SECRETS INCREASE LEAD, STRANGERS MAKE PITCHING CHANGES

Bram Stoker - IMDb

Bram Stoker, manager of the Strangers. “We’ve got to do something.”

~~~

Ben Franklin’s Boston Secrets 41 23 —
Harvey Weinstein’s Westport Actors 33 31 (8)
P.T. Barnum’s Fairfield Animals 31  33 (10)
J.P. Morgan’s New York War 31 33 (10)
David Lynch’s Virginia Strangers 26 38 (15)

~~~

Ben Franklin’s Boston Secrets are pulling away from the pack in the Society Division.

Emily Dickinson is hitting with power, and also hitting close to .400.  Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Woody Guthrie in the middle of the Secrets lineup have been relentless. Especially in the clutch. They are confident and clear-eyed, seeing right through any philosophical obscurities the opposing pitchers might bring. And every time one looks up, Nathaniel Hawthorne, the lead-off hitter, is on base, a statue in a dream.

The rest of the lineup: Cole Porter batting second, moves runners over, always making contact; Carl Sandburg handles everything hit his way at third; Paul Simon and Kanye West draw walks, and patrol their outfield positions with risk, recklessness, and brilliance.

George Washington, stolid in the dugout, sees everything, calmly watching, inspiring his players in an almost preternatural manner.

Washington is ably assisted by his coaching staff: Winfield Scott, JFK, Clarence Thomas.

The Secrets bench is deep: Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, William Cullen Bryant, John Prine, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Bob Tonucci, Stephen Cole, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson.

The pitching staff is doing its job.  Poe, Plato, Pushkin, and Moliere represent the scientific ingenuity, passion, and virtue of the artificial republic which Ben Franklin, owner of the Secrets, helped create, a method of society delicately balanced between loyalty and deal-making, a reality which not does not merely think—but out-thinks the enemies amassed around it.

Edgar Poe is 5-2 in his last 9 starts. He didn’t win his first game until the middle of May.  Plato has been good from the start, with 4 shutouts and a record of 11-4.  Pushkin is 8-1 and has only walked 10 batters in 121 innings. Moliere had a rough start to the season, but is 3-1 in his last 6 outings. The bullpen by committee is getting the job done: Francis Scott Key, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

David Lynch’s Strangers are now fifteen games out of first.

Replacing Samuel Beckett (3-8) in the starting rotation will be Salvador Dali.

One can see why Camus might pitch for a team called the Strangers. But Camus is 2-11.

Camus will be dropped from the rotation in favor of Franz Kafka.

“Sometimes minimalism and existentialism work in sports competition, and sometimes they don’t.”

So David Lynch began his remarks announcing the changes—team moves Strangers fans are divided on. Many love Camus and Beckett. But the Strangers are in last place in the Society Division, and falling fast.

Bram Stoker, the Strangers manager, agreed it was time for a change.

“How restless I’ve felt, these last few weeks,” Stoker said. “I’ve struggled with these changes! How fast the summer is moving, a summer of poetry and philosophy in the misty shadows of the plunging blood red sun! How much longer can we stand this torture! Something must be done!”

Franz Kafka was brought on board a week ago, where he is 0-2 in relief for the Strangers, losing one run games to new bullpen aces for the Animals (A.E. Milne) and the War (Jack London). But Kafka showed he has the stuff, fanning 12 in the 7 innings he worked. Let’s see how he does as a starter.  This will leave a hole in relief, and the Strangers have had a shaky bullpen: H.P Lovecraft, Antonin Artaud, Robert Bloch, Philip K. Dick, Shirley Jackson.

The Strangers can hit. Power comes from the “PoweR BRotheRs”—Rimbaud, Rabelais, and Roethke. Theodore “Ted” Roethke just went on a tear, hitting 7 homers in 15 games—he now has 14, putting him among the Poetry League leaders. The lineup is good from top to bottom: Mary Shelley leading off, Fernando Pessoa batting second, then the 3 Rs, Paul Verlaine Weldon Kees, and Laura Riding, one of the best fielding shortstops in the league.

You can have a great lineup, but if your pitchers aren’t throwing strikes, no team can win.

Alexander Pope has won 7, and Nietzsche, 6—the no. 1 and 2 starter for the Strangers.  They will have to turn things up a notch if they’re going to catch the Secrets.

J.P. Morgan, who owns the War, was not expecting his nephew, the poet Harry Crosby, to hit home runs. He was just hoping he would hold down left field and get on base, occasionally.  But he’s belted 10 home runs, and may be moved up in the order—he currently bats seventh. The War trails the Secrets in the Society Division by 10 games. Stephen Crane, 359. 16 homers, is producing from the cleanup spot, but much more was expected from Philip Sidney (.224 4 homers) batting third. Apollinaire only has 5 homers and a .220 batting average batting fifth, and Rupert Brooke is striking out way too much in the lead-off spot.

Shakespeare, the War’s ace, has hit 4 homers, but in a terrible blow to the War’s fortunes, he will be out for 3 weeks, and up until now he only owns a 7-6 record with a 4.11 ERA.  The expectations were so high, and out there on the mound he sometimes uses comedy when he should use tragedy, a speech when he should use a song, a stage direction when he should use a dance. Walter Scott, as the War’s no. 2 starter is among the league’s leaders in wins (8), Erich Remarque, the no. 3 starter has won 7, but David Hume is 5-8.

Jack London (2-0 0.00 ERA) has just been signed to anchor the bullpen and may be what the War needs.  He joins RIchard Aldington, Edward Gibbon, and Giordano Bruno in the relief corps. Edward Gibbon will start a few games for the injured Shakespeare.

P.T. Barnum’s Animals are tied with the War for third. Wallace Stevens is finally starting to hit from the cleanup spot and Amy Lowell continues her amazing run; she lost her first game of the season just this week, when Moliere of the Secrets matched her pitch for pitch, strikeout for strikeout, until the bottom of the ninth when Paul Dunbar homered to win it for the Secrets, 1-0.  Amy gave Animals fans a scare when she winced in pain surrendering that home run—she will have to miss a start, but the doctors say it’s not serious. A.A. Milne has been added to the Animals bullpen, and he’ll pitch in Amy’s spot next week. Verne has won 8 games for the Animals, but Ovid and Melville have been struggling—much of it due to lack of run support; this lineup needs to do more, offensively—Jack Spicer, Edward Lear, Seamus Heaney, Stevens, Marianne Moore, Robinson Jeffers, Mary Oliver, and Larry Ferlinghetti.

That leaves Harvey Weinstein’s Actors, in second place, the closest team in the Society Division to the Secrets, at 8 games back. “They’re (the Secrets) too comfortable,” Actor manager Johnny Depp said; “we’ve got to put some pressure on them, let them know we’re here, make them look back.”

Norman Mailer replaced Henry Beecher in the starting rotation for the Actors, and dazzled in his first three starts (2-1 0.40 ERA). Petronius is starting to win (5-2 in his last 7 starts, including a 3-2 loss to Amy Lowell) and if streaky Byron and Chaucer can be more consistent (both have 3 shutouts), the Secrets can certainly be caught. Sade, Flaubert, Gide, and Richard Rorty have been good but not great in relief.

Thomas Nashe has 16 home runs for the Actors and Hafiz and Amiri Baraka have both hit 10. At the top of the Actors order, John Skelton and Langston Hughes will have to get on base more, if Westport is to really turn into an offensive machine.

Scarriet caught up to Lord Byron, pitching ace for Weinstein’s Actors, for a few words.

Scarriet: Hey, George, how’s it going?

Byron: Pardon?

Scarriet: Scarriet. May we get a quick interview?

Byron: Pardon? Oh (looking closer) Scarriet. Yes. Sorry. How are you?

Scarriet: What’s it been like to be in this league?

Byron: Like? Why does everyone use that word? It’s been wonderful. Yes, I enjoy it.

Scarriet: Do you like the States? The world, now?

Byron: No, yes. No. It’s vulgar. It’s too vulgar for me. Americans are intelligent, but they use their intelligence for all the wrong things. (Pause) They have no sense of—it’s hard to describe. Well, they’re all pigs, actually. There. I’ve said it. Is that alright?

Scarriet: Sure.

Byron: But I love this league. The game is great.

Scarriet: Your team isn’t exactly scoring a lot of runs when you pitch.  And you pitch against the best. Plato.

Byron: Oh God. He shut me out.

Scarriet: Pope.

Byron: He shut me out.  But then I got under his skin. I teased him.  He loses to me now. Three in a row.  The Strangers. We always beat them. We’re stranger than they are.

Scarriet: Shakespeare.

Byron: He’s on a lousy team. The War. The first time I faced him, I was nervous, and pitched badly, and he won. But now it’s alright. It was great. My best game when I beat him.

Scarriet: I remember. You struck out—

Byron: 13! 11?

Scarriet: You struck out 13 and—

Byron: I didn’t walk anybody. I was a beast.

Scarriet: You beat Shakespeare 1-0, and allowed 2 hits.

Byron: Two hits from a perfect game. Crosby, that snotty brat, got a hit.  And Philip. The great one. Sidney. A ground ball up the middle.

Scarriet: Ovid.

Byron: I shut him out twice! But then he beat me, 3-2. Just this week. I don’t like him. He’s vulgar. Poetry as sex advice! Really?

Scarriet: Will the Actors catch the Secrets?

Byron: I don’t care. Maybe, yes… I wish I played for the Secrets. Plato, Pushkin, Poe. Have you read Poe?  A master. How is it that Poe’s an American?  What happened to America? You guys are disgusting now.  I guess it’s bound to happen. Successful country. Too much leisure. The sellers crowding in. The modern world. Who could have imagined. Frightfully pleasurable. I must say. But the individual is what matters. I suppose. (pause) Good music. Fresh air. I’ve got to go now. Bye.

THE FIVE DIVISIONS IN THE SCARRIET POETRY BASEBALL LEAGUE SO FAR

Gary McKeon on | The beatles, Beatles pictures, Paul mccartney

Paul McCartney, lead-off hitter for the London Carriages, has 6 home runs.

EMPEROR DIVISION

The Rome Ceilings have outscored their opponents 84-49 at home—holding them to 2 runs per game, as their spacious outfield, (as big as the Colosseum) and fleet center fielder Edmund Spenser, gobbles up would-be home runs; Milton, Dryden, Ariosto (7-2) and Augustine, with Bach in the bullpen, is all pitching coach Marco Polo, and manager Cardinal Richelieu need. If the Corsica Codes are going to catch the Ceilings, they’re going to have to pitch better, and play better on the road. In his last 5 starts, no. 3 starter Hesiod is 0-5.  Victor Hugo (2B) and W.H. Auden (SS) are hitting a ton, but Napoleon’s infield (Callimachus 1b, Derek Walcott 3b) leads the league in errors. The Madrid Crusaders have to be happy that Mary Angela Douglas played so well filling in for Saint Ephrem at shortstop—Douglas, Aeschylus, and Bradstreet were a murderer’s row from late May to early June. St. John of the Cross and Handel have pitched really well recently. But the big news: Cervantes, the Crusaders manager, has met with Mozart and Beethoven—if either one of these join the Crusaders pitching staff, all bets are off.  The Paris Goths (22-26) are out of contention because of one starter—Baudelaire is on a 9 game losing streak; the ‘cursed’ pitcher has had poor run support (10 runs in his last 7 starts). The Goths’ position players have been dogged by injuries; Tasso and Holderlin, tied with the 3rd most homers on the club, began the year on the bench. Manager Schopenhauer might put Baudelaire in the bullpen for a spell and use newly acquired Goya as a starter. The Rimini Broadcasters, at 22-26, in last place with the Goths, need to decide what to do with George Orwell, who pitched well for the damaged Samuel Coleridge—who is now healthy. The Broadcasters need pitching help (Ben Jonson, their no. 2 starter, has been lackluster) and are close to signing Lacan, Gurdjieff, Frida Kahlo, or Salvador Dali. Nero, the Broadcasters manager, has spoken to all of them.

Standings

Ceilings  Pope Julius II, 31-17  “They also serve who only stand and wait”
Codes Napoleon Bonaparte 25-23 “Let the more loving one be me”
Crusaders Phillip II of Spain 24-24 “If in my thought I have magnified the Father above the Son let Him have no mercy on me”
Broadcasters Federico Fellini 22-26 “Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name”
Goths Charles X 22-26 “Every great enterprise takes its first step in faith”

WINS

Chateaubriand Goths 7-2
Ariosto Ceilings 7-2

Handel Crusaders 6-2
Milton Ceilings 6-4

Homer Codes 5-3
Hegel Codes 5-3
Nabokov Broadcasters 5-4
Aquinas Crusaders 5-5

Relief

Bach Ceilings 5-2

GLORIOUS DIVISION

The first place London Carriages swept the Laureates in Dublin—as Virginia Woolf and Charlotte Bronte combined to throw a 4-0, 11 inning shut out, and William Hazlitt beat Samuel Johnson in a 2-1 pitching duel. When the Laureates tried to repay the favor, and beat the Carriages 3 out of 4 in London; Virginia Woolf avoided the sweep, out-pitching Thomas Peacock 2-1.  The Carriages (27-21) swept the Florence Banners (25-23) when they first visited London, Andrew Marvell beating Dante 5-0. The second time the Carriages hosted the Banners, they lost 3 out of 4 to de Medici’s club, as Virginia Woolf prevailed over Shelley, 3-2.  That’s the difference between the first three teams.  The Devon Sun would be in last place, except John Ruskin won 5 straight replacing the injured J.S. Mill, Bertrand Russell is 5-1 in relief, and William Wordsworth hit some clutch homers. The Sun are tied with the Pistols, who they beat 23-18 and 27-3 in Berlin; however, the Pistols have beat the Sun 6 out of 8 since then. T.S. Eliot finally began winning (5 straight, 2 shutouts) a cursed Pound was sent to the bullpen, and the Pistols enjoyed a power surge from Ted Hughes, John Quinn, and Alistair Crowley.

Standings

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

WINS

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

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

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

Santayana, Pistols 4-4
Samuel Johnson, Laureates 4-4
Dante, Banners 4-5
Emerson, Sun 4-6

Relief

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

SOCIETY DIVISION

The Boston Secrets have 10 wins in relief, while starters Plato and Pushkin have excelled; starters Poe and Moliere have been disappointing, and the Secrets haven’t exactly knocked the cover off the ball, but defense, and coming out on top in close contests, find Ben Franklin’s team solidly in first. No other team in the Society Division is playing over .500—the Connecticut Actors (24-24) are relying on Byron (6-0 in his last 8 starts) Chaucer (3 shutouts), and Thomas Nashe (12 home runs) and not much else. The Manhattan War need Shakespeare to pitch better, but he has won 5 games, and has been out-dueled a couple of times; he’ll be fine. Stephen Crane is the only one really hitting for the War. Philip Sidney (4 home runs) has been playing hurt (foot).  The Fairfield (Connecticut) Animals are tied with the War, and scoring runs is even more of a problem for them—Wallace Stevens, their clean-up hitter, has only 5 home runs. Seamus Heaney, their leader, has 8. P.T. Barnum’s club is scoring enough for Amy Lowell—she has one of the best records in the league. Herman Melville has been a study in futility, however. He’s 1-9. The Virginia Strangers are losing close games; Lovecraft is not scaring anyone in relief; Camus is 2-8; Pope, their ace, is 5-4. Rimbaud, Rabelais, and Roethke are providing pop. Manager Bram Stoker is talking to Luis Bunuel and Jean-Luc Godard about helping the Strangers bullpen.

Standings

The Secrets Ben Franklin 29-19
The Actors Harvey Weinstein 24-24
The War J.P. Morgan 23-25
The Animals P.T. Barnum 23-25
The Strangers David Lynch 21-27

WINS

Plato, Secrets 8-3

Amy Lowell, Animals 7-1

Walter Scott, War 6-2
Byron, Actors 6-3
Remarque, War 6-4
Verne, Animals 6-5

Pushkin, Secrets 5-1
Chaucer, Actors 5-3
Pope, Strangers 5-4
Nietzsche, Strangers 5-4
Shakespeare, War 5-4

Petronius, Actors 4-3
Hume, War 4-6

Relief

Lovecraft, Strangers 4-1
Shirley Jackson, Animals 4-1

PEOPLES DIVISION

The Kolkata Cobras were not happy when Tulsidas agreed to play right field with Lorenzo de Medici’s Ceilings, but the Cobras have done just fine without him, depending heavily on the 20th century and English. Ramavtar Sarma and Acharya Shivapujan Sahay were just added to the bullpen, to help Kabir Das, Nissim Ezekiel, Krishnamurti, Faiz A. Faiz, and Raja Rao, as manager Rupi Kaur and pitching coach V.S. Naipal struggle to find the right combination there. Herman Hesse is 3-5 as the fourth starter, but Rumi, Tagore, and Gandhi are a combined 21-7.  Javed Akhtar, Vikram Seth, George Harrison, and Anand Thakore have combined for 145 RBIs, while Samar Sen and Allen Ginsberg have scored 55 times at the top of the order. The Beijing Waves, in second place, are 17-7 at home, with Lao Tzu as a starter and Confucius in relief, their top hurlers. Khomeini in the bullpen, and Voltaire and Rousseau as starters, have been big disappointments. Ho Chi Minh, Lenin, Engles, and Lu Xun are in the mix in relief. Jack Dorsey, the Waves manager, is at his wit’s end trying to find pitching for Chairman Mao’s team. Li Po, Tu Fu, and Karl Marx are hitting well in the middle of the order, but they need more from Brecht, Li He, and Neruda. The Santa Barbara Laws are playing much better away from home than the Waves, and are tied with them for second place, as John Donne and Thomas Hardy lead the Laws in homers. The good news for the 25-23 Laws is the recent performance of 3 of their starters—Aristotle, Francis Bacon, and Oliver Wendell Holmes are all 4-1 in their last 6 starts. Quintilian has been added to help Mark Van Doren in relief. The Tokyo Mist and the LA Gamers are the current bottom feeders in the Peoples Division. Yukio Mishima (6-4, 2.10 ERA)  has been a pleasant surprise for the Mist, filling in for the injured Heraclitus as the no. 3 starter, and has certainly earned a spot on the team. Basho and Issa as starters, Kobe Abe and D.T. Suzuki in relief, have not been good. John Lennon, Hilda Doolittle, and Yoko Ono are not hitting in Tokyo, as the Mist have a terrible home record.  The Mist are 4-12 against the Waves, but are playing .500 against everyone else. The Gamers are 1-7 against the Cobras. James Tate has started to win, but Derrida is 0-4 in his last 4 starts, and Democritus replaced the injured E.E. Cummings only to go 1-4. Lewis Carroll, the Gamers ace, has contributed to the slide, not able to win in his last 4 starts. Ionesco leads the Gamers with 11 homers. Manager Bob Hope is talking to both Woody Allen and Muhammad Ali about joining the bullpen. Merv Griffin is also trying to woo W.H. Auden away from Napoleon’s Codes in the Emperor Division. Auden, critically esteemed, yet a champion of Light Verse, would be an ideal fit for the Gamers.  But Auden is leading his division in homers and seems to love playing in Corsica, so that move is doubtful.

Standings

The Cobras, Satyajit Ray 29-19
The Waves, Chairman Mao 25-23
The Laws, Dick Wolf 25-23
The Mist, Kurosawa 20-28
The Gamers, Merv Griffin 19-29

WINS

J. Rumi, Cobras 7-1
R. Tagore, Cobras 7-3
M. Gandhi, Cobras 7-3

Lao Tzu, Waves 6-2
Yukio Mishima, Mist 6-4
Lucretius, Waves 6-4

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr, Laws 5-2
Yone Noguchi, Mist 5-3
Lewis Carroll, Gamers 5-5
James Tate, Gamers 5-5
Francis Bacon, Laws 5-6

Relief wins

Confucius, Waves 6-2

MODERN DIVISION

The Chicago Buyers have the best record in the whole league, even as Freud has stopped winning and their bullpen has not been effective.  But Freud started out 5-0, and now the other 3 starters have taken over: in their last 6 starts, Whitman is 3-1,  Twain is 4-1, and Paul Engle is 4-1. Elizabeth Bishop has more home runs than anybody (20), plus Dylan Thomas has 14, and Robert Lowell has 10. The Arden Dreamers have cooled after a hot start and now they’re in second place—under .500 and 9 games behind the Buyers. Margaret Atwood and Anais Nin have each won 5 for the Dreamers, but Germaine Greer is 2-6 in relief. Manager Averell Harriman would love Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera to join their bullpen. Talks are underway. Run-scoring is not a problem for the Dreamers. Sharon Olds, Edna Millay, and Louis MacNeice have knocked in 129 runs between them. Bob Dylan (.311 batting average, 9 home runs) finally got hot for the Phoenix Universe, but manager Billy Beane knows they have to make a move, as they are 10 games out of first and not one of their pitchers has been outstanding. Steven Spielberg’s Universe is talking to everyone, including Jack London, Octavio Paz, and MLK Jr. The Manhattan Printers have been playing much better lately. John Updike is their home run leader with 14, and Duchamp and Marjorie Perloff have been on fire—Duchamp is 4-1 and Perloff is 5-0 in their last 7 starts; Stephanie Burt, and Mark Rothko, however, have been dismal; Burt is 0-4 in his last 6 trips to the hill, Rothko has not won in his last 5 outings. That leaves us with the Philadelphia Crash, 13 games out of first.  The only bright spot is Pablo Picasso in relief (7-2). Allen Tate leads them with 8 homers. Walter Pater hasn’t won in 6 starts, John Dewey is 0-1 in his last 4, and their ace, John Crowe Ransom, has yet to notch a win. Manager Giorgio de Chirico and Henri Matisse are doing what they can to keep Ransom’s confidence up. The Crash lost Ransom’s first four starts by one run, and he was tossed for throwing at hitters in one of those close games. Pitchers Clement Greenberg and Roger Fry are said to be close to signing for the last-place Crash.

Standings

The Buyers John D. Rockefeller 32-16
The Dreamers Pamela Harriman 23-25
The Universe Steven Spielberg 22-26
The Printers Andy Warhol 21-27
The Crash A.C. Barnes 19-29

WINS

Paul Engle, Buyers 8-2

Mark Twain, Buyers 7-2

Margaret Atwood, Dreamers 5-3
Anais Nin, Dreamers 5-4
Marjorie Perloff, Printers 5-4
Freud, Buyers 5-4

Walt Whitman, Buyers 4-2
Duchamp, Printers 4-3

Relief Wins

Picasso, Crash 7-2

HOME RUNS  —LEAGUE LEADERS

Elizabeth Bishop, Buyers 20 (Modern Div)

William Yeats, Pistols 16 (Glorious Div)
Charles Dickens, Laureates 16 (Glorious Div)

James Joyce, Pistols 15

WH Auden Codes 15 (Emperor Div)

Sharon Olds, Dreamers 14
John Updike, Printers 14
Dylan Thomas, Buyers 14

Edna Millay, Dreamers 13
Aristophanes, Printers 13
Louis MacNeice, Dreamers 13
Aphra Behn, Laureates 13
Aeschylus Crusaders 13
Sophocles Goths 13
Anne Bradstreet Crusaders 13
Stephen Crane, War 13 (Society Div)

Victor Hugo Codes 12
Friedrich Schiller, Banners 12
Thomas Nashe, Actors 12
Vikram Seth, Cobras 12 (Peoples Div)
Javed Akhtar, Cobras 12 (Peoples Div)

Heinrich Heine Goths 11
Arthur Rimbaud, Strangers 11
Ionesco, Gamers 11
Li Po, Waves 11

Lord Tennyson, Carriages 10
Ted Hughes, Pistols 10
Emily Dickinson, Secrets 10
George Harrison, Cobras 10
John Donne, Laws 10
Robert Lowell, Buyers 10

Edmund Spenser Ceilings 9
Rilke Broadcasters 9
Robert Burns Broadcasters 9
Robert Browning, Carriages 9
William Wordsworth, Sun 9
Alexandre Dumas, Laureates 9
Thomas Hardy, Laws 9
Karl Marx, Waves 9
Bob Dylan, Universe 9
Juvenal, Universe 9

Tu Fu, Waves 8
John Lennon, Mist 8
Seamus Heaney, Animals 8
Mary Angela Douglas Crusaders 8
Jean Racine Codes 8
Allen Tate, Crash 8
Stephen Spender, Crash 8
Muriel Rukeyser, Dreamers 8
Matthew Arnold Sun 8

Ann Sexton Broadcasters 7
Robert Frost, Secrets 7
Francois Rabelais, Strangers 7
Theodore Roethke, Strangers 7
Billy Collins, Gamers 7
Thomas Hood, Gamers 7
Anand Thakore, Cobras 7
Hilda Doolitte, Mist 7
Martial, Laws 7
Paul Celan, Universe 7
Kenneth Koch, Printers 7
John Quinn Pistols 7
HG Wells Sun 7
Basil Bunting Sun 7

Woody Guthrie, Secrets 6
Harry Crosby, War 6
Hafiz, Actors 6
Euripides Ceilings 6
Kenneth Rexroth, Buyers 6
Anthony Hecht, Universe 6
Hart Crane, Printers 6
Wole Soyinka Codes 6
JK Rowling Laureates 6
Sara Teasdale Laureates 6
Paul McCartney Carriages 6
Haruki Murakami Mist 6
Sadakichi Hartman Mist 6

Joe Green Gamers 5
Tasso Goths 5
John Paul II Crusaders 5
Holderlin Goths 5
Wallace Stevens Animals 5
Phillis Wheatley Crusaders 5
Jim Morrison Broadcasters 5
Knut Hamsun Strangers 5
Amiri Baraka Actors 5
Gwendolyn Brooks Actors 5
Lawrence Ferlinghetti Animals 5
Boris Pasternak Laureates 5
Christina Rossetti Banners 5
Ben Mazer Banners 5
Alistair Crowley Pistols 5
Sir John Davies Sun 5
Yoko Ono Mist 5
Donald  Davidson Crash 5
Federico Garcia Lorca Printers 5
Robert Penn Warren Buyers 5
John Gould Fletcher Crash 5
Stevie Smith Dreamers 5
Richard Lovelace Dreamers 5
Jack Gilbert Dreamers 5

Maya Angelou Universe 4
Edgar Lee Masters Buyers 4
Duke Ellington Buyers 4
John Crowe Ransom Crash 4
Andre Breton Printers 4
John Ashbery Printers 4
Kalidasa Cobras 4
Donald Hall Laws 4
Ghalib Laureates 4
DG Rossetti Banners 4
Dante Banners 4
Geoffrey Hill Carriages 4
Phillip Sidney War 4
Shakespeare War 4
Derek Walcott Broadcasters 4
William Blake Ceilings 4
Thomas Chatterton Goths 4
de Stael Goths 4
John Milton Ceilings 4

Oliver Goldsmith, Laureates 3
John Townsend Trowbridge Laureates 3
Glyn Maxwell, Banners 3
Ford Maddox Ford, Pistols 3
D.H. Lawrence, Pistols 3
Olga Rudge Pistols 3
Filippo Marinetti Pistols 3
Alfred Orage Pistols 3
Margaret Fuller Sun 3
Rudyard Kipling Sun 3
Horace Walpole Sun 3
Carol Ann Duffy Carriages 3
Elizabeth Barrett Carriages 3
Carl Sandburg Secrets 3
Nathaniel Hawthorne Secrets 3
Paul Simon Secrets 3
Robert Graves War 3
Marianne Moore Animals 3
Ovid Animals 3
Jack Spicer Animals 3
Reinhold Neibuhr Crusaders 3
Robert Herrick Crusaders 3
Callimachus Broadcasters 3
Jules Laforgue Codes 3
Mick Jagger Broadcasters 3
Francois Villon Broadcasters 3
Gottfried Burger Laws 3
Reed Whitmore Laws 3
Jane Kenyon Laws 3
Antonio Machado Laws 3
Ernest Thayer Gamers 3
Noel Coward Gamers 3
Bertolt Brecht Waves 3
Gary Snyder Mist 3
Natsume Soseki Mist 3
Izumi Shikabu Mist 3
Li He Waves 3
Allen Ginsberg Cobras 3
Walt Whitman Buyers 3
Carolyn Forche Universe 3
Lou Reed Printers 3
Archilochus Crash 3
WC Williams Crash 3
Chuck Berry Universe 3
Delmore Schwartz Universe 3

Joyce Kilmer Crusaders 2
Saint Ephrem Crusaders 2
James Russell Lowell Ceilings 2
Mina Loy Codes 2
John Clare Codes 2
Vladimir Nabokov Broadcasters 2
Giacomo Leopardi Broadcasters 2
Gregory Corso Broadcasters 2
Edgar Poe Secrets 2
Cole Porter Secrets 2
Wilfred Owen War 2
Apollinaire War 2
Alan Seeger War 2
T.E. Hulme War 2
James Dickey War 2
Robinson Jeffers Animals 2
Mary Shelley Strangers 2
Marilyn Hacker Actors 2
David Bowie Actors 2
Lucille Clifton Actors 2
Rod McKuen Laureates 2
Van Morrison Laureates 2
Thomas Wyatt Banners 2
Stefan George Banners 2
Thomas Moore Banners 2
Guido Cavalcanti Banners 2
John Keats Banners 2
T.S. Eliot Pistols 2
Gertrude Stein Pistols 2
Carl Jung Pistols 2
Dorothy Shakespeare Pistols 2
Ralph Waldo Emerson Sun 2
Marilyn Chin Sun 2
Joy Harjo Sun 2
Joseph Addison Sun 2
Richard Steele Sun 2
Philip Larkin Carriages 2
Sylvia Plath Carriages 2
Simone de Beauvoir Dreamers 2
Jorie Graham Buyers 2
Marcel Duchamp  Printers 2
Larry Levis Universe 2
Christopher Isherwood Printers 2
Stanley Kunitz Crash 2
Franz Werfel Crash 2
Galway Kinnell Universe 2
James Baldwin Printers 2

 

Scarriet Poetry Baseball Reporting

 

 

 

 

 

 

SECRETS LEAD THE SOCIETY DIVISION

Plato's Cave by | Danielle MAILLET-VILA | buy art online | artprice

Ben Franklin’s Boston Secrets are winning in a way common throughout history.

The theory is this.

Play .500 ball—win half your games.

Then add one thing.

The 20 game winner.

You take an ordinary, 70-70 club, add a 20-5 pitcher, and now you have a 90-75 pennant winner.

The Secrets are not scoring that many runs.  Their ace, Edgar Poe, is 3-4.  Francis Scott Key is 2-5 in relief.

Enter Plato.  He’s 8-3 with a 1.90 ERA

George Washington, the Secrets manager: “The best things take a long time. Plato’s fruition took a long time. Certainly it could not have come at a better moment. Plato is making this forever. Everybody, and of course, everyone on the team, is very happy.”

Here is a lesson for the haves and the have-nots.

A 10-10 pitcher can be exchanged for another one, ad infinitum. A 10-10 pitcher can strike people out and practices long and hard to become a 10-10 pitcher, or even a hurler with an 8-12 record.

The 20-5 ace will always be paid in the top one percent while he’s good—fair or not.

The 20-5 pitcher has a bit more command, or throws the ball one inch faster.  It doesn’t matter how that slightly better ability exists.

A 20-5 pitcher is worth more than all the 10-10 pitchers in the world.

The Secrets are in first place by 5 games in the Society Division.

Harvey Weinstein’s Actors, at .500 with a 24-24 record, are in second place. Thomas Nashe, the Elizabethan, a brilliant, slightly erotic, brawler of plays and pamphlets, leads the team with 12 homers. Byron, who leads all pitchers with 4 shutouts, is their best pitcher (6-3, 3.05 ERA). Only slightly behind Byron for the Actors is Chaucer, at 5-3, a 3.11 ERA and three shutouts!

J.P. Morgan’s The War and P.T. Barnum’s the Animals are tied for third, only a game behind the Actors. Seamus Heaney of the Animals leads the club with 8 homers, but the team, as a whole, is not hitting (Wallace Stevens, the clean-up hitter, only has 5 homers.) Ovid has been disappointing as the Animals no. 1 starter at 3-5, but he does have 2 shutouts. Amy Lowell has emerged as the ace of the Animals—-she is 7-1 with a 2.44 ERA and a shutout.  Jules Verne of the Animals has won 6, and Shirley Jackson (4-1) keeps winning in relief for P.T. Barnum’s club.

The War’s starting four should scare anybody: Shakespeare (5-4, 4.40 ERA), Walter Scott (6-2, 2.52 ERA), Erich Remarque (6-4, 3.55 ERA), David Hume (4-6, 4.70 ERA). Stephen Crane of the War leads the division with 13 home runs, and Harry Crosby has surprised a few, adding 6 homers and a couple of game-winning hits.

David Lynch’s Strangers are in last. Rimbaud (11), Rabelais (7) and Roethke (7), the “Three Rs,” have slammed 25 homers between them, Mary Shelley and Fernando Pessoa have been getting on base, but the bottom of the order, Verlaine, Kees, and Riding, have not hit a lick. The Animals are averaging barely 3 runs a game. H.P. Lovecraft, 4-1 in relief, has helped the Strangers win some close games. Alexander Pope, their ace, has 5 wins and 2 shutouts, but recently lost 4 straight. Camus has won only 2, pitching well with terrible run support. Nietzsche began the year with his only shutout, then went 1-4 in 8 starts, but has won his last 3 outings.  Samuel Becket (3-6) has pitched much better than his record and got his first shutout of the season in his last start, blanking the Animals 5-0. Bram Stoker, the Strangers’ manager said in measured tones: “I believe in this team. There are still a lot of games to play.”

The Secrets Ben Franklin 29-19
The Actors Harvey Weinstein 24-24
The War J.P. Morgan 23-25
The Animals P.T. Barnum 23-25
The Strangers David Lynch 21-27

WINS

Plato, Secrets 8-3

Amy Lowell, Animals 7-1

Walter Scott, War 6-2
Byron, Actors 6-3
Remarque, War 6-4
Verne, Animals 6-5

Pushkin, Secrets 5-1
Chaucer, Actors 5-3
Pope, Strangers 5-4
Nietzsche, Strangers 5-4
Shakespeare, War 5-4

Petronius, Actors 4-3
Hume, War 4-6

Relief

Lovecraft, Strangers 4-1
Shirley Jackson, Animals 4-1

James Monroe, Secrets 3-1
Thomas Jefferson, Secrets 3-1
Sade, Actors 3-3

HOMERS

Stephen Crane, War 13

Thomas Nashe, Actors 12

Rimbaud, Strangers 11

Emily Dickinson, Secrets 10

Seamus Heaney, Animals 8

Robert Frost, Secrets 7
Rabelais, Strangers 7
Roethke, Strangers 7

Woody Guthrie, Secrets 6
Harry Crosby, War 6
Hafiz, Actors 6

BEN FRANKLIN’S SECRETS BATTLE HARVEY WEINSTEIN’S ACTORS FOR FIRST PLACE

Paul Simon strummed a guitar with his right hand, played catch ...

Paul Simon plays right field for the Secrets. He has one homer after sixteen games.

The Secrets and their ace, Edgar Poe (who made a couple of costly fielding errors) lost their first game of the season against the Actors in Westport, Connecticut, 7-2.

But the next day, Plato threw a complete game, three-hit, shutout, and Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg hit back-to-back homers, as the Secrets beat the Actors, 4-0.

Since then, it’s gone back and forth in the early part of the season; currently the first-place Secrets (10-6) hold a one game lead over the Actors (9-7) in the Secret Society Division in the Scarriet Poetry Baseball League.

Naturally, a keen rivalry has developed, the kind one can just feel in the air when these two clubs meet.

Look at the contrasts.  Manager for Ben Franklin’s team: George Washington.  Manager for the Actors: Johnny Depp.  Can you say “two worlds?”

Ben Franklin has assembled a remarkable team. Coaching at first, JFK.  Coaching at third, Winfield Scott.  The pitching coach, Clarence Thomas.  In the bullpen, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe; the closer, Francis Scott Key.  In the outfield, Kanye West, Paul Simon, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Pitching coach for the Actors? MLK.  Coaching at first, Meryl Streep. Coaching at third, Oprah.  In the outfield, Marilyn Hacker, Amiri Baraka, and Langston Hughes.

Big names are great. But can they play? Can they do the job? Are they motivated?

If you’re standing in against Lord Byron, who is throwing a hundred miles per hour, no one cares how good a poet or artist you are, much less yourself.  You have a split second to prove yourself, or you’re out of there.

Plato will make you look like a fool with his change up. It doesn’t matter how many odes you’ve published, or how many fans you have.

Scarriet Poetry Baseball League is not a vanity project.

This is real.

Neither The Secrets’ Poe nor The Actors’ Byron has won a game yet.

The Secrets owe their success to Plato (3-1, 27 strikeouts, 1.66 ERA).

Chaucer (3-1, 19 strikeouts, 1.55 ERA) also a no. 2 starter, has been just as good for the Actors.

There have no on-field brawls, yet, between these two teams.

The Actors had a good one with David Lynch’s Strangers in Westport, won by the Actors 5-3 against relief pitcher Philip K. Dick, and an even better one in New York, when Chaucer shut out J.P. Morgan’s War for his third win.  Other teams tend to get frustrated and “lose their heads” with the Actors, a generally “laid back” team (Byron and Chaucer telling a stream of dirty jokes) and cunning in unseen ways. This is manager Johnny Depp’s mantra; you can always hear him saying to his team, “Don’t lose your head. Let the other team lose its head!”

George Washington’s team, The Secrets, has not yet lost its head.

~~~

The Emperor Division
The Glorious Division
The Secret Society Division  THE FOCUS THIS WEEK
The People’s Division
The Modern Division

STANDINGS

Franklin’s Secrets 10-6  —Runs 59, Allowed 53

Weinstein’s Actors 9-7 —Runs 55, Allowed 52

P.T. Barnum’s Animals 8-8 —Runs 66, Allowed 71

J.P. Morgan’s War 7-9 —Runs 73, Allowed 74

David Lynch’s Strangers 6-10 —Runs 43, Allowed 47

LEADERS

HRS

Rimbaud, Strangers 5
Thomas Nashe, Actors 5

Seamus Heaney, Animals 4
Stephen Crane, War 4

Frost, Secrets 2
Sandburg, Secrets 2
Philip Sidney, War 2
Apollinaire, War 2
Robinson Jeffers, Animals 2
Jack Spicer, Animals 2
Rabelais, Strangers 2

WINS

Amy Lowell, Animals 3-0 ERA 2.72
Chaucer, Actors 3-1 1.55 ERA
Plato, Secrets 3-1 1.66 ERA

Shakespeare, War 2-0 3.19 ERA
A Pope, Strangers 2-1 2.41 ERA
Henry Beecher, Actors 2-1 ERA 3.20
F. Nietzsche, Strangers 2-2 ERA 1.90
J. Verne, Animals 2-2 ERA 4.13
Walter Scott, War 2-1 ERA 3.34

Relief Pitching

Thomas Jefferson, Secrets 2-0 ERA 1.06
F. Scott Key, Secrets 2-1 ERA 2.22

THE SECRETS OF BEN FRANKLIN TRAVEL TO WESTPORT CONNECTICUT TO PLAY HARVEY WEINSTEIN’S ACTORS

Impeach President Washington!” | AMERICAN HERITAGE

The motto for imprisoned Harvey Weinstein’s Connecticut team, The Actors “I am no hackney for your rod,” is by their shortstop, John Skelton, who was tutor to Prince Henry, the future Henry VIII.

Skelton lived 100 years before Shakespeare, and was Shakespeare-before Shakespeare, a hard-nosed playwright and songwriter of much fun:

Gup, Christian Clout, gup, Jack of the Vale!
With Mannerly Margery Milk and Ale.

Benjamin Franklins’s club from Boston (moved from Philadelphia), The Secrets, is considered to be “America’s Team” of the twenty-five teams in Scarriet’s five divisions, despite no team having a definite national identity, per se (but don’t tell that to the Tokyo Mist, the Kolkata Cobras, the Beijing Waves, or the London Carriages, belonging to Queen Victoria!)

Edgar Poe is the ace of the Secrets, and will start today for the visitors. A little-known fact about the author of the “Tell-Tale Heart,” is that he was disinherited by his guardian, John Allan (a Trump in today’s dollars) because John Allan was a Harvey Weinstein in his appetites, and Poe was too outspokenly chivalrous towards Allan’s wife in the patriarchal household.

When asked if it would be a point of honor for Poe to defeat Weinstein’s team, he responded simply, “I will pitch as I will.”

Both the Secrets and the Actors play in the Secret Society Division with three other teams: David Lynch’s Strangers, P.T. Barnum’s Animals, and J.P. Morgan’s the War.

Here is the starting lineup for the Secrets:

Hawthorne leads off, in center field. Cole Porter, at first base, bats second. Emily Dickinson, the catcher, is third. Batting cleanup, Woody Guthrie, at second base. The shortstop, Robert Frost, bats fifth. Carl Sandburg playing third base, batting sixth. Paul Simon, author of the Secrets’ motto ( We come in the age’s most uncertain hour and sing an American tune.) plays right field, hitting seventh. Kanye West is in left field, batting eighth.

Poe is joined in the starting roster by Plato, Pushkin, and Moliere.  That’s a strong starting rotation.

Here’s the lineup today for the Actors:

Skelton, shortstop; Langston Hughes, left field; Hafiz, second base; Thomas Nashe, third base; Amiri Baraka, center field; Marilyn Hacker, first base; Gwendolyn Brooks, right field; Audre Lorde, catcher.

Thomas Nashe, the cleanup hitter for the Actors, knew Henry VIII’s jester. Nashe wrote an erotic poem which takes place in a brothel, privately, for a lord, which became public—“it was for money, and it is not all my taste,” Nashe grumped in a pre-game interview.

Pitching today, for the Actors, their no. 2 starter, Chaucer.

Weinstein, with co-executives like David Letterman and Oprah, has complied quite a team.

The Secrets go to work in the first against Chaucer:

After Hawthorne flies deep to Amiri Baraka in center, Cole Porter lays down a perfect bunt and reaches first. Emily Dickinson homers to left.

2-0 Secrets.

It stays that way until the seventh, as Chaucer settles down, retiring seven in a row at one point, including four by strikeout.

Chaucer throws hard, and goes right after hitters, working very fast.

Poe is baffling the Actors, fanning six and walking one, while permitting only two hits.

Poe’s fastball reaches 105; he also has a good curve, a change, and a nasty slider.

Gwendolyn Brooks starts the Actors’ seventh by looping a single to right, the ball falling between Paul Simon, Cole Porter, and Woody Guthrie.

Audre Lorde attempts to bunt Brooks into scoring position; Poe comes off the mound to make the play, but drops the ball—everybody’s safe.

Brooks and Lorde attempt a double steal; at the same moment, Poe whirls in a pick off move to first, but throws the ball over the first baseman’s head—Brooks, who was heading to third, easily scores, Lorde takes a wide turn at third, but thinks twice about heading home, and holds. No outs. Chaucer hits a sacrifice fly to Simon in right, Lorde comes home; it’s now 2-2.

The next batter, Skelton, hits one down the line in left; a fan in a front row seat apparently reaches into the field and catches the ball, but it’s ruled a home run.  Kanye West, the left fielder frantically points to where the fan reached into the field of play, gesticulating again and again. The president of the United States, in a box seat behind third, who had a pretty good view of the fan touching the baseball, begins tweeting. The play is disputed, especially by Poe, who is quite upset. The call stands. The Actors now lead 3-2.  An agitated Poe is taken out of the game by manager George Washington.

F. Scott Key relieves Poe. Langston Hughes doubles. Hafiz walks. Thomas Nashe homers to center—it’s now 6-2 Actors!

Final score, Actors 7, Secrets 2.

Chaucer wins, he’s 1-0. Poe loses, he’s 0-1.

Grinning, Letterman lights a cigar.

The Secrets are stoic after the loss.  Washington: “It got away from us.” Poe: “Tough loss.” Franklin hands out a note to the press in secret code, which says “You can’t win them all.”

Johnny Depp, the Actors’ manager, takes his team to the five star Italian place near the ballpark in Westport: Finalmente Trattoria.

Keith Richards, from neighboring Weston, shows up; Depp, Richards, Nashe, Skelton, and Hafiz drink in a secluded corner of the restaurant for hours.

~~~

 

 

THE SEASON BEGINS! SCARRIET POETRY BASEBALL!

Index of /main/wp-content/uploads/2014/01

This is the first world baseball league in history!!!

25 teams, 500 poets, is a lot to take in, but that’s why we’re here to guide you.

Marla Muse: Is that snow outside?

Yes, Marla, snow is falling outside the commissioner’s office here in Salem, Massachusetts…

On April 16th!  But to continue…

There’s been a lot of recent signings as teams attempt to fill their rosters. And Boston took Franklin’s team from Philly.  Philly already has a team: The Crash.

We suggest you generally familiarize yourself with the teams, and pick a favorite team to win the championship–why not?  We assure you, these games will play out, for real; no hidden hand will determine the winners.

The Emperor Division

THE BROADCASTERS

Fellini’s Broadcasters is a team of flamboyance and show.  They know how to live and die.  A sexy team.  Motto: Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name. Home park: Rimini, Italy on the Adriatic coast.

Starting Pitchers Giacomo Leopardi 5, Ben Jonson 5, Nabokov 5, Coleridge 5, Relief Pitchers Valery 5, Hitchcock (new) 5, Walter Benjamin (new) 4
Robert Burns CF, Rilke 2B, Mick Jagger SS, Charles Bukowski 1B, Jim Morrison LF, Anne Sexton RF, Gregory Corso C, Sappho 3B,
Anacreon, Ingrid Jonker, Edmund Waller, Omar Khayyam, Swinburne

THE CODES

How would the emperor Napoleon pick his team—not knowing who might obey him or laugh at him behind his back? Napoleon was a law-giver, a conqueror, and larger than life, and poets either mocked and disparaged him (Byron, Oscar Wilde, Shelley,) or wrote him knee-bending odes (Victor Hugo, John Clare). The character of this team is difficult to define. Napoleon has brought together the best he can find, if they don’t actively hate him. Motto: Let the More Loving One Be Me.  Home park: Corsica, on the Mediterranean sea.

Napoleon’s The Codes Starting Pitchers Homer 6, Cicero 6, Hesiod 5, Logan 4, Relief Pitchers Kant (new) 6, Balzac (new) 6, Edmund Wilson 5
Racine CF, Victor Hugo 2B, W.H. Auden SS, Callimachus 1B, Soyinka LF, Villon RF, Tati-Loutard C, Derek Walcott 3B
John Peale Bishop, Jules Laforgue, Mina Loy, John Clare, Marcus Aurelius (new), Oliver Wendell Holmes (new)

THE CRUSADERS

This is the Christian team—owned by Philip II of Spain. There had to be one! Motto: If in my thought I have magnified the Father above the Son, let Him have no mercy on me. Home park: Madrid, Spain, near the Prado.

Spain’s Philip II’s The Crusaders SP Aquinas 5, GK Chesterton 5, St John of the Cross 4, Tolkien 4, RP Handel (new) 6, Plotinus (new) 5, Lisieux 4,
Aeschulus CF, Hopkins 2B, Saint Ephrem SS, Countee Cullen 1B, Phillis Wheatley LF, Joyce Kilmer RF, Hilaire Beloc C, Anne Bradstreet 3B
John Paul II, Mary Angela Douglas

THE GOTHS

Charles X of France escaped to England and enjoyed a lavishly supported stay during the French Revolution; he became King after Napoleon, tried to return France to normal, whatever that was, but radicals forced him to abdicate; his team is the Goths—apolitical cool people. Motto: Every great enterprise takes its first step in faith. Home park: Paris, France.

Charles X’s The Goths SP Goethe 6, Chateubriand 6 Wilde 5, Baudelaire 5, RP AW Schlegel 5, T Gautier 5
Sophocles CF, Herbert 2B, Herrick SS, Ronsard 1B, Novalis (new) LF, Catulus RF, de Stael C, Heinrich Heine 3B
Pater (to Printers), Gray, Saint-Beauve, Marot, Irving Layton, Thomas Lovell Beddoes

THE CEILINGS

Pope Julius was a learned pope; he’s got Milton, Michelangelo, (a fine poet, by the way) Petrarch, Euripides, and William Blake. The Ceilings. Not a bad team! Motto: They also serve who only stand and wait. Home park: Rome, Italy.

