Image result for delmore schwartz

The peculiar error of the modern poets—an error so obvious as to escape attention—was the continual investigation of what it meant to be modern, a term by which these 20th century poets (our grandparents and great grandparents) felt they were somehow novel and special. If thinking about poetry has anything to do with writing it, the modern poets were the first poets forced to be something else (modern) first, and poets second.

The previous movement—Romanticism—was so named by later critics; the Romantic poets, as critically-minded as any aesthetic clique, never thought of themselves as “Romantic” poets. They wrote poetry. Modern poetry, it must have been, when they were alive.  Wordsworth, one of the so-called Romantic poets, and as different in sensibility from another Romantic poet, Byron, as one poet next to another can possibly be, was no revolutionary. Wordsworth strove to write like Milton—just less religiously; there was no “break” at all, in terms of the poetry. A poem was a poem, just as a sword was a sword, or a feeling was a feeling. Wordsworth may have felt he was writing closer to how regular folk talk—but looking back we now know that was just something his criticism said.

One will, of course, find critics who insist Wordsworth was a “break,” (Byron would have said Wordsworth—whom the author of “Don Juan” took delight in ridiculing—was “broken”) but these critics will be found to be the same ones who believe the “modern” describes poetry, if only to conveniently map out eras as a means of filling up teaching hours in the classroom, and helping their charges remember what they are studying in rough historical terms. Victorian poets wrote when Queen Victoria was on the throne. Modern poets wrote during the reign of some other queen. And so on. But we “moderns” know (because we are “modern?”) that “modern” means much more than that. It is so ripe with meaning that modern poets are only secondarily poets—in the sense that all poets who came before them were.

I don’t think one can ever go wrong as a poet to think deeply about what it means to be a poet; the modern, however—what is it?

Here’s Randall Jarrell in The Nation in 1942:

What has impressed everybody 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.

In his essay, “Poets Without Laurels,” (1938) John Crowe Ransom writes, “Modern poetry is pure poetry.” Just as the isolated skill of “statecraft” has replaced state and religion blended into one, poetry is no longer epic, religious, sweeping, but small, aesthetic, specialized. Just as Puritanism isolates morality from the old pomp of the Catholic Church and seals it up in the devotee’s heart, modern poetry isolates, as a special value, pure aesthetics from morality and everything else.

Robert Penn Warren in his lecture at Princeton in 1942, “Pure and Impure Poetry” wrestled with Ransom’s idea of modern poetry as “pure.” Context, for Warren, keeps interfering with purity, in the same way excess of feeling naturally brings on mockery—Ransom’s “purity” has porous borders; Eliot’s “objective correlative” demands Shelley’s love admit a desire for sex (loosely speaking); in order for the sex to remain hidden, however, poetry must be obscure; and so Modernist obscurity ascends the throne; Shelley and Poe’s poetry excludes the unpleasant, the ugly, the immoral; modern poetry, in its attempt to break with Romanticism (including Dryden, Milton, and Shakespeare) includes these things, includes the vulgar, includes whatever was once aesthetically left out. In order for the modern contradiction of inclusive, lyric “purity” to work, however, obscurity is required, unless one is prepared to advance past Shelley by introducing sex into one’s poems, which the Moderns were not willing to do.

Eliot, in “Hamlet and his Problems” calls Hamlet a failure because Hamlet’s “disgust” with his mother (she is having sex with his uncle) isn’t handled properly.

I began this essay by referring to the modern poets’ “error,” unnoticed due to its obvious nature; and here it is.

The attachment of “modern” to poetry obscures and distracts from the poetry—in the very same manner that obscurity itself is the chief problem of modernist poetry (Jarrell’s “I like poetry—but not modern poetry” self-consciously expresses this public distaste).

And why is modern poetry obscure?

Ransom’s modernist, art for art’s sake, division of labor, puritanical evolution in the direction of “purity” ran headlong into Poe’s narrow and practical definition—the inevitable, self-conscious, progressive, boiling down of the essential nature of the poem as Critical object in Lord Bacon’s laboratory.

Trapped by the exclusionary nature of the pure lyric poem, which had been freed from its old epic duties as historian and moral story teller, the Romantic lyric is the inescapable reality facing the “revolutionary” Modern.

In the early 20th century, a desperate gambit followed—make the uneasy purity of the modern lyric a product which includes, rather than excludes, all things which are not poetic, or beautiful, or traditionally aesthetic.

But to arrive at purity by including all sorts of things is impossible. Therefore exclusion had to be practiced (the soul of all art is exclusion) in such a way as to somehow pretend inclusion (sex accompanying love, disgust accompanying restraint, confusion accompanying focus, laughter accompanying sorrow) and you have the modern poets practicing something impossible to pull off, with obscurity the natural result.  This was, and is, modern poetry.

To be lyric, clear, Romantic, beautiful is to go back. Modern meant forward, out of the trenches of Poe, into the arms of everything—which, by its inclusive nature, ruins pure poetry, the old pure poetry which excludes.

Like the beautiful English poets, who almost to a man, ran headlong into the Great War of 1914, poetry, in the same historical instant, ran into the arms of insanity, busyness, mockery, excess, obscurity, unease, the mundane, pain, ugliness, and death.

We arrive now at Delmore Schwartz and his essay “The Isolation of Modern Poetry.”

In his essay, published in John Crowe Ransom’s Kenyon Review in 1941, Schwartz is certain that the poet is isolated from modern society. Not because, as T.S. Eliot says, modern society is complex and therefore modern poetry needs to be complex, and therefore difficult, and therefore the modern poet is likely to be misunderstood—Schwartz finds this relationship “superficial.”

Mr. Eliot is seldom superficial in any regard; here, however, I think he is identifying the surface of our civilization with the surface of our poetry. But the complexity of modern life, the disorder of the traffic on a business street or the variety of reference in the daily newspaper is far from being the same thing as the difficulties of syntax, tone, diction, metaphor, and allusion which face the reader in the modern poem.

If only Delmore had spent the entire essay confuting Mr. Eliot!  His essay might have unlocked many anti-Modernist insights.  Those who hate Eliot for vague reasons—too English, too Anglican, too stuffy—are wrong, but those who find Eliot invincible in his judgments are dangerously wrong. Good to see Delmore wasn’t afraid of taking on the master.

But Schwartz goes on to say a similar thing: modern society doesn’t care for poetry; the poet’s isolation, therefore, is extreme.  Schwartz doesn’t blame people, but society.  Bankers and insurance salesmen cannot like poetry—the way they make their living prohibits it.

The fundamental isolation of the modern poet began not with the poet and his way of life; but rather with the whole way of life of modern society. It was not so much the poet as it was poetry, culture, sensibility, imagination, that were isolated.

After rebuking Eliot, Schwartz goes on for the rest of the essay to entirely agree with him.  Poetry, as Schwartz points out, is not the same as a busy street. Eliot is too blase, is what Schwartz is saying. Complex life, complex poetry. But Schwartz sees a much deeper problem. The complexity of modern life does not provide new material for the poet (Eliot’s rather optimistic view) but rather obliterates all connections between ordinary people caught up in that complexity and the poet who wishes to communicate with those modern readers. According to Schwartz:

There have been unsuccessful efforts on the part of able poets to write about bankers and about railroad trains, and in such examples the poet has been confronted by what seems on the surface a technical problem, the extraordinary difficulty of employing poetic diction, meter, language, and metaphor in the contexts of modern life.

Delmore then gives us the example of Wallace Stevens:

At the conclusion of his reading of his own poetry, this poet and business man remarked to one of the instructors who had welcomed him: “I wonder what the boys at the office would think of this.”

But this seems as superficial as T.S Eliot’s point about modern life forcing the modern poet to be “difficult.”  Why do we assume “the boys in the office” cannot like poetry?

Modern life impacts all persons—and a poet is a person. No matter how different life or society has become, the poet experiences society in the same ocean of experience as everyone else, no matter what kind of “poet” he is; for the materials the poet uses is under discussion when we talk about banks and trains.  The poet of ancient Greece, or the poet of any society at any point in history, has a duty to speak to other members of society—otherwise what kind of poet is he?  If he chooses to write about banks and trains, or not, he still will be understood as a poet—for when he rebuked TS Eliot, this was exactly his point—poetry is not the same as banks and trains.

Schwartz is saying modern life is far more than a busy street.  It is far worse.  Modern life is not merely more complex.  It kills the soul, is really what Schwartz is saying.  But unfortunately, this is nothing but hyperbole.  The soul is forever doing battle with life—modern or not.

If the whole of society has succumbed to the not-poetic, then society is isolated from itself, and everyone is afflicted, not just the poet.

Either the poet’s modern audience is similarly affected, or not.

If not, the poet needs to bridge the gap—with poetry—that’s what poets do and why we call it poetry. (And write anguished essays about how poetry has flown and the poet is isolated.) In ancient times, or now.

And if the poet’s audience is similarly afflicted, then wherefore the “isolation?”

Is it because most of society finds insurance firms attractive and the poet does not? Of course not; we must assume a thread of humanity connecting poet and audience re: the non-poetic aspect of insurance firms. No one finds insurance firms attractive.

Schwartz also brings up money. Insurance firms make money and poetry does not, and therefore the poet is ashamed, of no worth, pitied, and therefore isolated, by society. But imagine if Keats were born to a fortune. He would not be Keats. Poetry is so valuable—as to be like money in the fortune it bestows upon its worshipers, but it is not money—does not belong to exchange—otherwise it would not be wealthy in what it is: poetry, which is not, but which rivals, the good fortune of money. What Schwartz is doing is feeling sorry for himself, and using society (which isolates him, the poet) as the excuse—and the transferring of the self-pity (in a Marxist sort of way) into a philosophy, which, in the long run, only makes the individual feel worse, because the self-pity grows in an abstract (disguised) manner.

Therefore, the “difficulty,” or the “famous obscurity” of modern poetry, as Schwartz calls it, is because the modern poet writes not from a common place shared by modern society (banks, insurance firms) but from the poet’s own peculiar, eccentric, isolated self, pushed into a corner by the massively complex (agreeing with Eliot more than he realizes) and non-poetic aspects of modern life.

Again, however: if the society lacks poetry (hasn’t it always?) it follows that poetry must be dearly desired in every quarter.

Poetry, we must assume, is good, is happiness, (since isolating it is bad) and happiness is what modern society lacks (surely the poet doesn’t wish misery on anyone in the name of poetry). The insurance salesman, lacking poetry, needs it, and no amount of enforced, self-pitying, isolationism will possibly be able to provide poetry to the insurance salesman.

Either poetry is being stamped out, and therefore is more necessary than ever, or modern society is inventing different means of delivering poetry without poets themselves being necessary (at least not the self-defeating, bad poets).

In order to prove that the poet was once fully integrated into society, Schwartz provides a few dubious examples: the ancient drama “festivals” which were the talk of the ancient town. But surely this was the ancient equivalent of Hollywood, not poetry in the modern sense. And who thinks of “festivals” as steady poetry employment which earns a living, anyway?

He claims “the Bible” was once the common picture for society at large, until it was eclipsed in the 18th and the 19th centuries by science and Darwin. But shouldn’t this be good news for the poets, who get a chance to replace the priests?

He mentions Blake as one of the first modern rebels, ushering in the new “obscurity” of poetry no longer able to rely on the Bible. But what could be less obscure than the “Tyger” or “Songs of Innocence?”

Schwartz then comes to Baudelaire, the poet who espouses the poetry of clouds, art for art’s sake, the modern poet refusing to write of heroic or “respectable” things, an orphan, cut off from family and all things universal, since with the fall of the Bible, follows the fall of Man. But here Delmore is applying rope to the “helpless” poet—when we know it is precisely poetry which unties all ropes.

Delmore thinks poetry isn’t free, since he applies “modern” to both society and poetry.

But this is a knot easily broken by anyone not ready to embrace the self-pity which insists “modernity” is finally the fate of every poet who ever lived.


Shelley: He studied Greek.  We study to not be like him.

All poems have plain structures and superstructures. The plain structure is the repeating process of the poem’s sound.Repetition is the essence of all movement, whether it is a series of numbers, putting one foot in front of the other in the act of running or walking, the rotation of wheels, orbits, revolutions, or the reflection of the tree in the lake.

Poems do not move if they do not repeat; the plain structure makes the movement interesting or pleasurable, and on the plain level these two terms are interchangable.

Any series of words repeat and move; the meaning of the words create the superstructure. A series of zeros has a plain structure but no superstructure, and yet a series of zeros has meaning in mathematics. Repetition itself is meaningful. A series of zeros mistaken for ‘ohs’ has sound.

Nothing repeated is something.

Repetition is meaningful, since it is meaningful to repeat something three times rather than twice. Shelley and Emerson have both pointed out that a word can be poetry and this is because of repetition, since repeating letters create a word, a one-letter word such as “O” is automatically repeated as a sound, a single word repeats meanings etymologically, and so on.

Since language has its very essence from repetition, how does a poem emerge out of language, since language is already poetry?

The answer to this question is contained in the word emerge; since a poem cannot emerge out of language, the only way it can be a poem is if it is a poem before it is language. The poem must appeal to an advanced sensibility. The primitive essence, repetition, belongs to language first, so traveling in that direction (toward the primitive) will not help.

The only way to find the poem is to ask how we escape language.

How can the poem repeat in a non-linguistic manner?  How can it beat its divine drum? The answer is: rhythm.

The poem must have rhythm, since rhythm transcends mere repetition. Nature prefers simple repetition. The sun does not dance in the sky, a runner does not dance; if we saw the sun moving in a herky-jerky manner, we would know something was terribly wrong; a dancing runner wastes energy; dancing is not running.

The sun and planets do dance, but only when observed over great time and distance. The discovery that planetary orbits were not round but stretched out and Kepler’s guess at the reason is how the dance of the cosmos is observed, or when a certain chess-piece arrangement is played forward and backward in a patterned unfolding of a particular game in a player’s mind; in these examples we see how recurrance escapes itself, we see how a poem might escape its linguistic chains. The essence of language must give way to something higher even as it remains present as what it is.

How we distinguish poem from language determines what kind of poet and critic we are, and here we note the difference between poet and critic: the poet must find the difference between language and poem—the critic the difference between one poem and another. The poet works vertically, the critic, horizontally;  ideally, both work in both directions.

To speak even more broadly, Man’s comic/tragic life can be defined as a series of exceptions to nature.  We are not nature, but exceptions to it. Primitive nature, the more observed, surprises us, as it becomes more like the human, filled with exceptions to itself—and here is the essence of theology and science.

The first critics of poetry observed grammar. Students learned Greek or Latin grammar and poetry together, which seem tedious to creative writing students today, but there was a method to that madness; grammar, with its numerous exceptions, was how linguistics first escaped from its primitive repeating structure into reasoning speech. ‘Repeat here, but not here’ is how repetition itself is first transcended. Punctuation was the first wall poets built. Ancient critics and students slaved, while the glory was reserved for Homer, who covered their walls with dream.  The poet’s transcendental dreaming was directly proportional to grammatical labor on the critic/student’s part. 

The moderns have managed to reverse this process: critics don’t study grammar, but different tastes in different eras, and meanwhile the students study to be poets in the ‘new way,’ and this ‘way’ (conformist, even as it advertises itself as non-conformist) seeks to transcend not language, but grammar.

Quantum physics observes the universality of measures like mass, but also its exceptions—your weight on Mars is different from your weight on earth.

The moderns lost interest in universals; they chiefly observed differences of place and time, like weights on different planets:

Ezra Pound: “the 19th century is mannered and sentimentalistic…”

T.S. Eliot: “But while the language became more refined, the feeling became more crude. The sentimental age began early in the eighteenth century and continued.”

John Crowe Ransom: “the modern poet could accomplish just as elegant a rumination [of Byron] but knows this would commit him to an anachronism…”

What is the quantum of poetry?

We are still discovering it.

Your move.


The fascist, anti-Semite Pound: Born in the 19th century, he made sure the 20th was not sentimental.

Did the whole edifice of popular poetry come crashing down in the 20th century because of one word?

Sentimental is everything the Moderns and neo-Moderns despise.  It refers to the mawkish, the muddled, the old-fashioned, the old.  It is “Official Verse Culture.”  It is “Quietism.”  It is Edgar Guest.  It is Billy Collins. It is everything every self-respecting academic poet wishes to avoid.  Better to be hopelessly obscure—like John Ashbery—than be sentimental.

Sentimental is the kiss of death.

But sentimental is also a word that implies so much that is good, so much that has been trampled on in the Modernist stampede: beauty, refinement, deep feeling, sensitivity, openness, curiosity, reflectiveness, even genius evinced by Romantic and Victorian poets—and countless poets of previous eras.

A peek into the OED tells a fascinating story.

Not long ago, sentimental did mean all those things.  It was not a pejorative, but the highest praise one could give to another.

No wonder we were always confused by the terms of Schiller’s great study, Uber Naive und Sentimentalsche Dichtung, On Naive and Sentimental Poetry (1795), an important work more Wordsworth than Wordsworth, more Coleridge than Coleridge—and appearing before Lyrical Ballads.  Today sentimentality is equated with naivety, but in Schiller’s work, and in the Romantic era, and well into the 19th century, these terms were opposites.

The  meaning of sentimental changed gradually throughout the 19th century and really only came into its current usage during the Pound era.

“As for the nineteenth century,‥I think we shall look back upon it as‥a rather sentimentalistic, mannerish sort of a period.”  –Ezra Pound, 1912


Yes, it’s in the OED.  Pound did not make it up. 

There can only be one reason why Pound, the modernist, in attacking the 19th century, used ‘sentimentalisitic:’ sentimental still had some good  meaning left in it, and Pound did not want to be misunderstood.  Pound, like his partner in Crime, Eliot, hated the sentiment and beauty of the 19th century—the Romantics.

It seems the change began with Rousseau, the first Liberal, who began attacking the “sentimental classes,” those with refined feelings—in other words, the rich.

The tragic fall of sentimental was a gradual Leftist assault on a word rich with positive and complex meaning, and the Pound clique, though mainly fascist and right-wing, was all too happy to continue the assault on a word that had very recently denoted refinement, feeling, and beauty. As we all know, in the 20th century, the far left and the far right eventually meet: Futurists, Fascists, Communists, and Modernists were all happy to destroy the 19th century meaning of sentimental.

Killers of sentiment and beauty, whether it be the anti-poet WC Williams or his colleague, Pound, don’t finally care what side of the political spectrum they are on.

Sentimentalistic, indeed.


