The new poetry will not just comment, luxuriate or complain. It will have thought through the problems of existence, and will play the whole 88 keys, from the most lofty to the most basic practical & moral dilemmas. It will relate & integrate them all in a new light.

It will not flatter your vanity or soothe your nerves or feed you candy or agree with your notions or pretend to be what it's not. It will offer a form of reality for your interpretation. Its inherent truth will challenge, encourage, inspire, delight & rebuke. It will give you new ideas as it interprets the world.
The plot pivots on its ending. The shell turns inside out around its pearl.

Odysseus goes Homer, in his bed built around a live treetrunk, with Penelope. Dante the pilgrim reaches his goal becoming Dante the author starting to write (backwards) "Nel mezzo del cammin. . ." The child Marcel voyages through thousands of pages in order to become Proust the author setting out on the voyage.

World & author becoming whole, becoming one. Shakespeare's Globe, rounded with a sleep.

Happy endings, after turmoil, test & struggle.

What is your plot, what is your theme?
Actually my ideal reader is someone who understands & likes my poetry : & who insists I write something a lot better. Her name is Beatrice & she lives in Jersey City, believe it or not.
Hey Tim, you've got a future in TV. Turn it into a reality show, if possible.

I don't think much about an ideal reader. But I guess I would like to imagine someone who loves to read, all kinds of writing - history, science, literature, poetry. Who takes an interest in poetry without necessarily writing it. Who knows the great old things, but is also willing to explore the unknown. Who is active in the world in their own right, both practically & intellectually, and reads poetry & literature within a generous experiential context. Who enjoys language for its own sake, & yet at the same time wants to learn something specific & benefit from it. [OK, no, this is not a personal ad. Or a job notice.]

Again I ask, do you have something to say to the world, about anything, to anyone outside the clubhouse?

Meanwhile everybody's down on me. I love Janis Joplin.
Do you know what a disinterested reader is, Tim? This is not a rhetorical question : I imagine lots of people in the poetry clubhouse have no idea what this means.
Tim mischaracterizes what I said. There was nothing in there about triumphant barbarians, nor was my issue with "dominance" of a literary market or scene. I've never argued in favor of choosing the accessible mainstream over the avant-garde (Tim's reductive comments only more evidence of this boring binary at work).

Meanwhile, Jimby the Famous Monkey reinforces the chimp theory of socio-poetry. David Hess disses old ape Henry. Henry swats him down. Dave goes off to sulk in the jungle. Jimby yells boo.
Dave writes:

I don't really see any discussion or development going on, more like an endless string of tautologies that trip themselves up and then you have to start over again with the definitions.

You say you believe in a poetry beyond the ideological cliche or political position yet you constantly stress how your poetic beliefs stem from your centralist political beliefs and how Poetry should mirror those beliefs.

So what's up with that?

I've been at a music practice, hence the delay in responding to your question, Dave. I think what interests about literature, from Homer to Virgil to Dante to & so on, is that human choices & passions & speculations & dreams & guile & drama - all these things - trump the verbal systems that would contain them, be they religious, political, what have you.

Poetry only concentrates this effect & makes it more elegant and musical (as Dante is more musical than Joyce, despite his best efforts).

This is how poetry is beyond politics, at least in one of its dimensions.

I don't have "centralist" beliefs; I said that beneficial change comes to our earth from the center of humane values, & I said it was "central" only in the sense that it proceeds from life itself, that which survives & overcomes death & destruction - through its own wisdom, & through divine intervention (grace).

I think of poetry as a branch of this basic (yet mysteriously dual) life-force; a kinship recognizable in its freedom & unpredictable integrity.

I think that covers most of my supposed tautologies. But thank you for asking.


David Hess, one-man peanut gallery.
. . . but getting back to what I was saying, think of Grenier's "I hate speech" and the langpo that followed - think of the general turn toward "textuality" in poetics that began in the 70s and continued - think of these trends in the context I laid out, of an emphasis in 20th-cent. modernism on artifact over communication (the creation of the aesthetically-perfect, self-contained, hermetically-sealed cul-de-sac as a defense against the loss of traditional cultural authority & its forms of shared discourse). These trends were another iteration of the divided zeitgeist (love/knowledge, faith/science) which is perhaps now over. Perhaps the answer to Ron Silliman's well-known & repeated "what's next?" queries will have something to do with poets' reclaiming the communicative function : restoring the balance by means of theme & subject-matter & more direct speech.

The post-structuralist argument which plays into much contemporary poetry, ie. that there is no ground for rational discourse, so no possibility of a return to logos or shared terms, is, of course, also a rational argument, albeit one which contradicts itself in the assertion. . .
Quickdraw Dave likes to skip discussion, go straight to insults. Must be something cool about it. Is that how you get girl apes?
Mock on, Mickey.
. . . Lots of funny contemporary twists on this artifact/communication dilemma. The vogue of the "informal", the "talk poem", the poem which parlays documents & news items as a way to "get it across", the vogue of the poet as a function of a bohemian clique, of poetry as "performance" - all these postmodernist reactions against the modernist aesthetic artifact reveal one glaring Achilles' heel : the lack of anything in particular to communicate. Thus a dressed-down, informal, performance clubhouse party poetry becomes its own kind of artifact or fashion statement.

But if they had a theme, if they had something to say, they would look more carefully at the "formal" elements of style, the "prose virtues", etc.
. . . So if we think of the poet as one with a special faculty or aptitude for pleasing speech acts, then in this dilemma, this split between artifact & communication, we are confronted today with something analogous to the situation faced by the medieval poets who had to choose between Latin and the vernacular. The "model" or artifact tendency is, paradoxically, also a form of communication - but only within the coterie of fellow modernist-postmodern-post-postmodernists. The problem of the other tendency - the problem of communication - remains undeveloped, consigned (disingenuously) to the "mainstream", the vulgar herd; and it remains a problem so long as the poet refuses to grapple with the fundamental issue : how to communicate value in a shrinking, single Babel-world of variant, often conflicting languages, dialects and worldviews.
. . . But whence cometh this bicameral poetics? I don't think it's simply self-interested polemics. The deeper fault line probably goes back to John Donne's era. When God was no longer understood as Love & Knowledge together, the split between Love & Knowledge, Faith & Science, began. A gradual breakdown of the idealist concept of Nature & the Good, so that the beginning of the 20th century witnessed the final flip-over, the revolutionary displacement of Apollonian by Dionysian humanity : "love" understood philosophically & psychologically as only a veil for subconscious desire, the ideal countered by the anti-ideal, the "knowing", the disenchanted.

The effect of these thought-movements on art was of course manifold : art's basic drive to depict or reflect was no longer guided by an accepted or singular logos or mythology; it began to depict chaos & disorder. The "order" imposed by Modernism is an order of the autonomous artifact.

Such order based on the thing-in-itself sets up a fundamental division between artifact and communication. Perhaps it is this basic division - between the urge to "make" a wholistic thing/machine/poem on the one hand, and the urge to communicate fact, truth, values, on the other - which is reflected in the partisanship of "mainstream" & "experimental".

(Meanwhile the agon between Apollonian and Dionysian - between a verbalized icon of the Ideal and a representation of the commanding power of Desire - sets up an endless productive/empty tumult, since, ironically, the heart's desire is not satisfied by either of them : neither by a detached verbal formula of the Good, nor a worldview framed by impersonal, deterministic hedonism, ie. fulfillment through sensuality.)
I was thinking of you, David, in the context of the Stevens poem, "The American Sublime"(1935):

How does one stand
To behold the sublime,
To confront the mockers,
The mickey mockers
And plated pairs?

(Let this serve as your chihuahua for today.)

Everyone brings what light they have to this subject (the subject of the poetry blogs, that is). I have a problem with the bicameral criticism emanating from the so-called "avant". That is one of my big themes on hgpoetics. I've tried to look at it in different ways. What strikes me again & again is how often poetic "experiment" leads to obscurity & self-indulgence. & I attribute this tendency in large part to the teachers poets & critics who parlay the binary theory of US literary history. Ie. the theory that there is an inimical centrist mainstream which is both corrupt and cliched, and the only way to get around it is by Russian formalist-futurist "making strange" (a process which becomes mannered & cliched in its own ways).

Far better to read the tradition of poetry in English on its own terms, take as much from it as you can, and bend it to contemporary awareness & concerns. Far better to make no assumptions about your audience, but to conduct an inward critique of your own ethical and aesthetic motives (under which aegis you undertook to write poetry in the first place).


Poetry is a chihuahua serving temporarily as your judge in Hades.
A chihuahua is poetry.
Poetry is a chihuahua.
Poetry is limestone in the hands of a botanist.
Poetry is the landscape you can't put into words.
Poetry is the landscapes in the marginal metaphors of Dante's Inferno.
Poetry is what remains unexpressed.
Poetry is what the janitor finds after the reading is over.
Poetry is none of your business.
Poetry is something Poe tried.
Poetry is as I define it.
Poetry is to performance art as chess is to Chutes & Ladders.


You mock, David, you mickey-mocker : but everything starts over with me.

Poetry is (& always was) the beginning of is.

I continually start over with what is basic and universal, in contrast to the complacent assumptions, the in-group distinctions, the tendentious binaries, the parochialism, the superficiality - all those distractions from the real thing. The aim should be the disinterested reader, not the insider networks.
In contrast, I aim for the continuum of the center. My poems try to curve into wholes, from the abba quatrain to the strophe to the chapter to the part to the book to the 1000 pp. poema.
David Hess having trouble with my definitions. When you spend a lot of time around video slot machines, after a while everything must be packaged in little discrete bytes. The Rabid Imagiste sees poetry & "quotes" in the same way : flashing pinball lights.
Mandelstam was my Virgil.

(& Beatrice is. . .)
I recommend Irma Brandeis' superb (& brief) study of the Divine Comedy, titled Ladder of Vision. See her treatment of the "Farinata" episode from Inferno, for light on Dante's presentation of partisan factionalism and its moral effects.

Brandeis, in persona, was the model for the "Clizia" figure in Montale's "dantesque" poetry (30 years before her study was published). Montale achieved, for the Italian language, the "classic" as I've been trying to describe it.
More reasonable debate from Tim.

The Rousseau quote seems a more individualist version of the social contract than my little statement. But my emphasis to start with was not on the process of political reform but on its source, which I asserted came not from some Rousseauiste romantic rebellion but from a perennial "tree of life" of humane values.

I guess I could summarize my position as : classicism is a recognition of the living presence of past poetry : and this recognition - this active reading and interpretation - is an integral aspect of making new poetry. Poetry is a living presence because it is an emanation from the broad universal stream of life & truth itself. The binary polemics and provocations of both the "avant-garde project" and its reactionary antagonists tend to deflect from the most basic and integral aspects of poetry-making.

Now everyone may nod their heads & go back to making joyful noises.

Mandelstam : "classicism is revolution".


you won't find it here. go back to your bubble bath.


Chris Lott asks some good questions.

Maybe blogging & internet communication will eventually, in dialectical fashion, underline the necessary formality (distance, imperfection, anonymity, reserve) of. . .

the book. That thing they make from trees.
Orpheus curls around his wounded memory like a shell around a pearl. He looks back : & poetry is Eurydice-Hermes.

The contemplative curls around an unlived life, around remorseful memory, like God brooding over creation. & then the curl becomes a spiral (a pale green fiddlehead).
The pitiless authority of the old, suffocating the present under its weight.

A happy marriage involves mutual renunciation, self-sacrifice out of love.
So the new pleases the old, & vice versa.

Stevens' image of poetry as a man carrying his father on his back.

The wars over style & "lineage" : psychological projection & compensation.
The pitiless clamor of the New, which blindly erases what came before. "Classicism" is memory and pity. But memory can also be resistance.
An email from Brian Richards, posted with his permission:

Dear henry Gould
. . . i reluctantly break silence to observe
that poetry is the avatar of consciousness and is resistant to any more
exclusionary definition, schools and movements notwithstanding.
Brian richards
Anastasios is back, with a neat new address : Thisbe.
We know the substance of the scandal : because of the injustice, corruption & militarism of the world political economy, that "tree of life" is watered with the blood & tears of the poor & oppressed. "Wisdom cries out in the streets" : even on the editorial page of the NY Times (see full-page editorial of Sunday, on the effect on the world's poorest farmers of agricultural subsidies in the rich nations).

But does this mean we must respond by pledging allegiance to some political faction, and then dilute & corrupt literary values in petty partisan checkers games - red/black, "mainstream/innovative", "quietude/post-avant"? Far from it. Poets will search simultaneously for the center of humane values, and for the spiritual and technical resources of the masterpieces in our language, which both emanate from and reflect that center (whether in terms of praise or rebuke, lyricism or satire, vision or jeremiad).


Here's a Montale paragraph, from a newspaper article, I thought was funny:

"I have touched on one aspect (and only one) of the obscurity or apparent obscurity of certain contemporary art : that which is born of an intense concentration and of a confidence, perhaps excessive, in the material being treated. Faced with this, the critics act like the visitor at an art exhibition who looks at two pictures, a still life of mushrooms, for example, or a landscape with a man walking with an open umbrella, and asks himself: What do these mushrooms cost per pound? Were they picked by the artist or bought at the market? Where is that man going? What's his name? And is that umbrella real silk or synthetic? The obscurity of the classics, not only of Dante and Petrarch but also of Foscolo and Leopardi, has been partly unraveled by the commentary of whole generations of scholars: and I don't doubt that those great writers would be flabbergasted by the exegeses of certain of their interpreters. And the obscurity of certain of the moderns will finally give way too, if there are still critics tomorrow. Then we shall all pass from darkness into light, too much light: the light the so-called aesthetic commentators cast on the mystery of poetry. There is a middle road between understanding nothing and understanding too much, a juste milieu which poets instinctively respect more than their critics; but on this side or that of the border there is no safety for either poetry or criticism." [from "Due sciacalli al guinzaglio", publ. in Corriere della Sera, 1950]
Kasey wonders what I mean by this centrality. In the obit for the Canadian writer Carol Shields last week, she was quoted as saying that one of her themes was something that she became more aware of with time : the amount of goodness in people & the world. I spoke about it as a basic, almost subliminal social contract; you could just as well call it the "tree of life".

In other words, life itself is the center; without it we shrivel up & fade away. Life is the source of humane values; human beings put them into force by their thoughts & actions. Its centrality is not an ideal construct but a consequence of its absolute necessity.

Poetry is a natural force, a virtu, stemming from this same source. Its verbal actualization could be called Logos (as it was by Philo).
I sense one of those desiccated debates looming, that leave everyone feeling burnt-out. Will be brief, anyway, responding to Tim.

1) The quote from McClatchy is revealing; his defensive dismissal of the language poets et al. assumes a readership that even knows who they are, a readership which is extremely tiny. The forces of PR & publication & renown on both the "official" & the marginal wings are hyper-miniscule; the internal debate only highlights the extremely minor role poetry plays in the culture we have. The forces of fame & publication on either side of the mirror operate in exactly the same way; in both cases their impact is negligible. In this context, the official/marginal binary is merely a distraction from the real difficulties of making poetry.

2) The idea of a center of humane values is only a "red herring" if you can't see that center. The fact is there is a very basic social contract operating in most countries : a collectivity so basic, so domestic, so in front of our noses, that we sometimes fail to notice it. It goes something like this : if you work hard, get an education, take care of yourself & your family, you will do well. This kind of comment of course will invite all kinds of outcries along the lines of, well, what about these social injustices? My assertion was not, "there is a center, therefore the problems are unimportant." Remember, my assertion was: "corrections of injustices will come from the center of humane values".

3) Tim would like to portray my position as that of a deracinated aesthetician. I think it goes something more like this : politics is too important to be reduced to literary movement styles and phony frames of literary progress. By the same token, poetry is too essential to be subjected to the same partisan-ideological branding & feathering. In fact, poetry is too powerful to be confined by right-thinking intellectualizations or over-neat stylizations. It's powerful because rooted in experience, emotion and immediacy of perception; it's the working-out (through a desperate and often instinctive commitment to song) of conflicts which are too personal for abstract philosophical formulae; as Mandelstam emphasized, poetry is much more raw than prose. In making this argument I am leaving aside the most essential aspect, since raising it only instigates more arguments : poetry is an artistic activity, its effects operate on the aesthetic plane. Yes, the artist will be engaged in the social struggles which he or she inherits; yes, these will be reflected in the themes, styles, ethics of the art work; but, yet, & however, these social, political, philosophical beliefs and commitments, in the context of the art work, have no effect or meaning whatsoever, unless the art work is effective as art. How poetry works in this way is not something that can be explained by simple rules & instructions, or right-thinking ideological positions.*

*p.s. And these last two sentences, if you accept them, are the strongest argument for the poet's attention, not only to their private affinities, but to the tradition-at-large. The achievement of great poems is a general human achievement; they suffuse culture, take on a "second life", in Montale's sense; they are classics, in the sense that they open a door to general reception by means of their inherent quality. This general notion of classicism is perhaps something like what Mandelstam meant when he defined acmeism as "nostalgia for world culture". These classic achievements form a bond with that center of normative humane values which is civilization; the world culture Mandelstam wrote about in another place as that time when the worthless paper currency of the present (in his case, under Stalinism) is replaced by the ringing gold florins of a universal humanism, which will be passed from hand to hand. This same sense of wide, general heritage is what Brodsky was referring to when he wrote that "Man was put on the earth to make civilization."
Little example of partisan expression : the avant-garde "challenges", or "critiques"; but if you criticize the avant-garde, you are "bashing".
Well-put defense from Tim, & comments by Jonathan this morning. More later if I can think of anything.

The big blogwheels seem to be on vacation this week; an opportunity for Henry to mount his horse Assault.
Where does thinking in binaries, paired opposites, originate? You could say it started with the devil, offering the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good & evil (or with God who created the tree). So our binary thinking is a consequence of the Fall. Or you could say it originates in the structure of Nature as we know it, beginning with night and day, or with our orientation in space (up/down, left/right), or with the gender difference.

We're familiar with it in the US (the 2-party system; communism vs. capitalism; various ethnic us vs. thems).

Party loyalty, partisanship : on the one hand, necessary for organizational functioning; on the other hand, the motivation for "ends justify the means" behavior in both thought & deed.

The innovative/mainstream binary offers a kind of protective membrane for struggling writers. But I don't think it's real; it's a mental construct which provides space for partisan games of literary maneuvering. It blocks access to more essential literary elements.

It might be better to imagine poetry as one thing, really; one thing with many facets. To let go the protective membrane of insiders/outsiders. To face experience and literary tradition and the reading public simply, ignorantly (in Wallace Stevens' sense), directly.


Kasey weighs in.

Kasey, I think individualism is also a side issue here. The poetic process is perennial because it is a response to the basic human experience shared by everyone.

You ask for an example of the "historical narrative of literary progress" : the dominant one for the 20th century is what I described in previous post. The avant-garde literary project is a subset of an ideology. It is this ideological narrative which short-circuits the necessary (though not sufficient!) subjectivity of the poetic process.
Jonathan & Tim, I appreciate both your comments. But I think the whole lineage issue is a distraction, probably because I'm having trouble articulating exactly what I mean.

When I wrote about the avant-garde's dismissal of past poetry, or its framing of Whitman or Dickinson (for example : & you could find any number of examples) as avatars of resistance coming out of nowhere, I did not mean to insist on some standard stereotypical model of conservative poetics, in which the Great Figures, the classics, serve as Models for their ephebes & epigones.

Yes, the avant-garde, or the post-avant in Ron's term, may be obsessed with their own lineage; but the lineage is brought to the fore as a defense of an over-all agonistic paradigm, in which the "avant-garde project" (Steve Evans' term) is a project of critical thought (uniting poets with thinkers and activists more generally) which dis-establishes bourgeois values & systems (the "classic" futurist ideology). The attitude of the avant-garde toward the extended traditions of poetry is really a subset of this larger project.

Obviously and undeniably, each historical era produces new states of consciousness, new values, new faiths, new despairs; even the most traditionalist of the modern poets were engaged in the deepest rethinking and rewriting of the worn-out, deteriorated sensibilities and styles of romanticism and symbolism.

What seems worn-out and delegitimized to me, now, are artistic programs driven by the late effects of 20th-century ideologies. When I quoted some mathematician a few days ago, who wrote that "when faced with an insoluble problem, make it bigger", what I had in mind was enlarging and subtilizing the concept we have of literary influence and the influence of the tradition, the poetry which has become a natural force in the culture at large. In my view the poetic process is precisely an activity of working through and beyond ideological formations & cliches, by means of a more intimate engagement with the achievement of great poets emanating from former cultural eras and crystallizations. What this intimate engagement results in is a discovery of perennial human concerns, passions, longings, breakthroughs : the very definition of "classic" and classicism. This is not an artificial or reactionary process in any way : the intimacy of a poet with a past poetic spirit leads to the authentic re-discovery of the Real and the perennial.

The re-discovery of the classic is also a discovery of the normative. The avant-garde dismisses the normative as bourgeois or reactionary. But it is precisely this extreme position which makes the political edge of avant-garde poetry ineffectual. The greatest threat to the abusers of nature, freedom, and justice on the right, for example, will not come from their opposite numbers on the left, but from the center of normative humane values. This is true for politics in general and for its aesthetic manifestations too.
I know what I've said in previous post sounds simplistic. But take it in the context of the previous posts of the last few days.
I'm sketching the outlines of a different paradigm for poetics, different from that which dominated the last century. The new-old paradigm would not accept an a priori agonistic or dialectical stance with regard to past poetry, spurred (as it was in the 20th century) by social/political violence, crisis and disorder.

The new approach would acknowledge its debt to, and its affinities with, an underlying basic poetic process itself; it would recognize the cultural architecture formed by this process which seeps into experience, art becoming a second nature (the "second life of art", in Montale's terms).

The metapoetry which might stem from this approach would be an outcome of the poet's recognition of affinities with, and differences with, these models of art/nature, which are already suffused throughout everyday and aesthetic experience; "metapoetry" because the ensuing dialogue with past works would in turn suffuse the work itself.

Classicism in this sense, is essentially a recognition that the embodiments, the incarnations, so to speak, of the poetic activity of distant times, is not necessarily a dead weight or an inimical influence; but a series of saliences or models - examples of achievement and goads to revision.
Tim Yu responds to some of my recent postings.

My position on 20th-century avant-gardism and its inheritance is that it displaces, programmatically, any lineage but its own. That Ron Silliman et al. debate their own genealogy within that movement is not evidence to disprove my argument : that the project of revolutionary novelty displaces the poetic process itself. Tim writes:

"I'm most bothered by the statement that avant-gardism is simply "a displacement of the most basic aspects of poetic making with technical novelty." Nobody believes in mere "technical novelty"; to say that of a poem is simply another way of saying that it's silly, pointless, or boring. In fact, it seems like it's been the task of the avant-garde over the past century to pursue novelty with a purpose--precisely with the goal that Gould describes: a better "verbal response to reality." It just depends what reality you think you're responding to.

The labels "innovative" and "experimental" are occasionally annoying for this reason--that they suggest just fooling around with techniques with no purpose or direction, innovation for innovation's sake.

It seems to me that Tim somewhat undercuts his own position in this last sentence. Where do these labels come from, if not from the programmatic commitment to "pursuit of novelty for a purpose"?

As I think my original posts made clear, I'm certainly not opposed to reform, re-assessment, renovation of existing decadences of style and rhetoric. My point is that "avant-garde allegiance" is fundamentally a form of intellectual conceit and self-delusion; it short-circuits the poetic process by means of historical narratives of literary progress, by partisan commitments to collective "movements" which take the place of individual perception and composition.

My object in these criticisms is not criticism for its own sake. I want to focus on those aspects of the poetic process which are perennial, not subject to polemics and tendentious literary politics. I think that's the best way to clear the air, to discover our real affinities and opportunities.


Once you acknowledge the presence of past poetry, you are at the beginning of a different road, where your own poetry starts to reflect the poems of the past, in echo & revision & reversal & expansion. What is permanent in experience is refracted through new lenses, a new time, new faith or new disillusionment. What is made permanent in poetry through re-invention begins to reflect, as in the dual lenses of a telescope, what is permanent in experience & nature. The perennial return of poetic themes becomes the shadow of the perennial concerns of life itself.

Maybe an answer to the excessive familiarity, and the familiar excess, of poetry, is this kind of metapoetry, oriented by echo & response to the distant foci of deep time.
All the business about professionalization-academicization-commercialization-subculturalization-politicization-depoliticization is something else, a side issue that obscures the substantial. To keep such things at arm's length can be liberating for the spirit, but in itself doesn't guarantee the visitation of the Muse. As Montale wrote, in "Stile e tradizione" : "Tradition is continued not by those who want to, but by those who can."
Sometimes I've been criticized for my repetitive definitive assertive assertions about what "poetry is". But in today's literary climate, a return to basic first principles might be a healthy thing.

The confusion in avant-garde oppositional circles seems to be what it's always been : a displacement of the most basic aspects of poetic making with technical novelty. Imitation, as practiced in all the thousands of MFA programs etc., is castigated as not only unnecessary but as positively bad (The "School of Quietude" polemic is only the latest in a long line); what is put in its place are rotating models of literary rebellion or idiosyncrasy, as if rebellion & idiosyncrasy themselves were the substance of art and poetics. This is the fundamental mistake.

The contempt for imitation reveals an underlying misreading, an erasure of past poetries and their replacement with an a-historical continual revolution. But past poetries will not go away, will not be shunted aside; what the various idioms of futurism reveal, more than anything else, is aesthetic impoverishment and the debasement of literary values.

The oppositionalists read Whitman or Dickinson, for example, as utterly sui generis, geniuses from nowhere, whose lack or displacement of any lineage whatsoever then becomes a model for authenticity. But the activity of poetic making came before them; their technical achievements are a secondary effect of the intensity of their poetic thought, not simply stepping-stones in some kind of diachronic procession of unconventional literary progress or revolution. Literature does not simply "add on" to some "advances" in a linear progression : it wavers over time, swayed by individual authors whose insight & capability allow them to counter whatever rhetorical excesses or inauthenticities overshadow their times.

The basic character of poetic making has never changed. It is a verbal response to reality, a narrative ordering of experience, keyed to harmony (in both its musical and its logical or thematic senses). Praise come naturally to this activity; lyric ardor unites the perception of, and the desire for, what is beautiful; elegy and mourning express its loss; the logic of truth places beauty in a moral context; irony and denunciation are its negative image, its complementary shadow. The technique displayed in the working-out of this activity is secondary, the way Coleridgean fancy is secondary to imagination : poiesis itself is inherent talent, capability, a natural artfulness which emanates technique, rather than proceeding from it.

The great narrative of human experience is illegible without the first perception of the over-arching shape of the narrations which are already there. This is a hard thing to explain, but it gets to the root of the distinction between classicism and revolutionary modernism, or acmeism and futurism. The acmeist, for example, enters into a dialogue which is already ongoing : what this reflects is an aesthetic receptivity - beginning in childhood - to the natural continuity of human expression with time and nature. We learn the beauty of language and songs and stories at our mother's knees; our own artistic endeavors take place in the context of pre-existing beautiful sounds (other poems, other stories, other narrative orders). The world is shaped by the great narratives that preceded us : literature is not merely demystification, a purely negative critical activity of disaffection or disillusionment : it is also a sharing in the delightful apprehension of a stable and recurrent beauty or an underlying order.

This kind of classicism gives rise to those personal canons of aesthetic fitness and rightness which spur the poet to make something likewise, something both new and fitting : something right for the time and place. The great models of the past also challenge the poet to reach beyond the petty, the minor, the vulgar, the repetitive, to make something genuine, authentic and aesthetically meaningful in the clearest terms, for the widest, most disinterested audience.


Something I read somewhere : "Faced with an insoluble problem, make it bigger (enlarge the context)."

Let's forget about the roaring of contemporaries & cozening polemics. It's a musty closet. Let's do two things : read "the classics" and study where we are in the world (& beyond).

I imagine a limpid poetry of experience, which moves by gradual slight stages from description to synthesis and music, and back again. & by the same gradual slight stages from voice to persona and back again. a reserved poetry, which seeks fitness and the right moment & the right word rather than quantity and ambition.
Another point from yesterday : Dantean song vs. Melvillean naturalism, objectivity. Poetry/prose; faith/scepticism. That's too simple really, but it's related to the old debate about how to get prose values into poetry, or, in another key, the conflict between literary hermeticism & literary morality, or art-for-art vs. art for truth. Crux of Dantean poetics was to resolve this conflict on the side of art-for-truth, to send the troubadours to Purgatory. Crane votes for a Platonic synthesis : reality is musical. But in doing so he resolves the issue of the purpose/role of poetry only by veering very close to solipsism. The debate crops up again in the role-playing of Eliot & Pound (one's Dante to the other's "miglior fabbro"). (Dante is more serene than Crane because his faith is more firm - he reads the text of God in the book of His works. Crane turns the finding of the harmony itself into the cause for song : thus the Other is re-absorbed into the Same (isn't this the goal of all storytelling?), and the Bridge revolves on its metaphysical ground.)

But Dante's faith that he is commissioned to speak eternal truths in poetry - the confidence thus granted - leads paradoxically to a poetics grounded in empirical precision. The poet who can speak of death & eternity will not have difficulty spelling out the geometry of ethics and politics in petty Florence, or the whole earth's puny threshing-floor.

Jump now to somebody like Frost. This is a very subtle writer. Frost's persona of the old-time NE farmer is a kind of allegorical effect of literature/poetics itself. The mask allows him to meld high art with speech aimed not at fellow litterateurs in their solipsistic cells, but at the ordinary reader, Everyman, Everywoman.

These two I guess are models still - models for a future poetry in english. Not so much models of technique but models (perhaps unfashionable at the moment) of literary ethics. I'm not referring to their personal lives, but to their faith in a concept of poetry which configures it within, rather than separate from or as a shelter from or as a consolation for, life as a whole. "When the work is play for mortal stakes" - that could be Frost's keynote. Crane's not really much different - in his poetry, reality itself plays and flowers, that's his argument.
Obviously the wine was getting to me last night, & I apologize to my readers for the scatterbrained incomprehensible vagaries of yesterday.

& what were the main points?

1. The ancient notion of time-space : the future physically "behind", the past before them; thinking of this while pondering the futurepastness of poetry in english.

2. The hypothesis that poetry is deeply motivated by a kind of gyroscopic drive to achieve balance out of crisis & chaos : the pressure of the upheavals of 20th-century only intensifying the poetic search for origins, models, stability/reformation.

3. Remarking unavoidable brightness of the Moderns in that retrospective - their own renaissance of past poetries made new. & in the American context, a divided stream, divided between the expats who sought a synthesis of the Western tradition as a whole, and the natives, still engaged in the project of creating an independent New World center of gravity.

4. Pound & Eliot gravitating toward Dante; Crane (& Williams?) toward Melville & Whitman; Stevens finding sort of a middle path, emanating from the British (Shakespeare, Romantics). Frost, like Stevens in a way, finds a New World context without violent breaks with the English past. My aim is not to oversimplify, but to look at the general tendencies as a start toward a perspective.

5. US developments in poetry in english similar to colonial situation around the world, with the difference created by ascendant global political power. If the future is behind our backs, it's global english seeping through; it's the dramatic increase in available translations - the globalization of literary tradition(s) - with the concomitant difficulty in sorting out the bland globalized re-makes from authentic work. These new developments cast a different light on, create a new context for, the project of the "American Renaissance" or the project of the Moderns (both expats & stay-at-homes).
closing credits:


Here the waters gather along the shore.
They meet the land breathing in foam,
and roll the sleepy pebbles and shells
back into long sand waves as before.

Our moon, casting her antique spells.
A motionless iris in the whale's eye
of the sea, her unspeakable name
sinks to the bottom of lonely wells.

Her low whispers frame the deserted dome.
Her light covers the circus floor.
And she lifts, with one nocturnal sigh,
the heaving swells in a silver comb.

And what is this diff we're getting at? Isn't it deep down a difference in feeling, between the expats & the Americans, between Stevens & Eliot? a funny feeling, as in a reverse mirror the diff between Russian exile community (Nabokov etc.) & those who stayed home (Akhmatova, Mandelstam); and if there is a connection with poetry here, doesn't it have to do, ironically, with the universal Latin vs. national vernacular?

At issue here, anyway, is the lingua franca et jocundissima.

Which takes on new colorings as the years go by.

Don't get me wrong, though : I'm not on the side of the literary nationalists or the literary literalists. Eliot was right, Melville was right, Everyman was right : the cabala cabal of writing runs silent, runs deeper, runs universal.
Back to Fox Point (FOXP2).
Back to the moon point.
So, ok, I've had too much winepoetics at the moment, but the main pt was the diff between Melvillean prose epic & the impact of Dante on the non-Melvillean moderns. Intersting non-dialogue.

& why is this the main pt? Goes back to concept of poet as seismic radiation-beeper. Issue is analysis (prose, Melville) vs. music (poetry, Dante). Old issue. Plato recognized it. Solipsism of song vs. denotation-mimesis of analysis.

Pound & Eliot went to Europe & ancients for song. Melville went into his own brain for reason, for a reason, like a Leonardo.

& the winner is. . .
Mexico & monarch butterflies. Which brings me back to the Russian guy, whose first language was english, born on St. George's Day (April 23). Which brings me back to Pushkin the cat. I'm going in circles.
I lost my choo-choo of thought, because the computer died on me.

The constellation of "American Renaissance" poets, with Melville the new moon underneath.

Moon & Israel & the sea.

What meaneth "Israel", in this context? Yahweh & David. Which is the Trickster in context of Mesopotamia. Jacob & the stolen blessing. Solomon & Shulamit. Song of Songs.

What meaneth "the sea"? Olson wrote about this.

What meaneth "the Moon"? Good night, Moon. Good night, Coatlicue. Buenos noches, Mexico.
But back to the MN question. Back to purrty purrtry. Melville (etym. honey-city). Bees symbolic (& empiric) of Israel; he went there, writing long poem of title which I ferget.

At the center of Moby Dick, at the center of the mast of the Pequod (anybody following the "smoke shop" issue in Narragansett-land?), is nailed a gold doubloon struck in Quito, Ecuador : a symbol of chance and egualidad (have I got that right?).

Jubilee is liberation theology; the Sunday of the earth, the release from debt.

Dante represents poetry's victory over the trobar clus of medieval Romance. The vernacular reaches beyond the death of the Beloved and beyond the poetry of the death of the Beloved (Poe) to the poetry of the infantile love of God, the bambino-babble, the kingdom. A representation grounded in the Eddy-Pussy war between Latin & vernacular.

Dante represents the hope of metaphysical dance music, after the prose of Melville's penetrating dismal frightful intelligence (Herman-Merman-Leonardo : the deeper diver-diviner, the truer mama's boy. Deeper than Dante, maybe).

This is the difference between Melville's disaster & the Moderns'.
The future was behind the past, sorta like a blog entry.


But back to the main question. Remember the Maine. Poetry in english & Amurrcan vs. Expat. How oddly these issues are reflected in the dilemma of the burning Bushdom & the world Household. That is I mean the Amurrcan concept of kick-the-can vs. the global sopholeum of gettalifedom.

Hey, talk!!

But back to purrtry. The crux of the future (of purrtry in catfish, I mean), as I see it, lies in the difference between how Melville re-wrote Shakespeare, the Bible, and the Classics, generating a new American Bible (Moby), on the one hand, and, on the other, the impact of Dante on Eliot & Pound. The difference in their stances toward the literary past, I mean. The difference = Dante, oddly enough; the diff between Latin & vernacular.

Jive mutha.
Somebody wrote a book on this, I just remembered. Lucifer's Heel, or some such thing. Help, American Peeps! Milton was a favorite of the Founders. I wrote about that in In RI, of which a section appeared oncet upon a time in Apex of the M, & which a friend is translating into Scottish or Italian as we "talk". But I am n't a-goin' t'talk about m'self!! Except to add that the Long Poem which began with Stubborn Grew was completed on 5/28, the day that Wm. Blackstone, the first Euro alien in RI, was buried (after his library was burnt down), the saint's day of Guillem de Gellone, of chansons de geste fame, & the day before my birth, which is RI Statehood Day. I merely bring this up because We was talkin' previuddly about Good Friday & ghosts & their connection with Stubbornness.
But back to the main question. & it may well be argued that, in the context of poetry, this is not the "main question" in any sense. You will have to prove it, Pushkin (Pushkin the black cat is sprawled on the bed in the other room. He's had a long day.) What does the US experiment in democracy have to do, directly, with the progress of poetry in english?

But it has been argued that the US experiment in democracy is not so much nationalistic in essence as civilizational. It was a project in government based on Thucydides & Locke & the Enlightenment, to a large extent. I'm talking not about the economic underpinnings, but the superstructure, if you will; about the philosophies of governance which inspired the planners.

The founders plunked for a republic, something between direct democracy and elite governance. In other words, a utopia. Atlantis.

Impossible. Analogous to the way that family happiness is impossible : yet it happens. Silly Brit monarchy; silly Yank democracy.
Silly Feds in rancher-land; silly park rangers.

Silly Man! [huh?]
There was a constellation in the previous century : Emerson, Thoreau, Dickinson, Whitman, Poe. But unbeknownst to Eliot & Pound, underneath this constellation, lurked something more profound, of which Crane was aware (via Waldo Frank?): Melville.

What does Melville represent? A submerged, umbilical, cabalistical connection with origins, with Genesis. & not simply intuitive : his honeyheaded whale-brain grasped & absorbed both classical & biblical scriptoria; he re-invented them, like a Leonardo-literatus. (Olson, thanks to the rehabilitation of Melville 15 yrs later, revived Crane/Frank's discovery for his own purposes. Olson is Melville's pet squid.)
Rain falling in Providence. Time on my hands tonight.

Read an article somewhere stating that the ancients (BC, roughly) had a different spatial concept of time. The future was behind them, physically, spatially; in front of them was the past, shining, complete; the future accumulated as they walked into the past, followed the patterns laid down.

If we think of new developments in poetry in this ancient sense, what do we see? The brilliance of the great Moderns, the second thoughts of those who followed.

I can't think of the Moderns except in the context of civilizational crisis. Poetry = seismic reading; response to disequilibrium. (Psychological, as I wrote somewhere in the archives : poetry a reaction, an antidote, to tremors of adolescence.) It was WW I (& decadence preceding) that spurred Pound & Eliot to look over the shoulders of the Victorians, to the whole sweep of the past. Longfellow & Tennyson & Browning did same; but they didn't , as the Moderns did, unite an obsessive grasping after classical models, with a stylistic extremity, which overthrew any simple or assumed continuity with same. This was a purely 20th-cent phenomenon.

What this meant for US poetry, though, was defined by a particular decision : were you an American, or an expatriate? Stevens & Williams on one side, Pound & Eliot on the other. There were political underpinnings : an American was a democrat; an expat was a monarchist or aristocrat. Never mind for a moment the complications : Eliot's intuitive grasp of the middle, Pound's intuitive awareness of the low, Williams's status (like Dante, in an odd way) as immigrant-outsider, Stevens's very American macho businessman snobbery (the independent CEO, no academic "bought man"). These are side issues to the pivotal question : does US democracy inaugurate a verifiable new civilization, a new reality, a Novus Ordo Seclorum (fun to read Rabid's de Tocqueville quotes)?
I would like ET to come back from the silence as vino e pane, aglio[?] e olio.
Jordan then:

But I see that Henry is just differentiating in his private-public space between "talk" and "poetry." Well shut my mouth for renegade intrusive quibbling.

Please, dear Jordan, intruse all you like. You're about the only one of the boys, anyway, who acknowledges my existence, even, ghoul or no. I need you bloggers, badmouth as I be. Talk is good when it's good; so's poetry. So are the oysters in Galveston. & have a good week off too.
But then spectral Henry comes back again, in the ghost dances of Grassblade Light, and the Mississippi-baptism of July (Rio del Espiriti Santo), and the Blackstone visions of Blackstone's Day-Book (in Island Road). Just like that corpse-Poet keeps ramblin' on, & I'm glad.

Letter killeth. Cabala : sacred text is "literally" true.

href="http://www.lulu.com/content/884878 signifies the "death", the sloughing-off, of "Henry", student of Pound, "epic poet", sinner-man. The poem, completed on early morning of Good Friday, begins where it ends:

Stub born
grew the


Time flowers on the lips of whispered clay.

Blackstone puts dab of ash on forehead.
Jordan sez:

Henry writes that the talker is a time-thief. Maybe. That sounds like an absolute position, an all-or-nothing hideout. I bet a poet could be a talker, could be out spending the small change of their observations to get the shiny and soft things they need for the immense ongoing collages, the surreal boxes, a cup of coffee to chase down the spleen.

To blame someone for an "absolute position" (common these days) is to take an absolute position. My approach with these talk/poetry comments is to juggle more than one thing, to point up differences. It tends to bring out other partial non-absolute comments, like the one above. We all may be both talkers (takers?) & poets, but they're not the same thing.
The work involved. . . doesn't it have to do, in the long run, with what we identify as Truth? Beginning with puppy love for adored poems - listening, imitating, re-writing to suit different circumstances. Similar to adapting fashions from "models", or cardinals imitating car alarms. Milton reading Virgil. Shakespeare watching Marlowe. Then they go to work. Because if it's not re-written, it becomes a grave. Every poem ends as trobar clus : textual solipsism. The counter-weight of artifact & communication (Letter killeth/Spirit giveth life).
Adam, under the rain.
Under the somber branches.
To soften, to cross out
the scrawl in the clay -
evening in summer,
buried, sleeping.
Jordan writes:

"Poetry in English maybe has a future, but that future will come from solitary hard labor," says Henry. I am guessing he means a hard labor that often appears to be abstracted lazy gazing out the train window.

Productive daydreaming is a different issue, probably the most worthwhile activity in the universe but not what I was talking about.

I don't say Talk is bad; I'm just playing up its difference from Poetry.

The hard labor I have in mind has to do with every good poet's unique understanding of precision.

Architecture is frozen music; poetry is silent music.

"Musicien du silence"

Crane in The Bridge called Dickinson, "Silencer".

The imagination approaches the Real as silence approaches music.

The silence before a poetry reading is only the prologue to poetic silence.

The Talker is a time-thief. Time-theft is white-collar crime, the talker gratified by light sentences & cushy cell. The Poet, sentenced to hard labor, is uneasy about doing time.


The permanent is musical. Poetry is silence.
America, in its profound impenetrable wisdom, has said this to the poet:

"If you succeed, you have failed.
But if you fail, you have not succeeded."

But the circuitry of literary prestige - both official & carpitudinous - is designed & managed by & for those who have not yet heard it.
Snarls, conundrums:

There is no "avant-garde project".

Talking is inimical to poetry. Poetry is made by mute stutterers trying to use the right words. Talk is glib.

Blogs are a form of talking.

Poetry in English maybe has a future, but that future will come from solitary hard labor.

The lyric is pure individualism, confronting the social, the universal, the not-me.

The lyric is the recognition(s) of subjective experience.

Literary politicking is a branch of the will-to-power.

Nobody knows when or how the lyric might speak for the many and thus become part of tradition. This is a mystery.

The lyric is the accidental acknowledging and praising what is permanent in experience.

The lyric attempts to approach the permanent by acknowledging its accidental, temporal, ephemeral aspect.

The permanent is a drowsy garden.


Interesting article in Science NY Times on origins of language, here.

Among other things is noted the possibly key role of a single gene called FOXP2 in the evolution of language capacity, & the differentiation of hominids from apes.

This is funny to me because Stubborn Grew plots a journey across Providence to the harbor neighborhood of Fox Point. The narrator scribbles at the coffeetable, "Fox Point, fixed point, faux point. . ." The "point", in the story, is the crux of split-up which the poem mourns/interprets, ending with a take-off on the Song of Songs, "Catch us the little foxes..." Anyway, I remember getting a letter from the poet Kristen Prevallet, in which she described Stubborn Grew as a human genome project. Maybe there's more to that than I realized.


More interesting comments from Josh Corey, relating to very general approaches to style. Raising a question about whether there is a "symbolist" aesthetics (Baudelaire, Eliot, Lowell), which accepts (is built on) the conceptual framing (allegorical?) of perception, as opposed to a more free-form, "pure perception" aesthetics stemming from Pound & Olson. I'm paraphrasing here.

His remarks seem a least tangentially related to distinctions I've made recently (& periodically) between very general "acmeist" vs. "futurist" poetics : the notion that poetry is in part a reflection/recurrence of the past - the Otherness of the past being recognized & reconciled in a re-making of the Same (ie. Stevens'

"the ever-never-changing Same,
appearance of Again, the diva-dame"

or something like that) - which could encourage a Crane, for example, to re-make rather than throw out the pentameter -

or perhaps these differences reflect an older, more basic distinction, between the beautiful & the sublime?

But I wouldn't like to promote yet another simplistic binary. Seems pleasant, though, to take these paths into matters of style rather than literary politics. Quietude/Negativity is not symbolist/imagist is not beautiful/sublime is not the cooked/raw is not New Critical/Confessional is not mainstream/oppositional. . .

the critic would evaluate the poem or poetics as a many-sided complex/simple within the circus of contemporary verbalizationzzzzzzzzzzz. . .
Midsummer. I took a walk at lunchtime, and my watch stopped.


. . . but again, why didn't Hart Crane "break the pentameter"? There was a positive reason : he could reshape the Elizabethan line, as in "For the Marriage of Faustus & Helen", and parts of The Bridge. In Crane the 1590s returned; he was Marlowe as W.Stevens was Shakespeare.

The Nietzschean idea of "eternal return" was in the air; the notion of cyclical time & the presence of the past. It was reflected in Eliot's recapitulation of Tradition, his Heraclitean sense of the conjunction of time & Eternity ("History is Now and England"); it was in Mandelstam's invocations of Ovid; it was in Joyce's overlap of Homer & Dublin; it was in Pound's mythologizing, & Yeats' gyres. Crane thought he could see the recurrence of ancient times, Atlantis/New York in the dentist's chair.

Where you won't find it is in the futurist wing of modernism; for the Futurists, whether Russian or Italian or Vorticist, the past was something to be obliterated for the sake of absolute Progress. They were too much the sophisticated, politicized materialists, to accept some version of neo-Platonic aesthetics. In Russian poetics it's formalized in the divide between Acmeism & Futurism. Total novelty obliterates the potential for the presence of past times, past forms, past poems.

Acmeism, on the other hand, or the eternal return, intimates the possibility of re-incarnation, of time travel, of the ghostly presence of dead avatars, of communion with the dead.

I don't want to repeat a mirror-image of Ron Silliman's simplistic binaries. The futurist Pound & his disciples Olson & Zukofsky certainly created their own very effective versions of the presence of the past (& sometimes of the pentameter, too). But they did so in the context of a radical distancing from ordinary speech & cultural norms. It takes a very refined taste to appreciate how these prodigal sons echoed that general culture by means of ultra-private idioms. Their uncompromising independence makes them culture heros, in a sense; but their choices are not the only option (witness again, for example, Stevens or Crane).

Here's a very old poem of mine. It was written in the 70s, after a visit to the Minneapolis Art Institute. Across the street, hidden among some fir trees, I found a statue of George Washington.


Statue standing grey in summer rain,
wrinkled stone worn by many seasons,
brow, shoulders, backbone full of purpose,
memory shivering in the roar of battle,
emblem of endurance everlasting,
lasting now in peacetime summer rain.

Rising in the shadow of the trees,
mist of thoughts returning from the dead,
comes to life within the broken heart,
comes to join the living and the dead,
statue of the mystery of glory,
statue standing grey in summer rain.
I encourage people to read Barry Bearak's very well-written cover article in today's Sunday Times magazine on famine in Malawi. I understand that the gnostic literary left is more interested in analyzing ad conceited ineffectual infinitum how morally superior it is to the Bush administration... keep channeling those news items, boys... but Bearak's article is an instigation, designed to move people to do something constructive about a famine for which the rich nations bear some responsibility.


Battle of the Books, part 2:


There was Official Verse Culture.
There was Oppositional-Negativity Verse Culture.

And there was me, going through my long long poems like a freight train in the distance.

A few people waved to me as I went by (Kent, Lissa . .).

The End

(p.s. there were a few other poets, too, I guess)
This book by R.A. York mentioned earlier here (Poem as Utterance), surveys various 20th-cent poets - evaluates the discourse, the communicative gesture, in their poems, in terms of what shared assumptions or shared experience or knowledge - shared with the reader - it reflects.

Looking at poems for what is left unstated, what can remain implicit, or what can be included "informally", conversationally, because it's assumed to be general knowledge, shared experience. How the conveyance of shared experience builds confidence or a sense of authority granted.

Frost wrote somewhere that good poems don't instruct the reader about what they don't know; they express gracefully what the reader knows already.

Are poems a kind of discourse production - or can they be rather a relief, a vacation, a rescue from same? Since the achievement of a communicative poiesis (perhaps a kind of conjunction of opposites) allows so much effort & expostulation and explanation to drop away?


I first read the Bible in 1972, on a ranch in Wyoming, where I was working with my brother stacking haybales. I read it straight through, Revised Standard Version.

Think of the different ways that Yeats, DH Lawrence, Pound, Eliot received the Bible, as literature.

I had been brought up Episcopalian, a lapsed via media, but the Bible struck me : the most powerful reading experience of my life.

Introduction to History


History is a battle of the books.
Hart Crane


Above checkered flickering of late
coffeehouse generations, light pricks
tap out a dim, midnight tattoo.

Is it the underbelly of a whale,
unfurling a turbid Mardi Gras? Slow
motion horns dilate for one liquid eye.

Answered by silence. Orisons
babble, fitful reeds rehearse,
recount your rendezvous

with a perfidious bark, while calipers
compress the extant manuscripts
(flagrant gulf no hands could span).

It was a weatherbeaten, Southern face
below the embroidered wash and spume
whispered the one word–

"follow." Upward, through vertiginous
mirror gardens–dangling fluted
routes of a sunken–forsaken Babylon.


Spinning, restless, coaxial, cued
to firewater, pried from pueblo
gaol, a primeval kachina leaping
into the blaze–out of time.

Hidden underfoot, to be quarried
from the subway, the broken stone
wheel of a ruptured earth mother
revolves with disjointed orbit.

Weft of vertigo, carbonized. Exploded.
Pronounced from wincing salt, faltering,
slagged. . . flower names. Fertile
reproof. Slanting, bedecked at last.

Volcano, livid, fluent, enlists
the police. Magnified chevrons.
Pulques Finos. Skulls look up,
fed your tangled battering ram.


Ironclad northern city in your nightmare,
and the sound of the sea, too familiar,
eager to lock you in a wavy ooze,
forlorn foghorn. . . such was Death's only ruse.

Who waits by the pier to feel your taunts
will always wait now. You waited once
for shoulders tensely spare, the tide's advance;
reposeful strength was gateway–into trance.

The bridge you strung beneath your bones
still rises, harbored, iridescent, out
of your twenties and the century's, still
delicately rides the storm. And Ariel
holds his song. . . and now Atlantis groans!–
surfacing with your ascending steep descant.
Of course, most post-avantistes today consider the pentameter, along with everything else, broken a long time ago, and why not.

Pragmatics is a branch of contemporary linguistics; it emphasizes language as communicative utterance. One of the things it looks at are the pre-suppositions of a speaker regarding his or her audience, which influence all the choices of vocabulary & style. If you looked at the attitudes of various modern & contemporary poets toward style through the lens of pragmatics (as R.A. York did in The Poem as Utterance, back in the 80s), you could interpret the style of their "utterances" as motivated by social attitudes.

Why would a poet like Crane not break the pentameter, to take a salient instance? Perhaps because the social attitudes motivating wide ranges of modernist experiment - such as "epater le bourgeoisie" (then) or "disrupt oppressive social systems based on standardized syntax & meaning" (not too long ago) - held little value for him. The simplistic binary polemics which offer a bourgeois-sellout "them" vs. an aesthetic-political vanguard "us" are based on attitudes which severely warp the reception/absorption of the main stream of poetry in English; this has its consequences for practice.
Crane's example shows that one can offer a future-oriented, American vision in poetry, without severing the roots of English-language tradition; one can learn from the modernists, without assenting either to Eliot's world-weary outlook or to Pound's reactionary/futurist extremism.

From different angles, Crane's friends Tate & Winters both undermined his reputation after his death, accenting his weaknesses & failures. Those two, along with their southern "Agrarian" New Critical allies (Ransom et al.), laid the foundations for the cautious, conservative, Eliot-sponsored preciosity of early 50s poetry (Wilbur, et al.), which was what Lowell & the free-verse confessionals (along with the early "New Americans") were reacting against. I suppose one could say that Lowell "broke the pentameter", again. But Crane had shown, earlier, than one didn't have to break the pentameter (contra Pound).
BK Stefan's patient revaluation of both Ron Silliman's comments & Lowell make good reading. Sustained careful attention is important not only because it affects the reading climate; it can also influence poets' awareness of what might be possible.

Every poet carries around their private landscape of literary history, a symbiosis of historical objectivity & personal affiliations.

Hart Crane is important to my own because he displays a synthetic, absorptive talent : an ear for both Elizabethan/Baroque sonority & for the technical fireworks of 1920s modernism (Joyce, ee cummings, Pound, Eliot are all there in The Bridge, along with Whitman & Dickinson & Melville). Much of Allen Tate's idiom sounds imitative of Crane; Tate (along with Crane) in turn influenced Lowell. I'm not mentioning this to promote Lowell but to note lines of stylistic filiation.

More later maybe.
Nice to read all the comments on Lowell's "Skunk Hour", especially Kasey's extended.

I would just interpose that the line "I hear / my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell" don't seem so awful to me. I think it has to be read in context. The whole poem, from the opening-line "Nautilus Island", is wrapped around "ill" and "ell" sounds. This is a situation in which the larger structural context moderates the surface exaggeration of the line. It occurs in the poem's pivotal, "crisis" stanza, followed shortly by "I myself am hell". After which, the lines that follow about the skunks (with their "swills", "pail" & "tail") come as a kind of bleak-comic relief, the return of nature after the melodramatic ill-nature of the speaker's despair.


These days reading interesting poems, essays, interview with Brodsky, in new issue of Fulcrum (#2). I have a poem in there too.


Now the new binary is quietude & negativity, per Kasey & Josh.

This I suppose is an elaboration of Ron's basic position.

There is a "way things are" which is a socio-political system, and which is not "the way things should be". This is the given, the self-evident, the axiom, with which the poet aligns him or herself BEFORE making poetry. Then the poetry evolves as illustration. & there are neat clubs to join.

On this blog I've been voicing a critique, from various angles, of what I call "oppositional poetics", since January 3, 2003. I'm glad to hear it's now become a collegial dialog.


Jordan is readin' Wolfram von Eschenbach. It's the 4th of July. Shucks, I mean the 5th. Bada-boom-boom - them thar is three dropsa blood in the Schweissen Schnee.
A quote from R.A. York's The Poem As Utterance, a study of 19th & 20th cent. European poetry from the vantage of "pragmatics" - a branch of contemporary linguistics (Methuen, 1986). Speaking of the usefulness of same, he writes:

"it might lead to a soundly based classification of utterances, as, for example, between those which aim primarily to alter the world and those that aim primarily to effect a communion in appreciating or comprehending the world." (pp. 8-9)

Here we have another version of what Mandelstam called the future of poetic research : delving into the impulse of the text.

Look closely at this divide : doth it not faintly resemble the avant/quiet picture box?

O my peeps, there's something deep here. Vita activa, vita contemplativa. "Mary hath chosen the better part."

The Third Way reconciles both halves of this dumb-dumb rain.


I go back to Kasey, & find Kent Johnson on Pessoa & the 17th Way. There you have it.
Poetry does not take sides. Poets may, but poetry doesn't.

The politics of style is one of the most boring traits exhibited by human herd-instinct.

There IS a third way, and a fourth way, and a fifth way. . .

Sonnet 124

If my dear love were but the child of state,
It might for Fortune's bastard be unfathered,
As subject to time's love or to time's hate,
Weeds among weeds, or flowers with flowers gathered.
No it was builded far from accident,
It suffers not in smiling pomp, nor falls
Under the blow of thralled discontent,
Whereto th'inviting time our fashion calls:
It fears not policy that heretic,
Which works on leases of short-numbered hours,
But all alone stands hugely politic,
That it nor grows with heat, nor drowns with showers.
To this I witness call the fools of time,
Which die for goodness, who have lived for crime.
Kasey weighs in on the Silliman/Lowell/Quietude debate.

Kasey, if I'm understanding correctly, accepts the "quiet/avant" formula. Style is political; the avant/quiet split is an effect of very different cultural goals (laureate charisma vs. active dissent) and therefore, real, and therefore, indeed "there is no third way" (the "elliptics" taken to be the typical & futile attempt at combining incompatibles).

If this sounds confusing, it's not Kasey's fault, please go to Kasey's site.

It seems to me that what we have here is an example of a thought which is very prevalent in "avant" spheres. There is a Manichean split between the establishment (political, artistic, social etc) and the activist dissenting margin (political, artistic, social etc). Poetry is a subset of this split. The implications of this ideological approach to poetics are probably quite extensive, y'know. I can't get into it right now.

Happy 4th ever'body. My Grandma Florence Gould would have been 103 tomorrow.
More Ron watch. What does the two-world theory of "Quietude vs. Avant" provide? I mean, how do we interpret this interpretation of US literary history?

This divide between Quietude (used to be called "mainstream") and Avant - like an old scar that keeps itching - a nagging sprite that Ron can't quite exorcise. He writes that Lowell recognized the value of "avant" poetry and tried to change accordingly; that Lowell idolized Hart Crane because Crane also sought a "third way" between traditional Anglocentric poetics and American experiment"; that the "Ellipticals" are the latest refugees from a defunct tradition; but that "Hank Lazer demonstrates. . . there is no third way."

These claims seem to be part of a project to legitimize "Avant" poetry as a major, mainstream literary phenomenon (by distinguishing it sharply from its traditionalist "other"). But what are "major phenomena"? & how are such phenomena acknowledged and measured these days? A poetics does not become major simply by revisionist history which dismisses what's gone before. A new poetry wins a wide critical & popular audience - the only measure of "major" status I know of - by means of its creative allegiances, not merely by its dismissals.

Ron's binary seems designed to reject even the possibility of a synthesis between traditional "mainstream" Anglophone poetics (say, stemming from the odes & lyrics of 19th-cent. Romanticism, the epistles and satires of 18th-cent. poetry, and the rich language & paradoxical texture of Baroque & Elizabethan poetry) and a meaningful contemporary American idiom. This is the nagging ghost (yes, the ghost of Crane - and Eliot as well) which for some reason he finds it imperative to exorcise.

This nagging ghost, ironically, also stands for the "major status" (as I define it above) which has eluded Avant poetry itself. As always, we witness the avant-garde trip over its "dead" fathers and stumble along. . .


"Cal" Lowell was probably NOT related to Silent Cal.

On Second Thought, he probably was.

THAT would mean I'M very distantly related to Robert Lowell, since I'm a distant relative of Silent Cal.

We're probably MORE closely related via those old Bostonian whacko families, actually.

Stay with us here for the latest genealogical news on the post-avant scene. "The Blogging of America is Blogging."
Wonder what a Calvin Coolidge blog would sound like.

"The blog of America is blogging."

Grandpa Gould wrote him a letter once in the 1920s informing him we were related. Never heard back. Typical Gould. I mean Silent Cal.

Grandpa was Captain of Battery B in WW I. Fired the last shot of the war, he said. He had the brass casing around the apartment. I heard later that a lot of artillerymen did that - waited a few minutes after Armistice, then shot off one more, just for the memory.

He pulled out one of my loose teeth once. He said, "come over here, Henry, I just want to have a look." Then yanked it right out, & sat there grinning at me with his big front teeth. O, Grandpa. (He was good at that sort of thing, being an avid fisherman.)

He was City Assessor for Minneapolis for over 30 years. (Probably had to do a lot of fishing around there, too.)

When I interviewed him for my 6th-grade history paper on WW I, he showed me his prayer-book full of shrapnel. His tent had taken a direct hit while he was visiting the latrine.
Brian Henry (courtesy of Jordan) writes, "See the recent aestheticization of Paul Celan."

But every frame around Celan - whatever the coloring, political, critical, sentimental, or aesthetical - is just that, limited & imperfect. Don't pride yourself on "your" Celan. (This goes for any good art.)

Celan was "aestheticized" from the beginning - with his first shocking appearance before the general public (Todesfuge). The fact that this poem turns "aestheticization" inside-out nevertheless implicates it in the socializing processes of same. I suppose his whole latter career could be read as an "un-writing" of the socially-aestheticized Todesfuge.
The Essential Maybe : Adornodian Aesthetics After Arnoldian Prosthetics : Or, My Critique Smells Sweet n'Politique n'Low Mimetic In The Mornin'

(ps. this post has nothing to do with the essential or non-essential Mayhew, Henry or otherwise)
What was that, Jonathan? The Essential Maybe?
Silliman watch : Robert Lowell playing the bogeyman role reserved by previous generations of Brit- & Yurrup-bashers for TS Eliot.

The School of Carpitude will soon have a new canon-fortress as formidable as any, if this Pope of Carpitude has his way.


Looks like I had the wrong Laura Moriarty (2 different writers - the one reviewed in the Times today is not the poet LM). Thanks to a fellow blogger (who shall remain anonymous) for alerting me. I've deleted the entry from earlier today.
Today is the 80th birthday of John Tagliabue. His New & Selected Poems is available from the National Poetry Foundation.