& this is it. In a nutshell. Maybe.
...so in this vein, some Rest Note reminders...
Reading Bachelard, Poetics of Reverie. What everybody read back in the 60s or so. Fine Gallic stouthearted defense of poetry's useful dreamy uselessness. Seems rather French, how he says he spent decades trying to reconcile conceptual reason and imagination, until he finally realized they were irreconcilable, dialectical contraries, etc. The English would rather meander in an undecisive manner between the two.

That "poetry" dream I had recently - seems so oddly familiar, almost like a cliche or pantomime... was it more like a "waking dream"? The impression was strong, the feeling extraordinary. (Was I thinking about my daughter, who got married that very day in Bangladesh?)

I am pondering my usual conundrums today (quiet at work, nobody here).

Artists & poets in the borderland between reason & dream. So that when I had that "Shakespeare/Bible" crisis back in 1973, my mind was a vulnerable. (There's some psychological term for the breakdown of reason & fall into a more primitive, regressive state - mise en abime? I forget.)

Experience like a 2-sided mirror. I mean there's a subjective/psychological explanation, & then there are other ways of interpreting the same things...

I have faith now : but I don't want to find myself trapped in a regressive-mythological frame of mind. So I try to understand these mysteries.

Americans perhaps have to choose between Eliot & Emerson. Between doctrinal allegiance and Romantic spiritual individuality. & being Episcopalian is akin to androgeny : you're Protestant-Catholic.

Charles Peirce somewhere writes about how God must be the always-new, the continually-creating. That's close to Emerson, and the dignity of the Romantic poet's office : the creative Lux Fiat of the imagination.

The dignity of the poet's office : the Russians, the Petersburg Russians, seem to have a special understanding of this. The regal Akhmatova, the tigress Tsvetaeva, the kingly Mandelstam, the princely Brodsky. (They got it from Pushkin, mainly.) The lordly regalia of the creative Imagination (Coleridge's great "I AM.")

As a Protestant, I think of the Biblical-Hebraic tradition as essentially iconoclastic and writerly. Yahweh the revolutionary, the universalist, the unknowable - the One who challenges every merely human myth and cultural idol and local tradition, on behalf of a more stringent ethos. A disenchantment on behalf of the truth.

As a Catholic, I think the truth is actually mysterious, elliptical, and feminine : I think the truth is love-beautiful in its incarnate and particular splendor.
Truth is not abstract : the Word is Psyche. Life is pathos, and charity means self-sacrifice.

As somebody who takes an interest in Nicolas Cusanus and Giambattista Vico, I have this sense of history and anthropology as "conjectural" (in Cusanus' sense). That is, all our human doings are imaginative projections; we impose the very orders we live by. We enslave ourselves to traditions and habits of our own making. It's both frightening & liberating to recognize that we make the world we inhabit. It is a recognition at the root of the world-historical struggle for political freedom.

But there is another, more curious, conjecture I maintain, until proven otherwise. I distinguish somewhat between all these human imaginative constructs, and the founding event(s) memorialized & chronicled in the Bible. I actually believe that, beneath the murky & ambiguous testimonies of scripture, there lurks some kind of intervention from "outside". (I am not saying I'm a Biblical literalist, however - not at all. I think the Bible is endlessly-interpretable in all kinds of allegorical & psychological ways.) This intrusion of the Word - from its origins in Mosaic exodus to its conclusion in Christ - marks out a differential reality or space : an iconoclastic, anachronistic break-through. The plumbline of justice depends from a space above the human : the space of "the Father", of the One of whom every human being is a partial image and replica. I say "iconoclastic" because the Biblical event uprooted every myth and dependency outside the purely human relation with this "plumbline". As the New Testament puts it (roughly from memory), all power & authority have been delivered into the hands of the Son, and no one knows the Father except through the Son. One way to intepret this is as I just have done : ie. the Incarnation ratifies and authorizes the complete humanization of reality, but strictly in terms of a primary relationship with the original source of this order. And from whence did the (providential) plan for this manifestation of order proceed? My guess is that it came, somehow, from our own future : the intervention of the Word involves some sort of feedback loop, which we don't yet comprehend.

Someday perhaps the traditional & patriarchal concepts of scriptural authority will give way to a new understanding of human imagination, writing, and truth. As Isaiah puts it somewhere, "they will all know Me in their own hearts". This is where the feminine imagination of reality (poetry), and that iconoclastic, elusive & hidden Will (represented in scripture), might meet (in some ultimate Song of Songs).

John Berryman, dancing his antic (Hamlet-like) St. Vitus' dance on the edge of all these things.


"Nature is a prairie for outlaws." (Thoreau, via Latta-meander)


Hear, hear. Sends me back to Rest Note :


Far-off rehearsals of a whippoorwill
send Oblomov into the summer deep.
Yearning's sister is eternity. The steppe
is brother to the sky. So still

the planet's perihelion : so beaten round
the concave of the heart. Its cup
so plenished with pleroma-envelope
(reverberant bell-boom of circum-sound).

I am but a poor herdsman, a dresser
of sycamore trees
, bespeaks Hobo. The priest
(amazed) beseeches him, leave off, desist!
His plumbline oscillates from nothingness.

Its long suspension seals the summer rain;
the swingset's rusty interrogative
repeals its requiem (equable ruth).
A whippoorwill replies. They will remain.

Across the rolling distances, a prairie
butterfly makes delicate, indifferent way.
Zigzagging here and there. A monarch, say,
or viceroy : his plangent rule a mockery

of rule, his slip of flight a sweet retort
to blind and dutiful raison d'├ętat.
He's gentle evanescence, only that -
an evanescent elegance, the earth's ├ęclat.

The sound of the whippoorwill penetrates
the humid summer afternoon. Late summer,
later afternoon. Oblomov twists an ear
of wheat between his fingertips. He waits.
Had one of those unusual "in dreams begin responsibilities" dreams last night. One of those out-of-left-field dreams, that has you lying there thinking at 3 AM.

Was encountering, and reading poems by, a poet, say in her late 30s or 40s, who was living with her young daughter in a cheap, discount basement apt., someplace up north, like Canada. She was charming, winsome, reddish blonde... the daughter was like a little sprite, an Ariel - kind of moody - she had a special flying car or sled which she would lodge in a hollow tree trunk, her hideout... it had a great name (the sled) which of course I can't remember... (not Rosebud, anyway...)

It was clear that the poet was bohemian, poor, living only for her poetry, a dreamer... her poetry was about her daily life with poetry... sort of a Mandelshtamian "blessed poverty", allowing her to live in & for her imagination alone... the daughter a kind of quintessence of that life... I was reading some of the poems, but can't remember much about them (except that she used the occasional ampersand (&)).

What struck me was the clarity and force of this impression of impractical dedication, the brave "negative capability" she was manifesting, and the vibrant, verdant, vernal feeling of joy - I have a clear image of her smiling sideways glance, and the forest greenery around her daughter's sled hideout - which seemed to emanate from the dream as a whole, & stayed with me after I woke up...

Bachelard or Jung would call this some kind of "anima" dream, I reckon. It was a poetry dream, a dream from poetry.
Allen Bramhall has started a new blog for his poetry reviews, with an apropos name : The River's View.


Interesting article in the New Yorker this week, about the decline of reading. Refers to new book on science of reading, Proust and the Squid (Maryanne Wolf). Origin of writing in visual hieroglyphs; powerful historical impact of different alphabets; Chinese script stimulates different parts of brain; etc. Effects of decline of literacy & obsession with viz-technology on US culture & politics.

Got me thinking again about ekphrasis, synaesthesia, poetry as "fluent images", blend of sound/vision. Melville's "hieroglyphic" symbolism (see Viola Sachs book)...
all the paintings in my poems... original fascination with Mandelstam by way of his imagery...


speaking of which... yesterday was St. Lucy's Day.

"Study me then, you who shall lovers be..."
Quiet in the library today.

Snowstorm yesterday, now sunlight on the trees, old colonial rooftops. Snow-radiance, winter brightness.

Sort of a northern light, Bruegel-light, Thomas More-light... imaginary sense of medieval gemutlichkeit comes to me now & then, like something out of collective memory (fantasy, I should say). It's in a lot of my poetry.

"Lit with the cold and clear Minnesota light" ("Grain Elevator")

Thinking of Stevens' "idea of the sun". & the tale of the Biblical "burning bush" that drew Moses out into eventual Exodus, and a scriptural Code, a social Covenant, & the history of the West.

The spark is like a mathematical equation :
Universal God + Mankind-Imago = Human Dignity/Equality = Justice

ie. if each & all bear this divine image (like M's "gold coin of humanism") then the irrevocable consequence is : dignity & respect & equality for each & all. (cf. the "greatest commandment", from which depends "all the Law & the Prophets" : Love God; Love your neighbor as yourself)

A further thought : these verbal articulations of social design (justice) are themselves epiphenomena of the unspoken Actual - the common intuited relations of love & respect that relatively free & sane persons offer naturally (at their best, anyway) to one another.

In other words, part of the overall gift of life is a certain unspoken normative justice, an equilibrium of happiness & peace.

Then the Biblical revelation (or divine intervention) is not so much a motor of history, on the order of cause-&-effect - but rather a manifestation (a "glory") of the truth as it already is, & always was.

Everything pivots on a sense of the unique Person as enfolded in, or unfolding, an image of the universal & divine Personhood. Everything pivots on consciousness & the Person. "I am that I am."

These things have been known for thousands of years.
Imaginary scholars (my imaginary friends) might be able to find some connections between Paul Fry's notion of the "ostensive" character of lyric poetry, and Rest Note.

A "rest note" in music is silent : a timed pause, the absence of a note. With regard to my poems, the title implies a sort of culmination - the conclusion of my seemingly endless stream of quatrains (!) since beginning with Stubborn Grew...

Stubborn opens beside a river in Providence... Forth of July moves on to the Mississippi... Rest Note goes from the Amazon to a mythical underground river in Siena (Diana), and the fountain in the Campo square (Fontegaia).

But aside from that, the "rest" implies a hoped-for future... the rest on the 7th day, the peace on earth, the Jubilee, Redemption, the Golden Age. The rest and equilibrium radiating from a finished beautiful thing. And the analogy between these two (art & history, or art & theology). Thus the Palio "4 horsemen" on the cover. The references to St. Francis, Joachim of Fiore, etc.


I made a few slight tweaks to Rest Note. Also removed the read-along notes to the title poem, which I had printed in the back. Too much self-explanatory overkill.

Looks very nice now.


I suppose the epitaphic sensibility of Paul Fry et al., and Mandelstam's Acmeist notion of "domestic hellenism", could be seen as contrasting counterparts. Where Fry regards literature as an emanation from our non-human roots, Mandelstam understands poetry as an active labor of humanization. I suppose they're two faces of the same coin (see M's "Pindaric Fragment").

Christ's Promethean "I have come to cast fire upon the earth" gets domesticated beside the primordial Greek-Russian rustic hearth (the kitchen stove, a sacred object in those latitudes). The poet's breath breathes on culture and humanizes it, acknowledging with gratitude the (Acmeist) earthly "mansion" - thereby perhaps helping establish the terms of ethical life, or civilization. Brodsky : "Mankind was put on Earth for one purpose : to make civilization"(rough quote from memory). "In Him was light, and the light was the light of men." Nature and the round of life on earth - framed by wisdom to the seasonal, psychic dimensions of human experience & destiny.
Paul Fry's Defense of Poetry really is a defense of poetry, mainly (for me) for its sensitive readings of Wordsworth, Keats & other Romantics. (& he's got me going back to Bachelard, & Wordsworth, & looking for Allen Grossman.) Fry's argument can be understood as an elaboration of Keats's "negative capability" : poetry provides a rest from the "irritable reaching after fact & reason". He quotes Blanchot, who writes that he reads literature to find rest in actuality, the thingness of ordinary things - beyond meaning, beyond reference, beyond interpretation.

His argument is also, it seems, rooted in a disenchanted naturalism. The basic ground of reality is the nonhuman, the inanimate - King Death being the much-evaded terminus, the inanimate to which all dust returns. For Fry the Romantics, especially Wordsworth, are naturalists avant la lettre, or in spite of themselves.

At one point though, in a sort of aside, Fry mentions Blake, as something of an exception to the rule. & I find myself closer to Blake's supernaturalism than anyone else's naturalism.

Naturalism, as a literary atmosphere, succeeded Romanticism, under the pressure of 19th-cent. science, politics, and war. (Symbolism and modernism succeeded naturalism, but only within the restricted sphere of their aesthetic self-enclosure.) Simply put, poetry's role was sidelined and trivialized - penned up in the realm of "culture" and "feeling".

Basically, Science took the place of Religion, and everything else lined up appropriately.

But let's look over at Pope Benedict's essay (see link below). Faith, according to Paul, is the substance of hope, the evidence of things unseen. In Benedict's reading, then, faith is a spiritual something from outside, which we internalize (or already possess) - and such possession makes possible a kind of intuition of a greater goodness or joy which we cannot see yet, but which we hope for. Because faith is a "substance" we actually possess, it is also the evidence which grounds our hope.

As I see it, this spiritual intuition is still active in the world, and provides a way of seeing &/or understanding reality, which has not been displaced by science. And there's a kind of analogy here with the intuitions, the aesthetic discoveries, which guide artists and poets. (& that's the key to my Byzantium)

For Fry, literature & poetry intuit and represent an austere ground of being, in the non-human, the inanimate, the extreme limit of death. For me, I guess, the labyrinth of the human mind and spirit is yet more subtle. At some unspoken level, we recognize and intuit the formations of life & death together (this is actually close to Fry's reading of Wordsworth) : but death doesn't necessarily have the last word.

(I realize my notes might strike some people as a very aggressive and unpalatable confusion of categories... I'm sorry for that. This is how I organize certain categories of understanding, for myself : but my main interest lies in the actual ("shamanic") praxis of the visionary, synthetic imagination...

- & what the heck : I graduated from Blake School, in Hopkins (MN) !)
Vision and synthesis. Again, the notion of poetry as a kind of speaking painting. (Verbal synaesthesia being a hypertrophied symptom of something larger.) Imagination and dream. The project of the poet - to challenge more discursive, abstract, mechanical forms of mimesis - to absorb both dream & reason into singing. The old shamanic/oracular activity, except it loses its utilitarian motives (archaic, magical) in the process of painting the vast image for its own sake. A free-standing model of reality.
So maybe Fontegaia is a love poem of sorts... Trying to show love cohering in synthesis, a "synthetic" vision. How reality itself is rooted in love. (Mostly a ponderous jumble, maybe!)
The driving meditative thought-whisper of Stephen Ellis.


I suppose Mankind per se is that unruly rabelaisan Infant, loving & devouring, with joyful greedy gusto, the world designed for such, making him/herself the measure of all things... endowed with such freedom & power by the Maker's own express & gracious will... & that such futuristic freedom & power might be difficult for popes & philosophers & kings & generals to grasp... so that the Parable of the Prodigal Son is the greatest parable, and Jesus perhaps took the stage name "Son of Man" in a somewhat literal (futuristic) sense...

- & the same prodigality of freedom & power leading miserable Mankind into all the terrible hellholes of both "progress" & the lack thereof... requiring the difficult climbing ascesis of saints, who love the Source and the Whole - the whole Truth - the suffering Shepherd - more than they love any particular thing (including themselves)... [& then, following along, they go on the difficult downward ascesis, loving each most abject suffering unimportant thing as a portion of the Whole...]

- & speaking of Infants, I was reminded of a particular thread on the Poetry site (a posting by A.E. Stallings), about "poetry & prophecy", where I commented that I sometimes felt my poems had prophesied some of my own later poems... & was reminded of this very early poem, & how it seemed to foreshadow the whole Forth of July adventure...
The Pope's reflections on "Hope" : deeply-considered, sometimes very moving. (disclaimer - I'm not Catholic.) (note to intellectuals : he seems to like Adorno, cites repeatedly). The passage on how we might understand the concept of "eternal life" is especially rewarding & clear.

Two tentative criticisms come to mind. The first is that sometimes, despite his generally brilliant and subtle thinking, Benedict falls into a sort of sacerdotal "religion-speak" (understandable, coming from a Pope). Nothing wrong with this in itself : but it might be relatively inaccessible to non-believers, skeptics - anyone suspicious about, or simply incapable of, conceptualizing a theistic reality. (Maybe it's a job for philosophical poets - like Stevens, for example - to imagine, conceptualize, and picture basic cosmic/human realities in a graspable way.)

The second is more specific. In the course of contrasting humanistic or atheistic social utopias or conceptions of history with a Christian perspective - a critique of notions of "progress" - Benedict emphasizes that, because of the gift of human freedom of the will, we must expect that every generation will have to struggle against evil. Thus incremental human progress toward an earthly paradise is represented as a form of determinism or social engineering, incompatible with freedom, and with the moral imperatives facing individuals and individual generations.

I guess as an American (predictably) I have a problem with this. And I'm groping for a sort of theological ground for a different view. It seems to me that if Benedict's position is the case, then social idealism (whether in Dante or the Social Gospel) is, to a degree, in vain.

I think one could imagine a future Earth where social relations and moral education have changed for the better - so much so, that when new generations of children and young people come into the world, they can - without renouncing freedom of the will - for the most part distinguish between good and evil, and choose, for the most part, the good.

This seems hard to imagine... but there is some Biblical authority for it (I think!!). There are passages in Isaiah and the prophets, about "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and learn war no more". There are verses where God announces that he will replace "hearts of stone" with "hearts of flesh", and that all people will come to know God, in their own hearts. Thee are passages in the New Testament about "saving the world", "a new heaven and a new earth", etc.

How these things relate to eschatology, the 2nd Coming, the Last Judgement - that's another set of issues, and beyond me at the moment...


Reading Pope Benedict's encyclical on "Hope" (which happens to be the state motto of Rhode Island).


Welcome to 21st-century po-biz, just like the earlier version. Check out Ron Silliman's weekend news clips. Ange Mlinko's rathery gushy Ashbery review (in The Nation) gets labeled "great". Troy Jollimore's measured Ashbery review (in SF Chronicle) gets labeled "quietist".

O Ashbery. The Mlinko review is indeed wide-ranging and intelligent; but the Jollimore one is good too.

A. Mlinko writes : "The Ashbery poem isn't grounded in reportage or fact. And that is at least one of his great discoveries, if not his greatest: the ideal poetry for the Information Age is a poetry of no information." This is very close to Paul Fry's theory of the "ostensive" ground of lyric poetry : it exists outside of, or before, reference and meaning.

Actually, I don't feel that the ideal poetry for the Information Age is a poetry of no information. Just personal taste, I guess. For me Ashbery represents one of the larger sacred buffaloes in the vast constellation of American confusion.


Here's a website where you can improve your vocabulary & donate rice simultaneously.
A revised, expanded Rest Note : includes new chapter of thingo-in-progress, Fontegaia.


Last puzzle-piece for Fontegaia, chapt. 2 :

28 (coda)

So the Tuscan tinkers' toy Troy-town
on the hilltop (miniature Hippo
in the August sun) is ensign now
of end-signs (Jonah diving underground).

As eighteen tender feet translate to nine
spheres circling the sunlight glimmering
in streambeds brimful from the swelling
horse's hoof (gold-beaten shoe-iron)

one distempered Hobo (smoking pot
on mossy bank) dips his toes
in winking night, 'mid rows
of rock-doves in a railroad lot.


They raced beneath the tower there
for the joy of racing, just as
a pride of lions circles a carcass.
Fabulous exfoliation, flair

of summer flares, embodiment
of equilibrium of men and horses,
laughter and money, knives,
smiles... the ancient, famous

tournament. Stiff-neck mastery
of recreation. A gimp-legged
padre (or his younger brother)
pegs last place (stigmata-victory).


Early in the morning, only a trickle
in the fountain. For the boy's
best friend (a brittle wooden horse)
it is sufficient unto the day. O fickle

people! - a child shall lead you then.
Alongside the last-place colt
of goofy Bernardino (grinning dolt
of God) a merry band or procession

of beggar-lads... the fool's parade
circles the Campo, heads to Cathedral
where they'll toast the empty saddle
once again - O dim charade, slow oracle!

I wonder if there's not something overly passive in Paul Fry's concept of the "ostensive" moment as the defining characteristic of lyric poetry. I'm not done with the book yet, & I know he has a chapter specifically addressing "negative theology" and quietism in relation to his concept - so I'm probably jumping the gun.) It's as if the political/controversial stakes have become so intense and byzantine in theoretical-historicist literary crit, that eventually some such notion had to be found just to let off the pressure (without becoming, heaven forbid, "a-political"!).

Guess I would tend to think of humankind as naturally, genetically, political - in the sense of creating adaptive orders of social life on earth; and that the a-human or pre-human ("ostensive") reality of non-referential stasis, or "mere being", will always be subject to human adaptation (even if its source, its paradoxical/cthonic power, is non-human).

In my view, the charming stasis or equilibrium of lyric poetry stems from the same root as pastoral - a "peaceable kingdom" hidden within the present & representing a (future) better state of things on earth. It may indeed be a mingling of the human and the non-human, or the human and "nature"; but I wouldn't equate such a state with non-meaning, or some transcendence of, or vacation from, meaning itself. This is too reductive. This state ("quietude?"), along with everything else, will not evade interpretation. Everything is interpretable.

I think one of Fry's main points is that lyric poetry humbles the pride of intellect (interpretation) - restores the balance of actuality and our names for it. I would agree with this (though he might not agree with my spin on his position...). But one can imagine a humbled intellect still active, still interpreting,, still "figuring out" that ultimate global Day of rest.

(& actually, Fry's passage on Virgil's bees (in the Georgics) presents such an image of "active rest". Maybe there's more on this in the chapters I haven't got to yet.)


Winding down 2nd chapter of Fontegaia poem. Finally found some time to work on it.


Herds of autumn leaves like red-
gold seahorse-centaurs race now
(ceremonially) toward the ground.
The pennants of each neighborhood

of every hilltop Tuscan town strive
to outdo themselves. Cocky rivalry
of pennate foliage - circadian chivalry
of bagpipes, droning in a restive hive.

Numb roots of the trees still thirst
toward snow. In the centaur's heart
(a horse chestnut at the center
of the swirling hubbub's hum) a wasted

wasp, forsaken, crawls toward the border
of bridled boudoir, fainting, slow...
Ajax burdened with an axle-wheel,
a naked mule dragging a suitor's quarrel.

Omphalos moat, dawn water
for the dying. The river's fluting
now. Last leg of labyrinthine fling.
A drone flotilla (shrivelled to mutter)

accompanies her fluent aria
with muted paddling of tender feet
round aureole-knoll called Complete
(knot drawn tight; flight's last cry).

The mingled alloys of the leaves say
near, near. Profile of a referee
at apex of the cobweb-tracery
of Palio and round-dance (planetary) -

sliver-shadow of the solar One,
lanternglow of pulsing jockey-Jacques;
a morsel of the moon in parallax,
a ripple in the stream (yon Hobo's hon).


Reading along in Paul Fry's Defense of Poetry. I haven't even gotten to the chapter in which he zeroes in on theology (contrasting the "mere being" of his "insignificant" ground, with traditional via negativa theology). But I get to thinking as I read along that he reminds of John Locke & the other 18th-cent. materialists with whom Berkeley did battle.

Fry dismisses questions of first causes ("why does anything exist? how did it start?") as of interest only to theologians, not to philosophers, scientists, critics etc., since we can have no comprehension of anything which precedes comprehension itself (reflection, mind, intellect, language, understanding, awareness, knowledge, etc.), and, moreover, it's perfectly possible to imagine this unimaginable cosmic substrate has having no beginning whatsoever. And it seems true that all our conceptions (Nicholas of Cusa's "conjectures") are strictly human constructs, and we live in a kind of human-constructed conjectural reality. But if this unsignifiable substrate (Fry has many names for it) is strictly beyond - because other than - human intellect, then the conjectures of theologians (and philosophers) are just as valid as those of Fry's persuasion. Berkeley described Locke's "matter" as an abstraction, a heuristic convenience, a non-entity : for Berkeley, everything begins and ends in Mind. Berkeley perhaps lacked Cusanus' dialectical sense of a limit; he made up for it with paradoxical faith ("the evidence of things unseen").
This bit (from July), written on Thanksgiving 8 yrs ago, seems to be dwelling on yesterday's notion of "sounding" (the ping in the depths, the weight-balance)...


What I wrote yesterday about the architecture of human/natural cosmos...

this weight-balance of relations...

maybe what I mean is "specific gravity". Maybe poets sense the cosmic harmony or design intuitively, by the sound of weight, or the weight of sound.

1132 : mysterious number in the works of James Joyce (& also Henry). Rate of falling bodies (32 ft/sec? something like that)
You might be able to read Olson, Dorn & some of the other like poets, using Fry binoculars (tweaked). That is, the "documentary" in history is also a kind of indication (ostensive).

Simple pointing toward facts (it is what it is) is also tautological, though for the purposes of interpretation & ideology, such indication becomes the primary tool in argument, persuasion (& thus loses its force or gets blurred in verbiage & comparisons).

But perhaps in a "documentary" poem, the facts can get taken in a different direction - aligned or fused with Fry's notion of the submerged prima materia of literature and lyric poetry : the tautological is-what-it-is of "precognitive", "somatic", pre- or non-human "being". A form of irrational or anti-thematic rhyme.
This Paul Fry book is amazing, actually. Very original, very deep.

(Though I have the feeling (see yesterday's post) that I might give different names to, and draw different conclusions about, the phenomena he describes so acutely.)


Paul Fry, Defense of Poetry, p. 52 :

"We might willingly enough agree, with many of our colleagues, simply to give up formalist, traditional Marxist, and rearguard humanist efforts to define literature and settle instead for the neo-pragmatist argument that whatever you want it to be is what it is; but that argument leaves an interesting question unanswered, the question why you do invariably want it to be something, and why so many have always wanted to write or speak that something, whatever it is, not just until formal, representational, or vocational aims have been fulfilled but incessantly, with obsessive repetitiveness. From this curious fact it is almost enough to infer... that literature is coextensive with human being in defining human being, over against all other forms of sentience, as that which can never say what it wants to say."

- which reminded me of this post -
I tried to dig down into things this way (which JL thinks about so intriguingly) in the poem In RI. Anny Ballardini (who translated it into Italian) will be making an expedition to Rhode Island next spring : hope to give some readings.

If you read Paul Fry, poetry (according to him) is not so much anti-fiction, pro-history. It's sort of pre-fiction, pre-history. Pre-cognitive, so to speak. Unplaceable.

For these theorists, humanism = anthropomorphism, essentialism. False consciousness. Blinkered by species-solipsism & historical conditioning. An interesting idea, has a lot of appeal for our presently human-battered, overheated planet.

I'm too ignorant of their whole mentality to argue with them (yet). Provisionally however I harbor a couple caveats:

1) if you're going to accept the notion of universal sentience, pan-consciousness (thinking rocks, etc.) then you have to consider the possibility of super-consciousness, a higher sentience.

2) an architect fastens onto the weight-balance of relations. Ecology is a kind of natural architecture. So also human being seems to have a certain symbolic/practical "stature" in the ecology of life on earth - an architectonic. Yes, our notions of that place & stature in relation to other creatures is changing : but I'm not quite ready to accept the idea of NO structure. Even if the human self-concept has to change - from "lords of creation" to servants & stewards of creation (gardeners) - that still leaves us with a certain concrete role in a structured ecology (history, the house in Michigan) of reality/life.

3) and what if history is not the indescribable chaos of scripted fictions/errors of the Yale boys? What if history is an enactment of a growth-process, a manifestation-process, a flowering?

4) a Byzantine, iconic-triadic architecture (Urs von Balthasar's history as "glory") : Mankind as body, mind, and union of the two. Personhood inherently relational (parent & child, self and divine otherness).

(p.s. my little brother Bill is such an ecologist.)
Reading Paul Fry, A Defense of Poetry (1995). Out of or after the Yale School of literary Theory. Kind of fascinating - like trying to decipher foreign language.

Out of Geoffrey Hartman, Derrida, De Man, etc. - but on his own track. He seems to have invented a new interpretive tool or explanation for poetry called the "ostensive" - I'll have to check the etymology of that. The idea in a nutshell - as far as I can see blurredly for the moment - is that Criticism (Theory + Historicism) has deconstructed any "essential" reality of or function for literature - that is, it's all a kind of epiphenomena, really indistinguishable from other epiphenomena, predetermined by socio-historical forces at large. But Fry complicates this (it is a "defense" of poetry) with a new idea : that poetry - lyric poetry in particular - is actually a release from meaning, reference of any kind. It's a sort of tautological non-human substrate (sentient or non-sentient, I'm not sure yet - just started reading the book) - it is what it is, so to speak, and in so doing lets reality "be" what it is, whatever that is... He leans a lot on Wordsworth, Keats & other Romantics ("a slumber did my spirit steal..."; "music of no tone"; etc).

Much of this intellectual milieu - the arcane & ponderous philosophical assumptions & assertions about writing, history, reality etc. - I find pretty doubtful & unappealing. Have made a lot of fun of "Theory" over the years. But Fry's idea ("ostension") sparks my interest... that is I recognize certain affinities with, or new ways of reading, my own poetry themes & adventures.

I guess I'm behind the times, as usual - the book was published 12 yrs ago...


It's always love/hate for the non-poet explainers of poetry. The better they are at it, as in the case of John MacKay - unveiling aesthetico-historical motives & mechanics in all their conceptual nakedness - the stronger the ambivalence.

(Though I wouldn't be surprised if he's a poet, too...)


Pretty much under the cartwheel of Labor lately, not thinking very much. Ambivalent response to John MacKay's fine book. The prospect & orienting markers of the historico-philosophical Left, so subtle, so fine-woven, so refined now. The flavor of the word "capital". A kind of superstructure or brahmin sense. Predicated on the assumption that the People cannot or will not correct (or ameliorate) economic injustices through the channels of law, democracy & civil society; that the idea of Revolution is a forceful idea precisely because it is an Idea fused with Force; and that such Forceful notions (ideology) are justified in a sense by a kind of historical Revenge Ethic : because of the brutal Force of Capital, the countervailing Force of Revolution is justified. But in refined brahmin academic Leftism, such Force is assigned to a kind of theoretical Utopia (where it won't really hurt anybody). (Slavoj Zizek, on the other hand, seems to be doin' the good ol' Big Man (Chavez) kow-tow, which worked so well for the 20th century.)

My 70s ancient history among the community organizers emphasized a more "hands-on" approach to social consciousness and public service. Less intellectually ambitious, perhaps, but more practical. (& public service, you might notice (if you read your local paper), often transgresses supposed ideological differences.)

Meanwhile, we live in a Red-Blue atmosphere, where political thinking per se is suffused by a religious-symbolic vocabulary (on the right) and frustrated ressentiment (on the left).

I, personally, have a lot of trouble holding historical, religious, aesthetic and political ideas in balance in a single conceptual process. Maybe others have similar problems. It helps me to think of Roger Williams' attitude toward relations between cultures, religions, and politics. He had a sort of Greek sense of the universality of civic and political goods (the common good); he somehow was able to hold absolute religious convictions without feeling the need to impose them on others or on the world at large - mainly by way of a sharp distinction between spiritual/heavenly/personal reality and earthly/historical/social reality. Maybe these are signs of a kind of "providential" political prudence. Very different from the various strains of apocalypticism, millennialism.


MacKay also notes "remarkable" affinities between Mandelstam & Hart Crane (sumpin I been sayin for years !)
Want to get back to poetry... lots of commitments & distractions lately.

Thin scattered thoughts on politics & religion etc. are not enough, irritating.

I know I'm out on a limb - that is, far from the current acceptable climate of opinion among the literary intelligentsia.

Reading interesting book by John MacKay - Inscription and Modernity. Wordsworth, Clare, Baudelaire, & a bunch of Russians (Khlebnikov, Kluiev, Mandelstam especially). From an historicizing left-materialist-Marxist perspective (Barrett Watten is one among many names in the acknowledgements). Interesting to see Mandelstam's Acmeism and "domestic hellenism" taken seriously from this perspective.

I know that in my occasional informal attempts to align or echo Acmeism/Futurism with "me"/post-avant-langpo, I have oversimplified Mandelstam. Also, much of the OM criticism over the decades has emphasized his victimhood, as part of an anti-Soviet polemic. MacKay, on the other hand, looks at Acmeism as not at all nostalgic/reactionary, but as a secularizing, materialist-humanist vision; and MacKay's interpretation of M's deep interest in language and "the Word as such" takes on an almost proto-"language poetry" cast. It would be interesting to contrast this viewpoint with that of Elena Corrigan (Mandelshtam's Poetics). M's critical writing is rich and complex, & can sustain opposing perspectives; there are passages which contradict MacKay's general position ("the Word is Psyche"; the "double strand" of the "verbal material" and the "poetic impulse"; etc.)

In general, MacKay's close readings seem to me both politically tendentious (based on several familiar socio-historical assumptions of left "critique") and very sensitive & discerning. His analysis of Mandelstam's concept of the perpetual renewal and invigoration of ancient poetic language is probing and evocative : inspiring, actually.


These came to me (as I was trying to get back to sleep) at 2:30 this morning...



A man died and came before the Judge. "Judge," he said, "I renounced strong drink in order to pursue the active life in my community. I imposed strict ordinances outlawing alcohol, with severe penalties for the smallest infraction." The Judge said to him : "I perceive you are a man of strong will and self-denial. After a thousand years in the Hell of Tyrants and Oppressors, I will transfer you to the Hell of Drunkards, where you may remain sober for eternity."


A man died and came before the Judge. "Judge," he said, "I learned, through careful perusal of the fine print of your Holy Book, that you abhor homosexuality. Thereafter I spent my life preserving your people from the slightest taint of such practices." The Judge said to him : "I see that you are an observant, conscientious and meticulous man." He handed him a copy of the Holy Book, in the form of a large roll of toilet paper, and ordered him to clean, forever, the anal cavities of his brethren in Hell.


A man died and came before the Judge. "Judge," he said, "I know that the word of your Holy Book is the literal truth. I have devoted my whole life to the recreation of an exact replica of the original Holy Nation, as described there in detail." The Judge said to him : "I see that you greatly revere the literal truth of the Sacred Writings." Then he seated him, naked, upon a large anthill, in the Hell of the Literalists, and commanded him to read the Holy Book aloud, unceasingly, to a large colony of fire ants.


Another stirring & verifiable report from John Latta today. I don't see eye-to-eye with him on the politics - I don't have the same faith in the anarchist's righteous thunderous "No" - but I appreciate his discerning literary ear.

So where do I stand now on the War (Kent Johnson wants to know)? I accepted the "WMD" argument & aligned it with 1) Saddam tyranny; 2) egregious failure of Iraq "sanctions" regime; 3) Saddam's unwillingness to negotiate before the war. I was offended by what seemed to me the knee-jerk, partisan and doctrinaire mentality on the anti-war (& poetry-world) left. I was tempted (as I often am) into gratuitous contrarianism.

What it comes down to, however, is that I assented to another round of war and military violence in history; moreover an "unnecessary" war (in that it was not provoked in defense against a real & immediate threat). This puts me in a rather demoralized and discouraged state of mind. (I suppose if the follow-up to the war had been more successful, I would not be having these twinges of conscience; I would have accepted the justification for violently pulling down the tyrant Saddam; it's easier to be complacent if you're among the victors.) On the other hand, I also believe the situation in Iraq is not amenable to simple armchair abstractions; good & bad are emerging together out of the great spectrum of intentions and actors on that vast stage. I think many (if not all) Americans there are working hard to make the best of it, to steer toward a better future. If history is any guide, that future will not justify the pronunciamentos of doctrinaire politicos & prigs on either side of the debate. I would be not at all surprised if John McCain's strategic view of the situation in Iraq proves (surprisingly) correct in the long run.

I'm not (obviously) a strict pacifist, but I do hope for a global, historical evolution beyond war, aggression, violence, oppression, and exploitation. This will not happen in some deterministic fashion, but depends on the decisions and actions of the human race. The arrogance and vanity of nation-states is maintained by the complacency and brutality of nations themselves. "Why do the nations rage, and the peoples imagine vain things?"


Much is being made on the Poetry Foundation blog (Harriet) over issues of sexism, fairness, marginalization etc. within both mainstream and "avant-garde" sectors of Poetry World. Lots of articulate braininess and high-octane critical thinking on full display.

As somebody writing on the extreme margins of the Marginal, I am sceptical, perhaps cynical about all this right & righteous thinking. I recognize that cynicism/curmudgeonliness is a self-defeating vicious circle (see Edmund Wilson's essay on Ben Jonson's "anal" personality, for a classic diagnosis of this feature of po-biz).

Nevertheless I can't help thinking that this is one of those areas where the path of good intentions leads straight to, etc. Everything gets over-complicated (like most of our popular technology these days) when sociological analysis or a demand for justice tries to take people's snobbery & pecking-orders and scheming ambitions & self-interest - as a whole - to the cleaners.

I guess my feeling is that these crummy behaviors will always be with us. And it's part of the miracle & glory of the aesthetic experience itself to trump them all, without all the well-meant tinkering and interventions. Aesthetic response relies solely on personal and public taste. The art that pleases, informs and enlightens is the art that wins out in the end - because it's what people are looking for.

This is just another way of saying that I have a great deal of naive faith in aesthetic detachment; the ordinary reader; the unknown interlocutor. Without that primary relationship between artist, art and audience - why bother with all those other games, all that social engineering? We have to have a baseline of trust that editors and publishers also have some dim sense of the basic aesthetic experience and encounter - and know how to capitalize on it, for better & worse.


The number of known works by artist Martin Ramirez has just expanded by about a third (over 140 new drawings).

There's a funny article about how they were preserved and discovered, in Tuesday's NY Times (read it here if you're signed up).

(cf. also various sections of Fontegaia...)
When someone comes from generations of taciturn New England farmers turned self-effacing midwesterners, there's a resistance to writing poetry. But composition is like a gravitational force. He senses the poem approaching like a mandatory summons, like Cincinnatus at his plow hearing the far-off bugle.

(my father & the Taj Mahal)


Gabriel Gudding's Big Book is a-comin' round the bend...


an old poem for Halloween.

(p.s. the title is not "Myself included." That's just a comment on a previous post... the poem is untitled.)
Not thinking very clearly about it, but I seem to be dwelling today on the distance between the actuality of poems, and the area of discussion & criticism about same.

I'm one of the very guilty ones, responsible for sending up great eye-wincing drafts of smoke & bother.

The distance between the state of creative receptivity and inspiration, on the one hand, and everyday cognition & discourse (& non-cognition, and non-discourse) on the other.

Thinking about Wallace Stevens' (seemingly) vague notions about "poetry" (per se) and the "poetry of life", and their relations.

The feeling, in my own experience of writing poems (when it seems genuine), that something has been born. Not just words, but an event - a concrete experience in several dimensions. As if every poem is an occasion, an occasional poem.

As if there is this sort of angelic or seraphic world of beauty & pathos, of which we are mostly ignorant, unaware. (Yeats's or James Merrill's business with the automatic writing representing this reality in a sort of parodic/satanic mirror.) And the perfect poems stem from and inhabit their world of perfection. Or perhaps I should say living poems, in a world of life.

And the rest is utter (moral, psychological, aesthetic) futility - ink, smoke, scribbles.
I actually like this poem by Robert Bly, though the philosophy doesn't quite (barely) cut it. Shows what might still be done with blank verse; skillful.


Wilson seems like an apt critic for the Symbolists & Moderns because he's not really like them. He's a humane journalist-scholar. That is, he reads poetry & fiction as a generalist, through a wide lens of general human problems. He approaches art in terms of character & psychology, but he's not a psychologist; in terms of history and politics, but he's not a historian or an ideologue. He's synthetic, not programmatic or theoretical. As somebody noted somewhere, he's a subtle literary portraitist; we begin to see literary moves & choices as shaded, in part, by the personality of the artist, & in part by the economic & political climate of the times - underneath the more explicit or tendentious philosophical-aesthetic debates.

(- plus he wrote a pretty good essay about Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, so he can do no wrong.)


Reading Edmund Wilson's study of Symbolism and some of its modern avatars (Yeats, Valery, Joyce, Stein, Proust, Eliot) - Axel's Castle. One of those classics we were supposed to read back in college & which I avoided.

Wilson has a sensible capacious humorous humane sceptical critical approach - plants the writing, the writer's choices, in history, character & psychology...

Could possibly shake me up, get me (re)thinking the first principles of all this folderol I've been engaged in for so long...


While I'm thinking of something to say,
here's a toucan from Kuala Lumpur.

Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan in caftan
Of tan with henna hackles, halt!


Blithewold Dendron, an American poet with whom you may or probably may not be familiar, occupied the peculiar position known in rugby circles as "fore-back", which is to say, he was both ahead and behind his own times. Ahead, in the sense that his nation and generation had yet to discover his unparalleled works; and in the same sense, behind. Tall, lanky, with a bronze forehead and a somewhat brassy left arm (his writing arm), Dendron was more likely to be taken for a youthful Midwestern gas station attendant than a major American poet (and not only because his main source of income was his full-time employment as a gas station attendant at North Plummet Shell, in North Plummet, North Dakota; the fact is, he simply looked like what a gas station attendant would look like). His voice was dry and clear, if halting - like the sound of a small table saw doing diagonals through cedar knotholes. One shoulder slumped slightly lower than the other, the result of an early collision with an oncoming older sister (Sandra Grumbach, nee Dendron). His reading style was mixed; but that's neither here nor there.

Why do we look, paradoxically, to Dendron, today? Vast and diverse have been the critical speculations on this question. Some scholars have emphasized Dendron's "enigmatic ear" : he could calculate the tempo of a nuthatch in flight at a distance of 400 yards. Others have remarked upon his tendency to present literary themes with uncanny foresight, as in his poem "Treetops", which predicted global warming (in pantoum form) as early as 1962. But Dendron himself explained what he called his "invisible fame" in a very different way. In a short essay titled "Shell Man" (1997), he writes :

"I never wanted to be a poet. All my poems are about something else. They are the traces of a constant effort to escape poetry. All I wanted to do was turn poetry inside out. Not into anti-poetry - I'm not an anti-poet : just something else. What I write about is a huge secret. It is literally, exactly, completely, utterly inexplicable. That's why trying to write it down is self-defeating, and why I'm constantly trying to escape my fate. This is why my fame is invisible, and why the world at large dismisses me, ignores my work. Because, unlike all the famous and successful poets, I'm trying to run away from poetry in the very act of writing it. The sight of a poem, a poem which fulfills all the conventions of a pleasing and successful artifact in contemporary style, is, for me, frightening, abhorrent : it's as if I'm looking at a looming jail cell built specifically for me. Whereas my heart - deep at some occluded level, beyond my reach - is seeking something else, or someone else; not the poem, not poetry, not even the shadow of poetry, but something outside them. I suffer from a kind of literary claustrophobia, a subconscious fear of capture. That's the explanation for my continual disappearance."

Jacqueline Semblanche, the Harvard critic, has written this of Dendron : "he out-formalized the Formalists; he out-experimented the Experimentalists; he out-sang the Lyricists; he out-did the Didactics. His miniature lyrics, his enormous epic sequences, float within a dimension exponentially distinct from all his contemporaries. He surpasses them to a degree such that he cannot be heard at all, like a sound vibration pitched beyond human hearing. And how did he achieve this? By writing about something else; by transcending poetry itself."

Today, in semi-retirement from the gas station, the folksy Dendron can be found on the front porch of his modest 1-person bungalow in North Plummet. Like a war vet, he doesn't like to talk much about his experiences in literature; but he does enjoy telling jocular just-so stories of local doings in Plummet and environs - which, to the acute listener, might be interpreted as parables of poetry. And someday, far in the future and/or past, the world will start to listen.


Randomly across my desk, The Children's Museum, a pamphlet by Ange Mlinko (Prefontaine Press, 2007). Wow. Sparkles. Nervous elegance. She plays tennis with the prose (to steal one of her puns).
I like this poem by Franz Wright, in the New Yorker. American hobo-sound. The boy can play the dobro. (Queer amid the full-page luxury ads.)

Franz Wright cuts an old-fashioned figure, out of Greek tragedy or Old Testament. Shuffles around in mourning rags, hefting the stigmata of his father's blessing/curse. Adds a memorious, para-literary dimension to the febrile atmosphere. A keynote, or a gateway - between the popular and the true, the distinctive and the en-masse. (a bit like "Henry" out of Berryman. huh?)


Back from visiting darling daughter & her fiance, living in Far East. Feeling strangely revived, no jet lag. Ready to explore mysterious Poetry Land.

The cicadas of Kuala Lumpur - less buzz, more flute-like. Omnipresent in the forest parks (like this one).



I'm in Blade Runner, er, I mean a cyber-cafe in Kuala Lumpur. My daughter's teaching English here, I thought I'd better meet her boyfriend. Finished Portrait of a Lady on the 26-hr plane flight. Surprisingly, no jet lag (must have been those Jamesian subordinate clauses). Now reading Anthony Burgess Malaysian trilogy, bk 1 (The Long Day Wanes). Joseph Conrad in suitcase. Someday I'll read something contemporary - perhaps something by one of you younger chaps/lasses!

I like the heat, actually. I am beginning to understand fascination of Mysterious East. Will explain US poetry scene upon my return.



Busy lately with neighborhood tree planting. That's me kneeling down by the English oak. On Thursday I go to southeast Asia for 12 days, where my daughter is teaching English - probably won't be blogging much for a while.


I know I harp too much on this Michigan chap, but I do feel you can often get several kinds of nourishment from John Latta's comments : 1) an authentic report or history of a few decades of American poetry (starting in 60s); 2) a perceptive understanding of what poetic language actually does, ie., a real aesthetics; 3) a critical intelligence and a sharp critique of some of the hyper-rationalized or ideological or academic trends in the current scene. I don't always agree with him, but I always learn things with pleasure.

See for ex. comments on the image/metaphor today. Rather than indulging in the fashionable mockery-japery so prevalent on blogs, he finds a way to evoke & illustrate what "deep image" poets were aiming for; and in the process, provides a real sense of how poetic speech examines/humanizes/domesticates, weighs experience in the balance, all at once. I believe this was what Osip Mandelstam was getting at with his (Acmeist) concept of "domestic hellenism" - quoting very roughly from memory : "hellenism is the surrounding of the body and earthly life with the teleological warmth of beloved domestic objects" - the civilizing labor itself. Something akin to Bachelard's notions about how the poetic image, the human psyche, and the surrounding world all unite in that image...


AND, in this regard, see John Latta's fascinating post of today.

As everyone knows, we take language for granted. There's a reason for this. A lad carting a wheelbarrow doesn't want to stop & contemplate the invention, design, and special virtues of the wheelbarrow's wheel. In a world of struggle and necessity, we have to get on with things as efficiently as we can.

But life is more than work. As Welsh poet David Jones liked to point out, our aptitude for making non-utilitarian aesthetic objects (art) is what distinguishes the uniquely human from the generally animal. Poetry, too, is situated within that magic (playground) circle. And play itself grants access to otherwise disregarded elements of reality.

Goofing around with words, the poet stumbles upon a hidden treasure : language's native spring - the substance of naming itself. Who among the professional linguists and philologists has comprehended the intellectual wonder of Adamic naming?* When human mind, heart, lungs, throat and mouth first formed the intelligible signs for things? And gathering these signs and keeping them in mind, ordering them by imaginative precedent and law, began to articulate the grand, vast logical-rhetorical sea-going vessel of human speech?

What the poet does, in playing with words, is strike those original sparks of imaginative apprehension - the first (& prehistoric) Promethean fire. Thus the poet reiterates verbal representation with the pungent flavor, the sharp scent of that first encounter. This primal imaginative-intellective labor is what accounts for poetry's famous vividness; what Mallarme (and Eliot) meant when they spoke of their vocation as Donner un sens plus pur aux mots de la tribu (to render a purer sense to the words of the tribe).

Mankind the Word-Maker, the Playing Animal... one could go so far as to say that the poet, through free verbal play, recapitulates the human image - polishes it, in order to shine - a kind of microcosm of the human essence.

The poet must walk a tightrope between prosaic, utilitarian usage (which manacles naming under the sign of Necessity), and the arrogant artistic egoism and vanity which treats words as building material, as means not ends (splitting off words from their original naming function, and in doing so, deforming them).

*Giambattista Vico, for one.


Re-reading Welsh modernist poet David Jones's long poem, The Anathemata. Really something. He can pile on the wildest most obscure baroque language and references, because the narrative-thematic structure is deep, simple and strong. "Make your eye single, and your whole body will be full of light."

My poetry these days is banked by such steep cliffs, it's hard to climb down to the current. May keep the water clean, though.

Seems to be some focus on the Chicago blogs lately (Ange Mlinko's recent post at Harriet, Bob Archambeau at Samizdat) on issues of sensibility vs. knowledge. Relates very much to CT Christ's book Victorian & Modern Poetics (discussed in essay here). Of course, poetry should be where these two things happily merge. These lines from Anathemata brought me up short yesterday :

(For men can but proceed from what they know, nor is it for
the mind of this flesh to practice poiesis, ex nihilo.)


(note on previous : see poem by Mandelshtam (in Tristia) which begins something like this : "Upon a horse-sleigh laden with straw...")


Hurtling along goes Fontegaia-sled.

26  (A Fable)

Roughly 4000 horsepower-years ago
Abraham fashioned a delicate sled (more
delicate than words) for his dear young
Czar. As the Lord commanded, thus

he performed
. They slipped through snow
so smooth and slow - past Isaac's
Cathedral, the Bronze Horseman (relax,
!)... the little fellow knew, and didn't know.

It was like those games of knucklebones
the orphans play along the riverbank -
suspense lay in the suspended shank,
the spot of blood (the day's cartoons)...

Or like a dozing nation in a car
on the long ride home, bored
with the billboards' borrowed
flowers. Floored it (too far).

Far, far into the prodigal forest
fled the knife-like stream of silver
nail-filings. The cleft delver,
the Gold Glider, the last

train to St. Paul (1935 or so) -
fanned out across the iron prairie
where you lost yourself, Hobo - we
lost you. Now, time flowers (slow,

slow). And we'll go with you, Little King;
your anonymous loneliness, your meadow's
remorsefulness, your sorrowful shadow,
your lowness, Highness. You times everything.


Roll on, Columbia.


Thirsty numbers square with a dreamy
stream beneath the earth : sanguine
Siena's Diana, Hobo's Big Rock Brandy-
wine - Sinai-ycleft and cliffed Jerusalem.

Remote sky-colored source (Itasca, Tuscany?)
whence horses, chariots, amassed, proceed.
Hippocrene ripple in a clouded pool (mead-
fed) of soil : iambic caesura of golden honey...


And to fold a mirror into the heart of reality
is not the least Platonic or Plutonic rage.
Orbit of comet or black comedy - strange
will to laughter in (extreme) obscurity -

likened to parable, parabola, fitful absurdity -
The Unknown Soldier on an Horse (dragged
from his funeral to the heroine). Fagged
Fall Guy; autumn's Pumpkin King. A Mystery.


A one-ring circus shimmers at the edge of town.
Not far from the ferris wheel, among crickets,
in the meadow, among fireflies. No one forgets
your music, mock-orange (riverside, wind-blown).

Your heart a wine-fed river too, Hobo.
Lonesome, lengthened by rainbow stream
(slow Milky Way). Sown with a flighty flaw;
raised in a figurehead (her thunder-bough).


Fontegaia chapt. 2 is dawdling toward a close...


Hobo swings home, after senseless miles
drawn by the umbel of a Queen Anne's lace.
My weedy galaxy... your lonesome grace
rises from umbered earth to meet his smile.


Fontegaia... today's draught.

23  (a Masque)

The dogwood colors gradually, blushing
plum and russet, slowly reddening
to holly scarlet, then fading... til
each leaf, like kiln-fired clay, goes drifting

along the ground. So many stray horses,
lost in an autumn wood, all flames
And the chill in the air - the seraphim!
Terrific echoes from the future race

- boomerang into the past - the chariots
of Israel and her horsemen
! Elijah
leans near the gleaming throne, a grail-
ship in his hand
- Lord, suspended - floats!

The dark drops quickly now, a silvery
wrinkle of late-summer crickets (curtain
of homely sound). Soon my labyrinthine
morris dancer will emerge (memory

a buried well). Fleet companion,
lightfoot arborist... whose brook
slips past a forest door - dark book
of frittery wings (dried myrmidons).


House Organ #60, edited by Kenneth Warren, arrived today. I feel lucky to be getting this in my mailbox. The funny thing is how this little folded-over xerox-style magazine, full of quiet poets you've never heard of, mostly, is the best thing going in hopped-up, expensive America. Tom Epstein put me on to it, several years ago.
Fontegaia ripples along...


Another year leans down toward autumn.
Steadfast whine of Palio gone quiet now.
Stubborn yarn of hilltop-town (plow
upending vineyard-wake) only the hum

of absent hornets over a fallow stream.
Race of a twining J, milled (purling,
providential) through my veins. Preening
yearlings, tender feet in a mural scheme -

young scouts in alder labyrinth -
gnarled sign of constancy in suffering
(St. Kate, cartwheeling).
Siena gathers toward a last July. Absinthe

wormwood, rain; pale horses
neighing nigh, near splintered
almond tree (blooming anachronism).
My muttering (tracing their courses).


- moved The Garden of the Forking Ideologies over to the essays...


Fontegaia trickles in...


Inching onset of autumn. Occasional
drifting-down of dogwood leaf. A surf
of mock-orange, over the fading fence -
fragrant galaxy, vagrant, precessional.

A reader of teasing leaves predicts a fall
(perusing a book, pausing in backward
yard)... somewhere homeward
(angled in wayward words). Furled

are the ferns in the brazen furnace
Danny burnt with his Boy Scout wood-
engraving kit, his rod of iron. You bent
the future (reader dear) with tenderness.


Addendum to Integral Poetry essay :

I should probably try to clarify one of the leaps (or lurches) of logic in the second half of the essay. I talk about aspects of beauty which are not simply pleasing, charming, well-ordered. Beauty can be severe, critical - the way Beatrice treats Dante in the Paradiso. "Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty" - as Keats's ode has it. But what exactly does this have to do with the subjective/objective dilemmas of recent American poetry?

What I'm trying to suggest is that beauty's "severity", its image of justice, its kinship with truth, is the very aspect which grants license to poetry's personal, experiential modes, its individual voices. It's what goads us as poets and readers to get beyond detached, self-enclosed formalism : beyond those artworks which seem to require an absolute distinction between beauty & life.


Shakespeare's Sonnet 105 famously applies that janus-faced word, fair :

Let not my love be called idolatry,
Nor my beloved as an idol show,
Since all alike my songs and praises be
To one, of one, still such, and ever so.
Kind is my love to-day, to-morrow kind,
Still constant in a wondrous excellence;
Therefore my verse to constancy confined,
One thing expressing, leaves out difference.
Fair, kind, and true, is all my argument,
Fair, kind, and true, varying to other words;
And in this change is my invention spent,
Three themes in one, which wondrous scope affords.
Fair, kind, and true, have often lived alone,
Which three till now, never kept seat in one.

A brief summa. Reminds me of this passage I just read in PK Dick's Divine Invasion :

"A man came to the great Rabbi Hillel - he lived in the first century, C.E. - and said, 'I will become a proselyte on the condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot.' Hillel said, "Whatever is hateful to you, do not do it to your neighbor. That is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary. Go learn it.'"
Not long after writing previous post, what crossed my desk? A very very fancy new edition (Arion Press, 2007), with artwork by RB Kitaj and intro by Helen Vendler, of the most famous pack-rat collage of the 20th century, The Waste Land.

You talkin' t'me?
That ever-sanguine peregrine falcon J. Latta talks today about, among other things, noise. Which is what, among other things, I talked about in this review of his book.

- but regarding noise, noisy Henry sez : it's not, au fond, a matter of selection, mes connoisseurs - you visualists, collagistes, surreal junk collectors... Even better : just listening. The listener adds nothing to noise but silence and rest. Listen long enough, then sing.
In a lifelong effort to reconcile Greek philosophy & Christianity (Hellenism & Hebraism), Simone Weil had a lot of deep things to say about the relation between beauty and justice. See her writings on suffering, mediation, geometry...
Integral Poetry is now over there with the other essays.
"Fair" : an old word that bridges the realms of aesthetics and jurisprudence.


Beauty : bit of tension there - like a bow-string bent by a beau. Something dear (something French?) in the crosshairs.
Beautiful is a beautiful word. More beautiful than beauty, almost.
Just finished Henry James's Wings of the Dove. Kind of beautiful in the severe sense, noted below.

Also reading PK Dick sequel to Valis (Divine Invasion). Kind of beautiful in the wacky sense.
Beauty & justice : brother & sister.
I love this brief sentence of Mandelstam's, which seems the best answer to the whole enormous Assyrian pile of 20th-century show-biz materialist-objective poetry construction projects :

"The Word is Psyche."




One of the advantages for the rank amateur and dillettante is that there is no professional compulsion to keep up with the intellectual Joneses, or track contemporary trends assiduously out of a sense of duty. Instead one can go on whim down odd paths, and find valuable things in out-of-the-way places.

One such find for me is a slim book published in 1984 by Carol T. Christ, titled Victorian & Modern Poetics (Univ. of Chicago Press). The author grounds her comparison of these two literary periods in a consideration of some primary qualities of the preceding Romantic era, to which the Victorians and the Moderns responded, as she shows, in quite similar ways (despite the polemic effort of the Moderns to distance themselves from their immediate predecessors). Christ argues that the main problem for poets of both periods involved trying to find a way out of the cul-de-sac of Romantic subjectivity and solipsism - inevitable dark twin to the latter's firm commitment to individual consciousness, perception and experience. And the technical solutions the poets of both eras found show some remarkable similarities. The dramatic monologue, the mask or persona, the striking or picturesque image, and the scaffolding of myth or history : all these techniques were taken up by the Victorians, and then borrowed (and tweaked) by the Moderns. All were designed, more or less, "to separate the poet from the poem" : to restore some kind of impersonality and objectivity - a common ground on which to outgrow the purely individual and subjective.

Today we find ourselves situated on the other side of the Modern era, among the "postmoderns" : an era characterized by at least two sharp swings of the stylistic pendulum. Both can be understood as effects of the great vitality and power of the Modern era in poetry. The first, in the mid-1950s, was a sharp turn away from what had become a kind of dogmatic crystallization of Modernist precepts of impersonality, formal autonomy, and tradition (sponsored by the post-Eliot, New Critical poets). It was felt that by following these precepts to their logical conclusion, poetry had become lifeless : no longer in touch with the imperfections, the contingencies, the mixed weakness and strength which constitutes ordinary social life. Poetry's rarified air had lost the human touch and the personal voice. Robert Lowell's post-Life Studies career exhibits the familiar paradigm for this mid-century turn; and in their different ways, the Beats, the New York School, the Objectivists, and the followers of the Olson/Williams "local epic" approach, all took part in this sea-change, toward the inchoate, the provisional, the imperfect, the personal. It was the beginning of what we call the postmodern era, and its effects were visible not only in literature, but in visual art, music, architecture : a willingness to express the idiosyncratic, the peripheral, the eccentric; a dismissive attitude toward "finish" or traditional form; an emphasis on human experience over impersonal aesthetics.

Ironically, this sharp pendulum-swing prepared the ground for its own reversal, back in the other direction. This happened roughly a generation later, in the 1970s and 80s. The personal, anecdotal lyric began to seem stale and contrived - to exhibit all the the old solipsism and what might be called "generic" individualism which had shadowed the Romantic movement from the beginning. Furthermore, the new intellectual forces of "identity politics" and postmodern critical theory both worked to dissolve, as in an acid solution, the narrated individual of the previous generation. The new style emphasized "textuality" and semantic/syntactical distortions. The self and its stories were either thrown out altogether, or subjected to a kind of lexical filter, a phase distortion, resulting in newly impersonal, autotelic documents. The poem was an object, existing independently from its maker and subsisting upon its own internal, verbal logic. The poet's business was not personal expression, but a kind of political challenge to coercive modes of social speech. This "impersonal" manner was exhibited in its (polemically) pure form in Language Poetry, but the latter shared similar postmodernisms with poets of the New York School, post-Objectivist, and other trends.

After a while, these pendulum swings start to resemble rotations of a merry-go-round. The autotelic remoteness of the "language school" and related styles mimics the "rigor" of the New Critical manner, as well as (in a funhouse mirror) the self-enclosed solipsism of the Confessionals. Aside from positing a general (very postmodern) End of History, how can we interpret these shiftings in a way that might help us get off the merry-go-round?

Let's recall the linchpin of Carol Christ's presentation : the motive for experiment for both the Victorians and the Moderns was the impasse of Romantic individualism and subjectivity. But Romanticism itself didn't arise from nowhere : it subsists in a continuum of developments and repetitions much like the later periods. That is, Romanticism is rooted both in Medieval poetics and in Renaissance individualism; both the Renaissance and the Medieval eras were, in turn, rooted in the Ancients. And if we look again at the general pattern of intellectual eras, we see that Romantic subjectivity was in part a reaction against the generalizations and laws - the objectivity - of Enlightenment Neo-Classicism, which was, in turn, a reaction against the baroque and eccentric excesses of Renaissance individualism. Our contemporary American paradigm shifts are reflected in these earlier oscillations. We can draw a simple tripartite graph of this history, as follows :

Ancient - Medieval - Renaissance
Baroque - Neoclassical - Romantic
Victorian - Modern - Postmodern

Examining this series, we notice not only a dialectic of mutuality and reversal, but several of the names of eras have a provisional or dependent quality : "neo", "middle", "post"... "ancient", of course, is the twin of "modern", "baroque" the challenge to "classical", etc. We note, also, a progressive foreshortening in the timespans of each era, as we approach the present, so that the recent oscillations in American poetry seem to be only the latest, briefest examples of a phenomenon of chronological perspective - an angle of acceleration.

From these observations, we can propose a couple of preliminary hypotheses : first, that the next mini-pendulum swing will probably be a return in the direction of the personal and the subjective; second, that the progressive periodic foreshortening suggests the approach of a time when we will be able to transcend this entire polarity. The Ancients resolved the difficulty by means of separate modes (epic, lyric, dramatic); the Moderns by means of particular techniques (masks, myths, histories). Both of these were partial "solutions" to the conundrum of subjectivity - that human mystery, or mystery of humanism, which came to the fore during the Renaissance and Romantic eras, and was most systematically sidelined during the Neo-Classical and Modern eras.

With this general scheme and my two hypotheses as preliminaries, I would like to outline something I'm calling integral poetry. By this I mean something more than a simple synonym for "good poetry", and something less than a polemic for a particular manner or technique. Rather, my term, as I will define it, offers a basic context (by way of the traditional revolutionary method - the return to first principles) for the appreciation of the new poetry on its way.


These are some definitions of "integral" which I would recognize as functions of the evaluation of new poetry. Stemming from the latin adjective integer - "whole, entire" - an integer (in English) is either, in mathematics, a natural number, or, more generally, a "whole entity". The adjective integral, then, is defined as (among other things) "essential to completeness", or "composed of integral parts" (ie., integrated). Integral poetry, then, is in some sense complete, or whole - because it is an integration of essential parts (themselves "integers" - ie. integral, whole).

This wholeness is, basically, the integration of two integrities : subjective and objective. Integration requires synthesis, rather than those excisions or rejections evident in the periodic (and polemical) oscillations we have described. In other words, we will renounce neither end of the polarity, but find a way to unite the two. We can do this by way of an analysis of each.

First, then, what do we mean by "subjective integrity" in relation to poetry? But in our times, what term has been more "problematized "(in tandem with the relativizing of all terms) than subjectivity? To begin with, I would simply state as axiomatic that subjectivity and personhood are fundamental values or qualities of experience, which are reflected in fundamental characteristics of poetry. In this context, however (and perhaps in every context), the personal itself is inherently relational in nature. The personal is a paradoxical both/and : both unique and inter-personal. This important corollary allows us, for the time being, to set aside all the sharp disputes over the status of social and individual identity, which seemed so important for the American literature during the previous two decades. If the personal is a function of both uniqueness and relationship, then the expressive arts have a basis - in the personal itself - for transitive social interaction and mutuality. There is an element of equality or kinship with others, in everything we call individual and personal.

Consequently, the art work - the poetic "object" - is always shaded, qualified, surrounded, suffused, in its objectivity, by the subjective and the personal. This, as we know, is the familiar centerpiece of the Renaissance and Romantic eras. Shakespeare (after Chaucer) inwove inimitable individuals within the fabric of his verse. Wordsworth and Keats, in turn, transported the scale of moral and emotional types into interior dramas of psyche and personality. But we do not have to return inevitably to the usual opposition of subjective and objective, of epic impersonality and lyric "I". If the personal is in a certain respect the interpersonal, then even dramatic poetry - traditionally the most "impersonal" and social of poetic modes - is also shaded or qualified by the subjective. Aristotle's analysis (in the Poetics) of the interest or appeal of dramatic poetry describes three paths by which this interest flows : ethos, pathos, and logos. These are the avenues of subjective response and audience reception, respectively moral, sensible (via empathy), and intellectual. In ancient times they were understood in a framework far less individualistic than they are today; yet even the anti-personal, collectivist attitude of Brechtian "epic" theater relies on a foundation of subjective response.

A poetry of "subjective integrity", then, would integrate, and reflect, aspects of personal engagement or response. The personal inhabits and shades the art work; the art work presents a provisional synthesis of human invention and personality.

What do I mean, on the other hand, by "objective integrity"? Here I am thinking of the poem not as personal testament or social experience but as aesthetic object. Integral, remember, is defined as "essential to completeness". Let us say that a poem exhibits "objective integrity" if, and only if, it is beautiful. Beauty is the substance of aesthetic value. In Aquinas's presentation, the integral elements of beauty are : consonantia (proportion), claritas (clarity, brilliance), and integritas (wholeness).

Again : for Aquinas, integrity (wholeness) is one of the integral qualities of beauty. But if we're going to follow Aquinas with regard to our definition of beauty (which thus requires wholeness), then we cannot achieve integrity in our definition of "integral poetry", unless we can synthesize its objective aspect (beauty) with its subjective (inter-personal) aspect. Thus our logic runs into a kind of Chinese finger-puzzle. Aquinas's objective wholeness requires the integration of an aspect which is not in itself objective.

I would resolve this, paradoxically, by a reminder that beauty, as anatomized by Aquinas, is not necessarily pleasing, ie. merely pleasant (ingratiating, entertaining). The "charm" of beauty, which leads us on, may be severe, sublime, tragic. It may be critical and purgative; in fact, according to Aristotle, the deep interest which poetry holds for us consists in its power to balance and purge the passions. Here we arrive again at the crux of the problem which divided the postmoderns from the moderns, the Confessionals from the New Critics, the Language Poets from the Confessionals. Life is not a work of art or a beautiful poem. On the other hand, life without art is less than human. Still, art separated from life is empty, vain, dead. These are the contraries on which the epochs of literary style waver back and forth.

But when we recognize that the beautiful work of art is not exactly the same thing as the pleasing, the sentimental, or the comforting diversion - that the pleasure it provides may be rigorous, severe, critical, purgative, ethically scrupulous - then we can understand how subjective, personal experience (at the root of our interest in and response to art) might fuse and reside together with objective beauty. We can recognize how the postmodern dismissal of great and perfect modernist works - on behalf of the fragmentary, the abject, the middlebrow, even the ugly - was itself part of the struggle to find, in Stevens' words, "what will suffice" (and, moreover, what suffices in strictly aesthetic terms). Yet on the other hand, if we are willing to accept the notion of the personal as integral to the art work, we can see that the attempt to divest poetry of the subjective, the individual, the experiential - on behalf of (ethically) depersonalized formalisms - was also an example of an oscillation to the extreme, since the result was only to establish a new form of dissociation (into two halves) of one whole.

Thus an integral poetry requires the integration of these two fundamental categories of human experience. An integral poetry is suffused with the personal, the subjective, and the individual. The register of its integrity is the degree to which, in its characterizations and symbols, it deepens and complicates our sense of "identity" as ethical beings. Paradoxically, the subjective integrity of an integral poem will depend in part on the (subjective) qualification of its aesthetic objectivity - and vice versa. An integral poem is the record of a unique consciousness and personality; it reflects, simultaneously, the impersonal (sometimes severe and painful) justice of objective beauty.

Thus, in the integrity of the poem, the polarities of stylistic change, once in balance, become the irreducible values of its design.


Good essay by Brian Phillips in current Poetry on "taste" & contemporary anxieties in poetry world... concludes without definitive "conclusions", an invitation to new ideas. Very worthwhile reading.

Would like to respond somehow, & am looking over essays around Chicago School, quietude, ethos etc. for guidance.
Bumbling around some prose ideas lately, thinking about Borgesian relation between persons and books, re-reading wonderful book-length essay on Proust by Roger Shattuck (Proust's Binoculars) & discussion of dynamic between memory and forgetting (oubli), Rip Van Winkle etc.; walked to local public library branch to drop off some books, standing at the counter a voice says "Henry Gould", I turn and there stands poet Stuart Blazer (author of Ricochet) - whom I haven't seen for a long time, but I mentioned I had noticed him in the newspaper, where he was quoted at a special "Proust day" at the Athenaeum library (Poe's old hangout)... I said, "are you still living in Adamsville?", he said, "Henry, it's been longer than you think... I've been in Portugal for five years..."

(Stuart has some poems in this issue of Nedge:)


Reading my NY Poets anthology (Padgett/Shapiro, 1969) now. I think I still like some of what I liked back then, and dislike all of what I disliked. Is this (not) a good sign? Still vastly enjoy the silliness, the light touch. Like John Perreault especially. John Giorno adds a different note (serious). Can smell the Ashbery & O'Hara (over-)imitators in less than a nanosecond.

Ashbery, actually, I find sort of depressing, despite his skill. There's a fatalism, a pessimism, a cynicism about saying anything... in the approach to his recalcitrant lyric-dreaminess he has to spin so many cobwebs... of course, he was the one I liked the most... remember reading the "Ella Wheeler Wilcox" fandango aloud to people while laughing hysterically...

This was one of the anthologies I read, but there was a big red paperback - an earlier anthology, that was my real introduction to this stuff. Will have to try to identify it.


Seems like Jonathan & I repeat a variation on this debate about once every 3 yrs or so.... not really a debate. I pick on the NY Schoolies because they're important to me. There's a vast amount of highly-touted American poetry that just really bores me silly - I don't even want to talk about it.

Not trying to offer a critical template. My animadversions & likings are absolutely personal. I just want to share them with you, my little chickadee....
Helps to know that yesterday, besides posting that blog post, I also bought a 2nd-hand copy of the 1968 New York Poets anthology (Padgett/Shapiro). People are complicated. I'm trying to pick up the threads of my own distant past. Those people - & not just Ashbery & O'Hara, all of them - were very important to me. That paperback was new when I first bought it. I kept go back & forth through it, for at least a year, luxuriating. & went looking for books by the individual poets. I liked Berrigan, Tony Towle, Tom Disch... can't remember them all now. It was my take-offs on their poems (I believe) that got me into Brown University, friends - the whole thing was a fluke. & I'm still here, at Brown University (I mean, I did get away for a few years... about a decade...). What does that tell you? Weirdness.

I'm not about to get into another squabble over which poets or which school is or is not of value... that's the thing, the poets in this country (& the poet-critics, too) are always looking for a technical benchmark. Superior artiness, or superior street cred, or some combination of the two... Then you have the grad students & professors, no offense, dutifully marking out their "fields" for hero worship of previous generations... (to hell with expeditions to the jungle of actually living poets)... you get the Langpo Memoirs in all their self-assertive analytical blah-dom... you get everybody explaining their own special value in the American Literary Constellation... isn't it wonderful that Ashbery is on MTV, we love the old codger so much...

What kind of weather does NY School & its later morphs (ie. Chas. Bernstein langpo-elliptical crossovers), what kind of atmosphere do they provide? Well, it's a kind of delicate shuck-stream of the shoulders... how else can I put it... it's an artiness, it's a sweet sort of evasiveness... it's an overwhelming "sceniness", a clever-entertainerness... it's Jacket magazine as ceremonial barge des artistes... it's the poet as (not exactly musical) jongleur... it's a saying no-no-no with a sharp waggle of the head to the very faint & dessicated traces (in Robert Lowell, say) of the old 19th-cent. figure of the poet as bard, sage, scholar, statesman all-in-one...

I want to get away from hipness, from improvisation, from clubbiness... back toward those faint old forms of being a poet in the world... different shades of which you find in Dickinson, Whitman, Poe, Thoreau, Longfellow...

Every poet coming along is confronted with the irreducible conundrum, of what the heck is a poet supposed to be in the world? & soon or later the Dead Heroes & Potentates with all their academic garlands & worshipful followers have to be shoved to one side, because a new approach is needed - your own approach.


It puzzles me why everybody keeps talking about Ashbery, O'Hara, on & on. OK, I know this will be seen as my problem. But God, these guys are so boring, with their glibness & their hipness.

Why did we go back to the early modernists in the 1st place? (Why did we go to Russia??) Ironically, to get out from under the shadow of these bland narcissistic self-satisfied mid-century guys, of the previous generation. We chose a deeper shadow.