WHY ART IS CONSERVATIVE

We should never confuse artistic place with artistic spirit, nor either one of these with artistic truth.

Just as the Jews and the early Christians measured everything against Rome, capital of Empire, so in our time, London, Paris or New York has served to validate the artist.

Either the village artist came to learn in Paris, or Paris came to exploit the village artist. Replace ‘village’ with ‘bourgeois,’ or ‘conservative,’ today, and still the final arbitrator is the faceless and inscrutable committee of the avant-garde, sitting with its tentacles in the middle of a great city.

Great artist validated by great city is one of those truths supremely obvious to the extent that the even more obvious meaning is missed.  In Ellen Williams’ Harriet Monroe and the Poetry Renaissance, look at how one great city draws the “bohemian artist” away from another great city: it is ever and always, with a certain scholarly mind, all about place:

Floyd Dell, the leader and as it were founder of the new artistic bohemia, brushed aside Harriet Monroe’s requests for poetry and prose, and had to defend himself against the charge of being “standoffish” not long before his departure for New York to join the staff of the Masses.

Dell’s departure reminds one that the turnover within the local bohemia was high. Perhaps 1912 was a significant moment in a progressive centralization of American society. Edgar Lee Masters, who had come up to Chicago in the generation before from a small Illinois town, had joined the local bar, married a local girl, and settled down to family life. But the young people with artistic aspirations who came to Chicago in 1912 from other, smaller middle-western towns departed in a few years for New York, or after the war, for Europe. Thus Dell left for New York late in 1913; Margaret Anderson moved the Little Review to New York late in 1916, after some two years’ publication in Chicago; and Sherwood Anderson was spending more time in New York than in Chicago by 1918. This “upward” mobility of the leadership would tend to diminish the influence and weaken the identity of the local bohemia.

Several factors, then, kept Poetry from being the voice of the new generation in Chicago, whatever general stimulation it got from them or gave them. Ezra Pound, operating by letter all the way from London, remained the principal avant-garde stimulus in its editorial counsels.

Just an aside: Margaret Anderson’s Little Review was the original publisher of Joyce’s Ulysses—the obscenity charge which put Joyce on the map was brought by the U.S. Post Office after Pound inserted excerpts of Ulysses into Margaret Anderson’s magazine.  Pound’s editorial digs were in London, and from there, Pound, the creepy, egotistical, gadfly, mediocrity, with the help of two women, Margaret Anderson and Harriet Monroe, shaped not only 20th century poetry, but 20th century fiction, as well.  If Harriet Monroe had not happened to visit a shop owned by publisher Elkin Matthews in London and found a couple of Pound’s books just published by Matthews, in her trip around the world in 1910, the world might be a different place.  Bohemian creds (which Pound had) have long been vital, even though the poetry produced might be unreadable today, because revolutionary ideals go a long way to inspire a certain type of ambitious fraud—when ‘conservative’ and ‘bourgeois’ are enemies to blanket, blank-check, bohemian thrills.

A funny truth about Harriet Monroe, poet, founder and editor of Poetry, is not that she covered, as a journalist, in 1913, the Armory Show of Modern Art in New York, or that she came up with a great business plan for her little magazine, or that she adored Shelley, or that she had many reservations about the avant-garde poetry she published, or, that she allowed herself to be deluded into thinking the great con-man Ezra Pound was a poetic genius; no, it was this: Harriet Monroe’s brother-in-law invented the skyscraper.  She even published a memoir on him—John Wellborn Root.

This is just the sort of fact that eludes the fact-finder: the fact of place, the fact of the important city, the fact of Monroe’s commercial connections are layers such that less obvious facts cover the more obvious ones. Bohemians are always the last ones to get the most obvious facts—that Pound was a con-artist, for instance.  The importance of place is one of those facts that keep most avant-garde critics busy in their obscurantist mission: do everything to distract the audience from the show-off, tasteless, inferiority of the art itself.  Every time we read of the adventures of some self-important, “rule-breaking” avant-garde cabal, we always notice how the geographical locale, whether we are in the actual city, or outside the actual city, or on the west coast, or on the east coast, or the Left Bank, is the most crucial thing.

The way a thing is advertised is not the thing, but the advertisement, with enough repetition, often becomes the thing, while the latter (the thing itself) practically disappears.  This is pretty much how avant-garde art works.

How ridiculous to think that it matters whether a poet is working in Chicago, or New York, or anywhere.  Or riding a motorcycle.  Or walking. Travel literature is a legitimate genre, we suppose, but why do so many confuse it with aesthetics?  Wearily, we are forced to learn of Harriet Monroe and Chicago, due to factual curiosity about Poetry magazine—and when was factual curiosity a criterion for art?  Only when art is made for sinking.

This is not to say that what an author does in body as well as spirit is not important—of course, occasionally, it is—we object to superficial and semi-obvious facts covering up the truth.

