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John Updike’s Non-Poetry

By Eileen Myles

My thoughts re John Updike’s non-poetry bear some relation to Jason’s accidental and deliberate poetry meditations. I had problems w both those distinction because all poetry seems to me to be in the John Ashbery sense “managed chance” and so gets subsumed into “poetry” pretty quick. I mean it to seem accidental. And the problem with the deliberate poetry category was August’s relationship to content. Not only did it bug me that he talked about the little professor but when a poem has a rhetorical quest it seems you are really hanging a kick me sign on your butt. One can agree or disagree, basically do everything but experience the poem. I don’t think a poem has a point. It felt like both August and the little professor do. That’s a big difference, to me

in terms of what we are doing as poets. One of the things I had hoped would happen here on this blog is that maybe we could air some very obvious seeming statements of aesthetics because I think there’s often simply a lot of backroom politics in the poetry world or else upfront détente among people who don’t actually like each others work.

The earlier discussion about reviews touched on this too. To have a lively, and slightly dangerous poetry world one of the prerequisites would be that we would trade some polite ambition in order to court that wild exchange. I remember a few years ago there was a Lyric meets Language Women’s Conference at Barnard and both Lucie Brock Broido and Lyn Hejinian were there but nobody talked about their differences. Why sit in the same room if you don’t want to talk. I suspect people don’t want to let go of their secret thoughts that that (referring to the work of some aesthetic other) “isn’t poetry.” The critique is too overwhelmingly large to be even ventured so we sit in the over fed silence of family. Now that I think about it Marjorie Perloff and also some guy said outrageous things but no poet did. They had too much to lose.

So John Updike. I actually could care less about his poetry, even whether it is that or not. What I was floored by really was the review in the Times recently of his last book. A British poet (and I’m dying to put quotes around that word) wrote an incredibly pro-man review. I mean if a woman wrote this way about a famous dead woman I guess you’d call it feminist. Actually I think you’d call it lesbian. Updike’s virility initially seemed to be the subject of the review as it expresses itself in poetry. Twice the reviewer refers to Updike’s enviable position on “Team America.” He means the canon of American writers. Updike also is called the “Top Gun technician.” Uh-huh. Then you realize that even the headline editors are helping to mount the reviewer’s cause, titling the piece “Final Act.” Did they run the piece because they are snickering at the writer. Or snickering at poetry. Snickering at something. Because otherwise the piece seemed insane to me. We hear about John Updike’s “overmastering” or simply “masterful early lust” and then of course his “virile immortality.” And getting published, we learn, turned him into “Errol Flynn” who is also alluded to in the same review as the “priapic actor.”

Of course once one gets this excited it’s time for some homophobia. That’s like the froth on the corners of the mouth of the fanatic. We hear about Updike’s undying lust for Doris Day (who I have to mention, was a lesbian.) The reviewer bemoans that Updike, had he written more poetry would have given us more of his fine writing about Doris Day. “But poetry was only his holiday…a pity perhaps… he might’ve written the poetry that reported America….He could have given us a lot more Doris Day. Frank O’Hara became famous largely for a single mention of Lana Turner.”

I’m not even going to take that on. I just wanted to show it. Cause now I need to zero in on the true uncanniness of this review. It is not the strange construction of a posthumous beefcake portrait of John Updike, The Man. No, this review is actually about all the poetry Updike didn’t write. He needed a big house, he liked girls and he just didn’t have the time. That’s how it goes for Team America. That’s it.

Now considering that the Times doesn’t do a lot of poetry reviewing isn’t a full page review of what a famous novelist who is not a poet didn’t write sort a waste of good trees. But here it comes – the most astonishing line I have ever read in any poetry review anywhere and it is I think a deep testament to the Times’s enduring even unifying (for us) contempt for American poetry. Here it is, in the words of Team Britannica, Clive James:  “Let there be no doubt, though about the high quality of what he might have done.”

Our paper of record. Now that’s beautiful, right?

Comments (164)

  • On May 12, 2009 at 2:05 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    um,
    “Beauty is the purgation of superfluities”— Michelangelo Buonarroti

    & grimacing as I type it, :)
    best,
    margo

  • On May 12, 2009 at 5:55 am Luna wrote:

    If the spirit has gender, then it is gone already (a Renaissance alchemist)

  • On May 12, 2009 at 6:02 am Jordan wrote:

    Well, but “let there be no doubt” conveniently leaves the value judgment open.

    Most journalists are poetes manques. Even when they eventually get around to talking about poetry, the old hostility to the ones who stuck with it comes through. James has been talking about poetry almost the whole time, though. (And publishing his own.) I don’t doubt his sincerity, his expertise, or what may be most important to him, his bravado. Too bad he came too late to O’Hara — might have helped.

    Anyway Eileen, glad to see you here.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 7:32 am Annie Finch wrote:

    what a riot-I am tempted to see this as a big satire–are we sure that it isn’t? I can’t believe anyone would write this with a straight face: “Let there be no doubt, though about the high quality of what he might have done.”

    I’ve noticed that quite a few novelists write poetry “on the side” as if to imply that it’s a cute little diversion they could blow us all away at, if they only wanted to bother. I found myself at a huge Joyce Carol Oates reading once (at AWP, I think) and she read her poetry the whole time. Aside from the fact that people who really admired and wanted to hear her fiction must have felt cheated, it seems like an insult to poetry as well. Once in a while somebody can do both equally well, like Thomas Hardy, but Updike’s light verse is certainly nowhere near that category.

    But Eileen, I’m interested by your belief that we should talk openly about aesthetic differences and about our beliefs in what poetry essentially is. There have been discussions on other threads recently about whether we should use the term “poetry” or “poetries” to describe our art. And people have said that nobody expects jazz musicians and country musicians and classical musicians to sit down together and hash out their differing ideas of what music is. Would that be a waste of time, or would it be illuminating and interesting to hear? You seem to be saying the second thing. So, if you think so, count me in. I’d be sincerely glad to have this conversation. As you say, it might air out some dysfunctional silences in the poetry family.

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

    Seems to me “managed chance” as a method of writing is a pretty complex rhetorical manuever. I think all poetry has a rhetorical quest, and that meaning can’t be avoided.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 8:19 am Henry Gould wrote:

    On the other hand, I don’t think poetry can be equated with, or reduced to, rhetoric. I had a big argument with Gabriel Gudding about this once.

    Let’s say, in my book, poetry is the sandbox and rhetoric is what you do with the sand. But sand is gritty & unmanageable, much of the time. The end result of your amateur pyramid-building – if you persist and have a talent for it – might be poetry.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 10:05 am Daisy Fried wrote:

    To take up this side-point, “Not only did it bug me that he talked about the little professor but when a poem has a rhetorical quest it seems you are really hanging a kick me sign on your butt. One can agree or disagree, basically do everything but experience the poem.”

    I think I get what you’re saying here, Eileen, but you could also look at it as a strategy to get people to read. The hook to hang the poem on. It’s a sociable strategy, and yes, a journalist’s strategy, but that doesn’t make it an un-poetry strategy. Why should poetry not seek to be read? It need not sacrifice quality simply because it’s sociable (or pleasingly (to me) anti-sociable, in August’s case). And I think there’s more going on in August’s poem than a rhetorical quest, or for that matter a cheap shot; I think it uses a cheap shot (and really who among us wouldn’t be a fair target for a cheap shot, when it comes down to it) to get at a human plight/foible. But even if it were just a cheap shot, there’s a lot to be said for the cheap shot and the jeer-poem. It’s kind of like participating in a community religious rite, only from the dark side of human nature. You’re conflating the performance of the cheap shot with the poet writing the poem.
    Daisy

  • On May 12, 2009 at 10:28 am Michael Theune wrote:

    Agreed.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 10:46 am Jason Guriel wrote:

    Eileen, thanks for your post. Just to clarify, since my original post may have been a bit unclear: my distinction between the people I’ve called ‘accidental’ poets and the people who self-identify as poets wasn’t intended to be a distinction between poets who use chance (or manage chance, or surrender themselves to chance, or open themselves up to chance) and poets who are more deliberate or rhetorical in their approach, who have a ‘point’; in other words, it wasn’t intended to be a distinction between different methods of writing by people who already call themselves poets. It was intended to be a distinction between those who don’t think of themselves as poets (or who didn’t think of themselves as poets, at least until someone else came along and pointed out the poetry in something they said) and those who do. The latter group can certainly include people who use chance techniques in their work or are less deliberate about having a point in their work. And the former group, the accidental poets, occupy a very tenuous position and may not be there for long; in another episode, Edith is no longer an accidental poet. She is just a poet, and trying to enter a poetry contest! And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. In a way, I guess all I was suggesting is that poets are people who call themselves poets — or are called ‘poets’ by others. This could’ve all been made more clear in my original post (assuming, of course, it sounds clear now; it may not! I need coffee!).

    In using Edith and the professors, I was having some fun, using very extreme opposites. But, as I noted in the original post, “between Kleinzahler’s professors and Edith Bunker there spreads a vast spectrum of kinds of poets.” My post’s ultimate intention was to admire the poetry of those who maybe don’t think they’ve written poetry but have!

    But I think Henry Gould makes a good point. Orson Welles once said that directors are people who preside over accidents. But surely these directors must first call themselves ‘directors’ so that they can, like, be on the set presiding over the accidents?

    And I think Daisy makes a good point, too. Plus, Kleinzahler is an equal opportunity satirist, and he has taken shots at language poets et al. He’s funny.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 10:52 am thomas brady wrote:

    Eileen,

    Wonderful stuff!

    Let’s speak the unspoken!

    Updike is the novelist of adultery, or porn for the puritanical; Updike is the third and highest of this trinity: 1. sex for the lowbrows, 2. romance for the middlebrows and 3. adultery for the highbrows.

    The march of Puritanism through Western Culture since Luther (see ‘Poets Without Laurels’ by John Crowe Ransom, the American T.S.Eliot) is manifested by Updike’s novels of adultery, since marriage is the last Old Sacred contract.

    The novel came into existence, in fact, not as a marriage narrative, so much as a ‘dissolution of marriage’ narrative, or ‘a Catholic Priest (Luther) Getting Married’ narrative.

    The rise of the novel directly coincided with the acceptance in the popular mind of the reality of adultery. During the rise of the ‘naughty’ novel, poetry became conservative by default; it fell to poetry to sing of love, as the novel became the window of protestant revolt in the 19th century.

    What “changed” around 1910 was that poetry turned gay. Poetry could not long be left behind in the great sweep of change, the loosening of morals, and so forth.

    Poetry could not compete with fiction’s adultery narrative and poems of love felt hopelessly conservative and behind the times; the conservative function of all art was crumbling and it wasn’t long before poetry would have to fall, too. Poetry was the last to go, and in some ways it is still holding on.

    Gay poets made the whole marriage issue irrelevant. Poetry needed to be free of this middle class issue which the novel was now satisfying.

    What Dante and the Romantics had done in poetry was to make romantic love a western religion and Modernism dismantled this once and for all, first by borrowing imagism from the pagan East, purging all sentimental baggage and throwing elevated language on the garbage heap.

    Imagism did its work, ran out of steam quickly, and then came the re-fashioning of poetry into a frisson of difficulty and prose.

    The pendulum has finally swung as far as it can go. The puritan revolution ended with the Beats and the rise of poetry jobs in the university around mid-century.

    Gays recently seeking to marry is the beginning of the whole thing swinging back the other way. A counter-reformation is underway.

    Updike can’t be considered a poet for many complex cultural reasons, some of which I have merely touched on here.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 10:59 am Henry Gould wrote:

    Tom, don’t forget the invention of the toaster oven. This had an immense and irreversible impact on gender & sex & literary history across all worlds.

    And it was INVENTED by… you guessed it : Edgar Allan Poe! In his sleep! (“a dream within a dream”, remember?) From then on the novel was… you guessed it : ” ” [5-letter word, rhymes with roast].

  • On May 12, 2009 at 11:09 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    unless I’ve completely misread your post, Eileen, isn’t the distinction you make (not betwixt but zero-ing in on–) one who does not think herself a poet but becomes one by random arrow and whispers, as in Jason’s scenario – and one who was never a poet but is (was) being faux-lauded for the poems he never wrote but ah, if he’d only – might have? and/but the few in the barrel ain’t worth the paper…

    or are we (aren’t we?) trying to cut away the stone to find an angel?

  • On May 12, 2009 at 11:29 am michael robbins wrote:

    One can agree or disagree, basically do everything but experience the poem. I don’t think a poem has a point.

    Agreeing or disagreeing is, of course, one way of experiencing poems.

    Poems can have “points” that aren’t reducible to paraphrases of their content.

    One can read poems with “points” without either agreeing or disagreeing with what is maintained: I suppose I find much of the “Essay on Man” tendentious; one doesn’t read it simply for its sentiments.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 11:39 am Eileen Myles wrote:

    Hi – this is kind of a broad reply to a lot of posts but thanks for letting me post it to you…

    I think this is a beautiful sentence (or two): “Seems to me “managed chance” as a method of writing is a pretty complex rhetorical manuever. I think all poetry has a rhetorical quest, and that meaning can’t be avoided.”

