GENIUS 2 Grab copyClick here to go on reading this fine article. Like all Abigail Deutsch’s contributions to Blog:Harriet, you’ll find it skillfully written, fun and thought-provoking, and I wish I could comment.

So we all know the history, we all know how the Industrial Revolution led to the invention of the Artist, and how Art came to be regarded as superior to Trade. We all know why the Artist then chose to starve in the attic, the advantages of that, the creative clout of being ‘alternative,’ and we all know what Leo and Gertrude Stein then did with that on the Art Market in Paris. We also all know how the same take-over took place in the Poetry Market in America about the same time, how American Poetry became a viable business masquerading as a higher calling, how the writing and teaching of Poetry emerged as a sinecure after the War, and why as a result poetry is no longer read by anyone at all. What we don’t seem to notice is how we’ve also commercialized the mental faculties involved in writing that poetry. We’ve so sold ourselves a bill of goods and actually believe those faculties are something called ‘Genius,’ whereas they are just quite ordinary skills, how to cut, how to paste, and how to market. And chutzpah, of course, lots of that, and sometimes that’s truly entertaining. But not poetry, unless you mean like Sarah Palin’s wardrobe is pure poetry, or even Miss Venezuela!

Do you think that might get talked about on Blog:Harriet, or just the daimon and the primitive vision that have become so respectable? Keats actually did have the daimon and the vision, in abundance — but how much talk was there about that in response to what Abigail Deutsch and others said on Keats Lives about Jane Campion’s new film ?

And oh yes,  do you think John Keats would have won the MacArthur?

Christopher Woodman


  1. thomasbrady said,

    September 27, 2009 at 2:02 pm


    Keats on your brain, I see. Good, keep it there. ‘Bright Star,’ the film, may as well provide an excuse to revel in poetic genius for awhile.

    What I find amusing about our big sister Harriet is how she hates ’emperor has no clothes’ insights; she always stomps on these kinds of insights in a fit of anger.

    Did you see this ingenious post on the ‘genius’ thread?

    “If genius is an inappropriate word, presumably because there is no such thing as authorship, according to the underlying theory underlying this blog topic, then surely all “works” found/borrowed/stolen by “authors” such as Kenny Goldsmith etc. should be published anonymously. But they are not. Why is this?” —Jeffrey Side

    Brilliant point! Touche!

    This devilish, insightful, fantastic query gets 3 thumbs down–because…friends of Kenny are offended?

    It makes one quesiton the quality of the Harriet readership.

    Does Harriet serve minds? Or merely the little poetry coteries of the ambitious twit?

    Let’s see how long it takes for that post to get buried by the Graveyard Crew of Travesty Nickels.

    Mr. Side, you have split ours, and we salute you.

    Keep asking those questions, while we laugh at the petulance of those red thumbs.


  2. thomasbrady said,

    September 27, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Margo B. on Harriet’s GENIUS! thread contributes her opinion on GENIUS! with a link to this silly lady:

    “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert breathlessly frets with a lot of ‘you knows’ and ‘sort ofs’ before a live audience for 20 mintues that HER life may be ruined if HER next book is not as wildly successful as “Eat, Pray, Love” was–but, fortunately for us, SHE explains how we don’t need to feel sorry for HER, that SHE will get over how to deal with HER “mega-best seller international success THING” because SHE did some reading and found out that GENIUS! a long time ago was a demon apart from the ‘self’

    BUT then the stupid old ‘Renaisssance THING’ came along, and made the really stupid assertion that the ‘self’ was responsible for GENIUS! and thus put too much pressure on successful artists–like HER…

    Oh boy.

    The breathless Elizabeth Gilbert (who really, really needs a hug) doesn’t seem to realize that ‘having a genius’ or ‘having a muse’ went on for a long time AFTER the renaissance, well into the 19th century; she also doesn’t seem to realize that the deliberate murdering and slandering of great artistic souls and the puffing of fake talent is a far greater issue than so-called geniuses (or ‘best seller authors’) killing themselves.

    She complains too many ‘great creative minds’ in the 20th century have committed suicide due to pressure from that Renaissance thing, which put genius front and center in the form of the self. Her one example is: Norman Mailer, who said at the end of his (long) life: each one of my books killed me a little.

    Gilbert takes Mailer’s remark literally as some awful thing that must be prevented.

    (I can see Gilbert stroking old Norman Mailer’s hair, ‘it’s ok, it’s ok)

    All these artists committing suicide since the renaissance because of the terrible pressure of believing they, and they alone, are responsible for their genius! This can and must be prevented, if we just look at ‘genius’ and ‘self’ in a more abstract and fanciful manner, like they used to do, a long time ago! Yea, why not! Elizabeth Gilbert! You are…a…a…genius!

    No suffering from art! pleads Gilbert; why should art require any suffering at all? she asks, fearing SHE may suffer from bad reviews from her next book, and start drinking, or something!

    No! Anything but that! Don’t drink, Elizabeth! Don’t do it! Don’t start down that awful path! Don’t let your genius betray you! Elizabeth…put away that gin! put the bottle…back in the cupboard… We know how much of a mega-best seller ‘Eat, Drink, Pray’ was…(sorry! did I say ‘Eat, Drink…??’) We know how HARD it’s going to be for YOU, waiting to see if YOUR next book flops or is another best seller…We want you safe and alive! We need more of your best sellers! You can do it, Elizabeth!

    We’re rooting for you!

    (Group hug!)


  3. poetryandporse said,

    September 27, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    Jeffrey Side makes an interesting point.

    Yesterday, re-reading an Eileen Myles Post on Post thread, which is the one with (amongst others) the hoo ha about Eliot Weinberger having or not having money – a grand total of 164 responses.

    There was also a ping-pong between Bill Knott and Kent Johnson: Knott asking Johnson if, when he refers to the tenor of the thread turning “quasi-racist”, he means:

    “…like, imperialistically co-opting plagiarizing ripping-off the poets of an Asian country nuked by our country, to steal the verities of their verse, to trivialize via hoaxification the true themes of their lives and deaths…just in order to advance one’s avantgarde cred..”?

    From this I was led to a video of Johnson talking about what he calls the Yasusada debate, which I was vaugely aware of, and on boning up on it as a result of reading this thread, the penny dropped as a contextual frame round Johnson firmed into place.

    For those who do not know, the full of this authorial hoax can be read on wiki. Basically, some poetry purporting to be from a Hiroshima survivor, was published, with Johnson putting himself up as the translator, when it looks like he was the author of the hoax, though – my understanding which may be mistaken – is that he has thus far not denied or confirmed being so: milking it for all it is worth, pretty much like Gerry Adams always denying he has ever been a member of the IRA, when everyone says he was actually the chief of its general council.

    Johnson does some fancy intellectual gymnastics, trying to move the focus away from questions of the authorship bearing any relevance to the ‘importance’ of the work: clearly in his interests to string out the hoax because it is essentially what he’s built his career on.

    30 minuites into the video linked above, Johnson makes a very interesting point: that in the final three decades of the 18C, 70% of poetry and novels, were published anonymously or psuedonymously, and in the first three deacdes of the 19C, the figure was 50% – which proves that the cult of personality and celebratory is a recent phenomona.

    What gave me a giggle, was in the toing and froing between him and Bill Knott, in which Knott seemed to be lambasting him for the hoax, it came out that Knott had onced staged his own death to get publicity for his book.

    Don’t get me wrong, i am not taking sides here, as i am gloriously free and detached from the scene over there, but Johnson’s figures are very interesting.


    In realtion to the post itself, what was of most educational use to me, was the second poster, Lanny Quarles, who gave the etymology of genius and said that in “classical pagan belief: The tutelary god or attendant spirit allotted to every person at his birth, to govern his fortunes and determine his character, and finally to conduct him out of the world; also, the tutelary and controlling spirit similarly connected with a place, an institution”

    This has always been my understanding of ‘genius’ – the Kavanagh notion that we are all a ‘genius’, in the respect of being unique individuals. The trick is to find yourself, by imitation at first, and after 10,000 hours engaged in the act of writing, about seven years, we start hitting paydirt.

    I think i mentioned it before: the book that came out based on research undertaken by a writer who came up with a figure of 10,000 hours practise before we master a craft?

    What sparked it off, is the research into whether ‘genius’ was something we are born with or can it be taught?

    The writer started in a music school, saying that at the age of 13 or so, the range of difference in ability of the students, was not that great – but by the time they hit 19 and 20, it was very pronounced, between the top 10% and the rest. He found that the common denominator, wasn’t what we might think, but in the hours of practise being but on. The ones who had put in 20-30 hours a week practising playing their instruments, were the ones in the top ten percent, with the less capable being the ones doing the least practise.

    The writer thought this interesting, and went on to study a host of different professions, from computer programmers to rock stars, and found the one thing in common, was a figure of 10,000 practise before one becomes fully trained, or an ‘expert’, in their chosen field. This equates to 30 hours a week for seven years, which sounds about right.

    When i started off in life as a builders labourer, specialising in the installation of suspended ceilings and partitions, it was around the age of 23/24 before i knew i had reached the point were the training had ended. If you train to be a doctor, seven years, and in the old bardic curriculum, it was six grades in six, six-month semesters (which ran Halloween to May 1) from beginner (fochloch) to the start of the final five year push to attain the seventh grade of poetry professor (ollamh).

    I became aware of this theory a few months ago, and prior to this, felt that last September i had entered the ollamh zone, and this theory confirmed that feeling, because when i worked it out, in the last eight years from 2 January 2001, when i began writing, to arouind last year, it probably rounded out that i had spent 10,000 hours of actual writing.

    And it was reading the Betty Raadice 1964 transaltion of Pliny youngers letters several months ago, another penny dropped.

    I had heard that due to the syntax and grammar, Latin is the language for laying out thougts in a clear, conscise and coherent order, and on reading Pliny, this is self evident. Until then, it felt like my apprenticeship in Letters was a bit like being an apprentice bricklayer being taught through a solely verbal medium.

    Imagine, a trainee brickie: you’re in a room and the tutor is telling you how to build a wall, totally verbally, without any visual instruction, videos or practical how-to. Reading Pliny was like going on-site and seeing it being done.

    It was then the penny dropped. A comma, is a quarter beat; semi-colon is a half beat: colon three quarters and the period ends that little pyschic run. With dashes we have a fifth tool in the box – able to deploy it in a variety of ways. Once i realised this, after more than 10,000 hours, it hit me that this is the true apprenticeship in Letters – knowing the only basics there are, which lay down the track on which our thought runs, and it is not the type of thing you learn in a few lessons and, essentially it takes a lot of practise – trial and error – before we master it.

    And when we have, our genius is on show, because we are speaking as ourselves, as the unique individual we are.

    Desmond Swords

  4. cowpattyhammer said,

    September 28, 2009 at 8:00 am

    Thanks Desmond — a stirring story and one that would fill any fine person with admiration for what you’ve done with a life, and what is to come for certain. Harriet had such need of an Ollamh with 10,000 hours as well as some true and untrammeled guts, and now they’ve just put the real thing out to pasture — (if anybody’s got this far and still doesn’t know, Desmond Swords also got banned from Blog:Harriet).

    But you’re in good company — just look at the Tags at the end of the article: “Tags: “genius” award, Byron, Heather McHugh, MacArthur Foundation, prize sheep.”

    I mean, how long do you think one of those sort of “prize sheep” would last on Innishmore or the Skelligs? Of course Byron is dead and established, so he’s grazing fine. But the others? In Donegal or Connemara?


  5. cowpattyhammer said,

    September 28, 2009 at 8:17 am

    Here are some of Desmond Swords’ pastures in Ireland, and I’m not having you on either! – latest Dublin poets streamed recordings – read the latest blather.

  6. cowpattyhammer said,

    September 28, 2009 at 9:15 am

    And an apology to you, Abigail Deutsch — I’m not belittling at all the magnificent prize winner in the photo, and I assume it’s a wether. I’m just playing with the metaphor in the Tags, of course — though when it comes to sheep, “tags” are not to be fooled around with either!