WHY POETRY SUCKS NOW PART TWO: IMAGINE THERE’S NO IMAGE

Scarriet’s wildly successful essay, Why Poetry Sucks Now, [May 16, 2013] published almost 3 years ago and with more readers every day, is due for a sequel.

Not because of anything in the news. Poetry still sucks.

The Modernist revolution which destroyed poetry was about one thing: the image.

The modernist poetry movement, “imagism,” got the ball rolling.

The modern art scam overlapped clique-wise, with the poets.

Gertrude Stein (poet and art collector with her brother, Leo) studied with William James.

Poets Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot’s lawyer was John Quinn, a modern art collector who made the 1913 Armory Show (introduce the European modern painting to America) happen.

John Dewey was part of the early 20th century buy-low-sell-high modern art scam, explicitly elevating abstract art over representational art in his series of Harvard lectures, Art As Experience, dedicated and written for his friend A.C. Barnes, wealthy modern art collector.

Duchamp arrived in America to party with Walter Arensberg, wealthy modern art collector whose friends included poet W.C. Williams of Red Wheel Barrow fame.

Painting, keeper of the image, destroyed it.

Poetry, the temporal art, embraced it.

The con was two-sided and weirdly related.

Money (gold) versus Wisdom.  And who won?

Art critics and ‘buy low-sell high’ collectors teamed up and built modern art museums to validate the scam.

Modern Poets and modern poetry critics (known as the New Critics—the tweedy, respectable-seeming wing of the revolution) wrote one highly influential textbook, Understanding Poetry.

These poets and critics also began the Writing Program era, which took the study of literature away from literature as literature and put it into the hands of “new” writers teaching “new” writing.

When we despair today at how much poetry sucks, we should turn our eyes to the image, for that one small idea hoodwinked everyone.

Modern poetry began its journey into pretentious mediocrity with an idea:

Poetry which centers on the image is an advance over the old poetry which does not.

What is unbelievable about the influence of this modernist movement (similar to a bowel movement, in that many were pushing it) is the following:

First, the idea is bankrupt.  Old poets didn’t use images?  Really??

Second, it was introduced by a few cranks who put out a few issues of wretched little early 20th century modernist magazines no one read.

This, of course, was Pound, and a few of his friends, in London, leading up to World War One, borrowing from haiku (a recent rage due to the 1905 Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese war) and giving their coterie a French moniker: Imagistes.

The whole thing would be laughable.  But it is not.  Because it caught on, far, far beyond what it actually was.  The hoodwinked hoodwinked others and the hoodwinking accelerated, and took on a life of its own.

None will deny the mundane truth of what we are blandly asserting.

The first step in destroying poetry was Pound’s Imagiste circle before WW I.  Then his school chum’s “Red Wheel Barrow,” then a poetry textbook (Understanding Poetry) that was taught in all the schools starting in the 30s, put together by their friends the New Critics, and then Paul Engle (Engle’s Yale Younger was awarded to him by a member of the New Critic circle) began the Writing Program at Iowa– Robert Lowell, the first star Program teacher at Iowa was sent to study with New Critics, Tate and Ransom, by Lowell’s psychiatrist, and—you guessed it—this psychiatrist of the family Lowell was part of the New Critics. It couldn’t be any more bizarre. And successful. The New Critics were good at exploiting academic and federal education ‘money and influence’ connections.

If you look at any educated discussion of poetry today, whatever issues might pertain to it, its history, its practice, its appeal—and we are talking about all poetry—the name Ezra Pound, the term Modernism, the idea of the “image” as something “new” which left behind the “old” poetry of Victorian temporality and rhyme, will either be directly referenced or be the unspoken, underlying trope in 99 cases out of a hundred.

Another mundane point of fact: the New Critic authored textbook Understanding Poetry singles out for high praise Pound’s Petals on a wet black bough imagist poem, his friend WC Williams’ Red Wheel Barrow imagist poem, and uses an Aldous Huxley essay to ridicule the popular poetic rhythm of Edgar Poe. 

Who, and what, Pound and his small circle of friends really were, and what their so-called “idea” actually was, is perhaps 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times less meaningful than what its subsequent influence has become, an influence that has created mass psychosis in poetry.  It is one of those things in human history that cannot be fully comprehended.

But there you have it.

The image, in poetry, has beaten meter (the temporal, rhythmic aspect of old poetry) into submission.

True, there’s been a revolt against the small, tame, “imagist” poem—one thinks of something like “Howl,” the sort of blah blah blah poem which is far more common today than any poem which makes imagery its god.

But the point here is that in the 20th century imagery was the cudgel that crushed all the beauties of sound which once belonged to poems.

And to make your language sound good, you have to be really good at that language.  It goes along with a truly good education.

The ubiquitous charge against the bad, “sing-songy” poem is legitimate.  Writing poems of exquisite rhythm is very difficult to do.  But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Or that we should pretend banal prose has rhythm.

Today one can still hear every learned, respected, inside academic poet and critic talking about how important the image is, how the image is figuratively and literally, the thing, the only thing that really matters. Because the image (and recall the Writing Program and Imagist advocates are the same) “shows instead of tells.”  That’s the Writing Program mantra: Show Don’t Tell. (Like abstract painting: don’t depict, like the old historical painters; just show us shape and color.)

The Modernist, Imagist, Poetry/Modern Art P. R. Machine, for practical, money, power-grab reasons, effectively destroyed, in a couple of years in the 20th century, the wisdom and practice of two millennia—centered on this once-upon-a-time, common-sense notion—one which must seem very strange to the currently brainwashed “poets” and “artists”—Painting belongs to picture and poetry belongs to music.

We’ll say it one more time: Painting belongs to picture and poetry belongs to music. This is the old truth that has been overturned.

Painting is now conceptualist propaganda, as drawing and perspective are dying out, just like great poetry.

Poetry has come to mean bad, chopped-up, prose, and has no real public.

Reality has been flipped: Painting is blah blah blah.  And poetry can’t write a memorable sentence.

Poetry’s latest foray (see Kenneth Goldsmith) is towards conceptualist propaganda (see painting).

Painting’s beauty and truth is spatial in nature, and depicts a moment of reality, using all the wonders and advantages which belong to the eye. Poetry’s beauty and truth is temporal in nature, and depicts moments which unfold, using all the wonders and advantages of the ear.

The tone-deaf, scheming Modernists took one look at the common sense of two millennia and said, “Nah.”

And you wonder why poetry sucks now?

 

 

 

WHICH CAME FIRST: STORY OR CRAZY?

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Shakespeare: 1. Greatest Storyteller. 2. Poet 3. Taught us storytellers are liars.

 

A number of ideas recently entered my mind, drawn into it by a personal observation.

The personal observation is personal. I will get to it later. It is the centerpiece of my theme, but first, here are the ideas which saw fit to add themselves to the conviction that I was onto something real.

I saw a truism quoted approvingly in the New York Times in one of those ‘best books of the year’ pieces which went something like this: stories only happen to those who can tell them.

The ‘best books of 2015’ piece outlined those disturbing novels, memoirs and non-fiction works of eccentricities and loss which are discussed because they are discussed. The Times notice which originally drew me in was the new book on the Creative Writing phenomenon and Paul Engle, with its “show don’t tell” mantra that served to professionalize the American writer as a civilized university product—and was indeed sponsored by U.S. Government anti-Communism during the Cold War (just as it has now come out that abstract painting was CIA funded in the war against Soviet Realist art.)

The upshot of “show don’t tell” is the conviction that “telling” is propaganda compared to the more authentic and personal rhetoric that “shows,” gathered from genuinely observed experience.

The most exciting story-telling always reveals some kind of shame or tragedy or horror, the kind that has us saying, “No! Really?” in excited whispers. Is it real or fiction? It doesn’t matter. Our reaction is the same.

Most fiction is loosely based on truth. A story is a story, and the fine points of whether a particular piece of writing is fiction or non-fiction are reserved for the tedious scholar who is ignored by the rest of us, and who, when turned to, never finally knows the full story in all its truth, anyway.

The novelist “shows” what appears to be the “truth” by way of fiction, not because there is some poetic “truth” which hides behind fiction, or because there is something about “fiction” which allows “truth” to come to light—this is a sentimental falsehood repeated often by novelists and their defenders.

The novelist “shows” what is taken as truth only because the reader assumes “truth” is present due to the great confusion which naturally blurs truth and fiction in our minds; rather than admit ignorance, readers “fill in” the “truthfulness” of the writer’s presentation and construe it as “truth” without question—because this is what ignorance does.

