POETRY BRACKET ROUND ONE: FANNY OSGOOD VERSUS JOHN DONNE!

Image result for fanny osgood

Fanny Osgood

There were many exquisite women poets in the 19th century, but since “modern” means more than “women” in poetry, very few of them are read anymore.  Dickinson, really. And that’s it.

In this contest the great John Donne takes on an American poetess from the 19th century, rumored (rumor only!) to have had an affair with Edgar Poe.  He supported her in reviews.

She spoke not—but, so richly fraught
With language are her glance and smile,
That, when the curtain fell, I thought
She had been talking all the while.

–Fanny Osgood

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

–John Donne

Why do we think these 19th century women poets were not modern?  They were.  And one can certainly see why they thought they were being “modern.”

Just compare the two—John Donne:

For those whom thou [a personified Death] think’st thou dost overthrow

to Fanny Osgood:

She [an actual person] had been talking all the while.

Fanny Osgood is a modern writer.  Why is she forgotten, then?

T.S. Eliot—part of the male Poetry & Criticism clique, with Pound, of High Modernism, (only Marianne Moore was allowed to join the club as a token)—championed the “Metaphysical Poets” (the term was actually coined by Samuel Johnson, who found fault with the same group) and Donne was one of these heralded ‘Metaphysicals’ for Eliot, who busily damned Shelley, Milton, and Shakespeare, and unlike Poe, seemed to find no female poets to his liking.

Donne, sounding like a school boy, tells someone named “Death” you’re not so “mighty” and you cannot “kill me.”

The whole thing is laughable, and really belongs more to Theosophical Wit than Poetry.

Donne is done in by his own logic; he says that if a nap is good, death must be better—and yet we wake up from a nap.

The chief secretary of the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal (Donne’s position for a while) also says that “our best men” end up with Death, but this, apparently makes Death bad, the same as when “desperate men” go with him.

And Death is apparently not “mighty” because he hangs out with “war.”

The real wit is achieved at the end, which basically says if we do wake up after we die, as with a nap, then, and only then: “Death, thou shalt die.”  Which is only to be expected.

Contrast this with Fanny Osgood’s passage in March Madness 2017.

According to Poe, this is the best kind of poetry, “breathing Nature,” with “nothing forced or artificial.”

Osgood describes beautifully a woman who speaks without speaking.

Here are the two quatrains which precede the one quoted:

Now gliding slow with dreamy grace,
Her eyes beneath their lashes lost,
Now motionless, with lifted face,
And small hands on her bosom crossed.

And now with flashing eyes she springs—
Her whole bright figure raised in air,
As if her soul had spread its wings
And poised her one wild instant there!

She spoke not—but, so richly fraught
With language are her glance and smile,
That, when the curtain fell, I thought
She had been talking all the while.

Fanny Osgood has defeated the immortal John Donne!  A mighty upset!  Death, art thou shocked?

CONCEPTUALISM AND THE ART OF OUTRAGE

Michael Brown: immortalized by Kenny Goldsmith?

Edgar Poe’s “effect”-as-the-basis-of-fiction is the seed of Conceptualism and the avant-garde as we know it.

That poetry should be beautiful was a necessary caveat in Poe’s mind: effect-science needs genres and reasons and exactitude as it moves literature towards self-consciousness and away from “This happened in my town yesterday. Let me tell you about it.”

The poetry world is currently befuddled and outraged because the Conceptual poet Kenny Goldsmith—who read (in a paisley suit) plain traffic reports as “poetry” at the White House (yea, where Barry lives) a couple of years ago—recently gave a “poetry reading” in academia in which the actual, detailed autopsy report of Ferguson’s Michael Brown was the sole text.

Poe would say, first: Goldsmith’s effort is the very opposite of the poem; the poet does not surrender to the news of the day (Ferguson, etc) but finds, first, a precise effect, and then works on bringing about that precise effect in the reader. Poe’s notion has nothing to do with suppressing discussion of “the news;” it merely says: give the news of the day to the news of the day and reserve poetry for poetry—both in practice and in theory.

To know what poetry is, we think, is very useful to the poet, who is doing something a bit more complex than going to the store and picking up an item:

“What did you want me to buy, again?” “I dunno.”

If we don’t know what to get at the store—and this destroys every reason for the visit, we imagine it might be slightly important to know what the poem is—as one sets about writing one.

Just an idea.

So we find an effect.

The artist thinks: First, what effect shall I pick? Second, how shall I bring about this effect in the audience?

Immediately we are aware of conflation, the type which occurs when avant-garde Conceptualism brings together as one, painting and poetry—the two disappear in the outrageous effect produced by the Duchamp jest. The art, all of it, dies into idea. Michael Brown’s autopsy becomes a pure thing subordinated to pure effect.

The conflation in Poe’s effect-method is artist/audience: to test the effect, the artist stands in for his audience: simple, even simpler than going to the store for an item; the item (effect) is had immediately, because the artist immediately becomes his own audience as the effect is tested.

