Bemsha quotes an interesting email from a high school teacher in Spain.

I bought an old 2nd-hand copy of the Cantos once.  Inside the cover, when I got home, I found what seems to be a little original photo of Ez in old age, sitting with his white cane, looking druid-like.  It's up on the bulletin board by my desk; he's keeping a hawkish eye on my long poems.
I don't found literary movements, I don't rail against the publishing biz, I don't mock magazine editors, I don't work in the creative writing industry, I don't bond with fellow careerists, I don't even bond with poets I admire. 

I don't look for admiration or prestige as a poet.  (To hell with all that : go find another guru!)  The process of making poems is too mysterious and contingent for me to even think of myself as a "poet", as if a poet were some sort of steady-state identity. 

What I hope is that an occasional reader love my poems as I do.  I love them in part for being (or seeming) somewhat autonomous, standing somewhat independent of me : little creations.  I love them for being musical in feeling and thought.
I may give the appearance of being a cranky self-promoter.  But I think that's partly because I don't really believe in literary networking, or using political ideology as a template for literary politics.  I don't believe in networking because, in my experience, making poetry involves a kind of "self-test".  (Maybe it's because I'm a gemini?)  You wait for a state of mind called inspiration (for lack of a better term), and then you make poems in the presence of your own conception of tradition - the benchmarks, the affiliations, the paths & poets you recognize.  Networking is really inimical to this process, because your own "subjective objectivity" is influenced by those who haven't really grasped what you're doing - and their attitudes, whether well-meaning or malicious, are really distractions or diversions from your path.  I can keep hoping, in the face of professional failure for decades, because I realize that all editors are human, and despite the best intentions, lots of things don't get a proper hearing.  I can have complete respect for contests and magazines and those who do well by them, without despairing, because I realize that the struggle for publication and recognition is not based on objective principles of quality in any sense, and I trust my own taste and judgement (I know better than anyone how weak and imperfect and limited my own poetry is). 
This is one of my best books.  It distills my efforts with short poems, before the longer ones of the last few years.  I published it myself, because I haven't been able to find a publisher (besides Spuyten Duyvil, for Stubborn Grew) since 1979.


You can find most of my tiny unknown publications here.
Walking through bookstore on errand for library, pass the poetry shelf, see Beowulf.  Recall that poetry is sort of distillation/projection of one's experience of beauty.  Recurrent memory:  high school, leaning barefoot on back porch reading anthology of French poets.   Luxe, calme et volupte.

Distillation, charter, code. 


Responding to Jonathan's riposte of today:

There's no getting away from criticism.  They criticize "the mainstream"; I criticize them for it.  It may be that Steve Evans' lists are positive - I agree they certainly show a helpful initiative & healthy interest on his part.  But my beef was directed at quote from Evans' comments over at the Hotel (yesterday).  There Evans was quoted lining up the usual ideological game-formations  (the mainstream is fortified by big bucks, etc.).

I also agree that Ron Silliman puts great effort into his response to little-known & marginalized poetries.  That's nice & impressive, I can only respect that.  But he often frames his diatribes and polemics around a "we are better than them" scaffolding.  See for ex. his post yesterday mocking "self-similarity" in mainstream poetry publishing, vs. the wonderfulness of the usual names (Zukofsky, Olson, etc.).

Today I processed 25 books from SPD that crossed my desk, for the great poetry collection over here.  All brand new, from publishers large & small across US & Canada.  They will go on the shelves.  In the long run there is little difference between a famous poet & an unknown poet : they all end up on the shelves.  & the challenge for every poet, as I was strongly reminded once again when I glanced through these 25 volumes, is to create something sustained, original, interesting, memorable. 

In such a context (I mean my context, in a library, in a library, in a library... which collects thousands & thousands of books of poetry), it seems so clear to me that the us v. them po-biz maneuvering is really a form of intellectual simplification for po-pol-biz purposes, rather than genuine criticism.

I'm not cranky, Jonathan; just slightly depressed.   I do indeed respect those who put more interest & energy into noting/reviewing/etc. individual books & poets than I do myself.  Yet I'm entitled to my beeferoni.  A line in the Jessica Stern book struck me:  "Sociologists argue that the first requirement for mobilizing a group that feels oppressed is the identification of a common enemy. 'Without the identification of an adversary, or another social actor in conflict with the group for control of certain resources or values, discontent and protest will not engender a movement,' sociologist Alberto Melucci argues."

How much are unhappy frustrated under-published under-rewarded poets being manipulated and rewarded by "literary organizers"?  How do these organizers profit from creating these us/them worldviews & literary "movements"?  They become "leaders", for one thing. . .

But this literary organizing, I argue, is deleterious to genuine criticism & reception.

Stern speaks about the dark & light sides of religious behavior.  How religion can get caught up in identity politics, since it tends, sometimes, to set up an ultimate us/them, insider/outsider dynamic (believer/unbeliever). 

This is one of the most important themes in Moby-Dick, Melville's "counter-Bible".  "Ishmael" is the name of the other, the outcast son.  Melville's God is the god of democracy, of equality (the gold doubloon from Quito, Ecuador - equator - nailed to the mast at the center of the ship).

"We hold these truths to be self-evident..."
current reading :  Terror in the Name of God, by Jessica Stern.  published a couple years ago to great reviews.  & it is a remarkable book, written by a Harvard academic who is anything but "academic" (the stereotype).  It's a page-turner.  She traveled the world interviewing religious terrorists of all denominations, at some danger to herself, trying to get into their minds & hearts.  Her style is original, personal - oblique & direct, analytical & anecdotal at the same time.

She describes how terrorist leaders, fanatics themselves, manipulate vulnerable young people (men, mostly), until religious ideology (& its psychological & material rewards in this world) becomes a kind of drug.  The phenomenon of psychological "doubling", whereby a humiliated, lost individual takes on a strong, heroic double identity - in a simplified us/them world which allows the terrorist-double to dehumanize & victimize the enemy, the other.

Stern does this with empathy (not sympathy - & she defines the difference) & insight.

As something of a religious person myself, & obsessed with the struggle with Islamic fundamentalism, it's helpful for me to see the dark side of religion (she interviews Christian & Jewish, as well as Islamic, fanatics).

We who are saying the word "God", who find the reality of God undeniable, had better turn to the light.

This notion of psychological doubling got me thinking about its relation to writing, too.  The idea that we create a "speaker" or narrator-identity whenever we write creatively; that this is, on a certain level, role-playing.  Kentjay is of course very focused on this.

I believe in the writer's capacity to write the truth, at least in a limited sense, imperfectly - that is, to write "with transparency" : though I guess it becomes some kind of "boundary problem" - on the one hand, whenever the writer identifies too strictly with her/his own expression, and on the other hand, when the writer becomes a trickster, a hoaxer, completely unreliable.

To think of Holy Scripture as role-playing.  Book of J, Wizard of Oz.


Ron Silliman, Steve Evans specialize in denouncing the Dominant Mainstream.

This just makes me depressed.  All these pigeonholes & lists. 

Focus on the close reading.  Focus on the substance of the poetry.  Maybe you'll find a poetry that holds your attention for more than 2 seconds, that has something to say to you.

Are the politics of publishing more important than politics itself (or maybe it's all that wee poets can handle, with their wee brains)?


Good dialogue here between two very articulate poets.

"New" or "progressive" just seem too vague.  Of course, if a poem is found to be imitative or derivative, it's immediately recognizable as 2nd-rate.  But much so-called progressive or experimental poetry is just as derivative as is much so-called traditionalist poetry.

The work of writing topical or relevant contemporary poetry is so difficult that the poet requires all the resources he or she can muster, and it doesn't matter if they come from yesterday or 500 B.C.  The old is new.

I wrote a lot about this early on on this blog. (stop what you're doing & read the archives straight through.  coffee can wait.)   I ruminated, then, that poetry exhibits a special relationship to Time and Now; it speaks a contemporaneity which overpowers, outwits or transcends clock-time as we know it; and much prose fiction thematizes, in retrospect, what poetry continually performs & enacts, Now.  Thus notions of progress in the arts, tied to progress in politics, are, with respect to poetry, on a certain level, anyway - redundant.
Boston's in the news this week.  I've added Paula's Palaz to my blog links.  Dig big for civilization, straight ahead.


"Those were times of fracas & uproar," spake Sir Henry, adjusting the corset of his rusted cuirasse.  He leaned against his plastene shield, marked with the scarlet Cross of St. Andrewe and 3 yellow puffballs, insignia of the Fellowship of the Golden Fleas. 

He spake at length, then, in his gruff knightly-hangover voice, of his glory days in battle against Poesie de Langage, and other reprobates and infidels.  "Twas at the dusk of the last millennium, during the reign of King Bill, in the Ville de Buffaloe" quoth he; "many were the scuffles and duels, then; oft'times single-handed, 'gainst all comers, belike.  Methought then, and methinketh now yet, that one signal cardinal sin bore down, with plumbous bars, that dur Langpo :  twas their feigned or attempted extinction of Personality.  For personality, my young lads & damsels, may be likened unto this checker'd insignia, inscribed upon my battered, trusty old shield.  Tis emblematic of one's very Soul:  like that fransiscan brother's - his name escapeth me - Walt, was it? - his grassy handkerchief, designedly drop't by his own winsome Lord.  Or as that other brother - Nicholas, of Cusa fame - quoth:  "All things Giulianize in you, Guliano" - every word of every poem, no less so."
Language poems resemble the town dump :  little piles of denatured objects, detached from their original usefulness, still glimmering faintly with the light of their former existence.  Is a chair on the dump still a chair?  Such objects hold a certain fascination for morticians & scavengers.

"Language poetry", the phrase, has a sort of Orwellian ring to it - the kind of phrase that creates a verbal mask for something of opposite substance.   Because the language in language poetry is not language : it's only words.


Kent's take on the effect of WCW/Rakosi-style prosody (in his essay linked here yesterday)  is the opposite of Mike's & New Formalist theory.  Kent says that the unpredictability of same creates the possibility of clearer poetic perception, less mediated by ego or tradition.   NF theory, as Mike has described it, holds that the metrical patterns & their variations help create the conditions for meaning to emerge.
These are basic 20th-cent. positions on the difference between free verse & metrical form.  Pound sought to "break the pentameter", pushed for ideograms/imagism.  Stevens, I think, used rhythm - with both free & metrical bases - as one facet of his own musicality (which also employs phonic values, repetition, fantastic vocabulary, and other means toward this end).
The idea that poetry fulfills its function by reflecting natural & divine order by means of measure & harmony is very olde.  It hasn't gone away, either - witness the various theories promoting iambic pentameter as based on biology and natural form  (cf. - for fun - Sir Thomas Browne's Garden of Cyrus for the prevalence of the number "5" in nature). 
The general critical take on Modernism, though - reflected in Kent's analysis of Stevens - has been that this intellectual/artistic era had no faith in overarching order or natural harmony : rather, art imposed its autonomous orders as a guard or protest against the violence & chaos "outside".
So the free-verse/postmodern/(Taoist, Kent?) position faults metrical formalism on two counts: its idealism and its traditionalism. The idealism layers over nature with an imposed order; the traditionalism blocks innovation & new perception.
How to get beyond these (rather worn-out) dichotomies?
Rather than arguing that "there is no such thing as free verse", say : all verse is free.
How so?  Verse is free in the sense that the poetic word can function as both music and anti-music, as order and disruption.  Poetry can be song, but it is not only or necessarily song.  Poetry can be the closest thing to a curse, or to silence itself.
I would say that the activity of the poet is essentially an orientation toward harmony.  But harmony operates on more than one level : there is an intellectual as well as a sensible harmony, and sometimes the former counters, opposes, negates the latter; sometimes sensible harmony is configured ironically to veil a very different intellectual substance.  Intellectual harmony is logical, reasonable, ethical : it may have formal or mathematical or aesthetic aspects - but these elements may be at work to break superficial or oppressive "harmonies" of "nature".  It may be subversive in this sense.
Order, pattern, harmony - the interwoven wheels and forms and numbers of time & nature are irreducible facts.  We take physical pleasure - perhaps even physical health - in the octave and the circle of fifths and the pythagorean triangle & the shapes and colors of leaves & sky & fresh air.  But when Stevens, say, writes that "poetry is the sanction of life," I don't think he's granting poetry such prestige simply because of its ability to mimic or model the physical harmonies of nature.  The freedom of the poet to find and articulate intellectual harmony - another name for it might be justice - functions at the active, living center of the purely aesthetic or natural harmonies.
So these general notions of the poet's role have some implications for prosody, perhaps.  The sovereign freedom of the poetic word moves toward musical harmony or against it, at will.
The general ground I'm trying to sketch out here, though, doesn't support the arguments of the free verse wing any more than it does the New Formalist.  I repeat my comment posted yesterday:  the argument that WCW/Rakosi style imagism or impressionism allows nature or reality access to the poem, in a way that a more rhythmically-patterned prosody (such as some of Stevens') does not, avoids the whole issue of pattern and regularity and form in nature.  The coherences of formal repetition in poetry can represent the fantastically interwoven coherences of natural ecology:  the subsuming of line to stanza to poem can mirror the overlay of forces and powers which move through time and space, and also the overlay of themes and meanings which the poet wants to emphasize or interlace.  These patterns have at least as much reality as the contingent perceptions of the romantic imagist.


I've added Allen Bramhall's tributary to my blog links.  I've been told we may be giving a reading together next month, up in the Hill-uv-Beans to the north (otherwise known as The HuB).  I haven't given a reading in 700 years, to be precise.
He's back at the Hotel
Latta on Loons.
The loon is the poet of that gloomy solitary different (sometimes beautifully bright & clear) landscape (north woods).
I've entered loon call contests in Ely, MN & Minneapolis.  With no more success  than the poetry contests, aw shucks.
Kent's essay, noted below, links prosody to what was perhaps the main divide in 20th-cent. American poetries - bigger than that between "raw vs. cooked" or "New American vs. New Critical" (at least before the advent of deconstruction and langpo, anyway) :  the divide between symbolist/"idealist" and objectivist/"realist"  (Stevens/Crane/Eliot vs. Williams/Pound/Zukofsky, for example).
The divide represents a sort of inherent conundrum of thought & perception.  B.J. Leggett's book Wallace Stevens and Poetic Theory argues that Stevens actually played both sides, pondering & negotiating his way around issues of imagination & reality.  His skill in doing so registered in the fascination, controversy, sheer volume of criticism of same.
I'm always jealous of this kind of well-organized well-informed essay.  But leaning as I do toward the Stevens end of the spectrum, I guess, I have a few quibbles.  There's a value judgement being made:  the line which includes Rakosi is supposed to represent a humbler, more active/passive, more direct apprehension of "things as they is"; Stevens' mode is seen as imposing a priori categories of interpretation on experience.
A problem with this analysis arises, though, when you grant the possibility that reality itself and the things of reality display order, logos, Dike, Tao.  Then the self-reflexive and circling "prosodies" - the rhythmic patterns which Kent describes so succinctly - may be understood as poetry's function or capability to evoke or represent such a situation of "realities-within-Logos".  And this may be, ultimately, at least as realist as the more indicative particulars of the WC Williams vein.


I'm going to read this essay of Kentjay's on Stevens, Rakosi, & prosody!
& speaking of prosody, if you want to know why Herman Melville was one of the greatest - or at least one of the most technically-adept and ingenious - writers in English of the 19th-century, take a look at Viola Sachs' book Game of Creation.  Despite its eccentricities, Sachs's book makes it pretty clear that Melville's prosody in Moby-Dick involved a level of organization which is nothing short of astounding.  We are talking about symbolic values of syllable-count, numerology, esoteric sound-meaning & etymology, which rival or outdo Joyce.  The book is an immense cipher, a deeply-coded array.  Here is a prosody not based on strictly rhythmic pattern/variation, which nevertheless encrypts layer upon layer of meanings.  Such a "prose" prosody could also find applications in "free" verse.
My two half-beats toward the prosody discussion:
read an interesting book once by David Keppel-Jones, The Strict Metrical Tradition.   Focusing only on iambic pentameter, he describes very specific innovations, starting with Spenser, through Matthew Arnold, which made it the powerful mode it was.
But every era in language & poetry develops its own approaches to rhythm.  I don't think the special pleading for form or freedom really helps much.  The formalists have done a service by keeping the issue alive at all; but it seems like there may be a fundamental misprision in taking prosodic analysis (which is always belated) and applying it prescriptively to the craft itself.  Even the particular innovations outlined by Keppel-Jones grew out of a specific literary milieu, which is not our milieu today. 
I have no problem with Mike's promotion of accentual-syllabic practice; if he can help bring it back into circulation, all power to him.  But the claims that it is better than free verse, that free verse can't express meaning as well (because it doesn't have a pattern against which to project variations) - this seems needlessly categorical.  A milieu that supports both approaches is the one most able to generate new rhythmic discoveries and capabilities.
In my own poetry, I've counted beats and not counted beats; I've worked within set patterns (both given forms & ones I've invented), and not.  Everyone has their own distinctive feel for rhythm.  When I think of how I work, it seems to me that I revise a poem intuitively until it has a requisite smoothness or "elegance" according to my own standards; I focus on sound values per se and on the symbolic (mathematical) values of line-count and stanza forms, while at the same time aiming for a rhythm which is not clumsy, jarring, perfunctory or seemingly random.  What I dislike more than almost anything in the poetry I read, is the sort of casual lineation - line-breaks which simply chop up the sentence any old way.  This lazy practice makes for very dull reading.  Rhyme, for me, adds interest and tension to line-breaks.


Out of the blog loop (or "bloop") these days. Poem (which I've been excerpting here) somewhat in abeyance, have been working on novel novel idea. Using index cards, it feels right. Also reading a lot of Melville & other boat books.

Wrote here a few weeks ago about the book Hamlet's Mill, which explores the links between archaic star-mapping and storytelling (myths). Melville basically replicated this process in his odd puzzle-novel Mardi. All the characters, all the events in the book are personifications of astronomical-astrological readings using the typical star almanacs of the time (an 1845 almanac, to be precise). Mariners were the last great Babylonian star-gazers. This is all brought to light in Maxine Moore's study, That Lonely Game (Missouri UP, 1975). ("That lonely game" is solitaire, or sol-itaire, or writing.)


Have been sort of busy/distracted lately, not much bloggin'.

Interesting juxtaposition in this week's New Yorker : excellent review of the "Bush dynasty" books, talks about how George W. views the current situation as a religious war; then in article about contemporary Egypt, quoting confident young Islamist who has the same opinion. Feel like we're regressing to Middle Ages, when there is no distinction between faith and politics, theology and ideology. Where is Roger Williams? Help, Rog!!

latest sketch (from Shakespeare's Head):


Hobo hides his head in the sumac shade
of deep July. Way overhead, titanium scouts
penetrate the misty rings of Saturn. Motes
of moons shepherd the circling parade

while Hobo doodles his own star-map, out
beyond Babylon – talking in his sleep beside
the iron railroad tracks, before time was.
Before the golden Cyprus oak was rooted

(quercus alnifolia), before Venus turned
and tumbled beneath its limbs, before
the pantheon was knit (the yarns of yore);
when his iron heart (spurned) yearned

(magnetic) for the light of those eyes
more gold than golden (slow surprise).


On a curtain-sleeve (painted in Paradise-
Byzantium) the adamantine letters

will not be effaced. Through shadow
of death and laughter of jackals,
through snarling gods, sheep-killers,
armies of neighbors, they go

on shining, they go on shining
through derision, through the dark.
Until that day – Hist! Hark!
I have it!
– you grasp their meaning:

on that benevolent summer day
in the heart of July, when you know
the bowl cannot be broken: Love’s vow
rings Time itself with titanic mastery.