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By Martin Earl

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What will come after the blog? Where do bloggers go from here? Has the form, as is typical of new media, aged precociously? Are the big print media outlets, with their combination of traditional and new media formats (paper, a website which reproduces more or less a virtual duplication of the hard form, embedded bloggers, video, slideshows, podcasts, etc.) going to overwhelm the individual blogger? Do bloggers, who have not been trained as journalists stand out? How does a dynamically flourishing blog culture avoid redundancy, glut, glibness and overkill?


One response has been to try to give the blogosphere an air of professionalism. Increasingly the weblog, once and independent and renegade format, has become a vetted affair, packaged and marshaled into line, certified by sponsors and, as a result of becoming beholden, sanitized. It no longer threatens anything. (One wonders if it ever did.) Traditional media has domesticated it by absorbing it.
For professional journalists these days, if you are not blogging, you are behind the curve. For independent bloggers, if you have not somehow become a professional journalist, you are facing irrelevance, simply because no single reader can cope with your (as a class) copiousness.
Let’s narrow the field; let’s talk about poetry bloggers.
Here too, a certain futility lurks in the margins. So many poets, untrained at literary journalism, called up like reservists, and sent greenly into battle. Most of them have never learned that prose is not poetry. They seem to think that as poets they are somehow released from having to grapple with the arduous task of writing pleasing sentences. Anything can happen within a line of poetry, but the sentence is a rule-bound construction. You have to be good at mathematics to write good sentences. Ideally you should have studied Latin and a modern inflected language, German or Finnish, for example. You would do well to have an astrolabe placed to the left of your laptop.
The more I pursue the poetry blogosphere the more it appers to be a replication of the poetry scene at large. That is, instead of creating a real alternative to officialdom, it is, perforce, sustaining the institutionally created of cliques of contemporary poetry, of which there seem to be hundreds, some associated with specific MFA programs, some not. Poets’ positions in this setting – or at least their ancillary positions – as self-invented critics, have their own hierarchy. There are the official bloggers and there are the court minions, from the jesters to the ladies-in-waiting, from the grooms of the stool to the reeves. These latter ones comprise the broader class of commentators. Their job is to extend the bloggers discussion by proxy, until the blogger brings the butt end of his scepter down on the blog-floor with a crash, which is a signal for everyone to shut up, thus clearing the space for a new blog, which will set the whole process in motion once again.
Survival in the blogosphere (i.e., relevance) depends on escaping the intangible burden of ephemerality that weighs so lightly on just about anything anyone writing a blog says, or, given the nature of the format, could possibly say. The only escape is via the imprimatur of an organization, like the one I am presently writing for.
One might say, kindly, that the poetry blog and the hundreds of poetry webzines on line are reproducing in updated form those decades (from the last century) of “little mag” culture and the kinds of contexts in which it flourished. And yet, released from the onus of printing and distribution, what results is sheer proliferation, a consequence, perhaps, of not only how publishing is now possible for anyone with a computer and a modem, but also of how many certified poets there are out there, and of their inability (or, by now, reluctance) to create a physical, as opposed to a virtual, community.
Obviously a vast range of issues has arisen out of that transition, which began in the last decade of the 20th century, from the analogical to the digital world. If globalization was the catch phrase for this dizzying informational evolution (which was mirrored by the conglomeration of profit), its most prized technology was the Internet, the impact of which has still not been properly digested. It would be no stretch of the imagination to say that it has been at least as transformative for us as the Roman highway system was for the late classical world. One wonders whether it was the technology itself that signaled the cultural shift, or rather a kind of grinding of tectonic societal plates, a collective fin de siècle push into the new century, that drove the new technology. Chief among all those issues, which accrue to paradigm shifts at a global level, for poets especially, is the imposition of “real time” on an activity that is supposed to take time. This, and the final stages of the professionalization of poetry have changed the way poets live and work, even as the world they live in accelerates beyond their calling, reducing it to a system of traces, an echopraxia of our forebears, a dumb colloquy with the dead.
In his recent New York Times review of the newly collected correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, Words in Air, William Logan talks about the process of writing these letters. “Bishop might elaborate hers over weeks, at times swearing she had written Lowell in her imagination.”
When I read that I took pause. I began to wonder what precisely is the relationship between the imagination and time. Gone, it seems, is the sense of duration. Gone the art of waiting, of creativity as deferral and revision. Gone is the patience of poetry. Poets will never again write as Delmore Schwartz did in “Calmly We Walk Through This April Day”, which closes with these four lines: “May memory restore again and again / The smallest color of the smallest day: / Time is the school in which we learn, / Time is the fire in which we burn.” Not only is there, today, a collective aversion to such lyricism, but the meditation on time and aging, solitude and martyrdom, seems, to us, somehow quaint. Schwarzt’s notion that “The past is inevitable” no longer seems true. The continuum has been compromised by the new. We’re too “hopped up”, as they used to say, to even (in the current idiom) “go there.”
Gone too is the model of slow maturation of talent (itself a suspect word nowadays that hardly accords with the industrial scale production of poets.), The notion of going away to write, to be alone, to challenge oneself through a process of étrangement has lost the look of necessity. Poets like Stein, Bishop, Ashbery, or Harry Mathews, all of whom spent good parts of their lives abroad, away from the frenetic urban centers and university campuses of America, away from other poets, all came into their own, on their own, in foreign settings. None of them had even a whiff of fame or a broad readership until they were well into their forties. Harry Mathews himself, not only an important member of the Oulipo group (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle), which included authors such a Italo Calvino, Georges Perec and Raymond Queneau) but one of America’s most important novelists, experimental or otherwise, hardly registers on the American radar. Many of them, whatever country it was that they managed live in (I say “managed” because it involved “cracking the system”, that is solving the impossible riddle of “papers”, extended visas, etc.)… Many of them went so far as to immerse themselves in a foreign language, which, for a poet, is a kind of double exile. Speaking one language and writing in another forces one to work at an even further remove from predictable patterns and settings. The depth and consolidation of one’s mother tongue (or poetic tongue) is always antagonized by the imposition of an alternative tongue. The poet is estranged not only culturally (or rather materially) but linguistically as well. One is forever importing thought, which is thought in one language, and trying to cast it in the syntax of the underlying language. This translation occurs automatically and constantly – an ongoing process of defamiliarization and coping which hardens the lyric poet against his or her easiest predilections. The extreme cases of this process are of course known to all, Conrad, Beckett and Nabokov, all of whom engaged in the long and grueling task of completely altering their linguistic chemistry and reinventing their host-language in previously unfathomable ways. Again time, isolation, the hardship of exile, were all at play. What happens in these settings is either no longer available to younger poets, or younger poets seem disinclined to take up the challenge of going it alone.
One wonders if blogging, the internet, virtual communities, the press to make a career for oneself as a poet-professor have now completely replaced the older way of doing things.

Comments (30)

  • On January 21, 2009 at 11:40 am Manoel Cartola wrote:

    Excellent Thoughts. I think, when I used to have a blog back in college, I only liked it because of the electricty of it– it was like an illuminated manuscript. Some people find it dizzying and others find it intoxicating (it depends on one’s tolerance and dosage).
    There really shouldn’t be a debate or even a high vs. low dichotomy. I kept my blog to share with friends and acqaintences. I had no professional aspiration with it.
    I think that there are a lot of those types of bloggers– just people sharing ideas. It isn’t a kill or be killed dystopia of misinformation or a battle royale of wannabe writers.
    And, If anyone wants to pay (i.e. “sponsor”) for me to go abroad and write in a secluded hermitage all day for the next 12 years. Send me an e-mail so I can tell you where to mail the check (seriously: rnhpnb@yahoo.com). I can’t guarantee I’ll be the 40 year-old poetic genius I’m supposed to be but I will have enjoyed the stay. “LOL”
    -Manny

  • On January 21, 2009 at 11:52 am James Stotts wrote:

    i wonder how many poets still think of their poems, literally, as mnemonics–poems they wrote because there was something they were determined not to forget–a much more meaningful kind of occasional poetry than anything ever summoned at a presidential inauguration. (aside: i can actually imagine myself going about collecting the notes and rhymes i would need if i were asked to write in alexander’s place, to gather the overwhelming suggestions of change in the air (and the air really has been charged!) and yet all she wanted was to convey a tone, a message.)
    there must be more than a few, or else what is everyone writing for? the industrial sea change you’re talking about of course accounts for an endless tide of verse we wish we could discount, but is too heavy and full of dregs to dredge (all the venues are clogged, electronic or otherwise, and it’s hard to find or even imagine any national (or international) platform for poetry that can make its way through it effectively).
    and so, i can hardly imagine being an editor or staffer for POETRY.
    you’re right, i think, that all the patience is gone–especially the reverent, adversarial engagement with language itself. and really forking your tongue does wonders for the poet’s soul. whoever’s really concerned with expressing themselves in original ways, whoever’s devoting a lot of thought to phrase, can’t help but be changed psychologically by a second language. being literate on a poetic (that is, on the highest) level, means finding ways to deal with ‘other’ language [sic] all the time–greek and latin and the third thing (tertium quid), which come up all the time, tell us all about english itself, implicitly.
    but, living in russia, loving and growing in russian (as i have) forces one to find translations for thoughts and ideas even when they’ve never had those thoughts or ideas before. for example, to know a russian poem by heart, to love it, demands a kind of erotic compensation in english, a way to think about the poem in a language that is not its own. and, repeating the lines in one’s head, they eventually get translated, if incompletely, against one’s will.
    i don’t know if i think this kind of experience is necessary to become a good poet, but i think it necessarily is beneficial. and it is a greater challenge than almost all the ‘poets’ out there seem willing to take on.
    as for blogs, i think giving a bad poet attention is the worst thing one can do, and all but ruins the chance that he’ll ever make himself into a good poet. that applies to mfa’s, too, even if opposing their proliferation at this point has become almost completely beside the point.
    james

  • On January 21, 2009 at 12:29 pm Angela Genusa wrote:

    Hi Martin, Your column addresses too many issues to reply to in one comment. But I will say this about poetry bloggers’ penchants for writing posts that are worthy of Ph.D. dissertations. Most poets have not had journalistic experience or any training on how to write with brevity and clarity — and it shows. I just read a blog with two 72-word (choke!) sentences (in two different posts), with others coming in at around 50 words. I could barely parse the sentences.
    For poets with no journalistic training or background in non-fiction writing, I highly recommend William Zinsser’s excellent books, “On Writing Well,” and “Writing to Learn.” Writing intelligently does not mean composing dense and incomprehensible prose, even when you’re writing for highly educated, intelligent readers.

  • On January 21, 2009 at 12:44 pm Jasper wrote:

    “Anything can happen within a line of poetry, but the sentence is a rule-bound construction.”
    No, the sentence is a historical convention, as variable and fluid as the genre of poetry. Its rules have changed over time, will continue to change, and are transgressed to good and bad effects. And math has absolutely nothing to do with it.
    As for the rest of the hide-bound inanities in this piece, they are too patently blinkered to really deserve remarking.

  • On January 21, 2009 at 2:00 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    A well-meant suggestion from one writer to another, Martin : before you start to compose, try to delimit the subject-matter of your discourse. In this post, you seem to want to criticize 1) blogging; 2) the “official” poetry hierarchies; 3) writers’ cliques; 4) the want of technical skill among blog-writers today; 5) the hollowing-out of the inner lives (& memories) of contemporary poets… & &
    – it all adds up to a rather lugubrious jeremiad, without the pungency of Jeremiah.
    My sense is your real beef is with what you perceive to be the inimical Poetry Establishment; everything else follows from that. There is no getting around the desolation a poet can experience by thinking too much about the distant & seemingly closed world of Fame and Recognition. The only antidote is 1) forgetting about “the self” (in Nadezhda Mandelstam’s sense – see 1st chapter of her book “Hope Abandoned”), and 2) writing well.
    Coincidentally, before I read your post, I was thinking about posting something to my own humble blog. Maybe I can try to summarize that planned post here, instead.
    What I like about blogging is the mode (which it affords) of sheer simplicity and freedom-to-communicate. For someone outside the networks and hierarchies of “professional poetry” (which always struck me as an oxymoron, anyway), the blog provides a curious way to keep going, to stay in touch – even if only with a very few interested readers.
    I’m sure specialists can examine and parse the relationship between the medium and the method, but for me this is not really an important issue. I was writing long before the advent of blogs. From my perspective, the blog offered me an opportunity to “get down on paper” (so to speak) thoughts & ideas which I might not otherwise have found time & energy to develop. I’m not a person of independent means or a teacher; i work full time, and have family & other obligations; so for me the time spent actually writing, rather than trying to get previous writing in print, has been valuable. I know this can be viewed ironically – the garrulous blogger living in his solipsistic cul-de-sac of “virtual” publication… & at times I’ve certainly felt that way about it too. But at the moment I see the cup as half-full, not half-empty, despite the fact that there are few external rewards or even signs of recognition from the outside world.

  • On January 21, 2009 at 2:16 pm Norma wrote:

    I’ve been writing for a long time, and find blogging suits me and my talents and time. I have 11 blogs, and I read blogs of others. Some bloggers are so good it’s enough to make me stop; others so evil it gives me pause, but I just move on. You do wonder where all that hate comes from. Social networking sites hold no interest. Writing and commenting for oneself or a few readers is no less satisfying than being paid for it, if you love to write. I’ve seen better poetry on beginner blogs than I heard on January 20.

  • On January 21, 2009 at 5:20 pm martin Earl wrote:

    Jasper,
    I think you want the intransitive sense: remark on, remark upon.
    By “rule-bound” I mean grammatical.
    Martin

  • On January 21, 2009 at 7:02 pm Jasper wrote:

    Martin,
    If you’re going to be a pedant, at least try to get things right:
    http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50202198?query_type=word&queryword=remark&first=1&max_to_show=10&sort_type=alpha&result_place=3&search_id=h0jD-vJ8P11-10008&hilite=50202198

  • On January 21, 2009 at 8:12 pm Manoel Cartola wrote:

    I’m sorry but I thought the remark about mathematics being a prerequisite to good sentences was sarcastic (if not figuratively suggestive). Did I misread that part? (I never took Calculus)
    -Manny

  • On January 22, 2009 at 8:54 am Kent Johnson wrote:

    >So many poets, untrained at literary journalism, called up like reservists, and sent greenly into battle. Most of them have never learned that prose is not poetry… Anything can happen within a line of poetry, but the sentence is a rule-bound construction. You have to be good at mathematics to write good sentences.
    Martin,
    You make quite a claim here. Why does one have to be “good at mathematics” (you don’t indicate a grade of proficiency) to write good sentences? Were Proust and Hemingway really good at math? Maybe they were, I don’t know. But certainly there have been all kinds of impressive stylists in the tradition not all that great at algebra or calculus. Cormac McCarthy hangs around with physicists, but he’s admitted, if I remember right, that he’s not very good at mathematics.
    And if the sentence is a hard “rule-bound construction,” why do you have, above, a noun phrase (elaborately modified by participial phrases) presented *as* a sentence? I’d normally assume this to be a stylistic fragment, but its presence is odd, coming as it does so close to the prescriptive pronouncement.
    One more thing: We minions–or jesters, as you say–quickly commenting here can be excused for the occasional awkwardness, missing word, or faulty comma. But poetry bloggers like you, especially since you censure all the rest of them with such disdain, should really *proof-read* with more care: You have some glaring typographical errors in your post!
    Kent

  • On January 22, 2009 at 9:40 am Anon wrote:

    Martin,
    Correcting the grammar of an internet comment betrays your misconceptions of the medium. The Internet is not the same as print. It’s not just a different distribution method. Language actually happens differently here, just as language happens differently when it is spoken. Your suggestion that your own specific Eurocentric approach to the printed word is best for anyone who wants to write “good sentences” is revealed for what it is as you nit-pick verb tenses rather than address criticism. Seriously, what was the point of that? Are we supposed to agree with you based solely on your ability to conjugate?

  • On January 22, 2009 at 1:17 pm Martin Earl wrote:

    To all of you, especially Jasper, the passage which has seemed to cause all the trouble was, as Manny observed, meant to be sarcastic and suggestive. Of course I don’t want you to set an astrolabe to the left of your laptop. Nevertheless, Kent, Proust was very interested in mathematics. As a reader of Poincaré, as Allen Thiher points out in his study of the French novel, Fiction Rivals Science, The French Novel from Balzac to Proust, Proust knew the polymath’s concept of mathematical induction in which intellection is seen as a question of procedure and method. This accords well with the empiricism of the period. It can be seen in Zola, Huysmans, Valery, etc. Other examples: Nabokov was a mathematical prodigy as a child and and Primo Levi was a chemist – undoubtedly two of the great prose stylists of the 20th century.
    Nor, Kent, was I speaking necessarily about Harriet’s bloggers or those who participate in its forum when I described my hypothetical Court of the Blog. H’s standards are usually quite high indeed. But as you know there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of poetry blogs out there where this is not the case.
    Anon, I would suggest that the innocent days of Internet anarchy are well behind us, and where this still lingers it bores. The Internet, as it begins to mature as a medium, is much closer to “print” than you think. Indeed, it increasingly overlaps with print and might someday simply replace it. I hope, when that day comes, that some sort of standards are preserved. At any rate, why should a “different distribution method” (whatever that is) alter the standards of English prose. Jasper’s comment seemed to call for nit-picking, since it contained no serious criticism; it was rather just a marshaling of clichés and an attempt to offend. He tells us, as though it were news, that the sentence (our basic grammatical unit when we are writing prose) is “as variable and fluid as the genre of poetry.” Of course it is! And for the most part, these days, it is often more variable a fluid! But I was not questioning that. I was only trying to make the point that it has a different system of rules, evolving rules, but rules nevertheless. And as far has my “hide-bound inanities” are concerned, that charge also falls short of serious criticism. And, Anon, just to make another point: the fact that I live in Europe does not mean I am, as a matter of course, “Eurocentric”.
    At any rate, I apologize for for bringing up “grammar”, prose standards, and the quality of the blogosphere in general. I hadn’t realized that such topics were off-limits.
    ps: Jasper, the link you send me to the OED calls for a password. For what it’s worth, from my humble digital dictionary we have the following: “REMARK [ intrans. ] The judges remarked on the high standard of the entries.” (No pun intended.) I did check this in my print OED. The transitive version of the verb means “to notice”. I think what you meant to say was to “comment upon”.

  • On January 22, 2009 at 3:01 pm Daisy Fried wrote:

    “Anything can happen within a line of poetry, but the sentence is a rule-bound construction.”–Martin Earl
    The rules of English aren’t like the laws of Congress, to which everyone must conform.
    The rules of English, and of sentences, are found in the language itself, and if people stop following the rules, the rules have to change, not the people.
    I recommend my husband Jim Quinn’s book, American Tongue and Cheek, a populist guide to the language.

  • On January 22, 2009 at 3:32 pm Anon wrote:

    Martin,
    The Internet is still young, and young media tend to imitate the previous ones. To suggest that the Internet is becoming “closer to print” is naive at best. Did print settle down and become more like pre-print writing? Did writing settle down and become more like pre-literate language? Most anyone blogging (especially about poetry) at this stage in history was raised in a print-culture. As those who were raised in an Internet-culture take over, you will begin to see that the “rules” that you think of as governing language are really just medium-specific conventions. I’m not asserting any kind of “Internet anarchy”; the Internet will no doubt develop its own stagnant hierarchies (it already has to some extent). However, the structural conventions that you keep calling “rules” do not govern language. Rather, they themselves evolve and are governed by the medium they take place in.
    Also, I had no idea that the identity you hide behind lives in Europe. The “Eurocentric” comment was in reference to your assertion that learning Latin is the best route to being able to write “good sentences”. What you actually mean by “good” is only “good” within the particular power assumptions that you’re making.

  • On January 22, 2009 at 7:18 pm Jasper wrote:

    No, Martin, I meant “remarking” in the sense of “comment” or “notice.” Which you’ll note, if you get out your magnifying glass, is a perfectly legitimate use of the substantive. If that doesn’t satisfy you, try typing “it deserves remarking” or “it is worth remarking” into Google Books. You’ll find scores of examples, many of which will no doubt satisfy your exacting lexicographical standards.
    Which, we can remark, are those of a fool.

  • On January 23, 2009 at 6:04 am martin Earl wrote:

    Jasper, following your suggestion, I googled exactly what what you wrote in your original comment, including the final stop (“to really deserve remarking.”) and got no hits.
    Here is the message that came up:
    Your search – “to really deserve remarking.” – did not match any documents.
    Suggestions:
    Make sure all words are spelled correctly.
    Try different keywords.
    Try more general keywords.
    I have one more suggestion to add to these: avoid the use of the nosism. It creates a tone of arrogance, which I’m sure is unintended.

  • On January 23, 2009 at 7:21 am martin Earl wrote:

    To redirect things a bit here, I’d invite readers to re-read James Stotts’ comment at the top the scroll. He took up various issues in this post that I had thought would attract more attention:
    1. the role of patience in poetry;
    2. poets and second languages;
    3. translation;
    4. and, fascinatingly, “poems, literally, as mnemonics”, in his own words.
    I’m sure Henry would have something to say about these issues, due to his work on things Russian.
    See http://hgpoetics.blogspot.com/ …I’m correct, Henry, in assuming that this is your blog? My apologies if I’m getting this wrong.

  • On January 23, 2009 at 9:44 am Benjamin wrote:

    Hello Martin,
    I tend to agree with many of the things you said, especially with regard to the bond between time and the literary imagination. But part of the utility of a forum such as this being the opportunity to espalier one’s tendencies, let me pose a question or two. First, hasn’t the poet (at least in the Western tradition) always stood in relation to two forms of time? On the one hand, there is the time of contemporary tastes and daily reality, with its pressing chorus of concerns ; on the other, the time of tradition or cultural memory, which is an imagined duree approaching eternity. Shakespeare evidently wrote in the midst of many obscure scribblers chafing against deadlines; evidently he himself so chafed. And at the same time he was writing, in the sonnets, grand claims to literary immortality. What parts the dull and speechless tribes to pick out those few whose work will be remembered down the line? Indeed, the argument for “taking one’s sweet time” as a spiritual or ethical discipline has, it seems to me, a great deal of validity, but I wonder if it is logically sound to posit a correlation, as in your piece you seem to do, between that discipline and any demonstrable level of literary quality, at least as long we still take quality (as, again, you seem to do) in the canonical sense. That leads me to my second question: Doesn’t the “industrial scale production of poets” result, in the first instance, from the spread of literacy throughout the population, and from the rise of writing as the discipline par excellence of modern subjectivity? No doubt real changes in the temporal nature of consciousness–as a result first of industrial production and then of the technologies of modern media–have taken hold, have touched our language and have shaped our lives. And yet, inclined as I am to agree with you, I think there is a virtue in being skeptical about our own ability to parse causes and to assign the reasons for decline, simply because it seems a bit too easy to take comfort in that ability itself–as if to say, at least we have that to hold onto.

  • On January 23, 2009 at 11:44 am Henry Gould wrote:

    Donald Justice writes rather movingly somewhere in one of his essays (I know this vagueness is an example of blogspeak) about mnemonics just as James Stotts describes – how writing poems, for had a lot to do with trying to evoke a clear, almost photographic, image of a particular time & place from his own past, to memorialize a private memory.
    I too think you raise important points, Martin. It’s just that I don’t feel so pessimistic, I guess. Yes, we’re in a time of tremendous transition in modus yakkologes… there are many positive & negative aspects to blogging, etc. I guess my own view is that writing has ALWAYS involved a lot of machine-work, drudgery, misdirection, mindless superficiality, herd mentality, slogans & cliches, myth & superstition, fraud… one can ALWAYS complain – no matter what the means of transmission – about the general quality… but I don’t see the internet or blogs etc. as an actual threat to poetry & poets, unless the poets simply dwell on it too much.
    Concentration, hard work, devotion, etc. – always necessary, always will be. Not to mention native talent, taste & aptitude. Native abilities & education go a long way in helping a writer sift wheat from chaff, no matter what the medium. The focus should be on primary education. & here it seems to me the internet offers a tremendous opening, a democratization, on all levels of the pursuit of knowledge – I’ve certainly found it useful myself…
    As for the Russians, well, my benchmark is Mandelstam… & somewhere in his wife’s memoirs she writes about how “AMAZINGLY IMPROVIDENT” he was. He seemingly just didn’t give a damn about the minute particulars of the process of dissemination. He had so much certainty about the poems’ innate value & permanence, he just let them go in the wind, so to speak. & look what happened! He was proved right, against the greatest odds. Attsa poetry, to me. Poetry has its own destiny in the world, we don’t need to worry about that so much. We can’t control it in any way. It’s a very mysterious matter of the congruence or confluence of a work of art with the culture from which it emerges & on which it sheds light & grace. “If people need it, they will find it” – that’s what Mandelstam said. If people need it. The onus there is on the poet, to make something people can’t do without. & obviously this won’t happen by some kind of academic or industrial or commercial or by any kind of literary gangster-strategic-cabal methodology. I agree with Wallace Stevens : life is poetry, on some deep level. & down there on that level, life has the last laugh – not the literary professionals or schemers. Ask Melville. Ask Emily. Ask Walt.
    Anyway, thanks for asking, Martin –

  • On January 23, 2009 at 12:03 pm aunt peg wrote:

    Jasper, I advise you to dial back the tone of snide petulance and the ad hominem attacks of your posts on this blog. They make you look both querulous and young. On top of that, you’re wrong. Compared to the poetical line, the sentence IS a rule bound construction. It’s freighted with a more materialistic relationship to its surroundings, dirtier with reality, and geared down by its documentary weight as purveyor of the “normative” world. A poet would be unlikely to have to resort to what Beckett did to find himself as a writer: write in French and then translate it back to English. He did so, precisely, to circumvent that weight of socially-specific convention which is at the heart of the sentence and which he felt stifled by. The author of this blog could have been clearer, perhaps, but this, I think, is what he was referring to in his “rule-bound” description of the sentence, and he was right.

  • On January 23, 2009 at 12:56 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Henry,
    Actually, Old Walt was a great schemer and devious self-promoter: He even wrote reviews for his own books and signed them under aliases. He surely would have had a blog, could he have had.
    Great poets, thankfully, need not be Pure, as you seem to imply they should or must be. Vanity and envy deeply mark most of the greats. It’s part of the drive, as they say. Now, yes, it is ennobling when a certain saintliness of character (albeit often confused with conditions of life) accompanies remarkable aptitude. But to believe that selfless character is the foundation of good art flies in the face of poetic history, I’m afraid.
    Kent

  • On January 23, 2009 at 1:18 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Kent,
    I don’t think I was implying anything about Purity. My point was that no matter what the poet is or does, one way or another, it’s not up to them.
    Vanity, envy, scheming, etc. – these are the poet’s problems, not poetry’s problems. & I suppose they’re exacerbated by the poet’s grudging awareness that such personal ticks, in the long run, are completely useless & irrelevant, often counter-productive. You can’t scheme your way into the ideal reader’s heart & mind. “Love is not love / that alters where it alteration finds / nor bends with the remover to remove.”

  • On January 23, 2009 at 1:50 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    But Henry,
    When you say this:
    “Vanity, envy, scheming, etc. – these are the poet’s problems, not poetry’s problems. & I suppose they’re exacerbated by the poet’s grudging awareness that such personal ticks, in the long run, are completely useless & irrelevant, often counter-productive. You can’t scheme your way into the ideal reader’s heart & mind. “Love is not love / that alters where it alteration finds / nor bends with the remover to remove.”
    You are making an unambiguous claim for Purity! Poetry as “above,” transcendent of such worldly “problems.” I’m saying, yes, that these problems, if that’s what you want to call them, are part of poetry’s flesh and blood, part of its millennial, fractured song. And thank goodness. Otherwise, we’d hardly have any poetry–even the pure-sounding kind!
    Kent

  • On January 23, 2009 at 2:07 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    What seems gushy idealism or otherworldly purism to you, Kent, might actually be hardheaded psychological realism. As in, to quote Barack Obama quoting St. Paul, “I have put away childish things”.
    But in order to “get” what I’m talking about, one would have to have a basic awareness of the substantial unity between those elusive, invisible, philosophical things we call Love, Beauty and Truth. The art work wins us over by its mysterious, psychic, indefinable partaking of these qualities.
    In the end – & I mean REALLY in the end – you can’t fake it any more than you can fake love.

  • On January 23, 2009 at 2:20 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Henry said:
    >What seems gushy idealism or otherworldly purism to you, Kent, might actually be hardheaded psychological realism. As in, to quote Barack Obama quoting St. Paul, “I have put away childish things”.
    Well!
    And:
    >But in order to “get” what I’m talking about, one would have to have a basic awareness of the substantial unity between those elusive, invisible, philosophical things we call Love, Beauty and Truth.
    Well, you got me there, Henry. Unlike you, apparently, I don’t have “a basic awareness of the substantial unity between those elusive, invisible, philosophical things we call Love, Beauty and Truth.”
    But I’ll keep chugging away.
    (You know that I think you sometimes have terrific things to say about poetry, but here you have put on the big wax wings, I’m afraid.)
    Kent

  • On January 23, 2009 at 2:40 pm john wrote:

    Forgotten about Icarus:
    He really did fly!
    Just don’t melt that wax, and you’ll soar!

  • On January 23, 2009 at 3:35 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Actually the wings of Poesie are made not of wax but of a very durable-flexible alloy of lanthanum-silicon-titanium. The poet is a builder. Ask Capt. Sullenberger.

  • On January 23, 2009 at 5:24 pm Jasper Bernes wrote:

    Peg,
    You’re probably right about tone. I do need a stern aunt who’s willing to rap my knuckles when I step out of line. But Martin’s tired and rather familiar fretting about the lack of standards and suitable parenting on the internets deserved a little deflation. I’m well aware that many types of discourse–journalism and academic criticism, for instance, both of which I practice–are highly dependent upon convention (convention which has more to do with “style” than “grammar”). Nonetheless, it’s a bit silly to think that these types of discourse say something about “the sentence” in general, and even sillier to imply that these norms are somehow the most felicitous way to discourse about literature. Below the commanding heights of the magazines and the newspapers, the sentence is, indeed, a far weirder creature than either of you are willing to admit, and the blog owes as much to letter writing and diaries as it does to journalism. There are, it must be said, more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Martin’s grammary.
    Where, indeed, are these journalists worthy of emulating? When I admire journalists–like Naomi Klein, for instance– it is usually for what they are saying rather than how they say it. When I admire journalists for their style–as I admire the writing of Joan Didion and Susan Sontag–it’s precisely because they have broken with the fusty and often arbitrary or ideological conventions Martin finds sorely lacking here. Most poetry is bad because it is simply a dutiful exercise in filling out the conventional supports, and the same holds for prose. I suspect “training”–one of those class-conscious shibboleths like “tradition”–has very little to do with it.
    I’m no internet utopian, and I’ve said why elsewhere. But I don’t agree with you or Martin in the slightest.

  • On January 23, 2009 at 6:12 pm Michael Robbins wrote:

    I never understand how Henry can be so goddamned funny & then turn around & get all “I’m Mr. Serious Poetry Cat.” I like Henry sometimes.
    Blogs! Shouldn’t we just say no? Do we need to encourage ourselves to believe that we always have something worth saying? I read a few blogs (Don’s, SFJ’s, Digital Emunction, Jane’s when I can bear him) but even the best of them are distractions. Digital Emunction might be the best of the lot because it has many writers, so more than one ego is on display at a time, plus I don’t know what emunction means. I mean, I could look it up. I know that.

  • On January 23, 2009 at 8:17 pm Mary Meriam wrote:

    Henry, thought you might like this:
    “Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language. Yes, language. In spite of everything, it remained secure against loss.” (Paul Celan)


Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, January 21st, 2009 by Martin Earl.