The novelist is a cut-and-paste liar and the novelist’s “truth” is a shadow—cast by the truth of the reader’s ignorance, and the reader’s ignorance is willing to be duped by the fiction, whose “showing” merely strengthens the delusion that “truth” of any kind exists in the fiction. Emotional truth—the truth that one is having feelings— should not be confused with truth, or with cut-and-paste lies that trigger these emotions.

Therefore “showing” in fiction, the non-judgmental presentation of selected, cut-and-paste, experience with its corresponding emotions, the classic Workshop fiction formula, is not valid or truthful, per se. “Showing” stands in opposition to “telling” in name only, since selected presentation of experience: incident, dialogue, etc lacks truth in the precise way all mere experience lacks truth. What happens to us has no truth, per se, except as it is our private experience—which may potentially comprise leaning a skill through repetition. But our experience merely related by way of a story told to someone else, has for that other person, as literature, no necessary truth—unless the “truth” of a pleasant illusion, but only if pleasantly and artistically conveyed.

The only human truth with a capital T is moral truth—what happens to us is true only in its moral cause and effect. Whether this is told or shown is entirely beside the point: the difference is overstated since language by its very nature shows by telling.

Advertising is communication with a motive; it is crucial to understand that story-telling may be below even that of advertisement: a distinguished novel the inferior of a mere advertisement no matter how genuine the experiences conveyed in the novel. If an author’s experience is genuine, it is private, and private experiences alone can never rise to the level of truth unless we add what “showing” supposedly opposes: “telling.”

“Let me show you what I would otherwise tell you” is all about the illusion created— and nothing else.

There is nothing morally superior about “showing.” By “showing” we use an aesthetic term, only, and one that was practiced by the ancient Greeks by way of producing beauty—very different from the Workshop formula.

Now my personal observation: there is a very common personality that loves to talk for its own sake, and I was struck recently by one I know filling up time with talk in a way that was so pleased with itself and at the same time disengaged from preventative reality so it made me wonder: since we delight to hear stories of tragedy and loss, is it possible that story-telling itself can become a kind of mania which “shows” a “loss” of mind and reason? So that the “best” show-don’t-tell stories are, in fact, products of madness?

The stern, theoretical “telling” of communist or statist rhetoric is well worth refuting.  No argument there.

But what is the true value of the antidote?

What good is maniacal telling of the “show-don’t-tell” variety?

First, it essentially springs from personal experience so dense, genuine and “real,” it crowds out our own mundane and empty existence—that existence which is charged with “figuring things out” in order to live.

Second, it competes with all experience, since this is what fiction that “shows” finally depends on.

Third, it has no conclusions or directives, since it is genuine only because it “shows” and refuses to “tell.”

Fourth, it makes no attempt to please for its own sake: it is merely in thrall to the mania of its story-telling mode. When we tell a story, there is no attempt to do anything more than tell a story which causes the reader to exclaim excitedly, “No! Really?” Content—the lived—is all. Form—the teachable—is nothing.

Fifth, the sum total of others’ experience is so vast and interesting just by itself, that unless there is a mechanism of sorting, we find ourselves in a continual state of excited whisper, “No! Really?”

Sixth, the professionalization of this kind of writing in the Writing Programs, feeding directly into the book industry, has made it necessary to carry this ‘rhetoric of experience’ on our backs as editors, writers, and publishers. There is nothing worse than when the leaders of any industry are guilty of gratuitously dumbing down that industry—one in which lurid content is everything and form is nothing.

Seventh, there is nothing wrong with lived experience and its communication, except that it already exists in all walks of life—and when literature becomes merely a competition for ‘who can tell the biggest whopper of a tale’ without any self-reflection or qualifying judgment or restraint or art or philosophy (telling), then literature has essentially become a cynical part of what makes human life the most cynical.

For as we know, the most cynical is not the grief and consternation we find in rhetoric that desires to solve problems and prevent disasters, but the mindless “showing” with a devilish maniacal delight of every imaginable and preventable horror under the sun: literature = yellow journalism.

Now it may be said that there is good “show don’t tell” writing and bad “show don’t tell” writing, and that the good variety has been screened by good editors and publishers and the best of it is intelligent and not maniacal and does do a little valuable “telling” in the end, after all.

But of course. There is always ‘bad and good’ within bad, and always hybrid concessions which dilute any picture, but this should not distract from our main point—story-telling that takes on insane, self-justifying dimensions across the culture, supported by a professional apparatus and a professional class, all of which circles back to enhance the very same mania in subsequent generations of students and general readers.

When we say pleasure for its own sake, we don’t mean that there is something inherently wrong with the pure joy of story-telling for its own sake.

But telling a story carries it with it a responsibility that say, Mozart’s music does not.

Words can libel, slander, present half-truths, make a mere show of learning, and horrify and seduce in damaging ways. And further, storytelling, or talking for its own sake, can just be a plain useless waste of time, a vanity kept afloat by a professional class for its own benefit. So there is that.

The professional apparatus of music can safely pursue Mozart for its own sake and there is no doubt that this is a musical good with all sorts of side benefits (one doesn’t have to love Mozart personally to sense at once that Mozart embodies a universal musical skill that can only help and not hinder the pursuit of music itself in any way).

Cold War anti-Communist officials had no trouble believing that the Soviet Union was a unified and far-reaching society that was dangerous because of its art and writing and rhetoric.

But instead of finding a common ground of cultural connection, such as Mozart, the CIA instead gave us both abstract painting and the Writing Program Era of Paul Engle (good organizer, terrible poet) which celebrated anti-intellectual fiction (the novel as wounded auto-biography) and a “new poetry” which quickly lost any sort of public due to its poor quality.

Poetry is the crucial literary expression—which is like Mozart’s music: joy and excellence for its own sake that escapes all propaganda, either the sort practiced by communists or the kind practiced by the Jorie Grahams in the Writing Workshop.

Poetry avoids the trap of many types of story-telling rhetoric: the propagandist, the gasbag, the immoral confessionalist, the college essay blather, etc.

Poetry which is transcendently beautiful, setting the standard by what it is for all those who would aspire to be a poet—or any kind of writer—is unimaginable to most people, the same way that Mozart’s music flies above that of the folk singer. But who would want Mozart and the folk singer to compete? Never. That would be like introducing the fiendish illogic of war into heaven. No sane person would assert the world of music would be better if there were no Mozart—not even a folk singer singing communist folk songs.

If we are to have “writing programs” (to fight communism or cultivate professionalism or what have you) let us produce poets of the first order—Mozarts, who may then go on to write whatever they wish.

Just as with artists: first let us see if they can draw.

And musicians: first let us see if they can invent a melody.

If we are serious about avoiding propaganda and gas bagging and lower quality and lower standards and increasingly bored students, the answer is simple: music, poetry, and drawing which is beautiful for its own sake.

The blatherers will object, of course.

But in the world I am imagining, at least we will know what blathering—as opposed to poetry—is.

 

 

 

 

 

BLACK SUN PRESS AND THE SUPPRESSED, DIONYSIAN SIDE OF MODERNISM

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Millay: Official Modernism hated her: a leftist woman who rhymed and loved.

The revolt of Modernism in poetry against Victorian decorum was complex and extensive, and featured a great deal of sex.

So why is one tale told? The one dominated by the limp, morbid barrenness of sexless, Shelley-hating, T.S. Eliot—and that dry-as-dust, boring, petals-on-a-black-bough-red-wheel-barrow poetry?

Is this why poetry today finds itself in a cul de sac, without a public, in the ruins of a Creative Writing pyramid scheme which has collapsed into piecemeal, self-promoting, illiteracy?

Modernism in the early 20th century was dominated by powerful femme fatale poets—and yet the one female poet included in the accepted Story of Modern Poetry is: the brittle, spinsterish, Marianne Moore!

The revolt against the Victorian—as the Modern Poetry history has been written, codified, and solidified is so…Victorian.

Not that we care about sex, per se; we just find it interesting how things played out.

The Victorians—which the wild, crazy and free Moderns rebelled against (one can include Emily Dickinson as a Victorian, since she wrote and lived in that era, if one wants) —were actually bolder in their poetry than the Modernist rakes and waifs (Eliot, Pound, Moore, Stevens, Williams) who successfully overcame the now largely forgotten Victorian/Romantic influence, and succeeded them. The Victorians are far more enjoyable to read (and they sold much better in their day, too).

Maybe that’s the rub: enjoyable. Sexual excess, or enjoyment of any kind, wasn’t the ticket to become canonized in the schools: the Modernist revolution had to seem safely aesthetic—a topic for professors, in order to gain a footing in academia, since despite their “rebellious nature,” legitimate inclusion was what the successful ones were after. That meant the Moderns had to be writing a “new” kind of poetry. Even though it was boring, and the public didn’t care for it.

The fussy, heavily brocaded, Victorian, Elizabeth Barrett Browning—who wrote some really exceptional poetry which has been ignored and shut away for a century—became a wife in a secret elopement to Italy.

The leader of the Modernist rebellion, T.S. Eliot, a lifelong virgin, shut away his wife forever.

Here we have two stories presented side by side:

Modern poetry is not the story of a door opening; but of a door shutting—on so much of what was pleasing about the 19th century—but also on the alternative, Dionysian, Romantic side of 20th century modernism, too.

Eliot appealed to poets who couldn’t get laid.

True, Edna St. Vincent Millay got old.

And died.

But everyone gets old and dies.

There was a whole Modernist movement which exploded right after World War One, before, during, and after the publication of the morbid “Waste Land,” a different modernist movement which frightened guys like Eliot—led by brash young women and featuring Persian love and Poe and Hindu sex. (One of these types of women even married Tom Eliot, and—are we surprised?—it was a complete disaster.)

Here is the critic and Pulitzer Prize winner, Carl Van Doren, writing in Harper’s in the 1930s about America’s great moral transformation during the Age of High Modernism as WW I came to a close; he does not talk about Pound or Eliot. He talks about Edna St. Vincent Millay:

At home the old-fashioned family had broken up. The young could get into automobiles and almost at once be miles away. They could go to the movies and at once be worlds away. Dress and speech had become informal in the emergency of the War. The chaperon had disappeared. Boys leaving to be killed, it might be, had claimed the right to see their girls alone, and the sexes had drawn together in a common need and daring. After the War they were still not divided. The sexes would be comrades, they thought.

The early poems of Edna Millay are the essence of the Younger Generation.

How this genii—real Modernist poetry—was put away in its bottle is certainly a staggering historical fact, but something there is in us now that makes us want to let it out again.

To get a strong whiff from that bottle is just a google click away.

Search “Black Sun publisher Harry Crosby.”

You want real modern poetry?

Not Williams. Not Eliot. Not Stevens. Not those guys the clammy hand professors teach you in school.

You want the true modern poetry of that era? Take a swig of the drink, Harry Crosby.

The story of Modern poetry which has been sold to us: that Pound and Williams and Moore are the vital pieces, is without aesthetic merit, and its virtue is really that of a particular school program, and it exists as just that—a story—told by the critics and poets and historians who invested (and are still invested) in the Writing Program as the only viable institution of post-war pedagogy.

Government oversight of education, the publishing of textbooks, the editorship of periodical literature, the purse strings of grants and prizes and forums and money and awards, fell into the hands of the New Critics and their allies: John Crowe Ransom and T.S. Eliot both belonging to the same generation of early Modernism—and not just poetry, but art, music, fashion, government, war, the architecture/building trades, espionage, banking, international in outlook—and all the more effective because it was run by pals, a tight-knit group. Of course it is much too extensive to detail here. But very briefly then:

John Quinn, attorney, art collector, British intelligence, worked with Eliot and Pound to negotiate publication of “The Waste Land” (with pre-purchases) so Eliot would win the Dial Prize even before Pound had finished his edits—Quinn, the same individual most responsible (even getting an export bill passed in the U.S. Congress) for the Armory show, which brought Modern Art to America—Eliot wins, and meanwhile, purchase of the new art by insiders is highly, highly lucrative.  Who wouldn’t want to be in on all that phenomenal networking? Eliot and Pound certainly were. Without Quinn’s work behind the scenes, who knows if Americans would even know of Eliot, or Duchamp, or Picasso? Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom’s right-wing Southern Agrarian/New Critic associate, reviews “The Waste Land” favorably, helps start the Creative Writing program at Princeton. Paul Engle, the father of the Program Era at Iowa, is given his Yale Younger Prize for his MFA poetry book—by a judge who is a member of Ransom’s New Critic group from the early Fugitive magazine days at Vanderbilt. Robert Lowell, as Creative Writing teacher at Iowa, is the first “poet-teacher star” of the Program Era; Lowell’s psychiatrist happens to be another member of Ransom and Tate’s circle, who recommends Lowell leave Harvard to befriend Tate and Ransom, which he does. We see that all the annual Dial Magazine Prize winners in the 1920s become the canonized Modern poets: Eliot, Williams, Pound, Moore (and Cummings, who ends up running off with the Dial editor’s wife). Ford Maddox Ford, War Propaganda Minister during World War I in England, the first to meet Pound off the boat when the latter leaves America for England, will later cross the Atlantic to help start the Writing Program Era with Ramsom and Tate.

We do not present this information as some nefarious plot; the world was smaller then; we present it languidly, merely as a picture of the clever ambitions of the cleverly ambitious, who were in the right place at the right time, and who happened to possess a certain amount of talent: Eliot, in poetry, the most brilliant. John Crowe Ransom, just from his two essays which Ransom published in the 1930s, “Criticism, Inc.” and “Poets Without Laurels,”— a blueprint for universities taking up the official role of teaching the new writing, and the best explanation of amoral Modernism—was a close second.

But as we said, these were the brilliant architects who made themselves and their “new” Modern identity—an austere looseness, a dryness, a deathly cynicism—the accepted mode for the university, and it required tweedy, learned, respectability to make it happen, even as it was Shelley and Byron hating—which guys like Eliot and Tate and Ransom, with their brilliance, learning and inside track, provided.

But what of the vast majority of the Modernists, who impulsively did what true rebels do?

These “lesser” moderns crossed paths with the more successful ones, such as Pound—but they lived for the poetry, for the revolt, for the sex. These were the Moderns who wrote beautiful love poems and threw themselves off ships, as Pound and Eliot grew old and famous. What of these “lesser” moderns? Many of these “lesser” moderns, some more respectable and less feverish than others, kept writing poetry that rhymed, made sense, and repeated the great, old themes that never die. What of them? Should we continue to bury them?

And speaking of revolt, we are not simply advocating here for the resurrection of an alternative clique of poets who worked between the wars in the hectic days of the early 20th century. This is about more than that. It is about shedding narrow, modernist aesthetic bias and embracing great poems of all eras, and having the guts to call a bad poem a bad poem, even if it was written by William Carlos Williams. Look at this poem by the currently suppressed 19th century poet Elizabeth Barrett; the way she uses “revolt” is timeless, and will break your heart:

Little Mattie

Dead! Thirteen a month ago!
Short and narrow her life’s walk.
Lover’s love she could not know
Even by a dream or talk:
Too young to be glad of youth;
Missing honor, labor, rest,
And the warmth of a babe’s mouth
At the blossom of her breast.
Must you pity her for this,
And for all the loss it is—
You, her mother with wet face,
Having had all in your case?

Just so young but yesternight,
Now she is as old as death.
Meek, obedient in your sight,
Gentle to a beck or breath
Only on last Monday! yours,
Answering you like silver bells
Lightly touched! an hour matures:
You can teach her nothing else.
She has seen the mystery hid
Under Egypt’s pyramid.
By those eyelids pale and close
Now she knows what Rhamses knows.

Cross her quiet hands, and smooth
Down her patient locks of silk,
Cold and passive as in truth
You your fingers in spilt milk
Drew along a marble floor;
But her lips you can not wring
Into saying a word more,
“Yes” or “no,” or such a thing.
Though you call and beg and wreak
Half your soul out in a shriek,
She will lie there in default
And most innocent revolt.

None of Eliot’s “escape from emotion” here.

Poe said poetry was mostly mathematical—and he was correct, since rhythm is essential to expressive speech, whether metrical, or not—and mathematics is essential to quantity associated with rhythm. Eliot carried this formula further and mistranslated it to mean lack of feeling—quantity, after all, is not associated with feverish human emotion; but it is not emotion, but its expression which matters to the poet—so Eliot is only partly correct, and when his half-truth was received as a truth, it created a race of poets who turned their back on so-called “sentimental” poetry, such as this example of Elizabeth Barrett’s, a tender and beautiful poem banned by 20th century professors because of its excess “emotion” and “sentiment.” The schools are wrong. The amateurs are correct. The expression of feeling should not to be avoided in the art of poetry. More feeling isn’t better, necessarily, but it is never necessary that feeling (we mean its expression) be critically censored.

We think the best tradition for poetry is, first and foremost, the tradition of good poems—more than successful members of super-successful, networking cliques’ poorer ones.

For the truth is: Millay is a far better poet than not only Moore, but the guys, like Pound.

