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What Do You Know?

By Don Share

180px-knowledge-reid-highsmith

Judith Shklar introduced her book Ordinary Vices by saying, “It is only if we step outside the divinely ruled moral universe that we can really put our minds to the common ills we inflict upon one another each day.” I suppose poets these days aren’t supposed to put their minds to grand tasks – you know, it’s more like write a poem every day for a month. But since it’s not only National Poetry Month but National Uh-Huh month, I thought I’d post something, you know, deep.

Montaigne, whom Shklar mentions in that introduction, was famous for his skeptical remark ‘Que sais-je?” (‘What do I know?’). He wasn’t a poet (though his best friend Étienne de la Boétie was), but like a poet, he was quite good at making big pronouncements. Take these, all nicely applicable to poets:

* Obsession is the wellspring of genius and madness.
* Everyone calls barbarity what he is not accustomed to.
* If you belittle yourself, you are believed; if you praise yourself, you are disbelieved.
* No propositions astonish me, no belief offends me, whatever contrast it offers to my own. There is no fancy so frivolous and so extravagant that it does not seem to me quite suitable to the production of the human mind.
* Nothing is so firmly believed as that which least is known.
* Man cannot make a worm, yet he will make gods by the dozen.

What is it about the French that makes them able to come up with this stuff? In the April 2009 issue of Poetry – which is our annual translation issue - we’ve got a poem that seems to take up where Montaigne left off. It’s called “What I Know,” by Patrick Dubost, who has published more than twenty collections (including under the alias Armand Le Poete, a trickster alter ego) and several CDs. Trained as a musicologist and mathematician, he’s collaborated extensively with musicians, theater ensembles, and puppet theaters, and performs his sound poetry internationally. Here’s the poem in Fiona Sampson‘s translation:

1. I know that language is within the world and that, at the same time, the world is within language. I know we are at the border between language and the world.

2. I don’t like phrases such as “nothing new under the sun” or “it’s all been said already.” I know that at every moment we could affirm: “everything is always new under the sun” or “almost nothing has yet been said of what could be said.”

3. I know that there’s no true coherence except in apparent incoherence. Every object clothes itself in chaos. To take shape, every thought must manage its own vagueness.

4. Among the obvious: I know that every human activity consists, one way or another, of battling death.

5. I know that time is bound up with space. Time is the shadow of space. Space the shadow of time. I know that we live in the shadow of a shadow and that it returns to the light.

6. I know that I know nothing about love.

7. I know that I live not in the world, but in the shadow of the world. I know that I go through the world the way an insect goes through its entire life in the shadow of a bank.

8. I know that nothing is simple. Or more, that what’s simple is never truly, never completely, so. I know that everything adds up and that every element of this total depends on the whole.

9. I know that everything around me is nothing but a mass of contingency. I know that every word props itself up on an immense architecture of contingency.

10. I know that thunder comes after lightning and sometimes, in my dreams, thunder precedes lightning. I know that to see its opposite simultaneously with every phenomenon you must widen your eyes.

11. I know that whoever finds himself loses himself a little.

12. I know that I love a woman enormously, but I don’t know which one.

13. I know that to talk is to walk a path with emptiness to the right and emptiness to the left. I know that nothing can grasp this path with two ends. I know that writing is talking in frozen time.

14. I know that the word “table” is like a thousand tables. That a phrase is like a thousand thousand phrases. And that thinking is a match for water sports.

15. I know that every authentic poet is in decay.

16. To read isn’t necessarily to analyze, is not necessarily “to understand.” At the swimming pool, we don’t ask the swimmer the composition of the water, the number and distribution of swimmers, or why he’s picked this date to go swimming. We don’t ask him to describe, in mid-crawl, the architecture or acoustics of the place, or to explain a bird trapped under its roof, or to do a better imitation of the progress of some Olympic seal. We don’t ask him to memorize opening hours or screw himself up by whistling from the bench throughout an entire race in butterfly stroke. No. Finally, we don’t ask him, before each dive, to bring up some secret meaning from the very bottom of the pool. No. We let swimmers swim. We let swimmers swim. And the swimming pools fill up.

17. I know that I live and think inside a storehouse of books. Some recent, new, remarkable books, but in the great majority books which are decayed, moldy, have turned to the lightest heaps of dust. Only their metal frames and some fine particles of knowledge remain, unusable. Light from a few windows crosses the storehouse unimpeded.

18. Having found some daguerreotypes on the floor of an attic—portraits eroded by time and light—I know that forgetting is something enormous, that forgetting is our highest destiny.

19. I know that God doesn’t exist. That’s written everywhere in the storehouse—it can be made out through the portholes, too. I know that after death there’s nothing but death.

20. I know that, seen from the border between language and the world, the universe is in increasing entropy. But I no longer know what it is if I climb to the top of a tree (one of these trees on the border between language and the world), from where you can see far into language and far into the world at the same time.

21. Because I have scaled a tree, I know that beyond language is a huge plain, with dark flowers and little mazy footpaths.

-

As number three says, “Toute pensée, pour prendre corps, doit ménager sa part de flou.” Hey, good advice for poets!

Comments (67)

  • On April 13, 2009 at 1:03 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Your opening quote from Judith Shklar (“It is only if we step outside the divinely ruled moral universe that we can really put our minds to the common ills we inflict upon one another each day”) stands in interesting contrast to a review in last Sunday’s NY Times Bk Review of a book by the late Richard Neuhaus, titled American Babylon, about “natural law”. The basic concept of natural law is that moral rightness is an objective standard : it is “out there” and universal (example : “we hold these truths to be self-evident…”).

    My immediate off-the-cuff contingent gut response to this “poem” by Patrick Dubost : in the context of a world of concrete human problems – terrible crimes, real injustice, inequalities, & suffering – and of people who are trying to survive &/or rectify those profound problems – in this context, Dubost’s poem strikes me as another example of “literature” : complacent, pretentious, mystified, bogus “literary” mumob-jumbo.

