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I Hate Poetry

By Eileen Myles

I’m wondering why we hate poetry. I don’t mean people who don’t write it. I mean people who do.  I hate poetry magazines by and large. You get two copies in the mail. One to archive and the other to read for a week and then to give away. Poems, fiction and a sad bit of art or two. It seems like poetry dies in such magazines. All alone with each other essentially. It’s the death of our art form these journals and I say it has to end here. Can’t we get our poems out some other way. Any way. In part I think the reason everyone wants to get a poem in the New Yorker is that people buy the magazine for other reasons and then they will stumble on your poem. They may or may not read it but they will see it. Maybe outside of The Nation it is the only journal I can think of that does that. Magazines and journals are dying of course like birds at superfund sites. So it’s time to give up on them first. Balloons, shirts, anything, send your poems out. And don’t let a poetry organization be put in charge of placing poems on buses. It upholds the cavalcade of nice. If poetry is nice then it is dead. The saddest job in America for instance is the poet laureate. The poet laureate of America. That’s like being Alfred E. Neuman. When you start to work for the government next thing you know you start demanding poetry be accessible. Or else what? You’ll get detention. Being forced to be clear is right next to being good. And why we considered moral or good? Cause we’re poor. That’s really sad. Remember Nicanor Parra – poems and anti-poems. I don’t even remember those poems but their existence, the fact that he wrote poems against poetry made me glad. I hate poetry movements. It seems like now that the art world knows that movements are dead the poetry world would at least slavishly imitate the big dogs. Oh no, poetry is all ready to get in on the past and is banding together in little groups to show its new flashy edge. Since the birth of MTV in the 80s when Madonna wore crucifix earrings like every junkie in the east village and suddenly every junior high girl in America was imitating her the idea of the avant-garde, the tiny little in crowd of art was dead. I know that artists feel that what they are up to is more profound than fashion – well some do – poets do for instance but in fact that in itself is a very old fashioned idea.  There is nothing more profound than fashion. Except silence and it’s time for poetry to find a way to speak through both at once.

Comments (119)

  • On May 31, 2009 at 9:49 pm K. Silem Mohammad wrote:

    Like, by performing poems in sign language on America’s Top Model?

    • On June 1, 2009 at 11:07 am Michael wrote:

      The Top Model idea certainly sounds more interesting than paying 80s poets to rant about what they’re too tired to appreciate.

  • On May 31, 2009 at 10:28 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Refreshing, Eileen–because I suspect most of us feel like that too. Indeed, but for the huge hope it isn’t so along with our pride and professional commitments, I think most of us would quit!

    As some of you may remember, I was very taken by W.S.Merwin’s little poem, “Why Some People Don’t Read Poetry,” and posted it in response to Camille Dungy’s article, “And the Poet Said…” I wish I dared post it again right here, because it so beautifully expresses the irony of what we do when we read and write poetry, how “small” is the moment in the rush of time, and insignificant. But stop we do, sometimes, and stop we must if we’re lucky and possibly can.

    Thinking of Frost and that lousy, deficient little fizzle-out, “and that has made all the difference”—which of course in the context of the poem as well as the meter it hasn’t at all, but if we can manage the irony has!

    I bring the Merwin up here again because I found the poem in such an unlikely place, the NYRB! Can you imagine?

    Where I really hate poetry is in the AoAP Poem of the Day, and APR makes me sick.

    Poetry is so particular, local, private–such a privilege, all of my own. I simply can’t bear so much of it in public!

    Christopher

    • On June 1, 2009 at 1:59 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

      I feel badly I knocked the AoAP’s effort to bring more poetry into our lives, and even worse to have said APR makes me sick. I was trying to speak in the same tone as Eileen Myles, of course, to share in her tragic joke.

      APR is about surfeit, needless to say–though what a resource it is to provide us with so much poetry in depth. Where else can you read 10 or 15 poems all at once by a poet you might otherwise never get to read—or want to read for that matter? Also, APR doesn’t demand so much of each poem, which is a blessing. Because there are so many of them it takes the impossible weight off the solitary few in journals like ‘Poetry’ and ‘FIELD.’

      Which I truly believe is the most negative effect of the poetry journal today, to make poems have to perform the whole bag of tricks all alone and in one go, like the perfect fuck, one off and at will.

      I remember an editor writing me what he felt were comforting words along with his rejection, telling me that he only accepted truly exceptional poems, and that many “big names” (his phrase) had tried again and again without success.

      I stopped submitting anywhere for 3 years!

      The tyranny of the exceptional poem, and the detrimental effect it has on the writer—now there’s a theme. For what is the exceptional poem but a stand-up routine? How should natural speech that finds itself forming in the hall with a particular audience at a particular moment in time compete with the stand-up routine?

      Too many is the problem for me, too many “great moments” in Kierkegaard’s great phrase—a little like saying “I’m trying” when one isn’t actually brave enough to change, or “I’m sorry” over and over again.

      Finally, W.S.Merwin’s poem is called “Why Some People Do Not Read Poetry.” My misquote of the title detracts from the work.

      Christopher

    • On June 6, 2009 at 1:16 pm Sandy Kirkley wrote:

      I’m appreciating many art forms (in later years) than I did earlier. The article here, I sort of understand.
      I am so glad to have found this site..with my limited time to read as I would like to..this avails me touching insights which are expressed on paper, which I would not have otherwise read!
      For example: “Why Are Your Poems So Dark? /Linda Pastan and “One Boy Told Me”/Naomi Shihab Nye !
      Thanks, Sandy P. Kirkley
      Marietta, Ga.

  • On May 31, 2009 at 10:34 pm Mary Meriam wrote:

    You’re just jealous because you want to be one of those lesbian poet laureates. Anyhow, I wish you were.

    • On June 1, 2009 at 7:43 am Mary Meriam wrote:

      Were what? what what what? One of those poet laureates. Keep talking, Eileen!

  • On May 31, 2009 at 10:53 pm Stephen Sturgeon wrote:

    Next thing you know you’ll be putting on a poetry reading where the poets don’t say anything!

    It would be nice to see more publications that are not poetry publications publishing poetry. The New York Times used to publish poems by Delmore Schwartz, but now it doesn’t even carry comic strips (does it?).

    Even though you don’t complain about poetry magazines publishing too much bad poetry (your grievance with them as I read it has to do with the medium itself stifling the lava of any kind of poem, and doesn’t touch on the taste of editors)–even though you don’t explicitly say there is too much bad poetry being published, your post makes me want to ask if you ever find poems useful that you don’t at all like, or find them instructive, for how you write your own poems. Not in the sense that you find out what NOT to do, but rather that you get to see a good attempt at putting words together gone bad, and figure out a way to fix it and make it work on your own. In other words, poems you dislike but are grateful for.

    If you think poetry magazines are roundly awful (I don’t, by the by — a good ten are Cannibal, MuthaFucka, PN Review, Parnassus, Conjunctions, Jacket, Octopus, No [is it defunct now?], The Wolf, TYPO, and so on), they still throw you clues if you are trying to read and write things with care and observation. For this reason at least I want them to stay. They let me appreciate things I hate. That’s beautiful.

    Stephen

  • On June 1, 2009 at 12:14 am Colin Ward wrote:

    Eileen,

    You’ve raised an interesting topic.

    It’s the death of our art form these journals and I say it has to end here.

    I submit that the problem is not the existence of these journals but the non-existence of more pervasive venues: non-literary magazines, newspapers, walls, memorials, park benches and, yes, buses. As you note, people may read a poem (as they might have encountered in The New York Times or The Atlantic Monthly) but won’t read poetry (as in a journal or book). As the saga of Elizabeth Zuk suggested, poems nowadays may need a more captive–not necessarily captivated yet–audience. Journals might do well to send copies to airlines (e.g. the winners of the CBC’s Literary Hunt are published in Air Canada’s “In Flight” magazine), doctors’ and dentists’ offices and even coffee shops. Of course, this presupposes that we’re talking about whatever subset of contemporary poetry the reading public would appreciate. Needless to say, those who produce other types of poetry are unlikely to embrace such initiatives.

    -o-

  • On June 1, 2009 at 12:52 am Terreson wrote:

    Goodness. All these years, forty plus by now, since that first poem written at age 16, and never once have I thought “I hate poetry.” I feel deeply for the angstiness expressed here, Eileen Myles.

    “What’s the world done, poor child, to hurt you so?” Goethe said that to Mignon.

    I can’t remember when it was I elected to predicate my success on the strength of my poetry and not on the pub credits. But the election has, in fact, “made all the difference.”

    Poetry scenes come and go. As do the mavins, the fashion setters, and the critics. What essentially matters in poetry is striking the duende exquisitely. Ask Lorca. Ask Sappho.

    Terreson

  • On June 1, 2009 at 2:39 am Michael J wrote:

    I hate poetry too. Well, not poetry itself, but what it does to me. It has so much control over my emotions. Kind of like when you get into an argument with a lover, and you have all these emotions going, and all they have to do is look at you or touch you a certain way and you’re affected. Almost stripped of whatever you were feeling before. Almost. And you cannot figure it out. You hate them for it. But you love them because when you’re depressed or sad or whatever, they also have the ability to lift you out of that funk.

    And after a decade + I still can’t figure poetry out. So maybe hate’s a strong word, maybe constantly, playfully frustrated-with is a better word. I dunno.

    I wrote an open letter to the Oprah Show which I posted on my website trying to get her to chose more poems. Without getting too much into a subject you only touched on by association (poetry’s state), as you know your post isn’t about this, I believe the ‘general’ public is ready for all types of poetry if they’re believed in, know what I mean? If they’re told, you can understand this stuff, don’t overthink it. For example, I received honorable mention in this contest, and a family member, who doesn’t read poetry nor really enjoys reading my poetry as she deems it too “heady”, asked to read the poem. It is very simple with deep undercurrents. I wrote it specifically to accomplish that task. She read it and said she didn’t get it. Of course. Now, I knew she had the ability to understand it, but what happened was her preconceptions of 1) poetry and 2) me, and my previous work caused her to think she wouldn’t understand it. (let’s say I know this family member quite well, how her mind thinks). Therefore, I told her she had the capacity to understand it, it wasn’t that complex. Read it again. She did. And she lit up, said I was right. She did get it.

    This is what happens with most people when they approach poetry. So putting it on a t-shirt is a good idea. Taking it off the page. Fashion is forever, Fashionistas, however, are not.

    People will stare at a shirt for an extended period of time, trying to figure it out. Less people will stare at a page for an extended period of time, trying to figure it out. Because of previous associations. So we break down those associations by putting poetry elsewhere (I am kinda wary of public transportation, because generally, people either have their own books, own music, tired, zone out thinking about all the other shit they have to do, or are generally in a bad mood). And once we break those associations, people will return to the page.

    Yeah. I think publishers/editors have got to start getting on the ground floor. Seriously. I spent time in Long Beach and their arts scene is extraordinary. 4th Street is a mecca. Coffee shops carry books and publications (all types of authors), they have readings EVERYWHERE, you can find a gallery, have your own reading. Start a publication, get it into an independent bookstore. Go to Borders and Barnes and Noble and have your own readings where they allow you to sell your publications. And I don’t mean bad poetry, this is good stuff. Not always “clear” or “immediately accessible” stuff as well as “accessible”. There is a definite audience. But it must be rebuilt from the ground up. Dropping publications from the Empire State and hoping they magically fall into hands ain’t doing much.

    I don’t mind poetry movements…. if we’d all move together instead of fighting amongst… don’t have to like everyone, not what I’m saying…

    I say get the LA TIMES to publish poems. NY. VOGUE. ROLLING STONE. I mean, didn’t they used too? You’re right Eileen! I’m behind you! I say go to your local bookstore and stuff some poems in random pages. Guerrila style. Start getting in their faces, but sly-like.

    Anyway. I’m rambling.

  • On June 1, 2009 at 10:00 am thomas brady wrote:

    Eileen,

    You had me until you closed with this:

    “There is nothing more profound than fashion. Except silence and it’s time for poetry to find a way to speak through both at once.”

    Explain this–or not.

    Here’s the problem with poetry. It took a profoundly wrong turn back in 1910; it was ridden to death by a little clique (I could give you the two dozen names, but you all know who they are) of wooly manifesto-ism. The university ceased being a museum and became a bullhorn.

    Modern poetry as we know it essentially came out of the Princeton Creative Writing Program, better known as the Allen Tate/R.P. Blackmur Bacchanalia (partially depicted in Saul Bellow’s novel, ‘Humboldt’s Gift’ on the tragic poet and ‘Partisan Review’ writer Delmore Schwartz) whose flower was John Berryman, the first Freudian, confessional poet, who, through his friends, garnered prizes, even though he was a complete flop at everything he tried.

    Here’s the thousand dollar question:

    What is the intellectual integrity of a dream?

    The Modernist cocktail of New Criticism and Freud created the Ewww Criticism, the Text as Hidden Clues to John Berryman’s Terrifically Fucked Up Life.

    The irony here is that the New Criticism of Berryman’s mentors (Eliot, Tate, Ransom, Blackmur) was supposed to provide an escape from biography, but here poetry, the highest, most distinguished poetry of the Modernist/New Critical revolution, had become nothing more than a biographical chew toy.

    So, again, what is the intellectual integrity of a dream?

    Who cares about John Berryman’s fucked-up life?

    Because EVERYONE has dreams, EVERYONE has a fucked up life. But here’s the big point: Why should we have to puzzle out a poem to get the details of someone’s suicide anxieties? Memoirs and biographies and essays are a much faster and more efficient way to get that fix.

    Who needs the poetry? Especially when that sort of vile, panting interest has been invoked? And especially when the New Criticism promotes the brainy sort of interpretation which feels it has to hide juicy details of the fucked up life which the vulgar desire so desperately wants?

    What has happened to poetry is that two virtues have cancelled each other out, creating a nullity, creating something which the public DOES NOT WANT.

    1. Brainy, university-trained, New Critical ‘difficulty’ in which a text is a puzzle.

    2. Confessional, ‘real voice,’ ‘tell-all’ ‘anything-goes’ ‘here-is-my-life-baby-this-aint-no-John-Milton’ content.

    This, in a nutshell, is the legacy of Pound/Eliot, ‘The Wasteland,’ John Berryman, Sylvia Plath, Kenyon Review, University Creative Writing Workshop MODERNISM. Remember, none of these guys sold until the Eliot/Ransom Inc. and their employees like Berryman and Lowell got a foothold in the universities and began teaching and awarding prizes to themselves, essentially.

    This still prevails; we are still swimming in the legacy of this ill-conceived state of affairs.

    This is why poetry does not sell. It’s a crappy product.

    I can’t blame anyone for hating poetry.

    Thomas

    • On June 4, 2009 at 12:57 pm Eileen Myles wrote:

      Thomas I don’t get this turn. It reminds me of Dennis Donaghue in the 80s saying out loud at the poetry project that Lowell was the last poet that people really broke friendships over. The room looked around like whaaa. It was like he was talking about another world. Princeton is in New Jersey same state where Williams was writing. Not far from Stevens. Same country as Niedecker. The lineage you’re tracing contains some gems for me – I’ve learned some things from John Berryman but if you follow a more outsider track you’ll find a lot more juice in American poetry. Again I’m not against the academy – it sure nurtures me and it has a lot of poets, most of us. But what gets handed down there can’t be the life of poetry. We come in and infect it – for years at a time but poetry lives outside of its institutions. It’s a practice not a discipline. I don’t mean to preach, well I guess i do, but the line you trace does lead to deadness. Ashbery OHara Barbara Guest they were chortling at New Criticism. Lowell who.

  • On June 1, 2009 at 10:05 am Don Share wrote:

    “I too, dislike it,” etc.? Though I suppose “hate” is a stronger word than “dislike;” that’s progress!

    • On June 1, 2009 at 10:25 am john wrote:

      “I HATE SPEECH” — Robert Grenier

      “There is nothing more profound than fashion.” — Warhol-esque.

      “Except silence” — Cage-esque.

      “All achievement, writerly & poetic achievement included, must become more invisible.” — Alice Notley

      “Once the first avowal has been made, *’I love you’* has no meaning whatever.” — Roland Barthes

      • On June 1, 2009 at 4:29 pm john wrote:

        “The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence;
        not in silence, but restraint.” — Marianne Moore

        “SILENCE = DEATH” — ACT UP

        “Silence is golden.”

        “Death is golden.” — Transitive Property of Equality. The truth of this equation is borne out by the observation that Pluto was god of both wealth and death.

        Coincidentally, on the fashion tip, just today I came across a phrase in a book of essays on music, in which the writer — a novelist — calls himself a “prose stylist.” I can’t imagine anybody calling themselves a “poetry stylist” or “verse stylist” these days. Fashion does rule the poetry world, and while I agree that the movement of fashion through history is as rich a subject for meditation or study as any cultural production, individual manifestations of current fashion are only occasionally and coincidentally profound or intense or charming.

        Good luck to us all!

  • On June 1, 2009 at 11:08 am thomas brady wrote:

    “People will stare at a shirt for an extended period of time, trying to figure it out.”

    http://www.zazzle.co.uk/my_eyes_are_up_here_t_shirt-235155237550421839

  • On June 1, 2009 at 11:38 am Aaron Fagan wrote:

    Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
    Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

    • On June 1, 2009 at 11:46 am Don Share wrote:

      Sic semper tyrannis!

  • On June 1, 2009 at 12:36 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Christopher,

    Did Merwin ever write a poem, “Why A Lot Of People Hate My Pretentious Poetry?”

    Seriously, though, even though Merwin was a student of Blackmur and Berryman at Princeton, and was chosen by Auden for the Yale Younger, and worked for Robert Graves–who was part of Ransom’s Fugitive circle, as was Laura Riding–Merwin, as you know, did NOT become a Berryman, and got free of the Ewww Criticism, that dubious mixture of New Criticism and Confessionalism, and turned towards a poetry refreshingly accessible, moral, Zen-vatic, naturalistic, neo-classically abstract (how many times does Merwin use the word ‘world’ or ‘animals’ or ‘listening’ in his poems?) and free of that turgid obscurity and moaning self-pity so characteristic of contemporary poetry.

    Merwin’s probably the closest thing to a free verse Shelley we’ve got. Merwin also has that Rilkean mystical didactisim which appeals to that sense of Zen which is fairly well developed in the American public. He’s also blessed with the name ‘Merwin,’ which sounds like Merlin.

    Merwin’s Zen appeal takes him right back to Imagism, where Modernism started, chucking the Milton/Shelley line for haiku. Of course Modernism quickly became more than that–the neoclassicism of Pound and Lowell, the confessionalism of Berryman, but Merwin’s first-hand witnessing of the destruction of Hughes-Plath probably helped to steer him free of a lot of muck, and the path he took allowed him a certain amount of popular potential, and a long life.

    Thomas

  • On June 1, 2009 at 2:01 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    Hate Poetry Love War Benefit Gig For Global Disorder

    That’s what we (don’t) want.

    I’m discovering a lot of very interesting information and opinion here, on the history of 20C American poetry.

    For an impartial, lay Reader not involved in the poetry wars, Brady’s take reads the most convincing (not that it means it is *true* of course) because in the absence of any voice/s articulating a contrary position as eloquently as his, the Reader would need a primer the size of Rotherburg’s anthologies, to even begin to make head or tail of what the rest are wittering on about.

    In short, they would be going along with the Poe disciple by a ratio which leaves his nearest rival/s, nowhere near.

    ~

    Thank you Thomas, you have saved me having to read the many books you (i am guessing) have read to reach this obvious common sense conclusion about the University shifting from a place where poetry was studied, to a factory where the product’s manufactured and artificially hyped into the consciousness of lit students who get to study the profs and their pals.

    Prior to reading Brady’s outrageously readable and wise rants, i had been trying to fix a picture based on ingesting gobblee gook from a host of other bores and far less humanly persuasive Poet-Critic-Comentes, whose prose *product* reads like a science paper, and trying overly hard to sound achingly post po-mo – with an overwhelmig majority of the Poetics (from what i can gather) based on what a few mentally imbalanced careerists thought in the early part of the 20C when trying to escape their Americanism.

    Eliot, a great poet, but a frightfully dreary anglophone and supreme snob, whose main goal (it seems), was to locute a Kings English, to fulfill his avataristic goal of speaking with the accent of a condescending English aristocrat.

    He had another avataristic bore, Leavis, as his chief ass-licker and cheerleader, dripping about in the safe hallowed halls and with an anal fixation of Major and minor poets. The critical boot-boy ventriliquist of Tommy S, whatever Sternzie thought, so too his wimply pal who to to sublimate his unfulfilled desire of being a hard-man setting the world to rights, by acting tough in prose.

    They got their kicks by developing a snooty code of poetry, not as an inclusive anyone-can-have-a-go affair, but some supremely sophisticated pursuit only the toffs and nobs can do.

    ~

    That was this side of the puddle, and on the other, Brady’s scenario also has the ring of simplicity to it which truth’s inevitably expressed in.

    And now, most of American (and British) poets are tenured profs, speaking in a crazee dense intellectually incestuous patios, which no common reader would willingly spend a cent on and which reads so divorced from the Bradyesque common-sense.

    The last thing they are going to do, of course, is acknowledge these truths which prove them more office workers and corridor jockeys than artists proper. So they will no dount carry on make-believing what they do is as their poet forebears did before the Big Switch from poetry as a vocation by wo/men touched by the gods of madness sky and stone – to poetry as a profession practiced in the same way as dentistry, accountancy and as it is, an adjunct of the education industry, on-campus, hermetically sealed, an audience of kids who are obliged to attend their shows where the profs star to people in whise interest it is to flatter them.

    Work written to be read by a small coterie of self-important bores, all on three squares a day, professor rates, secure job, drinks at seven, polite chat, treating poems as the artistic equivalent of nuclear blueprints their scientific counterparts whisper of in sealed bunkers.

    Like a hundred people in a room, all mistakenly believing a fallacy for the Truth, each nodding in turn to the other, agreeing they are right, based on sheer numbers. Supermely smug, all angles covered, the multi-million dollar business of 9-5 in class, flying round the country to speak to people, just like them, their life in education.

    There are a hundred of us, we all work the same job, we all agree poetry lives in a class, ergo, it is true.

    One person comes in the room, knowing they are mistaken, their life’s work founded on a fallacious premise – starts to speak, informing the hundred why their eternal truths are mistaken.

    What would happen?

    Would the hundred listen?

    Or would they shoo out the interloper and keep their finacially safe bubble unburst?

    HATE POETRY? SURELY YOU MUST BE A FAKE?

    ha ha ha ha ha !

    • On June 1, 2009 at 6:39 pm Tim Upperton wrote:

      To speak of Eliot and Leavis in these terms is to demonstrate ignorance of both. Are you as disrespectful towards the living?

