I guess this is a problem I have, talking too much about my own writing. I come across as self-centered, selfish, solipsistic, egotistical. Too true, maybe. The accusation has been made. Then again, maybe you could look at it as someone caught up in his work.

I don't write much about contemporaries. Some poets around my age are much better at that, much more attuned to the other poets around them. Again, perhaps egotism could account for it. On the other hand, the path I've taken - as I see it from inside, anyway - led through the poetries of the late 60s & early 70s, back through the Bible & Shakespeare & Renaissance poetries, then the Russians, then the Moderns & some postmoderns. . . & in a way I feel satiated with poetry & as if there's enough there already to inspire, annoy & motivate me. . .

WCW, Pound, Crane, Olson. . . all of them felt strongly the dilemma of balancing the contemporary with the past achievements. In large part in reaction to Eliot's powerful schema for same. & simply put, I was greatly influenced by the readability, flair, intensity, sound-richness, of Crane, in relation to these others. I liked the organic consistency of The Bridge in comparison with some of the flat & slack stretches of some of the others, the way it climbs & climbs.
Mr. Silliman, in his post on R.Duncan today, touches on the design of modern long poems, and the vexed question of how parts relate to wholes in these big, often seemingly unbounded "life-works".

Somebody intrepid other than me will have to figure out someday how or how well the 3 books + coda of Forth of July compare/relate to this particular issue. But since that doesn't seem to be happening anytime soon, I will just throw in here that the capability of beginning the poem came from an examination of Mandelstam's sequences of linked short poems & their variants. So the 1st chapter of Stubborn Grew grew out of a sense of the possibility of doing something similar. Then the 2nd chapter ("Ancient Light") took that a step further, creating an autobiographical mini-narrative out of more-closely linked individual pieces. Then the 3rd & 4th chapters ("Once in Paradise" + "Two Cats at the Atheneum") took it another step further, mixing autobiography with both local history and a sort of "magic realism" (the Bluejay walk-on). Thus concluded the 1st Part of Stubborn. The 2nd Part of same also contains 4 chapters, which constitute a kind of retroversion to autobiography mixed with parody (the 1st 2 chapters parody the Cantos; the 4th and last chapter parodies Finnegans Wake). This 4th, Finnegan chapter, basically runs the entirety of the previous sections (Stubborn 1-7) through a Wakean-Viconian ricorso, ie. re-enacts & repeats them through a Joyce-Irish slang machine.

Moving on to Book Two of Forth of July : The Grassblade Light. But I've gone over this ground before on this blog, so I will simply say that this central book of the poem is a highly-configured array of 7 separate-yet-consecutive poems.

Book Three (July) and the Coda (Blackstone's Day-Book), again, have their own distinct design (though the whole poem is structured on a variety of rhymed quatrains). Whether it all works & "makes sense" is for someone else to decide. But I think that the particular way I handle autobiography & narrative & part-to-whole structure tends to aim for a middle ground between the expansive "life-work" (say of Leaves of Grass) and the more autonomous, objectified shape of Crane's Bridge. Zukofsky managed this too, with "A".

But folks, ya know, I'm tellin ya, people like me represent an alternative history of "New American poetry", which has traveled far beneath the radar of the anthologies & the literary historicists & canonizers. They have no idea what I been doin' over there in Forth of July-land & the Island Road sonnets etc.


Poetry : a stone fallen from heaven.
No one judges it.

- Mandelstam

(I play a lot with this "stone" metaphor in Forth of July, what with "William Blackstone" & his timewarp-boomerang "black stone" at the Dome of the Rock, & the otfe (meteorite) stones of the ark of the covenant, & the glittering "jewel-eye", the "almond" (mandel) of Jubilee at the center of Time. . .)


There is no connection between Stone & the Rolling Stones, as far as I know. Stone was published in 1979, some years after I spoke with Keith Richards (at his rehearsal studio in Richmond, outside London) about the Mick Taylor replacement job. To my knowledge I have never been a member of that band. If you see me on any of their albums, consider it some kind of pirated edition.

Come to think of it, considering the fact that I have walked talked & diddled in near proximity to this library ("the Rock") for nigh on 30 years, with only a few interruptions, you might say that the essentialist core of my identity consists in being a non-rolling stone.

I'm on a roll today.
I was in Hahvahd Squirrel Saturday night, after the reading. There was a 4-pc street band playing 60s music. I had me E harp with me, which is not as useful as you might think, but they started playing "Sympathy for the Devil" so I went up to the mike & joined right in. Of course they were a bit miffed to have the devil actually join them (but what's confusing you, is the nature of my game. . .). We had something of a mini-Altamont moment, though no limbs or instruments were broken. How could they know I was just coming down from a poetry reading. . .
David Hess has set up a handy Bramhall e-connector, so you can read for yourself.
Happy to notice Allen's early interest in Robert Benchley. Yes, he could have a big influence on poetry. Robert Benchley was my absolute favorite writer & hero when I was about 12. I wanted to write like him & I tried. (Started an independent school paper just so I could do Benchley-like routines on the weekly happenings around the old prison yard.)
Allen Bramhall seems a little like a solitary miner who's struck a vein, or an old New England water dowser with his birch-twig divining rod, out in the woods. His sentences don't describe anything directly, but you see things; there's nothing programmatic about his "abstraction", instead his poems convey a lot of feeling, without asking the reader to acknowledge anything in particular. He can be ironic, even sardonic, without being sarcastic or edgy in the usual (boring) ways. Much of his humor turns gradually outward and then back at himself. His work is fun to read, but it was good to hear him read: maybe he should get together with Jim Behrle for some audio sessions, & put out some sound blogs.


I have to get Sarah at the train station in a few minutes, a bit rushed here. But feeling warm & happy about Cambridge reading yesterday, courtesy of the mysterious Jim Behrle. Happy to meet Allen Bramhall & Beth, and hear him read his [afraid to use conventional adjective] poetry, which I enjoyed a great deal.

A fine thing today to see Allen had been reading my poems in Stone (written 30 yrs ago) & liking something he read.

About the photo : it was taken on Houston St, in my high school friend Chris Kraemer's loft looking over at the World Trade Center, in 1975. Chris was a promising photographer in NY, who made a living as a builder (he is an archetypal Finn from MN, whose dad ran a hardware store there). He knew some bigshot artists at the time, Vito Acconci, Susan Acolella(? - don't know who I'm talking about). Also a whacky Russian sculptor named Ernst Niesvestny. When Stone was published, Chris arranged a little party at his studio someplace in Williamsburg. I remember sitting on a huge wooden crucifix sculpture he had laid out on the floor, being toasted with vodka. The title Stone, of course, was an imitation of Mandelstam's first book, Kamen ("Stone") - an acronym of akme ("acmeism"). So this party felt appropriate. Chris married a New Zealand clothing designer so she could get a green card, & they ended up staying together & having kids. He lives out in the Bay Area now. That's his typewriter & cot (I use a Sears Constellation myself). I was living with them for a few months in NY, helping Chris on interior painting jobs etc, before going over to London to try to take Mick Taylor's place in the Rolling Stones.

(p.s. Monday morning : through Denny Moers, a former student of Robert Creeley & studio assistant to Aaron Siskind, I was able to get an actual Siskind photo for the cover of Stone - some sections of Inca wall in Cuzco. The Inca/stone/Mandelstam/Vallejo configuration shows up 25 yrs later in the penultimate sections of Forth of July. Yesterday was the traditional anniversary, by the way, not only of the death of John the Baptist, but of the execution of Atahualpa, the last Inca ruler.)

Here's a lopside photo of the photo Allen wrote about. More later (wish I could figure out how to flip this). Posted by Hello


torque x risk - quietude + hebetude/hesychasm divided by sq.rt. divagation = nift (don't ask me what this means. I am going on the hypothesis that there is no connection with "nifty")
Here's Jonathan on the aforementioned latin bit. (& he becomes reader # 8 of Stubborn Grew, the book that changed history (at least until the Johnson-Silliman Pact of 2004, outlined by that Walden guy) - thanks - & congratulations!).

I would never think of Robert Creeley in relation to that notion. Ars et celare artem makes me think, not so much of plainness & simplicity, as of a kind of crafty guile, combined with all sorts of indirections, including perhaps a surface moderation or transparency. But Jonathan's concept may be more accurate.

This gets me to Jordan's aside on "depth". I'll have to think a little more deeply about this. Somewhere in the book Hamlet's Mill, mentioned here a while back, there is something about archaic astronomy-astrology as the search for. . . man, now I can't think of the word! It's not consistency. . . it's not continuity. . . but it's like that. . . it's like a philosophical term for steady duration, a pattern which remains the same. . .

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that it seems to me that hermeneutics or interpretation of art works often involves searching for the deep motive, the wellspring which connects all the dots, the answer to why an artist or writer chose this particular obscure symbol or image or emphasis.

The presence of such a motivating plot or plan is one signature of depth. You could also talk about an artwork's "emotional depth", but such is usually brought, paradoxically, to the surface (the crisis, the denouement). Depth of purpose, on the other hand, often remains hidden & disguised - and the reason for this is because there is the deepest emotional commitment to the deep-ocean argument which actually triggered the work in the first place.


Spiritual Charity is the real motor of social change. Lovingkindness - unselfish, not proud, not greedy, based on pure natural supernatural affection & devotion - the spiritual force adumbrated most eloquently in Paul's epistle - this is the force behind the betterment of life everywhere on earth, in all its facets and modes.

Because spiritual Charity lends meaning to this familiar Gospel comment : "The greatest among you shall be your servant." That explains everything about both mercy and social justice.

Lookin fo de Day ob Jubilee.
Good op-ed piece by Robert Pinsky in today's NY Times, about Czeslaw Milosz.
follow-up thought to previous...

Each literary work does reflect a particular emotional tenor - or an amalgam of several. And there are plenty of works in which the writer's very labor at craft crowds out the subject or impression he or she is attempting to convey, so that the emotional tenor and/or the tone of the writing itself come across as shallow. The author shows his/her hand.

This is one of the implications of a certain rubric I'm fond of repeating : ars est celare artem (art conceals its art).
"Risk"... ya waal, as t'that I agrees wid de doorman.

Mister Ron's analysis appear to be the beginning of another of them dichotometoys, whereas there's high-style "good" (read bad) writing, vussus adorable lovabobble "bad" (read good) writing, ie. "risky".

We's have here a level of critical artifice which subsedes even the artifice of bad good writing! Follow me?

All "risk" in literature is calculated, hence not real risk. Unreal risk - very risky!

I personally will accept any degree of good writing. Bring it on baby, sez.
the revolution will be televised on Saturday. take careful note of yellow-black scarf. (this woman was arrested for infiltrating Newish American Poetry last week without the required literary stretch limo.) Note the SOA phono-volumetric earrings.


Perhaps, henceforth, considering the new cultural climate sweeping the nation (behold the swarming anthologies!), we should refer to "poetasters" as potato-tasters????
I can already feel the cultural waves rippling through society from the Johnson-Silliman rapprochement, announced here.

For instance, take a look at the new Potato Poetics. The potato is a risk-taker : observe how furiously they plunge into the earth in raw chunks as into a scrap-heap, then evolve into vast, blowsy (frankly, somewhat ugly) green stalks & leaves, all the while fobbulating those knobbly grey tubers underground. There is nothing like a risk-taking Poetato.
The word in poetry, as an end-in-itself (we read it for its own sake), is in that sense like a person, or like the cosmos considered as a creation or work of art.

It has been popular for quite a while to emphasize the transitive nature of art, how its value lies in the fact that it leads to something else, that it represents possibility rather than telos (end, purpose).

But a major quality of aesthetic experience is stillness, intransitive repose. The thing at rest in equilibrium - or better, active in equilibrium.

The poetic word inhabits a borderland, a dawn/dusk liminal area, between the visible & the invisible, known/unknown, things/values, being/intellect, time/eternity. Out of this well emerges mysterious water.


Poetry epitomizes and sums up what language does (or what we do with language) in practical life.
Why poetry? I mean, why do we do this?

We take aesthetic pleasure in words, what language does?

That, and something else. With language we acknowledge, define, order, shape what we experience. This is a techne intimately fused with that which it represents. With poetic speech we "surround ourselves with domestic utensils, the warmth of the hearth" (Mandelstam's description of the poetics of Acmeism - "domestic hellenism". He was doing this in deliberate contrast to the more otherworldly & abstract qualities of Russian Symbolism).

The equilibrium of artifice - craft, techne - and nature is at the root of civilization.

So perhaps we can recognize a certain solemn (&/or playful) objectivity, disinterestedness, at work in poetry - a reflection or emanation of the poet's serious effort to follow & express truth - the poet's equivalent of the philosopher's or scientist's activity.

The image of "the city" in art (as I said, I'm reading about medieval Siena), representing an ideal of equilibrium between know-how & nature, individual & community. (And hidden within every image of the city is that of a garden.)

The word bears the techne of a global equilibrium (Mandelstam also foresaw this). When he talked about the poem as "like unto an Egyptian bark of the dead, carrying everything necessary for life" - he was talking about the word-itself as a sort of Noah's ark.

The curious focus in the American long poem on the local, the city. The unavoidable and only shared "here & now" where any real equilibrium (political, cultural, natural) becomes possible.
Jim Chapin wants me to play harmonica & countrified piano for a new CD this fall. This will be fun. The 3 of us (Jim, Colette & I) have been playing farmer's markets this summer. The jug band fits in well. People come up & ask for obscure old 20s tunes, which of course Jim knows. He has a homemade songbook the size of a phone book. He is the thing itself - sort of a Hank Williams/Brownie McGhee. Colette is also the real thing. She plays her grandfather's violin, which he made himself in his chicken coop-workshop up in Quebec, back in the 20s or so.

I'm not exactly the real thing but I'm a good improvisor. It helps (occasionally) if the harp player is a little bit of a ham.
Reading these days:

books about the Comune of Siena (1200s-1400s). & the artwork produced there.

my wonderful library.

(pondering where to go with a new poem-project.)

very worn out lately. trying to think about Wordsworth Bookstore reading. I will probably not be reading a lot of Wordsworth.


strange juxtaposition : defense of Olympic medals, defense of Kerry medals (Bronze & Silver STARS for valor a few decades yonder)
I will be reading so-called poetry with Allen Bramhall at Wordsworth Bookstore, in Cambridge (Harvard Sq.) this Saturday, Aug. 28th, 5 pm. Courtesy of Jim Behrle. Admission is free. Omission? That will be $5. So see you there!


Most of the time I have about 3-4 writing projects in mind, for which I'm jotting down notes.

When I actually start writing poetry, it usually feels like a release from the burden of all those plans, & has nothing to do with them.

Something similar with music : I often do better when I haven't played or practiced for a while.

Is this because I'm left-handed? A gemini? Lazy? All of the above?


Saw my friend Tom after work. He is just back from another trip to St. Petersburg, where he saw Elena Shvarts, who is living on an air mattress in her burnt-out apartment. She lost a lot of personal things & art work, but most of her manuscripts are safe. She is a bird-like (I mean really bird-like - under 5 ft, under 100 lbs) woman in her mid-50s. Her mother died a few months before the apt. fire.

Tom told some good Petersburg stories. Just before he left for there, he was in line at a car repair shop, and ahead of him in line was the other Tom Epstein in Providence, whom he had never met, who was also having a similar problem with his car. This is a Petersburgian happening.

Tom lent me a copy of Elena's prose book, Vidimaia Storona Zhizni (I will translate later). According to Tom, there's a story about me in it, disguised as a character named "Silver" (since she thinks of me as H. Gold). Looking forward to trying to read this...

[p.s. who knows, possibly she was referring to. . . - or maybe. . .]


A lot of claims are made for poetry. Poetry is made the vehicle for every memory, passion, ideal and value under the sun.

I've been one of the worst dabblers in that pursuit, I know. (I wrote, for example, about how poetry's special form of representation allies it with religious vision.) But today I'm focused on a notion of poetry's uniqueness, its separateness.

Poetry does something unique to words, shepherds them into its own aesthetic field. Poetry is essentially an art form, the art of language per se (as opposed to the "language" of visual art, or music, or film, etc.).

Aesthetic response - that is, response at least to some degree self-conscious - begins here, in the recognition of poetry's proper, independent sphere. All poetry, in a sense, creates its own world ex nihilo. When we approach it thus on its own terms, we can respond to what it does with the materials of the ordinary world which it absorbs and remakes - harmonizes into its special poetry-materials. And with this recognition, maybe we can moderate some of the magic thinking which sometimes asks too much of poetry (politically, spiritually, intellectually, etc.).

I guess all this is pretty elementary & obvious. As per.

But I like the idea of looking again & again at the most general, universal concepts about it. Because this is a way to make what is most ancient, foreign, and different, appear close and familiar. I guess this is an acmeist, a Mandelstamian idea (or proto-Mandelstamian), a Bergsonian notion - discovering anachronistic, cross-cultural affinities.

The sense of working in a timeless, universal medium, with long views & deep traditions - doesn't this affect how we speak verse, how we make lines? Where we try to stand in this playground?


the earlier poem In RI is more "objective", documentary, evidentiary in that sense. Not yet available to the public, though the mysterious Anny Ballardini has translated in toto into italian (as I've mentioned here before). Someday the bilingual edition will be pubblicato.

that poem celebrates Roger Williams & New-Englandy independence - contrasting Rhode Island city-state and Boston theocracy - but the story is overshadowed & undershadowed by the stark suffering & injustices of pioneer days (Narragansetts, Quakers, women, especially).
I guess township democracy was of a piece with pre-industrial do-it-yourself pioneer life. You grew your own crops, made your own homes, tools, clothing, etc. (with the help of family, hired hands, indentured servants & sometimes slaves). & you do your own municipal democracy.

things have gotten a bit more centralized, professionalized, & technical since then, yah? but people still get involved.

Stubborn Grew touched on some of these things in RI experience. The Dorr War (over extending the franchise to non-property owners), populism, slavery, Newport gilded age, Nelson Aldrich & the corruption of state politics, etc.

But the poem doesn't really examine them. There's no dispassionate observer, no lingering over historical events. The narrator of SG is deeply corroded, you might say. There's more to be said about this, but enough blah blah for now. SG's divided narrator (Henry-Bluejay) is bound up in an interior psychodrama for which local history is mostly furniture.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, though it goes against the grain of certain modernist ideals.


Charles Olson started working on poetry after he dropped out of his job as apparatchik for Democratic Party, right? Or something like that. With a sense of disillusionment.

Someone could do a history poem (in Olson & WCW vein) based on investigations & juxtapositions of "democracy" as global phenomenon, as a project of states & multinational groupings - "democracy in Middle East/Asia/Africa/South America" etc. - juxtaposed, that is, with historical roots in New England local politics (sovereignty of the people out of village town meetings). What it all means to have a superpower on a democracy mission compared to the felt reality of actual civic life (what that used to mean, what it amounts to now).

(Been reading de Tocqueville lately.)

I might even try doing this myself, if you don't get there first.
Jonathan's comments on translation & Milosz are interesting. But to say you have a unique aversion to translation's effects seems a little like special pleading. Obviously the reader has to make allowances. But a diet consisting solely of poetry in the original would exclude a lot of readers, for one thing, and impoverish poetry in general on the other. Poetry thrives on translation and mongrelization.

Jonathan's aversion (should this be a name for a symptom?) is connected also with what seems to me to be a rather narrow focus on surface elements of style. Some of the awkwardnesses of Milosz might even be seen as virtues, if the telos or overall motive of his poems is viewed from a different angle (say, in Poundian jargon, through the lens of logopeia rather than solely through melopeia).

He's probably right, though, that much of the clumsiness is due to the translating.


the region of writing per se.
Good read here - Gander/Johnson voyage to Bolivia & haunts of Jaime Saenz.

Now there is a poet who created a distinct, autonomous region for making poems, outside the sphere of "reception". I'm not saying you have to be a whacko drug-addicted mystical impoverished quondam-fascist Bolivian in order to find such a region. But you have to find it.
Milosz does come across as a little slow & stolid, compared with the eccentric brilliance of Aleksandr Wat, for example. But his other fine qualities outweigh all that. His luminous simplicity, patience, metaphysical hope.

There's a fascinating book of conversations between Milosz & Wat, basically an oral history of Wat's incredible life, in the context of 20th-cent. Polish literary & political history (titled My Century).
Good poets often find good translators.

Good poetry sometimes breaks through - to some degree at least - translation's inherent barriers.

If all you can see in Milosz is flatness & dullness. . . oh well.

The new benchmark for US poetry (judging from Boston Poetry Massacre reports) appears to be "stand-up surrealism".

Y'all pass my effeteness test.


Received "Dear John" letters from 2 poetry book contests last week - one on Thurs. the 12th, one on Sat. the 14th. Friday the 13th came in between, as we know. "Hallelujah! I'm a bum."

Ides of August.

When I am old may my sadness gleam.
I was born in Rome; it has come back to me;
My she-wolf was kind in autumn;
August - month of Caesars - smiled on me.

- O. Mandelstam

("may my sadness gleam" : goes back to a line from Pushkin, "my sadness is luminous" : which goes way back, through Orthodox tradition, to Byzantium, and the icon tradition of "luminous sadness" (there was a Greek technical term for this, a rendering of pathos).
A great poet died on Saturday. You could say that "the real, not the calendar 20th century" ended yesterday too.

There was a good obituary for Czeslaw Milosz in the NY Times front section this morning, which included several of his poems.

(Seem to hear a little of Whitman & Eliot technique in his lines. Especially Whitman. That sort of patient, stately-humble reticulation of ordinary things, landscapes & people, rivers & trees. Simple, sonorous, direct.)

American poetry could learn quite a lot from the literary values he projects. It's not easy to write this way - simple, direct, yet not-so-simple, not-so-direct. His style stands as a kind of rebuke to shallow formalists & experimentalists alike.

I know what was left for smaller men like me:
A feast of brief hopes, a rally of the proud,
A tournament of hunchbacks, literature.

And this:

I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it's still a strange pageant,
Women's dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born,
Derived from the people, but also from radiance, heights.

This early poem, too:


We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.
And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.
That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.
O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

Vilnius, 1936

A memorial in Gdansk to shipyard workers shot by police in the early 70s carries these lines of his:

You who harmed a simple man, do not feel secure: for a poet remembers.


Josh, Jordan & Jonathan on literary value & "scarcity".

Maybe in order to write something of genuine value, poets somehow have to make themselves scarce (from the literary-professional marketplace).

I don't mean that they have to opt out of contests & readings & magazine submissions. But they have to find some mental or physical space apart from the whole realm of "reception".

This will sound artificial, hypocritical, unnecessarily restrictive, if not impossible.

But if we think of the hypothetical attentive reader of poetry, we might imagine someone who also creates a kind of private order or realm of receptivity and awareness - through a patient attention to literary values and meanings.

I'm suggesting a kind of disinterested aesthetic objectivity. If one is willing to admit such a creative/receptive, writerly/readerly realm exists - even if its borders are ambiguous, perhaps invisible - then the simple fact of its existence renders issues of "quantity" (the massive number of competing voices, the supposed Darwinian/commercial unfairness of publication and prestige, the theoretical divide between "establishment" poetry and true-believer in-the-know avant-garde, etc. etc.) somehow beside the point, a major distraction from the ongoing unpredictable life of poetry.


I left out the most basic "structural analogy" between poetic language and theism : the fact that a poem or work of art is a "creation from nothing" : somewhat autonomous and complete-in-itself.

Thinking unsystematically (that's for sure) past few days about these issues. Keith Ward leaves out feminist perspective. The maleness of the Trinity (at least in most of its representations, which admittedly are only representations, but same are powerful).

Theology of Dante, pivoting cosmos on his memory of girlfriend Beatrice. Joyce in Ulysses & FW.

The poet, the artist, seeks happiness(?) in state of equilibrium which only creative process itself provides. And this process hinges on emotional resonances, love & desire, which are at least as much feminine as masculine.

Jesus (imagined) from psychological perspective. Man without an "earthly" father. Orphan.

(Presence, role of "J" or "Juliet" in Forth of July.)

"Enarees" were the effeminate soothsayers of the Scythians (cf. Herodotus).

Effeminate image of "poets" in American culture.

(Giving birth to a poem. The 3rd vol. of Forth of July is titled July.)


I guess Jack Kimball was criticizing me (in his post of Fri. 8/6). I could be wrong. It's hard to tell sometimes where he's directing his barbs.

My ruminations are often belabored, for sure. But I don't think it's impossible to understand what I'm saying. The point about poetic mimesis:

If you believe, or at least accept the possibility, that nature, the universe, reflects some kind of spiritual order, some creative beauty, signs of consciousness - the means or meaning or purpose of which may be far beyond our comprehension - yet nevertheless it seems there - then, among the many possible means of its representation (its mimesis) - scientific discourse, prose argument, etc. - poetry might exhibit some special capabilities. Why? Because its means are "number", vivid (vitalist) imagery, and metaphor. What you might call a structural analogy could be in effect, which relates the beauty-in-itself of poetic language to the beauty-in-itself of creation. ("Number, weight, and measure" - cf. Augustine's classic defense of sacred music - his definition of which included poetry).

The vitalism of poetry is one of its throwback qualities - G. Vico has a lot to say about this. A world ruled by spiritual forces is certainly archaic and unscientific, and a religious perspective for today would have to take this into account (cf. Keith Ward's books, Religion and Revelation and Religion and Creation). One of the big contemporary problems is the way sacred scriptures which are essentially poetic in nature are fronted with doctrinaire, literalist polemics - the new superstition.


Now I wish I hadn't said anything about religion & poetry.

In a certain sense, it seems irrelevant. Poetry absorbs everything & turns it into itself. Response & criticism have to be aesthetic, not burdened with excess mental baggage. [p.s. if you read Alan Bramhall's blog, you eventually notice brief 1-line responses to poets he's heard or read, which are pretty direct & disinterested, not related to any obvious program or philosophy or allegiance. This is refreshing. Yes, full disclosure, I am giving a reading with AB later this month. But I've never met him, I only just happened upon his blog, because Jim Behrle, in the infinite burly depth of his behrlehood, stepped out of mutual poet-catpiss-contests & surprisingly invited me to read in Beantown.]

This whole issue has been an irresolvable knot for me, for a long long time.

Because one aspect of the experience of making poetry has been a certain impulse toward "purity", which seems quasi-religious in itself. The effort of composition has always felt like a refining-away of dead or unoriginal or inauthentic speech (often unsuccessful). Always threatened by distraction or the temptation to cut corners. But even more prevalent is the time spent not writing, because the concept or inspiration or feeling of access was not there.

Another aspect, for me, is indeed the religious impulse or motivation. One of the recurrent conceptual frames, to which I return again & again in my thinking, is the idea that the mode of poetry is a specific kind of mimesis or picture-making, which models the livingness or the living-order of reality, that is, of a possibly spiritually-sentient or spiritually-meaningful cosmos : Aristotle's "universals" (cf. Poetics). This capability differentiates poetry from other kinds of discourse. & so, thanks to this capability, poetry-making becomes a special mode of witness & interpretation, a special kind of meaning-making.

I realize however that even these momentous capabilities are only one aspect of poetry. Turn the figure around, and you recognize its character as a free, autonomous artistic creation : a product of a play-field, with no necessary mimetic or utilitarian function. (I refer once again to Mandelstam's brilliant resolution of this impasse : where, in one of his essays, he asserts that the freedom of Western art is an outgrowth of the historical event of the Redemption : Christ's world-saving sacrifice allows art to become utterly free of external obligation or constraint; the world is already saved, if you're willing to recognize it : art doesn't need to save it!)

But if you are interested in encountering my particular poetry, then you will want to understand that the general function of mimesis, outlined above, is, in my case, elaborated within a particular orientation : my own set of beliefs, commitments, hunches, experiences & assumptions.

The application of an Orphic framework to Stubborn Grew - by going back to the ur-poet & his descent to the world of the dead - was an attempt at origination or poetic priority : in order to frame the set "poetry" within the field "Henry's worldview". On another level, the Orpheus story just seemed like the most natural narrative embodiment for human (& personal) feelings of love, forlornness, & healing/rebirth. On a third level, it offers possibilities for syncretism (I was interested in the Native American background & presence behind any New World long poem endeavor). "Bluejay", the real bird in my backyard who became a hermetic ghost-guide, is the protagonist of Orpheus-tales from Northwest Coast tribes (as I know I've mentioned oftentimes before.)


Reading Keith Ward's book (Religion & Revelation) mentioned here recently. A lot of food for thought.

A Christian perspective, but develops a concept of revelation which is inclusive without relativism, acknowledges parallels & affinities with other faiths. Fascinating commentary on Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism.

Faith can't be simply equated with a body of opinions, information or knowledge, which a person can accumulate and then assent to, and assert to others. If God exists, revelation is a divine self-revelation, meant not to convey information but to enter into a relationship, to change your life.

Thinking (in this space) about my "poetry life" through this book's lens. My relations with "poetry community", so ambiguous, ambivalent, sometimes conflicted & frustrating.

A large part of it is simply my ornery personality. Another aspect, though, has to do with the fact that religion has played such a big role in my life. For some, this is less problematic, since they understand how to keep a seemly distance between creative literary efforts on the one hand, and their faith-commitments on the other.

For me it's been more complicated. My "faith life" has been stormy & dramatic (at least for me). Charismatic events when I was in my early 20s had an irreversible effect on my view of things - and those (personal) experiences were tangled up with poetry and writing. A poet is a communicator, a purveyor of speech & verbalized concepts : with me, literary ambitions and religious commitments have been mixed together, mixed-up & confused sometimes (much times!).

Aside from my personal quirks, though, I think that another factor in the aforementioned ambivalence arose from an inherent dialectic - a contrast - between religious vision and poetics or literature per se. This dialectic was brought to the fore, in my case, by the simple effort to balance or combine the two. Magnified also by something in the genres themselves : the prestige or authority of the epic mode, as "poem containing history". Because Christianity, more so than some other faiths, is rooted in particular historical events (though their "historicity" is highly contended). One doesn't need to be obsessed with "the historical Jesus" to grasp that this particular faith - in which the Divine enters directly into history in order to save humankind and creation itself - and which calls believers into a new spiritual Now - might result in epic shapings quite different from those offered by Pound, Crane, Zukofsky, et al.

My own long poems are probably too wayward to be acceptable as "Christian" works. But the background motivation is there : to re-write the American epic on a very different ground. One way to look at Forth of July is as a "transumption" (sort of a surpassing-through-osmosis, or stealing) of Modernist epic. I "underwrote" Crane, Pound & Joyce in Stubborn Grew: I contextualized them in the plot of a Mardi Gras/Lenten shriving/redemption : and then in the sequels I practiced a kind of ghost dance/resurrection spiritual ecstatics, flying off into deep American vision-space.

To take on the epic this way was a fairly radical gesture, I'd say, within the "progressive" poetry community. Radical in a religious sense, also: for the Christian, "the Word" is not a material-in-itself, an aesthetic commodity, but something else entirely.

I realize that to blend discourses this way, to speak so baldly of faith, is a recipe for alienating others through misunderstanding and settled notions (especially in today's divisive, overheated discourse world). But this is my form of "personism", like it or not.


Here be Ron Silliman's extended encomiae (have I got that right, Gabe?) to Charles Bernstein's new book The Sophist.

Wagrant thoughts: a sophist is a professional rhetor, one who makes the daily bread by means of a persuasive appeal to Wisdom presented appealingly. Criticized, I believe, by Plato, whose notion of the transcendent Truth precluded a simple 2-step verbalization (ie. 1. Truth is; 2. I'm telling it to you). Maybe Aristotle too, who wanted a more disinterested Logic.

Bernstein works out an interesting confluence of Langpo & NY School attitudes; he imitates Ashbery, who perfected the wry self-negating/self-persuasive zennish non sequitur ("Beautifully the words reveal there is nothing to say." - HG imitating JA).

So to title a book The Sophist is classic self-deprecatory/self-affirming - disarming the critic beforehand.

Ashbery (& Bernstein) take the self-reflexive, narcissistic quality of poetry - inescapable, since poetry is the word, unlike any other language use except maybe the joke, which embodies a celebration of itself, among other things - and turn it into a comic system.

The limits of this kind of poetry are the limits of the comic: it appeals to the mind through a stringent disciplining (or mockery) of the feelings. There is something gnostic about comedy: those who are in the know get the better of the dolts who don't get it.

I suppose the opposite of the comic is pathos. Tragedy is based on pathos, the empathy with suffering. A lot of art, not just the tragic, appeals to pathos (think of Portuguese fado, for one thing. or Chet Baker). Emotion, feeling, music, duende. Language poetry built itself on a politically-motivated (moral?) mockery of the bathos of sentimental, self-centered 70s free verse.

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This book, which I can't put down these days, gets my highest marks. For anyone interested in the nature & interrelationships of the various great religions (Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity). Wonderful insights.

Religion and revelation : a theology of revelation in the world's religions, by Keith Ward (Oxford: Clarendon, 1994)