March Madness has been a study as much as it has been an intoxication; the New Critics erred in thinking the emotive and the cognitive could not be combined; of course they can, by any astute critic (Poe is a shining example, who the New Critics, from Pound to Eliot to Warren to Winters to Brooks to Wimsatt carefully ignored or played down.). The New Critics made no satisfactory criticism; they merely introduced mumbo-jumbo, mere terms, such as paradox, ambiguity, irony and symbol and nothing about it was original or coherent, it was finally nothing but mumbo-jumbo for the self-elected priesthood.

The professional priest will lord it over the mere amateur, but such religious hierarchies do not belong in poetry, not artificially, anyway; Letters is not science, but finally morality for the many, and this is the ugly, primitive secret which the sophisticated modernist Oxford erudite fop dare not face.

……………………………………………………………..………….Thomas Brady


………..The Lord in His wisdom made the fly
………..And then forgot to tell us why.

……………                        ………                      …………Ogden Nash


The paradox here lies not in the fly or in the Lord’s wisdom but in what a poem can say that ordinary language can’t. You don’t need Pound, Eliot, Warren or Winters, or anyone from Oxford for that matter, to help you out with that, or even a High School diploma. Indeed, “The Night Before Christmas” is loaded with paradox, as is Pooh’s poetry, the Beatles, nursery rhymes, limericks and gospel. You can laugh or cry as much as you like, but still you can’t say what it  is without saying what it isn’t.

The ambiguity in this poem lies in the absurdity that gets to the very heart of what bothers human beings about life, the complexities of it – how a creature so indispensable to the health of the planet should be so small, for example, yet so insistent, fickle, and in your face, so disgusting yet impossible to swat.

The irony lies in the fact that the Lord in His wisdom forgot to tell us just about everything, and even when the scientist has done his or her very best to remedy that, and even shown us photos of the fly’s eyes and cultivated its filth in a petri dish so we could actually see the link between flies and disease, and then gone on to save lives by cleansing wounds with maggots, we still can’t decide who we are. And then along comes poetry, of all crazy stuff, and tells us!

Love hurts. Grief heals. The meek inherit the earth.

As to symbols, there are none in this poem in the usual sense. Indeed, symbols are rare in poetry worth reading because the whole idea of poetry is to rewrite the comfortable shorthands, cultural icons and codes we depend on. Indeed, when poetry is most effective even the symbols come off the rails, so to speak, and wreck our understanding of everything. For a moment we just have to stop — my God, my God, what is it?

Take the Rose in William Blake’s poem, “O Rose Thou Art Sick,” for example, or the Tiger in “Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bright.” Only beginners talk about either as “symbols,” because the moment you think you know what they mean you’re lost. You lose the thread, you lose the argument, you lose your soul to the facts already stuck in your head. And you can’t move on.

Symbols are for simpletons, not for Ogden Nashes!

Had Ogden Nash written a whole series of poems about flies, as Yeats did about towers, for example, then we might want to consider “why” in a broader sense, and “the fly” might even be considered a symbol in the little poem above. And hey, why not? Life’s too complex not to accept what little help we can get from the way we human beings use language!

But we don’t need a Professional Priesthood for that, though sometimes we get one, boo hoo. Then abuses do follow, and yes, we do get Reformers, Counter-reformers, New Critics, Anti-new-critics, Pound-profs or Poe-profs or Flat-earthers, you name it.

Fortunately,  most of us move on with the baby still in our arms and not lying there blue on the floor with the bathwater.

Most of us also examine our lives in privacy too, I might add, even if we also love frisbee and beer. And the best poetry, of course, remains private in public.

Christopher Woodman


The old hand-carved Goethanum in Dornach, Switzerland, destroyed by fire in 1923.

Bhanu Kapil,
Quite seriously, we do appreciate your noticing, and hope you’ll feel free to come in whenever you think either we’ve lost it or got something worthwhile on the hook. We’ve treated you harshly, for sure, but schools of poetry have never been nice to each other, and if you think about it we’re cheerleaders compared to the axe men operating in the poetry rags at the time of John Keats or E.A.Poe, or even fearful little hatchet men like Travis.

But you are making heavy going of it on Harriet, for sure, and you and your friends are emerging as not only conservative but passé!

Here’s a huge historical parallel to back up that statement.

Goethe emerged as a giant of almost everything at the beginning of the 19th Century, and changed forever the western perception of composition and color. Indeed, his seminal input altered the whole thrust of European art away from delineation, representation, and order toward a shimmering new spiritual dimension. As an example, even architecture moved away from it’s right-hand man, the right angle, an unnatural design element that had up to that point lifted human structures out of nature, up over the trees, and was preparing it for the modern skyscraper. The Goethe impulse softened up the right angle so that organic forms began to appear in every detail from the leafy scrolls on your mirror to the early round box for your radio — i.e. Art Deco.

But that came much later.

In the latter part of his own century, Goethe’s impulse reached a kind of apotheosis in the work of the Austrian scientist and philosopher, Rudolf Steiner. Initially entrusted with the formation of the Goethe Archives, a huge task, he was secretly working late hours down in the stacks as a closet-theosophist. And when he came out and published “Knowledge of Higher Worlds,” he utterly astonished everyone at the time, and his movement became the cutting edge for thinkers — recently we had occasion to link Yeats with Aleister Crowley through The Golden Dawn, for example, all part and parcel. Steiner’s own most “modern” of movements came to be called Anthroposophy, but today most people have never even heard of it.

Except for the schools, Waldorf Schuler, which still remain a viable alternative in most Germanophone communities and are right at this moment enjoying a huge new interest in the U.S. — even if the architecture is embarrassing.

And to be sure, even for contemporary followers, some aspects of this movement are intensely embarrassing because the fundamental design elements now look very much like kitsch! The aversion to the right angle in the architecture and furniture of the 30s, for example, that’s just retro. And what started out as the philosophical and religious cutting edge, Spiritual Science, now smacks of sceances, table rappings, and conjuring up previous lives — and the art just says “Art Deco.”

With all due respect, you and your friends are the same, Bhanu — like Anthroposophists you and your “post-modernist” colleagues, or whatever you call yourselves now, are convinced you’re the contemporary cats whisker whereas in reality you’re just a backwater. Yes, you’re starting to look just as dated, naive and parochial as Steiner’s most noble edifice, the Goetheanum!

Pacé Goethe and Steiner, great men who took great risks but in the long run failed to lead the revival they were so sure they were heralding, largely because of the slavish imitation of their followers. Pacé your Modernist ancestors in the same way, a few of whom were great too but who you’re now dragging down into the mire of repetition, absurdity and oblivion.

You’re movement is already a footnote, and in the poetry eyes of the world a very brief and silly one.

And with a beautiful name like you’ve got, Bhanu Kapil, you’ve likely got some models of sublime artistic endurance in your heritage. How could you opt for something so limited, as if “new” meant better?

What’s happened to your superior philosophy of the unimaginable dimensions of time?


The stanza is the aria of poetry.  If the line zings, the stanza sings.  The stanza is poetry’s true voice, where the poet displays not just melody, but harmony, as well.

The stanza presents not just an image, but an image moving into another.

The stanza is the line out for a spin on the racetrack.

The stanza is the line on the dance floor, the line proposing marriage.

The stanza is the beginning, the middle and the end of the meal.

If a line is a puff, the stanza is the whole cigarette.

If the line skitters, the stanza is the release, the fall, and the landing.

The stanza is the full-length portrait of Painting, the torso of Sculpture, the pillar, the room, of Architecture.

We like poets of the line.  We study poets of the poem.  We  worship poets of the stanza.

Lines can be dropped into letters or conversations or prose.  Stanzas raise the curtain on the muses.

Lines are bites.  Stanzas are plans.

The art of the stanza takes many forms.  It can beat a folk tune in 4/4 time:

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness :
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find ;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas ;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.

………………………………Andrew Marvell

Or, it can sound almost symphonic:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.’

……………………………………………………..Edgar Allan Poe

The most remarkable stanzas have a unique design, and are more than simply couplets joined together.

The line exists as a unit of sound/meaning.

The stanza, though it has more parts, and can be pedantically categorized (tercet, quatrain, ballad stanza, Ottava Rima, Spenserian, etc) exists independently as a unit of sound/meaning, as well.

We might say that the “free verse” revolution of the 20th century was not so much a joyous act of freedom as it was an anxious flight from the stanza.

The poetic line did not become important in a vacuum; the shackles were real, and those shackles?

The stanza.

The sociological explanation invariably ignores this, equating ‘old’ poetry with ‘old’ times and ‘new’ or ‘modern’ poetry with ‘new’ or ‘modern’ times.  But this is to push history aside for a vain celebration of the present.

The ‘modern’ poets were not celebrating the ‘modern,’ for the poems never know if they are ‘modern,’ or not.  The poems only know what they are as poems, in terms of line and stanza.

A poem can never say it is modern in a way that history will be convinced.

In the middle of the 19th century, with the rise of prose fiction and prose journalism, poetry was poised to improve on the stanza.   Poe’s ‘Raven’ was a sensation as music, with its unique stanza.   Poe was once accused of stealing his stanza-idea from Coleridge, but Poe said in his defense that the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner’s” stanza was different in 19 ways, and—we doubt that anyone is surprised—Poe listed every one.

Poe understood (oh that rascal understood everything) that with the rise of prose (Poe was leading the charge with short fiction, essay, prose poem, science fiction and detective fiction) poetry had only technique to save it and the stanza was the key to poetic technique.

Poe saw the tidal wave of prose coming.

Some modern poets pondered protection in houses of stanza and thought, “No way.  This tidal wave’s too big.”

Many modern poets built their poems on sand, and others, rather than be drowned by prose, tried to breathe in prose.

The poets turned into fish.

And drowned anyway.

Is it surprising that the poets most popular in the 20th century, such as Dylan Thomas, Millay, Frost, and Plath, were adept at the stanza?

Millay’s marvelous sonnets—what are these but stanzas?

Plath’s “Daddy” has one of the most original and interesting stanza schemes ever produced.


l. to r. Tate, Brooks, Warren, Ransom, Davidson.

These guys didn’t start a financial crisis, they merely robbed us of our poetry for most of a hundred years.

The college and HS textbook which introduced Ezra Pound’s brand of poetry to millions of American students, Understanding Poetry, first edition, 1938, was authored by Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks, colleagues of John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate, the American wing of Pound, Ford Madox Ford and T.S.Eliot’s European/Bloomsbury coterie.

Ransom, in an essay published when this ubiquitous textbook, Understanding Poetry, first hit the shelves, asked for an expert-ism developed in the academy to teach the new ‘modern’ poetry—which had not caught on with the public in its 25 years of existence.  Allen Tate founded a poetry writing department at Princeton at this time, and R.P Blackmur, a member of the coterie, would teach there.   The launching of the textbook Understanding Poetry by two old members of Ransom’s Fugitive clique showed  that all cylinders were firing in Modernist Poetry’s  engine.  Paul Engle, Yale Younger Poets Prize winner (judge: Fugitive clique member) was  poised to make Iowa the flagship of the Writing Program Era with his phenomenal fundraising abilities.

In their preface to Understanding Poetry, Brooks & Warren define poetry as “knowledge” and a “process” of “dramatic” expression, as  opposed to a “statement” or a “message.”  “Form” is the vehicle, according to the authors, which bypasses mere “statement” or “message” and carries the poem’s “meaning.”

The problem here is the authors never define “knowledge.”

What if “message” happens to be part of what the authors refer to as “knowledge?”   The authors famoulsly wish to exclude “the paraphrasable” as the important germ of the poem in a kind of Romantic gesture against poetry of mere ornamental prose, but here we see modernism, or more specifically, New Criticism, borrowing a mystical strain which is highly dubious.  No important writer before modernism ever rejected content, or, “the paraphrasable,” as a tool.  In fact, the less ornamental and the more substantive a poem is, the more it can withstand analysis which uses the paraphrase as a descriptive tool.  Brooks and Warren, with their paternal concern that the paraphrase will spoil the poet, spoil him more, since not having the  paraphrase allows for an infinite amount of mischief, while using it is an incentive to go beyond the ornamental— without feeling the need to reject it altogether.

“The knowledge that poetry yields is available to us only if we submit ourselves to the massive, and subtle impact of the  poem as a whole.”   —from the Preface

The “massive” religious and pedantic fervor of the authors is felt at once.   It is nearly Wagnerian.

Only if we submit ourselves to the massive…

But why should we submit?

Here is the far less hyperbolic alternative. We peruse the poem, and if we do not immediately and involuntarily feel its pull, the poem has failed, and we need not blame and curse ourselves in a hocus-pocus manner because we did not “submit” to the poem’s “massive” scope. This is the proper and sensual standard of criticism. Brooks & Warren ask for something else; these New Critical priests demand submission to the wishes of the car salesman poet. But the “whole” will move us if the first part of the poem move us, and if the first part fails to interest us, the “whole” fails, too–no matter how “massive” and “subtle” Brooks and Warren tell us the poem is.

This is not to say that surrendering ourselves to the entire length of any particular experience is not without advantage, but such surrendering does not occur because some outside entity has demanded it; the surrender, or the submission, happens without exhortation; a true aesthetic “whole” presumes not on forcing us to wait for its entirety to be understood before part 1 of its introduction please us; any “whole” worth its name would never do so.

If one uses the analogy of the reluctant piano student struggling with his first piece of music, then, yes, we would expect submission on the part of the student in attempting to master a technique or skill in musical interpretation upon an instrument. But where pedantry in this case is expected to push itself for the good of practice in the field of rudimentary learning, the same pedantry is not expected to be used where the student is reading poems. Here there is no instrument to be learned; the poet and the reader are assumed to share whatever technique is required; the poem triumphs on familiar turf with unfamiliar combinations of things that are already grasped. By “submit,” Brooks and Warren do not mean to say, ‘Approach the poem with a large dictionary and be prepared to use it!’ Obviously “submission” is shorthand by Brooks & Warren for: pay attention in the very depth of thy soul! or something similar. I call attention to this figure of speech on their part only because it points up the general tenor of their approach, which is: at all times make thyself subservient to the awesome mysteries of the poem, a pedagogical approach I find dangerous, especially when the poems lauded with such tenacity in Understanding Poetry are untested, experimental, and written by the authors’ friends.

Brooks and Warren have the audacity to say one ought to love this or that, which, as Poe demonstrated a century earlier, is never how we should speak of poetry.

It is not surprising, then, that Poe is much abused in the textbook Understanding Poetry, while experiments in the sort of poetry that hold no delight for the public are earnestly praised in their book for vague and mystical reasons.

In the Introduction to Understanding Poetry, the authors begin by quoting a passage from a Nobel-winning scientist for the purpose of attacking science in a flurry of petulance which ends with Brooks and Warren claiming for their side Jesus Christ, in a revivalist-tent-meeting moment. The following is the passage the authors of “Understanding Poetry” single out for abuse:

For sentimental pacifism is, after all, but a return to the method of the jungle. It is in the jungle that emotionalism alone determines conduct, and wherever that is true no other than the law of the jungle is possible. For the emotion of hate is sure sooner or later to follow on the emotion of love, and then there is a spring for the throat. It is altogether obvious that the only quality which really distinguishes man from the brutes is his reason.

OK, so this passage does sound like the musings of a ‘square’ from the 50s who hasn’t got his jungle groove on. I dig. My point is not to quarrel with the statement, but with Brooks & Warren’s reaction to it. Because this is a piece of prose by a scientist, the authors are keen to point out that the passage is not scientific. They assume that science is “precise” and they know for sure this passage is not “precise” at all.

But here Brooks and Warren make a fatal mistake. They assume science is exact and bare-boned, while poetry is meatier, but this is a naïve and unfair characterization of science, which can, and does, reason in an indirect and poetic manner all the time. Science is more than just arithmos and conversely, poetry is not, as the authors assume, only dramatic, discursive and imprecise.

Brooks & Warren defend pacifism, citing the example of “the pacifism of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace,” and in attacking the passage by the scientist, they not only remove the issues of war and Christianity from a context we might be able to comprehend, they wind up their assault on the scientist by quoting in full Hardy’s “The Man He Killed:” “You shoot a fellow down…you’d…help to half a crown…” which is odd, because Brooks & Warren have said so far–if they have said anything–that you cannot reduce a poem to a “message,’ which they proceed to do with the Hardy (!) to win a silly argument against someone who was making a pretty simple and reasonable point that pure emotionalism is not reliable.

 Somehow the scientist’s statement offended the former Southern Agrarians’ hippie selves, and they got very emotional, gnashing their teeth and weeping over the ‘Prince of Peace” while violating their most important critical tenet: don’t reduce a poem to its “message.”

At this point, it’s pretty clear the authors are not reliable as critics (or textbook writers) and are probably drinking mint juleps (or good Southern whiskey) while they are writing their book.

As if on cue, the next poem they quote is Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life,” under the heading ‘message-hunting’ (message-hunting is BAD—although Brooks and Warren have just done it).

The authors posit poetry as something which is not science and then hector their students with unreasonable, emotional pleas which are full of contradictions as they seek to convince their audience of their “definition” of poetry.

Now comes the biggest gamble of their intellectual lives. With solemn demeanor Brooks and Warren now inform their readers that “It is important to remember that poetry is not a thing separate from ordinary life.”

“Ordinary life?” No wonder their meandering commentary wasn’t making a whole lot of sense. This explains it: IT IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER THAT POETRY IS  NOT A THING SEPARATE FROM ORDINARY LIFE.

Their logic, of course, is irrefutable, as far as it goes: Any reader is “ordinary” in the sense that any reader’s thoughts, being familiar to the reader himself, because they are his own thoughts, will seem “ordinary,” and, since any appreciation of poetry is conveyed to the reader’s thoughts (since “knowledge” is what poetry gives us, according to the authors’ preface) it then follows that poetry needs to be “ordinary” to make an impression on this “ordinary” reader.

“Ordinary life” is finally Brooks & Warren’s trump card; just as revolutionary political theories always assure us that “ordinary folk” are the ones who will benefit. The “ordinary life” trope, at bottom, is what Brooks & Warren are selling: little work is involved, ideality and sensuality will give way to catch-all mysticism, even as it is rough-edged and plain-speaking. “The Red Wheel Barrow” captures all these qualities perfectly, a poem singled out for especial praise by the textbook: Williams’ “The Red Wheel Barrow” is certainly “ordinary” in what it describes, it is certainly “mystical,” (after all, who knows what the poem means) it is certainly made of “ordinary” speech, and certainly within the grasp of “ordinary” readers who might wish to become poets in this “ordinary” style themselves. And once this sort of poem is invited to the ball, the battle is won; lip service can be spoken to ‘the greats’ of the past, who by proximity serve to raise the value of “The Red Wheel Barrow,” as the authors revel in its contemporariness and ground-breaking “ordinary” qualities. The revolution is over. Brooks and Warren have pandered—and won.