    But then I’m just an ornery Puritan, I guess.

  • On April 13, 2009 at 1:51 pm thomas brady wrote:

    “I know that there’s no true coherence except in apparent incoherence. Every object clothes itself in chaos. To take shape, every thought must manage its own vagueness.”

    This is incoherent.

  • On April 13, 2009 at 1:53 pm Don Share wrote:

    We also have some “coherent” poems in the issue for those who prefer not to be mystified!!

  • On April 13, 2009 at 2:38 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Henry,

    There is only one task for poets today, and that is to rescue the reputation of Edgar Poe, our greatest natural genius, who is abused every day.

    Just today on an NPR Call-in show, which featured poetry memorized and recited, Jim Holt, one of the hosts, was discussing Blake’s ‘Rose, Thou Art Sick’ and having read it out-loud (badly; it sounded like he was reading an advertisement for ice cream) pointed out a stress in the meter that was counter to expectations and made all the difference, and then he mentioned how in his youth he had learned the poems of Poe, and he began to quote, “It was many and many a year ago…” and then interrupted himself with “blah, blah, blah” and said Poe sounded like a “popular song” and was “monotonous.”

    First, why should “popular song” be used as a cudgel to bash “poetry,” and why should “poetry” be used as a cudgel to bash “popular song?” This is snobbery, plain and simple.

    Secondly, Poe’s verse is not “monotonous.”

    A rock fan who hates jazz would call jazz “monotonous,” and a jazz fan who hates rock music would call rock “monotonous.”

    Both would be right–in their subjective points of view. A recognizable rhythm might be “monotonous” to some, while a purely random set of beats might be “monotonous” to another. Monotony can sound either like a uniform set of the same beats, or, like a uniformity of beats at random–a uniformity of ‘no pattern.’

    Those who call Poe “monotonous” (hello, Michael Robbins) are obviously like those jazz aficionados who find rock music “monotonous;” the beat of Poe is too steady and consistent: drip, drip, drip, drip. They find Poe “tediously uniform,” which is the Webster dictionary meaning.

    But Poe’s verse presents *less* monotony of rhythm than *any* sort of writing.

    Poe’s verse is the *peak* on the graph, avoiding ‘sameness of rhythm’ on one hand, and ‘no recognizable rhythm’ on the other.

    The following is the pinnacle of non-monotony:

    It was many and many a year ago,
    In a kingdom by the sea,
    That a maiden there lived whom you may know
    By the name of Annabel Lee;
    And this maiden she lived with no other thought
    Than to love and be loved by me.

    Anyone who calls the above “monotonous” is allowing a faulty morale to cloud their sense.

    Monotony is a powerful expression of distaste, for it refers not only to sound, but to thought.

    Dubost’s poem, which Don has kindly presented to us, fails if it does not rise to the pithiness of epigram; if it fails, it will languish in rhetorical monotony. You, Henry, by virtue of comparison, found the Dubost poem monotonous.

    Isn’t this what all writers must do at all times? Avoid the pit of monotony?

    Striving to be jazz-like and arrhythmic, unfortunately, can produce monotony just as surely as ‘drip, drip, drip’ can.

    Poe is neither.

    Here was my favorite bit of ‘deep’ insight which Don reported:

    “Nothing is so firmly believed as that which least is known.” –Montaigne

    Indeed.

    Listen to the hordes of modern intellectuals who call Poe’s exquisite verse “monotonous.”

    They do not know the word, much less Poe.

    Thomas

  • On April 13, 2009 at 2:55 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    I would like to save the reputation of Hart Crane, beginning with the notion that his father, a candy manufacturer, invented the “Life Saver.”

    Oh, the irony of it all.

  • On April 13, 2009 at 2:56 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    I know that sometimes poems just don’t work.

  • On April 13, 2009 at 3:00 pm Don Share wrote:

    Here is my own bullet-pointed unworkable proem, now that we’re obliged to ironize and/or be wise:

    1.) Matthew and Michael Dickman aren’t twins – they’ve got to be the same person, made to look different in photographs. (You heard it here first!)

    2.) The inspiration for Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry 1945–1960? Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, first published in 1861.

    3.) Pierre Martory… doesn’t exist! He was invented by John Ashbery. This explains why none of his books have ever appeared in France.

    4.) Kenneth Koch actually wrote the poem usually attributed to Frank O’Hara, “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island.”

    5.) Negative reviewer Jason Guriel was not (contrary to his assertions on Harriet) present at the Six Gallery in San Francisco when Allen Ginsberg read Howl for the first time. But Kent Johnson was. He suggested the venue.

    6.) So much depends upon a little red rooster. Spring & all.

    7.) Jack Spicer stole funny lines from Allen Sherman (they went to high school together).

    8.) Nobody reads poetry anymore because it’s harder than, say, a Harry Potter novel, plot and all.

    9.) The scary conficker thing, embedded into this blog post, was actually created by the same folks who invented Issue 1.

    10.) A recent U.S. government study shows that this is the END for poetry… and also the automobile.

  • On April 13, 2009 at 3:02 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Well, Thomas, I believe you’re pressing me into your own Navy there… you’ll have to carve your own scrimshaw… I never used the term “monotonous”… & I don’t think this post of Don’s has much to do with Edgar Allan Poe (unless EVERYTHING has to do with Poe…)

    Maybe… MAYBE… you could talk about Poe as an original avatar of Art-for-art’s sake, symbolism, Mallarme, & certain strains of modernism which emphasize the detached autonomy of art – & MAYBE you could argue that Mr. Dubost’s so-called poem depends on a certain set of cultural assumptions which conceives of the Artist as a kind of special, detached Being, thus underwriting this kind of faux-naif philosophizing (“What I know”) & offering it as Art…

    No, I don’t find it monotonous… & I hate to be so negative. But if you’re going to detach Art from the moral exigencies of concrete experience, then by gosh it better work as a POEM (I think Poe might agree)… whereas this bit seems like an arty testament of belief, or non-belief, rather than a work of art.

