A FORTHRIGHT APPEAL

CONFESSION, FABLE, or SHORT STORY?

“The last two threads have occupied me almost compulsively for over six months, and in the process made me realize that I needed to be more forthright. And now five weeks later whatever it is has started to grow roots and the roots green sprouts — and even if it achieves nothing it’s still greening something in me bit by bit.

“Last night I woke up with a word* and, not knowing what it meant, scribbled it out in the dark on the scrap of paper marking “The Invisible Woman” that was lying beside me. I copied the last letters of the word twice so I might be able to decipher it in the morning.

“The previous thread, “For Those Like Galileo,” concentrates on Part II of GALILEO’S SECRET in which the “secret” actually appears, though like me at the time you might not have been able to make out quite what it was, and  this dream-word is a clue if not an actual cue in every sense of the word! 

“The thread before that, “In Praise of the Still Unweighed: Off the Record at Eighty,” was begun at the end of November, 2019, getting ready for my 80th birthday coming up on December 7th. The critical parts explore the struggle to develop a voice of my own starting at the age of 50, while the “off-the-record” parts examine the specific problems I have had getting my work recognized from 1990 to the present — in other words, a whole additional lifetime in which to get born in the second half of a single life.”

…..C.W.

……….

THE APPEAL

If you’ve always wondered why there are earlier Scarriet.com threads and other disturbing oddities in the ‘Cowpattyhammer’ Archives (2009-2010), or don’t understand what Christopher Woodman is talking about when he refers to a ‘Foetry Resistance,’ for example, you should start by reading how this site came into being in About the Author.  But don’t worry,  there are no exposés or foul tidings lurking, just fun and more whimsy. Indeed, this 80+ year old poet in his old slouch hat has been becoming more and more of a pan-piper everyday since!

And if you are also concerned to know why somebody like him didn’t start writing poetry until he was 50, you might also want to see what he looked like in his 30s as an ordinary school-teacher in the 1970s, and what he was thinking back then. You can Click Here to see and read more about that other person who lived in Forest Row, Sussex, taught at Michael Hall, the local Steiner School that his children attended, and was in the process of becoming someone ready enough for what was to follow.

It’s important to realize that when Christopher Woodman started submitting his poetry in the 1990s he wasn’t in a position to understand fully what was happening. Although he managed to place a fair number of poems by 2009, and had even been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by then, his work was always sent out by ordinary snail-mail to far-away strangers, indeed, he never met an editor in person and only very rarely another poet. He had no MFA or poetry connections, and still doesn’t, and was living in South East Asia so there was no local writing community to support him. Indeed, to this day he has never stood up to read at a Poetry Reading or attended a Poetry Workshop or Conference, and has no way of knowing for certain if anyone has ever read one of his manuscript volumes right through, which is dire.

On the other hand, he managed to make the best out of the tools and faculties he had, and the proof of that is that he’s still writing at over 80 and is even more convinced of the value of his still evolving books. But at this point he does feel frustrated, and knows it’s important to say brazenly and in public: Heads up! Christopher Woodman has not managed to publish a single poem in the last 10+ years, and his 3 books remain unedited, unbound, and unread. It’s as serious as that, which is why he feels he has to be forthright about it, not just celebrate it quietly all by himself on a shelf.

It may be hard to believe, but he feels he is no longer regarded as a living poet in his own country, and that weighs on him even though he knows it’s a foolish feeling. “I know I’m different,” he says. “I’m a bit over-educated as well as over-the-top, for example, and yes, I do sometimes hold the world to unreasonable standards and might even come over at times as a sort of literary Wobbly!” He also freely admits that every Movement to Save the World, even ones as minor as his own, have always had their ambiguities. “History tell us that,” he says, “as do so many biographies. ‘Revolutionaries’ are almost always a bit soft in the head, that otherwise they wouldn’t bother.”

So why does he?

“It’s a question of belief in the value of poetry in general, not just my own, and if my role in what might be called the ‘Foetry Resistance’ 10+ years ago still casts a shadow over my reputation as a poet, I think that’s unfair as well as highly ironic. Though entirely untrained, uncertified, and unaccompanied, I took my place in the world of American Poetry in my 60s, and in so doing I understood things about the process that most people at the time weren’t aware of. And partly as a result of my interventions some things did move on — consciousness was raised, procedures were clarified, and the very private world of poetry publication, prizes, certification and hiring in America did become more transparent and democratic.”

And here’s the irony. The proof of the power of Christopher Woodman’s advocacy is witnessed by the fact that in one year, 1909-10, he was banned from all the most influential poetry sites at the time: pw.org, poets.org and poetryfoundation.org/harriet, all of them one after the other. In addition, some of his most effective threads were deleted,  ‘pruned’ as some moderators liked to call censorship at the time, and even now he feels he’s fading away — it’s 10+ years later and not a word of his has been subsequently published.

“It’s as if a quarantine order had been passed and I were still deemed to be contagious even after a whole decade in isolation. And can you imagine what that’s like for a poet to live with at any age, what is more at 80?”

…..
CONFESSION, FABLE, or SHORT STORY?  #2

“Just recently I was notified that I was a Finalist in an important poetry-book competition only to receive a second e-mail the next day telling me that a mistake had been made and that my name was not supposed to have been on the list. That could have been true, but the circumstances as well as my feelings about it still made it very unlikely, just as if my skin had been darker or my hair a bit more ‘creative’ I would almost certainly have been more sensitive to the speed bumps in the approach to certain neighborhoods, and if I were stopped would certainly have slowed down to a crawl with my hands fixed firmly to the top of the wheel. That’s just a metaphor, of course, because American poetry has been race/religion-free for a very long time now. It’s custodial prejudices today have more to do with positions and affiliations, having constructed a world where so-called ‘Extra-mural Activities’ are nowhere — because if it’s done “outside the walls” it’s almost certainly “Off the Record…”

…..

And isn’t it time we let all that go now along with our terrible pride and misplaced, self-justifying arguments? Because, metaphorically speaking, how many of us can throw the first stone when it comes to the timing of ‘Resistance’ acts like Colin Kaepernick’s knee, for example, or Tommie Smith’s and John Carlos’ much-maligned grand-standing in 1968 at the Mexico Olympics? And quite literally, don’t most of us have our fists in the air now,  and if we’ve got a pair of tight fitting leather gloves at home, wouldn’t we love to pull them right on too and strut out? And don’t we  hold our heads as high as our fists and shout? Or at least don’t we do all that metaphorically, as I am obviously doing right here?

THE PARABLE

George Floyd’s death and the ‘Black Lives Matter’ demonstrations all over the world have moved us all very deeply, and every one of us must now come to terms with the inequities and injustices that have been built into our nation right from its founding on a slave-based economy. And the hardest part is not to revise our history but to come to terms with our own complicity in what we’ve become, our own blind eye, our own comfortable armchair, our own fine ‘property,’ ‘good school,’ ‘glad hand,’ and ‘high art’ at the one extreme or, at the opposite, the even more prejudiced ‘other extreme,’ the family farm or, as so often, the loss of it, along with the dogs, the guns, the Sundays and everything a true American is supposed to stand for. This is the malaise at the heart of all our American social and economic problems today, too much at the one extreme and too little at the other. “God and Property,” as the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, put it recently — and God must be turning in his grave to be so gratuitously coerced and walled-in. At least that’s what Christopher says!

This ‘Reassessment’ is not talking specifically about Racism, which is obviously America’s single, most egregious social and economic distortion. It’s using Racism as a handle to grasp the even deeper, indeed fundamental aberrations that undermine our culture on every level: turf, privilege, and money. Indeed, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas just re-affirmed the old historical justification of slavery as a “necessary evil,” making it clear that he believes it was worth whatever it took back in the 17th and 18th Centuries to achieve what his people have come to call “Great” in America and that they want back again today. And what a tragic, blind and cruel irony that is! Slavery as a necessary evil that has made us so “Great!”

And look at these two great American heroes as they emerge from that struggle to address us today:

Tommie Smith, 1944 (1968!) 2020

John Carlos, 1945 (1968!) 2020

Because those were the values that so alienated these timelessly gifted men, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, even at the moment they were being awarded Gold and Bronze Medals at the 1968 Olympics. As the American National Anthem was being played, they did not put their right hands on their hearts to honor the flag but instead raised them in the air as ‘Black Panthers’ (not literally, take note, just the gestures!) full of arrogant, revolutionary defiance, militants fighting not for the USA but for Self Respect. And look at them in these photos now, and tell me they weren’t absolutely right in what they did.

And that’s what Christopher Woodman says he feels about his own dilemma too, and why he wants to be more “forthright” even if he was just a very minor poet/activist working on a very small, very local level. “Because I raised my fist too in my own way,” he says, “and I’m still being punished for it!”

Of course he was by no means a major player in the ‘Foetry Resistance’ but more like the third figure, the Australian Silver Medalist who stood on that podium in 1968 as well and who has been all but forgotten today. This is the man who set the 200m World Record in one of his heats at the same Olympics, a record which lasted until Tommie Smith broke it a few days later in the finals. But, just a blink of an eye behind the Gold Medal winner, the man below still remains the Australian 200m Record holder to this day.

Peter Norman, 1942 (1968!) d.2005

But he did even more than that on the podium by selflessly standing up for a cause that wasn’t even his own, and who suffered so disproportionately for it. Indeed, he was sent home and then banned from Australian athletics for the rest of his life, can you imagine? So shout (click on!) his name and don’t ever forget:

PETER NORMAN!!!

The specific details of what Christopher Woodman did in the ‘Foetry Resistance’ don’t really matter, and he certainly has no intention of going back over what remains of the transcripts to see who said or did what or didn’t etc. But a poet is like an athlete as well, there’s that sort of commitment, passion and, yes, vulnerability — because there’s something that’s always got to be proved and verified again and again for anyone so engaged. And you can see it’s still there in all 4 of us in the photos on this page, even the one among us who is dead!

……………………….

THE CONNUNDRUM

CHRISTOPHER WOODMAN WANTS TO ADD JUST THIS:

When it comes to the details of my own story I’m speaking in tongues, of course. Indeed, it will be only those who were there with me at the time, cohorts or combatants, who will be able to understand fully what I’m saying about what happened to me personally, what is more be in a position to do something about it. To draw out the poison from my person, so to speak, the chutzpah as well as the charisma.

As a start I’d like editors today to read some of my poetry as did James Laughlin, Theodore Weiss, Marvin Malone, Alice Quinn, Marilyn Hacker, Joseph Parisi, David Young, Lee Sharkey, Dan Veech, and Susan Terris, among the many distinguished editors who published my work and/or reached out to help me 10, 15, 20 years ago, an unknown poet with no degrees or affiliations.

“I sent “Connemara Trousers” to The New Yorker, one of my earliest submissions. Alice Quinn wrote back right away. “Much too long for us,” she said, ” — try The Kenyon Review.” And Marilyn Hacker replied almost immediately:  “Yes!”

“Theodore Weiss short-listed a very early version of my GALILEO’S SECRET for the QRL just before ill-health forced him to retire after editing the famous series for 50 years. Wiki says; “Ted Weiss showcased emerging and major writers including William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, e. e. Cummings, Thomas Merton, Mark Van Doren, Ezra Pound, Henry Miller, and Jean-Paul Sartre, and also introduced some that were not widely known to Americans, including Franz Kafka and Eugenio Montale.”

“I still have the little scraps of note-pad paper on which Ted Weiss encouraged me with his stubby pencil. Among my most precious relics, his precious words were  safely conveyed to me all the way to Chiang Mai in the safe hands of Renée Weiss! 

“I share my even earlier correspondence with James Laughlin with the Houghton Library at Harvard, but I think my hard copy is probably the top one he stripped off his old Remington to mail to me in person. I didn’t even have a book to show him at the time, just individual poems which he liked enough to write a lot to me, and to share with me his own struggles too as I am sharing mine with you.”

…………./……………………………….‘Dona nobis pacem,’ ……………………………………………………………Christopher.

……………….*RECEPTACLE: ……………………….1. Object: A container that holds items or matter; ……………………….2. Botany: The expanded tip of a flower stalk or axis …………………………..that bears the floral parts or the florets of the …………………………..flower head; ……………………….3. Electronics : A fitting connected to a power supply …………………………..equipped to receive a plug; ……………………….4. Poetry: A supra-dimensional quantum or ‘ravish- …………………………..ment’ as contemplated in a spontaneous …………………………. celestial observation.
 ….………………
THE DISCUSSION CONTINUES IN THE COMMENTS

5 Comments

  1. wfkammann said,

    August 21, 2020 at 12:09 am

    Christopher: While reading from “Cruiskeen Lawn” in the The Best of Myles Na Gopaleen, I came across this section which somehow vaguely resonated with what I imagine you are trying to get at in the above:

    Perhaps the English Honors Paper best illustrates what I am trying to say, and saying (in my own way). It is not so much that the student is expected to be familiar with the works of very many inferior persons, for after all what else is literature but just this? What is disquieting and cannot be borne is that one is expected to admire or decry these things and that one will obtain marks and consequently be considered educated only in so far as one’s admiration and contempt correspond with those of the person who sets the paper (who is, of course, entitled to his opinions but not necessarily to those of other people).

    Listen to this, will you: Describe with quotation the famous long simile at the end of ‘The Scholar Gypsy.’ What do you see to admire in it? The question is not asked ironically and you’ll never be a Subordinate Writing Clerk, Grade 5b, if you answer in that spirit. What do you see to admire in it? Elsewhere in the same paper I see the phrase, Say more particularly what you find to admire in it. An eccentric student who admires rather than finding or seeing to admire would probably be expelled from the examination hall (with ignominy). I suppose it’s too much reading of the French that causes English like that to be written.

    Appreciate Ruskin as a describer of the richly splendid and the desolate. Leave aside the tautology of ‘richly splendid’ and tell me why any educated person should know anything whatever of this awful little blue-nosed schoolboy whose smugness and ignorance were so appalling that he would be admitted to nowhere except girls’ schools for the delivery of his ‘lectures.’ Why should young people who have done no harm be compelled to “appreciate” this unthinkable alien with the elastic-sided boots and the stomach full of home-made custard?

    Later in, in the pathology section, we get this: Why does the poet pray to be made one with the West Wind?” For that matter why do I take damn good care not to walk on the cracks in the pavement? Why does my wife fall out of the bed four times every night every July? Really, who wants to know the answers to these essentially Viennese questions?

    I shall say nothing of the remaining questions. They are concerned with names which, being a modern person, I have never heard before- Wardsworth, Milltone, Bruening, William Bleck- I quote from memory. It amuses me to think that any schoolboy who shares my lordship’s perfectly reasonable ignorance of these people will fail the examination and go through life as a person who is not ‘educated’. Excuse me while I blow my nose.

  2. August 22, 2020 at 4:56 am

    from FOETRY: The Meaning & Value of Repression …………………………………………………….. (2007)

    EXPATRIATE POET
    Posted: Fri Mar 02, 2007 7:24 pm
    Post subject: EVEN BIGGER NOW

    Because I know you’re going to disappoint me and talk rather about Mark Strand and Billy Collins, here’s why “The Meaning and Value of Repression” [now called “Celestial Observations”] is NOT about the “power of sex” at all, Monday Love, and why you’ll just be running in place if you insist it is.

    Recently a friend told me that some Canadian scientists had at last cracked one of the world’s most intractable mysteries, the exact function of the stone circles at Stonehenge. Apparently there was an article in The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine showing that Stonehenge represents the female genitalia in precise, anatomical detail. It’s got an outer circle, an inner circle, an altar and an open place in the middle — in other words, my friend told me, just like a woman!

    But so do most churches, offices, and police stations, I told him, the White House, the Taj Mahal, Yankee Stadium, most airport terminals and even my bank – even my own study has got strong outer walls, inner walls delicately lined with sensitive books, a strategically placed desk with a mouse on it, and, most important of all, an open space in the middle through which I pass each day in my search for meaning and hope. And my life is enriched by countless other female artifacts as well, I told him — the handle on my coffee cup is very well-placed for one thing, and I feel really in control behind the wheel of my tiny 800cc Daihatsu Mira – which you’ve probably never even heard of, though it’s the sexiest car in the world when I’ve got my hand on the shift!

    So what if Stonehenge resembles the female genitalia — any poet could have told those ‘scientists’ that – any druid, any drunk! Because the mystery is actually the other way around, isn’t it? Those who would know the meaning of such things must start from the obvious and work toward the inconceivable, surely a much more daunting task. For example, I want to know what great truths men and women carry around in the anatomical structures of their own bodies and, more precisely, what their organs of sex tell us about, for want of a better word, the nature of God? For sex is compelling not just because it gives such a kick but because it brings us all right to the heart of meaning and value and, for a brief moment, we can know at first hand angels, ambrosia, and a selfless world without loss or ambivalence.

    Wouldn’t that have been enough for the builders of Stonehenge, to get you there, or for Chartres, the most female of all the great cathedrals, or even that most womanly Washington Monument — have you ever seen the whole display from the air, the obelisk just a needle point and the National Mall full of water reflecting your flight?

    To say any human structure is just about sex is plain old Hugh Hefner talk – which is fine if you’re a hack that thick and paid at that level. But, if not, the question should rather be, what is sex about? In other words, what do these flickering shadows in our cave of flesh, or of stone, or of words, tell us about reality?

    NOW DON’T YOU DARE TO LET ME DOWN OR ELSE!

    Christopher
    _________________
    (…yet still it moves!)

    ………

    EXPATRIATE POET
    Posted: Fri Mar 02, 2007 7:59 pm
    Post subject: EVEN BIGGER, EVEN BETTER!

    And is “Dover Beach” about the power of the sea, or “The Far Field” about the power of car batteries, or “The Wild Iris” about the power of bulbs or even the sun?

    I’m so afraid you’re going to be facetious – I couldn’t bear it!

    Christopher
    _________________
    (…yet still it moves!)

    ………

    • August 24, 2020 at 10:16 am

      Re. “Celestial Observations”

      The event in the poem has something to say which would be lost if the image that reveals “Galileo’s secret” were edited out to make it less embarrassing.

      Yes, the display is shocking, needless to say, but it’s at the heart of a book which is as whimsical as it is serious. So it’s delightful too, as uplifting as it is indefinable, and is revealed just this once only to be subliminally re-visited again and again right to the end. Indeed, the vision is fundamental, so of course it’s hard to confront at first, or even to think about without blushing. But the poems that follow celebrate it clearly and even more boldly as the book moves on through “Her Fear of Angels,” “A Tragic Mutual Incomprehension” to “Her Love at Chartres,” “Yet Still It Moves” and on to the humble fireside homilies of “Love’s Linen” and “Aubade” at the very end.

      We had a live-in Latvian cook when I was a child – her name was Mrs. Stock, and she wore very thick glasses and had very white hair. She was also quite strict and I was always a bit afraid of her. My father was an Obstetrician and Gynecologist, and she frequently found ways to mock his profession – “always looking at Ladies’…,” she would say under her breath and with a grimace. Her English obviously wasn’t up to whatever she put in the blank and slotted something in there in Latvian slang, I feel sure. But I never forgot what she meant.

      And that’s “Galileo’s secret,” the “still unweighed” that the very first poem in the book is “in praise of” — the “archly absent body” which defies gravity and “scatters weight like rubies.” And it’s not only the “secret” that bewitches “upright Jove” and turns him into a rapist, it haunts our “holy Galileo/ bearded like our father’s angel” too — a nothingness which is the origin of everything that is full including all that is assumed by popular science to be as plain as the nose on your face or the sun in God’s heaven.

      Galileo Galilei introduced empirical objectivity with his telescope, and little by little the process has unwittingly deprived us of any sense of its opposite, the subjectivity of mystery and wonder. That’s why we’re all so hungry today, such deprived and besotted suitors, neglected children who don’t even know what’s missing!

      The sort of poetry I love is an antidote to that. It’s an impersonal sort of board-game with no literal meanings in the ‘moves,’ the winning gambit being based not on training, identification and measurement but on dissolution as it used to be experienced in sacred dance and drama: the uncensored Corroboree in the bush, the whirling Sufis in the shaded Ottoman compound, even the local Morris dancers on the grass outside your local pub with a pint — and, of course, the best poetry everywhere else in the world but where we are at the moment.

      ……….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.
      ………………………….Quoted as a preface to “Whatever My Good Would-
      ………………………….be Sisters Say” in Galileo’s Secret, Part !V.

      Christopher

      • September 6, 2020 at 6:21 pm

        P.S. Thinking back over all this, I think Mrs Stock’s first language, like that of many older Latvians at the time, might have been German because the word she muttered under her breath sounded a lot like “Kant.” As a young boy I had never heard of Kant, needless to say, but who knows? Perhaps a disdain for the great philosopher’s disturbing dictum, “das Wissen aufzuheben, um für den Glauben Platz zu Bekommen” could have unsettled her as much as my father’s profession. Because what Kant says would be genuinely disturbing for any proper empiricist, and indeed lies at the heart of what I feel sure would have been Galileo Galilei’s own quiet and subversive way of dealing with the riddle after they took his telescope away.

        For my own private dealings with Immanuel Kant while myself “under House Arrest” later in life, have a look HERE and HERE.

        ……….

  3. September 13, 2020 at 10:48 am

    1.) A FORTHRIGHT APPEAL from Comment # 5 (September 8th, 2020)

    Fan Tail 450

    “When Christopher looked out of his window from the Miller’s Cottage each morning he was never quite sure where he was as the world changed all its coordinates when the wind shifted directions in the night.”

    [This Comment has been moved to Cover Page #2 of the Site in a structural revision process. It will be back eventually, I think.]

    …….

    [To exit you can move on to the next major Thread, “FOR THOSE LIKE GALILEO,” or choose another Thread from the ***MAJOR THREADS*** that are listed in the left hand margin.]


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