Pope Julius II’s The Ceilings SP Milton 6, Dryden 6, Ludovico Ariosto 6, Swift 6, RP Bach (new) 6, GE Lessing 6, Augustine (new) 6
Spenser CF, Petrarch 2B, Wiliam Blake SS, Michelangelo 1B, Camoens LF, Tulsidas RF, Euripides C, Ferdosi 3B
James Russell Lowell, Kwesi Brew, Klopstock, Pindar, RH Horne

~~~
The Glorious League

THE PISTOLS

A lot of these teams are owned by mysterious conglomerates.  For the sake of controversy, we’re calling this Eva Braun’s team, but no one knows who really owns this team.  The murky rich. Pound signed with the Pistols, and brought along some friends. Motto: A life subdued to its instrument. Home park: Berlin, Germany

Eva Braun’s The Pistols  SP T.S. Eliot 6, George Santayana 5, Wagner 5, Pound 4, RP Wyndham Lewis 4, Kenner 4, Ernest Hemingway 4, Heidegger (new) 4
DH Lawrence CF, Stein 2B, Yeats SS, Ford 1B, A. Crowley LF, Hughes RF, Jung C, Joyce 3B
Balla, Martinetti, Dorothy Shakespeare, A.R. Orage, John Quinn, Olga Rudge

THE CARRIAGES

This is Queen Victoria’s team—Tennyson, Paul McCartney, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Henry James. You get the idea. Motto: Theirs but to do and die.  Home park: London, England

Queen Victoria’s The Carriages SP Marvell 6, V. Woolf 6, Hazlitt 5, H James 4, RP Jeremy Bentham (new) 4
CF Longfellow, 2B Tennyson, SS Paul McCartney, Geoffrey Hill 1B, Sylvia Plath LF, Philip Larkin RF, Browning C, Elizabeth Barrett Browning 3B
Theocritus, Suckling, Bronte sisters (new)

THE BANNERS

If you want glorious, haunting, human-centered, aestheticism, look no further than Medici’s the Banners. Motto: The One remains, the many change and pass. Home park: Florence, Italy

Lorenzo de Medici’s The Banners SP Dante 6, Shelley 6, Virgil 6, da Vinci 5, RP Boccaccio 6, Joshua Reynolds (new) 5, William Rossetti 5
CF Swinburne (new), 2B Keats, SS Thomas Moore, Friedrich Schiller 1B, C. Rossetti LF, D.G. Rossetti RF, George C, Cavalcanti 3B
Glyn Maxwell, Ben Mazer, Philodemus

THE SUN

Lord Russell, Bertie’s grandfather, was prime minister of Great Britain when France was on their side (under Napoleon III) and America was being ripped apart by the Civil War. French-Anglo Colonialism was wrapping up the globe; Emerson and Thoreau were part of the conspiracy—Poe was dead; the USA would return to England as a bucolic colony. A no-borders paradise run by smart people. Motto: A good indignation brings out all one’s powers. Home park: Devon, England

PM Lord Russell’s The Sun SP Emerson 5, JS Mill (new) 4, Aldous Huxley 4, Thomas Carlyle 4, RP Bertrand Russell (new) 5, Thoreau 4, Christopher Ricks (new) 4,
CF Southey, Kipling 2B, Wordsworth SS, Walpole 1B, Margaret Fuller LF, Basil Bunting RF, Sir John Davies C, M Arnold 3B
Joy Harjo, Marilyn Chin, Macgoye,

THE LAUREATES

Nahum Tate, a 1692 British Poet Laureate, rewrote King Lear with a happy ending. Many own the Laureates, but we think Tate’s story is an interesting one. Motto: Luck is bestowed even on those who don’t have hands. Home park: Dublin, Ireland

Nahum Tate’s Laureates SP Edmund Burke 5, Thomas Peacock 4, Samuel Johnson 4, Leigh Hunt 4, RP Livy (new) 6, Dana Gioia 4
CF Goldsmith, Sara Teasdale 2B, Rod McKuen SS, Charles Dickens 1B, Dumas LF, Aphra Behn RF, Pasternak C, Ghalib 3B
JK Rowling, Verdi

~~~
The Secret Society League

THE ACTORS

Weinstein produced smart, progressive films, and this team, the Actors, reflects that, to a certain degree.  The jailed owner belongs to the league’s timeless ghosts; justice prevails, even as things are and are not. Motto: I am no hackney for your rod. Home park: Westport, Connecticut, USA

Harvey Weinstein’s The Actors SP Byron 6, Chaucer 6, Henry Beecher 5, Petronius 5, RP Sade (new) 6, Gide 4
CF Baraka, Hafiz 2B, Skelton SS, Knight 1B, Langston Hughes LF, Gwendolyn Brooks, RF Marilyn Hacker, Audre Lorde C, Thomas Nashe 3B
Clifton, Page, Jim Carroll

THE STRANGERS

The Strangers definitely have filmmaker David Lynch’s stamp. Motto: So still is day, it seems like night profound. Home park: Alexandria, Virginia, USA

David Lynch’s The Strangers SP Pope 6, Nietzsche 5, Beckett 4, Paglia 4, RP Lovecraft 4, Bloch (new) 4, Philip K Dick (new) 4
CF Rabelais, R. Graves 2B, Riding SS, Roethke 1B, Verlaine LF Kees RF, Rimbaud C, Mary Shelley 3B
Labid, Satie, Burroughs, Fernando Pessoa

THE ANIMALS

It’s a little difficult to define P.T. Barnum’s team, the Animals.   Is it spectacle?  Animal-friendly?  We’re not really sure. Majesty and love are incompatible. Fairfield, Connecticut, USA

P.T. Barnum’s The Animals SP Ovid 6, Melville 5, Verne (new) 5, Robert Bly 4, RP Darwin (new) 5, Nerval 5
CF Jack Spicer, Stevens 2B, Edward Lear SS, Heaney 1B, Mary Oliver LF, Marianne Moore RF, Jeffers C, Ferlinghetti 3B
Scalapino, Kay Ryan, Saint Saens

THE WAR

J.P. Morgan did fund World War One.  This is his team, The War. Motto: The fire-eyed maid of smoky war all hot and bleeding will we offer them. Home park: Madison Avenue, New York, New York

J.P. Morgan’s The War SP Shakespeare 6, Sir Walter Scott 5, Erich Remarque 4, David Hume 4, RP Aldington 4, Gibbon (new) 5,
CF Stephen Crane, Keith Douglas 2B, Sidney SS, Apollinaire 1B, Harry Crosby LF, James Dickey RF, Howard Nemerov C, Brooke 3B
Alan Seeger, T.E. Hulme, Untermeyer

THE SECRETS

America’s team! Motto: We come in the age’s most uncertain hour and sing an American tune. Home park: Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Ben Franklin’s The Secrets SP Poe 6, Plato 6, Pushkin 6, Moliere 5, RP F. Scott Key 5, Jefferson (new) 5, Monroe (new) 5, Madison (new) 5
CF Hawthorne, Woody Guthrie 2B, Frost SS, Cole Porter 1B, Kanye West LF, Paul Simon RF, Emily Dickinson C, Carl Sandburg 3B
William Cullen Bryant, Amy Lowell, Bob Tonucci, Stephen Cole, John Prine, Dolly Parton (new), Willie Nelson (new)

~~~
The People’s Division

THE COBRAS

The great literary tradition of India: the Calcutta (Kolkata) Cobras! Motto: Is it true that your love traveled alone through ages and worlds in search of me? Home park: Kolkata, Bengal, India

Sajyajit Ray’s Cobras SP Tagore 5, Rumi 5, Kabir Das 4 (new), Herman Hesse 4, RP Ghandi 6, Nissim Ezekiel (new) 4, Krishnamurti (new) 4, Faiz Ahmad Faiz 4
Allen Ginsberg CF, Sen 2B, Anand Thakore SS, Nair 1B, Thayil LF, Muktibodh RF, Vikram Seth C, George Harrison 3B
Sushmita Gupta, Rupi Kaur, Meenakshi, Dhoomil, Jussawala, Ramanujan, Persius, Doshi, Meghaduta Kalidasa, Nabina Das, Sophie Naz, Linda Ash, Medha Singh

THE MIST

Yoko Ono and her husband are the double play combination for the Tokyo Mist. Motto: In Kyoto, hearing the cuckoo, I long for Kyoto. Home park: Tokyo, Japan

Kurosawa’s The Mist SP Basho 6, Issa 6, Heraclitus 5, Noguchi 4, RP Kobo Abe (new) 5, Suzuki 4
CF Gary Snyder, Ono 2B, John Lennon SS, Robert Duncan 1B, Doolittle LF, Richard Brautigan RF, Sadakichi Hartmann C, Corman 3B
Shikabu, Philip Whalen, Yukio Mishima (new), Haruki Murakami (new)

THE WAVES

Red China, with some ancient aesthetics, Chairman Mao’s The Waves. Motto: Death gives separation repose. Without death, grief only sharpens. Home park: Beijing, China

Chairman Mao’s The Waves SP Voltaire 5, Lucretius 5, Rousseau 5, Lao Tzu 5, RP Khomeini 4, Lenin (new) 4, Engels (new)  4
CF Marx, Li He 2B, Tu Fu SS, Ho Chi-Fang 1B, LF Li Po, RF Billie Holiday, Brecht C, Neruda 3B
Wang Wei, Gary B. Fitzgerald, Wendell Berry, Lu Xun, Bai Juyi, Guo Morou, Baraka, Guy Burgess, Louis Althusser (new)

THE LAWS

The Law and Order producer calls the shots on this team—which is, frankly, hard to characterize. Motto: In poetry everything is clear and definite. Home park: Santa Barbara, California, USA

Dick (Law and Order) Wolf’s The Laws SP Aristotle 5, Lord Bacon 5, Horace 5, Yvor Winters 4, RP Van Doren 4, M L Rosenthal 4, David Lehman 4
CF John Donne, Jane Kenyon 2B, Donald Hall SS, Gottfried Burger 1B, LF Thomas Hardy, RF Machado, Martial C, Akhmatova 3B
Justice, Campion, Seidel, Ajip Rosidi

THE GAMERS

The league needed a Light Verse team, and this is it, and it’s more than that—Merv Griffin’s The Gamers! Motto: He thought he saw an elephant that practiced on a fife. Home park: Los Angeles, California, USA

Merv Griffin’s The Gamers SP Lewis Carroll 5, James Tate 4, E.E. Cummings 4, Morgenstern 4, RP Menander 4, Charles Bernstein 4
CF Betjeman, Thomas Hood 2B, Noel Coward SS, Tzara 1B, Ogden Nash, LF Billy Collins, RF Wendy Cope, Eugene Ionesco C, Joe Green 3B
Riley, McHugh, XJ Kennedy, WS Gilbert, Tony Hoagland

~~~
The Modern Division

THE DREAMERS

Pamela Harriman married Winston Churchill’s son, the producer of The Sound of Music, and New York Governor Averil Harriman, before she ran the DNC.  Her team is the Dreamers. Motto: Not the earth, the sea, none of it was enough for her, without me. Home park: Arden, New York, USA

Pamela Harriman’s  The Dreamers SP Simone de Beauvoir 4, Floyd Dell 4, Anais Nin 4, Marge Piercy 4, RP Germaine Greer (new) 4, Louise Gluck 4
CF Sharon Olds, Edna Millay 2B, Jack Gilbert SS, MacNeice 1B, LF Rukeyser, RF Louise Bogan, Carolyn Forche C, Richard Lovelace 3B
Propertius, Swenson, Jean Valentine, Stevie Smith, Stanley Burnshaw, George Dillon

THE PRINTERS

Andy Warhol is the ruling spirit of The Printers. Motto: The eye, seeking to sink, is rebuffed by a much-worked dullness, the patina of a rag, that oily Vulcan uses, wiping up. Home park: East 47th St, New York, New York

Andy Warhol’s The Printers SP Duchamp 6, Marjorie Perloff 4, Stephanie Burt 4, Mark Rothko 4, RP John Cage 4, RP Blackmur (new) 4, Guy Davenport (new) 4
CF Aristophanes, James Merrill 2B, Hart Crane SS, Kenneth Koch 1B, LF John Updike, RF Lorca, Andre Breton C, John Ashbery 3B
Schuyler, Thom Gunn, Isherwood, Lou Reed

THE BUYERS

Rockefeller didn’t want to spend too much on his team—will Whitman, Freud, Twain, and Paul Engle be a championship rotation of starters?  Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop are the double play combination. Motto: Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it may be all maya, illusion? Home park: Chicago, Illinois, USA

John D. Rockefeller’s The Buyers SP Walt Whitman 5, Freud 5, Twain 5, Paul Engle 4, RP Vendler 4, Wimsat (new) 4, Beardsley (new) 4
CF Penn Warren, Elizabeth Bishop 2B, Robert Lowell SS, Duke Ellington 1B, LF Jack Kerouac, Edgar Lee Masters RF, Rexroth C, Dylan Thomas 3B
Jorie Graham, Harriet Monroe, Carl Philips, Richard Hugo, Alexander Percy, Alcaeus, Franz Wright

THE CRASH

AC Barnes, the wealthy modern art collector, sold his stock right before the Crash of ’29—John Dewey was his aesthetic philosopher. Motto: But for some futile things unsaid I should say all is done for us. Home park: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

A.C. Barnes’ The Crash SP John Crowe Ransom 5, John Dewey 4, Wittgenstein 4, Walter Pater 4, RP Jackson Pollock 4, I A Richards (new) 4, K Burke (new) 4,
CF Allen Tate, Richard Howard 2B, WC Williams SS, Donald Davidson 1B, LF John Gould Fletcher, RF Stanley Kunitz, Stephen Spender C, Archilochus 3B
Merrill Moore, Andrew Nelson Lytle, Luigi Russolo, Anne Waldman, Cleanth Brooks, Harold Rosenberg

THE UNIVERSE

Steven Spielberg’s The Universe is very Hollywood: progressive and American. Motto: I know why the caged bird sings. Home park: Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Steven Spielberg’s The Universe SP Harriet Beecher Stowe 5, Harold Bloom 4, Randall Jarrell 4, Margaret Atwood 4, RP Foucault (new) 4, Milosz 5,
CF Delmore Schwartz, Bob Dylan 2B, Paul Celan SS, Anthony Hecht 1B, LF Philip Levine, RF Galway Kinnell, Maya Angelou C, Chuck Berry 3B
James Wright, Stephen King, Larry Levis, Juvenal, Alice Walker,

~~~

Opening Day Games

Rimini Broadcasters v. Corsica Codes SP Giacomo Leopardi, Homer

Madrid Crusaders v. Paris Goths SP Aquinas, Goethe

Berlin Pistols v London Carriages SP TS Eliot, Andrew Marvell

Florence Banners v Devon Sun SP Dante, Emerson

Westport Actors v Virginia Strangers SP Byron, Pope

Connecticut Animals v New York War SP Ovid, Shakespeare

Kolkata Cobras v Tokyo Mist SP Tagore, Basho

Beijing Waves v California Laws SP Voltaire, Aristotle

Arden Dreamers v Manhattan Printers SP de Beauvoir, Duchamp

Chicago Buyers v Philadelphia Crash SP Whitman, John Crowe Ransom

The Opening Ceremony Poem, read by Commissioner Thomas Brady

We hope you enjoy the game.
It’s not about fame.
It’s about the game.

 

PLAY BALL!

SCARRIET POETRY BASEBALL—HERE WE GO!

Lord Byron In Albanian Dress - 1813 Painting by War Is Hell Store

George Byron in a pensive mood, before taking part in the opening day Scarriet baseball ceremonies.

Happy Easter!

Scarriet has expanded and restructured its baseball league!!

Gone the 2 leagues of 20 teams led by 20 American poets—Eliot, Pound, Frost, Poe, Williams, Stevens, Moore, Dickinson, Millay, Jorie Graham, Ginsberg, Ransom, Cummings, Whittier, Whitman, Bryant, Longfellow, James Lowell, Ashbery, and Emerson.

Now poets like Emerson, Eliot and Poe can be player/managers—to contribute to their teams both at the plate and in the field.

The field is more international—Scarriet Poetry Baseball is now 25 historical teams from all over the world.

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

The gods and muses must be pleased with our ten years of Poetry March Madness and our first Poetry Baseball season, where poetry is worshiped through time and space in a manner which no one has ever seen.

Fortunately one of the Muses has always been here to help us, Marla Muse.

Marla Muse: They are indeed pleased, Tom!

You have spoken to the other muses who live in other realms, in those shadowy timeless realms where time is one and poetry lights up suns distantly—

Marla Muse: Yes, and they approve! The stars in the heavens love you more than you know… I would rather die than see poetry die.

This baseball season is different. Mysterious and wealthy owners throughout time and space are bidding, some in secret, for players to fill their rosters.

In the Great Emperor League, we have the Broadcasters. Their motto is “Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name” and they feature Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison, Gregory Corso, Anne Sexton, Bobby Burns, Omar Khayyam, Rilke, Coleridge, Leopardi, Anacreon, Sappho, and Ingrid Jonker.  They are rumored to be owned and funded by a business group led by Federico Fellini, and their ballpark is in Rimini, Italy.

These ballclubs are timeless, in every sense of the word (these teams compete, with actual statistics, where chance unfolds out of space, out of time) but real money, blood money, purchases these players.  We know JP Morgan, for instance, wanted Shakespeare and bid heavily to get him.

The Pistols, who play in Berlin, are said to be associated with Eva Braun, but this cannot be confirmed; one older muse claims to have overheard Eva say, “I take care of this. Adolf is too busy talking to bankers and architects. He doesn’t have time for poetry.” But honestly we cannot say who owns the Pistols.

Nahum Tate, owner of the Laureates, for those who do not know, re-wrote a popular King Lear with a happy ending (after Shakespeare’s death when, for a long period, the Bard was out of fashion,) and was chosen as Poet Laureate of England in 1692. 

Dick Wolf produces Law & Order on television, and appears to have a controlling interest in the Laws, playing out of Santa Barbara.  He’s got Aristotle, Lord Bacon, and Horace.

John Rockefeller opened his purse to get Walt Whitman, and he thinks that will be enough to win a championship.  We don’t know.  We do know baseball is all about pitching.  All you need is a few good arms which dominate, defense behind them, and some clubhouse chemistry, and not too many injuries. It’s a crap shoot, in many ways, and this is why Rockefeller grumbled he wasn’t going to waste money on superstars who hit home runs and have a high batting average. He’s probably right.  A team that wins 2-1 is better than a team that wins 7-4, by pure mathematics, even though the former score wins by 1 and the latter by 3 runs. It’s the ratio that counts.  2-1 = 2. 7-4 = 1.7  This simple reason is why defense wins in every sport. Rockefeller is using this formula, and the oil baron was also advised that you can’t buy a pennant—throwing money at sluggers doesn’t do any good; it’s 90% pitching and luck. Just put a a poet with critical depth on the hill and three good versifiers in the infield and sit back.

Some of the rosters might have some question marks, but that’s what happens in a free market.  It’s an historical fact that Longfellow did meet Queen Victoria in person. But no one expected him to play for her!

And W.H. Auden just “wanted to play for Napoleon, I don’t why.”

Marla Muse: I can’t wait for the season to begin!  Spring is in the air! Around Rome, and in those still fairer isles… Let’s forget about plagues and the starvation for awhile. Songs are going to sing.

Here then, are the Teams, their Mottoes, and the preliminary rosters—they are always changing (there’s a big minor leagues!)

~~~~~~

THE GREAT EMPEROR LEAGUE

Federico Fellini, Rimini  The Broadcasters [Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name]
-Mick Jagger, Sappho, Gregory Corso, Charles Bukowski, Paul Valery, Anne Sexton, Omar Khayyam, Robert Burns, Ben Jonson, Coleridge, Jim Morrison, Edmund Waller, Nabokov, Rilke, Giacomo Leopardi, Anacreon, Ingrid Jonker, Swinburne

Napoleon, Corsica The Codes [Let the more loving one be me]
-W.H. Auden, Homer, Hesiod, Racine, John Peale Bishop, Edmund Wilson, Mina Loy, William Logan, Irving Layton, Villon, Jean-Baptiste Tati-Loutard, Wole Soyinka, Jules Laforgue, Derek Walcott, Callimachus, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius

King Philip II, Madrid The Crusaders [If in my thought I have magnified the Father above the Son, let Him have no mercy on me]
-Saint Ephrem, G.K. Chesterton, Tolkien, Thomas Aquinas, Hilaire Beloc, John Paul II, Saint Theresa of Lisieux, Joyce Kilmer, Saint John of the Cross, Mary Angela Douglas, Anne Bradstreet, Phillis Wheatley, Countee Cullen, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Aeschulus

Charles X, Paris  The Goths [Every great enterprise takes its first step in faith]
-A.W. Schlegel, Baudelaire, Goethe, Oscar Wilde, Walter Pater, Madame de Stael, Chateaubriand, Sophocles, George Herbert, Heinrich Heine, Robert Herrick, Clement Marot, Ronsard, Saint-Beuve, Catulus, Thomas Gray, John Clare, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Theophile Gautier

Pope Julius II, Rome  The Ceilings [They also serve who only stand and wait]
-Milton, Michelangelo, William Blake, Robert Lowell, Petrarch, G.E. Lessing, John Dryden, Klopstock, GE Horne, Ferdowsi, Ariosto, Luis de Camoens, Swift, Tulsidas, Edmund Spenser, Kwesi Brew, Pindar, Euripides

~~~~~

THE GLORIOUS LEAGUE

Eva Braun, Berlin The Pistols [A life subdued to its instrument]
-Ted Hughes, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, W.B. Yeats, Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce, Hugh Kenner, Wyndham Lewis, DH Lawrence, Alistair Crowley, George Santayana, F.T. Marinetti, Giacomo Balla, Richard Wagner, Jung

Queen Victoria, London The Carriages [Theirs but to do and die]
-Lord Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett, Robert Browning, Longfellow, Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath, Hazlitt, Paul McCartney, Geoffrey Hill, Henry James, Andrew Marvel, John Suckling, Virginia Woolf, Theocritus

Lorenzo de’ Medici, Florence The Banners [The One remains, the many change and pass]
-Percy Shelley, Dante, William Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, DG Rossetti, John Keats, Marlowe, Guido Cavalcanti, Glyn Maxwell, Ben Mazer, Friedrich Schiller, Thomas Moore, Philodemus, Virgil, Stefan George, Boccaccio, Leonardo da Vinci

P.M. Lord John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, Devon The Sun [A good indignation brings out all one’s powers]
-Emerson, Horace Walpole, Thomas Carlyle, Thoreau, Wordsworth, Rudyard Kipling, Aldous Huxley, Matthew Arnold, Sir John Davies, Margaret Fuller, Robert Southey, Marilyn Chin, Joy Harjo, Basil Bunting, Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye

Nahum Tate, Dublin  The Laureates [Luck is bestowed even on those who don’t have hands]
-Ghalib, Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Peacock, Leigh Hunt, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Sara Teasdale, Pasternak, Louis Simpson, Dana Gioia, Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke, Aphra Behn, Rod McKuen, JK Rowling

~~~~~

THE SECRET SOCIETY LEAGUE

Harvey Weinstein, Westport CT The Actors [I am no hackney for your rod]
-John Skelton, Langston Hughes, Henry Ward Beecher, Chaucer, Amiri Baraka, Lord Byron, Hafiz, Thomas Nashe, Marilyn Hacker, Petronius, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jim Carroll, Lucille Clifton, Etheridge Knight, Audre Lorde, Jimmy Page, Andre Gide

David Lynch, Alexandria VA  The Strangers [So still is day, it seems like night profound]
-Jones Very, Alexander Pope, William Burroughs, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Robert Graves, Laura Riding, Weldon Kees, Berryman, Mary Shelley, Rabelais, Charles Simic, Eric Satie, Labid, Roethke, Camille Paglia, HP Lovecraft, Nietzsche, Samuel Beckett

P.T. Barnum, Fairfield CT  The Animals [Majesty and love are incompatible]
-Ovid, Gerald Stern, Robinson Jeffers, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Seamus Heaney, Jack Spicer, Kay Ryan, Leslie Scalapino, Mary Oliver, W S Merwin, Melville, Camille Saint Saens, Edward Lear, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Gerard de Nerval, Robert Bly

J.P. Morgan, Madison Avenue  The War [The fire-eyed maid of smoky war all hot and bleeding will we offer them]
-Shakespeare, Louis Untermeyer, Apollinaire, T.E. Hulme, Richard Aldington, Rupert Brooke, Sir Walter Scott, Philip Sidney, James Dickey, Harry Crosby, Keith Douglas, Wilfred Owen, Howard Nemerov, Stephen Crane, Erich Remarque, Alan Seeger

Ben Franklin  Philadelphia  The Secrets [We come in the age’s most uncertain hour and sing an American tune]
-Paul Simon, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Edgar Poe, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, F. Scott Key, Cole Porter, Plato, Hawthorne, Pushkin, Walter Raleigh, Moliere, William Cullen Bryant, Amy Lowell, Emma Lazarus, Carl Sandburg, Pete Seeger, Natasha Trethewey, Amelia Welby, Woody Guthrie, JD Salinger, John Prine, Kanye West, Stephen Cole, Bob Tonucci

~~~~~

THE PEOPLE’S LEAGUE

Sajyajit Ray, Calcutta The Cobras [Is it true that your love traveled alone through ages and worlds in search of me?]
-Tagore, Allen Ginsberg, Jeet Thayil, Rupi Kaur, Anand Thakore, Dhoomil, G.M. Muktibodh, Rumi, A.K. Ramanujan, Samar Sen, Daipayan Nair, R. Meenakshi, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Hermann Hesse, Persius, George Harrison, Adil Jussawalla, Tishani Doshi, Sushmita Gupta, Vikram Seth

Kurosawa,  Tokyo  The Mist [In Kyoto, hearing the cuckoo, I long for Kyoto]
-Basho, Hilda Doolittle, Robert Duncan, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, D.T. Suzuki, Yone Noguchi, Yoko Ono, John Lennon, Kobayashi Issa, Lady Izumi Shikibu, Cid Corman, Sadakichi Hartmann, Heraclitus, Richard Brautigan

Chairman Mao, Beijing  The Waves [Death gives separation repose. Without death, grief only sharpens]
-Tu Fu, Lucretius, Karl Marx, Voltaire, Rousseau, Guy Burgess, Amiri Baraka, Brecht, Neruda, Li Po, Li He, Bai Juyi, Lu Xun, Guo Moruo, Ho Chi-Fang, Yen Chen, Billie Holiday, Khomieni, Lu Ji , Wang Wei, Lao Tzu, Gary B. Fitzgerald, Wendell Berry

Dick Wolf, Santa Barbara  The Laws [In poetry everything is clear and definite]
-Ajip Rosidi, Aristotle, John Donne, Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon, Donald Justice, Anna Akhmatova, Thomas Hardy, Thomas Campion, Frederick Seidel, Antonio Machado, Mark Van Doren, David Lehman, Lord Bacon, Martial, ML Rosenthal, Horace, Gottfried Burger, Yvor Winters

Merv Griffin, Los Angeles  The Gamers  [He thought he saw an elephant that practiced on a fife]
-Lewis Carroll, James Tate, E.E. Cummings, Tony Hoagland, Ogden Nash, Billy Collins, Eugene Field, W.S. Gilbert, Thomas Hood, Noel Coward, X.J. Kennedy, John Betjeman, Wendy Cope, Tristan Tzara, Heather McHugh, Charles Bernstein, Jack Spicer, James Whitcomb Riley, Joe Green, Menander, Morgenstern

~~~~~

THE MODERN LEAGUE

Pamela Harriman, Arden NY The Dreamers [not the earth, the sea, none of it was enough for her, without me]
-Sharon Olds, Edna Millay, George Dillon, Floyd Dell, Dorothy Parker, Stanley Burnshaw, Richard Lovelace, Stevie Smith, Louis MacNeice, Louise Bogan, Louise Gluck, Jack Gilbert, Marge Piercy, Carolyn Forche, Muriel Rukeyser, Jean Valentine, May Swenson, Propertius, Anais Nin, Simone de Beauvoir

Andy Warhol, East 47th St The Printers [the eye, seeking to sink, is rebuffed by a much-worked dullness, the patina of a rag, that oily Vulcan uses, wiping up.]
-John Updike, Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, James Merrill, Hart Crane, Lorca, Thom Gunn, Stephen Burt, Frank Bidart, Mark Rothko, Marjorie Perloff, John Quinn, Duchamp, Aristophanes, Christopher Isherwood, Andre Breton, Lou Reed, John Cage

John D. Rockefeller, Chicago The Buyers [Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it may be all maya, illusion?]
-Walt Whitman, Alcaeus, Edgar Lee Masters, Kenneth Rexroth, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Helen Vendler, Jorie Graham, Franz Wright, Mark Twain, Robert Penn Warren, Paul Engle, William Alexander Percy, Richard Hugo, Carl Philips, Harriet Monroe, Duke Ellington, Dylan Thomas, Jack Kerouac, Sigmund Freud

A. C. Barnes, Philadelphia  The Crash [But for some futile things unsaid I should say all is done for us]
-Allen Tate, John Gould Fletcher, John Crowe Ransom, John Dewey, Cleanth Brooks, Donald Davidson, Merrill Moore, Walter Pater, Wittgenstein, Andrew Nelson Lytle, Archilochus, Anne Waldman, Stanley Kunitz, Jackson Pollock, WC Williams, Luigi Russolo, Stephen Spender, Richard Howard

Steven Spielberg, Phoenix AZ  The Universe [I know why the caged bird sings]
-Maya Angelou, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Bob Dylan, Margaret Atwood, Paul Celan, Czeslaw Milosz, Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell, Anthony Hecht, Galway Kinnell, Philip Levine, Larry Levis, Claudia Rankine, Harold Bloom, Alice Walker, James Wright, Juvenal, Chuck Berry, Stephen King

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

Ballpark Road Trips in Review: 2018 - Ben's Biz Blog

 

 

MORE ACTION IN THE CLASSICAL BRACKET: GRAY VERSUS PLATO!

 

Image result for churchyard elegy in painting

Sixty-four contestants (the large number in any March Madness single elimination tournament) can be quite overwhelming.

As quickly as we can, let’s play the tournament and decrease the store.

We’ve looked at all the Sublime March Madness teams—their names and what they bring to the table.

So we are all judged, whether we are a person with no special abilities, or a sports team with dozens of athletes and assistant coaches and billion dollar owners and equipment managers.

In the first game of the tournament, in the Classical bracket, Homer prevailed against Edmund Burke, and the template was established: emotional poetry v. criticism skeptical of the emotions.  Emotion, or excitement, won. Homer has advanced to the second round.

In the second contest in the Classical bracket, we have Plato himself, representing the “criticism skeptical of emotions” side of the template, with his famous advice to climb from particular beauty to beauty itself, facing off against the humble and melancholy poet, born in the early 18th century, an early Romantic poet, transitioning from the Augustan, Thomas Gray.

Gray is one more example that Romanticism began much earlier than Wordsworth, Keats, Coleridge, and Shelley—for Romanticism, if the secret be told, is an expression of Plato, if we are not mistaken. Shakespeare’s plays are each like Platonic dialogues, a lesson for sobering us up, for fighting vanity and illusion. Shakespeare does not favor poetry and the emotions, though his plays are full of songs and feelings—Keats loved Shakespeare, the early Romantic.

Romanticism, the melancholy dream, was influenced by Plato through Milton’s “Il Penseroso.” —“Hence vain deluding joys.”

But Milton’s melancholy poem had a mirthful companion piece, “L’Allegro.”

Plato asked that we first fix on earthly beauty before we ascend towards the beauty of thought and morality, and then beauty itself.

The poets who are devotees of Plato—whether they know it, or not—can be said to be all the sweet and melancholy Romantic poets—and here’s why.

To move from an appreciation of someone who is beautiful to an appreciation of all beauty involves the following:

1. The kind of mind which can entertain different types of beauty as a way of becoming adept and flexible in moving upwards on the Platonic Ladder to True Beauty—demonstrated by the poet who can succeed in writing similar poems which partake of melancholy, on one hand, and mirth, on the other.  To appreciate equal opposites helps one to transcend.

2. Melancholy, because it is sad to say goodbye to the one we love as we venture upwards towards Love itself.

This is why the Romantic poets, who serve Plato, tend to be melancholic.  Byron was both mirthful and sad—which is fine, too.

This excerpt from Gray’s meditative “Elegy,” sounds like Keats (50 years before Keats was born):

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds.

This is poetry that wishes to remain amid the beauty of the earth just a little longer, before it begins the bright journey Plato requires.

Gray’ sample is so beautiful it is almost as if the journey were done.

Gray wins!

A stunning upset!

Plato, the Greek philosopher, like a ghost, vanishes.

 

MARCH MADNESS 2020—THE SUBLIME!!

Image result for goya the giant

The sublime requires size.

The small, or that which aims at the small, cannot be sublime.

It’s really that simple.  And when we can be simple, we should be.  And this very idea has in it something of the sublime itself.  The sublime is not complex.  It is large, first, or, perhaps, complex in a large manner.

A large space is required; the sublime requires a long view.

I point out the simple, even grotesquely simple, criterion of sublimity to check those runaway intellectual arguments which will naturally veer away from a properly sublime definition.  There will always be something small about any intellectual argumentation, no matter how good it is.

The sublime is a fact, and cannot be argued into, or out of, existence.

The sublime is not necessarily that which takes a lot of work on the part of the artist. It simply is—or it should at least seem that way.

Searching through many pages of literature for examples of the sublime is a depressing task, for as one skips over many passages and poems because they do not quite reach the level of the sublime, unfulfilled expectations begin to sadden one on many levels; we say to ourselves: “I seem to remember letters being better than this. The sublime, after all, is the ultimate measure.” As we pass on more and more work, deciding it’s not worthy, searching for the ultimate begins to demoralize us. We can’t argue away this gut feeling.

But we push on, and when we find the sublime, we are happy.

An argument can be thorough, or decisive, or convincing. It can never be sublime.

But if a description is an argument, and if any piece of rhetoric either describes or convinces us of anything not mundane, then haven’t we excluded poetry from the sublime, if we say an argument can never be sublime?

Can an argument have dimensions? Can words have magnitude?

Certainly words can describe, and therefore whatever is a description of the sublime falls under the category of sublime poetry.

We should remember that Edmund Burke, in his famous mid-18th century essay on the sublime, said poetry was the better vehicle for the sublime than painting. He was thinking mostly about Milton and the Bible.

Painters and architects need material resources, a vision embodied and fleshed out, constructed, built, displayed, functioning in the eye with the depths and shadows of every massive, material, fact. Terrible echoes must sound and sigh; they must be real. A true glittering must struggle with the shadow over the abyss. A heavy door to the unknown must open suddenly to the wind.

The poet needs no materials, no edifices, no walls, no howling distances, no rock, no river, no eyesight aching, no pitiless view, no shadow from stone, no darkness deepening over drafty ruins, no bleak night times of silent stars.

Poetry, then, can be small, as long as what it describes is large.

Poetry has two choices: be modest or sublime. Prose is acquainted with every subject, every nuance; this the poet knows; the poet knows the only way to move the heart is by being humble—or its opposite.

Is it true that modern poetry has no sublime tradition?

No spark, no faint shower of light falling from beyond, no echo of Homer, Dante, or Milton troubles the modern eye. What creates the sublime? What storms greet our poetry now?

But we shouldn’t be hasty.

There may be plenty of sublime poetry in our day. We just need to look for it. Perhaps it’s there, but we have forgotten how to see it.

***

Edgar Poe, who lived on the other side of the abyss from today’s colloquial, modern sensibility, loved the sublime perhaps more than anything.

Modesty and sublimity are not values we assign to poetry anymore.

It says something about our age, that when it looks at Poe, it doesn’t see the sublime, but registers “macabre.”

But Poe was sublime all the way.

Not only in his poetry and fiction—but in his non-fiction, which included criticism.

In this review of William Ellery Channing, Poe, the critic, ridicules the attempt to be sublime:

My empire is myself and I defy
The external; yes, I rule the whole or die!

It will be observed, here, that Mr. Channing’s empire is himself, (a small kingdom, however,) that he intends to defy “the external,” whatever that is — perhaps he means the infernals and that, in short, he is going to rule the whole or die; all which is very proper, indeed, and nothing more than we have to expect from Mr. C.

Again, at page 146, he is rather fierce than otherwise. He says;

We surely were not meant to ride the sea,
Skimming the wave in that so prisoned small,
Reposing our infinite faculties utterly.
Boom like a roaring sunlit waterfall.
Humming to infinite abysms: speak loud, speak free!

Here Mr. Channing not only intends to “speak loud and free” himself, but advises every body else to do likewise. For his own part, he says, he is going to “ boom” — “to hum and to boom” — to “hum like a roaring waterfall,” and “boom to an infinite abysm.” What, in the name of Belzebub, is to become of us all?

Poe didn’t think much of Channing, the child of the preacher; Channing the Younger was a poet mentored by Emerson; Poe reviled Emerson’s didactic, sermonizing circle of New England Transcendentalists. Their whole attitude can be summed up in the couplet of Channing’s quoted above: “My empire is myself and I defy/The external; yes, I rule the whole or die!”  According to Poe, there was a way to do literature and “I rule the whole or die!” just wouldn’t do.

We wouldn’t know it (because who carefully reads widely in Poe’s critical prose) but Poe, at least in his own mind, to an extreme degree, was very forward thinking.  In the first few paragraphs of his review of Drama of Exile and Other Poems by Elizabeth Barrett, Poe says quite a bit against antiquity, and in favor of plain, modern, common sense:

1) He writes that he will not treat Barrett as a woman, but as a writer, as he points out that women should no longer be treated in a patronizing way by male authors.

2) Of Elizabeth Barrett’s long poem, “Drama of Exile” is the story of Eve, inspired by Greek Tragedy, Poe writes:

The Greek tragedies had and even have high merits; but we act wisely in now substituting for the external and typified human sympathy of the antique Chorus, a direct, internal, living and moving sympathy itself; and although AEschylus might have done service as “a model,” to either Euripides or Sophocles, yet were Sophocles and Euripides in London to-day, they would, perhaps, while granting a certain formless and shadowy grandeur, indulge a quiet smile at the shallowness and uncouthness of that Art, which, in the old amphitheatres, had beguiled them into applause of the Œdipus at Colonos.”

“It would have been better for Miss Barrett if, throwing herself independently upon her own very extraordinary resources, and forgetting that a Greek had ever lived, she had involved her Eve in a series of adventures merely natural, or if not this, of adventures preternatural within the limits of at least a conceivable relation — a relation of matter to spirit and spirit to matter, that should have left room for something like palpable action and comprehensible emotion — that should not have utterly precluded the development of that womanly character which is admitted as the principal object of the poem. As the case actually stands, it is only in a few snatches of verbal intercommunication with Adam and Lucifer, that we behold her as a woman at all. For the rest, she is a mystical something or nothing, enwrapped in a fog of rhapsody about Transfiguration, and the Seed, and the Bruising of the Heel, and other talk of a nature that no man ever pretended to understand in plain prose, and which, when solar-microscoped into poetry “upon the model of the Greek drama,” is about as convincing as the Egyptian Lectures of Mr. Silk Buckingham — about as much to any purpose under the sun as the hi presto! conjurations of Signor Blitz.

3) Poe then scolds Milton—who has influenced Barrett—in the following manner:

She [Barrett in her introduction] has made allusion to Milton, and no doubt felt secure in her theme (as a theme merely) when she considered his “Paradise Lost.” But even in Milton’s own day, when men had the habit of believing all things, the more nonsensical the more readily, and of worshipping, in blind acquiescence, the most preposterous of impossibilities — even then. there were not wanting individuals who would have read the great epic with more: — , could it have been explained to their satisfaction, how ind why it was, not only that a snake quoted Aristotle’s ethics, and behaved otherwise pretty much as he pleased, but that bloody battles were continually being fought between bloodless “innumerable angels,” that found no inconvenience m losing a wing one minute and a head the next, and if pounded up into puff-paste late in the afternoon, were as good “innumerable angels” as new the next morning, in time to be at reveille roll-call: And now — at the present epoch — there are few people who do not occasionally think. This is emphatically the thinking age; — indeed it may very well be questioned whether mankind ever substantially thought before. The fact is, if the “Paradise Lost” were written to-day (assuming that it had never been written when it was), not even its eminent, although over-estimated merits, would counterbalance, either in the public view, or in the opinion of any critic at once intelligent and honest, the multitudinous incongruities which are part and parcel of its plot.

This is all by way of the sublime.  One can see that Poe has very definite opinions on how one should go about writing in the sublime manner—one still needs to have both feet on the ground, even as one takes a certain fantastic license.

Here is Poe once more, from the “Drama of Exile”review, taking Barrett to task for being sublimely annoying:

But in the plot of the drama of Miss Barrett it is something even worse than incongruity which affronts: — a continuous mystical strain of ill-fitting and exaggerated allegory — if, indeed, allegory is not much too respectable a term for it. We are called upon, for example, to sympathise in the whimsical woes of two Spirits, who, upspringing from the bowels of the earth, set immediately to bewailing their miseries in jargon such as this:

I am the spirit of the harmless earth;
God spake me softly out among the stars,
As softly as a blessing of much worth —
And then his smile did follow unawares,
That all things, fashioned, so, for use and duty,
Might shine anointed with his chrism of beauty —
Yet I wail!

I drave on with the worlds exultingly,
Obliquely down the Godlight’s gradual fall —
Individual aspect and complexity
Of gyratory orb and interval,
Lost in the fluent motion of delight
Toward the high ends of Being, beyond Sight —
Yet I wail!

Innumerable other spirits discourse successively after the same fashion, each ending every stanza of his lamentation with the “yet I wail!” When at length they have fairly made an end, Eve touches Adam upon the elbow, and hazards, also, the profound and pathetic observation — “Lo, Adam, they wail!” — which is nothing more than the simple truth — for they do — and God deliver us from any such wailing again!

But let’s look at Poe selecting a passage of Barrett for praise.

And he loves this because it’s sublime, though he doesn’t use the word:

It is not our purpose, however, to demonstrate what every reader of these volumes will have readily seen self-demonstrated — the utter indefensibility of “The Drama of Exile,” considered uniquely, as a work of art. We have none of us to be told that a medley of metaphysical recitatives sung out of tune, at Adam and Eve, by all manner of inconceivable abstractions, is not exactly the best material for a poem. Still it may very well happen that among this material there shall be individual passages of great beauty. But should any one doubt the possibility, let him be satisfied by a single extract such as follows:

On a mountain peak
Half sheathed in primal woods and glittering
In spasms of awful sunshine, at that hour
A lion couched, — part raised upon his paws,
With his calm massive face turned full on shine,
And his mane listening. When the ended curse
Left silence in the world, right suddenly
He sprang up rampant, and stood straight and stiff,
As if the new reality of death
Were dashed against his eyes, — and roared so fierce,
(Such thick carnivorous passion in his throat
Tearing a passage through the wrath and fear)
And roared so wild, and smote from all the hills
Such fast keen echoes crumbling down the vales
To distant silence, — that the forest beasts,
One after one, did mutter a response
In savage and in sorrowful complaint
Which trailed along the gorges.

There is an Homeric force here — a vivid picturesqueness in all men will appreciate and admire. It is, however, the longest quotable passage in the drama, not disfigured with blemishes of importance; — although there are many — very many passages of a far loftier order of excellence, so disfigured, and which, therefore, it would not suit our immediate e to extract. The truth is, — and it may be as well mentioned at this point as elsewhere — that we are not to look in Miss Barrett’s works for any examples of what has been occasionally termed “sustained effort;” for neither are there, in any of her poems, any long commendable paragraphs, nor are there any individual compositions which will bear the slightest examination as consistent Art-products. Her wild and magnificent genius seems to have contented itself with points — to have exhausted itself in flashes; — but it is the profusion — the unparalleled number and close propinquity of these points and flashes which render her book one flame, and justify us in calling her, unhesitatingly, the greatest — the most glorious of her sex.

 

***

The history of the sublime can be summed up this way—in the 18th century, the idea of the sublime caught fire and exploded; the sublime was the dominant aesthetic well into the 19th century; then it vanished into the human-centered realism of modernism. Longinus was translated into English in the early 18th century—Longinus defined sublimity as ecstasy for the learned; Burke, an advocate of emotion linked to thought, called it terror, at a safe distance; Kant called it more reasonable than the beautiful, since it participates in the unknown and great thoughts and ideas launch into, and participate, in the unknown. The Romantics were swept up into greatness as they contemplated and breathed the sublime. Wordsworth used the sublime to be more than a nature poet, Coleridge’s best poetry burned with it; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein spoke to the fearful heart of it; Shelley, Byron, and Keats were what they were because of it; the glorious,18th century flame finally expired in the magnificence of Poe, who is called, by the small-minded, “macabre,” instead of what he really is—sublime.

***

THIS YEAR’S MARCH MADNESS HAS THE FOLLOWING FOUR BRACKETS: CLASSICAL, ROMANTIC, MODERN, AND POST-MODERN.

HERE ARE THE 16 MARCH MADNESS 2020 CONTENDERS—IN THE CLASSICAL BRACKET:

1) Homer (iliad)

Friend! You will die—but why moan about it so?
Remember Patroclus? He was better than you.
Look! I’m handsome and stronger—
A marvelous father, my mother a deathless goddess—
But thanks to fate, I, too, will be brought low.
At midnight, maybe at noon, a mortal will kill me, too—
From a spear, by chance thrown, or a singing arrow.

2) Plato (symposium)

The mysteries of love?  Begin with examples of beauty in the world, and using them as steps to ascend, with that absolute beauty as one’s aim, from one instance of physical beauty to two and from two to all, from physical beauty to moral beauty, and from moral beauty to the beauty of knowledge, until from knowledge of various kinds one arrives at the supreme knowledge—whose sole object is absolute beauty, to know at last what absolute beauty is.

3) Aristotle (poetics)

Having distinguished the parts, let us now consider the proper construction of the Fable or Plot—the most important thing in Tragedy. We have laid it down that a tragedy is an imitation of an action that is complete in itself, as a whole of some magnitude, for a whole may be of no magnitude to speak of. Now a whole is that which has beginning, middle, and end. A beginning is that which is not itself necessarily after anything else, and which has naturally something else after it; an end is that which is naturally after something itself, either as its necessary and consequent, and with nothing else after it; and a middle, that which is by nature after one thing and has also another after it. A well-constructed Plot, therefore, cannot either begin or end at any point one likes; beginning and end in it must be of the forms just described. Again: to be beautiful, a living creature, and every whole made up of parts, must not only present a certain order in its arrangement of parts, but also be of a certain definite magnitude. Beauty is a matter of size and order, and therefore impossible either in a very minute creature…or in a creature of vast size—one, say, 1,000 miles long.

4) Sophocles (oedipus rex)

Speak not to these or me. Thou art the man,
Thou the accursed polluter of this land.

5) Ovid (art of love)

It is art to conceal art.

6) Horace (ars poetica)

There are some mistakes we forgive. The string doesn’t always give the note that the hand and the mind intended: it often returns a high note when you ask for a low. The bow won’t always hit what it threatens to hit. But when most features of a poem are brilliant, I shan’t be offended by a few blemishes thrown around by carelessness or human negligence. But what then?  If a copyist goes on making the same mistake however much he is warned, he is not forgiven; if a lyre-player always gets the same note wrong, people laugh at him. I’m even angry when Homer nods, though a doze is OK in a long work.

7) Virgil (aeneid)

I abandoned you, and caused your grieving.
I abandoned you, and caused your death.
And now those same gods compel me to search in these shadows,
Where death reigns, and gruesome night is all.

8) Dante (inferno)

“These have no longer any hope of death;
This blind life of theirs is so debased,
They envy all—even others’ final breath.

The world does not permit them any fame;
Mercy does not care for this moaning mass;
Let us not speak of them, but look, and pass.”

And I, who looked again, beheld a banner
Whirling, moving in a frenzied manner,
Bobbing up and down, leading the creatures,

Who thronged, piteous, in great numbers,
Filling the circle. I could not believe
Death had undone so many.

9) Petrarch (la gola e ‘l sonno et l’otiose piume)

Greed and sleep and slothful beds
Have banished every virtue from the world,
So that, overcome by habit,
Our nature has almost lost its way.

And all the benign lights of heaven,
That inform human life, are so spent,
That he who wishes to bring down the light
From Helicon is pointed out as a wonder.

Such desire for laurel, and for myrtle?
‘Poor and naked goes philosophy,’
Say the crowd intent on base profit.

You’ll have poor company on that other road:
So much more I beg you, gentle spirit,
Don’t turn away from your great undertaking.

10) da  Vinci (notebooks)

The first intention of the painter is to make
A flat surface display a body
As if modeled and separated from this plane,
And he who most surpasses others in this skill
Deserves more praise.
This accomplishment,
With which the science of painting
Is crowned, arises from light and shade—
Chiaroscuro.
Therefore, whoever fights shy of shadow
Fights shy of the glory of art
As recognized by noble intellects,
But acquires glory according to the ignorant masses,
Who require nothing of painting other than beauty of color,
Totally forgetting the beauty and wonder
Of a flat surface
Displaying relief.
The art of painting embraces and contains within itself
All visible things. It is the poverty of sculpture
That it cannot show the colors of everything
And their diminution
With distance.

11) Shakespeare (the tempest)

Be not afraid; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.

12) John Donne (death be no proud)

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

13) Milton (paradise lost)

Some natural tears they drop’d, but wip’d them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide;
They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.

14) G. E. Lessing (laocoon)

Objects which exist side by side, or whose parts so exist, are called bodies. Consequently bodies with their visible properties are the peculiar subjects of painting.

Objects which succeed each other, or whose parts succeed each other in time, are actions. Consequently actions are the peculiar subjects of poetry.

All bodies, however, exist not only in space, but also in time. They continue, and, at any moment of their continuance, may assume a different appearance and stand in different relations. Every one of these momentary appearances and groupings was the result of a preceding, may become the cause of a following, and is therefore the center of a present, action. Consequently painting can imitate actions, also, but only as they are suggested through forms.

Actions, on the other hand, cannot exist independently, but must also be joined to certain agents. In so far as those agents are bodies or are regarded as such, poetry describes also bodies, but only indirectly through actions.

Painting, in its coexistent compositions, can use but a single moment of an action, and must therefore choose the most pregnant one, the one most suggestive of what has gone before and what is to follow.

Poetry, in its progressive imitations, can use but a single attribute of bodies, and must choose that one which gives the most vivid picture of the body as exercised in this particular action.

Hence the rule for the employment of a single descriptive epithet, and the cause of the rare occurrence of descriptions of physical objects.

I should place less confidence in this dry chain of conclusions, did I not find them fully confirmed by Homer, or, rather, had they not been first suggested to me by Homer’s method. These principles alone furnish a key to the noble style of the Greek, and enable us to pass just judgment on the opposite method of many modern poets who insist upon emulating the artist in a point where they must of necessity remain inferior to him.

15) Thomas Gray (elegy in a country churchyard)

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds.

16) Edmund Burke (introduction. on taste)

The mind of man has naturally a far greater alacrity and satisfaction in tracing resemblances than in searching for differences; because by making resemblance we produce new images, we unite, we create, we enlarge our stock; but in making distinctions we offer no food at all to the imagination; the task itself is more severe and irksome, and what pleasure we derive from it is something of a negative and indirect nature. A piece of news is told me in the morning; this, merely as a piece of news, as a fact added to my stock, gives me some pleasure. In the evening I find there was nothing in it. What do I gain by this, but the dissatisfaction to find that I had been imposed upon? Hence it is, that men are much more naturally inclined to belief than to incredulity. And it is upon this principle, that the most ignorant and barbarous nations have frequently excelled in similitudes, comparisons, metaphors, and allegories, who have been weak and backward in distinguishing and sorting their ideas. And it is for a reason of this kind that Homer and the oriental writers, though very fond of similitudes, and though they often strike out such as are truly admirable, they seldom take care to have them exact; that is, they are taken with the general resemblance, they paint it strongly, and they take no notice of the difference which may be found between the things compared.

 

LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!

 

FAKE PLATO

Related image

Why is no poetry which is popular—none of it—deemed critically and artistically worthy? Going on almost 100 years? Or more than 50 years, if we quibble over “critically worthy?”

Why is poetry no longer sublime?

Why has poetry lost its reading public? (Poets “reading” one another in the confines of writing program networks is not a “public.”)

No matter how aesthetically wounded a society becomes, as long as there’s written language, as long as there’s diary writing, interesting works of fiction will be published and read.

But why do we have a public willing to spend hours, days, reading critically esteemed novels, making these at least somewhat popular, but this same public will not spend a few minutes on critically esteemed lyric poems?  So that no esteemed poems are popular?  The current state of poetry would seem to be the aesthetic canary in the mine, the proof that, even though fiction sells, something is rotten in terms of the purely aesthetic accomplishment of writing as an art form.

Why does this century-long gulf of sublime distances exist, this profound disconnect between public and poetry in Letters?

It isn’t the fault of the public.  It’s the fault of how poetry is conceived, written, marketed and sold.

Scarriet has argued that Modernism, in the name of revolutionary change, turned its back on Romanticism, and all that was popular in Romanticism (the accessibility of love poems, poetry as sublime and beautiful speech, etc) was lost, in the middle of the Modernist experiment, and the problem was compounded when the Moderns simultaneously secured a place in the academy (writing programs in the 1930s until the present) in which the loss of popularity was “fixed.”

The story of Modernism, revolutionary wacky on one hand, institutionally savvy and pragmatic on the other, is vital to understanding the problem—Marjorie Perloff, a Modernist (avant garde) advocate, spoke openly, not too many years ago, about how she was troubled by the fact that there are “too many poets.”  When there is no true criticism to weed out bad poetry, and when millions of “students” immediately become “poets,” well, of course there will be too many “poets.”  The Romantics (or other eras, if you wish) only had a few poets.  Why are they so much better than the millions of modern poets? Well, it doesn’t take an Einstein (or a Coleridge) to figure out why.

But there’s a deeper problem, which just came to our attention, thanks to Jon Baskin’s “On the Hatred of Literature,” published online by The Point.

Jon Baskin spends the bulk of his piece discussing Ben Lerner, who has made something of a name for himself with his 2016 book, The Hatred of Poetry.

Lerner, like many in Letters, is aware poetry is dying—but he hasn’t quite figured out why. Lerner has made something of a splash, however, simply because he’s had the honesty to admit art and letters doesn’t move him. Perhaps I am not the problem, thinks Lerner, poetry itself—as commonly defined by tradition—is the problem. Fair enough. A truly open mind considers everything.

But Lerner is wrong. Lerner, and people like him, are the problem. Poetry is not the problem. Lerner begins by blaming Plato, who called poetry “divine,” which Lerner, the modern, thinks it just silly; poetry, Lerner thinks, is not “divine,” and it makes moderns work too hard to make their poetry “divine.”  There is a certain amount of common sense here, but this doesn’t alter one bit the eternal truth of the whole issue: it is never poetry’s fault, or the public’s fault, when poetry fails.  Blame always lies with the poets and critics of a particular age—and to assert poetry is divine is neither here, nor there; the only thing that matters is the poets and the critics and the editors who make it divine.

Baskin examines Lerner’s recent autobiographical novels, and finds that for Lerner, poetry which is more political, or “socially responsible,” is the answer. No wonder Lerner is getting some left-leaning, mainstream attention.

Here’s Baskin: “What is clear is that, by the end of The Topeka School, political commitment has emerged as the socially responsible solution—even if it remains elusive to Lerner’s narrator—to artistic disaffection.”

And speaking of the Modernists turning their backs on the Romantics, we sat up with attention when we read the following in Baskin’s piece:

It was during a period of increasing politicization, and amid a boom for the proselytizers of scientific skepticism in nineteenth-century England, that Samuel Coleridge formulated his idea of “that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.” The famous phrase—“willing suspension of disbelief”—is easy to misunderstand. It does not mean we should suspend our capacity to think when we engage with artworks, or that we are to imitate children (or our fantasy of children) and pretend not to know the difference between fact and fiction. …….. Keats, building on the concept, would later coin the phrase “negative capability” to explain the specifically artistic virtue of being able to exist “in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” Both poets saw art’s highest potential as being to provide experiences that undermined the prevailing hierarchy of values in modern societies, a hierarchy that privileged detachment, skepticism and the “heresy”—as Coleridge liked to call it—of practical and political expediency.

But here’s the deeper problem, and it has to do with Plato, and the greatest literary trope of them all, one even more influential and profound than “willing suspension of disbelief” or “negative capability,” and this is, of course, the famous directive by Plato that poets are not welcome in the Republic.

There is little to say on this topic, as important as it is.  You get it, or you don’t.  If you don’t get it, you will over-argue it, you will over-think it.

Here’s the first four paragraphs of Baskin’s wonderful essay:

When I was in college, at the end of the last century, the prevailing school of literary interpretation was called “New Historicism.” The foundational assumption of this approach was that artworks were primarily of value insofar as they could offer us insight into the context and conditions of their historical production. The point of literary scholarship was to “unmask” these conditions—to show, for instance, how Mark Twain had unwittingly reinscribed the racist assumptions of his time, even as he attempted to expose them. It went without saying, on this theory, that literature was a conduit neither of timeless truths nor of trustworthy passions. Indeed our professors made it clear that, the more powerful of an imaginative experience a work delivered, the more important it was to learn to view it with skepticism and detachment. At best, and with the correct theoretical tools, what had been valorized as the height of literary culture in the past might offer us an unintended insight into what really mattered: politics, history, the shadow life of power.

I can still remember when, at the end of one of the departmental survey classes—our teachers having delivered a lecture on New Historicism as the culminating achievement of twentieth-century literary criticism—a student stood up in the back of the room. Nearly giving way to what seemed to me at the time (but not now) an embarrassing overflow of emotion, she accused the professors of “hating” literature. We had become English majors in the first place, she went on, not because novels and poems told us interesting things about history or politics but because they made us feel less alone, captivated us with their beauty, helped us to better know ourselves and the world. The professors, as far as I can remember, responded politely: after all, the student was only a sophomore. She would learn.

It is no secret that in contemporary America there are many people who hardly read at all, and then another sizable group who, though they keep up with news, sports and the latest fads in self-care or technology, have little interest in serious fiction, poetry or literary commentary. It would be wrong to say such people hate literature, for one has to care about something to truly hate it. What my classmate in the survey course had precociously recognized was that we were being introduced to a phenomenon both subtler and more sinister than the neglect or ignorance of literature. Our professors had a great deal invested in novels and poems; and it was probably even the case that, at some point, they had loved them. But they had convinced themselves that to justify the “study” of literature it was necessary to immunize themselves against this love, and within the profession the highest status went to those for whom admiration and attachment had most fully morphed into their opposites. Their hatred of literature manifested itself in their embrace of theories and methods that downgraded and instrumentalized literary experience, in their moralistic condemnation of the literary works they judged ideologically unsound, and in their attempt to pass on to their students their suspicion of literature’s most powerful imaginative effects.

The lesson was not a new one. Going back to Plato—perhaps the first hater of literature on record—philosophers and religious authorities have attacked art for the same reasons our professors taught us to deconstruct and distrust it: because it is unpredictable, unreasonable and often inconsistent with their preferred politics or morality. It was also a lesson that was destined, in the years that followed, to seep off campus. Even as New Historicism fell out of fashion in literary studies—along with the broader postmodern notion of “critique” that had produced it—the students it had trained were taking up positions in the public intellectual magazines and book reviews, where they now preside over the gradual disappearance of a distinctively literary mode of criticism: a criticism, that is, that attends to matters of form, style and character, that takes aesthetic experience seriously, and that appreciates the emotions inspired by an artwork as fully as, and as constitutive of, its politics. To the extent that this disappearance has gone unremarked, it is because the hatred of literature, though it remains almost unheard of among the general reading public, has become the default mode in the upper reaches of our literary culture. As was the case in my college survey course, the highest honors go to the most eloquent haters.

I will repeat something here I quickly wrote on Facebook, when I shared Baskin’s article, overjoyed at finding a new sane voice in Letters. Here’s what the article essentially meant to me:

It’s okay to love poetry over politics. It really is. It means you understand politics.

And here’s what I added on Facebook, re: my thoughts on Baskin’s article, and re: Plato:

I always said that modernist theorists, who at heart, hate poetry, are unconscious followers of Plato. Plato said, with common sense, Homer should not be read for wisdom on chariot-building or military strategy; he’s a poet. Similarly, poetry should not be read for politics. Nothing wrong with hazy, divine poetry. But there are subjects which, by their very nature, are not properly understood as poetry, but will be treated poetically nonetheless by the untruthful and the mendacious. This is what Plato feared. Plato did not really dislike poetry. But modernist theorists do dislike what makes poetry poetry, even as they unconsciously act like Plato, in theorizing poetry away.

For hundreds of years, Letters has responded to a Fake Plato—one who hates poetry.

But this Plato does not actually exist.

It’s never about liking or disliking poetry.  The question is: what is poetry, and where do you put it?

Having this Fake Plato in the back of one’s mind, entertaining even the faintest notion that somehow the aesthetic, the beautiful, the sublime, impedes the rational, the theoretical, and the socially responsible, is the greatest heresy of all.

Shelley called Plato a poet.  And he was.

How is the truth of poetry conveyed by one—Plato—who does not trust poetry?

This is the greatest contradiction in Letters—and not understanding it will hinder poetry.

But now.  Can we say this contradiction is solved at last?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HEARSAY

Related image

“Someone is speaking but she doesn’t know he’s there.” —Here, There, and Everywhere, The Beatles

The great Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci said truth is what we see with our own two eyes.

The Renaissance (aprox. 1400—1600) was a great and remarkable time because it threw off the fake, hearsay wisdom of Aristotle, and trusted simple looking.

But why did it take so long to chuck Aristotle? His authority lasted for hundreds and hundreds of years.

Because hearsay is how highly complex groups communicate, think and live.

Yes, reader. Hearsay is how you think. You have no choice. What else do you have? Do you think you know everything?

Love happens in the eyes.

Seduction and false love happens with words.

Words are hearsay. Professors and journalists and authors may not want to hear this, but all words, not just some, all words, all combinations of words, are hearsay.

Because we read something in the New York Times, or we hear our professor say it, we believe it to be true.

It is not that “it” does not have a very good chance for a certain amount of time to seem true; what matters is that it is an “it,” a thing of words, and what is not included in “its” carefully chosen arrangement contradicts “it,” (if the words don’t contradict themselves, which they often do).

What the “wise” words do not mention is real, but unknown.

All we get is the “it,” the words, what may possibly be believed and what easily can be believed, and this “it” is hearsay—not partially, but entirely. The writer or speaker is not necessarily lying. And if we don’t find an evidence of an outright lie, this may lull us into a false belief that it is not hearsay. But it is. Because it is made of words.  Whether it offends or not, it is hearsay.

Da Vinci was right.

And when we see the hearsay repeated—if  what we read in the New York Times, is seen again in the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the Economist, the Nation, the Times of India, ABC News and Fox News, we think this is somehow proof that it cannot be hearsay. 

We think the repeating makes the hearsay legitimate.

But hearsay does not escape being hearsay if it repeats.

The very opposite is true. As they say, lies travel with lighter wings.

The “fixed stars” of Aristotle was a “truth” for hundreds and hundreds of years.

But hearsay didn’t die out with Aristotle.

Today—dear reader, what do you know about the stars?

Hearsay is not necessarily a lie; it’s merely an incomplete assertion—and often it is not innocently incomplete.

True knowledge is impossible.

Ambition is not.

Hearsay is not avoided by the ambitious.  It is embraced.

Since the world is vast and complex—so much so that it cannot be grasped—-it is easy for an educated but bad person to believe that all ideas must be incomplete, since knowledge is limited—and so bad behavior is excused by the knowledge that there is finally no knowledge.

We should listen to da Vinci.  We should look.

Our lives depend on it.

The president condemns violent protest. The paper which reviles him says the president opposes all protest. Those who oppose the president read and believe the president opposes all protest. Hearsay exists when anyone, on any topic, speaks and is heard. The speaker and listener—wherever speech is present—live in hearsay.

Because all speech is hearsay, all public dialogue finds both sides are always wrong, and always right—depending on feelings.

“But the president condemned violent protest!” say the president’s defenders.

“No. We know what the president really meant: to oppose enthusiastic protest against himself and his friends!”

And on it goes.

“Enthusiastic” protest is justified, everything enthusiastic is justified, because hearsay needs to be enthusiastic to sell, to have wings, to make us feel emotional and alive.

Emotion is real. And hearsay, which is not real, becomes real, simply by wearing emotion.

Emotion, needing to be fed, begins to actively seek out greater and greater hearsay. Lies are believed—just so we can feel. Feeling, in the absence of true knowledge, is all we’ve got.

Hearsay is not merely empty talk; it does great harm—as poetry.  Yes, poetry. This is why Plato is famous for faulting it.

Emotion persuades through hearsay; emotion and hearsay make a potent mixture.

Emotion is the frightening noise of the animal—but emotional hearsay is elegantly and insidiously human.

Fear needs an object, and hearsay provides it: fear makes hearsay more effective because the blindness of fear feeds the blindness of hearsay.

Socrates, in his case against Homer in Plato’s Republic, quotes beautiful passages by the great poet Homer—which depict the Homeric gods as sorrowful and weak. Socrates complains this is a bad example for children—on a very simple level, Socrates objects to low morale; with the wisdom of the child, Socrates condemns reproduced unhappiness, or to put it more simply, unhappiness.

Plato objects to Homer and most poetry, not because it is hearsay (though it certainly is) but because it is unhappy.

We know very little. But we should know, at the least, even in the face of hearsay, that to be unhappy is bad.

Poetry is bad for very simple reasons. Socrates makes an exception to his banning of poetry in the Republic—he permits, (in his imaginary, poetic Republic) the kind of poetry which praises and depicts heroic behavior.

Hearsay with a good result is good.

It finally comes down to bravery and morale.

Aristotle claimed literary tragedy is purgative—fear stirred up by fiction somehow causes less fear. Plato felt Aristotle’s scientific justification of unhappy poetry was—hearsay.

Plato and Aristotle rarely agree.  A diligent comparison of these two is the beginning of wisdom.

The criminal, looking to advance criminality, will rejoice in poetry of fear and low morale. Producers of drama which terrify and demoralize inject criminality into art; this was Plato’s moral view.

Shakespeare’s tragedies are not good because they are filled with horror; they are good because the poetry and the plot defeat the horror. Shakespeare’s plays are like Platonic Dialogues. Good poetry defeats bad poetry. It’s confusing, It’s why Shakespeare and Plato are so good.

Hearsay also belongs to libel and slander, the real-life, legal counterpart to the kind of poetry Socrates wants to ban.

What is slander, but a fictional condemnation?   What is libel, but bad poetry?

Bad poetry and hearsay are present in mere folly.  But hearsay and bad poetry are also present in the worst kinds of crime, and the worst sorts of sentiments which lead to crime.

Poetry is serious business.

This brings us back to da Vinci and actual proof—great art looks—it uses perspective to escape the blindness of hearsay and fearful emotion.

Love, beauty, and the heroic are seen in ways just enough to be loving, beautiful, and heroic—they do not live in hearsay—which Plato and Shakespeare (slander is condemned often in the Sonnets) both believed was the greatest threat to human happiness.

Socrates invokes the simple wisdom of the child against sophistical reasoning. And further, the worth of Homer’s poetry (for poetry does have worth) emerges with greater interest and understanding in the hyper-critical testing of Homer by Socrates—who certainly understood that banning increases interest in something. Banned, poetry will be loved all the more, and the higher critical lens developed by Plato is worthy in itself, increasing the value of poetry, and the value of seeing poetry—which is seen for what it is. Criticism and poetry both need each other.

Just as the visual arts belong to the geometrical science of the world as a whole, (painting, according to da Vinci, belongs to astronomy) poetry is best judged in the same way—by how it sees (which in poetry is not very much!) and by  how it dispels hearsay in a manner which constantly keeps hearsay in view. This is why the best poets secretly write against poetry.

Hearsay is hasty in its conclusions.

Science, graceful and slow, even where things are quick, is not.

Hasty is unkind.

Haste is not efficiency.  Efficiency is a thousand times faster than rude and ignorant haste.

Science is slow, like love.

If you don’t have the patience for the philosopher Plato, hearsay will likely be your god.

You will weep.  Because you don’t hear Socrates.  But do not weep.

Happy Thanksgiving!  —Scarriet Editors November 21st 2018

 

 

TEASING: A NEW PSYCHOLOGICAL LOOK

Image result for laughing in dutch painting

Teasing is a psychological state which is crucial to understanding human nature, and yet, as far as I know, it has never been given its due.

Teasing is ubiquitous—most of us tease, consciously, or impulsively—but teasing is also highly ambiguous and complex—part of its nature is to disappear into other modes—humor, cruelty.

But why does teasing fall completely below the radar of social science? Apart from its hiding capacity, the most obvious reason why teasing as a legitimate psychological category eludes researchers, scholars, and distinguished and credentialed pedants of all stripes, is that teasing refuses to take itself, or others, seriously—therefore it naturally eludes all serious study.

The pithy remarks of an Oscar Wilde belong to the comic stage or the quotation book; serious scholars shudder at the idea of Wilde’s teasing wit upending their authoritative conclusions. One of teasing’s many manifestations is wit, destructive wit—the enemy of science, philosophy, and religion. “The best way to resist temptation is to give into it,” laughs Oscar. Teasing is walled off—even as it promotes wise laughter—from the wise investigations of the pundit.

I will now give teasing the prominence it deserves.

Let me posit the two most obvious modes of human behavior and psychology, which occupy the opposite sides of the behavioral spectrum—fighting on one side, and cooperation, affection, or love on the other. We’ll call it love, for simplicity’s sake. Hate and love. The fighting impulse and the loving impulse.

Teasing, as I see it, is perfectly suited to connect the two, to occupy the third, or middle ground which partly interacts with hate and partly interacts with love. Teasing, as is well known, and which I have observed above, is an extremely common behavior which covers a great deal of ambiguous psychological territory—teasing can be affectionate and humorous; we tease those we like, we tease those we want to like more, and we tease those with whom we feel extremely comfortable.

Teasing can be neutral—we tease to find out how much a person can take, and this can be part of just getting to know a person, though it can seem invasive, even if it’s done out of friendliness or curiosity.

Teasing can also be vindictive, insulting, terrible.

And teasing can seem cruel, even if this is not its intention.

We would expect nothing less of this far-reaching cloud of ambiguity which unites hate and love.

What is life but a tease?

The mature soul understands the tease of admiring and desiring things which we both hate and love—the teasing mixture.

The craven person and the child don’t deal in hybrids—they only love or hate.

Maturity deals with the hybrid, and is resigned to being teased constantly.

The immature person viciously avoids being teased, and takes a sadistic delight, quite often, in teasing.

Teasing, then, is good and bad.  Which should be expected, since hate sits on one shoulder, and love on the other.

Teasing rounds out love and hate as a three-part psychology—and teasing, itself, exists in three parts, friendly, neutral, and hostile.

Satire, a form of teasing, can run the gamut from hostile to elevating, depending on how it is seen; satire can be a nasty political weapon, or it can use literature to gently seek truth.

Poetry, which today is mostly officious and uptight, once indulged in the sweet rivalry of teasing.  Who can forget Byron teasing the poet laureates of England, William Wordsworth and Robert Southey?

“Go little book, from this, my solitude!
I cast thee on the waters—go thy ways!
And if, as I believe, thy vein be good,
The world will find thee after many days.”
When Southey’s read, and Wordsworth’s understood,
I can’t help putting in my claim to praise—
The first four rhymes are Southey’s every line:
For God’s sake, reader! Take them not for mine.

Teasing has this most important property: the ability to defuse hate (because it is comedy) and the equal ability to defuse love (because it is ridicule)—teasing can lead to war or love, with cunning or accidental, suddenness.

Teasing can be sweet and appropriate, or embarrassing and clumsy, depending on all sorts of psychological, material, and personal skill factors, both natural and learned.

Is it any wonder that ubiquitous, ambiguous teasing belongs prominently in the middle of the two most defined poles of human behavior—the fighting impulse, and the cooperative one?

Further, teasing is a directional indicator—it can be an intellectual vehicle to move towards love, or an intellectual vehicle to move towards hate. Or it can simply exist for itself, a buffer against hate to “keep the peace,” a buffer against love to “remain grounded.”

Most of us, in fact, live in the ambiguous state of teasing all the time, with a cloudy, occluded, semi-curious, bemused view of all those “higher” issues that escape teasing, and make life serious, or thrilling, or sublime, or tragic. We giggle at the serious, and feel protected, and rather content, in our “teasing” bubble, as we stay clear of serious hate on one side and serious love, on the other, each pole dangerous for different, and perhaps similar (!) reasons. Teasing is a highly effective means to deal with hate—to ridicule what we dislike, so that we laugh, an effective way of dealing with our own anger and dislike. And satire is a way for us to safely contemplate love—aren’t comedians, with their worldly, urbane personalities, genuinely wise when it comes to the dangers, extremes, and follies of love?

The danger is, that if we laugh too hard, we will never love, again.

Just as if we hate too much, we will never love again.

It may be comfortable to always mock, but teasing is also wrapped up in fear. Teasing is real; it is not just an occasional strategy.

Teasing eclipses love and hate. Teasing also eclipses real feelings.

Some people never reach a state of sublime love—it’s nothing but Romantic poppycock to them—the goal of love is merely a sad, or perhaps an amusing, tease to them; either they have no partner, or, if they do, it is a lover or husband whom they don’t quite love—but they tease them, sometimes affectionately, sometimes cruelly, and these feeling-states are really the best they can do, so vast is that middle ground of teasing, hovering between hate and love.

The thing about teasing is that it allows us to tease, but it also teases us.

In this ambiguous, granular state of continual confusion, in the middle-ground, teasing mode, we glimpse the warrior and the lover, truly sublime figures who truly live, dimly, as in a mist. The teasing state really doesn’t know anything. Teasing is an attitude, not knowledge. Teasing has no true feelings, though it has a general sense of what they are, since it exists beside hate and love. In the teasing state we ridicule all those who take life seriously. We intellectualize, but in a fraudulent manner. We know ourselves to be frauds. We only know small things at small moments. All we can do, with any vigor at all, is mock.

The whore has no philosophy. Those completely without love, the whore and the recluse, represent the two extremes—the whore teases; the recluse is teased.  The whore and the recluse are both anti-social. Society finds it difficult to function if there are too many of these in their ranks.

And those with extremist views (who politicians cynically weaponize) become even more extremist when they are teased about their views.  When someone tells you that you are wrong, that is one thing, but when someone tells you are wrong as they are laughing, that is another thing altogether.

Teasing, in itself, is neither good nor bad. It is a highly social way of behaving—it can mollify, it can lead to friendships, but it can also incense and enrage.

A recluse shies away from teasing.

A whore loves to tease.

It is a cliché to say the whore is stupid, but it’s always true. All they can do is tease. They laugh at both hate and love, and this is their intellectual position, the intellectual position of all who remain in the ambiguous state of mockery and bland, mindless, ambiguity.

To the whore, all intellectuals to them are one person: Woody Allen, a guy who talks very fast, in a high voice. If the Woody Allen makes them laugh, they are OK, but if the intellectual should turn “serious,” the whore only hears a high voice talking too fast, and nothing the intellectual says when the intellectual is being “serious” matters, or makes any sense. Which is probably true, since most intellectuals are frauds.

The whore sees men in three ways; they are either rapists, or a Woody Allen—who might occasionally amuse them by making them laugh—or finally a man with a hairy mustache, a nice stubble, who mumbles in French, in a deep voice, and has a big jaw and tiny eyes (see! I tease) whom the whore perhaps wishes to sleep with. Of course the man with the mustache, whom the whore favors, is not a real person, as unreal as the whore herself—a mere collection of errant atoms—who teases, and is teased, by a reality that remains shut to them, in their ambiguous state of mockery and stupidity. There is nothing they can know, and their “philosophy” is “we cannot know anything!” The male equivalent to the whore is the cunning, ambiguous, fake-intellectual man who is determined to tease the whore whom he is attracted to—to give her a dose of her own medicine. Knowledge is absent. Everything is impulse. All intellectuality in this realm is merely teasing, to give oneself a temporary, mocking, advantage.

There is nothing wrong with living in the teasing state—it is where everyone, except the psychopath, or the genius, lives. It belongs to the sad, charming smile of humility; it resides with humorous affection. It is a guard against extremes. It is the mystery in which we dwell with a smile.

But life is not truly lived, or experienced to its fullest, obviously, if the middle ambiguous, teasing realm is the only place we live.

What we mock aloud in polite company could be what we truly hate and abhor, but it could be just as easily what we secretly desire.

Mockery pushes aside everything, the bad and the good. Teasing can just as easily kill love as mitigate hate.

What remains in our hearts as secret, inarticulate, unspoken, mysterious desire will be forever vanquished by the mockery of polite company, by the stand up comedian, by the “common sense” prudence of smiling, daily life.

How can we truly live—not vicariously, but in ourselves—the beautiful, the good, the passionate life?

And how can we tell the difference between “ourselves” and whatever happens to be filling ourselves up, and needs to be ridiculed away?

We cannot.

The only way to know if something is both real and good, is by its ideal existence, as glimpsed in, and through, the beauty of artistic wisdom. The test of what you love is if it is immune to ridicule and mockery.

Two obstacles commonly stand in the way when a person attempts to reach the beautiful and the sublime—the impulsive mockery of the whore, and the cunning mockery of the fraudulent intellectual.

You will know the good by this: if what is bad mocks it.

I recently heard one of our contemporary sages (Alain de Botton) speak on the subject of love to a large audience. As a so-called philosopher who writes popular books, it was apparent to me after a few minutes why he has more notoriety than most contemporary intellectuals; it could have been the educated English accent, but I think it was more due to the fact that his lecture was more like stand-up comedy; he had the educated audience tittering as he spoke of love, of which he was, of course, mocking, as a quite impossible, and rather imaginary thing. The target of his mockery was Romanticsm, which he claimed sprang up in the “middle late 18th century,” with its emphasis on love as “special feelings” that mysteriously claim us when we happen to meet our “soul mate.” Romanticism, a view which we still have not escaped, according to de Botton, Romanticism, a response to arranged marriages of the past, based on property and such, was a nice thing, he acknowledged, but it was doomed to failure, since seeing love as the joining of two “angels” who are “made for each other” would inevitably lead to disappointment and probably lead to adultery. We all contain “crazy,” de Botton said, and he got a big laugh when he suggested the following wedding present: the bride and groom should exchange books which outline exactly how they are crazy and impossible to live with, up close, and in close quarters.

Because he’s a fraudulent intellectual, he neglected to mention that Romanticism was espoused way before the 18th century—one quickly thinks of Plato’s “Symposium,” of Dante and Petrarch—but more importantly, his description of Romanticism was superficial and naive, taking platitudes of synopsis scum which rise to the top of the ocean as the truth of the matter, all so that he could have a target set up for ridicule and mockery. Talking very fast, like most intellectuals, he had to be a Woody Allen—be funny—to get in good with his paying audience. At one point he made fun of Keats’ death by consumption at a young age—early death was a convenient way to end the silly love experiments of the Romantics, don’t you see? Right. Ha. Ha. And the audience, not embracing his words, but the whole attitude of mocking cynicism upon which his lecture was based, obediently laughed.

The Romantic poets, Shelley and Keats, did not naively believe in lovers as twin “angels;” their poetry is full of beauty and despondency—the anguish of the true lover in the face of whorish artificially, as personified by cynical, whorish buffoons like Alain de Botton, with their educated facades.

I only allude to this talk on Romanticism because great poetry—and the major Romantic poets are exemplary—is perhaps the best way to escape fraudulent intellectualism and the continual prison of mockery and teasing, and move closer to genuine philosophical interest and the life we wish to passionately live.

But the prison (and herd-like safety) of the teasing realm is not something that I can say I have escaped. I do not mean to set myself apart as a true intellectual, or as one who has achieved genuine love.

We are all finally trapped by teasing.

Something as primitive as our own bodily pain we feel cannot be mocked. But it can. The reason I might feel a tremendous pain in my nether regions as I hurry to find a restroom is precisely my pain letting me know I must perform this duty.

But were I later to recall this “pain” in front of my peers, as part of a more elaborate story, or not, the atmosphere would of course be one of laughter.

Mockery cannot be escaped.

Were I, myself, to claim that I know love, or that I, myself, am not a fraudulent intellectual, even within the bounds of a self-conscious essay such as this, I would be ridiculed and mocked.

As I should be.

We are always more teased, than teasing.

And hate and love do belong to a misty distance, a tease of a true passion we may never know, or need to know, or be worthy to know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MARCH MADNESS 2018 —SENTIMENTAL AND WORTHY

Related image

This year’s Scarriet 2018 March Madness Tournament is a contest between great sentimental poems.

We use Sentimental Poems because sentimentality in the United States has long been seen as a great fault in poetry.

It is necessary we bring attention to a crucial fact which is so obvious many overlook it: In the last 100 years, it is considered a virtue for the poet to avoid sentimentality.

But poetry does not belong to the factual.

Ever since Socrates pointed out that Homer wasn’t trustworthy when it came to chariots, law, war, or government, the fact that poetry is not factual has been understood and accepted.

As science grew in stature, it was only natural that Plato was seen as more and more correct—science, the eyes and ears of discovery, made the imagination of lyric song seem feeble by comparison.  Entertainment, Plato feared, could take the place of truth—and destroy society, by making it tyrannical, complacent, sensual, and blind.

Plato’s notion, to put it simply, triumphed.

Homer was no longer considered a text book for knowledge.

Poetry was just poetry.

Religion and science—one, an imaginative display of morals, the other, an imaginative display of reason, became the twin replacements of poetry for all mankind.

Poetry still mattered, but it belonged to entertainment and song, the frivolous, the sentimental—as much as these matter, and they do.  The sentimental was not considered a bad thing, but it was never confused with science. Nor was poetry confused with religion. Religion, with its unchanging sacred texts, was society’s moral guide; a poem springs up suddenly in a person’s mind, a fanciful thing, a piece of religion for the moment—not a bad thing, necessarily, but ranked below science and religion.

Poetry sat on the sidelines for two thousand years.  Homer made it glorious, Plato killed it, and then Science and Religion, for a couple of millennia, were Homer’s two important substitutes.

For two thousand years poetry was sentimental, not factual.

Religion bleeds into poetry (quite naturally) —Dante, Petrarch, Shakespeare, Milton—and in the rival arts, painting, and music—helps religiosity (high sentiment) to thrive and not be overthrown by science (fact).

Music and painting were especially glorious—we use the word without irony—(and religious) during the Renaissance, becoming almost scientific; musicians like Beethoven proved music is more than entertainment—it enriches the soul as much as religion.  Plato would certainly have approved of Bach and Beethoven, if not Goya and Shelley.

Poetry crept back into good standing (since being dethroned by Plato) through religion’s back door—as religion—especially during the Enlightenment and the 19th century—became more and more disgraced by science.

Modernism changed all that.

In the beginning of the 20th century, poetry (together with painting and music) decided it didn’t need religion or science.

Perspective (the mathematics of seeing), which developed in Renaissance painting, is science.

Cubism, Collage, (2-dimensional fragments) and Abstract painting’s color-mixing do not constitute scientific advancement.

Speech and versification enhance each other in poets like Pope and Byron—this has a certain scientific validity—poetry dribbling off into awkward prose, as it pretends to “paint” an “image,” does not.

Verse exists as written music.   Verse, like music, is a system of notation.  Beethoven’s notes do not float around experimentally on the page—Beethoven’s genius exists both in the notation, and in what the notation projects, with the sound of musical instruments. Beethoven’s genius also lies largely in the realm of the sentimental. Which is not a bad thing at all. Sentimentality occupies the battle-ground middle between religion and science—the genius of the modern is found more in artists like Beethoven and Byron, than in the more self-conscious “modernist revolution” of the 20th century—which was largely a step backwards for art and poetry, as talkers like Ezra Pound and John Dewey gained ascendancy.

Here’s an example of the pseudo-science which infested 20th century Modernism: Charles Olson’s idea that poetry is expressed as “breath,” and can be notated as such, on the page.  Yes, people breathe as they read verse, but “the breath” has nothing to do with verse in any measurable way.  A sigh is dramatic, sure. But a sigh isn’t scientific. Yet no one laughed at Olson’s idea. Modernists took it seriously.

And here in 2018, in the wake of Modernism with its sharp-pointed, experimental, unscientific irreverence, poets continue since 1900 to frown on anything sentimental, associating it with flowery, Victorian verse—when the sentimental belongs to the genius of great poetry.

Poetry is sentimental.

Bad poetry is sentimental only because all poetry is sentimental.

The damaging mistake Modernism made, dumping anything pre-1900, in its pursuit of the non-existent “new” (never really described or defined) was the insistence that sentimentalism was bad.

It was a logical mistake, as we have just shown: all poetry (since Socrates knocked off Homer) is sentimental, not factual; Modernism’s childish, fake-science, tantrum against the sentimental was a gambit against religion, which was already collapsing before the advent of science.

Modernism did not embody scientific glory—unless skyscrapers as architecture belong to science.

The 20th century engineers and physicists (far closer to Leonardo da Vinci than William Carlos Williams) were scientific; religion lived on in the lives of the poor, even as Nietzsche-inspired, 20th century professors said God was dead; and meanwhile the Modern poets dug themselves into a hole—rejecting religion, while proudly beating their chests (Modernism’s crackpot identity was male) before the idol of pseudo-science. Modern poetry fell into oblivion, where it still exists today—secular, unscientific, unsentimental, unmusical, without a public, or an identity.

Sentimental poetry did live on throughout the 20th century—poetry is sentimental, after all.  It continued to thrive, in popular music, but as poetry, it mostly thrived beneath the Modernist headlines.

To highlight this argument, Scarriet’s 2018 March Madness Tournament will feature great sentimental poetry.

Before we start, we’d like to define the issue in more detail.

We do not assert that mawkish, simplistic, hearts-and-flowers, unicorns-and-rainbows, poetry is good.

But tedious, pedantic, dry, prosaic poetry is not good, either.

We simply maintain that all poetry, and the very best poetry, is sentimental, rather than factual—despite what Modernist scholars might say.

It is necessary to point out that verse is not, and cannot, as verse, be somehow less than prose, for verse cannot be anything but prose—with the addition of music.

Verse, not prose, has the unique categorical identity which meets the scientific standard of a recognizable art, because verse is prose-plus-one.  Verse is prose and more.  Here is the simple, scientific fact of verse as an identifying category, which satisfies the minimal material requirements of the category, poetry.

The objection can be raised that the following two things exist

1. prose and

2. prose which has a poetic quality, but is not verse

and therefore, poetry can exist without verse.

But to say that prose can be poetic while still being prose, is really to say nothing at all; for if we put an example of prose next to prose-which-is-poetic, it only proves that some prose writing samples are more beautiful than other prose writing samples.

This still does not change this fact: Verse is prose-plus-one.  Prose can be enchanting for various reasons; it can have a greater interest, for example, if it touches on topics interesting to us—but the topic is interesting, not the prose; the content of prose can have all sorts of effects on us—secondly, and more important, prose can certainly appeal for all sorts of sensual reasons, in terms of painting and rhythm and sentiment, and this is why we enjoy short stories and novels. But again, verse is all of this and more; verse is, by definition, prose-plus-one.

To repeat: Verse is more than prose. Prose is not more than verse.

What do we mean, exactly, by sentimental?  Isn’t there excellent verse which is not sentimental at all?  No, not really, if we simply define sentimental as the opposite of factual.

We might be confused here, because a fact can be sentimental; a simple object, for instance, from our past, which has associations for us alone—there it is, a souvenir, a fact which can move us to tears.

Just as verse is prose-and-more, the sentimental is fact-and-more.  Poetry adds sentiment to the fact.

Here are two examples of good poems, and because they are poems, they are sentimental; they are not sentimental because they are good, or good because they are sentimental.  The sentimental is a given for the poem. And because facts come first, and sentiment is added, poems use facts, even though poems are not factual.

Think of Byron’s famous lyric, “We Shall Go No More A Roving.”  The sentiment is right there in the title. “No more!” Something we did together which was pleasantly thrilling will never happen again.  

If this Byron lyric not sentimental, nothing is.   But we can state its theme in prose.  The sentimentality can be glimpsed in the prose, in the preface, in the idea.  The verse completes what the prose has started.

Facts, and this should not be surprising, do a lot of the work in sentimental poetry.  One of the things which makes Byron’s gushing lyric gloriously sentimental, for instance, is the fact that it is not just I who shall “go no more a roving,” but we shall “go no more a roving.” This is a fact, and the fact contributes to the sentimentality; or, it might be argued, the sentimentality contributes to the fact.

Carl Sandburg, born in 1878, got his first break in 1914 when his poems were accepted by Poetry, the little Modernist magazine from Chicago—where Sandburg was raised. Sandburg was initially famous for his “hog butcher for the world” poem about Chicago, but the Modernists (including the academically influential New Critics) withdrew their support as Sandburg gained real fame as a populist, sentimental poet. Sandburg even became a folk singer; his poem “Cool Tombs” was published in 1918, and you can hear Sandburg reading this masterpiece of sentimentality on YouTube—and you can hear Sandburg singing folk songs on YouTube, as well.  What is sentimental about a “cool tomb,” exactly?  Is it the sound-echo of “cool” and “tomb?” The sentimental in poetry proves the sentimental is not always a simple formula.

Shelley’s “Ozymandias” might be preferred by Moderns, because on the face of it, this poem doesn’t seem very sentimental at all.  Shelley’s poem is factual: a traveler sees a ruin. Shelley describes the facts as they are—here’s what the traveler sees.  But upon reflection, one recognizes how powerful the sentiment of the poem is—a great thing existed, and is now gone.  And yet, what is gone was evil, and the poem mocks its loss, and the final image of the poem is simply and factually, “the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

However, and we don’t need to push this point more than necessary, the whole power of Shelley’s poem is sentimental.  The fact of the statue, half-sunken in the sands of a desert, is just that—a fact.  Were it only this, the fact would not be a poem—all poems, to be poems, must be sentimental; the sentiment is added to the fact.

The poet makes us feel the sentimental significance of the fact; this is what all poems do.

And now to the Tournament…

Our readers will recognize quite a few of the older poems—and why not?  The greatly sentimental is greatly popular.

Most will recognize these poems right up through “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot.

The half-dozen poems composed more recently, in the fourth and final bracket, will not be as familiar, since sentimental examples of verse no longer get the attention they deserve; we bravely furnish them forth to stand with the great sentimental poems of old.

“Sentimental” by Albert Goldbarth is not actually sentimental; the poem is more of a commentary on sentimentality by a pedantic modern, in the middle of the modern, anti-sentimental era.

“A Dog’s Death” may be the most sentimental poem ever written, and it comes to us from a novelist; as respectable poets in the 20th century tended to avoid sentimentality.

The poems by Sushmita Gupta, Mary Angela Douglas, Stephen Cole, and Ben Mazer we have printed below.

The great poems familiar to most people are sentimental—at the dawn of the 20th century, sentimentality was unfortunately condemned.

Here are 64 gloriously sentimental poems.

Old Sentimental Poems—The Bible Bracket

1. Western Wind –Anonymous
2. The Lord Is My Shepherd –Old Testament
3. The Lie –Walter Raleigh
4. Since There’s No Help, Come Let Us Kiss and Part –Michael Drayton
5. The Passionate Shepherd to His Love –Christopher Marlowe
6. That Time Of Year Thou Mayst In My Behold –William Shakespeare
7. Full Fathom Five Thy Father Lies –William Shakespeare
8. Adieu, Farewell, Earth’s Bliss –Thomas Nashe
9. The Golden Vanity –Anonymous
10. Death, Be Not Proud –John Donne
11. Go and Catch A Falling Star –John Donne
12. Exequy on His Wife –Henry King
13. Love Bade Me Welcome –George Herbert
14. Ask Me No More Where Jove Bestows –Thomas Carew
15. Il Penseroso –John Milton
16. On His Blindness –John Milton

Newer Sentimental Poems—The Blake Bracket

1. Why So Pale and Wan Fond Lover? –John Suckling
2. To My Dear and Loving Husband –Anne Bradstreet
3. To Lucasta, Going to the Wars –Richard Lovelace
4. To His Coy Mistress –Andrew Marvel
5. Peace –Henry Vaughan
6. To the Memory of Mr. Oldham –John Dryden
7. Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard –Thomas Gray
8. The Sick Rose –William Blake
9. The Little Black Boy –William Blake
10. A Red, Red Rose –Robert Burns
11. The World Is Too Much With Us –William Wordsworth
12. I Wandered Lonely As  A Cloud –William Wordsworth
13. Kubla Khan –Samuel Coleridge
14. I Strove With None –Walter Savage Landor
15. A Visit From St. Nicholas –Clement Clarke Moore
16. When We Two Parted –George Byron

Still Newer Sentimental Poems—The Tennyson Bracket

1. England in 1819 –Percy Shelley
2. To ___ –Percy Shelley
3. Adonais–Percy Shelley
4. I Am –John Clare
5. Thanatopsis –William Cullen Bryant
6. To Autumn –John Keats
7. La Belle Dame sans Merci –John Keats
8. Ode to A Nightingale –John Keats
9. How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways –Elizabeth Barrett
10. Paul Revere’s Ride –Henry Longfellow
11. Annabel Lee –Edgar Poe
12. Break Break Break  –Alfred Tennyson
13. Mariana –Alfred Tennyson
14. The Charge of the Light Brigade –Alfred Tennyson
15. My Last Duchess  –Robert Browning
16. The Owl and the Pussy Cat –Edward Lear

Even Newer Sentimental Poems—The Sushmita Bracket

1. O Captain My Captain –Walt Whitman
2. Because I Could Not Stop For Death  –Emily Dickinson
3. The Garden Of Proserpine –Charles Swinburne
4. The Man He Killed –Thomas Hardy
5. When I Was One and Twenty  –A.E. Housman
6. Cynara –Ernest Dowson
7. Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock  –T.S. Eliot
8. Not Waving But Drowning  –Stevie Smith
9. Nights Without Sleep –Sara Teasdale
10. What Lips My Lips Have Kissed –Edna Millay
11. Sentimental –Albert Goldbarth
12. Dog’s Death –John Updike
13. Utterly In Love –Sushmita Gupta
14. I Wrote On A Page Of Light –Mary Angela Douglas
15. Waiting –Stephen Cole
16. Number 5 (December Poems) –Ben Mazer

Utterly in Love –Sushmita Gupta

Of all the remarkable,
Things and feelings,
In my life,
You are one.
And I guard you,
And your identity,
In the deepest,
Quietest corner,
Of my heart,
With a passion,
That some show,
For religion,
And if not religion,
Then they show it,
For revolution.
But me,
I am a mere mortal.
I only know,
To love you,
And love you secretly.
Secretly,
I melt in a pool,
By your thoughts.
Secretly,
I wish,
That you would,
Mould the molten me,
And give me,
A shape,
A form,
And eyes,
That twinkle,
Like far away stars.
And me,
With twinkling eyes,
And fragrant body,
From loving you,
Shall love you,
Even more.

I Wrote On A Page Of Light –Mary Angela Douglas

I wrote on a page of light;
it vanished.
then there was night.

then there was night and
I heard the lullabies
and then there were dreams.

and when you woke
there were roses, lilies
things so rare a someone so silvery spoke,

or was spoken into the silvery air that

you couldn’t learn words for them
fast enough.
and then,

you wrote on a page of light.

Waiting –Stephen Cole

I believe if She were here
She would tell me
The cold winds are departing.

The message delivered
Thoughtfully,
If only I was listening.

Comfort to the discomfort
With her warming words.
The void filled,
Recognized,
For what it lost,
Otherwise,
It could not be filled.

For Her,
The rules are absent by rules.
She always knows what to say
As only for the proper need,
She construes,
According to sidereal secrets
Of the long, long day.

Number 5 (December Poems) –Ben Mazer

I was at the Nuremberg Rallies pleading with my wife,
I love you, I love you, more than anything in the world!
As she looked off to see the dramatic spectators,
she turned to me and said, you hate my guts.
I wept, I pleaded, no, it wasn’t true!
I only married you because I love you!
There is no force to plead with that can change her course,
now everything is quite its opposite,
and yet she said, “I wish that it were true,”
and would not answer “Do you love me?”
or contest “You do! You love me!”
What are we then? Man and wife
hopelessly lost and separated in strife
and worser grief than was known to despair
at using words like markers, no means yes,
when Jesus Mary Magdalene won’t you bless
the two true lovers, their heads to your thighs,
and let this nonsense out in bursts of tears and sighs.

LOVE IS AN ACT: IN PRAISE OF ROMANTICISM

Related image

It is time to be honest about love.

We are going to argue that love—truly romantic love—rejected as cheap and backwards these days, will save the world.

First, we admit that love is rare, and it dies rather quickly. Everyone experiences this. We like something if it benefits us, and all sorts of human relationships are based on practical arrangements. Love, and here we will skip a definition, since it refers to what most of us have experienced at some point: it is mad, complete, mystical, and full of desire. It is not friendship. It can strike us before puberty, but after puberty, the charisma involved largely partakes of sexuality.

It is a truism to say love requires focus. Love must be intense, have intensity—if it is what we know as love, it must be intense—and this brings us to love’s desire for beauty. It wouldn’t make sense for love to involve many things, for this would be to dilute and diminish by spreading too thin, all that love is, and we agree love must have intensity.

Love must have a physical dimension, and to have the force and importance love requires, love should be rare, but not so rare as to be beyond human possibility, and a certain social comprehension. Individual human beauty fits this criterion—human beauty is rare, invokes intensity and focus, and though rare, is accessible.

In the same manner that durable, attractive, and rare metals such as silver and gold will always signify value in terms of wealth in society, human beauty, whether we like it or not, is the coin of love.

We begin with individual human beauty.

But now we have two more elements.

These elements are based on the idea that love is an act.

Do we mean in the sense that “acting” is fake? “To be able to act” is simply what a successful person is able to do. One can say that beauty is “fake,” in the context of love; but this is to assume that the attractive, which is desired, is insincere, but how so? Acting, like beauty, might be construed as fake in “matters of the heart,” but this view, in the name of a fake “depth,” is the superficial one. If something is truly desired, and if any action, including “acting,” belongs to the category of achieving what is desired, how can it then be deemed superficial? We are forced to use acting, action, and act, and all these three words imply—since we are not talking of friendship or the spiritual, but the concentrated madness of love.

When we say “acting,” we do not include lying, or being dishonest in any way which hurts the beloved. We mean “acting” with the goal of loving one person. The “act” is for love, not for “playing around.”

After beauty, there are two layers of “acting” involved:

One: micro-acting, which refers to the natural charm of the person, an unconscious extension of physical attractiveness, and

Two: macro-acting, which involves the actual “behavior of love;” making vows and uttering words of promise, committment, passion, excitement, praise and, naturally, love.

Micro-acting is crucial. One can be physically attractive, but have very little actual charm. Physical beauty is necessary, but even necessary is micro-acting, the way a person smiles, their personality, how they “act.” We have all seen the attractive face which loses all its beauty the moment we experience that dull something in the person behind it. Beauty exists cleverly and minutely.

Macro-acting takes work.

Micro-acting is just the way the person is.

All three, personal beauty, micro-acting, and macro-acting, mutually enhance each other, and all three are present in love.

Acting, even as we are describing it here, in a heightened, non-pejorative way, is typically seen as wretched, superficial, dishonest, and unseemly.

But what we are saying here is that acting is at the heart of romantic love, and romantic love could not exist without it.

Romantic love is not necessary to marriage and children; there are many societies where marriage is arranged, or where women are second class citizens, or worse, and therefore breeding does not require love at all.

Here we notice two things. Romantic love, which may lead to marriage and children, is not necessary to these two things.

But when it is, it requires women to be free and equal to men.

If this is true, is the western tradition of romantic love directly involved in equality for women?

And if romantic love does require “acting,” is this why romantic love is easy for other societies to disparage, and why romantic love is increasingly viewed as insincere, useless, and crazy—especially with increasing contact between the west—and societies (Islam, for instance) which put more of a premium on breeding, and submissive women, than romantic love?

Recall that the major trope of romantic love as “madness” comes from Plato, who opined human breeding farms as a national ideal. (Plato redeems himself in other places, defending love, and the equality of women, but his pragmatic side had moments in his famous society blueprint, “The Republic.”)

What if romantic love is the true path to free and equal women, to a free and equal society, and love itself?

What if romantic love faces grave danger before the more practical forces of not only societies which enslave women, but groups who view romantic love as a backwards and superficial act?

Much has been made recently of the unlikely alliance between feminists and Muslims—how could these two groups possibly be allied?

Both oppose romantic love.

Islam prioritizes modesty—marriage in which the woman is subordinate.

Romantic love does not fit into this scheme.

Feminists (and many sexual progressives) dislike romantic love—since it prioritizes attractive and flirtatious females. Indicted here is the great western tradition of dead white male literature of the roaming, independent, pining male poets, and their beautiful female muses.