  • On April 13, 2009 at 3:05 pm Don Share wrote:

    Henry, thanks for these good responses! What do you make of Fiona Sampson’s comment about the piece:

    “The outer surface—let’s call it diction—does matter as much as what the poem touches upon, and how. But fashionable vagueness about where sound leaves off and content begins—indeed, a superstitious conflation of the two—may tempt us to believe that surface is all. This might be a function of cultural post-modernity, or the result of workshop pragmatism: if a poem doesn’t exhibit signs of craft at first encounter, it’s probably in some difficulty. But Dubost’s separation of powers allows us to contemplate the possibility that the felicities of surface and of more-slowly-unpacked content might, after all, be differentiable, giving pleasure through unexpected counter-valance as much as predictable relationship.”

  • On April 13, 2009 at 3:30 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Don,

    this section is clearly the odd-one-out, & thus offers a clue, perhaps :

    “16. To read isn’t necessarily to analyze, is not necessarily “to understand.” At the swimming pool, we don’t ask the swimmer the composition of the water, the number and distribution of swimmers, or why he’s picked this date to go swimming. We don’t ask him to describe, in mid-crawl, the architecture or acoustics of the place, or to explain a bird trapped under its roof, or to do a better imitation of the progress of some Olympic seal. We don’t ask him to memorize opening hours or screw himself up by whistling from the bench throughout an entire race in butterfly stroke. No. Finally, we don’t ask him, before each dive, to bring up some secret meaning from the very bottom of the pool. No. We let swimmers swim. We let swimmers swim. And the swimming pools fill up.”

    This section works as a sort of negative. It’s an extended simile or parable, in contrast to the simple “this I believe” statements of the others. Nevertheless, the substance of section #16 – its argument – serves to support or undergird the rest of the poem. Why? Because it (#16) argues against the traditional concept of the poem as evocative riddle, whose meaning we have to figure out : & the other sections are, indeed, NOT riddles : they are “statements of knowledge” (or belief).

    This is in line, I think, with Fiona Sampson’s comments (as quoted by Don). The poem works through separating out (or eliminating) any surface (the poetic “form”, if you will) from its “content” (the plain meaning of the statements).

    The trouble is… for me… I don’t find the statements very convincing. They are so New-Agey spacy general abstract platitudinous – this is what triggered my initial cantankerous comment. & I still feel that way. This is the kind of “literature” that gives the name of poetry a kind of effete aura.

    What I know is…. it probably sounds a lot more impressive in French.

  • On April 13, 2009 at 9:48 pm thomas brady wrote:

    I don’t find Cleanth Brooks very clever; for me T.S. Eliot and John Crowe Ransom are really the only New Critics one needs, but Brooks did write the following in the early 50s:

    “…the primary concern of criticism is with the problem of unity–the kind of whole the literary work forms or fails to form, and the relation of the various parts to each other in building up the whole.”

    This is a New Critical truism; a triumph of simplicity, for it is ‘unity,’ finally, which determines poetry and chaos.

    Dubost’s list-poem lacks unity.

  • On April 14, 2009 at 8:44 am Ms Baroque wrote:

    Thanks for this, it is wonderful. But in th absice of time rightnow to do it justice I will just tell you I misread one line, for a second, as saying: “No prepositions astonish me…”

  • On April 14, 2009 at 8:45 am Ms Baroque wrote:

    Or indeed absence. There we go. Typos neither do they astnoish.

  • On April 14, 2009 at 8:45 am Ms Baroque wrote:

    erk.

  • On April 14, 2009 at 10:01 am Don Share wrote:

    The Brooks quote shows you how limited and limiting criticism can be. That Dubost’s poem lacks unity is very much to the point: his, not Brooks’s.

  • On April 14, 2009 at 12:12 pm mearl wrote:

    Don,

    I can’t understand why you would take up valuable space with your “bullet-pointed unworkable proem” as you call it – a bad parody of a bad poem, especially since its sum effect is to gainsay your obvious enthusiasm for Dubost’s poem in your post. If irony is intended, it’s utterly lost on me. As to #3, Pierre Martory was a good friend of mine. Even though he never published a book of poetry in his own country, he did publish a novel, Phébus ou Le Beau Marriage at Les Editions Denoël in 1953. Besides this, his corpus of journalism, cultural criticism and translation would put most poets to shame. He was a professional writer and a serious student of the arts. And I would say that he taught John Ashbery more than John Ashbery taught him, and I’m sure John would agree with me. This kind of commentary seems to me to be utterly irresponsible, since it misrepresents a very formidable talent who, unfortunately, is no longer around to defend himself.

    Martin

  • On April 14, 2009 at 12:15 pm Don Share wrote:

    Oh, I can delete it if you like, Martin. It’s not a parody of the poem, though – but an expression of angst with the responses to it here. Irony is too strong a word for what was intended, and so you needn’t be upset, esp with regard to Martory, whom I revere – and who, for all I know, had a sense of humor, as J.A. certainly does.

  • On April 14, 2009 at 1:51 pm mearl wrote:

    No, it’s got to stay, because your comment, my response, and your counter response are illustrative of the strengths and the weakness of this whole format. My feeling was that very few readers would know anything about Martory and what a brilliant writer he was in a variety of forms.

    Just to set the record straight: besides the novel, the translation and his extensive body of cultural journalism, he did bring out a book of poetry in France, Veilleur de Jours, in 1997, the year before he died, a collaboration between the French publisher Alyscamps and Sheep Meadow.

    Let’s put this one behind us. And I’ll try to work on my sense of humor.

    Martin

  • On April 14, 2009 at 1:56 pm Don Share wrote:

    Agreed on all counts, Martin. Thank you! Sheep Meadow has just issued The Landscapist, which compiles all of Ashbery’s previously published translations of Martory. It’s one of my favorite books, and got a little obscured in all the attention justly paid to the Ashbery volume in the Library of America. Readers will find wry and delightful filiments between Ashbery’s own work and Martory’s in the translations, and that was the basis of my silly bullet-point above.

  • On April 14, 2009 at 6:31 pm Dr. Maxi wrote:

    Martin–wow. To say you don’t have a sense of humor doesn’t begin to cover it.

  • On April 16, 2009 at 12:28 am Tim Upperton wrote:

    Thomas Brady… I just read your excerpt from Poe, above. Never mind that it has nothing to do with Don Share’s post – what perplexes me is that you would offer this as a “pinnacle of non-monotony” (and sorry, but I have trouble picturing your metaphors, which diminishes their usefulness). Surely you see how tedious and slack Poe’s passage is? Call me guilty of “faulty morale” if you like – though I’ve noticed you bandy about terms such as this as if they had some clear, agreed meaning, when they don’t.

    Stridency isn’t the same as persuasiveness. As I said on another thread , when speech-rhythm and meter coincide, the result is monotony – and you’ve offered a prime example. TheNPEP‘s entry on meter spells this out in more detail, if you’re interested.

  • On April 16, 2009 at 8:12 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    I don’t know about ‘tedious and slack’, but I do know that Charles Bernstein, the ‘Language’ poet, and his wife Susan Bee chose that very poem to memorialize their daughter Emma when she died.

  • On April 16, 2009 at 9:49 am thomas brady wrote:

    Gary,

    I’m starting a Poe-hating club.

    Would you like to join?

    All we require is half your brains.

    “Stridency isn’t the same as persuasiveness.” Tim writes non-sequiturs like this and accuses *me* of being off-topic.

    I did take some liberties by fusing Poe and the idea of monotony, I suppose, into Don’s thread, but since Don began with the idea of “great tasks” for poets, and wondered what sort of “deep” things we should contemplate during Poetry Month, I tossed out the first “task” for poets that came to mind:

    Poe (happy 200th) needs saving.

    So, sue me!

    I stand by what I said: monotony manifests itself to our senses on EITHER side of the scale, “drip, drip, drip” on one side, “dpirrpddddddppipir” on the other.

    ALL expression (verse or epigram) is ruled by this concept, and Poe, consistently, and perhaps more than any other author, put himself in the ideal middle of this scale.

    Tim says, “when speech-rhythm and meter coincide, the result is monotony,” but such an observation is without merit, since the very opposite is true: the MORE speech-rhythm and meter coincide, the MORE natural to our ears the rhythm should sound, and thus it should sound LESS monotonous.

    Furthermore, Tim will have to define ‘speech-rhythm,’ since different speakers have different speech-rhythms. The matter is not as simple as he thinks.

    Mine is a more basic idea, and far more defensible.

    Anyway, this is typical stuff from the Poe-haters club. (It’s still not too late to join!)

    I did not know this about Charles Bernstein, and I appreciate the information. Thanks.

    And, Tim:

    Thank you; I really do appreciate the feedback. And I mean that sincerely.

    Thomas

  • On April 16, 2009 at 11:51 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    I don’t dislike Poe nor would I claim that he’s the world’s greatest poet. I only mention this to point out that even one of our most progressive poets can appreciate Poe when he becomes appropriate. We all tend to immerse ourselves in the minutiae and details of our daily lives, but when the real world shows up, we drop all the baggage. The selection of this poem by the Bernsteins in their tribute to Emma was done so beautifully that it brought tears to my eyes. Many poems are insubstantial and temporary…some are eternal.

  • On April 16, 2009 at 2:07 pm Don Share wrote:

    Allow me to recommend the unjustly neglected Edogawa Rampo’s Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination:

    http://www.tinhouse.com/mag/issue_current/current_lostfound.htm

  • On April 16, 2009 at 2:37 pm Tim Upperton wrote:

    Thomas Brady, my apologies: by “speech-rhythm” I meant “the rhythms of speech”. I think that’s what the NPEPP has in mind when it says, “The distinction between meter and rhythm is ancient and fundamental. Precise account of the distinction vary, but in general, rhythm becomes mainfest in speech…” well, I’ll leave you to read the rest. The NPEP has a few things to say about monotony, too, but I suspect you’ll continue to ‘stand by’ what you’ve said.

    To say that “stridency is not the same as persuasiveness” in the brunt of the cumulative effect of your ubiquitous posts is hardly a non sequitur.

    Gary Fitzgerald, aren’t the purposes to which a particular poem may have been put quite independent of a discussion of its literary value? Uncle Tom’s Cabin played its small part in the abolition of slavery in the US – therefore it’s a great novel?

  • On April 16, 2009 at 4:56 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    I imagine, Mr. Upperton, that the poem has some “literary” value not just because it was selected by people for comfort in their time of grief and so had great personal value to them, but also due to the fact that it has been around (and reprinted) for over 150 years in order to even be available to select. I should be so fortunate.

    I am, however, one who believes that no poem has any true comparative intrinsic value and are all of only subjective worth. Ten critics + one poem = ten opinions. Plus I think zeitgeist is of great importance in measuring a poem’s “literary” value. Compare Wordsworth to Ashbery, for instance. What’s ‘old hat’ today may have been revolutionary in its time.

    The boy ran to his master and cried: “Master, Master…I have written a poem!”

    “Who has read your poem?”, the Master asked.

    “Ten in the village.”, the boy replied.

    “Then, my son, you have written ten poems.”

  • On April 16, 2009 at 5:11 pm Tim Upperton wrote:

    So… literary value = remaining in print? Interesting.

    I agree poems have no intrinsic values – if someone up-thread said they did, I must have missed it.

    I’m not sure where a comparison of Wordsworth with Ashbery might begin, or why, but since when has the former been old hat?

  • On April 16, 2009 at 5:12 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Tim,

    What is NPEPP?

    No People, Especially Poe People?

    Rhythm is expressed in the quality of the foot; meter refers to the number of feet in a line.

    So NPEPP is using odd terminology.

    They seem to be saying there’s one kind of rhythm associated with speech and another kind of rhythm associated with meter (or poetry).

    Well, this is no fun at all.

    Nor is it true.

    This is to unnecessarily theorize poetry (verse) into an artificial corner.

    Common sense tells us that meter naturally arose out of speech many years ago; meter was not invented as a different kind of speech; and there’s no reason to think that RHYTHM exists artificially as meter and naturally as speech for RHYTHM will always be RHYTHM, and speech and poetry *both* operate under its law.

    As we know, people from different regions, and people with different personalities, even, vary widely in how they speak; how then, can we posit ONE type or model or standard of ‘rhythm of speech, since there are naturally so many?

    The implication here is that metrical rhythm is ‘artificial’ compared to speech-rhythm. But how so? One person’s natural speech will make another person’s natural speech sound ‘artificial’ by comparison; meter is not necessarily artificial, per se. Why should it be? After all, written speech can exhibit rhythm which exactly correlates to speech rhythm; if I’m a good actor, I can read aloud these words I’m writing and someone will overhear it as speech.

    ALL writing, by virtue of its existence on the page apart from speech (until it is read aloud) is, to a certain extent ‘artificial,’ but once the written words are spoken, the blueprint becomes flesh, so to speak, and a play by Shakespeare skillfully enacted falls upon the audience as ‘real speech,’ and any artificiality, any difference between ‘rhythms of speech’ and ‘meter’ (NPEPP’s terms) dissolve IN the art.

    Yes it *does* take skill, or art, to make a poem by Poe sound like *elevated* speech, and not merely *artificial* speech, but this skill is no different, qualitatively, from ANY reader’s ability to read ANY text out-loud in a ‘natural’ manner, without halting or stammering or sounding artificial.

    There is only a *difficulty* then, in making verse sound natural, not an impossibility, and the difficulty is overcome by *art.*

    Ancient Greek sounds artificial or unnatural to us, NOT because of its *meter,* but because of different ‘rhythms of speech’ practiced by the Greeks.

    Now if the meter of ancient Greek poetry escapes us *because* the Greeks’ different “rhythms of speech” shaped their meter, then the gap in understanding, the artificiality, is due directlty to differences between ourselves and the Greeks in ‘rhythms of speech.’

    The ancient Greeks are different from us because of the way they talked, not because of the way they wrote their verse.

    The verse is the constant, here, not the talking, not the speech, and yet this is precisely the opposite of NPEPP’s position: “rhythm becomes manifest in speech” (as you quoted;) for NPEPP, *speech* is the constant, for speech, according to them, makes rhythm manifest, but this is to err profoundly, for it assumes the variety of human languages, mannerisms, etc is a *constant*, while assuming meter is something apart, lacking any rhythm which is like speech, when, in fact, meter is the constant, as much as it partakes of RHYTHM.

    A spondee is a spondee in speech AND in meter or verse, and the variation in *speaking* a spondee should not diminish the science of versification, much less diminish it altogether.

    Normal speech is less elevated than meter, not less artificial. Meter does not need to ape speech; meter succeeds or fails by its own rhythmic laws, the same laws which developed speech out of grunting ages ago.

    Thomas

  • On April 16, 2009 at 5:38 pm Tim Upperton wrote:

    Thomas Brady, you make a patient person tired, and therefore a little cranky. The NPEPP is the New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. You might dip into it sometime. Perhaps you could take up the issues of its odd terminology, untrue statements, etc, with its editors.

  • On April 16, 2009 at 6:44 pm michael robbins wrote:

    I have already tried more than once to get Brady to consult the PEPP, but he isn’t interested in authors who know more than he & Poe do.

    As for Wordsworth & Ashbery, see Bloom & Vendler among others. Ashbery’s not hard to read as the culmination of a Romantic exploratory tradition of consciousness.

  • On April 16, 2009 at 7:58 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    If I remember correctly, Michael, Joan Houlihan pretty much shut down your justification for venerating Mr. Ashbery back on Zapruder’s post. You, indeed, all of us, have been bamboozled. Ashbery is a genius mostly because he has exposed the artificiality of our measure of value in verse. Indeed, he is the George Carlin of Poetry.

    As I said earlier on Annie Finch’s Parody post, Ashberry IS a parody…of poetry!

  • On April 16, 2009 at 8:24 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Okay. okay…I mis-typed Ashbery.

    One ‘R’, I know. What can I say?

    I only post when I’m drunk anyway.

    And, after all, It’s been a very long day.

    Hey…maybe this is an Ashbery poem parody!

  • On April 16, 2009 at 8:27 pm john wrote:

    Digression alert! A paragraph in defense of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

    “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” has a broad and detailed grasp of social/economic realities and interactions, it packs a big emotional wallop, and it’s not without a sense of humor. Uncle Tom, moreover, is a heroic character of immense dignity and courage — the pejorative insult “Uncle Tom” is based on minstrel parodies of Stowe’s novel. I’d call it a great novel.

  • On April 16, 2009 at 8:54 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Uh, Gary, you’re referring to the thread which culminated in Joan’s admission that she “hasn’t read much” Ashbery, is incapable of mounting a “cogent attack” on his poetry, & in fact “I haven’t read enough to make any good critical comments on him.” The thread in which Tony Tost rightly wrote, “I thought I’d pipe in briefly. Joan, there’s ultimately no real shame in being continually lapped by the person you’re trying to debate (especially if that person is as impressively grounded as your foe here), but there is a certain amount of dignity in at least recognizing that that is occurring” (where I am the “foe” in question).

    So, yr memory is just as bad as yr critical faculties are faulty. Ashbery’s easily dismissed by those who can’t read him because they bring their own tired prejudices to the page.

  • On April 16, 2009 at 9:34 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Touche!

    But you’re still a nasty sonofabitch, aren’t you?

    You make Martin Earl look like he’s got a sense of humor.

    You make Franz Wright look like a nice guy.

    So, are you the Predator or the Alien?

    Just curious.

    .
    All in jest, of course. :-)

    First of all, none of us should take poetry, or life (or ourselves) so seriously.

    Secondly, it’s not cricket to pick on a poor drunk poet.

  • On April 16, 2009 at 9:48 pm john wrote:

    Since several people are in agreement that “greatness” is not something inherent in artworks (I’m ambivalent but in tentative agreement), I was taken by Michael’s statement (on another thread, natch) that. materially, Ashbery was the . . . forgetting the word . . . best, maybe? . . . poet of the last 50 years. And I know that that “materially” was a responsive quote of someone else’s comment, but I thought it hit the nail on the head: Ashbery’s poetry has accrued the greatest amount of cultural capital of any Anglophone poet of the last 50 years. Accruing cultural capital is always interesting, and always has its reasons (inherent ones? hence my ambivalence), which are always worth considering, whether one ends up liking the cultural capitalist’s poetry or not. So, “Ashbery is a bamboozler,” and, “Slam fails,” and, “Saul Williams, ugh,” are equally uninformative opinions — fine and unimpeachable as opinions, but unilluminating beyond the opinionist’s sensibility.

    Enthusiasm always interests me more.

  • On April 16, 2009 at 9:49 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    P.S. And Robbins and Silliman, what’s with all this ‘yr’ and ‘tho’ shit, anyway? Is English still English, or what? Are we reverting to Chaucer?

    And Brady… what’s *with* all *these* weird *asterisks*? Isn’t *standard* punctuation *good* enough anymore? Lord knows most people don’t even know how to use what we’ve *got*, for Christ’s sake. You’re setting a *bad* example.

  • On April 16, 2009 at 10:00 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Oh, it’s all afeckshunut, Gary. Yer a good sport, & an old hand at these back-n-furths.

  • On April 16, 2009 at 10:04 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Oh, and John Nolastname, what the hell is “Anglophone”? Last I remember, Anglophone and Francophone referred to the countries in West Africa that spoke either English or French. Fookin’ A, are we pretentious people or what?

  • On April 16, 2009 at 10:13 pm john wrote:

    Or what! Or what or what or what!

    My last name is Orwhat. How did you guess?

    No no no, my last name is Ohwell.

  • On April 16, 2009 at 10:38 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Isn’t this fun? It’s a shame we can’t all be sitting around a table at some bar like we used to do it.

    Anyway, just to stir the pot, you’re all full of crap!

    I hate to inform Thomas ‘Edgar Allan’ Brady and Michael “‘J.A.’ Robbins of this fact, but there have only been four ‘real’ poets since 1900: Robert Frost, Dylan Thomas, E.E. Cummings and…me.

    WCW…who’s he? T.S., well, slightly, maybe.

    Ha! Pipe that in your smoke and put it.

    I just signed the contract on my fifth book of poetry today, so I’m celebrating. I’m going to go have yet another beer, so you’ll all have plenty of time to respond.

    And John, ‘Turtle Top’ ain’t no kind of proper name, although I’m quite fond of turtles.

    GBF

  • On April 17, 2009 at 12:18 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    WARNING: Poets without a sense of humor have no business writing about death or sorrow.

    WARNING: Poets without a sense of humor tend to commit suicide.

    WARNING: Tomorrow I’ll be sober but you’ll still be stupid.*

    * Apologies to Winston Churchill

  • On April 17, 2009 at 8:54 am thomas brady wrote:

    Tim,

    That’s your response???

    You don’t respond to what I say, but just tell me to read the Princeton Book of Poetics, because “they” (who are these wise men? LOL) know more than Poe????

    I carefully analyzed your quote from Princeton. Which words of wisdom, exactly, do wish me to read next from that tome of wisdom?

    Everyone’s dipped into that book; so have I. What’s your point?

    An iamb’s an iamb for a’ that.

    Look, Bobby Burns is closer to “speech” than Wordsworth, and yet any fool can *scan* Burns.

    A book by Wordsworth: eleven dollars and ninety five cents.

    “The Rationale of Verse” by Poe (an antidote to the dunderheaded theories of Wordsworth): Priceless.

    Thomas

    P.S. I wish others would weigh in here, you know, someone who is not some hopelessly pedantic, unphilosophical, avant freak.

    I’ll even welcome Houlihan or Ward.

    Finch, you surely have something to add…?

  • On April 17, 2009 at 10:20 am thomas brady wrote:

    Fitzy,

    When X cited, me tend to italicize, and lazily use * to expression my elf.

    Brady

  • On April 17, 2009 at 4:03 pm Tim Upperton wrote:

    Thomas Brady, as I said above, you make a patient person tired. The reason I didn’t respond at further length is that the entry on meter in the NPEPP provides a much more detailed and authoritative refutation of your uninformed, lonely position than I could here. It would save a lot of time and blogspace if you were to read it. I assumed you hadn’t read it because a) there is no evidence in your posts that you have even a passing acquaintance with it, and b) because you asked what it was.

    The NPEPP may not be a ‘tome of wisdom’, but it is the product of better minds than Thomas Brady’s.

  • On April 17, 2009 at 5:08 pm thomas brady wrote:

    “Thomas Brady, as I said above, you make a patient person tired. The reason I didn’t respond at further length is that the entry on meter in the NPEPP provides a much more detailed and authoritative refutation of your uninformed, lonely position than I could here. It would save a lot of time and blogspace if you were to read it. I assumed you hadn’t read it because a) there is no evidence in your posts that you have even a passing acquaintance with it, and b) because you asked what it was.

