Stefano da Verona, ca. 1430-35

These old piles of leathery parchment
fused all the arts – the odd square notes
in plainsong for the choir, the Latin
poetry, and, crowning everything,
such illustrations!

– this letter A
formed by a pair of rainbow-colored
dragons, whose entwined tongues
sprout leaves. In the upper swirl,
God the Father sits aloft on wavy
cloud, from which descends
a blue dove, floating over twelve
disciples curled in a circle (within
the hulking serpent’s tail) around
a taller Virgin Mary.

So everything
begins again – this time everyone
pregnant with the dove’s bright
fire. And now the choir begins
to sing:

antequam Abraham fieret
ego sum

[the Latin reads: "Before Abraham was, I am"]



The painter, patient, painstaking, slows time:
quick nervous feathered strokes congeal
the gorgeous pageant of the real
to stillness, light (transparent pantomime).

The model, posing in a quaint alcove,
waits too (for pregnant image to emerge):
vague drafty sketches, baseless camouflage
become sharp stream of fire from beak of dove.
When I say that we should consider poetry, not so much as always pioneering out new spaces in Time, but rather as bridging two separate regions of time (time-as-movement and eternity) - I'm saying we should take the notion of the soul into consideration.

Once upon a time, "world" and "eternal soul" were measured against each other: this was the basis of both moral freedom and personal integrity.

But that was back when we had persons.
All the problems of aesthetics have been solved so many times over that nobody knows what art is anymore.



The white-flowering pear tree
against a backdrop of gray
clouds, lead-silver rain:
tiny Milky Way

or early Pentecost, turning
slowly in the melancholy
mirror (over the small
seed-spirals, buried

in puddles, soil). Then you
turn toward the water too:
toward the cloudy glass
framing the blossoms;

toward your Jerusalem
(model or chamber,
ointment jar:
This notion of fitness & the imaginative grasp of the "whole image": relates to Wallace Stevens (drawing on IA Richards' version of Coleridge on Imagination) in Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction, "It Must Be Abstract" (ie. the poem is an imaginative whole, an "abstracted" image of reality). Mandelstam, somewhere: "Acmeism loves 'the idea of Man' more than men themselves." (quoting from memory) Mandelstam is not saying that the acmeist is either inhumane or naively idealistic. He's saying that reality is grounded in a beautiful concept. In another place (in a poem) he put it something like this: "It's not Rome, the city, which endures through the ages: it's Man's place in the universe." (cf. Stevens' "the McCullough", or "Major Man".)
Luke... look... lac.
The painting by Rogier van der Weyden described in poem yesterday is up at MFA in Boston. Hope to go see it this week. (The poem only begins to get at the complexities of this remarkable painting.) Luke was the patron saint of artists. In this picture, he's doing a silver-point sketch of Mary & infant Jesus. In a sense, the painting revolves around two joined (& perpendicular) wheels: first, the wheel from the "onlookers" in the distance, pointing to the tiny church where one could imagine this entire scene is taking place; second, the wheel from Luke's sketch through the Gospel he is writing to this painting as a whole (& thus back to the sketch, or this painting's - & the gospel's - own origin). It's done with spots of light & the linear relationships established between them (a light through a chink in the wall over Mary's head, paralleling a similar light over the writing desk; lines criscrossing through the center of the painting connecting Luke's stylus, the direction of his sketch-pad, the hand of Jesus, the writing desk, the two lights, etc.) - and - and this is important - it's all unified by the fact that the figure of Luke is van der Weyden's self-portrait.

Borges couldn't have fashioned a more subtle self-reflexive design. Besides, it's beautiful, down to a microscopic level: you have to peer at minute features of the clothing, or the coat-of-arms in the stained glass window, or the tiny figures walking in the distant town - or the man pissing against the wall there; and yet it comes together as an integrated whole. & this is one of the great lessons in "fitness" of the old masters: you can't understand the meaning of the details, unless you somehow begin to grasp the meaning, the motive, of the whole image.

& this, of course, teaches us something about "reading" nature, or experience, or reality, as a whole. (which gets back to something I was trying to get at a few days ago, discussing the status of the image in poetry.)
Interesting notes (as usual) over at Hotel Point. I had been thinking vaguely somewhere in the same general area this morning.

That is, about how poetry is an art of modulated speech flow. Something like learning to play the flute or another instrument. There's a level of diction, meter, rhyme, etc., just as there's a level of technique with the instrument. Then there's another level combining fitness & invention, which is maybe somewhat similar to composition. (I know what I'm talking about, having studied piano from age 6.)

(Obviously these are not new ideas - just basic ideas.)

Maybe it's the notions of fitness (these days, anyway) that vary more than any of the other factors (from poet to poet).


St. Luke Drawing a Portrait

It’s a game of perception. The Virgin, calm,
attentive, aims the nipple of one small breast
toward the lips of the laughing Infant. St. Luke,
draped in flowing vermilion, pauses, looks up
from his sketchbook, his fine black-golden
stylus held there motionless. It’s a portrait
of the artist (van der Weyden); in a corner
behind him, an ox curls under a writing stand,
where a draft of the third Gospel lies open.
Between pillars in the center, beyond the
garden, on a bridge, in the middle distance,
a man and a woman (with their backs to us)
gaze at a river that glides to the horizon.
The man aims his index finger toward
a far-off spit of shoreline, where
a tiny church is barely visible.

(This work
the mirror-image of an earlier one, by Jan
van Eyck, The Rolin Madonna: the kneeling
donor, holding his book, looks up (entranced
by mother and child) from the opposite side
of the room (and painting); in the center,
in the deep distance, the same river,
almost the same onlookers.)

It’s a game
of perception, with multiple mirrors:
that onlooker’s index, pointing almost
out of the scene, circles back to this room:
St. Luke, looking on, is van der Weyden,
looking on: as we are looking on, absorbed
(as that infant soon will be) in the milky flow.
Another motive for the inability to write, I've noticed: the feeling of being overwhelmed by a theme or concept.
Unable to write for the past couple of weeks, after an enthusiastic spell before that. Maybe, at my advanced age, I'm starting to become slightly conscious of my own creative patterns(?). Early enthusiasm, followed by spate of disillusionment & boredom with my plainness, obviousness, my prosaic style. Some of the more formalist poems in Way Stations came out of similar periods of enthusiasm (technical tours-de-force).

The strong interest in Mandelstam & Montale, especially, for their hermetic qualities: the inward curve of the imagery, the self-sustaining roundedness, the indirection.

The strong interest in long poems for their "learned" qualities: the way an arcane or highly-involved subject-matter folds the poetry into its own sphere of indirections.

So maybe these two interests arose partly out of desire to compensate for my own ordinariness. (I guess I'll just have to quit being ordinary!)

OK, enough confession. "Unable to write," I'm going back to writing...


Have been reading a lot of Sophocles lately (some of Julia's poems remind me of the translations).

Robert Fagles' versions are great, I think. I've read his translations of Oedipus Rex, Antigone & Oedipus at Colonus. I'm hoping he also translated Philoctetes, which is my favorite of the seven extant.

Electra seems like one of the weirdest plays ever written.

These plays are 2500 years old.

(Sophocles lived to 90 yrs. Philoctetes his 2nd-to-last play (before O. at Colonus). Athens already defeated by Sparta, & Sophocles had already died, when O. at C. was first performed.)
My thoughts on the basic motives & purposes of poetry after the movements of the 20th century can be juxtaposed with these interesting remarks at Boston Comment. As Kent Johnson & Stephen Burt in particular pointed out, the demand to innovate originates, not entirely but to some degree, in a political stance. One could say that literary innovation and difference, as we have come to know them, have two roots: first in what I described before as the attempt to catch up with contemporary historical change, and secondly in the notion that literary "experimentalism" (as opposed to simple experiment) marks the boundary of political opposition to mainstream institutions or allegiances.

If one accepts the notion of the poetic word as harmonizing a duplex form of time & reality, then the first motive for innovation noted above has to be revised. I'm not sure how such a poetics applies to any specific political stance.
Inching Along

I'd like to continue the speculations on future poetics begun a few days ago. I don't have time today for more than a couple brief notes.

I think I've made some progress, but there's a need for more interrogation.

First, I've suggested how a sense of living tradition could be built on a notion of active reading/affinity - grounded in love, which undergirds a different attitude toward the origins, identity and presence of the poetic voice (different from major strains of postmodern theory and writing).

Such an approach opens up the possibility that literary style and technique might be generated not solely by the chronological succession of the New, or a deterministic notion of innovation, but by anachronistic connections of affinity (what Mandelstam describes as the "opening of the Bergsonian fan" across widely separated eras).

Secondly, and related to this, I've characterized the "poetic word itself" in (Mandelstamian) Acmeist fashion, as the crossing of two strands: time & eternity, nature and grace, such that poetry is the emanation of harmony, or the evidence of the harmonization, of these two spheres.

Yet this theoretical framework is incomplete, and as such it short-changes poetry. How so?

By forcing poetry to bear the burden of what is basically a metaphysical doctrine, one inhibits poetry's freedom, to some extent. Poetry needs to be free in its autonomy, in its capability to be whatever it wants to be. And yet I don't want to surrender the theoretical grounding which this description of the duplex nature of the poetic word provides. How am I going to resolve this?

Let's say that this notion of the Word as grounded in anachronistic affinity is the vertical axis of a broader definition. When we described Modernism as a literary effort to "catch up" with the zeitgeist, we were overly abstract, since we neglected to focus on the "how" (how this was accomplished).

How this was done involved what we might call an effort of circumference. Let's make this the horizontal axis of our poetics. What do we mean by circumference? The modernist innovations in style & technique - grounded to a great extent in poets like Browning and Whitman - vastly expanded the range of both subject-matter and level of diction. Whitman, in a sense, can be understood as Dickinson's coeval : what Dickinson achieved in the realm of compression and metaphysical verticality, Whitman accomplished in the realm of horizontal breadth and openness, of descriptive capaciousness, of literary magnanimity.

What were the modernist and postmodernist long poems, but experiments in capaciousness, in extending the range of what poetry could include? No wonder that, over the last 50 years, the squabbles between traditionalists and experimentalists have been so divisive and continuous: contemporary inclusiveness clashes sharply with longstanding concepts of traditional poetic technique.

Every poet has to find their own center of gravity or path through these differing perspectives. Inclusiveness, taken as a kind of stylistic absolute, leads eventually to a condition of no-style (anything can be called a poem). Tradition, taken as an absolute, leaves no room for either originality or genuine change.

So perhaps we approach a theory of the poem as something autonomous, self-creating, self-defining; open to both empirical and metaphysical meaning & interpretation, but only in the sense of something possible, potential, discoverable (rather than being defined by a higher or exterior meaning). The poem is evidence of creative labor - labor which in itself is a kind of freedom from prior definitions & orientations.

With such an undefined definition, have we come full circle? Are we back where we started, with nothing to show for it? I hope not... For me, anyway, that vertical axis opens at least a possible path beyond both modern & postmodern, while the horizontal axis allows poetry to build on the capacious circumference of its accomplishments.
Happy birthday, Shakespeare & Nabokov (& St. George, traditional patron saint of England & Russia).


(... & inevitably, when I look back at my own development in poetry over 30 years, I witness the acting-out of these principles: from early attraction to & imitation of the NY School poets, to absorption (to the point of psychological breakdown) with Shakespeare's sonnets, to complete immersion in the language of the Bible, to a return to poetry-making through the unpredictable influence of Mandelstam (leading, after a long time, to the "literary encounter" with Elena Shvarts), to the long-drawn-out exploration of modernist poetry & the long poem, to the recurrent return to Mandelstam as to a first principle of inspiration. Glazov-Corrigan [p. 146]:

"We can now begin to see why Mandelshtam speaks about Dante's writing as a 'bird's mating call', a fife. 'The fife is nearly always sent forth to scout ahead.' Dante's poetry does not transmit a message: it awakens, stretches out, and develops a response. It is a generative principle of literature.... the poem awakens into writing a generation of writers to come. It precontains, as it were, its subsequent history: 'The miracle-ship left the shipyard with barnacles adhering to its hull.'")
Will follow up on modernism/postmod comments of last Tuesday as soon as I have time. I realize that a postmodernist might accuse me of gross oversimplification. If you look at modernism merely as an aesthetic adjunct to the zeitgeist, and postmodernism as merely an adjunct to modernism, then you are slighting or avoiding the central philosophical interests of postmodernity, such as the status of Being and the subject, the priority of text over speech, the inherent tautology or irreferentiality of text, etc. And these theoretical developments, of course, have had a remarkable influence on late-20th-century American poetry.

Glazov-Corrigan addresses these issues in the final chapter of her Mandelstam study. She shows how the poet - despite his fascination with pre-text and intertextuality - differs from such theorists as Barthes, Bloom, Culler, Kristeva, in that Mandelstam - rather than seeing writing as the site of otherness, disconnection, or embattlement with the spectral echoes of past texts - understands poetic tradition as a living, affirmative phenomenon, based on kinship, affinity, admiration - on love. Glazov-Corrigan underscores this with some marvelous quotations:

"If Dante had been sent forth alone, without his dolce padre, without Virgil, scandal would have inevitably erupted at the very start." (Joseph Brodsky)

"From then on, yes, from then on, since the time in Naumov's picture, when, before my very eyes, they killed Pushkin... I have divided the world into the poet - and all of them; amd I have chosen - the poet - have chosen the poet to be among those I defend: to defend the poet - from all of them, however they all are garbed, however they are named." (Marina Tsvetaeva)

One of the best:
"Tradition has appeared to all of us; to all it has promised a face; to all, each in a different way, it has kept its promise. We have all become people in the measure in which we have loved people and had the opportunity to love." (Boris Pasternak) [my italics]

Pasternak, again:
"A step forward in science is taken according to the law of repulsion, from refutation of prevalent errors and false theories... A step forward in art is taken according to the law of attraction, from the desire to imitate, follow and worship well-loved percursors."

Brodsky, again:
"The real poet never avoids influences and indebtednesses, but often nourishes and emphasizes them by all available means. There is nothing more physically (and even physiologically) pleasing that repeating in one's head or aloud (in full voice) someone else's lines. The fear of influence, the fear of dependence - this fear - and sickness - is characteristic of a wilderness inhabitant [dikar] and not of culture, which is all - receptivity, all - echo. Let someone pass this on to Harold Bloom."

The postmodernist may ask what this has to do with theory; and in reply I would point to the first Pasternak quotation above. The law of attraction or literary kinship - and the law of "identity" (or "ontological status of the Subject") - are both grounded in love. As love is an "established" spiritual reality, so much so is poetic tradition a living phenomenon.
Wasted some time in comment-box squabbles over at limetree. I guess I must come across as a querulous curmudgeon, trying to shut down healthy discussion.

Surprised myself sometimes, at the extremity of my animus against poetry/politics debates.

People think I'm being a-political or conservative, when I try to separate poetry from these theoretical or praxis-oriented discussions about literature & politics. But I don't believe that's really the case. I simply believe that poetry speaks most effectively to social & political concerns when it remains in its independent poetry sphere. Poetry-making has complex difficulties of its own, and the misguided attempts to water them down, through group efforts & theorizing, really get one no closer to either effective politics or authentic poetry.


Feeling weary & bruised (& stupid!) after the usual sterile blogpoetics wars, I go & visit George.
John Latta has his own take, today, on Samizdat #10 over at Hotel Pt.
glNotes Toward...

I want to elaborate on yesterday's post. I'd like to try to do this in a way that doesn't wear both of us (you & me, dear reader) out. So I'll try to limit myself to short propositions or statements.

1. A new poetics would have to start with a concept or understanding of what modernism & postmodernism are (or were). Let's think of them in terms of their relation to Time itself. Yesterday we sketched a very simple diagram: modernism was an aesthetic effort to "catch up" with contemporary reality understood as accelerated time: accelerated industry, science, social activity, and especially, communication. One facet of this accelerated communication involved the displacement of poetry by prose (journalism, fiction, scientific discourse). Suddenly romantic-victorian poetic discourse seemed irrelevant to the new realities. Poetic modernism was in part an effort to reassert that relevance by catching-up with contemporary time. Literary postmodernism, on the other hand, exhibited symptoms of uncertainty: once art had caught up with contemporaneity, it was faced with more essential doubts & questions about its nature and purpose.
2. Modernism exhibited three basic strategies in its response to modernity. I will use a Russian schema to diagram them:
a) Symbolism. This strand posited a clear split between worldly time/material life, and eternal time/spiritual life. Poetry's strategy was to withdraw from worldly time into a realm of poesie pure - anti-prose, anti-journalism: attaching itself to music (somewhat like a leech) in such a way as to fuse beauty with non-referentiality ("supernal beauty").
b) Futurism. This strand opposed symbolism in dialectic fashion. Modernity and modern time were understood as irresistible force and materialist vitality. "The word itself" would act as a speed-machine or flight-mechanism, imitating technology in order to reproduce, in art, the existent vitality considered as ruling force or the primary order of reality.
c) Acmeism. This strand sought a middle path between the first two. Acmeism recognized essential distinctions between Word and Matter, Word & Time; but rather than surrendering (or transcending) matter & time (as in symbolism), the acmeist believed that poetry could accept, incorporate, celebrate, and finally transfigure time & matter by means of the word. The Word is the binding, illuminating force between two distinct realms - time & eternity. The existence of eternity sets limits on futurist contemporaneity; the mediating role of the word liberates poetry from symbolist otherworldliness. Acmeism is grounded in a Bergsonian concept of reality as itself grounded in a time-transcending spiritual vitalism (consciousness).

3. Elena Glazov-Corrigan (in her book Mandelshtam's Poetics : a challenge to postmodernism - Univ. of Toronto Press) conducted an extensive interpretation of Osip Mandelshtam's theoretical prose. There, over time, Mandelshtam worked out the acmeist credo in terms of more specific poetic practice. I can't reproduce her complete exposition here, but I will note a few of his basic propositions as they relate to poetry and time:
a) Poetic production evolves out of a process of reading, and reading involves forms of subjective time-reversal: the distinct "verbal time" of the poet's model (what is being read) begins to absorb the reader, to take priority over the reader's own time.
b) The poetic word or logos is always dialogic, in that it spans disjunctive times or aspects of time: the model's and the reader's; eternity (or recurrence) and clock time. Mandelshtam's primary example is Dante, whose poetic process M. describes as a continual shuttling - an experimentation - between scripture and physics, between the assertions of faith and the experience of earthly time: essentially, the poetic logos bridges the disjunctive realms of nature and grace. What philosophy & theology propose in speculation, poetry asserts in verbal action: the harmony of poetry exhibits the actuality (the aesthetic "proof") of this bridging process, this dialogue, between two phases of reality.

4. Mandelshtam's poetics is simply the most theoretically elaborate and exemplary version of the modernist stream I am calling acmeism. This approach to poetry is found more generally wherever poets assert the reality of two things: a) an eternal time ("duration", "eternal life") distinct from successive clock time; and b) the capability of the poetic word to represent such duration. The approach can be found strongly in Emily Dickinson, for one example: she is continually meditating on and mimetically "harmonizing" disjunctions/conjunctions between natural, seasonal, human clock-time, on the one hand, and eternal duration on the other; she repeatedly addresses mysterious absent interlocutors in the most forceful, anachronistic way, asserting the capability of the poetic word - as a kind of Bergsonian vital consciousness - to transcend clock time.

5. Once a poetics asserts this more complex or duplex notion of Time, it must of necessity move beyond a simple reproduction of either modernist "catch-up" or postmodernist contemporaneity (stasis). The motive or function or role of poetry moves beyond merely a mimetic representation of contemporary active reality; reality is understood as more than either "contemporary" or "active" (in the futurist sense). Reality itself appears approachable or representable only through a kind of double vision, or dialogic bridging process, which is the harmonic action of the poetic word itself. Thus, "innovation" or "modernization" (in style, in technique, in subject-matter) are revealed as insufficient as a basis for aesthetics, since the duplex reality of time is not exactly subject to the progress or succession of eras or periods. Poetic style, aesthetic technique, will result from the same interrogation, the same experimental bridging process, as was applied by Dante in his time. This humbling of "modernization" will eventuate in a period of literary "catch-up" organized around a completely new frame or time-scale.


Issue #10 of Robert Archambeau's magazine Samizdat arrived today, always welcome. In it he has one of his "thematic reviews" titled "The New Modernists", covering books & anthologies such as Manifesto : a Century of -isms (ed. Mary Ann Caws), 21st-Century Modernism, by Marjorie Perloff, & poetry by Kruchenykh, Moxley, Salerno, Strickland & others.

Archambeau's general point, in simplified summary, is that literary Modernism never died (contra Postmodernism) and that an array of good poets carry on its methods of innovation & renovation. In his discussion of Moxley, he notes how her allusive style, her attachment to Hart Crane, her melding of Romanticism & the avant-garde, and other characteristics underline a poetics in which all time (in art, at least) is simultaneous - which Archambeau calls a "profoundly modernist idea".

This last is true: but I don't think he takes it far enough. There are a number of ironies inherent to the whole modernism/postmodernism question. Literary modernism could be described as poetry's attempt to catch up - technically, thematically - with the social/scientific realities of the 20th century, with the speed of the zeitgeist. It was, as they say, a "modernizing" effort. It was an heroic & dazzling endeavor. But now it is also "historical". In a sense, poetry has caught up - and the "modernizing" effort, as it fades into historical memory, now becomes oddly dated itself. This is one of the insights of postmodernism, the motto of which might be, "OK, now what?" Because postmodernism provides no answer to its own question, it abides in this limbo or symbiotic dependency on its predecessor. Thus to suggest a proper title for advanced poets of today to be "the new Modernists" - as Archambeau wants to do - adds another layer to this Zeno's paradox of labels, since clearly a new modernist has still not quite "caught up" with the zeitgeist, is still engaged or identified to some extent with the heroic laboriousness of an era which is now past.

It may be a modernist critical cliche that "all time is simultaneous", but, as time goes by, such articles of faith sound more and more like just that, articles of faith. And we know that in poetry, or art in general, faith is not enough : we need the "proof" provided by aesthetic rightness, the "certainty" of the achieved art work. The question for contemporary poets may not be the postmodernist one ("What next?"), but rather - "if time is simultaneous - How so?" Is there some aspect of spirit or self which measures/transcends time? Is there some aesthetic equilibrium (beauty?) which really (or only metaphorically?) supercedes or triumphs over clock time? How, exactly, is this revealed in poetry?

My own sense is that what will be really "new" in the near future is not a new modernism, in which innovative technique is foregrounded as a gesture toward the modernizing value of invention. The "new" poetry will explore and reveal the meanings & values - on many different levels, both thematic & technical - of "literary time", as something characteristic & distinct from clock time. When this contemporary work comes into its own it will be a new era, distinct from both modern & postmodern. I don't have a name for it.

Our mini-mini-essay is dedicated to Gravity Probe B, launched today (cf. para-sestina posted here last week, "A Waiting Game").


Modest Proposal Number Eighty-Three:

The Canonical Double-Play

We are all aware, at every waking moment, and probably at most sleeping moments, of the dire literary situation in which our Nation finds itself today, what with thousands, nay, millions of poets & poetry books emerging (both "loners" & clandestine networks), without any workable & secure intelligence structure in place which can adequately apprehend & "handle" them. My rather simple idea (which came to me this morning after a single cup of coffee and an early cookie) is as follows:

1. Shut down all existing critical & literary review agencies (which have proved, time & again, utterly, utterly).

2. Funnel all new publications to Jordan Davis, who will note their appearance (when he has time) on his blog, and send them to

3. Jonathan Mayhew, who will read them, provide a "rapid-response" for each, and ship them directly to

4. John Latta, who will find an appropriate and witty 18th-century critickal Peroration for each title, and

5. walk the books over to his local library for the next book sale.

This should solve most of the literary problems facing our country, I think.


Odd how musicality in poetry - from symbolism onward into the 20th century - became an avenue for increasing experiments in obscurity and private poetic language. Odd, that is, when you consider that music itself has so many characteristics of a "universal" language (of feeling and symbolic order).

What if poets applied musicality in the direction of intelligibility, communicative power? The power of feeling & shared experience. In the same way that ecologists idealize sharing one world. I recognize very clearly how these notions might seem threatening to the very essence of many poets' practice. The truth must be that every poet must find their own balance between sheer verbal exploration & originality, on the one hand, and clarity & intelligibility on the other. And the alignment of this balance will have a great deal to do with the larger or deeper motive or telos for the writing itself. Poets will often "sacrifice obscurity" - turn to very ordinary speech, even cliches - if the larger aesthetic purpose demands it.

(Sometimes I think all creative effort is merely an attempt to recover the powerful feelings and sensations of childhood.)
I am interested in something I brought up a few days ago, this question of the image as a complex of feeling and intellect. & how the poem or song creates the conditions - sets the stage - for a symbolic or dramatic expression of the image.

I'm thinking of the image-complex itself as a subset or reflection-in-miniature - a dramatic re-presentation - of a larger whole, a life-complex, let's say: the complex or "whole" which is experience per se. Mimetic holism.

And the relation of these aspects to style: the values of clarity, simplicity, order, intelligibility, emotive-expressive power. Because the deep & moving experiences - or recognitions - of life can display not only subtlety and mystery, but also a resolving, overwhelming simplicity of thought & feeling. (Not to mention the simplicity in mundane ordinary everydayness!) I'm saying poetry has a right to be simple and direct as well as original and obscure.

We live in an amazing "Alexandrian" age of multiple discourses, each of which can quite easily form its own worlds of self-referentiality. So perhaps the most important intellectual tool of the practicing poet is his or her private sense of an interlocutor, a listener.

Probably a lot of the bitterness and frustration of poets has to do with their own muddled sense of who they want to address.
I think poetry contests are fine. I think magazines, institutions, cliques, poetry schools, etc. - they're all fine. I'm not kidding. I used to worry about this stuff too... now it seems all fine to me. Why bother, why worry, why complain... work on your own qualities, that's all that matters.

Not because I delude myself into thinking I have an opening - far from it. I do believe, though, that any poet these days can get published, one way or another.


I like this definition over at JM's: "A tautology is a tautology." This is almost a poem.

A tautology is a tautology:
when is a tot not a tot?
A tot
is a tot.
Yes, quite.
I see Abolone was just in AZ too. How come we missed each other? I think the coyotes had a conference over behind the saguaro, but I was further north, or something.

Sic tempus, cum sit mensura motus, mensurantis animae est instrumentum.
[Thus time, since it is the measure of motion, is an instrument of the
measuring soul.] - Nicholas Cusanus

Each day has its particular gravity
as each time varies with each local place.
Hours gradually slow to an eternity,
sometimes. Traveling home again, to face
an April rain in Providence, obscurity
of vision seems to gauge a waiting grace.

Once Nicholas Cusanus figured grace,
chance and will within the gravity
of a game (De Ludo Globi). You’d face
a ring of nine concentric spheres: eternity
rolled into an ovoid ball you’d try to place
in the central O. The game’s obscurity

(exactly equal to the general obscurity
of everything) exemplifies the grace
inherent in defeat, since chancy gravity
haywires the ball: no one loses face
who tries their best. And if eternity
is the reward of a long wait, my place

is assured: master of running-in-place,
rolling these spheres of absolute obscurity
(always slightly imperfect) with the grace
of an also-ran, I know there’s gravity
in the fall of a sparrow. (Look, face
the sky next Monday: almost an eternity

of scientific patience may win eternity
of fame (almost), if the rocket can place
those perfect balls of quartz past gravity,
perfectly aligned with IM Pegasi (grace
go with Gravity Probe B!), in the obscurity
of silvery space... where I would hide my face

34 years to see the shadow of your face:
veiled double, in the foyer of eternity,
polishing your mirror over a last place
called Providence: circuitous obscurity:
dove-like sister: light, gray-winged grace:
pebble, black hole (waltzing gravity)...

and if there’s gravity in the thought of your face,
I’ll find my place on the ninth hole of eternity
nestled in the obscurity of your blind grace.




You would have liked it here. The sun flares colors
clear as the sea-floor. The Navajo
make tracks circled in clay so sharp, so
clean – bladework of feathers, aloes, arrows...

And then, the Grand Canyon resembles you –
the Colorado scribbling a planet down
through dry spectral layers to the wet
blood-red and prehistoric marrow.

For Scripture precedes history – your insight
precedes Scripture – April’s alpha and omega
purl playfully from your soul-saga.
Who finds you meets a palm-tree full of light.

Phoenix, AZ
Back from a week in Arizona, to attend wedding w/side trip to Grand Canyon. First time in Southwest. Also read Emily Dickinson in sustained way for 1st time. A good combination.

The Canyon appears to absorb all time & space, & reflect it back in spectra & vast perspectives. The river digs down to igneous layer, 1.8 billion years old or so. Visitors seemed immediately joyful & relaxed, even though you walk continually along the edge of dangerous immense cliffs. (but you knew this already. saw Man feeding Coyote from car window along highway 64 at dusk. saw condor with 9.5 ft wingspan floating below me. there are only 8 of them in the park, currently : along the rim, met a ranger carrying bulky antenna equipment - he tracks their position by transmitter.)
Today my father turns 77. Happy b-day, Dad. Here's an old (& I guess rather dated) poem from Way Stations. Meant to be vaguely a "shape" poem (shape of Minnesota).


Maze of lakes in northern Minnesota,
Crisp air adrift on owl's wings
Between the wide gray skies
And a long swath of muted pines,
Waves lapping, lapping
Against the riding prow
Of the motorboat, my father
At the tiller, smiling, looking
Out toward the shore, quiet,
His beard growing rough now
After a day or two in the woods –

I'm afraid of diving too deep
Back into the skin of the past,
My callow bones, the large
Boy head full of springing
Phantasms, upstart to replace
A sense of imperfection
With voracious all-devouring
Enveloping thought – fishline,
This daily bread of blind birdsong.
Before you, Iron Range long gone, I
Will always be that unbound, reedy son.
The Times really watered down my letter to the editor about Al Franken. Took out most of the funny stuff, I thought. Al was not a great wrestler. He was a great all-around theater guy. He and Tom Davis took one of my short stories & produced it as a one-act play, which was a high point for me in high school.


Here's an odd little poem for today. I'm heading to the Southwest tomorrow, for a wedding - be back around April 12th. See you then!


Twinkling stars
echo in the lake;
whiff of shore-slime
mingles with night air;
long ago, another time.
You’re buried there;
I can’t return.

Paltry words
yearn to fly home,
fly earthward, back
to the spring-world –
fluttering they rake
the skies, onward
they roam... yet

where you are
they cannot see
(through the deep
untroubled mirror
where you keep
almost forever,
wakeful E.).
... so: poetic mimesis is the "objective" representation of a non-objective reality. Do I contradict myself? No - that's why you call your topic, your subject!

Assignment : make a replica of a mirror, including all it reflects, while looking at it in a mirror. (You may request assistance from Roger van der Weyden).

Mandelstam : "the word is Psyche."
Thinking about previous post, on the status of the image:

It seems like this would be an issue only if the poet were attempting to depict something, or present a vision of something. And not only that, but to depict something in a moving or compelling way. Or in a complete way: ie. the mimesis or representation of an experience in its wholeness (an action, in other words).

A tragedy or a comedy affects us emotionally, while simultaneously offering a perspective - a detached point of view (the spectator) - from which to interpret an action (which is another element of the complete representation of a scene or event).

What am I getting at, here? Not sure, exactly. When does a poem move beyond being simply a form of talking, or joking, or complaining - self-presentation, generally? Is it when the poem's language begins to model something separate from both the speaker and the event itself - an image of it, an icon?

This would be something distinct from mere manner - it would be style engaged with something outside itself, a "subject". & does this have something to do with the difference between poetry (a form of mimesis) and rhetoric (a form of persuasion)?


On somewhat of a side note, I remember once again those long & varied wrangles on the old Buffalo discussion list. Realism & nominalism; language poetry & poetry per se; postmodernism...

When I look back on it (and I'm sure my memory is playing tricks on me), it seems that at the core of many of those debates - for me, anyway - was that poetry's general function or purpose seems inextricably bound up with this problem of representation. & why, for me, does this seem so serious an issue? Because the special capability of poetry to present vivid, living, holistic images of reality gets at an intrinsic quality of that reality itself - its living, spiritual, "non-objectivity" if you will; its aspect as creation or work of art or manifestation of beauty. This is the ultimate equation or mirror between the reality itself and its icon, and why wholeness - the integration of the intellectual & the emotional & the sensible - is its criterion.


Cusanus' philosophical emphasis on the mystery, the unknowability, of God, rhymes or complements the poet's unique sense of the difficulty of expression - its emotional basis, the sense that its authentic rewards must be earned.*

This encapsulates his appeal for me.

*(How else offer an adequate image - rather than a dry resume or empty abstraction - of experience? What other import is there for the notion of the image as an "emotional-intellectual complex", or Eliot's problem of "dissociation of sensibility"? & what drives this demand for wholeness in representation, but a notion of creative vitalism or spiritual wholeness as inherent to reality itself? I could easily wax polemical, too, about how poetry offers complex wholes, represents lived experience. This gets into issues of style. I won't go there now.)
The (non-semi-annual) Monthly Henry Report

What's up with this Henry? Well, I've been able to write short poems. Haven't been able to do that for years, until now.

& lately, my readings of Nicholas Cusanus, & various books about painting, etc. (& seeing paintings), have given me the sensation, anyway, of beginning to formulate... not a poetics, or a theory, exactly... but a new (for me) conception...

I feel very close to Wallace Stevens these days. But it's as though I'm thinking on a complementary track. That is, where he thinks of poetry - the "supreme fiction" - as an adequate replacement for the belief in God - for the mythopoetic mind which has always created that profound figment (I almost wrote "fogment") -

I tend to understand the mirroring and mimetic function of art - which creates holistic abstracts of reality - as the only adequate means of expressing religious meaning: that is, a vision which allows even for the possibility (or the possibility of an adequate representation) of a "sacred" order or "divine" reality or "logos" or "wholeness" experience.

Why am I putting these words in "quotes"? For the very same reason I write poetry : because prose provides an inadequate argument for, or representation of, what I understand to be "reality".

This does not mean I think poets are special people, or all poetry is sacred, or any of that baloney.

I have a lot more to say about this mirroring or mimetic function, but it is so cool that I am putting it in my poetry as much as possible, rather than spelling it out, at the moment.

What else is happening? I am very happy to be blogging my poems. It has given me renewed faith in blog poetics. I think poetry bloggers are the Walt Whitmans of today. Blogs have the potential to redirect the editorial & critical function of contemporary literature (specifically, poetry - fiction is too much to read online) more directly to the reader. Hi, Ron.
I know, friends, I know: the poem I posted below is a little silly. But let it stand, let it stay. . . today's a day for fools & foolishness.

Gray April day; rain, clouds, and mist.
Thinking of an old farmhouse in Paradise
(near Newport); George Berkeley lived there
for a while, dreaming of Bermuda.

The dreamiest philosopher. He’d meditate
(and wait for mail) on Berkeley’s Seat,
a little cave of overhanging stone
set amongst horsegrass, facing out to sea.

Ultimate idealist. Of course the tree exists,
George, whether I think of it or no! Hosts
of angels testify to my existence, too:
O God, methinks me here, solid as yew...

as the western world tumbles to anarchy
in Cyprus, isle of Love. Undone by jealousy
(Iago’s for, Othello’s for, Desdemona, his),
the force that knits together contraries –

the power binding Africa to Venice,
white to black – succumbs to malice
bred of emptiness, coarse unbelief
in anything but Lust, Greed, Self:

wit feeding on unreasoning hate
poisons the island: rabid fraudulent
Iago rips apart that which he cannot be –
Desdemona (mercy manifest, all charity).

She calls from the curtained chamber,
from beyond death. Who has killed her?
Nobody – I myself. What does she mean?
She's saying love inspired her every action:

love for Othello led her to this waste,
love, that still forgives, even the worst,
love, sweeping through the speeches,
through the island, through the universe...

– put down the play, turn on the television.
There’s Kofi Annan (black man, African)
walking down a Cyprus road, on mission -
to unite that broken island once again.
Many hundreds of thousands of delighted & delightful hgpoetics Readers over the centuries have queried your obedient Servant privately as to his background, provenance, auspices, etc. with respect to Le Poetique de Fromage, as the rock-solid Cheese Poetics Movement (or the New Moldyism) is known in parts French. Well, I wrote wryly, rocking back in my Ancestral Rocking Chair (handed down by hand through the family for generations since the days of its handsome progenitor & chair-maker Reginald Golde, 1543 - & still rockin'), & leaning into my new-fangled Compooter Writing Utensil, I-He continued to write:

"Cheese. The very word evokes a fume of memories. I was born in the small village of Odeur-de-la-Cesse, in southern Burgundia: a place famed for its local "sheddeur" (a type of Gallic cheddar, known for the special "pop" sound it makes when vigorously engaged or overexcited), where my family (the Gilles-Fichette line, direct descendants of Gethoff Ufh MaHatte, first Lout of Burgundia) controlled & officially manipulated the "Wheeling of the Cheese Order" (as the trucking industry was called in those far-off days). The Wheeling of the Cheese has always been a Gilles-Fichette monopoly (monopoly - the word itself rolls off the tongue like a mighty 6-ft. cercle de sheddeur!), and my father, Conte Louise Louise de Gilles-Fichette (Quant ou Wont), always assumed I would assume the assumption of his role (rolle, roule, whatever) in the same fashion as he did in his time, and as his father had, and as his fatter grandfather had, and as his fattest greatest great-grandfather had, and so on; however, in 1657, while on a visite to Paris, I was struck by a mangy cur of a cheval in the left knee, and have been cursed by the black curse of a severe limp since that time, which unfortunate mishap confined me strictly to leisure activities, such as cheese sniffing, cheese tasting, cheese engorgement, reading, meditating, vegetating, and the composition of verse.

In my spare time, as well, I have occupied my giddy mind in the pursuit of foreign quarrels, as my Uncle Henri IV advised me (in the famous English (Albion perfidieuse!!) play of the same name, by Guillaume Slacksweare, I believe). Wait just a darn minute! That's not what I was going to write here. This dang compooter's gittin' away from me. Start agin. In my spare time, I have spent my sparest time working out a complex Theory of Cheese Poetics. Now Cheese Poetics cannot be reduced to a sound bite (no pun intended!): yet I feel it can fairly be said that the substance, the core, the essence, the saveur essentiale, of the Theory, may be packaged and rolled into the following apothegm:

There is a poetry of life and there is a poetry of poetry, and these two are one. And they meet in cheese.

This is a direct quote from Wallace Stevens, who was no mean connoisseur de fromage.

- Now if you will excuse me, dear excusive Reader - my Uncle Henri is calling me from the Jerusalem Chamber. I believe he left his crown on a pillow there, with some cheese, and I must fetch them immediately, there is a tide in the affairs of cheese and there is no time to lose. Farewell & au revoir & for the BBC News Hour, this is Robin Lustig saying: Goodby.
& just to augment the foolishness this morning, I've added a comment box! Hey! Talk to me.
(& hey, happy April Fool's, too)
HEY EVERYBODY! I am writing great poems.

Read 'em here first!