Seems like Jonathan & I repeat a variation on this debate about once every 3 yrs or so.... not really a debate. I pick on the NY Schoolies because they're important to me. There's a vast amount of highly-touted American poetry that just really bores me silly - I don't even want to talk about it.

Not trying to offer a critical template. My animadversions & likings are absolutely personal. I just want to share them with you, my little chickadee....
Helps to know that yesterday, besides posting that blog post, I also bought a 2nd-hand copy of the 1968 New York Poets anthology (Padgett/Shapiro). People are complicated. I'm trying to pick up the threads of my own distant past. Those people - & not just Ashbery & O'Hara, all of them - were very important to me. That paperback was new when I first bought it. I kept go back & forth through it, for at least a year, luxuriating. & went looking for books by the individual poets. I liked Berrigan, Tony Towle, Tom Disch... can't remember them all now. It was my take-offs on their poems (I believe) that got me into Brown University, friends - the whole thing was a fluke. & I'm still here, at Brown University (I mean, I did get away for a few years... about a decade...). What does that tell you? Weirdness.

I'm not about to get into another squabble over which poets or which school is or is not of value... that's the thing, the poets in this country (& the poet-critics, too) are always looking for a technical benchmark. Superior artiness, or superior street cred, or some combination of the two... Then you have the grad students & professors, no offense, dutifully marking out their "fields" for hero worship of previous generations... (to hell with expeditions to the jungle of actually living poets)... you get the Langpo Memoirs in all their self-assertive analytical blah-dom... you get everybody explaining their own special value in the American Literary Constellation... isn't it wonderful that Ashbery is on MTV, we love the old codger so much...

What kind of weather does NY School & its later morphs (ie. Chas. Bernstein langpo-elliptical crossovers), what kind of atmosphere do they provide? Well, it's a kind of delicate shuck-stream of the shoulders... how else can I put it... it's an artiness, it's a sweet sort of evasiveness... it's an overwhelming "sceniness", a clever-entertainerness... it's Jacket magazine as ceremonial barge des artistes... it's the poet as (not exactly musical) jongleur... it's a saying no-no-no with a sharp waggle of the head to the very faint & dessicated traces (in Robert Lowell, say) of the old 19th-cent. figure of the poet as bard, sage, scholar, statesman all-in-one...

I want to get away from hipness, from improvisation, from clubbiness... back toward those faint old forms of being a poet in the world... different shades of which you find in Dickinson, Whitman, Poe, Thoreau, Longfellow...

Every poet coming along is confronted with the irreducible conundrum, of what the heck is a poet supposed to be in the world? & soon or later the Dead Heroes & Potentates with all their academic garlands & worshipful followers have to be shoved to one side, because a new approach is needed - your own approach.


It puzzles me why everybody keeps talking about Ashbery, O'Hara, on & on. OK, I know this will be seen as my problem. But God, these guys are so boring, with their glibness & their hipness.

Why did we go back to the early modernists in the 1st place? (Why did we go to Russia??) Ironically, to get out from under the shadow of these bland narcissistic self-satisfied mid-century guys, of the previous generation. We chose a deeper shadow.
Now that I've proclaimed the absolute superiority of poetry, I think I'm going to write some prose. (About the superiority of poetry, among other things...)


I guess the photo on the HG Poetics masthead makes a similar point. "Henry Thunder Winnebago, Recording Songs in a Grove".

An old, forgotten language. Translated (via the iron buggy) onto a disk of wax.
Aside from foolishness & silliness, wooden stanzas & awkward lines, frustrations & humiliations... isn't this the credo of the poet : not to bend?

In a nutshell, isn't the aim to show an example of Aristotle's argument, that poetry is superior to history, in that it gives life to universals and form to particulars? Doesn't the poet strive to encompass the All in the Small (as in, Rhode Island)? "My circuit is circumference." And how can poetry accomplish such, unless it's free from the demands and rewards of temporary and limited goods - willing to submit to nothing but its own inherent (mimetic or anti-mimetic) requirements?

In my way I've tried to keep clear of anything that would bend poetry toward usages other than this basic one of its own proper ends.

This alone, by itself, is the ultimate geste. The extraneous business - motivations, justifications, explanations - only dilute the force of this elementary strangeness, or wholeness - this unbending universality.
Lately reflecting on my "literary" life in 60s, 70s. Making slow headway toward some kind of prose, not sure what. Have a certain secret plan.

Wonder of the big Padgett/Shapiro NY School anthology (for a Minnesota high school student) - this was poetry-out-of-school (or seemed to be). I loitered there a long time, soaking it up. In high school english class, on the other hand, poetry was serious (ee cummings an exception). Shades of ancient times.

In high school I was active in the Literary Club. I ended up editing the literary magazine (called Talisman - before the other Talisman). Boys in suits & ties sitting around with faculty advisor, listening to each other's creative efforts. I remember one evening we met at Wendell Willkie's fancy house (he was a senior - nephew(?) of the onetime Pres. candidate). We were like a miniature clone of 40s-50s-style East Coast literati. The teacher smoked a pipe.

After that, going to college (Brown) in 1970 seemed a little like going to summer camp or second childhood. And in a way, the NY School poetry I loved encouraged that sort of mentality. But there was a subtle poison interlaced with the charm.

What was this poison? Well, I'm thinking today that the NY School shared something with Abstract Expressionism : language applied as a kind of screen or free unregulated autonomous space. And the poet who applied it was undergoing (unknowingly, for the most part) an initiation of sorts.

The odd thing is that as a junior-high & high-school adolescent I had a more "normative" or unproblematic sense of the literary artist's vocation. From a very young age I was able to write creative things in a school setting, & attract people's interest, attention & approval. It was a kind of magic, it gave me a kind of mana or social role. I was the "writer".

I think it was in college that the regressive/dreamy/childish freedom I was soaking up (through emulation of the NY poets) - the supreme autonomy of the very goofy poems I was deliberately writing in great numbers & great speed (freshman spring that year was a juvenile annus mirabilis) - I mean the social weight & implications of the direction my "vocation" was taking - started to come home to me. That was a long sentence I just wrote. What I mean is, things got (surreptitiously) more difficult.


Working on a memoir-project now. Here's some "Mayan" juvenilia from my soi-disant NY School days (ca. 1971) :


We found a narrow path for each year to travel on,
the days sloping into each other, a horse steps down a hill.
Each new year trembling like a wet bird, in colors
dazzling and negative, of people and wide streets.

We built resting places for old cripples with sacks.
Disgust or joy slides like surf across the faces of the poor.
Temples were piled up with small, touching objects
which we gave to girls on the street.
More and higher stone delights rise into the sky,
which rains. Sampans and ketches bobbing in the blue harbor.

In the country, vague tremors in the well-yard, odd clouds.
Finally, just as he predicted, as he sighed his last
out through the hut door: white ships glide into the bay.
Stars bump quietly. Wooden docks, the boulders on the shore.

Maybe I should call this my "buddhist" phase. Adolescent detachment.


On my lunch break, trying to read article about Siena buildings, actually thinking haphazardly about post of earlier this morning, about my life's "silliness", thinking all writers are silly, their work is hidden from sight, their lives - their real life - goes into their writing-work... which reminded me of my grandfather, the engineer, whose life was hidden in building projects in the midwest almost 100 years ago... thinking of writers as engineers, then chanced to read in the Siena book that the top of the famous Mangia tower in the Campo was designed by Lippo Memmi... which was a nice little thing for me to find, since it revealed some continuity in my work, by way of this poem, written long before the current "Siena" project (Fontegaia)... now I realize that Lippo Memmi's model for his icon of the Magdalen (in the RISD museum down the hill) was probably Sienese...
...one of the things I found in the old files. From Pawtucket Times, 1986. That's me next to Galway Kinnell. Janet Sullivan (on his other side) edited Nedge with me. Forrest Gander, seated.

Spent weekend packing & moving books & files from a room we want to paint... cleaning out old papers... opportunity to look back, old correspondence & correspondents about poetry, in the pre-9/11 & pre-blog (even pre-internet!) era... Nedge, The Poetry Mission, old local & distant literary friends & allies, many of whom I've lost touch with, old family stuff, photos, letters...

- good thing to reflect on all this; fleeting ephemeral aspect of things... (I know I'm being vague). The feathery lightweight silliness of my track in life... dreamworld of books & words, & the endless/intermittent laboring to articulate, enunciate...

- probably without realizing it I've become much more impersonal, abstractly "ambitious" (ambition in an inverse proportion to time divided by nonentity)... I don't blame the internet, it's me, me. The weight & inertia of seemingly ineffectual literary activity. Would like to reconnect somehow, on a new plane.

Thinking about a kind of memoir-opus, but must keep plan under my hat for the moment.
Some (unusual) reservations about a John Latta post of Friday. Julien Gracq is good on prose dynamics, but he's registering them in terms set by poetry. I don't see the value, myself, in having a rivalry between poetry & prose, or in eliding genuine differences between them. Valery's not the best advocate for poetry's case. Dichten = condensare has less to do with his "precision" than with Celan's ever-more-concise formulations, or perhaps with Zen. That is, poetry absolute zero : the vanishing point where art folds into truth. The "simplicity axiom" in theoretical science (ie. the simplest theories are the best) has its analogue in literature. Prose can be complex indeed; but nothing is more simultaneously massive and light than poetry (cf. Mandelstam : "beneath its modest exterior, a terrifying density").

p.s. I know, I know, you can say I myself set up the rivalry between poetry & prose, why, just last Monday (post of 8.20). Main non, this is no rivalry : simply the categorical & absolute superiority of poetry.

(p.p.s. ...then, today, he, the Latta, writes an encomium to Nabokov, so much more scintillating & particular than I ever could....)


Jonathan presses me on some seeming contradictions in the good ol' comment box below. I really should go back and read that prose piece by Celan ("Conversation in the Mountains") before saying anything, but, hey, what the heck, this is blogging...

As I recall, Celan's little story of a walk & conversation in the Alps with a mysterious interlocutor is very playful and elliptical. But they circle around some deep questions about the nature of poetry, art and truth - the relations between these three.

& I think (& I could be way wrong) that the story emphasizes a certain coldness and inhumanity involved in the nature of artifice - its creation of models, of simulacra. He's thinking, maybe, about Plato's suspicions (the cave of images, & all that), &/or about the Biblical prohibition of images of God. The problem - which penetrates to language itself, and through all kinds of social/intellectual "constructs" - is that, in the very activity of art-making and symbol-making and image-making, humanity both alienates and reifies life - creates a spurious reality - loses touch with the roots of authentic being - loses its soul...

The poet is involved in a paradoxical activity. Perhaps Celan's concept shows some similarities to Simone Weil's "decreation", and Wallace Stevens' "ignorance" ("you must become an ignorant man", etc.). To the idea that poetry - compared to the other arts - is simple or "poor" art - "abstract", as with a mathematical theorem or a piece of Shaker furniture.

We are talking about a streak of deep iconoclasm in the spirit of poetry.

About the idea that the poet somehow absorbs and perfects all the other arts - absorbs them back into the primordial "word". And in the process, shakes off all the reifications of artifice : reveals the "nakedness" of human (& divine) truths. (Think William Blake.)

This is the deep paradoxical coil wherein poetry both perfects and inverts prose, art, etc. Radical truth-speaking at the source of the charming masquerade of rhetoric, artfulness and ornamentation.


Reading along in PK Dick's novel Valis. Odd parallels to Henry's wacky 70s adventures.

In the novel Valis, protagonist (and author's alter ego) "Horselover Fat" [Philip = greek for "lover of horses"; Dick = german for "fat"] has strange "theophany" in 1974, sending him on a sort of time-warp quest for God, which includes contacting the rock star & film-maker "Eric Lampton" (Eric Clapton, get it?) with secret information about time-traveling Christian world-savers.

In (so-called) real life, poet "Henry" has strange theophany in the fall of 1973, sending him on a sort of time-warp quest for God, which includes traveling to London to see rock stars (& film makers) Rolling Stones (Keith Richards, in particular) with "information" about time-traveling (UFO) Christian world-savers.

(- there's also the parallel (in fate & plot) between Fat's "Gloria" and Henry's Juliet.)

PK Dick is great at evoking the period flavor...

"Horselover Fat". I may have to try to work this into the Fontegaia/Palio sequence, somehow. S.F. is already in there - but I thought it was more San Francisco than Science Fiction.


Actual poets speed like phantom Sanskrit steeds over the sleepy valley of dutiful rote-prose & professional writerdom. It's another dimension. Unthinkable. Incalculable.

(I remember Joseph Brodsky say, at a reading in Providence, something like this : "We Petersburg poets thought of ourselves as the air force. Prose was for the infantry.")
I'll say it over & over again, in a variety of ways, until I get it right or until someone corrects me :

1. Poetry is defined as that form of speech or writing which surpasses prose.

2. The beautiful or artistic aspect of a work of prose is its poetry.

3. Poetry cannot be learned or taught because its source, the experience of imaginative inspiration, is unwilled and unwillable.

4. Authentic poetry simply surpasses ordinary writing. The effect is obvious and immediate and tangible. Only willful writers, mediocre writers, writing programs, journalists, editors and academia obscure this fact. They blur and muddle this reality in countless ways.

5. Don't worry or argue about #4. Teaching poetry to young people is a fine vocation. & authentic poetry will shine no matter what anybody does to hide it. Its nature is to shine.
reading Philip K. Dick's "novel" Valis with enormous pleasure. The quintessential sad clown - morose, but hilarious.

& it's a good thing I didn't read it when it first came out, 30 yrs or so ago. Far too many similarities to my own history & wacky obsessions...
Gabriel Gudding has a big new book out (Rhode Island Notebook).

Obscure spider threads seem to bind the fate of these two former-Minnesotan poets (that is, Gabriel & me). Members of the School of Embodied Poetry. Minnesota, midwestern homesickness, the wedding (I was their best man), the amazing "Clio" poem serendipity (according to that other RI visitant, Ange Mlinko, sort of a Kieslowski film in embryo), Rhode Island, family history, long poems, epic journeys. Rhode Island is a small cosmos.

(Stubborn Grew, In RI - TWO MORE excessive poems by a Minnesotan about Rhode Island, family break-ups, history, politics, epic journeys (Henry, Bluejay, Roger Williams) - they're companion volumes to Gabriel's book. We're somehow akin in that Eliotic (idiotic?) tradition-realm. Read all 3 together. Teach them in class. That's an order. We're re-writing American culture as Rhode Island poetry.)


Fontegaia rambles on.


On a straw-strewn Campo ring, beneath
the inching shadow of a clocktower,
horses and horsemen display their power -
hearts hoofpounding for a laurel wreath.

A snoozing hobo in the clocktower
rotating away from the hubbub below
forges a dream-rim out of molten snow.
Its iron heart will win the race this hour.


Funny to think of "creative spark" in terms of Oliver Sack's article in last week's New Yorker, about the surgeon who was struck by lightning & suddenly became obsessed with music & musical composition.

I don't read this event as another invitation to biological determinism. I read it as a parable written by the ghost of Philip K. Dick.
Want to follow up a little on yesterday's notes.

If we assert that poetry (and creative artistic work generally) has its roots in some kind of "elsewhere", a place to some extent detached from our will, intellect, & rational calculation - well, this is a big step & has a lot of consequences.

The desire is always to integrate these three - will, intellect and imagination. But cultural history bears a lot of scars, a lot of evidence for the struggle, one way or another. Apollo vs. Dionysus. Ben Jonson (master craftsman) vs. Shakespeare (native genius).

What does it mean that ancient poetry - in its "serious" (not comic, not satiric) modes, anyway - invariably invoked the Muse? The muse is a kind of personification of the imagination's elusive unaccountability.

Probably no critical essay has been dismissed and derided in the last 50 years as has Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent", which includes statements like : "The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them." The basis for such dismissals is usually social in nature : American society in particular is more diverse and divided, less certain of its foundations or overall unity, that it was (or at least seemed to be) when Eliot wrote this 80 years ago.

But if we think of Eliot's order of poetic tradition as primarily imaginative, rather than social, or even aesthetic, then his position becomes more persuasive. Starting with Augustine's classic tripartite map of conscious - will, intellect, and imagination - let's say that in art, the imagination moves into a position of priority. The phenomenon of original invention in art - the appearance of a new concept or new vision of relations, which seems to organize all the rest of the artistic material around it - is the fruit, the product, the telos of imaginative activity. What we find beautiful in the products of art then forms or is a part of this pre-existent "ideal order". It is not an order of history or culture so much as an order of originality, an order of beauty.

Which brings me back to the idea of poetry's "otherness". No one can predict the workings of the imagination, of imaginative invention. It is a spark which ignites the whole mind and being of the artist.

One can respond to this phenomenon in diverse ways. There are those who love and serve the imagination; there are others who calculate and strive to force it into channels for their own selfish purposes. The latter route, of course, is ultimately self-defeating. Cultural history is an immense garbage dump of such vain efforts : cultural history is a joke played on us by the Muse.

Many are the critical writings which try to rationalize talent and aesthetic judgement on the basis of social frameworks and determinations. & far be it from me to suggest that poetry exists in a rarified absolute realm, distinct from ordinary social life. It seems perfectly legitimate to explore the socio-historical and generally human context, which illuminates motives and meanings implicit in the artwork itself. But if, in this endeavor, one neglects the original, instinctive spark of imaginative conception - the seed and basis of the whole process - then one has indubitably missed the boat.


I'd just finished posting previous, when poet David Cashman stopped in to see me. He had come back from a trip, visiting his daughter in Amsterdam; & told me how he was walking around there with his friend Anne, when she noticed a small plaque on a run-down hotel. It turned out to be a memorial to Chet Baker, marking the spot where he fell to the pavement.
Everything seeks its own level, its echo. What is strong, deep, authentic emotion, if not love? Composition wells up from those obscure intuitive regions. The "impulse" (Mandelstam's term) is love.

"What thou lovest well, remains"
It's not, as the pigeonholers would have it, about craft or technique, or about the groups or trends your poet seems to align with, or what all. Americans have an obsession with technology and branding. Poetry is beyond and against all that.

The "technology" of poetic language is intricate and subtle to a degree that escapes paraphrase and conceptualization. As Mandelstam expressed it in his essay about Dante, the Divina Commedia is poetic speech of such alien refinement as to represent a language from the future. (This is the wild region of the atmosphere where poetry, prophecy and science fiction meet...)

And yet "technology" as a term is also completely inadequate for what we are concerned with here.

Minor pigeonholer (& poetry-lover) Jonathan Mayhew happened to bring up the subject of "duende" recently, which led to comment-box activity around this and related para-musical phenomena (fado, saudade, etc.). This kind of vocabulary begins to approach the obscure poetic regions more closely that anything "technical" - regions where the subjective and the communal, knowledge and feeling, are shown - by the artist's expression - to integrate, to interpenetrate.

A poem is feeling and intuition. These forces guide the poet to speak beyond the normal range of utterance.

But what also makes this region even more rarified is that, in the depths, world poetry is one. That is, the poet, possessed by the duende-fury, enters into a dialogue or dialogues with poetic ancestors and contemporaries. There, the vast and profound range of "technical resources" - the rhetorical sublimity of the great poets of the past - begins to become actual, active, and influential. We are talking about the depths of language - like the subtlety, strangeness & uncanny instinct of the most exotic jungle flowers, insects & birds.

A poet like Frost may camouflage these phenomena with faux-folksiness - but he's aware of them : they're there in his themes and compositional models (Horace & Shakespeare, for example).

The main point I want to make here, though, is that all this development - the state of creative composition in poetry - is a subjective, intuitive, and emotional process in the highest degree. Unpredictable. Demanding an integration of opposites : an intense social engagement in the immediate contemporary world, with a profound awareness of subjective and subconscious impulses. Intuitive. A 6th sense.

(I'm only reiterating some things I tried to say in interview with Kent Johnson in Jacket, 8 yrs ago.)


...& later John Latta takes another well-tempered (with Laura Riding not-sidesaddle) sling at the bunkered barricado in Buffohsolow. I remain one of the proud disallowed in that "venue". But life moves on and so do us turtles. I thunk.
The adventures of the much-excluded Kent Johnson run like a crimson, I say a crimson, thread through the historie of the American poetry submerchant marine. The various conceptual and administrative corrals managed for the docile herd of avant-garde outcasts gets periodically needled and pinched by said KJ, in between his translation journeys to more netherly nether-lands. I think he does it for his own amusement, despite the tone of high dudgeon radiated amplified in all directions, by himself, me, & otters. They're still talkin' about Buffalo '99.

"How to be a poet", though, seems to elude most American poets. We remain the unheard-of herd. Or the too-much-heard-of herd. The herd of college coffeeshop chit-chat lizards.

They've taught computers to play chess, but this is a harder game by far. Duende-baby tends to mess up the channels.


Here's an example of one of my "experiments". I took an old "received" form, & by giving it a new subject-matter, tried to make the form and the topic really reflect and reinforce each other. Written about 20 yrs ago.
An offhand email comment by my old college roommate sent me to reading Alexander's Bridge, Willa Cather's first novel (really a novella). The well-written intro discusses the impact, in the early 20th century, of the sometimes-muckraking McClure's magazine, where Cather worked. Led me on by propinquity to Wings of the Dove. (I've never read much Henry James. Deep sentence-joy.) Will have to read more of this kind of stuff. May paddle over to Faulkner, too, like Mr. Latta.


If a poet can write just one poem which escapes his or her own private mud-puddle, & begins an independent life, & enters the anonymous main stream of public value....

But we poets inhabit a querulous & over-excitable large-size pond, burdened with too much writing, troubled with the general angst &/or indifference of society-at-large. The literary glut is perhaps a symptom of a more general imbalance, between the caffeinated technical-verbal-media economy, practical existence, simple happiness...

In America the serious quandary, among poets, over the history & future of style & literary form, has held such an abiding interest over the last century - we are bored & fascinated with it by turns. Poets try to resolve the situation by Group Effort, by pronouncements, judgements, prognostications... meanwhile the gnarly difficulties of the art-form itself stymie all but a few. And few are the critics ready to try the hard thankless labor of really sifting for themselves, & setting up a personal canon of contemporary poets who have somehow - by dint of avoiding the treacherous pitfalls, the multifarious culs-de-sac of the striving literati - managed to surpass all that & their own limitations, & have made something, if not great, at least solid & substantial & authentic, a step toward the great & lasting... Thankless because the Groups are not ready for this kind of disinterested approach... & America hasn't decided yet, not by a long shot, what kind of Poetry it wants...


Hopalong Cassidy keeps hoppin' along in Fontegaia...


August now, the month of Palio.
The U-turn of those tender feet
quattropasso in Siena street -
echo of an old paint's hollow

thundering. Imago of Everytown,
a rooster crest's unquenchable desire -
your nippled ring a roaring hemisphere,
rage welded into ceremony (such loco

renown). Motionless in motion, this
parade of silks and garlands round
an altar green with laurel... Greyhound
Pastor! Ex cathedra Pegasus! Thus

Siena signs her crepuscule of history
and wills it bent (as testament)
into a duplex wreath : nine sent
skittering on horizontal - only

a rust-encrusted tenth (last call)
sounds (contrapuntal) from the tall
bell-tower. Armillary, spherical...
a gyroscope. Reverberant sundial.

And all we know is this double-ply
of blazoned passio, importunate light.
Bands of limestoned spectators
in the Campo (goddesses, mortal) sigh

as one toward yon singular suspense,
forevermore. Deep in their scalloped
bosom of clay, rocked in a tempest
in Arcady - smiling Augustan-Etruscans.


Heading out of town for long weekend - be back next Tuesday. In the meantime, please read HG official Timeline with official first poem. Play, play, play!

"Sons & daughters of Harmony", wrote Pushkin. His epithet for the poets. The poem as harmonic gizmo. The person as harmonic gizmo.

Play, play, play.


I'm getting toward the conclusion of Lee Smolin's book (Trouble with Physics). This is a very engaging, exciting book. I'm in the chapter where he contrasts "seers" and "craftspeople", the philosophical deep-thought approach of early 20th-cent. (European, mostly) physics, with the latter-day (American) pragmatic-technician attitude, which has paradoxically led to a sociological "groupthink" impasse in the academy. Smolin underlines contemporary physics' dire need for seers.

Led me to pick up Arthur Eddington's 1935 relativity classic Space, Time and Gravity (1935) (which I happened to have on my shelf!). Gratified to discover that his famous astronomy experiment (in Brazil & elsewhere) of 1919 - which was able to determine (by way of a solar eclipse) that light rays are bent near stars to a degree that supports Einstein's theory - took place on May 29th (my birthday). That annual date is the best for such observations, since the sun is passing through a background region of very bright stars.

Just for fun I'm going to exercise my rights as a card-carrying (non-science, non-math, non-physics) dillettante, and play seer for a minute (stolen from work). Smolin discusses great unsolved problems & conundrums in relativity & quantum theory. Here's my very seeeerious contribution to their solution :

Henry's 5/29 Cosmology Sketch (or, The Eureka-2 Theory, or, The C-C (Cosmic-Ceramic) Rider Theory)

1. The simplest way to describe the universe : mass (or matter) set in motion (at very high speed).

2. The universe is composed of mass in its simplest and most efficient 3-d geometrical form - the sphere. Spherical bodies + motion = direction + spin.

3. Gravity, at its simplest, is an effect of the acceleration of spherical masses. Gravity rays and fields are thus an effect of matter in motion.

4. Light and electromagnetic rays are complementary (similar) effects resulting from specific types of matter. In other words, the energy-effects of both gravity and electromagnetism stem from the more basic force, which we will call the motion-force or spin-force.

5. Atomic and sub-atomic energies are manifestations of this same force on a minuscule scale. The smaller the mass the greater the effect of spin-energy. Thus quantum (sub-sub-atomic) effects - such as quanta-leaps (discrete energy packets) and "non-location" (the uncertainty principle applied to quark-level particles) are simply observation effects of spin-energy on very minute quantities of mass. Quantum leaps are so tiny & so fast that we are unable to observe the actual movements from here to there.

6. Relativity theory is substantially correct but incomplete. This is because the 20th-century effort to solve the observed contradictions of Newton's classical physics (the laws of our familiar local environment) over-simplified the spacetime geometry of matter in motion.

7. The problem of "dark" matter and energy on the cosmic scale is a result of said theoretical incompleteness. The incompleteness of the theory relates to unexplored aspects of cosmic equilibrium or "states of rest". Einstein's brilliant simplification (relativity theory) did not take sufficient account of this threefold relation : matter-speed-rest. In relativity, motion and rest are equivalent. But what is not understood is the state we might call "permanent-motion-and-rest", or "resting-in-motion" (TS Eliot's chinese vase, in Four Quartets). A motion/rest complementarity or duality, that is, rather than a simple equivalence.

8. Local environments of equilibrium and rest (such as our complexity-manifesting and life-supporting planet) are developmental or teleological, in Aristotle's sense. In other words, planetary ecologies, for example, have a developmental teleology comparable to that of biological forms (seed to full-grown plant, lamb to full-grown sheep, etc.).

9. Thus we should further characterize the primal motion-force or spin-force as the teleology-force. The as-yet unaccountable combination of high accelerations on the rim of the universe with the holding power of dark energy/matter is a function of the same teleology-force : local planetary equilibria are symmetrical (ie. pervasive) on a cosmic scale.

10. "Arguments from design" or "anthropic principle" theories are tautological, non-scientific descriptions of effects, not scientific explanations of causes. Such descriptions are certainly within the range of philosophy, and perhaps even logic; but they don't offer scientific avenues for hypothesis or proof.

11. The resolution of the conundrums in relativity, gravity, and quantum theory will not stem so much from research in particle physics or string theory, but from the investigation of this teleology force. For example, the action of this t-force may provide a real "background geometry", which will have to modify relativity theory (which disallows any such unified background spatial geometry - and which disallowance has led to all the baroque mathematical extremes of string theory).

12. Think of the "t-force" as primarily conceptual (for the moment). For example, consider the contrast between Euclidean geometry and Einstein's non-Euclidean timespace - the geometry of bent light-waves. Euclidean geometry is rooted not so much in points, lines and shapes, as (more fundamentally) in equalities. An "equation" is a complex "equality". A square is an equality of lengths. A parallel is an equality of distances.

The conceptual structure of Euclidean geometry is not negated or invalidated by the non-Euclidean effect of the material spacetime universe : it is only limited in some of its applications. Euclid is a kind of abstraction (in the form of geometrical laws) of our familiar, local (classical, Newtonian) environment. The equalities represented in Euclid are what we might call metaphors for states of local rest.

Think of the teleology of the t-force as utilizing non-Euclidean, relativistic effects in a developmental process which results in the Euclid-like geometries of our local world. In other words, the state of Rest (with a capital R) which preceded the "Big Bang" is reiterated in the equilibrium (the state of rest - of seeming-equilibrium - happening at actually tremendous cosmic speeds). Thus the (restful) origin of the universe is replicated, in miniature, in local environmental states of equilibria (as Einstein himself emphasized, steady motion is equivalent to rest). "In my beginning is my end". The spherical revolutions of matter are the most basic and pervasive image of the time-sphericity (or cosmic circularity) represented in the developmental history of the universe.


Reading more in Lee Smolin's book (Trouble with Physics). Vast (not quite infinite) expense of intellect and academic resources on sometimes fantastic & surreal by-roads of (mostly unverifiable) string theory.

Can one make a very stretched analogy to the realm of American poetry? Experimental tests and logical rigor might be compared with the poet's effort to find an authentic rhetoric (or is that a double oxymoron? "all poets are liars...").

Formerly paraphrased as the now muchly-derided "finding your voice".

Just as string theory blithely proposed multiple dimensions, with only the most tenuous connection to testable reality, so postmodern poetry dismissed voice, levels of diction, all the problems of rhetorical address... since these elements are seen as epiphenomena of "personality" or "the author" or "individualism"...

- and so the unreadable productions pile up, in the departmental building just down the street from the one with the untestable physics theories. Vanity Babel.

(I admit I couldn't get past the first 4-5 lines of Jorie Graham's poem in this week's New Yorker. So it's not fair to judge, but I'm going to anyway... it struck me as hair-raisingly pretentious. The voice of some fantastic Poetry Establishment - which, having invested everything in a mandarin, hyper-refined stylistics, has no funds left for this problem of rhetorical address - the physics of making statements having some faint relation to ordinary speech among theoretical "equals". I know there is a complementary - and equally large - problem with "popular" styles : but I'm more put off by what you might call "establishment exceptionalism". In this sense, Ron Silliman, for example, is a spokeperson for the status quo. Shadow-boxing with mediocre traditionalist poetry is a way of angling for special credit : because this deep problem of rhetorical address - voice, style - is the intractable, unavoidable challenge for every poet.)

(p.s. but I will go back & read the Graham poem all the way through. I might change my mind.)
Random thoughts...

the way Pushkin (in the set of poems linked previously) suddenly translates a state of feeling into a dramatic scene (for example the angry father taking the child's coffin to the church)... Eliot's "objective correlative".

Pushkin was early & exemplary Russian professional "man of letters". Defended independence & dignity of writer's trade.

Thinking of my own floundering on listserves & blogs & self-publications. & if (aside from personal factors) it might have something to do with stylistic or aesthetic choices.

The notion - a modernist dogma - of art for art's sake, poetry's autonomy & self-referentiality... & the associated danger of solipsism and emotional dessication. Whereas a practice of "objective correlative" (illustrated here by Pushkin) is a means of finding symbolic resonance for shared, common feelings & understandings. That this is also what poetry is about - not only the construction of free-standing art-objects. That is, it's a matter of both-and. Artwork as conjunction of the two - ethos and harmony.

The poet wades courageously into the river of public conversation, impelled by a sometimes-confused sense of impinging harmony. Pushkin's epithet for the poets : "sons of harmony". (should be "children", or "sons & daughters", of course)


It occurred to me last night that someone could write a scholarly piece on Mandelstam's oeuvre as a commentary on Pushkin's final testamentary poem, "Exegi Monumentum" (see translation here - the last poem in the group). Poem as complex architecture. Architecture as freedom-in-history, autonomy.

But as I read through the group of Pushkin translations, I was struck by their transparency, directness, simplicity, forcefulness. I got jealous, mired as I am in long-poem obliquities. (Henry jealous of Pushkin. Oh boy.)

Remember many a 90s debate on Buffalo poetics list about stylistic clarity & social engagement. & had to remind myself that I've written many a short poem, too.

Temperament, character, conscience, engagement... & an idea of poetry as written for people at large, the unknown reader. Not poetry for Poetry Empire. Distance, detachment from all that. Free-standing.