We always laugh, for instance, when critics list poets from a certain era—let’s say the 1890s—and since we haven’t heard of them, or read them, we’re all happy to assume that every last one of their works is awful, (as we continue to not read them) in comparison to Ezra Pound, the “revolutionary,” writing in 1910, and which we assume that many, if not most of his poems are exciting and new, not to mention “revolutionary.”  Or Pound’s friend, William Carlos Williams, “revolutionary,” too!

As long as we buy into the great “radical” art steam-rolling “conservative” art scheme, the great scholarly avant-garde ship keeps sailing along with Harriet Monroe, captain and Ezra Pound, first mate.

As soon as Rome became Christian, Christianity became conservative; when Paris recognized impressionism, impressionism became bourgeois; when New York bought abstract art, it sold for millions.

The skyscraper, the fact of the modern city, stands for many things, and it drives both commercial and democratic concerns.  The fact of the skyscraper is both radical and conservative, and in its balance, represents our age, which is both conservative and radical—which distinguishes all complex, civilized ages.

The skyscraper is democratic and commercial in its practical side of things; thus with the skyscraper the radical and the conservative are forever fused.

The trump card of the 20th century avant-garde was in getting itself called “modern” or “modernist.”  The name, “modern” became its chief selling point. This is another one of those obvious truths so obvious we hardly notice its real impact.  Victorian buildings are frilly; but the modern skyscraper (and modern art) is not.

As simplistic as this is, it is the stuff of artistic rivalry and ambition—the battle for the soul and the money of everything; this kind of artistic argument is nearly everything.

One could write a 17 volume treatise on verse, and all in vain, if it were shown, or more importantly, believed, that verse, was frilly.  Game over.  William Carlos Williams wins.

Take these four terms: conservative, radical, banker, poet.  They might very well define art for all time, believing, as we do, that the poet is always radical, the banker always conservative.  Belief in this formula has defined our age—but even as we recognize the force of the formula, we should recognize its falsity on a deeper level.

The poet becomes radical only when the banker fronting the poet is radical; in truth, art, in its primary existence, is conservative.

Socrates, the (lone) radical philosopher, pitted himself against Homer, the (popular) conservative poet; it was (O irony!) the triumph of Plato as an artist which made art into a radical vocation.  Shelley, the radical poet, faded away into Victorianism, or conservative poetry; Modernism rejected Victorianism so as to get back to Shelley—but something went terribly wrong along the way: the radical was kept, but everything else was rejected, including popular taste.  There is the lonely genius who, for the good of mankind, ought to get a hearing, and then there is the mediocrity—lonely because obscure.  These two should never be confused, but sometimes they are, especially if the latter is a clever s.o.b. who does a neat little dance in front of a skyscraper.

Art is conservative because of the phrase just used in the above paragraph: “Popular Taste.”  Homer was popular, but was censored by Plato on the matter of “taste.”  Since then, artistic success (favored by critic and mass audience alike) demands popular include popular taste.  The idea is actually democratic—taste refers to conditions which favor great masses of people respecting one another and treating each other well.  Mass appeal is required, but with something more: an unspoken sense of fitness and beauty, which, if we remember, Socrates accused Homer of violating, since Homer’s gods, superior beings, often acted from whim and cruelty.

One might think that radical art—and for many, these two words, radical and art, go hand in hand—is that which precisely offends popular taste.  But this is to put too much faith in shock, and not enough in art.  The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem, Massachusetts  is currently running an exhibit called “Future Beauty: Avant-Garde Japanese Fashion,” and we enjoyed our visit thoroughly, as we found ourselves more convinced that fashion is art, and we received, in addition, a happy insight: the avant-garde dress fashion was able to please us for the very reason that we are familiar with 1) the human body and 2) a dress.  It is precisely from these foundations of universal knowledge so vital to all fashion that the “new” (truly bizarre and truly avant-garde) was able—not always, but sometimes—to please us.

If we accept that fashion is art, and for this art to work, note how the human body and the dress comprise a conventionality and a tradition that is eternal, we get a glimpse into the absolute conservative nature of artwork that calls itself avant-garde.

The truth, that even in bouts of experimentation, art is a highly conservative medium, may be unsettling to some, but we realize those it might unsettle are immune to that sort of thing, anyway.  For all artists, in all mediums, it is important that the standard—whatever it happens to be—is established in the popular mind.  The eternal nature of this standard is not something we can take lightly; if a poet, for instance, writes poetry in which some in medias res, avant-garde experiment is the starting-point, the chance of it having mass appeal is nil; the poet must always return to the true starting-point of what the poem, as defined by the popular taste, happens to be.

HERE WE GO AGAIN: SCARRIET’S POETRY HOT 100!!

