GALILEO’S SECRET: Where Do We Look When We Look At The Truth?

John Donne….….
..Look around?.………………..Look in?……………………………..Look out?

A lightly edited version of a real time discussion that took place right at the end of the original ‘watchdog’ website, Foetry.com. ‘Expatriate Poetis Christopher Woodman, the 70 year old poet who lives in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand and is active on Scarriet. Although ‘Monday Love’ posing as Scarriet’s ‘Thomas Brady has given permission to reprint his contribution to this dialogue, he prefers to remain (sort of…) anonymous.

Scarriet takes full reponsibility for the obscenity in this article, and understands that there will be many readers who won’t know where to look. We apologize for any offense given.

~

Dear Monday Love,
A few days ago you wrote, “If I want to convey to you right now some truth, I will do everything I can to put the argument before you as nakedly and clearly as I can possibly present it.”

There’s a poem I’ve been working on for some time—or rather, I should say the poem’s been working on me, so much so that when I read what you just wrote I immediately thought of the poem and wanted it to work on you too! Like this:

………..CELESTIAL OBSERVATIONS *

………..Who’s this naked giant then
………………….peering in at your window

………..with the huge brown phallus
………………….pressed up against the pane,

………..the half-tumescent glans
………………….like some rude Cyclops’s tongue

………..or thick-set paleolithic fruit
………………….in puris naturabilis displayed

………..and mounted on the slippery
………………….slide the shocked members

………..gape at as their meals
………………….get laid upon the table?

………..He has no shame, this sly
………………….weighted thing towering

………..above the high tree tops—
………………….the great trunk of his gnarled

………..sex and trumpet foreskin
………………….making all the cultivated

………..thoughts that dine in private
………………….so much fast-food small-talk.

………..But oh, how the air out there
………………….shines attendant with delight,

………..hiking up those warm kirtled
………………….skirts to reveal Galileo’s secret

………..so profound only such obscene
………………….dimensions ever fathom it!

……*Note: at the time the poem was entitled “The Meaning and Value of Repression.”

Posted by EXPATRIATE POET: Sat Feb 24, 2007 12:23 pm
_________________
(…yet still it moves!)

~

“Huge brown phallus pressed up against the pane”

Best image in poetry ever!

Posted by MONDAY LOVE: Sun Feb 25, 2007 9:16 am
_________________
Whisper and eye contact don’t work here.

~

But that’s not even the best image in the poem, so how could it be the best image in poetry ever?

I know I’m a fool, and I always rise to your bait, but now I’m thinking about what you said yesterday about Aimée Nezhukumatathil’s new book, Miracle Fruit.

Aimee N. definitely has it going on. Hot chick w/ erotic poems. Naughty, yet sensitive; sexy, yet learned; chatty, yet profound; worldly, yet academic; with her third-world traditionalist family hitting on her American singleness, freedom and sass. . . You go, girl!

But I predict she’ll get bored with the kind of chatty lyric she’s writing now. She’ll beat a hasty retreat towards more serious forms. The little dog will give way to twelve or thirteen kids, metaphorically speaking.

Dear Monday Love–you do such good work on this site, and we’re all so fortunate to have the chance to read so much of you–which goodness knows is certainly never dull! But much too often it’s your private Big Boy that gets dropped on our threads, and the ashes keep piling and piling up. Well, I’m an old man and I have no reputation at all, and partly for that reason you should listen to me. You can’t step on my toes because I don’t have any, it’s as simple as that, nor can you open my closet living as I do in a place that has none. But I’m serious about poetry all the same, and I can talk to you if you’ll listen.

And I say you not only have an issue with poetry but with girls!

That’s why I posted the poem for you, and not surprisingly you ignored the WOMAN in it altogether and chose rather to celebrate the PHALLUS–just like you poked fun at the girl!

I felt the woman in the poem was so overwhelmingly attractive and uncomplicated that she would have to illuminate you and quicken your being, that she would speak to who you were and where you were going. Now I begin to think you never let poets speak to you at all–even the dwindling handful you regard as o.k.

Because what I’ve never seen you do is listen to what a poem actually says that might be of value to you personally. You read with such disdain and critical detachment, almost as if you were judging a small town dog show that neglected to shovel up its poop. But even a common poem can talk to you, you know–it mustn’t be asked just to stand up on its hind legs and rhumba, or jump through a hoop to please you.

That’s what the little poem might have been trying to tell you, in fact–that like the average scientist you restrict yourself to the empirical evidence before you, as if the universe could tango without the human value that gives meaning to it.

Christopher

Posted by EXPATRIATE POET: Mon Feb 26, 2007 10:41 am
_________________
(…yet still it moves!)

~

Christopher,
I have no toes to step on either.

Do I have an “issue” with “girls?” Perhaps, I do. “Girls” is a big topic.

I loved Aimée’s poem. I summed up her schtick in a few words, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t dig it.

Also empirical evidence is all we have. The rest is speculation.

But I must say, I’m not good at riddles. What specific ‘evidence’ am I missing?

Monday
Posted by MONDAY LOVE: Mon Feb 26, 2007 8:48 pm
_________________
Whisper and eye contact don’t work here.

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14 Comments

  1. thomasbrady said,

    December 6, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Christopher,

    It was a pleasure to have a bone-scraping session with you back then.

    But there are a few things that are still unresolved.

    Let’s have at each other once again, shall we?

    People will ‘see’ different things in a poem—so much so, that there’s never room for agreement. Is this good or bad? I think it’s bad, because if two people cannot agree on what they see in front of them that should be an indication that real seeing is not going on, and where real seeing is not happening, murder and crime can occur with impunity, and love, which always requires agreement, sulks silently away.

    Here’s what you wrote, and you are basically faulting me for my ‘smarty-pants’ ‘know-it-all’ ‘high-and-mighty’ cynical skepticism:

    You ignored the WOMAN in it altogether and chose rather to celebrate the PHALLUS–just like you poked fun at the girl!

    I felt the woman in the poem was so overwhelmingly attractive and uncomplicated that she would have to illuminate you and quicken your being, that she would speak to who you were and where you were going. Now I begin to think you never let poets speak to you at all–even the dwindling handful you regard as o.k.

    Because what I’ve never seen you do is listen to what a poem actually says that might be of value to you personally. You read with such disdain and critical detachment, almost as if you were judging a small town dog show that neglected to shovel up its poop. But even a common poem can talk to you, you know–it mustn’t be asked just to stand up on its hind legs and rhumba, or jump through a hoop to please you.

    That’s what the little poem might have been trying to tell you, in fact–that like the average scientist you restrict yourself to the empirical evidence before you, as if the universe could tango without the human value that gives meaning to it.”

    WHAT WOMAN? I DON’T SEE ANY WOMAN IN YOUR POEM!!

    Now, I agree with this: “as if the universe could tango without the human value that gives meaning to it…” What you are saying here is, ‘there’s more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in your philosophy’ which is true, but is “the universe” at issue here, or a poem? WHERE IS THE WOMAN IN THAT POEM? This is what I hate the most about modern poetry—the sloppy assumptions that what the poet ‘had in mind’ is all that matters. And if the poet has ‘put a lot of stuff’ in the poem, well this is automatically good, even if the reader misses most of it.

    I do like your poem’s Rabelasian dimensions. I like the poem. But once a poet begins to shout, “Oh, but you missed this and you missed that!” I have to say…wait a minute…the reader is doing the poet a service by reading a poet’s poem, not the other way around…only when the reader is pleased with the poem (not a professorial explanation of a poem) does the poet have a right to be proud…

    This rift is so profound, that moderns can no longer enjoy poetry in which the message is comprehended at once—poems have become puzzles, and the more obscure the better. Trust has been broken. The public is no longer interested in poetry, while those who are interested in poetry, love it for its obscurity and nothing else…

    Thomas

  2. thomasbrady said,

    December 6, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    Like everyone else, Chrisopher, I’m sure you were trained in the New Criticism in school.

    We all were.

    Anyone with a liberal arts education within your lifetime got a good dose of the New Criticism.

    And the New Criticism is the point where poetry changed from something women wrote in books to something men studied in school.

    New Criticism is the point where poetry changed from something enjoyed by the pubic to something experts analyzed in private under the cover of academe.

    True, there are reasons why the New Criticism caught on. But these reasons are not reason enough to accept the change as good.

    There is a third way, where the critical and the popular have equal input.

  3. Christopher Woodman said,

    December 7, 2009 at 12:54 am

    Oh that’s wonderful, Tom — such a tonic. I haven’t felt really inspired to talk about poetry since we did all that real talking way back on Foetry. It was such a desert on Blog:Harriet after the Like/Dislike function was introduced and no one could talk about anything. Because when you looked at any thread all you saw was chat=candy=ativan=GREEN, talk=spinach=castor oil=RED.

    Yes, on Harriet talk became old-fashiomed medicine and chat became meds. And of course the more meds you’re on the less you can talk for your health or anyone else’s!

    So the WOMAN in poetry — here we go! But before I introduce her as she appears in the poem, go and meet her yourselves. Go back, read the poem, and be saved from the need to put all your eggs in the neat little baskets that tool around Jupiter at the end of your stick.

    Nobody ever said the big dick at the window wasn’t there, it’s just that it’s so easy to ignore what’s there all around it! I mean, your science is mere schtick without poetry!

    C.

  4. thomasbrady said,

    December 7, 2009 at 2:07 am

    Is a clue in the word “kirtled?”

    Is the “air” hiking up its skirts?

    Who are the diners?

    Who is the speaker of the poem?

  5. Christopher Woodman said,

    December 7, 2009 at 2:36 am

    Am I a new critic, whatever that means, or New Crirtic, for that matter?

    The big names in my education did not make me who I am at all, Tom, and I trot them out just for the younger (small ‘n’) critic’s satisfaction. So, without getting really excited about it, I admit that at Yale I did study with W.K.Wimsatt, and at Cambridge with I.A.Richards and F.R.Leavis — or sat at the feet thereof, neither of them having ever been given a Chair to sit in (they were that difficult!). Indeed, in the latter’s case I mostly sat on the floor in a corner somewhere at Queen’s College while he ate his sandwiches.

    But whatever New Criticism rubbed off on me, I’m glad for it. I love to read a poem closely, and I also love the fact that if you’ve got the legs for it you can talk about even the most technical aspects of a poem in any language you create at the moment to cope with it!

    I remember very well that long confrontation with Kaltica on Poets.org (“On Aspiring Writers Becoming Successful Writers“) in which Kaltica trotted out all the prosodic detritus you’re supposed to learn by heart if, in his terms, you can be said to know poetry at all. At one point Kaltica introduced one of his favorite poems, “Hookers” by Marco Morales, or at least, as he told us, one of his favorite poems to ‘parse’ metrically, yet it emerged in the discussion that he’d never grasped the actual crux of the poem — which lay in a shocker quite beyond the range of his critical apparatus. (If you’re interested in that exchange — middle of the page, ACommoner, Thu Apr 17, 2008 11:56 pm.)

    So that’s the sort of permission I was given by I.A.Richards and the others, to read “Hookers” like that. I learned that poetry could do anything you wanted it to as long as you took full responsibility for it with all your heart and soul. Head alone would never do the trick, and having no sense of humor was of course fatal. Also a cigarette helped, and a glass of sherry.

    But what else is needed beside the cigarette and the sherry is discipline and education, which for Wimsatt, Richards and Leavis all went without saying. Indeed, I also wrote on the same Poets.org thread:

    You’re a breath of fresh air, Kaltica—and I can understand so well why you focus your critical work so fiercely on a mastery of the classical figures of speech. Mountains of marshmallow are not only saccharine, insidious and without identifiable ingredients, they’re gross—and the answer is obviously macrobiotics!

    And honestly, I’m not saying that cynically either—I think a good dose of cold baths, strict rote learning, fasting and midnight hyperdulia would do wonders for the bloated sophisticates who have rail-roaded our art into their own private sidings! The train isn’t moving anymore either—it just sits there and plays with itself! [ACommoner, Sun Apr 13, 2008 11:38 pm]

    I do understand your reservations about the whole New Critical movement, Tom, and if I didn’t I wouldn’t be here with you. But you’re always good on that too, picking up the whole copper tub from off the kitchen floor and sloshing away the bathwater all in one go. And somehow, miraculously almost, you do manage to save the baby even if you have to grab it by one foot in mid air!

    So the issue here is not just the WOMAN in the poem but the BABY in poetry — and they go together. Can we read a poem deeply without cheating, is the question, can we read a poem deeply without masturbating each other? Because what you’re really railing against, Tom, is the business of poetry, the marketting of it by second-hand poetry car-salesmen who have created a gigantic ponzi scheme that has nothing to sell us but debt!

    You want poetry back, in other words — you want the ancient art back and not the useless new product of our workshops and schools, you want a real artifact in hand and not just another commmodity that’s blurbed and marketted by the Head of the Department, her colleagues, their students, and Stephen Burt.

  6. Christopher Woodman said,

    December 7, 2009 at 3:17 am

    We’ve had some good discussions on some of these issues on Scarriet, one of the best being on the thread called “DANCING WITH THE STARS: Percy Bysshe Shelley Spins Joan Houlihan, Judge Helen Vendler Slips but Does She Fall?” in which I read a poem of Joan Houlihan’s very closely indeed. What I wanted to do is illustrate what both Tom and I feel about much of even the “good” poetry that is being written today. It simply doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny.

    For those of you who are new to Scarriet (our numbers are growing and growing — and thanks to you all!) this might give you some useful background on both of us (needless to say, we don’t see eye to eye on how to read Seamus Heaney!).

    C.

  7. thomasbrady said,

    December 7, 2009 at 4:14 am

    I did Marxist Commedia d’el Arte guerilla theater with W.K. Wimsatt’s son out of New Haven.

    W.K Wimsatt at Yale…? I.A. Richards, Leavis? New Critical icons, dude!

  8. Christopher Woodman said,

    December 7, 2009 at 6:34 am

    Is a clue in the word “kirtled?”

    Yes, because it’s a wonderful word. Indeed, when I found it right at the end of the long history of the unfolding of the skirts of this poem I knew she was there.

    Is the “air” hiking up its skirts?

    No, she is.

    Who are the diners?

    Organs and members as well as members with organs and vise versa. Like the organist who puts the condom on in the loft to protect the instrument from disease.

    Who is the speaker of the poem?

    I don’t know, but I also don’t assume the window in the second line isn’t my own.

    Christopher

  9. Christopher Woodman said,

    December 7, 2009 at 7:44 am

    “Let’s have at each other once again, shall we?” you ask in your first comment. You go on:

    People will ’see’ different things in a poem—so much so, that there’s never room for agreement. Is this good or bad? I think it’s bad, because if two people cannot agree on what they see in front of them that should be an indication that real seeing is not going on, and where real seeing is not happening, murder and crime can occur with impunity, and love, which always requires agreement, sulks silently away.

    But that’s just the problem the poem is addressing — and indeed I would suggest all poetry is addressing and, if it isn’t, should be. Because the irony is that seeing just one thing is what the Cyclops does, and that limitation lies at the heart of all brutality. Try walking around with an eye patch for awhile and see what one-eyed vision is like, or cover up one ear if you want to get really confused. There will just be you here and something else there, but there will be no relationship between them, no space, no time, no complexity, no ambiguity or paradox, and you’ll walk away with the ego, in the Buddhist sense, firmly in control. But as any saint will tell you, this is a self-induced and, of course, self-serving delusion that robs you of any chance of love or forgiveness, and if you persist in it will send you straight to hell — if you aren’t there already.

    When two people agree on what they see, Tom, they’ve reached an agreement, and the next thing you know they’ll be going to war to defend it. What Galileo did was so much greater than mere science, because he applied one of the greatest minds ever to grace a human body and forced through sheer facts the whole universe to change it’s position. Because before he looked through his telescope and made his calculations, the earth was at the center of God’s creation, and after he’d finished the sun had taken its place and God was no longer in heaven. And then, inevitably, there was global warming.

    But here’s where it gets complicated, and why we need poetry. We’ve got global warming because we’re not bright enough to do what Galileo did next, and that was to go down on his knees and confess he was wrong, at least in part, as we say. He also knew what all human beings know too — the earth is stock-still at the center of the universe because God made it that way even if some high-class, other kind of instrument shows it still moves.

    And there’s a shock, there’s a truth even deeper than the truth is true. And tell me modern physics isn’t stumbling into exactly the same Alice in Wonderland world — through the back door, of course, but nevertheless.

    In poetry we would call it a worm-hole.

    Galileo’s secret — that’s it. But ssshhhh, don’t you dare say it because if you do you’ll have nothing left but agreement, and we know where that sort of prejudice goes.

    Christopher

    P.S. It’s my 70th birthday today according to us, but in Thailand I’ve been 70 for the whole of this year — you’re already one when you’re born in Siam. And this comment is my birthday present to anyone who’d like to be here.

    C.

  10. thomasbrady said,

    December 7, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    Thanks, Christopher.

    Now I’ve got it.

    New Criticism wins again. Your poem was intriguing, now it is understood, and yet a reader can still discover (like a scientist) its ambiguity, even after the professor (in this case, you, the poet) explained it.

    The scientist proved the earth is not the center of the universe, but you still want it to be.

    We can only REALLY see one thing at once. We’re all cyclopses.

    What happens to science when scientists fight? Does it turn into religion? Into poetry?

    Thomas

  11. Christopher Woodman said,

    December 8, 2009 at 1:18 am

    Your poem was intriguing, now it is understood, and yet a reader can still discover (like a scientist) its ambiguity, even after the professor (in this case, you, the poet) explained it.

    The scientist proved the earth is not the center of the universe, but you still want it to be.

    As Monday Love used to say, Tom, you haven’t been listening. Or even better, and Monday really did say this, you know, you need de-educating!

    I never even talked about the poem, so how could I have explained it? I never quoted a word from it, or traced it’s development, or answered the questions you asked me, or attempted to unravel what actually happens on any level whatsoever, prosodic, narrative or exegetical.

    And I never said I wanted the earth to be the center of the universe. I said in the light of eternity or infinity or nothingness or whatever there’s no center at all. Because in the light of all that it’s equally irrefutable that the earth is the center as the sun is — or of course, as it really is, neither.

    Also I didn’t say it but it seems to me pretty obvious that there’s no up, down, small, large or future either. But then every poet knows that.

    When space travel actually gets going people will know it too, if any are still around to celebrate the moment when poetry becomes science and vise versa.

    When we’re not poets and see just “one thing at once” we see much less than what we see in even the slenderest paradox.

    ~

    “Galileo’s Secret” as a poem is actually very easy, of course — which was my argument in the original Foetry dialogue. Indeed, a cynic will say it’s no good because it is so simple and unadorned — pedestrian, austere, performing hardly a bow or a trick. Indeed, without the phrase “Galileo’s secret” the poem would hardly be memorable, and even with the phrase it still needs that wonderful title to get up and dance.

    So yes, the poem is a stunt — as I say at the end of the Foetry dialogue the poem’s main function is to provide the title of the book, Galileo’s Secret, in which it appears. The other poems have to rise to its challenge not as a poem but in relation to it’s theme, and some of them do.

    One of the poems, “He Mistakes Her Kingdom For a Horse,” is in the Fall issue of The Beloit Poetry Journal and has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. And the reason you know that it’s such a wonderful little gem of a poem is that there’s no need to talk about it — you just want to get up on its back and read like that some more!

    Christopher

  12. thomasbrady said,

    December 8, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    Christopher,

    I feel like the sorcerer’s apprentice all of a sudden.

    This role fits you. You are like Prospero, creating storms.

    I’m drenched.

    And I love it, you wizard!

    “He Mistakes Her Kingdom For A Horse”—great title!

    Thomas

  13. Christopher Woodman said,

    December 9, 2009 at 12:46 am

    The great Hadron Collider in its 27 kilometer tunnel deep under the Alps near Geneva generates the extraordinary power of 7 TeV per particle — equivalent to the energy consumed in the beating of a single mosquito’s wing.

    Ironically, the power generated by this image is just as great as that achieved by 10,000 scientists from 100 countries at a cost of $9,000,000,000.00. Furthermore, the material involved in both the poem and the beam would fill the volume of one grain of fine sand, and indeed the greatest achievement of both would be the confirmation that we exist at all, or at least weigh anything.

    And do you think this search is arousing any interest at the Vatican?

    The irony is, of course, that without the fearful power of the Inquisition there is no one to weigh in on the side of poetry anymore. Of course there’s Travis Nichols, but he’s on the payroll of The Poetry Foundation, and all you have to do is put his take up beside Dan Brown’s and you’ll see where he’s at as a brain surgeon!

    Opus Dei indeed!

    But seriously, I’m interested in poetry that lifts the veil of the mysteries the way the air lifts its skirts in my poem. The Songs of Innocence and Experience, for example, are a Large Hadron Collider when compared to Travis Nichols’ leaf blower.

    (When you live in a developing country like Thailand you can’t imagine the absurdity of the very idea of a ‘leaf blower,’ and to think there is one in the yard of almost every American ‘home’ as sure as there’s a ‘hair dryer.’ I bet Travis has got one.)

    C.

  14. Christopher Woodman said,

    December 11, 2009 at 9:47 am

    A brief comment on the three portraits:

    1.) John Donne “looking around.” The horizontal vision that places the individual in the landscape, forms relationships in time and space, creates language and images, and eventually dies.

    2.) Simone Weil “looking in” through eyes that look straight through you. This look does not linger or make an object out of you or try to control you. It’s the look without dimension which, at its best, leads to love and surrender. And it’s a vertical look in the sense that it’s non spatial, and within which, as we say, the individual knows God in the world. It’s the Logos as a vertical line without thickness that strikes through the heart of the horizontal, and because it has no thickness leaves no mark. It’s deathless because it doesn’t exist.

    3.) Galileo Galilei, the man or woman who looks out of this world from within it and, as a consequence, suffers at the point where the horizontal and the vertical intersect. Not a fun place to be, but we all, willy-nilly, grow into it — or should hope to.

    C.