    But I do think some poems more apparently than others are making a speech. That’s the rhetorical quest I meant. It’s sort of like the poet assigned to speak at the inauguration. I wish they would write a big shimmering pool for everyone, not a list of who we are and bright ideals. I would be so excited to see a public poet do the wrong job. The avant garde is ultimately something lobbed at the bourgeoisie. I’m a little sick of the avant garde but if the adamantly readable poem is my alternative I’d opt for lobbing one. But I don’t think those are our choices. I see poetry and journalism as maybe the great split and if you have something to say why not write an essay instead of sending a poem out to work with a lunch pail and a sign.

    “Let’s say, in my book, poetry is the sandbox and rhetoric is what you do with the sand.”

    That strikes me as pure rhetoric. In the bad way. The line sounds to me like one of those clever quotable things you would say in an interview or in the classroom but is too rigid to be useful. It feels charming.

    Daisy says: “Why should poetry not seek to be read?” I wonder how you got there. To suggest that being resistant to a poem with an axe to grind means that I’m down with the unreadable is a huge leap. All sorts of work is sociable that doesn’t have readily identifiable subject matter.

    “You’re conflating the performance of the cheap shot with the poet writing the poem.”

    No I’m not. August did write the poem. August clearly thinks there are these academic poets out there who write dull deliberate poetry. I was doing well two things … one – suggesting that August is no more free of the stain of the professor than er Bear Mountain is free of New York. But I do – I get bummed by poems with a hearty message. It always feels like Calvin Trillin deadline poet. Who is not Satan but there’s always more room in America for cleverness then say, art. Which I know August does do too. If Daisy’s defending the cheap shot I guess I’d support her in that. But it’s true that particular cheap shot rankled. Everyone loves to laugh at the little professor.

    What “changed” around 1910 was that poetry turned gay.

    The whole sweep of this post was sort of magnificent and crazy in its scope. I applaud its author but I probably don’t agree at all but love how gay came in. I will use that line – well maybe as the first line of a commencement address. But what would be that college?

  • On May 12, 2009 at 11:45 am Eileen Myles wrote:

    I know Jazz musicians don’t sit down and discuss their differences. Well I’m not sure I know that but yeah sure probably. But if they have huge differences I think wouldn’t play together. But this is a mixed play situation I think. Kind of a public conversation. And we’ve all been at many where you felt like no one wanted to play their cards. I think people are very passionate in poetry about our differences and it seems like some of that is rooted in very long held ideas that are assumptions in one camp or another. I didn’t read Jason’s original post that close cause the word accidental made me jump. It’s like the word found. Most of the poetry world I walk in wouldn’t say found poetry. Like it’s a given that much is found and used. But in another world people always say found. The word craft makes me rankle. In another world I am asked to give a craft lecture. Should I give the lecture on the word craft. I mean I just think some of our silences are condescending or smug. I cross lines regularly in my likes and dislikes and I think all poets do. At the very least I’d to try and articulate some of the things that feel blurry here – in poetry land. And I know those things are different for everyone. And shifting.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 11:58 am Henry Gould wrote:

    Hi Eileen,
    I agree with you, for the most part. My sandbox image was offered with extreme seriousness, because I think that (unlike rhetoric) poetry is mostly play. (Besides, I’ve only given 2 interviews over 4 decades (1 in 1977, 1 in 1999), & I’ve never been in a classroom. Why would I need rhetoric?)

    But I also feel that poets play pretty seriously, & they are willing & able to turn rhetoric to their own purposes. The idea that journalists & politicians use rhetoric, & the poets are pure play, is too much of a dichotomy.

    When I heard you read your poems at the Russian poetry conference in Hoboken, about 10 yrs ago, you read poems, not rhetoric – but your DELIVERY – through gritted teeth (because the bored Russians couldn’t be bothered to listen to the AMERICAN poets) was quite rhetorical, I thought (at the time).

  • On May 12, 2009 at 11:59 am Daisy Fried wrote:

    Eileen–

    Right, I take back the “why shouldn’t poetry seek to be read” comment. You weren’t going there.

    But even if a poet is 100% telling his own opinion in a poem, it’s still a performance of an opinion.

    I guess I’m saying AK is doing more than grinding an axe.

    And I think it’s okay to take pot-shots at something you’re part of. Whether or not you acknowledge you’re part of it.

    There’s room in poetry for that.

    Daisy

  • On May 12, 2009 at 12:01 pm Michael Theune wrote:

    “…but when a poem has a rhetorical quest it seems you are really hanging a kick me sign on your butt.”

    Two responses:

    1. Poems hang all kinds of signs saying all kinds of things all over the place. The rhetorical quest of most poems is to hang those signs, to point to those signs, and to get a reader to undertake (or consider undertaking) the action the signs indicate.

    And let’s not forget: wandering and risks are parts of most quests, and the achievement of an end to quest often involves some degree of surprise, and is typically provisional…

    And

    2. There are some recent, significant attempts to (re-)reveal the links between poetry and rhetoric. One is Tony Hoagland’s “Altitudes, a Homemade Taxonomy: Image, Diction, Rhetoric” (in Real Sofistikashun). Of particular interest for this conversation is the fact that Hoagland considers not only the rhetoric in poems by poets such as Galway Kinnell and Robert Hayden but also the rhetorical maneuverings in poems by Mary Ruefle (“Trust Me”) and John Ashbery (“Decoy”). The use of rhetoric clearly is wide-spread in poetry. (Indeed, as I note above, I tend to agree with Henry’s position: rhetoric virtually is everywhere in poetry…) It will not be very helpful to try to sort out poets according to those who go on rhetorical quests and those who do not…

    Another important conversation occurs in Tom Hunley’s Teaching Poetry Writing: A Five-Canon Approach, a book in which Hunley argues that those who teach poetry writing should give up the workshop model and take up a pedagogy based on the five canons of rhetoric: invention, arrangement, style, memory, delivery. Hunley’s book has two relevant sections for this conversation: “A Short History of Rhetoric’s Impact on Poetry and Poetry’s Resistance to Rhetoric” and “Why I Recommend that Poetry Writing Instructors Base Their Pedagogy on Rhetoric Rather Than on Poetics.” Some reflections on this book over at http://structureandsurprise.wordpress.com

  • On May 12, 2009 at 12:15 pm Colin Ward wrote:

    I don’t think a poem has a point.

    If we can agree that poetry is about the how and not the what, any discussion of a point ventures off-point. A poem can, as you say, have no point. On the other hand, it can have a polemic one, stridently forwarded, or one ever-so-subtly suggested. A poem can can also be ambiguous or ambivalent (see DPK’s “Beans”). It can make us laugh. It can be jingles that sell toothpaste (“You’ll wonder where the yellow went…”). It can be slogans that inspire athletes to exert themselves (“Refuse to lose!”).

    “Defining poetry by content is like trying to grab a drowning donkey by its bubbles.”

  • On May 12, 2009 at 12:17 pm Michael Theune wrote:

    Tony Hoagland has a good essay on (among other things) poetry and rhetoric in Real Sofistikashun. The essay is called “Altitudes, a Homemade Taxonomy,” and, perhaps of special relevance to the current conversation, Hoagland not only considers the rhetoric employed in poems by poets such as Galway Kinnell and Robert Hayden but also by poets such as Mary Ruefle and John Ashbery. (Indeed, transitioning into his discussion of Ashbery’s “Decoy,” Hoagland states, “One group of American poets that has not abandoned rhetoric is the postmodern cadre…”)

    The use of rhetoric, thus, might be much more wide-spread than this post suggests. At least, as Hoagland’s work suggests, if we are to have a conversation about some of the differences about kinds of American poetry, let’s not get off on the wrong foot by saying, too simply, that some poets use rhetoric (or go on rhetorical quests–are those the same?) and others don’t…

  • On May 12, 2009 at 12:30 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Jason,

    Allow me to comment on your wonderful Edith trope.

    My comments will fly in the face of certain theorists, but here goes:

    Metaphor or music?

    Metaphoric language–Edith’s comparison of confessionals to telephone booths–springs from the lips of the Fool, for metaphor is essentially accidental, humorous and disrespectful: the divine will always lose by a human comparison, just as nature will, by an artificial comparison. Niagara Falls compared to water pouring from the hand of God is a banal comparison, for instance.

    Archie is correct. Music elicits awe, it takes skill; not just anyone can hold an audience with song. If Edith opened her mouth and began singing opera, or began reciting polished and finished verses, only then would she cease to be a Fool, even in Archie’s eyes.

    Edith is no poet. She is fodder for the script writer of the popular and democratic ‘All in the Family.’ Her fake poetry gets a sympathetic laugh; her ‘poetry’ is safe from being truly judged as poetry, for it is contrasted with the reactionary Archie.

    Thomas

  • On May 12, 2009 at 12:31 pm Michael Theune wrote:

    Apologies for my double reply. I’d thought my first response was, for some reason, not accepted by Harriet…

  • On May 12, 2009 at 12:45 pm Dale Smith wrote:

    Eileen, thanks for this terrific post. I remember several months back (was it a year ago?) after Updike died Terry Gross played an interview she had conducted with him several years prior. Anyway, at a certain point, he dismisses Kerouac in a most ungracious, and, what seemed to me, a mean-spirited manner that rubbed me the wrong way. I also remember as a young man having Updike held up to me as a model of contemporary writing. I remember reading some of his books and just being bored to death but wondering why I wasn’t “getting it.” Anyway, turns out, now thinking about it, I just can’t stand his “voice.”

    Whew, now, with that out of my system: rhetoric. By accident several years ago I signed up to study rhetoric formally and have now completed a dissertation on rhetoric and poetry after 1960. I had to cross this issue of rhetoric and aesthetics many times in my study, and I had to find ways to discuss poetry for a non-poetry-reading audience–which was fascinating. Poets take a lot for granted that some in other fields of study don’t. I remember in my prospectus exam being asked point-blank: well, how are you defining poetry!

    I like your term “rhetorical quest.” It’s rich and suggestive of possibility. Typically, rhetoric is used in a pejorative sense, like in Bush’s rhetoric, etc, as if there’s a separation between substance and its presentation in language. (Perhaps this is Henry’s resistance–between truth and style?–if so, it’s an old debate–Plato’s Phaedrus and Gorgias, of course, look at the problems of philosophy and rhetoric, and he doesn’t conclude the debate with any sense of finality.)

    I’ll end just by saying that more recent writers like Kenneth Burke have made some interesting descriptions of poetry and rhetoric. He basically argues that poetry expands our capacities to live in the world. The “point” may simply be a slight pause in the reader’s attention–a new way of seeing, briefly. I think of James Schuyler poems about clouds and flowers–how they aren’t “about” anything, and yet they instruct the orders of perception. He says, hey, look at that December sky, it’s yellow and gray, and this is a poem. In other words, poems can reinforce certain attitudes or beliefs, or perhaps prepare us to accept other ones.

    I could go on with this. I’ve posted some things about this off and on at Possum Ego over the last year or so. I might try to add something more substantial on this topic there. Thanks again for bringing this up in your post

    Dale

  • On May 12, 2009 at 1:02 pm Don Share wrote:

    Interesting stuff, Dale, re rhetoric being thought of pejoratively. Rhetoric, which used routinely to be taught to undergraduates, was supposed to permit people who were different from each other to communicate & share their viewpoints, as well as debate them, using a more or less shared langauge. That’s all gone, for better and/or worse; curiously, it’s poets, e.g., Jorie Graham & Seamus Heaney, who have in recent years occupied the famous Boylston Professorship of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard, formerly held by teachers of public speaking and ministers!

    Some history of the latter here:

    http://www.figarospeech.com/harvard/

  • On May 12, 2009 at 1:04 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    “Does a poem have a point?”

    Big conundrum. Art as “self-reflexive”. The poem MEANS ITSELF : this is how it becomes objective in the world. It means itself the way a rock or a tree means itself. By being beauty-in-itself (complete in itself, free-standing) the Poem makes the most momentous Rhetorical Point of all : the analogy that Art is beautiful in the way that [Nature/Reality/the Cosmos] is also beautiful.

    *

    “beauty [in poetry] has for its inner meaning the free independent meaning, not a meaning of this or that but what means itself and therefore signifies itself” (Hegel, non-poet)

    *

    “Property was thus appall’d,
    That the self was not the same;
    Single nature’s double name
    Neither two nor one was call’d.