Certainly, “new” aesthetics can and should be studied (even if they haven’t done anyone a lick of good) but good poems written by the flesh and blood poets who lived in the same era as the better known, tweedy, experimental poets, deserve our attention, too.

Completely by chance today, as we perused old issues of Harper’s magazine, we came upon this poem by Archibald MacLeish. It is a love poem (horrors!). It was published in 1929, when Pound and Eliot were still nearly unknown, before they became famous as Axis defenders and post-WW II Modernist school subjects.

MacLeish, like the poets Frost and Millay, wrote poems people liked to read—and he was read. He was a wealthy friend of wealthy heir Harry Crosby, who—if you googled him by now—you know Crosby published MacLeish, Hart Crane, Poe, love poems, in exquisitely crafted books, a few copies at a time, and died at 29 with a young women in a suicide pact in a painter friend’s studio.

Here is a Modernist poem, the kind of poem which is now suppressed, just like Millay and Teasdale and Dorothy Parker and Ella Wheeler Wilcox and Elinor Wylie and countless other women poets are suppressed, locked away by the Moore/Williams /Pound Official Modernism professors. We close with the MacLeish poem:

To Praisers of Women

The praisers of women in their proud and beautiful poems,
Naming the grave mouth and the hair and the eyes,
Boasted those they loved should be forever remembered.
These were lies.

The words sound, but the face in the Istrian sun is forgotten.
The poet speaks, but to her dead ears no more.
The sleek throat is gone and the breast that was troubled to listen:
Shadow from door.

Therefore, I will not praise your knees and your fine walking,
Telling you men shall remember your name as long
As lips move or breath is spent or the iron of English
Rings from a tongue.

I shall say you were young and your arms straight and your mouth scarlet.
I shall say you will die, and none  will remember you;
Your arms change and none remember the swish of your garments
Nor the click of your shoe.

Not with my hands’ strength, not with difficult labor
Springing the obstinate words to the bones of your breast
And the stubborn line to your young stride and the breath to your breathing
And the beat to your haste,

Shall I prevail on the hearts of unborn men to remember.
What is a dead girl but a shadowy ghost,
Or a dead man’s voice but a distant and vain affirmation
Like dream words most?

Therefore, I will not speak of the undying glory of women.
I shall say you were young and straight and your skin fair—
And you stood in the door, and the sun was a shadow of leaves on your shoulders,
And a leaf on your hair.

I will not speak of the famous beauty of dead women.
I shall say the shape of a blown leaf lay on your hair,
Till the world ends and the sun is out and the sky broken
Look! It is there!

THE POETRY COMMUNITY LOSES ITS MIND

Over the weekend, thanks to Reb Livingston, we became aware of a brewing scandal in the poetry community.

Scarriet feels compelled to respond to the ‘anonymous sexual abuse outing document found in AWP restroom controversy,’ not because we have any special interest in it, per se, but because we believe the scandal currently poisoning po-biz manifests aesthetic attitudes of significant pedagogical importance.

Scarriet is a boutique—a high-end, up-scale, boutique, of what might be called expensive, high-fashion poetry and poetry criticism; we produce clothing and accessories for the soul, and we make no apologies for the beauty, love, truth, good taste and wit that we produce; and nor do we apologize for appealing to an elite class of soul (which has nothing to do with advanced college degrees or any of the credentialing nonsense that characterizes the pyramid scheme of so-called “professional” poetry, with its animal grunting and network stroking). We take poetry seriously, and don’t come around here with that ‘pyramid’ nonsense please. Our readers generally know, and do not.

This controversy has nothing to do with us, of course, because we are free of the odor of po-biz, and merely roll around in poetry. But this scandal affects us because it impacts how the world sees and practices poetry.

Scarriet is a high-end boutique precisely because we live the poetry, and can respond to a controversy like this without passion or self-interest.

Our position is this: poetry, some time around the beginning of the 20th century, was, in a series of adroit political and pedagogical maneuvers by Modernist poets, wealthy individuals, and government officials, coaxed away from its public role and public use to become a playground of pretense and experiment (all in the name of public and pedagogical improvement more accurately reflecting real life, etc).  Seducing poetry away from what it had been turned out to be wildly successful, since the seduction had a democratic appeal: obscure, fragmentary prose became the ‘poet’ standard anyone could reach, and, at the same time, one could ‘learnedly be modern’ and reject the ‘fussily moral’ past. (‘Could’ is not quite accurate; one did—the two necessarily went hand in hand.)

It is important to note here that “what poetry had been” is more accurately what poetry is-–as shown with poetry—by the best poets of the past. Shakespeare set a high standard, Poe set a high standard, Keats and Shelley and Tennyson set a high standard, Whitman and Wordsworth and Barrett set a high standard, not in the sense that professors are required to make us understand their poetry—the standard is a real one, in which accessible music joins accessible rhetoric in a highly skilled manner, clearly conveying things which the public is interested in: chiefly, relations between the sexes; moral philosophy; good taste; refinement; interest in nature and science; philosophical wit; wisdom, fears, loves and hopes common to all.

This high standard—which gave pleasure to a reading public, also took its inevitable place in the schools with the rise of universal public education.

Modernism piggy-backed into the schools as it managed to standardize itself there, and, gradually replacing the ‘old’ poetry with the “Red Wheel Barrow” and “The Waste Land,” used the force of its school-validation in combination with the rise of the Creative Writing Industry (Iowa, Paul Engle and his friends, the highly government-and-think tank connected New Critics, including Robert Lowell) as poet-teachers increasingly joined the piggy-back phenomenon in an orgy of self-interest that cut out the old standards and left no room for Byron. Poetry was no longer a public enjoyment—it was something only professors could teach, and as poetry became more experimental, inaccessible and obscure, the self-interested professor became more prominent in what became essentially a pyramid scheme of teachers/wacko explainers on the inside, and everybody else (including the public) on the outside.

Which brings us back to the scandal: an ugly manifestation of the ugly things which naturally occur whenever favors replace standards.

We don’t need to take sides here; we only need to point out—as we have just done—in the simplest manner possible, a truth, which, despite the brevity, we are certain everyone immediately understands (remember when poetry was like this?).

The accusers, in the current scandal, are accused of slandering the innocent (slander: 1. an important trope in Shakespeare, 2. used to destroy the reputation of America’s great standard-bearer, Edgar Poe).

The truth has yet to come to light. Accusations themselves can murk up the light on their own. We do not know the truth and do not speak of it, obviously. The rage of the accusers does not equal the truth; but their rage could be based on a truth; we are not taking sides. As we pointed out earlier, we have the luxury of not taking sides, since we stay clear of all po-biz insanity, and care for poetry alone.

The accusers open their letter (following a list of the accused names of the men) with a profundity which needs saying and which we agree with:

It has finally come to the attention of the literary “community” that women are abused and experience gendered violence just like women in all other social spheres of the world. The humanities do not save us, the assumed “humaneness” of the poet or writer does not exist. We say “community” in scare quotes because we have no shared actual commonality or trust that forms the bedrock of self-identified communities.

Yes. Poets and poetry need no special protection or defense, and it’s the Modernist (and contemporary) poets and their fans who play this ‘poet immunity’ card the most, even as they trash the reputations of a Poe or a Shelley. The accusers are right to expose this douchebaggery. And no more hiding behind “community,” either, which is code for the Creative Writing Era favoritism douchebaggery which has cynically steamrolled the standards of old.

But the accusers don’t get it entirely right, and come close to spoiling everything, for they go on to summarize:

This is a statement against the straight male cisgender patriarchy that enables this behavior: not only bringing direct harm to women, but those who have knowingly stayed silent while your fellow writers abuse people in positions of lesser power.

So we are to believe that gay men and women cannot, and do not, abuse women? How can one be interested in justice—and be so utterly naive?

The accusers, in their wrath, are strangely divided—they expose douchebaggery and yet they are victims of it, in almost equal amounts.

The reason for this is simple, as well. Since poetry has lost its public, there has been an increasing attempt in some circles to make poetry relevant to a public again by making poetry (poetry!) simply about hot button, political issues. But there are things like the essay which already exist for this. Here, again, we see the whole thing unfolding simply and naturally, due to the original Modernist error.

And now we bring our notice to a close, secure that Scarriet is the only sane, up-scale island left in poetry today. We are happy. We are  proud.

 

 

ARE YOU READY FOR THIS? FRANZ WRIGHT BATTLES JAMES TATE!!!

Franz Wright fans gather excitedly for the big match.

