EVEN ROBERT BURNS GETS BLATHERED ON HARRIET


…………….Peter Greene…………….Kent Johnson

@Kent: The thing that confuses me is the way most poetry blogs contain…little poetry. Here at Harriet, that’s normal – this is not a ‘personal’ poetry blog but a discussion room and (for me) education centre. But on the blogs of so many poets…no pomes. Are the things so hard to come by? Valuable, yes, but a poet is wealthy with the things, notebooks running empty, mystery scrawls everywhere. More poems on poetry blogs today!
PG

POSTED BY: PETER GREENE ON JANUARY 27, 2010 AT 11:10 AM

Did it ever occur to anyone on Onan:Harriet that there were other poems out there beside the ones that bloggers write themselves? Has anyone noticed the Robert Burns that just got posted by Travis, for example — who is obviously still sensitive to our criticism here at Scarriet that,  since we left, nobody at Harriet talks about poetry anymore, just about themselves?

Check out the 3 Comments on that thread for a shock on that, how they ignore the poetry to show off what they know/don’t know about Salinger. Even Holden Caulfield could have done better!

And can you imagine what Thomas Brady would have had to say, Burns being one of his favorite poets? Or Christopher Woodman on how to pronounce the scots, his children having been to a one-room school house in the hills up above Dumfries? Their dialect became so broad he couldn’t understand them in the kitchen after they had walked home from school, he says, two miles in the gloaming. His daughter Sophia even won 1st prize in the annual Robert Burns Poetry Contest — she recited the master’s poetry by heart even better than the shepherd children, who still spoke the dialect.

Eskdalemuir 1969, he says. The end of the world.

But then that’s precisely why Christopher Woodman got banned, for talking that way. Hi-jacking, Travis would have called it had Christopher come in on his Robert Burns thread. Making it relevant, we would say, empowering the poetry to speak for itself, not for the brown-nosed poetaster.

And we say good point in your sage comment, Kent Johnson. You know your Burns even if you’re deaf to his poetry and have no interest whatever in the best move Travis Nichols ever made. Indeed, you’ve condemned yet another Harriet thread to oblivion in your comment — set the mood for more cynical blather.

Who would dare to talk about poetry under such an asthmatic shadow?

~

In another way, all the comments on Poetry & Gender (Part 1): Why Don’t More Women do Blog-Oriented Writing? are under the shadow of Annie Finch’s truly expansive threads on Harriet last summer (Muse Goddess, Why I am a Woman Poet, and Women’s Work, those three in particular) all on the same topic, and which sparked some real participation, some of it so fiery it had to be deleted. And not because of unacceptable language or content either, but because of the fascinating glimpses the comments gave into various conflicts behind the U.K. poetry scene, Harriet was reaching out that far back then!

Frankly, we agree with those deletions — the deleted comments were too raw, the authors not ready yet for hanging out such linen. Indeed, some of the deletions were of comments by quite well-known U.K. female poetry figures who were letting too much hair down, and needed protection — from themselves!

Sensitive editing we’d say that time, Travis, and we feel sure that Annie Finch herself must have been consulted.

Was Annie Finch consulted when you deleted Christopher Woodman over and over again, Travis, and finally banned him altogether for talking about poetry in a manner you and your friends found threatening?

Did you learn anything at all from the Burns either? Do you have any feeling for what it might have been like for Holden Caulfield to be banned from his school, and why he might have brought that particular poem out into the real world with him?

Christopher Woodman

WHAT’S WRONG WITH HARRIET’S COMMENT STREAM IN THIS PICTURE?


To access our initial graphic of the man peeing in the stream,
click here — and unlike Harriet, let’s discuss it!

Congratulations, Harriet.  You’ve managed your first 100 comment thread since you diverted the waters to Scarriet 5 months ago, but look out for your malodorous ditch!

Has anyone forgotten just how much water was flowing in your streams before the September 1st blockage? Just look at the raw statistics. Back then there were even 200+ threads — and 100 was quite normal, the streams were so clear and intense.

And now? Just look at the Jan. 25th article, “Poetry & Gender: Why Don’t More Women Do Blog Oriented Writing?” C. Perez sets it up like this, and in bold no less:

“questions: do you think women’s self-promotion in poetry differs from men’s self-promotion? what do you do to self-promote your work? are certain kinds of self-promotion gendered in identifiable ways?”

Gender differences in self-promotion?   LOL

Yea, this is why I’m a poet.   To contemplate issues like this.

The discussion quickly devolves:

“having grown up in a mostly athletic blue collar fraternity house atmosphere, crazy as this is going to sound, i came of age believing that the creation of any art, especially the writing of poetry, is for sissies. “

POSTED BY: SASSJEMLEON ON JANUARY 25, 2010 AT 2:45 PM

First Amber Tamblyn.   Now this.

“I always feel ashamed, in my blog (not this one, my other one — see, it feels wrong even to write the name of that other blog!), if I directly mention a publication, or a book that’s come out.”

POSTED BY: BHANU KAPIL ON JANUARY 25, 2010 AT 2:58 PM

ZZZZZZZ   At least the ‘sissies’ comment was slightly controversial.

Half the comments on the thread are by 3 people, ‘blue collar,’ the writer of the post, and a blogger named Greene.

So there’s this:

@All: This is the most fun comment thread I’ve had in…I mean jeez, you guys can all spell! Shoulda hung out with other writers more all these years, I guess…

POSTED BY: PETER GREENE ON JANUARY 26, 2010 AT 11:37 AM

And finally:

“I’m not sure why you guys are bothering to engage with this obviously very myopic and ignorant blog troll. He is insulted by affirmative action and thinks women have more time to write because they’re housewives… why is that worth engaging?”

POSTED BY: JESSICA SMITH ON JANUARY 28, 2010 AT 2:13 PM

Oh boy.

The Poetry Foundation blog may be a very dull place these days, but let’s look on the bright side.

Travis Nichols doesn’t have to invent clever ways to suppress discussion.

John Oliver Simon doesn’t have to be exposed to ideas he doesn’t agree with.

And that’s a good thing, don’t you think?

CULTURAL FASCISM


“I Want To Hold Your Land…”

The world’s intellectuals have little trouble discerning the signs of political oppression: a great gulf between rich and poor, military extremism, leaders who feed—vampire-like—upon the people, buying-and-selling for short-term gain, a high degree of domestic abuse, social intolerance, poor buildings, poor roads, poor nutrition, poor health, and science crushed by superstition.

Unfortunately, these same intellectuals are often eager to applaud and cultivate cultural fascism.  They support art which is ignorant, oppressive, violent, backward, pedantic, cynical, horrific, and stupid.

Why do they support such art?

The answer is simple.

Because it is art.

The intellectuals support this art, not because they are in favor of ignorance, oppression, violence, backwardness, pedantry, cynicism, horror, and stupidity, obviously, but because they feel they would not be true intellectuals if they did not allow art to be this way if it so chooses.

On issues of politics, the intellectuals, almost to the last, oppose, with all their might, these negative qualities; they oppose them in life, and yet, the sad fact is, political states everywhere are in thrall to these negatives: ignorance, oppression, violence, backwardness, pedantry, cynicism, horror, and stupidity.

Why, then, should we be surprised, that these qualites dominate in art?

Contemporary poetry is ignored by the masses, and for the rest of us, the highly educated who read it, poetry produces knowing smirks more than anything else.

The intellectual understands this political/art issue to be absolute: no protest can be made upon this count, for art must be free.   After all, art is not life, art is not politics, and bad politics would tell art what to do.   Therefore good politics does not tell art what to do.

Socrates, the wisest philosopher, is shown the door, is led away, down the hill, to that near meadow, to stand speechless, neglected among the buzzing of the flies, lost in thought, perhaps never to speak again.  Plato’s offerings must be opposed completely—no compromise is possible in opposing Plato’s philosophy of art, even if art itself comes to resemble the very totalitarian regimes the intellectuals oppose: ignorant, oppressive, violent, backward, pedantic, cynical, horrific, and stupid.

The intellectuals never think that maybe this is a trick the oppressive and totalitarian forces have played on us, to enforce their will not only on political regimes, but upon poetry, as well, so we never think about what poetry should be; we only use it to reflect what is.   Big fish will eat the little fish; the leisure of the college creative writing instructor will eat, with its stream-of-consciousness intelligence, all other fish in the blindness of the infinite, William James/nitrous-oxide, sea.

Most of the blame lies with other arts, those more emeshed in the machinery of crass, pornographic, violent sensationalism, but all are guilty, for instance, in the way the film Bright Star was ignorantly reviewed and received in all quarters, and in countless gestures among intellectuals, poets and artists everywhere who whore out the ideal in small ways every day.

After all, there are only, finally, two things: nature and the moral; nature provides the building materials; we build.  How we build is moral and ideal.  Confusing the two—nature (reality) and the moral (the ideal)—tends to be where all the trouble  starts.

Building a house keeps the two distinct.

Making art does not; this is why Plato famously questioned the latter activity.

Nothing shall oppose the onslaught of the ignorant, the oppressive, the violent, the backward, the pedantic, the cynical, the horrific, and the stupid.

And why should anything oppose this onslaught if our art will not?

The license to describe the thoughts inside our thoughts inside our thoughts is the one ruling principle today, and we have become a slave to it.  We have surely caught the self-justifying, William James/John Ashbery disease.  The vanity of  infinitely self-reflexive thought  is the only trump in our deck.   Stream of consciousness has drowned common sense.  “Enough of this nonsense!” we want to cry, but we dare not, because we really believe that educated nonsense is our last freedom, the last thing between our intellectual legitimacy and the absolutist wolf at the door.  We don’t mean good satire. We mean nonsense, the obscurantist crap which passes for poetry these days. We’ve confused freedom with crap.

This treatise is not a cry for any kind of censorship, but rather a discussion of how opposing censorship at all costs affects aesthetic philosophy.

And so we shall have paintings that are not paintings, poems that are not poems, music that is not music, criticism that is not criticism, and prose that is self-indulgent in its trivialities to an extreme degree; we shall have the daintily lurid, the sweetly sensational, and the brazenly corrupt.  The criminals shall have their way because to poets today criminality cannot exist in theory; wrong exists only in reality where cops and robbers are even now having a gun-fight, far from modern art’s purities.

But now the lords of cultural fascism cry, “Poems that are not poems!”  You are the fascist, trying to tell us what a poem is!   But we cannot write a poem if we don’t know what a poem is first,  just as Michelangelo doesn’t just start randomly hacking away at the block of stone.  The lords of cultural fascism will always steer the discussion back to simple-minded issues of censorship, but in reality the issue here is about pedagogy.

True, poetry has made itself so obscure that its effect on society hardly exists when we exclude the thousands of Creative Writing aspirants.

Not making good art, thanks to the license in which every kind of bad art is permissable—and thus, forever, actual—hurts millions in ways we cannot imagine.

Will the obscurantists wake up?    Will the wild and wilder drums wake them?  Or thrum them into a deeper sleep?

Roll over, Black Mountain.

Tell Ashbery the news.

THE MYTH OF QUIETISM

The School of Quietism, a coinage Professor Silliman partially ripped from Poe, supposedly represents the smug, reactionary mainstream, what Professor Bernstein, fresh out of Harvard (philosophy) used to call “Official Verse Culture.” 

The SoQ, to these professors and their followers, is the great nemesis to all progressive “movements,” avant-garde experimentation, modernist, post-modernist, post-post-modernist, flights, spiraling, downward into the lower regions of Creative Writing Workshop hell, where such texts as American Hybrid (Iowa, say “hello” to Brown!) greet the sad victim.

The binary of Quietism v. Avant-garde is an outrageous falsehood that would matter if there were still a pulse on the American poetry scene—last time we checked, there was none—so Scarriet will have to step in and pretend to care, for we do take a malevolent delight in stirring things up. 

The educated person seriously interested in pedagogy and history who studies the ethical, sociological, aesthetic, philosophical issues of American poetry cannot help but laugh at the notion that the American avant garde is “progressive.”  How is the American poetry avant-garde, in any of its forms, “progressive?”   One must be a complete ass to believe this.

The history of modernist poetry: Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Ford Madox Ford, Allen Tate, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, is not even faintly “progressive.”  To point fingers at some of these writers as “Quietists” misses the whole point; the label is without merit; it doesn’t matter which side of the radical line one is on.  The Quietist label of Silliman’s is pure mystification. 

A literature which is incoherent, incomprehensible, and not in the least amusing or interesting to anyone, except a few professors, is not “progressive.”   One cannot be “progressive” while befuddling and confusing the downtrodden, the middle class, and 99.9 % of the highly educated.

Even admirers of  The Red Wheel Barrow, The Cantos, Finnegan’s Wake, the Maximus Poems, and LangPo admit these works are not improvements on the Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream; they reflect a change of taste over time.

Progress requires improvement.

Yet “progressive” is automatically linked to every inanity which flies under the banner of  “manifesto” or “movement,”  save those asserted as “new,” such as the New Formalism, a milk-and-water attempt that is retrograde on account of its weak and pedantic nature. 

But so are avant-garde movements in American poetry retrograde,  and for precisely the same reason. 

The “progressive” nomenclature is a con, for no measurable “improvement” exists.  Decreasing accessibility, coherence, beauty, popularity, excitement, and literacy in Letters cannot, in any shape, excuse, or form, be termed “progressive.” 

What sort of “progress” can be asserted?  Material?  Scientific?  Social? 

No, no, and no.

So the next time you hear some avant clown referring to themselves as “progressive,” wag your finger at them and say, “No, no, no…”

Asinus asinum fricat.

VISIONARY VAPORS: WALT WHITMAN’S VISTAS.


Walt Whitman.  Prose was not his strength.

Democratic Vistas (1871) has long occupied an uncertain place in  Walt Whitman studies.  Whitman’s two greatest drawbacks are that his poetry sounds too much like Ralph Waldo Emerson’s prose and that in the poetry there’s little variety of tone or approach—it takes the same leap at sublime, transcendental individualism every time.

Vistas, the only prose article by the poet that gets any attention, sounds uncomfortably like Whitman’s poetry—only worse.

Whitman’s post-Civil War essay is nothing but an embarrassing and dyspeptic slipping of the visionary poet’s mask in a voice that is unfortunately close to the poet’s, and probably should  not have been published, since its misanthropy doesn’t play well in Whitman Land.

Vistas makes most sense when seen as a link between turgid Transcendentalism and fervid, misanthropic Modernism, a rant slavish to Emerson and pointing to Pound, as it petulantly rejects “foreign” literature while trumpeting vague and hopeful novelty:

“Thus we presume to write, as it were, upon things that exist not, and travel by maps yet unmade, and a blank.  But the throes of birth are upon us; and we have something of this advantage in seasons of strong formations, doubts, suspense—for then the afflatus of such themes haply may fall upon us, more or less; and then, hot from surrounding war and revolutions, our speech, though without polish’d coherence, and a failure by the standard called criticism, comes forth, real at least as the lightnings.”   —Democratic Vistas

The blather here is not even high grade blather.

Whitman finds popular literature too cheap, ancient literature too old, Romantic literature belonging to “nightingales,” and Shakespeare “poison” on account of his “feudalism.”   Whitman wants nothing to do with any “foreign” stuff; he ends up condemning it all.    A flood is required, leaving Walt Whitman on a mountaintop in the west, chanting of Kosmos and “perfect Mothers” for New World breeding.

The dilemma facing the author of Vistas is the old one: you promote fresh air against the unhealthy bookworm-ism of fops, but since you are doing so in books, you prove yourself a useless and petulant bookworm at last.

There is no greater example of bookworm-ism than the inanity of DV, with its fop author trumpeting in loud tones a condemnation of fops.

Whitman’s career was picking up steam since “O Captain! My Captain!”  He was no longer 37, however; his self-help, fresh-air, vatic utterances were being out-sold by quaint, Victorian, lady authors on every hand; his reputation was rising in 1871, thanks to recognition by the Pre-Raphaelites in England, but his paralytic stroke was only 2 years away.  He must have felt, as a real Man of Letters, that he needed a worthy piece of prose to his name, but he just wasn’t up to it; he looks to sound a progressive note, but he can’t escape the pull of those “lady” authors and their “fictions,” and so he looks forward to the misogynist aspects of Modernism, which we see in the following paragraph:

“The idea of the women of America (extricated from this daze, this fossil and unhealthy air which hangs about the word lady) developed, raised to become the robust equals, workers, and it may be, even practical and political deciders with men–greater than man, we may admit, through their divine maternity, always their towering, emblematic attribute—but great, at any rate, as man, in all departments; or, rather capable of being so, soon as they realize it, and can bring themselves to give up toys and fictions, and launch forth as men do, amid real, independent, stormy life.”  —Democratic Vistas

Note the cheap radicalism, the broad political formulation of what women, according to Whitman, should be, and amidst all the hyperbolic praise, note that he manages to fully insult the female race at the same time.  Women are not part of “stormy life???”  Excuse me?

To see how the froth of Emerson becomes the crankiness of Pound, one must wade through the vomit of Democratic Vistas.

FOR FRANZ WRIGHT


L
……………………………………………….Liberation, Vendredi, 19  Janvier 1990

A small poem that dares to say what you probably meant when you came here blazing, Franz Wright — for almost certainly such anger was the result of a divine touch in you that does not allow you to compromise with anything or anyone.

Also a poem with a voice that tries to communicate something too, so it’s for Thomas Brady as well, who will hate it for having something to say.

Indeed, this poem has been rejected at one time or another by most of the top poetry reviews and journals in America, the editors usually saying something like this: “…drawn to the language in ‘Leonardo Amongst Women’… find myself distanced by the more didactic second half.” [that’s an actual quote]

.

……………………………..LEONARDO AMONGST WOMEN

…………………………………..The bulk not the vectors
…………………………………..is what old Merlin draws,
…………………………………..the wash of his own weight
…………………………………..shot through silk in motion.

…………………………………..Thus the kneeling girl that
…………………………………..God wants even more than he,
…………………………………..sheen of eggplant fish and
…………………………………..satin light on rose paper.

…………………………………..Yet even the new faithful
…………………………………..schooled to ask too much
…………………………………..study not the secret in the folds
…………………………………..but just the pale hands clasped
…………………………………..in prayer, the inviolable eyes
…………………………………..raised to praise everything but
…………………………………..the veiled act taking place
…………………………………..preposterously below—

…………………………………..precisely where the raw clay plug
…………………………………..cradled in that lone man’s hope
…………………………………..lingering turned, sweetly bound,
…………………………………..dignified in clinging drapes
…………………………………..and tight swaddling clouts
…………………………………..the immaculate desire to be
…………………………………..defined not by what we do but
…………………………………..like a mute maiden what she is
…………………………………..wound in her cocoon.

…………………………………..And so with unfurled wings
…………………………………..folding back like perfumed letters
…………………………………..in the dark, virgin lips signing
…………………………………..in the last low light and every
…………………………………..flute and hollow, genius spins
…………………………………..the miracle of thighs with down
…………………………………..so light it only lifts to knowledge
…………………………………..stroked the other way, leading
…………………………………..the man’s hand of God
…………………………………..to know those things
…………………………………..it never sees or ever thinks
…………………………………..but only dies to dream.

…………………………………..And if we priests and doctors
…………………………………..cannot bow our heads to live
…………………………………..draped amongst the women thus
…………………………………..we cannot hold God’s absence
…………………………………..live nor like the genius maiden
…………………………………..be the empty vessel it desires—

…………………………………..and then we only die to dream
…………………………………..no more—
…………………………………..and all our saints are peeping toms,*
…………………………………..and all our gold, lead.

………………………………………………………………“Les études de draperies,”
……………………………………………………………………….Musée du Louvre 1990 

……………………………………………………..Christopher Woodman

______________________
This poem is based on a small Leonardo da Vinci exhibition I saw in the new underground gallery at the Louvre in 1990 called “Les études de draperies” — I have carried the original pages from the great Parisian left-wing newspaper, ‘Liberation’ (Vendredi, 19  Janvier 1990), with me ever since, the event meant so much to me.

The exhibition consisted of a series of experimental sketches in which the artist wound damp muslin strips around small, featureless lumps of clay and then drew just the wraps — one of the most eloquent demonstrations of the fullness of emptiness ever conceived in the mind of man but widely experienced, one suspects, by women.

* NOTE: In the version of the poem discussed in this thread the last two lines read: “and all our saints are fools,/ and all our gold is lead.” I always annotate that discrepancy when it leads to confusion in the following discussion.  

THE LION AND THE LITTLE DOG: “I BELIEVE HIM TO BE THE BITTEREST ENEMY I HAVE IN THE WORLD”

One of Poe’s killers, a cousin and Baltimore journalist, Neilson Poe.  Note the arrogant sneer.  Neilson kept watch for days while Poe died, notifying no one.

We do not claim to have solved the murder of Edgar A. Poe.  The mystery has baffled everyone and lies under many layers.  We have reached a point in Poe history, however, where the drinking binge, the ‘cooping’ theory, the rabies death, and other absurdities have been disproven.  The field lies open before us at last; a real investigatin of the facts seems, for the first time, possible.

We assume murder in Poe’s case.  The manner of Poe’s end was violent and secretive.  Accidents tend to come to light but murders do not. Poe’s murderers not only covered their tracks, but a story grew over the victim replicating perfectly in death the slander which dogged his life.  Since slander is a kind of murder, libel a kind of killing, especially among those with literary reputations, the key to solving Poe’s murder is to follow the thead of those who told the story of his death.

The most helpful person in chasing away the fog of rumor is undoubtedly John Evangelist Walsh, whose book Midnight Dreary: The Mysterious Death of Edgar Poe, St Martin’s, 2000, is the first treatment of Poe’s death which actually succeeds as a piece of detective work.

Walsh was not satisfied to itemize the rumors of Poe’s death and then add his own vague speculation.  Walsh chased down the origin of the rumors themselves.   For too long the stories have distracted us from the story-tellers.

Let us begin by quoting three prophetic letters written by Poe: 1) pertaining to the city of Baltimore—where Poe met his end, 2) the journalism scene in Baltimore and 3) Poe’s cousin Neilson Poe, who was in charge of Poe’s imprisonment and death.   Two of the letters are to Dr. Joseph Snodgrass, a Batlimore physician, poet, essayist and editor, who traded some literary favors with Poe and managed to elicit many private confessions from him.  Studying the correspondnce, which was hot and heavy between Poe and Snodgrass in  1839 and then trails off to end for good in 1842, just after Poe left his editorship at Graham’s—succeeded by Griswold—we can see that Snodgrass is playing Poe, attempting to elicit as much private opinion from the great poet as he can.  Poe pleads too much to the man;  clearly they are not friends,  though Snodgrass held out that possibility.  The two men had a common enemy in Burton, of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, a kind of Ricky Gervais figure from England; Burton was pushing the ‘drunk’ slander hard against Poe and it was to Snodgrass that Poe made his famous defense on that count: “My sole drink is water.”   In that same letter Poe writes to  Snodgrass, who will eventually turn into a Griswold figure, “You are a physician, and I presume no physician can have difficulty in detecting the drunkard at a glance.”   A bit ironic that it is this very Snodgrass who becomes the one man to describe to the world Poe’s condition when Poe is found, helpless, by some odd coincidence, close to  Snodgrass’s residence.  If Snodgrass were a friend, our guess is that Poe would not have felt the need to argue his case as he does. In the final letter which exists between the two men, Poe gives vent to his negative feelings for Griswold.  The “friendship” between Snodgrass and Poe quickly fades away and Snodgrass suddenly appears, five years later, an assassin,  to libel and entomb.

These excerpts from three letters in 1839 require no preface; they speak much of the literary life in which Poe lived:

The reception of the paper convinced me that you, of whom I have long thought highly, had no share in the feelings of ill will toward me, which are somewhat prevalent (God only knows why) in Baltimore  –Poe to Snodgrass, Sept. 11, 1839

It is always desirable to know who are our enemies, and what are the nature of their attacks.  I intend to put up with nothing that I can put down (excuse the pun) and I am not aware that there is any one in Baltimore whom I have particular reason to fear in a regular set-to.  I would take it as a great favor if you would let me know who edits the “Sun”  –also who the editors of the other papers attacking me–and should be thankful for any other similar information.   –Poe to Beauchamp Jones  Aug. 8, 1839  [The “Sun” is the Baltimore Sun]

I felt that N. Poe, would not insert the article editorially.  In your private ear, I believe him to be the bitterest enemy I have in the world.  He is the more despicable in this, since he makes loud professions of friendship.  Was it “relationship etc” which prevented him saying any thing at all of the 2 or 3 last Nos. of the Gentleman’s Mag?  I cannot account for his hostility except in being vain enough to imagine him jealous of the little literary reputation I have, of late years, obtained.  But enought of the little dog.   –Poe to Snodgrass, Oct. 7, 1839  on his cousin, Neilson Poe

Dr. Joseph Snodgrass of Baltimore is perhaps even more important than Neilson Poe in the case of America’s greatest literary murder case.  Snodgrass is not only the recipient of Poe’s letter which calls N. Poe my “bitterest enemy,” Snodgrass, with Neilson and Henry Herring— uncle by marriage to Edgar and Neilson and also ill-disposed to the poet—stole away, essentially imprisoned, and after his death, buried in secret haste, the great poet before the world knew what had occured.  Snodgrass, a doctor, and Herring, a relation and a wealthy man, rather than taking Poe into their homes, put him unconsious into a carriage to be taken to a little bare room with iron bars.  What Poe’s actual condition was when found, what happened to him before he was found, and what happened to him after he was found, is unknown.  Dr. Snodgrass and Dr. Moran completely contradict each other on Poe’s condition, so it’s safe to say no one “helping” Poe during his last days can be said to be reliable in the least.

Poe urged two things on thinkers: be detectives and don’t overlook the obvious.  Herring, a man who disliked Poe and refused to allow the poet in his home, showed up at Ryan’s where Poe was found on Oct. 3 at the same time as Snodgrass.  Who summoned Herring? Snodgrass was summoned (supposedly…or was he?)

All Poe biography through the 19th century to the middle  of the 20th, relies on a crackpot ‘cooping’ theory employed initially by a few men, a theory Walsh explodes by reading newspaper accounts of the actual electn during which this supposed election ‘cooping’ took place and also by tracing the theory itself to an editor in Richmond, John Thompson, who originally bought into the ‘drunken debauch’ theory before he changed his mind, years later, after prominent author Elizabeth Oakes Smith published her theory that Poe was assaulted, and came up with—out of the blue, and well after the fact—his absurd ‘cooping’ idea.

The ‘cooping’ theory states that Poe was captured by ruffians, beaten and drugged in order to vote various times, a theory without witnesses that such a thing happened to Poe, or that such a thing occured—at allto anyone.

The testimony of Snodgrass gets into print, like the ‘cooping’ theory, years after Poe’s death.   According to Snodgrass, Poe was found in Baltimore by a Joseph Walker.

Poe scholar John Evangelist Walsh believes the ‘cooping’ idea was invented in reaction to the prominent author Elizabeth Oakes Smith’s assault charge, which she published on three separate occasions over 20 years.

Snodgrass went to press with his story twice, ten years apart, and only in the second article mentions the mysterious Walker, a type-setter acquaintance, who sent Snodgrass the note that Poe was asking for Snodgrass—who was conveniently located just around the corner from where Poe was discovered wholly by accident in Baltimore.   Walker had died in a drowning accident by the time Snodgrass felt the need to mention the note from Walker summoning him (Snodgrass) to Poe’s dying side, and Snodgrass embellishes the note to say “beastly intoxication” where it actually said “worse for wear.”  We know this because the note itself was found among Snodgrass’s papers in 1881, after Snodgrass died in 1880.   Snodgrass refutes Oakes Smith expliticly in his second article in Beadle’s Monthly.

John Walsh writes in his book, “Midnight Dreary,”

Surprisingly,—even, it can be said, incredibly—more than six years were to pass before a fuller picture of Poe’s last days and hours became available.  In May 1856, a New York City  periodical, Life Illustrated, carried an article by Joseph Snodgrass of Baltimore, an old friend and journalist colleague of the poet.  It revealed Snodgrass to be the one who transported the inebriated Poe from tavern to hospital, and much else of interest besides.   —Walsh, “Midnight Dreary”

We share, as should we all, Walsh’s incredulity at the six years passing, but Walsh manages to overlook what every Poe biographer has—the significant role of Snodgrass in Poe’s manufactured debauchery death, as Walsh blithely refers to Walsh as a “friend,” shutting the door on a world of interest.  Nor does Walsh stop to acknowledge that “inebriated” is a description based on one witness and one witness alone—Joseph Snodgrass—who altered a note in his possession he chose to share with the world—16 years after Poe’s death, and after the death of the note’s author, a misquotation from “worse for wear” (Walker) to “beastly intoxication” (Snodgrass).

Poe was  not “among friends” during his last days.

Here is the trail to solving Poe’s murder, and it lies wide open.

Joseph Snodgrass, Henry Herring and Neilson Poe saw to it that Poe was imprisoned with a lunatic named Dr. Moran, on record as the attending physician at the “hospital” where Poe rotted for four days, another unreliable witness who waited 25 years before going public with what he knew, to bask in the spotlight as Poe’s posthumous fame and curiosity about his death grew, supplying all sorts of  hyperbolic “literary” quotes from the dying poet which Poe obviously never uttered.  No autopsy, no death certificate, no communication with the outside world while Poe succumbed in slow agony, a hasty burial attended by Herring, N. Poe and Snodgrass, a minister to say a quick last rites and then 24 hours later, Rufus Griswold’s “Ludwig” article in Horace Greeley’s Tribune.

The manner of Poe’s death fits in perfectly with the actions of a cabal drawing a curtain quickly over his life, and killing him in such a way that even in death he found no martyrdom or honor, but was seen by the world to die as a drunkard, the slander of drink used as a trowel to bury him.

The length of time it took the one real witness to come forward, the odd relationship of the invisible  Joseph Walker and the altered content of his note to the one witness, the “bitterest enemy” keeping public watch over the victim in his last few days with the knowledge of fellow Baltimorean Snodgrass, Poe’s slow death occuring before any of Poe’s friends or loved ones were aware of his fate, his mother-in-law, his fiance, desperately worried and wondering where he was, kept, with the whole world,  in utter darkness even as Poe was being buried and Griswold was in New York penning his libelous notice—if this doesn’t stink to high heaven, nothing does.

POETRY: COMEDY FOR PEOPLE WHO AREN’T FUNNY?

Billy Collins: So this poet walks into a poem…

To read Best American Poetry 2006, when Billy Collins was the judge, is to be struck by the ‘stand-up comedy’ style of its poetry.

Reading over the clever, flamboyant, frank poems in BAP 2006 with more care than they perhaps deserve, we notice the “voice” in these poems tends to be humorous and idiosyncratic—but not quite ‘comedy club’ humorous.  And yet, this seems to be, by default, the target audience.   There’s some success and some charm which follows from this style, but it’s also problematic, since it ultimately doesn’t work as poetry,  and yet it doesn’t work as comedy either; it flounders in a never-never land, between the two genres.

I like to laugh as much as the next person, and when I’m laughing, I don’t care whether what I’m reading is supposed to be poetry, or not.   But what if the material isn’t really funny?  What if that’s the intent, but, in reality, it’s finally just weird? There’s a desire to repeat a good joke, but the merely odd tends to be forgotten.  This is what happens to all contemporary poetry, it seems.

The following is from Billy Collins’ guest-editor BAP 2006 introduction:  Notice how Collins says that meter and rhyme in poetry have been replaced by a “voice” that the reader can “trust.”  When Collins tries to say how the “voice” feels like something he can “trust,” he gets into  trouble.   When you ask a poem—which is a fiction—to be “honest,” as Collins does, you move  into tricky territory.

Once Walt Whitman demonstrated that poetry in English could get along without standard meter and end-rhyme, poetry began to lose the familiar gait and musical jauntiness that listeners and readers had come to identify with it. But poetry also lost something more: a trust system that had bound poet and reader together through the reliable recurring of similar sounds and a steady dependable beat.  Whatever emotional or intellectual demands a poem placed on the reader, at least the reader could put trust in the poet’s implicit promise to keep up a tempo and maintain a sound pattern.  It’s the same promise that is made to the listeners of popular songs.   What has come to replace this system of trust, if anything?  However vague a substitute, the answer is probably tone of voice.  As a reader, I come to trust or distrust the authority of the poem after reading just a few lines.  Do I hear a voice that is making reasonable claims itself–usually a first person voice speaking fallibly but honestly–or does the poem begin with a grandiose pronouncement, a riddle, or an intimate confession foisted on me by a stranger?

–Billy Collins, Introduction to BAP 2006, David Lehman series editor

How does Collins expect the reader to figure out that the poem he happens to be reading is not by a “stranger?” The Collins criteria have no merit: “fallibly but honestly?”   Should we trust a poem that begins: Goo goo ga ga goo goo. Fallible?  Yes. Honest? Yes.

But Collins says:  Nothing “grandiose.”  No “riddles.”  Nothing “foisted.”

Let’s be honest, here.  Collins isn’t really talking about a ” voice” that he can “trust.”   That’s just the professor in him talking.   What he’s really looking for are comic bits.    Here, chosen at random, are the opening lines of some poems in BAP 2006:

“Into every life a little ax must fall.”   —Kim Addonizio

“I just found out that my new husband/May have never married me at all.”  —Laura Cronk

“When a sentence is composed of two independent /clauses, the second being weaker than the first/it is called One-Legged Man Standing. If it/purposefully obscures meaning, it’s called Ring/Dropped In Muddy Creek, or if elegantly composed, Wasp Fucking Orchid.”Tom Christopher

“At the Miro exhibit in the Centre Pompidou,/I hear a guy say to his girlfriend…”   —David Kirby

“I’ve been smoking so much pot lately”  —Jennifer Knox

“Nose out of joint, City Slicker?/Blown a gasket, Hot Shot?/Fit to be tied, Arty Farty?/Going through the roof, Curtain Raiser?”  —Mark Pawlak

“I’ve never loved anyone more than I love you, he said,/which meant what exactly?”   —Liz Rosenberg

“Because we know our lives will end/Let the vagina host a huge party, and let the penis come.”   —Charles Harper Webb

It’s just a hunch, but we think Collins is a better poet for not being able to articulate a thing about poetry.

“I can’t understand these chaps who go round American universities explaining how they write poems,” Philip Larkin once said. “It’s like going round explaining how you sleep with your wife.”

WHO KILLED JOHN KEATS? ‘TWAS ONE OF MY FEATS

Pardon us as we take a fanciful page from the book of George Gordon, Lord Byron.

……………………….WHO KILLED ROBERT CREELEY?

……………………….Who killed Robert Creeley?
……………………….Twas I, Foetry. Yes. Really.
……………………….Now exiled here by the site that bans
……………………….We’ve dealt a mortal blow to Franz.
……………………….You cannot know where your reputation’s laid,
……………………….Or who pays you, at last, and who finally is paid.
……………………….Beware, you swaggerer, with cred and name
……………………….Who comes to quell: first, you lose, then, you swell our fame.

Franz Wright’s recent visit to Scarriet reminded us of the time when Robert Creeley came calling on Foetry.com shortly before he passed away in March of 2005.

John Keats was treated so rudely by the press a rumor began that a harsh criticism had killed him.   The poet is the most vulnerable to criticism since the poet and the critic both use words.   Poetry, by its very nature, has a It is so because I say it is so existence.   Words are cheap, and the poetry world is small.  Poetic reputations are fragile and can disappear overnight.

Longfellow was a wealthy titan whose poems were widely read in expensive and beautiful volumes.  Poe was a poverty-stricken, contentious critic who insulted and berated poets like Longfellow;  Poe was reviled by many literary elites of his day.   Poe, however, now towers over Longfellow and poets who are utterly forgotten.   Those who ‘go about their business’ and who are ‘above’ the sort of battles Poe indulged in usually sink into oblivion.   The trouble-makers survive.

Alan Cordle’s revolutionary Foetry.com turned po-biz on its head almost overnight with his controversial claims.  Controversy is catnip to fame.  Perhaps  Creeley and Wright knew what they were doing when they jumped in the Foetry dirt.

Flowers (and fame) need dirt to grow.

Thomas Brady of Scarriet was obviously out of his mind, temporarily, let’s hope, when he wrote the following as Monday Love on Foetry.com:

And what’s this crap about how a “librarian” [Alan Cordle] can’t express an opinion on poetry or the poetry world?  Jeez, what a lot of snobby rot. Since when did degrees and publishing creds and ‘official poet’ stamped on the forehead decide who can or cannot speak on poetry?  Did Keats have an MFA?  Philip Sidney, one of the world’s most prominent poets, never published a poem.  And what of Harold Bloom and Helen Vendler?  I can’t find any of their poems, but the world bows to their opinion.  If some twit gets an MFA and publishes a few books of obscure poetry scribbles, that twit should then have some kind of authority because of his CV?

No, poetry is naturally fitted for something more democratic and honest. R. Perlman [since discovered to be  Joan Houlihan] disgraces himself [herself] when he [she]indulges in this ‘poetry-cred’ nonsense–99% of the time such a gambit is merely an attempt to paper over stink.  I have never asked what his [her] creds are, nor do I care.  Those who come here trailing the glory of their creds in their wake tend to get slaughtered.  We don’t care who they are.  Robert Creeley came here and was treated like anyone else–in other words, a bit roughly.  We don’t care for that phony ‘respect,’ which the pompous desire.  Only the argument you make here counts.

Poetry was invented so that the learned could speak to the unlearned. Poetry is for the unlearned ear, because it had its origins, as Dante points out in his Vita Nuova, in the following circumstance: the learned fop was mad for some illiterate serving girl and therefore had to remove all that was phony and elevated in his speech to reach her heart.  The opinion which the poet craves is always the simplest and heart-felt one.  The ‘learned’ opinion is not to be trusted, finally.  Every poet in secret knows this.  This does not mean the poet writes simplistic twaddle, for the poet still must impress in a powerful manner, but that manner is not learned fops stroking each other’s learned egos, which only ruins the art.

—Monday Love, Foetry.com  2007

It is not our intent to dance on anybody’s grave.

We salute Mr. Creeley for not going gentle into that good night.

And God bless Franz Wright, too.

THE POEM OF MELANCHOLY HORROR

For the poem of melancholy horror to succeed, the reader must fall under its spell.

But just a tincture of the didactic and the effect is ruined.  Modern poets are especially prone to spoil this type of poem; they write of the horrible, but rarely combine horror with melancholy—which produces the sublime effect we have in mind.  The poem of melancholy horror peaked between 1800 and 1960.

American poetry in the last 20 years seems to be wholly absent of what we call melancholy horror.   We always seem to say, ‘That’s not melancholy, that’s depressing.’   We could assign this recent phenomenon to what we might term the scientific ego in the contemporary poet, a sort of clever hardness which will have no part of Victorian or Romantic sorrow.

Molly Peacock, Edith Sitwell, and Robert Lowell, to name some slightly older poets at random, have written poems of melancholy horror, but a determined busy-ness and verbosity, combined with a didactic intent, ensures failure.  Fred Seidel often gives us horror—and ego.  But there’s no melancholy, no shadow.

Part of the problem involves an acute misreading of Poe’s Heresy of the Didactic.  The issue is one of appearance: one must not appear to impart a moral or a lesson to the reader.

It is fine to impart a lesson; one just cannot seem to do so.

Poe made this quite explicit.

In terms of appearances, we all know that the best way to call attention to something is when we bungle the hiding of it.

This is what the modern poets do:  They know they cannot preach, but they cannot resist doing so, and because the moderns, in being good moderns, have chucked the stage devices of cheap, theatrical effects of the “old” poetry, and because the moderns suffer no hesitation in being frank and discursive in the above-board modern style, they tend to blurt out their lessons, which are poor lessons to begin with—since these moderns are not in the habit of really having anything to say, having been taught that the didactic should be avoided.

Pondering their Poe and the writings of the New Critics, with its ‘heresy of the paraphrase,’ the modern poets have come to think that one can write poetry while having nothing to say at all; if one cannot paraphrase their poem, they think, if their poem has no message or meaning, this is all the better, and perhaps, one day, they may even reach that ‘pure’ style of non-style all moderns affect,  and yet, given the modern style, in which melancholy surfaces and all sorts of cheap Victorian effects are to be eschewed, what remains is a kind of didacticism by default, sans lesson, sans moral, sans theme, just a kind of blathering that “wins” by avoiding the pitfalls Poe and the New Critics superficially laid out.

What Poe really meant—no one knows what the New Critics meant, since they never really thought the problem through—was this: The poet must not appear to be didactic; if the poet can impart a message without anyone noticing, good for the poet.  Thus a Wordsworth, who does have something to say, can succeed even in the face of Poe’s “heresy,” while a Robert Lowell, let’s say, stumbles, for Lowell imparts only the vaguest half-lessons, not because his lessons are well-hidden, but because he discursively bungles the HIDING ITSELF precisely because there is very little worth hiding in the first place.

If Lowell’s poem, “Mr. Edwards and the Spider,” for instance, were coherent in what it were ‘trying to say,’ the melancholy horror might work; but as it is, the poem is unfocused, flat, the transition from the stated theme to “as a small boy…” is clumsy; the poem has no emotional impact not because the theme lacks horror, but because the poet lacks wit.

Here, then are some of the best Lyric Poems of Melancholy Horror, certainly not meant to be definitive:

  1. Darkness  –Byron
  2. Because I Could Not Stop For Death  –Dickinson
  3. Mariana –Tennyson
  4. Bluebeard  –Millay
  5. La Belle Dame Sans Merci  –Keats
  6. The Truth the Dead Know  –Sexton
  7. In the Waiting Room  –Bishop
  8. In Response To A Rumor That the Oldest Whorehouse in Wheeling, W.VA Has Been Condemned   –James Wright
  9. Pike  –Ted Hughes
  10. Strange Fits of Passion –Wordsworth
  11. Lady Lazarus   –Plath
  12. A Brown Girl Dead  –Countee Cullen
  13. Mental Traveler   –Blake
  14. O Where Are You Going?  –Auden
  15. Sweeney Among the Nightingales   –Eliot
  16. The Men’s Room In the College Chapel  –Snodgrass
  17. Alone  –Poe
  18. The Phantom-Wooer  –Beddoes
  19. My Last Duchess  –Browning
  20. The Tourist From Syracuse  –Donald Justice
  21. Rime of the Ancient Mariner  –Coleridge
  22. Advice To A Raven In Russia (1812) –Barlow d. 1812
  23. Blue-Beard’s Closet  –Rose Terry Cooke
  24. Death of The Hired Man  –Frost
  25. Second Coming  –Yeats
  26. In A Dark Time  –Roethke
  27. Piazza Piece  –Ransom
  28. Nerves   –Arthur Symons
  29. Hunchback in the Park  –Dylan Thomas
  30. Suspira   –Longfellow

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