Slogging through some turgid & pedantic chapters in Richard Swinburne's The Existence of God. When philosophers decided, about 100 yrs ago, that they should sound like scientists, and put all their reasoning into logico-symbolic equations ("where event E is folded into hypothesis H via prior knowledge K we get probability P divided by..." blah blah)... this was a huge mistake. It's worse than the most dried-up medieval scholasticism. All this stuff should be in the footnotes at the back.

& yet the book's stylistic weaknesses are rendered just about moot by the fabulous logical intelligence at work here.

We have a general mythical-historical notion of a gradual dimming away, in the West, of rational belief in an omnipotent creator-God. This book is perhaps the best evidence that such an historical picture is mistaken. Swinburne walks in no fear of Kant or Hume. & his arguments are cumulative and very strong.

p.s. & I should say that most of Swinburne's book is clear, simple & direct. (He apologizes for the symbology in the intro.)


Have you ever pondered the question : does God exist, or not?

A simple enough question, burdened with emotional and historical and ideological and hysterical doubts, fears, myths, fantasies, evasions, dogmatisms, etc. etc. Such coercive pressure, at many levels of society, applied to force people to take positions (regardless of free will or free thought).

Anyway, here are two books which I would use if I were setting up a course on this subject (which I may just do):

Richard Swinburne : The existence of God. 2nd ed. Oxford UP, 1991 (includes a brief rebuttal of arguments in Mackie's book, as follows).

J.L. Mackie : The miracle of theism. Oxford UP, 1982 (a response, from an atheist position, to 1st ed. of Swinburne's book - as well as a clear presentation of the various arguments for & against theism).
OK, I will stop saying what poetry "should be". At least for the moment.

Language is powerful. I throw rhetorical counter-weights against the facile, the clever, the affable blather. Let poetry be hard-won. Or totally unwilled. One or the other. Not this willed verbosity of the glib (my own included).


Yesterday, from somewhere in seedy old brain, had one of those faint involuntary memories. Vagueness of 8 yrs old, outside, somewhere near lake. Smell of pond, docks, marsh muck... childhood sensorium. Feeling of uncertain alertness, of being in strange or new place. Vividness of childhood reality. Of being child-size in dislocated landscape - someone else's property or agenda... in-betweenness, in transit, not in control...

as if I had been dreaming now of the sort of dreamy sense of reality a child has... mingling two dream-states.


I'm a typical Minnesotan : happy-go-lunky.


Poetry should be both oracular and true. (there are always plenty of fake oracles)
Six months ago today I started Rest Note, thinking it would be the 1st of 4 books. I did all those "read-along" interpretations of it, here. Now I have the feeling it won't go any further. I wrote 3 sections of Rest Note 2 (posted here a few days ago). But I suspect it might be all done. Last of my Mandel-Cranian quatrains. Maybe.

Pondering in new directions(?). Dissatisfied with my own poetry (though - please don't misunderstand - happy enough with Rest Note, for what it is), & with poetry in general... or just tired, maybe.

The advantage of never getting very far in Poetry World : you start to think harder about what you really might like to read. Or what possibly someone else really might want to read.

The Glut problem is many-dimensional. One consequence of the illusory ease of our writing/publishing technologies now : we take poetry for granted. We lack taste and discrimination.

Making it should be like breathing at the North Pole : very difficult, very cold.

There should be many, many, many obstacles. This is what helps make its eventual appearance so precious. At least that's how it was in the old days (in my mythology, anyway).

Poetry should be the utter opposite of chit-chat.

It should be steeped in absolutely decisive affirmations and refusals. It should be aged and ripened, refined to the utmost. (I'm not talking about academic or intellectual (or even social) refinement, but rather experiential, existential, artistic refinement.)


I think I may have come to the end of my Quatrain Period : the era which began about ten years ago, when I decided to try "sounding like" Osip Mandelstam's Voronezh poems, and ended up writing hundreds & hundreds of pages...

Ready for a change, maybe. Something seems to be percolating (though I've experienced these mirages before). We'll see...


Attended Meredith & Peter Quartermain reading on Saturday at Bowery Poetry Club (yes, friends, occasionally I do leave the library. It's about an 8-yr cycle). Glad I went. Well-organized, sparsely attended. Charles Bernstein was there, along with Nada Gordon & Gary Sullivan, the emcees. Some NYU students.

M. Q. read from Vancouver Walking, a book she said was influenced by Pound's Cantos historical grab-bag, which she was reading at the time. Also Charles Olson's passion for local news, & Zukofsky-Niedecker word-precision. (She is a very good reader. Every word spoken clearly & distinctly, yet without a lot of mannerism. Perfectly matching her style.) Now I'd like to read this book, though the poems were almost too dry and world-ironic for my taste. A long satire on the subliminal influence of Queen Elizabeth II on Canadian culture - seemed a subject not worth attacking, exactly. But that's just me. Overall it was fascinating to hear someone contemporary carrying on a certain vein of 20th-cent. poetry in an honest, authentic way. (Plus I was in Vancouver once. Can't think of a better city for walking.)

P.Q. read a chapter from work-in-progress, a memoir. An early passage, relating adventures as the youngest boy (age 7) in parochial British boarding school. Very charming, entertaining. I spoke with him briefly after - asked whether he simply had good recall for those days, or whether it came back to him during the writing. He said the project started when he & a friend decided, as a joke, to write some of each others' autobiography (sounds like a Brit schoolboy thing, to me). Soon after, he was flooded with childhood memories, & started writing it in earnest.

He told me he set some firm rules of style beforehand (in order to avoid memoir-boredom) : ie., no subordinate clauses. I said "the Hemingway approach?" He said he hated Hemingway, but, yes. It worked - became fast-moving, a "page-turner", in his words.


I actually GOT OUT OF The Library this weekend. Attended Segue Series reading, by Vancouver poets Meredith & Peter Quartermain at the Bowery Poetry Club.

[Edited out the diaristic elements of this post this morning (10/23). Sorry, no can do. 2nd thoughts.]


Quieter than usual here in the library today. Raining outside.

I'm going to NYC tomorrow for a day or so. Hope to attend Segue reading at Bowery Poetry Club on Sat. (Meredith & Peter Quartermain)


We know about beauty in nature & art, somewhat. Shape, colors, sounds, proportion, elegance, truth, & so on.

A beautiful thing is in proportion to itself. It has limits - it has form, shape. Even though the prevalent approach, recently, has been to emphasize extensions, fragments, extras, border-crossings.

Poetry is the art of words. Strangely drawing a boundary around words (these usually useful packets of transmitted info). & so fostering a zone of magnetism, gravity, weight...

Melville was perhaps the last, maybe the only, American writer to work with genres the way ancient and renaissance writers did. Along with grammar and style, there were generic patterns and modes which demanded adaptation and fulfillment. The Confidence-Man is a tour-de-force of such generic techniques & parodies. Moby-Dick is a serious epic.

Once artistic literature was seen under the aegis of something called "the wheel of Virgil". Virgil set the pattern for authors : first lyric & elegiac short poems; then georgic/didactic discursive modes; then epic, the attempt to represent a cosmos, an encyclopedic totality.

Running the gauntlet of these difficult, high-mandarin disciplines, the poet approached "authority" - a role through which a social community (a nation, a people) found its values mirrored in literary art.

Dramatic poetry offered a different, sometimes rival path (the debate over the authority of Homeric epic vs. tragedy is very old).

Writing & poetry no longer seem to have much of this magic aura (at least in our part of the world). Maybe this is a good thing. But sometimes contemporary poets seem rather lost without these old trails.

Poetry is still "different", different from ordinary speech behavior - but not in the same ways. Reading & writing seem to have sort of blurred into the vast, vague category of "talk".

The old disciplines perhaps assisted writers in finding a certain useful remoteness from the ordinary day-to-day. Contemplative, productive space in which to articulate those deep connections, which they notice on the underside of every leaf.

(Now I'm reminded of Mark Scroggins' comments on differing British & American approaches to the "formalities" of art and ordinary speech.)


Anny Ballardini was interviewed today in the Italian newspaper "Alto Adige", about translating my history poem In RI.

Mille grazie, Anny.


I'm very conscious of the fact that in the context of our political life today my poetry is at best irrelevant, and at worst self-indulgent, deluded. I'm getting there, I'm getting there (I hope). Someday.

Auden, "September, 1939". Vallejo, "Spain, Take this Cup from Me" (or how it goes).

We live in a time of verbal-ideological-utilitarian-Machiavellian pyrotechnics (rhetoric). So my poetry affords me a space to be simply myself - free, simple, stupid. I have a system of knowledge & belief which I will gladly share - it has to do with the 7th Day of Creation. Hobo Frank is interested.

Am reading Ernst Kantorowicz's (1931 publ.) bizarre (Hitlerian?) symphonic hero-worshipping biography of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (St. Francis' contemporary and strange alter ego).

My poem Grassblade Light (part of Forth of July) was designed numerically on one of Fred's castles in southern Italy. Huh.

What were we talkin' about?
More unusual mutations from Rest Note (II)...


The poem is the fruit of Burgundian largesse;
it seeps from flagrant dogwood leaves
that scatter anarchic caravel-carpets
(maroon canoes) around my feet. Excess

is the sign of the season. Flushed cheeks
on a florid emperor. These tiers
of flaming trees, magnifying the jeers
of sardonic scrappy starlings (cynical geeks

of ravening frost). So the season flaunts
its doom, a mocking diadem (last fling
amid withered shreds of everything
once green). So Hobo grumbles (haunted

house). Here the weather is a voice,
the wind a messenger (thinly, thinly).
Screed of starlings' raucous prophecy -
the rasp of a gasping hasp in an iron vice.

Occasional cry in the distance. Late at night
I hear the freight train's single plangent hoot.
Silver disintegration, formal hail (precipitate).
It is the star in the hexagon (right

eyelid of the king, left there to melt. See?)
or the black hole in the hollow of a pupil
reading late into November. Universal
sailor, say - Ulysses - drifting out to sea.

To see how things sound in the campanile
in San Francisco, or Jerusalem. Emperor
or saint, hobo Fred or Frank - forever
rounding on the perihelion (its catenary smile).


Semi-following with delight the various trails of bloggies

John Latta
Robert Archambeau
Mark Scroggins.

Though I think Robert's carefully-grounded essay on the New Criticism nonetheless balances too much on the loaded-vague term "autonomy".

There is a science of criticism which attempts to root itself in strictly Aristotelian regard for the specificity of the material under review. This is something RS Crane & his Chicago School tried to follow (& I try to point out in my lil' essays). As distinct from questions of art-or-poetry's political-ethical import or relevance - which are indeed central - there is the question of critical method. An Aristotelian regard for the "quiddity" of the entity under evaluation does not necessarily lead to a-political and a-moral American-technocratic suprematism. In fact it can lead, paradoxically, to the recognition that a work of art can simultaneously reflect both ethical and aesthetic integrity and pith (cf. plays of... Shakespeare... or... poems of John Donne... or various others...).

It's this simultaneous clarity political punch & aesthetic elegance which is rather lacking in the products of much "post-pavane" Ameriqian poetical theory, I would say... perhaps because, as Mark Scroggins points out, they haven't actually read much poetry in the English language... or they haven't the literary zip & curiosity of Latta-day's Rexroth...

...maybe why I most oftenly find the vaunted poetical excerpts offered up by Mr. Silliman so basically boring... drab diction etc...


more from Rest Note (Book 2) :


What I know is waywardness. My eyes
linger in the roadside sumac and the locust
leaves. Desire to lose myself is just
the way it is - no need to summarize

the summer haze. I long for this.
I lengthen into absent vacant lots.
One Crane equals a thousand Eliots.
One Henry swings his chariot of bliss

into Rock Candy Mountain Paradise.
Here Hobo turns suspicion into cellophane
(queer questings into knotholes, via pristine
phlogiston of embattled campfires). Nice. Ice.

He seeks to save a face, it seems.
Not his own, anymore (too late for that);
somebody he knew once - maybe just a cat.
Pushkin's in the grave now, suddenly (dreaming).

I buried him the other day, still warm
and silky-plush. Nine lives
numbered (under grass). Restive
iteration toward sundown. (Inchworm).

In the elliptical pattern of nine orbits
love reverts upon itself. It shines
in the candle-power of a what millions
of whatnesses
. Or witnesses. It fits -

this hollowness (a mirror-pond). The face
Hobo longs for hovers in an afterglow...
nowhere to lay his head. An undertow,
a bent reality (of love misplaced).


Beginning Rest Note Book II :


A warm day in the middle of October;
a carnival of starlings in the maple trees
whistle among themselves; their gleeful squeals
captivate a lapsing Hobo (not so sober).

Deep russet of the dogwood overhead
is autumn's canopy. A stand-in for the season.
The sun plays hide and seek - light-clouded
blason - dimwit paramour of drowsy Red.

So Hobo sought a whistle of his own,
his very own. Somewhere in the light-
edged clouds, or beneath a moonlit freight-
train's shunting accordion-chord. Unknown

before, because forgotten once. Dismissed,
abandoned. Only the echo reckons harmony,
the two made one (so the blind begin to see,
the old made new again). Come back then,

Muse, mistress of my distress
, he whispers.
Zephyr of a cipher, ring me round
as in that rusty phantom of Siena-town

(good riddance to nine hundred lonesome vespers).

Where brother Lorenzetti flickers horsehair
in the silence of the popular palazzo.
Whistle unheard, sign unseen, yet natural
as is the rhyme of evening and year.

The nine girls float into a ring, a tambourine
embellishing. The tinkling swish of iron limns
a sound like starlings in frail, flaking limbs.
Hobo hears trombones in the aquamarine.



Had a wonderful evening at this roundtable in Somerville, a Pawtucket-like extension of Boston. Thanks to Peter Marquez & the artists. Even though the best-laid plans of this mouse came to nought. I should have brought a translation of the M. poem (noted below). Of Mice and Men. M. Mmmmm.

Almost read F. O'H's poem "Why I am Not a Painter". Almost read Nicolas Cusanus. Almost read a few of my 3000 poems. I ended up reading an extended excerpt in trans. from OM's essay "Word & Culture" (on "domestic hellenism").


Someday my poetry, which builds on Crane, will help justify his work. Reviews like Kirsch's - despite his many positive & perceptive comments - are still designed on a logic of dismissal. Crane's work & life were not perfect, but that shouldn't be the main issue.

I would suggest going back to look at Crane's own logic & epic argument. Langdon Hammer's critical studies help in that direction. Crane's argument with Eliot's pessimism (about the world, about America) parallels the positions of WCW and Stevens, yet with a difference.

I look at Crane through the lenses of Mandelstam's practice - his elliptical, evocative imagery - as well as his debate with Russian Symbolism. The commitments of what the Russians called "Acmeism" (as practiced by Mandelstam, Gumilev, Akhmatova) had to do with an optimism about the earth and world, a grateful attitude toward temporal things, which opposed itself to the otherworldliness, pessimism & withdrawal of Symbolism, and offered grounds for epic-celebratory modes, which Crane also explored.


Review of Hart Crane volume from Library of America by Adam Kirsch in this week's New Yorker. Oddly parallels some themes in Milan Kundera essay in same issue ("What is a novelist"?). (Among other things, a novelist is a grown-up, whereas a poet's role, basically, is to express adolescent lyrical self-absorption. The novel = growing out of poetry. Aside from this he has a lot of sparkling, though not exactly new, things to say.)

Kirsch seems to be a master at refurbishing received opinion. On my quick 1st reading (hafta go back again), I would summarize his argument as : Yvor Winters & Allen Tate were ultimately correct, even though their analyses were on faulty grounds. Crane is indeed an adorable grand failure. Not because he didn't have talent, but because American culture itself was too thin to bear the weight of his literary-nationalist aspirations (out of Waldo Frank's Our America).

Taking these two articles as (meager) evidence, we must be living in a very anti-romantic, rationalistic, prose-centered era these days.

Kirsch writes that the fact that Library of America had to pad the volume with lots of Crane's letters, thereby emphasizing the bio over the work, only underlines the reality of failure, since Crane's goal was to be an exemplar of Modern epic & mythic-social objectivity. This is not a very good argument, though, since Crane's output was relatively small, and the letters are of great critical interest.

There will be more to be said about the gift of Crane's poetry, and its relation to America's developing culture. Eliot, Winters, Tate, Poetry magazine, & now Kirsch haven't boxed & bottled him yet.


I'm off to the nation's capital for the long weekend. Will be giving readings at Library of Congress, White House, Lincoln Memorial, Patent Office, & Smithsonian Museum of the Walley Pike.

er, um, maybe. see you-all next week.


Hard-hitting analysis by Gabriel Gudding today. But one might add a corollary : "All dogmatic generalizations tend toward the formation of interest groups."
I suppose Asian arts & poetry have explored "understatement" more than we have in the West. Don't know much about it.

To make a prairie, it takes a clover and a bee -
one clover, and a bee,
and reverie.
The reverie alone will do
if bees are few.

(- E.D.)


There are various ways of thinking about what is beautiful in poems.

It's possible that in our present climate we fail to recognize the role of understatement, evocation.

A self-effacing description evokes a scene, creates atmosphere.

(The kind of sensorium we sometimes associate with autumn.)

Words that fade into an imaginative impression : say an experience in which a setting - a particular place or time - seems to combine with a state of feeling, or with a particular situation, or state of mind.

Words perhaps share with music (to a degree, anyway) a certain capacity to vanish behind (or dissolve before) the state of mind they evoke.

Something elusive about this. There may be a name for it...


The painter Grace Ravlin was my grandfather's cousin. They grew up together in Kanesville, Illinois. She was quite active back in the early decades of the last century : Morocco, Tunisia, France, the southwest etc. The government of France owns several of her paintings. There's a nice one of a Red Cross parade down 5th Ave. during WW I.

Occurs to me I could present a version of that Mandelstam poem at the Somatic Mirror event.
Tom Clark wrote me once to tell me that this was his favorite passage from Stubborn Grew :

Causes you malingerin luster glimmerstill inna shadow. 
An miss th'marrowed missers an misters, foes ever.
An this bodily weak by weakerness seam to sever
th'po from th'opuss an th'bit o'honey from th'O-bow.

An the po thing – the lil figurino in muh hand –
the lil man o'flush – the lil piss biscuit –
the lil foolghoul – the lil fiery missit –
the lil wastrelily – the lil white dry dachshund –

getta blame for blame, an lame for lame –
the peepers needa close call on some body other
wise no body node the how-to trouble-eye mother
forkin crybooby gonna fine the pad to came

an gone all ready to travail an labor updown a gain
O nuns O lossa marriageers ovum the privateers an
weed all rank the general woe buttween them tears
inna sheets inna draindrop drown byenbyenbyebyears.

(I think he was putting me down.)
Joe Latta's Scratched memento from Tom Clark reminded me of this adolescent Osip Mandelstam effusion (trans. by James Greene):

What shall I do with the body I've been given,
So much at one with me, so much my own?

For the quiet happiness of breathing, being able
To be alive, tell me to whom I should be grateful?

I am gardener, flower too, and not alone
In the world's dungeon.

My warmth, my exhalation, one can already see
On the window-pane of eternity.

The pattern printed in my breathing here
Has not been seen before.

Let the moment's condensation vanish without trace:
The cherished pattern no one can efface.

August 1909

(Later I'll try translating this myself. I'm curious to see the original.)


John Ashbery is reading Providence on Wednesday. Last time I heard him read was at an Ivy League College in Northampton Mass. in 1971. The reading was loudly heckled by a member of the jazz-fusion band which had opened for Ashbery, a tall Af-Am sax player in a dashiki, who accused him of escapist effete a-political out-of-touchness. Ashbery responded that he didn't think he was required to write in any particular way. Heckler finally walked out, & I followed him down to the basement cafeteria where he was hanging out with the other band members. Engaged him in some conversation, defended Ashbery etc. in a friendly way. He accused me of being a rich preppy honky who didn't know anything (in a friendly way). We left on good terms. I went back to the reading, & spoke to Ashbery about it, who invited me & a couple friends (who had traveled with me up from Providence) to a party afterward. We went to the party. I remember we sat tongue-tied & in awe at his feet for a while, then he said he had to go make a phone call, & we didn't see him after that.

My Ashbery adventure of 35 yrs ago. That was when he was still The Greatest in my eyes.
I'll be part of the roundtable discussion at this gallery exhibit in Somerville on Oct. 12th. How I got to be an authority in this area, along with Jacques Lacan & other Giants of Intellect, is a surprise to me. (Apparently the curator read an essay of mine published in Mudlark about 10 years ago.)