I see what my problem is in poetry - I've been reading Jordan's blog instead of his reviews.

I can be a little slow. I'm from Minnesota, if I haven't mentioned that yet.
Courtesy of Anny Ballardini:

New Orleans & books 

The New Orleans Public Library is asking for any and all
hardcover & paperback books for people of all ages in an
effort to restock the shelves after Katrina. The staff will
assess which titles will be designated for its collections.
The rest will be distributed to destitute families or sold
for library fundraising.

Please send your books to:

Rica A. Trigs, Public Relations
New Orleans Public Library
219 Loyola Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70112.
Review in New Yorker of philosopher David Dennett's book on the natural science of religion.

What believers in scientism, like Dennett, forget is that their own belief-systems rest on certain postulates (underlying assumptions). The central postulate of evolutionary theory is that life is the product of an individual & species-based survival mechanism. Dennett goes on to apply such a theory to the origins of religious thinking itself.

But evolutionary theory does not deal with the basic structural elements of the universe - space, time, stars, planets, moons. And it's these elements, perhaps, which were the primary focus of early religious speculation. Where did they come from?

Scientific work stems from free thought - speculation - theory - based strictly on data, facts, whatever is the case. But evolutionists (polemical ones, that is, like Dennett) do not acknowledge similar procedures in religious thinking, which is characterized (objectified) as some kind of evolutionary survival mechanism.

I would suggest, to the contrary, that religious thought is (in part - and only in part : ie., the scientific part) an early form of science, based on observation and reflection about "what is the case" with regard to life and the universe.

Think of it as going on - not as a result of some kind of intellectual hunter-gather mechanism - but during the cave peoples' & archaic citizens' free time : their musing about reality.

Which, needless to say, may still have a lot to offer with regard to what, ultimately, is the case.


This DEMAND of the poets stems, in my view, from the inevitable elusiveness of their prey, the imperfection of their lives & works, & from the structure (in the Maximus Confessor sense) of the cosmos itself...

Can't say enough good things about Urs von Balthasar's Maximus study, mentioned previously. This is a passionate work of scholarship, in a positive sense.

He writes about M's understanding of this oscillation between subjective & objective, between the individual and the whole, the all. How Nature everywhere presents distinct unique things, creatures, whose telos or end or purpose is their own fulfillment. How the intellect too shows that each thing has its unique and its generic (species) aspect. & how human beings, in their freedom, discover their purpose in comprehension & relationship with that wholeness, that community of nature - expressing their individuality in transcending same, through their effort, their labor, their love.

Balthasar shows how close this is to Hegel, yet he differentiates Maximus from the philosopher : by way of M's firm conception of nature as a creation, a gift of a Divine which is utterly beyond our knowledge, definitions & categories; & in the fundamental distinction between nature and grace. (Very much in the vein of Nicolas Cusanus. Now I see (perhaps) why Cusanus' "revelation" came to him on board ship, sailing back to Italy, from Byzantium : home of Maximus & Pseudo-Dionysius.) It's not a "process" working itself out in history : it's a yearning, implanted in nature, for the Absolute which is its source.
I agree with everything Ange Mlinko says here.


I think poets DEMAND to have it both ways.

In other words, poets & poetry oscillate between self-expression and objectivity, between the expression of personal emotion and the framing (perspective) of distances and evaluations.

The polemical among us (in the great tradition of Pound & Eliot) insist on one or the other: ie. the "extinction of personality", precision, the objectively perfect, the image, etc... or (in the Harold Bloomian neo-Romantic polemic) everything that is the other case.

Thus polemic proves itself unclean.


Mainly, though, I'm absorbed in Urs von Balthasar's excellent book on Maximus the Confessor.

The theology of the Greek Fathers : Maximus, Pseudo-Dionysius...

A curious openness, open-mindedness, there. Along with all the ancient stoic severity & fierce polemics.

With the Moderns (philosophers), the Absolute is often just another terminological card to shuffle, in their endless titanic explanation-of-everything game.

For the old Greeks, the Absolute radiates an aura : obscurity, utter Beyondness (beyond Being, beyond knowledge, beyond human, beyond explanation...), and love, and personhood. The Absolute is a living mystery, Being-beyond-Being.

Those glowing icons.

Being, well-being, eternal being...
becoming, movement, rest...

Here's another very old poem which I've posted before. Written in 1972 or so. Some things never change.

...the letters add to the elegance of a structure, even if
their meaning is hidden from those not familiar with the language.
Here, they tell how a piece of the true Cross was obtained at
Constantinople in 1034 and enshrined in the Chapel, where
each night prayers were to be said until Christ came again.
About half of the Chapel has collapsed, the interior yawning
hollowly in the direction of the Soviet Union
- Horizon Magazine (Winter 1971)


the well is always there
a decade of water
just a well
the soldiers pass by
and today the girls are among the clowns
each hiding an arm or wearing a red dance
standing around the well always there
reading: The Sea & the Jungle, by H.M. Tomlinson (publ. in 1912). Lovable travel book about crossing Atlantic aboard tramp steamer, going up Amazon. still in print. A very funny, rueful, self-effacing writer.

(another excellent writer : Candice Millard, author of River of Doubt. Recent book about Teddy Roosevelt's wacky & dangerous Amazon trip.)

Part of my Amazon research for poem.

(I may be doing a reading tour at several colleges, archaeological sites, & cannibal locations in the jungle - stay tuned for fantasy schedule!)


Jonathan posts some useful notes for the would-be critic.


Spring is in the air. Had a strange duende sensation, picking up a pizza last night in Fox Point, near the park. The librarian has his hobo moment. Poetry is mathematical sometimes; it's also sometimes a welling-up from somewhere else.

Then again, it may not have had anything to do with poetry. Providence needs me, & vice versa. Social consciousness is the elixir of youth. Posted by Picasa
  Posted by Picasa
Spring is in the air today.


from the Charles Olson Library :

Olson 1132 Hallucinogenic mushrooms of Mexico and psilocybin : a bibliography / R. Gordon Wasson. 
Olson 1133 Myth and ritual in Christianity.
This book, by Viola Sachs, should be back in print. It would sell. I keep trying to find an o.p. copy.

The game of creation: The primeval unlettered language of Moby Dick, or, The whale. (Published in Paris in 1982.)

As my faithful true-blue blabbophiles know, I'm struggling to get out of a writing block. Hope I'm not jinxing myself by saying that mathematics might help.

I'm going back to an approach I used in the long poems, only in a somewhat different order of steps.

It's curious how math & geometry infiltrated my writing, since I was never big on it in school.

When you have a set of themes or images or ideas which seem to be hanging around, waiting to be picked up... when you want to synthesize some material... well, sometimes there are geometrical aids-to-composition.

There's a poetry in numbers, & vice versa.

Formal harmonic properties are found in the way different numerical quantities interact. Thus, if you're interested in "part is the sum of its whole" (or vice versa) phenomena, math can help. There are curious & fascinating symmetries involved, when small quantities are mirrored or analogous to quantities on different orders of scale.

So say you have a theme or some subject-matter you want to interweave with something else, which may not appear immediately relevant : you can find ways to echo & balance or contrast things, geometrically.

Add to this the symbolic qualities which are or can be invested in numbers, and you're really getting somewhere. Because you can apply both your own symbolic values to particular numbers, and you can draw on traditional or other applications : you can combine them. Soon your art work will start to resonate with its own obscure & secret interconnections.

& this is all in addition to the rhythmic aspect (metrics).

Painters & architects & musicians, of course, have been doing this for a long time.

Right now I'm messing around with the mysterious number which pervades Finnegans Wake : 1132.

So why am I getting back to this? It's not just that math & geometry can help a writer organize material. Numbers, shape & symmetry can lead you along. The blank space can help you find what you're looking for, even before you knew you were looking.

As I've mentioned before, Alastair Fowler wrote a series of books on this subject, as exemplified in Renaissance poetry.
That poem in previous post was written 36 years ago. It was part of a group of poems which won the Charles Philbrick Memorial Award for 1970 at Brown University. (I think that award was only given once.) The result was a chapbook, titled Where the Skies Are Not Cloudy All Day (not my title : it was chosen by the editors, who published the poems along with an award-winning story, by James Morgan).

This chapbook is currently held by 5 libraries in the U.S., and one in Israel. (How my ancient text made its way over there, I don't know!)

& 36 years later, I'm still here (not counting some sidetrack years in community work & musical errancy).

Like Elijah in front of the whispering cave, I'm somebody who was transfixed by poetry, rooted to the spot. From the days of the Shakespeare Thing. "The lion sleeps on its paws. / It can kill a man."

It's like this (another old poem):

                from a cave

Such a small voice,
I would not stop to hear;
the sun was going down, and
there were no houses near.

Such a strange voice,
whispering out of the ground -
familiar, though it seemed
unearthly, utterly profound.

Such a sweet voice,
twining my cavern ear;
a vine for water jars, when
all the wedding guests are here.


Writing a note in the comment box over at Josh Corey's blog got me putting 2 & 2 together.

My mother used to tell us bedtime stories (back in the 1950s) about a Tom Thumb character she called "Frisbee". Then, in the late 50s, my father, a lawyer, patented the first "Frisbee". Now I'm wondering if the two things are connected somehow.

My Dad brought home the protoype no-name frisbee one day - my brothers & I threw it around in the yard.

Perhaps this is all connected somehow with the pervasive occulted subtextual obsession - in my longish poems - with time travel, flying saucers, etc...

the Russians are coming!


& hey, this reminds me once again of one of my 1st published poems. (I know I've posted it before here.)


you can do anything you want.

the baby here is trying to decide

about growing up human. he's rubbing

his double chin, he's a serious kid.

in a house on Arthur Street

a cap pistol is sitting on a desk

in the bedroom upstairs with the yellow

walls. according to the kid here

it's supposedly waiting

for the little green men.

the sky gets closer

as it gets more blue,

and you can recall

the 4th of July

all the heat

and all those little flags


reading more about Maximus. The other Maximus.

Cosmic Liturgy : the universe according to Maximus the Confessor, by Hans Urs von Balthasar

(I love that name. the man was from Basel. it sounds like 2 bears taking a walk in the mountains)


I'd like to write an essay about musicality in verse.

Diction plays a part in it. Also, the mysterious (to me) space around lines, phrases, stanzas. Space created by emotional intensity, or the obliquity of meaning.

Silence. Rest note. ("Rest Note" - good book title. copyright HG)

Music in poetry like color &/or spatial design in painting(?)

A potential weakness in American poetry : this framing space gets lost when the poet gropes for expansiveness, running-on, getting-it-all-said, tumbling from one joke to the next, "windy discoursing".

Then the poem sounds too much like talk.

The space of traditional metrics & rhyme was a kind of template for spatial (musical) control.

We got bored with it.

But complexity & resistance add interest.

I can no longer read poems that only sound like somebody "talking clever" at me.

But there are as many difficulties & pitfalls with "musicality". Falling in love with the sound of your own fricatives. Close reading of the "e" vowels. Mantic yammer.

Ominous, portentous ponderosa. The three word line, dropped like a tong of bricks.


Is it possible to speak of the "music" of an image?

That's what stopped me in my tracks when I picked up a book of Mandelstam (in translation, no less - & not the Merwin versions). The verbal image carried across its music - in a language with a completely different alphabet & sound.
NY Times tells us that on this date in history:

"In A.D. 461, according to tradition, St. Patrick -- the patron saint of Ireland -- died in Saul."

Died in Saul? Hmmm... not in my Bible (too risque). James Joyce would have liked this typo. Maybe he wrote it.
& here's a little goofiness from Stubborn Grew for St. Paddy's Day:

Well it wall began, he huhouuyynmphhed – it began –
are yall rhodey for this exclamornation? – it all
began with our W. Deep springs the steep, and tall
falls small, so the lil rig-V'd rocket wwwwrrrrhhed... ran!

Oh my did the kids collect their stubs an head for there!
Refugerators, specterspanulators, adopterators, even
some taters! Canonicus an co. plowed eleven-steven
buck for shot an fish for fool an a fair fare is square,

but they went under the impressurfdom of beastonian
stiffrottenness almound furnever, knaves –
it were a yurt caddie that still saves
gulf bowls and weary ware sharded long ago, abodian

freefar SW where Cautantowwit preserve my speech
rains over the deserveret and the undeserted and
whippoorwills protect the flowers, understand –
Bluejay was theirs. But we can steal tray to reach

that wet sound over the pure pile a pinetree scraps
an violent bows that ever purrcollate an rockabye
by the rectorious and the unmarzipanious. Try!
It'll opinion up hour by hour hysteria, perhaps!

H coffed a lil fleming and belgian some gastronomy now.
Here's Mars, he lectchurned on. The wars was unwise
because why's the reason, fellas? Shoe-size?
Make the gal squeeze an cries? Ho-ho, and how!

How? Rifle through the drayhorse for some key rationale,
and starve the shlep over the rockets until you fries!
That's warcome! Your very warcome, guys!
Quaker node in nudepart walkin through beans – hell,

they fileted Em fur that! So she up an refuged to list
another minute clam to that pilasterful of plastered saints!
That's what the narrow rhody for – imaginary isle it ain't –
see why ol Rog jet to capitalize anglandin – communist?

No, jest a plainpreachin manx talkin to the native tongs,
the ironic ore knot in ever won a gist all odysseus, come again?
No, jest a covertent – hope his anchor, an his cankersore – H
read about it an clucked it away for safecheepin, songs.
Article in Times today on renaissance of lectures & public readings in NYC. With photo of KGB bar (cafe?) poetry reading. I'd like to read there. I have an official KGB t-shirt (from the real KGB) which my wife got inside CIA headquarters (no, she is not a secret spy). I could wear it to the reading.


Orlando Furioso is rooted in & awash in games & play. Mazzotta goes into the Renaissance sensibility, in Shakespeare & Cervantes too, & many others. He quotes this beautiful passage from Plato's Laws:

"Though human affairs are not worthy of great seriousness it is yet necessary to be serious; happiness is another thing. I say that a man must be serious with the serious, and not the other way about. God alone is worthy of supreme seriousness, but man is made God's plaything and that is the best part of him. Therefore every man and every woman should live life accordingly, and play the noblest game, and be of another mind from what they are at present. For they deem war a serious thing, though in war there is neither play nor culture worthy the name, which are the things we deem most serious.
"Hence all must live in peace as well as they possibly can. What, then, is the right way of living? Life must be lived as play, playing certain games, making sacrifices, singing and dancing, and then a man may be able to propitiate the gods, and defend himself against his enemies, and win the contest."

(Thinking of Vallejo's poem about his brother who died in childhood : they play hide and seek, and he doesn't come back.)
My blog is an archive for Henry Geek & henry-geeks.

Go away, cool cats, groovemeisters & hipster wannabees.

Because I want to take a nap.
I'd be surprised if many blog-readers are bothering to follow the obscure dull intricacies of these posts of late.

Reading G. Mazzotta (Cosmopoiesis) on Ariosto. The Stoic philosophy of the passions (via Seneca) which informs Orlando Furioso (contra Machiavelli). Love & poetry are among the "furies", passions, which drive people crazy.

In the very beginning of Stubborn Grew, "Henry" is in the backyard, reading Ariosto, listening to a bluejay yodeling. This is where the narrative journey starts.

Would be curious if Ariosto provides the (self-)criticism - the distance - which I need to escape the solipsistic labyrinth of my own (romantic) poetizing.

Henry Furioso
I finished Forth of July (about a 3-yr project) the day before my 48th birthday. So I was no spring chicken while writing that. In fact one way to look at the poem's combination of love/poetry/renewal - the Orpheus romance - is that, at my (sort of) middle age, I was self-consciously experiencing the ability to write the poem, as a kind of renewal. I was undergoing my own internal renaissance, which really began with the Island Road sonnets. "The Muse" and love and writing were synchronizing - after several years of frustration & difficulties.

The sound-seed fell from high
like a sharp effigy in the frozen air
a figurehead forced through the narrows
of cliff-clay and it tolls for thee, Henry

(copperhead stretched out for seven
years of seven years from charlie horse
to roundhead) and Cuánto catorce
ha habido en la existenca!

you enter into eternity without a garment
in my beginning is a Lincoln sheep
my end the long Canadian geese-chase
from a faux point to the true target:

as a man with an enormous bleak millstone
wrapped like Ouroboros around his neck
is cast into the sea (do you ken
yet, Charlie Brown?) for offending

the little green one Qué deber,
qué cortar y qué taju de memoria
a memoria en la pestana!

Your endless shield like a rabid

Caesar that rings like brass
without harmony when you enter
into eternity it tolls for thee so turn
again and turn Charlie from Barabbas

toward the other Caesar (Atahuallpa
on the scaffold like curled-up Orpheus,
your father) to the green cap furling
hidden from roundheads in the palace

of an oak curling from Charles to Charles
and from brown to delta clay a sound
seed planted on a pinpoint spearhead
green for growing scroll to scroll

I can't really abstract a perfect illustration for my comments of yesterday. It's a poem or caterwaul that goes in a lot of directions. (Remember the photos Jonathan posted of Vallejo/Lincoln?) Here's something from near the end of July:


Deep drone of train or iron cicada
across an infinite prairie steppe or
taiga and where do the past
and future of these parallels ascend?

Accompanied by mute organ-pipes
in Voronezh or an anti-telephone
in Moscow (making superluminescent
waves) or just my new triangle on the barn

banging and banging like an old tin can?
The rapture of the universe is on
the radio tonight everybody knows
it (even the D.A.R., Grandma) it’s Marion

singing there in Washington
under the Depression and the shadowy
long hands long face still washed
with kindness twinkling like a star

his homely lonesomeness
is in her voice also tonight a silky
charity-chariot with malice toward
none we’ll ride it home Bluejay forget

the bondage of the 44 rail-split and
quartered in a milky map
rivers and forests in your palm
life-lines and spirit-trails

deep into tracklessness a limber
timbered everlasting habitat
we’ll make it home to bathe
again in that spring water Abraham

as the drone rises to the tops of the oaks
in an arc of praises love and liberty
are married there a tribal tree of
tribulations crowned a little school of J



Would like to follow up some of the comments of last few days.

In Stubborn Grew, and the 3 books of The Rose (all of which make up Forth of July), I tried to make such a frame. Part of that totalizing epic impulse. & not something I learned from Northrop Frye or other scholars, some abstract idea of genre - but an impulse going back to the Shakespeare thing, a need to articulate experience in a holistic way.

(My apologies to those of you for whom I may be sort of repeating myself, again.)

I wanted to "finish", to my own satisfaction, what seems like the unfinished business of the "long poem" in America.

In effect, this poem takes a very long psychic-poetic trip. The poet, the "speaker", wavers between autobiography, and history, and "pure" poetry, and parody, and lyric singing, and romance, and symbolic narratives, and documentary, and collage...

however, whatever the literary-emblematic, symbolic, political-historical ramifications of it all, the sum toto, when I reflect on it now, seems like self-portraiture. This may be due, largely, to the emphasis on memory (reverie) as the basic source of inspiration, the instigator.

I tried in several ways to "generalize" the poem's subjectivity. But this is a very problematic and paradoxical region of art-making. In some ways the subjectivity of the creative artist is exactly what the artist is about - the substance of art's message. The very ability to "muse" & write is dependent on the personal & private to a great extent.

I'm reading another (short) book by Giuseppe Mazzotta - Cosmopoiesis - on aspects of "world-making" in Renaissance literature. He writes in the intro about the traditional distinctions between Medieval and Renaissance : the former is theological, the latter is humanist; the former is vita contemplativa, the latter is vita activa.

I feel sort of on the cusp of this divide (as I guess everyone is, really). The poet-as-poet experiences originality - world-making, life-made-anew - in a very concrete way. But the fragile symbiosis of subjective & objective, person & world, is hard (if even possible at all) to "fix".

Reality is mysteriously in flux, in process - a theologian (on a good day) might describe this as an aspect of the divine gift of human freedom, power, & self-determination. Artists understand this - experience this - as the sudden coalescence of their imaginative projects.

In my "posthumous" creative life of the last 5 years or so, I seem to be struggling to find a mode of expression which is more objective, less autobiographical, less caught up with my interior psychodrama.

Or at least find a way to make that personal experience more informed by the objective present.

Forth of July is full of obscure symbolic structures & meanings. The 3rd volume, July, tried to go in two directions at once : to break out of the nostalgic-memorial element of the previous volume (Grassblade Light), and at the same time to create a more autonomous artistic structure (ie. Forth of July issues in, seeks its own telos, in July.)

I started writing it on July 15th - traditionally, "St. Henry's Day" - the day in 1199 when the Crusaders formally invested the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. I aimed to end it between March 15th - the Ides of March - and April 14th - around Easter/Lincoln's assassination/Vallejo's death.

There were a lot of ideas circling around in my head about these symbolic dates. The notion of "Henry going to Jerusalem", for one (a reference to Henry the IV's ironic speech to Prince Hal in the "Jerusalem Chamber" in Shakespeare's H. IV).

There was the Judaic-Christian concept of "Jubilee", which is a kind of messianic/utopian hopeful idea about world justice & peace. In order to symbolize this element I played a lot of word games - reversing the "shell" of an armored (military) Julius Caesar - world political power - through the "coming-forth" of Juliet, or the ark of Jubilee.

Thus the Christian sacrifice evoked by the sepulchre - & resurrection-hope - is linked in the poem (& to America) via Lincoln/Vallejo.

It all sounds very schematic, but it was shaped through a kind of whacky (psychic) journey to New Orleans - through American history - up & down the Mississippi, via Crane, Melville, Whitman, Twain... (& the mysterious Bluejay - who returns after his disappearance at the end of Stubborn Grew.)

The octagonal shape of Frederick II's Castel del Monte (discussed a few days ago) was modelled (some have argued) on the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, which Frederick may have encountered in the course of negotiating the (peaceful - & very short-lived) return of Jerusalem to Western control. The octagon is also symbolic of the renewal of the world (the "eighth day" of creation).

Anyway, happy Ides of March.


poetry considered as an aesthetic framing process.

for the purpose of arriving at conceptual unity, synthesis, integration.

or, perhaps I should say, as a means of arriving at an Archimedean point of leverage : the criticism of life, the just interpretation of cultural habits & human deeds.

thus, for example, Dante's combinatory song outshines the medieval encyclopedias (G. Mazzotta writes about this : Dante's Vision and the Circle of Knowledge).

the encyclopedic, all-encompassing ambition of the epic poet.

symbols of wholeness, inter-relatedness, "ecology".

Blake's titanic imagination (cf. Northrop Frye).

Olson's localism was a method of totalization, or integration. the universal in the concrete, etc.

Zukofsky's hermeticism, something similar.

an aesthetic : how to draw a circle : how to tell a good story.

applying the "measure" of song as, to repeat, a frame. the way a painter measures (& resonates) expansive meaning through symbolic forms & imagery.
Anybody out there heard of the theologian Urs von Balthasar? I've stumbled on his voluminous writings in my peregrinations through the stacks. He approaches religion & history through the fundamental category of drama.

All the world's a you-know-what. Yeatsian, too.

Dante et al. as historians. & history as a form of (cosmic) theater.

How are poets historians? By way of the tensions of history which pervade their work. The fascination with events & politics. The confidence & ambition to formulate a poetic image of same. The sense of moral complicity & responsibility. The authority of articulate thought.


Anastasios is doing some blogging again.


poetry is to rhetoric as painting is to the travel section.
GG argues that it is rhetoric which propels the significant articulation of feeling & conscience, ie. that rhetoric is motivated by an ethical demand.

& if poetry is distinguished from rhetoric, then it shuts itself off from the ethical/moral challenges of the present time.

My sense, rather, is that there is an unspoken ethos and a natural law - which is expressed in different & distinguishable ways - through poetry on the one hand, and through rhetoric (or discourse) on the other.
Gabriel Gudding is going around saying that I'm among those who still argue that poetry is not rhetoric.

Poetry is not rhetoric.

Poetry & rhetoric are 2 distinct forms of something called "eloquence".

Rhetoric employs words so as to fabricate the verbal equivalent of the hammer in the velvet glove.

Poetry, on the other hand, deploys language like a resonator.

What is a resonator, you ask? You ask? You ask? You ask...


Last night I just glanced at Kent Johnson's malicious black book. I might write something about it, maybe on the essay blog. I'm represented, 'grammed, & I get off easy (whew!).

In two short lines, Catullus (sort of) compares me to Dante (oy vey...). But somebody else is playing Dante here. Many will find themselves awkwardly a-wriggle on a pin - in a special pen of Kent's devising.

Malice is a form of love, says Dante. Kent reminds me a little of those guys in high school who followed other people around, because they were just so enthralled, in love, fascinated with other people. So caught up in others' charisma that they came off as inadequate hangers-on themselves. (I'm remembering myself, here.)

But they weren't, really, inadequate. They were just experiencing love & awareness to a degree that overwhelmed their own capacity for role-playing (which is easy, on the other hand, for egotists).

Kent is actually in love with Poetry World and all that happens in it.

Mandelstam tried to grasp Dante's persona (though he was actually projecting himself). He called Dante a raznochinets, a deracinated populist intellectual - always ill at ease, awkward in society, not knowing how to conduct himself.

Shakespeare, hiding behind the curtain of his characters.

This book of Kent's sorts ironically (which I will have to think about) with his promotion of anonymity, Pessoa, heteronyms, the dissolution of the "author-function". Because here we have idiosyncratic "quick sketches" of writers, which meld together, and foreground, caricatures of quasi-public, literary personae - individuals, characters - with a judgement on their writing.

I know I shouldn't take the book too seriously, though. We are all still in high school, & Kent Johnson is still reading Rabelais.
I was walking home from work yesterday, thinking that in literature, as in everything else, you have to be safely dead before they do an autopsy. When I got home, there on my doorstep was Epigramatitis : 118 Living American Poets.


Fred's Castel del Monte has a total of 56 facets (8 walls, with 48 sides on the 8 corner towers). He also died at age 56.

A man's his castle. (Birthday numbers... my poem's full of 'em.)

Each little section or canto of The Grassblade Light can be likened to an image, like a coin, cast in a mold. Not only are there 8 (in 7) parts : each part contains 28 (+ 1) sections; each section contains 28 lines (7 quatrain stanzas). (This is the template, anyway; there are some meaningful variations in the pattern). The central "+1" or 29th section of each part is designed as 4 x 4 quatrain stanzas (or 64 - 8x8 - lines).

28 x 2 = 56.

(One obvious pitfall of this kind of form is the temptation to fill in the pattern (with filler). Did I avoid that? Dunno... maybe.)

This is my goulden coinage of poetic value, Mandelstam's "gold coins of humanism". It's worth one penny, Penelope.

Op-ed piece by columnist David Brooks in NY Times today, about study of differing child-rearing habits of rich & poor. In the Moynihan style, I guess.

American culture needs to counterbalance bourgeois competitive materialism with an awareness of the common good. Not that competitive materialism & striving are necessarily bad. Not at all. I admire strivers (I just hate those big SUVs). But we need that equilibrium. Civic values, the humane values of civic society - charity & good deeds & justice & equal opportunity & human rights. Not patronizing : empowering. "Let justice pour down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

This is where the arts come in. La Republique. Liberte, Egalite, Sororite, Fraternite.


I'd sure like to go to the AWP Fest, but I gotta stay here & take care of the poetry store.


Castel del Monte is on the verso of the (Italian) euro 1-cent coin:

It turns out Emperor Frederick II & my mother share the same birthday (different years). Gosh, that explains a lot.

The emperor grew up in Palermo, a Sicilian-Norman-Arabic blend of cultures.

He was attired for burial in a mixture of Cistercian & Arabic robes.

He was interested in mathematics : he sponsored & encouraged the famous Fibonacci.

He wrote a treatise on falconry which is still cited.

Castel del Monte is a weird, unusual place, sort of like my poem.

"Poets, envy the crystallographers!" (Mandelstam)

(I'm finding some of these facts in a book by Heinz Gotze, Castel del Monte.)


It's a rule : all big poems have to be modelled mathematically on the architecture of a building (or part of a building). For Dante it was the mosaics in the chapel in the Ravenna cathedral (there's a good book on the numerology of this). For Pound it was the Malatesta crypt. For Crane, of course, it was... you know.

I modelled the middle book of Forth of July (The Grassblade Light) on the Castel del Monte.

(Frederick II had many negative qualities. But in my poem he & his Castel represent a principle which both Dante & Roger Williams stood for : the separate, dual & independent spheres of church & state.)

I have a strong competitive streak, which I try to moderate by losing at everything.


"supremely ornamental" is kind of an oxymoron.

one implication of Frost's poem being, that our teasing artifices are merely the frills & ornaments echoing a more general (& divine) manifestation (or hide n'seek).

& so, furthermore, "telling it slant" is more natural (true-to-life) than some well-meaning deliberate patronizing obvious "realism" (meant for the "nonintellectuals" amongst us).

& yet... & yet... our motive for these evasions moves inexorably toward its denouement, the unfolding of that implicated truth.

it's a both/and sort of tensile harmony.
somewhat relevant poem, by Robert Frost:


We make ourselves a place apart
Behind light words that tease and flout,
But oh, the agitated heart
Till someone find us really out.

'Tis pity if the case require
(Or so we say) that in the end
We speak the literal to inspire
The understanding of a friend.

But so with all, from babes that play
At hide-and-seek to God afar,
So all who hide too well away
Must speak and tell us where they are.
(...clearly the whole question goes much deeper than that, however.

A poet becomes identified with ordinary people by way of his or her own passionate identification with same.

But such a passion implies an isolation, a separation, of some kind.

In overcoming that primal distance - in the victory of the quest, the winning of the game - the poet embodies something supremely ornamental in their own person & art.)

(Geez, this sounds suspiciously way too much like D'Annunzio..., or, Lorca, I'd rather think of. Crane. or Dickinson, the Silencer.)
Ange Mlinko writes:

"As to the question, "How to find the way to write both an artful and utilitarian poetry?" I can't say I would ever use "poetry" and "utilitarian" in the same sentence, but if Sarah means "relevant to the daily lives of nonintellectuals," I think there are lots of examples, from Gwendolyn Brooks to Daisy Fried, but it entails an abandonment of abstraction and ornament."

I admire the impulse, disagree with the analysis.

Akhmatova was a best-seller in her time (the 1910s, -20s). She managed to write a poetry which fused the simple and the ornamental, the harsh & the sweet.

One can deflect this with more analysis, of one flavor or another. But her impact, her commitment to a social, populist poetry (similar to Whitman) is just one example which denies the Puritan form of this dichotomy, which American poets seem to fall into again & again.

& I don't want to surrender Wally from Hartford, either.

Spring is on its way
Henry's Lenten Resolution

For Lent, I've decided to become a more disciplined researcher. If you want to write an essay or an article, you must do the basic footwork on the subject at hand. You need to try to pull together the sources.

Observe the subject as an object.

I've never been to grad school (some could argue I've really never left high school). Much of my "thinking" runs (on purpose) on obscure tracks.

But I work in a library, for heaven's sake. I should be able to do this, on a small scale.

Then again, I may not have the will-power for it. I may just want to lie in the hammock in the snow & strum my geetar & imagine my "duende".
Ars Interpres has accepted the Brodsky elegy for publication, for which I'm beholden (& very grateful) to Alan Shaw.
Can I pull any threads together from the jumble of last few days?

- mountaineering

- the "Math World" comparison

- going to the boundaries

- poetry : civilization (part : whole)

- Acmeism (humanizing the earth)

It's a mess! & the bit about Russell's Paradox & etc.... way too mushy & vague.