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).