    The NPEPP may not be a ‘tome of wisdom’, but it is the product of better minds than Thomas Brady’s.”

    Tim,

    Again,

    Everyone’s dipped into that book; so have I. What’s your point?

    Beside cheap insult?

    Thomas

  • On April 17, 2009 at 5:36 pm Tim Upperton wrote:

    Point is – how do I make this clearer? – that, given the choice of Thomas Brady or the NPEPP, I choose the NPEPP. Do I really need to say why? And if you have dipped into it, as you say, why do your dogmatic pronouncements fly unwittingly in the face of it at every turn?

  • On April 17, 2009 at 5:38 pm Tim Upperton wrote:

    And I don’t think it’s insulting to say the NPEPP is the product of better minds than yours. Better than mine, too – that’s why I consult it.

  • On April 18, 2009 at 7:59 am Jack Conway wrote:

    Will you please stop picking on Tom Brady! He’s a good fellow and his heart’s in the right place. His mind isn’t however. Tom believe what he wants tobelieve even in the face of outstanding and reliable evidence to the contrary. If there is some vague notion that you might change his mind, knowing what you already know about his stances, then it’s not he who is at fault.

  • On April 18, 2009 at 8:12 am thomas brady wrote:

    Well, that’s it I guess.

    The matter has been settled by a reference book.

    All hail the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics!

    And don’t nobody mess with Tim.

    He’s been inside the factory.

    He’s taken the tour…

  • On April 18, 2009 at 11:43 am michael robbins wrote:

    By the way, congratulations on yr new book, Gary. Good to hear of yr success.

  • On April 18, 2009 at 3:00 pm Tim Upperton wrote:

    Matters often are settled by reference books. Would you rather they were all settled by Thomas Brady?

    I have respect for the NPEPP – a lot of writers do. Where does “All hail…” come from? Why continually resort to such extravagant rhetoric? It’s just arm-waving.

  • On April 18, 2009 at 3:38 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Tim,

    You’re being a little paranoid. I never said the issue had to be “settled” by me, or anyone else.

    I’m sorry you thought I was trying to ‘settle the matter;’ perhaps because I overwhelmed you with my impromptu take on speech v. meter?

    So you felt you had to defend yourself by vaguely citing an “authoritative” reference book to ‘settle the matter’ on your own?

    Yawn.

    I was not “settling the matter;” I enjoy impromptu discussions; I enjoy the give-and-take.

    No harm done.

    Thomas

  • On April 18, 2009 at 4:32 pm thomas brady wrote:

    The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, published in 1965, established itself book as a standard in the field. Among the 215 contributors were Northrop Frye writing on allegory, Murray Krieger on belief in poetry, Philip Wheelwright on myth, John Hollander on music, and William Carlos Williams on free verse. In 1974, the Enlarged Edition increased the entries with dozens of new subjects, including rock lyric, computer poetry, and black poetry, to name just a few.

    The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics accounts for the extraordinary change and explosion of knowledge within literary and cultural studies since the 1970s. This edition, completely revised, preserves what was most valuable from previous editions, while subjecting each existing entry to revision. Over 90 percent of the entries have been extensively revised and most major ones entirely rewritten.

  • On April 18, 2009 at 4:50 pm thomas brady wrote:

    So, this “standard in the field,” has been subject to “extensive revision” and “entire rewrites” in “over 90 percent of the entries?” Why, that’s…remarkable.

    An “authoritative” “standard in the field” which requires a near complete overhaul to its original 1965 edition.

    Isn’t that something? How “standards” and “authority” do change!

    I wonder how really “authoritative” that first edition was?

    And…John Hollander is the sole authority on “music,” and no one can question him.

    That makes me feel better.

    I can sleep at night, now.

    Gee, isn’t “music” a pretty broad topic? One guy, professor Hollander, settles every issue? Well…I’ll be damned!

    And William Carlos Williams clears up all matters on “free verse?” How relieved I am!

    Thank you, Princeton Encylopedia of Poetry and Poetics!

    Magical and supreme tome!

    Ever-changing! Ever-authoritiatve! Made new every day! Like the universe itself!

  • On April 18, 2009 at 5:08 pm Jack Conway wrote:

    Tim and Tom.
    (yawn)
    There is email you know.
    You should try it and spare the rest of us your tiresome banter.

  • On April 18, 2009 at 6:02 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Michael Robbins, you are a prince of a man and a true poet.

    Further upstream, as the debate raged on, I almost shot off a sarcastic comment to say: “And BTW, guys, thanks anyway for congratulating me on my new book…ya bunch’a twits, ya!”.

    But you actually did. You understand how important two years of work that boils down to a lousy 72 pages can be to a poet!

    Thank you and bless you.

    Gary

  • On April 18, 2009 at 9:25 pm Tim Upperton wrote:

    Jack Conway – point taken, but I had already left the room, quietly. And Gary, congratulations.

  • On April 18, 2009 at 11:47 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Thanks, Tim.

    And I don’t think this is necessarily “tiresome banter”. I just think you guys need to spice it up a little.

    Haven’t you ever noticed that that most contentious threads are the most entertaining and end up with the most comments? We need a good old fashioned knock-down, drag-out! Dull is dull but hot is not. Prosody and scansion are dull. Trashing Poe and Ashbery is not.

    Pulitzer winner to be announce Monday. Who do you predict?

    Any guesses? I predict Franz Wright again for ‘God’s Silence’, or maybe John Ashbery. What do you think?

  • On April 18, 2009 at 11:51 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    ‘announced’, I meant.

    Jeez, I hate typos.

    (of course, as my dear wife pointed out, I could always quit posting when I’m loaded)

  • On April 18, 2009 at 11:53 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Of course, then, that wouldn’t be any fun at all.

  • On April 19, 2009 at 8:53 am thomas brady wrote:

    Gary,

    What did I miss about your book?

    I thought you already had books out there.

    Is this a new one?

    Did it win the pulitizer?

    How often do *you* consult the Princeton Encyclopedia?

    Do you own the New Princeton Encyclopedia or the old one?

    Yea, let’s not have a blog. Let’s just email each other. ?????

    Do you think it’s fair to run away from a discussion, not to make one reply to what someone has said, and simply say, oh you obviously haven’t read this encyclopedia? R U kidding? That’s not even good manners, much less interesting intellecutal discussion!

    Unbelievable! thin-skinned, take-my-ball-and-go-home babies!

    Gary, tell me I’m not crazy.

    Tell me it’s them!

    Thomas

  • On April 19, 2009 at 12:08 pm thomas brady wrote:

    “I had already left the room”

    Note the boast: I (too superior to have an actual discussion) had already left.

    This is a sympton of the sickness which exists in poetry today.

    The question under discussion: the relationship between speech and verse is absolutely crucial for poets.

    If you are 1) not interested in such a discussion 2) unable to bring your own thoughts and feelings to the subject and articulate them in a reasonable, give-and-take manner then, yes, you might as well call it a day, call it quits, ‘quietly leave the room.’

    I took the implicit topic of this thread as one that asks: what is an ‘important task’ for a poet, what is a ‘deep’ discussion on poetry? I did make a leap, initially, but the point here is that anyone can get the thread going in a new direction any time they choose. It’s a reactive process. Write ANYTHING and see what others say.

    The whole point is that no post, or even series of posts, needs to be taken seriously, at least in terms of getting your own feelings hurt, that is, in terms of the pride of those who are writing them. Unfortunately, there are those who do let their pride and their personal feelings get in the way, and it wouldn’t matter to me if Tim gets all bent out of shape, and it doesn’t matter to me if I’m insulted by Tim (because it doesn’t matter, really, I only pointed out that Tim had insulted me as a pure factual matter) but what happens is that potential participants do not participate because they think, “Oh, dear, feelings have been hurt, and more feelings may be hurt, including my own! if I participate!”

    But 1) the risk of getting your feelings hurt ALWAYS exists, even if a thread is bland and polite. You may miss your bus, even though the day is sunny, you may burn the pizza in the oven, or someone may say something on a blog that you don’t like! Heavens!

    2) My guess, though, is that if people are now staying away from this thread, it is NOT because of the perceived insults flying between Tim and myself, but for a different reason.

    It is rather because Tim made it clear that unless you are well acquainted with the Princeton Encyclopedia, you shouldn’t bother to express yourself, because someone really, really smart may bite you.

    Or, that if you cannot tackle the biggest issue in poetry since Wordsworth: how do speech and meter co-exist? and talk about it off the top of your head in a learned, impromptu manner like Thomas Brady, you shouldn’t bother to come around here, either.

    It’s impossible to say exactly why all those who are staying away are staying away, for we form opinions quickly and unconsciously, and many, I’m sure, feel that the least hint of a quarrel over a highly intellectual topic is not worth the trouble.

    It’s impossible to take a truly informative poll, either. If someone should add to the thread by saying, “Thomas Brady is a twit,” this is no way would be a scientific fact that Thomas Brady is the problem, and I think we need to be scientific on this important issue.

    As Gary pointed out, it is the ‘hot and heavy’ threads that get the most posts, and this is because people don’t want to be bored by the sort of bland politeness we find on dust jacket blurbs.

    But there’s a reason flattering dust jacket blurbs exist, and they exist for the same reason a car needs motor oil.

    But why in the world would a poet want to always dine on motor oil?

    That, to me, is the scary thing.

  • On April 19, 2009 at 12:25 pm thomas brady wrote:

    As Dubost wrote in #4 above:

    “Among the obvious: I know that every human activity consists, one way or another, of battling death.”

    Right now, with my words, I am “battling death.”

    Tim, by “quietly leaving the room,” is giving into it.

    [According to Dubost, ALL human activity consists of 'battling death,' so Tim, by leaving, is 'battling death,' too, which does not invalidate what I have said, so much as show how 'wise words' often reach too far, and by trying to say everything, say nothing.' I am battling not only Tim and death, but Dubost, too, as I heroize myself here with a thousand pardons, of course.]

  • On April 20, 2009 at 10:26 am Tom wrote:

    Thought I’d stoke the fire. According to the New Yorker blog, “Poe loved ciphers, puns, riddles, and all manner of puzzles.” He was also a magazine editor, “forever devising new ways to lure readers,” etc. Woo-hoo. Anyhow, read this and report back here; sounds like Poe would have loved Ashbery and Christian Bok!

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2009/04/solve-edgar-allan-poes-cryptogram.html

  • On April 21, 2009 at 11:31 am thomas brady wrote:

    Tom,

    Ms. Lepore, the NYer blogger, has learned the proper way to speak of Poe: treat him like an annoying insect. “Ick” and “liar.” It’s nice that Ms. Lepore feels she can tease Poe, with affection, obviously; that’s nice to see.

    She forgot to mention Poe’s enormous influence on cryptography. Cryptographer William Friedman, who was inspired by the Gold Bug, was the unsung hero of the American war effort in World War II. Besides inspiring this particular great man of world history, Poe’s influence helped popularize cryptography. (Poe’s influence on everything else will have to wait for another time.)

    Many are called great, but Poe was great. In this sense Poe didn’t play fair. Writers are either making reputations, or dumping on them, but they are often speechless when reputation is wholly beside the point and they have to actually speak of the matter at hand. What can a mere mortal say when confronted with greatness?

    When blurbing Poe, we cannot possibly praise enough, so we travel the only way we can: down. “Ick.” “Liar!”

    Thomas


Posted in Uncategorized on Monday, April 13th, 2009 by Don Share.