THE 13TH OF LOVE

Image result for the rain it rains every day in painting

The 13th of Love was a dark and stormy day.

When we love, most of us love that way.

Humans are monsters

(They wash their hair too much, they smile without their eyes)

And I can barely stand

To say “I like you,” and hold one by the hand.

The enmity between the genders is such

That love doesn’t happen that much.

One gender hates and envies the other;

Hatred gets to purge itself in the lover

By that strange and furtive act:

Naked, hating, with a great deal of tact.

But as soon as the hate is purged away,

Hatred between them resumes the next day.

We were like this, remember?

We forgot our love by September.

Little acts of mistrust and doubt

Gradually pushed the affectionate feelings out.

But there were never affectionate feelings, anyway,

Except for one dark, stormy day.

Envy and hatred looked the other way

As we drank.

And then we ate on St. Valentine’s Day.

 

 

 

 

NO ERROR IS ERROR

Image result for garden of eden in renaissance painting

No error is error, because all error

Reflects error, and all reflection is true.

There is no error to forgive.

This would be to confuse error

With how much I give my heart to you.

I love you, and this is not a mistake.

The garden is illusory, the moisture,

The lush grasses, the shapely vines, the snake.

It is all an error, and this is neither good nor bad.

Compared to all the mistakes,

You were the best mistake I ever had.

 

 

I SOLVED MY DREAMS

I solved my dreams. Every one

Of my dreams is solved. What’s done

Lives on as a dream, and what’s to come

Will be a dream; know your dreams,

Because nothing really is. Everything seems.

Nothing makes sense until you make sense of dreams.

Gestalt Therapy Verbatim by Fritz Perls

Was a book hidden beneath the thick curls

Of youth in a New York City, 1960s, hippie, domain

When German philosophy, a warm rain,

Whispered across an empty, devastated, plain.

Yesterday a teenager, with everything to do,

Secretly found the secret: everything in a dream is you.

Describe your dream in the present tense

And say how the spiders are crawling

On you and it’s completely creeping you out.

The spiders are you. The spiders are the part

Of you which you’ve rejected. Touching

Is not something you do with others enough.

Solve your dream, and take in your hand the key

And feel it perfectly into the lock

And live yourself and read your book

And let others read it, and smile.

We haven’t seen you this relaxed in a while.

Now you can better understand me

And the insouciant grandeur

Of my haughty, yet melancholy, style—

Which you first experienced as a kind smile.

Later you found out I had another side

Which you felt was judging you. I blame

Those who blame. Because your dream is you,

Blame is not something you should ever do.

I secretly roll my eyes when people blame.

Dream a word. A word is never a name.

 

 

 

 

POLITICS, AND THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF LOVE

The Democrat wants to bring someone else in to spice up their marriage.

The Democrat wants an abortion to make it easier to bring someone else in to spice up their marriage.

The Democrat wants their spouse to pay for someone else to come in and spice up their marriage.

The Democrat suggests their spouse may be racist for not wanting to pay for someone to come in and spice up their marriage.

The Democrat saw their spouse staring at someone in the street once who looked like the someone the Democrat wants to bring in to spice up their marriage, so the Democrat tells their spouse this is really their idea.

The Democrat, no matter what they do, is still loved by their spouse, who was taught by their religion to work hard, resist temptation, and always forgive.

The Democrat wants more people to come in to spice up the marriage, wants more abortions, and accuses their spouse of racism even more, and demands they pay up even more, as their spouse keeps loving and forgiving them.

Finally, the Democrat’s spouse, unable to take it anymore, also becomes a Democrat.

At that same instant, overwhelmed by guilt, the Democrat becomes a Republican.

 

YOU’RE REALLY NOT THAT SMART

Image result for lisa simpson, genius

The learned should not—and cannot—be popular.

Virtuous, but not learned, is the pathway to the happiness religion brings—the poetry of religion and the religion of poetry, which transcends understanding, is a gift to those who don’t have time or circumstances to really study things (valley, cliffs, gorges) and understand.

It is against this backdrop that we make the bold suggestion: be wary of any learning which is popular—if it is, we have every right to question its sagacity.

Any so-called expert, any policy or philosophy, which prevails upon the public, and does so by claiming expertise, should be highly suspect, especially when it calls upon that same public to make sacrifices based on the learning which the advertised expertise professes.

The consciousness of a people is its final protection, and this consciousness must remain transparent and neutral, never giving in to the temptation which flatters it as more than what it is, in its floating but vital role as neutral perceiver. Infected with the pride of popularized knowledge (an oxymoron), mass consciousness, as much as any individual, will stumble into self-importance and delusion.

The learning which attended the polio vaccine, for instance, was not privy to the general public; a lone scientist, after much study, cracked a difficult, magnificent, and even outlandish secret. The idea of a polio vaccine did not become popular—the public was simply required to follow a scientific edict, and they did, for their own general protection and gain.

Contrast this with socialism. The knowledge which defines socialism, the future benefits assigned to it, is completely understood and grasped by a public enthusiastic for it, and which fully believes it understands its precepts. In this example of socialism, as opposed to the polio vaccine, learning itself is popular, and in this instance, dangerous. The public is not trusting to science arrived at by long study; the public is trusting itself to be learned and full of understanding, and this is precisely where neutrality of judgment is lost, and chaos and crisis are constantly close at hand.

The late sir Roger Scruton said capitalism and socialism are not opposites, any more than feminism and journalism are. You can have a feminist journalist; and, as he joked once, you can have “a capitalist socialist, which means they keep what they earn, but also look smart.”

Socialism is an “-ism” which tells the public it is smart. It makes us look smart, and also, empathetic, too, and it makes us seem so, right now, with a great deal of people all around us, all aware of how smart and virtuous we seem to be to each other—even if no one really knows anything, or does anything, about governing, but protests a lot in the street.

Governing came about, in actuality, a long time ago, by a few scientific, philosophical types thinking long and hard, perhaps when they were very much alone. The U.S. Constitution is science, not an “-ism,” which merely gives the flattering appearance of learning. It has nothing to do with you and your friends being smart and prescient and virtuous now. The Constitution was put together a long time ago. Even the Bill of Rights, a series of important amendments everyone talks about, were written a long time ago, finalized back in the 18th century, before Karl Marx, and his really smart facial hair, even existed.

There’s only one way to be smart. And like Lisa Simpson, standing in front of a blackboard which says, “Paying taxes to the government will not change the climate,” there’s only one way to be calm.

 

 

 

 

ADULTERY AND POETRY, OR A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MUSE

Image result for SHELLEY IN PAINTING

After adultery

I wrote better poetry.

When I was true,

I couldn’t think of a thing to do.

Whenever I was dumped, I thought,

She has sold what she has bought,

And now that she is free,

All she loves is owed to me.

But this did not help my poetry.

You cannot live life bitterly,

And be good, or write good poetry.

Now I have a different take,

And love only for her sake,

Whether she loves me, or no.

Love is beyond any arrangement,

Love is mine. Love cannot go.

Many times love went,

But that was my fault;  now I see

The truth of love’s philosophy.

The one who dumps has no love,

The one who loves, and is dumped, does.

Love is in the individual;

All arrangements are merely practical

And not for love. Love

Enters arrangement by the blessing of individual love,

Which is the only love.

The dumped has love, the one who dumps does not,

For love lives in the individual who loves

And loves alone. I keep loving her,

And therefore I have love.

She dumped, because she lacks love.

But despite the great poetry,

I wish there had been no adultery.

I wish my wife were kissing me

Back in our little flat

And I were kissing her. And that was that.

But things will never be that way.

Our son is broke. And his hair is gray.

 

XXX POEMS BY RAQUEL BALBONI

XXX POEMS COVER.png

Arts & Letters is a new journal—with poetry and nice color reproductions of art, printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In the center of the activity around this simple, modest, but essential magazine (and small press) is Ben Mazer, the important writer/editor, currently editing the Collected Poems of Delmore Schwartz for FSG; and who offered to the public around two years ago his Selected Poems.

Arts & Letters is not burdened with an agenda, or mission; it’s primarily a clique of avant-garde friends. We think this is wise, because this is all Pound and the avant-garde “movements” really were. We suppose there were a few manifestos back in the 1920s, but in 2020 the avant-garde is more established, more relaxed.  Who needs manifestos?

Our favorite passage in Ms. Balboni’s book (actually, Feb March Arts & Letters) is this one, which concludes her first poem in the book, from page 4:

i always forget what you look like
can i borrow some photos
or act all surprised

We love this delicate turn on romance: you remember, you want to remember more, but surprise is good, too.

Ms. Balboni is best when she’s being a bit funny, or when she’s describing the psychology of love and attraction.

We find in this a kind of wild, deadpan humor:

Never try again to photograph the four unlit candles on the mantle in the fun house mirror.

We sense in Ms. Balboni’s poetry the formula articulated by Mr. Eliot 100 years ago: poetry as an escape from emotion—with the highly emotional those who need to escape. There is little emotion in Ms. Balboni’s poetry, but underneath the poetry, emotion desires to well up—it just never does. For instance:

i bowed to it in a shaky collapse
i wept over the trouble it took to find it there,
some center.

Is this due to her art, or the personality of Ms. Balboni? Or is it wrong to ask this? Should we focus on her poetry alone?

When someone keeps a diary, are they thinking, or being emotional?  Both. The diary is the attempt to reconcile thought and feelings.

What is poetry? Lyric poetry is: a diary—in which third person is changed to second.

The most interesting poems of Ms. Balboni use the word “you” frequently, and we like the ones which teasingly shudder about sex.

The use of “you” converts the mere diary writer (who writes of “him,” “her,” or “them”) to a poet; the risk is that in the public view, for protection, the diarist-now-poet’s rhetoric becomes more hidden, more obscure–and some would say, this act of obscuring is the poetry, is the art.

In the poem, “Come,” the longest poem in the volume, beginning on page 37, we get this passage to fire up the bookworm:

Using the wand in public spaces
Masturbating in the library
The library truly makes me horny
So what turns you on and how can i do it
Also makes me cum i wish
Do it all again for another chance
To see how you make me come

A few lines later, a terribly good description of what it means to be in love:

I usually think about this person most of the time but not intentionally in this new way that has been brought out in the open.

In the poem which begins on pg 23, “Healing Magic Through Words,” the poet appears as sensitive but stoic, fighting, perhaps, for her life. It begins, proudly:

You are so special
but I am more special

In the middle of the poem, the diary-turning-into-a-poem speaks:

I need to talk to you to get these thoughts in the open, when i have them to myself i have trouble fully believing in them

Ms. Balboni is very good at this: getting right to the point about something important, and being original about it. At the end of “Healing Magic Through Words,” she is getting drunk at a bar:

Drinking more, i fill my own glass to make sure there is enough for me then i give you the rest. We are close and i touch you so much more now. I expect and accept the pain later too in your bed.

This poem feels honest and brave, but we have to be careful when we assign morality to poetry. A poem which wears morality on its sleeve is no poem.