Kenny Goldsmith does not have to visit the store to purchase a particular effect—any item at the Outrage Store will do.

We know of no one who has really thought through to the end what Poe meant when, in “The Philosophy of Composition,” Poe spoke of choosing some “effect” to use—Poe has been accused, in every quarter, of starting with the “The Raven” already written, and working backwards in a synthetic fashion; in other words, he cheated. And no one really writes that way, ever, say the sneering Poe-critics. Life and art are open and random; talk of “grand design” in this day is highly suspect (“what are you, a religious nut?”) even when talking of poetry.

But we know what Poe means, and we can easily demonstrate what he means.

Let’s say the effect chosen is: happiness—you choose to make the audience happy.

A good effect, but too general, so we narrow the definition to make it more effective. “Making the audience happy by removing the fear of death.” This is sufficiently unique, and this is precisely what John Donne did when he penned his famous “Death Be Not Proud.”

It matters not if death be not proud came into Donne’s thoughts “randomly,” (many poets will tell you a poem begins with a single phrase that just pops into their head) and it matters not that Donne wrote the sonnet without any fussing over “which effect shall I choose?” The fact remains that “I am Soothed by Learning Death is not as Fearful as Supposed” is the design “Death Be Not Proud” has on us: it has this effect on any lay person who reads it; it has an argument, one that can be paraphrased (yes, the New Critics were wrong) and all of Donne’s sonnet’s parts line up behind its effect.

Donne went to the store (even if subconsciously) looking for a specific, singular, item (effect and execution) and, to our pleasure, found it.

Goldsmith’s success (notoriety, attention) arose from the same process:

What shall I do to my audience?

Outrage them.

How shall I do so?

I shall pick a contemporary news item which already bespeaks outrage, and I shall choose some manifestation of this outrage and present it as my “poem.”

Now do we see who “cheats?”

It is not the author of “The Philosophy of Composition.”

It is the avant-garde “poet,” Kenny Goldsmith.

***

In other news:

John Crowe Ransom advanced past Elizabeth Bishop 61-60 in the Wild Card Round. Ransom’s “it is so frail” was finally too much for Bishop’s “the art of losing is hard to master” in the final minutes of the extremely close contest: both teams were brilliant, but the edge went to Ransom’s tender and emotional plea, which seemed finally less conscious, if that nuance can be at all understood.  It is very hard to say goodbye to the Bishop, as Ransom moves on.

Bishop’s loss put the VIDA count for Scarriet’s 2015 March Madness at 25%—which we think is pretty high, considering the tournament reflects the canon throughout history.

 

SCARRIET 2015 MARCH MADNESS—THE GREATEST LINES IN POETRY COMPETE

BRACKET ONE

1. Come live with me, and be my love, And we will all the pleasures prove That hills and valleys, dales and field, And all the craggy mountains yield. (Marlowe)

2. Every Night and every Morn Some to Misery are born. Every Morn and every Night Some are born to sweet delight, Some are born to sweet delight, Some are born to endless night.  (Blake)

3. Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine; And I was desolate and sick of an old passion, Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head: I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion. (Dowson)

4. April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. (Eliot)

5. No motion has she now, no force; She neither hears nor sees; Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course, With rocks, and stones and trees. (Wordsworth)

6. If the red slayer think he slays, Or if the slain think he is slain, They know not well the subtle ways I keep, and pass, and turn again. (Emerson)

7. The sea is calm tonight, The tide is full, the moon lies fair Upon the straits;—on the French coast the light Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. (Arnold)

8. When I am dead and over me bright April Shakes out her rain-drenched hair, Though you should lean above me broken-hearted, I shall not care. (Teasdale)

9. The soul selects her own society, Then shuts the door; On her divine majority Obtrude no more. (Dickinson)

10. We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile. (Dunbar)

11. This is the waking landscape Dream after dream walking away through it Invisible invisible invisible (Merwin)

12. I made a model of you, A man in black with a Meinkampf look And a love of the rack and the screw, And I said I do, I do. (Plath)

13. It is easy to be young. (Everybody is, at first.) It is not easy to be old. It takes time. Youth is given; age is achieved. (May Swenson)

14. There is no disorder but the heart’s. But if love goes leaking outward, if shrubs take up its monstrous stalking, all greenery is spurred, the snapping lips are overgrown, and over oaks red hearts hang like the sun. (Mona Von Duyn)

15. Long life our two resemblances devise, And for a thousand years when we have gone Posterity will find my woe, your beauty Matched, and know my loving you was wise. (Michelangelo)

16. Caesar’s double-bed is warm As an unimportant clerk Writes I DO NOT LIKE MY WORK On a pink official form. (Auden)

BRACKET TWO

1. Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds Or bends with the remover to remove. (Shakespeare)

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

3. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of Being and ideal Grace. (Barrett)

4. Say to the Court, it glows And shines like rotten wood; Say to the Church, it shows What’s good, and doth no good: If Church and Court reply, Then give them both the lie. (Raleigh)

5. Helen, thy beauty is to me Like those Nicaean barks of yore, That gently o’er a perfumed sea, The weary, wayworn wanderer bore To his own native shore. (Poe)

6. Some for the Glories of This World; and some Sigh for the Prophet’s Paradise to come; Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go, Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum! (Omar Khayyam)

7. Yet it creates, transcending these, Far other worlds and other seas; Annihilating all that’s made To a green thought in a green shade. (Marvell)

8. The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea, The ploughman homeward plods his weary way, And leaves the world to darkness and to me. (Gray)

9. O hark, O hear! how thin and clear, And thinner, clearer, farther going! O, sweet and far from cliff and scar The horns of Elfland faintly blowing! Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying, Blow bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying. (Tennyson)

10. I have a rendezvous with Death, At some disputed barricade, When Spring comes back with rustling shade And apple-blossoms fill the air. (Seeger)

11. I have put my days and dreams out of mind, Days that are over, dreams that are done. Though we seek life through, we shall surely find There is none of them clear to us now, not one. (Swinburne)

12. When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d, And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night, I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring. (Whitman)

13. O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, Alone and palely loitering? The sedge has withered from the lake, And no birds sing. (Keats)

14. Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village, though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow. (Frost)

15. If her horny feet protrude, they come To show how cold she is, and dumb. Let the lamp affix its beam. The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream. (Stevens)

16. I was, being human, born alone; I am, being a woman, hard beset; I live by squeezing from a stone The little nourishment I get. (Wylie)

BRACKET THREE

1. The world was all before them, where to choose Their place of rest, and Providence their guide: They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow Through Eden took their solitary way. (Milton)

2. Though the night was made for loving, And the day returns too soon, Yet we’ll go no more a roving By the light of the moon. (Byron)

3. I arise from dreams of thee In the first sweet sleep of night, When the winds are breathing low, And the stars are shining bright. (Shelley)

4. What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle Can patter out their hasty orisons. (Owen)

5. We have heard the music, tasted the drinks, and looked at colored houses. What more is there to do, except to stay? And that we cannot do. And as a last breeze freshens the top of the weathered old tower, I turn my gaze Back to the instruction manual which has made me dream of Guadalajara. (Ashbery)

6. Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives. Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives. (Sassoon)

7. Why is it no one ever sent me yet One perfect limousine, do you suppose? Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get One perfect rose. (Parker)

8. The shopgirls leave their work quietly. Machines are still, tables and chairs darken. The silent rounds of mice and roaches begin. (Reznikoff)

9. It’s not my business to describe anything. The only report is the discharge of words called to account for their slurs. A seance of sorts—or transport into that nether that refuses measure. (Bernstein)

10. I came to explore the wreck. The words are purposes. The words are maps. I came to see the damage that was done and the treasures that prevail. I stroke the beam of my lamp slowly along the flank of something more permanent than fish or weed. (Rich)

11. When I see a couple of kids And guess he’s fucking her and she’s Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm, I know this is paradise Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives (Larkin)

12. I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground. So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind: Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned with lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned. (Millay)

13. Those four black girls blown up in that Alabama church remind me of five hundred middle passage blacks in a net, under water in Charlestown harbor so redcoats wouldn’t find them. Can’t find what you can’t see can you? (Harper)

14. It’s good to be neuter. I want to have meaningless legs. There are things unbearable. One can evade them a long time. Then you die. (Carson).

15. On my way to bringing you the leotard you forgot to include in your overnight bag, the snow started coming down harder. I watched each gathering of leafy flakes melt round my footfall. I looked up into it—late afternoon but bright. Nothing true or false in itself. (Graham)

16. The rape joke is that you were 19 years old. The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend. The rape joke it wore a goatee. A goatee. Imagine the rape joke looking in the mirror, perfectly reflecting back itself, and grooming itself to look more like a rape joke. (Lockwood)

BRACKET FOUR

1. Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of that man skilled in all ways of contending, the wanderer, harried for years on end, after he plundered the stronghold on the proud height of Troy. (Homer)

2. And following its path, we took no care To rest, but climbed, he first, then I—so far, through a round aperture I saw appear Some of the beautiful things that heaven bears, Where we came forth, and once more saw the stars. (Dante)

3. With usura, sin against nature, is thy bread ever more of stale rags is thy bread dry as paper, with no mountain wheat, no strong flour with usura the line grows thick with usura is no clear demarcation and no man can find site for his dwelling. Stonecutter is kept from his stone weaver is kept from his loom WITH USURA (Pound)

4. I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin. Oh, how I love the resoluteness of that first person singular followed by that stalwart indicative of “be,” without the uncertain i-n-g of “becoming.” Of course, the name had been changed somewhere between Angel Island and the sea. (Chin)

5.  Dreaming evil, I have done my hitch over the plain houses, light by light: lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind. A woman like that is not a woman, quite. I have been her kind. (Sexton)

6. I loved you; and the hopelessness I knew, The jealousy, the shyness—though in vain—Made up a love so tender and so true As God may grant you to be loved again. (Pushkin)

7. We cannot know his legendary head And yet his torso is still suffused with brilliance from inside, like a lamp, in which his gaze is turned down low, burst like a star: for here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life. (Rilke)

8. So much depends on the red wheel barrow glazed with rain water besides the white chickens. (Williams)

9. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night. (Ginsberg)

10. The Walrus and the Carpenter Walked on a mile or so, And then they rested on a rock Conveniently low: And all the little Oysters stood And waited in a row. (Carroll)

11. What dire offense from amorous causes springs, What mighty contests rise from trivial things; Slight is the subject, but not so the praise, If she inspire, and he approve my lays. (Pope)

12. Harpo was also, know this, Paul Revere. And Frankenstein, and Dracula, and Jane. Or would you say that I have gone insane? What would you do, then, to even the score? (Mazer)

13. Come, read to me a poem, Some simple and heartfelt lay, That shall soothe this restless feeling, And banish the thoughts of day. (Longfellow)

14. So Penelope took the hand of Odysseus, not to hold him back but to impress this peace on his memory: from this point on, the silence through which you move is my voice pursuing you. (Gluck)

15. Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so: From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow. (Donne)

16. I lost two cities, lovely ones. And vaster, Some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster. The art of losing isn’t hard to master. (Bishop)

17. Practice your beauty, blue girls, before it fail; And I will cry with my loud lips and publish Beauty which all our power will never establish, It is so frail. (Ransom)

“LET THINGS DARKEN AS THEY WILL” DUNN BATTLES DONNE

 
Can Dunn run with Donne?
In this contest—the penultimate First Round game as we round out things in the East—we have two monumental poems expounding iconic, monumental opposite beliefs and doing it so well that, at the end—and we find this so beautiful—both poems seem to be saying the same thing, if not quite agreeing with each other, then adding to each other in such a way, that ultimately, there is agreement.
But what a delicious war this is!
The 17th century Donne, devotional supplicant to love’s singularity.
The 21st century Dunn, with a shrug, putting on some music.
Yet, 21st century Dunn, in his way, is devotional, too, for isn’t the thing he obviously wants,  “you and me…here and now from here on in,” the same thing 17th century Donne not only wants, but gives us?
And if we disagree with Donne, there is nothing more for us, if we agree with Dunn—except less possibility for poetry—for Dunn, like all moderns, essentially surrenders to “random things out there,” that have no truck with poetry, for if we believe the moderns, whatever is “out there” is indifferent to us.
Further, the sort of thinking we do in poetry about what is “out there” has no reason to take place if indifference is truly the state of things.  And, further, if description of these “things out there” is sought, poetry, in terms of pure descriptiveness, falls short of the visual arts.
In spite of Dunn’s agnostic stance, the whole power of Dunn’s poem resides in the fact that he skillfully entertains what Donne embraces—the modern begs at the ancient, devotional table; the vignette of coming darkness at the end of Dunn’s poem is dependent on Dunn’s philosophical musing in the beginning, whether or not that musing is definitive, or not.
The poem—if we take ‘the poem’ seriously, depends upon an assumed philosophy, as well as an aesthetic (painterly, musical, sculptural, architectural) reality; the latter will usually crash if the former is not in place; mere babbling or scribbling is always possible, and there are even modern philosophies that support scribbling and babbling, but Donne is no special case: poetry is actually more beholden to Donne, than Donne to poetry; Dunn is real only in relation to Donne; all poetry is.  The world (see Donne) is far smaller than we think.
If the avant-garde doesn’t get this…well, that’s precisely why they need to puff themselves up with terminology such as: avant-garde.
We maintain that poetry is always poetry.
Dunn is speaking Donne’s language; the moderns, if they live at all, live in the past—all is one; Donne is right.
Donne’s “twas but a dream of thee” anticipates Dunn’s desire, if not his philosophy—of which he has none, save as it exists in Donne.
THE GOOD MORROW—John Donne
I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?
’Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.
 
And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love, all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.
 
My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp north, without declining west?
Whatever dies, was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.
HERE AND NOW—Stephen Dunn
There are words
I’ve had to save myself from,
like My Lord and Blessed Mother,
words I said and never meant,
though I admit a part of me misses
the ornamental stateliness
of High Mass, that smell        
 
       of incense. Heaven did exist,
I discovered, but was reciprocal
and momentary, like lust
felt at exactly the same time—
two mortals, say, on a resilient bed,
making a small case for themselves.        
      You and I became the words
I’d say before I’d lay me down to sleep,
and again when I’d wake—wishful
words, no belief in them yet.
It seemed you’d been put on earth
to distract me
from what was doctrinal and dry.
Electricity may start things,
but if they’re to last
I’ve come to understand
a steady, low-voltage hum        
      of affection
must be arrived at. How else to offset
the occasional slide
into neglect and ill temper?
I learned, in time, to let heaven
go its mythy way, to never again        
      be a supplicant
of any single idea. For you and me
it’s here and now from here on in.
Nothing can save us, nor do we wish
to be saved.        
        Let night come
with its austere grandeur,
ancient superstitions and fears.
It can do us no harm.
We’ll put some music on,
open the curtains, let things darken
as they will.
The “home crowd,” the “present,” clamors for the living poet, but John Donne defeats Stephen Dunn, 90-82

RENAISSANCE VERSUS MODERNISM IN A ROMANTICISM SMACK-DOWN!

Michael Drayton—a metaphysical poet never included with the Metaphysicals—takes on John Crowe Ransom

The sweet flower that was Romanticism (late 18th cent—early 19th cent, Amer Rev, French Rev, Napolean, Beethoven) has its roots in the Renaissance (and its Ancient Greek re-discovery) and throws its shade on 20th century Modernism, cooling many a tortured, modern brow. 

Michael Drayton, a courtly poet and Shakespeare contemporary, who is easily as metaphysical as Donne, drew his love-metaphysics from Dante and Petrarch by way of Plato, and indulged in it so wonderfully, he may have put this type of poetry to rest forever. 

We are not sure why Drayton—born 10 years before Donne—never gets included with the so-called “Metaphysical Poets.”  We are just stupid not to cast a wider net.  T.S. Eliot, with his friend Ezra Pound, in the name of a narrow Modernist agenda, may be to blame.  The Modernists were often not so much critics as gerrymanderers. 

If you want metaphysical paradox, read Michael Drayton.  Then you may talk to us about John Donne.

This is Drayton’s most anthologized poem, and perhaps his least metaphysical one.

THE PARTING—Michael Drayton

SINCE there ‘s no help, come let us kiss and part–
Nay, I have done, you get no more of me;
And I am glad, yea, glad with all my heart,
That thus so cleanly I myself can free.
Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows,
And when we meet at any time again,
Be it not seen in either of our brows
That we one jot of former love retain.
Now at the last gasp of Love’s latest breath,
When, his pulse failing, Passion speechless lies,
When Faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
And Innocence is closing up his eyes,
   –Now if thou wouldst, when all have given him over,
   From death to life thou might’st him yet recover.

We have always admired this popular poem: the firm, mono-syllabic “Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part—Nay, I have done, you get no more of me; and I am glad, yea, glad with all my heart,” dissovling, finally in the hopeful, wavering of “yet recover” is wonderful. 

Great poems, in how they sound and in how they talk, and in how they simultaneously picture things, are like dreams, and this one resembles a dream.

Its Modernist counter is John Crowe Ransom’s, the poem we think is his best; often anthologized, “The Blue Girls.”

THE BLUE GIRLS—John Crowe Ransom
 
Twirling your blue skirts, travelling the sward
Under the towers of your seminary,
Go listen to your teachers old and contrary
Without believing a word.
 
Tie the white fillets then about your hair
And think no more of what will come to pass
Than bluebirds that go walking on the grass
And chattering on the air.
 
Practice your beauty, blue girls, before it fail;
And I will cry with my loud lips and publish
Beauty which all our power shall never establish,
It is so frail.
 
For I could tell you a story which is true;
I know a woman with a terrible tongue,
Blear eyes fallen from blue,
All her perfections tarnished — yet it is not long
Since she was lovelier than any of you.
 
No matter what one thinks of John Crowe Ransom, this poem is a masterpiece—an array of characters is presented: “bluebirds, blue girls, teachers old and contrary,” the poet with “loud lips” who will “publish Beauty, Beauty itself that is “so frail,” and then, when the stage has been filled in a mere 12 lines, the final stanza packs a wallop and unites all in one more character: “a woman with a terrible tongue, blear eyes fallen from blue.” 
 
It is with a beautiful poignance that the poet finally celebrates the “woman” over the “blue girls,” with the magnificent final line,  “Since she was lovelier than any of you.”
 
Ransom moves on, defeating Drayton, 72-69!
 
 
 
 

IS ORIGINALITY POSSIBLE?

THERE IS NOTHING THAT GOD HATH ESTABLISHED IN A CONSTANT COURSE OF NATURE, AND WHICH THEREFORE IS DONE EVERY DAY, BUT WOULD SEEM A MIRACLE, AND EXERCISE OUR ADMIRATION, IF IT WERE DONE BUT ONCE.   –JOHN DONNE

But we’re bored with nature, John Donne!

Much have we advanced, since you wrote those words in the 17th century, John Donne!  Miracles that are man-made now compete with nature’s miracles, and nature’s apologists are now so numerous and well-funded that, combined with unsettling urban noise and technological advance, unspoiled nature has come to be appreciated as a miracle by the chattering classes, except for Woody Allen, who still prefers New York. There is no need for us to feel the miraculous properties of nature’s God, we are so overwhelmed by it on so many levels.  Many, in  our modern, rat-race, hustle-bustle world, only experience the glories of nature “but once,” so caught up are they in myriad anxieties and responsibilities, John Donne!  Your point is well-taken, but I’m afraid it’s obsolete.  You can’t imagine how Romanticism has undermined your epigraph with its focus on the beauties of nature, children, social outcasts, and the strange.

And if you only knew, John Donne, how Modernism, rejecting the sublime, and fixating on the trivial, has made the obscurity of “but once” it’s religion!

But here’s another question, John Donne: what is the difference between what happens, and what happens to you?  If we knew the answer to this, love and God and the universe would all be explained.

Your “but once,” John Donne, might hold a clue; for we would know the difference between “what happens” and “what happens to you” if it “happened but once.” If it “happened but once,” it would happen to you—otherwise it happens—the hidden miraculous “constant course of nature”—to everybody.

But what is happening “but once?”  The universe, as we know it, our life, as we know it, has unfolded, and is unfolding “but once.”  What part needs to happen “but once” for us to be amazed?  What moment or place needs to be occupied with the “miracle?”  No, John Donne!  You have it all wrong!  It is precisely the never-ending “constant course of nature” which is the miracle!  No “miracle” could occur if it were so far from the context of the “constant course of nature”—that it would happen “but once!”

Originality, then: what is it?

Have we come closer to defining originality, that holy grail of every artist?  If it happens “but once,” is it then yours and it then “seems a miracle” and, hence, it is original, novel, unique?

Or is the very opposite true?  Originality participates in the ongoing “constant course of nature; originality finds its identity in the largest and most fluid possible context in order to exist?

For we must ask, Original what?  What is original?  And, in order to be original, we must ask: how?  How, in a dynamic and far-reaching manner, is it original?  And, most important, how specifically, is it original?

In the same manner, we need to ask what is miraculous?  The sun up in the sky, happening “but once?”  But what is the sun?  Is it in the sky, and what is the sky? What is that bright light?  How do I know it’s miraculous if there’s no context?

Only “in a constant course of nature,” to provide a context, can we have the miraculous, or the original.

The critic, poet, and inventor of detective fiction and science fiction, Edgar Poe, felt that novelty was essential to composition, and  appreciation of novelty was a crucial element of morality.  Insanity obsesses and repeats; originality, like freshness, defines mental health.  Let the body do the same things over and over, the heart beating as steadily as the sun rising every morning.  But let the brain be boiling over with the new!

Many claim originality lacks learning and range.  After all, to the naive, everything seems new.  How do we know if the original is illusory, based entirely on our ignorance? How do we know if something is really new? The original can only be felt by other minds; we’ll never know if a song is new if we only sing it to ourselves alone.  But this all agrees with our former point: originality, to exist, needs learning and range, needs a broad context, needs the “constant course of nature.”

And so originality cannot exist without a public.  The new must come out of the old, since the public—which the original author must appeal to—is both habitual and excitable, old in its very existence, but forever longing for the new.

If the new is healthy, it doesn’t matter if naive members of the public don’t appreciate new forms and ideas as new; the naive merely reap the benefits of that which they are unaware, like a child who eats his greens, not knowing why they are good for him.  The public, by definition, will always be naive to a certain extent, but this shouldn’t stop the artist from seeking to be original in their eyes.

The Modernist avant-garde artist who appeals only to his ‘knowing’ comrades, is, therefore, not original in the highest sense, for if novelty and public mental health (to put it very crudely) are linked, mere license practiced among a few fails to pass the test of true novelty.

As one might expect, the neo-classical age of 18th century England was obsessed with “the original.”

A glance at Edward Young’s “Conjectures on Original Compositions” (1759) quickly finds this comfort: originality can be a matter of degree; the literary accomplishments of the past may overwhelm us so that we moan, “there’s nothing new under the sun!” but being a little original is still meritorious.

Can it be, then, that originality is not the basis of the new work of art, but its adornment?   Then we have a rather wonderful paradox: the original, in art, though crucial, is merely an artificial addition to the fundamental cliche. Further, to strive to be wholly original creates nothing new, but merely chaos.

Kant, it is interesting to note, in his aesthetical focus on ‘the pleasing’ v. ‘the beautiful,’ does not acknowledge the question of originality at all.