Following the introduction of “Understanding Poetry” are chapters in which ballads are examined for their “suspense” and their “appeal to the reader’s feelings;” all sorts of traditional tropes are dragged out in a pedantic and perfunctory manner. We do not have the space here to examine the dull and uneventful whole of the book, but let’s look briefly at how the authors teach Poe, William Carlos Williams, and Pound.

First, Poe’s “Ulalume:”

“A man, engaged in conversation with Psyche, his soul, walks through a mysterious landscape.  He and his soul are so preoccupied that they do not notice the setting nor do they even know what month of the year it is…”   Brooks and Warren can hardly keep from yawning as they continue in this manner, paraphrasing the poem in a bored way, violating their own sacred tenet.  The Williams and the Pound poems have no content, thus allowing the authors to escape the awful dilemma: shall I paraphrase, or not?  They are only too eager to paraphrase “Ulalume,” a poem of which, they assure us, they don’t believe a word.

“dank tarns and ghoul-haunted woodlands are stage-sets, we might say, that are merely good for frightening children. We accept them only if we happen to forego our maturity…”   (?!?)   Well, sure.  All poetry and fiction are merely stage-sets, good at frightening our inner child.  Condescending in this manner to Poe only betrays an inflated sense of the critic’s own (ahem) “maturity.”

Brooks & Warren then dare to attack Poe on his own turf: “there is an emphatic beat [horrors!] that becomes monotonous…a lack of variation in the rhythmic effects…”  The authors do not understand music.  Poe’s rhythm is  more pronounced being chiefly anapestic, rather than the more common iambic; to call this rhythm “monotonous” is sheer ignorance.  Even the anapestic rhythm is varied skillfully by Poe, in lines such as “The pitiful, the merciful ghouls,”  so different from “It was night in the lonesome October.”

Williams’ “Red Wheel Barrow:”

“…the fact of its [free verse] being set off in lines has some significance.  It is signifcant, for one thing, because it pretends to be significant.  That is, we have to dwell on the line as a unit, even if, by ordinary standards, we can find no unity.”

“…it makes a special claim on our attention by the mere fact of it being set off; the words demand to be looked at freshly.”

“Now the poem itself is about that puzzling portentousness that an object, even the simplest, like a red wheelbarrow, assumes when we fix attention exclusively upon it.  Reading the poem is like peering at some ordinary object through a pin prick in a piece of carboard.  The fact that the pin prick frames it arbitrarily endows it with a puzzling, and exciting, freshness, that seems to hover on the verge of revelation.”

Pound’s “In A Station Of The Metro:”

“…a new and surprising comparison.”

“The petals on a wet black bough, the white faces against the dimness—the comparison does embody a leap of the imagination, a shock of surprise.  And yet, in the midst of the novelty, we sense that it, too, has a logical basis.  The poet has simply focused upon the significant quality for the comparison, discarding other qualities, more obvious qualities.  And the shock of surprise takes us to the poem’s meaning.”

What do we notice here?

The authors are besotted by “surprise,’ “shock,” “freshness” and “revelation,”  in a Zen revery of “significance.”  Even granting the “significance” of  Pound’s “white petals” and Williams’ “wheel barrow,” which Brooks & Warren enjoy “peering” at, forty years after Noguchi toured the West and made haiku popular, we must ask: How long , in terms of ongoing poetic practice, can this “freshness” from “peering at ordinary objects” last?  We can almost hear the cry of the millions: What about my poem?  Don’t you see the significance of my ordinary object?  Look, I framed it with a pin prick, too!

Can’t we see at once that no repeat of the red wheelbarrow or the white petals as “revelation” is possible?   Such “hovering on the verge of revelation” is a deal with the devil, a short-term gain in “freshness” for an eternity of wandering in obscure hell.  Poe, on the other hand, who comes under such abuse by the professorial authors, presents a recognizable and enchanting skill, there for the taking.  “Ulalume” is a model in a line of significant utterance; if a poet possesses the imagination and skill to make another “Ulalume,” much pleasure will result, since appreciation of music is universal; hundreds of thousands of red wheelbarrows have been tried, and strange to report, not once has “freshness” been used to describe the attempt!  Brooks & Warren gambled on a sun which will never rise again.  Critics who write textbooks  have a responsibility to think of the long-term health of the art, lest the poetic economy collapse.

In “Understanding Poetry,’ poems by friends of the authors—Pound, Williams, Tate, H.D.—spear-head a modernist beach-landing against a defenseless tribe—students.

The public would not come to modernism, so modernism came to the public—in a textbook.

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, ‘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:


………..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

……… 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

……… 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.


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


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?

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

CLICK HERE to continue reading this article.


Robert Graves

“There’s nothing classy or poetic about opium. It has the same effect as morphine and heroin. You get relaxed and energetic at the same time. Problems become unimportant. You feel sleepy, but if you go to bed you lie awake. You itch all over. You get constipated. You get hungry, especially for sweets. You get patient and understanding. You get nice… opium high can be described in one word: comfortable. It’s weird that people get to where they’ll give up their souls for stuff that just makes them comfortable.”
…………………………………………………………………….Eric Detzer

“Everywhere and at all times, men and women have sought, and duly found, the means of taking a holiday from the reality of their generally dull and often acutely unpleasant existence. A holiday out of space, out of time, in the eternity of sleep or ecstasy, in the heaven or the limbo of visionary fantasy.”
…………………………………………………………………….Aldous Huxley. “A Treatise on Drugs”

“Over the centuries our Hindu philosophers have seen everything come and go. Empires, religions, famines, good times, invasions, reforms, liberators, repressors….and drugs. Drugs are among the most influential and dangerous powers available to humans. They open up glorious and pleasurable chambers in the mind. They give great power. Thus they can seduce the searcher away from the path.”
……………………………………………………………………Sri Krishna Preem

“Why, the slave trade was merciful compared with the opium trade. We did not destroy the bodies of the Africans, for it was our immediate interest to keep them alive; we did not debase their natures, corrupt their minds, nor destroy their souls. But the opium seller slays the body after he has corrupted, degraded and annihilated the moral being of unhappy sinners, While every hour is bringing new victims to a Moloch which knows no satiety, and where the English murderer and Chinese suicide vie with each other in offerings at his shrine.”
……………………..quoted by Karl Marx in an article, Opium or Commerce, Sept 20, 1858

“The Way of Heaven is fairness to all; it does not suffer us to harm others to benefit ourselves. Men are alike in this in all the World; for they cherish life and hate what endangers life. O majesty, control your wicked. O, Majesty, you can order the opium not to be grown, the fields hoed over, and sown instead with the five grains, and thus show the sincerity of your politeness, and humility, so our countries may have peace, together.”
…………………………..Letter of Lin Tse Hsu about the opium trade to Queen Victoria, 1839

“Everything one does in life, even love, occurs in an express train racing toward death. To smoke opium is to get out of the train while it is still moving. It is to concern oneself with something other than life or death.”
…………………………………………………………………….Jean Cocteau

“Oh, jab me with your needle a hundred times and a hundred times I will bless you, Saint Morphine.”
…………………………………………………………………….Jules Verne

“Woe to you, my princess, when I come. I will kiss you quite red and feed you till you are plump. And if you are forward you shall see who is the stronger, a little girl who doesn’t eat enough or a big strong man with cocaine in his body. In my last serious depression I took cocaine again and a small dose lifted me to the heights in a wonderful fashion. I am just now collecting the literature for a song of praise to this magical substance.”
…………………………………………………………………….Sigmund Freud

“If you think dope is for kicks and for thrills, you’re out of your mind….If you think you need stuff to play music or sing, you’re crazy. It can fix you so you can’t play nothing or sing nothing.”
…………………………………………………………………….Billie Holliday

“All excess is ill, but drunkenness is of the worst sort: it spoils health, dismounts the mind, and unmans men; it reveals secrets, is quarrelsome, lascivious, impudent, dangerous, and mad. In fine, he that is drunk is not a man, because he is so long void of reason, that distinguishes a man from a beast.”
…………………………………………………………………….William Penn

“The Times reports that a new study has found that the use of such stimulants and antidepressants as Ritalin has increased dramatically in the past few years, not merely among hyperactive preteens and teens, but now among preschoolers. We’re talking about two-,three, and four-year-olds. Babies! Prozac is also being prescribed….to these tiny tykes!”
…………………………………………………………………….Jim Hightower

“Prohibition, a dismal failure, not only increased law-breaking, but also created a criminal class that turned to gambling, drugs, and prostitution when the 18th Amendment was finally repealed in 1933.”
…………………………………………………………………….George Bruce Woodin

“The drug war is just a U.S. excuse to control our countries.”
……………………………………………Evo Morales (Bolivian Presidential Candidate Aug,2002)

“When we finally decide that drug prohibition has been not more successful than alcohol prohibition, the drug dealers will disappear.”
………………………………………………………….Ron Paul (Republican Congressman Texas)

“No stars were visible in the long night of the opium habit.”
…………………………………………………………………….William Cobbe

“Narcotics in Hollywood is a complete story unto itself, and it finds parallels with the world of stage and music, all of which received unprecedented attention from magazines and newspapers; reading them now, one gets the impression that the world had succumbed to an epidemic of addiction.

“In spite of, or perhaps because of the evidence of misery, corruption and waste, our fascination with opium persists to this day. Stereotype-shattering contradictions such as the ease with which strict Victorians accommodated drug habitués throw into question our notions of pre-twentieth century lives, habits and values and in doing so, help clarify our present-day attitudes towards drugs and drug addiction. And though we may try to shake off the myth of the Morphean slumber and the promise of profound dreams and boundless creativity, it’s doubtful that opium will ever let us”.
…………………………………………………………………….Barbara Hodgson

“We are making these drugs for Satan-Americans and Jews. If we cannot kill them with guns, we will kill them with drugs.”
…………………………………………………………………….Fatwa of Hezbollah

“I remember someone saying if you try heroin once you’ll become hooked. Of course I laughed and scoffed at the idea but I now believe this to be true.”
…………………………………………………………………….Kurt Cobain

“Opium, horrible and blessed connection of pleasure, destroys our organs and senses. The healthy appetite and the bourgeois sensation of feeling good and tired have to be sacrificed. The eyes water, the ears ring. Objects, printed words, people look faded. Sounds and words wander randomly in the tiny mechanisms of the organs of hearing.”
…………………………………………………………………….Gezu Csath

“Intoxication is not unnatural or deviant. Absolute sobriety is not a natural or primary human state.”
………………………………………………………………….Richard Davenport-Hines

“According to one analysis, retail sales of illegal heroin, cocaine, and marijuana generate close to $27 billion, with an unreported illegal income of about $21 billion. Illicit sales of all drugs have been estimated as high as $75 billion. Any way you cut it, that’s big business. Three groups have a vested interest in keeping it that way: Organized crime, terrorists, and drug enforcement agencies all make their living off drugs….”
…………………………………………………………………….Georgette Bennet

“In the roster of pop-culture medical doctors who don’t reflect well on the profession, includes the character of Dr. Henry Jekyll, created by Robert Lewis Stevenson. Jekyll’s self-medication experiments turned him into the sociopathic Mr. Edward Hyde, with fatal side effects. After dreaming the story, Stevenson, despite suffering from tuberculosis, wrote the 60,000-word classic in a six-day, cocaine-fueled frenzy.”
…………………………………………………………………….Erin Barrett & Jack Mingo

“The Incas believed that the Gods presented coca to the people to satisfy their hunger, to provide them with new vigor, and to help them forget their miseries…..It was intimately involved in their religious ceremonies and in the various initiation rites; and that shamans used it to induce a trance-like state in order to commune with the spirits. It was a far too important commodity to be used by the common Indians, and their exposure to coca was very limited before the invasion by Pizarro and his conquistadors.”
…………………………………………………………………….John Mann

“There is always a need for intoxication: China has opium, Islam has hashish, the West has woman.”
………………………………………………………………Andre Malraux, Man’s Fate

“Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
with tangerine trees and marmalade skies…”
………………………………………….John Lennon

“During World War II (1941-45), President Franklin D. Roosevelt legitimized smoking by declaring tobacco an essential wartime crop. Even Army training manuals of the day urged leaders to “smoke and make your troopers smoke.” Gen. Douglas MacArthur himself demanded a better supply of tobacco in the soldier’s daily ration. He ordered that $10 million raised for the war effort “be used to purchase American cigarettes, which, of all personal comforts, are the most difficult to obtain here.”
…………………………………………………………………….Tara Parker-Pope

“a deep dichotomy between reason and irrationality can be seen in the world’s tremendous appetite for alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol is the liberator of the irrational. Caffeine is the stimulator of the rational. It would appear that the human spirit craves both poles and turns to these most familiar of drugs to achieve those ends.”

The Science and love of Alcohol and Caffeine

Thanks be to God, since my leaving drinking of wine, I do find myself much better, and do mind my business better, and do spend less money, and less time lost in idle company.”
…………………………………………………………………….Samuel Pepys

By the early 1960s, though, something bigger was afoot than whether or not LSD was a truth drug. The public was discovering the wonders of the CIA’s brainwashing drugs, and attitudes towards hallucinogens in the United States were shifting.

The shift had resulted partly from the fateful chain of events set in motion in September 1952, when Robert Graves had alerted Gordon Wasson to the existence of teonanacatl, the ‘Flesh of God.’ This stage had culminated in 1957 with the publication of “The Discovery of Mushrooms that Cause Strange Visions” in Life magazine. That year, Graves visited Wasson in New York, and the two men spent an evening listening to a recording of Maria Sabina’s mushroom ceremony. This, wrote Graves, was “the most exciting event” of his stay in the United States.

On 31 January, 1960, the pair listened to the recording again, this time after they had eaten some mushrooms. Graves found the experience revelatory. A week later he wrote to Wasson that “this was not merely a red letter day but a day marked with all the colours of the rainbow.” The mushrooms, he said, had broken down the barriers in his consciousness with the result that “I am now able to see pictures in my mind far more clearly than I did before.” He concluded that the sacred mushrooms should be distributed across Europe and America. “Why reserve these drugs for the mentally sick?” he wrote. “They should be given to the mentally whole. Especially to poets and artists.”

Four months later he indulged again, this time taking synthetic psilocybin tables made by Albert Hofmann at Sandoz Pharmaceuticals. On 8 July, 1960, he reported to his friend William Sargant that the synthetic product did not compare favorably to the real thing. “Don’t be deceived,” he told the psychiatrist. “It has left out the magical principle and sends you to Coney Island not to Eden (like the other).”
…………………………………………………………………….Dominic Streatfeild

I took Peyote in the mountains of Mexico and I had a dose of it that lasted two or three days with the Tarahumara, and at the time those three days seemed like the happiest days of my life.

I had stopped tormenting myself, trying to find a reason for my life, and I had stopped having to carry my body around.

I realized that I was inventing life, that that was my function and rason d’etre, and that I suffered when my imagination failed, and Peyote gave it to me.”

…………………………………………………………………….Antonin Artaud

A note on Peyote.

“Wow, I have learned more in six hours than in the last sixteen years!”
…………………………………………………………Timothy Leary in a letter to Arthur Koestler

“I have been born again. I have just been through a psychiatric experience that has completely changed me. It was horrendous, I had to face things about myself that I never admitted. I was an utter fake, a self-opinionated bore, a know-all who knew very little.”
………………………………………………………………….Cary Grant

“…the young men have a rude health which runs into peccant humours. They drink brandy like water. They chew hasheesh….taste every poison….”
……………………………………………………………Emerson, Essay on English Traits

Why Marijuana?

“It makes you feel good, man. It relaxes you, makes you forget all the bad things that happen to a Negro. It makes you feel wanted, and when you’re with another tea smoker it makes you feel a special sense of kinship.”
…………………………………………………………………….Louis Armstrong

“Which is better: to have Fun with Fungi or to have Idiocy with Ideology, to have Wars because of Words, to have Tomorrow’s Misdeeds out of Yesterday’s Miscreeds?”
…………………………………………………………………….Aldous Huxley

“If alcohol is queen, then tobacco is her consort. It’s a fond companion for all occasions, a loyal friend through fair weather and foul. People smoke to celebrate a happy moment, or to hide a bitter regret. Whether you’re alone or with friends, it’s a joy for all the senses. What lovelier sight is there than that double row of white cigarettes, lined up like soldiers on parade and wrapped in silver paper?….I love to touch the pack in my pocket, open it, savor the feel of the cigarette between my fingers, touch the paper on my lips, the taste of tobacco on my tongue, love to watch the flame spurt up, love to watch it come closer and closer, filling me with its warmth.”
…………………………………………………………………….Luis Bunuel

“Intelligent people discussing interesting things in an intelligible manner. Quite a concept. Steele’s newsletter became Tatler, the first modern magazine; his idea of correspondents and sections provided the prototype for the modern newspaper, the one institution that all agree is essential for a vital democracy (London’s second oldest newspaper is Lloyds News, which began as a bulletin board in Lloyd’s Coffeehouse.) Small wonder that pamphleteers of the time wrote that “coffee and commonwealth came in together… make a free and sober nation.” Coffee-houses had made civilized conversation into a popular sport.”
…………………………………………………………………….Stewart Lee Allen

The Devils Cup

“It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects….Many battles have been fought and won by soldiers nourished by beer, and the king does not believe that coffee-drinking soldiers can be relied on.”
…………………………………………………………………….Frederick the Great

“For this sparkling outburst, there is no doubt that honor should be ascribed in part to the great event which created new customs and even modified human temperament-the advent of coffee….which brings forth the sparkle and the sunlight of truth.”

“One need only compare the violent coffee-drinking societies of the West to the peace-loving tea drinker of the Orient to realize the pernicious and malignant effect that bitter brew has upon the human soul.”
…………………………………………………………………….Hindu dietary tract

“When the sweet Poison of the Treacherous Grape
Had acted on the world a general rape…..
Coffee arrives, that grave and wholesome liquor
That heals the stomach and makes the genius quicker.”
…………………………………………………………………….anonymous Puritan (1674)

Aside from sobering up the workplace, coffeehouses gave Brits an alternative to taverns in which to meet and talk. Taverns were not the safest place to discuss politics or religion. Everybody was armed or drunk, usually both, and proprietors sensibly discouraged heated discussions. Coffeehouses, on the other hand, encouraged political debate, which was precisely why King Charles II banned them in 1675 (he withdrew the ban in eleven days).