Ms. Balboni thinks—even when she is trying, for the sake of the poetry, not to think. Those who think, often offend those who feel.

To be less offended, poetry has gradually moved away from thinking (the Metaphysical poets) and towards feeling (the Romantics) and has gone even deeper into feeling, in the practice of the Moderns, who, with nervy touchiness, write obscure poetry which critics (the last vestige of thinking in poetry) can hardly understand. The pendulum will swing back, as it must, towards Romanticism, not for the sake of Romanticism, but for the criticism of it, and only in order that poetry in general swing back towards beauty, clarity, and thinking. Where Apollo, beaming and deep in thought, waits.

Punctuation is used little, if at all, in most of these poems.

In the second poem of XXX Poems, the poet experiments with the period. She uses it.

The poems which use no punctuation are no worse, and are often better, than the ones which do. The semi-colon is used once in the volume, on page 30. We find it in a writhing passage about aliens, after the word “continue;” perhaps, unconsciously, Ms. Balboni doesn’t like the semi-colon; many writers don’t; does creativity need it?

At times the poet becomes impatient with everything.

Body art
Secret art
Not doing anything art
Being so fucking high art
Fuck this im stupid art

But the next line rescues us from this impatience, because it is similar, seems more clear-headed somehow, and it’s also funny:

Obscurity is holding me back from being my full freak self

The one poem which rises out of the book’s searing ruminations into what might be called a story, or a Hawthorne tale, is “She,” on page 27, which begins with the lovely and mysterious:

She was in a secret relationship with one patch of trees in the woods

The poem turns out not to be a story—that’s not the kind of poem these are. The poem focuses on the “she” in the same, strange mood established at the start, in such a way that we soon believe the poet may be talking about herself. And yet somehow it does seem to be a story. This proves that Ms. Balboni is not your ordinary lyric poet; she is able to handle things.

Ms. Balboni is self-observing, without being self-serving. “She” is not actually a story, but it’s cohesive, coherent, and realized, in the way the best lyric poems are. These quotes will give you an idea:

what a mistake that was
getting to know her creepy bitch

~

she probably already knew i was
a freak let me tell you

she brought a Charles Bukowski book
and read it in the woods
the book with a title about horses and long days
her notebook had creamy paper dazzled with cold ink
and the smell of nauseous nicotine smoke,
of a deep breathing girl
leaning on a fence

she’s mine i think
but she’s like a barn cat
and i am the barn

I follow the directions to a ghostly hill wondering

~

She lived in a house that looked like a treasure chest
red rubies blue velvet emerald green

~

all i wanted was to see her up close
to see the way her arms blended with her neck
the sweet creamy skin, the smooth organ so there and soft
although it seemed my eyes played tricks on me when i looked at all

Ms. Balboni is poised for greatness; but she’s an introvert, and this may hinder her. Or perhaps not. Her book is full of observations such as the following, which uncannily depict love, and which only the sensitive introvert, perhaps, understands, because poetry, introversion, and love are the same:

People are outside having fun i am inside having fun

 

—Salem MA, Feb 2, 2020

 

 

WHY POETRY SUCKS SO BAD, AND IS POETRY CONTROVERSY DEAD?

My Floridian FB friend Ann Leshy Wood sent me a link to The American Journal of Poetry, a respectable, online, warehouse of mostly distinguished, widely-published, Best American Poetry, MFA-connected poets.

“Read James Kimbrels poem- he appears with my photographs in this issue—did you look at it at all?”

Wood knows me pretty well, and chides me for various things, including the fact that I sound “flat” on my musical recordings. She brags about Florida. I’ve never been to Florida. She adds, “His poem is very very long it’s very controversial he writes in meter it rhymes pretty good he’s a professor at Florida State University he got in touch with me to congratulate me on my photography”

Ann’s photography is gorgeously outdoors-y and art-enhanced: subtle but powerful colors swirling about, blooming clouds, criss-crossing trees, lonely, rugged landscapes. I decide her work is the best thing about the American Journal of Poetry issue, which features a lot of poems—too many to peruse in one sitting.

James Kimbrel’s poem is 34 Byronic stanzas summarizing recent po-biz tiffs—Dove, Alexie, Wee—and he quotes Eileen Myles asking that men simply stop writing for 50 to 100 years, and he pretty much says to her: excuuuuuse me? and questions the virtue signalling of identity politics, viscerally, as well as pedanticaly—it hinders creative thinking, etc. He closes the poem quoting Jimi Hendrix: “Power of love must usurp the love of power.”

Ann tells me Kimbrel was quickly attacked in print. I haven’t bothered to check out the attacks, because all of this is getting pretty old. And no one outside of po-biz cares, anyway.

Kimbrel’s poem is good in its formalism; it rivals Byron’s metrical ear, and I applaud that; also he seems sincere in propounding his message.

But he finally uses the same strategy as his enemies; his virtues, and the way he expresses those virtues, are exactly the same as theirs.

His rivals will just say, “sorry, that Jimi Hendrix line belongs to us, not you.”

Kimbrel’s problem is: Love doesn’t work in war.

He has left himself open to, “you are just another white privilged male claiming you’ve had it bad; that doesn’t change the overall situation, sorry.”

Mr. Kimbrel must be saying to himself, “I’m the one calling for inclusiveness; I’m the one begging for love; I’m the one living the Jimi Hendrix quote!”

And James Kimbrel is right, except he is wrong, just as they are also right—and because of this, wrong. On both sides, there is a myopic certainty of a mind finally incapable of poetic thought. The only way to drain a po-biz swamp is to do what Poe did—zealously and humorously use the critical faculty on actual poems—or, if one must be factual, find out exactly who is puffing and kissing up to whom, as Alan Cordle once did, to some effect, at Foetry.com.

Also, one should never use the rhetoric of college dorm posters—even if it is by someone as cool as Jimi Hendrix. It will only be taken up by your enemies. They attended college, too.

But to return to the topic of this essay’s title, “Why Poetry Sucks So Bad.”

Having been sent the link to the American Journal of Poetry, after I read the Kimbrel poem, I couldn’t help (and here I was in an abstract, critical mood, having read Kimbrel) but dive into the many poems, with their distinguished bios, before me. The poems were impressive, in terms of their detail. The coloring books were all colored in, without going outside the lines. There was no desperate reaching out after rhyme or meter. I knew I was reading Grade A stuff. Decent haircuts. Good, regular clothes. Honesty, but nothing weird or creepy. Sentences. Sense. Observations based on life experience, travel. Scars, wrinkles, tears, even some blood, and all professionally conveyed. More or less good people, seeking, more or less, the good, with MFA and Best American Poetry credits galore. The kind of poems which produce in every poet genuine fear: is this poetry better than mine?

But, in my detached, disinterested, curious, state of mind, after I read a number of the poems, glancing at the fancy creds (2 MFAs? Wow. 27 books? Impressive.) it hit me.

What was on display here wasn’t poetry.

What was on diplay was—the loquacious. These poets had studied and learned to be loquacious, in such a way that what they had written could reasonably be passed off as poetry.

I was reading gab.

Loquaciousness is as unstoppable as the tides in our species, as important as sleeping or eating. We love to gab. Poetry, or what passes for poetry, unlike anything else, perhaps, lends dignity and validity to gab, which many of us, either loquacious by nature—or shy, and wishing to be more loquacious—love, hold dear to our hearts, and even count as necessary to our mental and physical health.

It is true that shaping gab, measuring gab, organizing gab, is an art in itself—the stump speaker, the salesperson, the politician, the camp fire entertainer, or just a good conversationalist, will take great pride in how they present their gab.

But even when it’s being used as poetry, we need to remember that loquaciousness itself doesn’t care about poetry. It is loquacious. So how could it? Gab exists for itself, as one of the chief primitive conditions of the human race; the loquacious will not pause to let anything stand in its way, especially not an abstract—to its own loquaciousness—notion of the merely poetic, which, the loquacious of a learned bent have already determined is too complex (loquacious?) to be properly defined, anyway.

So we shouldn’t be fooled. When poetry, ill-defined and mumbling, stands at our door, seeking entrance, don’t doubt for a moment that the talkative fellow looming right above his shoulder isn’t coming in with him.

And who do you think has done the real work, made those sentences, breathed life into those flowing poems, published all those books, earned all those MFAs? The timid, uncertain, poet? Or his friend, talking fast, ripped, confident, in your face, yup, that’s right, hey! bristling with all the polite tricks and mannerisms and trivia of civilized life, already almost inside your door?

And then, in my reflective mood, a further insight struck me. Formalism, the essence of which the mere public reads as that which distinguishes a certain kind of writing as, in fact, poetry—that formalism left behind decades ago by the learnedly loquacious themselves, never has been that important in itself; the most important thing about formalism is that it is a check on loquaciousness.

If we think of formalism’s chief reason to exist as a hindrance to gab, we will better understand how formalism came into existence as poetry, when poetry was born—as itself, in terms, mostly, as an interest in form such as defines music and the plastic arts, and as a necessary check on the inevitable flood which sweeps poetry away from itself, the greatest enemy to poetry, this tidal wave which everywhere infiltrates all we call poetry—and, chattering away, makes a mockery of divine poetry—a trickling fountain covered by a howling ocean of neverending gab.

Shelley was right. There is no reason not to use meter and rhyme. But now the great reason has presented itself. It is not so much for what the cunning world of formalism is, but for the over-smooth invader it saves us from.

Now, one might attempt to refute this by saying “formalism cannot have any impact on loquaciousness since it has no effect on its opposite—reticence, and further, ancient poets did use formalism in a loquacious manner.”

But formalism cannot exist if too much reticence is present; formalism needs a fair amount of text on which to operate, so it doesn’t succumb to jingly brevity, and therefore the attributes of loquaciousness—on either side of the coin—and formalism are relevant to each other’s existence. The “check” we speak of is just that, a preventative measure—if a poet is skilled enough to be formally loquacious, free speech and poetry triumph together, and then only rarely, since skill is required, and therefore, formalism keeps the loquacious in check, as a rule.

Gab is not poetry, and will never be poetry. Gab may be loved more than poetry, and in many ways may be more important than poetry—which is all the more reason to protect poetry from gab, to isolate poetry from gab, because we know these two things exist and they are not the same.

Even if gab is poetry’s clay, they are two different things in the end. If gab is gab posturing as poetry in so many ways at present, and if this is happening, unconsciously, it should be called out, for the sake of poetry, which stands so close to gab today, that we don’t even know. Do we?

Note: this essay is not an attempt to review every poem published in the American Journal of Poetry. Every reader and poet should recognize gab when they see it, but as the article points out, gab and poetry are quite similar, and further, I hope it is clear I never meant to imply that all the poems in the AJP issue are gab.

THE NEO-CON CON

British warships in the Far East, 1920s 

A sensitive and historical piece appeared in the Federalist, recently: Are Neocons Really Back In The Trump Administration? 

A delicate piece indeed, even going so far as not to offend the neo-cons themselves, calling their globalist war dreams egalitarian.

The globalist warmongers (Bush and Clinton) may be rooted in 1930s Trotskyism, as this article says, but their roots are deeper. Neo-cons, like liberals, trace their political philosophy back to the British Empire, which fought and befriended-only-to-betray the great American Experiment which came into existence as a counter to the empire’s globalism, taxes, and slavery. The American patriots, underdogs in 1776, have always been underdogs, but miracles keep occuring; one of the biggest was oil, which transformed the world economy in the early 20th century. It’s said often, but oil really did enable the USA, blessed with deposits of black gold beneath places like Texas and Pennsylvania, to materially usurp the British Empire.

In the 19th century, Britain practically did rule the world. This is not a conspiracy theory. They did. And it wasn’t all that long ago. Five or six generations ago. That’s not a long time ago. It’s not ancient history. Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was feted by London, and lectured throughout England and America leading up to the Civil War from his work, “English Traits,” on the glory of the British Empire from a racist perpective—yes, this is true—inspired T.S. Eliot, in 1949, whose grandfather knew Emerson, to scorn and attack the pre-Civil War patriot, Edgar Poe, who died in 1849. History teaches anyone who courts her that spans of years are actually very short. And we bring up Emerson/Poe/Eliot as just one cultural, historical example of how deep and entangled the relationship between the British Empire and America is.

In 1860, the America of Washington, Hamilton, and Franklin really was on the ropes, with their old ally France occupying Mexico, and the snake, the Cofederacy, supported tacitly by Britain. Lord Russell was Britain’s prime minister then, grandfather to the great philosopher Bertrand Russell, the great, free thinking, philosopher, who, in his old age, was obsessed with World Government as the way to save the world. Kind of funny, innit?

A few years later, in the Bush era, the ruling political principle of Tony Blair and Bush was to plunge the USA into reckless, destabilizing wars. It’s what Neo-cons love to do, on behalf of the New World Order—the new British Empire.

The CIA, formed shortly after WW II, got too close to MI6, a love affair started, and American intelligence helped the USA fight on as the sophisticated, ivy league, version of the British Empire. The oil of Iran contributed to the glory of Britain until the oil deal ran out in 1979, and Tehran got a fanatical new leader to hate America and roil the middle east. To this day, American politics can be measured by how much one despises the post-1979 regime in Iran. Deplorables hate the regime. John Kerry kind of likes it.

Oil, which still makes America a colossus, is hated by the anti-fossil fuels movement, another political, fault-line, flash-point, if there ever was one.

Bernie, the commie, hates fossil fuels. The left must hate fossil fuels. This has nothing to do with science. (The left falsely believes CO2 is a pollutant. CO2 is necessary for life.)

One would suppose the Greens would hate Trump more than anyone, and they do.

Trump’s “basket of deplorables” is American patriotism pure and simple, hated equally by the two heads of the old divide-and-rule British Empire, called by various names: the Deep State, the New World Order, the DNC plus RINOs, the neo-cons, liberalism. And they rule chiefly with the help of three things: masses who want free stuff, China and Iran.

In this picture we are painting, it is telling how quickly, in 2016, the Left went full-blown McCarthyite. Another indication that behind the scenes the neo-con right and the liberal left were always the same.

Russia is especially hated by the Bertrand Russell/Winston Churchill/BBC faction of the UK.

Mother Russia was America’s ally in the mid-19th century, freeing her serfs when we freed our slaves.

Russia was our friend when the Britain of Lord Russell, and her new ally, France (of Napoleon III, not Lafayette—there’s a reason why Lafayette is named after so many places in America) almost ruled the world in 1860. So it makes sense in this context that Russia is hated (more so than when they were the Soviet Union!) and vociferously called out—on NBC and in the New York Times and in the Washington Post—as being Trump’s friend, and puppet master, by both liberals and neo-cons.

1930s international Trotskyism as the origin of the neo-cons? Perhaps. But we should take an even wider view. The true root of the neo-cons (and their liberal abetters) is 1860s British Empire/Imperial France/Free Trade/Opium Wars globalism.

After all, no one made international mischief like the globalists of London—who, when they could no longer steal oil from Iran, turned it over to the mullahs, to ensure that country would hate the United States. Think of one of the great liberals, Jimmy Carter, and the recent declassified documents showing Jimmy’s State Dept and Jimmy Carter himself, talking with the killer himself, Khomeini, to get him over from Paris and into Tehran where great mischief could be made. Jimmy and his ilk hates Trump. Khamenei hates Trump. Prince Charles hates Trump. Jussie Smolett hates Trump. Meryl Streep hates Trump. And even you, dear reader, in order not to be called a rube by an ivy league, white collar, snot, would be out of your mind, not to hate Trump. He’s crude, and his wife is prettier than your girlfriend.

But let’s keep our fingers crossed. Trade deals. Peace. True democracy. Calm before the doom and gloom on the left, right, and middle. (CBS is almost as scary as Alex Jones.)  A growing economy. And love, too, right? Love. Can’t we also have that?

TO WRITE A POEM

Image result for misty landscape in renaissance painting

To write a poem, one needs to understand

That not for one moment can the reader misunderstand

Anything. Obscure is fine, as long as it doesn’t involve misunderstanding.

The mist can cover.

Hint at anything. Love. A lover.

But let the reader know

That they don’t need to know

The whole story.

Obscurity in poetry can be your whole glory.

Do you think you’re going to run

Things perfectly seen under the sun?

And never write of sunny days. Try

This and the poem will fail

Even if you don’t know why,

And all you love are sunny days.

Writing a poem involves a certain diffident, rueful, essence;

Even poets who are merely average get this;

Sure, you can laugh leading up to a kiss,

But kissing can’t be done at length while laughing;

The same with the poem; be uproarious for any length of time,

And you may have an epic,

Where wholesale slaughter turns the reader on,

As in Homer; but this isn’t the mood for the true poem.

If it’s bold, it must come out of sadness,

Or failure. Avoid the idiot optimism

Which I fell into once, when writing of you,

When we had kissed. And more kisses were due.

 

WHY ISN’T THERE A LOVE WE ALL CAN LOVE

Image result for famous signatures

Why isn’t there a love we all can love?

Too bad there isn’t a contract we can sign

Before we occupy a mortal mind

Which says that love must always love

As long as bodies live.

Unfortunately

All we get is poetry,

And when it comes to love, poetry isn’t much to give.

We think of clever things to say,

And sometimes we say them,

But it’s never what we really meant to say.

We don’t know each other’s thoughts.

And so we are suspicious of the body,

Which is what we love and want.

I want to hold you, but I can’t.

A poem? Where is that contract I can sign

To cancel the room of my mortal mind,

Where all I do is look out at all I can’t have?

Your precious body will occupy a grave.

And won’t there be something I should have said

When I realize you—take my hand—are dead?

Not really. I blame the vast and boring mortal mind.

I want to cancel this. Yes, I’m the poet. Where do I sign?

 

 

 

 

FAKE PLATO

Related image

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

Why is poetry no longer sublime?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this Plato does not actually exist.

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

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

Shelley called Plato a poet.  And he was.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

J. ALFRED PRUFROCK AND THE RAVEN

Related image

I wish I had a loud voice,

Then people would have no choice

But to listen to me. In a restaurant,

Around friends, I would get what I want.

My friends, and even those who run the restaurant

Would have no doubt.

I would be heard. And later, with her, alone,

I could reveal the truth: “I only shout

And boast to be heard. I chose

That voice for gain,” I could whisper.

And then she would take off her clothes…

But I don’t have a voice based on a plan.

I have the voice any man

Could listen to, or not.

I’m a working stiff who commutes.

I’m careful. There isn’t any plot!

A warning: this sad poem will quietly fade away.

Is that okay?

I’m not the man people need to see.

There’s nothing about me

Which rises above something marvelous

I might say in my poetry.

I even hold still in an emergency.

I’m the softest voice you ever heard,

As quiet as that solemn bird.

 

 

NO VICES

I have no vices.

I have no habits involving spices.

The salt which the villagers lick

Was mined in the blue Ran Da.

I stroll by the blue Sun River. Wines

Could be imbibed by those who go into the mines,

I don’t know. I make it a rule not to know.

I don’t like to stand in lines.

Coffee is out because it makes me shake.

Now a short conversation is a pleasant break

From my long ruminations. I like

To ask people what they don’t like.

But I don’t need to ask them what they don’t like.

They tell me what they don’t like.

I listen carefully to what they don’t like.

It helps not to be an expert on spices.

I protect myself with memory devices.

I perceive a life without fevers.

I never bother with insinuating lovers.

I breathe a walk by insouciant rivers,

The marshland where things go slow.

To be free of vice, I seek not to know,

But take pride, nonetheless, in knowing

Where the slow miners are going,

Knowing miners, in a fog, could go down,

Could trip, by a single vice, which can easily drown

Trillions. No vice is allowed, not one!

I have my marshland under the sun,

Or the mountains where I run.

Perhaps I have a vice, maybe one;

There is one habit where everything I think and do

Is to be calm; is this a vice?

Is this how I take my revenge against you?

 

I REFUSE TO LOVE

“You can’t do that” —John Lennon

When I refuse to love,

I am happy. Why should I love you

When you refuse to love?

With great pride, I refuse to love,

Because so many say they love,

But do not love; I protest

All over the world, refusing to love.

I protest against the vanity and hypocrisy

Of millions who refuse to love—

But say they do.

I even told the one I love, “screw you.”

It soothes me; it frees me from so many obligations;

The strongest and the happiest nations

Refuse to love.

The one who is really loved, cannot love:

There is mathematical proof.

Look at it calmly and rationally:

Worthy to be loved,

Is worthy to be loved by millions,

And how will one return

Love to millions? You burn

For me, sad and lonely,

And want my poetry to be only for you.

Love is defeated by the small and the large number.

Here’s the secret. Do you want to be happy and true?

Refuse to love.

 

 

TIME FROM ITS THINGS

Image result for renaissance paintings of war ships

I love time, and I time love, when it loves and sings.

But time cannot last,

Even as time falls into its own past.

Can you tell time from its things?

My love is not time,

My love will not be governed by time,

Though sometimes it dulls my rhyme.

Can you tell time from its things?

Emily Dickinson flew in my heather.

She will be my child, forever.

There’s no reason love has to end.

Death, and the tales of its stings,

Brings monopoly to time, but I

Have memories which still cry.

Our love is great, though it’s late.

Time isn’t the same as its things.

Love sailed, and sailed for me,

And her sailors drowned in the endless sea,

And died, every one, for liberty,

And their guns will shoot and their bells will ring

Until time seems a shining thing—

Yet this tale, we know is a lie,

And will not live at all in your eye

Or in my poetry.

Did you know, even as winter brings

Cold, time is not the same as its things?

You knew this, you knew this,

Even though at times, you tired of my kiss.

Every time we finish a task,

There are more things to do.

I had to kiss you more

When I started kissing you.

But my kisses, to you, had to expire;

Your kisses were born from a strange, white fire

That burned, flame for mirrored flame,

As your suffering suffered in time—

You could not tell time from its things.

Bad and good both have beautiful faces and wings;

Many are confused, and some cannot tell

Sweet heaven from gruesome hell,

Nor time from its things.

 

CONFUSION IS NECESSARY

Image result for wolf

The sheep want to go back,

To when Walter Cronkite was the only news.

And sure, we want Cronkite to love us,

Every smiling dictator knows;

And if a dictator frown,

Sheep don’t mind it when they put them down.

The sheep have always been the problem.

Always. We know this. The wolves

Have an elan we all secretly respect,

Even as we are being devoured.

But we hate the sheep, we really do.

If only we could kill them all!

The stupid sheep! Isn’t this true?

Wherever there is a problem,

Whenever you can’t sleep,

Because you are hungry. Blame the sheep.

If you are shopping and can’t find

What you want, only a wolf will blow your mind.

The sheep don’t like many voices;

The sheep don’t say very much;

Their wool is itchy to touch.

The sheep think confusion is bad.

They want one view of Washington D.C.

And one opinion of Baghdad.

 

EVERY POEM HAS BEEN FOR ME

Image result for giving a letter in renaissance painting

Every poem has been for me,

No matter what I say, or do.

I was in a crowd, and announced,

“This poem is for Rosalinda!”

It wasn’t true.

It’s not easy to escape one’s poems.

As children to their mother, they cling to me.

Every poem a squishy mark of vanity.

The understanding is: I wrote this.

Yes, Rosalinda was meant for each kiss,

But each kiss was delivered for my sake:

I trembled and quaked.

A poor drawing of Rosalinda’s eye

Is nothing to Rosalinda. That was my

Folly—I deserve my fate

To strive long hours, to make poems for Rosalinda

That are neither interesting or new.

When love’s aim is love, it always ends in hate,

For in love, nothing aimed is true.

A good rendering of Rosalinda’s face

Only means, “look at me! I’m good!”

Bad or good still equal her disgrace.

Good, or bad, is still false, and forever.

My poems can never be for her.

Unless dear Rosalinda read

In my poem’s desire her poem’s need.

 

 

 

PROSE

I have read prose with haunting ideas, with every semi-colon in the right place:

Poetry, with a prose face.

I’ve read stanzas which made me laugh

As they sank into the paragraph;

Sentences, in prose, which crept along

As if they wanted to be in song.

I have seen plain writing,

Hinting, like a poem, at the exciting.

I’ve seen a poem, attempting to thrill;

But like its poet, it was dull.

I’ve heard Muslims dying in desert sands

Cry out for the greener lands

Of their God, with such elation,

Only poetry would be taught in their future nation.

Poetry is taught everywhere in your cry,

Rosalinda, that in your mouth I thought to die.

The prose writers are telling the joke

The poet in somber numbers spoke

Which at the time didn’t seem funny.

But now that joke is making money.

I feel a poem traveling near me in the shadow

Of a drafty mansion. An essay on sorrow

Attempted to convince me the most beautiful rose

Was black; but this could never be explained in prose.

THE EXQUISITE EDGAR POE

Related image

Edgar Poe was born on January 19, 1809.

Poe is a figure of opposites—which is what all successful people are.

First, it makes you enigmatic, which is always good, and it makes you enigmatic in a manner both complete and accessible, since opposites imply both depth and self-conscious unity, in a readily discernible manner. This will always make a character more attractive, and if not always appealing—some prefer consistency to complex magnitude—well, if today you don’t like this, tomorrow we’ll have its opposite. ‘I will always find a way to make you like me.’

Readers find Poe both emotional and mathematical.

One of his great themes was the double.

His essay on the physical universe, Eureka, was the first serious explanation of the Big Bang; it was read by Einstein, and Poe’s stunning scientific treatise is more influential than anyone will probably know. In it, we find the great opposites of the beginning when there is “nothing,” and the “bang” which produces “everything,” as matter expands into difference—which is how matter exists.

It is no surprise, then, that Poe’s detractors took to stealing from him those opposing qualities which make him truly who he is. He wrote humorous tales, but they focused soley on the ones concerned with murder. He laughed as often as he wept, but to suppress all that was great about him, all they had to do was appeal to our belief that he wept only, for we, the non-great, all share this low character—which takes delight in weeping for clowns and laughing at the sad. We laugh at Poe’s weeping, unable to accept he laughs, too. It makes us feel better. Genius, when experienced nakedly, has this way of making us, because we lack genius, feel miserable. And we don’t want to feel that. No one wants to feel overwhelmed by anyone. Hero-worship has a rule: it must have warmth and passion, but have a narrow, mean focus. Poe’s planet is both tropical and icy; but out of pride, we see him only as winter.

Poe is seen as ‘oddly this way.’ And therefore he doesn’t speak for us. He only represents a part of us. Poe has been damned with faint praise by the wise at Harvard and Oxford for so long, he is damned. He’s not perceived as one of us: an American speaking to Americans. But he was completely and soberly American in a time when Europe sneered at the upstart republic; Poe seems European, not because he strove to be that way; he was—and we have trouble seeing this—an American showing the world he could be anything he damn wanted. And seeming to be European was just one of his strategies. He lived and wrote for half his adult life in Philadelphia and New York, but somehow is boxed in as a Southerner who is a little too stiff, with a faint smell of gin, and worse, also falling into bohemian poverty which he hated—so on a personal level everyone has a reason to faintly dislike him. We’ve dressed him in borrowed clothes, in an outfit we’d like to think he wore—but Poe wears the world, the world doesn’t wear him. The default Poe that Americans “know” is not Poe, and since the private person belonging to his genius is to us a blank, the widely disseminated default simply lives on, reinforcing, inevitably, everything about him that is cheap and wrong. This happens to all of us; it’s just more magnified and unfortunate in a great writer.

For America’s sake, it’s a pity, because we lost somewhere in our Letters this true spokesman—who also happens to be one of the greatest geniuses who ever lived.

The opposites of good and evil will forever have a hold on our souls, not only in fiction, but in reality.

Poe was the Benjamin Franklin American good to colonialism’s world-cranking evil.

Poe belonged to the United States of America in its fragile, puritan, chaste, brilliant, heroic beginnings.

America is not the underdog anymore. But this is no reason to misunderstand and ignore America’s Shakespeare. Poe was not pretentious, so wouldn’t care, surely, that he’s B-movie popular. But ironically, no writer wrote for the educated few as much as Poe.

Whitman said America was “a poem.” But Poe, only 10 years older than Whitman, though he seems several lifetimes older, was America as “a poet.” Just as ‘America as a poem’ expands the definition of a poem, Poe’s ‘poet’ wrote more than poetry—murder mysteries (!) in which Dupin, an amateur, foils the chief of police, a professional. One coast of Poe barely knows the other. His laughing mountains barely know his sad valleys.

Britain, who had poets galore (America, before Poe, only school-boy imitators) was fast becoming the prose fact of the world. Places like India were colonized in reality, as America was colonized in the minds of brilliant but homely citizens like Thoreau and Emerson, who succumbed to the idea that locomotives were useless, even as U.S. manufacturing was the only thing keeping the United States free of colony status. Emerson (homely) and Poe (pretty) hated each other and Harold Bloom (homely) actually took up this quarrel, heavily on the side of Emerson. Anyone who does not consider themselves belonging to the world of locomotives will prefer Emerson, believing against all evidence that they are pretty, for taking the side of Emerson, simply because they are against locomotives.

America, with her locomotives, was the British Empire’s nightmare.

In Poe’s day, America was David to the British Empire’s Goliath, and the stone in David’s sling was not poetry; it was a locomotive. Poe was on the side of David and his locomotive, unlike Emerson’s friend Thoreau, for instance, who, unwittingly, by spurning the locomotive, sitting by his pond, played into the hands of the British Empire of colonies and holdings and farms and ponds and rivers and mines and booty and no borders. The romantic American belongs, at last, to Great Britain, and the Modernists, as Randal Jarrell surmised, were Romantics becoming so worldly they were no longer Americans—Henry James, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound— globalist white men who sneered at Poe—the world’s great literary inventor—as provincial, immature, and backwater, so devious and self-assured were they. Eliot really let loose against Poe in “From Poe to Valery,” only after American-turned-British Eliot won his Nobel.

The “smart set” thought Poe “boyish.” But this is always how worldly, defensive neurosis dismisses a clear-eyed god.

Poe, as a critic, desired two things: Always be original. Never be obscure. He called Thomas Carlyle an “ass” for being obscure.

Poe was loudly and confidently Romantic-as-Modern; no antiquarian, Poe. Look at how he defines old versus modern long before “the Modernists” appeared, in his review of a British Literature anthology:

“No general error evinces a more thorough confusion of ideas than the error of supposing Donne and Cowley metaphysical in the sense wherein Wordsworth and Coleridge are so. With the two former ethics were the end—with the two latter the means.”

Poe prefers Coleridge to Donne. But Poe finally understood exquisite and delicate imagination is far more important in poetry than ethics. Which is an idea so new that almost no one believes it. Eliot, the leading critic of the 20th century, preferred Donne to Coleridge, and now ethics in poetry is everywhere, threatening to overthrow both fancy and imagination (which Poe, ever-grounded, said were closer than we think).

In his review of the British anthology edited by S.C. Hall, Poe quotes from four poems, the first of which he does not like, a much anthologized specimen you may know, by Sir Henry Wotton:

1

You meaner beauties of the night

That poorly satisfy our eyes,

More by your number than your light,

You common people of the skies

What are you when the sun shall rise?

2

You curious chaunters of the wood

That warble forth dame Nature’s lays,

Thinking your passions understood

By your weak accents; what’s your praise

When Philomel her voice shall raise?

3

You violets, that first appear

By your pure purple mantles known,

Like the proud virgins of the year

As if the spring were all your own,

What are you when the rose is blown?

4

So, when my mistress shall be seen

In sweetness of her looks and mind,

By virtues first, then choice a queen,

Tell me if she were not designed

Th’ eclipse and glory of her kind?

And here’s the last poem which Poe quotes, by Marvell, which Poe loves:

“It is a wondrous thing how fleet

‘Twas on those little silver feet,

With what a pretty skipping grace

It oft would challenge me the race,

And when ‘t had left me far away

‘Twould stay and run again and stay;

For it was nimbler much than hinds,

And trod as if on the four winds.

I have a garden of my own,

But so with roses overgrown,

And lilies that you would it guess

To be a little wilderness,

And all the spring-time of the year

It only loved to be there.

Among the beds of lilies I

Have sought it oft where it should lie,

Yet could not till itself would rise

Find it although before mine eyes.

For in the flaxen lilies shade,

It like a bank of lilies laid,

Upon the roses it would feed

Until its lips even seemed to bleed,

And then to me ‘twould boldly trip,

And print those roses on my lip,

But all its chief delight was still

On roses thus itself to fill,

And its pure virgin limbs to fold

In whitest sheets of lilies cold.

Had it lived long it would have been

Lilies without, roses within.”

Most of us either like, or dislike, old rhyming poems. Leave it to Poe to start a war between two old gems few would bother to distinguish from each other.

Of the first poem (Henry Wotton), Poe says,

“Here everything is art—naked or but awkwardly concealed. No prepossession for the mere antique…should induce us to dignify with the sacred name of Poesy, a series such as this, of elaborate and threadbare compliments…stitched apparently together, without fancy, without plausibility, without adaptation of parts—and it is needless to add, without a jot of imagination.”

Of the Marvell, Poe, in swooning rapture, calls “the portion of it as we now copy…abounding in the sweetest pathos, in soft and gentle images, in the most exquisitely delicate imagination, and in truth—as any thing of its species.”

Whether writing on the mysteries of the universe, the mystery of a stolen letter, or on the delicate accents of poetry, Poe is a literary treasure—strict but passionate.

I CANNOT NOW REMEMBER

Image result for perspective from a train in painting

I cannot now remember what

It looked like, or what you said.

Sometimes memory is as fresh as spring

And sometimes it falls dead.

My great desire for you is only because

I am bad at remembering.

When someone is really beautiful,

Memory doesn’t work on them.

We have to constantly look at them.

This is why bad memory is crazy

And those with good memory are lazy

When it comes to desire and love.

Who could remember you?

We can’t remember the beautiful.

The beautiful is beautiful now.

A train ride is a feast for the eyes,

The three dimensional landscape

Perfect as it goes past.

A moment ago I had an idea for a poem.

But it didn’t last.

 

WHEN I ATTEMPTED TO SPEAK

Image result for sunset in renaissance painting

When I attempted to speak

On my idea that everything’s a conspiracy

I was drowned out by the clique.

They insisted that my idea that no idea matters

Was conspiratorial and mad;

Agreeing with each other, they were only too glad

To echo each other, to shout me down.

I said we think it is a trick of light

To see the waning moon, or the sun going down,

Since the moon’s gradual decrease

In size and light, or the day’s cease,

Is not a real goodbye;

The moon is just as solid as she was before,

The sun just as brave and shining;

Nothing changes but ourselves,

And really, it is a trick of light

Only to our animal senses; the trick

Is only one of perspective, not light;

Nor is the change due to ourselves,

Nor does anything happen to ourselves;

This great display of changing light,

This great display of change itself,

Is a lie; everything is as it was before;

You—not as you—and it—not as it—

Makes it seem there’s less light than before,

Makes it seem somehow something is dying,

And none of you will love me anymore.

 

 

LOVE IS BROUGHT ON BY ITS OPPOSITE

Image result for venus and mars in renaissance painting

When I was in a rage, specifically against you,

Because you insulted the very thing about myself I most admired,

And then in the same breath, praised him, for the same quality,

I found at that pinnacle of blinding hate, love.

And this made perfect sense, in a way.

Love is alchemy. I couldn’t think of anything else that day.

Dreading lack of love, love sits there with its opposite

And mockery draws a picture of it

In renaissance colors and sighs.

No one else had ever insulted me so keenly,

And yet now I wanted to kiss you.

Love, in myth, falls in love with War.

I need to be insulted, I need it more

Than praise; in a rage, I fell in love with you.

The strangest thing in life: we find that myths are true.

 

LOVE HAS NOTHING TO SAY

Image result for silent landscape in renaissance painting

She desired; I happened to be in her way.

She kissed me—looking back, Rosalinda, I’m not sure why.

A dog will lick its master, because the dog has nothing to say.

The best “last word” is not to say anything at all.

It was mild. But the sun was low; it was late fall,

We were walking to the train; she said

If the winter was cold this year, she might prefer to die.

She was moody. Suddenly, she would hint our love was dead,

And, since I always doubted her love, I would try

To lighten her mood with words,

And I remember she said strongly, “I don’t trust words.”

I realized, then, and looking back, every day,

Now that our love did finally die, she was right.

I converted. I’m silent towards her. Love has nothing to say.

Nothing you can say to love, or about love, is true;

Love sees everything. They are wrong: love isn’t blind.

Love can be defined this way:

Love is a human bond—when that bond has nothing to say.

 

 

 

 

I’M SCIENTIFIC

Related image

I’m scientific, through and through—

I don’t go to church;

I love Jeopardy just as much as you.

But you are surprised at my patriotic stance towards God.

Since I’m elitist and secular, my conservative views strike you as odd.

I need foolish comfort; I’m Socratic, and full of doubt,

My scientific nature pushes all certainty out;

Everyone’s mean and crazy, the sun is setting;

All that’s possible are intelligent guesses

As we confront psychotic no’s and Pollyanna yes’s.

I have no idea, so I’m betting:

I’m guessing science is a lender, not a thief,

That faith is about behavior, not belief;

God is nowhere; yet, why shouldn’t I choose

The door hiding God? As a poet, I see

All life is dead, but expressed poetically—

Just as I am—but am not—my muse.

I smile, and when I do, my muse grins.

Is mathematics still mathematics when it sins?

I have to believe calculating odds is smart.

It verifies the art inside the art.

The blank, which might be God, still imagines

There is God. And comfort, which belief in God brings,

Is one of those scientific things

Science—conscious of its limits—should embrace,

Traveling through cold, dark, vast, space,

Guessing it will see another looking face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

APOLLO SPEAKS

I’m boring, I know. But I have to be

Like others, for you to understand my poetry.

I stand among white petals that fall and die.

In one hand I hold the sun, and in the other, a slightly smaller eye.

In the center of the red sidewalk

I hold a red piece of chalk.

I have to be like them; they are the air

I was born to breathe. You stare

With amazement, because I seem

Beautiful and different; but this is an empty dream;

In the end, no matter what I say—

“Sun! Red! Love!”—you’ll find the same clay

Went in to making me

As that artist in the shadows there—

No, don’t stare—

Keep your eye on my poetry.

Did you think I was going to give you something?

Lady, this is robbery.

LOVE IS THE APPEARANCE OF LOVE

Love is the appearance of love.

None of us are meant to love.

Did you think you were going to go on Dick Cavett

And explain yourself? OK, where, then?

Privately, you would contemplate your jealousy?

None of us were meant to love.

It looked to me like George Harrison,

Post-Beatles, wanted to punch Dick Cavett in the face.

But even George was not willing to go that far to illustrate

The cunning misery of the human race.

The world is how the world looks.

Did you think you were privileged to know more?

If I told you, you had as much free will

As a ball rolling towards the edge of a table,

A table moderately lifted, and your motion

Is all you know of life and free will,

Would you start asking me about the table

And what it means? Is God a table, then?

No, you wouldn’t. You’d get what I meant, and that’s all.

So why do want to know the ultimate meaning?

It’s not for you to know, even if there is one.

Know the answer? You are simply not able.

None of us are meant to love.

You’re jealous. Do the math.

There is a table.

MY MUSE DISAPPEARS BEHIND THE DARKENING HILLS

Related image

My muse disappears behind the darkening hills.

I no longer love you.

My muse disappears behind the darkening hills.

 

 

THE JOKE THAT’S TRUE

Image result for challenger explosion

The best lyric poetry

Begins with the proper sadness.

If ape or astronaut die before they are born,

I hope, for a little while at least, you will mourn.

Ricky Gervais told a joke that’s true:

Liberals are not liberal. Some

Will never get that joke.

They will make a face, their stomach

Will churn. Your face and stomach

Will stop any joke from being funny.

The world is unwell. We can no longer

Say what we are anymore. Christians

Are not Christians. Muslims are not

Muslims—even if all the joking stops.

I cannot say anything about anything anymore;

I need to be a divine comic.

I cannot say what I’m saying. And you cannot

Say what you are saying in response—unless we laugh.

The only joke you tell that’s true

Is yours, making fun of you.

 

POETRY IS LAZY

Image result for anna akhmatova"

Poetry is lazy and wants the lazy life to stay,

And with imagination, returns to yesterday.

Poets are lazy, and they lie against the wall,

Their feet on the bed, immeasurably tall.

I go back to Riverside Drive in my mind.

Anna Akhmatova. My childhood was anything but blind.

Poetry is lazy; the best of it is lazy, with a dying fall.

A lazy poet wants to tell you he’s here—

But not in this young, busy atmosphere.

You have no idea how lazy the gods are,

Those titans of the past, who hardly move,

Standing around like that steady star:

The visible point of your lost love—

And everything you are.

Poetry is lazy. It spends time on the face,

Before it kisses the body of the poem.

Look, it’s right here. This is the poem:

Take my disgrace.

 

WHY CAN’T THIS

Image result for a man in anguish in renaissance painting"

Why can’t this poem please right away?

Why must this poem be read?

Why do poems need to be collected,

To live in books when the poet is dead?

How does someone survive all the hours of a day

Without imagination?

Why do I need to write you a love poem?

Immediately love can be expressed;

But instead we enter the long poem’s waste;

It was a waste to translate my love into loveless words—

So you might deign to see my design in them,

Travel backwards in them, to what is nothing

But my desire, which looks to be satisfied immediately,

Prior to all this useless poetry.

And no poem could cause my desire to go, or stay.

Why can’t love be love?

Why can’t a poem please right away?

 

 

 

HONESTY IS UNCERTAIN

Honesty is uncertain. There’s too much to know,

Which makes the world honest, uncertain

Because of all the things to know. This is why

Dishonesty, appearing to know, and winning

Over shy uncertainty with its bold act,

Runs things, trampling on honesty and tact.

But if there were not so many things to know,

If there were not so much uncertainty and honesty,

The world would not be fraught

With so much swift dishonesty. Because I was fooled

By your certainty, I was ruled

By your certainty; and you, by my certainty;

Uncertain pilots—but somehow we flew.

We loved completely and dishonestly,

You betraying me, and me betraying you.

This was how we loved. And this was all we knew.

 

BEST SHORT POP RECORDINGS OF ALL TIME (2:30 OR LESS)

Image result for 1950s recording studio with cigarettes"

Compiling this list, as we looked over decades of music, we found ourselves asking, “What happened to the two minute pop song?”

In 2015, streaming became the best source of revenue in the music business.  In streaming, the shorter the song, the more it can be heard, and this equals more money.

So guess what’s happening?

Songs are getting shorter.

In 2000, the average song on the charts was over 4 minutes.

Now we’re down to about three and a half minutes, and two minute songs (and shorter) are beginning to pop up, again.

For almost 50 years, the two minute hit song has been dead.

Now it’s coming back.

Most of the songs on this list are from the 50s and 60s.

If you don’t see your favorite artist, it could be because they never made a mark under two and a half minutes.

We were very strict with this list.  The most glorious songs running to 2:31 were rejected.

At first, we set the standard at 2:06, the length of “Yesterday,” the pace setter, but too many short songs recorded by masters of brief hits would have been left out, so we settled on two and a half minutes—interminable, if one doesn’t happen to like the song, but still brief enough to meet the standard.

Elvis and the Beatles had hits under two minutes; these two famous acts produced many great songs in the ‘two minutes’ territory. (To keep the list from being dominated by the Beatles, we had to leave off All My Loving, She Loves You, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, Martha My Dear, and many other favorites.) Producing a short recording isn’t easy for songwriters and bands to do. A 12 bar blues song tends to be at least three minutes. Most popular songs before and after (and during) the Elvis/early Beatles era were three or four minutes long. Groups like Devo, the Sex Pistols, the B-52s, and even the Ramones, usually took at least 3 minutes to say what they needed to say. Commercial reasons aside, one wonders: did the relatively short length of their songs (done consciously?) give Elvis and the Beatles a feverish, energetic boost as artists?

Whole decades are dominated by songs averaging four minutes in length—the whole philosophical, or just stylistic question, of the duration of a song, is a fascinating one. What if Mozart and Beethoven symphonies were all four minutes long—would these masters be considered “easy listening?”  How long do we want a song to be?  What imposes length? We think immediately of commercial air time, or now, commercial streaming time. But certainly aesthetics plays a part.

Two minutes is plenty of time to both tell a story and to feature intro, verse, chorus, bridge, and a short solo.  What else do we need?

Time is precious.  We are busy people.

So let’s get right to the list, in no particular order:

1. Yesterday -The Beatles  ~Paul McCartney, perhaps the happiest person on the planet, dreamed this brief gem of a broken-hearted song in the middle of Beatlemania.

2. Between The Bars -Elliott Smith ~This guy had a direct, poignant sound like no other.

3. You Don’t Own Me -Lesley Gore ~An early, operatic, feminist, masterpiece from the golden age of the short pop form.

4. Gin House Blues -Nina Simone  ~You probably don’t know this one. Off her early, great album “Forbidden Fruit.” It’s about gin. But does that matter?

5. All Shook Up -Elvis ~He ruled the short genre.

6. Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want -The Smiths ~When you hear a song like this, you think, ‘Why does a song ever have to be long?”

7. White Rabbit -Jefferson Airplane  ~Is this song missing a chorus? Does it have a completely different structure, or does it just feel that way?

8. Universal Soldier -Buffy St. Marie ~This is more than a 60s anti-war song; it’s a whole soul cry.

9. The Good Life -Tony Bennett ~Even when pop songs were elegant, they featured lyrics which were partially a mystery. Please tell me what this song means!

10. Subterranean Homesick Blues -Bob Dylan This is one of his shortest. His pop genius tended to express itself in three to six minutes.

11. Ferry Cross the Mersey -Gerry and the Pacemakers ~The lilting, lazy (but brief) way to pop immortality.

12. A Day In The Life Of A Fool -Harry Belafonte ~Not his signature song, but a great version of a classic, the one version we found which clocks in under 2:30.

13. Georgy Girl -The Seekers ~Do they write swift, catchy, urbane, hopeful songs like this anymore?

14. Fly Me To The Moon -Frank Sinatra ~”Grown-up” music like Frank’s tended to run three and a half minutes long, not two. This one’s a little over two. Obviously there’s no hurrying Frank.

15. 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) -Simon & Garfunkel ~A breezy, under-two-minutes, swirl of swooning, 60s harmonizing.

16. Summertime Blues -Eddie Cochran ~A teenage, working class, lament—from 1958, covered in a live recording by The Who, in 1967.

17. Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat -Guys and Dolls ~A full but fast Broadway musical number of arch religious urgency.

18. Bad Moon Rising -Creedance Clearwater Revival ~Pure, neat, and rocking.

19. Immigrant Song -Led Zeppelin ~They led the FM radio, longer song, wave of earnest rock; this minor hit from their third album is uncharacteristically quick.

20. Fun Fun Fun -The Beach Boys ~No surprise that they had short songs.

21. People Are Strange -The Doors ~The bad boys of AM radio loved the long song almost more than anyone else. But they had structured pop brevity, too.

22. Elenore -The Turtles ~Joyous romanticism.

23. Sealed With A Kiss -Brian Hyland ~A very pretty song, with the perfect bridge.

24. She’s Not There -The Zombies ~Beatles plus Dylan. Add mood.

25. Everyday -Buddy Holly ~The nerd Elvis. Died at 24.

26. I Fought The Law -Bobby Fuller Four ~Rolling rhythm of iconoclasm.

27. Eleanor Rigby-The Beatles ~Bite-sized classical music

28. Play With Fire -The Rolling Stones ~The Stones tended to stretch out; in this early, brief song, they ply one of their common themes: telling a chick who’s boss.

29. Plays Pretty For Baby -Saosin ~This rocks beautifully for 2 minutes and 2 seconds.

30. I Want To Hold Your Hand -The Beatles ~Their early hits get right to it; no lengthy intros, solos, or fade outs.

31. Teas -Donovan ~The most talented folk rocker of them all? Even this obscure song is great.

32. You Really Got Me -The Kinks ~Ray Davies began writing songs because he didn’t like the songs his talented band was covering. Great songwriting in the 60s was an amateur explosion.

33. The Needle and the Damage Done -Neil Young ~The somberest pleasure.

34. Dance Music -Mountain Goats ~Upbeat, hipster-era song with autobiographical feel.

35. Blister in the Sun -Violent Femmes ~Post-60s mannerism.

37. Blitzkrieg Bop -The Ramones ~When parody is so menacing and serious it’s good.

38. September Song -Nat King Cole ~A wonderful melancholy pop song and a wonderful melancholy  pop singer.

39. Let’s Twist Again -Chubby Checker ~Dance informs song in one way or another.

40. Falling In Love Again -Marlene Dietrich ~She’s had enough of you. But you want her.

41. Roll Over Beethoven -Chuck Berry ~It wasn’t true that Beethoven could be so good and  little pop numbers could also please. But it was true.

42. Blueberry Hill -Fats Domino ~When blues became pop.

43. Tutti Frutti -Little Richard ~A voice that goes through the roof even as electric is taking over the house.

44. La Bamba -Ritchie Valens ~The guitars on this song are fantastic—speaking Spanish or not.

45. Wake Up Little Susie -Everly Brothers ~Everything: Rock, country, folk, great guitar playing, great vocals, story, hooks.

46. Gucci Gang -Lil Pump ~A tiger laughs in this video, a recent hit which shows rap songs getting shorter. The 2 minute hit is returning.

47. Massachusetts -Bee Gees ~Their melody and vocals have great charm.

48. It’s Nothing To Me -Sanford Clark ~A barroom fight story.

49. Fell In Love With A Girl -White Stripes ~Snappy vocals and crunchy rock sound.

50. Communist Daughter -Neutral Milk Hotel ~Crunchy melancholy with a nice trumpet solo.

51. Lump -Presidents of the United States of America ~Hard and catchy.

52. Wrong Way -Sublime ~Tells a miserable story fast, with knock-about energy.

53. Letterbox -They Might Be Giants ~This song (1:26!) has a nice ‘wall of sound’ sound.

54. Game of Pricks -Guided By Voices ~A minute thirty of driving guitars and nice chord changes.

54. Danville Girl -Pete Seeger ~A sweet, melancholy, hobo song. A treasure.

55. Norwegian Wood -The Beatles ~Even as they became more sophisticated, they retained their early-days-knack for ravishing brevity.

56. It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie -The Ink Spots ~Insouciant (and influential) blues/rock & roll—they formed in 1932! One of the best vocal groups of all time.

57. Ain’t No Sunshine -Bill Withers ~1970s Smooth.

58. This Land is Your Land -Woody Guthrie ~Folk music for the U.S.A.

59. Rocky Top -The Osborne Brothers ~Fast and sweet.

60. Doo Wah Diddy Diddy -Manfred Mann ~A great vocal, and a really fun song.

61. Walk Like A Man -The 4 Seasons ~Your great-grandfather’s rock n’ roll.

62. Run Away -Del Shannon ~Melancholy romp.

63. Honky Tonk Blues –Hank Williams ~The Poet of Country Blues

64. He’s A Rebel -The Crystals ~That undying theme: the outsider rebel who woos.

65. Love Potion Number 9 -The Searchers ~A song doesn’t need much time to tell a story.

66. Come See About Me -Supremes ~Motown gals.

67. You Gave Your Love To Me Softly -Weezer ~A big, fuzzy sound over traditional structure.

68. Don’t Be Scared -Daniel Johnston ~Nice song. Sometimes being less scared matters.

69. Nervous Breakdown -Black Flag ~The lyrics, performance, and music sync up well.

70. Black Hole -The Urinals ~When a punk song has a certain softness, it’s always interesting.

71. Loneliness -The Residents ~The apocalypse: in a murky one minute and seven seconds.

72. Come In Stranger -Johnny Cash ~Country guitar over boogie woogie, and that voice!

73. Single Pigeon -Paul McCartney ~After the Beatles. The greatest pop songwriter of them all?

74. Untitled -Bauhaus ~Spooky war sounds and mumbles.

75. Colossal Youth -Young Marble Giants ~Toy instrumentation and girl vocal.

77. Moulin Rouge -Tim Buckley ~A trumpet, a bit of French, a sweet, vampy vocal.

78. Dean’s Dream -The Dead Milkmen ~Some punk is punk—but practiced with art.

79. Outdoor Miner -Wire ~Exquisite pop number which fades out at 1:45 just because it wants to.

80. Orchid -Black Sabbath ~Spanish guitar sound in a ‘less is more lesson’ from Tony Iommi.

81. 30 Century Man -Scott Walker ~”See the dwarfs and see the giants…” 89 seconds of pondering an attitude.

82. She’s A Hunchback -The Dickies ~One minute and twenty seven seconds of melodic, rhyming, punk genius.

83. Remember the Day -Sibylle Baier ~The winsome dream of girl and guitar, languid and sweet. She’s fantastic.

84. Follow God -Kanye West ~Self-assured enough to say big things casually and briefly.

85. It Never Was You -Lotte Lenya ~Married to the songwriter, Weil, who wrote for Brecht.

86. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas -Judy Garland ~Her voice was too valuable to waste on a two minute song, but we found this Christmas song…

87. Second Hand Rose -Barbra Streisand ~The hit maker; this is from “Funny Girl.”

88. Hit The Road Jack -Ray Charles ~Brightly Percussive, with call-and-response.

89. Yes Indeed -Drake & Lil Baby ~Rap, backgrounded by its music, splits the mind.

90. Lazy Confessions -The Moldy Peaches ~Breathless hipsterism.

91. The Letter -The Box Tops ~A sophisticated, multi-instrument, formula hit in just 2 minutes.

92. Mercedes Benz -Janis Joplin ~G-Eazy’s rap song samples Joplin’s throw-away rather well.

93. Go In -Bigklit ~A recent girl rapper moving into short song territory.

94. Stay -Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs ~The falsetto “won’t you stay?” still excites.

95. Because -Dave Clark Five ~Iconic British invasion band originally formed to fund their soccer team’s travels.

96. I’m Henry VIII I Am -Herman’s Hermits ~Rock and roll can be kids music.

97. Jumpin’ Judy -Erik Darling ~From the folk album “True Religion,” one of the best ever made.

98. Yakety Yak -The Coasters ~A ‘clean your room’ song, fun, socially real, but innocent, and under 2 minutes.

99. Walking My Baby Back Home -Johnnie Ray ~Would have preferred “Cry,” but it was a little too long.

100. The Entertaining of a Shy Girl -Donovan ~If you don’t appreciate the genius of Donovan where have you been?

101. Black-eyed Susie -Ralph Stanley ~A bluegrass tempo can fit everything into two minutes.

102. The Scarecrow -Pink Floyd ~This band will always be Syd.

103. What’s New Pussycat -Tom Jones ~All that excitement in 2:09!

104. It’s Only A Paper Moon -Ella Fitzgerald ~”It’s a Barnum and Bailey world, just as phoney as it can be, but it wouldn’t be make-believe, if you believed in me.” A classic. And we cheated. The final note of this complex arrangement sounds at 2:32. For Ella we’ll do anything.

 

HOW SHALL WE CHANGE (A RADICAL TREATISE)

How shall we change the hard-working elders’ definition of sin—

And further, what exactly shall we wrap our late 19th century evil in,

So that we can do anything? OK first, let’s say

Why we want complete freedom. Today,

As long as it is today, is free.

Tomorrow features regrets and graves,

But today will always be sex and poetry.

So that’s our first good reason. Today

Forgets, doing what it wants now,

And tomorrow will just become today, anyhow.

So let’s do whatever we want for that clever, immediate reason.

And there’s a second reason: we’re lonely;

Evil, as you know, will always be lonely; evil is afraid—

We fear there’s nothing to sex and poetry,

And all that’s bright is destined for the shade.

So we want groups of people, our group

Made of groups, to prevent loneliness. A wild, full company

Of mobs thronging. The one mad troop,

Trooping self-consciously as a troop; we,

As the mob, the mob which knows itself as a mob,

The all, which knows itself as all,

Groups together for this reason alone,

An army for one purpose: standing tall

Against the one real enemy:

Loneliness. We feel this, naturally, because we fear

Darkness growing against our poetry.

What can we say otherwise,

Unless we are many, many eyes?

So this is what we wrap our evil in,

This is how we redefine our elders’ definition of sin:

Something must be done now.

It will be done, for tomorrow becomes today, anyhow,

And it will all be done

By all of us who doubt—which is, everyone—

We, who parade in long troops into the darkening hills, just because we fear

Our poetry and love ends right here.

But it doesn’t. As I pointed out

Today keeps arising, the deferral of our doubt

Is eternal. Our today

Loves eternally. You buy my poem forever,

No matter what it is. This is the way,

No matter who I am, my beliefs, what hills these are, or the weather.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NEW YEAR’S POEM FOR ____

Love always catches us loving superficial things;

Love is the mad, impetuous rush to embrace breasts, dresses, eye color, rings.

Here comes 2020, and we make a big deal of a date.

Can we save our love which died in 2013? No, the decade’s over. Too late.

All lovers suffer this paradox. Everything felt deeply

Was based on the trivial—

The most dramatic love, singing with poetry,

Was the one based on a raindrop whim.

The love which was dramatically full

Was the one which immediately became empty!

You asked me to give up the “good life,”

As your creeping heteropessimism

And woke disgust with “old boy”capitalism

Filled your heart, the more you saw me as someone who desired you as a wife.

I wasn’t reading the same woke signs

You were reading. I just thought you were being involuntarily cryptic, sad, unkind.

And you were. Love is never about the world at large;

Love is inane, private, trivial things.

Cleopatra gliding on her perfumed barge

Is not love. And when Frank Sinatra sings,

That’s not love, either. Nor Bruno Mars. Love isn’t Queer Theory

Or marriage, or socialism, or the “good life,” or years.

Love is you, confused by me, confused by you, crying small, small tears.

 

 

 

 

TOO POLITE

Everyone is being polite,

And that’s the problem with the poetry tonight.

Everyone praises, so I cannot tell

Whether I am doing well.

Publish me in your magazine;

OK. Now it’s impolite to say what else you mean.

Look at all these modern, busy bees:

Poetry’s unspoken absurdities.

The truth, which is both common and dear,

Enforces its reality then, and now,

But so coyly, I never know when, or how

Truth is calling, or not calling my name:

“Here I am!” But truth, and the search for truth are not the same.

Tonight we wanted to discuss the MFA:

Legitimate, or not? We were too polite to say;

Those who had one, taught in one,

Earned their living from an MFA,

Were too vulnerable. There was nothing we could say.

Polite is best when driving—traffic laws have one object:

Agree. To get home, I will let

You go first. No poetry here. The stop

Sign works best when it’s obeyed.

“G’nite Mrs. Richards, g’nite Sal!”

Delay here—so later you won’t get delayed;

Accommodate the motions

Of all; but why do we have such odd notions

Of poets and poetry? Poetry isn’t traffic.

The point of poetry is not for everyone to get along

By stopping and conceding and delaying.

Poetry is the immediacy of song;

Poetry runs the stop sign of all saying,

No poet can tell poetry what to say.

Poetry is not like truth, in that truth

And the search for truth are not the same.

Poetry is not polite, ordered by route and name.

Poetry is honest. Poetry seeks blame.

Poetry seeks revenge. Poetry knows evil.

Poetry loves crooked and level.

Poetry spills the beans.

Poetry peels off everyone’s jeans

And laughs. Poetry will not be dropped

For something else; song can’t be stopped.

Poetry, and what I’m saying

About you, are the same. Delaying

Is impossible. What I’m saying

On the poetry is the poetry,

Was the poetry, and will always be the poetry.

Poetry and truth are the same.

Jonathan! Do you see how hypocrisy dies in my flame?

 

 

 

 

 

 

I LOVE WAR

I love war, since the fight over beauty

Fights to preserve the most beautiful beauty—

The flower allowing every bee a taste—

So that beauty is never a waste,

And beauty at last is wise and witty;

And beauties will knock down every door—

You know the old story: nature wants more.

And beauty? Beauty is both check and urge

On the cloudy bank backing the pinkish, war-like, surge—

And the most beautiful ones amass,

So that no one on beauty may pass.

Cain is self-evidently ugly and jealous,

History, the cleaning up of the murdering mess.

I feel great when love is avenged,

Even after years; across the centuries, love’s vigilance is ranged.

Weeds need peace to march along

Without one beautiful song.

Love is the lazy sublimity

Of my war’s competitive poetry.

Yes, with a sigh, I compete;

My verse for all that, still selfless and sweet.

You don’t believe it? Look:

I am not my poem. Even when it cries about you and me in this book.

Love became blood, when I, the aggressor

Contradicted the grim professor

On her behalf—

The silk, abstract, giraffe,

The lovely, panting, gazelle—

Who I knew so well;

Also, that professor,

Whose views on beauty insulted her,

The most beautiful, who embarrassed

Him—and his footnoted events of the past;

The sad women covered by plain cloth wrapped,

In the proper strapping of the strapped,

Not to mention the historic anomalies.

Now Beauty with beauty agrees,

And all those not beautiful are in dispute;

Unfortunately, the Committee of the Non-Beautiful agrees

To wage war against her, and her beauties.

Even though I love them, I don’t have the time

For them, all these beauties who rhyme,

Their poems which let me worship them,

Clothes on the flower, perfume on the stem,

The root crowned by a sigh and a diadem.

Established by our rank, we,

May not be in the rank of beauty;

For these, Plato said,

Are either soldier, artisan, or the philosophical godhead,

Not these wine goblets of flowers

Which furnish us our forgetfulness in our amber and austere hours.

Am I forgetting someone?

War acting like love, but with an empty gun?

Nature plotting increase with increase, the whole plot;

Artificial shortage, the only thing, finally, the wealthy villain has got.

Whip on these horses onto the easily invaded plain,

Go for the table settings.

I, the humble lover, remain,

Enabled by Abel, and watched by Cain.

HOW IS THIS PRISON

How is this prison, if I’m imprisoned with you?

There are no fresh breezes here, no new

Sights to see, no intelligent, winding ways,

No green paths for any of these days.

But to me, confinement is true

When confinement is me

In confinement with you.

When it’s me who discovers

You—as all other lovers,

With places to go,

Fade—and by this prison I slow;

I look: the only fact

Is this prison, and by this prison I know

Facts, prisons, prisoners. To act

Like there is more would be the source of all my woe.

I leave hope, and all the cunning

Optimism I know—

Look, the rats are running—I go

Slowly into the prison where you

Are my face, and you are everything I do.

You have put yourself there.

Why do I need fresh air

When your breath holds my care—

When your arms, which have waited for me,

Hold me dearly against your poetry,

And your fate which drew me in

Is the only lesson with which I begin?

It is this poem—announcing prison—

Which is the limit, not of this prison,

But of this world—one I believed

Was real, and one I grieved.

A world I believed was everything. But no;

Your way; you; prison, and you—

All my prison, all I know,

Imprisoned in, imprisoned with you;

You looking in my eye, looking in yours,

You allowing me, now, to stay,

As I can, and will,

All prisoners, all poets, lying this still.

 

 

ANTI-WAR POEM

This poet is not only beautiful, she will write

On whether days are better for writing,

Or whether it’s better to write poems at night.

I bet you didn’t know this was important to know.

I didn’t know about these narrow streets of advice.

Advice runs through every town. In Kosovo

Her boyfriend was a menace door to door

And later was beat up by VA police

When he sought mental health counseling

Denied by the agency, out of reach

Since he tested positive after the weekend at Myrtle Beach.

You cannot have simple views of veterans

And wars. Free money breeds corruption.

And war? Get in uniform. Take the tour.

Work at filing in a mononotous job. War.

You’ll see how it all gets started, when

You can’t take it anymore. When the yen

Rises or falls against the dollar, when

You get home from work drenched in sweat.

When your job depends on suspicious people you’ve never met.

We know how the madness starts; if you only

Had some kind of skill to keep

You out of trouble. Why did you go

After short term pleasure? I know, I know,

You were sick of advice, sick of being taught.

You figured out too late how everything—everything—is sold. You bought

What was waved in front of your face,

Graphically. You trusted your eyes.

Beauty is a business. Yes, I like her poetry, too.

Veteran’s Day? What exactly does it mean to you?

The Great War’s Armistice. You know what they say:

What it really was: Screw the Germans Day.

She’s beautiful. She’s a poet. She’s also nice.

It isn’t the poetry. It’s the advice.

 

 

 

 

HOLIDAY

Image result for train at night in the station in painting"

Yesterday was your birthday,

And now I realize it was a holy day for me.

I didn’t do anything. I worked. I bought

Breakfast and lunch. I calmly thought,

With highest, secret pleasure, about you;

How strange to think that’s what I do:

To think all day, every day, about you.

But yesterday was your birthday,

And I believe it is a holy day—

Because I noted the day in my head,

And for no other reason. Your existence

Gives existence to mine. “Our love is dead,”

As they say, when two lovers break up; sure,

That happened. We don’t speak anymore.

In fact, I’m not allowed to speak to you.

And that makes it sweeter. I’m free.

To love without speaking, in secret poetry,

In sweet (or bitter) thoughts, I trace

All that happened: your beautiful face

Kissing mine. What else happened? I don’t know.

I was happy yesterday. My lunch was good. The train was a little slow.

 

 

 

WHY SHOULDN’T I TELL YOU ONLY

Why shouldn’t I tell you only about myself?

This is all I know. I have not been

Conditioned to think I know the key to something else;

I will not lie, like all the rest.

Talking away from yourself

Is the best way to lie, but if I talk of me

Talking of me; if I cannot escape myself,

No lie is possible. This is truth and poetry.

They may say it’s selfish, or mad,

To be like this, to be self-obsessed;

But myself is not just what I know the best,

It is the only thing I know;

And if you are honest,

You know it, too.

You pretend and lie about everything else,

Don’t you?

Here is what we’ll do:

I will talk of me and you will talk of you,

Defending ourselves, not lying,

Exposing ourselves, laughing, crying,

Entering a heaven of intimacy

Defended by increasing self-examination and honesty;

If I pick up a guitar,

I will not teach; I will say here’s what I know I cannot do until you know it; we are

Receptacles ourselves of all knowledge.

We will examine ourselves in the world

Until we are geniuses in our honesty.

Your eye will be my eye.

And by ourselves there will be more expressed

Than all the science and all the manners pronounced by all the rest.

I’ll listen to you, and you’ll listen to me,

And in our irreverent originality,

With unbounded faith in ourselves,

No lie will mar our life and poetry.

And we will be like scientists, too;

Through pure honesty, I will be a scientist,

Who, until the end—oh God will there be an end?—loves you.

 

 

 

OH DARLING

Image result for the song oh darling"

There is only yearning, and when I sing,

What will it be, but “oh darling?”

This is all I know, and the rest

Is a mystery; I love; I know that’s the best;

But what this means is, also, I don’t know,

Because love is never about what you know.

Love is only about when you sing

Those two words, “oh darling!”

The “oh” is the simple groan

Of passion, felt, expressed, but unknown,

In how it whispers or yells, inarticulate,

Passion the big expression inside the little bit.

There is nothing to understand, or know,

About that “oh!”

As far as the word, “darling,”

Here lies everything we might ever sing

In fondness, desperation, or praise.

There’s a recording; and it forever stays.

But most of the time we’re embarrassed; did you ever sing

To someone, “oh darling?”

I once loved curves and whims.

Now I love her thin limbs.

Tomorrow I’m going to sing,

“Oh darling!”

She will be surprised.

I’m going to discover a few things in her eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

NOT MY PRESIDENT, NOT MY POEM

Image result for shakespeare"

Let her love somebody else. She can. And will.

What if dogs could vote? No more “walks!” Open spaces for play!

Bark all the time! Woof! No more “dog food!” Only fresh kill!

Democracy gets whatever it wants. Some day

You will get a better government, where votes

Will not disappoint you; until then, don’t “educate.” Don’t say

Dogs are “damned dogs.” Don’t blame dogs. Democracy dotes

On winners, on breeding, breed-ist, dogs. Accept the loss.

Otherwise, democracy loses. And it’s not

Your loss, anyway.

When I say “Jesus Christ!” it offends my Catholic wife.

I was raised an atheist—but with Shakespeare, Christmas, and all the rest.

What the vulgar say has nothing to do with life.

Democracy is permanent. Losing to it, the best.

It doesn’t matter, outside the poem, what I say.

I don’t care if you’re black, Mexican, and trans-gay,

Or an earth model is on the spectrum of hot.

No one says you must love anything a lot.

She is allowed to

Love another. Even you.

 

 

 

DON’T LOOK

Don’t look. Don’t read that book.

It is always better not to look.

The genius sees little, but what he sees

Invades his poetry with ease.

There is no exception; the world is full

Of horrible protesters protesting the horrible.

If you see too much

You will lose genius and its soft touch.

Superior knowledge will equal anxiety

And too many things inhibiting poetry.

The genius lets attractive illusion do

What sad knowledge is doing, too—

But sad knowledge

Thinks, and pays, and goes to college,

And is forced, in every instance, to acknowledge

The parts separated from the whole,

The parts which strive, in difficulty, for the soul of knowledge,

Studied and learned as parts in college,

Heaping up misunderstandings of the soul.

Being is majority, of which majority is the whole

Majority which, as the majority of the whole,

Represents the being of whatever lives as that

Whole thing which the parts are separated from,

And all the parts, to be real, become

Separated, the flaking off of sad parts

From the whole, and these hearts

Protest endlessly in pain

Like rain falling down on rain.

The protest is in vain.

I found my will

By saying nothing and standing still.

These parts, in cold, lonely, orbit

Would join the mass—but the movement runs them out of it.

The majority is all there is.

But wait. There is a quiz.

You have to figure out what the majority is.

There is only one sunshine in your eye.

The universe has no choice but to be one.

Amazed and sad, you see that I,

Happy poet, who wrote this one thing, am already done.

 

 

 

 

WHEN THE POET RAPS

Image result for kanye loves god"

With that bragging confidence which drips cool,

Rap makes money, which allows you to be a fool.

But without money, your colorful attitude is annoying,

Hip hop a nerd mall cop when the money’s not pouring.

Simple beats and frank sexuality

May not be good poetry,

But visual brag,

Professional videos of modern classical music in drag,

Sampled thievery and party scenes,

Means the rapper doesn’t need to explain what he means.

The grunt is enough, the shuffling thug life

Cool to cuck, intriguing to wife.

But don’t ask me; rap songs all seem the same,

Like cigarettes, like bias, like anybody’s name.

What, you think I’m a racist because I don’t like Obama?

Do you think I hate my mother cause I don’t like your mama?

Shit.

Here’s my chorus: Oh Shit.

Rap makes you confident; no person wants to be afraid,

And then some producer says hey you get paid.

I tried rap, and I’m still nice.

I know it’s just an act. But this is not an act: I’m your only vice.

You suffer, sorry.  This poem doesn’t give advice.

I saw your charity. So I knew you still loved me. That was nice.

Oh Shit.

Do you think you are good now? Is that it?

 

 

 

 

MODERATE

Image result for film noir bad guy"

The pundits kept talking “moderate”

And “suburban Republican women”

And I just wanted to scream.

There has never been a poet with a moderate dream.

Here, moderate does not exist.

The seasons take or give.

The airy cliffs frighten, or inspire;

The attractive view only in this light can live.

The rhyme scheme is either smooth or dire.

There is water, or graves.

There are melting ruins, or carefully hidden staves.

The least is not protected.

The old lives on, respected.

Or, sudden death

Mocks the intaken breath.

We don’t know what, from one minute to the next,

Will lie about, yawning; or jump up, and perplex.

There is no middle ground.

Either the poem is boring

Or it has a beautiful sound.

It is either: “I hate them, I hate them,

And because you hate them, I love you,”

Or: “I’m very sorry, I hate you, too.”

In America, how can the woman who is pro-life,

Love the abortionist?

The abortionist may love his wife,

The tallest mountain may be covered in mist,

But the moderate does not exist

In American politics.

The proud pro-choice block will not abide

Mothers not choosing; judgement looking at them and looking inside.

A “moderate” smoker. Sure, “moderate.”

Until you crave the one cigarette.

Mother? Poet? Do you want me, or not?

Moderate? There is no moderate:

I want to erase it, yes, that’s it,

Or, my God I love this poem a lot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOU, TOO, NOW FIND

Image result for nativity scene in renaissance painting"

It is the holy time.

A political party is seeking a crime

They themselves are guilty of—

And love is used against love.

So spoke the evil right wing fanatic!

I loved. But I was in a panic!

The other party said.

Poetry is argument.

At least that isn’t dead.

Here is the rhyme—

Which indicates the crime.

But here is what you feared: a simple, cold breeze

Has come. The pledge of allegiance

Has become a strip tease. You are calm and proud

No more. Once, you were cunning and correct and loud.

You, too, now find,

You are hated, even for your most beautiful beliefs,

And those who hate you are deliberately blind.

The majority you strove

To join couldn’t love

The minority—mocked, and left behind;

You were, but you accuse them, of being unkind.

You had safety and numbers, but then you wouldn’t give—

Though mostly a child,

And the world was wild—

You merely enjoyed, and meanwhile others couldn’t live

Because you fed on what they couldn’t have—

And now they tell you, “you are bad.”

But you are not bad, they

Would have been as you; what they say

Is deliberately blind.

No one wants to seem unkind—

But they—like you—are;

Because death is, and this star

Is finally far too far.

 

 

 

YOU WAITED FOR ME

Image result for woman waiting by the sea in painting"

You waited for me,

Though I was much delayed;

I orbited into the blue

And you stayed.

I found much to distract

Me—when I should have been thinking of you.

The years it took is a fact.

And yet you waited for me

By the vast, cold sea,

And every far star I was,

Was to you merely a mystery.

You waited by the shore

When you shouldn’t have waited anymore.

I came into starlight by accident,

Wandering far above the air.

You knew what the waiting meant

But didn’t care.

You waited for me.

The only reward, the poetry.

 

ONLY DEMOCRACY SHOULD BE CROWNED

Image result for goddess crowned by the river in renaissance painting"

Only Democracy should be crowned—

Like her, who the Athenians found

Weeping by the spring where Narcissus drowned—

Like her, the daughter of Egypt, who found

Smiling in the river, the child, in the singing reeds around—

Only Democracy unites, inside division,

All love, without regret or derision,

Because love eventually divides.

She decides. She decides.

She knows what you want,

You beautiful infant,

And knows how you want it, too.

Democracy kisses you

And whispers, “think it through.”

It is—and is not—about you.

Passion does not move her,

Lies do not soothe her;

She tames the mob with a calm majority,

Replacing the mob’s energy

With something all understand:

Agreement out of disagreement,

Counted by her beautiful hand.

Don’t be afraid to lose.

Bend to the temporary rule of others,

Who will laugh at what you choose,

Because in bonding with love that dies

In the middle of the reed songs where the river lies,

Democracy waits with a terrible surprise:

Those who love the same as you,

Are vindicated, in both old and new.

Those, who mocked you, must see

You—loved by Democracy.

And when she takes away your day

You’ll cry. But love her. And obey.

 

 

BECAUSE WE CANNOT SEE

Image result for pyramus and thisbe"

Because we cannot see

Words lying, poetry

Is impossible. Words are so good

At deception, poets, who would

Make you deceived,

Are never, themselves, believed.

The cunning it takes

To sweetly and obviously lie, makes

Poetry, poetry. But how can the poet lie

When words themselves deceive our ear and eye?

How can the poet fool

The frowning teacher in the school?

How can the poet deceive

The prose of life which makes us laugh and grieve?

I’ve been reading my old love’s poetry

For hours. I cannot see

One word meant for me.

I hear words. Not the poet. Not poetry.

This is why my muse seeks fame

Crying loudly hers, and my, name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

« Older entries Newer entries »

%d bloggers like this: