Sounds like M. Perloff has been reading my blog (he flatters himself).

Perloff & Latta are both right to some extent. Sure, as JL says, there is culture & poetic material everywhere, let's not be backward, stodgy & elitist. Then again, it would be nice, it seems to me, if poets took a sharper interest in the purely literary & poetic effects & origins of their metier. "Language" is indeed everywhere... but not always real solid intense true poetry.
I suppose a good poetry critic would be something like a botanist or ecologist.

It's a strange helpless sort of flora that grows out of strange helpless sorts of people. You have to be patient & look at it carefully, give it time to express its little self.

With the propagation & wide distribution of so much free verse, these little sentences of prose divided into lines, without the armor of much in the way of rhythm, rhyme or sound effects, seem even more fragile. (Not that I'm against free verse, if it can manage to survive & flourish.)

A good poetry reader : part botanist, part bee.


I'm here if anybody's looking for me.


the trouble with not-blogging is : what am I going to do with the down time at work?

JL's post cheered me up today. He's right.


I'll probably be blogging less for a while. The thought of Poetry World and my (non)place in it only makes me depressed. There are things I want to work on in private, hopefully I will find ways to do that.


... the previous is clearly, to some extent, a silly blogger's compensatory dream of cultural sway, a substitute for failures & neglects.

The real poets today are recalcitrant isolatos, absorbed in their art-world at the expense of any other responsibilities. Bohemians, hobos, drunk on their own mumbling. Not wanting or seeking cultural power.

That too is a false image...

Aside from consequences of personal character, my own biography is a working-out of the logic of poetry, such as it is - I mean the consequence of a vocation. Somewhere in between these two stereotypes. And I'd rather have these false images of the poet than the lukewarm "groups" and "careers" we seem to be stuck with.
The irrefragable John Latta quoted Viktor Shklovsky & some other interesting Russkies yesterday. Shklovsky presents what seems to be the classic "defamiliarization" argument for art's necessary independence from "life".

Somehow though it sounds very 20th-cent. I mean "defam" doesn't seem to "work" anymore. It's insufficient for originality. Our world relentlessly colonizes art, by way of parasitical forms of academic & "media" professionalism (or semi-professionalism), as well as popular "rebel" attitudinizing.

I'd like to imagine a poetry which "pushes back" against the violence & banality of that world. But it can only do that by its own forms of colonizing - ie. by absorbing and transmuting the other powerful & worldly-wise discourses of science, philosophy, law, theology, politics, ideology, etc. As well as emulating and transmitting the amalgamated achievements of past eras (when poets were also novelists, journalists, cultural critics, playwrights, etc. - there are lots of examples).

It relates to the question of what social "role" the poet wants to play. Are poets content to publish a few books, teach younger people "how to write" in colleges, publish little poems in the New Yorker, etc.? Is that it? Society would love poets to just stay there & be happy & not cause any trouble. And by trouble I don't mean the usual "rebel" role-playing : what would really trouble society is a poet who is intelligent, discursive, and fully engaged with the public debates of the day.

And that question begs the further question : where does poetry stand in relation to the general cultural traditions and transmissions (or disconnects) of the USA, the West, the world?

What if poets started by asking themselves these questions, rather than (self-servingly) jumping on the bandwagons of whatever are the hot political debates-du-jour (war in Iraq, the various "isms" they learned in school)?


Swamped at work, & in not much of a bloggin' mood these days. Hope to be back soon.

Saw the Twins-Red Sox game at Fenway on Tuesday. I haven't seen a Twins game since I was 12 yrs old or so. This seems to be their year. Look out, Yanks.


It appears that Pushkin actually started writing Eugene Onegin on May 9th, rather than May 28th, as I previously wrote here. Here's Nabokov :

"I have studied a reproduction of Pushkin's draft of the first stanza, and (as was conclusively shown in 1910 by P. Shchyogolev) the initial date should be taken to be "May 9" not "May 28 [as written below it, with both words underscored] at night". Furthermore, Pushkin himself in his recapitulation (Sept. 26, 1830) noted that he had begun EO on May 9, 1823." (- from Nabokov's intro to his 4-vol. annotated translation)

Curious about the underscored note, though.


Reading (ie., trying to read) Pushkin's Eugene Onegin in Russian, with help from a couple translations (including Nabokov's).

Learned that Pushkin began writing it in Kishinev in the 1820s, on a May 28th. A very important date in the longy-long poem Stubborn Grew/The Rose - for one thing, the poem was finished on May 28th. (Stubborn's story begins with a Halloween search for a lost cat named Pushkin, and the 3rd main vol. (July) peters out with allusions to Pushkin's story The Queen of Spades.)


reading James Billington, The Icon and the Axe (cultural history of Russia). He goes on about the importance of the forest in the origins of Russian society.

(Occurred to me that Minnesota landscape is a mini-version of Russia. We have our vast lakes, our little lakes, our "twin cities", our Scandinavian "invasion", our rivers, our flat prairie, our immense swamps, our bears, our wolves, and most of all, our little Siberia, the dense cold pine-birch-tamarack forest.) (Not to mention me, the Russian poet from Minneapolis.)


re: "cosmic consciousness"... I want to write a memoir or something around this topic. Tend to think (erroneously, I'm sure) all poetry is idealist. I mean that it stems from a hunch or contrarian notion that the universe is permeated with mind, sentience, consciousness.

I remember walking down a dirt road in the north woods near Canadian border, one sunny day back in the 60s, brooding over a thin Penguin paperback I was reading at the time, the author & title of which I am trying desperately to remember - something about consciousnessness and the universe - riddle of mind, etc. Written by a scientist, I think... & trying to explain it to my friend Tom (who died of AIDS 20 years later).

Also remember my grandfather's older brother Paul, who died around age 20, of tuberculosis, back around 1915. Paul was something of a poet & mystic. On the family farm in Illinois he collected the latest spiritualist, Buddhist & "cosmic consciousness" pamphlets, which were circulating through the midwest in those days. He wrote Keatsian nature poems, developed a kind of private "zoo" on the farm, & kept massive journals (in heavy hardbound ruled notebooks) of increasingly wayward mystical speculation in an increasingly crabbed and illegible hand.

The adolescent speculations were also stimulated by Nabokov, whose books I was addicted to in those days. Jonathan pokes fun at my harping on the Russians : but it's something that's been with me all of my "writing" life.

(The Brodsky elegy noted below was adapted from an earlier autobiographical poem about my early Nabokov obsession. The 3rd section of the poem assimilates both a Nabokov short story and a poem Brodsky wrote based on that story. I know I've mentioned that before...)

In my mind, Russia, Petersburg, the Mandelstams, Nabokov, Brodsky, Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva, and Elena Shvarts are not - pace Jonathan - merely polemical measuring sticks I use to beat up on American poetry. They are my "cosmic doors", so to speak. They help me synthesize poetry per se with thought in general. (See Brian Boyd's studies - his book on Pale Fire in particular - for an insightful approach to Nabokov.)
New issues of the journal Ars Interpres are coming online. An elegy for Brodsky (written 10 years ago - a sort of literary round-robin, modeled on Brodsky's elegy for Eliot, which was modeled on Auden's for Yeats) - is here, in issue #6. (With thanks again to Alan Shaw - and the editor, Alexander Deriev.)
Walt Whitman, the ur-poet, the American hero, the good gray poet, the heartwarming Civil War mourner & healer, the genial bard... but Walt comes in for a sharp critique in Jeffrey Walker's book Bardic ethos. The dark side of Whitman - Walt the cynic, the trumpeter of a "sacerdotal" bardic elite, the sour nay-sayer, the progenitor of the Pound-Williams-Olson strain of eccentric tinpot authoritarian-populist negativity...

(For anybody who's ever interested, there's a kind of parody or satire (& elegy) on "crackpot" populism in Stubborn Grew.)

Walker examines how Pound, Williams and Crane were influenced by Whitman's turn-of-the-century mystical "cosmic consciousness" disciples, especially R.M. Bucke - and how such thought merged with early 20th-century trends which called for an American anti-business artistic-spiritual elite - a sort of intellectual aristocracy - to return America to its mystical-agrarian high destiny.

Walker seems unfair to Crane (just as his picture of Whitman is one-sided - though a necessary addition). He extrapolates from Crane's mystical thinking a wholesale commitment on his part to the elitist-authoritarian stances of various literary ideologues - a supposed commitment for which he gives very little evidence (the elitist-populist-anti-capitalist potboiling - fascism or proto-fascism, basically - is much more evident in Pound & Williams).


I have little time these days for blogging. Busy, busy at work.

Re-reading (3rd time in 15 yrs?) Jeffrey Walker's book Bardic ethos and the American long poem.

Trying to collect myself for another Rest Note climb. Or something completely different.


Edwin Honig turns 87 today. Here's a review of his collected poems.
Deep into Geoffrey Hill. It will take me months, if not years, to come up with an adequate written response, if ever.

Thinking about the multiplex ironies of American-British mutual influences & oppositions. The difficulties in interpreting "contextual" (cultural-historical) problems. Tones, motives.

Hill is like our Eliot, in reverse. Except no one is listening (as they listened to Eliot). Because we inhabit what is, for Hill, a national Romanticism - a self-enclosed universe of (poetic) discourse - Stevens on one end, Olson on another.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. & the analogy doesn't really work.

Hill is like another (Anglican) Auden who, in extremity (of alienation), has become an Eliot... (who sounds like Pound).

I'm getting way ahead of myself.
Though I don't agree with him entirely, Kasey's recent post on "quietude/disquietude" set a higher standard for critical comments on these poetry blogs. Impelled me to delete several gabby posts from Friday.

Will have to think for a while about that post, before echoing & bandying that term ("School of Q") any longer.


Socrates : the thing is, Hen, you can't make an art from an "image" of the artist. You can't get there by well-meaning abstract ideals. It's only an invitation to the next demagogue, the next 2nd-rate "voice".

Henry : so I'm just talking through my hat again?

Socrates : the poet is not the politician. The poet just happens to be there; the poet is the companion. The poem is the bloom of culture.

Henry : the poem is the poem.

Socrates : the poem is the poem.

Henry : I just said that.

Socrates : the word - the word is another thing.

Henry : now you're playing with fire.