Dark Messy Tower

1. Mark Edmundson Current Lightning Rod of Outrage

2. David Lehman BAP Editor now TV star: PBS’ Jewish Broadway

3. Rita Dove She knows Dunbar is better than Oppen

4. Matthew Hollis Profoundly researched Edward Thomas bio

5. Paul Hoover Status quo post-modern anthologist, at Norton

6. Don Share Wins coveted Poetry magazine Editorship

7. Sharon Olds Gets her Pulitzer

8. Michael Robbins The smartest guy writing on contemporary poetry now–see Hoover review

9. Marjorie Perloff Still everyone’s favorite Take-No-Prisoners Dame Avant-Garde

10. Natasha Trethewey Another Round as Laureate

11. Ron Silliman The Avant-garde King

12. Tony Hoagland The Billy Collins of Controversy

13. Billy Collins The real Billy Collins

14. Kenneth Goldsmith Court Jester of Talked-About

15. Terrance Hayes The black man’s Black Man’s Poet?

16. William Logan Favorite Bitch Critic

17. Avis Shivani Second Favorite Bitch Critic

18. John Ashbery Distinguished and Sorrowful Loon

19. Stephen Burt P.C. Throne at Harvard

20. Robert Hass  West Coast Establishment Poet

21. Harold Bloom Reminds us ours is an Age of Criticism, not Poetry

22. Helen Vendler She, in the same stultifying manner, reminds us of this, too.

23. Dana Gioia  Sane and Optimistic Beacon?

24. Bill Knott An On-line Bulldog of Poignant Common Sense

25. Franz Wright Honest Common Sense with darker tones

26. Henry Gould Another Reasonable Poet’s Voice on the blogosphere

27. Anne Carson The female academic poet we are supposed to take seriously

28. Seth Abramson Will give you a thousand reasons why MFA Poetry is great

29. Ben Mazer Poet of the Poetry! poetry! More Poetry! School who is actually good

30. Larry Witham Author, Picasso and the Chess Player (2013), exposes Modern Art/Poetry cliques

31. Mary Oliver Sells, but under Critical assault

32. Annie Finch The new, smarter Mary Oliver?

33. Robert Pinsky Consensus seems to be he had the best run as Poet Laureate

34. Mark McGurl His book, The Program Era, has quietly had an impact

35. Seamus Heaney Yeats in a minor key

36. W.S. Merwin Against Oil Spills but Ink Spill his writing method

37. George Bilgere Do we need another Billy Collins?

38. Cate Marvin VIDA will change nothing

39. Philip Nikolayev Best living translator?

40. Garrison Keillor As mainstream poetry lover, he deserves credit

41. Frank Bidart Poetry as LIFE RUBBED RAW

42. Jorie Graham The more striving to be relevant, the more she seems to fade

43. Alan Cordle Strange, how this librarian changed poetry with Foetry.com

44. Janet Holmes Ahsahta editor and MFA prof works the po-biz system like no one else

45. Paul Muldoon How easy it is to become a parody of oneself!

46. Cole Swensen Some theories always seem to be missing something

47. Matthew Dickman Was reviewed by William Logan. And lived

48. James Tate For some reason it depressed us to learn he was not a laugh riot in person.

49. Geoffrey Hill His poetry is more important than you are

50. Derek Walcott A great poet, but great poets don’t exist anymore

51. Charles Bernstein A bad poet, but bad poets don’t exist anymore, either

52. Kay Ryan Emily Dickinson she’s not. Maybe Marianne Moore when she’s slightly boring?

53. Laura Kasischke She’s published 8 novels. One became a movie starring Uma Thurman. Who the hell does she think she is?

54. Louise Gluck X-Acto!

55. Rae Armantrout “Quick, before you die, describe the exact shade of this hotel carpet.”

56. Heather McHugh “A coward and a coda share a word.”

57. D.A. Powell “Of course a child. What else might you have lost.”

58. Peter Gizzi Take your lyric and heave

59. Marilyn Chin Shy Iowa student went on to write an iconic 20th century poem: How I Got That Name

60. Eileen Myles Interprets Perloff’s avant-gardism as mourning

61. Lyn Hejinian As I sd to my friend, because I am always blah blah blah

62. Nikki Finney Civil Rights is always hot

63. K. Silem Mohammad This Flarfist Poet composes purely Anagram versions of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Fie on it.

64. Meg Kearney Lectured in public by Franz Wright. Still standing.

65. Noah Eli Gordon Teaches at Boulder, published by Ahsahta

66. Peter Campion A poet, a critic and a scholar!

67. Simon Ortiz Second wave of the Native American Renaissance

68. Maya Angelou She continues to travel the world

69. Lyn Lifshin “Barbie watches TV alone, naked” For real?

70. Ange Mlinko Born in ’69 in Philly, writes for The Nation

71. Jim Behrle They also serve who only write bad poetry

72. Elizabeth Alexander She read in front of all those people

73. Dorothea Lasky The Witchy Romantic School

74. Virgina Bell The poet. Do not confuse with burlesque dancer

75. Fanny Howe Wreaks havoc out of Boston

76. Erin Belieu Available for VIDA interviews

77. Ariana Reines Another member of the witchy romantic school

78. Jed Rasula Old Left poetry critic

79. John Hennessy “Too bad I felt confined by public space/despite her kinky talk, black net and lace”

80. Timothy Donnelly “Driver, please. Let’s slow things down. I can’t endure/the speed you favor, here where the air’s electric”

81. Clive James His translation, in quatrains, of Dante’s Divine Comedy, published this year

82. Danielle Pafunda “We didn’t go anywhere, we went wrong/in our own backyard. We didn’t have a yard,/but we went wrong in the bedroom”

83. Michael Dickman Matthew is better, right?

84. Kit Robinson “Get it first/but first get it right/in the same way it was”

85. Dan Beachy Quick “My wife found the key I hid beneath the fern./My pens she did not touch. She did not touch/The hundred pages I left blank to fill other days”

86. Ilya Kaminsky Teaches at San Diego State, won Yinchuan International Poetry Prize

87. Robert Archambeau Son of a potter, this blog-present poet and critic protested Billy Collins’ appointment to the Poet Laureateship

88. Kent Johnson Best known as a translator

89. Frederick Seidel An extroverted Philip Larkin?

90. David Orr Poetry columnist for New York Times wrote on Foetry.com

91. Richard Wilbur Oldest Rhymer and Moliere translator

92. Kevin Young Finalist in Criticism for National Book Critics Circle

93. Carolyn Forche Human rights activist born in 1950

94. Carol Muske Dukes Former California Laureate writes about poetry for LA Times

95. William Kulik Writes paragraph poems for the masses

96. Daniel Nester The sad awakening of the MFA student to the bullshit

97. Alexandra Petri Began 2013 by calling poetry “obsolete” in Wash Post

98. John Deming Poet, told Petri, “We teach your kids.”

99. C. Dale Young “Medical students then, we had yet to learn/when we could or could not cure”

100. Clayton Eshleman Sometimes the avant-garde is just boring

CHRISTIAN WIMAN OPENS THE DOOR TO CRAZY

Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine, 2003-2012 and the recent Poetry anthology, The Open Door: 100 Poems, 100 Years of Poetry Magazine

How do you respond to someone who goes on using old terms to describe what they keep insisting is new?

This is the dilemma of those who must listen to the endless drone of the curators and defenders and benefactors of modern poetry, or contemporary poetry, as it’s sometimes called; it’s no surprise this drone would manifest itself most painfully in a celebration of 100 years of Poetry magazine, specifically in Christian Wiman’s introduction to The Open Door: 100 Poems, 100 Years of Poetry Magazine.

Wiman’s The Open Door introduction is ostentatiously entitled, “Mastery and Mystery.”

The mastery is a mystery—this is what we think Mr. Wiman means.

Wiman is one of these—fans—of poetry (in the abstract, of course) who love everything about it, so things like critical faculty, discernment, and judgment, are mere annoyances that get in the way of the joyfully universal hippie consciousness kissing every divine modern word, kissing every divine modern line-break.

Wiman is habituated, like so many of his ilk, to prate on and on about “craft” in a wholesomely earnest manner, in which craft designates not skillful arrangement, but any arrangement, which he, Wiman, for no reason which can be discerned, finds deeply meritorious.  What do you say to the person, who, reclining in some well-made chair, points to a heap of sticks, declaring the pile to be an excellent example of “craft?”

“Craft matters because life matters,” Wiman intones—and of course it does, because a loose pile of sticks matters—as all things matter, and who would deny this?  Certainly not Wiman.

The lovely assertion—“Craft matters because life matters”—is all the critical mountebank needs, but Wiman will not let the windmill get away quite so easily, for he adds,

Craftless poetry is not only as perishable as the daily paper, it’s meretricious, disrespectful (of its subjects as well as its readers) and sometimes, as Pound implies, even unethical.

“Craftless poetry…is unethical,” (!!) and who better to “imply” this than the highly ethical, ‘pile-of-sticks-author’ himself, Ezra Pound?

But what, according to Wiman,  is “craftless poetry,” anyway?

Did you really expect Wiman to tell us?  He mentions Pound, and that’s all he needs to do.  The in-the-know-modernist sagely nods, and Wiman immediately changes the subject, diving into another modernist topic.

The difficulty of modern poetry—that is, poetry written since Modernism—is taken by most people as a given.

Ah, having quickly covered the “craft” issue, we now get the old canard about the “difficulty of modern poetry,” as if Shakespeare, for instance, is not “difficult,” and as if “difficult” (which can easily be translated into ‘poorly written’) means anything substantial at all.

