for FRANZ WRIGHT: “dark, then bright, so bright”

An antique Relic found amongst the Ruins,
thought to be Samson’s.

What Genius Means Border………………….[Click twice on the old script to read it more easily.]

A further antique Relic thought to be Samson’s:
illuminations on Jūlija’s desk under the volcano on Bali.

God burns

…………….God Burns 4 …………..[Click twice on both to see better, & read carefully for clues to decipher the text.]

Dear Jūlija,……………………………………………………….December 9th, 2017
I love what you say in your last paragraph about the “message of the relics” — it’s very exciting how we’re finding our way there together, and I’m tremendously grateful to you for the help.

In answer to your question about Franz Wright, he was a unique, and uniquely great, American poet who also had a uniquely troubled life. He died just two and a half years ago after a long struggle with lung cancer, having essentially smoked himself to death. He had been abusing drugs and alcohol and everything else for 40 years, was in and out of mental hospitals, and was famous for being extremely angry and aggressive in public and especially  on-line. For examples of the latter you can go to For Franz Wright (2010) cited in my previous post. In particular you can read his Comment 34 followed by his Comments 38 & 39, and finally his very moving last Comment 41.  (For convenience sake I have highlighted all Franz Wright’s Comments in Green.) And you can also read a short reply of my own to him in Comment 40, which will give you an idea of how I dealt with all this at the time.

Insufficiently, needless to say, and why I have felt compelled to revisit the original thread 7 years later, and of course why I am dedicating “He Reflects on What his Genius Means” to Franz Wright along with your beautiful illuminations.

Also why I have high-lighted in blue the discussion with my co-editor at the time, the anti-modernist critic, Tom Brady, who mocked Franz Wright ferociously both as a poet and as a person throughout. My feeling is that readers will be interested not only in Tom Brady’s ‘Old- (as opposed to ‘New-) Critical’ views but also in the way my own understanding of both ‘the poet’ and ‘poetry’ in general developed during the discussion. Because I was caught between a rock and a very hard place, pushing against two uncompromising Savanarolas, Tom Brady on the own hand and Franz Wright on the other, the former dismissing my poem, “Leonardo Amongst Women,” as “didactic” and the latter as “perfectly awful.”

Which was a lot to deal with then, and still is.

[Cont. in the Comments.]



………………………..Stumped like this,
………………………..we hear the Years
………………………..And stoop to grace
………………………..the Water
…………………………………………………..‘s Fall.


………………………….(Remember? Click HERE if you don’t.)

These are all three rough drafts, even the last one, but to me the blotches, squiggles and crossings-out have their own special glamor. Indeed, they all testify to Jūlija’s imagination, inventiveness and skill as a calligrapher, and as work in progress they all lead me deeper and deeper into the poem.


“O FOOL OF EARTH!” A Haiku by Samson illuminated by Jūlija with Caravaggio, T.E.Lawrence & an encore by our Christy himself.

Julia O Fool of Earth jpg

……………………………………………………………………November 21st, 2017
A first draft of an illuminated haiku by a very special and gifted new friend, a Russian speaking Latvian calligrapher who goes by the single name of Jūlija. And there’s going to be lots more of her, including an illumination of the haiku in the previous post. At the moment her version of “Stumped like this” is lying on her scriptorium desk on the island of Bali, and I just read that Mt. Agung is going off so there may be a delay.

Just a few weeks ago, Jūlija and I started working together on a project to illuminate a series of what I call “relics” in my latest book called La Croix Ma Fille. And just to lay this new card on the table from the start, should La Croix Ma Fille find a publisher it would now have to include Jūlija’s work. Because what she is doing has inspired me so — lifted my spirits, confirmed my hunches, and given me the courage to believe that, even at just a few days short of 78, this author might still manage to publish the book!

I’ve had the idea for years — that I might assemble a book that would include some poems that I didn’t write myself but were “found.” So La Croix Ma Fille has a Foreword entitled “Three Relics Found Amongst the Ruins, Thought to be Samson’s,” the last poem of which is the haiku called “O Fool of Earth” — which, if you please, was written not by me but by the “front-line saint” called Samson, a Justice League enforcer if there ever was one. Because he’s God’s own body-guard, bouncer, and batman — yet he’s also humanity’s fool like the shy inventor, Bruce Wayne, which means not unlike me and perhaps even a bit like you. And don’t forget that these jottings were discovered “in the ruins” sometime after Samson pulled the temple down about his ears — “So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life,” as the Bible puts it. And if that doesn’t sum up our own well-meaning but tragic interventions at home and abroad, what does, and I mean both on the personal and national levels?

Here is the “relic” as it appears in my typed m.s. in 12 point Lucida Calligraphy — that’s as far as I dare to go for open submissions, but I’d love to see what a good book designer could do with the fonts, colors and spacing . It’s a ‘Haiku’ as well as a ‘Relic,’ of course, so there’s that too to take into consideration.

O Fool of Earth - Relic

Jūlija’s version of the same poem at the top of the page is an early sketch with the script partly in black-letter and partly cyrillic, a fusion which creates an ageless sort of sacred cypher, which I love. Because the reader mustn’t forget that the original was transcribed in long-hand by a prophet in a most challenging position — trussed up between pillars with his God on the one hand and his girlfriend on the other (my imagination still goes to  Caravaggio*  for that, the saint’s bare head, her lap, the nipple, and God flaring up all over the place…).

*Note: CARAVAGGIO! or How the Samson of Painters Paints Samson.
……………………………………………………………………..November 25th, 2017
It’s the prophet himself who wrote this little poem so forthrightly, of course, and by my way of thinking it’s the weakness of Samson that demonstrates his ‘chosen’ status more than his brute strength ever did. That’s why I think Samson was granted even more divine strength for that one last shove, and why the effects of it were even more cataclysmic than what he managed to do with the jawbone of the ass. And that’s how Caravaggio painted him as well, didn’t he? Doesn’t his shaved Samson reveal a prophet who is even more powerful sexually than he was before, his smooth skin, his feminine curves in silk and his hands just like her’s? And don’t the lovers fit together just about perfectly? And doesn’t everybody inside and outside the painting know just what that means? (Click more than once to see that even better.)

What also makes this haiku holy is the simplicity of its vocabulary: “wise,” “heart,” “love,” “girl’s,” “flares up,” and “burns.” Had someone like me written the poem you’d think it was by a middle-school student trying to make his creative writing teacher happy, whereas the author is actually an ancient prophet who is just about to discover his true strength by acknowledging that he has not only lost it but abused it. He admits, moreover, that his heart is not “wise,” and whereas the girl’s heart in the poem just “flares up,” his goes on burning and burning, a self-destructive and at the same time self-affirming conflagration not unlike Caravaggio’s. And it’s not demeaning for him to use the word “girl” either — indeed, he’s mocking himself, not women, exposing his fatal attraction to fantasy lovers as opposed to real or ‘other’ persons, and that’s a man-problem that no amount of man-splaining can ever cover up. Samson may be a saint but he knows he’s also a fraud ** — which is precisely what makes this humble scrap of a relic-poem so precious, and why any human being might think to fold it up carefully and place it in a small reliquary on a string about the neck, a talisman to keep from being undone by gently, humorously, respectfully turning oneself away from the self-serving self to behold. And “turns” is just the right word to describe whatever that is, I feel sure, though I haven’t a clue what that is myself.

**NOTE: The flawed saint I admire above all, and the one I never stop thinking and writing about, is T.E. Lawrence, and in a sense all of the above is about him. While actually on the road to Damascus at the very end of the Arab Revolt in 1918, [and with the Morte Darthur in his camel’s saddle bag, dear Jūlija and Romain], Lawrence realized that “all established reputations were founded, like myself, on fraud.” He removed himself from public life altogether shortly after representing King Faisal at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the outcome of which broke his heart as well as the whole of the Middle East. He died in 1935 under the name of T.E.Shaw, an ordinary mechanic in the Airforce. It was just a local motorcycle accident on a small country lane, but his funeral entourage a few days later included everybody from Bernard Shaw and E.M.Forster to Winston Churchill, and many born like myself too late are still there.

By way of an encore to all these final acts and departures I’d like to bring in for one last bow another Irishman, J.M.Synge’s almighty wastrel/minstrel hero from “The Playboy of the Western World.” For it’s “our Christy himself,” that genius liar, lover and logos, who makes such an utter fool of himself that he can turn the tables on the whole world, and scold all the Fools of Earth in one hearty go as if he were some Old Testament prophet: “Shut your yelling, for if you’re after making a mighty man of me this day by the power of a lie, you’re setting me now to think if it’s a poor thing to be lonesome, it’s worse, maybe, go mixing with the fools of earth!”

Which should bring this to a close, I think — dear friends.




Calligraphy by Jūlija added Nov 29th, 2017. CLICK HERE for more on Jūlija and our work together.

…………………………..Stumped like this,
…………………………..we hear the Years
…………………………..And stoop to grace
…………………………..the Water
……………………………………………………..‘s Fall.

a.) The poem has exactly 17 syllables, so it’s a haiku. That makes me slow down, reflect, get myself ready.

b.) The rhythm is, surprisingly, strict iambic — count the syllables and see. There are precisely 9 iambs which should add up to 18 as each foot has 2 syllables: da dah. So how can there be just 17, an odd number? Indeed, that’s the sort of simple-minded question any haiku worth its salt asks us, of course, and why we never get bored with the good ones. And the simpler they are the better — and the simpler we are too, needless to say.

c.) Perfection-in-imperfection, like everything. In fact there’s an invisible event at the very beginning of the poem which is unwritten, unaccented, and inaudible.  It’s simply not there in the poem — the first step has been lopped off, so to speak, truncated, ‘silenced’ as we say about an enquiry or execution, ‘stumped’ as we say in the forest or when we’re handicapped or failing. That’s why the first audible word in the poem works so well as a one syllable foot overshadowing the whole poem. “Stumped” from the very start, the poem is overshadowed by no shadow and left with no tree to bear, look up to, or hide under.

d.) “Stumped” is in the passive voice, an involuntary event that happens to someone or something — it’s done to you or me, not by us. The complementary “stoop” at the beginning of the second part is ‘active,’ as we say, and ‘finite.’ It’s what we-the-stumped do about it in the poem. And I’d say that rhetorical tension makes the poem a ‘haiku’ far more than the syllables do, or the layout — at least it does for me, and I’ve been living with this poem for over 20 years. Indeed, I’m writing this not because I wrote the poem but because it’s still talking to me.

e.)  There’s an even noisier event toward the end of the poem which constitutes a whole foot in itself, as huge as it’s empty and speechless.  The final ” ‘s” on “water’s” cracks off the edge of the 5th line to plunge down through the open space and land next to “fall” on the 6th line far below at the end. And it shushes us as it goes, indeed silences us completely as it plummets through space to rest at last beside the noun it owns at the end in perfect silence.

f.) A technical detail to further that. Like so many final events in stress-based languages, the apostrophe-s on “water’s” is not counted as a syllable. Yet in actual practice we pronounce “water’s” in three distinct parts: wa/- ter/- ‘s, almost as if there were three syllables. In vowel based, tonal languages as in Asia, for example, this is hard to say as there is no vowel to support the final consonant, and what does one do about that? Indeed, that’s why I’m called Kitofer where I live, the crush of 3 consonants at the beginning of my name, Christopher, being almost impossible to enunciate in an unstressed, tonal, vowel-based culture.

g.) Perfect iambics, yes, but not perfect pentameters — the poem is deficient again as there are only four feet in the final line. On the other hand, there’s so much happening in that apostrophe s as it tumbles off the edge of the poem that the numerical deficiency is filled up with something else in mid air, and in a poetical as well as a graphic sense fills in for the missing foot. In addition, the missing syllable makes just the right sound in its spectacular descent, the cascading sssssssss of the star which brings the poem to an end with no ripples, impatience or movement in ‘fall.”

h.) I’m pleased to say that none of the above attempts to explain anything at all about the meaning of the poem — haikus worth their salt rarely do. That’s why we so often choose to live our whole lives beside the ones we like best, as I have beside this one. They are never stingey.



1650 Anne Bradstreet’s The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America: By a Gentlewoman of Those Parts published in London.

1773 Phillis Wheatley, a slave, publishes Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral

1791 The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is published in Paris, in French.  Ben Franklin’s Autobiography appears in London, for the first time in English, two years later.   Had it been published in America, the Europeans would have laughed.  The American experiment isn’t going to last, anyway.

Franklin, the practical man, the scientist, and America’s true founding father, weighs in on poetry: it’s frivolous.

1794  Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey make plans to go to Pennsylvania in a communal living experiment, but their personalities clash and the plan is aborted.  Southey becomes British Poet Laureate twenty years later.

1803  William Blake, author of “America: A Prophecy” is accused of crying out “Damn the King!” in Sussex, England, narrowly escaping imprisonment for treason.

1815  George Ticknor, before becoming literature Chair at Harvard, travels to Europe for 4 years, spending 17 months in Germany.

1817  “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant appears in the North American Review.

1824  Byron dies in Greece.

1824  Lafayette, during tour of U.S, calls on Edgar Poe’s grandmother, revolutionary war veteran widow.

1832  Washington Irving edits London edition of William Cullen Bryant’s Poems to avoid politically offending British readers.

1835 Massachusetts senator and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier mobbed and stoned in Concord, New Hampshire.

1835  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow appointed Smith Professor of Modern Languages at Harvard.

1836  Ralph Waldo Emerson publishes 500 copies of Divinity School Address anonymously.  He will not publish another book for 6 years.

1838  Poe’s translated work begins appearing in Russia.

1843  Transcendentalist, Unitarian minister, Harvard Divinity School student Christopher Pearse Cranch marries the sister of T.S. Eliot’s Unitarian grandfather; dedicates Poems to Emerson, published in The Dial, a magazine edited by Margaret Fuller and Emerson; frequent visitor to Brook Farm.  Cranch is more musical and sensuous than Emerson; even Poe can tolerate him; Cranch’s poem “Enosis” pre-figures Baudelaire’s “Correspondences.”

T.S. Eliot’s family is deeply rooted in New England Unitarianism and Transcendentalism through Cranch and Emerson’s connection to his grandfather, Harvard Divinity graduate, William Greenleaf Eliot, founder of Washington U., St. Louis.

1845  Elizabeth Barrett writes Poe with news of “The Raven’s” popularity in England.  The poem appeared in a daily American newspaper and produced instant fame, though Poe’s reputation as a critic and leader of the Magazine Era was well-established.  During this period Poe coins “Heresy of the Didactic” and “A Long Poem Does Not Exist.”  In a review of Barrett’s 1840 volume of poems which led to Barrett’s fame before she met Robert Browning, Poe introduced his piece by saying he would not, as was typically done, review her work superficially because she was a woman.

1847  Ralph Waldo Emerson is in England, earning his living as an orator.

1848  Charles Baudelaire’s first translations of Poe appear in France.

1848  James Russell Lowell publishes “A Fable For Critics” anonymously.

1848 Female Poets of America, an anthology of poems by American women, is published by the powerful and influential anthologist, Rufus Griswold—who believes women naturally write a different kind of poetry.  Griswold’s earlier success, The Poets and Poetry of America (1842) contains 3 poems by Poe and 45 by Griswold’s friend, Charles Fenno Hoffman. In a review, Poe remarks that readers of anthologies buy them to see if they are in them.

1848  Poe publishes Eureka and the Rationale of Verse, exceptional works on the universe and verse.

1849 Edgar Poe is murdered in Baltimore; leading periodicals ignore strange circumstances of Poe’s death and one, Horace Greeley’s Tribune, hires Griswold (who signs his piece ‘Ludwig’) to take the occasion to attack the character of the poet.

1855 Griswold reviews Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and calls it a “mass of stupid filth.”  The hated Griswold, whose second “wife” was a man, also lets the world know in his review that Whitman is a homosexual.  Whitman later includes the Griswold review in one of his editions of Leaves.

1856  English Traits, extolling the English race and the English people, saying it was English “character” that vanquished India, is published in the U.S. and England, by poet and new age priest Ralph Waldo Emerson, as England waits for the inevitable Civil War to tear her rival, America, apart.

1859.  In a conversation with William Dean Howells, Emerson calls Hawthorne’s latest book “mush” and furiously calls Poe “the jingle man.”

1860  William Cullen Bryant introduces Abraham Lincoln at Cooper Union; the poet advises the new president on his cabinet selection.

1867  First collection of African American “Slave Songs” published.

1883  “The New Colossus” is composed by Emma Lazarus; engraved on the Statue of Liberty, 1903

1883  Poems of Passion by Ella Wheeler Wilcox rejected by publisher on grounds of immorality.

1888 “Casey at the Bat” published anonymously. The author, Ernest Thayer, does not become known as the author of the poem until 1909.

1890  Emily Dickinson’s posthumous book published by Mabel Todd and Thomas Higginson.  William Dean Howells gives it a good review, and it sells well.

1893  William James, Emerson’s godson, becomes Gertrude Stein’s influential professor at Harvard.

1897  Wallace Stevens enters Harvard, falling under the spell of William James, as well as George Santayana.

1904  Yone Noguchi publishes “Proposal to American Poets” as the Haiku and Imagism rage begins in the United States and Britain.

1910  John Crowe Ransom, Fugitive, Southern Agrarian, New Critic, takes a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University.

1910  John Lomax publishes “Cowboy Songs and Frontier Ballads.”

1912  Harriet Monroe founds Poetry magazine; in 1880s attended literary gatherings in New York with William Dean Howells and Richard Henry Stoddard (Poe biographer) and in 1890s met Whistler, Henry James, Thomas Hardy and Aubrey BeardsleyEzra Pound is Poetry’s London editor.

1913  American Imagist poet H.D. marries British Imagist poet Richard Aldington.

1914  Ezra Pound works as Yeats‘ secretary in Sussex, England.

1915  Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology published.  Masters was law partner of Clarence Darrow.

1917  Robert Frost begins teaching at Amherst College.

1920  “The Sacred Wood” by T.S. Eliot, banker, London.

1921  Margaret Anderson’s Little Review loses court case and is declared obscene for publishing a portion of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which is banned in the United States.  Random House immediately tries to get the ban lifted in order to publish the work.

1922  T.S.Eliot’s “The Waste Land” awarded The Dial Prize.

1922  D.H Lawrence and Frieda stay with Mabel Dodge in Taos, New Mexico.

1923  Edna St. Vincent Millay wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1923  William Butler Yeats wins Nobel Prize for Literature

1924  Robert Frost wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

1924  Ford Madox Ford founds the Transatlantic Review.   Stays with Allen Tate and Robert Lowell in his lengthy sojourn to America.

1924  Marianne Moore wins The Dial Prize; becomes editor of The Dial the next year.

1924  James Whitcomb Riley Hospital for Children opens.

1925  E.E. Cummings wins The Dial Prize.

1926  Yaddo Artist Colony opens

1927  Walt Whitman biography wins Pulitzer Prize

1930  “I’ll Take My Stand” published by Fugitive/Southern Agrarians and future New Critics, John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, Cleanth Brooks, Allan Tate defend ways of the Old South.

1932  Paul Engle wins Yale Younger Poet Prize, judged by member of John Crowe Ransom’s Fugitive circle.  Engle, a prolific fundraiser, builds the Iowa Workshop into a Program Writing Empire.

1933  T.S. Eliot delivers his speech on “free-thinking jews” at the University of Virginia.

1934  “Is Verse A Dying Technique?” published by Edmund Wilson.

1936  New Directions founded by Harvard sophomore James Laughlin.

1937  Robert Lowell camps out in Allen Tate’s yard.  Lowell has left Harvard to study with John Crowe Ransom at Kenyon College.

1938  First Edition of textbook Understanding Poetry by Fugitives Brooks and Warren, helps to canonize unread poets like Williams and Pound.

1938  Aldous Huxley moves to Hollywood.

1939  Allen Tate starts Writing Program at Princeton.

1939  W.H. Auden moves to the United States and earns living as college professor.

1940  Mark Van Doren is awarded Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

1943  Ezra Pound indicted for treason by the United States government.

1946  Wallace Stegner founds Stanford Writing Program.  Yvor Winters will teach Pinsky, Haas, Hall and Gunn.

1948  Pete Seeger, nephew of WW I poet Alan Seeger (“I Have A Rendevous With Death”) forms The Weavers, the first singer-songwriter ‘band’ in the rock era.

1948  T.S. Eliot wins Nobel Prize

1949  T.S. Eliot attacks Poe in From Poe To Valery

1949  Ezra Pound is awarded the Bollingen Prize.  The poet Robert Hillyer protests and Congress resolves its Library will no longer fund the award.  Hillyer accuses Paul Melon, T.S. Eliot and New Critics of a fascist conspiracy.

1950  William Carlos Williams wins first National Book Award for Poetry

1950  Gwendolyn Brooks wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1951  John Crowe Ransom is awarded the Bollingen.

1953  Dylan Thomas dies in New York City.

1954  Theodore Roethke wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1957  Allen Tate is awarded the Bollingen.

1957  “Howl” by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg triumphs in obscenity trial as the judge finds book “socially redeeming;” wins publicity in Time & Life.

1957  New Poets of England and America, Donald Hall, Robert Pack, Louis Simspon, eds.

1959  Carl Sandburg wins Grammy for Best Performance – Documentary Or Spoken Word (Other Than Comedy) for his recording of Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait with the New York Philharmonic.

1959  M.L Rosenthal coins the term “Confessional Poetry” in The Nation as he pays homage to Robert Lowell.

1960  New American Poetry 1945-1960, Donald Allen, editor.

1961  Yvor Winters is awarded the Bollingen.

1961  Denise Levertov becomes poetry editor of The Nation.

1961  Louis Untermeyer appointed Poet Laureate Consultant In Poetry To the Library of Congress (1961-63)

1962  Sylvia Plath takes her own life in London.

1964  John Crowe Ransom wins The National Book Award for Selected Poems.

1964  Keats biography by Jackson Bate wins Pulitzer.

1965  Horace Gregory is awarded the Bollingen.  Gregory had attacked the poetic reputation of Edna Millay.

1967  Anne Sexton wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1968  Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, directed by Zeffirelli, nominated for Best Picture by Hollywood.

1971  The Pound Era by Hugh Kenner published.  Kenner, a friend of William F. Buckley, Jr., saved Pound’s reputation with this work; Kenner also savaged the reputation of Edna Millay.

1971  W.S Merwin wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1972  John Berryman jumps to his death off bridge near University of Minnesota.

Berryman, the most “Romantic” of the New Critics (he was educated by them) is considered by far the best Workshop teacher by many prize-winning poets he taught, such as Phil Levine, Snodgrass, and Don Justice.  Berryman’s classes in the 50’s were filled with future prize-winners, not because he and his students were great, but because his students were on the ground-floor of the Writing Program era, the early, heady days of pyramid scheme mania—characterized by Berryman’s imbalanced, poetry-is-everything personality.

1972  Frank O’Hara wins National Book Award for Collected Poems

1975  Gary Snyder wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1976  Humboldt’s Gift, Saul Bellow’s novel on Delmore Schwartz, wins Pulitzer.

1978  Language magazine, Bernstein & Andrews, begins 4 year run.  Bernstein studied J.L Austin’s brand of ‘ordinary language philosophy’ at Harvard.

1980  Helen Vendler wins National Book Critics Circle Award

1981 Seamus Heaney becomes Harvard visiting professor.

1981  Derek Walcott founds Boston Playwrights’ Theater at Boston University.

1981  Oscar Wilde biography by Ellman wins Pulitzer.

1982  Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems wins Pulitzer.

1984  Harold Bloom savagely attacks Poe in review of Poe’s Library of America works (2 vol) in New York Review of Books, repeating similar attacks by Aldous Huxley and T.S. Eliot.

1984  Marc Smith founds Slam Poetry in Chicago.

1984  Mary Oliver is awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1986  Golden Gate by Vikram Seth, a novel in verse, is published.

1987  The movie “Barfly” depicts life of Charles Bukowski.

1988  David Lehman’s Best American Poetry Series debuts with John Ashbery as first guest editor.  The first words of the first poem (by A.R. Ammons) in the Series are: William James.

1991  “Can Poetry Matter?” by Dana Gioia is published in The Atlantic. According to the author, poetry has become an incestuous viper’s pit of academic hucksters.

1996  Jorie Graham wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1999  Peter Sacks wins Georgia Prize.

1999  Billy Collins signs 3-book, 6-figure deal with Random House.

2002  Ron Silliman’s Blog founded.

2002  Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club wins Pulitzer Prize.

2002  Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems published.

2004 founded by Alan Cordle. Shortly before his death, Robert Creeley defends his poetry colleagues on

2004  Franz Wright wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

2005 Ted Kooser wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

2005  William Logan wins National Book Critics Circle Award

2006  Fulcrum No. 5 appears, featuring works of Landis Everson and his editor, Ben Mazer, also Eliot Weinberger, Glyn Maxwell, Joe Green, and Marjorie Perloff.

2007 Joan Houlihan dismisses as “losers” in a Poets & Writers letter. Defends the integrity of both Georgia and Tupelo, failing to mention Levine is her publisher and business partner.

2007  Paul Muldoon succeeds Alice Quinn as poetry editor of The New Yorker.

2008 Poets & Writers bans Thomas Brady and Christopher Woodman from its Forum. The Academy of American Poetry On-Line Editor, Robin Beth Schaer, is shortlisted for the Snowbound Series prize by Tupelo at the same time as bans Christopher Woodman for mentioning the P&W letter as well.

2009  The Program Era by Mark McGurl, published by Harvard University Press

2009  Following the mass banning of Alan Cordle, Thomas Brady, Desmond Swords and Christopher Woodman from Harriet, the blog of The Poetry Foundation, a rival poetry site is formed: Scarriet.


A great deal of 19th century verse is wretched—exposure to poorly written rhyme will naturally push the educated poetry lover from the vales of tortured song to the stairwells of sober speech.

Verse was abandoned by educated poets in the 20th century because the versifiers fell out of tune—not because poetry evolved into something higher.   

Frazzled, goaded and tuckered out by Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, with no more heart for Bret Harte, audiences everywhere cried Geez! and So Long! to George Santayana and the other thousand rhyming and chiming poetasters, tossing the simpering, milk & water verse out the window.   (Santayana was T.S. Eliot’s professor at Harvard).  

Throwing off rhyme was not a revolution. 

It was a revulsion.

The yellowish face of Imagism’s moon was not a sign of mystical glory; it was a sign of illness and disgust.

Music coming from instruments only a little out of tune will soon convince hearers to give up all music.

Imagism was a retreat, not an advance. 

Poetry in the 20th century did not add image—it subtracted music. 

The great poets of verse featured imagery and music, skillfully blended into a natural, pleasing speech so that neither speech, imagery, nor music was perceived as such–the elements were blended and lost in the poetry. 

Lost so that no ‘close reading’ can get it out. 

Criticism finds the elements when they are not blended; if they are, criticism cannot see them, for the work succeeds and doesn’t require criticism

 The close reading of the New Critics was mistaken from the start, since it confused desultory, over-elaborated praise with criticism.  New Criticism finally ends in the Prozac Criticism of the Helen Vendlers and the Stephen Burts.

Too much focus on any part—image, language, irony, etc—is a sure sign poetry is in decline.

We’re not sure why–after the renaissance of verse in English from the 16th century sonnet mastery to the 17th century of Milton, Donne, Marvel, to the 18th of Pope, and then Burns, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Byron, Coleridge, with writers like Poe bringing Baconic science (with a Platonic sheen) to the art, and Tennyson carrying the flame–why the whole art sickened and died sometime during the middle or latter part of the 19th century. 

It may have been for a very simple reason. 

In the 19th century more people began to write and publish poetry.

There was a glut, and gluts will destroy whatever style currently exists.   

Those who complain contemporary poetry is prosy and dull usually champion the 19th century and its rhyme.  

But the issue is not a stylistic one.  It is simpler than that.   A glut destroyed poetry as it currently existed—first in the 19th century, when poetry rhymed, and then in the 20th century, when poetry didn’t.  The Quarterly didn’t kill Keats.  Sidney Lanier did. 

Those who could not write like Keats eventually decided no one should write like Keats—or none should try, because one more Sidney Lanier would be the death of poetry itself.   William Carlos Williams—when he reached middle-age and stopped rhyming—suddenly became vastly preferable to Sidney Lanier, at least among educated readers. 

Poetry–the art–could not handle one more failed Keats.  William Carlos Williams did not conquer Keats.   He was simply a sobering balm to the intoxicating pain of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman.  The 20th century stopped rhyming, not out of evolution, but from embarrassment. 

Rather than fail at Keats, it was necessary for the pride of the poet in the 20th century to partially succeed at haiku—and the whole history of modernism is nothing but extended haiku: even modern long poems are nothing but haiku patched together and embellished with flotsam and dialogue–breaking haiku’s rules, but not the rules of poetry—in any significant way. 

Our idea is supported by the following:  From the beginnings of poetry in English to the first confirmed glut in the early 19th century, a good poem was never a theoretical specimen; it was good in a way that was socially recognized by everyone: A 16th century Shakespeare song, a 19th century Keats ballad.   Then came the glut, and millions of would-be Shakespeares and Keats’s made rhyme come to seem the playing of an out-of-tune violin.  

The public gradually fled from the poem–not because the novel took them away, but because the public ran from the art of poetry holding its ears.   The modern novel was not an improvement so much as a refuge, and fortunately for that genre, poetry, by mishandling verse, was at that very moment chasing away readers as it had never done before. 

And bad rhyme did not end after Modernism–one can find it in Richard Aldington’s 1941 anthology: Allen Tate, William Carlos Williams’ only poem represented is a rhyming poem; there’s bad rhyme galore.  

Fashions die hard, but when they die, it’s sometimes not the fashion that’s at fault, but the mediocrities practicing it.


Joan Shelley Rubin, author of Songs of Ourselves: The Uses of Poetry in America, said the 1920s belonged as much to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as it did to Thomas Stearns Eliot—and this is true.

The anti-Victorian, Imagism revolution of Bloomsbury, which gradually changed poetry from an art of song to an art of image through the ‘trickle-down’ effort of its elites, gained the overwhelming momentum of  great numbers when its ‘trickle-down’ effort became  normalized and taught in the academy–both in English departments and Creative Writing Workshops–during the second half of the 20th century.

Are there any prominent musicians who bother to set contemporary poetry to music?

The image in poetry became associated with art, while the music of poetry became associated with vulgarity.

Two brief examples, from last century, will suffice:

First: these lines from J.V. Cunningham, the anti-modernist poet, who is largely forgotten:

How time reverses
The proud in heart!
I now make verses
Who aimed at art.

Second:  Bloomsbury author Aldous Huxley’s infamous slam against Poe’s verse as “vulgar.”  The prim Englishman’s distaste for musical Poe was quoted approvingly in Brooks & Penn Warren’s well-placed textbook, Understanding Poetry (first edition, 1938) which also solidified the reputations of Imagist classics, ‘At A Station In the Metro’ (Pound) and ‘The Red Wheel Barrow’ (Williams) in its unalloyed praise for these two works.

Could poetry change radically today?  And, if it did, would the public even notice?    The answer to both quesitons is, ‘no,’ and the reason the first answer is ‘no,’ is because the second answer is ‘no.’

How did poetry change so radically in the early part of the 20th century?

First, it did have a public, but not a particularly large or enthusiastic one, and secondly, poetry was understood by the public to have a certain definite identity: it looked like work by Longfellow and Tennyson.

An art whose practioners are disunited, who have no common expertise, will not be seen as an art at all.  Poetry had a common expertise: the ability to compose memorable music with mere words, like Longfellow and Tennsyon.

“Verse is not easy,” Cunningham wrote.    But the skill of verse is no longer a part of poetry; poetry no longer has a specific “skill.”

The Imagists never got beyond a very minor, little magazine existence, but they believed what they were offering would be very popular, like a portable camera; now you can just point and shoot!  Anyone can appreciate images–and put them into simple poems–like haiku.  Poetry for democracy!  Poetry that was selfless and natural!  It will be a phenomenon!  But the public didn’t buy it–they still wanted their Tennyson and their Longfellow with their gadgets and their telephones and their cars.  Imagism, like Futurism, Cubism and 12-Tone Music, failed to inspire anyone except the core of elites who were pushing them.  Imagism was a flop.

Or, was it?

People ‘on the street’ today define poetry as vaguely expressive, and the public’s perception of something, we have learned, should not be underestimated.  ‘Vaguely’ is the chief term here.  No longer does the public think of poetry as Longfellow.  They think of it as vaguely expressive.

100 years ago the American public had a more sharply defined view of poetry.  It was like what those fellows, Mr. Alfred Lord Tennyson and Mr. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote.  That was what poetry was.

The zen joke of ‘The Red Wheel Barrow’ and ‘The women come and go/talking of Michelangelo’ resonated once, but these jokes are no longer funny.  But Longfellow is gone, too.

Image truly belongs to other arts: painting, photography, and film;  further, these arts do not need to look to poetry at all as they wrestle with the image.

Song belongs to songwriters, and songwriters, the good ones, are poets, but they are known to the world as songwriters; poetry’s identity carries on in the sister art of songwriting, and unlike the filmmakers, photographers and painters, songwriters do consult poetry, not contemporary poetry, but old poetry, the art, for inspiration.

Since poetry has given up song for image as its current identity, poetry manifests no contemporary attachment with any other art.  No glory belongs to poetry, or is even reflected back on poetry.  Poetry is in the dark.

Poetry, with no public identity, is stuck: it has nowhere to go.

History affords countless examples of  technical changes which have improved music’s expressive qualities as a whole even as music, the art, remains, in its simplicity, recongizable to everyone.   When the piano replaced the harpsichord, all composers took notice, not just some.

The modernist revolution changed poetry so that everyone took notice,  but unfortunately in a way that made poetry no longer recognizable to everyone.  Nor is it easy to say if expressive qualities have increased–certainly not in the public’s perception.  As far as prose and how it perhaps opens things up, the problem poetry has, is that in prose, one would naturally think poetry could express itself with greater variety, but fiction owns prose, and poetry is expected to do something different than fiction; poetry as art has been developed in different ways than prose.   Yes, poetry should be as good as good prose, and all that, but how does poetry keep from disappearing into it?  And so poetry–sans the music that separates it from prose, as the art which the public knows as poetry–has been at sea for 100 years.

T.S. Eliot, an honorary Bloomsbury member, and the most respected critic of the 20th century, recommended minor poetry 300 years old as superior to major poetry composed  250, 200, 150, 100, and 50 years before his day.  This, in some ways, was counter to the whole modernist revolution.  John Donne?  Andrew Marvell?  Henry King, Bishop of Chichester?  What was Eliot thinking?  Eliot was thinking this: If my friends and I are to effect this modernist revolution of ours, we must not seem like mere brick-throwers; we need erudition, scholarship, appreciation of certain aspects of the past, and if we are to become professors and editors of modernist verse, it will be well to be able to make the past our clay, for revolutions must feed off the past; no revolution lives in the present day; Eliot knew he and Pound were not Bach, the master, at the keyboard, re-inventing music itself; he knew they were merely sullying a grand tradition with a little sleight-of-hand: Goodbye, Milton, Shelley, Poe, Shakespeare, Keats.  Hello, Kyd, King, Corbiere.  Eliot knew that when a revolution happens, the past will not disappear; a certain respect for the past must not only be feigned, but enthusiastically pursued, for every manifesto needs food; actual ‘new’ material (Waste Lands, cantos, wheel barrow haiku,) will run out in a week, so the past has to be transformed.  Every revolution needs a professor; Mary Ann and Ginger alone will not do.

The image is free-standing and pre-verbal; it is not necessary for image to fit, or be coherent–it simply is. Why should such a thing be the essence of poetry?  Ask that Bloomsbury elite.  After a snort and a sigh and a sip of their very expensive wine, they will tell you.


Everyone knows the Poetic Modernism Revolution begain with the Imagists, but few appreciate the role of poet, fiction writer, and critic, Yone Noguchi (1875-1947) –the Japanese Ezra Pound.

Noguchi conquered the West in three steps: San Francisco, 1893-1900; New York City, 1901-1904; and England, 1903 & 1913.   He befriended William Michael Rossetti (one of the seven founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood), Arthur Symons, William Butler Yeats, and Thomas Hardy. Not bad.

Noguchi got raves in Poetry magazine as a pioneering modernist, thanks to his early advocacy of free verse and association with modernist writers Ezra Pound, Richard Aldington, and John Gould Fletcher.  (Fletcher, from Arkansas, was part of Pound’s circle, and, later, John Crowe Ransom’s Southern Agrarians.)

So Noguchi pushed all the Modernist buttons: Pre-Raphaelite, Pound’s Euro-circle, Agrarian New Critics, and Chicago’s ‘Poetry.’   Bingo.

Modernism is usually associated with WW I, but the Russo-Japanese War played a key role on more than one level.

Noguchi’s suggestion to write haiku in his “A Proposal To American Poets” had a great impact in the wake of Japan’s stunning victory (aided by Japan’s alliance with Great Britain) in the 1904 Russo-Japanese War, as Japan took the world stage by storm.   Britain gained as a sea power in competition with Russia–soon rocked by revolution after its humiliating defeat by Japan.

Now, what are WC Williams‘ ‘The Red Wheel Barrow’ and Pound’s “In A Station Of the Metro” but haiku (and rather bad ones at that)?

The Modernists would rather not call Pound and Williams writers of haiku.   It makes the whole ‘Imagiste revolution’ seem a little quaint and second-hand.

Also, World War I is a lot sexier than the Russo-Japanese War.

So there’s a good reason why today Yone Naguchi never shows up in the history of Modernist verse.

Oh, and just to complete the Pound analogy; Noguchi gradually became more militaristic and ended fully supporting Japan’s imperial war designs in World War II.

Crush the West!  They never did get Haiku.