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Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
06-20-2015, 01:12 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2009/05/a-short-highly-personal-observation-completely-lacking-in-examples-which-i-could-have-never-have-made-thirty-years-ago-when-i-was-a-young-poet-still-living-in-new-york-because-i-didn’t-know/

1.A

A SHORT, HIGHLY PERSONAL OBSERVATION COMPLETELY LACKING IN EXAMPLES WHICH I COULD HAVE NEVER HAVE MADE THIRTY YEARS AGO WHEN I WAS A YOUNG POET STILL LIVING IN NEW YORK, BECAUSE I DIDN’T KNOW ENOUGH TO KNOW IT WAS TRUE. BUT I DO NOW.
BY MARTIN EARL

W.H. Auden once said that he always felt that he was the youngest person in the room, even at an older age, when this was certainly not the case. I’ve felt similarly while blogging, especially when being reprimanded by commentators half my age. This could have all sorts of explanations. But for the moment let’s file them under “Monkey Glands”, aka W.B. Yeats. Today, I have a more pressing issue at hand, a comment on the younger generations of scriveners; or to reverse Auden’s impression, all of those younger than myself and involved, in one way or another, in the palimpsestic quest of poetry. I mean poets in their twenties, thirties and forties – fifty being the cut-off date.

Of course, there are exceptions but for the moment I am intent on generalizing. In the field of poetry, women make better bloggers than do their male counterparts, also better commentators, better critics and, increasingly, better poets. Of the younger generation of poets I am discovering through my involvement with Harriet, the women are clearly superior. Not only is their poetry more ambitious and achieved but their criticism is more daring, their originality of thought deeper and their wit more honed.
Why should this be? One reason perhaps (and this is undoubtedly one of those clichés for which I will be run out of town) is that women have an ontological connection that men don’t have to making and creating, to nurturing form out of raw materials: out of themselves, out of language and out of the ground, in the sense of both lettuce patches and the Heidegerrean notion of fundamentum absolutum, or der grund. Heidegger posits a reversal of the Cartesian first principle and says “I am therefore I think.” This stands in well for the difference between male and female sensibilities.
Traditionally discouraged or prevented from taking part in social paradigms of creative expression (with the exception, of course, of motherhood) women have learned patience, the art of autonomy and a capacity for restraint. Related to these qualities is the fact that they are more open to difference, generally more tolerant, and less threatened by the mechanisms of authority: those mechanisms that are found in traditional knowledge structures, traditional language structures and traditional institutional structures. Since historically women have had to defend themselves against the power emanating from these structures, their mastery and insight into the workings of power is deeper. Likewise, women’s competitive instincts are more subtly attuned to the task at hand, the medium they are dealing with, the objectives of a given project than they are with the impression they would like to make upon the world. This comes from ease with self-effacement, which in artistic endeavors results in a more thoroughgoing capacity for immersion in the project at hand. They are more apt to experiment in ways that produce organic forms for expressive purposes rather than try, as men so often do, to trick language into duplicating the will. Because women are generally more sensitive to others, they are more sensitive to the needs of the poem. Because they are more coherent, grounded and possess a higher degree of self-knowledge at a younger age, they are better prepared to resist the influences of their teachers, their education and even the expectations of the medium they are working in. Hence they are more original.
Decades of work by women to open new formats, create equalities, to encourage creative and intellectual work, to valorize the special experiences of women (both material and intellectual), and to formulate a critical framework for understanding the various forms of oppression woman have born, and continue to bear, is, in my opinion, and in my special field of concern (poetry and literary criticism) also responsible for the health, innovation and continuing wonder of the medium. But it is not the whole story, and it is time to move on, away from theory and back to practice. On a practical level, that of making and reading poems, male poets now have more to learn from how women work, and from what they are saying and creating than vice versa.
And yet in spite of what I say above (characterizing women’s experience, perhaps inaccurately, and seeing their poetry as having benefited from that experience) I have never been comfortable with the designation “women’s poetry”, or with any of the other normative appellations that marked 20th century discussions on the subject and that led to misleading typologies and atomizations. In fact, I follow Berryman’s cue in not distinguishing between British and American poetry – and I carry that further to all poets writing in English: Irish, South African, Indian and West Indian, Australian etc. (two of my favorite poets, John Kinsella and Less Murray, are from down under).
I’m even uncomfortable (since I live and work in a polyglot setting) with classifying poets or their poems by language. To pit French poets against German poets seems hardly useful when we finally arrive at the poem itself. My Portuguese colleagues, some of whom I’ve translated, are essentially doing the same thing that I do when I write a poem. The fact that they are writing in Portuguese doesn’t matter in the end. Of course different situations produce different poems, but this is a question of topicality and character and follows no scientifically consistent pattern. When I have to use categories I prefer them to be as large as possible and related to historical conditions, which effect poets in an aleatory fashion. I recently argued that postwar Central European poetry was stronger than that produced in Western Europe over the same period, but these are supranational categories and have more to do with how two different political systems effected creativity in a variable and highly unorganized fashion. Just as women, over the last three centuries, have had more hurdles to overcome than men when it came to legitimizing their status as artists and poets, Central Europeans had far more difficulties creating poetry and publishing freely in the postwar period. Perhaps a degree of resistance helps in the creation of art. Be it as it may, it is the art that we must finally look at, independent of even the most sweeping categories.
(cf. http://www.ou.edu/worldlit/onlinemagazine/2007May/20quintais-earl.pdf )

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
06-20-2015, 01:15 PM
This is not to say that poets should not use (if such were possible) their special experience, experience that can derive from many things: location, language, race, gender, poverty, wealth, temperament, what they read and what they don’t read, or whatever. But for the reader or the critic to use these experiences taxonomically corrupts our capacity to evaluate poetry at the level of the poem.
By looking at poetry qua poetry we are more apt to read more sensitively, praise more accurately and winnow more decisively. But just in case you’ve missed my point, I think we’d all be the better for paying serious attention to the poems now being made by poets who happen to be women, and trying to figure out why they’re so good.
COMMENTS (111)

1.B
On May 19, 2009 at 10:20 am Michael J. wrote:
I find that the moment one says “there are exceptions”, the act of generalization becomes a fallacy. It is impossible to generalize unless you are willing to deal in stereotypes and false structures.
I grew up in a family of women, a house of women. And when I say this, I don’t mean we were outnumbered by a small margin… I mean we equaled 3 or 4 other men in the range of 50 women. If that. And if I were to remove those other men, I was usually alone with upwards of 15 women at a time.
But I agree female creatives are way more fascinating to me than my male counterparts. I recently bought Sandra Beasley’s “Theories of Falling” and Olena K. Davis’ first book “And her soul out of nothing”. They should arrive this week. But they aren’t the only ones tickling my poetics.
Anyway… I really don’t think it comes down to simply male and female, though we have our differences… but those differences, I am realizing, are less inherent.
You could view me as the exception, meaning, I am very in touch with my feminine side — what does that mean? Nearly all the personality qualities you may associate with the feminine, you could see in me. Same with the masculine. Which then tend to cancel each other out and simply allow one to be themselves, without the need to tag certain qualities with “masculine” or “feminine”.
And if I am then viewed as an exception, I am not special enough to believe I am *the* exception. This means there is another, and if this is two, there is likely three, and so on and so on… which then possibly leads us back to the phrase: there are exceptions, but I will deal in generalizations…
It is possible then that when people say this, they are saying (obviously, I guess) generalizations outweigh the exceptions… of course, this is impossible to account for. As generalizations exist in this outer realm of opinions and wants and other things…
You did mention personal experience coloring ones self and in turn ones work… which I agree with…
And I haven’t attempted to answer your original question — why are women creatives so enticing (read: popular?) these days when put parallel with the male creatives…
Maybe it is the swing of times that we, males that is, are truly and finally noticing such things? Maybe there are more women on the position to give notice to other women who may go unnoticed? (this I want to doubt, because I’d hope art is the only space where such prejudices and sexism do not exist… but this is only a wish, as I have seen mass amounts of ego and childish antics involved in poetry when I used to perform with a poetry group).
I feel I am contradicting myself here.
It is very likely we are all exceptions…
I dunno…
On May 19, 2009 at 12:14 pm Zachary Bos wrote:
The will to debunk this post point-by-point has been leached right out of me by the solar intensity of the poor reasoning on display. Among the topics misunderstood are ontology, gender, Heidegger, instinct, creativity, and logic. Pious affirmations of generally agreeable statements do not give shoddy thinking a pass. To self: is my hyper-critical response a masculine trope?
On May 19, 2009 at 12:20 pm Joseph Hutchison wrote:
Michael J.—I take exception to your statement about generalities and exceptions. We can all agree that there are mammals, and that mammals are distinguished by the possession of hair or fur, the secretion of milk by females for the nourishment of their young, and by giving birth to live young. The platypus and the spiny ant-eater are exceptions: mammals that lay eggs, i.e., monotremes. The problem is not with the generalities; the problem is that our systems are not completely congruent with the world.
This is part of Martin’s point, I think: in a world where gender equality is assumed, we still find women writing stronger poems. By “we,” of course, I mean Martin and me; I share his feeling but know as well as he does that it’s highly personal and subjective.
Nevertheless, I think what Martin says is true about the superiority of women poets, especially in certain “camps.” I’ve especially felt this when criticizing so-called Language poets for their many weaknesses. I always have to insert the caveat that I admire several poets in that camp, and that for some reason they are all women. (Not that I admire all female Language poets!) I too wonder why this should be so. But I’m a poet and a reader, not a critic and certainly not a theorist. So I’ll have to wait for someone with talents in that direction to suggest an answer….
On May 19, 2009 at 1:27 pm Daniel E. Pritchard wrote:
I’m interested to know who the women are to which you refer. (Also, I think it’s accepted generally that anyone over 40 isn’t young anymore, by any standard except comparison.) Also, though my memory may not serve me, I recall that in the late 19th and early 20th century, most of the most popular and well-respected authors, essayists, and poets were women, though few have persisted — how would this be a substantially different phenomenon?
On May 19, 2009 at 2:02 pm thomas brady wrote:
Who is this mysterious gunslinger leaning quietly against the wall?
Be still, my heart!
On May 19, 2009 at 2:51 pm Desmond Swords wrote:
I think this measuring the contemporary quality of one’s writing based on gender, contains elements of both truth and fantasy, but is ultimately a defective and redundant position to put forward.
Consider the following statement, which is the exact same as Jason makes, but with the genders reversed:
“Men make better bloggers than do their female counterparts, also better commentators, better critics and, increasingly, better poets. Of the younger generation of poets I am discovering through my involvement with Harriet, the men are clearly superior.”
The comedian in me calls to mind a (good looking and cunning) pal i knew when i was in my mid twenties, who donned a right-on cloak of ultra PC Femminism when in his university years.
any (often totally innocuous) comment which he construed as sexist and/or insulting to women, even when the (inevitably) student-men making what he considered to be such, did so in innocence and even if though most others would not see the anti-woman slant — my pal would stand up for the sisterhood and generally sing to the skies of his battle for the gals.
But in reality, it was all an act he engaged in purely to ingratiate himself with the women, in order to pursue a thoroughly male agenda of bedding as many women as he could. And it worked. he got a name as the metro-sexual all caring fella, amongst early twenties women and when this three year period of his life finished, went back to being the sexists git i always knew.
My own background is, i was reared with four sisters, three older, one younger and myself and my father, the only men.
Currently i have seven neices and three nephews, all seven necies arriving on the scene before the nephews. Growing up, i was effectively a token girl in the sense of having no brothers.
~
I think the Amergin text i have been banging on about, which explains what Poetry is, the fundamental of it, that 50% of all humanity will be born with the poetic gift, can be appropriated to this debate.
Rather than reversing it and elevating Woman to the position Man previously held in the delsion that He was God, my learning has brought me to making Jason’s statement this:
“wo/men make better bloggers, also better commentators, better critics and, increasingly, better poets. Of the younger generation of poets I am discovering through my involvement with Harriet, the wo/men are clearly superior.”
This is true 50/50 gender neutrality.
Our mind is neither male or female, but a s/he and once we transcend gender, come to understand it in these plain terms. The bnest writing is gender neutral, a third person eye speaking for all pronouns.

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
06-20-2015, 01:17 PM
2A

On May 19, 2009 at 3:12 pm Colin Ward wrote:
Martin,
There may be another perspective to this. In the print world, among living poets we tend to see men dominating the scene: Cohen, Ondaatje, Heaney, Hill, Walcott, Collins, etc. By contrast, a poll of internet poets had all four top spots taken by women: Grinnell, Griffith, Carter, Copeland, plus Lindley (6th) and Kelleher (10th)–and this was before Kristalo arrived on the scene!
Others will judge which media or process can serve as the better meritocracy, now or in the future.
Best regards,
Colin
“If you don’t think your work is competing against the works of others you’re probably right!”
– Elizabeth Zuk
“Even a burning flag has to be waved, if only to put out the flames…”
– Dale M. Houstman
-o-
On May 19, 2009 at 7:23 pm Pris Campbell wrote:
I’m a female blogger/poet over 50 and I don’t feel any gender superiority at all. It’s true. Reverse the gender in this post and we women would be screaming ‘chauvinistic!’.
On May 19, 2009 at 9:40 pm Steve wrote:
Dear Colin Ward: who are these Internet poets described in your poll? they’re not the poets I know from the Internet. Can you post a link?
Dear Martin: Provocative, certainly; but I wish you would name some of your favorite younger, or “younger,” poets. Do they all write about experience that has historically, or biologically (e.g. parturition) been the province of women? Some women poets write about things like parturition, which men can’t do (Elizabeth Alexander has a whole sequence); some women poets seem to be undertaking ecriture feminine (Larissa Szporluk, sometimes); some women poets write about topics traditionally considered feminine– sex, beauty, the beauty myth, raising young children, managing a household (Laura Kasischke! Laura Kasischke!); and some women poets, most of the time, don’t do any of those things (Kay Ryan, Lucia Perillo, many many others). Does your claim apply equally to all four categories? If so, why? If not, isn’t it just a claim that we seek out, and should seek out, contemporary poets whose topics and approaches are under-represented in the literature of the past? (As we should.)
On May 19, 2009 at 10:04 pm Reb Livingston wrote:
Well I feel all kinds of superiority and not just because of my gender, but that’s a start. Heh.
I concur with much of what Martin Earl has written, of course he can get away with writing it and not being labeled as bitter or a ball snipper.
What I mean is that as an editor, I too have noticed a trend in the submission pile. On *average* I find the work of contemporary female poets to be more daring, original and interesting. My magazine receives more submissions from men (about 10-15% more), but it publishes more women. Years ago when I first noticed this, I was surprised. All along I thought I preferred male poets. I owned more books by them, was definitely more familiar with their work from major literary magazines and from my education. Turns out I was incredibly ignorant.
So when certain editors talk about the “number troubles” I don’t understand why this is even an issue. Are these editors living in a cave?
One can chalk up my observations to my taste and bias, which I most certainly have, like every other editor and poet.
Reb
On May 19, 2009 at 11:21 pm michael j wrote:
Reb, and other Editors out there,
If you were to remove the names from submissions (unless this is done already), do you feel you’d naturally gravitate towards female writers? Very curious to know.
___
All this talk of child raising and such, is, to me, a stereotype which frustrates me. Men can raise child just as women do. The pregnancy aspect is agreeable. No man (except the fictional character Arnold played in that one movie where he got pregnant) can ever experience pregnancy. The genetic/instinctual chain-link which rises from the bottoms of the stardust which binds us will eventually explode from the creative mind. It is inevitable. And this does, possibly, provide a different slant to ones work.
Though the specific experience of being a woman can’t be recreated, meaning — shoot, you know what I mean — but the oppression can be. That type of experience can be. On many various levels, no?
If I am reading the article correct, Martin is wondering if this is why the work is more daring. Or, rather, one of the reasons. Good question. The natural instincts instilled in us seep into our work, most definitely. Creativity is one of those deeper, ancient things.
But I dunno, I think the better way to approach this is where you almost went but stopped, “On a practical level, that of making and reading poems, male poets now have more to learn from how women work, and from what they are saying and creating than vice versa.”
Approach it from why male’s aren’t doing the daring work to figure out why females are. I think I’m gonna attempt that. Thanks Martin!
And did anyone else find that portrait genius? How the hands are held, with the head cocked, she is purely an adult woman. But with the foot soles touching, her legs slanted like that, she is purely a young girl.
The juxtaposition makes me keep staring at it.
On May 19, 2009 at 11:59 pm Reb Livingston wrote:
“If you were to remove the names from submissions (unless this is done already), do you feel you’d naturally gravitate towards female writers? Very curious to know.”
Yep. Like I said, I began the magazine believing I preferred male poets. It wasn’t until after a year of publishing different poets each week that I “looked at the numbers” and realized my preference leaned otherwise.
Not sure why this is such an unbelievable or questionable concept. I’m trying to be honest and open here regarding my editorial leanings as I best understand them. If certain poetry magazines dropped the malarky of “we only publish the BEST regardless of . . .” and were more open/aware of their own leanings, whether it be style, subject matter, etc., I’d have much less of an issue with them. If the editors came clean and said something like “Well, we’ve been publishing for 20 years and 75% of the poems are by white men and 65% are narrative, so we must at least have some unconscious editorial leanings in those directions.” But no, instead they blame it on women having babies or being too shy to submit or lacking a certain kind of ambition. Because as editors of course they have no control what appears on their pages!

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
06-20-2015, 01:19 PM
2B

On May 20, 2009 at 9:31 pm Desmond Swords wrote:
Actually Marty my arl ramblin mahn,
you are right.
At least, going on the poems in an edition of a British e zine i recently read, edited by a woman, with around 80% of the poems by men, and with a preponderance of authoratitive philisophical all seeing all knowing narrator ‘I’s going for the majestrial note and not pulling it off.
The few women that were in there, by contrast, there stuff was much more creative.
The blokes tended to try to hard to be God, and in British poetry, the legacy of Larkin (a misanthropic man with racists leanings obsessed with swearing and with a massive complex about women) who introduced or at least made the the eff word acceptable as a poetic one – is the wrapping of mundane events (catching a bus, having a dump on the crapper) in a conversational prosaic style and then a stab at high blown lingo, evinced in the Larkin’s sun-comprending glass and nothingness schtick.
Unfortunatley, it just comes across as posey twaddle by straight faced blokey bores.
The gals gear though, was less ambitious – didn’t want to tell us the deepest fundamental secrets of the universal knowledge in a poem about a fridge- but instead seemed to spiral about in and around the concept of poetic expression in general, per se, vis a vis, a bit more jiggle, phwaor ‘n oomph Marty me arl god-like knower.
On May 20, 2009 at 10:02 pm Colin Ward wrote:
I tried posting a version of this yesterday but it didn’t show up. If it does so belatedly, I apologize for the double post.
Martin:
No, I don’t think you’re prejudging at all.
Incidentally and for what it’s worth, those interested in gender differences in writing who haven’t seen this site might be amused:
Gender Genie:
http://bookblog.net/gender/genie.php
Steve:
Dear Colin Ward: who are these Internet poets described in your poll? they’re not the poets I know from the Internet. Can you post a link?
The “Caught on the Net” poll was taken a few years back. The site is defunct now but, fortunately, I kept a copy of it, which I can email you if you’d like. The question posed was: “Suppose there were an anthology of poems by the best online English language poets. Whose work (other than your own) would you like to see included?” The respondents were members of the more serious, expert internet venues: Poetry Free-For-All, Gazebo, Eratosphere, and Usenet (the web’s evil twin). Here are the URL’s for these moderated critical venues:
The Poetry Free-For-All:
http://www.everypoet.org/pffa/
Gazebo in Exile (this URL is about to change):
http://thegazeboinexile.iforums.us/
Eratosphere:
http://www.ablemuse.com/erato/Ultimate.cgi
QED:
http://www.qedpoetry.com/
All of these sites have thriving discussion and theory forums within them. Members are often called “workshoppers”, but that is something of a misnomer; many members spend more of their time discussing poetry–much as we see here, but with the ability of all members to initiate threads and edit their posts–than posting or critiquing individual poems. One caveat regarding PFFA in particular: behave yourself and bring your best game.
To access Usenet you need to install a newsreader program (e.g. Free Agent); the two most active newsgroups are rec.arts.poems and alt.arts.poetry.comments. One has to wade through a lot of trolls to get to the good stuff, though. N.B.: webbers (among whom workshoppers and bloggers are subsets) and Usenetters form two very different communities, often oblivious to each other.
As for the poets I mentioned, I’m not really qualified to write their bio or CV but here are some impressions and what few facts I know:
Professor Claudia Grinnell is perhaps better known as a fine critiquer. I believe she was one of the founders and administrators on QED–one of the smaller advanced online workshops. Claudia hasn’t been very active lately.
Britisher Margaret A. Griffith, aka “Maz”, is the author of “Studying Savonarola”, a poem that might be trotted out when onliners speak of the best poems of the 21st century, whenever anyone says that free verse “isn’t poetry” or that stunning romantic poems aren’t still being written. When Carol Ann Duffy was named as Poet Laureate more than a few internetters wondered if selection committee members shouldn’t be subjected to mandatory drug testing. Maz is a member of PFFA, Gazebo and Eratosphere.
Julie Carter is “the sonnet lady”, active on Usenet, Gazebo and Eratosphere. She’s also a huge baseball fan.
Kim “K.R.” Copeland is arguably the most consistent, quirky and interesting performer. She seems to post mostly to Gazebo.
Rachel Lindley is a very good theorist, along with the likes of Howard Miller (PFFA), Robert MacKenzie (PFFA, Usenet), Harry Rutherford (PFFA), and, of course, Peter John Ross (Usenet). Her articles on PFFA’s “Blurbs of Wisdom”, especially those on the topic of sonics, are a must read for any serious student of the art form.
http://www.everypoet.org/pffa/forumdisplay.php?s=&daysprune=&f=34
Rose Kelleher is a solid performer whose stock, like Ms. Copeland’s, may have risen in recent years.
D.P. Kristalo (Poets.org, Gazebo) wrote both “Beans” and “Joie de Mourir”. Need I say more?
Francesca Sweeney-Androulaki (Gazebo), Jennifer Reeser (Eratosphere), and Sarah Sloat (Desert Moon Review) are others well worth Googling on a rainy afternoon.
If anyone is curious, humourist Sam Home (Gazebo & Eratosphere) topped the male poets. Robert J. Maughan (Usenet), Frank Matagrano (Gazebo), Andrew Kei Miller (Usenet, Gazebo), Oswald LeWinter (Gazebo, Zoetrope), Jerry H. Jenkins (Usenet) and Dale Houstman (Usenet) are other familiar names to those internetters outside the blogosphere, at least.
I hope this albeit sketchy overview helps, Steve.
-o-
On May 21, 2009 at 10:34 am gmc wrote:
“..as man won’t be male
and woman won’t be female..” (gospel of thomas)
what kind of poet are you, dear martin, whose memory is like a hole full of kaleidoscopic souvenirs?
what you call man and woman are simply male and female, anything else, and your text is like an hallucination of yours, not less, not more.
(sorry for my bad english, but i’m not english-speaking born)

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
06-20-2015, 01:27 PM
Comments anybody?
As can be readily seen, the field of writing classed as Poetry is massively broad and deep!
With as much controversy as is life in general and the world at large!
I found the admission about the better contemporary poets being female quite enlightening and one I must delve further into to verify if made as a sound judgment. I do not negate that as a possibility but have not enough knowledge of contemporary poetry as I do of the classic poetry of the giants known and praised the world over..
Be it readily admitted that I do not attempt to mimic other poets be they famous or even talented unknowns.
I stubbornly follow my own path and measure in my writings be it for good or ill. . Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
06-21-2015, 03:02 PM
Comments anybody?
As can be readily seen, the field of writing classed as Poetry is massively broad and deep!
With as much controversy as is life in general and the world at large!
I found the admission about the better contemporary poets being female quite enlightening and one I must delve further into to verify if made as a sound judgment. I do not negate that as a possibility but have not enough knowledge of contemporary poetry as I do of the classic poetry of the giants known and praised the world over..
Be it readily admitted that I do not attempt to mimic other poets be they famous or even talented unknowns.
I stubbornly follow my own path and measure in my writings be it for good or ill. . Tyr
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3A. On May 24, 2009 at 12:21 am Terreson wrote:
Man, this thread is so rich it makes me want to go out to a local Mexican restaurant, a favorite watering hole among local professionals, and order two top shelf margueritas. Initial blog entry is juicy. The ensuing conversation with its ideological lines drawn fascinating. And, rather to be expected, there is Thomas Brady championing the poetry of Millay like some good feminist. Elsewhere on this forum he has expressed perfect dismissiveness of such women poets as H.D., Mina Loy, Marianne Moore, and Laura Riding. But that is all silly stuff, perfectly inconsequential.
Martin Earl, here is what I get from your blog entry. Mind you, I am having to dig a little here. Your entry relies a bit much on short-hand for its thinking. You are not saying, categorically, women are better poets than are men. But you are saying there is a certain capacity for poetry, and for poetry comprehension, women poets have a main line to that men poets do not constitutionally have. And I agree. (It would have been beneficial, by the way, had you made the effort and given the examples you said you wouldn’t. That you don’t amounts to a laziness.)
From your comments I am figuring you are over fifty. So am I. I read your post and I think: is he just now coming to the tidal turn in poetry women have always, always made? Your discovery, while it may be new to you, is really not all that new. Speaking for myself, I say flat out the big discoveries I’ve made in poetry, and in writing in general, have always come at the hands of women writers. H.D., Colette, Riding, Dickinson, Sexton, Heloise, Madame de Sevigne, Lady Murasaki, Italian folk poets of the strege tradition. These are the poets and writers who’ve taught me the essential things. They happen to be women. The exceptions to the rule have tended to prove the rule: both Rilke and Goethe.
There is a story Robert Graves tells. He is speaking of Sappho whom he considered about the greatest poet who has ever lived. He felt she gave perfect voice to The Lady of the Wild Things.
“Sappho undertook this responsibility: one should not believe the malevolent lies of the Attic comedians who caricature her as an insatiable Lesbian. The quality of her poems proves her to have been a true Cerridwen. I once asked my so-called Moral Tutor at Oxford, a Classical scholar and Apollonian: ‘Tell me, sir, do you think that Sappho was a good poet?’ He looked up and down the street, as if to see whether anyone was listening and then confided to me: ‘Yes, Graves, that’s the trouble, she was very, very good!’ I gathered that he considered it fortunate that so little of her work had survived.”
I am glad for you you’ve come to what you’ve come to. Maybe it is important to put it out yet again. On the other hand I got to say this. One Sappho, one Dickinson, one Millay, one Sexton, one Pattie Smith no more makes a poet than one Eliot, one Crane, one Lorca, or one Neruda.
Anyway, your picture amounts to an idealization of women I am not sure Jane Austen, George Eliot, Colette, or Simone de Beauvoir would cotton to. While I note the biggest lessons I’ve learned have come at the hands of women poets I also note the majority of women poets are no less or more mediocre than their male counterparts.
Terreson

On May 24, 2009 at 9:39 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:
The only champion a good poet needs is Father Time.
Ask Emily and John.

On May 24, 2009 at 11:20 am thomas brady wrote:
Terreson,
So I’ve been hoisted by my own petard?
“there is Thomas Brady championing the poetry of Millay like some good feminist. Elsewhere on this forum he has expressed perfect dismissiveness of such women poets as H.D., Mina Loy, Marianne Moore, and Laura Riding.”
Your strategy is insidious, Tere, this damning with faint praise all women poets, dooming every last one.
If one ignores the light-years of talent separating
Edna St. Vincent Millay, author of half of the 10 best sonnets ever written in English
and
H.D., Pound’s GF,
Marianne Moore, Dial Clique editor and supporter,
Laura Riding, Fugitive club member and Robert Graves’ GF,
then one is merely damning with faint praise ALL WOMEN POETS. This is a TRICK by the male status quo: include a few women (a GF, why not?) whose poetry is laced with FAILURE, and by doing so blur all distinctions so that it is assumed critical rigor is not even necessary when it comes to women.
As I said before, if Millay is thrown under the bus, no woman is safe.
There is plenty of documentary proof for what I am saying. Millay actually felt a kinship with Poe, who was abused by the same envious, low readership, fragile, ambitious, Modernist clique, and there’s a plethora of evidence to back up these facts.
Tere, you like to believe, with Mr. Fitzgerald, that poets are superheroes who don’t need critics and that criticism is mostly an annoyance and a sign of impotent envy, but I’m afraid this is a childish belief; a few well-placed notices can destroy a poet’s reputation, especially if she is a woman.
Thomas

On May 24, 2009 at 1:16 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:
Hey…don’t drag me into this sordid affair.
I’m just a simple, didactic, philosophical Nature poet, remember, Thomas?

On May 24, 2009 at 2:16 pm thomas brady wrote:
You can’t wriggle out of this one… Mr. Wordsworth!

On May 24, 2009 at 4:50 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:
Actually, Thomas, I’m a lot closer to your hero, Eddie Al, than I am to all these others.
Especially in the drinking department. :-)
I’d be happy to declare my own heroes here but the only ones I can come up with are William Blake, Dylan Thomas, Lao tzu and E.E. Cummings. Oh, and Bob Dylan. Oh, yeah, and Charles Darwin, Galileo, Newton, Einstein and Copernicus and oh, that’s right, Shakespeare and Keats and Whitman. And did I mention Dickinson, Lindsay, Snyder, Frost, Plath, Wright, Roethke, Merwin, Yeats, Millay, Stevens, Eliot, Williams, Pound, Bishop, Lowell, Crane, Patchen, Rexroth, Moore, Ashbery, Creeley, Bly, Sexton, and everybody else who ever taught me how to think?

On May 24, 2009 at 7:08 pm Terreson wrote:
Thomas Brady says:
“Edna St. Vincent Millay, author of half of the 10 best sonnets ever written in English.”
On whose authority, please. The sonnet in English has been pursued for a good 500 years. 5 out of 10 best sonnets in English might be a bit of a claim even for the most ardent of Millay’s enthusiasts.
Thomas Brady says:
“There is plenty of documentary proof for what I am saying. Millay actually felt a kinship with Poe, who was abused by the same envious, low readership, fragile, ambitious, Modernist clique, and there’s a plethora of evidence to back up these facts.”
I look forward to reviewing the documentation.
Thomas Brady says:
“Tere, you like to believe, with Mr. Fitzgerald, that poets are superheroes who don’t need critics and that criticism is mostly an annoyance and a sign of impotent envy,…”
Actually, I view the case of critics in a much less flattering light. They put me in mind of cowbirds (species: molthrus), whose parasititic habits have become a seriously impacting disruption in the natural history of other bird species, what with their learned behavior of laying their eggs in the nests of other birds. Now there is an objective correlative for you.
Terreson

On May 24, 2009 at 10:56 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:
I forgot Shelley, Tennyson, Byron, Pope and Poe. And that’s the thing, Thomas. It’s like a smorgasbord, a cornucopia of flavor and styles, ideas and thought. No one selection is any better or more delicious than the other, just…different. Different people have different tastes.
You don’t like the fish, try the beef. Don’t like the crab, try the steamed peas and lamb.
It’s an unending buffet for the mind, the whole world in a sauteed kipper. It’s poetry!

On May 24, 2009 at 11:16 pm thomas brady wrote:
Nice list.
Yea…Einstein’s great.
Your point?

On May 25, 2009 at 1:06 am Terreson wrote:
Because the interest is vital to me, I keep trying to make sense of this blog entry and subsequent exchange. It would help this reader tremendously if ya’ll blog starters would learn the Montaigne lesson, learn the art of the essay, and compose your thoughts before composing your words. But so it goes.
I am thinking this is what the thread is about, how Martin Earl caps his comments:
“By looking at poetry qua poetry we are more apt to read more sensitively, praise more accurately and winnow more decisively. But just in case you’ve missed my point, I think we’d all be the better for paying serious attention to the poems now being made by poets who happen to be women, and trying to figure out why they’re so good.”
This is the substance of the post, right? Or that serious attention should be given to women poets writing today because they are so good. If this is the proposition I can go with it. I regularly meet in online venues (women) poets who rock me, knock my socks off clean into the washer, who show me something new in rhythm, syntax, and sense. And so I must wonder just how familiar the blog’s author is with the scene, which has pretty much shifted from print to screen.
And I must wonder about something else too. At least in America, women poets have been shifting the scene for a long, long time, or for a good hundred years. The proof is in the popular anthologies of poetry. (You got to love the dialogue we guys and girls got going.) So again I am wondering. Am I allowed to reach back to Lola Ridge, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Angelina Grimke, Sara Teasdale, Elinor Wylie, Hazell Hall, Georgia Johnson, or do I have to put my sights on young women poets working today?

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
06-22-2015, 12:21 AM
FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
The Occasion of Poetry
BY REBECCA GAYLE HOWELL

Note: Each month we feature a guest post from a contributor to Poetry’s current issue. Rebecca Gayle Howell’s poems “Every Job Has a First Day” and “Something’s Coming but Never Does” appear in the June 2015 issue. Previous posts in this series can be found on the Editors’ Blog.]


In my twenties I had the good fortune of living in my homeplace, Lexington, Kentucky, a town that hums with the company of neighbors, many of whom are makers. In those days we were all in it together—literature, I mean. It never mattered who was accomplished and who wasn’t. On any given week at any given reading at the local bookstore, a wanderer-in might sit unawares next to Nikky Finney or Maurice Manning; when a big country laugh rolled out the back room, only some of us would know it was Wendell Berry, at it again with his buddies. If it was a warm night the doors and windows would be open, and as you walked up the block toward the door you’d hear against the noise of cars and katydids all the talk and remembering. If winter was with us, you’d open to the quiet an instant racket I only know to call community, and you’d heat yourself by it alongside the rest of us slap happy souls until some tired someone turned out the lights.
I helped edit a local literary magazine during this time, and when I wrote Wendell to ask him if I could publish a poem of his, I didn’t give it much thought. I mean I knew Wendell, but I didn’t understand who Wendell was (I had to leave Kentucky to find that out). What I wanted was to publish a poem worth reading, and I knew where to look for it. Whether you know Wendell or know of him, it doesn’t matter: he’ll write you back. On the long sheets torn from his yellow legal pad, he’ll return his thoughts to yours the morning following your letter’s arrival, and he’ll sign his, Your friend. In response to what, under more worldly circumstances, would have been a garish request on my part, I received a sheaf of twenty or thirty poems from which I was encouraged to choose as many or as few I saw fit. He wrote that he wouldn’t be surprised if there was nothing for us in the pile, that it was all occasional verse, that he was, more or less now, an occasional poet, a poet who wrote occasionally.
Occasional poetry has a long convention of pageantry—poems hired out, commissioned to celebrate, mourn, or in some way put a pin in a particular instant of history. I think of Mr. Frost’s “The Gift Outright,” our nation’s first inaugural poem which commemorated Kennedy’s election by declaring imperialism our native triumph. Or, come some thirty years later, Ms. Angelou’s inaugural correction, “On the Pulse of Morning,” which gave our land a god’s voice and spoke the chilling lines: “Come, you may stand upon my / Back and face your distant destiny, / But seek no haven in my shadow. I will give you no hiding place down here.” Of course there are those other poems that would not be paid for but censored by such commissioners (Amiri Baraka’s “Somebody Blew Up America” or Ezra Pound’s The Pisan Cantos), but I also think of Gwendolyn Brooks’s A Street in Bronzeville or Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, poetry that speaks into the forgetting air what should not be forgotten. In his letter to me, Wendell didn’t mean he was being paid to write high, public verse. I think, in fact, he meant something like its opposite. To be occasional means to be willing to be of your time and place, to be of the mortal moment.
Almost twenty years gone from those late Kentucky nights of literary friendship, and I find myself in community with relative strangers, other transient emerging voices tweeting memorials to what is likely America’s greatest generation of poets. Carolyn Kizer. Ai. Amiri Baraka. Adrienne Rich. Lucille Clifton. Galway Kinnell, Maxine Kumin. Phillip Levine. Maya Angelou. Ruth Stone. Gil Scott-Heron. Grace Paley. Claudia Emerson. Lou Reed. Giants of sanity’s work, all gone in a small pile of years. If we can still believe in a human democracy, it is in no small way thanks to these cantankerous, righteous souls. I wish I could hold each in their passing, put my forehead to their foreheads, kiss them goodbye. I cannot. Though I’ve spent my adult life reading, memorizing their poems, charting their words like compass guides, they lived across time from me, and, now, make their neighborhood on history’s other shore. All I know to do is read. And write. And by that I mean, I want to learn their courage of the here and now.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2015/06/the-occasion-of-poetry/

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
06-22-2015, 11:03 AM
ESSAY
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” Turns 100
The famous poem was nearly not published.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” Turns 100
This month marks the 100th anniversary of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” published when Eliot was just 26 years old. Had it not been for the intervention of Ezra Pound and Harriet Monroe, the seminal poem that helped usher in American Modernism might not have been published at all.

Eliot originally wrote parts of the monologue of a troubled, middle-aged man in 1910 and soon combined these pieces to form the long, complicated poem readers know now. Then he put it in a drawer for four years and focused on his graduate study in philosophy.

In the spring of 1914, Conrad Aiken, Eliot’s college friend, passed “Prufrock” along to Harold Monro, editor of Poetry and Drama. He reportedly remarked that the poem is “absolutely insane” and turned it down.

In September 1914, Eliot first met Pound in London, who was then the acting foreign correspondent of Poetry. Eliot showed him “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and Pound was elated. “Prufrock,” wrote Pound to Poetry editor Harriet Monroe, is “the best poem I have yet had or seen from an American,” adding exuberantly in all caps, “PRAY GOD IT BE NOT BE A SINGLE AND UNIQUE SUCCESS.”

The following slideshow features three of Pound’s letters to Monroe, proclaiming Eliot’s talent and urging her to publish “Prufrock.” (“I hope you’ll get it in soon,” he wrote.) She found room in the June 1915 issue. Though Monroe’s responses to Pound are not available, his letters hint at her apprehension. “In being the first American magazine to print Eliot you have scored again, though you may not yet think so,” Pound wrote shortly after “Prufrock” appeared in print, still compelled to convince her of its value.


View slideshow of letters from Pound to Monroe

For more background, watch Eliot scholar and editor Christopher Ricks the Prufrock centenary at Harvard University.

Letters by Ezra Pound, from New Directions Publishing Company acting as agent, copyright 2015 by Mary de Rachewiltz and the Estate of Omar S. Pound. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Company. Photos courtesy of the Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.


Originally Published: June 8, 2015



http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/250664

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
06-23-2015, 11:34 PM
POETRY NEWS
‘Every Era is Replete with Bad Poetry': Donald Hall at New Hampshire Union Leader
BY HARRIET STAFF

Although he quit writing poetry two years ago, citing a connection between poetry’s sensuality and his octogenarian age, Donald Hall did manage to speak rather candidly with the New Hampshire Union Leader about his observations after decades writing poetry. (Although we know little about aging, we agree that poetry is a truly sexy craft.) From New Hampshire Union Leader:
WILMOT – This century appears to be a promising one so far for poetry.
Cities from Manchester to Pasadena host poetry slams. Hip-hop has entrenched its rhythmical brand of poetry into popular culture. And even small-town bookstores feature readings from poets.
Despite the groundswell, New Hampshire’s most famous living poet announced two years ago that he was done with the craft.
“I’m too old,” said Donald Hall, 86, this country’s 14th poet laureate. “I think that poetry’s very sexual, and I think it’s a lack of testosterone or low testosterone. In the early 50s, I said that poetry was ‘rich with sensuality.'”
Hall spoke recently in the book-lined living room of the Wilmot farmhouse that has been in his family for four generations. His right knee is shot, making the front couple of porch steps as daunting a challenge as a granite cliff on his beloved Mount Kearsarge.
He sits in an upholstered chair that is on a 6-inch riser; easier for him to get up and down. He looks out antique glass windows, the kind that warp outside objects like a funhouse mirror. Closest to his view are the peonies and other perennials that his deceased wife – acclaimed poet Jane Kenyon – planted decades ago.
Hall’s best poetry, he said, was written in his 40s and 50s. Over time, his poetic abilities waned. So he just put an end to it (although he does revise previously written poems).
Hall still writes. Like a baseball player who trades his mitt for a golf club, he’s turned to less vibrant endeavors. He answers nearly all letters that come his way. And in 2014, he published “Essays after Eighty,” a wry look at being old. The book landed on the New York Times Bestseller list (for a week, he notes).
“Certainly, he has been a big name of his generation, partly because he so dedicated his life to writing,” said Acworth resident Alice Fogel, the current New Hampshire poet laureate.
In the mid-70s, many writers found his career move inspirational, Fogel said. Encouraged by Kenyon, Hall gave up a tenured job at University of Michigan and moved to the Wilmot farm to make a living writing.
From there, Hall earned his place among New Hampshire’s literary greats. Robert Frost, Maxine Kumin, Charles Simic. All are national poets laureate; each lived in the Granite State. Frost, Hall and Kumin wrote vividly about New England.[…]
Continue at New Hampshire Union Leader.
Tags: Donald Hall, New Hampshire Leader
Posted in Poetry News on Monday, June 22nd, 2015 by Harriet Staff

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2015/06/every-era-is-replete-with-bad-poetry-donald-hall-at-new-hampshire-union-leader/

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
06-24-2015, 06:03 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2015/05/a-lance-to-pierce-the-possible-reading-n-h-pritchard/


‘a lance to pierce the possible': Reading N. H. Pritchard
BY LILLIAN-YVONNE BERTRAM

I would like to shift away from discussing the deployment of whiteness in conceptual, avant-garde, or experimental writing. In my previous post, “Canvases Pale,” I included a definition of conceptual poetics that links it specifically to the 21st century. Similarly, the definition in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetics emphasizes the mechanistic mode of reproduction in these poetics, aided largely by the Internet and various means of digital production. But such technologies of writing in the formulation of poetics and aesthetics are not 21st century developments. I’d like to not be so hasty or short-sighted on the matter, and look at some work by N.H. Pritchard. As Kenneth Goldsmith has so keenly shown, various ways of manipulating text objects (words, sentences, sentence placement) do affect the reading and meaning-making of a particular text. I would like to glance at sections of the poem “Metagnomy” from Pritchard’s 1971 collection The Matrix: Poems, 1960-1970.
One striking feature of the poem is the deployment of kerning, the typographic process of “adjusting the space between characters in a proportional font, usually to achieve a visually pleasing result” (Wikipedia). In his era, however, texts would have required physical typesetting in order to print and so I feel that an acknowledgement of the physical process and labor of his designs is required. This likely required more than a keystroke commitment.

In “Metagnomy,” Pritchard draws on themes of nature in the images of birds and wind (“s ee m in g ly/as if a bird in f light” and “in t he w in d s w o n t”). However the poem is preoccupied not as much with the place or location of these images (the place of the poem isn’t exactly a physical one, rather it is “A mid the non com mit t e d/com pound s of t he m in d”) as it is with how, in emphasizing the constructedness of language, our attention is drawn to the ways that these constructions themselves build the image of pastoral beauty. That is, nature has no beauty-qua-beauty independent of how language describes it. The deliberately higher-pitched poetic register of the line “unto the sylvan down of wombs” (“un to t sylvan d own of w om b s”) concretizes the way language, already at least one remove from experience, combines with the expressive desire to abstract the self away from the more-than-human world in the process of trying to approach it more concretely. Language systems, Pritchard seems to suggest, much less traditional modes of writing and presenting text, are just not adequate to the task of developing a subjectivity that can understand the more-than-human elements of the world.
Instead, the poem proposes that by peering through the holes in language we can see the subconscious at work. It is through the activities of the mind that metagnomy, in the power of divination, can approach the mysterious. In this way the prospects of mental divination and access to aspects of the more-than-human world through extrasensory mental perception are assessed through the peeling apart of the words, revealing that the changed course of “a bird in f light” (line 9) is indeed “s ee m in g l y” (line 8). That is, what we perceive as a change in the course of a bird in flight might simply be the course the bird was always on. Similarly, the “w or d/f or got ten/in t he w in d ’ s w on t,” recalls the idea of a voice or words lost in the wind and suggests that words are not lost or forgotten as they are being carried on a different stream.
The poem does not negotiate between the more-than-human world and the world of the human, but is a negotiation with the mental self. The human subject must negotiate the openness and discomfort with the very openness supplied by the linguistic ambiguity the unclosed words suggest. As in many aspects of divination practices, one must first be open to the messages of the more-than-human world in order to access the fact that the mysteries of the mind and the natural world are the same and that there is no opposition. This is different from healing a rift or recapturing innocence, a la the poetics of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and to a lesser extent, Blake and Clare, but a statement as to the artificiality of the rift in the first place. For Pritchard, neither the mind or the text are screens against which the scenes of memory are played and replayed, allowing for a return to a pre-lapsarian childlike pastoral innocence; but the mind is a hem, a mist (both “hem” and “mist” come ghosting through the line “thru a c he mist r y of ought”—and how easy it is to read that as “chemistry of thought”!), an “age-less” (or “age less”?) gleaming. Or is it an “image less gleaming” or “imageless gleaming”:
LB2
Operating rhizomatically with its multiple entry points and replete with traces, there is no way to “tell” a definitive reading and the form-as-content actively resists such closure. The potential meanings are increased by the typographical maneuverings. In Pritchard’s poetics, the signifier is always at play in an unstable hovering. The mind is reasserted as a sensory organ that, with the attention required by “man if est s t a s i s” (a very difficult image to picture) to “r ide on ly up on t h at move ment t he ear t h pro vide s” (or is it “t he ear th” provides?) can lead to the profoundly natural and intrinsic sixth sense of seeing through the word tracings to the workings of the world that inspire them. Pritchard’s formal choices reflect the avant-garde aesthetic in the ways we might know the avant-garde as avant-garde (in its more traditional sense), as radical breaks with conventional forms and the conscious disruption of the status quo of what it means to “read” a text. He is perhaps doubly othered (and written out of literary history) not just by his avant-garde techniques, but also the way these techniques are deployed in an investigation of place and the natural world. What to make of such a poet who, at the time, was “out there” formally and stylistically in the service of exploring the more-than-human world? For those tempted to read Pritchard’s supposedly racially unmarked poetics as post-racial (or prefiguring the pleasant fiction of the post-racial) or as transcending race, such claims are hard to justify. While his choice of poetics acknowledge the way earlier African-American writers opened spaces for a greater variety of poetic forms and choices for content, poems like “Self” (“What does the cracker/when in a barrel/bare/with dark/and alone/and/beside it/self/with fear/of being/uneaten”) use the tropes of darkness and the slang meanings of “cracker” to direct attention, if obliquely, to constructions of race and particularly those constructions of whiteness.
I would be remiss if I did not point out the extent to which, in a first draft, my transcription of the lines (without the spaces) were an unnecessary violence occasioned by my efforts to “make legible” or “naturalize” the lines for the benefit (and detriment) of those who might not have the text on hand. Perhaps because they reveal one of the more readily accessible images in Pritchard’s work, the lines
LB3
not only suggest potential motives behind Pritchard’s psychovisual form, but the “pier” in “pierce,” a pier as a lance (the long line itself a piercing lance) piercing the landscape of a lake or an ocean, becomes extremely hard to ignore. What’s more, we are asked to consider the way the constructedness of the pier, a piece of built environment, seeks to pierce and enter (with deliberate phallic undertones) the more-than-human world. The textual kerning unlocks an image and its associated web of connotations that were previously hidden in the closed graphemes. A pier is an incursion, yes, but it can also be read as a radical (if misguided) attempt at clos...................

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Trust me, poets pick and choose how much we care to embrace from this topics/discussions.
Would be foolhardy to take each as gospel IMHO. Yet is much one can learn. --Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
06-25-2015, 10:34 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2015/06/speculative-thinking-with-srikanth-reddy-lucy-ives/

Speculative Thinking With Srikanth Reddy & Lucy Ives
BY HARRIET STAFF


In “The Technocrat’s Guide to the Galaxy,” poet Srikanth Reddy talks with Lucy Ives “about the possible plurality of worlds, poets as ‘feeling machines,’ and how to make an aesthetic object out of bureaucratic relics of the space race,” referencing a talk Reddy gave at Triple Canopy’s 2013 show at MoMA/PS1, Speculations (“The future is ______”), which comprised 50 days of lectures, discussions, and debates about the future with leading leaders and thinking thinkers of now. “You seemed so comfortable in this speculative mode of thinking!” says Ives. “I’m curious what role speculative thinking might play in your work.” “…If you don’t think about the distant future of our contemporary historical moment—the longue durée, as it were—then it’s very easy for one’s political or aesthetic practice to be too circumscribed in the ‘now.’ Or even in one’s domestic practice, for that matter,” replies Reddy. More from this excellent conversation:
Ives In your second collection of poetry, Voyager (2011), there is certainly some interest in speculative thinking, since the book speaks to the possibility of a plurality of worlds. Interestingly, this happens through the erasure, appropriation, and rewriting of a memoir by Kurt Waldheim, former secretary-general of the United Nations and, as was revealed during his (successful) run for the Austrian presidency in 1985, intelligence officer in Hitler’s Wehrmacht.
Reddy In a way, as I worked on Voyager I was interested in some cosmological questions—“How many worlds are there?” or “How many objects are there in the world?” or “Is the world a single object?”—that real philosophers might find somewhat boring. But in the book I’m trying to deal with these problems not so much speculatively as concretely, through a reading of Waldheim’s hopelessly partial and duplicitous account of the world, trying to retrieve other imaginative cosmologies from inside of that falsely totalizing technocratic text. So the cosmological project of Voyager is more about investigative reading than about speculation to a certain extent.
[…]
Ives …I’d like to know…how you think about the role of the poet or the “creative writer” within the academy. Is poetry ever a kind of knowledge, in an academic sense?
Reddy I hear a lot of colleagues in the humanities self-describe as knowledge workers. I don’t think that’s a helpful way of describing what a poet is doing, even within an institutional context. This is an old-fashioned, probably romantic distinction, but I think of the poet more as a “feeling worker,” or an “affective worker.” Not that I’m hoping for a return to sentimentalism in the art. It’s just that I’m skeptical of any knowledge claim people make for poetry. I’ve never seen the art form as one that is epistemological in that sense. I find that it’s more of a technology of feeling than anything else, or at least, I feel that poetry helps me to orient myself affectively in the world—that this is the work it does for me in my experience, though naturally others will invariably find that it does other forms of work for them. It’s a hopelessly rough-hewn way of overstating the case, the way I’m making these distinctions, of course!
Ives And yet there are what one might call philosophic tendencies within your work—an interest in contemplation, for example.
Reddy In the first book of Voyager there is a series of propositions about the world that very loosely echoes Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. I wasn’t really trying to do philosophy here; I was trying to feel my way toward a kind of philosophical music that was more “flattened out” than the lyric, tonally speaking. The philosophical premise of Book One of Voyager was just that: a kind of a premise for the construction of poetic language. I’m very drawn to conceptual work, since it has a kind of philosophical inflection. (I’m thinking of writers like Tan Lin or Lisa Robertson here, though they may not self-identify as “conceptualists” in a strict sense). But I think it would be a dangerous mistake to make the claim that my own poem—or, in a sense, any poem—is actually doing philosophy! Rather, one could say that the poem—my own poem, that is—is adopting the rhetorical and tonal, and even narratological, strategies of philosophy in order to achieve aesthetic effects. That’s what I like about conceptual work: how it makes me feel. Not that it gives me a new set of political or epistemological tools to make my way in the world. Rather, it allows me to feel my way to a proper stance toward these tools.
Read more at Triple Canopy. A recording of Reddy’s Speculations talk is here. And if you want to check out a few poems from Voyager, we have a sampling here.
Tags: Lucy Ives, Srikanth Reddy, Triple Canopy
Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015 by Harriet Staff.

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
06-26-2015, 11:53 AM
BY WIN BASSETT

How are you? Pity soaks the moment like wet bread. Do I spit it out, or must I gum this unguent down?


I learned in my first week as a hospital chaplain never to ask, “How are you?” or any variation of the question. Before my chaplaincy program, I went to law school and served as a criminal prosecutor in North Carolina; I never felt compelled to utter this small-talk inquiry to any party during that time. But instead of the harsh overhead lighting inside a dilapidated courthouse, I now find myself underneath the sterile bulbs of a university hospital in Virginia for the next three months. Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), a standardized chaplaincy program housed in most large hospitals in the United States, is a popular summer option for students in seminaries. I gave up the moral distress of putting kids in jail for nonviolent crimes to study literature in a divinity school, a move I hope will serve as an adequate bridge from law to secondary education and advocacy for the poetry world that lent me the courage to head down this road. “To make injustice the only / measure of our attention is to praise the Devil,” Jack Gilbert writes in the providentially named poem “A Brief for the Defense.”

Back in the hospital, my fellow interns and I watched the film Wit, along with most other summer chaplaincy programs in the country, to understand why we shouldn’t ask how someone is doing. The movie depicts an angry John Donne scholar (played by Emma Thompson) during her various stages of cancer:

I've been asked, "How are you feeling?" while throwing up into a plastic basin.

I have been asked as I was emerging from a four-hour operation with a tube in every orifice: "How are you feeling today?"

I'm waiting for the moment when I'm asked this question and I'm dead.

I'm a little sorry I'll miss that.

I asked the question all summer. What else was I supposed to say when I cold-knocked and walked into a room of a vulnerable person I’d never spoken to nor seen in my life?

Wiman goes on to write, “prevarications, extenuations, tomorrow’s tease of being: / we are what we are only in our last bastions.” This notion of “our last bastions” troubles me. The most common definition of his last word: “an institution, a place, or a person strongly defending or upholding particular principles, attitudes, or activities.” When a grown man who is half-naked in a hospital bed cries because he can’t move his bowels, is this all that he is if he dies tomorrow?

I visited this man almost every day for two months last summer. In the mornings, we had didactics (such as “Caring for the Buddhist Patient”) or verbatims (in which we workshopped, word for word, how a patient visit had unfolded), so I visited this guy after lunch each day. He was about my father’s age—mid-50s—and he was cleaning brush behind some of his property near the West Virginia–Virginia line when he was shot with an AK-47. It was an accident—some kid was dry-firing it a few houses down, messed up, and shot my patient in the back of his right shoulder. The shell bounced around and traveled down his bowels. I prayed for shit with him all summer.

I’ll call him Joe. On our second visit, Joe had me weeping. After telling me more details about how someone shot him with an assault rifle, how his hospitalization hurt the business at his auto shop, and how the traveling back and forth from home exhausts his wife, I said to him, “You don’t seem like you’re angry at all.” Joe told me he’s not. “The first thing I did was to forgive that boy.” Behind wet eyes, I told Joe that it’s rare to encounter someone who actually does what Jesus told us to do. And I rethought Wiman’s line about last bastions.



My first overnight stint, one that spans morning to morning, came four weeks into my summer program at the hospital. During the normal workday hours, no fewer than four chaplain interns, five chaplain residents, two staff chaplains, and two chaplain supervisors roam the main building’s eight floors, which hold 601 beds. I cover only the pediatric and orthopedic units in my afternoons. But once the on-call shift hits, from five in the evening until eight the next morning, I cover the entire hospital. I love this, I told my supervisor, because I like holding down the fort. He told me this feeling might be telling of something else. This standardized chaplaincy program, after all, was designed for participants to learn more about themselves than anything else all summer.

An in-between feeling, like the time on Cadillac Mountain I saw the sun blaring its new brightness, hit me each time I emerged from the on-call suite (a basement room with a twin bed) at the end of my overnight shifts. I write in-between in a similar sense to Seamus Heaney’s notion: between the present and something greater to which I’m not privy. After living for 24 hours inside the building, I open the door from the basement to the three-story wall of windows in the lobby that try to serve as a gate to a beaming sun—the motions and resultant visuals make me feel as though a day never passed. It seems this way because the civilization inside never stops, never rests. The citizens might change shifts, but it’s noticeable only if I try—there are so many of them, and they are so busy. Days separate, it seems, not because of a new sun’s rising but because a rest period has begun and ended.

When does a new day come into being after one of my overnight shifts? Not until I step outside. “As the doors glide shut behind me, / the world flares back into being— / I exist again, recover myself,” writes Anya Silver in “Leaving the Hospital.” As her poem’s speaker emerges from the building, she comments on a fellow patient who doesn’t fare well at night: “the nighttime cries of a man withered / child-size by cancer, and the bells / of emptied IVs tolling through hallways.”

The nurses inevitably page the on-call chaplain when they hear “the nighttime cries of a man withered” because they usually have more pressing medical concerns that need their attention. I find early on in my summer that hymns work better than other forms of language or media to console these souls. Forget small talk, television, and off-the-cuff prayers—these folks know their hymns. After a few weeks of confidence-boosting patient encounters, I realize poetry might also be helpful in these instances of distress. The patients don’t know the poems I carry in my pocket the way they know their hymns, but they quiet nonetheless. I chalk up these powers to poetry’s economy of words. When you know you don’t have much longer in this life, why not make every word you speak and hear pack as much meaning as possible? “Poetry is an orphan of silence,” Charles Simic said.



“Ceremoniously, gravely, and weakly, / Dozens of pale hands are waving / Back, from inside their flames,” James Dickey writes in “The Hospital Window.” Like the speaker, I take images of hospital residents with me after sleepless nights. They remain vivid, and the images still live and move after I leave the hospital on my bike as people drive and walk to work in the morning.
I helped a man—if helping means being the last person to pray with him—die during the weeks in July when the Virginia heat blurred my vision outside. He told me he was ready. I didn’t take him seriously, and I tried to convince him that it wasn’t time. “That the dying may float without fear / In the bold blue gaze of my father,” Dickey writes. Drained and on my ride home, I think about when I asked him when last he saw his children. “Before I went blind over a decade ago,” he laughed.



Those mornings I traveled north on I91,
passing below the basalt cliff of East Rock
where the elms discussed their genealogies.
I was a chaplain at Hartford Hospital,
took the Myers-Briggs with Sister Margaret,
learned I was an I drawn to Es.
In small group I said, “I do not like it—
the way so many young black men die here-- ............................................
.........................

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
06-27-2015, 01:30 PM
All Mod Cons – or a Reflective Analysis on Whitman and American Institutional Technophilia
BY PHILP JENKS


Walt-Whitman

I’ve been too cruel to Walt Whitman’s works. Perhaps because I relate too much to the criticisms I have that it strikes fear in me. His work seems to uncover another honesty. The speaker appears often as a loving and encompassing man. He includes “everything” from classes, races, sexualities and into ecosystems in a vast democratic celebration of being. No small feat. Yet, this is much like many of the progressive oppressors I know. I’ve been groomed by Whitman too many times. Can I forgive the works? Leaves of Grass, Specimen Days, and Democratic Vistas all deploy a masculinist voyeurism. Moreover, the “I,” the speaking subject is the “neutral” and abstract. Put differently, this gets down to the institutionalized sexisms, racisms, classisms and all other isms that are inculcated within me. And I don’t always work to get them out and destroy them. Whitman’s voyeuristic vision watches over each and every, delighting in it. This includes even the most horrifying scenes, darkest spaces I’ve encountered. Too often I will denounce. Despite gestures to the contrary, including a book on an overly judgmental society (My First Painting Will Be the Accuser on Zephyr Press), I’m judgmental of his inclusivity. Or efforts therein. Yet, without his work I’d be no writer, understand much less, and yes there have been times when it saved my life. Whitman incorporates a hinge into the world, suturing a rift in reason, providing some repair that is desperately needed in these times.
Sometimes I’m so scared of the Civil War patent-office hospital he depicts in Specimen Days. Rarely even can I think about it. They stored dead soldiers in these patent cases.
A few weeks ago the vast area of the second story of that noblest of Washington buildings was crowded close with rows of sick, badly wounded and dying soldiers. They were placed in three very large apartments. I went there many times. It was a strange, solemn, and, with all its features of suffering and death, a sort of fascinating sight. I go sometimes to sooth and relieve particular cases. Two of the immense apartments are fill’d high and ponderous glass cases, crowded with models of every kind of utensil, machine or invention, it ever enter’d into the mind of man to conceive….Between these cases are lateral openings, perhaps eight feet wide and quite deep, and in these were placed the sick….It was, indeed, a curious scene, especially at night when lit up. (Whitman: Poetry and Prose, Library of America Edition 741)
While too much has been made of American innovation and technology, still the immense transformation of such a place and space (for place has a home within it) into its very opposite illuminates an eeriness, an ability to convey that beyond most capabilities. Or…was it the opposite? Here, the site of invention, “shades of makers of the world” (Wolf) haunts the groaning, dying boys and men. Machines, utensils, inventions, and “a poor fellow dying, with emaciated face and glassy eye, the nurse by his side, the doctor also there, but no friend, no relative” (Whitman 742). A piercing loneliness and alienation could not be more aptly scripted for one’s life. The Civil War was the first “technological” war in so many senses. The other side of making, but not thinking—the other side of thinking that new creation inevitably is “progress” in a sort of fascistic Hegelian spirit is that eventually a nation’s embodiment of technological advance will inherit the scores of dead bodies that thoughtless technophilia produces. For Whitman, institutionalism itself kills off the source of any liberated verse.
And in libraries I lie as one dumb, a gawk, or unborn, or
dead
But just possibly with you on a high hill, first watching lest
any person for miles around approach unawares,
Or possibly with you sailing at sea, or on the beach of the
sea or some quiet island,
(“Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand” 271)
This hinge of the world may appear bucolic or naïve even. However, consider the alternative. It would seem within the sheer volume of Whitman’s work, much of the twenty-first century in the Global North is far closer to a Patent-Office Hospital, a making without thinking (Arendt, Essays in Understanding).



http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2015/04/all-mod-cons-or-a-reflective-analysis-on-whitman-and-american-institutional-technophilia/

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
06-28-2015, 03:28 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/250426

INTERVIEW
Talk to the Dead
Ruth Lilly Prize winner Alice Notley on the voice and spirits of her poetry.

BY ADAM PLUNKETT

Any honest introduction of Alice Notley should acknowledge that you can’t quite introduce her. She has written too much, for too long, in too many different ways, and if any principle explains her work, it’s what she calls “disobedience,” a refusal to comply with any movement or style or idea or identity. In her nearly 30 books from the last 45 years, she has been a New York School poet (second generation) and a feminist poet, an epic and a lyric and a novelistic poet, a playwright and a memoirist, an essayist and an accomplished visual artist: funny, poignant, erudite, and fearless. “Over the years,” she wrote in 2005, “I’ve been variously … formal, experimental, elliptical, polysyllabic, exceedingly plain, personal, and narrative; also speedy and slowed-down; all, it seems to me, in the same general voice.”

True to noncompliant form, she told me recently that she hears less a voice in her poetry now than a number of voices. It was late April, and she was on a trip to New York City, where she learned that she had been awarded the 2015 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. We discussed the voices in a series of e-mails, which touched on her ambition to give voice to the dead and the silenced, her two forthcoming books, and why she thinks academia is dulling poetry. Our interview has been edited and condensed.

******

What brings you back to New York City? And how does it feel to be back after having lived abroad, in Paris, for—correct me if I’m wrong—22 years now?

I come back to New York a couple times a year to visit my sons and their families. But this visit I also read at The Poetry Project, something I have done every few years since 1971. It’s familiar to come back—it’s family and friends, it’s the sound of a significant part of my poetry—that New York speed and humor in the street, it’s an important part of my background. I’ve lived in Paris now for 23 years and it’s become home, but I need New York, too


Are you aware at all when you’re here of discontinuity, too?


Sometimes I think and say aloud that it’s changed—but I’m not really sure it’s that different. The energy’s the same. There are still people who live their lives primarily out on the sidewalk, for example. There are large numbers of immigrants, though of different backgrounds from before; the subway’s still interesting to ride in; there’s a lot of overt artistic activity.


You wrote in your 1995 essay “The ‘Feminine’ Epic” that part of what drew you to write The Descent of Alette, an epic in which the protagonist finds herself on “a subway, endlessly,” was your noticing more and more homeless people in New York in the late 1980s. How, if at all, do you see oppression manifesting itself differently now that the city has so many rich inhabitants? How is it different in Paris?


I’m told that there are homeless people everywhere in New York; I think I would have to stay here longer to know exactly where they are. I’m not aware of people clustered together, as they were in the ’80s, in places like Tompkins Square Park and beneath Grand Central Station. I suppose that means that overt displays of homelessness are discouraged. Paris had a rather large homeless population when I first moved there, and there seem to be a lot of people sleeping over heating grates at the moment. But there’s more dialogue in Europe in general about housing. There are a lot more people in the world than there used to be, and taking care of everyone’s needs seems formidable. I actually don’t think about the rich very much. I’m not interested in them. I suppose I think everyone should exclude them.

Could you speak to your decision not to spend your career in academia, and to why, as you’ve said elsewhere, “Poetry should feel hugely uncomfortable in the academy”?


I’ve never seen any connection between poetry and the academy or poetry and the university—or between fiction writing and the university. When I first went to Iowa as a fiction writer, I was appalled to discover I was supposed to learn how to teach. I somehow hadn’t noticed the MFA was a teaching degree. I gradually began writing poetry and got my degree eventually in fiction and poetry both, but I refused to do the student teaching and was given the job of being the dittograph person. I ran off everybody’s handouts for classes. Poetry is itself an ancient art older than any academy or institution. Why should a poet teach poetry or anything else?


Could you talk about specific problems in the poetry world that stem at least in part from the fact that so many practicing poets spend their lives in academia? One issue that occurred to me was the shift in emphasis from musicality to form that you discuss in your essay “American Poetic Music at the Moment.” Perhaps part of the reason poets are more comfortable talking about form than sound is that it’s easier to study.


Oh, everyone’s so boring! They have students! We had these really difficult lives in the midst of which we talked to each other and fought with each other about all of our thoughts about poetry. Everyone thinks they’re a poet because they get degrees. They are taught by boring teachers who validate the fact that they have a certain interest in poetry and then—presto—they get to validate more like themselves. I am using the pronoun “they” in the normal American vernacular way that is born of necessity. So. There are still old-fashioned, silly ways to discuss musicality in the mainstream academy (you say vague things about consonants and vowels), and my work has been subjected to them as well as to the lack of discussion in the avant-garde part of the academy. With musicality no one knows what to say, because it’s practically metaphysical, the essence of the poetry talent—don’t ever mention the poetry talent, either. I am totally musical, and I hear all the words I say in daily life. I have allergies at the moment that are blocking up my normal sounds and making other ones. My speaking voice is echoing about in my brain-bones, and I can’t catch my breath properly.

------------------------------------------------ ****

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
06-30-2015, 12:25 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2015/06/rhetorics-as-raw-material-on-the-complex-work-of-daniel-borzutzky/

Rhetorics as Raw Material: On the Complex Work of Daniel Borzutzky
BY HARRIET STAFF



At Jacket2, Kristin Dykstra writes about both the translation and creative work of Daniel Borzutzky, and how the two
modes interrelate as she reads across his oeuvre, focusing on Borzutzky’s 2015 collection Memories of My Overdevelopment,
categorized by its publisher, Kenning Editions, as “nonfiction.”
This way depends on their shared grounds of a hemispheric expanse defined around rhetorics of neoliberalism and resistance,
which Borzutzky has been conceptualizing in increasingly focused texts. His gradual construction of a specific
hemispheric span for his writing – a span where Latin American expression intersects with that of the US, in
translation/poetry worlds – uses those rhetorics as raw material.
As a result, it’s increasingly possible to read Borzutzky’s oeuvre as an extended investigation of life under rampant
corporatization and the bureaucracies it attempts to consume. His intonations serve up the new inter-American epic — or
anti-epic? — in the age of neoliberalism.
Later, Dykstra expands this influence:
As critic Michael Dowdy outlines in a book-length study of US Latino/a literature, different notions of how to define
“freedom” accompany the rise of neoliberalism. For its promotors,
neoliberal theory aims to maximize freedom by reducing citizenship to a rational choice model of atomized, possessive
individualism. This conception ties all valences of freedom to the market, dismantles collective forms of organization
and ownership, converts states into servants to capital, guts social safety nets and the public sphere, and relentlessly commodifies culture, including modes of resistance. (9)
Neoliberalism translates.
And so does resistance to its modalities, though its complications merit time and attention (resources increasingly scarce).
Poetic resistance has included writers who “model freedom as a relational concept rooted in diachronic place-based
cultural practices and constituted interpersonally rather than held individually” (Dowdy 9).
Borzutzky’s explorations, in which the translator exists as fulcrum, a single small-scale point for relations from which
larger motions and visions emerge, offer vivid examples of how such cultural work continues to unfurl.
Chile, one of the famous testing sites for neoliberalism after its 1973 coup d’etat, permeates and restructures Borzutzky’s
contemporary northern city. Remember and historicize neoliberalism’s storied Chicagoan origins and its initial export to
Chile. But Borzutzky’s latest writings emphasize a more recent vector of influence. The Chilean boomerang has returned.

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
07-01-2015, 06:05 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2015/07/newly-translated-letter-from-ezra-pound-clarifies-imagist-movement/

POETRY NEWS
Newly Translated Letter From Ezra Pound Clarifies Imagist Movement
BY HARRIET STAFF

Jared Spears presents and dissects a heretofore untranslated 1928 letter from Ezra Pound to French scholar and critic René Taupin:
The letter was prompted by Taupin’s analysis of Imagism, the avant-garde movement Pound, an American expatriate, had helped found in London after the dawn of the new century. Taupin, then chairman of romance languages at Hunter College, asserted that Imagism was almost inseparable from earlier French Symbolists (an argument which would culminate in his 1929 book, The Influence of French Symbolism on Modern American Poetry). For Pound, Taupin’s assertions belittled what he believed to be the unique accomplishments of his own literary movement.
More from Jacket2:
Pound’s letter to Taupin serves as his rebuttal. Due to Pound’s scattered, almost stream-of-conscious writing style, passages of the letter are dissected here to better follow his logic, beginning with his opening:
Of course, if you permit an inversion of time, in some Einsteinian relativity, it would seem likely to you that I’d received the idea of the image from the poems of Hilda Doolittle, written after that idea was received. See the dates of the various books.
To lay the base for his argument, Pound painstakingly makes a case for a less direct influence on Imagism from modern French writers, asserting that he and his cohorts arrived at their conclusions more or less independently. He describes trademarks of his own style as “[v]ery severe self-examination  —  and intolerance for all the mistakes and stupidities of French poets.”
Pound goes on to trace the general flow of poetic innovation from French writers of the late nineteenth century through Symons, Baudelaire, and Verlaine. “Certainly progress in the poetic technique,” he admits. But it is from Arthur Rimbaud that Pound traced the origin of modernist writing, a fact in general consensus today.
That which Rimbaud reached by intuition (genius) in some poems, created via (perhaps?) conscious aesthetic  —  I do not want to ascribe him any unjust achievement  —  but for all that I know. I’m doing an aesthetic more or less systematic  —  and could have named certain poems of Rimbaud as example. (Yet also some poems of Catullus.)
And it is certain that apart from some methods of expression  —  Rimbaud and I have but a point of resemblance. But almost all of the experimentation, poetic technique of 1830-up to me  —  was made in France.
Experimentation perhaps, but not progress, continues Pound in signature frankness.
Find the full essay and the letter here. Check out the initial publication, in its original French, in Letters of Ezra Pound: 1907–1941 (New Directions 1971).
Tags: Ezra Pound, Jacket2, Jared Spears, New Directions
Posted in Poetry News on Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 by Harriet Staff

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
07-05-2015, 10:09 AM
["She thinks the monkey's bad luck..."]
BY PHILIP JENKS
I.

She thinks the monkey's bad luck because
of all the Institutions it's seen.
A curious curious George hooked to my hoodie,
with arguably racialized, inappropriate lips
curling out to smile and greet the staff
as I ask for the nth time why no release
or where is Albeheary? By now,
anything may well prove to be true,
which, of course, is insane.

II.

Sometimes I lose it. If I can't wear it,
When I'm on the outside, the backpack
Or higgly pocket. Little higgly pigglies
Tearing at the tongue. Speak to me.
Who, art? Thinning. More vodka.
This time Lakeshore third floor,
My DTs I can't dial. The kindest black
Trans/guy who did my dialing for me.
Others tore their hair out or hanged themselves.

My roomie he collapsed his lung
Eleven times. This is his last trip to the place.
Eventual. Even. They moved me I got the same roommate
Last New Year's as the one before.
The shakes are permanent.
The stain all the more so, like nothing.
Inside, a perpetual processing. This is prisoning.
Ever emotion's measured. "wrong" (with you)
This isn't as or like anything. Outside, I just want back in.


III.
At one point, there was something to it.
As when he found a hernia on me in the tub
And suddenly, "operation." Herr Doctor.
Then hospital at five years old and a Curious
Curious George story. How he went too.
Or windup Campbell's Soup.
Of course he slept there, for solace. For comfort.
Night rounds. Book learnt animal instinct.
Aping compassion. Inappropriate lips. The old testament wronged.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This is modern poetry that has a feel, has a meaning. Its very descriptive and shows lots of pain, emotion, thought and imagination.
Vast majority of modern poetry I have no care for but when its good I simply love it..-Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
07-08-2015, 07:37 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2015/07/judge-how-he-fleeceth-the-country-by-paul-batchelor/


FROM POETRY MAGAZINE

Judge How He Fleeceth the Country
BY PAUL BATCHELOR
Frontispiece to Matthew Hopkins’s The Discovery of Witches
Frontispiece to Matthew Hopkins’s The Discovery of Witches
[Note: Each month we feature a guest post from a contributor to Poetry’s current issue. Paul Batchelor’s “The Discoverer’s Man” appears in the July/August 2015 issue. Previous posts in this series can be found on the Editors’ Blog.]

There’s something disreputable about dramatic monologues. It’s easy to write a passable one but almost impossible to write a good one. They are never fashionable, but there’s never a shortage of them either. I’m not sure that I would mount a defence of the form even if I could. Instead, I want to talk about some of the models I had in mind when writing ‘The Discoverer’s Man’, a dramatic monologue set in the 1680s and spoken by an old man who in his youth acted as a witch-finder’s assistant.
The exploits of my Discoverer and his Man are based loosely on those of the real-life witch-finders Matthew Hopkins (c.1620-1647) and John Stearne (c.1610-1670). I began the poem after reading Witchfinders: a Seventeenth-century English Tragedy by Malcolm Gaskill, which led me to the accounts provided by Hopkins and Stearne themselves (the phrase ‘Judge how he fleeceth the Country’ is taken from Hopkins’s self-justification, The Discovery of Witches). Hopkins, the self-styled ‘Witchfinder General’, is the most famous witch-finder, for reasons that are not altogether clear. The speaker of my poem is an assistant to an unnamed Hopkins-like figure, but the real-life Hopkins himself started out as a Man to Stearne. My Elizabeth Bell is based on Elizabeth Clarke, Hopkins’s first victim; and my John Knowles is based on John Lowes, the vicar whose execution represented Hopkins’s most remarkable success. My description of Knowles’s execution draws on various accounts of similar deaths in John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, a work that Hopkins would have known well. Many of the incidental details of the witch-hunts (e.g., the names of Bell/Clarke’s familiars) were too good to be left out: that a starved and sleep-deprived old woman being tortured by her neighbours would name one of her devilish familiars ‘Newes’ (ie. gossip) is a heartbreaking detail. Similarly, when my Discoverer promises never to accuse anyone, he echoes Hopkins and Stearne, who only ever went where they were invited.
At a certain point, I realised that researching the historical record was inhibiting me. The poem went cold and progress slowed. In the end it took five years to complete, and only when I knew I was nearly finished did I begin a second wave of research, in which I tried to check that the things I’d invented weren’t too far off the mark. In the mean time, what helped me to bring my characters back to life (to me anyway) was thinking of three less obviously relevant figures: Tony Blair, Nick Leeson, and Myra Hindley.
Tony Blair led the Labour party to a landslide win in the 1997 U.K. general election, having stood for vaguely-defined ‘change’, which turned out to mean a continuation of neoliberal economics augmented with higher public spending. Officially, of course, it was the Labour party that won; but really it was Blair and his acolytes. Although what he led was not quite a personality cult, the Labour party has been gripped by an identity crisis ever since he stepped down as Prime Minister. The public euphoria with which his 1997 victory was greeted is easy to forget now that Blair is an almost universally loathed figure in Britain. I’d like to think that everybody hates him because he invaded Iraq in order to protect us from Weapons of Mass Destruction that turned out to be no more real than the Evil Spirits the witch-finders battled. But this can’t be the whole story. Blair won a general election in May 2005 pretty comfortably, long after the truth about WMDs had been revealed. The fact is Britain was mysteriously ready to believe in Blair, and then, at a certain point, it was ready to turn on him. Similarly, Hopkins went from being welcomed as a kind of saviour figure to being demonised within the space of a generation or so. Blair has since got religion and is now a practising Catholic. I knew from quite early on that I wanted my speaker to misquote the Bible as part of his attempted self-justification.
Nick Leeson is the derivatives broker whose actions led to Barings Bank (whose customers included the Queen) being declared insolvent on 26 February 1995. Leeson engaged in unauthorised speculative trading and hid his losses in secret accounts until they ran to over $1.4 billion. In the 90s, this seemed like a lot of money for a bank to lose. I am very attracted to the idea of Leeson as the Monster to Margaret Thatcher’s Frankenstein, as though the Thatcherite vision of liberated provincial youth came true, only to produce an agent of chaos who brought down a 233-year-old institution; but I realise that this is probably wishful thinking. Like Leeson, Hopkins came from what we’d call a lower-middle-class background. Hopkins was the third son of a clergyman in rural Suffolk, and the family’s respectability came from Matthew Hopkins’s grandfather, a yeoman farmer who restyled himself a gentleman after enclosing the common land upon which the poor depended. A stable English society would have checked the rise of such an ‘obscure’ figure, but the social, religious and political chaos of the civil war era allowed Hopkins to flourish, much as it did Oliver Cromwell, or William Dowsing, the puritan iconoclast. In the 1990s, it was the ethical and procedural chaos of market deregulation that gave Leeson his chance.
I don’t know whether readers outside of the U.K. will have heard of Myra Hindley. She was a serial killer, who, along with Ian Brady, kidnapped, tortured and murdered five children, burying their bodies on Saddleworth Moor in northern England, between July 1963 and October 1965. Brady, by his own account, was the leader, with Hindley his eager assistant. One of the strange things about the public interest in the case was the almost obsessive focus on Hindley: when I was growing up in the 80s, she seemed like a mythical figure, a bogeyman, often invoked as a symbol of the danger ‘out there’. The interest never really abated until Hindley died in prison of bronchial pneumonia in 2002. Unlike Brady, who was perceived as having been ‘born bad’, Hindley was disturbing because it was just about possible to imagine an alternative world in which she didn’t meet Brady and turned out—well, not exactly ‘normal’, but at least not homicidal. The motivations of serial killers (in real life or in fiction) are usually banal; what drives their enablers is a much more interesting question. I wanted the fanatical, inhuman Discoverer in my poem to remain a shadowy presence. His Man—the ordinary guy who fell under his spell, promulgated his myth, eased his progress, and then returned to society—would be my speaker and real subject.
These figures interested me because they are simultaneously characters in the story England tells itself, and chancers who seized an opportunity to tell a story of their own. At a certain point, through some confluence of historical and personal circumstance, they were presented with the occasion to seize control of a bigger narrative, to identify and project some aspect of their own self-image, and to implicate others in their version of events. On a smaller scale, much the same processes—projection and identification; suspicion and discovery—are practised by the speaker and implied listener of a dramatic monologue, as well as the writer and the reader.
Tags: dramatic monologue, Paul Batchelor, Poetry guest blogger
Posted in From Poetry Magazine on Wednesday, July 8th, 2015 by Paul Batchelor.

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
07-09-2015, 12:19 PM
Walt Whitman 101
A close look at everybody’s radical poet.

Few poets have had such lasting impact as Walt Whitman. Widely considered the American father of free verse, Whitman has been celebrated by poets from Federico García Lorca and Pablo Neruda to Langston Hughes and Patricia Lockwood. His irreverence inspired the surrealists, the Beats, and the New York School. Critic Harold Bloom called Leaves of Grass part of the “secular scripture of the United States.” Schools, malls, and bridges are named for him, and in the past few years, Levi’s and Apple have used his words to sell jeans and iPads.

However, although Whitman is a figure of mythic stature and popular appeal, his work remains strikingly provocative. Profuse, amorous, and candidly grand, his “barbaric yawp” defies all boundaries and borders, reminding readers of the radical possibilities inherent in the democratic ideal.

Beginnings
Whitman’s long road to poetic greatness seemed both unlikely and predestined. One of nine children, several of whom were named for American presidents, he left school at 11 but continued to educate himself while he apprenticed as a printer. For the first half of his life, his literary ambitions lay in journalism and fiction, and he worked for several New York newspapers. He didn’t write a book of poetry until he was 36, when, at his own expense, he first published Leaves of Grass, his great and lifelong work. Though he wrote other prose and poetry volumes over the course of his career, Whitman continually revised and reissued Leaves of Grass, adding to, removing from, rewriting, and reordering the book until his death. When Leaves was first published in 1855, it contained 12 poems; the final 1892 edition contains more than 400. His goal from the beginning was a kind of wholeness: a volume that gathered all of his work into one sustained epic.

If the size and scope of Leaves of Grass was itself audacious, its form and content were even more so. Inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “The Poet,” which called for a distinctly American poetry, Whitman abandoned traditional poetic style and elevated language. He pioneered a unique type of free verse that combined spontaneous, prosaic rhythms with incantatory repetition that he found in the Old Testament; with it, he found a form to match his great subject: the unity and diversity of the limitless American self.

Walt Whitman, Kosmos
His earliest and most fundamental work, “Song of Myself,” carries egalitarianism to its further extent. In long lines and ecstatic catalogues, Whitman embraces everything and everyone—good and bad, male and female, free and not—as equal. Celebrating the individual as both a product of and vessel for the multitude, Whitman adopted the persona of the kosmos, a kind of visionary or seer, and channeled the voices of America—“I am the hounded slave,” he writes provocatively at one point. His praise of the carnal and corporeal was likewise provocative. As he proclaims in “I Sing the Body Electric,” Whitman saw the body and the soul as commensurate and touch as the basis for all personal and political connections.

Ebb Tide
Though it gained him a handful of admirers and detractors, the first edition of Leaves of Grass sold very poorly. In the years following its publication, Whitman lived an unsettled, bohemian life, and his work took a melancholic, personal turn. “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” for example, tells the tale of his artistic birth but roots it in death and loss, and the invitation in his earlier “Song of the Open Road” stands in stark contrast to his warning in “Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand” that he is “not what you supposed.”

Skeptical as they can be, the poems of this period include some of Whitman’s most revolutionary work. “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life” is a doubtful and inconclusive poem that prefigures the Modernist movement, and his “Calamus” sequence, first printed in the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass, is historic in its treatment of same-sex attraction and relationships. In comparison to the excited and explicit sexuality of his earlier work, “I Saw in Louisiana A Live-Oak Growing” and “A Glimpse” are meditative, even plaintive in tone. But in lingering on feelings that were, at the time, too obscene to mention, Whitman introduced a language of queer love that, as critics Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price write, was essential to the development of gay literature.

Drum-Taps
As befits his signature blending of self and state, the Civil War marked a major turning point in Whitman’s career. Traveling first to the front lines to visit his enlisted brother, and then onto Washington, DC, where he made a home during the war, Whitman became a troubadour of the battlefield. In “Beat! Beat! Drums!” he sings of the war’s inevitability, and poems such as “Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night” acutely capture its horrors. “The Wound-Dresser” describes Whitman’s remarkable experiences at military hospitals, where he nursed thousands of wounded soldiers and befriended many.

These years took a toll on Whitman: one of his brothers died, another was captured, and he watched as one of his dearest infatuations had his leg amputated. But these years also brought the publication of his book Drum-Taps and two of his most widely known poems, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” and “O Captain! My Captain!,” both written in honor of President Abraham Lincoln, who was assassinated at the end of the war.

The Good Gray Poet
Whitman was an avowed rabble-rouser—his abolitionist politics and explicit poetry lost him several jobs—but his image shifted in his later years to something more stately and sanctified. Despite declining health and financial instability, Whitman continued to write and even began to enjoy a certain amount of literary celebrity. He received numerous distinguished visitors, including Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Oscar Wilde, at his home in Camden, New Jersey, where he relocated in 1873 after a stroke.

Inspired more and more by science and engineering, Whitman wrote poems such as “Passage to India,” which hails the opening of the Suez Canal and the rapidly globalizing world, and “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer,” which stages the conflict between scientific reason and cosmic experience. He continued to revise and expand Leaves of Grass and worked on several prose projects, including Specimen Days, which is an unconventional autobiography, and “Democratic Vistas,” an essay about Reconstruction-era America.

If the tone of his poetry grew increasingly laudatory, in “Vistas,” Whitman is at his most critical, excoriating a political culture “saturated in corruption, bribery, falsehood” and “mal-administration.” But if America’s promise remained (or remains) unfulfilled, Whitman’s poetry reminds readers, even today, of democracy’s continuing potential.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Few poets have had such lasting impact as Walt Whitman. Widely considered the American father of free verse, Whitman has been celebrated by poets from Federico García Lorca and Pablo Neruda to Langston Hughes and Patricia Lockwood. His irreverence inspired the surrealists, the Beats, and the New York School. Critic Harold Bloom called Leaves of Grass part of the “secular scripture of the United States.” Schools, malls, and bridges are named for him, and in the past few years, Levi’s and Apple have used his words to sell jeans and iPads.

However, although Whitman is a figure of mythic stature and popular appeal, his work remains strikingly provocative. Profuse, amorous, and candidly grand, his “barbaric yawp” defies all boundaries and borders, reminding readers of the radical possibilities inherent in the democratic ideal.
^^^^ This alone makes him in my top ten favorite poets list !!-Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
07-12-2015, 10:30 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/250680?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+poetryfoundation%2Findex+%28P oetryFoundation.org%29

ESSAY
The Locals
Why Spoon River Anthology still resonates 100 years later.

BY STEFAN BECK

“I hate small towns,” Lenny Bruce reportedly said, “because once you’ve seen the cannon in the park there’s nothing else to do.” There was a time when I found this line funny and true, but then I had the good fortune to move to a small town in upstate New York. My town has proven a greater source of fascination than any true city I’ve lived in—though the reasons were not entirely clear to me until I reread Edgar Lee Masters’s masterpiece, Spoon River Anthology, which turns 100 years old this year and has never once been out of print.

Spoon River is a doubtful advertisement for small-town life. “I loathed you, Spoon River. I tried to rise above you,” Archibald Higbie declares in his poem’s opening line. Modeled on the epigrams of the Anthologia Graeca, it is a series of more than 200 epitaphs spoken by the dead of Spoon River’s cemetery. (Spoon River is based on the towns of Petersburg and Lewistown, Illinois, where Masters was raised.) Free in death to speak truthfully, spurn propriety, and spill secrets, these ghosts conjure a vision of a small town very much at odds with its own idealized, pastoral self-image.

Almost every kind of unpleasantness imaginable is present in these poems. Some Spoon River residents lead long lives before coming to ruin. Some lose life’s lottery at the outset: “Steel forceps fumbled by a doctor’s hand / Against my boy’s head as he entered life,” grieves the speaker in “State’s Attorney Fallas,” “Made him an idiot.” Some of Spoon River’s talking dead are children. Charlie French recalls being cut down by a toy gun in the midst of great happiness: “The lemonade stands were running / And the band was playing, / To have it all spoiled / By a piece of a cap shot under the skin of my hand.”

Some of Spoon River’s talking dead are children. Charlie French recalls being cut down by a toy gun in the midst of great happiness: “The lemonade stands were running / And the band was playing, / To have it all spoiled / By a piece of a cap shot under the skin of my hand.”

The darker consequences of sex loom large. “I would have been as great as George Eliot,” says Margaret Fuller Slack, but her ambitions suffocate beneath the burden of raising eight children: “Sex is the curse of life!” Slack thunders. The devastating “Nellie Clark” relates a life ruined by reverberations of the speaker’s rape when she was eight years old. In “Minerva Jones,” “Doctor Meyers,” and “Mrs. Meyers,” readers commiserate with three villagers who suffer death or disgrace because of botched, illicit abortions.

Frank talk about sex—not to mention adultery, prostitution, and abortion—was far from common in 1915, and the public was shocked. John Erskine wrote in the November 1922 North American Review of encountering a minister who “could not give his approval to the Spoon River Anthology, brilliant though it was; he could approve of no book that portrayed fornication.” Spoon River was “the sex-shocker, the Peyton Place of its day,” Stanley Edgar Hyman wrote in The New Leader in 1963.
Masters wrote these poems in free verse, still novel—even disturbingly so—at the time. Lawrence Gilman, considering Spoon River in North American Review in June 1915, called the voices of Masters’s speakers “bald, flat, and uncouth.” Masters never tried to pretty up the speech of ordinary people. Their stories, Gilman contended, were “often as rank and candid as the records of a police-court.”

But some found the candor of Masters’s characters refreshing. Alice Corbin Henderson, writing about Spoon River for Poetry in June 1915, argued that “despite the general sense of tragedy” in the book, Masters “makes life seem precious” as well as “humorous, squalid and noble at the same time.” Ezra Pound was also impressed. “At last,” he wrote, “the American West has produced a poet strong enough to weather the climate, capable of dealing with life directly.”

Masters makes small-town life come alive in its variety and specificity and unruliness. His masterstroke was to put these simple folk six feet under. Even though his characters are dead, he was able to emphasize their human energy. His “dead” characters seem more fully alive for speaking from the soil.

This pursuit of realism and psychological nuance should not have been controversial, but it was; Masters’s real project was to show that difficult lives are not failed ones but rather ones whose rewards are earned at greater cost. Spoon River feels neither bitter, as does much of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919), on which it was a major influence, nor dated and gimmicky, as the short stories in Charles Jackson’s 1950 The Sunnier Side do. It is easy to forget that although Spoon River’s conceit necessitates depicting many downfalls and deaths, its monologuists also recount ambition and pride, comic episodes and welcome reversals, passion and love. Many endings in Spoon River feel like natural parts of life, not true tragedies.

In “Richard Bone,” a carver of headstones has a career that outlasts his self-respect; the longer Bone lives among the people of Spoon River, the more readily he sees through the dishonest epitaphs his customers order: “But still I chiseled whatever they paid me to chisel / And made myself party to the false chronicles / Of the stones.” That Bone’s guilt can be read as either noble or comically overwrought—or both, frankly—is frankly typical of Masters’s complex and humane attitude toward his creations.

Indeed, many of Masters’s speakers are both tragic and figures of fun, self-pitying but nevertheless making compelling points. In “Daisy Fraser,” the prostitute asks, “Did you ever hear of Editor Whedon / Giving to the public treasury any of the money he received” for manipulating public opinion and “Did you ever hear of the Circuit Judge / Helping anyone except the ‘Q’ railroad, / Or the bankers?” Daisy maintains that she “never was taken before Justice Arnett / Without contributing ten dollars and costs / To the school fund of Spoon River!” Similarly, in “Judge Somers,” the judge, who “knew Blackstone and Coke / Almost by heart,” fumes about the fact that the town drunkard “has a marble block, topped by an urn, / Wherein Nature, in a mood ironical, / Has sown a flowering weed?”

Masters’s poems, his men and women, endure because they possess blunt force and human nuance. Spoon River shows humanity in microcosm: “Like Chaucer’s pilgrims,” critic Ernest Earnest wrote, “the 244 characters who speak their epitaphs represent almost every walk of life.” Earnest attributed the book’s immediate popularity to “shock of recognition. Here for the first time in America was the whole of a society which people recognized—not only that part of it reflected in writers of the genteel tradition.” He was writing in 1967 and clearly found Spoon River anything but dated.

In his 1992 introduction to an annotated volume of Spoon River Anthology, John Hallwas went a bit further toward identifying Spoon River’s appeal for modern readers; he addressed a tension at the heart of “the myth of America”—that is, its “contradictory thrusts toward individualism and community.” Spoon River is about not only community but also the challenges of knowing and being known by others. As the poet Maurice Manning recently put it, Spoon River belongs to a category of populist poetry that considers “what it is to just be human, and to have imperfections and failings and desperation and joy and love.” For that, it will always feel contemporary.

Indeed, Spoon River has inspired and likely will go on inspiring many contemporary adaptations—and mutations. The Italian musician Fabrizio De André released an album based on Spoon River, Non al denaro non all’amore né al cielo, in 1971. Steve Goodman sang “Spoon River” on his 1975 album Jessie’s Jig and Other Favorites. A number of composers, including Andrew Downes, David Garner, Lita Grier, and Wolfgang Jacobi, have set Spoon River poems to music. There is even an alt-country album by Richard Buckner based on it. A theatrical production of Spoon River was performed at Brooklyn’s famous Green-Wood Cemetery in 2011. Perhaps most improbably, the book was made into a computer game: “There are ghosts in the graveyard who are unable to rest because of unresolved issues in their former lives. Your task will be to end their suffering by performing tasks that resolve those issues.”

A century on, we contemporary readers are at an advantage. Because we do not flinch at subject matter that scandalized the reading public of Masters’s day, we may read Spoon River not as morbidly fixated on the ugly side of life but simply as attentive to all of life’s aspects. Masters’s speakers seize on moments or experiences whose deeper significance an outside observer could never guess, and Masters calls those moments to life with language that is beautiful without being flowery or self-conscious.

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
07-15-2015, 09:05 AM
This morning we heard the very sad news that poet and UMass professor James Tate has died at the age of 71. Gazettenet reports:
Acclaimed poet James Tate, a distinguished professor in the English department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, died Wednesday evening, according to a university spokesman. He was 71.
Tate is the author of more than 20 books of poetry, including “Worshipful Company of Fletchers,” which won the 1994 National Book Award. His 1991 collection “Selected Poems” won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and the William Carlos Williams award.
Tate was a long-time contributor to Poetry, with his first appearance reaching back to the July 1967 issue with “The Whole World’s Sadly Talking to Itself —W. B. Yeats” and “Pity Ascending with the Fog.” His last appearance in the magazine occurred in the January 2005 issue with “Spiderwebs.” Throughout his career Tate’s poetry was championed for its character-driven surrealism, while his teaching was foundational for a variety of poets who attended UMass Amherst.
Head here to read a selection of Tate’s poetry. And to hear Tate reading his work, tune in to this Essential American Poets podcast featuring a reading at the Library of Congress in 1976.
For his legions of readers and students, he’ll be missed.
Tags: James Tate, Obituary
Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, July 9th, 2015 by Harriet Staff.

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
07-16-2015, 10:36 AM
FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
A Tapestry for George Starbuck
BY KATHRYN STARBUCK
George Starbuck
George Starbuck
Note: Poetry first published George Starbuck in January 1960, and over the course of nearly three decades he published almost two dozen poems in the magazine. These include elegies, concrete poems, and many others you can find in our online archive. George Starbuck would have been 84 this month. His wife, Kathryn Starbuck, wrote the following post on his poems and the couple’s friendship with the late Patrick Leigh Fermor. Her poem “Sylvia En Route to Kythera” appears in our June 2015 issue.
Alas, I rarely read poetry. But I was married to poetry for nearly three decades in the person of George Starbuck. George was born June 15, 1931. His ten-book body of work was cut short by a twenty-two-year struggle with Parkinson’s disease that ended with his death at home at age 65 in 1996. While thinking of George and his work, I’ve been re-reading Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Roumeli, 1966, his masterpiece about northern Greece, Byron, poetry, and modern Greek history. Leigh Fermor, the incomparable British prose stylist, lived in Greece, and died at 96 in 2011. He was a literary warrior-scholar who loved poetry. As a commando in the British special forces, he became the hero of the Battle of Crete in World War II when he kidnapped Nazi General Heinrich Kreipe.
He admired George’s poetry. Leigh Fermor sent George a fan letter about his poem “A Tapestry for Bayeux” when his first book, Bone Thoughts, came out in 1960. He invited George to visit him in Greece.
George and I stayed with him for a memorable day and night at his home in Kardamyli in the Mani peninsula in the Peloponnesus in the early 1980s. I sang him a song a young Greek shepherd had sung to me in the Tayegetus mountains, which Leigh Fermor had hiked for decades. I sang it in Demotiki and in the rough translation I had fashioned. My father was born in Greece in the Peloponnesus. The Nazis extirpated his family in 1944. Leigh Fermor and I talked late into the night about the Massacre of Meligala. (I published an essay, “Singing for Patrick Leigh Fermor,” in 2014 in The Sewanee Review.)
Leigh Fermor sang folk songs in eight languages. He favored back formations, artificial formations, portmanteau words. I believe my husband had only five languages. George was a master of poetic forms. His Bayeux tapestry poem is a 156 line display in dactylic monometer about the Normandy invasion. In virtuosic metrics, it also conceals bawdy versified digs at a well-known anthologist of the day, Oscar Williams. Leigh Fermor and George were fans of the French Oulipists.
George and Leigh Fermor held a glittering exchange of hilarious rapid-fire shots back and forth like world-class tennis players of their favorite poetic forms, poetic short hand, and archaic forms. They kept outdoing each other, like mountain climbers racing for Everest, with examples of what worked best and what almost never worked for Shelley, but did work for Byron, and usually for Keats and always for Pope…while I, like the journalist I was at the time, took notes.
Nearly five and one-half feet wide and five inches tall, George’s “Elegy in a County Church Yard,” a landscape of shaped tombstone poems, is thought to be the world’s widest concrete poem. Leigh Fermor declared himself dumbstruck, awestruck, and more when he received a copy of it.
Here is an excerpt from the ending of Fermor’s Roumeli:
The seas of Greece are the Odyssey whose music we can never know: the limitless sweep and throb of prosody, the flux and reflux of hexameters scanned by winds and currents and accompanied, for its escort of accents,
for the fall of its dactyls
the calm of its spondees
the run of its tribrachs
the ambiguity of its trochees
and the lash of its anapaests;
for the flexibility of accidents,
the congruence of syntax
and the confluence of its crasis;
for the fluctuating of enclitic and proclitic,
for the halt of caesurae and the flight of the digamma,
for the ruffle of hard and soft breathings,
for its liquid syllables and the collusion of diphthongs,
for the receding tide of proparoxytones
and the hollowness of perispomena stalactitic with
subscripts,
for the inconsequence of anacolouthon,
for the economy of synecdoche,
the compression of hendiadys
and the extravagance of its epithets,
for the embrace of zeugma,
for the abruptness of asyndeton
for the swell of hyperbole
and the challenge of apostrophe,
for the splash and the boom and the clamour
and the echo and the murmur of onomatopoeia
And here is the beginning of George’s 156-line “A Tapestry for Bayeux”:
Over the
seaworthy
cavalry
arches a
rocketry
wickerwork:
involute
laceries
lacerate
indigo
altitudes,
making a
skywritten
filigree
into which,
lazily,
LCTs
sinuate,
adjutants
next to them
eversharp-
eyed, among
delicate
battleship
umbrages
twinkling an
anger as
measured as
organdy.