Following his brief and sage observation that Edna Millay is not “difficult,”  Wiman falls down in utter worship of a poet who is, Basil “Crushed Grit” Bunting, in a manner that would make even Shakespeare blush:

Briggflatts is a palimpsest of history, nature, learning, loss. It is the testament and artifact of a man who has lived so thoroughly through the language, that is has become a purely expressive medium. Because of cadence and pacing, and the way sounds echo and intensify sense, the word is restored to a kind of primal relation with the world; language itself takes on the textures and heft of things:

Under sacks on the stone
two children lie,
hear the horse stale,
the mansion whistle,
harness mutter to shaft,
felloe to axle squeak,
rut thud the rim,
crushed grit.

Let’s be placid and factual for a moment: Crossword puzzles are random words that fit into a whole—a rather superficial use of craft—what Bunting does (hyped by the excitable Wiman) is select random words of similar sound and meaning (“horse” and “harness”) and put them into a heap.

We might admire Bunting’s list of words, (requiring a dictionary and a bit of free time,) but we must point out that the craft of making a crossword puzzle involves fitting words into a whole—but the Bunting excerpt is, in fact, “craftless,” since beyond the similarity of the words themselves (in Bunting’s list) no definitive whole is acheived; all we get, if we speak as an honest critic, is a vague depiction of a blurry,  impressionistic scene, which is naturally what we would expect if any such list were presented loosely to us.

The Bunting excerpt is (try it) as good read backwards—just as we can do a crossword puzzle in any order we choose.

The Bunting passage has less craft than what is acheived by the author of the crossword puzzle.

Yet Wiman explicitly states that Bunting of “crushed grit” is a great advance (!!) (“the word is restored,” “language itself takes on…the heft of things”) of a wondrous kind—an interesting thesis.

Next, Wiman completely misses the meaning of a Denise Levertov passage as he purports to give us “a little master class in free verse,” in which

Our bodies, still young under
the engraved anxiety of our
faces

is for Wiman all about the line-break after “under” because

it is one thing to say that a body is “still young,” quite another to say that it is “still young under.” The latter implies a history, a density of feeling and experience, whereas the former is simply a statement of fact.

First, despite the feverish belief in the importance of the line-break, we must point out that Levertov never says, “still young”—she says, “still young under.”  In the split-second it takes to read “still young under,” it is impossible not to read Levertov’s line as “still young under,” line-break or not.

Second, Wiman misreads Levertov’s simple meaning.  Wiman informs us that:

The mind naturally wants to read these lines like this:

Our bodies, still young
under the engraved anxiety
of our faces…

But this completely changes the meaning and effect of the lines. It is one thing to say that a body is “still young” quite another to say that it is “still young under.” The latter implies a history, a density of feeling and experience, whereas the former is simply a statement of fact.

We are not sure what all this “history” and “density of feeling and experience” is that Wiman gratuitously mentions; Levertov is stating an anatomical fact: faces show outward signs of age (wrinkles, and so forth, the “engraved anxiety of our faces”) before bodies do; it’s common knowledge for the body in middle age to remain smooth and young-looking while the face begins to look “engraved.”  The “under” Wiman wants to load with all sorts of significance, merely refers to to one’s body “under” the engraved face. Wiman’s ‘insight’ is nothing but error.

This is where line-break-ism leads: rant.  Wiman, winds up his “triumphant” reading of Levertov’s lines with this:

The point here is not to go through every poem nitpicking technique, trying to find some obvious “reason” for every formal decision. Rather, the point is simply to be aware that what may seem like awkwardness or even randomness (James Schuyler!) can be as formally severe and singular as any Bach fugue.

The folly here is laughable in the extreme: we move, with Wiman, from a silly misreading into the majesty of a Bach fugue.

Wiman, now half-way through his introduction, swells with pride at his own poetry-reading skill, which causes him to embrace the essence of life itself:

One of the qualities to being good at reading poetry is also one of the qualities essential to being good at life…

Wiman continues in this vein: Poetry! Life! 

Poetry…”gives us access to a new world and new experience” and also “enlivens the lives we thought we knew.”

Hyperbole joins hyperbole, as only the advocate of modern poetry can bring it.

“Why write poetry?” asks Wiman, why “keep a journal?”  Because “language is a living thing” and deserves “our fullest and most costly consciousness, only our whole selves honed by emotional extremity.”

Wiman then warns against “vanity” in poetry as we might find it in the “bloviating laueate” or the “open-mike” poet in the “local bar,” saying poetry, even when it’s anti-religious, is the force that invented religion in the first place, and we must feel poetry in our “blood,” in the “marriage of word and world.”

We also need to understand that “the lyric” is not only “inward,” as Wiman points out  for us that Thom Gunn, with “his heroic height” and “his motorcycle boots” had “little patience for Romantic effluvia” as he “wanted to obliterate personality in his poetry.”

Wiman blows us away with another flashing insight: a “writer who grows up in a bookless culture” will “always be torn by conflicting impulses.”

More wisdom: “Every poem in this book is situated somewhere on this spectrum between life and learning, between linguistic powers honed to surgical precisions and the messy living reality out of which all language…”

For all the canons and anthologies, for every rock-solid reputation and critical consensus, poetry is personal or it is nothing.

