HG at Amazon

I put up an author page at Amazon today.


Jack-o-lantern Lanthanum
Neglect & silence can sometimes be a blessing. Allows me to go deeper into things, & write without worrying too much about who's listening, public reception, all that.


Lanthanum Progress Report

As time goes by & the world turns & I find myself older, & more disconnected, & disaffected from Poetryland (as the rejection slips accumulate, & the silence is deafening...)...

more alone in my own world of failures, large & small, private & public...

yet strangely, very strangely, I become accustomed to it, without losing confidence too much... well, it comes & goes... but it grows, strangely... this confidence... very possibly a grand or not-so-grand illusion-delusion...

I feel neglected & ignored, dismissed & condescended to... yet all the while I feel I'm on the right track, even when it needs correction... doing something important in poetry...

I recognize some of my blocks & limitations... I want to speak to the present world & its complex debates, I want to clarify & sharpen what I have to say, so as to be of some use... yet I acknowledge my estrangement... & I like to think of myself (in vain, surely) as in the line of my ancient farming ancestors... from the cow-country of Hertfordshire to the cow-country of Minnesota... extremely slow, shy, ruminating & earth-bound... a gradual process of recovery...

Lanthanum is no. 57 in the table of atomic elements... its name means "hidden, ignored"... it's classified as a rare earth, which is actually not so rare... used in experimental road surfaces, it assists in drawing pollutants out of the atmosphere... clearing the air...

I am moving slowly in this direction...

Lanthanum (the poem) is superficially old-fashioned, & actually unusual... a true experiment, which began in a dream I had, a few months ago - about the Gateway Arch monument, built by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, in St Louis, MO... a dream about a structure I have never seen, & had never thought about... in dreams begin reconstruction projects...

My aim in this poem is to synthesize contraries, by way of a building project... Medieval/Modern, Europe/America, TS Eliot/Hart Crane, Faith/Reason, Past/Future, Berryman/Henry...

Eliot from St. Louis, Crane from The Bridge... Eliot from Middle Ages & Four Quartets, Crane from New World & The Bridge... both of these works majestic & wonderful & incomplete without the other...

in dreams...
Lanthanum 44



Lanthanum (mixolydian)



Nobel Prize for Memory

"This was the superiority of aging one waited for : just to remember. True or false, evil or gay, never mind. The Nobel Prize for Memory. Recipient a suicide enroute to Stockholm, having remembered all his sins at once, sitting in a deck chair sharpening a pencil."

- John Berryman, Wash Far Away
Lanthanum radiation.


You talkin' to me?

This is one of John Berryman's uncollected Dream Songs (publ. posthumously in Henry's Fate) :

Henry under construction was Henry indeed:
gigantic cranes faltered under the load,
spark-showers from the welding played
with daylight, crew after crew
replaced each other like Kings, all done anew
Daily, to the horror of the gathering crowd
which gazed in silence of awe or sobbed aloud.

The structure huge mounted apace. Some sang,
others in prayer knelt; when the western wing
was added, one vast sigh
arose & made its way into the earless sky.
Lifts were installed, many had their ashes hauled.
Parents in the throng looked down appalled,

In the end the mighty roof was hoised on.
The event transpired throughout the city at dawn,
foot upon violent foot
converged to shining Henry in the risen sun,
question tormented the multitude one by one
to see to what use it would now be put.

(Sounds like a funny pre-emptive jab at my Loooong Poem Projects)


Lantahnum 4/10

Henry the Activist (ret.)

Now & then I seem to get pigeonholed in poetryland as a (political, poetickal) conservative (if not Neo-Neanderthal Reactionary). So some might be surprised to learn that I come out of a vocational background in (the Republican-vilified) community organizing.

Yes, while other young 20-somethings were getting their MFAs & Phds., I was out there in the grungy streets & asbestos-flaking factory bldgs. of little old Providence, being a VISTA volunteer (5 years+). I specialized in grassroots legislative training - working with neighborhood organizations with lobbying at the RI State House. We published an annual detailed review of the (often execrable) doings up in the big white marble dome. & other things, too - fundraising, organizing. Food coops & community gardens, wholesale produce collectives. Mass meetings, street theater. We held a mass meeting in a hockey stadium with the RI congressional delegation, running up to the Reagan election. Many many many long late nights in smoke-filled rooms, with the 70s crop of Saul Alinsky-inspired activists. Many actions on the defense budget, Reaganomics, housing, etc. & so on...

This is some of my background. My life comes in distinct layers of re-fashioning (maybe too distinct). Actually I think my skepticism about some of the doctrinaire-enthusiastic blendings of poetry & ideology in contemporary poetry, stem not so much from any "conservative" allegiance to tradition, but from my everyday very hands-on experience with something Alinsky focused on : the differences between theory & practice. We went through many scenes, melodramas & turf wars between "radicals" of various left-wing clans & stripes; the neighborhood organizing movement itself grew out of a disillusionment with 60s New Left abstractions.

Of course, I haven't hesitated to drone on with my own theories & doctrines about poetry (physician heal thyself)... nevertheless one of the things that has consistently bothered me, through the 90s & up to now, is the scheming & bloviating about political styles in poetry. What you learn in practical politics is something about the difference between words & deeds : about the limits of "windy discoursing". This background, combined with the fact that I'm from the understated & stoic Midwest, might have more to do with my attitude than any commitment to "traditional styles" in poetry (though there's that, too, I guess).

To repeat : my life fractures into distinct layers. Perhaps also I've simply devolved, grown more conservative with age (a familiar ailment). I'd like to recover some remnant of my intense civic enthusiasm & engagement of those ancient days. Ah, yout'! But "youthful idealism" is something real (though often aligned also with youthful naivete, arrogance). The sense of community is a spiritual sense. The populist demand for justice comes from a (maybe inborn, innate) sense of fairness & humanity - the "ceremony of innocence" which suffers outrage after outrage over time - until the old man sinks into indifference, discouragement, anomie, & despair - all those spiritual blockages which confine Aristotle's virtue (man the political animal) & Dante's spiritual joy (man the animale compagnevole). What is poetry, Mandelstam was asked. "The poet's sense of being right," he answered. & he died for it : with the writing of one 10-line "political poem".


Lanthanum skims along.

R.P. Blackmur & "tradition"

Reading in & about essays of RP Blackmur, & really liking it. Unlike his more doctrinaire contemporaries, A. Tate, Yvor Winters, & other New Critics, who insisted on establishing strict moral-theological rules of order for the critical enterprise, Blackmur's approach reminds me of Eugenio Montale's "superior dilettantism".

Literature & poetry seem to be, at one basic level, the free play of human imagination. No matter how severe, serious, obsessed & tragic the writer may be, there's a form of "make-believe" going on which is irreducibly playful. & I think this dimension gives the critic a place to stand, an independence. The notion of "tradition" - literary tradition - is a purely critical notion. It has no application outside the sphere of criticism itself. But within criticism, it seems to me that tradition is rooted, not in cultural, religious, or any other kind of mores; rather, real tradition is grounded, paradoxically, in this free play of imagination. It's something grounded in aesthetics, in the sense of beauty.

I'd hate for my statements to be taken as an argument for art-for-art's-sake or pure aestheticism. On the contrary, I think most good art emerges from deep within the larger world of human behavior, history, experience, feeling & thought. It absorbs & reflects upon all those things that impinge upon our sense of beauty. This is the basic challenge to any art which would escape various forms of decadence, futility, desiccation. But the other side of that challenge is the goal of actually making something beautiful or meaningful from all those impingements. & criticism's call to evaluate the results of that challenge, in particular poems & works of art, is ultimately rooted in the tradition of the free play of the imagination. This grounding gives the critic a means to appreciate & evaluate the qualities of poems which may stem from values & beliefs very different from, even at odds with, his or her own.


Lanthanum happening.



Human Manifesto, pt. 5

V. Afterthoughts

I've probably overshot the mark, & want to hedge my remarks a little. My insistence on the epic impulse, on totality, might be taken for sheer grandiosity, magnitude for its own sake. Or for a mandarin complacency, weighed down with pedantry rather than experience : out of touch, out of air. To burden all poets & modalities of poetry with the elaborations of epic would be unrealistic, to say the least; in fact, it would represent an all-too-familiar form of eccentricity. One remembers, inevitably, Stevens' (very 20th-cent.) lines from "Poems of Our Climate" :

Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.

No : all I want to suggest is that the "integral", integrated vision - the epic impulse, the whole story - lies at the roots of poetry considered as a whole itself, as "one thing". It's there, as a dimension which can't be left out (ie. poetry is not reducible to Sergeant Satire & Private Lyric). A sort of underground spring, a possibility, an impulse, an aspiration - a potential source of nourishment.

The human search for wholeness, love, & freedom is not reducible to either American-style Adamism or European-style existential deracination. The search for truth also involves memory - historical, literary, poetic - & the recognition of continuities, returnings, recapitulations - strange/familiar echoes - deja-vu...