I'm ready to turn over a new leaf.

Any "poetics" has to be exemplified in practice.

The us vs. them agon is just... boring.
I went down to New York to see the Russian art exhibit at the Guggenheim. My favorite things were the Guggenheim itself, and something from the 70s - a little museum case with scattered pebbles inside, covered underneath with old faded exhibit-cards (like library card-catalog cards), hand-typed with various odd (numbered) descriptions. I should have written some of them down, & who the artist was. ("This pebble fell in love with rock #12"; or "Found in Mesopotamian tomb after falling from Mars"... like that, only better, funnier).

Interesting how Kandinsky, Malevich et al. were doing NY Abstract Expressionism 50 years earlier.


The poetry of quietude is intimately related to the vague intuition that the poet's mission is to relive and revive the great and very old and very intricate language of the poems found in books.

This intuition has dual roots : first, in the encounter with the Bible (the book), experienced as a moment of personal destiny and rebirth; second, in the realization that every reading experience is an echo of the best moments of a lost childhood (when you were reading a story).

Thus the poetry of quietude is involved in a project of conquering or redeeming time.
quiet days of...
Here's an old poem by, for, from, & about Quietude. I've posted it before. ("Ocean State" - the phrase - is on every RI auto license plate.)


Here the waters gather along the shore.
They meet the land breathing in foam,
and roll the sleepy pebbles and shells
back into long sand waves as before.

Our moon, casting her antique spells.
A motionless iris in the whale’s eye
of the sea, her unspeakable name
sinks to the bottom of lonely wells.

Her low whispers frame the deserted dome.
Her light covers the circus floor.
And she lifts, with one nocturnal sigh,
the heaving swells in a silver comb.

Pushkin the Poetry Cat
(finest fur in the cosmos)
on Christmas


There is a dimension in poetry which Ron, for all his genealogical & antiquarian research, knowledge, & passion, just does not get. & I know my own b-b-b-b-log is tedious with Ron-demurrals. Nevertheless I want to say it, just like I want to say, as an aside, that Louis Menand (in his essay in this week's New Yorker on the sociology of literature & prize-giving) does not get it, on a certain level.

What's wrong with Menand's very familiar thesis? The age-old mistake of the fore-brained philosophical proseur : to confuse the woman's dress & make-up with her physical beauty. Menand pretends to reduce art to power, commerce & good old ordinary human venality (how enlightened, how sophisticated, how worldly-wise, how regular-guy!). He forgets that the retail of literary commerce is rooted in the wholesale of aesthetic beauty; that the insane ego-trips, kultur-trips, money-trips & power-trips, which distort every human social interaction, don't actually touch or influence the formal elements of beauty (which are untouchable because formal - because rooted in nature) - elements that both the craft-work and the inspired genius of art are bound to emulate & reiterate.

& what do I want to say, again, about Ronville Sillimanville? What is it he doesn't get?

Ron reduces poetic history to a squabble between competing "schools". Essentially, this is a rationalization : a reduction of something which is more accurately, if more vaguely, termed "tradition".

Poetic tradition is ecumenical and welcoming : that is, membership is open to individuals from nowhere, everywhere. Yet once in the door, tradition is extremely demanding.

How so? Well, you cannot become part of the tradition by joining a school or a trend. In order to become part of the one great global tradition of poetry, you have to make poems. And poems are made with inspired poetic genius, gift, talent : because without these powers, the attainment of the particular order & beauty which inheres in poems is impossible.

Poetic beauty is so dense with articulate sensible conceptual order - like the synthesis of a coherent dream, raised to the nth degree - that its accomplishment is not available to the human will.

The literary theorizing which subjects poets & poems to the discourse of schoolish rivalries is similar to the Marxist narrow-mindedness which channels human industry & commerce into its particular video fantasy-battle between Good & Evil. That is, the model is inadequate to the complexity of the truth.

The poet is dedicated to the service of beauty; his or her productions bear witness to that dedication. This is not a board game to be judged by tyro-hobbyists.


The poetry of quietude is a weasel in the storeroom of Pharaoh, and a serpent in the garden of Babylon.

The poetry of quietude is a noodle in the soup of po-biz, a rancid odor in the hospital waiting room of MFA programs.

The poetry of quietude is the sibillance of pre-tornado poplars. It is a tongue on the earlobe of the Old Man of Crete.

The poetry of quietude is an unspoken word in the cafe of atrocious laptops, and a whisper in the cavern of deceased conscience.
The poet of quietude is not necessarily a librarian.
The selflessness of the poet of quietude has nothing to do with the philosophical yeast of overweight & burdensome theorists. It is not the reiterated, regurgitated pattern of a sociology of the postmodern self.

The selflessness of the quietudinous poet stems from a hidden devotion, an unwilled love : a possession, which does not elide or evaporate the self, but refines it, revealing its inward substance (spiritual freedom).

The poetry of quietude tends toward silence : the silence of unknowing.
The quietude of the poet is formed by the chasm (or ravine) which separates the soul from the world.

The poetics of quietude is hierarchical and elitist in the extreme : no one is allowed in after the door is shut.

The poet of quietude shuns the crowd of arrivistes, the purveyors of ersatz yeast, the empty talkers, the fakes, the hypocrites, the entertainers, the word-jugglers.

The poetry of quietude exists in a rarified thin atmosphere - of texts, produced by ancestral ghosts, the ghosts of the quietudinous poets who came before.

The poet of quietude refines speech - by means of a kind of spiritual possession, which is an inner scourge & discipline.


To recite a poem : how does it feel?

It feels like stepping on a grave.

Like standing in a forbidden circle, on the far side of a taboo.

Weird conjunction of word & flesh.
How fearsome is the poet's quietude! How tainted the one who reads the poem aloud, in all its quietness & nakedness, in all its vulnerable mere wordiness! No wonder the mob shuns the poet! No wonder the poet-mob rolls out all its tawdry tricks, its bells & whistles, its hubbub of pretensions - in order to deny the very quietudinous & abject & formidable thing it is!

The rock is the habitation of the whole,
Its strength and measure, that which is near, point A
In a perspective that begins again

At B: the origin of the mango's rind.
It is the rock where tranquil must adduce
Its tranquil self, the main of things, the mind,

The starting point of the human and the end,
That in which space itself is contained, the gate
To the enclosure, day, the things illumined

By day, night and that which night illumines,
Night and its midnight-minting fragrances,
Night's hymn of the rock, as in a vivid sleep.

- Wallace Stevens
What is missing from American culture? Quietude.

The simple, unadorned, undistracted, selfless, productive quietude which provides a matrix for creative labor.

The blessed quietude which allows the imagination to confront that which it cannot easily fathom or absorb... and eventually to comprehend & absorb it after all.

The quiet perfection of a work of art, which shines with a radiance & profundity drawn from that nourishing... quietude.
Ron Silliman continues to get a lot of discursive mileage out of the term "School of Quietude" and the general concepts which impel same. Sometimes the topic has to do with style, and sometimes with the marketing/access/reception of poets & poetry.

It occurred to me as I strolled to the coffee shop this morning, trying to perk myself out of the poetry/blog doldrums, that the conceptual architecture which grounds this notion is not really about either aesthetics or literary influence. It's about politics.

The idea of a New American poetry as distinct from a mainstream American poetry - of an embattled, experimental, avant-garde poetry rising in opposition to a staid, conservative, middle-brow poetry - what I think this really represents is the assertion of an idiom which speaks for & about particular levels of society, or communities within larger society. It's the proposition that there exists a tribe (or tribes) of poets who are peculiarly authorized - through their manner of speech, or their bohemian lifestyle, or their ethnic background, etc. - to speak authentically about certain realities of American life, realities which (supposedly) are ignored or smoothed-over or denied by mainstream poets.

I think this ideological predisposition or framework tends, along with a lot of other & related attitudes (displayed by many poets), to inhibit the desire for, the creation of, or the recognition of, forms of poetic making (thought, language, address) which are not pre-programmed or channeled toward particular audiences.


First glance at a book noted by Anastasios over here : Stephen Cushman's Fictions of Form in American Poetry. Cushman hypothesizes (in the epilogue) that maybe poets & poetry aren't taken very seriously in America, not because Americans are (stereotypically) vulgar & materialistic & philistine, but rather because they take words so seriously (a revolution & a constitution being the founding events, rather than an endless stream of time & traditions). Poets are kept at arm's length because at some level Americans sense that the poet's words might shake things up.

Sounds like a stretch to me, but maybe there's something to it...


Wondering on coffee break about why I react this way to the grid method of criticism.

Seems important to decide what is the purpose of your device. Critics love to qualify & compare different writers (& baseball players), but the project of appreciating, reviewing, or evaluating a particular poem, book, or poet should, it seems to me, try to develop a complete or holistic critical response (as far as possible). This inevitably involves responding to unique & peculiar qualities (originality), the sum of which (the oeuvre itself) cannot, without extreme abstraction & caricature, be reduced to a point on a grid.

If, on the other hand, the critic's purpose is to evaluate or characterize general trends or period styles, then I guess a grid of opposing qualities might be useful. A grid presents a certain facade of objectivity or impersonality; the critic is offering judgements, the authority of which is not based on supposedly subjective rhetorical qualities (the style of the critical discourse), but on a sort of "scientific" literary GPS system.

But a grid has a certain freeze-frame fixity to it, which seems to pose problems for its accuracy or applicability, when you think of the diverse & distinctive powers & talents of different poets. As I stated in an earlier response to the method, it seems that interesting poets transcend or overcome the faults of "period styles" from any quarter of any grid - so that the GPS system no longer applies - they are off the map.

[Nevertheless, I do also recognize that there is some creative fun involved in devising these diagrams...]
The flip side of literary narcissism is judgemental literary puritanism. Both are self-serving : they just take different paths through the infernal thicket.
Robert A's latest grid over at Samizdat is more interesting (to "the me") than previous schemata. Hinsley's essay sounds good too : I like the idea of revamping the application of the term "doggerel".

However, I think you have to take schemes of general trends, or bracketing of kinds of poetry or qualities of same, with a big grain of salt. Do we really need or want to evaluate poetry, in comparative terms, based solely on specs derived from an ethical-philosophical measure of the status of the self?

How do we determine the mixture of literary guile involved in a poetics of the non-self (say, in various versions of Language- and & other postmodern poetries), which is, nevertheless, an act of assertion rather than one of empathy with an Other? How do we evaluate - except on a case-by-case basis - the ambiguous admixtures of narcissism and detachment, sentiment and irony, which emerge from the practice of writing?

It's possible that a grid of such contraries could help a critic orient him/herself toward a more decisive ethical or critical judgement. But I'm afraid the more likely result is a practice of pigeonholing individual writers; snap judgements; labelling; the formation of spurious & unnecessary lumpings-together : unique poets into handy groups.

Why do we keep circling back, repeatedly over the decades, to these formulae about "the self"? This is a conundrum. Does it have something to do with the difficulty of apprehending and judging sincerity and emotional authenticity through the detached medium of a text? Isn't this the problem with reading in general? Isn't this why authentic poetry exhibits an awareness of emotional/ethical/epistemological complexity, through a comparable rhetorical complexity?

[p.s. even "complexity" has its complexities. A style which comes across as blunt, simple, direct, idiomatic - even vulgar - may be propelled by a very complex and ironic literary strategy. Yesterday's complexity may not be today's.]


Following Robert Archambeau's "modernity is disinterest" thread. Sceptical about the distinction between Western & Middle Eastern (Islamic) thinking. The idea of some kind of M-E unitary or indivisible mentality sounds suspiciously like earlier Western imaginings of the "noble savage". The Other is always greener on the other side of the fence.

The divisions & splits between (ethical) self and (social) role seem inherent to moral dilemmas of every kind, in every culture. One could just as easily talk about the traditionalist-tribal fathers who kill their own daughters in order to maintain archaic Arab "honor" codes. One can imagine quite a psychic split there between self & social role.

Mazzotta's book on Vico, which I've mentioned previously here, is focused on Vico's challenge to modernity (in the shape of Descartes, Bacon, Machiavelli, Hobbes). The argument of The New Science (to oversimplify) is that poetry, as imaginative (re)making, presents an image of world-renewal, based on wonder & creativity, which is at odds with the disenchanted, utilitarian, and arrogant realpolitik/scientism presented by those avatars of Modern "disinterest" & detachment. At odds with them - but aligned with Dante (Mazzotta's other hero).


Okay - the final final tiny improvements have been made to formatting of Stubborn Grew, Dove Street and Way Stations. Readers, start your engines. You may begin ordering millions of copies NOW.

[p.s. & now fixed the links above -]


(trying out instant blog recorder)

Returned late last night from unexpected unplanned trip to Toledo, Ohio. Had to post bail & find a lawyer for someone involved in anti-Nazi march protest. Strange trip. Waited around by myself at Lucas Cty Jail for 3.5 hrs. Watched jailor shift change; feel I know the entire Toledo Police Dept now, along with several recent arrestees.

In Toledo you pay $100./night for the courtesy of incarceration. The Radisson was cheaper.

Toledo reminded me architecturally of Minneapolis (i.e flat; snow; cold), with a little less going on. The homeless shelter (Cherry St. Mission) was literally jammed with skinny men, in for warmth & dinner : packed into both sides of long tables in dining hall. They are doing God's work there.

Getting more samples of my Lulu bks. I must keep tweaking the design slightly; a few minor glitches. Some of you will soon be lucky recipients of test-run pre-first editions...


The thing about imagination & war has, obviously, been with poetry from the beginning. The nobility & vanity of the Homeric heroes. Rilke's poem about the dead cavalryman's beautiful shako.

We want history to conform to a child's dream of heroism. The youthful perception of beauty incorporates all kinds of disparate elements. The focus in the Gospels on the power of childish (imaginative) vision. "They behold their Father's face."

Blake, of course, was into this...

A happy childhood forecasts the doom of the world.
I feel a big weight off my shoulders having produced the Lulu books. Sending out some review copies here & there. It's kind of amazing to me how it works. When I can afford it, I will improve the distribution channels even more.

This sort of thing is probably a big temptation to younger writers. It might be better to go through the editorial hoops for a while, the disappointments & the reality jolts. But I've been at it so long, & written so much, that I just want to shape it my own way now & put it out there.

Chapel Hill is a strange duck, a sort of semi-fictional memoir, or semi-memoirish fiction. One of the themes running through it is the idea of history as the work of a child's imagination. The contrast, the clash between historical "facts" and the beautiful & naive dreams which children make of them. A "coming-of-age" story, which circles around between history & family history, & fiction & poetry, in the mixed-up way of adolescent perception. Set in the 60s. About, among other things, two boys & their obsession with toy soldiers, & playing "war", while the older brother of one is off in Vietnam.

I started connecting this the other day with my recent reading in Vico. His way of thinking about the power of the human imagination (as it changes & develops) over cultural behavior. For Vico, according to Mazzotta anyway, "poetry is history" (& vice versa, I guess).

The seemingly innate drive people have, starting in childhood, to make sense of their experience, to recapitulate it, to turn it into story & history, to interpret it - to play with it. & the destiny of the poet & poetry : to judge the doings of individuals & nations through the prism of poetic speech. This seems like a source for both poetry's "seriousness" and its power to lighten & console.

This "historical" aspect of the poet's social role is undermined, sometimes, by so much acidic despair & scepticism, which often seems to turn contemporary poetry into intentionally vapid or superficial cadging & jokery. It's rare in poetry to find a fusion of both clear-sighted irony and hope.


Anastasios Kozaitis takes an interesting, wide-angle look at the form/anti-form history in American poetry, in an essay over at his blog, thisbetown. I want to check out some of the books he mentions.


I've taken what I think is the best music from the 2 Go Little Sparrow cds, and put it on one disc (& reduced the price).
OK - I think I've made the last little corrections & improvements. Everything here at Lulu looks very good!
Going back over these ms. for Lulu-publication, I was surprised (once again) by the degree to which my reactions to the same passage can change, from reading to reading. Weather, time of day(?). "Subjective response." Makes me realize how complex & subtle the activity of literary criticism can be.

Tweaked the formatting for Way Stations, Island Road, Dove Street and Chapel Hill. Now they are even more beautiful (he sez).

Maybe my literary life has turned a corner (it's been a hard 5 years). Maybe American poetry has experienced an imperceptible change! I am impinging on it, slowly & unsteadily. It will never be the same!
Get ready, world - Stubborn Grew is back in print!


I received 2 of the new Lulu productions in the mail today. They are a big improvement over the earlier versions [sigh of relief!]. But I want to tweak the formatting a little more. Will keep interested members of my cult following (I know you are out there, fellow Rotarians!) posted.

Finished typesetting the new version of Stubborn Grew today. Huge chore. Now I can get back to other things. I want to see if I can inset the collages which were printed in the Spuyten Duyvil edition. Either way, I hope to have it up & available by next week.


Curious evening of synchronicity. I spent all day (secretly, at work) feverishly formatting Stubborn Grew - from a scanned glob into a text-glob, in Microsoft. Took me a long time to figure it out. Took me a longer time to edit.

This afternoon I reached the halfway point, where Bluejay & Henry finally emerge, at last, from the abandoned railroad tunnel under the East Side (smelling of bat manure, etc.), beside the Carrie Tower (up the street from where I was doing this work, at the library), across from the HP Lovecraft memorial stone. The whole thing is a take-off on Dante & Virgil's descensus.

Now Sarah had been reading The Dante Club, a mystery set in 19th-cent. Boston - Longfellow & pals. It got her interested in Longfellow's translation of Divine Comedy. So I got v. 1 for her - Inferno - out of the library today.

& I got home after a long day of reliving Bluejay/Hen's catabasis, sat down with a glass of cheap chianti (from Siena) & opened up the Providence Journal. & there was this picture:

& here's how the story (by Projo reporter Mark Arsenault) opens:

"The video feed from the bottom of the shaft could have come from Fellini's most abstract and mind-numbing movie: a 30-foot gray wall of shale and sandstone that, on occasion, emitted small puffs of dust. The accompanying soundtrack was a racket like ball bearings being sucked into a Shop-Vac.

The story lay behind the wall of shale, at the bottom of a sewage overflow shaft 260 feet below Calverley Street, not far from Providence Place mall.

For more than a year, a 690-ton tunnel-boring machine had been heading toward the construction site at Calverley and Okie streets, cutting its way underground through solid bedrock from Field's Point as part of a 22-year sewer overflow control project."

Two RI senators & other luminaries were on hand to celebrate the big breakthrough. & I really felt a part of it all.

Working like a maniac to edit & re-format Stubborn Grew for a new Lulu edition. Had to scan it from scratch.

Good for me to see it again, in pre-book form. Struck by how monumentally silly this poem is. Especially as it warms up, in the beginning : those thumpingly obvious rhymes... the scramble for a shtick...

No wonder nobody has seen fit to review it. It's very much out of every loop I, at least, can think of. Like a James Merrill play-acting at populism, so it starts out... I mean the whole tone of the thing, the goofiness. But the tone changes in the different chapters - gets better, relaxes, settles in... then spirals out of control...

Surprised again at the internal logic - I mean the way it forecasts the future (the future of the poem, mostly).


...thus the appeal for me of Hart Crane, Anna Akhmatova, Mandelstam, some Stevens, some Yeats - as opposed to the jump-cut edginess of much modernism, post-modernism.

adagios of islands.

sunny sublimity.

the gesture, the understated signal, toward the vast, the calm.
Woke up around 2 a.m. last night, was thinking about some comments in the Vico book (by Mazzotta), having to do with memory. Mazzotta writes something about the nature of memory, as the sign of a break or fracture between present & past. Memory registers the separation or distance between them.

This seems fairly obvious, but it got me thinking about my poetry ("memory, mother of the muses"), and about memory and space.

It might have something to do with having lived my adult life half a continent away from where I grew up. My sense of memory is always connected with distance in space as well as time.

I think about Proust's (heroic & mock-heroic) rendering of memory. Not that I'm a Proust expert, but I have the idea that with Proust, the action of memory is a kind of bridging & retrieval, an absorption in a past state, which sort of blossoms on its own.

My own sense of memory's action feels more like a distancing : as if one were closing one's eyes & going up in a balloon, or gaining some kind of bird's eye view of oneself, from far away, in a landscape or vast context (of time/space).

This is all rather vague, & maybe I should try to work up an essay or something. But as these notions were occurring to me last night, I also thought of Jonathan's comment of 11/26 :

"So much of reading poetry--and writing it--is ruminative and fragmented. An anxious, frustrating searching through books and magazines. The attention flags. There is not that unitary 6-hour experience of reading a novel, or the novelist's feeling of writing through a certain portion of the narrative."

I'm not sure what he means by "ruminative" here. But I understand the sense of a kind of jumpy or fragmented response to short poems & etc.

& I'm hoping that my own poetry somewhat works against or counters that kind of experience. I mean that these books & sequences of mine aim for a more sustained impression - of vastness - space & memory.

The first (& one of the only) reviews my poetry has received, was in a Brown U. student newspaper, written by an undergrad about my 1st book, Stone. I don't have it in front of me (this was almost 30 yrs ago), but she started it out with something like : "Henry Gould takes his time. He waits until the poem is ready." What she meant, I think, was that I composed slowly & quietly; the poems are sort of calm, without flash, bells & whistles.

I still like those little comments very much, & I think they relate to what I've tried to do.

[p.s. Vico himself might demur from such an individualistic notion of memory. For him memory & history & anthropology are all combined somehow.]


In going Lulu, I was following Anny Ballardini's example (via William Allegrezza & Moria). For that I'm very grateful.
I'm trying to stay calm about my new publications.

But it's difficult, I'm having trouble working at the desk.

We are experiencing a new poetry print culture, which is a lot like the old culture (Whitman or Donne or Dickinson, passing around their homemade pamphlets) except... except... it's massively available.

I have nothing against the regular publishing structures, nothing whatsoever. Never was very successful in those venues - but I didn't try very hard, either. Not out of laziness, though!

As with many others, with me writing poetry involves a lot of specific gravity. Plus I have something of an obsessive manic depressive oblique personality. It's all or nothing.

Moreover, the minor skills I picked up editing Nedge & Edwin Honig's mss. make it easier for me to publish meself.

I'm repeating what I wrote a few years ago, when I went into the XLibris mode... my apologies, friends. But I have the feeling this Lulu loop-de-loop is going to work : is going to be a lulu, in fact.

Giddy-up Ol' Mangy. We're a-comin' to your town.
Still reading G. Mazzotta on Giambattista Vico.

Someone could write something interesting on Chas. Olson & Vico, if they haven't already. Olson would have found him agreeable.

Vico disputed both Plato & Aristotle on the nature of poetry. For V., poetry is essentially history. Memory's recollections, imaginations & inventions are inseparable from the drives & passions of peoples, and writing (poetry) records (or adumbrates) the distance or dissociation which is memory itself.

Vico against poetry as "craft", or as something having to do with philosophy or the critical intelligence. He sounds berry much like a Longinian-sublime Romantic.

cf. Mazzotta p. 150 or so.
TWO new books up at Lulu : Dove Street and Chapel Hill.

Have books, will travel. Soon I will get Old Mangy out of the barn & start my World Tour.


I used to feel frustrated that my poems were not available to readers, or available in not-so-good editions. But that may be a problem of the past. If you go to Lulu, you'll find new, less-expensive editions of some of my books. You can download electronic versions, or buy the paperback.

I've edited, corrected and re-formatted these books. I'm waiting to receive my own copies, and will report back on the quality, but I think they are going to be a big improvement. Here's what's up so far:

Way Stations (shorter poems, 1985-1997)
Island Road (the sonnet sequence)
The Rose (sequel to Stubborn Grew. I hope to publish a new edition of Stubborn in a few weeks)

There are also cd versions of my blog music on Go Little Sparrow. (I don't recommend buying these unless you are a real music nut. This is archival "practice" music. The sound quality is not great, and the loudness varies a lot from song to song.)

My poetry books do not come with award statements, big-name publisher logos, or blurbs. But my poems were built to last. American Po-Biz will just have to come to terms with me, sooner or later. Yup.

[p.s. Lulu's international distribution service includes a set-up fee to authors, which, unfortunately, I can't afford right now. So if you're outside the US, you may not be able to buy these directly, online. Hopefully I can add that service before too long.]


little joe gould has lost his teeth and doesn't know where to find them (and found a secondhand set with a click) little gould used to amputate his appetite with bad brittle candy but just (nude eel) now little joe lives on air Harvard Brevis Est for Handkerchief read Papernapkin no laundry bills like People preferring Negroes Indians Youse n.b. ye twang of little joe (yankee) gould irketh sundry who are trying to find their minds (but never had any to lose) and a myth is as good as a smile but little joe gould's quote oral history unquote might (publishers note) be entitled a wraith's progress or mainly awash while chiefly submerged or an amoral morality sort-of-aliveing by innumerable kind-of-deaths (Amrique Je T'Aime and it may be fun to be fooled but it's more fun to be more to be fun to be little joe gould)

-- e.e. cummings

HAPPY Turnkey Day!
the delusions of grandeur. Gould had a joke about that, which I've put in the header, above.

the massive unavailable History.

I've written more Poetry than anyone in blogland. so there.
Sarah down with stomach bug. We watched video, Joe Gould's Secret. I had to go & read the book (by Joseph Mitchell), which we happened to have in the house, since it was a favorite of Sarah's father (born in Manhattan) (Up in the Old Hotel).

Gould is definitely a relative, though I can't seem to trace him on Google genealogy. He told Mitchell his family settled near Boston in 1635 (likewise); "the Goulds were the Goulds when the Cabots & the Lodges were clamdiggers."

Interesting Mitchell/Joyce connections (Mitchell's fascination with bars, and with Finnegans Wake, which according to the intro, he read "at least six times").

I recognize a number of personality traits. Both in Joe Gould, & in the Gould world (New England crusty) he left behind.

His phantom Oral History. Much of local Stubborn Grew grew out of, & refers to, an oral history project I did in the old Af-Am section of Providence, along Benefit St. (the first thing oral history prof. Allen Smith asked me was, "are you related to Joe Gould?")

Bluejay leads Henry there, as part of their catabasis.

& the bookends in FW, basically.

Pound mentioned Gould as an unknown "native hickory". He was a friend of EE Cummings & Aaron Siskind. Apparently Siskind's Village studio was one of the repositories for Gould's strange notebooks.

It's got me wondering whether Siskind allowed a photo of his to grace my first book (Stone) because of my name.

p.s. Is McSorley's Ale House still in business?


Multi-dimensional Anny Ballardini has a new book.
Vico's Autobiography opens with a description of how he fell head-first onto a stone floor as a child and was unconscious for some time; how the doctor predicted he would either die or grow up "stolido" (slow, retarded). Instead he became a scholar & intellectual. Mazzotta reads this as a comment on the temptations of determinism in science.
Vico (via Mazzotta) juxtaposes science's lust for power over nature (Bacon's New Atlantis), and its mechanical determinism of causation, with the collective "wisdom" of humanities, jurisprudence, political science. Because political science is not "exact", it has to make room for human freedom & unpredictability, the dynamics of debate & consensus.

His lectures on the role of universities in fostering multi-vocal, encyclopedic conception of knowledge : sometimes countering, analyzing, criticizing (Socratic tradition) established political authority.

The self-conscious historical sense. Poetry, unlike science, does not exert control over nature, but rather, through its linguistic shapes & etymologies, unfolds history (the productions of memory).

But I'm conscious of the disconnections, the inability to engage in dialogue. Rationalist, polemical academics who don't understand or appreciate their own cultures; on the other hand, obscurantist philistines, promoting a new dark age of magic formulae & superstition.


I first met John Ashbery in 1965, in a laundry room in Louisville, KY. He was short, dark, with a pronounced limp in both legs, & he spoke with a pronounced Canadian accent, probably due to his years in Saskatchewan as a member of the Canadian Mounties. It was only five years later, after I had already published my first seven books of poetry, that I learned that the John Ashbery I had known all those years was not the John Ashbery, the famous poet. My John Ashbery used to vilify the School of Quietude into the wee hours of the morning, while drinking glass after glass of strong Turkish coffee laced with creme de cacao (the only liqueur left in the storage room of the bunkhouse, located down a slope of jack pines, behind the warehouse, just before you reach the storage room). Why my JA had taken such a visceral, vivisectory attitude toward a group of poets who, in all innocence, had never become conscious of their debt to English-Continental traditional versification and social attitudes (though you wonder why the implications of the jodhpurs & smoking jackets & Sherlock Holmes-style smoking caps and longjohns & periwinkles & hobnobberies & gaiters & socks & fleabag hotels in seedy Birmingham never occurred to them) is a question I have for long striven & stroven to answer to my own satisfaction, without success. The recent developments & improvements in poetry education in America, due to the deluge of New American methods of reading (outlined in a recent New Yorker article on the other John Ashbery, and further amplified here) have fortunately put to rest a certain amiable, droll, amateurish, sacre-bleu, bon-vivant, recherche, de rigueur, dibbly-dabbly, tadpole methodology which has saturated the literary atmosphere of the world for nigh on 4 decades now, ever since Firkham Punctilious published the inaugural issue of his Littler Magazine, wherein the Old American school of poetry attempted one last stand, dressing up as Gordon Lord George at Khartoum, swords drawn, facing the rabid mob of trolls. How this brand of syncopated antiquity ever came to dominate the poetry scene of our world is a puzzle for future literary historians to unravel, I will leave it to them, but I will say : we are truly fortunate to obtain habitation in a time period of such lush growth of New American poetry, because now, as we know, reading is a very special and the toast is ready, as they say, in the School of Jumping Gophers, of which we are proudly each a member.


Am reading G. Mazzotta's study of Giambattista Vico, The New Map of the World. Mazzotta emphasizes Vico's alignment with "epic wholeness" & history, vs. "irony", scepticism, & Cartesian (a-historical) subjectivity. Vico was in conflict with the Macchiavellian-Cartesian (political) science of his day.

What does this have to do with you & me.

The baroque interlinked storytelling of the long-poem streak in 20th-cent. literature. Pound, Olson, David Jones, et al. Olson's Herodotus (histor). Geography & change, development. The "middle voice", as Olson has it.

Vico puts imaginative poiesis at the center of human history.

Joyce's fascination with all this.


Darwinism, "intelligent design", science, literary darwinism...

the phenomena will evolve some gripping essay-toes, I'm sure.

A poet's perspective : somewhere in between. There IS a science culture, which has non-scientific influence on thought-worlds in general, just as religious ideology has ideological, not only religious, impact.

Science now seems lighter, quicker, sexier, than it did when I was growing up (50s-70s) : then it was somehow heavy & sad, like the industrial architecture & the lab coats - more like 1984 than moon-walks for me.

My steady view on the subject is that there is a specifically poetic discourse, which represents truths of the actual as no other discourse can. (see Giuseppe Mazzotta, Dante, poet of the desert, & other books.)

& behind it is a version of Christian humanism, I guess. What is the "humanism" part? That's the part which poses a challenge for scientific positivism and scepticism, as well as for narrow religious dogmatism (really, versions of imposed superstition). It's not "secular". It's grounded in the fundamental notion of "imago Dei".

That is, to translate : our life is fundamentally personal. When we apprehend & recognize a person, an individual, in the clearest, sharpest, deepest way - we are also getting a glimpse of God. God is the invisible supra-personal Person. & life is essentially dramatic.

I link this conception to Osip Mandelstam's Acmeism. Acmeism was a kind of rough-draft poetic ideology, which he sketched out in several essays written around 1912-1920. One of Acmeism's basic tenets held that poetry, along with other arts and crafts, humanizes the earth : helps mankind feel at home on earth, gives confidence & hope. Mandelstam summed it up in a few lines :

Let the names of imperial cities
caress the ears with brief meaning.
It's not Rome the city that lives on,
it's man's place in the universe.

The project of humanizing the earth, of giving people - especially young people, perhaps - a vision of life as person-centered, and earth as metaphysical "home" : obviously, such has philosophical implications : consequences for both scientific & religious education.


Various and sundry people who probably don't visit here much are having an interesting debate on the riots in France.

I don't think you need to reach as far as to Hobbes in order to dispute the romanticization of political violence. It's precisely that romanticizing - indulged in by armchair idealists, stationed at a distance from the events themselves - which crosses the boundary from necessity to disorder.

There is an exact parallel between said romanticization and the rhetorical exaggeration of "state violence".

Injustice in government is evil. Violence is evil. Neither one justifies the other. When injustice convinces people that they have no other recourse but violence toward the achievement of justice, then you have an obvious symptom of social injustice and a need for reform. There is no need to justify violence in order to address the injustice which is at its root.


the beginning of July:


Gray skies on a late spring day. A start.
In the parking lot. Pawtucket? Cumberland.
Sound of someone hammering – what?
Iron. Waiting for my daughter there,

her tennis lessons. Nowhere. Somewhere.
Out in the open. Gray skies, hollow
hammering. A hole. A whole
world (of lonesome rune-moss).

Armor. Wheel. Hubcap. Sky-
scraper. Redmen in moccasins
on rooftops – cashmere
lamb's quarters and yaks –

kayaks – stitched all around again?
Like a lake in a corral – your
coracle – row, row, row
we go. I'd like to... snag

you, elbow room. A Huckleberry
getaway somewhere. Wide grass
where the hurt surges – surges
like active vitamin – Buick

in high gear. I leaned back
against the health club wall.
Low sub-suburb, lawless.
Clouds moving, carboniferous.

Spaces for eyes. Flag in yard
beside white aluminum siding.
Farmhouse hemmed inside
clutter. Derelict, dreary.

But that hammering was happy.
I was going into the meadows
again – lose myself for good.
So long, Julius. So long, Pap.

7.15.99 (St. Henry's Day)


Upstream from Egypt or New Orleans,
north or south. Colors on a raft
blend – snow, or Afro-cat.
Coffin for Ishmael. Snore awhile

on board, then wake with another start
or vociferous snort – was it a dream?
Blackstone, with feet in cow-merde
of New World – slow golden apple-taster –

or Berkeley, testing all ten toes
on reality stones – and the air so
gentle, and the noise so seldom – soar,
dream... no machine, but a knotted

meeting, under the apple trees and
sweet grape vines. Arbor day behind
the cottage where LaFarge, Degas
hibernated – downstream, tender

colors merging, a harmony
of many at the brown delta, singing.
A Niger of negritude,
or tunes of an old rhyme nomad –

tapping feet while they waited there
for the beginning and the end.
Laden ship in the Nile den-
mouth – moon-moth wreath –

so diaphanous, yet overlaid
like a tablet of the future law
or tables carven in the wall
of every hut. Love-dreidle,

homespun doodle. A shadow
gouache from treelimbs all at once:
a see-saw operation of the sun
or evening ocean on a beachhead.

If something you were building or installing wasn't level, or wasn't angled right, Bill would say - "it's cattywompus".
the Spanish name for the Mississippi was Rio del Espiritu Santo.

the downtown - mostly empty. s'long, N'Orleans. Hey, you right. Posted by Picasa

The house sported an old saloon-style (nail-hammer) piano, very dirty but amazingly in tune. Late at night, after the others had gone back to Baton Rouge & I was there by myself, I played the famous song "Can It BePosted by Picasa

Chapel of the Holy Spirit, next door. a miracle of 60's architecture Posted by Picasa

I cleared the metal shed behind the house of a mountain of moldy junk. Someone in the congregation was in the habit of collecting tightly packed bundles of old wet newspapers, among other things. Posted by Picasa

Bill & Micky, my heroes. Carpentry, plumbing, gas & electric, spiritual renewal : they can do it all. They brought so many tools that you could barely see the floor. We spent most of the week in the crawl space under the house. Before climbing under, Bill would yell : "Go on, snakes!" (water moccasins). But the only animals I saw all week were two cats. Posted by Picasa

The kids from Vail, Colorado. Posted by Picasa

Putting in a shower. Posted by Picasa

the "shotgun house" we worked on. 3 resident Tulane students had to evacuate 4 days after arrival. We were renovating this to house 8-10 volunteers. (it was not really knocked on its side : I just can't seem to rotate the photo.) Posted by Picasa

Carrollton St., on the way to Zimpel (& Chapel of the Holy Spirit, adjacent to Tulane campus) Posted by Picasa

Fleeting glimpse of damage on the way in. Posted by Picasa

Fog in MS. Posted by Picasa

Crossing Lake Ponchartrain, N.O. in distance. Posted by Picasa

In Mississippi a couple days later. Note damaged pines. Posted by Picasa

Driving through Connecticut Posted by Picasa


The profile on John Ashbery in this week's New Yorker.

I've said a lot of mean things about Ashbery, because he annoys me.

He looks so much like TS Eliot. Same bird type.

But I'll probably write a good essay on him one of these days, because his poetry had a mesmerizing effect on me, once upon a time, & I'm still intrigued by it all.

I note a lot of nostalgia in his writing, but maybe it's just my projection. I have a theory that the dialect of ordinariness, the overheard lingo, is actually a childhood memory of listening to his parents & grandparents talking.

Ashbery is doing a kind of sleep-prophecy, akin to Edgar Cayce. Purifying the mots of the tribu by channeling it through his tenderizer-hypno-voice.
Mississippi is to the Nile as New Orleans is to Alexandria.

This will be my first [physical] trip to Louisiana.

from The Grassblade Light:


Hallowed, evened out, Henry in the distance now,
a mote in the delta. Audacious love triangle
twirls, treeless, on its own, an RI tangle –
as dry leaves (spare delight) toward Salem go.

Autumn lightning, hurricanes. Then thunder.
A Micmac, shadowy (through wormhole t-t-tuba)
flows upstream – toward a salty spiral
in the rubber barrel. The spine goes under

(buried sunflower). Whose action is
no stranger
... pours forth from a window
parallax – against complacency, woe,
and violent paralysis. Melchiz

out of nowhere's whereabouts. Stone
vaults from mossy Mississippi lair –
arrowheaded air headed your
way, Hotspur Harry – your own

land grant, swami saint – victorious
viscous vapor eye! Yours, the rube!
Uppity now, mistletoed (up, stone tub!)
Prance Petriarchy Pizzicat Nevarious,

and regale them! – all them,
constant operator! All them all together,
veteran! For the least fool measures
the greeter amongst her – Miriam!

Miracoloco! Since Abraham Lincoln
conned he was an Indian (check,
by Jove) that showy Melchizedek
has fibrillated nature's joy, my son –

and though you rum from-toward the swine
your pain of shame – run home again now!
Earth hath need against this rage slow
lights – lights, ghost! For from brine

of Superior comes your native wrestler,
Jacob – as I sack your situation for a mini-
millennial secular thanksdiver, honey:
Massa saw! A real Ur way trestler!



Josh stands up for weak poems against all comers.

As a perpetrator/survivor of the bruising listserve wars (Buffalo, Buffalo!) I can agree that online "critique" could get very warped. It probably shares the nervous testo-frenzy of internet behavior in general.

I also think that "micro" criticism could easily get very glib & superficial. Sometimes it takes many many readings (& side-research) to appreciate a poem.

Nevertheless, I think Josh is over-reacting. For one thing, it seems to me that Jeff Bahr is exaggerating the method in order to show how it works. But more importantly, I think this kind of analysis - hopefully offered in a sympathetic & generous manner - is very useful & necessary, if it comes from someone who knows what they're talking about.

How much bad writing gets high marks from supposed mentors - for certain strategic reasons, reasons which benefit the mentor, rather than the poet? (ie. trotting through a large percentage of mediocre & bad poems actually pays the bills for MFA teachers. & you don't want to make the students feel too bad; you don't want them to lose hope for their future niche in the industry, or even drop out of the program...)

But I don't want to turn this into a slam of CW teachers, not at all. As I say - if they know what they're doing, they're actually doing a service to literature.

"Poetry should be written fairly well." - Wm. Shakespeare
Have been gleaning a little more intelligence about my trip to N'Awlins, day after tomorrow. The house I'll be helping rehab is near Tulane U. It's off by itself. It has cracked doors, windows & floors. That's about the extent of my knowledge at this point. Hoping to learn more before I hit the road.

The Triptik I got from AAA has a little note : "I-10 and I-610 through New Orleans metro area are open, but only local residents with proper identification are allowed to exit." Sounds like they REALLY value their volunteers. If you don't hear from me after the 15th, I may be a Prisoner of Big Easy.
Sitemeter tells me that HG Poetics just passed Ron Silliman on total "hits" from domestic animals. 4 legs are better than 2 (sz Mr. Ed).

Blog-grazing has become increasingly popular among farm livestock & cattle drives, according to Melba the Cow. "Visits" can last anywhere from .25 seconds (called "nips") to all-night cud-chew contests.
For those dogs & cats out there who were wearied or distressed by the recent brouhaha (miaowaha) over at lime tree... here's how to tune out.

Now they just need a station to showcase the singing mice.


Mice Also Sing

"To be persons, not scissors." - M. Paquin
old seasonal poem


Remarkable article on art & Alzheimer's in Sunday NY Times.

[not sure if this link will work - if you get to the NY Times page, you can find the article by doing a search in past 7 days under "art alzheimer's"]

*** p.s. see Allen on this if you haven't already
Robert Archambeau tracks the futuristic world of Po-Sonar GPS Locomotion Engineering.
Looks like I'll be driving down to the Big Easy on Fri. I've been in touch with some Episcopal church relief people down there since Katrina.

Going to spend a week or so getting a building repaired/cleaned up, to house other volunteers in New Orleans. Should be an adventure - maybe I'll come back with some pictures.


In the lonely

the anti-poet plays anti-pop


This I like.


The new issue of Poetry arrived yesterday, always some kind of education.

The poetry in it, some of it quite sharp & talented. Makes me feel like a slowpoke yokel. The feeling, reading it, of an oscillation - between bright devotion to brilliant language & inventive, clever thought, on one hand, and then, on the other hand, an impression of spoiled green suburban rich kids & preppies, showing off their pseudo-experience, pseudo-profundity, pseudo-sophistication.

Poems on meditative themes : bats. wildflowers. so serious, so careful, so polished. "Life, friends, is boring."

Mr. Bones, you juss jealous maybe.

Kind of skimmed the essay by Mary Karr, on being a poet/neo-Catholic, may read it later. But I really liked the Milosz poem she quotes at the end.


Jack Birss, retired Cornell prof., must be one of the 1 or 2 people on earth to whom, upon meeting for the first time, I have actually said "I'm a poet."

(Sad to say, but strictly speaking, he is no longer with us "on earth".)
Jack Kimball notes amazing fact of new publication of some poems by Samuel Greenberg, very obscure New York poet, who died in 1917, at age 23, of TB, and whose work influenced Hart Crane (Crane actually stole some of his lines in the poem "Emblems of Conduct").

I have a copy of an early edition of Greenberg's poems. Once, back in the 70s, I was walking down Hope St (here in Prov.), wearing a pair of paint-spattered jeans (I had just been painting my apartment). An elderly gent, in passing, suddenly said : "A painter, I presume?" I said, "well, no, I'm a poet." He asked, "Who's your favorite poet?" Just for fun, I said "Samuel Greenberg." The fellow did a double-take. He turned out to be another Jack - Jack Birss, retired Cornell(?) english prof, rare book collector, Hart Crane aficionado (I noticed years later that he had donated a small privately-printed vol. of a couple of Crane's letters to the Brown library.) Birss knew all about Samuel Greenberg. We were both struck by the coincidence.


I guess my previous post by two tends toward a sense of the poet as some kind of Suprematist/Genius/Original. But let's not over-emphasize all that (nothing new there). What I'd like to express, instead, with this notion of anomaly or originality, is the sense of, for lack of a better phrase,

some irreducible subjectivity : like the blind spot we can't see through. & art & originality emerge from that subjective area of experience, & of necessity come out original & different - because they do indeed flow from that anomaly, that uncertainty situation, that never-before-known because never before realized or existent... shadowy region, Amazon jungle, unknown...

place of creativity & poems - of chasms & leaps -

& a GPS grid simply cannot place this particular but essential aspect of the whole deal.
Russian Bells on Mars; Cockadoodle Two
In order to improve on the Silliman Bi-Focal Theory of Contemporary Poetry, Robert Archambeau looks to an essay by David Kellogg.

Based on Robert's summary, however, I can't see how this is any improvement. The structure of the grid is the same, although Kellogg has added a dimension.

Poetry is assumed to be this product which flows out of culture in measurable quantities. You can establish fixed criteria for assigning individual pieces of the product to a grid : ie., "tradition" and "innovation" are already known & defined, "self" and "community" are items you can abstract without too much difficulty from any particular portion of the GNPP (Gross National Poetry Product). Voila : your poet is assigned a critical niche in the Standard Schema.

But what if the patterns of formative imitation which poets utilize are exactly the same - whether you're in either of the so-called camps? Innovators are imitating their 20th-century models; traditionalists are doing likewise. Both are claiming the mantle of tradition (the traditions of new & old, respectively). Add a further twist : what if the innovators claim to be new by going back to older models (epics, Native American songs, collective poetics, performance art, etc.) in order to be "new"? What if the models of the so-called traditionalists (rhymed iambic couplets, say) are of more recent provenance than those of the innovators (say, free-verse anaphoric lines)?

The fact of the matter is that originality is not informed by the artist's attitude toward stylistic change. In other words, there is no "new" model for imitation : every model - by virtue of being a model - is already traditional. Who is more traditional today than the poets who imitate the 20th-century avant garde?

[p.s. this statement needs refinement. Let me say this : actually, the original, inventive poet will pay very close attention to stylistic developments and what they might mean. But what makes for originality is not their capacity for consistency - ie. the consistent allegiance to whatever is considered the trend of the moment. Original poetry is invariably anomalous : it is original precisely because the poet does not "follow" any particular trend. Thus critical schemas which emphasize such trends, based on abstract invariables such as Kellogg proposes, inevitably distort the un-paraphrasable, empirically-complex literary reality.]

The issue of "self" & "community" is perhaps even more vexed, but I'm not going to get into that here.

I object to the abstract, generic quality of the grid approach to criticism. It's lazy thinking : pigeonholing, card filing. The uniqueness of interesting poetry swallows up every proposed schema : the talent of the great & gifted poet takes a certain essential aspect of poetry - its capacity for obliterating and transcending our habitual mental & philosophical categories - and multiplies it exponentially. Individual poets are always contradicting so-called trends & traditions : & then the new supposed traditions are established in their wake, by their imitators; & then, running a distant third, the critics come along with their cute little diagrams.

Even those poets who seem so middlebrow, mediocre, unable to escape the cliches and paradigms of their period styles - say, Longfellow, considered from the usual 20th-century perspective - if looked at closely and carefully, suddenly begin to reveal their inimitable qualities, their uniqueness. & then it's time for "reconsideration" : critics, prepare your outlines!!!!


some new guitar stumblings
More drafty drafts. I hope it lasts.


The dogwood leaves, suspended in the rain.
Clumps of drooping flesh-tones - treeflesh
(muted green, vermilion, purple, rust).
I'm whispering toward you again.


In the silence of his study, Lazarus
Posthumous leans close to the windowpane.
The glass harbors a cool gray sheen
from autumn sky (a harbor's emptiness).

His body is the dogwood's double. And
the window only grows more destitute as
winter draws nigh - cold, dark. It is
the entrance to a tunnel. Its command

a stark inscription : Here Descend.


The last bumblebee totters unevenly
through backyard jungle grass.
The little garden is a tangled mess
of dried-up stalks, vines, leaves

where sodden rags of an absent-minded
hurricane (the last of the cloud outriders)
spit their loads again, soaking the weirs
to the flood-brim. The storm never intended

to hurt anyone - the storm never intended
anything at all. And now the bumblebee
has vanished into his green and tiny
Amazon. Only starlings chortle overhead,

settling in crappy treetops, ratcheting
their raspy, cackling complaints, then
moving on. The homesteaders gone too -
summer's yodelers, warblers, who sing

themselves a cozy territory (comfortable,
responsive, mild). Lazarus faces cold.
The mellow season's growing old
and gray. Wind coils through the stubble.


The rainsoaked ground, the windswept sky, heaven
and earth exact their retributions. The grass
withers with a whisper across vast prairies
of catastrophe. Yet what has not begun

is yet to begin - even tonight, maybe.
The gift for which you did not dare to ask,
the phone call in the night (from Alaska,
say - Saskatchewan), the whorl of a stormy-

tender fingerprint. The human trace
a network penetrating to the roots
of time, space... where love waits
in a threadbare lair (for your embrace).


There once was a man, whose bones
were never found, collected in a lead-
lined box, a box that was lost when the dead
man's grave was exhumed : Blackstone,

William Blackstone
. Whose bones in a box
were dug up for a shopping center
(the first American shopping center)
and lost somewhere (bones among rocks).

And Lazarus Posthumous found them;
found them in the dead of winter, in a cave,
in a mirror, in his mind. When you have
a lead box full of whitened bones, Sachem -

a whited sepulchre, O Chief - you have
November coming in a costly casket,
autumn encapsulated, life's biscuit
in a basket - ocean in a wave (goodby).


A new mini-essay : Book Vs. Talk. Pigeonholers take note.
I have a lot of trouble telling the difference between Professionals & Careerists in this picture. Most of the hype is generated by professional careerists, whether they have MFA-type academic jobs or not.

Both need very much to get published, because they've been writing very hard for many years. Best of luck to them, I say. A lovely tree awaits your sees n' saws.

What this tells you about the quality of their poetry is not much, one way or the other.

Kind of similar situation with the SoQ/Post-Avant descriptor. Basically, it gives acquisitive collectors a handy cubbyhole for their collections, and loud trumpeteers a special key to punch on their polemic-horns.


I'd hate to give the soggy impression or do the saggy impression of some neo-bowtie stuffed shirt pseudo-critic. Hey, no way. It ain't me. Please you gotta believe me!!!

What I meaneth to suggesteth, ladies & goons, is that :

1. despite the fact that good art always transcends simple categories & critical abstractions & nostrums & such : even if & as it hews most faithfully to the generic requirements of certain traditional forms;

2. and despite the fact that our unprofessional off-the-cuff impressionistic personal insights & comments are of far greater practical & humane & spiritual value, generally, & usually, than systematic critical werke, generally;

3. nevertheless, there is a place for calling things by their right names, according to an open & explicit set of premises & postulates, designed by the professional critic, to establish differentiae of judgement : because such creative critical labor has its own proper sphere & center of gravity; & because, paradoxically, establishing such differentiae can help us to see, sometimes, how individual works & artists are part of larger ongoing communal projects & traditions.

Thus indie-crit, as I useta call it, is one way to comprehend (through one critic's sense of taste within a partially-perceived scale of universal aesthetic & ethical values) the equality & kinship of something we sense as the Beautiful - across vast variations of style & cultural background.
very interesting article on poet/conservative thinker Peter Viereck in this week's New Yorker.


Mark Scroggins on the old-style divide. One aim of the mini-essays I've been writing is to underline the difference between opinion (personal likes/dislikes, lacking any apparent principle of judgement) and criticism (in which ethical & aesthetic principles are somewhat clarified).


A new essay-effort : Art & Ethos


"We were as Danes in Denmark all day long."
In the twists & turns of the argument of Whittling, Whistling, I'm actually trying (among other things) to make room in the "theory" for modes of didactic, satiric poetry. Discursiveness, direct address. It may not seem that way... I may not have been very clear.

The idea is that these particular forms of poetry (along with all the other forms & modes) reflect the theatricality of poetry in general. I'm saying poetry & poets are inherently dramatic (hence the emphasis on those attributes noted by Aristophanes). That's why I call poetic language itself the main character, the protagonist : an exaggeration, meant to underline how the medium shapes the message.


A new proto-mini-essay : Whittling, Whistling
I'm a gemini, see. I keep two sets of books. And each of those keeps two sets of books. and so on. my poetry is a temporary cease-fire ("stay against confusion"), arranged between the two halves of my brain. (Is you there, Bluejay?)
Added an old review of Edwin Honig's collected poems over here. My apologies to those who have read this before. The thread of thinking about poetry's dramatic aspect brought the review to mind.


There's a new mini-essay over there : A Quick Nod in Words.


What's an essay for? asks Jordan.

I'd like to write them in order to precipitate out some of the jumbled thoughts I have on these poetry/poetics conundra. & by putting them in more formal language, make them more accessible to those outside the day-to-day po-blog conversations.

For example, with regard to the string of rambling comments I made earlier here on the issue of poetry & its ideological/critical paraphrasement. It's possible the Andrew Ford book will provide me with a sort of background with which to come to terms with all that.

Ie., perhaps poetry's janus face - 1. self-standing art-form, craft; 2. social/civic performance, political occasion - can be re-interpreted, without favoring one side by dismissing the other. Perhaps its a more complicated, interesting symbiosis. That would be a topic to "essay".
Reading more in the Andrew Ford book. The tension between literacy/text and oral poetry, back in old Greece. A lot of curious poems about statuary & funerary inscriptions (Simonides, Pindar...).

Funny when I think of my own recurrent floundering over the years, between writing & music, poetry & rockn'roll.


the curious thing here, for me, is again RS Crane's insight : that Aristotle's notion of such "self-standing" aesthetic form is not really text-based, but follows from an idea of the "poem" as an amalgam - a whole (which is not the same as its text) made out of time, action, suspense, character, spectacle, music, diction - all combined.

I'm reading Ford et al. to explore how other genres & modes of poetry relate to, stem from, this same action-performance nexus.
Following along on my Chicago School sea-lurches. Came upon another study - The Origins of Criticism, by Andrew Ford (Princeton UP, 2002).

RS Crane & the Chi-towners pointed to a dissonance between Aristotle's sense of dramatic form in poetry, and what came a little later, in the text/rhetorical emphasis of Alexandrians, Horace, et al.

What I'm getting from the Ford book (just on intro chapter now) is that the formal approach of Aristotle was a sort of culmination of a much earlier trend out of archaic times : moving from strictly oral performance and in situ, collective critique (in festive symposia - dinner & drinking feasts - verbal contests - early "slams"), toward literacy, reading & texts (when song & speech become "poems").

Aristotle's Poetics, while being as I mentioned the summation & foremost example of that new trend, still exhibits the traces of the earlier cultural situation.

Ford is interested in the difference between the later textual criticism's sole focus on aesthetics, and the traditional-archaic focus on the moral & social fitness of the speech. We can see this same dynamic (aesthetic autonomy, social relevance) playing out in debates about contemporary poetry.

The focus on the interior rightness of a text began early - Plato has a famous passage in the Gorgias in which "speakers are urged to follow painters, builders, shipwrights and other craftsmen who construct self-standing objects by 'compelling one part to suit & fit with another'" [Ford, p. 20].

self-standing objects. the advent of writing - & shipwrighting.


at one extreme, the solitary hermit/visionary/prophet. the scholar, the scientist, the sage. the light of contemplation.

at the other extreme, the song & dance, the give & take of communal festivals. the physical embodiments of harmonious nature. earthly delight & fellowship. music.

the poet's word occupies a middle ground, mediating between the two. the pleasure involved in surmounting aesthetic difficulties, meeting artistic challenges, solving puzzles & problems. bringing order to chaos and freedom to order; uniting contraries; taking pleasure in judgement & necessity (tragic mimesis).

Pindar, for example. or Sophocles.
Checking into some books about sources of poetry & criticism in ancient Greece. Andrew Ford, Origins of Criticism. In the intro he discusses the oral performance/communal culture out of which "professional" criticism evolved : song recitals were social gatherings, & criticism & comment were part of the occasion itself. Shows examples of this from Homer & early literature.

Aristotle was at the beginning of one era, but at the end of another, too. The archaic one shows some fleeting similarities with contemporary poetry culture (cd's, music, reading jaunts, tribes, etc.).

& perhaps Aristotle's structural analysis of mimetic, performative poetry reflects that earlier culture in a way which the (cf. R.S. Crane) Alexandrian, text-based, rhetorical mode of criticism does not.
Jack Kimball has a smart review of the recent Johnson/Mohammad matchup hereabouts.
I've started a new blog spinoff, called HG Essays+Reviews. The first entry in what I hope will be an ongoing series is titled A Note on R.S. Crane.


Needless to say, you gotta read da book to get da full treatmemt.

RS Crane quietly, succinctly surveys the last few many hundred yrs of poetry criticism, & finds that, despite all the excellencies, dey most of em summat missed the point.

Poetry remains an undiscovered moon.

Here's the conclusion to the section I quoted earlier:

"It is easy to see, therefore, why the critic who uses this language is necessarily restricted, in his selection of attributes for poetry or individual poems, to such characteristics as have clear counterparts or logical contraries in the non-poetic discourse which he takes as the other term of his comparison. This is not to say that the method is incapable of differentiating poetry, as poetry, from other things or of serving as a basis for practical criticism of a highly particularized and perceptive sort. It is, however, to say that the discriminations it permits between poetry and other forms of writing or between the various kinds of poetry are such - and such alone - as can be arrived at by asking what characteristics among those possible in discourse are here present and in what special modifications and combinations. It is not a method, in other words, that allows the critic, as Aristotle's method does, to consider poems in their peculiar aspect as distinct kinds of concrete wholes, of which the special character, as poetic wholes, is determined by internal principles of construction that have, at least as far as imitative poetry is concerned, no strict parallels in philosophy, science, rhetoric, or history." [pp.93-94]
"Jane" has some current thoughts related to this stuff.

Poetry certainly provides food for thought. What a criticism along the lines I'm mulling over here would do, though, is investigate & evaluate the poem as food-source rather than meal : the poem as many-sided living something. As evocative, resonant art-action-work.

Aristotle, according to RS Crane et al. anyway, offers some neglected tools for doing that. Neglected in part because of the critical assumptions (blinders) he outlines in the chapter I just quoted.
Here is a long quote from one of the summary-transition paragraphs of RS Crane's book. I think even without the examples & evidence he offers, you can see how the kind of a priori -theoretical "discourse-application" method he describes, sounds very familiar to us. This relates very much, I think, to what A. Mlinko was getting at, with regard to the problem of reading poems as extrapolated "arguments".

On the other hand, Aristotle's notion of [& method of investigating] an intrinsic, special structure & form of poetry, as "imitation" rather than as verbal discourse, holds, as I have been saying, some serious potential for the reception & interpretation of present-day poetry.

RS Crane, The Languages of Criticism and the Structure of Poetry (U. Toronto Press, 1953), pp. 88-89:

"It is thus correct to say of these other critics, as not of Aristotle, that poetry exists for them primarily in a "verbal universe." And this fact has consequences of the greatest importance with respect both to the principles on which their criticism is based and to the method by which these principles are discovered and applied. The principles of poetics, for Aristotle, we have seen to be principles peculiar to the art of poetry, as the distinctive art of "making" or "imitating" human actions and other experiences in words, or to one or another of the various poetic species; they are identical with the necessary and sufficient internal causes, or principles of construction, that must operate in the writing of a given poem if it is to be a beautiful whole of the particular form desired; they vary accordingly from species to species; and they can be discovered only by reasoning a posteriori from the inductively known nature of any given kind of existing poems to the conditions of artistic success or failure in poems of that sort. For the critics in the second tradition, on the other hand, the principles of poetic criticism are necessarily specifications of principles operative throughout the field of writing as a whole. The basic principles of poetry are therefore identical with the principles basic to all varieties of verbal composition; and of these the most basic, as Quintilian long ago remarked, are the two elements without which purposive speech of any kind could not exist - res and verba, things and language, a subject and the words in which it is expressed, a content and a verbal form; after which the next most important, in any discourse that goes beyond a single utterance, is arrangement. If poetry is to be studied in terms of its character as discourse, in a context of other modes of verbal statement, these are indeed the primary elements to which the critic must refer and upon which he must build - as the modern critics I have quoted clearly do - in his efforts to say what poetry is as a special mode of speech, to discriminate its possible kinds, or to determine the standards upon which it is to be judged.
"They are, it will be noted, the elements which Aristotle distinguished for rhetoric rather than for poetics, and hence, as principles of poetry, they are essentially reductive, in the sense that, unlike the distinction of object, means, manner, and "power", which applies only to imitative poems, they tend to assimilate the structure of poetry to the structure of any discourse, however "unpoetic", in which we can discriminate aspects of content, language, and arrangement. It is necessary therefore to look for other principles through which the meanings of these basic terms (and especially of the first two) can be so specified as to give us a distinctive subject-matter for the criticism of poetry; and this is what the definitions of poetry I have quoted and the many others like them in this tradition are designed to do. They are based on the assumption that poetry has no intrinsic nature such as can be known sufficiently by an induction of the conditions essential to the production of poems as special kinds of wholes but is something that participates, with a difference, in the nature of discourse in general, or rather what is taken, hypothetically, as the characteristic of discourse in general which appears to illuminate most satisfactorily for the critic the problems and values of poetry. This characteristic once selected, the next step is the determination of appropriate differentiae; and from the hypothesis thus formed the critic can then derive, by dialectical necessity... all the more particular terms he needs for the discussion of poetry and poems."
Crane & Olson. But a different C & O.

(As I've noted before here someplace...) I was reading a monograph on Aristotle when I started Stubborn Grew.
Helped me add sort of an introductory echo effect (talking, in the poem, about what the poem was going to do).
Looked again (on coffee break) into RS Crane, Languages of criticism and the structure of poetry (U. Toronto, 1953). This is the real deal, esp. the third essay ("The languages of contemporary criticism").

Seriously, this will change your way of seeing things.

If I have time to quote some passages, I will.

Aristotle saw things differently.

Crane shows how the standard method of 20th-cent. criticism was so pervasive, you couldn't se that there were other approaches.

The standard method assumed "poetry" is one big thing, a kind of discourse, and you defined "it" by differentiating it from other kinds of discourse (but all these kinds are still cousins : all "discourse", "language-usage").

Aristotle saw these very unique & specific activities which people did which came to be called "poetry". Tragic, comic, epic were sharply differentiated from one another, & from other genres. They weren't "modes of discourse" : they were forms of an art of imitation.

Then he investigates their structure & shape, to discover how they create that specific power & beauty he calls "imitation".

I'm really not succeeding here in transmitting Crane's very valuable insights.

The "art of imitation" (in dramatic/epic poetry) is structured, not with discourse, but upon the armature of plot.

[I know I'm repeating some things I tried to describe a few months ago. I'm just going back in that direction.]
Sorry for the long-windedness yesterday. Looks now like a hodge-podge proto-essay, which somebody else will write if I don't get crackin'.

& the "list of paradigms" is not very gripping, much less complete. I'm going back to RS Crane's book Languages of Criticism and the Structure of Poetry.

As I was taking my shower this morning, was thinking that the real focus of interest for me here, what woke me up at 3 a.m. the other day, was this :

By going back to Aristotle, the Chicago people found a way to re-frame a formalist criticism (ie. one that focused on what & how the poem does what it does - as opposed to thematic or other kinds of readings). Instead of reifying the poem in isolation - a la New Criticism - this framework creates a holistic sense of poetic form : not only text, but performance; not only an internally-balanced aesthetic object of beauty, but a dramatic shape, which has specific techniques for creating particular rhetorical effects and evoking particular responses in its audience (emotional, interpretive).

Not only text, but living expression - an offshoot of the living poet & his or her dramatis personae. (Goes back to places in this blog's archive where I thought about the difference between prose fiction & poetry.)

This is not really new : Horace developed a practical criticism which analyzed the poem's rhetoric. But Aristotle seems more fully-rounded : he can distinguish these rhetorical effects, yet in symbiosis with the analysis of the poem as a formal shape, a kind of verbal sculpture.

What I'm thinking is that a framework which includes both text & performance - both objective shape, and its effects, its resonance - could be generated as kind of a general platform for developing a new critical vocabulary to apply to contemporary work.

When you look less to the model of New Critical "close reading" of the internal texture of the diction, and more to the meanings and effects projected in the dramatic action which is the poem, you might find a more capacious fit between meaning & expression, style & its effects.

With some such framework, you might be able to talk about the seemingly odd & baroque expressive techniques of contemporary poets, in a way which shows their affinities, differences, inheritances from past poetries.

& it might give poets more confidence in the motivations which impel them to offer their artistic activities as some kind of contribution to society at large. If poems are art works - not texts to be "processed" into their ideological paraphrases; not exercises in some dys-Platonic scriptorium, but forms which absorb text, in order to unite writing with dramatic presence - we might have a new sense of the symbiotic relationship between style & theme, between diction & Aristotle's trio of powers (ethos, pathos, logos).


OK Henry, class is over, the kids left an hour ago, you can go home now...

Here's a paragraph from the conclusion of Olson's "An Outline of Poetic Theory":

"Thus far we have proceeded on the supposition that the imitative poetic arts have as their ends certain pleasures, produced through their play upon our emotions. Certainly, these are ends of art and such as any consideration of art must embrace; but to suppose that art has no further effect and that it may have no further ends relative to these is vastly to underestimate the powers of art. It exercises, for example, a compelling influence upon human action - individual, social, or political - for among the causes of the misdirection of human action are the failure to conceive vividly and the failure to conceive apart from self-interest; and these are failures which art above all other things is potent to avert, since it vivifies, and since in art we must view man on his merits and not in relation to our private interests. It is not that art teaches by precept, as older generations thought, not that it moves to action; but clearly it inculcates moral attitudes; it determines our feelings toward characters of a certain kind for no other reason than that they are such characters. The ethical function of art, therefore, is never in opposition to the purely artistic end; on the contrary, it is best achieved when the artistic end is best accomplished, for it is only a further consequence of the powers of art. The same is true of any political or social ends of art, provided that the state be a good state or the society a moral society. To reflect on these things is to realize the importance and value of art, which, excellent in itself, becomes ever more excellent as we view it in ever more general relations."
So let's cut to the chase here, Hank - what's it all about, this rambular delving amongst the Chicago School tie?

As my better Ange is choristering over there today, in the same key with my squawks - it has to do with a search for a descriptive language for what poets are doing (today). A context.

Poetry reviewers do this naturally - improvising, more or less. But how to picture the wide-screen hysterical landscape?

Rather than put the poem in a bottle of battling-balancing textual forces (New Critics), or read poetry in terms of some other (non-poetic) level of critical discourse (everybody since 1975, more or less), the Chicago critics developed a formalist criticism : the formal terms of which, however, open out toward the wider, deeper connotations and consequences of art.

The history of American poetry/poetics for the last century takes an hourglass shape. The early moderns blew the top off the bottle of style, diction, form, et al. Eliot, Pound, Cummings, Stein, etc. etc.

Toward mid-century, the bottle narrowed into the methodological funnel of the New Criticism : poem as self-contained object.

Just at mid-point, the glass began to bulge out again : Projectivists, Beats, Life Studies, translations, free verse, & so on toward the open-ended flarfy fin-de-siecle.

When Elder Olson, RS Crane & the other Chicago critics began (toward mid-century) to differentiate themselves from the New Criticism, I think they discovered a useful set of "paradigms" (my very partial unofficial paraphrase/list) :

1. Critical pluralism allows many approaches & methods equal validity : walk in fear of over-extended critical universals (misapplied abstractions & categories of judgement).
2. Poetry is not described or defined simply by an analysis of diction or verbal texture. The words are not the form, but the material : the wood which takes the form of the toy ship.
3. Said form includes the cognitive and emotional resonances felt by the poem's readers & audience (ie. the "action" of the poem is not merely autotelic, self-contained, self-reflexive. It has measurable aesthetic consequences & contexts).
4. It's possible to distinguish aesthetic methods and effects, in the process of responding to & interpreting a poem's meaning(s), purpose, motive, impact, etc. & this seems like a sensible place to begin, since a poem is, first of all, a work of art.

2 essays which focus most directly on these issues are by Elder Olson (in the volume Critics and Criticism, ed. by RS Crane):
"An Outline of Poetic Theory"
"William Empson, Contemporary Criticism, and Poetic Diction"