As far we can tell, Wiman has convinced everyone—but himself—that “it is nothing.”

Precisely because he has declared it to be everything.

Poetry, according to Wiman, brings that “face-off between spiritual integrity and social insecurity.”

If only Wiman were a bit more “insecure” regarding “spiritual integrity”—and everything else.

Finally, Wiman tells us that he and his co-editor, Don Share, feel “humility” and “pride” in the job they’ve done.

At least he’s feeling humble.

Do we expect too much from a perfunctory introduction to a book containing 100 poems in 100 years of Poetry?

Of course we do.

But at that same time, the thought on display in any poetry anthology introduction should not be taken lightly.  Mountain-top pronouncements no longer exist in poetry.  We should be harsh with every whisper, every small notion, every part.  If we find no fault with the brick, we cannot criticize the house.

Criticism today must be micro, as well as honest, and Wiman, who made Poetry better as an editor by adding controversial prose, will no doubt understand Scarriet’s purpose.

It is not our fault that the Modernist is the dullest creature on the face of the earth, both emotionally flat and inane.

Whatever poetry does to us with its awkward spell, it finally does to us in a manner of which we have little or no cognizance; how important, then, is the Maid, Reason, who protects us from ravenous incomprehensibility; Modernism, however, with its notoriously unfriendly prose style (Whitman, Pound, Jarrell) is no nurse speaking with sweetness and clarity at our feverish bedside. Wiman, like all the other Modernists, is excitable, and lacks simple common sense.

TROUBLE AT THE POETRY FOUNDATION

Take a bunch of prickly, under-read poets who run a little magazine called Poetry and give them a hundred million dollars.

What do they do?

They change their name from Poetry to Poetry Foundation.

They hire accountants and lawyers.

They fashion a website, and after a trial, block comments, leaving a blog site of newsy poetry links, in the spirit of: Can you believe it? The New York Times mentioned a poem yesterday!

The blog site also features a twitter feed: random poet friends of the Foundation taking turns twittering to the world.

But no comments.  The public is not really allowed.

They build a twentyone million dollar building in the middle of Chicago, and for its opening party, they arrest a protestor.

After the arrest, there’s another protest in the building, including a large banner asking how Prozac would have influenced Emily Dickinson:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsotfygDk-c&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL

The millions given to Poetry was a private donation—but it came from Big Pharma, the Lilly drug company that’s responsible for Prozac.

A pity the millions were not made from poetry, so poetry could have donated to itself, with Poetry the beneficiary.  But alas, the Poetry Foundation suffers from a classic Alienated Split: the meaty millions are concentrated in pill-form, and not scattered on the invisible wings of poesy.

None of this is big news.  Today, a banker sneezes and millions are moved about.  If a poetry magazine got lucky, why should we begrudge it?

On the other hand, why shouldn’t we question how a private fortune is dispersed in the name of a  public good?  The Poetry Foundation would be the first to defend poetry as a public good, and this worthy claim makes it vulnerable to questions of worth; perhaps not in the form of “pranks,” but don’t the “pranksters” have legitimate concerns, and don’t they warrant a hearing?  Is calling the cops on a (mild) prank the proper response of an institution ostensibly in existence because of public good?

What annoys us most about the Poetry Foundation is its thin skin, demonstrated when our mum, Blog Harriet, shut conversation down, setting in motion Scarriet’s genesis.  Poets, even with their feigning, are supposed to deal in truth, and how can thin skin exist with truth?

Scarriet would, with Plato, question poetry’s automatic status as a public good, thus deepening the whole issue; but how thin the skin gets, whenever automatic becomes the norm.

The art of poetry, since falling into its present existence as a deconstructed, free-floating public good, is free to be anything it wants to be, and now borders on being nothing at all, blandly and pedagogically filling a kind of gabby, social prozac, niche—look in the pages of Poetry—and, until it is absolutely nothing, the art of poetry will seek that freedom (having tasted for so long freedom as a self-reflexive good) which naturally leads it to that state which is nothing; indeed, for almost 100 years, being a free-floating nothing has almost been its (rebel) creed.

The art suffers from this counter-intuitive spin: with the loosening of poetry’s formal attributes, we see the bodily tightening of poets’ nerves.  Rather than resort to a good-natured, witty rebuke, poets tend to run and hide.

A friend on the grapevine wrote me:

Another interesting element to this is what the poster called ‘Don Sharey’ commenting on the Chicago Reader article  http://www.chicagoreader.com/gyrobase/poetry-foundation-clamps-down-on-activists/Content?oid=4844017&sort=desc&show=comments – writes

You only have to read Don Share’s recent poetry on his blog to understand how irrelevant the ethos of this organisation is. Tedious in the extreme.

Earth totters,
lifts up its horn to the heavens
while its inhabitants grow yet
rich and poor together
and speak with insolent neck.