      The most casual acquaintance with the critical work of Eliot and Leavis would make you aware that a deep and abiding antagonism existed between the two, from the mid-1930s until Eliot’s death. Indeed beyond Eliot’s death, as Leavis’s extended critique of Four Quartets in his late book, The Living Principle makes abundantly clear. Eliot was strongly aware of Leavis’s chastising presence, and Leavis is very likely, in the view of Leavis himself but also of others (see, for example, Michael Black’s memoir) a component of the “familiar compound ghost” with “brown baked features” that calls the speaker to moral account in “Little Gidding”.

      Leavis owed Eliot a critical debt, which he always acknowledged. They parted ways over their respective valuations of D.H. Lawrence, and the critical terms of that parting make clear the radical differences between them.

  • On June 1, 2009 at 2:39 pm Don Share wrote:

    I’m interested in the fact that people these days often words like “inclusive” and “coterie.”

    For instance, I’m frequently asked if Poetry is “inclusive” or not, but whether that’s a good thing or bad depends upon who’s doing the asking. (I’d never use the word, myself, though I do find myself saying “eclectic,” which is another kettle of aquatic vertebrate.)

    As for “coterie,” folks for whom this is a bad thing might like to check out Lytle Shaw’s book, Frank O’Hara: The Poetics of Coterie. As Charles Bernstein puts it, “For Shaw, coterie is not a closed world of intimates but an interlocking, open-ended set of associations and affiliations. He links coterie to the socio-historically self-conscious poetics of the local, community, and other collective formations. The poetics of coterie is presented by Shaw as an alternative to universalizing conceptions of poetry.”

    So: rather than reacting to particular poems – these days we’re told that there are only kinds of poetry – we get pro-or-con responses to coteries, and to “universalizing conceptions.” I’m starting to feel what Robin Blaser called the “hegemony of the social…”

    • On June 1, 2009 at 2:56 pm Cathy Halley wrote:

      At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’d add that I too hate poetry, but I love poems. Heartbreaking, gorgeous, arresting, surprising, confusing, true-false turns of phrase that make me listen to language again.

      If I started a weekly posting of a poem that I love and tried to talk about why, would you all help me love it more? Or would our talking around it ruin it? Should I try it and see?

  • On June 1, 2009 at 2:51 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    The real poet is a coterie of one, otherwise known as a coat-hanger.

    • On June 1, 2009 at 8:24 pm Nada wrote:

      You mean… the real poet is … an ABORTION?

      • On June 2, 2009 at 8:12 am Henry Gould wrote:

        Let’s just abort that metaphor, Nada, & move on. Please. I never meant to get involved. I’m going back to my coterie-closet, with the other stuffed shirts.

        • On June 2, 2009 at 9:25 am thomas brady wrote:

          The desire of the moth for the shirt?

    • On June 4, 2009 at 11:28 pm Marylisa DeDomenicis wrote:

      Comic Relief.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWsKM1CshQE

  • On June 1, 2009 at 2:58 pm thomas brady wrote:

    “Or would they shoo out the interloper and keep their finacially safe bubble unburst?

    HATE POETRY? SURELY YOU MUST BE A FAKE?

    ha ha ha ha ha !”

    They wouldn’t dare…

    Not to THE Thomas Brady…!!

    Thomas

  • On June 1, 2009 at 3:58 pm Annie FInch wrote:

    “There is nothing more profound than fashion. Except silence”
    Quite a statement. I’ll ponder this one for a week or so…

    but meanwhile, I will voice the minority opinion: I love poetry. Honestly. Maybe the difference is what we think of when we use the word poetry. When I use it, for some reason I tend to be thinking of the aspects of poetry and poems that I love.

  • On June 1, 2009 at 4:49 pm Don Share wrote:

    Fashion. I typed the word into our swell “Poetry Tool” and got a poem by Elizabeth Moody (d.1814) in which these unintentionally prophetic lines can be found:

    The simple, the wise, and the witty,
    The learned, the dunce, and the fool,
    The crooked, straight, ugly, and pretty,
    Wear the badge of thy whimsical school.

    Tho’ thy shape be so fickle and changing,
    That a Proteus thou art to the view;
    And our taste so for ever deranging,
    We know not which form to pursue.

    Turns out Ms. Moody’s first book of poems, published in 1798, was called Poetic Trifles. Pretty unfashionable stuff, isn’t it, by our lights? Still, the book contained poems addressed to the scientist/philosopher Erasmus Darwin (Charles’ grandfather) – also a poet, as readers of the recent book Meteoric Flowers by Elizabeth Willis will recognize – and a distant relation of Ruth Padel…

    So fashion. You never know.

    • On June 2, 2009 at 12:01 am Annie FInch wrote:

      thanks for these wonderful amphibrachs.

    • On June 2, 2009 at 9:45 am Nada Gordon wrote:

      This poem rocks.

  • On June 1, 2009 at 4:49 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Don,

    I’m honestly not talking of the coterie as a bad thing, though it certainly can be problematic.

    I guess I think it’s an important thing–and often it is not discussed at all, or mentioned in passing as a purely neutral fact, or trumpeted as proof of worth–X was a mentor of Y, or Z championed A, etc

    Thomas

  • On June 1, 2009 at 5:44 pm Robin Kemp wrote:

    Love poetry. Hate po-biz. Hate false divides. Hate cliqueishness.

    Hate repeating myself.

    The minute anyone begins believing his or her own PR, he or she is doomed.

    Write poems, wheatpaste them to boarded-up storefronts, put out print journals that don’t follow the same tired editorial conventions, do an online journal, give away poems to strangers, refuse to take less than $1000 per poem. There’s room for all of it.

    Chilly-chill on the rock-star stuff, all and sundry. It’s so tedious. We’re each of us only human. Try kindness to other poets instead of archness, looping-out, whisper campaigns against, pecking orders, tiny cabals, all that petty, egotistical crapola.

    Less negativity, more negative capability.

    • On June 2, 2009 at 11:14 am Catherine Halley wrote:

      YES! I’m going to love all of you to death. Starting…now.

  • On June 1, 2009 at 6:44 pm michael robbins wrote:

    More negativity. More capability.

  • On June 1, 2009 at 6:54 pm thomas brady wrote:

    While waiting to read Shaw’s pro-coterie book on O’Hara, I decided to make a pro and con list, re: coteries.

    PRO

    1) Supports its members.

    2) Enables group cultivation and spread of aesthetic ideas or sets of beliefs.

    CON

    1) Coterie has political basis which makes room for agenda-poetry.

    2) Promotes favoritism which inhibits recognition of intrinsic worth.

    On the ‘pro’ side, supporting its members is a bad thing if the members are bad, and if the ideas or beliefs are bad, a coetrie enabling spread of those ideas or beliefs would be a bad thing.

    Thus, a coterie qua coterie has no intrinsic worth, since arguments in favor of it depend entirely on the intrinsic worth of the ideas or members, aside from the coterie itself. And coteries are not the only means by which to cultivate and spread ideas.

    The arguments against the coterie, however, are valid, since coteries, by definition, if human nature is any guide, do inhibit judgment, and thus the cultivation of, merit.

    Don writes: As Charles Bernstein puts it, “For Shaw, coterie is not a closed world of intimates but an interlocking, open-ended set of associations and affiliations. He links coterie to the socio-historically self-conscious poetics of the local, community, and other collective formations. The poetics of coterie is presented by Shaw as an alternative to universalizing conceptions of poetry.”

    Bernstein is doing nothing more than giving his own slippery definition of ‘coterie;’ he’s not making a real pro and con argument.

    Then, Don writes: So: rather than reacting to particular poems – these days we’re told that there are only kinds of poetry – we get pro-or-con responses to coteries, and to “universalizing conceptions.” I’m starting to feel what Robin Blaser called the “hegemony of the social…”

    But what makes a poem “particular?” Surely particular human perception and particular human judgment made within a particular social/historical/political context contributes to making a poem “particular.” But now we are helplessly hung up between the general and the specific. If particularity was all we looked for in a poem, we would never settle on any judgment at all, and thus the very question we are discussing would be meaningless. According to Hegel, mere perception is judgmental; the idea that particularity is the choicest aesthetic food inhibits true feasting.

    Ah, Robin Blaser. Isn’t he always associated with a coterie?

    • On June 2, 2009 at 11:44 am Don Share wrote:

      Dunno if Blaser is considered part of a coterie or not; as a reader, I just use my own eyeballs – I can read anything, I dare say!

      By particular, I simply meant that I read poems like sawteeth, one by one.

  • On June 1, 2009 at 7:02 pm mearl wrote:

    Eileen,

    There is no doubt that it is frustrating to be a poet in America. It’s even frustrating for so-called successful poets. You’re at thirty incoming comments, by thirty-five you need to come in and defend your wonderful diatribe.

    Following from Don’s first comment: “I too dislike it” – do you think there’s a chance you might not be actually creating the perfect mimesis of your own chagrin?

    By recasting an emblematic poem, trumping, first, its patrician grammar, then upping the ante, as Don points out (though I’m not sure if it’s progress), from “dislike” to “hate” and then going on to echo what some consider a masterpiece in a short blog, don’t you get the feeling you might not be using what is a crucial poem for culinary purposes?

    Moore’s poem, after all, was all about how much she loved her own poetry, and how she thought it should set an example for the future. Are you willing to take that on? Or do you think all is lost, your own poetry included?

    You’ve asked a fascinating question, which every poet is interested in. Get ready for a very long thread.

    To push just a little harder: I think you’ve got Nicanor Para and the question of accessibility completely wrong. Para’s anti-poetics, in the social and literary context of his period in Latin America, was all about accessibility, and against the inherited tradition of European remoteness. He truly wanted to create a poem that could be read and felt directly. He wanted a clearer, less pious, more democratic and functional poetics. He wasn’t at all interested in formal difficulty.

    This is a wonderful post and absolutely screaming out for close attention.

    Martin

    • On June 2, 2009 at 11:12 am Catherine Halley wrote:

      Martin:

      Just so I’m sure I understand–do you mean to invoke Eilannie’s cooking metaphor in thae last phrase here?

      “By recasting an emblematic poem, trumping, first, its patrician grammar, then upping the ante, as Don points out (though I’m not sure if it’s progress), from “dislike” to “hate” and then going on to echo what some consider a masterpiece in a short blog, don’t you get the feeling you might not be using what is a crucial poem for culinary purposes?”

      • On June 2, 2009 at 1:07 pm Martin Earl wrote:

        Cathy,

        What I mean is not looking closely enough at your ingredients before they’re dissolved in the general stew.

        Martin

        • On June 2, 2009 at 2:59 pm Catherine Halley wrote:

          Ah, thanks Martin!

    • On June 3, 2009 at 11:48 pm Eileen Myles wrote:

      Hey Martin,

      I like your analysis of my post but I wasn’t thinking of Moore at all. I wasn’t “doing” anything but writing the piece I wrote. I will read Parra again out of curiosity, but I’m certain his statement was an aesthetic one, not a tip towards the accessible. I think the notion of the accessible is an insult to all of us. The vernacular is not to make it easier for anyone. It’s getting into the grunt of language. The collective. His gesture was levelling which is what you do when you need to clear the deck. If conflicts, contradictions, coteries, or just a lack of a strong breeze feel paralyzing or melancholy then a bark is what you might do to stay in the game. Poetry is there to be hated. And other things need to be done to it as well.

      Eileen

      • On June 3, 2009 at 11:54 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

        Yay, Eileen! Hoorah!

      • On June 4, 2009 at 7:48 pm mearl wrote:

        Eileen.

        The whole question of accessibility. My own family can’t figure out my poetry. That we are asked to be accessible seems unique to poetry. Novelists, journalist, biographers don’t usually have to deal with the issue. Why us? This question is taken up in another, but I think parallel context, in this fabulous interview of Stockhausen –

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrzi4YNhvig

        Maybe it’s in contemporary classical music where some of these answers lie. He doesn’t come across as being “insulted”, and he shows by the end if the interview how reconciliation is possible.

        The problem in Spanish and Portuguese poetry is also something of a non-issue. Nicanor Parra was a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Chile. And he was certainly very interested in breaking with colonial traditions and creating a more accessible poetry – as scientist, it must have been in his nature to want to do so.

        It is really only in the States where you find this notion of insult.

        Why should this be?

        martin

        • On June 4, 2009 at 9:29 pm Eileen Myles wrote:

          Martin I think you’re absolutely bumping up against the meaning of insult here. There’s an anti intellectual strain in American art making where interesting, indirect, difficult, non-narrative, non-redemptive and non-uplifting even political work (especially if it’s by some tedious female) is regarded as non-accessible. Accessible means don’t make me think, don’t make me feel, don’t write a poem that doesn’t leave me in my comfort zone. In this context I really don’t care what Stockhausen said that’s so uninsulted. To lift a term into another medium or another culture or another time is to strip if of meaning and say now nicely it works here. I mean that in an anti intellectual culture that we live with the constant message of American happiness, its very momentum requires that we don’t give anyone a moment’s hesitation. Not a moment. So yeah I do find that insulting. It says to be in this life you have to give up what you recognize as life. The help will come if you give up your foolish ideas. Write something funny for a change. America’s a comic nation. Which is great to discover, and even to love in a way. But to move to its beat, for me, is an insult.

          • On June 4, 2009 at 10:19 pm thomas brady wrote:

            Eileen,

            “Accessible means don’t make me think, don’t make me feel, don’t write a poem that doesn’t leave me in my comfort zone.”

            uhh…accessible means accessible.

            Shakespeare is accessible and makes us think, feel, and gets us out of our comfort zone.

            99% of avant art doesn’t make us feel at all–that’s why it’s inaccessible.

            Was just re-reading “Romeo & Juliet.” Brawling, love-sickness, what a lot of feeling!

            Is anyone ever angry in Ashbery?

            Thomas

          • On June 4, 2009 at 11:07 pm michael robbins wrote:

            Shakespeare isn’t “accessible” to most of the American populace. People are angry, sad, happy, not happy, please come, in Ashbery, how much of which you’ve read, I wonder, o doubting Thomas. Nor is he avant, definitionally.

            Eileen is right, by which I mean she sure ain’t wrong. “Only that which they do not need first to comprehend, they consider comprehensible,” as stodgy ol’ Adorno said.

  • On June 1, 2009 at 7:33 pm thomas brady wrote:

    As judges, I think rather than looking for ‘particular’ poems and thus trappig ourselves between the particular and the universal (which inevitably happens when we seek either extreme), we should seek a quality that is universal and particular at the same time.

    Take the Beauty Pageant. Its criterion is beauty. But what good, really, is a beauty pageant? Why do we even indulge in such a thing?

    If we look at 5 o’clock commuters, all of them have some beauty. Whether we judge one, or some, or all in terms of their beauty, all of them manifest varying degrees of beauty, even though as we gaze absent-mindedly at the parade (or pageant) of 5 pm commuters, beauty is the furthest thing from our minds. Beauty is there, whether we recognize it, or not.

    From the train, the scenery going by is less than beautiful, since landscapes near urban commuter rail lines tend not to be sublime, but suddenly there appears a vista near a body of water as the train climbs a hill, and we peer at the scene with involuntary pleasure.

    No matter how dull the actual appears to us, beauty–even in its absence–exists, because we unconsciously judge the view or the object or the persons as NOT beautiful.

    Is poetry the same?

    Does poetry universally exist in any and all language that we experince–even if unconsciously, so that recognition of ‘this has no poetry,’ is the same as when we view that pageant of 5 o’clock commuters and think unconsciously these ‘have no beauty?’ (Does this correlate at all to Eileen’s ‘silence?’)

    Or, is beauty different because nature impells its appreciation, whereas poetry is learned?

    Does poetry obey the same laws of perception as beauty?

    If poetry is caught in the net of beauty’s law, we should not have to learn poetry; we simply remember it.

    There is no hatred of poetry possible. We hate its lack.

    If poetry is learned, however, and poetry does not share anything with beauty (though this is difficult to believe) of what does this learning consist?

    • On June 2, 2009 at 11:08 am Catherine Halley wrote:

      Dear Thomas-

      “There is no hatred of poetry possible. We hate its lack.”

      I think that’s exactly right. Or true for me at least.

  • On June 1, 2009 at 7:36 pm michael robbins wrote:

    The only law poetry obeys is Gresham’s. That’s why we hate it.

  • On June 1, 2009 at 8:28 pm Aaron Fagan wrote:

    DELIRIUM’S ELEGANCE

    In Paris,
    In a life
    Before
    This one,
    I rode a
    Stationary
    Bicycle in
    The cellar
    Of a salon
    To keep
    Hairdryers
    Running
    Upstairs,
    Through
    Electricity
    Shortages,
    Just after
    The war,
    For Dior.

    AARON FAGAN

    • On June 2, 2009 at 11:06 am Catherine Halley wrote:

      Hi Aaron Fagan-
      I love your poem. Did you really do that? Just say yes. And thanks.

      • On June 2, 2009 at 3:06 pm Aaron Fagan wrote:

        Thank you. Yes. The pay was terrible, but yes.

        • On June 4, 2009 at 12:48 pm Eileen Myles wrote:

          I also think it’s a great one.

          • On June 5, 2009 at 10:04 am Aaron Fagan wrote:

            Thank you, Eileen. Please keep being true to this thing that you do.

    • On June 4, 2009 at 11:40 pm Marylisa DeDomenicis wrote:

      Perfect. I so enjoyed that!

      • On June 5, 2009 at 12:14 pm Aaron Fagan wrote:

        Thank you.

  • On June 1, 2009 at 8:30 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    .
    You, I like, Robin Kemp. Unfortunately, I don’t post poetry on Harriet anymore.

    But for you…

    .Interview
    .(to John)

    “Who most inspired your poetry?
    What poets were you influenced by?”

    Well, I replied, I’d have to say
    it was Jackson Pollock. And sea gulls.
    Sailing ships and timber wolves
    and everyone who ever died.

    (Reality itself is not poetic,
    just its origin and fruits)

    The seed and the flower.

    I don’t understand, you said.

    Being, my friend! Being dead!
    Just this. Who cares why?
    That’s what inspires!
    The physics of quantum,
    the quality of light,
    all the tears that were ever cried.
    The emptiness and the power.
    The beauty of the mystery!

    I still don’t understand.

    That’s it! Not understanding!
    Negative capability.

  • On June 1, 2009 at 8:57 pm Terreson wrote:

    “At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’d add that I too hate poetry, but I love poems. Heartbreaking, gorgeous, arresting, surprising, confusing, true-false turns of phrase that make me listen to language again.

    If I started a weekly posting of a poem that I love and tried to talk about why, would you all help me love it more? Or would our talking around it ruin it? Should I try it and see?

    Posted By: Cathy Halley on June 1, 2009 at 2:56 pm”

    Please do, Cathy Halley. The notion is mighty attractive. I for one like the sense of it.

    Terreson

    • On June 2, 2009 at 11:04 am Catherine Halley wrote:

      Okay, then Terreson. I will do it. People may hate what I love, but do it, I shall.

  • On June 1, 2009 at 9:54 pm thomas brady wrote:

    The only law poetry obeys is Gresham’s. That’s why we hate it.

    Sir! No one is reading poetry. What shall we do?

    Print more! MORE poetry, damn it! Print more! If we print enough of it, then BY GOD THEY’LL HAVE TO READ IT.

    They’re STILL not reading it, even though it’s everywhere…

    I can’t understand it. We keep printing poetry! Why doesn’t anyone respond? The faster we print it, the more it gets ignored! It doesn’t make any sense!

  • On June 1, 2009 at 10:30 pm Ann Bogle wrote:

    I very much appreciated Eileen Myles’ blogpost about Updike’s poetry and about commentary on his poetry and thought about it for a week afterward; and like one of the readers here, I’ll likely think for a week about her comment about fashion and silence, too.

    I want to say that I love poetry, and I love poets, but my love for poetry and poets is a tepid love, never hate; hatred for me of poetry or poets would be profane, like hatred of one’s parents, and like love for one’s parents, my love for poetry ties me to roots; it is never (rarely) a passionate embrace. My love for poetry is requited, unconditional; for years I abandoned even reading poetry to follow a metal band through Texas. I went as an unloved girl! And poetry welcomed me back when I gave up on the men in the band. My love for the metal band was sometimes requited, and when it was, it had the underpinnings of poetry — if lyrics and poetry are related as people seem to think. Poetry is a home with chores in it.

  • On June 1, 2009 at 10:37 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    The faster we print it the more we stimulate the blurbs and reviews that tell us not only what to read but precisely how and for whom.

    When the printing gets that fast you can’t wear plumes on your helmet any more or a breast plate and hardly dare raise your head above the trenches. So you crawl on your belly to the Berkshires to sign up for a command-post conference with the subaltern and his batman. When you get there for tea you place your book on a stretcher for the medics to comfort and cure while all your competitors gape. Yes, of course you come out of it missing an arm and a leg, and perhaps even what might be called your own book, but at least you’re out of the fire and into the publishing pan.

    I HATE POETASTER PATSIES!

  • On June 1, 2009 at 10:47 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    To speak of Eliot and Leavis in these terms is to demonstrate ignorance of both. Are you as disrespectful towards the living?

    Thanks very much Upperton.

    You have saved me having to read the books and find out the essential arc of their entire realtionship as two snooty tight-ass judges of what merits major and Minor.

    I tend to try and provoke out the meat and veg from the knowledgeable like yourself, by dispensing with any pretense at appearing au fait with what i don’t understand, haven’t read or the theoretical posturings of major snobs like Leavis and Eliot, who i am interested in and thinks a darn jolly fine anglohone-poet, massively important, but whose thinking causes a touch of displeasure because i think – whiclst a great poet – he had personal inferiority issues which desublimated into his posturing and Poetic.

    Now i know that titbit, it can feed into one’s own Poetic and one can cod it a bit to appear more widely read on these two bores than is the case.

    There is a precedant in Ashberry, who i read at the Oxford Poetry site i have just found lots of spiffing interviews at, and which will keep one busy for the next few days. A compact trove of top names gassing their bag in the Oxo chamber, which the Walcott Padel tittle tattle led one to Uppington.

    This is what Ashers has to state:

    “There are many important contemporary American poets whom I haven’t read, and I probably never will, not because I might not like them, but because I tend to read what I think will give me ideas for my own poetry, which very frequently isn’t even poetry. I’ve never really paid any attention to Projective Verse, I’ve never understood what it means and have no idea what Olson’s theory of ‘breath’ and ‘field’ and all that means … I’m totally anti-theoretical.”

    ~

    It suddenly struck one on skimming through the Universal Particular exchange of the emerging strand in the evolving to and froing of some of the planets most game and willing specipersons gassing on the vatic craft i know rubs Brady up the wrong way for stating as such – that the particular and universal, the trick is to use your local locution to express the universal. Mush has been written on Kavanaghs’ part in this, and his poem Epic cpatures it:

    I have lived in important places, times
    When great events were decided: who owned
    That half a rood of rock, a no-man’s land
    Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.
    I heard the Duffys shouting ‘Damn your soul’
    And old McCabe, stripped to the waist, seen
    Step the plot defying blue cast-steel –
    ‘Here is the march along these iron stones’.
    That was the year of the Munich bother. Which
    Was most important? I inclined
    To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin
    Till Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind.
    He said: I made the Iliad from such
    A local row. Gods make their own importance.

    ~

    I remember seeing Cavan native PJ Brady, actor/director/poet, who played Kavanagh for 20 years in a one man show of his life, the script 95% Kavanagh’s own words, taken from his prose and poetry, and i saw Brady play it in 2004, three months after first arriving in Ireland, above the Palace Bar in Fleet Street Dublin, a literary watering hole opposite the old Irish Times building, whose editor from 1934 until his death in 1954 – R. M. Smyllie, held court like some papal-mafia don dishing out the work to fawning hacks and struggling writers fighting like the jackals round the dried up well Cyril Connolly painted.

    Brady recites Epic in the show The Heart Laid Bare, which is one of those shows that if it had the will, could have ran on Broadway for a record breaking award winning run, as i was totally transfixed, colliding as i did, with Brady at the last end of his time doing the show, hundreds of performances, honed after twenty years, he WAS as closest to a live Kavanagh any living man but the man himself had been – and at the point where “Homers Ghost” was spoken, the clock in the bar, chimed and it was an otherworldly moment, in all honesty. Not knowing of course that Brady being the old pro, timed it perfectly to create just such an effect.

    ~

    move along, there’s nothing to see here.

    slainte

    • On June 2, 2009 at 11:53 am Don Share wrote:

      Thank you for bringing up Patrick Kavanagh. Here is part of his famous “Author’s Note” -

      I am always shy of calling myself a poet and I wonder much at those young men and sometimes those old men who boldly declare their poeticality. If you ask them what they are, they say: Poet.

      There is, of course, a poetic movement which sees poetry materialistically. The writers of this school see no transcendent nature in the poet; they are practical chaps, excellent technicians. But somehow or other I have a belief in poetry as a mystical thing, and a dangerous thing. … For reasons that I have never been able to explain, the making of verses has changed the course of one man’s destiny. I could have been as happily unhappy as the ordinary countryman in Ireland. I might have stayed at the same moral age all my life. Instead of that, poetry made me a sort of outcast. And I was abnormally normal…

      I suppose when I come to think of it, if I had a stronger character, I might have done well enough for myself. But there was some kink in me, put there by Verse…

      In 1942, I wrote The Great Hunger. Shortly after it was published a couple of hefty lads came to my lonely shieling on Pembroke Road. One of them had a copy of the poem behind his back. He brought it to the front and he asked me, `Did you write that?’ He was a policeman. It may seem shocking to the devotee of liberalism if I say that the police were right. For a poet in his true detachment is impervious to policemen … The Great Hunger is concerned with the woes of the poor. A true poet is selfish and implacable. A poet merely states the position and does not care whether his words change anything or not. The Great Hunger is tragedy and Tragedy is underdeveloped Comedy, not fully born. Had I stuck to the tragic thing in The Great Hunger I would have found many powerful friends.

      But I lost my messianic compulsion. I sat on the bank of the Grand Canal in the summer of 1955 and let the water lap idly on the shores of my mind. My purpose in life was to have no purpose.

  • On June 1, 2009 at 11:15 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    For Desmond, with love:

    He arrives on his bicycle, yes his BICYCLE! He’s got on an old army overcoat tied around the waist with a string and doesn’t bother even to remove the clips. He’s got books in his kakhi shoulder bag all wrapped up in newspaper with his lunch, I guess, though it might have been yesterday’s, and his hair looks just like Donald Pleasance in “The Caretaker,” the film of which had just come out that year.

    He’s talking about Lawrence, of course, but the high-light is Eliot, he just can’t resist. “Oh Tom,” he says, rolling his eyes and pointing down at his groin all the way from heaven to earth. “Oh Tom!”

    F.R.Leavis in person, Cambridge, 1964. How I loved him–indeed, I’ve never been the same since!

    Christopher

  • On June 1, 2009 at 11:28 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    Please Wooders, i would be very honoured to hear your blather on Leavis in person, as no amount of theoretical whizz kids giving us their fourth hand take of what they only know from books – can top the hand you’re holding.

    come on my loving pal, spill yer guts, please.

    thank you very much.

    • On June 1, 2009 at 11:33 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

      All choked up, dear Swords. Blathered.

    • On June 4, 2009 at 5:32 am Tim Upperton wrote:

      Yes – why bother reading those tiresome books, when you can listen to gossip instead?

      • On June 4, 2009 at 11:10 am thomas brady wrote:

        Tim,

        You hopeless bookworm, you!

        Let me let you in on a little secret: the truth is far more often uttered impulsively, or in private. Gossip contains more truth than anything that is written down. When the public is watching, when we write our tedious books, we always lie.

        Thomas

        • On June 4, 2009 at 9:01 pm Tim Upperton wrote:

          I don’t find Eliot tedious. Nor Leavis, for that matter. If reading either of them makes me a ‘hopeless bookworm’, then there must be more than a few other hopeless bookworms on this site.

          Thomas, your preference for gossip over actual reading is pretty evident in your posts. You’re entitled to it, just as I’m entitled to find it, well, tedious.

          • On June 4, 2009 at 9:08 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

            Hello Tim.

            i apologise for being a lout, please take no notice of my rants.

            i was only after hearing from a person who has real life experience of Leavis, and would be very interested to hear any musings by you on the reality of Leavis as a flesh and blood person.

            thank you very much.

      • On June 5, 2009 at 5:22 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

        Tim,
        They all gossiped about each other. That’s all they did.

        Even as late as the 60s your status at Oxford or Cambridge was determined not by how many degrees you had but by whether or not you had an Oxford or Cambridge M.A.—and the only way you could get an Oxford or Cambridge M.A. was by having an Oxford or Cambridge B.A. first and then hanging out a bit around town afterwards until they gave it to you.

        Ph.D.s were considered for Americans.

        There were no requirements for undergrads except to eat in hall and attend tutorials–which meant going up to your tutor’s rooms and reading whatever you’d got for him while he smoiked. If it was any good you’d get some good gossip in turn, and maybe even a glass of sherry.

        Leavis lectured in gossip, and because he was never trusted by the establishment he usually just gossiped wherever he happened to be. Like in the kitchen with Queenie.

        The tension between Leavis and Eliot was all based on gossip too. That’s why it’s so powerful, and still so important.

        And even Americans gossip when the writing gets interesting. Sylvia Plath? Robert Lowell? Don’t tell me they didn’t stage manage their own gossip, like Leavis did his. Eliot tried to button up, but then that was his own sort of gossip and play.

        Look at it like Picasso.

        Christopher

        • On June 5, 2009 at 5:45 am Desmond Swords wrote:

          Thanks very much Chris.

          Please can you offer some more tit-bits please?

          General stuff on the vibe and how much work actually got done, who said what, any embaressing encounters, drunken propositions by potential erastes to eromenos – basically any gossip.

          thanks very much.

  • On June 1, 2009 at 11:29 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    I find that I can’t make a whole lot of sense of what happens in North American poetry, because I’m inside it, one little fish in a chaotic sea. I do understand a lot about Latin American poetry, deeply travelling there, because I see it from Outside.

    Nicanor Parra (two rr’s, please, and roll them) had to write Antipoetry because he was ten years younger than Pablo Neruda, and by the time Parra started writing poetry a little late at age 35, Neruda was already famous — he “covered up the whole sky.” And of course the woods were full of eager poetasters writing bad imitation Neruda.

    It’s hard for us to believe, but Chilean poets have the same irritable Oedipal reaction against Neruda that we do against Eliot. Parra himself writes: “There are two methods of refuting Neruda: not reading him, and misreading him. I have tried both. Neither one worked for me.” There are Chilean anthologies that make a statement by leaving Neruda out and beginning with Parra.

    So while Neruda was eloquent and resonant, Parra was colloquial and sassy. Neruda took himself canonically seriously, Parra was self-deprecating. I love Neruda. Seen from Outside, Neruda is a far greater poet. But Parra’s irreverent reaction got Chilean poetry out of a cul-de-sac. Mexican poets tell me, “you know, Eliot is your greatest poet.” I imagine they’re probably right, but I can’t read him either.

    Looking shallowly, all our coteries and poetry wars (I too dislike them) are either fashion or silence. Seen from Outside, they are all we can see of a deeper cultural evolution, like worm-tracks in pre-Cambrian shale.

  • On June 2, 2009 at 12:31 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    WHY WE BLATHER

    When the printing gets fast
    you can’t wear
    plumes on your helmet
    any more
    or a breast plate
    or hold your head
    above the trenches.

    You get thee to The Nunnery,
    on your belly
    in the Berkshires
    and sign up for
    the command-post conference
    downstairs on the carpet
    with the subaltern and his batman.

    When you get there
    for tea
    you place your book on a stretcher
    for the medics to comfort
    and cure
    with a nice white wine
    while the competitors cheer and wait.

    Of course you’re out of it
    missing
    an arm and a leg
    and even what you called your own book.
    But never mind that,
    it’s so nice to be
    out of the fire
    and onto
    the publishing plate.

  • On June 2, 2009 at 2:27 am john wrote:

    Remembered tonight a profound poem about the pathos of changing fashion, regarding music in the poem but the situation is analogous to others; by Rabindranath Tagore, written 1894, “Broken Song” (tr. William Radice):

    [after failing to remember an old song requested by a friend and patron who had been bored by a young singer that everybody else found captivating, a very old singer says to the friend and patron]:

    ” . . . our days are gone.
    New men have come now, new styles and customs in the world.
    The court we kept is deserted — only the two of us are left.
    Don’t ask anyone to listen to me now, I beg you . . . ”

    * * *

    [Tagore an influence on Neruda . . . ]

    * * *

    When I started writing poetry in college, a friend of my grandpa’s enthusiastically urged me to keep it up, and talked of having played sax in a dance band in southern Michigan in the 1920s, and afterwards gathering around the radio to listen to McKinney’s Cotton Pickers broadcasting from Detroit. The name “Cotton Pickers” put me off — sounded like a trafficking in unflattering stereotypes regarding rural African Americans — and it was only much later that I learned that McKinney’s Cotton Pickers had been one of the hottest, hippest big bands in the late ’20s, with an arranger (Don Redman) who influenced Ellington and experiments in meter that didn’t get picked up on in jazz for another 20 years, by Miles Davis and Gil Evans. My grandpa’s friend had been hip — 50+ years before our conversation, and I hadn’t the knowledge to understand it, he just sounded like a sweet, slightly embarrassing old man.

    The pathos of fashion is indeed profound.

  • On June 2, 2009 at 7:17 am thomas brady wrote:

    I Remember Poetry

    I remember poetry
    And then I write it down
    Before its loveliness can flee
    Back to thoughts clouding up the sky
    Or prose lost in the stretched muddy ground.

    I remember poetry
    Flying in pieces inside my head.
    The universe may be a mystery;
    I prefer the mystery of myself instead.

    I remember poetry.
    Look, reader! This is what I found!
    Growing from granite, a tender tree,
    Growing with a terrible sound.

  • On June 2, 2009 at 9:06 am thomas brady wrote:

    ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO KNOW WHY I HATE POETRY?

    A poem’s a little flame
    That dies unless we fan it,
    Not so much with a reader’s love,
    But that the government ban it.

    The poem as publicity stunt
    Has been tried a few times before,
    Lord Byron’s foot inside her c___,
    Oh dear! That little whore!

    The poem as publicity stunt
    Must be planned for hours;
    Or you can be like Wordsworth,
    And just write poems on flowers.

    Emerson smote the amateur
    Obsessed with rule and rhyme;
    That bullshit about the soul
    Gets them every time.

    Emerson’s godson William
    Did his nitrous oxide test
    In a trance, at a seance,
    And Gertrude did the rest.

    Free verse! What a scream!
    At Lady Ottoline’s dance
    The professor fell for the banker
    At a glance.

    The parish of rich women
    By which Joyce & abstract art was fed,
    Gave their souls to ‘Poetry,’
    By their silken dresses led.

    Ransom said that writing
    Should not be amateurish,
    “My friends’ poetry is something
    Colleges can nourish.”

    Robert Lowell got God,
    Then ran to his master’s wife
    To tell her the names of all the women
    In Tate’s writing life.

    Mark Van Doren at Columbia
    Gave Allen Ginsberg a book.
    “William Blake fucked me!” sd Ginsberg,
    When interviewed by ‘Look.’

    Ted Hughes was not prepared
    For what a woman could do.
    Judging by that anthology,
    Neither were you.

    The poem as publicity stunt
    Has been tried a few times before;
    The last time was on a blog, I think,
    In two thousand and four.

  • On June 2, 2009 at 9:30 am Jordan wrote:

    Actually, poetry magazines are generally much better than single author collections — I find I often like about a third to half the poems in a magazine, whereas I’m lucky to like a sixth of the poems in a book. (Whatever liking is.)

    What’d Samuel Johnson say? If you’re tired of London you’re tired of life? That’s how I feel about magazines.

  • On June 2, 2009 at 10:00 am Nada Gordon wrote:

    I feel quite opposite to you, Jordan. More and more what I want from a book is the look and feel of a “concept album,”: inventive, unified, unforgettably idiosyncratic. It is true that most poetry collections do not achieve this, or at least not to my satisfaction, but overall I am far more gratified by the opportunity to deeply enter a writer’s peculiar subjectivity than to merely taste it flittingly in a magazine.

    I do think, though, that a magazine has the potential to be like a cocktail party. If the chemistry is right and the conversation scintillating, the party will feel like an Event with a specific character. That “character” is the magazine’s POV: too often the POV of a magazine is either undetectible or just tepid. I agree with Eileen on this point. Magazines should have personality and style or I will not care about them. I loved the last issue of Crayon, the one on Beauty, and I am also taken with the little zine out of SF, edited by David Brazil and Sara Larsen. You know, generally, magazines are like candy samplers, really. I just don’t like chocolate with oranges, or rum raisin. I just don’t. Why should I, then, have to buy the whole damn box, when what I really want is pure, dark chocolate?

  • On June 2, 2009 at 10:31 am Don Share wrote:

    Hating poetry is not just for us coterie-types – the mainstream press in the UK is having fun hating poetry, too; here’s a sample:

    “The single eternal truth at the heart of English poetry has been forgotten.

    Which is that nobody gives a toss about it.

    Nobody cares. Nobody at all. Nooooooobody…

    …disagreement between poets has always interested us far more than poetry itself. The big questions in poetry have never been about lexicon, syntax or metre, but about personality: who was Shakespeare? Who stabbed Christopher Marlowe? Did Ted Hughes drive two wives to suicide, or did he just happen to like mad girls? Did Philip Larkin die a virgin? Did the ladies love Byron despite his club foot or because of it? How short was Pope? (I swear to God, more people – Oxford graduates included – will tell you Pope’s height to the nearest inch than can give you three consecutive words from the Dunciad.)”

    Click here for full article.

    • On June 2, 2009 at 2:43 pm Matt wrote:

      That really should read, “The big questions in *lame-ass mainstream media coverage of poetry* have never been about lexicon, syntax or metre, but about personality: who was Shakespeare? Who stabbed Christopher Marlowe? Did Ted Hughes drive…”

  • On June 2, 2009 at 2:45 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Don,

    That Giles Coren piece in the London Times chimes in beautifully with this thread! Thank you, thank you.

    It really doesn’t matter if Coren is correct on every point or not.

    There seems to be a general truth here.

    We need to start over. We need to go back to that point where T.S. Eliot said poetry “must be difficult” and take it all back, and get down on our hands and knees, and make a full confession to the public, and say, ‘look, we are bitterly sorry! we’ll never talk down to you again, we’ll never again puff awful poetry, please forgive us!’

    It’s the only way.

    Thomas

  • On June 4, 2009 at 12:32 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Have a look also at the June 3rd NEWS item on the Oxford election which refers to Peter McDonald ‘Times on-line’ article in which he throws Geoffrey Hill’s name into the hat.

    “’Reaching out’ is not required; but reaching within certainly is, ” Peter McDonald writes, getting ready to recommend Hill’s critical writings as well—which were just republished last year. “The holders of the Chair are not there to proselytize for poetry, or indeed for themselves as poets, but to try to say things that matter about the art itself.”

    He then goes on to lament the fact that Eliot, Lowell and Empson never got the Chair either, the latter needless to say as a poet. F.R.Leavis never got a Chair of any kind at Cambridge, of course, and while he was still alive George Steiner moved into the neighborhood too, causing yet another head ache for those who felt English Literature deserved better than somebody who talked about the art itself in every language in Europe!

    As to me, I’m still laughing at the whole brouhaha because where I live people can’t distinquish between an ‘l’ and ‘r’, and when you sit down at a little restaurant on the street you’re are as likely to be offered “fried lice” as “fried rice.” Derek Walcott would have been a shoo-in here because there wouldn’t have been any controversy about the erection.

    Christopher

  • On June 4, 2009 at 10:59 pm Sam Kuraishi wrote:

    Do not worry poetry lovers and readers.She is only expressing her own ideas.Let her talk for herself and That is fair.Poetry is live and well and is dwelling in our hearts.

  • On June 5, 2009 at 12:39 pm Don Share wrote:

    “The appetite of a few chosen minds has completely upset the general stomach. Why this loss of magnanimity on the way from revelation to communication? And how to avoid it?” — René Char

  • On June 5, 2009 at 10:29 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    The Coren article is interesting, as he too, like Ruth Padel’s *old friend* John Walsh, is a food critic.

    He is the son of a famous (deceased) humourist Alan Coren, Oxoford graduate, and got into a right stink last year after an e mail was leqaked in which he was effing and blinding at a sub-editor over the removal of an indefintie article (an) from (a nosh) to *nosh*

    It showed just what a sense of privilige he has, because he was basically ranting like a slave-owner.

    He also got in hot water over an article he wrote about Polish people being anti-jewish and told the *Polacks* to *clear off* out of England and *fuck the Poles*.

    ~

    However a nasty little drip he may or may not be in real life, i thought his article was basically correct.

    I am part way through reading Poetry Wars by Peter Barry (one of four i spent 56 euro on to help Chris Hamilton Enery out and get some great books into the bargain) which details the campaign between the radicals and the straights in early 1070′s Britain, after Eric Mottram wrested control of the Poetry Society boardroom and became editor of the (prior to that) highly conservative Poetry Review rag published by the Poetry Society and packing it with American avants and his British equivalent-pals.

    What strikes the reader is how both sides were not interested in any real notion of bringing poetry to the masses, but getting their mits on the subsidised tax-payers money to do spread around their own coteries.

    When Coren says no one is really interested in Poetry in Britain, essentially he is right, because what Poetry there is, in the main, is highly subsisdised.

    My own theory is that the various factions pay lip service to the notion of inclusion, mirroring the current new labour (Old Tory) ethos of saying one thing and meaning the complete opposite.

    There are plenty of jobs to be had creating dense gobble dee gook Arts project documents with highly abstract mission-speak and aims, basically saying in a hundred words what they could dop in ten, purely so the person writing it gets to feel clever.

    My own thought on this is that because the second and third generation Labour movement abandoned the long term goals of its founding mothers and fathers, of making a fairer society, all their talk of reform with the Lords and such coming to nothing, the culture saw a rise in the language of deciet. The mantra of the ruling Labour party
    is Equality for all regardless of your background (unless your name is Winsdsor and then the rules do not apply).

    The whole country, the entire class system is based on a pyramid of envy where everyting is overt, horse parades, a multi-millionaire in fancy dress who gets all the cool names, and who the 99.999% without title, without the right to be addressed as Your Highness and the Highness not bowing in front of them – thus the reason for the topsy turvy gobble dee gook which talks about fairnes and equality, access, inclusion and all the rest of it – but in reality is a feudal set-up.

    How can people feel good about themself, equal, when everyone’s dream is to be addressed as Lord or Sir?

    Poetry in Britian is more about mimicking the culture, having high powered editor-poets being very busy and important, all about pecking orders and knowing one’s place, based on a very unfair set-up which sees people from Oxbridge get feted at 21 as the next mesiah and saviour of British poetry and acting insufferably smug and being lashed with plaudits and all the subsidies, keeping all the plum numbers and when they hit 40, aduclt consciousness kicks in and they realise they are not as great as they have been getting told they were.

    The Motion syndrome, ending up spent grumps because their Highness couldn’t give a fig about poetry.

    When i was there, there was lots of side-acticvities which had nothing to do with progressing as a writer, just doing the plod, donkey work, but everything to do with organising themselves into little cliques and gangs with a leader (King or Queen) who then got to be worshipped as the top nob in that made-up realm.

    I was excluded freom every gaffe going, simply because i was there to learn and not play the pecking order game, and it was only after 2 years full time clarfiying by practise, outing what reading was going in to construct a solid base from which to bore, that the people controlling that site copped onto what i was doing, that i was actually genuine – that i stopped getting hounded, after 150 name changes.

    Which was great for learning how to handle the online scene where everyone is anonymous with silly names.

    This was because i am not interested in appearing in this rag or that, as i never send out. What i am doing began at 34, as a mad dream to salvage self-respect as a person in Britain who was boxed off as *lower* class, as though i was less intelligent simply because of the way i speak.

    I stopped sending out naturally, just lost interest after having a few pieces placed and seeing it for wehat it is, and now i know sure as eggs is eggs, that much of the accept reject is all about power.

    I know of a poet in London who a well known British publisher cannot stand, and s/he could be shakespeare, but any manuscript comes in and its getting rejected, because that’s the game in Britain, people building empires and power games, so the publisher can say, oh no, you’re rubbish i rejected you.

    I have never sent a manuscript to any publisher and have three, ready to go, but am not panicking because i am on a wholly different and genuine path to most, doing it for a Love of bardic lore, which as Heaney has it, you affirm within, yourself, and once you reach a stage where no other person on the planet can make you feel a fake, (even if you are) you are hime and dry because we exist as a poet not because of where we appear in print, but in our *own esteem*.

    But the brits, they have to have their kings and queens, a random bore getting to act very very important, not because of their poetry, but their busy busy lives organising everyone else and telling them what to do, getting their kicks by feeling superior instead of just being themselves and doing it for love, not a well paid job or anything like that.

    You are lucky as Obama brought Hope at the time you most need it, whereas in Britain, they have only a lot of self-serving greedy individuals running the show who all want and act like they are aristicrats.

  • On June 5, 2009 at 11:18 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Great piece, Desmond–I’ve read it twice with great pleasure and will give it some more time.

    If you haven’t done so already check out its similarities to what happened to me stumbling upon not Foetry but foetry entirely ignorant of thewayitworks–my post is lurking right at the end of Martin Earl’s “The Fallacy of Rejecting Closure” (what a title!!!).

    Because, you see, I watched what Desmond Swords describes get started, first hand. I was actually there at the famous/infamous INTERNATIONAL POETRY INCARNATION at the Royal Albert Hall in London on June 11th, 1965, organized in part by Eric Mottram, and the real start of the poetry wars. Here’s who appeared more or less dressed but don’t worry, not sober. But before the list picture where it’s at, the Royal Albert Hall, white and gold, airy and good, ready for the silver-haired conductor to raise his baton in hushed silence even as we smoked like chimneys and our too many children peed on the floor:

    Pablo Neruda
    Laurence Ferlinghetti
    Michael Horowitz
    Pablo Fernandez
    Christopher Logue
    Pete Brown

    Gregory Corso
    Harry Fainlight
    John Esam
    Paolo Lionni
    Alexander Trocchi

    Anselm Hollo
    Ernst JandlSimon Vinkenoog
    Dan Richter
    George Macbeth
    Adrian Mitchell
    Allen Ginsberg

    and somewhere in the evening
    Andrei Voznesensky.
    and the voice of William Burroughs [sic]

    Sometime later I helped prop up Chögym Trungpa in Scotland while he peed and then, when we’d got him back in bed, ore or less wrote down what I could of the crazy wisdom while throwing shots of whiskey out the window for the dakinis. After Rimpoche had passed out I’d go downstairs in the Scottish darkness to my cold, stone office where I forced it into the poetry which would eventually become Naropa. That was 1969.

    Not my poetry, I’m not saying that–but the impulse to write it, the process, the mechanics, how it got written. Because the scene I’ve just described was already an archetype etched in my mind four years before by Harry Fainlight on acid, Alexander Trocchi on heroin, and Allen Ginsberg on the floor with nothing on but his cymbals.

    So we’re all in this together.

    Christopher

    • On June 6, 2009 at 4:07 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

      Chögyam. Thought you might think I’d been bluffing.

  • On June 6, 2009 at 12:19 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    Thanks very much Chris.

    i had read what you refer to before and just re-read it now.

    There are so many people out there who will not only take your money, but also do you no good because they disobey the golden rule.

    No one can *teach* another how to write, they can only encourage them to do so.

    My own theory is, in the cosmic scale of our bearings in Reality, in arounf half way out from the centre of our disc shaped, barred-spiral Milky Way galaxy, 100,000 light years across, 1000 light years thick and with a centreal bulge a few times more than that, with our sun being but ones of billions in the Milky Way galaxy, and our galxy being but one of billions in the Observable Universe – humanity in its current state of sapience say (what?) 150,000 years old — my thinking is that in this, the ultimate Reality, what anyone writes is essentially irrelevent.

    So, once we have that as our base-line, we can go forward knowing that more important than being the best poet of the age, is to be Happy – and if writing rubbish poetry and prose all day long makes a person happy, who are we to put a downer on them by telling them why they are no good?

    I spent three years in writing school and five years so far out of it, and the one lesson i have learned, is we can all, every single one of us, even the amazingly talented Fiona Sampson from the poetry society and Paul Mulddon from the New Yorker — get it wrong now and again.

    The thing is to be honest about our failures.

    For example, i attended a weekly open mic in Dublin for three years called Write and Recite (WaR) run by a very down to earth guy with no airs and graces and it was like doing the Beatles Hamburg phase, with the wine and cheese book-centrics too up themselves to read poetry there, for free, not cool enough.

    During it’s second year of existence a rapper called Gerard, calling himself Mister Fantastic, exploded onto the scene. He was very good live and clearly talented. He used to engage in extemporised rap battles with his cousin every week, and for the first two months, his cousin got slaughtered and I thought, this young kid had got heart, but no talent whatsoever.

    Not that I made it my business to tell him of course, as I was merely an observer and as we all do, indeed cannot help but doing, think, guage and though it contravenes the ideal state of fairness — rate people we see speaking verses, according to whatever measures we have, which will not all be the same. One persons fabulous, is anothers pedestrian and boring, so there’s no right or wrong, just opinion in Art. and even that statement, can be revised and the person come to a different belief depending on what occurs in their mind. So in a year, ten years, an hour, a minute, the variousness and continually shifting contingencies of existence, mean nothing is fixed. Minute by minute things change, as the greatest spacer of the twentieth century wrote.

    ~

    Anyway, in about the twelfth of so week of ritual humiliation, mister Fantastic was spotted working in the ice cream cafe in Temple Bar square, and clearly not wanting to be recognised, as his whole persona at the age of about 18, was bling and bitches, and to be seen wiping tables in a mister Whippy get-up, was not exactly in keeping with his career goal of smokiiirrn. That week something happened which proves my point that we can all get it 100% wrong.

    The cousin of Fantastic, having this chink in the armour to go at, flowered and trounced Gerard (fantastic) ten times more inventive, than Fantastic had ever done him. Not only that, but zero swearing, and breaking into song, all extemporised – which blew everyone away with his clear gift.

    If i had not seen this kid that week, I would have mistakenly believed he had no talent, when the 100% opposite was true. All he needed was a chance, a kind welcome, and a genuine one, not that pretend hello you are very welcome, as in a get lost welcome the top enders in lingo gone can gee up..

    ~

    And the top-enders taking your money to deliver an opinion on your work, there are very few who are doing it for Love alone and for whim it’s about you and not them.

    The thing i learned at college is all you can do, is give a thumbs up, even if the person is rubbish, why spoil their dream with some sadistic meed to let them know somehting as inconsequential as their poem, is not goood enough?

    And this is effected not by hectoring and lecturing and many a bore owning chat site knows only too well how to get good at, using Fear of expulsion as the silent instrument to make appear only the praise of themselves they want, but by simple kindness, humanity and the very very simple rule – your job as a professor, as a mentor, is to make people want to wriote more and not less.

    It is that simple. Once it becomes a chore and hard work and tough live and all this rubbish, it is not about empowering others into the beleif that they too are legitimately entitled to hold the same dream as you, to be a Poet – but Silence, look at moi, do you know who i am – call me Your Majesty and get bending type of carry on.

    Dead simple, do you make paying neophytes want to write more, or less?

    If it’s less, you’re ripping them off.

    It had a phase of attracting a lot of rappers, young kids battling it out, and there was on

    • On June 6, 2009 at 12:44 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

      Desmond,
      You may have read what I wrote but damned if I know from the preceding rap what thread you thought you were on, or what trod you were treading

      C.

      • On June 6, 2009 at 6:25 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

        But I’ve read it twice more and it’s growing on me, dear Desmond–it’s such an eloquent plea to be kind it makes me feel like a cad.

        “Silence, look at moi, do you know who i am?” I wrote about that too in the same post, so I guess you’re spot on.

        It just turned up in a funny place, but then even Fiona Sampson and Paul Muldoon get it wrong now and then, or so you say.

        Christopher

        • On June 6, 2009 at 4:01 pm William Kammann wrote:

          Christopher,
          Was that Jonathan Livingston Seagull drifting by with your tarnished Lorbeerblatt lightly clutched in his semi-enlightened mouth? They say “No one ever lost money underestimating the taste of the American public” or as the Germans have it “Vox Populi, vox Rindvieh.” But if you want to play the game you will find yourself on “their” turf. As Frost tells us “Provide, Provide” my stately Abishag.

  • On June 6, 2009 at 10:01 am thomas brady wrote:

    Desmond,

    THIS IS AWESOME:

    Anyway, in about the twelfth of so week of ritual humiliation, mister Fantastic was spotted working in the ice cream cafe in Temple Bar square, and clearly not wanting to be recognised, as his whole persona at the age of about 18, was bling and bitches, and to be seen wiping tables in a mister Whippy get-up, was not exactly in keeping with his career goal of smokiiirrn. That week something happened which proves my point that we can all get it 100% wrong.

    The cousin of Fantastic, having this chink in the armour to go at, flowered and trounced Gerard (fantastic) ten times more inventive, than Fantastic had ever done him. Not only that, but zero swearing, and breaking into song, all extemporised – which blew everyone away with his clear gift.

    If i had not seen this kid that week, I would have mistakenly believed he had no talent, when the 100% opposite was true. All he needed was a chance, a kind welcome, and a genuine one, not that pretend hello you are very welcome, as in a get lost welcome the top enders in lingo gone can gee up..

    IF YOU COULD TURN THIS INTO A SHORT STORY, THE NEW YORKER WOULD TAKE IT IN A HEARTBEAT…

    Des, I know what you’re saying about encouraging young people to write and happiness is so much more important than pecking order…I fully agree.

    Poe, who was the scariest critic ever, ONLY went after inflated reputations and he was explicit about this…he said genius is lazy because genius implicitly weighs everything in the balance and sees most human struggle is a waste of time, understands what you’re saying, Des, that we’re just a speck in the universe and it’s not worth all the games to get published and be thought of as ‘great,’ etc

    Poe was dragged from his lazy nature (and he admits this) by the single desire to see some lionized toady or quack NOT get more than their due…if it were not for this one perversity (if we want to call it that, or a sense of justice?) we wouldn’t have all that great stuff Poe wrote that only a few people secretly read and get nourished by, because the quacks and ‘lions’ Poe slayed are lost to time, and all we have is Poe, standing alone, and looking stupid with his sword out, and mean and nasty–when the OPPOSITE is true.

    Students should always be encouraged.

    Writing workshops taught by published poets are probably horrible for that reason, too, since instead of learning, instead of all the students being equal in a learning situation, the dynamic is instead laced with competition and students positioning themselves to most please the master, not just to get an “A,” but much more than that, to become a life-long servant in a coterie based on personality and ass-kissing. It has nothing to do with poetry and critical judgment, since the poet-professor is in the master-position because he or she in turn has kissed ass; he or she is NOT teaching the workshop because he or she is actually a good poet or a wise critic or have written any good poetry or sold any books…

    Can this be measured?

    In a very crude way?

    Poets whose success is based on their poems selling versus Poets whose success is based on mere ivory tower recognition.

    Here we run into vast difficulties. First, it is always easy to point to rubbish which appeals to vast numbers of people, and thus it is easy to say that public following has no connection to talent. Second, getting into the college curriculum (as many Modernists–whose books did not sell–did in mid-century) is a way to eventually ‘sell,’ since if generations of students read you, you will, by default, have a certain public recognition, or following.

    Even with these two difficulties, however, it might still be possible, I think, to make some crude, but informative, measurements. NOT appealing to the public can NEVER be taken as a sign of ‘depth’ or ‘talent’ in itself. The public is never WRONG, is what I’m saying. If the public likes rude and crude things, for instance, there is a very good reason for it, that we, in our over-sophisticated and over-moral perceptions CANNOT detect.

    The more a poetry appeals to a wide public the more that poetry is doing something correct–we cannot tar and feather poetry that pleases the public with our limited moral reasoning, UNLESS a VERY sharp critic EXPLAIN to us PRECISELY how the public errs in their judgment. TIME, too, tends to melt away public prejudices; rages for the ‘new’ fade after the ‘new’ is found out to be a quirk without substance–like the lower case dribblings of Cummings, for instance.

    But the point is, we cannot blame the public EVER, for their judgments. The public might have latched on to Cummings’ lower-case poetry as a way of saying, ‘this is proper somehow, these days, for poetry has become a lower case affair, really.’ So maybe the public’s ‘yes vote’ to Cummings wasn’t really about Cummings at all, but just sending a very wise message about the moderist era. So you see it’s complex; we should NEVER underestimate the public, and not assume their choices are simple or one-dimensional. But they can change; the public should be allowed to alter their judgments, just like an individual. Because that’s what the public is, really, a unique individual, but ‘WE’ just cannot see it.

    I DO think poetry is becoming quite miserable these days because we’ve now gone through many phases and generations of workshop poets teaching workshops which produce more workshop poets who teach the next generation of workshops who produce more workshop poets–none of them appealing to the public, or having to appeal to the public.

    The only exception, perhaps, is Billy Collins, and I think his success (which is deserved, because remember the rule, the public is never wrong) owes to the fact that Collins was a student of the ROMANTICS, the last truly great school of poetry who appealed to the public before the MODERNIST rebellion, a rebellion which got SO caught up in its intellectual avant gestures that it never really appealed to the public until Ransom and Co. got it into the university curriculum. Collins used sentiment, combined with wit, plain language, and sense of nostalgia not only for life, but a nostalgic sense of history, and the Romantics are a door for that, because they are modern and yet very much pre-modern. I always think of that Collins poem which uses Wordsworth and the after dinner nap–that’s the successful formula I’m talking about. There’s a REASON why that appeals.

    Thomas

    Thomas

  • On June 6, 2009 at 11:06 pm cynthia wrote:

    the problem is precisely the lack of dark chocolate in an all vanilla box. the lack of patronage is because of its profound lack of imagination, the same flavor and no dark chocolate. without it, well, it is what it is.
    cynthia

  • On June 7, 2009 at 8:41 am Bob Grumman wrote:

    I read Eileen’s piece and agreed with the first half of it, was neutral or disagreed with things in the second half. For instance, I think it natural and healthy for poets to band together and even to call themselves a school.

    I read a few of the responses but didn’t have the zip to read more–or do more in response than float the following few thoughts. (1) The main problem is over-population. (2) What we need are a few intelligent, accessible books not OF poetry but ON poetry, and journalists who will discuss them for a readership of more than a hundred instead of the crap they currently discuss. (3) As I’ve been saying for years (at About Poetry, among otherwheres), we need a complete or near-complete list of the schools of contemporary poetry (call them what you will) with which to confront all the professors and their students who think Wilshberia the whole of the poetry continuum, and to help people who are bored by what’s done in Wilshberia but might go for visual, sound or–gasp–mathematical poetry, for instance, if they knew it existed.

    –Bob Grumman

  • On June 7, 2009 at 9:52 am Michael J wrote:

    Thomas,

    The only exception is Billy Collins? I know you said perhaps, but, sadly, he is not a household name. Analyzing this from the perspective of why is Maya Angelou the only household poet-name? (living)

    This is a great thing to think upon, no?

    Recitation. That is her key.

    • On June 7, 2009 at 11:04 am Bob Grumman wrote:

      Maya Angelou is (maybe) a household name because public school classrooms and libraries have great quantities of her books for the same reason they celebrate black history month every year–and because she writes accessible often likable but always right-thinking mainstream poems.

      –Bob

      • On June 7, 2009 at 11:05 pm Michael J wrote:

        Bob,

        Billy Collins also writes accessible poems. Accessibility is a factor but not the whole equation. There is more of a chance a random person on the street, if you pull them aside and ask them, “Do you know who Maya Angelou is?”, that they will either have heard the name, or know precisely who she is.

        ‘Maya Angelou is (maybe) a household name because public school classrooms and libraries have great quantities of her books for the same reason they celebrate black history month every year’

        Amazingly, I am not one to get offended easily… but I am almost, perhaps slightly, miffed at that. Maybe it would do better for you to answer my question to you: Why do they have black history month every year?

        In my opinion, classrooms carrying her books and public libraries carrying her books is another factor but not the whole equation.

        She connects to women, writes poems that empower women, and in a few generations of young men/women being raised by single mothers, coupled with, yes, being introduced to her in a classroom taught by a woman, she has crossed into mainstream culture. But she would not have lasted there with a single poem. Why isn’t there a male poet who connects with males? Ahhh, there is/was… Charles Bukowski.

        This was like, mentioned in another thread on Harriet (or maybe this one), why Cummings ascended in popularity. As a backlash to the Modernists. The public (I rephrase from the other post in this thread) understood that somehow this is important in response to Modernism.

        And even with Bukowski’s influence on the craft, ranging from poets who consider him a ‘lesser’ poet, or not of ‘high art’, to others, he is still not included in most anthologies or histories of poetry. Same with Maya Angelou.

        Collins is, for the most part.

        Why?

  • On June 8, 2009 at 7:33 am Bob Grumman wrote:

    We have Black History Month for the same reason we have Poetry Awareness Month: to reveal the kindness of the Establishment to li’l folk.

  • On June 8, 2009 at 12:36 pm Don Share wrote:

    More hating-poetry-in-the-news:

    I recalled some comments made to me recently at a party by an arts producer working for a national broadcaster; “I hate poetry,” said this young man and, to make matters clearer: “I don’t believe in free expression.” For all the rebarbativeness of his remarks, I felt afterwards he was being more helpful and honest than all the bland promoters of poetry, or purveyors of a product called poetry that is not the real thing.– Harry Eyres, in (of all places) the Financial Times

    P.S. What’s Poetry Awareness Month?

    • On June 9, 2009 at 12:32 am Jordan wrote:

      Oh, the FT doesn’t review poetry as often as The Economist does, but they’ve had some remarkable non-philistine correspondents in their day: e.g. Cornelius Cardew, Geoff Dyer (I think), and though I haven’t read the paper closely in years I look in on some of their columnists from time to time and do not generally regret it: Martin Wolf, Lucy Kellaway, Nigel Andrews… And besides, Harry Eyres may have a distaste for poetry simply on account of what rhymes with his name. That said, always glad to see someone stick up for Muriel Rukeyser.

  • On June 9, 2009 at 10:54 am Don Share wrote:

    Lucy Kellaway is my hero.

    Quill & Quire blogged the FT article, and one of the comments to the post there was this:

    “I hate poetry, because most people who enjoy it are stuck-up pseudo-intellectuals.”

    That’s succinct, eh?

    • On June 9, 2009 at 11:22 am Ange wrote:

      Touche, Don. I have noticed that Poetry gets anti-intellectual letters to the editor too (referring to pieces as pretentious, for instance) and it always raises this question for me: do novelists get slapped down in this way, or is it just poets? Does anyone ever complain, for instance, that J.M. Coetzee is pretentious, or a pseudo-intellectual?

      An idle question, maybe, and certainly not one a poet should dwell on for too long. Or she would go mad. But I’m interested in what others think about this…

      • On June 9, 2009 at 1:39 pm john wrote:

        My hunch, Ange: Novelists tell stories; people “get” stories. People get rhyme and rhythm too. And people get language, they get communication.

        Maybe the “pseud” tag comes from people’s nervousness about not getting what poetry is if/when it doesn’t tell a story, rhythmically rhyme, or communicate clearly.

        Thus: “It must be some brainy thing then, but since *I’m* smart and I don’t get it, it must be pretentious, pseudo.”

        Modern painting and modern music get more slack because of the primary communicative concern of language. People get decoration; abstract visual pattern-making is, what, a millennia-old practice? The movies validate the expressive power of modernist music all the time. People don’t get decorative, abstract language, unless it rhymes. And note: trad. rhyming/scanning poetry told stories too; nonsense songs were consigned to kid-lit (Carroll!), with “mad” songs an academic category that few people knew.

        Not endorsing these views, but not unsympathetic either.

        • On June 9, 2009 at 2:25 pm Jordan wrote:

          You’re granting an enormous purchase to prose fiction, John, in that short phrase, “novelists tell stories.”

          Depending on who does the telling, poetry either emancipated itself from or was brutally evicted from narrative two hundred years ago. Poets have been fighting a psychic war over the change ever since.

        • On June 9, 2009 at 6:17 pm Ange wrote:

          Hi John — I know that people infinitely prefer story to discourse, but it’s good to be reminded. I’m stupid that way. :-)

          Actually, though, I used the example of Coetzee because there’s a novelist who writes essays and is considered a thinker. It’s not just about story.

          Usually I think when a, say, “brainy” poem or essay fails it’s because of obtuseness, not pretention. (It was Jordan who first called my attention to the “obtuse.” Good word.)

          • On June 9, 2009 at 11:51 pm john wrote:

            Hi Ange,

            I don’t know Coetzee’s work — I’m stupid about a lot of things! The comment Don quotes doesn’t focus on a particular writer, and I was responding to the generalization, in a generalizing way; again, not endorsing the views described, but sympathetic to them, although I wonder why anybody would bother to have a vituperative opinion about poets or poetry.

            Not all novels tell stories!

  • On June 10, 2009 at 12:16 am michael robbins wrote:

    I think Coetzee’s something of a red herring, as his work is very plain — his language the opposite of pretentious; it would have to be his content that was pretentious, but I haven’t heard this. I think the source of the disparity lies elsewhere: people are no longer trained to read poetry; they continue to read novels from an early age. Where novels (whose primary operation is of course not always narrative) approach the poetic — Stein, Joyce, Proust; McCarthy, Bolano, DeLillo, Handke — they are indeed called pretentious. Any deviation from the communication-function of language is perceived as pretentious.

  • On June 10, 2009 at 12:57 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Would it be terrible on a thread called I HATE POETRY to ask what we mean by pretentious?

    Do we mean it pretends in some sense, that it puts on airs, that it has delusions of grandeur? That its clothes, if there are any, are open to question, or the occupant too fat, too tight, or too idle?

    Can something that’s too bare be pretentious, like a dress that’s just not there, or in bad taste–a codpiece or trousers for Porfirio Rubirosa?

    Or too referential? Reverential?

    Could Robert Creeley ever be described as pretentious?

    Or Cummings or Gertrude Stein (and what’s the difference?)?

    In a sense, isn’t all poetry pretentious? Isn’t that precisely why we all so hate it?

    Christopher

  • On June 12, 2009 at 4:05 am Eileen Myles wrote:

    I think because poetry’s brief – often – because the hater or the name caller feels entitled because he “ate it all.” With a novel somebody might feel obliged to have read it before they ventured an opinion. So I think movies and poems bring out the automatic opinioning in people. As forms they are accessible – ie consummable, theoretically. But then because the short poem (short compared to a novel or a movie) stalls people a bit because they can “read” so the embarrassment or discomfort causes them to call the poem names.

  • On June 14, 2009 at 11:01 pm Daron Mueller wrote:

    This essay, “I hate poetry” makes my day. It makes my week. Thank you. So does the last comment about poems/the accessible being easy to hate. I meant to comment days ago…. they are TOO EASY TO HATE.

    I’ve seen way way way too much in crowd wanna bee ness in barely a decade just from happening to grown up near a poetry school and liking poetry (which are 2 unrelated facts– I think?/hope?

    I like the scope of your perspective though.. It’s huge… and it puts pieces together from our culture, from poetry, from the in crowd wanna bee ness from idiotic “important” magazines from what the hell is poetry accomplishing feeling… it does a lot.

    But I still keep hitting this though..

    We, the public, don’t control the means of distribution in this culture (a didactic moment here…) Distribution isn’t just what makes a cultural thing a cultural thing it’s also everything that leads you to that thing and everything that makes you want to use it — our whole society is so marketed and marketeers obviously know how all this works.

    But I know this isn’t what you mean by speaking through silence and fashion simultaneously — I’m being way too literal.

  • On June 15, 2009 at 5:59 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    >in the class system of the arts,
    poets are the proles the slaves . . .

    >poets hate poetry? as Genet has one of his “Maids” say:

    “When slaves love each other, it’s not love they feel.”

  • On June 21, 2009 at 4:16 pm John wrote:

    Good poems, poems that balance original sound with a little mystery, insight and a few entertaining flourishes usually survive.

    There have always been fashions, coteries, and more than enough opinions about what poetry should or shouldn’t be… I’ll tell you what it should be, enjoyable and not too bloody pretentious, meaning let’s not waste time wondering about why some people hate some poems.


Posted in Uncategorized on Sunday, May 31st, 2009 by Eileen Myles.