FOR FRANZ WRIGHT


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

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

Also a poem that lectures, so it’s for Thomas Brady as well, who will hate it.

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.”

.

……………………………..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 is lead.

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

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

______________________
This poem is based on a small Leonardo da Vinci exhibition I saw downstairs at the Louvre in 1990 called “Les études de draperies” — I have carried the original pages from 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 perfect demonstrations of the fullness of emptiness ever conceived in the mind of man but widely experienced, one suspects, by women.
 
*In the first version of the poem the last two lines read:    “and all our saints are fools,/ and all our gold is lead.” It’s come a long way, and so have I!

71 Comments

  1. thomasbrady said,

    January 21, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Christopher,

    I agree with the editors that your lovely poem eventually devolves into the didactic.

    For instance: How can you scorn saints as “fools” with a straight face? Everyone knows a saint is a fool.

    How can anyone TELL us what Leonardo painted? Why would anyone set themselves a task like that? It’s a recipe for pedantic disaster.

    The pity is that you are an excellent poet, but you set things up so you are bound to lose.

    Poetry is another kind of saying, but you seem to want poetry to be THE saying, to SAY it all.

    It’s a philosophy fraught with Modernism’s error, because the Modern poets believed this: it can ALL be SAID with poetry.

    No, it can’t.

    (That’s why the Modernists got rid of rhyme and meter and made ‘the line’ so important; what they were doing was making poetry a vehicle for SAYING in a curt, wild, indirect manner; losing the music in order to SAY more urgently what they wanted to SAY.)

    This is a terrible mistake.

    Poe knew this, and that’s why he unpacks BOTH before the reader: the sublimely beautiful poetry HERE and the saying what he needs to say in prose over HERE.

    Prose is for saying. Poetry is another kind of saying. This is the lesson missed.

    Just a beautiful post, though, Christopher. I hope I’ve added to it, and not spoiled it.

    Thomas

    • Christopher Woodman said,

      January 22, 2010 at 10:46 am

      I know exactly what you’re saying, Tom — and am here with you on Scarriet because I know how important it is too. And I know you’ve always got your finger on it even when you’re wrong.

      As I think you are here.

      You polarize poetry and prose in this last comment, sternly warning the “sublimely beautiful” to stay over there with the poets and the “saying what needs to be said” over here with the prose.

      But it’s not that simple, because the “sublimely beautiful” covers up a whole multitude of complicated disappointments, perversities and conundrums, and “saying what needs to be said,” and I mean what REALLY needs to be said, can’t be achieved without coming up against not only the inexpressible but the paradoxical and the absurd.

      I agree, saints are fools regardless of how anybody feels about them, and ditto, as both the alchemist and the poet like to say, gold is lead. In a sense, that’s the bull’s-eye of the poem, to rediscover life like that — i.e. as the clay out of which a magic girl can be modeled by Leonardo da Vinci and even, to some extent at least, by me.

      A better distinction between poetry and prose might be ‘metaphor,’ saying whatever you say in terms that are no longer reasonable or make sense in literal terms. Prose is sensible, poetry imaginal, and they speak different languages and fulfill different needs.

      Your argument with “The Red Wheelbarrow” ought to be that the images are explained too literally in the first line, and that aside from that claim they are insufficiently significant or developed to carry much baggage. The fact that the language also doesn’t sound beautiful might have been applicable when the poem was first written, but time has bestowed on it an attractive little glint and patine. On the other hand, it doesn’t “say” much, and even then what it says it “says.”

      And it’s a poem you have to talk about, of course — your main point.

      Poe is something else altogether, needless to say, but he’s limited too — ironically by the very extravagance you most admire in him! Because the “sublimely beautiful” is sometimes not quite enough. I have too many existential questions to be satisfied with just the sublime, I’m afraid, and if I had to choose just one poet to help me to die I think I’d prefer knotty little Emily over John Donne, Tom, Bob, or the Bible.

  2. Franz Wright said,

    January 21, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    This is a perfectly awful poem. Franz W

  3. thomasbrady said,

    January 21, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    But a much better poem, certainly, than the one which begins,

    Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
    Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
    And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
    Darken with kindness.
    They have come gladly out of the willows

    There’s quite an expanse, after all, of “perfectly awful.” This Wright poem, for instance, is covered in ice, in the deepest bowels of hell. Christopher’s is a good deal closer to the light.

  4. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 22, 2010 at 12:55 am

    My ADSL has been out, as it often is in the remote places in the world where people still talk to each other, and I come back yet again to find myself entirely out of the loop.

    Tom, saints are not fools until the word “saint” becomes turgid, sentimental, and familiar. At that point, what a saint used to be becomes so distorted that it’s assumed such people are good, sweet, and sensible, whereas in the same context they’re as melancholy as they’re funny, don’t pay much attention to their wardrobes, tend to make faux pas in public and even wet their pants if they have to and don’t much care if they do. They also work wonders as if they were common occurrences, don’t see anything wrong with blasphemy, live on the wrong side of the tracks, often in cardboard, but have no aversion to living in palaces either if that’s where they happen to be — and frequently do. Finally, they almost never figure out what they want to be before they grow up and, of course, almost never grow up.

    I don’t “scorn saints as ‘fools’ with a straight face” in my poem at all, Tom, I play with the words. The accusation that the final section is “didactic” would imply that it teaches something comprehensible (i.e. NOT poetic), but if you follow through the dynamics of the poem you’ll see that the ending is entirely poetic, and that it uses words like “priests” and “doctors,” “saints” and “fools” as William Blake does, or Philip Larkin.

    And I think Franz’s “perfectly awful” does just fine, and the beauty of it is that I have no idea whether he thinks the poem is good or bad, just pleased that he understands what I’m trying to “say,” so to speak.

    C.

  5. January 22, 2010 at 1:09 am

    A farewell to all my internet friends.

    I am available now only on paper.

    My words were writ on electrons. Harr…
    iet.

    http://recently-banned-literature.blogspot.com/2010/01/haiti.html

  6. thomasbrady said,

    January 22, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    Gary, the revenant, doing ‘the end is near’ dance.

    Very good, then. Carry on.

    Christopher:

    “Prose is sensible, poetry imaginal, and they speak different languages and fulfill different needs.”

    I don’t think imagination belongs to poetry or prose exclusively; the imagination should always be involved, whatever the medium, whatever the activity. But if there is a distinction between prose and poetry—and I believe there is—this is exactly my point: to attempt to say everything in poetry cuts off the ends, the extremes, the north and south of expressiveness. Poe is accused of being “narrow” in his poetry; but this misses the big picture; the “narrowness” of his poetry exists because of the wide accomplishments of his prose. The icons of Modernism are narrow, in fact, because they produced no prose of merit, with the exception of Eliot’s essays, which, ironically, owe much to Poe, and also make a large number of bogus claims.

    The facade of Modernism keeps a great amount of ignorance intact.

    • Christopher Woodman said,

      January 23, 2010 at 3:51 am

      I agree with you entirely on that, Tom, the imagination should always be involved, and is, too, whenever any human idea or perception is incarnated in any language, visual, aural, or intellectual.

      Watson and Crick made their great scientific discovery by reactivating the ancient image of the copulating snakes. I had the privilege to spend some time with the latter at Cambridge and came to understand how his obsession with pornographic imagery connected to his work in the lab. He tapped the power of the universe in physical sex, which is, of course, what Tiger Woods did too, and I do hope the clinic he’s in is not going to rob him of his genius.

      The problem arises, of course, when the image becomes too literal, and then you get what Trungpa Rimpoche talks about in his book, “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism” — another great fornicator. The irony is that celibacy is in fact a much deeper way to explore the true mystery and grandeur of sex than promiscuity, which is always deadly because you eat your cake and then have nothing left in your mouth but yourself. That’s good too, but it tastes like ashes.

      I left Cambridge too early to find out if Francis Crick was able to develop beyond the relatively simple discovery of the double helix to the point where he could grasp the wisdom and spirit of the universe, and leave the sex alone.

      Take three poems, “Love” by George Herbert, “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats, and “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams, and trace the potency of the imagery. In the first poem the wisdom and spirit of the universe is still incarnate in the imagery, in the second it just leaves its footprints, indeed mourns it’s passing, and the third can no longer even tell you what it’s about — just that so much depends upon it, how you should talk about it, and how the imagery will operate in your next poem.

      That’s the modern loss. That’s the failure of the imagination — when the vast multiplicity of existence is reduced to what you can stage in a few acres at Disneyland, around an oval table at Iowa or Princeton, or in a factory that manufactures burt and flarf.

      • thomasbrady said,

        January 23, 2010 at 3:18 pm

        Christopher,

        But defenders of imagination might say that an ‘oval table at Iowa’ is all the imagination (and professor Burt) needs. College is not only where kids, for the first time away from home, learn of Herbert, but of sex, as well.

        But as I play devil’s advocate to your argument, I must acknowledge the rub: Jorie Graham + Oval Table at Iowa = Foetry.

        The Whitman post which I’m about to publish is actually a revenge story. I saw on Silliman’s blog that an Iowa professor is just publishing a new edition of “Democratic Vistas.” I know this professor from–an oval table at Iowa. I was a student in his seminar at U. Iowa, green and ignorant that his Whitman seminar was a thinly disguised research project for a book with the other grad students his willing slaves. My innocent objections to Whitman’s untouchable iconicism were treated with sneers of contempt and desperate alarm.

        The Oval Table at Iowa. Now that’s an iconic expression. Well done, my friend.

        Thomas

  7. wfkammann said,

    January 22, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    The poem has too many possibilities at the turns of lines. Too rich. Do we want to be the empty maiden or the hand of God stroking against the grain?

    to know those things
    it never sees or ever thinks
    but only dies to dream.

    Now THAT’S Romantic! or is it????
    Maybe death IS better than this dreamy ecstasy.

    • Christopher Woodman said,

      January 23, 2010 at 4:02 am

      Isn’t that the point, Bill, and why it has to be said in a poem and not prose?

      “Ode to a Nightingale” and “Ode to a Skylark.”

      “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”

      We are the empty maiden, at least if we allow ourselves to be stroked by the hand of God in our most vulnerable places. That’s how we come alive, not how we die. We come alive and then we die!

      Ecstasy is the hardest experience to write about simply because it is, in your words, Bill, “too rich” — too “perfectly awful” in Franz Wright’s.

      But why should we be afraid of that? Why shouldn’t we rush in where angels fear to tread? What have we to fear but to perish?

      C.

      • wfkammann said,

        January 24, 2010 at 1:23 am

        Perhaps the rosy maiden facing left has nothing “down below” but a mass of clay covered in wet linen. (Just a maiden’s head to make the study less scholastic) Your poem seems to contrast the clods with some other ecstasy and just what is that? La petit mort? Thought Dürer’s Sol Justitiae had something to say for itself.

        http://www.artchive.com/web_gallery/A/Albrecht-Durer/Sol-Justitiae-(or-The-Judge).html

        Put down the pen for a minute and take up the sword.

    • Christopher Woodman said,

      January 24, 2010 at 12:55 am

      Tom asks in his very first comment:

      How can anyone TELL us what Leonardo painted? Why would anyone set themselves a task like that? It’s a recipe for pedantic disaster.

      But the poem has no concrete “whatness” in it whatsoever, and predicates nothing but emptiness — which is why it has to have that footnote. Because the poem in fact doesn’t do what it sets out to do, which is to depict (or explain, even worse) what Leonardo “painted.” In that sense the poem is certainly a success/failure.

      Any poem that has to have a footnote is a failure anyway.

      Bill Kammann writes:

      The poem has too many possibilities at the turns of lines. Too rich. Do we want to be the empty maiden or the hand of God stroking against the grain?

      And that’s a problem too, because if we’re not 1.) one we can’t either 2.) become or 3.) experience the other — a pretty muddle, sort of like the Trinity.

      So where’s the picture, Tom?

      The only comprehensible, i.e. “sensible,” image in the poem is the chrysallis, and that’s pretty terrific if not obscene.

      The “didactic” ending is of course the weakest part of the poem, but I’d rather risk that criticism than end up with a poem that can be dismissed as a “dreamy ecstasy,” please, which this poem is decidedly NOT.

      It’s very failure ensures that it keeps it’s feet firmly on the ground.

      So we risk failures in poetry to achieve minor successes — which is what I think Franz Wright also meant by “perfectly awful.”

      C.

      • Christopher Woodman said,

        January 24, 2010 at 1:44 am

        And then W.F.Kammann wrote:

        Put down the pen for a minute and take up the sword.

        Here in the sex clinic of my old age I’m not even allowed to masturbate.

        ~

      • thomasbrady said,

        January 24, 2010 at 1:59 am

        Christopher,

        I don’t think Franz is a terribly complicated person. I think he meant exactly what he said: “perfectly awful.”

        Franz’s poetry is vastly simple.

        Now, you might say ‘vastly simple’ is close to ‘perfectly awful’ and perhaps you’d be right. But then you are a very complicated hombre.

        A poem that explains itself as it moves along tends to get even worse the more explanation is added after the poem is read.

        A poem moves from A to B, just as an explanation does, but that’s where the resemblance ends.

        Thomas

  8. January 22, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    Revenant, he said. Indeed…I am the voice of the dead.

    Once, in my desperation and despair, I wrote a letter to William Blake.

    He never wrote back.

  9. thomasbrady said,

    January 22, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    Gary,

    To what address did you mail the letter?

    Tom

  10. January 22, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    To God.

    He never wrote back.

  11. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 23, 2010 at 1:29 am

    I got it, Gary, but you expressly announced that nobody should write back.

  12. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 24, 2010 at 3:51 am

    A “perfectly awful” poem on the same theme that I never could have or would ever have wanted to have written but still really like and which is why I know Franz Wright also meant what I thought he meant as well when he said my poem was “perfectly awful” too:

    ~

    To

    Before you were I loved you
    and when you were born
    and when you took your first step
    Although I did not know
    good luck I want to say

    lone penguin keep sturdily waddling
    in the direction of those frozen mountains sister
    of desolate sanctity
    I want to scream
    Although I did not know you

    I loved you later on
    as just a weedy thing
    a little skeleton I loved
    Both long pre-you a child myself
    and as a man in retrospect

    I loved and I was there
    while they were raping you
    I loved although
    like God
    that’s all that I could do—

    ………………………………Franz Wright, Poetry (Dec. 2009)

  13. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 25, 2010 at 1:16 am

    Still thinking about it, Franz.

    I like the way you express your impotence in “Although I did not know” and “Although I did not know you,” and use the capitals to make that structure clear — and then go beyond even that by placing the last 7 lines following the capital ‘B’ in the same parenthetical structure, as it were, so that it reads “a child myself … like God that’s all that I could do —”

    “like God” indeed, implicated even in the “while they were raping you.”

    Awful indeed as well, Tom and Franz, but that’s where we complicated hombres go/are.

    Here’s how I once said it in a poem written at the same time as “Leonardo Amongst Women:”

    ~

    LIFE CLASS

    The merest daub you say
    will do it.

    This undressed girl beside the vase
    will satisfy my lust
    for meaning even if
    her unlaced body wilts
    upon the stand.

    Afterwards she draws her belt
    tight about her waist
    and leaning slightly forward on the stool
    gazes at my work.

    I explain that relics
    start like this—

    the silver mantle is for later,
    the mirror last
    of all.

    The still, god-wrapped girl meanwhile
    like all the rest
    bows down in yet
    another’s arms.

    ~

  14. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 25, 2010 at 3:12 am

    I got so carried away with my own poem that I forgot to mention the “perfectly” awful parts of To.

    The kitsch in the poem reaches its apotheosis in indiscretions like “I want to scream,” though the capital on the “I” helps there too, particularly as it was forced upon the poet by English usage so he can disavow responsibility for it. But it’s awful nevertheless, and as tasteless as those penguins which remind me of the snapping marionettes in Barbarella, wasn’t it? Or were they dolls?

    And the enjambement blocked by the capital ‘B,’ that’s really, really awful — and yes, of course, like Barbarella herself, my heroine too. Franz Wright as the organist. Milo O’Shea, remember?

    “Sort of nice, isn’t it?” Barbarella says under the prosodic covers.

  15. thomasbrady said,

    January 25, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    “Snapping marionettes” or “dolls” reminds me of Bladerunner, one of my favorite films. Sometimes atmosphere is all a film requires.

    Franz happened onto a nice conceit, which few can resist. ‘Who shall star in my poems?’ ‘God.’ And since the subject is over-much, the humble, over-plain speech of contemporary poetry provides balance. Add some pain and some wonder in spite of that pain, and there you go.

    God isn’t nice to me.
    Is he nice to you?

    These lines, which I just composed, (I know I’m such a smarty-pants horror) sort of sum up Franz Wright’s poetry for me.

    Actually, “Life Class” by Woodman is a much better poem than “To” by Wright. Just sayin’.

  16. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 26, 2010 at 12:47 am

    If you gave 100 individuals 100 vases, all of which measured approximately the same, smallish, let’s say, 3″ across at the open end, 4″ at the base and between 10″ and 11″ in height, all green as if glazed with rain water against identical backgrounds of almost the same hue in the shape of barrows, and three generous piles of clippings to choose one spray from each, one of flat glossy leaves, one of identical white bursts of blossoms and one of black pussy-willow stems, some water and a pair of secateurs, and the individuals had all morning and the prize would be whatever each wanted most in life of all, and among those 100 individuals were Franz Wright, Christopher Woodman, an Ikebana master, a housewife, a fishmonger, and Helen Vendler, and all the rest were children between 8 and when you grow up, if ever, who would most likely be “much better?”

    And how would you judge?

    I bet the one that was most perfectly awful would win, just as I think we would all choose in “To,” as I certainly did, the image of the lone penguin sturdily waddling in the direction of those frozen mountains sister, for sure, or in “Life Class” even if her unlaced body wilts upon the stand — but in the latter case it’s hard because there are so few signs of mastery or strain.

    But commitment is still the winner, isn’t it, whatever Kent Johnson or Henry Gould so breezily assert? Which was your point when all this started, Franz, of course, but why you thought you had to say it still beats me.

  17. thomasbrady said,

    January 26, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    Christopher,

    Are they drawing those vases, painting them, painting on them, writing poems on them? Lovely set-up, but then I got lost.

    A poem must make its own context. Today we’re lazy. Franz’s penguin image is sentimentally crappy or very moving, depending on how you choose to view it. But that’s the problem. If there’s a choice, the poem fails.

    Thomas

  18. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 26, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    How do you paint with secateurs, Tom — or what would a fishmonger or even Helen Vendler know what to do with “some water” if they weren’t Philip Larkin and were still expected to write a poem, or Franz Wright if they were just drawing, though of course they might be hewing water, and that would suit him?

    I would say that, on the contrary, if there’s no choice a poem fails, indeed that that’s the difference between poetry and prose. The prose writer writes to restrict choices, and the poet to prove that had you taken that path in the wood and not the other it wouldn’t have made any difference at all! Because, of course, it’s the dactyl at the end that makes that poem as well as ruins it, undermining all the good and sensible choices that had come in the good words before.

  19. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 27, 2010 at 3:30 am

    What has kept my interest in “The Road Not Taken” for so many years is that the poem does, in fact, peter out at the end, almost amateurishly, I would say, and in so doing all the wonderful American things it’s supposed to be saying about Free Choice and Individuality become vulgar and cheap. And yes, my reading is a “choice,” and it’s not one that’s going to appeal to those who need the poem to say something wise and up-lifting either. On the other hand, it’s clearly the poem’s genius.

    In my view Robert Frost is a far greater poet when one factors in the flaws in his character instead of hiding them. Far from diminishing his message, the ambiguities, the “choices” one has to make in his poems in the light of his enigmatic, indeed unattractive personality, make whatever he says of far greater and more lasting human value.

    Did anyone ever ask Shakespeare to be consistent, moral, or nice, or even care? (Try reading “Directive” again in this light.)

    If you’re still listening, Franz Wright, you might want to consider this in your own case, and hold your curmudgeonly genius closer to your chest, and guard it with more personal silence — as Frost did.

    And, needless to say, rough Scarriet is far more likely to understand and appreciate you than bland Harriet or Digitalemunction with their flunkies, Kent Johnson, Henry Gould and what’s his name — I can’t even remember.

    It will never be comfortable for you here, but at least you don’t have to worry about flattery, or people shamelessly hanging on to your coat-tails, or peeing on your pedigree just to be near you and look good.

    When we pee on you here we water your plant.

    Christopher

  20. thomasbrady said,

    January 27, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    I’m sure Franz reads us—when he’s in a fog and can tolerate some honesty.

    Christopher, when I was talking about ‘choice,’ I was speaking in very technical aesthetic terms, a mundane assertion, perhaps, that contra Emerson, consistency is a virtue. How much traffic do you want on the road of your poem? Enough to erase it? I don’t think anyone is that self-effacing, though the aesthetic self-effacement strategy is often taken by frauds who hide behind humility…

    Goodness, look at the pablum poets talk today. Rae Armantrout in a recent interview. She’s more thoughtful than most, but listen to this crap. This is intellectually retarded. Letters sucks today because everyone nods sagely when they hear this:

    “The poetry I am most interested in charges the language with more than one possible meaning or emotional register. It brings different realms of discourse together to see how they get along or don’t. I think that causes a reader to slow down and really look at the words, to think twice. It’s a good way to teach critical reading or listening. It should also be a pleasure.”

    This foggy pretentious rhetoric, with the underlying assumption that it’s the childish reader’s fault if they don’t ‘slow down, to catch the sensitive profundities…

    There would be no ‘choice’ in the Frost poem unless Frost gave the reader no choice but to read his poem as a ‘choice’ poem.

  21. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 28, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Very well taken points.

    What’s so pernicious about Rae Armantrout’s poetry, at least as much of it as I have read, and I confess I’m so prejudiced against it at this point I no longer even try, is that it does precisely “cause a reader to slow down and really look at the words,” but what you “think twice” about when you do that is not what the poem is saying but what Rae Armantrout is doing to tie it up in knots. In other words, a Rae Armantrout poem is a self-conscious, onanistic fiddle because, as she admits, she writes her poetry to satisfy those who get their kicks out of “critical reading or listening.”

    Fair enough, but I get mine out of reading poetry, not knots, kinks and tickles, and out of participating, not just listening.

    And yes indeed to your last sentence, Tom — “”There would be no ‘choice’ in the Frost poem unless Frost gave the reader no choice but to read his poem as a ‘choice’ poem.”

    Which is why I trust Frost and not her. And of course why Rae Armantrout is never read by anyone outside of academia, and moving on a bit from there, why no poetry to speak of in America is read outside of academia by anyone at all.

    “It should also be a pleasure,” she says, but it’s the very special sort of pleasure some people get from belonging to a club other people can’t enter.

    And since there aren’t that many poetry jobs out there either, the club is very, very particular.

    As I’m sure you would agree, Tom, in my Father’s House there’s a small dwelling somewhere for Rae Armantrout. There’s also, I know you feel, another more spacious one for John Ashbery, but it’s still on the same short American block. The sad part is that our MFA Fundamentalists today don’t realize how many other mansions there could be in contemporary Parnassus, and how much richer, larger and more comfortable, yet simpler, less torturous the furnishings might be!

  22. thomasbrady said,

    January 28, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    Christopher,

    Ever since deconstruction came along, certain intellectuals have been living in this post-philosophical age, where philosophy from Plato to Hegel is no longer trustworthy and “anti-philosophy” from Nietzsche through Rorty is the ruling intellectual trope; well there’s a lot of problems with the “post-” thinking, the first being that philosophers like Plato and Hegel anticipated deconstruction.

    Anyway, I think what’s happened is that a lot of discredited and nutty deconstructionist philosophical ideas are playing out in contemporary poetry, precisely because this is the only place where they can linger, since philosophers want to be philosophers and those in other fields want to get on with their work, so the poets, at least poets like Armantrout and her school, are still carrying the post-philosophy torch.

    The deconstructionists don’t trust the “argument” of a “text;” they only trust the “text” of the “argument.” They don’t believe in the house; they only believe in the bricks, or, the atoms in the bricks, and because we can’t see atoms, they think we can’t see the house. They reject Hegel’s Reason and don’t seem to understand how they are stuck in what Hegel’s Understanding.

    This sort of thinking will produce a lot of smug, incomprehensible poetry.

    Not that MFA poets read Hegel, necessarily. They swim in a philosophical atmosphere which has been handed down to them, and which they haven’t really thought through.

    Franz Wright has a poem in Best American Poetry, 2006, Guest Editor, Billy Collins. Wright’s poem forces you to see things in a certain way; it doesn’t give you any choices. It doesn’t defer meaning in a cute way. It grabs its subject by the throat. He compares dying to being born, and ends the poem describing when you come out of the birth canal: “it’s dark, as I recall, then bright, so bright.” It’s called “A Happy Thought.”

    Franz is, in many ways, an old fashioned poet. Not too many “choices” in the birth canal.

    Thomas

  23. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 29, 2010 at 4:05 am

    It’s precisely this kind of poem of Franz Wright’s I had in mind, Tom — the fact that Franz is so curmudgeonly yet incapable of keeping his mouth shut is what has made such an interesting poet out of him, almost in spite of the fact that he’s his father’s son. Because, of course, such perfectly awful poetry (his phrase, don’t forget!) is unreadable unless you take it for granted that he has made the choice to live with his perfectly awful taste and self, which he clearly has, and to turn to poetry to exorcize them both.

    Like this:

    Assuming this is the last day of my life
    (which might mean it is almost the first),
    I’m struck blind but my blindness is bright.

    What you get here is a platitude followed immediately by a cliché, and who would ever be allowed such awful stuff unless you were pretty sure the poet knew it was awful and was willing not only to live with it but to try to make the best out of it? That’s truly a deliberate choice, and in my estimation a poetic one. Indeed, I feel sure that that’s what Robert Frost did too when he wrote that equally gauche line, “and that has made all the difference.”

    Frost, of course, has as his safety net not a famous father but the iambic pentameter, which he’s good at. He’s also got a reputation for sagacity he knows very well he doesn’t deserve, and constantly makes the choice to let the reader see through him if he or she is willing to and/or ready to (not always the same, and why poetry can be so important). So Frost sets his own traps to expose himself as a perfectly awful loser, and in so doing provides the most wonderful homeopathic medicine for those who have seen through their own pretensions and would now love to do something about it.

    I remember once decades and decades ago when I lay in a small bed in a farmhouse in Sussex so fed up with myself that in America the doctor would have come running with antidepressants. Instead a close friend of mine who was the director of Weleda (U.K.) at the time gave me an injection that should have killed me, but instead allowed me to have a “happy thought” (the name of Franz Wright’s poem, don’t forget). This was long before I became a poet, and it’s only now I understand the benefits of perfectly awful metaphors like the ingredients of that perfectly awful shot: 1.) North Sea water, 2.) gold, 3.) bee stings.

    It was dark as I recall, then bright, so bright.

    I like Franz Wright’s poetry because it is so awful. What I can’t bear is the people who would fawn over him, and I admire the way he dumps all over them like you, Tom, dump all over him. A bit like Norman Mailer, whom I also feel was really, really, really awful.

    Does anyone remember “In the Belly of the Beast,” or is it still too near his death to be so disrespectful?

  24. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 29, 2010 at 4:34 am

    I agree with Tom that Woodman’s probably is a better poem than Wright’s, but where Wright has the advantage over Woodman is that the former has a tin ear, a thick skin, and couldn’t care less about writing good poetry, just capitulates to his 12 step obsession with letting it all hang out in verse. And that’s a huge advantage on the poetry market as it lets us pedants and pettifoggers off the hook. When we can integrate such an awful, smelly poet in our gatherings we’ve got nothing else to hide but the wine and cheese, and that goes pretty fast.

    For example, here’s one of Woodman’s best known poems — I’m sure you all know it. Apparently Jeffrey Levine has still got it up on his notice board —that’s what he told the poet in any case, and nothing has happened subsequently to make him think it might not still be there. (If anyone’s passing through Tupelo they might check it out.)

    And such poems never do grow stale, do they?

    ~

    APOLOGIA PRO VITA AUTISTICA

    Is it to wash or pray we find
    ourselves upon our knees
    mute before this stain?

    These empty hands speak hours
    of doing other things and then
    something not so nice besides.

    Palm to palm they claim
    each other’s ears even when
    there’s nothing left to say.

    Sway back and forth, clap,
    tap a blade of grass and turn
    cartwheels down the stairs

    and drill that time and time
    can spin, shake, tilt & wring
    a certain starry whiteness in.

    ~

    Christopher Woodman, everybody. Let’s give him a hand anyway.

  25. thomasbrady said,

    January 30, 2010 at 3:05 am

    My dear Woodman,

    So we sit here on this island, talking to one another.

    And Franz is out there, circling, silent, deadly.

    LOL

    Woodman, you are selfless, selfless as a saint, but you can’t defend yourself in the dialectic of coarse humanity. Franz W drops a bomb, ‘perfectly awful’ and you keep repeating the phrase, as if to rid yourself of it.

    I notice in your two poems here, “Leonardo” and “Autistica,” there is no “I,” but a “we,” as the narrator speaks for all. Even “Life Class” has an “I,” but look at what the “I” does: “I explain”

    You are pedagogical. You put yourself at the head of the classroom. As a poet and a person of course you are not alone in this. But you substitute a great deal, in what has been called the key, by some, to poetry: you ride metaphor. You say this for that; you are ALWAYS indirect, even when you are being sensual.

    Compared to you, Mr. Wright is a kind of Caliban, reporting what he experiences in a staightforward, stark way.

    “I’m struck blind”

    “Even I can see”

    “I’m unable to recall anything that scared me”

    “What frightened me, apparently, and hurt/was being born”

    “But I got over that/with no hard feelings.”

    “It’s dark as I recall, then bright, so bright.”

    –A Happy Thought

    In the second stanza, however, a philosopher is glimpsed:

    “Prepare for what’s known here as death;/have no fear of that strange word forever.”

    The pedantic is kept under control. Experience finally overwhelms the speaker. With Wright, we’re closer to Romanticism than the urbane cleverness of modernism.

    The dark cloud with a Pulitzer sitting in the back of the classroom has insulted you, the radiant teacher, standing with mouth open in the front of the class: “perfectly awful.” Pedagogically you can always win, but his silence pulls the rug out from under you, and the moment of the sting, the brevity of the insult, the mystery of it, remains, Pater-like, profound for its momentariness.

    From where I’m standing, his only advantage over you is that he’s closer in spirit to the Romantics than you are; but you’re the better wordsmith, and ultimately you have more to teach us than he does.

    Brady

  26. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 31, 2010 at 6:12 am

    80% I agree with you — and that’s more than usual.

    I don’t agree with you that “perfectly awful” was just Franz dumping. He knows too much about dumps to be so simple-minded. He also knows too much about the word “awful,” and it means far too much to him to use either simply or just abusively. Indeed, the full “bouquet” of the word has kept him alive, even made a poet out of him, stench and all.

    That’s 10%.

    The other 10% is about “we,” which is more of a middle-way word for me than it is for you. I’ve grown into it as I’ve grown older, and my pretensions have shrunk. I couldn’t possibly write like Franz Wright does because I’m just not interested in most things about myself. I’m only interested in myself as an object lesson, and when I use “we” I place myself anonymously in the line-up and fully expect to be identified as the culprit.

    For example, the whole point of “Life Class” is that all such “I explain” explanations are washed away because beauty always does “lie down in yet another’s arms.” You can’t have it unless you worship it because, of course, it compromises itself every time. Only the icon remains faithful.

    Franz Wright will understand that.

    C.

    • Christopher Woodman said,

      February 1, 2010 at 1:49 am

      When the persona in “Life Class” says to the girl, who has just covered up her nakedness with the bathrobe, don’t forget, “I explain/that relics start like this,” he’s just chatting her up!

      And he’s chatting her up with Hegel, no less — as if he could get her to lie down in his arms with that sort of crap!

      That’s “we” too, that’s how I write about the self.

      (I had this experience when I was 19 at the Art Student’s League. I even remember the model’s name…)

  27. thomasbrady said,

    January 31, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    Christopher,

    Well, it always comes down to covering up, doesn’t it? Whether it’s your model in “Life Class,” the indirect address of a slightly mysterious poem, the thoughts we have that others cannot quite read, all the motives and strategies of human life, the uncertainty, the modesty, the white lies, the cowardice, the love.

    Your faith in Franz is admirable.

    The poet obeys two things: his vision and the shadows…

    Thomas

  28. Christopher Woodman said,

    February 1, 2010 at 1:38 am

    Thanks for that, Tom. Makes my day.

    Cover ups, yes — like the whole God thing. I call it “God’s absence” — Franz calls it “God’s silence.”

    That was one of the main reasons I offered my “Leonardo Amongst Women” to him on this thread, not because it was a great poem that I wanted to show off with but because it had great things to say in the context of who he is, what he writes about, and what makes him so angry!

    God could create only by hiding himself. Otherwise there would be nothing but himself.

    Holiness should then be hidden too, even from consciousness in a certain measure. And it should be hidden in the world.

    Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace

    • Christopher Woodman said,

      February 1, 2010 at 4:03 am

      And thanks also for your dogged resistance to what I’ve been trying to say throughout this torturous thread — you’re a wonderful devil’s advocate. And what an irony, because it’s that very quality that Harriet fired you for yet needs most at the moment! Because nobody remaining on Harriet would ever dare take the risks you do in every word you write.

      And you know why?

      Because you’re such a rare conundrum — a truly great and established American critic who couldn’t care less about who he is, where he works, or whose reputations he’s making or breaking. You’re your own man, Thomas Brady — everybody else on Blog:Harriet is somebody else’s. And I mean everybody, even what’s her name who stuck to what’s his name the walrus on the Speakeasy and betrayed her true friend, or the guy with the bees in his bonnet, or Gary Fitzgerald, the great-hearted poet with the bair-trigger.

      So scroll back and look at what got said in the second comment on this FOR FRANZ WRIGHT thread:

      “…the “sublimely beautiful” covers up a whole multitude of complicated disappointments, perversities and conundrums, and “saying what needs to be said,” and I mean what REALLY needs to be said, can’t be achieved without coming up against not only the inexpressible but the paradoxical and the absurd.”

      And, of course, the unacceptable, which is your particular niche, Tom. You said things on Harriet that not only couldn’t be said, but said them over and over again with a sweetness and tolerance that even the red-stained bludgeons supported by the Lilly millions couldn’t deal with. So you got banned.

      And that’s true.

  29. Wfkammann said,

    February 1, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Yes, that’s what I meant by “take up the sword.”

    Christopher will kill you in the end anyway, of course, but this self conscious poetic agonizing is what gets on your nerves. Out from behind the education; confronting the keepers of the keys. There IS a choice which artfice reveals (not conceals) in Frost. Mozart was no angel either. A quick hand-held video of the night market meat market and toppled spirit houses. A seamy surface with room to think and imagine and tingle with some emotion or other.

  30. Christopher Woodman said,

    February 3, 2010 at 4:01 am

    Of course there are moments in the evolution of a poem when the author takes revenge on his or her own good intentions and deliberately complicates the plot. This is dishonest, but the artist knows that sometimes even the best intentions are dishonest too, the result of naivete, self-delusion, or hyprocricy. So the complication can be a second wrong that makes a right — in art two wrongs quite often do what they’re not supposed to do in real life.

    I suspect “and that has made all the difference” was like that, sort of like throwing up the board when you know the checker game is lost, or shooting your opponent in the saloon before he shoots you first for cheating.

    “Like a patient etherized upon a table” is another very good example.

    But what that takes is a certain courage on the part of the artist, to risk losing control without making losing control an actual strategy. In the second case, deliberate obfuscation, you get much of modern art, in the first, self-ridicule or abnegation, much of great art.

  31. Christopher Woodman said,

    February 4, 2010 at 9:04 am

    Of course, it’s almost impossible to trace the stages a poem goes through in its genesis, but wouldn’t it be interesting to know at what point Frost came up with the last line in “The Road Not Taken?” Because this, the metrically weakest line in the whole poem, “and that has made all the difference,” obviously complicates the poem, changing its direction if not undermining it entirely. Yet what is so surprising, indeed astonishing, about the line is that it accomplishes this reversal so subtly that the poem is still usually taught as if the last line affirmed the earlier, more confident assertions — which, once you’ve ’seen’ it, it so obviously doesn’t.

    The poem speaks against itself, in fact, and the poet undermines his own poetic credentials. Because “The Road Not Taken” doesn’t say the choice has made all the difference, it says it has made no difference at all, the final two dactyls deflating the earlier, wiser and more sensible iambics entirely — i.e. it’s a mess at the end!

    It’s only if you’re really sensitive and ready for it that the last line can help you to understand that NO road is ever “less travelled” what is more direct or more individual, and that whatever you do in life bears fruit only after you admit you’re lost, confused and infertile!

    And that takes some courage, and also some years, bad experiences, heart break, self-betrayals and wrinkles.

    The same applies to the famous simile at the very beginning of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” — and wouldn’t it be fascinating to know the genesis of that one as well. When did Eliot get to it?

    To start with, it’s important to notice that the simile, “a patient etherised upon a table,” doesn’t come up on its own but is already part of an earlier, evolving metaphor. “Let us go then, you and I,/ when the evening” is a literal narration until the arrival of the phrase “spread out,” which is metaphorical. Evenings come but they don’t “spread out” unless you substitute a picture for that time of day called the evening, and evenings, of course, vary considerably. So if you write “spread out against the sky in a beautiful panorama of red,” you have already pictured the evening as a sunset in place of just a time of day, and if you decide to describe the sunset as “gold” or “purple” instead of as just “red,” then the picture becomes even more imaginary — perhaps an icon, or a modern painting, or a graphic that has been photo-shopped.

    But in the poem, the sunset picture quite suddenly spreads itself out into something really, really bizarre and unnerving, a body lying comatose upon an operating table, of all places — and in so doing, according to some critics, changes the whole history of modern poetry in an instant.

    Which is neither here nor there as far as the poem is concerned, and in any case debatable.

    Then the next 5 lines revert to the literal, describing the streets we’re invited to go out into as any number of early modern novelists did in much the same way — until exactly the same figurative strategy suddenly kicks in, but in a non-pictorial way this time. In the first image, the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient, but now the streets are “followed” like a tedious argument, and though “follow” is not quite as metaphorical as “spread out,” it is still shocking enough to confirm where we are — in some sort of perverse, introverted, neurasthenic nightmare.

    And it would certainly be interesting to know when exactly Eliot allowed the poem to become so personal and depressing, indeed to deflate all the beauty so marvellously cadenced in the rest of the words in the passage. And of course the magic of the poem lies in the beauty of those cadences combined with an existential dilemma that makes beauty as well as life almost intolerable.

    The choice was not necessarily there from the start in either poem, that’s my point. Some things are really hard to say, and as poets we often find ourselves saying things we don’t really intend to say, what’s more understand once we have said them, or feel comfortable about, ever.
    ~
    I KNOW this happened in the last part of the poem that I posted at the very beginning of this thread, “Leonardo Amongst Women.” Indeed, I found the kink or doodle that turned it in on itself some years after I wrote the poem. And as I discovered this mysterious opening at the end, I felt so relieved, so much more honest. Indeed, the poem had at last managed to say what I didn’t want to admit to myself at the beginning of the poem, that the meaning of life is only manageable when we admit there’s no meaning in it at all, and that God only speaks through his perfect, not “silence” in my experience, Franz, but absence — so to speak.
    ~
    And that’s sort of what I thought you meant when you described “Leonardo Amongst Women” as “perfectly awful.”

    Oh well.

    Christopher

  32. Christopher Woodman said,

    February 6, 2010 at 2:44 am

    If you read over the end of my penultimate paragraph you will see why what was said in “Leonardo Amongst Women” could NEVER be said in prose!

    Because the problem with using the word “God” in prose is that you have to qualify what you mean, or don’t mean, by the term, and God forbid if you’re a Fundamentalist, whereas in poetry it’s permissible to be as much of a Fundamentalist as you want, and you don’t even have to apologize or shoot somebody to hold on to your position — what is more be like me, just plain in the dark.

    That’s why “Leonardo Amongst Women” is NOT DIDACTIC.

    Get back to me on that, Tom, Bill or Franz.

    C.

  33. Christopher Woodman said,

    February 6, 2010 at 5:00 am

    Honestly, the “didactic” dismissal is a conventional “move,” in Mike Young’s sense, but in the modern critical as opposed to creative tool bag. What it’s suggesting is that, shudder, the poet has something to teach, that the poet is using his or her poem as a pulpit. In fact, what it’s really saying is that the reader of “modern poetry” is opposed to poetry meaning anything at all, and in that sense annuls poetry’s whole purpose, which is to speak as clearly as possible in tongues.

    C.

  34. thomasbrady said,

    February 6, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Christopher,

    I admire how much you, as the poet, fight back for your poem—and Terreson would be proud. It seems you can’t shake Franz Wright’s “awful” remark. But every remark can be re-marked.

    I just read your penultimate stanza out-loud:

    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—

    “Nor like the genius maiden be the empty vessel it desires”

    That’s good stuff, and I can see why you can’t forgive Wright’s put-down. Wright would probably wet himself if he wrote something like that. He’d go about murmuring those lines to himself for days—like a tune that gets stuck in one’s head.

    I’m a little disappointed with the gold/lead ending…it seems a rather trite way to end a masterpiece…I’m sure you had your reasons for ending it this way, but if the poet sees more reasons that the reader disaster may result…

    Thomas

  35. Franz Wright said,

    February 7, 2010 at 11:13 am

    Who ARE you amateurs anyway–I suppose it is nice that this site gives you something to do with your time, but the relentless third rate intellectual jawing is pretty spooky, as is your obsession with me. I only got involved in this thing in the first place because I was responding to the soulless fool who was mocking my father’s “The Blessing”, a poem of great emotional depth, primal sincerity, skill, craft and clarity– qualities lacking in the Woodman poem,incidentally, which is not a poem at all but a series of clotted, vague ideas expressed in some purplish form of prose, embarrassingly bad prose, with linebreaks–and I cannot imagine who that idiot is, though I can assure him that this much loved and admired poems, one of the few that will be remembered when people look at mid-20th century American poetry, is in fact an entity more actual, more real than he is: those simple radiant words will be discovered and rediscovered again and again in the future by the sensitive and intelligent people who will take comfort in their beauty and humanity when his brutish soul has vanished, having left nothing of interest or value behind, and he himself ceases to exist as anything but an a few anonymous fragments of bone in the ground. I have no idea who you are, C. Woodman, T. Brady–I perceive in your words no talent either for art or for intellectual endeavors, but that is no business of mine. I am astounded by your inability to leave my name alone, and I suppose it is a bit flattering, but it is also bizarre and embarrassing. Do you think you’ve had enough yet? In any event, I came back to look and this and simply could not believe it, and will not make the same mistake again, rest assured. FW

  36. thomasbrady said,

    February 7, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Christopher.

    The gentleman with the anthologized dad is back, playing the ‘you are amateurs’ card.

    His speech is full of wounded pride and indirection, but I’ll interpret his ape display for you.

    Using the word “amateurs” is the ape’s way of identifying himself with John Crowe Ransom’s New Critic academics who came out of Van-duh-bilt after getting indoctrinated at Ox-fuhd and made po-e-tray into a stuffed shirt fest of professionalized goons with their prizes and awards. Ransom made this division when he and his friends invented the Creative Writing industry:

    Amateurs review poems in the newspapers.

    Professionals are SCIENTIFIC ACADEMICS OF POETRY WHO PRACTICE IN THE UNIVERSI-TEE AND DON’T YOU FERGIT IT.

    Scarriet is a mere newspapuh, with no academic CREDENTILISMS.

    The ape wants to make this clear.

    So, the ape, who on one hand boasts he was “homeless” for years, now, in a greater fury, comes to us wearing his suit and tie, calling us “ama-tuhs.”

    His daddy knew people and therefore we are mere “amateurs.”

    By the time he was 30, the ape’s daddy had a poem of wretched bombast in the 1960 edition of “Understanding Poetry,” the New Critic’s bible, sitting next to poems by Pound, this poem by James W. a Robert Lowell/Dylan Thomas hybrid piece of garbage called “At The Slackening Of The Tide,” in which the chief trope is the poet’s insincere whining. “Abstract with terror of the shell, I stared/over the waters” and “Root up a seaweed from the water,/To stuff it in my mouth, or deaden me” Ego gone mad, self-pitying oratory of the worst sort…Romanticism without any of the art…Mr. W. obviously had an ‘in’ with the editors, who, as New Critics, trained at Oxford, should have sent this poem about a man stuffing seaweed in his mouth packing…but the New Critics were frauds…there was no discrimination in their judgments except…are you in my clique and do you have good scotch?

    Already they are forgotten, these New Critics, only “amateurs” like us even care about them anymore, and so will the ape’s daddy be forgotten, especially since “The Blessing” is a mucky, maudlin horror…you would have to hunt down obscure rock lyrics from the 60s to find swill like that…

    As for the ape himself, will he be forgotten?

    The jury is still out.

    It depends on how nice he is to others.

    Thomas

    • Christopher Woodman said,

      February 8, 2010 at 11:04 am

      Amateurs? What’s that, poets who don’t have academic positions?

      It would make for an interesting article to consider how many poets in the past have been “professionals,” that is who got paid to write and talk about poetry. Indeed, can you think of any poet until very recently in America who was a “professional” in this sense? Yes, there were one or two who were journalists, and quite a number in the 19th century, mainly women, made some money by publishing what they wrote. But would you have called them “professionals?”

      Did the grant from Wedgwood make Coleridge a professional, or the family money behind Shelley? Or a wheeler-dealer like Shakespeare even — does theatre management qualify you as a professional when it comes to your poetry? Or being a parson?

      Or even in our own times? Can we call poets professionals who have been bankers, life insurance executives, radio announcers, doctors, midwives, estate managers, bartenders, lawyers, tramps and traveling players?

      Of course, Franz Wright’s real point point is that when it comes to poetry, if you aren’t on the in you can’t sing!

      Odd, isn’t it. Franz Wright of all people ostracizing the marginal, championing everything he’s not!

  37. Christopher Woodman said,

    February 8, 2010 at 3:56 am

    Re. Franz Wright’s analysis of my poem just above: “a series of clotted, vague ideas expressed in some purplish form of prose, embarrassingly bad prose, with line breaks.”

    Before this came up, I had already started thinking along the same lines in relation to Cynthia Cruz’s poem in The New Yorker which we have been discussing on another thread. Indeed, almost all Franz Wright’s observations about my poem would apply even more aptly to the latter, because “Diagnostic” is much less linked to a recognizable poetic rhythm than mine is. The images are also more deliberately “clotted” in keeping with the state of mind the poem is exploring, the images are so purple they make you feel queasy, and the line breaks so iconoclastic they destroy any vestige of the old regular line. Given all that, Cynthia Cruz does something really surprising, a capitulation which I suspect may have come from The New Yorker editors with an eye for the page — she capitalizes the first word in each line even though, as Thomas Brady points out, the lines are just about as anti-line as you can get. And I’d say it works, and I say thanks!

    As to me, I removed the capitals from an earlier version of “Leonardo Amongst Women” specifically because I wanted to move the poem AWAY from its slightly old fashioned diction and imagery to achieve more a whispering than a formal recitation. I also displaced the words “live” and “be” in the lines just below to make them less obviously metrical — they’re straight iambic, of course, as is most of the poem. Finally, I made a Cynthia Cruz like “move” in displacing the “no more” to a line of it’s own, thus deliberately hiding the formal stanza arrangement in the last 3 lines. I was, of course, trying to make the poem pretend to be “embarrassingly bad prose” whereas it was really unabashed poetry — like the sentiments and the message of Franz. Indeed, I thought a reader like him would find the poetry too obvious — but obviously he dumped before he looked!

    What an irony!

    So here’s how the earlier version of my poem looked — and I must say, with Franz Wright’s permission, I’m tempted to restore it!

    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 fools
    And all our gold is lead!

    I was trying to get out from under the shadow of William Blake, among others, and I ended up as Franz Wright’s shadow!

  38. February 7, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    And so. yet again, Gulliver visits Lilliput.

  39. thomasbrady said,

    February 7, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    You are a giant, Gary, and thank you for your giant presence.

  40. February 7, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    And you, Tom, as usual, come off a little too sarcastic…

    and somewhat arrogant.

  41. February 8, 2010 at 12:00 am

    Sorry…a bit harsh, I admit. I’m Sorry. I’m having a horrible month and it’s cold and grey and rainy and I’m broke and my computer’s fucked up and I’m depressed and drunk to boot. But…

    I put a poem on Harriet and one on Mark Doty’s blog and another one on Annie Finch’s blog. Ha ha ha ha ha !!!!

    I wouldn’t be forced to do this if you people would just buy the fookin’ books so I could pay the damned rent!!!

  42. February 8, 2010 at 1:21 am

    And, ahem…speaking of sarcastic…surely you recognize the Gulliver to whom I referred.

    Unfortunately, I am but a Yahoo.

  43. thomasbrady said,

    February 8, 2010 at 11:56 am

    When Franz Wright was a little baby,
    Sittin on Alan Tate’s knee,
    He grabbed a piece of paper with both of his hands,
    Said, “A website’s gonna be the death of me,
    Lord, lord, a website’s gonna be the death of me.”

    The man that invented the Workshop,
    He thought he was mighty fine,
    But little Franz Wright won a pulitzer prize
    And the Workshop couldn’t write a line,
    Lord, lord, the Workshop couldn’t write a line.

    One day Franz was readin a website,
    And he said, “How can this be?
    I’ve won a goddamn pulitzer prize
    And these people are talkin about me,
    Lord, lord, these people are talkin about me.”

  44. thomasbrady said,

    February 8, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    This is hardly worth debating, for there is no aesthetic theory worth the name that can defend the moronic assertion of someone who writes in free verse accusing another poet of writing in prose.

    Here’s Mr. Wright’s ‘A Happy Thought’ without its line breaks. One can see immediately it is prose, and not even very good prose. It sounds a bit like deranged rambling, and if one is sympathetic to its idiot savant take on things, one might be moved, otherwise it will be rejected as infantile babbling; one certainly cannot defend it on aesthetic grounds.

    For the author of the following to accuse another poet of writing “prose” is entirely without merit.

    ‘A Happy Thought’

    Assuming this is the last day of my life, (which might mean it is almost the first) I’m struck blind but my blindness is bright. Prepare for what’s known here as death; have no fear of that strange word forever. Even I can see there’s nothing there to be afraid of: having already been to forever I’m unable to recall anything that scared me there, or hurt. What frightened me, apparently, and hurt, was being born. But I got over that with no hard feelings. Dying, I imagine, it will be the same deal, lonesomer, maybe, but surely no more shocking or prolonged—it’s dark as I recall, then bright, so bright.

  45. February 9, 2010 at 8:37 am

    Dear Franz,
    You are addressing a number of very different people here as if they were all the same. We all come from very different regions and backgrounds, and are spread over 3 separate continents. We have very different ages and interests, and aren’t even all poets. Finally, most of us have never even met each other!

    Grouping us as you do shows a limitation in you, and undermines every word of your argument. It also proves you haven’t been reading us but just wallowing in your anger and self-pity, and that’s just not worth it.

    But there are three things that we do have in common here, and I honestly think they ought to interest, not anger you.

    First of all, all four of us are refugees from Blog:Harriet, having been summarily expelled by The Poetry Foundation management last September for our irrepressible and passionate independence. Also for talking about poetry as if it mattered. That’s true, and that’s something that should interest you a lot.

    Secondly, none of us hold or have ever held an academic position in poetry. We are all passionately interested in poetry and know quite a lot about it, but none of us are now or ever have been employed within the field, or have any obligations to mentors, editors, publishers, critics, professors or organizers either — indeed, just like you by your own account in what you’ve just written.

    Thirdly, none of us are losers, Franz, any more than you are — which is why we’re doing so well on Scarriet, thank you, having attracted in a few months a larger audience than Harriet itself. Indeed, the fact that we’re obviously not losers is why we didn’t lose anything when Harriet banned us, and more precisely why we are able to be right here now talking with you. This is self-evident — and not respecting that is yet another limitation in you.

    In your defense I will say this. In fact, you’ve said very little on our site, having come in just 3 times. On the other hand, you’ve been extremely angry and abusive each time, over the top, really, and we’ve answered in kind.

    But not completely, Franz, not completely in kind at all. Because in actual fact you are very much like us, and we do recognize that, and I personally have always been reaching a hand out to you and attempting to give you a lift.

    I started this thread myself with an appeal to you which I obviously meant — but you don’t seem to have noticed. I wrote:

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

    Also a poem that lectures, so it’s for Thomas Brady as well, who will hate it.

    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” [BJP 2004]:

    “LEONARDO AMONGST WOMEN”

    ………………….[poem]
    ……………………………………Christopher Woodman

    I hear you very clearly in the things you are saying, and I like you much better in each of the preceding comments as you proceed toward the end. Indeed, you get through your anger and start saying what you really mean toward the end, and this is what I’m going to remember. Indeed, it was to this side of you that I was appealing in the first place, and however good or bad my poem was there’s no doubt that it was addressing those issues, and addressing them very personally. I’ve spent as much time on my knees before the cross as anyone ever, and like you know why I’m there while at the same time knowing I’m empty, devoid of faith, and just a bad and unwashed actor.

    You should have spotted that, not just said the poem was “perfectly awful.”

    And you should also have noticed that I spent a whole week writing variations on the theme of “perfectly awful” that should have made you feel better, not trapped you in your anger.

    I can’t say that more clearly than I have done so already, and know that if you couldn’t read what I’ve written already you are very unlikely to read this.

    I wish you well, and I thank you for coming.

    Christopher Woodman

  46. Franz Wright said,

    February 9, 2010 at 6:35 am

    “Amateur” was meant in an idiomatic way, as I think you know perfectly well, or would if you were not so deranged with envy and a reflexive and remarkably obsessive hatred to anyone who happens to find a little success. The idea that I am somehow part of any academic establishment, whether scholarly (those are people I rather admire, actually) or MFA industry is, among many vicious things said about me since I won the Pulitzer (not my fault, by the way) (and by the way, absolutely no one had anything to say about me until that happened, and I am quite certain you would not be writing about me at all if I had not)– anyway, the idea that I am an “insider” of the literary world, or part comfortably ensconced in either the academic world or the MFA scam is certainly the strangest thing that has ever been thrown at me, as I have been public enough in my scorn of writing programs to be now virtually blacklisted in terms of the lucrative reading invitations that successful poets teaching in MFA programs (which is ALL of them, literally); you stupid fuck, I have a BA in English. I am the one and only serious poet I know who has no connection whatsoever with the academic world, or with any branch of the literary world. I have an excellent publisher and editor, thank God–but that occurred when I was in my late forties. Until The Beforelife came out ten years ago, I had never once seen a book of mine on a shelf in a book store, and was completely ignored by reviewers. Between my early twenties and early fifties I have a two crummy part-time teaching jobs for a total of eleven semesters. My life has in no way resembled my father’s–(who never, ever taught in any sort of writing program but was a Dickens scholar, and a magnificent and devoted teacher). I understand the hatred and paranoia of feeling excluded–that is the way I lived for thirty consecutive years, and was very much at the mercy of the kind of unthinking, reptilian rage you exhibit in everything you say. I feel great sympathy for that. And I do not now and never have considered myself any kind of major literary figure–that’s pretty funny. I got lucky, for some reason, when I was fifty-one, and then I paid for it by having to hear from tortured souls like yourself, though it took me a while to understand that, and was very bewildered and hurt by some of the things I had to hear and read about myself, as if I somehow put a crown on before sitting down to work. And work I do, pal–in solitude and isolation, too. Always have. I’ve published over twenty books of poetry and translations, and never once has it occurred to me that anything I have written is of major importance. It is gratifying to get some attention (though again, it also means hearing from people like you, people with a weirdly personal hatred for me, without knowing the slightest thing about me–by the way, I am quite sure you will find some way to twist what I am saying into some new way to assault and slander me, but it’s ok, I understand, do your worst–I can tell you from long experience it won’t help, that kind of shit only makes you look and feel like an asshole, and I have myself been guilty of this enough times to know what I am talking about.) But I am still wholly devoted to poetry–poetry itself, not my own ambitions, or any delusions about the worth of my work–and often work night and day for up to 48 hours at a stretch. I also suffer from some major mental illnesses, have had many breakdowns and hospitalizations, a brutal and terrifying experience that has brought me to the brink (and over sometimes) of suicide. What a strange person you are. If you only knew how deeply I not only identify with but feel myself in solidarity with outsiders of every kind, including literary. It is how I spent my life. That my father was a famous poet (I did not live with my father after the age of six, but with a stepfather who barely spoke English and took pleasure in beating me up on a fairly regular basis, and laughed at my bookishness) –I can hardly be held to blame for my parents. I now have the very bizarre experience of still feeling and experiencing everything as a loser, yet being considered an insider, one of those people you imagine are taking your place in the light, and keeping you down. You want attention, you’re welcome to it. Though you would have to do something, first, to merit it, wouldn’t you.
    FW

  47. Franz Wright said,

    February 9, 2010 at 6:41 am

    By way of postscript, do go on, you two little old ladies, with this Franz bashing. It’s getting really good now. But I would posit the following theory–you get no attention for your writing because your writing sucks. The way you handle prose in your messages, even, is painfully trite. I know you would like to see it all as a conspiracy to exclude genius from the literary establishment, but give me a break. Forget all the self-pity, the paranoia, the envy, the hatred and love poetry itself. If you come across poetry you do not like–like mine, or my father’s–I suggest you focus your energies on poetry you do like. The one thing that kept me going since the age of fifteen, through many many terrible periods of illness and despair and poverty, was my love of poetry. It is a radiance inside me that nothing can kill, and nothing can ruin. There is nothing you can say to me or do to me that it is not pathetically inconsequential next to what I have already been through, sorry.

  48. Franz Wright said,

    February 9, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Tell me some more about my “limitations”, you pedantic and arrogant fool. I was addressing my message, as would seem to me self-evident, to that fellow Thomas Brady. I’ve sensed your friendliness and your generally balanced view of things, and appreciate it. But don’t you fucking lecture me, my limitations for Christ’s sake. What the fuck was my entire message about? My own limitations. I consider myself qualified to do this. I consider you a quack, an eccentric, when you speak to me that way. I have, after all, against absurd odds, done serious things with my life. I do believe that at 56 and with my minor but clearly substantial achievements and devotion to the art, I will demand to be treated with some respect, and when I am not, I will simply not b e able to take you seriously. I cannot read beyond the first short paragraphs of your message. I cannot take you seriously, and truly cannot go on with this absurdity. I did as much as I could to reveal myself, with some degree of humility, and my reward was–as I predicted–to have my words twisted around so that you could tell me about my failings. Who the fuck do you think you are. Next to me, in terms of literary achievement, you don’t even exist. What a strange, strange person you must be. I have a few serious friends–I have no need of being insulted by nonentities, and will unbookmark this site and, I swear by what is most precious to me, never look at it again. You had your chance.

  49. February 9, 2010 at 10:10 am

    A strange take on what I said, Franz.

    If you feel it’s your perogative to feel superior, and I mean to any other human being, then you’re not the person I thought you were.

    Indeed, perhaps you haven’t lived long enough — perhaps you haven’t yet fallen far enough either.

    I think I gave you more credit for your hurts than you deserved.

    Christopher

  50. February 9, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Oops! Well, scratch that poem on Harriet. I see it has been deleted. A poem about wilderness on a post about wilderness. Jeez…go figure!

    Not one of you hot shots have even a clue what it means to be completely anonymous, meaningless, useless, uneccessary, invisible and totally worthless to the world.

    Poetry is a fool’s game and all of you are fools.

    GBF

  51. February 10, 2010 at 1:55 am

    Well, I notice that my last two posts are missing. This has got to be the ultimate irony, that the blog initiated due to indignation about posters being banned and comments being deleted on Harriet would then, in turn, delete a poster’s comments.

    Hypocrites, indeed.

  52. Christopher Woodman said,

    February 10, 2010 at 2:16 am

    Gary,
    You simply posted the single word “unnecessary” — I assumed that meant the comment was unnecessary, and the next comment said exactly the same. I thought this is what you meant.

    I’m terribly sorry, Gary — no editorial implication in that at all.

    Except, of course, that space on Scarriet is valuable, and two “unnecessary” comments meant that two serious comments were pushed off the Recent Comments list. It’s a huge site now, and hard to navigate around it. People are trying to find things all the time, and that list is the only index.

    Almost 400 visitors yesterday were frantically scrambling through the stacks.

    But I’ll never do it again, regardless.

    Do forgive me.

    Christopher

  53. February 10, 2010 at 3:31 am

    My comments were a continuation of the previous thought…like the next line in a poem. See?

    Please, then, at least have the courtesy to correct my typos. The word is ‘unnecessary’.

    And yes, regarding poetry, that’s the word, alright.

  54. Christopher Woodman said,

    February 10, 2010 at 3:51 am

    I usually do correct typos with Tom and Des, who work so fast our fonts melt in the action. I’ll look out for yours too if you give me permission.

    But do try to get the poem in one comment if you can — we don’t want to start looking like Harriet!

    Thanks for the understanding, Gary — you’re a brick.

    C.

  55. February 10, 2010 at 5:21 am

    Aren’t you even interested in the poem deleted by Harriet?

  56. Christopher Woodman said,

    February 10, 2010 at 7:48 am

    Of course I am, Gary — but I wasn’t quick enough to see it.

    Do feel free to post it here, but don’t be offended if some jerk says it’s “perfectly awful.” Just take the opportunity to explain why, in your estimation, you agree, and that the poem is truly perfect and awful. And if you aren’t sure, or think maybe you don’t want to be praised after all, or get laid on our altar, save it for some place even blander than Harriet.

    Alternatively, write us a whole article about yourself, your ideas, your habits or your poetry and we’ll publish it. The whole world could be your oyster on Scarriet!

    Christopher

  57. thomasbrady said,

    February 10, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    I can see the Onion headline:

    SCARRIET REVOKES FRANZ WRIGHT’S PULITZER

  58. Jan Hammerquist said,

    April 10, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    Sweet Jaysus, what a shitstorm … Back to the drawing-board, eh, boys? … I offer only one, kind, suggestion: if ya wan a right poetry, go a head n get yore hands dirty … with soil, not shit; worked well for most goodly folks … O, and Franz Wright is a beautiful poem, don’t no-one tell me otherwise … step lightly over your own ruins, ‘n leave him be – for shame … Alright, we got work to do … Goodbye!

  59. thomasbrady said,

    April 10, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    “Franz Wright is a beautiful poem…” did you mean ‘beautiful poet?’

    Thanks for stopping by, Jan…

    Yea…a ‘shitstorm…’ we specialize in those…

    Gary Fitzgerald, Christopher Woodman, Franz Wright…RRRRRRRR!!

  60. Jan Hammerquist said,

    April 10, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    M


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