Shakespeare’s teeming genius is often attributed to the fact that he didn’t fret over originality, stealing others’ plots for his dramas, for instance.  Following all that fretting about originality in the 18th century, the problem was “solved” in the 19th century—by democracy, as that political idea excited the popular mind.  Even in a delicately, modernist, aesthetic mind like Mallarme’s we see this demonstrated:

A high freedom has been acquired, the newest: I don’t see, and this remains my own intensely felt opinion, that anything that has been beautiful in the past has been eliminated, and I remain convinced that on important occasions we will always conform to the solemn tradition, that owes its prevalence to the fact that it stems from the classical genius; only, when what’s needed is a breath of sentiment or a story, there’s no call to disturb the venerable echoes, so we’ll look to do something else. Every soul is a melody, which needs only to be set in motion; and for that we each have our own flute or viola.

Only a misanthrope would scoff at the idea that every human face is new, and so we embrace Mallarme’s beautiful idea—but perhaps only up to a point, since nature produces a variety of offspring, but in the realm of artifice, some souls are more melodious—or more capable of making melodies—than others.

Originality is one of those profound subjects, like infinity, or the soul, which grows more elusive the more we examine it; yet if we devote ourselves to a certain unhurried speculation on the matter, the result is comfort, both poetic and strange.

WHY IS BILLY COLLINS POPULAR?

Because he’s classical. 

The world of literature is small, rounded by misty pre-history on one end, and mad post-modernism on the other, with Greeks and Romans and all their imitators, Donne, Pope, Shelley, Tennyson, and Eliot, in-between.

We sometimes kid ourselves that this iron limit doesn’t exist, but the true classicist knows it does, and is always resigned to this limit, and, placidly nursing the secret, learns quicker than his fellows, and does so with honor, and a smile.

The fickle modernist, proud of his infinite world, (here comes another boring, eye-lash intricacy) grinds his teeth at the classical popularity.

Horace, like Collins, wrote often of other poets—not passively, in mere manic, modernist, observation—but socially, playfully, and self-consciously, making the admiration a part of his own art:

Borne by strong winds, Pindar the Theban swan soars
high above, Antonious,  through the lofty realms
Of cloud: while I, in another fashion—
just like a small bee
sipping each sweet blossom of thyme and roving
through the thick groves, over the slopes of Tibur
rich with streams—so, cell upon cell, I labor
moulding my poems.

In Collins’ latest, “Memorizing ‘The Sun Rising’ By John Donne,” in November’s Poetry, classical tropes are on display: memorizing a well-known poem, engaging with the whole work (not a fragment), and assimilating that work optimistically, romantically, mystically, ecstatically:

Every reader loves the way he tells off
the sun, shouting busy old fool
into the English skies even though they
were likely cloudy on that seventeenth-century morning.

And it’s a pleasure to spend this sunny day
pacing the carpet and repeating the words,
feeling the syllables lock into rows
until I can stand and declare,
the book held closed by my side,
that hours, days, and months are but the rags of time.

But after a few steps into stanza number two,
wherein the sun is blinded by his mistress’s eyes,
I can feel the first one begin to fade
like sky-written letters on a windy day.

And by the time I have taken in the third,
the second is likewise gone, a blown-out candle now,
a wavering line of acrid smoke.

So it’s not until I leave the house
and walk three times around this hidden lake
that the poem begins to show
any interest in walking by my side.

Then, after my circling,
better than the courteous dominion
of her being all states and him all princes,

better than love’s power to shrink
the wide world to the size of a bedchamber,

and better even than the compression
of all that into the rooms of these three stanzas
is how, after hours stepping up and down the poem,
testing the plank of every line,
it goes with me now, contracted into a little spot within.

In a loving tribute to the Roman classical poets, Poets In A Landscape by the scholar and translator Gilbert Highet (d. 1978), we are told

“Except to schoolboys, the odes of Horace have been, for nearly two thousand years, one of the best-loved books of poetry ever written.  They are one of the few absolutely central and unchallengable classics in Latin and in the whole of western literature.  For many generations, a man was not considered educated unless he knew them.”

Highet also points out that to translate the complex music of Horace is impossible; the attempt to translate in an utterly faithful fashion crashes and burns; the best way to render Horace is to write like Collins, steadily, sincerely, and without fireworks.

Billy Collins is our Horace.  This is why he is popular.

Poetry’s popularity does not, and will never, derive from the experimental; poetry’s appeal springs from the classical; for the classical is not old, but  human.

And here, then, is the Donne poem, which (O! clever Collins!) is necessary for the Collins poem—which forever takes after the Donne:

BUSY old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run ?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beams so reverend, and strong
Why shouldst thou think ?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long.
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and to-morrow late tell me,
Whether both th’ Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou left’st them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, “All here in one bed lay.”

She’s all states, and all princes I ;
Nothing else is ;
Princes do but play us ; compared to this,
All honour’s mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus ;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere ;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere.

GALILEO’S SECRET: Where Do We Look When We Look At The Truth?

John Donne….….
..Look around?.………………..Look in?……………………………..Look out?

