: failures to write a well-made poem have been turned into virtues by the suits of Modernism’s haiku, finger-painting, “revolution.”

It is important to distinguish the insane poet from insane poetry.¬†¬† We made a brief list, merely to amuse ourselves, in our “Insane School of Poetry” post, of sane and insane poets—and we do feel that Philip Larkin, in his poetry, is sanely, in good faith, attempting to communicate with us, while John Ashbery, in his poetry, is insanely not communicating with us, but again, this all happens, finally, in the poetry, as a matter of course, and even the insane have lucid moments, and the sane write millions of insane poems every day, and when we say something is “insanely good,” we do mean it is very, very good.

The insane poet, the Blake who saw visions, the (falsely accused) drunken Poe, the psychotically deranged Rimbaud, the stoned and smirking Ginsberg, the McLean mental hospital patient Lowell, Plath or Sexton—all these biographical issues should not distract the critic.¬† Let us, as the reviled by the New Critics’ Edgar Poe did, patiently and honestly review the well-made poem.

The insanity of the Robert Lowell is a subtle thing.  Forget the electroshock therapy sessions, the manic episodes. We can see it in a Paris Review interview in 1961.

The 25 year-old Frederick Seidel, who was graduating from Harvard when Lowell was stuck in McLean’s, was the interviewer. (A year later, Lowell awarded Seidel a prize for his first book, a prize rescinded by the sponsors, who deemed Seidel’s book anti-Semitic. Lowell resigned in protest.)

Seidel sets the scene back in that year of 1961: “On one wall of Mr. Lowell’s study was a large portrait of Ezra Pound…on another wall…James Russell Lowell looked down…where his great-grandnephew sat and answered questions.”

As he talks to young Seidel under the big picture of Pound, Lowell sounds eminently sane.

What are you teaching now?

I’m teaching one of these poetry-writing classes and a course…called Practical Criticism. It’s a course I teach every year, but the material changes. It could be anything from Russian short stories to Baudelaire, a study of the New Critics, or just fiction.

No surprise Lowell taught the New Critics.  But who would have a large picture of Ezra Pound in their study?

Robert Lowell, that’s who.¬† Here, in this interview, is Lowell on Pound:

[Pound] had no political effect whatsoever and was quite eccentric and impractical. Pound’s social credit, his fascism, all these various things, were a tremendous gain to him; he’d be a very Parnassian poet without them. Even if they’re bad beliefs—and some were bad, some weren’t, and some were just terrible, of course—they made him more human and more to do with life, more to do with the times. They served him. Taking what interested him in these things gave a kind of realism and life to his poetry that it wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Is this ‘head in the sand’ denial, or what?¬† Pound was a criminal, but he was “eccentric and impractical,” so let’s excuse him.¬† He “had no political effect whatsoever.”¬† Whatsoever?¬† Really?¬† It sounds like Lowell is protesting too much.¬† Yet, here from the lips of Robert Lowell, is the literary establishment view of Pound: “terrible beliefs,” but they “made him more human,” “more to do with the times,” “they “served him,” “gave a kind of realism and life to his poetry.” Modernism operates like a daily rag: if you are “more to do with the times,” you are golden.

The distinguished Robert Lowell’s message is:

Stick to the poetry, which, because of Pound’s realism, merits a Bollingen Prize (which I awarded him).¬† Ignore the “terrible beliefs.”

Get it?¬† Focus on (the poetry’s) “realism.”¬† Yet ignore the “terrible beliefs.”

Here’s the insanity in a nutshell: Modern art and poetry (such as Pound’s) because of its “realism,” exists in a realm apart and cannot be judged by the standards of—“realism!”

When “realism” is a very important thing, why then should the art of poetic form interest you?¬†¬† Lowell’s opinion of Pound, the man, cannot help but influence Lowell’s aesthetics.

…I began to have a certain disrespect for the tight forms.¬† If you could make it easier by adding syllables, why not? And then when I was writing Life Studies, [in the 50s, Lowell of the 40s was more of a formalist–ed.] a good number of the poems were started in a very strict meter, and I found that, more than the rhymes, the regular beat was what I didn’t want. I have a long poem in there about my father, called “Commander Lowell,” which actually is largely in couplets, but I originally wrote perfectly strict four-foot couplets. Well, with that form it’s hard not to have echoes of Marvell. That regularity just seemed to ruin the honesty of sentiment, and became rhetorical; it said, “I’m a poem”—though it was a great help when I was revising having this original skeleton. I could keep the couplets where I wanted them and drop them where I didn’t; there’d be a form to come back to.

The poem, “Commander Lowell,” is where Lowell takes potshots at his dad’s personal life.¬† Lowell puts his finger on why prose eclipsed poetry: “That regularity just seemed to ruin the honesty of the sentiment, and became rhetorical; it said, ‘I’m a poem.'”¬† Lowell’s writing became more “raw” and less “cooked” (even as he was being “cooked” at McLean hospital) as he grew older (“disrespect for tight forms”) and Lowell’s transition was aped by the country, in the grip of the Writing Program Era, as the 20th century advanced. The horror of “I’m a poem” became more and more acute.

And the interview continues:

Had you originally intended to handle all that material in prose?

Yes.

If Lowell’s subject matter demanded a prose handling, why didn’t Lowell just write prose?¬† Why did Lowell make his personal issue with “tight forms” into an aesthetic decree?¬† Lowell’s Creative Writing students, such as Plath, (and the country in general) were excited by the taboo subjects explored by Lowell’s “confessional” manner.¬† But “confessing” is a funny way to teach writing.¬† It seems to come back to the “realism” of Pound, doesn’t it?¬† And again, we see the contradiction of the New Critics, and how their “The poem is what matters” was a kind of shield for Lowell, and a clever way to advance poetry into a truly psychotic realm.

First, with the help of the New Critics, establish that “the Poem” exists as a pure, separate (and sacred) thing, understood only by (Writing) professors.¬† Second, with the help of Robert Lowell, the New Critics’ Frankenstein monster, make “realism” and “confessing” and “telling personal secrets” really important.¬† What’s this going to do to poetry?¬† Think about it for a minute.¬† Combine these two elements and you will get poetry that is prosy, arrogant, difficult, tortured, and self-indulgent.¬† Bingo.¬† That’s exactly what happened.¬† True, “Howl” (1956) had already happened.¬† Lowell was following as much as leading, but the point remains the same.

John Dewey’s “experience” finally triumphs over everything.¬† The term “experience”—which can mean anything and everything—finally steamrolls over art.¬† Lowell was the perfect messenger for this madness.¬† Sane, yet mad himself, successful, up to a point, in writing formal poetry, but gradually going over to the other side, mentored by the New Critics, a famous superstar professor in the new Creative Writing Program era spreading across the country, Lowell was at the center of the whole ugly experiment.¬† Listen how sane the ‘seesawing’ Lowell sounds, asking for a¬† “breakthrough back into life,” a meaningless, hollow appeal:

I found it got awfully tedious working out transitions and putting in things that didn’t seem very important but were necessary to the prose continuity. Also, I found it hard to revise. Cutting it down into small bits, I could work on it much more carefully and make fast transitions. But there’s another point about this mysterious business of prose and poetry, form and content, and the reasons for breaking forms. I don’t think there’s any very satisfactory answer. I seesaw back and forth between something highly metrical and something highly free; there isn’t any one way to write. But it seems to me we’ve gotten into a sort of Alexandrian age. Poets of my generation and particularly younger ones have gotten terribly proficient at these forms. They write a very musical, difficult poem with tremendous skill, perhaps there’s never been such skill. Yet the writing seems divorced from culture somehow. It’s become too much something specialized that can’t handle much experience. It’s become a craft, purely a craft, and there must be some breakthrough back into life. Prose is in many ways better off than poetry. It’s quite hard to think of a young poet who has the vitality, say of Salinger or Saul Bellow. …I couldn’t get my experience into tight metrical forms.

In Life Studies Part III, Lowell writes odes to four mentors: Hart Crane, Delmore Schwartz, George Santayana, and Ford Madox Ford. Ford worked for the War Propaganda Office during World War One; Ford met Pound off the boat when the latter traveled to England to make a name for himself in poetry, and Ford later joined the New Critics in America to start the Creative Writing Program Era—with Robert Lowell’s help. Santayana taught T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens at Harvard.¬† Lowell, with Life Studies, is clearly positioning himself within the High Modernist pedigree.

A pedigree of mediocre poetry turning off the public, madness, and cunning personal ambition.

“AND THIS IS PRECISELY THE FACT”

The pretend genius: lived off his parents, peddled literary truisms

Ezra Pound (d. 1972) is often quoted making clever remarks on how prose and poetry should not be distinguished from each other if good writing is the aim.

“Poetry should be at least as well-written as prose,” is one of Pound’s well-known dicta, and this truism has nothing to recommend it, except it’s odd that this Modernist “revolutionary” would sound like a schoolmarm.

The irony, of course, is that modern poetry, in Pound’s wake, suffers precisely from the fact that modern poetry is less well-written than prose, that modern poetry’s line-breaks and spaces hinder actual good writing—and, perhaps worse, modern poetry is prose.

We don’t blame this on Pound’s ignorance—his admonition that “poetry should be…well-written,” (O Schoolmarm Genius!) was a common ploy among the reactionary Modernists: to seem buttoned-up and serious as they smashed things.¬† Pound’s partner T.S. Eliot was an expert at this: Eliot had no intention of killing Milton, Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Poe, or Shelley; he was just oh so expertly fond of Donne.

Poe, unlike Pound and the Moderns, made actual revolutionary insights when speaking on the topic of poetry:

I hold that a long poem does not exist. I maintain that the phrase, “a long poem,” is simply a flat contradiction in terms.

I need scarcely observe that a poem deserves its title only inasmuch as it excites, by elevating the soul. The value of the poem is in the ratio of this elevating excitement. But all excitements are, through a psychal necessity, transient. That degree of excitement which would entitle a poem to be so called at all, cannot be sustained throughout a composition of any great length. After the lapse of half an hour, at the very utmost, it flags ‚ÄĒ fails ‚ÄĒ a revulsion ensues ‚ÄĒ and then the poem is, in effect, and in fact, no longer such.

There are, no doubt, many who have found difficulty in reconciling the critical dictum that the “Paradise Lost” is to be devoutly admired throughout, with the absolute impossibility of maintaining for it, during perusal, the amount of enthusiasm which that critical dictum would demand. This great work, in fact, is to be regarded as poetical, only when, losing sight of that vital requisite in all works of Art, Unity, we view it merely as a series of minor poems. If, to preserve its Unity ‚ÄĒ its totality of effect or impression ‚ÄĒ we read it (as would be necessary) at a single sitting, the result is but a constant alternation of excitement and depression. After a passage of what we feel to be true poetry, there follows, inevitably, a passage of platitude which no critical pre-judgment can force us to admire; but if, upon completing the work, we read it again, omitting the first book ‚ÄĒ that is to say, commencing with the second ‚ÄĒ we shall be surprised at now finding that admirable which we before condemned ‚ÄĒ that damnable which we had previously so much admired. It follows from all this that the ultimate, aggregate, or absolute effect of even the best epic under the sun, is a nullity: ‚ÄĒ and this is precisely the fact.

In regard to the Iliad, we have, if not positive proof, at least very good reason for believing it intended as a series of lyrics; but, granting the epic intention, I can say only that the work is based in an imperfect sense of art. The modern epic is, of the supposititious ancient model, but an inconsiderate and blindfold imitation. But the day of these artistic anomalies is over. If, at any time, any very long poem were popular in reality, which I doubt, it is at least clear that no very long poem will ever be popular again.

Of course “poetry should be at least as well-written as prose.”¬† Pound did not say anything new.

And Pound and his friends writing poems sans unity was certainly not new, either.

Poe, the critic, rebuked a long, clever farrago of a poem—by Longfellow once, never mind Thomas Carlyle (Poe called Mr. C. an “ass”), another Medusa-headed 19th century author.

But think of the implication of what Poe said: “that degree of excitement which would entitle a poem to be so called at all…flags—fails—a revulsion ensues—and then the poem is, in effect, and in fact, no longer such.”

This was new.  This was revolutionary.

Marjorie Perloff, in the April 2013 issue of Poetry, can be found swooning over this by Pound:

Don’t imagine that a thing will go in verse just because it’s too dull to go in prose.

How correct of Pound to say this!

This is just what Pound did: rather than write dull verse, he stuck to dull prose.

Poe followed his own advice, too:

Ask yourself ‘might not this matter be as well or better handled in prose?’¬† If if may than it is no subject for the Muse.

Why would anyone think something “too dull to go in prose” would “go in verse?”

To which audience of dunderheads was Pound speaking?

Pound focuses on “the dull,” which neither prose nor poetry can rescue, and this reveals Pound as the rank pessimist that he was.

Poe focuses on the “matter” that prose or poetry can “handle,” which reveals the properly attentive critic that Poe was.

If you would be a poet, today, and are looking for models from the past, choose wisely.

MICHAEL ROBBINS HAS A CRUSH ON ANGE MLINKO, OR WHY THE CRITIC SHOULD NEVER HAVE A MUSE

Ange Mlinko: The Critic Should Never Have A Muse

Michael Robbins has disappointed us in his attempt to make a Scarriet-like, sweeping definition of poetry: “Where Competency Ends, Poetry Begins.”

Robbins has intelligence and wit, and we like his writing, but the jury is still out on whether he will fall into dyspeptic Pound-ism or soar like an Alexander Pope and laugh with silver laughter at the dunces.

We still have high hopes for the critic Michael Robbins—we have no hopes for any poet today—critics need to quiet the noisy poets before poetry can be heard again.

In his latest piece for the Chicago Tribune, Robbins drops the ball—he decries “competency” by selecting for laudation a quintessential piece of competency by Ange Mlinko, a “friend” of his, Robbins confesses to his readers, but a friendship, he insists, based on an “admiration for her work,” and not (as he attempts to drive the stake into the heart of Foetry) the “other way around.”

Since Alan Cordle’s Foetry.com ceased publication and Scarriet sprang up to take its place, we like to think we have kept the flag waving above the beleaguered fort of common sense.

Robbins cannot see how his friendship with Mlinko has blinded him.  So it follows he cannot see his tribute to Mlinko is the epitome of competency.

Robbins‘ article begins with that old trope: the view from the “slush pile” from the sneering, condescending poetry editor’s perspective, as if “slush” wasn’t finally published in the editor’s magazine, anyway.

Robbins is doing something clever, though, moving from “slush” to “competency” to the apex of the imagination which is…Mlinko.

This would be funny, but Robbins, blinded by both “slush-pile”-experience professionalism and his “friendship,” is serious.¬† Too bad.¬† Robbins is best when he’s a little silly.

As he is a good critic, Robbins does give us an extra: slush pile poetry is mocked with quotes by Wyndham Lewis.

Wyndham Lewis?  If you thought Ezra Pound was a creep who wrote mediocre, Modernistic poetry, wait to you read Wyndham Lewis!

Hemingway thought Lewis the most physically repulsive human being he ever met (with Ford Madox Ford a close second) and we are not surprised.

Robbins’ Mlinko-nod to foetry, his faint damning of MFA “competency,” plus his singling out as ludicrous the same passage of Adam Fitzgerald’s (from a David Kirby review) which we found risible three weeks ago (#81) would seem to indicate Robbins is keeping his finger on the pulse of Po-Biz via Blog Scarriet.¬† Good for him.¬† Lists are currently the rage in po-biz and Scarriet’s Hot 100 series got that started.¬† Anyway, we are flattered.

For Robbins’ argument, a couple passages from the “crushingly banal” “Apple Slices” by Todd Boss is presented, with concessions to its sonic effects, as ‘workshop competent’:

— eaten right

off the jackknife in

moons, half-moons,

quarter-moons and

crescents —

still

summon common

summer afternoons

I spent as my dad’s

jobsite grunt…

*

so many waned and

waxed moons later,

another well-paid,

well-fed, college-

bred paper-pusher, I

wonder that I’ve never

labored harder, nor

eaten better.

And here is the Fitzgerald, which Robbins and Scarriet agree, was over-praised by the excitable David Kirby:

I was shipwrecked on an island of clouds.

The sun’s pillors bored me though, so I

set foot on a small indigo place

below orange falls and hexagonal flowers.

I was able to stay there a fortnight,

restlessly roaming the buttered air

inside tropical rock enclosures,

caves of foliage that canopied darkness.

Robbins calls these lines “unmusical and undistinguished,” but he is being kind.¬† These lines are clumsy, ponderous, free verse Dr. Seuss.

But now Robbins turns to his standard for greatness, Ange Mlinko:

You never hear of Ixion, tied to a revolving wheel
but it’s an axiom that, sooner or later, a hurricane’ll hit here.

For starters, Mlinko uses “axiom,” incorrectly, a philosophical term; we never say, “It’s an axiom that it rains.”¬† But it seems axiom’s similarity in sound to the mythical “Ixion” was too much for Mlinko to resist.

The rhetoric is wanting: the vagueness of “You never hear of…” How is this dramatically interesting?¬† It is not.¬† It’s a fact-driven idiom.¬† Poets need to be aware of this.¬† And just in terms of pure sound, “tied- to- a- revolving- wheel” is ugly, and even worse is “but- it’s- an- axiom- that,- sooner- or- later…”¬† The logic is not worth pursuing in prose; it’s safe to say it’s not going to do anything for poetry:¬† Because a hurricane will eventually arrive somewhere, it is worth noting that one never hears of Ixion.¬†

Robbins thinks he is praising Mlinko’s poetry.¬† He’s not.¬† He’s simply agreeing with a banal piece of logic: 1) “you never hear of Ixion” 2) Ixion symbolizes the “guests” of our “planet” who have met “their host’s hospitality” with “rapine.”¬† Robbins claims this is not “climate change didacticism” but this is, in fact, all he is admiring—and all one could admire in this passage.¬† Surely it’s not the sonic chiming of Ixion and axiom.

Since rhyme fell from grace among the modernist sophisticates, assonance and alliteration have rushed in to fill the vacuum in all sorts of horrible, excessive and stupid ways.

Here is Robbins explaining to us what hurricanes are:

Mlinko is often delightful: “You never hear of Ixion, tied to a revolving wheel, / but it’s an axiom that, sooner or later, a hurricane’ll hit here.” But there’s more here than a Rube Goldberg spillage of phonemes modifying one another, irresistible as such sonics are. Contrast the insubstantiality of Fitzgerald’s cloud islands with the sense Mlinko packs into this couplet: the story of Ixion, bound to a spinning wheel by Zeus for betraying a guest, reveals an axiom, a self-evident premise, which in this case is that the weather, in its cycles and revolutions, will always, eventually, manifest itself as a revolving wheel of air, which a hurricane is. And hurricanes arrive ever more frequently, deadly to human life and its built environment: in a reversal of the myth, the revolving planet binds its guests, who have met their host’s hospitality with rapine. A little parable of climate change, then, with none of the didacticism you’d expect.

So here is one of the better critics writing today (a published poet, as well),¬†Michael Robbins, and after dismissing “slush” and “competency,” holds up for apotheosis, “sooner or later, a hurricane’ll hit here.”

This is one more example of how bad the world of poetry has become.

And this is why Mark Edmundson was right to attack contemporary poetry.¬† It has become so bad that any attack is good, by default.¬† And we mean this seriously.¬† Something is wrong: that’s where we have to start.¬† The inarticulate nonsense proffered by professor Edmundson still trumps every weak defense, and they are all weak, by default.¬†¬† They are weak, first of all, because they are making so much of Edmundson’s ludicrous piece in the first place.¬† Secondly, they are weak because they are anxious to show Edmundson is wrong, but in a manner that is even more deluded.¬† Edmundson wants poetry to be socially and politically relevant and the poets cry, “It is!”¬† But social and political relevance isn’t poetry.

We only raise this matter because Robbins, satisfied that Mlinko is the standard, finishes up his piece with a diatribe against Edmundson.¬† Robbins: “Edmundson cites not a single contemporary poet under the age of 59. Think about that for a second.”¬† But unfortunately that says more about the sorry state of American poetry than it does about Edmundson.¬† You see what we mean?¬†¬† The Edmundson of omissions and lapses is truer than Robbins on Mlinko.

Edmundson triumphs without trying.¬† That’s how bad it is.

WHY HAS THE PUBLIC TURNED ITS BACK ON POETRY?

Why has the public turned its back on poetry?¬†¬† That’s easy to answer.

We no longer know whether poetry is fiction or non-fiction.

Bird-watching involves watching birds.¬† Novels are elaborate stories.¬† Songs are emotional outbursts from the heart.¬† Biographies are real.¬† Science books are factual.¬† Poetry is…?

Poetry is unable to identify itself for a mass audience—that’s the problem in a nutshell.

The public’s lack of interest was made apparent to us again this week, as many bright, educated friends of ours told us they had never heard of Seamus Heaney.

The Modernists and experimentalists, by “opening up” the genre to anything and everything, have essentially made it disappear.

The wise understand that it’s impossible to be everything.

Everyone seems to understand this.

Except poets today.

Of course there’s a perverse handful (there always is) who love “poetry” precisely because of its ill-defined nature.

A certain ugly, noxious, personality thrives on the ill-defined—for obvious reasons.

There is a half-formed intellectual nature which associates all that is profound with a detailed vagueness; unable to perfect mental or material completion, they persist in championing the unformed as a  poorly disguised way to validate their own shortcomings.

The final irony, of course, is how were the Modernist gnats, whom the public ignores, able to kill all poetry for the public?  How was traditional, mainstream poetry killed by the ill-defined, if the ill-defined is nothing?

The answer, to put it simply, is that the Modernist gnats did not kill mainstream poetry, for Edna St. Vincent Millay was selling while Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams were not, well into the 20th century.  In mid-20th century America, Frost was popular, Shakespeare everywhere, liberal arts colleges taught Keats and Shelley, high schools, Poe, Dickinson, and Milton, and songwriting was witty and intelligent.

But everyone knows that fine arts need to be cultivated; good taste doesn’t fall out of the sky.¬† Secondly, anyone who lives in America knows what a powerful tool advertising is, and thirdly, poetry has no material value; its value lives in the minds and souls and sensibilities of those who read it and teach it and share it.

Simple neglect, then, has killed the public’s love of poetry; we err by giving Pound, Williams, and the Modernist gnats too much credit; logically, that which the public ignores cannot influence the public.

If we, as observers and critics of poetry, notice a decline in poetic interest, and attribute it to “Modern” poetry, we persist in a vast error, granting a power and an influence to that which has no power, and no influence, even as we rightly condemn “Modern” poetry as poor, faulty, and even pernicious.¬† “The Red Wheel Barrow” had nothing to do with the loss of interest in “Paradise Lost.”¬† The latter died from simple neglect; from simple lack of cultivation.

The fact of someone’s fiction is a fact.¬† The museum is a fact, a reality, which holds art that is neither fact, nor reality.¬† Art does not exist unless it is cultivated, presented, taught, and framed in fact.¬† A university is a fact that curates and teaches poems.¬† The publisher is the fact that dreams the fiction; the fiction will not dream otherwise.¬† The fact of “The Red Wheel Barrow” has everything and nothing to do with the fact of “Paradise Lost.”¬† “The Red Wheel Barrow” and “Paradise Lost” are both poems that¬†may be converted into fact, and if so, one “poem” invariably belongs to “the present,” the other to “the past,” and this fact will ensure that poetry “in the present” no longer exists.¬† “The Red Wheel Barrow” cannot kill poetry.¬† A textbook can.¬† Abstract painting cannot kill painting.¬† A museum can.

A wheel barrow and a splatter of paint are facts, not fiction.¬† Modern art streams away from fiction into fact—the fact of text book and museum its only home.

Facts depend on other facts; artistic unity is unheard of in the world of facts and science.¬† Poe called his “Eureka” a poem only because he strove to make, by way of the universe, unity factual; unity of expression was the ultimate poetic fact for Poe.

The minute a Keats introduces fact into a poem, he is lost.¬† To work up a fiction into a unity is the role of the poet, for Keats.¬† The reader who selects Keats is selecting fiction—fiction doing what it does best, assuming that unity is not only possible, but vital.¬† In his “long poems, Byron played (comically) with digression; inevitably violating unity, he laughed at himself, the convention of poetic unity a standard none could safely ignore.

Poetry was once fiction.  And because it was fiction, artistic unity was paramount.

These two—poetry as strictly fictional and poetry as an expression of artistic unity—is chiefly what has fallen into neglect as Modernism invaded the vacuum, a big nothing filling a black hole: the ¬†great public yawn in poetry’s busy face.

The temptation of the fact has triumphed; witness America’s recent obsession with “trivia.”

Facts are important when it comes to roofs and sewer pipes, and obviously in non-fiction, but who thought it was a good thing for poetry?

Listening to the poet John Yau recently, we were struck by the purely autobiographical nature of the poetry; Yau told us about his mother and his father, etc¬† It was charming—as factual conversations sometimes are.¬† Facts are seductive.

The poet Marilyn Chin’s best known poem, “How I Got That Name,” informs us that she was named for Marilyn Monroe.¬† This is factually interesting.¬† Of course it is.¬† We embrace with our literary bones the seductive fact.

Loose facts are seductive.  But they never cohere into a poetic unity.

The Writing Workshop mantra, “Write what you know,” does not refer to what a writer “knows” philosophically or imaginatively, but simply what a writer knows factually about their own life.¬† But the whole point of poetry and imaginative literature is not to express what is already subjectively known (and enhanced, perhaps, by clever research) but to learn what we can know in the imaginative writing act itself.

Interesting information, dressed up as literature, is not the same thing as what Keats, who never told us about his ma and pa in a poem, built with his imagination.

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