At breakfast Beethoven drank coffee, which he usually prepared himself in a percolator. Coffee seems to have been the nourishment with which he could least dispense and in his procedure with regard to its preparation he was as careful as the Orientals are known to be. Sixty beans to a cup was the allotment and the beans were often counted out exactly, Especially when guests were present.”

…………………………………………………………………….Anton Schindler

Dear Arthur,

Things are happening here which I think will interest you. The big, new, hot issue these days in many American circles is DRUGS. Have you been tuned in on the noise?

I stumbled on the scene in a most holy manner. Spent last summer in Mexico. Anthropologist friend arrived one weekend with a bag of mushrooms. Magic mushrooms. I had never heard of them, but being a good host joined the crowd who ate them. Wow! Learned more in six hours than in the past sixteen years. Visual transformations. Gone the perceptual machinery which clutters up our view of reality. Intuitive transformations. Gone the mental machinery which slices the world up into abstractions and concepts. Emotional transformations. Gone the emotional machinery that causes us to load life with our own role-ambitions and petty desires.

Came back to the USA and have spent last six months pursuing these matters. Working with Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, Allen Ginsberg the poet. We believe that the synthetics of peyote (mescalin) and the mushrooms (psilocybin) offer possibilities for expanding consciousness, changing perceptions, removing abstractions.

For the person who is prepared, they provide a soul-wrenching mystical experience. Remember your enlightenments in the Franco prison? Very similar to what we are producing. We have had cases of housewives understanding, experiencing satori describing it –who have never heard of Zen.

There are inevitable political-sociological complications. The expected groups are competing to see who should control the new drugs. Medicine and psychiatry are in the forefront. Psychiatric investigators (hung up as they are on their own abstractions) interpret the experience as PSYCHOTIC- and think they are producing model-psychosis. Then too, the cops and robbers game has started. Organized bohemia (and don’t tell me it ain’t organized, with rituals as rigid as those of the Masoic order) is moving in. There is the danger that mescalin and psilocybin will go the way of marijuana ( a perfectly mild, harmless, slightly mind-opening substance, as you know). And of course the narcotics bureau hopes that it will go the same way–so they can play out their side of the control game.

We are working to keep these drugs free and uncontrolled. Two tactics. We are offering the experience to distinguished creative people. Artists, poets, writers, scholars. We’ve learned a tremendous amount by listening to them tell us what they have learned from the experience.

We are also trying to build these experiences in a holy and serious way into university curricula. I’ve got approval to run a seminar here–graduate students will take the mushrooms regularly and spend a semester working through, organizing and systematizing the results. Its hard for me to see how anyone can consider himself a theologian, psychologist, behavioral scientist if he had not had this experience.

So how does it sound? If you are interested I’ll send some mushrooms over to you. Or if you’ve already been involved I’d like to hear about your reaction. I’ll be in London around June 8th and would like to tell you more about the cosmic crusade.

The memory of our weekend last winter remains as an intellectual and emotional highspot.

………………………………………………………Best Regards to you,

………………………………………………..from the Letters collection on
………………………………………………..also see Tim Leary Correspondence on


A Letter To Tom about “Rhyme”

Tony Woodman and me at the Gran Prix of Czechoslovakia, Brno, 1963

Dear Tom,
My hunch is that your emphasis on “rhyme” in your previous article is going to be misunderstood. I think it will give those who don’t want to hear you at all the excuse not to read you, and may weaken your argument even for those that are willing to give what you say a try.

Let me say this first: I’m a curious critic because I’m so sophisticated yet so naive and trusting — I know so much (or at least ought to, considering the length and expense of my education) and yet am so obviously an innocent. I deliberately didn’t say ‘ill-informed’ there, because what I do know I know quite well, and my eyes are always wide-open. It’s just that I’ve only been engaged with the history of ‘modern poetry’ since I started writing it at 50, and have never sat in a modern poetry lecture and rarely attended a reading, have scarcely ever even started to read a contemporary literary-historical text, know no editors and only one poet who just happened to come to my house in Chiang Mai last Christmas. And of course I only got interested in ‘Modernism’ when I realized that the 14 precious packets I had sent to Bin Ramke over the years at Georgia probably never even got opened, and that my 8 packets to Tupelo hadn’t deterred its editor from sending me a form letter pretending to be a personal critique of my work and suggesting that just $295.00 more might make all the difference. Then Joan Houlihan scolded me in public (P&W, Nov 2006) for my limited understanding of editing and publishing poetry while praising the very editors who had abused me, and I knew modern American poetry was in deep trouble.

And of course, Joan Houlihan was right, too, in a sense, but I’m still nowhere near ready to concede that the situation she regards as normal is ethically acceptable or conducive to the development of good poetry. Indeed, for challenging just that  I’ve been banned on-line by P&W, The AoAP, and The Poetry Foundation — not a very promising start to a new career, particularly not at 70, but revealing.

So what should you call me, then, and how can my input be useful?

Hardly a “noble savage,” as my style is too perfect even if my content is analphabet. Yet I am a “peasant” in poetry when you compare me with somebody like Stephen Burt or David Lehman, for example — and indeed, one of the reasons I got put “on moderation” (aka censorship) at Blog:Harriet so early was that I annoyed the hell out of people who knew a hell of a lot more than I did. Yes, who was I to strew the nice Harriet ground with metaphors that exploded with such devastating effect, even taking out the management? [Click here for a fatal example]

What I have (and this is all about that word “rhyme,” of course, Tom) is my Rip Van Winkle status, a contemporary poet back from the dead. Because my anomaly is that I was so highly and successfully educated in literature (Columbia, Yale, King’s College, Cambridge, summa cum laude, phi beta kappa, Woodrow Wilson, Kellett Fellow [a whole decade before David Lehman!], C.S.Lewis, F.R.Leavis, Fellow of Christs, you name it) yet I never got educated in modern poetry, not once. So I go straight from the 30s in which I was born and jump straight to 1992 in which I got published for the very first time by Marilyn Hacker in The Kenyon Review — sans mentor, sans prize, sans compromise.

So I can see a lot — and since I’m much too old for success, and nobody is ever going to hire me what’s more give me a prize, I’m free to burn any bridges I want behind me, which is rare.

A “noble non-starter,” I might be called, playing on Joan Hoilihan’s “loser.” Or a “noble non-shopper,” or a “noble non-whopper,” or a “noble non-accredited accomplisher” — because the irony is that my publishing credits are not bad at all, considering my age and when I started, but I have no position and no reputation to advance or defend.

So “rhyme,” then, Tom. I’m sure you know exactly what you mean by the word, and you do know the literary-historical details like the back of your hand. But what you don’t know first hand is the snobbery that lies behind the creation of modernism, the revulsion with which those early 20th century poets around Pound and Hilda Dolittle rejected the late 19th century mush so loved by those who had just emerged from the crude working class.  Because the Hallmark-type “rhyme” was not the actual hallmark of the verse they despised, but rather the feel-good sentimentality which celebrated the feeling you got when you sat down at last to ‘dinner’ together around a ‘table’ or ‘read’ together  in the ‘parlor’ — which factory workers were still not going to do in Britain or America for a long time to come (which is a huge social and educational grey area, of course, and not yet quite out of the bag like what happened to the Native Americans!).

That’s what I know about more than most of you who are reading this and interested in our struggle. Because I was brought up in the 19th century, and I was a snob and mush made me feel unclean too, so I know the feeling only too well. I spent my early years in Gladstone, New Jersey, after all, the Gold Coast, and in my American childhood never met an African-American or a Jew and very few Catholics not descendants of Diamond Jim Brady (my mother’s family in Boston in the 30s didn’t mix with the Kennedys, who were Irish like the servants, and my mother was terribly distressed when I named my second daughter Delia Orlando, the middle name also being mistaken for Italian!).

And to our great credit, but goodness knows why, we ran, my brothers and I — my younger brother westward to Wyoming, myself eastward to Cambridge, and our older brother just really really fast (he was the first American to have a big success in Gran Prix motorcycle racing in Europe until he broke his back in the Northwest 200 in Ireland in 1965.) And I ran, and I kept bees, and I fiddled around with Trungpa, and I sailed, but mostly just fell in love with my wonderfully wrong women — and little by little I sloughed off that good taste and sense of superiority which went along with the family silver (I still have a trunkful somewhere, and enough 18th century willow pattern china to serve you all at once, though goodness knows where that is as well) — and now I’m writing to you like the fool…

No, it’s not the rhyme, Tom — it’s the snobbery of a new intellectual class that is still not too secure and needs to put a lot of distance between itself and the petit bourgeois poetry that makes sense when you finally arrive on the first rungs of the new upwardly mobile America.

And should the ‘petit bourgeois poetry’ of the 19th and early 20th centuries be re-evaluated, then, should that forgotten corpus be restored to grace? Hardly, but the alternative “make it new” movement at the opposite extreme must be re-assessed as ‘petit bourgeois poetry’s’ shadow, in the Jungian sense, so that those aspects of our western poetry traditin that got debased and/or hidden by ‘Modernism’ can be brought out into the open and liberated — like feeling, like music, like value and meaning and even, when its applicable, like rhyme. Indeed, all the underpinnings of Modernism must be fearlessly re-examined, and it’s tendency to sew new clothes for the emperor ruthlessly exposed, as we’re doing — and how the courtiers do kick and howl!

That’s our theme, of course, and it’s a big one, and one for which I think  I’m well-equipped even with just a small “compatty hammer” [click here] in my hand.



Dear Friends,
We know we’re very near the edge of copyright infringement here, but hope Jim Meddick will allow us to make a point that’s so hard to get over without getting someone like him involved. For Jim Meddick’s satire is truly rare, and his angles on our contemporary prejudices and ugly little blind spots so invaluable. We have so few allies who have the wit and courage to explore the inexplorable today, which after all used to be the province of our poets too until they took the vow to make it new!

As a frontline artist, we feel sure Jim Meddick will forgive us in the hour of our need!

………………………………..copyright  Jim Meddick/dist. by NEA, Inc.

So this is who we are at Scarriet and what we stand for:

Frequently in human discourse, the tenets of faith provide a sacred style and language which survives long after the contents have ceased to make sense or to convey any comprehensible message — if indeed there ever was one. At that point all societies, even developed ones, create the myth of a golden age when the truth was recorded, and the style and language of those “scriptures” are situated beyond enquiry what is more reproach.

When Thomas Brady opens the door, this is what he hears. The Poetry Establishment, which looks and sounds just like Jim Meddick’s little Ezra Pound at the door, also speaks of “the way of truth… and self-esteem… and personal fulfillment… and Uh… um…”

But the punch line today is a little different, because we now believe in anything “new.” When Thomas Brady asks, as he does in his previous article on William Carlos Williams, for example, “You’re making all this stuff up, aren’t you?” the poetry establishment gets very angry and dismissive. “How dare you!” they shout. “Why,  this is modern scripture! This is what Ezra Pound laid down for us to make us modern! This is what we are and why we’re truly New!

Then they beat him with -32 Dislikes, and when even that doesn’t discourage him, just pull the plug.

What’s so tragic is that human beings can always talk about things, exchange ideas and brainstorm, but even at a noble not-for-profit arts organization like The Poetry Foundation, if the material has become the stuff of faith, forget it. Then the dissenting voice is drowned out by the furious congregation and censored by the priests, and only when the dust has settled can something fresh, old or new yet equally crying in the wilderness, be heard.


Do American poetasters love their William Carlos Williams, or what?  They dream William Carlos Williams. Their tails wag when they hear the name, “William Carlos Williams.”   At the end of their lives, with their last breath, they cry out, “William Carlos Williams!”

William Carlos Williams is both naked and covered in –isms.  He’s everything!

Here’s a typical gushing paean from Curtis Faville on Silliman’s blog— the whole sentiment expressed has become a ritual repeated ad nauseam:

“Williams began as a very traditional poet, writing rhymed poems about Spring and love and delicate ironies. But by the mid-‘Twenties he had pushed into formally challenging constructions influenced by Cubism, Surrealism and the speech of the common people. Hardly anyone had thought to make poems out of the simple vocabulary and inflections of conversational speech, he was really the first to do it well.

In addition, he managed to throw out all the fluff and lace of traditional cliches and make little naked constructions from the raw timber of American life. They look like scaffoldings, their structure plain and unadorned like a newly framed house. “The pure products of America go crazy”–who else would have thought to write a line as accessible (and telling at the same time) as Williams? Their deceptive simplicity masks a complex kinetic energy which the line-breaks and stanzaic pauses and settings underscore.”

Curtis Faville,  July 2008, Silliman’s blog

Among the chattering classes, sprachgefuhl will take on a mind of its own, but Williams-worship is unconsciously ingrained to the point  now where a healthy curiosity on these matters has been bottled up completely.

Faville and his somnambulant ilk are apparently too sleepy to see the contradictions here.   We count 13 in Faville’s brief post alone:

  1. Williams began as a very traditional poet.’  He did, and he was being published in ‘Poetry’ as a very traditional poet with his friend PoundAll but the very gullible will quickly assume Williams was an item not because of his groundbreaking poetry, but because of his membership in a clique.  Why would his hack rhymes be published, otherwise?
  2. ‘By the mid-‘Twenties he pushed into formally challenging constructions.’   AhemThe Dial Prize in 1926 was Williams’ first real public recognition; the editor of ‘The Dial’ in 1926 was Marianne Moore.  The content of the ‘The Dial’ was mostly European avant-garde: Picasso, Cezanne & T.S. Eliot (who won the ‘Dial Prize’ in 1922).  Williams was not ‘pushing.’  He was being pulled.  He was 43 years old and had known Pound for years—he was finally ‘getting with the program’ and doing what the clique required.  Moore won the Dial Prize in 1924—she had known then-Dial editor Scofield Thayer (T.S. Eliot’s old schoolmate at Milton Academy), as well as Pound and William Carlos Williams for years at that time.
  3. Influenced by Cubism, Surrealism and the speech of the common people.   How nifty.  ‘Cubism’ (!) and ‘Surrealism’ (!) ‘the speech of the common people.’  Yea, they go hand in hand.  Maybe in some pedant’s dream…
  4. Hardly anyone had thought to make poems out of the simple vocabulary…’  This is utterly false.  Compare any century of poetry with Williams–his vocabulary is not simpler.
  5. Hardly anyone had thought to make poems out of the inflections of conversational speech.’  Again, falseRobert Browning is far more conversational than Williams.  Williams’ poetry is actually less ‘conversational’ than examples from the 17th century.
  6. He was really the first to do it well.’  Another whopper.
  7. He managed to throw out all the fluff and lace of traditional clichés…’  Oh-kay…   William Carlos Williams personally threw out ALL the so-called ‘fluff and lace’ which centuries of poetry is burdened with.  Every so-called ‘traditional cliché’ evaporated before Williams’ magic touch.
  8. Little naked constructions.’  What are these?  Elf robots which dance in poetaster’s dreams?
  9. raw timber of American life.’  William Carlos Williams as Paul Bunyan…
  10. They look like scaffoldings’   We are not sure what ‘they’ are.  Ideas? Poems?  Fragments of poems?   By now, of course, it doesn’t matter…
  11. their structure plain and unadorned…’   Ah, yes.  They’re ‘raw.’  They’re honest.
  12. Who else would have thought to write a line as accessible (and telling at the same time) as… “The pure products of America go crazy.”  This is accessible?  And telling?
  13. Their deceptive simplicity masks a complex kinetic energy…’  OK, we’ve heard enough.

Egad!   We can quote from this hyperbole no longer. 

What’s that?  WC Williams’ ghost is a Martian! and he’s beaming radio transmissions of kinetic energy to selected earthlings like Curtis Faville? 

Why didn’t  someone tell me?  

This explains everything!

TENETS of FAITH: Being Right on the AWP, BAP, P&W, AoAP and even the PFoA.

It’s like all attacks on orthodoxy — if a criticism contradicts a tenet of faith it’s not only inapplicable but invalid!

Ask Barack Obama about that one right now, ask any Israeli or Palestinian, ask a Urighur or even the Dalai Lama. But hey, why not ask yourselves about your Poetry Faith too, the cards you carry as a Poet, the cabals and clubs and cartels you belong to, the schools, schedules, scores, deals, bonds and promisory notes you honor, even as poets? Ask around your Department, for example, or ask down the corridors of poetry power. Because even when there are such good people involved in such good work, so much good will and so many good reasons to make sense out of such good, good intentions, in Alabama, Chicago or the Upper West Side — oh, watch the Big Sheriff in you take over, the Travis Nichols right under your big cowboy hat and the “peacemaker” strapped to your hip.

Thomas Brady -6

Let’s look at this.

If the tenet of faith is that guns make you free, then guns are a non-negotiable matter. If it’s a tenet of faith that sex is bad then sex-education is a non-negotiable matter. If it’s a tenet of faith that men have a much higher sex drive than women, as it is in a great many cultures in the world today, including where I live, and that true men are truly driven by sex, then you get boys taken by their fathers to brothels at 14 while the mothers wait at home with the daughters until they can be married off as pure virgins–and the crowning irony of that absurd tenet of faith is that in addition to brothels on every street corner you get men who are butterflies and women who run the whole show!

The tenet of faith in American poetry is that the true poet is the product of not just higher but higher and higher and even higher “learning,” and that the more a poet pays (or gets paid) for it the more right he or she has to be called “successful,”  and the final arbitrator in doctrinal disputes!

Anyone who suggests that the poets, critics, editors or publishers who are running this extravagant industry are self-interested, or even, God-forbid, in it for profit or life insurance, is considered not a real poet. Indeed, I myself have been mocked as a jealous “loser” a number of times, and dismissed as “the product of a willful misunderstanding of the process of editing and publishing poetry in America!”

And you know who used those specific words? A famous contemporary “poet” and “critic” who is also involved in the business of getting poets published. [click here]

And you know where she spoke those words? In Poets & Writers magazine, that bastion of our contemporary Faith in exactly what sort of training you need to get published in America today, plus the retreats, conferences, camps, travel groups, summers abroad in castles and wine tastings and weekends you have to attend– and what they cost!

But you say you think the son should at least wash the dishes before he goes out to the brothel at 14 with his father?

Just ask the mother for an answer to even that question. “You must be joking,” she’ll reply. “Any true mother would keep her daughter carefully cleaning as well as clean at home so she can attract a true man for a husband!”

Ask David Lehman about Stacey Harwood. Ask Stacey Harwood about Seth Abramson. Ask Joan Houlihan about me!

So that’s a problem, both for the sex where I live and for poetry in America.

Yes indeed, ‘tenets of faith’ always polarize, always lead to intolerance, always lead to abuse.

There’s nothing wrong with virginity per se, of course there isn’t, any more than there’s anything wrong with sex. But oh the heart-ache when too much stock is placed in either!

There’s nothing wrong with training poets either, even in castles, it’s just when you make a religion out of it, install priests at all the altars, and charge an entrance fee not only to get into church but heaven!

And, of course, excommunicate those who say it ain’t necessarily so or, God forbid, come up with some statistics that don’t quite fit in like Seth Abramson!

Christopher Woodman


Travis BUS

TRAVIS Saturated_________________

Just as Thomas Brady was breathing new life into Blog:Harriet, and even being considered as a potential Contributing Writer by the Board, Harriet’s editor, Travis Nichols, published this article in Poets & Writers [click here to read the rest of the article].

Little could anyone have imagined how literally Travis Nichols envisioned himself as that “poetry gladiator fighting to the death” for his ideals, or how ruthlessly he would strike down those who did not share his vision of poetry on Blog:Harriet. It was certainly a shock to Thomas Brady, Desmond Swords, and Christopher Woodman when virtually out of nowhere a poster named ‘Nick’ popped up on Joel Brouwer’s “Keep the Spot Sore” thread to slam what he felt were people doing bad things on Blog:Harriet:

There are certain sorts of people–I will not indulge in sociological generalities about them, except to say that they are virtually always men–whose thirst for online bloodshed cannot be quenched. Such people ruined the Buffalo poetics list; ruined Silliman’s blog; etc……Michael, I imagine, knows the story. Good places for online discussion are few, and fragile. I’m out, as they say when leaving other forums/

Every blog and forum has such malcontents, but what was so different about this intrusion was that the Editor himself, Travis Nichols, actually welcomed the mole and his bile, and even went further in trashing those “certain sorts of people” — an obvious reference to Thomas Brady, Desmond Swords and Christopher Woodman (who has been known as “Cowpatty Hammer” ever since!). Indeed, Travis replied like this:

Hey Nick, I definitely hear you, but I don’t think there’s a formal solution to the problem you’re presenting. We have a couple different formatting changes in the works that I think will help people skip past commentary they have a stated distaste for, but beyond that the only way the discussion becomes valuable for people is if they participate in it. It’s a big responsibility in a lot of ways, and I completely understand using your time for other things, but I, for one, would greatly appreciate you hanging around and offering up your two cents from time to time. It can get a bit cult-like in here (let’s go ahead and talk about it like a room; it feels that way sometimes, like when you’re in a room just trying to read or write down a thought or enjoy a meal and some guy at the next table is going on and on and ON (sheesh!) about his medical experiences or his politics or how he totally almost scored on his last date, and it’s all you can do to not start yelling or making some kind of gag out of napkins and notepads and endpapers or just thinking the world is a terrible no good very bad place full of asshats and douchebags (as they say) . . . but, you know, really it’s not like that. All the time. Is it? Maybe it is. But it doesn’t have to be.), and simple one or two sentence sober thoughts can cut through the funk very nicely. As you have done upthread, I think. So a plea for you–and for others reading and thinking of chiming in but holding back for fear of the cow patty hammer or whatever: don’t leave. Your presence will help make things better. Promise. Maybe we can come up with a rewards system. Free candy for pithy on-point commentary! -Travis PS: Clearly, no candy for me this round.

Thomas Brady wrote a critique of this post on the recent thread called  “Harriet Sees Nothing on Harriet” which casts so much light on Blog:Harriet and the mindset of its “Poetry Gladiator” Editor, Travis Nichols, we decided to elevate it to an actual post. So here goes:


Nick writes, “there are certain sorts of people…”  certain sorts of people…?? And then Nick tars ‘certain sorts of people’ with his brush, and then announces he’s leaving in a huff… Travis responds:

Hey Nick,

Hey Nick –note the familiar tone…Hey Nick…

I definitely hear you, but I don’t think there’s a formal solution to the problem you’re presenting.

I definitely hear you… in other words I completely ascribe to your ‘certain sorts of people’ tone of bitchiness and disrespect…  but I don’t think there’s a formal solution… Immediately Travis jumps from the bitchy complaint to…oh how can we come up with a solution to make things better for Nick?

Why does Travis have to jump when Nick says jump? How does Nick suddenly become the authority here?

We have a couple different formatting changes in the works that I think will help people skip past commentary they have a stated distaste for, but beyond that the only way the discussion becomes valuable for people is if they participate in it.

And now Travis slips in something that’s actually an intelligent and proper response to Nick (the angry and the deluded)  “THE ONLY WAY THE DISCUSSION BECOMES VALUABLE FOR PEOPLE IS IF THEY PARTICIPATE IN IT.” Bravo, Travis! But where did that come from? If only this had been Travis’ sole reply, the world might be different…


But alas, Travis did not respond thusly, and, to please Nick, launched into the following:

It’s a big responsibility in a lot of ways, and I completely understand using your time for other things, but I, for one, would greatly appreciate you hanging around and offering up your two cents from time to time. It can get a bit cult-like in here (let’s go ahead and talk about it like a room; it feels that way sometimes, like when you’re in a room just trying to read or write down a thought or enjoy a meal and some guy at the next table is going on and on and ON (sheesh!) about his medical experiences or his politics or how he totally almost scored on his last date, and it’s all you can do to not start yelling or making some kind of gag out of napkins and notepads and endpapers or just thinking the world is a terrible no good very bad place full of asshats and douchebags (as they say) . . . but, you know, really it’s not like that. All the time. Is it? Maybe it is. But it doesn’t have to be.), and simple one or two sentence sober thoughts can cut through the funk very nicely. As you have done upthread, I think.

Now Travis makes this weird analogyposting on a blog is compared to sitting in a restaurant and TRYING TO READ while a conversation is going on at the next table…


Oh…so Nick WAS TRYING TO READ…and Christopher, you and I were TALKING…so he couldn’t READ… LOL

So a plea for you–and for others reading and thinking of chiming in but holding back for fear of the cow patty hammer or whatever: don’t leave.

“Holding back for fear of the cow patty hammer…?” Yea…it’s called a METAPHOR, Travis…why would someone FEAR that? What’s to fear in another’s words and opinions? [Click here for some background on that metaphor.]

ANY discussion on the web offers the SAME THREE RESPONSES, cow patty hammer or not, Travis. You 1.) agree, you 2.) disagree, or you 3.) ignore comment X, –or some combination thereof. That’s it! Simple! You can ALWAYS do this–unless you are censored.

These are ALWAYS the choices, whether Christopher Woodman and Thomas Brady are part of the discussion, or not. Travis? Nick? You know this, don’t you?

Let me say it once more. In ANY discussion, you only have 3 choices: Agree, disagree, ignore. These are ALWAYS the choices–no matter who you are having a discussion with. It doesn’t matter if Woodman or Brady are in the discussion, or not. These are the 3 choices one ALWAYS has.

Your presence will help make things better. Promise. Maybe we can come up with a rewards system. Free candy for pithy on-point commentary!

Christopher, I think Travis owes us a lot of candy.



Joan Shelley Rubin, author of Songs of Ourselves: The Uses of Poetry in America, said the 1920s belonged as much to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as it did to Thomas Stearns Eliot—and this is true.

The anti-Victorian, Imagism revolution of Bloomsbury, which gradually changed poetry from an art of song to an art of image through the ‘trickle-down’ effort of its elites, gained the overwhelming momentum of  great numbers when its ‘trickle-down’ effort became  normalized and taught in the academy–both in English departments and Creative Writing Workshops–during the second half of the 20th century.

Are there any prominent musicians who bother to set contemporary poetry to music?

The image in poetry became associated with art, while the music of poetry became associated with vulgarity.

Two brief examples, from last century, will suffice:

First: these lines from J.V. Cunningham, the anti-modernist poet, who is largely forgotten:

How time reverses
The proud in heart!
I now make verses
Who aimed at art.

Second:  Bloomsbury author Aldous Huxley’s infamous slam against Poe’s verse as “vulgar.”  The prim Englishman’s distaste for musical Poe was quoted approvingly in Brooks & Penn Warren’s well-placed textbook, Understanding Poetry (first edition, 1938) which also solidified the reputations of Imagist classics, ‘At A Station In the Metro’ (Pound) and ‘The Red Wheel Barrow’ (Williams) in its unalloyed praise for these two works.

Could poetry change radically today?  And, if it did, would the public even notice?    The answer to both quesitons is, ‘no,’ and the reason the first answer is ‘no,’ is because the second answer is ‘no.’

How did poetry change so radically in the early part of the 20th century?

First, it did have a public, but not a particularly large or enthusiastic one, and secondly, poetry was understood by the public to have a certain definite identity: it looked like work by Longfellow and Tennyson.

An art whose practioners are disunited, who have no common expertise, will not be seen as an art at all.  Poetry had a common expertise: the ability to compose memorable music with mere words, like Longfellow and Tennsyon.

“Verse is not easy,” Cunningham wrote.    But the skill of verse is no longer a part of poetry; poetry no longer has a specific “skill.”

The Imagists never got beyond a very minor, little magazine existence, but they believed what they were offering would be very popular, like a portable camera; now you can just point and shoot!  Anyone can appreciate images–and put them into simple poems–like haiku.  Poetry for democracy!  Poetry that was selfless and natural!  It will be a phenomenon!  But the public didn’t buy it–they still wanted their Tennyson and their Longfellow with their gadgets and their telephones and their cars.  Imagism, like Futurism, Cubism and 12-Tone Music, failed to inspire anyone except the core of elites who were pushing them.  Imagism was a flop.

Or, was it?

People ‘on the street’ today define poetry as vaguely expressive, and the public’s perception of something, we have learned, should not be underestimated.  ‘Vaguely’ is the chief term here.  No longer does the public think of poetry as Longfellow.  They think of it as vaguely expressive.

100 years ago the American public had a more sharply defined view of poetry.  It was like what those fellows, Mr. Alfred Lord Tennyson and Mr. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote.  That was what poetry was.

The zen joke of ‘The Red Wheel Barrow’ and ‘The women come and go/talking of Michelangelo’ resonated once, but these jokes are no longer funny.  But Longfellow is gone, too.

Image truly belongs to other arts: painting, photography, and film;  further, these arts do not need to look to poetry at all as they wrestle with the image.

Song belongs to songwriters, and songwriters, the good ones, are poets, but they are known to the world as songwriters; poetry’s identity carries on in the sister art of songwriting, and unlike the filmmakers, photographers and painters, songwriters do consult poetry, not contemporary poetry, but old poetry, the art, for inspiration.

Since poetry has given up song for image as its current identity, poetry manifests no contemporary attachment with any other art.  No glory belongs to poetry, or is even reflected back on poetry.  Poetry is in the dark.

Poetry, with no public identity, is stuck: it has nowhere to go.

History affords countless examples of  technical changes which have improved music’s expressive qualities as a whole even as music, the art, remains, in its simplicity, recongizable to everyone.   When the piano replaced the harpsichord, all composers took notice, not just some.

The modernist revolution changed poetry so that everyone took notice,  but unfortunately in a way that made poetry no longer recognizable to everyone.  Nor is it easy to say if expressive qualities have increased–certainly not in the public’s perception.  As far as prose and how it perhaps opens things up, the problem poetry has, is that in prose, one would naturally think poetry could express itself with greater variety, but fiction owns prose, and poetry is expected to do something different than fiction; poetry as art has been developed in different ways than prose.   Yes, poetry should be as good as good prose, and all that, but how does poetry keep from disappearing into it?  And so poetry–sans the music that separates it from prose, as the art which the public knows as poetry–has been at sea for 100 years.

T.S. Eliot, an honorary Bloomsbury member, and the most respected critic of the 20th century, recommended minor poetry 300 years old as superior to major poetry composed  250, 200, 150, 100, and 50 years before his day.  This, in some ways, was counter to the whole modernist revolution.  John Donne?  Andrew Marvell?  Henry King, Bishop of Chichester?  What was Eliot thinking?  Eliot was thinking this: If my friends and I are to effect this modernist revolution of ours, we must not seem like mere brick-throwers; we need erudition, scholarship, appreciation of certain aspects of the past, and if we are to become professors and editors of modernist verse, it will be well to be able to make the past our clay, for revolutions must feed off the past; no revolution lives in the present day; Eliot knew he and Pound were not Bach, the master, at the keyboard, re-inventing music itself; he knew they were merely sullying a grand tradition with a little sleight-of-hand: Goodbye, Milton, Shelley, Poe, Shakespeare, Keats.  Hello, Kyd, King, Corbiere.  Eliot knew that when a revolution happens, the past will not disappear; a certain respect for the past must not only be feigned, but enthusiastically pursued, for every manifesto needs food; actual ‘new’ material (Waste Lands, cantos, wheel barrow haiku,) will run out in a week, so the past has to be transformed.  Every revolution needs a professor; Mary Ann and Ginger alone will not do.

The image is free-standing and pre-verbal; it is not necessary for image to fit, or be coherent–it simply is. Why should such a thing be the essence of poetry?  Ask that Bloomsbury elite.  After a snort and a sigh and a sip of their very expensive wine, they will tell you.


David Lehman uses half his introduction to Best American Poetry 2009 to attack William Logan.

Now we know things are really out of hand.

Lehman creeps up on his prey by first alluding to negative criticism in general:

The notion that the job of the critic is to find fault with the poetry — that the aims of criticism and of poetry are opposed — is still with us or, rather, has returned after a hiatus.”

But who would argue against the idea that one of the functions of criticism is to find fault with poetry?  Lehman implies that this “hiatus” was a good thing.   No finding fault with poetry!  Ever!

Even if Lehman is speaking of criticism rather than reviewing, why shouldn’t criticism be able to find fault?

The critical essays of T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden are continuous with their poems and teach us that criticism is a matter not of enforcing the “laws of aesthetics” or meting out sentences as a judge might pronounce them in court. Rather, the poet as critic engages with works of literature and enriches our understanding and enjoyment of them. Yet today more than a few commentators seem intent on punishing the authors they review. It has grown into a phenomenon.”

Lehman has obviously never read T.S. Eliot’s criticism of Edgar Poe (From Poe to Valery, 1949) in which Eliot “punishes” Poe severely.  Poe alone has been attacked by any number of critics: Yvor Winters, Aldous Huxley, Harold Bloom, T.S Eliot, Joseph Wood Krutch, and earlier this year in the New Yorker by a history professor at Harvard.  In fact, there has been no “hiatus” when the target is America’s greatest writer.   Negative reviewing was, of course, practiced by Poe, among other things, and Poe said it very explicitly: “A criticism is just that—a criticism.”

When Lehman says, “A critic engages with works of literature and enriches our understanding and enjoyment of them” he sounds like a person who wants to eat without chewing.   When did “enjoyment” of literature preclude honest opinion about it?    Does Lehman seriously believe that being “nice” to a poem is how we “enjoy” it?   What does he think we are?   Little kids?

Lehman, like Camille Paglia, is dismissive of ‘French Theory:’

The characteristic badness of literary criticism in the 1980s was that it was heavily driven by theory and saddled with an unlovely vocabulary. T. S. Eliot, in “The Function of Criticism” (1923), says he “presumes” that “no exponent of criticism” has “ever made the preposterous assumption that criticism is an autotelic activity” — that is, an activity to be undertaken as an end in itself without connection to a work of literature. Eliot did not figure on post-structuralism and the critic’s declaration of independence from the text. If you wanted criticism “constantly to be confronted with examples of poetry,” as R. P. Blackmur recommends in “A Critic’s Job of Work,” you were in for a bad time in the 1980s.”

But even worse than critics off in a world of their own, according to Lehman, are critics who review poetry without being nice:

Every critic knows it is easier (and more fun) to write a ruthless review rather than a measured one. As a reviewer, you’re not human if you don’t give vent to your outrage once or twice — if only to get the impulse out of you. If you have too good a time writing hostile reviews, you’ll injure not only your sensibility but your soul. Frank O’Hara felt he had no responsibility to respond to a bad poem. It’ll “slip into oblivion without my help,” he would say.”

Actually, it’s not “easier” to write a “ruthless” review–erudition and patience go into “ruthless” reviews all the time.  It’s easier to be funny, perhaps, when being ruthless; this, I will grant, but ruthless without humor falls flat; ruthless and humorous is devastating–the review every poet fears.

As for O’Hara’s remark–echoed by contemporary critic Stephen Burt: Isn’t the critic a philosopher?  And when would you ever tell a philosopher: ‘only write about the good stuff?’

Now Lehman goes after his real target–William Logan.

William Logan typifies the bilious reviewer of our day. He has attacked, viciously, a great many American poets; I, too, have been the object of his scorn. Logan is the critic as O’Hara defined the species: “the assassin of my orchards.” You can rely on him to go for the most wounding gesture. Michael Palmer writes a “Baudelaire Series” of poems, for example, and Logan comments, “Baudelaire would have eaten Mr. Palmer for breakfast, with salt.” The poems of Australian poet Les Murray seem “badly translated out of Old Church Slavonic with only a Russian phrase book at hand.” Reviewing a book by Adrienne Rich is a task that Logan feels he could almost undertake in his sleep. Reading C. K. Williams is “like watching a dog eat its own vomit.”

For many years, Logan reserved his barbs for the poets of our time. More recently he has sneered at Emily Dickinson (“a bloodless recluse”) and condescended to Emerson (“a mediocre poet”).”

Oh Lehman, stop being such a big baby.  Emerson was a mediocre poet.  Logan has praised Dickinson’s work–calling her a ‘bloodless recluse’ is well…kinda…true.   Should there really be a law against giving Frank O’Hara or C.K. Williams or Hart Crane a bad review?

Far better poets have been far more vilified–and for political reasons, too.

Logan is merely expressing his taste.

Lehman, you shouldn’t take this so personally.

One person finds the weather too cold and goes indoors; another remains outside because they find the weather pleasant.

‘But,’ Lehman might reply, ‘ poets are not the weather, they create in order to please.’

All the more reason why there should be a wider divergence of opinion on poems than the weather.

Poems ask us to love them, and in ways far more nuanced than a breezy, foggy evening balanced between warm and cold.

There is nothing worse for poetry in general than telling people they have to like it.  Critics like Poe and Logan actually help the cake to rise.

Don’t you remember what Keats said about the talking primrose?  It tells us to like it.  So we don’t.

It goes without saying that I don’t agree with all of Logan’s judgments, but simple common sense impels this question:

Which statement is crazier?

I don’t like Hart Crane’s poetry.


Everyone has to like Hart Crane’s poetry.


Here’s looking at you, Don Share — “politically, personally, and poetically!”

“To grasp the essence of what our species has been and still is: this is at once political, personal… and poetical.”

Dear Don Share,
I had good times with you for the whole month of June on Blog:Harriet, particularly right at the end of Martin Earl’s wonderful thread, The Fish II,  when we talked big fish! [click here] More than that, I also enjoyed a private correspondence with you behind the scenes even after I got put on “moderation”  — as I’m sure you all know, my posts on Harriet were monitored for almost 2 months, occasioning long and painful delays, and over 20 were summarily deleted. [For some details on that 1.)  click here, 2.) click here, 3.) click here, 4.) click here, and 5.) click here. And for a fuller summary elsewhere, click here and click here.]

But just to be sure there’s no suggestion of impropriety behind these revelations, Don, let me be very clear that you never compromised your position at the Foundation. You never said a word about colleagues, or the chain of command, or policy, or gave me any hope that you would intervene on my behalf– yes, you were very free with me, open and interested, but never for a second did you let your professional mask slip. You weren’t involved in any way in the management of Blog:Harriet, you insisted, and even sought my help to get Alan Cordle to remove a paragraph from his Bluehole blog that held you partly responsible for what had happened [click here] — which Alan did, and with good grace. And I was very proud of that too, because I know we are like that, always willing to admit a mistake and do something about it.

Indeed, a lot of good things happened in those early exchanges. Michael Robbins came in on Alan’s blog too, for example, and bitterly protested our interpretation of his involvement, and we responded immediately to that as well, and not only apologized to him but praised him for his openness and courage. [click here] Indeed, that moment with Michael Robbins was one of the most positive moments of our whole protest, and we are still very grateful to him for that as well as for his decision to distance himslf from Blog:Harriet — not in solidarity with us at all but because he felt badly about what the atmosphere at Harriet had done to him personally. Because, of course, it brought the worst out of everybody!

EYE Don ShareBut you did nothing whatsoever, Don Share — almost as if you didn’t see anything happening. And here you are today writing all this wise and well-informed poetry stuff about deep human issues, who we poets are, what matters, what poetry can accomplish, what art,  what passion, however foolish, what the spirit can achieve [click here], yet you didn’t engage yourself at all when you were face to face with the REAL THING — a real poetry massacre! Because we were deeply involved in these very same issues in July and August, of course,  but on a much, much deeper, more meaningful, and more tangible level than on Harriet today. And then on September 1st we had the plug pulled on us,  and we were all summarily executed. Yes, and you were right there and said nothing.

And look what’s left on Blog:Harriet today? Just look at the response to your sensitive and exceptionally well-written new article, for example? [click here] A dry board-room discussion of the niceties of copyright law combined with some fawning, some clichés, and some banter. Before you were face to face with the real censorship of actual living American poets, ones who weren’t hiding behind anything at all, and were therefore extremely vulnerable. And you watched the axe fall on them, and you did nothing whatever!

That photo above is of me in Brooklyn, New York when I was Head of the English Department at The Brooklyn Polytechnic Preparatory School in Bayridge in the 80s. A lot of my students were from John Travolta’s neighborhood too, and they loved it because I taught poetry in a fever as if it were a real Saturday-night thing, as if poetry really did dance and rumble and matter — over the top sometimes, for sure, but that’s what energy and commitment bring out, a rage to inhabit the mountain peaks with the Saturday-night gods. When I first wrote like that on Blog:Harriet, I felt the same sort of resonance that I did in Bayridge, and even the Contributing Writers got excited, and praised me for my efforts — and yes, some of them even talked to me off-line like you did…

And then I got banned!


Blog:Harriet is a tiny bit of The Poetry Foundation’s on-line commitment, I know, only 3% of the traffic, but it’s where the free voice of poetry really matters. Because Blog:Harriet is financially independent and doesn’t have to balance the books, satisfy institutional requirements, or mollify advertisers, corporate or even college presidents. Most important of all, it doesn’t have to take sides in the wonderful complexities that blossom when poetry rumbles as if it were, wow, Saturday night in Chicago!

W.B.Yeats is dead, and we’re still wondering, who was this ridiculous genius? How could our greatest modern poet be such an enigma, and what if anything did he accomplish beside all that inconceivably beautiful, deep and earth-moving verse he left behind? And now the intellectual conscience of the modern era,  the creator of our most modern discourse, Claude Levi-Strauss, he’s dead too — and we can celebrate his Triste Tropiques as one of the greatest modern explorations of what human expression can accomplish — in its author’s own style, and in the sacred communities he initiated us into.

Well, I’m 70, and my writing matters too, Don, particularly as I’m just as passionately committed as Claude Levi-Strauss ever was, and just as nutty, passionate and lyrical as Yeats. And that’s true, even if I have no creds, no prospects, no mentor or editor or maneuvers for tenure or a pension or even a credit card in my wallet!

And you banned Desmond Swords too with all that next-generation Irish brilliance, and Thomas Brady who put Blog:Harriet on the map with his well-informed, startling, and indefatigable genius. And Alan Cordle, perhaps the best-known and effective social critic on the contemporary poetry scene in America — summarily chopped for just being who he was!

EYE Don ShareSo what are you going to do about all that, Don Share? Just let it slip, just let all those hurt feelings and that outrage fester? Just let Harriet go down the tubes as an accident, the usual sort of bumbling and grumbling which takes people over when they refuse to talk to each other, what’s more listen? Are you trying to prove that even at The Poetry Foundation poetry doesn’t matter, that it’s all just business as usual even with the blessings of Ruth B. Lilly’s profound good-will and all her benificent millions?

So why did you bother to write  that article on Yeats and Claude Levi-Strauss then, or don’t you take any of it serioously? I mean, is that just what you do for a living, to write like that? Is that just your thing at The Foundation?

And I know that’s not it at all, dear Don, but sooner or later you’ve got to say what it is, and take action.

Sooner or later you’ve got to stand up and be counted!

Christopher Woodman

This is the first of the Personal Statements of those who were banned from Harriet on September 1st, 2009. Stay Tuned for the accounts of Desmond Swords, Alan Cordle, and Thomas Brady.


Drugs like caffeine and  nicotine are wonderful stimulants for poetry.

Five packs a day, and you, too, could be a great poet.

In 1939, a transition year marking the start of WW II, the poet W.H. Auden was divided.

Auden was between jobs, homelands, faiths, political beliefs,  romances–as well as drags on his cigarette.

The English poet was about to settle in the U.S. (New York) say goodbye to friend Christopher Isherwood (who moved to California in April) meet and“marry” Chester Kallman–a devotee of anonymous men’s room sex, abandon his atheism for the Church of England, give up his Marxism for a belief in Western Democracy, and abandon travel reporting for college teaching.

In a Nation article in March 1939, Auden played prosecutor and defense—rhetorically dividing himself—in debating the poetic worth of W.B. Yeats–who had died in January of that year.

Yeats’ death surely made Auden,  famous and middle-aged in 1939,  reflect on his own worth as a poet, and, naturally on the worth of poetry itself in a brutal age approaching war.

Are we surprised, then, that poetry’s most divided and ambiguous statement about itself, emerged in March of 1939, in a poem by Auden on W.B. Yeats?

We really don’t need to puzzle over the meaning of “Poetry makes nothing happen,” for it is clearly the utterance of a helplessly divided and self-pitying man: “Poetry makes Auden happen” is closer to an accurate statement, for poetry makes a great deal happen.  Auden, the famous poet, felt sorry for himself as he contemplated the death of another well-known poet (Yeats) falling like a tiny droplet in the ocean, a day when a “few thousand”  were aware of something “slightly unusual.”

Or, if Auden wasn’t pitying himself, the phrase probably sprang from Auden’s sense–which one can detect in the Nation article–that Yeats was (and this is probably correct) a right-wing loon; “poetry makes nothing happen” was a description of Yeats’ poetry, not poetry.

Auden looked around at the world in 1939 and said, rather gruffly, after smoking a pack of cigarettes with a few Pinot Noirs, ‘look, Yeats believed in fairies and Hitler is about to set the world on fire…

It was Yeats–Auden thought he was a freak.

Auden knew poetry–in general–made things happen.

After all, poetry created the poet, Auden, who made the ambiguous statement, ‘poetry makes nothing happen,’ in the first place.

The idea that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’ is…silly.

Auden married Kallman–and, to no one’s surprise, Chester broke Wystan’s heart.   Shall we say, then, “Marriage makes nothing happen?”

We should remember that poetry is much larger than W.H. Auden or W.B. Yeats, or any individual, and that sordid details and facts pale beside universals, and small facts can suddenly become universals, depending on the context.  We should remember what Percy Shelley, whose poetic treatment of the death of John Keats blows away Auden’s ditty on Yeats, said in his A Defense of Poetry:

The frequent recurrence of the poetical power, it is obvious to suppose, may produce in the mind a habit of order and harmony correlative with its own nature and with its effects upon other minds. But in the intervals of inspiration, and they may be frequent without being durable, a poet becomes a man, and is abandoned to the sudden reflux of the influences under which others habitually live.”   –Shelley, A Defense

A long poet does not exist.

Sure, a poem, or a poet, or poetry might–sometimes–make nothing happen.

Fairy dust and puffs of smoke make nothing happen.  Most of us know that.

But, again, Shelley:

The exertions of Locke, Hume, Gibbon, Voltaire, Rousseau,  and their disciples, in favor of oppressed and deluded humanity, are entitled to the gratitude of mankind. Yet it is easy to calculate the degree of moral and intellectual improvement which the world would have exhibited, had they never lived. A little more nonsense would have been talked for a century or two; and perhaps a few more men, women, and children burnt as heretics. We might not at this moment have been congratulating each other on the abolition of the Inquisition in Spain. But it exceeds all imagination to conceive what would have been the moral condition of the world if neither Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Calderon, Lord Bacon, nor Milton, had ever existed; if Raphael and Michael Angelo had never been born; if the Hebrew poetry had never been translated; if a revival of the study of Greek literature had never taken place; if no monuments of ancient sculpture had been handed down to us; and if the poetry of the religion of the ancient world had been extinguished together with its belief. The human mind could never, except by the intervention of these excitements, have been awakened to the invention of the grosser sciences, and that application of analytical reasoning to the aberrations of society, which it is now attempted to exalt over the direct expression of the inventive and creative faculty itself.”  –Shelley, A Defense

What was Shelley on, anyway?


Since Alan Cordle’s got major media attention and made Foetry a household word, a quiet revolution has taken place.   Publishing and prizes are no longer assumed to be pure.   The ‘Cred Game’ has been exposed.

Here’s a random example from the world of poetry bloggers:

From the list of 10 things that makes this poetry blogger “want to vomit:”

Vomit #4: I want to vomit when presses that are vanity exercises continue to publish their friends and exclude new voices.

We think it’s wonderful, thanks to Alan Cordle, that new understanding and outrage exists, but further education is needed.

What made Alan Cordle so dangerous and hated, was that he named names. He was not content to just bellyache. named, and brought low, big names, because, as more and more realize today, “vanity” in po-biz goes all the way to the top.

Big names intimidate, allowing foetic practice to continue where ‘the gods’ play.

But not everyone is intimidated by big names.  And the word is getting out that Foetry did not begin with Jorie Graham.  The word is getting out that many of the icons of Modernism–which so many people worship because they learned about them in school–were foetic frauds.

It takes critical acumen to detect foetry in history, foetry in the canon, and foetry in contemporary big names.

This is what Scarriet is here for.

All that juicy and critically acute stuff.

The poetry blog which I quoted at random is called ‘The Irascible Poet,” with the following quote on its masthead:

“I Have Never Met a Poet Worth A Damn that was Not Irascible” —Ezra Pound

Here’s what we mean by education.  Our blogger needs to be educated.  The foetic Modernists really brought very little new to the table that was not merely crackpot. We really hate to keep going back to Poe, and making this an issue of Pound v. Poe, but this did fall into our lap.

Before Pound recommended “the irascible poet,” Poe wrote the following:

That poets, including artists in general, are a genus irritable is well understood, but the why seems not to be commonly seen. An artist is an artist only by dint of his exquisite sense of Beauty – a sense affording him rapturous enjoyment, but at the same time implying, or involving, an equally exquisite sense of Deformity or disproportion. Thus a wrong – an injustice – done a poet who is really a poet, excites him to a degree which, to ordinary apprehension, appears disproportionate with the wrong. Poets see injustice – never where it does not exist – but very often where the unpoetic see no injustice whatever. Thus the poetical irritability has no reference to “temper” in the vulgar sense, but merely to a more than usual clear-sightedness in respect to Wrong, this clearsightedness being nothing more than a corollary from the vivid perception of Right, of justice, of proportion. But one thing is clear -–that the man who is not “irritable” is no poet.

This is from Poe’s Marginalia.   Is it not a rapturous paean against foetry? And as we close this post, let us quote Poe again from his Marginalia, and this, too, could be a pledge against all foetic affliction.

Take heart, my friends!

Literature is the most noble of professions. In fact, it is about the only one fit for a man. For my own part, there is no seducing me from the path. I shall be a litterateur, at least, all my life; nor would I abandon the hopes which still lead me on for all the gold in California. Talking of gold, and of the temptations at present held out to “poor-devil authors,” did it ever strike you that all which is really valuable to a man of letters, to a poet especially, is absolutely unpurchaseable? Love, fame, the dominion of intellect, the consciousness of power, the thrilling sense of beauty, the free air of Heaven, exercise of body and mind, with the physical and moral health which result, these and such as these are really all that a poet cares for. Then answer me this: why should he go to California?


Everyone knows the Poetic Modernism Revolution begain with the Imagists, but few appreciate the role of poet, fiction writer, and critic, Yone Noguchi (1875-1947) –the Japanese Ezra Pound.

Noguchi conquered the West in three steps: San Francisco, 1893-1900; New York City, 1901-1904; and England, 1903 & 1913.   He befriended William Michael Rossetti (one of the seven founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood), Arthur Symons, William Butler Yeats, and Thomas Hardy. Not bad.

Noguchi got raves in Poetry magazine as a pioneering modernist, thanks to his early advocacy of free verse and association with modernist writers Ezra Pound, Richard Aldington, and John Gould Fletcher.  (Fletcher, from Arkansas, was part of Pound’s circle, and, later, John Crowe Ransom’s Southern Agrarians.)

So Noguchi pushed all the Modernist buttons: Pre-Raphaelite, Pound’s Euro-circle, Agrarian New Critics, and Chicago’s ‘Poetry.’   Bingo.

Modernism is usually associated with WW I, but the Russo-Japanese War played a key role on more than one level.

Noguchi’s suggestion to write haiku in his “A Proposal To American Poets” had a great impact in the wake of Japan’s stunning victory (aided by Japan’s alliance with Great Britain) in the 1904 Russo-Japanese War, as Japan took the world stage by storm.   Britain gained as a sea power in competition with Russia–soon rocked by revolution after its humiliating defeat by Japan.

Now, what are WC Williams‘ ‘The Red Wheel Barrow’ and Pound’s “In A Station Of the Metro” but haiku (and rather bad ones at that)?

The Modernists would rather not call Pound and Williams writers of haiku.   It makes the whole ‘Imagiste revolution’ seem a little quaint and second-hand.

Also, World War I is a lot sexier than the Russo-Japanese War.

So there’s a good reason why today Yone Naguchi never shows up in the history of Modernist verse.

Oh, and just to complete the Pound analogy; Noguchi gradually became more militaristic and ended fully supporting Japan’s imperial war designs in World War II.

Crush the West!  They never did get Haiku.

“How American Modernism Came Out:” Tom writes it in a letter.


Hi Christopher,……………………………………………………………..10/27/2009
I never had a chance to see your draft before you pulled it. Don’t be too self-critical — I sort of like it when we post a howler. It’s part of our style, isn’t it? I mean, we don’t even know what we’re going to post next ourselves!

I like the ‘LangPo v. Official Verse Culture’ just up because that’s IT in a nutshell for lots of poets these days.  We’ve got to simplify it like that if we’re going to be popular at all.  We’ve got to mine this whole Modernism thing–it’s pertinent, it’s relevant, it’s got legs, it’s known, it’s familiar to many, it’s sexy, and it’s Foetry-city, and it’s horribly sexist, in my opinion, and fascist, to boot, so if we can get people stirred up about it, we’ll have a huge audience.

I’m not a ‘knee-jerk’ leftist, Christopher; I like to think I transcend political labels, but right now I’ll do anything to get a discussion going.  People who would otherwise be horrified at the true politics of the Modernists have given it a pass for the sake of ‘experimentalism’ and ‘aesthetic radicalism’ but I want to prove to the next generation of good people that we’ve been ‘had,’ and open up their eyes and tie it all into Foetics and then see where it leads, in a kind of Socratic manner: don’t know where the truth is exactly, but we’re looking for it…

You were at Cambridge, and I want to do an in-depth look at how American Modernism came out of the U.K.  It’s really exciting…Bloomsbury and the Cambridge Apostles and the Aristotelian Society…all the New Critics were Rhodes Scholars, including Paul Engle…I’m sure the Plan was formulated in comfortable, cozy rooms above the green lawns of Cambridge University…some British Empire planner took a moment from his busy schedule of running the world…”Oh, what to do with Poetry?  Well, let’s see…give me a moment…How about this and this and this?…very good, then!…carry on…”

So what was the Plan for Poetry?  What is the Plan for everything?  Consolidate power among elites, and I’m guessing the take-over works this way:

1. First, sow confusion in a ‘crisis’ atmosphere  (Oh gosh what the hell is poetry, what is reality, anyway?)

2. Hand-pick those who are best equipped to respond to the ‘crisis’

3.  Let these hand-picked be of two kinds: conservative and radical and let them feign disagreement while working towards the same end.

4. Stamp the hand-picked crisis-responders as the ‘new thing’ and have hand-picked associates in the press and in academia sound the alarm, but with grudging respect.

5. Relevance established, the ‘new thing’ is crowned savior and becomes the new status quo.

The whole thing ‘works’ precisely because the role of poetry no longer exists as poetry, but has been narrowed down into a kind of ‘movement’ which is ‘managed’ by a subsidized group; it is this ‘narrowing’ which provides the ‘energy’ that gains them advantage; they use poetry, instead of the other way around, they tie it into the current ‘crisis,’ and so the mere passive ‘appreciators of poetry’ don’t stand a chance–they’re slaughtered like cows.

I wanted to make this point to Des in our recent comments exchange on Scarriet.  Destroying culture is like killing people.  It’s serious business.  Our mission to save poetry is not just about one’s individual right to write without criticism–it’s deeper than that

Alan’s got to be happy at how Scarriet is doing.

A poet friend of mine from Canada who I only talk to occasionally just sent me an enthusiastic message re: Scarriet.  I’ll quote a part:

“Hi Tom, the Scarriet is amazing! we need something like this in Canada as its pretty lame here and no one is “kicking against the pricks” (sorry for my rather off colour language but this is an actual phrase that was popular in Canadian literary circles years ago) And I am not someone who can speak up unfortunately due to being shy! So congrats again on your feisty spirit and thats a lot of good work.”

Terreson & Gary are united by their ‘love of the earth’ which is OK, but it’s not finally interesting…eco-awareness has been played as much as it can possibly be played in the mainstream press, and now it’s become a matter of policy and implementation. Poets playing it up seems a little beside the point, like saying education matters…






The Alabama Panel 25 years ago this month was essentially a high-brow rumble: LangPo taking on Official Verse Culture.

Two heavyweights of LangPo, 53 year old USC Comparative Lit. professor Marjorie Perloff and 34 year old L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E editor Charles Bernstein took on U.K. poet Louis Simpson, 61,  former Nation poetry editor and Black Mountain associated poet, Denise Levertov, 60, David Ignatow, 70, poet and poetry editor of The Nation, Harvard professor Helen Vendler, 51, and Iowa Workshop poet Gerald Stern, 59.

Perloff and Bernstein were on friendly turf, however. 35 year old Hank Lazer, the ‘Bama professor host, was in Bernstein’s camp, as was 30 year old Gregory Jay, punk ‘Bama assistant professor.

Charles Altieri, 41,  professor at U. Washington and recent Fellow at Institute for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Palo Alto, ostensibly had a foot in each camp, but you could tell his heart was with Perloff and Bernstein.  The match-up was actually 5-5, so LangPo should have counted itself fortunate.

Also at the table 25 years ago was the elder statesman, Kenneth Burke, 87, a coterie member of the original Modernists–winner of the annual Dial Magazine Award in 1928 (other winners of the Dial Award in the 1920s: T.S. Eliot in 1922 for ‘The Waste Land,’ Ezra Pound, WC Williams, E.E. Cummings, and Marianne Moore.)   Burke, chums with figures such as Malcolm Cowley and Allen Tate, was an editor at The New Republic 1929-1944, a radical Marxist, and a symbolism expert–if such a thing is possible.

The poet Donald Hall had been invited and could not attend–submitting in writing for the conference his famous ‘McPoem’ critque of the Workshop culture.

We already looked at how Gerald Stern embarrassed Bernstein by asking him to ‘name names’ when Bernstein raised the issue at the 25 year old panel discussion of ‘poet policemen’ enforcing the dictates of ‘official verse culture’ and Bernstein only coming up with one name: T.S. Eliot.

Then we looked at Vendler asserting the crucial modernist division between timeless criticism and “abrasive” reviewing–with Simpson retorting this was nothing but a status quo gesture on Vendler’s part, with Vendler weakly replying she was fighting the status quo in working to make Wallace Stevens more appreciated.   Then in Part III of this series, we saw how Levertov roared ‘you parochial fools are ignoring race/unprecedented crisis/human extinction.’

Levertov, taking a no-frills Leftist position, and Simpson, with his no-frills aesthetic of pre-interprative Vision, proved too much for the LangPo gang.

Levertov became incensed with professor Jay’s post-modern argument that human language and interpretation are at the heart of human experience: “Bullshit!” Levertov said.  Levertov and Simpson (with Ignatow) argued for universal feeling as primary.

Levertov argued for universal access as the very nature of language; Perloff countered that a small group of people might find meaning in something else.

Louis Simpson came in for the kill, asking Perloff:

“Suppose you found some people who were using bad money and thought it was good money.  Would you be mistaken to point out then it was all forged?”

The audience roared appreciatively with laughter.

Bernstein, with his training in analyitic philosophy, was shrewder, finally, than Perloff. 

Rather than confront the dinosaur Levertorous head-on, the furry little Bernstith sniffed around and devoured her giant eggs:

Bernstein: “We’re not going to to resolve philosophical & theosophical, religious differences among us.  Religious groups have these same disagreements.  I think the problem I have is not so much understanding that people have a different veiwpoint than I have–believe me, I’ve been told that many times (laughter) and I accept that.”

Here’s the insidious nature of Bernstein’s Cambridge University training–he seeks disagreement as a happy result; he embraces difference as a positive quality in itself.   Bernstein gives up on universals sought by pro and con argument.  Now he continues:

“What I do find a problem is that we say ‘poets’ think this and ‘poets’ think that–because by doing that we tend to exclude the practices of other people in our society of divergence.”

What are these “practices of other people?”  He doesn’t say.  But we can imply that these “practices” are radically different and reconciliation is impossible.    Now Bernstein goes on to make a stunning leap of logic:

“And I think it’s that practice that leads to the very deplorable situation that Denise Levertov raised: the exclusion of the many different types of communities and cultures from our multicultural diverse society, of which there is no encompassing center.  My argument against a common voice is based on my idea that the idea of a common voice seems to me exclusion.”

Bernstein’s Orwellian thesis is that the One does not include the Many; the One is merely a subset of the Many.   Bernstein rejects the universalizing social glue necessary for Levertov’s democratic commonwealth of social justice; Bernstein promotes inclusion while positing inclusion itself as exclusion(!).  Multiculturalism interests Bernstein for its severing qualities–Bernstein wants to break but not build.  Logically and politically, he is unsound, and later on in the discussion–after Vendler breaks from ‘official verse culture’ and goes over to Bernstein’s side (thus giving Langpo a numerical 6-4 victory) with her ‘poetry makes language opaque’ speech–Levertov strikes the following blow:

Bernstein:  My poetry resists the tendencies within the culture as a whole. What poetry can do is make an intervention within our language practice in society.

Levertov:  I disagree.  Language is not your private property. Language has a common life.




The Zombie-Modernists are:

1. Ignorant of material, social, political, elitist origins of Modernism.

2. Ignorant of the vicious, exclusionary, philistine nature of Modernism.

3. Ignorant of how much ‘Make It New’ was fascist razing and leveling, not  democratic or revolutionary building.

Here’s what the Futurist Manifesto, published in 1909 on the front page of a major daily newspaper in Paris, said: 

We will glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn of woman.”

The critic Marjorie Perloff, whose job is to glorify kooky, 20th century modernism, excuses these words, saying Marinetti didn’t really mean it.

Perloff is not the only one, of course, who finds the manifesto-ism of Pound and Futurism full of “charm.”  Here’s more from that 1909 document:

“Courage, audacity and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry.”

We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunisitic or utilitarian cowardice.”

“We affirm that the world’s magnficence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed.  A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath…”

“We intend to exalt aggresive action, a fervent insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap.”



Another Interlude at the Bama Conference: Charlie Brown Teaches Poet Lessons.

A second Open Letter to my friend the poet, Gary B. Fitzgerald, who gets so upset when his poems attract Dislike votes on Harriet,

or even when an admirer gives him too much attention!

Charlie Brown_0001


Dear Gary,
If you want to know how your poems make the Harriet posters feel, or at least that portion of the Harriet posters who feel compelled to vote ‘Dislike’ for every poem you post, look at Charlie Brown. For Charlie Brown, of course, is a poet, and you can tell that by how strongly he feels about that little red-haired girl. Indeed, that’s the first requirement, to have strong feelings, and the second is to have the courage of your convictions and, of course, get those convictions into words. You have to say what you mean, in other words, and say it loud and clear — even if it means your commitment knocks the little red-haired girl right out of her desk and onto the floor!

Because, of course, that’s the curse of being a poet as well, that if you say it too loud and clear the whole world will laugh and point — which is why most true poets never quite manage to become adults.

And would this set-back discourage Charlie Brown?  You bet it would, and he’d go home and sit down in that big chair and hurt.

And would Charlie Brown not write another poem the next time, and even post it on Harriet again despite all those horrible sophisticates he knows are going to dump Red all over it?

You bet he would — and will.

And would Yvor Winters find himself in the same predicament, or Kenneth Goldsmith, Stephen Burt or Travis Nichols? Never — they’re too smart and know too much, and deal with all poetry affairs circumspectly. They also know the little red haired girl couldn’t care less, and they’re certainly not going to risk their reputations by foolishly writing a poem for her. Because like her they’re cynics, which makes them always safe — and, of course, superficial poets.



BAMA PANEL III:  Indeed, Denise Levertov is increasingly appalled…

The third in a series of 5 articles on the 1984 University of Alabama Poetry Conference by THOMAS BRADY.

Denise Levertov

A perception of Wallace Stevens as participant in the “common life” was all Helen Vendler had in her defense against Louis Simpson’s charge that she (Helen Vendler) was a living embodiment of the staus quo.  Vendler’s “aim in life,” she said, was to “change the status quo,” and the example she produced in Alabama that morning was that she was on a life-long quest to find some way to convince people that tubby Wallace Stevens was not a wealthy, racist snob who wrote show-offy, goofball verse. (Good luck with that, professor Vendler.   You might want to check out William Logan’s review of the new ‘Selected Stevens’ in this month’s New Criterion.)

Charles Bernstein, with his back against the wall, finally…after a ‘Stern’ grilling…named… T.S Eliot.

Hendler Vendler…zonked by the poet Louis Simpson…attempted to save herself… with… Wallace Stevens.

Both Eliot and Stevens were students of the aesthetic philosopher George Santayana at Harvard.

Vendler was a full professor at Harvard.

Bernstein studied under Stanley Cavell at Harvard.

Denise Levertov, poetry editor for The Nation in the 1960s and Mother Jones in the 1970s, had heard enough.  She exploded.  She hit the ceiling.  She yawped.

“I’m getting increasingly appalled…”

Uh Oh…


A feeling of shame moved through the panelists…


“The Crimson began to turn red…”


Sweat trickling down the faces of every professor in the room…


Panelists frozen in horror…


“Wildly and wonderfully?”  Denise, get this over with!  Kill us now!


The panelists and the audience  (all white) were suddenly drained of color.


Damn!  Not Chicano poets, too!

(Maybe she said Chicago poets!  no…no…Chicano poets.  We’re cooked.)

Denise Levertov wasn’t finished.

The panelists didn’t move.

“All this is totally ignored and perhaps even more important…”

No one breathed.  Not even Louis Simpson, the WW II vet, batted an eyelash…

“we are talking away here…talking about prizes and naming names…”

Bernstein and Stern looked at the floor…Vendler began to chew on her lip…

“and all this is absolutely parochial irrelevancy and IGNORES THE FACT…”

The panelists, one by one, began to slowly hide under the table…


Vendler, under the table, drank a glass of water very fast…


Louis Simspon, WW II vet, is now weeping into Vendler’s shoes…


It brings the house down.  Furious applause.  Papers, books, flying everywhere.   Spontaneous suicides.

Alabama has never seen anything like this.

It’s unprecedented.

End of Part III.

Part IV will examine  everything else you’ve wanted to know about how American poetry got to be where it is but didn’t know how or what to ask.


BAMA PANEL II:  Foetry covered up in leaves, Vendler style.

The second in a series of 5 articles on the 1984 University of Alabama Poetry Conference by THOMAS BRADY.

..Helen Vendler,…………Louis Simpson,…….Simpson, Vendler and Bernstein

There were more fireworks at Hank Lazer’s 1984 Tuscaloosa Conference.

The distinguished poet Louis Simpson, steely, feet-on-the-ground, World War Two veteran, rebuked panelist Helen Vendler’s attempt to take the high road above the foetic mire.

Simpson to Vendler: “The status quo. If the establishment ever spoke, it would say exactly, I’m sorry, what you just said.”

What did Vendler say to elicit this response?

Vendler was obviously taken aback by Simpson’s remark.   She had just addressed what she termed the panel’s “ill feelings” (especially those of Bernstein’s) with a long speech.

Simpson’s reply must have felt like a slap in the face.

The distinguished poet Louis Simpson was like knight royal at the conference; he was the only male U.K. member, rather elderly, and he was also the best poet there.

In her speech, Vendler, the plumpish bird of Keats/Stevens plumage, played her ‘Tenured Queen of the Criticism Priesthood’ card, obviously an attempt to 1) restore order to the proceedings, 2) give dignity to the proceedings, 3) soothe hurt feelings as a mother might and 4) impress everyone.

Simpson’s remark was so wounding that all Helen of Harvard could make in the way of reply was that she had worked  hard all her life to make people realize Wallace Stevens was no snob, but a real man, and…and…if that wasn’t using the High Road of Criticism to challenge the status quo, then, what was?

Simpson, silent and unmoved, must have thought to himself, ‘Wallace Stevens?  Is that all you’ve got?’

All Bernstein had was T.S. Eliot.

Now all Vendler had was Wallace Stevens.

O O O O that Official Verse Culture-

It’s so elegant

So intelligent

 Vendler began her speech by juxtaposing the practice of high and beautiful Criticism with the practice of low and necessary Reviewing.

Contemporary reviewing, like the game of love, was bound to make people unhappy; rejected by a lover because you are not a beautiful blonde, rejected by a tenure committee because you are not Helen Vendler,  rejected by a prize committee because you are not Jorie Graham, are just parts of life and it’s best not to nurse grudges and throw stones at tenure committees and call them old fogies because, dear Charles, you just have to be patient, OK, sweetie?  What really matters is how we feel about the dead, with all personal jealousies and animosties removed, time and death fostering a love of what is true.

Foetry covered up in leaves, Vendler style.

“When we are all safely dead…”

“Temporary abrasiveness between prize committees & reviewers and the poets they’re judging or giving prizes to shouldn’t be confused with differences between poetry & criticism.”

Ah, but Helen, this sort of abrasiveness isn’t temporary.

It lasts forever.

One can hear the anger even in the playing of that blue guitar.

Vendler: “Milton cannot feel bad that Dr. Johnson didn’t think well of his poem, ‘Lycidas.'”

Stern: “He’s furious.”

End of Part II.

Part III will deal with multicultural wrath in Alabama.
Sound good?


An Interlude at the Bama Conference — performed outside the curtain.

A letter to my friend the poet, Gary B. Fitzgerald, who gets so upset when his poems attract so many Dislike votes on Harriet:

“Your poems are very pure, Gary — indeed they’re unique in that. Because you bring no artifice to them, no stunts, no tricks, no riddles, no performances, no arcana, no complexities of any sort, no contradictions, no obscure references, no quotes, no citations, no buried hints, no deep alchemical or esoteric or psychological knots, no sleights of hand, no fits of madness, no fluff or flarf or fiddling, no lists, no inner flights of foolery, indeed almost no imagery at all, no sacred symbols, confessions or paradoxes, no minimalist self-abnegations, and, most unusual of all, no pretense. Finally, although your poems are almost always philosophical you don’t need to know one thing about Wittgenstein or Rorty, A.J.Ayer, Lyotard or Lao Tzu to understand them.

“All you need is a.) to be a human being,  b.) to know how to read slowly and deeply, with a pure and open heart, and c.) be able to trust something in words without any irritable searching after something even more fashionable to compare it with, or something even wittier, negative or positive, to stump the poem completely.

” You simply don’t give the Harriet readers anything to get their perfect teeth into, Gary — in fact, you make them choke. You make them feel that all that expensive orthodontistry they got done at Iowa or Stanford wasn’t even worth the smile! Because you don’t give them any chat-fat to chew on, and if they actually did read one of your poems, which they don’t, they’d just feel angry, as if you’d tricked them. Because your poems are THE REAL THING in an unwrapped nutshell, and an on-line love-you/hate-you show like the new regime at Harriet can’t deal with poetry that’s humble and, most unnerving of all, doesn’t even try to make it new!

And if you read this as an insult, Gary, or any other poet, you don’t deserve the name or the blessings it could bring you.



BAMA PANEL I:  Charles Bernstein does NOT name the ‘Official Poetry Policemen.’

The first in a series of 5 articles on the 1984 University of Alabama Poetry Conference by THOMAS BRADY.

Charles Bernstein, Gerald Stern, and T.S.Eliot.

Gerald Stern: “Names…of the policemen.”

If this October 20, 1984 panel discussion had taken place in London or Paris, or one of America’s major universities, it might have struck a mythic chord in American Letters.  If poetry mattered more to the American public, we might still be discussing the poetry session which took place 25 years ago this month.

Helen Vendler, Marjorie Perloff, Charles Bernstein, Denise Levertov, Kenneth Burke, Louis Simpson, David Ignatow and Gerald Stern put on a show in sleepy Tuscaloosa, as post-modernism faced off against modernism in a throat-ripping dog fight

Modern poetry’s factions exploded in the flesh, as po-biz insiders erupted in a spontaneous public quarrel.

The more dignified members of the panel probably regret their trip to U. Alabama in those controversial days of the 1980s culture wars.   I’m guessing most of the participants would prefer this conference be forgotten, but we at Scarriet would hate to miss an opportunity  to see big players like Helen (of Coy) Vendler and (Prince) Charles Bernstein naked.

We want to thank Annie Finch for finding the transcript of the panel discussion–we would have missed it otherwise.

Scarriet will do a series of posts on the ‘Bama Panel, as we observe its 25th anniversary.  There’s too much great stuff here for just one post.

So here we are back in 1984.  When asked a bland question by the conference host:

“What do you perceive the function of poetry to be, Charles?”

Bernstein, the unemployed ex-editor of the magazine, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E,  quickly got himself in a foetic tangle:

“[it] has to do with audiences, distribution, jobs, professional networks, things like that, which I think we tend to underrate.  It seems interesting to me that professional academic poets are making this particular issue apparent in this context…”

“I think it’s unfair not to realize that it’s actually poets who are the policemen of official verse culture in the United States.  And so from the perspective of a poet outside the academy and from the perspective of many people that I know who are not associated with academics, cannot get teaching jobs…”

Iowa Poetry Workshop teacher and poet Gerald Stern broke in:

“I don’t think you’re right, Charles. Who? What poets are the policemen? Would you like to name some poets who are the policemen?”

This was the defining moment of Bernstein’s career.  Had Bernstein “named names,” backing up his claim that ‘policemen poets’ were oppressively enforcing ‘official verse culture,’ he might never have found a job in academia.

Bernstein replied, “Yeah, I’ll give you a group, I’ll give you a group.”

Stern was a bulldog.  He would not let the matter drop.

Names…of the policemen.”

