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.