James Tate and Franz Wright, born in the booming, volatile middle of the 20th century, grew in the intellectual climate of the partying 1970s when the Iowa poetry workshop took control of poetry and America went from heroic and expansive to bureaucratic and self-pitying.  Well, America was never heroic and expansive, except when we were fighting the British; since Emerson, American intellectual life has been solidly and politely apologetic and anti-heroic. 

Sometime between the insanity that was WW I and the insanity that was WW II, American poetry became an Africa, and Paul Engle became our Cecil Rhodes. 

The basic elements of literary life are pretty simple when it comes to savvy male poets like Tate and Wright.   Tate and Wright would make great clowns, or fools, in a Shakespeare play: Tate, sarcastic, Wright, sad.  The Romantic poet, or Hamlet—which the modern poet has never escaped—was pathetic/heroic; our contemporaries like Tate and Wright are merely pathetic, and of course I don’t mean pathetic in the modern, slangy sense, but aesthetic pathos.   But pathos is never enough: with Tate, the heroic has been replaced by a rueful humor and Tate’s poetry is wicked, fast, and fun, written on-the-run and off-the-cusp and now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t and where’s-the-next-party-anyway?  Franz Wright chooses a different path; the nerdy kid not invited to the party, Franz broods on his poems, he writes them slowly and contemplatively and instead of adding something else to pathos, he’s crazy enough to think that he can keep up the romantic trope and do the pathetic/heroic—in a grand, vengeful, wise-man, nerdy sort of way.

Wright and Tate were only given one poem in Rita Dove’s recent Penguin anthology—which they both triumphed with in Round One, but now their selections must come from elsewhere as they attempt Sweet 16. 

Note here how Wright plays the Romantic pathetic/heroic card.  You can see the heroic in the adjective “vast” and in the stunning image of Romantic-era Walt Whitman at the end of the poem.  Sure, the pathetic exists here, too, but Wright is one of the few contemporary poets who goes for the Romantic heroic trope as well.

WHEELING MOTEL

The vast waters flow past its back yard.
You can purchase a six-pack in bars!
Tammy Wynette’s on the marquee
 
a block down. It’s twenty-five years ago:
you went to death, I to life, and
which was luckier God only knows.

There’s this line in an unpublished poem of yours.
The river is like that,
a blind familiar.

The wind will die down when I say so;
the leaden and lessening light on
the current.

Then the moon will rise
like the word reconciliation,
like Walt Whitman examining the tear on a dead face.

With Tate, we are fully in the 20th century—no Romantic heroism for him.  This poem reminded me of Becket’s Godot,  and note the pathos combined with the rueful humor:

SUCCESS COMES TO COW CREEK

I sit on the tracks,
a hundred feet from
earth, fifty from the
water. Gerald is

inching toward me
as grim, slow, and
determined as a
season, because he
has no trade and wants
none. It’s been nine months
since I last listened
to his fate, but I
know what he will say:
he’s the fire hydrant
of the underdog.

When he reaches my
point above the creek,
he sits down without
salutation, and
spits profoundly out
past the edge, and peeks
for meaning in the
ripple it brings. He
scowls. He speaks: when you
walk down any street
you see nothing but
coagulations
of shit and vomit,
and I’m sick of it.
I suggest suicide;
he prefers murder,
and spits again for
the sake of all the
great devout losers.

A conductor’s horn
concerto breaks the
air, and we, two doomed
pennies on the track,
shove off and somersault
like anesthetized
fleas, ruffling the
ideal locomotive
poised on the water
with our light, dry bodies.
Gerald shouts
terrifically as
he sails downstream like
a young man with a
destination. I
swim toward shore as
fast as my boots will
allow; as always,
neglecting to drown.

“as fast as my boots will allow; as always, neglecting to drown” captures the whole pathos essence of James Tate and the replacement of the Romantic pathos/heroic with the Modern alternative of pathos/self-deprecating humor.

Here is the origin of Slam poetry—as written poetry evolves into stand-up comedy before a live audience.  

Pure poetry is something that is read by one person alone, and there is no design upon that person except that they enjoy a poetic experience, far removed from everything else, and, hopefully, in some way superior to that ‘everything else.’ 

Slam poetry, which, ironically, truly developed out of the poetry workshop atmosphere, and not the tavern, embraces the ‘everything else,’ stoops to it, revels in it, and the ‘live poetry’ experience is all about one person’s design on another, whether to impress a teacher in a worshop seminar, or to get laid in a bar.  Of course reading poems aloud in bars or in the street might seem like something which has always occured and has nothing to do with academics, but this, I maintain, is a romantic falsehood, and the people who go to bars and walk down the street in bygone days had the good sense to know that poetry does not belong in bars—only drinking songs do.

Wright is obviously infected with Slam (his reference to Tammy Wynette) but the irony here is that his reference to Whitman is Slam pathos, too.  Whitman is not pure poetry.  He, too, has designs on us.  Walt was the first Slam poet, before the horror of Slam existed. Whitman has become a circus in himself, and now represents the same cheap, honky-tonk Slam poetry atmosphere which the schools unconsciously promote.

But Wright’s a smart poet, and his “examining a tear on a dead face” is an attempt to reverse this Slam trend and bring Whitman back to some Romantic semblance of heroicism and feeling.

Tate tells better jokes, the guy with boots who “neglects to drown” is brilliant, and perhaps Wright is just sorry and pathetic, but we need to give Wright points for his brooding insights and sensibility. 

Go, men in black!

Wright 75, Tate 73

HENRY GOULD TRIES TO UNDERSTAND AMERICAN POETRY—AND THE MAZE THAT IS MAZER

Ben Mazer.  Don’t let his demeanor fool you.  He’s funnier than Ashbery.

In a review of Ben Mazer’s Poems (Pen and Anvil Press, 2010) and John Beer’s The Waste Land and Other Poems (Canarium Press, 2010), Henry Gould begins:

If there is, or could be, a center of American poetry — a suspect, much-derided supposition — then John Ashbery, needless to say, lives at or near it. Ashbery: presiding spirit, native genius! That courtly gent, whose arctic blue eyes, disappointed mouth, and eagle beak, convened for the camera, curiously resemble portraits of T.S. Eliot in old age. Ashbery’s parasol-like plumage spreads a kindly shade over more recent laboring; his generous blurbs brighten the back pages of scores of advancing young upstarts. The work of two of the most promising, Ben Mazer and John Beer, reveal a substantial debt to their mentor — combined with the influence of an earlier poet, lurking behind both as he does behind Ashbery: that is, yes, Eliot, old Possum himself.

Gould is correct: Eliot and Ashbery are the templates of all modern poetry; one hardly has to talk about anyone else.  Sure, one could discuss 19th century French poetry, or Elizabethan verse, or yammer on about Whitman, or go off on some insane Poundian tangent, or scream, What about women poets?   Or, talk about the modern or post-modern age.  Cars!  World War One!  Movies!  Airplanes!  TV!  The bomb!  The pill!  Parody! The internet!  But what would be the point?  E. and A. already contain these things.  Eliot has already been where you are going—in the past, and in the future.  Your one advantage over Eliot, reader, is the present—but if only we could find it.  I’m afraid we must make do with the “arctic blue eyes” and the “disappointed mouth” and the “eagle beak” of E. and A. for another century, or two.

Let’s be real simple for a moment: Shakespeare wrote about life; Keats wrote about feelings for life; since the grammaphone replaced Keats and the movies replaced Shakespeare, poets have nowhere to go but into parody, beginning with Eliot’s “a patient etherized upon a table” and “I grow old/I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled” and, finishing with Ashbery’s parody of parody.  Gould:

John Beer and Ben Mazer together diagram a paired dissociative offshoot from Eliot and Ashbery. Beer’s poetic stance radiates bitter, self-canceling ratiocination, whereas Mazer’s stance represents unaccountable, free-floating emotion. Beer mimes a sardonic, midwestern Baudelaire, while Mazer seems primed with Keatsian negative capability.

Beer and Mazer are offshoots; one is “bitter” and the other “unaccountable.”  Parody is not always so—Shakespeare was a parodist of Dante—but in minor poets, “bitter” or “unaccountable” are the two forms the imitation inevitably takes.  Mr. Beer and Mr. Mazer are not gardens, or even plants, but tendrils growing from a larger plant—in the garden of American Poetry where Gould, the reviewer, is an even-tempered and faithful gardener.

Gould seems more interested in Mazer.  If this passage from Beer (indeed, ‘small beer’) which Gould quotes is any indication of Beer’s ability, we can see why:

With the smell of hyacinths across the garden
I can smell the different perfumes,
The smell whereof shall breed a plague in France,
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth
And rain, the blood-rose living in its smell…

This is pure trash—far below Eliot.  Eliot never wrote milk-and-water phrases full of throw-away words, like: “With the smell of…”, “I can smell the different…”, “The smell whereof shall breed a plague…”  Beer is not even in Mazer’s league, much less Eliot’s, and we need not discuss Beer further.

Gould on Mazer is good:

In a jackhammer world that glorifies the transparent, the obvious, the literal, and polemical above all, the practice of this patient mode of symbolic representation is a lonely battle. Mazer reveals his discouragement: or rather, he mimes discouragement and near-despair. His heroes are sacred victims, like Hart Crane and Weldon Kees; he has an affinity for the disaffected Ashbery, to whom I believe he alludes obliquely (I could be mistaken) in these comically-botched lines (from an ambivalent fan letter?) in “Death and Minstrelsy”:

Although I am only a moderate admirer
of your poetry, there is not a single other
contemporary poet who I do admire.

Gould doesn’t know Mazer as I know him—Gould writes that Mazermimes discouragement and near-despair,” but Mazer’s “near-despair” is genuine; there is no miming; Mazer is certainly capable of mimicry, but Mazer really does mourn Hart Crane as a tragic, long-lost brother, and there’s nothing fake about it.  Otherwise in the passage just quoted above, Gould gets Mazer down cold.  I agree with Gould—those lines he quotes from Mazer have Ashbery written all over them, and I will add that 1) Mazer is perhaps the only living poet who can do Ashbery as well as, or even better than, Ashbery, 2) the “moderate admirer” lines are screamingly, achingly funny, 3) Mazer was not being intentionally funny when he wrote those lines—in fact, he probably wrote the lines out of indignation and hurt, since Mazer genuinely loves most contemporary poets (he is not hyper-critical, in  the least—in fact, his spirit is quite the opposite) which 4) goes to show that Mazer’s genius does have a puzzling aspect that catches Gould somewhat off-guard.

Gould is one of the best critics writing today: sharp, witty, worldly.  He is a tad too much in love with own cleverness, though; he struggles admirably against his own tendency towards self-conscious hipsterism.  He is not quite as good as Logan, even though he’s much more likeable.  Logan, however, would never be tempted to write of Ashbery this way:

Ashbery emerged in the 1950s, in tandem with the ascent of U.S. hegemony on the world stage. This was an America moving toward historical apex: a coalescence of technological-ideological certitude and might, in an atmosphere fraught nevertheless with extreme stress (think Dachau; Hiroshima; Cold War). In the poetry realm, it was a golden age of criticism. The New Critics, impelled by the same Faustian drives which haunted the culture at large, saw in the figure of Eliot a model, above all, of masterful knowledge and control. Eliot’s aphorism, that “the only method is to be very intelligent”, was inverted to suggest that intelligence was, indeed, a method — the method — and the project was to methodize it further: an intellectual instauration. The well-made poem, that autotelic object, was offered as a model of perfection: of feeling perfectly objectified in art; of beauty technically refined in verse. There was something in these formulae reminiscent of the smug certainties of the Restoration, of a Dryden “smoothing out” the rough-hewn lines of Shakespeare. It was the rationalism of a time wrung dry by civil strife, more comfortable with mild truisms than with debate. Method and craft produced the polished poem, just as American know-how built the superhighway system.

Ashbery, according to Gould, is a poet who “emerged in the 1950s,” along with the might of the post-war United States, and the “Some Trees” poet is finally likened (by way of the New Critics and Eliot) to the “American know-how [that] built the superhighway system.”  The superhighway system is the efficient working thing of the New Critics, who “saw in the figure of Eliot a model;” — “intelligence” was Eliot’s ultimate guide to complex, functioning modernity, with Ashbery the road, and Eliot, the pylon.

Gould’s view is superficial and too contemporary, a sign of po-biz’s continual shrinking understanding of history.  The New Critics did not find Eliot—they were an extension of him; Eliot’s early essays were the blueprint of New Criticism, and Eliot, in turn, was influenced by the James family: Henry James advocated intelligence as the ultimate aesthetic measure (a formula, finally, of empty-headed snobbery and entitlement) long before Eliot, and William James (who taught Gertrude Stein) had transformed Harvard into a modernist citadel with his nitrous oxide pragmatism before Eliot arrived there.  W.H. Auden was writing Ashbery poems of wry obscurity in the late 1920s. Paul Engle, with his Yale Younger, his Masters Degree of his own poetry, and his Rhodes scholarship, launched the Creative Writing Program era with the help of the Rhodes Scholar New Critics, Tate, Ransom, Warren, and Brooks; Pound’s euro-frenzy and Williams‘ wheel barrow would land safely in American universities, and Englishmen like Ford Madox Ford and Auden would cross the Atlantic to teach writing in America, the latter famously delivering the Yale Younger to Ashbery.  Our MFA students today have only a Wiki-knowledge of New Criticism (if that)—they know the head, but not the feet, of the business.

Ignorant of the motives and actions of these men—first Fugitives, then racist Southern Agrarians, then New Critics, and then Creative Writing mavens, we end up saying impossibly quaint and silly things like “Ashbery emerged in the 1950s” and he resembles a “superhighway system.”   The New Critics (with Paul Engle) were far more important for what they did on a practical basis than for what they thought.  We don’t need the metaphor of a superhighway system when we have the reality of a super writing program system.

With history’s oxygen dwindling in the MFA classroom, the trapped poets with their Wiki-knowledge produce increasingly light-headed nonsense, “miming” as Gould puts it, the  “discouragement or near-despair” of an existence which fosters the inevitable human tragedies of drunken, Creative Writing profs who litter the 20th century, like Berryman, Allen Tate, Robert Lowell, Roethke, and Ted Hughes, or, rather,”comically-botched” lines:

Although I am only a moderate admirer
of your poetry, there is not a single other
contemporary poet who I do admire.

Mazer is an intuitive and emotional poet, not an intellectual one—which is why these lines are funny; funny in a good way.

Post-modern poetry doesn’t think.  It reacts.

(One day we will begin to see that Ashbery’s work does not spring from mirth, so much as guilt, sadness, paranoia, myopia, and depression.)

Sincere passion, made by a Byron or a Shelley or a Tennyson, is out.  And so is their music.  Mazer, in his fleeting Ashbery moods, is the best we’ve got now.

ELIOT WEINBERGER, ANOTHER CONVERT TO FOETRY

By the time Alan Cordle and friends closed down Foetry.com in 2007, Cordle’s now famous website had managed to enrage a good number of distinguished poets, editors, professors, and critics.  But the tide is turning; the truth is finally counting more than personal bitterness.

The following quote by Eliot Weinberger comes by way of a Spanish newspaper on “a crisis in worldwide literary criticism:”

The United States does not have the kinds of literary supplements that are common in Spain and many other countries. It has only one important frequent periodical of criticism–The New York Review of Books. There are no longer powerful American critics, as there were until the 1960s, writing in a prose that was intelligible to anyone, and inserting literature into the political, social, and moral issues of the day. So-called “serious” criticism has largely become the domain of academics, who write in a specialized jargon, under the bizarre belief that complex thought can only be presented in impenetrable sentences… Criticism, in the United States, has been reduced to “recommendations,” which come via reviews, blogs, and Twitter. Prizes have become the standard validation of literary merit–especially among those who are unaware how prizes are chosen. I can’t think of a single American critic to whom one now turns for ideas…

Foetry.com could not have put it better, or more bluntly: “Prizes have become the standard of validation of literary merit—especially among those who are unaware of how prizes are chosen.”  This speaks volumes.  Every sorry part contributes to the whole: “Criticism…has been reduced to ‘recommendations’ because “prizes have become the standard” and because there is a “belief that complex thought can only be presented in impenetrable sentences,” it follows “there are no longer powerful American critics,” and hence, “criticism has…become the domain of academics” and the historical record will show that the whole shameful Prize Apparatus came into existence in the 1940s, when the professor and the poet became the same animal, thanks to Paul Engle’s work at Iowa.

Engle was surely well-meaning when he said, ‘Why can’t a master’s thesis be a book of poetry?’  Unfortunately, this idea, which on the face of it, appeared to help poetry, essentially killed it.

Why?

Because unfortunately poetry reputations are made by humans, not the Muses.  The system—now in place for about 75 years—in which living poets are able to make their own reputations, has resulted in nothing but folly.  John Crowe Ransom became the most powerful editor, poet, and critic in the mid-20th century precisely because he was the leader, with a few of his Fugitive cronies, of the invasion of contemporary poetry into the academy.