Bernstein:  I’ll give you a group.  You want me to?  No, I’m not going to, I’m going to give you institutional groups, I’m going to say those poets, those poets who…

Stern: I’ve got the names of thirty-seven hard, fast Communists in the State Department…McCarthy never named one…

Hank Lazer, ‘Bama host, and friend of Bernstein, attempted to smooth things over by leading the discussion back to the ‘function of poetry’ question.  Lazer must have been thinking: ‘My conference is going to destroy the career of my friend!’

But Stern wouldn’t quit: “Would you tell me who the policemen are, please, Charles?  Would you give me a list of names?”

Bernstein answered foetically: “Yeah, I’m talking about those poets who are involved in the award networks, the creative writing programs, and the major reviews.”

Charles Bernstein was explicitly talking foetry 20 years before Cordle and

The only difference between Cordle and Bernstein was Bernstein was not naming names–and not naming names was, to the poet Gerald Stern, an even worse McCarthyist offense.

Stern had won the Lamont Poetry Selection 7 years prior, when Stern was 52: judges Alan Dugan, Phil Levine, and Charles Wright.  Doors had obviously opened for Stern since then, leading to his job at Iowa, and his invitation to this conference.

Did Stern think Bernstein was going to name Dugan, Levine, and Wright?  Who did Stern think Bernstein was going to name?   Who did Bernstein have in mind back there in 1984?

In the end, after more McCarthyism talk from Stern, Bernstein saved his career and meekly mentioned one poet, a dead one:

T.S. Eliot.

Bernstein used another dead poet to save himself:

“I would give you as a central instance the person that William Carlos Williams called the great disaster for our letters, T.S. Eliot…”

Bernstein made a non-answer.

Eliot’s “officalizing role” as a poet is a truism.

Everyone knows Williams and Eliot shared many mutual friends, including Pound.   Williams and Eliot both gained credentials by their accentuated differences: Williams’  obscure career was made to seem more ‘popularly American,’ while Eliot was assured high-brow points in the comparison to the Jersey scribbler.  The whole matter is the very opposite of the played-out platitude in the po-biz press.  Rather than shedding crocodile tears for Williams, was Bernstein instead playing on the opposition between revolutionary secular Jew and conservative Christian?  This is more likely.

To the Eliot v. Willams charade,  Ignatow said, “You’re right there.”

Bernstein: “Thank you.”


End of Part I.

Part II will examine Helen Vendler’s role in the same 1984 panel.

SHELLEY’S BIRTHDAY, or “Real Life in Poetry with Don Share & Joan Houlihan:” exclusively on HARRIET


This article builds directly on Thomas Brady’s last comments following the previous Delmore Schwartz post [click here], and indeed tries to pull all the pieces of Scarriet together. What it is not is negative, and certainly not toward Blog:Harriet which has given its authors such pleasure. It’s sole target is the very poor taste and mismanagement of Harriet’s editor, Travis Nichols, who we feel should be fired point blank.

Toward the underlying controversy itself, Scarriet is tolerant — we feel the issues involved are so close to us they are difficult to unscramble. Indeed, our position is like the two sides of our poetry’s coin, and denying one or the other would be fraudulent.

Our position is that having banned one side of the coin Harriet is now bankrupt.

Don Share wrote the original article called REAL LIFE [click here] with great sensitivity and insight, and we are sure gave everyone pleasure. Don Share is not being attacked in this post — he is simply a piece in a much larger puzzle that without him would not yield its whole picture. But his side is GREEN, lots and lots of it, and indeed in his person Don Share embodies the ‘ruling’ position — no blame, but there we are. What is undeniable is that that position gets all the votes — and of course, in less than a month from this very moment Thomas Brady will be banned from Blog:Harriet altogether.

Yvor Winters is a matter of taste, and he’s dead. He’s an important figure in the original article which draws him in here, but he doesn’t speak, and nobody is voting for or against him, or at least not directly. On the other hand, he’s a crux in Thomas Brady’s literary historical argument — a true eminence grise casting a shadow over all of us, and making it hard to read Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Some birthday — indeed, the only warm light comes from the poet’s funeral pyre!

Joan Houlihan is drawn in because she is Sheila Chambers in the penultimate comment, and another large piece of the puzzle. Not only does she get +14 GREEN votes for one very small offering, she expresses most starkly the attitude that lies behind the extraordinary ill-will that Thomas Brady gets buried in (look and see for yourself!). She’s the very Avatar of RED in her compulsion to demonize the opposition, and insists that hooligans like Brady are not to be tolerated anywhere within the pale. She’s angry, dismissive, and will stop at no limits.

Joan Houlihan attacks Thomas Brady specifically for his phrase, “the machinations of the grooming process,” and she should certainly know about that because she runs one of the most expensive “grooming” consultancies in the poetry business in America. Called the Colrain Manuscript Conferences, her outfit offers sophisticated weekends in white mansions in the Berkshires during which you get to meet hot editors and publishers like Jeffrey Levine — available to anyone with an unpublished book to be groomed and an extra arm and a leg. So she’s really passionately opposed to this discussion on Harriet, because Thomas Brady is threatening not only her purse but her cachet. She wants him stopped, in fact. Period. And ditto Christopher Woodman — as he was on Pw &

The comments that follow form an uninterrupted sequence from Thomas Brady’s initial thanks to Don Share for the REAL LIFE post to Joan Houlihan’s cat out of the bag. It’s a shambles, a shocker of the first order, a disgrace to The Poetry Foundation and to all poets and poetry. Indeed, it should make us all blush to read it (but you can’t really read it, of course,  because the whole opposition is closed down, like in Singapore!).

We have decided to post typescripts of the first 3 exchanges because they express the gist of the argument, and need to be read carefully (don’t forget that both of Thomas Brady’s comments are closed in the original — some dialogue!). We also provide a typescript of Joan Houlihan’s and Thomas Brady’s last comments at the end — and, of course, Thomas Brady is closed there too with -23 Dislikes!

Enjoy, we’d like to say. But that would be nasty.

CLICK HERE to read the most important part of this article.

Foetry did not begin with Jorie Graham!

Delmore Schwartz

Christopher, I remember how you tried to reach out to Joan Houlihan, how you even tried to join one of her Colrain Manuscript Conferences and talked about how you would like to have a coffee with her, that you were sure you would in fact find you had lots in common. But you forget how vindictive she remains, aloof, a figure, lurking, ice-cold in her sad attempt at superiority–a coverup for plain old insecurity and fear — reminding us of the nasty state of current American poetry, where all poets are essentially alone, moving in a miasma of cred-hunting, ego, and truism shaped by facile modernist scholarship.

Delmore Schwartz, who traveled on the edges of the “in” circle of the mid-century modernist revolution, but was finally too sensitive to fit, published an essay in The Kenyon Review in 1942 which reveals the terrifying Foetic state of American poetry–see how the curtain slips, and for a moment in Schwartz’s essay in John Crowe Ransom’s magazine, we see the true horror:

“He [the modern poet] does feel he is a stranger [Schwartz had just quoted Baudelaire’s poem ‘The Stranger’], an alien, an outsider; he finds himself without a father or mother, or he is separated from them by the opposition between his values as an artist and their values as respectable members of modern society.  This opposition cannot be avoided because not a government subsidy, nor yearly prizes, nor a national academy can disguise the fact that there is no genuine place for the poet in modern life.  He has no country, no community, insofar as he is a poet, and his greatest enemy is money, since poetry does not yield him a livelihood.”

I’m not saying there is not a trace of paranoid, Baudelarian, self-pity going on here, and Schwartz’s personal disintegration was due not a little to this bathos, but there, is, in fact an ‘objective correlative,’ the Foetic fact, the ‘government subsidy, the yearly prizes, the national academy,’ trying to ‘disguise’ the truth, and of course what Schwartz meant by this was the ‘cred hustle’ which he obviously felt as early as 1942. This is more proof that Foetry did not begin with Jorie Graham.  It was going on in the world of John Crowe Ransom, Ezra Pound, and T.S. Eliot.



Eavesdropping Not On Harriet but on Scarriet:

It’s one thing to practice free love, it’s another thing to adorn one’s free love lifestyle with all sorts of ‘religious’ and ‘artistic’ allowances. A rogue without money remains a mere rogue, but a rogue with money and publishing credentials is a wonder and an inspiration and seduction which very few can resist, the pot of gold at the end of the pyramid scheme. [click here — we tend to do this on Scarriet!]

The greatest novel ever written about this “rogue with money” is called Quartet (London, 1928) by most people though it was also published a year later in America as Postures (New York, 1929) — good title, too, but much too obvious. The author was a very great artist and knew how to let us figure that out for ourselves, even if her more naive American editors didn’t quite trust her — I mean, they were queuing up for hand-outs on the Bowery as well as in the Academy!

The name of the author with the perfect white skin, the even more perfect, indeed truly porcelain style, and the devastating self-candor was Jean Rhys. The ‘hero’ of the novel, ‘Hugh Heidler,’ a “picture dealer” (yes!) in the Latin Quarter (yes!) is none other than Ford Maddox Ford (yes, Hueffner!) who was in Paris at the time editing (yes, you heard it!) The Transatlantic Review!

You wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t tell you, would you?

And friend D., and others of your ilk, if you’re following us here, which I suspect you are, I wish you’d come in and discuss some of this, it’s all so a-quiver — and Quartet is such an unashamedly great, great, great piece of writing too. And of course, the whole story also fleshes out those character traits Tom needs to keep his own huge literary-historical ur-novel humming!

I mean, the alternative is Amber Tamblyn gabbing away on Blog:Harriet! [click here]

I think we need to make this point again and again, because it’s so important…WHAT HARRIET DID. Because they took VOICES, not abuse, not spam, VOICES, and, on a whim, SILENCED THEM. [click here]



What’s interesting about your articles, Tom [click 1.) here, 2.) here, 3.) here, and 4.)  here for Thomas Brady’s recent articles], is the way you go on working away at establishing your literary historical position while still reading with great insight even poets you regard as over-rated — like John Ashbery, for example. You express your doubts about John Ashbery, yet at the same time obviously love him, and are the first to admit it!

What is also obvious is that the establishment can’t deal with your balancing act at all — they just get angry and slam the door in your face as they did at Blog:Harriet.

The problem is that people in the poetry business can’t admit the emperor is naked because they themselves are tailors, and their whole reputation is built on the pedigree of the tailors who fitted the big boss out with the  “new” clothes in the first place.  They can’t see as you do that even though it is a charade, a literary historical sleight of hand, an alert reader can still enjoy the magic show they put on. I mean, John Ashbery is a prestidigitator of the highest order, even if his content is an illusion — he knows that himself, and has never claimed otherwise. Why can’t the literary establishment today in America admit that too? I mean, it’s so obvious John Ashbery’s show goes nowhere for humanity except up in lights!

Anymore than those beautiful bound feet above helped to make the emperor’s little girl lighter, or helped her to dance better. She was so beautiful, so perfectly refined, such a wonderful higher thought, transcending herself and her humanity — yet take her shoes off and she was ugly, distorted, and stank.

The point is that that show was tragic while at the same time contributing to one of the greatest human aesthetic accomplishments the world has ever seen, Chinese Mandarin culture. And what’s wrong if we say both?

But mind the girl today, that’s what we say at Scarriet, that’s our message. It’s time to get over the fetish!

Christopher Woodman

THOMAS BRADY, Oh Monday Love, Oh Sawmygirl, Oh Tom TomWest!


TOM Sepia

Thomas Brady is the inspiration for this site, and his essays on it  are not only a testament to his integrity and passion but express his unique position with regard to American poetry. The following is a letter to him which tries to examine his position in a wider, freakier but also friendlier perspective than men of letters usually get– for Scarriet is dedicated to making poetry not only comprehensible once again but actually worth reading as opposed to just winning a prize, getting reviewed, or even getting a promotion!

A Reply to Poe to Bloom: Boo!

Dear Tom,……………………………………Chiang Mai, Thailand, 10/12/2009

So many conflicting thoughts, so many paradoxes.

I hear you so clearly, championing a different voice, one that harnesses the natural music of the human heart as it manifests in the cultural forms of people who still know who they are and what they say. Yes, ‘natural’ poetry like John Clare, the lyrics of the Scottish isles or even of Appalachia, Bengali poetry, the incantations of the Kalahari, Langston Hughes or early Dunbar, The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, the Psalms, and even sometimes when you’re in just the right mood and something truly wonder-ful has happened, a Hallmark card, perfumed, in the mail!

What you are so railing against is “make it new,” I know that, Tom, the obligation imposed on poets by fundamentally displaced persons like T.S.Eliot, Ezra Pound, Ford Maddox Ford [Hueffner!] or a Starretz Sufi Supra-Rabbi Roshipatagon like Harold Bloom. Yes, that’s what I said, displaced persons! (Or sshhhhh, how about just Fugitives? Won’t that do?)

Whereas the poets you are attempting to resurrect, like S. Anna Lewis, Edgar Allan Poe, Sydney Lanier (and hey, why not?) and Edna St.Vincent Millay can still speak in their own gifted voices and are not the least bit afraid to say exactly what they mean. And of course they’re God’s own children, which helps!

So that’s the divide, isn’t it? Between poetry as a natural voice like a waterfall, a thunderstorm, or the literal last breath of somebody you can’t live without, as opposed to poetry as an esoteric diddle that nobody, not even the poet himself or herself (usually the former!) would dare profane by saying what it (say it!) means. Because if a poem says what it means then it becomes a cultural artifact and belongs to the whole community, to be praised on the front porch and memorized and handed around to the neighbors like a barbecue, whereas the poetry you dismiss, Honest Tom, is the poetry of pretension and deliberate obfuscation written by people who haven’t the foggiest idea who they are — but of course feel far, far superior to the Hallmark hoy-poloy who, shudder, know what they like and where to find it!

As if life weren’t deep enough without a critic to fend for it!

Because, of course, the “make-it-new” poetry is as aristocratic and conservative as the ivy-covered cloister which coddles it, and needs both the Priest and Hierophant before you get baptized in it what’s more have a chance at Fame, or Heaven!

Christopher Woodman


Today marks the 25th anniversary of one of the silliest screeds in the history of Letters, Harold Bloom’s review in the New York Review of Books (Oct 11, 1984) of Edgar Poe’s handsome Library of America 2 volume set, ‘Poetry & Tales,’  Patrick Quinn, ed. & ‘Essays & Reviews,’ G.R. Thompson, ed.

Bloom’s savage (and spooky) article is remarkable for two reasons:  its attempted ferocity and its summary of Modernist pedagogical history as a “conservative” critic abuses a timeless poet with crudely “radical” rhetoric.

In Part 1, Bloom uses Aldous Huxley to beat down Poe’s poetry, copying Huxley’s Miltonic parody of Poe, also found in “Understanding Poetry,” an anti-Poe textbook by the Fugitive New Critic Robert Penn Warren.  Bloom calls Warren “the most distinguished living American writer.”  Huxley’s 1930s charge that the French were wrong to admire Poe (!) was picked up by T.S. Eliot in his 1949 attack on Poe, and here in 1984 Bloom repeats it, as Poe’s verse is held up to ridicule.

Part 2: The prose is condemned as well, dismissed with the quotation of a single paragraph.  “Poe’s actual text does not matter.”  Bloom has a certain respect for ‘Eureka,’ which he feels is “Poe’s answer” to Emerson’s ‘Nature.’   But it’s science (Poe) v. rhetoric (Emerson)–they’re not comparable.   Bloom makes no attempt to cover Poe’s vast territory.   Instead, he  writes: “Whether Eureka or the famous stories can survive authentic criticism is not clear.”  Poe’s  stories are “best read when we are very young.” “Poe’s survival raises perpetually the issue whether literary merit and canonical status go together.”  “Mark Twain cataloged Fenimore Cooper’s literary offenses, but all the exuberantly listed are minor compared to Poe’s.”  Strangely, even though Bloom feels Poe’s stories are “best read when we are very young,” Bloom confesses “Poe induced nasty & repetitious nightmares that linger even now.”

Bloom, in this half-deeply personal, half-frothily anglophilic essay, clutches the teddy bear of Emerson’s ‘self-reliance’ as ‘original sin’ (associated with Poe) moans beneath his bed.  Allen Tate, Yvor Winters, and D.H. Lawrence are brought in to help Bloom vanquish Poe, although Bloom terms Poe “inescapable.”  Bloom wants Poe out of the canon (and his bedroom) but the professor admits it will not happen.

In Part 3, Bloom’s assault now turns on crude cultural politics: “Poe, a true Southerner, abominated Emerson, plainly perceiving that Emerson (like Whitman, like Lincoln) was not a Christian, not a royalist, not a classicist.”   Lincoln was a Christian, Whitman and Lincoln could not have been more different, and Poe was anything but a royalist, and no more Christian than Emerson.  It’s difficult to tell whether Bloom is baiting a certain kind of reader, or writing in pure ignorance.   How a man so erudite could be so ignorant is perhaps something only Harold Bloom could explain.

Part 4 looks at the Freudian aspect of Poe’s novel, ‘Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym’ and quotes Adorno calling Poe & Baudelaire “the first technocrats of art.”  It’s not long, however, before Bloom turns on his chainsaw again: “Poe is a great fantasist whose thoughts were commonplace and whose metaphors are dead.”  Poe’s “speculative discourses fade away in juxtaposition to Emerson’s, his despised Northern rival.”

Part 5:  Poe’s ‘Ligeia’ may have been read by Helen Whitman and Elmira Royster, and perhaps this is why these women did not marry Poe. (!)  Bloom, who seems to be looking to trade 3 Jesus Christ cards for one Emerson and one Whitman, writes, “…the northern or Emersonian myth of our literary culture culminates in the beautiful image of Walt Whitman as wounddresser, moving as mothering father…”

Part 6:  Bloom doesn’t like Poe’s criticism, either, and dismisses Poe with a couple of  obscure quotations.   Bloom champions, instead, the late Victorian criticism of Arnold, Pater, and Wilde.

Part 7: “Poe was savage in denouncing minor Transcendentalists.”   And Poe, according to Bloom, is racist–because “he would have loved”–published after Poe’s death–‘The Nigger Question’ by Thomas Carlyle.  (Emerson, whose ‘English Traits’ is explicitly racist, was Carlyle’s literary agent in the U.S.)   And one final, embarrassing cheer from Bloom for Emerson: “Poe, on a line-by-line or sentence-or-sentence basis is hardly a worthy opponent.”

Twenty-five years later, is the popular Poe still giving Bloom–and anglo-american ‘zine modernism–nightmares?

Thomas Brady

%d bloggers like this: