MARCH MADNESS 2018 —SENTIMENTAL AND WORTHY

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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 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.

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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

 

 

 

THE GREY SEA VS. THE LINDEN TREE

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Robert Browning joins his wife in this tournament—Elizabeth Barrett advanced in her Round One contest—as a bridge between Romanticism and Modernism: one foot in each, and Barrett, a well-known poet before her husband, serves as that, too; she wrote verse drama (and corresponded with Poe) well before she wrote those famous sonnets to Browning, and in dramatic verse both she and her husband found speech in poetry, of which the honor often goes to Robert Frost.

The claim is made often: speech rhythms in poetry, etc.  But we suspect speech and poetry will always be oil and water, and the speaker will always own speaking more than the speech, and this is precisely why William Shakespeare, writing for actors, made poetry that is speech before Wordsworth, or Browning, or Frost.

“Meeting at Night” is a Browning lyric that boils with romanticism:

The grey sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed in the slushy sand.

Then a mile of warm-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, through its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!

The landscape that moves, the adventure, the chiarascuro, it’s all lovely; though it feels to us that “and” begins too many lines—could we just strike some?—and “through its joys and fears” feels a little awkward.  In our experience, Browning’s verse always seems a little rough.

Browning matches up today against a 13th century (!) piece of Romanticism by a German gentleman, Walther von der Vogelweide.

This poem, like Browning’s, recalls a tryst—this time from the woman’s point of view, and the poem has the charm of speaking to exactly nobody, (where the Browning poem doesn’t really speak, it paints).  “Under the Lindentree” almost seems like an Ur-text of Bashful Romanticism. It is full of beautiful detail, even in its shame.

UNDER THE LINDENTREE (trans Michael Benedikt)

Under the lindentree
on the heather
there a bed for two was
and there too
you may find blossoms grasses
picked together
in a clearing of a wood
tandaradei!
the nightingale sang sweetly.

I came walking
over the field:
my love was already there.
Then I was received
with the words “Noble lady!”
It will always make me happy.
Did he kiss me?  He gave me thousands!
tandaradei!
O look at my red mouth.

He had made
very beautifully
a soft bed out of the flowers.
Anybody who comes by there
knowingly
may smile to himself.
For by the upset roses he may see
tandaradei!
where my head lay.

If anyone were to know
how he lay with me
(may God forbid it!), I’d feel such shame.
What we did together
may no one ever know
except us two
one small  bird excepted
tandaradei!
and it can keep a secret.

Vogelweide defeats Browning, 78-75!

And that closes out Round One in the West, as now we move onto the East…

ARE MEN SUPERIOR TO WOMEN? CAN CAROL MUSKE-DUKES GIVE STEPHEN DUNN THE KISS OF DEATH?

The-Kiss-of-Death

Can Carol Muske-Dukes make it three out of four women in Scarriet’s 2011 March Madness APR Final Four?  Does she have what it takes to beat Stephen Dunn?  Both of their poems concern kisses, and maybe this is typical, maybe not—the man’s is a wild desire for one, the woman’s an actual dull one.

Women poets have done extremely well in the Scarriet March Madness Tournament, despite the pool being typically under-represented by women in the APR anthology, The Body Electric.  The split in the APR anthology is about 70/30 in favor of the men—yet 10 women poets reached the Scarriet Sweet Sixteen.

Vida has made headlines in American Letters recently by simply publishing some inescapable statistics: the percentages of women writers published in major literary magazines and anthologies—and the numbers are not good for women, especially in essays, criticism and poetry: women trail men in the Fine Arts of Letters—poetry and essays—by two to one.

We’re not talking about construction jobs, or all-time sports heroes, or U.S. presidents, or 19th century composers, or Italian homemakers. We’re talking about U.S. poetry and criticism in 2011: two to one in favor of men.  These numbers are staggering, and should be a wake up call to women everywhere.

The overall author split is 60/40 in favor of men, not too horrible, but in terms of reviewing (or criticism) the ratio is 4/1 in favor of men, and as Vida showed, the ratio of reviewing in The New York Review of Books is 5/1 in favor of men.  As we get more high-brow, as we get more intellectual, as we get more opinionated, as we get more philosophical, the women flounder, in terms of representation.

For every Harold Bloom, there’s a Helen Vendler or a Camille Paglia, for every Billy Collins, there’s a Mary Oliver or a Louise Gluck, for every John Ashbery, there’s a Jorie Graham or a Kay Ryan , for every Seamus Heaney, there’s a Sharon Olds or a Margaret Atwood. 

Generally, women have had great success in writing, and, in numbers of readers, women are surely equal, or very close to men, just in terms of literacy.  Women are well-placed in the readership and marketplace of Fine Letters; there is no craven, muscle-bound machismo element keeping them down.

Why, then, are the women so woeful and backwards in these key areas of poetry and essays and reviewing and criticism?

So, girls, what the fuck is wrong with you?

Criticism is the Head of Letters.  If you’re not reviewing consistently, or writing philosophical essays, or making your opinions known about writers and writing, then what do you expect?

We know you have opinions about nearly everything—why not writing?   You are nearly 50/50 in fiction, and fiction is great, but we all know most fiction is either thinly disguised diary and memoir or vampires having sex with each other. If Criticism is the Head, Fiction is the Rear.  And, in terms of opinions about writing, we don’t mean sweet, supportive blurbs for the sisters—we mean real criticism.

And here’s the thing: if you won’t write essays or reviews or philosophy or criticism, you’ll never change these numbers.

Vida, your numbers are shocking, but what do they really mean?  And how are we going to make those numbers better?

Any ideas, girls?

I recently found myself having an email dialogue, quite by chance, with one of the founders of Vida, whose stated mission is “to explore cultural and critical perceptions of writing by women through meaningful conversation and the exchange of ideas among existing and emerging literary communities.”

The conversation came about because she, the Vida founder, wanted clarification from me concerning gossip linking her to a powerful male poet mentor.  But such talk does not belong in public.  It has that smell which consigns it to the garbage pail. Robert B__ eloping with EB is glorious. Put it on the front page. Professor B__ helping to market EB’s poems?  Eh, not so glorious.

But every consideration, glorious or not, involving men, women and Letters has an impact every day on the cold facts of Vida’s statistics.  Somewhere, between the numbers, and the sorry state of things which those numbers point to, are actual stories involving actual men and women. Do we dare speak these stories and these names? Or do we traffic forever in statistics and polite reactions to them?

We can’t run from theses numbers, but we can run from the truth—of its smelly and corrupt windings—which those numbers signify.

Or, we can follow Ariadne’s thread; we can do the patient, historical work of patiently examining the lives of actual literary men and women, and what it finally means, philosophically.

Here’s an example: Elizabeth Barrett was an extraordinary poet, and better known than the male poet who eventually eclipsed her, Robert Browning.  When Mr. Browning came courting in 1845, Elizabeth was the famous poet, not Robert, and she had already published, to much acclaim, the type of dramatic poem Robert Browning would later glory in.  This is not to diminish the remarkable Mr. Browning, but only to point out how Miss Barrett fell under Browning’s shadow.  Barrett was depicted in the modern era as a rescued recluse known for one poem penned—to Browning, which fit right into the Victorian stereotype.  Who perpetuates such stereotypes?  The critics.  And the critics are men. Elizabeth Barrett Browning fades away, and takes with her a more accurate picture of the Victorian period, a richer selection of poetry, and a powerful example of a powerful woman poet.  All the male critics had to do was refute the Victorian era.  Women are larger-than-life figures—unless they are reduced by abstract critical thinking which rejects, in the name of “modern progress,” the actual life of women in the past.  The “progressives” are then insidiously reactionary.  All ahistoricism is reactionary.  Let us have improvements, but please let’s not pre-suppose that means chucking history.

A second example: Edna Millay, who wrote sonnets as good as any in the history of literature, was abused in the press by Ezra Pound’s clique: Hugh Kenner and Horace Gregory, to name two. We all know how one well-placed review can harry and destroy. This is the sort of ugly side of Letters which might be characterized as gossip, but we demean Letters by being squemish—so that we brush the ugly side of Letters under the rug. Unfortunately, thugs and bullies exist in “polite literature.”  But the bigger problem is, that because Pound and his group was associated with a certain avant-garde progressivism, “make it new” and all that, critics are not always objective in writing literary history or making critical judgments.  Because there is this excitable and revolutionary assumption that the avant-garde is always liberal and forward-thinking, we are blind to when the opposite is true.

It’s not too late to undo these mistakes, since literature always has a past, and is always being made anew within the context of that past.  But if women are on avant train they think is going in the right direction, but is not, those Vida numbers could get even worse.

One more example: Elinor Wylie (1885-1928) is a marvelous poet, an amazing, crazy, lyrical, predecessor to Plath and Sexton, but like MillayWylie fell off the Parade Float of Modernism.  The better-known American women poets, who were quietly conservative, such as Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, were close to Pound’s clique or Robert Lowell; actually, Moore was Bishop’s mentor, and Robert Lowell fell in quickly with Pound’s group via Tate and Ransom, so it’s all pretty cozy.  Wylie is a strong, but neglected, poet who would appeal to the same audience inspired by Sexton, and it certainly does not diminish a poet like Sexton to comprehend the significance of Wylie as her influence.  (Another neglected poet if we go back futher: Ellen Wheeler Wilcox.) Women in Letters will be hurt if women don’t celebrate good women poets right under their nose, or they only celebrate women poets annointed by men.  When it comes to literature, networking in the present can only go so far. Knowing history is invaluable.

So here’s the advice, so far.  1. Be critical, not timid and polite. 2. Be historical, intensely so; follow historical threads back to motivations, and groups who act clandestinely and corruptly.  These historical phenomena tend to be the rule, not the exception.  If the women say, “Leave the conspiracies to the men,” the women will only suffer accordingly, and the Vida numbers will get worse.

As far as The New York Review of Books, which we now know is 80% male, thanks to Vida, women, I think, would make an important statement if they boycotted that magazine, rather than pleading to be let in. The New York Review stats should not be read as an indication of failure by women, but rather as a failure by the New York Review, a scholarly failure, since the editors are infatuated with the very Modernism school that joyfully throws poets like Barrett, Millay and Wylie under the bus, and they review the same handful of canonized figures over and over again.  The researchers at Vida should analyze a few issues of the New York Review, and discover for everyone not just the numbers, but the faulty philosophy, history and scholarship.  Remember: Criticism, ladies, criticism!  Get in the face of the New York Review!  And enjoy doing it!  Letting the 5/1 ratio just sit there without comment, after the initial gasps, implies that women lack the talent to write for the New York Review and women better get cracking and improve themselves!  Is this the impression Vida wants to give?  No!  Go on the offense!

And speaking of offense, Carol Muske-Dukes, in her poem, “A Former Love, a Lover of Form,” is not particularly nice, which is not necessarily a bad thing:

When they kiss,
she feels a certain revulsion,
and as they continue to kiss

She’s trapped by a dull kiss.  She’s a victim.

The following sounds too much like all that bad confessional poetry composed in the 1970s:

Her glasses fall forward on her nose,
her mouth opens: all around
are objects that desire, suddenly, her.

Not just clothes, but open doorways,
love seats, Mother’s bright red
espadrilles kicked off in the damp grass.

The poem ends with more puzzlement and complaining:

 Is she seducer or seduced?

And which is worse,
a dull lover’s kiss or the embrace
of his terrible laundry?

She’d rather have the book
he wrote than him.

The Stephen Dunn poem features a narrator questioned by a crowd, and gender is completely hidden.  It also features a mysterious, yearning self-sacrificing love.

What They Wanted

They wanted me to tell the truth,
so I said I’d lived among them,
for years, a spy,
but all that I wanted was love.
They said they couldn’t love a spy.
Couldn’t I tell them other truths?
I said I was emotionally bankrupt,
would turn any of them in for a kiss.
I told them how a kiss feels
when it’s especially undeserved;
I thought they’d understand.
They wanted me to say I was sorry,
so I told them I was sorry.
They didn’t like it that I laughed.
They asked what I’d seen them do,
and what I do with what I know.
I told them: find out who you are
before you die.
Tell us, they insisted, what you saw.
I saw the hawk kill a smaller bird.
I said life is one long leavetaking.
They wanted me to speak
like a journalist. I’ll try, I said.
I told them I could depict the end
of the world, and my hand wouldn’t tremble.
I said nothing’s serious except destruction.
They wanted to help me then.
They wanted me to share with them,
that was the word they used, share.
I said it’s bad taste
to want to agree with many people.
I told them I’ve tried to give
as often as I’ve betrayed.
They wanted to know my superiors,
to whom did I report?
I told them I accounted to no one,
that each of us is his own punishment.
If I love you, one of them cried out,
what would you give up?
There were others before you,
I wanted to say, and you’d be the one
before someone else. Everything, I said.

Stephen Dunn wins!  Stephen Dunn is in the Final Four!

THE MAURA STANTON INTERVIEW

RON SILLIMAN: CRITICAL COWARDICE.

The Veiled Lady

In the 19th Century, clever mediums
Would rap a table, making the dead speak.
Ghostly hands would hover in the air,
Heads would appear, Caesar, Napoleon.
Sometimes the whole immaterial body
Of someone’s beloved, dead daughter or sister
Glided through a room allowing swords
To pass though it. Once a husband rose
And tried to caress what was never there,
A veiled lady he thought was his wife,
While others in the room almost fainted
To see him step right through her crinoline.
D.D. Home could levitate out windows
And float above a busy London street.
Imagine sitting on the horsehair sofa
Almost hysterical, watching that miracle…
But it was done with thick plate glass and lights,
A conjurer’s trick, just like the accordion
Played by a ghost in front of Robert Browning
Who shuddered when a spirit hand reached out
And put a wreath of flowers on Elizabeth
Though afterwards he called it sham, imposture.
But that’s what I am, that’s what we all are
To one another, a trick of light and glass
Projected before an audience of dupes.
Don’t you see I’m only an illusion?
You look aghast. You think I’m cynical
But when you touch me in the dark at night
You touch biology, twitchings and snores,
Wetness, jerking muscles. Wild images
Flicker across my convoluted brain
As it constructs a person out of dreams.
That woman you say you love doesn’t exist.
Look at the way our faces have appeared
On the black glass of the picture window
Now that it’s evening, and the lights are on.
There she is, standing beside you, smiling.
Go to her. Embrace her if you can.

Maura Stanton

Now let’s go down to the floor where Marla Muse is with Maura Stanton, who is one of Scarriet’s Elite Eight, Marla?

Marla Muse (MM): Thanks, Tom. Maura, congratulations on your entry into the Elite Eight, how’s it feel?

Maura Stanton (MS): It feels great, Marla.

MM: Thanks for taking time out to talk with me, I know you’re here today at Walt Whitman Stadium to practice free-verse throws for your upcoming match to gain entry into the Scarriet Final Four.

MS: It’s no problem, I needed a break anyway.

MM: Maura, you’ve earned the nickname “The Veiled Lady” for your elusiveness and stealth out on the floor. And you have managed to conjure up almost out of thin air one of the most illustrious squads this game has ever seen. How did you attract such stellar talent?

MS: Well Marla, management has been very supportive, and we were very blessed in the draft last year.

MM: Blessed, I love it! Luck had nothing to do with it?

MS: That one’s above my pay grade, Marla.

MM: Maura, speaking of luck, you have a player who once extolled the value of luck in his generals, I’m speaking of course of Napoleon himself.

MS: Nappy is one of our starters, we get him out there at the beginning to spook the opposition.

MM: Alongside Caesar.

MS: Yes, Cheezer and Nap work wonders together, which is amazing when you consider the egos at play there.

MM: Absolutely, but I notice you don’t keep them in long.

MS: That’s correct, we put them in for the first few minutes of play, let them run up the score, then cut them loose for the night.

MM: To conquer new worlds! And yet even after they’ve left, their presence somehow lingers on throughout the game.

MS: Oh yes.

MM: Maura, your offense of course has reminded many of legendary coach William Lindsay Gresham’s famous squad from the 1940s, I’m speaking of course of the famous “Nightmare Alley.”

MS: It’s an honor to be compared with them.

MM: And of course for one season Gresham’s team featured the great Tyrone Power, and many said his best work was done during his time with the “Nightmare Alley” squad.

MS: Power never phoned it in, and he dug deep during his time in the “Alley.”

MM: Maura, this spiritualism stuff, we all know it’s fake, know we’re being manipulated, but yet we’re also susceptible. Why is that?

MS: Well Marla—

MM: Could it be because humans already believe so many things that are so patently absurd?

MS: Well Marla, I—

MM: And I don’t just mean the theists and polytheists among us, I mean the deists and atheists as well. Perhaps the irrational part of the mind can only be tempered by beliefs that are irrational?

MS: Well Marla—

MM: Or is it that humans have such a powerful need to communicate with the departed, to apologize for past sins, to correct the uncorrectable?

MS: (silent)

MM: Maura, I’m very interested in how you relate our susceptibility to spiritualist claims to our need for illusion in the realms of sex and romance. Because the need for illusion in those realms is so necessary, isn’t it?

MS: I believe it is.

MM: Especially for men, I think, since I have long noted that a man’s imaginative powers are crucial to his attaining potency, especially after a certain age.

MS: And what age would that be?

MM: Oh you kid! Twelve! But seriously, Maura, I think one of the reasons Viagra is so necessary in our time is because modern man’s imagination has become so, if you pardon the term, shriveled up.

MS: Hmm.

MM: I read The Atlantic, I read the stories of couples who make over 150K a year, yet the husband hasn’t gotten an erection with his wife in over a decade.

MS : Trouble in paradise?

MM: Well put!

MS: Although I suspect husbands have always had trouble with sexual performance with only one woman over decades.

MM:The Coolidge Effect!

MS: Quite so. Even the most ancient stories tell of men who needed concubines and multiple wives to retain potency, so I don’t think it’s just a modern phenomenon.

MM: Maura, if the object of desire is just “biology, twitchings and snores,/wetness, jerking muscles”, i.e., a bare, forked creature, then how can she arouse desire in the lover?

MS: She acts upon and stimulates the imagination of the lover. It’s all in the lover’s imagination.

MM: Yes, as you say, “That woman you say you love doesn’t exist.” And yet she does—

MS: She does exist, but not as the lover perceives.

MM: I remember a woman once explaining why she loved a man, and she said, “He saw the me I didn’t.”

MS: That’s wonderful.

MM: Isn’t it?  The lover can see the beloved as she never saw herself… Maura, I am so impressed with how your star center D.D. “Double D” Home and your power forward Bobby “BB Gun” Browning have managed to bury the hatchet to get to the Elite Eight, and possibly the Final Four.

MS: Well, the will to win makes strange bedfellows, and don’t forget that both of the Brownings appear in my poem. Without them, the team wouldn’t be where it is today. You see, Marla, poets must rely on other poets; it’s not like owners of hotdog stands, who can just go it alone. When she was Elizabeth Barrett, in her rookie year, she and Edgar Poe wrote to each other, a trans-Atlantic flirtation; Poe dedicated his 1845 Poems to her—but that was the year Robert came into her life.

MM: I like when you say Robert and Elizabeth “appear” in your poem.  Whatever “appears” must also “vanish”…

MS: I hadn’t thought of that…  Nice, Marla.

MM: Had you thought of including Yeats in your poem?  He was really into the occult.

MS: I had thought of Yeats, and he was a free agent available for the season, but the Brownings were more of what I was looking for. Seances were so big in the Victorian era. Yeats is either thought of as a Modern or a late Romantic.

MM: But Yeats was a Victorian in so many ways. It’s just that the Modernists were horrified at being called Victorians…OK, let’s go now to a commercial, for the Antiques Roadshow!

THE BOMBER AND THE LADY: SWEET SIXTEEN’S NEMEROV, STANTON RUMBLE

I wonder if it’s significant that so many notable poems in the APR March Madness Tournament reference famous people: Dugan: Anne Sexton, Corso: Shelley, Ginsberg: Salman Rushdie, Edward Field: Freud, O’Hara: Ashbery, etc

In this contest to advance to the Elite Eight, Nemerov’s WW II bomber poem, “IFF,” mentions Hitler, and Stanton’s “The Veiled Lady” makes a passing reference to Robert and Elizabeth Browning.

Nemerov’s sister was a famous New York photographer.

Stanton’s husband is also in this APR competition.

So many APR poems are addressed to, or revolve around the famous, or near-famous; reading these poems is almost to be immersed in a gossipy, celebrity party. It is a late-night, decadent, educated, boozy, party where if Freud, Hitler, or Sexton are not being discussed, a good fuck or a good hug is.

It must have been exciting sometime in the 20th century when poetry became grown-ups discussing Freud and affairs and smut openly.  But the problem with boozy, adult-themed poetry is that it isn’t for children; it isn’t for students.  That’s why, I think, APR poetry, and so much of 20th century poetry, is doomed to fade away.  Smutty, wise-cracking Freud isn’t going to be taught to students, because, frankly, it’s smutty, and without that market, forget it;  this type of poetry is only going to be interesting to used-bookstore-grubbing malcontents and perhaps a few social historians.  Oh, and, the few non-university poets who are left.

There’s not much to teach in these poems, anyway; it’s delicious late-night conversation, but we all know what happens when the boozy party is over.  You go home, wake up the next morning and fret about your life, and what some guy said last night about Freud, or the blow-job described in detail, are forgotten.

This may be wrong, and even mean—but it’s just one of those things we like to say around here.

I had an undergraduate (state school) college professor who was very influential on me because I was unformed and she really loved to teach, who used to say, somewhat regretfully: “We (moderns) can’t escape Romanticism.”

Maura Stanton and her poet husband can’t escape Elizabeth and Robert Browning.  No poet couple can, or would try.

But the Moderns set out trying to escape Romanticism.

Only later, after I lost touch with my professor, and after much reading, did I realize how cowardly and excessive the Moderns’ attack on Romanticism was.

Romanticism was already modern was the problem. 

Byron, for instance, was as chatty and frank as any Beat—and metrical and rhyming, to boot.

And this celebrity name-dropping which the APR poets indulge in was already done by Byron (Southey) and Shelley (George III).

The only way around Romanticism was to pretend one was “Classical,’ which the High Modernists did, but Pound wasn’t classical—that was another one of his cons.  If we want to be perfectly honest about the whole thing, Modernism was two things: more prosey and more smutty. We didn’t need Pound to pompously assert that poetry needed to be written as well as good prose—to every good writer in history this is a given, and Pound himself didn’t follow it very well.  Pound, classical?  Bah.

Billy Collins won last year’s BAP March Madness with a parody of a William Wordsworth poem, but Billy wasn’t just name-dropping; he embraced Wordsworth—or what Wordsworth means, and didn’t let go for the entirety of his poem.

Wordsworth wasn’t smutty.  And neither is Billy Collins.  Take note, you who want poetic fame, and you who understand the secret that fame, love, and poetry are the same thing.

What is it about famous names, or almost the same thing: names of beloveds, who become famous in poems: Beatrice, Laura, Stella, Lenore, Cynara, Joan Hunter Dunn?

I have a theory: the name of one’s first obsessive, chaste, exquisitely beautiful love will determine if one becomes a lover of poetry, or not.

Had my first love been Meghan Smith, I doubt I would have gone on to desire the Muse.

Mine was alliterative and suggestive: Karen Cummins.

The interest of the name, combined with the loveliness of the person, combined with the unrequited nature of ‘the crush,’ was all-encompassing, accidental (the combination of the beauty and the name) and it hurt me into poetry, but not consciously—this was money saved, not spent.

I didn’t write the name, Karen Cummins, in any of my poems.

Fanny Brawn was not in any of Keats’ best poems.

Nemerov’s description of Hitler in his poem “IFF” is audacious:

Hitler a moustache and a little curl
In the middle of his forehead, whereas these
Bastards were bastards in your daily life

How much more powerful this than W.D. Snodgrass’s documentary-like poem’s attempt in the APR anthology to capture Hitler.

The ending of Stanton’s poem completely wins me over:

Don’t you see I’m only an illusion?
You look aghast. You think I’m cynical
But when you touch me in the dark at night
You touch biology…

That woman you say you love doesn’t exist.
Look at the way our faces have appeared
On the black glass of the picture window
Now that it’s evening, and the lights are on.
There she is, standing beside you, smiling.
Go to her. Embrace her if you can.

MARLA MUSE: This reminds me of last year’s Scarriet BAP March Madness Final Four poem, “The Year,” by Janet Bowdan.  Remember?  It had the same haunting quality.

But Stanton’s poem has an entirely different p.o.v.

Plus she has Elizabeth and Robert Browning.

Stanton beats Nemerov, 90-80, advancing to the North Finals.

O, TO BE FAITHFUL, LIKE ROBERT BROWNING

Browning’s 3 favorite poets were Homer, Elizabeth Barrett, and Shelley.

“My Last Duchess” is a miracle; despite its rhyming couplets, this famous poem sounds more naturally spoken than any of the Moderns: Eliot, Pound, Williams, or Frost.

Browning has always been well-represented in anthologies, but his reputation seems to have been slipping profoundly of late.  We know him from a handful of poems: “My Last Duchess,” “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister,” “Meeting at Night,” “Home Thoughts, From Abroad,” “A Woman’s Last Word,” “Women and Roses,” “The Lost Leader,” “Youth and Art,” “The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed’s Church,” and “Fra Lippo Lippi.”

He was a liberal, but also a Christian, and thus the modern taste for him is definitely on the wane; but he was an acute dramatist and a source of literary Modernism, so he’ll be populating anthologies for a long time to come; but the problem with Browning is that few bother with him anymore.

His influence on the leading pack of 20th century Modernists is profound.  “A Light Woman” for instance, is all Yeats:

So far as our story approaches the end,
Which do you pity the most of us three? —
My friend, the mistress of my friend
With her wanton eyes, or me?

Browning was a dramatist most of all, very unlike Byron or Shakespeare, however, without their levity; in his poems Browning is always pursuing an argument, and this spoils a great deal of his lyric work; the immediate pleasure (which Byron and Shakespeare, for instance, always considered) is deferred in Browning, as he rebuts himself and muses over this claim and that suggestion at great length.  The result is often tedium.  “My Last Duchess” is a triumph precisely because Browning’s tendency to unravel a long debate with himself is held in check: the narrator (the cruel Duke) has the last word throughout the poem, and both the singular event and the curtained portrait lend the whole a dramatic focus.

Very little attention has been paid to Browning’s prose, his philosophy, his criticism, and here’s a sample of it all at once, on a figure it has been our modern habit to overlook in connection with Browning—Shelley:

An ordinary youth…discovers falsities, incongruities, and various points for amendment, and, in natural advance of the purely critical spirit unchecked by considerations of remedy, keeps up before his young eyes so many instances of the same error and wrong, that he finds himself unawares arrived at the startling conclusion that all must be changed—or nothing: in the face of which plainly impossible achievement, he is apt to feel, either carelessly or considerately, that his own attempting a single piece of service would be worse than useless even, and to refer the whole task to another age or person—safe in proportion to his incapacity.  Wanting words to speak, he has never made a fool of himself by speaking.  But, in Shelley’s case, the early fervour and power to see, was accompanied by as precocious a fertility to contrive: he endeavoured to realize as he went on idealizing; every wrong had simultaneously its remedy, and, out of the strength of his hatred for the former, he took the strength of his confidence in the latter—till suddenly he stood pledged to the defense of a set of miserable little expedients, just as if they represented great principles, and to an attack upon various great principles, really so, without leaving himself time to examine whether, because they were antagonistical to the remedy he had suggested, they must therefore be identical or even essentially connected with the wrong he sought to cure,—playing with blind passion into the hands of his enemies, and dashing at whatever red cloak was held forth to him, as the cause of the fireball he had last been stung with—mistaking Churchdom for Christianity, and, for marriage, ‘the sale of love’ and the law of sexual oppression.

Gradually, however, he was leaving behind him this low practical dexterity, unable to keep up with his widening intellectual perception; and, in exact proportion as he did so, his true power strengthened and proved itself.  Gradually he was raised above the contemplation of spots and the attempt at defacing them, to the great Abstract Light, and through the discrepancy of the creation, to the sufficieny of the First Cause.  Gradually he was learning that the best way of removing abuses is to stand fast by truth.  Truth is one, as they are manifold; and innumerable negative effects are produced by the upholding of one positive principle.  I shall say what I think,—had Shelley lived, he would have finally ranged himself with the Christians…

Browning’s highly articulate, well-argued sympathy for Shelley contrasts with T.S. Eliot’s less than Christian position; Eliot had no patience for Shelley’s youthful errors or his poetry, dismissing him as a “blackguard” and leaving it pretty much at that; Eliot’s general distaste for the Romantics colored the Moderns’ attitude generally, who rejected a great deal in revolutionary haste.

Browning, the Shelleyan poet, does exist, though few know it; the mature poem, “Reverie,” a 220 line lyric is a wonderful example; here are the concluding two stanzas:

I have faith such end shall be:
From the first, Power was—I knew,
Life has made clear to me
That, strive but for closer view,
Love were as plain to see.

When see?  When there dawns a day,
If not on the homely earth,
Then yonder, worlds away,
Where the strange and new have birth,
And Power comes full in play.

There it is, that Platonic rapture that dares to call the earth “homely.”  I not only hear Shelley in these lines, but Emily Dickinson, as well, though she’s better at metaphor than Browning, and more in love with the “homely earth.” Still, I hear her voice here.  It’s easy to forget Browning’s influence, but it is immense.  In an age when every philosopher and poet is lost in the trees, and dares not even think of the woods, can a renewed interest in Browning and his Platonism be that bad?

If “Reverie” needs to become a new Browning classic, “Development,” another mature poem, should, too.  Here’s the charming opening:

My father was a scholar and knew Greek.
When I was five years old, I asked him once
‘What do you read about?’
‘The siege of Troy.’
‘What is the siege of Troy?’  Whereat
He piled up chairs and tables for a town,
Set me a-top for Priam, called our cat
—Helen, enticed away from home (he said)
By wicked Paris, who couched somewhere close
Under the footstool, being cowardly,
But whom—since she was worth the pains, poor puss—
Towzer and Tray,—our dogs, the Atreidai,—sought
By taking Troy to get possession of
—Always when great Achilles ceased to sulk,
(My pony in the stable)—forth would prance
And put to flight Hector—our page-boy’s self.

Browning was a couple years younger than Poe—“The Raven” entered the world (January, 1845) just when Robert wrote his first letter to Elizabeth Barrett, who right around that time, was corresponding with the American poet.  Poe dedicated his Poems (1845) to her; Barrett’s fame preceded her husband’s, who was an obscure figure when he began his famous courtship.  Elizabeth and Robert’s son, ‘Pen,’ was born in 1849, the year Poe met his end.  Elizabeth survived only another 10 years, and 20 years after that, the Browning Society was born.

BYRON!

 

What to do with the life of the party when there’s no more life and no more party?  What to do with worldly, sexy verse when poetry is not that anymore?  What to do with the splashy, smooth and exoteric when the poets are tortured, dry and esoteric?

What the fuck do we do with Lord Fucking Byron?

When did poetry become a hot-house plant inside a manifesto inside a university inside a book?  

Who let the Muse get raped by illiterate Slam assholes?

Who smeared poop all over the nice rug?

Who let the twits be in charge?

Who let the bores take over?

What the fuck happened?

Who keeps saying the Modernists expanded poetry, made poetry free, and gave it permission to be about anything?   Hey, asshole!  Have you read Byron?

I love the language, that soft bastard Latin,
Which melts like kisses from a female mouth,
And sounds as if it should be writ on satin,
With syllables which breathe of the sweet South,
And gentle liquids gliding all so pat in,
That not a single accent seems uncouth,
Like our harsh northern whistling, grunting, gutteral,
Which we’re obliged to hiss, and spit, and splutter all.

*****

“England! with all thy faults I love thee still,’
I said at Calais, and have not forgot it;
I like to speak and lucubrate my fill;
I like the government (but that is not it);
I like the freedom of the press and quill;
I like the Habeas Corpus (when we’ve got it)
I like a parliamentary debate,
Particularly when ’tis not too late;

I like the taxes, when they’re not too many,
I like a seacoal fire, when not too dear;
I like a beef-steak, too, as well as any;
Have no objection to a pot of beer;
I like the weather when it is not rainy,
That is, I like two months of every year.
And so God save the Regent, Church, and King!
Which means that I like all and every thing.

Our standing army, and disbanded seamen,
Poor’s rate, Reform, my own, the nation’s debt,
Our little riots, just to show we’re free men,
Our trifling bankruptcies in the Gazette,
Our cloudy climate, and our chilly women,
All these I can forgive, and those forget,
And greatly venerate our recent glories,
And wish they were not owing to the Tories.

But to my tale of Laura,—for I find
Digression is a sin, that by degrees
Becomes exceeding tedious to my mind,
And, therefore, may the reader too displease—
The gentle reader, who may wax unkind,
And caring little  for the author’s ease,
Insist on knowing what he means, a hard
And hapless situation for a bard.

Oh that I had the art of easy writing
What should be easy reading! could I scale
Parnassus, where the Muses sit inditing
Those pretty poems never known to fail,
How quickly would I print (the world delighting)
A Grecian, Syrian, or Assyrian tale;
And sell you, mixed with western sentimentalism,
Some samples of the finest Orientalism.

But I am but a nameless sort of person,
(A broken Dandy lately on my travels)
And take for rhyme, to hook my rambling verse on,
The first that Walker’s Lexicon unravels,
And when I can’t find that, I put a worse on,
Not caring as I ought for critics’ cavils;
I’ve half a mind to tumble down to prose,
But verse is more in fashion—so here goes.

***

He was a Turk, the colour of mahogany;
And Laura saw him, and at first was glad,
Because the Turks so much admire philogyny,
Although their usage of their wives is sad;
‘Tis said they use no better than a dog any
Poor woman, whom they purchase like a pad:
They have a number, though they ne’er exhibit ’em,
Four wives by law, and concubines ‘ad libitum.’

They lock them up, and veil, and guard them daily,
They scarcely can behold their male relations,
So that their moments do not pass so gaily
As is supposed the case with northern nations;
Confinement, too, must make them look quite palely;
And as the Turks abhor long conversations,
Their days are either passed in doing nothing,
Or bathing, nursing, making love, and clothing.

They cannot read, and so don’t lisp criticism;
Nor write, and so they don’t affect the muse;
Were never caught in epigram or witticism,
Have no romances, sermons, plays, reviews,—
In harems learning soon would make a pretty schism,
But luckily these beauties are not ‘Blues;’
No bustling Botherbys have they to show ’em
‘That charming passage in the last new poem:’

No solemn, antique gentlemen of rhyme,
Who having angled all his life for fame,
And getting but a nibble at a time,
Still fussily keeps fishing on, the same
Small ‘Triton of the minnows,’ the sublime
Of mediocrity, the furious tame,
The echo’s echo, usher of the school
Of female wits, boy bards—in short, a fool!

***

Whate’er his youth had suffered, his old age
With wealth and talking made him some amends;
Though Laura sometimes put him in a rage,
I’ve heard the Count and he were always friends.
My pen is at the bottom of a page,
Which being finished, here the story ends;
‘Tis to be wished it had been sooner done,
But stories somehow lengthen when begun.

—all stanzas from Beppo (1818)

As Douglas Dunn wrote in an introduction to Byron’s verse (Faber) in 1974:

“From the purely literary point of view, Byron has fared badly.  Few outstanding critics have had much time for him.”

All the modernists, especially Eliot and the New Critics, reviled him.  Auden, alone in the 20th century, felt he (Auden) was a substantial and worldly enough of a poet that he could afford to actually like Byron.  The other schools, such as the Beats and the New York school, didn’t have it what it took to embrace him.  I suspect Byron would have made such poets appear less modern and rebellious than they wanted to appear.

Douglas Dunn also points out:

“Byron’s infuence on the development of what is modern in poetry is considerable.  I find it difficult to believe that Browning could have written in the way he did without having first been impressed by the spoken plainness of Byron’s language in Don Juan, although, as is well known, the Romantic poet most loved by Browning was Shelley, whose example he thought himself to have betrayed.  Modern poetry in English owes much to Browning.  Pound, who saw Browning as a crucial prop in his undertaking to cut away ‘the crepuscular spirit in modern poetry,’ was never a supporter of Byron.  …it is worth pointing out that much of nineteenth-century French poetry which influenced Eliot and Pound—and Eliot in particular—is a writing of pose, and of poetic gesture, that same stance characteristic of an Age which is found in Byron.”

It should be obvious to all: the twits have won.

13 WAYS OF LOOKING AT WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS

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

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

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

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

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

Curtis Faville,  July 2008, Silliman’s blog

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

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

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

Egad!   We can quote from this hyperbole no longer. 

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

Why didn’t  someone tell me?  

This explains everything!

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