Weinberger makes it clear: the public is out of the picture; poetry prizes are a fait accompli, and “recommendations” (puffing) has replaced Criticism.

Poe warned us about this, and look what happened to him.

What can you do?

Read Scarriet.

We’ll fix this.

EZRA POUND: ANT WITH A MEGAPHONE

Doolittle: An American, a woman, but pre-Raphaelite look helped.

Billy Mills, in the U.K. Guardian Books Blog, on May 5th, tries to stir up a little excitement for H.D. with “H.D. in London: When Imagism Arrived.”

Billy—who must be a young man—wants us to know that H.D. arriving in London (London!) and Pound (Pound!) crowning her “Imagiste” (Imagiste!) was a very significant event for Imagism, for Modernism and for Letters:

I have always felt that the appearance of the first Imagist poems in the years just before the first world war was an event as significant in its way as the publication, in 1798, of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads.

Note the implied significance of “the first world war,” which had not occured yet.  In these commentaries on Imagism, there is never any mention of the stunning Japanese victory in the 1905 Russo-Japanese War, a large-scale contest, which ushered in a haiku rage in the West—which had already gone bonkers over Japanese art for years, at that point.

Billy, however, repeats the same drab, Pound-centered facts. The whole magnificent story is quickly told:

One hundred years ago this May, a young Pennsylvanian woman called Hilda Doolittle arrived in London. …She had come to meet her one-time fiancé, Ezra Pound, who had made the same journey a couple of years earlier. Before long, she was to encounter her soon-to-be husband Richard Aldington, another poet. Whatever the personal entanglements involved – and there were many – it was a voyage that helped instigate one of the most influential poetic movements of the 20th century.

Since his arrival in London, Pound had been one of a group of young poets who met regularly in the Eiffel Tower restaurant in Soho to discuss, among other things, their impatience with their poetic elders, vers libre, Japanese verse forms and the role of the Image in poetry. In his role as London correspondent for Harriet Monroe’s Poetry. Pound was looking for poems he could recommend for publication that exemplified these discussions, but nothing, as yet, had seemed quite right.

He had also taken to meeting regularly with Aldington and Doolittle to discuss their poems. At one such meeting he surprised his two friends by announcing that they were Imagistes (the French form of the name was later dropped for Imagist) and selecting six of their poems to send to Monroe.  As a final flourish, Pound insisted that they bear the signature HD, Imagiste. All six poems eventually appeared in Monroe’s magazine, and Imagism was launched on an unsuspecting world.

“Japanese verse forms.”  Yea, about those.  That was imagism.

Mrs. Monroe publishing Mrs. Doolittle in her little magazine did not “launch Imagism on an unsuspecting world.”

Billy is gratuitously repeating p.r. first churned out by the Pound Clique, and now dutifully repeated by every Billy in London, and every Billy at Harvard University.

Billy needs to read about Yone Noguchi in one of Scarriet’s old posts.

It’s also charming the way Richard Aldington is mentioned as “another poet.” Aldington was an WW I officer and part of Ford Madox Ford’s modernist group—which Pound quickly joined on his arrival in London—that was fanatically pro-war.  If there was anything Poundian that was “launched on an unsuspecting world,” it had much more to do with fascist war-mongering.

Richard Aldington also published a major poetry anthology with Viking Press in the early 40s, which featured a great deal of his then ex-wife’s poetry, as well as a couple of poems by Pound and one rhyming poem by WC Williams.  The anthology’s introduction doesn’t mention Pound, or Imagism, and the large anthology shows no influence from it, either. If the writer who was right in the thick of the Imagiste movement is not influenced by it, one wonders how signifcant Pound’s Imagism really was.

We shouldn’t be surprised by Billy’s personal anecdote then:

I first began to suspect that things weren’t quite right in the world of bookselling one day about a decade ago. I strolled into one of Dublin’s finest long-established independent bookshops and asked the assistant who was positioned closest to the poetry section whether they had in stock, or could order, any books by the American poet HD. The response was instant and, for me at least, decisive: “How do you spell that?” I left.

Billy: things “are not quite right” in ways you only dimly understand.

It’s not enough that Americans continually exaggerate the importance of Pound—the ant with a megaphone—for the Brits are obviously doing their part, all pumped up with pride because Pound and H.D. launched their Imagism from London.

Poe kicked the Brits’ asses when they were openly smug and abusive towards American Letters, but the condescending attitude still remains (and with some justification, given how the Americans have treated Poe and grovel before the opinions of Oxford and Cambridge).

Much of American Modernism has its roots in London: Pound, T.S. Eliot, the New Critics, including Paul Engle, who all studied in Britain with their Rhodes Scholarships.  Britain helps keep the ignorance afloat, with narrow tales such as this, by young Billy, in the Guardian.

CRAFT AND MADNESS

Does Madness or Sanity write Poetry?

We might asssume sanity is responsible for poetic craft, while madness provides the urgency and the vision.

Plato would disagree.  Plato makes no such distinction in his “Ion” for instance, or in his “Republic,” between craft and whatever else poetry might be.    Let us assume the craft of poetry is the poetry—Plato still condemns it.

Robert Lowell rhymed when he was not medicated; if rhyme is craft—and most agree it is—Lowell, the madman, was more attentive to craft.

Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” is a tour de force of craft.  It was written by a madwoman.

Paul Engle once pointed out that as Keats matured, he rhymed less.

Aldous Huxley, like Paul Engle, was a practical man—and a terrible poet.  (Paul Engle:  Who needs the words of writers when you can have the  money of would-be writers?  Aldous Huxley:  Who needs hallucinatory verses when you have LSD?)

Mr. Huxley once viciously ridiculed the rhymes and rhythms of Poe’s versification.

Is rhyme, is verse, juvenile?  Childish?  Mad?

Most moderns believe so, even when they don’t come out and say it.

Are the Moderns correct?

Or, is rhyme and verse the height of poetic skill, sanity and craft?

Surely a poem’s content is the chief indicator of whether the poet is mad, or not, and likewise, content determines the sanity of the poet.

What we term craft merely trails after the content, a content which, if mad, cannot be cured by craft—the craft would merely heighten its effect.

Content may be pure, even invisible (i.e., merely wordy) but poetic craft implies poetic skill and poetic skill, if it really is poetic skill, can never be pure, or invisible.

Craft is what follows the invisible cause.  Craft is the only true thing the mad person has and this is often why madness and craft go together.

Madness lacks a true cause.  It has no reason.

Poetic craft cannot exist apart, cannot be perfected by itself, alone, and thus will always willingly attach itself to madness, causing Plato to censor in a way we, today, consider too wide.   Most moderns explicitly or tacitly believe poetry is a madness that is good.

But the moderns are unconsciously Platonic—in their rejection of rhyme.   Moderns are very unconscious when it comes to philosophy, so this is no surprise.  The earnest attempt to be avant garde at all costs has made many a modern intellectual an outright buffoon—and a frightful bore.

Florence King has a fascinating theory that Sylvia Plath suffered from ‘teacher’s pet’ syndrome and could not deal with the real world.

We see the seeds planted in the very fact that Plath’s mother was a university student of her father’s.

Plath’s final doom, according to King, was when she then became a teacher’s pet to her psychiatrist.

Sanity is able to see through bullshit (art).

Madness cannot.

THE MANLY POETS

HOMER (War Correspondent)

JUVENAL (Satirist)

LI PO (Mountain recluse)

HAFIZ (Party Animal)

DANTE ALIGHIERI (Exile)

FRANK PETRARCA (Lover)

PHIL SIDNEY (Soldier, Spy)

BILL SHAKESPEARE (Screen Writer)

CHRIS MARLOWE (Killed in Bar)

JOHN MILTON (Government Official)

ALEX POPE (Gardener)

LORD BYRON (M.P.,seducer, funded Greek independence)

P.B. SHELLEY (Rogue, drowned sailing)

JOHN KEATS (Medical Student, dead at 26)

SAM COLERIDGE (Trading Co. Official, Opium Addict)

BILL WORDSWORTH (Hiker)

ED POE (Secret Code Writer, Horror Writer)

LORD TENNYSON (Tobacco & Whiskey Stinking)

ARTHUR RIMBAUD (Rock quarry foreman, weapons dealer)

FORD MADOX FORD (Womanizer, War Propaganda Office Director)

RICHARD ALDINGTON (Soldier)

PAUL ENGLE (Fundraiser)

EZRA POUND (Traitor)

JAMES DICKEY (World War Two Pilot)

BILLY COLLINS (Best-Selling Author)

GARY B. FITZGERALD (Self-published, talks shit on blogs)

MODERNISM’S HITS AND MISSES

The HITS

1. Skyscrapers Useful.  Spectacular.  Yet, like almost every aspect of Modernism, a certain irony in the success: Modernism’s brutal, in-your-face archicture is the very face of what Modernism was supposed to be protesting: big, industrial take-over.

