Daniel Green criticizes one of my posts here. I'll have to think a little more about this, but off-the-cuff it seems to me he's confusing the descriptive with the prescriptive.

I don't mean to say that poets have to be popular or "ethical" in the sense described. The point was that, as I see it, the grand highway to an expanded readership - whatever mode of art or communication one starts with - involves an engagement with people's actual problems - be they practical or intellectual/philosophical. And that engagement is an ethical act, an act of empathy - above and beyond the technical matters of literary craft.

There can be and have been great literary artists whose work is not easily accessible - Celan, for example. But why are they considered great? Not simply because they employ an arcane or original style, but because by means of (and sometimes in spite of) their unusual or difficult style, they address profound human problems. Celan himself underlined this many times, emphasizing his special concern with the truth, insisting that he was not "hermetic", that his aim was to communicate, etc.

Daniel's comments about the (poetically) uneducated masses strike me as slightly supercilious or complacent. Moreover I don't think he's considered carefully the meaning of the distinction I tried to make (in various posts re the Chicago critics) between the craft of the verbal texture per se, and the craft of making empathetic imaginative constructs.
A good day in Iraq yesterday, I'd say. Hope it goes forward. Jonathan Schell's book The Unconquerable World provides some interesting historical context. I think perhaps somebody in the Bush administration has been reading it, though the particular mixture of violence, realpolitik & popular will there is not exactly like any of the historical examples (Vietnam, the US civil rights movement, Soviet Eastern Europe, etc.) Schell studies.

The Iraq "occupation" and "insurgency" seem to display Schell's panorama in a reverse mirror : here the occupation is aligned with the majority; here the army, rather than the insurgency, loses every battle, but wins the war.

Schell, of course, looks beyond the arms market and the security state - seeing popular nonviolent democracy movements as the hope of the future. His keynote theme is the paradoxical power of mass nonviolence. Something of that was visible yesterday, in the photos of Iraqis bravely holding up their ink-stained voting fingers. Power to the people.


Am reading an interesting book right now, Prisoners of hate : the cognitive basis of anger, hostility, and violence. By Aaron Beck, who I guess is considered the founder of cognitive psychology. I come upon things in the process of buying books for the library, lucky me.

Surprised to find it shedding light from a certain angle on the pathology of (sub)literary polemics, my own in particular within the larger scene of same.

Also struck by similarity between Beck's architecture of cognition/emotion, and the way that Elder Olson, in one of his Chicago-critic essays, analyzed the dynamics and effects of poetry, especially dramatic poetry. He describes there how a drama, by depicting or shaping a certain limited set of images or representations (logos), first affects the opinion or judgement of the audience about what they are witnessing : and then that opinion, that cognitive assessment of the image or scene (ethos), triggers the audience's emotional response (pathos).

I'm just getting into Beck's book, but the introduction describes his research into the elusive, peripheral thoughts of his patients - the thoughts they don't even recognize enough to share in psychoanalysis : thoughts which, paradoxically, frame & direct more overt behavior (often defense mechanisms or delusions). These are sort of protective thoughts, guarding the perimeter of the egocentric self - which if damaged or vulnerable, result in fantastic forms of intellectual & behavioral over-reactions. As in the audience's "judgement" of a drama's events, these very primitive ego-protective cognitions - survival mechanisms - trigger (or at least contribute to) feelings, emotions.

The book is sort of a summary of Beck's decades of research. He tries to show how the personal pathologies are seamlessly linked with mass social & political disturbances & afflictions. But I'm only on the first pages.


This was the salvageable part of my contribution. Echoes a particular poem of Brodsky's, which incidentally echoed an earlier short story by Nabokov.


In the depths of the Soviet winter, in the ponderous cold
Of Siberia, a boy cups an abandoned moth in his hands,
Born – to die a few hours old –

Into a false firewood springtime. Its delicate wings
Are only an affront to the divine benevolence; he understands
Nothing; his hands, like an insect coffin, bear the stings

Of the nails themselves; like a dry cocoon, absently,
They drift to the shack wall, and the fingers fan,
In unison, a camouflaged figure in the pinewood pantry.

This tender sign... a tenderness snuffed out.
This heavy icon, then... true mimic of an action?
Or only the swollen, distorted wings of a parasite?

Or only the screech of broken chalk on slate?
Droning brittle wings, poets take their stations
At the edge of the cliff – their noise intuitive, innate...

The butterfly is gone. Its form was here, immaculate;
The hands tracing its flight, aimless, serpentine,
Mimic its undetermined motion – late, late –

Since that double-woven fountain, afloat with indirection,
Surging, sparkling, translucent, seeks its mate
In a signal heaven – a camouflage beyond dissection.


(the poem ("Joseph Brodsky") was published on the op-ed page of the Providence Journal not long after it was written. Curiously, WB Yeats wrote & published a short series of articles for the same paper, in the 1890s. I think they were about aspects of Irish culture and their offshoots in America.)
Auden started it:

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.
Strange. Both Yeats & Joseph Brodsky died on this day, Jan. 28th. Strange, because Brodsky wrote a famous elegy (He died at the start of the year, in January...) for TS Eliot, which was an echo of Auden's famous elegy for Yeats.

(I learn things from my own archive. I tried to keep up the round-robin with that elegy for Brodsky (see archive for 1.30.04.)
My daughter's back from Bangladesh. Back to the snows of Minnesota, hurray. On the last day she insisted on riding an elephant. I can't wait to see the picture.

(I may not be famous, but I'm a dangerous & expensive heavy-metal chemical element.)



This quote from Mark Rothko has stuck with me...

I paint very large pictures.
I realize that historically the function of painting
large pictures is painting something
grandiose and pompous.
The reason I paint them, however - I think it applies
to other painters I know – is precisely
because I want to be very intimate and human.
To paint a small picture
is to place yourself outside your experience,
to look upon an experience as a stereopticon view or
with a reducing glass...
However you paint the larger picture,
you are in it.
It isn't something you command.


Noticed Anny B.'s post of Monday 1/24, titled "An exotic disease". The disease in question is probably less exotic, more epidemic. At least I can identify with the feeling she describes, anyway. The carnival glitter-glare of globalized computer motoring, vs. our own old-homey worked-out vernacular trudge & frustrations.

Felt apropos too, considering my current nosing around David Jones again (see link posted ye'day). There was one struggling, depressed, spoiled, reactionary, pessimistic... yet very vital "handmade" original maker. Unusual (Blake-like) writer-artist.

In my way of thinking, the dedicated, gifted artist is a kind of local sign or signature of the free creative Spirit. Through those eyes and hands all things are re-ordered, refreshed, brought to meaning, made new. Call it a witness or shadow of Incarnation. Draw close (through its manifestations of beauty - fragile, partial, vital, authentic) to the principle of spiritual renewal, the secret victory over death, time and evil.

Mandelshtam's unfinished essay "Pushkin and Scriabin" points in this direction too.


Reading some David Jones again. Trying to get out of my rut (trench?).

Along with some Ross McDonald potboilers from the 60s. Funny writer. A lot of self-parody.

He smiled with conscious charm. But the charm he was conscious of, if it had ever existed, had dried up and blown away. His front teeth glared at me like a pair of chisels.

I got out my black book and made a note of the Cadillac's license number. It had California plates.
"What are you writing?"
"A poem."
He reached through the open window for my notebook. "Let's see it," he said in a loud unimpressive voice. His eyes were anxious.
"I never show work in progress."
I closed the book and put it back in my inside breast pocket. Then I started to turn up the window on his arm.

(from Black Money, 1965)


Doorman writes:

"Think of Little Walter, Muddy Waters’s harp-player, working over the saxophonist, out-doing him in a game of tag, and with that ridiculous little toy instrument with the silly name, the harmonica—Little Walter savvy enough to blow it through a mike and make noises that’d lame a sax. "

- as in, "mouth organ".

(I'm reminded of this after every practice, when the keyboardist & the guitar players are lugging all their heavy equipment to the cars... I feel ever so slightly guilty picking up my 3"x8", 1.5 lb "toolbox" containing 12 "organs"...)
Who in this kind of world (besides a few forcibly-retired exile-bureaucrat poets, living on a bowl of rice & a drop of wine now & then in the Chinese mountains) has maintained inner freedom & integrity? "Soul?"

Freedom builds within
or breaks your bones

- Edwin Honig, "Cuba in Mind"

Think of a poetry of political diagnosis. Iliad, Odyssey, Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost, Shakespeare, the Russian novelists... they all explored what could be acknowledged as good & right & normative, in contrast to all that could not be so acknowledged. Joyce wrote somewhere about Ulysses, something like, "I have affirmed what I was able to affirm about the modern world" (probably haven't got that quite right, sorry).

But their world is not our world; we're confronted with our own present-day spectacle of words & actions, plans & conflicts, ideals & realities, to be comprehended by & for ourselves.

To delve like reporters (rather than opinionators) into the history, turmoil, chaos, sickness, confusion, obtuseness, misapprehension, insight, foresight, suffering, sacrifice, greed, treachery, pride, hatred, war, ignorance... the whole 9 yards. That would be a sort of political poetry.

The dissonance between what an American might see as hopeful & right, and what the woman &/or man on the street in Cairo or Beijing or Uganda or Bogota thinks and experiences; the difference between democracy & privilege, on the one hand, and poverty & the ideologies - the para-politics - of rage & revenge, on the other; the difference everywhere, including the US, between ideals of equality and freedom and the reality of hardship and pinched opportunities, between ideas and facts... there's plenty to write about, in the political sphere, if you can find a way into its reality.


section from July (the plan in this area involved inside-out end-rhymes):


Across the wide ms. river shedding dough
and papyrus and leaping from junk
to junk the lincoln logs nudge
through dislodged snow driftwood

and balsam leaves and patches
of wet birch scrolled by heartworms
glowing under the bark the storm-
blown shells of beaver's feverish scrap-

muddled shields this is the stripped
taiga icebreaking in early spring
not unlike what you glimpsed
through the frozen window pressed

against the glass across rays of evening
through the black oak limbs peace
of horizon after century and seeping century
of sleeping centurions a last bronze shell given

away like a gong, Grandpa for distant Florence
swaddled in the haze of Voronezh hills
as the cardinal heart of a wood-dove swells
under the wooden ribs under their rough-

riffled sheath or shield of Grandma's
steel-eyed span the bird like a grain
of wheat (hidden there in Grandad's
elevator beneath remorse of guards)

piano thread of Pushkin-pizzicato violins
at the end indeed given not for the dead
but for the living a small knot of dried
clover out of mortgaged left field

shared by forty fingers in quartet
(thundering from empty oildrum of
Caesar's steel band's josh rolled-out)
a stalwart convalescent sweet Q-root


Mississippi at St. Paul/Mpls border, Nov. 2004. Note duck, lower right. (photo taken by my daughter, who's in Bangladesh this month.)  Posted by Hello

I'm for government.
I'm for business.
I'm for labor unions.
I'm for nonprofit organizations.
I'm for helping the poor & weak.
I'm for private enterprise.
I'm for the public sector.
I'm for the rule of law.
I'm for democracy.
I'm for persuasion, not force.
I'm for the sovereignty of the people.
I'm for the dominion of civil society.
I'm for kindness with good manners.
I'm for public service.
I'm for doing your own thing.
I'm for the majority.
I'm for the minority.
I'm for individualism.
I'm for social responsibility.
I'm for education for all.
I'm for environmental protection.
I'm for disarmament.
I'm for civil rights.
I'm for tolerance.
I'm for the simple life.
I'm for fun.
I'm for change.
I'm for continuity.
I'm for freedom.
I'm for diversity.
I'm for equality.
I'm for human rights.
I'm for justice.
I'm for peace.
I'm for the right to be stupid.
I'm for the right to be different.
I'm for the right to see for myself.
I'm for the right to change my mind.
I'm for the right to be left-handed.

I'm for the ones who live & die for these every day.
Josh Corey points toward the social ethos of poetry from a completely different angle. Appreciate his note on the Angus Fletcher & Buck-Morss books.

Although I don't think I share much political ground with him, he does articulate connections between aesthetic & social issues, on a conceptual basis of conscience or consciousness.

What I tend to feel suspicious about is the whole stream of "bien pensant" intellectual leftism. Its critiques come, sometimes anyway, with what seems to me an unaffordable cost : so much of the normative social, civil, legal foundations of liberal-capitalist society get judged & condemned as "dystopic", in order to construct the intellectual-critical utopias, the enlightened-avant communities, which are meant to replace them.
I too, friends, shoveled much snow. First the driveway, then the path to the compost box. Then the church sidewalk. Then I collapsed into a Patriots game. Being a true-blue Vikings fan, I have to say that this kind of snow reminds me of normal all-winter conditions in the old days in Minneysota. No big sweat (I am writing this from my hospital gurney). (just kidding)

Those old days were pretty heavy-duty, actually. I remember delivering the Minneapolis Tribune through chest-high drifts. The man across the street, in old Mendelssohn, had a heart attack after shoveling, once. He later went on to write the I'm OK, You're OK series of pop-psych books, & became very wealthy. I guess he was OK.

I'm thinking of writing a book on the new miracle health regime, snow shoveling. Soon people will have artificial snow machines just for their own driveways. & I will be a millionaire & will quit my day job. I'll write poetry under the pseudonym "Robin Snow" - things that start like, "Something there is that does love a shovel."


I'm going to have to go shovel some snow soon... Posted by Hello


Been following all the goodly debate on poetry's popularity, audience, coteries, & etc., provided by the forthright Mike Snider.

Seems like if you want to address an educated general public, as Mike suggests, on a par with scientists, novelists, journalists, through poetry - well, you have your work cut out for you.

My view is this gets back to the notion of Tradition in poetry as something bigger & wider than any one literary movement or language. Almost as if there is an ethical aspect to the literary vocation : if you want to achieve such relevance, you have to labor to transcend your own craft. It's not only a craft issue. There is of course an ethics & an ethos of craft, but I don't think you can simply say, as Pound apparently did, that a poet's craft is the ethics (lessen' I'm quotin' him all wrong).

If we have an idea of the poetic vocation as a journey beyond one's immediate training-ground, into an engagement with the great Tradition - then, if this Tradition is still relevant & worth anything, that journey will also be a labor of ethical engagement. (I'm glad, by the way, that Jordan is reading Brothers Karamazov. There's an example of a poetics (in this case, prose fiction) of vast & magnanimous engagement with the "human predicament", as they used to call it.)

As I see it, this vocational journey can embark from any one of the modes of contemporary poetics & style. They are all preliminaries, they are all training-grounds. Moreover, there is no designated correct path. Somebody in this discussion argued that John Donne didn't labor for fame as a poet, he wrote for a coterie. We don't really know what he thought about fame, though. The literary situation was different then. Donne may have (correctly) assumed that he was not part of a coterie, but rather part of the Mandelshtamian, trans-historical community of "philology". His poems glowed with it, irregardless of who read them & when. This is not "coterie" writing in the sense of a private, coded dialect.

But achieving general "relevance" as a poet has less to do with verbal effects and meter & so on, & more to do, I think, with the communicative effects of imaginative constructs, be they poems, plays, stories, films. What moves an audience is what engages them - logically, emotionally, ethically. & I also think that the line of inquiry I've pointed toward recently (the Chicago Critics) offers a perspective on what poetic form might be, which lends itself to noting such "constructs" & their effects.

& poets are not going to move anyone or engage anyone unless they themselves have been emotionally moved & intellectually engaged with the great crises & debates which face human beings & the world. So part of the vocational journey, as I said, may involve getting beyond oneself & one's craft.


& that beauty - when it confronts & represents all that life & the world can throw - when it rises to the theme - may be fierce, stern, austere, complex, profound, ironic, uncompromising... magnanimous, comprehensive, compassionate... moving...
Poetry. OK, we were explaining it, right.

Seems to me I've been explicating it hereabouts at great leennngggth for many a year now! Heavens, yes.

Two things come to mind when I think the p word (no, besides that thing!...):

1. Poetry is... uh... simply put, an exploitation of the innate music of language. Thus, the grand & middling poets of all times & eras with whom we is acquainted, are thems that are fluent in a particklar manner of transmuting the regular matters of language inta something beautiful.

2. & it follows, then (if they are beautiful), that poems are, as I've enunciated at other times & places, in some sense, complete, finished, satisfying, whole, integral... and, strictly in this here aesthetic sense at least, or from this here aesthetic angle, ends in themselves. In other words: the innate music of language - the music in particular, that is - finds its telos, or end, in poems.

But here we's approaching a mystery: what (in the world) is Beautiful?

Keats already answered that one, Hank!! TRUTH is Beauty! BEAUTY is TRUTH! an' he got that off some old greek clay mug!

It follows, that, in this tired old ugly world, this stupid unjust crazy old world, this sleeping half-dead ignorant old world, this weak blind mortal fleshly old world, this hungry starving & confused old world, the appearance of beautiful truthful beauty-truth will be a vital stupendous transfiguring event. An event the borders & substance of which we do not comprehend. An event for which Poetry simply is a symbolic representation or trial balloon improvisation.

In the book Stanza My Stone, a study of Wally Stevens, a conception of Wally's conception of poetry tended somewhat, very roughly, in this direction. The poetry of poetry & the poetry of life were 2 different but somehow analogous things.
Now that Ron Silliman's away, I can explain Poetry for everybody, without interruption. Listen up, folks.

Poetry began many years ago in Greece, with a fellow named Homer. One fine day it occurred to Homer that if he would just write it down, he could skip all the sweat about memorizing and improvising. This was in B.C. (before computers), so Homer used a piece of slate (type of stone, everybody) and a stick of burnt wood. There were no erasers in those days, so thus we have a very long poem. Homer called it "The Iliad", which remains probably one of the greatest poems ever written with a piece of slate and a stick of burnt wood. JUST THEN, a smart-aleck named Heckla wandered by, saw what Homer was doing, and crieth out in a loud voice: "That's epic, man (heh-heh)!" Suddenly, we had a new literary genre in the world, called "epic poetry".
Mike's theory is that poetry is not popular today because it's not being written correctly.

Poetry World is pretty big, diverse, complex. There are many many different audiences, kinds of publication, methods of teaching & popularizing. There's a strong stream(s) of hermeticism and art pour l'art, the ends & means of which have, apparently, little to do with those of more accessible styles. But that's only one facet of a very large & globby crystal.

I will explain more about Poetry and World later. Must go for coffee immediately.


I've deleted the MOST ridiculous of yesterday's 3 posts.

There are diverse kinds of poetry & diverse audiences. We have to move beyond the team-sport mentality, whether coming from formalists or experimentalists. Though I relished Joan Houlihan's take-no-prisoners, Emperor-has-no-clothes, take-the-naked-Emperor-prisoner style. Feeds my mean streak, I guess.

& we don't want to spend all day in the workshop, memorizing the list of tools.

I'm in favor of something like Montale's notion of dilettantismo (in maybe his first essay on poetry) - (if I'm remembering it right!). Best to think of poetry as a part of general culture, and try to be modest & circumspect about theory, means, methodologies... let the general audience make what it will of what is offered. (But will Henry take his own advice??? Noooo....)


Bloggoetics : yesterday, Howard, a LIBRARIAN, approached me at the end of the day to say, APOLOGETICKALLY, SHYLY, that he had come upon my BLOG, at random, BECAUSE... WHILE BICYCLING, SOMEONE HAD SHOUTED AT HIM FROM A CAR, "YOU PUSTULE!" So: the meek old longbeard guy googled "pustule+insult", &, by some VERY devious path, came up with HG Poetics! ((By Jove, I have over-polemicked, hereabouts!!!))

So I pusted it in my (as yet untitled) poem (pusted here earlier - ie. "pustulant"). & I pusted it upon my BLOG because... my _)(*)(&^*^% computer is "messed up", & I have no word processing at the moment (yes, I must return to the manual TYPEWRIGHTTEGHRR!!!).

We have come FULL CIGHRRCLE, friends. SMAGHGHSSH THE MAGHGHCHIGHNNES!!! [aghghgcchchchcoooo!!!!]
Took Pushkin the Cat for a P-walk after work. While he huddled under the (baby) northern spruce, I noticed a cardinal couple (dark red & light brown) piping meekly in the Bruegelly dusk. I thought of Bruegel snow.

That fine Downy Woodpecker to my immediate (Massachusettschutty) north, Allen B., suggests I have been promulgating metrics. Far be it from.

I am not metrickal. Somehow, I fell into rhyming. Guess I have written about 8,000 quatrains in the last 8 yrs. Occurrethed it, to me, this even, that what I been doin', is fiddlin' wid a new PROSODY (yeah, right...)

involvin' rhymes with variable 4-5-6 foot (freebie) lines.

this occurrethes to me verily (- ever thought about the word "very"? Latin. Basically, it means "truly". "very true" = truly true.) AFTER THE FACT. & I think this is verus for Sxpr., Chaucer, & Oddwyn Shlippsy, too (to mention only the salient figments).

BTW, hopeful news yesterday from Spuyten Duyvil Press: they plan to re-issue Stubborn Grew AND publish the sequel (The Rose)... hopefully later this year. 80% of the quatrains right there!!!



A leaf among leaves, a face among masks.
Indistinguishable, undistinguished, almost
extinct. Careless in dress, engrossed
in general indifference... what, he asks,

is left for me to live for? After
she absconded (at the carnival)? Merging
with the masquerade (beyond margin
of dead forest, amid bitter laughter)?

Leaving him among leaves, a judgement
by distance, he thinks, a measure
of all that lingers: febrile fissure,
pustulant fosse. Indictment (by silence).

Orpheus leans into the rusty turret
of autumn. A hobo, camouflaged
in leaves, he's one with his cage -
hammocked on a hummock, a fishnet

fish. And he will drowse like that
forever, maybe - unless the mirage
in the mirror grants him courage (mere
sketch, outline... profile on a parapet).
reading more Elder Olson, one of the Chicago critics (On Value Judgements in the Arts, and Other Essays). recommended, if you can get ahold of it.

He analyses Yeats' "Sailing to Byzantium" (fine); writes about Moore, Stevens, Bogan, Wylie, others of that era; tries to delimit boundaries of what a "lyric poem" is (great essay)... in so doing, extends some of Aristotle's approaches in the Poetics (beyond tragic/dramatic poetry).

In the Yeats essay, he looks for the principle, in a particular lyric poem, which plays a role analogous to that of plot in a drama. & finds it.


My younger brother Jim has very mild blue eyes. When we were kids, my mother called Jim "Eyes", and me, "Ears."
Watching Pushkin the cat today in the snow, ears twitching, alert, nervous about slight breezes rustling dried-up vines. Thought of the sounds we heard as young children - sharp awareness of sounds in the distance. Trains shunting & squealing over at the Minneapolis Moline yards.

(I had my ears checked last year - the doctor was quite surprised - said, "You have the hearing of a five year old." Not just the hearing, Doc.)


Old Autumn's drifted off once more.
Blank snow blankets the zero day.
Orpheus gets moving the same old way:
Westron wind... small rain... - let it pour.


Think of a highway littered with billboards, or
a Sunday layered with highway roar;
think of cicadas intoning "Nevermore"
(mid-August, mid-tree). Open the door,

. I've heard it said before.
Think of an Iron Range railroad car
shuttling across deep-frozen swamp or
reservoir - feel the weight it bore

on your ear.
Happy (Melchior-Melchizedek) MLK Day


cf. poem posted Wednesday, here's some information about the 1st Minnesota at the battle of Gettysburg.

Charles E. Baker. Mustered into 1st Minnesota, Company D, on May 29, 1861. Died at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863 (his 23rd birthday).
when was the last time you heard the adjective "trusty"? As in "trusty men of the parish"?
My ancestors taught me -
life is pioneering, pioneering is life.
(The nature of the frontier, however, was unforeseen.)


Link to a different Lincoln (emergent toward the end, here).
life's theater, theater... here's a stentorian, dramaturgical old poem:

         An Old Question

The war knew many theaters,
McClellan vacillating at the Potomac,
Comic-opera Burnside driving the farmboys
Up the hill again and again
Like clockwork into blood and grass,
Serious Lee striking northward
Only to meet the Minnesota Regiment
And touch the veritable turning-point...

And then there was Lincoln,
Best actor of them all, plain-spoken
Yet with heart and mind in tune
For the mastery of gruesome Mars;
Waiting for the war on the field
To end at last, his duty done –
And then let destiny unfold its hand
With an off-stage crown, a funeral train.

These lights cast on the boards,
Amateur actors traveling up from home –
Were the lines learnt well enough,
The plowing properly done that spring?
And the coffin crossing the prairie,
The wafer sun among the lilacs,
The warbling voice – sacrifice enough,
And memory, for the conflagration?


nice book across my desk today : Small Weathers, by Merrill Gilfillan. From Qua Books (Jamestown, RI). Among about 50 others I couldn't get into.


"Hokum" : Af-Am term (1920s-30s) for the kind of good-timey barroom music which emphasized racy jive & double-entendres.
I suppose my shadow-box with Mr. Silliman is also motivated by a sense of symmetry. His approach appears to me as one of the crystallizations or focal points of a general period style; and because I am (nearly, I guess) of the same generation, there seems to be a fairly clear parting of the ways.

We share an admiration for the modern poets of the early 20th century; we share an indifference toward much of the free-verse 1st-person anecdotal lyric poetry of the American 70s. But where the language poets - and related trends toward overt textuality in postmodernism - built a movement on the complete rejection of "the lyrical subject" - I move in another direction.

If it were up to me, I would rescue rather than reject the "lyric I", by drawing on the resources of tradition in a broader sense than that offered by the 20th-cent. avant-garde.

As I have argued in discussing the Chicago Critics here recently, poetry is not simply text. It is not even a mode of language, merely. As I understand it, poetry, and narrative, and drama find their mutual root in human action. The modes of literature branch from their resemblance, their re-enactment, their intellectual and aesthetic re-shaping, of thought-&-action.

Here is where a poetic style accomplishes its syntheses : people, voices, represented in very particular, recognizable landscapes and events. How different this perspective from that offered by the tortured "texts" and mannered "discourses" we know so well! Lyrics in which "speakers" address us in all strangeness - yet grounded, believable, in some sense - dramatic.

I think of an art which finds a way to harmonize with & interpret the context & conditions of the world(s) within which it exists : so that you can see & feel & recognize experiences which the language evokes.

(& one doesn't need , as far as literary-genre theoretics goes, the metaphysical overlay which is nevertheless a fundamental part of my own understanding of this : the framework which understands life and reality as theatrical in an ultimate sense. "This mighty stage", as Yeats put it. What was the interplay of gods & heroes in archaic times, transposed into the barn-floor fundament of the manger-Incarnation. Mandelstam's "deep grain-bins of faith". All the world's a stage for this Imago Dei and imitatio Christi.)
For some time - in fact ever since 1996 or so, when I joined (in all my wide-eyed, snotnosed innocence) the "Buffalo Poetics" discussion list - Mr. Ron Silliman's writings on poetry have provided a foil for my own burblings in that vein. In my present circumstances (beleaguered, solitary poet day-jobber), such remains the case.

So today, I note the obsessive RS focus on the oscillating movements & scintillating impressions of literary schools & groups. The first chapter of Clarence Brown's study, Mandelstam, offers an antidote to this kind of lateral-horizontal attention. Schools & literary polemics make up only the preliminaries & practice steps of a vocation in poetry. Its fulfillment involves a much more individuated, laborious growth.

This is not an argument for super-individualism. Rather, it is a different notion of tradition. American poetic journalism & polemics has a flatland, one-dimensional quality to it : as if it's all a matter of rival groups and theories jostling for supremacy, with a few pathetic loners out there, squeaking their eccentric solos. I find this attitude faintly bullying & obtuse. You have to be part of a group, a movement, or you're... you're weak.

There's another way of thinking about tradition. It's a perspective obscured by the partisan dualities proffered by the groups. It's Tradition with a capital T : the tradition of great poetry. When you read the great old poetry, starting with Homer & the Bible perhaps, you begin to train your ears to the fine intensity & power of the same that followed - which appears in many times & places, and among our near-contemporaries (& perhaps even some of our contemporaries). You begin to recognize the conscious apprenticeship of the great masters of poetry, when they begin to achieve the level of synthesis & expressive power which equals or surpasses their models. I heard it in Yeats just the other day. I hear it in Marvell, in John Donne. (You can find, of course, your own examples.)

The literary-artistic turmoil of the day is just one element among many of the basic building materials which the great poet must shape & refine.


Yeah. Davenport, if I remembers correckly, wrote a treemenjus essay on the myth of Daedalus in Joyce's Ulysses, taking it back to Ruskin & elsewhere. "The House that Jack Built", I think it was. Magnificent (in my feeble recall, anyways).
When, friends, since Time began the Beguine, was a critic ever popular?

Poetry is one place to shuck the tribal loyalties.

Like what you like, admire what you admire, & try to be honest with yourself about why.

The Best thing about snow (for grown-ups, that is) is what it does to the light.
Common sense & biting satire, if not much magnanimity, from Joan Houlihan. Sorry to hear that the straightforward logic of critical judgement - ie., how can you edit a Best Of if you don't believe in "bestness", and reject any measures of quality? - makes some people feel bad.


Hokum From the Last Century

1. The poet is a child of nature, and free verse expresses the free spirit.

2. Poetry represents an alternative to oppressive dominant discourses.

3. Form is nothing but the extension of content.

4. Content = subject-matter. Form = language.

5. The poem is an autotelic object.

6. A poem is measured by its political valence, as interpreted by progressive forces.

7. A poem is an organic, living thing.

8. Artifice is reactionary and conventional.

9. There is a battle for the soul of American poetry between commercial/conservative vs. radical/progressive elements.

10. Poetry is an institution managed by well-expressed and influential opinions.

11. Poetry is a thing.

12. Words are things.

13. The materiality of language undermines meaning.

14. Referentiality is a superficial illusion.

15. Surfaces are the only reality.

16. Meaning is essentially political.

17. Truth is relative to interest.

18. Poetry is a mode of language use.

19. Technical skill is a matter of strict metrics.

20. Un-metrical poetry is basically flawed.

21. The main struggle in American poetry is between formalism and free verse.

22. The main struggle in American poetry is between popular pap and rigorous marginality.

23. The main struggle in American poetry is between liberated street visionaries and academic elitist pedants.

24. etc. have a good weekend


the last of the Nedges

Another of Mike's cover designs - done with Elmer's Glue on black canvasboard

My brother Mike did this cover, which I thought was pretty good. (Mike was at one time guitarist with "famous" Mpls punk band Rendered Useless)

Nedge #3 cover. Old railroad bridge over Mississippi at St. Anthony Falls, with train going over it. Picture was taken for my grandfather's (the g'pa mentioned in poem posted today, his b-day) engineering firm, which had a hand (I believe) in putting up those Pillsbury grain elevators in the background.
Elena Shvarts' memoir, Vidimaia Starona Zhizni, is made up of little 1-2 page sections. According to my Slavicist pal Tom Epstein, there's a section toward the middle about me. I'm a little nervous about reading it (I identify with those graphomaniac failed playwrights whose scripts her mother used to find hilarious) so I'm starting the book at the beginning, in Russian, which with me is pretty slow going.

The book was published in Petersburg a few years ago. It's a nice little red paperback. It took me a while to find a copy, through a Russ bkstore in Boston (Petropol).

Tom says Elena has also written a short story in which there's a character who resembles me named "Henry Silver". Then there's the poem about the seagulls meeting over the Atlantic, which I posted here in translation many moons ago.

So it's been a bit of a Russ-American literary game, when you think of all the versified epistles (epiphanies) I've sent her way.
Something dated from July.


The secret of the Upper Midwest under
the cold winter snow and by the lakes of summer
is a cozy gemutlichkeit familial merciful
and so I remember your red nose,

Grandfather today on Epiphany (your
birthday) how you leaned over the Christmas
fireplace stiffly (past 70 years) to stir the sparks
of last year’s evergreen as the colored rays

of the little lights played in your snowy hair
and as the ghost of Mary Negus dressed
bright as a cardinal drops deeper reds
(Ethiopian rubies and sealed carnelians)

across the snow and as the laughter of Florence
Ainsworth penetrates like Minnehaha
or mouth of Nile through the endless ach-ach
peace pipesmoke of Edward S. (a censer-

rifle) and as the children gather by your feet
they are ghostly now as these ghosts gathering
in my lines when the front rolls in like a wraith
from the southwest spreading a wide fan

of shadows and rain over the prairie
maybe you’d be by the upstairs window,
looking out through the big black bars
of the oak tree toward the gash of the river

moving there, hidden between the steep slopes
and Dad will get up and put down the paper
music curls on the bench and as rain pulses

down and the storm finally breaks maybe
you’ll see the strange incandescence the
last light burning through beneath
the storm and your face like a

smaller star, leaning there
against the clear pane –


Gemutlichkeit or no it’s the story of a star
I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger
and the people don’t dream; they work
a long, long way from my home

active, energetic, prosperous, practical
the happy result is manifest all around in
the substantial outside aspect of things,
and the suggestions of wholesome life

(but Marion City is an exception.
Marion City has gone backward in
a most unaccountable way. Doubtless
Marion City was too near to Quincy.)

like Henry Clay Dean if the ground had been
sodded with greenbacks scarecrow Dean
in foxy shoes, down at the heels, socks of odd
colors, relics of antiquity a world too short

small, stiff-brimmed soldier-cap hung on the
corner of the bump of a just audible ripple
of merriment (forearm unprotected) which swept
the sea of faces like the wash of a wave

and now the stranger stepped back one pace
nobody listening, everybody laughing and
whispering (along here, somewhere
on a black night ran some exceedingly

narrow and intricate island chutes
by aid of the electric light. Behind was
solid blackness – a crackless bank of
it ahead a narrow elbow of water, curving

between dense walls of foliage and here
every individual leaf and every individual ripple
stood out flooded with a glare as of noonday)
passed Prairie du Chien after some hours

progress through varied and beautiful scenery
reached La Crosse. We noticed that above Dubuque
the water of the Mississippi was olive-green
rich and beautiful and semitransparent,

with the sun on it. And I remember Muscatine
they use the broad smooth river as a canvas
and painted on it every imaginable dream it is
the true Sunset Land so good a right to the name.

Go upstream deeper into the green caverns
as in all these Upper-River towns the majestic
bluffs this region is new blanketed with
Indian tales and traditions Draco

and Romeo and Juliet of White Bear Lake
and the bear caught her she and the blanket
you get yourself all worked up about the
blanket snowed under like a star in a Kali-

black stoneboat pivoting he began life poor
and without education on the curbstone
with his book unconscious of the tramp of
passing crowds to let a dray pass

unobstructed there are many soothsayers
in Scythia but the class of effeminate persons
called “Enarees” use a different method
take a piece of the inner bark of the lime-tree

which they say was taught them by Aphrodite
and cut it into three pieces which they keep
twisting and untwisting round their fingers
as they prophesy when the king of Scythia

falls sick Lincoln had known only this quiet house
he was six when his sister Irma flew in the door
with the white man she announced she was
going to marry “Later on” Sioux

Lincoln bolts swoops slams out of the house.
Until the unholy train comes tearing along
ripping the sacred solitude to rags
the locomotive is in sight from the deck

of the steamboat his clothes differed in no respect
from a “wharf-rat’s” except they were raggeder
they retreated to other city haunts in shame
since it was launched in Minneapolis on May 29, 1935

Lester and Vera approached the train unnoticed
they boarded the broken steps of the sleeper car
the errant lights of the yard bosses sprayed the
side (their rusted hulk star-manger Hiawatha)



Hail to Thee, John Berryman!
St. Petersburg was modelled on Amsterdam (after a trip there by the young Czar Peter, incognito). E. Shvarts writes quite a bit about Venice & other diked locations. (thinking of the strange juxtaposition of the floodish poem just posted, & the tsunami.)
winter daydreams. VBA. this is from section of Grassblade Light titled "Letters to Elena".


Elena, in the pool of Solominka,
flickering upon that ceiling
where a ludicrous king
drifts in his cockleshell Рh̩las...

the water flows across the crown
of wooden beams and out
the window – a geyser, spouting
Noah’s antediluvian naiads (unknown

to man). There to rejoin the river
(Neva land), and cycle back
past dike and sea-wrack
to the sea again... forever.

Some nomadic spiral of the ether,
compassing diurnal clockworks –
some field’s associated particles or
bedsprings of the universe (her

conch, loveseat or shofar, where
virtual affinities materialize –
supposedly). But we will lionize
this plenum here below – sere

sheaf of arrowheads all-knotted –
strung together – admirable
petroglyph! Your humble
servant, swept, translated

into history’s dustbin (a vacuum
cleaner?) and groaning in the cedar
dentist’s chair, calls out – Look there!
Look there!
– as a canvas of the pneuma

Gurdjieff? Gesundtheit! – suddenly
unveiled itself – a sophic salience
sailed – into stony permanence!
and penetrating the meadowy

hypercubes where time does not run
its keel pealed like the bell of an onion’s
dominion, everywhere – someone’s
St. Michelson-Morley balsamic beam icon –

light wood, afloat – Chris Craft
I saw the arc of its shadow overhead
and Frank will check too – he said
– renamed and thinly disguised – after

the ether returned as ore through the void
and (tweaked with energy) grew wildly
excited in a tableau of zeros – spiralling,
transmitted, pervading, perfuming the giddy

Hendrik B.G. Casimir plates so close together
that Umar Mohideen, Anushree Roy were
able, Madam, at last - I’m adamant – you’re
even – or... Odd Nerdrum we – eventually – are!

Odd Nerdrum – out of nothing – we!
Tableau – or tapestry!
And Steve K.
Lamoureux in Seattle – he

can prove it with his spinning plates!
And he will do that – as the triporia
separates all vibrations from the area,
and the keg or vessel percolates

across the semispheres and we cry
Noev Kovcheg Zaveta... or
Ave Venez Konch-Gato... and
as the lioness and the other beasts fly

faster than the human eye can see –
quicker than a quark – and we
fly with them – you and me (one
ultraviolet canoe makes three)–

and under the dark gilt of the giddy vault
you will not hear the sobbing of the seraphim
only the oratorio Jerusalem, Jerusalem
as the miniature ark lifts off to float

suspended in air
out of deep granaries
lifted to play sing
as children everywhere

once nested in this knot of fire
never to be removed nor remove
as from the pinnacle a dove
comes spiralling down, here

hear share sheer shores
wash whoosh whirrs
she flies...

out of my hands
the shadow of your flight
into the blue becoming night
and beckoning toward...



...Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show

Paradise. Orthogonal. Yours, mine.
Orthodox, unorthodox – handmade
of the Lord, 90 degrees in the shade, and
all... a fingerpaint orthographer’s design.

Alpha and Omega, some anomaly or
salience – hidden well, buried in the rocks
of rough Armenia (where upside-down sticks
inside-out as well) until light pours

through carven crevice there... your
ear sees something whirling down:
anonymous, silly, like a clown
in love, a cartoon speech balloon - your

ecce homo, coming home. Pre-branch,
pre-wind pre-word pre-sound pre-budding
preface of an angel’s deer-eyed brooding
dive... before a great pre-smiling avalanche

engulfs the playground once again, again again:
a dome of laughter in the air joins you
as tears dissolve into the ocean. Go,
little bird... fly.

* * *
* * *
* * *
* * *

Paradise is a bird sanctuary now.
The path shines through the cedars.
He said – the Kingdom of God is yours.
The Rabbi – smiling, with the garden hoe.

As I am reading in her memoir, E. Shvarts grew up around actors & the stage. Her mother was a script-reader & etc. for a major Petersburg theater.

"Ghenrik Gouldski" & "Yelena Karonska" star in : The L(love? language?)-Shaped Room !!!

(...all part of my devious master plan, haha! to re-infect American poetry with plot, theme & character! Elder Olson vs. Chas. Olson! haha! Chicago vs. the Coasts! Heehee! Venus Beats All!!

- the Most Evil Professor HP Ghould)


Chagall, "The Poet". Remember seeing this in Minneapolis Art Institute. Wrote a poem about it once back in 70s on a manual typewriter. Haven't been able to find the poem for a long vremya.

p.s. 5.22.07 : still haven't located that early poem. I wanted to send it to the Art Institute to see if they could use it for a poster. This may be a task for future scholars : find Henry's lost poem about Chagall's "The Poet"!

that grey photo of grey syistra-golub Shvarts reminded me of Leslie Caron. I fell for her when I was about 10, watching "The L-Shaped Room" with my babysitter.

Is US poetry an L-shaped room?????? Open that window...
Another Russkiephile has been sighted entering Blogosphere, chelovekii. Szdrastvuitie, dobry outra, ochin priatne, blog-obirratorrrr! Vaiditie, pozhaliste, to the Shum Vremeni... (Interesting comments at that link (Languor Management, June '04) - 'shum vremeni" in relation to "time-crystallization" or the architectonics of memory. In relation to what I wrote in the archive (at the Octopus "essays" link). Languor Management - even more russophiliac than HG Poetics.


the young Elena Shvarts.
Am reading Petersburg poet Elena Shvarts' memoir, Vidimaia Starona Zhizni. In Russian! Horosho-whoopee!

Interesne link to some of her poems here.
I may go back to using a manual typewriter, too.
My daughter Phoebe flew to Bangladesh over the weekend, as part of a school volunteer program. She's getting pretty good at beginner's Bangla.

I've been wondering whether to continue with this blog. It's going into Year 3. My off-the-cuff cracker-barrelling & reminiscing, in the interstices of the workday, takes on its own quasi-life. But I'm having a lot of trouble with actual writing, & have been for a few years. & am not in a very receptive mood as regards Poetry World. So not sure what of positive value this here blog represents.

No need to send cheer-up messages or exhortations, dear palzee-walzees (Brookly-Bangla word for "friends")! I have to think it over.
Happy New Year!

I'm using a grayish blue pencil which I picked up here at work. It reads, in silver lettering, Venus Beats All No. 2. Hesitate to sharpen all that away.