Aborigine Woman

                               Many thanks to AUSTRAVELPHOTOGRAPHY for the photo. 

People have always felt the world was going down the tubes — from “hey, look at her!” to “ubi sunt,” indeed long before anybody ever thought to make it new!

One of the cultures I most admire is that of the indigenous people of Australia. What culture has ever produced greater artists, richer myths, or more healing images? Yet when they lost their past, all 30,000 years of it, it took just a few decades to bankrupt them entirely, economically, culturally, emotionally and spiritually. On the other hand, the tragedy was caused as much by our culture’s inability to cope with change as it was with theirs. They couldn’t deal with us any more than we could deal with them, a heart-breaking impasse for everybody involved right to the end, and still with us.

Two observations on “Make It New” with regard to the gifts of these extraordinary people.

The Australian aborigines were always in a sense  “contemporary” — they were “cartoon” artists, after all, and every image and artifact they made was “pop” in the sense that everybody was a fan, everybody loved it, read it and danced to it. Secondly, their culture didn’t change — for whatever reason they were locked in a time-warp, as we might say looking out into space, and as a result nothing ever became “dated” what is more “old fashioned” for them. “Make it new?” Why everything was new already!

I make these observations very much without blame — Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel combined with James C. Scott’s The Art of NOT Being Governed confirmed what I had always suspected, that the Australian aborigines’ lack of ‘development’ had nothing whatever to do with inferior genes, hands or minds. On the other hand, they didn’t “change” at all in our sense — but that’s not quite the same as I have come to understand the word in Buddhist terms. The Buddha insisted over and over again that denying change was as self-destructive as any form of greed, control or domination. Anicca, or “impermanence” as it’s usually translated when the sutras are rendered into English, is the only certainty in life, says the Buddha, and holding on to things as if they weren’t going to change is the root of all suffering. That’s the fundamental Buddhist teaching, in fact, that Change and the inevitable Suffering that arises out of it are the fundamental truths of all being.

What’s really different about our times, it seems to me, is what is happening to time itself — the speed of change, as if we were already strapped in the rocket that will deliver us from our dwindling planet into the arms of space.

Try this to put our own sense of time into perspective:

I never even heard of television until I was 8 and didn’t live with a set until I was 42! Even more astonishing, I learned all my maths and physics without a calculator, sailed all over the world without a GPS or other electronic aid, and didn’t touch a computer keyboard until I was 52, the same age at which I published my first poem. And if that last one doesn’t put the word “dated” into perspective for a poet in America, what does?

But we’ll come back to that.

I just want to add that I’m not a Buddhist, whatever that might mean, and feel very strongly that in the light of Eternity there are other “universal truths” beside CHANGE and SUFFERING. Indeed, one of the reasons the aborigines are so important to me is that they tell me more than any other people I have ever encountered about who I really am — particularly as I look in the mirror on my birthday, not a pretty sight at all at 74. But then the old wizened aborigine that looks back at me over my shoulder tells me that nothing that really matters is ever outdated. Change is nothing in the light of eternity, he tells me — and I don’t mean by that Heaven or Eternal Life, God forbid, or indeed anything my new-age friends in white call ‘Spiritual.’ I mean eternity in the sense that I believe Einstein imagined it, or Stephen Hawking in his space-age body, our own little naked good-fella in Cambridge, who grappled with the dreaming that is  Cern. Or what surely must have occupied the mind of Galileo Galilei during those 8 years under house arrest in Florence or me here at my tiny speck of a desk in Chiang Mai.

Do you think when the first white man arrived in Australia an aboriginal would have had a problem showing him a God-particle? Had the white man been able to ask, that is? Had he had the intelligence or expertise to navigate that sort of thinking?

And of course, had the good-fella been willing to betray such truths by sharing them with such a big, crude, ignorant stranger?

Christopher Woodman



  1. December 8, 2013 at 11:10 am

    I started this post on my birthday, December 7th — and although it’s still my birthday in America it’s the next day here in Chiang Mai. If you happened to read it before this comment went up I do apologize, it was so bad — my Skype has been ringing off the wall all morning (my time) and I haven’t been answering, I was so embarrassed. Now it’s all completely rewritten, and I do hope you’ll give me one more chance.


  2. wfkammann said,

    December 9, 2013 at 12:12 am


    So nice to see you back in the saddle. Happy Birthday! I need to ponder more before I dare say anything about the Dreaming and Time but here’s my latest take on Buddhism.

    The Buddhist “truth” as I understand it is that ALL phenomena (people/things) arise (come to be) in dependence on things (causes/conditions) which are not them (anatta). No self; no soul; no “essential nature.”

    Simple example. I came into being as the result of the sperm and egg from my parents. I am not my parents and no part of these causal seeds was ever ME. We put the name Bill onto something whose causes were never Bill. That is why Bill (and everything else) is a dependent phenomenon and never had or has anything apart from this dependence (except, perhaps, the NAME “Bill” which separates me from this dependent connection by making me think there is an independent self or soul (atta/atman) that belongs to (is) ME.

    This ignorant assertion of a self to persons and phenomena is what makes me think there is something to have; something to call MINE. But in truth we pine for soap bubbles which sadly do not all burst before our eyes, but will surely be destroyed by causes just as they were created by them.

    How can this “truth” end suffering? It ends it by the realization of the sameness of you and me and the soap bubbles we so desire, as dependent. There is nothing permanent or unchanging to have. You; me and everything is coming to be and passing away as part of the great Net of Indra: Dependent Arising: Emptiness of anything permanent.

    Blake said it:

    He who binds to himself a joy
    Doth the winged life destroy
    But he who kisses the joy as it flies
    Lives in Eternitys sun rise

  3. December 9, 2013 at 9:29 am

    So where is Eternity’s sunrise, then, Bill? When does the saint who kisses the joy as it flies get to eat his cake and have it too? And isn’t this also an encouragement to license, gather ye rose buds while ye may and all that?

    A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
    A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread–and Thou
    Beside me singing in the Wilderness–
    Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

    The irony is that those who manage to find their way to perfect solitude in the wilderness often experience bliss in the midst of their deprivation, indeed some of them are overwhelmed by the joy like St. Anthony.

    Anybody who doesn’t remember what that looks like can see it in Bosch’s version here. (A bit ambiguous, isn’t it? I mean, isn’t this Anthony stage-managing the show?)

    Or these even more famous lines from The Rubaiyat?

    Some for the glories of this world; and some
    Sigh for The Prophet’s Paradise to come;
    Ah, take the cash and let the credit go,
    Nor heed the rumble of a distant drum

    And much as Wine has played the Infidel
    And robbed me of my robe of Honour, well …
    I often wonder what the vintners buy
    One half so precious as the stuff they sell.

    Or The Song of Solomon — such a joy. Or one of e.e.cummings’ best poems that arises straight out of The Song of Solomon, and I want to include it all as a companion to the photo that introduces this thread. (Stand there beside her, ye lilliputians in lycra, and look up!)

    my love
    thy hair is one kingdom
    …..the king whereof is darkness
    thy forehead is a flight of flowers

    thy head is a quick forest
    …..filled with sleeping birds
    thy breasts are swarms of white bees
    …..upon the bough of thy body
    thy body to me is April
    in whose armpits is the approach of spring

    thy thighs are white horses yoked to a chariot
    …..of kings
    they are the striking of a good minstrel
    between them is always a pleasant song

    my love
    thy head is a casket
    …..of the cool jewel of thy mind
    the hair of thy head is one warrior
    …..innocent of defeat
    thy hair upon thy shoulders is an army
    …..with victory and with trumpets

    thy legs are the trees of dreaming
    whose fruit is the very eatage of forgetfulness

    thy lips are satraps in scarlet
    … whose kiss is the combinings of kings
    thy wrists
    are holy
    …..which are the keepers of the keys of thy blood
    thy feet upon thy ankles are flowers in vases
    …..of silver

    in thy beauty is the dilemma of flutes

    …..thy eyes are the betrayal
    of bells comprehended through incense

    I think there’s something missing in the Buddha’s teaching, Bill — that’s one of the things I was trying to say. By the same token, your aria at Chez Georges was better than any mantra you’ve ever chanted, what is more anything you’ve ever renounced. And then of course there’s Ida.


  4. December 11, 2013 at 9:55 am

    I’d like to rewrite the 3rd paragraph in this post, and expand it a bit in the process:

    I make these observations very much without blame — Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel” confirmed what I had always suspected, that the Australian aborigines’ lack of ‘development’ had nothing whatever to do with inferior genes, hands or minds. On the other hand, the indigenous people of Australia really didn’t “change” in our sense of “making progress,” or “growth” as we like to call it — expansion, diversification, improvement, the touchstones of our whole socio-economic system.

    The Australian aborigines didn’t “change” at all, as far as we can tell, but I’d say not because they were blind or benighted — stuck in the past, self-absorbed or “conservative” in the sense of clinging to out-moded traditions. Indeed, these naked, ill-equipt little people were enormously successful in holding together a way of life that was not only self-sustaining but fun, green and creative for 30,000 years without changing, and that really says something in response to the mantra of our own very un-fun, inappropriately-dressed and over-equipt society: “Make It New!” The aborigines didn’t have to “Make It New” because it was new already, everyday, every moment! Which as a state of being is a challenge to the depressives among us indeed, which means almost every developed person in the world today!

    The “change” the aborigines avoided was not at all the same as the notion of “change” as it’s generally understood in mainstream philosophy. The Buddha, for example, insisted that change was fundamental to all being, and that denying change was as self-destructive as any form of greed, control or domination. Anicca or “impermanence” as it’s usually translated in the sutras, is the only certainty in life, the Buddha taught, and holding on to things as if they were not going to change is the root of all suffering.

    Yet look how we suffer in our obsession with progress and growth, fueling our obsession with consumption by reinventing almost everything all over again every season, and then marketing those changes into extinction! And now I can’t even repair my car engine anymore — I have to purchase a component which can only be installed by an expert. Indeed, I have no control over myself or my environment anymore, and about the only personal freedom I have is to say no to supplements, medications, and insurance!


  5. omino23 said,

    December 12, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    “In all of my universe I have seen no law of nature, unchanging and inexorable. This universe presents only changing relationships which are sometimes seen as laws by short-lived awareness. These fleshy sensoria which we call self are ephemera withering in the blaze of infinity, fleetingly aware of temporary conditions which confine our activities and change as our activities change. If you must label the absolute, use its proper name: Temporary.” -Frank Herbert “God Emperor of Dune”

  6. December 13, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    Thanks for that, Omino — truly where I’d hoped this thread would go. And this is where it takes me, poetry that is so old it makes everything that’s ever been truly said rent and new.

    …..Crazy Jane Talks With The Bishop

    ……….I met the Bishop on the road
    ……….And much said he and I.
    ……….‘Those breasts are flat and fallen now,
    ……….Those veins must soon be dry;
    ……….Live in a heavenly mansion,
    ……….Not in some foul sty.’

    ……….‘Fair and foul are near of kin,
    ……….And fair needs foul,’ I cried.
    ……….‘My friends are gone, but that’s a truth
    ……….Nor grave nor bed denied,
    ……….Learned in bodily lowliness
    ……….And in the heart’s pride.

    ……….‘A woman can be proud and stiff
    ……….When on love intent;
    ……….But Love has pitched his mansion in
    ……….The place of excrement;
    ……….For nothing can be sole or whole
    ……….That has not been rent.’

    …………………………………………William Butler Yeats

  7. wfkammann said,

    December 14, 2013 at 2:09 am

    “No, it’s not the rhyme, Tom — it’s the snobbery of a new intellectual class that is still not too secure and needs to put a lot of distance between itself and the petit bourgeois poetry that makes sense when you finally arrive on the first rungs of the new upwardly mobile America.

    “And should the ‘petit bourgeois poetry’ of the 19th and early 20th centuries be re-evaluated, then, should that forgotten corpus be restored to grace? Hardly, but the alternative “make it new” movement at the opposite extreme must be re-assessed as ‘petit bourgeois poetry’s’ shadow, in the Jungian sense, so that those aspects of our western poetry traditin (sic) that got debased and/or hidden by ‘Modernism’ can be brought out into the open and liberated — like feeling, like music, like value and meaning and even, when its applicable, like rhyme. Indeed, all the underpinnings of Modernism must be fearlessly re-examined, and it’s tendency to sew new clothes for the emperor ruthlessly exposed, as we’re doing — and how the courtiers do kick and howl!

    “That’s our theme, of course, and it’s a big one, and one for which I think I’m well-equipped even with just a small “compatty (sic) hammer” [click here] in my hand.


  8. December 14, 2013 at 10:31 am

    Well, there I am with all my own clothes off — and even I don’t know where to look!

    If you want to check out the source you’ll find it here , and you can even follow up on “[click here]” in the original if you want to. Because that’s what this site sounded like before it got rent.

    Of course I had the Ezra Pound phrase in the back of my mind when I put up this Post, but I’d hoped to sneak up on it — I wanted to get a few clothes off the emperor first before having a much closer look at him. I wanted to be sure we knew precisely what we were looking at, and I don’t mean a literary figure.

    “All the underpinnings of WHAT must be fearlessly re-examined? It’s tendency to sew new clothes for WHAT EMPEROR ruthlessly exposed?”


  9. Butros-Butros said,

    December 14, 2013 at 11:23 am

    Thanks for the invitation, Bill.

    I would say that it is always being made new. In fact, Pound would then be an element in the process or movement he claims to be directing or founding. There is the Experience, the Interpretation, and the Expression of that experience as interpreted, whether this is accomplished consciously or unconsciously. Seems to me that any poet who has a “big” (in the Jungian sense) or overwhelming experience can do nothing but “make it new,” for it would be something that he had not routinely learned. The poet who has no such experience might attempt to begin his career with another’s Interpretation or, even more desperately, with another’s Expression, for imitating Expression is something like an imitation of an imitation of something unknown. (I apologize if this begins to sound like Plato, but was he not a poet who burned all of his early verse?)

    But back to the original issue: Is there more than phenomena, more than instances of impermanence? Seems that the so-called Experience is certainly experienced as something more real than self, more determining and more abiding. Yes, there are philosophies that tell us that the Experience represents only the illusion of permanence, but one might be compelled to ask if this philosophical notion of impermanence were ever an Experience, and, if so, how so? Can we experience nothingness or can we only experience the loss of everything?

    A problem with Buddhism might be that it seems like an idea talking to an experience. I respect its efficiency in dealing with pain and sorrow, but we have also managed to split the atom. What exactly does either achievement prove?

    I think Keats once said that the poet was, ultimately, a nothing, that he was filled with the poem, so to speak, but he was not the poem. And then there is Kant and his phenomena and (mysterious) noumena. But I have written too long.

    One last question: Of course, the poet could never make it new, if he were not “it” or had not somehow encountered “it.” Now, there’s a question for Pound — What is this “it” that is to be made new? Everything? Some thing? What?


  10. wfkammann said,

    December 14, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    Christopher and B-B,

    Golly, I must agree that Buddhism seems to have a fear of the pleasures of the world. No music or movies (but you should see the monks gathered around the TV for the soccer matches). The idea of renouncing the world as the first step to a spiritual realization; calling the pleasures of the world “suffering” is viewed as a way to harness the “conscious element” of reality: the intelligence which allows life to adapt and survive.

    How any of this is of use to the arts is a good question. A “final realization” is just that. The Buddha did teach others to have the same realization but to my knowledge didn’t write a poem, paint a picture, or even hum a little tune. Are the sutras works of art?

    Maybe the Yeats poem about something needing to be broken to produce life (art) is closer to the creative reality than a spiritual awakening will ever be.

    • Butros-Butros said,

      December 15, 2013 at 2:27 am

      Bill and Christopher,

      I do not know enough about Buddhism to be talking about it, so, when I do, know that I realize I am only addressing particular notions and not a comprehensive understanding of it.

      Perhaps “being broken” is common to the Buddha and to the Artist, alike. Perhaps the Buddha employs a purely spiritual discipline in putting himself back together, whereas the Artist employs art. On the one hand, we get sutras (and maybe Platonic dialogues) and, on the other, Sistine Chapel ceilings. For both, it seems, the mending is a praxis, and perhaps the valid end of it is silence, even if only theoretical.

      So, to close the circle, the injunction “Make it new!” would seem to be saying, “Mend in a new way!” Can this new way be only stylistic or is something more at issue. I don’t know. I think Wallace Stevens said that a change of style is tantamount to a change of content. But I like the idea of “equivalent experiences”–experiences that, while not being similar, are from the same ground and function to the same end.

      A last note: Perhaps “being broken” is not necessarily a “spiritual awakening,” but perhaps, for most, it gives access to such an awakening. And, Does life and art have a “final realization”? Or is the notion of it a sort of supreme and necessary fiction, to borrow again, rightly or wrongly, from Stevens?

  11. December 15, 2013 at 8:59 am

    Many thanks for those observations, BB — they really move us along.

    First of all your observation that it’s “it” in “make it new” that should be the focus, not “new:” “What is this “it” that is to be made new? Everything? Some thing? What?”

    And then in your second comment: “Mend it in a new way” — mend being your response to Yeats’ “nothing can be sole or whole / that has not been rent.”

    I’m just about to head up Doi Suthep, the holy mountain that hangs over Chiang Mai — it’s Sunday and that’s one of the things I do. Like numerous such mountains all over the world Doi Suthep has become a pilgrimage site, indeed one which every Thai would like to visit at least once in their lives.

    The temple is called Wat Phra Tat, The Temple of the Holy or Buddha Relic. “Tat” means relic, and “Phra” is one of the words in Thai for the Buddha, but it comes into the language from way, way back through Sanskrit and Pali where it’s the word “Brahma,” the Supreme Deity or Lord God, as we might say. So it’s quite a name and a place.

    For hundreds of years Wat Phra Tat was very difficult to get to as it’s very steep and high and surrounded by dense jungle. Indeed, a road was built up to it for the first time only in 1932 — before that you had to make the ascent on foot which could take a couple of days. As in all such holy ascents, the staging points where you ate or camped became preparation points at which you could purify yourself in stages, and there are some very beautiful wats that arose like that and are now meditation retreats.

    So how do you prepare yourself for something so timeless? Isn’t it at that point that you strive to make it new?

    • Butros-Butros said,

      December 15, 2013 at 10:09 am

      Yes. And at that point it will be new, if only it is true. At least I think so.

  12. December 15, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    Do you mean like this?

    ………………..A Daylight Art

    ……….On the day he was to take the poison

    ……….Socrates told his friends he had been writing:

    ……….putting Aesop’s fables into verse.

    ……….And this was not because Socrates loved wisdom

    ……….and advocated the examined life.

    ……….The reason was that he had had a dream.

    ……….Caesar, now, or Herod or Constantine

    ……….or any number of Shakespearean kings

    ……….bursting at the end like dams

    ……….where original panoramas lie submerged

    ……….which have to rise again before the death scenes – 

    ……….you can believe in their believing dreams.

    ……….But hardly Socrates. Until, that is,

    ……….he tells his friends the dream had kept recurring

    ……….all his life, repeating one instruction:

    ……….Practise the art, which art until that moment

    ……….he always took to mean philosophy.

    ……….Happy the man, therefore, with a natural gift

    ……….for practising the right one from the start –

    ……….poetry, say, or fishing; whose nights are dreamless;

    ……….whose deep-sunk panoramas rise and pass

    ……….like daylight through the rod’s eye or the nib’s eye.

    …………………………………………………..Seamus Heaney

    And “at least I think so,” B.B?

    I’d say that that’s as far as anyone can ever be certain of anything today, because we are now thinkers, not knowers. To dominate the world the way we have has given us powers over nature such as the world has never seen before, but achieving that ascendancy has left us with only art to perceive the immutable verities that the little naked seers of ancient Australia took for granted. We call folk technologies ‘magic,’ folk formulas ‘chants,’ folk art ‘Art,’ and pay a lot to hang it on our walls.

    That’s because we have no more certainties left, indeed all we have is what we “make” to steer by — which is why we must be so strict with ourselves and not just “make it new” in Pound’s sense, or at least in the sense that Pound’s little bee-in-his-brilliant-bonnet has acquired in our times. Because art doesn’t have to mean being ahead of others, or different, or ‘original.’ Indeed, if it’s true it should be “like daylight through the rod’s eye or the nib’s eye.”


    • Butros-Butros said,

      December 16, 2013 at 12:48 am

      Yes, Happy the man. You and Seamus Heaney point out an often forgotten phenomenon–that philosophy begins with a dream. But it often does not find its way back to poetry, and, when it does, its poetry is usually artless, in every sense of the word. I think even Kant began his writing career with a little treatise on “spirits.” What a fine poem you have cited for us! Thank you.

    • December 16, 2013 at 9:49 am

      I got a little too clever up there: I meant to say, “That’s because we have no more certainties left, indeed all we have is what we think to steer by.” I was thinking of “make” in the sense of technological making, whereas it’s obvious that our making is an effect and not a cause. The cause is thinking.


      • December 16, 2013 at 11:25 am

        I don’t think that’s what Plato says at all, B.B, that philosophy begins with a dream. I think he says that the world is a dream, and that all the problems that arise when the world is rendered into art arise from the fact that the world is not real in the first place.

        Which sounds to me like pretty good Physics.

  13. wfkammann said,

    December 16, 2013 at 1:57 am

    Ezra Pound

    This article by Michael North has a lot of parts which may eventually play into our discussion. Pound is well known as a translator. Translation is of necessity a “making new” of a text and Pound’s translation of the maxim on the Chinese nobleman’s bowl is the advent of the phrase which first celebrates organic “renewal” and then evolves into making “it” new. Yes the it is the cause of confusion. Is the poem a “new” thing or part of the tradition? Is “revolution” something radically different or one turning of the wheel?

    • December 16, 2013 at 10:02 am

      Thanks for the article, Bill. I already suspected the gist of it but was very pleased to have some facts to back up my hunch — that the injunction “Make it new!” wasn’t handed to us ready-made in 1928 but gradually evolved into the credo that it is today. Indeed, the article shows why we need to look more at the 2nd half of the 20th Century than the first to understand how “Make it new!” becomes an assumption in our times.

      Which is what we’re doing, at least I think so…


  14. December 16, 2013 at 11:05 am

    Re. Pound again.

    “Well-known as a translator,” certainly, even if it’s not at all certain a.) what he was translating or b.) if he was actually capable of reading the texts he claimed he was rendering into our language. For example, it’s not certain to what extent Pound relied on Ernest Fenellosa’s “The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry” in evolving his ingenuous theories about the origin, structure and meaning of Chinese ideograms, or indeed to what extent Ernest Fenollosa (died in 1908!) was himself relying on Japanese texts. There’s no doubt that what Pound came up with (hypothesized? dreamed? imagined? created in his mind?) strikes a chord in us, and a profound one too, but it’s simply not good history what is more fact — indeed, I’ve never enountered a Chinese speaker who would have anything to do with it.

    As if that matters. As if that’s ever where it’s at when it comes to imagining the truth.

  15. December 17, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Heinrich Schliemann in the ruins at Troy and Mycenae (1870s), Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos (1900), Ezra Pound on China (1913), T.E.Lawrence of Arabia (1918) (observe the prepositions).

    What an enormous debt we have to them all, and how much more they have deepened our understanding than less imaginative scholars, archaeologists and soldiers usually manage to do. Yet not only did they mislead us badly, they destroyed a good deal of the literal evidence — because we got the metaphors, not the facts.

    Schliemann and Lawrence both used dynamite at times in more or less the same area.

    Make it new indeed!


  16. wfkammann said,

    December 18, 2013 at 6:24 am

    Carl Sagan describes the “Cosmic Lotus Dream.”

    “There is the deep and the appealing notion that the universe is but the dream of the god who after a 100 Brahma years… dissolves himself into a dreamless sleep… and the universe dissolves with him… until after another Brahma century… he starts… recomposes himself and begins again the dream… the great cosmic lotus dream.
    Meanwhile… elsewhere… there are an infinite number of other universes… each with its own god… dreaming the cosmic dream…
    These great ideas are tempered by another perhaps still greater it is said that men may not be the dreams of the gods but rather that the gods are the dreams of men.”

    Dreams often happen without our will; that is why a dream needs interpretation. I agree with Peter that the dream is the basis of philosophic and spiritual thought. It opens nightly a reality beyond our control. Join that reality; bargain and come to terms with it or imagine that you control it. The dream is much more than just the landscape features of Australia

  17. December 18, 2013 at 9:48 am

    “The dream is much more than just the landscape features of Australia.”

    1.) “I have a dream.” – Martin Luther King

    2.) “Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.”
    – Edgar Allan Poe

    3.) “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.”
    – John Lennon

    4.) “A man afoot ain’t a man at all.” – Texas Cowboy

    5.) “You cannot travel on the path until you have become the path itself.” – Gautama Buddha

    6.) “‘Walk on!'” The last words of the Buddha to his disciples.” Quoted by Bruce Chatwin in Songlines.

    &.) “My health was menaced. Terror came. For days on end I fell asleep and, when I woke, the dark dreams continued. I was ripe for death. My debility led me along a route of dangers, to the world’s edge, to Cimmeria, the country of black fog and whirlpools.
    I was forced to travel, to ward off the apparitions assembled in my brain.” – Rimbaud, Une Saison en Enfer. Quoted by Bruce Chatwin in Songlines.

    7.) “‘L’homme aux semelles de vent.’ The man with footsoles of wind.” – Verlaine on Rimbaud. Quoted by Bruce Chatwin in Songlines.

    8.) “L’Homme aux semelles devant.” [The man with footsoles before him.]
    L'Homme aux semelles devant
    A sculpture by Jean-Robert Ipoustéguy dedicated to Artur Rimbaud (1985). It is situated in a small park near the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Place du Père-Teilhard-de-Chardin, Paris 4eme. Worth much more than a visit — worth thinking about.

  18. December 19, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    The problem in a nutshell: is it “l’homme aux semelles de vent” or “aux semelles devant?” It’s a witty conundrum for sure, inspiring, challenging and ‘beautiful’ in the sense that modern mathematicians use the word for certain mathematical configurations that solve insoluble riddles. Do we follow our footsteps or do they lead us? Which comes first, the footstep or the walk?

    The ‘Walkabout’ as the Aborigines envisioned it was a way of life with every step the beginning and end of everything, including the people, the gods and the landscape.

    Until there were fences.

    Songlines is the name of Bruce Chatwin’s wonderful, full-length riff on the Australian Aborigines as individuals, as a people in a landscape, and as both a failed and a hugely successful culture depending on how you look at it — a.) a success if measured by how long the culture lasted (30,000 years) and b.) a failure if measured by how quickly it failed (total disintegration in just 100 years). Above all, Songlines is a most compassionate and thought-provoking study of cultural collapse based on what happened when the Aborigines found themselves face to face with our demand that if they wanted to live with us they would have to make it new like us too, i.e. “cover up,” “get a haircut,” “be on time,” “keep your feet on the ground,” “your eye on the ball” and, of course, be sure you’re “on the right side” in your team or of the fence. The book doesn’t try to answer the question about who the Aborigines were before we came but it does tell us a lot about what they have become by living with us, and of course that means about the mindset that has so undermined them. Which is the riddle I thought we might look at here when so much of our newest, most advanced art looks more and more like theirs.

    Maybe like this: In what sense can we “make it new” when all of it has already been made and can’t possibly go anywhere it hasn’t already been?

  19. December 21, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Here’s another one – how we sometimes make it old because we don’t realize how new it is already!

    Many people assume that the Chinese goddess Kwan Yin (one of a number of abc spellings) is the living embodiment of the ancient Yin that stands up there so proudly beside the Yang in western Chi Gong, Yoga, and Tai Chi studios — even if the Chinese character that represents the ‘Yin’ in ‘Kwan Yin’ and the ‘Yin’ as opposed to the ‘Yang’ in the logo are not the same. That’s not to say those people are completely wrong – because one can become right if one imagines what one thinks long and passionately enough. Indeed, that’s all it takes to create a new Truth, isn’t it? But unfortunately such convictions can also lead to naive, reductive, cartoon-like philosophy, as Kwan Yin is, minor detail, also male in her/his own person. She starts out male as Avalokitesvara in India, becomes androgynous in Tibet, female in China, and then she’s male again in the Buddha Amitabha of Japan (you can have a look back at our discussion of the Buddha Amitabha at Kamakura here). And those ambiguities are a lot fresher and more useful, it seems to me, than the black and white sort of thinking that a misreading of the Chinese character tends to encourage. Indeed, our tidy polarities often smack of too much reason rather than too much imagination…

    You can go here for a very beautiful androgynous Kwan Yin that says it all, at least to me. I also love the source — many thanks to Robert Moody and his “Gallery of Mathematicians.”

    I was also delighted to find the following poem on Robert Moody’s “Mathematics and Photography” homepage:

    ………………………….Wayfarer, the only way
    ………………… your footsteps, there is no other.
    ……………………….Wayfarer, there is no way
    …………………… make the way as you go.
    ……As you go, you make the way and stopping to look behind,
    …………………….you see the path that your feet
    ………………………………will travel again.
    ………………………..Wayfarer, there is no way –
    ………………………..only foam trails in the sea.

    ……………………………………………………………Antonio Machado

  20. December 23, 2013 at 10:24 am

    I have no spiritual abilities. I don’t feel vibrations or energies, am not moved by crystals, stones, or the proximity of relics or sacred images. I don’t feel any heat from healing hands either, or elevation being near the higher thoughts of saints or gurus, and have no talent for visualizations, mantras, yoga or prostrations. I also don’t see ghosts, angels or ancestors, and have never had a vision. In addition I possess no sense that I’ve ever had a past life what is more that I might be headed for another one, indeed I don’t feel any need of another life as I’ve had a bit too much already and really wouldn’t care for more. And heaven? I’d have no use whatsoever for salvation somewhere down the road. And save me? Whatever for? What God would bother?

    Yet everyday I write and think as I’m doing on this thread, and in so doing participate in all of the above as intimately, passionately and assuredly as if I were a little good-fella naked on a walkabout around my desk. And I fly plenty too, dry wet towels, levitate, speed walk over the desert like a camel and, if I want to, do magic with the best of them, which is easy — bending things, making them straight, hitting the center of the target.

    So what to do about that fundamental conundrum – which I believe is where most of us who struggle with the existential riddle in our times suffer most as well as find our greatest joy, reward and meaning?

    Dostoievsky – is there anyone who ever wrote more just for us?

    Ivan Karamazov, poor guy (1895):

    “I have a Euclidean earthly mind, and how could I solve problems that are not of this world? And I advise you never to think about it either, my dear Alyosha, especially about God, whether He exists or not. All such questions are utterly inappropriate for a mind created with an idea of only three dimensions.”

    Even Ezra Pound picked up on that in his own flawed genius and predicament (and he’s right, God damn it!):

    The fourth; the dimension of stillness.
    And the power over wild beasts.

    ………………………………………………………Canto 49 (1937) – “The Seven Lakes”


  21. December 24, 2013 at 9:30 am

    Huge question:

    Why did it take so long for human beings to develop the modern taste for Private Property? For that was really where it all went wrong between the early Australian settlers and the little 30,000 year old personages who flitted by them naked through the landscape. The European settlers didn’t understand that the land was already owned, and that the original inhabitants had special passports and permissions to move through it — which the newcomers didn’t. Indeed, if the original inhabitants hadn’t had permission they would never have dared to trespass like the newcomers did!

    That simple fact was incomprehensible to the Europeans. I mean, how could the land be owned when their were no boundaries, markers, maps or fences to define it? And then, when the settlers did divide up the ‘unclaimed’ land between them, they couldn’t understand why the little people were so upset, because those same people had never bothered to ‘own’ it in the first place, or own anything for that matter, even clothes!

    So where did all that incomprehension in the late arrivals come from, particularly as they believed so strongly in Property Law back home? And a further question: how do human beings come to lose so much of their sense of what is right when it comes to the land of others?

    And Machu Picchu? Indeed, one of my own universities is still holding those gods hostage to this day — which is perhaps why I too, a Yalie, suffer so.

    Or where I live in Thailand — which despite its beauty is just as venal as anywhere else in the world. Yet the Thai real-estate tycoons filling in the rice paddies with cement to build new factories and the flood-plains new airports know they’re not the real owners of the land. They have to tread very, very carefully, all Thai businessmen know that, so before they start any construction project they consult the maw duu first, the ‘doctor who sees’ or ‘seer’ as we say, the doctor who knows the sacred geography of the land. Then at precisely the right moment and place they build a golden palace as an alternative dwelling for the True Owners. For all Thai businessmen know they have to enter into a contract with the spirits who already dwell there, otherwise any business will fail and lives be ruined.

    There are a number of teak and gold Spirit Houses with manicured gardens in and around the vast new Bangkok Airport, for example, like this one:

    Suvarnabhumi Airport Spirit House

    If they weren’t there you as well as the owners of the duty-free shops and airlines would be in grievous danger. Just imagine the awful crashes homeless spirits could engineer among us – the whole economy could come crashing down!

    Why, even the poorest Thai herder with no land of his own is respectful of the owners even when he grazes his spindly cows along the public verges, under the pylons, beside the canals. That’s why he constructs a Spirit House of his own wherever the grazing’s good, bending an odd bit of corrugate and nailing it to a post like a mailbox — and then from time to time offering a Fanta with a straw in it or a cigarette, or arranging a handful of flowers.

    Rural Thai Spirit House

    With a house like this for the owners of the land his cows stay well, his calves fatten, and he sleeps better even in his landless state.

    So why do we know so little about this sort of well-being in the West? How did we lose contact with the fundamental truth that we are always in danger if we abuse bespoken landscapes — which means almost everywhere else in the world you go?


  22. December 26, 2013 at 10:11 am

    The above is all about reinventing the wheel.

    Of course I know the answers to those Anthropology 101 questions as well as anybody, but even so I go back to the old chestnuts as if I didn’t and deliberately try to make it new to start again where it was lost.

    Like a poet or a fool.

    Here’s the passage about personal profit and ownership Robert Frost had in mind when he wrote perhaps his most challenging poem, ”Directive” — which certainly makes it new, or at least makes some suggestions about how to try to get back to where you might. Everybody knows the poem for sure, and everybody’s a bit embarrassed about it too, aren’t they? And who would dare go back to the Gospels either? And if they did, would anybody know where to look, as the English say (did you ever see Benny Hill not knowing where to look?)?

    31 And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

    32 And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.

    33 But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.

    34 And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

    35 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.

    36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

    37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

    38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

    ………………………………………………………………………………………Mark VIII

  23. December 28, 2013 at 9:13 am

    Of course God speaks in many tongues and those tongues are trained in such highly complex movements they can only be mastered in regional childhoods whole continents away from each other and hemmed in by history, economics, gender and climate. That’s why most of our tongues no longer make sense to most of our ears, and why God himself is now deaf and dumb if not dead. That leaves us with just our own local poetry to tell us the truth, and above all the local poetry that takes us back to the time when there was just one language like the language we still understand without words as we understand “water,” “meadow,” “spring” in the sense of where everything begins, and “gone.” That’s where “Directive” goes, and so does this wonderful poem by Carl Phillips which concludes even as “Directive” begins: “back—”.


    by trees at its far ending,
    as is the way in moral tales:

    whether trees as trees actually,
    for their shadow and what
    inside of it

    hides, threatens, calls to;
    or as ever-wavering conscience,
    cloaked now, and called Chorus;

    or, between these, whatever
    falls upon the rippling and measurable,
    but none to measure it, thin

    fabric of this stands for.
    A kind of meadow, and then
    trees—many, assembled, a wood

    therefore. Through the wood
    the worn
    path, emblematic of Much

    Trespass: Halt. Who goes there?
    A kind of meadow, where it ends
    begin trees, from whose twinning

    of late light and the already underway
    darkness you were expecting perhaps
    the stag to step forward, to make

    of its twelve-pointed antlers
    the branching foreground to a backdrop
    all branches;

    or you wanted the usual
    bird to break cover at that angle
    at which wings catch entirely

    what light’s left,
    so that for once the bird isn’t miracle
    at all, but the simplicity of patience

    and a good hand assembling: first
    the thin bones, now in careful
    rows the feathers, like fretwork,

    now the brush, for the laying-on
    of sheen…. As is always the way,
    you tell yourself, in

    poems—Yes, always,
    until you have gone there,
    and gone there, “into the

    field,” vowing Only until
    there’s nothing more
    I want—thinking it, wrongly,

    a thing attainable, any real end
    to wanting, and that it is close, and that
    it is likely, how will you not

    this time catch hold of it: flashing,
    flesh at once

    lit and lightless, a way
    out, the one dappled way, back—

    ………………………………….Carl Phillips (2000)
    ………………………………….(with many, many thanks for allowing us to discuss it)

  24. December 29, 2013 at 6:02 am

    Not the famous one, and for that reason even better in the context because a bit rougher, plainer. Or were you thinking of the moose on the road? Or the great stag in the thicket (by whom did you say that was, or for whom?)? Or was it in the middle of the water where she was? Was the great power in his rack or her arms long and small?

    For make it new this will always do fine. Every memorable poem is like this — the “way out” that is also the way “back” as in both the Frost and the Carl Phillips, that which makes it new even if it’s missed or wasted. “The yearning unappeased” Denis de Rougement called the universal emptiness that sucks so much truth out of the thicket of love, “the sense of loss and worshipful longing” as someone I much admire called it recently, upbraiding me for it.

    “Even at the moment of not having whatever it is you want most!” I replied under my breath.

    For isn’t that it? Isn’t that why we walk on through the landscape everyday with nowhere to lay our heads?

    And isn’t that why a poem can still say it new even when, like this very old one, it celebrates loss?



    Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
    But as for me, helas! I may no more.
    The vain travail hath worried me so sore,
    I am of them that furthest come behind.
    Yet may I by no means, my worried mind
    Draw from the deer; but as she fleeth afore
    Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
    Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.
    Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
    As well as I, may spend his time in vain;
    And graven in diamonds in letters plain
    There is written, her fair neck round about,
    “Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,
    And wild to hold, though I seem tame.”

    …………………………………………….Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542)

  25. December 30, 2013 at 9:47 am

    “The poem, even a short time after being written, seems no miracle; unwritten, it seems something beyond the capacity of the gods.”

    “Art is the means we have of undoing the damage of haste. It’s what everything else isn’t.”

    “You must believe: a poem is a holy thing — a good poem, that is.”

    ………………from On Poetry and Craft: Selected Prose of Theodore Roethke


    And just a note on that, so you can follow better where I think this is going.

    With every word he wrote as well as every act he did, Ezra Pound was there in his own distinct person. When he says “make it noo” he says it not only in his own American accent but in his distinctly American time and space and of course in his very own, profoundly self-conscious ex-patriate-American belief in himself as “The Maker.” “Make it new,” he says, not “make it new,” very much emphasizing the making as opposed to the “it” or the “new” — the latter two being, I would say, the primary characteristics of Theodore Roethke’s “holy thing” that no longer knows how, where, or when it got made.

    To my way of thinking, Pound rarely achieved a “good poem” in Roethke’s sense, that is a poem that is great in itself as opposed to the literary-historical-linguistic trappings in which it was wrapped. Indeed, one might even rephrase his “Make it new” as “Wrap it new” — like one of those joke presents that has box after box after box one inside the other which in the end is just about celebrating the artist’s wrapping skills without any gift enclosed at all.


  26. December 31, 2013 at 11:16 am

    All three quotes from Theodore Roethke’s “On Poetry and Craft” are deceptively simple. The last one in particular opens a real can of worms without the caveat, “a good poem, that is,” because today we are so ready to endorse any poem by an author, school, or movement we have decided we like, or at least feel we ought to like.

    The ‘Found Art’ movement in all its shapes and guises arose because so many modern artists deliberately stripped away the art from ‘ars,’ experimenting with various ‘new’ techniques that gave the impression that art just happens when you are an artist. After Jackson Pollack, almost anything spilled on the floor could be framed and hung on the wall, for example, and the random juxtaposition of images in both graphic art and poetry meant that you could cut and paste images arbitrarily and end up with “a powerful personal statement” that was “sacred” and “holy.” Just about anything would do to “unlock the unconscious,” “release the energy,” and “free the self,” that’s our discourse, and in the process all sorts of stuff came tumbling out including whole new careers as artists, impresarios and mentors. Exit through the gift shop was the inevitable next step — and the higher the price tag the more likely the sale (the Bansky film is priceless!).

    Of course the “good poem” still exists, but sometimes it’s hard to see the poem for the poetrees…


    So what does make a “good poem” then, the vehicle that’s capable of bearing the “holy” part of Theodore Roethke’s “holy thing?”

    For me a good poem is a poem I want to read whether it’s famous or not. So any poem that has ever been written for me personally is going to be good by definition, because I want to read it so badly for one thing, and because it genuinely needs to be read by me for another – and if it’s a love poem so much the better. Similarly, if I’m leafing through a stack of poetry journals or poetry books on a bookshop shelf I’m going to read with great pleasure any single poem that’s hot, brave and alert enough to find me — yes, and I usually stop right there and buy the book, the moment’s so holy. That’s one reason I like The New Yorker, there are so few poems and they pop up in such odd places, tug my sleeve so unexpectedly, ask for my personal attention so insistently, and I end up by befriending a poem that I might otherwise never have met. At the opposite extreme, The American Poetry Review almost always leaves me feeling a bit queasy and I ask myself, why bother with poetry at all today, it’s such a glut? Why say so little so many times over and over and over again as if it were actually important, whatever it is? And I simply don’t want to read poetry anymore after that. Indeed, I feel I’m in a Common Room somewhere and have a professional responsibility to keep up with the scene, and for me that’s not at all a good way to find that single poem I’m looking for.

    What I don’t want is a whole gaggle of poems that are clamoring for me to become part of a poetry scene I’m very unlikely ever to join as I’m simply not there geographically, socially, or temperamentally. Poetry is a solitary pursuit for me, not a party, it’s a worm-hole I squeeze through, the eye of a needle that is negotiated better in poverty, the grain of sand that rubs and rubs against the hard shell until the hurt becomes a pearl.

    And that’s what I think Theodore Roethke meant by a poem as a “holy thing,” like a chink in the landscape that allows us to see through to eternity. And one does have to “believe” to find that, I think, one has to believe that there do exist such chinks in the hard armor of life through which one can sense, smell, and even touch the warm otherworldly flesh. That’s the “flashing flesh” of Carl Phillips’ poem, “A Kind of Meadow,” isn’t it — so vibrant both in its body and soul?

    …….…As is always the way,
    you tell yourself, in

    poems—Yes, always,
    until you have gone there,
    and gone there, “into the

    field,” vowing Only until
    there’s nothing more
    I want—thinking it, wrongly,

    a thing attainable, any real end
    to wanting, and that it is close, and that
    it is likely, how will you not

    this time catch hold of it: flashing,
    flesh at once

    lit and lightless, a way
    out, the one dappled way, back—


  27. January 2, 2014 at 10:57 am

    A chink or a grain of sand.

    This, this, this or not-this, not-this, not-this — as noble a truth and as cosmogonic as that.

    If you don’t want to read a poem don’t bother. If you do, read on right to the end and if possible read the poem all over again immediately and then again tomorrow. To read the same poem over and over again is good — like a good wine, a good poem develops first in the bottle, then opens its arms in the air.

    If you write just for other writers you’re just a coach, not a player, and your poem is a play you might call, not a play you’re actually playing in. By the end of the year that sort of grape juice is more often than not just vinegar.

    If you write just for yourself that’s fine, but be sure you read yourself as if what you write were written both by and for somebody else, and then you’ll be amazed. Read yourself everyday like that, out loud if you can, and you’ll see why your poems are holy.

    If you write for others and for whatever reason nobody reads you that’s fine too, though it’s obviously hard. Just keep on reading yourself and let yourself be amazed not only by just how much you can say as a writer but how much you can hear as a reader when you read what you say.

    Like a flower placed in a jam jar by a solitary hermit, patient or prisoner, it’s even more beautiful if it’s done all alone, and every bit as much a gift.

    You must believe a poem is a holy thing. If you don’t believe no poem will be holy or good, so don’t bother.


  28. Tizia said,

    January 3, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    The Adoration of the Divine Mother
    A burning Love from white spiritual founts
    Annulled the sorrow of the ignorant depths;
    Suffering was lost in her immortal smile.
    A Life from beyond grew conqueror here of death;
    To err no more was natural to mind;
    Wrong could not come where all was light and love.
    The Formless and the Formed were joined in her:
    Immensity was exceeded by a look,
    A Face revealed the crowded Infinite.
    Incarnating inexpressibly in her limbs
    The boundless joy the blind world-forces seek,
    Her body of beauty mooned the seas of bliss.
    At the head she stands of birth and toil and fate,
    In their slow round the cycles turn to her call;
    Alone her hands can change Time’s dragon base.
    Hers is the mystery the Night conceals;
    The spirit’s alchemist energy is hers;
    She is the golden bridge, the wonderful fire.
    The luminous heart of the Unknown is she,
    A power of silence in the depths of God;
    She is the Force, the inevitable Word,
    The magnet of our difficult ascent,
    The Sun from which we kindle all our suns,
    The Light that leans from the unrealised Vasts,
    The joy that beckons from the impossible,
    The Might of all that never yet came down.
    All Nature dumbly calls to her alone
    To heal with her feet the aching throb of life
    And break the seals on the dim soul of man
    And kindle her fire in the closed heart of things.
    All here shall be one day her sweetness’ home,
    All contraries prepare her harmony;
    Towards her our knowledge climbs, our passion gropes;
    In her miraculous rapture we shall dwell,
    Her clasp shall turn to ecstasy our pain.
    Our self shall be one self with all through her.

    – Sri Aurobindo

    Book Three: The Book of the Divine Mother
    Canto II: The Adoration of the Divine Mother

  29. Tizia said,

    January 3, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    I do believe a poem is a holy thing. Here above, I posted an excerpt of Savitri, the most giant poem I know, written by Sri Aurobindo, a shiny point of light in my life.

  30. January 4, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Many thanks for that, Tizia.

    Here’s where that goes for me (I’d say George Tooker was one of the most “shiny” American painters of the 20th Century).

    …………………………………………George Tooker – “Mirror & Flower”

    …………………………………………George Tooker – “Window VII” (1963)

    The first painting illustrates someone like me looking at a flower like mine in a jar (isn’t the girl looking over the top of the mirror at the flower as well? Or is she just not quite sure where to look, like me?). The second is what Sri Aurobindo might have seen if he had looked at the Mother of God with our eyes (do look carefully at the looking yet again). And if you go even farther you’ll see how our eyes look at the same. (The painting is called “The Table,” which is perfect.)

    But all that is too big for my words — I live in a very small way in a very small world. Yes, I can imagine what George Tooker paints but when I try to write it as big as he paints it it sounds silly.

    I think that’s an important distinction — we writers have to be true to our size if we truly want to make it new. Most of the time that means scaling it down rather than up.

    But I love the Sri Aurobindo anyway even if it makes me feel small — people used to write bigger, but that doesn’t lessen us as long as we’re true to our size and our span.

    Indeed, I think we need to be small and short today to be true. I think small and short is wonderful.


  31. January 5, 2014 at 9:42 am

    If I might be so bold as to quote in this context Peter Butros, a good friend I happen never to have met:

    Butros-Butros said – December 15, 2013 at 2:27 am

    To close the circle, the injunction “Make it new!” would seem to be saying, “Mend in a new way!” Can this new way be only stylistic or is something more at issue. I don’t know. I think Wallace Stevens said that a change of style is tantamount to a change of content. But I like the idea of “equivalent experiences”–experiences that, while not being similar, are from the same ground and function to the same end.

  32. January 6, 2014 at 9:42 am

    “Equivalent experiences — experiences that, while not being similar, are from the same ground and function to the same end.” Butros-Butros

    When that passage from Sri Aurobindo’s epic, Savatri, got posted, I felt a bit desperate. I know the author well — indeed she’s studying ‘Womblifting’ here at home with my Thai doctor-wife as part of a small workshop of 8 men and women with their hands on each other’s abdomens all day long. And to be frank, I feel a bit desperate about ‘Womblifting’ too, indeed as desperate as I do about The Mother of God, Light, Faith, and Heaven. I love all that but am at the same time profoundly out of it myself, pedestrian by comparison, constrained and even a bit cycnical. Indeed, both the imagery and the devotion it inspires in this latter day disciple might as well be from another planet as far as I’m concerned. Or in a language I’ve never heard of, or wrapped about in air I’ve read about but never been high enough in my person to breathe.

    Because I was so grateful to ‘Tizia’ for having had the courage to post something, and because I trust her integrity, I wanted to welcome her in — but what could I say when she was assuming territory I’d never visited? That’s why I groped about for some other experience I had had that would be for me “from the same ground,” in Peter Butros’ sense, and that for me personally functioned to “the same end.” And that is George Tooker altogether, whose work lifts me up as high as I can go but whose air I can continue to breathe.

    The author of the Sri Aurobindo post lives in Taos, New Mexico — quite a venue, and with such a colorful history of exalted, ultra-other-worldly denizens. In addition, the author of the post spends half of each year in Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo’s famous ashram in what used to be Bengal, and is educating her children there. So this is real life for her, not just a style or a fashion as it is for so many young Americans who come here from the West Coast dressed up for prostrations and gurus. She’s the real thing, Tizia — as I hope I am too in my own way, emaciated and deprived as I am (a lot of people will laugh at that but it’s true).

    It’s to breach this gap I’m attempting to launch this thread, ‘MAKE IT NEW’ – a humble attempt to reinvent the wheel, I call it. And I’d say that now we’re exactly where I’d hope we might be.

    Is anybody else there with me?


  33. January 8, 2014 at 9:43 am

    I went out on my bicycle today and took some pictures so I could show you something about the way spirits actually live in their houses.

    McKean Spirit House

    They aren’t just pretty churches where I live, these spirit houses, but dumps – because they also contain the rubbish of the spirit, not just the treasure, not just the kingdom, the power and the glory – almost as if the glorious stuff meant less to the spirits who live there than the wreckage, the neglect, the detritus that is the ultimate fate of all breaking waves.

    Because the spirits are so old they’ve come to love neglect and exhaustion too, not just refinement and beauty – indeed, the spirit in all its forms and manifestations is 50% rot.

    My neighbors know this well and would be very upset indeed if some big, clumsy westerner came along and straightened up one of their spirit houses, threw out the sodas, chucked the old straws, put the fallen elephant back on its feet, steadied the dancing girl, and swept up the broken glass, shards and leaves off the floor. For this is not your house but the house of the spirits, and who are you tell them how to live? You don’t think they could keep better house if they wanted to?

    Because this is how they like it. This is the way it really is and you’d better get used to it, they say, assuming you’ll touch something and get zapped. Even hoping you will, I suspect.

    The foul rag and bone shop of the heart, in other words, the outhouse where the mansion of love is pitched and all that.

    eKang Spirit House

    Or like the decomposition in Elizabeth Bishop’s ”The Fish” —  a poem about how holiness is reduced by time and struggle to corruption and rot. Indeed, everything sacred in the poem is as broken and bent as in this spirit house — you can CLICK HERE to see the decapitated Buddha (top left) more clearly. Because in the end the wreck of the “tremendous” is all that remains of the past, this poem says, just as what remains of strength and devotion breaks out in the old fish’s skin in lesions like leprosy or the raw acne on a teen-ager’s face. In this decomposed dream of the spirit you get not only the strength and beauty that might have been, not just what you’re taught to find in church or in your poetry class in school, but the candle wax smudged on the altar and the stained glass blotched and buckled — only cheap tarnished glitter is left of the original plate while it’s fools-gold that glints in the rotten fish-flesh of God hanging in disgusting strips off the side of the ark.

    A charnel ground, that’s what it is – a charnel ground in the bilges of a boat with an old rotten engine that leaks oil as you hang your head in shame in the bilges and puke. There’s no meditating on skulls with one good hand while the other strokes a familiar young face here, nor is there any kind of revelation or epiphany — just the stench of old flesh rotting like where the bodies are left for the birds on the high, inhospitable ground, the putrefaction leaking out and fouling the spring.

    40,000 men died way up high in the bombers that pulverized Germany in the last years of World War II, I just read – inside the bombers alone 40,000 died even as the numbers pile up in my mind.

    It would take me all night to count up to that.


    You can CLICK HERE to look right inside this house. (Do you see what’s in there?)

    Sometimes we make it new by diminishing it to human size, or at least to our own size however small and cramped that may be, and messy. Or by refusing Heaven like Emily Dickinson did  — the difference being that Emily Dickinson really believed in heaven even as she chose earth. She chose to be here in her own small body alone upstairs in her bedroom as opposed to disembodied in Heaven — even as she grew older by the day and farther and farther away from the passion that gave her the strength and the blessing to yearn.

    That’s real passion, I’d say, and so is the exhausted, burnt out passion of  Elizabeth Bishop’s fish, a passion which has nothing to do with whatever’s going on in “The Old Man and the Sea.”

    You have to ask men about that last one — Ernest Hemingway is taught in high-school too, of course, and teachers fool a lot of people about what’s going on when an old man’s catching a fish. Indeed, it’s the man in all of us, even in women, that misreads “The Old Man and the Sea” as well as “The Fish.”

    House Behind MengraiCLICK HERE to look at that better. (And who do you think’s been eating the bananas?)

    And are you worried about the rainbow at the end of the poem?

    So am I.


    • Dawn Potter said,

      January 8, 2014 at 6:13 pm

      These photographs are beautiful and terrifying. I’ll be thinking about them for a long time.

      • January 9, 2014 at 11:08 am

        Me too, Dawn. But the sun was too low late Tuesday afternoon when I took them and I plan to go back today and do better.

        I was in such a rush, as I always am when I get near anything the least bit beautiful and terrifying. I mess things up pretty easily.

        “Art is the means we have of undoing the damage of haste. It’s what everything else isn’t.”

        I quoted that from Theodore Roethke’s On Poetry and Craft a few days ago. My own feeling is that nothing is ever made new by simply being ahead of everything else or, as we say, “original” — which actually means near the simple root or formation of things, not the most advanced, cultivated edge.


        To tell you the truth, I’ve come to the point where I find the second half of a wave worth waiting for, the part where the whiteness on the head of the wave begins to settle back down again first into disintegration and then, if we’re patient enough, the original water.

        The art I like best could be described as ‘mature’ in this sense, and therefore both reflective and projective at the same time. One might even say it like this: what everything else isn’t is what it has yet to become.

        ………………Krishna, disguised as an old woman,
        ………………pleads with Radha:

        ……………………….Yes, my vanity is absurd,
        ……………………….the years have slipped by,
        ……………………….I remember, and grieve for them;
        ……………………….my breasts hang limp,
        ……………………….my hips are bony.
        ……………………….Yet on this withered body
        ……………………….the God of Love plunges and rolls.
        ………………Trans. from the Bengali by Edward C. Dimock Jr.
        ………………and Denise Levertov.

        The poem doesn’t say “still plunges and rolls” but “plunges and rolls,” right now — and, of course, the narrator is the Mother of God as well as her consort, husband and wife.

        I suspect that’s what Elizabeth Bishop was celebrating at the end of ”The Fish” as well, in a very different narrative but nevertheless.

        ……………………….I stared and stared

        ……………………….and victory filled up

        ……………………….the little rented boat,

        ……………………….from the pool of bilge

        ……………………….where oil had spread a rainbow

        ……………………….around the rusted engine

        ……………………….to the bailer rusted orange,

        ……………………….the sun-cracked thwarts,

        ……………………….the oarlocks on their strings,

        ……………………….the gunnels- until everything

        ……………………….was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow! 

        ……………………….And I let the fish go.

        I think that’s where these beautiful but terrifying houses go too, a liberation of the spirit which allows it to be just like us. Because why shouldn’t it be? If we age and fall apart, why shouldn’t they?


  34. January 10, 2014 at 10:11 am

    Of course all this comes up out of ”Directive”:

    Back in a time made simple by the loss
    Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
    Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather.

    That’s the wreck of the spirit visible in all those ‘houses’ too — “hôtel” the French say for altars and even whole chapels, and I’d say my local ‘spirit houses’ not only welcome that wreckage but worship it — “celebrate” it might be an even better word. Like the wounds in the Mass…

    And I’d just like to mention the fact that I know spirit houses near where I live that I wouldn’t dare to photograph at all, they’re so “dark.” I would feel I was betraying the spirit of the whole land to put my peeping-tom-eye up to the view-finder in order to expose them to public gaze. Indeed, I very rarely take even close friends to look at them, and when I do I say very firmly, “Look carefully — and no cameras!”

    In a sense “Directive” moves into its secret inner sanctum like that too.

    I don’t like the word “esoteric” but you can use it if you have to. It means a secret mystery which can be revealed only to an initiate — Pierre does a wonderful job in his own bumbling way with that one when he tries to join the Masons in “War and Peace.”

    Forbidden, in fact. And my wife thinks I’m crazy to take people to see the spirit houses I’ve photographed above, they’re so private for her and, of course, dangerous. She feels people are going to get hurt, and even more so if they don’t understand.

    And I’m saying MAKE ME POETRY LIKE THAT even as my favorite painters make me the paintings I love best. Yes, I mean the fear and the trembling that accompanies all beauty.

    To choose an extreme example, that’s what the fear and the trembling in Balthus is about, not paedophilia. Indeed, it is all over the place just waiting for him, in Gauguin, for example, and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. And I don’t mean that one, or even anything daring. I mean as simple as this:

    Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Il Povero Pescatore (1881)………………………………..Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Il Povero Pescatore (1881)

    It’s the baby most of all, and then the elegiac hue, “the loss / of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off,” and the stasis. Click and see.


  35. January 11, 2014 at 7:11 am

    Pure theatre, and self-indulgent. And still I say go for it!

    I’d also say that all great poetry is elegiac to some extent, as it always celebrates what we have already lost or soon will. “Art is the means we have of undoing the damage of haste,” as Roethke put it, or one could say the means we have of undoing the damage of time, or the damage of thoughtlessness, or the damage of anicca in Buddhist terms, — “impermanence,” “the source of all suffering.” On the other hand you’d never say “undoing suffering,” more like giving it its due, letting it be — like in those spirit houses.

    Buddhism is a wonderful method for dealing with the damage caused by obsession, self-delusion and disappointment in one’s personal life, but I’d say that in it’s purest form it’s sometimes limited in the place it gives to the transcendence that passion can also inspire – which is why Buddhism has usually found ways to integrate the more primitive (in the sense of “original”) devotional and magical aspects of the religions it has replaced as it has journeyed from India to South East Asia and over the Himalayas to Tibet, Mongolia, China, and Japan.

    Needless to say, the spirit houses around me in Chiang Mai are much older than the teachings of the Buddha. (What an irony that we too should find them so “original.” I mean, they’re as avant-garde as Joseph Cornell boxes!)


    “Yearning” is maybe a better word for what I’m trying to say than “passion,” at least as it describes the universal sigh of the spirit, ecstatic yet mournful, which floods the heart and soul of the lover, the devotee, the priest, the musician and the poet all the way from the Mediterranean to the Near East, Russia, Persia, and India. Every note of the great music of the eastern half of the Eurasian landmass yearns with the same voice that calls out to the infinite from the heights of the minaret down, down through the intricacies of the palace, souk and the market to the cabarets in the back alleys, yearning, yearning, yearning — as the poems I love most are prayers that yearn like an Indian ‘raga’ at dawn. And I love the ‘luuk tung’ (Thai ‘country music’) I can hear right now yearning ‘mae’ (“mother’s not dead!”) and ‘rak terr’ (“I still love you!”) on my neighbor’s pickup-truck radio. Indeed, we’re not far at all from The Stanley Brothers and, when it really gets up there, Bill Monroe!

    ………………It’s a long road to travel on,
    ………………many miles of sorrow is all I’ve gone…

    Can you hear it, way up there?


    The Beloit Poetry Journal Forum devoted the month of November 2013 to a discussion of the great Russian poet, Gennady Aygi. Ably moderated by one of Aygi’s translators, Alex Cigale, it concluded with a poem that is both ancient and modern, old-fashioned and avant garde, esoteric and sentimental, accessible and impenetrable. And it’s all there, and my world at least stands still for it.


    ………………when the last words were being written

    ………………the night before leaving on white paper alongside a pencil

    ………………by the phloxes on the table –


    ………………not “farewell” – but the heart itself:

    ………………they are ours

    ………………in the earth and the heart:

    ………………(soul – like “thank you” itself:

    ………………for – the Word)

    …………………………..,,,,…Gennady Aygi (1976) translated by Peter France
    ………………………………… Click Here
    and then scroll up for the BPJ discussion.

    Just to say that Gennady Aygi’s first language was not Russian but the Turkic ‘Chuvash,’ and that in a sense the poet is translating himself when he writes in Russian. Indeed, it’s remarkable that Peter France can do so much with him for us in English. But we still have to be patient and generous in reading him — Gennady Aygi is from another planet, the one where brides fly like violinists, icons speak, and the Mother of God is your own.

    And Peter France has to call on the language of the likes of e.e.cummings, William Carlos Williams, Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov and Rae Armantrout to translate him. Yet it works, doesn’t it?


    P.S. Later…

    I’d like to add on this painting by a friend of Gennady Aygi, Gennadii Gogoliuk, who is also the son-in-law of Peter France, Aygi’s close friend and translator. You’ll see why I want to include it, I think — it links to so many things I’ve been trying to say as well as to Puvis de Chavannes, Balthus, Marc Chagall and the Mother of God. I mean, it’s called “Melancholia – Homage to Van Gogh” if you were still in any doubt!

    Gennadii Gogoliuk - Melancholia

    You can see it a bit more clearly here here. For an extensive view of Gennadii Gogoliuk’s work you can look at a whole exhibition in London here.

  36. Dawn Potter said,

    January 12, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    “Original” wasn’t the word that came to me when I saw your photographs of the spirit boxes. “Daily” was the word. They resemble, in more than a few ways, the dilapidated cabins and trailers that speckle the north woods. “People live here?” visitors ask. They do indeed.

  37. January 12, 2014 at 10:08 pm

    Thanks for that, Dawn — and I think you are replying specifically to my statement: “What an irony that we too should find them so “original.” I mean, they’re as avant-garde as Joseph Cornell boxes!”

    But Joseph Cornell boxes, with all their extreme artistry, precision and refinement, are nevertheless like something you might uncover in a musty old attic and throw out on the bonfire as an embarrassment. And I guess those tourists to Maine who find the poverty in the north woods “upsetting” (because that’s what that’s about, poverty!), were up there not to be original but to be as close as they could get to Bar Harbor.

    (I want to know if that means original like an Australian Aborigine or John Ashbery?)

    And Dawn, I love your poems from “Chestnut Ridge: a verse-history-in-progress of southwestern Pennsylvania” and almost included “The Miner Who Loved Dante (1924)” to illustrate one of my recent points. Can you guess which point that was?


  38. Dawn Potter said,

    January 12, 2014 at 10:22 pm

    I agree with your Cornell-box comparison, as well as with the irony of poverty that I think you are pointing out. Much of what upsets observers, I think, is the cluttered ugliness of poverty. Yet that of course is the least of the matter. Sometimes it is even the best part: it is the material history of a life, of lives, of places–not prettied up for observation or preservation; simply lived with and among.

    Re the “Miner” poem: I’m not sure which point it might have been salient to. I’m just regaining time and space after the holiday, and I haven’t kept up with the entirety of the thread.

  39. January 12, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    I went back and photographed some more of one of the houses near the 900 year old ruins of Wat eKang — you can just see some of the brick work through the green leaves.

    This is what the whole house looks like where it sits between 2 enormous Bo Trees — they’re spirit trees that have been ordained as monks. That’s what the yellow wraps are, monk’s robes.

    I’ve known the place for over 20 years now, but when I first found it on my bicycle there was just a dirt track to get there. The shrine hasn’t changed since then at all even though the roof is new and everything inside is constantly in a state of flux. I think there’s something very profound in that.

    eKang House Whole

    You can ”click here” to see a whole panorama of the interior. You can’t see the big decapitated Buddha I showed you before from this angle but you can see another emerald Buddha with no head and another with his head in his lap.

    Here you can also see Nang Ram, the glittering girl who dances above the incense sticks for Rama the 5th and his grandson, Rama the 9th. These are the two kings especially revered by the Thai people — they are present in almost all these houses.

    My favorite in this particular house is another dancing girl, Nang Kwak — she’s the Thai goddess who presides over every shop and dips her upraised right hand to bring money. There’s one in our own office in plastic with batteries so the hand never stops. We have another beautiful bronze one in her own special shrine outside the door — she gets a fresh glass of cool water every day, and sometimes a whole pineapple or bunch of bananas.

    I hope these figures will bring blessings to you in all your distant houses. Respect them and lower your eyes and they will respect you.


    • wfkammann said,

      January 14, 2014 at 6:48 am

      Here’s one from our trip to you.

      Bill's Spirit House 250

  40. January 13, 2014 at 9:06 pm


    … the wonderful Mexican painter, Ricardo Fernandez Ortega.
    …..(And if you find what I’m presenting here difficult, bizarre, or just plain
    …..old-hat, hey, take a little trip. Mexico’s just next door, after all.)

    ………………..Dante y Beatriz [click on the name!] by Ricardo Fernandez Ortega

    Or try Easter at St. Gervais behind the Hôtel de Ville in Paris.

    …………………..“And believing it all was part of that,
    …………………..believing in spite of it all, as he said,
    …………………..not seeing very well, if anything at all,
    …………………..but falling in love anyway and risking
    …………………..that even whiter wonder one last time
    ………………… live—I too did swear it,
    …………………..ever sudden, ever ashes bursting
    …………………..into burning flowers
    …………………..rising on an Easter morn forever—
    …………………..towering like our love in linen wraps about us
    …………………..torn by wings and every foolish wound
    …………………..loudly crying lucky, yearning wild:
    …………………..You are ever there like that
    …………………..when even I rise up again—
    …………………..O handle me, and see!

    …………………..“Barefoot on the road to Galilee
    …………………..we flirt, and then the angel falls—
    …………………..all burnt-out, sweet Lord,
    …………………..and spurning heaven too.”
    ……………………………………………………………St. Gervais,


  41. January 14, 2014 at 9:09 am

    In this version, and there are many, they hadn’t even had time to take their boots off in their haste, and she’s still wearing her neat little panties which meant she wasn’t yet ready to go the whole way this time. As to him, he was so impatient he’d broken the leather harness which he’d used to strap the wings on his back like Daedalus had done on Icarus’, and of course after that she’d done what she could to rescue them both with her white cotton wrap which is all she had on at the time beside the panties, looping it over the central strut and hanging on for dear life with one hand. Just that one hand and his on her breast along with her one single boot-toe hooked over the rear fuselage stem, that’s all they’d got — beside each other of course, and there’s no doubt they were on their way down. And what’s he doing, praying? Is that what he’s doing with his left hand raised like that with the palm so open and soft, or is that just a sign of wonder, or a blessing? Or is he shading his eyes so that he can look way down there at all the others? Make it new? Why, isn’t it just one conflagration after another?

    Ecce homo!

    • wfkammann said,

      January 15, 2014 at 5:04 am

      The title is Dante y Beatriz. But then you’ve made it all noo on the way to The Inferno.

      Ricardo Fernandez Ortega is a modern Mexican Surrealist and Mexican surrealism is certainly worth a long hard look. Edward James was an eccentric English nobleman who was a patron of Surrealists including many Mexicans. Here is a picture of James at Xilitla with his friend Plutarco Gastelum, who built his beautiful cement fantasies. Plutarco was James’ Beatrice, or perhaps vice versa. Plutarco’s family lived with uncle Edward and inherited everything.

      Edward James’ sprawling surreal jungle cement “Los Pozos” transforms a natural landscape into a maze of surrealist sculptures and structures. James was a patron of Leonora Carrington the British-born surrealist painter who lived her life in Mexico and died recently in 2011. Surrealism strikes a chord in the Mexican psyche.

      Mexican Surrealist Sculpture

      Not to be Reproduced, a portrait of Edward James by René Magritte

      Rene Magritte - Not to be Reproduced

      Magritte actually did two portraits of James.

  42. January 15, 2014 at 9:14 am

    Thank you for the correction, Bill — I’ve gone back to the original and realize the Ortega painting is indeed called “Dante y Beatriz.” I imposed my own wishful thinking in assuming it was “Icarus” — I’m very sorry about that.

    But the remarkable thing is that there’s very little difference between the two titles, at least as far as the imagination is concerned. Isn’t that what always happens in the soul when one imagines an image? Yes, I made it new, alright, but so did Ricardo Fernandez Ortega in the painting and, of course, so did Dante before him throughout his life. We’re all in this perilous flight together, after all, we’re all crashing for the foolish commitments we make to height, love, poetry, faith and politics even. “Beyond belief,” it might be called, this strapping on of wings and then flying too near to some pedestrian sun.

    That’s not in the painting, but that’s what it’s also about.

    I don’t really understand what you have in mind with the other images, but I’m climbing a mountain again today and I’ve got only just a few minutes to slick down my hair, put on my own boots, and bridle the horses. On the other hand, I love the Magritte. That’s spot on.


    • wfkammann said,

      January 15, 2014 at 11:53 pm

      Rene Magritte - The Pleasure Principle

      Here’s the other portrait entitled The Pleasure Principle.

  43. January 16, 2014 at 9:54 pm


    Directive as a Joseph Cornell box…

    Fill-ins, sign posts, junk that moves the eye along like tumble weed.

    A clumsy, inartistic poem in a reluctant, mumbling, almost down-east sort of drawl even if it is New Hampshire — the voice of “the cluttered ugliness of poverty,” as Dawn Potter calls what she can see all around her in Harmony, Maine. (I’m ill and I’m reading Gretel Ehrlich on deprivation, emptiness, and what wind does to you in Wyoming, my adopted state. The Solace of Open Spaces. Same voice, same place.)


    Had I, Christopher you-know-who, submitted this poem anywhere it would have been rejected out of hand. Because it really is a clumsy poem, awkward, self-conscious, old-fashioned – embarrassing even, this famous but curmudgeonly, provincial, self-conscious cri de coeur.

    And didactic all the way through too – telling you where to look and what to think. Simple-minded stage-directions like “Our Town” — “There’s a story in a book about it,” the poet even tells us.

    And the story ends up in a dollhouse full of broken playthings and utensils.

    Broken artifacts and icons, broken, worn-out, childish symbols in an old-hat antique rubbish heap, a Hallmark jig-saw puzzle tossed out in its frame.

    And the single purpose, the directive of the title, is to get ready for the grail? For the “Grail,” can you believe it, big ‘G’ no less?

    And yet?

    And yet I’d say that’s also how to make it new.


    • wfkammann said,

      January 18, 2014 at 12:14 am

      Don’t find the poem quite as weak as you say here. Agree more with some of your remarks above. The poem, it seems to me, is consciously more complex than most of Frost. A late work with hope for healing in the spring of memory; a salvation drawn from the ruined past; a spirit house at journey’s end.

      Reminded me of the famous hymn by William Cowper written after many failed suicide attempts.

      There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
      And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
      Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains;
      And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

      The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day;
      And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.
      Washed all my sins away, washed all my sins away;
      And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.

      Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood shall never lose its power
      Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more.
      Be saved, to sin no more, be saved, to sin no more;
      Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more.

      E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply,
      Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.
      And shall be till I die, and shall be till I die;
      Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.

      Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing Thy power to save,
      When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.
      Lies silent in the grave, lies silent in the grave;
      When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.

      Lord, I believe Thou hast prepared, unworthy though I be,
      For me a blood bought free reward, a golden harp for me!
      ’Tis strung and tuned for endless years, and formed by power divine,
      To sound in God the Father’s ears no other name but Thine.

      Aretha Franklin at 14 years old. She goes to the spring to interpret Cowper’s hymn.

  44. January 18, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    There are many ways to make it new, and one of the ways is to write against the grain, against the very person one is – like a tree growing upside down or water flowing backward. But how do you do that? As a hugely successful poet who has spent a lifetime sharing your beloved voice with others, how would you go about writing that perversity into a poem, knowing full well that it could never be good or acceptable? As an established poet, the strongest grain is one’s own style, the strongest stream one’s rhythm and particular integrity and warmth – how one sounds to the faithful (and that includes me for sure). In Robert Frost’s specific case the kind of characters that people his poems are our very own neighbors too – people we know like family, people we work for, love, struggle with and marry, people we sometimes hate, envy and fight with too, of course — all redeemed by the very great sort of poetry that gives us the confidence to go on. In Robert Frost we can face the tragedy as well as the joy and accomplishment in life. We can face anything.

    But what if Robert Frost were tired of that? What if what he really meant was something he’d never managed to say before? What if his reputation had trapped him in a false identity? What if at the end he just wanted to stop somewhere like Theodore Roethke’s “Far Field” and let it grow simple and dim?

    How would you write that poem if you were Robert Frost?

    Robert Frost is one of our greatest poets, and he achieved that greatness by establishing a style and voice which steadied and informed countless readers for almost a century. He’s the poet who makes readers feel comfortable with poetry even when the topic is painful – every reader is always open for more of Robert Frost as through decades of experience he’s never let anybody down.

    So if you were him, how would you let them down if that’s what, God damn it, you had to do to be true?

    Because in “Directive” he does. He sloughs it all off, the perfect style, the sensitive imagery, the comforting voice, the wisdom. It’s all gone in ”Directive,” it’s all mixed up in a cheap-shot, vulgar, adolescent wobble – at least in comparison to the rest of his work it is. And that’s why it’s such a great poem, I say, and why so many students will remember the moment when their best teacher tried “Directive” on them, and how that changed everything as far as poetry was concerned, not just Robert Frost but their own lives, at least for the moment.

    “Can’t explain it and don’t know what it means, but it did.”


  45. wfkammann said,

    January 19, 2014 at 4:32 am

    Frost was an intellectual. He was certainly always more than the Rockwell picture and frame that he built for himself as the “New England Poet.” His late pieces like the Masque of Reason and the Masque of Mercy are philosophical and Miltonic.

    “Directive” is a story too large for the frame and the landscape ranging from the knees of the quarry to the Glacier, Panther Mountain and two Ghost Towns is hardly a quiet stopping by woods. To imply that there is a pristine source in each person’s life which eliminates all confusion even if we have to be lost to find it and have ears to hear it and a Grail from which to drink it, is a lot to pack into a poem. It’s not successful as a Rockwell painting; it’s more like a video. The poem is a journey; not a still life.

    But then, Christopher, we often disagree.

    ………………..“I’m liberal. You, you aristocrat,
    …………………Won’t know exactly what I mean by that.
    …………………I mean so altruistically moral
    …………………I never take my own side in a quarrel.”

  46. Butros-Butros said,

    January 19, 2014 at 6:01 am

    I haven’t been following too closely lately, but it seems to me that this Frost poem is for people who like too much living in houses, on farms, in towns, and all that that implies. But maybe I have missed the point.

  47. January 19, 2014 at 7:18 am

    And where else might they live then, Peter, if not in a house, on a farm, or in a town? Or do you mean “who like too much living,” period, regardless of where or who they might be?

    If you could expand on that point a little I’d much appreciate it, as I feel you are saying something that could help me understand things better in general and this poem in particular.

    And Bill, I don’t disagree with you except when you lead me to a place where I have no idea where I am and then expect me to find my own way back to what you mean. Which I rarely do, and which is certainly not what you intend when you’re playing around.

    When you say what you mean as in the William Cowper hymn, for example, or the monumental rendition of similar sentiment by this brilliant young girl, I understand you perfectly — but can only agree with you up to the limit of my understanding of Life. What you do is change the focus to be so huge I lose the struggle with the little things that make up the level of life I’m actually on, like this poem, tight and clumsy but radiant.


  48. Butros-Butros said,

    January 19, 2014 at 7:44 am

    Christopher, I will try to be a little more specific.

    There is a road, at least partially man-made, that leads eventually to the confusion-cleansing waters of the source; and, along that road, there is house, farm, village, and their remnants. In a sense, they might even assist us in finding the source waters, but they are not the source waters, and, in fact, they might impede as much as assist us in finding the source. Actually, they might be the source of our confusion.

    It seems to me that there is a fundamental penchant toward “naturalism” in the dynamic of this directive or poem. Houses and farms and towns–these institutions–however ancient, are not natural objects, but artifice. The closer to the source, the less argumentative, we might say, is the nature of the water–“Too lofty and original to rage.”

    Does that make any sense? I think what you wrote earlier about how Frost seemed to abandon his whole persona with the writing of this poem fits in well with what I am trying to say. Don’t you think?

  49. January 19, 2014 at 8:41 am

    Yes I do indeed, Peter — and after I’ve had my breakfast and sorted out the beginnings of my day I shall get back to you. I’ve been way up in the mountains around Doi Angkhan on the Burmese border for 2 days, most of the time above cloud level, and coming back down to the flat, humdrum rice-realm makes me hungry for thoughts like your own.

    In fact I’ve never discussed “Directive” with anybody else in my life before — it’s as if it had been sitting there at the back of my mind for years just waiting for this moment. I think it’s a poem for that purpose — “too lofty and original to rage” but there if you’re ready to stoop for it.

    Indeed, it was where I hoped to go when I launched this thread (you can click here if you don’t remember when it first came up — and here again for the second instance).


  50. Butros-Butros said,

    January 19, 2014 at 8:51 am

    Good we seem to have found some common ground.
    I will be here at my computer tomorrow, but, Monday, I leave for North Carolina and I am not sure if I will have a computer at my disposal. I will, however, have my iPhone to receive messages, though replying will be a little difficult. I thank you for my introduction to Frost’s “Directive.”

  51. January 19, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Many thanks for this, Bill,

    ………………..“I’m liberal. You, you aristocrat,
    …………………Won’t know exactly what I mean by that.
    …………………I mean so altruistically moral
    …………………I never take my own side in a quarrel.”

    A wonderful place to start on Robert Frost — because there’s almost always that element in him that mocks the hagiographers that would trot him out for his moral stance and instruction. In actual fact Robert Frost is no more a saint in his poetry than he was in real life, and if you go by what he actually writes you can hardly accuse him of self-promotion. “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” doesn’t tell you good tidings at all, for example, indeed if you’re honest with yourself you’ll know that when you stop by the woods even in a horse cart at night in the snow it’s as likely to be about shame and/or a tune stuck in your head as it is about tolerance and peace. Similarly, that famous line at the end of “The Road Not Taken,” “and that has made all the difference” — which doesn’t say at all what your high-school teacher, coach, priest, bus driver, scout leader, barber or best-selling therapist would have you believe. Made the right choice, did you? Had that sort of courage and clarity at the very start of your life? You bet you didn’t, or at least you’ll never be sure you had a thought in your head at all but mainly just money and sex.

    And by the same token, you can’t even believe Robert Frost when he says he’s a “liberal,” and indeed he’s probably just dismissing you as inferior when he calls you an “aristocrat,” or perhaps he’s just plain jealous. But make no mistake about it, Robert Frost is an even greater poet when you accept the fact that he was just as confused as anybody else, and that that’s why he got pleasure in not taking his own side in a quarrel, not because he was so wise or knowledgeable.

    Except in “Directive,” there he’s wise, I’d say — which is one reason why the poem can be described as in some ways the worst and in other ways the best he ever wrote.

    And we’re talking about reinventing the wheel in poetry, about making it new. And in ”Directive” I’d like to suggest he did. [I keep giving the link to the text of the poem because if you’re at all like me you’ll still need to read it again and again.]


  52. January 19, 2014 at 11:37 am

    Hot off the relevant press — just quoted by Dawn Potter here.

    Learn in school to quote your teachers correctly so that all your life long you will quote as gossip or reporter you will quote everybody correctly except when from malice or mischief you [illegible] misquote people on purpose. Formula for examination questions: What do you think I (the Teacher) think was the date of the battle of Hastings? of Yorktown?

    ………………[From The Notebooks of Robert Frost, notebook 4.
    ………………The entry is undated but seems to have been written at
    ………………some point after 1939.]

  53. January 20, 2014 at 10:46 am

    “What do you think I (the Teacher) think was the date of the Battle of Hastings? of Yorktown?”

    And what do you think I (the Teacher) think he (Robert Frost) thought about this poem he was writing? You may want to consider:

    ……..a.) its style, diction, imagery, voice;

    ……..b.) its syntax, punctuation, tone, structure;

    ……..c.) its meaning, intention, or value in literary terms;

    ……..d.) its provenance, its models, the primary influences upon it or how it
    ……..fits in;

    ……..e.) its position with regard to contemporary literary theory or impact
    ……..upon the subsequent development of poetry in general as well as upon
    ……..the corpus of his own work and beyond that upon American poetry as
    ……..we know it today and beyond.

    That’s silly, of course it is, cheap shots one after the other. Indeed, the Creative Writing Workshop movement is way beyond that now, stressing more and more what the poem means to you personally, the reader who reads it alone, you with your own individual background, needs, knowledge and experience. Indeed, the teaching of poetry today has moved away from what might be called “criticism,” rejecting the professional literary-critical discourse that the New Critics evolved in favor of the intimate, non-jugemental, unprofessional question — what is most important to you personally in this poem? The teacher no longer asks what does this poem mean, or how is it written, but how do you read it yourself, Sally, how does it speak to you back there in the back-row, yes I mean you guys, Eddie and Bill?

    Which is good for sure, and lucky those young people, and I mean really young, like 11 or 12, who get teachers trained in this intimate, non-jugemental, student-centered, self-empowering, un-hierarchical way of teaching. Poetry has become a friend now and anybody can write it, and does. Which is good.

    And then you have this greatest of American poets writing one great poem after another, and he ends up, as Bill says,”in the Rockwell picture and frame that he built for himself as the “New England Poet.”

    Is that right?

    But of course Bill doesn’t say that at all. What he says is:

    “He [Robert Frost] was certainly always more than the Rockwell picture and frame that he built for himself as the “New England Poet… “Directive” is a story too large for the frame and the landscape… It’s not successful as a Rockwell painting; it’s more like a video. The poem is a journey; not a still life.”

    But I want to know, what’s wrong with being like Norman Rockwell, such a great American painter, indeed right up there with Eakins, Homer, Hopper, and Wyeth? And the interesting thing is that art critics are starting to catch up with Norman Rockwell now too just as they are starting to catch up with Robert Frost, looking not just at the Saturday evening kitschy-comfort side of their work but the ambivalence, the anxiety, the courage and ruthless self-examination that their extraordinary formal skills made possible. And Norman Rockwell is in some ways also like Walt Whitman in his moods and exaltations — in turns he too is folksy, outrageous, eloquent, perverse, patriotic, ambivalent, irrepressible and always, always imperfect in the sense of self-absorbed and knowing it.

    I don’t think Robert Frost was more than Norman Rockwell at all, but I’d say equal — equally skillful and equally tortured by ambivalence, yearning, the road not taken, the fences both mended and unmended. And the greatest of his art comes out in his most fiercely self-faulted and self-incriminating poem, “Directive.”

    And that’s where Bill is really right:

    “To imply that there is a pristine source in each person’s life which eliminates all confusion even if we have to be lost to find it and have ears to hear it and a Grail from which to drink it, is a lot to pack into a poem.”

    But the great old man did in this poem anyway, and it didn’t work as I feel sure he was very aware and I suspect perversely proud of too. Because he had made it truly new by allowing it to be vulnerable, stilted, uneven and hackneyed even as he was writing his greatest and most challenging poem.

    And as I said before, without the body of all that great formal work and towering reputation behind it, nobody would have bothered to read it.


  54. wfkammann said,

    January 20, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    Andrew Wyeth
    Christina’s World

  55. January 21, 2014 at 11:00 am

    Thanks for that, Bill — spot on.

    You can click on “Christina’s World” and then keep on expanding into it as you can expand almost endlessly into “Directive” too  — both the painting and the poem are composed  in that way — for that,  by that, through that, and to that end.  Andrew Wyeth was perhaps our greatest master of the ancient art of the layer-upon-gentle-layer technique of egg tempera, the iambic pentameter of painting.

  56. wfkammann said,

    January 22, 2014 at 1:13 am

    Not so, Norman Rockwell. This is an illustration; a magazine cover. There are a lot of messages here, some perhaps a little off color. There is an emotion here, and maybe two. This is a good snap shot of a “real life” situation.

    It’s not just the technique of “Christina’s World” that is superior, it is the emotion. Which is more like a Frost poem?

    When they called Frost a New England farmer it was true that he owned a farm and tried to earn his living there. It didn’t work. He became America’s preeminent poetry teacher and was never that any more than he was a farmer. No, he was a poet and very much like the woman in the field.

  57. January 22, 2014 at 10:28 am

    Not so spot on, I suspect you mean, Bill – that the Norman Rockwell is not as close as Andrew Wyeth to the mysterious act we have been exploring throughout this thread — reinventing-the-wheel-to-make-it-new — the courage it takes to do that in any artistic activity, the terrifying beauty combined with the mess of those spirit houses, ‘Christina’s World’ v. ‘Shuffleton’s Barbershop’ as paintings that arise out of the “yearning unappeased” we referred to in relation to Carl Phillips’ poem, “A Kind of Meadow.” (You can click here for that part of the discussion.)

    This last Rockwell painting is less effective, I admit, but there’s still a lot of the same yearning in the midst of the mess. Indeed, it’s a shock of a caricature, this one — in its composition, ambivalence, kitsch, insight and emotional confusion but with the same extraordinary skill in the painting. I’ve never seen this one in the original, but one thing that struck me at the Rockwell Museum when I was there in 2007 was the difference between the canvases themselves, which are surprisingly large, and the magazine covers they were reduced to, and also the surprisingly ‘painterly’ (as they say) quality of what Norman Rockwell had in front of him on his easel alone in his studio (an easel which is also still there in Stockbridge, by the way, as is the “Directive” desk in The Frost Place).

    I mean, can you imagine painting this painting of two sailors alone in your studio if you were Norman Rockwell – the hand hovering over the thigh, the come-on glance, the bare, macho wrists connected to the powerful arms, the silly self-absorption of the less-experienced sailor who might or might not be looking at his girl and in fact could be her twin? I mean, that’s just as unnerving as the thought of Robert Frost writing “Directive” with a pencil on a piece of paper alone at his desk in Franconia. Can you imagine what it would be like for the aging master to struggle with a poem which was so ornery and inartistic but that was just for a moment saying what he had always meant all along, at least what he meant when he was out of the frame? Like the sailors are out of the frame to Rockwell – or anybody?

    Reinventing-the-wheel, the accident, the moment, the “perle, plesaunte to prynces paye” at the very moment it drops and rolls away on the ground to die. Yes, the Pearl’s corporality is lost forever in its ascent to heaven but at the very same instant it is salvaged on earth in the wonderful words which are even more ‘incarnate’ in Middle than they would be in Modern English: “So rounde, so reken in vche araye/So smal, so smo∂e her sydez were” [her thighs!]. Because in effect there is a Forever also in human terms, there absolutely is, just as there definitely was and still is in that bedroom upstairs in Amherst even to this day.

    I mean, was Emily Dickinson interested in the body or not? Answer me that, ye aesthetes, ye hagiographers!


  58. wfkammann said,

    January 22, 2014 at 11:44 pm


    Still reeling from being first “spot on” and then suddenly “not so spot on.” By the way, I don’t think Americans use the phrase “spot on” at all. Sounds like a “phony English accent” that has found its way into print. A performance/impersonation of an English intellectual perhaps. Being neither aesthete nor hagiographer I’ll leave it to the experts to answer your last gasp.


    An excerpt from Sandra Runzo’s
    The Emily Dickinson Journal Vol. 8, No. 1, Spring 1999

    One could say that Emily Dickinson’s body has been an obsession, both for editors and family members who have been careful in tending to Dickinson’s public presentation and for readers and scholars who have puzzled over the poetic and epistolary drama. Various critical claims have attributed an impossible array of definition to Dickinson’s body, naming it unmothered, virginal, pregnant, lesbian, heterosexual, asexual. Scholar Karl Keller has imagined “Sleeping with Emily Dickinson.” One might recall the many alterations to the 1847/48 daguerreotype in which Dickinson is “feminized” or glamorized with, for instance, curled hair and a ruffly collar. The introductory materials to several early editions of letters and poems stress Dickinson’s many heterosexual romances, and numerous sources report the exertions expended to remove evidence of Dickinson’s affections for women, particularly Susan Gilbert, through extensive mutilation and censorship of letters and poems.

    Dickinson herself participates fully in the obsessive reconception of her body. The animals, ghosts, and weapons that inhabit the poems all arguably incarnate Dickinson’s body, so that through the continual performances — as animal, ghost, weapon as well as bride, man, martyr (and many other poses) — Dickinson’s masquerading personae explore possibilities of the self, dramatizing the domain of supposition and desire.


    Dickinson’s embodiment of numerous female roles — wife, bride, queen, schoolgirl, maid, heterosexual lover, nun, lady, empress, housewife — would appear to place her solidly within heterosexist ideology and conventional social codes; however, her unrestrained assumption of female roles conveys such excess that Dickinson’s ostensibly “inconspicuous” presentation of herself as a woman turns into something else — something incongruous, dissonant, defiant. Dickinson’s hyperbolic assumption of herself as “woman” prompts the observation that Dickinson viewed gender as performance; moreso, as a series of performances in which her adoption of gendered costumes seemingly appropriate to her becomes parodic. The sense of the theatrical that informs Dickinson’s poems conveys remarkable consonance with recent theories that examine gender and sexual identity in relation to performance. Theorist Judith Butler, for instance, speculates that the “self” is constituted through a “string of performances”: the repeated performance creates a semblance of self-coherence and establishes and circulates one’s sexual and gendered “being.” (The repetition, she notes, also contests any continuity and coherence, each new performance supplanting the previous one.) Asserting that there are no fixed or “proper” gender roles and that what appears to be clear and stable “gender” is the consequence of impersonation, Butler commends the “necessary drag” of gender and sexual identity: “Drag constitutes the mundane way in which genders are appropriated, theatricalized, worn, and done; it implies that all gendering is a kind of impersonation and approximation” (Butler 21). Dickinson’s “string of performances” as “woman” (or as “man,” for that matter) conjoins coherence and instability and proposes that gendering derives from deliberate imitation. Through her writing, Dickinson participates in a ritual of transformation in which her wardrobe as “woman” prepares her appearance on a social and erotic stage — a presence that animates perplexities of femininity and masculinity, of homoeroticism, of heterosexual desire.

    ……………………..Emily and Catherine (Kate) Scott Turner Anthon

    A nice parallel to the sailor boys above, no?

    A discussion is found here.

  59. January 23, 2014 at 8:19 am

    Re. “Spot on.”

    I’m 74. In 1951 I was sent off to a boy’s boarding school in New Hampshire modeled on Eton. At 16 my New England parents improved on that by sending me even further off to Winchester College so I’m also a Wykehamist. And in case you’ve never heard of Winchester, the Etonian offers the old lady a chair, the Harrovian goes and gets it, and the Wykehamist sits in it saying “spot on.”

    I also say “Gee!” which I learned from my older brother whom I much admired. He dropped out of all the ‘good’ schools my parents sent him to including Choate and South Kent, ending up at Bernardsville High where Meryl Street went as well — she was the actress who played Karen Blixen, speaking of yearning unappeased and everything else in this thread.

    If you haven’t already figured out exactly who my brother was it means you didn’t click on here in Comment # 8. You can remedy that now, and in so doing I hope you will let me off Bill’s hook so we can get back to the sex as opposed to the sexual literary-criticism of the preceding article that Bill feels is spot on. Needless to say, not me.


    • wfkammann said,

      January 23, 2014 at 10:47 am

      Frost has the answer.

      In the Clearing 1962

      It takes all sorts of in and outdoor schooling
      To get adapted to my kind of fooling.

      Probably didn’t let you outdoors enough.

      • January 23, 2014 at 12:13 pm

        I spent my whole childhood outdoors. I lived on a farm, carried a 22 or a 12 gauge alone at 8, drove a tractor at 9, flipped my first car at 16 and my second a couple of years later in black tie, and had my first child at 20.

      • wfkammann said,

        January 23, 2014 at 11:00 pm

        And where did you develop your sense of humor, Christopher?

  60. January 23, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    The sex is like this:

    ………………………the house that is no more a house,
    ……………………But only a belilaced cellar hole,
    ……………………Now slowly closing like a dent in dough.

    Needless to say, these lines aren’t about sex. On the other hand, there are all sorts of belilaced cellar holes in life, and among the most beautiful, sensitive and inspiring are those in the beloved’s body. Any human being who has ever loved another sexually with his or her whole being will know that such loving is like the the making of bread, how the touch of any beloved space or place slowly closes “like a dent in dough” — because the bread of love can never stop rising even long after the roof has caved in and the bed collapsed.

    Robert Frost doesn’t suggest this specific reading in “Directive,” but we can go there anyway because the directions he indicates are so profound and unversal. We can pretend “the instep arch of the old oak” is “her” foot in our own life if we want to, for example — or was it perhaps actually “his?” Indeed, what would it matter if it were a man’s foot or a woman’s foot or whether we were a man or a woman if the Grail were actually cradled right there in that instep? Really, who cares about gender at that level, or even remembers to ask, or knows for sure if they do? How do you figure out who is who or which is which cradled like that, and why would you bother even to try?

    And what possible difference would it make if you could say for certain what Emily Dickinson did in bed, or with whom — or if ever? Read her poems with your whole heart and you’ll know, not about the personal details, which are inconsequential, but about everything you’ve ever wanted to know about being here in your own warm but complicated body suspended between heaven and earth.

    But for certain, if sex is a little bit difficult or dangerous, perhaps even so perilous you can’t admit it to yourself, perhaps even if it remains utterly forbidden or unconsummated, doesn’t the secret bread rise even higher as a result? I mean, do you really want to break down the door of the oven and let the bread out? Because the moment you do that the bread will collapse. Indeed, out of the oven is more often than not a disaster for artists as far as their productivity is concerned — E.M.Forster never published a novel again from the completion of A Passage to India in 1924 until his death in 1970. Yes, he was a happier man in those 46 years with his regular partner in his small house in London with a wife, no doubt, but that’s not to deny the place of the Barabar Cave in his soul, nor does it detract in any way from the value of what he created in that terrible, secret, amatory cavern in the body of India.

    ……………………Under a spell so the wrong ones can’t find it,
    ……………………So can’t get saved, as Saint Mark says they mustn’t.

    That’s what Robert Frost says, and that’s what makes “Directive” so difficult. And that’s what I say too in the following poem, versions of which I’ve been working on for years — and for which, I confess, I started this thread. I wanted to create a special place in which I could show this poem to you and perhaps even get you to read it all the way through more than once.

    I mean, would any of you have read “Directive” all the way through more than once if a great teacher hadn’t brought you to it, or Robert Frost’s imperious reputation hadn’t forced your nose down into its messy toils?


    …….O, how wrong you fierce suitors have it
    …….stripping off the dark, secret wraps
    …….that lighten length and breadth
    …….and scenery on earth—
    …….the furtive root grabs downward
    …….only because great tentacles of hot
    …….rival might lift our silt-lapped
    …….limbs much harder still,
    …….like sunlight
    …….prying up the whole orchard’s sap.

    …….No, the weight of things is just
    …….another flight,
    …….like Leda’s modest thighs
    …….giving plain wings the chance
    …….to sanctify earth’s godliest yearnings.

    …….As the arrow by the playful string
    …….the heady soul is ever fired by
    …….the archly absent body—
    …….draped arabesques of trembling skin
    …….and shining pubis so defying gravity
    …….even the most upright Jove
    …….or holy Galileo
    …….bearded like our father’s angel
    …….so hotly does the dreaming quiver
    …….fletched in abstract plumage
    …….even for a single pomegranate kiss
    …….that scatters weight
    …….like rubies!



    • Dawn Potter said,

      January 24, 2014 at 12:26 am

      My two cents here: I first read “Directive” when I hit the link you posted. I read it all the way to the end before I learned that it was a Frost poem. I thought I was reading one of your own poems. My reaction as I read was “hey, this is pretty good.” In sum: Your question “I mean, would any of you have read ‘Directive’ all the way through more than once if a great teacher hadn’t brought you to it, or Robert Frost’s imperious reputation hadn’t forced your nose down into its messy toils?” has nothing to do with how I met this poem.

      • wfkammann said,

        January 25, 2014 at 6:09 am

        ….No, the weight of things is just
        ….another flight,
        ….like sunlight prying up the whole orchard’s sap;
        ….like Leda’s modest thighs
giving strong wings the chance
to sanctify earth’s godliest yearnings,

        ….Draped arabesques of trembling skin
        ….and shining pubis so defying gravity
even the most upright Jove
        ….tumbles to the maiden yet again,

        ….so hotly does the dreaming quiver
        ….fletched in abstract plumage
for even a single pomegranate kiss
        ….that scatters weight
like rubies.

        I suppose if you can tell me what I mean I can tell you what I think you meant to write. This poem I understand. Dr. Johnson recommends throwing out the line you like best and starting from there. In this case there were a lot of good lines and the suitors and the rivals got the axe along with holy Galileo and your father’s bearded angel. One mythological allusion is enough for any short poem.


      • January 25, 2014 at 8:53 am

        Dear Bill,
        I like your choice of quotes but with all due respect they’re not what I wrote. I’ve reassembled them below to correspond to the words in the actual poem, including the title.

        For example, the word “plain” in the original is one of the fundamental words in the poem. The wings are “plain,” not “strong” — that’s the directive here, hard as it may be to follow.

like sunlight prying up the whole orchard’s sap;

        ….No, the weight of things is just
        ….another flight,
        ….like Leda’s modest thighs
        ….giving plain wings the chance
to sanctify earth’s godliest yearnings;

        …..…draped arabesques of trembling skin
        ….and shining pubis so defying gravity
even the most upright Jove…

…tumbles to the maiden yet again,
        ….so hotly does the dreaming quiver
fletched in abstract plumage 

        ….even for a single pomegranate kiss
that scatters weight
        ….like rubies.

        But seriously, I hear you too and thank you for the very positive things you are saying as well.



      • wfkammann said,

        January 25, 2014 at 9:33 am

        Looks good. I like the rich effect of the condensed images.

        Of course, if you throw these out you could still write a poem on Odysseus, Galileo and your father’s bearded angel, and it might be an even better one, who knows.


      • January 25, 2014 at 10:23 am

        I didn’t know what “the rich effect” was so I Googled it.

        Now I realize you were referring to the concept defined by Henry James in his “Art of the Novel” as recently quoted by Sergio Perosa in his essay, “The ‘Tragic Pastoral’,” collected by Harold Bloom in “American Fiction Between the Wars” (2005). “The effect was close to James’ aesthetic ideal,” Perosa writes, and then quotes Henry James:

        “…to the only compactness that has a charm, to the only spareness that has a force, to the only simplicity that has a grace – those, in each other, that produce the rich effect.”

        “Charm,” “force,” and “grace” do sort of map out the territory of “In Praise of the Still Unweighed” so at least I’m pleased you feel I’m on the right track. But thanks for the hint, and I’ll try to work into them even further.



  61. wfkammann said,

    January 23, 2014 at 11:54 pm

    • January 24, 2014 at 11:53 am

      I think I know what you mean, Bill, simply because I have no idea what this thing is. You mean that you understand the scholarly articles that examine Emily Dickinson’s personal relationships and agree with their suggestions about her sexuality but that what I say in reply about sex is for you just a Rorschach Blot like the above.

      Fair enough, but if so I can’t imagine how you can read poetry what is more get down on your knees as most of us do even if it’s deep in the closet.

      Here’s a parallel. If you sent me a scholarly article so I would know what the Grail was in Robert Frost’s poem, and the authors told me all that stuff in “The Golden Bough,” “From Ritual To Romance,” “The Sacred and the Profane,” etc. etc., I still wouldn’t have a clue what the word “Grail” meant in “Directive.” Maybe I would know what the grail was and how the image had developed historically, but that wouldn’t help me to understand what it actually is in the instep of Robert Frost’s own tree, at least if I were convinced that Robert Frost was ‘directing’ me toward something of extreme importance to him and where it actually lived and still is. I’d need to know what it is, not what it was, and the only place to find that out would be in the poem itself, and the deeper the poem the more I would have to engage my whole self to get it. Ditto, I’d say, with regard to Emily Dickinson’s sex.

      The important realization here is that Emily Dickinson didn’t experience her sexuality as separate from her inner life but actually lived wholly within it. She was that strong and had that much intelligence, passion, scope and courage. Some people describe her life as narrow and confined — on the contrary, it was so large she had to shut herself up in her room to hold it all together and make sense out of it for the throngs of people waiting outside her door. And I’m convinced that she knew they were there too, and that she did.

      Would anyone doubt that looking at her reputation and the scope of her influence today? I mean, just look at us!


      • wfkammann said,

        January 25, 2014 at 12:45 am

        I remember a story about Brahms from my days at the Mozarteum.

        Brahms attended a concert at which one of his pieces was performed, only the interpretation was much slower than he had imagined it. When asked how he liked the piece he said, “Na ja, so kann man’s auch spielen.” “Well, you can play it that way too.”

        Your interpretations of what I may have meant to say are often better than what I actually thought. And the way you channel Emily…..

        The picture was only a first attempt to approach your poem. It depicts a fletch cover. And the buck, which I honestly overlooked at first, is usually the symbol of a cuckold which may or may not relate to the poem.

        …the dreaming quiver
        fletched in abstract plumage

        sent me running to eBay to see if there was one for sale. The above is what I found.

        I suppose once the swan was gone you might say that Leda was left with a quiver fletched in abstract plumage. I had always thought that arrows were fletched; so you see where I went wrong. Since then have found this nice and somewhat abstractly fletched quiver. This should clear up that point at least. The name beaver-rabbit-buckskin quiver is self explanatory.

  62. January 24, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    In reply to your reply above, Dawn, the fact is you did read “Directive” all the way through, and my argument would be that you might not have read it all the way through had it just come “over your transom,” as editors used to say, or “found its way onto your desktop” as digital editors say today — along with the other 186 submissions that had piled up in your inbox over the weekend. And not only did you read it all the way through but you thought, “hey, this is pretty good” — and you thought that not because it was by Robert Frost but because you thought it was by me and were pleasantly surprised.

    The fact that you, of all people, had never read “Directive” before proves my point, and also the fact that you thought it was just “pretty good” and not the priceless pearl that it actually is.


    • Dawn Potter said,

      January 24, 2014 at 11:01 pm

      Christopher, I really like you but I’m starting to wonder about the sense of humor issue that Bill pointed out. I mean, I thought my misdirection was comical and maybe you’d even see it as kind of sweet.

      • January 25, 2014 at 9:05 am

        It’s not my lack of a sense of humor, dear Dawn, it’s my small head. Also it’s not easy to be a man.

        In any case, many thanks for your clarification — I’ll see if I can follow your directive and eventually get what you mean about my poem. I don’t promise anything except to respond in due course — on the other hand, I do promise you I really mean thank you, as always.

        And good friend but sometimes nasty Bill, that’s superb — what you say about the graphic. It’s worth the whole thread and I’m quivering all over!


      • wfkammann said,

        January 25, 2014 at 10:36 am


        I agree that Dawn may be too comical and sweet to deal with your poetry. The first prerequisite, I would say, is a cast iron stomach.

        On the other hand, anyone who’s meditated on Milton’s Paradise Lost for years couldn’t hurt.

        Never could get why Ezra Pound hated him so. Probably jealous that Milton was an even bigger pedant than he was. By the way, I read that Frost was a better Latinist than either Pound or Eliot, but I’d bet not better than Milton.


      • January 25, 2014 at 1:14 pm

        Just to say that I’d still love to see this thread go on a bit more with what it’s about, Bill, which has little to do with Pound, Milton or Latin, indeed with any literary-critical controversy.

        On the other hand, if Dawn can manage to bring what you say about Pound, Milton, and Latin around to where we are in relation to “Make It New,” “Directive,” Emily Dickinson, and “In Praise of the still Unweighed,” I’d be delighted. I’d also like to say that I found your graphic explorations of my “dreaming quiver fletched in /abstract plumage” more helpful to the discussion than your introduction of Henry James, Harold Bloom and “the rich effect” just above.

        Nevertheless, I admit that “charm,” “force,” and “grace” is precisely where we’re at.



  63. January 26, 2014 at 9:53 am

    To Anybody Who Came to These Exchanges and Wondered, Whaaaaa???

    At the time they were amusing and, of course, well-intentioned, but when the dust settles on the responses above to the words I actually wrote, they’re a little hurtful. I put up the poem, which I regard as one of my most worth reading (there are others, needless to say), mostly because I wanted it to be read. Of course I understand why the poem has been rejected so many times — what editor could publish such a poem when it’s author is unknown, because of course the poem would be pretentious if the author were pretending? And if you didn’t know the author how could you be sure he wasn’t? How could an editor be sure such a possibly ambitious, over-the-top, pumped-up and winking poem was worth the risk? It bears no brand-name, after all, and it’s author has no track-record – no hall-mark, FDA approval, job-rating or even a degree.

    What’s hurtful is that Bill’s parody, and I call it that with all due respect, makes “In Praise of the Still Unweighed” feel like a draft, a work in progress — perhaps even a student submission to a writing workshop. Just think how you would feel if “Directive” were put through the same process — chopped up, reorganized, important words deleted or altered to innocuous equivalents, the whole thing shortened to half it’s length (suggesting it were inflated instead of just torturous!) and, my God, the word “Grail” omitted altogether? Or let’s say a painting of Giotto with it’s perspective ‘improved?’ Or an Henri Rousseau with a more ‘dynamic’ sense of movement? Or a Stanley Spencer with some of the graveyards and angels left out, or bare flesh reduced in volume — or the passion, transcendence and/or regret tidied up? And needless to say, all three artists are my cousins!

    Dear readers, I was trying to arouse your ire when I described “Directive” as a “clumsy” poem, and I hope you were at least a little offended when I asked you to “put your nose in its messy toils.” Indeed, Dawn quoted that remark specifically above, and although it may have been part of what she called her “misdirection” of me, I don’t think she liked it. And of course that was very much what I, in my own clumsy turn, intended. I didn’t want anybody to feel comfortable with that – or comfortable with the poem either, which you shouldn’t.

    “Directive” is an anomaly, for sure, and in its “messy toils” you do feel a struggle, a diffidence, an almost adolescent defiance of art, craft and reputation. And I love that, and I admire the courage of any old man of my age who could write it, enormously. Indeed, for me the messiness, awkwardness and diffidence makes “Directive” perhaps the most truthful poem Robert Frost ever wrote, and for that reason among his most valuable.

    I’d also like to add that my poem has no reference to Odysseus — it’s not a homecoming or a blood-letting or a triumph, and the hero is not a husband. It’s a love poem, the bow is cupid’s, the archer a celestial rapist, and the victims all Queens of Heaven, equally terrified, equally precious, equally chosen — like all of us.

    If that makes you feel uncomfortable, so should the poem. Ravished.


    • Dawn Potter said,

      January 26, 2014 at 10:21 pm

      Dear Christopher, I wish you wouldn’t make assumptions about how other people react to stuff–art, your words, the world. I don’t think that Frost’s poem can be described as “messy toils,” but that’s just me. I don’t know a thing about Stanley Spencer or Henri Rousseau and very little about Giotto. I am really a very untutored person, in many, many ways. This is not coy self-deprecation. It’s just fact. I know very little about art, philosophy, film, religion, other cultures, etc., etc. You draw links and comparisons that I cannot draw, and then you throw all of these links and comparisons into a breathless posting, and I cannot understand them. This has nothing to do with blame or fault or better or worse or anything of the sort. Simply, my mind is not your sort of mind. And I feel that this frustrates you and even makes you angry, and that you read more into my friendly description of a reader’s faux-pas than ever existed. Please try understand: I see many small comedies in life, many of them at my own expense. My response to “Directive” was one of them. But I think it would have been better for me just to read your post and say nothing, as is my usual pattern.

      Now I am going to write something that I suppose is going to make you even angrier. Given that people like myself, and perhaps people like Bill, too (though of course I do not know Bill at all and he seems far more able to keep up with your breadth of knowledge than I am), are not able to read your poems as you intended them to be read, does this not indicate that perhaps there is a disconnect between what you meant to say and what your readers are able to comprehend? You are so pointedly self-deprecating yet at the same time you take great offense at any notion that revision might still be necessary. Revision can go on for a lifetime, my friend. It can, it can, it can. You see these as finished pieces, and perhaps they are, if you are content to be their chosen reader. But what if you want them to be part of a conversation, and the other person doesn’t grasp what you meant to say?

      Please understand that I am not standing up for Bill’s excision of your work; that is between the two of you and I refuse to get involved.

      • January 27, 2014 at 6:13 am

        Dear Dawn,
        I have huge respect and admiration for you and feel very privileged that we have developed a friendship that can survive one debacle after another. We are night and day — but I know too I’m the night, not you, I’m the woman, and in many ways the younger too, indeed, we both know that. You are so much stronger than I am, clearer, more focussed, more in charge of your own destiny.

        But I can sometimes read you better than you can read yourself, indeed even better than you read me. I try to be careful as I know you’re a deer on my lawn, and I’ve learned to hold my breath.

        It’s very troubled here in Thailand, and though I’m not in any danger yet there’s a nervous breakdown going on all around me. This point in this thread is a breakdown too, not dissimilar for me.

        I’m not angry at your “disconnect” observation at all – and my goodness, there have certainly been artists that have been not only misunderstood but not understood at all. I’m entirely unknown, and certainly I will never have a following, indeed I know there’s a 95% chance I will never be read at all as I have so few years left. On the other hand, I’m convinced I make as much sense as “Directive” does, for example – and I wouldn’t say “Directive” was a difficult poem at all, not at all. Indeed, I’d say it’s a bit too revealing, embarrassing even, and I wish Robert Frost had decided never to publish it, it’s so delicate and raw and unguarded. Indeed, I’ve rarely found a poem that so connects with me personally.

        I met Robert Frost at my boarding school, Saint Paul’s in Concord, New Hampshire, when I was 16, and he read some of my poetry in the Headmaster’s Office with a select group of students at tea. He didn’t say anything – I was a terrible poet at the time.

        Ogden Nash read some of my poetry too at another tea party in the Headmaster’s office later the same year – he just said he thought I would have a hard time getting published.

        Which is one of the reasons I gave up writing poetry entirely a year later and didn’t start again until I was 50. I taught it but never wrote it – except when I was in love and then I gave the poems away.

        “Leda Takes Another Lover” is based on a poem I wrote for Natasha at 48 on the Seine, and “A Tragic Mutual Incomprehension” on another for Catherine Jean in Aubervillers a year later. I feel sure she will still have the version I wrote of the latter in French.



    • wfkammann said,

      January 27, 2014 at 1:20 am

      Ida warned me against touching the poem at all. Said you would have every right to hate me. So my official statement will be “A beautiful poem but difficult to understand.”

      You can’t use the word suitors and not have it about Odysseus. And the arrow only reinforces that. You left out Galileo and the bearded angel in your hints on how to read the poem and believe me, one needs hints.

      • January 27, 2014 at 5:14 am

        In reply to you specifically, Bill — because your concerns are easier to respond to at 4.00am huddled over the local News.

        There is no suggestion in the poem that the “fierce suitors” are connected with Odyssseus or are in pursuit of his or any other wife, or have suited themselves up in anybody else’s wardrobe or occupied anybody else’s house. Furthermore, the suitors have two quite specific love interests, “Leda” in the first half of the poem, and “the maiden” in the second. In the pursuit of the second, the suitor is described as an “angel” who belongs to “our father” who is “bearded.” That’s the angel that tumbles to the maiden.

        The word “arrow” is also never associated with Odysseus in the poem but with the pursuit of love. A relatively unimportant and very personal allusion at the beginning of the third section is to The Duino Elegies: “as the arrow endures the string, and in the gathering momentum becomes more than itself” [“wie der Pfiel die Sehne besteht, um gesammelt im Absprung/mehr zu sein als er selbst” (I.52-53) trans. A. Poulin, Jr., 1975]. Nobody needs to know that allusion to fully understand the image or the poem though it means a lot to me.

        On another level, it’s a philosophical poem and the key words are “heady,” “absent,” “dreaming,” and “abstract.”

        Why Galileo is described as “holy” and included among the “fierce suitors” is unanswered in the poem but is dealt with throughout the book which is entitled “Galileo’s Secret.” The riddle is so huge I couldn’t give you a pat answer – indeed, I don’t know the answer. That’s why I wrote the book, and am still working on it.

        There’s one little poem in the middle of the book that might give you some idea about where my mind goes in relation to the Galileo riddle:

        John Paul II to the Pontifical Academy of Science, Oct. 31st, 1992

        ……………………..Even as you bow to let
        ……………………..that desert rose be cut
        ……………………..into your winter’s root

        ……………………..the rude green rush
        ……………………..redeemed his heart,
        ……………………..his hands — the heat!



  64. January 26, 2014 at 10:55 am

    And because I know that none of you are going to reply to that, and because I also understand why, and because there’s always so little time left, even when you’re young, even when you’re not yet quite fifty, here’s the next poem in the same collection, also still unpublished.


    …………………………She closes her eyes
    …………………………because that makes him curious.

    …………………………He watches her feigning—
    …………………………she can hear his shoulders,
    …………………………the outline of his listening.

    …………………………She raises her arms to test him—

    …………………………they smell like three pears
    …………………………the sun has been around all day
    …………………………and now like high-flying circus girls
    …………………………taut & pliant in the orchard wings
    …………………………whisper what it might be like
    …………………………to swan and sip champagne
    …………………………and hang behind a fan all evening.

    …………………………He is the dew on her darkening.

    …………………………He rises up along her arms like moths.
    …………………………She quickens like crickets rushed
    …………………………by his shadows and swallows.
    …………………………She cries out like lavender.

    …………………………He feathers her brilliantly—
    …………………………her armpits,
    …………………………her arches.


    • wfkammann said,

      January 28, 2014 at 12:28 am

      Perhaps we can cap this with a little musical interlude. This is Leda’s favorite song Swanee, how I love ya’, how I love ya’ by Al Jolson in blackface. Notice the dancers in the swan dresses backing him up.

  65. January 28, 2014 at 7:22 am

    That’s hurtful, Bill.

    Ask Ida again what she thinks. Listen to her this time.

    You got yourself way out on a limb with your insistence that my poem was about Odysseus, and I replied as straightforwardly and respectfully as I could. Not to reply to me directly at that point was small-minded.

    Putting blackface on anybody is insensitive at the best of time — putting blackface right here at the end of this thread is more than insensitive as it defaces work that is extremely important to somebody else. It’s mockery.



  66. wfkammann said,

    January 28, 2014 at 7:46 am


    Not my intention at all. I still think that suitors means Odysseus. It’s not a maybe or “Oh, I see how wrong I was.” It is part of what makes the poem hard to comprehend. When I saw your new post I assumed we were through here; so, why not end on an up note. There is nothing wrong with Jolson. Not now; not then.

    I don’t want you to despair but I won’t put myself in a position to be bullied: not by you or your cousin (she knew about Swanee and didn’t say a word). Take the music down if it offends you. I thought it a good joke and a good close to this thread.

    Sorry if my timing is off.

    • January 28, 2014 at 10:41 am

      You have a shock coming if you think images have fixed identities in any of the arts. Indeed, if they did art would just be algebra or, even worse, allegory — which apparently it is for you. So if someone comes along and says “flesh,” for you that means it must be covered in skin with bones at the center to keep it solid. Well, what if it isn’t “solid?” What if a poem says it can melt, or even dissolve itself into a dew? Bad poem, you’d say — write like that and how do you expect people to understand you? Everybody but you knows flesh isn’t ice or precipitation any more than it’s bread, rose-buds, or marshmallows. I mean, accept reality, Christopher, and maybe then you’ll get read.

      Well I set myself a little challenge — Google “poem about flesh” and promise yourself you’ll post whatever comes up regardless. Here’s what did, right at the very top of my screen:

      ……………………………………………after García Lorca

      ………………………Once I wasn’t always so plain.
      ……………………I was strewn feathers on a cross
      ……………………of dune, an expanse of ocean
      ……………………at my feet, garlands of gulls.

      ………………………Sirens and gulls.
      ……………………They couldn’t tame you.
      ……………………You know as well as they: to be
      ……………………a dove is to bear the falcon
      ……………………at your breast, your nights, your seas.

      ……………………..My fear is simple, heart-faced
      ……………………above a flare of etchings, a lineage
      ……………………in letters, my sudden stare. It’s you.

      ………………………It’s you! sang the heart upon its mantel
      ……………………pelvis. Blush of my breath, catch
      ……………………of my see—beautiful bird—It’s you.

      ………………………………………………..Lorna Dee Cervantes

      [From Cables of Genocide: Poems on Love and Hunger. Copyright ©
      1991 by Lorna Dee Cervantes. Quoted by The Poetry Foundation.

      “a cross of dune?”
      “a flare of etchings?”
      “the heart upon its mantel pelvis?”

      A wonderful poem, and I’m grateful for Lorna Dee Cervantes to have popped up like that to defend me with an irrefutable argument about the endless permutations of imagery. Likewise suitors, why they’re down on their knees or their luck or the doorstep all the time, some playing guitars, some reciting poetry by charlatans like Cyrano de Bergerac, others by reluctant virgins like St. Teresa or Emily Dickinson, some mild and some overbearing, some descending from Parnassian heights on wings and others climbing over the wall and up the trellis to her balcony.

      Oh yes, and a few stirring up trouble in Ithaca. I forgot about them.



      • January 28, 2014 at 3:00 pm

        LATER: “blush of my breath, catch of my see…”

        Ravished by what I didn’t know yet always had in that poem. And just the thought of Garcia Lorca — oh my!


        I think that’s what makes my poem, “Leda Takes Another Lover,” fly too, at least for me it does, even though it’s so much less multitudinous, naive even by comparison, like Pierre Puvis de Chavannes or even Henri Rousseau — how she closes her eyes to make him curious, how there are three pears in the tree the sun goes round all day, how he feathers her arches as well as her armpits. Such simple things that we’ve never known before but always have. Which makes them even newer.

        I mention that at this point because I’m so disappointed Bill had to do roughhouse at the very end of a thread I’d hoped would give you a chance to read some poetry you would otherwise be unlikely to see.

        Do you remember what I said in the original post on my birthday above, December 7th?

        “I learned all my maths and physics without a calculator, sailed all over the world without a GPS or other electronic aid, and didn’t touch a computer keyboard until I was 52, the same age at which I published my first poem. And if that last one doesn’t put the word “dated” into perspective for a poet in America, what does?

        But we’ll come back to that.”

        And we did.

        I’d like to say thanks to you generous people whoever you are who have been coming in so faithfully to read this thread everyday, and thanks too to you new ones this week. I’ll try to do even better for you all in the future.

        Christopher Woodman


  67. Dawn Potter said,

    January 29, 2014 at 12:31 am

    I think this is going to be my last remark for a while. I’m coming to understand that you simply do not comprehend some of the revision problems that Bill is trying to get you to see. I know you dismiss my intense focus on nitty-gritty elements of sentences, word choice, punctuation, etc. You see this focus as pedestrian; you’ve said as much to me before. But I believe you’re mistaken; and if you want to keep becoming a better poet, you need to drive yourself into closer relationship with your materials. The issue is not that your poetry is “dated.” The issue is that your poems aren’t finished.

    Basically, Christopher, it doesn’t matter that you didn’t mean to evoke Odysseus when you used the word “suitors.” You DID evoke him because the word is associated throughout western literature with that story. If you don’t want Odysseus in your poem, you need to choose a different word.

    Let me try to explain in detail what I mean, using a stanza of the Leda poem as an exemplar.

    * they smell like three pears [How do 3 pears smell different from 2 pears? from 4 pears? This number does nothing to extend what begins as a scent-based image.]

    * the sun has been around all day [By “around,” do you intend to imply “going around”? or “hanging around”? The imprecision muddies the reader’s ability to picture what’s going on.]

    * and now like high-flying circus girls
    taut & pliant in the orchard wings
    whisper what it might be like
    to swan and sip champagne
    and hang behind a fan all evening. [There’s a grammatical problem here: who is doing this whispering: the couple or the 3 pears? The sentence structure should intensify my comprehension of the scene. Instead, I have to stop in middle of it and say, “What?”]

    So when I talk about revision, Christopher, I’m talking about the need to work with the nuts and bolts of your materials. You love allusions and symbolism and beautiful words and ravishment–but in order to transmit that largesse, you must take precise care of your language. You can’t just get mad when people don’t react as you hope they will.

    It’s the poet’s responsibility to create the coherence. For example, your figurative language sometimes seems to exist for its own sake instead of working to intensify or clarify a point. What does it mean to “cry out like lavender”? I can find no way to draw an imaginative link between a sexual cry and either a pale-purple color or a low-growing fragrant plant. What does one have to do with the other?

    Finally, when you choose words, you can’t overlook situations in which their connotative histories skew your drama. For example, the word “armpit” tends to be associated with schoolyard tickling and stench. So you might want to think twice about using this word as the centerpiece of an erotic denouement, especially with the word “feathers,” which simply reinforces the schoolyard-tickling sensation and thus adds a slapstick creepiness to a situation that I don’t think you meant to be either creepy or funny.

    Christopher, there are lovely things about this poem: “He rises up along her arms like moths” is an enormously satisfying image, evoking delicacy, wings, the shiver of skin. You nailed it with that one. I could read this kind of writing all day long.

    What I’m talking about doesn’t have anything to do with the deeper ambiguities of poetry: moral, emotional, and so on. It concerns the specificities of your narrative. These specificities are the bottle that contains the djinn, and if that bottle is cracked, the djinn vanishes.

    By talking to you about your poem on this level, I am not diminishing the work of poetry. I’m trying to show you that this may be the most important level of all. It is terribly hard work, that’s for sure. I drive myself though these hoops day after day after day. You may or may not choose to do so yourself. I think your poems are worth it, but I also think you probably don’t believe much of what I’m saying.

  68. January 29, 2014 at 7:26 am

    Dear Dawn,
    I do appreciate your long and detailed response to my poem, and though it’s not what I had hoped, needless to say, it’s what I got, so I have to deal with it. And I will — but slowly but surely.

    As it turns out I have drafts of “Leda Takes Another Lover” going back to it’s original in 1992 right on up to it’s final version just a short while ago — I don’t remember off hand when it finally felt fully formed, but it was very recently. And the decisions I made during those 22 years of revision cast light on many of your observations, including the 3 pears image, for example, and the mutterings that you feel are a weakness and I feel are a triumph, like all the things you overhear in a Robert Browning monologue that you’re not supposed to!

    What I propose to do is work through the versions like fossil records that reveal the unfolding of a poem as well as my talents, such as they are. But I will also try to look in the process at what might be described as your own blind spots too, or at least of your position, because I have worked through a number of poems with you before and sometimes we’ve had disagreements about the whys and wherefores in composition. You tend to be very definite about the level of control you think a poet does and should exercise in the composition of poetry, whereas I feel a poem develops a life of its own, often speaking back to its author as if she or he were a stranger — some sort of manager upstairs who just doesn’t know what’s actually happening down on the shop floor. I remember one poem of yours where you felt the narrator was definitely a man, for example, even though the imagery, tone and narrative details suggested otherwise. At the time you dismissed my suggestion summarily, indeed with a certain hauteur, and I worried about that. Because I felt the poem was both better and deeper if the narrator were female, and also because there was no detail or clue in the poem that could establish for certain that he were male [I have to go back and look at those details]. Just your word, and of course your hauteur.

    I feel that a poet has no right to feel proprietary once a poem is done. A poem is itself, not just a testament to a poet’s dexterity or higher objectives however self-righteously a poet proclaims them. “Sailing to Byzantium,” one of my favorite poems in the world, is also an absurdity if you take it literally as the author, I think, intended, an embarrassment even, as is much else in Yeats’ poetry — and I have no doubt he knew it. Such a bright man yet so absurdly undisciplined and passionate! He just had to live with himself as he was, and fortunately he had many friends who loved and admired him so much it didn’t matter, like Lady Gregory and his beloved wife, Georgie. Get into Maude Gunn, on the other hand, or her daughter, and you have to ask yourself some hard questions. Who was this man (how I love him!).

    Ditto Robert Frost — I used “Directive” in this thread to show how the dysfunction of a poem can sometimes be its actual genius. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to talk about the imperfections of the poem in more depth. And I’d also like to reply more specifically to Peter Butros’ observations, which I thought were excellent but never got back to.

    I’m very busy today and have to go set the table right now, so I have to stop. I don’t yet know what format I’m going to use for my response, but in some way I’m going to transport it over to the new thread, “How the Djinn Gets Out of the Bottle: Composition & Revision.” Because yours are precisely the concerns I had in mind when I posted the title, and now I have some really hard and finely considered observations about my own work to include.

    I just want to say, dear Dawn, that I will be very careful how I include any of the words that have passed between us in our long correspondences, and will never embarrass you, I promise, drawing as I will mainly on our public exchanges. I also have no desire to attack the quality of your work either as a poet, teacher or critic, but I also won’t flinch when I examine your statements on any of those activities when I feel they are ornery or limited. We’re so different – I’m like William Butler Yeats and you’re like? — oh dear, I’m going to get into terrible trouble if I say it, but I have in mind a writer equally great who felt an artist could, should and does actually control the work, and once it’s all done the final product has nothing more to say about the person who wrote it!*

    With very best wishes, and thanks even, regardless,


    *Note added an hour later: not so much about the person who wrote it as about the dynamics of the assumptions, ideas and prejudices that populate the images. I’m bored to tears with psycho-analytic type explanations of anything, particularly as I live in a world where babies are not toilet-trained at all! So I don’t look at “Directive” as a kind of ‘confession’ but rather as the struggle to find a way out of the mind-set of a whole culture, even of the whole human condition. And to get it you do have to understand how desperately poor our culture is in providing us ‘ways out’ at all — and the exceptional opportunity it is when a poem allows an individual to write, “Back out of all this now too much for us!”

  69. Dawn Potter said,

    January 29, 2014 at 8:01 am

    Something to add to your cogitations: If a painter or a musician or a furniture maker were to talk to you about the specifics of creation, would you dismiss the physical requirements and subtleties so wholeheartedly? You act as if what I say to you about craft is invented out of my robotic head. Here’s what Suheil B. Bushrui writes in “An International Companion to the Poetry of W.B. Yeats”: “In discussing his approach to the creation of poetry, Yeats talked always of the ‘craft’ and ‘trade’ of verse: something to be worked at and refined by a process of constant learning, trial and revision, not a mysterious gift.” Here’s what Frost says in his 1924-25 notebook: “A poem should be a set of sentences.” And by the by: the final products of what I make have a great deal to say about the person who made them. As do yours. And now I am done with this.

  70. January 29, 2014 at 9:06 am

    You have a lot of good things to say, Dawn. “And now I am done with this” is not among them. It’s petty and it’s dismissive.

    Even your assumption that I won’t agree with what Yeats and Frost say about craft in your quotes — that’s hauteur too. After all, I’ve been revising the poem in question for 22 years, and I even kept copies of the versions.

    Do you really think I don’t revise? Do you really think I don’t try to master the craft as much as you try to master the craft, that I don’t work hard too?

    That’s insulting — or if not, you simply haven’t been listening.


  71. Dawn Potter said,

    January 29, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    “And now I am done with this” is weariness, not “hauteur.” I do think you revise. You have insulted me repeatedly over the history of our correspondence. Robert Browning had exquisite control of his grammar.

  72. January 29, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    Bad grammar also has messages of value, Dawn, unless you deny that people with little education have little intelligence. Perhaps you mean Magwitch, Huck Finn, or any of those losers in The Grapes of Wrath?

    And what do you mean, “I do think you revise?” That I didn’t go to a good grad-school to get properly trained in Rhetoric, or get workshopped enough?

    Like Robert Creeley or Allen Ginsberg do you mean, for exquisite control over grammar?

    And what do you mean I’ve insulted you repeatedly over the history of our correspondence? It’s the best correspondence I’ve ever had in my life. Of course it wasn’t easy, but what’s wrong with that? What great correspondence isn’t?


  73. Dawn Potter said,

    January 30, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    Christopher, the grad school shot is a low blow, of course. You know I didn’t go to grad school either, that I have no training in rhetoric or workshopping. Why even say such a thing? Also, you’ve read enough of my poetry to know of course that bad grammar is an enormous part of of creating voice–if the voice of the character requires it. For God sake, I’m the scion of coal miners and dirt farmers.

    However, Browning’s Duke of Ferrara doesn’t bear much resemblance to Huck Finn. My Browning comment referred back to your your Browning comment: “the mutterings that you feel are a weakness and I feel are a triumph, like all the things you overhear in a Robert Browning monologue that you’re not supposed to!” My point was that Browning didn’t accomplish this by accidentally including pronouns with unclear antecedents.

  74. Dawn Potter said,

    January 30, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    P.S. “Exquisite control of grammar” doesn’t mean “snotty stuckup marriage to a high school grammar manual.” It means “I am working to figure out EXACTLY what my sentence is up to.” Ergo, Twain had exquisite control of grammar. One of the essays in my teaching book that you didn’t like takes up this very issue.

  75. January 30, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    Dear Dawn, and Bill too.

    You are both such special friends, and what am I to do when you both trash my work in unison, and mock me? Well, like ordinary people I have to say “No, you’re prejudiced, you’re limited, you’re dinosaurs!” – which of course you are, but who am I to take on the entire circus all by myself? Thumbs down and you’re dead, and, yes, before Caesar I’m dead for sure, or before great works of literature I’m dead, like before Browning, or Homer.

    So I quit. I give up, I surrender. If my work isn’t good enough, what else do I have to offer? My degrees are fluff, my age just a bit of Alzheimer’s, my pretensions just pretense.

    Forgive me, dear Bill and Dawn. I apologize for my absurd, over-weening confidence. I take my place, I accept that I didn’t manage what I’d hoped to do at 50, which was to become a poet. And what a farce, to ask you to read what you couldn’t. How could I be so dumb and hurt myself so much?

    But it’s in the details where I really come unstuck. Is it really possible that nobody else in the world has ever heard lavender cry out in a field at night? Has nobody else ever salvaged themselves with the number 3 at sea, ‘dead reckoning’ I used to call it when I was a sailor, or made a triangulation in the woods, or had a friend who was blind and counted everything 1, 2, 3 like a child in a game, circling round the number ‘3’ to be really sure with their eyes closed? Has nobody else ever let miracles happen by defying grammar in a poem, or allowing antecedents to become so celestially unglued angels could actually tumble to the maiden yet again? I mean, am I really the only one who has ever feathered armpits without tickling someone with a feather, or bothering someone’s arches? The poem says it much better than that, at least to me it does. But to you I know it’s just ludicrous.

    That last one really gets me, that others have never loved like that but me.

    And yet I really do apologize and will stop.


    • Dawn Potter said,

      January 30, 2014 at 10:35 pm

      You know what the true puzzle is here: that you call it “mockery” when someone says “I don’t understand what you mean by this particular collation of words.” When someone says that to me, I think of it as a gift. I may or may not end up agreeing with that person, but what I see is a reader who is wrestling face to face with my elements of creation. When I wrote my original long note, I knew that I was playing with fire. But I thought there was a possibility that we might be able to converse together as creators: that you might respond with “well, this is what I was thinking about when I chose ‘lavender,'” and then I might respond, “Hmm, I wonder if [such and such an approach] would convey. . . . ” And you would say, “But that verb doesn’t quite. . . . ” Etcetera.

      But you chose to cling to your old ways, and that’s fine. That seems to be what you prefer, and so be it. You cannot, however, expect people to converse with you about your poems if you refuse to acknowledge what they see in them.

      And I have not yet forgiven you for that “grad school” remark, which was not only nasty but a lie.

      • wfkammann said,

        January 31, 2014 at 5:25 am

        OK, I’m the one who went to an Ivy League graduate school in English (44 years ago).

        I agree with Dawn. If you want to post your poetry here to be admired (not discussed), say so. If these are the finished products and you are not open to comment or revision, say so.

        I would suggest that you publish them as well on some web site where more people will view them.

        There is a story about the Kaiser Franz Joseph of Austria: It seems that the architect Eduard van der Nüll, who built the Staatsoper, was criticized by the Kaiser who commented that the steps were not in proportion with the rest of the building. When news of the comment reached Eduard, he killed himself. After that the Kaiser had only one response when asked his opinion publicly: “Es war sehr schön, es hat uns sehr gefreut.” It was very beautiful, it made us very happy.

        I spent quite a while going through the confusing images in the first part of the first poem but why bother if that’s it. In that case my first comment to you stands, “Beautiful poem but difficult to understand.”

        If you want yes-(wo)men don’t look here. Consider the time and support we have given (and continue to give) you, Christopher.

        Perhaps any discussion of your poetry is better had off-blog. It is, after all, a very private/personal matter.

      • Dawn Potter said,

        February 4, 2014 at 6:20 am

        This is a reply to Bill, below. Thank you for your measured and generous voice. This is the first time I’ve been able to visit this site since January. I didn’t want to you think I wasn’t grateful.

      • Dawn Potter said,

        February 4, 2014 at 6:24 am

        I should have said “to Bill, above.” It’s difficult to figure out where the reply will appear. And I apologize for the typo in the previous post. A long day.

  76. January 31, 2014 at 9:24 am

    Dear Dawn and Bill,

    I’m not sulking in my tent – indeed, I don’t even have a tent, or a shield, a rival or commander, and I’m not at war. I’m more a little squiggly good-fella-type poet than a warrior in this life, and I love my long-legged partner as she stands there towering over this whole thread beside my wistful daughter. And I don’t mind the tourist looking up at her in lycra either, but I wish that tourist and her well-fed people would leave the land alone so we could all stand in awe of it like her, not just fence it in with the rules we make as if the land were ours. [the grammatical ‘mistake’ there is deliberate]

    I think the strongest influence on my understanding of poetry, or at least the moment when I realized how much it meant to me personally as opposed to the impersonal, formal meanings I taught as a don at Cambridge, was the publication of Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania by Jerome Rothenberg. That was 1968, and lots of things were happening in Paris across the channel too and none of us would ever be the same. Rothenberg came and played his native American and Oceanic tapes in London, Robert Duncan read with everybody else, and I was there – though I didn’t allow myself to write seriously until 20 years later. I moved into the woods instead and let myself get lost enough so I could start entirely over.

    Here’s the kind of thing I wrote before I started writing poetry:


    O Man of Little Faith, why can’t you see…

    1. That there is no change without loss;

    2. That change sheds the old skin which must die and crack and disintegrate before it can be exited;

    3. That such change takes place in darkness;

    4. That there can be no understanding of the birth of something that has never existed before;

    5. That at these times all knowledge is clinging;

    6. That at these times all memory is clinging;

    7. That clinging means holding on to that which no longer fits and which therefore pinches one in every conceivable way;

    8. That not allowing this transformation to take place is death, yet the transformation itself feels like death while it is taking place;

    9. That what one lets slip during this whole process will be taken care of;

    10. That one is in a state of grace when one is in profound transformation;

    11. That no thought or action is too base to be part of this process;

    12. That one does not need to feel holy or even good to be blessed;

    13. That one cannot try to speed all this up–that trying is obstructive because one couldn’t possibly know what to try for;

    14. That surrender is the only course of action;

    15. That joy is good but silence is better;

    16. That grief is good but silence is better;

    17. That one can dedicate all this to others, and even carry the burdens of others in the silence of prayer;

    18. That prayer is action;

    19. That nothing is essential;

    20. That time is irrelevant;

    21. That none of this can be expected, or refused, or speeded up, or halted;

    22. That none of this can be explained to anyone who doesn’t already know it;

    23. That none of this needs to be explained to anyone, including oneself;

    24. That nothing is truly understood until it is forgotten.


  77. January 31, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    Here’s another:

    …………………………………………………………for Daniel Roumanoff,
    …………………………………………………………Paris, 06/12/1992

    Attention [Fr./Eng.] / Awareness [ exclusively Eng.]

    Your observations on these two words interested me, Daniel, one French/English and the other exclusively English — and which are you going to choose? I have tried in the last few days to examine my own experience to see what the difference is between them, and which I would prefer if I could choose between the two.

    ‘Awareness’ would seem to me to be more static than ‘attention.’ There is no movement in awareness—and there is in a sense no relationship either, because the subject is entirely extinguished in the object. ‘Awareness’ is absolutely neutral, it is a superhuman beholding, a recognition of being without distinction.

    ‘Attention,’ on the other hand, in both French and English, has for me an element of expectation—it ‘attends,’ that is it waits, it holds its breath so to speak. It is a little fearful, and very, very careful because something is going to happen! In English one comes to attention as a soldier before an officer, one pays attention as a student in class or as a craftsman at work, and one gives attention to a problem or to someone in need. It would seem to me that there is always a sense of will behind ‘attention,’ of obligation, of dedication, of deliberate surrender.

    I am more generous in my description of the word ‘attention’ because I am particularly concerned with it at the moment. I think that my meditation practice in the past was, ironically enough, too self-sufficient. The ‘awareness’ for which I strove seemed to me a quality that I could develop in time through practice, through self-control and self-discipline. I felt that nothing lay between me and it but my own laziness and ignorance.

    I do not feel the same way in my efforts to develop ‘attention,’ which would seem to me to be more about self-abandonment than self-accomplishment. For I feel that I can come at most only a short way by my own efforts when I work with ‘attention,’ that I need to make my whole being available to something else which is quite beyond me, and which will always remain wholly incomprehensible. In ‘attention’ I turn toward the source of who I am, and it replies not in psychic experience but by enriching my own capacity to love and to accept. The reward would seem to be not in wisdom but in warmth! It is because of this that I have come to call what I do now not ‘meditation’ but ‘prayer.’

    This attempt to make a distinction between ‘attention’ and ‘awareness’ is obviously just semantic. Someone who is more comfortable with the word ‘awareness,’ for example, might well say that it was the source of all joy and devotion, that ‘awareness’ was looking directly upon the face of God! And of course, God himself couldn’t care less whether you meet him through ‘awareness’ or ‘attention’ or ‘meditation’ or ‘prayer’—or just plain fishing in the rain under the Pont d’Issy! He fortunately hasn’t made much of an effort to learn any of our languages very well over the years. There’s certainly no doubt in my mind that we have to forget everything we know to get any kind of response from him at all. The rest is idolatry!

    I suspect that it is rare to find any spiritual practice in the East that is not rooted in devotion, that in fact the forces of the heart have been so highly developed there that they have to be rigorously controlled if any kind of balance in the spiritual life is to be found. It was the genius of the Buddha to meet this challenge particularly effectively in his stand against all forms of predication. His refusal to define any spiritual objects protects the heart-oriented devotee against his predisposition toward idolatry. And since, as the Buddha was well aware, God couldn’t care less whether he existed or not, no religion has to feel obliged to believe in him! (I would like to have asked Thomas Merton about this, who never quite seems to have understood the religious life of the East because of his fierce conviction that not only does God have a Kingdom, but that he has been, and remains to this day, consistent in his management of it!)

    I think now that Buddhism appealed so strongly to me in the past because I was so fearful of the effects of believing in anything. Buddhism seemed to me a welcome antidote to the cruel idolatries of my childhood, not to speak of the whole of Western history, and it didn’t embarrass either the skeptic or the artist in me. But for this particular lonely, free-thinking individual, Buddhism’s purity and clarity left me shivering in my intellectual isolation. For I have suffered much from my lack of faith and love and devotion, and it is only now through the practice of Attention in the Heart that I have begun to have a sense that I may at last be able to transcend to some degree my own poverty and ignorance, and above all my terrible loneliness.

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

  78. February 1, 2014 at 6:31 am

    “Leda Takes Another Lover,”

    The title proposition is as preposterous as playing hide and seek with a very young child when all you have to do to disappear is close your eyes and then you vanish.

    The girl in the poem plays this trick upon her lover. The fact that, like the literal configuration of her sex, the girl’s ‘not there’ is what makes her so fatally ‘there,’ present and desirable – her emptiness is what draws the lover to her as fatally as a moth is drawn by light or by the overwhelming scent of lavender in darkness (is there any smell more there?). When the girl raises her arms to test him she becomes Daphne too, and her body becomes an orchard with pears the sun has been around all day — pears in this case because of their shape, the color of their flesh, their scent, sweetness and texture. Apollo hangs out with the girl all day too, of course he does, but he also circles round her like a predator around his prey — or a poet trying to find just those 3 right words. That’s why there are just 3 pears, because the girl’s so specific in this game, what she does with her arms by raising them, for example, or the precise place where they join her sides, or it could be her legs, or the flexing of her arches on point — and everybody knows that the number three creates what navigators call ‘a Fix,’ which is how we know we’re there. Three means there for sure as opposed to two which means maybe – and what an irony that ‘not there’ should become ‘right there’ in the poem!

    The dialogue part in the middle is delicious like Degas at the theatre or circus, all those ungrammatically attached feminine bits and pieces poised between the arms and the legs giggling and nervous in the wings before the curtain goes up, and then, after it comes down, dreaming of being taken out in a carriage by a man in a top hat and white gloves to the Vendome for Champagne and her arms raised high above the crowd.

    Which is how Leda takes another lover despite what it says in the myth. But it’s also how in both science and philosophy, the irresistible desire of Being is to find a secure place at last in Non-Being, Emptiness as it’s often called. That’s what really interested Galileo in the end, I think, and what my whole book attempts to explore right from the first poem, “In Praise of the Still Unweighed.” “Leda Takes Another Lover” is the second.


    NOTE ADDED an hour later: “Leda Takes Another Lover” is a tiny bit of fluff and not worth losing much sleep over. It’s only interesting in the context of the whole book, though it’s lovely. Indeed, I can still get really high on it as I did in writing these little variations on its themes at 4am this morning.

  79. February 2, 2014 at 10:23 am



    1a.) A suitor is anyone with a suit to pursue, including a law suit or a petition, but the most common usage of the word describes a man who is courting a woman.

    The most common literary association is to the Odyssey, but as there is no hero, homecoming, fidelity or treachery in the poem, that association is unlikely. The same would apply to the bow and arrow in the last part of the poem — there is no reference to Odysseus or the cleansing of his house in Ithaca there either, so this has to be some other bow.

    1b.) Whoever they are, the suitors in the poem are described as trying to strip the clothes off someone or something.

    Like a rape, a frantic sexual coupling or seduction can include the tearing off of clothes in a frenzy, and on reflection men and women sometimes regret the sense of exposure that remains after such a love-storm has passed. Love-making is more often than not enhanced by beautiful clothes, candles and soft music, and in reality the body is often more appealing draped than stark naked.

    1c.) In the poem, the clothes are not on a person but “on earth.” The clothes are described as “dark, secret wraps” which “lighten” the dimensions and appearance of material things. The “suitors” seem to be trying to strip these wraps off the physical world, and the poem says they are “wrong” to do this.

    The empirical sciences measure, analyze and indeed demythologize the “length and breadth” of the physical world, and in so doing may be said to strip it of its mystery. The “dark, secret wraps” may refer to that sense of an ‘inner life’ or ‘spirit’ in nature that primitive people share with poets, romantics, and dreamers as well as with some of our best and most advanced physicists. In this sense, “Still Unweighed” in the title may refer to a ‘nature’ that has not yet been explained away and exploited as mere mechanics by modern science. The fact that this “unweighed” quality is “praised” in the title would explain why the “suitors” are upbraided for being so “fierce” in their invasion of its privacy.

    ………………………………….Stanza I — lls. 5-10

    2.a) The earth in these lines is represented by a tree with roots that “grab downwards” because the power of sunlight inversely draws the tree upwards.

    This is, of course, physically true because it is the evaporation of the tree’s moisture that provides the force to suck the sap upward behind it, enabling it to climb the trunk and eventually mount into the limbs and branches of the tree.

    2b.) The earth/tree is also described as a person with “furtive” or “secret” roots below, and these roots are in turn compared to limbs that are “silt-lapped,” i.e. buried in the ground.

    The so-called ‘lower’ parts of the person are described as “furtive” because they “grab downwards” in order to hold on to the “earth” below, while the so-called ‘higher’ parts of the person are said to be met by “great tentacles of hot rival might” which try to drag it upward. These powers are described as bright “like sunlight” in contrast to the dark or secret limbs buried beneath – indeed, the higher powers are described as “prying up” the lower parts like the sun pries up the sap of a tree.

    ………………………………….Stanza II – lls 11-15

    3.a) Stanza II addresses itself specifically to “weight,” and says that when weight moves downward it is “just another flight” moving in the opposite direction from lightness.

    “Flight” is used here in the sense of fleeing as well as flying, an ambiguity which is indeed quite correct both in physics and philosophy. Weight simply moves in a different direction from lightness, ‘up’ and ‘down’ becoming the moral conventions we human beings feel are truths based on our very local and idiosyncratic experience of gravity.

    3b.) Now the “fierce suitor” becomes specifically the god Zeus engaged in his famous rape of Leda. At this point it becomes clear that the myth of Leda and the Swan provides the narrative for the poem, not the Odyssey.

    Overcome by his desire for Leda’s “thighs,” the poem says that in the process the god “deifies” our own human “yearnings” by putting on the wings of a bird which, in physical terms, are no more spiritual than any other “plain,” i.e. material or mechanical, things on earth. In addition, Leda’s thighs are described as “modest” which means both ordinary and concealed by some sort of cloth or robe as we human beings often do for the sake of modesty – i.e. the “dark, secret wraps” of stanza I. The ironies, indeed almost oxymorons, underlying the phrases, “Leda’s modest thighs” and “plain wings,” hold the key to the whole poem.

    ………………………………….Stanza III – lls 16-30

    You’re on your own from here on in. The “fierce suitor” has a bow like Cupid now, and the rape is described with variations on the love-god’s famous quiver full of amorous arrows. Also the girl becomes “the maiden” who in turn becomes the mother of God after she is impregnated by a descending suitor who is described as “bearded like our father’s angel.” And of course we can’t use the word “rape” here because the suitor is none other than God.

    And perhaps for this reason, the beloved’s body is no longer “modest” now but sexually active, as we say. She is described as “archly absent” with “draped arabesques of trembling skin and shining pubis,” so although she is still hidden she’s even more desirable and obviously very ready for what’s about to happen, indeed she has become a celestial partner for all of us on earth. The girl is full of “hot rival might,” and even that greatest of all modern scientists, Galileo Galilei, “tumbles” to her as if he were an angel from on high.

    “Holy Galileo?” Did he actually write that? Oh dear, I guess we’ve got to go back and read GALILEO’S SECRET all over again to see if we can figure that one out. The whole thing’s so fey nobody could ever get it just like that, any more than our gravity can make sense of high and low in just any old place, what is more good and bad. Even at home it’s hard.

    That’s why poetry has to be written over and over again, isn’t it? At least that’s what Christopher says. And he also says that if you find this all too difficult what is more too metaphorical, convoluted, referential or exquisitely poetical, read Milton.



  80. wfkammann said,

    February 3, 2014 at 1:09 am

    “Justify the ways of God to men…”

    In Book Six Odysseus is washed ashore in the land of the Phaeacians. This is at the point where a river washes into the sea and so perhaps “silt-lapped limbs.” But now my struggles are over. Roots are limbs, up is down etc. etc. Very poetic. Roots look like the serpent here. And what IS she nibbling on? An apple or a pomegranate?

    And Michelangelo goes with…..the fig. Wasn’t it Shakespeare that said “Virtue! A fig!”


  81. February 3, 2014 at 9:32 am

    I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at here, Bill, and certainly my little poem is humbled by the power of the images you’ve chosen. But never mind, it’s the company I would like to keep, most certainly, and I don’t think you’re suggesting my work is inflated or arrogant. “Very poetic,” you say, and Michelangelo, Milton and William Blake certainly were, indeed of all artists you could ever have chosen.


    Here’s another poem to add to the mix. I thought of it because of your reference to Nausicaa, the young girl who rescues Odysseus from the pile of leaves (not “silt” actually) in which he is sleeping, safe at last on the island of Phaeacia — and of course, that’s where Odysseus’ adventures are narrated, indeed some scholars even think that Nausicaa was the author of The Odyssey. (As a poet I think that too.)

    The second section of GALILEO’S SECRET is entitled “FALLING OUT OF THE SKY,” and as you might expect, it is introduced by a quote from William Blake’s, “Proverbs of Hell:” “Eternity is in love with the productions of time.”

    The irony is, of course, that Galileo lived at a time when human beings felt that the study of Eternity was fundamentally more important and even more exact than the study of Nature, and that the most intelligent and engaged members of the community would concern themselves primarily with the Substance of Angels and the Dimensions of Heaven. But of course Galileo didn’t, indeed from a very young age he was obsessed with the productions of time, how things moved in particular, periods, cycles, tides, parabolas and oscillations, until at the very end of his life he was himself moved right out of his larger orbit and imprisoned in a little house in Florence called Il Gioiello. And that’s where John Milton went to meet him and also where my book goes to find out his “secret.”

    So as light relief after the ardors of “In Praise of the Still Unweighed,” not to speak of the ill-will occasioned by my assertion that not all suitors in poetry automatically refer to The Odyssey, here’s a little poem in which they do — though the hero is not the ‘mover’ but the ‘moved’ in this case. It’s a good example because a lot of the answers to the riddle in the title of the book are addressed in miniature parables like this one, often involving genius young women like the one in your Michelangelo post. (Eve is the genius in my book, Adam is the booby.)

    And don’t forget that after Nausicaa and her maidens got the big naked man caked with salt and barnacles back to the palace, he took a shower, got a rub down, was oiled, coifed, and gracefully attired. It was only then that he started to talk about his adventures, and wouldn’t you know that Nausicaa would not have recalled this one!


    ……………………….AFTER THE ODYSSEY

    ……………………………The Sabbath leaven
    ……………………………of her wet skin
    ……………………………lightens up
    ……………………………the entry of the hero.

    ……………………………His huge archaic chest
    ……………………………and scaffold shoulders
    ……………………………still bloody with suitors
    ……………………………quicken like a girl’s
    ……………………………as she returns
    ……………………………with naked authority
    ……………………………brazen from the shower.

    ……………………………Loosening its valor
    ……………………………her green scent
    ……………………………scatters his muscles
    ……………………………like snow-flakes—
    ……………………………her wine-dark eyes
    …………………………..flash spring water
    ……………………………dash the bulk
    ……………………………the torpor
    ……………………………from his fluttering limbs.

    ……………………………His stature explodes
    ……………………………in a shudder of blossoms.



  82. wfkammann said,

    February 4, 2014 at 12:17 am

    Sabbath leaven= sounds Jewish
    It appears her green scent has valor= interesting
    muscles are scattered like snowflakes=interesting
    those silted limbs are now fluttering
    His stature explodes In a shudder of blossoms= beautiful image

    Maybe your style is painterly, Christopher; even Impressionistic. I would have said Imagistic but I’m not sure. The words create a canvas where various images and emotions can be detected (projected). If you don’t need sense in poetry, it can be quite nice.

    A point of the previous post is the different forms that the “fruit” has taken in Western iconography.

  83. February 4, 2014 at 9:14 am

    Many, many thanks for your comment today, Dawn — it really meant a lot to me as I’m sure it did to Bill as well.

    I’ve been  reading and rereading the exchanges between us all week (cf. comment 67, January 29th, 2014), et passim) and I just couldn’t figure out what to say. Indeed, I was in despair as I knew that any answer I could come up with would drive you away yet further – the last thing I wanted. I’ve learned over time just to move away tactfully when you get angry at me, and wait – and eventually you have always come back in some way — like that deer on my lawn.

    You asked me quite awhile ago to help you with something you were doing — because you valued my judgment and my independence, you said, and wanted me to be frank. I’ve always enjoyed you and your writing, hugely, but needless to say I don’t always agree with your ideas. For example, I don’t agree that you can talk about the craft in a piece of writing without considering its intentions as well, and I’m convinced that most poems do have intentions, some of them extremely important (like “Directive,” for example, or “Sailing to Byzantium” — both dodgey as poems but inhumanly great as documents).  I tried to point out to you that if you didn’t consider what a poem meant as well as how it was written the poem wouldn’t be all there, but you always hotly maintained that the only thing that interested you was ‘craft.’ And that dilemma brought us to one painful last-stand after another, as it has even now.

    But I must reply, I know I must — because if I don’t it will suggest I’m angry, or don’t respect you, God forbid.  So here’s a little open letter to you, Dawn Potter– anybody else visiting here can read it over your shoulder. And how I do hope you’ll reply, for the world’s sake as much as for my own. Because you’re a great writer and this is a crunch.

    Dear Dawn,
    What I have always found very hard is that when I have sent you a poem in the past you have either ignored it or replied with a few comments on my grammatical mistakes combined with observations about the weaknesses in my style. And you’re my friend, God damn it, and I am always trying to say something to you important, not just show you my skill. Yet all I ever get back from you is ‘revision,’ and what I long for is some sort of  response to me and what I’m personally trying to say. Because I don’t write poetry just to show the world how well I can write but what I write. I write poetry for what I can say.

    This is what you said to me on January 29th: “What I’m talking about doesn’t have anything to do with the deeper ambiguities of poetry: moral, emotional, and so on. It concerns the specificities of your narrative. These specificities are the bottle that contains the djinn, and if that bottle is cracked, the djinn vanishes.”

    Well that’s nonsense, dear Dawn – human beings can convey huge amounts to each other with imperfect language, and if they didn’t almost nothing would ever get said or be heard. If you can only listen to great words (“great moments,” Kierkegaard called them), what’s going to happen to your friendships with real people? The djinn is the spirit that dwells in what real people intend, not just in the sound or the order of a few highly disciplined words. The djinn is the intention behind speaking, the courage, indeed the love that reaches out from one person to another, and if you’re listening you can hear such a lot even if that intention is full of static, crackles and wrinkles.

    My bottle is entirely cracked, dear Dawn, my hair is white, my teeth rotten, my belly sagging and my skin like an old boiled chicken. But still I can sing, and if you’re willing to listen you can hear something as precious as Robert Frost humming to himself alone and out of tune in the kitchen, or as exalted as Pavarotti at the Met! Even from me — yes, and my cracked little, par-boiled “Leda Takes Another Lover” is me singing.

    I know you so well, Dawn — you attack my poetry because you’re angry at me, that’s the problem, and another problem is that I never know why. And what gives you away is that your negative observations are so often dislocated and even just plain wrong when you’re mad. The grammar in “Leda Takes Another Lover” is just fine in the construction you criticize,  for example – the pears are the subject, and if you want to know how the pears fit in read the whole poem with an open mind and dance with delight as you might around a wheelbarrow beside some white chickens or up in the north room when everybody is sleeping. And lavender does cry out just like the poem says the girl does, the sun does hang like boys do outside the 7/11 when Alice is around, and armpits are ecstatic at any time but miraculous  when you’re  a tremendous feathery god  and your love’s in your wings. You pretend you don’t know what I mean by that, that you’ve never experienced armpits as expressed in the poem, for example, and even suggest I’m making a fool of myself by ignoring the real smell of armpits and how feathers tickle? Well, I just don’t believe you because you can be as purple in your love-poetry as ever I can — and as creative with metaphors, myths, animals and absurdities. And you do understand when you want to — that’s why it’s so frustrating when you don’t. And such a shock!

    It’s obvious that your attack on “Leda Takes Another Lover” had little to do with my grammar, what is more with the number of pears or the armpits. You just hated something that was in the air, though goodness knows what it was, and you were determined to punish me for it.  Perhaps it was the grad school remark, but I never make cheap shots at your expense what’s more ever lie, and I shouldn’t even need to explain that that was directed at myself, not you (I’ve had more grad school training than you’ve ever even thought possible!)  Or the deer on the lawn, which I’ve repeated because I think it might have been that that made you so mad, and I still think it’s right.

    I know you so well , Dawn – you slam the door whenever the going gets the slightest bit rough because basically you’re only interested in relationships with people who are decorous in what they say, careful and silent, and I’m not as simple as that. I’m Christopher – that’s all I am.  And I’m Christopher in my poems too, no more, no less, and when I send you a poem I’m sending you something of myself and it’s always going to be odd, naive, passionate, imperfect and raucous. That’s why you hurt me so much when you don’t just reject a poem of mine but a.) ignore it or b.) wreck it.

    And would I accept some professional help from you? To help me get published, do you mean? Of course I would, from anybody, but you don’t give me any support, understanding or encouragement, or show any sign that you understand what I’m saying or even, most of the time, that you’ve bothered to read what I write to find out. In fact, I’d much rather just talk to you as an old friend and not a poet at all, and sometimes we do — and that always flies, like about the  North Pond hermit  and running away as a child and hiding beside the porch. Then suddenly without any warning everything I say makes you burn and I have to run like hell to survive!



    • Dawn Potter said,

      February 4, 2014 at 7:22 pm

      Christopher, I cannot, and will not, discuss your poems with you ever again. Your idea of discussion is not mine. Your idea of writing poetry is not mine. We speak a different language. This letter is evidence. “Wreck it.” Fine. I wreck it.

      I came across the following remark in Margaret Drabble’s novel “The Middle Ground.” I give us both leave to adopt it as our motto.

      “You can only be one person, not a sum or cross-section of many, and if other people don’t like what you do, or think you ought to do something different, they can GO OFF and DO IT THEMSELVES.”

      • February 5, 2014 at 7:46 am

        I thank you for the answer, dear Dawn, and though it’s short it’s a real one.

        I was afraid you were going to dispute my reply to your specific observations about “Leda Takes Another Lover,” in particular that the grammar was bad (which it isn’t), the three pears irrelevant (which they aren’t), and the armpits embarrassing (which is the sort of smutty put-down which really hurts even if it’s wrong, as there have been a number of such put-downs of Yeats’ superbly erotic “Leda and the Swan” by feminists and by at least one distinguished critic). Had you done that I would have replied, needless to say, and an observer could have concluded that Christopher, as usual, protests too much. And that’s always a lose/lose situation for anybody, and particularly for an artist who sticks his neck out as far as I do, and with a neck like a boiled chicken to boot.

        So I thank you for sparing me that. And as to no longer discussing my poetry with me, I can’t remember a single time we have discussed my poetry together so this won’t be much of a setback. 99.9% of the time we talk about your work, and that’s fine by me because I love it.

        And I mean that. It’s like what I wrote about your wonderful long poem, “Mr Kowalski,” which in a rush of confession you agreed with, even in public. You’re as purple as I am as a poet, Dawn, but you’re a puritan when it comes to some of your professional positions. Indeed, I suspect that contradiction may partly account for your very distinctive quality as a poet, and may also help to explain why such a fine prose writer became a poet instead of a novelist.



  84. wfkammann said,

    February 4, 2014 at 11:30 pm


    While your poetry is often murky, your prose is agonizingly clear. Here is a beautiful setting of “The Silver Swan” with which I will draw a Selah so we may stop and listen.

  85. February 5, 2014 at 10:56 am

    Thanks so much for the Orlando Gibbons, Bill — and I’m listening to it even now with my neck stuck out, and how it does smooth the old wrinkles!

    I didn’t know the word Selah — what a treasure. I wonder if it’s related to the equally mysterious, untranslatable word the Theravadin monks say 3 times after chanting the sutras or giving a blessing? Sadhu, I spell it. (More anon just below.)

    I thank you also for what you say about my prose, and sometimes it is like you say though it’s always a struggle — I worked on that letter to Dawn Potter for 48 hours non-stop.

    But “murky” I won’t accept, at least if you say the poems from Galileo’s Secret I’ve put up on this thread have been “murky.” They’re clear as a bell, indeed clear to a fault, I’d say — but of course they’re only clear as a bell if you can hear them which, for various reasons, you can’t. You can hear the Orlando Gibbons clear as a bell, which many other people can’t, don’t forget, but there are other things you simply can’t hear at all, some of them in poetry, others in baseball perhaps, or fishing. And Dawn can’t hear those things in poetry either, she can in baseball, I know, but I bet she can’t in Gran Prix motorcycle racing. Indeed, the sort of poems I’ve been posting here are inaudible to the frequencies either of you possess. That’s not to say your hearing is impaired, just different, as we all have different minds, sensory equipment, and hearts. And the interesting thing is that Dawn can sometimes write something like it even when she can’t hear it — she hates it when I hear things in her poetry she didn’t intend, for example, and has upbraided me for it a number of times. And I say a poet just doesn’t know everything she’s saying when she’s really on song, that it’s a poet’s djinn that speaks sometimes, over-riding her perfect control.

    Fortunately, all my poetry is not as crystal-sphere-like and architectonic as those we’ve been looking at from Galileo’s Secret, otherwise I’d be dead in Heaven!

    To show you what I mean, here’s a poem you know already, Bill – and the interesting thing is the more I live with it the more I like it, though it’s so loose, unpoetical and emotional it’s hardly even a poem. Of course I wrote it to read out loud and everybody cried. Indeed, I could hardly get the words out I was so choked up behind the mike.


    ………………for Nong Faa

    The Salaween rises in my friend’s heart
    and brings me water everywhere
    even when I never see it.

    That’s my friend Sam,
    always showing me things I never saw
    and always making old things young again.

    Like the green hills upon hills he loved so much,
    the long paths he knew, the thatched villages
    and old women with the girls in white
    not anxious when their brothers aren’t back yet
    because of course they are.

    They’re back with Sam.

    Back with Sam, Sadhu!

    And Aung San Su Kyi is free with Sam,
    just over there you’ll see her on the film he shot today,
    a little older but even more beautiful
    with a fresh white flower tucked behind her ear
    and even more wide-awake and full
    of graceful words, words forever new like Sam,
    words of possibility and power.

    Because Sam’s back, and of course he’s back
    because he never went away—
    any more than Aung San Su Kyi was
    ever held an aging prisoner
    inside an old dilapidated house beside a lake.
    We’re all free now, and having tea on her leafy porch,
    each one of us today sitting up like her, straighter,
    more alive again, and stronger.

    Sadhu! Sadhu!

    Then Sam says “hello,” and smiles
    as he always does,
    shifting his keffiyeh, adjusting the angle,
    steadying his glasses.

    “Find out for yourself,” Sam says rising,
    “go out and you’ll find it.”

    “Oh, and if you need some help
    I’m always there,
    just ask around the corner of the river.”

    “Sadhu, Sam!” we shout in reply,
    “Well done!” shouldering our futures together,
    “Well done, Sam!” as we march out up along the ridge,
    snaking our way through the green hills
    like the naga ruffling the river.

    Sadhu, Sam.
    Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu.

    …………………………………………..Chiang Mai, Thailand
    …………………………………………..September 11th, 2010

    This poem was recited on September 11th, 2010, the seventh and last day of the funeral of Sam Kalayanee. A Thai documentary film maker, Sam was well known for his work on the struggle of the peoples of Burma for freedom, including the Oscar nominee, “Burma VJ,” which he co-produced. Struck down by cancer at only 50, Sam left behind a huge number of grieving friends and admirers, Burmese, Shan, Karen, Thai, Naga, and the only language they had in common to grieve with was the English of this poem. Which is why it’s so simple.

    Nong Faa (‘Little Heaven’) is Sam’s daughter, 8 years old at the time of his death .

    The ancient Pali word Sadhu (pronounced sãã-to) is said three times after Thai monks finish chanting or giving a blessing. It is the equivalent of ‘amen,’ and means whatever has been said is ‘right,’ ‘correct’ and ‘proper.’ It also means ‘Well done!’

    The Salaween River rises in Tibet and eventually demarcates long sections of the border between Burma and Thailand. It has been a scene of great beauty as well as of violence right up to the present day.

    The snake or naga is an emblem of irresistible energy everywhere in Asia. It is also the name of a large tribal group in northeast India and Burma that are still fighting for a homeland — the subject of another film by Sam Kalayanee.

    A dedicated communist and revolutionary, Sam’s photographs of heavily armed resistance fighters in the Burmese jungle are among the most heroic images of man’s struggle for dignity and self-realization in our times. An interesting detail is that he became a Christian at the same time as he became a communist, a fact which he hid from most of his friends, including from me until he told me quite casually one day, as if it didn’t matter.]

    ………………………..Sam Kalayanee

    Now there’s poetry that’s altogether “murky” in the sense of muddied with emotion, naivete, wishful-thinking, optimism steeped in participation-mystique, clumsiness, idealism and worshipful yearning. But it’s good.


  86. wfkammann said,

    February 6, 2014 at 2:44 am

    One of the standard types of poetry is occasional. “On the death of an infant” or in this case “On the death of a dear friend.” Perhaps some poems would improve if the poet asked what occasioned them.

    We remember Sam. When Sam said he was a Christian I sensed that he had grasped the selfless aspect of Christ which is akin to Communism and Buddhism.

    As the pope said about Saint Francis, “How do people live like that?” The better question is why so few of every faith tradition ever do.

  87. February 6, 2014 at 11:02 am

    Thanks for that, Bill – thoughts about Sam always bring the best out of you as they do out of me, and as I walk by his old house down the road he’s still there for me, even though the house has been tarted up by a new owner out of all recognition. The contrast between what’s there now and the place in which he actually lived surrounded by his warrior-friends all talking together passionately about a better world around his table is too painful, and I feel I shall never be whole again.

    And I do agree with your your observation about Christianity, Communism and Buddhism. In my experience the noblest proponents of all three religions are often unable to distinguish between them, and like Sam keep their faith hidden even from themselves. Just as one’s charity is purest when the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, a person’s faith is deepest when both hands are hidden behind the back in prayer.


    When you observe, “Perhaps some poems would improve if the poet asked what occasioned them?” I’d say some would and some wouldn’t. I’d also say that some poems don’t know what occasioned them because the poet is reluctant to take a stand, or indeed, so complicated and/or confused about what he or she wants to say — or doesn’t want to say, equally. Denis Donoghue said that many times about Yeats, indeed he ascribed some of Yeats’ greatness to his confusion. Yeats thought his poems were about one thing, politics for example, or enchantments, or theosophy worst of all, whereas the poems were about a deep, irrepressible yearning no human being could ever set down in better words than he did. But the irony is that what he felt were transcendent impulses, symbols, occult signs and orbits, religio in other words, were in fact manifestations of a passionate “yearning unappeased” in this world, amor — like in my poem.

    Yes, just like me, Bill – and I’m not comparing myself to William Butler Yeats, God forbid, except on the level of “murky.” Because I feel my “In Praise of the Still Unweighed” is no less “murky” than “Sailing to Byzantium” or “The Second Coming” — less “beautiful” as a poem, certainly, but no less “murky” – but if you still insist my poem is “murky” in the sense of “obscure” or “too hard,” then I’m going to say back to you, “O.k., let’s call it murky if you have to, but murky like the music of Olivier Messiaen, Mahler, or The Milky Way.”

    And what “occasioned” the poems that make up “Galileo’s Secret?” You can ask me that, of course you can, but you shouldn’t assume I have never thought about my motives any more than I’ve never wrestled with my symbols. It was and still is my own existential dilemma, that’s what, and that means the riddle of a God that’s as thoroughly dead as the eternal love I’ve experienced at various times in my life is dead yet is still just as alive, irresistible and kicking. Because to me it’s obvious that Religion still says more about what is really alive, awake, true even in life than Science does, even though Christianity, Communism and Buddhism are completely naïve and wrong-footed to insist things like the sun still moves, the dead son still lives, and we’re all in this together, we true believers in Lhasa, Phnom Penh or Geneva. And I feel sure that Galileo wrestled with that dilemma in the last years of his life imprisoned with no paper or books in his little house called Il Gioiello, — and perhaps even discussed what he discovered about that with John Milton when they sat down together in the garden.

    But of course nobody was there and the crux of the matter still remains secret — which explains why I wrote my book and why it’s not liked at all, by any, as Mrs Coleridge wrote to her husband and his friend William in Hamburg.

    My Galileo poem rings like a silver bell for me, even though I have no idea what it’s really about. You hear the bell best in “The Silver Swan” of Orlando Gibbons, Bill, I hear it best in those “draped arabesques of trembling skin and shining pubis” which sound so murky to you. As to Dawn, she doesn’t want even to think about them, they’re so poorly limed, and hates me for banging at her door with my childish needs combined with my tin ear and terrible punctuation. Indeed, she says I should go to you for help!

    So answer me, dear Bill. Tell me why my poem is still murky and I’ll tell you you haven’t got the eyes to see what it says as you do have the ears to hear what I know very well I can’t see as clearly as you in “The Silver Swan.” And I’d say that about Dawn Potter as well. Though she’s so much more gifted and disciplined than I ever will be as a writer, she’s totally blind to what she doesn’t want to see, at least in public. Goodness knows what any of us might see stripped of what we’re sure we know, old and alone without even a piece of paper to write it down like Galileo in his garden.

    Answer me, and don’t just be cute or clever. And you too Dawn — though I very much doubt you will ever come back and I miss you.


  88. wfkammann said,

    February 6, 2014 at 11:22 pm


    You write: “Because to me it’s obvious that Religion still says more about what is really alive, awake, true even in life than Science does, even though Christianity, Communism and Buddhism are completely naïve and wrong-footed to insist things like the sun still moves, the dead son still lives, and we’re all in this together, we true believers in Lhasa, Phnom Penh or Geneva. And I feel sure that Galileo wrestled with that dilemma in the last years of his life imprisoned with no paper or books in his little house called Il Gioiello, — and perhaps even discussed what he discovered about that with John Milton when they sat down together in the garden.”

    There, you’ve finally said why you think that Galileo gave in to the church. I would say he was coerced and that there is in fact in religion no magic spell which defeats the scientific method or negates the findings derived from it; even if they are changed by later findings. That is not to say religion may not offer something different. Threatening people with death and then holding them captive while they “think it over” is a common practice of the church. Here in Mexico we have the example of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. I find it in bad taste to apologize for abusers. You know: “Love the sinner; hate the sin!”

    Perhaps practicing a mandala offering with a cosmology involving Mount Meru has brought good results to those who believed it and the idea of the Earth and mankind as the center of the universe as well. But today, honesty demands that we use the Hubble Telescope and accept the universe as we now know it. If religion depends on false and outdated cosmology it is not in step with what we know to be true and if it is not true then it may be a magic charm but it is not a practice which an honest person can adopt in good faith.

    Here’s the summary of the church statement:

    Vatican Science Panel Told By Pope: Galileo Was Right

    Published: November 1, 1992

    Moving formally to rectify a wrong, Pope John Paul II acknowledged in a speech today that the Roman Catholic Church had erred in condemning Galileo 359 years ago for asserting that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

    The address by the Pope before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences closed a 13-year investigation into the Church’s condemnation of Galileo in 1633, one of history’s most notorious conflicts between faith and science. Galileo was forced to recant his scientific findings to avoid being burned at the stake and spent the remaining eight years of his life under house arrest.

    John Paul said the theologians who condemned Galileo did not recognize the formal distinction between the Bible and its interpretation.

    “This led them unduly to transpose into the realm of the doctrine of the faith, a question which in fact pertained to scientific investigation.
    Though the Pope acknowledged that the Church had done Galileo a wrong, he said the 17th-century theologians were working with the knowledge available to them at the time.

    Christopher, the church erred; not Galileo, and your opinion that Galileo realized the wisdom of the church is a nice meditation for you but is not productive for a religious practice based on the truth as we can now know it.

    The Buddha famously said:

    Do not accept any of my words on faith,
    Believing them just because I said them.
    Be like an analyst buying gold, who cuts, burns,
    And critically examines his product for authenticity.
    Only accept what passes the test
    By proving useful and beneficial in your life.

    The Buddha (Jnanasara-samuccaya)

    This allows us to see the Mount Meru cosmology as a metaphor and to use the current model instead without damaging the Buddhist religion.

    On the matter of your poem: The sections which I excised are for me beautiful and “understandable” images. The confusing beginning may not confuse you but despite all of your explanations, it still is not clear to me. So you may call me names and dismiss me as a reader or say that Yeats was confused when he wrote poems. When I read those poems I am still less confused than I am by the beginning of your poem. It is only the 1st section of your poem that I could not make head or tail of and I don’t think that is only my problem. The second “fluff” poem while having issues that Dawn noted is readable and evokes thoughts and emotions in the reader; so, it’s fine. Three pears: your choice. I thought of the Graces.

  89. February 7, 2014 at 7:20 am

    That’s a wonderful contribution to this discussion, Bill — and isn’t it extraordinary that one can in all seriousness and good faith include in a single discussion the Trial of Galileo, the Church’s 1992 Redaction of the Verdict, the key statement of the Buddha setting out the necessity for Empiricism, the beautiful Painting of the Three Graces and their three perfectly round, perfectly delineated pear-shapes, all in a discussion of one little poem which you still find murky? I’d say that’s remarkable, and I’d say it’s also all there!

    But at the same time you’re still nowhere near where I am in my poem, and that’s not to say that where I am in the poem is superior, I’d never say that, but just light years removed from you. On the other hand, it just happens to be where the poem is, and the first stanza in particular – the one you still, alas, find murky. That’s because you’re also just nowhere near the secret that Galileo, I feel sure, unraveled without any books or paper alone in his little house at the end of his life in Florence with no formulae or instruments or any proof of anything, or need of anything, and without rancor as well, or contradiction, or indeed without having to take any position at all with regard to what he was absolutely sure was correct – i.e. the mechanical dynamics of an orbiting earth and its position of relative insignificance in the universe.


  90. February 7, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    Dear Bill,
    What follows are a few shreds of a very particular leaf you might like to put in your pipe and smoke – because face it, only by challenging your mind-set are you ever going to read poetry like this. At the moment you’re on rails as far as these images are concerned. Yes, the rails are shiny, well-made and fast, but they only go where the timetable says they have to go, and whether your seat is on the aisle or by the window. What you need is a disruption of service altogether, an upsetting of your apple cart-train and a spilling of all your nice shiny apples so they can roll away anywhere they want to be picked up by three naked girls and displayed — “Oh my!” And to do that you could start off by liberating the word “suitor” in my poem, getting it once and for all off your Cartesian, TGV tracks.

    1.) I never said that Galileo capitulated. I mean, how could he have? The proof was all there, he’d seen it with his own eyes, shared it with the best minds of his generation all over Europe, and nobody but the Curia found his conclusions specious or unreliable. And they weren’t, and still aren’t.

    2.) There are a thousand ways of formulating Galileo’s secret but each one of them is very unstable and evaporates into thin air the moment it’s expressed outwardly — I know that because I’ve been trying to say it for years and have never succeeded. Yes, and I feel hurt enough that you find my poem “murky,” and I’m certainly not going to try to give you other, less satisfactory words just to laugh at. Galileo’s Secret is the very best I can do, I’m afraid.

    3.) Other words for “suitors” that could be substituted in the poem:
    The word “suitors” throws you off from the start because it only has one permissible meaning for you. So let’s try some other words, as I most certainly have. “Lovers” would still make sense, though limited, and the assumption that such “fierce lovers” were essentially “rapists” would make them clumsy and politically incorrect. “Sisters” could work quite well, referring as it might to Feminists who strip off their bras, make-up and other feminine “wraps” to be plain, straightforward, upright and virtuous, like men – that’s a parallel, certainly, and in an earlier version the poem was called “Old Foreplay for New Women Including Men.” It was good too, but not up to introducing a whole book called Galileo’s Secret.

    “Plaintiffs” could be another substitute – but what would a “fierce plaintiff” be, someone with a big mouth or a nasty lawyer? And it’s true, a really, really nasty plaintiff with a nasty lawyer can strip away the dark secret wraps etc. etc. until everything is exposed and somebody is left stark naked and possibly dead. But that’s all so negative, and something very positive is happening in the stanza, a rush, a liberation, a flowering.

    There are a whole lot of other words you could try like “pursuers,” “searchers,” “researchers,” “enquirers,” “investigators,” “interrogators” and “inquisitors,” but also “followers,” “disciples,” “devotees,” “members,” “groupies,” “regulars,” “senators,” “winners” on and on. But why don’t you just try switching gears and let the “suitors” in the poem as they are do the work? Why don’t you just let them have a try all on their own with no help from Homer? And I might add that there are several allusions in the poem to the kind of “suitors” I had in mind. I mentioned Rainer Maria Rilke already, he’s there, but I didn’t mention Simone Weil, if you can reach that far in your search for an alternative “suitor.” The sunlight prying up the whole orchard’s sap is her image, for example — not that anyone needs to know that.

    4.) Here’s the really big one.
    What if you wanted language itself to shift gears so that it could talk about things that weren’t in the realm of the talk-able at all? What if you took the title of the poem seriously, and tried to praise things that have always been and almost certainly will by definition remain forever “unweighed” like gyres, angels, eternity, emptiness, love, and heaven? What if you wanted to write poetry about forces, particles and dimensions that were even less substantial than the fairy-tale quarks, gluons and bosons of particle physics? What if you were convinced that Galileo had glimpses of something right at the end of his life that freed him from the agonizing dilemma he was in – which of course is a dilemma we modern humanists face too because although we’ve convinced ourselves it’s all mechanical and therefore perfectible we know that our understanding is actually diminishing and that, like Galileo, we’re personally in a god-awful place? How would you as a poet write into that disconnect?

    Well, try the quantum words in the first stanza of my speculative poem about things “unweighed,” and why not pretend you’re reading something a bit like but even higher, lighter, and more preposterous than Theoretical Physics with its Higgs bosons defying the scales?

    But first let me give you a workshop to escape into while you’re doing your homework, and do take note that this wonderful Spanish/Mexican painter of “wraps” is female:

    Remedios Varo“Bordando el Manto Terrestre” [Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle] by Remedios Varo. Click here to enter the space.



  91. wfkammann said,

    February 8, 2014 at 9:00 am


    You have challenged me so much with your remarks and assumed such a paucity of ability on my part that I retreat to the mundane rather than defend myself.

    Perhaps victors rather than suitors since victors can divide and rape at will.

    There is still the problem of the “silt-lapped limbs” which you say are actually roots. Obviously you used the word root above and so here too you need another word, I think.

    Also the phrase “great tentacles of hot rival” reinforces the idea of suitors as rivals, and so Odysseus. And while this phrase is evocative, there are the Dawn-like questions. Are the tentacles of cold rival as great as those of hot rival? Would cold rival have tentacles at all? Is there such a thing as cold rival? hot rival? luke-warm rival?

    Sorry to niggle so, but it doesn’t reach the threshold of cohesion and comprehension yet for me, although your explanations certainly improve the context.

    • Dawn Potter said,

      February 8, 2014 at 10:16 pm

      Most heart-rending words in Bill’s comment: “You have challenged me so much with your remarks and assumed such a paucity of ability on my part that I retreat to the mundane rather than defend myself.”

  92. February 8, 2014 at 11:57 am

    With all due respect, Bill, this is rot.

    a.) Limbs have always been wrapped in the loam just as dust has always been gifted back to dust and wrapped in its shroud of earth just as ashes to ashes and both rise triumphantly like the limbs of a lover fresh and whole from the grave in the Bible as well as in almost every Fairy Tale that’s ever been told to a child in bed.

    Indeed, “silt-lapped limbs” is brilliant and self-explanatory.

    b.) Of course the suitors in The Odyssey add to the constellation of the word, but you have to ask yourself, WHAT DO THEY CONTRIBUTE TO THE WORD AS IT’S USED IN THIS PARTICULAR POEM? “Rivalry,” good. “Usurpation,” good. “Dirty thoughts,” good. “False bravado,” good. “Luke-warm rivalry” ( to steal your phrase), good. I heartily agree with all that — the suitors in The Odyssey do contribute these qualities to the word in general poetic usage and also to the word as I use it in my poem. But what else? Is the word to be castrated by Homer and made to sing just that one screechy high false note? Can it never say anything else but “false,” “false,” “false?” Has the rest of the word been taken out of the language as far as poets are concerned?

    c.) “Tentacles” can be as cold or as hot as heaven or hell. An octopus has tentacles, and so does a giant squid two miles down in the blackness of the ocean trench. And look at the scars on the back of the huge sperm whale if you want to know what a vicious rival that creature of the coldest, darkest and deepest water on earth can be.

    d.) Cf. above for a “luke-warm rival.”

    e.) For “hot rivals,” try tentacles of lightning, or of anger, or of lava in the darkness down that mountain-side in Indonesia and now, I just read, in Japan. And have you ever seen the tentacles of St. Elmo’s fire in a ship’s rigging, or the Northern Lights? Try Coleridge for all that, and tremble.

    Anything else I haven’t touched on in what you just said?


    I just can’t understand why you are always so reductive, Bill? Why do you always go for the Catalogue item or the established Table of Contents? Because the irony is that what the first stanza says in my poem is actually much, much simpler than what you’re trying to force it to say so that you can squeeze it into your mould called The Odyssey. Indeed, you do damage to The Odyssey with such ill-considered deference.


    NOTE ADDED MINUTES LATER: Re. “Victors.” You suggest that I should add “victors” to the list of alternatives for “suitors.” But wouldn’t that plunge us into The Iliad instead? And isn’t that a bit redundant as well, “fierce victors?” I mean, what would you expect from the Greeks?

    That’s a joke, of course — indeed, it’s as reductive as insisting that “suitors” must mean we’re in The Odyssey.

    But like all the other words I have included in my list of alternatives above, it’s o.k. On the other hand, “victors” would similarly limit the scope of the poem as well as distract the reader from discovering some thing new. Because nobody’s winning in this poem, are they? Isn’t that the whole point? I mean we’re talking about God tumbling to the maiden yet again here, and the tumbler’s the victim, not the victor. Indeed, he’s the one who has “fallen in love,” as we say, and if anyone, the girl’s the “victor.” Or humanity if you look at the consequences.

    • Dawn Potter said,

      February 8, 2014 at 10:20 pm

      Phrases that explain why conversation doesn’t happen: “This is rot.” “Brilliant and self-explanatory.”

  93. February 8, 2014 at 12:54 pm


    Gutierrez 450
    Maria Jose Aguilar Gutierrez: “Don Alonso Quijano, Honor y Gloria de la Mancha.”

    What Genius Means
    And you can click on this earlier version too to see what the poem now looks like in the new (2018) illuminated version of La Croix Ma Fille.


  94. wfkammann said,

    February 9, 2014 at 6:29 am


    Christopher might at times be called a paper tiger.

    Far from threatening with his pomposity he demonstrates only an attempt to “screw his courage to the sticking place.”

    I much prefer him in this manic mode: “Brilliant and self-explanatory” to the passive aggressive, whimpering Santa’s belly (shaking bowlful of jelly) which is his alter-ego.(See glimpses in poor old chicken neck above)

    This provides an opportunity for us to play the victim of Mr. Pompous Ass, which is always an entertaining Punch & Judy show.

    If we didn’t do that, we would simply be the backboard for a game of tennis that he plays with himself.

  95. February 9, 2014 at 9:04 am

    Thanks, Bill – that’s a true and well-observed Time Out.

    Because of course the “first-born tiger” of “He Reflects on What His Genius Means” has a very rich and diverse progeny including the powerful but friendly Tyger in Blake’s illustration with its human back legs, big wistful eyes, and Cheshire-cat grin. Indeed, I suspect that it may have been that grin that influenced the “He-Reflects-on-What-His-Genius-Means” poet when he wrote:

    ………………The first born tiger smiled at that,
    ………………And even in the Hermit’s Garden
    ………………Illicit Fruit was no longer safe
    ………………………………………………..Not to eat.


    One of the sights I would place at the very top of my list of the things I would most like to see with my very own eyes from the past would be William and Catherine Sophia Blake at home in their hermit’s garden at Felpham.

    Not easy neighbors, William and Catherine Sophia, and I wonder if Dawn Potter would have gotten along better with them than she does with me, or even with you, Bill. Do you think William would have been nice to you both now, and accepted your request that he just lie down by the workshop fire and be grateful? Do you think he would have meekly submitted his poems to Dawn Potter for “revision” before she had even demonstrated that she had read them, or indeed that what they said even mattered? In particular, do you think William Blake would have agreed that the first stanza of his deeply worked poem, “In Praise of the Still Unweighed,” might have made better sense if he’d rewritten it so that The Odyssey could provide the key to its meaning as opposed to his own vision? Do you think that William Blake would have agreed that as long as “In Praise of the Still Unweighed” were well-written it wouldn’t really matter what it said, that meaning was for isolated poets that nobody ever read?

    And what if that well-trained artist from Harmony, Maine had looked at the tiger on her neighbor’s easel and told him his technique wasn’t so good and that the tiger in particular should be revised so its eyes were smaller and its back foot less human? “And by the way,” she might have said, knowing a lot about these things, “it’s not spelled “tyger,” you know, and also the colors are inexpert. There just isn’t blue like that in a tiger’s pelt, and the haunch is much too long and sensual.”

    “You should really be more careful because you paint everything to look like yourself, William, instead of what it’s supposed to, and if you want people to respect your work you’re really going to have to pay more attention to craft.”

    Dear Dawn and Bill,
    Forgive me my indiscretions. I’m grateful to you both for hanging in there and giving me the chance to say these things even if nobody else cares what is more is listening.



    • wfkammann said,

      February 10, 2014 at 8:23 am

      You write “In particular, do you think William Blake would have agreed that the first stanza of his deeply worked poem, “In Praise of the Still Unweighed,” might have made better sense if he’d rewritten it so that The Odyssey could provide the key to its meaning as opposed to his own vision?”

      The point WAS, Christopher that the unavoidable Odysseus references made the first part of the poem confusing and incomprehensible. Nobody said you should re-wright the poem using Odysseus; it was clear that this was NOT what it was about but writing limb when you mean root and using suitors and rivals and NOT meaning Odysseus is confusing to us mortal readers and all the explaining in the world will not really change that.

      By the way, what DO you gain by playing the pompous professor when you know you don’t have an audience for it?

  96. wfkammann said,

    February 9, 2014 at 9:51 am

    As I recall Blake and wife used to play Adam and Eve behind their wall (weather permitting I assume) so I am distracted by your hypothetical and can hardly read your comment.

    Rather than complain you have to let everyone know that these masterpieces are to be admired and talked about only in awestruck tones. Otherwise, you’ll always run the risk of some inadvertent honest comment.

    Loved the slant of your bread-and-butter letter.

    • Chalee said,

      February 9, 2014 at 10:02 am

      Sounds a bit smutty, what you heard, Bill. I think they merely took all their clothes off because they wanted to. And of course there were other significant “aberrations” in their behavior, or “blasphemies” as the neighbors called them, though if the neighbors had read their Swedenborg they might have been more sympathetic.

      And just to remind you that my oldest daughter’s name is Catherine Sophia and my middle daughter’s is Orlando.

      And nobody asked for “awestruck tones” either, Bill — if you are awestruck, that’s fine by me, but I think I’d prefer just a reading. In fact, if I’m honest I’d prefer two.

      Takes me a week to get many of the poems I really like, and some like “Directive” years and years. “The Sick Rose” I’m up to 58 on now, I think, and not only reading it but reciting it to myself like a mantra — I’ve known it was a crux ever since I was 16, but I still don’t think I quite get it (there’s much of Blake like that for me). And then there are the poems that I thought I understood that I don’t anymore and have to start all over again with, like “Dover Beach,” “Renascence,” and “The Unwithered Garden.” I think that’s just about getting older and in some ways understanding more about life and in other ways even less.

      Some of my own poems are like that too, and it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily imperfect either, though they may be. And if I realize they are weak I go back and rework them, don’t worry. Indeed, that’s one of the advantages of having published so little, you can still do that because they still belong to you. “Just as a poet has to live with what gets published, however dated or inadequate, he grows with what doesn’t.” (That’s a quote from me.)

      I’d been working on “In Praise of the Still Unweighed” like that for 15 years, I think, when it suddenly came clear — and the problem was all the time in the title which came only 2 years ago. Sort of like the whole thing of Galileo’s secret — sometimes I understand it and sometimes I don’t because of course it’s a mind-game. When I do get a glimpse of it I’m not troubled by anything anymore — as it says in the poem, such a moment allows even the plainest of things like wings “to sanctify earth’s godliest yearnings.”

      It’s interesting that neither you nor Dawn ever questioned the title of “In Praise of the Still Unweighed.” I wonder if you considered it?


  97. Dawn Potter said,

    February 9, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    Christopher, I am truly mystified. In both of my very brief comments, all I did was quote (1) Bill and (2) you in an apparently pointless attempt to get you to take a deep breath and allow you to find your place back to some kind of humane conversation.

    The question becomes, of course, why do I bother, given the way in which you continue to curse me? I suppose it’s because I saw your photographs of the spirit houses. And I believed that there was something vital and wonderful and curious going on. You have since done your damndest to prove that (1) Christopher is king and (2) every other reader is a worm.

    It makes me sad to watch you crush your own spirit house. But I can already hear you shouting that I am the house-wrecker. And all because I pondered a few words in your poem.

    Note bene: I did not REVISE your poem. I LOOKED AT your poem. I SPOKE OF WHAT I SAW. You railed and called me names and puffed yourself up. Now you invent crap about my rewriting Blake. This is delusional, Christopher. Why do you try so hard to kill friendship?

  98. Dawn Potter said,

    February 10, 2014 at 12:45 am

    An addendum: You may have forgotten that (1) I was on the Beloit Poetry Journal editorial board that selected one of your poems, among thousands of submissions, for publication and (2) I was still on the board when we voted on which of the year’s poems to nominate for a Pushcart. Though you insist that I “ignore” and “wreck” your work, you manage to ignore the fact that I was instrumental in bringing one of your most beautiful pieces into the public eye.

    I’m not mentioning this because I expect your thanks. Nor do I have any illusion that you might see the incident as an indication that I honor and respect your abilities and your potential.

    I’m mentioning it because I think you need to reacquaint yourself with the truth. This person, Dawn Potter, whom you deride as “that well-trained artist from Harmony” (and God forbid that I should have trained myself well; how stupid can an artist be?), carefully read one of your poems and said, “This is beautiful.” And then she did whatever she could in her power to make sure that other people could see it.

  99. February 10, 2014 at 2:35 am

    Dear Dawn,…………………………………………………………………2.35am
    I don’t know how all this got so scrambled either – and it makes me very sad as we’ve been friends for so many years. Also because I like you so much, and am a great admirer of your work – not always of your literary theories but always of your poems and your occasional prose (i.e. responding to occasions from apples to the zoology round your house).

    The problem is that it has reached the point now where I feel that if I ask you to go back and look at a specific exchange between us we just sink into misunderstanding each other more deeply, and even hurting each other. The most recent was your very specific comments on my little poem, “Leda Takes Another Lover” — I replied immediately to your remark about the grammar of the poem, for example, in which I felt you were completely wrong. I also disagreed with your reservations about the specific images you felt should be revised, you may remember the tickling image, for example, and wrote about those disagreements in some detail. You never replied.

    The shadow always comes down to my sense that you withdraw from discussions when I challenge you with specific observations.

    We had a very long correspondence in private about a poem by another author you asked my advice on, and when we disagreed you told me you were only interested in writing about how one could use that poem as a teaching aid, and not in its meaning. My point was that the poem itself was problematic, that indeed it’s problem was part of it’s meaning — since it was a poem by Emily Dickinson that she rewrote a number of times, one can be pretty sure she was aware of the struggle, and that indeed she was writing specifically about it. Furthermore, it’s a poem rarely discussed, and my feeling is that this is for a very good reason — it’s painful, it’s even tortured. The poem uses the image of “the belt,” and as I’d had to use one in the 60s at a public school in a factory community in Scotland where I was teaching, I had some pretty specific things to say about some of the implications of the image, and therefore about the crux of the poem, and crux is the right word. (The belt I used was for corporal punishment which was sanctioned by the state and which I was expected to use. Needless to say, this is just one of the meanings implied in the way Emily Dickinson uses the word in the poem.)

    You told me that you would reread my specific comments about the poem’s meaning later when you came to revising that chapter, but I never heard from you again. That was over 9 months ago.

    Fair enough — you are busy, I know. You also are very frank that you don’t want to discuss meanings at all. Fair enough too — but if we are talking about a poem and I think you are misreading it and then you just stop, that feels like a deliberate cold shoulder. And when it comes to specific disagreements about one of my own poems that is being discussed in public, that can feel a bit cavalier, to put it politely.

    I try very hard not to bring anything from our private correspondence into this public discussion, so replying to your last two comments is not easy – even in what I say about “the belt.”

    I mentioned a week ago what is one of my favorite poems of yours, “Mr Kowalski,” but I didn’t give any references to the discussion because I felt even that, though in public, was personal. But as you’ve challenged me now more specifically yourself, I think it will be alright to give the URLs. It will give other people a little experience of what our dialogue together has been like.

    The discussion between us starts here.

    A final summary of the discussion with an important quote from Dawn at the end can be found here.

    Finally, I’d like to wind this thread down now which has been making me feel more and more uncomfortable anyway, so much of it is flippant and cynical – and that’s just as much my fault as it is Bill’s, I know. Whatever, I don’t like to sound like I know I sound here – I intended “Make It New” as a forum for me to talk a bit about my work as I have not managed to get a single poem published in over 3 years of continual effort (I have up to 20 packets of poems out all the time as well as all my 3 books). I was hoping the discusssion might help me to get myself out there a bit in another way, and it has just succeeded in making me feel even more discouraged.

    I hope you will forgive me, Dawn – I didn’t reply to your last couple of comments because they made me feel awful too. That was the only reason — I just felt there was no hope.


    NOTE A FEW MINUTES LATER: I beg of you, everybody, to respect this moment. Be helpful, be kind.


    • Dawn Potter said,

      February 10, 2014 at 4:34 am

      I don’t want to talk about my poems with you any more than I want to talk about your poems with you . . . the reason being that the same damn thing happens: you co-opt the conversation, you insist that you’re the only one who sees anything worth seeing, you call names. The conversation I tried to have with you about Dickinson concerned a chapter in a teaching manual that was focusing on a single craft element. Sure, there’s way more to a Dickinson poem than a discussion of how she worked with line. BUT THAT’S NOT WHAT THE CHAPTER WAS ABOUT. The book was not a book about the magnificence of Dickinson. It was a book showing non-specialist teachers how to approach poetry through a variety of different craft angles. Deride “craft” all you want, but studying it and teaching it is how I became “a well-trained artist from Harmony.”

      Of course I didn’t write back to you about that chapter: you subsequently behaved so badly on my blog that other readers were warning me against you. Time and time again, I have given you the benefit of the doubt. There’s much to love about you, Christopher. But you need to stop using other people as the “backboard for a game of tennis that [you play] with [your]self,” to borrow Bill’s metaphor. If you want to talk to people, start with the assumption that what they have to say might have some value. Don’t treat them like scum.

      Spit and scream; tell lies about me: I still maintain you would do well to study the craft yourself. Great musicians don’t become great without spending years perfecting scales and etudes. Poetry requires its own scales and etudes. You haven’t done that work yet, which is why you are the only one who understands what’s going on in many of your poems. And don’t pull that “I’m an old man without an MFA” crap on me any more. Milton and Keats and Frost and Yeats and Dickinson died doing the work. I hope to do the same. You can too . . . if you want it bad enough.

      A poem is analogous to a painting. What’s within the frame is all the viewer/reader has to work with. Carrying on about all the stuff that’s in your head doesn’t do a thing to make the painting/poem a better work of art. If what’s in the frame doesn’t speak to the viewer/reader, then the work is not doing its job. Do not blame everyone else because writing a poem is harder than you believe it should be.

      And, no, I’m not going “to forgive you,” as you plead in your previous comment. You’ve been extraordinarily childish and vindictive, and writing “Be helpful, be kind” is only a way to let yourself off the hook. What you need to do is apologize for being an ass.

      Finally, you say “I don’t know how this got so scrambled.” It got scrambled because you were rude and overbearing. If you didn’t agree with what I saw in your poem and you didn’t want to ask me any questions or try out any experiments, all you had to say was “Thanks for reading.” Civility goes a long way in human relationships.


      • February 10, 2014 at 9:28 am

        How could I say “Thanks for reading” when you obviously hadn’t read the poem except as an object for revision?

        Also revision isn’t easy to accept at all from a reviser who values revision above reading.

        I have no doubt you’re good at revision in class with willing students, or at a conference on teaching it, or in a workshop where writers submit their work to you to be improved. You’ve been a bit presumptuous at it with me who was not in your class what’s more at your feet but a much older friend and a colleague who grew up at a different time and in a very different country and poetry culture. He also happened to have some poems he wanted to share with you, as poet’s often do at a reading, for example, or around a table with a bottle of wine, or as we used to in letters.

        On the other hand, yes, I can easily apologize for being an ass.


        Added a bit later: Bottom just got in touch with me to ask me to remind Titania that even asses can feel outrage though, like all good asses, it sometimes comes out as a bray. He says sorry about that.


  100. February 10, 2014 at 10:37 am

    Bottom also asked me to remind Bill that asses not only bray when they feel outrage but are only half the guy that’s a mule. He says he wishes he were as handsome and strong as a mule but he isn’t. He says it’s always hard when people assume he’s much stronger than he is. But he tries harder, he says, much.

    He also said something about how our pay is ended, but I didn’t get all that, or what pay he was talking about — I thought this was for free. Also about what he called “rebels,” how they were ended too which sounded a bit cruel to me, extra-judicial, you know. And “lunatics?” What that had to do with anybody not being a poet I can’t imagine. I mean, you can hardly imagine Bottom as a poet any more than you can as a lover, can you?



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