2. T.S. Eliot  Effete, gloomy, prejudiced, but most talented writer of the lot.

3. New Criticism  A certain intellecutal elan, but at great pedantic cost.

4. Jean Cocteau   Just really cool.  It is said the news that Edith Piaf died killed him.

5. The MFA Creative Writing Workshop.  Yes, a Modernist creation of Paul Engle, Allen Tate and John Crowe Ransom.  Great idea, commercially successful, but often reflects the crass, cheap clique-ish aspects of Modernism.

6. Gertrude Stein “A rose is a rose is a rose.”  A clown, but a savvy one.

7. William Butler Yeats Actually wrote some good poems

8. Bertolt Brecht Lucky to have Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya as partners, and not a bad poet.

9. Garcia Lorca Beautiful poetry

10. Abstract Art One complaint, though: all that lovely color should be on ugly industrial buildings and such; it’s a waste to be only in museums and private homes—where it often looks pretentious.

The MISSES

1. Manifesto-ism Pedantry, over-argument, splintering.  Makes you want to memorize a poem or two; or learn Latin or Greek or Hebrew…

2. Bauhaus The ugly factory.   Bauhaus building trade bucks enriched the modern painting con.  The puzzle of  millions chasing ugly art: solved.

3. Cubism Wins the Pretense Award in many categories.

4. James Joyce The most famous unread author.  Reinforces crass Irish stereotypes—no wonder the bluebloods love him.

5. Imagism Uh…memo to Pound and Williams: the Japanese already did it…it’s called haiku.

6. 12 Tone Music Get me out of this place.

7. John Crowe Ransom Very questionable taste, cunning essayist.

8. Apollinaire Wanted the Louvre burned down, but this iconoclast fights in WW I?  Died as a result—served him right.

9.  Charles Olson Ugh.

10. Picasso A blue period.

THE REAL DIRT ON ABSTRACT PAINTING

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

Modern poetry triumphed in the schools due to the work of the Fugitive/New Critics like Warren, Ransom, Tate, Brooks, their textbooks (“Understanding Poetry”) their associates (Paul Engle, I.A. Richards, Robert Frost, Ford Madox Ford, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Robert Lowell) and their associates in turn, but modern painting did modern poetry one better: abstract painting, as hateful to working class people as modern poetry, managed to triumph in the market. 

Why? 

The answer lies not so much in aesthetics, but in the link between Modern Architecture and Modern Painting.   Modern painting’s manifesto-points merely aped those of Bauhaus architecture.  As Austrian architect Adolph Loos put it, “Ornament is a crime.”     The key was cement.   Building large modern buildings brought in corporate millions.  The commerical, practical element of modern architecture pulled modern painting along with it.   The modern architects befriended, and collected the work of, the modern painters.   The combination of pioneer-ism, coterie-ism, and huge ugly buildings drawing monumental amounts of corporate cash overwhelmed public taste and a new era of “art” was born.

The aesthetics of Modernism was created before the 20th century by artists like Turner, Whistler, Baudelaire and countless others in Africa, Asia; the Modernists themselves simply cashed in as opportunists in the wake of the new ‘cement-mixer’ architecture.

Even the most blunt, astute philistines who objected to modern painting couldn’t see the writing on the wall of the Seagrams Building (Philip Johnson, Mies Van der Rohe, designers).   No one could quite figure out modern painting’s success.

Al Capp missed, but came close, with these two quotes:

“Picasso was a sensible kid. He knew he couldn’t go any further—not along the  traditional path, where talent was measured by the classic standards of truth and beauty. So he beat out another path—a crazy, crooked one, leading nowhere; and despite the jeering of the art world, he kept at it, turning out more balmy and offensive stuff every year until the art world began wondering if it hadn’t made a mistake, if there wasn’t something secretly good in stuff that looked so bad. The answer, of course, is that they were right in the first place—and history will someday make that judgement. But I’m sure Picasso couldn’t care less. He’s loaded. And the world’s galleries are loaded with his fakery.”

“Some people dismiss abstract artists as frauds. I don’t. I think quite a few are perfectly sincere, as sincere as those mystics of another great society—those Romans, I mean, who read augurs and portents into a slit lamb’s intestines. The only difference is that our mystics splash splatter paint until they create something as distasteful as lamb’s intestines—and we read augurs and portents into their messes.”

The real answer lay in those skyscrapers designed by graduates of the Modernist Bauhaus school.

The principle was explained in Poe’s Purloined Letter; it was the size of those cement Bauhaus monstrosities, the sheer volume and obviousness of it all, which eluded the critics.

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

What Do You Mean, Then?

Our artist expects no elaborate thanks
For these canvases of obscure blanks;
Selected critics’ praise and money
Will make this colony’s honey.
If Rothko’s bank account does well,
Working folk who wish to understand can go to hell.
But I’m no working class swine,
I understand theosophy and wine,
And I can tell you what the painting means in the end:
Some artist was some critic’s was some banker’s friend.

WHEN DID SCARRIET CHANGE POETRY FOREVER?

That’s right, class!  It was March 2010.

Poetry and criticism were moribund in the modern era.

The New Critics, springing from T.S. Eliot’s Sacred Wood and the ravings of Eliot’s “master,” Ezra Pound, were nothing but a erudite smokescreen for a modernist clique who invaded the academy in the 1930s and 40s, led by Professors Tate, Crane, Ransom, and Engle.

The internet, however, made Virginia Woolf’s printing press, Ransom’s Kenyon Review, and little magazines like Poetry seem tame by comparison.

Now the whole world could experience new art and ideas overnight.

All it took was one website, Scarriet, to change everything.

Even into the 21st century, American culture was hopelessly stuck in the past of 1830s Paris.  The glamor and “danger” of Bohemia had been recycled one too many times.  21st century America was like first century Rome, remember?  When sculpture realistically depicted old, bald men?

The ideal had been replaced by the fetish.  The genius had been replaced by the crank.

Starting in the middle of the 20th century, the films of Walt Disney featured hip jazz cats overturning middle class values.  The ‘avant garde’ has long been a harmless cartoon.  Now the “Disney Channel” shapes the lives of ADD drugged adolescents.

Long before the end of the 20th century, once-threatening  rock music (by some accounts an LSD experiment by U.S. military intelligence) entertained the elderly as they shopped in brightly lit supermarkets.

The so-called avant garde has not advanced since New York in the 1890s.   All that was outrageous and avant has been assimilated, marketed, and been in repeat for decades.

Culture has been backed into a corner.

Retro late-capitalist kitsch posters screaming “Freedom” are yellowing inside the prison cells of High Culture.

The same “avant” ideas are recycled over and over.

The latest hurrah in po-biz (Flarf, Conceptualism, Language Poetry) in 2010 is the “Found Poem” from 50 years ago and Duchamp’s ‘ready-mades’ from even earlier.   Yet the avant garde keeps pretending it is “new” and “dangerous.”   They naively believe they are an alternative to the “Quietists” and they will save society from “Official Verse Culture,” which, by Charles Bernstein’s own admission is T.S. Eliot—which is what Charles Bernstein in fact is: T.S. Eliot.

The spectacular Woodstock Concert and the moon landing happend in 1969.

The only new thing in 2010:  now you can read about these remarkable events on a computer.

It was as if the larger life of mankind had ended in the mid-20th century, and the only major advance in all that time was the P.C.

In the humanities departments of universites, academia has long abandonded its enlightenment role and become a for-profit babysitter, selling  psycho-babble degrees for an increasingly psycho-babble society.

Outmoded heroes of modernism adorn the minds of the intellectual curators of the age like celebrity photos of TV stars in teen bedrooms.  Modernism has gone completely unexamined and uncritiqued.   But it’s everywhere in academe, as history is increasingly forgotten.

Mid 20th century until now: Modernism is vaguely ‘avant garde’ and ‘radical,’ appealing to a certain conflicted type: the Modernist clique consists of European dead white males, like Mallarme, who can perplex the middle class—thus the Modernists are considered radical and conservative at the same time, a kind of magical formula for academics like Tate and Engle who were then taking over the English Departments and turning them into corporate supermarkets.

The radical, for decades, has been merely artsy-farsty.

A sweeping critique, a new examination of recent history, is needed.  But when?

Poetry is practically invisible outside the po-biz ghetto.

Enter Scarriet.

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