But the great tradition of romantic love does not feature enslaved, uneducated, subordinate women. Nor does it feature empty-headed, sexual bimbos, either.  And women can be beautiful in millions of different ways.

The Romantic poets, Keats and Shelley, loved educated women.

Equals. Women who could appreciate their poetry. Women (think of Mary Shelley) who were writers, as well.

Poe’s “Ligeia” is an entrancing, mentally and spiritually powerful, woman. Poe rejected as a literary ideal the merely sexual or physically attractive female. Flirtatious women meant nothing to Poe. But the woman poet was a source of great admiration for the American.

The great tradition of Romantic love features strong women. Otherwise it is perverted Romanticism.

Two wars. One should never fight two wars.

Women do not put on uniforms and go to war against other women. Men do that.

In nations where men fight other men and keep their women veiled and subordinate, men fight two wars, one against men, and another against their women.

These societies which fight two wars tend to lose out to the countries in the west—whose women are free and educated—the result of the western romantic literary tradition.

Here’s to Romanticism—often portrayed as reactionary, but it is quite the opposite.

Our readers have noticed we have championed the poet, Ben Mazer, who is just now bringing out his Selected Poems to a great deal of acclaim.

Ben Mazer and Scarriet are leading the revival of Romantic poetry.

We must admit that romance is an act—in the superficial meaning of that word.

We must admit to love’s superficiality.

Even as we defend it.

It is through poetry that micro-acting and macro-acting become one; and the poet achieves the charm of the lover—which all desire to possess.

Romantic love may just be the answer to world peace.

If the world heeds this essay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

T.S ELIOT AND ELIZABETH BARRETT—POETRY ROUND ONE IN THE MADNESS

Image result for ts eliot

We know there’s something magical about Scarriet March Madness tournaments—the pairings so often feature uncanny resemblances without any conscious intent by those putting together the brackets.

Look at this one:

Two of the most famous lines in poetry.

Elizabeth Barrett’s “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

T.S. Eliot’s “I measure out my life with coffee spoons.”

There’s counting, or measurement, in each offering.

Poetry, of course, the poetry people love (we don’t know about that formless modern stuff) involves counting—the measurement of beats—what the professors call meter.

We might note here that Plato said “art” and “measurement” were exactly the same thing.  And even here in 2017, we kind of see what he means.

Anyway, is it any accident, then, that two of the most famous lines in poetry, one from 19th century England, and the other from 20th century America, involve counting?

T.S. Eliot’s family traces back to Massachusetts and a Unitarian grandfather who knew Emerson—Emerson and Poe were enemies, and Eliot excoriated Poe in “From Poe to Valery.”

Poe and Barrett were correspondents before Browning famously entered Barrett’s life, and Poe dedicated his Poems, 1845 to Barrett.

Do these facts “count,” when we study the poetry?

Barrett’s sentiment is an expansion of a singular love: how do I love thee? Let me count the ways is a glorious movement outward from the one.

True love is geometry.

Eliot’s moves in the opposite manner—Life (his life) is chopped up, subtracted, despairingly made smaller, even as there is an adding, a counting of the ways: coffee spoonful after coffee spoonful.

Fascinating, really, how two similar tropes work in completely opposite directions: the optimistic 19th century, the pessimistic 20th century.

We may as well throw in this quote from Eliot right here:

The essential advantage for a poet is not to have a beautiful world with which to deal; it is to be able to see beneath both beauty and ugliness; to see the boredom, and the horror, and the glory.

 We should allow Barrett to have her turn, too. She wrote the following:

If you desire faith, then you have faith enough.

Elizabeth Barrett is like a large, comfortable Victorian pillow.

T.S. Eliot is like a black-and-white horror film.

Eliot wins—only because the zeitgeist forces us to choose him.

POETRY AND FEMALE BEAUTY

image

To some, probably to many, if not all, this topic of “poetry and female beauty” might seem just a silly exercise, a vain excuse to draw nonsensical and vain conclusions of the most deluded and pitiful kind.

Can anyone seriously believe that “poetry” and “female beauty” have anything to do with each other?

Haven’t we long advanced past such antiquated notions?

Well, yes.  If by “advanced,” we mean too sophisticated to be interesting to anyone.

This is why poetry is dead.  Not dead to you and me, of course.  But dead to them. The public.

But who can blame them?  They have no idea what poetry is.

And yet, let us not be disheartened.  Follow my reasoning.

There are two ways to look at poetry, and today we champion one, and discard the other.

The one we champion is: poetry is either a certain, linguistic-mathematical, thing-in-itself (a sonnet has 14 lines, etc) or it is a special way of expressing whatever the poet wants to express—some kind of meaning (or non-meaning) in some kind of emotional (or non-emotional) manner.

Lyric or avant-garde, this is the view the vast majority of serious poets and critics champion: a poem has both a “form” on one hand, and a “say whatever you want” content on the other.

The one we discard is this: Life is what creates the poem; the poem itself determines neither its form nor its content—life, as everyone knows it and lives it, does.

In as much as “female beauty” is important to life, “poetry and female beauty” is a more vivid, and more valid, description of what poetry is, or might be, than the term, “poetry.”

One can speak volumes, of course, volumes and volumes, should one choose to describe “poetry.”  And one will have the advantage of describing “poetry” with numerous examples.

This “advantage,” however, has one problem: there will be so many examples, and poetry will be defined in so many ways, that “what a poem actually is” will disappear. On account of it being everything. 

And think about it.  Isn’t this how poetry ends up being described these days?  It can jingle and rhyme. It can be prose. It can be brief. It can be long.  It can be anything.

And what does all this finally mean for “poetry?”

It has no definition. It doesn’t exist.

But once we attach “female beauty” to “poetry,” as completely foolish as this might seem, we are actually bringing poetry back to itself, restoring its definition, placing it back in reality, so that they (the public) have a chance of appreciating it and enjoying it, again.

The idea of “female beauty” is a fertile one.  It is an endlessly interesting topic and generates far more excitement than, well…. “poetry.”

Poetry has always done best for itself when it plays a minor, supporting role, when it surrenders its proud title and makes itself small.  Famous poems and poets become famous not because of the poetry—but always from something else.

Shakespeare: A great poet, maybe the greatest, but not best known for poetry.  One can go right down the line and see what we mean, whether it is Charles Bukowski (bar life) or Homer (war, adventure) or Dante (Hell, Beatrice).  Does anyone describe Bukowski by citing how he used iambic pentameter? Or how Bukowksi wrote about everything under the sun?  No.  Bukowski is completely defined in the public’s mind by the narrow content of his work.  Would anyone care about Dante if all we knew about him were his verse forms?

This, one might object, is only how the crowds see these poets.  Well, yes.  But we can’t forget that.

Secondly, Plato looked at poetry from the standpoint of his ideal Republic, from the standpoint of society: poetry is not some separately defined thing; it is an extension of what humans do, and that includes lying, propaganda, frightening people, and unnecessarily exciting people—stirring up emotions in ways they shouldn’t be stirred up. And this whole approach—which looks upon poetry warily as an aspect of life—belongs to this view that is now discarded.  Why is it discarded?  Because we think Plato was unkind to poetry, so we have discarded Plato—and his whole way of thinking about poetry.  But what have we done, in discarding how Plato felt about poetry? Plato idolized and feared poetry—he was in awe of it; it isn’t just that he didn’t trust it; he was mesmerized by it, the way some of us are mesmerized by female beauty.  By discarding Plato’s view, we are not really in favor of poetry; we are actually rejecting all that makes poetry dangerous, untrustworthy—and fascinating.

The poetry that we mistakenly put in our Republic today is defined so vaguely that it has no teeth, no interest, at all!

For here’s the thing: it isn’t that poetry should be good or bad; it is that there should be passionate feelings on whether it is good or bad.

What are the poet’s prospects today?

To teach poetry in school, which is to politely ill-define it into non-existence.

So the poets themselves are destroying poetry—while an increasingly bored public walks away.

The problem that poetry faces as a popular art form these days is that it is not bad enough to be banned by society, nor good enough to be embraced by society—and for the simple, obvious reason that no one knows what it is.

Now it is true, that we do, of course, hear of poets imprisoned, or even killed, in totalitarian regimes, but in every case we know that it was because of something that was said in the poetry, not because of the poetry.

Poets may take heart in hearing of poets banned and murdered: see! I am important! I am dangerous!

But the truth is, politics gets people killed; politics, not poetry, is always the reason; otherwise, poetry would sell, and attract large audiences and be a volatile, ecstatic essence—but it is not.

Certain kinds of politics and music are traditionally Dionysian, and often banned by society. Poetry may be cool, but, unfortunately, it is not hot.

Poets who practice poetry outside academia strive to make it “cool.” But the poetry of cool tends to finally be like the poetry of school—it is that poetry which aspires to “everything,” and which dilutes audience expectation, so that in the end, it is nothing.

People go to a comedy club to laugh. People watch the news to be informed. People go to a music club to dance.

People go to a poetry reading to…

And in that pause, in that ‘what do they go to a poetry reading for?’ is the entire problem.

And even within that fatal uncertainty of expectation, if people do have a real sense that in poetry there is, or might be, a superior entertainment, they will only be turned off all the more, since nothing makes people more uncomfortable than to be forced to experience what is vaguely superior. It is just as off-putting as a vague feeling of inferiority.

The operating word here is “vague.”

A narrow, defined, superiority is one thing, but a vague, all-inclusive superiority makes one think of a priest and solemn music and the occasional chuckle—perhaps the kind and wise priest has a sense of humor—and now, even here, religion has its attractions of a definite sort, and the key word is priest, who interprets God, and okay, we get it, we know exactly what that is. Religion is what one takes the family to, it is concerned with a philosophy of life: anyone, without feeling strange or self-conscious, can be certain in their mind what a religious ceremony is.

Thus, its popularity.

But if people are truly indifferent to anything, whether it is music or religion or poetry, it is because they are not sure what it is. If they do like a religious ceremony, they like it for a very specific reason: the music, the food, the dressing up, the solemn atmosphere, the chance for family gossip: something very specific and known.

But poetry, because it is so widely and vaguely defined, is, to both commoner and sophisticate alike, absolutely unknown. That is the whole problem.

As we have demonstrated, the poets are responsible for killing poetry, and they are doing so every single day, both inside and outside academia, with every book they publish, with every poem they write, and with every poetry reading they give, because of the scattered and ill-defined nature of poetry’s existence, dilute and invisible and depressing, and, increasingly so. This must stop.

And why are there so many bad poets? And people say they like them out of politeness! The ultimate art form of truth has been shackled to empty politeness!

The micro-issue of so many bad poets is directly related to the macro-issue of the ill-defined and utterly unknown nature of poetry. The writers of poetry are hesitant—of course!—they literally don’t know what they are writing.

But the poets should know what they are writing–in terms of pleasing a public, and a critic.

Poets are un-writing poetry, and poets are further destroying poetry because they fear the Critic, which brings us back to Plato, the greatest Critic, who the poets have fearfully tossed out, and banned. Ban criticism, however, and you ban poetry.

The Critic knows how to humble poetry, and this is crucial; for remember how we said that poetry always succeeds in actual practice when it plays a supporting role?

The solution to poetry’s vagueness is not to fanatically hyper-define a poem as a thing in-itself. We need to deftly add something to poetry, which will give it a new and grounded definition.

So poetry needs to become part of life. It needs ceremony and definition. It needs the equivalent of a flute girl, who is always, reliably there. And if the flute garners more attention than Plato, or the poet, too bad. The poet or the philosopher is simply out of luck.

The audience must absolutely know what to expect, every time. Is this possible?

And now lastly, and thirdly, we come to the whole objection many have for mentioning “female beauty” at all—but this is part of its whole interest.  One could easily object: aren’t men complete idiots in the way they swoon over superficial looks?  This causes a great deal of unhappiness. Why do you want to encourage this?

It is not that we want to encourage this shallow, but prevalent, excitement and interest in female beauty. We want to use it, and refine it in the process. For shouldn’t poetry be able to refine what is crude in life by sweetly and gently embracing it?

Religion must be moral and music must be sensual, and isn’t poetry that which occupies the perfect middle ground between the two? Pardon us if we seem too much like a Critic here, but is this not true?

And again, if the solution of “female beauty” seems silly, it is only because poetry as it is practiced today, both in and outside school, in all its solemn, many-headed seriousness, has become an empty bore to poetry’s potential public.

So in place of all this vagueness, why shouldn’t we introduce “female beauty” to “poetry,” if it will help make poetry popular, and rekindle the opportunity of sweet fame?

Why shouldn’t we introduce this principle:

Every true poet is a muse.

Why should poets remain oppressed and crushed by all that is vague? Better to be defined by what we are, and who we are, truthfully. Poetry needs to escape its abstract blackboard.

Why shouldn’t poetry be this:

Her.

Sad eyes, a humble spirit, devoted to family and friends, a brilliantly inventive but unschooled poet, writing poetry from childhood, not knowing why, with a model’s looks which could equal international renown, but looks greater than a model’s because informed by something sweeter and greater, captured and bound in a rapturous sense of poetry: an unconscious muse, a deeply conscious poet?

Poetry would be better for this.  For what is “poetry?”—word of no meaning!

Let poetry, instead, be the poetry she inspires.

And then we will know what poetry is.

 

 

 

THE END OF FORMALISM

“I would counsel Lysias not to delay, but to write another discourse, which shall prove the lover rather than the non-lover ought to be accepted.” –Socrates (The Phaedrus)

Wouldn’t you say, a thing can only be so strong when it is based on weakness?

For instance, intoxication can make us brave, but it does so because we are not brave, and so intoxication’s “bravery” exists because of weakness and so intoxication as a “good” will always be seen as a weakness and be understood as such.

Likewise, verse (poetry) adds to language a music above and beyond language’s meaning.  Since all would agree that conveying meaning is the highest purpose of language, and poetry is a good in that it makes it more entertaining to get meaning from language—the weakness announces itself to everyone: poetry feeds meaning the way intoxication feeds bravery.

The brave don’t need intoxication.

Good readers don’t need poetry—to entertain them and keep them focused in order to get meaning from a text.

We may or may not want to leave aside Socrates’ argument in the Phaedrus that the lover (mad) is a better life-partner than the friend (practical, sane). As Socrates points out, everyone (lover and non-lover) wants beauty and the lover/poet is finally better able to provide this than the practical type.

But just as Psychology has largely left behind Freud and Jung and literary invention that gave birth to Psychology itself—for psychotropic drugs and their practical effects, Plato is hardly studied any longer in school, and therefore it is safe to say that intoxication and verse are no longer seen as strengths at all.

Madness is the way we denigrate a thing, especially in our race to absolute reason in the realm of the humanities: women and earth have been dominated too long by “crazy” white males. So this is why verse has been abandoned. Its “intoxicated” aid to reading is rejected as unnecessary and insane: a weakness, a wrong, to be dispensed with.

For, yes, we should admit it—verse is a silly, entertaining thing that makes reading a greater amusement for a kind of mind easily bored by reading for meaning.

Verse exists because of a reading weakness—just as intoxication is sometimes necessary for bravery.

We dare not suggest here—but because we are crazy, we will—that bravery is nothing more than intoxication itself, or that verse enhances and elevates meaning and is closer to meaning than naked meaning itself is, at least in some select and really important instances.  But we’ll throw it out there nonetheless.

Verse is, obviously, formalism.

Today there are three ways critics and poets attempt to downgrade verse (formalism.)

One: They make sure we know that Socrates wore a toga. They make the whole question of formalism historical: form exists in forms and these forms: sonnets, heroic couplets, etc belong to certain historical periods with specific historical conditions.

And therefore we either cannot use these forms today or we must self-consciously subvert them.

An ABAB rhyme scheme is the equivalent of using “thou” and “thee.”

The stream of history in which all forms must exist carries them away.

So forms—all forms—formalism itself, in one simple (historical) step, is swept away.

Of course, despite the scholars’ opinion re: forms and history, we find formalism persists.

But where it does persist, the scholars simply point out that its persistence is not scholarly:

Rhyme belongs to hip-hop and other kinds of pop music. It doesn’t “feel right” in poems today that wish to be taken seriously, as scholarly works.

According to this anti-formalist approach, a poem cannot “work on its own terms;” it is always felt and understood in terms of historical conditions.

The “rules” for writing a sonnet are certainly legitimate, and verse does have a valid existence, but, according to the historical anti-formalist reading, only in a museum sort of way.

The “historical” downgrading of formalism is a very powerful way to downgrade formalism because it is both conservative and radical, since it simultaneously plays the “respect for history” card and the “now” card. Form is respected, but forms are obsolete, says the historical scholar.

The conservative New Critic John Crowe Ransom told his 1930s readers that writing like Byron was no longer possible. The “historical” view justifies every kind of experimentalism—even as it trumpets its tweedy respect for history.

Two: The scholars make form—not forms—the only thing that matters.  A highly abstract macro (form) kills the micro (forms).

This, too, is a very effective way to downgrade formalism:

This whole anti-formalism method can be summed up with T.S. Eliot, who wrote that even prose scans.

Even the loosest free verse has “form;” white space on the page has “form.”

This argument is far more insidious than number one above; so much so, that it resembles a CIA brainwashing tactic, and is probably the top reason for poets giving up on verse altogether—in a turn-about that courts insanity; destroying formalism in this manner argues that because white exists, snow cannot exist.

Form is what matters.  And form is such a naturally large category that the formless resides there. Formalism (the quality dismissed) merely concerns itself with various antiquated forms.

And here one notices how much this resembles the historical argument: The poet is expected to explore form itself as it applies to the present. Sonnets and Elizabethan England both belong to a formalism of the past.

So here’s a second reason not to write a sonnet.  First, the sonnet is relegated to the past. Second, form should be the focus; sonnets are merely forms.

And if that were not enough, there’s a third way.

Three: Avoid the subject altogether and make poetry all about content: form is expressed by what we say.

Just as the second reason strongly resembles the first reason—both emphasize form over forms—the third way that downgrades formalism resembles the second reason, for saying “form is nothing” is logically the same thing as saying “form is everything.”

Helen Vendler, obsessed with the “heterogeneity” and “stylistic originality” of poets like  Graham and Ashbery, is, in her essentially New Critical style, a mixture of Two and Three. She has written:  “Poetry not intelligible with respect to contemporary values of society could not be read.”

Surely, however, all critics like Vendler understand that a pure prose content purely isolated from all musical considerations cannot possibly denote anything poetical.

The poetical is prose meaning dipped in the coloring of musicality and moods. Content is always the ground from which we start, but it is not the poem itself.

Bravery (truth) is not intoxication (poetry).

To asset that ‘form is content and content is form’ is to lose both—is really to assert nothing.

Formalism is downgraded in three distinct ways, but it’s all the same pedantic strategy, a convincing but hollow set of deconstructions.

Listen in on any discussion of formalism and you get one or some combination of these three anti-formalist positions we have just presented: there is little else, except perhaps a kind of vague, well-meaning gesture towards “poems that work” in whatever manner happens to suit the historically grounded and socially acute poet. Virtues are slyly assumed to exist outside of formal properties, with the added assumption that “stylistic originality” and forms cannot co-exist.

But the truth is, there can be more “originality” in a sonnet than in all the works of Ashbery.

This is a truth which overturns all the abstract claims of heterogeneity in terms of form versus forms.

For we are always assuming that heterogeneity is going to be more original, but there is no basis for this belief at all.

New York City is a large complex place, but so long as we point to New York City in our minds as “heterogeneity,” able to stand as the ideal which transcends the petty, self-important enclosures of mere formalism, we miss the much larger point that New York City really consists of tiny neighborhoods, and all poetry, if not all reality, exists, and is accessible and knowable, in the city block, or the building, or the room: the reality is not a scholar pointing to abstract “form;” the reality is understood in what hides in a building in New York City—a sonnet, perhaps.

Yes, it actually makes more sense to look at all literature as a great string of sonnets than to wallow in pretentious abstractions (and billions of details merely elucidated for their own sake—or to fit into heterogeneity theories.)

Sonnet by sonnet is not the way to read, obviously, but the point is that this makes more sense than any of the methods advertised by the anti-formalist school.

Think of a literacy of the sonnet, rather than of the line, or the sentence, or the word, or the phrase.  What a literacy that would be!

Couldn’t the sonnet be the building block?  And wouldn’t it be a healthy mind who thinks in those terms?

Shelley’s great Ode (West Wind) is a short series of sonnets.

And one can read the Gettysburg Address—as four sonnets.

 

….

Now let us ask, after exposing the ravings of the anti-formalists, this more pertinent question: what is poetry’s purpose?

Flowers are not condemned to exist under glass, as the sonnet is—and why not?

The answer is obvious: because flowers serve a purpose.

Flowers attract bees—this attractive quality helps define for us what a flower is, and, although we are not bees, so powerful and overflowing is the flowers’ attractiveness, that we, bee-like, admire the flower for its flower-like qualities.

What if poetry is a language of dissemination which, like the flower, is attractive in order to disseminate?

And what if this attractive quality is timeless and demands cultivation and protection?

The gardener is not asked to admire the flower but protect, grow, and breed the flower, for all eternity.

If the gardener merely admired the flower and did not protect, grow, and breed the flower, in terms of what we understand a flower to be, we would call her a very poor gardener.

Further, if the gardener greatly admired flowers, but assured us that flowers had long since served their purpose as flowers, and now should exist in museums only, we should not only find this great admirer of flowers a poor gardener, but, despite their learned admiration, an enemy of flowers.

Those who downgrade formalism in the three ways outlined above—condemning traditional forms of poetry to sterility and “learned” curatorial irrelevance—are like the gardener who may admire flowers, but is their enemy and destroyer.

Poetry today is being destroyed, especially by those who currently study and practice it. A museum-admiration of poetry is an evil and insidious thing.

To seek for the elusive rationale or reason or purpose or use, of poetry can be compared to the search for a loved one in a crowd.

The similarities defeat us, not the differences.

“Is this the one you seek?” ask the ignorant but well-meaning searchers, and they bring us person after person, with face and arms and legs and every particular human quality—but no, this is not our beloved!

We are not looking for a type—we are searching for a unique quality.

Just as we look for a championship baseball team, celebrated through the ages, and are deterred most in our search, not because it hides beside an object like a fire engine, but rather next to a losing team—which also has pitchers who throw at 90 mph and hitters who can hit a ball 500 feet.

The poem’s reason that we seek, to the ordinary eye, looks very similar, in the great scheme of things, to a great deal of other writing.

Poetry’s purpose, ignored by theoretical moderns—blends in.  And—because we are blind to it, it can eventually kill us.

We scan the crowd for the one we love and die if we do not find her.

We search for: not forms, not form, not content, but attractiveness.

The pedants ignore the raison ultima because they fear it will be “a type,” thinking “type” itself is defined by form, but never content. But here they wildly err.

To specify poetry with formalism alone is to take poetry over to mathematics and music—and this is not 1) a general thing nor is it 2) anything to do with content—precisely because content is never specified (the purpose of poetry is never mentioned)—since we assume whatever is said can and will be said, heightened by the formal qualities, of course, but not determined by them. Yet how can the content of speech not be determined by its formal qualities in a systematic manner? Music does determine how speech speaks and once this is conceded, the poetry’s ultimate rationale must at last be acknowledged, for how speech speaks cannot but determine what speech speaks.

Yet we never hear in discussions of formalism what poetry must say.

We can discuss stocks and bonds in verse and never mention poetry’s purpose. We can allude to Eliot’s objective correlative and never mention poetry’s hidden purpose, since Eliot’s astute formula never escaped the blackboard to actually walk about. Eliot was using this formula to attack whole historic periods of poetry when, he felt, content and form were estranged; the tweedy Modernist condemned the Romantic poets this way—Eliot was finally downgrading formalism historically, not philosophically—and so an opportunity was missed: Eliot was essentially saying what the conservative Ransom was saying when Ransom said we can’t write like Byron anymore: Modernism ignoring poetry’s true purpose by saying “form, not forms.”

We are free to say anything in poetry now, said the 20th century Anglo-American Modernists, making the reason disappear in a general loosening of form to fit more and more varieties of content. But why the Modernists hated Byron, was that Byron said more interesting things while rhyming than the Modernists did in free verse.  This is why the chief Modernists like Eliot and Ransom tried to bury Byron (and Romantics generally).  Byron didn’t fit the Modernist formula.

Sure, many ruefully viewed the Modernist agenda as a simple mistake: poetry-turning-into-prose; well, everybody did, but no one had the pedagogical reasoning to stop it. Verse was the “metronome” and poetry-as-prose, the “musical phrase” was how crazy Pound cleverly put it. (“Prose scans,” in other words.)

No one stopped to think that a metronome was a perfectly useful tool for Beethoven, as he created profound “musical phrases.” Beethoven was hidden, like poetry’s reason, in the “room” of Modernist “verse.”

Robert Penn Warren, the New Critic co-author of the influential, mid-20th century Understanding Poetry textbook, wrote an essay defending “impure poetry” against “pure poetry,” another Modernist act in the drama of hiding poetry’s purpose. Poetic content was now, according to Warren: “all and any content not determined in the least by form.” The purpose of poetry was gone. Modernism had blithely killed it.

It wasn’t that form gradually loosened due to formal considerations; form wasn’t freeing up form—content was, in the sense of ‘anything goes,’ anything can now be said: the lyrics were eliminating the music, so to speak; this, and only this, is what was meant by “impure poetry” and its triumph. (Understanding Poetry included a savage attack on the attractively musical verses of Poe, even as it championed Pound and Williams; Warren’s essay savaged Shelley; Eliot impolitely attacked Shelley, as well: Poe and Shelley were wretched examples for Modernist delectation of scorned, “narrow purity.” Remember, the New Critics were considered “conservative” in their views. But chucking formalism was universally done in the Modernist era.  This is what the Pound clique did: they also attacked Edna St. Vincent Millay. (See Hugh Kenner’s nasty remarks on her).

But if formalism, as all must concede, has what must be described as legitimate formal qualities (to define it as formalism as such) what does it mean to say, as the anti-formalists said, that content can be whatever it wants in an “impure” triumph? Here is a “room” which has certain formal qualities, identifying itself as a “room” of poetry (as opposed, to say, a dinner menu) and yet, when content enters this room, the room itself only exists to leave the content untouched and free to express itself however it chooses, and any restriction upon the content is condemned as a backwards step towards an unwanted, old, and “pure” poetic practice.

Of course defenders of the “impure” never admit the absolute disconnection of form and content outright— in each specific poem, they say, form and content do their dance: both form and content are equally valuable; the “impurity” we defend is only to say (they point out) that formalism is no longer a straitjacket; formalism no longer is severe in its restrictions, no longer blindly formal in its dictates.

Poetry’s purpose remains hidden, however. What is said in the poem is said, and afterwards, the “everything is form” explanation is bent to the content’s will—this is the anti-formalist ‘explanation number two:’ making formalism a blindly obedient (and essentially nonexistent) shadow of content. Whatever facilitates the saying (or meaning) that is not the saying (or meaning) has an existence, in the same way that “prose scans;” but nothing that can be called art need exist at all—the poem speaks; the content speaks and asserts itself, and simply by way of formalistic properties manifesting themselves in a perfectly ordinary “grammatical or anti-grammatical” manner, this then becomes the “formal triumph” which mirrors the “ordinary” content speaking in its artless cunning, free of all artificiality, fulfilling the prophecy of Modernism’s expansive and articulate poetic quest.

There is no need to make any decisions about content; all that needs to be proclaimed, proclaim the anti-formalists, is that historically we are expanding our ability to provide content as formalism drops away: jettisoning all formalistic strategy, as content becomes all (and thus, nothing!) This is what Eliot meant by formalism hiding behind the drapery of loose poetry: historical poetry’s actual existence as such, is old Polonius—and the prying pedant is soon to be stabbed and killed in T.S. Eliot’s Critical Modernism’s play.

But how can the form of poetry—if it is really form-–not predetermine content? It must. Otherwise it is not really what we mean when we speak of poetic form. How can poetry as a formal practice not have a real existence as an actual piece of form and as an actual piece of content?

If we are true poets, we do not wish to blindly kill the beloved (poetry’s reason); we wish to find them in the crowd.

How will I my true love know from another one? —Ophelia, Hamlet

We listen to Beethoven and hear an actual musical content; the music inspires specific feelings—based on its formal qualities. To say that poetry does not do the same thing is to deny poetry’s existence altogether. Which is what we said earlier is happening in fact: poetry, in academia—where it now mostly resides—has become a museum exhibit in its formalism, an inconsequential exercise in its contemporary use. It does not matter that superior poetry is being written today in obscure quarters—the public simply does not exist for it, and so it does not exist.

We said that in recent history, formalist considerations never usher in the least interest in specific categories of content, with Eliot’s objective correlative formula the one major (ineffective) exception. But before Modernism, poetry’s purpose is acknowledged; poetry is given an identity based on what it does—and what it expresses in terms of content.  The greatest example in literature, perhaps, can be found in the dramatic dialogue between Socrates and Phaedrus.

The modern lyric was called a “love letter” by Dante. Shakespeare made the sonnet a courting device for love and breeding—and thus was not far off from the “love letter” idea; the two greatest poets of all time (Eliot himself was explicit: “Dante and Shakespeare; there is no third”) have no trouble acknowledging the purpose of poetry which is now hidden: poetry, as much as it does exist formally, does yet have a use within, and obedient to, its purely formal existence.

The novel can be said to have originated as a series of letters (sonnets?) and the greatest fiction can be defined as an unfolding of love (or its opposite, hate: see the war-like Homer).

The sonnet—formalism—shall return.

Poetry, grown by philosophy and love, will be a living flower, once again.

 

WHAT IS POETRY? LISTEN TO ALEXANDER POPE

Pope: No awards or degrees. Self-taught. Banned from higher education in his native England for being a Catholic. World famous.

Alexander Pope was 20 when he wrote his rhymed “An Essay on Criticism.” This single essay contains more memorable poetry quotations than the entire 20th century produced.

We want to focus on one from that essay, which might save poetry from the wretched state it is currently in:

“What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.”

In their mania for “the new,” the modern poets (who have no public) constantly strive for what has never been thought before—and no wonder the results are sometimes pleasantly odd (at best) but mostly baffling, obscure, and unreadable.

Since thought and language are profoundly linked, any random combination of words, sentences or phrases will, in theory, produce “new thought.” If only this were true! We would all be poets, and all poetry magnet kits, Shakespeare.

It is easy to illustrate, with the help of Pope’s quote, this “new thought” folly, but this does not mean this folly has not been highly seductive.

Unfortunately, bad things seduce.

The Moderns, if anyone has any doubt, are to blame. We mean those men born in the latter part of the 19th century—Pound, Eliot, and William Carlos Williams.

Who has “thought” in white spaces on the page: how “oft” has that been thought before?  If you take this question too seriously, be careful; you might have the Modernist virus—which holds the utterly baffling “new” to be more important than common sense.

Pound’s Imagism, which led to his friend, Williams’ “no ideas but in things” further points to the insanity at issue; what sort of “thought” runs about in and between “things?” Isn’t it people (like Pope) who think?

If by “things,” the Modernists meant a sort of no-nonsense materialism (da Vinci on perspective or Poe on verse) than surely they would have said so (if they could actually bring themselves to do such a thing) but they didn’t; they really did mean things: a poem that reverently mentions a wheel barrow. This is really what it was all about. Yes, it really was crazy. A Duchamp conceptualist art joke. Ha ha.

T.S. Eliot represented the “serious/educated” fake side of Modernism, the counter-weight of gravitas in the Modernist scam.

Sexless, morbid Eliot—who hated Shelley—was like the sexless Ruskin and his “pre-Raphaelite” movement—eclectically raising certain art moments far above others: champion the Middle Ages at the expense of Raphael and the Renaissance: Ruskin—who famously and publicly attacked the great American poet, Whistler.

Eliot, when he was not whimpering about the end of his beloved British Empire in “The Waste Land,” theorized that Milton and the Romantics were saddled with a “dissociation of sensibility,” unlike the “Metaphysical poets.” It was actually taken seriously in some circles that Byron, Shelley, and Keats lacked fusion of thought and feeling, while Donne did not. Taking nonsense like this seriously was just what the Modernists did. Eliot attacked “Hamlet” and the work of Poe, for good measure. Modernism had to kill certain things before it, so it, itself, could be taken seriously. This is what it means to be “new” and “modern,” and Anglo-American, and teach in college.

The New Critics, the American ‘T.S. Eliot’ wing of Modernism, with their stern, tweedy advice that a poem was not something which could be “paraphrased,” was another weapon against “what oft was thought.”

Imagine the horror. Thousands and thousands of poets writing poems that cannot be paraphrased.

What could be paraphrased was too close to Pope’s “thought,” and the whole era of Pope and his Romantic Poet admirers had to be done away with: John Crowe Ransom (b. 1888) advised that we can’t write like Byron anymore, and the influential New Critic textbook, “Understanding Poetry,” held up as models little poems by Williams and Pound (on “things” and nothing else) and featured an attack by the Anglo-American Aldous Huxley against America’s Shakespeare, Edgar Poe.

Not only does casting aside “what has oft been thought,” cripple accessibility and thought, it also damages expression—since it leaves the poet nothing to express, a problem solved by Ashbery (given the Yale Younger by Auden, an Anglo-American friend of Eliot’s).  Ashbery—praised by the Poe-hating Harold Bloom and other academics—and his brand of refrigerator magnet poetry, is the natural result of the whole process, the decline which started when Modernism kidnapped the arts in the early 20th century—a decline from common sense to mystical snobbery.

Pope’s point: Expression should be new, not thought. This is poetry: new expression, not new thought.

The modern poet has been seduced by the idea that “If I don’t come up with new thoughts, I must be stupid!!”

But this idea is stupid.

Because here’s the secret: it really has all been thought before, and the most interesting thought is what has been running through the thoughts of everyone for centuries: you, as one poet, can’t compete with that. So don’t even try.

Don’t wreck yourself on expression trying to come up with original thoughts.

Original thoughts, which are truly that, are actual ideas which no one has ever entertained before. If one should be so fortunate to come up with one of these—if one is supremely lucky and fated to win the ‘idea lottery,’ why would one ever think that a ‘winning ticket’ like this should be inserted into a poem?  (Those things nobody reads anymore.)

Of course the reply might be: but according to you, Pope did, and you are spending this essay of yours defending Pope.

But Pope belongs to history, and here is where the picture of our essay gains its third dimension. We have spoken of 1) thought, 2) its expression—and the third, which is: ‘what has gone before,’ Pope’s “what oft was thought.”

We must assume that Pope’s advice—his thought—was “thought before”—Pope’s very idea, expressed in 1712, that what poetry really is, is whatever has been previously thought but now expressed in such a way that—what?

Had been thought before, but Pope crystallized it with his expression.

The message is this. Be humble, as the speaker for your tribe: take their thoughts and express them so that the thought is transmitted in the most efficient manner possible. Here is the essence of invention and beauty, for beauty, by definition, is that which expresses what it is immediately, and invention, in all cases, is nothing but that which takes our wants and brings them to us in less time. Beauty and invention do not create the wants, they serve them. Likewise, the poet does not create thoughts, but merely serves them.

A poem, as directly opposed to what the New Critics said, is not only that which can be paraphrased, but that which travels in that direction to an extreme degree.

Pope was—is—a crucial historical marker, and his “Essay” could not help but influence poetry that came after—not in the fake way that Modernism tried to usher in change and influence, with its influence of the thoughtless new for its own sake, sans want and sans beauty—for Pope had expressed a thought in such a way that gave that thought new currency, new force, new appreciation, for the sake of generations coming after, who need to understand anew the delicate ideas that fade away in utilitarian light.

There is a war, as Plato said, between philosophy and poetry, what is matter-of-factly good for the state and what is ecstatically good for the individual—“clean your room” (public projects) on one hand, and “what are you doing in your room?” (private desires) on the other—and this conflict is timeless, and its resolution is the secret of all human activity that can be called policy or art.

Pope’s admonition for poetry: “what oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed,” is precisely a blockbuster quotation because of its efficiency in resolving the philosophy/poetry conflict for the good of humankind; poetry can err in one of two basic ways: it can be too didactic in a public-minded manner, or too creepily and anti-socially private (obscure). Poetry, because of what it is, must err in one direction or the other, always attempting and failing at a happy medium; Pope erred, as a poet, towards the didactic, and Poe and the Romantics were a correction in the other direction. Yet the greatness of Pope’s formula remains—a Platonic ideal, feeding with its ideality poets of all kinds, as they move with their poetry towards public/private gratification.

Modernism’s “progress” is merely a Shadow Movement, moving in a faulty direction, downwards, backwards, a mere reaction to the True Progress of Great Poetry—which expresses beautifully what we all in our hearts know.

MAKIN’ COPIES: ART VERSUS LITERATURE

Hybrid, collage portrait. Which has less charm? Modern poetry or modern art?

SCARRIET HAS ELEVATED THE FOLLOWING SCARRIET COMMENT (ON “WHY POETRY SUCKS NOW”) FROM ONE OF OUR READERS (‘MIKE’) TO THIS ARTICLE (WITH OUR REPLY BELOW):

Hey y’all.

As an art school trained painter and a self inflicted poet, I find it interesting to observe the differences between visual art and literature; or more specifically, the difference between drawing and writing.

In visual art (drawing), one is challenged to “represent” what they “see” by way of marks on paper. Initial attempts are typically awful. Continued failure leads to frustration and abandonment, or else the determination to “learn” how do draw. Such learning requires one to engage in the reciprocal activity of practicing drawing “methods” while simultaneously understanding the nature of the visual forms those methods are meant to capture. It is only through this interplay of method and understanding that one can begin to draw what they see.

At which point one realizes the meta-lesson of drawing, which is that nobody draws what they see. You can only draw what you KNOW about what you see. That knowledge… visual knowledge… is not the same as vision. After all, most everyone has two eyes by which to see… but most people cannot draw beyond the primitive. And the reason is that their knowledge of visual forms and methods is (well)… primitive.

A further implication is that the drawing (as art object) is not equivalent to the visual perception of the subject matter of the drawing. In other words, a drawing of an apple is not an apple. The drawing is a representation only… a mental construct… a methodological translation of visual perception via the artistic form of a drawing.

All of this might seem terribly boring and inapplicable to the subject at hand. But if you indulge me for another minute… and lay your egos aside… then maybe I can make my point. Which is this. I have never gotten the impression that writers consider writing to be a “methodological translation” of (let’s say) interior thoughts and feelings, into the artistic form of the written word.

I think the reason for this is that we are all able to speak and write with some proficiency from an early age. I could also include the activity of contemplating ideas in our minds, and of subconscious processes… which we (kind-a) assume to be language based. These very powerful tools (thinking, reading, writing, speaking) allow us to think and imagine VERY GREAT things. Yet when we attempt to write it down… it’s not so easy. And this is no different from the artist… who might peer out into some beautiful landscape and be filled with desire to represent what he perceives and feels, yet be unable to do so. But whereas the artist is forced to reconcile his failures with the need to learn a method and to grasp the nature of visual form (as a translation between vision and representation)… I wonder if writers see their failure in these same terms.

Or does the writer simply “work harder”… or “write what they know”… or “keep plugging away”… or “writer’s write”… or “never give up”…. or a thousand other ways to say the same thing… admonishments to pound away at reality… that somehow representations will condense NOT out of understanding, but of somehow aligning the monkeys in our brains to coincidentally type out the works of Shakespeare. But just as a drawing is not the hand’s record of the light striking your retina… the written word is not a passive record of the mind’s ability to cogitate and speak out loud. But I wonder if writers know this? Or does the immediate accessibility of language mask the distinction?

Another aspect of this distinction is that in the visual arts, the impact of artistic theories are well understood, and are considered to be highly relevant. In fact, any good art school program is going to require a thorough grounding in the history of art from ancient times to the present day. This is an enormous investigation into cultural history. Artists are meant to take such things very very seriously, and are meant to understand that the nature of artistic method and form and meaning derive from such cultural moments as have occurred over time.

But I have to wonder if writers think of writing in the same way. For instance… do writers ever wonder about the writing skills of ancient Egyptians? Because artists are very aware of the art of ancient Egypt.

Visual artists are taught to understand that ancient architectural forms are rooted in archetypical associations that the human species has evolved from out of their prehistory. Are there any analogous ideas that writers possess about their own artistic heritage? Are writers schooled in the social and artistic shifts underlying the sea-change of the Late Gothic transition to the early Renaissance? Visual artists sure are. In fact, they make Pilgrimages to Rome and Florence and Venice just to lay their eyes on the art… to sit under the sun and absorb the aura of history, and thereby to connect with the meanings of these things. Do writers do such things? Or are words just words and everyone has them and all you need to do is pound away at a typewriter until it just pops out of you? Is writing like a piano… a music making machine that you only need whack at until a tune emerges? And when it does, you claim it as your own, and marvel at the mystery of your own origin… and try not to consider that it might all be happy accidents and the accommodating of the random.

I don’t mean to sound cruel, but I think that writers have no sense of these things, or of writing as an activity distinct from the basic language skills of talking and thinking and jotting stuff down. In truth, most visual artists don’t give a damn about the things I’ve waxed on about. The difference is this… that they are supposed to… whereas writers have no such presumption built into their activity.

And so it should come as no surprise that when poetry falls victim to the ravages of modernist or post- modernist theories of everything… that writers should twist in the wind and wonder what the hell is gone wrong. But such things are no surprise to visual artists, who only need look around and see all the crap contemporary art floating about the world. We see it everyday too. But at least we know what it is, and why it is. Because we are trained to know these things. Because art comes out of theories and methods… not out of the naive ability to speak words and have thoughts. Bad theories and absent methods lead to the destruction of art. The alternative isn’t to abandon ideas, but to understand that good ideas must be asserted. In the visual arts, such advocacy is mistakenly assumed to be a return to the art of the past… to neo-classical style paintings of nudes and heroic figures in togas. Which is ridiculous. But this is no different a mistake than when some poets try to defeat bad post-modern poetry by adopting the writing styles of Chaucer and Shakespeare.

The history of any art does not exist to be mindlessly rejected or mindlessly copied. What good can come out of mindlessness? It exists as a repository of ideas from which some meaningful “next thing” might emerge. Who knows what it is. I try to make this point to visual artists… but nobody seems to give a damn. So now I’m making it here in this poetry blog. And this is an uphill battle I suppose, because writers are not trained like visual artists, and they may not be aware of what they are really trying to do. So maybe writers should stop screaming about bad poems, and begin instead the difficult task of understanding the nature of the writer word at all.

SCARRIET RESPONDS

One of the Scarriet editors works at a large, urban, liberal arts university (once a teacher’s college), which recently acquired an art school; Scarriet covers not only the decline of poetry, but how art, poetry and philosophy mingle, so you can imagine our excitement at finding this learned and lengthy comment on our “Why Poetry Sucks Now” post, a delightful comment which Scarriet has elevated to a post of its own.

“Art comes out of theories and methods…not out of the naive ability to speak words and have thoughts.”

So says the “art school trained painter,” who reminds us that “nobody draws what they see…they only draw what they KNOW about what they see…visual knowledge is not the same as vision…” and “do the writers know this?” Further: artists know art is a “methodological translation” of reality, where writers, by comparison, seem to be mere “passive” (and random!) recording devices of what is universally accessible to all: language.

We agree entirely with the gist of this, and though we are a writer, not a painter, we feel no insult at all, and we are illuminated by the truth of what this painter has—written.

The truth of painting’s superiority to writing was put most forcefully by da Vinci, who said the experience of the eye is the beginning and proof of all science: discontinuous quantity (arithmetic), continuous quantity (geometry) and perspective the holy trinity of astronomy and all human knowledge—painting as the body, poetry merely its shadow. Body (substance and its measurement) trumps Blah Blah Blah. Absolutely.

However, there is a “writing method” tradition—embodied in full by Edgar Poe (unfortunately not taught in writing programs) who we never tire of quoting; the following, from the Master, reflects the thinking of our art school trained painter:

There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story. Either history affords a thesis—or one is suggested by an incident of the day—or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative—designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue, or authorial comment, whatever crevices of fact, or action, may, from page to page, render themselves apparent.

I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view—for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable source of interest—I say to myself, in the first place, “Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select? Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can best be wrought by incident or tone—whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone—afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.

Poe rigorously asserts the secret of all composition—and all morals: in the beginning (the intention) we discover our end (the effect)—and the myriad details, of drawing or writing, fall into place, or should fall into place, in the execution. By this method, these are eliminated: The random, the details which overwhelm, and self-indulgence.

The point our painter makes in his comment—that we draw what we know about what we see, not what we see—is, we feel, a reiteration of Poe’s method, and here an important point about ‘knowing’ should be made.

The separation between knowing and seeing does not exist because seeing needs correcting or is insufficient—the natural seeing humans do reflects nature’s efficiency: perspective which makes distant objects small, for instance, is the perfect solution to the over-crowding of the visual field: and understanding perspective is an understanding which is not distinct from seeing, but is the same as seeing: the “knowing” the artist is engaged in is nothing more than a selecting, a framing, a focusing—and not something superior to seeing; it is the very same thing Poe refers to when he says, “Of the innumerable effects, or impressions…which one shall I, on the present occasion, select?”

Here is the vital point: the distinction which our art school trained painter makes between vision and visual knowledge is different than we suppose: “visual knowledge” is not something which stands above and apart from “vision;” quite the opposite: vision is the whole, visual knowledge is the part, of the whole thing. Vision is natural and perfect, visual knowledge is imperfect and contingent. Visual knowledge is the narrow “effect,” of which vision is the cause, and the connection between visual knowledge and vision is seamless. All training, all knowledge, is nothing more than focus: both the artist and the writer do not see more; they see less than the layperson; all knowledge is knowledge of what to ignore: what not to see, what not to write, what not to draw.

Modern poetry errs in making poetry subordinate to prose-ideas; modern art errs in making painting subordinate to collage-ideas.

The answer is not simply, “less is more,” but how (to what end) does the artist make less more?

Plato (and who cares if he wore a toga?) is another thinker who tells us that vision (reality) trumps visual knowledge (art), since vision is the true knowledge of which visual knowledge (art) attempts to unfairly usurp—not because knowledge should not be trusted, but because knowledge is not what we think it is: the vision IS the knowledge, the vision (reality) contains far more perfectly and ultimately the knowledge, of which art-knowledge (and writing-knowledge) slyly hides—especially if the untrustworthy student falls in love with representation, illusion, and dream passionately spun by the sophist for all sorts of partially realized reasons dripping with bad taste.

The “methodological” in our art school painter’s “methodological translation” of reality contains two simple things: first, the focus, or selection, we just discussed above (the selective nature of reality informing the selective nature of human vision) and second, the good.  We finally want to do good, to produce good, to have a good effect, and here, of course, we refer to Plato’s ‘the good,’ which has other names: justice, happiness, beauty.

Things go haywire when the hubris of human knowledge thinking itself superior to natural seeing, sensing, and feeling takes precedence. “I’m not drawing what I see!” cries the sophisticated painter, “I’m working within  specialized knowledge!” Ah, so this is why your painting is bland, trivial, confusing, with lines and colors leading nowhere, a hybrid collage of no real purpose. And the poet who writes poetry which rambles incoherently, having no coherence or lasting interest, is mistakenly certain in that human knowledge which is entirely separate from the effect the poem is actually having. This error arises from the belief that “visual knowledge” is superior to “vision.”

But the objection might come: No! The ‘good’ resides in human knowledge, in human attempts at it, not in simple vision, not in haphazard, unadorned reality, not in nature, red in tooth and claw.  You wrongly assume that “this is the best of all possible worlds” and that to merely copy the beautiful and perfect world is enough, and no ideas are necessary; you say the real method is to simply frame part of (what is called by you) “reality.” No, sorry.

But this objection misses several important points: Vision, as it operates everywhere, is efficient and remarkable, and is not the same as “nature, red in tooth and claw.” This is to confuse reality with our special feelings about it. Reality is not “unadorned” or “simple,” and copying it is never simple. “Copying” reality is a highly complex endeavor—our art school trained artist puts it succinctly: “most everyone has two eyes to see, but most people cannot draw beyond the primitive.” Exactly. Human pride believes the complexity resides in the imposition of method, when true method copies nature with da Vinci’s open eyes.

The artist and the poet are finally united by the philosophy which begins with an effect—a design guided by the morality of justice/beauty in terms of what scientifically the senses, as senses, understand, measure, and know.

THE MENTOR/TEACHER CULT

We can think of nothing worse for poetry than the notion that obedience to a flawed personality can make, or inspire, a poet. The insidious nature of the Mentor/Teacher cult escapes detection for two obvious reasons:

Poets, artists and scholars need to teach, obviously, since this is pretty much the only way these types of creatures can make a living.

Second, poets and artists are invested in mentoring others in ways they themselves understand/write poetry/produce art/think about things, if only to create new audiences for their own work.

So when you are a student, remember: you are the hunted. You are prey.

You will, of course, have teachers who are incompetent, bored, have no philosophy, and couldn’t care less about you.

These may actually teach you something.

But the mentor? Beware.

The mentor, armed with their particular art-philosophy, and intent on the education of your soul? They will un-learn you. They will damage you and set you back, unless of course you wish to be a mere clone of them, teaching others similarly, in turn.

Most students know to avoid the teacher who is hostile to them (the student) because they have more talent than the teacher; and many students simply refuse to be mentored by an instructor’s personal bias. After all, the student usually has more than one teacher to choose from, and may already have some idea about what they want.

But this does not change the fact that mentor-relationships are common, and corrupt.

There is nothing wrong with the mentor or enthusiastic teacher, per se.

Mentors are a danger in poetry and the arts today because there is no verifiable excellence in the arts anymore. Crackpot-ism reigns and laziness has become the rule. Poets and artists are distracted by teaching and administrative duties, as well as the million trends of the whole trendy industry itself. The mentor is invariably a lazy crackpot with narrow, trendy views.

To understand the issue a little better, think of the student in a sport. As one gains competence through training in this area, anyone can witness the excellence gained in terms of verifiable quickness, speed, coordination, and so forth. Every coach can be a jerk. This does not change the fact that an aspiring player can either hit a 90 mile per hour fastball—or not.

In sport, excellence is publicly verifiable.

In the arts, today, it is not.

Does this fact make art more sophisticated and nuanced?

We should not assume so. Yet this assumption is nearly universal in the arts.

A moment’s thought will make it clear to anyone the dangerous ramifications of such an assumption.

Especially when we consider the wisdom of the Ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, who named art as that which is concerned with measurement. We err when we think of measurement as a straitjacket, for no piece of music in the world is possible without it, no great painting, or poem, either.

But we can leave Greek philosophy and the idea that measurement is necessary for true art aside for the time being, and simply contemplate what it means to have lazy, crackpot mentor-ism (brainwashing) driving arts and arts education.

To stand out as a ‘mentor,’ one has to be narrow in one’s views, since without any verifiable excellence, excellence can only be perceived in terms of narrow trendiness—which opposes universally verifiable excellence as a matter of course.

Insane mixtures and inane combinations are the rule: the sensibility of the collage, in which whatever strikes one’s fancy, is thrown into the mixing pot, is the number one method, and the more clumsy and jarring the superimposition the better, in the art world today, since the more self-conscious the mixing is, the better, since a unity which seeks excellence as a unity is the ‘old way’ and the enemy.

A picture, which excels by uniting elements, demands excellence in three ways: 1. the parts, 2. the way the parts fit together, and 3. the final result. If the parts ‘stick out’ in a way that ruins the unified effect, this ruins the excellence; as does any one part not being excellent; as does any lack of excellence in the final result, even when every part is excellent. The collage, by its very nature, is an intentional violation of this formula. It is a formula itself, and is a formula itself as much as it subverts the higher order formula which we have just outlined.

Excellence and universality are intentionally subverted in the arts today, since virtually every critically praised painting or sculpture produced today falls under the category of collage.

Simple photography escapes, within the unified choice-frame of its eye, the collage, and therefore we have the largely unspoken irony that photography/video is now the chief art form in the art world, in the same way song lyrics today are carrying the old load which poetry once carried, and comic books, old pictorial art.

Clumsy parts clumsily fitted together—the collage—is the default method which is destroying art and poetry.

A public immediately recognizes excellence—and does so when it is a public, and when it is a public, in rare times in history, excellence flourishes in what are called “renaissance” periods.

But unfortunately a public can be split and fractured into various museum-going and academic and book-buying and politically indoctrinated pieces, trained to respect the fiat of decision-makers at the top of various mercantile, and faux-art credentialing, food chains.

The true mentor—the Socrates—comes along once every thousand years. The student is urged to reject both the mentor and the trend,  and to study history, ancient and modern—and to learn the difference between a trend and a truth.

There is much important work to be done, and the beautiful soul, guided by a kind of fanatical honesty which resists trends, should find a good library, and do that work alone.

 

 

 

 

SCARRIET ROCKED 2014!

image

Thomas Brady: the simpleton who writes it all

In the 365 days of 2014, Scarriet brought you half that many original items: poems of lyric poignancy, articles on the popular culture, essays of Literary Criticism, the occasional humor piece, and the Literary Philosophy March Madness Tournament—in which Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Freud, Baudelaire, Woolf, De Beauvoir, Marx, Maimonides, Wilde, Poe, Emerson, Wordsworth, Pope, Wollstonecraft, Butler, Rich, Frye, Mallarme, Adorno, and 44 others sought immortality against one another in an orgy of wit and game.

Without further ado, here (with publication dates) are the most notable of the past year:

1. The One Hundred Greatest Hippie Songs 2/13.  This wins based on numbers. Over 15,000 views for this post alone in 2014, and it is averaging 120 views per day for the last 3 months, with views increasing, nearly a year after its publication. It’s always nice when an article has legs like this. We’re not sure what ‘search engine magic’ has made 100 Greatest Hippie Songs so popular. Prophetically, in the piece, we wrote, “All American music is hippie music.”

2. This Novel Has More Information Than You Need 9/18.  An essay provocative and charming at once.

3. No Boobs! 11/27. Hilarious (part two) satiric commentary on the December issue of Vanity Fair

4. The Problem With Rhetoric 5/1. Pushing the intellectual envelope is perhaps what we do best. In this essay we argue that reason does not exist.

5. Integration of Poetry and Life 11/3.  Another nice essay of essential Scarrietesque provocation smoothly rendered.

6. Marjorie Perloff, Adam Kirsch & Philip Nikolayev at the Grolier 9/15. Wearing a journalist’s hat, we meet Perloff, debate her, win her over, and demolish Concrete Poetry for our readers, as well.

7. Poe and the Big Bang: “The Body and the Soul Walk Hand in Hand” 3/10. Poe does most of the lifting here; a crucial addition to Scarriet’s campaign to lift the slander-fog hiding the world’s greatest mind.

8. Badass, Funny, But Alas Not Critic-Proof 6/27.  Tough love for the poet/professor David Kirby. And for those who fret Scarriet is too rancorous, relax; ‘The Kirb’ is still a FB friend. We don’t flatter—that’s the secret.

9. Is Gay Smarter Than Straight? 2/3. Only Scarriet would dare to ask—and really answer this question.

10. Rape Joke II 6/14.  We delivered a true poem; it offended one of our loyal readers for not being feminist enough; even though our poem was true, it was somehow supposed as an insult against Lockwood. We stand by our poem which is true, if imitative. We value originality, but since when was art that imitates a bad thing? We also admit we wrote the poem to become well-known. We played it up on twitter. So what? Scarriet believes everyone deserves to be famous.

11. Poe v. Wordsworth 8/18. March Madness contests are always excuses for brilliant essays. We made use of a wonderful book: Michael Kubovy’s The Psychology of Perspective in Renaissance Art.

12. “I Still Do” 10/13 Nice poem.

13. Chin & Weaver at the Grolier 7/21. Meeting up with California-based Marilyn Chin at a reading becomes an excuse to write an essay on the laws of poetic fame.

14. Painters & Artists Need to Shut Up 6/23.  Usually we pick on the poets.

15. Rage In America 7/7.  A political corrective to Jim Sleeper’s Fourth of July essay.

16. Poetry Hot 100 10/8.  Scarriet releases these now-famous lists several times a year. Valerie Macon topped this one.

17. What Does The History of Poetry Look Like 12/2. We often bash T.S. Eliot and the Modernists; here we lay down a genuinely insightful appreciation of Eliot’s Tradition.

18. Valerie Macon! 10/6. The credentialing complex destroyed Macon. We did a radical thing. We looked at her poetry, after she graciously sent samples.  Memo to the arrogant: her poetry is good.

19. 100 Greatest Folk Songs 11/17.  Not just a list: an assessment aimed at revival. Don’t just reflect the world. Change it.

20. The Avant-Garde Is Looking For A New (Black) Boyfriend 11/8.  A popular zeitgeist post inspired by Cathy Hong, which got po-biz stirred up for a few days.

21. Religion Is More Scientific Than Science 12/15.  An interesting discussion of free-will. Yes, we take comments.

22. Poetry, Meta-Modernism, & Leonardo Da Vinci 1/6.  Da Vinci compares poetry and painting in fascinating ways.

23. De Beauvoir v. Rich 4/22.  Scarriet’s March Madness contest yields essay on Behaviorism and Feminism.

24. Sex, Sex, Sex! 10/19. An interesting essay (obviously) in typical Scarriet (Are you serious?? We are.) mode.

25. Philip Nikolayev 11/15.  An excuse to try out ideas while praising a poet and friend.

26. “Poetry Without Beauty Is Vanity” 10/17.  A lyric poem which ‘gets’ rap.

27. Harold Bloom v. Edmund Wilson 8/13. Wilson was a real force in March Madness and so is this essay.

28. Fame: Is It Really Hollow? 7/2.  An exciting essay using Scarriet standbys The Beatles and Poe.

29. 100 Greatest Rock Songs Of All Time 5/9. The definitive list. Another constantly visited post.

30. 100 Essential Books of Poetry 5/21. People love lists. We get it now.

31. “Not Everyone Is Beautiful” 6/5.  A lovely little poem.

32. All Fiction Is Non-Fiction 5/19.  Scarriet makes the counter-intuitive simple.

33. The Good Economy 12/30.  We nail a simple but brain-teasing truth which rules us all.

34. Fag Hags, Cock Teases, and Richard Wagner 11/11. A bitter essay on a complex topic.

35. 100 Greatest Jazz Vocal Standards 10/14. And the Scarriet hits just keep on coming.

36. Hey Lao Tzu 10/27.  Scarriet takes down the wisest of the wise.

37. Ben Mazer At The Grolier 10/20.  The Neo-Romantic genius gets the Scarriet treatment.

38. “A Holiday Poem” 12/14.  An offensive poem written from a persona; it’s not our opinion.

39. Misanthrope’s Delight 6/11. An amusing list which makes light of misanthropy.

40. “What Could Be More Wrong Than A Poem Stolen From A Song?” A lyric gem.

And that’s our Scarriet top 40 for 2014!!

Be sure to read these if you missed them!

Scarriet thanks all our readers!

And especially the great comments! You know who you are! Always welcome and encouraged!

Happy New Year, everyone!

 

PHILIP NIKOLAYEV AND THE POETRY OF PERSONAL RELIGION

Radical individualism is the only dignity there is.

There are only two types of people: the conformist and the non-conformist—the drudge and the peacock—the square and the hip—the cowardly prig and the brave sensualist—the dullard and the dandy—the meddler and the artist—the ones who don’t get it, or don’t quite get it, and the ones who do.

The true artist, the truly different, the truly sublime, the smartly beautiful, the enlightened ones—these are all radical individualists, or those who deeply accept and understand and support the radical individualist; all the rest are merely drudges who fret about ‘the good of society’ in a prying, jealous, overbearing sort of way, as they overcompensate for the fact that as individuals, they lack that spark which the first group has.

This is the Ur-division in Life and Society, the template and atmosphere, the body and thought of all social and political activity, as various obstacles present themselves to the journeying soul longing ‘to get it,’ ‘to be accepted,’ and ‘to be loved.’

“Be accepted.”  Not: “love,” or “seek happiness”—for this straightforward activity betrays right from the start, an ignorance of the division—and the division is more important than anything else. The acceptance of the division is the great instinctual ‘leap of faith’ that the potentially ‘cool’ person, the radical individualist, must choose as their life’s philosophy, or their life’s religion.

The division is why people socially do things. The division is everything. It makes people vote in a certain way, pick certain friends and activities, and think the thoughts they think. The loss of pure love and pure happiness is merely the cost for obedience to this division—which is at the heart of social ‘understanding.’

The cool is defined against the not-cool; here is where individualism itself begins, because to choose otherwise (from the very start of the soul’s journey) is to sink hopelessly into the morass of dullness and jealousy and side with the shallow, meddling, superficial drags, who worry passively, or actively into existence, all sorts of jealous rules to make a dully, oppressively and lemming-like society acceptable and functioning as a society—which by definition has a duty to curb the charismatic and pleasure-seeking individual.

It does not matter if this division is factually true or not; psychologically and linguistically it is true; factually it has no real existence except as it is manifested socially—and this, as they say in the old country, suffices. We dress and shout and dance the way we do—for this division.

At one time the charismatic individual was society’s ideal leader; but with the complex, advanced evolution of society, the charismatic individual instead rules in quite the other way now: against an orderly society, against society itself—as the radical individualist.

Philip Nikolayev is self-made and talented: he graduated from Harvard, he has advanced degrees, is multilingual, is an influential editor, translates, and is translated, is a published poet, is funny, wary, philosophical—he is in a position to feel himself to belong to the elitism of the radical individual—that special place.  He’s earned it. He deserves it.

Why shouldn’t he advocate, then, for the poetry of personal religion?

A successful artist talks to us as his own priest, not in the language of priests—this is no surprise.

The individual qua individual is threatened by nothing—those who do not speak the language of the individual, but who participate in the language of the tribe, of society, and those rules which govern society and make society possible, cannot possibly harm the individualist, protected by that personal religion of his own making. The individual can enter an orthodox church and enjoy its sights and sounds, visit cities and countries and observe customs and manners, and he can write freely on anything which he finds to be significant; as long as rules do not censor him, he is free.

But who is interested in reading the individualist?

Other individualists, with a view for affirmation?

Or the anti-individualist, with a motive to find fault and censor?

The audience is one of two kinds, then: the friend or the bureaucratic foe, more indifferent, in most cases, especially in the United States, than foe.

The trouble here is that it is not enough to write and publish—criticism, audience reaction, being read, and truly responded to, are crucial for the writer.

Am I really being read, the poet wonders, or just being flattered?

The other individualists don’t care what you write in the following very real sense: you are simply incapable of offending them— which may be good for friendship, but is fatal to literature, since it guarantees the absence of Criticism, which is necessary to literature.

Meanwhile, the other audience (society) is indifferent critically for a separate reason—they don’t speak the language of the individualist.

There is no friction or spark in either response—the poem slides easily down the throat of the individualist and falls indifferently at the feet of  the drudge. This is not to say other individualists may not enjoy what you produce; they may acquiesce and fully comprehend and joy in recognizing what is communicated—but there is no criticism, no interesting response. As much as the individualist enjoys the uniqueness of what you produce, the drudge will be unable—as drudge—to recognize the value of the unique communication, trained as they are only to recognize good and bad recipes for society, so no helpful response comes from that quarter, either.

This is the pitfall of the poetry of personal religion—not because of what it is, but because of its failure to actually live outside its unique origins.

The non-conformist offends the conformist—but only on the conformist’s terms, only where the conformist lives. If non-conformity does not offend, it fails in its task; it is eaten alive by this failure—for this is what non-conformity implicitly lives to do: offend those drudges who are asleep, non-artistic, or cruel.

There is still hope, however, for the radical individualist: there is a third audience between the sympathetic friend and the indifferent other: the rival poet, who is neither friend nor foe, but a combination of both.

What directs all poets to profitable activity is the rival—here the poet knows what to do, how to excel, and is guided in very specific ways to be successful.

Every famous poet succeeded against a rival and only understood how to be interesting in the context of what the blessed rival was doing. Popularity, as literary historians concede, is mostly earned by writers who enjoy success for a brief time and then are forgotten. The literary canon is full of poets who were neither popular with wide audiences, nor lifted up by friends, but made their mark in ‘rival poet’ contexts.

With the rival, the (helpful, motivating) question can truly be asked as it cannot be asked elsewhere: am I cool? Am I one of the chosen?

One must ask this question to oneself as a poet: am I good?  To oneself, as a matter of course, but it also needs to be asked by others.  Friends in your clique won’t give you an answer; they will only flatter you. And the others, those uncool, non-artists, the conformists, who don’t care for poetry and would rather focus on society and its ills?  They will most likely tell you, poetry isn’t good, or it’s silly; they are incapable, even if they cared, to tell you if you are a good poet, or not.

This is where the rival comes in. The rival knows poetry like you do, but won’t flatter you, will fight you, in fact, and this is where greatness and fame are made, in this nexus of rivals.

The greatest poet of them all—Shakespeare—wrote specifically about this in his Sonnets.

The greatest Romantic poets, Shelley, Keats, and Byron, all attacked the Alpha Romantic of the Day, Wordsworth: mocked him, called him disappointing, ridiculed him, said he was obscure, pulled his beard.

Poe, America’s Shakespeare, attacked Wordsworth a little later in the same spirit, and turned every well-know writer of his day into a rival: chiefly Longfellow and Emerson.

Our Canon today has been shaped by these battles: and we the living unconsciously and naively pick sides in what we think is a reasonable, peaceful spirit.

Had Pound not had his Imagism ass kicked by Amy Lowell, he would have remained mired in triviality.

T.S. Eliot—whose grandfather knew  Emerson—attacked both the Romantics and Poe (for this latter, vicious attack, see “From Poe to  Valery” 1949).

The most famous rivalry of all: Homer and Plato.

We don’t have the time to elucidate these rivalries here, but most readers will be familiar with them—though many readers, even those who consider themselves avant-garde, admittedly don’t read poetry or literature this way (they are blissfully naive and do not figure into this discussion—let them remain naive).

Who is Philip Nikolayev’s rival?

Has he any?

Poetically, no.   Because Nikolayev is too good in a pure, self-deprecating, completely witty and skilled sort of way.

Also, Nikolayev has no avant-garde rivals because he writes “for the ages,” a quaint idea these days, no doubt.

There is a certain pure excellence in Nikolayev’s work which cannot be rivaled.  Philip Nikolayev is that good.

This is not to say that any small example of a writer’s work will not show the division discussed above.

Take this wonderful poem of Nikolayev’s, which can be found on The Poetry Foundation site:

Hotel

Time to recount the sparrows of the air
Seated alone on an elected stair,
I stare as they appear and disappear.

Tonight the deck supports tremendous quiet,
Although the twilight is itself a riot.
I’m glad I’m staying here, not at the Hyatt.

My pen, eye, notes, watch, whiskey glass and hell
All hang together comfortably well.
Pain is my favorite resort hotel.

 

The poet is an individualist, a non-conformist: therefore, he is not staying at “the Hyatt.”  But Hyatt is a rhyme; the individualist, self-deprecating stance is seasoned by wit.

Nikolayev uses lyric wit to rise above the division.  He is aware of it and playfully and wittily fights against it, which makes him a better poet for that reason alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE INTEGRATION OF POETRY AND LIFE

The integration of poetry and life may be the most important question of all.

Interesting aspects of life, beautiful, useless glimpses of life—is this poetry? And the rest of it, life, as useful, as lived, or as the subject of philosophy or science, is this the life which is not poetry? Is this division valid?

Or is poetry a sub-category of philosophy in the division above, poetry not a “glimpse” of something “interesting and useless,” but rather a unique and useful branch of life understanding itself (philosophy)?

Or is this division not valid at all, since both sides are made of life, and poetry is something separate and apart?

And does poetry exist apart specifically in a world of words, interesting as a word-product, without any necessary connection to life?

And here we say “necessary,” because poetry may certainly use words which naturally signify life (because this is what words do) but in terms of what poetry is, it does not matter what is signified.

Yes. This is what poetry is: a word product without any necessary connection or reflection of life.

This is what Byron meant when he said:

“Poetry is nothing more than a certain dignity which life tries to take away.”

This is what Shelley meant when he said:

“A poet would do ill to embody his own conceptions of right and wrong, which are usually those of his place and time, in his poetical creations, which participate in neither.”

According to Shelley, poetry reflects the future: life which does not exist yet, and words have the unique ability to reflect life which is not life, what we sometimes refer to as the imagination.

The imaginative gardener can take what already exists: flowers and plants, and put together a garden which has never existed, portraying a unique dreamscape of beauty which is of this world, using the materials of this world, yet imaginatively invokes, and is, the future—a transformation of nature by poetic vision.

In so much as the gardener does this, the gardener is a poet. And in this way, anyone who transforms the material world is a poet. Note that we say transform, not merely reflect, or imitate—which is the traditional Aristotelian definition of poetry.

Aristotle’s definition is tepid, and Plato feared poetry precisely because his vision of it was greater, Plato deeply understanding poetry’s ability to not merely imitate, but transform. In fact, poetry fails at imitation (as Plato zealously pointed out) but poetry does something even more significant (and wonderful and dangerous): it creates the future, for good or ill.

Aristotle’s reasoning is so: poetry imitates good and bad people and it is perfectly reasonable and even good to do this, for how can we know the good if we don’t portray the bad? And out of this reasonable imitation springs the “freedom” to make art, and the justification for all destructive human freedom and license—since in Aristotle’s vision, the imitation of life is at the heart of all human making.

Aristotle’s famous qualification that poetry is more philosophical than history because poetry shows ‘what could be’ rather than ‘what is’ (as history does) is a monkey wrench; history and philosophy are both concerned (or should be concerned) with the truth; poetry is radically different; to give poetry (false) philosophical properties only furthers poetry’s (false) license to depict all sorts of bad things in the name of poetry’s freedom. The vision of Plato (which dares to radically critique poetry) is vastly different.

The wise know Aristotle’s oft-repeated and ubiquitous formula is wrong; the wise know that the whole Aristotelian project, adopted by the intellectual rabble of every cynical era, is misguided; and if we pay attention to visionaries like Plato and Shelley, to visionaries of the Renaissance and Romanticism, we will see that poetry’s power lies in making a new Good, not simply imitating whatever life happens to toss our way, or worse, abetting badness by cynically celebrating (with the cheering mob) its imitation in poetry, art, spectacle, learned books, etc.

As Poe points out, poetry is concerned with Taste, not Truth; and this quality, relegated wrongly to embellishment and triviality in our era, is a world of profound influence; Taste lives on the border of Truth, its province is Beauty, fed by Truth which is nearby, but Taste is grasped or understood by the instantaneous transmission of the Good (what we feel in our gut) which sidesteps the usual academic authorities—which is why academia balks at any consideration of Taste in cynical eras. “Give us the ugly truth,” scream the poets in cynical eras, “Beauty and Taste are old-fashioned and effete!”

Poets who cynically reject Poe’s poetry tend to also ignore Poe’s profound accomplishments in prose—for it is the whole of Poe’s project, seen and understood in its entirety, which proves the importance of qualities properly distributed and arranged across the whole range of reality’s projection in the transforming mind of the genius who serves humanity.

In our example of the gardener who profoundly transforms nature using her own materials, we find the poet, who is one step potentially more profound than the gardener, only because words can take and re-transform life in a manner potentially more significant than recombining the already existing beauty of flowers and plants.

Here is why 99% of poetry and its talk these days fails—poets and critics today assume a relationship, or an integration of life and poetry in which the two appear to serve each other, but do not: over here is some topic of life, interesting as a separate topic in a manner not connected to poetry whatsoever, and then over here we have the “poet” or the “poetry” and lo and behold! the two are yanked together in a manner which ostensibly brings more interest to both— but because the yanking together is utterly superficial, the interest is actually mitigated, and even dissolves, as the yanking exemplifies unconsciously a false idea of poetry. Poetry is, in the simplest sense, putting A next to B to create C, yes, but this alone is not enough, and this formula, when persisted in, quickly wears out its welcome. Arrangement requires a poetic purpose: the creation of a new Good, and without this purpose driving the project, the combining gesture is unfortunately a hollow gesture, and, problematically, not understood as such by the ignorant who merely go through the motions of  what they assume is poetic activity. Because they are gassing on about some interesting aspect of life, the ignorant think that it will be all the more interesting because of its mere proximity to po-biz. It is like when someone introduces their poem with a long story and then the poem is read, and we wish they had stopped with the story. This is the state of poetry today.

The true poet has ‘no story’ to introduce his poem—for the integration is in the poem, and when, in error, it is displayed as ‘story’ followed by ‘poem,’ it represents the unnecessary split which signals the falsity and the error, persisted in by those who naively think ‘story and poem’ is twice as good as ‘poem.’

We might be accused of this error: we earlier said Poe is understood in the entirety of his productions; so we appreciate his poems in light of his prose. No. The poem of Poe exists for its own sake, and succeeds on its own, without the help of anything else ‘to make it interesting,’ and this is precisely how we are defining poetry. The crowding in upon poetry of all these other matters ‘to make it interesting’ is the very thing which kills poetry, and it is done because of the Aristotle project which sees poetry imitating, and thus sharing its existence, with our place in the world at present, and also having a philosophical aspect which, in the same way, makes it necessary that poetry share the stage with all sorts of interests which are really beside the point, and hopelessly dilute the poetic enterprise.

Poetry is not a vehicle to make life more interesting. There are those who constantly seek to make life more interesting and these are those who are not poets and will never understand poetry and generally do not appreciate good taste. They are bored by the placidly beautiful, even though an appreciation of the placidly beautiful is the secret to heaven on earth.

The riot is even now at our doors; the useless activity which seeks the interesting and tramples on taste.

Life is coming for us.

Take my hand, poet.

Let us quietly flee.

DANTE VERSUS PLATO!

This battle between Plato and Dante is not merely a war between Greece and Rome.  Because we are speaking of Plato and Dante, this contest takes place in heaven.  The laws, which govern there, are simple, but perhaps strange to the uninitiated, and so Scarriet will be a guide, for we have an understanding of these secrets, which nonetheless dwell in every eye.

That Dante was moved beyond all else by Beatrice is well known. To know how Dante’s philosophy is manifest we need only read the following poem simply, and in steps, and  not allow our amazement to dim, or contort, our knowing.

Love that makes men gentle and how that love is conveyed is Dante’s theme in the poem, or Canzone,  below.

Since Dante’s poem conveys love, and how love is conveyed is the subject, the subject of the poem is partly the poem, only for this reason.  As a mortal individual, Dante realizes he cannot express love as it should be expressed, so he elicits help not only from Beatrice, but from gentle ladies who keep her company.  The “courteous man” in the last stanza is not plural, like “ladies” for reason of modesty; Dante is not interested in a Broadway number, pairing up men with ladies; his subject is more simple serious and august than that, though Dante wishes to acknowledge that men can be gentle, like ladies.

The poem is Dante’s messenger, and we see in the Diotima section quoted from Plato’s Symposium father down, the same crucial theme:

“To interpret and convey messages to the gods from men and to men from the gods. Being of an intermediate nature, a spirit bridges the gap between them, and prevents the universe from falling into two separate halves. God does not deal directly with man; it is by means of spirits that all the intercourse and communication of gods with men, both in waking life and in sleep, is carried on.”

The universe, Plato warns, will fall “into two separate halves,” mortal distinct from immortal, if spirits of an “intermediate nature” do not “bridge the gap.”

Everything in the universe is attached, but there are highs and lows, bright and dark, good and evil, because for the universe to exist, there must be divine will and space for that divine will.

If the space is real, and if the divine (the spark, the life, the spirit, etc) is real, the divinity will not fill equally that space; the glory of God is not everywhere, just as light shines more in some places than others. If that is the one thing we take away from Dante and Plato in this contest, that will be enough.

So with Dante and Plato, there is not a fiendish desire to invent, as much as a desire to describe the (moral) task that needs to be done; and this is the realm of poetry, a humble, yet important one, and that is what makes these aesthetic thinkers classical and conservative, as opposed to modern and progressive.

Plato’s insight is important: Love is not beautiful; Love is that which desires beauty. Beatrice is not love, but the rare thing which rarefies love or desire; the poem is the “bridge,” the transaction of love; and so the poem is not beautiful, but its object is beauty, and is beautiful only as much as its object is beauty (so intention and subject are as crucial as form or design).  Dante’s poem is the love between Beatrice and Dante; a love which is a bridge, a desire, a transaction, both message and messenger, so object, person, and action are one—the poem both belongs to, and is, this holy task.

According to Plato, what Love “wins he always loses,” and we see this is true of Dante, who “loses” Beatrice, because heaven lacks her, heaven’s “only defect,” as Dante says. Movement is crucial in Dante’s  universe, and makes all things happen: Where is Beatrice?  Will her greeting travel from her to me?  Will my poem travel from me to her? How are the stars arranged? How does sin and mortality move and fit in the world of souls?  Everything is about placement, the obsession of the ancients: poetry and astronomy and love are the same.

DANTE:

Ladies Who Have Knowledge Of Love,

I wish to speak with you about my lady,
not because I think to end her praises,
but speaking so that I can ease my mind.
I say that thinking of her worth,
Amor makes me feel such sweetness,
that if I did not then lose courage,
speaking, I would make all men in love.
And I would not speak so highly,
that I succumb to vile timidity:
but treat of the state of gentleness,
in respect of her, lightly, with you,
loving ladies and young ladies,
that is not to be spoken of to others.

An angel sings in the divine mind
and says: ‘Lord, in the world is seen
a miracle in action that proceeds
from a spirit that shines up here.’
The heavens that have no other defect
but lack of her, pray to their Lord,
and every saint cries out mercy.
Pity alone takes our part,
so that God speaks of her, and means my lady:
‘My Delights, now suffer it in peace
that at my pleasure she, your hope, remains
there, where one is who waits to lose her,
and will say in the Inferno: “Ill-born ones,
I have seen the hope of the blessed.”’

My lady is desired by highest Heaven:
now I would have you know of her virtue.
I say, you who would appear a gentle lady
go with her, since when she goes by
Love strikes a chill in evil hearts,
so that all their thoughts freeze and perish:
and any man who suffers to stay and see her
becomes a noble soul, or else he dies.
And when she finds any who might be worthy
to look at her, he proves her virtue,
which comes to him, given, in greeting
and if he is humble, erases all offense.
Still greater grace God has granted her
since he cannot end badly who speaks with her.

Amor says of her: ‘This mortal thing,
how can it be so pure and adorned?’
Then he looks at her and swears to himself
that God’s intent was to make something rare.
She has the color of pearl, in form such as
is fitting to a lady, not in excess:
she is the greatest good nature can create:
beauty is proven by her example.
From her eyes, as she moves them,
issue spirits ablaze with love,
which pierce the eyes of those who gaze on her then,
and pass within so each one finds the heart:
you will see Love pictured in her face,
there where no man may fixedly gaze.

Canzone, I know that you will go speaking
to many ladies, when I have sent you onwards.
Now I have made you, since I have raised you
to be Love’s daughter, young and simple,
to those I have sent you, say, praying:
‘Show me the way to go, since I am sent
to her of whom the praise is my adornment.’
And if you do not wish to go in vain,
do not rest where there are evil people:
try, if you can so do, to be revealed
only to ladies or some courteous man,
who will lead you there by the quickest way.
You will find Amor will be with her:
recommend me to him as you should.

PLATO:

Diotima Explains Love To Socrates

Is Love ugly and bad?

Don’t say such things; do you think that anything that is not beautiful is necessarily ugly?

Of course I do.

And that anything that is not wisdom is ignorance? Don’t you know there is a state of mind half-way between wisdom and ignorance?

What do you mean?

Having true convictions without being able to give reasons for them.  So do not maintain that what is not beautiful is ugly, and what is not good is bad.

What can Love be then? A mortal?

Far from it.

Well, what?

He is half-way between mortal and immortal.  He is a great spirit, Socrates; everything that is of the nature of a spirit is half-god and half-man.

And what is the function of such a being?

To interpret and convey messages to the gods from men and to men from the gods. Being of an intermediate nature, a spirit bridges the gap between them, and prevents the universe from falling into two separate halves. God does not deal directly with man; it is by means of spirits that all the intercourse and communication of gods with men, both in waking life and in sleep, is carried on.  Spirits are many in number and of many kinds, and one of them is Love.

Who are his parents?

Poverty, thinking to alleviate her wretched condition by bearing a child to Invention, lay with him and conceived Love.  Love was begotten on Aphrodite’s birthday and became her follower and servant. He is always poor, and, far from being sensitive and beautiful, as most people imagine, he is hard and weather-beaten, shoeless and homeless, always sleeping out for want of a bed.  He schemes to get for himself whatever is beautiful and good; he is bold and forward and strenuous, always devising tricks like a cunning huntsman. What he wins he always loses, and is neither rich nor poor, neither wise nor ignorant.

 WINNER: PLATO

Socrates is going to the Final Four.

HAS ADDISON A CHANCE AGAINST PLATO?

Addison brought the charm to philosophy and philosophy to the life, in essays speaking from the bowels of the British Empire. Philosophy and poetry, like brains and passion, combine to civilize everything under the sun, in fields where exchange and commerce were once all. Is Addison describing here earth, or heaven?

There is no place in the town which I so much love to frequent as the Royal Exchange. It gives me great satisfaction, and, in some measure, gratifies my vanity, as I am an Englishman, to see so rich an assembly of countrymen and foreigners consulting together upon the private business of mankind, and making this metropolis a kind of emporium for the whole world. Agents in the trading world are what ambassadors are in the politic world; they negotiate affairs, conclude treaties, and maintain a good correspondence between those wealthy societies of men that are divided from one another by seas and oceans, or live on the different extremities of a continent. I have often been pleased to hear disputes adjusted between an inhabitant of Japan and an alderman of London, or to see a subject of the great Mogul of Delhi entering into a league with one of the Czar of Muscovy. I am infinitely delighted in mixing with these several ministers of commerce, as they are distinguished by their different walks and different languages; sometimes I am jostled among a body of Armenians; sometimes I am lost in a crowd of Jews; and sometimes make one in a group of Dutchmen. I am a Dane, Swede, or Frenchman at different times; or rather fancy myself like the old philosopher, who upon being asked what countryman he was, replied, that he was a citizen of the world.

This grand scene of business gives me an infinite variety of solid and substantial entertainments. As I am a great lover of mankind, my heart naturally overflows with pleasure at the sight of a prosperous and happy multitude, insomuch that at many public solemnities I cannot forbear expressing my joy with tears that have stolen down my cheeks. I am wonderfully delighted to see such a body of men thriving in their own private fortunes, and at the same time promoting the public stock; or in other words, raising estates for their own families, bringing into their country whatever is wanting, and carrying out of it whatever is superfluous.

Nature seems to have taken a peculiar care to disseminate her blessings among the different regions of the world, with an eye to this mutual intercourse and traffic among mankind, that the natives of the several parts of the globe might have a kind of dependence upon one another, and be united together by their common interest. Almost every degree produces something peculiar to it. The food often grows in one country, and the sauce in another. The fruits of Portugal are corrected by the products of Barbadoes, the infusion of a China plant sweetened with the pith of an Indian cane. The Philippic Islands give a flavor to our European bowls. The single dress of a woman of quality is often the product of a hundred climates. The muff and the fan come together from the different ends of the earth. The scarf is sent from the torrid zone and the tippet from beneath the pole. The brocade petticoat rises out of the mines of Peru, and the diamond necklace out of the bowels of Indostan.

If we consider our own country in its natural prospect, without any of the benefits and adventures of commerce, what a barren uncomfortable spot of earth falls to our share! Natural historians tells us no fruit grows originally among us, besides hips and haws, acorns and pignuts, with other delicacies of the like nature; that our climate itself, and without the assistance of art, can make no further advances towards a plum than to a sloe, and carries an apple to no greater a perfection than a crab; that our melons, our peaches, our figs, our apricots, and cherries, are strangers among us, imported in different ages, and naturalized in our English gardens; and that they would all degenerate and fall away into the trash of our own country, if they were wholly neglected by the planter, and left to the mercy of our sun and soil. Nor has traffic more enriched our vegetable world, than it has improved the whole face of nature among us. Our ships are laden with the harvest of every climate, our tables are stored with spices, and oils, and wines; our rooms are filled with pyramids of China, and adorned with the workmanship of Japan; our morning’s draft comes to us from the remotest corners of the earth; we repair our bodies by the drugs of America, and repose ourselves under Indian canopies. My friend Sir Andrew calls the vineyards of France our gardens; the Spice Islands our hotbeds; the Persians our silk-weaver, and the Chinese our potters. Nature indeed furnishes us with the bare necessaries of life, but traffic gives us a great variety of what is useful, and at the same time supplies us with everything that is convenient and ornamental. Nor is it the least part of our happiness, that whilst we enjoy the remotest products of the north and south, we are free from those extremities of weather which give them birth; that our eyes are refreshed with the green fields of Britain, at the same time that our palates are feasted with fruits that rise between the tropics.

For these reasons there are not more useful members in a commonwealth than merchants. They knit mankind together in a mutual intercourse of good offices, distribute the gifts of nature, find work for the poor, add wealth to the rich, and magnificence to the great. Our English merchant converts the tin of of his own country into gold, and exchanges his wool for rubies. The Mahometans are clothed in our British manufacture , and the inhabitants of the Frozen Zone are warmed with the fleeces of our sheep.

Addison, in this article from 1711, does not mention the slave trade. Is this a costly error? Does it the mar the beauty of his piece? Merchants are valuable, and, ironically, Salem, MA merchants during the American Revolution, operating as pirates (the Colonies had no navy and yet challenged a naval Empire) captured 450 British vessels; privateers from a little ‘witch town’ changed world history.

Now Plato:

Socrates: I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer.

Brilliant! With one stroke, the great philosopher pins the journalist and advances to the Elite Eight!

 

WINNER: PLATO

BADASS, FUNNY, BUT ALAS, NOT CRITIC-PROOF

David Kirby: Makes a good salary. Doesn’t go to Olive Garden.

Philip Sidney, back in the 16th century, defended poetry against the charge that poetry is nothing but a pack of damn lies rather snarkily: “The poet never affirmith and therefore never lieth.”

Call this the Smart-Ass Defense: Poetry can be as naughty and lying as it wants to be because it’s only playin.

So Plato’s objection is put to rest, if we just don’t take poetry seriously.

But the rub here is that Sidney—who wasn’t “playin” when he died fighting Spain for Queen Elizabeth—was a secret Platonist.

The Shadow of Plato covers all: between science, religion, censorship and Ezra Pound, no one takes poetry seriously these days.

In the 19th century, poetry found its place as an expression of love, and this worked for awhile: you express love, but affirm nothing; love in its pure, unrequited state: OK, not bad.

But hubris struck hard in the 20th century as the poets suddenly wanted to be taken seriously again.  Poets woke up to the fact that Plato had won.  They didn’t like that, really.

Yes. Taken seriously.  Not as a way to learn Latin. Not as a way to learn Greek. Not as a way to express love.  But seriously.  We are Modernist!  We are serious! We are interesting!  We are historically significant!

Seriously?

Ezra Pound and a few friends began an Imagiste movement.  They made a manifesto.  But no one took them seriously.  You’re just doing haiku, they said.

But haiku is pretty serious stuff.  It affirms the natural fact, anyway.

Some kind of serious progress, in the name of “serious,” was being made.

But no one read these Modernists, printing their little poems in their little magazines. Yet something was happening in the world, something weird.  Everyone was getting very serious.  The Nazis. Modern art. It was all very, very weird.  And serious.

And international.  Ah, here was something.  For Plato’s moral objection to art was based on making the state a strong, defensible entity.  Morality is defense. The good is a wall.

But Internationalism has no walls. 

Nazism was internationalist. Communism was internationalist. Modernism was internationalist.

Eliot in London, Pound in Axis Italy, Stein in Paris, Auden and Isherwood in Berlin and China, Bauhaus and Duchamp in New York.

But World War II defeated internationalism.   The USA—and nationalism—emerged as strong as ever.   Would the poets ever beat Plato?

Then came poetry—serious, international poetry’s—big chance: the university.

The Creative Writing Program model replaced the English Major model: living poets replaced dead poets.

Affirmation was back. You don’t pay tuition fees to poets unless you take them a little bit seriously.

Pedagogy in a university is nothing if not affirming and serious, and this pedagogy—we see it in Understanding Poetry, the New Critic’s textbook (the New Critics, allied with Pound and Williams)—brought Modernism into the Academy.

Game changer.

Poetry is serious again.  Poets are now professors.  They collect salaries.  And their students now choose Creative Writing over Study of the Past.

So here we are in the present, and now we turn to our sordid tale of Professor Kirby, poet and fun-loving bad-ass known affectionately to his friends as “The Kirb.”

Since poets are affirming again, they are no longer critic-proof; for critics may now call them out—and, to put it bluntly, accuse them of lying.

This is what happened to David Kirby—depicted above in a photo gracing the cover of his latest book of poems, A Wilderness of Monkeys.

In a review of A Wilderness of Monkeys, here’s what a critic said:

 

I have an issue with David Kirby’s A Wilderness of Monkeys. I have a problem with this poetry!

But first, consider this: Kirby’s poems are fun, crazy, free-fall, a tumbling of words, a stream of whatever. Is he going somewhere? Is this random? Is it okay to be random? What does it all mean? Who really was the fattest president? Is Kirby simply being funny? Can a book of poetry be a series of jokes?

In “Legion, For We are Many,” he writes:

I’m doing a couple of yoga stretches in
a quiet corner
of the Atlanta airport because my
flight’s delayed,
though having said “Atlanta airport,”
I realize
that I don’t have to say “my flight’s
delayed.”

I love that! Poetry can be so self serious! As with Alexie, it’s nice to see some humor!

“Massages by Blind Masseurs” starts off:

My tree guy and I are watching as the
man with the chipper
arrives, and I say, “Mr. Pumphrey,
every once in a while
I read that somebody gets tired of his
wife and knocks her
on the head and passes her through
one of these chippers,”
and he says, “I know, Mr. Kirby—
terrible isn’t it?” and then
he says, “And it doesn’t do the chipper
any good either.”

Hilarious. A number of the poems in this collection are just as strange and funny.

But still, I have an issue. It lies in the poem “Good Old Boys,” where David Kirby mentions people who got take-out from the Olive Garden and left their puppy nearly to die in an overheated truck cab. He derides them, saying,

Besides who gets
take-out from the Olive Garden?
You miss out on the endless
breadsticks and salad that way.

Here, here is the rub. Mr. Kirby writes about Olive Garden as if he actually goes to that restaurant. But in the author’s photo on the back of the book, Mr. David Kirby sits on a porch next to a black wrought iron fence, wearing a smart haircut and a splendid poet’s uniform of black sport coats and (I believe) dark jeans, with a Robert O. Lawton Professor of English at Florida State University annual salary of $127,080. All of which leads me to believe he has not set one foot inside an Olive Garden for the past 15 years.

If this is true, clearly it undermines his credibility as a poet who can write authentically about Olive Garden! Even if he has gone there recently, we may guess that he went with irony, with a “slumming” self-awareness that he was going someplace faux-classy like Olive Garden.

So tell us Kirby: what is the deal with Olive Garden? We want to give you a fair shake. We’d like to give you credit. Author photos and biographies can be deceiving. People are different ways. But we just don’t know. This anti-review may just have to leave off with a brocade of doubt stitched into its David Kirby section.

(Then again, that may be the point of an anti-review.)

The whole review, by Joe Hoover, which looks at a number of poets, can be found here.

Ever since Ezra Pound settled in fascist Italy, began his fascist Broadcasts, and was lauded in the influential New Critics’ textbook, Understanding Poetry, and the Program Era began in earnest, poetry is serious business.

Sure, here we have Olive Garden in this instance, as opposed to Mussolini and the Cantos in the other, but here’s the real issue: the poet now affirms, and is meant to be taken seriously.

John Ashbery is critic-proof, because no one quite knows what he is talking about.  Ashbery “never affirmith,” sly devil.  He belongs to Sidney’s world.  Poetry as a waking dream, perhaps.

Not Kirby.  He, with his professor’s six figure salary, belongs to the new poetry of affirmation. He writes truthfully of real things: Olive Garden.

Or, and perhaps this is what annoyed the reviewer: “Good Old Boys.”

Working class people from the South.  People who don’t make 127,080 a year. People like the orphaned newspaper reviewer, Edgar Poe, slammed for his “pure poetry” in the same textbook that praised Ezra Pound and his friend William Carlos Williams, poets of real things and natural facts.

Kirby, as a poet, has a great sense of humor, as Mr. Hoover—who seems like a pretty good reviewer—points out; but wit can hide a sting, and in this case, Mr. Hoover finds Kirby’s sting offensive: professor Kirby uses Olive Garden to “deride” the “good old boys” of his poem.

When your poem contains the following information, “good old boys who got take-out from Olive Garden left their puppy nearly to die in an overheated truck cab,” you are affirming. 

When you affirm, you make the mistake of not listening to Philip Sidney.  As a poet, you open yourself up to a world of hurt.

The critic, like a pickerel waiting in the reeds, strikes: “Mr. Kirby writes about Olive Garden as if he actually goes to that restaurant.”

Uh oh.

“But in the author’s photo on the back of the book, Mr. David Kirby sits on a porch next to a black wrought iron fence, wearing a smart haircut and a splendid poet’s uniform of black sport coats and (I believe) dark jeans, with a Robert O. Lawton Professor of English at Florida State University annual salary of $127,080.”

Ouch.

Does he really make that much money? 

Affirmative, captain.

“All of which leads me to believe he has not set one foot inside an Olive Garden for the past 15 years.”

The stinger has been stung.

The reviewer has strayed from the poem to the poet.

But remember that Sidney said, “the poet never affirmith.”

Once you affirm, not only is your poetry fair game for the Platonist critique, but so are you.

Rumor has it that Kirby is incensed, but the whole thing can, perhaps, be laughed off as a tempest in a teacup.

But we see Kirby v. Hoover as a significant skirmish in the endless campaign by the poets to 1) be taken seriously and 2) defeat Plato—who would never pay a poet 127,080 a year.

 

 

 

THE CLASSICAL PHILOSOPHERS DESIRE THE SWEET 16!

Plato of The Republic matches up in Round Two with Philip Sidney, poet and author of “A Defense of Poetry,” who died fighting for Queen Elizabeth against Catholic Spain.

Plato was the greatest pro-poetry philosopher, despite those who think the opposite is true.

Sidney, in his Defense, praises Plato, and well, of course. The poet never affirms, and therefore he does not lie, says the clever Sidney, and this is true of The Republic, too, an invented place. In the ideality of its invention, a poem is going to kick the poets out, for only one poet belongs to the true poem. The poet is not in the Republic. The poet authors it. And only then do we begin to understand.

As poets, we each carry around our own Republic, in which no other poet is admitted.  And this is how Plato shows the way to the true—Republic.  There are many heavens inside of heaven.

Plato defeats Sidney in Round Two. PLATO IS IN THE SWEET 16!

***

Aristotle must get past Dante to advance in the tournament: another philosopher battles his student—Dante lived in the dark ages before Plato was widely translated, when Aristotle was “the Philosopher” among scholars and poets.

Dante’s mission, like that of Thomas Aquinas, was to reconcile Aristotle’s scholarship with Christianity, and, clever Dante puts Aristotle’s moral divisions (from Aristotle’s Ethics) in hell, and Christianity reigns in heaven. Reconciliation, indeed!  It is similar to how poets like Sidney reconciled “defenses” of poetry with Plato: the Poem, the Republic, Heaven, the Ideal, is true, self-justifying, and knowledge-seeking.

Dante upsets the mighty Aristotle and advances to the Sweet 16.

***

Is it some accident of fate that places Aquinas against…Pope?  The latter is a poet of such remarkable dexterity and reasoning on all things human, poetic and divine, that what chance does a mere 13th century theologian, dividing up reality to serve Aristotle—the body—the soul—and virtue, in the name of eternal salvation, have?

Presumptuous Man! the reason wouldst thou find,
Why form’d so weak, so little, and so blind!
First, if thou canst, the harder reason guess,
Why form’d no weaker, blinder, and no less!
Ask of thy mother earth, why oaks are made
Taller or stronger than the weeds they shade?
Or ask of yonder argent fields above,
Why JOVE’S Satellites are less than JOVE?
Of Systems possible, if ’tis confest
That Wisdom infinite must form the best,
Where all must full or not coherent be,
And all that rises, rise in due degree;
Then, in the scale of reas’ning life, ’tis plain
There must be, somewhere, such rank as Man;
And all the question (wrangle e’er so long)
Is only this, if God has plac’d him wrong?
Respecting Man, whatever wrong we call,
Nay, must be right, as relative to all.
In human works, tho’ labour’d on with pain,
A thousand movements scarce one purpose gain;
In God’s, one single can its end produce;
Yet serves to second too some other use.
So Man, who here seems principal alone,
Perhaps acts second to some sphere unknown,
Touches some wheel, or verges to some goal;
‘Tis but a part we see, and not a whole.
When the proud steed shall know why Man restrains
His fiery course, or drives him o’er the plains;
When the dull Ox, why now he breaks the clod,
Is now a victim, and now Egypt’s God:
Then shall Man’s pride and dullness comprehend
His actions’, passions’, being’s, use and end;
Why doing, suff’ring, check’d, impell’d; and why
This hour a slave, the next a deity.
Then say not Man’s imperfect, Heav’n in fault;
Say rather, Man’s as perfect as he ought;
His knowledge measur’d to his state and place,
His time a moment, and a point his space.
If to be perfect in a certain sphere,
What matter, soon or late, or here or there?
The blest today is as completely so,
As who began a thousand years ago.

Alexander Pope

It is absolutely true that God is not a body; and this can be shown in three ways. First, because no body is in motion unless it be put in motion, as is evident from induction. Now it has been already proved (Q. 2, A. 3), that God is the First Mover, and is Himself unmoved. Therefore it is clear that God is not a body. Secondly, because the first being must of necessity be in act, and in no way in potentiality. For although in any single thing that passes from potentiality to actuality, the potentiality is prior in time to the actuality; nevertheless, absolutely speaking, actuality is prior to potentiality; for whatever is in potentiality can be reduced into actuality only by some being in actuality. Now it has been already proved that God is the First Being. It is therefore impossible that in God there should be any potentiality. But every body is in potentiality because the continuous, as such, is divisible to infinity; it is therefore impossible that God should be a body. Thirdly, because God is the most noble of beings. Now it is impossible for a body to be the most noble of beings; for a body must be either animate or inanimate; and an animate body is manifestly nobler than any inanimate body. But an animate body is not animate precisely as body; otherwise all bodies would be animate. Therefore its animation depends upon some other thing, as our body depends for its animation on the soul. Hence that by which a body becomes animated must be nobler than the body. Therefore it is impossible that God should be a body.

Thomas Aquinas

This is what invisible reason looks like: in verse, colored by a hectoring poet; in theology, manifested by a theologian logical to a fault.

Pope and Aquinas both belong to that long line of thinkers (dead white males) who justify the ways of God to Man and believe the world made by God is “the best of all possible worlds.”

This sort of thinking cannot be justified by the modern mind or the modern temper, which fixes on known imperfections and slides along with its morality based on that.  The perfection does not translate into what the moderns understand, and Pope: “Of course it’s not going to look like perfection to you, you worm!” doesn’t make the modern feel much better.

The issue is really one of: what is the universe? And how much of the universe can we trace downward to particulars and upward to abstraction at the same time?  Those who contemplate this are philosophers and worthy of the name.  Poets, and all who involve themselves in Letters, ought to pursue this question, as well.

Pope’s poetry propels him to victory.   Alexander Pope is in the Sweet 16!

***

In the last Classical Bracket contest, Addison duels Maimonides.