Share has on his blog a blurb praising his ‘earnest’ poetry. An irony-free zone.

Corporate poetry

~

On Share’s blog now, the two recent blogposts of his that consisted of poems he wrote ‘in response to recent (world) events’, have been taken down so there’s no trace of the writing Don Sharey refers to.

Also the blurb commending Share’s poetry for being ‘earnest’ has also disappeared from the sidebar. This proves Share is not only closely following comments on the Chicago Reader about this hoo ha, but also he has a very thin and fragile critical skin when it comes to anonymous people commenting on his poetry.

Since Share is scared, Sharey gets the last word.

A hundred million should at least get you that.

ARE YOU A POET, A GROUPIE, OR A MANIFESTO-GEEK?

Take the official Scarriet Poetry test and find out!

1.  You have graduated from, or are in, an MFA program.

2.  You mostly read poems written by your teachers and friends.

3.  You mostly read poems by moderns and post-moderns.

4.  You have published at least two favorable reviews of work by your friends.

5.  You have published in some form the work of at least two of your friends.

6.  You have organized readings for at least two of your friends.

7.  A friend has published a favorable review of your work.

8.  Your work has been published by a friend.

9.  A friend has organized a reading for you.

10.  Your friends are mostly poets.

11.  You never argue about poetry.

12.  You only have friends in your poetry circles.

13.  You have little interest in quibbling about the definitions of poetry.

14.  You admit to strangers pretty quickly that you are a poet.

15.  You consider yourself a poetry critic.

16.  You wish poetry conversations were more civil.

17.  You prefer John Ashbery to Walt Whitman.

18..  You prefer Charles Olson to Edna Millay.

19.  You prefer Ezra Pound to Edgar Poe.

20.  You prefer Geoffrey Hill to Percy Shelley.

21.  You prefer Tony Hoagland to Rae Armantrout.

22.  You prefer Allen Ginsberg to Robert Creeley.

23.  You prefer Charles Bernstein to Charles Bukowski.

24.  You prefer Jorie Graham to William Carlos Williams.

25.  You prefer Jennifer Moxley to Billy Collins.

26.  You prefer Walt Whitman to Alexander Pope.

27.  You prefer Robert Frost to Wallace Stevens.

28.  You prefer Emily Dickinson to William Wordsworth.

29.  You prefer Dante to Robert Lowell.

30.  You prefer Pound’s Cantos to Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

31.  You prefer Li Po to Leslie Scalapino.

32.  You prefer 20th century translations to Tennyson.

33.  You read more poetry than prose.

34.  You read more poetry criticism than poetry.

35.  Your favorite part of ‘Poetry’ magazine tends to be the poems.

36.  Your favorite part of ‘Poetry’ magazine tends to be the commentary.

37.  The first thing you do when you see a new anthology is to check to see which poets have been published in it.

38.  When you look at any poetry anthology, it matters to you how many poems/pages are allotted to each poet—whether or not the poets are living or dead.

39.  When you look at any poetry anthology, it  matters to you which poets have been left out/included—whether or not the poets are living or dead.

40.  You are naturally more interested in living poets than dead ones.

41.  You generally think poetry as an art has improved since 1900.

42.  You generally think poetry as an art has improved since 1960.

43.  You generally think poetry as an art has improved since 1990.

44.  Over half of the books on your nightstand right now are books of poems.

45.  Over half of the books on your nightstand right now are books of poems by living poets.

46.  You would rather read a new, self-published book by an unknown poet than a book of reviews by William Logan.

47.  You would rather read a new book by an unknown poet published by an establishment press than a book of reviews by William Logan.

48.  You would rather read essays by Stephen Burt than by William Logan.

49.  You prefer the prose of Walter Benjamin to the prose of Coleridge.

50.  You would rather read essays by Robert Hass than letters of Byron.

51.  You would rather read an anthology of contemporary female poets than a book on Shakespeare’s London.

52.  You would rather read the latest book of poems by Peter Gizzi than a recently published anthology of essays by New Critics.