After George died, I edited his final book of poems, Visible Ink (2002), then The Works (2003), a selection of his best work. When I turned sixty, I wrote my first poem. Greece and grief, the Tayegetus mountains of the Peloponnesus, my father and the Nazis echo throughout my first book Griefmania. I sent a copy of it to Leigh Fermor in 2006. His response brought me to my knees.
Tags: George Starbuck, Kathryn Starbuck, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Poetry magazine archives
Posted in From Poetry Magazine on Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015 by Kathryn Starbuck.

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
07-17-2015, 09:38 PM
http://www.contemporaryamericanvoices.com


July’s Featured Poet – Sarah Brown Weitzman
July 1, 2015 in Contemporary American Voices, Literature, Poetry, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: Sarah Brown Weitzman | Leave a comment
__________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ _________

Sarah Brown Weitzman-



WHEN I WAS YOUNG

our a radio was a substantial piece of furniture
and the telephones had a rotary dial.
The refrigerator freezer was the size of a shoebox
My father wound his watch every evening before
he went to bed. His La Salle car had a running board.

At the movies there was a double feature, one
coming attraction, a news reel and an aged matron
with a flashlight who shined it on you if you misbehaved
and hauled herself up the stairs when the boys
in the balcony threw their chewed gum down on us.

When my grandmother died a telegram was delivered
right to our front door by the brother
of the girl who worked in the 5 & 10 cent store.
Everyone wore black to her funeral even though
they weren’t related. My mother said the word,
divorcee, in a whisper when a cousin arrived. Copies
of the death certificate were made with carbon paper

I remember when our doctor made house calls.
A dollar allowance went a very long way
because with a penny I could buy twenty jelly beans
or a long strip of candy dots on paper.
My mother believed that steak was good for me
Nothing we ever bought was labeled “Made in China”
and poems rhymed.
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Much more in the linked article but this one poem said enough for me!
It has shown how fast we walked away from naive and simple in order to embrace, fast , loose and endlessly depraved in order to get thrills and justify our sad lives!
I reject such as is now thought to be enlightenment.
The rebel in me has came full circle back to honest , country boy roots.
I can and will slay dragons before I die. You know why?
Because I must for my soul to ever rest. The reason I was spared was to one day fight.
I will write too. At least one thousand poems.
Words may have power, as much as is the TRUTH that they contain......Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
07-18-2015, 10:35 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2014/11/surrealism-is-a-romantic-critique-of-the-avant-garde-from-within/

[Editor’s Note: Garrett Caples delivered a version this talk at the Poetry Foundation on November 6, 2014 as part of the Harriet Reading Series. Other “Open Door” features can be found here.]


I begin with the penultimate sentence of “Theory of Retrieval,” the capstone to my recent book of essays, Retrievals:
“I admire from a distance other, perhaps grander aspects of [André] Breton—the movement leader, the concept synthesizer—but what I’ve sought to emulate as a poet-critic is his spirit of generosity to the living and the dead.” This is as much to say that I’ve never aspired to be a leader of others or an inaugurator of discourse. Indeed, “Theory of Retrieval” is something of an inside joke, for it’s simply a description of, and an account of various experiences that went into the making of, the book in which it appears. I mean, I don’t have theories. I just do things. Whatever I can get away with, according to the vagaries of my ethical compass. And whatever the drawbacks of such an approach, I’m pleased to report that, by this age, as a writer, editor, even poet, I’ve done a lot of things, things I thought needed to be done.
Notwithstanding all that, I was incautious enough to dub my latest chapbook of poems What Surrealism Means to Me, which led directly to the invitation to deliver this lecture on surrealism and contemporary poetry. The “-critic” is thus called to account for the effusions of the “poet-,” for I have hitherto never self-identified as a surrealist; rather, in the late ’90s, along with my friends Jeff Clark and Brian Lucas, I was accused by a largely forgotten academic of being a surrealist. (I think we were called, derisively, the San Francisco Surrealists.) I can’t speak for my confreres, but for my part, I wouldn’t have presumed to call myself a surrealist, because I took surrealism seriously. While I never held it against those who identified as surrealists, nor did I ever disavow surrealism, at the same time, I felt that calling yourself a surrealist had little bearing on whether or not you could achieve surrealism. Such discretion aside, however, the accusation has more or less stuck and my poetry, insofar as it’s thought about at all, tends to be considered surrealist.
Nonetheless, publishing my latest chapbook under the rubric of surrealism wasn’t a question of “giving in” to the label, but was rather a deliberate decision, as indicated by “Selfie at Delphi,” the poem-manifesto that opens What Surrealism Means to Me:
when i was a young poet, there was all this postmodern distance & irony i couldn’t abide. everyone was great at deriding what they disliked & everyone sucked at deciding what they liked. now that i’m a middle-aged poet, everyone’s vampiric, parasitic, cannibal, in the name of a look-at-me-ism that mistakes the clever for the conceptual: poetry as selfie.
what surrealism has done for me is provide dissident perspective on what otherwise nice, even reasonable employees of museums & universities tell me is cutting-edge, avant-garde, true. a spine to speak get the fuck outta here & an intelligence to back it up. surrealism’s been the light leading me through continuous yet temporary labyrinths & if you think i lit this rush from Lamantia who lit his from Breton, you’re fucking right.
On the one hand, I suppose, this looks for all the world like a midlife crisis; certainly I would never have carried on in this fashion in my youth. Fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t have permitted myself in a poetic text to write so prosaically, nor would I have spoken of my own poetry so directly or invoked surrealism so explicitly. And I definitely wouldn’t have had the grandiosity to propose this lineage from Breton to Lamantia to myself. Yet here is where I find myself. What’s shifted is the context of the discussion in the poetic avant-garde. When I came of age as a poet, the avant-garde in the Bay Area was dominated by language poetry; there was a stifling orthodoxy to the conversation and it was theory-driven at the expense of poetic results. The way to change this conversation was not by writing manifestoes, for language poetry was only too ready to argue, but rather by writing more compelling poetry. If my friends and I had any impact on poetry in terms of younger writers, it was through example, by suggesting other avenues in experimental poetry than those sanctioned by language poetry.
The situation today could be no more different, to the point where I feel a mild nostalgia for language poetry; however wrongheaded I found them, the language poets were worthy opponents, and they were nothing if not sincere. Rightly or, as I maintain, wrongly, they were committed to their ideas and the poetry that flowed therefrom. With the contemporary poetry of conceptualism, however, we are confronted with a whole new animal, one that doesn’t even pretend to believe what it says. As near as I can tell, it began as a cynical land-grab by failed visual artists, using a warmed over version of turn of ’70s minimalism as a way to take out their frustrations about their creative impotence, hence the valorization of “uncreative writing.” It is, on the one hand, all about product, ways of generating product with minimal effort, and in this we can see its academic origins, for this is surely the cut-and-paste solution to the professor’s publish-or-perish problem. On the other hand, it disavows its product, insofar as the texts of conceptualism are self-declaredly meant to be discussed, not read. Conceptualism will do anything for attention, because attention is its only goal. It will not hesitate to engage in the worst forms of ambulance chasing and grave robbing, whether attaching its projects to the suicide of open access activist Aaron Swartz or publishing a remix of the manifesto of mass murderer Elliot Rodger a mere two days after his killing spree. In this, it’s the ultimate symptom of the social media age, and social media has had a pernicious effect on the poetry world. A bubbling cauldron of clickbait and petty resentments, social media has created a permanent MFA class of poet, one concerned chiefly with parsing the activities of his or her peers as opposed to pursuing the ancient art we profess to practice. Poetry is elsewhere.
But why invoke something as unfashionable as surrealism to oppose conceptualism? As a poet, I always feel the need to........................................

Read more at the link provided above. Tooooooooo long to post all here. -Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
07-20-2015, 07:20 PM
http://www.montevidayo.com

Montevidayo

about contributors
New edition of The Journal Petra
by James Pate on Apr.20, 2015, under Uncategorized
There’s an excellent new edition of The Journal Petra out now.
Work by such Montevidayo favorites as Kim Hyesoon and Lucas de Lima can be found there,
along with many other great poems.

-----



Johnny Payne reviews The Sugar Book
by Johannes on Apr.17, 2015, under Uncategorized
Over at Cleaver Magazine, Johnny Payne has written a very thoughtful review of The Sugar Book.
In particular, I appreciate the way he – like Carleen Tibbetts in her review in American
Microreviews- thinks through the kind of “barrage” that gave Publisher’s Weekly such issues
with Haute Surveillance. Payne acknowledges that he felt the urge to cut out some of the
stuff from the book but instead of this leading him to knee-jerk attack/dismiss the way
Publisher’s Weekly did, he actually thinks about
his reaction.
Here’s an excerpt:
This is exactly what Kant meant when he described the sublime as a rapid alternation between
the fear of the overwhelming and the peculiar pleasure of seeing that overwhelming overwhelmed:
a raging storm that “takes our breath away.” This book is full of a genetic hybrid of Billie
Holiday’s strange fruit—as a song that became an ekphrastic poem—the ugly philosophical
object of contemplation transmuted, by its very violence, into something lyrical.
Pablo Neruda played with this idea back in 1925, with feismo, the art of the ugly:
el perfume de las ciruelas que rodando a tierra
se pudren en el tiempo, infinitamente verdes.
the perfume of plums that rolling to the ground
rot in time, infinitely green.


The Sugar Book is a full-on assault on the senses, the sharp point of a blunt instrument. I don’t think anyone would accuse this book of subtlety. Its virtue is precisely its overkill. Excess, at its best, becomes a form of complexity. The outrage, while often smirking, runs deep, forcing a core of sincerity into what might easily have become a flippant, cynical take on urban ennui, as I feared when facing such crackling ironic titles as “At the Shrine for the Dead Starlet,” or “ The Heart of Glamour.”

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
07-22-2015, 11:26 PM
http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/public/article1581015.ece

‘Man in a Bar’
by Jenny Joseph; introduced by Andrew McCulloch
Published: 14 July 2015

When she was seventeen, Jenny Joseph heard the story of how Federico García Lorca, walking through a strange town, heard a prostitute singing a song. Stopping to listen, he found the words were from one of his own poems. “This at once for me became the ideal”, she wrote in the introduction to a selection of her poems in The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Women Poets (1985). “It seemed the absolute of fame that what one wrote should be so much a part of the world as to rise to the lips of any . . . Joan, Liz or Mary”. This was an ambition she certainly achieved with her poem “Warning” (“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple . . . ”) which, in 1997, beat “Do Not Go Gentle”, “Stop All the Clocks” and “Not Waving but Drowning” to be voted Britain’s favourite post-war poem.

“Warning” is from Joseph’s second collection Rose in the Afternoon (1974), described by Peter Porter as “a sort of walled garden of the suburban imagination, a place part wrecked by cats and disappointment and part illuminated by the light that Samuel Palmer saw over Shoreham”. But her “wholly original” way of mixing “mystery and plain statement” was already evident in The Unlooked-For Season (1960) – in which “Man in a Bar” appeared – a collection also full of “deserted towns, deserted homes, deserted seas, deserted hearts” (A. Alvarez). The poem clearly springs from her lifelong interest in the Robert Browning vein of first-person narrative verse (although it may also owe something to the fact that she was married to a publican) and anticipates the dramatic monologues of U. A. Fanthorpe and Carol Ann Duffy. It reveals Joseph’s fine ear for emotional cadence. Each section opens with a brave attempt to answer an implied question as positively as possible. The speaker’s rueful honesty becomes increasingly visible through his threadbare claims, while his urbanity – even if it is not very convincing – has hardened into more than just a mask. Even his howl of anguish at the end is all but mute.



Man in a Bar


You see I have been here a long time now
And though the work I came for was years ago finished
It is an easy country to stay on in.
I have got used to the way of certain things here.
They can be absurdly irritating at times
But I get on quite well, really quite well with the people.
And then, they take you for granted. And there’s the sun
And the night air in summer. There are the Southern roses.
I am at ease in these frequented ruins
And here at least I have my place as exile.

Oh, I hear quite often from people at home;
Sometimes old friends come out here: I know the place well
And I’m glad to prove of use. I like to see them
But many have married now, and with others I talk
Only of that small time so long ago
When we knew each other; every one, growing old
Grows old with different ruins, different memories,
Different deaths to recall at the sudden sad hour
When, having talked too quickly, each falls silent.

I have become rather lazy about new people
And . . .

No, I suppose there’s nothing to stop me returning
Though my brother’s family has left and I’ve nowhere to go
Where I could stay with ease. I could buy a ticket
Between Thursday and Friday, as they say. There’s nothing to keep me
Except what I create. Ah, to go home . . .

Love is not logical, but has its own
Peculiar philosophy. I know
I shall stay here now.

Whether I regret it, this habit of life that keeps me
Inevitably within its circle, inevitably an exile?
Towards the end of the season, when visitors go
Back to their cooler lands, when sometimes I have
An amusing letter from one reaching home who finds
The garden full of young fruit, goes picnics with friends
I once went with, I, in the splendid South
Could break my heart with longing. I do not go near
The station at such times for there are too many
People who go home.
Usually it is in the season before the storms
And had I not, long since, lost all tears
I could weep enough to bring on thunder.
JENNY JOSEPH (1957)

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
07-23-2015, 04:13 PM
Found this in one of my meandering searches of new poetry sites, blogs and misrepresentations!
Ending verse struck me as being funny as hell, so I share it here.
O', how many times have I felt the same way about certain people! -Tyr

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


http://ecstaticdoggerel.blogspot.com


And one day the boy came back, and the tree was so happy she could barely speak.

"Come, boy, come climb my trunk and have fun again!" she whispered.

"I am too old and sad to have fun," said the boy. "The world is not fun. I need a boat, to sail far away from here. Can you give me a boat?"

"A boat?" said the tree. She didn't know what to say. Only that morning there had been news of wildfires, and drought, and starvation, and beheadings, and mass extinctions, and a bunch of walruses with no ice left in the ocean for resting had come ashore in one giant tusky bawling mass.

"Were you saying something?" asked the boy, checking his stock listings on his smartphone. "Yeah, a boat. My life isn't all sunshine and butterflies and bears scratching their backs on me, like yours."

And the tree looked at him a long time. Then she sighed. "I wish I had not given you all my branches," she said. "Because now I cannot beat you violently with them like you deserve, you whiny little dickhead."

POSTED BY M. C. ALLAN (CARRIE, TO MOST) AT 9:02 AM NO COMMENTS:

Balu
07-23-2015, 05:05 PM
... so I share it here. ...
This is Fantastic. Having read this I felt as if I returned back for a moment to the days of my childhood.
Thank you, Robert, for giving me such a feeling. http://www.kolobok.us/smiles/standart/friends.gif

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
07-24-2015, 12:28 AM
This is Fantastic. Having read this I felt as if I returned back for a moment to the days of my childhood.
Thank you, Robert, for giving me such a feeling. http://www.kolobok.us/smiles/standart/friends.gif
Thank you for reading and understanding poetry my friend.
Poetry is meant to be a gift to all that read it. Always the poet's hope is it helps the reader in some way.
Life must be about giving back and helping others. For if not then it fails to be divinely inspired.
We that can and do write with that in mind are rewarded when we may find it has help inspire somebody in some positive way.
As to memories of youth, we all seem to have the happy ones stored for use in our daily lives and anything that brings them out to be remembered yet again is a treasure IMHO. -Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
07-24-2015, 07:08 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/250736
ESSAY
As Ever
The letters of Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti chart a 40-year friendship and two storied careers.

The story now feels nearly inevitable. In 1955, Allen Ginsberg moved into an apartment in the San Francisco North Beach area, just a few blocks away from Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Pocket Bookshop. Ginsberg showed the fledging publisher his work, and Ferlinghetti was intrigued. He attended an event at the Six Gallery on October 7, 1955, where Ginsberg recited part of “Howl” for the first time. A few days later, Ferlinghetti sent the poet a telegram: “I greet you at the beginning of a great career,” he cabled, echoing Ralph Waldo Emerson’s legendary note to Walt Whitman. “When do I get the manuscript of ‘Howl’?”

So began a decades-long relationship between the two men, as writer and publisher and as friends. From 1955 until Ginsberg’s death in 1997, they exchanged letters on matters large and small, from the 1957 obscenity charges that Ferlinghetti faced as the publisher of Howl to Ginsberg’s precarious finances (“I’m broke, dumb, writeless and nowhere. Send on royalties as soon as you can,” wrote Ginsberg in 1958). They sent each other thoughtful editorial notes and breezy accounts of their far-flung travels. In the early years, letters were their principal mode of communication, and their correspondence tracks not only the arc of their storied careers but also the palpable affection and respect the two men had for each other.

City Lights has just published a collection of Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti’s selected correspondence, I Greet You at the Beginning of a Great Career, edited by Bill Morgan. What follows are excerpts from that volume.



June 22, 1956: Allen Ginsberg onboard the USNS Sgt. Jack J. Pendleton in Seattle to Lawrence Ferlinghetti in San Francisco

Dear Larry:

Well what news? I am in Seattle, will be here over weekend and thru next Friday, will return to San Francisco next weekend for a few days — arrive sometime Sunday I expect, around the 30th or 31st. If therefore you got or will get proofs hold on to them, I’ll look them over myself.
Generally speaking the Greyhound poem [“In the Baggage Room at Greyhound”] stinks on ice, at least the end does — that won’t last no 1000 years — I had a nightmare about it standing on the prow several days ago. I dunno what to do, haven’t written anything better on it since leaving town. Maybe later.
If you call Kenneth by phone tell him I’ll see him in few days, when return, Rexroth that is.
Spending much time gazing at the “misty vast nebulous and never-to-be-knowable clouds,” and reading Shakespeare.

As ever,
Allen





In early August, Ferlinghetti sent an advance copy of the bound book Howl and Other Poems to Ginsberg onboard his ship near the Arctic Circle.

ca. August 9, 1956: Ginsberg onboard the USNS Sgt. Jack J. Pendleton to Ferlinghetti in San Francisco

Dear Larry

Received the copy of the book you sent me promptly — and was excited to see it. Everything worked out fine with the typography — it looks much better this way and it seems to have been real cheap to do — $20 is nuthin. I shuddered when I read the poetry tho, it all seems so jerry-built sloppy and egocentric, most of it. “Greyhound” looks fine, I’m glad you told me to put it in. Reading it all through I’m not sure it deserves all the care and work you’ve put into it and the encouragement you’ve given me, in fact to tell you the truth I am already embarrassed by half of it, but what the hell, thank you anyway for all your courtesy and I hope few people will see it with such jaded eyes as I do, tho I guess it’s best the poems have a truthful fate than an over-sympathetic one. I wonder if we will actually sell the thousand copies.[…]
“Transcription of Organ Music” I still like, I’m not sorry. It’s not revised so it’s not bad “Art” like the rest of the writing. Its ineptness is its own and nature’s not mine.

[unsigned]





After Ginsberg returned from the Merchant Marines, he and Ferlinghetti communicated in person for a time. In the fall of 1956, Ginsberg took a trip to Mexico with Jack Kerouac and Peter Orlovsky, among others, then went to New York City. During this time, Ferlinghetti reprinted 1,500 copies of Howl and Other Poems.

January 15, 1957: Ginsberg in New York to Ferlinghetti in San Francisco

Dear Larry:

January 9 letter received, as well as clipping from [San Francisco] Chronicle. I was going to write [Norman K.] Dorn, the reviewer, a letter but I tried several, each a different tone and they all sounded goofy so I gave up. If you see him ever say we collectively rarely have lice, and I hope he drops dead of clap. No, wasn’t really discouraged, just realized what a weird place New York book reviewing works like. [ . . . ]
Listen, great tragedy. My friend Lucien Carr objects violently to using his name in dedication. His reasons are varied and personal and real enough for him — I had never asked his OK, and he has reasons why not. What can be done about omitting that line in the dedication in the second printing? Is it too late for immediate action?
It’s my fuck up, but I have to straighten it out. Therefore if the whole thing is printed and bound already, have it done all over again and bill me for the second printing. It’s about $100 more or less?
[…]
What did you think of [Kenneth] Koch’s poem “Fresh Air” in I.E. [The Cambridge Review]? I thought very good. Jack Kerouac, Peter Orlovsky and I went out to visit W.C. Williams who said he’d review the book — probably for Times I guess — so (this being Gregory’s book Gasoline) with [Randall] Jarrell intro that ought to set up Gregory. Long funny afternoon we all got drunk and my father* drove us home here raving and weeping about St. Carlos. He dug Jack and his wife also. Gregory unmentioned above was there too, I forgot. He read mad silly poems to Williams and Williams loved him, but worried what he’d be like “in forty years.” [ . . . ]

As ever, Allen

*Louis Ginsberg, Allen Ginsberg’s father, was a poet and schoolteacher in New Jersey.

February 5, 1957: Ferlinghetti in San Francisco to Ginsberg in New York

Dear Allen,

Howl will be delayed an extra two weeks due to deletion of Lucien Carr, and I have been completely out of [copies] for almost a month. However, it should be here in bulk by February 20 at the latest. I caught them in the last stage — the book had already been folded and gathered, but not stitched. Therefore, one section could still be taken out, reprinted, and regathered, etc . . . The total extra cost comes to $25, which I could use as soon as possible, to pay the bill. I have back orders from all over the country now — including big orders for Paper Editions. [Ted] Wilentz at the Eighth Street Bookshop in New York has ordered 100 copies. I sent him the last five I had. Gotham Book Mart has also put in a big standing order, and I sent them five of yours as a stop-gap. [ . . . ]
We all got photographed for Life Sunday night at a mass reading at Kenneth’s [Rexroth] . . . I am sick of all these con operations, and I hope every photographer in the country crawls in a hole somewhere and drops dead. It all has nothing to do with poetry. I am not sending my poetry anywhere unsolicited, and frankly I don’t give a good shit if they come and get it or not. I wasted enough post on Partisan twenty years ago . . . However, as for your book, I will continue to push and will send copy to Lisa Dyer at Hudson Review as soon as I get a copy to send. Poetry writes me that they will include it in a review early this summer . . . by [Frederick] Eckman [ . . . ]

Best, regards, etc, Larry

March 3, 1957: Ginsberg in New York to Ferlinghetti in San Francisco

Dear Larry:

Have investigated but as far as I know, the book can’t be copyrighted here because printed in England. If you know a way it can be, please do so in my name and send me bill for what it costs.
[…]
If necessary, can copyright it in your name or City Lights or whoever, with the understanding that it’s my copyright to use as I wish and get whatever loot I can. Though actually I guess no copyright is necessary and it’s all just a bunch of bureaucratic papers so no point actually in doing anything, nobody has anything to steal except in paranoiac future lands.
[…]
What’s happening? I’ve now extricated myself from publicity work and am sitting quietly reading Blake and Mayakovsky — do you know the latter? — really the end, mad public prophetic style.

I hear [Charles] Olson is there, what’s he like and what’s happening socially?

As ever, Allen

ca. March 1957: Ferlinghetti in San Francisco to Ginsberg in New York

Dear Allen,
The hell with contracts — we will just tell them you have standing agreement with me and you can give me anything you feel like giving me on reprints whenever you get back to States and sit in Poetry Chairs in hinterland CCNYs* and are rich and famous and fat and fucking your admirers and getting reprinted in all of seldenrod-man’s anthologies,** until then, natch, the loot shud be yours since as you say I am getting famous as your publisher anyway. Do you want more Howls and other Pocket Poets sent now (which ones?) and charged against you? How many? . . .

[…]
Will soon send addition on Howl sales to-date. OK? G’bye . . .

larry

*City College of New York.

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
07-25-2015, 11:30 AM
http://mikechasar.blogspot.com

ABOUT ME

My Photo
MIKE CHASAR
SALEM, OREGON, UNITED STATES
Further thoughts on the intersection of poetry and popular culture: this being a record of one man's journey into good bad poetry, not-so-good poetry, commercial poetries, ordinary readers, puns, newspaper poetries, and other instances of poetic language or linguistic insight across multiple media in American culture primarily but not solely since the Civil War
VIEW MY COMPLETE PROFILE

Praise for Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in Modern America

"Mike Chasar's brilliant, witty book is the definitive guide to the growing field of American popular poetry. Empowered by prodigious research and informed by thorough knowledge of the traditional poetry canon, Chasar's five chapters take us deep into the way poetry functioned in the lives of ordinary people." — Cary Nelson, University of Illinois, editor of The Oxford Handbook of Modern and Contemporary American Poetry

"Burma-Shave quatrains, newspaper columns, scrapbooks with thousands of stanzas held together by affection and paste, folksy, pseudonymous, nationally famous radio hosts and the fans who sent them an avalanche of homemade verse: these are just some of the materials taken seriously in Mike Chasar’s extraordinarily memorable, and likely influential, study of popular American verse, and of the popular culture that grew up around it, for most of the twentieth century. Chasar combines the painstaking, arduous archival methods of real historians with the close analyses that we expect from literary critics, applied to verse, to images, and to informative prose ephemera. He persuasively links Williams Carlos Williams’s innovations to roadside signs, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop to the Hallmark card; he may change how you see some eminent writers’ work. Even more than that, however, Chasar should get twenty-first-century readers to sit up and notice the uses that so many Americans, only a couple of generations ago, found for the poetry that they enjoyed. Or, to take up a mode that Chasar appears to be the first to analyze: THIS OLD-TIME VERSE/ HAS LOTS TO SAY/ IF YOU CAN READ IT/ CHASAR’S WAY. His book is an ambitious, serious claim on present-day literary studies; it’s also a surprise, and a delight." — Stephen Burt, Harvard University, author of Close Calls with Nonsense: Reading New Poetry

"As Bob Dylan put it, 'We have our ideas about poets,' and we certainly have our ideas about poetry. Lately, those ideas have led to a national outcry in favor of bringing poetry back into American public life. But in Everyday Reading, Mike Chasar shows us that if we can rethink our ideas about poets and poetry, we will find that poems have always been part and parcel of modern life. This is an important—really, a necessary—book for anyone interested in modern poetics, in the history of reading, in the many appearances of poetry in the era of its supposed disappearance." — Virginia Jackson, University of California Irvine, author of Dickinson's Misery: A Theory of Lyric Reading

"This breakthrough study convincingly shows that American poetry in the opening decades of the twentieth century, far from being a largely elitist product that appealed to a limited audience, circulated among a number of different readers to a remarkable degree and left its traces in surprising areas." — Edward Brunner, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, author of Cold War Poetry



"The lyric spring will never cease creating an emotional pressure, sought after by every searching consciousness—this is what Mike Chasar ... has shown in his book Everyday Reading" — Marina Zagidullina, New Literary Observer



"[T]he originality of Chasar's close readings, the sheer amount of research informing each chapter, and the speculations on what can be learned from such careful analyses of popular cultural practices make Everyday Reading not so everyday and well worth reading." — Lisa Steinman, The Journal of American History



"[The] tension between the poetic and the popular is the crux of Chasar's fun and thoughtful book. Chasar is a literary archaeologist. He excavates the poetry in Burma Shave ads, literary scrapbooks of the 1920s and 1930s, old time radio shows, and yes, even Hallmark cards. His close reading of [Paul] Engle's poem 'Easter' as well as the reproduction of the actual card is genius. His thesis is that early-twentieth-century market culture was saturated with poetry (as opposed to 'Poetry') that was participatory rather than exclusionary. This emotional interactivity with poetry, Chasar posits, set the stage for the bizarre matrix of media, commerce, and culture that would come to define the second half of the twentieth century." — Dean Rader, American Literature

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
07-26-2015, 10:12 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2015/06/poet-libertys-crack-my-life-with-christopher-1988/

Poet in the Crack of Liberty: My Life with Christopher, 1988
BY CA CONRAD
CA Conrad
If you steal my idea I swear to God, well, I’ll be mad at you. It’s a moneymaking machine this idea, and
I came up with it when I dated an actor named Christopher. He was very New England-handsome and therefore able to find work dressed as a hot revolutionary war soldier for tourists at Independence Hall. I loved seeing him in his uniform, my sexy Philadelphia hero in his tri-cornered hat, knickers, and of course his gun I loved his gun. He would be cleaning it in the park and I would watch from behind a tree hoping to keep my gun-cleaning voyeurism a secret, but he always caught me. “There’s something wrong with you” he said. “Yes and I LOVE IT” I said.
He liked that I always wanted to see the Liberty Bell. He liked it because he never met anyone who loves it as much as I do. It’s one of my favorite things on Earth and I think he secretly wanted to like something, anything, as much as I do the Liberty Bell. He squeezed my shoulder lovingly in his vicarious bell love. I asked, “can you draw the bell’s crack in the air?” “Yeah, sure” he said. “Okay then, do it.” “There” he said, “like that.” “Not even close” I said, “if you mean to actually know how such a consequential crack exists in the world you need to give it the dignity of seriously studying its character as only the character of such a crack can possess.” “I don’t know why I put up with you,” he said. “We’re talking about the crack of Liberty Christopher stay focused please you have the attention span of a goldfish sometimes.”
Practicing the crack in the air that day is when the million-dollar idea came to me. The crack, it’s the crack of the bell that matters. If you draw the Liberty Bell’s crack on paper without the bell it’s a waterway map, a chocolate stream with chocolate frogs and salamanders. “I KNOW WHAT TO DO” I said, “I’ll create chocolate treats in the shape of the crack, sell them on a stick, a chocolate crack on a stick! I’ll sell them outside the Liberty Bell on a table and call out CHOCOLATE LIBERTY CRACK ON A STICK, GET YOUR CHOCOLATE LIBERTY CRACK ON A STICK, like the poet Gil Ott when he first moved to Philadelphia taking his magazine PAPER AIR out to the corner yelling PAPER AIR PAPER AIR GET YOURS NOW. And then one day a wealthy candy factory owner will be in town with his children and they’ll love my chocolate cracks and he’ll take me on board. And then we’ll have different kinds of chocolate cracks, ones with crushed nuts sprinkled on the crack, or peanut butter injected cracks, cinnamon dusted cracks, delicious DELICIOUS CHOCOLATE LIBERTY CRACKS! It will make millions,” I said excitedly! “Well what do you think of my new idea?” He shrugged and said “I like how crazy your ideas are, but it’s not a good one this one.” “I don’t know why I put up with you,” I said.
Philadelphia is where you move to when you love the Liberty Bell. It’s the reason I’m here and only the National Park security guards have seen it more than I have. You would think after years of seeing me standing at the velvet ropes to gaze at the bell’s crack that we would be on familiar terms but the guards always act like I’m Al-Qaeda. “He’s on his way in again,” they say into their radios as though I can’t hear them. The bell needs more than Taser guns, rubber bullets and paranoia to protect it; it needs liberty in the best sense of the definition. Liberty is a serious word, born from too many examples of tyranny, “The state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.” If we U. S. Americans are going to actually enjoy the freedom we boast to the world about having, then we should be giving the bell a place of openness.
I’ve most definitely seen the bell more times than anyone alive who is not being paid to be there everyday, and there is a performance idea I’m getting down onto paper, one where I fill the crack of the bell with rich dark chocolate, then eat it out from the bottom up, give it a good tongue licking to get every delicious bit of chocolate. Then I would walk around to the tourists and hand out leaflets on safe sex. This could be a terrific project. Or maybe the other project would be about what happens when I submit the paperwork for the proposal, the project about the project. The project about the official National Park Headquarters reacting to the proposed project I already know they won’t let me do. Write the president, that’s what I’ll do, I mean if it’s okay to drop bombs on unsuspecting families in Afghanistan and Pakistan, what in the hell could be the problem with allowing me to eat out the Liberty Bell of its chocolate filled crack? To be “free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.” It’s important that I’m ready to answer the National Park Headquarters when they ask if my project is a way of life, a behavior, or a political view. I’m not sure which it is, but I’ll be ready for them!
When I stand in front of the bell I have so many ideas. It’s like a magic idea factory. For instance one day I was standing near tourists with their tiny American flags posing for pictures with the bell when I thought, HEY I want to work in a laboratory doing research on high-powered soul-matter transference lampshades. Not lampshades that cure cancer or AIDS but lampshades that extract some of the creative powers from artists to perforate the armor of those believing themselves undeserving of the Muse’s unction. The light through the lampshade that can sell everyone to themselves, light where we finally get it, we get it that it’s of magnificent importance to be creative each day with something we want to do. Cancer and AIDS are going to sever us from this world no matter what, it’s the way we spend these remaining days, it’s the only thing I want to matter to us. When I look at the Liberty Bell this is one of the things I like to think about, lampshade laboratories of the future of wild unleashing.
Christopher HATED that he was a faggot. I understand that, I mean why on Earth would anyone choose to be queer, it’s very hard. With most families in the world it’s very hard. With most governments it’s very hard. With all monotheistic religions it’s a terrible sin. You deserve whatever you get if you choose to be gay, you’re just asking for trouble. But as far as I know no one chooses it. It’s something to learn to enjoy in our own way and feel beautiful and loved whenever and however we can. I love being loved, don’t you? Of course you do, and we all want to thrive in that love and we should do so whenever possible! When we were together I was the only one with the patience for Christopher’s hard shell and it’s because I got it, that disappointment in yourself that the family who loved you flipped the switch off when you told them you’re a faggot, and it was never going to switch back on again. There are a few faggots and dykes who are lucky enough to have understanding families, but for the rest of us we tenderly fill those dark spaces in one another the best we can.
I decided to make his brooding cold sadness sexy, as much as for me as for him, and it was a dark and lovely task I made for myself. After sex he was always perkier and jovial, and that satisfied me very much knowing I was doing something good for the world. He was always going to New York to try out for plays, and once for a musical. He never got called back, and I knew he was secretly upset that he might be a failure at the only thing he really wanted to do. One day I brought us lunch while he was cleaning his gun and he didn’t look up, his brow furrowed with anger. “Hey hot stuff” I said, “what’s the matter?” “What’s the matter is you pissed off the Benjamin Franklin impersonator again, why can’t you leave that guy alone!” “Look,” I said, “all I did was point out that he was getting Franklin wrong.” Christopher looked up, “yeah well he’s a mean old bastard and he’s giving me shit because he sees us hanging out together and now refers to you as my girlfriend.” “I don’t care what he calls me” I said, “he has no fucking clue how to play the role of Benjamin Franklin, I mean just because he looks like him and dresses like him doesn’t mean he GETS Franklin!” “But nobody cares” he said, “people come from Tokyo, Paris, Buenos Ares, and they want their picture taken with him, that’s it, that’s all they want and he doesn’t need to do anything else.” “Well,” I said, “all I told him was that Franklin wasn’t a goofy buffoon the way he portrays him, Franklin was a GENIUS, and a Lady’s man, he liked beer, he LOVED LIFE, c’mon, he invented the swim flippers as a teenager, he invented the glass harmonica which is the most extraordinary sounding musical instrument ever invented, AND he charmed the French and that’s not easy to do no matter what century you’re talking about!” “Would you please leave the old man alone, when he gets on your bad side he makes your life fucking miserable and I don’t like being in his gun sites frankly.” “Well I think it’s a disgrace,” I said, “to take the only decent founding father we have and turn him into a bumbling goofball, but I’ll stop it, for you I’ll stop it, I’m sorry.” “Thank you, please leave him alone, he hates you.” “Well the real Benjamin Franklin wouldn’t hate me, he would like me very much, and you, he would like us both, and give us some beer and ask us to get naked for a proper ménage a trois the way they taught him in Paris.” Finally Christopher smiled, “I’m not sure why,” he said, “but I do love you.” “Well you better,” I said, “I’m your boyfriend, I’m the man you’re supposed to love and you know what I think is that our odious Benjamin Franklin fake wants to fuck you.” “STOP IT, no he does not!” “Oh yeah, yeah he does.” “Do you think I should fuck him?” “I think you should fuck him, OH YES, his asshole needs to be loosened up Christopher my man, that opening is as small as a sesame seed.”
Most bells are in buildings, you go to the buildings to see the famous church or playhouse and the bell there is the bell that is there, nothing more, and no one cares about the bell. The Liberty Bell is one of the only bells with a building no one goes to see. Who goes to see the Liberty Bell’s building? It was built to house the bell, nothing more and we don’t care about the building we don’t even remember it. It’s the bell, it’s all about the Liberty Bell and you know as well as I do that when you go to see it you’re going through security, having your bag checked, being frisked, waiting in line, and walking the long corridor of short films and giant placards filled with historical trivia because it’s for the crack. You’re there for the finale at the end of the frisking, and that finale is called the crack. No one ever goes to the Liberty Bell to avoid seeing the crack. Millions of people come to Philadelphia each year to see the bell and I bet you not one of them ever averted their eyes from its delicious crack! Not one of them I tell you! Who would do that? Why would you look away from it, you WANT to see it, you know you do, c’mon now! It’s a beautiful crack, look at it with me a second, okay a few minutes more. See in there, it’s a portal into another dimension if we stare long enough. If we were allowed to get closer, touch it, we might just discover it’s an oracle, a sleeping oracle that’s been waiting for us to waken its divinatory powers.
Early one morning after park rangers finished a tour of the bell twenty-six-year-old Mitchell Guilliatt jumped over the velvet ropes and hit it five times with a hammer. Ringing out to the four directions and with one more for the spirit head. JUST BEAUTIFUL I remember thinking that day, wishing I had been there to witness this prophetic act of ringing out liberty. Tourists being interviewed said they were stunned, “I WAS STUNNED I WAS SO STUNNED OH MY GOD” they said. “SHUT UP” I thought, “you are going to remember Mitchell Guilliatt for the rest of your lives, and you HEARD the ringing, you got to HEAR it and you have Mitchell to thank!” He was tackled by security as he yelled out, “I didn’t do anything violent!” I believe this former high school football captain, I really do. I was the only one in Philadelphia who believed him and I was defending him everywhere I went. I was on the verge of making tee shirts with his picture and the words “MITCHELL GUILLIATT WOKE THE ORACLE,” but when I realized I would be the only one to ever wear the shirt I scrapped the whole idea. It’s lonely being the only person in the world on one side of an argument, but I didn’t mind. I held my own at Dirty Frank’s Bar and wherever I met those calling out for justice to have poor Mitchell locked away forever. My good friend Frank Sherlock didn’t agree with me, but I think he liked that I was willing to champion the drifter from Nebraska with a mighty hammer. The federal magistrate charged Mitchell with “causing damage to an archaeological resource.” Resource is a word derived from Old French, meaning, “rise again, recover.” Awaken the oracle, AWAKEN THE ORACLE! For weeks we peered through the glass to see if we could see his hammer marks. We never were sure I mean it’s a broken old bell.
Christopher called very excited and told me to meet him by the Commodore Barry statue behind Independence Hall........

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
07-27-2015, 07:02 PM
http://jacketmagazine.com/27/schu-linh.html


Susan M. Schultz

Most Beautiful Words:

Linh Dinh’s Poetics of Disgust

This article first appeared in Issue 8 (September 2004) of The Paper, U.K., edited by David Kennedy. It is is 3,400 words or about 8 printed pages long


When I think about the Vietnam war, I remember Hamburger Hill, so called because American soldiers were ground up there in the late 1960s; the battle for Hamburger Hill was one I watched on television as a child. The American guide to Hamburger Hill was CBS newsman, Ed Bradley, best known these days for his recent interview of Michael Jackson. To think about Hamburger Hill not as a battle or as a place (which doubtless has another, Vietnamese, name), rather as the name for a battle, is to think about how language is often used in contemporary poetry to describe suffering.
Linh Dinh by Brian Doan
Linh Dinh, photo by Brian Doan

A mainland Chinese poet, new to the United States and to the English language, once told a class of mine how much he had “suffered” in China. I was less astonished by his suffering than by the fact that he could say it; how many of us can say or write “I suffer” and not have our sincerity turned inside out, its fraudulence presumed? “Hamburger Hill” seems at first a playful, ironic name, referring as much to the product of McDonald’s back home as to the GI’s killed or wounded in that place. As a moment of poetry by an unknown GI, it tells us much about that war, the ways pain was inflicted on soldiers and civilians alike, and the way in which people tried to distance themselves from the war and its political implications. Its real force is this last, an irony that distances us from horror, even if the words themselves refer to it.

But think literally about the name and it ushers up an emotion more like disgust. Men ground up like meat is an image that seeps out of the irony of the term “Hamburger Hill.” Linh Dinh, a poet who comes out of that war, even if his poems do not all address its history, takes the name and renders it as image. His work is like Emily Dickinson’s, as read by Camille Paglia. Rather than domesticate Dickinson’s work for the undergraduate audience, as I am sometimes wont to do (“she thinks about sadness and dying, just like the rest of us”), Paglia reads Dickinson’s images literally. If Dickinson writes about sticking a needle in her eye, goes Paglia’s reading, by golly she means it. There are problems with such readings, to be sure, but what Paglia gets at, and what Linh Dinh does as a poet, is to illustrate how we understand suffering through disgust, rather than through gentler manifestations of feeling, like “grief” or like “compassion” or even “anger.” Disgust, as the BBC reports (January 2004), “evolved to protect us from the risk of disease,” and arose, one scientist claims, “to protect people from rotting meat.”

The disgust that is found in poems cannot claim to have that evolutionary value, the ability to protect us from disease. What, then, can it accomplish? As I read Linh Dinh I see manifestations of disgust in his poetry as paradoxical expressions of suffering: violence, poverty, degradation, and (in the reader) an odd empathy for those caught up in it. When the reader encounters an image that disgusts her, disgust becomes more than a child-like reaction to feces or vomit or blood, more an odd expression of empathy with one who suffers. Empathy as disgust (or is it the other way around?) may seem quite a stretch, but so is much of Dinh’s work. Better put: empathy after disgust, as empathy fills the void disgust leaves behind. If the poem forces us to confront rotting meat, then after an interval, we empathize with the character forced to eat it. The “mudman in earth cafeteria” of one poem does not feel disgust at eating “stinky food,” but the reader feels her emotions aroused by his predicament. It is not direct sympathy that I’m getting at here, the desire to put one’s arm around the mudman, but the kind of empathy that turns away from violence and toward something else. Dinh does not, perhaps, often get to that “something else,” but his poetry provides us with the example of a poetry of witness that comes as close to shattering the language-barrier as possible (disgust being that feeling before language). It’s a poetry of witness that makes the reader a witness, rather than a spectator of witness. And it is one, my friend Deborah Meadows reminds me, that does not depend on arbitrary notions of identity and aesthetics for its power.

Dinh’s disgust is autobiographical in content, if not written in memoir form. Born in 1963, Dinh left Vietnam when he was twelve years old and spent many years in Philadelphia, a city which (despite its name, “brotherly love”) was rife with violence. Responding to Frank Sherlock’s question about the violence in his poems, Dinh responded:
I see violence as a common misfortune and, by extension, fate. It’s what awaits each one of us just around the corner. One cannot think seriously about life without contemplating the destruction of the body. Born in Vietnam, I was baptized early into this awareness. As an adult in Philadelphia, I had many opportunities to gather my bloody evidences.
(Philly Sound Feature, issue #2, 12/ 31/ 03).
Dinh is capable of a nearly scientific view of violence. Poems like “Motate” (fusion of “mutate” and “rotate”; “motet” and “potentate”?) track the violent act with the specificity of super slow motion:
General emission from all orifices.
Blink left eye, then right eye,
then left eye, then right eye.
With index finger, jab at right temple.
Then wheeze quietly as the bullet enters.
(All Around 5)
This is objectivist description, as most of Dinh’s poems are not. In others, Dinh combines violence and, say, food with a literalism (not to be confused with objectivity) that can turn the stomach. Charles Reznikoff’s poems are effective insofar as they present a clean surface, even as that surface moves us to see clearly injustices we cannot, by poem’s end, abide. Dinh’s poems, by way of contrast, are effective on a more visceral level; his images are always precise, like Reznikoff’s, but they are not clean; there is always interference in a Dinh poem, which contributes to its unfolding impact on the reader. Disgust breeds ambivalence, and ambivalence is an unclean emotion. Consider how this speaker regards his spoon: “After each meal, I lick my plastic spoon in a gesture of solidarity with an inanimate object. Did you know that I was once fucked with my own spoon? This very spoon. And then, later, with half a razor” (10). Clearly, the tools of hygiene and health have blood on them; to lick the spoon that raped you sounds like a cliché, but horrifies. Another poet of violence, Chris Abani, has a poem about a teenage boy tortured by the Nigerian authorities by having his penis nailed to a table until he died. That horrific image gains power by its very claim to truth; this happened, and the boy suffered horribly. Dinh’s images are not so “true”; rather, he (like the Vietnamese poets he has translated) uses surrealism as his own tool to oblige the reader to see horror. It’s as if Artaud had been raised in a war zone.

“Earth Cafeteria” undermines every American truism from “organic food” to “ethnic cuisine” and “patriotism” as it explores violence through eating. In Vietnam, as one of Dinh’s favorite

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
07-28-2015, 09:31 AM
http://ginsbergblog.blogspot.com

Tuesday, July 28, 2015
The Kalevala

AG: Does anybody know the Finnish epic, “The Kalevala”. Has anybody ever read any of that? – I’d like to read a few pages of that. It’s an epic poem which was originally in oral form, and (was) written down in the nineteenth-century by a Swedish scholar, Elias Lönnrot, and translated (fantastically) by Francis Peabody Magoun and published by (the) Harvard University Press. It’s called “(The) Kalevala” – K-A-L-E-V-A-L-A, and in the chapter, or poem, three, that I’m going to read from, this old bard, who has had lots of discipline and lots of experience and is an old dog, finally (old dog, incidentally, is one of the characteristics of tantric mind) – old dog, like an old dog that no longer jumps up (and) barks excitedly when it hears an egg drop.


So, Väinämöinen the old dog bard, meets Joukahainen, a young punk bard coming up the road, and their chariots pass (but) can’t pass each other in the road because there’s a too-narrow road, and so comes “a contest of bards” between the older and the younger. They’ve heard of each other, but finally they’re meeting (at least Joukahainen has heard of Väinämöinen

"..Steadfast old Väinämöinen lives his days/ on those clearings of Väinämöinen's district, on the heaths of Kalevala district./ He keeps singing these songs, keeps singing, goes on practicing his art,/ Day after day he sang, night after night, he recited/ recollections of ancient time those profound origin songs/ which not all children sing not all men understand/ in this dreadful time in this fleeting age/ Far away the news is heard the tidings spread quickly/ of Väinämöinen's singing, of the man's skill./ The tidings spread quickly to the south, the news reached the north country./ Joukahainen was a young, a scrawny, Lappish lad./ Once he was gadding about; he heard that remarkable charms,/ magic songs, were being rattled off, better ones intoned/ on those burned-over tracks of Väinämöinen's district on the heaths of Kalevala District/ - better than what he himself knew, had learned from his father/. That he took greatly amiss, constantly envied/ Väinämöinen being a singer better than himself.."

So there are a few verses where he sets out to meet the older guy:

"..Steadfast old Väinämöinen, eternal sage,/ was driving on his way, covering ground/ on those clearings of Väinämöinen's district, the heaths of Kalevala District./ Young Joukahainen came along, he was driving on the road in the opposite direction./ Shaft caught in shaft, trace got tangled in trace,/ hames became fast in hames, shaft-bow in butt of shaft-bow./ Therefore they then stop, stop deliberate;/ water poured from shaft-bow, vapor steamed from the shafts."

As you'll notice, the formulaic aspect of this is - you make a statement and you modify it, make a statement and you modify it - two halves, one line.

"..Old Väinämöinen asked: "Of what clan are you/ to come along foolishly, recklessly onward./ You break the bent-wood hames, the sapling shaft-bows./ you splinter my sleigh to pieces, my poor sleigh to bits."/ Then young Joukahainen/ uttered a word, spoke thus: "I am young Joukahainen/ but name your own clan;/ of what clan are you, of what crew, miserable creature?"/ . Then steadfast old Väinämöinen now told his name./ Then he managed to say: If you are young Joukahainen,/ pull over to the side. You are younger than I"

"Then young Joukahainen uttered a word, spoke thus:/ "A man's youth is small matter, his youth, his age./ Whichever of two men is better in knowledge, the stronger in memory,/ let him indeed stay on the road, let the other get off the road./ If you are old Väinämöinen, eternal singer,/ let us begin to sing, start to recite magic./ one man to test the other, one to defeat the other"/. Steadfast old Väinämöinen uttered a word, spoke thus:/ - "What can I really do as a singer, as an expert!/ I have always lived my life just on these clearings,/ on the edges of the home field, again and again have listened to the cuckoo by the house./ But, be this as it may, speak, so that I may hear with my ears:/ what do you know about most about, understand beyond other people?"/ Young Joukahainen said: "I indeed know something!/ This I know clearly, understand precisely: "A smoke hole is near a ceiling, a flame is near a fireplace./ It is pleasant for a seal to live, for a pike, dog of the water, to roll about;/ it eats the salmon around it, the whitefish beside it./ A whitefish has smooth fields, the salmon a level ceiling./ A pike spawns in the chill of night, the slobberer in bitter cold weather./ Autumns the timid, obstinate perch, swims deep./ summers it spawns on dry land, flaps about on shores./ "If this may be not enough, I have still another bit of knowledge,/ understand a certain thing:/ "The North ploughs with a reindeer,/ the South with a mare, remotest Lapland with an elk./ I know the trees of Pisa's Hill, the tall evergreens on Goblin's Crag,/ tall are the trees on Pisa's Hill, the evergreens on Goblin's Crag/. There are three strong rapids, three great lakes,/ three high mountains under the vault of this sky./ In Hame is Halla-whirlpool, in Karelia Loon Rapids./ none exceed the Vuoksi rapids (which) surpass those of Imatra" . Old Väinämöinen said: "A child's knowledge, a woman's power of memory! / It is neither that of a bearded man nor indeed of a married man./ Speak of profound origins, of unique matters."/ Young Joukahainen uttered a word, spoke thus:/ "I know the origin of the tomtit, I know the tom-tit is a bird,/ the hissing adder a snake, the roach a fish of the water/, I know iron is brittle, black soil sour,/ boiling-hot water painful, being burned by fire bad./ Water is the oldest of ointments, foam of a rapids oldest of magic nostrums,/ the Creator himself is the oldest of magicians, God the oldest of healers./ The source of water is from a mountain, the source of fire is from the heavens/, the origin of iron is from rust, the basis of copper is a crag./ A wet tussock is the oldest land, the willow the first tree,/ the foot of a tall evergreen the first habitation, a flat stone the first wretched cooking vessel."/ Steadfast old Väinämöinen uttered these words:/ "Do you remember anything more or has your foolish talk now come to an end?"./ Young Joukahainen spoke: "I remember a little more. /I remember indeed that time when I was plowing the sea,/ hoeing out the hollows of the sea, digging deep spots for fish,/ deepening the deep places in the water, putting the lily ponds in place./ overturning hills, heaping up blocks of stone./ I was already the sixth man, seventh person/, when they were creating this Earth, fashioning the sky/, erecting the pillars of the sky, bringing the rainbow,/ guiding the moon, helping the sun,/ arranging the Great Bear, studding the heavens with stars"./ Old Väinämöinen said: "You are certainly lying about this./ No one saw you when they were ploughing the sea,/ hoeing out the hollows of the sea, digging deep spots for fish,/ deepening the deep places in the water, putting the lily ponds in place./ overturning hills, heaping up blocks of stone,/ Nor were you probably seen, /probably neither seen nor heard,/ when the earth was being created, the sky fashioned,/ the pillars of the sky erected, the rainbow brought,/ the moon guided, the sun helped,/ the Great Bear arranged, the heavens studded with stars."/ Young Joukahainen then uttered these words: "If I do not happen to have intelligence, I will ask for intelligence from my sword./ O old Väinämöinen, big-mouthed singer!/ Proceed to measure off our swords, set out to fight a duel"./ Old Väinämöinen said: "I don't think I'm very much afraid/ of those sword of yours, your intelligence, your ice-picks, your thoughts./ But be that as it may, I will not proceed to measure swords/ with you, wretch,/ with you, miserable fellow"./ Then young Joukahainen screwed up his mouth, twisted his head around,/ clawed at his black beard. He uttered these words:/ "Whoever does not proceed to measure swords nor set out to fight a duel,/ him I will sing into a swine, change into a pig with lowered snout./ Such men I enchant, one thus, the other so. /strike dead onto a dunghill, jam into the corner of a cattle shed"./ Old Väinämöinen got angry, then got angry and felt shamed./ He began to sing, got to reciting,/ the magic songs are not children's songs, not children's songs, women's jokes;/ they are a bearded man's which not all children sing,/ nor half the boys indeed, nor one bachelor in three/ in this dreadful time, in this fleeting final age"./ Old Väinämöinen sang. Lakes splashed over, Earth shook/, copper mountains trembled, solid slabs of rock split,/ the crags flew apart, stones on the shore cracked./ He bewitched young Joukahainen. He sang sprouts onto his shaft-bow,/ a willow bush onto his hames, sallows onto the ends of his traces./ He bewitched the lovely basket sleigh. he sang it into a pond as fallen trees./ He sang the whip with the beaded lash into shore reed of the sea./ He sang the horse with the blaze to the bank of the rapid as a rock./ He sang the gold-hilted sword to the sky as flashes of lightning;/ then he sang the ornamented shaft of the crossbow into a rainbow over the waters/ then his feathered arrows into speeding hawks, / then the dog with the undershot jaw, it he sang onto the ground as rocks./ He sang the cap off the man's head into the peak of a cloudbank./ he sang the mittens off his hands into pond lilies./then his blue broadcloth coat to the heavens as a cloud patch/ the soft woolen belt from his waist into stars throughou the heavens/ He bewitched Joukahainen himself,/ sang him into a fen up to his loins,/ into a grassy meadow up to his groin, into a heath up to his arm-pits./ Now young Joukahainen indeed knew and realized./ he knew that he had got on the way, got on the route to a contest,/ a contest in magic singing with old Väinämöinen. /He keeps trying to get a foot free; he could not lift his foot./ However, he tried the other; here his shoe was of stone./ The young Joukahainen indeed becomes anguished,/gets into a more precarious situation. He uttered a word, spoke thus:/ "O wise Väinämöinen, eternal sage!/ Reverse your magic charm, revoke your enchantment,/ Free me from this predicament, get me out of this situation./ I will indeed make the best payment, pay the most substantial ransom"./ Old Väinämöinen said: "Well, what will you give me/ if I reverse my magic charm, revoke my enchantment,/ free you from this predicament, get you out of this situation?"/ Joukahainen spoke, "I have two vessels, two lovely boats. /One is swift in race the other transports much. Take either of these. / Old Väinämöinen spoke, "I do not really care about your vessels. I will not select any of your boats./ These I too have with every rower hauled up, every cove piled full,/ one steady in a high wind, the other that goes into a head wind".. He bewitched young Joukahainen, bewitched him still deeper in./ Young Joukahainen said, "I have two stallions, two lovely steeds./ One is better for racing, the other lively in the traces. Take either of these"./ Old Väinämöinen said, "I don't care about your horses. Don't bother me about white fetlocked horses./ These too I have, with every stall hitched full, every stable full,/ with fat as clear as water on their backbones, a pound of fat on their cruppers"./ He bewitched young Joukahainen, bewitched him still deeper in./ Young Joukahainen said, "Old Väinämöinen, reverse your magic words, revoke your enchantment./ I'll give you a high-peaked hat full of gold pieces, a felt hat full of silver pieces got by my father in the war, brought in from battle"./ Old Väinämöinen said, "I don't care about your silver pieces. I have no need, wretch, for your gold pieces./ These too I have with every storehouse crammed, every little box fully stocked./ They are gold pieces as old as the moon, silver pieces the age of the sun". /He bewitched young Joukahainen, bewitched him still deeper in. /Young Joukahainen said, "O old Väinämöinen , free me from this predicament, release me from this situation. /I'll give you my windrose back home, surrender my fields of sandy soil to free my own head, to random myself". / Old Väinämöinen spoke, "I don't want your wind rose, useless person, nor your fields of sandy soil./ These too I have, filled in every direction, windrose in every clearing./ My own are better fields, my own windrose finer"./ He bewitched young Joukahainen, kept bewitching him further down./ The young Joukahainen at last, however, grew desperate when he was up to his chin in the mud, up to his beard in a bad place./up to his mouth in a fen, in mossy places, up to his teeth behind a rotten tree-trunk. /Young Joukahainen said, "O wise Väinämöinen, eternal sage, now sing your song backward./ Grant me yet my feeble life. Set me free from here./ The current is already dragging at my feet, the sand scratching my eyes./ If you will reverse your magic words, leave off your magic spell, I'll give you my sister, Aino, to rinse out the wooden firkins, to wash the blankets,/ to weave fine stuff, to bake sweet bread."/ Then Väinämöinen was exceedingly delighted when he got Joukahainen's girl to provide for his old age./ He sits down on a song stone, sits himself on a song rock./ He sang once, he sang twice, he sang a third time too./ Young Joukahainen got free, got his chin free of the mud,/ his beard from a bad place, his horse from being a rock in the rapids,/ his sleigh on the shore from being a rotten tree-trunk in the water, his whip from being a shore reed./ He climbed slowly into his basket sleigh, He set out in a sorry state of mind with heavy heart to his dear mother's, to his esteemed parents."

Student: When was that written?

AG: Well, the oral tradition is old, maybe two, three, four, centuries.. It was written down mid nineteenth-century, not long ago, (17), perhaps (18)47. Lönnrot went around to Lapland and other places on field trips collecting these tales and has composed them into an epic. Here's Lönnrot out on his field trip looking for epics (from an 1847 illustration)........

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Sorry about the wall of text but was presented exactly as it was posted....-Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
08-02-2015, 10:26 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/250732

INTERVIEW
Touchstones
Tavi Gevinson on riot grrrl, Patti Smith, and writing poetry out of necessity.

BY RUTH GRAHAM
Touchstones

Tavi Gevinson has ideas about poetry, but then again, she has ideas about most things.
Gevinson is known, and in certain quarters almost worshipped, for her sophistication
in an ever-expanding series of cultural fields. She was a renowned fashion blogger at
age 12, and at 15, she founded the influential online magazine Rookie, which has a
readership far beyond its supposed audience of teen girls. Last fall, a few months
after she graduated from high school in her suburban Chicago hometown, she starred
in a revival of Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth on Broadway, in a performance
the New York Times called “astonishingly assured.”

Rookie has frequently featured poetry on its site. Now, Gevinson has curated a special
section of poems, art, and essays in the July/August issue of Poetry, with most
contributions from “self-proclaimed angsty teens,” as she writes in her introduction.
She spoke with the Poetry Foundation recently about Bob Dylan, getting over embarrassment,
and the 19th-century poem that got her through her first real breakup last year. The
following interview was edited and condensed.

In your introduction, you write about “the fear so many of us have of writing and reading poetry, which is really a fear of seeming like an “angsty teen.” Why do you think so many of us have this idea of poetry as somehow embarrassing?

Certain other mediums or other kinds of writing maybe leave a bit more room to cloak what you’re feeling or thinking or trying to say in irony or detachment. But something about a poem—you’re already saying you’re trying. There’s no way to distance yourself from it because you’re already putting effort into the layout. I remember once in school, one of the definitions we got of a poem was that the writer has a lot more control over how what they’re saying is read. ... I think people in general are conditioned to find something embarrassing about making an effort in regard to wanting [their] own emotions to be understood.

I wonder if part of it is a fear of either liking or creating bad poetry.

Yeah, that goes for all creativity, I guess, and something about poetry is maybe a little more embarrassing. I feel like maybe as you get older, it becomes more and more clear that what you’re experiencing has been experienced many times, and the feelings that you’re feeling are chemical reactions that have run through billions of other bodies. And when you’re a teenager, you don’t really understand that. Like Joan Didion—although she says this happens at like age 21 or 22, but I think it’s very teenager as well—she says there’s this conviction that this has never happened to anyone else before. So when you’re younger, you feel that way, and you put it down on paper, and then you get older, and you realize your experience wasn’t that unique. You get embarrassed.

I mean, you are the only person who has ever been you or who has experienced what you’ve experienced. That’s the next level of perspective that I think is actually a lot more true. But when you reach the one just before it, when you’re like “Oh, I’m not special,” it becomes really embarrassing that you may have ever thought you were.

Why do you think so many people seem to have their most meaningful interactions with poetry during their teen years?

The only adults I know who write—and in a way, read—poetry are poets. It kind of narrows down to the people where that is actually their style of writing and their medium. When you’re a teenager, it’s easier to dabble more. ... Also, in a way, you’re protected. When I think about the poetry I wrote in high school, I felt protected because I felt like I was taking on a tone and an understood amount of drama as opposed to when I was just trying to write a personal essay, and it was straightforward. To use certain writing devices that I had used in poetry seemed melodramatic.

Poetry can feel so vital at that age, but can’t it also feel intimidating?

It probably says a lot about where I’m from that for me it was something that felt raw as opposed to, like, I was discovering the literary canon. My high school had a really great spoken word program. ... I remember the guy who led that program showing us Lil Wayne lyrics. That was more my experience with it.

That it might feel old or stuffy or hard to access—yeah, some poets, but that’s the same as some filmmakers or some writers. That just exists everywhere. I think an easy in for me, I was getting into riot grrrl when I was in high school, and I had ways of getting my hands on old riot grrrl zines. Some of them I guess were lyrics, but I liked that it was this very raw expression I classified as poetry.

I got really into Bob Dylan when I was, I guess, in middle school; he was the first thing I felt like was mine. I loved his music, and then I read Tarantula and kind of knew that it was bullshit but also was into it. Even now, I’ve been reading Patti Smith’s poetry, and it’s interesting to me what ends up accompanied by music and what ends up just itself. In terms of accessibility, I think that songwriters have always been my gateway.

Who are your favorite poets these days?

Margaret Atwood I love, E.E. Cummings I started to really like in high school. Also Jenny Zhang—she wrote an essay for this [Poetry] section, but her poetry I really like as well. We’re working on the fourth Rookie book right now, and there’s a section that’s poetry that a handful of readers sent in. There are so many good ones. There’s one by this girl named Stephanie—I don’t think she included her last name—but it’s just two lines: “We walked to the edge of the world and I pushed you off” or something.

Once I wrote that intro, then I felt like I had to clarify that I’m not just saying, “Oh, these things are great because they’re just so raw.” I don’t like being given work and being told to like it just because it’s earnest or sincere. I think those are really admirable qualities, but that’s not what sets my favorite work apart from the stuff I don’t like. It’s also that I feel that someone is skilled or insightful or what have you. Even in talking so much about the importance of being like an angsty teen, I also feel like everything that’s in this package is also just really good.

When I was in high school, a lot of my peers were really into writing poetry, but it seemed like relatively few were into reading it. Is that still true? Do you think it’s necessarily a problem?

I think with everything, it’s good to have knowledge of what people have done before you and the ways other people have approached the medium and what the standards are. That’s what allows you to break the rules and everything. But I also feel like if young people are, like, feeling like that’s what they want to do, then that’s good, and they’ll get educated at some point. …

There were a lot of classics I read in high school, but for whatever reason, because of my time and place and when I was brought into the world and the things that shaped me, newer works or more unconventional works resonated with me and shaped my brain more than a lot of books where I was able to go, “OK, I get why this is important, I get why this got us from point A to B.” But they weren’t the things that were teaching me how to live. And you can’t really decide what will resonate with you.

When I think about my touchstones that totally shaped the way I view myself and life and growing up and my work, it’s like, I Love Dick, Ghost World, The Virgin Suicides, Franny and Zooey, Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder. And you kind of can’t decide what those things will be. There’s an interview with Miranda July where they ask which books she’s embarrassed not to have read. And she’s just like, we don’t have time. There are way more books, and there’s much more artwork in general than we can ever hope to take in in our short lives. It’s just kind of about whatever finds you at the right time.

So, I think it’s great to have context when you’re writing something, but I also feel like whenever I wrote poetry when I was a teenager, it was out of necessity. I wasn’t thinking about poetry as something that had a history I was responsible for.

What are some of your early memories of falling in love with a poem or a poet?

A year ago, about when I graduated from high school, there were a few that really saved me. I was going through a really insane transition. I wrote out in watercolor Emily Brontë’s “Remembrance.” I had it on my wall at the foot of my bed, so if I started to feel totally consumed by what was happening—just graduating, ending my first-ever relationship, moving to New York and starting a Broadway play—I would look at this poem. There’s one part where she says something like “Dare not indulge in memory’s rapturous pain.” I’m a very nostalgic person, and it helps to look at that and be like high school’s over, this relationship is over.

Similarly, there’s W.H. Auden’s “O let not Time deceive you / You cann...............

Balu
08-02-2015, 10:37 AM
Robert, thank you for your two above posts. They were very interesting to read. http://www.kolobok.us/smiles/standart/good.gif

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
08-03-2015, 10:53 PM
http://www.rattle.com/poetry/pixel-poetry-a-meritocracy-by-colin-ward/

“pixel poetry: a meritocracy” by colin ward
May 1, 2015
Colin Ward

PIXEL POETRY: A MERITOCRACY

The Only Things Worse Than Generals Are Generalities.

In serving the online literary community as critic, columnist, moderator, administrator, contest facilitator, technician, consultant, designer, and programmer for the last quarter century, I’ve been struck by the differences between its communities and products and those of the offline or “real” world.

When internauts speak of “online” poetry they really mean “online workshoppers’” poetry, not what is found on blogs, vanity sites and personal webzines. For example, the loveable, irrepressible Bill Knott may be the Walt Whitman of our time, promoting, selling and giving away his work. Because he does much of this on the internet, offliners might consider him an online poet. No one who has been plugged in for more than a decade would agree. Similarly, every word that Shakespeare ever wrote can be found on various sites but he’s hardly an “internet poet.” Magazines archiving older issues online don’t make for “online poetry” in any but the most literal sense. Conversely, if Usenet star poet Robert J. Maughan scratched some verse onto birch bark 200 miles from the nearest computer and published it in The New Yorker it would still be an online poem. What distinguishes pixel from page poetry isn’t where it is written, revised, reviewed or published, but whether or not the poet’s technical and critical skills reflect time spent in an online workshop.

At the risk of oversimplification, page poetry is about poets, pixel poetry is about poems. To an offliner, a poem may be a poet’s greeting or business card, a piece in a self-portrait jigsaw puzzle or an invitation to psychoanalysis. “Pragmatic” and “professional” describe what we find in poetry books and magazines. The careerist track of aspiring academics is the most salient example. In this publish-or-perish environment, people more interested in and better suited to teaching poetry than writing it are driven to use up print publishing resources. This impetus, along with other commercial motivations, is unique to the print world. One obvious ramification is that the once common practice of publishing poems anonymously or pseudonymously is unthinkable to today’s print poets.

In contrast, the pixel poet is both a “purist” and an “amateur” who, for better or worse, views each poem as a isolated specimen. Unless part of a series, each poem will serve as its own context. As for the author’s role in this exploratory surgery, well, the biologist rarely speculates about the Creator. Think New Criticism, minus the crazy parts.

When offliners think of workshops they imagine face-to-face (F2F) settings, either writers groups or MFA-style peer gatherings. Academic workshoppers tend to share similarities including occupation (student?), esthetic, education, locale and age. In either model the circumstances can make objectivity and candor difficult. Critics need distance, including physical space. The same verse submitted to an online critical forum may be examined by readers from all continents, ages, occupations, styles and knowledge levels. If posted to an expert venue, a poem might attract the attention of some of the greatest critiquers alive: Peter John Ross, James Wilks, Rachel Lindley, Stephen Bunch, the Roberts (Schechter, Mackenzie and Evans), Richard Epstein, Hannah Craig or John Boddie, to name only a few. There is, quite literally, a world of difference between F2F and online workshops. This diversity and sophistication avoids the homogeneity that F2F workshops can spawn. It also explains why the word “peer” is less frequently used to describe online workshops.

What traits do online workshoppers have in common? The pixel poet must have an abiding interest in improving, obviously, but also in the elements, rather than just the products, of the craft. This is not the place for those who neither know nor care to know that “Prufrock” is metrical. This is not the place for “substance over form” advocates blurbing profound prose with linebreaks. This is not the place for, as Leonard Cohen would say, “other forms of boredom advertised as poetry.” This is a meritocracy of poems, and no one is better than their current effort. If Shakespeare himself posted a clunker to one of the expert-only venues he might be confronted with comments like:

“You use words like a magpie uses wedding rings.”
—Gerard Ian Lewis

“Please tell me there were no dice involved in choosing your words.”
—Manny Delsanto

As you can imagine, the online workshop breeds humility and respect for the art form.

The rules are simple: Critique as much and as thoroughly as you can and thank those who grace you with their thoughts. Newcomers to internet workshopping are urged to start on one of the “friendlies.” Of these, let me recommend:

The Waters

The Critical Poet

Desert Moon Review

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
08-11-2015, 07:07 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2010/12/why-writers-wont-surrender-to-the-electronic-paper-trail/

POETRY NEWS
Why writers won’t surrender to the electronic paper trail
BY HARRIET STAFF

Besides reading James Somers’ essay in The Atlantic, you can play back and review the entire process of writing it here. Long before word processors overwrote each step on the way to a final product, T.S. Eliot’s meticulous “versioning” of “The Waste Land” allowed scholars to peer into the writer’s process when all of the drafts, notes, and excised portions were published after his death. Had only the finished copy survived, the influence of Ezra Pound would never have been apparent.
Some of Eliot’s typescripts had marks all over them, marks which were known to be the notes of Ezra Pound, Eliot’s champion in the U.S. and a well-known literary critic. He had made massive changes to the original manuscript. Example: that famous opener, “April is the cruellest month,” used to be buried under a section some hundred lines long before Pound cut the whole thing. All told his edits shrunk the poem in half. As a result it became more cryptic, rhymed less, and in some ways mutated into a bleaker, more biting critique of the modern world.
Which is to say that Pound completely transformed “The Waste Land.” And the scary thing is that we might have never known—we might have lost our whole rich picture of the poem’s creation—had Eliot not been such a bureaucrat, typing up and shuffling around so many snapshots of his work in progress.
Software like the kind Somers used to record his progress on these paragraphs exists. We have the technology to rebuild a poem—that is, if authors were willing to use it. Having that capability probably felt intuitive to the software developers who built programs like Etherpad and other text versioning tools. Writing code still requires drafts and revisions. In their case, however, the programmers need to be able to find their way back if something goes wrong or doesn’t work as intended.
That’s because code is so fragile, and simple changes can propagate in complex and unpredictable ways. So it would be stupid not to keep old versions —i.e., versions that worked—close at hand.
Writing is different. A writer explores, and as he explores, he purposely forgets the way he came…
…No need, then, to drop so many breadcrumbs along the way. Especially when such a trail could do more harm than good. Readers could use it to find places where you massaged the facts; they’d be able to see you struggle with simple structural problems; they’d watch, horrified, as you replaced an audacious idea, or character, or construction, with a commonplace.

-----------------------------------
Eliot was great but Pound made him into the giant he is today. Millions that admire him as the best poet never even know this fact..
Now, where is my Ezra Pound? I am sure I must have quite foolishly misplaced him...
My ACHERON poem needs him badly!!! -Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
08-13-2015, 12:05 AM
http://www.newpages.com/writers-resources/poets-and-writers-blogs

Interview with Robert Fanning
Published May 11, 2015

Robert Fanning, professor of creative writing at Central Michigan University, shares his manuscripts in process as well as the methods and sources of inspiration he used to draft them. His advice for burgeoning writers, poets in particular, is not the standard cookie-cutter words of wisdom you've heard elsewhere, and his refreshing approach to publishing will help you rethink Submission Sundays. And if you need a new playlist for writing, we have it.



I've heard a couple of indie publishers say that they can always spot an MFA manuscript that's been submitted without reading the bio of the author—and they weren't being complimentary. "The style is always the same." I'd love to hear you address how teachers can create an environment where individual styles can flourish.

I’ve heard that many times. Some of that has to do with editors having to read, yourself included, hundreds and hundreds of manuscripts. That’s a danger, I think, in teaching, that if your students might admire your work they might try to emulate it. I do not see that emulation happening in my classroom. I see a lot of diversity formally and thematically. I think it takes a lot of investment on the teacher’s part. You have to listen to your students and get a feel for what they are doing, their quirks, or where they are doing something different, and then try to feed that. I try to send them to the shelf that has the books that they need. I had a student a few years ago who was writing work that was wildly different from anything I’ve ever written, and I knew that, so I had to do my own research to find for him who his poets needed to be. I think that’s very important: learning to listen to students in order to see what they are trying to do that’s individual or unique, and trying to help foster that.

You have your own forms and structures that you use in your own writing. And you might start with one structure on the page and then realize that’s not what the poem needs. It needs a different structure: same words, different structure. You’ve discovered those structures, discovered what works for you. You’re working with such profound triggers. I’m thinking about Hugo’s Triggering Town here. Do you think that some of what we are doing as teachers is not only helping them find what to read, and helping them to find forms that fit their own work, but also to help them discover and work with and not fear their own triggers?

Absolutely. And to listen to themselves, and to go into their own lives. I would have been a very different teacher had I started teaching right when I came out of my MFA program. Which I didn’t. I went out away from the academy for many years. Returning later was liberating to me as an instructor, because I'm further down the road as a writer. I’m a much different poet; I’m trying new things all the time. So I’m in a particularly good place for working with young poets, I think, because once I’ve done something, I don’t trust it anymore, and I want to do something new. I don’t want to do the same thing again and again. I want each book to be a little different.

Congratulations. That seems to be working. (laughter)

Seems to be. To me, that’s a very good thing. I’m in a very edgy place, where I’m very open to what my students are doing. I don’t create any barriers between myself and my students. I prefer to have them call me by my first name. I write along with them. I think that’s important—for them to see me write and to read some stuff that really sucks, just to let them know we are really peers in this endeavor. Maybe poets who’ve published ten books and won loads of prizes, perhaps in some cases they set themselves above their students, maybe not even consciously. Then the students unconsciously place themselves in a position where they feel they must revere this iconic poet. And maybe that's where a cycle of aesthetic mimicking enters the scene. None of that is my style. We're all on a different journey as poets; I want to foster many styles by honoring what my students are drawn toward, if possible.

Do you think that maybe some of the workshop “feel”—or maybe the sense that we can tell where someone studied based on their writing—is worshipful emulation? Because there’s not the peer feeling?

Perhaps. I do tell my students when they are applying to MFA programs to look at who teaches there, to read their work, to see if they admire the work, to see if they feel they can learn from that person.

But it’s important for teaching poets to give students as many models as they can, and be willing to give students a wide variety of models. Recently, I conducted an independent study with a student on avant-garde writing since 1970, and I researched right along with him, because it’s an area I’d neglected and I’d not read enough of. So I’m always learning with my students. That increases the excitement of it all for me. I arrange my syllabus so I’m going to learn from it. I read right along with my students. In my graduate classes, I’ll read some journals and find poets who have written some compelling new books, maybe a recent prize winner, and I won’t even read the books before the semester. I read them right along with the students so we can have a meaningful, edgy, unrehearsed conversation about what’s going on in each poet's work.

So we are professional writers. We got our jobs in large part because we’re writers, and we’ve published, and we’ve done writerly things. But once we have those jobs, we are urged to become professional teachers. So some of what you just said strikes home with me because there might be this line between the two. We might become such good teachers that we are not authentic in our writing practice anymore, and we can’t bring that authentic writing practice to our students. Instead, we teach them things that anyone could teach them, if we are practicing our pedagogy and doing what all the teaching workshops would have us do. So there’s that line. And the magic moments we have with students are when the sides merge: when we are helping them from our authentic writing practice, but we just also happen to be teaching them something.

That’s what most of us hope for.

How do you manage that line?

It depends on the level. I teach undergraduate through graduate classes. In my intro and intermediate courses, I have a body of things I feel I want them to learn and know. There are things that I did not learn at their age. I want their tool kit to be completely full. I want them to have a really strong sense of form, and rhyme, and meter, as many craft elements as possible to build upon. I try to be a professional teacher, whatever that means, but I don't think I'm any good at that, frankly. To me teaching is a deep and mutual engagement; it's a conversation, and it’s very human. I don’t think students are as willing to open up and trust this wild process of writing and self-examination, if you’re up there being Mister Professor-Man, spewing facts. They’ll start looking out the window, just as I would have. Being able to teach poetry is an absolute privilege, and yes, I prepare to teach; I spend hours and hours and hours preparing, but I don’t lecture, per se. One, I’m not very good at it. And two, then it takes the learning away from me, too. I think that we, as teachers, also learn in those moments that are off the cuff. When that magic is happening in the room, it’s because it’s human, and it’s in the moment.

I love that idea of co-learning. It's not what you said, but it's what you meant.

So when we talk about the models that you use, the texts that you use, in your teaching, what is something you continually return to? I know you want to stay fresh and always bring in new things, but what are some things you constantly reach back to use?

I have certain texts I constantly come back to in my undergraduate classes. I like the Wadsworth Anthology of Poetry. I like the way it’s designed, as a bunch of mini-anthologies designed chronologically and by form. I like The Poet's Companion by Dorianne Laux and Kim Addonizio. Also, Steve Kowit's In the Palm of Your Hand, and other such How-To Manuals that have good, solid advice and poems in them.

My intermediate class is really built around forms and modes. I arrange it so I can "drop poems in" from class to class, that are really good examples of whatever I’m teaching. So if we’re talking about internal rhyme, I have my go-to poets I’ve used for a long time, but then there will be a poet I read yesterday in a journal or a new book, and I realize I can drop that in right here. I build these little modules, but I’m constantly looking for new models as well. Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz” is always a great poem for teaching scansion, because its meter is both simple and surprising. It’s a particularly amazing poem to scan. Yeats is good to scan, and Kim Addonizio is great to scan. I look at Plath for image and metaphor, Yusef Komunyakaa, Phillip Levine, Dorianne Laux, Matthew Olzmann, Vievee Francis, francine j. harris, John Rybicki, Sean Thomas Dougherty, Peter Markus, whatever I'm into that day, week, or month. It’s changing all the time, but I keep a keen awareness of diversity too.

I want a myriad of voices in the room. Poetry is so eclectic and diverse now that it’s quite easy. There are so many good models now, such a wide array of voices, styles and modes. But that’s the hardest thing for me as a teacher—I want to cram the class with so many poems, and it’s really hard. I will have reached a really zen moment in teaching when I can take one poem to class. Instead, I drag my Santa sack of parcels and poems to throw around the room, and that’s too much. It’s overwhelming. I tell students constantly that you can learn so much just from slow, focused reading of just one poem. Just reading it over and over and over. But I love too many poems to bring in just one!

It’s another one of those lines. So many of our students have never really been exposed to poetry. And so when you’re trying to teach a craft class, you want to expose students to forms and drop in examples of all the forms, but then you also think this might be the only opportunity to expose them to all the poetry that turns us on to what we do. Where do you see that line, and how do you manage that?

That’s my hardest line. Teaching is a great sharing process to me. I'm like a tour guide in this incredible country of poetry, but we have limited time. It remains my biggest challenge as a teacher: to try to slow down and really focus on one or two poems. And I think I’ve gotten better at it, but I’ll still have on the syllabus: read these 20 poems, instead of focusing on one poem. It is absolutely the hardest thing for me, because there are so many amazing poets and poems I want my students to experience.

Do you think any forms are dead? Or do you think all forms still have some life in them?

fanning-sleep-poetryNo, and we're reminded of that all the time, as contemporary poets find new approaches to age-old forms, as well as creating new ones. I try to approach it as, first of all, why do this? Why write a sonnet? Are we doing this just to mimic? To try to shove a poem into a box, follow a lot of rules? So we have a conversation about that, organically. Why write a sonnet? What particular advantages does it have for the content you’re bringing forth? A sestina? A pantoum? These forms exist for a reason. They are built to enhance a poem's content. So we examine that.

In studying visual art, a common pedagogical model is to begin with still lives. And I think that’s a great model. When my wife taught sculpture, she spent the first part of the semester just teaching her students how to look, how to see. As poets, that's a good place to begin to, even before we get deep into form. We need to see what we’re looking at before we start to make; we need to have a solid foundation of knowing how to render an image, and to see. Later, when it comes to form: the more organic conversation, then, is about what form even is and how it benefits us as poets. I always work really hard to help my students understand that form is extremely liberating. That’s a hard thing to grasp when you’re 19 years old and resistant to structure, as I was. You don’t want somebody putting a frame around all this passion you have, all this angst. You don’t want somebody to box it all in. So I’ll tell my students: you hate sestinas? Then write a sestina about how much you hate sestinas.

Some students stick with free verse, but not without first writing in various forms, and realizing that free verse is its own challenging form, too, really. Regardless, form is then a tool they possess, and they can use it later, if they choose to—and I believe one's free verse benefits a great deal from wrestling with the armatures of form.

What’s the most important thing students get out of a CW program? And what was the most important thing you got from your own MFA program, and how is that different from what you want our own students to get?

Beyond the mentorship, the reading, the study, I want my students to feel that poetry is deeply meaningful and a sacred way of engaging with the self and the world, and it can sustain you through life’s trials and give meaning to your life. That's the most important thing, frankly, and I want them to take that with them. At this stage of my life, I realize poetry is something that has been there all the time for me. It’s gotten me through a lot of life challenges. It has helped me make sense of things that didn't make sense, and opened worlds up to me. I want my students to leave with that golden key. Whether they publish anything, whether they write a great book, all of that’s great, and certainly I want them to learn a lot about the craft. But the core thing I want them to remember is that poetry is a sacred act. It is a conversation with the world within the self and the self within the world. Yes: I want my students to have a deep knowledge of the craft, the forms, and history, to have a good sense of the movements and trends that inform what’s being done currently; that's important. I want them to have a sense of where they might be at the moment and where they might fit in to all of it. At that age, you’re just really starting to shape your aesthetic, as I was. I noticed that my aesthetic started to shift over time, so I let them know that, too. Find your aesthetic but be open to it changing.

Part of what we bring to our students is the best of what we got as students, and/or what we felt we were missing. I gained so much from my experience at Sarah Lawrence College's MFA program. That’s a brilliant, amazing program. It’s so focused on relationships. They have an individual conference system where you meet with your mentor often. There’s a lot of one-on-one mentorship. So I built that system into my teaching, too. Sarah Lawrence's program felt fairly open, which was a good thing, for me, but can be dangerous because it requires self-discipline, which is good practice for the writing life. I quickly realized I’d have to do a lot of work on my own to make the program what I wanted. So I went into the library; I started at A and wanted to work my way through to Z and read as many poetry books as I could in those two years. So that is something I bring to my teaching, too. I tell my students, don’t wait for me to tell you what to read. You go find the poets you love, too. Then, read everything they’ve written. I bring a big focus on reading and personal exploration in the art.



Try on as many voices as you can, as many modes as you can. Don’t think of yourself as a certain kind of poet, too early on, if ever.


Earlier, we discussed triggers, and not fearing them. Some students, when they are new to it, think every poem has to be original, and new and different from any they’ve already written. Some students fear repeating themselves. We have to guide them and say, well obviously this is what you need to talk about. This is your thing; don’t be afraid of it. So we talk to them about triggers, but also about influence and how we bring our influences into our writing. That can be part of our shift in aesthetic. Do you have those conversations with them?

To speak to the repetitive issue: I think that’s an important thing. It’s tough because, yes, they could be writing the same poem over and over again. On the one hand, I’ll tell them: follow these obsessions as far as you can. If for whatever reason you’re writing these really sad poems about a partner or your father, they need to come out, and you need to work them through. But you get to the point at which you realize you’re sitting down to write another sad father poem, reflexively. And when you know that, maybe you really have to start to make a shift. It’s hard, because it's also important to follow those obsessions to a seeming conclusion. Even in my work, themes keep emerging and emerging over years. That is going to happen organically. On one hand, I’m telling students to follow it through, but on the other hand, also practice writing poems th
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We have a couple teachers here that may find this article/interview interesting aside from its primary poetic evaluations.
Far too little individuality is allow or nurtured in the one size has to fit all public schools today. -Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
08-14-2015, 01:12 AM
http://www.newpages.com/writers-resources/poets-and-writers-blogs


The hard part about making a movie from life
is that life was barely plausible enough
to be a movie in the first place.

He barely survived his, a monument
to the human ability
to endure.

For 50 years, her turbulent personal
made her a staple of tabloids.
And last year she revealed
she’d had a double mastectomy.
Now she’s a dervish of manic energy
with large eyes, full lips,
and cheekbones of suffering.

So much, so overwhelming, so negative,
she says. Who was this little troublemaker
who didn’t think he was worth anything
to get me through all the things that keep me
up at night, sitting with the sound
in my boots, working.

She lights up, she recalls,
It’s easy to fudge things.
It’s hard to be devoted.

[NOTE: Found/blackout poem crafted from a TIME article titled
“The Lady and the Scamp. Angelina Jolie Finds Her Equal,” as
written by Lev Grossman about how the actress came to choose
and tell the story of Unbroken.]

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
08-16-2015, 09:05 PM
Amy King


http://www.amyking.wordpress.com

Amy King Raised in Baltimore and Georgia, Amy King earned a BS in English and women’s studies from Towson University, an MFA in poetry from Brooklyn College, and an MA in poetics from SUNY Buffalo. Her writing, which shows elements of Language poetry, has been influenced by her work with Charles Bernstein and Susan Howe in Buffalo, although she is also drawn to confessional and New York School poets. She has cited César Vallejo, Gertrude Stein, Laura (Riding) Jackson, and John Ashbery as her current influences. While applying pressure to the boundaries of “queer” poetry, King also finds inspiration in pop culture, science, social taxonomies, and other questions of gender, ontology, and culture.

King's forthcoming book, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. John Ashbery described her poems in I Want to Make You Safe (Litmus Press, 2011) as bringing “abstractions to brilliant, jagged life, emerging into rather than out of the busyness of living.” The book was named one of the Boston Globe’s Best Poetry Books of 2011. King is also the author of the poetry collections Slaves to do These Things (Blazevox, 2009), I’m the Man Who Loves You (Blazevox, 2007), and Antidotes for an Alibi (Blazevox, 2005). Her chapbooks include Kiss Me with the Mouth of Your Country (Dusie Press, 2007), The Good Campaign (2006), The Citizen’s Dilemma (2003), and The People Instruments (Pavement Saw Press, 2002). Her poems have been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes, and her essays have appeared in Boston Review, Poetry, and The Rumpus.

In 2015, King received the WNBA Award from the Women’s National Book Association, joining the ranks of Ann Patchett, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rachel Carson, and Pearl S. Buck. She was also honored by the Feminist Press as one of the “40 Under 40: The Future of Feminism” awardees, and she received the 2012 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities.

King serves on the executive board of VIDA: Woman in Literary Arts and is. She also moderates the Women’s Poetry Listserv (WOMPO) and for many years she moderated the Poetics List, sponsored by the Electronic Poetry Center. She also founded and curated the Brooklyn-based reading series, The Stain of Poetry, from 2006 to 2010.

King coedited, Poets for Living Waters

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
08-17-2015, 08:46 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/article/250740

Sweeping Hearts
Writing poems inspired by Native American music and poetry.

BY ELIZABETH RABY
Sweeping Hearts
Having students write poems while listening to a cassette tape of "Earth Spirit" by R. Carlos Nakai, a Navajo-Ute who plays the Native American flute, has been a remarkably successful exercise with young people from grades two through twelve. Inspired in part by the Native American poets at the 1988 and 1992 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festivals at Hopewell, New Jersey, and in part by Margot Fortunato Gait's article, "The Story in History," in the September-October 1992 issue of Teachers & Writers, I use the tape as a way to bring a Native American presence to the classrooms I visit as a poet-in-die-schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Following Gait's example, I draw both a pyramid and a circle on the chalkboard. Gait says that the European conception of the universe is structured like a pyramid, by which things are ranked "according to their smartness or complexity or similarity to us." On this pyramid, humans are outranked only by the angels and then by God. Students have little difficulty assigning things to a place in this hierarchy. I suggest that dirt may rank near the bottom, hence our tendency to feel justified in treating dirt "like dirt." Students find it easy to think of examples of what we have done to dirt.

We next consider the Native American paradigm of being: a circle that includes, in no hierarchical order, humans and dirt, thunder and bears. I read aloud Joy Harjo's "Eagle Poem," a fine example of the circularity and the respect for the things of this world that such a vision engenders:

Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.
With this poem still echoing in our minds, I tell the class that we will write while listening to a tape of Native American flute music. After making sure that everyone has paper and a sharpened pencil, I explain that while the tape plays I will read three poems aloud, and that afterward there should be no talking for a few minutes. The only sound will be the sound of the flute. I invite the students to go wherever the flute takes them, to hear whatever message it brings them, to follow whatever story it tells—to write down whatever comes to them.

The first poem I read is "Spring Night in Lo-Yang—Hearing a Flute" by Li Po, which I tell the students was written more than a thousand years ago:

In what house, the jade flute that sends these dark notes drifting, scattering on (he spring wind that fills Lo-Yang? Tonight if we should hear the willow-breaking song, who could help but long for the gardens of home?
—Translated by Burton Watson

Then I read Joy Harjo's "Song for the Deer and Myself to Return On":

This morning when I looked out the roof window
before dawn and a few stars were still caught
in the fragile weft of ebony night
I was overwhelmed. I sang the song Louis taught me:
a song to call the deer in Creek, when hunting,
and I am certainly hunting something as magic as deer
in this city far from the hammock of my mother's belly.
It works, of course, and deer came into this room
and wondered at finding themselves
in a house near downtown Denver.
Now the deer and I are trying to figure out a song
to get them back, to get us all back,
because it's too early to call Louis
and nearly too late to go home.

Finally, I read "An Evening at Windy Point for Christopher Jay" by the Hopi poet, Ramson Lomatewama. It begins with the sound of a Japanese bamboo flute (suizen):

The sound of suizen
lingers over a valley of sand.
Desert shadows grow in silence.
The man, sitting at the edge,
brings music to Windy Point.
Below,
juniper and pinon trees listen.
Smooth bamboo songs
touch the face of summer.
There are no monastery walls here,
Only the music,
the man,
the spirit.

The haunting sound of the flute and the softly spoken poems have never failed to achieve a strange combination of attention and peace-fulness in the classroom. Very young children may miss an occasional word or reference, they never miss the beauty of the language or the spirit of the poems. Usually there is so much noise in our lives—perhaps without realizing it we all hunger for the calm this music inspires. Students often ask that it be played as the background to other writing exercises. The music establishes a mood they like to extend, which makes it especially good for the first day of a writing workshop.

The music evokes strong emotions in the students, makes them wish for a more perfect world, and gives many of them a chance to express their anguish and anger about the state of the environment. They take bits and pieces from the poems I read aloud and combine them with their own personal histories and the mood the music creates. Here are some examples:

Watching Wondering
I wake and hear the sweet music of the flute
I follow it
Watching
Wondering
Beauty fills the air
Each step I take
Watching
Wondering
Suddenly the music gets louder
I spot a giant fall of water
Watching
Wondering
The lion was next to the lamb
There meadows and lakes are plenty
Watching
Wondering
I sit under a tree thinking
Has God called me home?
Watching
Wondering.
I close my eyes and fall asleep
Watching and
Wondering no more.
—Carolyn Bahnck, Fifth grade



Mother Earth

As the woman fell to the hot sand,
She started to think about the child she once had,
About the husband she once had not so long ago,
And about the tribe she once had that she would roam the land, sea,
and sky with.
As she sat there too dried out to drop a single tear for her tribe and
her family,
She looked around at her only friends, the sun, the sky, the land, the
plants.
And pleaded for forgiveness, and a child to look after.
Then something strange happened,
She felt a sharp pain, then the cry of a newborn baby
And she no more felt lonely but happy.
Then she looked around and silently said
Thank you to her friends,
She noticed that everything started to bloom and come to life,
And then a second baby was born,
But it was not a real person, it was an animal.
Then a bright light came down to her and told her, "You have been
given the greatest
gift of all time, the gift to create life for all
kinds of living creatures."
Then she closed her eyes and started to think
of all her friends, opened her eyes and saw her
friends and family looking at her,
And from that day on she knew the earth
would have life on the land that she, once, roamed by herself.
—Melissa Janis, fifth grade


Before, Before

I am the blue-green grass,
I bend into the water,
the quickly moving water is
angry,
angry with the vengeance of the
water-god,
He rushes by angrily,
He is mad at the people,
the people in the village,
they are hurting him with their
chemicals,
I have seen better days,
when the water-god was happy
gurgling and laughing,
before the people,
when animals came to drink,
before the hunters,
Before, Before.
—Tania Philkill, sixth grade



The flute calls to me.
Its sounds rush through my body
As an eagle's feather
Falls at my feet.
A wolf calls
From the hills
Joining the sweet sound
Of the music.

The fresh, warm air
From the desert
Fills my lungs, as the flute
Seems to cease, but starts again.

This is a song of pureness and love.

The flute calls to me
Its sounds rush through my body
As I awake
From this dream of time.
—Elisa Keller, seventh grade



The flute sounds like a boy lying on his bed.
Looking at stars through his window.
Trying to express his feelings by playing.
He is sad, very hurt.
He is thinking, wondering where everyone is.
He is lonely, just him and his soul.
He is calling for help, trying to see,
He is thinking, wondering if anyone's out there.
Feeling the way he feels.
—Danielle Scheel, seventh grade



Gone, but Still Alive

The medicine man comes through
the opening in my teepee,
I lie under furs of animals
I trapped last winter.
I lie now shivering from the disease.
It is now part of me.
It grows with me, is me,
and I am it.
We are one.
The medicine man is becoming unclear,
as he kneels beside the fire
to make my healing potion.
The medicine man starts dancing.
I can feel his presence beside me.
By my head, my side, my feet,
yet I cannot see him.
He is becoming more and more unclear.
My shivering ceases.
All is black.
The medicine man is on earth,
but I am now in the sky.
My soul is alive,
soaring above the medicine man.
I am well, I am free!
—Katie Cleary, eighth grade




The
soft wind
wakes up the
sleeping trees.
The cool green forest
is awakening to the radiant
dawn. The sun's golden rays
shine through the well-nourished
trees. The healthy animals scatter around
the forest bottom. The huge mountains stand
high above the never-ending sapphire sky. The forest
creatures scatter back to their homes. The sun goes down
like a ball of fire. The darkness of the sky blankets the
sleeping forest.
—Brooke Holland, eighth grade


As the culminating activity for a unit on history, social studies, or environmental science, writing poems while listening to "Earth Spirit" can help students organize new facts, reflect on their meaning, and make them their own. I have often asked students to think of one single thing, a fact or an idea that they remember from a recently completed unit, and to write a poem about what that fact or idea means to them. In this case, a judicious selection of poems read aloud at the beginning of the session, combined with the music, is all that is needed to get the poems started.




Elizabeth Raby, "Sweeping Hearts: Writing Poems Inspired by Native American Music and Poetry" from Old Faithful: 18 Writers Present Their Favorite Writing Assignments. Copyright © 1995 by Elizabeth Raby. Reprinted by permission of Teachers & Writers Collaborative.
Originally Published: August 11, 2015

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
08-17-2015, 09:09 PM
Counter-Clockwise: Editorial Manifesto

Clockwise Cat exists as a triumph over tyranny: The tyranny of time, the tyranny of linguistic convention, the tyranny of hierarchy and political oppression.

Time in this context is construed as that which constrains and constricts us – the elements that inhibit our imaginations and attempt to confine us in conformist cages. Indeed, these conformist cages are layered like Russian dolls – we break out of one cage only to find we are confined by a still-bigger one. Time is a human construct that was subliminally conceived to delude us into thinking that work, not leisure and creativity, was the “aim” of life. Thus, the tyranny of time is the tyranny of work. We must work because that is the system that power has built. Clockwise Cat, however, hisses at and pisses on the idea that life is about work.

Cats, of course, defy time, and fully apprehend leisure and pleasure. Their purrs are vibrations of the universe reminding us to pace ourselves and enjoy existence. Their fur is like cosmic velvet to the touch, its plush texture calming our agitations. Cats sleep the majority of their day because, well, why not? Sleep is the mystical space between life and death, a delirious oblivion where angels and demons tangle in holy visions, which provides refuge and refreshment.

Cats prove that time doesn’t really exist.

(Granted, the universe operates on a sort of “time” paradigm, but humans have seized upon this elusive idea and ruthlessly pounded out the cosmic core of it. We must aim to re-capture the mystical nexus of time, and not attempt to “tame” it. Time is undomesticated, not doomed for imprisonment in clock-cages.)



Linguistic convention is anything language-wise that complacently perpetuates the status quo. Language is a living entity, and should be employed vigorously and imaginatively, in order to keep it flowing forward rather than stagnating like mosquito-ridden puddles. Indeed, linguistic convention acts as a mosquito to language, sucking it dry of life, bleeding it of its very essence. Language must be free and feral, allowing for radical reinvention, or it crumbles under its own dead weight. Those poets and writers such as the Symbolists, Surrealists, Dadaists, Magic Realists, Beats, the post-modern experimentalists, the Avant Garde-ists, the Gonzo Journalists – hell, even Dickinson and Shakespeare, – hell, even Eliot – were and are intuitively cognizant of the urgency of injecting outlandish innovation into language to keep it fresh and real.

You could say that ALL poets defy linguistic convention in some way, and that may be true to a point. But I say, it’s the ones who instinctively and deliberately subvert convention and create a wild, authentic, individualistic, iconoclastic idiom who are the true language-guerillas. e.e. cummings, anyone?

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
08-21-2015, 04:51 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/250664?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+poetryfoundation%2Findex+%28P oetryFoundation.org%29


ESSAY
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” Turns 100
The famous poem was nearly not published.

BY THE EDITORS
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” Turns 100
This month marks the 100th anniversary of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” published when Eliot was just 26 years old. Had it not been for the intervention of Ezra Pound and Harriet Monroe, the seminal poem that helped usher in American Modernism might not have been published at all.

Eliot originally wrote parts of the monologue of a troubled, middle-aged man in 1910 and soon combined these pieces to form the long, complicated poem readers know now. Then he put it in a drawer for four years and focused on his graduate study in philosophy.

In the spring of 1914, Conrad Aiken, Eliot’s college friend, passed “Prufrock” along to Harold Monro, editor of Poetry and Drama. He reportedly remarked that the poem is “absolutely insane” and turned it down.

In September 1914, Eliot first met Pound in London, who was then the acting foreign correspondent of Poetry. Eliot showed him “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and Pound was elated. “Prufrock,” wrote Pound to Poetry editor Harriet Monroe, is “the best poem I have yet had or seen from an American,” adding exuberantly in all caps, “PRAY GOD IT BE NOT BE A SINGLE AND UNIQUE SUCCESS.”

The following slideshow features three of Pound’s letters to Monroe, proclaiming Eliot’s talent and urging her to publish “Prufrock.” (“I hope you’ll get it in soon,” he wrote.) She found room in the June 1915 issue. Though Monroe’s responses to Pound are not available, his letters hint at her apprehension. “In being the first American magazine to print Eliot you have scored again, though you may not yet think so,” Pound wrote shortly after “Prufrock” appeared in print, still compelled to convince her of its value.


View slideshow of letters from Pound to Monroe

For more background, watch Eliot scholar and editor Christopher Ricks the Prufrock centenary at Harvard University.

Letters by Ezra Pound, from New Directions Publishing Company acting as agent, copyright 2015 by Mary de Rachewiltz and the Estate of Omar S. Pound. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Company. Photos courtesy of the Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.


Originally Published: June 8, 2015

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
08-22-2015, 09:10 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/250886

INTERVIEW
Living Tradition
Clare Cavanagh talks about the joys and challenges of translation.

BY ALEX DUEBEN
Living Tradition
Image courtesy of Clare Cavanagh.
Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, Clare Cavanagh had no exposure to the Polish language. In graduate school, she says, she decided to take a class in Polish only because “it was a department requirement.” There, her career as one of the premier Polish-to-English translators began. Earlier this year, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published Map: Collected and Last Poems, by Nobel Prize–winner Wisława Szymborska, who passed away in 2012. Cavanagh, who translated Szymborska’s poetry for more than three decades, edited the volume. She spoke with the Poetry Foundation recently about the benefits of lengthy collaborations and how manners were instrumental to Szymborska’s work. The following interview was condensed and edited.


How did you get started as a translator? I’m assuming you didn’t wake one day and decide you wanted to translate Polish and Russian poetry.

[laughs] Russian was my first Slavic language, and I dabbled in translation when I was an undergraduate. I started Polish in graduate school only because I had a departmental requirement; my teacher happened to be the person who became my co-translator and my really dear friend, Stanislaw Baranczak. I had only one year of Polish at the time, and we just discovered that we liked translating together. If I hadn’t had Stanislaw holding my hand and saying “Go for it,” I don’t think I would have started.

What was it exactly that interested you?

I went to graduate school knowing I wanted to work on poetry. I knew poetry was going to be my thing, and I wanted to work on Mandelstam. The professor at the time, who taught Russian poetry and will remain nameless, almost convinced me to switch to novels; he was so dreadful. We used to pinch each other to stay awake in his seminars. [laughs] Stanislaw was just the opposite. He was fabulous, and he was so excited that I wanted to do poetry. I was his first American student after he came to the States. He spent extra time talking about Polish poetry with me in his office outside class. He himself was a poet and lived in this poetic world and knew the people. It changed my whole perception of literature. Suddenly, I was seeing things from the inside. It was addictive.

Is it necessary to understand not just the language but also the period and what’s going on around the work to translate effectively?

Knowing the language definitely helps, though lots of translators work from cribs or collaborate with someone else. Stanislaw and I, in our case, both knew English, and we both knew Polish, just to different degrees. I think the only way you get ready is by doing it and then doing it again and then doing it again. And getting a lot of feedback along the way, which I got because I was working in a partnership with someone who was an extremely experienced translator going into Polish. You learn it only by doing it. If you really had to know everything about the milieu, how would you ever even dare? And what would you do with people who have been dead for a couple thousand years?

It turned out that I loved working on this living tradition and watching things unfold. From watching struggles and listening to people, I know the period in a way I never would have otherwise. Who hates whom, who loves whom, who’s influenced by whom, who’s pretending not to be influenced by whom. Mandelstam had a high school teacher who was a minor symbolist poet, and he said that from going to this high school teacher’s house, he learned that the tradition was one, long, extended family argument. Once you dip into that, you start seeing it everywhere. You start seeing literary tradition in a different light. It was really exciting. Now Szymborska’s gone and Stanislaw’s gone and Milosz is gone, so it’s not the same world, but at least I was in it for a while.

When did you first encounter Wisława Szymborska’s work?

It was in a class with Stanislaw. I first read her in a bilingual edition back in 1981 or 1982, and then I kept reading her. Stanislaw and I first started working on the poet Ryszard Krynicki, a dear friend of the Baranczaks whom I’ve gotten to know. He’s a poet of the same generation. Somebody asked Stanislaw to translate some of Ryszard’s poems, and Stanislaw asked me to help. I was his research assistant then. Then we did an anthology. This would have been 1985 or 1986, and [Szymborska] had a collection called The People on the Bridge; we started translating and just couldn’t stop.

What about her work really interested you?

I think she probably has the best sense of humor of any poet I’ve read. [laughs] This isn’t an official critical category, but she has enormous charm as a poet. It’s easy to get drawn in. I always get frustrated when people say she’s plainspoken or straightforward. She’s not. There’s all this stuff just beneath the surface—or sometimes right there on the surface. It looks immediately accessible, but the further you go in, the more you see.

Did you get to meet her and spend time with her over the years?

I met her for the first time at the Nobel Prizes in Stockholm, actually, which was a terrifying way to meet someone for the first time who doesn’t speak English. I kept thinking, My God, it’s like meeting Emily Dickinson, but she speaks only Polish. I was terrified of making mistakes in Polish. But she, bless her heart, turned out to be embarrassed that she didn’t know English. And then we got to be friends. She was a very kind person, but she also liked me. I made the cut. Part of it was because I was friends with the Baranczaks, but part of it was because we just hit it off. She had to be extremely protective of her time. She had a very close-knit group of friends. I know friends who went to some events after her death, and they were shocked at this wide range of friends from all regions who were not even remotely literary. She was immensely protective, not just of her time but of herself. I went to Poland once or twice a year, and she always made time for me—except once. Her assistant told me, “She’d love to see you but she’s in the country writing poems, and she can’t stop right now.” Given that she wrote so few poems for a long life, I thought it best to leave her alone. The last time I saw her was the May before she died.

I’m curious about some choices you made in assembling the book. For example, you chose not to translate Szymborska’s earliest work. In the afterword, you sound very protective of her.

It’s the difference of working on someone you know. In that case, I knew how she would react. Most poets when they’re doing their collected poems, they do a lot of screening. W.H. Auden is a famous example. They cut things they wish they’d never written. She didn’t get a chance. Marina Tsvetaeva said there are poets with history and poets without history. She meant poets who from the first poem sound like themselves versus the poets who have to grow into themselves. Szymborska was someone who you could see where she started finding herself. She laid out all the road markers by looking over these various selected poems so carefully and deciding what not to publish. I wanted to respect that, trying to imagine what she would have wanted it to be. That’s what happens when you know the person.

She reprinted two or three of her socialist realist poems afterward, and really most of them have only historical interest. It’s good to give people an example of what socialist realist poetry looks like, but I wasn’t going to put 40 or 50 of those in the volume. She also wrote a lot of comic poetry, but she never put that in the various selected poems. I’m sure lots of other poets write limericks on the sidelines too.

She wrote so few poems, relatively speaking. Was she writing constantly but happy with only a few of the poems?

A good friend of mine who was also a good friend of hers and who knew her for a very long time said that she threw out 90 percent of what she wrote. I think part of it is privacy again. She didn’t want the poem out there unless it was absolutely as good as she could get it. Otherwise, it was like going out in public with your buttons done wrong. It’s bad manners. She loved Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Manners,” which she knew in Polish translation. The thing is that you observe good form; you don’t impose your messes on other people. She just didn’t want them out there. There were some poems that I think were very close to being done that she had in draft form, and I’m still of two minds about them, but I can’t do anything about it now.

You made a comment in the book’s afterward that one of her poems was untranslatable. What does that mean, exactly?

It’s the form, the language, and the puns in this case. I remember working on that poem because it was rhyme and meter, plus untranslatable puns about a walk in the woods. They were all forestry-related puns; you couldn’t invent a non-forestry pun. She had a fabulous rhyme; it was gotyk-niebotyk, which means “Gothic” and “skyscraper.” She was using it to describe a pine tree. It works great, and I worked and worked, and it sounded worse and worse, and I told her that. She said, “Oh forget it; you can’t translate that one.” Then she said the Dutch translator had wasted six months before he gave up.

I was trained by Stanislaw that you have to maintain the form. Acting as though that’s the first thing to go means that you’re no longer treating it like a poem. He was phenomenally gifted at it, but he hated the idea that a poem was its literal meaning and the form was just something thrown in for decoration. If she rhymed, we had to rhyme. He got me stuck in that mode. I can recognize that there are other forms of translation, but I can’t do that. I have to work my damnedest to keep the form. It’s also thinking about what Stanislaw would let me get away with. I’ve internalized his voice from working with him for so long.

After working with her for so long, I would imagine that it’s hard to think about what’s next.

I figured out after she died—which I refused to believe for a long time—that I’ve been working on Szymborska pretty much half my life. [laughs] It felt really strange. The book is out, which makes me happy, but it’s strange to develop such an odd skill set in which you say, I can see what she’s doing here, or I know what’s she’s thinking, this is her kind of simile. Now I have no place to put that. I’ve been working on a biography of Czeslaw Milosz for a long time. I’m still translating Adam Zagajewski. I went back to Ryszard Krynicki, the poet Stanislaw and I started with. I’m doing a volume of his poetry for New Directions. So I’ll translate other people. I’ve been working on Zagajewski for a really long time too. I’m so glad he’s still sending me things. I have that same sense of working with someone for decades and saying, “Wow, look what he did with this.” I love working on poets where you live with them, get to be friends with them over years and years.

From my admittedly limited reading, there seems to be a lot of Western European and American notions of poetry and language and politics that don’t match up with Polish or Russian models.

It’s true. There’s a lot of exchange back and forth too, which is also fun and surprising and, again, something I see when I’m in my scholarly mode. I shocked the Poles by pointing out that something they had assumed Milosz had gotten from a Polish thinker he’d actually gotten from reading Faulkner. There’s all this strange back and forth that’s really fun to trace, but the whole idea of what the poet is and what a poem has historically been is radically different. Although the normalization in Poland certainly has changed some, and I can’t really speak so much to what’s happening in Russia right now with poetry. Certainly you don’t have—not just in American literary culture but in the culture generally—a canon of poets who if you don’t know, you’re not a good American. It would be an embarrassment to admit that you’ve never read Pushkin or Akhmatova or Mandelstam. They’re your tradition. They’re part of what constitutes your identity. There are negative sides to that too, but we don’t have that even remotely.

The thing which partly has given Russian and Polish and Eastern European poetry such prestige over the past few decades is the idea that you could actually be oppressed for your poetry or suppressed for your poetry. Mandelstam has a hyperbole about it—only in Russia do they care enough about poets to kill them. A mixed blessing, to say the least.

Originally Published: August 18, 2015
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http://www.examiner.co.uk/news/local-news/poetry-fans-join-nationwide-celebration-7933544


Poetry fans join in with a nationwide celebration in Lindley
13:20, 14 OCTOBER 2014
BY EMMA DAVISON

The event at Lindley Library marked National Poetry Day

Poet Doris Corti with Janice Kilroy, customer service officer from Lindley Library, at celebration of National Poetry Day
Poetry fans have helped mark a national celebration of the creative writing form.

The event at Lindley Library was organised as part of National Poetry Day.

It is the nation’s biggest celebration of poetry and is held every year on the first Thursday in October.

To mark the occasion a group of poetry enthusiasts gathered in the Lidget Street library. They were joined by Lindley poet Doris Corti, who has won awards and seen her work published nationally.

Earlier this year the 85-year-old won top prize in the Open Poetry Competition of the National Association of Writers’ Groups for her poem A Skylark’s Song.

Doris led the event with readings from her new book Avenue of Days. Participants also gave readings and shared poems.

Librarian Judith Robinson said: “The event was well received and well attended. It was a lovely way to celebrate National Poetry Day”.


Just a reminder , my father's side was Brit and Irish. Writing and whiskey drinking came natural to me.
No longer can drink the whiskey but my pen hand still works. Make that keyboard hands.-:laugh::laugh::laugh:- Robert J. Lindley

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
08-23-2015, 11:10 AM
http://edwardcolettispoetryblog.blogspot.com

(Ed Coletti's) NO MONEY IN POETRY
"There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money either." -- Robert Graves
This is sort of an online portfolio occasionally featuring a few samples of both my work
and that of others. Please also consider looking at
Ed Coletti's P3 (edcolettip3.blogspot.com) for philosopy, politics, and also some poetry.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Codrescu Word Shakers NPR Special/Poets and Ego/Robert Creeley and Robert Creeley Reading/


Ain't no money in poetry
That's what sets the poet free
I've had all the freedom I can stand
Cold dog soup and rainbow pie
Is all it takes to get me by
Fool my belly till the day I die
Cold dog soup and rainbow pie
--- from Cold Dog Soup by Guy Clark

Comment or Read Comments Here on any of the above or below. If you do not have a Google
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Poets And Ego (Part 1)

About a month ago, I put the word out that I was looking for ideas about "poets and ego."
The replies I received were thoughtful and interesting. Many responded with well-considered
ideas about how the poet does or does not utilize the first person in their poems. For example,
Carlo Parcelli wrote that

All I can say is that I have always shunned the personal 'I' in my poetry except as 'persona'
for basically one reason. Not using it made me think and write in ways where I was not necessarily
the generative element, the psychic haven, if that makes any sense. Material as it appeared and
accrued played off other elements in the poem, not me.
Because my original idea had been to look at personality and behavioral aspects of poets, I
clarified my request like this,


Wondering why I do what I do? Why I paint? Why I publish books? Why I attend readings? Why I
send poems to and am published by journals? Why I'm aware of a certain competitiveness and self
promotion among poets? Why any of this matters? Why there are so many tempests in this tiny
little teapot whose very existence is known or understood by so few?
I was mindful of my own recent poem on this very subject,



Tea and Turmoil

Present universe requiring little,
she demands all things from herself,
“write poems, check Facebook. blog.
paint, create. Do it all before you die,
So little time to breathe, smile, feel.
So much to be before being itself is
no more, and nonbeing is or isn’t. So
why do much of anything requiring
planning, plans at which the gods
laugh and at such mortal fools
falling over each other boiling
like her in her little teapot —
so many kettle storms
felt only in this one crucible
which she with others like her
inhabit unbeknownst to
occupants of all those infinite pots
brewing tea and turmoil and
signifying only babble boiling
invisibly, inevitably, unknown.

So I went to poets like the wonderful Pat Nolan who told me
it’s all ego, Ed, and poets are surfers on the ego wave – gnarly
Ed, there may be a generation blindness. Oldsters not being able to see or have access to the great young talent, and youngsters too busy with themselves to discover the contemporary masters. There are hidden treasures, from Apollinaire to Whalen, that have been bypassed or ignored. It takes the diligence of a scholar to discover them. I don’t see many young poets taking that route.
To by original request for books on the subject, Copper Canyon Founder Sam Hamill replied,

Do I know of anything in print about poets egos? No. But 40 years as editor and friend to poets, I know many are out of control.

Clark County Washington Poet Laureate Christoper Luna gives us a comprehensive answer,


OK, Ed. I look at this way. A writer is one who is compelled to write. It does not necessarily follow that he/she must share it with the world. However, if one has something to say that means something, why not share it? And if what you're writing doesn't mean anything to you, why bother writing in the first place? Sharing the work publicly does involve some ego, but it need not be of the competitive, crush everything in its path variety. My model is Ginsberg, a Buddhist who also had an enormous ego and was a great promoter of himself and others. It is a kind of paradox, but poets grok negative capability, right?

I don't believe that we create in a vacuum. It is good for humans to meet, gather, and exchange ideas with one another. Getting up to read a poem at an open mic or featured reading does not automatically make one an egotistical asshole. That part is up to them. I do believe that we can do this work with humility and a sense of service to the community. I believe Ginsberg had a handle on poetry as a public service and a spiritual practice. If the work means something, then merely sharing it will help others.
Harsh as it may sound, my feeling is that if a writer doesn't believe that the work has the power to change the world, they should do anything else. There are plenty of others who take it seriously, and as you know, there's no money in it.
I find Sonoma County former poet laureate Bill Vartnaw characteristically public-spirited on the subject,

I don't know of a book. My own thoughts: I think "service." Service to poetry, other poets, other causes. For balance. I'm sure you do all this, but that's what I do. Poets need ego because we can be quick change artists and can get it utterly wrong; ego, besides making us think we're idiots when we're down, helps pull us out of the funk, but when we are on a roll, we need service. Hope this helps. . .

Given the subject, I hope I'm not being an enabler, or, if I am, am doing so modestly. This is also an invite to read at the Petaluma Poetry Walk. I don't know what venue yet. We're asking and seeing who can make it first. It's on September 20th. Do you want to read?
Well, of course I do, Bill! I hope these contributions are useful. In the next edition of NMIP, I will do a Part 2 on "Poets and Ego" and will incorporate more of the responses about the poem itself, particularly how poets see the role of themselves in the poem.
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Edit---

OK, Ed. I look at this way. A writer is one who is compelled to write. It does not necessarily
follow that he/she must share it with the world. However, if one has something to say that means
something, why not share it? And if what you're writing doesn't mean
anything to you, why bother writing in the first place? Sharing the work publicly does involve
some ego, but it need not be of the competitive, crush everything in its path variety. My model
is Ginsberg, a Buddhist who also had an enormous ego and was a great promoter of himself and
others. It is a kind of paradox, but poets grok negative capability, right?

I don't believe that we create in a vacuum. It is good for humans to meet, gather, and exchange
ideas with one another. Getting up to read a poem at an open mic or featured reading does not
automatically make one an egotistical asshole. That part is up to them. I do believe that we
can do this work with humility and a sense of service to the community. I believe Ginsberg had
a handle on poetry as a public service and a spiritual practice. If the work means something,
then merely sharing it will help others.
Harsh as it may sound, my feeling is that if a writer doesn't believe that the work has the power
to change the world, they should do anything else. There are plenty of others who take it
seriously, and as you know, there's no money in it.

^^^^^^^^^^^-- This pretty much sums up my view on potery as well.
Idealist, maybe- but why write if not serious-why write if not to eventually share?
And why write poetry if not to be giving of ones self?--Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
08-24-2015, 12:33 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/guide/250870#guide

Edna St. Vincent Millay: “Renascence”
A Modern poet’s message and her mediums

BY HANNAH BROOKS-MOTL

A person stands and looks at mountains, turns to look at a bay, lies down and screams,
and gets up. This is nearly all that “happens” in Edna St. Vincent Millay’s "Renascence,”
the poem that made her famous at just 20 years of age. But, over 20 stanzas, many more and much
stranger events transpire. The person is wrapped in “Infinity” and enters a state of clairvoyance,
seeing people in distant countries and taking on their pain, experiencing the world unbounded
when “The Universe, cleft to the core, / Lay open to my probing sense,” and the outcome isn’t
pleasant but vampiric: “But needs must suck / At the great wound, and could not pluck
/ My lips away till I had drawn / All venom out.” This kind of experience, in which the boundary
between self and world seems to have dissolved, will be the focus of Millay’s poem. It’s at once
incredibly painful—as these first stanzas attest—and potentially transformative. We might call
it something like immediacy, the sense that nothing stands between you and the events or objects
of the world. “Renascence” will go on to explore just how possible such immediacy is and how
poetry can intervene to create a necessary perspective between persons and their experiences.

The person haunts the world and is haunted by it and then finds relief by encountering God. In
anguish, the person sinks into the ground in a kind of death trance. Somehow, this death is
both metaphoric and literal: listening to the rain (not so dead?), they longingly note,
“For rain it hath a friendly sound / To one who’s six feet underground” (decidedly dead).
The person begins to imagine the world going on without them, and they pray to join it again.
Then, in a sudden thunderstorm, the wish is granted: “And the big rain in one black
wave / Fell from the sky and struck my grave.” The speaker springs up and thanks God, promising
to see God’s presence behind everything: “no dark disguise / Can e’er hereafter
hide from me / Thy radiant identity!” This is the “Renascence,” the renewal, or resurrection,
of the poem’s title.
Over roughly six sections, Millay provides a grid for ecstatic experience—that sense of
immediacy previously discussed. The person is first enmeshed in horizontal logic, bounded by
the earthly panorama, and then caught up in vertical drama; both floating above and dwelling
below states of consciousness prove painful. They return to the starting place armed with the
insight that knowledge for knowing’s sake isn’t sustainable: “For my omniscience paid I toll
/ In infinite remorse of soul.” Witnessing God finally grants the kind of immediate experience
this person craves: “God, I can push the grass apart / And lay my finger on Thy heart!” It seems

that God can unite person and world in a kind of healing whole. However, the poem ends curiously,
with an admonition:

The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky,—
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat—the sky
Will cave in on him by and by.

Millay’s final stanza muses explicitly on mediation by brooding over boundaries. Mediation is
a notoriously tricky concept to define. It is important to bear in mind that mediation operates
in part as a process in which boundaries break down and are rearranged. Though “Renascence” seeks
out oneness, immediacy, or wholeness, it also ends with a stanza about the importance of
maintaining distance between “East and West”—as well as one’s soul and the conditions that formed
it. Why?
In her poem, Millay explores the limits of individual perception while gesturing toward poetry’s
ability to permeate the consciousness of others, to infiltrate, possess, or alter how any one
person perceives the world, even if only momentarily. Even the poem’s ordinary opening forces
readers to identify with the speaker: “All I could see from where I stood” becomes all readers
can see from where they stand—literally inside another’s point of view. Readers’ familiarity
with the poem’s thudding tetrameters also helps seal them into the poem’s world; Millay’s
biographer Nancy Milford likens the poem to a child’s counting-out rhyme, and it seems true
that the poem’s prosody lulls readers into accepting its premises. Poetry’s ability to occupy
other perceptions dissolves the speaker’s sense of identity; it also intrudes on its readers’.
When we read “Renascence” we become its “I,” which is poetry’s oldest trick. Millay wants to
draw attention to that process, in which poetry creates or collapses distances between speakers,
readers, and experiences. Poetry, Millay suggests, is a powerful mediator between persons and
worlds.

By the fourth stanza, Millay’s speaker confronts a quasi-Dickinsonian moment of lyric immensity
or “Infinity”, “pressing of the Undefined / The definition on my mind.” The movement is forced,
uncomfortable, and ultimately fatal, as “Infinity”

Held up before my eyes a glass
Through which my shrinking sight did pass
Until it seemed I must behold
Immensity made manifold

Through this “glass” the world is “unmuffled,” horrifyingly so; friendly spheres “gossip”
unkindly, tented skies “creak” precariously, and Eternity “ticks” like a bomb. The terror of
“Renascence’s” middle stanzas suggests that this kind of over identification with the world is
both impossible and not to be pursued at all. It isn’t just hurtful but also arrogant:
“All suffering mine, and mine its rod; / Mine, pity like the pity of God.” Millay’s haunted
and haunting stanzas conjure the scary promises that poetry might offer access to, or come from,
other worlds. But accessing such worlds comes with the price of internment, entombment, and
death. Once in the grave, and without anything to sense, see, or hear, Millay’s speaker falls
into imagination, conjuring the world “multi-colored, multiform.” From those extremes of
indirect and direct experience, a truce is arranged. God enters as the moderator, keeping
boundaries at bay and souls together.

God might be one word for this intermediate agent, poetry another. After all, that final stanza
seems as much a scene of writing as theological landscaping: the repeated allusion to hands—both
in “on either hand” and in sensory verbs such as push and pinch—suggests that the act of writing
may be the activity on the forefront of Millay’s mind. That desire—to touch the source of beauty,
truth, nature, and the infinite—lurks behind many of Millay’s lyrics, and it’s the motor powering
the poem that rocketed her to renown; it’s also the reason “Renascence” could seem in the end to
be a religious poem. If religion offers the hope that God, as a healing agent, might do away with
the sense of distance from our own experiences, making us feel whole by offering us the right kind
of element through which to feel, Millay’s poem suggests that poetry can do something similar.
This isn’t so much un-mediated experience—the uncomfortable immediacy of the first sections—but
properly mediated experience. Poetry might help us find the right kinds of distance or illuminate
how boundaries between our selves and our worlds might not be so bad after all.

It seems fitting, then, that “Renascence,” a poem about immediacy and mediation, has its own
fascinating, and fascinatingly apt, media history. The communication theorist Marshall McLuhan
made famous the idea that “the medium is the message”—the notion that the content of a message,
or its meaning, is bound up with how it is expressed. This seems to be the case with the poem
that made Millay famous. The poem’s history offers a window onto the ways the mediums of print and
performance affect people differently. “Renascence” was first published in 1912 because of a new
type of poetry prize: Millay sent the poem and a few others to New York publisher Mitchell
Kennerley’s anthology The Lyric Year, which advertised $1,000 in cash prizes to the three best
poems of the year and publication to 100 others. Critics responded warmly to the idea of the
anthology, though not to the prize results. “Renascence” failed to earn anything but an honorable
mention. In an outcry difficult to imagine happening now, major poetry critics responded to Millay
’s slighting in print. In a New York Times review, a founder and officer of the Poetry Society of
America named Jessie Rittenhouse devoted a whole paragraph to Millay’s poem, arguing for its
“freshness of first view.” Witter Bynner, Arthur Davison Ficke, and Louis Untermeyer also weighed
in, making Millay one of the most talked-about young poets of her day. > ........................

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
08-25-2015, 05:56 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/250662

PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
Drift and Pop: On Writing about W.S. Graham
BY JOHN WILKINSON
What is it to go into an abstracted state? When I find myself abstracted 
or lose myself in abstraction, my self blurs at its boundaries but nonetheless retains a capacity, an enhanced capacity to accept whatever comes across. Memories, freaks, phrases, and passing thoughts escape judgment as to whether they deserve retaining. Even if they hover and unravel trains of thought, they do not cancel or dislodge anything already contained or passing through this elastic “abstract scene.” Contradictions and other dissonance which would become jarring if sentience rose to active reaching, can coexist so long as the mind stays abstracted. What sustains such abstraction may be constitutional, environmental, or even economic. Woolgathering ... (Here I go) transhumant shepherds ... Cornish downpour ... 

Let me pause and drift a little as in the automatism of reaching for a cigarette. In such a sentence, between intentionality and its abjuring, my “I” has been minimally embodied, even while an act deploys according to script. I hesitate (for to hesitate is entailed in some kinds of abstraction) to choose whether I situate my abstraction inside or outside, whether the “me” is dispersed within my abstraction 
or merely a point roaming it, or if I am a psychic skin surrounding it, or what fades at its extremities. Or is the uninterrupted nexus of automatic behaviors: breathing, walking, reaching, what reflection, always belated, comes to acknowledge as the self? What then abstracts? Is abstraction consciousness released from the automaton? Something outside or something within? Imagining a cigarette break, the smoker I once was tells me abstraction can be learnt — or relearnt, since so much of childhood is abstracted or its negative, bored.

Until recently, the garden I look on from an upstairs window as I write had been little more than a backdrop I glanced at or walked through, a present pleasure scarcely noticed, and if I paused outside, it would be to crop an herb, or sometimes in early autumn to gather apples, pears, medlars, damsons, or plums. But I am woolgathering in an English idiom. Abstraction and pastoral have an affinity in England. In autumn the abstract garden gives way to use-value, to selective picking, although some purposeful activities can trigger an abstracted state — a woman pauses with an apple halfway to her mouth, or stands with her hand resting on a fork as she listens to an attendant robin.

A different yield of plums distinguishes the years, but I shall find it hard to remember what flowers flourished or were disappointing this year, to predict which return with a certain season, or even to identify what was planted recently and where. The garden’s visual 
intricacy offers a welcome depth for my study window, and sometimes wildlife is noticed in its seasonal passage: migrant birds, the dragonflies and damselflies, squirrels, and an infrequent muntjac deer. The cooing of wood pigeons makes for a persistent background noise by day; but there are no bats at twilight this year, perhaps nearby building work has dislodged them or they have been afflicted by a fungal disease. I have become late middle-aged. And I admit a marshy bleakness is more typical of an English summer than my bucolic fantasy. Although I am woolgathering, wooly clouds can be sharp-edged with sun setting behind them. It is possible to remain abstracted and nonetheless reflect; these mental states can dress themselves to coincide. That’s where I am. The turning of abstraction like a crystalline and involuted space, set in motion by birdsong, or a continent away by jazz leaking from an apparently vacant warehouse in Brooklyn, coexists with flashes of insight, sidelong links, assessments of risk and practical decisions — although these may be carried out by that embodiment of autonomic and learned behavior others give the name 
I bear. Abstraction might comport with habit. Abstraction and reflection in lockstep.

Now it is twilight and there is a poem I am called upon to read, a poem calls on me to read it. How can a poem call from its perfected internal space? How could my being here for this poem have been anticipated in its advent? This is a poem I have read many times because I wanted to or because professionally I had to, a poem I have talked about in classrooms and informally, a poem my wife read at a celebration of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s life on September 26, 2009, as a little program folded into my book and bearing Eve’s face reminds me. At my sister’s funeral in 2012 I read a few lines from a poem by the same poet. This aquamarine book of his New Collected Poems feels eventful in itself, collecting my reading of these poems over three decades, if not in this particular edition; it accumulates too my reading of other poets who have felt close to this poet, his friends and contemporaries, or those drawn close through later discovering this work as I did. In a state of professional reading, I could scrutinize each word and its relations with surrounding words, both within the particular poem and across a wider range, searching out tracks others have left through their records of reading. I could listen intently and might sound aloud some lines. I could read with others in a class. And if engaged in inquiry I might seek earlier versions of the same poem, thinking how it has changed and why, or thinking what writing on poetics might extend the scope and heft of these poems, enriching, contesting, exemplifying.

But for now I hover about questions of time and space. The spaces this book constructs are bleak, beautiful, and rock-obstructed in a way unique to a landscape the poet dwelt in, even while its spaces 
are drawn toward “pure” abstraction. When I incline to write about the scope of these poems, inclination goes beyond metaphor to the landscape I shared with my sister in childhood. Although my feelings about the poems are intimate, they are experienced by a 
person coexisting with the person who eats, works in his study, and suffers the loss of those he loves. It is the I which is another whom this poem entreats. Scope, for this person brought into being in its space, sends tense cables and grapples and sinews through the medium bringing him to life, and as he reads he feels reconfigured, as though by the dragged vertices of a psychical simulation in 3-D modeling. Such scope does somewhat envisage a Scottish poet in his Penwith peninsula ordinariness, encountered in these poems where he fetches coal and blags drinks, but more urgently entreats me into being from across the page where the poet writes; Graham scratches or taps like a prisoner hoping to hear an answering tap as the start of a communicative code. The time of these New Collected Poems by W.S. Graham may be variously the poet’s and mine and others’ in its details and waymarks, such as the seasonal flowers; but it is also abstract in its swiftness, its suspension, its gathering and its dispersal, abstract in its disclosures. Still, I fear I shall betray this poem, as I open my professional armamentarium. Can my reading still be interlaced with abstraction, can I leave off for a moment, look away from the page in honoring a bidding that commands my attention down toward the poem’s narrowest interstices? Pausing in a caesura I feel the song again, opening beyond boundaries; attention opens into abstraction.



Last summer with the previous paragraph I stopped, and now resume in a wet and mild winter, with the improbable blossom of a winter-flowering cherry in the foreground of my gaze. That is what there is to it, a tree commands attention and releases it. I hear the surprisingly violent crepitation of a woodpecker at work beyond the next garden. It is time to write about “Dear Bryan Wynter” by W.S. Graham, this poem I have looked at through the seasons, a poem not addressed to me but, its title announces, to a painter. I recall this poem was written 
soon after the painter’s death in 1975. Memory of an involuntary kind is characteristic of abstraction, a feature separating it from a meditative discipline of “emptying”; how far though can concentration and external reference be tolerated by abstraction, without puncturing the reverie? (Is abstraction a return to being held in a maternal reverie? Is a fact a thorn?) Can abstraction permit a systolic-diastolic rhythm, an expansion and contraction?

I am not yet ready to write about this poem. Fortunately I recall this was not the first time Graham addressed Wynter in a poem (or seemed to), and I shall write about “Dear Bryan Wynter” after finding a way of approaching through an earlier poem. And rather than saying I shall “write about” a poem by W.S. Graham, I shall write toward the poem. I can zero in on what I wish to say, although that may change as I go along, through an indirect route resembling a direct address to objectified texts, an exercise in close reading. Here, though, reading aims to comprise a practice toward, a set of gestures of recognition abstracted and refigured in the interest of .............................................

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
08-26-2015, 07:20 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2015/04/twilight-of-the-mind-toward-a-poetics-of-interpellation/

Twilight of the Mind: Toward a Poetics of Interpellation
BY PHILP JENKS

Twilight
revisiting a prior version of this (see GutCult *8)
It isn’t exactly as Spicer said that “most things happen at twilight,” but is where the most productive natal spaces are located. It is here that the most interesting interpellations happen and what I hope poetry can be. I don’t want to be front and center, nor do I want to be obliterated. This space between is not-I, nor Thou, but is the space between. It is here that we re-call and re-cover what was/was not. Yes, there is a time and place for individuation and the abyss of night, but it is in relation to the world, between one and another that remembrance takes place. And when it does and is voiced as a beginning into more than what was there before, then this is where some of the greatest work is done. The neither subject nor object, nor neither attunes the body’s relationship to the world—and in so doing produces new experiences with one part of the body while recording those experiences with another. That chiasmic relationship is fundamentally connected to love for me. A poem can sing and sign, but if there is no love of the world or some world, it’s going to strike me as stale.
I’ve vexed on this subject for more hours, countless cups of coffee, heated complaints to the wall (and I fear, my neighbor by proxy), and two monumental efforts of procrastination. One of them involved trying to listen to all of my music from A – Z while the other was the decision to run my first marathon and actually train for it. As a smoker with 1000+ albums, finishing either task is demanding at best. I would fluster at the thought of saying what I think—and for that matter have never been one to venture to explain what this or that line of my writing “means” to me. I could tell you what I didn’t like, but to let you in on who or what I do like, that is frightening. Why? I may tell if you ask me. Ultimately, a loving relationship to an embodied world that sings and signs is what makes me leap and freak out. My incomplete list is long and comprises a generalist approach to poetics. The move is toward “inclusion” not strategically, but because inclusion opens into space, our wide faces. Some of what I would call poetry of twilight includes everyone mentioned above at some juncture, Elizabeth Treadwell, Johnson, Paul Blackburn, Ponge, Donne, Leslie Scalapino, Rilke, Rosmarie Waldrop, Creeley, Robin Blaser, Whitman, Anna Akhmataova, Forrest Gander, Baraka, Duncan, Mackey, Stein, Larry Eigner, Susan Howe, Sappho, Peter O’Leary, Maya Angelou, John Giorno, Michael Smith, Stein, Cavafy, Mallarme, Hölderlin, Cesaire, Kerouac and Snyder. The thing about poetry for me is that it is plenitude, has so many entry points for revelation that constriction to one school is sad, really. Much of the best verse in the United States isn’t coming from the academy, but from the world of music. Art Lange and Nathaniel Mackey’s anthology, Moment’s Notice: Jazz in Poetry & Prose moves significantly toward this. Still, if it is written (or sung) and laid down into recorded form with instrumentation, perhaps the most vibrant “vernacular” (and not so) verse from hip-hop to ? is often ignored. Grandmaster Flash crafts as much of a time in “The Message” and does so with all the standard markings of “poetry” as Ginsberg did with “Howl.”
What these writers share is a certain adhesion to and in the world/s. As Merleau-Ponty notes, that adhesion comes between or at the joints of self/other/world. This chiasm and a careful attuned attendance to it is a vital space, characterized by humility. If humbled before it, then “it” will get the care that the text and world deserves. Paul Blackburn’s “The Net of Place” embodies everything I hope to accomplish in my work.
I turn back to the Rockies, to the
valley swinging East, Glenwood to Aspen, up
the pass, it is the darkest night the hour before dawn,
Orion, old Hunter, with whom
I may never make peace again, swings
just over the horizon at 5 o’clock
as I walk . The mountains fade into light
[…]
It is
An intricate dance
to turn & say goodbye
to the hills we live in the presence of .
When mind dies of its time
It is not the place goes away .
I couldn’t, haven’t, and will never say it better. But, that’s not the point. It’s the charged and natal plenitude of what and who and where “we live in the presence.”

Tags: Aimé Césaire, chiasm, Dan McNaughton, Duncan McNaughton, Elizabeth Treadwell, Gary Snyder, Grandmaster Flash, GutCult, Holderlin, Io Mcnaughton, Jack Kerouac, John Donne, John Giorno, Kevin Killian, Larry Eigner, Mary Barnard, Maya Angelou, Merleau-Ponty, Michael Smith, Nathaniel Mackey, National Poetry Month 2015, Paul Blackburn, Poetry, Ponge, Robin Blaser, Sappho, Susan Howe, The Message, Treadwell
Posted in Featured Blogger on Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 by Philp Jenks.

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
08-28-2015, 10:43 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/250120


ESSAY
Snow Days
From flurries to relentless storms, why snow makes American poetry American.

BY STEPHEN BURT

Snow got you down? Maybe poetry can help—or, at the least, if you live in the part of the United States pummeled by snowstorms over the past few weeks, maybe the poets can bring you back to aspects of snow that aren’t about plows or school closings. “Snow is to water what poetry is to prose,” writes the historian Bernard Mergen in Snow in America. Snow may have been like poetry—beautiful, often impractical, different each time—since time immemorial, but there was not much snow in English-language poetry for centuries: Great Britain got snow (especially in the 18th century, the so-called “Little Ice Age”), but never as much as New England (let alone Minneapolis or Buffalo). Renaissance and Augustan poets could make it a metaphor (“O that I were a mockery king of snow!” exclaims Shakespeare’s Richard II), but they rarely described or enjoyed it for its own sake: James Thomson’s “Winter,” from The Seasons (1750), portrays “one wild dazzling waste, that buries wide / The works of man.” When Thomson tries to admire winter weather, he praises not snowflakes or snowdrifts but crisp ice and frost. British Romantic poets liked snow a lot more—Percy Bysshe Shelley, who had seen a lot of snow in the Swiss Alps, explains why in this poem:

I love snow, and all the forms
Of the radiant frost;
I love waves, and winds, and storms,
Everything almost
Which is Nature’s, and may be
Untainted by man’s misery.
No wonder, then, that when the residents of the United States of America tried to distinguish their poems from those of Great Britain, some of them seized on the snow. Nineteenth-century writers, says Mergen, saw snow as a test of “moral and physical fitness,” as well as a way to “mirror Yankee character.” When Emily Dickinson wrote the line “I see—New Englandly,” she meant that it would not be winter, for her, “without the Snow’s Tableau.” In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The Snow-Storm,” snow is a kind of Romantic poet, remaking simple New England farms and fences into elaborate shapes, then leaving human beings “[t]o mimic in slow structures, stone by stone, / Built in an age, the mad wind's night-work, / The frolic architecture of the snow.”

Emerson’s poem supplied the epigraph to John Greenleaf Whittier’s 1866 “Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl,” widely taught—and recited—in schools for a century. My mother’s parents used to read it aloud when snow closed her school for the day. Whittier’s snow makes a New England farmstead exotic:

The old familiar sights of ours
Took marvellous shapes; strange domes and towers
Rose up where sty or corn-crib stood,
Or garden-wall, or belt of wood;
A smooth white mound the brush-pile showed,
A fenceless drift what once was road;
The bridle-post an old man sat
With loose-flung coat and high cocked hat;
The well-curb had a Chinese roof;
And even the long sweep, high aloof,
In its slant splendor, seemed to tell
Of Pisa’s leaning miracle.
Stuck indoors for a week, the Whittiers do puzzles, play games, and tell stories about New England and Quaker history. Whittier’s snowstorm scares children during the night, with “the shrieking of the mindless wind”— but when the sun comes up his family stays warm, and stays together, thanks to the “hearth-fire’s ruddy glow.”

Whittier was known, before the Civil War, for his poems against slavery, and “Snow-bound” preserves his Abolitionist sentiments, praying that “Freedom’s young apostles” can “[u]plift the black and white alike.” For later readers, though, the poet’s politics could disappear behind his snow-white images and Anglo-Saxon cast: poet and scholar Angela Sorby writes that “Snow-Bound” satisfied postbellum “longing for a simpler, more rustic, more intimate, more democratic, and whiter America.”

Snow can signify racial whiteness, or white supremacy, for African American poets today. Consider Thylias Moss’s response to Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” entitled “Interpretation of a Poem by Frost”: Moss’s young girl, “her face eternally the brown / of declining autumn,” goes into the white woods and finds, not Frost, but “Jim Crow.” She watches “snow inter the grass, / cling to bark making it seem indecisive / about race preference, a fast-to-melt idealism”: the intricacies of literary interpretation can obscure the white privilege still present in literary scenes. But Moss’s girl has her own “promises to keep”:

the promise that she bear Jim no bastards,
the promise to her face that it not be mistaken as shadow,
and miles to go, more than the distance from Africa to Andover,
more than the distance from black to white
before she sleeps with Jim.
Moss taught for years at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, an elite and historically WASPy prep school.

Terrance Hayes’s take on snowy whiteness interrogates Wallace Stevens, the author of “The Snow Man,” who famously made at least a few racist remarks. Hayes’s “Snow for Wallace Stevens” sees the modernist poet’s involuted, introverted, meditative work as part of his “snowed-in life”: “This song is for the wise man who avenges / by building his city in snow,” Hayes writes, quoting the last line of Stevens’s long poem “Like Decorations in a Nigger Cemetery.”

American poetry, like American history, cannot be separated from race and racism. Yet poetry by white Americans (Stevens among them) has given Hayes materials and techniques for his own self-aware and intricate poems:

I too, having lost faith
in language, have placed my faith in language.
Thus, I have a capacity for love without
forgiveness. This song is for my foe,
the clean-shaven, gray-suited, gray patron
of Hartford, the emperor of whiteness
blue as a body made of snow.
Hayes looks more closely at snow than Stevens did (or so Hayes’s poem implies). Packed snow in cold light, which stands for Stevens’s America, is not entirely white (as in white privilege) but permeated by blue (as in the blues).

Snow in Alaska—especially for Native Alaskan poets—can take on meanings foreign to the Lower 48. For dg nanouk okpik, snowfall belongs to a ritual of renewal:

The smell of wormwood,
fresh snow
on beach greens,
like a place name,
from a hand-scribed map.
For okpik, as for other 21st-century Inupiaq and Inuit poets such as Joan Kane and Cathy Tagnak Rexford, falling snow is one aspect, and not the most important aspect, of the larger hydrological features—permafrost, “a freshwater glacier,” “shelf ice,” “glacial resin,” slush and open water—that have supported native cultures for centuries, but may no longer work as they did. In the title poem from Kane’s Hyperboreal, she watches “the last snowmelt, a tricklet into mud, ulterior,” then contemplates “a glacier’s heart of milk” amid the threat of climate change: “June really isn’t June anymore, / Is it?”

Earlier American poets found melancholy in snow for other reasons. In Randall Jarrell’s poems “Windows” (1955), “Quarried from snow, the dark walks lead to doors / That are dark and closed”: Jarrell’s lonely pedestrian watches the snowbound houses—some of them lit from within by a TV—and feels cut off from the families inside. “The windowed ones within their windowy world / Move past me without doubt and for no reason … If only I were they!” The traveler in Frost’s “Stopping by Woods,” on the other hand, with “miles to go before I sleep,” may not even want to go home; enticed by the “dark and deep” forest, he may want instead to get lost forever. The brightly familiar rhymes belie the equally Frostian terrors underneath.

Frost learned a lot from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, naming his first book, A Boy’s Will, after a Longfellow poem. Both poets became very popular in their own day, both depicted New England winters over and over, and both wrote poems that look like celebrations of cold weather but—seen close-up—hold tears. Longfellow’s great sonnet “The Cross of Snow” compared his own heart, after the death of his wife, to a forever-snowy, never-sunlit mountain crevasse in Colorado. He chose not to publish that poem during his lifetime, but he did publish the often-reprinted “Snow-flakes,” in which snow holds

the secret of despair,
Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
Now whispered and revealed
To wood and field.

Because they melt fast, and because they at least seem unique, and because—if you grew up reading “Snow-Bound” or throwing snowballs—they connote childhood, snowflakes can also represent nostalgia. That is how William Matthews regarded the mild precipitation in his finest poem, “Spring Snow,” where “childhood doesn’t end / but accumulates” and memories, after a death, disperse “in flecks, like dust, like flour, like snow.” Accumulating and vanishing (either melted or plowed away), snow represents both erasure and memory, the wispy past and the emptiness of................................

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
08-29-2015, 08:50 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/250242

ESSAY
First Loves
A formative moment, fixed in poets’ minds.

BY LYNN MELNICK AND BRETT FLETCHER LAUER

The Goodwill near Hollywood in the late ’80s was filled with outdated lampshades, corny figurines, and myriad mugs. It was also where, for 50 cents each, one of us—Lynn, to be specific—purchased The American Poetry Anthology, edited by Daniel Halpern, and Dancing on the Grave of a Son of a Bitch, by Diane Wakoski. As for Brett, he didn’t have to search the used-book bins; when he began writing poetry as a teenager, his older brother sent home volumes from college: Sharon Olds’s Satan Says, Mark Strand’s Selected Poems, and the poetry anthology Walk on the Wild Side.

Years later, when the two of us were talking about our early discoveries, it became apparent how much these collections had provided a gateway for us into the world of contemporary poetry. It was with the hope of providing a similarly exhilarating experience to emerging readers and poets that we compiled our anthology Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation.

In editing, we felt it was important not just to bring contemporary poems to a younger audience but to bring contemporary poets to a younger audience. So much of the poetry taught in schools is written by long-dead poets, and we wanted the readers to get to know the poets as real people, with real, 21st-century lives.

To that end, we sent a questionnaire to all 100 poets included in the anthology, and we included excerpts of their answers in the biographical notes of the book. (You can view them in their entirety here.) We asked the poets questions such as “What is your favorite word?” and “What is the natural talent you would most like to have?” (One-third of the poets listed “singing.”)

For us, though, the most compelling answers were to the question “What was the first poem you read and loved?” For poets, this question seems to recall other first questions they might find themselves asked by a friend: Do you remember your first kiss, or the first concert you attended? It is a formative moment, fixed in poets’ minds, and each tells a story.

We realized that the poets’ answers to this question created a persuasive list for further reading, what we began to call a “shadow anthology.” The following is an edited selection of the responses we received on first-poetry loves, from what we consider to be some of the most exciting poets writing today.


Srikanth Reddy
I probably read a lot of poems before I ever fell in love with one—you’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs, as they say—but I do remember the first poem that rocked my world: “Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock” by Wallace Stevens. I’ll never forget that drunk and dreaming sailor at the end.

Jennifer Chang
One of the first poems I found and loved was in a book my grandfather left behind in our house, The World’s Best Poems, edited by Mark Van Doren, which I now keep on my office bookshelves. I was a gloomy little girl of about 11 or 12 and, upon reading that old book, went just crazy for Heinrich Heine, particularly the last stanza of “Mein Kind, Wir Waren Kinder”: “The children’s games are over, / The rest is over with youth— / The world, the good games, the good times, / The belief, and the love, and the truth.” I swooned over this gloomiest of poems and underlined those particular lines repeatedly, as if that would make the words spring to life.

Timothy Donnelly
The first poems I remember loving were among the things I read in high school English class: poems by Dickinson, Keats, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (if that counts); Stevens’s “Sunday Morning” and Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and The Waste Land. Later on I read Baudelaire, Plath, Rimbaud, and Sexton on my own, as well as other Stevens poems, including “Jasmine’s Beautiful Thoughts Underneath the Willow,” the first poem whose hold on me was so powerful I felt like I must have written it myself.

Hafizah Geter
The first two books of poetry I ever owned were Been to Yesterdays: Poems of a Life, by Lee Bennett Hopkins, and a collection of Langston Hughes’s poems for children, Don’t You Turn Back. My mother was always reading Langston Hughes to my sister and me, and she would assign us poems from that book to memorize. At six I was reciting “My People,” and my sister, “Mother to Son,” for family friends. Been to Yesterdays was the first book of poems I ever picked out for myself. I remember staying up late at night and reading it under the covers with a flashlight. The experience of those two books is where I began as a writer. They’ve come with me on every move and are two of my most important possessions.

Dorothea Lasky
Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I know it is technically a work of fiction, but it reads like a poem to me. I remember staying up one night when I was 10 to read it for the first time and feeling very proud by the time the morning sun arrived that I had finished. The images have stuck with me all my life. Then, years later, at age 15, I first read Sylvia Plath’s “Fever 103°” and I thought: “I want to write poems like this!”

Mark Bibbins
When I was 12 or 13 I saw some E.E. Cummings poems and that was that—their weirdness was something that has sustained and challenged me ever since.

Erika L. Sanchez
I first became enamored with poetry when my sixth-grade teacher had us read Edgar Allan Poe. I was a fairly lonely and depressed 12-year-old, so Poe’s dark and gloomy poems really spoke to me. I specifically remember reading the poem “Alone,” and my first thought was something like “Wow! This creepy guy really understands me!”

Shane Book
The first poems I remember reading were “Alligator Pie” by Dennis Lee and Robert Service’s “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” though perhaps it was actually my father who read them to me while I stared at the black marks on the pages, saying the words a half-second after he did, a little echo curled into him on the couch. I do recall spending every spare waking moment for what seemed like a week but could have been a month, reading Homer’s Iliad and somewhere near the end of the book being stoked to find out there was a sequel and that it was called The Odyssey. Lying on my bed, in this two-minute break between ending one book-length epic poem and starting another I was seized by a feeling, a strange mixture of anxiety and adrenaline.

Adrian Matejka
Other than almost everything in Where the Sidewalk Ends, the first poem I loved was Etheridge Knight’s “Feeling Fucked Up.” I didn’t know poetry permitted cursing. More than that, it was the first time I felt like I got a poem.

Ben Lerner
My mom taught me “The Purple Cow” when I was very little. I loved it and the tragic story of the poet who could never outrun the fame of his nonsense verse, no matter how seriously he wanted to be taken.

CAConrad
I grew up in rural America, where everyone worked in factories and didn’t read much. As a result books, especially poetry books, were hard to come by, but Emily Dickinson was on our local library’s shelf. I fell in love with her poems, and remain in love with them. Don’t listen to any of the stories you will hear about Dickinson being a sad, wilting lily hiding in her Amherst house writing her sad poems. She was courageous! It’s simply not possible to have centuries of poetry come up to your doorstep and reject it all and write something new, and not be absolutely courageous. Emily Dickinson is my American hero.

Metta Sáma
My dad had about a thousand pens imprinted with the last two lines of “Invictus” by the poet William Ernest Henley: “I am the master of my fate; / I am the captain of my soul.” My memory tells me that he added the phrase “By God’s grace,” but that could be a false memory, something to do with having so much of my young life in and about church. Those lines have followed me around my entire life; it was the only poetry (or snippet of poetry) we had in our house, and I both loved and hated the lines. Loved them because, of course, they inspire us to be individual, to control as much of our destiny as we can. Somehow, having the words trapped on pens, particularly those pens with the eraser tops, the heavy tip, the heavier ink, that stayed stored in my father’s drawer, made me question what, exactly, “fate” and “soul” were, for my father, for myself, for this writer whose name I did not know, but whose words my father, beyond the pens, said to us. It was the first time in my (very very young) life that I understood the true nature of words: they are stored in our blood, scratched into our bones; our taste buds are words; fingerprints, words.
Originally Published: March 11, 2015

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
08-30-2015, 10:56 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/249164

ESSAY
The Writing Class
On privilege, the AWP-industrial complex, and why poetry doesn’t seem to matter.

BY JASWINDER BOLINA


These are some of the ways my immigrant parents survived recessions, layoffs, and the disappearance of entire industries from the U.S. economy. This is how they earned, saved, and invested enough to move us into a brick split-level house with a two-and-a-half-car garage in the suburbs by the time I started secondary school. Though my father clocked into the same hydraulics parts plant as a machinist for more than a decade and my mother did data entry for an hourly wage at a financial publishing company, they could afford to buy me a set of encyclopedias and an Apple computer. They could pay for tennis lessons and give me a stereo system with a CD player and a double-cassette deck. They could send me to the private academy instead of the public high school.

This is how I lived a socioeconomic reality almost entirely separate from theirs. While my parents scrimped and stressed daily as part of the working classes, I went to a school with honors societies, study abroad programs, and AP courses. I went to college. I managed to turn my philosophy major into a high-paying job at a software startup south of Silicon Valley. Higher education had kept its promise of onward and upward mobility, which seemed easy enough in the bloated turn-of-the-century tech economy. Still, after less than six months at the startup, I decided to apply to MFA programs in creative writing. This didn’t make sense to my mother and father. Though we were far removed from the ragged apartments of my childhood, their class consciousness remained rooted in those earlier struggles. It told them we weren’t the kind of people who did certain kinds of things. Abandoning a salaried job with stock options for a graduate degree offering little hope of future employment or reliable income was chief among these, but I liked the integrity in my plan. If a degree in poetry dumped me into bohemian poverty, I thought, so be it. At least I was being earnest in my pursuit. I was that kind of people.



My father wrote his share of poems in high school in India. He still recites verses—though never his own—in Punjabi on occasional late evenings. My mother, the daughter of a schoolteacher and at the top of her high school class in a village not far from my father’s, could probably recite a few herself. Poetry wasn’t a bad idea in the abstract to either of them. It might even be a noble pursuit, but it also seemed a thing better left to the children of the wealthy than to the son of working-class immigrants. To their minds, being a poet wasn’t a job. They still felt too near the keen edge of hardship to see me follow so precarious a career path. I didn’t see the danger.

I don’t think I entirely understood that it was the economic advantage they had worked and paid for that permitted me to be so brazen. If I’d been anything other than a protected spectator during my parents’ lean years, if I didn’t have their income and savings for a safety net during and after college, I probably would have stuck with that startup or some other bleary office job. Economists and accountants might make raw distinctions between the classes based on objective metrics such as net worth or income—the 1 percent versus the 99 percent, for instance—but class consciousness might be better defined by the kinds of choices we feel permitted to make. Where the working classes are regularly forced to take pragmatic action out of necessity, the privileged are allowed to act on desire. My parents’ money, modest as it was and still is, did more than pay for the things I needed. It allowed me to want things they couldn’t afford to want themselves.

There isn’t anything inherently bratty about this. It is, after all, what class mobility is meant to accomplish in the too few places such a thing is even possible. The brat is born when the privileged mistakenly believe that we somehow earned and deserve the socioeconomic and structural advantages granted to us by the fluke or fortune of family, gender, race, sexual preference, religion, education, or national origin. To suffer from that delusion is a mostly personal problem. It becomes a problem for everybody else when the privileged also believe that the things we’re permitted to want are necessary or superior to what somebody else wants, when we believe our desires should be respected and even admired by those who don’t share in our advantage.

I don’t know that I ever suffered from cluelessness quite so severe as that. I did believe my dream of a life in poetry to be pure, to be something apart from socioeconomics. My concerns were artistic concerns, I thought, my acceptance of bohemianism an earnest embrace of the artist’s life. The contradiction is that those concerns, however sincere, led me to graduate school. The desire to write and publish poetry leads a lot of us there, which is all well and good, but there’s nothing bohemian about it. Quite the opposite, Western postgraduate education has historically been one of our culture’s most prominent expressions of upper-class privilege. The fact that grad programs in creative writing exist at all is testament to the remarkable abundance of collective, institutional wealth in the United States. Those of us who are able to attend these programs can do so only as beneficiaries of certain structural advantages that are required simply to walk through their gates. Latter-day versions of my parents, meaning those who might appreciate poetry but lack college degrees or the time and resources to spend on graduate schooling, can’t join us there.

This might be acceptable in the context of professional fields such as medicine, business, and law, but poetry is supposed to be an art, which means it should at least attempt to represent the society in which it’s produced. It can’t fully do this if its primary mode of production inherently excludes large swaths of the population. The risk of such exclusions is that they limit the variety and appeal of the kind of writing produced in graduate programs. Nearly every complaint about contemporary poetry in the United States, whether in reference to the lack of diversity among those publishing it or to its opacity or to the very credibility of the genre itself, is rooted in this basic dynamic.



I wanted to write poetry. I didn’t need a graduate degree to do this. Nobody does. But graduate programs in creative writing offer a two- to five-year respite from that other life working long hours in restaurants, bars, factories, or offices. We’re given time and money—no matter how brief and how paltry—to focus almost exclusively on our art, which is no small advantage over everyone else writing on the fringes of a 40-or-more-hour workweek. For many of us, that advantage is supplemented by financial support from parents, partners, and spouses along the way. Added to this is the immaterial benefit of receiving feedback on our writing from published faculty and invested classmates, which helps us refine our poems toward publication—an achievement that might finally give us the satisfaction we’re all after to begin with.

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
08-30-2015, 11:13 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/249164

Concluding from previous link and post--Tyr




As for poetry itself, it’s possible that more people are writing, reading, performing, and
publishing it today than at any other point in human history. If, in spite of this, our work
doesn’t seem to bring enough refreshment to readers outside of our industry, if so many feel
disconnected from both, it probably isn’t because their desire for the poetic mode of
expression has gone away. It’s more likely because they can’t afford our version of it.
They don’t have the same time and money some of us have had to invest in it. Our poems, then,
become a thing like that $2 houseplant my parents waged their small war over. Neither is an
object anybody needs. Either can be ignored when more vital concerns loom large. Yet people
want them still. Open-mic nights and slams that take place daily across the country stand as
proof of the desire for poetry. Beyond these, millions turn to the lyrics of singer-songwriters
and hip-hop artists for experiences in verse. The complaint among the poetry-is-dead set is
that too few of those people ever turn to us certified, bona fide poets of the AWP.

If we want to bring those critics and those masses to our poems, if we want poetry to matter
to those outside our classrooms and conference halls—and there may be some poets who don’t;
bully for them—then those others, their lives and their language, have to matter to us first.
The only way they will is if we disrupt the culture of privilege that insulates us. And we
need to disrupt it, not for our egoistic desire for a larger audience, but for the sake of
our art. The only job of the poet is to destabilize and expand language. This is how poetry
changes the world—not by grand ambition or the lauding of critics. It takes the plodding,
unending effort of many to alter line by line, phrase by phrase, word by word the way we
describe ourselves and everything around us. This is how we change perception. This is how we
change the mind. We can’t do it while isolated by our privilege. There are too few of us.
Our language is too limited. We need more words. We need more than ourselves and each other.
We need every broke shoulder to the wheel.

Originally Published: November 12, 2014

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
09-02-2015, 10:09 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/249062

PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
The Medium of the English Language
BY JAMES LONGENBACH

The Medium of the English Language
BY JAMES LONGENBACH
The medium of Giorgione’s Tempest is “oil on canvas”; the medium of Robert Rauschenberg’s Bed is “oil and pencil on pillow, quilt, and sheet.” Descriptions of a work of art’s medium seem to tell us everything and nothing, for our entire experience of art is dependent upon the artist’s intimacy with the medium, and yet the medium itself may seem weirdly mundane, especially when the artist harnesses everyday materials like a sheet. In the nineteenth century, the stuff from which art is made came to be called the medium because for hundreds of years the word had referred to something that acts as an intermediary, a piece of money or a messenger. The artistic medium enables a transaction between the artist and the world, and, over time, the history of those transactions has become inextricable from the medium as such, an inherited set of conventions. It’s not coincidental that it was also in the nineteenth century that the word medium was first used to describe a person who conducts a séance, a person who exists simultaneously in the worlds of the living and the dead.

Lots of people sleep on sheets. Very few people handle oil paint as provocatively as Rauschenberg, and even fewer deploy sheets as a way of forging a transaction between the interior space of the mind and the exterior space of the world, a transaction that gives other people, the audience, an enticing and sometimes puzzling way of rethinking their own relationship to those spaces. Members of the audience may draw a little, they may have a fine sense of color, but they respect the transaction that the artistic medium does not simply record but presents as a unique and enduring act in time. Sometimes, however, when the sheer otherness of the medium is foregrounded at the expense of a conventional signal of the artist’s mind at work, they don’t respect the transaction, in part because the artist doesn’t covet such respect: how can art be something made of a bed sheet?

How can art be something made of words, the same words used for newspapers and parking tickets? Unlike the media most commonly associated with visual and sonic artistry, words are harnessed by most people during almost every waking moment of their lives; they’re more like bed sheets than like oil paint or the notes of the diatonic scale. Even small children are skilled manipulators of language, 
capable of detecting and repeating the most subtle nuances of intonation and tone: how swiftly we learn that by shifting the accent from one syllable to the other, the two-syllable word “contract” can be either a noun referring to a kind of agreement (“contract”) or a verb meaning either to acquire or constrict (“contract”). But while children rarely confuse such words when they’re speaking, children don’t write the poems of Shakespeare or the novels of Henry James, and neither do most adults. We may sustain an easy mastery of language in our daily lives, but once we engage language as an artistic medium, that mastery is never secure: our relationship to language is constantly changing as we discover aspects of the medium that our prior failures and, more potently, our prior successes had occluded.

My medium is not language at large but the English language. When I was young I took this for granted, but over the years I’ve become increasingly conscious of the qualities shared by poems because they’re written in English, rather than Italian or French. I’m not fluent in those languages; while I’ve lived for a time in Italy, where my children attended Italian school, I spent much of that time sitting at a desk, trying to write poems in English. But my lack of fluency heightened my awareness of my medium. Living in Florence, I was incapable of taking my mastery of  language for granted, and this incapacity not only reared its head when I was speaking broken Italian to our landlord; it infected my relationship to English, demanding that I hear the medium of the English language in particular ways, ways in which it has also been heard before. In Italian, the word for what we call a landlord is proprietario, just as in French it is propriétaire. And while those languages contain no version of the word landlord, a typically Germanic compound noun, the English language does contain the Latinate word proprietor: when we savor these possibilities, we are (as the meanings of the word medium suggest) undertaking a complex negotiation with the dead.

Every language has different registers of diction, but the English language comes by those registers in a particular way, one that reflects 
the entire history of the language. Unlike the romance languages, which were derived from the Latin spread throughout Italy, France, and Spain during the Roman Empire, English descended independently from German. Old English, the language of the eighth- or ninth-century poem we call “The Seafarer,” now looks and sounds to us like a foreign language, close to the German from which it was derived: with some study, one can see that the Old English line “bitre breostcaere gebiden hæbbe” means “bitter breast-cares abided have” or “I have abided bitter breast-cares.” The language of Chaucer’s fifteenth-century Canterbury Tales, or what we call Middle English, feels less strange, in part because its sense now relies largely on word order rather than on word endings: “Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages” or “then people long to go on pilgrimages.” And the Modern English of the Renaissance we can read easily, because it is the language we speak today, even though the language has continued to evolve: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments.”

Many complicated factors determined this evolution, but one of the most important was the Norman invasion of England in 1066. Once Norman French became the language of the English court, a new vocabulary of words derived from Latin began to migrate into Germanic English. The Old English poet could abide breast-cares, but he could not go on a pilgrimage or suffer impediments; those Latinate words were not available to him. Even today, we raise pigs and cows (from German, via Old English) but eat pork and beef (from Latin, via French), because after the Norman conquest the peasants who raised animals generally spoke English while the noblemen who ate them spoke French. We similarly inhabit a body but bury a corpse because the English language contains Germanic and Latinate words for the same thing, and, over time, we have made discriminations in their meanings. The traditional language of English law is studded with pairs of Germanic and Latinate words (will and testament, breaking and entering, goods and chattels) in which the meaning is not discriminated but reiterated, made available to the widest variety of people who spoke the rapidly developing English language.

Speakers of English may or may not be aware that their language is by its nature different from itself, but any interaction with English as an artistic medium depends on the deployment of words with etymologically distant roots — words that sound almost as different from each other as do words from German and Italian. Notoriously, T.S. Eliot incorporated quotations from foreign languages into his poems, but in The Waste Land, when he jumps from German words (“das Meer”) to words borrowed from the French (“famous clairvoyante”), he is exaggerating what English-language poems do inevitably all the time. The line “Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages” mixes Germanic and Latinate diction strategically (the plain folk playing off the fancy pilgrimages), and the sentence “Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments” does so more intricately, the Germanic monosyllables let, true, and minds consorting with the Latinate marriage, admit, and impediments to create the richly 
polyglot texture that, over time, speakers of English have come to recognize as the very sound of eloquence itself. One hears it again in Keats (“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”), in Browning (“the quiet-colored end of evening smiles”), or in most any poet writing today. Coleridge famously called Shakespeare “myriad minded,” a phrase that itself wedges together Latinate and Germanic words, and the very medium of English-language poetry is in this sense myriad minded.

It’s possible to write Modern English as if it were an almost exclusively Germanic language, as James Joyce does in this passage of Ulysses, evoking the alliterative rhythms of Old English poetry by giving priority to Germanic monosyllables and treating English as if it were still a highly inflected language, in which sense need not depend on word order:

Before born babe bliss had. Within womb won he worship.
It’s also possible to write English as if it were an almost exclusively Latinate language, as Joyce does in this passage of Ulysses, frontloading Latinate vocabulary and weeding out as many Germanic words as possible:

Universally that person’s acumen is esteemed very little perceptive concerning whatsoever matters are being held as most profitably by mortals with sapience endowed.
But these bravura efforts of parody and pastiche sound more like the resuscitation of a dead language than the active deployment of a living one; it’s difficult to speak English so single-mindedly. In contrast, Shakespeare’s language feels fully alive in Sonnet 116, and yet its drama nonetheless depends on the strategic juxtaposition of a Germanic phrase (“true minds”) with a highly Latinate phrase that a speaker of English might never say (“admit impediments”), just as that speaker probably wouldn’t say “babe bliss had” or “with sapience endowed.” We don’t speak of the cow who jumps over the moon as “translunar,” though we could.

We do speak of the “Grand Canal” when we come to Venice, deploying two Latinate words; but to a native speaker of Italian, the word grande simply means big. As an Italian friend of mine once said, all we’re thinking about is size: the canal is big in the same way that your hat might be too big, “troppo grande.” The difference between our deployment of the Latinate phrases “Grand Canal” and “admit impediments” is that in the former case we are scripted by the language we deploy, our typically awe-struck response to the history of Venice produced by the language we speak. In the latter case Shakespeare has made a choice, as in other circumstances any speaker of English might also make a choice: saying “look how big the canal is” 
is different from saying “look how grand the canal is.” It is at such junctures that our language begins to function as a medium, something that acts as an intermediary, a transitional object. Nothing is automatically an artistic medium, though anything could be.

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
09-05-2015, 12:55 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/248620

PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
Undead Eliot: How “The Waste Land” Sounds Now
BY LESLEY WHEELER

When reading a poet who found his own voice after 1922, I often come across a cadence or trick of diction which makes me say “Oh, he’s read Hardy, or Yeats, or Rilke,” but seldom, if ever, can I detect an immediate, direct influence from Eliot. His indirect influence has, of course, been immense, but I should be hard put to it to say exactly what it is.
— W.H. Auden

Thomas Sayers Ellis, or a version of him looping eternally on YouTube, is about to read “All Their Stanzas Look Alike,” a weirdly 
hypnotic indictment of academic and aesthetic politics. Before launching into the poem, he remarks:

I was beat digging at the artist’s colony, it’s kind of funny, and I heard “let us go then you and I when the evening is spread out against the sky in a red wheelbarrow and that has made all the difference.” The cadence of that decade became my new haint, the new thing that haunted me, and so I wrote this — this is an homage to that sound.

Imagine this pastiche declaimed in a deep-pitched monotone, as Ellis jiggles nonexistent jowls. He goes on to observe that during his childhood in Washington DC, “the voice that was on television all the time was Richard Nixon, and so when I began my formal training in poetry, you know, they all sounded like Nixon to me.”

Thomas Sayers Ellis reads Thomas Stearns Eliot (and Williams, and Frost) as Nixon, guilty spokesman for a corrupt establishment. This is part of what modernism means now, has meant for decades: not revolutionary art but stiff authority. Despite the stiffness and the guilt, though, Ellis describes enchantment by rhythm. Ellis was beat digging, riffling through old vinyl, haunted less by the denotation of the words than by their detonations. Auden is right that moments of Eliotic influence are hard to finger, but it’s precisely in cadence that Eliot’s work survives.

For twenty-first-century poets, Eliot persists as a sonic obsession more vividly than as a poet who leveled important arguments or shaped literary history. As editor, critic, and builder of poetic landmarks from recycled materials, the man overshadowed Anglo-American poetry for generations. For William Carlos Williams, the atomic blast of The Waste Land knocked American poetry out of its groove. For poets born in the thirties and forties — Craig Raine, Wendy Cope, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney — Eliot is monumental, although those writers have different responses to his looming edifice. Poets born since, though, metabolized Eliot differently. It’s not that modernism is less relevant. Younger writers claim certain modernist poets over and over: Williams, W.B. Yeats, Robert Frost, Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens, Langston Hughes, H.D., Robert Hayden, Gwendolyn Brooks. Eliot just isn’t on their public lists quite so often.

The “paradigm shift” lowering Eliot’s status, as David Chinitz puts it, occurred in the eighties. In 1989, Cynthia Ozick commented in The New Yorker on Eliot’s reduced place in school curricula. Books by Christopher Ricks and, slightly later, Anthony Julius brought Eliot’s anti-Semitism to the fore. Also in the late eighties, a prize-winning essay by Wayne Koestenbaum highlighted Eliot’s misogynistic and homoerotic correspondence with Ezra Pound, midwife to The Waste Land. Eliot’s poetry of the teens and twenties communicates fear of women, and often revulsion about their bodies, and Koestenbaum adds force to the point. Then there was Eliot’s portrayal in the 1994 film Tom & Viv by Willem Dafoe, a.k.a. the Green Goblin. Eliot is a synonym for tradition but he also became, for readers attuned to his prejudices, a supervillain.

The gradual mutation of modernist reputations over time is no catastrophe. Certain poetic frequencies, strong at the time, had become buried in interference. Poet-performers such as Hughes, Amy Lowell, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Vachel Lindsay, and Carl Sandburg experimented with new performance modes and ultimately changed what we expect from poetry readings, in addition to publishing verse that hums with theatrical and musical energy — their signals should still reach us. Nor does the swelling of the modernist horde mean Eliot’s resonance has died. People want to voice his poetry and hear it voiced. Four Quartets, for instance, is popular again, inspiring performances by Chicago actor Mike Rogalski and by Ariel Artists, 
a group of classical musicians that stages collaborative events.

For poets making their names now, Eliot endures as a rhythm, an icon of recurrence. His early verse offers a resource for those 
obsessed with linguistic music but skeptical of meter, and particularly for poets who chime radically different registers and references, hoping to revive something human through uncanny convergences. For some writers, these powerful cadences are abstracted from meaning; The Waste Land is an emblem of obscurity, communicating mainly the impossibility of communication. Others, though, understand the noisiness of Eliot’s jazz-influenced verse as a mark and even a means of transformation. Sound is how Eliot expresses personal despair and social critique most forcefully, and also how he survives the apocalypse.



“Poetic sound” is a physical phenomenon and a metaphor. Voiced texts, whether performed by the author or by someone else, involve pitch, volume, duration, and all the linguistic prosody of dialect, 
including rhythm, stress, and intonation. Medium matters: live presence and video convey gesture, facial expression, and other visual information, while recording and broadcasting technologies introduce nonhuman noise and strip away most of what the body says. Silent reading is also a physical phenomenon, engaging muscles and parts of the brain associated with vocalization and audition. Printed, digital, or manuscript texts have other sonic attributes, too. Although recitation makes sound structures more audible, a good reader, without voicing a poem, may perceive alliteration, rhyme, and meter or other rhythmic patterns interacting with vocabulary and typography. I often seem to hear a poem as I read it silently, especially if I know the author’s own voice, and most especially if that voice is unusual — 
Brooks’s musical intonations, for example, haunt my inner ear more powerfully than Adrienne Rich’s plain intensity, although both 
authors are deeply important to me.

Because listening to an author’s recitation can change how you read a poem forever, never play Eliot’s 1948 recording of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” “Prufrock” on the page is full of discord, humor, fear, and despair, but the poet’s Talking Dead performance leaches out its urgency. Listeners to the Caedmon version of The Waste Land, recorded in 1947 and 1955 in London, and for a long time the only widely available performance by Eliot, have often felt the same horror. This version is, however, unforgettable. My own copy is a bootleg cassette handed to me in the early nineties by my dissertation adviser, A. Walton Litz. He remarked that Eliot’s recitation 
lasts just under half an hour, meaning, by Edgar Allan Poe’s rule of duration, The Waste Land counts as a lyric poem. Did Walt give this peculiar gift to generations of graduate students, or did he, like Tiresias, foresee my doom?

This aural document is peculiar in several ways. Part of the strangeness rests in pronunciation. Eliot was raised in St. Louis and educated in New England when American classrooms emphasized the art of elocution. The Waste Land was published in 1922, but by the forties, Eliot had lived in England for decades and deliv....................

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
09-11-2015, 10:49 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/249038

PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
On “François Villon on the Condition of Pity in Our Time” by Larry Levis
BY DAVID ST. JOHN

Larry Levis’s dramatic monologue, “François Villon on the Condition of Pity in Our Time,” invokes the opening lines of one of Villon’s most famous poems, “Ballade des Pendus,” (Ballade of the Hanged Men), also known as “Frères Humains” or “Epitaphe Villon.” Villon’s poem was published posthumously in 1489 and has been widely — though not conclusively — acknowledged to have been written while Villon was in prison awaiting execution (his sentence was later commuted to banishment from Paris).

Villon’s opening two lines read, in French: “Frères humains, qui après nous vivez, / N’ayez les cœurs contre nous endurcis,” and are translated by Galway Kinnell as: “Brother humans who live on after us / Don’t let your hearts harden against us.” These lines are a conventional plea for Christian charity typical of the Middle Ages, as the following two lines (again, Kinnell’s translation) make clear: “For if you have pity on wretches like us / More likely God will show mercy to you.” Yet the hanged speakers in Villon’s poem don’t seek any simple charity from their “brother humans,” but instead ask for the prayers of their “brothers” so that they, the hanged, might find some form of redemption and absolution, although their bodies have already rotted and been devoured by both birds (in Villon, magpies and crows) and the elements.

During the years 1972–1974, while studying for his doctoral exams in modern letters at the University of Iowa, Levis had become immersed in French poetry and also, under the guidance of Daniel Weissbort, the practice and theory of translation. Levis had been reading both Villon and Baudelaire in French since the time he was an undergraduate, and had more recently discovered other French poets he’d come to love — Gérard de Nerval, Jules Supervielle, and Pierre Reverdy. Of the surrealists, Levis admired most Robert Desnos and Paul Éluard, for their poetry, and André Breton, for his nerve.

Four hundred years after Villon, in his poem “Au Lecteur,” Baudelaire would offer his own trenchant testimony as he cataloged a carnivalesque stream of characters and despairs that could have been drawn directly from Villon’s age and poetry into Baudelaire’s “modern” Paris. The speaker in Levis’s poem is the self-named François Villon — who lives in both his own time and in the equally merciless, equally savage late twentieth century — as voiced by Levis, who has shrewdly chosen Villon as his own Baudelairean semblable, his own poetic frère. In the raw conclusion of the Levis poem, Villon presents himself as being hanged not by the neck but upon a cross, and crucified, a still-living mirror for those of us he is addressing — he is our “disappearing likeness on the cross!” No wonder that we live in a time both ancient and immediate, as Levis-and-Villon notes, when “there’s not one tear left in all of us.”

Originally Published: November 3, 2014
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No wonder that we live in a time both ancient and immediate, as Levis-and-Villon notes, when “there’s not one tear left in all of us.”


Found this very interesting article. -Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
09-15-2015, 10:59 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2009/05/a-short-highly-personal-observation-completely-lacking-in-examples-which-i-could-have-never-have-made-thirty-years-ago-when-i-was-a-young-poet-still-living-in-new-york-because-i-didn’t-know/

A SHORT, HIGHLY PERSONAL OBSERVATION COMPLETELY LACKING IN EXAMPLES WHICH I COULD HAVE NEVER HAVE MADE THIRTY YEARS AGO WHEN I WAS A YOUNG POET STILL LIVING IN NEW YORK, BECAUSE I DIDN’T KNOW ENOUGH TO KNOW IT WAS TRUE. BUT I DO NOW.
BY MARTIN EARL


W.H. Auden once said that he always felt that he was the youngest person in the room, even at an older age, when this was certainly not the case. I’ve felt similarly while blogging, especially when being reprimanded by commentators half my age. This could have all sorts of explanations. But for the moment let’s file them under “Monkey Glands”, aka W.B. Yeats. Today, I have a more pressing issue at hand, a comment on the younger generations of scriveners; or to reverse Auden’s impression, all of those younger than myself and involved, in one way or another, in the palimpsestic quest of poetry. I mean poets in their twenties, thirties and forties – fifty being the cut-off date.

Of course, there are exceptions but for the moment I am intent on generalizing. In the field of poetry, women make better bloggers than do their male counterparts, also better commentators, better critics and, increasingly, better poets. Of the younger generation of poets I am discovering through my involvement with Harriet, the women are clearly superior. Not only is their poetry more ambitious and achieved but their criticism is more daring, their originality of thought deeper and their wit more honed.
Why should this be? One reason perhaps (and this is undoubtedly one of those clichés for which I will be run out of town) is that women have an ontological connection that men don’t have to making and creating, to nurturing form out of raw materials: out of themselves, out of language and out of the ground, in the sense of both lettuce patches and the Heidegerrean notion of fundamentum absolutum, or der grund. Heidegger posits a reversal of the Cartesian first principle and says “I am therefore I think.” This stands in well for the difference between male and female sensibilities.
Traditionally discouraged or prevented from taking part in social paradigms of creative expression (with the exception, of course, of motherhood) women have learned patience, the art of autonomy and a capacity for restraint. Related to these qualities is the fact that they are more open to difference, generally more tolerant, and less threatened by the mechanisms of authority: those mechanisms that are found in traditional knowledge structures, traditional language structures and traditional institutional structures. Since historically women have had to defend themselves against the power emanating from these structures, their mastery and insight into the workings of power is deeper. Likewise, women’s competitive instincts are more subtly attuned to the task at hand, the medium they are dealing with, the objectives of a given project than they are with the impression they would like to make upon the world. This comes from ease with self-effacement, which in artistic endeavors results in a more thoroughgoing capacity for immersion in the project at hand. They are more apt to experiment in ways that produce organic forms for expressive purposes rather than try, as men so often do, to trick language into duplicating the will. Because women are generally more sensitive to others, they are more sensitive to the needs of the poem. Because they are more coherent, grounded and possess a higher degree of self-knowledge at a younger age, they are better prepared to resist the influences of their teachers, their education and even the expectations of the medium they are working in. Hence they are more original.
Decades of work by women to open new formats, create equalities, to encourage creative and intellectual work, to valorize the special experiences of women (both material and intellectual), and to formulate a critical framework for understanding the various forms of oppression woman have born, and continue to bear, is, in my opinion, and in my special field of concern (poetry and literary criticism) also responsible for the health, innovation and continuing wonder of the medium. But it is not the whole story, and it is time to move on, away from theory and back to practice. On a practical level, that of making and reading poems, male poets now have more to learn from how women work, and from what they are saying and creating than vice versa.
And yet in spite of what I say above (characterizing women’s experience, perhaps inaccurately, and seeing their poetry as having benefited from that experience) I have never been comfortable with the designation “women’s poetry”, or with any of the other normative appellations that marked 20th century discussions on the subject and that led to misleading typologies and atomizations. In fact, I follow Berryman’s cue in not distinguishing between British and American poetry – and I carry that further to all poets writing in English: Irish, South African, Indian and West Indian, Australian etc. (two of my favorite poets, John Kinsella and Less Murray, are from down under).
I’m even uncomfortable (since I live and work in a polyglot setting) with classifying poets or their poems by language. To pit French poets against German poets seems hardly useful when we finally arrive at the poem itself. My Portuguese colleagues, some of whom I’ve translated, are essentially doing the same thing that I do when I write a poem. The fact that they are writing in Portuguese doesn’t matter in the end. Of course different situations produce dif

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
09-22-2015, 08:03 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/248812

Four Englands
Four Debut British Poets Being Variously English

BY TODD SWIFT


This omnibus review is very much about English poetry, and Englishness in contemporary poetry from England, and, perhaps even better, young English poets. By something like a happy coincidence, these four collections are each by a poet who has won an Eric Gregory Award (more on this in a moment) — and, even more pleasingly, they won their awards more or less consecutively, in 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009 (Martinez de las Rivas, Mort, Berry, Brookes). So, here are four poets who have been noticed, and even encouraged, as some of the main rising stars of new poetry in “these isles.” Well, these isles are crowded with poets, many Welsh, Irish, or Scottish, but any list of the most appreciated of the YBPs (Young British Poets) would include these poets — along with, say, Ahren Warner, Sam Riviere, Luke Kennard, Heather Phillipson, Sandeep Parmar, Caleb Klaces, Jen Hadfield, Jack Underwood, Liz Berry, James Byrne, Jon Stone, and Clare Pollard.

There is something like a broad consensus that has been forming, based on appearances in the larger British magazines, acquisition of prizes and university degrees, and publication in pamphlet form with publishers like Faber and Faber, or, in a smaller way, tall-lighthouse, when Roddy Lumsden was its editor. The Eric Gregory goes every year to a handful of the best poets thirty years or under, for an unpublished manuscript. To win one is to get a nice chunk of money, and 
a very good shot at a publishing deal within the next few years.

In the case of the poets here whose books from late 2012 to 2014 are under review, this wait has been between three and nine years. One of the collections is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, which is the sort of stamp of approval most poets would gnaw a finger off for; Berry has won a Forward Prize, and Mort been asked to judge the Forwards already (a great honor for a debut poet); Brookes was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize; Martinez de las Rivas is being spoken of as a major new Christian poet. Each is from a recognized publisher — Faber and Chatto & Windus, relatively major players; and Salt, the feisty newer kid on the block (despite having published hundreds of poetry books). In short, here are four poets American poets and poetry readers would do well to acquaint themselves with — and yet, none of these debuts are likely to be widely sold, reviewed, or read beyond Britain’s borders, at least for the time being.

These poets come out of a certain tradition, or at an angle from The Tradition, as one might expect of poets in their twenties or early thirties. Each has a few notable precursors, so-called presiding spirits, who have very much shaped their work’s temperament, goals, and style. Helen Mort, a poet from Sheffield in the relatively impoverished North of England (home to the major indie band Arctic Monkeys), writes under the influence of Tony Harrison and Simon Armitage, yet her major themes and music come even more from Sean O’Brien and Don Paterson — each, in their way, very male poets. 
In a sense, Mort is the strong female Northern Poet, come at last (she does not very much resemble the current poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, who nevertheless has publicly praised her work).

Emily Berry is only one of the “Berrywomen” now active in London poetry circles — the other is Liz Berry, whose own debut was published this year. Ms. Emily’s is a berry-red book from Faber, with the very pop title of Dear Boy. Berry is from London, where she has lived her whole life and it is something of a rude shock to actually read a Faber collection by a British poet from the publishing capital itself, who is, for instance, not Irish or Scottish. She is resolutely English in tone and manner, in much the same way as her hero, Morrissey of The Smiths is; indeed, Berry’s key precursors may be said to be the great pop and indie lyricists since the eighties, during which time she grew up. But this is half the story. In other ways, her ironic, edgy, and peculiarly strangled emotionalism seems to reach out and grab Plath from the grave and demand she return, this time as a pastiche ghoul. Berry, then, has a skewed relationship to how contemporary British poetry has heretofore tended to sound — unless one had been reading Luke Kennard, the strongest poet of this new generation, who seems to have invented several of the key tropes, forms, and concepts that Berry herself assays.

James Brookes is even more English than Berry, if such is possible. That is because, in a daring or foolhardy swerve back to confront the major living poet of his place and time, Brookes seeks to take on Geoffrey Hill at his own game. Surely Hill, like Milton or Yeats, has mastered a baroque and learned rhetoric so steeped in history and language as to be inescapably his own? Well, yes, and no. The general way of putting it is that Brookes “reminds” us of Hill. I would say he out-Hills Hill, in being, in this debut, even more concerned with the history of kings and parliament, the violence and graphic details of world wars, and the demands of place, in this instance, Sussex, where he was fortunately born a stone’s throw from Shelley’s “boyhood home.” It is perhaps unimaginable for an American poet born in 1986 (even if it was a few yards from Hailey, Idaho) to unironically compose and publish poems with titles like “Amen to Artillery,” “Silent Enim Leges Inter Arma,” “Surveying the Queen’s Pictures,” or “Lucifer at Camlann.” This is high poetry, full stop.

However, in terms of an attempt to turn lyric modernism’s highest Hill into a mountain, or unaging intellectual monuments, we must end with the Somerset-raised Martinez de las Rivas, whose Christian poetry seems almost impossibly erudite (by contemporary standards), with blatant echoes of Joyce, Yeats, Eliot, Pound, David Jones, and Lowell, and several poems that (seemingly without irony) break off into Anglo-Saxon, Greek, or Latin. It is apparently the most learned debut by a twenty-first-century British poet; we in England last saw work with this Poundian high modernist ethos in Bunting. Depending on your relationship to words like “elitism” and “accessibility,” Terror either appalls or thrills, or both — as it is no doubt (given its title) meant to.

What we have here are excellent emerging poets, each to a certain degree acclaimed, each imbued with a seriousness of purpose that varies between the almost-sentimental to the almost-portentous, with way-stops any fellow traveler will recognize as arch irony, wit, reserve, and tonally restrained elegance. These are the stations of the English poetic cross, and yet these pilgrims make something new of them while revisiting the old blood-dimmed haunts.





Helen Mort’s Division Street opens with a quote from Stevenson about Jekyll and Hyde, followed by a poem playing on the fact that her name means “death” in French; and various poems across the book relate to divided loyalties, identities, and the dangers (and promise) of names. Anyone who has followed British poetry since 1990 will know this is territory that deceased British-American poet Michael Donaghy staked out as his own in the poem “Smith,” often cited as a modern British classic. However, this idea of doubles, and doubling, and double identities, central to Scottish literature from James Hogg to Robert Louis Stevenson, indeed, J.K. Rowling, is perhaps most famously explored, even obsessively so, in most of Don Paterson’s collections; Paterson is the best-known advocate of Donaghy’s work (as well as his publisher at Picador). Mort’s collection is almost a direct reply to these influences — and is especially Patersonian in its sensorial enjoyment of alcohol, pubs, and drink in general — few other poetry collections have such a fug of lock-ins as this one. In her most Patersonian moment, in the poem “The Complete Works of Anonymous,” she even says, “I’ll raise a glass to dear Anonymous: the old / familiar anti-signature, the simple courage / of that mark.” In Mort’s Northern English world, raising a glass is no bad thing. Indeed, as she tells us in “Oldham’s Burning Sands,” “people sing the sweetest when they’re drunk.” As a credo for a poet it promises lots of hangovers after the carped diem. “Stainless Stephen,” a local, provincial comedian down on his luck, even when shut out of most establishments, “knows a pub across the river / where the doors will never shut.” Even the elements want to possess the local pub — snow, in the poem “Fur,” wants “to claim The Blacksmith’s Arms.” In the poem “Fagan’s” there is a pub quiz host “part-drunkard, part-Messiah.” The Division seems to be between those sober, and less so. In fact, it is more than that. Mort’s poems can sometimes be a bit sentimental, or force a bonhomie or epiphany past the point of no return, but her music is almost never wrong — indeed, in terms of her skill at expertly deploying fairly conservative rhythm and rhyme, she seems the equal of Paterson or Duffy.

More vitally, her origins appear authentic — her Northern “voice” underwritten by a sense of generational blight and hardscrabble self-empowerment that few poets from the South of England could ever reference. Not since Tony Harrison, it seems, has a poet wanted to make so much of what divides “uz” from them. The two most noteworthy poems in the collection, which as a whole is as openly 
readable as any mainstream British poetry is likely to ever be this decade, and hence, as likely to be prized for such, both emphasize the rather striking (pun intended) contrast between Mort’s non-elite past (growing up Northern, and less privileged) and her elite present, or more recent past (Cambridge student/graduate). This becomes the tension of her own life and work, but, more broadly, the perceived tension of the English current today.

The great poem in the book, a sequence in five parts, is called “Scab.” A scab, which we know is a wound’s barely healed covering often picked at, to no good effect, is also the ugly name for someone who crosses a picket line during a strike to find work — often, poignantly, betraying family and friends in the process of making ends meet. This resonates with the violent history of the suppression of the miners’ strikes under Thatcherism. Mort considers how her own crossing, from Sheffield to Cambridge, is an equivalent selling out of more tribal loyalties. In the bravura last few lines, she achieves a tonal force simple yet worthy of her concerns, likely to make the poem essential reading for anyone concerned with such issues:

One day, it crashes through
your windowpane; the stone,
the word, the fallen star. You’re left
to guess which picket line
you crossed — a gilded College gate,
a better supermarket, the entrance
to your flat where, even now, someone
has scrawled the worst insult they can — 
a name. Look close. It’s yours.
That is the big poem in the book, but to this reader, the more elegantly affecting is “Miss Heath,” a poem in nine more-or-less tercets, whose narrative is easily summarized. Mort writes the kind of popular English poem whose subject and theme can be summed up easily, and is thus ideal for exams; this is what the experimental poets 
loathe about so-called mainstream British poetry, that it d

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
09-23-2015, 01:45 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/251110

ESSAY
Prufrock, Lewinsky, and the Poetry of History
How T. S. Eliot’s lovelorn classic still sways us.

BY AUSTIN ALLEN

One of the more striking literary essays in recent memory appeared this summer to zero fanfare. That in itself is no surprise: most literary critics could reveal the nuclear codes without even the NSA noticing. Still, you might have expected some buzz around a splashy Vanity Fair tribute to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” penned by a longtime fan named Monica Lewinsky.

The occasion of the essay was the “Prufrock” centenary; the author’s guiding impulse was sheer enthusiasm. Lewinsky writes that she was “smitten” by T. S. Eliot’s lovelorn classic as a teenager and that after “more than 20 years, these feelings have not waned.” She’s a connoisseur of “Prufrock” allusions, from the pop to the highbrow; one “personal favorite” comes from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris: “Prufrock is my mantra!” Even her e-mail address contains a “Prufrock” reference—a fruitful conversation starter, she says, with fellow lovers of the poem.

As it turns out, this isn’t the first revelation of her fandom. The 1999 biography Monica’s Story, which Andrew Morton wrote in collaboration with his subject, mentions her “life-changing” love of poetry and of “Prufrock” in particular. Covering the Morton bio for Time in 1999, John Cloud peppered his article with excerpts from the poem. He introduced a section on Lewinsky’s publicity tour with “Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”; he suggested that, like Prufrock pinned to the wall, she’d “begun to feel fixed and formulated by the eyes of the public, the prosecutors and the media.”

In 2004 Lewinsky withdrew from public life, fed up with all those prying eyes. When she re-emerged a decade later as part of an anti-bullying campaign, she invoked her old hero:

I believe my story can help. Help to do something to change the culture of humiliation we inhabit and that inhabits us. I had been publicly silent for a decade—but now I must, as T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock said, disturb the universe.
All in all, you sense that “Prufrock” is her mantra and that her devotion to it verges on spiritual zeal. Although she argues that the poem transports us “beyond meaning,” it seems to have had a sizable and definite meaning in her own life. Reflecting obliquely on his early reading in a 1934 essay, Eliot wrote, “Everyone, I believe, who is at all sensible to the seductions of poetry, can remember some moment in youth when he or she was completely carried away by the work of one poet.” By her own account, Lewinsky was such a reader, and her consuming passion was for the starchy, High-Church Anglican who wrote modern poetry’s great song of shyness.



If she’d had the choice, Lewinsky couldn’t have picked a more fitting inspiration. Eliot learned early in his own life that diffidence and daring, intense inwardness and intense exposure, can be twin edges of a single sword. Few 20th-century poets were as painfully reticent or achieved greater fame. None brooded more on the convergence of literature, sex, and history—the ways in which the private mental and physical lives of individuals intersect with the public life of the masses.

That obsession, which burns through the early poems, first flickers to life in the figure of Prufrock. Poor J. Alfred is the archetypal bit player on the world’s stage, anonymous and foppish right down to his abbreviated name. Mockingly comparing himself to biblical and Shakespearean heroes, he mourns his romantic failures and thwarted “greatness”:

Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in
upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.
In the end, he accepts the role of “attendant lord” in life’s drama, “cautious” and “deferential,” aiding the major players but staying in the background. (He could be describing a model White House intern.)

In his own recent “Prufrock” tribute for the New Republic, Damian Lanigan called the poem “the battle cry for legions of bookish virgins, the supreme validation of the neurotic soul.” At first glance, this seems too triumphalist: surely it’s no battle cry but a cry of disgust and pain. After all, we never feel that Prufrock’s self-mockery is mistaken—that he is destined for greatness or that the beautiful girls will sing to him. However, he is poignantly wrong about one thing: “It is impossible to say just what I mean!” As Lanigan affirms, legions of readers have disagreed. Prufrock may lose out on love and glory, but his neurotic soul is validated in private eloquence.

By Eliot’s own admission, he was himself a frustrated virgin during the poem’s composition. Five years after its publication, his anxieties had curdled further. “Sweeney Erect” (1920) depicts the brutish title figure shaving in a brothel:

(The lengthened shadow of a man
Is history, said Emerson
Who had not seen the silhouette
Of Sweeney straddled in the sun).
Tests the razor on his leg
Waiting until the shriek subsides.
The epileptic on the bed
Curves backward, clutching at her sides.
The diminishment of sex in this sleazy little scene is the failure of history itself. Sweeney’s callous indifference both perverts and grimly affirms the Emersonian metaphor; he’s repellent, but he’s a Representative Man of his time. The prostitute’s seizure is a sort of shadow orgasm, an image of uncontrollable suffering.

This sexual desolation becomes downright apocalyptic in The Waste Land (1922), with its arid plains and rotten marriages, its arrogant youths “assault[ing]” jaded women, its sweeping indictment of cultural sterility. Near the close of that poem, a memory of “daring” breaks the spell of barrenness, heralding regenerative rain:

Then spoke the thunder
DA
Datta: what have we given?
My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed
Which is not to be found in our obituaries …
The erotic crackle of the language leaves no doubt: this is the daring that eluded Prufrock. (“Do I dare / Disturb the universe?” … “Do I dare to eat a peach?”) It’s the transgressive daring of Romeo: “For stony limits cannot hold love out, / And what love can do that dares love attempt.” (Lewinsky reportedly once quoted these same lines in a valentine to President Clinton.) The “surrender” is exhilarating but impossible to “retract” and necessary to conceal. The “age of prudence” could be personal or historical, a period of caution, repression, waste.

It’s well known that Eliot wrote The Waste Land after the collapse of his first marriage. Though the poem was received as a judgment on a culture, it was also agonizingly personal—in a sense, the projection of a private breakdown onto the wider world. As both spouses’ letters attest, its vision of exhaustion and impotence drew on the poet’s bleak experience. Eliot hinted as much publicly in a comment on Tennyson’s In Memoriam: “It happens now and then that a poet by some strange accident expresses the mood of his generation, at the same time that he is expressing a mood of his own which is quite remote from that of his generation.”

“Strange accident,” maybe, but in the essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919), Eliot argued that the poet’s goal is precisely the depersonalizing (or universalizing) of mere “personality and emotions.” No wonder he has always appealed to readers who conceive of their lives in broad symbolic terms. In the mid-1980s, one young scholar, reflecting on The Waste Land and the “Tradition” essay, wrote to his girlfriend:

Facing what he perceives as a choice between ecstatic chaos and lifeless mechanistic order, [Eliot] accedes to maintaining a separation of asexual purity and brutal sexual reality. … This fatalism is born out of the relation between fertility and death, which I touched on in my last letter—life feeds on itself. A fatalism I share with the western tradition at times.

The astute, brooding commentator was a 20-year-old college kid named Barack Obama.

Of course, few readers see their self-projections onto the “tradition” justified so spectacularly. Yet Eliot entices all of us, even the most Prufrockian schlub, to view history as personal—and to personify it as the source of our daily temptations and frustrations. The heart of this vision is a passage in “Gerontion” (1920):

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with wh

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
09-26-2015, 11:29 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/152371

PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
Responsibilities, by W. B. Yeats
BY EZRA POUND
I live, so far as possible, among that more intelligently active segment of the race which is concerned with today and tomorrow; and, in consequence of this, whenever I mention Mr. Yeats I am apt to be assailed with the questions: “Will Mr. Yeats do anything more?”, “Is Yeats in the movement?”, “How can the chap go on writing this sort of thing?”

And to these inquiries I can only say that Mr. Yeats’ vitality is quite unimpaired, and that I dare say he'll do a good deal; and that up to date no one has shown any disposition to supersede him as the best poet in England, or any likelihood of doing so for some time; and that after all Mr. Yeats has brought a new music upon the harp, and that one man seldom leads two movements to triumph, and that it is quite enough that he should have brought in the sound of keening and the skirl of the Irish ballads, and driven out the sentimental cadence with memories of The County of Mayo and The Coolun; and that the production of good poetry is a very slow matter, and that, as touching the greatest of dead poets, many of them could easily have left that magnam partem, which keeps them with us, upon a single quire of foolscap or at most upon two; and that there is no need for a poet to repair each morning of his life to the Piazza dei Signori to turn a new sort of somersault; and that Mr. Yeats is so assuredly an immortal that there is no need for him to recast his style to suit our winds of doctrine; and that, all these things being so, there is nevertheless a manifestly new note in his later work that they might do worse than attend to.

“Is Mr. Yeats an Imagiste?” No, Mr. Yeats is a symbolist, but he has written des Images as have many good poets before him; so that is nothing against him, and he has nothing against them (les Imagistes), at least so far as I know—except what he calls "their devil's metres."

He has written des Images in such poems as Braseal and the Fisherman; beginning, “Though you hide in the ebb and flow of the pale tide when the moon has set;” and he has driven out the inversion and written with prose directness in such lyrics as, “I heard the old men say everything alters”; and these things are not subject to a changing of the fashions. What I mean by the new note—you could hardly call it a change of style—was apparent four years ago in his No Second Troy, beginning, "Why should I blame her," and ending—

Beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in any age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?


I am not sure that it becomes apparent in partial quotation, but with the appearance of The Green Helmet and Other Poems one felt that the minor note—I use the word strictly in the musical sense—had gone or was going out of his poetry; that he was at such a cross roads as we find in

Voi che intendendo il terzo ciel movete.


And since that time one has felt his work becoming gaunter, seeking greater hardness of outline. I do not say that this is demonstrable by any particular passage. Romantic Ireland's Dead and Gone is no better than Red Hanrahan's song about Ireland, but it is harder. Mr. Yeats appears to have seen with the outer eye in To a Child Dancing on the Shore (the first poem, not the one printed in this issue). The hardness can perhaps be more easily noted in The Magi.

Such poems as When Helen Lived and The Realists serve at least to show that the tongue has not lost its cun-ning. On the other hand, it is impossible to take any inter-est in a poem like The Two Kings—one might as well read the Idyls of another. The Grey Rock is, I admit, obscure, but it outweighs this by a curious nobility, a nobility which is, to me at least, the very core of Mr. Yeats’ production, the constant element of his writing.

In support of my prediction, or of my theories, regarding his change of manner, real or intended, we have at least two pronouncements of the poet himself, the first in A Coat,* and the second, less formal, in the speech made at the Blunt presentation.** The verses, A Coat, should satisfy those who have complained of Mr. Yeats’ four and forty followers, that they would “rather read their Yeats in the original.” Mr. Yeats had indicated the feeling once before with

Tell me, do the wolf-dogs praise their fleas?


which is direct enough in all conscience, and free of the “glamour.” I've not a word against the glamour as it appears in Yeats’ early poems, but we have had so many other pseudo--glamours and glamourlets and mists and fogs since the nineties that one is about ready for hard light.

And this quality of hard light is precisely what one finds in the beginning of his The Magi:

Now as at all times I can see in the mind's eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side.


Of course a passage like that, a passage of imagisme, may occur in a poem not otherwise imagiste, in the same way that a lyrical passage may occur in a narrative, or in some poem not otherwise lyrical. There have always been two sorts of poetry which are, for me at least, the most “poetic;” they are firstly, the sort of poetry which seems to be music just forcing itself into articulate speech, and, secondly, that sort of poetry which seems as if sculpture or painting were just forced or forcing itself into words. The gulf between evocation and description, in this latter case, is the unbridgeable difference between genius and talent. It is perhaps the highest function of art that it should fill the mind with a noble profusion of sounds and images, that it should furnish the life of the mind with such accompaniment and surrounding. At any rate Mr. Yeats’ work has done this in the past and still continues to do so. The present volume contains the new metrical version of The Hour Glass, The Grey Rock, The Two Kings, and over thirty new lyrics, some of which have appeared in these pages, or appear in this issue. In the poems on the Irish gallery we find this author certainly at prise with things as they are and no longer romantically Celtic, so that a lot of his admirers will be rather displeased with the book. That is always a gain for a poet, for his admirers nearly always want him to “stay put,” and they resent any signs of stirring, of new curiosity or of intellectual uneasiness. I have said the The Grey Rock was obscure; perhaps I should not have said so, but I think it demands unusually close attention. It is as obscure, at least, as Sordello, but I can not close without registering my admiration for it all the same.

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
09-29-2015, 09:52 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/175809

PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
Facing Altars: Poetry and Prayer
BY MARY KARR
To confess my unlikely Catholicism in Poetry—a journal founded in part on and for the godless, twentieth-century disillusionaries of J. Alfred Prufrock and his pals—feels like an act of perversion kinkier than any dildo-wielding dominatrix could manage on HBO’s “Real Sex Extra.” I can’t even blame it on my being a cradle Catholic, some brainwashed escapee of the pleated skirt and communion veil who—after a misspent youth and facing an Eleanor Rigby-like dotage—plodded back into the confession booth some rainy Saturday.

Not victim but volunteer, I converted in 1996 after a lifetime of undiluted agnosticism. Hearing about my baptism, a pal sent me a postcard that read, “Not you on the Pope’s team. Say it ain’t so!” Well, while probably not the late Pope’s favorite Catholic (nor he my favorite pope), I took the blessing and ate the broken bread. And just as I continue to live in America and vote despite my revulsion for many US policies, I continue to enjoy the sacraments despite my fervent aversion to certain doctrines. Call me a cafeteria Catholic if you like, but to that I’d say, Who isn’t?

Perversely enough, the request for this confession showed up last winter during one of my lowest spiritual gullies. A blizzard’s dive-bombing winds had kept all the bodegas locked for the second day running (thus depriving New Yorkers of newspapers and orange juice), and I found—in my otherwise bare mailbox—a letter asking me to write about my allegedly deep and abiding faith. That very morning, I’d confessed to my spiritual advisor that while I still believed in God, he had come to seem like Miles Davis, some nasty genius scowling out from under his hat, scornful of my mere being and on the verge of waving me off the stage for the crap job I was doing. The late William Matthews has a great line about Mingus, who “flurried” a musician from the stand by saying, “We’ve suffered a diminuendo in personnel...” I felt doomed to be that diminuendo, an erasure mark that matched the erasure mark I saw in the grayed-out heavens.

Any attempt at prayer in this state is a slow spin on a hot spit, but poetry is still healing balm, partly because it’s always helped me feel less alone, even in earliest childhood. Poets were my first priests, and poetry itself my first altar. It was a lot of other firsts too, of course: first classroom/chat room/confessional. But it was most crucially the first source of awe for me, because it eased a nagging isolation: it was a line thrown to my drear-minded self from seemingly glorious Others.

From a very early age, when I read a poem, it was as if the poet’s burning taper touched some charred filament in my rib cage to set me alight. Somehow—long before I’d published—that connection even extended from me outward. Lifting my face from the page, I often faced my fellow creatures with less dread. Maybe secreted in one of them was an ache or tenderness similar to the one I’d just eaten of. As that conduit into a community, poetry never failed me, even if the poet reaching me was some poor wretch even more abject than myself. Poetry never left me stranded, and as an atheist most of my life, I presumed its mojo was a highbrow, intellectual version of what religion did for those more gullible believers in my midst—dumb bunnies to a one, the faithful seemed to me, till I became one.

In the Texas oil town where I grew up, fierceness won fights, but I was thin-skinned—an unfashionably bookish kid whose brain wattage was sapped by a consuming inner life others didn’t seem to bear the burden of. I just seemed to have more frames per second than other kids. Plus, early on, I twigged to the fact that my clan differed from our neighbors. Partly because of my family’s entrenched atheism, kids weren’t allowed to enter my yard—also since my artist mother was known to paint “nekked” women and guzzle vodka straight out of the bottle. She was seductive and mercurial and given to deep doldrums and mysterious vanishings, and I sought nothing so much as her favor. Poetry was my first lure. Even as a preschooler, I could sometimes draw her out of a sulk by reciting the works of e.e. cummings and A.A. Milne.

In my godless household, poems were the only prayers that got said—the closest thing to sacred speech at all. I remember mother bringing me Eliot’s poems from the library, and she not only swooned over them, she swooned over my swooning over them, which felt as close as she came to swooning over me. Even my large-breasted and socially adroit older sister got Eliot—though Lecia warned me off telling kids at school that I read that kind of stuff. At about age twelve, I remember sitting on our flowered bedspread reading him to Lecia while she primped for a date. Read it again, the whole thing. She was a fourteen-year-old leaning into the mirror with a Maybelline wand, saying, Goddamn that’s great...Poetry was the family’s religion. Beauty bonded us.

Church language works that way among believers, I would wager—whether prayer or hymn. Uttering the same noises in unison is part of what consolidates a congregation (along with shared rituals like baptisms and weddings, which are mostly words). Like poetry, prayer often begins in torment, until the intensity of language forges a shape worthy of both labels: “true” and “beautiful.” (Only in my deepest prayers does language evaporate, and a wide and wordless silence takes over.) But if you’re in a frame of mind dark enough to refuse prayer, nothing can ease the ache like a dark poem. Wrestling with gnarled or engrossing language may not bring peace per se, but it can occupy a brain pumping out bad news like ticker tape and thus bring you back to the alleged rationality associated with the human phylum.

So it was for me last winter—my most recent dark night of the soul—when my faith got sandblasted away for some weeks. Part of this was due to circumstances. Right after a move to New York, fortune delivered a triple whammy: my kid off to college, a live-in love ending volcanically, then medical maladies that kept me laid up for weeks alone. In a state of scalding hurt—sleepless and unable to conjure hope at some future prospects—suddenly (it felt sudden, as if a pall descended over me one day) God seemed vaporous as any perfume.

To kneel and pray in this state is almost physically painful. At best, it’s like talking into a bucket. At worst, you feel like a chump, some heartsick fool still sending valentines to a cad. With my friends away for the holidays, poetry seemed my only solace for more than a month. Maybe a few times I dipped into the Psalms or the book of Job. But more often I bent over the “terrible sonnets” of Gerard Manley Hopkins to find shape for my desolation:

I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.

Self yeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves, but worse.


I was also reading that bleak scribbler Bill Knott, to find a bitter companion to sip my own gall with. He’d aptly captured my spiritual state in “Brighton Rock by Graham Greene,” where he imagines a sequel for Greene’s book: the offspring that criminal sociopath Pinky Brown conceived in the body of pitiful Rose Wilson before he died becomes a teenager in a skiffle band called Brighton Rockers. This kid’s inborn anguish resounds in the grotesque Mass his mom sits through:

Every Sunday now in church Rose slices

her ring-finger off, onto the collection-plate;
once the sextons have gathered enough
bodily parts from the congregation, enough

to add up to an entire being, the priest sub-
stitutes that entire being for the one
on the cross: they bring Him down in the name

of brown and rose and pink, sadness
and shame. His body, remade, is yelled at
and made to get a haircut, go to school,

study, to do each day like the rest
of us crawling through this igloo of hell
and laugh it up, show pain a good time,

and read Brighton Rock by Graham Greene.


This winter, I felt yelled at by the world at large and God in particular. The rhythm of Knott’s final sentence says it all—“to DO each DAY like the REST/of us”—the first phrase is a stair plod, with an extra stumble step to line’s end, where it becomes a cliff you fall off (no REST here)—“CRAWling through this IGloo of HELL.”

People usually (always?) come to church as they do to prayer and poetry—through suffering and terror. Need and fear. In some Edenic past, our ancestors began to evolve hard-wiring that actually requires us (so I believe) to make a noise beautiful enough to lay on the altar of the Creator/Rain God/Fertility Queen. With both prayer and poetry, we use elegance to exalt, but we also beg and grieve and tremble. We suffer with prayer and poetry alike. Boy, do we suffer.

The faithless contenders for prayer’s relief who sometimes ask me

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
10-01-2015, 04:40 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/31466

PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
“I Did Not Advance, I Cannot Retreat”
BY DANIELLE CHAPMAN

The Niche Narrows, by Samuel Menashe.

New York City tends to obsess the poets who live there. Whitman and Crane used the epic city as a metaphor for the epic self-as-New-Yorker; Moore conscientiously collected and arranged its oddities; O’Hara manically maneuvered through its people and experiences. Surely these poets who made it in New York could, as the saying goes, have made it anywhere, and it’s no wonder that the city’s personality bursts through their voices without upstaging them. But contemporary New York poets, rather than inhabiting the city, often seem to have been inhabited by it—even contaminated. Attitudinal, world-weary, neurotic, each is another version of the same caricature of “self-expression.” That’s why it’s such a delight to come across Samuel Menashe, a lifelong New Yorker whose poems exist at a sonorous remove from the frenzy of life downtown. His small poems—most are less than ten lines long—speak to the archetypal condition of the poet or “scribe,” as Menashe calls him, with a quietude and depth virtually unknown in contemporary poetry.

Menashe’s earnest assumption of the title “poet” has made him something of an anachronism in our professional age. While his contemporaries have garnered the fellowships, prizes, and university jobs that represent success in American poetic culture, poetry has been for him an independent, and ultimately isolating, venture. At almost eighty years old, and with only a fraction of his work in print, he is practically unrecognized, except as a sort of eccentric cult figure, the last West Village bohemian. The poetry, however, rises above this kitschy reputation. Menashe’s tiny lyrics are keenly aware of their author’s obscurity; it suspends them in a timeless sort of space, ballasting them between opposing questions of the same dilemma: is there any point in writing a poem? and is there a point in anything but writing a poem? Consider “At a Standstill”:

That statue, that cast
Of my solitude
Has found its niche
In this kitchen
Where I do not eat
Where the bathtub stands
Upon cat feet—
I did not advance
I cannot retreat


What’s most impressive here is the way in which, in so few lines, Menashe manages to encompass an entire life in poetry. In the first line, the poet’s ambition for immortality is evoked, only to be relegated to the humble surroundings of the prototypical bohemian flat—with its kitchen too small for a table, but just big enough for a bathtub. It is an image that is absurd and yet, with the last line, uncompromising and, one feels, true.

Menashe’s portrayal of his self-as-poet is vulnerable, though never sentimental or narcissistic. A poem like “Morning” speaks movingly to the intimate sorrows of the artist:

I wake and the sky
Is there, intact
The paper is white
The ink is black
My charmed life
Harms no one—
No wife, no son


This leanness is typical of the poems in The Niche Narrows. Menashe returns to the same subjects and words time and again, inhabiting particulars in order to expand their significance. A “charmed life,” here a solitary life, harms no one—the kind of slightly enigmatic statement that many poets are content to pass off as interesting in itself—but Menashe presses the point, defining “no one,” as “No wife, no son.” What’s so poignant about this last line is that, in qualifying the line before it, it both narrows and expands the meaning; at once, we are moved to sympathy for the singular speaker and brought to an understanding about the nature of the poet, the costs of such a life. Craft prevents the meditation from becoming hokey or overly self-conscious: the linked vowel sounds and slant rhymes of “wake” and “paper,” “intact” and “black,” as well as the mixed images of the sky and the writing tablet, set up a composition that is slightly askew. In the last three lines, the rhymes get closer: “charmed” and “harms,” then “one” and “son.” As the sounds come together, so does the picture of this poet, whose reason for being is the same as his reason for being lonely.

In most of Menashe’s poems, there is a deeply grounded sense of humor about the self. Often it returns us to the bodily condition with a sort of droll pathos in which the poet sums up the experience of living and dying in a few matter-of-fact phrases, as in “The Visitation”:

His body ahead
Of him on the bed
He faces his feet
Sees himself dead,
A corpse complete


This is an example of Menashe’s “niche,” the tiny poem which intends to encompass the scope of mortal existence; its narrowing is the approach of death, which brings life into stark focus. In the title poem, the mortal predicament is summed up in eleven words:

The niche narrows
Hones one thin
Until his bones
Disclose him


Here, “Hones” and “disclose” describe the body of the poem as well as the body of flesh. The niche is narrowed—visually and sonically—through a series of shortening lines and half-rhymes that hone the general “one” into the particular “him.” It’s a morbid little metaphor of emaciation: the end of the poem is the end of the man.

In his introduction to this volume, Dana Gioia states that “Menashe is essentially a religious poet, though one without an orthodox creed.” Given the fact that Menashe has written poems with such obviously Judeo-Christian titles as “Adam Means Earth,” “Manna,” and “Promised Land”—as well as one that refers, with unchecked intimacy, to Noah’s nipples—this is a reasonable conclusion. With one or two exceptions, though, the overtly religious poems are the most problematic in The Niche Narrows. Those that use too many Biblical references compress meaning and syntax so tightly that they often must be decoded rather than read. Others assume the mannerisms of New Age mysticism, becoming simultaneously emphatic and, well, loopy, as if in creating access for his belief the poet has had to force out all nuances of pathos and wit, those rewards of his best writing.

Nevertheless, Menashe is to be commended for taking the risk of writing poems of outright praise and wonder. He is often capable of achieving an effect that is airy and subtle, as in the aptly titled “Sprite of Delight,” which “Springs, summersaults / Vaults out of sight / Rising self-spun / Weight overcome.” Here, as in other poems-about-poetry such as “Spur of the Moment” and “Walking Stick,” creative power is evoked with both joy and a grounded intelligence. When Menashe’s poems of praise succeed, we are just as rapt in wonder at the way inspiration works through the poet’s mind as he is, as in “Dreams,” where he asks, “What wires lay bare / For this short circuit / Which makes filaments flare—.”

While even Menashe’s most difficult poems have a gentle familiarity to them, they are rarely personal. One of the primary satisfactions of this volume is that no time is wasted getting to know and accept the tastes and preoccupations of the poet; he doesn’t dredge through memories or parade us through his bedroom, and, except as the archetypal mother, father, or friend, he rarely makes mention of specific people or places. His vocabulary is plain—without personality, one might contend. The common nouns are stone, tree, eyes, nose, darkness, light. Common abstractions are Paradise, Solitude, Time, Immortality. In this way, he reminds us of Dickinson, exploiting the duality of simple words and stacking syntax in order to render complex meanings. Yet in Menashe the poems don’t seem as if they are built as scaffolding around existential anguish as they often do in Dickinson. As much as he is a wordsmith and an artist, Menashe is a good son, prone to natural fondness and grief. In “Grief,” he writes:

Disbelief
To begin with—
Later, grief
Taking root
Grapples me
Wherever I am
Branches ram
Me in my bed
You are dead


While it’s not stated, the context of the surrounding poems leads us to believe that this poem is dedicated to one of the poet’s parents, those essential yet unspecific characters who appear throughout the book. We find their influence in a self that has felt itself loved both by the father and the Father, and has created, through poetry, a vigil in order to receive those presences again.

By avoiding explicit autobiographical anecdote and compressing his poems to the point where each word reveals the limits of its meaning, Menashe takes risks that are unfashionable in contemporary terms. But to call him a “difficult” poet would be a misnomer, for there are few poems in The Niche Narrows that require a dictionary or supplemental reading; in fact, the immediate reaction upon reaching the end of a Menashe poem is usually amusement. Afterwards, one basks in the understanding of how simple genuine profundity is. But the “I” in Menashe’s poems, that scribe who is following his true calling, does present a difficult dilemma to contemporary poets—of the kind that requires soul-searching rather than scholarship.

The idea that the existence of a poet is a prerequisite to a poem, and that this implies some confluence of talent, circumstance, and character, is unsettling to us. We have bought into a poetic culture that imitates popular American culture at large—with its cults of personality, its shameless self-marketing, its ethos of maximum productivity, and its surface frenzy—to such a degree that a voice untouched by these factors seems at times naïve, even absurd. That Menashe, who is on the margins of the poetry world, has written good poems about being a poet while so many insiders have become talking heads for the industry begs the question: can “successful” poets speak truthfully to their own condition? If not, po-biz success and poetic integrity may soon become mutually exclusive. Under these circumstances, the pause that Menashe gives is exactly what we need.
Originally Published: October 30, 2005

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
10-08-2015, 08:56 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/171122

PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
No Experience Necessary
BY CHRISTINA PUGH
"In some poetry you feel there is too little lived experience—here you feel there is almost more than you can take in." Such was a blurb I found the other day on the back of a first book of poetry. Read this, and be overwhelmed by experience: on the face of it, a strange way to recommend poems. But on the other hand, I knew I'd seen that blurb before. Even in a poetic climate that supports the cerebral, ludic peregrinations of The Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries, reviewed by Danielle Chapman in the January 2005 issue of this magazine, there is still a sizable minority of poets and readers who come to poetry looking for a measure of "experience"—and what's more, "lived experience." What, in fact, are they really looking for? Is experience quantifiable? Is it equivalent to an empirically exciting life? Does it drive a red Ferrari, or is it a rambling pedestrian with a long white beard? Is there a difference? And when so many come away from American poetry today—particularly from the work of younger poets—with a feeling of disappointment or outrage, is experience what they are really missing?

The category of experience is seldom defined or questioned; as a concept, it's more like a wink or a nudge in the ribs. But those who uphold it as a value seem to want to appeal to a shared sense of humanity—an unspoken agreement that despite our many cultural, racial, sexual, and economic differences, we all are born, live, and die. In this new, graciously multicultural universalism, the category of "experience" wants to provide a comforting sense that we're all in this together—and that we can, at least, agree on what "this" might be. And of course, "experience" wants even more to be the sine qua non for writing the type of poetry that will speak to "people" and not "just poets."

But as the messy legacy of the American poets known as the Confessionals—particularly Lowell, Plath, and Sexton—the thirst for experience reveals its own fundamental contradictions. Plath died at thirty: from the perspective of anyone but the teenaged, how experienced could she really have been? Sexton and Lowell, for their parts, lived the life of economic privilege—which placed them, in Wordsworthian terms, "at a distance from the kind." The writing of both Plath and Sexton was, to a great degree, forged by their struggle with what Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique called "the problem that has no name": the mind-numbing burden of domesticity faced by women in an America that had yet to undergo the changes brought about by Second-Wave feminism. Can this be what is touted as "lived experience"?

The category of experience seems to promise a place for everyone: like Walt Whitman, it wants to invite all of us to dinner. But it's clear that many readers simply can't identify with the life stories of Lowell, Plath, and Sexton. And though one could easily follow R.D. Laing and claim that mental illness itself is a voyage of discovery, it's not clear how such a voyage, as articulated in the work of the Confessionals, would feed into the common construction of experience as a shared and democratic value.

Fascinatingly, the contemporaneous New York School, who were chattier than the Confessionals and just seemed to have a lot more fun, played down the role of experience in writing. As O'Hara so succinctly put it, "Nobody should experience anything they don't need to, if they don't need poetry bully for them." Or Ashbery's ruminations in an interview with Kenneth Koch: "We seem to be determined both to discuss poetry and not to discuss anything at all. This is probably what we do in our poetry. I only wish I knew why we feel it to be necessary."

An even better indictment of experience-as-value comes in Ashbery's "And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name." There he inimitably asserts that for the poet, "Certainly whatever funny happens to you/ Is OK." In this mock ars poetica, "whatever" becomes both everything and nothing—and the wisdom to know the difference. Kay Ryan has seconded this motion by pressing "the importance to the poet of avoiding or ignoring Kodak moments." In an essay that celebrates the habitual or "novelty-free life," Ryan lauds the least entropic state of being: "Your memory will be deep, quiet, undifferentiated as a pool. Change will enter and twist like a drop of ink, the tiniest bit of new per old."

Perhaps it is precisely that near-invisible shimmer in the old that draws me to certain poets rather than others. I admit that I'm often thrilled by the poets of no experience: no experience at all, if experience is defined in the popular, unexamined way. For people immune to literature, Emily Dickinson "didn't have a life." After a year at Mount Holyoke, she embarked on what can only be called, experience-wise, an early retirement in her twenties. As for Wallace Stevens, how boring can it be to walk to your job at an accident and indemnity company (in Hartford, no less), year in and year out? From this perspective, both were writing books—or fascicles—on "nothing," much as Flaubert sought to do when he began to incubate the book that would become Madame Bovary. Yet we don't fault these poets for their lack of experience, for their humdrum and muted lives, for not having lived enough in the world (wherever we think that may be). For me, a certain contemporary parallel is found in the marvelous work of Charles Wright, which reads as a paean to the limited-experience life. If read collectively, his selected Negative Blue paints a portrait of someone who has done little more—experientially—than sit alone in his own backyard for decades.

Still, experience has long provided a dubious litmus test for poetry, and not just in the American tradition. When Rilke's friend Ellen Key told him that his work "smacked of the writing desk," she clearly meant that it reflected too little actual experience. The poet's aversion to sustained relationships is well-known, as is his avoidance of service during the First World War. Isn't it funny, then, that Rilke's poetry has been popularly seen—even prescribed—as the poetry of experience: the poetry of weddings, funerals, and, according to Rilke scholar Judith Ryan, German soldiers' comfort at the front during both the First and Second World Wars?

So the poetry that, for some, lacks experience can be embraced as the quintessential poetry of experience by others. And the poetry forged in what we might consider to be genuinely hefty experience—manual labor, for example—can also easily become its own template or formula: something just as repeatable as the oft-lamented "academic" poem. If Wright has repeated himself—much as Dickinson repeated herself—the same could be said of a poet like Philip Levine, who is often looked to as a quintessential contemporary poet of experience. Clearly, then, having "experience" doesn't void the risk of repetition in poems. Poetry that is "novelty-free," in Kay Ryan's terms, may be a function of self-actualization in the work, regardless of how much recognizable experience that work does or does not reflect.

The longer I look, the more the category of "experience" dissolves before my eyes. I'm happy to see that dissolution, since it's a fitting prelude to another intimately related argument: one for the viability of reading as a version of, or a substitute for, "lived experience." Calvino's If On A Winter's Night a Traveler provides a good model for what I'm talking about. There, the allegorical Writer and Reader are two separate people: the first male, the second female. Lately I've envied this Reader her fly-by-night quality, her ability to lose herself so irresponsibly in books. But if I superimpose the one allegorical figure upon the other, I end up with a viscerally viable, albeit cartoonish, prescription for who the writer is—or should be, or could be. Might it be that what is missing in the work of some younger poets is not "experience" at all, but reading that is deep enough to effect changes in the self?

Here is where the university, the proverbial elephant in the room, comes in. Many believe universities fail poets, particularly younger poets, by depriving them of experience. This is said categorically of the MFA and other graduate degrees, as well as of academic positions that now support many poets as teachers and writers. Academia becomes, in this model, a sort of double Procrustean bed. We're told repeatedly that graduate programs in creative writing produce poets who crank out the same, experience-challenged, cookie-cutter verse. But do education and "lived experience" have to be so ineluctably incompatible? That question is almost never asked. And few, if any, seem to wonder whether universities are failing poets by not educating them enough, or widely enough—or later, by requiring them to teach only in the workshop model. What if experience were not the missing ingredient after all?

I've thought a lot about this question because, though I'm hardly leading the escapist life of Calvino's Reader, I too am a Reader of sorts: Reader for this magazine. As such, I see an enormous quantity of work by poets who are hoping for publication. Ironically, it often seems that it's an inability to get past one's own experience that causes many of these poems to founder. For the beginner, it's the rather narcissistic belief that, to switch Ashbery a bit, "whatever melodramatic happens to you/Is OK." But even in certain, yes, more experienced poets, there can be an impulse around the anecdotal—around travel, around the family, around "events"—that, if not reworked in what Veronica Forrest-Thomson called the "internal expansion" of the poem, burns as the steady flame of ordinariness.

What's missing in much of the work I see is an ability to distinguish experience from occasion: what I'll define here as the prime mover of the poem, be it based in the poet's empirical life, in imagination, in the jurr of language, in literary texts. Yes, it can even be anecdotal, as in the infamous "I placed a jar in Tennessee." It's the opening, the antechamber of the poem that invites us into the occasion that will, we hope, master us as readers. Consider these openings—how they happen, and how little you can resist them: "I heard a fly buzz—when I died"; "Again last night I dreamed the dream called Laundry"; "My black face fades"; "Yes, it's a joke—in the florist's dictionary"; "flower is becoming the graph." Infinite, the snares of occasion. And polyglot. One of them is even taken from the book whose well-intentioned but ultimately misguided blurb I quoted at the outset of this essay.

Though the term may seem old-fashioned to some, occasion manages to crash the party of even the least referential of poetic schools. The best way I know to get a feel for this—what others might call integrity or bloom or motor—is not necessarily to go out and have an exciting life that you can write about in your work. Instead, I think, it's the ability to read widely enough to know which poetic occasions stir you: be they empirical, imaginative, aleatory, linguistic, discursive—and how various and transhistorical are poems' means to stir. So to argue against the litmus test of experience is not necessarily to argue, as did Eliot, for the extinction of the personality. It's also not to claim that I wouldn't drive the red Ferrari, if I had a license. Instead, it's to note that poetic occasion may not always be the result of "lived experience" per se. Understanding this will open the door to the younger poet who, like Mark Yakich, "divides his time between the bedroom and the kitchen." At the risk of coining yet another new universalism, maybe this is precisely the sort of experience we should all want to have.
Originally Published: October 30, 2005


Though the term may seem old-fashioned to some, occasion manages to crash the party of even the least referential of poetic schools. The best way I know to get a feel for this—what others might call integrity or bloom or motor—is not necessarily to go out and have an exciting life that you can write about in your work. Instead, I think, it's the ability to read widely enough to know which poetic occasions stir you: be they empirical, imaginative, aleatory, linguistic, discursive—and how various and transhistorical are poems' means to stir. So to argue against the litmus test of experience is not necessarily to argue, as did Eliot, for the extinction of the personality. It's also not to claim that I wouldn't drive the red Ferrari, if I had a license. Instead, it's to note that poetic occasion may not always be the result of "lived experience" per se. Understanding this will open the door to the younger poet who, like Mark Yakich, "divides his time between the bedroom and the kitchen." At the risk of coining yet another new universalism, maybe this is precisely the sort of experience we should all want to have.

Certainly in imaginative poetry one can shine and write great poetry, which appeals to many but the greatest poetry-the most famous poetry came from poets that used their life experiences combined with heart's desires to create masterpieces.
Which is harder to accomplish- something from nothing- "imaginative poetry" or taking that which is a known quantity (LIFE EXPERIENCES) AND WEAVING SUCH INTO TRUE MASTERPIECES?
And who has the authority or enough life validation to declare which is superior. Eliot as great as he was had not ALL the answers--nobody does.-Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
10-10-2015, 04:23 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/176084

PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
Word’s Worth
BY ROB KENNER

“Art” notwithstanding, some poets are creeps. Upon meeting my ten-year-old sister, Lisa, at an Ezra Pound conference in Orono, Maine, Allen Ginsberg asked if she’d lost her cherry yet. I’ve often wished I’d been present to smack those words out of his mouth.

For better or worse, poetry has always been as familiar as breathing to my six siblings and me. As the offspring of a loving, lifelong literary critic, Hugh Kenner, we were used to spontaneous recitations. Stray refrigerator magnet nouns and verbs would mix up with our breakfast cereal. Headlines from the daily news became haikus or, worse, free verse. I considered it perfectly normal to telephone Louis Zukofsky to discuss “similes” for a sixth-grade homework assignment. Lisa once served Basil Bunting’s sake, keeping his goblet filled as he read during that bittersweet Pound conference. In the house where we grew up, a framed William Carlos Williams typescript, signed with his painful post-stroke scrawl, hung where you could examine it while taking a leak.

Of course we watched plenty of Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons. But at bedtime, while other kids might be hearing Christopher Robin’s observations on the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, my father and I would learn poems from books that I’ve chosen to hide from my own kids for the time being. The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts and More Beasts for Worse Children were two of our favorites. These were the work of Hillaire Belloc, an early twentieth-century British poet whose verse was “designed for the admonition of children between the ages of eight and fourteen years.” By the time I was seven I could spit out the whole grisly tale of “Jim,” a boy who runs away at the zoo and gets eaten by Ponto the lion:

Now just imagine how it feels
When first your toes and then your heels
And then by gradual degrees
Your shins and ankles, calves and knees
Are slowly eaten bit by bit.
No wonder Jim detested it!


Ponto gnawed away until only a “dainty morsel” remained, and then, “the lion, having reached his head/The miserable boy was dead!”

Come to think of it, maybe it wasn’t such a leap for me to end up at VIBE magazine, where I’ve worked as an editor since 1993, the year Quincy Jones launched his journal of hip hop culture. Back when Lisa introduced me to L.L. Cool J and Kool Moe Dee, we never doubted that rap was poetry; we had always understood poems to be performances. Although lots of mindless, hurtful crap gets peddled by the corporate entertainment machine, the essence of rap is samizdat poetry. Of course that artistry is lost on many people, blinded as they are by mass-media stereotypes.

It’s an essential part of being human, this need to shape the chaos of life into language and then to fit that mosaic of words into rhythmic patterns. At the end of the day, Nas and Homer are both in the same line of work. Do we disqualify one because he rhymes over a break-beat instead of a lyre? Because one is blind while the other is merely def?

Our father taught my siblings and me that a work of art should reward prolonged attention, a test that the best hip hop passes with ease. These compositions operate on several levels at once: you can dance to the beat, let the verbal flow wash over you, or wear out your rewind button trying to penetrate the encrypted language. With the best MCs (as most serious rappers prefer to be called) there is no lack of hidden riches. Where Milton may shout out Dante and the Book of Revelation, Jay-Z alludes to The Notorious B.I.G. and Big Daddy Kane, all while taunting rival rappers, social critics, and law enforcement officials. In “Agent Orange” Pharoahe Monch pisses on the White House lawn, then lets the double entendres fly:

I threw a rock and I ran... Y’all wanna ask me who sane?
These biological gases are eating my brain
It’s a political grab bag to rape mother earth
Thirty seconds after they bagged dad for what he’s worth.


I once had the good fortune to edit Harry Allen’s “Hypertext,” an attempt to unpack all the embedded subliminal references and nuances of craftsmanship in “Niggas Bleed,” a single rap by the late Christopher Wallace, AKA The Notorious B.I.G. The final manuscript—fragments of which appeared in the March 1998 issue of VIBE—ran way past twenty thousand words. The complexity of Wallace’s rap was awe-inspiring, especially considering the fact that he wrote nothing down, recording all his rhymes “off the dome.”

Meanwhile, millions of kids around the world can recite Eminem’s latest verse by heart, although they couldn’t care less what any doctoral candidate thinks about it. “See I’m a poet to some/A regular modern-day Shakespeare,” Eminem muses on “Renegade,” a dazzling duet from Jay-Z’s landmark album The Blueprint. Because it’s not exactly cool for any MC to care about that sort of thing—let alone a white boy—he backpedals a few lines later: “I’m just a kid from the gutter/Making this butter offa these bloodsuckers.” But go through his raps and Eminem’s artistic aspirations are undeniable. Tupac Shakur, hip hop’s tragic anti-hero, struggled with a similar internal conflict. Only after his murder at age twenty-five did his legions of fans learn how much he loved acting classes and writing poetry.

Mercenary motives are reliable alibis for the preservation of icy machismo. (“Words worth a million like I’m rapping over platinum teeth,” Jay-Z once boasted.) But other MCs are willing to admit that it’s not necessarily all about the Benjamins. Check Common’s new album Be, especially “The Corner,” an ode to the urban crossroads that features the seventies proto-rap crew, The Last Poets. Some MCs actually covet critical respect. “I’m trying to show these poetry niggas that you can be poetic and into high fashion at the same time,” the Chicago-born bard Kanye West told VIBE: “These people think you need to live on a rock to be poetic. I’m actually consulting with poets as I write this album. Like the way niggas got vocal coaches, I got a poetry coach.”

Reports of the declining state of poetry have been greatly exaggerated. Much of the mail we receive at VIBE (especially the letters stamped with a prison ID) contains loose-leaf sheets of hand-written poetry. Is this what the poet Allen Grossman had in mind when he called poetry “the last recourse before despair”? Or what Lucille Clifton was getting at when she wrote:

...come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.


Maybe it was like that with my dear friend Catherine Barnett. We worked together for years at Art & Antiques magazine, and kept in touch after I went on to VIBE. I was aware that she had begun writing and teaching poetry, but never knew what or why until the publication of Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes Are Pierced, one of the most harrowing books I’ve ever encountered. This series of poems chronicles the death of the poet’s young nieces in a plane crash, registering the family’s disbelief, grief, and—worst of all—the moving on. The cumulative power of each carefully constructed verse is still quite overwhelming for me. In each cluster of particulars, I recognize my friend’s mind struggling to shape all the brutal details into some semblance of meaning. I think that’s what my father meant when he wrote, in this magazine, that “art is a fake but when vital has death somewhere at its roots.”

Hugh Kenner was no hip hop head. His auditory sense was severely compromised for most of his life, and those powerful hearing aids of his would have made listening to one of my favorite mixtapes a painful experience. As far as I know, his only exposure to rap lyrics came while watching the first annual VIBE Awards on TV with the closed captions turned on. Mom and Lisa sat with him as Andre 3000 enjoined the crowd to “shake it like a Polaroid picture.” Dad expressed his sympathy that I had to attend this event and then died four days later of heart failure. But I still believe that he’d fully endorse my defense of the ol’ boom-bap. After all, consider his epitaph: “What thou lov’st well remains. The rest is dross.”
Originally Published: November 28, 2005

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
10-14-2015, 10:08 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/guide/176628#guide

Robert Browning: “Fra Lippo Lippi”
In the realm of the world-class talkers.

BY W. S. DI PIERO

It’s past midnight in Florence’s red-light district in the mid-15th century, and a man dressed as a monk has just been strong-armed by the police and questioned about his presence in such a place. Wait, he says, I can explain everything.

That’s where we find ourselves at the beginning of Browning’s “Fra Lippo Lippi.” What follows is a wild improvisation on assorted themes—lust, want, religion, art-making, and the nature of beauty. The good Fra Lippo—Carmelite Friar and in-house painter for Cosimo De’ Medici—does explain his presence, explains in fact pretty much his entire life and art, over the course of nearly 400 lines. He is, like other of Browning’s monologists, a world-class talker.

Browning wrote many kinds of poems, but the ones I like best and have been rereading for years are the dramatic monologues, in which the ventriloquist poet throws his voice and we hear a dummy (usually an actual historical personage) talk itself into existence. Although the speaker usually directs his gab to a particular person or persons, he may as well be talking to himself. The Duke of Ferrara in “My Last Duchess” is in love with the sound of his own voice and its homicidal menace. A dramatic monologue also lets the poet shape and set loose a voice that reveals something that matters not just to the speaker but to Browning, too. The “unknown painter” whose voice we hear in “Pictor Ignotus” is soured by what he feels to be his contemporaries’ indifference toward his work. In every monologue we hear the speaker (or what I think of as the consciousness of the poem) working through a crisis, conducting an argument, or rationalizing inclinations, actions, and beliefs.

Some of these poems, such as “Fra Lippo Lippi” and “Pictor Ignotus,” are about painting and are spoken by artists, which makes them ekphrastic poems; that is, they have to do with images—ekphrasis is Greek for description. Even those not in artists’ voices usually involve art. The dying ecclesiast in “The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed’s Church,” whose thoughts should be concentrated on last things and the afterlife, obsesses about architecture, stonemasonry, and sculpture.

Every Browning monologue discloses an idiosyncratic, preoccupied mind, and the imaginative arc that connects us to that mind is the same arc we make when reading Shakespeare: it’s a character that speaks to us, not the poet, though it’s the poet who gives spirit and voice to the character’s passions. Browning, like Shakespeare, is everywhere and nowhere in the voices he creates. In “Fra Lippo Lippi,” he has his character argue for the realistic style developed in Renaissance art because he wants to make a case for the vivid textures and psychological realism of his own poems, a prime instance of which is the very monologue we’re reading. In this and other poems, we’re suddenly made eavesdroppers to an already strung-out dramatic situation; it’s like hearing one side of a telephone conversation we’ve tuned into after it has already started.

Browning takes nasty delight in dropping us into situations that engage moral questions attached to rough, unpleasant realities, though his tone is high-spirited and racy, not morose. “Andrea del Sarto,” spoken by the 16th-century artist described by one of his contemporaries as “the faultless painter,” starts with del Sarto’s attempt to have a “relationship talk” with his wife: “But do not let us quarrel any more, / No, my Lucrezia; bear with me for once.” A few years earlier, Lucrezia persuaded him to return from the Court of France (where he’d been invited and won acclaim and prosperity) to Florence—that is, to her and her claims on him—which he fears may have cost him the supreme fame of a Michelangelo or Raphael. We follow the movements of his mind as it dances through various subjects: good technique, nostalgia, fame, and covetousness. We learn that he’s henpecked but loves his wife (in part because she’s a reliable model), that he’s sensitive to personal and professional slights, and that he’s not entirely convinced that being a “perfect painter” is such a good thing after all.

In “My Last Duchess,” the greatest modern poem I know about, the acidic, potentially murderous dynamics of jealousy, the duke of Ferrara is showing his art collection to the representative of a nobleman whose daughter the duke is betrothed to. The collection’s centerpiece is a portrait of his lately deceased duchess, who in life—the duke lets the go-between (and us) know—distributed her attention to the world too indiscriminately to please the egomaniacal owner “of a nine-hundred-years-old name.” Was the duchess superficial and flirty? Did she smile too much at everything alike? We have only the duke’s word for it. There’s no ambiguity about the duke’s solution, though: “I gave commands; / Then all smiles stopped together.” Listening to him, we’re like Othello depending on an Iago for our intelligence.

To read these poems is to experience how a unique consciousness answers to reality. Whatever the monologist says about the world of circumstance is not a shared truth, it’s a person-specific interpretation. Every detail he chooses to include reveals something essential about character. Fra Lippo’s improvised self-defense becomes an eloquent, at times hilarious resume of his orphaned, street-urchin beginnings and how those circumstances shaped his art. This painter, so gifted at rendering psychological subtleties in physiognomies, was once a starving kid who watched people’s faces “to know who will fling / The bits of half-stripped grape-bunches he desires, / And who will curse him or kick him for his pains.” Want taught him to value the pleasures of the flesh. The deprived child grew to become a man who, though a member of a religious order, chases girls. He’s one of several clerics Browning loved to tease for their randy worldliness. The dying priest in “The Bishop Orders His Tomb” moans reverentially about the blue vein in the Blessed Virgin’s breast.

It’s not only the what of the monologues that wakes us into recognitions of character. The how matters just as much. Browning was vilified by critics for obscurity and abused as a language mangler. The speed of the thoughts that issue from his speakers’ mouths sometimes blurs clarity. But the stream of consciousness is a crooked stream, and in the monologues Browning intentionally allows his speakers to indulge in interruptions and gnarly obliqueness. We have to pay attention to his speakers’ patterns of reasoning, however corrupted or manipulative. (Browning’s speakers always represent their own interests, as we do when we conduct monologues in life.) He varies effects from poem to poem. “My Last Duchess,” a viper of a poem, its beautifully reasoned discourse venomous with insinuation at every turn, is quite unlike the twisty confusions of the bishop’s last thoughts on his deathbed, which snap back and forth from his envy of another cleric’s tomb to his resentment toward his sons (don’t ask) to his obsession with lapis lazuli and correct Latin.

The monologues are crafted to reveal the moral character of the speakers, and the crafting depends on the sonorities and rhythms of versification. Browning favored the blank-verse line—unrhymed iambic pentameter. In its stiffest form, with its ten syllable and alternating stressed/unstressed units, the line would sound like “I am, I am, I am, I am, I am.” Gifted versifiers such as Browning work endless variations on this rudimentary pattern. When Fra Lippo gets serious about the relation of art-making to appetite, his meters turn blunt: “This world’s no blot for us, / Nor blank; It means intensely, and means good: / To find its meaning is my meat and drink.”

But when he describes how, while painting night after night all those saints and Madonnas, his attention was drawn by a sound outside his window, the meters dramatize the excitement and arrested attention he felt when he looked out and saw “Like the skipping of rabbits by moonlight—three slim shapes.” The first half of the line prances toward those last three monosyllabic attention-stoppers. When he rhymed, he could do so to chilling effect. The rhyming couplets spoken by the smug, righteous duke in “My Last Duchess” growl with wounded vanity: “She liked whate’er / She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.”

Selfhood in Browning is a mass of disheveled fragments of experience, and the monologues give form to what it feels like to actually live them, what it feels like to work at understanding meaning, with little more to go on than memory, desire, and circumstance. He loves to rake life’s casual messiness across apparent certitude and aphoristic confidence. “Andrea del Sarto” contains Browning’s most famous maxim: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, / Or what’s a heaven for.” A sparkling nugget, that one. But all around it one hears about the dozens of tiny rips and rents in del Sarto’s marriage, artistic practice, and worldly career. Readers like me who savor these poems go to them not for confirmation of what we already know but to experience the lurching, unstable process of making sense of things.



Selfhood in Browning is a mass of disheveled fragments of experience, and the monologues give form to what it feels like to actually live them, what it feels like to work at understanding meaning, with little more to go on than memory, desire, and circumstance. He loves to rake life’s casual messiness across apparent certitude and aphoristic confidence. “Andrea del Sarto” contains Browning’s most famous maxim: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, / Or what’s a heaven for.” A sparkling nugget, that one. But all around it one hears about the dozens of tiny rips and rents in del Sarto’s marriage, artistic practice, and worldly career. Readers like me who savor these poems go to them not for confirmation of what we already know but to experience the lurching, unstable process of making sense of things.

^^^^^^^^^^ AND HERE YOU HAVE IT. Why many poets write and why many poets are crazy, methinks.
And I dare to include myself in that broad declaration!-Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
10-20-2015, 10:35 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/article/177209

The Immense Intimacy, the Intimate Immensity
BY EDWARD HIRSCH

The profound intimacy of lyric poetry makes it perilous because it gets so far under the skin, into the skin. “For poems are not, as people think, simply emotions (one has emotions early enough)—they are experiences,” Rilke wrote in a famous passage from The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. I am convinced the kind of experience—the kind of knowledge—one gets from poetry cannot be duplicated elsewhere. The spiritual life wants articulation—it wants embodiment in language. The physical life wants the spirit. I know this because I hear it in the words, because when I liberate the message in the bottle a physical—a spiritual—urgency pulses through the arranged text. It is as if the spirit grows in my hands. Or the words rise in the air. “Roots and wings,” the Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez writes, “But let the wings take root and the roots fly.”

There are people who defend themselves against being “carried away” by poetry, thus depriving themselves of an essential aspect of the experience. But there are others who welcome the transport poetry provides. They welcome it repeatedly. They desire it so much they start to crave it daily, nightly, nearly abject in their desire, seeking it out the way hungry people seek food. It is spiritual sustenance to them. Bread and wine. A way of transformative thinking. A method of transfiguration. There are those who honor the reality of roots and wings in words, but also want the wings to take root, to grow into the earth, and the roots to take flight, to ascend. They need such falling and rising, such metaphoric thinking. They are so taken by the ecstatic experience—the overwhelming intensity—of reading poems they have to respond in kind. And these people become poets.

Emily Dickinson is one of my models of a poet who responded completely to what she read. Here is her compelling test of poetry:

If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know. Is there any other way.
Dickinson recognizes true poetry by the extremity—the actual physical intensity—of her response to it. It’s striking that she doesn’t say she knows poetry because of any intrinsic qualities of poetry itself. Rather, she recognizes it by contact; she knows it by what it does to her, and she trusts her own response. Of course, only the strongest poetry could effect such a response. Her aesthetic is clear: always she wants to be surprised, to be stunned, by what one of her poems calls “Bolts of Melody.”

Dickinson had a voracious appetite for reading poetry. She read it with tremendous hunger and thirst—poetry was sustenance to her. Much has been made of her reclusion, but, as her biographer Richard Sewall suggests, “She saw herself as a poet in the company of the Poets—and, functioning as she did mostly on her own, read them (among other reasons) for company.” He also points to Dickinson’s various metaphors for the poets she read. She called them “the dearest ones of time, the strongest friends of the soul,” her “Kinsmen of the Shelf,” her “enthralling friends, the immortalities.” She spoke of the poet’s “venerable Hand” that warmed her own. Dickinson was a model of poetic responsiveness because she read with her whole being.

One of the books Emily Dickinson marked up, Ik Marvel’s Reveries of a Bachelor (1850), recommends that people read for “soul-culture.” I like that dated nineteenth-century phrase because it points to the depth that can be shared by the community of solitaries who read poetry. I, too, read for soul-culture—the culture of the soul. That’s why the intensity of engagement I have with certain poems, certain poets, is so extreme. Reading poetry is for me an act of the most immense intimacy, of intimate immensity. I am shocked by what I see in the poem but also by what the poem finds in me. It activates my secret world, commands my inner life. I cannot get access to that inner life any other way than through the power of the words themselves. The words pressure me into a response, and the rhythm of the poem carries me to another plane of time, outside of time.

Rhythm can hypnotize and alliteration can be almost hypnotic. A few lines from Tennyson’s The Princess can still send me into a kind of trance:

The moan of doves in immemorial elms
And murmurings of innumerable bees.
And I can still get lost when Hart Crane links the motion of a boat with an address to his lover in part 2 of “Voyages”:

And onward, as bells off San Salvador
Salute the crocus lustres of the stars,
In these poinsettia meadows of her tides,—
Adagios of islands, O my Prodigal,
Complete the dark confessions her veins spell.
The words move ahead of the thought in poetry. The imagination loves reverie, the daydreaming capacity of the mind set in motion by words, by images.

As a reader, the hold of the poem over me can be almost embarrassing because it is so childlike, because I need it so much to give me access to my own interior realms. It plunges me into the depths (and poetry is the literature of depths) and gives a tremendous sense of another world growing within. (“There is another world and it is in this one,” Paul Éluard wrote.) I need the poem to enchant me, to shock me awake, to shift my waking consciousness and open the world to me, to open me up to the world—to the word—in a new way. I am pried open. The spiritual desire for poetry can be overwhelming, so much do I need it to experience and name my own perilous depths and vast spaces, my own well-being. And yet the work of art is beyond existential embarrassment. It is mute and plaintive in its calling out, its need for renewal. It needs a reader to possess it, to be possessed by it. Its very life depends upon it.


Originally Published: January 23, 2006

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This is a very informative article both on Emily Dickinson and on why we poets write.
Even despite criticisms we write!
Ever notice how painters/artists putting color on paper rarely get such criticisms?--Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
10-21-2015, 11:04 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/177613

PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
Formal Wear: Notes on Rhyme, Meter, Stanza & Pattern
BY GEORGE SZIRTES
The following opinions are frequently put forward regarding “form” in poetry:

1 Traditional forms are marks of conservatism embodying reactionary values, whereas what is truly valuable in art is what is forward-looking, cutting-edge, challenging;

2 Rhyme, form, and all other such devices are agents of closure, and closure is the mark of repressive, authoritarian societies;

3 Versification is a form of decoration, bourgeois obfuscation, a pretty way of saying something that could be muscular, authentic, straight;

4 Versification is a form of male intellectual abstraction, and antithetical to the play of ecriture feminine;

5 There are few rhymes in English, so re-using the narrow range of the same ones is predictable. Rhyme is therefore the essence of cliché;

6 Versification, particularly metre and rhyme, hampers the free play of the imagination.

The first four objections are essentially political from a left point of view (anarchist rather, though those who support them profess to be of the left) and may be considered as a group. The fifth and sixth are more aesthetic or technical in nature and might be adopted by the right.

An easy reply to the first might be that versification was common to all societies at all times, and that the word “traditional” as used here has little meaning, except as some kind of antithesis to another blanket term: “modernist.” Modernism, as used now, comprises a wide range of practices. If employed in a stricter historical sense, one might ask why a movement that began a hundred or so years ago should be thought to be the last word on anything. Repeating tired “modernist” gestures is perhaps the easiest, most conservative option.

One might go on to argue that closure is not the easy option it is thought to be. A bad closure is not a closure but someone waving goodbye when they haven’t in fact gone anywhere. A good closure might simply mean the sense that an object has become distinct from the person regarding or holding it. The closure in this sense is not an authoritarian gesture: on the contrary it is letting the object go.

Poetry is never a pretty way of saying anything that might be said straight. It is unparaphrasable, or, insofar as it may be paraphrased, it is sold short. Is someone seriously going to contend that all the great verse of the centuries which employs meter and rhyme would be far better paraphrased and digested? I don’t think so. Verse is not decoration: it is structural. It is a forming principle and works at depth.

As to notions of versification being an arid male intellectual pursuit, I wonder what we make of Akhmatova, Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, Marilyn Hacker? Does the female mind, if we can isolate such a thing, abhor patterns? What of all those quilts, flower schemes, and fancy dances?

Sure, rhyme can be predictable. The good poet’s job is to make it less so. On the other hand rhyme is also a mnemonic and an early pleasure. Rhyme is an extraordinary and surprising coincidence.

On the last point, I would contend that the constraints of form are spurs to the imagination: that they are in fact the chief producers of imagination.


* * *



Having set out six brief objections and six possible counter-arguments, I want to exercise my poetic right and talk a little more figuratively now. Perhaps I might begin with language itself.

My personal sense of language probably has its roots in my family’s transplantation to England and our complete, abrupt switchover to English in 1956. I cannot help feeling that what language theorists tell us must be true, that language is a very thin integument or skin stretched over a mass of inchoate impressions, desires, and anxieties. I cannot help feeling that the gap between signifier and signified is potentially enormous, and that the whole structure of grammar and syntax is a kind of illusion that hides this unpleasant fact from us.

Thin as it may be, however, language is a wonderful catcher and refractor of light, and has, in fact, all the psychological, intellectual, emotional, and sensory qualities one could wish for or imagine, for it is essentially a product of the imagination. Of imagination and memory, I should say, because of course language has a history of usage without which it would be almost useless. Imagination and memory are the central driving forces of poetry: poetry, one might say, is imagination and memory concentrated in language.

A tight skin over chaos: a skim of meaning over meaninglessness. There is an image in Edmund Blunden’s poem, “The Midnight Skaters,” of people wheeling and gliding over the thin ice of a village pond, under which lurks the figure of death who “With but a crystal parapet/Between, he has his engines set.” In response to which the poet exhorts the skaters to “... reel and pass,/And let him hate you through the glass.”

Blunden is a poet of the First World War and the years after, but the power of the ice image in his poem remains, for me, associated not only with the triumph of grace and courage over danger, but with the triumph of meaning and structure over chaos and meaninglessness, and also with the triumph of civilized values over barbarity. I think here of the barbarity that overtook my parents’ generation, that is never as far from us as we believe or hope.

I should say at this point that, instinctively, I have little faith in the benignity of nature, that great good green thing that gives us earthquakes and tsunamis as readily as it gives us daisies and nightingales. I don’t believe man is a bad blight on good nature: I believe he/she is part of nature and shares nature’s qualities. Between Versailles and the rainforest is a vast range of human interventions that move and delight me because I can identify with the instincts that created them.

What I would like to propose here is the notion of poetic form as an act of courage and grace, the wheeling of the skater on the ice, the tightrope walker juggling over Niagara, the builder of frail bridges across dark spaces who is not so very different from the spider spinning a web (a structured web, mind you) from his own body.


* * *



Those images of balance and grace over chasms of various sorts must correspond with elements of my understanding of the world: that the raw material we are given is magnificent but not necessarily well disposed to us, and that, to persist with the Levi-Strauss terms, one has somehow to cook it. This isn’t because we are epicures or restaurant critics, but because cooking is as magnificent as the material it works on.

You could argue that the desire for form or pattern springs out of fear, though I would prefer to say apprehension. Apprehension, desire, and love form a triad—the third term being the cooked version of the first two. The spider’s web is the cooked version of spider spit, the bee’s hive is the cooked version of the bee’s secretions, the sentences I am writing right now are deeply cooked versions of instincts that struggle towards thought. Nor have they been cooked by me alone out of nothing, since, as an inquirer into this area of experience, I have been joined by all other formers of instinct into language.

Not by me alone, then. One of the other attractions of form is community. If I write a sonnet, it has communion with other sonnets littering the sonnet landscape. It calls to them and they call to it. They do not necessarily huddle together or wear uniforms but they are aware of each other’s presence. They are not alone in the world. Nor have I had entirely to reconstruct or reinvent them. That which is given in them is available to me, and my task is to feed them fresh life. There is a complex range of sonnets out there, and while I may note the clear division between the Petrarchan and the Shakespearean, I do not forget Donne or Keats or Wordsworth or Elizabeth Barrett Browning, or John Berryman or Robert Lowell or Seamus Heaney or Tony Harrison, for that matter. And having translated a number of the Hungarian Ottó Orbán’s Lowellian sonnets, they have established themselves as important features in the same terrain.

And so it is with other historical forms, such as terza rima, with its narrative ABA BCB CDC chains and Dantesque smell of sulphur and sadness.

The community is, by its nature, a community of ghosts. One of my favourite images of the artistic act is from Emily Dickinson, who said that art was a house that tried to be haunted. Each artist—but since we are talking of poetry here, let us say each poet—builds some kind of house, the point of the house being to entice the ghost in. My own house is what I am inclined by history and instinct to build, but the ghost it is trying to attract is related to those of other writers of similar predicaments and temperaments. I think I can vaguely see my house as a series of rooms arranged in the form of a tenement block of the kind that seems almost to sing to me in Budapest. I do very much suspect that I am, in some sense, erecting the buildings my own lost selves might have inhabited.

The point then is to get that ghost in, for your house is nothing but a hollow shell without it. I know these are analogies, for they convey something of the power and gravity of poetry. Form, too, is a house that tries to be haunted, and form-with-history is the house that longs for more than just the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age.

But there are delights and games as well as ghosts.


* * *



The first rhymes we hear are in the cot or at our mother’s knee. They are a mixture of the lulling and the playful. The lulling approximates to the predictable heartbeat, the playful to the leap of surprise. These are the earliest physical maps of poetry: the even road, the running stream, the tumbling of pebbles through the blood. Reassurance, progress, delight.

Rhyme can be delight in much the same way as any delicious accident can. How strange that “particle” should rhyme with “article”; how outrageous that “intellectual” should rhyme with “hen pecked you all” (both examples from Byron’s “Don Juan”). The delight of finding unlikely couplings reminds us of the delight of fitting any one thing to any other in childhood, or of the simple pleasures of playing Snap. The pleasure resides in the odds being stacked against the desired coincidence. The first such against-the-odds coincidence might be the matching of a word to its referent. Make that sound, says mother, and you will get the object. So the strange sound meets the desired object much like the surrealist sewing machine meets the umbrella on the operating table.

Somewhere at the heart of language is an initial dislocation that is stitched up (I use the term advisedly) by an apparently arbitrary suture that makes for laughter and disquiet, the laughter of relief that things are not doomed to be dislocated, the laughter of surprise that the dislocation is healed in such remarkable fashion, the laughter of triumph that healing has been achieved, and the laughter of irony that such healing is a clever, disquieting, but hardly permanent device.

Rhyme and pattern as play are part of the spontaneous overflow of pleasure at the sheer existence of anything. They are aspects of the comedy of the human situation. Discovering a pattern or a coincidence can be the beginnings of religious vision or, once revealed to be artificial, simply the occasion of laughter.

The Victorians loved language games: acrostics, double sonnets, puns, nonsense verse, parody, shaped poems, echoes, puzzles. They worked so hard at it that some of their productions seem rather labored now. We prefer our laughter less dutiful. We are more aware of the spaciness, airiness, weightlessness of existence than they were, but patterns still beguile us. Cole Porter and Irving Berlin may be too sophisticated, but a decent hip-hop lyric still aims at some pretty tall rhymes. What is cool but significant lightness?


Rhyme can be unexpected salvation, the paper nurse that somehow, against all the odds, helps us stick the world together while all the time drawing attention to its own fabricated nature. Knowing that rhyme might become part of the field of poetic expectation, we strive to make its arrival as unexpected and therefore as angelic as possible, and, in so doing, we discover more than we knew. Rhyme can be an aid to invention rather than a bar to it. It is an aid because it forces us into corners where we have to act and take the best available course out. In the process of seeking it, we bump up against possibilities we would not have chosen were we in control of the process.

Another analogy: the dance. Imagine a formal dance. Your partner is language. You are not the leading partner in this dance, in which there is no clear leader—if there were, it would be language—but you have to respond to each other’s movements with as much grace as you can muster. You may have chosen to perform a waltz, a fox-trot, a tango, or any other set dance. There are certain determined moves here, and the clumsy dancer will have all his or her time cut out just trying to follow them according to those black and white feet depicted in the diagrams. The pattern must be kept in mind but may be varied, and still leaves room to invent, out of necessity, that whole vocabulary of complementary gestures and moves that soon stop being complementary and become essence, so that the black and white foot diagrams are simply the condition that brings the essence about. That essence may well be art. That invention is the requirement of pattern.

So why do we insist on believing that our solemn faces and grand intentions are all that matter? That the arbitrary gaiety of language has nothing useful to offer us?

None of this is to decry so-called “free verse,” which is, as has been pointed out, never “free” to those who use it well. I don’t want to fight yesterday’s battles all over again. I would prefer to offer some arguments that may be attractive in today’s conditions, not in 1912. Milton thought rhyme a pain, and so, occasionally, did Blake, not to forget Whitman, Williams, Sandburg, the Beats, etc., all of which shows that one needn’t be carrying a metronome or a rhyme-testing device at all times. But rhyme and pattern work, and they work because of where we are, not somewhere else. And I have not forgotten disquiet. How indeed could I? Nor do I think the implications of these technicalities stop at poetry, if only because poetry does not stop at poetry. As the late Bill Shankly said: football isn’t a game of life and death. It’s more important than that.


* * *



“The music of what happens”: counterpoint, sonority.

The phrase is used by James Stephens and also by Seamus Heaney, (“And that moment when the bird sings very close/To the music of what happens”). It is the title of an anthology of poems from the Listener magazine, edited by Derwent May and of a book of criticism by Helen Vendler.

The phrase “the music of what happens” might refer to a hidden and mystical system of high order, as in Heaney, or to the “music” of the arbitrary, as in John Cage. Its roots are certainly Celtic. For me, the music of poetry lies in what I think of as counterpoint: the counterpoint between the line and the sentence. It was Frost in one of his letters who suggested that the basic unit of the poem was the sentence rather than the line or the word, a typically robust piece of Frostian doctrine. After all, the poem on the page is recognized as such by its arrangement into lines, and Frost himself was a pretty regular user of metrical forms and rhymes, features that follow from the line unit.

The rhythm of the line is directed by mood and movement, the length of the line by breath. It is in the line and that regular collection of lines, the stanza, that poetry is closest to song—and often is song: “Spring, the sweet spring, is the year’s pleasant king” (Nashe), “Follow your saint, follow with accents sweet” (Campion), “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” (Herrick), to take a few early examples; but moving on to Tennyson, Housman, Brecht, Auden, James Simmonds, whoever. The line will make its own music too, with or without instruments: “The woods decay, the woods decay and fall” is deep sonorous music, as is much of Tennyson, despite what Tom Paulin says to the contrary. In fact, one must make an argument for any line of any poem to possess a certain sonority in its pace, its consonant and vowel music, in its caesurae and alliterations.

I sometimes think of a good line as a mouth dance, requiring the mouth to undertake a variety of movements that might well imitate expressions of human emotions. Certainly the mouth can sound cello, violin, flute, trumpet or indeed most string or wind instruments.

The roundness, the fullness, the statement of a sonorous end-stopped line provides a certain security and satisfaction. It also makes life easier for the popular musician and singer for whom time signatures are the stuff/staff/stave of life. The full end-stopped line is therefore well adapted to the usual concerns of song: narrative, mood, address. Song doesn’t do ideas or objects particularly well though, so its idea-content tends towards cliché—towards, at best, the strengths of cliché, which are trust, communality, and proverbialness. You might just as easily be singing the “Horst Wessel Song” as “Carrickfergus,” but that’s the chance you take. I would not willingly forego the delights of “Carrickfergus” because there’s an outside chance of it becoming a Nazi theme song, but a certain distrust tells me that the devil is likely to have some if not all the good tunes. The distrust of closure in an end-stopped line of poetry may well be linked to such suspicion.

A suspicion I share, as I have already said. Once you introduce enjambment, you complicate matters by resisting the natural fullness, or, as it may sometimes seem, the plumpness of the line. But you have to be careful since enjambments are noticeable. They draw attention to themselves and a particularly violent one is not unlike breaking a limb (or jambe) or even, at times, your neck. The best enjambments spice things up; they put, if you like, a snap in the poetic journey, keep you on your toes. Spectacular effects can be achieved in this way; separate the word “steep” at the end of the last line of a stanza from the word “fall” at the beginning of the first line of the next stanza and you really have enacted a falling, though you still have to gather that effect back into the body of the poem as a whole.

But Frost’s notion is not about effects as such. For him it is about naturalness, the assurance that no damned quack-doctor of pretty phrases is going to put one over on him. Out of the naturalness springs the music of counterpoint, which is not an arbitrary meeting of differences but the accommodation of two different expectations that act, literally, in concert.

This counterpoint produces a flexible poetics. If your mind is as liable to lurch and skip as mine is, a flexible poetics can be very useful, for it accommodates the lurches in its sentence structure while keeping a reasonably rigorous set of expectations in its linear structure. It is, to return to the very top of my argument, not a tyranny (no one accuses free verse of being a version of rampant individualist capitalism) but a society with a constitution. It is capable of surprising through its narrative sequence via the sentence, while offering reassurance through rhyme, meter, and stanza—which can, of course, supply their own surprises by way of wit.

Counterpoint, flexibility, and freedom with a constitution don’t seem dated ideals to me. Of course they are not the only available model in this line, but they are not secondhand goods. To mount a defense of them on what seem to me still-valid grounds is not to launch an attack on any other kind of verse. There may be a certain ritual quality in the manner of formal verse, but I observe the formalities in martial arts movies and note how the audience responds to them.

Personal form, of course, is a personal solution, insofar as it is a solution, for solutions sooner or later produce their own resistance. That’s the nature of the poetic enterprise.

You don’t have to dance like this, there are plenty of other dances; you don’t have to jive, you don’t have to tango, and it may take a little time of stumbling over your feet to learn, but it’s exciting once you’ve got it. It’s not going to go away.

Originally Published: February 1, 2006

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
10-22-2015, 08:54 AM
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1146109/The-remarkable-story-Rudyard-Kiplings-If--swashbuckling-renegade-inspired-it.html

The remarkable story behind Rudyard Kipling's 'If' - and the swashbuckling renegade who inspired it
By GEOFFREY WANSELL
UPDATED: 20:11 EST, 15 February 2009


This week, Rudyard Kipling's If, that epic evocation of the British virtues of a 'stiff upper lip' and stoicism in the face of adversity, will once again be named as the nation's favourite poem.
The choice will certainly reignite the debate about whether it is, in fact, a great poem - which T. S. Eliot insisted it was not, describing it instead as 'great verse' - or a 'good bad' poem, as Orwell called it.
Indeed, when it was last acclaimed as our favourite 14 years ago, one newspaper dismissed it as 'jingoistic nonsense', while another praised it as 'unforgettable'.
What is not in doubt is that Kipling's four eight-line stanzas of advice to his son, written in 1909, have inspired the nation for a century.

Two of its most resonant lines, 'If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same', stand above the players' entrance to the Centre Court at Wimbledon.
My own father gave a copy to me when I was ten and I carried it around in my wallet for the next 15 years. He felt it was the perfect advice for a son born at the end of the last world war, who could not know what triumphs and disasters lay ahead.
But few of the thousands who have voted for If as their favourite poem (in a poll for radio station Classic FM) know the remarkable story that lies behind the lines published in Kipling's collection of short stories and poems, Rewards And Fairies, in 1910.
For the unlikely truth is that they were composed by the Indian-born Kipling to celebrate the achievements of a man betrayed and imprisoned by the British Government - the Scots-born colonial adventurer Dr Leander Starr Jameson.
Although it may not seem so to the millions who can recite its famous first line ('If you can keep your head when all about you'), If is also a bitter condemnation of the British Government led by Lord Salisbury, and the duplicity of its Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, for covertly supporting Dr Jameson's raid against the Boers in South Africa's Transvaal in 1896, only to condemn him when the raid failed.
Kipling was a friend of Jameson and was introduced to him, so scholars believe, by another colonial friend and adventurer: Cecil Rhodes, the financier and statesman who extracted a vast fortune from Britain's burgeoning African empire by taking substantial stakes in both diamond and gold mines in southern Africa.
In Kipling's autobiography, Something Of Myself, published in 1937, the year after his death at the age of 70, he acknowledges the inspiration for If in a single reference: 'Among the verses in Rewards was one set called If - they were drawn from Jameson's character, and contained counsels of perfection most easy to give.'

But to explain the nature of Kipling's admiration for Jameson, we need to return to the veldt of southern Africa in the last years of the 19th century.
What was to become South Africa was divided into two British colonies (the Cape Colony and Natal) and two Boer republics (the Orange Free State and Transvaal). Transvaal contained 30,000 white male voters, of Dutch descent, and 60,000 white male 'Uitlanders', primarily British expatriates, whom the Boers had disenfranchised from voting.
Rhodes, then Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, wanted to encourage the disgruntled Uitlanders to rebel against the Transvaal government. He believed that if he sent a force of armed men to overrun Johannesburg, an uprising would follow. By Christmas 1895, the force of 600 armed men was placed under the command of Rhodes's old friend, Dr Jameson.
Back in Britain, British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, father of future Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, had encouraged Rhodes's plan.
But when he heard the raid was to be launched, he panicked and changed his mind, remarking: 'If this succeeds, it will ruin me. I'm going up to London to crush it.'
Chamberlain ordered the Governor General of the Cape Colony to condemn the 'Jameson Raid' and Rhodes for planning it. He also instructed every British worker in Transvaal not to support it.
That was behind the scenes. On the Transvaal border, the impetuous Jameson was growing frustrated by the politicking between London and Cape Town, and decided to go ahead regardless.
On December 29, 1895, he led his men across the Transvaal border, planning to race to Johannesburg in three days - but the raid failed, miserably.
The Boer government's troops tracked Jameson's force from the moment it crossed the border and attacked it in a series of minor skirmishes that cost the raiders vital supplies, horses and indeed the lives of a handful of men, until on the morning of January 2, Jameson was confronted by a major Boer force.
After seeing the Boers kill 30 of his men, Jameson surrendered, and he and the surviving raiders were taken to jail in Pretoria. The raiders never reached Johannesburg and there

The Boer government handed the prisoners, including Jameson, over to the London government for trial. A few days after the raid, the German Kaiser sent a telegram congratulating President Kruger's Transvaal government on its success in suppressing the uprising.
When this was disclosed in the British Press, a storm of anti-German feeling was stirred and Jameson found himself lionised by London society. Fierce anti-Boer and anti-German feelings were inflamed, which soon became known as 'jingoism'.
Jameson was sentenced to 15 months for leading the raid, and the Transvaal government was paid almost £1million in compensation by the British South Africa Company. Cecil Rhodes was forced to step down as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony.
Jameson never revealed the extent of the British Government's support for the raid. This has led a string of Kipling scholars to point out that the poem's lines 'If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you' were designed specifically to pay tribute to the courage and dignity of Jameson's silence.
Typical of his spirit, Jameson was not broken by his imprisonment. He decided to return to South Africa after his release and rose to become Prime Minister of the Cape Colony in 1904, leaving office before the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910.
His stoicism in the face of adversity and his determination not to be deterred from his task are reflected in the lines: 'If you can make a heap of all your winnings / And risk it at one turn of pitch and toss / And lose, and start again from your beginnings / And never breathe a word about your loss . . .'
As Kipling's biographer, Andrew Lycett, puts it: 'In a sense, the poem is a valedictory to Jameson, the politician.'
All in all, an impressive hero for Kipling's son, John. 'If you can fill the unforgiving minute/ With sixty seconds' worth of distance run/ Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it/ And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!'
But Kipling's anger at Jameson's treatment by the British establishment never abated.
Even though the poet had become the first English-speaking recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, he refused a knighthood and the Order of Merit from the British Government and the King, just as he refused the posts of Poet Laureate and Companion of Honour.
The tragedy was that Kipling's only son, Lieutenant John Kipling, was to die in World War I at the Battle of Loos in 1915, only a handful of years after his father's most famous poem first appeared. His body was never found.
It was a shock from which Kipling never fully recovered. But his son's spirit, as well as that of Leander Starr Jameson, lives on in the lines of the poem that continues to inspire millions.
As Andrew Lycett told the Daily Mail: 'In these straitened times, the old-fashioned virtues of fortitude, responsibilities and resolution, as articulated in If, become ever more important.'
Long may they remain so.


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1146109/The-remarkable-story-Rudyard-Kiplings-If--swashbuckling-renegade-inspired-it.html#ixzz3pIhHkTl9
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This week, Rudyard Kipling's If, that epic evocation of the British virtues of a 'stiff upper lip' and stoicism in the face of adversity, will once again be named as the nation's favourite poem.
The choice will certainly reignite the debate about whether it is, in fact, a great poem - which T. S. Eliot insisted it was not, describing it instead as 'great verse' - or a 'good bad' poem, as Orwell called it.
Indeed, when it was last acclaimed as our favourite 14 years ago, one newspaper dismissed it as 'jingoistic nonsense', while another praised it as 'unforgettable'.
What is not in doubt is that Kipling's four eight-line stanzas of advice to his son, written in 1909, have inspired the nation for a century

Eliot the poetic genius was rarely wrong in regards to poetry but in this he was! I suspect that jealousy played a big part in his comment. History has now shown Kipling poem's greatness, its lasting fame and the deepness within.
Article above reveals its inspiration.. --Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
10-24-2015, 03:51 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/177754

PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
John Masefield
1878–1967

BY CONOR O'CALLAGHAN
He was born the year British Imperial forces were squaring up to the Zulus and Tennyson’s death was still fourteen years in the offing. He once met someone who had met Napoleon. He held a door for Lenin at the British Museum. He was deemed by Ramsay McDonald to be the natural successor to Robert Bridges, a voice-of-the-voiceless laureate for Britain’s first labour prime minister. He lost his son in WWII. He died the year the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper and Norman Mailer was jailed after Vietnam protests in Washington. More than any poet I can think of, his life and work straddle two irreconcilable worlds.

Nowadays it is difficult to credit his fame. The Everlasting Mercy was declared “nine-tenths sheer filth” by that paragon of piety Lord Alfred Douglas. The 1923 edition of Collected Poems sold eighty thousand copies. It is equally difficult to make any serious critical defense. Even Yeats, who was among his closest literary allies, advised him to sing in music halls. He wrote far too much. He did not, as John Betjeman tactfully pointed out, “specialize in brevity.” Nowadays, whenever his name comes to us, it comes to us with a faintly ludicrous patina. He is the seaman poet who suffered chronic seasickness; whose bestseller Gallipoli hailed that squalid massacre as a glorious victory; who died of gangrene brought on by a split toe.

I have liked John Masefield’s poetry for over twenty years. My maternal grandfather, a self-taught detective sergeant from a landlocked county of South Ulster, loved to recite the swaying opening stanza of “Sea-Fever.” I learned “Tewkesbury Road” by heart at secondary school. What class of genius, I wondered, could compose “the grey light drift of the dust”? Until recently, admitting to liking Masefield’s poetry was like confessing sympathy with some far right-wing militia or saying you listen to the Carpenters. Then Manchester’s Carcanet Press brought out a Selected earlier this year. The unexpectedly enthusiastic reviews that have greeted its publication suggest a dormant following.

Masefield’s first book, Salt-Water Ballads, appeared in 1903. By 1913, with fifty-four years still on the clock, his significant poetry had been published. To this day he gets itemized as the original of the Georgian species, even though his first three books were, technically speaking, Edwardian. Those early lyrics possess nothing of the tweedy hothouse pastoral of their age. They are breezy, visceral, caught placelessly between two yearnings like “anchors hungry for English ground.” They impose the see-saw of shanties onto drier literary meters. They have stories, direct speech. They are littered with words—fo’c’s’le, goneys, skysail, spunyarn—that you suspect had not appeared in poetry up until then and have not since.

Masefield’s best poems escape the autopilot optimism of those of his contemporaries. His vision is so clear and realistic that his palette risks appearing monochrome: “the grey dawn breaking,” “the cool grey rush of the dusk.” His lines can be so accentual as to sound vaguely jazzy. Even the anthology anthems, “Sea-Fever” and “Cargoes,” hit willful bum notes. They harbor tongue twisters, at once cherished and unsayable, like “the flung spume and the blown spray and the seagulls crying” or the “Quinquereme of Nineveh from distant Ophir” that Muldoon ventriloquizes via MacNeice in “7 Middagh Street.” “Cargoes,” among popular favorites in English poetry, has to be one of the most pessimistic:

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke-stack
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rail, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.


Muriel Spark, in her book-length study, argues that Masefield’s gift was for narrative. However untenable that claim seems now, “The Everlasting Mercy” and “Dauber” deserve at least partial survival on the grounds of importance if not sustained quality. The former’s realism broke real ground and influenced a generation. Sassoon happened upon the style of his war poetry by lampooning it. Graves described how its “fresh wind ... exhilarated us youngsters.” While its narrative is off-puttingly moral, the early fight sequence remains vivid and gritty. The latter, a semi-autobiographical tale of the eponymous painter-cum-cabin boy, contains some of the truest, most beautiful images of the sea and seafaring:

the swift ship
Tore on out of the tropics, straining her sheets,
Whitening her trackway into a milky strip,
Dim with green bubbles and twisted water-meets,
Her clacking tackle tugged at pins and cleats,
Her great sails bellied stiff, her great masts leaned:
They watched how the sea struck and burst and greened.


Masefield matured into mediocrity. He became an authority on Chaucerian meter, and his own work drifted slowly into the canon’s Bermuda Triangle. Not a solitary line appears in Paul Keegan’s otherwise magisterial New Penguin Book of English Verse. “I am like the dodo,” the man mused, “no longer known as a bird at all.” Only a twit would argue the case of Masefield’s greatness. Better, I suggest, to see him occupying a position within British poetry similar to that of Edward Arlington Robinson here: a minor poet whose career became an important stepping stone between the Victorian and the modern (both Auden and Larkin acknowledged a debt), and who wrote a few gems of his own that remain unworthy of neglect.
Originally Published: March 2, 2006

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
10-27-2015, 10:15 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/178263
INTERVIEW
Mind Over Matter
BY THE EDITORS
A conversation between Stanley Kunitz and his assistant, Genine Lentine.

GL: Stanley?

SK: Yes.

GL: Do you believe in mind over matter?

[laughter]

SK: You should ask it the other way, "Do you believe in matter over mind?" and then you’d have to say no.

[ laughter. ]

GL: I can hardly even think about that! I ask because of the way you just scrambled up those stairs, as if you just said, “Well, it doesn’t matter that I don’t have my walking stick.” So much of what you do seems to be the result of just deciding you can do it.

SK: That’s right.

GL: We stop short of our potential so often.

SK: True enough. True enough.

GL: What is it in you that enables you to short circuit that sense of “I can’t do it.”

SK: I don’t know but that’s been a principle all my life to do what I can and more. And it’s amazing that if you believe in that there’s almost nothing that stands in your way except your own restrictiveness.

GL: It’s so much about what we think we can do, and that’s always much less than what we can really do. One of the ways I think of my job is that everyday we have some heretofore impossible task in front of us, and then we do it. Every day I wonder, “What impossible thing are we going to do today?”

SK: That’s a good question.

GL: It’s only a construct, only poverty of mind that defines a task as impossible anyway. It’s just maybe that it hasn’t been done yet.

SK: Well, you know there are situations when you can’t do it, that’s all there is to it, and you have to be realistic up to a certain point.

GL: Yes. It’s foolhardy not to be.

SK: But it goes the other way too. You can do more than you think you can. You can stretch your strength to a point where you . . . you can walk up this path without a cane. If I had a cane I would use it, but without it I feel perfectly able.

GL: Do you think that’s how evolution proceeds? One creature decides, Hey! I’m going to try to eat that shiny blue thing over there, or one member of the herd is able to reach the more plentiful leaves in the upper branches, then gradually, the species starts to have a longer neck.

Do you think the poet is in some way an advance scout for spiritual evolution?

SK: In a way, yes. I cannot think of any other vocation that demands as much of you as the poem does in terms of confronting life and death and everything else.

There’s a bug there.

GL: I know. It’s just sleeping. That’s a nice looking beetle.

SK: Oh, beautiful. [laughs]

GL: It’s got such a great sheen. I like how sticky their legs are too. They’re very effective.

What does the poem demand of you? What were you going to say?

SK: What does the stickiness of the legs do for the beetle?

GL: It allows it to hold onto the leaf.

SK: Prey.

GL: Oh, prey, I was just thinking it allows it to travel where it needs to travel, but probably holding onto its prey is another feature.

Could we talk more about what the poem demands of you?

SK: Everything you can give. In a way, the concept of the poem is boundless. It wants everything you have to give, and then more. That’s its nature.

GL: How does it tell you what it wants?

SK: Well, you have to become the spokesperson for the poem. For poetry itself. You have to demand of yourself a kind of power, understanding, perfection that is beyond your daily self.

GL: What if you were to bring that into your daily life?

SK: You would become impossible.

[pause]

GL: I wonder about that distinction you’re making. The poem both expands—it can receive whatever you give it—but it also pushes back and what I love is that feeling where there’s infinite room, but it’s also resisting me. And it’s at that place of resistance where that effort at articulation, where the heat, where the friction takes place, that impulse to try to resolve that feeling. It’s like when you compared it to a cat scratching its nails on a tree, it’s that feeling. Trying to get language to strike a likeness to your inner state. Language provides both the resistance and the opportunity.

SK: Very true.

GL: and it’s always falling short, but it’s also providing you with these incredible gifts too, these coincidences of form, unimagined concentrations or suspensions of meaning.

I was trying to see what bird that was that was under the yew hedge, but it flew away.

SK: Not a mocking bird?

GL: No.

SK: A catbird.

GL: Yes. I bet it was a catbird. Do they feed on the ground?

SK: That’s the primary occupant of the garden.

GL: I love the call of the catbird.

SK: And you feel it never gets discouraged. It keeps calling.

GL: You talk a lot about testing yourself. Do you think the poem is the ultimate testing ground?

SK: For a poet, yes. [laughs]

GL: I mean for you.

SK: mm hmm.

[pause] It’s so much a testing ground that often, I think, among the poets I know, it is capable affecting one’s capacity to deal with the dailiness of life, because it’s the dailiness that is the enemy of the poem.


GL: That’s so paradoxical though because the day provides the . . .

SK: it gives you material, it gives you a circumstance, but if the poem emerges as daily let’s say as a menu, then it’s a negative impact.

GL: I remember reading in Galway’s book, Walking Down the Stairs, that Rilke wouldn’t go to his daughter’s wedding because he thought he’d be better off staying home . . .

SK: . . . and writing a poem, mm hmm. I don’t think poems should be treated as though they were a substitute for life.

GL: It doesn’t seem like any self-respecting poem would want to be treated that way, because the poem advocates for life.

Have you been feeling like your daily life recently has been inimical to poems?

SK: Well I think any daily life tends to become routine. One doesn’t expect revelation out of daily life.

GL: Isn’t that when revelation comes though?

SK: Surprisingly enough it’s the feeding ground. It’s where the materials of the poem are found, but revelation is not really consistent with dailiness. It has a miraculous aspect to it, and it is not to be encountered in every experience of the day, and especially the routine experiences

GL: Intuitively that feels to me just the kind of place where revelation happens; you’re doing the dishes and your mind reaches a state of equanimity in the task

SK: and then you drop the dish and it shatters

GL: and it was a worthy sacrifice.

Photos Marnie Crawford Samuelson
Originally Published: April 10, 2006

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
10-30-2015, 11:25 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/178165

POEM SAMPLER
Poems of Sorrow and Grieving
Classic and contemporary poems about ultimate losses

BY THE EDITORS

Remembering a Parent
Making a Fist -- by Naomi Shihab Nye
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

oh antic God -- by Lucille Clifton
oh antic God
return to me

Love Lost
Ae Fond Kiss -- by Robert Burns
Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, and then forever!

And Thou art Dead, as Young and Fair-- by Lord Byron
And thou art dead, as young and fair
As aught of mortal birth;

Ebb -- by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I know what my heart is like
Since your love died:

Epigrams: Epitaph on Elizabeth, L.H. -- by Ben Jonson
Wouldst thou hear what man can say
In a little? Reader, stay.

Death of a Child
An Arbor -- by Linda Gregerson
The world’s a world of trouble, your mother must
have told you
that. Poison leaks into the basements

The Bad Season Makes the Poet Sad --by Robert Herrick
Dull to myself, and almost dead to these
My many fresh and fragrant mistresses

The Dying Child by -- John Clare
He could not die when trees were green,
For he loved the time too well

Grieving the Death of a Friend
Buried at Springs --by James Schuyler
There is a hornet in the room
and one of us will have to go

Elegy with a Chimneysweep Falling Inside It by -- Larry Levis
Those twenty-six letters filling the blackboard
Compose the dark

Facing It -- by Yusef Komunyakaa
My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.

Regret & Depression
A Daughter of Eve-- by Christina Rossetti
A fool I was to sleep at noon,
And wake when night is chilly

The Debt -- by Paul Laurence Dunbar
This is the debt I pay
Just for one riotous day,

Fragment 3: Come, come thou bleak December wind -- by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Come, come thou bleak December wind,
And blow the dry leaves from the tree!

Originally Published: May 12, 2006

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
10-31-2015, 10:30 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/guide/251266#guide

Anne Sexton: “The Truth the Dead Know”
The impersonal power of a confessional classic

BY AUSTIN ALLEN

Anne Gray Harvey took the married name Sexton in 1948, thereby joining Swift, Wordsworth, and Frost as one of English literature’s most perfectly named poets. The word sexton, meaning a church officer who serves as bell ringer and gravedigger, is rich in both symbolism and literary history. The figure of the sexton appears in such mainstays of the canon as Hamlet (with its two gravedigger-clowns), Emily Dickinson’s thwarted-love poem “I cannot live with You,” and Hart Crane’s haunting ode “The Broken Tower.” In her brief career, Sexton lived up to virtually all the associations—tragedy and comedy, music and melancholy, death and the embedded word sex—that her name prepared for her.

A member of the mercurial, mid-20th-century group called the confessional poets, Sexton worked in an impressive range of forms and modes, from witty ballads to raw free verse. She broke poetic taboos with flair, writing frankly about menstruation, female masturbation, bipolar disorder, and other topics considered all but untouchable at the time. “A Sexton audience might hiss its displeasure or deliver a standing ovation,” Maxine Kumin recalls in the introduction to Sexton’s Complete Poems. “It did not doze off during a reading.” Like her friend and rival Sylvia Plath, Sexton committed suicide, suffocating herself in her garage at age 45.

Sexton’s titles alone often sound like dispatches from the graveyard. The Pulitzer Prize–winning 1966 collection Live or Die prepared the way for The Death Notebooks (1974) and The Awful Rowing Toward God (posthumous, 1975). Her poems include “The Hangman,” “Imitations of Drowning,” “Suicide Note,” “Godfather Death,” “For Mr. Death Who Stands With His Door Open,” and “Wanting to Die.” Then there’s “The Truth the Dead Know,” the opening poem of All My Pretty Ones (1962) and one of the 20th century’s outstanding poems of loss.

As revealed in its dedication, “The Truth the Dead Know” is an elegy with a double subject:

For my mother, born March 1902, died March 1959
and my father, born February 1900, died June 1959

These are the actual birth and death dates of Mary Gray Staples and Ralph Harvey; their daughter’s poem emerged three years after they died in quick succession. Such autobiographical details, now common in poetry, were then a cutting-edge gesture. In the 1962–1963 Hudson Review, Cecil Hemley reacted with mixed feelings:

There is no doubt that the poet wants us to associate herself with the “I” of the poem. … This identification with the writer has the advantage of intensifying our feelings, but the disadvantage of embarrassing us slightly. There were good reasons why past eras were reticent on such matters. However, the poem rises above the confession and achieves great beauty.

This far removed from confessionalism, Hemley’s embarrassment seems both quaint and beside the point. Distracted by the minor novelty of the framework, he downplays the extent to which the poem is deeply, deliberately traditional. Its imagery could belong to just about any century: church, grave, hearse, shoes, stones, boats, sea, gate, sun that “gutters” like a candle flame.

What was and is fresh about the poem is its bluntness:

Gone, I say and walk from church,
refusing the stiff procession to the grave,
letting the dead ride alone in the hearse.
It is June. I am tired of being brave.

We drive to the Cape. I cultivate
myself where the sun gutters from the sky,
where the sea swings in like an iron gate
and we touch. In another country people die.

From that stark “Gone” onward, the diction is so austerely Anglo-Saxon that the few Latinate words seem like extravagances. Amid stanzas rife with monosyllables, procession sounds highly formal, and cultivate, dangling at the end of a line, sounds almost luxuriant. But cultivate, too, is somehow stiff or hollow in light of the poem’s theme. Both words imply progress, a concept that death mocks. Both offer momentary changes of pace from the prevailing style, which is as plain as loss.

A change of pace is exactly what this speaker craves. Having lost both parents in the space of four months, she escapes to the beach with her unnamed “darling.” There the two lovers feel a sense of overwhelming connection, even communion:

My darling, the wind falls in like stones
from the whitehearted water and when we touch
we enter touch entirely. No one’s alone.
Men kill for this, or for as much.

Despite the bond the couple forges, “this” is no paradise. The “whitehearted water” could be an agitated cousin of Homer’s “wine-dark sea.” It swings “like an iron gate,” recalling the “iron gates of Life” through which Marvell, in “To His Coy Mistress,” insists that we must “tear our pleasures” if we’re to enjoy them at all. The lovers seem besieged, threatened: “the wind falls in like stones,” as in punishment by stoning, and the speaker reflects that “Men kill for this.” Both human and natural forces exact a price for such intense love.

Soon romance fades altogether as Sexton’s dirge marches to its close:

And what of the dead? They lie without shoes
in their stone boats. They are more like stone
than the sea would be if it stopped. They refuse
to be blessed, throat, eye and knucklebone.

This final stanza contains just three polysyllabic words: without, refuse, knucklebone. All three reinforce the image of death as a kind of asceticism. The corpses lie shoeless and motionless. Their refusal echoes the speaker’s refusal of the funeral: just as she abandoned the dead en route to the grave, so the dead now dispense with the blessings of the living. That last exposed knucklebone seems pugnacious and, at the same time, naked.

Meanwhile Sexton’s stone sea recalls at least two of Emily Dickinson’s most chilling images: the corpse as stopped clock and the “Valves” of the soul closing “like Stone.” “Stone boats” (i.e., coffins) evokes the long mythological tradition of death-voyages, from Charon rowing souls across the Styx to the Lady of Shalott drifting glassy-eyed into Camelot. The water that pelted the lovers with spray now seems to have engulfed and petrified Sexton’s imagination. Sea, boats, and bodies become stone, stone, stone. Death is universal and irreversible.

But poems themselves soon die if they freeze into straightforward statements. To survive, they must preserve restless undercurrents of ambiguity. What, if anything, is still moving at the end of Sexton’s poem?

One answer lies in that double-edged word refuse. Paradoxically, Sexton grants the dead an action—an emphatic, line-ending verb that combines cold negation and warm defiance. Moreover, their refusal mirrors the speaker’s, so that living and dead, parents and child, each partake of the activity (and, figuratively, the condition) of the other. “In another country people die,” the speaker declares, echoing Hamlet’s image of death as “The undiscovered country from whose bourn / No traveler returns.” Yet like the ghost-haunted Hamlet, Sexton finds that the separation isn’t so absolute. The two countries are joined by a murky psychological sea (Hamlet’s “sea of troubles,” Sexton’s stony waters) and by the indissoluble link between generations.

Sexton’s parents can’t visit her as literal ghosts, but the thought of them in their “stone boats” returns just as she’s trying to get away from it all. Perhaps, as Hemley imagines, they’re “sailing away from her in time,” or perhaps they’re emissaries, harbingers of her own death, floating toward her. Regardless, their “Truth” is what she has to learn and what she has to teach us.



“The Truth the Dead Know” employs a timeless diction, and its theme is as old as parents and children. With a slight change to the headnote, it could be a fictional construct about an anonymous speaker. Yet Sexton takes care to present it as a slice of her own life. As Hemley observes, this may have “the advantage of intensifying our feelings”; it also tempts us to read other biographical factors into the poem.

In 1959, the year Sexton’s parents died, Robert Lowell published Life Studies, widely acknowledged as the foundational text of confessional poetry. In that same year, Sexton took one of Lowell’s workshops at Boston University alongside an ambitious young poet named Sylvia Plath. The competitive friendship between the two women has become legendary. Over happy-hour martinis at the Boston Ritz-Carlton, they talked poetry, planned illustrious futures, and traded stories of suicide attempts. Through their mutual admiration ran a vein of envy: Plath brooded in her diary when Sexton landed her first book deal, and Sexton coveted “a scholarship to McLean,” the psychiatric hospital where Plath and Lowell had both been patients. (She taught a poetry seminar there in 1968–69 before finally being admitted herself in 1973.) Sexton even reacted with jealous resentment to Plath’s suicide, as she confessed in “Sylvia’s Death” (1964):

… and I know at the news of your death,
a terrible taste for it, like salt.

(And me,
me too.
And now, Sylvia,
you again
with death again,
that ride home
with our boy.)

Inescapably, they influenced each other. One revealing way to read “The Truth the Dead Know” is in comparison with “The Colossus,” the title poem of Plath’s first (1960) collection and another distinguished elegy by a grieving daughter.

In “The Colossus,” Plath’s speaker crawls over the massive wreck of a statue she calls “father,” fruitlessly trying to reassemble him. The landscape is eerie, primal, a mix of “the Oresteia” and Dalí. The diction is wildly varied (pig-grunt, acanthine, Lysol), the tone both melodramatic and comic, the speaker’s situation both noble and futile. Plath adopts, in critic Margaret Dickie’s words, “the ancient role of the female who mourns the dying god, or the heroine who tends the idol,” but she’s lost all hope of fulfilling her task. She’s doomed to endless filial duty, the same duty she would later renounce in the explosive “Daddy.”

“The Colossus” was Plath’s first masterpiece, and it can’t be a coincidence that Sexton’s poem, published two years later, tackles the same theme from a virtually opposite angle. No mythic conceit. No verbal razzle-dazzle. The speaker anything but noble. Sexton is not the loyal but the disloyal daughter, not a tragic heroine persisting in rites of mourning but a flawed human resisting grief. The dead father in Plath’s poem remains passive and mysterious; the dead parents in Sexton’s, as if punishing their daughter, flatly “refuse / to be blessed.”

“The Truth the Dead Know” is not superior to “The Colossus,” but it is more raw—and that rawness was the product of enormous effort. Kumin reports that the poem “went through innumerable revisions before arriving at its final form, an a b a b rhyme scheme that allows little room for pyrotechnics.” One unpublished version, available via recording, contains phrases such as “loose brows” and “a blushing hermit in the sun”; it ends on a conventional carpe diem note:“live now, live now.” This redemptive ending feels as alien to the final work as the stylized diction. In both respects, Sexton pared the poem down to the bone.

Plath’s “Daddy” may have been, in part, another entry in this contest of one-upmanship. (If Sexton could abandon her father at his funeral, Plath could call hers “you bastard.”) Similarly, the baroque morbidity of Sexton’s late poems may have been a bid to out-Plath Plath. Both poets took confessionalism to startling extremes, but “The Truth the Dead Know” achieves a starkness neither of them found (or perhaps sought) again. It’s both vulnerable and stoic, colloquial and classically restrained. Along with Dickinson’s “I heard a Fly buzz” and Philip Larkin’s “Aubade,” it’s one of the least comforting death poems in the language. Its power hinges not on the revelation of private details but on the recognition of an impersonal truth—one that we all learn sooner or later.

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
11-01-2015, 06:23 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/178034

INTERVIEW
Former Freight Hopper Makes Good
Richard Wilbur on meeting Frost, writing in foxholes, and falling in and out of fashion.

BY D. H. TRACY

Former army cryptographer, freight hopper, and Broadway lyricist Richard Wilbur (1921—) published his first book of poems in 1947. He quickly developed a reputation, cemented by subsequent collections, for felicitous, elaborate, even-tempered verse, and his recent Collected Poems 1943-2004 is a remarkable record of sustained optimism and commitment to craft. No poet of his generation has been more committed to careful, organized expression or has more thoroughly mastered the forms and devices of traditional poetry; this conservative aesthetic and his deep love for “country things” link Wilbur to the Roman poet Horace and to his fellow American Robert Frost. Wilbur had an academic career at Wesleyan University, and remains an active translator, particularly of classic French drama. [Read D.H. Tracy’s extended Wilbur biography.]

Wilbur lives in Cummington, Massachusetts. This conversation took place on April 7, 2006.

D.H. Tracy: You’ve had a very long career—your first book came out 60 years ago next year. Some of the questions I’d like to ask have to do with your perceptions of things over time.

I’m surprised by the strenuousness of the criticism your poetry has sometimes generated, and by the contrast between this strenuousness and the timbre of the poems themselves. When you were starting out, did you have an idea of how controversial it would be to write optimistic formal verse?

Richard Wilbur: Actually, in my background, at that time, most of the poets I admired—and many of them were alive—were capable of writing metrically. Many of them chose to rhyme. My favorite poet, then and always, was Robert Frost, and I didn’t hesitate to follow in his footsteps. There were people at the time I was commencing to write who didn’t regard Frost as a Modernist, but now I believe he’s considered to be one form that Modernism could take.

So I never felt I was electing to be “old hat” from the start. It seemed a kind of poetry that anybody at the moment might like to write, and indeed many people were doing so. It wasn’t really until the ’60s that there was a general turning away from so-called formal verse.

DHT: You knew Frost personally, isn’t that so?

RW: Yes, I did. I had the luck to meet him almost immediately after World War II, when my wife and I and my daughter went up to Cambridge to be at the Harvard graduate school. He was spending his winters in Cambridge.

I had a certain advantage with him right away because my wife’s grandfather, William Hayes Ward, had been the editor of The Independent, in which Frost’s first publication occurred. It was his poem “My Butterfly.” My wife’s great-aunt, Susan Hayes Ward, was an expert on hymnody and a great lover of poetry, and the person whom Frost described all his life as “the first friend of my poetry.” That meant that Frost smiled on us from the beginning.

DHT: Some of the poems from your first book were composed while you were still in the army. And you’ve talked about how you first deeply read Poe out of a paperback in a foxhole at Monte Cassino. Do you remember the circumstances behind the composition of any of the poems?

RW: I’m not sure that I can call up the moment. Even if you’re in a divisional signal company—which means that you are very busy, and imperiled some of the time—you find that, as Evelyn Waugh once said, war is mostly waiting around. You sit in a hole in the ground somewhere, or in a truck somewhere, or behind a couple sandbags, and you pass the time by forgetting, if possible, where you are for the moment.

And I forgot myself in all sorts of places during World War II. I had a young man’s ability to sit down in the corridor of a troop ship going overseas, with people’s feet all around me, and read books and even scribble on a poem. I did that sort of thing at every opportunity.

DHT: Can you give us a basic sketch of a day in the life of an army cryptographer? Were you usually outdoors? In a field office? By a radio? What did your duties consist of?

RW: Most of what I did was, as you say, cryptographic work: I was breaking enciphered messages and sending out messages in cipher. Our greatest weapons, on the cryptographic side, were big machines. Those had to be toted around in large trucks. We worked in a truck, very often. Under unpleasant circumstances, like the Anzio beachhead, we would dig the truck into a bank and make it as secure as possible. At other times, we would just sit there in the damn truck and work. We also established ourselves in buildings, here and there—wherever we could find a little bit of shelter so that we could do complex work with full attention. We sought that shelter.

DHT: You were initially thrown out of cryptanalysis school because of suspected disloyalty and leftist sympathies, after they discovered a copy of Marx in your possession.

RW: Quite ridiculous, really. When I reported to my basic training camp, I took along a large Modern Library volume of Marx’s Capital, which I had never read. I thought that (as I’ve just said) war was going to involve a lot of waiting around, and I might as well read that big fat book. I’ve still never read it.

But the fact is that, during inspection, when we had to have our footlockers open for the eye of the inspecting officer, it looked pretty bad. So the counterintelligence corps people decided they better look into me.

I really wasn’t very radical. You might say I was a strong New Dealer—an admirer of Franklin Roosevelt and an adherent of the union movement. I had no really dangerous leftist convictions. I do think that during World War II—and it’s probably indeed the same right now in Washington—what is preferred is that people who handle secret material should not have strenuous political attitudes of any kind. I can recall that when I was going through basic training, we were shown, as a matter of what they called indoctrination, a couple of rather good films by Frank Capra, one of which essentially traced the development of Fascism in Europe, and the clear moral of which was that we should have stopped them in Spain. You were supposed to sit in front of that movie and absorb it, yet if you went out in the company street thereafter and started talking about how we should have stopped them in Spain, people who were security-minded would feel a certain alarm. They did not want the passionately political in secret work.

DHT: How common an occurrence were these demotions? Did anything similar happen to any of your friends?

RW: Yes. One of my friends, who had I think been in the Communist Party (I’m not sure), was thrown out of some secret work, and comically enough he ended up rather in charge of teletype communications for the southern ETO [European Theater of Operations].

If you had a specialist number of some kind, identifying you as having some sort of ability, you were likely, regardless of people’s doubts about your security, to end up practicing that talent and that training. So I, even though my service record—which was forwarded along with me wherever I went—contained some sort of an indication that I was suspected of disloyalty, I found myself, through a series of accidents, doing exactly the secret work for which I had been trained, because the 36th Infantry Division needed a cryptographer.

DHT: Did this treatment rattle you, or did it seem entirely in keeping with what you knew about the army and the way it operated?

RW: I find it hard to report on my frame of mind about that; I was not dashed by it. It seems to me that I had a considerable feeling of knockabout enjoyment of things in those days, a feeling of adventure. So I just waited to see what would happen to me, and to absorb the shocks that might come.

DHT: Speaking of Edgar Allan Poe in the foxhole, it’s striking that the early American figures you seem to be in conversation with are Poe and Longfellow, and the monumental European figure who most interests you seems to be Milton. More commonly poets seem to fall in with Whitman and Dickinson, and then Dante. Have these figures and affiliations taken you in unusual directions relative to your peers?

RW: I don’t suppose that when I started writing poetry I was trying to place myself in the likely pattern of American poetry as a whole. I really responded to Walt Whitman rather favorably when I was young, and got to like him much more when I was older and teaching a course in American poetry. In spite of the fact that Whitman is thought of as the great American bard, like many people I read very little of him in my youth. He is a great unread poet for most people.

At present, to hear people talk in the academies, you would think that the things that happened in American poetry were Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. But when I was starting to read and know American poetry, I read many other people, and enjoyed, for example, Emerson. I liked the best of Longfellow very much. But my great attachments were to the Modernists. Really I responded to the whole lot of them. The list, if I gave it to you, would simply be the contents of a Modernist poetry anthology.

DHT: In the early ’60s you traveled to the Soviet Union and had contact with a number of writers there, translating, among others, Andrei Voznesensky, whose books were selling hundreds of thousands of copies. Some of the remarks you’ve made about Soviet poets during this period, who were writing “high demotic” poetry for an eager, newly literate public, have been fascinating—you’ve compared their situation with Longfellow’s in the mid-19th century.

RW: That’s right. It was a very comparable situation that I found when I went to the Soviet Union. In the first place, the Soviet reader was someone in many cases proud of a new literacy and seriously aspiring to higher things, and the Soviet poets, even those who had a certain freedom of mind and attitude, felt that they were the servants of those people, and that it was their business to energize and enlighten them. Therefore, people like Andrei Voznesensky sold out very large editions whenever they published. It did seem very enviable to me.

DHT: Have you kept up with any of those writers, either personally or with their work?

RW: For quite a while I did keep up with Voznesensky, but I haven’t really seen him for about ten years now or had any correspondence with him. I suppose that some of our cordiality did have to do with the need to bridge the gap between our countries, and now that doesn’t seem to be the chief aspect of the international situation.

I think actually that Yevgeny Yevtushenko is living and teaching here in the United States, somewhere in the Southwest [editor’s note: at the University of Tulsa]. He’s almost migrated to us.

DHT: What do you think about high demotic poetry in the United States right now? Is there any? If so, is there is a use for it? If not, is there a need for it?

RW: When I think of the 19th-century fireside, it’s rather easy to imagine a volume of Longfellow on the table by the easy chair. There are a lot of other distractions in our contemporary American life—with some of them I’m quite unacquainted. I don’t have a computer, for example. I know nothing of the Internet. But I know that the Internet is a large part of life for people now. And of course there’s television and videos and all the rest. I think that some of the entertainment aspect of poetry is less important to the majority of people now. They find their entertainment more readily in other media.

But just two days ago I was reading poems over at Tufts College in Medford, and a young woman in the audience asked me pretty much the question you’ve asked. I thought, well, instead of talking about how Modernism estranged the common reader and so on, let’s see if I can’t think of what’s positive about the present situation. One thing I thought of was simply the way poetry books sell at present. My first volume came out in an edition of 750 copies. I think that no New York publisher would come out with so small a first printing nowadays. I can’t estimate the likely sales of a good book of poetry now, but they’re much higher than they used to be.

Then there’s the matter of the poetry reading—I don’t mean the slam, but the reading. When I was a kid, the only people who went around on the lecture circuit very notably were pros like Robert Frost and Edna Millay and Carl Sandburg and, a little earlier, Vachel Lindsay. It was a limited number of people who had great power not only as poets but as entertainers. Starting I should say just after World War II, the poetry reading began to be a form of concert that was very frequent and well attended, and didn’t require that the reader be a pro as an entertainer. A kind of savvy audience developed—an audience of people who know that there’s a difference between a poetry concert and a concert of music. I walk out of any concert of music feeling that I’ve heard all the music. Of course I didn’t, but I tell myself that I have, and feel that I have. At poetry readings, you have to be willing to let a few things go by you, to be puzzled and frustrated from time to time, and to tolerate that as part of the poetry-reading experience.

Well, I seem to be running on, but I think there are positive aspects. Of course I could mention also radio broadcasters who read poems of some real quality, apparently to large audiences. That, too, is a good sign.

DHT: Speaking of writing for wide audiences, I wonder if you could speak a bit about your experiences writing Broadway lyrics. What habits did you have to get rid of or rein in to write for musical accompaniment, and to collaborate with others?

RW: You do have to change your way of working, in order to write Broadway lyrics. I know that, except for the occasional happy birthday poem, which is directed to somebody, I don’t write for people “out there”—I write to see if I can’t understand what it is I want to say. I assume myself to be an average human being, and I figure if I make things clear and interesting to myself, others might find them so.

But Broadway lyrics are an entirely different matter. There you have to think as knowledgably as you can about what is going to please a particular kind of New York theatergoer. When I was working on Candide, [Leonard] Bernstein and [Lillian] Hellman and I referred to him as “the man from Scarsdale.” He’s out there in the third or fourth row, he’s been dragged to the show by his wife, and you hope to say things that will keep him awake, will amuse him, and will be fully understandable to him. I remember when I was, as it were, “trying out” for the job of lyricist on Candide, I wrote for Hellman and Bernstein a sample lyric based on a passage in Voltaire’s Candide. It was one in which some shipwrecked kings in the middle of the Atlantic were resolving to lead improved lives if rescued. One of them was saying, “I’ll find myself a humble cot and cultivate the chicken.” The man from Scarsdale would not know that “cot” could mean a cottage or little farmstead of some kind—he would associate it with the army-and-navy store, and with the bunks at summer camp. So you can’t get away with too many clever rhymes of that kind. You really do need to think all the time about the people for whom you’re writing. I always preferred to write for an imaginary, quite bright and amusable person. When you start writing for people, you’d better not be condescending or you’ll lose.

DHT: You’ve talked about the difficulty of writing verse drama, and you spent a year in New Mexico trying to write your own plays. How would you put your finger on the difficulty?

RW: I turned out to be perfectly horrible at the conception and animation of characters. I could think of all sorts of amusing lines, but I could not get any kind of human action going on the stage. I, like many poets, do not have a narrative imagination. I tend to be able to pursue an argument for a certain distance, but I’m not really a storyteller.

I was once given a test by Harry Murray at Harvard. It was called a thematic apperception test. He was asking a number of writers to take it. He put a picture in front of me and said, “Tell me what you see there.” Well, the picture I remember was several frogs sitting around a pond; behind them, a hill; over the hill, a view of a house and a chimney with some smoke coming out of it. What I said was that it interested me the way the clouds in the sky repeated the forms of the frogs. And Mr. Murray said, “Yes, but who lives in that house?” And I said, “I’m damned if I know.” The last thing I was going to do was to tell a story about that picture. But any novelist would instantly have done so.

DHT: Are there poets you admire who do demonstrate this kind of dramatic gift? Yeats, perhaps, or Eliot?

RW: It seems to me that Eliot proved in the best of his poetic plays that he had a capacity for narrative. I think Brad Leithauser does too. I can think of a number of people who have written sustained story poems which I’ve found it pleasant to read. But the most I can do in that line is to write a poem such as my “Mind-Reader,” which is a Browningesque monologue in which the speaker does go from one point to another within his life, but is much more conveying his consciousness than his story.

DHT: A major project of yours has been the translation of the verse plays of Molière and Racine. Did you conceive of the project as “corrective” or “nutritious,” either to yourself or to poetry generally?

RW: I thought it was going to do all sorts of good to translate Molière’s The Misanthrope. It’s such a wonderful play that I wanted to do it properly and make it available to our stage. Happily, it turned out that I did have a talent for that. I don’t think I was trying to improve myself in any way, but actually translating that wonderful play did have an effect on my imagination when it came to my own poems. If you work through a Molière play trying to write lines which an actor will wish to speak with conviction, and the right flavor, it’s going to make it a little more possible to write within your own range. I began to have more of a dramatic voice, and to have more of what amount to characters in my poems.

DHT: You’ve written some children’s poetry of pretty sophisticated riddling and verbal play, requiring some attention to the formation and spelling of words (to find the “pig” in “spigot,” and so on). Were these poems tested on your own children? Or did they come about only after having seen your kids go through their language acquisition?

RW: When I was a kid, I was very amused by amusable poetry. I was fond, for example, of Edward Lear from the beginning, and of all sorts of nonsense verse, and of Lewis Carroll. I loved the Alice books, and read them annually at Christmastime. So I was prepared, I guess, to write some kids’ stuff as I got older. But of course the great catalyst was my children. My children loved to have me tell them stories, and they loved to hear and recite funny poems intended for children—things like the cautionary verses of Hilaire Belloc amused them all a great deal.

Another thing I did with all my children was to play dinner-table games, and that too fed into my initial project as a children’s author. But actually, the first thing I ever did was a book called Loudmouse, which I wrote at the invitation of Louis Untermeyer for a series of books he was editing called Modern Masters Books for Children. Louis had looked around for a lot of writers who had never written for children but might be expected to do it well. My first book, a narrative about a loud-voiced mouse, was written for that series, and it included some little jingles. I got to serious writing of poetry for children with my series of poems called “Opposites.”

I said just now that when I was writing Broadway lyrics, I tried to write for an imagined person of some taste and intelligence. I found myself doing the same thing with children’s verse. I did not write down to an imagined creepy little child; I wrote up to my own children at their best, and to intelligent, lively children generally. This meant when my first Opposites book was published and reviewed in the Times, a reader wrote in and said, “I’m an adult, and I enjoyed that book. Is that all right?” I was always delighted to find there were as many adult readers as there were child readers. A woman I respected very much always kept a copy of Opposites on her bathroom cabinet—I was proud of that.

DHT: It seems there is a pastoral element in your work that has true seductive value, but on the other hand you’re scrupulous about holding the city in equal esteem. Is this a balancing act for you, or does it come naturally?

RW: I think it does come naturally. I have spent more of my life in the country than in the city. But I was born in New York City and have lived there, in Greenwich Village or elsewhere, from time to time. I’ve lived in Cambridge, a delightful town. I don’t see any reason to feel superior to city life when it comes to writing poems. I was always very happy to discover that a nature poet like William Cullen Bryant could also write quite well about the town.

I’m happiest in the country. I was brought up on a farm in New Jersey about 20 miles out of the big city, and I was about a hundred feet from a barn full of cows, and experienced every aspect of farming as I grew up. I’ve also always been a tramper in the woods. Living as I do now in one of the hill towns of northwestern Massachusetts, I find there’s lots of good material all around.

DHT: Does the farm where you grew up still exist?

RW: No. As a matter of fact, the town of North Caldwell is not in any way recognizable now. It’s been absolutely engulfed by the spreading metropolis. So I haven’t seen it for about ten years. One friend of mine still lives there. I ought to go and see him. But none of the trees I climbed are there anymore.

DHT: As a poet who works in received forms, how do you think about originality? Do you feel a responsibility to use form in original ways? Or do you think of originality as overvalued? Is it even a virtue? What does originality consist of, for you?

RW: I don’t have any interest in the repetition of the past. I regard what you just called “received forms” as so much equipment, really—that’s all that they are. I find that the use of meters, rhymes, and stanzas is a way of saying what I want to say with greater power and pleasure. I would be very troubled if people thought my book of poems had too fearfully traditional an air. I try to make every poem different from the last, and I simply use the meters and the other received, inherited formal elements to enforce what it is that I’m saying.

DHT: As fashions have come and gone, have the terms your work has been received in changed much? Do you think the criticism has gotten coarser or finer, closer to the point or farther away?

RW: Anybody who uses forms as I do is going to go in or out of fashion. When I started writing, there was a very warm reception to my poems generally, and they were cheerfully accepted on the formal side. Come the 1960s, I was suddenly very much out of fashion. So I spent a decade or more simply being defiant, and going on doing things the only way I knew how.

Now I should say there’s a revival of tolerance for so-called formal poetry, and also, many people who have gotten a bit sick of the prosaic creative-writing poem of the past few years have learned to read formal poetry with relish and understanding.

DHT: Do you feel any sense of vindication about this? Do you think it’s a temporary development?

RW: I don’t regard form as a cause, so I’m not really militant about it. One of my favorite poets of all time, who never gets tiring for me, is William Carlos Williams. I can’t imagine lining myself up against him, or against any school of writers presumably descended from him. Free verse is awfully hard to write, but I much admire it when somebody can do it well, as most people cannot.

DHT: Elsewhere, talking about William Carlos Williams, you’ve indicated the affinity both of you have for things and objects, and how both of you avoid approaching the spiritual through the immaterial or the abstract. How do you approach airier poets who do approach the spiritual in this fashion? Do they hold any interest for you?

RW: I daresay I could think a bit and come up with a list of poets who seem to me not very much in touch with the concrete world but [who] nevertheless have power. Yeats is rather that way, really. If you look around in Yeats hoping for a good description of something, you’ll look all day. It’s mostly something else—a form of poetry rather close to the incantatory and oratorical, which I find quite wonderful sometimes.

I shall make Yeats my champion of the abstract.

DHT: In 1974 someone asked you where you thought poetry would be in the year 2000, and you replied that you saw “no one powerful style prevailing or developing,” and you spoke somewhat ruefully of the development of a marketplace where work is accorded space according to how easy or difficult it is to classify. Would you say time has borne out this prediction?

RW: I do think that development is tiresome. No really good poet is describable in terms of his school affiliations. I do think that when people begin to put together anthologies in that spirit, they include a lot of inferior work by association, and neglect much that is more original.

I’m not aware, really, of our present poetic scene consisting of a lot of schools. Do you see it that way?

DHT: It seems more fragmented than it was several decades ago, but maybe I’m mistaken.

Are there developments over the past 30, 40, 50 years that have surprised you, ones you would not have been able to predict?

RW: That’s a tough one. I guess that when surprises happen, it’s the emergence of some unpredictably good talent that excites me. I can’t think very well in terms of what people call “the condition of poetry in America.” There are doubtless distinguishable trends, but I don’t see them. I tend to see the individual book as it comes, and rejoice or not.

DHT: Another phenomenon you’ve been able to observe for a long period of time is the entry of poets into the universities. As a social experiment, would you call it a success? Where do you think this experiment stands now, relative to where it did when you were starting your career?

RW: Certainly when I was starting, it was relatively rare for there to be poets working in the English departments of this country. Ridgeley Torrence had done it, Robert Frost had done it, David Morton was doing it at Amherst when I was an undergraduate. But of course there’s been a runaway development of this, together with the establishment of creative writing courses, MFAs, and so on. Anything of this kind is going to be both good and bad. Don Justice spent a very good part of his life running creative writing classes, and if so marvelous a poet as that found it a lively thing to do—I know that he conveyed his liveliness to a certain number of his students—it must have been good.

I have my negative thoughts about the phenomenon too. It seems to me that it has made for a lax, undemanding kind of poem: prosaic, personal, unambitious, and formless. That has been the period style for a bit too long, though that seems to be changing. There are other negative things one could say about poetry camping in the university, but if what poets need is an encounter with life in general, I think it’s still to be had.

DHT: Your most recent teaching appointment was when?

RW: I retired from Smith College in 1986, I think. Because I enjoyed teaching subject-matter courses as well as doing the creative writing sort of thing, I find that I’m sometimes frustrated by the unavailability of persons to whom I can tell the truth about Milton’s “Lycidas,” for example. Every now and then I want to corner people and give them the cold dope on the authors whom I most enjoy teaching.

But on the whole, I find that I’m quite busy enough. At the moment I’m translating Corneille’s extraordinary play L’Illusion Comique. I’m on line 902 of it and forging forward every day. I do that when a poem doesn’t come and insist on being written. And all of that pretty well fills my days.

DHT: Discussions of poets’ work tend to fall into ruts, where the same three or four poems are discussed again and again. Is there a poem of yours that you would like to draw attention to, a poem that you feel has not received adequate notice?

RW: There’s a poem of mine called “Lying” that has had some good attention, but I like it better all the time, and so I hope that people who are at all interested in me will have a look at that one. When I read that poem to an audience, I always tell them that when I showed it first to my wife, she said, “Well, you’ve done it. At last you’ve done it. You’ve written a poem that’s unintelligible from beginning to end.” And it is a tough one in the sense that it’s full of riffing similes and metaphors, and indeed that’s what the poem is about: it’s about resemblances between things, and the idea that all things are ultimately of one nature.

But when I persuaded my wife to reread that poem, she said, “Well, yes. It’s clear now. Busy, but clear.” And I think a number of people have found it so.

DHT: One last question I’ve been dying to ask. In your poem “Walking to Sleep,” there is the passage “What you must manage is to bring to mind / A landscape not worth looking at, some bleak / Champaign at dead November’s end.” I just moved to Champaign, Illinois, last year—is this the Champaign you’re talking about?

RW: [laughs] It’s the same word, but it has a different flavor in the poem—I take a positive view of Champaign, Illinois.

This particular Champaign, in “Walking to Sleep,” is intended to be a part, I suppose, of a strategy of emotional avoidance. The poem begins by trying to bore oneself to sleep, and then, halfway through, it takes a more contagious and courageous view of things. But I’m getting incoherent.

DHT: What was the genesis of that poem? Was there insomnia involved?

RW: Ever since my childhood I’ve been interested in my dreams, and sometimes kept a book in which I wrote them down. So finally, out of many, many years of dreaming, and some years of having insomnia, I decided to make dreaming the whole subject of the poem.

Of course, one of the theses of the poem is that the way you dream will be an indication of the way you take the world as a whole, the way you take this world and the next. And so it is, rather at some length, an account of two strategies for going to sleep. It ends by proposing [that] you go to sleep courageous.


Originally Published: April 18, 2006

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
11-03-2015, 01:19 PM
ESSAY
How Words Fail
Does language reflect the world? Or is it a distorting mirror that never gets reality straight?

BY CATHY PARK HONG
I always felt an anxiety about language, an anxiety that grew more pronounced when I began writing poetry. I rationalized this anxiety by rolling out the immigrant truisms. Growing up, I had to negotiate the yawning gap between speaking Korean at home and battling it out in the schoolyard with my faltering English (for a while, my flimsy arsenal was “You shut up!” for every imaginative invective hurled at me). I thought the English language was a tricky, trap-filled activity I had to somehow master like squash or table tennis. Nabokov once called English “an artificial, stiffish thing” and wrote, “If Russian was his music, English was his murder”; yet he wrote some of the most exquisite prose in the English language. I am no persecuted exile, however, but a pampered second-generation American whose childhood difficulties with English nonetheless left their indelible mark.

When professors first introduced the craft of poetry to me, I felt like Leonard Zelig, Woody Allen’s chameleon-man, who appropriated the behavior of whomever was around him. “Write about your family experience! Write about what is true to you,” one dramatic poetry professor told me in his office, and then gave me poems by Asian American poets who sounded exactly like Sharon Olds. I tried to compose clear, confessional gems but thought of them as interesting exercises in imitation. When the professor looked at them, he told me I was beginning to find a voice. “Whose voice?” I asked. “Yours!” he announced, and the meeting was over.

“Finding your voice” is a familiar workshop trope, one that assumes poetry is an expression of an authentic self. I was asked to write in natural, plainspoken speech (none of which felt natural or plain to me), and this teacher mistook the result as me. He embraced the principle that a poem represents a person who is a unified whole, and that the syntax of the poem is a window to the person’s, or writer’s, mind. The professor’s assumptions proved only that I was a damn good mimic.

My teacher’s concept of “the voice” is shared by many poets, including Adrian Blevins, who wrote an essay about the music of sentences for PoetryFoundation.org. She opines that the sentence structure of a poem gives us a clear diagnosis of the poet’s mind. In her reading of John Berryman’s “Dream Song 29,” she writes, “The ungrammatical . . . excerpt produces the emotional effects of an anxious or scattered psyche.” She sees a direct correlation between Berryman’s progressively unraveling mind and his unraveling syntax, concluding, “It’s interesting to note that Berryman began playing with syntax as a young man, when he was still, as far as anyone can determine, happy enough. As his life becomes more and more pressured . . . he becomes more and more serious and seems to lose, as a result, the sense of daring syntactical play. . . . It is therefore possible to speculate that Berryman’s suicide was at least partly the result of a loss of his syntactical distinctiveness.”

Blevins believes in a causal relationship between the author’s psychological state and the author’s syntactical choices, asserting that Berryman’s “loss of syntactical distinctiveness” helped lead to his own suicide. If we are to follow this logic, how to explain Hart Crane, who offed himself yet wrote poetry that is syntactically distinct? Or Sylvia Plath, who was at the top of her syntactic game when she shoved her head in the oven? Or that many poets today are happy on antidepressants yet write syntactically dull poetry? Blevins also observes that the sentences of Gertrude Stein and certain “post-post-post-postmodernists” are “stark raving mad,” implying that the poets must obviously be bonkers.

Blevins says that the poetic “sentence” is a unit for “talk” and that “talk” is the essence of the poet’s authentic being. I, however, cannot shake the belief that English is “an artificial, stiffish thing” and was grateful to discover Stein and a whole lineage of poets, in particular the Language poets, such as Lyn Hejinian and Ron Silliman, who pretty much thought the same. Their poetry emphasizes the materiality of language rather than language as transparent conduit for soulmaking. They asserted that the “I” in the poem is really a fabrication of the self rather than a direct mirror of the author’s psyche. As Hejinian once wrote, “One is not oneself, one is several, incomplete, and subject to dispersal.” From these ideas, the Language poets stylistically formed their own versions of what poet Ron Silliman dubbed the “new sentence”: poetic lines that are syntactically fractured, purposefully atonal, averse to the first person.

Ultimately, though, I was more drawn to poets who severed syntax out of a sense of cultural or political displacement rather than for the sake of experimentation. History and circumstance alienated these poets from their own language, placed them in the margins of their cultures, where they were witness to language’s limits in articulating a cohesive voice. Through deliberate inarticulation, they managed to strain out a charged music from syntactic chaff, a music borne out of negation. The poet I have most in mind is Paul Celan.

Celan’s relationship with the German language was tortured and ambivalent. Son of Jewish parents, he lived in Romania and grew up speaking German and Yiddish, Hebrew, Romanian, and Russian. When the German forces conquered Romania, they deported Celan’s parents to the concentration camps. Because his German mother tongue was also the language of his parents’ murderers, Celan wrestled with it in his poetry, a tension evident in the fissures, elisions, and neologisms of his poems. From these ruptures, Celan sutured a composition that radiates a haunting and terrifying music. To wit:

No one kneads us again out of earth and clay,
no one incants our dust.
No one.

Blessed art thou, No one.
In thy sight would
we bloom.
In thy
spite.

A Nothing
We were, are now, and ever
shall be, blooming:
the Nothing-, the
No-One’s-Rose.

With
Our pistil soul-bright
Our stamen heaven-waste,
Our corolla red
From the purpleword we sang
Over, O over
The thorn.
The repetition in “Psalm” creates a propulsive cadence. The poem begins with a negation of Genesis. The recurrence of “No one,” a reference to God (or his absence), creates a tonally hammering antiprayer as it denies Creation. “Blessed art thou” is negated by the thudding absence of “No one.” “No one” becomes “Nothing” and then returns as “No-One’s Rose.” The song, driven by absence, ends somewhat redemptively, as the flowering song or the word sings “over” the imagery of suffering, Christ’s thorn. Yet the singing is also fractured—the invocatory “O” in the line “Over, O over” is a hesitant break in cadence. Driven by spiritual necessity, the music of Celan’s poetry is both brutal and brutalized.

Like Celan, the poet John Taggart entwines the music of his linguistic experiments with a deep spiritual sensibility. Son of a Methodist clergyman, Taggart was born in Guthrie Center, Iowa, in 1942 and spent most of his childhood within the church culture. He equates “poem as gospel service,” positing that poetry should have a spiritual power that can be wrought from its own music. But Taggart is no traditional lyricist. His “voice” is not a stand-in for the self. His ultimate goal is to turn the poem into what he calls a “sound object,” where words cease to be metaphor and become part and parcel a compositional score.

Deeply influenced by the experimental music composer and writer John Cage and Objectivist poets such as George Oppen and Louis Zukofsky, Taggart incants through the “silence of the gaps” that surround the unadorned word. His words are mortarless, often unbound by clauses or punctuation. Rather than isolated poems, Taggart composes poetic variations that are circular, repetitive, and serial. In fact, his largest collection of poems, Loop,is aptly titled since his poetry obsessively returns to a set of nouns in different arrangements, as if each poem is a remix of the previous one. “Nativity,” for instance, scrolls down as if it were enacting a feverish sermon:

If you kneel
sender will teach
will teach you
here’s a sender
no bright harness
still a sender
if you kneel
will teach you
teach the shout.
But Taggart does not completely abandon content. Like Celan’s work, Taggart’s poetry can be read within a cultural-political context. Here is an excerpt from “Twenty-one Times,” Taggart’s most explicit poem about Vietnam and his own version of Wallace Stevens’s“Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”:

4
Napalm: soap will not wash the word out
The word breaks through partitions and outer-walls
Breakthrough of cells of the word in the mouth.

5
Napalm: the heart rubbed and smeared with soap
The young heart is soiled with fire
Soap cannot cleanse the soiling of the fire.

6
Napalm: why the child caught on fire
The itching as of creatures for possession of words
Glitter for self and nation.
The repeated incantation “napalm” is an attempt at exorcism, as if to cleanse the horrors associated with napalm. But despite the attempt to “wash” it out, the word grows cancerously: “Breakthrough of cells of the word in the mouth.” As in many of Taggart’s other poems, the nouns in “Twenty-one Times” are reshuffled, and each time a noun is reintroduced, its associations become progressively menacing: “the young heart is soiled with fire” leads to “why the child caught on fire.” As the poem’s inexorable momentum builds to a frightening pitch, “napalm” as a word metastasizes inside the mouth, until poem’s end: “Napalm: speak and the word glows and plays / speak and suffer torment for love / because of you no one will have to write the word down.”

Celan and Taggart have created a distinctly haunting and astonishing music through solecisms and hesitations, through the broken sentence. For them, the disassociation of voice from language is not just a philosophical choice. It is also political. The voice is not always a freeing form of self-expression. It can prove to be a difficult transaction, a construction of fragments, as much conflicted demurral as actual communication, as much about what is unspeakable as about what is speakable.

Originally Published: July 31, 2006
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Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
11-05-2015, 10:25 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/178440
ESSAY
A Biblical Blast of Rage
At a reading for New School students, Frank Bidart is greeted like a god.

BY JAMES MARCUS
For his June reading at Manhattan’s The New School, Frank Bidart was dressed from head to toe in black. This puritanical garb, combined with Bidart’s high forehead, pointy nose, and shock of gray hair, suggested a chic version of Ichabod Crane. Yet Bidart, who was participating in the school’s Summer Writers Colony program, warmed to his audience at once. As well he might: the 30 or so people in the room had already spent three classroom sessions studying his latest collection, Star Dust: Poems, which was nominated for the 2005 National Book Award. Now, after an ecstatic introduction by Dan Chiasson (who called Star Dust one of the “half dozen greatest books of poetry published in my lifetime”), the poet was here in the flesh. He began by taking requests from the crowd.

“Do the third passage from ‘The Third Hour of the Night’!” insisted one admirer. Bidart promised to get around to it. To break the ice, however, he read some shorter lyrics from the first half of Star Dust, including “For the Twentieth Century,” “Young Marx,” “For Bill Nestrick,” and “Advice to the Players,” which he characterized as “a manifesto written by somebody who doesn’t believe in manifestos.” The poet had an urgent platform manner: he shook his fist or made sculpting motions at the audience, many of whom were following along in their own, black-jacketed editions of the book. Except for the girl in front of me, nervously wiggling her heart-shaped ring on and off her finger, the crowd was motionless and rapt. They applauded warmly when Bidart broke off for some Q-and-A. Then a student asked him to continue reading with “The Curse,” which represents something of a departure for the metaphysically inclined poet.

Noting the influence of Robert Lowell—who, Bidart said, wrote about current events without turning them into “disposable poetry”—he read the poem, a biblical blast of rage directed at the 9/11 hijackers: “May what you have made descend upon you.” Next he discussed a signal irony. When this rare venture into public verse appeared in the Threepenny Review in April 2002, it got him into hot water with pundit-for-all-seasons Andrew Sullivan, who interpreted it as condemnation of the victims. There was a certain amount of online skirmishing as the poet’s fans rode to his defense. And did Bidart himself fire back at Sullivan? “I wasn’t online at the time,” he explained—a perplexing notion for his twentysomething audience. “But I did eventually send him a respectful note.”

As promised, Bidart read some passages from “The Third Hour of the Night.” This is the latest installment of a massive enterprise he began in 1990, borrowing structural elements from the inscriptions on the sarcophagus of Seti I. Earlier episodes of this insomniac’s delight dealt with phenomenology and eros. This time around, the poet has explored the creative impulse, along with its paradoxical links to power and violence. (The sequence concludes with a rape scene that would make Quentin Tarantino blanch.)

The generational divide surfaced once again as the discussion turned to the title poem of Bidart’s latest collection, with its uncharacteristic opulence of language. Bidart confessed his distaste for such verbal filigree: “There’s a false luxuriousness in some poems that is a kind of alcohol.” In “Star Dust,” surely one of his finest creations, Bidart serves up some intoxicants of his own. But the problem, it soon became clear, was one of cultural allusion: few students were familiar with the Hoagy Carmichael standard “Stardust,” whose mood of nostalgic reverie the poem inverts like a photographic negative. (Bidart called “Stardust” a “summit” of American popular music and indicated his preference for Nat King Cole’s ethereal version.) Nor did they pick up the nod to Sam Cooke’s “Touch the Hem of His Garment.”



“There’s a false luxuriousness in some poems that is a kind of alcohol.”

^^^^^^ Which is distasteful to me and I have done my damn-best to never include in my poems, to any degree beyond what is necessary for the poem's message to be true and on score.
A pinch of slat tis ok methinks ,but adding in cupfuls detract from the message,the heart and the soul of a poem!-Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
11-06-2015, 09:54 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/178489
ESSAY
For the Sake of People’s Poetry
Walt Whitman and the Rest of Us.

BY JUNE JORDAN
In America, the father is white; it is he who inaugurated the experiment of this republic. It is he who sailed his way into slave ownership and who availed himself of my mother—that African woman whose function was miserable—defined by his desirings, or his rage. It is he who continues to dominate the destiny of the Mississippi River, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the life of my son. Understandably, then, I am curious about this man.

Most of the time my interest can be characterized as wary, at best. Other times, it is the interest a pedestrian feels for the fast traveling truck about to smash into him. Or her. Again. And at other times it is the curiosity of a stranger trying to figure out the system of the language that excludes her name and all of the names of all of her people. It is this last that leads me to the poet Walt Whitman.

Trying to understand the system responsible for every boring, inaccessible, irrelevant, derivative and pretentious poem that is glued to the marrow of required readings in American classrooms, or trying to understand the system responsible for the exclusion of every hilarious, amazing, visionary, pertinent and unforgettable poet from National Endowment of the Arts grants and from national publications, I come back to Walt Whitman.

What in the hell happened to him? Wasn’t he a white man? Wasn’t he some kind of a father to American literature? Didn’t he talk about this New World? Didn’t he see it? Didn’t he sing this New World, this America, on a New World, an American scale of his own visionary invention?

It so happens that Walt Whitman is the one white father who shares the systematic disadvantages of his heterogeneous offspring trapped inside a closet that is, in reality, as huge as the continental spread of North and South America. What Whitman envisioned, we, the people and the poets of the New World, embody. He has been punished for the moral questions that our very lives arouse.

At home as a child, I learned the poetry of the Bible and the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar. As a student, I diligently followed orthodox directions from The Canterbury Tales right through The Wasteland by that consummate Anglophile whose name I can never remember. And I kept waiting. It was, I thought, all right to deal with daffodils in the 17th century of an island as much like Manhattan as I resemble Queen Mary. But what about Dunbar? When was he coming up again? And where were the Black poets, altogether? And who were the women poets I might reasonably emulate? And wasn’t there, ever, a great poet who was crazy about Brooklyn or furious about war? And I kept waiting. And I kept writing my own poetry. And I kept reading apparently underground poetry: poetry kept strictly off campus. I kept reading the poetry of so many gifted students when I became a teacher. I kept listening to the wonderful poetry of the multiplying numbers of my friends who were and who are New World poets until I knew, for a fact, that there was and that there is an American, a New World poetry that is as personal, as public, as irresistible, as quick, as necessary, as unprecedented, as representative, as exalted, as speakably commonplace, and as musical as an emergency phone call.

But I didn’t know about Walt Whitman. Yes, I had heard about this bohemian, this homosexual, even, who wrote something about The Captain and The Lilacs in The Hallway, but nobody ever told me to read his work! Not only was Whitman not required reading, he was, on the contrary, presented as a rather hairy buffoon suffering from a childish proclivity for exercise and open air.

Nevertheless, it is through the study of the poems and the ideas of this particular white father that I have reached a tactical, if not strategic, understanding of the racist, sexist, and anti-American predicament that condemns most New World writing to peripheral/unpublished manuscript status.

Before these United States came into being, the great poets of the world earned their lustre through undeniable forms of spontaneous popularity; generations of a people chose to memorize and then to further elaborate these songs and to impart them to the next generation. I am talking about people; African families and Greek families and the families of the Hebrew tribes and all that multitude to whom the Bhagavad-Gita is as daily as the sun! If these poems were not always religious, they were certainly moral in notice, or in accomplishment, or both. None of these great poems would be mistaken for the poetry of another country, another time. You do not find a single helicopter taking off or landing in any of the sonnets of Elizabethan England, nor do you run across rice and peas in any of the psalms! Evidently, one criterion for great poetry used to be the requirements of cultural nationalism.

But by the advent of the thirty-six year old poet, Walt Whitman, the phenomenon of a people’s poetry, or great poetry and its spontaneous popularity, could no longer be assumed. The physical immensity and the farflung population of this New World decisively separated poets from suitable means to produce and distribute their poetry. Now there would have to be intermediaries—critics and publishers—whose marketplace principles of scarcity would, logically, oppose them to populist traditions of art.

Old World concepts would replace the democratic and these elitist notions would prevail; in the context of such considerations, an American literary establishment antithetical to the New World meanings of America took root. And this is one reason why the pre-eminently American white father of American poetry exists primarily in the realm of caricature and rumor in his own country.

As a matter of fact, if you hope to hear about Whitman your best bet is to leave home. Ignore prevailing American criticism and, instead, ask anybody anywhere else in the world this question: As Shakespeare is to England, Dante to Italy, Tolstoy to Russia, Goethe to Germany, Aghostino Neto to Angola, Pablo Neruda to Chile, Mao-Tse-Tung to China, and Ho Chi Minh to Vietnam, who is the great American writer, the distinctively American poet, the giant American “literatus?” Undoubtedly, the answer will be Walt Whitman.

He is the poet who wrote:
A man’s body at auction
(For before the war I often go to the slave-mart and watch the sale.)
I help the auctioneer, the sloven does not half know his business. . .
Gentlemen look on this wonder.
Whatever the bids of the bidders they cannot be high enough for it. (1)
I ask you, today: Who in the United States would publish those lines? They are all wrong! In the first place there is nothing obscure, nothing contrived, nothing an ordinary strap-hanger in the subway would be puzzled by! In the second place, the voice of those lines is intimate and direct, at once; it is the voice of the poet who assumes that he speaks to an equal and that he need not fear that equality. On the contrary, the intimate distance between the poet and the reader is a distance that assumes there is everything important, between them, to be shared. And what is poetic about a line of words that runs as long as a regular, a spoken idea? You could more easily imagine an actual human being speaking such lines than you could imagine an artist composing them in a room carefully separated from the real life of his family. This can’t be poetry! Besides, these lines apparently serve an expressly moral purpose! Then is this didactic/political writing? Aha! This cannot be good poetry. And, in fact, you will never see, for example, The New Yorker Magazine publishing a poem marked by such splendid deficiencies.

Consider the inevitable, the irresistible, simplicity of that enormous moral idea:
Gentlemen look on this wonder.
Whatever the bids of the bidders they cannot be high enough for it . . .
This is not only one man, this the father of those who shall be fathers
in their turns
In him the start of populous states and rich republics, Of him count-
less immortal lives with countless embodiments and enjoyments
Crucial and obviously important and, hence, this is not an idea generally broadcast: the poet is trying to save a human being while even the poem cannot be saved from the insolence of marketplace evaluation!

Indeed Whitman and the traceable descendants of Walt Whitman, those who follow his democratic faith into obviously New World forms of experience and art, they suffer from establishment rejection and contempt the same as forced this archetypal American genius to publish, distribute, and review his own work, by himself. The descendants I have in mind include those unmistakeably contemporaneous young poets who base themselves upon domesticities such as disco, Las Vegas, MacDonalds, and $40 running shoes. Also within the Whitman tradition, Black and First World* poets traceably transform and further the egalitarian sensibility that isolates that one white father from his more powerful compatriots. I am thinking of the feminist poets evidently intent upon speaking with a maximal number and diversity of other Americans' lives. I am thinking of all the many first rank heroes of the New World who are overwhelmingly forced to publish their own works using a hand press, or whatever, or else give it up entirely.

That is to say, the only peoples who can test or verify the meaning of the United States as a democratic state, as a pluralistic culture, these are the very peoples whose contribution to a national vision and discovery meets with steadfast ridicule and disregard.

A democratic state does not, after all, exist for the few, but for the many. A democratic state is not proven by the welfare of the strong but by the welfare of the weak. And unless that many, that manifold constitution of diverse peoples can be seen as integral to the national art/the national consciousness, you might as well mean only Czechoslovakia when you talk about the USA, or only Ireland, or merely France, or exclusively white men.

Pablo Neruda is a New World poet whose fate differs from the other Whitman descendants because he was born into a country where the majority of the citizens did not mistake themselves for Englishmen or long to find themselves struggling, at most, with cucumber sandwiches and tea. He was never European. His anguish was not aroused by thee piece suits and rolled umbrellas. When he cries, towards the conclusion of The Heights of Machu Picchu, “Arise and birth with me, my brother,” (2) he plainly does not allude to Lord or Colonel Anybody At All. As he writes earlier, in that amazing poem:
I came by another way, river by river, street after street,
city by city, one bed and another,
forcing the salt of my mask through a wilderness;
and there, in the shame of the ultimate hovels, lampless
and tireless,
lacking bread or a stone or a stillness, alone in myself,
I whirled at my will, dying the death that was mine (3)
Of course Neruda has not escaped all of the untoward consequences common to Whitman descendants. American critics and translators never weary of asserting that Neruda is a quote great unquote poet despite the political commitment of his art and despite the artistic consequences of the commitment. Specifically, Neruda’s self-conscious decision to write in a manner readily comprehensible to the masses of his countrymen, and his self-conscious decision to specify, outright, the United Fruit Company when that was the instigating subject of his poem, become unfortunate moments in an otherwise supposedly sublime, not to mention surrealist, deeply Old World and European but nonetheless Chilean case history. To assure the validity of this perspective, the usual American critic and translator presents you with a smattering of the unfortunate, ostensibly political poetry and, on the other hand, buries you under volumes of Neruda’s early work that antedates the Spanish Civil War or, in other words, that antedates Neruda’s serious conversion to a political world view.

This kind of artistically indefensible censorship would have you perceive qualitative and even irreconcilable differences between the poet who wrote:
You, my antagonist, in that splintering dream
like the bristling glass of gardens, like a menace of ruinous bells, volleys
of blackening ivy at the perfume’s center,
enemy of the great hipbones my skin has touched
with a harrowing dew (4)
And the poet who wrote, some twenty years later, these lines from the poem entitled “The Dictators”:
Lament was perpetual and fell, like a plant and its pollen,
forcing a lightless increase in the blinded, big leaves
And bludgeon by bludgeon, on the terrible waters,
scale over scale in the bog,
the snout filled with silence and slime
and vendetta was born (5)
According to prevalent American criticism, that later poem of Neruda represents a lesser achievement precisely because it can be understood by more people, more easily, than the first. It is also derogated because this poem attacks a keystone of the Old World, namely dictatorship or, in other words, power and privilege for the few.

The peculiar North American vendetta against Walt Whitman, against the first son of this democratic union, can be further fathomed if you look at some facts: Neruda’s eminence is now acknowledged on international levels; it is known to encompass profound impact upon North American poets who do not realize the North American/Walt Whitman origins for so much that is singular and worthy in the poetry of Neruda. You will even find American critics who congratulate Neruda for overcoming the “Whitmanesque” content of his art. This perfidious arrogance is as calculated as it is common. You cannot persuade anyone seriously familiar with Neruda’s life and art that he could have found cause, at any point, to disagree with the tenets, the analysis and the authentic New World vision presented by Walt Whitman in his essay, Democratic Vistas, which remains the most signal and persuasive manifesto of New World thinking and belief in print.

Let me define my terms, in brief: New World does not mean New England. New World means non-European; it means new; it means big; it means heterogenous; it means unknown; it means free; it means an end to feudalism, caste, privilege, and the violence of power. It means wild in the sense that a tree growing away from the earth enacts a wild event. It means democratic in the sense that, as Whitman wrote:
I believe a leaf of grass is no less than
the journey-work of the stars. . .
And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger
sextillions of infidels (6)
New World means that, as Whitman wrote, “I keep as delicate around the bowels as around the head and heart.” New World means, as Whitman said, “By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms.”

In Democratic Vistas, Whitman declared,
As the greatest lessons of Nature through the universe are perhaps the lessons of variety and freedom, the same present the greatest lessons also in New World politics and progress . . . Sole among nationalities, these States have assumed the task to put in forms of history, power and practicality, on areas of amplitude rivaling the operations of the physical kosmos, the moral political speculations of ages, long, long deffer’d, the democratic republican principle, and the theory of development and perfection by voluntary standards and self reliance.
Listen to this white father; he is so weird! Here he is calling aloud for an American, a democratic spirit. An American, a democratic idea that could morally constrain and coordinate the material body of USA affluence and piratical outreach, more than a hundred years ago he wrote,
The great poems, Shakespeare included, are poisonous to the idea of the pride and dignity of the common people, the lifeblood of democracy. The models of our literature, as we get it from other lands, ultra marine, have had their birth in courts, and bask’d and grown in castle sunshine; all smells of princes’ favors ... Do you call those genteel little creatures American poets? Do you term that perpetual, pistareen, paste-pot work, American art, American drama, taste, verse? ... We see the sons and daughters of The New World, ignorant of its genius, not yet inaugurating the native, the universal, and the near, still importing the distant, the partial, the dead.
Abhorring the “thin sentiment of parlors, parasols, piano-song, tinkling rhymes,” Whitman conjured up a poetry of America, a poetry of democracy which would not “mean the smooth walks, trimm’d hedges, poseys and nightingales of the English poets, but the whole orb, with its geologic history, the Kosmos, carrying fire and snow that rolls through the illimitable areas, light as a feather, though weighing billions of tons.”

Well, what happened?

Whitman went ahead and wrote the poetry demanded by his vision. He became, by thousands upon thousands of words, a great American poet:
There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day
Or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years
The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass and white and red morning-glories,
and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird. . . (7)
And, elsewhere, he wrote:
It avails not, time nor place—distance avails not,
I am with you, you men and women of a generation,
or ever some many generations hence,
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky,
so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd,
Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river
and the bright flow, I was refresh’d,
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet
hurry with the swift current, I stood yet was hurried,
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships and the
thick-stemm’d pipes of steamboats,
I look’d. . . (8)
This great American poet of democracy as cosmos, this poet of a continent as consciousness, this poet of the many people as one people, this poet of diction comprehensible to all, of a vision insisting on each, of a rhythm/a rhetorical momentum to transport the reader from the Brooklyn ferry into the hills of Alabama and back again, of line after line of bodily, concrete detail that constitutes the mysterious the cellular tissue of a nation indivisible but dependent upon and astonishing in its diversity, this white father of a great poetry deprived of its spontaneous popularity/a great poetry hidden away from the ordinary people it celebrates so well, he has been, again and again, cast aside as an undisciplined poseur, a merely freak eruption of prolix perversities.

Last year, the New York Times Book Review saw fit to import a European self-appointed critic of American literature to address the question: Is there a great American poet? Since this visitor was ignorant of the philosophy and the achievements of Walt Whitman, the visitor, Denis Donoghue, comfortably excluded every possible descendent of Whitman from his erstwhile cerebrations. Only one woman was mentioned (she, needless to add, did not qualify). No poets under fifty, and not one Black or First World poet received even cursory assessment. Not one poet of distinctively New World values, and their formal embodiment, managed to dent the suavity of Donoghue’s public display.

This New York Times event perpetuated American habits of beggarly, absurd deference to the Old World. And these habits bespeak more than marketplace intrusions into cultural realms. We erase ourselves through self hatred. We lend our silence to the American anti-American process whereby anything and anyone special to this nation state becomes liable to condemnation because it is what it is, truly.

Against self hatred there is Whitman and there are all of the New World poets who insistently devise legitimate varieties of cultural nationalism. There is Whitman and all of the poets whose lives have been baptized by witness to blood, by witness to cataclysmic, political confrontations from the Civil War through the Civil Rights Era, through the Women’s Movement, and on and on through the conflicts between the hungry and the well-fed, the wasteful, the bullies.

In the poetry of the New World, you meet with a reverence for the material world that begins with a reverence for human life. There is an intellectual trust in sensuality as a means of knowledge, an easily deciphered system of reference, aspirations to a believable, collective voice and, consequently, emphatic preference for broadly accessible, spoken language. Deliberately balancing perception with vision, it seeks to match moral exhortation with sensory report.

All of the traceable descendants of Whitman have met with an establishment, academic reception disgracefully identical; except for the New World poets who live and write beyond the boundaries of the USA, the offspring of this one white father encounter everlasting marketplace disparagement as crude or optional or simplistic or, as Whitman himself wrote “hankering, gross, mystical, nude.”

I too am a descendant of Walt Whitman. And I am not by myself struggling to tell the truth about this history of so much land and so much blood, of so much that should be sacred and so much that has been desecrated and annihilated boastfully.

My brothers and my sisters of this New World, we remember that, as Whitman said,
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate
itself or be understood,
I see that the elementary laws never apologize (9)
We do not apologize that we are not Emily Dickinson, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Robert Lowell, and Elizabeth Bishop. Or, as Whitman exclaimed, “I exist as I am, that is enough.”

New World poetry moves into and beyond the lives of Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda, Aghostino Neto, Gabriela Mistral, Langston Hughes, and Margaret Walker. I follow this movement with my own life. I am calm and smiling as we go. Is it not written, somewhere very near to me:
A man’s body at auction . . .
Gentlemen look on this wonder.
Whatever the bids of the bidders
they cannot be high enough for it . . .
And didn’t that weird white father predict this truth that is always growing:
I swear to you the architects shall appear without fail,
I swear to you they will understand you and justify you,
The greatest among them shall be he who best knows you
and encloses all and is faithful to all,
He and rest shall not forget you, they shall
perceive that you are not an iota less than they,
You shall be fully glorified in them (10)
Walt Whitman and all of the New World poets coming after him, we, too, go on singing this America.


*Given that they were first to exist on the planet and currently make up the majority, the author will refer to that part of the population usually termed Third World as the First World.

Notes

1. from “I Sing the Body Electric,” by Walt Whitman
2. from Section XII of The Heights of Macho Picchu, translated by Nathaniel Tarn, Farrar Straus and Giroux: New York
3. from The Heights of Macho Picchu, translated by Ben Bolitt, Evergreen Press
4. from “Woes and the Furies,” by Pablo Neruda in Selected Poems of Neruda, translated by Ben Bolitt, p. 101
5. Ibid. “The Dictators,” p. 161
6. from “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman
7. from “There was a Child Went Forth” by Walt Whitman
8. from “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”
9. from “Song of Myself”
10. from “Song of the Rolling Earth”

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
11-06-2015, 09:56 AM
ESSAY
For the Sake of People’s Poetry
Walt Whitman and the Rest of Us.

BY JUNE JORDAN
In America, the father is white; it is he who inaugurated the experiment of this republic. It is he who sailed his way into slave ownership and who availed himself of my mother—that African woman whose function was miserable—defined by his desirings, or his rage. It is he who continues to dominate the destiny of the Mississippi River, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the life of my son. Understandably, then, I am curious about this man.

Most of the time my interest can be characterized as wary, at best. Other times, it is the interest a pedestrian feels for the fast traveling truck about to smash into him. Or her. Again. And at other times it is the curiosity of a stranger trying to figure out the system of the language that excludes her name and all of the names of all of her people. It is this last that leads me to the poet Walt Whitman.

Trying to understand the system responsible for every boring, inaccessible, irrelevant, derivative and pretentious poem that is glued to the marrow of required readings in American classrooms, or trying to understand the system responsible for the exclusion of every hilarious, amazing, visionary, pertinent and unforgettable poet from National Endowment of the Arts grants and from national publications, I come back to Walt Whitman.

What in the hell happened to him? Wasn’t he a white man? Wasn’t he some kind of a father to American literature? Didn’t he talk about this New World? Didn’t he see it? Didn’t he sing this New World, this America, on a New World, an American scale of his own visionary invention?

It so happens that Walt Whitman is the one white father who shares the systematic disadvantages of his heterogeneous offspring trapped inside a closet that is, in reality, as huge as the continental spread of North and South America. What Whitman envisioned, we, the people and the poets of the New World, embody. He has been punished for the moral questions that our very lives arouse.

At home as a child, I learned the poetry of the Bible and the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar. As a student, I diligently followed orthodox directions from The Canterbury Tales right through The Wasteland by that consummate Anglophile whose name I can never remember. And I kept waiting. It was, I thought, all right to deal with daffodils in the 17th century of an island as much like Manhattan as I resemble Queen Mary. But what about Dunbar? When was he coming up again? And where were the Black poets, altogether? And who were the women poets I might reasonably emulate? And wasn’t there, ever, a great poet who was crazy about Brooklyn or furious about war? And I kept waiting. And I kept writing my own poetry. And I kept reading apparently underground poetry: poetry kept strictly off campus. I kept reading the poetry of so many gifted students when I became a teacher. I kept listening to the wonderful poetry of the multiplying numbers of my friends who were and who are New World poets until I knew, for a fact, that there was and that there is an American, a New World poetry that is as personal, as public, as irresistible, as quick, as necessary, as unprecedented, as representative, as exalted, as speakably commonplace, and as musical as an emergency phone call.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
(1.) Excerpt below taken from full body of previous text in my previous post..-Tyr

Pablo Neruda is a New World poet whose fate differs from the other Whitman descendants because he was born into a country where the majority of the citizens did not mistake themselves for Englishmen or long to find themselves struggling, at most, with cucumber sandwiches and tea. He was never European. His anguish was not aroused by thee piece suits and rolled umbrellas. When he cries, towards the conclusion of The Heights of Machu Picchu, “Arise and birth with me, my brother,” (2) he plainly does not allude to Lord or Colonel Anybody At All. As he writes earlier, in that amazing poem:
I came by another way, river by river, street after street,
city by city, one bed and another,
forcing the salt of my mask through a wilderness;
and there, in the shame of the ultimate hovels, lampless
and tireless,
lacking bread or a stone or a stillness, alone in myself,
I whirled at my will, dying the death that was mine (3)
Of course Neruda has not escaped all of the untoward consequences common to Whitman descendants. American critics and translators never weary of asserting that Neruda is a quote great unquote poet despite the political commitment of his art and despite the artistic consequences of the commitment. Specifically, Neruda’s self-conscious decision to write in a manner readily comprehensible to the masses of his countrymen, and his self-conscious decision to specify, outright, the United Fruit Company when that was the instigating subject of his poem, become unfortunate moments in an otherwise supposedly sublime, not to mention surrealist, deeply Old World and European but nonetheless Chilean case history. To assure the validity of this perspective, the usual American critic and translator presents you with a smattering of the unfortunate, ostensibly political poetry and, on the other hand, buries you under volumes of Neruda’s early work that antedates the Spanish Civil War or, in other words, that antedates Neruda’s serious conversion to a political world view.


I do not knock Pablo Neruda being a fine poet.. as truly he is--so are many others for that matter.
However, this legendary status the elitist morons try to bestow upon him is damn sickening to me!
I could point out other so-called minor poets that put Pablo to shame but do not get the fame given Pablo by modern fools simply because his name being Pablo and his leftist political leanings.
Whereas, in my view, in my world -- politics in poetry is a damn invasive cancer that should be cut out every place it invades.
So much of his fame rests upon the desire to advance a political ideology! ffing morons...-Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
11-07-2015, 02:55 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/177750

PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
William Bronk
1918–1999

BY KAY RYAN
I love to open the big book of William Bronk poems, Life Supports, and read one at random. It doesn’t matter which one shows up because they all release the same bracing smell and parch of stone, the same chill of stone in the shade. I don’t remember a single individual Bronk poem, and I don’t know if they’re actually memorable; anyhow, they don’t matter to me in that way. For me they’re like the small brown bottle my grandmother carried in her purse and sniffed for the pick-me-up jolt.

However little you thought you’d been trafficking in surfaces and ornament, after a Bronk poem you realize it was much too much; however cleansed of illusions you believed yourself to be, it looks like they built up anyhow. Bronk takes them off like paint stripper. You’re shriven, your head is shaved. The experience is religious in its ferocity and disdain for cheap solace.

Here, let me open to a poem—and I swear this one just turned up:

Wanting the significance that cause and effect
might have (we see it in little things where it is)
not seeing it in any place
important to us (it is in our lives but in ways

that deny each other) and the totality,
I suppose, is what I mean—it isn’t there—
we look around: the possibilities,
dreams and diversions, whatever else there is.
—The Effect of Cause Despaired


If you aren’t familiar with Bronk, maybe this doesn’t thrill you. But if you are, it’s like dropping the needle down into the endless groove of an implacable, insatiable, relentless intelligence that allows itself not the least shred of consolation, not the thinnest veil of protection. Bronk’s poems are almost entirely abstract and disembodied, like the poem above, his language desiccated but also conversationally halting and embedded. There is no flesh, no world, precious little metaphor—as though every human attachment is cheating. If anything seems to work—such as cause and effect—it never adds up to anything. “We look around,” and, in the absence of any system that could explain our actions to ourselves, whatever “dream” or “diversion” we cook up is understood to be just that—a distraction from nothing.

Bronk is thinking and thinking, as purely as possible, about how we want—want not to be alone, want things to matter, want to feel that we are connected to reality. His poems are all about wanting and how there is no end to it. And about how whatever reality is, it is something we only know in the negative—by being constantly wrong about it.

Bronk’s body of work is a strange achievement which it is hard not to call brave. There is such a grave honor in its repetitiveness, how it harps on what it can’t have, and how it won’t bend—can’t bend. If I say that Bronk’s poems are like blocks of stone, similar, but each slightly different and fitted one to another, and if I say that one experiences a strange exhilaration and release in the presence of the stark monument they form, then I am echoing Bronk’s own description of the stonework of Machu Picchu in “An Algebra Among Cats,” my favorite essay in his remarkable book of essays, Vectors and Smoothable Curves.

Bronk is compelled by the “plain perfection” of Machu Picchu’s stones, whose “surfaces have been worked and smoothed to a degree just this side of that line where texture would be lost.” Standing among them, he feels released from the idea of time as moving from past to future and the accompanying illusion of human progress: “It is at least as though there were several separate scales of time; it is even as though for certain achievements of great importance, this city for example, there were a continuing present which made those things always contemporary.”

There are moments of aesthetic transport which weld beauty to beauty, occasional angles which offer a glimpse of something endless and compelling. Bronk feels it in the presence of the pure artifacts of Machu Picchu; I get a touch of it in the presence of Bronk.
Originally Published: February 28, 2006

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
11-08-2015, 02:46 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/177759
PROFILE
The Ghost Inside
A profile of Jack Gilbert.

BY SARAH MANGUSO
“I don’t want to be at peace,” Jack Gilbert pronounced shortly after his 80th birthday. Yet he has spent much of his life on remote Greek islands, on a houseboat in Kashmir, on a western Massachusetts farm, and in the remote outskirts of Sausalito, California, either alone or in the company of one other. He has never owned a home and has driven a car only twice. A sensible person might even say he’s sought a peace separate from the arena of the “career poets”—and maybe even separate from that of the career adult. But the unique kernel of Gilbert’s poetry is its fearless exploration of the adult heart. It takes a moment to have a fling or write one good line, but sustaining authentic emotional participation, as Gilbert has in his life as a poet, is terrifying and hard, and is practically a lost art.

Gilbert was born in Pittsburgh in 1925 and grew up in the East Liberty district. His father worked in the circus for a time and died after falling out the window of a Prohibition-era men’s club when Jack was 10. After failing out of Peabody High School, Gilbert sold Fuller brushes door-to-door, worked in steel mills, and accompanied his uncle to fumigate houses, a job he began when he was 10 years old. “The cyanide could knock you out with just one breath, and in a matter of minutes you’d be dead,” he said in 1991. “It was an eerie way to grow up.”

He was admitted to the University of Pittsburgh because of a clerical error, where he began writing poetry (having previously written only prose) and earned a B.A. in 1947. After several years in Paris, Aix-en-Provence, and Italy—a chapter notable for his relationship with Gianna Gelmetti, the first of the three women who appear in his best love poems—Gilbert made his way to San Francisco, where the Beat and Haight-Ashbury countercultures were beginning to thrive.

A word about the women in Gilbert’s love poems before I go on. More than a few readers bristle at Gilbert’s apparently “antifeminist” poems. Women appear as totem creatures of mystery and beauty in poems like “Dante Dancing,” “Finding Eurydice,” and “Gift Horses,” but I am convinced that conventional feminism is the wrong filter through which to read these works. In response to a question about his elegiac poems written for his lost wife, Gilbert explained: “It was about grief, not about me.” Despite relationships that had all the signs of intimacy—with Gianna, Linda Gregg, and Michiko Nogami—Gilbert found the women he “knew” unknowable. And so he may write: “We are allowed / women so we can get into bed with the Lord, / however partial and momentary that is.” In the introduction to his own poems in the 1983 volume Nineteen New American Poets of the Golden Gate, Gilbert wrote: “I relish the physical surface of a woman, but I am importantly haunted by the ghost inside.”

Back to San Francisco. Gilbert lived in the Bay Area for 11 years, from 1956 to 1967, during which time he attended San Francisco State, worked with Ansel Adams, took Jack Spicer’s magic workshop, and enjoyed a years-long friendly argument about poetry with Allen Ginsberg. As the story goes, Gilbert didn’t like much of Ginsberg's work until one day when Ginsberg walked through a roadless and undeveloped area of Sausalito to Gilbert's cabin. He read aloud from two pages of poetry he’d just written.

Gilbert liked it. It was the beginning of Ginsberg’s iconic poem “Howl,” read publicly for the first time in 1956 to wild acclaim, and published in 1958. Four years later Gilbert’s first book, Views of Jeopardy, won the Yale Younger Poets Prize and was nominated for a Pulitzer. Gilbert enjoyed a year and a half of stateside fame, then won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1964 and left for Greece with the poet Linda Gregg. Six years would pass before he returned.

Gilbert wrote poems in Greece (and Denmark and England) that became Monolithos, his second book, finally coaxed into publication by editor Gordon Lish in 1982, 20 years after Gilbert’s debut. (Lish wrote a one-sentence essay for the New Orleans Review about Gilbert’s poetry. It read: “Why I like Jack Gilbert’s poetry and why I think Jack Gilbert is one of the best American poets and why I publish[ed] Jack Gilbert’s books is, was, and shall be to bring about the embarrassment of the power of discrimination in force in the assembly of fucking Harold Bloom’s fucking canonicity list. The End.”) That book, too, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize—as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award. By then, Gilbert had separated from Gregg and married Michiko Nogami.

In 1982, after only 11 years of marriage, Michiko died of cancer at age 36. Gilbert next published a limited-edition volume called Kochan, a collection of elegiac poems written for Michiko, whose ghost would inspire what many call his best love poems, written in the early 1990s. Those poems constitute much of Gilbert’s third book, The Great Fires, which appeared in 1994. By this point he had been teaching from time to time, stretching the money in order to live quietly abroad, writing.

Last year Gilbert turned 80 and published his fourth book, Refusing Heaven. Form appears incidental to content in the new poems, as ever in Gilbert’s work. In an interview in the 1990s Gilbert said, “Mechanical form doesn’t really matter to me. . . . Some poets [write within a form] with extraordinary deftness. But I don’t understand why. . . . It’s like treating poetry as though it’s learning how to balance brooms on your head. . . . It’s like people who think sexuality is fun. Sure, it’s fun, but it’s a way of getting someplace, not just running to the corner for a little spasm.”

There are no little spasms in Gilbert’s poems—just giant ones, the immeasurable subjects of love and death, quiet but also somehow deafening. Gilbert’s is an aesthetic of exclusion. “There is usually a minimum of decoration in the best,” he has said. “Both the Chinese and the Greeks were in love with what mathematicians mean by elegance: not the heaping up of language, but the use of a few words with utmost effect.” Despite their streamlined appearance, Gilbert’s poems are not sentimental, obvious, or thin.

One of my favorite poems from The Great Fires contains even fewer elements than a classical haiku: the poem simply describes a man carrying a box. “He manages like somebody carrying a box / that is too heavy, first with his arms / underneath. . . . Afterward, / he carries it on his shoulder, until the blood / drains out of the arm that is stretched up / to steady the box and the arm goes numb. But now / the man can hold underneath again, so that / he can go on without ever putting the box down.” The lines appear almost inconsequential. But the title of the poem is “Michiko Dead.”

In a recent interview in The Paris Review, Gilbert asked, “Why do so many poets settle for so little? I don’t understand why they’re not greedy for what’s inside them. . . . When I read the poems that matter to me, it stuns me how much the presence of the heart—in all its forms—is endlessly available there.”

What is the most important thing a poet must seek, I asked him in February. His response: “Depth and warmth.”

Originally Published: February 27, 2006

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
11-08-2015, 02:58 PM
PROFILE
The Ghost Inside
A profile of Jack Gilbert.

BY SARAH MANGUSO
“I don’t want to be at peace,” Jack Gilbert pronounced shortly after his 80th birthday. Yet he has spent much of his life on remote Greek islands, on a houseboat in Kashmir, on a western Massachusetts farm, and in the remote outskirts of Sausalito, California, either alone or in the company of one other. He has never owned a home and has driven a car only twice. A sensible person might even say he’s sought a peace separate from the arena of the “career poets”—and maybe even separate from that of the career adult. But the unique kernel of Gilbert’s poetry is its fearless exploration of the adult heart. It takes a moment to have a fling or write one good line, but sustaining authentic emotional participation, as Gilbert has in his life as a poet, is terrifying and hard, and is practically a lost art.

Gilbert was born in Pittsburgh in 1925 and grew up in the East Liberty district. His father worked in the circus for a time and died after falling out the window of a Prohibition-era men’s club when Jack was 10. After failing out of Peabody High School, Gilbert sold Fuller brushes door-to-door, worked in steel mills, and accompanied his uncle to fumigate houses, a job he began when he was 10 years old. “The cyanide could knock you out with just one breath, and in a matter of minutes you’d be dead,” he said in 1991. “It was an eerie way to grow up.”

He was admitted to the University of Pittsburgh because of a clerical error, where he began writing poetry (having previously written only prose) and earned a B.A. in 1947. After several years in Paris, Aix-en-Provence, and Italy—a chapter notable for his relationship with Gianna Gelmetti, the first of the three women who appear in his best love poems—Gilbert made his way to San Francisco, where the Beat and Haight-Ashbury countercultures were beginning to thrive.

A word about the women in Gilbert’s love poems before I go on. More than a few readers bristle at Gilbert’s apparently “antifeminist” poems. Women appear as totem creatures of mystery and beauty in poems like “Dante Dancing,” “Finding Eurydice,” and “Gift Horses,” but I am convinced that conventional feminism is the wrong filter through which to read these works. In response to a question about his elegiac poems written for his lost wife, Gilbert explained: “It was about grief, not about me.” Despite relationships that had all the signs of intimacy—with Gianna, Linda Gregg, and Michiko Nogami—Gilbert found the women he “knew” unknowable. And so he may write: “We are allowed / women so we can get into bed with the Lord, / however partial and momentary that is.” In the introduction to his own poems in the 1983 volume Nineteen New American Poets of the Golden Gate, Gilbert wrote: “I relish the physical surface of a woman, but I am importantly haunted by the ghost inside.”

Back to San Francisco. Gilbert lived in the Bay Area for 11 years, from 1956 to 1967, during which time he attended San Francisco State, worked with Ansel Adams, took Jack Spicer’s magic workshop, and enjoyed a years-long friendly argument about poetry with Allen Ginsberg. As the story goes, Gilbert didn’t like much of Ginsberg's work until one day when Ginsberg walked through a roadless and undeveloped area of Sausalito to Gilbert's cabin. He read aloud from two pages of poetry he’d just written.

Gilbert liked it. It was the beginning of Ginsberg’s iconic poem “Howl,” read publicly for the first time in 1956 to wild acclaim, and published in 1958. Four years later Gilbert’s first book, Views of Jeopardy, won the Yale Younger Poets Prize and was nominated for a Pulitzer. Gilbert enjoyed a year and a half of stateside fame, then won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1964 and left for Greece with the poet Linda Gregg. Six years would pass before he returned.

Gilbert wrote poems in Greece (and Denmark and England) that became Monolithos, his second book, finally coaxed into publication by editor Gordon Lish in 1982, 20 years after Gilbert’s debut. (Lish wrote a one-sentence essay for the New Orleans Review about Gilbert’s poetry. It read: “Why I like Jack Gilbert’s poetry and why I think Jack Gilbert is one of the best American poets and why I publish[ed] Jack Gilbert’s books is, was, and shall be to bring about the embarrassment of the power of discrimination in force in the assembly of fucking Harold Bloom’s fucking canonicity list. The End.”) That book, too, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize—as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award. By then, Gilbert had separated from Gregg and married Michiko Nogami.

In 1982, after only 11 years of marriage, Michiko died of cancer at age 36. Gilbert next published a limited-edition volume called Kochan, a collection of elegiac poems written for Michiko, whose ghost would inspire what many call his best love poems, written in the early 1990s. Those poems constitute much of Gilbert’s third book, The Great Fires, which appeared in 1994. By this point he had been teaching from time to time, stretching the money in order to live quietly abroad, writing.

Last year Gilbert turned 80 and published his fourth book, Refusing Heaven. Form appears incidental to content in the new poems, as ever in Gilbert’s work. In an interview in the 1990s Gilbert said, “Mechanical form doesn’t really matter to me. . . . Some poets [write within a form] with extraordinary deftness. But I don’t understand why. . . . It’s like treating poetry as though it’s learning how to balance brooms on your head. . . . It’s like people who think sexuality is fun. Sure, it’s fun, but it’s a way of getting someplace, not just running to the corner for a little spasm.”

There are no little spasms in Gilbert’s poems—just giant ones, the immeasurable subjects of love and death, quiet but also somehow deafening. Gilbert’s is an aesthetic of exclusion. “There is usually a minimum of decoration in the best,” he has said. “Both the Chinese and the Greeks were in love with what mathematicians mean by elegance: not the heaping up of language, but the use of a few words with utmost effect.” Despite their streamlined appearance, Gilbert’s poems are not sentimental, obvious, or thin.

One of my favorite poems from The Great Fires contains even fewer elements than a classical haiku: the poem simply describes a man carrying a box. “He manages like somebody carrying a box / that is too heavy, first with his arms / underneath. . . . Afterward, / he carries it on his shoulder, until the blood / drains out of the arm that is stretched up / to steady the box and the arm goes numb. But now / the man can hold underneath again, so that / he can go on without ever putting the box down.” The lines appear almost inconsequential. But the title of the poem is “Michiko Dead.”

In a recent interview in The Paris Review, Gilbert asked, “Why do so many poets settle for so little? I don’t understand why they’re not greedy for what’s inside them. . . . When I read the poems that matter to me, it stuns me how much the presence of the heart—in all its forms—is endlessly available there.”

What is the most important thing a poet must seek, I asked him in February. His response: “Depth and warmth.”

Originally Published: February 27, 2006




Last year Gilbert turned 80 and published his fourth book, Refusing Heaven. Form appears incidental to content in the new poems, as ever in Gilbert’s work. In an interview in the 1990s Gilbert said, “Mechanical form doesn’t really matter to me. . . . Some poets [write within a form] with extraordinary deftness. But I don’t understand why. . . . It’s like treating poetry as though it’s learning how to balance brooms on your head. . . . It’s like people who think sexuality is fun. Sure, it’s fun, but it’s a way of getting someplace, not just running to the corner for a little spasm.”

There are no little spasms in Gilbert’s poems—just giant ones, the immeasurable subjects of love and death, quiet but also somehow deafening. Gilbert’s is an aesthetic of exclusion. “There is usually a minimum of decoration in the best,” he has said. “Both the Chinese and the Greeks were in love with what mathematicians mean by elegance: not the heaping up of language, but the use of a few words with utmost effect.” Despite their streamlined appearance, Gilbert’s poems are not sentimental, obvious, or thin.

One of my favorite poems from The Great Fires contains even fewer elements than a classical haiku: the poem simply describes a man carrying a box. “He manages like somebody carrying a box / that is too heavy, first with his arms / underneath. . . . Afterward, / he carries it on his shoulder, until the blood / drains out of the arm that is stretched up / to steady the box and the arm goes numb. But now / the man can hold underneath again, so that / he can go on without ever putting the box down.” The lines appear almost inconsequential. But the title of the poem is “Michiko Dead.”

In a recent interview in The Paris Review, Gilbert asked, “Why do so many poets settle for so little? I don’t understand why they’re not greedy for what’s inside them. . . . When I read the poems that matter to me, it stuns me how much the presence of the heart—in all its forms—is endlessly available there.”

What is the most important thing a poet must seek, I asked him in February. His response: “Depth and warmth.”

Originally Published: February 27, 2006

Here Gilbert expounds on the attitude some of us have about the outright demand that we adhere strictly to form!
Or else be declared poor poets, unworthy and/or lacking in poetic talents!
Who gives these arrogant assholes such authority to speak as if-THEY- own poetry!??
Or hold the sole rights to its purity, heart and message?
Pure elitism at its deepest acidity, stupidity and imbecility! Says I, a poet that rebels and only uses form enough to keep the arrows of chaos and insanity away!--Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
11-10-2015, 09:00 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/177877

ESSAY
Nature Rules
A reading by Mary Oliver at the 92nd Street Y.

BY DARA MANDLE
What do the actor Steve Buscemi and two nuns have in common? An appreciation for Mary Oliver, the reigning queen of nature poetry. Oliver writes often in her newer verse about “the light of the world.” No surprise, then, to spot sisters of mercy at the poet’s January reading at New York’s 92nd Street Y. But Mr. Pink? Wouldn’t lyrics about the virtue of green beans be a touch too cozy for such a rough character? No, it turns out.

Judging from the size of the crowd that night, and from the sales of her current book, New and Selected Poems: Volume Two, it seems that many people—and not just those obviously drawn to daisies—need cheer.

Oliver’s minimalist stage persona and sense of humor undercut the frequent sentimentality of her lyrics. In person, she makes sure her fans are getting their money’s worth—in this case, $17 per ticket. They gave her a rock star’s reception when she strode to the podium after being introduced by Alice Quinn, director of the Poetry Society of America and poetry editor of The New Yorker.

Although she won both a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, Oliver’s demeanor is more PB&J than port. She has what most poets outwardly disdain but secretly covet: readers. Her work might appear only occasionally in graduate curricula, but it registers mightily on the reorder lists at Barnes & Noble.

Many of the poems to which she gave voice at her reading were from her most recent New and Selected volume. The audience responded avidly to the few poems about her dog, Percy. “Oxygen,” a manuscript facsimile of which was reprinted in the evening’s program, was dedicated to her partner of more than 40 years, artist Molly Malone Cook, who died recently (your life . . . is so close / to my own that I would not know / where to drop the knife of / separation. And what does this have to do / with love, except / everything?).

“Do you want to hear this?” Oliver asked as she prepared to read “Wild Geese.” In this popular poem, the sound of geese reminds readers of their “place/in the family of things.” A friend found her question a cringe worthy attention ploy—but he doesn’t go to many poetry readings. I found Oliver’s commitment to her audience refreshing. After all, many had braved rain and two subways to get here.

By reading’s end her directness, which had at first invigorated, began to wear thin. In her introduction, Quinn had noted, “Like Frost, Oliver is a poet of belief.” Yet Frost let the darkness in his poems gradually seep out; one might not even detect it in a first reading. Oliver often tells us point-blank to move toward the light—or, as she writes, toward “the sun, the purely pure sun, shining, all the while, over / all of us.”

And yet, Oliver acknowledges sorrow and mourning. One of the reasons her audience is so dedicated to her is because she lets them in. After reading the poem for her partner, Oliver shared three lines she’d read at her memorial service. In an age when so many writers build walls between themselves and their readers, Oliver opens windows. And why not? Her fans relish the view.
Originally Published: March 20, 2006
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My belief is-- ask a poet to write about Nature and if that poet cannot do so--he/she is a fraud.
For Love and Nature are by far the too easiest subjects to write poetry about IMHO.
With death and despair being on the other side of that scale.. -Tyr

Now do not let the word "easy" in that comment fool you. Easy to write about , but much harder to make an "impression with" in regards to other poets reading your work or getting such published! -Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
11-13-2015, 10:22 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/177773

PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment
BY TONY HOAGLAND
Aesthetic shifts over time can be seen as a kind of crop rotation; the topsoil of one field is allowed to rest, while another field is plowed and cultivated. In the seventies the American poetry of image covered the Midwestern plains like wheat; in the eighties, perhaps, it was the narrative-discursive sentence which blossomed and bore anthological fruit. This shifting of the ground of convention is one aspect of cultural self-renewal. But the fruitful style and idiom becomes conventional, and then conventionally tired.

In the last ten years American poetry has seen a surge in associative and “experimental” poetries, in a wild variety of forms and orientations. Some of this work has been influenced by theories of literary criticism and epistemology, some by the old Dionysian imperative to jazz things up. The energetic cadres of MFA grads have certainly contributed to this milieu, founding magazines, presses, and aesthetic clusters which encourage and influence each other’s experiments. Generally speaking, this time could be characterized as one of great invention and playfulness. Simultaneously, it is also a moment of great aesthetic self-consciousness and emotional removal.

Systematic development is out; obliquity, fracture, and discontinuity are in. Especially among young poets, there is a widespread mistrust of narrative forms and, in fact, a pervasive sense of the inadequacy or exhaustion of all modes other than the associative. Under the label of “narrative,” all kinds of poetry currently get lumped misleadingly together: not just story but discursion, argument, even descriptive lyrics. They might better be called the “Poetries of Continuity.”

Let me begin with two poetic examples which I think intriguingly register one aspect of the current temper. The first is from “Couples,” by Mark Halliday:


All the young people in their compact cars.
He’s funny and she’s sensible.
The car is going to need some transmission work
soon, but they’ll get by all right—
Aunt Louise slips them a hundred dollars
every chance she gets and besides,
both of them working—
Susan does day-care part-time
and Jim finally got full-time work
at Design Future Associates
after those tough nine months as an apprentice.
Or he’s in law school
doing amazingly well, he acts so casual
but really he’s always pounding the books,
and Susan works full-time
for a markets research firm, she’s
amazingly sharp about consumer trends
and what between her salary and Aunt Louise
Jim can afford to really concentrate on
his studies. Or he’s a journalist
and so is she, and they keep very up
on the news especially state politics.
Plus she does an amazing veal marsala
and he jogs two miles five mornings a week—
and in June they’ll be off to Italy again,
or Mexico; Susan’s photographs are
really tasteful, not touristy, she always
reads up on the culture before their trip.
Jim slips in a wacky shot every once in a while
and everybody laughs, that’s old Jim.
......................................
They’ll get by all right. They have
every one of Linda Ronstadt’s albums, and
they’re amazingly happy together.


And the next poem is called “First Person Fabulous,” by Matthea Harvey:


First Person fumed & fizzed under Third Person’s tongue while Third Person slumped at the diner counter, talking, as usual, to no one. Third Person thought First Person was the toilet paper trailing from Third Person’s shoe, the tiara Third Person once wore in a dream to a funeral. First Person thought Third Person was a layer of tar on a gorgeous pink nautilus, a foot on a fountain, a tin hiding the macaroons & First Person was that nautilus, that fountain, that pile of macaroons. Sometimes First Person broke free on first dates (with a Second Person) & then there was the delicious rush of “I this” and “I that” but then no phone calls & for weeks Third Person wouldn’t let First Person near anyone. Poor First Person. Currently she was exiled to the world of postcards (having a lovely time)—& even then that beast of a Third Person used the implied “I” just to drive First Person crazy. She felt like a television staring at the remote, begging to be turned on. She had so many things she wanted to say. If only she could survive on her own, she’d make Third Person choke on herself & when the detectives arrived & all eyes were on her she’d cry out, “I did it! I did it! Yes, dahlings, it was me!”


These two ingenious poems, written by poets of different generations* and styles, have something strikingly in common: their intention to hold narrative up for our inspection, at arm’s length, without being caught inside its sticky web. Rather than narratives themselves, both poems offer commentaries about narrative, story “samples,” safely told by a narrator who operates at an altitude above plot, narrating from a supervisory position. You could truly say that these poems serve to sharpen awareness of our narrative habits, but you could also say they contain a warning about how generic, how over-familiar, our storytelling is.

Mark Halliday’s poem “Couples” seems to make the point that our most precious personal narratives, despite our tender feelings for them, are generic—that human beings (yuppie couples, at least) are reducible to socioeconomic-historic clichés—no matter that we cling to the idea of our uniqueness and individuality. These stories of the self, the poem makes clear, are an exhausted resource.

Matthea Harvey’s ingenious, funny poem trumps the problem by translating the plot into a drama between “signifiers,” transposing drama into grammar. The ironic title, “First Person Fabulous,” suggests the essential egotism of all first person narratives. Tender and witty though the poem is about its “characters,” a real involvement by the reader is prevented by the latex condom of self-consciousness. “First Person Fabulous” is a poem, we are never allowed to forget, about pronouns.

It seems important to point out that both of these poems, though intrinsically skeptical, are also markedly playful. In their inventiveness of detail, in their teasing, in-and-out, back-and-forth development, in their pleasure in idiom, they are not cold in their detachment but imaginatively frolicsome. In fact, the self-consciousness of the poems creates the verbal dimension in which they play. However, despite the affirmative, vital presence of imagination, that playground area is situated at a great distance from experience. It is distinctly externalized. Distance is as much the distinctive feature of the poems as play; distance, which might be seen as antithetical to that other enterprise of poetry—strong feeling.


* * *


What aspect of narrative is so to be guarded against? A number of familiar explanations present themselves. To start with, it seems likely that narrative poetry in America has been tainted by its over-use in thousands of confessional poems. Not confessionalism itself, but the inadvertent sentimentality and narcissism of many such poems have imparted the odor of indulgence to narrative. Our vision of narrative possibilities has been narrowed by so many first person autobiographical stories, then drowned in a flood of pathos poems. Psychology itself, probably the most widely-shared narrative of the last several generations of American culture, has lost its charisma as a system, if not its currency.

Secondly, many persons think that ours is simply not a narrative age; that contemporary experience is too multitracked, too visual, too manifold and simultaneous to be confined to the linearity of narrative, no matter how well done. As Carolyn Forché says:


Our age lacks the structure of a story. Or perhaps it would be closer to say that narrative implies progress and completion. The history of our time does not allow for any of the bromides of progress, nor for the promise of successful closure.


Forché herself is an aesthetic convert from narrative poetry to a poetry of lyric-associative fragment.

Not only is organized narration considered inadequate to contemporary experience, its use is felt by some to be oppressive, over-controlling, “suspiciously authoritarian.” Because narrative imposes a story upon experience, because—the argument goes—that story implicitly presents itself as the whole story, some readers object to the smugness and presumption of the narration. “Whose narrative is this?” they cry; “Not mine!”

Put more bluntly, the new resistance to conventions of order represents a boredom with, and generalized suspicion of, straightforwardness and orchestration. Systematic development and continuity are considered simplistic, claustrophobic, even unimaginative. In the contemporary arena of the moment, charisma belongs to the erratic and subversive.

There may be yet another more hidden and less conscious anxiety behind the contemporary mistrust of narrative: a claustrophobic fear of submersion or enclosure. Narrative, after all, and other poetries of sustained development, seduce and contain; its feature is the loss of self-consciousness; in the sequential “grip” of narrative, the reader is “swept away,” and loses not consciousness, perhaps, but self-consciousness. The speedy conceptuality which characterizes much contemporary poetry prefers the dance of multiple perspectives to sustained participation. It hesitates to enter a point of view that cannot easily be altered or quickly escaped from. It would prefer to remain skeptical, and in that sense, too, one might say that it prefers knowing to feeling.


* * *


Harvey’s and Halliday’s poems are examples of one kind of hip contemporary skittishness. But they are, actually, too reader-friendly, too lucid and inclusive to truly represent the poetic fashion of the moment. The predominant Poem of Our Moment is a more lyric and dissociative thing, like “Improvisation” by Rachel M. Simon:


One thing about human nature is that nobody
wants to know the exact dimensions of their small talk.
I can’t imagine good advice.
If every human being has skin
how come I can see all of your veins?
Clicks and drips target my skull.
Important voices miss their target.
Some cities are ill-suited for feet.
I’d never buy a door smaller than a tuba, you never know
what sort of friends you’ll make.
In the future there will be less to remember.
In the past I have only my body and shoes.
The gut and the throat are two entirely different animals.
My hands don’t make good shoelaces, but I’m going to stay
in this lane, even if its slower.
The trick was done with saltwater and smoke
and an ingredient you can only find in an
out of business ethnic food store.
It all comes down to hand-eye coordination.
Once it took all of my energy to get you out of the tub
we had converted from an indoor pool to a house.
I ended up on snorkeling spam lists inadvertently.
It is all inadvertent.
If you don’t believe me ask your mom.


“Improvisation” is a quintessential Poem of Our Moment: fast-moving and declarative, wobbling on the balance beam between associative and dissociative, somewhat absurdist, and, indeed, cerebral. Much talent and skill are evident in its making, in its pacing and management of gaps, the hints and sound bites which keep the reader reaching forward for the lynchpin of coherence. One admirable aspect of the poem is the way it seems capable of incorporating anything; yet the correlative theme of the poem is that all this motley data—i.e. experience—doesn’t add up to a story. Even as the poem implies a world without sequence, the poem itself has no consequence, no center of gravity, no body, no assertion of emotional value.

If we ask, what is the subject of “Improvisation,” the answer would be, the dissociated self; and the aspect of self such poems most forcefully represent is its uncatchability, its flittering, quicksilver transience. Poems like “Improvisation” showcase personality in the persona of their chatty, free-associating, nutty-smart narrators. It is a self that does not stand still, that implies a kind of spectral, anxious insubstantiality. The voice is plenty sharp in tone and sometimes observant in its detail, but it is skittery. Elusiveness is the speaker’s central characteristic. Speed, wit, and absurdity are its attractive qualities. The last thing such poems are going to do is risk their detachment, their distance, their freedom from accountability. The one thing they are not going to do is commit themselves to the sweaty enclosures of subject matter and the potential embarrassment of sincerity.

I don’t wish to base a case on one example, so I will offer a few others. Here are the opening stanzas of two other recent poems:


My harvest has engineered a sanctioned nectary.
The transmission of each apple squeals when I apply the compress.
All my obsequities have finished their summer reading,
they are diligent students,
they understand the difference between precision and Kansas.
This was before I had pried up the floorboard to see what was ticking underneath.
I keep busy, every plane that flies through my sky
requires help, sign language for the commercial vector.
My octave’s intact so this may be working.
—From Watercooler Tarmac, by G.C. Waldrep



Oily fellows, earthmen. Spell
freeway, spell monolith, sell
me a fossil. Wholly repellent.
Malls, only relief. Post. Wheel
wells, the atmosphere (lolly-
lolly) honest, simple welfare,
topsoil anywhere—fell smell,
fell smell. Weaponry, hostile
fish, watermelon peels (lolly-
lolly) parentheses, mile, wolf,
fearsome whelp. Listen (lolly-
lolly) stolen female whisper.
Hollow salesman trifle, yelp
then loll. Mayflower slip. See
ELSE. My free hilltop, all snow.
Frost. Meanwhile sleep (lolly-
lolly) meanwhile self. Presto!
Trill myself open wholesale!
—Variations as the Fell of the Fall, Kevin McFadden


Sure, these styles have discernible origins and different, respectable precedents. In “Watermelon Tarmac” and “Improvisation” we might see the cartoony goofiness of James Tate or the unmoored rhetoric of John Ashbery. In the more radical “Variations of the Fell of the Fall,” one senses an aleatory nonsense-language system at work*. Though the modes are different, they are all modes of verbal-psychic dislocation. They all move with a manic swiftness. What is also striking to me, and representative of the aesthetic moment, is how these poems are committed to a sort of pushy exteriority.

Of course, dissociative doesn’t necessarily mean detached, or empty, or even hyperintellectual. “Prufrock” is one example of a dissociated yet passionate poem. In various poetic hands, the dissociated-improvisatory mode can represent vivaciousness of self, or uncontainable passion, or the fractured wash of modernity, or an aesthetic allegiance to randomness. The intention of the maker—if we can recognize what it is—makes all the difference.


* * *


What are the intentions of the current version of “difficult” poetry? Some of the stated, advertised intentions of “elusive” poetics are to playfully distort or dismantle established systems of meaning, to recover mystery in poetry, to offer multiple, simultaneous interpretive possibilities for the energetic and willing reader to “participate” in. The critic Stephen Burt describes some of the traits of this poetic style, for which he offers the term “Elliptical Poetry”:


Elliptical poets are always hinting, punning, or swerving away from a never-quite-unfolded backstory; they are easier to process in parts than in wholes. They believe provisionally in identities... but they suspect the Is they invoke; they admire disjunction and confrontation, but they know how little can go a long way. Ellipticists seek the authority of the rebellious; they want to challenge their readers, violate decorum, surprise or explode assumptions about what belongs in a poem, or what matters in life, and to do so while meeting traditional lyric goals.


Burt’s definition is quite general in order to encompass the diversity of the poetry he champions, but he gets the mania and the declarativeness right. Also the relentless dodging or obstruction of expectation.

Avant-gardes of the past have surely rejected linearity and conventions of coherence, but some of them did so with the motive of asserting worlds of feeling—amazement or distress—which could not be expressed within conventions of order. Consider the surrealism of Lorca or Vallejo, which embraced both arbitrariness and passion with radical subjectivity. Yet surrealism operates out of a faith in psychic veracity, and Surrealism has a heroic aspect to it. As Louis Aragon says, “the marvelous is born of the refusal of one reality, yet also the development of a new relationship, of a brand-new reality this refusal has liberated.” Here is Aragon’s “Pop Song,” performed in a style quite congruent to “Improvisation,” but with a larger, quite different motive:


Cloud

A white horse stands up
and that’s the small hotel at dawn where he who is always first-come-first-served awakes in palatial comfort
Are you going to spend your entire life in this same world
Half dead
Half asleep
Haven’t you had enough of commonplaces yet
People actually look at you without laughter
They have glass eyes
You pass them by you waste your time you pass away and go away
You count up to a hundred during which you cheat to kill an extra ten seconds
You hold up your hand suddenly to volunteer for death
Fear not
Some day
There will be just one day left and then one day more after that
That will be that
No more need to look at men nor their companion animals their Good Lord provides
And that they make love to now and then
No more need to go on speaking to yourself out loud at night in order to drown out
The heating-units lament
No need to lift my own eyelids
Nor to fling my blood around like some discus
Nor to breathe despite my disinclination to
Yet despite this I don’t want to die
In low tones the bell of my heart sings out its ancient hope
That music I know it so well but the words
Just what were those words saying
“Idiot”


Aragon’s bold, clownish poem, typical of this strain of French Surrealism, is an exhortation to wonder. Its leaping, erratic movements are meant to assert the urgency of the speaker, the range of human nature, and the volatile resourcefulness of imagination. The mention of death, the progressive intimacy of the voice, the arrival at self-examination and tonal sincerity, all mark this as a poem which combines rhetorical performance with interiority. “Life is hard,” the poem suggests, “time is unendurable and absurd, the sleep of consciousness is oppressive, but it is still important to try to live.” Aragon’s poem, for all its whimsy and dishevelment, is finally humanist, asserting values.

Narrated and associative poems are not each other’s aesthetic opposites or sworn enemies. Obviously these modes don’t necessarily exclude each other. They overlap, coexist, and often cross-pollinate. Nevertheless, one might truly say that the two modes call upon fundamentally different resources in reader and writer. Narration (and its systematic relatives) implicitly honors Memory; the dissociative mode primarily values Invention. “Poetries of Continuity” in some way aim to frame and capture experience; dissociative poetry verifies itself by eluding structures. Their distinct priorities result in different poetries. A poetry which values clarity and continuity is obligated to develop and deliver information in ways that are hierarchical and sequential, ways which accommodate and orchestrate the capacities of human memory. In contrast, a dissociative poetry is always shuffling the deck in order to evade knowability.

The Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, whose well-known phrase, “the pursuit of the real,” declares his allegiance in this matter, has something to say abo...................................

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
11-14-2015, 10:24 AM
PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
American Poetry in the New Century
BY JOHN BARR
1

Poetry in this country is ready for something new. We are at the start of a century, and that, in the past, has marked new beginnings for the art. Pound and Eliot launched Modernism in the opening years of the twentieth century, in the pages of this magazine. And in the opening years of the nineteenth, 1802 to be exact, Wordsworth launched poetry's Romantic era with the second edition of Lyrical Ballads. (The centennial calendar does not go further back. The early years of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries did not mark new departures for English poetry. And American poetry found its true beginnings in Whitman and Dickinson, who did their writing in the middle of the nineteenth century, not at either end.)

But it's not really a matter of calendar. American poetry is ready for something new because our poets have been writing in the same way for a long time now. There is fatigue, something stagnant about the poetry being written today. If one could say that a characteristic of Romantic poetry was that there was way too much of it written once it became established (weekend versifiers to this day still write in Romantic modes), one could say the same of modern poetry. The manner of it has long been mastered. Modernism has passed into the DNA of the MFA programs. For all its schools and experiments, contemporary poetry is still written in the rain shadow thrown by Modernism. It is the engine that drives what is written today. And it is a tired engine.

A new poetry becomes necessary not because we want one, but because the way poets have learned to write no longer captures the way things are, how things have changed. Reality outgrows the art form: the art form is no longer equal to the reality around it. The Georgian poets wrote, coming after a century of such writing, with the depleted sensibility of Romanticism. Their poetry was in love with an antebellum England: "yet / Stands the Church clock at ten to three? / And is there honey still for tea?" The Georgians did not sense the approach of WWI, and their poetry was unequal to the horrors of trench warfare. (To see how a Georgian sensibility did respond, read Rupert Brooke: "If I should die, think only this of me: / That there's some corner of a foreign field / That is for ever England." This is a beautiful poem, but one far afield from mustard gas.) It took Yeats to give British poetry its first great dose of twentieth-century realism. It took The Waste Land to enable a poetry of chaos.

The need for something new is evident. Contemporary poetry's striking absence from the public dialogues of our day, from the high school classroom, from bookstores, and from mainstream media, is evidence of a people in whose mind poetry is missing and unmissed. You can count on the fingers of one hand the bookstores in this country that are known for their poetry collections. A century ago our newspapers commonly ran poems in their pages; fifty years ago the larger papers regularly reviewed new books of poetry. Today one almost never sees a poem in a newspaper; and the new poetry collections reviewed in the New York Times Book Review are down to a few a year. A general, interested public is poetry's foremost need.

More than a decade ago, Dana Gioia recognized poetry's disjunction from public life, in his seminal essay, "Can Poetry Matter?" The question still pertains. Lacking a general audience, poets still write for one another. (Witness the growth of writing workshops and the MFA programs.) Because the book-buying public does not buy their work, at least not in commercial quantities, they cannot support themselves as writers. So they teach. But an academic life removes them yet further from a general audience. Each year, MFA programs graduate thousands of students who have been trained to think of poetry as a career, and to think that writing poetry has something to do with credentials. The effect of these programs on the art form is to increase the abundance of poetry, but to limit its variety. The result is a poetry that is neither robust, resonant, nor—and I stress this quality—entertaining; a poetry that both starves and flourishes on academic subsidies.

Not surprisingly, poetry has a morale problem. A few years ago I read a review, in the Sunday Times, of three books of poetry. One was about the agonies of old age, one about bombed-out Ireland, one about the poet's dead father. The question arises: how does one rouse an entire art form out of a bad mood? Of course the tragic has a place in poetry. Indeed one of poetry's jobs is to descant on the worst that life can hand us. As Yeats said, let "soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing / For every tatter in its mortal dress." But art should not be only about malfunction. Poetry need not come only from impairment. To the extent it does, it makes for a poetry that is monotonic—mono-moodic, if you will. Yeats recognized this when he wrote, "Seventy years have I lived, / Seventy years man and boy, / And never have I danced for joy." Poetry's limitations today come not from failures of craft (the MFA programs attend to that) but from afflictions of spirit. American poetry has yet to produce its Mark Twain.

The combined effects of public neglect and careerism, then, are intellectual and spiritual stagnation in the art form. Although poets pride themselves on their independence, when did you last read a poem whose political vision truly surprised or challenged you? Attitude has replaced intellect.

2

I wish I could offer a distinct picture of what I think the next poetry will look like. But predicting the future path of poetry is like trying to predict the stock market (Wall Street being my other career). Both are relentlessly resistant to being captured in that way. And poetry the more so because it arises from what is intractable in the human spirit. (Poetry—thank goodness—is the animal that always escapes.) There is, however, another way to approach the subject: by describing how a new poetry might differ from what we have today. This may not give us an exact picture of the elephant, but when we are done we will have the elephant as described by how it differs from the other animals on Noah's ark.

The place to look for the next poetry is probably not where you might look first. Modernism was born amid an upheaval in writing that was heavily technical: Pound's Imagism and Vorticism, Gertrude Stein's automatic writing, Eliot's free verse and collage, Marianne Moore's syllabic verse. It would be natural to look for the next poetry to emerge from other kinds of experimental poetry. But this has been tried, and the innovations that followed those of Modernism (projective verse, Language poetry, concrete poetry) have not carried the art form with them. (I think a dead end is the fate that awaits any poetry that is not a record of the human spirit responding.) Technical innovation for its own sake is like the tail that tries to wag the dog. Formal verse or free, a debate which a century ago was nearly religious in its fervor, has settled into a choice of which method best suits the individual poet. And many poets use either, depending on the needs of the poem. I do believe the next era of poetry will come not from further innovations of form, but from an evolution of the sensibility based on lived experience.

The malaise that lies over poetry today has no single cause, and it will take more than a single change to restore its vitality. Let me elaborate on two of the issues I seldom hear discussed.

POETRY AS A CAREER

My own experience with MFA programs, having taught in one, is that they can make of a writer a better writer. "Better" in this case means more knowledgeable in the traditions and the contemporary scope of the art, more accomplished in the craft of writing, more aware of the nimbus of critical commentary which surrounds and to some extent drives the art. That's the good news: you graduate with a better understanding of the sophistication of your audience and of other writers. At the same time, these programs carry pressures to succumb to the intimidations implicit in a climate of careerism. They operate on a network of academic postings and prizes that reinforce the status quo. They are sustained by a system of fellowships, grants, and other subsidies that absolve recipients of the responsibility to write books that a reader who is not a specialist might enjoy, might even buy.

The MFA experience can confuse the writing of poetry, as a career, with the writing of a poem as a need or impulse. The creation of art is not a matter of fellowship. Writing a poem is a fiercely independent act. It is the furthest thing from mentors, residencies, and tenure. The one valid impulse to write a poem is not to impress but to share: wonder or anger or anguish or ecstasy. But always wonder. For the poet a sense of wonder is prerequisite to afford the possibility of the displacement of language into fresh response. Will the next Walt Whitman be an MFA graduate? Somehow it seems hard to imagine.

LIVE BROADLY, WRITE BOLDLY

At an artists' colony some years ago a fellow resident turned to me at the dinner table and said, "So where do you teach?" It was a reasonable question, since all the other artists there, although living for their art, seemed to teach for a living. Now don't get me wrong: the academic life can provide a perfectly good base of experience from which to write. Witness the quantity of fine poetry that has been written by resident poets. But the effect of how we live on what we write—a linkage which seems to me very under-recognized today—suggests that if everyone teaches in order to support their writing needs, it follows that the breadth of the aggregate experience base available to poetry may suffer. In fact, with a few important exceptions, no major American poet has come from the academic world. Wallace Stevens worked as a vice president for the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company. Eliot worked for a time at Lloyds Bank, then in publishing at Faber and Faber. William Carlos Williams was a pediatrician in New Jersey. To varying degrees they all did business with the community of critics based in academia, but none wrote from a lifetime experience gained there. Poetry, like a prayer book in the wind, should be open to all pages at once.

In 1933 Ernest Hemingway went on his first safari, hunting big game in East Africa. Then he came home and wrote short stories ("The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"), the non-fiction Green Hills of Africa, and an unfinished novel, True at First Light. It is a commonplace among creative writers that we should write what we know, but Hemingway took that a step further by seeking out fresh experience in the service of his writing: ambulance driving in the Spanish civil war, marlin fishing off Cuba, running with the bulls in Pamplona. He sought to live more in order to write better. That's not to say that one has to be chased around Pamplona by bulls to gain experience. It could be something as slight as the difference between the poem one might get from a poet strolling past a construction site versus the poem one might get from the poet who is pouring concrete. Either could produce the better poem, of course, but the latter's will be more deeply informed by experience. "To change your language," as Derek Walcott says, "you must change your life."

But when did you last meet a contemporary poet who takes this approach, seeking out fresh experience or new knowledge specifically for the benefit of his or her poetry? I personally don't know many who would think to cross the street, let alone do what Hemingway did, in the hopes of getting a poem out of it. Rather it is the unconscious habit of poets to wait for the poem to come to them. (In the words of a poet friend, "You don't choose the poem, the poem chooses you.") Most contemporary poets align their role as writer with that of witness. (Mary Oliver: "I don't know exactly what a prayer is. / I do know how to pay attention." Or William Matthews: "I plan to notice everything.") They think of the artist as one more acted upon than acting. This is not to say, of course, that great poetry cannot come out of the most meager repository of lived experience. (Think of Emily Dickinson: all those years of writing in a still house, in the grip of a constant intensity.) The point rather is that poets today don't seem even to be aware that what they write will be influenced by how they live. As Auden wrote:

God may reduce you
on Judgment Day
to tears of shame,
reciting by heart
the poems you would
have written, had
your life been good.
— From Thanksgiving for a Habitat


When poets come to pay as much attention to how they live as to what they write, that may mark one new beginning for poetry. As a Zen tea master, long before the ceremony of making tea, prepares the garden for his guests, sweeps the walk, cleans and composes the room, so poets should give their first attention to the lives they lead. Indeed, if they do not, on what authority can they claim to be Shelley's "unacknowledged legislators of the world?" Indeed, if they do not, how can poetry be a moral act? How can poets answer for the effects of what they write on how their readers live? Poets should live broadly, then write boldly.

3

Poetry, in its long history, has been all things to all people. For warrior peoples, Beowulf and the Icelandic Njal's Saga told the stories of their heroes. Homer's subject, in his twin epics, was that prior world when the gods lived just over the horizon and came to visit men. Lucretius put his science and philosophy into books of hexameter verse. Virgil used the epic to give his Rome a mythical past and divine sponsorship. Chaucer brought the high and low of English society into his pentameter couplets; with his narrative gift and love of human nature he was our first short-story writer. The Elizabethan verse dramatists created an entertainment industry based on the iambic pentameter line. In all these manifestations—epic, elegy, meditation, religious devotion, satire, the public poem, verse drama—poetry was .........................

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
11-15-2015, 09:17 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/178645
ESSAY
Is It Poetry or Is It Verse?
The president of the Poetry Foundation weighs in on 2Pac Shakur, “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” and “Jabberwocky.”

BY JOHN BARR
1.

Question: What do the following poems have in common?

* * *

It seemed to me a simple thing since my socks was showin’ through:
Turn my old boots out to pasture, and buy a pair—brand new.
Well, they built this cowboy K-mart outa town there in the Mall,
Where I parked my Studdybaker after shippin’ drys this fall.


* * *

There R no words 2 express
how much I truly care
So many times I fantasize of
feelings we can share
My heart has never known
the Joy u bring 2 me
As if GOD knew what I wanted
and made u a reality


* * *

My brother built a robot
that does not exactly work,
as soon as it was finished,
it began to go berserk,
its eyes grew incandescent
and its nose appeared to gleam,
it bellowed unbenignly
and its ears emitted steam.
Answer: They are the opening lines of poems by leading writers in their respective fields. And they all, most likely, set on edge the teeth of the readers of Poetry magazine.

It’s not just snobbery. People who care about their poetry often experience genuine feelings of embarrassment, even revulsion, when confronted with cowboy poetry, rap and hip-hop, and children’s poetry not written by “adult” poets. Their readerly sensibilities are offended. (If the writing gives them any pleasure, it is a guilty pleasure.) The fact that Wallace McRae, Tupac Shakur, and Jack Prelutsky wrote these works for large, devoted audiences simply adds insult to the injury. Somewhat defensively, the serious poetry crowd dismisses such work as verse, not poetry, and generally acts so as to avoid it, if at all possible, in the future. The fact that these different kinds of poetry don’t communicate, don’t do business with one another, is not just a matter of lost e-mail addresses. The advocates of each know what they like, and it’s definitely not what the others are doing. The result is a poetry world of broad divides, a balkanized system of poetries with their own sovereign audiences, prizes, and heroes. The only thing they share is the word poetry, and that not willingly.

There’s nothing wrong with this, a generally peaceful coexistence of live-and-let-live poetry communities, except to those who require, for intellectual comfort, a universal theory of poetry that ties it all together. It also matters to the Poetry Foundation and organizations like it, which must make choices and use their finite resources to support some kinds of poetry while not others.

2.

Efforts to define the difference between poetry and verse (like efforts to define the difference between poetry and prose) have been with us for a long time. Verse is often a term of disparagement in the poetry world, used to dismiss the work of people who want to write poetry but don’t know how. Verse, in this usage, means unsophisticated or poorly written poetry. But quality of writing is not the real difference between the two. Yes, there is plenty of poorly written verse out there, but there is also plenty of poorly written poetry—and sometimes the verse is the better crafted.
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
Robert Service’s “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” with no help from the critical establishment, is still going strong after a century, while most early Yeats is read today only because it was written by Yeats. To use verse as a pejorative term, then, is to lose the use of it as a true distinction.

George Orwell gives us another way to think about this when he describes Kipling as “a good bad poet.”
A good bad poem is a graceful monument to the obvious. It records in memorable form—for verse is a mnemonic device, among other things—some emotion which very nearly every human being can share.
Into this same pot Orwell puts “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” the work of Bret Harte—and presumably that of Robert Service. “There is a great deal of good bad poetry in English,” says Orwell; by implication, there is even more bad bad poetry. My own nominations for the latter include the work of Edgar Guest, whose Collected Poems, in a signed limp leather edition, was one of two books of poetry in the house where I grew up (a wedding present to my parents).
Ma has a dandy little book that’s full of narrow slips,
An’ when she wants to pay a bill a page from it she rips;
She just writes in the dollars and the cents and signs her name
An’ that’s as good as money, though it doesn’t look the same.
Orwell’s distinction, between good bad poetry and just plain bad poetry, is one based on quality of execution, of craftsmanship. Good bad poetry is verse competently—even memorably—written. But his distinction leaves unaddressed the nature of the poetry itself.

3.

Verse, I have come to think, is poetry written in pursuit of limited objectives: to entertain us with a joke or tall tale, to give us the inherent pleasures of meter and rhyme. It is not great art, nor is it trying to be. Verse, as Orwell says, tells us something we already know—as often as not something we know we already know. Verse is not an instrument of exploration, but rather a tool of affirmation. Its rewards lie not in the excitements of discovery, but in the pleasures of encountering the familiar. Writers of verse have done their job when they make lines that conform to the chosen meter—and do not go beyond it. Frost’s notion, “The possibilities for tune from dramatic tones of meaning struck across the rigidity of a limited meter are endless,” is unvisited territory. Verse does not seek to know the unknown or to express the unexpected, nor does it undertake the risk of failure that both entail.

“Serious” poetry, on the other hand, is written in pursuit of an open-ended goal. It seeks to use language, in its full potential, to encompass reality, both external and internal, in the fullness of its complexity. Unlike verse, poetry does not bring our experience of the world down to the level of the homily or the bromide, and sum it all up in a soothing platitude. It does not pursue simple conclusions or familiar returns. Rather, it is a voyage of discovery into the unknown. Of the figure a poem makes, Frost says,
Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting. . . . Its most precious quality will remain its having run itself and carried away the poet with it. . . . It can never lose its sense of a meaning that once unfolded by surprise as it went.
A poem begins in delight, he says, and ends in wisdom. Verse begins in delight and ends in . . . more delight. The difference between poetry and verse, then, is the difference between an explorer and a tour guide. Verse tells us, finally, that all is well. Poetry, on the contrary, tells us that things are not as we thought they were. Verse does not ask us to change our lives. Poetry does.

At its best, verse can cross over into the realm of serious poetry. Children’s poetry, in particular, can speak at the same time to its intended audience of the young or very young, while holding the attention of an experienced reader.
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
In the recent finals of Poetry Out Loud, the national recitation contest cosponsored by the Poetry Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, if any one poem drove the judges to thoughts of suicide if they had to hear it one more time, it was probably Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” Yet the poem probably stands as high today in the critical community as it does with young readers. Constructed wholly out of neologisms, the poem tells its tale from a parallel universe. Many of the new schools of poetry that followed it in the 20th century could claim “Jabberwocky” as a progenitor. With a little effort, you can even get Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss to resonate with contemporary poetry’s fascination for the nonrational. The nonsense of children’s verse converges with the non-sense of the fanciest experimental poetry.

Most verse has no following in the critical world because it needs none to be understood and appreciated. Most verse also receives no support from the programs of the Poetry Foundation (with the exception of children’s poetry). This is not so much because the Foundation takes a position on the value of verse as poetry, although the legacy of Poetry magazine strongly inclines us to the “serious.” It is rather because the mission of the Foundation is to discover and address poetry’s greatest unmet needs. (The estate of Tupac Shakur is presumably doing just fine without the Poetry Foundation, thank you very much.) The exception is children’s poetry, which the Foundation supports because of its importance to the future of the entire art form. Findings from our major study—Poetry in America—show that a lifelong interest in reading poetry is most likely if developed early and reinforced thereafter.

Whether it’s “Jack and Jill ran up the hill” or “There once was a man from Nantucket,” there is a kind of poem that won’t get out of our ears, even as it refuses our serious attention in the matter of its sense. There is a place in the poetry world for verse—if it is memorably written—and we wish it well in all of its variety.
Originally Published: September 18, 2006
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Far too much verse is currently being heralded as magnificent poetry IMHO.
TRUE GREAT VERSE IS OFTEN BETTER THAN AVERAGE POETRY (ESPECIALLY IF IT IS WRITTEN WITH NO SPIRIT AND NO HEART), BUT GREAT VERSE NEVER IS BETTER THAN GREAT POETRY IMHO. -TYR


George Orwell gives us another way to think about this when he describes Kipling as “a good bad poet.”
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ I HAVE ALWAYS FOUND Orwell's criticism of Kipling to be laced with the vilest venom of pure jealousy!
Enough that I have very little respect for Orwell. As I respect no man that deliberately knocks another strictly due to jealousy... --Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
11-17-2015, 08:07 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/178703

ESSAY
Bob Dylan: Henry Timrod Revisited
When Bob Dylan lifted lines from an obscure Civil War poet, he wasn't plagiarizing. He was sampling.
BY ROBERT POLITO


These happy stars, and yonder setting moon,
Have seen me speed, unreckoned and untasked,
A round of precious hours.
Oh! here, where in that summer noon I basked,
And strove, with logic frailer than the flowers,
To justify a life of sensuous rest,
A question dear as home or heaven was asked,
And without language answered. I was blest!
—Henry Timrod, “A Rhapsody of a Southern Winter Night,” from Poems (1860)


. . . and at times
A strange far look would come into his eyes,
As if he saw a vision in the skies.
—Henry Timrod, “A Vision of Poesy,” from Poems (1860)


The moon gives light and it shines by night
Well, I scarcely feel the glow
We learn to live and then we forgive
O’er the road we’re bound to go
More frailer than the flowers, these precious hours
That keep us so tightly bound
You come to my eyes like a vision from the skies
And I’ll be with you when the deal goes down
—Bob Dylan, “When the Deal Goes Down,” from Modern Times (2006)



As a culture we appear to have forgotten how to experience works of art, or at least how to talk about them plausibly and smartly. The latest instance is the “controversy” shadowing Bob Dylan’s new record, Modern Times, wherein he recurrently adapts phrases from poems by Henry Timrod, a nearly-vanished 19th-century American poet, essayist, and Civil War newspaper correspondent.

That our nation’s most gifted and ambitious songwriter would revive Timrod on the number-one best-selling CD across America, Europe, and Australia might prompt a lively concatenation of responses, ranging from “Huh? Henry Timrod? Isn’t that interesting. . . .” to “Why?” But to narrow the Dylan/Timrod phenomenon (see the New York Times article “Who’s This Guy Dylan Who’s Borrowing Lines from Henry Timrod?” and a subsequent op-ed piece, “The Ballad of Henry Timrod,” by singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega) into a story of possible plagiarism is to confuse, well, art with a term paper.

Timrod was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1828, his arrival in this world falling two years after Stephen Foster but two years before Emily Dickinson. His work, too, might be styled as falling between theirs: sometimes dark and skeptical, other times mawkish and old-fashioned. (Dylan, I’m guessing, is fascinated by both aspects of Timrod, the antique alongside the brooding.) Often tagged the “laureate of the Confederacy”—a title apparently conferred upon him by none other than Tennyson—Timrod still shows up in anthologies because of the poems he wrote celebrating and then mourning the new Southern nation, particularly “Ethnogenesis” and “Ode Sung on the Occasion of Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead at Magnolia Cemetery.” Early on, Whittier and Longfellow admired Timrod, and his “Ode” stands behind Allen Tate’s “Ode to the Confederate Dead” (and thus in turn behind Robert Lowell’s “For the Union Dead”).

On Modern Times Dylan avoids anthology favorites, but his album contains at least ten instances of lines or phrases culled from seven different Timrod poems, mostly poems about love, friendship, death, and poetry . Dylan also quoted Timrod’s “Charleston” in “Cross the Green Mountain,” a song he contributed to the soundtrack of the 2003 Civil War film Gods and Generals; two years earlier he glanced at Timrod’s “Vision of Poesy” for “Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum” on his CD “Love and Theft.” (Various Dylan Web sites annotate his lyrics, but I found these two related sites invaluable: http://republika.pl/bobdylan/mt/ and http://republika.pl/bobdylan/lat/.)

From the dustup in the Times—after our paper of record found a middle-school teacher who branded Dylan “duplicitous,” Vega earnestly supposed that Dylan probably hadn’t lifted the texts “on purpose”—you might not guess that we’ve just lived through some two and a half decades of hip-hop sampling, not to mention a century of Modernism. For the neglected Henry Timrod is just the tantalizing threshold into Dylan’s vast memory palace of echoes.

Besides Timrod, for instance, Modern Times taps into the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Samuel, John, and Luke, among others), Robert Johnson, Memphis Minnie, Kokomo Arnold, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, the Stanley Brothers, Merle Haggard, Hoagy Carmichael, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, and standards popularized by Jeanette MacDonald, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra, as well as vintage folk songs such as “Wild Mountain Thyme,” “Frankie and Albert,” and “Gentle Nettie Moore.”

It’s possible, in fact, to see his prior two recordings, Time Out of Mind and “Love and Theft,” as rearranging the entire American musical and literary landscape of the past 150 years, except that the sources he adapts aren’t always American or so recent. Please forgive another Homeric (if partial) catalog, but the scale and range of Dylan’s allusive textures are vital to an appreciation of what he’s after on his recent recordings.

On Time Out of Mind and “Love and Theft,” Dylan refracts folk, blues, and pop songs created by or associated with Crosby, Sinatra, Charlie Patton, Woody Guthrie, Blind Willie McTell, Doc Boggs, Leroy Carr, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Elvis Presley, Blind Willie Johnson, Big Joe Turner, Wilbert Harrison, the Carter Family, and Gene Austin alongside anonymous traditional tunes and nursery rhymes.

But the revelation is the sly cavalcade of film and literature fragments: W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, assorted film noirs, As You Like It, Othello, Robert Burns, Lewis Carroll, Timrod, Ovid, T.D. Rice’s blackface Otello, Huckleberry Finn, The Aeneid, The Great Gatsby, the Japanese true crime paperback Confessions of a Yakuza by Junichi Saga, Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, and Wise Blood. So pervasive and crafty are Dylan’s recastings for “Love and Theft” that I wouldn’t be surprised if someday we learn that every bit of speech on the album—no matter how intimate or Dylanesque—can be tracked back to another song, poem, movie, or novel.

One conventional approach to Dylan’s songwriting references “folk process” (and also, in his case, “blues process”) and recognizes that he’s always acted as a magpie, recovering and transforming borrowed materials, lyrics, tunes, and even film dialogue (notably on his 1985 album Empire Burlesque). Folk process can readily map early Dylan, the associations linking say, “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “Go ’Way from My Window” with his current variations on traditional blues couplets in his update of “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” for Modern Times.

Yet what about Twain, Fitzgerald, O’Connor, Confessions of a Yakuza, and Timrod? If those gestures are also folk process, then a folk process pursued with such intensity, scope, audacity, and verve eventually explodes into Modernism. As far back as “Desolation Row,” Dylan sang of “Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot / Fighting in the captain’s tower / While calypso singers laugh at them / And fishermen hold flowers.” Dylan’s insistent nods to the past on Time Out of Mind, “Love and Theft,” and Modern Times can probably best be apprehended as Modernist collages.

To clarify what I mean by Modernist collages, think of them as verbal echo chambers of harmonizing and clashing reverberations that tend to organize into two types: those collaged texts, like Pound’s Cantos or Eliot’s “The Waste Land, ” where we are meant to remark on the discrepant tones and idioms of the original texts bumping up against one another, and those collaged texts, composed by poets as various as Kenneth Fearing, Lorine Niedecker, Frank Bidart, and John Ashbery, that aim for an apparently seamless surface. A conspicuous model of the former is the ending of “The Waste Land”:

London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam ceu chelidon—O swallow swallow
Le Prince d’Aquitaine a la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Shantih shantih shantih

The following passage by Frank Bidart, from his poem “The Second Hour of the Night,” actually proves as allusive as Eliot’s, nearly every line rearranging elements assembled not only from Ovid, his main source for the Myrrha story, but also from Plotinus and even Eliot. But instead of incessant fragmentation, we experience narrative sweep and urgency:

As Myrrha is drawn down the dark corridor toward her father

not free not to desire

what draws her forward is neither COMPULSION nor FREEWILL:—

or at least freedom, here choice, is not to be
imagined as action upon

preference: no creature is free to choose what
allows it its most powerful, and most secret, release:

I fulfill it, because I contain it—
it prevails, because it is within me—

it is a heavy burden, setting up longing to enter that
realm to which I am called from within. . . .

Dylan’s songwriting tilts toward the cagier, deflected mode that Bidart is using here. We would scarcely realize we were inside a collage unless someone told us, or unless we abruptly registered a familiar locution. The wonder of the dozen or so snippets that Dylan sifted from Confessions of a Yakuza for “Love and Theft” is how casual and personal they sound dropped into his songs—not one of those songs, of course, remotely about a yakuza, or a gangster of any persuasion.

Some of Dylan’s borrowings operate as allusions in the accustomed sense, urging us back into the wellspring texts. Timrod, I think, works as a citation we’re ultimately intended to notice, though no song depends on that notice. Dylan manifestly is fixated on the American Civil War. In his memoir Chronicles, Volume One, he recounted that during the early 1960s he systematically read every newspaper at the New York Public Library for the years 1855 to 1865. “The age that I was living in didn’t resemble this age,” he wrote, “but it did in some mysterious and traditional way. Not just a little bit, but a lot. There was a broad spectrum and commonwealth that I was living upon, and the basic psychology of that life was every bit a part of it. If you turned the light towards it, you could see the full complexity of human nature. Back there, America was put on the cross, died, and was resurrected. There was nothing synthetic about it. The godawful truth of that would be the all-encompassing template behind everything I would write.”

His 2003 film Masked and Anonymous takes place against the backdrop of another interminable domestic war during an unspecified future. Dylan clearly sees links between the Civil War and America now—and once you consult a historical map of the red and blue states, would you contradict him? The echoes of Timrod help him frame and sustain those links. For Dylan, Modern Times (and this is the joke in his title, along with the reference to the Chaplin movie) are also old times, ancient times. “The age I was living in didn’t resemble this age, but it did. . . .”

Other borrowings, such as the tidbits of yakuza oral history, aren’t so much formal allusions as curios of vernacular speech picked up from reading or listening that shade his songs into something like collective, as against individual, utterances. But here, too, it’s hard not to discern specific designs. On recordings steeped in empire, corruption, masks, male power, and self-delusion, aren’t Tokyo racketeers (or Virgilian ghosts) as apt as Huck Finn, Confederate poets, and Charlie Patton?

Without ever winking, Dylan is inveterately canny and sophisticated about all this, though after a fashion that recalls Laurence Sterne’s celebrated attack on plagiarism in Tristram Shandy, itself plagiarized from The Anatomy of Melancholy. On “Summer Days” from “Love and Theft,” Dylan sings:

She’s looking into my eyes, and she’s a-holding my hand
She looking into my eyes, she’s holding my hand,
She says, “You can’t repeat the past,” I say, “You can’t? What do you mean, you
can’t? Of course you can.”

His puckish, snaky lines dramatize precisely how one could, in fact, “repeat the past,” since the lyrics reproduce a conversation between Nick and Gatsby from chapter 6 of The Great Gatsby. On “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” from Modern Times, Dylan follows another oblique intimation of Timrod with the confession “I’ve been conjuring up all these long-dead souls from their crumbling tombs.” The quotation marks in the title of “Love and Theft” signal Dylan’s debts to Eric Lott’s academic study Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class; the secondhand title of the CD also specifies his status as a white blues and rock ’n’ roll performer inside an American minstrelsy tradition, as well as his songwriting proclivities (loving stuff enough to filch it).

In a 1996 interview for Newsweek, novelist David Gates asked Dylan what he believed. He replied, “I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music. I don’t find it anywhere else. Songs like ‘Let Me Rest on a Peaceful Mountain’ or ‘I Saw the Light’—that’s my religion. I don’t adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists, all of that. I’ve learned more from the songs than I’ve learned from any of this kind of entity. The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs.”

Let’s presume that by “songs” Dylan also now must mean poems, such as Henry Timrod’s, and novels, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, as well as traditional folk hymns and blues. His invocation of that expanded “lexicon” might be surprising, and daunting, but it certainly isn’t plagiarism. Who else writes, has ever written, songs like these? Poems, novels, films, songs all partake of a conversation with the great dead—a “conjuring,” as Dylan would say. The embodiment of his conjuring, those conversations with his dead on his recent recordings are among the most daring and original signatures of his art.

Illustration by Tom Bachtell.

Originally Published: October 6, 2006

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
11-18-2015, 10:39 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/guide/178723#guide

Robert Hass: “The Nineteenth Century as a Song”
Robert Hass, Baudelaire, Marx, and a bomb-building anarchist.

BY JOY KATZ
Imagine a young married professor ensconced in the library on a sunny afternoon. He began his day listening to people argue against the war in Vietnam, and then, perhaps, he met his wife and three small children for lunch. It’s spring. He’s studying revolutionary history and 19th-century poetry. His mind sifts through the events of the morning: uprisings, outrage, a picnic. He reads essays about anarchy and the abolition of the state. Outside, someone is flying a kite in the quadrangle.

Robert Hass meditates on such incongruity in “The Nineteenth Century as a Song,” a poem published in his first book, Field Guide, written while he held his first university teaching job. Hass came of age in San Francisco in the late 1950s and early ’60s, during a turbulent time: the Cambodian conflict, Vietnam, McCarthy. It was a “monstrously inhuman world,” he wrote then. Yet Hass is not a revolutionary. He makes poems “for the peace involved in reading and writing them.” “Feeling human,” he says, is a “useful form of political subversion.” The pleasure in “The Nineteenth Century as a Song” is the poem’s easy movement across an uneasy era, the way it touches down on increasingly discomforting subjects as casually as a bird hops from branch to branch of a tree.

The poem unfolds in Europe, from about 1850 to 1870, also a time of upheaval. Aesthetically the world was on the brink of Modernism. Wordsworth and Coleridge, the great Romantic poets who found redemption in nature, had died. God was dead, too: Darwin had published The Origin of Species. Marx was penning screeds on state-run socialism. Workers toiled in wretched factories. Paris saw a revolution and mob rule. The French poets Paul Verlaine and Charles Baudelaire, both active politically, were writing a new kind of violent, sexual poetry. Baudelaire was even prosecuted for obscenity (just as Allen Ginsberg would be in the late 1950s, in Hass’s San Francisco).

Above all this turmoil there was the sky, of course. Birds. Clouds. Everything that inspired the Romantic poets, and that inspires Hass—who writes often and in detail about the California landscape—was there. What role does beauty have in a time of revolution? That’s the question the poem seems to ask.

The opening image of orderly loveliness seems to say that beauty was thriving in the 19th century. Hass quotes the poet Verlaine (1844–1896): “How like a well-kept garden is your soul.” The soul is not in torment; it’s a pretty place to walk through on a sunny day. Right? Well, all is not what it seems. Verlaine was no stroller in gardens. He was a tormented spirit, a wife-beater and a drunk who died (not entirely unhappily) in a fleabag hotel.

The poem leaps from this apparently peaceful image to an imagined scene in which Baudelaire (1821–1867) shops for the ingredients of his dinner. His butcher

shorted him four centimes on a pound of tripe.
He thought himself a clever man
and, wiping the calves’ blood from his beefy hands,
gazed briefly at what Tennyson called
“the sweet blue sky.”

Baudelaire’s shopkeeper is a devious character, cheating the poet of a bit of change on a cheap cut of meat. But he must need those four centimes: France is in crisis. There’s a depression. This man can’t even vote—the voting privileges of the working class have been revoked. As a révolutionnaire, he has a lot more than calves’ blood on his hands. Still, life is not so hellish that a butcher in a stinking shop can’t admire a beautiful sky.

It was a warm day.
What clouds there were
were made of sugar tinged with blood.
They shed, faintly, amid the clatter of carriages
new settings of the songs
Moravian virgins sang on wedding days.

Hass lingers in that pleasant afternoon. Instead of rain, the clouds are shedding music (a song’s setting is its melody). What would a new melody for a folk song be like in the mid-19th century? Modern music has its roots in the late 1800s. Compared with Romantic and Victorian music, it is cacophonous and dissonant. Hass may have had in mind Gustav Mahler (1860–1911), who spent his childhood in Moravia and whose symphonies, some of which are based on folk songs, began to play with anti-tonality. Perhaps he also thought of the Paris premiere of the ballet Rite of Spring. The audience booed and hissed at the pagan orgy onstage and at the animal-like shrieks of the bassoon in Igor Stravinsky’s score. Now picture a half-dozen country virgins staggering down a forest path to a weird, sort of ugly tune. They are being delivered into the sexuality of wifehood and the brutality of industrial-age life, not a flower-strewn happy ending. Poor virgins!

Hass’s title announces that the poem, too, is a song. Modern classical music has melodious parts that collide with jarring ones. Hass has given us flowers and animal intestines, sugar and blood, leaping from the smelly to the sublime and back again.

The poet is a monarch of the clouds

This line is adrift in space, like—well, like a cloud. I like to picture Robert Hass looking out that library window. Writing is a solitary act, unlike a march on Washington, or on Versailles. Poetry can’t change the world. On the other hand, Hass isn’t bombing Bien Hoa. Verlaine and Baudelaire didn’t exactly help oppressed Paris workers, but they did write impassioned verse. Poets lack power. They rule over a kingdom of ice droplets. Maybe that’s not so bad.

With a simple ampersand and line break, Hass makes another jump, this time from France to England.

& Swinburne on his northern coast
“trod,” he actually wrote, “by no tropic foot,”
composed that lovely elegy

The poet Algernon Swinburne (1837–1909) was attempting to wield perhaps the only public power a poet does have: memorializing the dead, in this case Baudelaire, one of his heroes. The elegy Hass nods to is indeed lovely, but “trod by no tropic foot” isn’t. It’s clunky and silly. Hass is taking a jab at the way Swinburne sometimes chose words for the sake of rhyme, but he rolls his eyes affectionately, as if at an overwrought love letter written by a teenager.

and then found out Baudelaire was still alive
whom he had lodged dreamily
in a “deep division of prodigious breasts.”

In his elegy, Swinburne had imagined the dead poet taken up into the bosom of a Titan woman whose vastness could barely contain Baudelaire’s lusty, rebellious soul and whose heavy tangle of hair smelled like forests. All very noble, except Swinburne had made a mistake: Baudelaire was alive. As a big fan of artifice, Baudelaire would have loved that Swinburne turned literary tradition on its head, however unwittingly. What could be more droll and modern than elegizing someone who wasn’t dead?

Next, Hass stakes his claim for the poet again. He sounds insistent, as if trying to convince himself that art has a purpose, or as if he can tell what you’re thinking: poets traffic in beauty, but the world isn’t beautiful. It’s full of madness, war, and betrayal. What’s the point?

Surely the poet is monarch of the clouds.
He hovers, like a lemon-colored kite,
over spring afternoons in the nineteenth century
while Marx in the library gloom
studies the birth rate of the weavers of Tilsit

Hass has neatly conjured Karl Marx beside him in the library, reading the very book he may be studying himself. If poets are useless, what about revolutionaries? Surely they are more than monarchs of the clouds. But while Hass floats around in the sky, Marx endures a tedious afternoon. Being a revolutionary seems glamorous, but one spends a lot of time waiting around for weavers to revolt.

Hass imagines a different sort of tedium in the affairs of the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (1814–1876). Bakunin thought Marx didn’t go nearly far enough. Forget any form of government, he said. People should live in communes, farm the land, and rule themselves. It was as sexy a vision as the Age of Aquarius, and as short-lived...............................

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
11-20-2015, 01:05 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/178919
PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
Does Poetry Have a Social Function?
BY STEPHEN BURT AND DAISY FRIED AND MAJOR JACKSON AND EMILY WARN
Stephen Burt:

What is the social function of poetry? Well, what is the social function of ER nursing? Of plumbing and carpentry? Whatever you think of the folks who fix your pipes, you know roughly what they get paid to do, and why the people who pay them value their services. An individual poet may think she knows such things about poetry, but put two or more poets (let alone critics) in a room, and their so-called knowledge may reveal itself as clashing opinions or axioms—even though "social," as the antithesis of "individual," implies some ground of agreement, something shared. (One reason we keep seeking a "social function" despite this lack of agreement: those of us who make a living through poetry—by teaching other people how to write more of it, or by writing about it—often feel a bit guilty for getting paid.)

Compared to the writing of poetry, few other human activities take place so widely, at least in America, absent even a tacit consensus as to why we do them, what good they do, what function they serve. When you read a lot of contemporary poetry, you discover that the presumed or stated, implicit or explicit, social function of poetry (if any) varies wildly with the poet. Rae Armantrout's poetry, for example, seeks—at times, it seems to despair of finding—a social function we might identify as the inculcation of skeptical thinking. That's a social function in the sense of "social good," even of "social policy." James Merrill's poetry has a social function in the sense of "social event": it tries to produce—often, in the face of mortality, or dejection, or bodily ills—a sense that the poet has friends who get his jokes, who share his sense of things, who respond in kind. Late Merrill—the Merrill of "Self-Portrait in Tyvek Windbreaker"—wonders whether his poetry might resound beyond that social group. Both poets want to say something about a society, and both poets want to do something we might call "social"—to imagine, and to cause, some sense of relations that extend beyond one-on-one intimacy—but they differ in what they want to do, and in why. To speak usefully about the social function of poetry, we need to decide what—or whose—poetry we intend.

Daisy Fried:

People who talk about poetry's social utility often concentrate on content. They think, perhaps, that poetry Tells the Truth, or Provides Solace. These notions make me queasy, and are treason to poetry. If you're crawling to poems on your hands and knees, as I once heard a famous poet remark—in my view, you're not crawling to poetry. Prozac would probably work better.

Poetry's social function comes not from what it means but from what it is. Its utility is to shake us out of our standard American buy-stuff-and-watch-TV half life. A poem's content matters very little to that utility.

I read the phrase "social function" particularly in terms of politics. Plenty of things need to happen in this country, like impeaching George Bush, nationalizing health care, legalizing same-sex civil union, and bringing the troops home now. Poetry can make none of these happen. Anne Winters's "The Mill-Race," about office workers in lower Manhattan, contains virtuoso description of the urban scene: workers, weather, light, limos of the bosses, buses of the employees. Though its subject matter and politics are both clear and attractive, content has very little to do with why the poem is extraordinary.

Is it a useful poem? I like political poetry; it acknowledges that politics are part of life. Certainly at this historical moment, many of us are hungry for poems that look outward, not just into the self or into what seems like another kind of narcissism, a turning away via the knee-jerk (therefore empty) "avant garde" linguistic gesture. America's crimes may be forcing poets back into the world. It's not as though it's optional. Eventually it becomes political necessity.

But politically-alert poetry is no more intrinsically useful than any other poetry. The only kind of poetry that doesn't have social function is that which tells us how to think about X, Y, or Z, or tells us to buck up, or that the world is a wonderful place. The kind of poetry written to make us feel better, for example, after 9/11, is pro-establishment falsification, for it lets us pull the comforter back over our heads and go on sleeping.

For the record, I never feel guilty getting paid, ever.

Major Jackson:

The function of poetry is that it does not have any function beyond its own construction and being-in-the-world. For this reason, poetry makes everything (and, yes, nothing) happen, especially in a consumer society prone to assessing and dispensing value to everything from lap dances to teachers' salaries. Whether as a form of witness, as a medium which dignifies individual speech and thought, as a repository of our cumulative experiences, or as a space where we "purify" language, poetry, like all imaginative creations, divines the human enterprise. This is poetry's social value.

I hope this does not sound like an exercise in ambiguities. If so, let me add another: one of poetry's chief aims is to illumine the walls of mystery, the inscrutable, the unsayable. I think poetry ought to be taught not as an engine of meaning but as an opportunity to learn to live in doubt and uncertainty, as a means of claiming indeterminancy. Our species is deeply defined by its great surges of reason, but I think it high time we return to elemental awe and wonder. Such a position is necessary to our communal health.

I try to teach my students the full magnitude of what can happen during the reading of a poem. The readerly self, if the music and strategies of the poem are a success, fades away to assume the speaker's identity, or the poem's psychic position. Once a reader has fully internalized the poem's machinations, she collects a chorus within her and is transformed. This ritual generates empathy and widens our humanity. These might seem like grand dreams, but it is just such a belief in the power of poetry that spurs my pen to action, whether I am getting paid or not.

Emily Warn:

Here is a guess at Will Shortz's crossword clue for your collective answer to our question: "A six-letter word for an art form with no public use other than the one each artist defines. You can separate its content from its uses, which are to shake people from their consumer stupor and usher them into indeterminate mystery."

Plato need not have stewed about poets, you seem to be saying. They have banished themselves from the republic, having abdicated their role as loud-mouth rousers of weeping and gnashing. They won't discombobulate the young, especially young soldiers, whom Plato warned off poetry lest it remind them of their dirty little fear of death. Now it is the poets who soldier on; they have, after all, paying jobs to perform, not for the republic, but for the realm of the personal which has subsumed it.

Does the social function of poetry vary so wildly that we cannot generalize about it? What can be commonly said about a skeptic who turns for clarity to a Rae Armantrout poem, a plumber who searches on Yahoo for a wedding toast, a harried person who seeks in poetry refuge from a grueling job, or a Guantanamo prisoner who, denied pen and paper, uses pebbles to scratch poems on Styrofoam cups?

I'll hazard an answer. Poetry binds solitudes. It enacts a central human paradox: we exist as singular selves, yet can only know them through our relations. A poem creates a presence that is so physically, emotionally, and intellectually charged that we encounter ourselves in our response to it. The encounter, which occurs in language, preserves and enlarges our solitude and points out our connections. Pyrotechnic poets, such as Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, and Adrienne Rich, set a charge that reverberates among multitudes, changing the shape of our social relations and, inescapably, our individual and collective consciousness.

"The Mill-Race" by Anne Winters serves as proof text. How can its content not matter? How can one not relate to the drained faces of the women office workers on an evening bus, to their scant hope that, despite their misspent, dwindling hours in the service of Labor, they have preserved a shred of self?

It won't take us
altogether, we say, the mill-race—it won't churn us up
altogether. We'll keep
a glib stretch of leisure water, like our self's self—to
reflect the sky.
But we won't (says the bus rider now to herself).
Nothing's
left over really, from labor. They've taken it all for the
mill-race.


Will this poem end drudgery? No. Does it disclose the pathos of other human beings and the source of their suffering? Yes. Is it this capacity that will help us, better than ammo or dollars, find a way through these harrowing times? Absolutely.

Stephen Burt:

I hope I share Emily Warn's passionate optimism about the scope of our art form, but I either fail to understand, or cannot believe, her argument. Is there some function we should call "social," in some ordinary meaning of that term, which all good poems, and only poems (no non-poems: no sculptures, for example) attain? Emily says yes: "poetry binds solitudes," creating "a presence" in whose contemplation we "encounter ourselves" alongside other readers and writers.

Certainly many poems—one might say all good poems—have this effect. So do many objects and events which are not poems. Would it be nonsensical to say that by building houses with Habitat for Humanity, through the hard work of hammer and nail, on the one hand, and the contemplation of poverty, on the other, I might encounter and come to know both my society and myself? What about reading my great-grandmother's love letters, reading Studs Terkel's oral histories, contemplating Brancusi's "Bird in Flight"? We are more likely to experience great visual art in the presence of others (in museums); we might say such experience connects us more evidently than can the silent reading of verse whose authors we have never met.

Ah, but poetry binds our solitudes, creating this self-encounter which becomes paradoxically social, through language alone. Our current—our late-Romantic—understanding of poetry (by which all poems are really or fundamentally lyric) posits this binding-together through language alone as poetry's chief goal: poetry becomes that way of using language in which that goal (rather than, say, exposition or persuasion) takes center stage.

If that is what Emily means, I accept her claim, with two demurrers. First, it is a historically specific understanding, one which describes many superb poems, but leaves out many—to say the least—wonderfully memorable uses of verse (e.g. Milton's sonnet against the Long Parliament). Second, hers appears to be a sense of "social" by which "social" denotes any experience or quality shared among two or more people, friends or strangers, living or dead. Otherwise a poem could not bind—as many poems do bind—solitudes and make connections among readers who do not live in the same society, nor even in the same century. If we use any more conventional, more restrictive senses for "social"—for example, "having to do with a particular society taken as a whole," or even "having to do with people in large groups"—then there is no social function which all good poems have.

Daisy Fried:

How about a moratorium on using plumbers and other "common" people as mythical readers of poetry? Of course Ms. Hardworking Roto-Rooter reads poetry, at least casually, like anyone who reads at all. I'm only sorry more poets don't know how to fix toilets, myself included. It's easy to talk about some "them" for whom poetry is useful. "Them" seldom includes "us."

Emily Warn seems to argue that content supplies poems' utility. Content matters—poetry is far more than a formal game—but does not supply utility. Quality does. "The Mill-Race" is good and usefulbecause it presents in extraordinary language an aspect of the human condition, not some false solution having to do with feel-good "relat(ing) to drained faces." Emily should reread the very lines she quotes if she thinks this poem is about workers "preserv(ing) a shred of self." The poet is there on the bus, we are there, we are all in the mill-race.

I've never found an explanation for why poetry, apparently alone among the art forms, is asked to do more than be itself. Some people devote their lives to Art Song. They take it quite seriously and expect a small audience, without worrying about whether their obsession is useful or that their audience is small. No one says, "Hey lyric soprano, make me feel better, hey basso profundo, help me understand societal problems."

But poetry's the High Art which is also democratic: inexpensive, portable, reproducible, quickly consumed (except for epic and very difficult poetry), requiring only literacy to participate. So maybe it's good that poetry carries this extra burden, even if it means that the idea of poetry is more necessary to people than individual poems, and that people tend not to pay attention to what's happening on the page. But this doesn't explain why the superfluous demands are often made by educated poetry experts. I doubt most poets, good and bad, political or not, put these demands on their own work. Why should we make them of poetry in general?

I'm also disturbed by Emily's romantic scenario relating to Guantanamo prisoners. I'm not pooh-poohing poetry of witness, quite the opposite. Art of witness is essential. But we should beware of using witness poetry as some cliché of the triumph of the human spirit, providing ourselves with a sop to make us feel better about our government's victims. Poetry's point is not to make safe middle-class readers say, "Poor things! They have it tough. Thank Heavens I vote Democrat!"

Major Jackson:

Daisy Fried wonders why poetry is called to duty, why it "is asked to do more than be itself," especially during moments of political or national crisis. Hers is the same annoyance expressed by disapproving poets who sniff the air upon hearing a 9/11 elegy or an inaugural poem, or upon learning of a famous poet penning her own line of greeting cards. Why do we, as poets, find this function of poetry so regrettable? Is it because it is too social?

Just ask the poet who reluctantly agrees to contribute to a wedding program, a funeral, or a political rally: the assignment pales in comparison to those poems that arise out of his own mysterious and idiosyncratic need. Such poems come forth from a comparatively minor—yet compulsive—desire. They may enact, for example, an obsessive rhythmic movement in the body onto the page, or explore the significance of a gripping image. But they'll likely never mean as much in the public sphere, where content definitely does matter.

And here's where I disagree with Daisy. If a poem has something to say and says it well, it will be remembered. However, what may give a poem its originality and heft—extraordinary language, searing imagery, high lyricism—may be too arcane for the layperson. Ms. Hardworking Roto-Rooter could care less about your dithyrambs. For her, the poem has value and purpose because it says something meaningful to her.

Most poets must admit that they would cherish being seen by their community of friends and relatives as "functional," the voice who sanctions and gives formal expression to their lives in verse, who serves as the repository of their thoughts and experiences, much like the West African djali or griot. One only wishes more poets took on with greater awareness the higher calling of their art, which has always had embedded within it a vision of the social. Instead, what we have been cultivating, probably since the Romantics, is a vision of the self, either as lonely and overly sentimental, or as beleaguered and fractured, and thus modern. Maya Angelou, Billy Collins, as well as the more politically-minded poets like Adrienne Rich, Sonia Sanchez, and Palestinian-American poet Suheir Hammad all reach beyond mere aestheticism and challenge accepted notions of the above solipsistic poet toiling away at a few columns of free verse. Personally, I find the cynicism and disdain for such poets, even mildly detected here, overly familiar and somewhat nauseating.

Emily Warn:

After twenty-four hours of traveling, I get home to Seattle bleary-eyed. A headline swims into sight: "Shooting at Jewish Federation Offices Leaves 1 Dead, 5 Wounded." On high alert, I stop to read. Is my Talmud teacher among the wounded or dead? Is anyone else I know? No names have been released. The next morning Israel bombs a Lebanese village and more than fifty people, most of them children, die. Indeed, as Daisy says, "we are all on the bus." Inevitably, someone here, or in a bomb shelter in northern Israel or southern Lebanon, will turn to poetry to read at a funeral service, or to jump-start terrorized lives and pulverized communities.

Why is poetry called to duty during these crises (Major Jackson)? We avidly read poetry written about repression in other countries (Milosz, Ahkmatova, Darwish, Celan), and yet American poets who write of repression (Cornelius Eady's Brutal Imagination, for instance), we call—often with a slight sneer—"political."

Poems such as "The Mill-Race" make us aware of the social conditions that shape our relations; their language helps us dwell in, puzzle out, and feel the conditions and the relations, no matter how terrible, making a change in them more possible. It is this possibility, this hope, that makes poetry as necessary as a paycheck.

"The Mill-Race" ends on the word "salt," ("but it's mostly the miller's curse-gift, forgotten of God yet still grinding, the salt-/mill, that makes sea, salt"). The salt sting is both our empathy for the workers' weariness and the fact of their individual lives ground to salt. Over centuries, the poem also says, these workers have raised cathedrals, invented art. The work, "the curse-gift" of the poet, is to tell the story of a person who has no story other than the story of relations. As Celan wrote, "I am you / if I am."

But do all poems do this? I agree with Stephen Burt that if we prescribe a single ethical purpose to poetry, if we write toward an ideal, then we stymie the possibility that each poem can address a question raised by particular conditions. Yet if we reject tangled relations to insist on the isolated, fragmented self of modern consciousness, then we remain self-absorbed and self-limiting—and certainly incapable of responding to the woman standing with Ahkmatova in the prison line who asked, "Can you describe this?"

Stephen Burt:

A clarification for Daisy Fried: I meant what plumbers do (fix pipes), not who they are or what they read. (I could have used ASL interpreters, or oncologists.) Plumbers (or interpreters or oncologists) do something which we can easily describe, and for which most of us understand the demand. Poetry, like most of the other arts, cannot be defined in general terms that also make clear its utility; plumbing, ASL translation, and oncology can. I continue to maintain that poetry cannot be defined in terms of a social function at all, even if (and here Emily Warn and I agree) most of the great modern poets do project visions of self which imply paradoxical communities of solitude, social in one sense, antisocial in another.

Maybe no one asks mezzo-sopranos to justify their work in terms of purported political utility, but composers have long encountered such demands. Dmitri Shostakovich faced (and sometimes tried to satisfy) the demands of Soviet musical realism. Theodor Adorno's social (and antisocial) theories demanded that composers, and writers, protect that "isolated, fragmented self of modern consciousness" against the false claims of a bad social whole.

I have no desire to insist on such protection, nor to deny that poems have social functions. Rather, my point is that different poems do different things, and good poems (such as "The Mill-Race") do many things at once. If there are universal truths about the communicative functions in poems—truths about all good poems, not just about "The Mill-Race"—they are so universal that they do not count as social, by my lights: they concern communication among just two persons at a time, whether the two meet face-to-face, or whether implicit author and genuine reader live thousands of years apart. One good reason to read poems from distant times and places is that they take us out of our society, showing us how much emotion and thought isn't social (for, about, or addressed to one particular society) at all.

Daisy Fried:

Why not a summation made up of parts?

1 History matters. The claim that the Romantics weren't interested in politics or society (Major Jackson) can be disproved by anyone who reads Shelley, Byron, or Blake. If, before the Romantics, the poet's job was speaking for society, the Romantics moved towards speaking to and for the individual, including the poor and oppressed. They were revolutionaries opposing the system.

2 Words matter. Use is not function. War and Peace makes an excellent paperweight; I've used it that way myself, after reading it. The function of War and Peace is greater than its many uses. So too poetry. Bad poems are often more useful for healing, persuasion, and celebration than good ones. They lack that rich ambiguity which Keats called negative capability, and so fail as poems. Take, for example, bad 9/11 poems, at which I do "sniff the air." There are good 9/11 poems. The degraded Romanticism of the mass of bad ones often amounts to decorative displays of the poet's own sensibility. Such displays may be emotionally or politically useful, but who needs them? They seem to claim authenticity for individual experiences derived from watching TV—and fail to ask the question, why do these people want to kill us? Good 9/11 poems sustain the possibility that America was both victim and guilty. I believe 9/11 solace poetry has given support, however indirectly and unintentionally, to the Bush administration. Solace poetry is to serious poetry as pornography is to serious art. Sex pornography has its uses, even positive ones, but nobody confuses it with serious art about love. The difference between solace porn and sex porn is that solace pornographers seldom seem aware that they're making pornography. Shame on them.

3 Poetry matters. Great poems don't always fit categories of usage: Martial's hilariously filthy invectives, Dickinson's apolitical lyrics, and, despite their stupid fascism, Pound's Cantos, all function as great poetry. Meanwhile, the four of us write poems. We might begin by intending to be merely useful (I never have). But at some point the poem takes over, makes requirements of us instead of vice versa. That's the moment of poetry; poems exist to let readers share in that moment. So our focus on mere use strikes me as odd: is this really all we know about our poems? Why exclude ourselves from our own readership?

4 Enjoyment matters. Poetry is fun! I mean this seriously. In "Lapis Lazuli," Yeats insists on the gaiety of human existence alongside its tragedy. Yes, there is terrible suffering; we are all going to die. And when, on the carved lapis lazuli, a man "asks for mournful melodies;/Accomplished fingers begin to play;/...their eyes,/Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay." The gaiety of great poetry reinforces and deepens our humanity. That's personal—and therefore social. Forget that, and we forget poetry's true function.

Major Jackson:

Daisy Fried grossly misreads my critique of excessive egoism in Romantic poetry—which an even closer reading of literary history would reveal I mostly cop from Eliot and other anti-Romantic critics. But anyway, let's face it: were Daisy's nineteenth-century poet-revolutionaries alive today, they would be unemployed and writing in obscurity. They would likely be committed to mental institutions for claims of having visions, of the socially relevant and supernatural variety; at least one would be labeled a terrorist or terrorist-sympathizer for speaking against the state and/or professing anti-Christian beliefs; another ostracized for brazenly exercising self-proclaimed, progressive forms of natural love. All, except Keats maybe, would be ignored and cast aside as personae non gratae by the critical, academic, and literary establishments: no Guggenheim for you, Mr. Shelley.

True revolutionary poets are stripped of their laureateships or never reviewed in these pages, for some reason probably having to do with the worn-out argument of lack of aesthetic worth or little merit. Martín Espada, John Yau, and Nikki Finney are just a few of many poets who write poetry that "embraces experience in its full complexity," yet their books never receive a nod in Poetry. Even when the Establishment posthumously highlights a poet such as June Jordan, whose poetics and social vision coalesce into a rich model of the best of art created in a democracy, and whose poetry never suffers from mere narcissism, it does so patronizingly (see Dan Chiasson's review in these pages, November 2005).

What I also read in this exchange is a distasteful cynicism about poetry's ability—its responsibility—to affect lives. If a reading public feels consoled or seeks "a momentary stay against confusion," and poetry provides them this, why deem such works of art failures? Is healing really the domain only of prescriptive drugs?

The worth and importance of all poems is at least partially determined by the context in which they are read and the nature of the audience reading them. I once had a social worker approach me after a reading to thank me for writing a particular poem. "I run a weekly group for abusive men," he said. "I open each session with your poem." Now, I have no idea if this poem will "endure," but it was immensely gratifying that it was "of use" beyond my own desire to write it. I've talked to many other poets who have had similar experiences; it is a sobering moment when one realizes the extent to which art and grace are truly factors in people's lives. Poetry can have an immediate impact in the world. We shouldn't denigrate this capacity, no matter how much we are being paid.

Emily Warn:

Stephen Burt's logic is airtight. Yet his claim that "poetry cannot be defined in terms of a social function at all" except that it "concerns communication among just two persons" seems cramped and unmoored. A long line of poets and thinkers have made great claims about poetry's social use. Burt seems to be stacking and storing different types of poetry in a container ship, removed and protected from the world as it journeys across the sea. The stacks of poetry can be referenced by poet-engineers, not of the sacred or the social, but of the aesthetic.

In contrast, Emerson claims that "Poets are...liberating gods." Emerson thought poems could change reality because they uncover its hardwiring, then jimmy with it. Poetic insight, he wrote, "does not come by study, but by the intellect being where and what it sees, by sharing the path or circuit of things through forms, and so making them translucent to others." Emerson named the current flowing through things divine—a fire our bodies and poems externalize. "For it is not metres, but a metre-making argument that makes a poem—a thought so passionate and alive that like the spirit of a plant or an animal it has architecture of its own, and adorns nature with a new thing."

Poets, he's saying, weld new relations and add new forms to the world. (Think, for instance, of D.A. Powell's poems about living and loving with HIV, or A.R. Ammons's poems about inlets, woods, and garbage.) In making our circuitry—our social and biological nerves—translucent, it becomes perceivable and so changeable. Our social reality is thus enlarged to include relations and facts that have been obscured (not yet discovered) or repressed. "Poems are born dark," Celan wrote, because language is "loaded with world."

Do other forms of art and work carry out this same task? Yes, of course, but poetry is especially adept at helping us experience, and so understand, celebrate, mourn, curse, or philosophize about our relations. The fact that most often this poetic "exchange of energy" (Rukeyser) is between two people does not mean it ends there. Poets do not know how their poems will be used in the future. Whitman did not know his work would inform a gay liberation movement. Housman did not know A Shropshire Lad would speak to people suffering the horrors of WWI.

Poetry can leap across and charge the synapse between us and the world, altering both. If we abandon this use, then poets become one more group of wage-laboring specialists, gathered into "ghettos," speaking our own language, and designing complicated objects which serve as prophylactics to protect us from people still naïvely seeking this life-making force.

Originally Published: December 28, 2006

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
11-20-2015, 01:09 PM
Stephen Burt's logic is airtight. Yet his claim that "poetry cannot be defined in terms of a social function at all" except that it "concerns communication among just two persons" seems cramped and unmoored. A long line of poets and thinkers have made great claims about poetry's social use. Burt seems to be stacking and storing different types of poetry in a container ship, removed and protected from the world as it journeys across the sea. The stacks of poetry can be referenced by poet-engineers, not of the sacred or the social, but of the aesthetic.

In contrast, Emerson claims that "Poets are...liberating gods." Emerson thought poems could change reality because they uncover its hardwiring, then jimmy with it. Poetic insight, he wrote, "does not come by study, but by the intellect being where and what it sees, by sharing the path or circuit of things through forms, and so making them translucent to others." Emerson named the current flowing through things divine—a fire our bodies and poems externalize. "For it is not metres, but a metre-making argument that makes a poem—a thought so passionate and alive that like the spirit of a plant or an animal it has architecture of its own, and adorns nature with a new thing."

Poets, he's saying, weld new relations and add new forms to the world. (Think, for instance, of D.A. Powell's poems about living and loving with HIV, or A.R. Ammons's poems about inlets, woods, and garbage.) In making our circuitry—our social and biological nerves—translucent, it becomes perceivable and so changeable. Our social reality is thus enlarged to include relations and facts that have been obscured (not yet discovered) or repressed. "Poems are born dark," Celan wrote, because language is "loaded with world."

Do other forms of art and work carry out this same task? Yes, of course, but poetry is especially adept at helping us experience, and so understand, celebrate, mourn, curse, or philosophize about our relations. The fact that most often this poetic "exchange of energy" (Rukeyser) is between two people does not mean it ends there. Poets do not know how their poems will be used in the future. Whitman did not know his work would inform a gay liberation movement. Housman did not know A Shropshire Lad would speak to people suffering the horrors of WWI.

Poetry can leap across and charge the synapse between us and the world, altering both. If we abandon this use, then poets become one more group of wage-laboring specialists, gathered into "ghettos," speaking our own language, and designing complicated objects which serve as prophylactics to protect us from people still naïvely seeking this life-making force.

Five very important paragraphs(and right on cue methinks) from the previous very lengthy article. -Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
11-26-2015, 06:07 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/178842

PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
In Praise of Rareness
“The more respect you have for poetry, the less of it you will find adequate to your taste and needs.”

BY CHRISTIAN WIMAN
Every time we print an issue of Poetry that has more prose than poetry in it, we get at least one letter of complaint. These complaints vary in tone and temperateness, but inevitably there are sentences which run something like this: "Given the nature of your journal, and given its very name, what's with all the prose? Couldn't you use those pages for more poems? Shouldn't poetry be your emphasis?"

Well, yes and no. Yes, poetry should be (and most definitely is) our emphasis; but no, that does not necessarily translate into publishing more of it. In fact, I think a strong case can be made that the more respect you have for poetry, the less of it you will find adequate to your taste and needs. There is a limit to this logic, of course, or else Plato would be the patron saint of the art. But still, an overdeveloped appetite for poetry is no guarantee of taste or even of love, and institutionalized efforts at actually encouraging the over-consumption of poetry always seem a bit freakish, ill-conceived, and peculiarly American, like those mythic truck stops where anyone who can eat his own weight in rump roast doesn't have to pay for it.

Reading through old literary journals is not an activity I would ordinarily recommend, but it can be instructive in this context. People who know the history of Poetry usually point to a couple of indisputably high moments, the first under Harriet Monroe, who published the early work of just about all of the major Modernists; and the second under Henry Rago, who was on the whole more eclectic and adventurous than Monroe. It's interesting, then, to look at a couple of memorable issues from those times.

In June 1915 Monroe, in a now-famous story, took the advice of Poetry's foreign correspondent, Ezra Pound, and printed the first published poem of T. S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." The other contributors of verse in that issue include Skipwith Cannéll, William Griffith, Georgia Wood Pangborn, Dorothy Dudley, Bliss Carman, Arthur Davison Ficke, and Ajan Syrian, all of whose work sounds pretty much like this:


O leaves, O leaves that find no voice
In the white silence of the snows,
To bid the crimson woods rejoice,
Or wake the wonder of the rose!

Just over forty years later, when Rago was editor, Sylvia Plath made her first appearance in the magazine with six poems that, though not representative of Plath at her best, nevertheless practically blaze with radiance beside the poems of Lysander Kemp, Louis Johnson, Edith Tiempo, William Belvin, August Kadow, etc., etc.

My point here is not to illustrate how badly most poetry ages, nor to present some sort of "long perspective" by which to judge a contemporary journal. Because one generation's treasures are the next generation's jokes does not invalidate the earlier meanings people may have found. It's quite possible that for many people those now-indistinguishable poems alongside "Prufrock" provided just the provocation or consolation they needed on a bad day, or caused them to look at their immediate world not, Lord knows, with new eyes, but at least with old eyes, at least to look. (And in fact the general reaction to "Prufrock" was decidedly negative.) Time is the ultimate test of art, but it is not the only test of art. It is possible for a work that will not survive its own time to nevertheless speak truly to that time. For us, coming across passages like those I've just quoted is like discovering some foul, furred thing at the back of the refrigerator: one's whole spirit winces. But for someone somewhere they were once fresh. What happened then is happening now, I guarantee you. It is the bliss and curse of being alive.

But that's a digression. The point I want to make here has to do with the prose in these issues, which in both cases remains surprisingly fresh, readable, even relevant. In the 1913 issue there is a memorable, sharply-worded piece by Ezra Pound, which, ironically, fulsomely praises the utterly forgotten poetry of T. Sturge Moore. In the issue edited by Rago, there are excellent reviews by Thom Gunn and Charles Tomlinson, as well as an astute piece on verse drama by William Meredith. This tendency is borne out by other back issues of Poetry (issues old enough to allow for some perspective, I mean). The poetry is pretty much a steady backdrop of competence for the occasional and (now) unmistakable masterpieces. The prose is surprisingly consistent in its quality and appeal.

Does it follow from this that prose is the more durable art? Of course not. No one is reading that prose I just mentioned, nor is there any particular reason why they should be. Critical prose exists solely for the sake of the moment in which it is written. Its function is either to bring to light some work from the past that has been neglected or misunderstood for the sake of enlarging and refining contemporary consciousness, or to help readers know what contemporary works to read, and how to read them. The bulk of the critical prose that survives is written by famous poets, and it survives only because the poetry of these people has survived. There are a few exceptions to this, but in general aiming at eternity with critical prose is like praying to a potato. You may very well get God's attention, but probably only because He likes a good laugh.

Is prose simply easier to write than poetry? Again, not necessarily. Prose can be damnably difficult to write, but it's been my experience that one can always will oneself to write it. Right now, for instance, because I am busy and lazy in equal measure, I am bashing these sentences out hurriedly before the issue goes to the printer. I think we can all agree that what I am writing here is not, let us say, for the ages. But perhaps at least a majority of us can also agree that it is written in perfectly adequate prose. All sorts of useful things may be written in perfectly adequate prose: editorials, history, philosophy, theology, even lasting novels. But there is no such thing as a perfectly adequate poem, because a poem into which some strange and surprising excellence has not entered, a poem that is not in some inexplicable way beyond the will of the poet, is not a poem.

The truth is, sometimes poetry is almost embarrassingly easy to write. There are the famous stories: Keats writing "Ode to a Nightingale" in a single morning, Coleridge channeling "Kubla Kahn," Milton essentially taking dictation from God (or perhaps from the Devil, because that's who came out looking better) while writing Paradise Lost. But besides these instances, just about every poet admits to some simultaneous feeling of helplessness and unaccustomed power in the writing of his best poems, some element of mystery. "If you do not believe in poetry," Wallace Stevens once wrote, "you cannot write it," and indeed this is the chief "difficulty" in poetry, that it comes so infrequently, that it remains beyond our will.

Anyone involved with the institutions of poetry would do well to remember this. With all the clamor in this country about the audience for poetry, a veritable barnyard of noise into which I myself have been known to bray, we shouldn't lose sight of one of poetry's chief strengths: how little of it there is. I don't mean how little there is in the culture, but how little there is at any one time that is truly excellent. Poetry's invisibility is deplorable and worth fighting. Its rareness is admirable and the chief source of its strength. Indeed, I sometimes think that if we honored its rarity more, poetry's invisibility would be less of a problem, or at least we might define the notion of visibility differently. Seamus Heaney has noted that if a person has a single poem in his head, one that he returns to and through which, even in small ways, he understands his life better, this constitutes a devotion to the art. It is enough. And in fact I find that this is almost always how non-specialists read poetry—rarely, sparingly, but intensely, with a handful of high moments that they cling to. The emphasis is on the memorable individual poem, and poetry in bulk is rarely memorable.

All of this ought to have implications for the writer of poems as well. If poetry is so rare in the world, if so much of it is dross, just think how much rarer it must surely be in your (our!) own work. There is nothing wrong with thinking of poetry as a process, with developing a way of writing that allows you to churn out verse. Nothing wrong with it, that is, unless you give up all attempt at discrimination and insist on publishing all of these efforts. It may not be the case that anyone who is writing a book of poems every two or three years is writing too much, but he or she is certainly publishing too much. The great thing about writers like Hopkins, Larkin, Bishop, Bunting, Eliot, Herbert, Justice, and Bogan is that they demanded more from their work than anyone else did, and their discipline and dissatisfaction are now our pleasure.

What might all this mean for a literary magazine? Sixty years ago George Dillon and Hayden Carruth, who were then editors of this magazine, created a firestorm when they published an issue that had a mere eleven pages of verse in it. They explained their actions by saying that there simply weren't enough poems on hand that merited publication, and that to have lowered the bar of admittance would have been to lower the prestige of the magazine. It's impossible to know whether or not they were justified, because it's impossible to recover the material from which they were choosing. My suspicion, though, being familiar with Carruth's work as an anthologist and critic, and having edited this magazine myself for several years, is that they were. I also suspect that it was not at all a denigration of poetry, but an exaltation of it.
C.W.

Originally Published: January 8, 2007

Very interesting take on poetry. His truth but not necessarily my truth.
A poet should never or else rarely ever write Prose .
And by writing that I just broke that rule. -:laugh:--Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
11-27-2015, 01:17 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/183637

POEM SAMPLER
From the Archive: Robert Lowell
His minor masterpieces, first featured in Poetry magazine.

BY THE EDITORS
"Friend,
the hours will hardly pardon you their loss,
those brilliant hours that wear away the days,
those days that eat away eternity."
—From "Spanish Sonnets," October-November 1963

As it turns out, one of the bastions of twentieth-century American verse didn't have all that much to do with another: Robert Lowell published sparsely in Poetry, sprinkling eight poems in the magazine over almost twenty years. This seems an especially surprising total when considering Lowell's prodigious output (fifteen of his books were reviewed in Poetry) and the role of "public poet" he achieved later in life. March 1, 2007 marks Robert Lowell's ninetieth birthday. The occasion affords an opportunity to reflect on Lowell's history with Poetry, one that hints at the larger, more complex saga of his poetic and personal life.


Lowell's upbringing in the classics and his New Formalist attentions reveal themselves in his first Poetry publication, a series of metrically demanding stanzas written in homage to Sextus Propertius, in 1946. A year later, fresh off the Pulitzer Prize for Lord Weary's Castle, Lowell published "The Fat Man in the Mirror," which foreshadows the interiority of his later work: "But this flabby terror.../Nurse, it is a person! It is nerves." The rest of the poems Lowell printed in Poetry sketch out this famous transition from the strict forms and rhetorical bombast of his early career to a looser, more personal style exemplified by Life Studies in 1959. But the fascination with Lowell's poetic "conversion," like the fascination with his wavering mental health, obscures a complete consideration of his oeuvre. Forty years after the poet's death, the brash young formalist and the inventive elder statesman remain in constant conflict, as evidenced by these minor masterpieces first published by Poetry.

Originally Published: March 1, 2007

One of the few modern famous poets that I have respect for . -Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
11-28-2015, 12:29 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/179325
ESSAY
What to Do About Poetry
The argument that keeps on giving.

BY THE EDITORS
In a recent article on the Poetry Foundation, The New Yorker lobs the latest volley in an ongoing intellectual debate. That is, who reads poetry, what does it mean to “understand” poetry, and who cares about poets? According to The New Yorker (or to the critics it quotes), the Poetry Foundation's mission to broaden the audience for poetry is a lamentable one, for with popularity comes mediocrity. Artists should worry about making art, not about who's looking at it. A position similar to The New Yorker’s was put forth by August Kleinzahler in the April 2004 issue of Poetry, when he and Dana Gioia faced off over Garrison Keillor's populist anthology, Good Poems. More recently John Barr's article calling for a "new American poetry" that speaks to a broader audience fomented debate in the academic and creative writing world. And, in Christian Wiman's editorial in the December 2006 issue of Poetry, he argues that "if we honored its rarity more, poetry's invisibility would be less of a problem, or at least we might define the notion of visibility differently."

Harriet Monroe, the founder of Poetry, was passionately engaged in these arguments when she started the magazine in 1912. With Ezra Pound as her editor at large, she published great modernists such as T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and H.D., and she introduced William Butler Yeats to American audiences. She believed there was new writing the world needed to read. (Further proof poet-bickering never stops, Pound considered Monroe hopelessly provincial and tame.) There's always been—and may always be—tension between the process of discovering true poetry and getting that poetry into the hands of people who want to read it, or into the hands of people who didn’t know to read it, but may find within it revelation, satisfaction, humor, mystery. Here are a few links in the chain of this argument, which, by its very persistence, is evidence that poetry is not dead.

Read The New Yorker article>>

Read David Orr's article "Annals of Poetry" in the The New York Times Book Review>>


Read August Kleinzahler's article from the April 2004 issue of Poetry>>

Read Dana Gioia's article from the April 2004 issue of Poetry>>

Read John Barr's essay>>

Read Christian Wiman's editorial from the December 2006 issue of Poetry>>

Read Helen Vendler's "The Closet Reader">>

Read Robert Pinksy on "Poets Who Don't Like Poetry">>

Read Bill Knott on whether institutionalized “creative writing” changed American literature>>

Read Adrienne Rich's "Poetry and Commitment">>

Read Jane Hirshfield on "Poetry Beyond the Classroom">>

Read Daniel Halpern and Langdon Hammer on William Logan's review of Hart Crane's Complete Poems and Selected Letters>>

Read Jorie Graham's "Introduction to the Best American Poetry">>

Read D.W. Fenza on "Who Keeps Killing Poetry?">>
Originally Published: March 10, 2007



Harriet Monroe, the founder of Poetry, was passionately engaged in these arguments when she started the magazine in 1912. With Ezra Pound as her editor at large, she published great modernists such as T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and H.D., and she introduced William Butler Yeats to American audiences. She believed there was new writing the world needed to read. (Further proof poet-bickering never stops, Pound considered Monroe hopelessly provincial and tame.) There's always been—and may always be—tension between the process of discovering true poetry and getting that poetry into the hands of people who want to read it, or into the hands of people who didn’t know to read it, but may find within it revelation, satisfaction, humor, mystery. Here are a few links in the chain of this argument, which, by its very persistence, is evidence that poetry is not dead.
^^^^ This. Tis' so verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry true!--Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
11-29-2015, 01:27 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/guide/177309#guide
John Donne: “The Sun Rising”
The poet tries to start a revolution from his bed.

BY STEPHEN BURT
John Donne (1572-1631) wrote a prose work called Paradoxes and Problems, and his life presents plenty of both: he was born a Catholic, gained notoriety for sacrilegious verse, and later in life became an Anglican priest. Though some of his poems defended libertinism and casual sex, he destroyed his first career by falling in love, and stayed with the woman he married until her death. His poems picked up a reputation for head-scratchingly bizarre intellectualism—one reason they're now called metaphysical—but some of them are the most deeply felt poems of romantic love in the language. One such poem is "The Sun Rising."

A former law student whose London relatives were persecuted for remaining Catholic after England had turned Protestant, Donne ruined what could have been a fine career at court when in 1601 he secretly married his employer's niece, Anne More. The next year, Donne's employer found out and fired him. Donne later found his calling as an Anglican cleric, giving dramatic sermons at London's most famous church. Until after his death, most of Donne's poems circulated only in manuscript: his friends copied them by hand, then showed them to their friends, who copied them into their commonplace books. (If you think of a book of poems as like a compact disc, then a commonplace book is like a mix tape, or an iPod; Donne's poems were like popular, unreleased MP3s.)

Donne liked to make long, odd comparisons, called conceits: he compared two lovers to the parts of a compass, for example, and likened a teardrop to a navigator's globe. Later poets such as Abraham Cowley (1618-1667) built whole careers by imitating those conceits. By the time Cowley died, though, conceits had gone out of fashion. When the influential critic Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) coined the term metaphysical poets, he meant it as an insult: "Metaphysical poets" such as Cowley and Donne, he wrote, used their conceits to present "heterogenous ideas ... yoked by violence together"; "they were not successful in representing or moving the affections." (In other words, they had too much head, not enough heart.) The term metaphysical stuck, though the judgment did not: when modernist critics and poets such as T.S. Eliot wanted to rehabilitate Donne, they defended something called metaphysical poetry, and praised the metaphysical conceit.

Readers like to believe that Donne's libertine poems—which insult women in general, or recommend sex with many partners—date from his law-student days, while the passionate, sincere-sounding love poems reflect his romance and marriage with Anne. As with Shakespeare's sonnets, nobody really knows. It's no wonder, though, that so many readers (myself included) imagine "The Sun Rising" as written to Anne. In it, Donne and his beloved wake up together, and Donne fears that someone will walk in on them: the unwelcome intruder is (not her father, nor his boss, nor a London stranger, but) the sun, which (here's the conceit) Donne treats as a person:


Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

"Prentices" are apprentices, who (like today's sullen teens) oversleep; "motions" are regular changes, such as sunset or sunrise, spring or fall. Donne and Anne (we might as well call her Anne) believe it's more important to be in love than to be on time: they won't let the hour, or the month, or even their relative ages, tell them what to do.

Nor do they want to get up out of their shared bed. From medieval French to modern English, there's a tradition of poems called aubades, about lovers who awaken at dawn: often they are adulterous or illicit lovers, who don't want to separate but don't want to get caught. Donne wrote such a poem himself, called "Break of Day." In "The Sun Rising," though, Donne and Anne feel right at home: there's no chance either of them will go anywhere, because their love has placed them where they belong, and everything else must reorient itself around them.

It follows that Donne is the master of the house; the sun, as a guest, should respect and obey him. Donne therefore reverses the conceit: having likened the sun to a person, he now gives a person—himself—the powers of the sun:


Thy beams, so reverend and strong
Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long;
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,
Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.

Donne could occlude or outshine the sun (because he, too, is a celestial body), but he won't (because then his beloved would not see him, and he would not see her). Since everything important to Donne (i.e., Anne) stays indoors, not outside, Donne feels as if everything commonly believed important—spices from the Indian Ocean, precious metals from West Indies mines—remains securely indoors too.

In fact (here we see the extravagance of the conceit), everything and everyone of any importance is already in Donne's bed:


She's all states, and all princes, I,
Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honor's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world's contracted thus.
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.

The sun, having been shown the door, now gets asked to remain. The pronouns "I" and "she" disappear, leaving only "us" and "we"; thus combined, the lovers become the whole Earth, and since the sun's job is to warm the Earth, it ought to stay where the lovers are, and orbit them. Not only will Donne and Anne escape detection and censure, since the sun will never shine anywhere else, but the lovers won't even have to get out of bed.

Fancy metaphysical conceits differ from plain-Jane metaphors not just because conceits run all the way through a poem, but also because they often bring in the latest in Renaissance science and technology. Remember that the sun is like a person, but Donne is like a celestial body: he and Anne, together, replace the Earth. "Sphere" comes from the old, Ptolemaic cosmology (the one Galileo and Copernicus disproved), in which the sun supposedly went round the Earth (as did all other planets, each in its own "sphere"). In Donne's time, astronomers (and astrologers) still argued about what went around what. His interest in scientific controversy, in ongoing disputes about natural and supernatural truths, gave him metaphors for his poems. The same interest helps give this poem its emotional force: nobody knows if the sun goes around the Earth, or vice versa, that last line implies, but I'm quite certain that my life revolves around yours.

Donne's conceit describes the sun as a human being who walks in on the lovers, and then—with help from what was, to Donne, modern science—makes himself and his beloved into their own cosmic entity, their own world. You might see how readers who (like Johnson) thought poets should stay away from complex images found such flights of figuration distasteful. In "The Sun Rising," though—and in other Donne poems akin to it ("The Canonization," for example, and "The Relic")—the figure of speech is extreme for a very good reason: Donne's devotion is extreme, too, and only "heterogenous ideas yoked by violence together," only the language of the metaphysical conceit, can express the depths of his love.

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
11-30-2015, 09:42 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/246906

PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
Melodrama
Defending the windy cliffs of forever

BY MARIANNE BORUCH
Which may get a bad rap. My son tells me something I never knew before. It’s a musical term. It means opera, first of all: a story set to music, a drama carried by melo, song. Mom, don’t get your knickers in a twist over this again, he implies as I hold the landline receiver close to my ear.

Long distance, we used to say about such phone calls. I imagine him singing the get over it I hear in his tone, maybe his regular voice or as joke-falsetto where inflation has a rightful place, our once mock-doing La bohème in the kitchen, staging the simplest request in D-minor:

Oh please please! Take out the compost!
Okay okay! I see it overfloweth!
But — seriously? It’s just that melodrama has always worried me. What about the standard bad stuff always about to happen in opera, I argue, the raised hands as exclamation points, the collective choral shriek of onlookers, the hit-the-lights plunge into dark after the shiny knife goes down? Be fair, my son says. Then it could be we’re both thinking of those subtle duets, gradual and intricate, how they tear your heart, ending abruptly before you expect: La bohème’s Mimì wrapped in Rodolfo’s arms, The Consul’s Magda mournfully interrupting her husband John, or the tomb-with-a-view finale — as my brother calls it — between Aida and Radamès, all the lush, various stops and starts from Puccini, Menotti, Verdi. And big, this tangle, always so earnest, such grand charged dignity to whatever ordinary or outrageous shard of word or deed, a grave eternal eye on whatever mess we made — or will make. In the body, the very sound exhausts and thrills.

Familiar pathways the nerve finds through muscle, the electrical charge of realizing anything crucial: are we so predictable a creature, that we all cave the same way? How a sonnet has some opening jab, heartbeat unto argument, then turn, a new way to see, a winnowing and an arrival echoed ever since in free verse. Is our brain so used to this that it’s become theater? Or consider Freytag’s triangle — 
the guy, not surprisingly, a nineteenth-century drama critic — and how it freezes narrative into formula, his pyramid drawn on the board by English teachers a hundred million times, a dream for our next step and the next nicked from Aristotle: the rising until get it, get the point? falling slow or fast then at an angle. That’s another get over it, meaning something actually to get over and get on with, I suppose, an honest-to-god human fate that takes an hour, a day, years. Who cares if you know what will happen, the waterfall of sorrow’s same old, same old — boredom’s deliberate silence pushing off into another way to notice.

Or to remember. For instance, from Dickinson’s slush pile, her torn notebook page photographed for a valuable book of such drafts, Open Folios. After Dickinson’s few words about a tree in winter, she writes this:

I never heard
you call anything
beautiful before – 
It remained
with me
Not the tree but the telling keeps ringing in the ear: “remained / with me.” A musical idea, say the musicians, is a thing that recurs. Thus, is memorable.  Just this: It makes a shape.

Perhaps what we do, our movement through time, is musical — it repeats, repeats — therefore is melo, is drama. One hears it linked, like singing links, one note, slight breath before another, voice next to voice in whisper or resistance. No filter though. Sound enters the body any which way, the ear an indifferent machine, little incus and malleus and stapes in there, merging, making sense of whatever onslaught. Its hunger is huge. High contrast, cause and effect, loud, soft, the edges sharp. Something happens. It sings to us, or we sing it to the world that goes on, open to us or not. What was it that Elizabeth Bishop said in a conversation once recalled by Wesley Wehr in the Antioch Review? That we always reveal “the truth about ourselves 
despite ourselves. It’s just that quite often we don’t like how it comes out.” A given then: melodrama lurks behind any story, pattern, poem. It’s like a virus that way, always in the air. And some of us succumb.

To succumb. That includes a lot but what about my rage at the feel-good end of some hokey movie? — so melodramatic! we say, the punch of   it, a few tears coming anyway, though such manipulation 
toward that moment so clear. Are we so predictably hot-wired? Really? Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, I keep hearing from childhood, from the old Latin Mass: through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault    . . .    Tears! How is it the body knows — in spite of good sense and taste, in plain dogged embarrassment — releasing them regardless? Take that, oh fine cool aesthetic, sophisticated mind with its perfect engineering.

To be moved, moved. I love that word, how it happens to you, a surprise, a kind of miraculous undoing about which Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote in his journal:

there is always one touch, something striking sideways and unlooked for    ...    and this may be so delicate that the pathos seems to have gone directly to the body and cleared the understanding in its passage.

Delicate isn’t exactly how to get at melodrama’s not-so-sleight-of-hand. But a little wallowing in the theater’s large dark can’t be that bad, can it?

Meanwhile, this delicate meanwhile: Bishop’s greatest hit, “One Art,” a model of reserve and passion and wit, plus terrible — however brief — altogether human realization. Her poem’s a courtly, careful mash-up, the unsaid speaking as clearly as what actually makes it to the page. Irony, after all, orbits the wink-wink-nod-nod of the unspoken, a secret life that’s semiobvious, delicious to share. “One Art” is an immediate insider pleasure via Bishop’s colloquial ease, however measured its villanelle givens of obsessive repetition. Her well-known refrain — “The art of losing isn’t hard to master” — 
comes right off the bat, first line and already tongue-in-cheek, a staged shrug about beloved things in peril, disappearing, though she starts comic and small-scale — keys, an “hour badly spent” — as in any practice to learn a great art, fast morphing into a more weighted personal mode, “my mother’s watch” vanished, and loved houses — 
three! Then she’s going larger, unto global:

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
But all “hard to master,” such losses, still partly whimsical by way of simple geography, wild leaps, and a bird’s migratory, exacting eye until the final move inward that really does switch, click, get down, get close, never to be saved by offhand humor or anything else. “Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture / I love) I shan’t have lied.”

Her characteristic steel won’t belabor this vulnerable moment, won’t and can’t — “It’s evident / the art of losing’s not too hard to master,” Bishop re-insists after her revealing slip. But we get a stained new thought, “though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster,” she says, in fact writing that, ending the poem in a quickened second twist of that screwdriver parenthetical. Thus her “Write it” — old Anglo-Saxon’s mono-stress emphatic — goes on, secret and regardless and of course as lifeline, way beyond the poem. And then there’s that wrenching do-it-anyway hit of italics. Here it’s grief in this momentary dive under the surface where loss   looks like, probably is, “like disaster,” a greater dark that even the soothing rhyme against the predictable “master” can’t fix, though getting back to work must be a kind of solace. It’s a villanelle, for god’s sake; you have to forge on — write it! — repeat, to end only this way. That does cut short the release of tears, a sudden almost bit of melodrama in its wake. And that wake could be as haunting as the one-thousand-foot spread of watery lurch and undertow any ocean liner worth its tonnage leaves behind.

What we think of as the first draft of Bishop’s poem, then titled “How to Lose Things” or “The Gift of Losing Things” or “The Art of  Losing Things” — from Vassar’s archives — might be such a wake; that early version does seep back. On her old manual machine, she typed a very sprawling attempt, notes really, including this initial stab at closure:

A piece of one continent -
and one entire continent. All gone, gone forever and ever..

One might think this would have prepared me
for losing one average-sized not especially -------- exceptionally
beautiful or dazzlingly intelligent person
(except for blue eyes) (only the eyes were exceptionally beautiful and
But it doesn’t seem to have, at all . . . the hands looked intelligent)
the fine hands
a good piece of one continent
and another continent - the whole damned thing!
He who loseth his life, etc. - but he who
loses his love - never, no never never never again - 
Hear that? Think Verdi, think Puccini, think King Lear for that matter: never, no never never never again    . . .    The orchestra rising, hands to a collar, a flood of sound from a throat.

Pure melodrama! Though reason’s logical build is here (those eyes, the intelligent hands), and a reasonable tone (“one might think”), it’s because of melodrama that we have Bishop’s lasting, heartbreaking 
poem — plus her numerous drafts that wrestled such sorrow down to mere mention. Still, which is greater, more necessary in this struggle — her witty reserve pressing hard or that great ache that must have started everything? No answer yet. Sincerity and irony still restlessly at it and at it . . .







Three thoughts now — 

1. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, around 1973, right before a reading there. The poet Paul Carroll is in the audience, most generous editor of  The Young American Poets, an anthology that meant much to those of us young, but old enough, when it appeared in 1968, where I discovered Louise Glück — not to mention Charles Simic and James Tate and Ron Padgett, not far from their baby fat. The pre-reading chat and buzz narrowed to Roy Lichtenstein, whose massive paintings patched the wall. Everyone around us with something to say.

I recall his campy cartoons, one big weepy female face, her talk balloon blown up to read It doesn’t matter what I say! while a male face in another painting, equally oversized, speaks into his bubble: Forget it! Forget me! I’m fed up with your kind!, looking off as a girl sulks in the background. At these cliches and earnest exaggerations rose up a lively, happy scorn in the room, many living out a similar melodrama in their own young lives of  break up and come back, only to break up again — at twenty-two, I was among them — who pointed and mocked, made fun of . . .

And Paul Carroll — so much older than we were, a large man, 
impeccable against our fashion-of-the-day ragged jeans, his derby and pin-striped suit, his great charm and goodwill and sadness — went 
silent for a while before saying: but that’s the way people really talk, isn’t it?



2. Impossibly beautiful — with all the necessary shadow that claim implies — is Theodore Roethke’s poem “The Far Field,” off what might be my favorite jump-start first line (and shouldn’t this really be on his tombstone?): “I dream of  journeys repeatedly.” But to tamp that down, there’s the “driving alone, without luggage,” to the end of “a long peninsula” only to stall, “Churning in a snowdrift / Until the headlights darken.” That’s it for section one of four, all lush renderings of the natural world. Next — “At the field’s end    . . .    Haunt of the cat-bird, nesting-place of the field-mouse” where “Among the tin cans, tires, rusted pipes, broken machinery, — / One learned of the eternal.” Eternal. Thus high abstraction enters (“the thinky-thinky” Roethke called it) to enrich or weigh down, but first this gorgeous unapologetic countdown of spring delights:

For to come upon warblers in early May
Was to forget time and death:
How they filled the oriole’s elm, a twittering restless cloud, all one morning,
And I watched and watched till my eyes blurred from the bird shapes, — 
Cape May, Blackburnian, Cerulean, — 
Moving, elusive as fish, fearless,
Hanging, bunched like young fruit, bending the end branches,
Still for a moment,
Then pitching away in half-flight,
Lighter than finches.
Or later, lines that put us in our rightful place on the planet, the speaker in a “slow river, / Fingering a shell, / Thinking: / Once I was something like this, mindless.” On and on this stunning meditation goes, idea to hard detail and back again, to arrive midway at this: perhaps the worst worst worst, most squishy melodramatic phrase in the history of good poetry: “the windy cliffs of forever,” Roethke wrote. Huh? That’s what my thought balloon says in the margin, were I to write one. Granted, he’s already jacked up the mood music in the previous line — “I learned not to fear infinity.” But it continues to shock me that Roethke kept on going into poetry la-la land with this bit of purple prose. The windy cliffs of forever! What does that even mean?

My beloved old cousin Elinor had her Achilles’ heel, known to her worried daughters as her “wheee! factor,” which meant she’d spend her savings, spend down to nothing left, if given half a chance. Who knows how that crazy let loose in her. That impulse to pitch it all — 
caution included — made everything else we miss and cherish about her possible: her wit and warmth and zero self-absorption, her 
intolerance of   intolerance, her embrace of   the world and its weirdness.

In more merciful, if not saner moments, I can think: So what? Roethke gave way now and then. But it’s brave and it’s great. And probably crucial to every fine thing he wrote that he dared that edge.



3. A couple of words come back, dragging their ghost: Sylvia Plath. A single numbing stress begins then ends that run of four syllables, and with that name, the terrible last work looms up, late 1962 into the 
bitter winter of ’63 before her death in London that February, her scathing, meticulous attention to the present moment, day after day, that made so many poems in Ariel. “Daddy” is among them, its wrath a trademark by now, drowning out the quieter, more compelling 
parts of her genius. The poem’s commonly read as near melodrama, 
an operatic outburst, an invective against father and husband. Biography has done it in good.

No doubt for good reason. There’s a breadcrumb trail of image from life, Plath’s difficult father and his German heritage, his position as professor of entomology squaring with the poem’s figure “at the blackboard,” his death when she was eight an experience identical to the speaker’s. The drafts for the poem, now in the Mortimer Rare Book Room of the Smith College libraries, show fury imprinted and measured out from the first through the last stanza and its memorable ending utterance — “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through” — was a fiery addenda handwritten into the typed second version, albeit not much different in tone from her famous opening, in place from the start:

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.
The melo in her drama is heated exclamatory on obsessive repeat, 
possibly made more deliberate — and slightly whimsical, that “Achoo” there, capitalized à la A.A. Milne, no less — by the storybook rhymes she must have been reading to her small children.

Her drafts for the piece aren’t a flip-book; she didn’t start slowly and change a lot. Pretty much the poem roars, teeth bared from the get-go. Still it’s staggering what can happen in the making, the writer remade too, scaring herself until fact itself fades, to get all jacked up via metaphor and analogy to become somehow truer. How else to account for the poem’s last hammer blow, her final stanza’s over-the-top, weirdly animated, medieval folktale-grim lines that proceed her ringing “Daddy    . . .   I’m through” by way of those murderous near-
Lilliputian “villagers” who “never liked you. /    . . .    dancing and stamping on you. / They always knew it was you.” That vengeful you you you, the triggering heart of all this to pierce pierce pierce    . . .    By the end of   her working through the drafts, who was writing that?

Plath, to a bbc interviewer, later carefully removes herself. “The poem is,” she tells him, “spoken by a girl with an Electra complex. Her father died when she thought he was God. Her case is complicated by the fact that her father was also a Nazi.” Come again?

Backstory then, poem as case study, a persona piece. Sure, like 
anyone believes that, says whatever Plath fan/fanatic you choose, passionate young women mostly who have just discovered her, a few of them my undergraduate students who stand with me in the hallway after class, and fight for her right to be a woman wounded and fierce, unaware it was the grounded, dogged artist in her — not the suicide — 
who made this brilliant work. Remote control is still control.

On the radio, Plath is almost dismissive in her acquired British 
accent, calling “Daddy” an “awful little allegory” spoken by that Nazi’s daughter locked in her own terrible twentieth-century 
moment, a layer that adds weight and historical edge to the piece to change it and alter our received idea of the poet herself. Had Plath lived, is this mainly — or at least first — how we would see her poem?

All these claims and reads after the fact. What is the link between art and life? No one knows, even the writer sometimes, what happens in the night-blind whirlpool of the making.







Then there’s this: girls in my grade school collected holy cards, those fake-gilt-edged, frozen, sentimental pictures of saints, the Sacred Heart, the Virgin Mary, given out at funerals and by our teachers at Christmas, Easter, the end of school, hoarded up to vie with our brothers’ baseball stashes, their cards coming in packs with a hard pink slab of bubble gum in the middle. I had — still have — favorites in my cache, including a John F. Kennedy printed hurriedly after the assassination and inexplicably sealed in plastic. But in my whole 
childhood not one St. Sebastian turned up, every inch of him — 
minus the skivvied bits — pincushioned brightly by arrows, the ultimate martyrdom, Rome, ad 288. Was it his near nudity that put the nuns off? Or it may well be the holy card extruders simply played it safe, going for the more sickly-sweet options for the kids and old ladies who would fondly save their handiwork.

As a devout lapsed Catholic for decades, I might be allowed this one arched-eyebrow thought: is it not partly the sick genius of the Church that he is also the patron saint of archers? (How comic is that? No waste. Use the whole chicken, I call it.) He’s the guardian of soldiers, too, once in the Roman army himself. Most astonishing and least known: he is the patron saint of surviving the plague.

The fact is — breaking news! — Sebastian did outlast those arrows. Proof: at least one painting of St. Irene lovingly tending his many wounds as he slumps against her, though another artist followed the competing legend and put an angel in full wingspan to that task. In any case, he healed; he lived to tell the tale. Which is why my husband and I can play Where’s Waldo? to find him over and over, 
museums in Europe — or America, for that matter — room after 
gallery room of Sebastians in various melodramatic, tormented gyrations, even ridiculously out of place at times, in the lower corner of some large, cozy Nativity, say, Mary and Joseph and a lit baby Jesus basking in cow breath and sheep warmth. There he is, to the right and down, oblivious, practically naked and tangled in rope, feathered arrows starry-haywire, the saint in agony or indifference, depending, but surely foreseeing his recovery, already plotting his return to Rome to mouth off to the Emperor and get his dream of  being beaten to death, properly martyred at last.

But to survive that first assault! A miracle of the first order.

Think of it this way: It’s 1349. If Sebastian made it, then certainly his presence in whatever painting you commission will shield self and family from the Black Death sweeping the known world, some seventy-five to two-hundred million dead before it’s over. That’s the deal. That was the deal — and with it, the St. Sebastian survivor 
industry duly cranked up for melodrama, artists both good and only so-so at the ready.

Which is to say, not only does image last, it humbles and overwhelms. But it’s desperately practical too. Sebastian then, as metaphor 
and model, a signal, a white flag, bloodied saint-as-tattoo on some bicep to flash in a fight. Sebastian, a stay against danger, a safety valve, a vaccine, luck’s rabbit-foot, puppeteer of salvation. You rack up your chips for dear life and shove them all to the center of the table, Sebastian with his zillion arrows a hope against hope, a lamb nailed to the door to trick an angel, the stand-alone and cut to the quick but healing in secret regardless, the so there, the in your face, the held high note in an aria, or the moment in the poem before — beware! — 
it really gets dark. Sebastian twisting there in his corner, or skinny-hogging the whole canvas, shape to allegory, larger than life in painting 
after painting until he’s a musical idea, a repeat, repeat to make melo this drama, the worst of it to best all bad things. A charm. And please, a future. Poetry knows we are as close as a feather to disaster.

Is it hope then, since she intuited so much? Plath, for her bbc interview, making herself distant, even haughty, certain that in “Daddy” her scarred, giant, triumphant name-calling speaker “has to act out the awful little allegory once over before she is free of it.” She — nice try.

Melodrama: to exaggerate is to get bigger. And so continue, to last a little longer like those birds whose wings carry markings to fake a huge eye. It will scare away snakes, or attract a mate.

Originally Published: December 2, 2013

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
12-03-2015, 11:38 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/246128

ESSAY
Lost at Sea
Why shipwrecks have engaged the poetic imagination for centuries.

BY CASEY N. CEP
Less than a month before his 30th birthday, Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned in the Gulf of Spezia. A summer storm overtook his sailboat, and the poet never made it from Livorno, where he had been visiting Lord Byron and Leigh Hunt, to Lerici, where his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, waited. Shelley’s body washed ashore weeks later, ravaged by the sea and scarcely recognizable.

The bright beauty of Edward Onslow Ford’s marble monument for the poet, completed in 1892, did its best to obscure this ravaging. Fixed in irenic composure, Shelley now rests on a bronze plinth above a weeping muse flanked by two winged lions at University College Oxford. His cold marble eyes are forever closed; his right arm stretches across his slender, supine body to meet his left; one of his sublunary legs is folded beneath the other. The monument became one of the high altars of the cult that developed around the Romantic. Rival accounts of Shelley’s shipwreck and drowning circulated for decades, including one persistent legend that his heart resisted crematory fire, only to be removed and preserved by a friend.

The narrative of Shelley’s life was revised so that all of its features foreshadowed his shipwreck. His early love of sailing, beginning with paper boats made from bank notes, became ominous; his earlier brushes with shipwrecks—most notably in the decade before he died, on the Rhine River with his wife and on Lake Geneva with Lord Byron—ceased to be signs of providence, becoming instead portentous siren songs. Lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest were even taken for his epitaph: “Nothing of him that doth fade, / But doth suffer a sea-change / Into something rich and strange.”

Shelley’s poetry was not spared this revision. His elegy for John Keats, written a year before his own death, was suddenly taken for prophecy. The final stanza of “Adonais” laments: “My spirit’s bark is driven, / Far from the shore, far from the trembling throng / Whose sails were never to the tempest given.” Shelley, like Keats, was understood to have been prematurely and tragically “borne darkly, fearfully, afar.” His shipwreck came to symbolize both his life and work, not only his death.

Shipwrecks have engaged the poetic imagination for centuries. Remnants of several million shipwrecks are estimated to rest on the ocean floor. When sailing was the only way of navigating the world, shipwrecks were fierce, living terrors; even now, as other modes of transportation dominate travel, shipwrecks maintain their prominence in metaphors of isolation and ennui as well as in images of wreckage and destruction. Ships themselves still wreck in poetry, but so, too, do relationships, souls, and states.

Ubiquitous as the sea itself, the metaphor endures even as its referent has diminished. The antecedents of these modern literary wrecks come from ancient sources. Sea-faring Odysseus barely survived a shipwreck engineered by Poseidon’s wrath. The Apostle Paul shipwrecked four times, once on the way from Caesarea to Rome, the only shipwreck narrated in the Bible. These early wrecks inspired Shakespeare and Shelley and remain strangely powerful, as symbols of both survival, with castaways living to tell the tale, and terror, presenting unsettling or unresolved visions of death.

Even Emily Dickinson, whose life was practically landlocked, was seized by the shipwreck metaphor. “If my Bark sink / ’Tis to another sea —,” she wrote, “Mortality’s Ground Floor / Is Immortality.” Borrowing the first two lines from Transcendentalist poet Ellery Channing, she married the wrecked, drowned soul-ship with the stable, grounded metaphor of the house. The soul’s death is like a sinking ship, falling beneath the surface of one sea and resting on the floor of another.

Dickinson contrasts the safety of the shore with the chaos of the sea. That same distinction interested Elizabeth Bishop in her poem “Crusoe in England,” which fixates on the liminal status of castaway. Bishop’s Robinson Crusoe, already rescued and returned to Britain, muses, “Now I live here, another island, / that doesn’t seem like one.” Abraded by time and the death of his companion Friday from measles, Crusoe remembers his former island home. He says, “I’d have / nightmares of other islands / stretching away from mine, infinities / of islands, islands spawning islands.”

Bishop was well acquainted with islands, but also with shipwrecks of the kind that cast Robinson Crusoe away. In 1919, when she was only eight years old, she was aboard a steamer headed from Boston to Yarmouth that wrecked in the fog. No one died, but the accident did link Bishop to her great-grandfather, who drowned in a shipwreck off Sable Island in 1866, and to one of her most beloved poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose epic poem “The Wreck of the Deutschland” chronicled a shipwreck off the British coastline.

Thirty-five stanzas long, “The Wreck of the Deutschland” marked Hopkins’s return to poetry after seven years of devoting himself to his vocation as a Jesuit priest. Conflicted about his writing and his call to the priesthood, Hopkins had destroyed his earlier poems and vowed never to write again. But when the Deutschland foundered on the Kentish Knock at the mouth of the Thames in 1875, and took the lives of five nuns fleeing religious persecution in Germany, Hopkins was moved by the tragedy. He felt that his writing was blessed by the suggestion of a superior that someone write a poem to honor the dead.

One hundred and fifty-seven passengers died when the Deutschland wrecked, but Hopkins was concerned chiefly with those escaping Bismarck’s Kulturkampf. “Rhine refused them, Thames would ruin them;” he wrote, dedicating the poem “To the happy memory of five Franciscan Nuns, exiles by the Falk Laws, drowned between midnight and morning of Dec. 7th, 1875.”

The dedication is integral not only to Hopkins’s understanding of this particular shipwreck but, moreover, to his sense of every soul at sea in this world. For Hopkins, the Deutschland’s fate presented an essential task of theodicy: the need to reconcile “[t]he all of water,” capable of callously taking human lives, with the mercy of God, who made the world and its violent seas. The poem’s first stanza addresses “Thou mastering me / God! giver of breath and bread; / World’s strand, sway of the sea.” It is the first of many aquatic accounts of God, whom Hopkins calls “master of the tides.”

Elizabeth Bishop took bits of Hopkins’s poems as epigraphs for her poetry and even wrote an essay on his meter, but it was his shipwreck poem that consumed her. “The Wreck of the Deutschland” is the shipwreck sundered: literal description and detail of the ocean liner’s wreck are gradually, relentlessly severed from the metaphor of the soul adrift in the world.

While for Hopkins the shipwreck was a theological challenge, for Bishop it was a poetic challenge. She was forced to reconcile poetry’s past with its present, to find new meaning for language that was becoming anachronistic. The poet could no longer document wrecks, but needed to invent new connotations for them, so unlike Hopkins, Bishop occupied herself with survivors.

For Bishop, the sea’s greatest danger is no longer death, but solitude and isolation. “Crusoe in England” considers how the soul, always already shipwrecked, can speak of its survival. As W.S. Merwin writes in “The Shipwreck”: “The tale is different if even a single breath / Escapes to tell it. The return itself / Says survival is possible.” Survivorship and testimony, then, come to define the modern shipwreck poem; less attention is given to the action of wrecking and more to its aftermath.

One of kari edwards’s poems begins with the ominous declaration that “there is a shipwreck on each side of innuendo.” She describes how “tears gather around the collective / shadow of shadows;” pooling into seas deep and dangerous enough for wrecks. The shipwreck of edwards’s poem is not nautical but emotional: its three block stanzas dramatize the self as a ship at sea. When the narrator says she is “trying to read the consequential future, apply anything to anything,” she is navigating a life adrift between “wretched normality and remote productivity.”

The same unmooring haunts Keith Waldrop’s “Shipwreck in Haven.” One sequence in the trilogy he called Transcendental Studies, the poem unfolds under an epigraph from Erasmus: “I can’t swim at all, and it is dangerous to converse with an unaccustomed Element.” The sea is largely absent from Waldrop’s long, fragmented poem, visible only through the safety of windows, relegated to a rumor in fairytales and fishing stories, like those of a “vicar, who used to tell us the story of Robinson Crusoe.” So antiquated are the dangers of the sea that they can only be imagined, not faced. The speaker mocks an addressee: “You claim the dearest wish of your // life is to sink into a soul-freezing / situation of horror.”

By Waldrop’s telling, shipwrecks no longer threaten travel, only dreams. No longer Dickinson’s bark sinking beneath the ocean, modern shipwrecks are relationships dissolved, careers run aground, lives unmoored. When Waldrop won the National Book Award in 2009 for Transcendental Studies, he explained in interviews that the poems in the collection, including “Shipwreck in Haven,” had been constructed through a collage method. Collecting words like a bowerbird, he arranged the bits and phrases he gathered from prose works into the colossus that is Transcendental Studies.

Along the way, Waldrop revised the romantic image of shipwreck into a postmodern metaphor. No longer does one seek “rambles and adventures among the rocky banks,” for “waves and their whelps” appear only in dreams and waking nightmares. Nostalgia forever washes Shelley ashore in his glistening marble monument and keeps Robinson Crusoe forever cast away on his island home, but Waldrop resists these wistful fallacies to catalog the actual threats of daily life that make the metaphor of shipwreck worth preserving: terror and dread, anonymity and solitude.


Originally Published: July 9, 2013

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
12-06-2015, 02:02 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/247782#article

INTERVIEW
Widening the Conversation
Edward Hirsch holds forth on his Poet’s Glossary.

BY ANNIE FINCH
Widening the Conversation
Edward Hirsch
One summer 15 years ago, Edward Hirsch, author of eight books of poetry and five books of poetic criticism, winner of a MacArthur Fellowship and the Rome Prize, and a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, began compiling a glossary of basic poetic terms to include in his book How to Read a Poem.

Now that initial 25 pages has mushroomed into a book of its own, A Poet’s Glossary. Nearly 750 pages in length, it encompasses more than a thousand entries on styles, techniques, forms, genres, movements, and all manner of other poetic curiosities from abecedarian to zeugma. Unlike most poetry reference books, which bring together entries written by numerous contributors, A Poet’s Glossary is very much the reflection of one unified sensibility. Dramatically international in perspective, both comprehensive and eclectic, it is clearly informed by Hirsch’s background in folklore. (He holds a PhD in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania.)

Hirsch and I spoke on the phone for nearly an hour about A Poet’s Glossary. There was much to talk about: We have known each other for years, ever since I studied with him at the University of Houston in the mid-1980s, and I too have recently published a book about the craft of poetry. It was a lively conversation covering diverse topics, from why poetry is so much larger than the timeworn quarrels that have recently defined it to how poetic forms create spells. What follows is a compressed and edited version of our conversation.

How do you imagine the ideal reader for A Poet’s Glossary?

I see this as a book for the initiated as well as for the uninitiated reader. People who don’t know much about poetry can find what they need to know about certain basics, like the nature of the line or the stanza, or the characteristics of a form, like the ghazal or the sestina. But there are also a lot of things in this book that even widely read readers of poetry may not know much about because they are outside our tradition. So, for example, you might not know to look up a form of African praise poem called the oríkì. If you care to think about praise poetry—what it is, how it functions—then the oríkì has a lot to tell you. To help the reader along different pathways, I’ve added “See also” at the bottom of every entry.

That’s wonderful. I see at the bottom of praise poems here, you have “encomium, epithet, griot, oríkì, panegyric.”

The idea is to lead you to something that you may not know much about, such as Ifa divination verses or panegyrics or drum poetry, which is an amazing form of oral poetry. I hope the book will enrich people’s knowledge of what they know, or think they know, and introduce them to a lot that they’ve never encountered. I hope it will enlarge the conversation about poetry, which has been somewhat narrow in contemporary discourse, and help us to think a little outside of the categories we’ve inherited.

Can you say a little more about those categories?

I think contemporary poetry seems to have inherited a 1950s and ’60s divide between the poets of traditional form and the poets of organic form. I think these divides rehearse tired narratives about poetry, as if we still had to choose between, say, Elizabeth Bishop and Charles Olson, or between Robert Hayden and Robert Creeley. By seeing these divides so categorically, I think we’ve impoverished the resources of American poets. My idea is that poetry is so much larger than these timeworn quarrels, which put too many poets into boxes. I’m hoping that my book can contribute to a fuller conversation and way of thinking about poetry. There is so much more to poetry than the sociological alignment of different groups.

I feel this divide is connected with the hegemony of iambic pentameter, which is still widely treated as basically the only meter available to poets who want to write in form. I’ve been talking up the concept of metrical diversity for a while. It seems to me that when meter is limited to iambic pentameter, poets get bored and let go of the entire potential of metrical structure.

Iambic pentameter can be very rich and flexible—think of Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, Robert Frost—but there’s no reason that it should have the kind of hold on English-language poetry that, say, the alexandrine once had on French poetry.

It’s interesting to think that our idea that there should be just one dominant meter has been influenced by the French—as opposed to the Celtic cultures, which had so many different meters, or the Persians.

The number of meters in any given poetry is often very wide. I’m thinking, for example, of the 24 meters that were memorized by the Welsh poets in the 14th and 15th century. The training period for bardic poets could extend for as long as 12 years. John Montague says that one way of describing the training of the Irish bards is as “seven winters in a dark room.” The poets who came through this regimen had a vast repertoire of meters to call upon.

You have a background in folklore. Are there particular aspects of our idea of poetry that you thought needed to be enlarged, or that you were especially excited about enlarging?

Yes, this book gave me the opportunity to bring my study of folklore into our consideration of poetry. I’m thinking of what I would call the poetry of everyday life, like proverbs, riddles, and lullabies, like counting-out rhymes and the African American game of playing the dozens. I’m also thinking of the poetry of indigenous tribes around the world, especially in Africa, and what these tribal poetries bring to our thinking about poetry in general.

When you say we don’t think of proverbs and riddles as poetry, what is the quality that you think makes them poetry that we have been overlooking?

I think of poetry as a form of marked speech. It sets words apart. It specializes and frames language, separating it from the otherwise ordinary discourse that surrounds it. Here I rely on the linguist Roman Jakobson, who calls the proverb “the largest coded unit occurring in our speech and at the same time the shortest poetic composition.” It involves sound patterns, and it is compressed and memorable, like the aphorism and the maxim. It is activated by performance.

It seems to me that what moves poetry into the hypnotic, magical realm is the physical nature of repetition that takes poetry out of meaning, out of words.

I agree. In all cultures it’s said that certain rhythmic patterns have magical properties. Forms are often considered conventional or traditional or somehow conservative, but in fact they are formulations of primary impulses of repetition. They create spells, which have an irrational potency. They are ways of delivering certain kinds of information. Rhythm is sound in motion. And this is related to our pulse and our heartbeat, to the way we breathe.

With my students, I have field-tested the idea that the length of a line corresponds to one breath and four or five heartbeats, and it seems true that basic metrical lines in English sync up perfectly with the body in this way. It has been said that a traditional poetic line is the same length in all languages. Do you have any sense of the truth of that from doing the book?

I can’t say that the four- or five-beat line is universal. I would say that it seems universal to the stress languages. We’d have to get native speakers of syllabic and tonal languages to explain to us how beat works for them. My instinct is that poetry is related to the body everywhere. Poetry is a bodily art, and the forms of poetry grow out of our bodies. Of course, there are also abstractionists, who want to move poetry as far away from the body as possible. I think their experiments are enriching, useful, and doomed.

You spent 15 years making this book. It also took me 15 years to complete my own book on craft. I know that your sense of the book must have changed constantly during that time. If you had to pick out a few favorite entries today, what would they be?

That’s tough. I like wine poetry—who doesn’t?—and some of the anthropological terms I discovered, such as tlamatini (which is one of the names for poet in the Aztec world and means “one who knows”), ghinnawa (a stylized form of folk poetry practiced in Bedouin cultures), and bird sound words (the systematic language of song poetics of the Kaluli people of Papua New Guinea). I’m struck by the fact that we don’t have English equivalents for certain words, like rasa (the most important term in Sanskrit poetics) and saudade (a Portuguese terms that suggests a profoundly bittersweet nostalgia). If you want to poetically insult someone, I highly recommend the Scottish flyting. If you want to blow their minds, I recommend the Russian futurist term zaum, which means something like “trans-rational” or “beyond-sense.”

Your book describes so many different ways to be a poet, staggeringly different kinds of cultural roles and aesthetic stances.

This has all been a great education for me. It has widened my own view of being a poet, what poetry does and can do, how it works. I had some sense, and it turned out to be truer than I even realized, that being a poet is different in different parts of the world. The role of poetry can be much larger than the way poets often think about it. I’m an American poet, and I don’t really want to be anything else. I just want the widest view of what it is to be an American poet. While I wouldn’t trade my role for that of a griot or a Russian Acmeist, my idea of poetry is vastly enlarged by reading the Russian poets of the 1920s, or the T’ang Dynasty poets, or the Renaissance poets in Italy, Spain, and England, or learning about the epic poets of India and the Balkans. Then there is Zen poetry. The 18th-century Zen monk Ryokan states categorically:

Who says my poems are poems?
My poems are not poems.
When you know that my poems are not poems,
Then we can speak of poetry.
(tr. John Stevens)


Originally Published: May 20, 2014

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
12-09-2015, 10:06 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/246768

INTERVIEW
Unsettling Emily Dickinson
The co-editor of The Gorgeous Nothings talks about the challenges of editing the iconic poet.

BY THE EDITORS

Years ago, when scholar Marta Werner turned 22, she received a birthday present that she calls life-altering. It was a copy of Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson. “I had no idea that a work of scholarship could take this form—and could embody such freedom,” Werner says. The editors of poetryfoundation.org recently spoke with Werner about her collaboration with Jen Bervin on The Gorgeous Nothings, why she’d prefer to distance herself from the term “envelope poems,” and why Emily Dickinson’s work remains so relevant today.

Can you talk about the publishing history of Emily Dickinson?

Yes, but I’d like to go back to a moment before that history begins so we can see what is at stake in that history. And so, perhaps, we can imagine a counterhistory.

According to Dickinson’s niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, Dickinson’s “only writing desk [was] … a table, 18-inches square, with a drawer deep enough to take in her ink bottle, paper and pen … [and] placed in the corner by the window facing west.” This image of Dickinson’s desk is so familiar to her readers, so imprinted on our imaginations. And yet the desk can only be a supreme fiction.

The instant we begin to picture it, we realize it could not have been Dickinson’s writing desk—at least not her only desk. How could the delicate table have withstood the weight of her books? How could it have tolerated the pressure of her hand in the “white heat” of writing every day across the days of more than 30 years? And how could it have accommodated the thousands of leaves of blank paper Dickinson turned into manuscripts?

Just past the image of the pristine writing desk another, more unruly image is forming. I see the desk laden with volumes, open and closed—the family Bible; the novels of the Brontës, George Eliot, Charles Dickens; Ruskin’s Modern Painters. I see it covered with rows of botanical specimens: Jasminum, Calendula officinalis, Digitalis. And beyond it, I see the room that gives the desk space, filling with papers. There are stacks of them on the table, on the floor, on the bed.

She moves them. Others living in the household and coming from outside of it move them. The wind moves them. Time moves them. My imagination moves them.

I see, of course, only what I see in the mind’s eye. For, like Bianchi, like everyone, I have arrived too late: I do not catch Dickinson in the act of writing.

I do not see how she arranges and stab-binds the gatherings of poems we call fascicles, or how she archives them, whether with other bound gatherings only, or intermixed with loose sheets and fragments. I do not see how, or even if, she distinguishes among poems, prose, and passages of indeterminate genre. I do not see her search for a poem written years earlier to revise or only to reread it. As she herself wrote, there is so much more I “cannot see to see -”

Just as I do not see the room as it appeared while Dickinson lived within it, I do not see it in the days and months following her death, when her papers were discovered, sorted, some destroyed, and others disseminated.

I do not see the clearing away of her effects, nor do I know if this process was carried out systematically or at chance’s hands. I do not know if those entrusted to the task worked patiently or were overwhelmed by what they found. Was there, as the story goes, only a single locked box containing thousands of poem manuscripts? Where has this (Pandora’s) box and its key gone? And if there was only one box, containing the poems, where were the letter drafts and fragments? Was one box actually many boxes?

After all the manuscripts have been carried away from Dickinson’s room, questions whirl in their place and do not settle.

All the editions of Dickinson’s writings are also attempts to “settle” the work. And it’s for that reason that I work on unediting her writings. It’s a way of unsettling them—though not, of course, the way Dickinson may have unsettled them.

The poems and other writings in The Gorgeous Nothings were all in print by 1958. A careful reader can find them in Johnson’s Poems (1955) and in his Letters (1958). But you’d be surprised to know how many people think that the writings in The Gorgeous Nothings are new discoveries. Even people who know Dickinson well can’t recall seeing them before. And of course that’s because they haven’t seen them—they’ve only read them. Somehow, for reasons I don’t wholly understand, reading in manuscript is fundamentally different from reading in print. For some people—myself among them—it’s a kind of further seeing. It’s my hope—and Jen Bervin’s too, I’m sure—that The Gorgeous Nothings functions like a kind of light-table for these writings.

How did you first encounter Emily Dickinson’s envelope poems? Who first called them “envelope poems”? What does that mean?

I’ve been aware of Emily Dickinson’s envelope poems for many years—at least since the mid-’90s, when I was working a lot in the Amherst College archives on Dickinson’s late drafts and fragments. At the time, I was fascinated by the various different constellations of documents that seemed, at least momentarily, to coalesce—poems pinned together, poems marked by cancellations and cross-outs, poems on envelopes, etc. Of course I don’t mean to suggest that these constellations or sets were conceived of as such by Dickinson—I have no idea how she organized her papers, and, beyond those she stab-bound into fascicles, there’s no readily discernible organizational schema. I just mean that when you look at documents for a long time—in an intense, even myopic way—you start to see things. Literally! The mind seeks formal principles—even where there may be none. I saw—and still see—all kinds of different sets and orders of Dickinson’s writings.

I’m not sure who first called these writings envelope poems. And, in some way, I’d like to distance myself from the term. It’s perhaps one of the hallmarks of Dickinson’s writings that they defeat the bibliographical and descriptive terms we use to talk about them. “Envelope poem,” then, is just a kind of shorthand we’ve used to identify writings—largely but not invariably in verse—composed on envelopes or envelope parts. The earliest of these envelope writings was probably composed around 1864, the date Ralph Franklin assigns to the last of Dickinson’s fascicles, and a small handful of other envelope texts belong to the same decade. The remaining envelope writings—or writings on envelopes, as I prefer to say—bear approximate composition dates ranging from 1870 to 1885. These writings were composed, then, in the aftermath of the fascicles and in a late period in the trajectory of Dickinson’s writing when, I believe, she was testing differently and for a final time the relationship between message and medium.

The envelopes are one of the many makeshift and fragile textual homes Dickinson imagined for her late writings. When I look at them, I think of Simone Weil’s moving words, “Vulnerability is the mark of their existence.”

That such documents survived—that they were saved—always amazes me.

What draws you to her work? And particularly her manuscripts? What’s it like to handle her manuscripts? To see her handwriting?

Writing is such a “reportless” place—the word is Dickinson’s, and it comes from a poem—indeed, a manuscript—that I love and that begins: “In many and reportless places – one feels a joy….”

While writing or thought is reportless, the manuscript is the material trace of that process and, I believe, of the joy that attends it.

When we review the history of our experience of the modern manuscript, we find that a specific vocabulary emerges, one suggestive of intimacy. Again and again, we find references to the “face” or “physiognomy” of the manuscript. In the earliest, least critical accounts of the manuscript, it was imagined as a reflecting glass by which we might see directly into the mind of the writer and the creative process. In extreme versions of this story, the manuscript might even appear as a surrogate for the writer.

Now, of course, very few manuscript scholars would subscribe to such beliefs. Today, we see manuscripts as cultural artifacts—not intimate keepsakes but artifacts estranged from us by distance and time. But this very distance—this alienation—also makes them readable in new ways. For me, the manuscript is a marvelous zone of inquiry. It reports something of the reportlessness of Dickinson’s compositional process—something about the disorderly dynamics of writing.

I’m painfully aware that no written document can ever translate completely the immaterial path of thought into material signs, but Dickinson’s manuscripts do permit us to follow that path, sometimes a short distance, sometimes much farther, and where the signs break off or become unreadable, where we come to a dead end, that too tells us something about the horizon of writing and the limits of any interpretation.

By abandoning the idea of the manuscript as mirror and, with it, our search for depth, we may begin to traverse its surface and decipher the traces inscribed upon it. When we do this, we encounter what the textual scholar Louis Hay has called the “third dimension” of the text, the passage of writing traced through time, the multiple, contradictory decisions made during the process of composition and registered in part in the spatial play of the hand across the paper.

And we see new things—things we didn’t see before. Signs of speed and of slowness often appear on the manuscript of the draft. In Dickinson’s case, accelerations in thought are marked in the slant of the writing or the blurring of ink or graphite. And sometimes we can also see a slowing down of composition, as if she was making her way more uncertainly, moving like a “stranger through the house of language.” There’s a beautiful draft of Dickinson’s poem “As Summer into Autumn slips” in which she compulsively reworks a passage, repeating and substituting the words “thought” and “shaft,” and when I look at these marks on the page, I can almost see her trying to redynamize the trace of writing. Gabriel Josipovici said that writing is “something that is happening … at the cross-roads of the mental and the physical.”

I think this is true. And beautiful.

The manuscript doesn’t necessarily encourage a teleological reading, either. For me, at least, the manuscript promotes a reading that wanders—and wonders. It compels us to attend to the minutest and most unrepeatable gestures of writing—to writing losing its thread sometimes in liberated strokes, sometimes in scribbles and erasures. For me, anyway, the draft tends to disturb the very idea of the still, absolute text, revealing it as only one possible realization of a matrix that precedes and sometimes follows it. Its interest lies in the uniqueness of its itinerary and its awareness of contingency.

I called the manuscript “reportless.” The poem I drew that word from reads: “In many and reportless | places | We feel a Joy – | Reportless, also, but | sincere as Nature | Or Deity - || It comes, without a | consternation - | Dissolves [Abates – Exhales -] – the same - | But leaves a | sumptuous [blissful] Destitution - | Without a Name - || Profane it by a | search – [pursuit] we cannot - | It has no home - | Nor we who having | once inhaled it – [waylaid it] | thereafter roam.”

But you have to see the manuscript—the way the final lines roam around the edges of the paper.

You’ve spoken about the work you did with Susan Howe at Buffalo—can you tell us about that again? How has Susan’s work inspired yours?

For my 22nd birthday, in 1987, a dear friend gave me a copy of Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson. We were first-year graduate students then, in the English department at SUNY Buffalo, and Buffalo’s long connection with radical poetics made this an appropriate, perhaps even an expected, gift. But for me, My Emily Dickinson was a revelation. As an undergraduate at Ithaca College, I had read widely in poetry, but also conservatively. I’d never heard of Howe, and probably my former teachers had not either. More to the point, I had no idea that a work of scholarship could take this form—and could embody such freedom. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this single book changed the course of my work on Dickinson and very likely the course of my life.

The next year—to my great delight and terror—Howe came to Buffalo to teach a course. She was then about the age I am now, which is rather strange to think about! The course she taught focused on early American literature, and at its center were documents—17th-century captivity narratives and conversion narratives—most composed by women, most composed in extremis. It was riveting. Howe was always prepared. I think she must have spent hours and hours, probably days or weeks, writing her lectures. And when she spoke, she was moved by a kind of intensity and nervousness and conviction all at once that was profoundly compelling. She was—she is—fierce and fragile. She’s always at the very edge of thought.

I was unbelievably privileged to be her student. And it was just sheer luck. I never felt that I deserved the attention she gave me. There were so many others whose claims were greater—so many others who knew so much more about poetry than I did (or do). But she stayed with me, pressing me forward. She could be a harsh mentor—because she expected one’s artistic and scholarly commitments to be absolute—but she was also generous without measure.

When we finished The Gorgeous Nothings, I drafted the acknowledgment to her. It follows the formal, official acknowledgments to the libraries that gave us permission to study their collections, but it’s a private message, too, and one that conveys, I hope, love.

It reads:

“In the Dickinson archives where I have worked, I have sometimes fancied that an unseen hand guided my own, sifting the documents, holding one or another up to the light. That hand belongs to Susan Howe, whose original discoveries among Dickinson’s manuscripts encouraged these further forays. To her, whose felicitous joining of historical inquiry with poetic speculation transformed forever the landscape of Dickinson scholarship, I owe the deepest debt: ‘Sweet Debt of Life – Each Night to owe - / Insolvent – every Noon’ (Fascicle 15).”

What do you think Dickinson’s intention was in writing these poems?

I have no idea! But then again, I don’t really believe in a textual practice that seeks out authorial intentions. Perhaps I’m enough of an old formalist to imagine that these intentions are beside the point. Or perhaps—and this seems more likely to me—my long apprenticeship as a textual scholar has made me circumspect about such a project of recovery.

I don’t know “Emily Dickinson.” What I know—or try to know, as far as it is possible to do so—is the unruly textual body that survived her.

But I do think she was writing poems with an awareness of their significance—and, in the case of the envelope poems, of their strangeness. A lot of questions swirled around these documents when I looked at them—and very few of them can be answered.

In some cases, Dickinson wrote on envelopes that had carried letters into the Homestead from the outside world. We know this because these envelopes are addressed—sometimes to her, sometimes to another member of the household—by the familiar hands of Judge Lord, the Norcrosses, and others. In other cases, though, Dickinson herself addressed the envelopes to intimate friends—Mrs. Holland, Helen Hunt Jackson—outside the Homestead, but she seems never to have enclosed letters in the envelopes or sent them out into the world.

What we have instead of these letters—if, in fact, they ever existed—are poems. It’s tempting to think that the poems have taken the place of the letters—perhaps, even, that they were the true messages she wished to transmit. But this is far from certain.

What is more certain is that when she turned from the address to writing the poem, she was redirecting it. The addresses are all written in a beautiful, fair copy hand; the poems, by contrast, are all in her rough copy hand, which Higginson described as looking like the “fossil tracks of birds.” Maybe this is a sign that the address is public, while the poem is private. I don’t know. Somehow, I think the reverse may be true. Unlike the messages, those “fine and private things” that seem destined for enclosure in envelopes, the poems are freely dispersed to all. Although they may never have left her desk, they are en route, their itinerary open.

Tell us how The Gorgeous Nothings book came about.

When Jen Bervin and I first met to talk about collaborating on a Dickinson project, we knew each other’s work, but not each other. Bervin is a visual artist and a poet, and she has produced, among many other works, the remarkable Dickinson Composites, a series of six large-scale embroidered works based on palimpsestic collations of the punctuation and variant markers in Dickinson’s fascicles. I’m an itinerant textual scholar covering poetic grounds of the 19th and 20th centuries. We came from different worlds—she from an art and poetry world, and I from a scholarly and academic world—and we met on the margins of Dickinson’s poetry. Collaboration is never easy. We knew this. But we were both drawn to the problem of how best to represent the conditions of Dickinson’s late works—those works composed specifically beyond the book, in its aftermath—and we were both committed to finding a form for her unbound writings that might gather and scatter them at once. “The way | Hope builds his | House,” Dickinson wrote on an envelope in the shape of a house, “It is not with a sill -- | nor Rafter --”

We did not seek to produce an “edition” or even a “catalog raisonée,” since we felt that both these structures—carrying with them a history of definiteness and closure—countered Dickinson’s aims or, since those must remain unknowable, the manuscripts’ aesthetics of open-endedness. Rather, we imagined the object we were producing as a temporary shelter for the late work, open to reassembly and even disassembly in future.

That’s really how it started, and of course the first incarnation of The Gorgeous Nothings, published by Steve Clay at Granary Books, reflects this original vision. The contents arrive not between two covers but in an archival box, 12 by 15 inches, which must be unpacked, unfolded, and slowly sifted.

There are all kinds of centrifugal forces at work here. Of all the materials enclosed in The Gorgeous Nothings, the loose facsimiles and diplomatic transcripts, the guides and indices, only my essay introducing them—“Itineraries of Escape”—is bound, an acknowledgment that my own thoughts on my encounter with Dickinson’s writings are also bound to this specific moment in time. All the other contents of the box remain unfastened: “all adrift to go.” Like Emerson’s souls, neither touching not mingling, never quite composing a set, the envelope poems belong to a discontinuous series, or, as Cixous writes, a “book from which each page could be taken out.”

I wasn’t at all sure that the bound volume of these writings published by New Directions could capture this feeling—but I think it has. The design is simply splendid. I don’t know how they did it! I’ll always be deeply grateful to New Directions for their vision of the book.

Can you talk about the experience of discovering fragments A 821 and A 821a?

I’d love to. I tell this story in my essay “Itineraries of Escape,” and, I have to warn you, it sounds like a fairy tale from the archives!

I was in Amherst researching the poems and other writings Dickinson had pinned together. In some cases, all the evidence that’s left is the very tiny pinholes; in other cases (at least in the 1990s, when I was first looking at them), the pins were still in place. This was so for A 821/821a. When I opened up the acid-free envelope, I saw this exquisite document inside. I swear it seemed to rise out of the envelope and take flight! This can’t have happened, I realize, but it looked just like a bird to me, and the handwriting—both the writing itself and the way it was deployed over the page—imparted to the manuscript a kind of motion. Even to read it requires that we rotate the text. And which direction we’re supposed to read in—well, I don’t know.

We could read the text like this: “Clogged | only with | Music, like | the Wheels of | Birds - [turn MSS 90 degrees to the right] Afternoon and | the West and | the gorgeous | nothings | which | compose | the | sunset | keep [pinned corner] their high | Appoint | ment”

But we could rotate the text 360 degrees and read the lines backwards: “– Afternoon and | the West and | the gorgeous | nothings | which | compose | the | sunset | keep [pinned corner] their high | Appoint | ment” [turn MSS 90 degrees to the left] "Clogged | only with | Music, like | the Wheels of | Birds –”

There are so many astonishing things about this manuscript.

First, there is the question of how it was composed: all at once, at different times, in fragments. The handwriting differs depending on which sector of the document you are looking at, suggesting perhaps that it wasn’t composed in one sitting, although it could have been…. And the boundary lines in the manuscript also create a kind of physical caesura that gets repeated in the lines—where there is also a kind of braking action, or a kind of leap across the boundary. Caesura and syncope. We hear the grammar of discontinuity.

Second, there is the way it was assembled—in the manner of a collage. It’s made up of two sections of envelope. The larger piece is the inside of the back of an envelope, the address face of which has been torn away. The smaller piece is the triangular corner of an envelope seal. A pin once held them together….

Third, there is the very delicate center fold in the document—a fold that bisects the document and makes it appear like a kind of diptych. We don’t know who folded it—if Dickinson did or if it was folded later. But at some moment in time, the fold became part of the manuscript and it determined how the reader opened it—how the text was revealed. The suddenness of the message seems to me related to the document’s unfolding.

Fourth, there’s the mysterious presence on A 821 of other sets of pinholes. Was this document pinned to other documents we haven’t yet identified?

Fifth, there’s the message it records and that flashes by us: a message about how day falls into night; a message about the moment when the world is overtaken by—engulfed in—birdsong. It’s a message—I’d call it a poem—about the instantaneous translation from one condition into another, an essentially ecstatic experience.

Sixth, there’s the document’s past and its future(s). These lines, or variants of them, appear in three drafts of a letter Dickinson was writing to Helen Hunt Jackson in 1885. Dickinson’s letter—probably a response to Hunt Jackson’s earlier message, sent from California, about her broken leg—is abandoned when Dickinson learns that Hunt Jackson has died. It’s not known which text came first: the letter or the fragment. That is, we can’t be sure whether the text on A 821 was integrated into the letter, or whether, when the letter was abandoned, Dickinson “released” the fragment from it. Whatever happened, A 821 does migrate beyond the letter into a freer air.

And finally, we should know that there’s a variant of this fragment, A 822, which was also composed by pinning. “It is very still in the world now - Thronged only with Music like the Decks of Birds and the Seasons take their hushed places like figures in a Dream –”

For me, A 821 / A 821a, composed on the reverse of the empty, unaddressed envelope, no longer the container for a message but the message itself, will always be a trope for Dickinson’s late, contrapuntal communications, in which “arrival” is only ever another name for “departure.”

There are countless ways of reading this fragment. But when I read it—when I see it—it always seems to be en route to the outermost edges of Dickinson’s oeuvre—and maybe out of this world.

You’ve mentioned that time and history imprint on documents. Can you talk a bit about that?

The envelope poems are a special case, I think. When the envelopes were just envelopes, carrying the original messages someone sealed into them, they were literally supposed to travel across time and space in order to find their recipient. Sometimes they bear stamps issued from a particular year, or postmarks that tell us what time—sometimes what hour—they passed through a particular place on their journey. And of course, many are marked by the damages—torn seals, etc. They are beautiful and fallen cultural artifacts. Beautiful because they are fallen.

When Dickinson turned the envelopes into a space for writing, she changed their relationship to time and space. For a few moments, while we’re reading them, they seem to stop time. But then, when we get to the end of the reading, we see that they’re already departed for the future—futures.

Why do you think there is so much interest in Dickinson at this time?

Well, I think people have always been interested in Dickinson! My father read Dickinson’s poems to me when I was a little girl—and he wasn’t a literary man at all. It’s just that something in Dickinson moved him deeply. At the end of his life, he returned to her. We used to exchange letters the entire text of which consisted of lists of first lines of Dickinson poems. I think he was trying to communicate something to me. It’s a message I will keep forever. I imagine that many people feel the way my father did.

But I do think there’s a reason why reading these poems Dickinson recorded on envelopes in the latter days of the 19th century seems like such an urgent project at this moment in the 21st century.

There’s a new connection. Our obsessive seeking through the new technologies available to us—the most pervasive of which is, of course, the Internet—to collapse the distance between private and public, between inner thought and outer word, even between self and other—began at the close of the 19th century, when, as media historian John Durham Peters observes, we first “defined ourselves in terms of our ability to communicate with each other.” While we exist seemingly at the end of this age, Dickinson lived at its beginnings. In her century, the advent of tele-phenomena such as the telegraph and, later, the telephone, like the advent of the Internet in our own age, seemed to open up the potential to breach the barriers of time and space.

One of the uncanniest documents in the constellation of Dickinson’s writings on envelopes is a Western Union Telegraph blank. While the urgent message it conveyed has long since been lost, the poems that take its place—“Glass was | the Street - | in Tinsel | Peril” and “It came his | turn to beg --,” appear to translate the electrical pulses of the unrecoverable bulletin into new messages associating speed and shock.

But the grammatical breakdown and cancellation of the final words of the poems is also a sharp reminder that transmissions in this world are often asymmetrical and full of gaps. The very century that first experienced these unprecedented transformations in the forms of human contact also bore witness to the new and frightening horizons of incommunicability that still haunt us today. Not only the telegraph office but also the Dead Letter Office came into being in the 19th century, when it was not uncommon for the clerks of this strange agency to handle as many as 23,000 pieces of “dead” mail daily. “The media,” as Friedrich Kittler has remarked, “yield ghost phenomena.”

Today, the Dead Letter Office—renamed, in Orwellian fashion, the Mail Recovery Center—still exists. In 2012, the very year The Gorgeous Nothings first saw light, more than 90 million items ended up in this office—undeliverable as addressed. If we add to this the estimated billions of emails lost without a trace each day, we might wonder if, rather than becoming ever more closely connected, we are more drifting toward greater and greater states of disconnection.

A message enclosed in an envelope, or a poem inscribed upon it and prepared for sending over miles or millennia, or an email sent into thin air, is not a bit or byte of information but an archive of longings. And to send a signal at a distance, it must be kept from dying along the way. Dickinson knew and experienced this before we did. She knew, too, that the interval separating the writer of a message from the addressee—whether seconds, hours, days, or years—is indeterminate and may be(come) infinite, and that we can never verify the degree to which what is transmitted matches what is received.

And still, she wrote. Her late envelope writings, scattered by the winds of the future, intercepted by unknown and invisible readers, remind us of the contingency, transience, vulnerability, and hope cathected in all her messages and in all of our varied replies.

Originally Published: October 17, 2013

Trust me on this. Emily Dickinson was the greatest female poet to have ever lived. -Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
12-12-2015, 10:45 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/245762

ESSAY
Significant Soil
Meditations on the Merger of T.S. Eliot’s “Waste” and “Land.”

BY CHRISTINA DAVIS
Significant Soil
“This is the land,” T. S. Eliot asserts in Ash-Wednesday.

Not the “wasteland,” but “the land.”

And yet, if you’ve happened upon any mention of Eliot’s most famous poem, more likely than not you’ve witnessed the title rendered as a single immutable unit: “The Wasteland.”

Over the years I’ve grown increasingly curious about this phenomenon, which made its debut as early as December 1922 (the year of the poem’s publication) in a notice in The Bookman, a Georgian magazine that published Walter Pater and Edward Thomas in its heyday. Since then, “The Wasteland” (in lieu of “The Waste Land”) has appeared in everything from the New York Times, The New Yorker, Salon, and the BBC Online to the library catalog of Eliot’s alma mater, Harvard University.

The penchant for this elision may simply be an inheritance of error: a typographical lapse or editorial blind spot that the Internet has only served to exacerbate. But I’d like to consider some cultural parallels to this occurrence, as well as social forces that might contribute to a phenomenon of this kind: perhaps the way in which difficulty or experimentalism is assimilated, or the way in which a symbol-making (and unmaking) entity—a poem—is itself made into a hard-and-fast symbol during the course of its collective reception.

While I don’t think a poet’s intentions require our protection, I do believe that for Eliot the separateness of “waste” and “land” was of supreme significance. And, given that the title of the poem “gave a heading to the time” (according to the New York Times) and, perhaps misguidedly, to our historical understanding of that era and its so-called “Wastelanders” (New York Review of Books, 1988), I believe that that significance warrants at least a momentary attention.

A Momentary Attention

Other than “In my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning,” it’s possible that the greatest epitaphic language I have encountered is that of Sir Thomas Browne who, in the midst of a meditation on urn-burial, suddenly situates himself on the brink of death and declares himself: “Ready to be anything…. ” It’s a line that would make a breathtakingly bold and accurate sign-off for any of us whose molecules will become a little bit of everything. Or, at the very least, what Eliot would call “significant soil.”

The first time I read “The Waste Land,” I experienced the same elation that I felt on reading Browne’s epitaph—a conviction that the catalyzing proximity (and yet resilient apartness) of those two words was central to the recombinant possibilities of the poem.

In other words, it was because the “waste” was a temporal, impermanent modifier—and not an enduring quality of the land—that the land was redeemable and open to (what Eliot called in a different landscape, that of “Burnt Norton”) “perpetual possibility.” In this phrase, he was likely echoing St. Augustine’s concern about the ossification of certain written words into an orthodoxy: “I should write so that my words echo rather than to set down one true opinion that should exclude all other possibilities.”

In “The Waste Land,” Eliot is fastidious in keeping most of his adjectives and nouns apart, thereby perpetuating their other possibilities: “Unreal City,” “Hyacinth garden,” “red rock,” “brown fog,” “empty rooms,” and so on. This separation frequently allows for a different combination to occur later in the poem. For instance, “Unreal City” is resurrected as “O City city,” and “Hyacinth garden” sheds its specificity and becomes the plural and possessive: “your gardens.” And, perhaps most importantly, the “dead land” recurs as “brown land” and makes its culminating cameo in the plural and possessive incarnation: “my lands” (“Shall I at least set my lands in order?”).

Most of Eliot’s poem titles are characterized by this same simple and purposeful pattern, an adjective placed next to a noun: “Burnt Norton,” “Four Quartets,” “The Hollow Men.” But while I have never seen the latter rendered as “The Hollowmen,” “The Waste Land” is frequently inscribed in the aforementioned cultural shorthand. What is it about the poem (and its title) that inspires such a frequent and un-authored fusion, forcing the title to “rest in peace” instead of permitting it to exist on the verge of becoming anything?

Ready to Be Anything

"It wiped out our world as if an atom bomb had been dropped upon it and our brave sallies into the unknown were turned to dust."
—William Carlos Williams on “The Waste Land”

I remember that shortly after September 11, 2001, many who endured that day up-close (including myself) were offended when media outlets began to call the complex events of that morning “9/11,” and I swore that I would never consent to so collapsed a term. And yet, now, it is the only one I use. I’m interested in that consent and that condensary, the welding of the term into a seemingly immutable unity.

What happens to a specific day, or to a work of art for that matter, when it is coded and condensed in this manner? Does it still retain the possibility of becoming anything, or is it destined to become the one thing? Do we (as a culture and as individual receivers and transmitters) deaden and flatten the dimensionality of our terms too soon?

When I encounter “The Wasteland” in its elided form, I see something shorn of its idiosyncrasies, facets, flaws, and contradictions and rendered knowable, containable, its dangerous elements stabilized. It reminds me of Miguel de Unamuno’s observation that “the mind seeks what is dead”—what is stable, unified, knowable—“…what is living escapes it.”

While it’s hard to imagine now, “The Waste Land” was dangerous and destabilizing at the time of its publication, at least to those who elected to see it that way. The earliest instances of the elision I’ve been discussing tend to occur on both sides of the pond in articles that are demonstratively against or antagonized by the poem—and also, in some cases, in publications that are simply poking fun at the poem’s unnerving effects. Though I wouldn’t suggest that the elision was directly related to resistance, I would say that a person is far more likely to misquote a piece that (s)he hasn’t fully fathomed or that (s)he has opposed emblematically instead of experientially.

As an example, shortly after The Dial selected Eliot’s poem for its annual prize, John Farrar (and/or his editors) repeated the 1922 typo in The Bookman in the following review:

It is only proper to mention “The Wasteland” by T. S. Eliot in The Dial. Mr. Eliot has received this year’s prize award from that magazine and is rapidly gaining what might almost be called a “cult” of adorers among the intellectuals. I hesitate to recommend any poem which I am incapable of understanding. In this class falls “The Wasteland.” (February 1923)

In those early years, the elision also appeared frequently in Life magazine (not to be confused with the later photojournalistic magazine), which was a popular Onion-like humor journal of the era. In its March 12, 1925, issue, Life awarded The Dial the “Brass Medal of Second Class” for honoring “The Wasteland”: “[in so doing] The Dial has succeeded in speeding up to mass production the synthetic prose decomposition that passes with the feeble-minded for poetry.”

In an effort to avoid fallacies, I should say that there are several articles by Eliot’s antagonists which correctly cite the poem and even emphasize the distinction between “waste” and the noun it modifies, such as Humbert Wolfe’s “Waste Land and Waste Paper” (Weekly Westminster, November 17, 1923) and H.P. Lovecraft’s sidesplitting anti-Eliot spoof, “Waste Paper.” But the first few incidents of the elision seem to fall on the side of those who perceived in the poem a threat.

Curiously, the poem was anathema not only to many who were striving to retain (or continue to evolve) a more Georgian poetics but also to those who had been looking forward to a distinctly different set of experimental possibilities. As William Carlos Williams famously observed in his 1948 autobiography:

I felt at once that it [“The Waste Land”] had set me back twenty years … at the moment when I felt that we were on the point of an escape to matters much closer to the essence of a new art form itself—rooted in the locality which should give it fruit. I knew at once that in certain ways I was most defeated.… Eliot had turned his back on the possibility of reviving my world.

In other words, the poem (which many articles interpreted as reflecting “contemporary despair” over a lost world or, as Harriet Monroe writes of the poem in March 1923, “the malaise of our time … the world crumbling to pieces before our eyes”) was for Williams itself the source of that destruction, “wiping out our world.” For him, the publication and reception of “The Waste Land” were a catastrophe for American letters, creating an epicenter of attention around which all of the energy that ought to have been focused on evolving a distinctly American mode was expended on parading European erudition. Though Eliot’s poem did not emerge sui generis (the underlying aesthetics were evident in poetry that predated World War I), Williams found in it a useful and inciting symbol for his concerns. In many ways, I too am consenting to the same penchant: that of making “The Waste Land” into a symbol for my own preoccupations.

“This Land Is Your Land”

Walt Whitman, who passed away during Eliot’s first decade on earth, persisted throughout his lifetime in referring to his nation in the form of a tentative plural: “The United States are destined either to surmount the gorgeous history of feudalism, or else prove the most tremendous failure of time,” he writes in his 1871 Democratic Vistas.

It turns out that Whitman was not alone. According to historian Shelby Foote, the singular (“The United States is …”) was not generally used until after the Civil War, and it took until 1902 for the House of Representative’s Committee on Revision of the Laws to officially rule that “the United States should be treated as singular, not plural.” It seems the federal government and the media were slow to impose a singularity on something that had not yet achieved that status.

But with the 20th century came a new rapidity in the construction and articulation of the present and recent past. And, I might add, aeronautical as well as photographic advances permitted the surveying and summarizing of vast tracts of land in a single shot—and not sequentially over time—offering a swift unity of viewpoint. In his superb book The Culture of Time and Space, 1880–1918, Stephen Kern documents how the sinking of the Titanic in 1912—ten years prior to the publication of “The Waste Land”—was the first collective, global catastrophe, one that almost the entire (technologically linked) world was able to experience, and in many cases respond to, at the same time. In the decades that followed, the time between an event (or an artistic creation) and the reaction to it (or assessment of it) was shortened: “The telephone … [allowed people] to respond at once without the time to reflect afforded by written communication.” In addition, “business and personal exchanges suddenly became instantaneous instead of protracted and sequential” and the new broadcast technologies enabled journalism to focus the “attention of the inhabitants of an entire city on a single experience.”

I sometimes think that T. S. Eliot’s infamous displeasure over his “Waste Land” fame was less about being identified with a particular aesthetics of fragmentation or neo-barbarism than about a frustration with the way that critics, readers, and the general public used the poem to swiftly generalize for a generation and conflate the text’s complexities and “innumerable sources” (as Mark Twain writes of the Mississippi) into a single, convening truth. It strikes me as a great irony that a poem composed of a series of recombinant symbols and phonemes should itself have become a hard-and-fast symbol—as if to say, “‘The Waste Land’ was written; therefore, we must be in ‘the wasteland.’” Case closed.

In later conversations and writings, Eliot often attempted to downplay the dominion of the poem over the literary and cultural landscape by inserting an indefinite article into his discussions (“a poem called ‘The Waste Land’”)—as if to say it was just “a poem,” just “a way of putting it—not very satisfactory.” I don’t think this was false humility; I believe it was a genuine attempt to assert the poem’s temporariness—to return it (and him) to its (and his, and perhaps even our) possibilities. As critic Eloise Knapp Hay writes, the poem

expressed Eliot’s own “way” at the time, it was not intended to lay down a way for others to follow. “I dislike the word generation [he said in “Thoughts after Lambeth” in 1931], which has been a talisman for the last ten years; when I wrote a poem called “The Waste Land” some of the more approving critics said that I had expressed the “disillusionment of a generation,” which is nonsense. I may have expressed for them their own illusion of being disillusioned, but that did not form part of my intention. (T. S. Eliot’s Negative Way, 1982)

“Generation” itself was a collective moniker that disheartened Eliot: a way of grouping the past, of consolidating recent history into a convenient narrative unit. That the very poem that had experimented with perceiving “the past in a new pattern,” a “new way” of writing which Eliot called “not destructive, but re-creative” should be frozen into a single pattern, into a single despairing way of seeing it, a “talisman” of its times, was (and remains) a profound irony. It was an experiment that ossified into an orthodoxy: poetry’s own personal leopards-in-the-temple.

“The Future Is a Faded Song”

I think poems are living things that grow from the earth into the brain, rather than things that are planted within the earth by the brain.… [P]oems can, in a small way, remind the world of what’s still possible.
—Dorothea Lasky

Almost 20 years after the publication of “The Waste Land,” as Eliot was penning the distinct poems that were later unified into “Four Quartets,” poet and musician Woody Guthrie was composing a piece of music in opposition to Irving Berlin’s ubiquitous and bravado, “God Bless America.”

The song he wrote, “This Land Is Your Land,” was edgy and communist-inclined; and in its original refrain, “God blessed America for me,” it came off sounding a lot more like Bob Dylan’s spitfire protest tune “With God on Our Side” than its current, calming Dan Zanes incarnation. The song included references to deserts and fog and cities of hungry people—sound familiar?—and its culminating verse expressed doubt that this land was “made for you and me,” since it seemed everywhere to prevent its people from receiving “relief.”

Though recording history has tended to unify the tune into a single rousing and patriotic rendering, Guthrie frequently varied its units, at times infusing it with fierce political activism and in other contexts removing the provocative verses altogether. Which version is the actual “This Land Is Your Land”? I’d say, it is all of them. Or, as Jorge Luis Borges has written: “No one is the homeland—it is all of us.”

We have lived (for better or worse) with the properties of Eliot’s poem for almost 100 years. Its unsettling presence has tested our capacity to perpetuate the unknown and not to foreclose—out of resistance, fear, or uncertainty—our multitudinous experiences of it (and of the earth it observes) into a single order of understanding.

In my reading of the end of “The Waste Land,” the poem perpetuates the possibilities of three different interpretations and recombinations of the Brahmanic “Da”—permitting these particulates to coexist with and catalyze one another instead of settling into a single immutable unit.

“This is the land”—not the fenceable, knowable, ownable, but the as yet unknown—waste and vast at the moment of creation. And, as René Char has asked: What would we do without the Unknown in front of us?

Originally Published: April 9, 2013

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
12-16-2015, 03:27 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/251704


ESSAY
Iffy
Behind the mask of Rudyard Kipling’s confidence.

BY AUSTIN ALLEN
Iffy
Rudyard Kipling
It’s easy to imagine “If—” as a great modernist title. Terse, mysterious, hesitant, it could have introduced a Williams fragment full of precarious gaps and leaps, or an Auden riff on the As You Like It line about evasive speech: “Much virtue in If.” Instead the title belongs to Rudyard Kipling, to the year 1910, and to a didactic poem that remains a classic of righteous certitude.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
Meanwhile, Kipling himself remains an icon of obnoxious wrongness. George Orwell’s 1942 disclaimer has been widely quoted: “It is no use pretending that Kipling’s view of life, as a whole, can be accepted or even forgiven by any civilized person.” Imperialist racist, aggressive militarist: Kipling was this and more, and very publicly. Even in his least controversial work, the outlook Orwell called “morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting” bleeds in at the margins. Read “If—” beside Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden,” and the line “Yours is the Earth and everything in it” starts to smell like colonialist arrogance—or “jingoistic nonsense,” as one British paper put it in 1995, after Britain had voted “If—” its all-time favorite poem.

And therein lies the reason for issuing disclaimers at all: Kipling has lasted. For decades, Orwell wrote, “every enlightened person has despised him, and at the end of that time nine-tenths of those enlightened persons are forgotten and Kipling is in some sense still there.” In his 1939 elegy for W.B. Yeats, Auden judged that time had “Pardoned Kipling” by separating his writing talent from his bigotry. Auden dropped that stanza from later versions of the poem, but global culture has never dropped Kipling.

Disney’s Jungle Book remake comes out next year, and “If—” still tops those polls in Britain. The poem adorns coffee mugs and dorm posters; it’s been quoted on The Simpsons and in Joni Mitchell lyrics; it ranks among the most-searched-for titles in the Poetry Foundation’s online archive. Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who says he first heard it recited on an NFL broadcast, defiantly quoted it during his downfall on corruption charges. Onward it swaggers like its own idealized “Man,” indifferent to love and loathing, refusing to quit. It’s the poetic advice column forwarded around the world, the kind of timeless wisdom everyone thinks someone else should follow.

Kipling himself dryly remarked, in his late memoirs, that the poem offers “counsels of perfection most easy to give.” One of its pearls adorns the players’ entrance to the Centre Court at Wimbledon: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two impostors just the same.” No Wimbledon competitor has ever done this.

Still, the poem clearly speaks to an ideal or an aspiration. When thousands of readers search the Web for “If—,” what are they hoping to find? Why do its lessons lodge so easily in the memory, even if we’re not trying to learn them? To reckon with—maybe even outgrow—this old-school lecture on maturity, it’s not enough to heap our enlightened scorn on the poet. We have to examine his character and our own.




“If—” was published in the last year of the Edwardian era, the year in which Virginia Woolf believed “human character changed” and modernity began. But Kipling had conceived it 15 years earlier, in 1895, and as a cultural document, it’s purely Victorian.

Kipling had one of the great unhappy Victorian childhoods: beatings, public humiliations, absentee parents, wretched eyesight. Born in India to British parents in 1865—December 30th will mark his 150th birthday—he was packed off to England for schooling at the age of six. Under the “care” of an abusive guardian, a military widow, his acute homesickness turned to lasting misery. Edmund Wilson recounts the grim story in The Wound and the Bow (1941), plausibly arguing that childhood trauma was the “wound” Kipling carried into his adult work. For one thing, it seems to have informed the “definite strain of sadism” Orwell detected in his writing. It also surely informed his deep interest in childhood itself and in strict codes of moral correctness.

By the time Kipling began writing “If—,” his powerless days were behind him. He’d rocketed to fame in 1890 with Barrack-Room Ballads—the collection that contained “Tommy,” “Danny Deever,” and other future anthology fodder—and had secured his place in the history of children’s literature with The Jungle Book in 1894. At the time, he and his young family were living in Brattleboro, Vermont, where he drew rapt attention as “the Genius of the place” (in his friend Mary Cabot’s words) until his reluctant return to England in 1896. International celebrity had amplified his strident politics, and “If—” first developed as a topical comment on a now-obscure controversy.

In December 1895, a dashing colonial administrator named Leander Starr Jameson led a raid against the Boers in the Transvaal of South Africa. He was trounced by his opponents and jailed by the British government that had originally backed him, but the British public—riding a gathering wave of what became known as jingoism—glorified him. The incident helped ignite the Second Boer War, which Kipling witnessed firsthand while visiting troop hospitals and producing a troop newspaper. For Kipling, Jameson was a martyr to official hypocrisy, a model of stoic pride, and, perhaps, a projection of his self-image as an adventurer among petty critics.

The poem soon gained a second inspiration: the birth of Kipling’s son, John, in 1897. When it finally appeared in print (in the children’s book Rewards and Fairies) in 1910, John was just reaching adolescence—the age of its ideal reader. In the interim, Kipling had met with two of his greatest triumphs and disasters: winning the Nobel Prize in 1907 at age 42 (he remains the youngest laureate in literature) and losing his daughter Josephine to pneumonia in 1899. During this period his politics had only grown noisier and harsher, and by 1910, according to Wilson, they had touched off “the eclipse of [his] reputation” that progressed until his death.

But “If—” was an instant hit. Orwell reports that, along with some of Kipling’s other “sententious poems,” it was “given almost biblical status.” Like William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus,” it dangles the promise of mastery over self and world. Like First Corinthians, it sketches a blueprint for maturity without filling in too many specifics. And like all fatherly advice, it’s tempting to read as an older man’s counsel to his younger self, the sweet or bitter harvest of lessons learned. “If you can dream—and not make dreams your master,” you’re well on your way to a successful career in the arts. “If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,” you’re not so much stoic as intensely self-protective. A remarkable number of lines are about handling abuse.



T.S. Eliot was fascinated by Kipling and once wrote a cautiously approving introduction to his verse. (In one spine-tingling moment, he praises Kipling’s skillful use of the word whimper.) Where Orwell ultimately judged Kipling a “good bad poet,” Eliot saw him as a writer who “was not trying to write poetry at all,” but sometimes tossed off a great poem anyway.

“If—” certainly isn’t trying to do anything “poetic” by modern standards: present rich ambiguities, capture shifting moods or the texture of consciousness. It’s just preaching. Now and then, critics have scoured the poem for deeper intent; in one ingenious reading, Harry Ricketts argues that it “destabilisingly” echoes John Donne’s “The Undertaking” (which advises a male “you” in a series of “if” clauses) and Thomas Gray’s “Ode to Adversity” (“Teach me to love and to forgive … and know myself a man”). Yet “If—” lacks the density and argumentative subtlety of those poems. Beside the stormy imagery of Yeats’s “A Prayer for My Daughter” (1919) and the disillusioned candor of Langston Hughes’s “Mother to Son” (1922)—two well-known “advice” poems with which “If—” nearly shares an era—it reads like a pre-game pep talk. (You don’t see many modernist lines inscribed in sports arenas.) Its tone recalls Polonius’s “To thine own self be true” speech, minus the surrounding symphony of Shakespearean irony.

The poem’s sheer daddishness—its blend of creakiness and timelessness—has left it wide open to parody. Long before Grampa recited it at the roulette tables on The Simpsons, Elizabeth Lincoln Otis affectionately tweaked it in “An ‘If’ for Girls” (1931), which registers both the nearness and distance of Kipling’s cultural universe:

If you can dress to make yourself attractive,
Yet not make puffs and curls your chief delight;
If you can swim and row, be strong and active,
But of the gentler graces lose not sight;
If you can dance without a craze for dancing,
Play without giving play too strong a hold,
Enjoy the love of friends without romancing,
Care for the weak, the friendless and the old;

Otis’s ideal girl at times seems destined to become a Victorian helpmeet: a “loyal wife and mother” who can “make good bread as well as fudges.” Yet she’s also expected to “swim and row,” “master French and Greek and Latin,” and know how to “ply a saw and use a hammer”—in other words, to be as well educated and well rounded as the boys. Though ostensibly deferential (“With apologies to Mr. Rudyard Kipling”), Otis ends up giving Kipling’s “Yours is the Earth” line a proto-feminist twist:

You’ll be, my girl, the model for the sages—
A woman whom the world will bow before.

Kipling deals mostly in moral generalities; Otis promotes concrete skills and actions. Kipling wants readers to “fill the unforgiving minute / With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run”—a metaphorical statement about effort. Otis literally tells readers to get some exercise. Kipling’s is finally a spiritual and not a practical guide; in that one sense, it’s a little ambiguous, a little elusive, a little “poetic.”



After promising an entire world’s worth of freedom, “If—” concludes by promising something “more”: two limiting labels.

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

To be a “Man” in prewar England was to maneuver inside an armored suit of gender conventions. To be Rudyard Kipling’s son was to be trapped in a generational tragedy.

John was named after Rudyard’s own father, John Lockwood Kipling, who had fueled Rudyard’s youthful misery by sending him away but also collaborated in his son’s adult success. (An artist and art-school principal, he illustrated several of Rudyard’s volumes, including The Jungle Book.) Rudyard’s parental legacy was similarly mixed. On the one hand, he spun some of the most inventive bedtime stories ever recorded; on the other hand, he wrote high-level support-our-troops sermons such as “Tommy”; favored compulsory military service for men; and generally trumpeted martial virtues at every opportunity. He internalized a code that even some of his contemporaries found stodgy, and he passed it on. He’d never fought in the trenches himself, but “when the drums [began] to roll” for the Great War, he helped John march—pulling strings to maneuver his eager but severely myopic son past the army’s eyesight requirements. John went missing in the Battle of Loos in 1915 and was confirmed dead two years later.

As a celebrity author, Kipling remained an official booster of the war; as a grieving father, he sank into a deep bitterness. “Kipling spent the later part of his life in sulking,” wrote Orwell, whose essay never mentions John’s death. “Somehow history had not gone according to plan.” The world he’d seemed to master as a literary prodigy crumbled around him; the decade that began with “If—” ended with Eliot’s “Gerontion.” Belatedly, he confronted “the wastage of Loos” in the 1925 story “The Gardener,” whose heroine loses an adopted son to the war and resents “being manufactured into a bereaved next of kin.”

And so, in its dark-glass way, “If—” reflects modern uncertainty after all. It’s a masterpiece of timing, of structure, of rhetoric (the genre that Yeats pointedly contrasted with poetry). But the more you read it, the more you hear a countersong beneath the assurance. In that long series of perfectly balanced clauses, you hear a mounting fear that the child won’t succeed. The sentence keeps building; the number of required conditions keeps growing. Maturity starts to seem like a very big “if.”

For both author and readers, the anxiety is justified. What we want to find in the poem—as in so many Victorian/Edwardian relics—is precisely an authoritative, prelapsarian sense of certainty. Once upon a time, the unconscious thinking goes, there were no world wars. God, parents, and country could be trusted. Poetry didn’t need instability and iconoclasm. Men were Men. But those simpler values were always tainted where they existed at all. The rigid composure of “If—” foreshadows the madness that split poetry into fragments. The world Kipling promises was fallen already.

Originally Published: December 15, 2015

George Orwell’s criticisms are steeped in insane liberal ideology. Countless millions living in savagery and 5th century backwardness were brought centuries forward by British expansionism and its spreading influence around the world!
No other nation or Empire has ever behaved in the way the stupid liberals cry about and condemn Britain and its Empire for not doing!
Tis' another reason why I hate Orwell. He is a self-righteous idiot attempting to destroy the works of a writer/ poet that is/was far, far greater than he(Orwell) ever was or ever will be with truly intelligent people. -Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
12-17-2015, 09:42 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/246790

ESSAY
A Little Society
From the Brontës to Dorothy and William Wordsworth, literary siblings challenge assumptions of lonely genius.

BY CASEY N. CEP

For years, a tiny pub on the road between the English villages of Haworth and Keighley has been home to a peculiar rumor. The Cross Roads Inn was one of Branwell Brontë’s favorite haunts. It was at the Cross Roads that two of Branwell’s friends claim he read from a manuscript that featured the characters who would later appear in the novel Wuthering Heights.

Despite Charlotte Brontë’s insistence that her sister Emily wrote Wuthering Heights, the rumor that their brother Branwell penned the novel has persisted. In their various biographies, Juliet Barker, Daphne du Maurier, Lucasta Miller, and Fannie Elizabeth Ratchford all considered the possibility that Branwell was the true author of Wuthering Heights. Barker claimed to have identified a story of Branwell’s that influenced the relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff; du Maurier pointed to poems written by Emily and Branwell as evidence of an early collaboration between the two that could have blossomed into Wuthering Heights.

The persistence of the rumor reflects the curious, cloistered upbringing of the Brontës, but also the more universal experience of siblings. Collaboration and competition between brothers and sisters exists no matter their vocations, but literary siblings challenge our assumptions of lonely genius, isolated writers alone at their desks. Patrick Brontë, father to the four artists, who raised them himself after their mother died, wrote: “As they had few opportunities of being in learned and polished society, in their retired country situation, they formed a little society amongst themselves—with which they seem’d content and happy.”

“A little society” is the perfect description of siblings. Brothers and sisters have long encouraged one another’s literary careers: letters and drafts change hands; carefully chosen words of praise and criticism pass between lips; scraps of paper, coveted notebooks, and particular pens move between writing desks.

The Brontës—Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne—were all prolific writers as children. When Charlotte was ten and Branwell was nine, they began to write plays set in the fictional world of Glass Town. When Emily and Anne were old enough to contribute, Glass Town grew into the separate kingdoms of Gondal and Angria. Together, the four children filled miniature books and tiny magazines with poetry and stories.

Their juvenilia reveal young artists finding their voices, but also their audience. Writing first for one another, they learned how to write for others. When the sisters finally published a book in 1846, it was a collection of poems. Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell sold poorly, and the sisters redirected their efforts to fiction. Emily and Anne continued writing poetry privately, but Charlotte would write poems again only to mark the deaths of her siblings.

“On the Death of Anne Brontë” is one of Charlotte’s most sorrowful poems. “There’s little joy in life for me,” it begins. From the first stanza (“I’ve lived the parting hour to see / Of one I would have died to save”) to the last (“And now, benighted, tempest-tossed, / Must bear alone the weary strife”), she laments her sister’s death and her fresh solitude. She outlived all of her siblings: Branwell and Emily died in 1848; Anne followed them to the grave less than a year later. Charlotte would be their literary executor after their deaths just as she had been their literary champion in life.

That same closeness characterized the relationship between Dorothy and William Wordsworth. Although they lived apart during much of their childhood, the siblings were reunited as adults and eventually cohabited for many years in the Lake District. In an essay on Dorothy, Virginia Woolf wrote: “It was a strange love, profound, almost dumb, as if brother and sister had grown together and shared not the speech but the mood, so that they hardly knew which felt, which spoke, which saw the daffodils or the sleeping city; only Dorothy stored the mood in prose, and later William came and bathed in it and made it into poetry.”

Dorothy would copy verses for her brother and assist him with correspondence, but she was also a talented writer. While she wrote little for publication, her journals, travelogues, and poetry are all now in print. It is clear that her writing influenced her brother’s or, as Woolf noted, that “one could not act without the other.”

It was Dorothy who made notes in her journal about a fateful walk the siblings took on April 15, 1802, when they “saw a few daffodils close to the water side … a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road.” Dorothy recorded that she “never saw daffodils so beautiful [—] they grew among the mossy stones and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced.”

Only a few years later, William would return to that entry and craft from it one of the most iconic poems in the English language. Written in iambic tetrameter, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” captures “a crowd, / A host, of golden daffodils.” While the poem celebrates “the bliss of solitude,” the poet himself rambled through the Lake District with his sister. In one of her own poems, “Floating Island,” Dorothy wrote that “the lost fragments shall remain, / To fertilize some other ground.” She might very well have been thinking of the way her own writing nurtured her brothers.

The collaboration between siblings is not always so indirect. Charles and Mary Lamb co-authored several collections of poetry and prose for children. Long before he had established his reputation as an essayist and a critic, Charles collaborated with Mary on Tales from Shakespeare (1807), Mrs. Leicester’s School (1809), and Poetry for Children (1809).

Mary, who suffered from mental illness, wrote poetry and stories almost constantly when fueled by her mania; Charles, not without his own struggles, suffered from depression and alcoholism, both of which led to severe writer’s block. Brother and sister were linked not only in illness but in tragedy. Mary came to live with Charles after murdering their mother in a psychotic episode. Although Mary was 31 and Charles was only 21, he became her legal guardian and refused to have her committed. They lived together for 40 years, until Charles died.

Well known in literary circles, Charles and Mary were forever linked to one another. It was Thomas Carlyle who called the siblings “a very sorry pair of phenomena,” but everyone from Keats to Coleridge to Wordsworth enjoyed their company. While they hosted many of London’s literati, their deepest friendship, their strongest relationship, was with one another. It was brother and sister who saw one another through madness and depression, frustration and addiction. “You would laugh, or you would cry, perhaps both,” Mary wrote in 1805, “to see us sit together looking at each other with long and rueful faces, & saying how do you do? & how do you do? & then we fall a crying & say we will be better on the morrow.”

Unlike the Lambs and the Wordsworths, pairs of siblings in which the brother’s reputation far exceeded the sister’s, one Victorian family produced a daughter whose fame has outlasted that of her brother. Christina Rossetti is considered one of the greatest Victorian poets, while her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti is remembered more for his status as sibling than painter or poet.

Born to an accomplished poet and Dante scholar, Christina and her brother were the “two storms” in a family of four children whose other dyad was known as the “two calms.” All four of the Rossetti children had accomplished careers as writers and critics, encouraged by a childhood filled with arts and letters. As teenagers, they played rounds of bouts-rimés, racing against one another to write sonnets with specified forms and rhymes; Christina was the youngest, but is said to have excelled most at the game.

While Dante Gabriel founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to surround himself with other artists, Christina found support from the Portfolio Society, a group of female poets. Despite their esteemed position in literary society, they remained each other’s best critics. Exchanging letters almost daily for years, they critiqued one another’s work, suggested new topics and themes, and helped to organize poems into volumes for publication.

Private disagreements, including Dante Gabriel’s suggestion that certain topics are unsuitable for female writers and Christina’s increasing unwillingness to accept her brother’s revisions, did not keep them from championing one another’s work in public. And while Christina’s most remarkable poem, Goblin Market, testifies to the love between sisters (“For there is no friend like a sister / In calm or stormy weather”), it was her brother Dante Gabriel whose illustrations accompanied its publication. And like Branwell Brontë, who painted a famous portrait of his sisters, Dante Gabriel produced iconic images of Christina.

Tellingly, Branwell’s painting of his sisters, the only surviving group portrait, originally included his likeness: the blurred pillar between Emily and Charlotte was once Branwell. As the oil paint fades, the canvas is slowly revealing Branwell’s figure. Brothers and sisters are not always at peace, and posterity plays favorites. Branwell is as spectral a figure in the portrait as he is in the pages of literary history. The competition for prizes, publication, and readers in life often continues posthumously, and not all siblings are peaceable partners in literary creation.

Where there is ink, there is envy. Literary siblings are certainly not exempt from the rivalries that animate other families. One sibling’s success fuels another sibling’s writing with jealousy and ambition or thwarts the other sibling’s efforts entirely; the connections of one sibling to the literary establishment facilitate another sibling’s career or, less ceremoniously, earn the lesser sibling a footnote in literary history as simply that, a biological relation.

Literary siblings are not only a thing of the past. Contemporary poetry is home to at least two of these little societies: Matthew and Michael Dickman are twin brothers who edit one another’s poetry and share a publisher; Fanny and Susan Howe are sisters whose poetic careers span decades. While many artists long to be orphans, free of family and obligation, some poets find strength in their siblings. The complicated dynamics of these little societies are fascinating and fraught. Collaborating on juvenilia, editing one another’s drafts, supporting one another through depression and doubt, championing each other’s work: these little societies sustain one another in ways only siblings could.
Originally Published: October 22, 2013
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If students find the story pulling away from the truth, that’s OK. You might remind them that they’re serving the poem, not the story, which is simply the impetus, the fuel for the piece of art they find themselves making. You might remind them here of the old adage: “Trust the poem, not the poet.”

The poem, the message(!) must be the truth from your heart. Otherwise its fiction and not poetry IMHO.
WHEN ONE CAN TRUST THE POET, THAT POET AND HIS/HER POETRY RISES TO THE TOP AND BECOMES GREAT.
As in great, even if not recognized as GREAT by the literary powers that be.
And quite often, as history has shown, future generations see , marvel at and thus pronounce its greatness!
Emily Dickinson's legendary greatness - CAME DECADES AFTER HER DEATH AND FROM A DIFFERENT GENERATION THAN THE ONE SHE ACTUALLY WROTE TO.

Example, in my writings, I have had several teachers ask may they copy, and use one of my poems in class to illustrate certain forms, poetic devises and/or styles of writing. Strange that none of them have been American teachers, all were foreign teachers, several were at universities.
I've never turned down such a teaching request and always sent additional information as to the meaning, inspiration and my concluding thoughts on the finished poem.
THE POEM CITED BELOW HAS BEEN REQUESTED TO BE COPIED AND USED BY 4 TEACHERS AND 3 OTHER PEOPLE JUST ASKING FOR PERSONAL REASONS. One asked permission to copy it , to frame and hang in her living room.
IT ALSO PLACED FIRST IN TWO DIFFERENT POETRY CONTESTS.--Tyr


River Laps Softly

The ripples of water lap river's edge
quietly I sit, a man seeking love
The orange twilight stirs my lonely soul
nearby, lonely call of a single dove

Sweetest place roaring river moans and churns
fish splashing about in a soft replay
Continuance as the world slowly turns
colors splash endings to wonderful day

The smell is that of fish , water and mud
cool air spreading its greatest soft relief
Comfort gives to stop anger in my blood
as Nature gifts a most calming belief

Soon its quiet , knowledge enters my soul
Victory came because I made it so

Robert J. Lindley, 08-08-2014

Poem Syllable Counter Results
Syllables Per Line: 10 10 10 10 0 10 10 10 10 0 10 10 10 10 0 10 10
Total # Syllables: 140
Total # Lines: 17 (Including empty lines)
Total # Words: 101

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
12-20-2015, 10:17 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/article/251518

ARTICLES FOR TEACHERS & STUDENTS

The Sonnet as a Silver Marrow Spoon
Finding pleasure and insight where it lies hidden, using in a fixed poetic form

BY ADAM O'RIORDAN

The Sonnet as a Silver Marrow Spoon
A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones ...
—William Butler Yeats, “Adam’s Curse”

There is a restaurant in London that advertises “nose-to-tail eating,” and it prides itself that no part of an animal is left unused. I had a friend who when eating there would invariably order the bone marrow on toast. The dish came with a small implement, no bigger than a little finger, which the diner used to extract the marrow, a silver marrow spoon, perfectly engineered to slide inside the baked bone and remove its contents.

Perhaps it was the marrow and its Yeatsian echo that pushed my mind into a literary mode, but this elegant, antiquated tool always struck me as a metaphor for the sonnet: probing, incisive, finding pleasure and insight where it lies hidden, a form that allows poets to make use of what might ordinarily be overlooked or discarded.

As an eighteen-year-old undergraduate, I struggled for a long time to write a sonnet. It seemed like the correct form, the form I should be writing in. But I would become snagged in the intricacies of the meter and struggle for rhymes only to find that they felt forced.

I was at the same time aware of poems on both sides of the Atlantic influenced by the New Formalist school of poets: each iamb weighed, each volta perfectly placed, the rhymes fulsome and plangent but the sum of the whole, on second or third reading, saying very little whatsoever.

So I would strip the sonnet down to its simplest form: an idea or a story that, somewhere around the eighth or ninth line, is nudged or diverted slightly in its path so that it turns and says something else.

The thing I would like to put to a class of seniors is the sonnet in its loosest, least restrictive form. (In fact, some of my favorite sonnets are not sonnets at all. Richard Wilbur’s masterly sequence “This Pleasing Anxious Being” in Mayflies seems to me to do everything a sonnet should but over a more leisurely eighteen to twenty lines per section.)

Seamus Heaney’s sonnets in the sequence “Clearances,” from his collection The Haw Lantern, show how something as simple as a memory of peeling potatoes can be substance enough for a poem:

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives—
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

Begin by directing students to the narratives, the secrets, the unshared, the family myths or legends. Have them think back to half-remembered episodes, stories or confidences older brothers or sisters or cousins or uncles might have shared with them, casually, unthinkingly, in passing, as such stories are often shared.

Ask them to tell a story as they remember it for the first eight or nine lines and then allow themselves to comment on it from their present vantage point. What do they know now that they did not know then? What light does the present cast back onto that particular story?

The sonnet’s volta is its turn, the point at which it shifts. We see this vividly in Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18” with its declaration in the ninth line: “But thy eternal summer shall not fade”—the addressee of the poem has so far been compared to a summer day, but at that line things change. I’ve added a space here to indicate the shift:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying

But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

The turn in a sonnet allows the poet to interrogate and cast new light on the previous eight lines. In the case of the above exercise, in which the students are relating some sort of narrative, the turn allows reassessment; it’s a chance to comment upon what came before or to include a twist.

Remind students that people carry these narratives around for a long time, and so when we gaze at them through the vehicle of the sonnet, there are things about them we will discover that we did not know we knew: twists, turns, reinterpretations of that intimate cache of stories and tales that accrue over the course of childhood. These seniors on the edge of adulthood might now want to reassess, or comment upon, these stories from childhood.

If students find the story pulling away from the truth, that’s OK. You might remind them that they’re serving the poem, not the story, which is simply the impetus, the fuel for the piece of art they find themselves making. You might remind them here of the old adage: “Trust the poem, not the poet.”

And that’s it, really. Show young writers the sonnet in its simplest, most stripped-back form. Direct them to the stories from their past. Let the sonnet, memory’s own silver marrow spoon, with its turn, its volta, generate within them comments on the stories they are telling. The writing of the sonnet—as with any poem—should be a form of discovery, a digging down into the self, like that dish in the London restaurant that most of us might balk at if it were placed before us: intimate and strange upon the tongue.

This essay was originally published in Open the Door: How to Excite Young People about Poetry (2013), a co-publication of the Poetry Foundation and McSweeney's Publishing, edited by Dorothea Lasky, Dominic Luxford, and Jesse Nathan.
Originally Published: December 14, 2015

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
12-24-2015, 08:02 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/246088

PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
Earthward
Why Russian must be sung.

BY AMY FRYKHOLM
Rusanna and I sit at my linoleum-topped kitchen table with the oven door propped open for heat. On the table in front of us are half-drunk cups of sugared tea and copies of Marina Tsvetaeva’s poem Uzh Skol’ko Ikh (Already how many). Rusanna is coaching me to read it in Russian. She is a painstaking teacher of pronunciation, 
correcting all of my soft and hard ts, my improperly rounded vowels, my strewn accents. But she is also moody and distractible. She 
interrupts our lesson to say, “Tell me about how American men make love.” When I confess that, at twenty-one, I have never had any 
lovers, American or otherwise, she scoffs and then pouts, “Why don’t you tell me the truth? I tell you everything. Everyone knows that American girls have more lovers than anyone.”

Disappointed in love, Rusanna imagines that the country of Montana and John Wayne has men to equal her passion. She takes my reticence on the subject as selfish — I want all the men for myself, she says. We reach this impasse again and again. In our youth and vanity, we are like the poem’s speaker:

All will grow cold
that once sang and struggled
glistened and rejoiced
the green of my eyes,
the gold of my hair
my gentle voice
Rusanna is Armenian. My kitchen table is in Estonia, where Rusanna is raising her daughter and I am teaching English. We are studying Russian almost covertly because both of us know that Estonian would be more useful and certainly more politically correct. But both of us have also become obsessed with the idea that 
I might pronounce myagkiznak with just the right softness. Truth be told, Rusanna hates the Estonian language, Estonian winters, and not least of all, Estonian men, whom she finds cold and unfeeling. 
I have become her repository for these complaints on the long, dark nights of winter, and in the meantime I recite and memorize Uzh Skol’ko Ikh until its forms are so familiar I feel they have entered my cells. The door to the Russian language creaks open under Rusanna’s instruction, and I whisper the words of the poem on the bus, at the market, and as I fall asleep.

I did not grasp at first that Russian would be best learned through its poetry. I memorized grammar structures and vocabulary lists. 
I treated the language like a fill-in-the-blank exercise, but when I 
arrived in Russia for the first time in my junior year of college, communication eluded me. After two years of study, no one understood me when I ordered bread at a bakery or wished a friend happy 
birthday. Near despair, I sat one day in phonetics class while the teacher tried to prod her American students to hear the melodies of the Russian language. We rehearsed the same sentence over and over again, testing different intonation patterns. Suddenly I understood. Russian was first and foremost a music. To speak it, you had to learn to sing it.

The Russian language and Russian poetry are inextricably linked. Russians memorize dozens of poems. They employ poems in arguments and recite them on street corners. Their poets are beloved 
authorities on any subject. In 1991, when I went to study in a provincial Russian city, I was invited to an elementary school so that the children could meet an actual American. “Be alert, children,” the teacher said. “This will be the only opportunity you may ever have to see an American.” Then she demanded that I recite a poem in English so they could hear my “American speech.” I did not know how to 
explain that Americans don’t typically recite poems — maybe nursery rhymes, maybe a line or two memorized in high school. But 
beyond “Hickory Dickory Dock,” we are an impoverished people.

To my relief, I had recently, in a lovesick state, memorized Robert Frost’s “To Earthward,” and I was able to recite at least part of it while the children stared at me uncomprehendingly. They sensed the lack of authority I brought to the recitation. It was that, as much as the foreign language, that befuddled them.

I have never stopped turning to Russian poems. Tsvetaeva was the first. But like a dog with a bone, I bury Russian poems in my subconscious and bring them out to chew on. I’ve buried Anna Akhmatova’s simple, earthy phrases like those she wrote upon learning of the 
arrest of her son:

U menya sevodnya mnogo delo:
Nado pamyat’ do kontsa ubit’,
Nado, chtob dusha okamenela
Nado snova nauchit’sya zhit’

Today I have a lot to do
I must destroy all my memory
I must turn my soul to stone
I must learn again how to live
—From The Sentence
Or Mandelstam’s aching fluidity, or the poem-songs of  Yuri Shevchuk from the rock group DDT. Whenever I am lonely or tired, have a painful commute, cannot sleep, or lose the thread of my life, these poems, written in a language that even after two decades of study I only slightly comprehend, serve as touchstones. My very 
inability to master their meanings or even to perfect my ts serves a mysterious, orienting purpose beyond the knowledge of my mouth or consciousness. These poems stir what the visionary Julian of Norwich called my “love-longing.” They remain always just beyond my reach.

Originally Published: July 1, 2013

Poetry is a universal language. Yet some languages that its written even when translated into English do not serve to display its true intent,cultural meanings, spirit, heart ,message, rhyme, rhythm, depth, inspiration, beauty and/or cadence!--Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
12-26-2015, 11:50 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/245762

ESSAY
Significant Soil
Meditations on the Merger of T.S. Eliot’s “Waste” and “Land.”

BY CHRISTINA DAVIS


“This is the land,” T. S. Eliot asserts in Ash-Wednesday.

Not the “wasteland,” but “the land.”

And yet, if you’ve happened upon any mention of Eliot’s most famous poem, more likely than not you’ve witnessed the title rendered as a single immutable unit: “The Wasteland.”

Over the years I’ve grown increasingly curious about this phenomenon, which made its debut as early as December 1922 (the year of the poem’s publication) in a notice in The Bookman, a Georgian magazine that published Walter Pater and Edward Thomas in its heyday. Since then, “The Wasteland” (in lieu of “The Waste Land”) has appeared in everything from the New York Times, The New Yorker, Salon, and the BBC Online to the library catalog of Eliot’s alma mater, Harvard University.

The penchant for this elision may simply be an inheritance of error: a typographical lapse or editorial blind spot that the Internet has only served to exacerbate. But I’d like to consider some cultural parallels to this occurrence, as well as social forces that might contribute to a phenomenon of this kind: perhaps the way in which difficulty or experimentalism is assimilated, or the way in which a symbol-making (and unmaking) entity—a poem—is itself made into a hard-and-fast symbol during the course of its collective reception.

While I don’t think a poet’s intentions require our protection, I do believe that for Eliot the separateness of “waste” and “land” was of supreme significance. And, given that the title of the poem “gave a heading to the time” (according to the New York Times) and, perhaps misguidedly, to our historical understanding of that era and its so-called “Wastelanders” (New York Review of Books, 1988), I believe that that significance warrants at least a momentary attention.

A Momentary Attention

Other than “In my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning,” it’s possible that the greatest epitaphic language I have encountered is that of Sir Thomas Browne who, in the midst of a meditation on urn-burial, suddenly situates himself on the brink of death and declares himself: “Ready to be anything…. ” It’s a line that would make a breathtakingly bold and accurate sign-off for any of us whose molecules will become a little bit of everything. Or, at the very least, what Eliot would call “significant soil.”

The first time I read “The Waste Land,” I experienced the same elation that I felt on reading Browne’s epitaph—a conviction that the catalyzing proximity (and yet resilient apartness) of those two words was central to the recombinant possibilities of the poem.

In other words, it was because the “waste” was a temporal, impermanent modifier—and not an enduring quality of the land—that the land was redeemable and open to (what Eliot called in a different landscape, that of “Burnt Norton”) “perpetual possibility.” In this phrase, he was likely echoing St. Augustine’s concern about the ossification of certain written words into an orthodoxy: “I should write so that my words echo rather than to set down one true opinion that should exclude all other possibilities.”

In “The Waste Land,” Eliot is fastidious in keeping most of his adjectives and nouns apart, thereby perpetuating their other possibilities: “Unreal City,” “Hyacinth garden,” “red rock,” “brown fog,” “empty rooms,” and so on. This separation frequently allows for a different combination to occur later in the poem. For instance, “Unreal City” is resurrected as “O City city,” and “Hyacinth garden” sheds its specificity and becomes the plural and possessive: “your gardens.” And, perhaps most importantly, the “dead land” recurs as “brown land” and makes its culminating cameo in the plural and possessive incarnation: “my lands” (“Shall I at least set my lands in order?”).

Most of Eliot’s poem titles are characterized by this same simple and purposeful pattern, an adjective placed next to a noun: “Burnt Norton,” “Four Quartets,” “The Hollow Men.” But while I have never seen the latter rendered as “The Hollowmen,” “The Waste Land” is frequently inscribed in the aforementioned cultural shorthand. What is it about the poem (and its title) that inspires such a frequent and un-authored fusion, forcing the title to “rest in peace” instead of permitting it to exist on the verge of becoming anything?

Ready to Be Anything

"It wiped out our world as if an atom bomb had been dropped upon it and our brave sallies into the unknown were turned to dust."
—William Carlos Williams on “The Waste Land”

I remember that shortly after September 11, 2001, many who endured that day up-close (including myself) were offended when media outlets began to call the complex events of that morning “9/11,” and I swore that I would never consent to so collapsed a term. And yet, now, it is the only one I use. I’m interested in that consent and that condensary, the welding of the term into a seemingly immutable unity.

What happens to a specific day, or to a work of art for that matter, when it is coded and condensed in this manner? Does it still retain the possibility of becoming anything, or is it destined to become the one thing? Do we (as a culture and as individual receivers and transmitters) deaden and flatten the dimensionality of our terms too soon?

When I encounter “The Wasteland” in its elided form, I see something shorn of its idiosyncrasies, facets, flaws, and contradictions and rendered knowable, containable, its dangerous elements stabilized. It reminds me of Miguel de Unamuno’s observation that “the mind seeks what is dead”—what is stable, unified, knowable—“…what is living escapes it.”

While it’s hard to imagine now, “The Waste Land” was dangerous and destabilizing at the time of its publication, at least to those who elected to see it that way. The earliest instances of the elision I’ve been discussing tend to occur on both sides of the pond in articles that are demonstratively against or antagonized by the poem—and also, in some cases, in publications that are simply poking fun at the poem’s unnerving effects. Though I wouldn’t suggest that the elision was directly related to resistance, I would say that a person is far more likely to misquote a piece that (s)he hasn’t fully fathomed or that (s)he has opposed emblematically instead of experientially.

As an example, shortly after The Dial selected Eliot’s poem for its annual prize, John Farrar (and/or his editors) repeated the 1922 typo in The Bookman in the following review:

It is only proper to mention “The Wasteland” by T. S. Eliot in The Dial. Mr. Eliot has received this year’s prize award from that magazine and is rapidly gaining what might almost be called a “cult” of adorers among the intellectuals. I hesitate to recommend any poem which I am incapable of understanding. In this class falls “The Wasteland.” (February 1923)

In those early years, the elision also appeared frequently in Life magazine (not to be confused with the later photojournalistic magazine), which was a popular Onion-like humor journal of the era. In its March 12, 1925, issue, Life awarded The Dial the “Brass Medal of Second Class” for honoring “The Wasteland”: “[in so doing] The Dial has succeeded in speeding up to mass production the synthetic prose decomposition that passes with the feeble-minded for poetry.”

In an effort to avoid fallacies, I should say that there are several articles by Eliot’s antagonists which correctly cite the poem and even emphasize the distinction between “waste” and the noun it modifies, such as Humbert Wolfe’s “Waste Land and Waste Paper” (Weekly Westminster, November 17, 1923) and H.P. Lovecraft’s sidesplitting anti-Eliot spoof, “Waste Paper.” But the first few incidents of the elision seem to fall on the side of those who perceived in the poem a threat.

Curiously, the poem was anathema not only to many who were striving to retain (or continue to evolve) a more Georgian poetics but also to those who had been looking forward to a distinctly different set of experimental possibilities. As William Carlos Williams famously observed in his 1948 autobiography:

I felt at once that it [“The Waste Land”] had set me back twenty years … at the moment when I felt that we were on the point of an escape to matters much closer to the essence of a new art form itself—rooted in the locality which should give it fruit. I knew at once that in certain ways I was most defeated.… Eliot had turned his back on the possibility of reviving my world.

In other words, the poem (which many articles interpreted as reflecting “contemporary despair” over a lost world or, as Harriet Monroe writes of the poem in March 1923, “the malaise of our time … the world crumbling to pieces before our eyes”) was for Williams itself the source of that destruction, “wiping out our world.” For him, the publication and reception of “The Waste Land” were a catastrophe for American letters, creating an epicenter of attention around which all of the energy that ought to have been focused on evolving a distinctly American mode was expended on parading European erudition. Though Eliot’s poem did not emerge sui generis (the underlying aesthetics were evident in poetry that predated World War I), Williams found in it a useful and inciting symbol for his concerns. In many ways, I too am consenting to the same penchant: that of making “The Waste Land” into a symbol for my own preoccupations.

“This Land Is Your Land”

Walt Whitman, who passed away during Eliot’s first decade on earth, persisted throughout his lifetime in referring to his nation in the form of a tentative plural: “The United States are destined either to surmount the gorgeous history of feudalism, or else prove the most tremendous failure of time,” he writes in his 1871 Democratic Vistas.

It turns out that Whitman was not alone. According to historian Shelby Foote, the singular (“The United States is …”) was not generally used until after the Civil War, and it took until 1902 for the House of Representative’s Committee on Revision of the Laws to officially rule that “the United States should be treated as singular, not plural.” It seems the federal government and the media were slow to impose a singularity on something that had not yet achieved that status.

But with the 20th century came a new rapidity in the construction and articulation of the present and recent past. And, I might add, aeronautical as well as photographic advances permitted the surveying and summarizing of vast tracts of land in a single shot—and not sequentially over time—offering a swift unity of viewpoint. In his superb book The Culture of Time and Space, 1880–1918, Stephen Kern documents how the sinking of the Titanic in 1912—ten years prior to the publication of “The Waste Land”—was the first collective, global catastrophe, one that almost the entire (technologically linked) world was able to experience, and in many cases respond to, at the same time. In the decades that followed, the time between an event (or an artistic creation) and the reaction to it (or assessment of it) was shortened: “The telephone … [allowed people] to respond at once without the time to reflect afforded by written communication.” In addition, “business and personal exchanges suddenly became instantaneous instead of protracted and sequential” and the new broadcast technologies enabled journalism to focus the “attention of the inhabitants of an entire city on a single experience.”

I sometimes think that T. S. Eliot’s infamous displeasure over his “Waste Land” fame was less about being identified with a particular aesthetics of fragmentation or neo-barbarism than about a frustration with the way that critics, readers, and the general public used the poem to swiftly generalize for a generation and conflate the text’s complexities and “innumerable sources” (as Mark Twain writes of the Mississippi) into a single, convening truth. It strikes me as a great irony that a poem composed of a series of recombinant symbols and phonemes should itself have become a hard-and-fast symbol—as if to say, “‘The Waste Land’ was written; therefore, we must be in ‘the wasteland.’” Case closed.

In later conversations and writings, Eliot often attempted to downplay the dominion of the poem over the literary and cultural landscape by inserting an indefinite article into his discussions (“a poem called ‘The Waste Land’”)—as if to say it was just “a poem,” just “a way of putting it—not very satisfactory.” I don’t think this was false humility; I believe it was a genuine attempt to assert the poem’s temporariness—to return it (and him) to its (and his, and perhaps even our) possibilities. As critic Eloise Knapp Hay writes, the poem

expressed Eliot’s own “way” at the time, it was not intended to lay down a way for others to follow. “I dislike the word generation [he said in “Thoughts after Lambeth” in 1931], which has been a talisman for the last ten years; when I wrote a poem called “The Waste Land” some of the more approving critics said that I had expressed the “disillusionment of a generation,” which is nonsense. I may have expressed for them their own illusion of being disillusioned, but that did not form part of my intention. (T. S. Eliot’s Negative Way, 1982)

“Generation” itself was a collective moniker that disheartened Eliot: a way of grouping the past, of consolidating recent history into a convenient narrative unit. That the very poem that had experimented with perceiving “the past in a new pattern,” a “new way” of writing which Eliot called “not destructive, but re-creative” should be frozen into a single pattern, into a single despairing way of seeing it, a “talisman” of its times, was (and remains) a profound irony. It was an experiment that ossified into an orthodoxy: poetry’s own personal leopards-in-the-temple.

“The Future Is a Faded Song”

I think poems are living things that grow from the earth into the brain, rather than things that are planted within the earth by the brain.… [P]oems can, in a small way, remind the world of what’s still possible.
—Dorothea Lasky

Almost 20 years after the publication of “The Waste Land,” as Eliot was penning the distinct poems that were later unified into “Four Quartets,” poet and musician Woody Guthrie was composing a piece of music in opposition to Irving Berlin’s ubiquitous and bravado, “God Bless America.”

The song he wrote, “This Land Is Your Land,” was edgy and communist-inclined; and in its original refrain, “God blessed America for me,” it came off sounding a lot more like Bob Dylan’s spitfire protest tune “With God on Our Side” than its current, calming Dan Zanes incarnation. The song included references to deserts and fog and cities of hungry people—sound familiar?—and its culminating verse expressed doubt that this land was “made for you and me,” since it seemed everywhere to prevent its people from receiving “relief.”

Though recording history has tended to unify the tune into a single rousing and patriotic rendering, Guthrie frequently varied its units, at times infusing it with fierce political activism and in other contexts removing the provocative verses altogether. Which version is the actual “This Land Is Your Land”? I’d say, it is all of them. Or, as Jorge Luis Borges has written: “No one is the homeland—it is all of us.”

We have lived (for better or worse) with the properties of Eliot’s poem for almost 100 years. Its unsettling presence has tested our capacity to perpetuate the unknown and not to foreclose—out of resistance, fear, or uncertainty—our multitudinous experiences of it (and of the earth it observes) into a single order of understanding.

In my reading of the end of “The Waste Land,” the poem perpetuates the possibilities of three different interpretations and recombinations of the Brahmanic “Da”—permitting these particulates to coexist with and catalyze one another instead of settling into a single immutable unit.

“This is the land”—not the fenceable, knowable, ownable, but the as yet unknown—waste and vast at the moment of creation. And, as René Char has asked: What would we do without the Unknown in front of us?

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
12-27-2015, 09:30 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/245710

Reading Primo Levi Off Columbus Circle

BY J. T. BARBARESE


Re-reading him in Bouchon
past noon, it is mobbed midtown,
like an ant farm seen through painkillers.
God, what a bust it’s all been,

capitalism, communism, feminism,
this lust to liberate.
Che should have stayed in medicine.
The girls here admit they can’t wait

to marry and get to the alimony,
before they hit thirty. The men,
heads skinned like Lager inmates,
know only the revolutions

in diets and spinning classes.
Still, one table away,
these two, with gnarled empretzled hands,
seem unhappy in the old way.

Source: Poetry (April 2013).

Drummond
12-27-2015, 11:25 AM
George Orwell’s criticisms are steeped in insane liberal ideology. Countless millions living in savagery and 5th century backwardness were brought centuries forward by British expansionism and its spreading influence around the world!
No other nation or Empire has ever behaved in the way the stupid liberals cry about and condemn Britain and its Empire for not doing!
Tis' another reason why I hate Orwell. He is a self-righteous idiot attempting to destroy the works of a writer/ poet that is/was far, far greater than he(Orwell) ever was or ever will be with truly intelligent people. -Tyr

Well said on Orwell, though I'm nonetheless thankful for his '1984' novel. It does a lot to quantify what really drives the Leftie dream .. of crushing control, even to the point of dictating what others must think.

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
12-28-2015, 07:43 AM
Well said on Orwell, though I'm nonetheless thankful for his '1984' novel. It does a lot to quantify what really drives the Leftie dream .. of crushing control, even to the point of dictating what others must think.
As a writer and a poet Kipling was a genius. Orwell condemned him for his patriotism and extremely strong sense of Christian morality! However Orwell, did not do so openly in a political philosophy attack, rather he attacked the man's work, the work that inspired tens of millions ! Inspires even to this day!
To me, that is unforgivable and Orwell clearly showed his base nature, jealousy, envy and yes his liberal ideology.
However, primary the first three bad traits I listed were the motivation for his scathing criticisms IMHO.-TYR

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
12-31-2015, 10:42 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/guide/245494#guide

John Donne: “A Valediction: of Weeping”
Reality and representation mix in this classic poem.

BY JOEL BROUWER
John Donne probably wrote “A Valediction: of Weeping” after he met his future wife, Ann More, and before he took holy orders and turned most of his authorial energies to sermons and spiritual meditations. We can’t be sure about the timing, though; while we have Donne’s biography and his poems, aligning the two is tricky. We know that Donne wrote poems only for himself and a close circle of friends and patrons, never for fame and seldom for publication. It would seem reasonable to guess that “A Valediction: of Weeping”—which, like a number of Donne’s love poems, dramatizes a scene of lovers parting—might have been written during the early years of his marriage, when Donne was often obliged to be away from home, leaving his young wife and children alone. But we can’t be sure that the poem isn’t wholly an act of imagination with no connection to Donne’s personal experience.

This uncertainty has permitted some of Donne’s readers to regard his poems not as acts of self-expression, but as the abstracted, cerebral constructions of a fierce wit. Yes, the poems may be autobiographical, but Donne’s predilection for intricate rhetorical figures, paradoxes, surprising swerves in tone, associative leaps, and ingenious conceits can make them feel artificial, or made of artifice. Donne’s reputation as merely a wit made his work deeply unpopular for many years after his death. Probably the most famous condemnation came from Samuel Johnson, who labeled Donne’s style “metaphysical”—he didn’t intend the term as a compliment.

In the early 20th century, incipient Modernists, most notably T.S. Eliot, found new layers of value in Donne. His perceived cool intellectualism seemed fresh and vigorous to poets grown weary of Romanticism’s emotionalism and emphasis on the self. Donne soon became a favorite of the New Critics as well. That school’s emphasis on reading poems as autonomous systems—discounting extra-textual considerations such as the author’s intentions and historical situation—was well suited to Donne’s poetry; his intentions are difficult or impossible to determine, and each poem he wrote seemed designed to function as, to use a phrase from one of Donne’s Holy Sonnets, “a little world made cunningly.”

Donne’s poems in general, and “A Valediction: of Weeping” in particular, are certainly cunning. But it would be a mistake to think of them as nothing more than exercises in cleverness. We’ll find in this poem, as in many others by Donne, that his wit often serves as a means to a larger end rather than as an end in itself. The poem may be a highly organized “little world,” but it consistently gestures toward a larger world: the actual, chaotic, emotional one in which we live.

“A Valediction: of Weeping” begins with a scene of two lovers parting:

Let me pour forth
My tears before thy face, whilst I stay here,
For thy face coins them, and thy stamp they bear,
And by this mintage they are something worth

The poet is asking for his lover’s indulgence. If he cries now, while he’s still with her, her “face” will be reflected in his tears, transforming them from ordinary waste into objects of value—“coins.” The poet isn’t asking for a physical connection here; he doesn’t say “embrace me before I go.” Instead he seeks to reflect and be reflected by the beloved, at once emphasizing their connection and the fact that they are already—even now before his departure—undeniably separate. This dynamic might be similar to the one we enter into while reading Donne’s poem. On the one hand, the clever figures and rhyme scheme remind us that the poem is an artificial construct of symbols and sounds. But at the same time, the poem’s dramatic situation encourages us to identify with the speaker’s authentic human grief. Let’s look at the entire first stanza:

Let me pour forth
My tears before thy face, whilst I stay here,
For thy face coins them, and thy stamp they bear,
And by this mintage they are something worth,
For thus they be
Pregnant of thee;
Fruits of much grief they are, emblems of more,
When a tear falls, that thou falls which it bore,
So thou and I are nothing then, when on a divers shore.

The financial metaphor of lines 3 and 4 suggests that there’s a transaction involved here, and we see already an example of the kind of hall-of-mirrors paradox Donne so relished, and will soon use again, in this very poem. Perhaps the speaker is departing to earn actual coins to support the beloved. If so, that would be a gesture of unification and shared purpose, but at the same time one ironically requiring separation. In order to be with you, Donne seems to imply, I must leave you.

In line 7 Donne suggests that his tears are both “fruits” of his present grief at parting and “emblems” of his future grief, when he will be away. (Of course, this “grief” might also be understood not as the grief of parting from the beloved, but as the grief of having to undertake the journey in the first place.) So the tears are literal and metaphorical, physical and symbolic, at the same time. Similarly, the poem as a whole can be seen both as a sincere expression of grief and as an “emblem”—a representation, that is—of grief.

The next two lines feature a tricky metaphor for the speaker’s future sorrow:

When a tear falls, that thou falls which it bore,
So thou and I are nothing then, when on a divers shore.

As his own tear falls, his beloved’s reflection falls with it. He and she both become “nothing”; her reflection falls and thus vanishes, and he, like his tear, departs. If he is departing on a sea voyage—as “divers shore” might suggest—then we may add another dimension to this already crowded conceit. Both tears and the sea are salty water, and here tears figuratively signify the impending separation, just as the sea will literally enforce it. Keeping in mind that a “fall” in a relationship can refer to unfaithfulness, this line could even be read as a premonition of adultery: the tears provoked by my sorrow at leaving you fall, just as you will fall into unfaithfulness when I’m gone. Following this line of thinking, “So thou and I are nothing then, when on a divers shore” turns to pure bitterness: when we’re apart, we’re nothing to each other.

So while we could read this first stanza as the heartfelt cry of a lover in anguish, devastated to be separated from his beloved, it’s also possible to take these lines as the cynical complaint of a husband who feels persecuted in his role as breadwinner and, even worse, unsure of his wife’s fidelity. Which of these is the correct reading? It’s a natural question to ask, but also a misleading one, because the great pleasure in reading Donne lies in just this kind of ambiguity. His poems are incredibly detailed, specific, and intricate, but at the same time mysterious, vague, and elusive. Here again, we’re led to consider the ways in which the poem both invites us to identify with the speaker’s emotions, and reminds us that what we’re looking at here is not a person but a poem. We’ll see this dynamic continue throughout the rest of the poem, as Donne oscillates between the tangible and the conceptual, the literal and the metaphorical. By the time we get to the final lines, it may even seem that the poem is more concerned with the gap between reality and imagination than it is with its ostensible subject of two lovers parting.

The next stanza introduces a new metaphor that is related—appropriately, given the occasion of the poem—to the idea of travel.

On a round ball
A workman that hath copies by, can lay
An Europe, Afric, and an Asia,
And quickly make that, which was nothing, all,
So doth each tear,
Which thee doth wear,
A globe, yea world by that impression grow,
Till thy tears mixed with mine do overflow
This world, by waters sent from thee, my heaven dissolved so.

This stanza’s transformation of a “nothing” into an “all” is similar to an idea expressed near the end of another Donne poem, “The Canonization.” Both poems use the figure of a world contained in a reflection, and in each case great stress is put on the metaphysical nature of that containment: the physical object is captured in a reflection, but so is the object’s essence. In “The Canonization” it isn’t just the “world” that is contained in the “glasses of your eyes,” but the “whole world’s soul.” The distinction is important. Donne is alluding to the Christian theory of transubstantiation, where the base physical representations of bread and wine are transformed, by the intercession of the Holy Ghost, into holy reality: the body and blood of Christ. Analogous processes occur in “A Valediction: of Weeping.” Much as the tears in line 7 were shown to be both physical “fruits” and metaphysical “emblems,” here Donne conflates reality (the “world” in which we actually live) and representation (the “globe” we use as an icon of that world). A blank ball is nothing until it’s overlaid with maps to become an “all.” A tear is nothing until it reflects the face of the beloved and becomes an “all.” And perhaps the poem itself is both a nothing—a mere collection of sounds and symbols—and yet also an “all,” a container for the poet’s genuine emotions.

The final lines of the second stanza may contain the most knotty ideas in a very knotty poem:

Till thy tears mixed with mine do overflow
This world, by waters sent from thee, my heaven dissolved so.

How are we to understand the phrase “This world” here? There are several possible readings, and as elsewhere in the poem, they range from the simple and concrete to the complex and abstract. “This world” could be the real world the lovers see around them: If we both cry, our eyes will fill with tears, and we literally won’t be able to see each other anymore. But of course the figure also works as a metaphor for the characters’ emotional states: Our mutual sorrow at parting destroys the heaven-on-earth we make when we’re together. Finally, keep in mind the maps Donne showed us earlier in the stanza. The speaker’s tears might also be obscuring his vision of that globe, a “little world made cunningly” that in turn represents the literal earth. Again Donne succeeds in “mixing” the real and the figurative.

“Mixed” might not refer to a literal mixing of the two lovers’ tears, but instead to the process of reproduction—the oscillation of reality and representation—that is gradually manifesting itself as the poem’s central concern. The two lines might suggest that watery reflections of the lovers are being created and destroyed endlessly: in reflecting, or mixing with, each other’s tears, the lovers “overflow” and destroy those reflections, the faces-within-tears from the first stanza. We see the lovers’ (real) tears as images within images, endlessly generative and endlessly in decay.

Immediately following his sequence of globe and water imagery, Donne compares his beloved to the moon, the sphere that controls the flow of tides.

O more than moon,

Draw not up seas to drown me in thy sphere,
Weep me not dead, in thine arms, but forbear
To teach the sea, what it may do too soon;
Let not the wind
Example find,
To do me more harm, than it purposeth;
Since thou and I sigh one another’s breath,
Whoe’er sighs most, is cruelest, and hastes the other’s death.

The beloved is “more than” the moon: not only can she can draw tears from herself, but she can pull those tears all the way up into her own “sphere,” or presence, where the poet is as well. Donne exhorts her not to use her power to “draw … up seas,” that is, to weep, because it could “drown” him in at least three ways. His reflection would be drowned when caught in her tears; seeing her cry would figuratively drown him in sorrow; and if her tears inadvertently “teach the sea” and give an “example” to the wind, he might literally be drowned when he sets sail on his voyage.

The poem’s closing “breath” metaphor, which appropriately follows the “wind” image, once again asserts the union of the lovers: Because we breathe as one when we’re together, our sighs of sorrow use up each other’s breath, and so hasten each other’s death. As we might have expected, Donne ends the poem with a paradox. We tend to associate breath with life, but here an excess of breath leads to death. This metaphor, like the earlier tear/reflection conceit, warns the beloved that her physical expressions of grief—crying, sighing—cause emotional harm. When she cries she drowns his reflection in her tears; when she sighs she steals his life-breath. Once again, the metaphorical and the real appear to be so closely aligned as to become indistinguishable.

This breath figure also has an echo in “The Canonization,” where we find similar images of the lovers as a single being:

Call her one, me another fly,
We are tapers too, and at our own cost die,
And we in us find the eagle and the dove…

In these lines, as in “A Valediction: of Weeping,” the poet and his beloved form one being. That’s not an original idea, but it becomes original when we note that in each case this union is destructive as well as creative. In “The Canonization” the lovers are both flies and the candles that burn the flies, so they “at [their] own cost die”: the fact of their union is also the cause of their destruction. “The eagle and the dove” is a similarly murderous figure, since eagles kill doves. So too in “A Valediction: of Weeping” the lovers are united—in teary reflections and in breath—but those very unions threaten the lovers with ruin. As in the lines about mixed tears overflowing “this world,” the poem’s closing lines suggest the idea of love as a self-perpetuating cycle of creation and destruction. The great achievement of “A Valediction: of Weeping” is its powerful evocation of this very paradox—not only in terms of the lovers, who appear to be simultaneously united and divided, but in terms of the poem itself, which persistently demands that we read it as both artificial and earnest, self-contained and suggestive, a “nothing” and an “all.”

Drummond
12-31-2015, 11:06 AM
As a writer and a poet Kipling was a genius. Orwell condemned him for his patriotism and extremely strong sense of Christian morality! However Orwell, did not do so openly in a political philosophy attack, rather he attacked the man's work, the work that inspired tens of millions ! Inspires even to this day!
To me, that is unforgivable and Orwell clearly showed his base nature, jealousy, envy and yes his liberal ideology.
However, primary the first three bad traits I listed were the motivation for his scathing criticisms IMHO.-TYR

Points taken, & thanks !

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
01-04-2016, 08:59 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/245036

ESSAY
Rimbaud in Embryo
The lost poet Samuel Greenberg and the critical debate over his influence.

BY JACOB SILVERMAN
Rimbaud in Embryo
Self-portrait by Samuel Greenberg, courtesy of the Fales Library & Special Collections, New York University.
Some writers leave only traces, contrails across the literary firmament. They expire with few or no publications to their names, their legacies left as much to chance as to the efforts of the occasional passionate admirer. Contemporaries offer testimonies of superlative talent unfulfilled, of death robbing posterity of a name that, given time and circumstance, surely would have been added to the rolls of the great. And while some work might survive, appearing in the occasional anthology, it is shrouded in the pall of its author’s biography.

Samuel Greenberg belongs in the pantheon of literary manqués. He’s not totally forgotten—a few hundred poems survive; some were published in posthumous editions. In the 95 years since his death at the age of 23, he has endured as the prototypical “cult writer,” his works passed around like samizdat and occasionally earning an ardent, powerful admirer.

One of those admirers was Hart Crane, who, depending on your interpretation, drew significant influence from Greenberg or baldly plagiarized him. Crane’s poem “Emblems of Conduct” contains lines, either verbatim or with slight modifications, from six different Greenberg poems, including one called “Conduct.” Other work by Crane shows marks of Greenberg, whom Crane never met. The debate over just how much Crane took from Greenberg has animated Greenberg scholarship for decades, and has produced some worthwhile commentary on the nature of authorial influence. But at times it also obscures what is, on its own, a fascinating (albeit brief) life and oeuvre, deserving of its own consideration.

Born in Vienna in 1893, Samuel Greenberg was the sixth of eight children. At the turn of the century, his family immigrated to the United States, settling in the crowded tenements of the Lower East Side. In those early years he attended public and religious schools, learning to read Hebrew, and had a bar mitzvah, but in 1908, the same year his mother died, he left school in order to work.

The Greenbergs were a family of artisans. Samuel’s father worked with brocade, making decorative materials for synagogues’ Torah arks, and his brother Adolf made leather bags. After dropping out of school, Samuel worked with both of them.


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But sometime in 1912, around the same time he began writing poems in notebooks, Greenberg contracted tuberculosis and underwent what would be the first of many hospitalizations. Later that year, he also began taking piano lessons, though he reportedly had difficulty reading music and remaining focused. All the same, looking over one of Greenberg’s sketchbooks in the Fales Collection at NYU, which contains the bulk of his papers, I stumbled upon drawings of staff lines pebbled with musical notes, the name of each note written underneath; they were clearly some attempt at memorization. On the same page were a pair of delicately shaded hands—perhaps simply an exercise in anatomical drawing, though placed as they were, with the fingers curved slightly inward, they recalled a conductor leading an ensemble.

Greenberg read deeply of the British Romantics, as well as Blake, Milton, and Wilde, but he had a particular regard for music, attending concerts when he could and writing poems about Richard Strauss and Mendelssohn. After a concert at Carnegie Hall, Greenberg gave a copy of his poem “The Pianoforte Artist” to pianist Josef Hofmann. (In an autobiographical essay addressed to his brother Daniel, Greenberg wrote of these concerts, “I know we liked it better than life!”) Another poem, riffing about Brahms’s Paganini Variations, sends the reader through a gyre of rhapsody: “In each phrase / Beats, the patriotism of lyre love, improvised impulse spreads / Its familiar Master glow, Communication with the spirit muse.”

By April 1915, Greenberg was writing to William Murrell Fisher, a scholar and art critic whom Greenberg had met two years earlier at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in hopes of getting his work published. Time was running out for the young poet—“Sickness closed in with its careful teeth,” he wrote in that autobiographical essay. His tuberculosis had worsened (“the old story of weakness returned”); he had spent the previous two years in and out of hospitals, treatment facilities, and family members’ homes in New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. That summer, a doctor would remove a kidney. Through it all he wrote, not only hundreds of poems but also some short plays. When health allowed, he worked for his brother Adolf, the leather craftsman.


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Greenberg was also a prolific painter and sketch artist. Many of his sketches are of young men, done on scraps of paper or in small, dilapidated sketchbooks, and he reportedly liked to sit in Washington Square Park, where he drew strangers. The men tended to be in profile, finely dressed; occasionally they appeared as the barest silhouette, as if evaporating from the page. He also drew self-portraits—one shows him lounging in an ornately carved wooden chair, staring out almost playfully—and illustrations of his family members and fellow hospital patients. (One sketch is dedicated “to my friend William Fisher” and dated February 1915.)

The sketchbooks doubled as all-purpose notebooks. Besides the musical notations, there are scraps of verse and one apparently undelivered note, which reads, “Young man — 19. — wishes position in any office,” and is signed below.

Some of Greenberg’s handwriting is cramped and nearly indecipherable. In the Fales Collection, a line stuck out for me. It appeared below a simple, blocky sketch of a man’s dour face, cigarette prominently perched between his lips. The poet had written, “It is the gazing at the people one gets that way.”

With his own fragile health and both of his parents having died young, Greenberg was deeply conscious of his own mortality. In his drafts, he dated and initialed each poem, perhaps with an eye toward posterity. In the work itself, he treated death with respect but also not without a kind of sly playfulness. In the poem “To Dear Daniel”—Daniel was one of Samuel’s brothers—Greenberg wrote, “There is a loud noise of Death / Where I lay; / There is a loud noise of life / Far away.” The speaker knows that he is closer to his end than to his beginning. Some poems respond to death with disbelief that it could come so prematurely. One piece opens with the following lines: “Nurse brings me Medicine! Medicine? / For me! God, 20 years old! / Medicine!? I’ll leave it to thee! / The truth is a draught!”

Greenberg’s poetry employed bizarre spelling and syntax (many editions of his work have smoothed over these errors, at the cost of authenticity). He also tended to create what Philip Horton, an early Hart Crane biographer, called “archaic contractions”—'pon, e'en, e'er. Some words are unexpectedly capitalized. This is easily chalked up to his autodidact nature, but it may also owe something to Greenberg’s taste for Milton and Blake and the short plays he wrote, which were a mélange of Spenserian fantasy and Elizabethan drama. Like some of his poems, these plays took place in what New Directions founder James Laughlin, who published the first book of Greenberg’s poems in 1939, described as a “literary mythland.” One short drama, which I read in the Fales Collection, is titled “Capablanka” and dated October 1916. It concerns an anthropomorphic statue (the list of dramatis personae calls it “a motional statue”), three woodsmen, a talking “fairy snake,” and “an unknown magician” named Valotif, as well as several others.

Told in three short acts—the whole thing is only about 16 pages in typescript—the play’s basic action is mostly intelligible, but its prose tends toward the opaque, at times appearing like a deliberately obscure pastiche of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It features Greenberg’s characteristic spelling—“obsured,” “devine,” “familiars” used as a verb—and some evocative lines that show the beauty of what Laughlin called his “unconscious dictation.” “I varnish his throat,” one of the woodsmen offers by way of a threat; another, not believing that a monument can move, claims that there are “no such furies in granite”; the third speaks of “the cliffs sea / that moan their messages of wander foam / and dash over high sprays of lust.”

Perhaps fearful of giving him more than his due, critics have tended to praise and condemn Greenberg in a single line. They often dwell on his wildness, his untended lyricism, considering it both a virtue and a deficit, deeply intertwined.

John Berryman once remarked that Greenberg had “some power of phrasing” but “with rare exceptions so little control over syntax.” Thomas Lux, in his poem “Here’s to Samuel Greenberg,” describes Greenberg as “semi-illiterate / coughing it out among total / illiterates during the only time / in your life you had time / to write: on your back.” And yet, later in the same poem, Lux refers to him as “small master.”

Laughlin vacillated between even greater extremes, writing in the 1939 introduction: “The poetry of Greenberg is not great poetry, and it is not even important minor poetry ... and yet ... poetry it is, pure poetry, to an extent equalled by the work of few other writers.”

Philip Horton, writing in the Southern Review in 1936, also knocked Greenberg down before building him back up. “One has the successive impressions that the author was mad, illiterate, esoteric, or simply drunk,” Horton wrote. “And yet there flash out from this linguistic chaos, lines of pure poetry, powerful, illuminating, and original, lines unlike any others in English literature, except Blake’s perhaps.” Repeatedly, we observe a strange kind of diffidence: Greenberg is both semi-illiterate and a master, a powerful lyricist but out of control, not even a minor poet but also a creator of “pure poetry” (a phrase that both Laughlin and Horton used).

Could he be all of this—not either/or but both/and? Or did these critics, particularly the early ones such as Horton and Laughlin, not fully understand what they were looking at? The former called Greenberg “a visionary” before going on to ask, “But who was he, or is he? Did Hart Crane, who had his poems, know?”

Indeed, it is in Crane that we find someone whose critiques of Greenberg serve only to amplify his appreciation of him, cementing the picture of Greenberg as an untutored, untamed, and splendid lyricist—the poet equivalent of a naïve artist. Crane, in a letter to Gorham Munson praised Greenberg’s “hobbling yet really gorgeous attempts.” In the tragic poet’s work, Crane saw “a quality that is unspeakably eerie and the most convincing gusto.”

Crane first encountered Greenberg’s work in the winter of 1923–24. Greenberg had already been dead for six years, and Crane was staying in Woodstock, New York, where he spent time with William Murrell Fisher, likely the only person to know both men. Fisher showed Crane some of Greenberg’s poems, and Crane was immediately electrified, pacing around the room, declaiming lines.

In his letter to Munson, Crane also called Greenberg “a Rimbaud in embryo”—an epithet that makes some sense, as Rimbaud, though better educated, had left school by 15 and was done with poetry by 20. It’s difficult not to think in turn of Victor Hugo’s own description of Rimbaud: he called the fiery young poet “an infant Shakespeare.” In both cases, the young poet is granted a claim toward genius, but his precocity—he is embryonic, or he is an infant—somehow holds him back.

Rimbaud was a proto-surrealist, and in some of Greenberg’s work, one finds a surrealist bent. Laughlin cited Greenberg’s “The Pale Impromptu” as surrealist, “with its use of words for their own sake.” Its coded narrative and succession of disjointed phrases—“Water waves / torque blocks / Skulls of saints / patience absent / Yellow dreams / Sensive Stirs / Silent hills”—support this assessment. But Greenberg’s best work forsakes this experimentation, instead melding passionate first-person narratives—about the sea, death, God, poetry, mythological landscapes—with imagery that shimmers because it appears all the more carefully rendered.

Yet he also showed a surprising talent for restraint. “Conduct” begins with a painter illustrating a valley before giving way to Technicolor descriptions of an exploding volcano and darkening skies. But then Greenberg dials down his music to a pianissimo, and the poem resolves with a curious, almost mournful scene:

The wanderer soon chose
His spot of rest, they bore the
Chosen hero upon their shoulders
Whom they strangly admired — as,
The Beach tide Summer of people desired

After their meeting, Fisher gave Crane a sheaf of Greenberg’s poems and Crane set about retyping them. This sort of transcription, or re-scription, has been a common practice among writers for ages, but Crane took the process further. Greenberg, like such poets as Whitman before him, drew inspiration from the Brooklyn Bridge, and after copying Greenberg’s “The ‘East River’s Charm,” Crane added the following lines:

And will I know if you are dead?
The river leads on and on instead
Of certainty...

Drawing on “Conduct” as well as five other Greenberg poems, Crane cobbled together “Emblems of Conduct” from January to March 1924. (Marc Simon’s forensic analysis of Crane’s borrowings is the essential work on this subject. Simon, a literary scholar whose NYU PhD dissertation was about the Greenberg/Crane connection, would go on to edit The Complete Poems of Hart Crane.) He changed some lines, tinkering here and there, but the resulting three stanzas are largely a collage. Laughlin compared the final product to “centones of the Middle Ages, those patch-work poems in which Christian stories were told in lines torn from their contexts in pagan authors.” Laughlin continues, largely approvingly: “Crane did more than steal from Greenberg—he recreated, making something entirely new, entirely his own, from the original materials.”

The contemporary term for this is remixing, which at the moment has much cultural cachet. While I acknowledge the worth of remix in anything from Warhol to hip-hop sampling, it’s difficult not to think that Crane took more than his fair share and that he has benefited from his (understandable) stature as the greater poet. But many critics feel compelled to defend Crane, as if criticizing him in this instance, arguing that he let his enthusiasm for Greenberg get away from him, would undercut his otherwise formidable achievements.

“I do not think we even need to mention the word plagiarism,” Laughlin writes in his introduction to the 1939 volume, though he does just that. “We must strongly censure Crane for his failure to clearly state his source,” yet “no doubt he meant to acknowledge his debt ... it simply slipped his mind.” Yes, no doubt. It’s a pale justification, for Crane could have easily included a line of dedication or acknowledgment.

Another Crane biographer, Paul L. Mariani, calls Crane’s borrowings “problematic.” “Emblems of Conduct” was “a dreamlike poem, uncharacteristic of Crane,” Mariani writes, and “Crane’s attempt to take by eminent domain the scattered remains of a dead young poet was not, finally, one of his best efforts.”

But notions of influence, even of plagiarism, are rarely clear, even when, as in this case, there is a large body of inculpatory evidence. As Marc Simon has shown, Greenberg was not wholly sui generis. In 1915, Fisher gave Greenberg a copy of Thomas Carlyle’s Heroes and Hero-Worship (an apposite title, given the relationships here), and some of Carlyle’s imagery describing Iceland’s geography made it into Greenberg’s “Conduct” and, later, Crane’s “Emblems of Conduct.” Greenberg’s borrowings were not so direct, but they give some sense of where he looked for his own raw materials.

Greenberg may never escape the shadow of Hart Crane (though he surely deserves to have his complete works, including the drawings, published in a new edition). But the obligatory irony is that without Crane’s, say, overabundant enthusiasm for poems like “Conduct,” we might never know of Greenberg’s poetry at all. In stealing from Greenberg, Crane assured the lesser poet’s immortality.

Still, there is some sadness in knowing that Greenberg’s work will never quite stand on its own. Despite his fragile health and lack of education, Greenberg was uncommonly prepossessing. “The poet seeks an Earth in himself,” he wrote in one verse. He sought a world of his own making, but it was to be an ephemeral one, as he was subsumed by forces—and poets, too—greater than himself.

Originally Published: November 27, 2012

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
01-07-2016, 10:18 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/245266

Useful Old Rhymer
--------------------------------------------Laura Kasischke on Thomas Tusser.

BY LAURA KASISCHKE
For the brief and perhaps best years of my life, when I was mother to a very young child, I found myself most nights in the company of poets, wits, storytellers, moralists, advisors, and pundits-lite who offered their words up to my son and myself for our pleasure, our safety, our welfare, our betterment, and our instruction. I never doubted for a moment that Margaret Wise Brown had written The Runaway Bunny because she foresaw a time when my son might doubt the fierceness of his mother’s love and need the reassurance that it was not only eternal but all-powerful: “If you become a fish in a trout stream,” said the mother, “I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you.”

And how many other poets and storytellers explained the essentials to us! How to tie a shoe. How to grieve a pet. How to sleep in the dark. How to count to ten. How to stand up for yourself. How to be a friend. How to eat food you fear.

We had a lot of books, and there were a lot of years, a lot of bedtime stories, and then he got a driver’s license and a girlfriend and my library shelves seemed strangely bare of  books that had been written with a reader’s well-being in mind. In fact, I realized, I could run my fingers down the length of four bookshelves full of the contemporary poetry I love and not find more than a volume or two that seemed to have been written with a reader in mind at all, let alone that 
reader’s life.

That’s why I love Thomas Tusser. His thousands of  lines of  poetry 
more than prove to us that he was devoted to the art, that his poetic ambitions were great, but you can’t read one of those lines and not know that he has taken up the craft for your sake, that he is writing to tell you something, and that he wants what he’s saying to matter to you, to make your life richer, easier, safer, and in all ways more 
understandable. True, Tusser is a didactic poet, and although “didactic” 
may have earned its bad reputation (Poe named didacticism as the worst of the poetic heresies), in the case of  Tusser we are reminded that poetry which educates can also be beautiful, meaningful, and fun. When I turn to the Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, 
after a longish spell spent reading contemporary poets, I am startled to encounter a poet who is writing to me, for me, and who has 
chosen poetry as a way to communicate — across distance, time, and space — with me (the reader) in his mind.

It’s believed that Thomas Tusser was born around 1524. He died in 1580. He was an educated man who, through a variety of circumstances, found himself spending his life as a farmer. By most accounts, he was not successful at it, but he must have loved it. His long poem on Good Husbandry records a country year in rhyming couplets, and his advice and observations pretty much cover everything from the lending of tools to the castration of roosters, the nature of the afterlife to the ten characteristics (via negation) of the perfect cheese:

Not like Gehazi, dead white, like a leper
Not like Lot’s wife, all salt
Not like Argus, full of eyes
Not like Tom Piper, “hoven and puffed”
Not like Crispin, leathery
Not like Lazarus, poor
Not like Esau, hairy
Not like Mary Magdalene, full of  whey or maudlin
Not like the Gentiles, full of maggots
Not like a Bishop, made of   burnt milk

In his poetry, Tusser comes across as what he was said by his contemporaries to have been — a thrifty, intelligent, kind man, who wants you to succeed. His work is full of weather-lore, country customs, maxims and proverbs (“Sweet April showers, / Do spring May flowers”), and comforting predictions right alongside dire warnings. The poetry lets us know that he has learned his lessons the hard way, and that he wants to save his readers that trouble if  he can.

And although Thomas Tusser doesn’t seem to care much about whether he’s reaching great poetic heights, he often reaches them. Part of this is his musical ear, but the rest might be attributed to the reverence he has for his material, the respect with which he 
approaches his reader, and, of course, the everyday hallowedness of life and work on the farm. Robert Southey called him a “good, honest, 
homely, useful old rhymer.” Clearly, that’s what Tusser wanted to be.

What a noble ambition when it is combined with an empathetic 
spirit! That Tusser’s book was to be found on the mantles of so many farmers in his day speaks to how much Tusser had to say to his peers; and, although both poetic traditions and agricultural ones have changed greatly since his period, what we learn from Tusser today, and from the real relationship, the true communication, he sought to have with his reader — well, what we have to learn from Tusser shames and thrills me with its honest compassion, its urgent desire to be of service, and its plain, sane, sacred ambition to write poetry that will be read, remembered, and understood.

Originally Published: February 1, 2013

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
01-08-2016, 10:40 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/244608

PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
Nature and Panic
Can beauty save us?

BY C. K. WILLIAMS
The first evidence we have of any human doings with nature other than utilitarian artifacts for hunting and fishing are the Paleolithic paintings in caves in France and Spain. These great works of art were created over a period of twenty thousand years, and then stopped; we don’t really know why they first began to be created or why they didn’t continue.

I think most of us have been tempted to play the game of trying to intuit the vast number of individuals who were born and died during those uncountable millennia and to imagine what a single person’s life, a “first person” in both senses of the term, would really have been. For me, the daydream invariably leads me to picture my poor ancestor living in almost constant fear of threats to life and well-being: the predators, the droughts, the erratic cold that sometimes descended and stayed for thousands of years, and sometimes, for reasons we still don’t understand, didn’t. “Nasty, brutish, and short,” to quote the Hobbesian cliche.

So, were those people really that much more anxious for themselves than we are? To return to the Paleolithic paintings: there’s little evidence of anguish or dread in their subject matter and execution. The creatures in them are depicted with accuracy and detail and with that breathlessly assured brushwork that could have been acquired through nothing but aesthetic dedication and love. There are almost no depictions of nature as threatening. In one painting there’s a lion, but she’s treated with a whimsical humor; in another two, someone seems to have been killed by a bison, the beginning of what some researchers suspect may have been a series of myths. The only truly malignant matters that are recorded in the caves are a few mysterious and so far uninterpreted recumbent human figures, riven with what seem to be spears: they were possibly murdered, perhaps even tortured. But generally, if the society in which these artists lived was fraught with fear, it certainly isn’t manifested in their work. Even their span of years, it turns out, wasn’t as short as was once thought: the most recent evidence suggests that people during these eras regularly lived to the age of fifty or sixty.

At the same time, if we pull back a little and consider larger currents of human existence, there does seem to have been ample reason for anxiety. The climate, as I mentioned, often dramatically changed in those epochs. There were long droughts and, at some point, the almost total dying off of reindeer, which had been humans’ primary food—with what precise consequences we probably will never know, beyond that humans somehow adapted, and survived.

And we also can’t possibly know whether any single person, or group, or group of generations would have been aware, and especially daunted, by these grim developments. Perhaps one year, winter came earlier; perhaps another year, the reindeer migrations arrived later, then not at all. Would there have been a history to contain these matters? We don’t know that either, but if there was, what would have been the emphasis of those who recorded it? Would they have been depressives, manic-depressives, optimists, pessimists?

I’ll continue on a more personal note. Like many people I know, I often have a somewhat—no, a wholly—frightening vision of the future of humanity and of our earth. There are periods when I live in a state of acute anxiety, indeed, near panic, about what awaits our children and grandchildren. Last year, I realized one day that every poem I was writing, or attempting to write, had global warming and its consequences either as its overt or implied theme. Sometimes I’m depressed beyond writing or saying anything at all; I fall into a funk that threatens never to end.

Given all the evidence that’s being accumulated about global warming and its ramifications, this seems a perfectly reasonable response to the only future in sight. However, I’ve also had to realize over the course of my life that I’m intrinsically somewhat of a depressive person, about much else besides the end of the world, and that my instinctive response to fear, or threat, or despair is to plunge deeper into the darkness that so readily takes me. It required a long time for me to notice that many people respond differently; some friends, for instance, who, when deeply concerned about large matters, can turn readily away from them to a relatively cheerful vision of existence, while I go on brooding, frightened, trembling. And certainly not unsensible public figures can manage to convey a bright vision that confounds personalities like mine. One of my favorite recent examples is Fred Kavli, a wealthy scientist philanthropist who recently established a program of million dollar prizes for scientists and who announced at the first presentation ceremony: “The future is going to be more spectacular than we can ever imagine.” I hope with all my heart that he knows something I don’t.

I’ve come to wonder lately what the implication of all this is for my life and work as an artist, a poet. Certainly the traditions of literature, particularly in the last century and a half, have had their fair share of dark personalities—more than mere pessimists, sometimes outrageous nihilists. One of my most enduring poetic influences has been Baudelaire, hardly a paragon of healthy thought. Don’t I have a right to express my own sadnesses? I have often enough, Lord knows, in the past, and I’m sure I will again, but at the same time, mightn’t there be some responsibility in my artistic endeavors I hadn’t suspected, hadn’t conceived of, until now?

Surely the most extreme vision of the future in recent literature is Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road. McCarthy is a novelist of craft, with a powerful gift for verisimilitude, and in his book he puts all his talents at the service of the literally darkest non–science-fiction fate that has ever been conceived for human beings. The earth—land and sea—is black with soot and ash, utterly silent except for the wind, some mysterious intermittent explosions, and the several words, most of them threats, human beings still manage to pass between them, before, in many cases, they devour each other. Those of you who have read the book know that the word “grim” hardly begins to do justice to the sheer horror McCarthy inflicts on the planet, and on us, his readers.

I use the word “inflict” intentionally. I’m not the only person I know who’s expressed regret at having ingested the book: I feel sometimes indignant that I have to have it in my consciousness. If there ever was a book that embodied the extremity of the emotion we call panic, this has to be it. I find it’s like having a piercing scream in my mind, one that, when the book comes to mind, which it does more often than I’d like, goes off like a siren.

Another recent, much different, book that deals with the possible dark times ahead of us is Gretel Ehrlich’s The Future of Ice—also a book of premonition and dire prophecy. I’ll admit that when I began reading it, I thought I wouldn’t be able to go on. Ehrlich’s prognostications about the grim future in store for the world seemed mostly to consist of information I already possessed—reading it felt like watching an autopsy of a living body. As I went further into the book, though, I was taken with its intimacy, its presentation of an actual person living a real life while at the same time reflecting on so much melting away, and I found the book finally inspiring, perhaps because it doesn’t manifest the kind of annihilating cosmic panic that McCarthy’s book does. It tells of the passions and sadnesses of experiencing, having to experience, the fear of knowing what may come to us, but all of that is tempered by the dailiness of the life and loves of the author. The Future of Ice contains its own epigraph, its own enduring motto: “Beauty saves me.” Until I went back to look for the phrase to quote, I had remembered it as “Beauty saves us,” and I’ve allowed myself to keep it that way.
I find it a bit odd to be using the word “beauty” this way. I’ve never thought terribly hard about the concept, certainly not as a theoretician, which I’m emphatically not. We all, though, have ideas about what is beautiful and what isn’t, and generally we think we know why. And it is, or at least was, tempting, as a poet, to try to be an aesthetician rather than an artist: there’s an aura of immediate authority associated with the one that isn’t associated with the other. I know that at any moment I’ll be able to think and talk for five or ten minutes about beauty: I never know whether in the next five or ten minutes or five or ten years I’ll be able to create any.

Beauty won’t save the world from the depredations with which it’s already been savaged, but it can save us from the enervating despair that is the outcome of panic, that paralysis that might keep us from doing what we can to confront what’s before us. We’ll never know how our ancestors, so put upon by the enormous unknown world in which they found themselves, persevered and survived, but we do know that they bequeathed to us, and probably infused into our genes, the conviction that the dream and execution of the beautiful made the world ours in a way nothing else could.
However it happens—by whatever complex, forbiddingly imprecise, dauntingly imperfect means—all over the world, if not every day then in every age, art is created and beauty manifested: beautiful paintings and poems and pieces of music and buildings are generated. One can almost imagine small flaring lights on the surface of the earth, like those seen in photos from space, though they are much sparser and more scattered than the illuminating devices that bespeckle our globe. And then over time these embodiments of the beautiful are harvested, amassed, collected in books, in museums, in concert halls, to be distributed into the lives of individual human beings, to become crucial elements of their existence. Often, our experience of beauty will be the first hint of what each of us at some point will dare call our soul. For don’t those first stirrings of that eternally uncertain, barely grasped notion of something more than mere mind, mere thought, mere emotion usually first come to us in the line of a poem, a passage of music, or the unreal yet more than real image in a painting?
And isn’t it also the case that beauty is the one true thing we can count on in a world of insufferable uncertainty, of obdurate, relentless moral conflicts? I’ve wondered sometimes if humans invented gods not to tend to our moral or immoral selves but to have something appropriately sensitive and grand and wise enough to appreciate these miraculous modes of beauty that are so different in material and quality from anything else in the world. Might gods have first been devised not to assuage our fears and hear our complaints and entreaties but for there to be identities sufficiently sublime to understand what those first painters and sculptors, and surely, though the words and tunes have been lost, those poets and singers had wrought?

Perhaps this is why those first great art works were executed deep in caves, so as to be certain the divinities who were their audience wouldn’t be distracted by the wonder of the natural world, and so lose the concentration necessary to glory in, and be glorified by, these singular human creations that equaled and even surpassed what had been given by nature for meditation. And perhaps that’s why poets and painters, who may half-remember such matters, go off into what can look to others like solitary caverns, shadowed with loneliness, but which surely aren’t. Beauty saves us. Beauty will save us. The world, though, is still ours to cherish, and ours to protect.

Originally Published: October 1, 2012

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
01-13-2016, 10:38 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/guide/243866#guide


Rae Armantrout: “Our Nature”
How did you become who you are?

BY STEPHEN BURT
Look at an old picture of yourself—a candid group photo is best, but a posed head shot or even a painting will do. How would you have described yourself back then? Would you describe yourself the same way now? How much do you have in common with the person whose portrait you see? Did you want to stand out? Can you feel proud, special, melancholy, or just resigned when you realize how much you have grown up and changed? In “Our Nature,” Rae Armantrout pursues such questions in her characteristically terse, harsh style.

An Armantrout poem can make no claim, and pursue no query, without trying to undermine its own terms: under the patient pressure of her short lines, key words in this poem, such as “nature” and even “latest,” can seem to come apart from their usual meanings, even as we come apart from our previous selves. Like most of her poems, “Our Nature” invites us to seek ironies and uncover the dubious axioms under each phrase. It also stands out, among those poems, for the open pathos of its ending, which addresses the life of an ambitious artist, and perhaps also the afterlife of an art movement, even while it asks about the changes that can pry any of us apart from our friends.

The poem begins with a look at an old image, or perhaps a general claim about the images that remain in our minds:

The very flatness
of portraits
makes for nostalgia
in the connoisseur.

All pictures are “flat” compared to real life, though some revel in their flatness, while others disguise it; what could be flat, in particular, about a portrait, and why would that “flatness” provoke “nostalgia”?

A portrait presents one moment, in space and in time: it is thus “flat” compared to the four-dimensional (in time and space) extent of a life, and looking back over that life might well prompt “nostalgia.” But to be “flat” or two-dimensional is also to look unreal. Is all portraiture unrealistic, in words or in visual art? Are all our mental portraits “unrealistic” as well, turning evolving personalities into all too comprehensible objects, as if we could possess the people we knew?

Considered thoroughly enough, do our ideas about people dissolve, as a picture dissolves or loses focus, when looked at for long? The second stanza, like a second take or a second look at the same picture, enacts that dissolution, with help from puns:

Here’s the latest
little lip of wave
to flatten
and spread thin.

Here a person’s “little lip” becomes the edge of a wave. Armantrout, who has always lived on the West Coast (in San Diego and in northern California), once censured another poet for comparing the sea to beads, since “the ocean can resemble a vertical sequence of discrete, solid objects in almost no way imaginable.” “Our Nature” seems to assert that we, too, are less like “discrete, solid objects” than our habits—and other poets’ “portraits”—assume. Our impressions of the people we think we know are more like a series of low waves, coming at us and then, usually, falling away. That image of liquid succession (“the latest” impression, and then something later still) gains force and irony from its contrast with the self-contained, solid, “hard” stanza in which it rests.

If the poem ended there it would be a cryptic rebuke, reminding us with a dry, uneasy authority that people always change. But Armantrout has more to say. Let’s say / it” becomes a hinge on which the poem turns, leaving the self-contained, pronoun-less quatrains behind. In their stead, we find one extended sentence, broken into one- and two-line bits, about a group of friends or allies who stuck together long enough to share adventures and to establish a “loyalty” later overruled, or contradicted, by the ambitions of its members (“our infatuation / with our own fame”).

Earlier Armantrout described everyone; now she speaks primarily of an “us,” who might be her generation, or her friends, or her political and artistic allies. The figure in Armantrout’s poem, one of the people included in her pronoun “we,” wants to show inner consistency as well as moral worth (we might say, encompassing both, that she wants to show character). But she is betrayed by her nature: “our nature,” human nature, or the nature of art, which undermine whatever character they construct. It is the nature of artists and their “gang” to strive for eminence, even at the cost of disconnection, as it is the nature of youthful “gangs” to grow apart. Outlaws of the Old West, quick on the draw, like the guerrilla movements of more recent decades, sometimes prided themselves on how they could “blend in // with the peasantry,” escaping the law. Remembering their subterfuges, Armantrout also invokes bands of youth, in schools or in street gangs, whose loyalty to one another cannot last, since it conflicts with their members' desire to get ahead in the adult world. (The young W.H. Auden, too, wrote that “love” required the “death of the old gang.”)

It’s tempting to associate Armantrout’s “old gang” with the real people who became her friends and allies early in her career: the Language writers, named after the magazine L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, one of several small journals from the 1970s (others include Hills and This) whose young, left-wing contributors declared their opposition to first-person lyric, to traditional narrative, and to any poems that emulated clear prose. Other Language writers included, on the West Coast, Ron Silliman, Lyn Hejinian, and Bob Perelman, and in New York City, Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein.

It is hard to read “Our Nature,” which comes from Armantrout’s book Veil (2001), without thinking about how Language writing, with its sometime promise of ego-less investigation, of radical anti-subjective critique, actually became (for better and worse) a name for a group of sometimes superb individual poets and poems. Armantrout recently collaborated with nine other Language writers on The Grand Piano (2006–10), “an experiment in collective autobiography” that tells the story of their West Coast scene. She seems, in retrospect, essential to that scene, though she did not publish prolifically in the early years, when she ran the reading series that gave The Grand Piano its name. And yet she admits, “I spent most of the 70s wondering whether I was in or out of the new nexus [of the Bay Area avant-garde]. (In that way it was a little bit like junior high.)." She remembers asking, at that time, "What was this new poetics that later came to be known as ‘language poetry’ and was I part of it or not?”

For a writer of Armantrout’s skeptical temperament, emerging from a shared movement or moment, the desire to stand out—though perhaps part of “our nature”—must have been especially vexed and vexing. Her poems remain ambivalent about ambition, as her halting manner—the matter of this self-critical poem, with its silenced “fast gun”—might imply. Yet they stay ambivalent about loyalty, too, since loyalty can discourage critical thought. Hopes for group belonging, no less than aspirations to singularity, make Armantrout ask herself how she knows what she knows, and what her wishful thinking might conceal. “I do wonder,” she asked in The Grand Piano, “how much we, ‘language poets,’ identify with and/or objectify one another.”

Readers who single out Armantrout among other Language writers often notice her links to traditions of lyric poetry, that is, to brief poems whose singularities of sound represent a single voice, a single speaker, a putatively unique inward life. Writing in the New Yorker in 2010, when Armantrout won the Pulitzer Prize, Dan Chiasson claimed that Armantrout “takes the basic premises of Language writing somewhere they were never intended to go: towards … a single individual’s … uniquely broken heart.” We may hear in this poem, with its rueful plural (“we,” not “I”), anticipatory reaction to such praise.

Yet Armantrout’s lines in “Our Nature” do not fit just one movement or moment, nor do they confine themselves to one art. How can we all succeed together in an enterprise where individuality and unique achievement is held out as the goal and the prize? And what if that enterprise is not art, but life? Most of us want to be “singled out” or noticed in some way, even if we do not try to write new kinds of poems; most of us also want, or at one time wanted, to stand with our peers, to keep our friends, to stay close.

We rarely get both; sometimes we get neither one. That broader disappointment informs Armantrout’s lines too: they end up with something like a tragic sense of how we grow up, itself the kind of sense sometimes, and wrongly, denied to the densely suggestive and demanding poetic traditions from which her style arose.

And yet the word “nature,” repeated in the penultimate line, should put us on alert, since Armantrout’s poems so frequently (as she has put it) “examine claims to naturalness and objectivity carefully to find out what or who is being suppressed.” Whose nature is ours? Was it always ours? Who are “we”? Should we resign ourselves to the alienating consequence of our ambitions, as inevitable as waves on sand, or can we construct some better choice?

Armantrout elsewhere likens her poems’ fitful movement to the mythical worm Ouroborous, which ate its own tail. Punning lines from her poem “Falling: I” warn us not to believe the stories we tell ourselves: “To swallow your own tail— // or tale— / is no longer // an approved / form of transportation.” It does not say what we should swallow, nor how we should transport ourselves, instead. Similarly, the ending of “Our Nature,” having pointed out “our infatuation,” leaves us with no clear place to stand, no more reliable substitute for the fallacies and hypocrisies, the cognitive and emotional mistakes, that Armantrout’s melancholy juxtapositions diagnose. Instead, the idea of a person with one nature, capable of sitting for a unique portrait, falls down when we try to make it explain “our nature,” to say why we do what we do.

Armantrout’s poems work hard not to settle on stable answers to the questions they raise. Be true to yourself, be yourself, pursue your own nature: Armantrout’s friable phrases cast some suspicion on those all-American instructions, whether or not we can learn to live without them. Her memoir True (1997) sets her desire to escape her cliché-ridden blue-collar childhood against her own suspicion about the stories of artists’ escapes: “Somehow my life was leading me to the conclusion that received opinion was my enemy,” she writes, adding, “I’m afraid, now, that I’m making my own myth.” We may not be able to live without myths, but we should not let ourselves get trapped by them. Neither the myth of solidarity forever, nor the romance of the individual becoming herself at all costs, nor any heroic story of rebels defying old norms and creating great change in the arts, survives the careful scrutiny of Armantrout’s curt, melancholy, and chastened phrases, which ask instead how we can remain, or even become, the people that we think we are.

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
01-17-2016, 09:05 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/244156

PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
Inky Binky Bonky
How the words stick.

BY WILLIAM BUTLER
As far as the poetry I like, I sometimes feel like a cranky old man. I turn to old, formal poetry, or the super-famous poetry of the twentieth century—Eliot, Auden, Yeats, et al. I don’t think time is a distiller. Poems that emerge after passing through time are not necessarily more pure or more fundamentally true than the poems that disappear. But I do think that through the evolutionary dodgeball rounds of taste and fashion, population migrations, religious movements, library fires, world wars, and natural disasters, “being a good poem” is a trait that increases the odds of survival. I do sometimes read recent poetry, especially if it’s recommended by a friend. But I don’t have that many friends reading recent poetry.

“Poetry I like” and “poetry that affects my life” are slightly different sets. The poetry important to me is random. Random in time period, topic, length, style, author, even quality. It’s not a question of liking or disliking—it’s just that there are bits embedded deep in my brain grooves.

Sometimes this poetry comes out on specific occasions. I will be out on a walk and will round a corner, and the sun will be shining down in that golden hour before sunset, and a distant bird will loose a cry, and nature will confront me with all her majestic wonder. “What a strange bird is the pelican,” I will think, “Its beak can hold more than its belly can.” I always thought this was a couplet by Ogden Nash. But it’s a slightly wrong quotation from a limerick by some poet named Dixon Lanier Merritt. Regardless, I heard it when I was a kid, and ever since, all of nature has seemed a little ridiculous to me.

Sometimes, though, an idyllic nature scene will raise deep unease. Or I’ll look out a hotel room window at a still city and get the willies. Occasional fear of silence is a fundamental human response. For me, this feeling is tied up with the phrase “As idle as a painted ship/Upon a painted ocean.” Which is a prelude, in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, to everyone dying slowly of thirst, and slimy things coming out and crawling with legs upon a slimy sea. The pelican may be zany, but the Mariner’s albatross is a little terrifying.

I once bought a book of Chinese poems because I liked the cover. (It was one of those seventies Penguin editions, not with the orange stripes, but with a beautiful wallpapery graphic.) I read this poem:

In these days I am ever befuddled with wine,
But it is not for nourishing my nature and soul.
When I see that all men are drunk,
How can I bear to be the only one sober?

I don’t know a lick of Chinese, but that translation seems stiff. Still, whenever I start complaining in my head about how everyone in the world is crazy, I see this Chinese poet, Wang Ji, totally wasted and grabbing an American stranger by the arm fourteen centuries in the future. I don’t draw a moral from the poem—it just takes me out of myself, and that’s enough.

When I was a kid, my dad paid me $7.50 for memorizing “If” by Rudyard Kipling. ($7.50 was the inflation-adjusted $1.00 my grandfather was paid by his father for the same task.) “If” is not attached deeply to my soul. I don’t turn to it in times of trouble. But I can still recite it as a party trick. (What sort of party? OK, you got me. There has never been a party where I have been asked to recite Kipling. Unless you count Thanksgiving as a party. Which it is. It is an awesome party.) But there is other Kipling. My dad’s parents would sing versions of his poems, like “The Ladies” (which has not aged well: “For she knifed me one night ’cause I wished she was white/And I learned about women from ’er!”) and “The Road to Mandalay”:

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ eastward to the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me.

“Mandalay” moves me. That lost actual paradise—I’m a sucker for nostalgia. My dad’s family is made up of sailors descended from sailors, and the devolution of the sea from the realm of freedom and mystery to a playground for rich sporty types is an ache I’ve inherited. Generally, I’ll shed a tear for any yearning poem that mentions the sea. Tennyson is good for that, too.

I could list more. I haven’t yet got to George Herbert, or the poems of my impressionable teenage years. Or that epic of chance and loss:

Inky binky bonky,
Daddy had a donkey,
Donkey died, Daddy cried,
Inky binky bonky.

Some of this poetry is carved in quick, deep cuts. There are poems I can’t help but remember. Some are like ghosts I hear mumbling (something important?) in the next room. I have to go to the page to summon them and shut them up. It’s a mysterious mechanism, how the words stick. It feels different to me than words and music, where so much of the mystery is bound up in the music itself. And it’s different from ideas I want to pass on, or stories I want to relate, in which the words fall however they fall. I’ve thought about it. I have no idea how the brain works.

Originally Published: June 1, 2012

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
01-18-2016, 07:23 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/guide/251834#guide

W.S. Merwin: “Berryman”

A poet revisits his legendary teacher’s advice.

BY STEPHEN BURT
What can one poet teach another, in person, that cannot be learned just by studying the poems? How can a poem on a page embody that live, one-time-only connection? If you don’t have to meet the poet—if all that matters are the poems—why do so many of us want to meet or take classes with poets?

These questions of artistic mentorship are not new (the Victorian poet Robert Browning poked fun at them in his poem “Memorabilia”), but they have special salience for the generation of W.S. Merwin (born in 1927), the first cohort of American poets that could take poetry-writing classes in college and then go on to teach writing as a career. Though Merwin himself has rarely taught for a living, earning money as a translator, tutor, and professional writer instead, he has been surrounded by poets who did. His poem about what he learned from an early master sets literary celebrity against a more important, but ultimately unknowable, idea of literary value. It also presents a pedagogy separate from—maybe even superior to—whatever students can learn from assignments, for grades, in schools and colleges, even though the encounter that Merwin records took place in one of them.

The poet John Berryman (1914–1972) was teaching at Princeton University when 17-year-old Merwin matriculated there in 1944. Berryman had already published poems in nationally prominent magazines, such as The Nation, but his first book, The Dispossessed, would not appear until 1948. Along with the critic and poet R.P. Blackmur, Berryman in those years launched Princeton’s creative writing program. Merwin remembered in 2010 that he discussed literature with Blackmur (“the wisest man and the greatest literary intelligence I ever knew”) but showed his own poems instead to Berryman, who “was absolutely ruthless. It was very good for me.”

Perhaps the older poet saw Merwin’s potential. He described Merwin’s verse in kinder terms to others: Berryman’s then wife, Eileen Simpson, in her memoir, Poets in Their Youth (1982), remembers that Berryman “was particularly excited by the work of Frederick Buechner, who had shown him part of a novel, and by W.S. Merwin, who was writing poetry. Both of them were ‘the real thing.’”

How do you know that a young poet is “the real thing” before you have seen many poems that you admire? How do you know, or transmit, the sense that a poet will write valuable poems before he has written them? You can’t “know” in the sense that you can know the square root of nine: you can only describe a feeling and try to give reasons for it. But you can’t “know” that any complete individual poem will last either: the unconfirmable feeling you can have about a person’s potential might differ only in degree from the feeling you can have about a poem, the inexplicable sense that something or someone will matter to someone else.

As a teacher, Berryman seems to have communicated exactly that sense to his student, a knowledge that can be neither separated from craft nor reduced to craft: it feels more like a laying on of hands. The great man praised “presence” and “passion” and seemed to give Merwin both: Berryman also furnished both good and bad examples of how poets ought to live. But the most important gift he gave Merwin—so Merwin implies—was permission to live with what he could not know.

Merwin won the Yale Younger Poets prize in 1952, but he became a name to conjure with later on, with The Lice (1967), whose spare free verse denounced the Vietnam War and contemplated the end of civilization. Merwin’s subsequent books often took the side of nonhuman nature, of silence, and of spiritual resistance against the busy, crowded, destructive, reckless work of human beings. The characteristic lack of punctuation in his poetry—he has used very little in 50 years—tends to give his poetry a kind of hushed seriousness and requires him to break many lines at the ends of phrases, clauses, and sentences because his line breaks can do the work of commas and periods. (Notice, in “Berryman,” the shock of the pause at “corner and he.”) That seriousness removes the poetry from the high formality of older styles but also from the sharp variety and interchange of ordinary conversation. Merwin’s lines, meditative and almost secluded, occupy a tonal space of their own.

The style of Berryman’s most famous work now looks like the opposite of his former protégé’s: “Homage to Mistress Bradstreet” (1956) and The Dream Songs (1963, 1968) are gregarious, polyphonic, sometimes outrageous, well-populated poems. One is set in 17th-century New England, the others in Berryman’s own busy (and drunken) life, recording the vicissitudes of lust, hunger, shame, and regret in a way that seems almost amoral and never self-effacing. Yet Merwin implies that Berryman was somehow fundamental to the creation of Merwin’s style: how can this be?

The answer lies not in Berryman’s poems but in the poet’s attitude toward the writing of them. Merwin sees Berryman not just as a teacher but also as close kin, thanks to their shared vocation. But can whatever wisdom Berryman offered, in person, by virtue of that kinship, be shared with us (“I will tell you,” Merwin writes), through the limited medium of the printed page?

Merwin’s Berryman stands out not just for giving good advice (“why point out a thing twice”?) but also for the respectful way that he gave it. He acts out the passion he wants his poems to contain, or at least he says he does: “he / said he meant it literally,” but he did not leave the party, or stop the class, in order to kneel. Yet the advice is no joke: Merwin later said in an interview that “pray to the Muse” was “excellent advice.” (A few significant English-language poets have knelt to pray unpredictably in public, notably the 18th-century visionary Christopher Smart, who was put in a mental institution for it.)

Merwin’s tender, almost embarrassed account of the great man, and the advice the man gave, makes poetry sound less like a craft (much less an academic discipline) than like a religious vocation. The wall, papered with rejection slips, resembles a monkish cell. Transmute remains the rarest word in a poem whose diction remains educated but unremarkable, and transmute points to alchemy, magic, discredited science; those processes, not scientific ones, correspond to the making of poetry, and the word passion, of course, has Christian religious roots as well.

Berryman’s almost religious devotion to poetry might be mistaken for self-absorption: “he was deep / in tides of his own,” though these tides were not—Merwin has to add—the tides of the alcoholism that later carried him away. It would be easy to rewrite Merwin’s “Berryman” as the pretext for an insult: who is this young man with an “affected” accent, and what makes him so sure of himself? Where does he get off recommending, with such “vehemence,” clichés such as “movement and invention”? In Poets in Their Youth, Simpson confirms Merwin’s portrait of a man who was thinking of poetry all the time—to the neglect of his family. Yet Merwin’s poem works as homage, where it fails as advice: John Berryman “was certainly one of the two or three brightest individuals I’ve ever known,” Merwin said, “and his sense of language was passionate and had immense momentum. His integrity was absolute. He was a wacky man, but that devotion was like a pure flame all the time, and that was a great example for me.”

The poem amounts to a sketch of an eccentric, his oddity visible even to his fingertips, a man few people could emulate directly. Berryman’s inimitability and charisma are not exactly the same thing as but rather stand in for and resemble the inimitability, the unpredictability, and the weirdness of poetic language itself. The shortest line in the poem—“you die without knowing”—is also one of the few one-line sentences, as is the memorable final line.

Berryman’s good advice to the young Merwin also pushes back against the image of Berryman that we might get from Berryman’s own later poems. The critic David Haven Blake writes that those poems present Berryman as “a public figure, a poet characterized by fame,” a modern celebrity tracking and sometimes mocking Berryman’s own “confusion about the nature of literary fame.” For example, in “Dream Song 342,” Berryman reflects on evidence of his public success, such as “fan-mail from foreign countries,” “imitations & parodies in your own, / translations,” and other trappings of celebrity, before concluding that the quality, not the quantity, of readers’ attention is what matters: “A lone letter from a young man: that is fame.”

Merwin’s poem is, in one sense, that letter. Merwin sets up his own early teacher as a figure beyond celebrity, a model for poetic integrity of the kind Merwin invites himself to seek. What looks like an unseemly preoccupation with poetic power and literary prominence is rewritten here as just the right kind of “arrogance,” a way to prevent worldly “vanity” by focusing on the art of poetry: an art of uncertain and unworldly rewards.

The undergraduate Merwin wanted to know how to get an A in great poetry writing. He did not know any better than to ask, and he got the only possible answer. You can learn, for a grade, right answers to questions about how to read already existing poetry and how to hear it. As for the question of how to write poetry so that people remember it, how to write poetry that will “transmute” the language or itself wind up “transmuted” by “passion”—that question cannot be answered: “you can never be sure.” The lines end in a kind of proof by least likely case: if this learned, charismatic figure cannot be sure what makes a poem last, then no one can; and if that answer did not satisfy Merwin in his late teens, it might satisfy him now.

That ability to live with uncertainty might be the most important of the many gifts—attention, seriousness, and charisma among them—that Berryman gave the young Merwin. “Poetry,” Merwin told an interviewer in 2014, “does not come from what you know. All that you know is very important, and not to be put down or ignored or got rid of, but finally it is from the unknown that poetry comes to you.” Knowing an author, taking a class, might help, but it is never a requirement. What you learn by meeting a great poet might just be how little the poet knows.

( That ability to live with uncertainty might be the most important of the many gifts—attention, seriousness, and charisma among them—that Berryman gave the young Merwin. “Poetry,” Merwin told an interviewer in 2014, “does not come from what you know. All that you know is very important, and not to be put down or ignored or got rid of, but finally it is from the unknown that poetry comes to you.” )

True words, the poems most often come from an inner Spring that ones taps at will and the waters just flow. Of course often the waters need a bit more- like inspiration that the heart may add or imagination the mind may gift. Or that unknown essence that arrives just in time when stumped on how to continue a poem. -Tyr

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
01-21-2016, 09:51 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/article/251540

ARTICLES FOR TEACHERS & STUDENTS
The Image List
Starting with images rather than words can help show an experience, instead of telling it.

BY MICHAEL MCGRIFF
The Image List
Image Courtesy of Chris Lott via Flickr.
Whether you’re writing a poem for the first time in your life or working on your tenth award-winning book, starting a new poem is often an intimidating and daunting task. “What am I supposed to write about!?”—this is the question that often stops writers before they start. The exercise that follows, which I call the “Image List,” is one I’ve used in every class I’ve ever taught, from graduate-level courses to elementary school classes. It’s also a process that I use when I’m starting a new poem or feel as though I’ve run out of ideas.

One thing: this is a timed exercise. It’s important to stick to the time limits because this writing exercise is based on the idea that your first thought might be your best thought.

FIVE MINUTES

In five minutes, make a list of at least fifty objects that are important to you. Remember, these are objects that are important to you—they don’t need to sound special or “poetic.” For example, your list might include things such as “the grass by our fence, Dad’s boots, the old woodstove in our living room,” to use a few examples from my own image list. There are no right or wrong objects to include on this list. Everyone is going to have a very different list containing a wide range of objects. The key to this exercise is to keep from overthinking—make a list of whatever comes to mind first. Keep your pen moving (or your fingers typing) until you’ve reached five minutes. Once you get started you’ll quickly see that you can generate far more than fifty objects.

TEN MINUTES

Now that you have these fifty objects in your mind, it’s time to make a second list. Take ten minutes to list the first twenty memories that you associate with the objects on your list. These memories don’t need to be elaborate; think of these as notes to yourself. Your list might look something like this:

Visiting my mom in the hospital
Noticing the way the rain sounded against my window the night I got in trouble with the cops
Listening to Chopin for the first time
And so on. Again, there is no right or wrong way to make this list. Everyone is going to have different memories. Some memories might be serious, some might be funny, and some might seem very ordinary. Again, the key to this list is to write down anything and everything that comes to mind. After all, there is no subject too ordinary, too outrageously funny, or too serious for a poem.

FIVE MINUTES

For the third and final list, select two memories from the list of memories you just made. For each memory, make a list of as many sensory details as you can think of. Remember, a sensory detail is a detail that pertains to how something looks, feels, tastes, sounds, or smells.

Combine all three lists, and you have what I call an image list, a blueprint that contains everything you’ll need for making a poem. The image list is full of things you know, full of things you have a personal connection to, and full of sensory details. Just as important, the image list is devoid of abstractions and generalities. Abstractions and generalities can often feel vague, unconvincing, and unimportant to a reader, whereas the contents on the image list will feel personal, intimate, and convincing. The more a writer can show an experience, the more the reader will sympathize and understand it. The contents on the image list can be used to make a small poem, such as one of Buson’s great haiku, or a large, detail-stuffed epic such as Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

To see how this exercise can be used, check out the following poems, each of which use the kinds of details and plain language that you’d find on an image list: “Things I Didn’t Know I Loved,” by Nâzim Hikmet; “Nostalgic Catalogue,” by Garrett Hongo; “Getting It Right,” by Matthew Dickman; “We Went Out to Make Hay,” by Stephan Torre; “To a Friend,” by Zubair Ahmed; and “Inventory” by Günter Eich.

This essay was originally published in Open the Door: How to Excite Young People about Poetry (2013), a co-publication of the Poetry Foundation and McSweeney's Publishing, edited by Dorothea Lasky, Dominic Luxford, and Jesse Nathan.
Originally Published: December 14, 2015

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
01-23-2016, 11:44 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/article/246408

ARTICLES FOR TEACHERS & STUDENTS
Learning the Epistolary Poem
Poems that serve as letters to the world

BY HANNAH BROOKS-MOTL
Learning the Epistolary Poem
Paul Simpson
It’s an old story: star-crossed lovers don’t know they’re star-crossed. They fall in love through the exchange of letters (or emails), not realizing that in real life they despise each other—until letter is matched to person and true love results (see the movie The Shop Around the Corner and its remake, You’ve Got Mail). Art that showcases epistolary practice—the writing and exchange of letters—comes stocked with such themes of romance, revelation, deception, and authenticity. Letters are vehicles for our truest selves, but they’re also a space in which we construct those selves.

What does this have to do with epistolary poetry? Like our movie couples, poets use epistolary techniques to reveal and construct. On one hand, letters expose the fact that poetry itself is a form of communication. We frequently write to something or someone. On the other hand, poems that use the conventions of letters make us think about how we read, categorize, and imagine both letters and poems. Although our glossary’s definition of an epistle appears to be simple enough, its brevity belies crucial questions. Does the poem have to be an actual letter? If it was sent to a person—especially one “close to the writer”—what does it mean that other people are now reading it? If it wasn’t sent to a person, how does it count as a letter? Why write a poem that looks like a letter, or use a letter as a poem, anyway?

Epistolary verse is one of poetry’s oldest forms, yet the questions it raises remain remarkably consistent through the centuries. In this guide, we’ll look at the history of epistolary poetry and explore how poets have adopted the form; you’ll also try your hand at composing some original-verse epistles.



August Beginnings

Some of the earliest epistolary poetry occurs in ancient Greece and Rome. Horace, in his Epistles, and Ovid, in the Heroides, set the terms for one of the epistolary debates that continues to this day: the distinction between epistles that appear to be true letters—written by the poet, ostensibly as a communiqué to an actual person—and epistles that are obviously fictional, perhaps because they’re written in a persona other than the poet’s. Both types are poems and letters, but the first might emphasize a poem’s letter qualities, while the second foregrounds the poem as a poem.

Horace’s Epistles are the first kind: a series of poems written to real persons—fellow writers, patrons, and even Augustus, the Emperor himself. Since these are distinguished as epistles, we might assume that these poems were initially sent as letters. But their appearance, in 20 BCE, as a book suggests that they were open letters “sent” via publication itself. In David Ferry’s translation, the poems can begin with salutations—“Dear Fuscus, I, a lover of the country, / Send greetings to you, a lover of the city”—or start with the kinds of contextualization we associate with letters: “While you’re in Rome, studying declamation,” Horace writes to Lollius Maximus, “Here I am in Praeneste, reading Homer.” That kind of casual situating remark is a hallmark of epistolary poems. Horace uses such effects throughout the Epistles to achieve a meandering, digressive, and conversational style. These poems are chatty, ask questions, and make inside or private jokes. Here is the beginning of his letter to Vinius Asina:

Just as I’ve told you over and over, Vinny,
Deliver these books of mine to Augustus only
If you know for sure that he’s in good health and only
If you know for sure that he’s in a good mood and only
If it comes about that he asks in person to see it.
From the familiar form of Vinius’s name, to an expectation that Vinny will know Augustus’s “good mood” when he sees it, we can tell that Horace’s poem is clearly written to a specific, singular person. The poem reiterates a conversation between the two—“as I’ve told you over and over”—reinforcing the sense that we are intercepting a letter intended for someone else. The poem’s qualities as both letter and poem are tied up in its casual style and authentic address. And this brings us to our first writing exercise:

Exercise 1: Try writing a poem that enacts a similar experience for the reader. Write about a past event to a friend, and frame it as a private letter in which you explain your side of what happened. Keep in mind that others will end up reading your “letter.” How does knowledge of a larger audience affect your letter-poem?

Horace’s poem to Vinny is the kind of “true” letter-poem to which Ovid’s Heroides stands in opposition. The Heroides are a collection of letters written in the voices of women from classical mythology. They’re not real letters, but fictional letters written using the technique of persona. Addressed mainly to absent lovers, the letter-poems exemplify another truism of epistolary practice: that letters are outpourings of our innermost selves. Ovid’s letter-writers beg, cajole, mourn, and indict the men who have abandoned them. But Ovid also gives the women recourse to introspection.

Exercise 2: Try writing a letter from someone else’s perspective, perhaps a famous person or a literary or mythical character. Have your character write to someone they’re angry or upset with and explain why.



Ladies, Letters, the 18th Century

The 18th century was an epistolary heyday. A regular mail service and newly literate masses encouraged writers to adopt the conventions of letters in many genres, from political treatises to a newfangled form called the novel. Aspects of epistolarity—salutations, dating, and address to a specific person—mark much poetry of the 18th century, not all of which we’d call verse epistles. Odes and occasional poems, for example, also tend to address a person directly. But as the category of epistolary poetry expanded, the distinction between true and fictional epistles remained. Alexander Pope exploited the possibilities of the latter in “Eloisa to Abelard,”one of the most famous verse epistles of the period. The poem, like Ovid’s Heroides before it, purports to be an outpouring of impassioned speech from one lover to another. Eloisa writes to Abelard:

Yet write, oh write me all, that I may join
Griefs to thy griefs, and echo sighs to thine.
Abelard and Eloisa are “joined” despite distance through letters. Correspondence might allow them to literally correspond, in a kind of emotional echo. Of course, the reality is that Eloisa is in a convent; Abelard is, well, no longer the man he once was; and Pope is the real author of the poem. Epistolary writing in the 18th century frequently remarked on its own limitations, even as letters and letter-poems imagined they might overcome them. It’s a theme that runs throughout epistolary writing: you’re absent, but also present, because I’m writing to you.

Exercise 3: Take out your cell phone and find a contact you haven’t talked to in six months or more. Now, write him or her a letter-poem describing how you feel about the silence between the two of you.

Pope’s other verse epistles are less fervent than “Eloisa to Abelard,” and yet might strike us as just as “fictive.” His poem “Epistle to Miss Blount” and the series “Epistles to Several Persons” are clearly labeled as letters, but sound like traditional poems (or even criticism, in the case of “An Essay”). Unlike Horace, Pope valued epistolary poetry not for its ability to mimic conversation, but for the particular kinds of decorum it permitted. As Ange Mlinko has pointed out in a poem guide to “The Answer,” an epistolary poem by Anne Finch that responds to Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock,”poets of the 18th century—another Augustan age—wrote to amuse, provoke, and persuade friends and foes in their immediate circles, almost like an older, slower, and more formal version of today’s social media.

Mlinko’s guide focuses on female poets, and women and epistolary writing have always been linked. Yet 18th-century female poets’ use of epistolary verse can call into question those categories of true and fictional—whether a poem was intended as a poem or a letter. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s letter to Lord Herveyis a good example of the blurred boundaries between letters and poems in the period. As scholar Bill Overton points out, “epistolary verse was a social practice of the period, and … especially for upper-class women, the writing of a letter in verse by no means entailed an intention to publish it."Yet even unpublished poems and letters were circulated, and it is likely that letter writers in the 18th century understood that their words would be read and reread by people they might not know personally.

Epistolary scholars call this sense that a letter is written not just for its recipient, but for a potentially wider audience, the “third-person reader.” It’s especially useful in thinking about verse epistles because letter-poets acknowledge that their missive is at once public and private. For female poets writing in a time when normal modes of publishing were difficult or undesirable, this third-person reader was often their first and only reader. Anne Finch’s “A Letter to Daphnis” is a good example of this interplay. Lady Mary Chudleigh’s verse epistle addresses itself explicitly “To the Ladies,” but it uses epistolary style in title only—the poem forgoes greetings or situating remarks in favor of pure polemic.

Exercise 4: Try writing an epistle to an entire group of people. As in your Horace imitation, think about how the sense of a third-person reader might shape what, and how, you write.



New-Fashioned Epistolary Verses

The distinction between true and fictional continues to mark epistolary poetry to this day. Poems such as Ezra Pound’s “The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” are obviously in the tradition of Ovid. More contemporary examples of this kind of letter-poem include Evie Shockley’s “From the Lost Letters of Frederick Douglass,” Carolyn Kizer’s “Fanny,” and William Stafford’s “Report to Crazy Horse.” Such poems are related to the dramatic monologue in their reliance on readers’ suspension of disbelief.

While all letter-writers consciously construct a version of themselves in their letters, letter-poems from a persona might strike us differently than those from a “real” poet. And letter-poems intended, as Horace’s were, for actual friends and acquaintances of the poet seem unlike those letter-poems, such as Julia Bloch’s Letters to Kelly Clarksonor Major Jackson’s “Letter to Brooks: Spring Garden,” obviously written as poems first. The question is as old as Horace and Ovid, Pope and Montagu: letter or poem? And why?

Emily Dickinson might help us here. Dickinson’s publication history is long and tangled, but scholars have started to emphasize the importance of epistolary practice to her work; recent editions even try to recover the way poems were knit into, and seemed to spring from, her letters. Her letters and poems circulated—like Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, she wrote to a public-private audience—but Dickinson used her missives both to communicate and to describe communication’s difficulty. Dickinson’s “letter lyrics,” in the words of scholar Sarah Hewitt, “theorize poetry as a specific kind of social communication.”

Poetry, especially lyric poetry, was not thought to be especially communicative after Romanticism. So when Jack Spicer published letters as poems, as he did with “Letter to Gary Bottone” and “Letters to James Alexander,”he upended such notions, placing a poem squarely between people. James Schuyler’s letter-poems do similar work. Often embracing epistolary embellishments such as dates, greetings, and sign-offs, Schuyler’s poems frequently use the kind of patter real letters feature. Yet the poem “A Stone Knife”also includes a title, lineation, and extended ekphrasis, common telltale markers of poetry. Letter-poems by Schuyler or Spicer can complicate our automatic categories of what is or isn’t poetry.

Exercise 5: Find an email or letter you’ve written, and break it into lines. Does it sound or feel like a poem? Try adding a title.

Letters and letter-poems also help us think about how poetry is built—and again, it’s a blow to any notions of a visit from the muses. Lorine Niedecker and W.S. Graham both used letters to write poems, suggesting that a poem is less an inspired rush of language than the careful placement and arrangement of words. Here is Niedecker in a letter to Louis Zukofsky from 1948:

Dear Zu:

Saturday I arose from my primordial mud with bits of algae, equisetum, etc . . to attend an expensive church wedding. Whole of history went thru my head, a big step from algae to CHURCH […] from cell division to the male sweating it out while the other collects International Sterling Silver and dons and takes off satins and continues to sweat to pay for ’em. The little slave girl bride and the worse slave, her husband.

Compare this to Niedecker’s “I rose from marsh mud.” Niedecker doesn’t just raid her letter’s content for her poem’s purposes, she cribs actual phrases and words. Graham does something similar in his letter-elegy to his friend titled “Dear Bryan Wynter.”In that poem, Graham repurposes phrases from letters he sent to friends and Wynter’s widow. Both Niedecker and Graham take language from letters and tweak it for poems.

Exercise 6: Look at the letter or email you used in Exercise 5. Can you find phrases and even sentences that you might incorporate into your next poem?

Contemporary poets who use epistolary forms can also let language remain in its “lettered” state. During her third pregnancy, Bernadette Mayer wrote a series of letters. Never sent, they were published as The Desire of Mothers to Please Others in Letters (1994). Here is the opening of “To the Tune of ‘Red Embroidered Shoes’”:

It’s a rare windy day where the sun never goes away, some new weather must be moving toward us very fast as they say, you always say I notice the weather too much, that most people don’t know if it’s hot or cold, I find it hard to remember I’m not supposed to have to include it all. I think to myself I’ve gotta say that to you and then when I forget it it’s lost. To celebrate without a plan—will he buy her an ice cream on the way home?

Mayer’s long, fast sentences move us through a dizzying range of observation. The allusions are private and opaque, and the speed with which Mayer delivers them almost guarantees that our understanding is only partial. Yet Mayer wrote this letter not to send but to publish, as a prose poem. Like Spicer and Schuyler, Mayer explores the boundaries between letters and poems and our expectations of each.

One thing we expect of poems is that they stand alone: we shouldn’t have to know context or background to understand a poem. Poems should contain their own directions, allow us to assemble and read them on their own terms. But we know that letters are only products of context. They are part of endless chains of other letters and communications, and when we read them we can be comfortable and even delight in our only partial knowledge. From Horace and Ovid to Mayer and Spicer, poets have used letter-poems to explore not just the ways letters help poets write, but how letter-poems force readers to read.

Epistolary poetry also focuses our attention on the audience (the “to whom”) of poetry rather than its subjects and meanings (the “what”). And since we’re reading a poem not initially intended for “us,” one thing letter-poems ask is that we consider how we are, and are not, like the real people they’re addressed to. Poets who use epistolary address also attempt to figure out not just who that “you” is—whether it’s a close friend or all posterity—but what, and how to meaningfully communicate with them. It’s a question poets have been asking themselves since writing, and letters, appeared.

Originally Published: August 29, 2013

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
01-24-2016, 11:11 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/244150



PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
The Necessary Fluster
On the art of finding.

BY NAOMI BECKWITH

Though I do not have a “favorite” of many things, I do have a favorite poem: Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.” Its words on loss are so even-keeled for five stanzas that I immediately became a devotee of its matronly, metaphysical advice. But suddenly, in the sixth stanza, the poem cracks open, leaking vulnerability. I love the poem for its timeless subject, its progression, and especially for its title, which I consider a pun on my own professional interests as a curator. When I mentioned this to an English professor friend, he commanded I recite “One Art” like a pop quiz. I consented and got through four lines until my friend interrupted me—“Elizabeth Bishop would never use the word fluster.” An argument ensued, Google was consulted, and eventually I was vindicated.

Our argument was essentially an academic one about Bishop’s practice, but it mirrored ongoing debates about what type of language and forms are appropriate for poetry. In this case “fluster” was common, colloquial, too close to slang, and, for my friend, inconsistent with Bishop’s lyricism. It’s as if poetry’s only function were embellished erudition.

My own notions about what constitutes poetry veer toward the decorative as well, but when I think back on the poetry that first grabbed my imagination—“We real cool. We/Left school”—its diction was akin to slang. The monosyllabic words, the idiosyncratic meter, the creative verbs (to “Jazz June”?): these weren’t simple aesthetic choices for Gwendolyn Brooks, they were linguistic portraits. Like Brooks, I lived for much of my life on the South Side of Chicago. The familiarity of her cadences primed my young mind for poetry.

The familiar or colloquial isn’t base but inspirational—and, I would argue, necessary. Over one hundred years prior to “The Pool Players,” Charles Baudelaire stated that art must find its inspiration in the urban street, in the everyday, in the nineteenth-century version of the pool hall. Baudelaire was known as much as an art critic as a poet, and his ideas helped engender the cultural shift from the Romantic age into modernism.
Visual art and poetry have continued along separate aesthetic tracks, but I often return to poetry when I think about contemporary visual art. For instance, Kenneth Goldsmith’s concept of uncreative writing: Goldsmith—a true heir of Baudelaire’s dandyism—advocates for the wholesale borrowing or repurposing of language from any source rather than creating “new” text. It is a radical notion in a world saturated with cliches and nostalgic references. Goldsmith’s view is about making lateral moves rather than justifying what language is appropriate for poetry. It’s a vision of language that accepts “fluster.”

I also see Goldsmith’s ideas in direct conversation with visual art’s notion of the “found object.” An artist utilizing appropriation or a found object forces her audience to look anew—and critically—at the world. Artists and poets who do this go beyond style to pose conceptual questions: what does it mean, like Brooks or Baudelaire, to engage directly with the world surrounding you rather than looking toward the academy? How do you take advantage of the familiar while making it unfamiliar and surprising? These questions are now my guiding principles as I consider contemporary art.

Originally Published: June 1, 2012

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
01-27-2016, 09:07 AM
Warning some graphic/vulgar language in the article.--Tyr

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/245164

PROSE FROM POETRY MAGAZINE
All My Pretty Hates
Reconsidering Charles Baudelaire.

BY DAISY FRIED
I’m writing this in Paris, so, from my many poetic aversions (“all my pretty hates,” to quote Dorothy Parker): Charles Baudelaire, oozing with decay, pestilence, and death. Baudelaire, tireless invoker of  muses, classical figures, goddesses, personifications: O Nature!...Cybele!... 
Sisyphe ... O muse de mon coeur! Baudelaire, who makes an old perfume bottle an invocation of the soul wherein

A thousand thoughts were sleeping, deathly chrysalids,
trembling gently in the heavy darkness,
which now unfold their wings and take flight,
tinged with azure, glazed with pink, shot with gold*
— From The Phial

Anyone ever counted how many times “azure” shows up in Les Fleurs du Mal?

When she had sucked all the marrow from my bones
And I languidly turned to her
To give back an amorous kiss, I saw no more.
She seemed a gluey wine-skin full of pus.
— The Vampire’s Metamorphosis

I’m not one to criticize poems about blowjobs but Really, Charles? My fourteen-year-old self might have been impressed. Ew, gross. Then again, shouldn’t one be aware of not reading through one’s fourteen-year-old eyes? After all, he and Poe invented poetic goth. It’s not Baudelaire’s fault his modern-day followers are goofballs. And not their fault I’m a boring middle-aged American.

The main trouble is that English is a mash-up of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, and other languages, while French, like all romance languages, is more purely Latinate. I think, feel, imagine, and dream in twentieth-century English. Different associations and emotions attach to Latinate versus Anglo-Saxon synonyms. Latinate words seem inflated and emotionless; Anglo-Saxon alternatives are, for me, concrete, emotional, complex. I can stumble along in Baudelaire’s French, and know enough of the language to argue with translators. Carol Clark turns “L’Art est long et le Temps est court” (“Le Guignon”) into “Art is long and Time is fleeting.” Why not the sonically similar “short”? She makes Cybele’s “tétines brunes” in the untitled third poem of Les Fleurs du Mal literary and Eliotish — “brown dugs” — 
instead of “brown tits.”

In “The Venal Muse,” Baudelaire describes the muse of his heart, a lover of palaces, warming her frozen purple feet during the “noirs ennuis” (black boredom) of snowy evenings. Next he asks her: “Récolteras-tu l’or des voûtes azurées?” Azure again. Carol Clark translates this line: “Will you gather gold from the vaults of heaven,” leaving out the explicit sky color and adding a religious whiff with “heaven.” But even in more literal translation, “Will you reap gold from the azure vaults,” thud goes the poem. Of course, this poem’s interest and innovation is partly structural: the thrill ride from register to register, palaces to purple feet to sky blue vaults. Baudelaire conformed to many of the straitjacket conventions of nineteenth-century French poetry: strict syllabics, indefatigable personifications, classical references. In her excellent introduction, Clark explains that his wedging of the hideous, erotic body into those strictures was radical. And yet: gold, azure, vaults — I just don’t like this poem’s escape into the windy figurative.

But. As I reread and edge closer to feeling the French late in my two-month Paris trip, I start to find Baudelaire... lovable. Not only that, but a good model. In the Cybele poem quoted above, Baudelaire imagines a lost arcadia, “époques nues” when men and women “jouissaient sans mensonge et sans anxiété.” Jouissaient: 
“enjoyed each other”  — fucked, presumably — “without lying or 
anxiety.” Sentimental? Maybe. But then he contrasts that dream-age to modern diseased, debauched nineteenth-centry women:

And you, women, alas, pale as church candles, fed and gnawed away by debauchery, and you, virgins, dragging along the inheritance of your mothers’ vice and all the hideous appurtenances of fecundity! (Clark)

Never mind that “hideous appurtenances of fecundity.” Finally, the disgust is glorious, vivid, diagnostic. Objections to sexism in this passage are anachronistic; Baudelaire’s always most revolted by himself.
We in America could use more romantic self-disgust. (Frederick Seidel thinks so. Ooga Booga is the Fleurs du Mal of our time.)

Or take the great poem “Le Cygne” (“The Swan”) in which Baudelaire compares drastically-changing Paris of  the mid-nineteenth century to a swan escaped from its cage, rubbing webbed feet on dry pavement, dragging plumage on rough ground, opening its beak near a dry gutter, bathing wings in dust, dreaming of  home, a beautiful lake, and of water, water. Look up the original. There’s seldom been in 
poetry anything so terribly dry and so full of yearning.

In “The Swan,” Baudelaire invokes Andromache several times. Elsewhere his classical references can seem perfunctory. Here, Hector’s widow injects, finally, an enormous sorrow into the poem, and provides a segue near the end to a strange, and strangely relevant, intrusion:

I think of the negress, wasted and consumptive, trampling in
the mud and looking with wild eyes for the missing coconut
palms of proud Africa behind the immense wall of the fog;
Of whoever has lost what can never be found. (Clark)

It’s true, Baudelaire can be awfully windy. But I apologize to my 
editors. I’ve developed an aversion to my aversion. If that’s wind, well, sometimes you have to listen to the wind.



* This and some other translations are prose ones by Carol Clark, from Penguin’s Selected Poems, hereafter designated “(Clark).” Where I make no citation, I’ve cobbled together versions from Google Translate, Clark, and other translators, with apologies and no blame.

Originally Published: January 2, 2013

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
02-02-2016, 11:18 AM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/251964
ESSAY
Immortal Beloved
On the missing persons of love poetry.
BY AUSTIN ALLEN

Immortalizing the beloved is supposed to be one of the poet’s supreme powers. What journal-toting teenager hasn’t tried to wield it? Shakespeare himself claims in his sonnets:

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. (XVIII)

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time. (LV)
There’s no disputing these lines as boasts of literary prowess. The sonnets are monuments; they’ll outlast us all. But are they truly personalized? Who is “thee”?

Scholars have never identified the “Fair Youth” Shakespeare celebrated; he may have been a lover, friend, patron, or fantasy. Two earls, William Herbert and Henry Wriothesley, are leading suspects, but no one has clinched the case for either, and both are unknown outside of English departments.

Of course, the sonnets promise to keep alive a spirit, not a name. But who is the Youth in spirit? We learn little about his temperament, his quirks, the mind behind the handsome face. Despite all the flattering tributes, he eludes us—as does that other specter of the sonnets, the “Dark Lady.” In what sense, then, does the poet give them life? More convincing is the claim, in Sonnet LV, that “your praise shall still find room / Even in the eyes of all posterity”—emphasis mine, praise Shakespeare’s.

Like so many love poems before and since, the sonnets whisper, “I’m gonna make you a star, kid.” So why do we remember only the starmaker? Whose fame are we really talking about here?



“How I envy the novelist!” Sylvia Plath wrote in her 1962 essay “A Comparison,” without mentioning that she was turning into one herself. The previous summer, she had finished her first, headlong draft of The Bell Jar, which she would publish (under the alter ego Victoria Lucas) in the winter of ’63. The private agonies she poured into that novel are well known, but her essay reveals the artistic impulse behind her foray into fiction. Casting the novelist as a spoiled rival, she exclaims:

To her, this fortunate one, what is there that isn’t relevant! [In a novel] old shoes can be used, doorknobs, air letters, flannel nightgowns, cathedrals, nail varnish, jet planes, rose arbors and budgerigars; little mannerisms … any weird or warty or fine or despicable thing. Not to mention emotions, motivations—those rumbling, thunderous shapes.
The surprise comes in that last sentence. Yes, novels accommodate more lavish variety and miscellaneous detail, but aren’t emotions just as “relevant” to poems? Plath seems to mean that poets can’t depict emotion with the novel’s sprawling complexity; working on smaller canvases, they’re confined to fewer and proportionately broader brushstrokes.

Emotions, motivations, accessories, “little mannerisms”—these are the things characters are made of. One of Plath’s implicit fears is that poetry lacks what E. M. Forster called “round characters”: three-dimensional human presences. Where the novel gives people “leisure to grow and alter before our eyes,” poems restrict them to stagy lyric moments, discarding much of their everyday baggage in the process. Plath confesses with regret: “I have never put a toothbrush in a poem.”

In fact, these general distinctions have stark, specific relevance to Plath’s own work. In Ariel, emotions are not just broad but operatic. People are more than types; they’re mythic heroes and monsters. Her father is a Fascist; her mother is Medusa; Ted Hughes, her wayward husband and fellow poet, is a vampire (in “Daddy”); she herself is the avenging “Lady Lazarus.” It’s brilliant psychodrama, but it helps explain why Plath sought refuge in the novel. As the poems’ hellish atmosphere thickens, it kills off large tracts of normal human experience. Vampires don’t even use toothbrushes. Neither do resurrected spirits who “eat men like air.”

Hughes’s own portrayal of the marriage, the 1998 collection Birthday Letters, demonstrates Plath’s point from another angle. The best Hughes poems are as efficiently compact as a naturalist’s rucksack, but Hughes fills this late volume with so many “poetical toothbrushes”—so much descriptive trivia, labored psychologizing, and embroidery on Plath’s myths—that it bulges and drags. (Do we need to know the prices of both the “walnut desk” and the “Victorian chair” in the home he shared with Plath? Does having her stamp on her father’s coffin “like Rumpelstiltskin” add anything to the original image in “Daddy”?) For all his earnest effort, Hughes never evokes Plath as sharply as he’d described a hawk some forty years earlier: “There is no sophistry in my body, / My manners are tearing off heads.”

And so this great literary power couple—in life, a notoriously charismatic pair—leaves us feeling that their poems never quite captured each other. To view their marriage in three dimensions we need to consult Plath’s overflowing journals, or the endless biographies for which their fans continue to thirst. Partly this is due to their particular sensibilities and Plath’s early death. But I’m tempted, like Plath, to seek part of the reason in poetry itself.



There are always motives for discretion in writing about a lover. Sometimes, too, there’s a coy thrill in opening the curtain only halfway. When Robert Browning, at the end of Men and Women, drops his dramatis personae and addresses his poet-wife directly, he delights in the true selves they’ve concealed from the reading public:

God be thanked, the meanest of His creatures
Boasts two soul-sides, one to face the world with,
One to show a woman when he loves her.

… but think of you, Love!
This to you—yourself my moon of poets!
Ah, but that’s the world’s side, there’s the wonder,
Thus they see you, praise you, think they know you!
But coyness isn’t the exclusive province of poets, and discretion isn’t the heart of the Shakespearean promise. The promise is to “give life to thee.” Why, then, does poetry so rarely capture a lover in three dimensions?

Plath would blame space constraints (“so little room! So little time!”), but these can’t be the whole story. Average poem length aside, nothing prevents a poetry collection from covering as much ground as a novel.

A likelier culprit is the lyric genre, which has dominated English poetry at least since the Romantics. More than narrative, lyric encourages a fixed inward gaze. Critic Heather Dubrow sums up the usual divide in The Challenges of Orpheus: “lyric is static and narrative committed to change, lyric is internalized whereas narrative evokes an externally realized situation, lyric attempts to impede the forward thrust of narrative, and so on.” This chimes with Plath’s point about people “grow[ing] and alter[ing]” in novels but not in poems. Dubrow goes on to argue, however, that these distinctions are flimsy and that Modernism made a virtue of ignoring them.

If Joyce and Woolf could import lyric techniques wholesale into the novel, nothing prevents poets from accomplishing the reverse. And, in fact, recent decades have seen a minor vogue for “verse novels,” including such distinguished love-and-heartbreak sagas as Robert Lowell’s The Dolphin, Rita Dove’s Thomas and Beulah, Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red and The Beauty of the Husband, and Louise Glück’s Meadowlands. Each of these books offers an original fusion of narrative and lyric. Their other merits aside, those that venture farthest outside the lyric “I”—especially Thomas and Beulah and Autobiography—seem to me most successful in creating full-fledged characters. (Dove’s chronicle of a marriage, loosely based on her grandparents’, has been staged as an opera; Carson’s Geryon and Herakles won enough fans that she revived them in a sort of sequel.) By contrast, Lowell’s deeply personal Dolphin, which caused a scandal by quoting from his ex-wife’s letters, seems to chafe against the lyric’s limits in representing others’ perspectives. (I suspect Lowell shared Plath’s novelist envy: “The ideal modern form seems to be the novel,” he once mused.)

In any case, projects like these remain anomalies. If I started listing novels that plumb the depths of their authors’ marriages, I could fill this whole essay. Yet when you look at the great sequences of English love poetry, you find that they overwhelmingly portray wanting or missing, not shared experience. In other words, they thrive on isolation.

The “wanting” group, of which Sappho is the godmother, includes everything from Petrarch’s and Shakespeare’s sonnets to Dickinson’s lovelorn ballads to Yeats’s lifelong poetic courtship of Maud Gonne. The “missing” group includes breakup sequences (as in Ariel) and countless studies in grief: I think immediately of Thomas Hardy’s elegies for his wife Emma, Jack Gilbert’s for Michiko Nogami, Donald Hall’s for Jane Kenyon (Without, The Painted Bed), and Gjertrud Schnackenberg’s for Robert Nozick (Heavenly Questions). Karen Green’s recent Bough Down (a collection of prose poems centered on the suicide of her husband, David Foster Wallace) falls into the same category, as does that Victorian epic of sorrow, Tennyson’s In Memoriam A.H.H.

These disparate works share a tendency to foreground the poet’s emotions while lending the beloved—the distant or departed one—a tinge of unreality. David Foster Wallace’s famous claim that “every love story is a ghost story” seems to me even truer of poetry than fiction. Petrarch projects his fantasies onto a woman he barely knows. Dickinson’s “Master” goes virtually undescribed and remains unidentified (candidates include her sister-in-law, a minister, and God). Yeats’s love poems are one of the great literary labors ever devoted to a single person; they’re also a profound evasion. His Gonne is Helen of Troy, the spirit of Ireland, an embodiment of radicalism, or simply the Unattainable—but rarely the busy, idealistic woman we meet in her correspondence.

Elegiac sequences are