You want what you want because you don’t want it;

You want what you don’t want a lot;

You cannot want what you want just a little bit,

And the next moment you throw it away.

You wanted a violin—but a violin was too difficult to play.

You wanted me. And you stopped wanting me the same way.

But wanting is such that it is not wanting, because wanting

Is not having, and not having is not knowing, so wanting

Is, by its very nature ignorant. So watch out for wanting.

Beware when you want, and beware being wanted.

You don’t know what a violin is, and you are a violin no one can play.

But when I warn you against wanting, you’re just going to want, anyway.

You want what you don’t want. Why did I think when you wanted me

I was going to be loved? I didn’t. I started to write a poem immediately.



How To Beg, by Anders Carlson Wee

Will not be published, unfortunately.

Readers of Anders Carlson Wee’s book,

Concluded the editors, after a second look,

Would not be the beggars themselves,

But only those who pity them, the Wee friends and elves,

Who work on their expensive MFAs all night,

Writing empathic poems until everything is alright.

But those who love beggars better? They gave the editors a fright.

Begging is a true and honored technique,

And makes more in a minute than poetry can in a week.


Image result for two in the woods in renaissance painting

The more she lets herself be confined,

The more she rejects herself in her mind.

The more her confinement she knows,

The more carefully she goes,

And takes such painful care

To see that she’s not there,

That when she happens to appear,

Fear she has married fears her fear,

And the dread and sad confinement

She loves becomes more dear.

She wisely goes where she is going,

Her old wisdom knowing where we went,

Avoiding places with memories of me,

Who wrote places for her, in poetry.

She knows confinement is unknowing,

A convent to her religiosity,

The virgin renouncing knowledge of me,

Dreaming where she knows I could be.

From all movement she removes

Movements we shared—

And her confinement proves

We roamed the world together,

When I cared for her—but she never cared.





The end of a love is appalling to the mind.

It is like hell, the bind

Of loving still—and yet to her I seem unkind.

My love still sees, but now to me she’s blind.

Were I a different man

I would go to her again with the same plan,

To invent love to love her every day,

But all my inventions would, as fate decrees, frighten her away,

Because only love will be loved.

Wanting, yet fearing, love’s end, she saw me loving at love’s end, and shoved.

She was naked. She knew my smile and touch.

Too vulnerable. Only love will be loved too much.

Because only love knows love.

Each and every thing that’s nice makes sex seem bad.

She was the best the eyes which belonged to me had ever had,

But eyes are everywhere, and the eyes belonging to me are sad

Because only love will be loved,

And love, because it is love, doesn’t need

Love—especially the love focused in narrow motive and need,

Putting her on that narrow bed for an hour, to weep and feed.

Love is a child, Shakespeare said.

The day I discovered the child was dead,

I knew day would drink my blood and night would eat my bread.

The end of a love is appalling to the mind.

To find that every kindness only seems unkind.









To confuse the women,

The men sent the homosexual,

Hid the executives dying,

Took the ad campaigns of flimsy dresses

To new levels of prominence,

Published a sports essay on male power

And the need to bunt a man to second in the bottom of the ninth,

Hid the minister’s heart attack,

Hid the CEO committing suicide,

Displayed ships, guns, bombs of slaughter,

The sacrifices for the sake of the daughter.

Oh a great conspiracy,

This mask of masculinity.

To confuse the women

The men invented professors, poetry

And laboratory Christmas parties.

Men sent the innuendo,

The sack of Rome, love, the George Washington bridge,

The furry, purring tom called pussy.

The weary humiliation of earning and hustling,

The crumbs of pride and desire,

Were hidden in tall buildings,

Were thrown into the prairie fire

By large groups of singing men,

Who get up to get up to get up again;

Men hid the superficial, the despair

The inebriation, the passive self-love,

But advertised feminists, in great misery,

Confessing women always held back, fearing

A strong woman would offend a man,

Or offend a woman. Men made sure women

Feared rape from all of them, feared

Their power, which they said was real,

Sending in men of every sex, and finally, the child,

Who every woman wants to steal.



Deep State, you’re no Jack Kennedy. 

“He told me to talk to the Russians.”  Flynn on Trump.

If the Russians had invaded, and now occupied Florida, this might be an issue.

Trump is the new Reagan.  It’s pretty simple.  History repeats.

One could argue the tax rate is the heart of the matter.

Govt (high taxes) vs. the People (low taxes). This may be simplistic. Maybe not.

JFK was for lower taxes. After he was murdered, we had napalm dropping LBJ and the “Great Society” and the Deep State became entrenched.

Nixon was Deep State, and his overthrow was Deep State deception to make the media look like heroes.

Nixon creates the EPA.

Then Jimmy Carter, friendly on the outside but Deep State all the way: Pol Pot and Iran 1979 supported by Carter’s State Dept.

Jimmy Carter also made war on atomic energy, as Save-the-Planet-politics became another means to tax and control The People.

Then the “Reagan revolution” based on the simple “high taxes vs. low taxes” formula mentioned above.

Reagan laid out the simplicity for the American people to see and the High Tax Democrats knew they were had.

Amazingly, we read that Trump’s tax bill is the first major tax lowering legislation since 1986.

Capital investment, which lifts all boats, had to wait 30 years, and an election miracle, and by the slimmest all-GOP margin, to get a boost.

What an irony if the U.S had defeated the Soviet Union, and then became the Soviet Union! Defeats communism—and then, wut? becomes communist.

Obviously it’s not quite that simple. The U.S. defeated the British Empire, and has gradually become the British Empire.

Divide and conquer. The British Empire: deceptive. Not nice. Ambitious as hell.

The Democrats, since 1986, found a marvelous rhetorical trick: Democrats abandoned their tax raising principles in a very clever ruse: the Democrats became tax-cut Republicans for “the middle class” only. But you either believe less taxes will improve the economy or you don’t. You can’t have it both ways. The Democrats have had it both ways for 30 years, and nobody has called them on it.

Who can forget the “read my lips” liar, Deep State, CIA, RINO George Bush Sr.—and then Bill (me too) Clinton, the Democrats’ savior (who needed Ross Perot to get 19% of the vote to win his election)?

That’s when the Democrats became creepy and mean: the Clintons. (If we forget LBJ and the earlier KKK Democrat party).

So here we are, with Hilary Clinton fuming and blaming “the Russians” as Reagan—oops, sorry, Trump—presides over an improving economy.

If you want to talk history, during America’s greatest boom in the 1790s when Salem merchants (whose ad hoc navy captured 450 British vessels, helping to win the revolution) were among first to trade with Far East, producing the first millionaire, the Custom House where Hawthorne worked, was how taxes were raised. There was no income tax. There weren’t a lot of taxes, really.

Then Jefferson’s embargo ruined the Salem economy. We backed down to the British pirates. Then follows the War of 1812, the Civil War (Brits clandestinely back the Confederacy) and the Deep State is born.

Dante, in his Inferno, puts traitors—those who betray their country—in the Ninth Circle—the deepest place in Hell.

But who, these days, even understands what a traitor is?

Democracy vs. Deep State might be a good place to start.

Happy holidays.


Image result for angry abstract painting

You once loved with all your being

A guy who loved you,

And all that guy was seeing

Was everything that guy knew,

And what he was seeing was you.

When we really love, the love tries to go through

The other person, to a purity beyond—

But that purity is only narcissus above the pond.

You have to be looked at by another, the flesh adored,

And if the physical is no longer a bond,

Even the poet gets bored.

Fake spirituality ruins everything.

Wisdom makes love a flop.

You forgot to relax. You forgot to sing.

Love continues, though you try to make it stop.

Are you angry?  Are you fat?

I’m a gentleman—I would never describe you like that.



Image result for vast distances in hudson river school painting

The whole world will never love you

Or pretend to love you,

Even though simple pretending

Would make you happy,

Give you a happy ending.

Vast distances and indifference

Will trouble you the most,

Or hate from one person you hate,

Or, a little worse, one you perhaps, love,

Because once, or twice, they were not indifferent.

The hate is easy. But love? You might struggle to know what it meant.

You will probably try to know it until the end,

When, at last, you glimpse the truth.

Love cannot, but will, if it wants, pretend.





Image result for pulling a living body from the grave in painting

When the first, cold, October winds
Blow umbrellas apart,
And leaves fall, and my miserable heart,
Becomes more miserable, as it finds
Broken avenues filled with rain,
Ushering in winter’s promise of still more pain,
I want to hibernate. I tell my friends:
Bury me, until April rises in the valley where winter ends,
Kissing delicately with dreaming rains the cool flower beds.
Now, you could wake me for Thanksgiving’s feast,
Or Christmas eve, or Christmas day, at least,
When holy morning in darkness slowly spreads.
But no. The whole, dark, season let me sleep.
Unless you hear from her. Then drag me from the worms that creep.





You cannot tell whose breath is in the oboe

Or whose hand is on the lyre,

You don’t know which smile wrote the music,

Music escaping the fire,

Murmuring from flower to flower,

Now, in this musical hour.

The windy lyre is tall

Because the notes need a long way to fall.

The black clarinet

Hasnt started playing yet.

What soil makes the music grow?

Atheist! You must admit you do not know.

The unknown bee will never tire

Of collecting honey from your soul,

A lonely soul too lonely to love—

A flat, A minor, a roaring etude of pride.

A fantasy in C finds the only honey you hide

But tomorrow C will not find it.

Your child is a rude child and no one wants to mind it.

A melody in D floats over you like sparks from a dying fire,

Whose breath is in the oboe?

Who plays F and G repeating on the silky sighing lyre?

Which bee hums for you now?

You cannot tell, can you? and you do not want to know

Which string strikes which string in the ancient sighs below.





chumki's fire

Realism has been the rule in painting, fiction,and poetry since the late 19th century.

Idealism has disappeared into Realism’s shadow in the general sweep of secular modernity for over 100 years.

What do we mean by Idealism?

Idealism is when the poet reasons like this:

It is impossible to capture life. To capture life in a picture or photograph, for instance, is to capture but a fleeting look, and while this has its value, is it art?  Reproducing exactly what exists is not possible: so is Realism possible?

Realism is not possible.

Idealism concedes what Realism does not: reality cannot be captured.  Idealism, by this common sense understanding alone, surpasses at once, the realism of Realism.

Further, Idealism now says: since Realism is impossible, it makes even more sense to make poetry and art, which is the imperfect reproduction of reality, ideal.

The Idealist understands that the “Realist” is an “Idealist,” anyway, on every level: reality is too vast and the poet too insignificant for reality to impart its realism in art—the manner and the process and the subject of all expression is determined by the poet making personal and ideal choices.

The issue is not whether a photograph is accurate, or not, in its depiction of what it depicts; the “realistic” photograph is not placed beside nothing, for then, the photograph has a small contribution of “realism” to make.

The issue is whether the photograph is accurate when placed next to reality.  The answer then, is a resounding no.  The “realistic” photograph is, in that case, pitifully wanting, and any use of that photograph is either utilitarian in the most mundane sense—a passport photo, a police photo, etc—or it exists precisely because of some higher, ideal purpose.

So the only artistic choice is idealism.

Idealism is the measure, then, of art, not realism.

Realism is nothing more than a diminished and superfluous version of Ideal Art and Poetry.

Art or writing we admire is always based on ideal depictions of reality, and the more “real” we think a work is, the more that work is, in fact, “ideal” in its motives and representations.  All pleasurable depictions of reality, in poetry or art, are nothing more than ideal insights—disguised as “real” depictions.  Anything else is utilitarian and practical, and not artistic.

One might think of the artist da Vinci’s studies of anatomy as realism—and they are, as much as they are practical and not artistic.

Nature can be beautiful and practical at the same time: think of the flower, with its beauty uniting realism and idealism.  Precisely.  Because reality is that which cannot be made “realistic” in an ideal, or any sort of way by the artist—reproducing the beauty of the (practical) flower is just another failure under the “realism” umbrella.  No artist who is an artist would merely replicate the beauty of the flower so that the beauty of the flower is all the viewer sees.

Art is idealism, or it is not art.

And idealism.  What is it, then?

Is it a happy substitute for a reality which cannot be grasped or understood?

No.  Because as much as reality can be grasped or understood, we have the beginning of idealism.

And what is the end of idealism?

The same as the beginning: happiness.

All poetry and art should make us happy.

But now we must be careful, because happiness belongs to reality, not art, and we have taken pains in this essay to make the reader see that Realism in art does not exist—but if happiness is what we are after, and happiness is real, are we not in danger of sliding back into art which falsely pretends to be realistic? No, and in fact, this is the very thing which makes Idealism “realistic” and triumphant in a realistic manner.  Reality can only be grasped in the smallest way and that “way” is—happiness.  Think of Aristotle, who said tragedy makes us happy.  Think of the art and the writing which makes you happy: it partakes of reality, of the world, of course it does—just not in a “realistic” manner, as much as we assume this to be the case.  This is our point.

We are not saying Idealism is better than Realism—we are saying it is all Idealism—and this truth will make our poetry and art better going forward.

This is easier said, than done.  Audiences and readers hunger for what they think is “realism.”

As a child, I hated museums and loved zoos.

In my childish fancy, I wanted “realism.”

But zoos are “ideal,” in presenting animals from all over the world in cages for the child to see.

Museums, with their heaps of treasure, were not “ideal” enough to my young mind.

Even in infancy, “idealism” is preferred, no matter how much we think “realism” is preferred—it is not. Realism is impossible.

The child delights in drawing at a very young age—and why?  For its “realism?”  Of course not.

The idealist does not avoid the pretense of realism—but that pretense must always lead to happiness, and happiness alone is the justification for all art and all poetry.

What is importantly real, or really important, will be manifest in the art as long as “the real” is not the spike which we fall on, or the light we use to “see,” but the elevating skill of the ideal process itself.

Paris (street = Paris & not Paris) does not need to be evoked with every street in Paris.

The sufferings of mankind do not need to be invoked with suffering.

Art does not need a conscience, since that exists already in reality.

Art does not need anything that already exists in reality.

This is the severe code of complete happiness which should be the measure of all poetry and art.




Michael Scott never did quite learn this lesson.

I’m an office worker working. On what? For what? I haven’t a clue.
The tapping of the keyboard calms me. It makes me feel mysteriously close to you.
As long as you shut up, we’ll be alright.
And there will be work tomorrow. And sleep tonight.

The carpet is quiet and the bills are due.
Work conversation is all-important, if the words are meaningless and few.
You know in an instant what they want at meetings:
Nothing, really. What matters is the subtext of those casual greetings
And the accountant’s sudden appearance.
Until then, block out the sighs and the coughs. Errands at lunch. Life’s dull dance.

They were about to get fired.
And now they’re gone.
But who is doing their work?
The office black hole. You go on, you go on.

Fluorescent, flora, fluorescent, flora, fluorescent, flora, fluorescent.

I’m an office worker working. I’m a champion. Why do you ask me, “what’s new?”
Everything is new. The moment that just passed is new. What do you want me to say or do?
I am about to invent stars. The newspaper, the password, the paper in the air, over there.
And now, once again, the questions: How was your weekend? What’s new?
Do you know what I did? Tell me if you do.



If you would have a taste of fashion

You would need first to undress

The kindest one who lives, for fashion is most kind

When it covers casually a kind and pleasant mind.


So love will tell you what to do

Only when you are kind, and one who unkindly undresses you

Will lose out to fashion, and not know the beauty

That invents beauty out of kindness, and wraps the pleasant pleasantly.


Nature fashions fashion; I will apologize immediately

For thinking that you, or your thought, or your look

Might be contained in a poem, a scene, or a book.

Not even love can say what you—especially you—mean to me.




When your quiet music fell upon the world

The warmth of the stars added to their light

A new and remarkable night,

A universe of hearts who burned mysteriously like stars.

Each male heart was warm, holding in the curled right hand the curled hand of a girl

And each girl’s heart could have been like a cloud that envelopes the sun

When sunset makes violet and golden bars.

Of all those girls and boys, you and I were one.

If there is a twinkling music, here it was,

Nimbler than I ever remember music being,

Yet with sweet understanding—as when smiling faces reflected are the faces seeing.

There is always a substance missing when delicate delights are contemplated;

So it is with music, and all refinements attempted;

The sorrow of the parts are real, for they are not the sun.

They are the impulses and clouds which undulate and run.

It is the beauty that is fading; the loveliness, itself, the death

That makes us slow down our breathing and love each next to last breath,

As we listen to the composer’s particulars glisten

In the slow overriding sound,

Like a planet coming near and slowly touching another planet’s ground.

Music cannot replace love.

Our composer’s revery has let fall what had delighted us in the fast-breathing regions above.

Love has returned to me all the remarkable love it found.

I drink the notes but now gaze at you from afar,

A warm planet now a cold star.


I like you, even more than before.

How is this possible? The secret is this:

Poetry teaches apology and forgiveness.

I have crossed out many a line

And put aside many an effort

Wholly written from kissing and wine.

Now as I contemplate forgiveness, there are sweet cold flowers

And a sweet cold sun. These mornings have been cold.

And the warmth only lasts a few hours.

Evenings have been cold, too.

Coldly—not with love—I sometimes think of you,

Coldly, when the hot sun burns,

And hotly, and mildly; harshly and sweetly by turns,

With every emotion: you, the only one, who has made me feel every one.

This is why I must like you or die; you are the only one

Who can make me cry for every reason under the sun.

You make me feel weak and strong, right about everything, and wrong,

No one has ever made me feel like you about everything, and everything possible, like you.

I feel like Sylvia Plath, who thought she was a Jew.

You make me feel like Marilyn Monroe, and look, I’m a guy;

And I can hear you say, “duh,” and give a little smile

And I can’t return that smile, because I fear you really think

I’m a fool, and inside I die, when I should just smile and wink.

I’ve confessed: you have an advantage over me.

This is why it is so difficult for me to move towards you romantically.

I love you too much and I fear you’ll take advantage of me.

I would go mad. So I have to stop at like.

Not only insanity and blood pressure—my bad poetry would spike!

Poetry makes life and love where there is none

And you are my poetry. You are the real sun

That burns. Poetry is the unity. But you are the one.







All the poet does— to keep steady and calm—
Is convert the many words of worlds to one world’s few—
Even as his wants increase—for he must,
In the vision of his passion, remain dedicated to you.

You are larger than worlds, better than words,
In the eyes of the one dedicated to you.
You are human. You are better than the birds.
And the poet dedicated to you? By the laws of praise,

You are better than all his dedications, too.
The poem falls short, always,
As all the moments and all the efforts do.
But look how everything is saved!
The poem lives because the poem thinks to mention you.






Painter, Carpenter, God (3 beds) PLATO def. HUME

Tragedy is a complete action ARISTOTLE def. SAMUEL JOHNSON

In every work regard the writer’s end POPE def. HORACE

Novelty bestows charms on a monster ADDISON def. AUGUSTINE

The flaming sword which turned every way MAIMONIDES def. VICO

All our knowledge originates from sense  AQUINAS def. BEHN

The four senses of writing DANTE def. DRYDEN

Poet never affirms and so never lies  SIDNEY def. BOCCACCIO



Religion & Commodities = Fetishism MARX def. KANT

Taste can be measured EDMUND BURKE def. GAUTIER

A long poem does not exist POE def. LESSING

Pure and simple soul in a chaste body EMERSON def. SCHILLER

Poetry awakens and enlarges the mind SHELLEY def. WOLLSTONECRAFT

Four ages of poetry PEACOCK def. DE STAEL

Nothing pleases permanently not containing the reason COLERIDGE def. SCHLEIERMACHER

Language really used by men WORDSWORTH def. HEGEL



Genius is childhood recovered BAUDELAIRE def. ADORNO

Art is not unique but caught in time BENJAMIN def. ARNOLD

Hard, gem-like flame PATER def. HEIDEGGER

Criticism, Inc RANSOM def. MALLARME

No poet has his complete meaning alone ELIOT def. NIETZSCHE

Not the moment makes the man, man creates the age WILDE def. WOOLF

The first stirrings of sexuality FREUD def. TROTSKY

In language there are only differences SAUSSURE def. JUNG



Leaves & Huck Finn show U.S. to be like Russia EDMUND WILSON def. JUDITH BUTLER

Beauty will no longer be forbidden CIXOUS def. KENNETH BURKE

What they can know is what they have made SAID def. LACAN

We are directors of our being, not producers SARTRE def. DERRIDA

A poem is a poet’s melancholy at his lack of priority HAROLD BLOOM def. CLEANTH BROOKS

The secret essence of femininity does not exist DE BEAUVOIR def. RICH

All speech is performance AUSTIN def. FANON

Criticism of literature is all that can be directly taught FRYE def. BARTHES


It was a genuine pleasure these past three months (March to June) to explore 64 of the world’s greatest philosophical literary critics; look back over the past 3 months at 32 Scarriet articles (called “March Madness”) which re-evaluates these iconic points of view—and feel the excitement!

The rest of the play will quickly follow, as we move into the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight, the Final Four, and the greatest Aesthetic Philosopher of them all.

If we might be allowed to summarize the four Brackets:

The Classical determines WHAT POETRY IS.

The Romantic determines WHAT POETRY IS TO PEOPLE.


The Post-Modern determines WHAT POETRY IS TO LANGUAGE


Congratulations to all the winners!


They come from nurseries into college,
Looking old before their time,
Wearing old peoples’ clothes and smoking.
Weren’t you just in the playroom
Trying out nursery rhymes in a little girl’s voice?
And now here you are, trying out sexual intercourse
And learning about sorrow.
Childbirth and death are nigh.
Let the adolescents sigh.
W. C. Williams says we don’t talk that way (in poems).
X__ swings her arms while walking.
A whole bunch of us were ignored and now we’re thinking what to do.
The tour ends at the Institute of Pornographics of the Satyr for Senior Citizens.
A cough, and then the crematorium.
Long lengths of memories beneath us lie.
You can attend the ceremony, but promise not to cry.


The city keeps herself green
In obvious spots no one sees.
That weed, that tree, that grass, that vine didn’t mean
To crawl beneath the parking lot
Along the old rock wall by the commuter rail track. The bees
Had to ask permission before they murmured,
Oblivous to the grinding roar of the 7:07 from Fitchburg.
Impatience brings closer each day,
Beside beetle and worm—hardly a form!—
The debt each impatient passenger will have to pay.

No weed intended to create this bucolic nook,
For eyes of commuter (focused now on a kindle book)
Only wanted a world, and wouldn’t ask for more,
The mighty sea and land have our drippings, which they store,
But here by commuter-rail wall, wrens and sparrows sing and wait
For the silence between trains—
Mine, as usual (isn’t that typical?), late.


Laux: cute, but did she come to lose?

East: Second Round Play: Conoley v. Laux

Conoley’s “Beckon,” which bested Creeley, has remarkable lines: “And truth is music’s mute half,/a sentence broken into,/the half tone of a husband/waiting alone in a car,” but the poem finally ducks and hides too much in the shadows of private meaning—an interesting face marred by unseeing eyes.

Laux’s “The Lovers” looks you in the eye and tells you exactly what’s happening, the yang to Conoley’s yin: The narrator is fucking and ” [what] she can’t bear [is] that she can’t see his face,” and then she slaps him on the chest to get his attention, but regrets it that he looks at her in her vulnerable state of screaming orgasm—Laux’s poem, unlike Conoley’s, is simple to paraphrase:—one is too easy, the other, impossible, to summarize. One is a Country-western Lyric with its heart on its sleeve, the other an obscure, suggestive, Indie Rock Lyric.

Conoley, 55-52.  Gillian Conoley is in the Sweet Sixteen.


lady, slave

The lady, slave, would share
Those secrets in her shrouded breast
That we would learn the same as we yearn
For information, and all the rest,

But, oh! To see her naked with unclasped hair,
And to burn as we look upon her everywhere,
Those secrets, that we would, like poems, memorize well,
If we could but hear them; but no more of that, for she will never tell.

She owns a double pride: pride at being a lady
And a second, greater pride, because, plainly, she is a slave,
Slave to everything, love, moment, whim, and pride
Because she is a lady and bright! shining through the shady
Realms of haughty secrecy where all is hidden,
Like the midnights when this lovely slave must do as she is bidden,
For in that folly all live as lady or as slave,
Dressed, shining above, or plucking gems deep in the cave
Where none can see us, and how we writhe
In the hell of labor for others, feeding them who are alive.
We must die for their liberty, their liberty is the law
That shames us, a lady, mistaken for a slave,
And so one pride hides within the other
And we have bosses only, and never a true lover.

Speak not of heaven’s hopes! or fears that live in Hades;
We are all ladies and slaves.
Vanities and vices cover a world that no one saves;
Slaves, all! and all, once, beautiful ladies.



“Go not to Wittenberg” –Hamlet, Act I


Once upon a time in the country called Wonderfuland there was a 500-year old institution named Skarewe University.  It issued Diplomas.

Just about everyone went to Skarewe University.  They spent exactly four years studying exactly 16 required courses in thisology and thatology.  They did this to get a Diploma.

Diplomas were very valuable.  If you showed one to a prospective employer he gave you more money.  No one knew why.

But the country fell on uneasy times.  Even the students at Skarewe University caused trouble.  They demanded this and they demanded that.  And they got everything they demanded.  Until, finally, they couldn’t think of anything else to demand.

“I know,” said one student one day, “let’s demand that they abolish Diplomas!”

And not having anything else to do, the students went on a Diploma Strike.

The President of Skarewe University was stunned.  “If we don’t issue Diplomas,” he said, “we will lose our standing in the academic community.”

The business community was shocked.  “Without diplomas,” employers said, “how can we tell a college graduate from an uneducated man?”

Editorial writers viewed this with alarm.  “These radicals would destroy the very purpose of dear old Skarewe U.,” they wrote.  “They should be forced to accept their Diplomas whether they like it or not.”

The trustees were furious.  “Abolishing Diplomas will set our University back 500 years,” they thundered.  “It will become a medieval institution!”

And it did.

From the very day that Diplomas were abolished, 64.3 percent of the students quit to go engage in more financially-rewarding pursuits.  And those who were left found parking spaces for their cars—for the first time since the Middle Ages.

Just as in the Middle Ages, students  now attended Skarewe University solely to gain knowledge and wisdom.

And as there were no required courses, teachers who imparted knowledge and wisdom gave well-attended lectures.  And those who didn’t, didn’t.  Just as in medieval times.

Just as in medieval times, students pursued only the studies that interested them and read only the books that stimulated them.  And all, being constantly interested and stimulated, were dedicated scholars.

Thus it was that Skarewe University became what it had been 500 years before—a vast smorgasbord of knowledge and wisdom from which the student could select that which delighted and enriched him.

So everybody was happy.  The President was happy to head such a distinguished community of scholars.  The trustees were happy there were no more riots.  And the taxpayers were happy they no longer had to purchase educations for those who didn’t want them.

Even prospective employers were happy.  For, oddly enough, even without a Diploma, you could still pick out the applicant who had gone through college—because for the first time in 500 years, he was a well-educated man.

—Arthur Hoppe, 1968


Every star journeys, and on the way, decides
Which way to take. Even the sun must decide
How high to fall, which horizon to scrape,
When to bloom and when to vanish, depending
On the season, the day, the hour,
And whether it will smile or be hidden in a company
Of clouds, or appear through them, and with exactly
How many rays. And be warm or cool, it all depends.
Such a king is pawn to so much variance,
Almost as much as worms are, though its power
And purpose are self-evidently true.
No star makes a route that arrows forever. Every trip
Has choice except the one creation takes.


I’m trying to get to the whole thing
By imagining it (the whole thing)
Really contains everything
And so less of this everything–
That is, by subtraction alone–
Makes an identified thing what it is.
By taking away from the block
We get the sculpture, by breaking the
Sentence, poetry,
By dimming the lights, Romance.
All these small goodbyes
Make our tragic heroes grow in stature
Until they are big enough to watch the play.
We are actors now, going by the ocean.
We are halved, we are useless and longing.
Someone just said, “Just for a walk by the sea,”
Someone called it something else.
The line, the word–look, it’s frightening to itself,
All the confusions, all the sounding odd,
Reconciled by twelve notes–only twelve!
And there was infinity to choose from!–a few of which
Keep repeating so we place a melody (in the mouth? Month?)
And how was it we thought to keep harmony to ourselves
Until we were ready to greet you with it and make you
Sad? Sir? See, it’s HARVARD.
You did very well there.



There’s a lady who’s sure all that’s modern is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to canon.
And when she gets there she knows if the poetry is prose,
With a word she can get what she came for

Woe oh oh oh oh oh
And she’s buying a stairway to canon

There’s MFA’s on the wall but she wants to be sure
And you know sometimes words have two meanings
In Profess’r Vendler’s book there’s a poet who sings
Sometimes dear Louise Gluck is mistaken

Woe oh oh oh oh oh
And she’s buying a stairway to Vendler

There’s a feeling I get when I put down the rest
And my spirit is crying for Harvard
In my thoughts I have seen rings of words in-between
And the voices of those who stand blurbing

Woe oh oh oh oh oh
And she’s buying a stairway to canon

And it’s whispered that soon, if Burt calls the tune
Then Jorie will lead us to reason
And a new day will dawn for those who blurb long
And Harvard will echo with laughter

And it makes me wonder

If there’s a Genoways in your journal
Don’t be alarmed now
It’s just a spring clean for the Casteen

Yes there are two blurbs you can go by
but in the long run
There’s still time to change the word you’re on

Your head is humming and it won’t go because you don’t know
Bin Ramke’s calling you to join him
Dear lady can’t you hear the wind blow and did you know
Your contest lies on the whispering wind

And as we cheat on down the road
Our hair is longer than our souls
There walks a lady we all know
Who shadows them and wants to show
How criterion still turns to gold
And if you listen very hard
The blurb will come to you at last
When all are dull and dull is all
To be a judge and always roll
Woe oh oh oh oh oh
And she’s buying a stairway to canon

There’s a lady who’s sure all that’s modern is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to canon
And when she gets there she knows if the poetry is prose
With a word she can get what she came for

And she’s buying a stairway to canon, uh uh uh.


A fellow as coarse, and just plain thick, as Don Paterson shouldn’t be allowed near them.

“In the end, putting together a guide to the sonnets, I decided I’d write it in the form of a diary. That’s to say I read the sonnets as you would any other book, fitting them round my work routine and domestic obligations. So rather than lock myself in the library for six months, I wrote my commentaries on the poems while awake, bored, half-asleep, full of cold, drunk, exhausted, serene, smart, befuddled and stupid. I wrote on the train, in bed, in the bath and in my lunch-break…”

He wrote on the train!  As if this were special.  This guy can’t be serious…

“As you would read any other book…”

Oh really?  I thought you were going to press the book against your head…

“Drunk… befuddled and stupid.”

That sounds about right.

“The idea was to find a way of giving the sonnets more of a direct and personal reading than they usually receive.”

He’s going to vomit on the book and then stick it up his arse…

“…the discussion of how Shakespeare wrote these crazy poems…”

Oh you crazy sumabitch you!

“I also wanted to try to bring a bit of sanity to the discussion…”


“Like most poets, Shakespeare uses the poem as way of working out what he’s thinking, not as a means of reporting that thought. Often he’ll start with nothing more than a hangover, a fever and a bad night spent being tormented by the spectre of his absent lover.”

That’s you, you stupid wanker, not Shakespeare!

“With the Young Man he’s in the grip of a pure love, but stalked by the presence of lust; with the Dark Lady he’s in the grip of a pure lust, but stalked by the absence of love.”

Yuk Man and Daft Lady have got Donnie “in the grip” of pure stupidity…

“Elsewhere, I got stuck into the kind of “idiot’s work” that WH Auden tried to warn us off: that of trying to establish the identity of the sonnets’ dramatis personae. The trouble is that it’s impossible to read the sonnets without speculating on identities. We’re often simply invited to by Shakespeare’s shameless hook-baiting, his cryptic clues placed there only to pique our interest.”

Listen to Auden.  It’s you who’s baiting the hook.  “pique our interest…”  Speak for yourself, you dunderhead.

“I do think of this as the most oddly impressive aspect of the sonnets. The Dark Lady poems are mostly horrible, and those that aren’t are bad.”

Don Paterson has spoken!

“How has the little sonnet managed to honour Shakespeare’s huge boast of the immortality of his own verse? I’ve long been convinced that if you could somehow snap your fingers and destroy every sonnet on the planet, and wipe every sonnet from every human mind, it would reappear in almost exactly the same form by teatime tomorrow.”

Don Paterson has a thought, which eclipses Shakespeare’s lasting fame…

“if human poetic speech is breath and language is soapy water, sonnets are just the bubbles you get. Sonnets express a characteristic shape of human thought, and are, after a bit of practice, very easy to write. Badly.”

Don came up with this idea in his bath, obviously…

“Shakespeare modernised the form of the sonnet, and transformed it from a stylised, courtly love shtick to a fluent and flexible form that could turn itself to any subject.”

What piffle.  “modernised the form”  No, he didn’t modernize “the form.”  And no, Dante and Petrarch’s sonnets, which Shakespeare was writing against, were not simply “stylised, courtly love shtick.”  To characterize the tradition out of which Shakespeare springs as “courtly love shtick” is nothing but crass ignorance. 

“After the “boring procreation sonnets”, things look up at Sonnet 18, with the wonderful “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” In this poem, the subject shifts seamlessly and movingly from: “You’re lovely, and must breed so that the world is never denied your beauty,” to “You’re lovely! And to hell with breeding – the power of my own verse will keep your beauty immortal.” Shakespeare is now openly in love with the young man, and the next 108 sonnets are given over to an account of their affair’s progress, although the jury’s out as to whether it’s always the same man being addressed. I still have no settled opinion on the matter, but the poems do seem to have a clear dramatic narrative.”

Our idiot Mr. Paterson thinks Shakespeare just stuck 14 “boring procreation sonnets” in front of the sequence so that the heavens could suddenly open as the real theme of the sonnets is announced: “To hell with breeding…the power of my own verse will keep you immortal.”  But doesn’t Paterson wonder that perhaps Shakespeare was intentionally moving from immortality through children to immortality through writing and this Platonic momentum (see Plato’s The Symposium) is sustained throughout the book, with one of its glories the pun of black ink—black, because it is the melancholy, mournful product of the writing act itself (due to human separation, a major trope in the book) and thus, the “Dark Lady” is not a biographical person, just as the ‘Young Man’ is not a biographical person, but one of Shakespeare’s many ‘forms?’  And thus the work is not a fevered diary of lust with biographical individuals, but something far more interesting, beautiful and profound, and intentionally hidden from lunkheads such as Don Paterson?

As for Donnie’s “boring procreation sonnets:” they are some of the most exquisite specimens of verse in the language, containing lines such as:

Thou of thy self thy sweet self dost deceive   –sonnet 4

For never-resting time leads summer on
To hideous winter and confounds him there,
Sap checked with frost and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o’er-snowed and bareness every where  –sonnet 5

Whose speechless song being many, seeming one,
Sings this to thee, ‘Thou single wilt prove none’.  –sonnet 8

Herein lives wisdom, beauty, and increase,
Without this folly, age, and cold decay,
If all were minded so, the times should cease,
And threescore year would make the world away  –sonnet 11

When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard  –sonnet 12

And here is that glorious sonnet no. 1:

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed’st thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thy self thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel:
Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament,
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content,
And tender churl mak’st waste in niggarding:
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.

“Beauty’s rose.”  That’s Platonism, Donnie.  Learn about it.  Not the rose’s beauty, but Beauty’s rose.  It’s delightfully simple.


Pound claims controversial memo was a harmless taunt.

The World Series atmosphere just got hotter.  Commissoner Harold Bloom wants answers:  Who wrote the memo?  Who leaked it?  Does it refer to a sporting contest?  Or something more sinister?

In a press conference this afternoon, Ezra Pound came clean:

I wrote the memo.  I don’t know who leaked it. But let’s get something straight: All it means is that the Philadelphia Poe will lose to the Rapallo Pound in either four or five games.  That’s all it is!  Got it?”

Edgar Allan Poe joined the fray in his own press conference, minutes later:

“The question is not: who wrote it?  The question is, who wrote it—and leaked it?  We know who leaked it: Ezra Pound.  This is nothing more than crude intimidation tactics: the memo signifies one thing on the surface, and another thing below; it allows Mr. Pound to threaten us in broad daylight, one meaning hiding behind another.  We refer merely to the threat.  We fear no harm.  We only think it funny that Mr. Pound would feel it necessary to pull a stunt like this.  We forgive Mr. Pound—even as we laugh in his face.”

Commissioner Bloom has vowed to speak to Pound and Poe in private, and “get some answers” before the World Series begins.

“Of course we’ll have a World Series,” a clearly annoyed Bloom told the nation, “but I want some answers, and I’m going to meet with Pound and Poe, and get to the bottom of this.   My office will not tolerate anything that demeans poetry or the game of baseball.”

Please, Mr. Bloom! don’t cancel the World Series!



Alexander Pope: Philadelphia Poe ace and 19 game winner.

Before we discuss lineups, we have to talk about the starting pitchers: for the Philadelphia Poe, Alexander Pope; for the Rapallo Pound, the Marquis de Sade.

Sade distracts the hitter in a number of ways: facial tics, bursts of sudden laughter, screams, taunts, even as he’s going into his wind-up.   The Rapallo hurler scratches himself before almost every pitch.  When (and it’s often) the Marquis disagrees with the home plate umpire, he will glare ferociously, and sometimes Pound, his manager, will come out of the dugout and join Sade in this staring contest.  What’s odd, though, is that during these confrontations, Sade and his manager never speak.  They only stare.  The whole act is extremely unsettling.  During this staring act, as the home team fans howl and heckle with blood-thirsty fury, umpires become very uneasy; and  subsequently the home-plate official is known to call nearly everything Sade throws a strike.

Sade is not overpowering; in fact his famous ‘knuckle curve’ has been clocked at less than fifty miles per hour.  It almost hangs in mid-air between the batter and the pitcher, and then dives below the hitter’s knees at the last moment.  To watch Sade torment a line-up with unhittable junk, as he sneers, spits, and rubs himself in all sorts of odd places, is agonizing for all but Pound fans—who seem completely mad themselves.

The Philadelphia Poe pitcher, Alexander Pope, is fiercely competive, throws hard, and brawls with the best of them.   Pope”ll bust you inside, then freeze you with a big curve on the outside corner.  He finishes games.  Give Pope the ball and watch him go to work.  He doesn’t want to come out of a game, and rarely does, and his strikeout percentage increases as the game goes on.   He led the NL with 20 complete games.  Poe and Pope are very close.  “I wouldn’t play for any other manager,” Pope gushed, after he pitched the clincher.

The Philadelphia Poe’s projected starting lineup:

Gilmore Simms, RF.   Hurt for most of the year (Samuel F.B. Morse filled in admirably).  Simms can run.

Charles Brockden Brown, SS.    A slap hitter who advances runners.  George Lippard, another native Philadelphian, is the reserve infielder.

Charles Baudelaire, 2B.   Gap hitter, makes contact.

George Byron, 1B.    When Byron couldn’t play, Alfred Hitchock took over.  Byron slugged 29 homers.

Thomas Moore, C.    Excellent on-base percentage.

Fydor Dostoevsky, 3B.    Hit over .400 with 2 outs and runners in scoring position.   Team-leading 47 doubles.

Virginia Poe, CF.   Swift as a deer in center.   Surprising power: 17 homers.

Fanny Osgood, LF.     League-leading 14 assists.  Very hard to strike out.

Alexander Pope, P.     Great sacrifice bunter.

And, for the Rapallo Pound:

Aleister Crowley, CF.   Took over for Wyndham Lewis.  Crowley hit three triples in the Pound’s pennant-clinching victory.

Hilda Doolittle, 2B.   Great D from H.D.  She’s been nursing a sore ankle.  Flaubert may start instead.

William Butler Yeats, SS.  The best glove anyone has ever seen.  A disappointment at the plate, but does get on base.  Francis Villon, his replacement, can hit.

Ford Madox Ford, 1B.   41 homers, 134 RBIs.

James Joyce, LF.   .311 batting average.  Back from a late-season injury.  Basil Bunting was his replacement.

James Laughlin, 3B.  The New Directions kid wasn’t expected to hit.  He slugged 39 homers and batted .340.   MVP numbers from a mere editor.

Ernest Fenollosa, C.  Steady, handles pitchers well.  Missed the month of August.  Margaret Anderson of the Little Review is the back-up.

Benito Mussolini, RF.  Great clubhouse presence.  A gun for an arm in right.  Few go from first to third on him.

Marquis de Sade, P.   Chats with the opposing catcher the whole time he’s up.



Where Ma Rainey and Beethoven once unwrapped their bedroll
Tuba players now rehearse around the flagpole
And the National Bank at a profit sells road maps for the soul
To the old folks home and the college

Now I wish I could write you a melody so plain
That could hold you dear lady from going insane
That could ease you and cool you and cease the pain
Of your useless and pointless knowledge

Bob Dylan, “Tombstone Blues” (1965)

There is nothing wrong with crackpotism and literary experimentation in the salons; it is certainly welcome in private places; but what happens when it’s fed to the young?

Crackpotism is harmless unless it becomes institutionalized, and corrupts and confuses millions of young people.   The very clever may assimilate themselves to the crackpotism of the system and thrive in it, eventually becoming crackpot professors, but the vast majority of students, once exposed to modernist crackpotism, never read literature or philosophy again.

In our review of the Norton (2003) Vol. I of Modern poetry, we found that 16% of the pages were devoted to “poetics,” (the rest to poetry) and remarked on the prose’s poor quality.

Poetry has no need for Apology or Defense; no one bothers to attack poetry anymore—because poetry no longer has a public; thus the reason for “poetics” is drying up.

We would expect things only to get worse; and it has.  If we look at Norton’s Vol. II Contemporary Poetry volume, we find merely 8% of its pages devoted to “poetics” and gibberish is even more the norm:

Olson:  Because breath allows all the speech-force of language back in (speech is the “solid” of verse, is the secret of a poem’s energy), because, now, a poem has, by speech, solidity, everything in it can now be treated as solids, objects, things; and, though insisting upon the absolute difference of the distributed thing, yet each of these elements of a poem can be allowed to have the play of their separate energies and can be allowed, once the poem is well composed, to keep, as those other objects do, their proper confusions.

Dylan Thomas:  If you want a definition of poetry, say: ‘Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing’ and let it go at that.

Larkin:  But if the medium is in fact to be rescued from among our duties and restored to our pleasures, I can only think that a large-scale revulsion has got to set in against present notions, and that it will have to start with poetry readers asking themselves more frequently whether they do in fact enjoy what they read, and, if not, what the point is of carrying on.

Frank O’Hara:  But how can you really care if anybody gets it, or gets what it means, or if it improves them.  Improves them for what?  Death?

Ginsberg:  Mind is shapely, art is shapely.  Meaning mind practiced in spontaneity invents forms in its own image and gets to last thoughts.  Loose ghosts wailing for body try to invade the bodies…

Baraka:  The most successful fiction of most Negro writing is in its emotional content.

Levertov:  Rhyme, chime, echo, reiteration: they not only serve to knit the elements of an experience but often are the very means, the sole means, by which the density of texture and the returning or circling of perception can be transmuted into language, apperceived.

Rich:  Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves. And this drive to self-knowledge, for women, is more than a search for identity: it is part of our refusal of the self-destructiveness of male-dominated society.

Heaney:  Looking back on it, I believe there was a connection, not obvious at the time but, on reflection, real enough, between the heavily accented consonantal noise of Hopkins’s poetic voice, and the peculiar regional characteristics of a Northern Ireland accent.

Louise Bennett:  Aunty Roachy seh dat if Jamaican Dialec is corruption of de English Language, den it is also a corruption of de African Twi Language to, a oh!

Charles Bernstein:  Not “death” of the referent—rather a recharged use of the multivalent referential vectors that any word has, how words in combination tone and modify the associations made for each of them, how ‘reference’ then is not a one-on-one relation to an ‘object’ but a perceptual dimension that closes in to pinpoint, nail down (this word), sputters omnitropically (the in in the which of who where what wells), refuses the build up of image track/projection while, pointillistically, fixing a reference at each turn (fills vats ago lodges spire), or, that much rarer case…

A.K Ramanujan:  One way of defining diversity for India is to say what the Irishman is said to have said about trousers.  When asked whether trousers were singular or plural, he said, “Singular at the top and plural at the bottom.”

Derek Walcott:  Poetry, which is perfection’s sweat but which must seem as fresh as the raindrops on a statue’s brow…

And we are done.  We have represented all the writers on “poetics” from this 1,200 page anthology, and I believe we are correct when we say these excerpts speak for themselves, and require no commentary.


Since Silliman’s blog disallowed reader commentary, the site has increasingly turned to popular art for its thrills.


Well, sort of.

The eclectic Neo-Modernism which Silliman loves has been given a populist push, with movies leading the way.

But, alas, Silliman’s fave, neo-Modernism, is inherently so unpopular, that allowing it full scope, on stage, under the bright lights, only points up why the stuff is so unpopular in the first place.

September 8:  A lecture video (TED ideas worth spreading) on how machines are taking over the planet.  Yikes! 

Sept 9:  Bob Bowen, jazz bass player, has died.

September 10: Two short videos of Charles Olson reading from his work.  In case anyone doubted it: this guy is cra-zeee.

Sept 11: Dullest Interview Of All Time department: Video of Jennifer Dick talking to Cole Swensen: “In the 70s and 80s the Language poets, who had no content, purified the language of the tribe…”  “and how do you like living in Paris?”  “I spend as much time here as possible…(laughter)…”  “I think communication is really important…”

Sept 12: Video of Cara Benson’s poetry reading…guess you had to be there…

Sept 13:  Audio presentation: Theorist Bruce Boone describing the plot of 1955 Robert Aldrich directed, Mike Hammer film, Kiss Me Deadly. 

Sept 14:  Scalapino tribute headlines the links…

Sept 15:  John Lovitz, yea, the comedian, and Charles Bernstein: Lovitz is poorly cast in this video, and not funny at all; a joke that deserves 30 seconds goes on for 11 minutes.

Sept 16:  A positive review of the film Howl which I don’t trust, since Silliman wants to love it too badly.  Does anyone really think Howl is a good poem?

Sept 17:  An audio of Dawn Lundy Martin reading.

Sept 18:  A link to the novelist John Franzen’s publisher site.

Sept 19:  A TED talk by a Turkish fiction writer on how story-telling unites us all.

Sept 20:  Laurie Anderson: an audio link to 3 of her latest disco-inflected songs.

Sept 21: Philip Whalen headlines more links.

Sept 22:  Jill Johnston has died.  She wrote about her father Cyril, a bellfounder.

Sept 23:  An old (1999) NPR broadcast on puns in Country Music, with praise for the 1972 film, Payday, with Rip Torn.  Yee-haw!

Sept 24: Silliman writes on the the obscure, 50s French surrealist poet Hugh-Alain Dal.

Sept 25:  A radio interview with Neal Cassady’s son to promote the new film, Howl.

Sept 26:  Video of art opening for 50 years at the Pace Gallery: one sees rich people gathering for that late-capitalist caprice, modern art.

But we still love you, Ron!!


poetry smitten teen 2.jpg

What words will you say to me
When you love me?

When you love me
What words will you say to me?

Will they be pretty,
Lingering in brevity like poetry?

Did you learn them in your privacy
Where they are languishing already?

Will they sound like heresy
Or will they be comfortable and familiar to me?

Must I always be ready?
Will they be spontaneous in the extreme—like a dream?

Will they be hesitant and lengthy—
Or nearly silent, for our safety?

Will they have a ringing finality
Ushering in my satiety?

Or will they murmur endlessly,
Sadly, redolantly?

Will I know them already?
Will your love be like words to a poetry-smitten teen,
Do you mean?



I have schooled myself in all manner of things:
How the bridge was won at Charlottesville,
How the oracle at Delphi sings,
How at Yorktown an Empire fell,
How a voice is thrown across a room,
Why the star waits behind the gloom
And the sun is sometimes strangled by clouds.
I took a single length of string and made all music
And posited that if light allows us to look at light
Objects heavier than light are really light, too,
So what allows us to see and what we see are the same,
The act and the object are one,
Desire and the object are one,
The glory and the dark earth are one,
Time and space and things less known are one,
Nothing is not known, and I am remarkable.
I will cut off the heads of kings!


i flew over 2.jpg

Readers of Scarriet know the truth by now of the insidious New Critics.

But there is another, equally pervasive tradition of American modernity, which could be called the Nietzsche School, or the Dionysian School, which spawned the Beats and other sub-categories.

First it must be understood that all literary activity is conservative.   Literature, like all writing, keeps a record, and thus is documentary, legal, historic, and civilizing.

Modern literature may have subversive claims aplenty, but as Lionel Trilling laments in his essay, “On the Teaching of Modern Literature,” students in the academy (modernism’s church) resist subversive influences with either incomprehension or A papers:

One response I have already described—readiness of the students to engage in the process that we might call the socialization of the anti-social, or the aculturation of the anti-cultural, or the legitimization of the subversive.  When the term-essays come in, it is plain to me that almost none of the students have been taken aback by what they have read: they have wholly contained the attack.

I say “lament,” because Trilling is disappointed that “the socializaton of the anti-social” has been “contained” by his literature students.   Trilling is like the ranger who can’t fool the clever Yogi Bear.  And worst of all, for ProfessorTrilling, are those students which he calls the “Old People:”

The chief exceptions are the few who simply do not comprehend, although they may be awed by, the categories of our discourse.  In their papers, like poor hunted creatures in a Kafka story, they take refuge first in misunderstood large phrases, then in bad grammar, then in general incoherence.  After my pedagogical exasperation has run its course, I find that I am sometimes moved to give them a queer respect, as if they had stood up and said what in fact they don’t have the wit to stand up and say: “Why do you harry us?  Leave us alone.  We are not Modern Man.  We are the Old People.  Ours is the Old Faith.  We serve the little Old Gods, the gods of the copybook maxims, the small, dark somewhat powerful deities of lawyers, doctors, engineers, accountants.  With them is neither sensibility nor angst.  With them is no disgust—it is they, indeed, who make ready the ways for ‘the good and the beautiful’ about which low-minded doubts have been raised in this course, that ‘good and beautiful’ which we do not possess and don’t want to possess but which we know justifies our lives.  Leave us alone and let us worship our gods in the way they approve, in peace and unawareness.”  Crass, but—to use that interesting modern word which we have learned from the curators of museums—authentic.  The rest, the minds that give me the A papers and the B papers and the C+ papers, move through the terrors and mysteries of modern literature like so many Parsifals, asking no questions at the behest of wonder and fear.  Or like so many seminarists who have been systematically instructed in the constitution of Hell and the ways to damnation.  Or like so many readers, entertained by moral horror stories.  I asked them to look into the Abyss, and, both dutifully and gladly, they have looked into the Abyss, and the Abyss has greeted them with the grave courtesy of all objects of serious study, saying: “Interesting, am I not?  And exciting, if you consider how deep I am and what dread beasts lie at my bottom.  Have it well in mind that a knowledge of me contributes materially to your being whole, or well-rounded, men.

If this sounds like babbling, if all this talk of the “Abyss” sounds hyperbolic, one should remember that Trilling was writing this in the 60s, and to be fair, here is the theme as the Columbia professor states it at the outset of his essay:

I  propose to consider here a particular theme of modern literature which appears so frequently and with so much authority that it may be said to constitute one of the shaping and controlling ideas of our epoch.  I can identify it by calling it the disenchantment of our culture with culture itself—it seems to to me that the characteristic element of modern literature, or at least of the most highly developed modern literature, is the bitter line of hostility to civilization which runs through it.

Trilling wants to shake his students to the very core with the dionysian fury of Frazer’s The Golden Bough, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy Trilling was an Arnoldian, and took very seriously Matthew Arnold’s idea that “literature is a criticism of life.”

Trilling was the opposite of the text-centered New Critics, who felt literature was properly a criticism of literature.

Trilling referenced the New Critics’ influence:

Nowadays the teaching of literature inclines to a considerable technicality, but when the teacher of literature has said all that can be said about formal matters, about verse-patterns, metrics, prose conventions, irony, tension,, etc., he must confront the necessity of bearing personal testimony.

Trilling is explicit in this essay on the content of this “personal testimony:”

How does one say that [D.H.] Lawrence is right in his great rage against the modern emotions, against the modern sense of life and ways of being, unless one speaks from the intimacies of one’s own feelings, and one’s own sense of life, and one’s own wished-for way of being?  How, except with the implication of personal judgment, does one say to students that Gide is perfectly accurate in his representation of the awful boredom and slow corruption of respectable life?  Then probably one rushes in to say that this doesn’t of itself justify homosexuality and the desertion of one’s dying wife, certainly not.  But then again, having paid one’s devoirs to morality, how does one rescue from morality Gide’s essential point about the supreme rights of the individual person, and without making it merely historical, academic?

It is no surprise that Allen Ginsberg was Trilling’s student at Columbia.  Ginsberg’s whole animus already existed in the platitudes of Trilling.

Here, then, is the ferocious, Nietzschean, anti-New Critical vein in modern literature.   Is it suprising that we see an affirmation of the anti-tradition, of the anti-social, of the anti-hero, of the anti-Christ, expressed by a critic considered to be a conservative, like Lionel Trilling?

No, it is not.  For literature is where all radical notions go to die.

All literature is finally quietist.  

Especially literature which is self-consciously avant-garde.


1.  Anis Shivani  —BS Meter.
2.  Ted Genoways —16.66 minutes of shame: time to lose that beard?
3.  John Casteen III  —the resolve of a great institution.
4.  John Casteen IV  —poet and friend of poet at no. 2
5.  Alan Cordle  —He told you so.
6.  Billy Collins  —youtube 3-year-old’s “Litany” has over 200,000 views.
7.  Rae Armantrout  —She won a prize, or something.
8.  Charles Bernstein  —He was published by a major press, or something.
9.  Ron Silliman  —His blog is still delightful, though mute…
10.  Seamus Heaney  —elegaic metaphors oozing over the bogland.
11.  Yusef Komunyakaa  —“until it forms a vision”
12.  Stephen Burt  —the Vendler flirt.
13.  Robert Pinsky  —Sounding larger all the time.
14.  Cate Marvin   —Forget Petrarch, these are different times.
15.  Jorie Graham   —Do I dare to feed a homeless man?
16.  John Barr  —-We don’t need no stinking blog.
17.  Garrison Keillor   —-goooood poems.
18.  David Orr   —The level-headed Times poetry critic.
19.  James Franco  —Allen Ginsberg as Hollywood heart-throb?
20.  Harold Bloom  —The onanist pedant in all of us.
21.  Anne  Carson  —we concede she has a certain style.
22.  Mary Oliver  —DH Lawrence & David Thoreau had a baby.
23.  David Lehman  —Father knows best.
24.  Robin Blaser  —The Renaissance lives!
25.  Paul Muldoon  —New Yawkuh.
26.  Louise Gluck  —Yale Younger gig.
27.  Tony Hoagland  —Frankness inside of frankness.
28.  John Ashbery  —Sweet, doddering, lovely.
29.  Helen Vendler  —Unpretentious, like a Wallace Stevens T-shirt.
30.  Lynn Behrendt  —Greatest Asshole poem ever.
31.  W.S. Merwin  —The Spill Is Gone.
32.  Jennifer L. Knox  —Don’t mess with her.
33.  Marjorie Perloff  —Avant goddess.
34.  Donald Hall  —A Quality Quietist
35.  Maya Angelou  —Give ’em hell, Maya!
36.  Dean Young  —who can forget his loss at the buzzer to Buzbee?
37.  Matthew Dickman  —seedy and surreal.
38.  Cole Swensen  —writes in Paris, works at Iowa…don’t be jealous.
39.  Kent Johnson  —From Japan to the New Chicago School.
40.  John Gallaher  —Blog-Prof with somethin’ to say…
41.  C.K. Williams  —Whitman, Williams, Williams, Whitman…
42.  Dana Gioia  —The Daddy of “Poetry’s Broke. Yea. It is.”
43.  Jerome Rothenberg  —I Vant To Suck Your Avant.
44.  Zachary Schomberg  —Making artsy-fartsy cool.
45.  Bin Ramke  —Ram on.
46.  Derek Walcott  —Homeric and no cleric.
47.  Vanessa Place  —O “maggoty claw!”
48.  James Tate  —just the fates of the pates: not related to allen tate.
49.  Frank Bidart  —a more intense Richard Howard.
50.  Robert Hass  —I wish they all could be California poets.
51.  Dan Chiasson  —suffered through the Paris Review earthquake.
52.  Glynn Maxwell  —mom was in original “Under Milk Wood.”
53.  Sherman Alexie  —Lost his Supersonics.
54.  D.A. Powell  —wearing the Bidart mantle with lyrical aplomb.
55.  Mary Jo Salter  —why do they call it the Norton anthology, anyway?
56.  Brad Leithauser  —remember neo-formalism?
57.  Martin Espada  —the lyrical in-your-face school
58.  James Fenton  —remember when the US cared about Britain?
59.  Simon Armitage  —CBE!  Crikey!
60.  Keith Waldrop  —friend to many poets
61.  C.D. Wright  —the awards keep coming
62.  Meghan O’ Rourke  —plunging into the Paris Review abyss
63.  Fred Seidel  —ice verse
64.  Jim Behrle  —the art of poetry and getting laid
65.  Dara Wier  —spelling tip: far from the misty mid regions of…
66.  Matthea Harvey  —the neo-romantic’s neo-romantic.
67.  Alice Fulton  —studied with the best minds.
68.  Ange Mlinko  —first spied her on the green pastures of Harriet…
69.  Adrianne Rich  —found fame on facebook recently…
70.  Richard Wilbur  —Old-timer rhymer
71.  Robert Kelly  —‘kel-ly’ is more enjoyable to say than any other word…
72.  Charles Wright  —one of those poets you’re supposed to like…
73.  Ilya Kaminsky  —Articulate translator
74.  Adam Kirsch  —but genoways was nice to me, genoways published me!
75.  David Beispiel  —the new gioia?
76.  Nick Lantz  —someone loves his poetry.
77.  J.D. McClatchy  —Yale, Yale, Yale!
78.  Susan Wheeler  —practically a BAP regular, teaches at Princeton.
79.  Daniel Nester  —unlike Behrle, this guy gets laid…
80.  Forrest Gander  —burning bright in the forest of c.d. wright…
81.  Kevin Young  —not the athlete; Brock-Broido’s former student.
82.  Susan Howe  —the brahmin language poet.
83.  Seth Abramson  —no one is more earnest.
84.  Charles Simic  —the postcard novelist.
85.  Jon Stallworthy  —editor from Oxford University. ahem.
86.  Reb Livingston  —thrilled us in March Madness.
87.  Elizabeth Alexander  —remember the inauguration?
88.  Natasha Trethewey  —historically-minded poet.
89.  William Logan  —fabulous, amusing critic, sucky poet.
90.  Eliot Weinberger  —a serious man.
91.  Joshua Clover  —Jorie’s successful student.
92.  Julianna Spahr  —looking for justice.
93.  Donald Revel  —Let the revels begin.
94.  Rosanna Warren  —daddy is only pulitzer-winner in fiction & poetry.
95.  August Kleinzahler  —a punishing poet.
96.  Marilyn Hacker  —a force to be reckoned with.
97.  Richard Howard  —glad he’s no longer with Paris Review.
98.  Rita Dove  —Doth thy poetry soften and delight?
99.  Kay Ryan  —Yesterday’s laureate.
100.  Peter Gizzi  —master of puzzling lyric; leader of the ‘huh? school.’


“The greatest divide in poetry, by far, of the past hundred years has been between poets who treat language as a locus for imminent meaning and those who treat it as a locus for transcendent meaning.”  –Seth Abramson from Why You’re Wrong (Yet Again): A Note to Silliman.

I Hope You’re Not Right: A Note to Abramson

The ratio of imminent and transcendent words depends on the rhetorical purpose.

Serious prose will feature the latter.

Punning, or humor, will feature the former.

Poetry, aiming at its particular effect, will display itself splendidly in-between.

The pun, as we all know, humorously calls attention to the imminent nature of words.

Pope’s line, “The sound must seem an echo to the sense,” glimpses the ideal combination of  imminent and transcendent, long identified with poetry.

Now, if contemporary poetry is defined by a split between imminence and transcendence, as you assert in your powerful rebuttal to Ron Silliman’s ‘Quietude/Neophobe’ 7/7/10 blog-post, all the worse for contemporary poetry, torn asunder by strict followers of imminence on one hand, and transcendence on the other—since the art of poetry depends on a skillful combining of the two.

A post-avant serious treatment of humor, and likewise, the post-avant humorous treatment of the serious, default to serious and humorous, respectively—they are merely the two categories stated above: the transcendent and the imminent, and here may be why poetry has lost its way: the ideal combination in actual practice has been cast aside for pedantic and inartistic reasons—which have taken on a life of their own, in a self-fulfilling, downward spiral.


Pssst!  Don’t worry, folks.  Your days of ‘quietude’ are almost over. 

You have a new name: the Neophobes.   Which means… you can join society again! and make all the noise you want! at baseball games, for instance, where people yell for a base hit like they have since the Civil War!  Neophobes are everywhere!  Filling concert halls, going for walks, taking the bus, driving cars, watching movies, dining out, preparing meals at home, making romance and making love, protesting, legislating, talking, writing, enjoying all the routines that people do.

Free at last!  You poor, beleaguered members of the ‘school of quietude!’  Join the millions of neophobes all around the world.  Welcome home! 

Just stay away from those avant-garde poets, though.  

They’re special and they have work to do.

They have a planet to change.

They are new!

They’re winning their Pulitzer Prizes in Poetry and they want to be left alone!  It takes a lot of work to be new, looking for that next ‘found poem’ and writing those westernized haiku!  They are changing the world.  Give them room.

Ab ovo, ab hinc.


Had I dreamed you, poet,
I would have known you,
And lost in what the old poets found, thought
How uncanny! How strange! How sweet!

But instead I saw your ambition living on the stage,
I saw you sniffing creative writing meat.
My voluntary powers of comparison intact,
You suffered slings under the light
Of my ambitious mind.

Beauty requires shadows, poet,
But I lent you none.
You were the labyrinth, poet,
And I was the cruel sun.



Where is a shore for my song?
Born at sea, fed by longing,
Born of endless spaces
Where weather hurls itself headlong
With melody shrieking at the fore,
A harmony of winds upon the flanks,
Stunning silence just behind
And silence above, small crying below,
A crying like an oozing from the flow of water
Of a small green island, green trickling
Water which descends gushing among
The little complicated water ways of rock
And wandering banks of fallen overgrowth
Of my tiny imagined island in the sea.

I am the venus of poetry not spotted yet by Botticelli,
The unthinkably large thing, out, out
In the universe alone.

Where is the store for my song?
It goes everywhere,
It spills over the mountains of the moon,
Flows wasted over desolate orbs which circle
The icy bounds of the dark outer universe,
Trapped in asteroids’ silence,
Their journeys through miles meant for some other god.

Where is a home for my utterance?
It sings to immense distances, howling
With the storms which triumph over dying stars,
Throwing its lyrics into the long
Bowels of the silence and the distance, dark
And cold, not seen, not heard, not echoed
By even the coldest mountain tops
Into lost and ruined valleys of stone and snow.

I know as much as you but I am dead to you.

Let me bring my face closer to the pines,
The ships which hurry with their bounties,
The seasons, the blue air, the mothers with their children,
Let me press my eyes closer to the breathing air,
Let me stick my tongue into your atmosphere,
Let me put my nose nearer to the buildings,
Shrouded in wispy clouds, let me push my hands closer
To the day, let me arrive on earth, even to fail!
I promise not to break anything.

Let my voice have a try beneath this dome,
Where poets flourish decidedly only in death,
And genius is usually lost among the leaves,
Where this one’s meter died within his scenery,
Where this one’s assonance died of luxury,
Where this one’s rhyme was killed by pedantry,
Where this one’s poetry died under the carpet,
Where this one’s poetry was smothered by wit,
Where her poetry was over-mathematical,
Where his poetry was detained by a story,
Where a rush of sudden feeling ambushed hers,
Where his was too pleasant,
Where hers had no intensity in its melody,
Where his had no harmony when most intense,
Where hers was too reflective,
And his poetry was spoiled by sighs,
And her verse was trivial,
And his poetry was not understood,
And her poetry was ruined by its rebuke,
His poetry had too many odors,
Her poetry took off for the moon,
His verse had too many pauses,
Her poetry overslept,
His poetry believed the blurbs,
Her verse had no verse,
His poetry died in purple liquid,
Hers died in the plains,
His died upon a glacier,
Hers was a fiddle with no bow,
His was a bow with no fiddle,
Her poetry had too much ale,
His chant trampled his thought,
Hers killed her roses,
His died by its own monument,
Hers died in the mouth,
His died in the brain,
Hers had no house,
His had no sun,
But mine I feel will succeed,
Mine will be heard,
Like the murmuring of bees is heard,
And the single sigh of a lover is heard,
For the earth is kind because
There are echoes, and every sweet thing
Has a chance to touch the tongue,
To find the tip of the desperate tongue,
Or the heart, just as red,
Or the eye, the eye which strikes long distance,
Or the ear, your ear,
Which now listens to my song.



Doctor and mourner die, too,
After mourning over you.
So everything’s equal in the end:
In the world, nothing to defend
But another moment of giving
By those fortunate to be living.

What we strain—with our souls—to say
Cannot be articulated anyway,
Except in vague gestures understood
By ceremony and the common good.
So do not panic about your fate–
The poetry prize arrives too late.

The happy do not heed fame.
After burying you,
Doctor and mourner will be buried, too,
With furious indifference the same.



He became apprehensive of the poem exciting derision, and so interwove sundry touches of the burlesque, behind whose equivocal aspect he might shelter himself at need.

Let us call this thing a rhymed jeu d’esprit, a burlesque, or what not? — and, even so called, and judged by its new name, we must still regard it as a failure. Even in the loosest compositions we demand a certain degree of keeping. But in this poem none is apparent. The tone is unsteady fluctuating between the grave and the gay — and never being precisely either. Thus there is a failure in both. The intention being never rightly taken, we are, of course, never exactly in condition either to weep or to laugh.

We do not pretend to be the Oracles of Dodona, but it does really appear to us that Mr. ____ intended the whole matter, in the first instance, as a solemnly serious thing; and that, having composed it in a grave vein, he became apprehensive of the poem exciting derision, and so interwove sundry touches of the burlesque, behind whose equivocal aspect he might shelter himself at need. In no other supposition can we reconcile the spotty appearance of the whole with a belief in the sanity of the author.  –EA Poe

A Worldly Country

Not the smoothness, not the insane clocks on the square,
the scent of manure in the municipal parterre,
not the fabrics, the sullen mockery of Tweety Bird,
not the fresh troops that needed freshening up.  If it occured
in real time, it was O.K., and if it was time in a novel
that was O.K., too.  From palace and hovel
the great parade flooded avenue and byway
and turnip fields became just another highway.
Leftover bonbons were thrown to the chickens
and geese, who squawked like the very dickens.
There was no peace in the bathroom, none in the china closet
or the banks, where no one came to make a deposit,
In short all hell broke loose that wide afternoon.
By evening all was calm again. A crescent moon
hung in the sky like a parrot on its perch.
Departing guests smiled and called, “See you in church!”
For night, as usual, knew what it was doing,
providing sleep to offset the great ungluing
that tomorrow again would surely bring.
As I gazed at the quiet rubble, one thing
puzzled me: What had happened, and why?
One minute we were up to our necks in rebelliousness,
and the next, peace had subdued the ranks of hellishness.

So often it happens that the time we turn around in
soon becomes the shoal our pathetic skiff will run aground in,
And just as waves are anchored to the bottom of the sea
we must reach the shallows before God cuts us free.

–John Ashbery

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.’

—sample of verse from Edgar Poe



Poets love the silence.
In silence they do best,
As the heart needs the song
To put the heart at rest.
The agitated heart
Sees an image at dawn
Which vanished yesterday
And is forever gone.
The agitated heart
Longs to hear the sound
Of a loved one’s voice
Now sleeping in the ground,
Or the agitated heart
Would leave the world behind
For mournful silence,
Where silences are kind.


We had to let a lot of things go.
Our safety.  Our principles.  The cat, sleeping,
the laundry basket we came to know,
The joy that would tap upon our door
and leave us just like that,
cinnamon and sun and overflow;

Ceiling staring down and Kim
in the kitchen mixing spices;
the clutter; the TV and the radio
turned down low;
the escargot; the spit; the illustrated vices,

A replica that would lie silent in the corner
and occasionally go,
my captain that made rhymes,
Yours that would push plastic trains;

Gods who would kiss us and tell us
they loved us sometimes,
mother who would stand, for an evening,
worried when the journey was slow;
intense pleasure doing nothing;
whaling vessels in classic novels;
We had to let a lot of things go.

Our youth; knowing and pain that together grow;
matters just beyond reach; fires on the porch;
ropes in the tool-shed; chimes that would chime faintly and low;
you, the first one to speak because you would always know,

I, who had to hope because I wasn’t able to concentrate
entirely on the path or where, slightly
off the path, you and I were supposed to go.
You saw him, once; his big toe.

Art-shows in the shadows, the sun standing
perfectly still to make bright maps
for the understanding, intricate and slow;
the holding of breath in immense places;
the day we saw lying on our backs;
the priest who said, “off you go, off you go;”
someone in the distance claps
or laughs, there is always something,
there is always something we don’t know,
Off in the trees, there he was, with someone;
Places for our games, and designs we couldn’t show;
the path that virtue struggled against;
We had to let a lot of things go.

The violent triumph over us of someone we didn’t know;
Moths, leaks, letters.  The movement of verses to-and-fro.
Players, positions, horses, scattered ladders,
money floating in space, meetings,
rocky hills we rolled down, ignorant of woe.

Decisions we made at dawn;
sleeping without dreaming;
planning all night a song
cancelled the next morning,
the night’s invitation to lie down,
to lie down and stay, without
saying yes or no.

Playing with memory, making memorial play,
stopping at the middle of the court to
turn back for the ball,
to run back, and retrieve the ball,
the calculations behind the tree;
vibrations, stamina, the try alone, a moon desultory;

Observing the singular crow.
After the job and the dream, another hallway,
The loss of loss, the poem’s end, the question,
You must have seen, you must have known,
but now, remembered in sorrow,
we hardly remember—but no,
There is the fish, yes, the fish in the brown stream;

The routine we never quite got to know;
The jar and the glass and the folder;
We had to let a lot of things go.


de niro.jpg

One of my best buds (the guy in front)

I don’t belong to some fake-y past.  I have friends.

I am attending the most prestigious MFA in poetry program in the world and I have studied under the most prestigious poets.

I don’t feel there is anything preventing me from becoming a highly successful poet, unless something as petty as paying back student loans gets in the way, and it won’t, for my training has been at the best program with the best instructors.

Some whisper their connections, but I am not ashamed to yawp with pride mine.  Prestige is not for the resentful bookworm, it is for the poet who can bed beautiful women with a beautiful blurb.  Beauty is no longer a property of poetry, but I still know beauty when I see it and I resent neither the loss of beauty in poetry nor its presence in my life.

I admit Scarriet’s Marla Muse has caught my eye, that I text and twitter and facebook her constantly.  OK!  I want to ravish her!  She has a…smell…which excites me!  Ever since her coverage of March Madness…ever since she interviewed Camille Paglia, ever since I saw her…she’s like a beauty from a horror movie…ancient…yet alive…the aura of classical ruins haunts her form and yet she glitters with life…hers are the most singularly slender fingers I’ve ever seen…her knowledge of ancient languages is vast…despite the prestige of my MFA poetry program I don’t know any foreign languages.  I also have no money.  I’m in debt, in fact, very much in debt.  Did I tell you I have two MFA poetry degrees and I am working on a third, from three equally prestigious MFA poetry programs?   Seth approved them all.  Seth, the late lawyer…and now expert in matters poetical, critical, MFA-ical…Seth advised me that if I played my cards right…but enough!   Where is Marla? Where is Marla Muse?


lilly ann.jpg

When you were lovely I loved you,
Lilly Ann,
For the bliss of loving loveliness
Is the plan for man,
Lilly Ann.

When you were lovely,
Lilly Ann,
I sought your love,
Even as the raven
Fed on the dove,
Even as man fed on man,
Lilly Ann.

If you beg upon your knees,
I will not love you, even at my ease,
Not if the lion lies down with the lamb.

For you are not lovely now,
And that was the plan,
Lilly Ann.


Well, how do we measure this progress?  

Few believe in absolute progress.  Material progress exists, even in our scientific age, only for some, and moral progress, or increase in global happiness, is impossible to calculate.

Since poetry belongs to moral, but not material progress, it seems safe to say that progress in poetry cannot be affirmed at all.

There has been much talk, however, of modern poetry’s progress in terms of both its expressiveness and its detached scientific ability—to investigate the wider world and language itself.  Story and sermon fitted to rhyme has given way, it is said, to a deeper and more nuanced universe.

It is not the place here to dispute these ubiquitous claims, but it should be pointed out that even if these claims are not openly called “progress,” the rhetoric certainly participates in this idea; but if the progress of poetry is not real, what of this rhetoric?

Something has to give. 

Has poetry improved, or not?

Is there any scientific evidence that poetry qua poetry is responsible for scientific progress?  No.  Let’s not kid ourselves.  Beyond a certain beauty and harmony we get from a composer like Bach or a poet like Keats, the virtue of poetry operates immediately, with no mediation of any kind.

Let’s look briefly at the other arts.  In purely objective terms, has sculpture, music, painting, or the drama, as artistic, expressive modes, improved?  Anyone familiar with the riches of ancient, middle ages, renaissance, baroque or romantic art can answer ‘no’ without hesitation.  Any person answering ‘yes’ is prejudiced towards his own time.

However, can certain kinds of expressiveness improve?  Here, without pause, the answer is ‘yes.’  Progress in specific areas of art is possible.

There are perhaps pinnacles.  Music has not progressed in any qualitative manner since Bach, sculpture since the first century Rome, or possibly Michelangelo.   Painting?  New styles have emerged, but can painting be said to have improved since the renaissance?  No.  Has Shakespeare in the drama been eclipsed?  No.

When art does improve, the chief reason is technological improvements in the means of producing the art, with underlying cultural changes also a factor.

The thing about poetry, however, is that there is no technology to improve. 

We may as well admit that of all the arts, poetry is the least likely to improve,  it is the art form which has improved the least, and that a very strong argument could be made that in over two thousand years, it has not progressed at all.


In this lyric hour
I make a promise to the muse
She knows I will not keep:
I will pretend that shadows live;
She will make a promise to weep
As if she were moved by a dead flower
Or dead girl in an old romance,
A Victorian circus of grief,
Where sleeping passions are enough.

And now I almost glance
Over my shoulder at the muse,
But like Orpheus I know
If I look behind I will lose;
I must look straight ahead
Or peer at the page instead,
Where the shadow-poem will take shape
Without regard to words–the ones we use every day,
But words which behave like the wind
Or shadows which stand in our way.

I do not ask that love emerge,
Stepping with shadow-like step from shapes
That flicker and die,
Confusing, but somehow pleasurable to the eye,
Like a tune we cannot follow
Because it is lost in sorrow
And a dream the composer had
Beyond music. No, I am glad

That my poem is a mere shadow
Thrown upon the page,
Escaping detection of readers, who, by common sense
Know that my nostalgic trance
Will never stand up to the scrutiny of the age
Which looks through cunning glasses
At any shadow which passes
For a tired, 19th century poem
Where my muse once had a home

Before she promised to me
A storm, a sailor, a sea,
All made of shadows,
Rescued by a shadow called grace
With a shadow for a heart and a shadow for a face.



How did that happen?
How did I fall in love with you?

Comparison lives in a cul de sac.
Loves are too numerous,
For the sake of loyalty
Beauties are too few.

Hair which reveals the neck,
Or falls across the breast
Aims to impress all—
And tortures the rest.

Desire is at a loss,
Desire exists to die.
The best find gratification
In the worst—who cannot fly.

In beauty and love,
Count, set levels, calculate
The cost not invested
In life that will not wait.

I was coddled by hate
And murdered by affection.
It seems I want an answer
In every direction.

To the sensitive poet,
The world’s an ugly hell,
Not a world of pain–
So I’m doing pretty well.

I want you above all others,
Above all others, you
Can save me from the sun,
The sky perfectly blue…


I remember poetry
And then I write it down
Before its loveliness can flee
Back to thoughts clouding up the sky
Or prose lost in the stretched muddy ground.

I remember poetry
Flying in pieces inside my head.
The universe may be a mystery;
I prefer the mystery of myself instead.

I remember poetry.
Look, reader! This is what I found!
Growing from granite, a tender tree,
Growing with a terrible sound.


I was so happy, I was so proud
In the slow sunlight dream of life.
Whether life was murmuring, or it was loud,
Whether I slumbered, or was in the midst of strife,
I did what had to be done
For my children and my wife,
Always stopping to think what would be best,
Though Liberty, with heaving breast,
Often stood before me, flag hoisted, leaning into my ear:
“I am a picture, but a beautiful picture, and your destiny is here.”

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: