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.]

“MUMBO JUMBO?” — “PARADOX?” “AMBIGUITY?” “IRONY?” “SYMBOL?”

March Madness has been a study as much as it has been an intoxication; the New Critics erred in thinking the emotive and the cognitive could not be combined; of course they can, by any astute critic (Poe is a shining example, who the New Critics, from Pound to Eliot to Warren to Winters to Brooks to Wimsatt carefully ignored or played down.). The New Critics made no satisfactory criticism; they merely introduced mumbo-jumbo, mere terms, such as paradox, ambiguity, irony and symbol and nothing about it was original or coherent, it was finally nothing but mumbo-jumbo for the self-elected priesthood.

The professional priest will lord it over the mere amateur, but such religious hierarchies do not belong in poetry, not artificially, anyway; Letters is not science, but finally morality for the many, and this is the ugly, primitive secret which the sophisticated modernist Oxford erudite fop dare not face.

……………………………………………………………..………….Thomas Brady

.

………..The Lord in His wisdom made the fly
………..And then forgot to tell us why.

……………                        ………                      …………Ogden Nash

.

The paradox here lies not in the fly or in the Lord’s wisdom but in what a poem can say that ordinary language can’t. You don’t need Pound, Eliot, Warren or Winters, or anyone from Oxford for that matter, to help you out with that, or even a High School diploma. Indeed, “The Night Before Christmas” is loaded with paradox, as is Pooh’s poetry, the Beatles, nursery rhymes, limericks and gospel. You can laugh or cry as much as you like, but still you can’t say what it  is without saying what it isn’t.

The ambiguity in this poem lies in the absurdity that gets to the very heart of what bothers human beings about life, the complexities of it – how a creature so indispensable to the health of the planet should be so small, for example, yet so insistent, fickle, and in your face, so disgusting yet impossible to swat.

The irony lies in the fact that the Lord in His wisdom forgot to tell us just about everything, and even when the scientist has done his or her very best to remedy that, and even shown us photos of the fly’s eyes and cultivated its filth in a petri dish so we could actually see the link between flies and disease, and then gone on to save lives by cleansing wounds with maggots, we still can’t decide who we are. And then along comes poetry, of all crazy stuff, and tells us!

Love hurts. Grief heals. The meek inherit the earth.

As to symbols, there are none in this poem in the usual sense. Indeed, symbols are rare in poetry worth reading because the whole idea of poetry is to rewrite the comfortable shorthands, cultural icons and codes we depend on. Indeed, when poetry is most effective even the symbols come off the rails, so to speak, and wreck our understanding of everything. For a moment we just have to stop — my God, my God, what is it?

Take the Rose in William Blake’s poem, “O Rose Thou Art Sick,” for example, or the Tiger in “Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bright.” Only beginners talk about either as “symbols,” because the moment you think you know what they mean you’re lost. You lose the thread, you lose the argument, you lose your soul to the facts already stuck in your head. And you can’t move on.

Symbols are for simpletons, not for Ogden Nashes!

Had Ogden Nash written a whole series of poems about flies, as Yeats did about towers, for example, then we might want to consider “why” in a broader sense, and “the fly” might even be considered a symbol in the little poem above. And hey, why not? Life’s too complex not to accept what little help we can get from the way we human beings use language!

But we don’t need a Professional Priesthood for that, though sometimes we get one, boo hoo. Then abuses do follow, and yes, we do get Reformers, Counter-reformers, New Critics, Anti-new-critics, Pound-profs or Poe-profs or Flat-earthers, you name it.

Fortunately,  most of us move on with the baby still in our arms and not lying there blue on the floor with the bathwater.

Most of us also examine our lives in privacy too, I might add, even if we also love frisbee and beer. And the best poetry, of course, remains private in public.

Christopher Woodman

FOR TOM: NIT-PICKING APPLES


……………………………………………………………..Winslow Homer, Picking Apples

.

……….In Praise of the Still Unweighed

……………….O, how wrong you celestial bridegroom
……………….birds and gatecrashers 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
……………….tumbles to the maiden yet again,
……………….so hotly does the dreaming quiver
……………….fletched in abstract plumage
……………….hunger
……………….even for a single pomegranate kiss
……………….that scatters weight
……………….like rubies!

……………………………………………Christopher Woodman
……………………………………………from GALILEO’S SECRET: Two Decades of Poems
……………………………………………………under House Arrest

FOR FRANZ WRIGHT


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

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

Also a poem that has something to say, so it’s for Thomas Brady too, who will hate it.

For the record, this poem has been rejected by many of the top poetry reviews and journals in America over the years, the editors usually saying something like: “…drawn to the language in ‘Leonardo Amongst Women’… find myself distanced by the more didactic second half.” Or from another angle: “We can appreciate the craft and passion of your poem, but not the loss and worshipful longing it is steeped in.” The poem remains unpublished to this day.

……………………………..LEONARDO AMONGST WOMEN

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

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

…………………………………..Yet even the new faithful
…………………………………..schooled to ask too much
…………………………………..study not the secret in the folds
…………………………………..but just the pale hands clasped
…………………………………..in prayer, the inviolable eyes
…………………………………..raised to praise everything but
…………………………………..the veiled act taking place
…………………………………..preposterously below—
…………………………………..precisely where the raw clay plug
…………………………………..cradled in that lone man’s hope
…………………………………..lingering turned, sweetly bound,
…………………………………..dignified in clinging drapes
…………………………………..and tight swaddling clouts
…………………………………..the immaculate desire to be
…………………………………..defined not by what we do but
…………………………………..like a mute maiden what she is
…………………………………..wound in her cocoon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

* NOTE added December 4th, 2018: In the version of the poem discussed in this thread the last two lines read: “and all our saints are fools,/ and all our gold is lead.” I always annotate that discrepancy when it leads to confusion in the following discussion.

“I GAVE UP EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING TO BE A POET” –FRANZ WRIGHT

…….Franz Wright Grab

 

James and Franz Wright, poets, and miserable sons-of-bitches.

“A Blessing” by James Wright is maudlin crap, perhaps the worst poem ever published.

The lust for horsies and the ‘break into blossom’ trope is embarrassing in the extreme.

“Northern Pike” is a close second: “we prayed for the muskrats”

“I am so happy.”    Good grief.

His football poem isn’t much better; “gallup terribly” is a trite way to describe the violence of football.  One can tell he’s just a nerdy observer.

“Their women cluck like starved pullets,/Dying for love.”  Lines like these are destined for the ash heap.

Don’t get me started on the treacly, self-pitying exploitation of George Doty, the executed killer.

What to do with James Wright, who is nothing more than smarmy Whitman-haiku?

[Note: No woman poet seeking entrance to the canon would be permitted to get away with Wright’s metaphorical slop.]

“Depressed by a book of bad poetry…”

“I have wasted my life.”

Yea.

The times (1972) were right for Whitman-haiku poetry, so James Wright’s Pulitzer is no surprise.  Plus, Wright was associated with a lot of big names: Roethke, Kunitz, Tate, Berryman, Bly.

Franz faced a difficulty as a poet.  His father was a name.  Say what you will about Whitman-haiku, his father did it well.

Franz seems to have genuinely admired his father’s poetry and made no attempt, as a poet, to get out from under his father’s shadow.

Junior poet looks up to senior poet and uses the same straight-forward, plain-speaking, self-obsessed, sentimentality of approach: Look, reader, here is my transparent chest; take a look at what I am feeling.  You might think I’d be sad—and good Lord, I have reason to be—but something about the inscrutability of the universe and my inner faith makes me happy.

Recently on Harriet, Franz Wright wrote the following, which Franz never should have written and which Harriet never should have published, and which we publish here because…oh, we forget why.

[Warning: Wright’s comment on Harriet does contain abusive language]

Henry–I have no opinion about your “work”, or the “work” of others like little Kent and the others you masturbate with. My suggestion to all of you is: give up everything for the art. Everything. Can you do that? I did it 35 years ago–do you think that might have something to do with what you little whiners call “being on the inside”? I am not on the inside of shit. I gave up everything, everything, to be a poet. I lived in financial terror and homelessness, sometimes, for nearly 40 years. Can you do that? You little whining babies. Franz Wright, 12/20/2009 Blog:Harriet

Now, that’s poetry.

Granted, it’s hyperbolic to say you gave up everything to be a poet.  What does that even mean? No one wants to suffer, and to say in hindsight that you suffered for your art is arrogant, because even if you thought it were true, it can never be proven by anyone, anywhere, that the more outrageously you suffer, the better your art will be.   There’s no substance to such a “brag.”

But we love the balls of it.

A Letter To Tom about “Rhyme”


Tony Woodman and me at the Gran Prix of Czechoslovakia, Brno, 1963

Dear Tom……………………………………………………[November 22nd, 2009]
My hunch is that your emphasis on “rhyme” in your previous article is going to be misunderstood. I think it will give those who don’t want to hear you at all the excuse not to read you, and may weaken your argument even for those that are willing to give what you say a try.

Let me say this first: I’m a curious critic because I’m so sophisticated yet so naive and trusting — I know so much (or at least ought to, considering the length of my education) and yet am so obviously an innocent. I deliberately didn’t say ‘ill-informed’ there, because what I do know I know quite well, and my eyes are always wide-open. It’s just that I’ve only been engaged with the history of ‘Modern Poetry’ since I started writing it in 1990, and I was already 50 by then. I’ve never sat in a Modern Poetry lecture, for example, never participated in a Writing Workshop, and only rarely attended a Poetry Reading. I’ve got Gawain and the Green Knight, all of Chaucer, The Faerie Queene, George Herbert, Christopher Smart, John Clare and Emily Dickinson on my shelves here in Chiang Mai, but very few literary-critical texts written after Wimsatt & Brooks.

The fact is I only came up against ‘Modernism’ when I realized that the 10 precious packets I had sent to a much-respected University Poetry Series between 1994 and 2006 were probably never opened, and that my 8 packets to yet another up-and-coming Press hadn’t deterred its editor from sending me a form letter purporting to be a personal critique of my work. The letter, almost identical copies of which have subsequently emerged, suggested that for a certain sum the editor would help me to improve my book and that I could then resubmit it to his/her competition. I remember that moment very well — I was at my desk with my cheque book in hand when I was first alerted to the existence of Foetry.com which had already started to investigate the letters. When I then complained about my own letter on Poets & Writers (Nov 2006), I was scolded by a well-known critic for my limited understanding of publishing poetry in America today, while the very same judges who had abused me were praised for their hard work and integrity.

That was hard for me — and still is.

But the critic who attacked me on P & W was partly right, of course — even at 66 I was uppity and ignorant, and was nowhere near ready to concede that the situation I found myself in was ‘normal’ what is more ethically acceptable or conducive to the development of good poetry in me or anyone else in America. And the next thing I knew I found myself banned on-line for discussing my disquiet, first by the P&W blog, then by the AoAP blog, and finally by the Poetry Foundation’s new and wonderful Blog Harriet — not a very promising start to my new career, and particularly not at 69.

So what can you call me, then, and how can my input be more useful?

Hardly a “noble savage,” as my style is too perfect even if my content is analphabet. Yet I am a peasant in poetry when you compare me with somebody like David Lehman, for example, what is more Stephen Burt — and indeed, one of the reasons I got put “on moderation” at Blog:Harriet so early was that I annoyed a lot of people who knew a whole lot more than I did about the poetry business, and wanted me to be more practical, respectful, and compliant. Because after all, who was I to strew the nice Harriet ground with metaphors that exploded with such devastating effect, even taking out the management? And my cow pat hammer, that was the last straw [open the ‘Comments,’ then ‘Show More Comments,” then scroll down to July 6th, 2009, “Footnote for Posterity”]. And I was fired a few days later.

What I do have (and this is all about that word “rhyme,” of course, Tom) is my Rip Van Winkle status, a contemporary poet back from the dead. Because my anomaly is that I was so highly and successfully educated in the History of  Literature (Columbia, Yale, King’s College, Cambridge, summa cum laude, phi beta kappa, Dino Bigongiari Prize, Woodrow Wilson at Yale, Kellett Fellow at King’s [after Lionel Trilling and Norman Podhoretz but before David Lehman], C.S.Lewis & G.G.Hough as my Supervisors for my work on Edmund Spenser, Tutor for George Steiner at Churchill, Research Fellow at Christ’s) — yet I never got formally educated in Modern Poetry, not once. So I go straight from the ’30s in which I was born and jump straight to the ’90s in which I got published by Marilyn Hacker in The Kenyon Review — sans mentor, sans prize, sans compromise! Indeed, I will be forever grateful to Marilyn Hacker — and to the likes of James Laughlin (only just legible on his old Remington), Theodore & Renee Weiss (I was one of the last QR Finalists, and I still have his notes in pencil), Joseph Parisi ( who read my long poem, Works & Days,  3 times!), and Alice Quinn (who suggested The Kenyon Review for my Connemara Trousers). They made not just my day but my life!

Yes, a “noble non-starter,” I might be called, playing on that P & W critic’s “loser.” Or a “noble non-accredited accomplisher” perhaps.   Because the irony is that in the end my publishing credits have turned out to be not bad at all, considering my age and when I started.

So back to  “rhyme,” then, Tom. I’m sure you know exactly what you mean by the word, and you do know the literary-historical details like the back of your hand. But what you don’t know first hand is the snobbery that lies behind the creation of Modernism, the revulsion with which those early 20th century poets around Pound and Hilda Dolittle rejected the late 19th century mush so loved by those who had just emerged from the crude working class.  Because Edgar Guest/Hallmark-type “rhyme” was not the side of the verse they specifically despised, but rather the feel-good sentimentality which went along with the satisfaction you got when you at last sat down to ‘dinner’ together around a ‘table’ or ‘read’ together  in the ‘parlor’ — which factory workers were still not going to do in Britain or America for some time to come. On the other hand, after 1916 “A Heap O’Livin” sold over a million copies — which opens up a huge social and educational grey area in the History of American Poetry, one which is not yet quite out of the bag like what actually happened when my ancestors put in to Plymouth.

That’s what I know about more than most of you who are reading this and interested in our struggle. Because I was brought up in the 19th century, and I was a snob and “mush” made me feel unclean too, so I know the feeling only too well. I spent my early years in Gladstone, New Jersey, after all, the so-called “Gold Coast,” and in my American childhood I never sat down with a worker, or a so-called ‘person of color,’ or a Catholic who wasn’t a descendant of Diamond Jim Brady (my mother’s family in Boston in the 20s didn’t socialize with the Kennedys, who were Irish like the servants, and my mother was terribly distressed when I named my second daughter “Delia Hilary Orlando Woodman,” (Irish plus a name which could be mistaken for someone of Italian descent???).

And to our great credit, but goodness knows why, we ran, my two brothers and I — my younger brother, Loring, westward to the Gros Ventre in Wyoming, myself eastward across the Atlantic to Cambridge and then on up to remote Eskdalemuir, and Tony just really really fast (he was the first American to have a big success in Gran Prix motorcycle racing in Europe until he broke his back in the Northwest 200 in Ireland in 1965). And how I ran, and kept bees, and fiddled around with Trungpa Rimpoche, and sailed, but mostly just fell in love with my wonderfully wrong women — and little by little I sloughed off that good taste and sense of superiority which went along with the family silver (I still have a trunkful somewhere, and enough 18th century willow pattern china to serve you all at once, though goodness knows where that is as well) — and here I am now writing to you like the fool…

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 upper working-class poetry that makes sense when you finally arrive on the first rung 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 tradition 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 cow pat as a hammer in my hand.

Christopher
Read the rest of this entry »

THE CURIOUS CASE OF MONDAY LOVE

m-love

Thomas Graves, a.k.a., Monday Love, a.k.a. Thomas Brady–poet & oxygen-sucking blogger.

Alan Cordle was the mind of Foetry.com. Christopher Woodman was its heart.  Monday Love was its soul.    Monday Love’s anonymous poems on Foetry.com have received over 74,000 hits–and counting.   The impulse of the true poet–who cares who wrote them?

The following poem, in which ‘telling all’ destroys the poet, is more than just a confessional poem; in the new post-foetry climate, the paradoxical reigns: self-pity turns into a boast; anonymity is the way to be more revealing.

~

…..Poetry Is Where You Tell All

…………Poetry is where you tell all.
…………It takes no talent or skill.
..……….Make yourself small
…………By telling all.

…………Poetry does not take learning.
…………It is but a fury, a burning,
…………A passion which makes you small
…………By telling all.

…………You enter rooms watching your back,
…………Your life in place, your pride intact.
…………But you must burn, crash and fall
…………By telling all.

http://foetry.com/forum/index.php?topic=47.120

MONTY MEETS A FOET AT THE DOOR

Dear Friends,
We know we’re very near the edge of copyright infringement here, but hope Jim Meddick will allow us to make a point that’s so hard to get over without getting someone like him involved. For Jim Meddick’s satire is truly rare, and his angles on our contemporary prejudices and ugly little blind spots so invaluable. We have so few allies who have the wit and courage to explore the inexplorable today, which after all used to be the province of our poets too until they took the vow to make it new!

As a frontline artist, we feel sure Jim Meddick will forgive us in the hour of our need!

MONTY HEADLINEMONTY 11.16
………………………………..copyright  Jim Meddick/dist. by NEA, Inc.

So this is who we are at Scarriet and what we stand for:

Frequently in human discourse, the tenets of faith provide a sacred style and language which survives long after the contents have ceased to make sense or to convey any comprehensible message — if indeed there ever was one. At that point all societies, even developed ones, create the myth of a golden age when the truth was recorded, and the style and language of those “scriptures” are situated beyond enquiry what is more reproach.

When Thomas Brady opens the door, this is what he hears. The Poetry Establishment, which looks and sounds just like Jim Meddick’s little Ezra Pound at the door, also speaks of “the way of truth… and self-esteem… and personal fulfillment… and Uh… um…”

But the punch line today is a little different, because we now believe in anything “new.” When Thomas Brady asks, as he does in his previous article on William Carlos Williams, for example, “You’re making all this stuff up, aren’t you?” the poetry establishment gets very angry and dismissive. “How dare you!” they shout. “Why,  this is modern scripture! This is what Ezra Pound laid down for us to make us modern! This is what we are and why we’re truly New!

Then they beat him with -32 Dislikes, and when even that doesn’t discourage him, just pull the plug.

What’s so tragic is that human beings can always talk about things, exchange ideas and brainstorm, but even at a noble not-for-profit arts organization like The Poetry Foundation, if the material has become the stuff of faith, forget it. Then the dissenting voice is drowned out by the furious congregation and censored by the priests, and only when the dust has settled can something fresh, old or new yet equally crying in the wilderness, be heard.

TRAVIS NICHOLS, POETRY GLADIATOR

Travis BUS

TRAVIS Saturated_________________

Just as Thomas Brady was breathing new life into Blog:Harriet, and even being considered as a potential Contributing Writer by the Board, Harriet’s editor, Travis Nichols, published this article in Poets & Writers [click here to read the rest of the article].

Little could anyone have imagined how literally Travis Nichols envisioned himself as that “poetry gladiator fighting to the death” for his ideals, or how ruthlessly he would strike down those who did not share his vision of poetry on Blog:Harriet. It was certainly a shock to Thomas Brady, Desmond Swords, and Christopher Woodman when virtually out of nowhere a poster named ‘Nick’ popped up on Joel Brouwer’s “Keep the Spot Sore” thread to slam what he felt were people doing bad things on Blog:Harriet:

There are certain sorts of people–I will not indulge in sociological generalities about them, except to say that they are virtually always men–whose thirst for online bloodshed cannot be quenched. Such people ruined the Buffalo poetics list; ruined Silliman’s blog; etc……Michael, I imagine, knows the story. Good places for online discussion are few, and fragile. I’m out, as they say when leaving other forums/
POSTED BY: NICK ON JULY 7, 2009 AT 6:32 PM

Every blog and forum has such malcontents, but what was so different about this intrusion was that the Editor himself, Travis Nichols, actually welcomed the mole and his bile, and even went further in trashing those “certain sorts of people” — an obvious reference to Thomas Brady, Desmond Swords and Christopher Woodman (who has been known as “Cowpatty Hammer” ever since!). Indeed, Travis replied like this:

Hey Nick, I definitely hear you, but I don’t think there’s a formal solution to the problem you’re presenting. We have a couple different formatting changes in the works that I think will help people skip past commentary they have a stated distaste for, but beyond that the only way the discussion becomes valuable for people is if they participate in it. It’s a big responsibility in a lot of ways, and I completely understand using your time for other things, but I, for one, would greatly appreciate you hanging around and offering up your two cents from time to time. It can get a bit cult-like in here (let’s go ahead and talk about it like a room; it feels that way sometimes, like when you’re in a room just trying to read or write down a thought or enjoy a meal and some guy at the next table is going on and on and ON (sheesh!) about his medical experiences or his politics or how he totally almost scored on his last date, and it’s all you can do to not start yelling or making some kind of gag out of napkins and notepads and endpapers or just thinking the world is a terrible no good very bad place full of asshats and douchebags (as they say) . . . but, you know, really it’s not like that. All the time. Is it? Maybe it is. But it doesn’t have to be.), and simple one or two sentence sober thoughts can cut through the funk very nicely. As you have done upthread, I think. So a plea for you–and for others reading and thinking of chiming in but holding back for fear of the cow patty hammer or whatever: don’t leave. Your presence will help make things better. Promise. Maybe we can come up with a rewards system. Free candy for pithy on-point commentary! -Travis PS: Clearly, no candy for me this round.
POSTED BY: TRAVIS NICHOLS  ON JULY 8, 2009 AT 9:00 AM

Thomas Brady wrote a critique of this post on the recent thread called  “Harriet Sees Nothing on Harriet” which casts so much light on Blog:Harriet and the mindset of its “Poetry Gladiator” Editor, Travis Nichols, we decided to elevate it to an actual post. So here goes:

~

Nick writes, “there are certain sorts of people…”  certain sorts of people…?? And then Nick tars ‘certain sorts of people’ with his brush, and then announces he’s leaving in a huff… Travis responds:

Hey Nick,

Hey Nick –note the familiar tone…Hey Nick…

I definitely hear you, but I don’t think there’s a formal solution to the problem you’re presenting.

I definitely hear you… in other words I completely ascribe to your ‘certain sorts of people’ tone of bitchiness and disrespect…  but I don’t think there’s a formal solution… Immediately Travis jumps from the bitchy complaint to…oh how can we come up with a solution to make things better for Nick?

Why does Travis have to jump when Nick says jump? How does Nick suddenly become the authority here?

We have a couple different formatting changes in the works that I think will help people skip past commentary they have a stated distaste for, but beyond that the only way the discussion becomes valuable for people is if they participate in it.

And now Travis slips in something that’s actually an intelligent and proper response to Nick (the angry and the deluded)  “THE ONLY WAY THE DISCUSSION BECOMES VALUABLE FOR PEOPLE IS IF THEY PARTICIPATE IN IT.” Bravo, Travis! But where did that come from? If only this had been Travis’ sole reply, the world might be different…

HEY NICK, THE ONLY WAY THE DISCUSSION BECOMES VALUABLE FOR PEOPLE IS IF THEY PARTICPATE IN IT.

But alas, Travis did not respond thusly, and, to please Nick, launched into the following:

It’s a big responsibility in a lot of ways, and I completely understand using your time for other things, but I, for one, would greatly appreciate you hanging around and offering up your two cents from time to time. It can get a bit cult-like in here (let’s go ahead and talk about it like a room; it feels that way sometimes, like when you’re in a room just trying to read or write down a thought or enjoy a meal and some guy at the next table is going on and on and ON (sheesh!) about his medical experiences or his politics or how he totally almost scored on his last date, and it’s all you can do to not start yelling or making some kind of gag out of napkins and notepads and endpapers or just thinking the world is a terrible no good very bad place full of asshats and douchebags (as they say) . . . but, you know, really it’s not like that. All the time. Is it? Maybe it is. But it doesn’t have to be.), and simple one or two sentence sober thoughts can cut through the funk very nicely. As you have done upthread, I think.

Now Travis makes this weird analogyposting on a blog is compared to sitting in a restaurant and TRYING TO READ while a conversation is going on at the next table…

Huh????

Oh…so Nick WAS TRYING TO READ…and Christopher, you and I were TALKING…so he couldn’t READ… LOL

So a plea for you–and for others reading and thinking of chiming in but holding back for fear of the cow patty hammer or whatever: don’t leave.

“Holding back for fear of the cow patty hammer…?” Yea…it’s called a METAPHOR, Travis…why would someone FEAR that? What’s to fear in another’s words and opinions? [Click here for some background on that metaphor.]

ANY discussion on the web offers the SAME THREE RESPONSES, cow patty hammer or not, Travis. You 1.) agree, you 2.) disagree, or you 3.) ignore comment X, –or some combination thereof. That’s it! Simple! You can ALWAYS do this–unless you are censored.

These are ALWAYS the choices, whether Christopher Woodman and Thomas Brady are part of the discussion, or not. Travis? Nick? You know this, don’t you?

Let me say it once more. In ANY discussion, you only have 3 choices: Agree, disagree, ignore. These are ALWAYS the choices–no matter who you are having a discussion with. It doesn’t matter if Woodman or Brady are in the discussion, or not. These are the 3 choices one ALWAYS has.

Your presence will help make things better. Promise. Maybe we can come up with a rewards system. Free candy for pithy on-point commentary!
-Travis

Christopher, I think Travis owes us a lot of candy.

Tom

DAVID LEHMAN TO WILLIAM LOGAN: WAAAAAHH!

David Lehman to William Logan graphic

David Lehman uses half his introduction to Best American Poetry 2009 to attack William Logan.

Now we know things are really out of hand.

Lehman creeps up on his prey by first alluding to negative criticism in general:

The notion that the job of the critic is to find fault with the poetry — that the aims of criticism and of poetry are opposed — is still with us or, rather, has returned after a hiatus.”

But who would argue against the idea that one of the functions of criticism is to find fault with poetry?  Lehman implies that this “hiatus” was a good thing.   No finding fault with poetry!  Ever!

Even if Lehman is speaking of criticism rather than reviewing, why shouldn’t criticism be able to find fault?

The critical essays of T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden are continuous with their poems and teach us that criticism is a matter not of enforcing the “laws of aesthetics” or meting out sentences as a judge might pronounce them in court. Rather, the poet as critic engages with works of literature and enriches our understanding and enjoyment of them. Yet today more than a few commentators seem intent on punishing the authors they review. It has grown into a phenomenon.”

Lehman has obviously never read T.S. Eliot’s criticism of Edgar Poe (From Poe to Valery, 1949) in which Eliot “punishes” Poe severely.  Poe alone has been attacked by any number of critics: Yvor Winters, Aldous Huxley, Harold Bloom, T.S Eliot, Joseph Wood Krutch, and earlier this year in the New Yorker by a history professor at Harvard.  In fact, there has been no “hiatus” when the target is America’s greatest writer.   Negative reviewing was, of course, practiced by Poe, among other things, and Poe said it very explicitly: “A criticism is just that—a criticism.”

When Lehman says, “A critic engages with works of literature and enriches our understanding and enjoyment of them” he sounds like a person who wants to eat without chewing.   When did “enjoyment” of literature preclude honest opinion about it?    Does Lehman seriously believe that being “nice” to a poem is how we “enjoy” it?   What does he think we are?   Little kids?

Lehman, like Camille Paglia, is dismissive of ‘French Theory:’

The characteristic badness of literary criticism in the 1980s was that it was heavily driven by theory and saddled with an unlovely vocabulary. T. S. Eliot, in “The Function of Criticism” (1923), says he “presumes” that “no exponent of criticism” has “ever made the preposterous assumption that criticism is an autotelic activity” — that is, an activity to be undertaken as an end in itself without connection to a work of literature. Eliot did not figure on post-structuralism and the critic’s declaration of independence from the text. If you wanted criticism “constantly to be confronted with examples of poetry,” as R. P. Blackmur recommends in “A Critic’s Job of Work,” you were in for a bad time in the 1980s.”

But even worse than critics off in a world of their own, according to Lehman, are critics who review poetry without being nice:

Every critic knows it is easier (and more fun) to write a ruthless review rather than a measured one. As a reviewer, you’re not human if you don’t give vent to your outrage once or twice — if only to get the impulse out of you. If you have too good a time writing hostile reviews, you’ll injure not only your sensibility but your soul. Frank O’Hara felt he had no responsibility to respond to a bad poem. It’ll “slip into oblivion without my help,” he would say.”

Actually, it’s not “easier” to write a “ruthless” review–erudition and patience go into “ruthless” reviews all the time.  It’s easier to be funny, perhaps, when being ruthless; this, I will grant, but ruthless without humor falls flat; ruthless and humorous is devastating–the review every poet fears.

As for O’Hara’s remark–echoed by contemporary critic Stephen Burt: Isn’t the critic a philosopher?  And when would you ever tell a philosopher: ‘only write about the good stuff?’

Now Lehman goes after his real target–William Logan.

William Logan typifies the bilious reviewer of our day. He has attacked, viciously, a great many American poets; I, too, have been the object of his scorn. Logan is the critic as O’Hara defined the species: “the assassin of my orchards.” You can rely on him to go for the most wounding gesture. Michael Palmer writes a “Baudelaire Series” of poems, for example, and Logan comments, “Baudelaire would have eaten Mr. Palmer for breakfast, with salt.” The poems of Australian poet Les Murray seem “badly translated out of Old Church Slavonic with only a Russian phrase book at hand.” Reviewing a book by Adrienne Rich is a task that Logan feels he could almost undertake in his sleep. Reading C. K. Williams is “like watching a dog eat its own vomit.”

For many years, Logan reserved his barbs for the poets of our time. More recently he has sneered at Emily Dickinson (“a bloodless recluse”) and condescended to Emerson (“a mediocre poet”).”

Oh Lehman, stop being such a big baby.  Emerson was a mediocre poet.  Logan has praised Dickinson’s work–calling her a ‘bloodless recluse’ is well…kinda…true.   Should there really be a law against giving Frank O’Hara or C.K. Williams or Hart Crane a bad review?

Far better poets have been far more vilified–and for political reasons, too.

Logan is merely expressing his taste.

Lehman, you shouldn’t take this so personally.

One person finds the weather too cold and goes indoors; another remains outside because they find the weather pleasant.

‘But,’ Lehman might reply, ‘ poets are not the weather, they create in order to please.’

All the more reason why there should be a wider divergence of opinion on poems than the weather.

Poems ask us to love them, and in ways far more nuanced than a breezy, foggy evening balanced between warm and cold.

There is nothing worse for poetry in general than telling people they have to like it.  Critics like Poe and Logan actually help the cake to rise.

Don’t you remember what Keats said about the talking primrose?  It tells us to like it.  So we don’t.

It goes without saying that I don’t agree with all of Logan’s judgments, but simple common sense impels this question:

Which statement is crazier?

I don’t like Hart Crane’s poetry.

or

Everyone has to like Hart Crane’s poetry.

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