FOR ME

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Suicide is suicide.

I’ve contemplated suicide for weeks.

But suicide is suicide.

Poetry is what my poetry seeks.

Clean is clean.

Ignorance is not only ignorance, it reeks.

Socrates is Socrates.

Poetry is what my poetry seeks.

The unsayable is unsayable.

So says the silence, but it leaks.

I will say something now.

Poetry is what my poetry seeks.

 

NEVER LET NATURE TELL YOU WHAT TO DO

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Never let nature tell you what to do.

Nature takes one and turns it into two.

Nature hates the single mind

Unless it is a poet’s—who is blind.

Nature loves the many and hates the few.

Cruelty, cruelty. Nature is the worst.

There’s something hates one, but loves the two,

Oh but you better ask your partner first.

She is tall and beautiful and mild.

She was a child, and now, is the mother of a child.

In the tranquility of the morning I detect a single star.

“You are my sex; I can’t have a child with you,

As lovely as you are.

Never let nature tell you what to do.

I appreciate how you infiltrate my mind,

But impossible for another to be the two of us combined.

You will beat in vain upon my beautiful wall

My beautiful sculpture must be your all.

The world will go forward without us, I’m afraid.

But you and I can lie here safely in the shade.

There is no chance that anything will be new.”

You didn’t let nature tell you what to do.

At the graduation I saw you alone in your seat,

Miserable, seeing me seeing you; that was sweet.

 

 

 

 

 

THESE GROVES

These groves are quiet

Where my lover in a purple cloud lies down.

Unhappy shadows riot.

Her hair is black, her skin, Bengali brown.

Religious crowds have not been fed,

Religious colors are a bright, bright red.

Those who roll by the river could drown.

 

Flowers in the groves rebel

In a tangerine-yellow yell.

The crimson noises

Kiss red against red

When our kissing pauses.

Aquamarines have secrets to tell.

 

Gray eyes of poem’s roses

Sleep where the persian poppy dozes.

The springy orchard and the oozing well

Release a pungent indigo smell.

No shadow is afraid.

The weed has an adamantine need

In the darkening shade.

Blue silken bell.

 

I came across the roof to see

What her religion means to me.

I dropped down from my height

In a cloud of white,

Startled by the odors of this

Delicious kiss.

 

Buzzing flies

Are husky in their thighs.

The one color which bled in my heart

Was green—which made the landscape start.

The million kisses I had in mind

Crept into hers. The groves are blind

To the lighter hues,

To drops of rain, to dusty magentas and blues.

 

A religious crowd is pressing in.

A glassy, ebony breathing skin

Breathes the world I am breathing in.

Now the night is almost white.

In dark groves my Bengali dies.

Who drinks the maroon noon

Belonging to her cryptic sighs?

 

 

 

 

SOME CRITICAL OBSERVATIONS

We have nothing against line breaks. But line breaks do not substitute for punctuation. And lack of punctuation is not poetic.

Criticism is not about brainwashing or bullying. That’s brainwashing and bullying, not criticism. A poet who is highly defensive about their own work can be a brainwashing bully. Brainwashing and bullying can be done by anyone and has nothing to do with Criticism, per se.

Criticism is a guide, that’s all. It’s the brain of the eyes. Good criticism lays out examples, shares work from many ages and writers, and presents it. End of story. Nothing wrong with that. If you are a nature poet, and there’s a million examples of nature poetry out there, you should count criticism which knows something about nature poetry as your friend—that is, if you yourself, as the poet, are not a brainwashing bully.

Writing workshops = a modern money-making scheme. We can objectively read our own work. It is brainwashing to say otherwise. If you can’t edit your work, solo, you are no writer. Criticism belongs to the newspaper, the public square, the lecture hall, not the private, writing workshop, classroom—and so the latter should not exist. The writing workshop can only exist as “invite-only” mischief, as behind-the-scenes reputation making, as institutional thievery of what should remain private in the writer’s house. Good professional criticism has been killed by the Writing Program era.

Any piece of writing can be ridiculed. The question in every particular case is always: should it be? This ‘should’ applies on many subtle levels so that a literary critic is truly the most important member of any modern society. But Criticism has been taken from society and imprisoned in a textbook. Socrates was the first really good one. Critics don’t belong in the classroom—it is a perverse waste of talent for troublesome, cynical ends.

Reading. That’s really all literary education is. Throw in purely material considerations of metrics, a few mechanical prose issues. Anything else is dubious, and perhaps damaging.

As Alexander Pope said, the spirit is more important than the letter. Don’t nitpick. On the other hand, grammar is 50% of writing. Poets who can’t punctuate kill themselves. Poe was a fierce critic, but only to rebuff really bad writing. A Poe critic belongs in a newspaper, not workshops. The old English major is better for writing because reading is better for writing. Workshops are pathological and unnecessary. If teaching writing is your gig, we are sorry. Of course it’s not your fault—it’s the landscape today.  Just pretend you are a literature teacher. And for God’s sake, make them read Plato. Be confident they will get enough empty modern certainty on their own.

E. E. Cummings used punctuation a lot. Semicolons abound in many of his poems. He went to Harvard. He used stanza, rhyme, repetition, parenthetical marks, and least of all, the line break, for poetical emphasis. He was a meticulously formalist Romantic poet who belonged to the modernist, 1920s, Dial clique of Moore, Williams, Pound, and Eliot, eloped with money-bags Scofield Thayer’s wife, won an annual Dial award just like the rest of them (with a substantial cash award) and went on to outsell them all.

Cummings fooled everyone into thinking he was modern. Clever guy.

A good writer fools others.

But not you.

A LOVE THAT LOVES IS THE LOVE THAT’S NOT AFRAID

She made such declarations when she was dying.

I found out how much she loved me in the crying,

In crying that wet her face with waters of torrential rain.

She loved me, dying, in pain.

She confessed in the shade.

A love that loves is the love that’s not afraid.

You were different. You loved me now and then.

You held back. You were proud. You knew many men

Could be yours. You greeted me when

You were in the mood, and you were afraid

I would be with another in the shade.

A love that loves is the love that’s not afraid.

She forgave me.

She was out of her mind

And I was out of mine.

We talked in the evening. There was no wine.

Hesitantly, we held each other in the shade.

O the love that loves is love that is afraid.

 

WHAT YOU LOVED FOR AN INSTANT

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What you loved for an instant

Was the slightly excited way her mouth opened when she smiled,

The symmetrical perfection of the features,

The healthy beauty of hair and skin, the intelligence

You noticed in demeanor and expression.

As she left, you saw his passive face,

Bored as he looked at her mutely as she followed him

Out of the crowded café,

And you wondered, as you admired her,

Why he didn’t love her, but maybe he did,

But like you, and everyone, he was hiding

His love. Certainly it was love that he hid?

THE POET HAS NO GODDAMN IDEA

The poet has been crowned for days and nights
And all songs and all singing delights
And all movies and all night stills,
And all night pools, and the perfumed hills.
The rock songs and the rock celebrities
And the mansions and the mysteries.

The poet has these, and the poet has you,
Because you see a book, and you don’t know what to do.
But the poet knows.
The poet has a sharp nose
For books and things,
Publishing rights, criticisms, and rings.

The poet is trying the lock
But the key doesn’t fit.
There is an awkward silence.
Are you starting to realize this guy isn’t it?
This isn’t the right night. This isn’t the moon.
Fuck.  The guy who wrote this is a loon.

 

THE WORST POEMS ARE READ

The worst poems are publicly read.
The best ones are read later
Secretly, with surprise,
As if the best were hidden for your eyes.

You found them in the volume published in a hurry;
The publisher, languid, playful—the poet, only worry,
A slim volume, with blurbs gracing a green cover,
Poems of sorrow for a sad, lost lover,
Reflecting your experience, not told
To anyone—the love, illicit, but passionately bold.

The best poems are not read
By the poet at the reading,
Who loved, and still loves,
And has no idea who likes exactly what,
Where she is, and what she might be needing.

The worst poems are read,
The best poems, missed,
Like this one about no one,
Who no one ever kissed.

 

 

 

FOR B AND A

They say women are crazy, and that’s why heartbreaks occur:

She’s not leaving you—she’s leaving you leaving her.

I loved her when I could, and this is when she left;

My heart was full—shocked to find hers bereft.

I loved her in the crescent or the full moon,

Knowing love wasn’t always, but at least it was soon.

If she wasn’t mine today, or even tomorrow,

Next week, surely, there wouldn’t be any sorrow.

But something—something—must have grown in her mind:

My satisfaction meant I was unkind.

If I could love her Wednesday, smile, and be glad

On Friday, wasn’t Thursday at least a little sad?

Was Thursday a day of smiling, too, she died

That Thursday I wrote poems—while she cried.

She wanted me—and hated it—all the time;

I kissed her Sunday; then Monday, Tuesday wrote rhyme,

Suffering not, for she was not—yet she was always mine;

She didn’t like it that she and my poems belonged to me this way.

She left, and now we suffer every night and every day.

 

 

 

 

WHAT I SAID BRIEFLY TO YOU

What I said briefly to you

Is what you will remember,

And what I practiced, long hours in the dark,

Will make no impression at all.

I worried about my imperfect face,

My impetuous, nerdy voice,

But you liked me at a glance—because I was tall.

I don’t wish it to be easy. I want to climb

A week’s journey into the clouds sighing in your mind.

Your body? I will get around to that next time.

What a sarcastic smile in a beautiful face

Can do. It taught me to fear one thing: disgrace.

I can repeat in the mirror of my memory

Safely and tactfully your irregular beauty.

This mirror is the secret to how men fall.

I didn’t know this until I wrote you a poem.

And it made no impression at all.

 

ALONE

I’m thinking alone
Is what we always are, but never wish to be.
I’m thinking how
Strange it was to watch you fall in love with me,
As if it always was, but now
That we are lovers, you don’t know how.

And neither do I. How do you fill up a day
When love is everything you want to say?
Life has no idea how to help you do
What you need to do—the plan is done by the two of you:
You, sighing that you don’t how to sing,
Me, crying, unable to do anything
That hasn’t been done before, better, by any number of creeps.
Life is made for the loveless worker who sleeps.
I am wide awake in this bed,
Unable to get this mystery out of my head
Resting millions of miles from your head.
All the crap that has gone before
And the doubts. Love stands on a slippery floor.
Angry, insulted. How did it happen that love
Became this, when we loved, and we knew, and we loved.
All I kept thinking was, don’t give up,
Even if life, forced to the edge by cruel life, lied.
Decide to stay. Or never decide.

JUST AND CRUEL

It is better to secretly burn—
Than publicly love in return.
It is easier to wallow
In the whims of love
Than deliberately and anxiously follow
The cruel love of a just, cruel God above.

So the beautiful smile secretly.
You, my only religion, in secret taught me and kissed me.

It is more difficult to be loved—
You have to love back
The lover not as beautiful as you,
The lover, who because they love you, lack
You, love, everything, and all, all! you secretly wish to do.

It is more difficult to be loved—
You have to love back
The lover not as beautiful as you,
The lover, who because they love you, lack
You, love, everything—which you are lacking, too.

 

CIVILIZATION

We know what civilization is:

Routines, friendships, small pleasures.

Rusty R. Smith enjoyed a cigarette

The way another man would enjoy

A thousand virgins.

Rusty had the occasional doughnut.

Perhaps he was gay, perhaps he wasn’t.

Rusty drank his coffee black; he liked good restaurants,

Smiling; no sex. Dead at fifty one,

He enjoyed the chatty, fatty, easy life

Of affable politics and work.

Democracy is one virgin per man,

And quite often, none;

One is not allowed to have a thousand.

But in some places one can,

And this fucks things up totally.

 

 

 

FEAR AND DESIRE

This thing, desire, makes me sad—

Like love, which is afraid, and a fraud, and fails,

Failing to do what it takes to be glad.

Desire is imaginative and believes the tales

Of desire’s success, that friend

Who ruins what my real friends patiently mend.

I believe those stories of infidelity and madness,

But they are false, exactly as desire is false. Love’s madness fails.

Despondency came; love and desire sought gladness,

But despondency and melancholy rule

Those too cautious, who went to school

Or church, and in the work of words found sadness.

If desire and love make us sad, what of fear that grieves?

The body dies: this I know; this knowing has taken its toll;

What I want most desperately is the survival of my soul;

Sad desire plots and plans. Only fear believes.

 

 

 

 

FLOWERS OF BLACK

In the old age black was not counted fair—Shakespeare, sonnet 127

I prefer the black flowers to the white.
The ink of my poems blends in with the night.
I prefer the black of petal and stem
Which in the shadows will not be noticed by them.

Flowers of black, come back, come back.

I prefer the black eyes to the blue.
The look in-between the look of you.
The look that leads me into the night
Where even the dust is dark with delight.

Flowers of black, come back, come back.

The blind know the perfume is better
Than the bright, informing letter.
I banish the clutter of color from my sight.
I want to feel you—you—in the night.

Flowers of black, come back, come back.

The night has its honesty
As the day has its lies.
If I see, I want to see
You silently speak with your eyes.

Flowers of black, come back, come back.

Put black petals on my bed.
These happy flowers of white
Oppress the memory. Travel instead
To the bed that is always a bed,
Where nothing is familiar with light,
Where a love loves love in the folded up night.

 

THAT MAKES YOU GREAT

When you are a poet, and a woman, and you run, and you are panting, and you are late.
And you apologize, and you smile.
That makes you great.

When you are a poet, and take the train and admire the terrain from the window and wonder about fate
With notebooks on your knee.
That makes you great.

When you are a poet, and you write with your eyes all the time, and your notebook is wet, and now it’s late
And you worry about the worms between the flowers.
That makes you great.

When you are a poet, and you decide you will sort it out—with poetry, poetry inside of poetry, late, late
Into the evening, and then the sun.
That makes you great.

When you are a poet, and read doctrines, and you walk among halls and you laugh and you make them wait
And you love—a little—the art of cruelty.
That makes you great.

When I see you coming, when I look at you, when I breathe you, when I read you, when I desire to be with you late, 
When you whisper the quotation that is my fate,
I would not be a stone, or a statue, or great.

 

 

THE POEM REACHES OUT

The poem reaches out.  The poet doesn’t care.
The poem does what a person in love wouldn’t dare.
The poem says precisely, without motive or riot,
The secret of the secrets crying in the quiet,
Secrets which the banner-strewn world tells
To the drowned, where the large wave swells,
To the buried, where the winds whistle in the deep wells,
To the dead, where the lizard listens to the bells.

Crash and clang. The dead world makes noise,
The creaking, metallic run where the passive experience their joys
On the train, after it leaves the station. The hearts
That were there, go home, and, in fits and starts,
Wish for the journey to start back again
So the return might be able to return again.
We went there, again, to the toad in the fen,
To the frog in the lake.
They listen for you—forgotten, for my sake.
I cannot place your eye.

A poem falls to the bottom of the lake
In a capsule, warm and dry.

 

THE DRAMATIC IS NEVER US

The dramatic is never us.

It’s the homeless man talking to himself on the back of the bus.

The dramatic is the voice we use

When describing someone else—when drama visits you, you lose.

Drama is ugly fights, but also—the movie star

Whom we think we love, and when in love, deliciously dramatic is what we are.

So love is this: feeling inside

What, if on display, the whole world would deride.

That’s why love lives in secret, despite

Public, ostentatious marriages and the chorus of love is always right!

The only reason for love ending?

We sigh too loudly, and say to ourselves, is this me? Drama defending?

We sigh too loudly, and we are heard

By our rational self—who knows the dramatic is absurd.

But dramatic is also feeling, and feeling is what we need

To defend ourselves, otherwise we’ll be expressionless when someone hits us and makes us bleed.

Dramatic love fades, but dramatic hate grows

Until this kind of drama is all our heart really knows:

Leave me alone, you asshole, I never loved you,

Or anyone. Alone, in the back of the bus: that’s me, in a year, or two.

The poetic is never us.

Poetry is such a difficult thing to do.

Remember when I gave you that poem and you didn’t think it was for you?

 

 

 

THE GIRL

Compare her movements to the way older women walk—heavily, stiffly,

In comparison to this little one, whose every movement is a dance—

Look at her! She approaches the letters in a curious trance,

Her wandering fairy boots, her outfit slightly stiff, her hair turning;

She has more life in one of her arms or hands

Than Madame Stein, who, somberly weighed down by a million sorrows, stands

Proudly and solidly in womanhood, reading the pedantry of poetry

Ignorantly: poetry of the world, poetry titanic and hurly-burly.

It is poetry of the mind, the chopping in the pan of all that is man.

All virtue is young, all loveliness is girly;

All the pains we take in love, in undressing, to find

Love, are missed by this, by these wild movements of this sweet and innocent mind.

 

LOVE DOES NOT EXIST

Love does not exist, and I know this to be true.
I am not sitting on the train with you.
I have made observances as the scientists do.
Love does not exist as I knew love with you.

When do you see lovers who cannot stand to be apart?
Speaking scientifically,
Though I defend myself poetically,
Science sees the secret avenues of the heart,
Science sees the secret movement of the eye
Following the beautiful lover’s eye carefully.
Science may even be poetry.
If there is a better experiment than I,
It is perhaps these trains
Which time hearts and carry brains.
What is this great big oil stain?
What did you do? Who did you see on the train?
How many do you see on the morning commute
Writing the poem and hearing the flute?
Love does not exist, and I know this to be true.
I am not sitting on the train with you.

AT THE END OF LOVE

At the end of love, love begins,

Love, having always loved,

Even as hate breaks hearts and grins,

Even as hate breaks hearts suddenly

Without warning. Do you remember how you did that to me?

I still loved you when you didn’t love me.

I kept my love alive. Love always wins.

At the end of love, love begins.

 

HOW CAN I NOT END MY POEM HERE

How can I not end my poem here,

Where the sentence ends, as love draws near?

The end of all ridiculous poems approaches,

The play has ended, the enormous coaches

Are pulled up in front of the grand theater

Which housed an exemplar of illusion

For an hour, dispelling the vague confusion

Which attends on us in our days without end.

The audience, I love less, of which you were not one,

Choosing instead to stay home and make fun

Of everything history has done to us

Of which historians make such a fuss

In their impotence, and expect us to make a big deal about, too.

The play is long over. But my poem is just starting to fall in love with you.

LET’S STAY HERE

Here, in the moment, here, where our eyes first met;

Here, this moment, this moment never forget;

Let’s stay here, in the liquid beauty of our looking eyes:

Ocean! Ocean—no shore, no sad-sounding bird shore cries;

The store front window, reflecting only skies;

Don’t go back into the store, into the labyrinth of lies

Where our lives exist; let’s live where you know mine and I know your eyes.

 

Make no movie, for that means so much work;

Different camera angles, other actors, the director is a jerk;

No; stay here, where the tremendous ocean sighs

With music; you have a love for clouds; clouds are imprisoned in the skies;

Skies of continuous clouds, clouds caught, appearing, going,

Clouds found nowhere else but in skies—skies which frown on their own winds blowing;

Our eyes knowing more about beauty and minds—than minds themselves are knowing.

 

Let’s stay here! In the superficial flatness of a frame,

Where many a dying lover has scrawled their forgotten name,

A space where all that wastes life, sadly and slow,

Wipes a flat life clean in an instant, erases everything we know,

But since we in the flatness live, we survive,

Where the eyes begin, always beginning, and alive;

Known, the beginning, when you looked at me and I looked at you,

The beginning of the beautiful. The beginning of the true.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STAY IN AND THINK ABOUT TOM

The law interns are crafting language for the next big case

That will surely destroy religion at last.

The stadium needs painting. Forget about that. It’s raining.

She was slightly surprised her neighbor’s children grew up so fast.

Now it’s raining. All that seemed rather interesting is gone.

Stay in and think about Tom.

There’s time in the bright days to laugh.

Sun makes life seem to go on and on

But the rain closes in and defines

Edges and endings. Stay in and think about Tom.

He’s tall, intelligent, brash, and slender,

Sensitive, clumsy, loves her like a dog,

Loyal, but irritatingly playful. Maddeningly tender.

Push him away in a foul mood and look he’s gone.

He wrote her too many poems. He should have stopped.

It’s raining. Stay in and think about Tom.

The finest notes of the slow movement resemble rain.

Of course she loved him, but it can never be the same.

She thinks of wind chimes. Stay in and think about Tom,

The mouth. The love that tried to make her a mom.

The pastry shop is open late. Movies can be watched

And sweet music heaves itself at her any time of day.

Stay in and think about Tom.

There will be time to do lots of things. Breathe.

She wants them but she never wants them to stay.

 

 

BRENDA HILLMAN AND LYN HEJINIAN

Poetry is most likely deemed successful if it does two things:

1. It describes what must happen.

2. It describes it as it must be described.

Most people, looking back at their lives, would say,  I could have, or should have, done it another way, sure.

Poets, however, tend to feel uneasy as poets unless they are able to say, I had to write that.

Most people might see their freedom as a certain point of pride: there’s nothing that I must do. I did that because I liked it.

But poets would almost rather say: I had to write those poems, and I had to write them as I did. I had no choice.

How else to explain the furious truth of this by Brenda Hillman:

Talking flames get rid of hell.

That had to be said. Only Brenda Hillman could have said it.

It talks of hell and how hell exists, but does not exist; it talks of how flames may or may not talk, and flames might be people or they might not be people.

It has the stamp of poetry, and there’s nothing more to say about it.

Marla Muse: What do you mean, Tom? You always have more to say.

This time I don’t.  I’m saying something which is too difficult to explain.

Marla Muse: Because Brenda Hillman said something too difficult to explain?

Yes.

Marla Muse: Tom, you are so awesome.

Thanks, Marla.

Lyn Hejinian’s line succeeds on the same principle:

You spill the sugar when you lift the spoon.

Obviously this has many meanings.

Marla Muse: Many meanings.

Marla, if you were not here to help me, I don’t know what I’d do.

Lyn Hejinian (pictured above) wants to be loved.

So does Brenda Hillman.

This tournament shows this from a certain angle.

 

 

 

RICHARD BLANCO AND CONNIE VOISINE: MORE MADNESS IN THE SOUTH

Is poetry democratic, or is it radically individual?

This argument is a good one, for both sides have a lot to say: language unites us, but what price to simply roll us all into a ball?

And yet what price obscure triviality?

Like all good arguments, to prove there really isn’t an argument at all is what the intelligent try—be accessible and unique: surely that’s possible?

Perhaps it’s not that easy.  Imagine you are at the podium in front of a crowd during the swearing-in of the president of the United States.  How can you possibly go for the surprising and the unique?

A podium in front of millions is surely where poetry goes to die.  Four years ago, Richard Blanco fought against that death with this:

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes tired from work.

This line marches along with a certain poetic solemnity: we like how “one sky” is echoed by “our eyes.”

And what could be more uniting than “one sky” and “tired from work?”  We can relate.

Perhaps this is all poetry is really striving for.  To speak for as many as possible, and to truly speak for as many as possible is all the poet can finally do.

What is the counter-argument?  Write a poem for this person, but not for that person.

Surely the universal is the best?

Connie Voisine, we get the feeling, did not write her line for the podium.  She was probably feeling reflective and calm.

And yet—her line may resonate just as much with the millions.  Why not?

The oleanders are blooming and heavy with hummingbirds.

Though we must concede that if someone knows exactly what oleanders look and smell like, they will like her line more.  Isn’t that true?

Marla Muse: Do you know what an oleander looks like, Tom?

Marla, I pass.

What’s interesting is hummingbirds are not heavy. That’s the poetry, many would say.

But as for oleanders, yes, how much does the audience know?  That matters, of course.

But does that in any way alter the formula?  Write to as many as you can?

Blanco wasn’t taking any chances: “sky,”  “eyes,” “tired,” “work.”

How safe is safe in March Madness?

Marla Muse: Not very safe.

Sky versus oleanders.  Only one can win.

 

 

 

 

 

SARAH HOWE AND EMILY KENDAL FREY: FIRST ROUND WEST BRACKET ACTION

Here’s another Madness contest which splits our brains—the infinite gulf poets navigate—between imagery and speech, between showing and telling, between photograph and rhetoric, between gazing and sermonizing.

Sarah Howe, a youngster who just won the T.S. Eliot Prize, snaps, snaps, snaps with her camera:

the razory arms of a juniper rattling crazily at the edge of that endless reddening haze

And there the eye goes, to the juniper—with thought hurrying to catch up.

But since the eye can’t really “see” poetry, thought gains, and takes the lead, and universities are founded—where they teach Endless Reddening Haze 101.

Meanwhile, Emily Kendal Frey asks the eye to do nothing, appealing to the Muse in a completely different way:

How can you love people without them feeling accused?

This line goes to the heart of all social and romantic confusion.

And a juniper does not have to be mentioned.

Pictures unite us immediately, for every reader, whether they want to or not, see what the poet has seen, and language is precise enough that we all “see” the “razory arms of a juniper rattling crazily at the edge of that endless reddening haze.”

Showing is something which poetry can do.

If we watch a really good dancer, we might think to ourselves, boy they are good, without enjoying the dance itself.  We love what the dancer can do, but we don’t love the dance.  And yet, loving what the dancer can do, we will still stand around applauding with others, because of what the dancer is doing, and have a good time, united with the appreciative audience.

Telling is something poetry is.

Thought is less direct in the showing that poetry does, because first the poet has to say, I am going to show the reader this particular thing I see, in order to present a poem which…

Thought is more direct in the telling of poetry, because they are the same.  The following is a thought: How can you love people without them feeling accused?

The combination of “love” and “accuse” is what makes the thought startling and interesting.

It is a psychological truth that has a certain original force.

But does Frey’s line “unite” everyone immediately?

No, because some would say: this doesn’t make any sense. To love is not to accuse. Not in my world, anyway.

But the psychologically subtle, the psychologically astute, will understand the truth of this line—it is wise, for it contains a deep understanding of human psychology.

We apologize if all we have said so far is a truism, and nothing about poetry has really been said.

Or, perhaps poetry lives in those places where nothing about poetry can really be said.

The juniper rattles, accusing us, no matter which one of these poets wins.

TOO BEAUTIFUL IS BEST: AN EASTER POEM

You may know the beautiful—-
And those who aspire to be beautiful—and all the rest.
But for tears and poetry that transforms,
Too beautiful is best.

Too beautiful to have, too beautiful to rest,
Too beautiful to want—too beautiful
Is truly beautiful. Too beautiful is best.

You whisper your love to the beautiful,
In long paths, holding hands.
With the too beautiful you cannot speak
For reasons only the beautiful understands.

Lie beside the remembered, and rest;
The remembered fits inside of pictures;
Remembered is remembered as it dies, beautiful, in the west—
A boiling horizon of tamarind trees—
Remembered—a scent in the midnight breeze—
Dying, and beautiful.
But too beautiful always is.

You may know the beautiful—
And those who aspire to be beautiful—and all the rest.
The beautiful you know are beautiful.
But too beautiful is best.

 

 

 

 

 

I GOT READY FOR LOVE, NOW I GET READY FOR DEATH

I got ready for love, now I get ready for death,
With the same uncertainty, the same excited breath,
The same thrilling heartbeat, the same glad sadness,
The same restraint, the same dignity, as I hide my madness.

You saw me on the street, I smiled and said hello.
After a little conversation, I smile again. And go.

 

W.S. MERWIN TAKES ON JULIE CARR

Poets should not depend on things, on pictures, on colors: that’s for painters.

All the best poets know that “no ideas but in things” is the worst possible advice for the poet.

Ideas use things in poetry, but poetry is speech.  Adding measured emphasis (metrics) is never unwise; our own experiments (too complex to write about here) show music to be a poetry too excitable for words, but still containing ideas—which live behind every good image in every good poem.

When reading essays: read what they think.

When reading poems: read what they do.

But in both cases, the essence is an idea.  Philosophical acumen is the basis of all artful communication.

The greatest poets have always warned: avoid cheap politics and avant-garde tricks, which are just excuses to be lazy and stupid.

Classical learning is the only learning.

Small beer is small beer.  Snot on the sleeve is snot on the sleeve.

There’s nothing magical out there. Daddy Ezra can’t help you. Only classical learning and your pretty face can.

William Stanley (W.S.) Merwin has been publishing poetry for 60 years; he managed to make contact with icons in his youth—guys like Pound and Robert Graves and Berryman and Blackmur and T.S. Eliot—he’s a pretty famous poet (also a translator), but unfortunately, no famous poems. Merwin abandoned punctuation in his poetry in a beat/hippie move when he was in his 40s—when he was in a bit of a crisis and leaving Europe for good and coming back to America in the late 1950s.

Merwin understands that poetry is speech, and leaving off punctuation was the earnest attempt to make ‘speech-which-is-not-speech,’ or trembling, misty poetry, and to a large extent he has succeeded in that regard.

Merwin has said that in abandoning punctuation, he was leaving the page where punctuation nails things down to embrace how people talk, which is almost the same thing, though it misses the point of punctuation, which helps talking—it does not hinder it.

But Merwin is a good poet because he plays with ideas, and came to realize Pound was dead wrong about the image, and so much else. “The intellectual coherence of Pound’s work is something that I don’t any longer believe in.”  (Paris Review interview, 1986).

you know there was never a name for that color

One can see in this one line Merwin, the poet, rejecting all the painter’s tricks—those the silly Imagists insisted poets try—and instead, exploding with iambic and anapest rhythms, raining down upon us an idea, in the implied question: what does it mean, exactly, when a color doesn’t have a name?

Merwin, first seed, will be tough to beat with this one.

Julie Carr began as a classical dancer, and to dance, you need music, and poetry is a kind of dance to music—we don’t hear the music but we see the dance, the poetry.

Julie Carr is also a mother, and still young, and as soon as she turned to poetry, she accumulated awards; reading her, one gets the feeling when it comes to the flags and banners of poetic speech, she got it, and got it quickly.

Either I loved myself or I loved you.

This line has a kind of delicious despair, a romantic power; there is an intoxicating idea in the symmetry displayed in “Either I loved myself or I loved you.”

We have no doubt this contest will be a very interesting one.

 

 

 

EVERY SINGLE THING WE THINK IS REAL IS NOT

Every single thing we think is real is not.

You loved me when the summer was hot

But now that you don’t love me, that memory hurts

And so I don’t think about that memory a lot,

And no, I don’t even look now at this one who flirts.

Every single thing we think is real is not.

 

Every single movie, look, laugh, and poem is fake.

And mutability erases everything, everything—but this ache,

Which is the pain of knowing every single thing is fake.

Every moment flies, and was never real before its flight.

 

Moment! There’s an hour that wants to talk to you. Can you take

A half a moment out of your busy moment’s day

To listen to what my sad complaining hour has to say?

No? Okay, I’ll just talk to this mass of moments in the night

Of how every beautiful thing is built to break

And every single thing we think is real is fake,

And not only fake, painful, and the pain goes on and on

Even when all of the fake things, and everything, is gone.

 

 

A FACT FROM BOSTON: A POEM

“The fact,” I tell each Kolkata lady, a fact I say now with a solemn smile—

“Will you stay, just a minute, by this imaginary magnolia for awhile?—

The fact is nearly as embarrassing as its presentation.

I have one life. But elsewhere there are many.

The man usually gives birth to a few children. But. Just in case.

Biologically, the seeds he carries—each one a different face—

Are so numerous, it is a miracle of miracles, yes—

If a planet, barren but habitable, elsewhere in outer space

Had enough eggs waiting, one man, in one act, could make a whole race.

This is why men are crazy: it is because there are so many.”

And, of course, yes, so many are ugly and hateful, more would be sad and funny.

But this one, once beautiful, has not had one.

The most beautiful she was, of her particular race;

She was not from Boston, but from a wrecked and ancient place;

He loved her madly, loved her elusive, modest, beautiful face,

With a sweet, repressed, polite, poetic passion—

You would have seen Kolkata transformed into a very poetic place.

They kissed in deserted places; they lived to kiss sad, smiling expressions

That flitted across their two shy faces.

It was not easy. Boston is not a quiet place.

But now they are apart. Something happened to the heart.

He dies every hour, for his children, for his poems, in the joyous agony of many.

She sits, bored, holding her phone. Her happiness is to not have any.

Kolkata ladies, now I know you must be on your way.

Thank you. There you are. Patiently, your scent lingers in the saffron day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

DON’T PRAISE ME

Don’t praise me. I will think it’s irony.

I am so insecure these days.

You’ll hurt me the more you love me.

Your poems will make me hate you. Don’t praise.

The hundred sonnets you wrote me last week

I cannot help but feel is some kind of joke.

In thousands of lines you said you loved me so much, that you could not speak.

That’s irony, rich guy; you confuse me. Has love made you broke?

And will you give your love silently to someone new—

As you continue to “not speak” in poems to me?

Or shower poems on someone who doesn’t mean a thing to you—

Speaking, not speaking, loving, not loving in an orgy of irony?

And then what will those poems mean? Why don’t you go away.

I need to love someone else, who doesn’t have a thing to say.

 

 

A POET’S LOVE CAN LOVE

A poet’s love can love
One they have not loved yet,
One they have not kissed yet.

A poet’s love can love
One who sighs for nothing
On the other side of the planet.

A poet’s love can love
One they have never met,
One who is unlikely.
One they will not forget.

Some build a love,
But only build a tomb.
They send too many flowers
And smother love in its room.

But a poet’s love can love
A tiny bit of gloom,
A strong cup of tea,
Which tastes like that gloom
Unfailingly.

A poet’s love can love
A small, comfortable room,
A small room for eternity—
A love that weeps for doom,
And laughs for sanity.

 

 

ALONE I LOVE

image

The one who loves me is alone.

Alone she loves,

Without meaning or melody or tone.

I saw her one day in a forest by a stream.

Oh shadow. Oh blue dream.

From bough to bough in my poetry

I in the world became the world and then became free.

Take a look at these. I wrote them when no light shone.

When I was the only light. When I was alone.

 

Alone I love,

Alone I know,

Alone I came, and alone I go.

Alone was how you found me.

Tomorrow, darkly,

When you see me faintly,

When your lips with mine agree,

I will know at last the reason for my poetry.

Not a meaning or a melody or a tone

Will be in them until then. I wrote them for you alone.

 

 

MORE THAN YESTERDAY— A NEW SCARRIET SONG

 

And a bonus poem:

WHAT WE FEEL AND WHAT WE SAY

What we feel and what we say
Are so different, the way
To know which way I am leaning
Is to heed carefully my poem’s meaning
Because poetry, written on the page
Is helpless to show my tears and rage.

My feelings have nothing to do with speech—
Which has a mental agility feelings cannot reach.
So you and I must agree
To not look for feelings in my poetry.
Just listen to me very carefully:
I love you. I’m trapped. In this poem. Help me.

WHEN ASSHOLES SAY YOU CAN’T

When assholes say you can’t,
That’s exactly when you can.
That’s exactly when you should
Love this man.

Insurance was in place
For each model and clan.
So they said you couldn’t
Love this man.

Remember when they said,
“He’s an asshole,” but you ran
To him and he kissed you?
His kiss was better than their plan.

They were the assholes.
Now you know you can
Be the woman you want.
If you love this man.

 

 

 

I CLOSE MY EYES

I close my eyes on the commute home.

It’s true that crowds make me feel alone—

But most alone when I need one.

I don’t need to see the urinal as I pee.

I would rather not look at each station or face

Even though I know the mundane is a kind of poetry,

And it’s a miracle that every image is in its place.

That’s what she would say when I sat next to her

And she would look out the window at the mundane

And she hated when her view was blocked by another train.

The subway door presses on me. I discern winter coats,

Enough world for me to experience.

I can hear, in a few, passionate, musical notes,

More than everything I see, including this world that looks back at me

With a need, or two, a little sexual attraction, a little curiosity.

I would rather hear the music.  I close my eyes.

And then I open them. There’s the world. No surprise.

 

 

 

SONGS AND POEMS FROM SCARRIET

You might call Scarriet the Song and Poetry site.

We are restoring the beauty and the epigrammatic force of poetry by bringing to poetry all the virtues of song—while keeping poetry’s “integrity” as a “modern” product, which is not quite song.

The prose-and-speech experiments of modern poetry have our highest respect; the force of natural speech is vital to good poetry—although good poets understood this before modernism.

We fear modernism has gone too far in the other direction—away from all that used to make poetry poetry.  Poetry can be poetry.  Or poetry can be poetry.

By giving our readers a listen, by letting our readers hear the poems spoken and the songs sung (dare we use the word?) by our Scarriet editors, we think illumination and edification are possible.

The following are both a few minutes long. Click on them. Don’t be afraid.

The first is a poem, written by the Scarriet editors, called “Small High Cloud,” a poem which aspires to music.

The theme is the chaos of love and the wish to escape it. The ending metaphor is a “small high cloud.”

There is plenty of rude, complex, metaphoric, emotional, figurative speech in the poem, “Small High Cloud,” but all the more then does the poem, weighed down by its “rude speech,” struggle towards pure song as it reaches its close.

The first example, “Small High Cloud,” is talk which, in spite of its meaning, wants to be a song.

The second example is a song which longs, in spite of its music, to talk.   But it fails to talk, as it ends with two notes, which “say” good bye.

The second link below is a song written (and recorded in a somewhat embarrassing, amateur fashion) by the Scarriet editors, “Go Away (I Will See You)”—which aspires to be a cloud in its conflicted longing.

SIN WITHIN SIN

There’s nothing wrong with sin.

What gets us is the sin within the sin.

It’s not what you wanted, it was what you had to do

To get that certain shoe.

And when you’re old

You look ridiculous in that shoe, that shoe, exciting and bold.

 

It isn’t the sin. It’s when you’re relaxing,

What walks in.

Tell her to get rid of her high heels.

It’s snowing, and she’ll fall.

Love her, and find out, deeply, how she truly feels.

Then you discover she never loved you at all.

You find, in the end, she wasn’t a port.

She leaves you. Why? Because she’s afraid she’s too short.

 

She feels the politics. Her sophisticated views are it.

It’s just a pity the Democratic party is a crime syndicate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PAUL MCCARTNEY AND BILLY COLLINS: FOR NO ONE

Paul McCartney can be seen on You Tube interviewed by the poet Billy Collins—and it points up the superiority of the pop musician to the poet, in our day: Collins comes across as a mere fan, asking questions of the ex-Beatle which merely elicit answers we’ve heard before. You would think perhaps a poet of Collins’ stature could have steered this brilliant pop songwriter into novel intellectual territory.  But no. McCartney was funny, charming, and interesting. Collins was diffident and dull.

Collins said what was interesting about the early Beatles was “the chord;” they were playing new chords.  But this is completely wrong.

Paul playfully pointed out how the melody of his song “Blackbird” was borrowed from a Bach riff and how jazz’s more sophisticated chords influenced the Beatles, and Paul repeated the story of how the boys went across Liverpool on a bus to learn the chord B7 from an older guy—which is really just an elaborate joke since chords can be found in a book and it only takes a few chords to play rock music; the anecdote is one of Pauls’s favorites because it points up what humble novices the Beatles were and the mock worship of a chord is the equivalent of a desire for a woman or a drug.

All of this went right over the earnest poet’s head, Collins so certain that the Beatles were “inventing new chords.” That wasn’t the secret or the appeal of their music. Billy, the Beatles were not introducing new “chords” to the world. If Collins knew anything about their music, he wouldn’t have ventured this observation; Paul was too polite to correct him; he merely turned to his rich supply of jokes and anecdotes to brush the naivé poet aside; Paul did remind Collins in passing, during his rambling reply, that pop music, including much of the Beatles music, is built on three standard chords.

It was not a correction, or a lecture; it’s not Paul’s style to be didactic or stern; he laughed at Collins, but no one knew. When faced with the assertion that the central beauty of Beatles music was the new chord, he merely dragged out the B7 story. Paul was greatly influenced by his jazz musician father. Paul probably knew exactly what a B7 was. But it’s a great story, anyway.

Collins also made the cliched observation that early Beatles music wasn’t nearly as interesting as the Beatles’ later period—when a host of characters invaded their music, like Eleanor Rigby and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.  Well, yes, sure, the later Beatles did expand their lyric content superficially, but this makes 1967 and 1968 far more important than 1964 and 1965 in a way which obscures the Beatles’ real genius.  The early work was not just “love me do” and “yea yea yea.”  And as Paul impishly pointed out, the “sophisticated” lyric content Collins was naively hellbent on praising, was mostly due to—“drugs.”

Genius has a simplicity which the bumbling, ordinary understanding misses.  Collins hadn’t a clue what to ask Paul McCartney. Collins, the poet, was adrift on the notion that the Beatle song, “Penny Lane,” could perhaps pass as a poem.

Collins has written some very good poems and is obviously an intelligent man.

Blame the time we live in. The divide between poet and pop musician is so great, mutual interest can’t exist.

This demonstrates what John Crowe Ransom said almost a century ago: “the Modern” means specialization, and song and poetry, once brother and sister, are now different, have taken different jobs, and moved apart.

Whether this “specialization” is always a good thing, and whether poetry does not, in fact, live in great popular music, is perhaps the great aesthetic question of our day.  How long will modernism’s “specialization” estrangement hold sway?

It wasn’t like Paul McCartney was saying anything interesting about poetry. He never asked Collins about the secret to writing poetry, or seemed the least interested in what Collins wrote.  Here was the Paul that everyone hates, basking with a grin in the crowd’s adoration: “Yesterday. Maybe you’ve heard of it?  wink wink.” (This aspect of Paul’s behavior makes one long for the more sour Lennon—the truism of why they complimented each other.)

When Collins asked Paul about the difference between writing songs and poetry, Paul was certain they were different activities—which perhaps dooms McCartney’s (attempts at) poetry, and makes McCartney, on the flip side, a fool like Collins.

McCartney, surely knowing that he is a certified “failed poet,” opined that poetry to him was like writing in a “diary;” one brings in “things” to try and make them “interesting,” and this was either Paul’s way of insulting poetry—the kind Collins and modern poets write—or, it was what Paul really thinks poetry is.

But McCartney’s feeling was telling, for “diary writing” does not make one famous; and Paul was sitting their being interviewed because he is famous, and Collins, compared to McCartney is not, and no poet today is, and so Collins wanted to know what Paul thought—Paul didn’t care what the Collins, the “diary writer” thought.

Soon after the interview began, someone brought Paul a guitar, and it was his prop, his crutch, his ticket to glory; McCartney couldn’t stop nervously fiddling with it, almost as if any moment the guitar was going to demand it be played; no serious talk about poetry was going to take place in this studio—Paul had brought ‘his Yoko’ (guitar) to Collins’ sacred interview—it was the rock star’s space, not poor Billy’s. The guitar was there. And where was Billy Collins’ instrument? Billy Collins could have used his voice to quote great poetry throughout the interview; what would Paul McCartney have thought of that? Collins didn’t dare.

Collins did get to play teacher to the pop genius for a couple minutes: that’s what most poets are today—university professors. The interview was at a college because Paul is a step parent of a college student.  So Collins read a little from Paul’s book of published poetry, declaring it “good;” probably an agonizing couple of minutes for the pop star—McCartney’s “poetry”—and it must be obvious to everyone—is exceedingly average.

Collins did stumble on an interesting topic when he asked Paul about cover songs. Collins assumed that Paul had all sorts of opinions about others who covered Beatle songs, but Paul honestly said he was happy with anyone who played his music—“Wouldn’t you be happy if you heard someone on a street corner reciting one of your poems?” he asked Collins, and of course the sheepish response was yes.

This led to McCartney’s necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention anecdote, which does throw an interesting light on creation and performance: when the Beatles were first playing out in the shows that featured lots of other rock-and-roll bands, the Beatles used play-lists of “Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard (1956 hit) and other songs by contemporary artists—the Beatles in the early days played other people’s material, not their own. What happened was, that bands who went on stage before the Beatles, would be covering the same songs—which the Beatles, fearing repetition, then couldn’t play.  And so, simply to avoid this problem, the Beatles wrote their own songs.

Paul said he dreamed “Yesterday,” and that he was sure at first that he copped a song that already existed.

Paul’s humility—one which humbly celebrates that creation is nothing but a kind of absent-minded, fortuitous  imitation—was something that Collins, the modern poet and “Beatles fan” couldn’t get his head around.

For imitation is finally at the heart of the whole matter: beware, beware, said Plato of imitation—do not trust art and its imitative reality.

To imitate is—to fool.

Today we have different brands of fancy yogurt—with 0% fat. Yogurt today, aping the original product, is robbed of an essential ingredient by diet faddists. Imitation of the old is practiced by the fraudulent—to lure fans to a fad. (Animal fat is good for you. Imitation non-fat yogurt, extremely popular, is actually bad for you. We should be wary of imitation, even as we admit how ubiquitous it is.)

The young, white Beatles played black music for millions of new, white “fans.” (Viewing on You Tube recently a June, 1965 concert in Paris, when the Beatles were at the height of Beatlemania fame, I noticed that the song played by the Beatles that got the audience most exited and brought out the most police protection was not a Beatles song; it was—Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally.”)

McCartney knows what the game finally involves, and what a “fan” really is—a foolish, bankrupt, byproduct of purely cynical and expedient imitation which attaches itself to something else—race, sex, etc—specifically to cater to new audiences for new sales.

The irony that Paul’s claim to fame is called, “Yesterday,” and that, despite his enormous talent, he has not produced anything memorable or critically acclaimed in the last two-thirds of his long, productive life, hovers over his current notoriety—a notoriety still able to steamroll Billy Collins and any poet who sits across from him.

The Beatles were a business.  They were in the music business. They wrote their own songs out of necessity, and those songs were created from a knowledge of other songs the Beatles absorbed as they were growing up and listening to their parents’ music—a vast, expansive library of old, lovely, tuneful music, too large for any ear to grasp, and later, American blues and country music, rock and roll music which already existed, which they learned as they played together in Liverpool, and then in Hamburg for hours and hours, weeks and weeks, months and months, and then back to Liverpool, over a period of years: the “10,000 hours to become proficient” formula was cited by Collins. Paul agreed that all those hours of playing, especially the long hours of performing in Hamburg long before the Beatles were famous, helped tremendously. It enabled them to play a great version of “Long Tall Sally,” for instance.

Paul did mention that he had a great English teacher in school who taught Shakespeare and Keats and Chaucer. Chaucer’s dirty bits got the students’ attention, Paul recalled, and he said if he were not a rock musician, his next choice of vocation would be a teacher of literature.

Why were the two—McCartney the lyric pop song writer, and Collins, the poet—unable to connect?

Collins played the fan, and Paul, the success.

Perhaps the great divide is this: Song: I love you. Literature: Let us examine what ‘I love you’ really means.

The theme of “appealing to girls” was a strong one. When Collins brandished students’ questions at the end of their talk, he made a point of saying that some of the questions were “can I meet you, later?”

Paul has often admitted, cheekily, the Beatles were formed “to meet girls,” and when he and Collins briefly discussed early Beatle lyrics the mockery was palpable: “love me, do;” “please, please me;” “she loves you.”

But the devil is in the details, and details were what the two refused to discuss.

This is what the “specialization” of modernism has done: it has made everyone generally ignorant.

The interview, by the logic of specialization, was forced into the following category: Famous Pop Musician Interview. This is where it remained.

McCartney, a phenomenal success in his field, seemed utterly ignorant of poetry; Collins, successful in poetry, seemed utterly ignorant of song.

In the modern age, we seem to like it this way. We prefer to be blind in a sea of “experts” and “specialists,” even when it hinders a great deal of interest and pleasure.

The English teacher—the one who obviously shaped McCartney—once imparted general knowledge: Shakespeare’s poetry was simply, the world.

But Shakespeare’s towering acheivement is now considered not “specialized” enough.

The student of poetry in the Creative Writing Program New Order is now a diarist who specializes in themselves. This is the specialization which now dominates everything and fosters general ignorance.

The truth is that “She Loves You” is a lot more interesting than “I Love You”—it is a whole order of magnitude more interesting. It involves three people instead of two, and is, in fact, a master Shakesperian stroke. Collins was ignorant of this, and even Paul seemed so, as well. Early Beatle work was dismissed by both men as juvenile. Popular song, even as popular as the phenomenal success of the Beatles, was assumed—by two men who should have known better—to have absolutely no poetic interest. And somehow love songs—music “appealing to girls,” was assumed to be vacuous, when, in fact, nothing is more interesting and complex than love and its attractions.

But this is what happens in an age of specialization.

Love belongs to friendship and sex to the prostitute.

Everything is business. Everything is expediently separated out—to the destruction of the whole person. This alienation brought about by division of labor overlaps the Marxist complaint—which makes sense on its own, without having to get into a Left v. Right quarrel, or a Socialist v. Capitalist one—more specialized nonsense that covers up what unites us. Division of labor here and there has its place, obviously, but one can see how, in modernity, it simply gets out of hand, killing the whole person.

When does division help? Certainly the Marxist complaint against division of labor can get out of hand, as well.

Why should we rue the fact that Collins is Collins and McCartney is McCartney? Perhaps it is good neither artist understands the others’ art—isn’t this what makes each excellent? Isn’t it good that song is with song, and poetry is with poetry? Perhaps modern specialization and its divisions make perfect sense. We simply can’t have Shakespeare anymore: the best we can do is have a McCartney here and a Collins there.

Or: perhaps the Beatles output as a whole could only have happened because of Shakespeare, and poetry in general will decline if we forget general knowledge and indulge in highly modernist, Creative Writing Program, specializing.

Paul’s song “For No One” belongs to the Beatles earlier period, or, perhaps more accurately, the middle “Yesterday” period—and this remarkable song has no chance in the Collins universe which divides the Beatles work into unsophisticated “love songs” and sophisticated songs like “Eleanor Rigby” and “Penny Lane.”

It might be argued that Paul wrote “Yesterday” as a revenge against “Long Tall Sally,” the song that perhaps in the boys’ minds remained their best Beatlemania song, despite all their original output.

“For No One” emerged during the “Yesterday” period, and received little attention—fans liked it, but it was just another “love song.” Critics liked it, too, and some admired it as more sophisticated than “yea, yea, yea,” but Billy Collins wasn’t going to bring it up. It remains an obscure Beatle song.

But this is the sort of Modernist mistake which boasts that everything 19th century is naivé and sing-songy and no one needs to write like Keats and Byron anymore, and that crunchy content is everything. But the truth of the matter is that simple words can be very profound, and the song “For No One” is a very profound song.

The modern prose poem which Collins writes relies on crunchy content to carry its message. And humor. And Collins happens to be very good at this kind of poem—Collins really is as good in this area as McCartney is in his.

The point of this essay is not that McCartney is a greater genius than Collins—only to observe the intersection between a sensibility based on modern poetry and a sensibility based on pop music within the context of: What is art? What is significant? What is valuable? What contributes to the making of art?

Music adds to what Paul is doing as a poet in his songs: “she loves you” written on the page is not the same as “she loves you” sung with music in the Lennon-McCartney composition. But that does not mean “she loves you” is not poetry, nor does it mean that poets do not have the music of words at their disposal—they certainly do, even as metrical language and rhyme tends to be eschewed by modern poets like Collins.

Another feature of modern poetry which is relevant and makes it so different from a pop music sensibility is the pride of exclusivity—the powerful New Critic idea that worthy, sophisticated poetry needs and wants nothing from outside. This New Critical view inhibits truth, for all art is formed by what happens outside of it, and this is one more unfortunate, if noble, error the modernists made.

The truth is finally what we seek—whether it is in science, in love, in politics, or in art.

If we view poetry through the modernist lens that a poem exists on an island of its own making, we cannot possibly see the truth of what makes McCartney’s music interesting.

Collins, schooled in modernist poetry, praised later Beatle compositions like “Eleanor Rigby,” since they feature “characters” in a little drama: there on the island of Paul’s song is a unique world, a unique character named Eleanor Rigby—enough to please any modernist New Critic. And the song is a good one, spoiled a little by the lyrics which telegraph its message: “look at all the lonely people.”

But what Collins cannot appreciate is this:

“Eleanor Rigby” features an interesting metrical/music based on a pronounced dactylic/trochaic rhythm.

The character’s name in Paul’s composition couldn’t be Eleanor Smith—based on sound alone.

If her name were Eleanor Smith, it would be a different song—rhythmically and melodically. A totally different song. But in a Collins poem, changing Eleanor Rigby to Eleanor Smith would hardly matter.

These sorts of considerations are just as important in early Beatle songs as later Beatle songs. They used to be important in poetry, too. Collins, the modern poet, is fixated on Eleanor Rigby, the character, but she’s not a character. She’s a piece of rhythm. Collins, as a modern poet, has a limited appreciation of pop music. Rhythm used to be crucial in poetry, but since modernism, it no longer is.

Paul, who was writing rhythmical poetry in his Beatle songs unconsciously, attempted to write what he thought was “real poetry” for his book, Blackbird Singing, and failed.

The truth is this: poems are not islands: it matters very much how they get made, and Paul wildly successful, and, at the same time, humble and humorous and without pretence, admitted that the Beatles’ creativity was extremely imitative and accidental—the Beatles’ “creativity” existed in the context of merely expanding a crowd-pleasing playlist containing a certain type of composition which they were basically imitating in the manner of excited boys trying to please girls.

But genius can grow in any soil, and the plainer and simpler the soil, the more profoundly is genius able to display itself. Genius is not a complication within a complication; genius is that which blows complication to bits. And the truth is always the larger truth: what are all the facts about this poem-song?

Paul wrote “For No One” on a ski holiday with Jane Asher in March, 1966, roughly a year after “Yesterday” and it has the same theme, only expressed in a slightly more dramatic way. But it wasn’t on Collins’ radar because “For No One” only uses “you” and “her,” and doesn’t have a real crunchy content. It happens to be one of those exquisite pop songs which teeters on the edge of “poetry,” and yet wouldn’t really turn heads as a poem, if it were just presented on the page.

But what is amazing is that “for no one,” the phrase itself, has a meaning that is ambiguous in the song—“cried for no one” refers to the woman who is leaving the man, the woman who has now moved on—and so we have emotion (“cried”) coupled with indifference (“for no one”).

“No One” turns out to have meaning outside the song itself, if we think of Paul McCartney’s actual identity as a writer of hit songs.

The phrase may refer to: 1. the faceless crowd (which is “no one”) 2. himself, who is “no one” compared to the famous songwriter Beatle, 3. The famous songwriter Beatle, who is “no one” compared to Paul, the person, 4. John, who was pulling away from him as co-songwriter and friend, and thus, “no one,” or 5. “no one” needs or truly expresses insincere pop song emotions in pop songs.

All these work—outside of the poignant and relevant meaning “for no one” has within the song.

This is the sort of territory we hoped Collins might have ventured into in his discussion with McCartney, but nothing like this could occur. Specialization—Collins’ role as humbled modernist poet/pop fan—prevents it.

There’s a You Tube video of Paul in the studio with just an acoustic guitar, as he first auditions “For No One” for Beatles’ producer George Martin, and one is struck immediately by the confidence, the melodic invention, the nonchalant effort of the genius, who plays the song quickly, it pouring out of him, seemingly without thought. And we notice something else: “For No One” concerns the saddest situation it is possible to experience in ordinary life: loving someone who no longer cares about you—and yet, despite the poignancy and misery expressed overtly by the lyrics, Paul, as he plays it in all its expressive sadness, smiles at one point, and is thoroughly enjoying himself. He is able to be two-sided, not weighed down by the weight, Paul McCartney taking flight into a heaven of accomplishment and pleasure—even in the very misery of the subject of the song.

 

 

 

YOU CAN’T ESCAPE SAINT VALENTINE’S DAY

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Love might be theater, or love might be a play,

But you can’t escape Saint Valentine’s Day.

You might get together with the girls and dish:

But talking cannot hide your secret wish.

Better to lie on your solitary bed

And let your wish play out in your head—

But how long can that wish, as a wish, stay

Before you get morbid and sad?

No matter what you do, no matter what you say,

You can’t escape Saint Valentine’s Day.

It’s only a day, a mark on the calendar,

You are wise, you are free; to you it shouldn’t matter,

And all of this nonsense will soon go away.

So why are you sad on Saint Valentine’s Day?

 

 

ELEGANT BUT SEX-MAD

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I was disgraced in the rain;

It dampened every inch of my skin.

I went to my middle-aged Muse,

But she wouldn’t let me in.

I was disgraced on the train;

A middle-aged woman asked me why

My middle-aged lover was crying. How kind.

I hadn’t caused her to cry.

I was disgraced by my brain,

A poem I was hiding within,

Made better while it was hiding;

Hidden never seems like sin.

Old women adore me,

And children love me, too.

Middle-age is nothing but pride,

Elegant, sex-mad, you.

THE STREET

Keep flowing, street.
Without you, I have no one to meet.

The house that stands next to you,
With books of rivers, rivers of emerald green—and blue
Ponds, which tremble beneath the azure, too,
Is a house where she, perhaps, was born,
With her brother, and the mother still tender and unshorn.

I find a street that started without her, in a distant country,
A country of boats, who brought babies by boat,
Babies so young they do not sing,
But in their mothers’ arms, with closed eyes, cling—
For all the crying they once did
When the world was young and green and the terrible father hid,
Has worn them out.

But the father came
And built roads and streets and buildings, and down this street
I came with you to find her,
To trace streets back,
Back, back, before our love, and before this lack.

Why did I weep when I saw pictures of her family?
Why did she make me weep with joy?
She had lost so much love.  Was it my fate to annoy,
Because I was happier in my family and in my life,
Than her, sad, like the thin edge of a thin knife?

LOVE IS THEATRICALITY

The dilemma for us is this, poor toad:
Love must be theatrical to show itself as love,
But as soon as love enters the theatrical mode
It stops being love.

You brought her flowers and a poem.
Love became exposed and known.
You took her aside and said:
“I love you. You are doomed. You can no longer think it is all in your head.”

Your love spurted ink.
You brought love out of hiding,
Where, indifferent and not curious,
It had belonged to all. Now it’s yours, you think.

The minute love raised its head to be seen,
A thousand photographers flocked
To beauty, with skin almost perfect, just slightly pocked,
And your love turned sophisticated and hidden, that was so sweet and green.

Beware a lover with loves and cards and flowers!
Beware the gestures and the rugs and the cries,
The sudden kiss in the elevator. And the lies.

But also beware the lover who is talking
To you—and the one standing near.
This one has been stranded for hours.
Beware the lover with the soft, low undertow,
Toad! Those drowsy, sweet, soft, sucking, powers.

 

 

THE LOVER IS

Why love? Because love is alert.
That’s a good reason for love.
No one is more sensitive to being hurt
Than one in love.

The hyper-awareness of love is why
The quick, creative eye
Happily sees the truth. And dimly sees the lie.
The alert and searching eye is the heart of love.
The lover is why all lovers cry,
Why all lovers are detectives before every sequence of futurity.

You see the look in the eye, and know why—
It is a lover mad to know the answer.
This is no football player, no dancer.

Iago will rehearse
Not knowing. A lover in reverse.

But here is the philosopher—tortured and alert,
In love with you, and hurt,
Tortured and curious beneath the sun,

Watching stars hate stars
Until the fire and the mystery are done.

 

 

ONCE I SAID

Once I said I loved you

I could not go back

To the way I was.

Those words changed who I am.

Some have no words

To clothe and comfort them.

Some do not speak the speech

That is them; they have no

Conversation with the past.

Before their speechless souls

You would stand speechless and aghast!

 

They cannot be relied on to talk

On anything. Theirs is the poetry

Of insinuation and the glib stare.

Analysis finds they are nothing.

They bring nothing to fruition.

They boast of how they change,

And yes, they change, they change;

But the only good that lasts

Is what is changed by love.

 

WOMEN DON’T PLAY CHESS

If you don’t hear from her for a week,

She is not plotting behind a curtain.

None of what she does is a chess move.

A woman is always uncertain.

A woman is always Socratic,

She is too smart to think she knows.

Too much certainty wears her out—

The certainty that comes and goes

In the mind of the great male thinker

Always certain he can figure it out

If he just has a little more time—

Better to live in dreams and dream for her a rhyme.

She prefers endless ease in the face of endless doubt.

Make her think and she will kill you,

Make her think about thinking and she will go on her way.

A woman never has time to consider

Those grandiose efforts to make her stay.

 

SATURDAY

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Poems are not written, they are sighed

By pain, to escape pain, for pain does not wish with pain to reside.

You, who do not think, think

Poems are written by someone’s hands

When someone’s thoughts fall in a barrel of imported ink.

The professor who said this is a dirty liar.

Poems are sighed by me—who cried in the sink,

Who moaned on a walk—with a heart severely smitten

By you—not someone else—you. It was Saturday.

Friday, I had loved you willingly, willingly.

Then all that sighing. It came suddenly;

I fell ill on Saturday. You had to go. You wouldn’t say.

I sighed in my soup on Saturday.

Why you had to go, I don’t know, you wouldn’t say.

Why did you go? Now I can’t believe in Saturday.

Sunday is no better, and when Friday came again,

I believed in the Friday that was gone

Even as Friday saw me suffering, and then

Suddenly more sighing was going on.

You silly ass! Poems are not written, they are sighed

By pain—to escape pain, for pain does not wish with pain to reside.

 

 

 

 

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