We shall look, very much at random, at a sample of writing, and therein determine the winner on the basis of this. Addison wrote an exemplary play and both men wrote so much; we can only look at moments.

 

I mentioned several characters which want explanation to the generality of readers: among others, I spoke of a Pretty Fellow; but I have received a kind admonition in a letter, to take care that I do not omit to show also what is meant by a Very Pretty Fellow, which is to be allowed as a character by itself, and a person exalted above the other by a peculiar sprightliness, as one who, by a distinguishing vigour, outstrips his companions, and has thereby deserved and obtained a particular appellation, or nickname of familiarity. Some have this distinction from the fair sex, who are so generous as to take into their protection those who are laughed at by the men, and place them for that reason in degrees of favour. The chief of this sort is Colonel Brunett, who is a man of fashion, because he will be so; and practices a very jaunty way of behaviour, because he is too careless to know when he offends, and too sanguine to be mortified if he did know it. Thus the colonel has met with a town ready to receive him, and cannot possibly see why he should not make use of their favour, and set himself in the first degree of conversation. Therefore he is very successfully loud among the wits, familiar among the ladies, and dissolute among the rakes. Thus he is admitted in one place, because he is so in another; and every man treats Brunett well, not out of his particular esteem for him, but in respect to the opinion of others. It is to me a solid pleasure to see the world thus mistaken on the good-natured side; for it is ten to one but the colonel mounts into a general officer, marries a fine lady, and is master of a good estate, before they come to explain upon him. What gives most delight to me in this observation, is, that all this arises from pure nature, and the colonel can account for his success no more than those by whom he succeeds. For these causes and considerations, I pronounce him a true woman’s man, and in the first degree, “a very pretty fellow.” The next to a man of this universal genius, is one who is peculiarly formed for the service of the ladies, and his merit chiefly is to be of no consequence. I am indeed a little in doubt, whether he ought not rather to be called a “very happy,” than a “very pretty” fellow? For he is admitted at all hours: all he says or does, which would offend in another, are passed over in him; and all actions and speeches which please, doubly please if they come from him: no one wonders or takes notice when he is wrong; but all admire him when he is in the right. By the way it is fit to remark, that there are people of better sense than these, who endeavour at this character; but they are out of nature; and though, with some industry, they get the characters of fools, they cannot arrive to be “very,” seldom to be merely “pretty fellows.” But where nature has formed a person for this station amongst men, he is gifted with a peculiar genius for success, and his very errors and absurdities contribute to it; this felicity attending him to his life’s end. For it being in a manner necessary that he should be of no consequence, he is as well in old age as youth; and I know a man, whose son has been some years a pretty fellow, who is himself at this hour a “very” pretty fellow.

Joseph Addison

 

Some years ago a learned man asked me a question of great importance; the problem and the solution which we gave in our reply deserve the closest attention. Before, however, entering upon this problem and its solution I must premise that every Hebrew knows that the term Elohim is a homonym, and denotes God, angels, judges, and the rulers of countries, and that Onkelos the proselyte explained it in the true and correct manner by taking Elohim in the sentence, “and ye shall be like Elohim” (Gen. iii. 5) in the last-mentioned meaning, and rendering the sentence “and ye shall be like princes.”

Having pointed out the homonymity of the term “Elohim” we return to the question under consideration. “It would at first sight,” said the objector, “appear from Scripture that man was originally intended to be perfectly equal to the rest of the animal creation, which is not endowed with intellect, reason, or power of distinguishing between good and evil: but that Adam’s disobedience to the command of God procured him that great perfectionwhich is the peculiarity of man, viz., the power of distinguishing between good and evil-the noblest of all the faculties of our nature, the essential characteristic of the human race. It thus appears strange that the punishment for rebelliousness should be the means of elevating man to a pinnacle of perfection to which he had not attained previously. This is equivalent to saying that a certain man was rebellious and extremely wicked, wherefore his nature was changed for the better, and he was made to shine as a star in the heavens.” Such was the purport and subject of the question, though not in the exact words of the inquirer.

Now mark our reply, which was as follows:–“You appear to have studied the matter superficially, and nevertheless you imagine that you can understand a book which has been the guide of past and present generations, when you for a moment withdraw from your lusts and appetites, and glance over its contents as if you were reading a historical work or some poetical composition. Collect your thoughts and examine the matter carefully, for it is not to be understood as you at first sight think, but as you will find after due deliberation; namely, the intellect which was granted to man as the highest endowment, was bestowed on him before his disobedience. With reference to this gift the Bible states that “man was created in the form and likeness of God.” On account of this gift of intellect man was addressed by God, and received His commandments, as it is said: “And the Lord God commanded Adam” (Gen. ii. 16)–for no commandments are given to the brute creation or to those who are devoid of understanding. Through the intellect man distinguishes between the true and the false. This faculty Adam possessed perfectly and completely. The right and the wrong are terms employed in the science of apparent truths (morals), not in that of necessary truths, as, e.g., it is not correct to say, in reference to the proposition “the heavens are spherical,” it is “good” or to declare the assertion that “the earth is flat” to be “bad”: but we say of the one it is true, of the other it is false. Similarly our language expresses the idea of true and false by the terms emet and sheker, of the morally right and the morally wrong, by tob and ra’. Thus it is the function of the intellect to discriminate between the true and the false–a distinction which is applicable to all objects of intellectual perception. When Adam was yet in a state of innocence, and was guided solely by reflection and reason–on account of which it is said: “Thou hast made him (man) little lower than the angels” (Ps. viii. 6)–he was not at all able to follow or to understand the principles of apparent truths; the most manifest impropriety, viz., to appear in a state of nudity, was nothing unbecoming according to his idea: he could not comprehend why it should be so. After man’s disobedience, however, when he began to give way to desires which had their source in his imagination and to the gratification of his bodily appetites, as it is said, “And the wife saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to the eyes” (Gen. iii. 6), he was punished by the loss of part of that intellectual faculty which he had previously possessed. He therefore transgressed a command with which he had been charged on the score of his reason; and having obtained a knowledge of the apparent truths, he was wholly absorbed in the study of what is proper and what improper. Then he fully understood the magnitude of the loss he had sustained, what he had forfeited, and in what situation he was thereby placed. Hence we read, “And ye shall be likeelohim, knowing good and evil,” and not “knowing” or “discerning the true and the false”: while in necessary truths we can only apply the words “true and false,” not “good and evil.” Further observe the passage, “And the eyes of both were opened, and they knew they were naked” (Gen. iii. 7): it is not said, “And the eyes of both were opened, and they saw”; for what the man had seen previously and what he saw after this circumstance was precisely the same: there had been no blindness which was now removed, but he received a new faculty whereby he found things wrong which previously he had not regarded as wrong. Besides, you must know that the Hebrew word pakaḥ used in this passage is exclusively employed in the figurative sense of receiving new sources of knowledge, not in that of regaining the sense of sight. Comp., “God opened her eyes” (Gen. xxi. 19). “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened” (Isaiah xxxviii. 8). “Open ears, he heareth not” (ibid. Xlii. 20), similar in sense to the verse, “Which have eyes to see, and see not” (Ezek. xii. 2). When, however, Scripture says of Adam, “He changed his face (panav) and thou sentest him forth” Job xiv. 20), it must be understood in the following way: On account of the change of his original aim he was sent away. For panim, the Hebrew equivalent of face, is derived from the verb panah, “he turned,” and signifies also “aim,” because man generally turns his face towards the thing he desires. In accordance with this interpretation, our text suggests that Adam, as he altered his intention and directed his thoughts to the acquisition of what he was forbidden, he was banished from Paradise: this was his punishment; it was measure for measure. At first he had the privilege of tasting pleasure and happiness, and of enjoying repose and security; but as his appetites grew stronger, and he followed his desires and impulses, (as we have already stated above), and partook of the food he was forbidden to taste, he was deprived of everything, was doomed to subsist on the meanest kind of food, such as he never tasted before, and this even only after exertion and labour, as it is said, “Thorns and thistles shall grow up for thee” (Gen. iii. 18), “By the sweat of thy brow,” etc., and in explanation of this the text continues, “And the Lord God drove him from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground whence he was taken.” He was now with respect to food and many other requirements brought to the level of the lower animals: comp., “Thou shalt eat the grass of the field” (Gen. iii. 18). Reflecting on his condition, the Psalmist says, “Adam unable to dwell in dignity, was brought to the level of the dumb beast. May the Almighty be praised, whose design and wisdom cannot be fathomed.”

-Moses Maimonides

Maimonides reasons like a champion when he discourses on the punishment of Adam, pointing out that truth and falsehood are not the same as (moral) good and bad—the “apparent” truths.  But we are thoroughly charmed by Addison’s “Very Pretty Fellow,” a wonderful observation of human nature—who reminds us of the Adam of Maimonides.  It is true: humans are obsessed with good and bad—with morality, to the degree they do not discern pure truth from falsehood, and this is our “curse.” It is not that morality is not important, but it is a step down from the reasoning power of the intellect.  The contestants compliment one another, even as they fight to eliminate the other, and in this case, the more modern moment of example-citing triumphs, though we hate to say goodbye to the Jewish scholar.

Joseph Addison wins, and advances to the Sweet 16!

THE 2014 MARCH MADNESS FIRST ROUND WINNERS!

CLASSICAL

Painter, Carpenter, God (3 beds) PLATO def. HUME

Tragedy is a complete action ARISTOTLE def. SAMUEL JOHNSON

In every work regard the writer’s end POPE def. HORACE

Novelty bestows charms on a monster ADDISON def. AUGUSTINE

The flaming sword which turned every way MAIMONIDES def. VICO

All our knowledge originates from sense  AQUINAS def. BEHN

The four senses of writing DANTE def. DRYDEN

Poet never affirms and so never lies  SIDNEY def. BOCCACCIO

 

ROMANTIC

Religion & Commodities = Fetishism MARX def. KANT

Taste can be measured EDMUND BURKE def. GAUTIER

A long poem does not exist POE def. LESSING

Pure and simple soul in a chaste body EMERSON def. SCHILLER

Poetry awakens and enlarges the mind SHELLEY def. WOLLSTONECRAFT

Four ages of poetry PEACOCK def. DE STAEL

Nothing pleases permanently not containing the reason COLERIDGE def. SCHLEIERMACHER

Language really used by men WORDSWORTH def. HEGEL

 

MODERN

Genius is childhood recovered BAUDELAIRE def. ADORNO

Art is not unique but caught in time BENJAMIN def. ARNOLD

Hard, gem-like flame PATER def. HEIDEGGER

Criticism, Inc RANSOM def. MALLARME

No poet has his complete meaning alone ELIOT def. NIETZSCHE

Not the moment makes the man, man creates the age WILDE def. WOOLF

The first stirrings of sexuality FREUD def. TROTSKY

In language there are only differences SAUSSURE def. JUNG

 

POST-MODERN

Leaves & Huck Finn show U.S. to be like Russia EDMUND WILSON def. JUDITH BUTLER

Beauty will no longer be forbidden CIXOUS def. KENNETH BURKE

What they can know is what they have made SAID def. LACAN

We are directors of our being, not producers SARTRE def. DERRIDA

A poem is a poet’s melancholy at his lack of priority HAROLD BLOOM def. CLEANTH BROOKS

The secret essence of femininity does not exist DE BEAUVOIR def. RICH

All speech is performance AUSTIN def. FANON

Criticism of literature is all that can be directly taught FRYE def. BARTHES

 

It was a genuine pleasure these past three months (March to June) to explore 64 of the world’s greatest philosophical literary critics; look back over the past 3 months at 32 Scarriet articles (called “March Madness”) which re-evaluates these iconic points of view—and feel the excitement!

The rest of the play will quickly follow, as we move into the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight, the Final Four, and the greatest Aesthetic Philosopher of them all.

If we might be allowed to summarize the four Brackets:

The Classical determines WHAT POETRY IS.

The Romantic determines WHAT POETRY IS TO PEOPLE.

The Modern determines WHAT PEOPLE ARE  TO PEOPLE IN TERMS OF  POETRY

The Post-Modern determines WHAT POETRY IS TO LANGUAGE

 

Congratulations to all the winners!

BOCCACCIO BATTLES SIDNEY

Philip Sidney: loved Christ, poetry and Plato

BOCCACCIO:

They say that poetry is absolutely of no account , and the making of poetry a useless and absurd craft; that poets are tale-mongers, or, in lower terms, liars; that they live in the country among the woods and mountains because they lack manners and polish. They say, besides, that their poems are false, obscure, lewd, and replete with absurd and silly tales of pagan gods, and that they make Jove, who was in point of fact, an obscene and adulterous man, now the father of the gods, now king of heaven, now fire, or air, or man, or bull, or eagle, or similar irrelevant things. They cry out that poets are seducers of the mind, prompters of crime, and, to make their foul charge fouler, if possible, they say they are philosophers’ apes, that it is a heinous crime to read or possess the books of poets; and then, without making any distinction, they prop themselves up with Plato’s authority to the effect that poets ought to be turned out-of-doors.

Poetry proceeds from the bosom of God, and few, I find, are the souls in whom this gift is born; so wonderful a gift it is that true poets have always been the rarest of men. This fervor of poetry is sublime in its effects: it impels the soul to a longing for utterance; it brings forth strange and unheard-of creations of the mind; it arranges these meditations in a fixed order, adores the whole composition with unusual interweaving of words and thoughts; and thus it veils truth in a fair and fitting garment of fiction. Further, if in any case the invention so requires, it can arm kings, marshal them for war, launch whole fleets from their docks, nay, counterfeit sky, land, sea, adorn young maidens with flowery gardens, portray human character in its various phases, awake the idle, stimulate the dull, restrain the rash, subdue the criminal, and distinguish excellent men with their proper meed of praise: these, and many other such, are the effects of poetry. Yet if any man who who has received the gift of poetic fervor shall imperfectly fulfill its function here described, he is not, in my opinion, a laudable poet. For, however deeply the poetic impulse stirs the mind to which it is granted, it very rarely accomplishes anything commendable if the instruments by which its concepts are to be wrought out are wanting—I mean, for example, the precepts of grammar and rhetoric.

 

SIDNEY:

 

Now for the poet, he doesn’t affirm, and therefore never lies.

The poet never makes any circles about your imagination to conjure you to believe for true what he writes. He cites not authorities of other histories, but even for his entry calls the sweet Muses to inspire into him a good invention; in truth, not laboring to tell you what is or is not, but what should or should not be.

Shall the abuse of a thing make the right use odious? Poetry may not only be abused, but that being abused, by the reason of its sweet charming force it can do more hurt than any other army of words, yet shall it be so far from concluding that the abuse should give reproach to the abused.

Now Plato his name is laid upon me, whom I must confess, of all the philosophers I have ever esteemed most worthy of reverence, and with great reason, since of all philosophers he is the most poetical. Yet if he will defile the fountain out of which his flowing streams have proceeded, let us boldly examine with what reasons he did it. First, truly a man might maliciously object that Plato, being a philosopher, was a natural enemy of poets: for indeed, after the philosopher had picked out of the sweet mysteries of poetry the right discerning true points of knowledge, they forthwith putting it in method, and making a school-art of that which the poets did only teach by a divine delightfulness, beginning to spurn at their guides like ungrateful apprentices, were not content to set up shops for themselves but sought by all means to discredit their masters; which, by the force of delight being barred them, the less they could overthrow them, the more they hated them.

Plato hated the abuse, not the poetry. Plato found fault that the poets of his time filled the world with wrong opinions of the gods, making light tales of that unspotted essence, and therefore would not have the youth depraved with such opinions. The poets did not induce such opinions, but did imitate those opinions already induced. For all the Greek stories can well testify that the very religion of that time stood upon many and many-fashioned gods, not taught so by the poets, but followed according to their nature of imitation. One may read in Plutarch the discourses of Isis and Osiris, of the cause why oracles ceased, of the divine providence, and see whether the theology of that nation stood not upon such dreams, which the poets indeed superstitiously observed, and truly (since they had not the light of Christ) did much better in it than the philosophers, who shaking off superstition, brought in atheism. Plato therefore (whose authority I had much rather justly construe than unjustly resist) meant not in general of poets to misuse, but only meant to drive out those wrong opinions of the Deity (whereof now, without further law, Christianity hath taken away all the hurtful belief), perchance (as he thought) nourished by the then esteemed poets. And a man need go no further than to Plato himself to know his meaning: who, in his dialogue called Ion, gives high and rightly divine commendation to poetry. So as Plato, banishing the abuse, not the thing, not banishing it, but giving due honor unto it, shall be our patron and not our adversary.

 

We love how Sidney understands that “Plato hated the abuse, not the poetry.”  Sidney is more subtle than Boccaccio, handling the same theme: poets are bad/good. If only poetry had a monopoly on “lewd;” it would be more popular: Boccaccio is right of course, as is Sidney, poetry can be naughty or nice; it isn’t poetry that is ever the problem—the question is, who is using it and what are they using it for? Today we don’t ask this question: we merely whine that no one reads it—without defining what it is.

 

WINNER: SIDNEY

100 ESSENTIAL BOOKS OF POETRY

 

EYE Don Share

Collecting is where material pride, wisdom and love uneasily sit, an endless pursuit which moves product, an endless boon to any enterprise.  To collect is to amass, to buy, to own, to bring into one’s circle the niceties of some industry for one’s own comfort and inspection. The collectable items should be unique, if not numerous, and if not unique, at least very rare.  Collecting is to break off pieces of some whole, but the item, when found, bought, discovered, possessed, is a shining whole to the collector, and compared to it, the universe is a sad jumble—such is the profundity of collecting.

Poetry anthologies spread wealth; poetry is centrifugal; it scatters itself outward freely.  Except where it overlaps with the ‘rare book collector,’ poetry, despite its fecundity, is not collectable; collecting is centripetal; it waits in vaults and rooms crowded with unique paintings, coins, and cars.  To know coins, one must darken them in one’s palm; to know poetry, one merely glimpses what every other person glimpses.

The following list is not a rare book list; increasingly, great old poetry, important translated poetry, and all sorts of rare poetry, simply lives on the internet.

This, in many ways, is a perfectly centrifugal list, readily available to whatever soul—no matter how mysterious, no matter how centripetal, no matter how hidden, no matter how curious—happens to want it.

Poetry is against collecting.  Poetry doesn’t  hoard; you can be deeply poetic for free.

These are books you could own, or read, or memorize, or teach, or learn, and probably already have.

Good translations are necessary, but impossible.  Old poems are necessary, but impossible.  Good, new poetry is necessary, but impossible.

The list below is mundane, but necessary.  This—mostly from the top of the list—is what you read if you want to know poetry.

It is everywhere, but it still must hit you.

 

1. SHAKESPEARE SONNETS, AUDEN INTRODUCTION  Modern poetry begins here. A definite sequence: 1-14 children as immortality, 15-28 poems as immortality, etc.

2. POE: POETRY, TALES, AND SELECTED ESSAYS (LIBRARY OF AMERICA) Iconic poems, tales of poetic quality, even criticism of poetic quality

3. VIKING BOOK OF POETRY OF THE ENGLISH SPEAKING WORLD, RICHARD ALDINGTON  H.D.’s husband, got Eliot out of the bank, solid anthology by this Brit wounded in WW I who knew all the Modernists and hated most of them (375 poets)

4. PLATO: THE COLLECTED DIALOGUES, BOLLINGEN SERIES, EDITH HAMILTON, ED  Poetry being born

5. THE ARDEN SHAKESPEARE, COMPLETE WORKS  With Shakespeare the best is just to read, and forget all the notes

6. THE DIVINE COMEDY, DANTE, JOHN D. SINCLAIR, TRANSLATOR (OXFORD U. PRESS)  Verse translation hopeless; take the prose Sinclair with Italian on the facing page

7. THE ILIAD OF HOMER TRANSLATED BY ALEXANDER POPE (PENGUIN)  The king of men his reverent priest defied/And for the king’s offense the people died

8. THE ODYSSEY OF HOMER TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH VERSE BY ALEXANDER POPE (MACMILLAN, 1911)  The man for wisdom’s various arts renown’d/Long exercised in woes, O Muse! resound

9. EDNA MILLAY COLLECTED, NORMA MILLAY (HARPER)  Tragically undervalued as Modernism came into vogue, Millay’s Collected is a must

10. PHILIP LARKIN THE COMPLETE POEMS, ARCHIE BURNETT  recently published master of the short lyric

11. LYRICAL BALLADS, WORDSWORTH, COLERIDGE  A shame Coleridge didn’t contribute more

12. WASTELAND AND OTHER POEMS, T.S. ELIOT  The one Modernist who could really write poetry (and prose).

13. LEAVES OF GRASS, WHITMAN (1855 EDITION) The first edition, before it got too long-winded

14. THE COMPLETE POEMS OF JOHN MILTON WRITTEN IN ENGLISH (HARVARD CLASSICS) You can’t go wrong with melodious Milton

15. UNDERSTANDING POETRY, BROOKS AND WARREN Textbooks are propaganda—this most used anthology in the 20th c. attacked Poe and elevated Pound/Williams

16. SELECTED POETRY & LETTERS, BYRON, EDWARD BOSTETTER, ED  Byron was very, very unhappy

17. POCKET BOOK OF MODERN VERSE, OSCAR WILLIAMS (1954)  Okay. Some of modern verse is good

18. A BOOK OF LUMINOUS THINGS, AN INTRODUCTORY ANTHOLOGY, CZESLAW MILOSZ  International poetry collections are good things

19. SELECTED POEMS AND TWO PLAYS, WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS, ROSENTHAL, ED  Yeats benefits from Selected as opposed to Collected

20. OVID, THE LOVE POEMS, A.D. MELVILLE, ED. And you can really learn something, lovers

21. THE BEST LOVED POEMS OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, HAZEL FELLEMAN  Because these uncritical anthologies always have some gems

22. ROBERT BROWNING, THE POEMS, PETTIGREW, ED. 2 VOLS  Because it’s Robert Browning

23. A NEW ANTHOLOGY OF MODERN POETRY, SELDEN RODMAN (1938)   Great snapshot of poetry in the 1930s: lots of ballads of political anguish

24. 100 GREAT POEMS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, MARK STRAND, ED.  A very nice selection from a poet whose reputation is fading

25. POETRY OF WITNESS: THE TRADITION IN ENGLISH 1500-2001, CAROLYN FORCHE, DUNCAN WU, EDS   Poetry handles real horror

26. BEST AMERICAN POETRY 1988, LEHMAN, SERIES ED. ASHBERY, GUEST ED. The first volume in the series may be the best

27. ARIEL, SYLVIA PLATH  A whirlwind of rhyme and rage

28. PABLO NERUDA, TWENTY LOVE SONGS AND A SONG OF DESPAIR, DUAL-LANGUAGE EDITION (PENGUIN) Neruda may get you laid

29. GREAT POEMS BY AMERICAN WOMEN: AN ANTHOLOGY, SUSAN RATTINER (DOVER) Women once had a higher standing as poets

30. OXFORD BOOK OF LIGHT VERSE, W.H. AUDEN, EDITOR  Who said light verse was light?

31. PALGRAVE’S GOLDEN TREASURY, FRANCIS TURNER PALGRAVE (1861) Look out! Right-wing poetry!

32. LIBRARY OF WORLD POETRY, WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT Worth a peek

33. 100 POEMS FROM THE JAPANESE, KENNETH REXROTH  blossoms and other stuff

34. BLACK POETS OF THE UNITED STATES: FROM PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR TO LANGSTON HUGHES, JEAN WAGNER  Before rap

35. THE OXFORD BOOK OF NARRATIVE VERSE, PETER OPIE  A narrative poem does not exist?

36. A BOY’S WILL, ROBERT FROST  His first book, published in England while the 40 year old poet made contacts there

37. THE NEW AMERICAN POETRY 1945-1960, DONALD ALLEN   Dawn of the post-war avant-garde

38. BEST AMERICAN POETRY 1990, LEHMAN SERIES EDITOR, JORIE GRAHAM, GUEST EDITOR  Has that wonderful poem by Kinnell…

39. FIRST WORLD WAR POETRY, JON SILKIN, EDITOR  While being slaughtered, they wrote

40. SPANISH POETRY: A DUAL LANGUAGE ANTHOLOGY 16TH-20TH CENTURIES, ANGEL FLORES  Dual Languages are a must, really

41. THE HERITAGE OF RUSSIAN VERSE, DIMITRI OBOLENSKY  “From The Ends To The Beginning A Bilingual Anthology of Russian Verse” is available on-line

42. BEST AMERICAN POETRY 2007, LEHMAN, SERIES EDITOR, MCHUGH, GUEST EDITOR   One of the best volumes in the series

43. POETS TRANSLATE POETS, A HUDSON REVIEW ANTHOLOGY, PAULA DIETZ, ED.  Nice historical sweep…

44. ART AND ARTISTS: POEMS, EMILY FRAGOS (EVERYMAN POCKET LIBRARY)    Art really meets poetry; lovely poems

45. W.H. AUDEN COLLECTED POEMS Best poet of the 20th century; slighted by anthologies

46. POEMS 1965-1975 SEAMUS HEANEY  Never quite made it to major status

47. POEMS BEWITCHED AND HAUNTED, JOHN HOLLANDER, ED (EVERYMAN’S POCKET LIBRARY)  Some really darling pieces here

48. COMPLETE POEMS OF KEATS AND SHELLEY (MODERN LIBRARY) The two best—the best, the best

49. THE 20TH CENTURY IN POETRY, HULSE, RAE, EDS (PEGASUS BOOKS)   Wonderful idea: poems in close chronology throughout the century

50. VITA NOVA, DANTE, MARK MUSA, TRANSLATOR (OXFORD) A great book for so many reasons

51. CHAUCER: THE CANTERBURY TALES (PENGUIN) father of English literature, we hear

52. HYPERION; BALLADS & OTHER POEMS, LONGFELLOW (1841)  “Hyperion” is a very modern poem…

53. THE RAG AND BONE SHOP OF THE HEART: A POETRY ANTHOLOGY, ROBERT BLY, EDITOR  A lot of Rumi and Neruda

54. WORLD POETRY: AN ANTHOLOGY OF VERSE FROM ANTIQUITY TO THE PRESENT, WASHBURN, MAJOR, FADIMAN, EDS  The translations are terrible, the selections are generally weak, but kudos for the attempt

55. LES FLEUR DU MAL, BAUDELAIRE  Ah…Baudelaire!

56. VICTORIAN WOMEN POETS: AN ANTHOLOGY, LEIGHTON, REYNOLDS, EDS (BLACKWELL)  That backwards era when women poets sold better than their male counterparts

57.  IMMORTAL POEMS OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, OSCAR WILLIAMS   Solid overview (150 poets) without too much emphasis on annoying moderns

58. ALEXANDER POPE, SELECTED (OXFORD POETRY LIBRARY) You could do worse than his verse

59. A TREASURY OF GREAT POEMS, LOUIS UNTERMEYER   Almost 2OO poets

60. AMERICAN POETRY: THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, HOLLANDER, ED, LIBRARY OF AMERICA   A good look around at two centuries ago

61. ANEID, VIRGIL, ROBERT FITZGERALD, TRANSLATOR  Poet of the silver age…

62. THE POETICAL WORKS OF ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING, RUTH M. ADAMS INTRO  She was the famous poet when Robert met her

63. THE ESSENTIAL RUMI, COLEMAN BARKS, ED  Passion pushed to the limit of wisdom

64. EUGENE ONEGIN BY ALEXANDER PUSHKIN, STANLEY MITCHELL (PENGUIN) The most modern of all epics

65. DYLAN THOMAS, COLLECTED, PAUL MULDOON, INTRO Too drunk to write many poems; this may be good or bad

66. POETRY OF DEREK WALCOTT 1948-2013, SELECTED BY GLYN MAXWELL  Between obligation and pleasure, we read…

67. BRITISH POETRY SINCE 1945, EWARD LUCIE-SMITH.  The poor modern Brits, neither old nor quite modern

68. THE PALM AT THE END OF THE MIND, WALLACE STEVENS, SELECTED POEMS & A PLAY  Pretentious rot, but fun

69. ROBERT LOWELL, COLLECTED  Most overrated poet of the 20th century, but has his moments

70  AMERICAN PRIMITIVE, MARY OLIVER  Our little Wordsworth

71. GORGEOUS NOTHINGS, EMILY DICKINSON, WERNER, BERRIN, EDS (NEW DIRECTIONS)  A really bizarre document

72. ELIZABETH BISHOP, POEMS (FSG)  Another one of those poets who wrote few, but good, poems

73. A CHOICE OF ENGLISH ROMANTIC POETRY, STEPHEN SPENDER (DIAL PRESS)  Rare, if you can track it down…(it’s at the Grolier in Hvd Sq)

74. CHIEF MODERN POETS OF BRITAIN AND AMERICA, 5th Edition, SANDERS, NELSON, ROSENTHAL  Can’t get enough of those chief poets

75. NEW AMERICAN POETS OF THE 80s, MYERS & WEINGARTEN Look back into the recent, recent past

76. BIRTHDAY LETTERS, TED HUGHES  The poetry isn’t good, but interesting historical document

77. TRANFORMATIONS, ANNE SEXTON, FOREWARD BY KURT VONNEGUT, JR. Modernized fairy tales—very influential

78. THE ESSENTIAL HAIKU, ROBERT HASS, ED (ECCO)  We forget Imagism sprang directly from haiku rage in West after Japan won Russo-Japanese War

79. THE DIVINE COMEDY, CLIVE JAMES, TRANSLATOR. This new translation is worth a read

80. PENGUIN BOOK OF FRENCH POETRY 1820-1950  Good translation anthologies are few and far between

81. ESSENTIAL PLEASURES: A NEW ANTHOLOGY OF POEMS TO READ ALOUD, PINSKY, ED  Reading aloud is good

82. THE RATTLE BAG, SEAMUS HEANEY, TED HUGHES, EDS  Conservative selection: Shakespeare, Blake, Hardy, Lawrence, Frost, etc

83. MODERNIST WOMEN POETS, ROBERT HASS, PAUL EBENKAMP, EDS   Not a large number of poets

84. COLLECTED FRENCH TRANSLATIONS, JOHN ASHBERY (FSG)  Not the most trustworthy translator, but we’ll take ’em

85. VILLANELLES (EVERYMAN POCKET LIBRARY)  These editions are available and lovely—why not?

86. BRIGHT WINGS: AN ILLUSTRATED ANTHOLOGY OF POEMS ABOUT BIRDS, BILLY COLLINS, ED  All the best poems are bird poems—it’s really true

87. THE ETERNAL ONES OF THE DREAM: SELECTED POEMS 1990-2010, JAMES TATE Iowa Workshop poem par excellence, poignant, miserable, and cute

88. GOOD POEMS, GARRISON KEILLOR  As accessible as it gets

89. THE MAKING OF A SONNET, HIRSCH/BOLAND, EDS (NORTON) There’s no best sonnet anthology, but this one is good

90. MOUNTAIN HOME: THE WILDERNESS POETRY OF ANCIENT CHINA, DAVID HINTON, ED  Includes the major poets

91. SELECTED RILKE, ROBERT BLY, ED  Amazing how well Rilke sells in the U.S.

92. KING JAMES BIBLE  Yea, poetry

93. WELDON KEES, COLLECTED POEMS, DONALD JUSTICE, ED  Somewhat creepy—as modern poetry truly ought to be?

94. BILLY COLLINS, AIMLESS LOVE: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS (RANDOM HOUSE)  Collins is America’s modern poet—get used to it.

95. JOHN ASHBERY, SELF PORTRAIT IN A CONVEX MIRROR  His tour de force

96. NORTH OF BOSTON, ROBERT FROST (1915, HENRY HOLT) Like Emerson, Whitman, and Melville before him, interest by the English was the ticket to fame

97. HOWL AND OTHER POEMS, ALLEN GINSBERG  A Hieronymous Bosch nightmare

98. TALES FROM THE DECAMERON OF GIOVANNI BOCCACCIO, RICHARD ALDINGTON (1930)  this 14th century writer considered a ‘novelist’ but influenced Chaucer

99. EROSION, JORIE GRAHAM  Such promise!  Then along came Alan Cordle

100. LUNCH POEMS, FRANK O’HARA  Not repasts; snacks; the virtue of O’Hara is that he’s funny

 

 

 

ALL FICTION IS NON-FICTION

 

For the most wild, yet homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief.  –E.A. Poe, “The Black Cat”

Laura Runyan, an MFA Fiction graduate and occasional visitor to this little blog, has taken immense pleasure in reminding me every now and then that my attempt to neatly categorize much of literary fiction as “autobiographical” is terribly misguided.

When I first made this assertion, she reacted as if I had insulted not only herself, but all respectable Creative Writing Programs  and even literary fiction itself.

Oh the idea that literary fiction—the holy craft of literary imagination—would be, or could be, or would dare to be, merely thinly disguised memoir!  The sacred author reduced from architect, researcher, scientist, god of creativity to—a mere child with a diary!  How dare I make such an assertion!

Let me re-assert my point.  Laura’s objection rests on nothing but authorial vanity.

Let me go even further.  All fiction is non-fiction.

And by non-fiction we mean just this: the simple, naked truth.  And the simple, naked truth is that all discourse, whether it be labeled fiction or non-fiction, is a human talking—and this act itself is nothing if not an autobiographical act.

The truth is this: We don’t read stories.  We don’t read books.  We don’t read poems. We don’t read philosophy. We read a person.

The modernist/writing workshop agenda: “show, don’t tell” is a false belief that the person can hide behind things like “character development” and “research” and “invention,” in which discourse magically turns into reality, or heightened reality.

Characters (people) do not exist in fiction.  There is only one ‘character’ in fiction: the person who is writing the fiction.

In addition, the whole idea of “narrative” is falsified, as well, as “let’s see what happens next” is the false magic which replaces a well reasoned discourse or well-reasoned argument.

The good argument is good, whether we know the ending, or not.  In fact, the good argument finds its end in its beginning.

Narrative, however, is supposedly best when it surprises us—which is another way of saying:

A good narrative is a bad argument.

A true surprise is random, but no good argument is random; a Narrative, however, filled with true surprises, pleases as ‘exciting’ narrative, but exists thereby as a flawed and wretched Argument.

Fiction chases away Philosophy.

Plato was right: there is an ancient quarrel between the Poets and the Philosophers—and discourse of all kinds is autobiographical, and neither poetry (fiction) nor philosophy (non-fiction) can hide from the “Living Voice” by tricks of “craft,” which is just another word for the deceptions of fiction’s narrative surprises, or the tricks of “writing” which characterizes the worst modern philosophers (Derrida, etc).

Recall Derrida’s agenda: to attack Plato, while favoring Writing (Text) over (Living) Speech.

So what does it mean to say that we read, whether fiction or non-fiction, a person?

Aren’t we reading ‘craft’ that is executed well, or not?  Aren’t we reading facts that are true, or not?  Are we really reading a person?

Yes.  We are reading a person.

This is the fact, the truth, of everything we read.

A person who is either tricking us, or not.

To read Plato is not to read a pretty good book.

To read Plato is to experience the living voice of an extraordinary human being—of which there is no substitute in any other book.

Autobiographical?  Absolutely.

 

MADAME DE STAEL TANGLES WITH THOMAS PEACOCK IN THE ROMANTIC BRACKET

File:Madame de Staël en Corinne 1807.jpg

Germaine de Stael: her daddy was finance minister for Louis XVI of France

DE STAEL:

Man’s most valuable faculty is his imagination. Human life seems so little designed for happiness that we need the help of a few creations, a few images, a lucky choice of memories to muster some sparse pleasure on this earth and struggle against the pain of all our destinies—not by philosophical force, but by the more efficient force of distraction. The dangers of imagination have been discussed a good deal, but there is no point in looking up what impotent mediocrity and strict reason have said on this topic over and over again. The human race is not about to give up being stimulated, and anyone who has the gift of appealing to people’s emotions is even less likely to give up the success promised by such talent. The number of necessary and evident truths is limited; it will never be enough for the human mind or heart. The highest honor may well go to those who discover such truths, but the authors of books producing sweet emotions or illusions have also done useful work for humanity. Metaphysical precision cannot be applied to man’s affections and remain compatible with his nature. Beginnings are all we have on this earth—there is no limit. Virtue is actual and real, but happiness floats in space; anyone who tries to examine happiness inappropriately will destroy it, as we dissolve the brilliant images of the mist if we walk straight through them. And yet the advantage of fictions is not the pleasure they bring. If fictions please nothing but the eye, they do nothing but amuse; but if they touch our hearts, they can have a great influence on all our moral ideas. This talent may be the most powerful way there is of controlling behavior and enlightening the mind. Man has only two distinct faculties: reason and imagination. All the others, even feeling, are simply results or combinations of these two. The realm of fiction, like that of imagination, is therefore vast. Fictions do not find obstacles in passions: they make use of them. Philosophy may be the invisible power in control of fictions, but if she is the first to show herself, she will destroy all their magic.

The morality of history only exists in bulk. History gives constant results by means of the recurrence of a certain number of chances: it’s lessons apply to nations, not individuals. Its examples always fit nations, because if one considers them in a general way they are invariable;  but it never explains the exceptions. These exceptions can seduce each man as an individual; the exceptional circumstances consecrated by history leave vast empty spaces into which the miseries and wrongs that make up most private destinies could easily fall. On the other hand,  novels can paint characters and feelings with such force and detail that they make more of an impression of hatred for vice and love for virtue than any other kind of reading.

Memoirs? If most men had the wit and good faith to give a truthful, clear account of what they had experienced in the course of their lives, novels would be useless—but even these sincere narratives would not have all the advantages of novels. We would still have to add a kind of dramatic effect to the truth; not deforming it, but condensing it to set it off. This is the art of the painter: far from distorting objects, it represents them in a way that makes them more immediately apprehended. Nature sometimes shows us things all on the same level, eliminating any contrasts; if we copy her too slavishly we become incapable of portraying her. The most truthful account is always an imitative truth: as a tableau, it demands a harmony of its own. However remarkable a true story may be for its nuances, feelings, and characters, it cannot interest us without the talent necessary for the composition of fiction.

PEACOCK:

Poetry, like the world, may be said to have four ages, but in a different order; the first age of poetry being the age of iron; the second, of gold; the third, of silver; and the fourth, of brass.

The first, or Iron Age of poetry, is that in which rude bards celebrate in rough numbers the exploits of ruder chiefs, in days when every man is a warrior, and when the great practical maximum of every form of society, “to keep what we have and to catch what we can,” is not yet disguised under names of justice and forms of law. The successful warrior becomes a chief; the successful chief becomes a king; his next want is an organ to disseminate the fame of his achievements and the extent of his possessions; and this organ he finds in a bard, who is always ready to celebrate the strength of his arm, being first duly inspired by that of his liquor. This is the origin of poetry, which, like all other trades, takes its rise in the demand for the commodity, and flourishes in proportion to the extent of the market. Poetry is thus in its origin panegyrical. This is the first stage of poetry before the invention of written letters. The numerical modulation is at once useful as a help to memory, and pleasant to the ears of uncultured men, who are easily caught by sound: and from the exceeding flexibility of the yet unformed language, the poet does no violence to his ideas in subjecting them to the fetters of number. The savage lisps in numbers, and all rude and uncivilized people express themselves in the manner which we call poetical.

The golden age of poetry finds its materials in the age of iron. This age begins when poetry begins to be retrospective; when something like a more extended system of civil polity is established; when personal strength and courage avail less and men live more in the light of truth and within the interchange of observation. This is the age of Homer.

Then comes the silver age, or the poetry of civilized life. This poetry is of two kinds, imitative and original. The imitative consists in recasting, and giving an exquisite polish to, the poetry of the age of gold: of this Virgil is the most obvious and striking example. The original is chiefly comic, didactic, or satiric: as in Menander, Aristophanes, Horace, and Juvenal. Experience having exhausted all the varieties of modulation, the civilized poetry selects the most beautiful, and prefers the repetition of these to ranging through the variety of all. But the best expression being that into which the idea naturally falls, it requires the utmost labor and care so to reconcile the inflexibility of civilized language and the labored polish of versification with the idea intended to be expressed, that sense may not appear to be sacrificed to sound. Hence numerous efforts and rare success.

This state of poetry is however a step towards its extinction. Feeling and passion are best painted in, and roused by, ornamental and figurative language; but the reason and the understanding are best addressed in the simplest and most unvarnished phrase. Pure reason and dispassionate truth would be perfectly ridiculous in verse, as we may judge by versifying one of Euclid’s demonstrations. This will be found true of all dispassionate reasoning whatever and all reasoning that requires comprehensive views and enlarged combinations. It is only the more tangible points of morality, those which command assent at once, those which have a mirror in every mind, and in which the severity of reason is warmed and rendered palatable by being mixed up with feeling and imagination, that are applicable even to what is called moral poetry: and as the sciences of morals and of mind advance towards perfection, as they become more enlarged and comprehensive in their views, as reason gains the ascendancy in them over imagination and feeling, poetry can no longer accompany them in their progress, but drops into the background and leaves them to advance alone.

Thus the empire of thought is withdrawn from poetry, as the empire of facts had been before.

It is now evident that poetry must either cease to be cultivated, or strike into a new path. The poets of the age of gold have been imitated and repeated till no new imitation will attract notice: the limited range of ethical and didactic poetry is exhausted: the associations of daily life in an advanced state of society are of very dry, methodical, unpoetical matters of fact: but there is always a multitude of listless idlers, yawning for amusement, and gaping for novelty: and the poet makes it his glory to be foremost among their purveyors.

Then comes the age of brass, which, by rejecting the polish and the learning of the age of silver, and taking a retrograde stride to the barbarisms and crude traditions of the age of iron, professes to return to nature and revive the age of gold. This is the second childhood of poetry.

Thomas Peacock’s “The Four Ages of Poetry” is neglected, known by a few as the work which inspired his friend Shelley’s much better known “Defense;” its glory has eclipsed Peacock, for where is Peacock’s poetry? Poets know Shelley, even though none write like him today; ironically, Shelley belongs to ‘another age,’ we think, and we are thinking exactly like Peacock—who no one reads. Poets should come to terms with those, like Plato, who doubt poetry, but they do not not. They prefer flattery in every case. Peacock, using history in remarkably modern ways, lays waste to poetry almost as effectively as Plato himself; perhaps more so: Peacock uses facts of Time and Manners and Science against the Muse; by comparison, Socrates merely speculated on Method and Morals—overturned to every poet’s satisfaction by Aristotle, Sidney, Shelley, etc.

We may laugh at Peacock’s confidence when he writes, ” as the science of morals and of mind advance towards perfection,” knowing what befell “morals” in the 20th century, so much that we can ignore his entire thesis—but no so fast. Morals still exist, as do Peacock’s ages of poetry; does Hitler disprove Peacock? Modernism might think so, but this would actually involve making all sorts of assumptions within a very small window of history. Peacock makes an excellent, sweeping case for large, pertinent dilemmas facing poetry right now.

De Stael is the common sense alternative to Peacock’s theoretical history. We will always need “fictions,” she says, and no apology is needed, or if it is, let us keep it out of sight in order to be properly “stimulated.” Hers is the bedtime story we need, as we otherwise drift into chaotic nightmare, the science of Peacock hopefully greeting us when we wake.

Unlike so many literary philosophers, De Stael writes clearly and accessibly, and we love this: “Beginnings are all we have on this earth—there is no limit.”

This is a tough one to call. De Stael is good enough to upset Peacock, but his work is a little more necessary.  This has to disappoint women, and it disappoints us, to say goodbye to Madame de Stael.

WINNER: PEACOCK

THE PROBLEM WITH RHETORIC

The problem with any argument, whether it be by politician, philosopher, priest, or poet, is this: any argument will always be prejudiced by its conclusion.

A good argument, we think, leads to its conclusion without any pre-knowledge of its conclusion; otherwise we find ourselves rejecting the argument as being made in bad faith: a mere adornment of a foregone conclusion.

Socrates is often faulted for winning his arguments too easily against fictionalized opponents— the inevitability of the conclusion results not in Socrates’ favor, but as an indictment of Plato ‘stacking the deck.’ So runs the case against Socrates, in many critics’ minds.

The seducer has one goal: carnal conquest; the unwilling victim must be persuaded by an argument guided by a conclusion which already exists. A politician’s speech, an essay, or a piece of fiction may all fall into this same unpleasant category: the conclusion comes first; the argument, no matter how elaborate, no matter how convincing, no matter how seemingly inevitable, was fashioned second, to fit the end—arrived at, for some hidden, sordid gain, in the beginning.

The bad faith argument only seems to be: ‘if these things are true, must not this be true?’ The bad faith argument is really: ‘I desire this, and to get it, I have laid out a masterpiece of an argument before you.’

Here is the great rhetorical dilemma: what sort of argument is it, if it is not prejudiced by its conclusion? It is no argument at all. An argument without a conclusion is not an argument. Yet an argument enslaved by a foregone conclusion is not an argument, either.

How does one rationally argue towards a conclusion which is unknown?

If conclusions are wants, goals, and desires, and all good arguments depend on every goal being unknown, then what in the world are good arguments for, and how can we even say what a good argument is? What sort of argument is it, which is separated from all that human beings want?

We are always reading books and recommending books to others. Do we really believe that in the great rhetorical climate of social and political communication in which all of us swim, there exists only the purest thoughts and actions, absent of all desire and ambition?

Of course we don’t believe this. Truly, conclusions exist. Desires exist. Arguments—ideal arguments, good arguments—do not exist. They can’t.

When someone says they don’t buy your argument, they are lying. Your conclusion, your desire, happens to clash with theirs.

When there is one desire, “good” arguments abound.

Where there are two conflicting desires, wonders! no “good” argument will ever be found.

If good arguments do not exist, and desire makes everything occur, then reason does not exist, or, if reason exists, it truly exists as feeling.

Reason, we think, takes time to unfold; this is what we call a ‘reasonable argument;’ but this is what we have just proved does not exist.

Last weekend my kids and I had to decide what we wanted to do for the day, and there were limits: distance to travel, cost of the event, interest in the event by the various parties, etc.  The conclusion (what we ended up doing) was already contained in the restrictions.

Today I noticed blossoms beginning to fall off the dogwood.

What is the conclusion of the dogwood?

The blossoms?

Or their death?

Reason, perhaps, if it is the same thing as emotion, manifests itself instantaneously, as feelings do.  There is debate on which is faster, light or gravity?  Perhaps the same argument could be made for swiftness of reason versus the swiftness of emotion?

I know what I want immediately.

My argument?

That is hardly relevant at all.

THOMAS AQUINAS DUELS APHRA BEHN

Aphra Behn: worthy opponent of Thomas Aquinas

 

AQUINAS:

 

It seems that the Holy Scripture should not use metaphors. For that which is proper to the lowest science seems not to befit this science, which holds the highest place of all. But to proceed by the aid of various similitudes and figures is proper to poetry, the least of all the sciences. Therefore it is not fitting this science should make use of such similitudes.

Further, this doctrine seems to be intended to make truth clear. Hence a reward is held out to those who manifest it: They that explain me shall have life everlasting. But by such similitudes truth is obscured. Therefore to put forward divine truths by likening them to corporeal things does not befit this science.

Further, the higher creatures are, the nearer they approach to the divine likeness. If therefore any creature be taken to represent God, this representation ought chiefly to be taken from the higher creatures, and not from the lower; yet this is often found in the Scriptures.

On the contrary, It is written: I have multiplied visions, and I have used similitudes by the ministry of the prophets. But to put forward anything by means of similitudes is to use metaphors. Therefore this sacred science may use metaphors.

It is befitting Holy Writ to put forward divine and spiritual truths by means of comparison with material things. For God provides for everything according to the capacity of nature. Now it is natural to Man to attain to intellectual truths through sensible objects, because all our knowledge originates from sense. Hence in Holy Writ spiritual truths are fittingly taught under the likeness of material things. This is what Dionysius says: We cannot be enlightened by the divine rays except that they be hidden within the covering of many sacred veils. It is also befitting Holy Writ, which is proposed to all without distinction of persons—To the wise and to the unwise I am a debtor—that spiritual truths be expounded by means of figures taken from corporeal things, in order that thereby even the simple who are unable by themselves to grasp intellectual things may be able to understand it.

 

APHRA BEHN:

 

I think the Tragedies not worth a farthing; for Plays were certainly intended for the exercising of men’s passions, not their understandings, and he is infinitely far from wise, that will bestow one moments private meditation on such things: And for Comedie, the finest folks you meet there, are still unfitter for your imitation, for though within a leaf or two of the Prologue, you are told that they are people of Wit, good Humour, good Manners, and all that: yet if the Authors did not kindly add their proper names, you’d never know them by their characters; for whatsoever’s the matter, it hath happened so spitefully in several Plays, which have been pretty well received of late, that even those persons that were meant to be the ingenious Censors of the Play, have either proved the most debauched, or most witless people in the Companie: nor is this error very lamentable, since I take it Comedie was never meant, either for a converting or confirming authoratative direction: in short, I think a Play the best entertainment that wise men have; but I do also think them nothing so, who do discourse as formally about the rules of it, as if it were the grand affair of human life. This being my opinion of Plays, I studied only to make this Play as entertaining as I could, which whether I have been successful in, my gentle Reader, my Good, Sweet, Honey, Sugar-candied Reader (which I think is more than any one has called you yet) you may for your shilling judge.

 

When Thomas Aquinas (b. 1225) writes “all our knowledge originates from sense,” we are surprised to find a Church Father from the Middle Ages opining thus; Enlightenment philosophes are better known for this opinion.  Every Platonic “form” is grounded in the senses, as well; thus ideality is, especially in the modern age, greatly misunderstood.

Aphra Behn is delightful, but an Aristotle she is not.

 

WINNER: AQUINAS

 

 

 

FIRST MARCH MADNESS CONTEST: PLATO VERSUS HUME

PLATO:

The manufacture of the ITEMS OF FURNITURE involves the CRAFTSMAN looking to the TYPE and then making the beds or tables WE USE. The type itself is NOT manufactured by any craftsman. How could it be?

