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A Quote from Simone Weil . . .

By Annie Finch

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“Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.”
–Simone Weil

Dear companions of the blog,

My sense is that meditation on this quote could provide real insight into the dynamics of contemporary poetics.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this analogy.

—Annie

Comments (212)

  • On April 20, 2009 at 5:19 pm Tom wrote:

    Odd to read this and the following in the same day:

    “But what I think this suggests is that weeks like the past one [in which several very different poets have died] will become much more common as time goes on, not only in the numbers, but in the fact that the poets who pass may well appear to operate in entirely different universes with very little overlap. As this becomes more apparent, the fiction that there is such a thing as poetry will become increasingly transparent. Instead there are poetries, a word that perhaps should never be used in the singular without a hyphen in front of it.” – Ron Silliman

  • On April 21, 2009 at 7:48 am peter sims wrote:

    Hi Annie:

    I’m inclined to agree with this, as my own experience is that I live more intensely when I’m at least trying to be better. I think the ensuing improvement in my self-acceptance liberates energies that then engage more directly with the world.
    On the other hand it seems a little neat. Something we would like to be true, but is it? Being bad does seem to produce genuine excitement. Also I’d like to stick up for the categories of imaginary evil and imaginary good. Their straw men in this quote. Personally I don’t find imagining evil romantic and varied, and don’t care if I ever read another boring word about serial murderers. Contrariwise, imagining good seems to me one of life’s most refined pleasures.
    I was reading Samuel Johnson this morning. He thought making the good attractive was a poet’s obligation, as if good needed the help.

  • On April 21, 2009 at 10:19 am Mike Snider wrote:

    While I was losing my faith I was immensely attracted to Simone Weil’s writing, particularly to Waiting for God, in which, among other things and as I remember it nearly 40 years later, she explained she could not accept salvation while others were unsaved. That itself came to seem to me a romanticization of evil. But I no longer have a copy of the book, and as I say, that was long ago.

    The Silliman and Johnson quotes are quite apposite to Annie’s selection from Weil. Both Weil and Johnson believed that human nature, though fallen, could and should be encouraged to a discoverable if never entirely achievable good, and that part of the work of the artist was to point to that good. It’s not clear to me that Silliman believes in human nature at all, by which I mean he seems to me to believe we are constituted by our communities in a radical way: identity politics becomes identity poetics because our identities are forged to a much greater degree by our political and community connections than by shared human nature or individual inheritance.

    I wonder what Weil thought of Byron. I’m pretty certain Johnson would have found him scandalous, and I’d guess that Silliman finds him trivial, but I can’t even start to think about Weil reading Don Juan.

  • On April 21, 2009 at 10:57 am thomas brady wrote:

    Annie,

    Great post, as usual.

    The Weil quote: It depends on *whose* imagination is giving us the evil, the good, etc

    Secondly, her use of “Romantic” sounds odd to me. “Romantic” is a word which means everything and nothing to us these days. To a conservative, it means immorality, to a progressive, it means quaint, shallow.

    Silliman’s formula is passive: ‘there are,’ ‘this is happening,’ etc

    The people will always think of poetry as ‘poetry.’ It is the intellectuals who sniff and snort about for ‘different poetries.’

    Poetry, I feel, depends on an ideal ‘poetry.’ Differences without a unity eventually fall apart and become listless and boring. I agree with the people.

    After all, the best thrust from Imagism came when H.D.’s husband Richard Aldington attacked the Georgian poets with: “a little trip for a little weekend to a little cottage where they wrote a little poem on a little theme.” If differences must exist, let us have at it, and not be passive.

    For instance: A little lesbian put a little image in a little poem for a little magazine. Imagism.

    Thomas

  • On April 21, 2009 at 11:12 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Peter, intereseting response. I think you’ve hit the nai on the head here: “I think the ensuing improvement in my self-acceptance liberates energies that then engage more directly with the world.”

    But two questions: yes, being actually bad can feel exciting, no doubt about it, but is it exciting for others (that’s the perspective I believe Weil was talking about I think) or only for the perpetuator?

    And second, yes for imaginary evil being wonderful (we need look no further than Milton’s Satan for a famous example) but I would agree with Jung that the reson it attracts us is because it is a distorted form of good, but repressed, parts of ourselves. Once those repressed selves become conscious, they are no longer evil. . .

  • On April 21, 2009 at 11:23 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Thank you Tom! Re this proposition,

    “The people will always think of poetry as ‘poetry.’ It is the intellectuals who sniff and snort about for ‘different poetries.”

    I tend to think it may be true, because we are all still here, after all, on Harriet, and many of the differences that seemed so bitter and unsurmountable in the 80s and 90s seem to be becoming ploughed into a larger idea of wide possibilities for “poetry,” for current generations of poets.

    And yet–when I was aksed to write about poetry for a general interest article (newspaper) a few years ago and REALLY thought about what a poetry novice would encounter browsing in the poetry section of a bookstore, I took pains to use the analogy of music, so they wouldn’t be scared off by randomly picking up poetry of one school or another and thinking that’s all there is. Folk, jazz, classical, blues, rock, bubblegum–it’s all so clearly music that nobody bothers to say “musics”! But since people in general aren’t nearly as familiar with poetry as with music, I felt a need to say browse through the differnt types, to see if you are more likely to enjoy formal poetry or experimental poetry or ancedotal free verse or performance-rooted poetry.

    But then you don’t find musicians going to great lengths to bridge divides between different types of music, the way poets seem to want to do. . .

    I wonder.

  • On April 21, 2009 at 11:26 am Annie Finch wrote:

    PS Amusing that Aldington attacked the Georgians with the word “little” while involved in beginning the movement of the “littlest” poems of all–at least on one level–almost as if he were saying, “ok, you want little, I’ll show you what little can do. . .”

    And then there seems to be something of a gender cast to this–“little” seems somewhat feminizing as applied to the Georgians, and yet Imagism (Amygism) was so dominated by women, perhaps the first critically-acclaimed poetic movement to be so. Does anyone know of any female Georgians?

  • On April 21, 2009 at 11:41 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Mike, Waiting for God is a powerful book. I imagine that Weil, the ascetic, would have pitied and condescended to Byron–don’t you think?

    Are you a fan of Byron?

    Your remarks on Ron’s view of human nature as created by political realities, without having an essential quality (if I’ve paraphrased you right) bring up the interesting and persistent overlaps between Marxist thought and Language poetry generally–always an intriguing area of tension, which is of course frequently expressed by performance and and other poets committed to wide accessiblity as frustration that liberatory poetics should be accompanied by such challenging and inaccessible language.

    But if human nature is not essential, but historically determined, then it makes perfect sense to write a poetry that doesn’t express any “self” in particular, yes?

    I guess for my part, I believe that human nature is essentially indeterminate, but that it is spiritually determined more than politically determined. Maybe (moment of thinking out loud, sorry) this will help me figure out the longstanding riddle about where my own poetry falls in terms of the avant-garde; perhaps it is indeterminate in its spiritual implications but not in its historical reference. (end of thinking out loud, thanks for your indulgence).

  • On April 21, 2009 at 11:41 am Annie Finch wrote:

    I find this a remarkable sentence: “imagining good seems to me one of life’s most refined pleasures.”

  • On April 21, 2009 at 11:47 am Annie Finch wrote:

    And another very insightful comment: “Romantic” is a word which means everything and nothing to us these days. To a conservative, it means immorality, to a progressive, it means quaint, shallow.”

    This seems very true. And with gender fresh in my mind, I wonder if gender politics could explain the mystery of these double uses. Seems to me that both conservatives and progressives are using the word to imply their personal bad stereotype of what is female/feminine. . .

  • On April 21, 2009 at 11:59 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Mike, when I said Waiting for God was a powerful book I was remembering reading one essay in particular which blew me away–just looked for my copy and can’t find it–about waiting, I believe it was, and describing so perfectly the immense heroism of waiting–but personally I found much of the rest of it impossible to swallow, and this idea would have been in that category: “explained she could not accept salvation while others were unsaved.” This makes no sense to me. My view is, salvation/grace etc is a gift and how could it be our choice whether or not to accept it? Or how even would we have the capacity to refuse it, if it is really salvation? This especially odd for the person who said she was converted by reading Herbert’s “Love: III”, ending, “You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat./ So I did sit and eat.” No question of choice or refusing in that poem. Here’s the account of the conversion:

    “There was a young English Catholic there . . . he told me of the existence of those English poets of the seventeenth century who are named metaphysical. In reading them later on, I discovered the poem of which I read you what is unfortunately a very inadequate translation. It is called “Love”. I learned it by heart. Often, at the culminating point of a violent headache, I make myself say it over, concentrating all my attention upon it and clinging with all my soul to the tenderness it enshrines. I used to think I was merely reciting it as a beautiful poem, but without my knowing it the recitation had the virtue of a prayer. It was during one of these recitations that, as I told you, Christ himself came down and took possession of me.”

    http://rivertext.com/weil3b.html

  • On April 21, 2009 at 12:16 pm michael robbins wrote:

    I’m not sure, as usual, what’s supposed to be wrong with being an intellectual, but never mind.

    I began reading Weil’s Gravity and Grace recently after being moved by Chris Wiman’s discussion of how much it has meant to him. I’d avoided her for a long time out of distaste for her distaste for the Jews, her monotonous insistence that life is affliction — nay, that affliction is to be coveted. But Gravity is a beautiful, terrifying book. Susan Sontag has Weil’s number, I think, when she writes that no one reads her because they want to emulate her; indeed, emulation would be catastrophic. There is no need to share her ideas. But she restores a sense of “the presence of mystery in the world.”

    In light of the hopelessly clueless rantings of the new atheists (Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris), who appear not to have read, say, Aquinas or Augustine, & seem to believe they are the first to notice how illogical much religious thinking is, it is salutary to re-read Weil, to realize, as Sontag has it, that “mystery is just what the secure possession of the truth, an objective truth, denies. In this sense, all truth is superficial.”

  • On April 21, 2009 at 12:21 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Annie,

    Good point re: music. It tends to be adolescents, or adolescent-minded people who defend *their* type of music, rock, punk, etc against other types of music.

    Yes, Imagism was “little,” wasn’t it? T.E. Hulme, 5 years older than Pound and Eliot, should get the credit for inventing Imagism, and even Modernism. His famous lecture, ‘the egg shell must be broken’ (referring to traditional, formalist poetry) not only influenced Pound and Eliot, but Robert Frost (so that’s what “Mending Wall” was about). Hulme, a brash womanizer, also influenced Vorticism, (he beat up Wyndham Lewis). In some ways Imagism died with Hulme in WW I.

    Aldington’s 1941 anthology, the hardcover Poetry of the English Speaking World (Viking press) sits before me; from Thomas Hardy through Delmore Schwartz, aprox. 50 years of modernism, out of 100 poets, only 10 women are represented, and they include figures like Anna Wickham, who slept with H.D.

    Not counting Edith Sitwell and Charlotte Mew (who committed suicide like Wickham) only three women poets represented are read any more: H.D. (who Aldington married), Marianne Moore, who was very much a player in ‘The Dial’ clique of the 1920s, and Edna St. Vincent Millay (bi-sexual like H.D.).

    10% is disgustingly low for modern poetry, especially given the fact that the ratio was at least 50% women to men (maybe even more women) when it came to the wealthy who funded the modernist revolution: Harriet Shaw Weaver, Lady Ottoline Morrell, Annie Winifred Ellerman, Margaret Anderson, etc

    The reason heterosexual women did not thrive in Modernism might have something to do with what Weil is saying in the quote you gave us.

    Thomas

  • On April 21, 2009 at 12:39 pm Don Share wrote:

    As the house pedant, and in answer to Annie’s question about women Georgians, I believe that Vita Sackville-West was the only woman to be included in any of Edward Marsh’s original Georgian Poetry anthologies. Frances Cornford, Rose Macaulay, Dorothy Sayers, & Yeats’s beloved Dorothy Wellesley appeared in J.C. Squires’s later Selections from Modern Poets anthologies, which tried to put the Georgians on the map.

  • On April 21, 2009 at 1:18 pm Mike Snider wrote:

    Annie, regarding Ron Silliman, you have paraphrased me correctly, and perhaps more clearly than I put it myself. I also think you’re right that it comes from the Marxist origins of some parts of language-poetry theory.

    My stance on that issue is closely related to that of the evo-devo folks, pretty much as it’s rather cautiously explained here in a much more coherent fashion than I could do in a few sentences. Dennis Dutton (of the invaluable Arts & Letters Daily has a new book The Art Instinct, which I’ve ordered but not yet read. Both the article and the book (well, the book does a good deal more) try to make the case that there is an inherent – that is, based on our biological human nature – moral component to our storytelling. It is NOT biological determinism, but an

    (an aside on technique: Fred Turner wrote an essay called “The Neural Lyre” (originally in Poetry 1980, available, somewhat weirdly, here) arguing that there was a neural component to the enjoyment of metrical poetry – in whatever language, whatever meter – which was one of the first spurs for my trying to learn to write metrically.)

    The reference to Weil’s refusal to accept salvation (and please remember, 40 years ago!) was to her refusal of baptism (though Wikipedia suggests she may have been secretly baptized shortly before leaving New York for England).

  • On April 21, 2009 at 1:48 pm Mike Snider wrote:

    what I get for posting while code compiles and links:

    “It is NOT biological determinism, but an” acknowledgment that we have a biological history which constrains the ways in which can conceive of the world, including our selves.

  • On April 21, 2009 at 2:03 pm Mike Snider wrote:

    And Annie, I love Byron, especially the first 3 Cantos of Don Juan, which I reread at least every year or so. The first Canto contains this marvelous passage ending with what may be my favorite couplet from any poem:

    He thought about himself, and the whole earth,
    Of man the wonderful, and of the stars,
    And how the deuce they ever could have birth;
    And then he thought of earthquakes, and of wars,
    How many miles the moon might have in girth,
    Of air-balloons, and of the many bars
    To perfect knowledge of the boundless skies;–
    And then he thought of Donna Julia’s eyes.

    In thoughts like these true wisdom may discern
    Longings sublime, and aspirations high,
    Which some are born with, but the most part learn
    To plague themselves withal, they know not why:
    ‘T was strange that one so young should thus concern
    His brain about the action of the sky;
    If you think ‘t was philosophy that this did,
    I can’t help thinking puberty assisted.

    Byron may have been an evo-devo kind of guy himself.

    Annie, I think you’re right that Weil would pity Byron, but I hope she would not condescend to him. And I really wonder what she would think of young Juan above.

  • On April 21, 2009 at 2:17 pm Mike Snider wrote:

    I’ll shut up for a while after this: an evolutionary approach to framing the essentialist/historicist tension in human nature is to say that human potential is structured by evolutionary history, but that particular human beings always live and develop in particular circumstances of community, family, culture, history, and all the rest. Simone Weil would have been a remarkable woman in nearly any culture in which she survived to adulthood: would she have effectively starved herself to death without the horrors of WWII?

  • On April 21, 2009 at 7:02 pm Miriam Levine wrote:

    People who actually commit evil do not feel it is “gloomy, monotonous, barren.” Evil excites and thrills them. Simone Weil, saintly as she was, might not have understood this.

    Imaginary good, can be marvelous, I believe, but I agree that real good is better. What does this have to do with poetry? I’m not sure. Real good seems to come with a fresh stunning shock, as in metaphors that accomplish unforeseen connections.

    Thank you, Annie, for this surprising post.

  • On April 22, 2009 at 4:04 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    “Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.”
    –Simone Weil

    Dear Annie,

    Isn’t imaginary evil what the practice “play” of war and cowboys and gameboy and etc… and imitations of power and its strut–lend to the child who loves such? I think so. That ‘child” may of course be grown, or delusional, or spiderman or superman, or any of us, unfortunately, — fill in more blanks. & yes, evil is/has been romanticized.(as has the might of the right…)

    I think the real evil Weil looked upon as “monotonous, barren, boring.” is as the aftermaths of torture, the empty blood-bucket, the battlefields after the dark birds have left, the memories of guard stands in the woods that look too much like broken swastikas,the present day remains of tormented Lebanon or Palestine after the daily news is no longer front-page, and children are left blind.

    To imagine good in our time–is a heroine’s act. As it was in Weil’s, I’d say. Even after her personal battles with salvation, she continued to stare down the narrow tunnel. if she, like Cleaver, could not be free while others were in prison – I;d say it was also a poetic quest, as well as a moral one.And if all that be food for poetry, as I find it, as music be the food of love–well of course, play on.

    with care,
    margo

  • On April 22, 2009 at 8:30 am peter sims wrote:

    Hi Annie:

    Re: The jung reference. It seems to me we have a long history of trying to somehow subsume evil inside good, and happily marry everyone off at the end of history. I think they may be like tragedy and comedy – two sides of the same masque.
    So Margo’s comment raises the question as to whether all that aftermath of horror really is monotonous and boring or just a kind of post coital calm. We’ll be eager to get back at it soon enough. The fundamental question to me is erotic – can we get excited by others or only by their “romantic and varied” representations. The refusal or inabiltiy to acknowledge others makes our global depradations “no problem.”
    With Weil I always start off thinking I agree with her and then find I don’t. It does seem an acknowledgment of others not to accept what they don’t have. But a good thing is accepted so that others can have it – hence, as you beautifully point out, the wisdom of herbert’s acceptance. He accepts it so that Weil can accept it, so that we can accept it. That, to me, is the pinnacle of poetics.

  • On April 22, 2009 at 11:07 am thomas brady wrote:

    I think it’s pretty clear that no one quite knows what Simone Weil is saying.

    I’m not sure why poets today would rather attempt to dicipher poorly written prose (in prose and poetry) than read something such as the following, which out-Weils Weil with more beauty, more clarity, and more precision:

    The tumult of my fretted mind
    Gives me an expression of a kind:
    But it is faulty, harsh, not plain–
    My work has the incompetence of pain.

    I am consumed with a slow fire,
    For righteousness is my desire;
    Towards that good goal I cannot whip my will;
    I am a tired horse that jibs upon a hill.

    I desire Virtue, though I love her not–
    I have no faith in her when she is got:
    I fear that she will bind and make me slave
    And send me songless to the sullen grave.

    I am like a man who fears to take a wife,
    And frets his soul with wantons all his life.
    With rich, unholy foods I stuff my maw;
    When I am sick, then I believe in law.

    This poet, a contemporary of Marianne Moore, can be found in two important anthologies–one by Aldington and one by Untermeyer, in 1941 and 1942, respectively. She is a woman, and no longer remembered.

  • On April 22, 2009 at 11:09 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Thanks much Don for the women Georgians (funny how almost all of them are now known primarily for their prose–perhaps Margret Homans is right that poethood is more unattainable for even women who write poetry, in spite of the way modernists tried to feminize Georgian-era poetry). And thanks to Thomas re the women modernists. A lot to think about.

    Stephanie Strickland, who wrote a book of poetry inspired by Simone Weil, sends this contribution to the discussion of the salvation issue:

    My ‘responses’ are probably suggested as well as anything by my book, The Red Virgin, which I think opens up a less ‘ascetic’ view of her.

    I would say (to you) that ‘cannot accept salvation and/or baptism’ if all can’t have it does make sense to me, in the same sense that Boddhisattvas re ‘saved’ or ‘realized’ souls who nonetheless return to earth to help all their fellow sufferers in their life-struggle-quest. Weil never
    wished to enforce a practice on others–insisting on respect and preservation for all religions and cultures (even those she decried)–but she did have this great feeling of solidarity with all suffering. Can one not sense a feeling of the sort: what use is it that some remnant or
    clique be ‘saved’ or in possession of any other good we might name–if the price of it is that others can’t participate. In the end it is a kind of ecological perception that we rise and fall together, physically and
    morally and spiritually. (Ironically, one might trace this kind of view to Judaic teaching.) I think the only way to NOT feel this is to believe that there is some never-to-be-understood-but-you-must-accept-it plan/power that for “some” reason would have persons starving and ill and in moral
    agony and generally ‘unsaved’ for purposes or lack-thereof unknown.

    I also never heard of her condescending to anyone–so don’t imagine that reaction to Byron. Bataille was a friend–

    Posted for Stephane Strickland

  • On April 22, 2009 at 11:14 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Miriam, in my mind almost everything has to do with poetry in some way or another–of course that says more about my mind thatn it does about the quote.

    Margo, thank you for your very eloquent post.

    Mike, oddly that Don Juan quote reminds me very much of one of Weil’s own few poems, about looking up at stars.

  • On April 22, 2009 at 11:28 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Thomas, how wonderful that you quote Anna Wickham here! I have several of her books. She is wonderful.

    I don’t think the meaning of the Weil quote is particularly unclear. But it’s true that some people agree with it and others don’t. I have been treating the quote as something of a koan, especially for the first day when it was there all alone with the Silliman quote from Tom. I loved reading those two quotes together—a meditative experience.

    It’s much easier to agree or disagree with a statement from philosophy than it is with a poem.

    Anyway, all, I will probably need to be offline for the next two days so please take care of things while I’m gone and as always Harriet appreciates very much your keeping the tone of all remarks respectful and civil,

    Annie

  • On April 22, 2009 at 3:58 pm john wrote:

    I’ve been away and missed this whole discussion, which has gotten into some fascinating territory.

    “she could not accept salvation while others were unsaved.”

    Huck Finn said he didn’t want to go to Heaven if Tom Sawyer wasn’t going to be there. A Heaven that admitted the existence of damnation wouldn’t be Heaven to Simone Weil. Makes sense to me.

    *

    “The people will always think of poetry as ‘poetry.’”

    Not so. Shakespeare was known as a playwright in his lifetime, and his reputation as a poet rests much more on his plays than on “The Sonnets” and “The Phoenix and the Turtle,” much less “Venus and Adonis” (which is a blast to read). The old Athenians recognized dramatic poetry as a genre, which we barely do, and very few (if any — embarrassing that I don’t know!) of Shakespeare’s plays are completely in verse.

    Some of Shakespeare and Jonson’s most highly regarded lyric poems were written to be sung, not read or recited, but sung to music.

    The function(s) and meaning of poetry have been in flux for a century. We recognize Carroll and Lear as “poets,” but not Dr. Seuss. We recognize Thomas Campion, and maybe Bob Dylan and Lil Wayne, but not Yip Harburg (excepting our friend, Harriet commenter Lydia Olidea, who named herself after one of his lines).

    “The people” don’t recognize Seuss and Harburg (as excellent as Lear and Campion, in my view) as poets either, but they may some day. We don’t know.

    *

    Poetry isn’t the only field to have this problem. Musicians denigrated other people’s music as not music for at least a century, and some still do. Jazzers used to call Coltrane anti-jazz!

    *

    Tolstoy’s epigram, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” is the obverse of the Weil quote with which Annie began this thread. I think they’re both wrong. Real good, real evil, imaginary good, imaginary evil, happy families, unhappy families — all unique, all potentially gripping.

  • On April 22, 2009 at 4:46 pm Boyd Nielson wrote:

    Three things: first, I don’t understand how anyone (even someone who disagrees with or despises Weil) can really suggest that Weil’s prose is poorly written. Second, as I see it, Weil’s quote doesn’t show that she didn’t understand evil because she was particularly saintly, nor does it show that evil isn’t exciting because it is not exciting for others. It shows precisely the opposite: whatever her limitations, Weil had a deep grasp of the structure of evil, a structure that, as the quote implies, does not necessarily depend upon any individual getting a kick out of it. Think of this in relation to Žižek’s comments on the “banality of evil” (following and revising Hannah Arendt). As Žižek puts it in an interview, “…when you analyze phenomena like Nazis or Stalinism, it is totally wrong to think that you will arrive at any pertinent result through so-called in-depth profiles of figures like Hitler or Stalin […] The banality of evil means for me that the key is not, for example, the personality of Eichmann; there is a gap separating the acts of Eichmann from Eichmann’s self-experience […]. In the same way that the TV set laughs for you, relieves you of the obligation to really laugh, Eichmann himself didn’t really have to hate the Jews; he was able to be just an ordinary person. It’s the objective ideological machinery that did the hating; the hatred was imported, it was ‘out there.’”

    Finally, it surprises me that no one has mentioned Fanny Howe’s or Geoffrey Hill’s engagements with Weil. Hill is thinking through Weil all over the place; certainly, “The Pentecost Castle,” shouldn’t be overlooked in Tenebrae. Hill opens with a quote from Weil: “What we love in other human beings is the hoped-for satisfaction of our desire. We do not love their desire. If what we loved in them was their desire, then we should love them as ourself.” And, in The Wedding Dress, Fanny Howe has an essay, “Work and Love,” about a film she made on Weil. A short excerpt: “Does something mechanical like a camera teach its user how it works? It feels as if it knows more than I do all the time because it contains the collective intelligence of the people who made it.”

    […] “A body of work, going to work, on my way to work, I worked all day, they worked me, it was work!, what a piece of work, my first day of work, work is hell, why work?, it wasn’t really work, all in a day’s work, all work and no play, woman’s work is never done, housework, working for shit, slave-work, piecework, factory work (industrial accident), coworker, works at home, homework, the division of labor produces an increase in the importance of each laborer, work for nothing, love and work, work stoppage, unrewarded work, every woman loves an idle man, work-hell, the workhouse, work ethic, workhorse, workaholic, does it work, I love my work, whatever works, a slave invented a handmill but the waterwheel was made by philosophers, the division of labor comes from the desire to barter and exchange, in dark times there is no work, work is dharma, poverty of spirit is facing reality without any myths, unworked land, the distance of a writer from the written is like the distance between labor and its given value, work for money, he likes my work, all exploitation has something in common with pornography, doubt and work, to have a woolen coat requires a sheep, work camp, what is my time worth, all the land has been worked and has a value, work beyond work.”

  • On April 22, 2009 at 5:14 pm Don Share wrote:

    Excellent comment, Boyd. Bringing up Hill and Howe is intriguing and apt!

    In Howe’s recent essay for Poetry, she quotes Weil, by the way:

    Simone Weil said in “Human Personality”:

    ‘At the very best, a mind enclosed in language is in prison. It is limited to the number of relations which words can make simultaneously present to it; and remains in ignorance of thoughts which involve the combination of a greater number. . . . The intelligent man who is proud of his intelligence is like a condemned man who is proud of his large cell.’

    Yes, the problem of vocabulary in these matters is obvious, because a solution to the problem is made of the words. Who doesn’t know that? If a bird has a problem with its whistle, it has to whistle to fix it.

    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/journal/article.html?id=183357

    As for Hill, there’s this from a (translated) interview with him:

    “Anne Mounic: Yesterday, during your conference, you mentioned Simone Weil a number of times, saying that the reading of L’enracinement and L’attente de Dieu had confirmed some of your intuitions as a young man. What are these intuitions which, in this manner, were confirmed?

    GH: It is rather strange, if one considers that Simone Weil was a writer very involved with the spiritual, with what were the intuitions regarding the relationships between politics and poetry. Yesterday, I cited a passage where she says that the poet, when he writes a poem, must consider his words on multiple planes and that it is the same for the politician in his thought and action. For me, it is a question about one of the most profound observations and one which concerns the link between poetry and politics.”

    http://www3.sympatico.ca/sylvia.paul/ghill_interview_by_AnneMounic.htm

  • On April 22, 2009 at 6:41 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Only someone believing himself to be in secret possession of knowledge of Anna Wickham (& this shows just how credible his ruminations on who is read are — remember when he asserted that no one reads Barbara Guest?) could believe Weil a poor writer. Oh my.

    Boyd, I was thinking of Howe in relation to this post but I’d forgotten about Hill. Howe also writes about Weil in her new book of essays, The Winter Sun, a fantastic piece of writing (more poor prose, I suppose!).

  • On April 22, 2009 at 10:27 pm thomas brady wrote:

    John,

    But aren’t Shakespeare’s plays the essence of what ‘the people’ know as ‘poetry?’

    Here’s Richard Aldington in his introduction to his 1941 Poetry of the English Speaking World:

    “The great emancipation of Elizabethan poetry came through the stage, as we all know. Here the poet was given that most precious of opportunities, a general and not a specialist audience.”

    Poetry which descends to drama and drama which rises to poetry is what the people want. The poetry specialist is an oxymoron, and usually produces effete drivel. Shakespeare was dramatic, “The Raven” is a drama, Edna Millay was an actress, and T.S. Eliot’s “Prufrock” is a dramatic monlogue quite similar to “The Raven,” and, Eliot, of course, ventured into writing for the stage. Lyric poetry, if not married to music, should always be an adjunct to other, more dramatic writings, if a writer is seriously ambitious.

    As for the Georgians, they were highly connected in a manner that Americans simply cannot understand. Edward Marsh, the editor of all the Georgian anthologies, was Private Secretary for a series of British Prime Ministers, including Winston Churchill when he was Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies in the early years of the 20th century, building Britain’s Empire. The Georgians were highly sexed, as Britain during the World War One era was exploding with Ancient Greek hedonistic beautiful male warrior fervor, overlapping with Bloomsbury and Modernism and Empire. The uppper-class fops of Britain hungered for that punk energy which the aristocracy has always either cultivated or feared; again, this is a complexity which most Americans don’t get. Aldington, who lived in the middle of this complexity, explains it somewhat, as he continues in his introduction:

    “There was always a certain amount of democracy in the English. When Voltaire came to England he was amazed to see a peer take off his coat and fight ten rounds with a Covent Garden porter to settle a point in a dispute. And Voltaire’s 16th century predecessor would have been almost equally amazed to see young nobles from the Court in the same theatre with citizens, prentices and punks. It was also an enormous advantage for the actors that they were rogues and vagabonds before they were noblemen’s servants, so they were spared the upper-class amateur.”

    Thomas

  • On April 22, 2009 at 10:53 pm thomas brady wrote:

    “Only someone believing himself to be in secret possession of knowledge of Anna Wickham (& this shows just how credible his ruminations on who is read are — remember when he asserted that no one reads Barbara Guest?) could believe Weil a poor writer. Oh my.”

    Michael,

    You dreamed people read Barbara Guest. She doesn’t exist. I have come to wake you.

    Secrets spring up in contexts, not in singularities; I find Wickham interesting for what she represents: a certain kind of ringing poetry which hardly exists anymore, but which still dominated the English-speaking lexicon until right after World War Two when GI Bill students flooded the universities which had been quietly taken over by Ransom’s men, and the Workshop culture took root. I think Wickham’s kind of poetry died out as poetry students sat around seminar tables and grew sheepish at the idea of writing poetry like that, I mean poetry that rings out with clear ideas; most students couldn’t do it if they tried, even the new poet-workshop-professors couldn’t do it; I’ve never even seen Pound or Robert Lowell do it, and Bishop did it, perhaps once, with “The Art of Losing,” written as she was on her way out, and so the new poetry, the U. Iowa poety, the avant poetry, came about by default, really; it arose out of ‘face-to-face around the college classroom seminar table’ embarrassment. To save themselves from this embarrassment the rhetoric of poems became toned-down, indirect, trivial, un-rhetorical, un-Wickham-like. It was sort of inevitable, as Ransom predicted in “Poets Without Laurels,” but there you go.

    Thomas

  • On April 22, 2009 at 10:56 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Nor did I say Weil was a “poor writer.” That’s you misquoting me, in your now-familiar, charming manner. I merely said the particular passage we were examining was ambiguous.

  • On April 22, 2009 at 11:55 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Thomas, you didn’t say that the passage from Weil is “poorly written prose”?

    Wait, let me go back & re-read the post where you write “I think it’s pretty clear that no one quite knows what Simone Weil is saying. I’m not sure why poets today would rather attempt to dicipher poorly written prose.” Yep, that’s what you said.

    In fact, here’s what your post does not say: “the particular passage we are examining is ambiguous.” That’s what we call a different sentence entirely, with a different meaning. Are you Humpty Dumpty now?

    This is hardly the first time you have, in your charming manner, said something ridiculous & then denied having said it. Try to remember, in future, that all anyone has to do to disprove your denials is go back & read what you actually wrote.

  • On April 22, 2009 at 11:56 pm Tim Upperton wrote:

    You said it was “poorly written”, actually. But never mind. Howe and Hill, yes! To which I would add two more aitches: Herbert and Hopkins, for whom the spiritual struggle is also strenuous and physical.

  • On April 22, 2009 at 11:59 pm michael robbins wrote:

    By the way, Thomas, now that your latest attempt to claim that someone has misquoted you has backfired, perhaps you’d like to cite one single instance in which I have misquoted somebody: I mean, if it’s my “now familiar” manner, there must be instances, right? So name one. You can’t, for I never have misquoted anybody.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 7:11 am thomas brady wrote:

    Michael,

    Good morning.

    “Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.”

    Epigrammatic wit is very difficult to pull off. This fails, and that’s the important thing. It doesn’t matter terribly who wrote it. Perhaps Weil had a bad headache when she wrote it; life is too short to worry about that, however.

    I’m glad Annie posted it, because it’s given us all a chance to react to it, to think about Weil and other things.

    As for whether it’s “poorly written,”

    Imaginary evil = romantic, Real Evil = monotonous, Imaginary good = boring, Real good = always new, intoxicating.

    Yea, it is.

    This might be funny if we applied this formula to sex, but, unfortunately, it’s pretty clear Weil meant actual good as evil, as human beings experience them.

    This might be true, in some way, for Weil, but that’s not how we finally judge writing, unless we are writing a biography of someone. I don’t think a fiction writer would subscribe to Weil’s quote; I suppose a saint would. Is that what she was? I don’t know Simone Weil that well.

    Since Harriet is a poetry blog, I used this quote to make a larger point about poets v. clarity. I then quoted Wickham, and have since made other points. I dunno, it’s just what I like to do.

    I’m sorry if I offended you. “Now-familiar manner” referred to your manner towards me ever since I arrived on Harriet. I’m sure you always quote accurately. I have faith that you are perfect. Excuse my feelings. Let’s leave it at that, shall we?

    Thomas

  • On April 23, 2009 at 8:43 am john wrote:

    Thomas,

    you may be right, that Shakespeare’s plays are the essence of what is popularly known as poetry, but I don’t think so; what’s interesting is that I do think you are right that Shakespeare is popularly understood to be “the poet.” I don’t think, however, that very many people conceive “The Merry Wives of Windsor” or even “Hamlet” to be a poem. Which results in an ambiguous situation!

    The Aldington quote, “The great emancipation of Elizabethan poetry came through the stage, as we all know. Here the poet was given that most precious of opportunities, a general and not a specialist audience,” is interesting, but I’m not sure. Some commentators believe that Donne (whose lyrics are indeed dramatic) influenced Shakespeare more than the other way around; I don’t know enough to say either way.

    Donne’s possible precedence (in terms of influence) doesn’t contradict your dictum about the need for poetry to be dramatic. I tend to agree, not about what “the people” want (it seems to me that today more Americans [the only people I have observed with any depth) want consolation from poetry than anything else, and that for the first time in 200 or more years, the most popular poet is anonymous; the difference is that he or she now works for Hallmark), but I agree that most of the canonical lyric poems have a dramatic hinge, which would apply to Hallmark’s poetry as well, so there you go!

    Someone’s observation on another thread that the flaming Harriet discussions are the most compelling to read would lend further support to your brief for the nexus of drama and poetry — not that anybody’s comments are poems, but flaming is dramatic! Motivated by the Catullian “odi.”

  • On April 23, 2009 at 12:27 pm thomas brady wrote:

    John,

    “it seems to me that today more Americans [the only people I have observed with any depth) want consolation from poetry”

    This makes sense. In our time, which does poetry do better: console, or thrill? Console, I would say. If that’s what ‘the people’ associate with ‘poetry,’ than they are right. As poets we must console them. At least as a starting point.

    But here’s my point about drama in terms of the rest of us, we intellectuals who think about all this:

    Wit slices and dices; difficulty does not.

    T.S. Eliot’s legacy of ‘difficulty’ as a poetic virtue has done much harm.

    Eliot’s critical overrating of Samuel Johnson’s category of ‘the metaphysical poets’ is related to this.

    Poe pointed out that the Romantics were more ‘metaphysical’ than the so-called ‘metaphysical poets,’ and of he’s right of course; Think of Coleridge, Byron, Keats, Shelley, and Wordsworth. All were more metaphysical than the Elizabethans.

    Shakespeare knew drama and he also knew wit, which is nearly the same thing.

    ‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’ and ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’ demolished the sort of Donne conceit-making which Eliot panted over.

    Wit is a form of drama, because wit usually makes someone look terribly smart at the expense of others.

    Poe is the famous modern example of this—he was born 200 years ago and yet look at the flame job on Poe by the Harvard History & Literature Chair in this week’s ‘New Yorker.’ You’d think Poe was Osama bin Laden and Adolf Hitler rolled into one.

    T.S. Eliot launched a fleet of ignorance and his metaphysical war is still going on.

    Ignorance usually has people attached to it; wounding ignorance usually wounds people as well, and when I say “people” I do not mean simply “people,” but real people who have made real attachments to real ignorance in pursuit of real intellectual careers, an investment just as important as an investment in love or money.

    I understand how some might think my use of ‘drama’ is uncivilized: ‘drama’ may be enticing, they will say, ‘drama’ may fill up the seats, but, like flaming, ‘drama’ gives more heat than light; ‘drama’ is finally unhealthy for people, society, and Letters. Drama (i.e. Flaming) leads to war, drama leads to breakdown in communication, and should, except in rare cases—commentary on Poe in ‘The New Yorker,’ for instance–be avoided at all costs.

    Drama is a fire: dangerous but useful, a fire that not only gives pleasure but burns away ignorance. Wit should never be wanting.

    Thomas

  • On April 23, 2009 at 12:30 pm john wrote:

    Regarding misquotation and flaming, Thomas, you in fact did not say that Weil was a poor writer; you said that that piece of prose was poorly written. I don’t know why people got so angry and righteous when you defended yourself from their extrapolation. Their extrapolation was perhaps understandable, but not definitively defensible.

    Michael, you’ve misquoted yourself, in the Plath thread, about why you brought Robert Service into the discussion. When your supporter flamed me for allegedly misunderstanding you, I didn’t feel like digging back through the dozens and dozens of comments, and so I said, OK, I probably misunderstood, my apologies if so. But that wasn’t good enough for you, and you flamed me again for having allegedly misunderstood you, so I went back and found your quote, and, nope, in fact, I hadn’t misunderstood you — you had forgotten what you had written, had changed your mind, and didn’t realize it. When I quoted you verbatim to defend myself from your flames, you fell silent.

    It’s not cricket, bro. But it has become a “familiar manner,” alas.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 1:13 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Actually, John, as others told you in that thread, you had misunderstood what I wrote: a very different matter. The argument turned on the phrase “what we read”; no one but you had any trouble understanding the context in which I intended that phrase. But your inability to act in good faith continues; now I misquoted myself. You are incapable of having misread what I wrote, of course. So, yep, you misunderstood me, &, nope, you’ll never admit it. And, by all means, let’s start arguing about that again, because no one has anything better to do. I’ll decline to respond to you or Thomas or Jack from now on, since you’ve shown yourselves uninterested in anything but what you have to say.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 1:41 pm john wrote:

    Michael, I think you need a time out. No time now to detail your *already refuted* inaccuracies. Maybe I’ll get to it later.

    Good luck to you.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 1:46 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    But Mike, do you still think I’m pretty? lol.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 2:35 pm Tim Upperton wrote:

    Annie, I see that you already mentioned upthread – how braided these discussions become, and how quickly! – Weil’s affinity with Herbert. Hill also refers to him – “lovely Herbert” – somewhere.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 3:02 pm Don Share wrote:

    Tim, see below, section LXVI, for the “lovely Herbert” –

    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=178132

  • On April 23, 2009 at 3:13 pm john wrote:

    Apologies in advance to anybody not interested in the continuing saga of Michael Robbins making an ass of himself.

    Michael, maybe you’re right that we had a misunderstanding over the meaning of “what we read”, but only if “we” denotes academics who limit their opinions to strict orthodoxy, and non-academic readers who share the strict orthodoxy, and nobody else. I hadn’t thought of you in such narrow, careerist, xenophobic terms, but maybe I should. And even then, your bringing up Service doesn’t make much sense in the terms you want to limit yourself to.

    You brought up Service as a reply to a mention of a popular poet from the 1970s, saying that poets don’t last without canonization, “Robert Service, anyone? Rod McKuen?”

    I’m not the only one who took you to mean that nobody now reads Robert Service, and someone else cited his Amazon ranking as indication that people still read him, a century after he wrote his most famous poems. (I refrain from naming that commenter in case he doesn’t want to be dragged into this. Again.) If you meant, “anyone?” to refer only to orthodox academic readers and their followers, I don’t see why you would have brought him up at all.

    Here’s your full comment, just for refreshment: “There have always been poets read outside whatever institutional framework for the preservation of cultural capital happen to be in place at a given time: they don’t survive, though. Robert Service, anyone? Rod McKuen?”

    Service was never in the canonical framework — how could he have “survived” in something he was never part of? Either you were talking gibberish, or, like I originally said, you didn’t remember what you had said, changed your mind without realizing it, and got pissed off when others remembered what you said correctly. Take your pick.

    You have no basis to make your outrageous accusations of bad faith. An apology would be nice, but I don’t expect one from someone who openly claims no interest in a “we” beyond his own career track. I’m not in that camp, obviously, so I’m not part of “us” — not that I would want to be.

    Very weird world.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 3:24 pm Don Share wrote:

    I’m asking for trouble here (and not intending to stir any up), but… I enjoy Robert Service immensely. I get the same fond kick out of him as I do from Tom Pickard’s lovely neo-border ballads. Now I will be called a quietist or a neo-something-or-other & ridiculed. But I don’t care.

    I discovered Service when I was a kid (in Tennessee, like Sam McGee!) through cult-hero (and ex-kid from Chicago/Hammond) Jean Shepherd, & ditto archy & mehitabel; see:

    http://www.rhapsody.com/jean-shepherd/jean-shepherd-reads-poems-of-robert-service

  • On April 23, 2009 at 3:33 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    http://www.robertwservice.com/

  • On April 23, 2009 at 3:36 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Gone, but certainly not forgotten.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 4:31 pm michael robbins wrote:

    My apologies, John. I’d been assuming you could read. “They don’t survive” is no less difficult to parse than “what we read.” The argument was about canonicity & only canonicity. In fact, you were told this over & over. But since you join lovely Jack Conway in resorting to infantile insults (I’ve never called you or anyone else “an ass” or anything remotely similar), you’ve lost your audience where I’m concerned. As I said – & as I reiterate only once, since you continue to blather on about me – I’m not interested in you. Don’t engage me here or elsewhere any more. Please.

    I actually like Robert Service quite a bit, too.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 4:36 pm michael robbins wrote:

    To clarify: I like him; as far as I know, he’s not considered a canonical poet. So let me say this one last time, although I already said it to John again & again. It’s insane to confuse the diagnosis of this state of affairs, which is what my posts in the other thread were about, with the advocating of it. Of course you would have to be acting in bad faith – this is virtually definitional – to assume that someone discussing canonicity & how the academy determines what gets read within the parameters of certain forms of cultural capital & their possessors is claiming solidarity for himself with this process. John has never granted the slightest benefit of the doubt to me throughout this argument & continues to argue very persuasively against positions I explicitly rejected. But it’s tiring to keep pointing out to the only person who’s egregiously misread you that he’s quite right to reject his sub-literate interpretation of the position he gets backward.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 4:47 pm thomas brady wrote:

    I might also point out (what the hell) when Michael says

    “There have always been poets read outside whatever institutional framework for the preservation of cultural capital happen to be in place at a given time: they don’t survive, though. Robert Service, anyone? Rod McKuen?”

    One could reply, Stephen Spender, Leonie Adams, Conrad Aiken, Harold Monro, George Santayana, anyone?

    All highly prestigious names, awarded the highest honors by the institutional framework, and who reads their poetry today?

    For every Robert Service outside the institutional framework who doesn’t “survive,” there are dozens within the institutional framework who don’t “survive,” either.

    And, yes, it seems Robert Service has survived.

    Rod McKuen has a pop song writing credit or two. He’ll probably survive longer than any number of important academics.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 4:50 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Obviously: being accredited by institutional frameworks is no guarantee of survival. So obvious! Those who do survive as canonical do so through institutional reproduction. This really isn’t that hard.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 4:55 pm Don Share wrote:

    Stephen Spender & Leonie Adams are still in the anthologies – another institutional road to survival, if not appreciation. I make no judgment on this.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 5:09 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    “But since you join lovely Jack Conway…”
    So I’m lovely? Is that better than pretty, Mike?

  • On April 23, 2009 at 5:11 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    I think Robert W. Service is for kids. If that’s what you like, then that’s what you like. I don’t think he has any academic following. We have gone through this before. If colleges and university don’t include him or anyone in their texts or syllabus, theypretty much don’t get a large academic audience.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 5:24 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Oh, God, this is so tiresome. My apologies to all Harriet readers. No one wants to read these infantile exchanges, so I think we should all pledge to refrain from them.

    My public apologies as well, therefore, to Jack, John, Thomas, & anyone else whom I may have profaned.

    I don’t know why comments on the internet make some people so angry & briefly irrational. I do know that my own posts, as well as those of John & Jack, at least, are way over the line in their utter lack of civility. I regret my part in all this & shall endeavor to avoid such mudslinging in future. A pledge! I hope the others will join me.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 5:32 pm Don Share wrote:

    I don’t know if Service has an academic following or not, but then again, I’m not an academic. I’m not so sure he’s just for kids, though. Waaaah!!

  • On April 23, 2009 at 5:33 pm michael robbins wrote:

    I noticed the other day that Service is in Harold Bloom’s Western Canon, by the way. Not that that matters much.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 5:40 pm Don Share wrote:

    I’m actually heartened by that for some reason, M.R.

    Bloom also put Trumbull Stickney in his most-beautiful-poems anthol., which I think salutary & educational. Though yes, I know, Stickney’s up there with the great unwashed, I mean unread… about which I have blogged elsewhere in a comment called, “Which poets should we remember? I mean, forget?”

  • On April 23, 2009 at 7:10 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Well Don, if you don’tthink he’s just for kids, then I’d like to knw why there are so many illustrated children’s books of Service’s poems. I was at Border’s yesterday on the poetry section and found not a single Service book. However looking through the children’s book section of the store I found two illustrated versions of his poems. I looked an dlooked but couldn’t find a single illustrated Ashbery, Tate, Plath, Lowell, etc. — darlings of the academic set. Now the thing that puzzles me the most is the absolutely wrong-headed thinking that something evil and terrible to poetry is going on in colleges and universities. Since 1987 at BU, I can’t for the life of me identify any shenanigans going on within the academic environment that would diminsh good poetry. Maybe those who think such things should enroll for a time and find out. Or if they had a bad experience in the academic life of the mind, felt intellectually diminished by some professor, or had a professor steal their girlfriend or some such (See Straight Man by Russo)perhaps they might seek some other form of acting out against academic institutions. It is a silly stance made even more preposterous by any notion that colleges and universities do anything but codify the world of poetry. Poetry for the most part begins in schools. The last time I looked, most scholarly work regarding the world ofpoetry comes from the academic environment. It hardly seems necessary to point out that to the best of my knowledge no one cites blogs etc as reliable academic literary sources. Once again, my experience remains that Service is a children’s favorite but not very well received in an academic environment. I wonder how many doctoral dissertations have been done on the work of Service. It would be interesting to see.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 7:46 pm john wrote:

    Jack,

    Service is for kids — not *just* for kids. I remember when the (original, pre-chain) Ann Arbor Borders used to carry Olson’s “Muthologos” — sad that Borders doesn’t any more. (They’re out of print, but I rarely see any Olson at Borders.) So, I’m sorry I can’t explain Borders’ stocking policy to you, but I can’t. They have a lot of illustrated Lewis Carroll too, and he’s made it into the canon (judging from anthologies, etc.), so maybe there’s “hope” for people rooting for Service’s entry into the canon. (That he continues to be read — by adults too [including me, Don, Michael ((an actual academic, Jack!)), someone’s white-collar professional dad on the other thread whose other favorite poet was Shakespeare] — is heartening for poetry.)

    Michael,

    I called you an “ass” because you kept calling me a liar with no basis. I happen to think “liar” is a more grievous insult than “ass”; no argument if you disagree with that assessment. (Misquotation alert! You didn’t say the word, “liar”; you said, repeatedly, that I was arguing in bad faith; bad faith implies “dishonesty” to me; in a word, “liar.” If this misquotation bothers you, that’s just too bad.)

    It is true, after having been provoked — by you and someone else, Noah, I think — and after repeatedly, despite your denials, having given you the benefit of the doubt, I met incivility with incivility (as I had with Noah, earlier). And so I appreciate your apology, and I will refrain from calling you an ass any more, since you have pledged to refrain from questioning my good faith or my literacy any more, and I apologize for having been uncivil too.

    Now, to the case at hand. You say that the argument was about canonicity and only canonicity. Then why did you bring Service up at all? You had been responding to my comment about Hugh Prather’s non-institutional readership in the 1970s, a comment, which, by the way, I, believe it or not, *intended* to support your point about the sway of the academy on non-academic readership, because I couldn’t think of a popular non-music-star non-canonized poet since the 1970s! You said in reply, and not harshly or rudely, “There have always been poets read outside whatever institutional framework for the preservation of cultural capital happen to be in place at a given time: they don’t survive, though. Robert Service, anyone? Rod McKuen?” If you *meant* to say that poets outside the institutional framework don’t survive in the institutional framework — isn’t that tautological? I honestly don’t get it. Please don’t call me illiterate. Maybe another reader can help me — or you! — out here. Because I honestly, in all good faith, don’t understand why you said what you said, and why you continue to be so pissed off that I don’t get it. Why would you say that poets outside the canon don’t survive in the canon? Why would anybody say that?

    I thought, hmm, well, I read Service, but I hardly constitute a “readership,” maybe Michael’s right that nobody reads Service, but another commenter thought you meant what I thought you meant (another “illiterate” Harrieteer, to remind you of your old, recanted abusiveness), and he looked up Service’s sales. And then we were off to the races!

    One last point. I’m honestly glad you like Service. I had thought, from the tenor of your comments, that you strictly adhere to the academic canonical orthodoxy in your poetic tastes. If you had given me a reason to think otherwise, I apologize for having overlooked it.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 7:55 pm Colin Ward wrote:

    On the Robert Service tangent:

    As others have mentioned, one doesn’t have to go any farther than Amazon or YouTube to see that Service hasn’t been forgotten–yet, at least. He is certainly in the canon of his homeland and is the most prolific poet in the popular canon.

    http://www.firesides.net/poemquiz.htm

    Insofar as the international academic canon is concerned, he’d be the elephant in the room if he were missing from any syllabus that includes light verse. (Alas, most don’t.)

    The other knock on Service was his (ahem) peculiar meter but that criticism should fade, given the general decline in scansion skills and the fact that Service was, after all, a humor writer.

    On the original topic:

    I come to the main discussion after it has been Godwin-ed but I wonder how many “evil” people consider themselves so–especially those acting in groups.

    Best regards,

    Colin (who was once commissioned by the family to write Sam Magee’s biography)

  • On April 23, 2009 at 8:22 pm Mike Snider wrote:

    Whole bunch of grownups around here, more than a few of them academics or former academics, seem to like Service just fine: Annie, Michael, John, Don, me, some others who I hope will forgive me for not remembering their names – I was good at names before teaching 7 years of freshman comp and undergrad creative writing. Ruined my spelling, too – nothing looks wrong anymore.

    And I’m cheered to hear about Bloom, Service, and Stickney.

    Robert Mezey is a big fan of Charlotte Mew & Trumble Stickney, and says Stickney, who died very young, was the only poet of his generation who might have rivaled E A Robinson (who’s damned near cherished at the academic conference I’ll be at this June in West Chester). I got this sonnet of Stickney’s from a post of Mezey’s somewhere:

    MT. LYKAION

    Alone on Lykaion since man hath been
    Stand on the height two columns, where at rest
    Two eagles hewn of gold sit looking East
    Forever; and the sun goes down between.
    Far down among the mountain’s oval green
    An order keeps the falling stones abreast.
    Below within the chaos last and least
    A river like a curl of light is seen.
    Beyond the river lies the even sea,
    Beyond the sea another ghost of sky,–
    O God, support the sickness of my eye
    Lest the far space and long antiquity
    Suck out my heart, and on this awful ground
    The great wind kill my little shell with sound.

    I wonder how this fits in with Annie’s thread starter: it seems to me to exist beside Weil, almost like Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria. That is, here it is the insignificance of human experience, real or imagined, good or evil, that is overwhelming, while for Weil the human experience of suffering matters more than anything. Perhaps that’s why, at the end, unlike Weil, he can cry out to be saved.

    Or maybe it’s just a cheap trick, like those golden eagles untouched by time. Can you imagine carving gold? It can be done, but it’s a great and careless waste to do so.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 8:25 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    I was in Barnes and Noble the other day and I couldn’t find a single copy of this ‘Canon’ everyone is talking about. I asked one of the sales assistants about it and she told me that a different version came out every couple of decades or so. Pretty weird, eh?

    Gee, I wonder if Lao tzu is in there.

    Canon, shmanon. Poppycock!

  • On April 23, 2009 at 8:50 pm michael robbins wrote:

    No, the best of Service, as of Stickney – & Vachel Lindsay! – is more than serviceable (groan) – it’s quite fun, very good at what it does. It’s obviously not simply for children. Service happens to be a great poet for introducing children to the love of poetry.

    But, uh, I missed the part where something was bad because it was for kids (not that Service is simply for kids, or bad). So I need to get rid of my Lewis Carroll, Kenneth Grahame, Philip Pullman; renounce my love of Looney Tunes & Carl Banks comics; etc. As if children’s literature is fake or something.

    Me, I’ve watched the trailer for Spike Jonez’s Where the Wild Things Are about forty kajillion times & counting.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 8:54 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Also, since Don has taught at Harvard (& BU, cough) & was the editor of Harvard Review, I sort of think we can excuse him from having to re-enroll.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 9:17 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    I also don’t mind mentioning that no less than three of my earlier posts have been referenced here but, apparently, my actual words were “writ on water”.

    It’s good to be an influence, I suppose, but…

    Well, I guess you can always buy my books to remember me.

    :-)

    Oops…sorry…drunk again. At least I’m not a mean drunk. I’ve noticed that many of you can be nasty sonsabitches, but you’re stone cold sober. What’s up with that?

  • On April 23, 2009 at 9:57 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Mikey,Exactly what part of I could care less what you think don’t you get? (yawn).

    Oh goody, are we going to have a credentials showing? Can I start? lol.

    Gary,
    I’m sorry but I didn’t see your books at Borders either.

    I don’t recall saying people don’t like Service. You can like whoever you want. Who’s stopping you. Seems to be a lot of huffy, defensive folks here. I said Service is just not widely accepted within an academic environment. He’s not studied or at least I haven’t seen it since 1987 at BU when I started teaching. If there is proof otherwise, I think that should be addressed since that’s what I said. If not, then I will stick with my opinion since I’ve heard nothing to the contrary. And yes, I think from what I’ve seen Service is mostly for kids. If that upsets people that someone thinks that, then I’d say it’s time for a reality check. Duh, do you really presume everyone is going to agree with you and if not you’re going to huff and puff and stomp your feet and hold your breath? Pul-ease. Anyone an to dispte the doctoral dissertations question?

    I don’t particularly like Service and I find his work childish. I sincerely hope that doesn’t sink some people’s rubber duckies.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 10:20 pm john wrote:

    Jack,

    it’s fine you don’t like Service. Nobody’s disputing that right; nor is anybody disputing that he’s not academically, what’s the word — blessed. If you want to call his work childish, I don’t think anybody will mind too much. Not to worry. All we’ve been saying is that adults like him too.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 10:24 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Funny, I sort of think Bristol Community College would be the sort of credential one would want to flash.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 10:25 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    John,
    How refreshing! A response. Yes, and I am not disputing that some adults may like him. No argument there. I’m simply saying that based on my observations his books are bought mostly for children and in the illustrated versions.
    And yes, he does not appear to have the academic seal of approval. A lot of people don’t. That’s life.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 10:26 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    How about UMass Mikey. Can I flash that? LMAO. Or BU or Northeastern. Do they pass muster for your lowbrow intellect?

  • On April 23, 2009 at 10:27 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Besides Mikey, I love teaching at Bristol Community College. Of course then again, unklike you, I like kids.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 10:31 pm michael robbins wrote:

    I’m not sure I understand yr hostility, Jackie. I said I thought it would be the sort of credential you’d like to flash. Any academic job is worth having these days. Best of luck, & congratulations.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 10:33 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Colin:

    “Insofar as the international academic canon is concerned, he’d be the elephant in the room if he were missing from any syllabus that includes light verse. (Alas, most don’t.)”

    This is an interesting point. Sometimes there is a syllabus or two in literature that does have “light verse” as a study unit. I even taught one. However, just using ONE example, the text for the unit came from THE NORTON BOOK OF LIGHT VERSE, edited by Russell Baker. I’m afraid, despite having a fine selection of poets and light verse (ahem) Service was not included in the Norton book. Was it an oversight? I can’t see how it could be. I trust Baker simply didn’t see Service in the same light as he saw Nash, Updike and others.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 10:35 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM:

    If there were no poets who appealed to kids, then there would be no poets today.

    If it wasn’t for Edgar Allan Poe, E.E. Cummings and William Shakespeare, I wouldn’t have spent the last forty-five fookin’ years reading and writing poetry.

    GBF

    P.S. As usual, fuck you, Jack!

  • On April 23, 2009 at 10:35 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Mikey,
    Hostility? How onj earth would you come up with that? I’m sorry but I haven’t a bead of hostility. Besides, I usually reserve my attempts at hostility for somethig or someone I care about.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 10:36 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    “P.S. As usual, fuck you, Jack!”

    Gary, is that a new poem? If so, I think I read it elsewhere.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 10:36 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Oh, in that case, I apologize for my misconstrual. Take care.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 10:36 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Apology accepted.

  • On April 23, 2009 at 11:39 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Here, Jack, you shitbird, try Barnes & Noble.

    http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/results.asp?WRD=Gary+B%2E+Fitzgerald

    (You know I love you, Jack. Jeez…your such an asshole. You make Franz Wright look like a nice guy.)

  • On April 24, 2009 at 12:12 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    And, BTW, Simone Weil was right on.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 12:32 am Colin Ward wrote:

    “I’m afraid, despite having a fine selection of poets and light verse (ahem) Service was not included in the Norton book. Was it an oversight?”

    A fair question, one that anyone who has read Service might wonder. Lest we forget, we’re talking about humorous verse; it’s not like people are confusing “The Cremation of Sam Magee” with Sonnet LXXIII or Ogden Nash with Algernon Swinburne. I’m afraid only Russell Baker can provide an answer, though. FWIW, I doubt many would be as curious to read Mr. Baker’s response as John Gross, editor of “The Oxford Book of Comic Verse”.

    It goes without saying that any Canadian anthology of light verse that omitted Service would be laughed off the shelves but I suppose that could be dismissed as cultural nationalism.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 6:18 am Jack Conway wrote:

    Colin,

    I see your point. I don’t think I or anyone would dismiss Service’s work within the framework of light or “comic” verse. My example of Baker’s selection was just one and I am sure there are others that do include him both, Canadian (assuredly as you point out) and American. Obviously, I agree with Baker’s overall selections as an editor and trust his comic judgment.

    I don’t think it’s frightfully earth-shattering that some people don’t like Service whether in an academic environment or not. There is no universal acceptance of anyone as far as I can tell.

    My point was, is and will remain that personally I don’t like his work (which doesn’t count much except in a peripheral and isolated way) and that, once again, it has been my experience that his work sells the most in an illustrated version for kids. I have no empirical data to support this claim only my own near-sighted observation and experience.

    I am also not vested very much in whether people DO like him. That’s their choice and they are welcome to make it. I simply contest the faulty logic that everyone MUST like Service. If I happen to think he’s for kids and not widely accepted in an academic environment I’m sure it will not sway his devotees. My sphere of influence in such matters are limited to a classroom.

    I wonder if Service was alive today and writing, as much as Don Share proclaims liking him, whether he’d be published in Poetry or not or whether those proclaiming their devotion to him would be as fierce.

    Gary,
    Okay, so when I go to Barnes & Noble I’ll look for your book. All right, all ready.

    Yours, slouching to Nantucket,
    JC

  • On April 24, 2009 at 6:50 am thomas brady wrote:

    “for kids,” Jack?

    Do you mean the kids who could beat you in chess, out-perform and out-compose you on the piano, humiliate you on the basketball court? Those kids?

    Kids like George Harrison, or John Keats?

    I like illustrations. Don’t canonical poets inspire artists and musicians? If Ashbery has never inspired an illustrator, all the worse for him, I say.

    Service was almost a whole generation older than Eliot and Pound; when Service was relaxing in Paris, had he been younger, and hung out with the right dudes, his reputation may have turned out differently.

    Also, Service belonged to a different sensibility, the manly Victorian one. ‘Kids’ is often code for the old code before the world ‘changed around 1910′ as Virginia W. observed. How did poetry change in 1910? To put it briefly, it turned gay.

    The Romantics were heterosexual, chaste and incestuous.

    The Moderns, gay, bisexual, and adulterous.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 6:53 am thomas brady wrote:

    Also, Service never had a scandal, did he?

    Was he a drunkard? Multiple wives? A drug addict? A suicide? A friend of Rufus Griswold?

    These would have helped.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 6:56 am thomas brady wrote:

    Michael has come home!

    (Someone get the fatted calf)

    (Gary…don’t be jealous….)

  • On April 24, 2009 at 9:08 am KateBB wrote:

    “Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.”
    –Simone Weil

    Is this a literary insight? Of course. It’s an old saw, almost, that the most compelling character in Paradise Lost is Satan. And great drama and poetry are driven by the so-called tragic flaw. I feel like getting low brow: remember that loud-mouth prejudiced lout Archie Bunker in All In the Family? In the embrace of the sit-com world, he came across as a combination of irritating and lovable and we watched closely (if we watched at all) for the various little glimmers of self-awareness and kindness that occasionally flickered across his face, thanks to Caroll O’Connor’s gifts as an actor. In real life, the Archies of the world are exactly what Weil says: monotonous, barren, boring and also rather sickening to be around. A sit-com (or a play or a novel or a poem) that revolved around human good wouldn’t find an audience; there would be no romance, no variety, no drama.

    In real life, Weil believes, we are more fired up by the goodness in people; we flock around the Dorothy Days, the Ghandis, the Albert Schweitzers, the Mother Teresas, etc. And yet we are well aware of the dark forces in ourselves and all around us. So we go to the poets, the dramatists, not just for the romance of it but to experience this human condition of ours more fully.

    That being said, some works of art do attempt an encounter with human good. Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead features a central character, the narrator, who seems just purely good and overall this novel was well-received as literature (though, curiously enough, a minister friend of mind just loathed it, finding it vapid and corny).

  • On April 24, 2009 at 9:31 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    “The Romantics were heterosexual, chaste and incestuous.

    The Moderns, gay, bisexual, and adulterous.”

    That’s pretty funny, Thomas.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 9:56 am Jack Conway wrote:

    No, Tom, I mean those kids who are belligerent and militantly ignorant. I mean those kids who somehow feel entitled to comment with nothing to back up their comments. I mean those kids who imagine anyone really cares what they have to say since they have a lot of growing up to do. Those kids.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 9:57 am Jack Conway wrote:

    Any poet who HASN’T had a scandal really ISN’T a poet now is he?

  • On April 24, 2009 at 10:00 am Jack Conway wrote:

    I read somewhere that Service had a perchance for inflatable dolls and took them with him everywhere.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 10:07 am Jack Conway wrote:

    I mean, who could not find academic delight in such verse:

    She shook her head. Oh, swift I clasped
    And held her to my breast;
    “The children! Tell me quick,” I gasped,
    “Believe me, it is best.”
    Then, then she spoke; ‘mid sobs I caught
    These words of woe divine:
    “It’s coo-coo-cook has gone and bought
    A new hat just like mine.”

  • On April 24, 2009 at 10:07 am thomas brady wrote:

    “The Romantics were heterosexual, chaste and incestuous.

    The Moderns, gay, bisexual, and adulterous.

    That’s pretty funny, Thomas.”

    But it’s true, Gary. The only reason I talk to you is because you’re bisexual.

    You are bisexual, right?

    Thomas

  • On April 24, 2009 at 10:21 am mearl wrote:

    Annie,

    I’m coming in a bit late on this thread so I hope I what I’m saying is not repeating anything upthread, and I’ve got so much work on my hands today that haven’t got the time to wade through the charge/counter-charging that seems to be going on.

    One reason I’m slow out of the gate is that I don’t know Weil’s writing, only the few things that I read 300 years ago at University when I hadn’t yet learned how to read philosophy. So I was – however intrigued – a bit flummoxed by the citation.

    From the poet’s perspective it seems somewhat tautological, or self-canceling and perhaps illustrates one of the reasons poets make such middling critics in most cases (see D. A. Powell’s fantastic post of O8.01.08, Vast Eternity II, on this subject). The problem I have with what Weil has to say in this instance – as a poet – is that poets tend not to distinguish between the imaginary and the real. The imaginary is the real, and vice versa and evil is just the other side of good, not a separate entity but part of a continuum.

    There’s an excellent 1963 essay on Weil by Susan Sontag. I can’t remember where its collected, but I found it in the archives of the New York Review of Books. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/13783 It’s very interesting, not only for what she has to say about Weil, but in the way that it anticipates some of her own major themes (“There are certain eras which are too complex, too deafened by contradictory historical and intellectual experiences, to hear the voice of sanity. Sanity becomes compromise, evasion, a lie. Ours is an age which consciously pursues health, and yet only believes in the reality of sickness. The truths we respect are those born of affliction. We measure truth in terms of the cost to the writer in suffering—rather than by the standard of an objective truth to which a writer’s words correspond. Each of our truths must have a martyr.”)

    This is the predicament in which she situates Weil, as a martyr of truth, but in the end she undercuts the value of such martyrdom by declaring that all truth is superficial. Here, then, is another remarkable paragraph (from later in the same essay) to add to the thread, by the end of which Weil’s dichotomies seem pretty well torn apart.

    “Some lives are exemplary, others not; and of exemplary lives, there are those which invite us to imitate them, and those which we regard from a distance with a mixture of revulsion, pity, and reverence. It is, roughly, the difference between the hero and the saint (if one may use the latter term in an aesthetic, rather than a religious sense). Such a life, absurd in its exaggerations and degree of self-mutilation—like Kleist’s, like Kierkegaard’s—was Simone Weil’s. I am thinking of the fanatical asceticism of Simone Weil’s life, her contempt for pleasure and for happiness, her noble and ridiculous political gestures, her elaborate self-denials, her tireless courting of affliction; and I do not exclude her homeliness, her physical clumsiness, her migraines, her tuberculosis. No one who loves life would wish to imitate her dedication to martyrdom nor would wish it for his children nor for anyone else whom he loves. Yet so far as we love seriousness, as well as life, we are moved by it, nourished by it. In the respect we pay to such lives, we acknowledge the presence of mystery in the world—and mystery is just what the secure possession of the truth, an objective truth, denies. In this sense, all truth is superficial; and some (but not all) distortions of the truth, some (but not all) insanity, some (but not all) unhealthiness, some (but not all) denials of life are truth-giving, sanity-producing, health-creating, and life-enhancing.”

    The poet-critic issue might be seen in light of Sontag’s own insistence towards the end of her life on declaring herself a novelist first and a critic second. How this early prose controverts that claim! This article was written when she was just thirty, four years before the extraordinary Death Kit.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 10:26 am Don Share wrote:

    I’m skipping over the name-calling garbage to answer a point made above. I can’t see any way to argue that Service is for kids because kids’ books are made of his work. There are kids’ picture books of poets of every kind, including (my favorite) “I Am Cherry Alive,” by Delmore Schwartz – not normally associated with the Qubo and PBS Kids demographic.

    There’s no reason in the world, as Jack says, to like or respect Service’s stuff if they’re disinclined, but measuring his worth by academic activity, or his audience by its appearance in children’s books, is specious. And I’ve lost the point of arguing about him one way or the other!

  • On April 24, 2009 at 10:32 am thomas brady wrote:

    “A sit-com (or a play or a novel or a poem) that revolved around human good wouldn’t find an audience; there would be no romance, no variety, no drama.”

    Katebb,

    Actually, in the sit-com, inevitably, good always wins out. Sit-coms do revolve around human good. Character gains something illegally or wrongly, character deceives spouse, (from ‘I Love Lucy’ to ‘The Simpsons’ to the ‘King of Queens’) and then at the end of the episode, character repents and does the right thing. This is a tired, proven formula of nearly every sit-com.

    I know exactly what you’re saying, and I agree with your intent, but I think we’re just ‘filling in’ Weil’s intent to our satisfaction, a temptation we should avoid, if we are to be true judges

    I go back to the problem with the Weil quote: what does it mean that “evil” is “romantic?” Is “romance” a bad thing? Not on the face of it, it isn’t. So is Weil saying ‘imaginary evil’ does not concern itself with evil?

    Do you see the whole problem here?

    Thomas

  • On April 24, 2009 at 10:53 am Jack Conway wrote:

    Don,
    I don’t particularly find the argument that Robert W. Service is considered a poet for kids, particularly false or misleading. Obviously, Anita Silvey, an expert in children’s book, believes Service to be so and chronicles him as such in her book, Children’s Books and Their Creators. In order for anything to be specious I would imagine it would need to be based on pretense, but unless Silvey is being pretentious I find it highly plausible.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 10:58 am Jack Conway wrote:

    And just two very quick follow-up questions, Don.
    The first is one is one I repeat: If Service was writing today, would you, as a senior editor at Poetry, publish his work? and since you consider measurment by academic activity, or his audience by its appearance in children’s books not a worthwhile measurment of his overall worth, what would you consider a legitiment measurement? Overall popularity? I would like to know by what measure one might consider him worthwhile?

  • On April 24, 2009 at 11:12 am Mike Snider wrote:

    Think of Heathcliffe, and of Archie in the sitcom. For both, there’s hope of redemption (those moments of awareness), and perhaps that’s the romance. Tragedy results when the protagonists cannot change.

    Milton’s Satan is a different problem, which I think Stanley Fish addressed well in Surprised by Sin – we must not be able to feel that we, unlike our first parents, would not have been trapped by Satan. So Milton lays traps in his Satan’s gorgeous rhetoric which do, at least momentarily, fool us.

    Mearl, that’s a marvelous passage from Sontag. Thank you.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 11:23 am thomas brady wrote:

    Mearl,

    Thanks for bringing in Sontag.

    I’m afraid Sontag, however, is guilty here of the same tautology we’ve ascribed to the Weil citation:

    “In the respect we pay to such lives, we acknowledge the presence of mystery in the world—and mystery is just what the secure possession of the truth, an objective truth, denies. In this sense, all truth is superficial; and some (but not all) distortions of the truth, some (but not all) insanity, some (but not all) unhealthiness, some (but not all) denials of life are truth-giving, sanity-producing, health-creating, and life-enhancing.”

    1. Why should objective truth deny mystery? This allows ‘mystery’ to delimit ‘objective truth.’ This is not to say there may not be ‘mystery’ beyond ‘objective truth,’ but this ‘beyond’ provides no reason, per se, for ‘objective truth’ to deny ‘mystery.’

    2. She says “distortions of the truth” can be “truth-giving.” But this is to imply that “distortions of truth” are NOT superficial, and even if this were so, her statement is still tautological.

    Thomas

  • On April 24, 2009 at 11:35 am john wrote:

    Michael,

    It took me a long time to figure out what you were talking about with this yesterday:

    “It’s insane to confuse the diagnosis of this state of affairs, which is what my posts in the other thread were about, with the advocating of it. Of course you would have to be acting in bad faith – this is virtually definitional – to assume that someone discussing canonicity & how the academy determines what gets read within the parameters of certain forms of cultural capital & their possessors is claiming solidarity for himself with this process. John has never granted the slightest benefit of the doubt to me throughout this argument & continues to argue very persuasively against positions I explicitly rejected.”

    I finally realized that your heartfelt cry alluded back to our old argument about one’s moral implication in one’s life choices — me, Obama voter, and yet opposed to many of his policies; you, academic, and yet opposed to many of the functions of academia. I was glad that we reached a rapprochement on that argument; I have no problem in believing you in all good faith to be opposed to many of academia’s aims and goals; I have no wish to reopen that argument; and I didn’t mean to allude to it when I accused you of keeping your reading opinions to the canonized poets. I was taking your insistence on the phrase “what we read” to mean “what you, Michael Robbins, and people with similar interests in the canon, read”; and “Robert Service, anyone?” to mean that you, Michael Robbins, don’t read Robert Service, because you don’t like him. It turns out that you *do* read Robert Service, even though he’s not canonized, and, in fact, you like him!

    It’s another misunderstanding, but an eminently understandable one on my end.

    I don’t think your utterly tangled arguments are made in bad faith. I think you simply can’t face how impossible are the rhetorical positions you’ve put yourself into — when you say “we,” you apparently exclude yourself, or only mean to indicate “we” when in academic gown — which is why, when you respond to me at all, you throw up tangents and don’t address the question: Why did you introduce Robert Service into an argument about canonicity, when his career has no bearing on the canon?

    I know you’ve disclaimed any interest in what I think, but you’ve disclaimed interest in Jack as well and yet continue to trade insults with him. No insults here — just conversation, thank you.

    Jack, if you could insult Service as charmingly and skillfully as he has already insulted you, I’d take off my hat to you. (I hope it would go without saying that my enjoying Service’s verse does not mean that I share its point of view.)

    “A Verseman’s Apology”
    from “Songs of a Sun-Lover,” 1949

    Alas! I am only a rhymer,
    I don’t know the meaning of Art;
    But I learned in my little school primer
    To love Eugene Field and Bret Harte.
    I hailed Hoosier Riley with pleasure,
    To John Hay I took off my hat,
    These fellows were right to my measure,
    And I’ve never gone higher than that.

    The Classics! Well, most of them bore me.
    The Moderns I don’t understand;
    But I keep Burns, my kinsman, before me,
    And Kipling, my friend, is at hand.
    They taught me my trade as I know it,
    Yet though at their feet I have sat,
    For God-sake don’t call me a poet,
    For I’ve never been guilty of that.

    A rhyme-rustler, rugged and shameless,
    A Bab Balladeer on the loose;
    Of saccharine sonnets I’m blameless,
    My model has been — Mother Goose.
    And I fancy my grave-digger griping
    As he gives my last lodging a pat:
    “That guy wrote McGrew;
    ‘Twas the best he could do” . . .
    So I’ll go to my Maker with that.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 11:37 am john wrote:

    Thomas,

    Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth chaste?

    Wha?

  • On April 24, 2009 at 11:53 am Jack Conway wrote:

    John ,you appear to be obsesed with insults. I doubt very much that Service “insulted” me. I mean let’s face it, he’s dead and liked mostly by children. Come on. Let’s get real.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 12:04 pm john wrote:

    Jack,

    OK, maybe it’s a stretch to say that Service was insulting the modernist academic canon. You just seem to enjoy insults, so I was trying to put it in those terms. My point is, his poem charmingly dismisses the claims of the canon, and I’d be impressed if you could dismiss him nearly so charmingly.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 12:14 pm Don Share wrote:

    To belabor Service further, a disservice to this thread, for which I apologize: I disagree that Service is a poet “for kids” – or “for,” or NOT “for,” anybody in particular. Why does a poet have to labelled as for someone? Anyhow, I don’t see what his inclusion in a list like Silvey’s has to do with anything. So he’s on a list? So she recommends his work to children? One could ask why she doesn’t recommend more challenging poetry to children, but her reading list supports no argument made here. Specious means that the argument made is based on shaky grounds, and I stand by that assessment. (This is not a put down.) Next, how can I answer whether I would have published S.’s work? Who knows? It’s a useless hypothetical. What would Service’s publication in a magazine prove about his poetry being “worthwhile” … or “not just for kids?” Lastly, I’m not in the business of measuring quantitatively any poet’s “worth,” nor do I think such a thing possible, let alone desirable. A poet or poem is worthwhile if someone happens to think so, listmakers, “experts,” academics, and other professionals (including, for that matter, editors) notwithstanding. If you’re asking me, I find encountering all kinds of poets’ work to be worthwhile – including Robert Service’s – without regard to what is said or thought about them. I’ve asked in earlier threads about why being eclectic is considered bad these days. All this is meant to be in the spirit of discussion, and so I’ve taken these things at face value; I’m not trying to stir this pot further. Above all… Your mileage will – and must vary. Now, back to Weil??

  • On April 24, 2009 at 12:18 pm KateBB wrote:

    “In the sit-com, inevitably, good always wins out.” I get ya’, Thomas, but I was dealing with the character of Bunker, not the plotlines. And the statement isn’t true at all in the edgier sitcoms, e.g. Seinfeld (especially the whole arc of it) and Curb Your Enthusiasm (in which the protagonist always, but always, winds up making a jerk of himself). Their characters wear the comic mask of the tragic figure who, as Mike Snider reminds us, cannot change. Trapped in our natures, most of us are!

    Maybe it isn’t so weird that our conversation has moved into these areas of popular culture. Weil’s quote may not be all that penetrating, actually. It sounds to me as if she’s just stating something well established even in her day about art and the imaginary, and by doing so she could promulgate her views about real-world virtue.

    By the way, I don’t think it’s heresy to question Weil’s skills as a writer. Few people wrote more ringing passages but imho she doesn’t organize her material well. She meanders. In general, reading philosophy can be a slog for this same reason.

    Now I think I’ll go back and read MEARL’s posting with its penetrating commentary.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 12:26 pm Don Share wrote:

    By the way, do children like Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats? If so, I guess he’ll have to go on the list with Service and Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll and other lightweights. Ok, now I’m being snarky. Hey, wait, Lewis Carroll invented the Snark. Round and round we go.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 12:32 pm michael robbins wrote:

    As I wrote earlier:

    But, uh, I missed the part where something was bad because it was for kids (not that Service is simply for kids, or bad). So I need to get rid of my Lewis Carroll, Kenneth Grahame, Philip Pullman; renounce my love of Looney Tunes & Carl Banks comics; etc.

    Let’s push past the “for kids” nonsense. It’s a non-starter.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 12:45 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    I think, considering the plethora of comments here and the frothy, Service litmus test (I still find him just for kids)I’ll stick with Anita Silvey’s assessment of Service, my own observations and experience and Baker’s choice. That should suffice for me.

    Don,
    You can believe whatever you want, even if I find it wrong-headed. That’s life. I’ll side here with the academic take on measurement of whether a poet is worthwhile. I mean, of course, if that’s all right (lol). It simply amazes me how some people can expouse the “I have no rules for poetry,” mantra and then get extremely huffy and out of sorts, beligerent even, when someone tells them they disagree. If you don’t think there is any measurement then why should you care if I and others do? Either you care or you don’t.

    John,
    Once again, you seem obsessed with insults. I’m not. I simply find Service written mostly for kids. If that’s insulting to someone’s fragile poetic ego, I really don’t care.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 12:48 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    “Specious means that the argument made is based on shaky grounds, and I stand by that assessment.”

    It means a lot of things Don, including what I said. I find nothing “shaky” aout it. If you do, that’s your problem, not mine.

    I mean this is getting better’n better. All I have to do to make the natives restless is rattle the cage with a “Service is for kids” opinion. Boy some folks have some awful fragile egos.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 12:50 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Mike,
    Nobody I can think of said that being for kids was “bad.” I certainly didn’t. Maybe you think it. It is what it is. What you want to read into it is once again your problem.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 1:01 pm Tom wrote:

    I’d love an explanation of “academic take on measurement of whether a poet is worthwhile.” Care to dump one in in place of the insults and taunting (cages, fragile egos, that’s your problem nyah nyah [speaking of kids])?

  • On April 24, 2009 at 1:08 pm mearl wrote:

    Thomas,

    I think allowing mystery to delimit objective truth is precisely what Sontag intends. Sontag was a moralist, a skeptical moralist, but nevertheless a moralist. And like all moralists she viewed the world hierarchically. For her, writing was in a sense a means of formulating provisional truths, multi-vocal truths out of mystery. Mystery for her is the source, truth the description of the source. That’s why she calls it superficial. In a conversation with Nadime Gordimer she declared that writing is not a “private activity… [it] is always making something social in standing for excellence, in standing for a certain hierarchy of values, protecting language. Her idea was that the writer’s “highest duty is to write well – to leave the language in better rather than worse shape after one’s passage.” (fr. the introduction of Conversations With Susan Sontag , p. xvii). If language, as truth-giver, can be always improved upon, and the writer’s task is to do just that, then truth itself is not stable, subject always to improvement. Hierarchically it is of a lesser order than mystery. I don’t see tautology here; I see rather a process (writing) which humans use to understand something that is always just beyond understanding, yet ever more approachable.

    Martin

  • On April 24, 2009 at 1:36 pm noah freed wrote:

    Surely the one with the fragile ego is the one who can’t have an adult discussion, but must resort to insults and taunting, the one who poisons the entire site for those of us who’re actually interested in what others have to say, not simply in shouting down anyone who disagrees with us in order to feel smug in our own illusory superiority. How strange to spend so much time on a site whose participants you take such a dim view of you can’t be bothered to treat them with civility and respect. How boring; what a sad indicator of profound insecurity. Why not take your ball and go home.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 1:51 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Tom:
    Insults? Get a grip. Hey I still think Service is for kids. Try reading through the thread and you might be able to find your answer. here’s the thumbnail: Most people are introduced to poetry in an academioc environment. What colleges and universities decide to teach determines the longevity and worth of poets. Does that help? I hope so. You seem so angry. Lighten up pal.

    Noah:
    Are you taking about Mike Robbins? Maybe you need to figure out the difference with between opposing views and the rest of that garbage you spewed. Obviously you don’t. Do opposing views or fiercely held ones make you upset? Make you cry? Why don’t you take your ball and go somewhere where everyone holds hands and rubs each other’s tummies.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 1:57 pm Jennifer Hawes wrote:

    Jack,I’m with you on this one. I’m not saying Service is bad, simply that I find his work geared to a younger audience. And what is with all the attacks on you? Some people here are just being outright babies. It’s an old Internet ploy. Foul someone and then claim they were fouled. We’ve all seen it. Disregard them. I like your takes on these matters.
    Best,
    Jenn

  • On April 24, 2009 at 2:00 pm noah freed wrote:

    OK, I’ll try to figure out the difference with between opposing views. Obviously I don’t, indeed. (It helps to be coherent when you’re insulting people, because otherwise they think you’re silly. But everyone here thinks you’re silly anyway, Jack.)

  • On April 24, 2009 at 2:01 pm noah freed wrote:

    Also, I love your “Jennifer” avatar.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 2:27 pm john wrote:

    Noah,

    you might be right that “Jennifer” is an avatar, but I didn’t think so. I actually thought she was either being weirdly sarcastic, or maybe blinkered to Jack’s rhetoric by sympathy to his position. Risky to voice the assumption that she’s not real, seems to me.

    Jack makes me laugh. His stuff here is really trivial. “Silly” is exactly right. Nobody here said he was wrong to dislike Service. Lots of evidence that adults read and like him, and he admits that his opinion that Service is primarily for kids is based on his subjective experience and assessment, so what are we talking about? We’re talking about Jack’s behavior, which is what he wants us to talk about, I guess.

    OK, Jack, we’re talking about you!

  • On April 24, 2009 at 2:48 pm Jennifer Hawes wrote:

    Oh, please grow up Noah and Tom. What are you two years old. You shouldn’t even be on an adult forum.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 2:49 pm Catherine Halley wrote:

    Let’s return to Annie’s post, please.

    A Quote from Simone Weil . . .

    “Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.”
    –Simone Weil

    Dear companions of the blog,

    My sense is that meditation on this quote could provide real insight into the dynamics of contemporary poetics.

    I’d love to know your thoughts on this analogy.

    –Annie

  • On April 24, 2009 at 2:52 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    I would like to interject an off-topic observation here about ‘off-topic’ posts. It seems that on every blog post reply thread there will always be someone who complains about the conversation going ‘off-topic’. These people, I think, are missing the point (not to mention somewhat anal). The original post is but a seed. It initiates the conversation and is the inspiration for engagement, but the resulting responses are the flower and fruit. The meandering and evolution of the discussion or debate is what makes the whole thing entertaining (and occasionally educational)…nasty or not. That’s why we’re all here!

    The original post may address a specific issue or writer, but the subject is always poetry and its effect, isn’t it? It is not limited by anything if intelligent, educated minds are participating, nor should it be. It has been my experience that the reply threads are almost always more interesting than the original post. As it should be! Have at it, I say.

    There…another inspirational comment you can refer to in the future and not remember who said it. :-)

    And Thomas…my “bisexuality” would certainly come as a big surprise to my wife of thirty-five years, let alone to me. If I had only known! What fun I could have had! :-)

  • On April 24, 2009 at 2:54 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Pay them no mine Jenn. Kids stuff. Old tired web ploys. Tummy rubbers.

    Boys, the only thing “silly” around here are your childish responses. Now please go away. You have nothing to offer.

    I’m glad you agree with me. At least someone does (lol).

    In more important news I would suggest reading John Balaham’s piece in The Writer’s Chronicle called “Poetcraft.” What an excellent piece.Balaham is poet in residence and Professor of English at North Carolina State. He begins by introducing the Greek word “poiein” meaning “to make” as the foundation of poets.
    Makers. Just a very thoughtful academic article concerning the building of poems with words. Good stuff.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 3:05 pm Don Share wrote:

    Um, surely folks with varying identities know that their IP addresses give them away! Mum’s the word…

  • On April 24, 2009 at 3:16 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Don,
    I didn’t know you were a detective? Humm. Does this IP address give me away? How about the three computers in my house? Or how about the ones at the university and college. Humm. Oh and what if someone uses your laptop, does that give away someone’s IP address? This should be beneath you Don. If it isn’t then I fear for the intergrity of this publication. I couldn’t imagine anyone being so juvinile. Here check my IP address. And Jenn’s.
    I’ll give you a hint since your focus doesn’t appear to eb on poetry: try Umass Dartmouth, or BCC in Fall River. There are loads of I addresses there. Lads of professors both full time and adjunct. And just loads of IP addresses. Don I have to say, I find your comments specious.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 3:17 pm thomas brady wrote:

    ‘Thomas,

    Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth chaste?

    Wha?’

    John,

    The Romantics were generally chaste. After his French affair, Wordsworth was chaste–five children, but in wedlock. Coleridge had four children in wedlock. Keats, I imagine, was. Shelley was chaste, more or less; he was married to both Harriet, and after Harriet’s suicide, Mary, and there’s not much biographical evidence that Shelley was sleeping around. Byron, no.

    Thomas

  • On April 24, 2009 at 3:17 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Or is it bothering you that Jenn agrees with me? LOL. Of course she is. She knows me. Please give it a rest. Talk about “silly.”

  • On April 24, 2009 at 3:20 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Gary,
    You are absolutely correct. It appears to me that it isn’t the commentators who are having a problem. It seems to me that those people charged with starting threads don’t have the pulse of the people coming here. If they did they’d start thread that were more interestign to the users, not themselves. Look at the number of posts generated under various topics. It gives you a good idea what people want to discuss.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 3:21 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Here’s some topics:

    What is or isn’t poetry?

    Who determines what poetry lasts?

    Is formalism dead?

    Elvis

  • On April 24, 2009 at 3:25 pm Jennifer Hawes wrote:

    Touche, Jack! Specious. Good answer. Yeah, I’m sitting here on Jack’s lap. He’s moving my hands over the keyboard.
    I thought this was an adult site. I see it’s just a childsh hangout. How utterly disappointing.For that matter, Jack, did you imply Don is an editor at Poetry?
    I can’t imagine that.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 3:56 pm john wrote:

    Is Service primarily for kids or is he not?

    How will we ever find out?

    Tune in next hour for the latest installment of Poor Richard’s Dispute Among Divines.

    “Many a long dispute among Divines may be thus abridged, It is so: It is not so; It is so: It is not so.”
    — Poor Richard’s Almanack

  • On April 24, 2009 at 4:42 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Martin,

    “I think allowing mystery to delimit objective truth is precisely what Sontag intends. Sontag was a moralist, a skeptical moralist, but nevertheless a moralist. And like all moralists she viewed the world hierarchically.”

    Perhaps Sontag is putting the cart before the horse, but OK. I guess all I was saying is that an awareness of ‘what we don’t know’ (mystery) can (or should) be part of our efforts towards (or knowledge of) ‘objective truth.’

    “For her [Sontag], writing was in a sense a means of formulating provisional truths, multi-vocal truths out of mystery. Mystery for her is the source, truth the description of the source. That’s why she calls it superficial.”

    If, according to Sontag, truth is what we seek, and “description of the source” is, in fact, truth, then it sounds like, as truth-seekers, we are doing pretty well.
    To call truth “superficial” is more good news, then, since the “superficial” is more easily attained.

    So the truth is delimited by mystery in the sense that the “source” (of mystery) finally determines how much “truth” we get to “describe,” since after all it (the mystery) is the “source.” OK, good. I can’t argue with that.

    Weil would probably say (in keeping with your rhetoric re: Songtag) that Truth is the source and our descriptions of it are a mystery, or, at least, highly flawed. Yea, and that makes sense, since Sontag as a person was more optimistic than Weil.

    “In a conversation with Nadime Gordimer she [Sontag] declared that writing is not a “private activity… [it] is always making something social in standing for excellence, in standing for a certain hierarchy of values, protecting language. Her idea was that the writer’s “highest duty is to write well – to leave the language in better rather than worse shape after one’s passage.” (fr. the introduction of Conversations With Susan Sontag , p. xvii). If language, as truth-giver, can be always improved upon, and the writer’s task is to do just that, then truth itself is not stable, subject always to improvement. Hierarchically it is of a lesser order than mystery. I don’t see tautology here; I see rather a process (writing) which humans use to understand something that is always just beyond understanding, yet ever more approachable.”

    Got it. I like this. Thanks.

    Thomas

  • On April 24, 2009 at 4:49 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Jack, et al…this is sort of like masturbating in public, isn’t it?

    Shall we start addressing you as Sybil?

  • On April 24, 2009 at 6:07 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    “Is Service primarily for kids or is he not?

    How will we ever find out?”

    Well, you could find out by doing some study. That might help you come to a legitimate conclusion. Try Anita Silvey.
    It might surprize you to find out some experts and scholars in the field of literature (You know, in academic places where we include and exclude poets) place Service among children’s poets. You can argue with her. i happen to believe and agree with her. But of course I am sure it is not as reliable as the Ouija board you’re using.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 6:10 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Gary,
    Were you speaking about Jennifer? That’s pretty crude.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 6:27 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Jack:

    “Stupid is as stupid does.”

  • On April 24, 2009 at 9:58 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Gary,
    Are you talking about John?

  • On April 24, 2009 at 10:09 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Thomas, Gary, Jenn (as long as you aren’t me)
    I have decided that I will only respond to you folks. In that way I can minimize the comments of the folks here I don’t like to hear from. Besides, I can sense a new world order forming that will pretty much leave behind the old boys network. Hence, I have decided to call it the Jacksonian Era. That’s cool, right?

  • On April 24, 2009 at 10:09 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    I leaned that in 1999 on some old forum.

  • On April 24, 2009 at 10:23 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    By the by, could ya’ll buy this and make me rich (I think we sold the screen rights) so I won’t have to put up with the riff-raff here.

    I dedicated the book to Robert W. Service, the best children’s poet I know.

    http://sweetbrownpoison.blogspot.com/2009/02/another-magnificent-friends-magnificent.html

    and here

    http://www.globepequot.com/globepequot/index.cfm

  • On April 24, 2009 at 10:24 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    What’s up with that?

  • On April 24, 2009 at 10:34 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    You kill me, Jack!

    :-)

  • On April 24, 2009 at 10:36 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Now move on.

  • On April 25, 2009 at 10:47 am Jack Conway wrote:

    Tom, (Thomas) May I call you Tom or Tom-Tom,
    you can call me J. North Conway, Ph.D. author extrodiaire, etc. etc. But on to substance: Check out the New Yorker for an article (not so scholarly) on E. A. POE. I’m sure you might find it interesting. This year is some sort of anniversary for him. The author contends that old E.A> arote for MONEY. Welcome to the club.

  • On April 25, 2009 at 10:48 am Jack Conway wrote:

    “wrote for”

  • On April 25, 2009 at 11:41 am Mike Snider wrote:

    Something wrong with writing for money? Shakespeare did.

  • On April 25, 2009 at 11:42 am Mike Snider wrote:

    Samuel Johnson said only blockheads wrote for anything else.

  • On April 25, 2009 at 11:43 am john wrote:

    Jack, I don’t know why anybody other than a weak-minded conformist would want to defer to academic authority for their literary judgments, but since you seem to want to do that, here is the academic authority you recommended to me.

    “Are the verses of Robert Service great literature? Perhaps not. But they have lived on because readers of all ages cannot resist reciting them, whether in barrooms, living rooms, or classrooms.”
    — Anita Silvey

    That’s “readers of all ages,” Jack. All ages.

    Even though you recommend deference and conformism, I don’t. You’re free not to like Service. You’re even free to continue to bray that he’s only for kids. But you’re acting the boor and the fool if you do.

  • On April 25, 2009 at 11:51 am john wrote:

    Clarification: Foolish and boorish to continue braying about imagined limits to Service’s appeal; neither foolish nor boorish to dislike his poetry personally, or to say so. (Though there’s no need to repeat your dislike at this point; you even have plenty of cover from academic authority not to like him, so no worries there either.)

  • On April 25, 2009 at 12:45 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Mike Snider:

    I sort of thought NEVER was too soon for you. Humm. No Mike, stop being snarky. I write for money. It was a joke. Lighten up fella and trim your beard. It looks like hell.

    John:
    John weak-minded? You’re a joke. The more you talk the dumber you appear. Besides, I find your comments boring and childish. Now will you please go away. I’m sure all the colleges and universities are shaking in their boots because some namesless faceless boob on a web site thinks their weak minded. What a joke you are.

    Service is for kids. Don’t lijke it? Tough. Better get used to it. The book you cited Johnny boy was a book about CHILDREN’S Poets. Did you look at the cover Johnny or just lick the pages?

  • On April 25, 2009 at 12:46 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    “they’re”

  • On April 25, 2009 at 12:50 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Reading level? 4-8? Humm.

    Review
    Ballad by Robert Service, published in Canada in 1907 in Songs of a Sourdough (U.S. title, The Spell of the Yukon, and Other Verses). A popular success upon publication, this exaggerated folktale about a pair of a Yukon gold miners was reprinted 15 times in its first year. In the ballad, set in the icy wilds of northwestern Canada, the title character dies after asking the narrator to cremate his body rather than bury it. After placing the body in a blazing furnace, the narrator takes a last look into the fire and hears McGee urge him to close the door before the heat escapes. The ballad has remained a favorite recitation piece because of its internal rhymes, driving rhythms, and macabre irony. — The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature

    Product Description
    Glorious illustrations bring to life this classic poem epitomizing the glory days of the Gold Rush.

    ——————————————————————————–
    Product Details
    Reading level: Ages 4-8

    Hardcover: 32 pages
    Publisher: Greenwillow Books; 1st U.S.A. ed edition (April 1987)

  • On April 25, 2009 at 1:23 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Perhaps we can talk about what it means when a work appeals only to kids, or appeals only to adults.

    Is the division really that simple?

    There’s work that is not appropriate for kids (but still might appeal to them).

    There’s work that would simply bore kids (I assume, but maybe it depends on the type of kid)

    As I mentioned before, there may be a sort of unspoken moral issue at play here, too.

    Some adults might only prefer works that are appropriate for ‘all ages.’ for moral reasons, that they, as adults, entertain or believe in.

    If we think about works that ONLY appeal to adults, what would those be, and why?

    For instance, there are certainly works on special topics that only appeal to adults, but for that very reason do NOT appeal to many other adults at all. So, these works are NOT works that ONLY appeal to ALL adults and do NOT appeal to kids. My question is: is there such a work? Does such an “ADULTS ONLY” work even exist?

    “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot might appeal, for instance, to a sensitive, aristocratic, European child, but not to millions of mainstream American adults. Yet I’m sure Jack would categorize “The Waste Land” as a sophisticated, ‘not-for-kids’ counter to Robert Service.

    Am I way off base, here?

  • On April 25, 2009 at 2:53 pm john wrote:

    Jack, darling,

    Sweetheart, I didn’t say that academics, academies, colleges, universities, professors, instructors, or students are weak-minded. I said that people who preach conforming their literary tastes to academic authority give the appearance of being weak-minded conformists.

    And goodness gracious, I didn’t realize that there was a children’s market robust enough in 1907 to send a book to reprint 15 times!

    No, the readership was adult too, of course. The readership now? Why, “readers of all ages,” like the authority you cited said. Marketers marketing to a youth market, and academics talking about the youth market, haven’t changed that. Maybe you’ll succeed some day! Who knows?

    A lot what was originally adult culture has become “kid only” culture. I’m thinking of 19th century minstrel songs, like “I’ve Been Working the Railroad,” “Jimmy Crack Corn,” “Old Dan Tucker,” “Animal Fair” — many others, I’m sure. “Jimmy Crack Corn” is the song of a slave getting drunk and celebrating because his owner has died! Some “kid’s” song, huh? Making no analogy with Service, just that, maybe, some day, adults won’t be reading him, but that day hasn’t come yet, no matter how often you call people stupid, idiotic, childish, and so on — you know, behavior I described as foolish and boorish. Which, of course, you’re free to continue!

    Hugs and kisses,

    John

  • On April 25, 2009 at 3:06 pm noah freed wrote:

    Jack, anyone who bothers to do a little Google research can learn of the many poetry sites you have been banned from for your penchant for treating others with contempt. Your habit of creating multiple false identities to attack other posters & defend you is also well documented (and fairly transparent, here as elsewhere). I know a number of posters have discussed this back-channel. Yet here you are, displaying a hatred of rational discussion and goodwill. Why is it that instead of examining your actions to try to figure out why you keep getting banned from sites on the internet do you continue to poison every environment you enter? Isn’t the fact that no community wants to tolerate your bile evidence that there is a problem with your behavior? Have you ever considered just trying a little harder to get along with people? I ask this in all seriousness, since it baffles me that you’d want to keep up this obviously undesired posture.

  • On April 25, 2009 at 3:10 pm noah freed wrote:

    Btw, I’m not violating Jack’s privacy here: he has published an online article, which has to be read to be believed, bragging of how many poetry forums he’s been banned from and how little he has paid attention to anybody’s critiques. Easily findable.

  • On April 25, 2009 at 3:19 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Thomas, Good answer! The issue remains that this matter was brought up about Service STILL being popular. My response was simply that his sales appear to me to be primarily for kids. Hence the kids only.

    Personally speaking I find Service childish and boring. He is not widely accepted within the academic arena where much of poetry is included and excluded. Granted colleges and universities remain merely a threshold.

    Now whether there are some poems, poets etc that are better off with a children’s audience or as you say an adults only, sure I think we can make that distinction. I don’t think d.a. levy would be a children’s poet, whereas, sure, Service is, a majority of his sing-songy trite work anyway.

    Does it mean poets don’t write poems that children might not like? Absolutely not. But these folks who have a amazing grasp of the obvious continually cite the Cats poems by TSE. Yeah, big deal.

    Does that make him a poet for kids? Naw. That poem, yes. However TSE IS included in the canon and hence an adult poet.

    I’m not sure that Ginsberg might not be an adults only poet, though once again, perhaps in the plethora of poems he wrote there might be a poem or two that kids would like. But is he a poet who’s work is primarily for kids? No, again.

    My own contention that Service is for kids is backed up by my own experience and expert opinion. I think that’s enough. I’m not much once for the foolish Internet foot-stomping, hand-wringing process of “On Account of I said So” form of evidence that permeates these types of arguments.

    Of course then again I spend endless hours teaching what is and isn’t evidence used to support one’s thesis.

    And please buy my new book once it comes out so I won’t have to dilly-dally here with he riff-raff.

    Yrs in brotherly Affectation
    JC

  • On April 25, 2009 at 3:22 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    John (yawn)Noah,Time to get a life little man isn’t it?
    Lol.You googled me? Oh dear, another cyber stalker.I googled you Noah and found NOTHING. Again lol. Did you Google Jack Conway, poetry? Come on fess up widdle Nowoah?

  • On April 25, 2009 at 3:22 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Ban me Nowah!

  • On April 25, 2009 at 3:24 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    By the by Nowah, when you googled me(Don’t have much of a life do you little guy?) did my Norton Anthology inclusion come up? Just checking. How about Poetry? Did that?

  • On April 25, 2009 at 3:28 pm noah freed wrote:

    Of course you didn’t find anything, Jack, as I freely admit that I write under a pseudonym here. (I began posting as “Noah Freed,” with quotation marks.) A lot of people do (hi, Jane!). It isn’t the pseudonymity that’s offensive, it’s what you do with it.

    Of course you didn’t answer any of my questions, and of course you can’t.

  • On April 25, 2009 at 3:31 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Gee Nowah,(Who hids behind a false name..lol.. and then has the audacity to criticize? ..lol..) I just googled myself. I didn’t realize I had published so many poems in so many places. Hey tanks pal. Now go play outside.

  • On April 25, 2009 at 3:33 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    “It isn’t the pseudonymity that’s offensive, it’s what you do with it.”
    No Nowah, it’s childish and it appear what you do with it is stalk people. Pretty damn creepy if you ask me.

  • On April 25, 2009 at 3:35 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Besides I don’t take much stock in people who are afraid to let people know what they think. I mean, that’s pretty high-schoolish I think.

  • On April 25, 2009 at 3:37 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Hey, I thought this was a grown-up site.

  • On April 25, 2009 at 3:37 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Thomas, Good answer! The issue remains that this matter was brought up about Service STILL being popular. My response was simply that his sales appear to me to be primarily for kids. Hence the kids only.

    Personally speaking I find Service childish and boring. He is not widely accepted within the academic arena where much of poetry is included and excluded. Granted colleges and universities remain merely a threshold.

    Now whether there are some poems, poets etc that are better off with a children’s audience or as you say an adults only, sure I think we can make that distinction. I don’t think d.a. levy would be a children’s poet, whereas, sure, Service is, a majority of his sing-songy trite work anyway.

    Does it mean poets don’t write poems that children might not like? Absolutely not. But these folks who have a amazing grasp of the obvious continually cite the Cats poems by TSE. Yeah, big deal.

  • On April 25, 2009 at 3:38 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Does that make him a poet for kids? Naw. That poem, yes. However TSE IS included in the canon and hence an adult poet.

    I’m not sure that Ginsberg might not be an adults only poet, though once again, perhaps in the plethora of poems he wrote there might be a poem or two that kids would like. But is he a poet who’s work is primarily for kids? No, again.

    My own contention that Service is for kids is backed up by my own experience and expert opinion. I think that’s enough. I’m not much once for the foolish Internet foot-stomping, hand-wringing process of “On Account of I said So” form of evidence that permeates these types of arguments.

    Of course then again I spend endless hours teaching what is and isn’t evidence used to support one’s thesis.

    And please buy my new book once it comes out so I won’t have to dilly-dally here with he riff-raff.

    Yrs in brotherly Affectation
    JC

  • On April 25, 2009 at 4:42 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Jack,

    Your book does look interesting. I do plan to purchase it.

    I can accept that you find Service “childish.”

    Look at baseball, for instance. Millions of adults follow baseball, and I respect that, and I also respect others who look at competitive sports and yawn and find baseball and other sports “childish.”

    I’m not sure why your notion has become so contentious. I’m willing to accept your point of view, even though I don’t feel quite the same as you do.

    I think we’ve stumbled on a fascinating topic, however:

    The childish v. the child-like.

    Is William Blake for kids?

    Is it always better to appeal to both kids and adults? I would think, yes, at least in matters of aesthetics, but I might be wrong.

    I do think the Simone Weil quote can facilitate the new branch of our discussion.

    When Weil writes, “Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating,” this sounds to me like a childish view.

    A hard-working, responsible adult would not necessarily find ‘real good’ “new, marvelous, intoxicating.” For instance, if the gutters need cleaning, such a job, when finished, will make us ‘feel good,’ but this ‘real good’ is not ‘new, marvelous, intoxicating.’ Likewise, only a child, I think, would find ‘imaginary good’ to be ‘boring.’

    Thomas

  • On April 25, 2009 at 5:11 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    “I’m not sure why your notion has become so contentious..”

    It’s the singer not the song. I’m used to it. Don’t care.

    I am glad we stumbled on something. I feel there is simply just too much stumbling around here.

    “Is it always better to appeal to both kids and adults? I would think, yes, at least in matters of aesthetics, but I might be wrong.”

    I have often wondered and have heard people say that many or even most children’s tales were written for adults (Where the Wild Things Are for example.)

    Was Alice in Wonderland written for children?

    Wizard of Oz?

    Magic Mountain? Oops. Not that one. Sorry.

    I think, once again solely based on my own experiences with publishing, that there is far too much specialization going on. Too many boxes people want to put authors/poets into.

    I presume that is based on the commerce of it all. It is afterall called the publishing BUSINESS.

    I think it would be great to write something that appealed to both adults and children. Something that was hugely popular with the masses and at the same time accepted in academic circles.

    I am not sure if there is something like that these days.

    I always remember what one student told me when we were talking about reading. They told me that they DID read a lot and that they tried to read “heavy” books. “I’m reading The Da Vinci Code right now.” they said.

    Heavy? Maybe they meant in terms of actual weight.

    It’s a shady business this poetry stuff. It’s not for everyone. I’m not too sure it should be.

  • On April 25, 2009 at 7:19 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Jack,

    Alice in Wonderland & The Wizard of Oz are more excellent examples.

    When you write:

    “I think, once again solely based on my own experiences with publishing, that there is far too much specialization going on. Too many boxes people want to put authors/poets into.

    I presume that is based on the commerce of it all. It is afterall called the publishing BUSINESS.”

    Yes, I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Jill Lepore, a professor at Harvard, puns wildly on her name throughout an essay on Poe in ‘The New Yorker’ this week; she cannot get over the fact Poe was “poor.” For her, the Panic of 1837 defines Poe more than anything else. (????) She finds it unforgivable that Poe wrote for money.

    There is a certain kind of academic intellectual who simply cannot forgive the fact that Poe was a rough-and-tumble journalist.

    Lepore’s condescending tone is precisely that of an adult (Lepore) barely able to tolerate a child. (Poe)

    Here’s how she introduces Poe’s most famous poem to her readers:

    “The poem tells the story of a man…”

    And therefore it is for children…

    Thomas

  • On April 25, 2009 at 7:45 pm Colin Ward wrote:

    I assume we can agree that Service’s work is largely missing from the U.S. canon, just as it is included in the English and prominent in the Canadian canons. As for Service’s poems being most suitable for children, I can’t comment until I’ve checked out how often Dr. Seuss depicted cremations, hookers, outhouses and barroom brawls. This isn’t the time or place to question an institution that considers Billy Collins compulsory reading as it cranks out PhDs who think “Prufrock” is free verse. Greater comfort can be found in the notion that the average eight-year-old apparently knows what the words “moil”, “marge” and “trice” mean.

    Perhaps we could just say that, like so many humorists, Service appeals to the child in most of us.

  • On April 25, 2009 at 8:04 pm john wrote:

    Jack,

    Your Il Dottore-posing-as-Miles Gloriosus act is just too funny.

    Thanks for the laughs.

    John

  • On April 25, 2009 at 9:33 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Thomas,Perhaps all of this business about Service lies in semantics. Perhaps he APPEALS, as Colin pointed out, to the CHILD in all (or some) of us. Further still, I might rephrase that and say Service appeals mostly to the child in some of us. I hope that does the trick.

    And as Colin agreed, Service is EXCLUDED from the American canon, yet still he survives. Good for him! If you put the two together: Service appeals mostly to the child in some of us. (and) yet he survives. Then I believe the “just for kids” or “mostly for kids” comes into play.

    WHY does he survive? Because academic scholars MUST read his work? NO.

    WHY does he survive? Because people who love and read poetry flock to his work? I DON’T THINK SO. PERHAPS SOME DO. NO ONE I KNOW DOES AND I’M ALWAYS IN THE COMPANY OF WRITERS, POETS AND LOVERS OF LITERATURE AND BUYERS OF POETRY BOOKS. This is merely a sampling but I think it should suffice.

    So then WHY does he survive? People buy his books. Adults do.
    But for whom? THEMSELVES? I don’t think so. For their kids to read? YES.

    Hence he is mostly for kids or the kid in us all who would like to share him with the kids of their own.

    I’m not quite understanding Colin’s other remarks.
    “This isn’t the time or place to question an institution that considers Billy Collins compulsory reading as it cranks out PhDs who think “Prufrock” is free verse.”

    Once again, it has been my experience that no one is being “cranked” out and yes, Billy Collins is highly regarded within many academic environments. I’m not sure why there might be a problem with that. As a contemporary poet it serves students well to study him. As it is to study Updike’s “Supermarket” or A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” I don’t see the connection.

    The colleges and universities only serve as a threshold to greater understanding and appreciation of poetry and poets. They are indeed gatekeepers but I think it was R. Bly who said something about the study of poetry being a life long engagement.

    Yes, I too read the New Yorker article about Poe. I think I alerted you to it in another thread. I imagined you might like to read it.
    I previously noted that as a working writer, at least according to the author, he wrote for MONEY. Good for him. Welcome to the club.

    I think Mike Snider wanted to make an issue out of the fact that I said what someone else said in a New Yorker article. So let me get this straight: if I agree with what someone else wrote there is a problem? It would seem to me that the problem might best be taken up with the author. I am only engaged in a broad argument.

    Anyhoo, more later….and yes, the publishing BUSINESS MUST have categories of writers and if you don’t fit into their predestined categories you just don’t get very far.

    When I did my American Literacy book with Morrow, the editor I had said he didn’t want to use my name on the book as Jack Conay, because Jack Conway sounded like a mystery or detective fiction writer.

    He said he wanted a more “academic” name and did I have one (Like I could reach into a box and pull out some name that would fit into his category. Hence it became J. North Conway, which by is standards and preconception sounded more “academic.”

    When I did the Cape Cod book I jokingly asked the editor if I should call myself Captain Jack Conway or Captain J. North and she actually began to consider it.

    It is a funny business. Adult poets versus children’s. Categories of fiction writers. Non fiction. Light verse. And on and on it goes.

    Once again, it is a business and working writers are in it for the money. Ya gots to do what you gots to do.

    Good news for me anyway. The book on Cape Cod is going into reprint for a second edition They sold out the entire first run. I’m not even sure what the run was but we’re in second edition which means I get to spend another summer down the Cape hawking books. Again, good for me.

  • On April 25, 2009 at 9:46 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Psychologically, it would make sense for any artist to use the fact that all audiences were once children, most likely first experienced art as children, and most likely experienced emotions more powerfully as children than they ever will again, as adults.

    If we believe with Plato, that powerful emotions and their cultivation in art are not to be trusted, then I can see why it might be important to degrade art that is emotional and sensual under the rubric ‘for kids.’

    And perhaps this unconscious Plato-ism is the single most crucial canonical measure: a work of art must appeal to us as adults and not children (in all that this implies).

    Jack has actually hit on something very important.

  • On April 25, 2009 at 9:52 pm Mike Snider wrote:

    Jack, I misunderstood your comment about Poe writing for money. Sorry.

  • On April 25, 2009 at 9:59 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    I re-read the Poe article. I did not find it as severe as you. But I did enjoy learning more about Poe’s life.

    No one I know ever filled their stomach on praise.
    “Waitress, could I have an art for art’s sake sandwich.”

    I find nothing at all wrong with Poe writing for money. If you want to be a working writer that’s what you do.

    If my memory serves me well, didn’t Poe go head to head with Sarah Hale while he was editor of Gentleman’s Quarterly when she was the editor of the Ladies Journal in terms of circulation. And I think Hale blew him (maybe she did) out of the water when she introduced “lingeire” ads into her magazine.

    I think that was true. At least I wrote it was. lol.

    Mary Had a little Lamb..Sarah hale…you think that might be a children’s poem? lol. It’s still very popular. But I can’t locate it in the canon. What’s up with that?

  • On April 25, 2009 at 10:01 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Mike,
    I just joshing you. We all write for money or most of us.
    My reaction was based on your wanting to attack me for saying it when it was the New Yorker article.You know Mike, EVERYTHING I say isn’t wrong or aimed at belittling people.

  • On April 25, 2009 at 10:04 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    PS Mike I am sorry if I offended you. I can shoot from the lip too often. I read your blog. Pretty cool stuff. Peace out brother.

  • On April 25, 2009 at 11:01 pm Mike Snider wrote:

    Thank you, Jack. Tone is difficult to judge online.

    It’s funny to think of lingerie blowing Poe out of the water. Too bad neither he nor Hale have double-dactylic names- ooh – but Gentleman’s Quarterly does!

  • On April 26, 2009 at 10:38 am thomas brady wrote:

    Mike,

    I’m glad you’ve made up with Jack.

    There’s hope for Harriet, yet!

    “It’s funny to think of lingerie blowing Poe out of the water”

    Poe was the most successful magazine editor of his day. His circulation numbers broke records. Poe broke records with dignity, too. No ‘lingerie ads.’

    Longfellow was dignified, too. So was Hawthorne. Emerson was chaste in his writings. None of these authors’ writings would have appeared next to ‘lingerie ads’ in their day. Come to think of it, I can’t think of any canonical authors whose writings appeared next to ‘lingerie ads.’

    This is sort of like saying Glamor magazine blew Henry James out the water. Which it did. Henry James sold very poorly in his day, and it caused him to have a nervous breakdown.

    Would Henry James, on his 200th birthday, in ‘The New Yorker,’ or anywhere else, in a piece by a distinguished scholar from Harvard, be belittled around the fact that he (Henry James) couldn’t sell books, a point driven home for the entire length of the essay?

    I can’t imagine it, but if it did happen, all the better for Henry James. The backlash against the review would probably help his reputation immensely.

    Poe is fortunate, however, to be sneered at in public by a distinguished scholar every 20 years, or so. Harold Bloom did it to Poe back in 1984 (October 11) in the ‘New York Review of Books,’ T.S. Eliot did a hatchet job on Poe in his “From Poe to Valery” (1949). Aldous Huxley did it in the 1930s and ‘The Nation’ did it at the turn of the century. All these Poe attacks said the same nutty thing, too; that Poe’s immense influence in France was merely an accident: Poe was lucky to sound better in French than English, which is the oddest sort of attempt to turn a writer’s positive into a negative I’ve ever heard.

    The bottom line here is this, and we can see it in Jill Lepore’s childish rant against Poe in ‘The New Yorker,’ as she repeats lies against Poe’s character which have long since been refuted by Poe scholars. (Poe was not found “drunk,” in Baltimore, nor was he “dragged around Baltimore to cast votes,” nor was he “deeply racist, nor was he a “liar,” nor was he ruined by the Panic of 1937. LePore clearly did not consult the latest Poe scholarship, or any Poe scholarship that I can see.)

    Even though LePore is a respected and distinguished scholar, and not only a professor, but a Chair, at Harvard, she drops all decorum, all scholarly respectability and judgment in her attack, and does this blithely and sloppily, in completely open ‘sneer mode,’ because she knows she will be applauded by her peers at Harvard and Yale and Stanford, where distinguished chairs, Vendler, Bloom, Yvor Winters have never felt anything but contempt for Poe.

    Here’s the bottom line: Lepore, from her perch at Harvard, is fighting an old Harvard war by proxy, a war which goes back to the bad blood between Poe and Harvard man Emerson, Harvard Divinity School hero William Ellery Channing, and their friend William Greenleaf Eliot, T.S. Eliot’s grandfather. (There’s a host of other historical figures involved who did not like Poe on Emerson’s side of the ledger, including Horace Greeley, Margaret Fuller, and Griswold, but I don’t have the space to go into it all here.)

    Poe destroyed (with a stabbing, comic review) the poetic reputation of Channing’s nephew, Channing the Younger, who was living off Emerson’s dollar while anticipating a career as the first great transcendalist poet. Whitman came much later, after Poe was dead.

    After Poe’s death, they breathed much easier, these transcendalists like Waldo Emerson and his friend William Dean Howells–to whom Emerson made the ‘jingle man’ remark in a fit of rage when just-in-from-the-West Howells made the mistake of telling Emerson he only knew Channing’s work from a review by Edgar Poe. Howells would later publish Henry James in his role as editor of “The Atlantic,” Henry James another important anglo-american literary bridge, through his super wealthy father, in his friendship of both Emerson and T.S. Eliot.

    Lepore is intent on reminding everyone who reads Poe, that, hey, did you know this guy hates you?

    “The public that swallowed that bird and bug [‘The Gold Bug’] Poe strenuously resented.”

    How does she know this?

    She continues: “You love Poe or you don’t, but either way, Poe doesn’t love you.”

    Wait a minute. Why must we ‘love Poe or don’t?’ Can’t we be like, you know, a scholar, and not be so…black and white?

    And ‘Poe doesn’t love you’?? Where is this coming from??

    “A writer more condescending to more adoring readers would be hard to find. ‘The nose of a mob is its imagination,’ he wrote. ‘By this, at any time, it can be quietly led.'”

    Yes, and so? Time out of mind, writers have condemend the ‘mob.’ Emerson did; why, at one time, or another, they all did; even Karl Marx. Yet this ‘mob’ quotation is how scholar Jill LePore tries to convince us that ‘Poe doesn’t like us.’

    What is interesting here is not what LePore says about Poe, but what Poe has done to poor professor LePore.

    It’s almost as if Poe isn’t *allowed* to be popular. She calls “The Philosophy of Composition” a “lovely little essay, but, [she continues] as Poe himself admitted, it’s a bit of jiggery-pokery, too. Poe didn’t actually write ‘The Raven’ backward.”

    How does she know Poe “didn’t actually write ‘The Raven’ backward?”

    She doesn’t.

    This is Lepore’s spleen talking again, the same spleen that sneering calls ‘The Philosophy of Composition’ a “lovely little essay.”

    She doesn’t bother to quote from this “lovely little essay” (she’s far more interested in rumors of Poe’s ‘character’) but here’s one passage I like:

    “And here I may as well say a few words of the versification. My first object (as usual) was originality. The extent to which this has been neglected, in versification, is one of the most unaccountable things in the world. Admitting that there is little possibility of variety in mere rhythm, it is still clear that the possible varieties of metre and stanza are absolutely infinite — and yet, for centuries, no man, in verse, has ever done, or ever seemed to think of doing, an original thing.

    The fact is, originality (unless in minds of very unusual force) is by no means a matter, as some suppose, of impulse or intuition. In general, to be found, it must be elaborately sought, and although a positive merit of the highest class, demands in its attainment less of invention than negation.

    [This I find particularly interesting: ‘originality is by no means a matter, as some suppose, of impulse or intuition. In general, to be found, it must be elaborately sought’]

    Of course, I pretend to no originality in either the rhythm or metre of the “Raven.” The former is trochaic — the latter is octametre acatalectic, alternating with heptameter catalectic repeated in the refrain of the fifth verse, and terminating with tetrameter catalectic. Less pedantically — the feet employed throughout (trochees) consist of a long syllable followed by a short: the first line of the stanza consists of eight of these feet — the second of seven and a half (in effect two-thirds) — the third of eight — the fourth of seven and a half — the fifth the same — the sixth three and a half. Now, each of these lines, taken individually, has been employed before, and what originality the “Raven” has, is in their combination into stanza; nothing even remotely approaching this combination has ever been attempted. The effect of this originality of combination is aided by other unusual, and some altogether novel effects, arising from an extension of the application of the principles of rhyme and alliteration.”

    When you actually READ POE, and forget about the little ‘character snipes,’ well, isn’t it…refreshing?

    I don’t know if Poe, “loves me” as his reader, as much as Jill Lepore “loves me,” as her reader, and I’m sure Poe was “near starvation” or something to that effect, when he wrote the above words, and was worried deeply about ‘the Panic of 1837, or some other historical event on which Jill Lepore is expert, but, in any case, I’m glad Poe wrote what he did, and I get the added attraction of this ‘Harvard Hate Poe’ on the side.

    Thomas

  • On April 26, 2009 at 11:16 am Jack Conway wrote:

    Thomas, I admire your fierce admiration of Poe. But we can’t let that get in the way of other interesting facts. I think you’ll find that historically, Sarah Hale did beat Poe when they went head to head as editors for competing magzines vying for circulation. I think she might have been the first woman editor also. I could be mistaken.
    I think Maggie Fuller was the first foreign correspondent.

    And she (Hale) was the first to introduce lingerie ads into magazine publishing. She also, if am not incorrect, introduced the word “lingerie” to the American lexicon (used by the French already) as a way of getting away from the using the not so feminine words “women’s under garments” during this battle royale with Poe.

    Oh yeah, and inbetween time she wrote, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Another poem held in particular high esteem by the American canon. That and Humpty Dumpty I think. Held in esteem that is. Not written by Hale.

  • On April 26, 2009 at 11:19 am Jack Conway wrote:

    “Poe destroyed (with a stabbing, comic review) the poetic reputation of Channing’s nephew, Channing the Younger, who was living off Emerson’s dollar while anticipating a career as the first great transcendalist poet. Whitman came much later, after Poe was dead. ”

    Havard….etc….Boy that’s along time to hold a grudge. Even I don’t hold them that long.

  • On April 26, 2009 at 4:10 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Jack,

    I’d like to know more about Sarah Hale.

    Poe knew her son at West Point.

    Hale published Poe’s “Purloined Letter” in her magazine. Smart lady.

    The author of “Casey at the Bat” had a nephew who published “The Waste Land” in his magazine (Emerson & Fuller’s old “Dial”).

    So there ya go.

    Yea, Poe was in some way involved with every female author in America. The Elizabeth Ellet/Fanny Osgood/Margaret Fuller affair was as fascinating and bizarre a story in American Letters as we’re likely to see.

    Thomas

  • On April 26, 2009 at 4:57 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    I can refer yo to a very good introductorynbook on her called NEW ENGLAND WOMEN OF SUBSTANCE (It is not about fat girls I assure you.) Let me see, who is the author. It will come to me soon. I’ll go dig it out from my collection and post some details by and by.

  • On April 26, 2009 at 4:59 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Oh by the way, my sincerest apology for you know what, where and when. I was totally wrong. For my penance I have been forced to read Robert W. Service!

  • On April 26, 2009 at 8:56 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Well Thomas, I see the touchy-feelie granola tree hugging crowd want to hold hands and use their inside voices. Your writing is th best of the lot. I draws the most comments. Don’t let that BS spewed by that disgruntled Kent bother you. Who the fuck told Kent this was HIS site? Man where does a character like that think he gets his entitlement. There are no dues here. The self-important toady.

  • On April 27, 2009 at 8:33 am Annie Finch wrote:

    I confess that there is a childlike part of me underlying my entire involvement in poetry. I enjoy Poe; I enjoy Service: and I enjoy Leonie Adams — I have an essay about her, btw, at http://usm.maine.edu/wompo/Leonie-Adams.html

    I love that these people are coming up on this thread.

  • On April 27, 2009 at 9:49 am thomas brady wrote:

    Annie,

    I confess I barely knew of Leonie Adams until I found her recently in one of my mid-20th century poetry anthologies (I love collecting poetry anthologies, for the poetry, the forgotten names, the introductions).

    Your assessment of Adams is spot on. What an interesting poet!

    Perhaps that strong iambic pulse which I detect in her work made her less popular, and occasionaly a puzzling word or phrase, but I find her infinitely charming!

    And a bonus! you mention a “scathing essay” against the wonderful Millay by John Crowe Ransom–a central and complex figure in Modern Poetry I’ve been studying on my own.

    I just found this on the web:

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2220/is_n2_v37/ai_17249754/

    Here’s the beginning of the essay (1995) by John Timberman Newcomb:

    “For most of this century Edna St. Vincent Millay was among the most widely-known and read of all American literary figures. Yet at the peak of her popular reputation there began an intensive effort in certain critical circles to marginalize Millay’s poetry, which by the time of her death in 1950 had succeeded in destroying much of her critical reputation. The widening disjunction between popular and critical evaluations of Millay mirrored a broader evaluative shift in the critical canons of modernist poetry during the mid-century period: away from communicative immediacy and social commentary, towards such qualifies as complexity, originality, and impersonality, and best exemplified by such poets as Eliot, Pound, and Yeats. Devastated by this canonical shift were the critical reputations of two groups of well-known writers: on the one hand, explicitly populist poets such as Vachel Lindsay, Carl Sandburg, Archibald MacLeish, and Stephen Vincent Benet; and on the other, female lyricists such as Amy Lowell, Sara Teasdale, Elinor Wylie, Grace Hazard Conkling, and numerous others. Millay is one of the few poets in both of these categories. In recent years feminist historians and critics of modernism have begun to reclaim Millay as a central figure in establishing and expanding the place of the female voice in American poetry; I hope to add a dimension to their portrayal of Millay by arguing that it was her forceful coupling of a poetics of progressive political dissidence with her longstanding feminism that made her especially threatening to the reactionary forces of mid-century criticism, whose efforts will remain in force until we can include in the critical reevaluation of Millay a serious, sympathetic consideration of her explicitly political poetry.”

    Thomas

  • On April 27, 2009 at 4:34 pm john wrote:

    The post-war anti-populist critical crusade that you mention, Thomas, coincided with parallel efforts in painting and classical music: Down with Thomas Hart Benton and Aaron Copland (‘s ’30s period), up with Jackson Pollack and John Cage. Nothing against Pollack, Cage, or the difficult poets, but I (often) love the populists too. Seems to me (and I could be wrong!) that the painting and music worlds have been quicker to make peace between the populists and the elitists.

    (Only in painting did the elitists get rich.)

  • On April 27, 2009 at 5:41 pm Don Share wrote:

    Yet Thomas Hart Benton was Pollack’s teacher and mentor!

  • On April 27, 2009 at 11:32 pm Mike Snider wrote:

    and a better painter

  • On April 28, 2009 at 11:59 am thomas brady wrote:

    John,

    Yea, the populist Marxist 30s ran headlong into WW II which turned the U.S. into a capitalist giant. The easily manufactured, like Thomas Hart Benton illustrations, books of poetry, recordings of songs, lost a certain ‘Fine Arts’ character. Pete Seeger couldn’t compete with Elvis. Or, even if he could, Seeger and Presley became the same thing: popular music and not ‘fine arts’ music.

    Communism as ‘cool’ collapsed and elitism as ‘cool’ replaced it.

    Democracy and Fine Arts refused to fit.

    Meanwhile the Guggenheims built museums to hold the “fine art” which was deemed “fine art” precisely because the public couldn’t understand it. Critics got “fine art” credentials if they ‘explained’ this ‘art’ to the public and thus ‘expertise’ shifted over to the non-popular and ‘fine art,’ ‘expertise’ and ‘obscurity’ became the same.

    Poetry was following painting in this regard; the market/capitalist distribution aspect was different, but the ideology was the same.

    Thomas

  • On April 28, 2009 at 4:13 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    “Yet Thomas Hart Benton was Pollack’s teacher and mentor!”
    Don Share

    “and a better painter”
    Mike Snider

    Comparing Benton to Pollack is like comparing the Wright brothers to Chuck Yeager.

    “Benton taught at the Art Students League of New York from 1926 to 1935 and at the Kansas City Art Institute from 1935 to 1941. His most famous student, Jackson Pollock, whom he mentored in the Art Students League, would go on to found the Abstract Expressionist movement—wildly different from Benton’s own style. Jackson Pollock often said that Benton’s traditional teachings gave him something to rebel against. However, art scholars…have recognized that Pollock’s organizational principles continued to follow Benton’s teachings even after his move away from realism, with forms composed around a central vertical pole with each form counterbalanced by an equal and opposite form.”

    – Wikipedia

  • On April 28, 2009 at 4:14 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Pollock.

  • On April 28, 2009 at 5:25 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Gary,

    J.M.W. Turner was born in 1775.

    Thomas

  • On April 28, 2009 at 7:46 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    J.M.W. Turner…that was Impressionism, Thomas, not Expressionism, let alone Abstract Expressionism.

    BTW, do you remember my poem from many, many moons ago called:

    ‘Jackson Pollock was a Cubist’?

  • On April 28, 2009 at 8:01 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Gary what a wonderful post. So insightful. I’ve been spending all afternoon contemplating your wonderful words. I’m just so inthralled with everything you post here all the time.

  • On April 28, 2009 at 8:03 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Jack, what a wonderful post you posted about Gary’s wonderful post and it’s wonderful that you’re posting such wonderful posts about Gary’s posts when he posts them.

  • On April 28, 2009 at 8:23 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Gary, regarding those wonderful posts of yours that you posted so wonderfully, I spent the entire afternoon trying and trying to explain to some poor souls the difference between what being a real editor for a real newspaper or magazine for a real period of time means versus just pretending to be. It just took so much out of me but I was so refreshed when I saw your wonderful post that you posted I forgot all about how difficult it is to explain things to remedial learners.

  • On April 28, 2009 at 8:58 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Jack: Once again I’m wonderfully confused.

    Does this demand a ‘thank you’ or another ‘fuck you’?

    Whatever. Fuck you and thanks, kid.

  • On April 28, 2009 at 9:11 pm Mike Snider wrote:

    Gary, there’s no accounting for taste, as they say, but Pollack bores the liviing shit out of me — seems like the kind od painting you’d pick to match the sofa. I don’t doubt he worked hard, and people have done mathematical analyses of his work which how that those pieces which sell for the most money approximate a fractal dimension (long before Benoit Mandelbrot) of something which I’ll call 1.3 because I’m too lazy to look up the actual number. Benton’s work, on the other hand, seems to me to resist “that’d look good in the dining room” – it’s ABOUT something more than the painter’s private struggles with color and form — and in painting as well as poetry I’m much more interested in the artist’s encounter with the world than with his or her formal struggles. In fact, it seems to me that formal struggles only become interesting insofar as they are in the service of engaging (creating?) some shared experience of the world.

  • On April 28, 2009 at 9:12 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    By the way, Jack, I’ve been adding up all your professed years of editing, publishing and teaching and comparing it to your language skills. I have determined that you are either 114 years old or 14.

  • On April 28, 2009 at 9:29 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    114 years old will do.

  • On April 28, 2009 at 9:29 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Yeah ain’t it sumthing to think my language skills is so bad dat I gits so published. How’s dat happen?

  • On April 28, 2009 at 9:31 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Gary, who loves ya, baby? Now I’ve got that Godawful boor Gould on my case. Jesus where do they get these boors from? A Boor Making Plant?

  • On April 28, 2009 at 9:33 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    K-rice, can you imagine being in a room with these guys. They’d wilt the plants.

  • On April 28, 2009 at 9:38 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Does this place remind you of the death throes of the Republican Party. The Blog of No.

  • On April 28, 2009 at 11:03 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Mr. Snider…I agree (except about Jackson Pollock.

    Here is a recent exchange I had on Silliman’s blog:

    Gary B. Fitzgerald said…

    Seth Abramson said:

    “Amongst the younger set, the so-called SoQ has few if any highly-vocal defenders because it’s a vastly-outmanned minority position in the contemporary American poetry community.”

    And:

    “It would be fair to say, I suppose, that generally–more so than so-called post-avantism–third-way poetics is ascendant amongst the younger set.”

    Seth, I recommend that you click on the link up on Ron’s 4/23 post called “Why students don’t like poetry”. It links to ‘The Chronicle Review’. Most of the posters are teachers and professors bemoaning the fact that their “younger set” students can’t understand and, therefore, do not relate to contemporary poetry. They need to use rhyming and metrical poems to even engage them. I think you’ll find it quite interesting. I saw that K. Silem Mohammed weighed in also.

    Apparently, the “younger set” are not fans of the “younger set” poetry.

    Brian said…

    Apparently, the “younger set” are not fans of the “younger set” poetry.You’re comparing apples to some fruit from a planet on Omicron Persei 8 here. The younger set mentioned in that Chronicle piece is made up of your average undergraduate student (read: not a creative writing student or even an English major) for whom Cummings’s “since feeling is first” is the height of experimental verse. The “younger set” Seth is talking about is made up of younger poets who are far more experienced in reading those poets mentioned in the Chronicle piece, Merwin and Ashbery primarily. You can’t draw conclusions about the latter based on anecdata about the former.

    Curtis Faville said…

    Gary:

    So this is a surprise?

    How does dumbing down poetry by teaching it as if it were a mathematical quiz game enliven or raise the bar for its appreciation?

    The deepest experiences adolescents are likely to have is with the power of assertion.

    When I was 15, I was most impressed by the WWI elegies of Owen, the mock-sad ironies of Prufrock, etc.

    Wouldn’t young girls get more from reading Plath’s Ariel, than counting syllables in a Moore poem?

    Teaching poetry as an exercise in prosody is like using grammar (diagramming sentences) to teach literature. Henry James wrote some beautiful sentences, but diagramming them wouldn’t be likely to draw you to his work.

    Gary B. Fitzgerald said…

    Brian, you have confirmed my very point. You said:

    “The younger set mentioned in that Chronicle piece is made up of your average undergraduate student (read: not a creative writing student or even an English major) for whom Cummings’s “since feeling is first” is the height of experimental verse.”

    Curtis, you have confirmed my very point. You said:

    “How does dumbing down poetry by teaching it as if it were a mathematical quiz game enliven or raise the bar for its appreciation?”

    My point was (if you’ve been following the debate these last few months) that poetry has evolved so far beyond the average reader that it shouldn’t even be considered ‘poetry’ at all any more. Now, it has become just another esoteric science understandable only by the initiated elite, like Quantum Membrane Theory or Genetic Biochemistry. Of what value, then, is poetry if it’s completely inaccessible without knowing the ‘secret handshake’? I thought the whole purpose of poetry was to communicate to and enlighten those (most) people who aren’t poets.

    Poetry has not died because of the audience we so cynically blame. Poetry was murdered by the poets themselves.

    “Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.”
    -King Kong – 1933

    Curtis Faville said…

    Gary:

    People said the same thing about Eliot and Pound in the 1920’s. It was a joke.

    Poetry isn’t “too difficult”.

    Poetry taught in the schools continues a tradition begun in childhood, when we read jingle-jangle rhyme poems and narratives to the tots, indoctrinating them with cliches and notions of verse as tinker and bric-a-brac. Then that continues in adulthood, and readers look at writing which doesn’t twinkle and chime as mysterious.

    Why do people read romances and mysteries and animal stories and joke books? Naughty!

    Poets are the naughtiest of all. Don’t they know poetry should be straightforward and simple and accessible, sweet and easy as a candy-bar?

    Poetry makes nothing happen. Let’s dispense with it. Better yet, let’s all sing ballads. That’s easily done.

    Poets who don’t toe the line. Poets who insist on arguing about that–banish them. Let’s get back to roots. Rollicking good stuff. Nursery rhymes.

    Lowest common denominator. That’s the ticket. Eddie Guest. Robert W. Service. Poems even a moron could appreciate.

    Now we’re getting somewhere.

    Gary B. Fitzgerald said…

    Curtis…if I didn’t know better I’d think that you were secretly following that notorious ‘SoQ’ site Harriet. In fact, as we speak, there is a raging debate going on about whether Robert Service, excluded from the canon, is a ‘children’s’ poet or not.

    There is also a fellow named Thomas Brady there who contends that Pound, Eliot and the ‘New Critics’ actually destroyed the public interest in poetry.

    So, you’re a ‘post-avant’ spy, aren’t you?

    Well, I don’t know, but you have certainly verified my point yet again. You said:

    “Lowest common denominator. That’s the ticket. Eddie Guest. Robert W. Service. Poems even a moron could appreciate.”

    You are no more than an elitist snob. Do you know how to determine if a man is a fool or not? He’s usually the one who calls other people fools. Do you know how to tell if a man is a poet or not? A genuine poet writes for the “morons”.

    Who, then, in fact, is the moron?

    We’ll be able to settle this dispute in about, oh, fifty, sixty years or so.

    Steven Fama said…

    Oh my Gary B. Fitzgerald.

    Your whole thing about poetry evolving to a point where you can’t call it poetry anymore, the poets have destroyed, etc . . .

    sounds a heck of a lot like what some said about Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz, or The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s more way-out numbers, or the excursions of the Sun Ra Arkestra, or Albert Ayler’s screeching beauties, or Braxton’s playing, etc. etc.

    Moldy fig!

    Gary B. Fitzgerald said…

    “sounds a heck of a lot like what some said about Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz, or The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s more way-out numbers, or the excursions of the Sun Ra Arkestra, or Albert Ayler’s screeching beauties, or Braxton’s playing, etc. etc.”

    Steven…what the hell are you talking about?

    Isn’t that my whole point? That nobody has even heard of these people…or of the poets you and Curtis so admire?

    You do remember the other six billion of us out here, don’t you?

  • On April 30, 2009 at 3:49 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Mike,

    I don’t care for Pollock, either.

    Gary, I can’t find that conversation on Silliman. I can’t make heads nor tails of that site…

    Thomas

  • On April 30, 2009 at 4:25 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Thomas: Go to Silliman’s blog and just scroll down to the April 22 post. The date of the post is at the top of each post and the comments link at the bottom after the labels reference.

  • On May 6, 2009 at 11:22 am Don Share wrote:

    Dare I add a comment to this thread?

    A brand-new suite of poems by Geoffrey Hill (“Seven Hymns to our Lady of Chartres”) opens with, you guessed it, an epigraph from Weil. Go here:

    http://www.unicaen.fr/mrsh/lisa/publicationsGb.php?p=1&id=0243&num=024


Posted in Uncategorized on Monday, April 20th, 2009 by Annie Finch.