New poem-project happening over here.


I find fascinating the way John Michell (in Dimensions of Paradise) can describe, quite convincely (to me, anyway), how certain ancient texts conceal specific geometry problems. Plato had a sign over his Academy, didn't he, saying no one could enter who wasn't a geometer? I can imagine him assigning some of his texts (2500 yrs ago) as sort of riddles or puzzles to be worked out somewhat like Michell does. He compares, for example, Plato's two ideal cities - Atlantis and Magnesia, and shows how the former is a kind of imperfect shadow - geometrically speaking - of the latter; and that Plato meant this as a kind of emblem (or causal explanation, even) for Atlantis's corruption & eventual fall.

Michell portrays a kind of ideal Platonic-Pythagorean canon of symbolic (and actual geometric) numbers, rooted in nature and reflecting its dynamics and harmonies, and has the visionary panache to suggest that world culture needs to return, somehow, to the order symbolized this way. If he is, on some level, right - then it's possible to imagine that we are today, in a sense, living in a distorted, disharmonious Atlantis-world : and that the eccentric search for "sunken", "lost" Atlantis is a kind of search for our own lost Paradise of peace & harmony...

Some of his investigations are nothing short of astonishing. See, for example, the way he analyzes in great detail some passages in the Gospel of John, & shows how they are, again (by way of gematria), symbolic geometry problems & designs... if indeed there is something to this (which I'm sure mainstream scholarship keeps at arm's length - several cubits, anyway) the implications are mind-boggling...


As for a "new philosophical & literary culture" (see previous post today)... let me reiterate, my attitude has nothing in common with Plato's authoritarian values. I am a true egalitarian/democratic American in my bones. My political heroes are Roger Williams, Abraham Lincoln & Martin Luther King.

What I am referring to is the possibility of a new/old intellectual stance toward spiritual/poetic/scientific meaning - the reality of Mind & Cosmos...
I received a request from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences (Cambridge, MA) to publicize this week's announcement of the winners of the Academy's 2008 Poetry Prize. Here is the announcement on their website.
Since the 1970s, periodically, I've become fascinated with number symbolism, gematria. The books of John Michell, something of a New Age (& old British) eccentric, on ancient/Egyptian/Pythagorean/Platonic canons of number & "sacred" geometry. (Related somewhat to viewpoint of another eccentric author, Giorgio de Santillana - see his book Hamlet's Mill.)

Much of it needs to be taken with massive grain of salt - in particular, the notions (unsupported by much evidence, if any) of 1) superior ancient civilizations (Atlantis & such), and 2) the extrapolation of Plato's arch-conservative and anti-democratic political tendencies. (Michell's sneers at democracy, & such.)

Yet I am, as I say, recurrently absorbed with such explorations of ancient number symbolism in both Plato & the Bible - the detailed measurements of the Ark, the Temple, the New Jerusalem (Bk of Revelation), the canons of architecture in Greece & other parts of ancient world, the correspondence of harmonic ratios, numbers, names, & themes in archaic literature...

& it shows up in my poetry, especially the long projects... maybe someday these works will be understood as playful percursors of a new/old sort of philosophical & literary culture...

This is something of a Hart Crane theme (cf. "Atlantis" in The Bridge), & a Whitman & Melville stratum... it comes through in sometimes (I think) funny ways in my poems (see for ex. the role of eccentric Minnesota Senator, Shakespeare crank, & Atlantis theorizer, Ignatius Donnelly, in Stubborn Grew... if you click on this link, you see the book cover - that's Ignatius, down in the lower lefthand corner).

(I guess I've blogged on this before...)


I like this essay. Andrey Gritsman's comments on tradition, imitation & necessary originality remind me of some things in essays of terrific Moscow poet Mikhail Aizenberg.
Yes, it's interesting to (boring old) me to think that the architectural-numerical dimension started also (along with so much else) with Mandelstam. He wrote several poems about buildings, and Omry Ronen (Approach to Mandelstam) outlined some of the complex internal architecture in two of his longer odes. This is what got me started down that path. It's such a big part of traditional writing, but 20th-cent. & contemporary poets don't seem to go there much.

In writing various long poems over the last 15 years I've found that the numerical calculations & structuring are very helpful, they become part of the thinking/planning process, they mesh with the subject-matter in various ways... I find these "rhymes", which serve to synthesize my own private experience with other things...

Music - architecture - poetry. Keeps the wrangling litter-world at bay.


John Latta today takes a swipe at Wallace Stevens poem & the comments about it (including mine, I guess) over at Harriet blog.

I read his comment as, like Linh Dinh's, another period piece. In this period of spleen, suspicion & condemnations. Yes, Stevens' poem is rather flaccidly & placidly solipsistic (A = A). It's not one of his best. But I get annoyed by the moralism which disallows, with self-righteous political overtones, any expression of even momentary calm or peace. Part of what poetry (& art generally) does is hold out these expressive images of goodness & happiness. Others call it, scornfully, "quietude". Well, to hell with them. Write your happy poems.


Speaking of Renaissance poetics... I am back deep into ancient/medieval number symbolism & gematria again. Might help me get out of my creative slump. I am reminded, reading things like Medieval Numerology (ed. Surles; Garland Press, 1993), of some things I was up to in Forth of July & earlier work. Influence of books by the likes of Alastair Fowler, John Michell.

Mathematics can actually advance composition. The symbolic symmetries of numbers. This is a huge dimension of pre-modern poetics, which we have simply buried out of sight. One of the most exciting discoveries of writing poetry, for me. It's in Melville (see Viola Sachs' book, Game of Creation). It's in my work! I'm not sure where else. (I'm sure it's in Crane.)

Forth of July is possibly the beginning of a kind of medieval push-back or resurgence of some kind. Maybe someday it will be understood as such. A labyrinthine-baroque cathedral, a counter-modern-American architectural wonder... meant to be seen as distinct from what anyone else is doing these days...

essentially an Acmeist project (Mandelstam : poet as builder). In fact I originally got into Alastair Fowler et al. by way of a study of ring-structures in Mandelstam's odes.
Re-reading some parts of Crane's Bridge. The picayune dismissals of Logan & Kirsch, like those of their predecessors in this vein, just miss the point. Someday when I get my act together I will write that essay about this. Yes, he is uneven, sometimes bathetic, sometimes bombastic. But when he is good, he is simply head & shoulders above anyone else. He is the genius of These States. In the section titled "The River", for example.

How does he do it? Marianne Moore called him "erudite". This is very apt. I think Crane better than all the rest absorbed lessons of Renaissance poetics. He mastered the measure of a rich pentameter. When he added this, first, to his native musical talent, and 2nd, to his sense of mythos (the symbolic plot - the "myth of America") - then what he accomplished in 45 or so pages is equal to what Olson or Pound did in 600 pp. of musical "notes"... (but it's not just 3 things... there's the essential 4th thing - that Platonic-demonic-orphic enthusiasm, that boldness, that inspired-fiery "afflatus"...)

Crane's work sets him in a small group, with Melville, Dickinson, Whitman, Poe... maybe Henry James, Hawthorne, Eliot, Stevens, a few others... the true original American masters...


Reading F.M. Cornford, Principium Sapientiae : the origins of Greek philosophical thought (1952). Nice short (apparently unfinished) book, full of fascinating ideas & information. On the origins of philosophical (non-mythical, pre-scientific) world-pictures. How they differ from the mythical; but tracing their roots back to the mythical. On the kinship & differences between poet, seer (or prophet) and sage - their common origination in the shaman. Explores Plato's view of the rivalry between poetry & philosophy. Explores affinities between Greek, Hebrew & Mesopotamian (Sumeria, Babylon) myth & ritual. Leans toward theory that the origin of mythical anthropomorphism of the gods lies in ritual : the rituals of sacred kingship. The king was the representative of the sacred, of cosmic order - the magic governor of seasonal change and spring renewal of fertility, crops, wildlife. Much myth involves succession of old & new kings (seems aligned with Frazer here). Remarkable stuff on comparative cosmogonies of early civilizations.

With this background, you can possibly understand Christianity as a synthesis or resurgence of : 1) Platonism - the transcendent Being, the One, the Mind which creates its model (the Universe); 2) Hebraic monotheism; 3) mythical sacred kingship. For believers, how you interpret the representation of the "sacred king" - Christ - would, I guess, determine, in part anyway, the character or rationale for your belief. Is Christ's (moral, spiritual) authority understood in a sort of archaic-magical sense? Or is Christ the "Everyman" - the anti-king - the antithetical (egalitarian) "king" of kings? Is Christian belief & practice a sort of re-enactment of spiritual kingship, or the transvaluation of same? (As you can probably guess, I lean toward the latter. I think Biblical religion from the beginning was a kind of semi-ironic transvaluation of the ancient Egyptian & Babylonian forms of sacred kingship.)

As for poetry - Cornford relates pre-Socratic & Platonic views of the poet as marked primarily by enthusiasm. Poetry differs from prose in that it is inspired, enthusiastic. Inspired by the gods, the poet sings beyond ordinary human capability, of things unknown (even to the poet). Seer, poet, & sage were originally all encompassed by the shaman. With the development of urban civilization and large political entities, the shaman's role is somewhat displaced by communal kingship ritual; the shaman becomes priest or adviser to the king; the roles of sage (present, wisdom), poet (past, memory), and seer (future, prophecy) are differentiated.


This time of year, with the low light & the wayward leaves, I can get into a northern, Minnesotyish, Bruegelish, medievalish, unheimlich-gemutlich state of mind... noticed recently that the opening poem in Berryman's Collected is a take on Bruegel's "Hunters in the Snow". (Berryman & Henry : 2 sides of a Minnesota nickel.)

As for Berryman, Henry & that medievalish feeling, see (my hypertextual sonnet sequence)...
Joseph Harrington has been running an interesting monologue for several days on poetry and history... & I've been adding my 2 cents...


Re-reading yesterday's post, I see I made a sort of Harold-Bloomian slip. The one poem of that group which displays an oceanic sense of vastness is, of course, Hart Crane's Bridge. That's maybe one reason Crane is a favorite & was a model for me.


Thinking this morning about the long poem, Forth of July. Finished 8 years ago.

The poem was written within the context of other American long poems - Paterson, Maximus, "A", Cantos, The Bridge... and also with older epics in mind.

Maybe one of the distinctive qualities of Forth of J is how it conveys an impression of vastness. I don't think you find this so much in the other poems, despite their wealth of allusions & references. Pound writes with a kind of notation, a lightning-like shorthand. Maximus, perhaps, has something vast in quality, but Olson retains that sort of Heraclitean gnomic notation-style he gets from Pound. & Zukofsky displays a kind of incantatory music... but my poem has a different sense of space. A midwestern, Great Plains, oceanic sense...

I am sort of proud of this. The three "books" of the poem - Stubborn Grew, The Grassblade Light, July - are 3 distinct large panels, but they circle back & around each other; there's a directional flow as well. The middle book, Grassblade, is made with 7 chapters - like enormous singing frescoes, each one unique, but fitting together.

This oceanic vastness, this sort of singing joy... this is what I wanted to convey. It's a big vast happy poem. July, the 3rd book, is a sort of galactic explosion (fireworks).


I think at the root of what I am trying to do in poetry, over all these years, is an effort to express a special kind of spiritual joy, or joy in the spirit - and point toward its origins or foundations. It was a joy or exuberance I recognized immediately in Mandelstam, who has been like the Virgilian guide to me over decades. But it has its true origins in mysterious Christian charismatic experiences stretching back almost 40 years now.

I am trying to provide, in my poetry, both a literary-artistic model and a kind of poetic-rational-historical basis or argument or explanation or defense, for a way of understanding life. The spiritual joy has to do with a belief in the divine presence and work in the world and in history : the kind of brotherly-sisterly joy and charity which has its root in God, in Christ. A belief in the drama of earthly history as a whole : which is a kind of heroic-georgic restoration of the earth and mankind to a right relationship with God, the source, the creator. A belief in the ultimately personal, conscious and unified character of this dream we call life. In this view, God is Person, not in a sense that limits the divine to what we experience in an ordinary human sense - but rather in a way that lifts our own conception of what the personal and the Person might be to a higher, inter-personal, trans-personal, relational, spiritual and mysterious level. The fundamental work of this Person is compassionate healing, forgiveness & restoration - lifting us from our scattered narrow desires toward wholeness, the integration & healing of life as a whole. And history is the working-out of the restoration of the earth by the dramatic intervention of the "divine" in history. The confidence in this dramatic play-script of history is one of the streams feeding that sense of spiritual joy.

This is not to say, by any means, that the poem, Forth of July, is just some kind of religious tract... In fact the reader may find it difficult to square my general statements of purpose with the actuality of the poems. In my view, that's all to the good - since the work is primarily a record of artistic making, a grappling with poetry itself.


Rambling around in obscure reaches of library these days... hellenism, Greeks & Jews, Athens & Jerusalem, Alexandria, Clement of same, Simone Weil, geometry, numerology, mythology, ollyology (the ology of olive oil)... book by Marcel Detienne, Masters of truth in archaic Greece, about shift from myth to philosophy & changing role of poet... interesting comments on growth of philosophical-rational thought... something I'd never heard of, the idea that egalitarian-civic public space emerged originally from the social relations of warrior caste - how they would sit in a circle & take turns speaking from the center, planning strategy as a group of (relative) equals, managing division of spoils from the center of the circle... - this pattern contrasted with the culture of sacred kingship and mythical, divinatory shamanism in support of sacred sovereignty... Simonides as the first "modern" (professional, entrepreneurial) poet...

- basically I am always searching for my own understanding of religion & history, struggling to comprehend differing ways of seeing things... with my own biases & leanings... (for me it's a "professional" problem, as a writer)... & what all this has to do with the speech of the poet, the role of poetry in culture now... perennial riddles & problems around poetry & politics, writing, art and practical rhetoric - the poet, the philosopher, the saint, the priest, the scholar & the hobo... & the polis... & Time, Truth (aletheia), Reality... & the music of the inexpressible...

there's an interesting essay-monograph by Anne Carson, putting Simonides and Paul Celan side-by-side... title escapes me at the moment...

& speaking of poetry & politics, long ago I related a tale about Simonides in old-fashioned poem, titled "Water Mirror", here. This was published on the op-ed page of the Providence Journal, Rhode Island's newspaper of record.


The New Yorker this week... poems by Stanley Moss & Clive James... 2 old pros... something historic... better than everything else in the issue (though James Wood's review of VS Naipaul biography a closet 2nd)...

Clive James, I have to admit, did a pretty good thing in "Signing Ceremony" : Yeatsian... the wisdom of old age... the oldsters coming to terms with being, really, tourists in the world... pretty well done, despite some falling-off (obscurity?) toward the end... despite the fact that we have moved, spiritually, beyond Horace, in the last couple millennia... really...

- my reservations having to do with his Whitman put-down in recent Poetry essay... which, actually, Stanley Moss's fine poem {"Peace") demolishes pretty much in toto... no rhyme & meter there, but a tour-de-force anyway...
As a poet - speaking strictly as a poet - my pride is in my style.

& what is style, for me? the result of an effort, through the medium of this art, to pull together, to synthesize & unify all the things I care about, the things I know - what I've learned, what I remember.

(Whether such pride is well-founded or misplaced, I can't say.)

All the people & things for whom & which I give thanks.

"What thou lovest well remains...
what thou lovest well shall not be reft from thee... [E. Pound]


Reading Berryman, Collected Poems (not incl. Dream Songs).

I find him hard to read. Not just because of the baroque syntax and vocabulary, but also the nervous strain, the angst.

This doesn't mean I'm not enjoying it. Just that it's harder going than I expected. Maybe I've read the Dream Songs over the years in a superficial way.


Reading John Berryman's Collected Poems (FSG, 1989 - edited & wonderfully introduced by Chas. Thornbury, of Northfield MN). Clearly I haven't read Berryman carefully enough...

- the truth is I have held him & his whole generation at arm's length for a long time... Berryman's (& Lowell's, & etc.) personal confessional psychological edginess just too close to my own reality show... part of the reason I fled (in a literary way) to Russia, traditional home of sanity & good sense (ha ha)...

Berryman leapt from the bridge down the road a few blocks from my grandfather's house, on my grandfather's (John Ravlin's) birthday (1/7), the way his granddaughter, my cousin Juliet, leapt from the Golden Gate Bridge, on her father's (Jim Ravlin's) birthday (12/7), later that same year... (I was 19 at the time, in college, trying to be a poet - reading Shakespeare's Sonnets, Marlowe's Faust)...

2 of my younger brothers jumped off 2 other (adjacent) bridges of the Mississippi, within the same 10 blocks or so (imagine extreme cold, dark, snow... winter...) & somehow, thankfully, survived...

I'm more interested in my grandfather's generation (Hart Crane, Ezra Pound, TS Eliot)...

Everybody (including Berryman) ends up in Minneapolis somehow, for Recovery... (Berryman himself rescued from jail by Allen Tate, & brought to Minneapolis, ca. 1953)... & then they write their obligatory satires on the Twin Cities... Berryman, James Wright... it's a minor genre of the East Cost literati...

I remember back in the 60's, one of my closest high school friends telling me about the bardic long-beard eccentric skinny Berryman's visits to his girlfriend's family home, on Thanksgiving (in the suburb next door)... reciting poetry...

I remember seeing his book (His Toy, His Dream, His Rest) on my friend's bedroom reading desk, & him telling me this... I was in high school - Berryman too complex for me then - but not for my friend... who (long after) became a prominent physician, in Los Angeles...

I know exactly where Berryman jumped. I've been there. It's usually very cold in January, in Minneapolis. But I'd like to visit his grave, in Resurrection Cemetery (Mendota Heights, St. Paul) - across the river, by the Indian mounds.

Mendota... sounds like Beethoven (probably Sioux).


Re-reading Simone Weil, Intimations of Christianity among the Ancient Greeks. Brilliant, radiant intellect. One of the most profound books I know. The essay on Pythagoreanism. The equations or affinities she develops between mathematical and religious concepts. Comparable notions of suffering, kenosis and mediation. The concept of number and the (trinitarian) nature of God. French clarity, & some other kind of depth and passion... this book is one of the cornerstones of civilization.

(BTW see Charles Simic's little poem in this week's New Yorker. This is a poem about kenosis.)

On a different topic : strong sense, walking around this morning, of poetry as evocative dream. When the imagination is stirred by the evocation of a feeling-scene... remote, rare, elusive, subjective, personal. Rilke comes to mind. The legend of the poet wrapped up in song-feeling-memory. Distance, absence. Adolescence. Hard for me to describe this clearly. Attendant sense of a kind of betrayal or desolation of this reality, in the constant internet chit-chat (my own, especially) about "poetry".


(Maybe this isn't a completely different topic. There's a passage in Weil where she briefly analyzes the concept of the Trinity, and the idea of God as Subject, the one whose name is "I am"... & how it could be that God is wholly Love and Goodness, and also the active Subject, enveloping & encompassing all subjectivity... she identifies this with early Greek philosophers - e.g. Philolaus's terse saying about the One, whose first creation is Unity, the name of which is Hestia, or the hearth-fire... Weil outlines how this agrees with the idea of the Trinity...)


With everybody scrambling for attention, with the roaring demand for notice and recognition and validation, one can get very cynical, disillusioned, discouraged... it's happened to me... but we mustn't let discouragement rule the day. It's the vast storehouse of hidden, modest acts of kindness & generosity which makes art/culture possible (along with the malice & snobbery - & the talent itself).

I wouldn't be messing with poetry today if it hadn't been for those teachers in elementary school, junior high, high school, who brought us books ("The Charge of the Light Brigade", or A Gift of Watermelon Pickle, or Baudelaire), who insisted we recite out loud in front of the class...

& the poetry exists separate & apart from the ego trips... art is a renunciation or surpassment of wilfulness & personality... it's an upsurge from somewhere else...

I think back to my early reactions to the professional literary scene, the names, the magazines, the world of it all... the main feeling on my part was timidity, self-doubt, disorientation... the sense of not-belonging, of awkwardness, of being a provincial, on the periphery, a neophyte, naive, a bumpkin, tongue-tied...

& it's a curious thing, this capability to write... the pen counterbalances the psychological barriers, the personal character issues, proceeding to a sort of metamorphosis... the writer and the person a symbiosis of slightly differing elements... (a very shady difference).


Out of the blue, amid all the usual anxieties, chores, rejection slips, & so on, I actually received an enthusiastic response to Stubborn Grew, Forth of July. Someone found a copy of the 2000 Spuyten Duyvil issue of Stubborn, in that classic arcadia, a used bookstore, & started reading, & contacted me.

I certainly hope it's the beginning of a trend. This reader sent me back to the poem myself (I know, it may seem like I've never left...). It would be nice if people began to read it for pleasure, not as a chore ("gotta get through to p. 750 tonight..."). It was meant to be a pleasure. It was a joy to write.

Forth of July has a big spacy shape, a sort of singing quality, sort of light & jolly in most places... there's a consistency to it, amid the changes & labyrinthine processes... it tries to say things which cannot be said so literally, discursively... it's a poem... & I'm trying to say that poetry offers a distinct (& necessary) harmonic recapitulation of experience... Mandelstam's slanting, mysterious imagery & courageous, hopeful spirit is the reigning presence in the background... like a boat or a building, it's built on a tripod, the two lateral parts lean inward & outward from the central part...


... so somehow art & poetry are - simultaneously - an ecstatic response to nature, sensuous experience, memory, everything... and also the sublimation of that response. Its reflection in an intellectual mirror.

I know I'm assembling old sawhorses here...
What bothers me about the Spicer/hipster/aesthete/coterie model of the poet? I dunno, maybe I'm just a bourgeois philistine mediocrity. Or my inner imaginative model of the poetry life is a long table in some cold room in St. Petersburg (Russia), where Gumilev, Akhmatova, Mandelstam & the ghost of Pushkin are sitting around reading & commenting on a group of poems sent to them by young would-be Acmeists (like myself). Which reminds me of the years of editing a little magazine, Nedge, with Janet Sullivan, a fine fiction writer & sometime poet from Alabama. Or sitting around with Edwin Honig & Sylvia Moubayed & Stuart Blazer & others in a Providence house, reading aloud & examining each other's poems. The common denominator for all these experiences is a sort of objectivity and craft-consciousness which the group process brings to responding to poems. There is something universal & objective about it, despite our many and deep disagreements over the quality of the individual poems whcih came before us. & I think some kind of similar process goes on in a lot of editors' gatherings of various magazines around the world.

What results from this, in part, is a sense of the poem as a particular & unique artistic object, which stands or falls as such; an object existing in a big world of very unaesthetic experiences and things, which has to take this non-artistic world into its account somehow. The critical process of weighing poems brings our aesthetic responses into play : but there is a kind of coldness there too, I don't know exactly how to describe it - a kind of universal measurement, which applies across the board - like blind justice.

The coterie/romantic mode, on the other hand, seems intent on building a completely aesthetic counter-world - art as (bohemian) life, in revolt against the conventions, oppressions, repressions of the everyday. This is a very seductive, appealing image - the primordial Dionysian wildness, really. It's an inspearable element of art - our subconscious, so to speak. It represents the dreamed-of liberation from Everyman's diminished, tamed and collared faculties of aesthetic response to sensuous reality...

What I'm talking about, however, when I refer to the Acmeist mode & its like, is a contrasting "Apollonian" image of art and poetry. The poem stands alone and aloof - apart from the Romantic context of being-an-artist, of the artistic life, of "everything is poetry", of aesthetic impressionism. Its inner perfection and refinement - its balance of reason and sensation - obviate the need for either reaction or revolt. The work of art as a form of balance, equilibrium, sanity, order. I suppose this is a form of classicism...

Actually these two modes are probably both necessary, and in sort of a dynamic and productive dialectic. It's not like Akhmatova & Mandelstam, for example, didn't live very arty/intellectual, refined, extremely liminal and sometimes bohemian lives. But the process of responding to individual poems is a craft process - this is something the Acmeists continued to assert. The poem then - through the sifting of critical objectivity - & somewhat counter-intuitively - becomes a free-standing, & free, aesthetic object, a sort of microcosm. & this process of craft and craft-mastery lends poetry that distinction, that Pushkinian social dignity, independence and authority. The kind of dignity we recognize in a musician who has mastered not only the instrument, but the music and the traditions of his or her fellow artists. This is something we ought to strive toward in poetry as well. The craft-memory of artistic tradition is essential to cultural-historical memory in general - which, in turn, is essential to civilization.

(I was reminded of this last night, while playing jug band music with Jim Chapin and the KC Moaners, at a fundraiser auction for a local community garden - a total joy. & an honor to play with Jim, who is an authentic master of blues & country music (he was featured on the King Biscuit Hour radio show in Helena Ark. this fall).)

& we have to remember that, in the U.S., there are different schools, tribes, almost dialects of poetry. & this sort of critical process goes on in various distinct contexts & social patterns. & meanwhile the polemics & the politics go raging & burbling, inconsequentially & phantasmally, on, from top to bottom of the scale of notoriety & sway - from Helen Vendler down to me.


John "Coffee" Latta carries on with his grand one-man 12-bar table-talkin'... the emphasis here always on the thick sensuous texture & partic'lars of every thing every day... & as the fountainhead of art & poetry...

Now today on Jack Spicer's modus non operandi... which I find very appealing, but I'm just not so social in that way... & I tend to think, as I read this, in a contrary direction... that is, for every Ben Jonson & his bibulous coterie, there is a lone obsessed Milton, working out her heavy, complicated, hard-to-berth design... the idea that underneath a Shakespeare play there is a kind of implicit imaginative scaffolding, a guiding cluster of themes, Mandelstam's conductor's baton... the reigning idea, the master plan, the builder's dream... slow to develop, hard to find, creating external situations for the said laboring poet which are more like mistaken illusions or social camouflage, than definite arty "scenes"...

& then the bohemian life represented by Rimbaud & Spicer & all, well, perhaps it's like two necessary poles of art-making... hot & cold, compagnevole & solitary...


I found this essay by Camille Paglia very interesting, & it sent me to look for her anthology (guess I'm one of the few people in America who hasn't read it). Of course I've heard of Paglia, but never actually read anything she'd written.

She strikes me - from a quick scan of this essay, anyway - as a sharp-eyed reader, with high standards for the deployment of literary language, an independent mind. She also strikes me as a kind of populist - which is great in some ways, but in others, not so great. Seems like there is a danger, with criticism, of making narrow and absolute judgements about what poetry is or should be.

Poetry happens on a variety of wave-lengths, and a lot depends on what direction the poet is taking it, or it is taking the poet... what is the context, what are the literary aims, what is the particular application? (Contra Paglia, for example, poetry can overlap with philosophy.) Poetry is flexible, it's not just one thing - it doesn't all or always fit the common denominator of anthology-material.

But she's right to focus on this very issue of the ordinary reader. I'm surprised she didn't like Auden's famous "Musee des Beaux Arts". Have to go back & compare the poem to her take on it.


John Latta points today toward what looks like an interesting book in the Paterson vein.


On the radio in the car yesterday, I caught part of an interview with Sebastian Horsley, whom I'd never heard of, but I see (from the Wikipedia entry) is quite the dandy, child of wealth, rake & attention-getter.

Anyway, he was going on in a sort of exaggerated manner, praising famous writers while simultaneously pouring contempt on poetry, bookishness, the unlived life, etc. One of his heros is Byron - not Byron the writer, but Byron the bohemian bon vivant. He insisted that the real writers are bold high-livers, risk-takers, unconventional taboo-breakers, artists of living, people who thrive on rich, rare, edgy and exciting personal experiences, which is the only source of good writing.

Maybe he's a character in a Borges story.

It occurred to me that this person does not really understand the psychology of reading, and its relation to writing. For serious readers, the adventure began in childhood - when books were not a substitute for living, but an integral part - its light, its flavor, its feeling.

Later on, things change : the silence of books and libraries really do pose a sort of counter-world to the noise of the everyday, the active, grown-up life. But the secret lure of the strange text remains, for some of us, the most interesting adventure.


Barack Obama, President-elect. Maybe we should have seen it coming : ever notice how Kenyans tend to win races?


Workin' on some poems, sending them out.

Hope to get back to chit-chat here one of these days.


There are two great pitfalls, two great scourges, the Scylla and Charybdis of contemporary poetry. On the one hand, talking down to the general reader (through condescension, facile suavity, or flattery). On the other hand, talking only to fellow poets (the coteries, the cults, the academies). Both of these extremes are, basically, shortcomings of style, and both have a powerful deleterious effect on the general literary climate.

Good poetry somehow discovers the middle path (through the Gates of Wrath).


Reading poetry of Delmore Schwartz. I've read Humboldt's Gift, I may have even started the James Atlas bio (after reading the Bellow novel); but never read the poetry.

He's good. I've missed a lot.
Loitering still amongst Berryman & his pals (Lowell, Jarrell, Schwartz...).

Everybody should read
Jarrell's essay "The Age of Criticism", if they haven't. Now! Foretells, way in advance, the Coming of the Theorists, describes the Pomposity and Myopia of Critics (they feel themselves a little Greater than the rest, because they only read The Great), the Laziness & Lemming-ness of the rest of us (non)Readers... how the good Critic is basically a good reader, an explorer of the un-touted, and someone prepared to stick his or her neck out, rather than follow safely along after what others say... Jarrell is gently biting & hilarious on all this, I can't do it justice here.

Like his poems & Rilke translations, too.


Re-reading memoir by Eileen Simpson, Poets in their Youth - her life with onetime husband John Berryman, experiences with other poets, novelists & critics (Lowell, Jean Stafford, Schwartz, Blackmur, many others). Got me going back to Berryman's reviews & essays.

Want to read further & more diligently... feel the need to re-think, re-experience the whole background & history. Berryman's omnibus review from 1948, "Waiting for the end, boys", is fascinating. Lowell & Berryman had worked so hard to master the tradition, the past poetries (as they knew them). They had so much poetry, by so many poets, memorized. Berryman's review very acute, very witty.


Reading "The Kid", by Conrad Aiken. Poem in several sections, a kind of "American myth" poem. Interesting to me in its affinities with Crane's Bridge, and its focus on William Blacksone, the "maverick" early settler, preacher, scholar, orchardist (Boston and Rhode Island). A lot of WB in my poems. The epigraph to "The Lost Notebooks" (opening chapter of Grassblade Light) is from Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano :

"– "Talking of corpses," – the Consul poured himself another whiskey and was signing a chit book with a somewhat steadier hand while Yvonne sauntered toward the door –"personally I'd like to be buried next to William Blackstone –" He pushed the book back for Fernando, to whom mercifully he had not attempted to introduce her. "The man who went to live among the Indians. You know who he was, of course?" The Consul stood half toward her, doubtfully regarding this new drink he had not picked up."

I found out later that Lowry had been a student of Aiken's.


Speaking of Acmeism... here's HG Poetics in Russian -
A poet's special pleading only goes so far. Poems of necessity make their way in the world completely on their own : their making is both counter-intuitive and intuitive, their reception by the public is no different.

Everybody has a unique personality, carries around their own baggage. Maybe I identify my own obsessions too directly with those of the public world... maybe I need some distance & objectivity.

- who knows. It's complex & intuitive (this matter of creativity). The mind (or the whole person, the soul) leaps ahead of itself, to take the place it somehow (instinctively, intuitively) senses is out there, waiting : the opportunity, the open door.

The "Acmeists" aimed for their own sort of public speech or craft, a certain "classical" worldliness. I suppose it's laughable to think of me & my writing in these terms. But in relation to the "American Acmeism" proto-essay posted here a few days ago, I thought of this poem from Dove Street, also posted here quite a while back : "Fragment from Purgatory".

What's interesting is that the poem addresses, sort of allegorically, what I called the authoritarianism of the Eliot/Pound strain (they are the two figures on the erratic ship), as well as the New-World ideal of freedom. Dante shows up here, and also Whitman, in the hobo figure at the end - who quotes a poem by Edwin Honig ("Freedom builds within/or breaks your bones" - from his poem "Cuba in Mind"). So here in this poem are the 2 ends of the spectrum I sketched out in the Acmeism essay (with say Eliot and Crane at either pole).

But I'm realizing lately that a poet has to step out and speak to the crowd. Theorizing and explaining and meditating and experimenting are necessary but not sufficient.

How this happens, though, is very complicated... since we live in a noisy age of self-promotion and gimmickry, of surfaces, not depths, sensations, not memory or knowledge. In the old days a poet like Yeats, for example (or Pound), would get up on their soap-box and declaim in the old bardic way... but nowadays maybe the poet has to be a master of quiet and silence... "slow poetry" of a sort... to speak clearly, yet neither mumble nor shout...


Posted a comment to William Logan's latest piece on Hart Crane, at Poetry Foundation website.


While I was in Sugar Hill, NH (literally just down the hill from Robert Frost's place), I read Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha" for the first time. It took a while to get into it, but once I did, it was a very good read...

- reminded me of the "Indian" sections of Crane's The Bridge. I mean Crane must have been aware of what Longfellow had done. Both poems are narratives, with beginning middle end (unlike Pound, WCW, Olson). Not really fair here to Pound, WCW, Olson... but, even though all three actually have these 3 parts (beg, mid, end), the parts are overwhelmed (unlike in Crane or Longfellow) by the melodrama of the (Whitmanian-Dantean) speaker-poet... Crane & Longfellow, in this regard, are closer to Chaucer, the Ur-Poet...

Longfellow was actually in touch with an Ojibwa poet at the time of writing - Kah-ge-gah-bowh or George Copway. "Song of Hiawatha" publ. in 1855 - same year as Song of Myself. Longfellow went to meet Whitman in Camden NJ, in 1876 (when Longfellow was 75). Something interesting could be done with the "binary" relation between the poetry of these two men. Whitman treated the wounded soldiers during Civil War; Longfellow's son was wounded in same. (Longfellow's wife died, in harrowing circumstances (her dress caught fire), 3 months after the war began.) The meeting between Longfellow & Whitman. Link between 19th & 20th cent. Amer. poetry. The complementarity of the two. The resolution of dualities. (With Poe as 3rd party, witness au contraire, devil's advocate.)

Balance Longfellow's acute erudition (ie. the amazing parallel between Ojibwa song and Finnish Kalevala), with Whitman's acute ear for the colloquial, the actual... & note Hart Crane's amalgam of all three (Longfellow, Whitman, Poe). (Marianne Moore said she liked Crane, in part because he was so erudite...)

My mother had her first drink in the Longfellow house in Portland, Maine (she was 13 yrs old; the drink was sherry). (It was a momentous occasion, since my maternal grandparents were both teetotallers.) She was best friends, & near next-door neighbors at the time, with Longfellow's great-granddaughter (whose grandmother was the famous "Laughing Allegra") - both families lived along River Road, in Minneapolis - about 3 blocks from where John Berryman jumped to his death.

Thus my mother tagged along once on the Longfellow family summer vacation to the Maine coast.

My father - a fairly unpoetic fellow, in some (not all) respects - used to recite bits of Longfellow ("By the shores of Gitchee Gumee..." or "This is the forest primeval"...) - Longfellow was required reading in his day. Besides which, a replica of the Longfellow House (from Cambridge Mass.) was built near the celebrated Minnehaha Falls, down the road... & many towns & lakes in Minnesota are named after people & places in Longfellow's famous poem.

Actually, reading the well-researched, etymologically-subtle "Song of Hiawatha", I was reminded of parts of In RI, full of Narragansett vocabulary. & both Hiawatha and Forth of July owe a debt to the Finnish epic, the Kalevala...

Up in NH was also reading Charles Mann's very interesting best-seller, 1491. Had a curious effect on me... speaking of Columbus Day... maybe someday Crane's Bridge will be understood as a sort of bridge (one among many) between old (Eurocentric) civilization, & yet-to-be-understood or recognized "prehistory" of New World... there are also a lot of "premonitions" in my poetry in this regard... things I wrote, the significance of which I didn't understand completely... ie. the theme of clay, the peacepipe (calumet - Pipestone, MN)... "Time flowers on the lips of whispered clay" (ie., the peacepipe) -

Like this bit from July (by way of Herodotus, Longfellow, Mark Twain, & David Treuer) -

 The secret of the Upper Midwest   under
the cold winter snow and by the lakes of summer
is a cozy gemutlichkeit familial merciful
and so I remember your red nose,

Grandfather today on Epiphany (your
birthday) how you leaned over the Christmas
fireplace stiffly (past 70 years) to stir the sparks
of last year's evergreen as the colored rays

of the little lights played in your snowy hair
and as the ghost of Mary Negus dressed
bright as a cardinal drops deeper reds
(Ethiopian rubies and sealed carnelians)

across the snow and as the laughter of Florence
Ainsworth penetrates like Minnehaha
or mouth of Nile through the endless ach-ach
peace pipesmoke of Edward S. (a censer-

rifle) and as the children gather by your feet
they are ghostly now as these ghosts gathering
in my lines when the front rolls in like a wraith
from the southwest spreading a wide fan

of shadows and rain over the prairie
maybe you'd be by the upstairs window,
looking out through the big black bars
of the oak tree toward the gash of the river

moving there, hidden between the steep slopes
and Dad will get up and put down the paper
music curls on the bench and as rain pulses

down and the storm finally breaks maybe
you'll see the strange incandescence the
last light burning through beneath
the storm and your face like a

smaller star, leaning there
against the clear pane –


Gemutlichkeit or no it's the story of a star
I'm just a poor wayfaring stranger
and the people don't dream; they work
a long, long way from my home

active, energetic, prosperous, practical
the happy result is manifest all around in
the substantial outside aspect of things,
and the suggestions of wholesome life

(but Marion City is an exception.
Marion City has gone backward in
a most unaccountable way. Doubtless
Marion City was too near to Quincy.)

like Henry Clay Dean if the ground had been
sodded with greenbacks scarecrow Dean
in foxy shoes, down at the heels, socks of odd
colors, relics of antiquity a world too short

small, stiff-brimmed soldier-cap hung on the
corner of the bump of a just audible ripple
of merriment (forearm unprotected) which swept
the sea of faces like the wash of a wave

and now the stranger stepped back one pace
nobody listening, everybody laughing and
whispering (along here, somewhere
on a black night ran some exceedingly

narrow and intricate island chutes
by aid of the electric light. Behind was
solid blackness – a crackless bank of
it ahead a narrow elbow of water, curving

between dense walls of foliage and here
every individual leaf and every individual ripple
stood out flooded with a glare as of noonday)
passed Prairie du Chien after some hours

progress through varied and beautiful scenery
reached La Crosse. We noticed that above Dubuque
the water of the Mississippi was olive-green
rich and beautiful and semitransparent,

with the sun on it. And I remember Muscatine
they use the broad smooth river as a canvas
and painted on it every imaginable dream it is
the true Sunset Land so good a right to the name.

Go upstream deeper into the green caverns
as in all these Upper-River towns the majestic
bluffs this region is new blanketed with
Indian tales and traditions Draco

and Romeo and Juliet of White Bear Lake
and the bear caught her she and the blanket
you get yourself all worked up about the
blanket snowed under like a star in a Kali-

black stoneboat pivoting he began life poor
and without education on the curbstone
with his book unconscious of the tramp of
passing crowds to let a dray pass

unobstructed there are many soothsayers
in Scythia but the class of effeminate persons
called "Enarees" use a different method
take a piece of the inner bark of the lime-tree

which they say was taught them by Aphrodite
and cut it into three pieces which they keep
twisting and untwisting round their fingers
as they prophesy when the king of Scythia

falls sick Lincoln had known only this quiet house
he was six when his sister Irma flew in the door
with the white man she announced she was
going to marry "Later on" Sioux

Lincoln bolts swoops slams out of the house.
Until the unholy train comes tearing along
ripping the sacred solitude to rags
the locomotive is in sight from the deck

of the steamboat his clothes differed in no respect
from a "wharf-rat's" except they were raggeder
they retreated to other city haunts in shame
since it was launched in Minneapolis on May 29, 1935

Lester and Vera approached the train unnoticed
they boarded the broken steps of the sleeper car
the errant lights of the yard bosses sprayed the
side (their rusted hulk star-manger Hiawatha)



If you read Gibbon or any of the later historians on the Roman Empire and the Dark Ages, and set them beside Dante's recapitulation of ancient and medieval culture, you realize very clearly that Dante is an upstart. His Divine Empire rooted in Rome is a dream, a fantasy, an excess, a surplus. That's perhaps why Blake, another excessive surplus dreamer, illustrated Dante. In fact all the great poets throw themselves into this liminal region of dream, imagination, irreality. Poetry itself is unreal, surplus : consider the pop-culture image of "poet" in America.

The Bible is surplus. The prophets were surplus. God Himself/Herself is surplus, excess, unreal.

Only, when you begin to think about the underlying, basic actuality of time and mortality, then what is real and what is unreal, what is surplus and what is necessity, tend to get switched around... a "transvaluation of values" (so to speak). The scandal of Resurrection implies the funhouse mirror of reality as a whole, in general...

One of the Church Fathers wrote, "I believe because it is absurd"... or something like that...
Heading up to the woods for a couple weeks. Be back around Columbus Day. So long, friends -


So I finished the Divina Commedia last night (in what I think is the very fine Mark Musa translation). Dante gives off a sort of M.C. Escher effect : an oscillation, due to the blending of fact and imagination. Is this Paradisal scene for real? No, it's "virtual", it's a pageant; but every element is grounded in Dante's sense of (ideal, philosophical, yet also ultimate) truth; thus the representative, verbal order impinges on "physical" actuality - the surreal order of the prophetic Word... so there's a wavering back and forth, actually a philosophical test of the reader's own beliefs and reasoning...

This passage struck me - Paradiso XXVII, lines 118-120, where Beatrice is beginning to explain the superfast sphere of the Primo Mobile, the surrounding ball of "light" of God's making which encompasses all creation :

"How time can hide its roots in this sphere's vase
and show its leaves stemming through all the rest,
should now be clear to your intelligence."

- it reminded me of the opening stanza of my own long poem, Stubborn Grew -

Time flowers on the lips of whispered clay.
A spring breeze flows through the branches on the terrace.
The city below flutters and flaps, roars
and drones like a resurrected bumblebee.

There is a lot in Stubborn, and Forth of July as a whole, about clay and pottery wheels (partly because my mother was quite a potter while I was growing up). The wheel of time spins through the clay, and the lips of poetry spin their own complementary vortex.


... then again, of course, poetry isn't just an arty game of echoes. But I'm talking about some of the impulses that inform my obsessed engagement with it...
Have been reading Divine Comedy in English, Mark Musa translation. The first time I've gone steadily through it - have tried dutifully in the past to read it in Italian (without much success), have read Singleton & Mandelbaum translations, but usually end up slowing down so much I lose the thread. It's going better this time, even though when I picked up this book (Portable Dante) I thought it was the Laurence Binyon version, which I really wanted to read...

Going through it steadily, you see how each part (Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso) really builds in momentum and intensity... you also recognize the slow stretches, the not-so-successful passages... it seems (for me anyway) to humanize the great Maestro - you sense him working out the compositional problems... (though I know I'm missing most of the Italian subtleties).

A little bulb went on as I was somewhere in Paradiso last night... felt I was more aware for a moment of the inventive, image-making, image-shaping activity going on... and it reminded me of two things : first, my initial sudden attraction for a book of Mandelstam poems in translation which I came upon in a bookstore back in '78 or so - and what it was that attracted me : the startling-mysterious images; second, a childhood memory of how strong the attraction was I felt for toys, artworks, small objects, toy soldiers... the visceral delight I took in seeing such things...

So these thoughts were going through my mind, and it made me think of another two things - a couple principles of Acmeism (in the Gumilev & Mandelstam version, respectively) : the emphasis on imaginative clarity, clarity of vision; and secondly the emphasis on the continuity of poetic tradition. And the thought occurred to me that perhaps one could say that both of these principles have some unconscious roots in that childhood fascination with both making (invention) and perceiving adorable objects, toys... thus our good poems are inevitably a response to the self-contained radiance, the toy-like mana, of previous poems, of models... and that poetry participates (with the other arts) in this process of active imaginative invention and shaping of images and meanings, forming models of beauty meant to have some kind of equivalence or relationship with the order & beauty we encounter in nature and experience...

So to get back to my wacky crusade, an "American Acmeism" would recognize that poetry does not always re-invent the wheel by simply transcribing anecdotes of individual experience; rather it's always engaged with these charismatic models (other poems), with the sound of poetry as some kind of organic, synthetic entity in its own right, with its own living aura and tradition... that poems emerge in a context of other words, other sounds, other poets... As that paramount toy-maker Wallace Stevens put it,

The man-hero is not the exceptional monster,
But he that of repetition is most master."


Some follow-up to previous post...

"Acmeism"... it's not the specifics of the Russian phenomenon that interest me, it's the indications of a general stance and impulse. It would be silly to try to replicate or import "Russian Acmeism" per se (& I'm sure many would find previous essay silly on the face of it).

The combination of theory and practice - ie., to be more precise, the example of living poetry culture - represented by Mandelstam & co. is what draws me.

And the key thing is that I agree with Wallace Stevens's & Hart Crane's basic position (standing on the shoulders of Whitman, Melville, Emerson and Dickinson) that "America" offers an appropriate place for poetry to spring up. Poetry can "originate" here just as well as anywhere else. This is slightly different from the positions of Eliot and Pound, who were under the influence & shadow of Eurocentric and expatriate Henry James. Pound's conflicted-aggressive attitude marks him as an "upstart colonial" (with the emphasis on colonial) - paradoxically, he remains stuck in that attitude of (rebellious) epigone of James.

I know this sounds like I'm working out "positions" which became antiquated decades ago! & the reason for that is that, as I stated in the essay, I feel myself between Eliot and Crane. My "religion" is not Romantic-transcendentalist (Crane), neither is it exactly "medieval-traditionalist" (Eliot) : it's somewhere in between. My "America" is not exactly nationalist, nor purely imaginary (ideal); it has roots in colonial New England, in Native America, and in Europe.

In this regard, Mandelstam and Akhmatova (& Brodsky also, to some extent), by giving an example of how a poet can be both Russian and global (part of "world culture"), offer me a slightly different model for an impulse they share with Pound and Eliot (that is, the impulse to participate in "European poetry" as an organism, a unitary phenomenon). And this difference, for me, makes it possible to envision a kind of middle way between the Americanists and the world-culture expatriates.

I'm going on like this (oddly enough) because I believe that what a poet does can't simply be equated with or reduced to his or her literary genealogy. It can't even be reduced to "art" (in its Poe/Baudelairean Symbolist-Modernist formations). It's something more distinctive, autochthonous, uncanny, and "contemporary" (Now). So I'm offering here a sort of imaginary "genealogy" for the relatively sui generis activity of my own poetry-making.



... & so what do I mean exactly by "American Acmeism"? Here are some free-form disorganized top-of-the-head answers to that question.


What is/was Acmeism? The Acmeists were a small informal group of mostly St. Petersburg poets in pre-Revolutionary Russia, led by Nikolai Gumilev, and expounded/expanded-upon in a couple of interesting essays by Osip Mandelstam. There's a brief Wikipedia entry here. The Acmeists emphasized craft, clarity, neo-classicism, respect for history and cultural tradition, a suspicion of mysticism and vague other-worldliness (Symbolism), as well as of radical nihilism or a-historicism (as in some flavors of Futurism).

Mandelstam built a very baroque and imaginative superstructure on this simple platform, which involved both a "longing for world culture" and a kind of Bergsonian or Nietzschean enthusiasm for ana-chronism, the Eternal Return, a Renaissance-like sense of the infinite possibility of renewal through ancient texts and poets (Ovid, Villon, Dante...).

Mandelstam's this-world optimism, his gusto for reviving the Classic - a kind of millennialist desire for a new Golden Age - can be usefully compared to the "New America" enthusiasm of Waldo Frank, Sherwood Anderson, & in particular the Hart Crane of The Bridge : this was a neo-classicism with a folk-America, nationalist strain, a very deliberate counter to TS Eliot's Anglophile, reactionary & disillusioned stance. However, at least in Crane's case, it was also different from the radicalism of some of the more "futurist" moderns like Pound, Stein, WC Williams. Crane, as with Stevens, put less weight on the "experimental" surface of style.


Lots of things have changed since the heady days of the early 20th century; in fact the entire "climate of reception" of today, and literary culture as a whole, might be fairly unrecognizable to those antique Twenties scriptonauts.

But history in the larger view is still history; Reality with a capital R is still Reality, however mysterious; and some of the underlying philosophical and artistic ground remains similar to what it was in those days, if not exactly the same. And if history and Reality are relatively unchanged benchmarks, then it would, I think, be possible to reconstruct, reconfigure, and restore, in some ways, an Acmeist literary approach.

In other words, if I call myself an Acmeist, what do I wish this to mean? What would "my Acmeism" be?

An American Acmeism - my Acmeism - would be a name, for one thing, for a certain set of general beliefs about nature, culture, art, poetry, history, religion... a working philosophy, a pragmatics. We live in a polyvalent and polyvocal world, where poetry means different things to different people - and in many cases, poetry involves a reflection of very diverse and variant worldviews and ideologies.

For me, anyway, this notion of "worldview" is important, because I think poets participate in the broader activity of culture-making. Nothing happens in a vacuum; art is original because it is aware of its conditions and the context of its making - it is, actually, the process of reflecting, and reflecting on, those conditions.

Basically, the model of Russian Acmeism appeals to me, because in my reading of Osip and Nadezhda Mandelstam, Anna Akhmatova, and others who followed them (such as Joseph Brodsky), I find a harmony between basic cultural-historical attitudes, artistic allegiances, and the artworks themselves. In other words, the worldview and the poetry mutually support and guarantee one another; the "ideas" are manifested and "proven" in the works.

Scholars (& Russians!) might not find my reception of these writers to be sufficiently critical; but then, to be critical is their calling and business. For me, these writers serve as benchmarks, models and inspiration. Indeed, it is Mandelstam's "longing for world culture", and the poetic models he derives from that longing, which in turn provide a new lens for perceiving the weights and values of American poetry - the affinities and differences which impinge on the understanding of our own (American) cultural history and poetic developments (for example, the affinities and differences between the "classicism" of Frost and Crane and H.D., and the visions and allegiances of Akhmatova and Mandelstam).


In thinking about the appeal which M's "longing" has for me, I am brought unavoidably to certain philosophical or religious underpinnings of my own - my own "worldview". But I hesitate to dilute or debase the concepts themselves, by way of a glib summary, a reduction to tags and slogans.

So in sketching this out, I want to say that I seem to hold two contrary attitudes in suspension. Let's say that Eliot and [Crane/Stevens/Joyce] stand as figures for the two ends of this spectrum.

On the "Eliot" end, I believe in a supreme order or logos in-forming Time, Nature and History : what Mandelstam referred to, obliquely, as "the Christian calendar". History itself is a story : incarnational, actual, irrevocable, ineluctable. As such, the vocation of Israel, and the Christian Incarnation and Redemption - no matter how confused and in the dark we may be about their "final" meaning(s) - are the pivotal points of reference for human knowledge and experience.

This is a cultural order, which immediately contextualizes the meaning of more local or national historical events and artistic developments. Culture as such fuses and transmutes the ordinary and "natural" growth of poetic making and artistic activity. This is one way of representing M's "longing for world culture", his (very Petersburgian) desire to unite Russian destiny with European and world culture as a whole. Eliot, in this sense, represents a somewhat similar impulse in relation to the culture of the United States, though their personalities and underlying vision of things could hardly be more different.

Then, on the (so-to-speak) "Crane/Stevens/Joyce" end of my view of things, stands the role of the poet as original maker, as Orphic-Romantic visionary. Here the poet (and reader) is a free and independent interpreter of the given : that is of the historical given, of the script of history. Nothing means anything without interpretation : I take very seriously the Gospel statement that "the Truth shall make you free". There is a playful spiritual optimism lurking in these three writers, a whiff of absolute freedom - something that was snuffed out in Eliot and Pound, as a consequence (or a symptom) of their authoritarianism and reactionary world-weariness (post-WW I). This optimism is also in Mandelstam and Akhmatova (despite her grief-filled, elegiac sensibility) : a spirit of confidence and endurance. There is no poetry at all without this point of absolute, self-sufficient, spiritual originality : only for me this is complicated by an underlying "Trinitarian" understanding of the human person (that is, we are, in the most basic sense, the children of God : the living images of God : and we depend on the "Spirit of the Creator" in the very substance of our being). So it's a "relational" notion - not a Renaissance-ubermensch-Romantic idea - of creative originality. This is why, in my mind at least, I situate myself spiritually between Eliot and Crane/Stevens/Joyce.


So what would American Acmeism be about, besides representing a sort of boilerplate for my own poetry? It would be about re-reading and re-valuing the American poetic inheritance in the light of its affinities with the Russian Acmeists and their own allegiances (to world culture, to Hellenism, to historical memory). It would read Stevens' celebrations of this-world and of poetry itself ("the poetry of life"; "poetry is the sanction of life"; etc.) in the light of Acmeist culture-making. It would hear Mandelstam in Frost's line about "one could do worse than be a good Greek"; it would read M's "domestic Hellenism" in Crane's renovation of Pindar. It would see the devotion to craft and the spiritual optimism of the Acmeist ethos in some of the early American modernists. And these readings, in turn, would provide a new ground for understanding where we are in American poetry now. It would go to the neo-Aristotelianism of the Chicago Critics, and find affinities with Gumilev's concept of the poem as a dramatic-cultural act (as opposed to simply a "verbal construct", in the too-familiar terms of the Russ. Formalists and the New Critics and the Language Poets and the post-structuralists etc.). In Aristotelian fashion, it would re-think "form" as something far deeper and more elusive than the surface elements of meter, rhyme or stanzaic design : something much more closely interfused with both "meaning" and "plot".

The consequences of these basic orientations call for much more, and more imaginative, exploration : here I'm just re-formulating and restating ideas the readers of this blog have encountered before. But as they well know, I never tire of re-affirming my allegiance to those famous Petersburgians.

(p.s. I've added this post over at the Essays.)
Have been revising the previews of my books over at Lulu.
You can buy these cute little books there, or download them for $2.50.

I have been very focused on writing these poems for the last 20 yrs or so, to the exclusion of much else. I work in a library and I try to keep my obligations to a minimum, so I have time to write. This doesn't guarantee anything, of course. But I'm happy with my work. My poems are quiet and simple, outside the mainstream, unknown, building their own virtual America, containing the vast (midwest) and the minuscule (Rhode Island). A sort of Byzantine-American Acmeism - an answer to the historical-aesthetic worlds of Pound and Eliot and Williams and Stevens and Frost and all, by way of Crane and Mandelstam and Berryman, along with myself. Simple, quiet and original.


Doing some reading in Alexandrian "bucolic" poetry - Theocritus et al., & Virgil's Eclogues. Also interesting study, Pipes of Pan, by Thos. Hubbard, on "intertextuality" in pastoral poetry.

The librarian-poets of Alexandria. Bookish scholars transposing epic to something less grand, more scribal and allusive. "Bucolic" poetry as not so much about rural vs. urban or nostalgia for the countryside, as allegories of actual poets' rivalries, their shared (intertextual, allusive) meanings. The contests of the "shepherds".

Sometimes I read things like this through the lens of what I've already written. Somebody someday might see Forth of July through an "Alexandrian" lens. Grassblade Light, the middle book, might be set beside Theocritus' 1st Idyll, about the Adonis-like dead shepherd, Daphnis, and the "Sicilian songs" sung by the rural shepherds. Grassblade enacts a sort of "ghost dance"/Ojibwa/shamanic resurrection ceremony for "dead shepherds" Hart Crane and John Berryman (along with the mysterious Juliet). It transposes its own "epic" narrative into a series of "songs", lyrics, "dream songs". And it's modeled, structurally, on a castle built by Emperor Frederick II, the ruler of the Kingdom of Sicily (Castel del Monte).

I guess it's a stretch. But nevertheless its one of the ways those who should be reading me could read me!


Whole lot of quietude here at HG Poetics. Shifting gears, I guess.

In my 40-yr weird trip making poems, I seem to have bumped against a few solid corners :

1. Poets are born not made. You either have it or you don't. Nevertheless, it takes effort.

2. I want to write for readers and the public, not for other poets. I don't like coteries. It's not a group project. Poems are not composed by committee. (Truth and beauty are elusive, unusual.) Nevertheless, in my writing, I get into conversations with distant or deceased poets. (I suppose this could happen with contemporary, living poets, too... but it hasn't yet, as far as I know. On 2nd thought, I guess I was in conversation with the NY School poets back in the late 60s & early 70s. It was a one-way conversation - ie., imitation.)

3. The literary world is a consequence of the fact that poetry exists, not the other way around. In other words, the labors of lit-biz do not produce poetry; they are a commentary on it.

4. My own motives and ambitions in making poetry are quite mysterious, obscure - especially to me.


Very sorry to hear that Reginald Shepherd passed away.


Picked up a booksale copy of Elizabeth Bishop's Questions of Travel, for one dollar. Reading it today with much delight.

Though often playing with "forms" (sestinas, ballads, double sonnets...), she never comes across as "formal", or a formalist. Too much sly humor, too much experience, pathos, actuality, perception, fellow-feeling... nothing academic about it.


Been kind of a drought here at the ol' blog. I seem to be undergoing mild sea-change, in approach to writing, poetry, etc. Thinking a little differently, imagining differently. It began after finishing Fontegaia series, a couple months ago. Then the Colrain Conference. & working on shorter poems.

Perhaps those long-poem projects, & all their dense subject-matter & background reading etc., resolved the question of style for me. & also set in place a certain attitude or stance toward the current literary environment. Gave me a sort of context (if only subjective).

Now I'm afloat in a new framework... new/old issues surfacing, questions coming into play. Memories, too. I'm sort of inching along with it. Not as ready as before to issue pronunciamentos.

Reading Leopardi again, an interest from college days. In Italian, he's on a par with Keats (in the poetry) & Coleridge (in the criticism). Found a copy of an old aquamarine blue paperback translation by Iris Origo & John Heath-Stubbs, of prose & poetry, which I used to own 30 yrs ago. Also reading an interesting monograph by G. Singh (Leopardi and the Theory of Poetry). Curious whether there's any Leopardi background in Wallace Stevens.


Not much news here. Reading by & about Giacomo Leopardi. Writing some short poems.


Hart Crane aspired to be "Pindar of our machine age". Praise-poems like "For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen" and "The Bridge" have, in that sense, a Pindaric elan vital.


I wrote a few days ago about seeing Forth of July as a sort of counterpoint to Pound's Cantos. Forth of July is actually an enormous bubble of rhyme-joy... full of oddities... one of which is a minor thread raveling together Scythia, Sarmatia, King Arthur, Mandelstam...

& as I was looking around while composing those comments to Stephen Burt's piece, I came upon this Wikipedia entry.

The "Scythian" theme is real in Petersburg poetry. Blok has a famous poem , "The Scythians", on the advent of the Revolution.

Ossetia, and the Ossetian language, descend from ancient Scythia, which Herodotus called "the land of the Gerrhi" (see modern day Gori, in Georgia, focus of recent headlines).

Mandelstam set himself "like flint" against Stalin. The priest-kings are still battling for the golden bough in the sacred wood. One of his poems identifies poetry with the free, full-throated song of horsemen bringing children to their wedding. His Stalin epigram, on the other hand, mocks the "barrel-chested Ossete". Here's a passage from July, the 3rd bk of Forth of July :

 He spoke awhile   and was quiet awhile
 and I heard a Scythian golden horde
 thundering in the distance  drone
 of trumpets   pounding hoofs   the tinkling

 of tiny earrings   rustling gowns   robes
 awash with pendants jingling   so far
 so small now   in the infinite   raft
 of grassland   horsemen, sober

 bringing the children to their wedding
 with clear-eyed   innocent song
 full-chested   doubleyoudoubleyou   gone
 by   invisible now   up into the air   like dew

 toward a mound of earth   in Gerrhus
 in the land of Gerrhi   where clovers grow
 quatrefoil   one urn   one lucky seven   worked
 from soil beside   great rivers   &   one Suger-bee
Had some things to say about Mandelstam yesterday, in the comments thread to Stephen Burt's article on Pindar & the Olympics.

Was wondering how to write a Pindaric ode about the 29th Games, when I ran into Stephen's essay...


...not that I've come to think that the established literary magazines & presses actually confer artistic value, or always recognize it. Far from it. The new & the outside will always shake things up. It's that I want my poetry to be read, and maybe I see a little more clearly the difference between artistic and practical aspects. And what some independent editors & publishers are trying to do - & some of them are doing a fine job, to put it mildly.

I'll still need to play left field, I think, if I can. You can't write poetry by writing like everybody else.

(Speaking of which, there were a couple of absolutely hilarious young poets there. & some fine, talented more-serious poets, too.)
One of the things I think I see more clearly now is that my pained sense of being the marginalized "neglected artist" is not necessary... I mean it's mainly the consequence of simply not understanding the nature of the literary scene out there.

Sometimes being really obtuse ends up advantageous anyway... it would be nice if that proves to be the case...

There are truly neglected artists, for sure... & very interesting cases of discovery & re-discovery of same... but it's far too early for me to think that I'm one of them.

Another reason, I think, for that neglect or seeming-neglect has been the fact I've been married to the long poem projects for a heck of a long time - but that is starting to change too.
Over the weekend I attended my very first ever "craft-oriented" poetry conference, up in western Mass. The Colrain Poetry Conference, focused on complete manuscripts and the editorial process. Very, very, extremely worthwhile. You won't hear any more snarky comments from me about all that. (I mean, I don't think so. You never know with me.) I could say a lot more. My entire perspective on the "scene" - & on what I think I'm doing - has shifted & changed.

A few years ago, Joan Houlihan fell rather abruptly from the "regular/mainstream" poetry world into the "internet" poetry scene(s). & because she did that (& because of a few positive comments I made at the time on some of her controversial web writings), I think I may be about to fall in the other direction, into that "regular" scene (of print journals, regular presses, etc).

One of the resources mentioned was Jeffery Bahr's database on poetry publications & submissions, which I had never looked at. Seems very useful indeed.


One quality that shows clearly in Pound, and that you don't see much of in the extra-large milkshake of today's scene - he was, sometimes literally, hungry. This hunger sharpens (though not necessarily clears) his vision, and his cantankerousness. The motor of history is poverty... injustice, resentment... hunger. He went for insidious, crackpot solutions - but he was also attentive to the violence, the crisis, the scar-lines of the social complex. & so he ended up staggering - stupidly, absurdly - into the arms of Mussolini & the war itself.

The question of how society achieves justice - if it's possible at all - is the political question. The 20th-century authoritarian regimes dismissed the merely human-scale problems of human rights, equality, human imperfection, the conflict of interests, on behalf of fraudulent mass "solutions". But much of our literary culture either takes the forms of government and liberal democracy for granted, or assumes a cynical attitude of academic scepticism & dogmatic ideological righteousness. Neither attitude makes for an atmosphere conducive to a flourishing "civic" poetry (others - "activist" poets - will disagree with this). On the other hand, maybe this atmosphere is also latent with opportunity for some new kind of civic (poetic) speech.

Pound would have found a lot of poetic fodder in the current banking crisis.
Having sort of a small-scale re-encounter with E. Pound & Cantos. Very mixed feelings. EP had big influence on me in early 80s : the scale, the ambition, the attempt to integrate history with a (secret, arcane) history of poetry, with world culture... On the other hand, Montale called him a "barbarian", which was also true... Bacigalupo calls him a "primitive".

The story & para-story (the life, the poem) is stranger than fiction. Much of it just plain mean & hateful : the trajectory of the fanatic ideologue. But then there's his wonderful capacious curiosity & energy... the play with many languages & cultures...

My underlying impulse in writing with him in the background has been to revise, to re-write "historical", "epic" poetry so as to oppose his influence, to "right the ship"... some things in Pound are just a bad cloud over historical memory... & (in this moment of renascent authoritarianism) still dangerous (the amalgam of anti-semitism, fascism, the scorn for democracy, and Confucianism, for example)... there are things in Stubborn Grew, for example, which are a kind of shady parody-mockery of the Cantos, which I admire & dislike in equal measure...

Basically I am disappointed by his haughty arrogance (which he himself acknowledged in glimpses... say in the Pisan Cantos) and his kow-towing to "enlightened" despotism (Mussolini, Hitler, and all those wonderful "rulers")... and secondly - attracted as I am to some of the same philosophical lenses (Dante, some aspects of Neo-Platonism & medieval thought) - I see a very different actuality in the "tale" of world history, & I want to express that alternate view...

Something odd happened during the recent weeks of this re-reading... we have a sort of white & orange cat named Chester; recently we started taking care of a little scrawny feral stray cat, with a sharp face and green eyes, who has become a very affectionate pal to Chester... my wife started calling her "Esmerelda". When we finally caught her & were able to take her to the vet for shots etc., we discovered, lo & behold, Esmerelda was a he... so now Esmerelda is Ezra... (Pound was famously intrigued with the local stray cat population of whatever European city he happened to be wandering through... & the feline element in the Cantos is of course pervasive...). EP was enthralled with Ovid & Metamorphoses... maybe Ezra is Ezra! (But Ezra will never take the place of our beloved Pushkin, who like his namesake died young, & is buried in the backyard...)

Pushkin, that Russian cat


Have been reading The formed trace : the later poetry of Ezra Pound, by Massimo Bacigalupo (Columbia UP, 1980). An excellent book, I think. Has a good chapter titled "An American tradition", where he talks about the differences in outlook & attitude of the stream flowing from Whitman-Pound-WC Williams, and maybe an older (New England/Puritan? - he doesn't use these terms) stream, represented by Robt Lowell & Berryman, among others. The "erotic vision of nature" and optimism of the former; their affinities with the countercultural movements of the 60s; etc. Funny, he calls this Whitman/Pound/WCW wing the "mainstream" - and is critical of them, though not absolutely (the book is, after all, a measured & careful study of the Cantos & Pound's translations). Mainstream! Holy Silliman categories!

Remarks on how these (& others, including Eliot & Stevens) main modernists knew and cared little about Melville or Dickinson - who represent a more sceptical take on the "oneness" of the universe.

Hart Crane, on the other hand...


Happy Crazy Eights Day...

The long poem Forth of July comes in 3 volumes. Vols. 1 and 3 each have 4 chapters. Vol. 2 (The Grassblade Light) has 7 chapters - but the center chapter is doubled, making (numerically) 8 chapters.

Each of Grassblade's sections contains 28 poems, each poem having 28 lines (with variations).

The "plot" of Grassblade is a kind of "ghost dance" search (by way of Russia) for the poet's cousin Juliet.

Last fall, the Soviet Russian submarine Julietta 484 sank in Providence harbor during a storm. Just last week it was finally brough back to the surface for repairs.

These are the numbers of our lives.


Mighty quiet here at ol' HG Poe. Finishing up Chr. Moevs book, Metaphysics of Dante's Comedy. I am so enthused about this book that I contacted the publisher, to ask whether a paperback edition is forthcoming, and lo & behold, it shall be so (middle of next month).

With Moevs in one hand and Critics and Criticism (Chicago School) in the other - 2 vibrant expressions of neo-Aristotelianism (sounds fun, doesn't it?) - we are ready for a new era...

I like to think that my own poetry has been neglected because, goshdarn it, it just has too much order & information for this murky day and age... that readers will take to it later on...

- but I am in a season of 2nd thoughts, & tend to see more faults than virtues in it all... for example, a dreamy, musical, aesthetical detachment from the immediate present times, actual history... which I must try to step out and write about, in a different way...


Ron Silliman wrote yesterday about a rare o.p. edition of WCW's Spring & All. Here's a scarce book of mine : Cyclobiography. There's a copy in the Brown U. Library; a copy in the SUNY Buffalo Library. That's about it. I don't even have my own copy anymore.

The book includes my first attempt at a poema (Russian term for longish poem) - "Memorial Day". Who knows, maybe my best.

I thought of this today as I was walking to work, after having just read a letter from my father (out in the midwest), and glancing to my left, where there was a raised embankment, so that my eyes were about level with a patch of grass, through which the sun was shining.

Spring & all. Early days in cornfield land.


Reconsidering past writings... don't want to be too negative! Unless I have to be.

The long poems... in their context (with other like-minded long journey-poems or life-poems) - maybe, anyway, have their good points...

Reading more in & about Ezra Pound lately. Feel some connections between themes in later Cantos & what I'm trying to do or think about these days...

"can you enter the great acorn of light?"

Long time ago I wrote a longish poem called Spring Quartet, which actually included a kind of "ideogram"... it was a sketch of a small wooden toy bathtub boat, which my mother had made for me, christened "Sophie" - all white and light blue. In the center of the boat was an acorn. It was represented as sailing into Providence (the city)... eventually I gave the boat to Elena Shvarts (the Petersburgians have a serious historical thing about boats). It was destroyed several years later in a massive apartment fire in her building... I wish I'd taken a photo of that little toy.

I'm definitely in the Whitman endless-poem bunch. Interesting to me that Anny Ballardini is acquainted with Pound's daughter (Mary de Rachewiltz), over in Italy - and gave her a copy of our bilingual In RI.


But now, somehow, I need to write a more objective kind of poetry. Not leaning so much on "long poem", "sequence", Henry's improvisatory musical daydreaming & repetitive symbols. More free-standing, clearer.

Somehow. Maybe.
Dog days at the old HG blog. Enjoying being done with Fontegaia poem. Trying to re-evaluate things, write or not-write in a different way.

Reading Christian Moevs' great book again, Metaphysics of Dante's Comedy. & Richard Farina, Been down so long it seems like up to me. I feel like I met each one of his (fictional) characters back in the 60s.

Whenever I'm in one of these transitional phases, I start thinking about Mandelstam again. My quirks & obsessions.

M's Voronezh poems at a certain time (10 yrs ago) not only gave me some ideas, "themes". Something in the tone of those poems set me free from my own hesitations, over-conceptualizing. A kind of cozy mumbling, gemutlichkeit. A sweetness. "My sadness is luminous" (Pushkin). Permission to improvise (for better & worse, I guess). That was the beginning of 10,000 quatrains.


One way to bring together obscure imagery and real, particular things is, oddly enough... through allegory. Montale does something like this : tying together a network of allusions, so that what seems like a private or fictional story is actually a statement about contemporary events.

& thinking of Montale today... I suppose one reason my poetry has been dismissed or ignored by my contemporaries is that I come across somewhat like Montale's counterpart, D'Annunzio - the self-absorbed, egotistical, super-productive, narcissistic, reactionary individualist...

well, maybe. But today I see vague outlines of cultural-intellectual work to do... maybe. "The time is out of joint."
Perfect summer day here, walking around on coffee break... have been through these "self-evaluations" before (see previous post). 10 yrs ago, when the qua-train started down the track, it was Mandelstam who provided the antidote to that same obscurity he had previously helped set in motion... his last poems, from Voronezh - fusion of that image-music with clear expression of real landscape, the "black earth"... listening to that, & connecting it suddenly with Orpheus-Eurydice-Persephone story, I was able to come up with a plot... & a sequence of poems really set in time & place & history (Stubborn Grew...).
Since the ol' Quatrain Express seems to have finally come into the station, I've been pondering about the general basis of my ways in poetry... so it's been quiet around here.

Thinking about my deep attraction for "Deep Image" kinds of things... Mandelstam & Crane's riddles, hermetic imagery, some of that in Pound's Cantos & elsewhere... it's a kind of imagism-symbolism, visual music... Poe's "vagueness"...

but now I'm thinking about it as a kind of limitation...

wondering if there's a psychological/intellectual aspect to it. Like nostalgia for home or childhood instilling a subconcious hunger for vision - which is perhaps temporarily appeased by the striking, un-paraphrasable image, like a gong sounding...

(speaking of gongs, I think Yeats went through something like this, a re-examination of his style... not that I'm doing anything so systematic or dramatic here)

So the challenge for me might be to find a way of writing which I can take to, which involves something more like direct discourse, statement... Maybe.


Reading poems of Anthony Hecht lately. Very strong, very impressed. Elephant in the playroom. Enjoying it a lot. Hecht's blank verse narratives, like "Venetian Vespers", with their plot twists and (sometimes) surprise endings, offer fine examples of R.S. Crane's & E. Olson's Aristotelian principles.


An alternative history of "innovation in poetry" in the last 100 yrs might focus on the displacement of meditation, and meditative poetry, by other forms of intellectual activity : prose or dramatic mimesis (novels, plays, film), music per se, and science. Thus the "radical changes" offered by Modernists and postmodernists alike might be seen as motivated primarily by "displacement anxiety", the urgent desire to maintain position - to keep up with the times.

Thus Ron Silliman's notion (on display again in his post of today) of "quietude", and a "School of Quietude", can be understood, ironically, as an unwitting acknowledgment of this state of affairs. "Quietude" as the return of the repressed.

Meditative poetry dramatizes an act of cognition or intellectual choice. It dramatizes or symbolizes an intellectual action. This kind of action is what remains after the forms of mimetic poetry (in Aristotle's sense - the imitation of a believable action and its moral & other consequences) have been divided up, shared out among other media and other arts, separated from poetry per se.

The frenetic activity around superficial aspects of style & form, the obsession with secondary techniques, the fascination with melodramatic poet-personae : these seem like symptoms of an art-practice which has lost its bearings, lost its position among the other modes of artistic representation.

Meditative poetry is only one branch of this art; but it's the remainder, the leftover of what used to be a much broader and more confident set of means available to poets who want to reflect experience and reality. R.S. Crane's book (mentioned here recently) - by way of a deep and exquisite review of Aristotle's method in the Poetics - offers some real avenues to explore, in new ways, old ways of making poetry.

The formal beauty of mimetic poetry is what pleases us : and this form involves the efficient and proportional synthesis of parts into whole, resulting in a moving image of experience we recognize as true in a new way. Crane shows that Aristotle points toward something more profound and essential at work here, than the old cliche about "delight & instruction". Pleasure and instruction are not poetry's final ends : they are by-products of humanity's interest in and admiration for the beautiful itself. And this formal beauty of a "true representation" is the practical aim of (mimetic) poetry. Its modes or means of achievement, specifically in dramatic poetry, in Aristotle, are 6 in number : primarily thought, character, and plot; secondarily diction, melody and spectacle. But we also find their analogues in mimetic kinds of poetry other than dramatic. Narrative poems; poetic dialogues; soliloquies or meditations; elegies, hymns or panegyrics on particular events or experiences; odes on specific topics or events - all these and many other types of poems exhibit mimetic aspects akin to those of dramatic poetry.

One of the key things Crane emphasizes is how the formal beauty of poetry is a synthesis of elements, of which the language or diction is only one, and not even the most important. Elder Olson also writes about this. To me this is an essential key to opening up a new way of reading and making poems today.

It's not as though some poets of this generation aren't exploring and practicing different aspects of these modes, at a very high level. I think what Crane's and Olson's approach can do, among other things, is to help make clearer what sorts of contemporary poems and styles have some weight, force, and elegance, and what kinds seem to be merely examples of stylistic solipsism, narcissism, and superficiality. They do this by giving more importance to character (ethos), narrative (plot), and subject-matter, than they do to diction and melody. Not that these last are not important, or can be discounted from the beautiful whole which is the ultimate aim : but the center of gravity is shifted. The poem is a tensile "complex" toward which these secondary elements contribute.