To get hold of A MIRROR and carry it around with you everywhere, you’ll soon be CREATING EVERYTHING.

PAINTER, CARPENTER, and GOD are responsible for THREE different kinds of beds.  God has produced only that ONE REAL BED.

The SAME goes for TRAGIC PLAYWRIGHTS.  REPRESENTATION and TRUTH are a considerable distance apart.

Does HISTORY record that there was any war fought in HOMER’S time whose success depended on his leadership or advice?  No.

HUME:

The SENTIMENTS of men often DIFFER with regard to BEAUTY, even while their general DISCOURSE is the SAME. There are certain terms in every language, which impart blame, and others praise; and all men, who use the SAME TONGUE, MUST AGREE. But when critics come to PARTICULARS, this seeming UNANIMITY VANISHES.

In SCIENCE, the case is OPPOSITE: the difference among men is there oftener found to lie in GENERALS than in particulars; and to be less in reality than in appearance.

It is natural for us to SEEK a STANDARD OF TASTE, a rule by which various sentiments may be reconciled.

The difference, it is said, is very wide between judgement and sentiment. ALL SENTIMENT IS CORRECT; sentiment has a reference to nothing beyond itself, and is always real, whenever a man is conscious of it. But all determinations of the UNDERSTANDING are NOT CORRECT; because they have a reference to something beyond themselves, to wit, real matter of fact; and are not always conformable to that standard.

One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others. To seek the REAL BEAUTY, or real deformity, is as FRUITLESS an inquiry as to pretend to ascertain the REAL SWEET OR REAL BITTER.

BUT whoever would assert an equality of genius between OGILBY and MILTON would be thought to defend no less an extravagance than if he maintained a pond as extensive as the ocean.

It is evident that NONE of the rules of composition are fixed by reasoning a priori, or can be esteemed abstract conclusions of the understanding, from comparing these habits and relations of ideas, which are eternal and immutable. Their foundation is the same with that of all the practical sciences, EXPERIENCE; nor are they any thing but general observations, concerning what has been universally found to please all countries and in all ages.

Many of the BEAUTIES OF POETRY and even of eloquence are founded on FALSEHOOD and fiction, on hyperboles, metaphors, and an abuse or perversion of terms from their natural meaning. To check the sallies of the imagination, and to reduce every expression to geometrical truth and EXACTNESS, would be the most contrary to the laws of criticism; because it would produce a work, which by universal experience, has been found the most insipid and DISAGREEABLE.

But though poetry can never submit to exact truth, it must be confined by rules of art, discovered to the author either by GENIUS or OBSERVATION.

The same HOMER who pleased at Athens and Rome, 2,000 years ago, is STILL ADMIRED at Paris and at London. All the changes of climate, government, religion, and language, have not been able to obscure his glory.

Though the principles of taste be universal, and nearly, if not entirely the same in all men; yet FEW ARE QUALIFIED to give judgement on any work of art, or establish their own sentiment as the standard of beauty.

We choose our favorite AUTHOR as we do our FRIEND, from a conformity of humor and disposition.

The WANT OF HUMANITY and decency, so conspicuous in the characters drawn by several of the ancient poets, even sometimes by HOMER and the Greek tragedians, diminishes considerably the merit of their noble performances, and gives MODERN authors an advantage over them.

Team Plato decided to be iconic and brief from Book X of the Republic.

Team Hume went with a more discursive strategy from On the Standard of Taste, but we see how this backfires, as Hume, trying to play every side of each argument, ends up contradicting himself.

WINNER: PLATO

MARCH MADNESS! POETRY! THEORY! MADNESS! HOLY MADNESS! REAL, ACTUAL MADNESS!

“Philosophy is the true Muse” —Thomas Brady

THE BRACKETS

CLASSICAL

1. Plato
2. Aristotle
3. Horace
4. Augustine
5. Maimonides
6. Aquinas
7. Dante
8. Boccaccio
9. Sidney
10. Dryden
11. Aphra Behn
12. Vico
13. Addison
14. Pope
15. Johnson
16. Hume

ROMANTIC

1. Kant
2. Burke
3. Lessing
4. Schiller
5. Wollstonecraft
6. De Stael
7. Schliermacher
8. Hegel
9. Wordsworth
10. Coleridge
11. Peacock
12. Shelley
13. Emerson
14. Poe
15. Gautier
16. Marx

MODERN

1. Baudelaire
2. Arnold
3. Pater
4. Mallarme
5. Nietzsche
6. Wilde
7. Freud
8. Saussure
9. Jung
10. Trotsky
11. Woolf
12. Eliot
13. Ransom
14. Heidegger
15. Benjamin
16. Adorno

POST-MODERN

1. Wilson
2. Burke
3. Lacan
4. Sartre
5. Brooks
6. De Bouvoir
7. Austin
8. Frye
9. Barthes
10. Fanon
11. Rich
12. Bloom
13. Derrida
14. Said
15. Cixous
16. Butler

DREAMS, FALSE GODS, FAKE THEORIES, AND THE SENSUS COMMUNIS

In the beginning of J.D. McClatchy’s introduction to his book of essays, Poets on Painters, the poet and anthologist quotes Pound, and before he does so, McClatchy provides a quotation—an introduction to his introduction—from the modern art critic, Harold Rosenberg.

Let us quote the whole of McClatchy’s wonderful first page:

An artist is a person who has invented an artist. —Harold Rosenberg

It could be argued that modern poetry was invented by the painters.  Certainly when in 1913 Ezra Pound reviled the mannered blur of Victorian verse and called for the “shock and stroke” of a new poetry based on the image, he defined it with a canvas in mind: “An ‘Image’ is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.” Only such an image, such a poetry, could give us “that sense of sudden liberation: that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits; that sense of sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art.” (By “greatest,” Pound means both oldest and newest, both Giotto and Gaudier-Brzeska.) All the paraphernalia of modernism, in fact, seem largely pictorial. The convulsive energy of high modernist poetry, its use of collage and cubist fractioning, its vers libre expressivity, its sense of the natural object as adequate symbol, of technique as content, of organic form, of dissociation and dislocation—these derive from the example of painters. When Pound demanded “direct treatment of the thing,” and William Carlos Williams urged “no ideas but in things,” the thing they had in their mind’s eye might as well have been the painter’s motif.

And so here it is once again: Painting and poetry, the “sister arts;” pictura ut poesis. (As is painting, so is poetry.) We look at, or hear of, the image. Abstractly, intellectually, it makes perfect sense.

But what does it mean to say, as McClatchy, says, that “modern poetry” was invented by the painters? Hasn’t poetry always had imagery? And what makes the image in modern poetry a “freedom from time limits and space limits?” Why do we take Pound’s rants seriously? And how is the “new poetry based on the image” different from haiku? The self-advertising, self-promoting nature of Pound’s Modernism is a machine that refuses to rest. Is “technique as content” an advance or a regression when it makes content simply disappear? It is wonderful that things are happening in Pound and Williams‘ “mind’s eye,” but what happened to the “mind’s ear?”

It was not until the Renaissance that painting got respect, trailing behind poetry as a liberal art for centuries, and da Vinci placed painting far above poetry with a vengeance, comparing eye and ear in a way impossible to argue with: sight is the superior sense.

Everyone knows the best way to know something is to put something similar next to it.

The poets of the Middle Ages understood poetry when compared to religious confession—Homer, a mural of a battle scene—the Chinese poets, a simple picture, which the early 20th century Imagists found to be an enthralling counter to Victorian verbosity—and various poets from all ages have known poems as something similar to song.

This method is not mere comparison, nor does it enhance either thing—it diminishes both, and this diminishment is knowing, for that which is too large cannot be known. The poem walks through painting’s fire and by this we see more purely what poetry is. Likewise, the poem’s fire which purifies painting also shows us what poetry is, too.  Leonardo, in favoring painting over poetry, did poets a great favor.  For the first time, after centuries of poets vaguely aspiring towards the “pictura ut poesis” of Horace, poets saw, in diminishment, what poetry really was.  This was a gift, for the simple mundane reason that smaller is easier for an artist to handle.

da Vinci really poured it on and God bless him:

If you, historians or poets or mathematicians, had not seen things through your eyes, you would be able to report them feebly in your writings.

Now, do you not see that the eye embraces the beauty of all the world?  The eye is the commander of astronomy; it makes cosmography; it guides and rectifies all the human arts; it conducts man to the various regions of this world; it is the prince of mathematics; its sciences are most certain; it has measured the height and size of the stars; it has disclosed the elements and their distributions; it has made predictions of future events by means of the course of the stars; it has generated architecture, perspective and divine painting. Oh excellent above all other things created by God! What manner of praises could match your nobility? What races, what languages would they be that could describe in full your functions…? Using the eye, human industry has discovered fire, by which means it is able to regain what darkness had previously taken away. It has graced nature with agriculture and delectable gardens.

Poetry arises in the mind and imagination of the poet, who desires to depict the same things as the painter. He wishes to parallel the painter, but in truth he is far removed… Therefore, with respect to representation, we may justly claim that the difference between the science of painting and poetry is equivalent to that between a body and its cast shadow. And yet the difference is even greater than this, because the shadow of the body at least enters the sensus communis through the eye, while the imagined form of the body does not enter through this sense, but is born in the darkness of the inner eye. Oh! what a difference there is between the imaginary quality of such light in the dark inner eye and actually seeing it outside this darkness!

We might (especially if we were a poet) say to da Vinci, a painting is just as unreal as a poem—both are illusions representing absent things. This is the key point, not what a marvelous thing the eye is. But all that aside, it’s exciting to think that Shakespeare, the Renaissance poet, is responding to da Vinci, the Renaissance painter, and da Vinci’s “darkness of the inner eye,” as one sensitive soul to another:

When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright are bright in dark directed;
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow’s form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so?
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay?
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.

Shakespeare in this sonnet is saying to da Vinci: you are correct! A poem lives in darkness. A poem is a pitiful dream, lit only by one thing: praise and love and worship of an ideal “thee.”

Shakespeare makes no effort to body forth a particular image—he leaves that to the painter. Socrates said the poet who resides in his ideal republic should praise worthy persons: Shakespeare is doing precisely this: praise is at the heart of his dark dream brightened only by “thee.” This is the ideal poet in the ideal republic praising the ideal “thee” in poetry defined by da Vinci, and it easily fits into the context of Plato’s ideality as well as Aristotle’s definition of tragedy as human action portraying persons better than they are.

Praise is the torch which Shakespeare uses to survive poetic darkness. The poet, Shakespeare, agrees with the painter, da Vinci, in order to make poetry of the dark.

Shakespeare has no illusions that poetry is like painting.

It is the differences and the limits in the two arts that brings out the best in them.

Shakespeare, in his humility, got it.

Pound, in his arrogance, did not.

Harold Rosenberg’s “An artist is a person who has invented an artist” is mystical and intriguing, but perhaps, for poetry and the arts, the pendulum has swung as far as it can in the direction of the Sly Artistic Ego.

Is it time to listen to artists like da Vinci again, who said an artist does not mystically self-invent, but “embraces the beauty of all the world?”

CAN THE MFA SAVE LITERATURE?

Can it, really?

There are so many positions one can take on education and literature—in fact, one could have a lengthy debate on which is more important, literature, or the education of literature, and that’s before we even get started.

Let’s see if we can sum up quickly the various positions regarding Creative Writing and the Academy under the umbrella: what is literature and how should we teach it?

First, the one relevant fact:  The Creative Writing degree is replacing the old English degree, not only on the graduate, but on the undergraduate level.

Now, the positions:

1. First, “The Old Man” position. We quote him in full—from a recent Scarriet comment, because we don’t think anyone could say it better:

Creative Writing, along with Today’s MFA is part of the campaign to replace canonical literature as the “jewel in the crown” of English Studies. There is a tacit alliance among the supporters of Postmodern Poetics, Queer Studies, Ethnic Studies, Womens’ Studies and Creative Writing (in all its forms and levels of instruction) to topple the traditional curriculum. Contemporary fiction and poetry overshadow the great writing of the past. Creative writng students do not have to read Milton, Pope, Keats and Yeats. Either they read their peers in the class or the “so called” free verse of the hour. As creative writing gradually eclipses literature, instructors follow suit. Soon the majority of teachers in the typical American English Department will no longer feel comfortable about grading a comprehensive literature exam in an Honors Program – – or even the typical MA English Comprehensive Exam.

This position is the Outsider, Conservative one:  Creative Writing is part of a wider modern problem which sees canonical excellence swallowed up by all sorts of things which are beside the point.

2. Second, “The Seth Abramson” position, which all who are bothering to read this, are surely familiar with by  now: the MFA is a beacon of democratic insurrection and radical experimentation, a thousand flowers blooming in the desert of academic dullness.

This position is the Insider, Radical one: Creative Writing, through its democratic open-ended, open-exchanged fertility, will lead us to the Promised Land of Democratized Freedom.

3. Third, “The Laura Runyan” position, and we take the liberty of excerpting her Scarriet comments:

Seth’s po-biz attitude doesn’t represent the vast majority of those MFA students I know who attended the better MFA programs. He certainly doesn’t speak for me (a fiction MFA grad). Unfortunately, his tendency is to over-classify results in misleading oversimplification as he attempts to define and describe various poetic forms and the history of poetry.

I don’t blame writers who bypassed the MFA route for being suspicious of MFA programs now. I believe that Seth is largely responsible for making the entire enterprise appear very insular or, even worse, like some sort of scam. At the same time, I know that most of the poets in my program worked hard to produce formalist poetry; few of them were content amusing themselves with pseudo-clever experiments.

Oh, and we read books in my program. LOTS AND LOTS of books: novels and short story collections (a portion of which had been published before 1900) and books of poetry. Reading is one of the best educations a writer can find. One doesn’t need an MFA to acquire that education, but an MFA also offers good writers on the faculty (if the faculty actually consists of good writers) who will read your work and respond to it in detail. And if you get funding, this is, in the 21st century, a far cheaper alternative to living in Greenwich Village or Paris so you can meet other aspiring writers.

I couldn’t stand the prospect of majoring in English because I couldn’t stomach “critical theory,” by which art is reduced to cultural studies and very bad postmodernist “philosophizing.” So much of the reasoning behind critical theory is dreck, it’s bloated with jargon, much of the writing in the “scholarship” associated with that group of sub-disciplines is dreadful, and had it been embraced by my MFA professors, I wouldn’t have survived more than a semester there. (As an undergraduate, I majored in “analytic”–Western–philosophy.by the way.) My first semester as an MFA student, I asked one of the fiction faculty members which lit professors to avoid (we were one of those so-called “academic” MFA programs). As soon as I said that I didn’t want to take a lit-crit-style literature class, this professor knew immediately what I was talking about and advised me on which classes I would probably want to avoid. In fact, not one faculty member in my MFA program was “into” the critical theory stuff. If anything, they were contemptuous of it.

Laura Runyan’s is the Insider, Conservative position: Creative Writing, at least as practiced in the best MFA programs, is an escape from the postmodern-corrupted English MA programs. Runyan is pro-MFA, but for a very different reason than Abramson.

4. Finally, that leaves the Outsider, Radical position on Creative Writing, rejecting it altogether, either from an anti-institutional stance or an anti-canonical stance even more radical than Abramson’s, a radical political position suspicious of canon and institution, anything smelling at all like the status quo.  This final ‘catch-all’ category contains poor people, eccentric rich people, slam poets, the Ernest Hemingway/Jack Kerouac anti-intellectual, manly type of independent writer, or someone like Eileen Myles.

So the four main pedagogical threads are

1. Old Man: MFA is part of a radical, post-modern conspiracy

2. Laura Runyan: MFA is the new throw-back canonical MA

3. Seth Abramson: MFA is the crown of forward-looking, post-modern legitimacy

4. Eileen Myles: MFA is one more brick in the wall

As we can see, roughly speaking:

1 (Old Man) and 3 (Seth Abramson) are philosophical opposites, as are 2 (Laura Runyan) and 4 (Eileen Myles).

1 (Old Man) and 2 (Laura Runyan) are philosophically similar, as are 3 (Seth Abramson) and 4 (Eileen Myles), but these two pairs disagree on how the MFA works—or doesn’t.

Where do they all agree?

If one could afford to hang out in Left Bank cafes with interesting writers of all kinds, the Old Man, Laura, Seth, and Eileen might all be able to agree on this scenario.

We have ventured the opinion that ‘hanging out’ and writing really don’t go together at all, but let’s leave that aside, for the moment.

Most of those in mainstream, institutional life, the Old Man and the Laura Runyan schools of thought, would probably see eye to eye on this:

Literature provides a necessary social glue: despite various political differences in any population, it is crucial that, intellectually and artistically, there is a place for all of us to be more or less on the same page, even as we work through various political differences based on class, race, sexual orientation, and philosophical opposition.

This point alone makes both the Old Man and the Laura Runyan positions attractive.  Chucking the canonical in favor of the new is counter-productive and common sense cries out against it.  Is life so radically different now that as a society we can say for certain that the best of the past should be demolished?

We can talk about political differences all day, but there is one aesthetic matter which seems to participate in these divisions more than any other: Good Storytelling. Laura Runyan captured this idea when she wrote:

A friend of mine who finished the MFA program at Iowa in the 80s, after he’d established a career as a pharmacist, told me the following about Frank Conroy, then the well-known director of the Workshop, and whom my friend had as a teacher. He said that often, Conroy–who was hardly gentle on students–would often say in workshop in response to a meandering piece of prose by a student, “Beautiful prose in the service of WHAT?” (That comment was repeated by another person I know who’s a grad of Iowa’s MFA program.)

What did he mean by that comment. Simply this–which isn’t so simple to many aspiring fiction writers: that the story, with all its musing and imagery, HAD NO STORY! No Aristotelian rise and fall, no obvious conflict, nothing that made you wonder what would happen next!

Story-telling can bring together many politics and philosophies under one roof, so much so, that this might even seal the deal for universal agreement.  Let’s rally round, with all our differences, the articulate story-teller, and let every radical impulse fit in—or not—with this mandate.

All in favor, say aye.

Just as we thought: a lot of ayes.

But not so fast.  “Wondering what happens next” is a primitive impulse and not necessarily one we should promote.  Narrative is a slippery pedagogical subject, if we are honest about it, and take the time to look at it more closely.  Scarriet recently examined this in a post titled, “Does Narrative Make Us Stupid?” (May 2013).

To truly unite literature and education, we grant narrative a high place, but not the highest place.

Our criteria, in order of importance are:

1. Philosophical Truth

It seems to us that Plato’s dialogues should be central to any advanced literary and writing education, with the Phaedrus, the Symposium, the Ion, and the Republic as must-reads.  Add to that Edgar Allan Poe, who is, if truth be told, a canon all to himself.  Both Plato and Poe are rigorous, accessible and free of both dogma and triviality.

2. Beauty

In the broadest possible terms, the beautiful encompasses good taste (which is not trivial) and all we associate with the ‘well-put-together,’ and pertains to whatever is uplifting, sublime, and brings people together in passionately fused thought and feeling.

3. Undercurrent of Meaning

This hardly needs explanation.  Without this, stories will be either trivial or flimsy pieces of moralizing.

These three are far more important than storytelling, per se, though Frank Conroy’s advice certainly has merit.

JUST RHYME PLATO WITH POTATO: THE EPIGRAM

Lyric poetry was born from graffiti of Classical Greece.

Lyric poetry was spawned by the epigram, and concision, the memorable, the august, the mournful, inhabited the lyric soul by necessity, due in large part to the physical atmosphere surrounding the funerary monuments upon which epigrams were inscribed.

Ekphrasis lives in the epigram: its meaning, ‘to write on,’ to physically inscribe, chimes with ‘to write on (about) someone or something.  The surface, as much as the subject, determines its source.

A rhyme, a couplet, is a great way to be brief and memorable:

Go tell the Spartans, passerby,
That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.

Inscribed on a monument to the Greco-Persian wars by Simonides (b. 556 BC), this is a war poem, just as much as the Iliad is.

Let’s face it: everyone wants to write something that is remembered.  You might write an epic, and one line of it is recalled; or you might write one memorable epigram among thousands; in either case it’s an epic task.

But it doesn’t have to rhyme; brevity is all.

Pound’s “make it new,” (1934) a stupid phrase, but one, nonetheless, that became famous, is a mere 9 letters in length, and is beaten out only by the famous, “Odi et amo,” (I hate and love) by Catullus, which is only 8 letters.

Since life is short, a short poem can be successful for that very reason; think of the popular elegiac trope, ‘oh life is short! drink today!’ as symposium and mournfulness mingles.

The Romans brought satire and obscenity to the august Greek epigram, and the Roman poet Martial (40 AD) is known as the “original insult comic:”

Long poems can have unified strength,
But shit, your couplet, Cosconi, has too much length.

This critical spirit, alive to measurement and unity, lived in all eras of poetry, from Ancient to Romantic, until it died in the looseness of the modern era.

Shakespeare’s works are bursting with epigrams:

For as the sun is daily new and old,
So is my love still telling what is told.

One of our favorite epigrams is Pope’s

I am His Highness’ dog at Kew.
Pray tell me sir, whose dog are you?

And William Blake has many wonderful ones:

A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent

The questioner, who sits so sly,
Shall never know how to reply

If the sun and moon should doubt,
They’d immediately go out

Some are born to sweet delight
Some are born to endless night

We are led to believe a lie,
When we see not thro’ the eye

One simply cannot imagine any of these coming from the pen of a Jorie Graham or a John Ashbery.

Coleridge called the epigram a “dwarfish whole.”  The idea of the “whole” seems to be what irks the loose and open moderns.

The early 20th century had its wits—Dorothy Parker, J.V. Cunningham, Ogden Nash—but as we move closer to our era, compressed wit and wisdom seems to have eluded our poets.

John Crowe Ransom, another early 20th century writer who attempted to be witty,  wrote:

In all the good Greek of Plato
I lack my roast beef and potato.

But like “Make it new” and Williams’ silly wheel barrow, this has no wit whatsoever: Plato was the most lifestyle-conscious, political science, ‘meat-and-potatoes’ philosopher ever, a superficial view of his ‘forms,’ notwithstanding.

Just give us, “Little strokes fell great oaks” by Benjamin Franklin.  And writing epigrams of an afternoon, we believe even Scarriet can do better:

Hart Crane was totally insane.

Robert Lowell was a broken bowl.

Sylvia Plath fell victim to wrath.

Delmore Schwartz never wore shorts.

Appearance is all, even in the depths.

Just enough hunger prevents insanity.

Beautiful women are wrong in love and right in everything else.

Boredom is the devil’s only weapon.

Feminism wants one thing: freedom from love.

A woman is pretty until she is loved; then she is beautiful.

A woman is ambitious in love; when she is loved, cautious.

A man is cautious until he is loved; then he’s ambitious.

A man is beautiful when loving; when he is loved, pretty.

We have two choices in life: sleep or poetry.

Death has this advantage: it is the only thing that’s not complex.

There are 3 types of poets: One puts emotion in poems, one leaves it out; the genius does both.

Parent to child, lover to beloved want to be friends—but cannot.

Music exists for one reason: to add body to poetry.

The right context is just a way of saying the wrong context is no context at all.

Public speaking is the art of joking while serious.

Good sex for couples is based on one thing: whether it is before or after dinner.

Desire hopes; love knows.

Love can cool desire as it increases it.

Friendship is love’s runway: smooth on takeoff, rough on landing.

Nature’s not right just because the ingredients on the box are wrong.

Nature wishes to create us and kill us: people tend to do this, too.

Why is life tragic?  Nature wants more, humanity, less.

The endless dilemma: guilty for caring too much, guilty for caring too little.

All successful endeavors—moral or not—have one thing in common: the future.

Literature is politics with the politics put tastefully out of sight.

The greatest error the mind makes is thinking truth is for it—and not the heart.

Betrayal wounds hearts, but sensation kills more.

Depth is all, even on surfaces.

KENNETH GOLDSMITH IS NOT A CONCEPTUALIST!

Kenneth-Goldsmith

Kenneth Goldsmith: Not one concept in his head.

If you are really curious about beer, the expert will tell you there are only two kinds: ale and lager.

Likewise, there’s only two kinds of wine: red and white.

I can glance out my window right now and see the sunlight increasing as the clouds disperse, and then notice the artificial light over my desk steadily burning.

Neither the outside light nor the inside light are considered “art,” but what visual art does not take account of it?

We understand terms like the “art of beer” or the “art of wine,” even as we might say to ourselves, “Well, that’s not really art—maybe science…”

But the moment we tackle the “art of art,” we come up against that sort of learned confusion which may befuddle in a pleasant manner those seasoned and learned enough to enjoy such a thing, but which ultimately derails all true understanding.

The confusion is due largely to the great blurring between art and reality mentioned above: if the artificial light above my desk behaved more like the sun on a partly cloudy day, we might even call the constantly changing light emitted by the light bulb above my desk, “art,” just because of  the way the man-fashioned bulb above my desk cunningly copies nature’s changeable light.

This year’s Conceptualism hullabaloo, which happens to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Armory Show which brought modern art to America, is a debate forcing us to acknowledge what is nothing less than art’s most important idea since art began: imitation.

Both John Keats and Kenneth Goldsmith must confront this reality: Art is a pale representation of nature.

Goldsmith’s avant-garde solution is to focus entirely on “representation.”

Conceptualism, in Goldsmith’s case, or in the case of Warhol/Duchamp’s found objects, is a terrible misnomer.

Goldsmith and his Found Poetry takes Nature, or Reality and “finds” it as Poetry, and “find,” here, means purely represent.

We are free to ignore the actual work of Goldsmith’s, as many have pointed out, but this is not due to Conceptualism; it is because of its opposite: Representation.

Reality is art’s flesh, and until art lives, it is not art, but reality.  (How art lives is something we’ll get to in a moment.)

We err whenever we do not understand art as reality first, and art, second.

Plato offended (certain easily offended) artists with this practice: he saw art as reality first—what does art do within reality? was the most important question for Plato.

Found Poetry is an ineffective challenge to Plato, seeking to reverse Plato’s ‘look-at-art-as-reality’ admonition; superficially, Found Poetry is looking at reality as art, but the moment we look at reality as art, we look at art as reality-Plato’s strategy!

To look, as Plato does, at “art as reality,” is to see reality “showing through the art,” as it were; this “look” is the “harsh look of the cynical Critic,” who refuses to see the art on the artist’s terms.

This “look” is, in artistic terms, the methodical “look” which offends aesthetic passivity with its real-life action.

The “raw fact” of art, no matter how intricate, is not allowed to lie there passively; the active Platonist Critic places art in a context of reality—and does not allow it to remove itself into a pure, amoral, state where reality is walled off from the representation (the art).  Once “this wall” is allowed to go up, art is free to make rules for itself that have no connection to reality and to proclaim itself purely valid apart from reality, which, on a grand scale is similar to a person withdrawing from reality into a dream, or a wealthy person cutting themselves off from the everyday needs of others.

Art has moved in this direction, away from Plato, away from art as reality, and towards art as pure art, for over a hundred years, now.  This very movement is defined as Modernism by John Crowe Ransom, in his brilliant essay, “Poets Without Laurels.”   Impressionism in painting, Imagism in poetry, Abstract Painting, a poem like “Sea Surface Full of Clouds” by Wallace Stevens, these are all attempts, along with Found Poetry, to escape Plato and his Conceptualism and to enter into a world of attenuated representation, the sensuality of partial imitation, that is sensual imitation without mind, reason, or morals.  Modernism, for Ransom, not only moves in the direction of “pure art,” or “art for art’s sake,” but it is also a movement of science dividing itself into finer and finer partitions.

The beginner learns about the science of beer or wine, starting with ‘ale or lager,’ ‘white or red,’ but this beginner’s lesson contains all that the expert knows—when it comes to science.  As science gets down to the details of its field, the broader truths must be constantly kept in view, and this should be true of art, as well.

Visual art is concerned with these two: Color or line.

Writing?  Prose or poetry.

These divisions involve the science of art, which is much easier to understand than the art of art.

Plato can be scientific about art, even while morally condemning it, and one could argue it is the scientist in him that morally condemns it, while at the same time, examining it on a purely material level—which Plato did, even though Aristotle took it a little further; Aristotle broke most famously with Plato with his “catharsis” theory, telling the lie that we can “purge” our emotions by bathing in what triggers them.

Even Tom Wolfe got it wrong, then, with his withering critique of Modern Art when he called avant-garde painting the “painted word.” This, again, errs, in the way we have just illustrated: Modern art is not conceptualist; it is merely crudely (purely) representational.   Like Poe’s “Purloined Letter,” it is so obvious, everyone has missed it.   What we call “Conceptualist” is just crudely imitative.

How could so many have been so wrong regarding Conceptualism?

We can easily blame it on two things:

First, Modernism, a movement which is all about “moving ahead, about being self-consciously “modern” while forgetting the past.

And secondly, confusing art and science.

Science tells us there are but two kinds of beer: lager and ale.

Science, too, could also sound wiser by saying: beer as beer is more essential than the distinction between larger and ale.

Science, like criticism, can say anything, can be everywhere at once.

The poor artist, however, needs to imitate and make a certain kind of imitative sense to be effective, even if it is laying on pure color as an abstract artist.

Critics are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, not poets.   Unless we call Plato a poet (which he was, according to Shelley).

One of the results of the movement known as Modernism has been the elevation of prose poetry over its cousin, verse.

Verse, in Modernism’s eyes, is crudely denotative, rather than suggestive—the key to poetic prose.

Just as every discriminating artist is concerned with both line and color, every writer should create art that both denotes and suggests.

If we look at the matter scientifically, we will find that metrics can aid both denotation and suggestion, and the same goes with prose meaning.

Modernism, with its crippling -isms, needs to be done away with at last.

Drink all kinds of beer.

Don’t call Kenneth Goldsmith a “Conceptualist” ever again.

WHAT IS POETIC VALUE?

The poet Bill Knott made 24th place on Scarriet’s latest Hot 100 List, read by poets everywhere.

Bill Knott quickly came on Scarriet making comments disparaging the worth of his own poetry; Mr. Knott claimed to be the only poet on Scarriet’s Hot 100 who was not a “legitimate” poet, since Knott makes all his poems available on-line for no charge, he has no recent book publications, and he’s not up for any prizes or awards.

Knott has published books and has been picked up by anthologies, so perhaps he was being histrionic and self-pitying.

But another commenter—a reader calling themselves Van Giggles—immediately rebuked Knott, the poet, on Scarriet, sincerely it seemed, for his very practice of giving away his poems for free, claiming the practice was lowering Knott’s reputation, continuing a “market stereotype” that poems are essentially worthless, and thus robbing poets everywhere of their labor.

Bill Knott has a brilliant and original mind, and if I were his friend, I would pick his brain all the time, looking for insights from him personally, much more than I would read his poems.

His poems are knotty, complex, obscure, just as his mind is, and his mind makes good poems up to a point, the obscurity sometimes mystifying to advantage, but often not.

The well-worn saying that poetry is “news that stays news” is not correct, because poetry is not news.  Journalism is transparent; it presents facts of immediate interest, i.e., news.  The poem is not a poem as much as it is news; the poem is intentionally opaque, dense, clotted, sensual and watery, arousing keen feelings and hinting at truths that live apart from “news.”

This is not to say that “news” does not play a major role in forming poetic reputation: it does.

This might be a good moment to point out that reputation is the coin of poetic worth, not money; for if there is money involved, money always trails after reputation, and reputation is the end-in-itself, that “sweet fame” which is the siren to every poet.

When reform-minded New England writers, such as Waldo Emerson, beat a path to the door of the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth, they did so because Wordsworth was “news.”  Wordsworth’s reputation was built on tender and sensitive adoration of the rural poor (combined with a deep appreciation of nature) and Wordsworth’s reputation, informed by Wordsworth’s skill as a versifier, belonged to something much greater than Wordsworth: it was nothing less than a great moment in history when the idea of material progress was radically questioned; it was news, very big news, (Wordsworth may have been the first environmentalist) and it’s why Wordsworth is one of the rare poets who inspired lengthy pilgrimages.

But again, “news” hinders poetry and is nearly always better communicated in other mediums: the newspaper, the essay, etc.   Since “news” is always popular, it will often mingle with poetry and give the poetry renown for that reason, but “news” which happens to reside in poems is parasitic.   The “news” that piggy-backs on a poem (one thinks of Yeats’ “Easter, 1916,” for instance) fools us into thinking the “poem” is enhanced by “news;” but this is but a trick of perception.   The poem has weight because it refers to an important historic event in the past—but this weight belongs to the parasitic “news” and not the poem.  “A terrible beauty is born” could be a hackneyed phrase; but it’s impossible for us to say, for aesthetic judgement is suspended—as we fall into a groveling respect for the historical event.

Another poet who managed to attain the kind of newsworthy reputation which impelled a great deal of visitation was Ezra Pound, when he was confined to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the criminally insane—after he was captured in Italy for treason at the end of WW II.  If Wordsworth was a mecca because he was newsworthy in a vast, deeply emerging, moral kind of way, Pound was attractive because he represented newsworthiness in itself; Pound participated even less in the poetic and much more in the news:—as someone in the news himself and as a Modernist poet bent on turning poetry into news.

Does history age, like a person?  We feel it does.  We will never see a Wordsworth’s sort of fame again, or a Pound’s.  These were unique,  “newsy” times.  Until a flood wipes out the memory of Wordsworth in the English speaking world, a poet will not enjoy the kind of fame he did for being part of something so vast, important and new.

The truly poetic aspires to one thing and one thing, only: to cultivate an admiration for the truly beautiful and the truly good.  Plato understood this, and this is why he explicitly allowed poems of praise in his Republic.  Shelley, Romantic poet and follower of Plato (Shelley translated Plato’s Symposium) understood this principle too, when he said (in his “Defense of Poetry”) that love is the secret of morals, for when you truly love someone, you identify with them, and this identification with another is the virtue that unites imagination, poetry, morality and love.  The greatest poems of Shelley (he did write some newsy poems, attacking George III, etc) do not partake of “news;” works like “Ode to the West Wind,” “Adonais,” and “Prometheus Unbound,” are masterpieces of purely moral, imaginative beauty.

Van Giggles, in more commentary on Scarriet, said he had no interest in Shelley, and dismissed him as “just another wealthy person” who didn’t have to work.

We have a feeling that Van Giggles, who doesn’t read Shelley, is probably a fan of the Fragment/Gizmo School of Poetry spawned by Ezra Pound and his friend, William Carlos Williams. The “pound-of-flesh” sensibility that demands money for poems has that Modernist taint which surely informs Van Giggles poetic taste.

Poets like Shelley do not fit into the monetary scheme of our friend, Van Giggles, who continues to insist (on Scarriet) that poets should never give away their work for free.

Here’s the scenario.  Shelley, independently wealthy, instead of drinking himself to death, or idling away his life in madness, writes (heroically) one of the greatest poems in the English language.  But he does not sell it.  There is nothing “newsy” about it.  Friends read Shelley, praise him, and gradually, over generations, Shelley becomes a famous poet.

What can Van Giggles say?  In his crassly monetary argument, Van Giggles would have Shakespeare demand payment for the Sonnets that he passed around to his friends—which would not only be silly and vain, but rude.

THE TWO ACADEMIES

The Academy, for poet/lawyer Seth Abramson, is unfairly attacked when it comes to poetry. The MFA Creative Writing model is healthy, he insists, a hybrid of association and guidance and leisure that allows a thousand flowers to bloom.

But there are two academies, and the older one is the one Seth Abramson ignores.

We mean the Academy in which to teach the student Greek, you teach the student Homer. We mean the Academy where the best way to teach a student Greek is to teach them Homer. In the First and oldest Academy, Homer is not a piece of ‘creative writing’ or a cinematic spectacle for an idle brain—Homer is the foundation of the language for that society, and the Academy of Homer is the nation of Homer: they are one and the same.

Any genuine critique of Abramson’s academy begins with an awareness of these two academies and the tremendous gulf between them: one is national; the other is local; one is the nation, the other is Joe’s Diner.

There is nothing wrong with Joe’s Diner. It serves very good food (so says reviewer Seth Abramson) and might turn a pretty profit, too.

But let us not fool ourselves that grown men and women writing experimental poems in 21st century America so they might earn a college degree is anything more than a transaction in some actual cafe that happens to exist up the street.

This is not a real academy—this one that sells Writing Degrees—this Academy is an illusory one, a fake one, at best a diner that sells pretty good food, in comparison to the First Academy in which the Greek language, the Greek nation, and Homer were all one.

We all know that new combinations of words can make a kind of odd sense that is novel and pleasing. Even random words can sometimes produce this effect, a default ability of language itself. Poets nudge linguistic frolic in the direction of a more pleasing and human result, even as the poet is under the sway of indifferent, random machinery. Such writing does not reflect reality; the poet attempting to consciously depict an object or incident in front of them cannot go far with this method, in which the playfulness of language makes caprice the rule.

We might kid ourselves in believing this sort of ephemeral writing has real worth beyond its pure novel effect—but in fact it does have real worth, even if it’s a sad one, pathetic in the sense that punning is pathetic, or sad; for, in fact,the impulse to pun is a sad one, and punning is a sign of misery in the speaker, and here we think of the “antic disposition” of pure sport, but in this case the punning is conscious and not random, as we mentioned above; we are now in a whole different universe, one of motive—and add emotion to the mix and we have punning where it is noble, as spoken by the sad and miserable Hamlet, for instance, and now we begin to see poetry fleshed out into heroic action, into drama, into a national literature which transcends ephemera even as it utilizes it, the literature of Homer or Shakespeare which itself defines the Academy and towers over “creative writing” thumb-sucking.

This is what Seth Abramson and defenders of the current MFA model must confront—nothing less than building a national literature which includes verse drama as T.S Eliot in his wisest and most selfless Criticism cried out for in his younger and less affected days, national dramatic poetry as opposed to the lolly-pop licking hermetic lyric; a literature worthy to teach language and culture with in order to elevate the literacy of a nation, that excitement  and that Academy and that literature and that language and that poetry all gloriously one and the same, in the most diverse sense imaginable.

The pluralists might object to all this talk of one language and one nation; by “one” we mean all that is required to hold together the necessary diversity—whatever that happens to be. Pluralists need to relax. Pluralism is only truly honored in the attempt to put it somewhere. The genius knows what we mean.

We also understand that the United States is not ancient Athens, but this impacts our argument not one bit. There will always be a Joe’s Diner and there will always be a Seth Abramson working for one. Our argument could not be more relevant.

We are also keen to the complexity of Plato’s critique of Homer and what that means to a nation, to a language, to poetry, and to an Academy.

It does pose a difficulty: how seriously should poets take Plato’s critique? We think the best response to Plato is to concede Plato’s critique is inevitable and enriching—certainly the MFA student could use the challenge to hone their critical thinking.

One cannot be a creative writer without being a critical writer, after all.

Just ask Shakespeare, a treasure for English-speakers, who is Homer plus Plato.

BURT AND OTHERS PILE ON HARPER’S POETRY COMPLAINT

Mark Edmundson

Mark Edmundson, professor of English at the University of Virginia

We don’t know which is more ridiculous: this fellow Edmundson in HARPER’S honoring Robert Lowell as where poetry—currently lacking public spirit and understanding—ought to be now, or gnats like Stephen Burt whining that contemporary poetry, as obscure as it is, is trying, damnit, and doesn’t Edmundson know that poems are being written today about Gettysburg? And by women about their children?

Who is more useless? Burt, the walking, talking politically correct cliche? Or Edmundson, the Robert Lowell cliche?

The problem is a simple one: everyone in the poetry wars (and yes it is a war) is defending a position in the furious blind manner of trench warfare; none of the arguments are even a little bit above the ground: they are petty and ahistorical.

Burt, for instance, writes

Complaints against contemporary poetry arise, like vampire slayers, in every generation and it’s easy to see why: when you compare your very favorite famous artists from the past with almost any quick or large or secondhand selection of contemporary work, the past will look better.

But to what “past” is Burt referring? It’s not an actual past–merely one that is jealous of the present.

But yes, alas, the poetry of Philip Larkin looks better than the poetry of Stephen Burt; the former is dead and the latter is at Harvard.

Sigh.

That is a problem, isn’t it?

And further, Larkin couldn’t care less, and Burt is sweating behind flimsy p.c—disguised as scholarship.

Burt has no argument.  But let us turn to Edmundson.

Here’s what Edmundson says.  He asserts an expression of public spirit as an ideal which poetry must follow.

Professor Edmundson could not be more wrong.

Poetry is its own idealized expression which creates its own public following.

Poetry shouldn’t have to trail after public ideals.

Edmundson has it backwards.

Ironically, it is on this very point, where Edmundson is most mistaken, that his critics pay him the most respect. Burt bends over backwards to make the case that contemporary poetry is “about” this or that important national topic,  and Burt quotes fragments from Rich and Bidart sans any particular merit amidst a pointless rant of See? We contemporary poets do watch the news! So there!

A blogger name Elisa praises Edmundson’s public service ideals:

He sets out to do something noble…a manifesto-like call for poetry that’s more engaged…I’m sort of sympathetic to the general idea here and I’ve certainly approached student poetry with this rubric…I’ve encouraged young writers to be more ambitious, to be less afraid of showing effort, of caring.

EdMundson shames the avant-garde snots into at least agreeing with his general premise: Robert Lowell wrote on the Vietnam War, you little brats!

And now for the time being Elisa and Edmundson agree. But the alliance is fleeting. We quote Elisa, at some length, again:

But the problem with setting up a rigid system that defines what poetry can be and do is that it inevitably gets used in an agenda-driven way to dismiss whatever poetry you don’t happen to like. Mark Edmundson uses these three vague principles (skill/craft, paraphraseable and relevant content, plus ambition) to justify the poetry he does like and scorn the stuff he doesn’t. The only working poets he does admire, as far as I can tell, are Tony Hoagland and Frederick Seidel; his agenda does not make room for John Ashbery or Anne Carson. I mean, anyone who’s still pulling “That’s not poetry” on Ashbery, how can you take that seriously? His attempted takedown of Anne Carson is so hopelessly inept I can’t believe it got past the editors at Harper’s:

I cannot do much with the lines that begin “Stanzas, Sexes, Seductions” (or many of her other lines, either):

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

The poem is, I think, an attempt to imagine a posthuman identity. And surely it is distinctive in its voice. But it is so obscure, mannered and private that one (this one, at least) cannot follow its windings.

Really? How on earth is this excerpt obscure? Leaving aside the fact that it’s ridiculous to use five lines as a representative slice of contemporary poetry, these lines are far less mannered than the Lowell lines he quotes favorably on the first page (“Pity the planet, all joy gone / from this sweet volcanic cone,” etc.). At this point I can only come to the conclusion that this guy’s tastes are completely arbitrary, but he seems to think the quality of poems he favors (such as, improbably, Ginsberg’s “The Ballad of the Skeletons”) is self-evident compared to those he doesn’t – that list again random and improbable.

Elisa is ready to join Edmundson’s noble crusade, but she realizes that all crusades “inevitably get used in an agenda-driven way to dismiss whatever poetry you don’t happen to like,” but this is an embarrassing adolescent objection on Elisa’s part; she doesn’t seem to understand that it is everyone’s right to “not happen to like” this or that poem—it is her right, in fact, and she would defend that right to anyone who would listen—and the right not to like a poem is just as important as the right to like one.  Elisa is assuming that if someone doesn’t like a poem, they have an agenda, and therefore they are not allowed to not like the poem.  But whether one has an agenda or not, people are not going to like certain poems, and there’s nothing the blogger Elisa can do about it, and her attempt to connect an “agenda” to “not liking a poem” is perhaps more dubious than someone actually having an “agenda” that makes them “happen to not like a poem,” if any such nonsense can be proven.  Do “agendas” influence “personal judgment” or do “personal judgements” influence “agendas?”  And which is more dishonest?  The whole issue seems fraught with unexamined assumptions, as one individual (Elisa) denies another (Edmundson) the right “to dismiss whatever poetry you don’t happen to like.”

Edmundson claims the lines from Anne Carson, which begin, “It’s good to be neuter,” are “obscure.”  Elisa objects, “Really? How on earth is this excerpt obscure?”

Both critics are right.  The lines are obscure.  And they’re not. 

This is a mighty problem, and one of the reasons why poetry is in such a sad state of affairs these days; the whole controversy is enveloped in a trench-warfare fog.

We need to step back, here, perhaps before the blogger Elisa busts a gut, and look at our assumptions regarding poetry in general.

Stuck In The Middle With You

Rhetoric which passes as poetry today exists on two extremes: on one end of the spectrum, we have the matter-of-fact, and on the other end, philosophical ambiguity.  Intellectuals like to live on the extremes.  That’s where the party always is.  What we have in the middle is that which is neither matter-of-fact, nor philosophically ambiguous; it is merely what might be characterized as the Platonic “good” in words, what the public memory still identifies as poetry: Longfellow, or Emily Dickinson, poetry from “the Past,” but poetry which has an actual historical and rhetorical identity. Robert Lowell, the Frankenstein Monster of the Southern Agrarian New Critics, has an historical identity.  This middle ground occupies not only a rhetorical middle, but an historical one.  It is roughly equivalent to the “golden mean;”  a rhetoric with an existence between two poles.  One of the many reasons it satisfies its readers is because it is neither too matter-of-fact, nor too ambiguous.

The Carson example, as Elisa points out, is not “obscure,” but it is philosophically ambiguous—and, in keeping with self-conscious Modernism, matter-0f-fact at the same time.  The Carson excerpt has its interest, but Edmundson, as blundering as he is, is correct: the interest is not a poetic one.

The test is very simple: Carson posits the “neuter” person with “meaningless legs” as she speculates philosophically  on sexual difference, or the lack thereof.  The “poem,” at least in the excerpt, however, never comes into focus; instead we are offered vague choices—a shelf full of sexual philosophy presents itself to us—is it really good to be “neuter?”  How so?  From whose perspective? Etc, etc?— and words do have the power to do this; but this is speculative philosophy, not poetry.

The ambiguity of speculative philosophy will always trump the softer meanings of poetry—they are not the same, and those who assume (and there are many) that the ambiguity of philosophical speculation is poetry are really lost.

When the frustrated Elisa writes, “this guy’s tastes are completely arbitrary,” one can see how absolutely at sea she is, bemoaning “agendas” on one hand, and the “arbitrary” on the other.

Edmundson has blindly stirred up the blind.

THE VERSE DRAMA: BEN MAZER

902_Grolier_3.jpg

At the Grolier: Amanda Maciel Antunes; Michael Healy; Robert Chalfen; Julia Kleyman; Zachary Bos; Ben Mazer; Allison Vanouse; Jenna Dee; Philip Nikolayev

The verse drama ought to wear the crown, but as it happens so often in life with worthy things, is neglected; the verse drama’s combination of entertainment (drama) and fine art (poetry) should carry the day for all conceivable reasons except for the inconceivable reason that it does not.

To give an audience to a poet and poetry to audiences!  And for this noble purpose, to spring poetry from books so it might escape into, and live in, sound! To give entertainment the soul of art and art, the charm of entertainment! To put intricate music into story! To insert character and plot into intricate music!

These are worthy goals, and they must have excited Shakespeare, the playwright and poet, to give us the best literature in the world, etc.

The audience may boo, as it booed Henry James, so the poetry better entertain and the drama better fit the shades and hues of the words. Plays are not for the faint of heart.

T.S. Eliot, the modern who bemoaned verse drama’s fall as a popular art form,  says on the practical matters of verse drama:

Possibly the majority of attempts to confect a poetic drama have begun at the wrong end; they have aimed at the small public which wants “poetry.” (“Novices,” says Aristotle, “in the art attain to finish of diction and precision of portraiture before they can construct the plot.”) The Elizabethan drama was aimed at a public which wanted entertainment of a crude sort, but would stand a good deal of poetry; our problem should be to take a form of entertainment, and subject it to the process which would leave it a form of art. Perhaps the music-hall comedian is the best material. I am aware that this is a dangerous suggestion to make. For every person who is likely to consider it seriously there are a dozen toymakers who would leap to tickle æsthetic society into one more quiver and giggle of art debauch. Very few treat art seriously. There are those who treat it solemnly, and will continue to write poetic pastiches of Euripides and Shakespeare; and there are others who treat it as a joke.  —The Possibility of Poetic Drama, T.S. Eliot

We are happy to report that Ben Mazer, the poet, treats the task of creating verse drama, in his “A City of Angels,” neither too solemnly, nor as a joke; perhaps superficially, the scene at the Grolier Poetry Bookshop recently resembled a “small public” assembled for “poetry,” and perhaps due to the “temper of the age,” this is the only social milieu possible for verse drama, but Mazer, we feel, succeeds wildly with his 3 act play.

Mazer fulfills what Eliot, in “Rhetoric and Poetic Drama,” wanted:

A speech in a play should never appear to be intended to move us as it might conceivably move other characters in the play, for it is essential that we should preserve our position of spectators, and observe always from the outside though with complete understanding.

There is nothing worse than art that has a “palpable design” on us, and Mazer, by avoiding this common error, has a chance to give us true art.  And he does.

In more general terms, Oscar Wilde is a spokesman witty and elegant enough to convince us of the importance of poetry performed.

Wilde’s The Critic As Artist is illustrative of that great debate—is poetic language sign (writing) or sound (music)?

The 19th century was still imbued with the spirit of the Greeks and sound was the high-brow choice; but in the 20th century, Imagism, Constructionism, Deconstructionism, Fluxus, Visual Poetry and Language Poetry have made poetry on the page more important to scholars and academic poets.