A lightly edited version of a real time discussion that took place right at the end of the original ‘watchdog’ website, Foetry.com. ‘Expatriate Poetis Christopher Woodman, the 70 year old poet who lives in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand and is active on Scarriet. Although ‘Monday Love’ posing as Scarriet’s ‘Thomas Brady has given permission to reprint his contribution to this dialogue, he prefers to remain (sort of…) anonymous.

Scarriet takes full reponsibility for the obscenity in this article, and understands that there will be many readers who won’t know where to look. We apologize for any offense given.

~

Dear Monday Love,
A few days ago you wrote, “If I want to convey to you right now some truth, I will do everything I can to put the argument before you as nakedly and clearly as I can possibly present it.”

There’s a poem I’ve been working on for some time—or rather, I should say the poem’s been working on me, so much so that when I read what you just wrote I immediately thought of the poem and wanted it to work on you too! Like this:

THE MEANING AND VALUE OF REPRESSION

………..Who’s this naked giant then
………………….peering in at your window

………..with the huge brown phallus
………………….pressed up against the pane,

………..the half-tumescent glans
………………….like some rude Cyclops’s tongue

………..or thick-set paleolithic fruit
………………….in puris naturabilis displayed

………..and mounted on the slippery
………………….slide the shocked members

………..gape at as their meals
………………….get laid upon the table?

………..He has no shame, this sly
………………….weighted thing towering

………..above the high tree tops—
………………….the great trunk of his gnarled

………..sex and trumpet foreskin
………………….making all the cultivated

………..thoughts that dine in private
………………….so much fast-food small-talk.

………..But oh, how the air out there
………………….shines attendant with delight,

………..hiking up those warm kirtled
………………….skirts to reveal Galileo’s secret

………..so profound only such obscene
………………….dimensions ever fathom it!

Posted by EXPATRIATE POET: Sat Feb 24, 2007 12:23 pm
_________________
(…yet still it moves!)

~

“Huge brown phallus pressed up against the pane”

Best image in poetry ever!

Posted by MONDAY LOVE: Sun Feb 25, 2007 9:16 am
_________________
Whisper and eye contact don’t work here.

~

But that’s not even the best image in the poem, so how could it be the best image in poetry ever?

I know I’m a fool, and I always rise to your bait, but now I’m thinking about what you said yesterday about Aimée Nezhukumatathil’s new book, Miracle Fruit.

Aimee N. definitely has it going on. Hot chick w/ erotic poems. Naughty, yet sensitive; sexy, yet learned; chatty, yet profound; worldly, yet academic; with her third-world traditionalist family hitting on her American singleness, freedom and sass. . . You go, girl!

But I predict she’ll get bored with the kind of chatty lyric she’s writing now. She’ll beat a hasty retreat towards more serious forms. The little dog will give way to twelve or thirteen kids, metaphorically speaking.

Dear Monday Love–you do such good work on this site, and we’re all so fortunate to have the chance to read so much of you–which goodness knows is certainly never dull! But much too often it’s your private Big Boy that gets dropped on our threads, and the ashes keep piling and piling up. Well, I’m an old man and I have no reputation at all, and partly for that reason you should listen to me. You can’t step on my toes because I don’t have any, it’s as simple as that, nor can you open my closet living as I do in a place that has none. But I’m serious about poetry all the same, and I can talk to you if you’ll listen.

And I say you not only have an issue with poetry but with girls!

That’s why I posted the poem for you, and not surprisingly you ignored the WOMAN in it altogether and chose rather to celebrate the PHALLUS–just like you poked fun at the girl!

I felt the woman in the poem was so overwhelmingly attractive and uncomplicated that she would have to illuminate you and quicken your being, that she would speak to who you were and where you were going. Now I begin to think you never let poets speak to you at all–even the dwindling handful you regard as o.k.

Because what I’ve never seen you do is listen to what a poem actually says that might be of value to you personally. You read with such disdain and critical detachment, almost as if you were judging a small town dog show that neglected to shovel up its poop. But even a common poem can talk to you, you know–it mustn’t be asked just to stand up on its hind legs and rhumba, or jump through a hoop to please you.

That’s what the little poem might have been trying to tell you, in fact–that like the average scientist you restrict yourself to the empirical evidence before you, as if the universe could tango without the human value that gives meaning to it.

Christopher

Posted by EXPATRIATE POET: Mon Feb 26, 2007 10:41 am
_________________
(…yet still it moves!)

~

Christopher,
I have no toes to step on either.

Do I have an “issue” with “girls?” Perhaps, I do. “Girls” is a big topic.

I loved Aimée’s poem. I summed up her schtick in a few words, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t dig it.

Also empirical evidence is all we have. The rest is speculation.

But I must say, I’m not good at riddles. What specific ‘evidence’ am I missing?

Monday
Posted by MONDAY LOVE: Mon Feb 26, 2007 8:48 pm
_________________
Whisper and eye contact don’t work here.

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