Me back from the national midriff, busy, busy. readin' Stephen Greenblatt's fascinatin' Will in the World (Shacks-pear biographie). Will's (& his father's) coat of arms:

"Gould, on a Bend, Sables, a Speare of the first steeled argent. And for his creast or cognizaunce a falcon, his winges dispplayed Argent standing on a wreath of his coullers."

Gould, on a bender. Sweet old Will - always thinking of me!


So long, friends - off to the Land o'Lakes. Back on Tuesday Nov. 30, if not before.
Tu dunque, che levato hai il coperchio
che m'ascondeva quanto bene io dico,
mentre che del salire avem soverchio,

dimmi dov' è Terrenzio nostro antico,
Cecilio e Plauto e Varro, se lo sai:
dimmi se son dannati, e in qual vico».

«Costoro e Persio e io e altri assai»,
rispuose il duca mio, «siam con quel Greco
che le Muse lattar più ch'altri mai,

nel primo cinghio del carcere cieco;
spesse fïate ragioniam del monte
che sempre ha le nutrice nostre seco.

Euripide v'è nosco e Antifonte,
Simonide, Agatone e altri piùe
Greci che già di lauro ornar la fronte.

Quivi si veggion de le genti tue
Antigone, Deïfile e Argia,
e Ismene sì trista come fue.

Védeisi quella che mostrò Langia;
èvvi la figlia di Tiresia, e Teti,
e con le suore sue Deïdamia».

Tacevansi ambedue già li poeti,
di novo attenti a riguardar dintorno,
liberi da saliri e da pareti;

e già le quattro ancelle eran del giorno
rimase a dietro, e la quinta era al temo,
drizzando pur in sù l'ardente corno,

quando il mio duca: «Io credo ch'a lo stremo
le destre spalle volger ne convegna,
girando il monte come far solemo».

(from Purgatorio XXII)

(translation, by James F. Cotter:)

"You, then, who lifted up the covering
That hid from me the great good I described,
While we have time remaining yet to climb,

"Tell me where our ancient Terence is,
Caecilius, Plautus, Varro, if you know;
Tell me if they are damned, and in what region?"

"They, and Persius and I, and many others,"
My guide replied, "are with that Greek to whom
The Muses gave more milk than to the rest,

"In the first circling of the darkened prison.
Often we converse about the mountain
On which our nurses always have their dwelling.

"Euripides is with us, Antiphon,
Simonides, Agathon, and many more
Greeks who once wore laurel on their brows.

"We see there of the people whom you noted
Antigone, Deiphyle, and Argia,
And Ismene, as sad as she once was.

"Hypsipyle, who showed men Langia’s spring,
We see there; Thetis and Tiresias’ daughter,
And there Deidamia with her sisters."

Both the poets had by now grown silent,
Intent once more on looking all around,
Free of the climbing stairs and of the walls;

And by now the four handmaids of the day
Were left behind, and at the chariot-pole
The fifth still steered its fiery tip upward,

When my guide said, "I think that we three should
Turn our right shoulders to the outer edge,
Circling the mountain in the usual way."
My personal concept of what a poet is & does, allows for a different definition of "reader, reading"... like the old medieval technical term, lectio, lector. A "reader (lecturer)" in theology, philosophy, etc. The poet as solitary, hermit - making poem, making book. The poetry reading as a late event in life or career.

No one wants to go back to that subdued era when poetry was limited to verses in print, & middle-aged profs mumbling at a lectern; nevertheless, I think the pendulum could afford to swing back a little now.

The term "poetry" covers an enormous range of activities & forms of writing/performing. I guess that theory of poetry appeals to me which sets the bar at the highest level of human doings, I mean just under prayer & acts of charity. Dante & Shakespeare & Dickinson & Whitman - their language art places them somewhere at the "brow of reality", so to speak - capable of engaging directly with, & on a par with, all the other forms of spiritual, intellectual & practical activity. Eliot was right when he said that this doesn't happen without the expenditure of great labor & devotion - no matter how much talent & facility the artist starts out with.

In this context I find something slightly jarring in the atmosphere which uses poetry as means to advance improv comedy acts, literary funfests, "scenes". Sorry, that's just how I see it. (I suppose I need to get out more. It's just that I find most poetry boring & narcissistic, & most artists vain & pretentious. & I include myself in that category.)


I think I understand the "non-difficulty" role of poetry as Jordan outlines. I wouldn't want to be a gatekeeper, oh no, not me! I recognize ptry-fr-its-wn-ske.

The formula which I was addressing, though, was "difficulty". If you are going to talk about this particular noun with respect to poetry, I think it has, as I said, less to do with technique than with ethics.

Jordan's "proxy" notion seems a little thrown, if you ask me. Almost a Horatian approach (its function is to succeed in expressing its audience's wishes & desires for it). I guess I'm more aware of the poet working to formulate his or her own dilemmas & puzzles ("out of the quarrel with ourselves..."). It becomes accessible, because both poet & reader recognize that our dilemmas are shared. & if someone is pleased/edified in the process - well, that's literary history in the making.
The literary pleasure principle is tempered somewhat by the fact that civilization, which sustains it, is itself sustained (in ways both great and small) by vows, labor, and self-sacrifice.

This is a good thing for literature, in the long run. "Time silvers the plow, and the poet's voice." (O. Mandelshtam)
Josh responds, in part:

"Henry, I need some clarification here. Are you saying that "difficulty" in poetry stems simply from the fact that words don't mean what they say—that difficulty stems from the gap between form and content? Doesn't that apply, potentially to any utterance? Or are you arguing for the importance of the framing that happens off the page—the question of poetry as an institution (Mike would double-damn it as a homogenous institution)—and deeming inadequate any approach that doesn't either attack institutionality or expand its mandate?"

Form & content(!)... let's pass on that. The difficulty I'm referring to - the generative difficulty - is that people, not words, don't mean what they say. (Art complicates this further by offering a symbolic speech, the "factual" truth of which is irrelevant.) The fact that the gap in question (between persons & truth-speaking) does apply to any utterance, is actually what places ethical difficulty at the center of literature's social relevance.

I would not, as you do here, Josh, simply align "the framing that happens off the page" with "the question of poetry as an institution". Dilemmas of personal and social ethics do not have simple institutional correlates. Rather, humanity is confronted with social, political, environmental, personal, psychological, experiential and philosophical riddles and dilemmas of such depth and complexity, as to result in ethical demands for which many people around the world sacrifice their personal well-being and their very lives. It is this experiential context which limits the general interest in poetry, to those relatively rare works which grapple with these demands in a substantial way.
Following interesting chit-chat among Josh, Jordan & Mike.

I have some trouble with both Josh's & Mike's formulations. Josh makes "difficulty" sound easy. Just another of those sophisticated pleasures we arty intellectuals share, part of the general joie de vivre. It's a sunny perspective.

Mike faults poets for not recognizing the coterie problem, the extent of the challenge involved in finding a way for poetry to "break in" to the awareness of the ordinary reader of fiction & non-fiction.

I guess my reservation about both arguments hinges on the nature of difficulty. Basically I think it's kind of a "boundary problem", a question of the framework. That is, the kind of difficulty we think we have in mind - the sort of problematic that grips the reader in an unshakeable wrestling hold, from which they will never get free - this level of difficulty is, fundamentally, not a literary question. That is, it is not something that can be finessed by aesthetics or rhetoric. In fact, it stems from the core of a difficulty with words & word-mongering itself: that words & deeds are not always the same thing; that life & literature are incommensurate; that promises and vows can be emptied of content, become vehicles of illusion, vanity, hypocrisy & deceit.

From this perspective, literary relevance, impact &/or difficulty is more of an ethical rather than a technical-aesthetic issue; it remains difficult even for the most sophisticated & talented writer, since it reaches into human commitments rooted beyond the literary "making" itself.

The art which most compels a readership seems often to emerge from a seemingly insoluble impasse or crisis or dilemma - a dilemma which, through the talent of the poet, results in a representation which has meaning for both the poet and for "society". It may stimulate a radical re-working of literary style & subject-matter. We are talking about a phenomenon which does not follow either from exhortations to the literary community to "work harder at it" (ala Mike), or from mere literary sophistication (ala Josh), which takes pleasure in arcane works, but shuns the ethical implications or demands that words sometimes entail.



These letters, rolled like drops of sap along the spine
of a spindly cedar (hardened into crust). My letters
to you – you, who have no need of letters
among your mirrors and lights. They seep
toward you, and love you, sensing
you love them just as well.

The moon
was faint tonight, behind a smoky cloud.
Pale, bloodless, not quite round, yet
shining anyway, it lingered: held
in the branches of a willow tree
like an empty goblet. Silver
leaves lay down below – a crowd
of masks, a flock of repentant souls
from a Sienese fresco (surging around
the Rood of Heaven).

Without you,
dear, my knowledge disintegrates, a new
encyclopaedia of dust. All pledged
to rigid silence, under useless stars.

But if you were here... you would point
to the warm lights of a house nearby. And
your other hand would reach for mine
like the sun.



We were walking through the cemetery.

It was about this time of year, as I recall –
when the earth itself seems only a graveyard.

We heard a far-off sound (pattering rain,
puttering pigeons, mute piano notes?).

We saw, over the river, the silhouette of a figure
throwing dead branches on a tall bonfire.

Perpetual twilight.

And in those days, it seemed, everyone wore masks –
except for you and me. And now I see only masks.

Halloween never ends, it seems –

unless you come back again, unless we retrace
our steps over the grassblown graves.



In mid-November, a dark autumnal day,
leaves shuffle underfoot, drift in the wind.
Each leaf a little hand stretched out –
a letter, inscribed with tiny branches,
limbs. A letter from a tree gone bare,
expecting no reply. Soon snow will fall.

Each day I walk down Dove Street
with your shadow – talking to you,
talking to myself. Drab gray alleyway
cluttered with crooked telephone poles...
here gray pigeons waddle, wavering
and purring, across gray asphalt,
underneath gray skies.

of turtle-doves, wings flitting overhead;
glimmer of gold oak and maple leaves;
desolate, diminished Jack o’lanterns
huddling with crazy smiles against
gray doorsteps (lumps of faded orange).

Hidden in the twilight season, camouflaged
in gray, whispering down a hidden street
with you, my phantom (leftover from
Halloween). Toward the harbor – where
dim light from a low star threads
across gray water, and doves collect
along the iron rail, and shuttling leaves
float, mutter... whirl against the pier.


Busy plus tired today, plus I just can't decide where to play shuffleboard - near the Ashbery Scenic View, or over by the James Tate Swingset? So more belated Ron Watch for me...

today he's focusing on the discontinuities of experience (a hyper-realist in disguise?). Very disjunctive-elliptical of everything to be so. But some might say discontinuity is the problem set before us, the puzzle to solve by way of knowledge & vision & most of all, poetry. Read Giuseppe Mazzotta (Dante's Vision & the Circle of Knowledge).

Poetry as the trivium & quadrivium activated, synthesized, turned into an ethical topology. Liberal arts - "liberal" meaning they free the mind... for what? Truth, contemplation of the whole, wholeness, unity...

Looking for the ground & the continuum, the form & the telos. Encyclopedic knowledge shaped into harmonic, playful vision - image of grace (Dante).

The play of all plays, the act of all action. The You, the double You, the W.

ie., "zigshaggin yo own sweetblack rizebury W" [or something like that - quote from memory], sez Bluejay.


- that Russian poet. (Imago, imago, imago.) Here's a link to one of Karen Donovan's poems (from her bk-lngth ms. Clay Tablets). Come to think of it, Karen's poem is something of a midrash on the notion I was asserting earlier (that the word is infused with impulse - formative, indicative - from the beginning).

She's a strong poet, don't you think? (The epigraph in italics at the beginning is a quote - Clement of Alexandria, maybe?)
Still reading R.S. Crane, Languages of criticism and the structure of poetry (1952). Chicago School critic. How differing conceptual frameworks, and different logical approaches (inductive or "abstract"; inside/outside frames) result in diverse evaluations & interpretations of the same literary works.

This is a good place to start if you want to write criticism.
17.3.4 And so HENRAH with his onions set forth from Berrymn-lond by the myth of the Missingsippu. & he carried his lancelets & his flaming windup wand on his back; & he canoed from thence to Rode-Island. & when he had set foot ashore in that place, immediately he posted upon a Tree his Papyrus of Verses, which he had copied out, with his bare hand, 40 years hence, from out of a Boke of bare bodkin Berrigans. And he sate down there to wait for the people of the tribes who dwelt therein (of the tribes of Oddiense).

17.3.5 And he waited there further.

17.3.6 And so he continually waited thus, twiddling his thumbs, and reporting to his minions upon the Nephilim (Giant Space People from Atlantis) which he had seen thereabouts.
So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24)


Here I compost my difference.

If we accept the R. Formalist 6-sided model, still, we say, language is not dicing. The simple hexagonal formula elides an implication of the fact that the addressor is one of its facets: the implication that motive, impulse, is inextricable from the actuality of language.

"Words are fossil poetry", says Emerson (Thoreau?). The word from its origin is gestural, indexical, representational, mimetic. The "inner image" of the word (Mandelshtam's Potebnia, the anti-R. Formalist) is a complex made up of its etymological-gestural roots.

Imagine, not a six-sided die, but a sword turning every way.

A sequence:
1. the primitive word points to that.
2. the primitive word-maker inches toward self-consciousness.
3. the primitive word takes on the tincture of same (self-consciousness).
4. the primitive word becomes a polished mirror, a flashing sword.
5. the primitive word-maker points toward his/her Maker.
6. the primitive word turns every way.
7. and the primitive word saw that it was good, and rested.

For the (Mandelshtamian) Acmeist, the poetic word exults in liberation from necessity, it celebrates its inner free-standing harmonics, it honors the creative nature of which it is a part, it acknowledges the origin of its freedom in the "historical fact the the Redemption". Thus the primary border is not between past & future, as with the Futurists, but between time & eternity, or heaven & earth, which the intervention of the Divine Word fused together, and which the poetic word echoes & celebrates.

Mandelstam wrote that, ironically, the revolution broke the spine of cultural chronology stemming from the Incarnation (the Christian calendar), and in doing so, led not into a utopian future but a kind of inert state, which he mocked as "Buddhist Moscow".

(Obviously, here, I'm taking Mandelshtam in my own direction, building on certain strands of his oeuvre; I'm not presenting an objective/scholarly version, but a Henry-adaptation.)

To summarize: in poetic language, impulse & representation are inherently meshed & fused with the "verbal material"; there is no toss of some dice-object; rather, language is a human creation which is surrounded by & points toward its maker-matrix. The langpo/futurist/modernist emphasizes chance & formal reconstruction; the acmeist/modernist emphasizes historical fate, the inextricable cultural context. Futurism is construct; acmeism is embodiment & image.
Un Coup de Des Jamais N'Abolira le Hasard

Antithetical memes of the blogosphere strike again. Oftentimes when I ponderifurcate laboriously on the roots of my praxismo literario, if then I gallumph over to here, there is somebody, somebody goin' in the opposite dierection.

Just a coupla russian Gorby dolls - dolls-within-dolls, that is. Or two bowling pins, bobbling on their bases, simultaneous-like.

RS sez it helps to know what you're dealin' with - like applied mechanics (linguistics). I have no problem with this, except that, as RS Crane teacheth (Language of Criticism & Structure of Poetry), we work within different frameworks.

RS lays out a genetics of langpo going back by way of Russian Formalism & Russian Futurism to a new & true-blue re-do of Modernism (Habermas). Poetic language (& all language) is a kind of 6-sided die, turning & revolving one side or another (addressor/addressee, signifier/signified, contact/code).

So inside the Russian doll of understanding poetry via linguistics sits the littler doll of understanding langpo via formalism/futurism/modernism.

Language is a throw of the dice, or a twist of the facets, based on the game plan of the neo-Modern avantistadora. The duality here is between the renovating motive of the modernist, and the functional matrix of the neutral langue-parole. The primary divide, the locus of artistic action-praxis, is between a revocable past and the avanti!-future.

Here I interpose my difference.
... SO, poetry reflects that special embodiment, that embodied freedom-authority... & as such the messengers of that special space often come up against the other authorities. Thus July, the 3rd of Forth of July, ends on March 5th, the date on which both Stalin & Akhmatova (avatars of these two distinct powers) died.

& anyway, all this providential history is a work-in-progress. So the unpublished history poem In RI deals more directly with Roger Williams & his unique state-founding. & this has been translated, wonderfully, into italian by Anny Ballardini. I'll be a Dante yet.

& what I mean by this "embodiment", in part, involves all these threads I've been tying (plowing?) between my rows of verse, and the "rose" of Rhode Island. Thus I first came from the midwest to this state on the merit of my college application essay, which was a group of Ted Berrigan (of Cranston, RI) imitations. & though my roots are in Minnesota, I've discovered a lot of family background right here. There's a little island in Narragansett Bay called Gould Island, named after Thomas Gould, the nephew of my gr-gr-gr-grandfather Zaccheus. Tom Gould was a friend of Roger Williams, & rented him a field on that island, for raising hay.
Did you follow all that, all that I posted on Friday? The eyes blur over.

It's blurry, I know. The idea is that poetry is a special kind of "embodied" speech, analogous to incarnation. An end in itself, as well as a representation of something else.

& the concept of incarnation stems from a metaphysics, if you will, which includes both divine & human; not one without the other. A religious perspective which includes BOTH divine will and human self-will, human freedom. This is the general idea that underlies Renaissance christian humanism, Dante's polemic for a balance between Pope & Emperor, Roger Williams' demand for liberty of conscience and the separation of church and state.

When I look back at the poem (Stubborn Grew, etc.) I see it as expressing a position in the middle, facing 2 ways: first, by celebrating Roger Williams & echoing Dante in certain ways (the "octagonal" design described on Fri.), it represents this humanist stand for freedom of conscience & the separation of political & religious authority; second - especially in the 3rd book, July - it represents the distance between present-day dispositions of political power ("Julius" - military-state force) and a utopian future ("Jubilee").


...& all of this is emblematized, miniaturized, in the 2nd chapter of Stubborn Grew, titled "Ancient Light". Henry goes to London, and stands before the great painting by Hans Holbein, "The Ambassadors"; he sees a vision of the medieval unity crumbling under the pressure of that other secular power, Henry VIII (the ambassadors in question were on an embassy from the Pope to resolve Henry's marriage/divorce problem - which also finds its echo in the poem to follow).

I too try to "embody the word", in a poetry way. Here's an inkling of the "number, weight & measure" involved. (I'm sorry to repeat myself again on this blog - but I'm trying to outline a particular personal framework for poetic "embodiment".)

I wrote Forth of July in Rhode Island. The guiding spirit of this place is Roger Williams, founder of Providence; RI is considered the first political entity founded explicitly on the separation of Church & State.

Williams' worldview rhymes (roughly, an off-rhyme) with Dante's perspective, in the Divina Commedia and the essay De Monarchia. Dante believed that the Holy Spirit provided a legitimate role for secular humanity, secular government, in the providential historical process leading toward the renewal of the earth, the "Earthly Paradise", corrupted since the Fall. Rome, and the Holy Roman Emperor, he considered the true authority under which this renovation would occur. At the end of the Commedia, in the Paradiso, in the center of the heavenly Rose, Dante placed an empty throne, destined for the messianic Emperor who would oppose Papal pretentions to secular authority, restoring Italy, the Empire, and thus the whole world - Emperor Henry VII.

As Stubborn Grew/The Rose moves into its central volume, a certain numerical structure crystallizes (and then expands in the following volumes), based on 7/4 (4th of July), 5/28, and 5/29. The central volume (Grassblade Light) consists of 7 chapters (actually 8 panels - the center chapter containing a double panel). Each chapter is made up of 28 poems, each poem containing 28 lines (7 quatrains). At the center of the 28 is a 29th poem with a kind of square structure (16 quatrains total). (This is the template - & though there are slight variations in some chapters, the total line count for each chapt. is almost exactly the same.)

I designed this octagonal structure after the shape of a castle in southern Italy built by that great opponent of the Pope, (Holy Roman) Emperor Frederick II, which has 8 sides, and squarish towers at each angle.

The following volume, July, is designed as a mirror-image to the 1st vol., Stubborn Grew. It comes in 2 halves: the first half consists of 5 chapters, each containing 5 poems of 28 quatrains each. The 2nd half of the book has a very complicated structure (again using poems of 7 quatrains) which I won't get into here.

William Blackstone, RW's friend, Anglican preacher-in-exile, planter of the first known apple orchard in the New World (in Cumberland, RI), & figure in these poems, was buried on his property on 5.28.1675. His property ("Study Hill") was burned to the ground the next day, 5.29 (this was during King Philip's War).

5.29 is my birthday, and RI Statehood Day.

The entire poem (Forth of July) was finished on 5.28.2000, with this line :

"the nef rows, rows... palms, heartbeats, light."
I placed the mask firmly over my face: the mask I had been fabricating & fiddling with for the previous 20 years.

& then Russia, Mandelstam, Akhmatova, Brodsky, Pushkin, "white nights" Petersburg, Elena Shvarts (ie., "shining/black") became a master theme-&-variation, through the next 1000 pp. of that poem (Forth of July, in toto). Mandelstam = "almond branch". (I found out about Celan's parallel interest later.) The almond - the tree that flowers in January. Eliot's "midwinter spring is its own season". The Biblical branch. Magdalen, amygdaloid. The embodied, the rooted Word. The other one, the ghost, the Bride, the J. The meteoric stone fallen from heaven, placed in the otfe (bedouin tribal camel-tent shrine) as tablet of the Law.

& you have to recall that the "narrative" plot proper began on Halloween, with a search for a "lost black cat" (Berryman sidekick?) named Pushkin.
New writing has been slow going for me since about 2001, with many false starts & stops, for a variety of reasons, most of which I don't understand. Probably you steady sloggers of this blog have had an inkling of that, considering how much I dwell on things written in the previous millennium.

While continually pondering what to do & where to go with it lately, it struck me once again how, exactly, the longest of the long poems got started, at the beginning of working on Stubborn Grew (around 1998 or so). It struck me again how decisively the whole thing began with an act of mimicry. Any Russian poetry-reader, I'm sure, would find no such echo there, since it was a kind of fantasy, a role-playing, rather than a careful form of copying or transposition. But I was trying to re-write Mandelstam's Voronezh poems - both theme & style. That is, it was, first of all, the earthward, earthy, black-earth theme of the Voronezh poems which I picked up on - the landscape - both as leading toward a sort of Orpheus re-do, and as something I felt connected with personally (rural Midwest). Secondly, I tried to channel a certain tone I heard - a talky, informal, intimate, sweet-happy-melancholy tone. Of course it led off in another direction... but that was the sound I was "listening" to as I started writing.


Reading matter of rabid Bush moron:
Dante, Poet of the Desert, by Giuseppe Mazzotta. I come back to this author's books every few years, one of my favorites. Much about rhetoric & history & theology & what Dante does with them.

Perhaps the red/blue state phenomenon, the right/left, the rep/dem drama, is the result of the difference between rhetoric (the intellectuals) and history (the business class). David Brooks, the middle-of-my-road-anyway pundit for NY Times, wrote an op-ed along these lines a while back.

In the first half of Stubborn Grew, the flow of actual (local) history is narrated by a fictional character (actually, a ghost). In the 2nd half, the obverse is the case. The fictionalized (failed) process of writing an epic/history poem is framed by, inset within, the "documentary"/confessional image of an actual individual (the author).
Met last night with Karen Donovan, editor of Paragraph, at the Red Fez (Prov. restaurant) to talk about a her ms. "Clay Tablets", a sort of long-poem/ceremony set in ancient Mesopotamia. A talented poet, with background in biochemistry, which is coming back into her writing. Cell-division, fertility & creativity. Working now on a new poem-project which links the 20 amino acids with the 20 letters in the Ogham tree-alphabet. She looks like a cross between Anna Akhmatova & Bertolt Brecht (thin, thin face, bright blue eyes, short straight black hair combed forward). Life goes on in Grand Fenwick.
It's an odd path I traveled to election day. I don't believe in military solutions to human problems. I don't believe in one nation imposing its will by force on others. I think there is a disconnect, as well as a relation, between American wealth and power, on the one hand, and the world's poverty & social oppression, on the other, which no amount of imposed political ideals, in themselves, can ever ameliorate. Only social justice and an effort to address grievances and basic economic problems can do that. I believe there is a fundamental contradiction in the notion that a few nations, armed to the teeth, can police the other nations, with respect to weapons of mass destruction : only further & universal disarmament will bring real security in that regard.

All that having been said, however... I hold another set of views, perhaps contradicting myself in the process. I think there is a global terrorist network & movement, dedicated to a mix of tyrannical politics and Islamic-fundamentalist expansionism ("the Caliphate"). I think for about the last half century, the Middle-Eastern Arab nations have chosen the path of authoritarianism and violence; and while the colonial powers of the West bear much responsibility for this outcome, the primary responsibility lies with the choices of the Arab governments themselves. I think that the events of 9/11 left the US government no choice but to deal with the problem of global mass terror in a systematic way, and I think the Bush policy of confronting state sponsors of terror, as well as the terrorist networks themselves, made sense. I think the nature & practices of the Saddam Hussein regime fit the category of state sponsors of terror. I think Saddam brought his downfall down on his own head, when he thought he could respond to US demands with belligerence and stalling. I think Iraq and the Middle East will be better off with the Saddam mafia out of power, and an elected government. I think the response of the anti-Bush peace movement and the European governments was blinkered by a kind of self-righteous and naive attitude of appeasement, in an untenable and unjust situation, in which Saddam manipulated the sanctions system to benefit himself & punish his own people.

Much of my progress to this position came about as a kind of dialectical protest against the attitudes and propaganda of the politicized "poet-networks".


My decision to vote for Bush never was & is not easy on my mind, or simple. I remember before 9/11 I was angered & bothered by Bush's Supreme Court victory, & the hubristic foreign policy attitudes which followed. But I would say the vote came after a gestation period which began when I saw the Left's, & most of the world's, reaction to the Bush policy toward Iraq & the sanctions problem. I was struck at that time by the ideological rather than the pragmatic nature of the response. I saw a lot of Vietnam-spectre hand-wringing; I saw a lot of purely partisan Bush-bashing; I saw a lot of sanctimonious pacifism, willing to appease, and indeed collaborate with, the Saddam regime, in order to avoid holding him to account. I saw the UN willing to do almost anything besides actually enforce the sanctions; I saw Europe gladly join hands with the Baathists rather than support the US in bringing down that neo-Stalinist regime.

I already know the rebuttals that readers of this blog are thinking & perhaps preparing to post. There's the argument that the US should have been more patient with inspections. Then there's the argument that even if the war was justified, the aftermath has been botched, with horrific consequences. I understand the merit of these arguments, and of many others; but in the end they are not strong enough to convince me that the Bush long-term strategy of pushing democracy in the Middle East is fundamentally mistaken. Rather, I think the critics and the naysayers have got history wrong; they remind me, to a degree, of the people who opposed Lincoln in the Civil War, as a matter of fact.

History, fortunately or unfortunately, is not a clear glass displaying the clean triumph of good over evil; nor is the US exempt from deep wrongs of its own. But I happen to believe this particular cause is just.
Some John's son has been reading (sub rosa, or sub orchida, I should say) Ben Jonson (which, come to think of it, means "son of John's son").
My machine at home is on the blink, & I am busy at work, which is why HG Poetics has wagged sommat desultory lately. Besides which the new role as political idiot has added yet another layer of plastique to my status as Hon. Official Elite Bad-Wind Outsider Runt of the Blue Regions of Poesy.


I don't want to upset anybody, or stoke the fires. Will be glad to return to philology, soon. I learned at the start of the Iraq war that, by jiminy, not all poets think alike.
Some traditionalist churches are pushing for a ban on gay marriage, since they define marriage in their own "religious" terms. Bush pandered to them for their votes, and this was a low, low pitch. But he's also spoken in favor of civil unions for gay people, & for rights & respect in general. You can brand him a bigot if you like. To me this is just more of the same rhetorical overkill which stupid politics tends to trigger automatically.

The po-bloggers on the left, and there are lots of them, seem to be just as blinkered by paranoid fear, resentment & hate as any whackos on the right. Try to get real. I'll be glad to get back to Grand Fenwick, where people are almost as sane as Minnesotans.


Rhode Islanders just think differently. That must be it. While I was doing my strange voting behavior in the polling booth, RI's true-blue old-line liberal Republican - Lincoln Chafee - was announcing to the public that he would not be voting for his party's President - because of the Iraq war.
So the election is over, but the culture war, clearly, is not. Shrill keenings & cries of woe from poetry bloggers on every side. Joseph Duemer one of the more articulate ones among those I've seen.

Politics in America is, or has been, mostly a two-party struggle for power. The struggle involves framing issues & concerns, sharpening differences. It's a mistake, though, simply to take the partisan frames at face value, and impose them on the portion of the electorate that voted differently from you. Guess what, people in the red states are complex animals too; some of them may be even less like "true believers", chanting partisan mantras & slogans, than you are. Imagine: some of them may be reasonable, intelligent people.

Why should I accept that? you ask. They swallowed the vicious right-wing propaganda, the kultur-kampf which has been strengthening on the right for decades. They don't share my values, you say.

Actually I think it's more complicated. The story of the 2-party system is not a matter of decades, but of more than a century. The Republican Party has been an organized force to reckon with since the Civil War. Yes, it failed the country at the time of the Depression; yes, it followed Nixon into 8 more years of war in Vietnam & Cold War support for repressive regimes around the world; yes, it made a devil's pact with the southern bigots & Dixiecrats in an attempt to turn back racial justice; yes, it followed Reagan's hard right ideology into a new conservative era. This is a reactionary record, and that's the reason I've voted Democrat since I came of age.

But guess what: the Republican Party has also stood for some positive things, during various periods of American history. Two in particular: freedom (against slavery; against tyranny) and reform (particularly under the 1st Roosevelt). And many of the voters in the red states have affiliations with that party going back generations. Democrats love to mock the "values" orientation of their opponents, seeing them as manipulated pawns, trapped by their own reactionary, "atavistic" religious beliefs. But when a majority of them said "values" was the deciding issue, it may be wrong to jump to the conclusion that this was simply homophobia. I think a lot of church-going red-state voters were deeply offended by the morals of the Democrats' vaunted standard-bearer, Bill Clinton; I was offended myself to see the Oval Office turned into a porn site. & there was Bill, out campaigning for Kerry - a slick, ambitious, & opportunistic issue-spinner. When Republicans told pollsters that "values" were the pivotal issue, some of them were saying that while they were troubled by the economy and Iraq, in the end they decided that Kerry wouldn't make things much better on those fronts anyway, and that at least Bush set an example of personal integrity & decency, which they didn't think Kerry & his rich celebrity friends could ever do.

I believe the Republican right's socio-religious platform is deeply Macchiavellian and uncharitable - victimizing - at its core. And this must be opposed. But Joe Duemer's analysis - that Democrats are enlightened free-thinking non-religious persons, while Republicans are backward, superstitious bigots, and we share no values, and we must sharpen the differences between the parties almost on a theological level... I think this is a strategy for further widening of the culture divide, more polarization, more stereotyping, and ultimately more ignorance and misunderstanding.

The Democrats who will remake their party are those who actually understand and in some cases share the traditional religious background and value-system of the other side; it is they who will be able to interpret history and politics and economics for the electorate, in a way that doesn't demean or deny their religious beliefs, but which challenges that reactionary, deeply uncharitable, partisan spin, which feeds parasitically on those values from the far right. I am not saying that Democrats must follow Republicans into some kind of hypocritical religious pandering. (I live in Rhode Island, for Roger Williams' sake!) I'm saying that it is probably those on the left who have at least a "liberal", non-judgmental awareness of the role of religious belief in human society, who know something about the foundations of Western faith-systems - it is these people who will be able to challenge the religious bigots on their own ground, and suggest a different set of foundational values for a just and free civic order.

At this point I should say, to be brave & foolish, that after standing in the polling booth for at least 10 minutes, I voted for Bush. My reason for doing so, despite my complete rejection of many of the Republican positions on social issues, the economy, and the environment, was because I think we are actually doing the right thing in Iraq. But that's a debate we've had before in this corner of the blogosphere, and I am not going to get into it now. I suppose I've lost about 35% of my blog audience by saying this (2 people, I reckon).


starting into R.S. Crane, The languages of criticism and the structure of poetry. Chicago guy, 1952. enjoying it. preface alone worth its weight in goulde.
I'm certainly no authority, but in my recent skimming of Chicago critics, this notion that "a principle must be a principle of something else" stems from Aristotle's method. The active principle of a thing lies in its motive, its end or purpose for action or change. (With Aristotle one can always look at a thing from different perspectives, based on whether you're doing "science" - nature of a thing in itself - or "art" - its telos in relation to other things. I'm sure I'm garbling this, O philosophers, but anyway...).

The statement quoted below seems to align critical practice with my own sense (drawing on Mandelstam), anyway, of the poem as a combination of impulse and material, motive (gesture, genre) and language. & this is a different focus from that of the New Critics, & the mantras of langpo & related "theoretical" styles (text is prior to speech, text undermines authorial presence, etc).

Let's move on, class.
More info on the Chicago School here. fine article by Brian Corman ("Chicago Critics" entry in Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism).

Here's an interesting bit:

"One of the more controversial consequences of their [the Chicago critics] assumption that literary meaning is to be found in the (generic) intention of the text is that like Aristotle, they subordinate the function of literary language to the larger structure of the work as a whole: "The words must be explained in terms of something else, not the poem in terms of the words; and further, a principle must be a principle of something other than itself; hence the words cannot be a principle of their own arrangements" (Olson, On Value 13)."
telex to Hotel : check out NY Times arts section for yesterday (Wed). Feature on Muriel Spark; her switch from poetry to fiction, impact of Proust on her writing.


Not sure why this old octet from the Reagan era came to mind today. something to do with the election. I've posted it before...

My countrymen, dreaming and drinking down
the livelong day in your smooth Cadillacs,
Americans made of nostalgia, playing the clown
on roads past the high school railroad tracks -

go on, play the radio, shoot for the moon;
your little boy up from grasslands not for hire
is building a tricycle in the backyard, and soon
he'll step inside a brand-new chariot of fire.
reading an Elder Olson essay on Aristotle's Poetics. Olson was part of the so-called Chicago School, a 50s grouping with a little different point of view from that of the New Critics.

When I started Stubborn Grew, I was reading another study of the Poetics, which argued that the form of Aristotle's text resembles that of a tragic plot, and as such, is designed to do what it describes, setting up sort of a reflexive, self-mirroring framework.

This influenced the opening of Stubborn, in that the introductory sketches simultaneously reflect on poetry-making, on the one hand, and begin to act out the orphic pattern of the plot, on the other - sort of a hall of mirrors. "Bluejay" : the mime (schtick) of a mimic. So the mimicking narrator and "Bluejay" are somewhat like Russian dolls-within-dolls (the narrator mimicking a "black-talking" Bluejay, himself a mimic).

This Olson essay I'm reading outlines 3 steps: the instinctual pleasure/learning we derive from imitation (mimicry, schtick); the moral or ethical disciplines by which imitation is molded (the depiction of "good & bad" characters & situations); & finally the experience of made things (poems, dramas) as good-in-themselves (their intrinsic aesthetic value - a discovery which, to some degree, circles back around to the original instinctual springs).

I suppose, ideally, there's an equilibrium to these three levels. What is the ethical root or motive which fuses with the aesthetic goal? What would Ovid on the Black Sea, or Dante in exile, or Walt in the hospital, speak to the powers that be (as of 11/3)? - to all the feuding, angry factions?

Another Olson, in another Ovid spot... ("Watch-House Point")
Interesting new book crossed my desk today:

Of Poems & Their Antecedents, by Sherry Brennan (Subpress)

too tired from last night to read it right now. Big book, over 600 pp. landscape, botany, natural history, midwest rustbelt archaeology. quiet sound, looking, looking, rain, distance, quiet. rough drafts included, sketches, etc.


An Old English riddle (#8), from the Exeter Book, trans. by Kevin Crossley-Holland (Penguin Bks, 1978):

I've one mouth but many voices;
I dissemble and often change my tune,
I declaim my deathless melodies,
I don't desist from my refrain.
Aged evening-songster, I entertain
men in their homes by rehearsing
my whole repertoire; they sit, bowed down,
quiet in their houses. Guess my name,
I who mimic the jester's japes
as loudly as I can, and rejoice men
with choicest songs in various voices.

I'll give you three guesses.
not to mention "mimic".
I see I used too many "ick" words in yesterday's explanation of poetry. autotelic or exoteric or mimetic or semiotic? yick!!! Ich haben maken unden mistakin agin!


also reading Anglo-Saxon riddles from the Exeter Book (translated). I'm in "start over" mode.

random gurglings re "poetry, theories of":

It's like other semiotic systems (both art & non-art), ie., it organizes experience, reality as we know it, into "meaning-packets". We make gestures, signs at things, put them into relations with other things. A natural, practical (survival) activity.

So this is mimetic.

But it is also autotelic, in the sense of playful and beautiful-in-itself. In this sense it has no exoteric function, it's simultaneously creative & self-fulfilled, a miniature pleroma. In this way it's "objective" (in the sense noted in previous post).

But here I would add that, if so, it is, paradoxically, also mimetic or realist (if, and perhaps only if, the cosmos as a whole is also, in some fashion, a creation). So the autotelic possibly fuses or harmonizes with the mimetic.

& then it is expressive in the sense that words are not merely semiotic, but affective as well : they stimulate emotions and memory. & emotions and memory, in turn, create intellectual ripples and waves: desire motivates plot, desire spurs exploration.

& then of course it is pragmatic in the Horatian sense, in that everyone longs for both intellectual clarity - the semiotic syntheses of experience - and affective, emotional pathos - the felt expression of the feelings (which cannot easily be distinguished from perceptions). And since everyone longs for these things, we have a captive audience which includes the human race, as well as bluejays and other such mimics.
Over the weekend, we took a break from elections prep here in Grand Fenwick (Bon-Bon & Baldwin are running for the Peat Lorry Administrator post, a very important office, since we heat with peat, and since the Peat Lorryist gets to drive the lorry), I say we took an hiatoose from all that, this weekend, to read the "Poetry, Theories Of" entry in the Princeton Enbicyclopedia of Poetry.

It's not that long, & it even makes some sense.

The author divides theories into 4 categories:

1. mimetic (poetry is mirror or representation of real or ideal things)
2. pragmatic (Horace's tradition : poetry is artful speech directed at an audience to please, primarily; sometimes to instruct)
3. expressive (came to the fore with Romantics : poetry expresses the emotions and inner character of the poet)
4. objective (came to the fore with Moderns & New Critics, especially : poetry is autotelic, a separate autonomous creation with its own set of laws, created for its own sake).

She or he (don't know the author of this entry) also covers postmodern (deconstructive) developments, & nods at recurrent notions that theory is unnecessary & perhaps inimical to poetry.

The layout of this article gives you a sense of the variety of & wide spaces between all the critical approaches & expectations.

Also listened to Memphis Jug Band & Noah Lewis' harmonica playing. I am going to have to learn the instrument all over again.