Transformations Grab

Let me start by saying I love this medium, I love this artist, Cathy Bleck, I love this particular image (click here for Fred Sasaki’s beautiful Blog:Harriet article), and I love the way it looks and what it conveys on the cover of my edition of POETRY that just arrived in my mailbox in Chiang Mai just ahead of Ketsana, the terrible tropical storm that has ravaged the Philippines, Vietnam, and Cambodia and is now on my doorstep (fingers tightly crossed!). Indeed, the photo of the Filipinos reaching out to you in the previous Blog:Scarriet post survived the same storm just two days ago, and they’re reaching out for help.

Not for What Art History Says!

This Blog:Scarriet post is about commentary that matters, and there’s precious little of that left on Blog:Harriet at the moment. For example, what do you make of this?

Terreson Grab

O.K, so “welcomes comments” (put your glasses on and read the fine print just above) — “comments that foster dialogue and cultivate an open community.” But how “open” is a community that ends up talking like this?

For a start, do you think the comment is about the image or the commentator? Does the commentator say what the image says or does he say what art history says in the beautiful volume of El Greco he has conveniently resting on his coffee table (along with the copy of that letter he wrote to Merwin from Toledo, of course, and those notes from the margins of his well-worn Baedeker)? But hey, why El Greco at all? Wouldn’t Cathy Bleck have been enough, such a fine artist illustrated so well in Fred Sasaki’s gallery right before him? I mean, why do we need El Greco already?

And what sort of “dialogue” do you think will follow this cerebral hi-jack, and can it be called a “community” when three of its most ardent and faithful members have been banned precisely because they did NOT talk like this, i.e. that they refused to talk shop?

Thomas Brady
Desmond Swords
Christopher Woodman.


  1. thomasbrady said,

    October 1, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    I find this a little creepy:

    “Winterhouse Institute focuses on non-profit, self-initiated projects that support design education, as well as social and political initiatives. In January 2009, the Institute began a two-year project, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation with a $1.5 million grant, to develop collective action and collaboration for social impact across the design industry.”

    I don’t really know what Terreson’s remark has to do with anything. Does he think he’s giving some insight on El Greco?

    I personally find Bleck’s art a bit banal, in its self-conscious neo-classical modernism. It’s not for me.

    Unfortunately, it’s impossible to appreciate great oil paintings rendered in little squares on-line.

    I keep getting this idea that Harriet would rather discuss anything but poetry.

    Well, ‘discuss’ isn’t the right word. Harriet isn’t having discussions these days.

    ‘Hey, I like this! Gotta run!’ is probably their ideal post.

  2. cowpattyhammer said,

    October 1, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Terreson always starts off with the strength of his feelings, how, in his own lingo, they “incite” him to recall some great moment that he is impelled to impart almost against his own will and then more or less by speaking in tongues. Then he talks about that instead of the topic — as if the inspiration is so elevated anyone would have to applaud him.

    I’d call that hi-jacking myself, and an ethical lapse..

    But there are others that obviously feel it’s o.k., and even apparently like it. Like this reply:


    Oh these are splendid offerings Fred Sasaki, thank you. Light-volt jolts.

    (They need no comparisons other than themselves, but Terreson, your link to El Greco and his light possessions & your example is very apt.) And both the Bleck, and El Greco, remind me for all the right reasons, how dearly I hold the notion of visual poetry.



    I notice too that Terreson has gone all the way from -3 to +1 in the last few hours, so obviously the office is open, and someone is happy at the monitor. I never remember any of us getting salvaged like that, do you, Tom, but then the whole system was designed to get rid of us!

    (Can you hear that, everybody? Can you hear my anger and hurt? Can you imagine what it was like to have given so much to Harriet and then just to get buried in -Red votes everytime you opened your mouth? And then to see this fluff get applauded with green?)

    I think some of the most irresponsible language that has ever been spoken in the English language has been spoken about Art!


  3. thomasbrady said,

    October 1, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    “Terreson always starts off with the strength of his feelings, how, in his own lingo, they “incite” him to recall some great moment that he is impelled to impart almost against his own will and then more or less by speaking in tongues. Then he talks about that instead of the topic — as if the inspiration is so elevated anyone would have to applaud him.”

    Yea, you’ve got him down, Woody. Perfect. He’s a kindergartner, and if you don’t pat him on the head in just the right way, he might kick and scream. He goes on about El Greco and you’re thinking, does this have a point? No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t relate back to anything. Harriet seems to prefer this, sort of like a kindergarten class with the children spinning in place…

  4. thomasbrady said,

    October 1, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    And how precious Margo’s innocuous remark is, too: “And both the Bleck, and El Greco, remind me for all the right reasons, how dearly I hold the notion of visual poetry.”

    Again, we have this solipsistic, childish rhetoric standing in for legitimate dialogue; as if it is somehow significant that Margo needs to tell the world ‘how dearly I hold the notion of visual poetry.’ We all have moments of preciousness and self-importance, I suppose, but, I must say, the level of discourse on Harriet has become awfully meagre…

  5. cowpattyhammer said,

    October 2, 2009 at 3:46 am

    The problem with Blog:Scarriet, of course, is that it’s in opposition, and when you’re in opposition you always have to oppose. On the other hand, we both loved Blog:Harriet, and even now our target is not to tear the house down but to expose the limitations of the management. Indeed, we’d like nothing better than to see Travis Nichols move aside and be replaced by an administrator who is less vain and insensitive, one who could realize The Poetry Foundation’s aim quoted just above: “to foster dialogue and cultivate an open community.”

    So here’s a little list of recent comments that are very positive indeed, and one’s that I hope will once again become the norm on Harriet. Their diversity and sterling qualities are obvious, and the world of poetry is lucky to get to hear such fresh, unpretentious, intellectually adventurous voices:


    1.) The fact that William Safire had some superficial cleverness with language is far overshadowed by his colossal folly as a political “thinker.” Like Buckley, Safire was far more successful at playing the role of an intellectual than at actually being an intellectual. Safire argued forcefully for the US invasion of Iraq, insisting that the resulting Iraq war would be easily won, and he stubbornly insisted that there was a link between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist attacks of 9/11 (even long after this crackpot theory had been thoroughly debunked by all the US intelligence agencies). I see little that is admirable about this man.


    2.) Thanks, everyone, for your comments on this post and the complex man who inspired it. I want to share an insight that Yale scholar David Bromwich published today regarding Safire’s moon speech (which both Don and I link to above). He hears in Safire’s phrasing an indebtedness to World War One poet Rupert Brooke, and uses the allusion to structure his own response to the speech:

    “Rupert Brooke, a poet of the First World War, wrote in the opening lines of a poem that Safire must have learned in school, ‘If I should die, think only this of me;/ That there’s some corner of some foreign field/ That is forever England.’ Compare ’some corner of another world that is forever mankind.’ He fished up the sob of the shining line from his stock quotations to send the astronauts to their eternal rest. But consider the deeper poetry of the moment. The man most gifted in his time at summoning a literate audience to twitch, heave, and submit to the voice in the megaphone without regard to the man behind the curtain, had been asked to bury the first explorers of space. And what came into his mind? A paean of self-sacrifice lifted from the high age of Europe’s empires. The astronauts, as Safire saw them, were soldiers of the next empire. It is good that they lived to make this speech unnecessary. But it is good, too, in a way, that we have this speech — a lasting testimony of the limitless ambition of mere words.”

    Read the full article here:



    3.) Terreson, many thanks for this very thoughtful comment. First I am glad to hear you picked up that anthology I’d mentioned. You are right about the poets being American and European based, and I’ll also add working in American and European traditions, even as they work in traditions going back to Hafiz. Lorca then as something of a bridge between those foci? Anyway, if I may try to link this back to Linmark, I think it’s also apparent that he works in multiple traditions, and like many poets from non-Western backgrounds, makes connections between these disparate parts. As I type this, it feels like the most obvious thing, but sometimes I wonder if this kind of poetry which you’ve referred to as “outrider” tends to get pushed aside or overlooked, precisely because mainstream western readers aren’t sure what to make of these unexpected or unlikely or even vulgar combinations of traditions?
    Finally, glad to hear this kind of poetry makes you restless. Me too.


    4.) Tonya-sorry that the Plenary started late but you never knew what technical stuff will under those circumstances. I wrote up a bit about this in my notes for friends, but I was happy to see the range of thinkers on your panel, but now that I’ve time to mull things over, what I remember most are your too-brief comments on the idea of The Commons and the common. Later when I got home from the Poets House Ribbon cutting, Rachel Maddow was interviewing (well gushing over) Ken Burns and his new doc on our National Parks as America’s Best Idea. He talked about the “commonwealth” and I’ve often thought about why the commonweal has gone out of political discourse like justice, equality and charity (bleeding hearts). So just to return the discourse to these important cultural and historical elements is so radical. Also, to see the women and men engaged in the Conference was inspiring. I salute you and the Belladonna Women for your ability to link creativity and scholarship.
And glad your riding in a police car was to get you safely home.


    5.) I take you up on this challenge, though I cannot reveal the number of review copies we receive, ‘cos that’s a trade secret; ok, it’s not, but I’m not counting them.

    One review copy, in any case, is the late Margaret Avison’s autobiography, I Am Here and Not Not-There, published on absolutely beautiful paper (remember paper?) by The Porcupine’s Quill. (The title comes from something that happened at the famous Vancouver Poetry Conference, 1963: “This question was put by a registrant: ‘What makes a poet’s language distinctive?’ We all fell silent, trying to pin it down, then tried to answer. Not just affection for words, which is common to all good writers; not necessarily a matter of cadence, formal structures, rhythm. The answer that came to me, forced out of minutes of dismissing options, was new to me too: ‘It is saying ‘I am here and not not-there.’”)

    The book opens with a poem, which “occurred” to her while sleeping – at the age of 88! (Talk about books that took a lifetime…) The poem, she says, citing Tennyson’s “I am a part of all that I have met,” is not actually autobiographical, though it’s drawn from nine decades of living:

    A Novel in Miniature

    My aunts are robust. I

    still have all

    four. Do

    yours come vividly

    to mind at mention of

    a comment at first

    glimpse of the

    no longer new baby?

    ‘Look at the X nose

    on the wee face!’ (Or

    any kinship-logo-feature they

    spot, or think they do).

    That may be why

    the X family keeps

    a keepsake portrait of great-

    grandfather Jock in the

    ark or a

    wall near

    the front stairs landing but

    not near enough for you

    to stand and view it.

    The prose part of the book, her story, begins with a memory of being in church, “spitting up into Mother’s dainty, lavender-scented church handkerchief during the service, and its soft damp silky touch on my chin.”

    Make you want to read the book, I’d say. Take notice!



    There were 37 articles in the month of September generating 322 comments with an average of 8 comments each. Joel Brouwer’s “SpeedReview TM” (28) and “Boox” (29) were by far the most active. A staggering 14 articles got 5 comments or less.

    There were also exactly 37 articles in the month before Travis disastrous Like/Dislike regime began, i.e. June 20th to July 20th, but this time there were a total of 1,399 comments with an average of 38 comments each. The most popular received an astonishing 255 comments, and there were four others with well over 100.

    And just to be very clear about this — it wasn’t at all the quality of the articles in September that generated so little interest, as our commentaries here on Scarriet showed very clearly (we loved them!). It was the bad atmosphere on the site that discouraged participation, as simple as that.

    An expense of spirit in a waste of shame – and the real shame is how many of the great voices that contributed so much to Harriet in June and July were put off when the Red Thumbs regime was introduced, and who are now gone altogether. And some of those were not posters I found easy either, like Michael Robbins. On the other hand, Michael Robbins voluntary absence has made me respect him a whole lot more, and his participation in one of the heated discussions about Blog:Harriet immediately after we left has made me really like him! (click here for that exchange)

    That’s the way it should have been, Travis. Your small-minded measures only made people hate each other!


  6. cowpattyhammer said,

    October 3, 2009 at 5:36 am

    There have only been 2 comments on Harriet in the last 48 hours. I didn’t want to disappoint all of you who are waiting for more analysis, so I’ll talk a little about the better of the two anyway:

    Does he ask if poetry hits you in the heart or the ear? I think he does. And if so–that is the question, crazy dude. That is the question.

    POSTED BY: GREG ON OCTOBER 2, 2009 AT 10:08 AM

    What interests me about this response is the fact that it didn’t get any votes at all, not a single Green or Red one. Maybe that’s because Harriet not only has no more visitors but no one at the monitors, it’s so safe. Or maybe it’s that nobody could figure out exactly what Greg was trying to convey. I guess I’d put myself in that category as well, and will just wait for the next one.

    I’ll be back as soon as there’s anything to talk about.