There is no question where Wilde stands in his marvelous document, The Critic As Artist:

Since the introduction of printing, and the fatal development of the habit of reading amongst the middle and lower classes of this country, there has been a tendency in literature to appeal more and more to the eye, and less and less to the ear, which is really the sense which, from the standpoint of pure art, it should seek to please, and by whose canons of pleasure it should abide always. Even the work of Mr. Pater, who is, on the whole, the most perfect master of English prose now creating amongst us, is often far more like a piece of mosaic than a passage in music, and seems, here and there, to lack the true rhythmical life of words  and the fine freedom and richness of effect that such rhythmical life produces. We, in fact, have made writing a definite mode of composition, and have treated it as a form of elaborate design. The Greeks, upon the other hand, regarded writing simply as a method of chronicling. Their test was always the spoken word in its musical and metrical relations. The voice was the medium, and the ear the critic.  I have sometimes thought that the story of Homer’s blindness might be really an artistic myth, created in critical days, and serving to remind us, not merely that the great poet is always a seer, seeing less with the eyes of the body than he does with the eyes of the soul, but that he is a true singer also, building his song out of music, repeating each line over and over again to himself till he has caught the secret of its melody, chanting in darkness the words that are winged with light.  Certainly, whether this be so or not, it was to his blindness, as an occasion if not as a cause, that England’s great  poet owed much of the majestic movement and sonorous splendor of his later verse.  When Milton could no longer write, he began to sing.  …Yes: writing has done much harm to writers. We must return to the voice. That must be our test, and perhaps then we shall be able to appreciate some of the subtleties of Greek art criticism.

Wilde is writing in the late 19th century, before Modernism killed the Greek spirit which Wilde breathed as the very air.  Perhaps the death of Oscar Wilde (1900) should mark the beginning of Modernism/Post-Modernism—with its emphasis on poetry as writing, and even design, as opposed to poetry of speaking, singing, and winged thought.

The Verse Play, A City of Angels, by Ben Mazer, twice performed recently in Harvard Square, leaps over the heavy mosaic of writing into a heaven of sound.   Why ideality is better ushered into our minds by the ear is a mystery all unsolvable; the inspired poet himself is but a vessel and cannot explain it.

We might, at this point, make some self-evident observations.

The poetry of sound works in a medium more suited to poetry itself.

Enlightenment and pleasure, however misty, enter us by definite steps; this is how the material world experiences itself. Spoken language requires steps to imaginative reality, and those steps are at once accessible and elevating in the hands of the gifted poet; most poets strive for elevation but their steps are hidden, or their steps are accessible but they do not lead anywhere.

Ben Mazer’s poem is accessible and mystical at once.  We could use the word genius to describe how simply Mazer swims in the deep.

Music, or self-consciously musical language, allows us to travel to a place; both the traveling to the place and the place itself are provided by the music.

With all due respect to visual artists, we can see at once how musical poetry is superior to what the design or picture does, for the visual artist merely give us the place but not the traveling to the place—only the movement of temporal art can do that.

The poem that imitates painting and provides imagery is doing only a small part of what it can do, and even when providing imagery, the poet must ‘stretch it’ in the temporal rendering. Every tool has a self-imposed limit as well as a certain thing it can do.  Mazer understands this on many levels, and especially in this: his imagery always serves his music.

The painter will use distance for an effect, the poet, time, but the poet’s time is so much more immense and important.  So many things will mark the poet’s temporal journey: exactly what he is saying, exactly what he is painting, the rhythm of what is said, the suggestive vistas large or small, bright, dappled, or dark; the journey can be accumulative or sudden, the steps, a whole paragraph of thought, or a single arch rhyme. The skillful poet builds thought itself with mood on mood, and the Verse Drama is a form which lends itself to this and which seems to find Mazer in his element.

When it comes to temporality, Mazer does not languish in A City, but stresses movement for the sake of movement:

where much is predicated to unfold
when in the morning I unleash the thoughts
that brought me to return as if to break
the patterns of the time that came before
and sever all connections to the past
when time moves forward into a new day,
and motion stirs in the awaking town
to find that all is new, is a blank slate
where history shall properly begin
groping to find its new identity
innocently as it looks around
to find that all is moving forward now

We quote but a part of this tour-de-force, John Crick’s monologue which opens the play; is it over the top?  A lesser poet would trim the speech, fearing excess, but temporal excess is precisely how Mazer’s genius asserts itself in the medium he has chosen.

If Crick merely asserted in a briefer format, “here I am, waiting for a new day,” the whole thing would be a failure; Mazer instinctively makes onward movement the rhetorical form of Crick’s speech on mutability and novelty.

Crick’s passion for the new is soon put to the test by the friendly, small-town, skeptical Mary; she is the human lens of the play, modifying Crick’s light; she is “we the audience” who puzzle over Crick’s mystical, forward-looking, optimism.

Mary: “I might ask you again what are these plans you spoke of so mysteriously.”

Meanwhile, John questions her; John and Mary’s dialogue (Act I, Scene 2) skillfully enhances the content of Crick’s monologue in the play’s first scene.

Crick: But why were you not sleeping at this hour?

Mary: I might ask you again what are these plans you spoke of so mysteriously.

Crick: I promise that I’ll tell, but answer me.

Mary: Why am I up? I was asleep awhile
but then I had a dream I can’t recall
which stirred and shook me and I was awake.

Mary, unlike the town that is sleeping, is awake, and discovers Crick outside her window in the street (he has come to work for her father, the president of the college.)  Mary is made unique and has her dramatic presence heightened by this simple device, and the dream which she relates hints at Crick’s mysterious visit.  So as Mary questions Crick, he then questions her—and she reveals him more than he does himself.

But she continues to press him:

Mary: But more concretely, what have you in mind?
With what do you propose to fill each day?

Crick: With wonderment and with discovery.
Briefly that is the outline of my plan.
To find virginity in each new day,
a spirit of adventure not restrained.
An openness to what’s not been before.

Mary: Concretely speaking, John, what would that be?

The audience notices the self-aware nature of the play; the playwright knows Crick is not being “concrete” (even though he has put Crick in a dramatically real situation: visiting a snowy city at night for a job, etc).  But the critique of Crick’s vagueness is not a simple one; he parries Mary in such an idiot savant sort of way that one cannot help but emotionally identify with the profound visitor:

Crick: Nothing concrete at all, but something that
remains to be discovered.

Mary:  Well, we’ll see.

Crick’s logic is masterful.  The “something that remains to be discovered” is just that exciting secret which cannot be revealed, for then it would lose its allure.  This is nothing less than a dramatic evocation of the Socratic desire for not only truth—but desire itself.

And with Socrates, we return to the Greek spirit which Wilde, the wit, saw as so important (Eliot, too, lauds Plato in “The Possibility of Poetic Drama”).  And as Wilde made clear in The Critic As Artist, the Greek spirit is the critical spirit:

Without the critical faculty, there is no artistic creation…

Each new school…cries out against criticism, but it is to the critical faculty in man that it owes its origin. The mere creative instinct does not innovate, but reproduces.

There has never been a creative age that has not been critical also.  For it is the critical faculty that invents fresh forms. The tendency of creation is to repeat itself. It is to the critical instinct that we owe each new school that springs up, each new mould that art finds ready to its hand.

Wilde was a wit, so why wouldn’t he take the side of criticism:  wit is closer to criticism than to creativity.  Some reject Plato, Socrates, the Critical impulse, in favor of a not-so-carefully-considered-creativity.

Mazer’s self-critical mastery of the medium of verse drama is nicely expressed in the Act 3, Scene 1 meeting between the thuggish Tom and Sam Cross—who belong to the the rival clan of the Cricks.  When they caustically speak of “this play,” it probably refers to a play in the play, but there’s just enough of an absurdist hint that the “play” referred to is, in fact, Mazer’s play.

They’ve got one newspaper, one magazine of any value, a literary magazine, and this is where this play will receive a favorable review, and it will be trusted and admired by intellectuals, and we’ve got one shit Crick up our ass.  (Tom Cross)

The rhetorical style of the Cross brothers scene stretches meaning even as it condenses it; the rather brief scene is entirely effective, with just the right black comic menace.  The scene is a perfect vehicle for character actors to have a delightful time, removed, and yet threatening, the romantic world of John Crick and Mary.  Mazer knows how to build, define and separate a play’s elements—we don’t need a lot of interaction to see what is essential move forward.

What “moves forward” in Mazer’s play is fairly simple—but lest we think this a fault, we should remember what T.S. Eliot says (very wisely) in his essay “The Possibility of Poetic Drama:”

The essential is to get upon the stage this precise statement of life which is at the same time a point of view, a world—a world which the author’s mind has subjected to a complete process of simplification.

And again, keeping with the whole critical tenor of creation, Mazer in “A City of Angels” is cognizant of Eliot’s profound statement (in the same essay) on the economy of great literature, which, according to Eliot, puts “into the statement enough to make reflection unnecessary.”

“To make reflection unnecessary” returns us to that accessibility we need in temporal art—as we pitch forward with that “precise statement of life” “essential to get upon the stage.”

Another issue dogging the verse drama is the “conversational” v. “oratorical” debate; doesn’t poetry automatically sound too artificial for the “direct speech” we expect from actors on the stage?  Mazer succeeds here, too.  His blank verse play, which occasionally rhymes, mostly sounds like speech.  Either the obstacle is not as great as supposed, or Mazer has found a secret key.

Verse drama has not been popular for a long time.  When is the last time someone quoted Eliot’s “The Cocktail Party?”

Ben Mazer’s A City of Angels, which we feel is better than Yeats or Eliot’s efforts in the genre, gives us hope for the form, and for poetry.

Mazer, with the help of some talented friends, has done at the Grolier what Oscar Wilde asked: returned fine literature to the voice.

RHYTHM AND POETRY

Criticism of Life?  Bah.  Rhythm! Ode to Joy! One-two-three-four, One-two-three-four, One-two-three-four, One-and-Two!

The essence of rhythm is completely misunderstood by the modern poets.

They falsely posit two things of which there is only one.

It is similar to the error in which a simple quantity, height, for instance, is described as a duality: short and tall.  Short is not a quantity in itself, and neither is tall. Short and tall are two ways of saying the same thing: height.  Short and tall only have meaning in relation to some other height. Height itself is neither short nor tall—it is simply one measurable quantity between two points.

In the same way: the quantity, rhythm, is notrecurring pattern’ on one hand, and ‘variation of that pattern,’ on the other.

Rhythm, for that word to have any meaning, is not two things.  It is one thing.

Since variation cannot exist unless there is an established pattern from which to vary, it is ridiculous to speak of variety or variation as a separate quantity—like tall, it begs the question, taller than what? or in this case, varying from what?  This second quantity—variation—does not exist, but is contained in the first quantity, which we define as: the established pattern or rhythm which must first exist before any variation can occur, and without which no variation can occur.

T.S. Eliot, the Modernist most respected for first principles, errs, precisely in this manner, when he claims all prose scans and all prose has rhythm.

The Modernist error is defended by the tall and short trick—two quantities conjured out of the one principle: rhythm.

We see the Modernist compare iambic pentameter—which is described as a recurring pattern—to prose, which is described as a variation on a pattern, the Modernist adding that good iambic pentameter breaks the iambic expectation with variation—and prose is a variation on this sort of (good) variation—and thus, naturally, a good.

Good iambic moves away from expectation; good prose moves towards it.

The trick that is being played here is a simple one: the Modernist inserts a quality in a manner that distorts a quantity. The rhythm is the rhythm, not the variation from it—but this “not” magically becomes “the good;” the “variation” (the variation, any variation, variation that cannot exist without the original rhythm) now becomes wholly associated with “the good,” because if iambic does not vary itself, it is bad—and therefore prose, seen as wholly and organically various, and thus always varying itself, becomes in the blindness of the Modernist argument, the good.

The false Modernist argument, in a nutshell, goes like this: If iambic can vary itself as prose does, iambic will be good, and prose, which is already various, is by the same token, also good.

But obviously there can be no variation without the original rhythm—which is the actual good—and to describe variety as good is nothing but a lie, because not only is variety not a separate good, variety does not and cannot exist at all as anything materially separate.

The iambic—even as it varies itself, remains always and forever iambic in the upper part of the reader’s mind—and the more it skillfully varies itself as an iambic rhythm, the more strongly does it assert itself, in its variety, as an iambic rhythm, and this process alone—by which the iambic varies itself and by doing so, remains more strongly iambic—is the good.

Iambic is iambic because it is not prose. The iambic rhythm (ta DA) possesses an identifiable rhythm, and thus an identity in terms of rhythm which prose does not—since prose is not-prosebecause-it-isnot-iambic. Prose is also not prose because it is not trochaic—thus not being iambic alone does not define prose. But iambic is defined by not being prose—were iambic, after all, really trochaic, for instance, it would still be very much itself, since the rhythm of trochaic and iambic are almost the same (a short beside a long).

With logical precision, Criticism can prove that prose has no identifiable rhythm.

This, in fact, is what defines prose as prose.  It does not differ from iambic, it differs from all rhythm—for it has none.

The Modernist Theory of free verse is not scientific.  It is a hopeful dream—though the Modernist would insist the glory of free verse is based on “experience.”

To reject Criticism for experience, thinking the former leads us away frorm the latter, is wrong, for Criticism makes us aware of experience and is therefore vital to it. Criticism is nothing more and nothing less than an experience of experience, and therefore to reject Criticism as effete or unnecessary is foolish: a rejection of experience itself.

To insist that prose scans is to succumb to the worst sin, according to Pope’s Essay on Criticism: pride. It is also to reject what, according to Plato, is the essence of art, humility, and intelligence: measurement.

The Modernist is uncomfortable with measurement, and feels superior to it.  The Modernist is a priest without religion, a scientist without science, an artist without art, a lover without love, and indulges in experience without criticism—which is experience without experience.

Life is all the Modernist has.

Life belongs to all of us—and yes, life needs no criticism, no science, no love, no measurement.  Life is that place we, as individuals, can safely be ignorant or hyper-aware, as we sit on a train, drowse on our beds, drift sweetly in our minds, dismiss all in a bad mood, or embrace all in moments of intoxication; then, criticism of experience—which is truly what experience is—can go hang.  There is no “criticism of life,” the Arnoldian phrase loved by T.S. Eliot; it is truly an empty phrase, if we understand how vast, casual and random life really is.

Life is beyond Criticism.  Experience depends on Criticism.   Yet the Modernist confuses the two.

Life is subjective, sprawling.

Experience is limited, objective.

The Modernist comprehends neither experience (rejecting criticism of it) nor life (welcoming criticism of it).  Of course it is no wonder that Matthew Arnold’s “criticsm of life” was used by Eliot in praising Pound’s poetry [intro to Pound’s Selected Poems, Faber]. When you wish to reject experience and criticism of it, you insist, like the Modernists and their heirs, the Post-Modernists do, that your poetry reflects “life,” which of course is impossible.

Life is what finally makes poetry empty and effete.  In one of life’s bad moods, all poetry is terrible, and life laughs at our criticism and makes everything true—or not—on a whim.

A poet would be a fool, then, to think his poetry is a ‘criticism of life.’

No, life is always a criticism of poetry, and didactic pride prevents us from admitting this is always the case, and it never goes the other way; poetry is never a ‘criticism of life.’ Only a fool who believes prose scans would make such an assertion.

AROUND THE POETRY WEB PART 3

Was Frost a flarfist?  We’re guessing Silliman has no idea…
Ron Silliman is at it again.  When he takes a rare break from posting talking head videos on his blog and speaks directly to his audience, he’s a wonderful conduit for the know-nothing avant-garde—which has been quietly infesting our institutions of higher learning for the last 50 years.
It’s a deliberate championing of obscurity for obscurity’s sake, propelled by the gnawing envy of the unread on one hand and that intellectual faculty on the other that strives to make being unread a merit in itself.
It’s no accident that this “merit” grows in colleges—where students are the helpless audience (in need of a grade on a transcript) that bows to the playfully sweet will of the artsy-fartsy instructor who reduces learning to a kind of kindergarten “creativity.” This, more often than not, receives praise from the prisoner-student, the student happy to believe they are being “creative,” and needing that easy A.  Standards don’t matter because the “A” and the tuition paid get the job done.
The mistake Silliman and his tribe make is they assume the poetry of John Ashbery, for instance, is metadata: defined as data that provides information about other data.  This is a grave error, and it persists, in spite of, or because of, the error involved.
Memo to the Silliman-ites: The philosophy of Plato is metadata.  The poetry of Ashbery is not.
This distinction escapes them even while they beat the ground and raise a pretentious amount of dust—the merit of obscurity becoming its own self-fulfilling prophecy.
In his review of Richard Blanco’s inauguration poem, Silliman is forced out of his avant-garde cave for a moment and betrays that gnawing envy which grips his type when they are forced to grapple with anything that betokens democracy’s wide, daylight appeal.
Silliman’s entire commentary is a sneering revilement of the whole inaugural poetry event.  Blanco’s poem itself is not given the courtesy of a look.  Blanco is the “gluten-free, lo-cal version” of a genuine avant-garde representative.  All inaugural poems, in Silliman’s eyes, are “flarf.”  Every selection of an inaugural poet, according to Silliman, involves crass geographical politics. JFK wasn’t a real intellectual. JFK’s term was “idyllic” because there was no Fox News.  Everyone carps about the choices, but none should be heeded.  It would be a mistake to think these remarks of Silliman’s are “political.” They are merely dyspeptic.  We present his remarks below and you can judge for yourself.
The only attempt at offering something we can actually chew is Silliman’s passing mention of John Ashbery’s poem “Europe,” from that poet’s 1962 book, The Tennis Court Oath. 
Silliman imagines Rush & O’Reilly close-reading Ashbery’s “Europe” had Ashbery been selected.  Really?  Who in the mainstream would bother close-reading Ashbery?  Silliman knows CNN as well as Fox News wouldn’t bother.  The gushing praise of “Europe” below insinuates—as all praise of Ashbery does—that metadata is at hand; it’s not.
Europe is perhaps the most extreme example of Ashbery’s earlier, experimental work. He used extracts from “Beryl of the Biplane”, a 1917 children’s novel by Bernard LeQueux, for some of the text and mixed in a collage of images of phrases. Some would argue that this remarkable poem is an early example of the postmodern sensibility with its rejection of ‘meaning’ and a deliberate playfulness. Others would argue that it borrows heavily from a distinctly French tradition of juxtosposition and a strong interest in cinematic montage. Either way, reading it is a dizzying experience and Ashbery’s delight in the possibilities of language shines through.
The data is all Ashbery’s, even as he imports “extracts” from other works and brings us “collage” and “postmodern sensibility” and “French tradition,” all these terms brave attempts to manifest an air of metadata—which doesn’t really exist as such.  Plato’s philosophy, which influenced so profoundly the gigantic eras of Renaissance and Romantic explosions in art and science, can be defined as metadata: light streaming outward, “data providing information about other data;” Ashbery’s snippets of collage collect; they do not create.  The “information” in an Ashbery poem remains information in terms of the poem’s random nature.  There is no philosophy throwing light on other things; things connected to things in Asbhery are trivial connections; interesting, as of course sometimes trivia is, but never rising to the definition of metadata.
And we close with Silliman’s commentary:
The next time a poet is selected to perform a poem at a presidential inauguration on strictly literary grounds will be the first. The carping after Richard Blanco’s selection tells me more about those who complain than it does about Blanco. The same was true for those who bemoaned and belittled Elizabeth Alexander, Miller Williams, Maya Angelou, James Dickey &, I dare say, Robert Frost. One might make the case that Frost was selected for his pre-eminence as an American icon of poetry, but one should keep in mind that JFK was a president who understood the value – in his idyllic pre-Fox News single term – of positioning himself as an intellectual, garnering a Pulitzer for a ghost-written volume of pop history & preferring in his own time to read James Bond novels. Ian Fleming may qualify as a heavyweight alongside whatever the Bushies read, but when Kennedy got together with Marilyn Monroe, it wasn’t the president who was the serious reader in the room. And there never has been a white male inaugural poet who wasn’t selected at least partly as a play on the regional card to boot: New England, Georgia, Arkansas.
 
I don’t know what anyone expects from an inaugural poem – the entire premise seems utterly cringe-worthy to me – but signaling a broader inclusiveness in the American project is hardly a bad idea unless you’re one of the old white guys for whose vote Mitt Romney was campaigning.  Since the resulting poems tend toward flarf, perhaps the ideal might be some carved-up-blend of K Silem Mohammad, Judy Grahn & Simon Ortiz. In a sense, Blanco may just be the gluten-free lo-cal version of that. It might be more fun to imagine the field day Rush & O’Reilly would have had close-reading “Europe” had John Ashbery been selected, but really is it any different? With the exception of LBJ, every Democratic president for the past half century has used the occasion to signal that poetry is inside the tent, just as every Republican has spoken far louder through its absence.

SCIENCE, MATH AND POETRY

When a philosopher’s science fails to be precise, we call it poetry.

The impulse towards science in ancient times—when few scientific facts were available—ancient cosmogonies, for example, becomes, in retrospect, a kind of poetry by default.

Plato, whose cosmology was the late dialogue, the Timaeus, is often called a poet. It’s not that Plato was a poet so much as he was a scientist who had to rely on a great deal of amazing guessing.

Is poetry really the guess-work of the scientist?

The world—which is born and dies, and which resides below Plato’s eternal Forms—is God’s unique and mutable poem.

Plato’s Forms are God’s truth—or what might be called the poet’s plan.

So Plato’s great theme: The eternal Forms are real and belong to science. The world doesn’t belong to poetry, because the world is already a default poem,  but for the world and the poet to exist, the poet must think like a scientist.  

The planning impulse of the cosmogonist writes the poem to make it more than a mere reflection of the accidents of the world.

We could say it was easier, or more natural for the scientist to be a poet in Plato’s day—precisely because science required so much guess-work.  The scientist needed to be a poet, needed to have imagination, and speculate, in order to make sense of a world belonging to our ancient ancestors’ dimly primitive understanding of it.

Do we believe the world is still a mystery? In that case, guessing and dreaming—not just in poetry, but in what could be called poetic science, is still necessary.

Here, in a masterpiece of classical scholarship—Plato’s Cosmology, by Francis Cornford (1935)—we find the following, and note how Cornford describes the cosmology of Lucretius, all the rage at the moment because of Professor Stephen Greenblatt’s prize-winning bestseller, The Swerve:

The Timaeus is a poem, no less than the De rerum natura of Lucretius, and indeed more so in certain respects. Both poets are concerned, in the first instance, with our practical attitude towards the world—what we should make of our life there and how face the prospect of death. Lucretius believed that atoms and void are the ultimately real things of which everything that exists is built. Plato denied reality to what is commonly called matter; his real things are the Forms, and the bodies we touch and see are not built of Forms, nor are the Forms in them. Accordingly, for Lucretius reality is in the world of sensible things and he can offer statements about its nature which claim to be literally true; for Plato that whole world is an image, not the substance. You cannot, by taking visible things to pieces, ever arrive at any parts more real than the whole you started with. The perfection of microscopic vision can bring you no nearer to the truth, for the truth is not at the further end of your microscope. To find reality you would do better to shut your eyes and think.

There are two senses in which the Timaeus is a ‘myth’ or ‘story.’ One we have already considered: no account of the material world can ever amount to an exact and self-consistent statement of unchangeable truth. In the second place, the cosmology is cast in the form of a cosmogony, a ‘story’ of events spread out in time. Plato chooses to describe the universe, not by taking it to pieces in an analysis, but by constructing it and making it grow under our eyes. Earlier cosmogonies had been of the evolutionary type, suggesting a birth and growth of the world, due to some spontaneous force of life in Nature, or, as in Atomism, to the blind and undesigned collision of lifeless atoms. Such a story was, to Plato, very far from being like the truth. So he introduced, for the first time in Greek philosophy, the alternative scheme of creation by a divine artificer, according to which the world is like a work of art designed with a purpose.

The Atomists’ belief in innumerable worlds, some always coming into existence, others passing away, was an inference from their assertion of a strictly infinite void partly occupied by an illimitable number of atoms in motion. It was probable, they argued, that world-forming vortices would arise at any number of different places. Granted that our world is finite, that there is unlimited space outside its boundary, and that there are materials left over, from which other worlds might be formed, why should there not be any number of copies of the same model?  The world, according to Plato, is finite.

Francis Cornford rocks.  Re-discover him, people.

The poet is like God, a “divine artificer.”  And the divine focuses on one perfect, finite universe, not an imperfect bunch, based on vague limitlessness.

If we think of Plato as the ancient artificer, Dante, the artificer of the middle ages, and Poe as the great modern artificer, this might be a good time to quote from Poe’s cosmology, Eureka:

Let us begin, then, at once with the merest of words, “Infinity.” This, like “God,” “spirit,” and some other expressions of which the equivalents exist in nearly all languages, is by no means the expression of an idea—but an effort at one.

And what an “effort” it is to imagine the entire universe!  Surely it makes writing a poem easier!  Or not.

Infinity is one of the important ideas for Poe, because like his great predecessor, Plato, a finite universe is the scientifically perfect universe Poe imagines; the infinite universe simply cannot work as our one unique universe of tangible lawfulness—and to read Eureka is to understand this fully, as Poe tirelessly makes crystal clear in his great theme of simplicity and oneness throughout the work.

Like Plato, Poe sees invisible creator and visible creation as two very distinct parts of the universe.  And on it goes, the parts, the number, and how they fit together and impact each other in revolutions, orbits, luminosity, and gravitation, over time; all that challenges the cosmologist cannot help but inspire the poet in the most profound manner imaginable.  Here is Poe, toward the end of his prose poem, Eureka, echoing Plato as he warns the reader not to confuse all-important “symmetry” in the world with its more important place in idea

It is, perhaps, in no little degree, however, our propensity for the continuous—for the analogical—in the present case more particularly for the symmetrical—which has been leading us astray. And, in fact, the sense of the symmetrical is an instinct which may be depended on with an almost blindfold reliance. It is the poetical essence of the Universe—of the Universe which, in the supremeness of its symmetry, is but the most sublime of poems. Now symmetry and consistency are convertible terms: —thus Poetry and Truth are one. A thing is consistent in the ratio of its truth—true in the ratio of its consistency. A perfect consistency, I repeat, can be nothing but an absolute truth. We may take it for granted, then, that Man cannot long or widely err, if he suffer himself to be guided by his poetical, which I have maintained to be his truthful, in being his symmetrical, instinct. He must have a care, however, lest, in pursuing too heedlessly the superficial symmetry of forms and motions, he leave out of sight the really essential symmetry of the principles which determine and control them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, belonging to that certain tribe of thinkers who could not follow Poe’s genius in its journey beyond the country village, once said that “consistency was the hobgoblin of little minds,” but Emerson surely had a more fragile consistency in mind.

Poe was no village realist.  Poe was truly the idealist heir of Plato.  From Eureka:

The wonderfully complex laws of revolution here described, however, are not to be understood as obtaining in our system alone. They everywhere prevail where Attraction prevails. They control the Universe of Stars. Every shining speck in the firmament is, no doubt, a luminous sun, resembling our own, at least in its general features, and having in attendance upon it a greater or less number of planets, greater or less, whose still lingering luminosity is not sufficient to render them visible to us at so vast a distance, but which, nevertheless, revolve, moon-attended, about their starry centers, in obedience to the principles just detailed—in obedience to the three omniprevalent laws of revolution—the three immortal laws guessed by the imaginative Kepler, and but subsequently demonstrated and accounted for by the patient and mathematical Newton. Among a tribe of philosophers who pride themselves excessively upon matter-of-fact, it is far too fashionable to sneer at all speculation under the comprehensive sobriquet, “guess-work.”  The point to be considered is, who guesses.  In guessing with Plato, we spend our time to better purpose, now and then, than in hearkening to a demonstration by Alcmaeon.

The poet, to broaden the definition of poetry, is, like Plato and Poe, one who speculates—in the consistent spirit of one who imagines the universe, or, like a good cook, tells you exactly how God made the pie.

LIBERALISM: AN INFINITE NUMBER OF ATOMS MOVING RANDOMLY THROUGH SPACE

How the World Became Modern—and Stephen Greenblatt Won a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize

Stephen Greenblat’s The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (2011) can be usefully compared to Edgar Allan Poe’s Eureka (1848).

Greenblatt celebrates modernity, and what can be called modern liberalism, in an ancient text, Lucretius’s On The Nature of Things (1st century), rediscovered by a pope’s secretary during the Renaissance—an era also celebrated by Greenblatt for its love of “beauty,” “pleasure” and “curiosity.”

The Swerve is your typical ‘science/philosophy/literature-for-the-layperson’ sort of book, the kind that wins prizes and dominates high-brow sections of bookstores; the language and message are simple:

The stuff of the universe, Lucretius proposed, is an infinite number of atoms moving randomly through space. 

There is no master of plan, no divine architecht, no intelligent design.

In a universe so constituted, Lucretius argued, there is no reason to think that the earth or its inhabitants occupy a central place, no reason to set humans apart from all other animals, no hope of bribing or appeasing the gods, no place for religious fanaticism, no call for ascetic self-denial, no justification for dreams of limitless power or perfect security, no rationale for wars of conquest or self-aggrandizement, no possibility of triumphing over nature, no escape from the constant making and unmaking and remaking of forms.

What human beings can and should do, he wrote, is to conquer their fears, accept the fact that they themselves and all the things  they encounter are transitory, and embrace the beauty and the pleasure of the world.

I marveled—I continue to marvel—that these perceptions were fully articulated in a work written more than two thousand years ago.  The line between this work and modernity is not direct: nothing is ever so simple.

Laid out for us in a nice, tidy package, Greenblatt informs us of the enlightened, ‘There’s no Santa Claus,’ scientific view of Lucretius which we modern, secular, intellectuals ought to call our own. 

Or should we? 

Should the modern view really be about following historical mankind’s long and winding “line” to modernity?   

If so, this begs the question: what is this holy grail of modernity, anyway?  Is it a slow waking up to atheism and pleasure?

Is Greenblatt giving us real wisdom, real science?

Or is The Swerve destined to disappear in a few years to make way for the next tome in the multi-billion dollar, science-for-the-lay-person, book industry?

The science-for-the-lay-person book is ubiquitous in our day, but we wonder whether its popularity is because it’s informative in a truly meaningful way, or rather because its food is illusionary, and it mass-feeds an increasingly empty need.

What if modernity, as Greenblatt and others use the term, is nothing but today’s prejudices?

What if what we call ‘the modern’ is merely wrong playing out now?

Are we certain that a world controlled by atheists, for instance, will be a better world than one controlled by priests? 

And what does this question have to do with whether there is an afterlife, or not, or whether one believes in an afterlife, or not? 

Or whether the universe is “an infinite number of atoms moving randomly through space,” or a reflection (to whom?) of an “intelligent design?”

If, as a mortal on this earth, one ‘puts one’s eggs’ in the basket of today, or the basket of next year, or the basket of a thousand years from now, does it matter, finally, whether one is an atheist, or not?  Isn’t this a more practical matter of one’s personality?

Can any of us, no matter what our science, religion, or philosophy, escape momento mori?   

And who is better equipped to escape it?  A severely depressed pessimist?  Or a happy-go-lucky optimist?  And who is to say which personality happens to be the Protestant, the Jew, the Catholic, the Buddhist, the Hindu, the Muslim, or the atheist?  And which matters more?  The religion—or the personality?  We think the personality does. 

Is it the only valid, modern, scientific view, then, to think modernity, liberalism, progress, and enlightenment equal a movement through history away from all the major religions towards the holy grail of atheism, and the acceptance of “an infinite number of atoms moving randomly through space?”  Can this ever be demonstrated to anyone’s satisfaction? 

Greenblatt certainly thinks so:

I marveled—I continue to marvel—that these perceptions were fully articulated in a work written more than two thousand years ago.  The line between this work and modernity…

Greenblatt “marvels” that what he calls “modernity” is not modern (not such a marvel if we rip the shroud from that word, modern).  Note also how Greenblatt registers with surety “the line between this work and modernity” (modernity, Greenblatt’s holy grail: a blithe “infinite number of random atoms”). 

Greenblatt continues:

The line between this work and modernity is not direct: nothing is ever so simple. There were innumerable forgettings, disappearances, recoveries, dismissals, distortions, challenges, transformations, and renewed forgettings. And yet the vital conneciton is there. Hidden behind the worldview I recognize as my own is an ancient poem, a poem once lost, apparently irrevocably, and then found.

The worldview I recognize as my own…  And why is this Greenblatt’s worldview?  Is it for all-important scientific reasons?  Or for the vaguely fashionable idea that Greenblatt considers himself, and this worldview, “modern?” 

Greenblatt traces the progress of the Lucretian, modern worldview:

When it returned to full circulation after a millennium, much of what the work said about a universe formed out of the clash of atoms in an infinite void seemed absurd. But those very things that first were deemed both impious and nonsensical turned out to be the basis for the contemporary rational understanding of the entire world.

What is at stake is not only the startling recognition of key elements of modernity in antiquity, though it is certainly worth reminding ourselves that Greek and Roman classics, largely displaced from our curriculum, have in fact definitively shaped modern consciousness.

More surprising, perhaps, is the sense, driven home by every page of On The Nature of Things, that the scientific vision of the world—a vision of atoms randomly moving in an infinite universe—was in its origins imbued with a poet’s sense of wonder. 

The Swerve is not a scientific work; Greenblatt is not interested in presenting any thing resembling a unified view of how the universe might actually work. 

Cosmogonies which rival and far surpass On The Nature of Things, most notably, Plato’s Timaeus and Poe’s Eureka, earn not a single mention in Greenblatt’s book.  The omission is glaring, since Poe’s Eureka is Lucretian to its very core (only far more accurate due to scientific advances made during two millennia) and Plato’s Timaeus is edifyingly and powerfully logical in the way it describes the underlying micro and cosmological forces of the universe in a purely scientific manner.

Greenblatt’s attempt to convey Lucretius’s wisdom in a general way fails, as well. Greenblatt has Lucretius renouncing war and rejecting “triumphing over nature.”  But nature, ‘red in tooth and claw,’ is the basis of war.  So how can one conform to nature and also be against war?  By presenting a laundry list of anti-religious points, Greenblatt is only fighting a religious war of his own, fueled by the very ignorance “modernity” supposedly exists to refute.  If “atoms randomly moving in an infinite universe” is the basis of Lucretius’ “vision,” why should this (or any other arrangement) make any difference to Hitler, Stalin, or Mao?  It’s never clear how “atoms” which are “random” have anything to do with those evils (both accidental and otherwise) which Greenblatt’s “modernity” (secular, wise, liberal, etc) is supposedly equipped to overcome as we travel in history towards this Lucretian vision of “modernity.”

The point here is not to argue with Professor Greenblatt’s politics, but to ask: What does a belief in “a universe formed out of the clash of atoms in an infinite void” have to do with reason, science, or modernity?

Greenblatt uses the word “infinite” in describing the Lucretian universe, whether he is talking of an “infinite number of atoms” or an “infinite void.”  And this is indeed how Lucretius described the universe: infinite.

Poe’s Eureka, a prose poem of imaginative force, argues that no atom could move if there were an infinite number of atoms. Gravity, the force which holds the universe together, is, as Poe points out, nothing less than every atom attracting every other atom—the consolidating principle of attraction, the basis of all the orbits; all the moons, planets, suns and stars, the very spheres themselves; all entropy; all centrifugal, all centripedal, movement;  all rectilinear, all deviatory movement in the universe. Is the universe “infinite?”  Here’s what Eureka says: 

Grant the abstract tendency of any one atom to any one other as the inevitable result of diffusion from the normal Unity:–or, what is the same thing, admit any given atom as proposing to move in any given direction—it is clear that, since there is an infinity of atoms on all sides of the atom proposing to move, it never can actually move toward the satisfaction of its tendency in the direction given, on account of a precisely equal and counterbalancing tendency in the direction diametrically opposite. In other words, exactly as many tendencies to Unity are behind the hesitating atom as before it; for it is mere folly to say that one infinite line is longer or shorter than another infinite line, or that one infinite number is greater or less than another number that is infinite. Thus the atom in question must remain stationary forever. Under the impossible circumstances which we have been merely endeavoring to conceive for argument’s sake, there could have been no aggregation of Matter—no stars—no worlds—nothing but a perpetually atomic and inconsequential Universe. In fact, view it as we will, the whole idea of unlimited Matter is not only untenable, but impossible and preposterous.

One cannot step into the river of Eureka without drowning in its one idea: the original Unity—of Nothing (since the True Unity has no Relation and thus no Matter) exploding into the Many (a finite, and finally discontinued explosion, in order ‘to work’ most simply—always the m.o. of the Creator, the Deity, the Design) which leads to the Great Return Back to the Original Unity (manifested as the Ubiquitous Law of Gravity)—returning, gravitationally, not to a place but to unity itself which gives rise to the Great Counter-force: Electricity (and its various attributes: Luminosity, Electro-Magnetism, Thought)—the Force of Resistance or Repulsion which makes Gravity’s Great Return back to the Original Unity tortured, lengthy, yet inevitable.

Greenblatt’s “enlightened” enthusiasm for “infinite atoms” cannot help but strike the reader of Eureka as slack—Greenblatt’s  The Swerve is modestly attempting partial historical observations; Poe’s Eureka is focused and ambitious in the extreme and is perhaps the most remarkable essay/prose poem ever produced by an American; yet we cannot help but note that Greenblatt is anxious to celebrate the details of a cosmogony he is quick to imbue with “modern” significance for the lay reader, yet the details of which are scientifically lax, in direct ratio to the intensity of its anti-religious, anti-human, anti-design philosophy. 

Poe was no religious fanatic; Poe admired Epicurus and believed in the truism that the end of life is pleasure (happiness).  There is nothing religious, per se, about Eureka, and it did offend the church in Poe’s day, even as some secular purists in our day might blanch at Eureka’s “intelligent design.” The belief—by certain ancient Greeks and Romans—in an atomistic universe, as opposed to a universe ruled by colorful gods, would certainly have been approved by Poe, and in this spirit, Greenblatt’s cheerleading for Lucretius is indeed heart-warming. 

But Greenblatt is presenting the entirety of an ancient text, with all its scientific errors, as an easy model for what he calls “modernity,” and also a model for a certain kind of political philosophy of which he (Greenblatt) approves—a political philosophy not perfect in itself, and far from perfect in its false link to a less than perfect science.

After reading The Swerve, the swerve one needs to make is towards Eureka.

WHAT IS POETRY, ANYWAY?

The way to see a star is to attend to its ray.

We may be loved for our ray–our poetry, for instance–and not our star–our physique and face.

The civilized cultivates the ray.

So what is poetry? What is poetry’s ray? A ray can say a lot of different things as we analyze its spectrum.

In this spirit, observe this comparison, which has nothing to do with poetry, per se (star) but illustrates a truth about poetry (ray).

The newest airplane will be better than an airplane made fifty years ago.

The newest poem will most likely not be better than a poem made two thousand years ago.

Do we need to go further, and ask why recent airplanes improve in ways that recent poems do not?  Is it because airplanes are practical objects and poems are not?  Or, that airplanes have a measurable practical use and poems do not? 

It is good to realize that we perhaps err in pursuing this line of reasoning, for it takes us away from the ray and back to the star: the poem as object.  To compare the physical poem to the physical airplane would make us blind, would wreck ourselves upon a star.  The critic moth would die in the poem’s flame.

Can we assume poems serve no practical use?  No, we cannot.

But can we still ask the question: are poems practical—but unable to improve, or: do they not improve—precisely because they are not practical?  Since airplanes do improve, are old airplanes worthless in a way that old poems are not?  To those interested in airplanes, old airplanes do have value, just as old poems interest those who are interested in poetry; but old poems can do the work of new poems, and perhaps even better, but we cannot say this of old airplanes.

Is the practicality of something its ray?

But if the poem is not practical, does that mean it has no ray for the poem-obsessed critic; if every star has a ray, what is the poem’s ray?  Can we say the poem’s impracticality is its ray?   That is, is its ray its essential difference from airplanes?

How do we know the airplane improves?  We need to place the airplane of yesterday beside the airplane of today. Without this comparison, we could never comprehend from outside the improvement itself, and without building on the old model, the newer model could not improve.

Since poetry does not improve, is it necessary to compare new and old poems? 

It is necessary to build on old models if we are building airplanes, since we build new airplanes for practical improvements, guided by that reality; comparing old and new poems only shows us the truth that poems do not improve. 

In order to be informed of this fact—that poems do not improve—we compare old and new poems—and this does seem to be an important truth about poetry that we would be foolish to ignore. Since gaining an understanding of improvement is only possible by comparing old and new models, poems still need to be compared, in hopes that one day we will notice improvement.  So the critic compares old and new—just as the airplane builder does—only the airplane builder builds towards a different, practical result; the airplane builder receives “good news,” while the critic keeps getting “bad news;” the result for poetry up to the present time revealing that new models are not improving.

A poem becomes a poem when “it works,” to steal a phrase from the New Critics, and the poet surely is aware when the poem has gone from beginning to completion, as an object—or is this vanity?  Is the truth really that we are never sure the poem flies in someone else’s judgment—even if they praise it?  Words are elusive; even when someone hears our words and obeys, the circumstances, not the words, finally contribute to the obedient result.  The airplane builder, however, can measure the speed of an airplane, and be certain the airplane has been improved upon. 

Even on the micro-level, then, of poet and his poem-object (his “star”) the “ray,” (truth) shines forth: the poem’s worth is mysterious.

But to return to the examination of poetry’s ray; we might go so far as to state it thusly: the poem does have a practical use, and poets over time are incompetent, or: poems simply have no practical use.

Might something have a practical use, be manufactured, and yet never improve? 

But how is this possible?  Even something as simple as a ladder can be improved upon.

Or, does poetry improve, but in such a manner that steady, visible improvements over time do not occur?

Or is it possible that poetry is large and complex enough, or belongs to something so large and complex, that over time it changes what it is, so that its practical character changes? 

Human communication is practical, but its practicality is ubiquitous and vast, such that improvement is not in its nature—in order to belong across so many fields to so many, the many interacting with the many cannot suffer itself to improve as a practical reality.

If poetry belongs to the great river of human communication in a manner that is not defined, we would expect its fate to be the same as language—improvement over time simply doesn’t happen, in the way we can observe the airplane improve during a relatively brief window of time.

Poetry does not improve, and would seem to belong to the other arts in this regard, painting and music, unless we think of a film as painting (or photography) improved.

Another “ray” observation:  Painting, music and poetry can vary widely in terms of excellence and accomplishment; it is a mystery how broad differences can exist between aesthetic objects—yet improvement over time never occurs.

Is poetry like human beauty, then?  Beautiful creatures have always existed, but the quality of beauty itself never increases.  Beautiful faces have certain measurements, but beauty itself cannot be measured; aesthetics contains the substance of measure, but deflects measured results.

If we give up on the star (unknown) but study the ray (known, but indirectly) we find ourselves in accord with the following: Plato, the ancient Athenian, and the modern Athenians, William Shakespeare, Alexander Pope, John Keats, Percy Shelley, and Edgar Poe.

Ben Mazer’s “Poetry Mathematics” and the 30 Best Poetry Essays of All Time

First, the List:

1. REPUBLIC (BKS, 3, 10)- PLATO
A truism, but agree or not, every poet must come to terms with Plato.

2. THE FOUR AGES OF POETRY- THOMAS LOVE PEACOCK 
This essay rocks.  A genuinely great work of sweeping, historical criticism.

3. POETS WITHOUT LAURELS- JOHN CROWE RANSOM
Short essay, but historically explains Modernism…Ransom was more than just a New Critic…

4. PHILOSOPHY OF COMPOSITION- EDGAR A. POE
Wrote a poem, then added a philosophy: cheap!  Uhh…no, that misses the point. Close writing trumps close reading…

5. POETICS- ARISTOTLE
Groundwork.

6. VITA NUOVA- DANTE
Practical document of poetry as mixture of Aristotle, romance, and religion. 

7. A DEFENSE OF POETRY- SHELLEY
Wide-ranging idealism.

8. LAOCOON: ESSAY ON THE LIMITS OF POETRY & PAINTING- G.E. LESSING
18th Century Work of Classical Rigor. A keeper.

9. AN APOLOGY FOR POETRY- SIR PHILIP SIDNEY
“Now for the poet, he nothing affirms, and therefore never lieth.”

10. PHAEDRUS- PLATO
Tale of rhetoric and inspiration by the poet-hating poet.

11. PURE AND IMPURE POETRY- ROBERT PENN WARREN
Smash-mouth modernism from the 1930s—lots of Poe and Shelley-hating.

12. SYSTEM OF TRANSCENDENTAL IDEALISM- F.W. SCHELLING
“All knowledge rests on the agreement of something objective with something subjective.”

13. ON THE SUBLIME- LONGINUS
The sublime, baby!

14. TRADITION AND THE INDIVIDUAL TALENT- T.S. ELIOT
The avant-garde reigned in by humdrum?

15. PREFACE, 2ND ED., LYRICAL BALLADS- WILLIAM WORDSWORTH
Speaking like real men!

16. LETTERS- KEATS
Selfless excess.

17. THE POET- EMERSON
Walt Whitman, Inc.

18. WELL-WROUGHT URN- CLEANTH BROOKS
A Defense of Close-Reading New Criticism: Poetry As Paradox and Non-Paraphrasable Ambiguity

19. THE ARCHETYPES OF LITERATURE- NORTHRUP FRYE
Jungian rebuke of the New Criticism…

20. CAN POETRY MATTER?- DANA GIOIA
Yes, believe it or not, this one belongs to the ages…

21. ESSAY ON CRITICISM- POPE
Iconic, metrical…

22. THE STUDY OF POETRY- MATTHEW ARNOLD
High seriousness, dude…

23. ON NAIVE AND SENTIMENTAL POETRY- FRIEDRICH SCHILLER
Supremely Romantic criticism

24. THE ION- PLATO
A curt and elegant reminder for the poetic blowhard…

25. PREFACE TO SHAKESPEARE- SAMUEL JOHNSON
Always a place for the moral conservative…

26. CRITIQUE OF JUDGMENT- KANT
“An aesthetical judgment is not an objective cognitive judgment.”

27. RATIONALE OF VERSE- POE
The best user guide for the craft of verse, period.

28. PERFORMATIVE UTTERANCES- J.L. AUSTIN
This clever-ass essay blows everything to hell, making Language Poetry possible…

29. THE ENGLISH POET AND THE BURDEN OF THE PAST- W. JACKSON BATE
Published prior to, and is more cogent than, Harold Bloom’s more famous work…

30. FOUNDATIONS OF POETRY MATHEMATICS- BEN MAZER
A useful look at what the cool kids are saying…

Tedious, unscientific, hare-brained manifesto-ism (Pound, Charles Olson, etc) did not make the list.

We found Mazer’s “Mathematics” eccentric and odd at points, yet despite its uncanny moments, sincere and earnest throughout.  The work, just recently published, seems the natural outcome of an “end of the line,” “uncertainty principle” post-modernism looping back to classical German Romantic idealism, which is exactly what we take the dual “incomprehensible and incontrovertible” (2.1 b) to mean.

We like the sly rebuff of “The classics are static. They do not change.” (2.3)  This could be censor or praise, and Mazer’s ambiguity is a good thing.  It seems to solve something.

Here is the Romantic Mazer: “A greater amount of emotion is the effect of a greater work of art.” (2.4)  “There is no poetry higher than the music of Beethoven.” (2.11)

Here is the Mazer of J.L. Austin: “Poetry differs from nonsense in being incontrovertible. It cannot be proved to be nonsense, that nothing is being said.” (2.2)

Here is the great puzzle.  We are not sure, but it seems Mazer implicitly agrees with Austin—who said (to the satisfaction of some) that “nonsense” cannot be proved to exist since language is a “performance,” not an “imitation.” 

If art is essentially imitative, reality, within the frame of the picture, is boiled down to essense, order, and beauty. If poetic language is imitative (the default belief for thousands of years) there needs to be correspondence between subject and object, between understanding and nature; this is the basis of science, society, and art.  Keats’ “Beauty is Truth” formula is that supreme correlation, which, in a mere 100 years, has fallen into its opposite—because the imitative function of art has been rejected.

In poetry, J.L. Austin provided the reason. Language, Austin said, is a “performance,” and not just performative in obvious ways (“I now pronounce you man and wife” or “Move your ass, bud!”) but in every way.  “Truth is Beauty” is not verifiable, because all language-use is an action, and acts in a specific context.

No one who is honest, however, buys Austin’s rhetoric, and we think Mazer only buys it against his better judgement.  Mazer’s example of Beethoven is telling; Mazer’s “Mathematics” has great merit in saying a lot in a few words. What says more than ‘Beethoven?’  Genius often surprises, not with its complexity, but with its simplicity, and we cannot think of another poetry critic who would casually toss Beethoven on the table—and yet why not?  What artistic work is more “incomprehensible and incontrovertible” than Beethoven’s?  Beethoven is “incomprehensible” in a very real sense: listening to Beethoven’s music, we have no idea what he is saying, or what he means.  Yet the artistic impact of Beethoven’s music is “incontrovertible.”  No one would say Beethoven’s music is “nonsense,” a word Austin specifically uses in his argument (“Performative Utterances” no. 28 above).

And since Beethoven is a Romantic era figure and belongs to the classical Romantic tradition—one which seeks correspondence between understanding and nature, it is useful to examine Beethoven (as poet) in light of Austin’s explicit attempt to invalidate correspondence, with the result that every linguistic trope is controvertible.  But even if we take every utterance to be performative, this does not mean that we as speakers and writers do not still seek correspondence between understanding and nature.  Speech (poetry, art) without correspondence is still nonsense. 

The metaphoric nature of poetry attempts to stretch correspondence; but stretching is not breaking.

The Language Poetry school, the unfortunate result of Austin’s philosophy, is what happens when anything breaks instead of stretches.

Mazer, trapped in a post-J.L. Austin universe, longs to reunite with Romanticism, a shameful act in today’s Letters—burdened by the nonsensical spasms of modernism, as the bodily correspondences come apart—but this only makes Mazer’s yearning that much more profound and leads to the success of his poetry.  As any good Romantic knows, the longing for correspondence is more important than the correspondence itself.  The Language poet is inevitably too self-pleased.

When Mazer says, “Beauty is characterized by being indefinable,” (2.9) we read between the lines and find Romantic longing.

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: