THOMAS BRADY, Oh Monday Love, Oh Sawmygirl, Oh Tom TomWest!

 

TOM Sepia

Thomas Brady is the inspiration for this site, and his essays on it  are not only a testament to his integrity and passion but express his unique position with regard to American poetry. The following is a letter to him which tries to examine his position in a wider, freakier but also friendlier perspective than men of letters usually get– for Scarriet is dedicated to making poetry not only comprehensible once again but actually worth reading as opposed to just winning a prize, getting reviewed, or even getting a promotion!

A Reply to Poe to Bloom: Boo!

Dear Tom,……………………………………Chiang Mai, Thailand, 10/12/2009

So many conflicting thoughts, so many paradoxes.

I hear you so clearly, championing a different voice, one that harnesses the natural music of the human heart as it manifests in the cultural forms of people who still know who they are and what they say. Yes, ‘natural’ poetry like John Clare, the lyrics of the Scottish isles or even of Appalachia, Bengali poetry, the incantations of the Kalahari, Langston Hughes or early Dunbar, The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, the Psalms, and even sometimes when you’re in just the right mood and something truly wonder-ful has happened, a Hallmark card, perfumed, in the mail!

What you are so railing against is “make it new,” I know that, Tom, the obligation imposed on poets by fundamentally displaced persons like T.S.Eliot, Ezra Pound, Ford Maddox Ford [Hueffner!] or a Starretz Sufi Supra-Rabbi Roshipatagon like Harold Bloom. Yes, that’s what I said, displaced persons! (Or sshhhhh, how about just Fugitives? Won’t that do?)

Whereas the poets you are attempting to resurrect, like S. Anna Lewis, Edgar Allan Poe, Sydney Lanier (and hey, why not?) and Edna St.Vincent Millay can still speak in their own gifted voices and are not the least bit afraid to say exactly what they mean. And of course they’re God’s own children, which helps!

So that’s the divide, isn’t it? Between poetry as a natural voice like a waterfall, a thunderstorm, or the literal last breath of somebody you can’t live without, as opposed to poetry as an esoteric diddle that nobody, not even the poet himself or herself (usually the former!) would dare profane by saying what it (say it!) means. Because if a poem says what it means then it becomes a cultural artifact and belongs to the whole community, to be praised on the front porch and memorized and handed around to the neighbors like a barbecue, whereas the poetry you dismiss, Honest Tom, is the poetry of pretension and deliberate obfuscation written by people who haven’t the foggiest idea who they are — but of course feel far, far superior to the Hallmark hoy-poloy who, shudder, know what they like and where to find it!

As if life weren’t deep enough without a critic to fend for it!

Because, of course, the “make-it-new” poetry is as aristocratic and conservative as the ivy-covered cloister which coddles it, and needs both the Priest and Hierophant before you get baptized in it what’s more have a chance at Fame, or Heaven!

Christopher Woodman

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10 Comments

  1. thomasbrady said,

    October 12, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    Dear Christopher,

    I heard Chopin’s famous Polonaise in A Flat Major played by Arthur Rubenstein yesterday. [Click Here for the Perfrormance]

    I knew this was art and I knew that all who have ears and all who have a soul could not but love this and know it is art.

    But I know there are some who would hear this same piece and only hear a lot of noise and be impatient with it, and not be able to hear it with any pleasure; it would actually pain and embarrass them, as a child, who tends to hate serious things, wanting to get away and play with a doll, or sing all alone to themselves, instead: round and round in your little red wagon, round and round in your little red wagon…

    Now imagine London, 1963, and a young girl can choose between a Chopin concert–oh that divine music–and a concert given by four men with electronic instruments playing a simpler music–yet the latter concert is more than that, there’s an accompanying social thrill, and to this girl, at that moment in time, the Chopin concert were a hell, because all her friends were going to see the latest thing, the Beatles, oh come, let us go!

    The poet is divine, and poetry can be divine as any music.

    But music is not pragmatic. The world is pragmatic, it must be pragmatic. The world marches on in prose and the ecstacy of music would drown the world if it were not for the practical restraints of prose. The revery of music would turn us all into children and opium eaters at last, and practical life would end, and no planes would fly and no one would make buildings or cars or do all those practical things that must be done; work would cease, and all would be crying music.

    We wouldn’t have the strength or the will to get up:

    When lying on my clayey bed,
    In icy sleep,
    Who there by pure affection led
    Will come and weep;
    By the pale moon implant the rose
    Upon my breast,
    And bid it cheer my dark repose–
    My lowly rest?

    The song the sirens sing will crush our skulls on the rocks. The jangling polonaises will turn us into puppets of musical whim that comes from afar.

    1. Music is dangerous and so caution warns us away from it.

    2. Further, poetry’s music cannot compete with music’s music, and so the poet’s pride as well warns us away from it.

    Better this:

    So much depends
    upon the red
    wheel barrow
    etc

    Modernism has dried the popular springs
    Where from low to high the poem sings
    And replaced it with Manfiesto–No Ideas But In Things.

    The poets now are properly wary of music– in TS Eliot, with Prufrock and The Wasteland and the Hollow Men’s we got the first sarcastic mockery of poetry’s music, and at last poetry faded away into prose itself as the poets became gradually sensible of #1 and #2 above.

    The American critcs who emerged: Perloff, Vendler and Bloom, do not write poetry themselves; they make no music, and so they are the perfect authority to warn us away from Sarah Anna Lewis and Edgar Allan Poe and Edna St. Vincent Millay–those ravens of passionate music who will feast on our hearts; Bloom implicitly rejects Anna Lewis with a wisdom that passes all understanding; Bloom beats down Lewis and Poe–the sirens–for our own good.

    I know this, Christopher. I know Bloom is right and Poe is wrong.

    It is only my perversity which makes me say otherwise.

    I feel pity, pity for poor neglected Anna Lewis, and like a child, I run from the ivory tower; I murmur to myself the music of her verses.

    Thomas

  2. cowpattyhammer said,

    October 14, 2009 at 11:00 am

    “I feel pity, pity for poor neglected Anna Lewis, and like a child, I run from the ivory tower; I murmur to myself the music of her verses.”

    That’s beautiful, Tom, that’s fearless.

    So I’ve read and reread both your essay on Bloom’s dismissal of Poe and your Comment on Anna Lewis’ poem, “The Forsaken,” right after it [click here], trying to work out why, in your terms, Bloom’s blasé dismissal of the poem demonstrates an inability to hear music on the one hand, and why you feel that the poem has a “weird magnificence” on the other. Because I do hear the dismissal, and it is blasé for sure, and he shouldn’t have, yet I too feel bored with classical music these days, almost all of it, and even though I know Chopin does have a “weird magnificence,” even the Polonaise in A Flat Major performed with such poise and brio in your clip of Artur Rubinstein just above, it just doesn’t lift me up where I live. It leaves me cold, in fact, and I’d rather not go to where this sort of music is played at all, I just feel embarrassed!

    What a shocker.

    Because that’s quite an admission, isn’t it, that our greatest western music has somehow lost it’s mystique for me here in the foothills of the Himalayas where I live, in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, and that I even find it embarrassing? I don’t like the formal attire musicians wear for it, I don’t like their hairstyles and the whiteness of their hands or the shine on their shoes, and the fact that they play music in their shoes at all whereas they really should have taken them off at the door. I also don’t like bows, curtsies, and polite applause — I don’t like sitting in chairs so upright in such respectful silence, I don’t like the concentration, the stifling of coughs, the feel of the program resting in my lap just like all the others down the row, or sitting in rows for that matter at all, and the fact that I’m so tall, that my hair is so white and trimmed for the occasion, that I’m wearing socks when I usually don’t, and that there aren’t any young children or babies or anybody on the floor at all making family noise.

    I can’t remember quite when this started. I’ve been here for 15 years, and at first I did go to concerts and I did have a tape recorder and did listen to quartets and sonatas and when nobody was in the house even opera. But then the ants got into all my cassettes gluing the tapes up with eggs, and before I knew it I didn’t have a machine that could play them anymore either and didn’t even know what a CD was or how to use a remote or where to buy one. So I just stopped listening to such music at home, and then stopped going to ex-pat concerts at the universities, cocktail parties in mansions and consulates even when I was invited.

    I still love classical music, it’s my heart and soul, I’ve just lost the taste for listening to it.

    Which has happened to us in poetry too, hasn’t it, Tom? Hasn’t even a great mind like Harold Bloom lost the knack for appreciating the pure, unpretentious art music in our language that you love?

    I know my predicament is geographical and cultural. I also know that any high culture is infinitely precious and delicate, and that it has to be nurtured too, that it doesn’t hang in there without education and training and, most importantly of all, a huge space being created and maintained and swept and polished in which to perform it. Once that’s lost it’s extremely hard to regain, and people who grow up without it will always be poor.

    The fact that I don’t care for classical music at the moment is very transitory, and I know I do have the equipment it takes to get back the taste as soon as I’m somewhere where it doesn’t make me feel privileged, self-conscious, and a bore.

    Our poetry has lost so much, and you’re just trying to re-educate us, aren’t you, Tom? Harold Bloom is a philistine in actual practice, with a very poor education, so probably you should give up on him. On the other hand, the music is still there, and by getting people to understand their aversion to Anna Lewis as a product of a literary historical distortion and, yes, an actual deprivation in our culture you will surely strike a chord in the long run in those who still have longings to hear.

    Because it’s so much a matter of EDUCATON, and you describe so well the poverty and prejudice behind the new writing movement. Once the world economic crisis has really finished things off and people don’t study poetry any more, as I didn’t, even as an English major at Columbia, Yale and Cambridge, but study the history and disciplines in language that come before culture, then the music will play once more, and poetry will be heard at home as before.

    (Does my perversity make any sense either?)

    Christopher

  3. wfkammann said,

    October 14, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    The Bloom is off the Rose:

    Watching Rubenstein reminded me a little of Harpo Marx, or was it Chico? Hopping up and down like a little maennichen. You almost yearn for the tongue in cheek of Victor Borge. So I looked on UTube for Horowitz who gives it a Talmudic treatment and in the recording from his final concert in Hamburg a sweeping mature interpretation. And then the young Pole Rafal Blechacz who possesses a more modern technique and Elena Kuschnerova who has her tits hanging out and gives us a petit mort toward the beginning. Rubenstein’s Waltzes and Mazurkas for me but he’s still the most “pianistic” (Rubenstein maintains a lyricism using a flowing technique; always singing while Horowitz brutally takes the piece apart with a dramatic; violent technique and a larger vision of the Polonaise). So you don’t need ant eggs to be discouraged. They say to play Chopin is to reveal the soul; who needs that today; and what IS that anyway?? Soulless we wander. Kissin was good but give me another hit of Poe.

    But ah! a lonelier fate is mine —
    A deeper wo:
    From all I love in youth’s sweet time
    I soon must go —
    Draw round me my cold robes of white,
    In a dark spot,
    To sleep through Death’s long dreamless night,
    Lone and forgot.

  4. cowpattyhammer said,

    October 15, 2009 at 7:17 am

    W.F.Kammann, musician, welfare activist, Buddhist scoundrel, always makes me feel a bit like Kim caught between Mahbub Ali and Teshoo Lama, as young as that, as confused but useful!

    I wrote this poem about him a little while ago — and now he’s coming to Chiang Mai for my 70th birthday. So I want to celebrate his arrival on Scarriet properly!

    ~

    THE TEMPLE BOY WHO’S NOT THERE

    O, Flatbush Bill’s
    the Steinway grand
    of soup and barrel organs—
    never short on time or change
    he’s like a man made man
    on his toes all the time,
    a flyweight cockerel
    stretching out the limits of each night
    like a massive tenor in full flight
    or temple gong so boozed
    and tendrilled mothers
    light their morning fires by the rumble,
    cooking in the dark for several lives
    of hungry monks and temple brats
    just to share the merit—

    whereas none of them can hold
    a candle to our bowlful Bill’s
    Brooklyn breadth
    and warble.

    So when the monks at Wat Phra Singh
    offered him the post of temple boy
    I wrote this poem
    so they would know what
    not to expect
    or how to rise, or even bow,
    before him!

    Yes, he’s better west, this Mister Bill—
    the east’s too trim for so much
    common sense and willingness to volunteer
    or even rest
    at full stretch—

    coast, I’d say, choir master fiend
    and rabble rouser—
    homeless husband,
    bubble buster,
    saffron cockney on a Buddha barrow,
    mighty long-armed-dharma duster-upper!

    Damn, I say, let him
    rest upon his lusty laurel laughter—
    toast, and share it!

    _________________________

    The Buddhist faithful, mostly women, get up very early every morning to cook a special meal for the monks who file barefoot by the house at 6am on their daily alms round. The women fill the bowls and then kneel down for a blessing. No word is spoken during the whole exchange, and nobody serves what is more is served.

    Wat Phra Singh is one of the most active and beautiful Buddhist Temples in the North of Thailand.

  5. thomasbrady said,

    October 15, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Christopher,

    Yes, there is that sense of ‘shut up’ in the Western classical music concert hall, a ceremony asking for silence before the music–and that’s what I love. Does that make me horrible and misanthropic?

    In jazz, the audience claps appreciatively during the performance; in a folk concert, Pete Seeger gets everyone to sing along, and then you have a Beatles concert, where all the kids are screaming.

    There are many street musicians in Boston, and some play classical near the noise of a subway, but it still comes through–classical music doesn’t have to live in a stuffy concert hall.

    Sometimes you have the street musician who reaches out to the audience and gets everyone to join in, and they tend to have a bigger crowd, but I don’t like to holler and clap because some entertainer is egging me on.

    I like to listen to music alone.

    When you want others to love a certain song along with you, it seems like they never love it as much as you do, or if they do, it’s almost rather embarrassing; or you can’t really tell at all how much they like it, or even how much you like it–since tastes change, and you can like a song and then get sick of it, etc.

    But if I catch my reluctant son singing a song to himself, later, then I know I reached him somehow, when I played him a song. Only the song’s physical repetition is proof that anything has happend.

    Welcome, Bill.

    Just to clarify, did you think the following was Poe:

    But ah! a lonelier fate is mine —
    A deeper wo:
    From all I love in youth’s sweet time
    I soon must go —
    Draw round me my cold robes of white,
    In a dark spot,
    To sleep through Death’s long dreamless night,
    Lone and forgot.

    Because it does sound like Poe, but it’s Anna Lewis.

    Since Poe’s type of poetry has been killed by the Modernist status quo, one thing that’s been forgotten is that Poe wasn’t the only one making that music, and that women poets made that beautiful music. It was a strong American tradition in the 19th century, and somehow the Red Wheel Barrow killed it; beautiful music was no longer nurtured in the academy, and thus, as a legitimate music, it faded away, until Harold Bloom in 1984 could sneeringly turn away from it, without speaking, in full view of the world–or at least in ‘The New York Review of Books.’

    When a music or a poetry is associated with one person, it can be dismissed as a mere oddity of that one person. Thus Poe’s music must be suppressed as odd.

    But the truth is that Poe alone did not make that music.

    And finally, it takes a certain amount of talent to make that music, and it can vary, in its own way, as much as any art or ceremony or philosphy can vary.

    The pluralists shout down Poe’s kind of music, calling attention to its sameness, but this is a radical error, since all great traditions are cultivated within a certain narrowness–expression itself depends on it, and I think all poets and musicians will know what I mean.

    Thomas

    • wfkammann said,

      October 23, 2009 at 11:50 pm

      Thomas,
      No I knew who wrote it. Bloom off the rose, hit of Poe, as Christopher comments I am slightly confused but sometimes even I get a grain. They say the Tao is stupid; so I’m in good company. “And the silken, sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain thrilled me…. Bloom couldn’t shine his shoes.

      • thomasbrady said,

        October 24, 2009 at 3:06 am

        Bill,

        There’s a story that Bloom tried to seduce Naomi Wolff, the writer, when she was his student at Yale, right around the time he wrote his Poe smear piece in the New York Review, and when I read Naomi’s account of that night when it was published some years ago, damn if the wine Bloom proferred during his attempted seduction wasn’t Amontillado…I laughed when I saw that…

        Thomas

  6. cowpattyhammer said,

    October 15, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    YES! Tom.

  7. cowpattyhammer said,

    October 15, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    But what an odd word, what an odd sound, what an odd language!

    It has within it all my own neuroses, and I’m not seeking therapy either!

    “Y-E-S,” I say, lovingly touching all the familiar pressure points and flow of air and positions in my mouth, the teeth, the tongue, the roof of my mouth, and yes, I do count it as three distinct syllables.

    Try teaching English in a mono-syllabic aural culture, not even to get into tones, and tell me it isn’t so!

    C.

  8. wfkammann said,

    November 2, 2009 at 1:20 am

    I remember coming home late one evening to find my mother reading the last chapter of Ulysses. “There’s no punctuation” she said. Yes, yes, I said yes.