53.  You would never read a poetry textbook if you didn’t have to.

54.  You prefer Charles Simic to Philip Larkin.

55.  You would rather read a book of poems by Sharon Olds than an anthology of WW I poets.

56.  You would rather go to a poetry reading than attend a movie.

57.  Everything else being equal, you would always choose a poet for a lover.

58.  Your poems never rhyme.

59.  You teach/have taught in the Humanities.

60.  You teach/have taught  poetry, exclusively.

61.  You administer poetry contests.

62.  You enter poetry contests.

63.   You have won a poetry contest.

64.  You have won a major award.

65.  You have published in mainstream publications.

66.  You’ve met Franz Wright on a blog.

67.  You think Jim Behrle is hot.

68.  You have a private method or trick to writing poems.

69.  Ron Silliman has good taste in poetry.

70.  You read ‘Poets and Writers’ from cover-to-cover every month.

71.  You read books of poems from cover-to-cover in one sitting.

72.  You are proficient in at least one other language beside your native one.

73.   You have a degree other than in English or Creative Writing.

74.   Jorie Graham deserves her prestigious Chair at Harvard.

75.  Poetry is ambassador to the world’s peoples.

76.  You have a secret crush on Alan Corlde.

77.  Metaphor is the essence of poetry.

78.  You want to sit at Daniel Nester’s knee and have him tell you the ways of the world.

79.  You understand what the post-avants are talking about.

80.   Flarf is really cool.

81.  Conceptualism knocks your socks off.

82.  Poets turn you on.

83.  You want desperately to have a wild affair with a poet.

84.  Your secret goal is to teach poetry.

85.  When you are published in a magazine you buy copies for friends.

86.  At least one of your parents is an artist.

87.  It really bugs you that poetry has become prose.

88.  Marjorie Perloff is the bomb.

89.  Poetry is a way to explore political identity.

90.  Poetry is the best way to communicate the deepest truths.

91.  Humor for a select audience is poetry’s most important function today.

92.  The bottom line is that poetry helps nerds get laid.

93.  Poetry contributes to the dignity of the human race.

94.  Slam poetry is a great antidote to bookworm-ism.

95.  Your favorite poetry event is a slam poetry fest.

96.  You are wary that you might be a ‘school of quietude’ poet.

97.  You dig Language Poetry.

98.  You look for trends in poetry, but just so you can be informed.

99.  You write songs/play songs/are in a band.

100.  Poetry breaks your heart every day.

WHITHER THE FEMME FATALE POET?

Elinor Wylie.  Lyrical, with a dash of madness.

Where have they all gone?  Not only does the candle no longer burn at both ends, the one end is hardly flickering.

Great power for the poem, and for the woman, resides in the femme fatale poet.  What killed her, and why has she been allowed to die?

Even if the femme fatale is not the ideal state of things, it elicits a powerful interest in poetry.  Moral objections are moot, since femme fatales will exist and all the negative associations of that genre will exist, whether we want them to or not, and poetry’s involvement can mitigate the unfortunate aspects and also give to the world a heroic and social character for poetry which today it lacks.

In the 1920s, when school chums Pound, H.D., Marianne Moore and William Carlos Williams, together with Harvard friends Scofield Thayer, E.E. Cummings and T.S. Eliot, bound together in their modernist ‘Little Magazine’ coterie, which gave itself Dial Magazine Awards, published in Poetry and tooted its tin manifesto horn, Dorothy Parker and Edna St. Vincent Millay were best-selling poets, continuing a tradition from the previous century–when the poetess out-sold the poet.

Before academic solipsism, women’s poetry reflected breast-heaving life: Osgood bitterly reproaching a gossip’s judgment on her friendship with Poe in the pages of the Broadway Journal, Dickinson dreaming of hot romances, Barrett thanking the wooer who snuck her out of her father’s house, Millay hotly turning a cold eye on past sexual flings.

The brittle, sexless poetry of Marianne Moore, the wan, affected imagism of H.D. put an end to the reign of Femme Fatale poetry.

The suicides of Plath and Sexton were sacrifices on the altar of  femme fatale poetry, a reminder of what had been crushed by Pound and Eliot’s modernism.

In Eliot’s wake, Bishop has emerged as the most important female poet of the 20th century, but she’s sexless in comparison to a poet like Millay.

Contemporary poets like Sharon Olds present a domestic, intricately examined sexuality, a far cry from the femme fatale; Jorie Graham had an early opportunity to be a femme fatale, but transformed herself into a foet instead.  Marilyn Chin embraced ethnicity. Mary Oliver has gone the ‘fatalistic love of nature’s creatures’ route.   No femme fatale there, either.

The forgotten Elinor Wylie (d. 1928) wrote wonderful poems.  In “Now Let No Charitable Hope,” one can hear distinctly the frightening yet delicate voice of both Plath and Sexton, the confident whisper of the femme fatale:

Now Let No Charitable Hope

Now let no charitable hope
Confuse my mind with images
Of eagle and of antelope:
I am by nature none of these.

I was, being human, born alone;
I am, being woman, hard beset;
I live by squeezing from a stone
What little nourishment I get.

In masks outrageous and austere
The years go by in single file;
But none has merited my fear,
And none has quite escaped my smile.

SCARRIET GIVES THANKS TO HARRIET

…………….….

………………………………………Harriet Monroe, editor ‘Poetry.’

………………...~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

..

………………………………..We have been, and now we are.
………………………………..The planet was red—how blue, this star.
………………………………..In the mist and confusion of those days
………………………………..Harriet never dreamed of Scarriet.
………………………………..Now, distantly in the dusk, music plays.

.

…………………~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

.

…………………………………..、ハリエットありがとう
.
.

%d bloggers like this: