There are two great pitfalls, two great scourges, the Scylla and Charybdis of contemporary poetry. On the one hand, talking down to the general reader (through condescension, facile suavity, or flattery). On the other hand, talking only to fellow poets (the coteries, the cults, the academies). Both of these extremes are, basically, shortcomings of style, and both have a powerful deleterious effect on the general literary climate.

Good poetry somehow discovers the middle path (through the Gates of Wrath).


Reading poetry of Delmore Schwartz. I've read Humboldt's Gift, I may have even started the James Atlas bio (after reading the Bellow novel); but never read the poetry.

He's good. I've missed a lot.
Loitering still amongst Berryman & his pals (Lowell, Jarrell, Schwartz...).

Everybody should read
Jarrell's essay "The Age of Criticism", if they haven't. Now! Foretells, way in advance, the Coming of the Theorists, describes the Pomposity and Myopia of Critics (they feel themselves a little Greater than the rest, because they only read The Great), the Laziness & Lemming-ness of the rest of us (non)Readers... how the good Critic is basically a good reader, an explorer of the un-touted, and someone prepared to stick his or her neck out, rather than follow safely along after what others say... Jarrell is gently biting & hilarious on all this, I can't do it justice here.

Like his poems & Rilke translations, too.


Re-reading memoir by Eileen Simpson, Poets in their Youth - her life with onetime husband John Berryman, experiences with other poets, novelists & critics (Lowell, Jean Stafford, Schwartz, Blackmur, many others). Got me going back to Berryman's reviews & essays.

Want to read further & more diligently... feel the need to re-think, re-experience the whole background & history. Berryman's omnibus review from 1948, "Waiting for the end, boys", is fascinating. Lowell & Berryman had worked so hard to master the tradition, the past poetries (as they knew them). They had so much poetry, by so many poets, memorized. Berryman's review very acute, very witty.


Reading "The Kid", by Conrad Aiken. Poem in several sections, a kind of "American myth" poem. Interesting to me in its affinities with Crane's Bridge, and its focus on William Blacksone, the "maverick" early settler, preacher, scholar, orchardist (Boston and Rhode Island). A lot of WB in my poems. The epigraph to "The Lost Notebooks" (opening chapter of Grassblade Light) is from Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano :

"– "Talking of corpses," – the Consul poured himself another whiskey and was signing a chit book with a somewhat steadier hand while Yvonne sauntered toward the door –"personally I'd like to be buried next to William Blackstone –" He pushed the book back for Fernando, to whom mercifully he had not attempted to introduce her. "The man who went to live among the Indians. You know who he was, of course?" The Consul stood half toward her, doubtfully regarding this new drink he had not picked up."

I found out later that Lowry had been a student of Aiken's.


Speaking of Acmeism... here's HG Poetics in Russian -
A poet's special pleading only goes so far. Poems of necessity make their way in the world completely on their own : their making is both counter-intuitive and intuitive, their reception by the public is no different.

Everybody has a unique personality, carries around their own baggage. Maybe I identify my own obsessions too directly with those of the public world... maybe I need some distance & objectivity.

- who knows. It's complex & intuitive (this matter of creativity). The mind (or the whole person, the soul) leaps ahead of itself, to take the place it somehow (instinctively, intuitively) senses is out there, waiting : the opportunity, the open door.

The "Acmeists" aimed for their own sort of public speech or craft, a certain "classical" worldliness. I suppose it's laughable to think of me & my writing in these terms. But in relation to the "American Acmeism" proto-essay posted here a few days ago, I thought of this poem from Dove Street, also posted here quite a while back : "Fragment from Purgatory".

What's interesting is that the poem addresses, sort of allegorically, what I called the authoritarianism of the Eliot/Pound strain (they are the two figures on the erratic ship), as well as the New-World ideal of freedom. Dante shows up here, and also Whitman, in the hobo figure at the end - who quotes a poem by Edwin Honig ("Freedom builds within/or breaks your bones" - from his poem "Cuba in Mind"). So here in this poem are the 2 ends of the spectrum I sketched out in the Acmeism essay (with say Eliot and Crane at either pole).

But I'm realizing lately that a poet has to step out and speak to the crowd. Theorizing and explaining and meditating and experimenting are necessary but not sufficient.

How this happens, though, is very complicated... since we live in a noisy age of self-promotion and gimmickry, of surfaces, not depths, sensations, not memory or knowledge. In the old days a poet like Yeats, for example (or Pound), would get up on their soap-box and declaim in the old bardic way... but nowadays maybe the poet has to be a master of quiet and silence... "slow poetry" of a sort... to speak clearly, yet neither mumble nor shout...


Posted a comment to William Logan's latest piece on Hart Crane, at Poetry Foundation website.


While I was in Sugar Hill, NH (literally just down the hill from Robert Frost's place), I read Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha" for the first time. It took a while to get into it, but once I did, it was a very good read...

- reminded me of the "Indian" sections of Crane's The Bridge. I mean Crane must have been aware of what Longfellow had done. Both poems are narratives, with beginning middle end (unlike Pound, WCW, Olson). Not really fair here to Pound, WCW, Olson... but, even though all three actually have these 3 parts (beg, mid, end), the parts are overwhelmed (unlike in Crane or Longfellow) by the melodrama of the (Whitmanian-Dantean) speaker-poet... Crane & Longfellow, in this regard, are closer to Chaucer, the Ur-Poet...

Longfellow was actually in touch with an Ojibwa poet at the time of writing - Kah-ge-gah-bowh or George Copway. "Song of Hiawatha" publ. in 1855 - same year as Song of Myself. Longfellow went to meet Whitman in Camden NJ, in 1876 (when Longfellow was 75). Something interesting could be done with the "binary" relation between the poetry of these two men. Whitman treated the wounded soldiers during Civil War; Longfellow's son was wounded in same. (Longfellow's wife died, in harrowing circumstances (her dress caught fire), 3 months after the war began.) The meeting between Longfellow & Whitman. Link between 19th & 20th cent. Amer. poetry. The complementarity of the two. The resolution of dualities. (With Poe as 3rd party, witness au contraire, devil's advocate.)

Balance Longfellow's acute erudition (ie. the amazing parallel between Ojibwa song and Finnish Kalevala), with Whitman's acute ear for the colloquial, the actual... & note Hart Crane's amalgam of all three (Longfellow, Whitman, Poe). (Marianne Moore said she liked Crane, in part because he was so erudite...)

My mother had her first drink in the Longfellow house in Portland, Maine (she was 13 yrs old; the drink was sherry). (It was a momentous occasion, since my maternal grandparents were both teetotallers.) She was best friends, & near next-door neighbors at the time, with Longfellow's great-granddaughter (whose grandmother was the famous "Laughing Allegra") - both families lived along River Road, in Minneapolis - about 3 blocks from where John Berryman jumped to his death.

Thus my mother tagged along once on the Longfellow family summer vacation to the Maine coast.

My father - a fairly unpoetic fellow, in some (not all) respects - used to recite bits of Longfellow ("By the shores of Gitchee Gumee..." or "This is the forest primeval"...) - Longfellow was required reading in his day. Besides which, a replica of the Longfellow House (from Cambridge Mass.) was built near the celebrated Minnehaha Falls, down the road... & many towns & lakes in Minnesota are named after people & places in Longfellow's famous poem.

Actually, reading the well-researched, etymologically-subtle "Song of Hiawatha", I was reminded of parts of In RI, full of Narragansett vocabulary. & both Hiawatha and Forth of July owe a debt to the Finnish epic, the Kalevala...

Up in NH was also reading Charles Mann's very interesting best-seller, 1491. Had a curious effect on me... speaking of Columbus Day... maybe someday Crane's Bridge will be understood as a sort of bridge (one among many) between old (Eurocentric) civilization, & yet-to-be-understood or recognized "prehistory" of New World... there are also a lot of "premonitions" in my poetry in this regard... things I wrote, the significance of which I didn't understand completely... ie. the theme of clay, the peacepipe (calumet - Pipestone, MN)... "Time flowers on the lips of whispered clay" (ie., the peacepipe) -

Like this bit from July (by way of Herodotus, Longfellow, Mark Twain, & David Treuer) -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

smaller star, leaning there
against the clear pane –


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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