    Reason, in itself confounded,
    Saw division grow together;
    To themselves yet either-neither,
    Simple were so well compounded”
    (Shakespeare, The Phoenix & the Turtle)

  • On May 12, 2009 at 1:33 pm Dale Smith wrote:

    Don, yes, part of the problem re: rhetoric can be found in its institutional history. At one time, the disciplines of literature, speech, and writing instruction would have all fallen under rhetoric. As a discipline, rhetoric practically vanished from English departments in the U. S. in the first half of the last century. Anyway, throughout western history, rhetoric is either in or out of favor, and in our moment we seem to be growing more interested in it again. I know that the growing field of rhetoric today values that sort of expansion of viewpoint in undergraduate education you mention. One thing to note too is that the current interest in rhetorical education comes chiefly through state institutions, while the ivies have been less of a motivating force in that. Again, lots of institutional baggage and history there.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 2:01 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    p.s. sorry, don’t mean to oversimplify.

    Poetry doesn’t just float in a bubble of beautiful detachment.

    Life is not all beautiful (in case you haven’t heard). & the “equilibrium” of art is an achievement – the result of a struggle to absorb & reflect the terrific shocks of experience.

    “Some reconcilement of remotest mind” (Hart Crane)

    “My Circuit is – Circumference -” (Emily Dickinson)

  • On May 12, 2009 at 2:18 pm Dale Smith wrote:

    Henry, I hear what you’re saying, though “beauty,” if we’re going to dispute with Hegel, can also be seen as something that’s rhetorically constructed. “The poem” may “mean itself,” but that’s often difficult to locate. The situation in which a poem’s read often changes “it.” One thing about that term “rhetorical quest” is that it brings a sense of adventure to our approach to poetry. We can put “the poem” to different uses and inhabit its domain on its terms, or invite it to sit down with us, for a beer perhaps, or a cup of coffee. (Poets love coffee.) The “terrific shocks of experience” sounds like the beginning of a rhetorical perspective.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 2:23 pm Eileen Myles wrote:

    I guess maybe there’s a lot of angels embedded in the stone. And it keeps changing as you turn it. It’s like every time you walk away from Harriet all of life is inbetween.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 2:29 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    But Eileen was objecting to the “rhetorical quest” aspect : & I agree with her there.

    I say poetry EXISTS to give the lie to the notion that beauty is “rhetorically constructed”. Beauty – & Nature, Reality – are prior to us & our names for things.

    Beauty is a sense.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 3:01 pm Matthew Zapruder wrote:

    This is a very great post Eileen. When I read the comments, which are thankfully very interesting and generous and thoughtful, I think about the fact that “rhetorical” can mean (at least) two things.

    One, having to do with the area of study known as “rhetoric,” i.e. thinking about and categorizing speech acts (though the discipline of rhetoric has gone far beyond that basic purpose). This is what Michael is talking about, and Dale as well (his dissertation to me sounds incredibly interesting).

    The second definition characterizes a particular type of speech act, i.e. one that exists primarily for persuasive purposes, often in a manipulative way. I think of political speeches, or editorials, as being “rhetorical” in this sense. They pretend to be in dialogue with mystery but really are operating with barely hidden rectitude and conviction.

    As I understand it, this is what Eileen means when she uses the word “rhetorical,” in a pejorative (and totally accurate) way to refer to the “poetry” of John Updike, and when she writes, “I see poetry and journalism as maybe the great split and if you have something to say why not write an essay instead of sending a poem out to work with a lunch pail and a sign.”

    This by the way is clearly NOT the same thing as saying poems shouldn’t have any point, or shouldn’t seek to be read, or shouldn’t make sense. Anyway I hardly need to say that, since Eileen is doing her own great job of knocking down the straw man, who is a regular participant in these comment streams.

    When Eileen writes “I do think some poems more apparently than others are making a speech. That’s the rhetorical quest I meant” and “That strikes me as pure rhetoric. In the bad way. The line sounds to me like one of those clever quotable things you would say in an interview or in the classroom but is too rigid to be useful. It feels charming” I think she is referring to poetry being used for a purpose that becomes oppposed to what poetry can at its best do.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 3:05 pm Dale Smith wrote:

    Henry, I guess my sense of this very old debate is to leave it at that: a conflict of perspectives that can’t be easily resolved. The Phaedrus makes an elegant statement on this. Socrates doesn’t trust the Sophists, but Plato doesn’t completely dismiss them either. The point is, I don’t think the distinction is quite so sharp between nature/reality v. rhetorical construction. Oh, yeah, and I see now how she’s using “rhet quest.” I was trying to re-pitch it a little according to my own enthusiasms. When you get down to it, poetry for me is just really interesting and terrific stuff that inspires my curiosity–makes me more readied for the terms of experience, etc.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 3:12 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    What, you’re telling me they’ve been talking up this poetry/rhetoric thing before already? I thought I was just having a quarrel with myself.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 3:17 pm Dale Smith wrote:

    Wasn’t trying to be snide, Henry. This conversation probably says a lot more about me than anything. I’ve been having to breathe that “poetry/rhetoric thing” a little too much probably….

  • On May 12, 2009 at 3:18 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    What’s so bloody charming about a SANDBOX, I ask you?

    (Sorry – just a rhetorical question…)

  • On May 12, 2009 at 3:19 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Nay, nay, just kidding, Dale! Read my rhetoric-stained lips!

  • On May 12, 2009 at 3:29 pm Don Share wrote:

    “Rhetoric is not so easy to escape. Would it were as easy as it sounds to bypass the self by displacing the lyric ‘I’ onto the operations of language. But you still have the web the operations of language weave, and that web is the result of a personal, deliberate, ego-driven hunger to trap flies. The fly may not see the spider when it blunders into the web, but the fact remains that the spider spun the web and will eventually eat the fly.” — Tom Sleigh

  • On May 12, 2009 at 3:33 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    I just had the most incredible poetic-metaphorical realization.

    Poetry is not the sandbox : poetry is the SAND. HARRIET BLOG is the SANDBOX. We are IN the sandbox.

    I mean – the BOYS are in the SANDBOX. The GIRLS are on the SWINGSET. & this gets back to the whole issue of CLIVE JAMES and homo-EROSION (of the SAND… in the SANDBOX….)

    WOW.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 3:37 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    “But only God could make a Fly.”
    - Jeff “Buzz” Concept

  • On May 12, 2009 at 3:40 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Eileen,

    Yes, I just wanted to help Virgina Woolf out. She said ‘something changed’ around 1910.

    I can see Virginia wondering to herself, ‘What’s different? What is it?’

    Please don’t confuse me with the comic Sam Kinison: HEY LADY! YOU’RE GAY!

    My point is subtle.

    Or, it need not be. Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley had a dozen kids between them.

    The great line of 20th century poetry, Eliot, Auden, and Ashbery had none.

    The invalid Elizabeth Barrett Browning had more children than all the major 20th century women poets combined: Millay, Bishop, and Moore.

    I don’t think it helps much to point out how rhetorically various and subtle poetry is. Sure, poetry has infinite rhetorical variety. But I’m not sure where this gets us. Poetry is infinitely rhetorical. It teaches us all manner of things. Now what?

    Here’s an interesting point: rhetoric without what they used to call ‘polish or finish’ is basically useless.

    I think we need to narrow, not expand. The more the definition of poetry expands, the more the public grows weary of it.

    Thomas

  • On May 12, 2009 at 4:13 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    This is my favorite rhetorical definition of poetry:

    “A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest–a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

    - Albert Einstein

  • On May 12, 2009 at 4:31 pm michael robbins wrote:

    No, she did not say “something changed”; what she said was “On or about December 1910, human character changed.”

  • On May 12, 2009 at 4:43 pm Michael Theune wrote:

    This is a helpful distinction you make, Matthew–thanks. And you do get at what I’m trying to get at when I use the term “rhetoric.” For example, I have no problem recognizing the maneuvers in Eileen Myles’s wonderful “I’m Moved” from Sorry, Tree (from Wave Books)–for example, the way that poem is orchestrated toward the achievement of it’s wonderful final two lines–as rhetorical. And when I say that, I don’t mean that I find the poem manipulative. I do feel guided, though–but I’m cool with that.

    And I agree with you about Dale’s dissertation sounding interesting–I want to read it! Dale: tips on when/how we might get our hands on this?

  • On May 12, 2009 at 4:45 pm Don Share wrote:

    A puzzling remark, indeed: what happened on or about December 1910? I mean, Tolstoy had died, but that was in November; Halley’s (not Cathy’s) comet appeared, but that was in April. I’m being too literal, aren’t I?

  • On May 12, 2009 at 4:54 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Well, it rained in Sioux Falls, on Dec. 12th. But that’s neither here nor there.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 5:00 pm Don Share wrote:

    Henry, you know very well that there’s no there there!

  • On May 12, 2009 at 5:22 pm Matthew Zapruder wrote:

    Hi Michael! I love rhetoric in poems. In fact it’s impossible to imagine them (or language) without it. How obviously rhetorical a poem is is, of course, part of its mechanism.

    Poems can also be in the other sense “rhetorical” and also really great (c.f. John Donne, who is rhetorical as well as rhetorical).

    But there is something crucial in Eileen’s observation (again as I understand it) that the rhetorical impulse can take over and totally wreck poems, and be antithetical to their spirit. Updike’s poems are a case study here.

    I like feeling a value system at the heart of what Eileen is saying.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 5:25 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Don, my comment was far too facetious. Seriously. This question about V. Woolf’s (curiously, rhetoroarically) ungrammatical comment about “on” December 1910 (ON December????)… very much worth further foxdigging.

    From what I can google (I mean gather) Woolf’s remark can be read as a critique of the popular “social” novelists of the time – HG Wells & others – who overly, prosily, industriously FACTUALIZED the revolution of social mores of that era (death of Victoria, death of Edward VII, reining in of House of Lords, Democracy, O Democracy) – & by objectifying it, merely maintained it.

    When V. Woolf’s cook (her COOK – dash it all!!) dared to come upstairs, all on her ownsome, & read her Mistress’s newspaper (or whatever it was) – this was a shock to the (psychic) system of V. Woolf – & V. Woolf understood it as a SEA-CHANGE in the human psyche generally. & this was the “change in human character” which was vastly more important than the novelists’ pedantic explanations of same.

    The cook did it!

    Speeches often represent specious explanations. Truth is even more subtle than Thomas Brady can explain. and as poets know, “the Word is Psyche” (E. Poe) (no, O. Mandelstam)

  • On May 12, 2009 at 5:28 pm Don Share wrote:

    Spicer’s real good in his lectures on how not to let rhetoric wreck poems; see The House That Jack Built.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 5:48 pm Dale Smith wrote:

    Matthew, I think you’re right–there can be really bad rhetorical devices in poems. I’ve been looking at some of Denise Levertov’s Vietnam-era poems in To Stay Alive recently and they almost all rely on figures of pathos to drive her point home. Rhetorically, she situates herself beyond a Middle American audience and condescends to them because she refuses to speak their language. Duncan couldn’t stand her writing during this period because she singles out one particular audience–the Peace Movement–and reinforces that audience’s beliefs and desires almost exclusively. Anyway, there are many manipulative, agitprop, or propaganda-like poems out there, but most really great poems are more complex, varying the rhetorical pace, etc, or doing other interesting things. I think the “value system” you see Eileen describing might map correlate with ethos–or our willingness to trust certain voices over others.

    Michael, I submit the ms. to a press this fall for review. With luck a book should be out in fall 11. Thanks for asking about this. And I just want to add one more thing, I think that most of us in poetry work instinctively with an understanding of rhetoric, we just may not all think about it in those terms. I’m pretty lame when it comes to formal prosody, but instinctively make prosodic decision when I write. Annie Finch is able to speak more concretely about prosody. (Others really understand the morphology of the language really well.) I guess for poets the more we can access the history of the language the more informed we can be in our practices. But the practice continues regardless, and with often interesting results. Anyway, I could go for hours on this stuff. Thanks for these comments. It’s always helpful to see how others think about this.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 8:39 pm Matthew Zapruder wrote:

    Don, so funny you should mention this … I am reading a lot of Spicer right now (having just moved to the Bay Area), and came across this just today in Killian and Ellingham’s The House That Jack Built, in the part where they discuss the informal workshops Spicer and Duncan used to have in 1957 in North Beach (not too far from where I’m currently living!)

    * * *

    When the twenty-one-year-old David Meltzer began attending the meetings at the Dunns’ apartment, he became intoxicated by the dynamic between Spicer, who wanted to “de-rhetorize” poetry, and Duncan, who proposed a rhetorical, lyrical verse. At one session Duncan expounded the rhetoric in Vachel Lindsay’s poem about William Jennings Bryan, clarifying the function of rhetoric in the poem; Spicer opposed Duncan’s formulations with a poetry that was “much more reductive.”

    * * *

    This made me wonder whether at least for Spicer a “de-rhetorized” verse would be one that was simply plainer in speech. It doesn’t take a graduate student in rhetoric or anything else to observe that “plain speech” has just as much rhetoric as any other kind, so this is yet another, slightly different sense of the word rhetorical.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 8:44 pm Matthew Zapruder wrote:

    Dale, good luck getting a publisher for the dissertation, I hope to be able to read it!

    I’m curious as to whether the problem with those poems of Levertov’s from that period (if, indeed, there is a problem at all), has to do as much with their didactic quality as with their rhetorical one. Or maybe you think that is the same thing? I could see that, especially when I think about pathos as a rhetorical device, yes that makes a lot of sense.

    It seems like those poems, as well-meaning as they are, might be an example of the sort of poem that someone has strapped a sign and a lunch pail on and sent to work, even if it’s for the right side.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 8:45 pm Matthew Zapruder wrote:

    actually sorry, I meant Poet Be Like God.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 8:55 pm michael robbins wrote:

    I thought about compiling some instances of rhetoric in poetry, but I had to stop when I realized I would hardly be able to leave anyone out – forget Shakespeare, Donne, Pope, Byron, you’d have to mention Ginsberg, Spicer (yes, Spicer; just attended a pretty great little roundtable on After Lorca here at U of C), Ashbery, O’Hara, Olson, Moore …

    An attack on rhetoric is an attack on all of us!

  • On May 12, 2009 at 9:13 pm Michael Theune wrote:

    Yes: all best wishes as you shop the manuscript to publishers, Dale–!

  • On May 12, 2009 at 9:56 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Well, I meant the jazz, folk and classical musicians all talking among each OTHER together about what music means to one of us as a jazz musician as opposed to what it means to another of us as a classical musician. Either way, this is a mixed play situation, so I’ll play… I don’t seem to feel as passionate as I used to about a lot of the differences. Now I can’t seem to shake a more live and let live appreciation for difference. But hey, I can care enough to discuss.

    Since the rhetoric piece is being addressed in many comments, I see you’ve made two other specific points above–about found poetry and about craft. And I can totally see how with your poetics, the found/unfound distinction just isn’t central at all. And to mine, it isn’t central either. For opposite reasons I think! For me it is so far from what I would do–I might use something found but I will always TOTALLY transmute it, cook it to death (like the butterfly names in a poem I wrote called Butterfly Lullaby. It’s full of them, but I would never say it’s a found poem. And there’s another found poem I’ve been collecting bits for for three years–by the time that’s done I guess it will be very baked). And for you, the opposite reason, is my imagining. So this is not a hot issue for either of us. But it doesn’t bother me when people use the word found, because I know in certain poetics it makes sense. And it sounds like it’s not a big deal for you either–you say it’s just not a term you use or hear.

    It’s when something is close to home that it bothers us, right? (I’ve always thought that is why there’s such energy between langpo and newfo–they are more akin than either knows).

    So, the other thing you mention is the word craft making you rankle. Here we may have a real difference– the working title of a poetrywriting book I’m finishing is A Poet’s Craft. The Craft is s term Wiccans use for magic, and I like that sense of it. I also like the connection with crafts like pottery, and boats. These are all good metaphors for poetry for me. I like the idea of a poem taking me somewhere over water that I couldn’t get to otherwise, and of it making something that feels wellmade and sturdy and distinctively its own particular class of object, like a pot or pitcher (meter and form really come into play here), and of it being magic (transforming the world through energy). I don’t personally use it the way the more mainstream use it, but it doesn’t rankle me however it’s used. So, is this a difference between us? Is there disputed territory we are both trying to inhabit, that my use of the word craft prevents you from using? Is it that poetry feels more like part of your life, and craft is a word that implies it is separate? (“craft talk” is much vaguer than I’d like, so I don’t use that term, but I’m guessing that’s for the opposite reason than the reason it rankles you).

    As for things that annoy me: “you can get a poem out of it” and “A Broken Thing” as the title of a book about the line.

  • On May 12, 2009 at 10:02 pm Dale Smith wrote:

    Matthew, (I’m responding to some things you say above. I’m lost looking for the right “reply” link….)

    Interestingly, Duncan and Levertov both shared similar political or ideological positions, but objected to how each other responded in to the Vietnam War in poetry. The issue that comes up for me looking at that is whether poetry should be written only for those who already “get” it? Or if there should be some attempt to move poetry to other readers? (Same goes for political or social issues–and on that note there’s a good essay in the current Rhetoric Society Quarterly by Patricia Roberts-Miller on public deliberation for ingroup audiences and some problems with speaking to those who already share similar attitudes and beliefs). Anyway, the next issue of Fulcrum will include an essay I wrote on Duncan/Lev’s War poetry and rhetorical theory. And on a related note, I have a chapter I co-authored with Joshua Gunn on Spicer, rhetoric, and the public sphere in a book called Public Modalities. Univ of Alabama Press should have that out later this year. It’s mostly a study of public sphere theory but Spicer’s poetry and lectures are used as the source. The issues brought up here today are addressed in greater detail there…. (There’s a five-year-old on my back–out here….)

  • On May 13, 2009 at 1:34 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    annie, eileen,

    adding in for a moment:
    I’d wish to add the word “collage”.
    being a visual artist as well as poet, and I see the 2 as both crafters of the metaporic, the notion of collage has often appealed to me. not for found-ness, necessarily,tho I do find and adhere, and cut and paste to emend what is building, what “I am building,” I mean– but always with my sense of building a whole, for balance, rhythm, color, music, thrust, and all etceteras…

    so collage, for me, has intention rather than the found wing or matchbook or flarf-mud waters…, but can include random voices, howls, colors, that then lets me shape them in to the larger/longer or shorter poem.

    when the wom-po anthology was forming and i produced the cover which is a collage – I was asked , since the agenda of that anthology was collaborative/feminist – who i collaborated with, and an answer was truly: myself. I collage with myself, collaborate with myself/ steal from myself.in the visual and in the lines on a page–but that , to me, is still, all, part of process of creating.

    (and sometimes I steal from something else that tastes & spices good. I like cooking soups)

    my 3 cents and a bit of glue.

    margo

  • On May 13, 2009 at 8:49 am thomas brady wrote:

    Dale,

    You wrote:

    “I think of James Schuyler poems about clouds and flowers–how they aren’t “about” anything, and yet they instruct the orders of perception. He says, hey, look at that December sky, it’s yellow and gray, and this is a poem. In other words, poems can reinforce certain attitudes or beliefs, or perhaps prepare us to accept other ones.”

    With all due respect, this is namby-pambyism.

    If this is rhetoric, if this is ‘instructing the orders of perception,’ then everything is. I think you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

    Thomas

  • On May 13, 2009 at 9:53 am Kent Johnson wrote:

    Michael,

    A roundtable on *After Lorca* at U of Chicago?

    As one of the fairly few who have written at length on that work, allow me to say: Thanks for telling me beforehand, weinzenheimer…

    How about a report?

    Kent

  • On May 13, 2009 at 10:00 am Kent Johnson wrote:

    Incidentally, this interview with Murat Nemet-Nejat, just posted, has some discussion on After Lorca. Also has some fun poetry gossip!

    http://jacketmagazine.com/37/iv-murat-ivb-kent.shtml

    Kent

  • On May 13, 2009 at 10:44 am thomas brady wrote:

    Perhaps one day Youtube will eat us all.

    The Humanities will have two branches: Youtube & Rhetoric.

    Are there any youtubes on the web of Spicer, Blaser, Duncan, O’Hara, Wieners? I used to see Wieners on the streets of Boston occasionally, and I saw him read once. I’ve heard a recording of O’Hara reading a poem. That’s it.

    I knew a poet named Tony (d. 1989) who knew Spicer, Blaser, Wieners, O’Hara and he didn’t like them; anyway, he used to rant against them in his old age.

    Tony was gay, graduated Harvard, won a Fullbright to Italy, was in the D-Day landing, knew lots of languages and wrote poetry in many languages, could sing opera, taught public school in inner-city Boston.

    I happened to record some of his rants. So I guess I own some literary history.

    Whenever I hear the name Spicer, Blaser, Wieners, I only think of how my loud, charismatic friend would speak off-handedly of them with contempt.

    He used to go on at length how being gay was great only when you were young. He was old, overweight, and diabetic when I knew him.

    Tony’s favorite show was ‘All in the Family.’ He loved to hate Archie Bunker.

    Tony’s Auden anecdote: “He smelled like shit.”

    Of his mother: “Her name was Angela–and she was an angel.”

    His bricklayer father stepped on his poems. He didn’t like his father much.

    Tony knew no God–except his alma mater, Harvard.

    He had so many books in his house, on shelves, and on the floor, that the fire department got after him.

    The last time I saw Tony, he gave a lecture on Dante at the Dante Alighieri Society in Cambridge, MA.

    I saw Updike once, briefly, in a restaurant in Harvard Square or something, I forget now, beaming, like he knew some secret.

  • On May 13, 2009 at 10:51 am Kent Johnson wrote:

    >He used to go on at length how being gay was great only when you were young. He was old, overweight, and diabetic when I knew him.

    Old, overweight, and diabetic myself, I’ve been known to go on about how being heterosexual was great only when I was young…

    Kent

  • On May 13, 2009 at 10:52 am john wrote:

    What a fab discussion!

    Rhetoric: Yes. A college pal of mine is now a professor of rhetoric at a big midwestern state university. When he started there the rhetoric dept. was in the school of Ag. Why? 100 years ago the state’s farmers wanted their children to learn how to write without their having to read Keats — they wanted them to learn to write about things other than literature. Shrewd! (The rhetoric dept. has since moved back in w/ Eng. Alas.)

    Dale’s perspective is important: the art of rhetoric takes into account the auditor/reader. An essay tends to have a consistent rhetorical tone. I have no problem with messages in poems, but I’m not looking for an essay-like tone — a tone pitched to the editor of a general-interest magazine. That said, I’m sure there are exceptions — great didactic poems with a consistent and stable tone.

    Jason’s post equated poetry with tasty turns of phrase. I’m all for tasty turns of phrase — anywhere! Poetry hasn’t had a monopoly on them for centuries if ever. August’s poem against the professors — it’s . . . icky. Smug. The rhetoric of scorn.

    Smirking toward poetry is exactly right to describe Clive James. What a smirker. Here he is on Rilke in “Slate” 2 years ago — not quite as stupid as the grand quote on Updike, but riling nonetheless:

    “By now I have a 5-foot shelf of books just by Rilke himself, let alone of books about him; and still there is no end in sight. I could never throw the stuff away. It looks too good.”

    (This essay also gets some basic facts of Rilke’s career plain wrong.) And James on Rilke and Brecht:

    “Rilke had too much civilization, just as Brecht had too little: Their matching deviations from normality make both of them toxic company. Take the two together and you barely end up with one man you would want to have a drink with.”

    Amazingly, James on jazz is even more ignorant and dishonest. More here, contra James on Rilke, Brecht & jazz, if you’re interested:
    http://utopianturtletop.blogspot.com/search?q=clive+james

    Any editor who publishes James on poetry must really dislike the stuff.

  • On May 13, 2009 at 11:48 am howard.green@earthlink.net wrote:

    I hate to be the one to spoil your juicy comment about Doris Day, but she is no lesbian. I’m acquainted with the lady, and she is as straight as a line. She’s been married (4x) to men, and I’d appreciate it if you stopped spreading false information around.

  • On May 13, 2009 at 2:29 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Getting back briefly to the rhetoric vs. poetry question. I thought this comment by EM was very interesting :

    “But I do think some poems more apparently than others are making a speech. That’s the rhetorical quest I meant. It’s sort of like the poet assigned to speak at the inauguration. I wish they would write a big shimmering pool for everyone, not a list of who we are and bright ideals. I would be so excited to see a public poet do the wrong job. The avant garde is ultimately something lobbed at the bourgeoisie. I’m a little sick of the avant garde but if the adamantly readable poem is my alternative I’d opt for lobbing one. But I don’t think those are our choices. I see poetry and journalism as maybe the great split and if you have something to say why not write an essay instead of sending a poem out to work with a lunch pail and a sign.”

    Let’s remember that traditionally rhetoric is only 1/3rd of the “art of language”. The other 2/3rds are grammar and logic. So when Eileen criticizes poems that “make a speech” she is perhaps saying that the rhetorical element is too strong. She gives 2 reasons why this is a problem : 1) rhetoric tends to lend itself to “official” language (speeches, encomiae) which prop up the conventional (boring?) ways-things-are. 2) If you “have something to say”, your mind is made up. & this state of mind is less likely to lead to discoveries in poetry than some mor eopen or contingent state of mind.

    I agree with both #1 & 2, up to a point. But I also think that anyone who wants to challenge the status quo has to be equipped with the same shield & sword of rhetoric.

    I think the rhetorical DEMAND to persuade & convince can work against the compositional NEED to keep an open mind (“negative capability”). But these two can also work with/against each other in productive ways, adding strength & tension to the poem.

    We are surrounded & saturated with all kinds of inner & outer rhetorical signals. In a previous comment, I wrote : “I say poetry EXISTS to give the lie to the notion that beauty is “rhetorically constructed”.” The poet’s intense focus on the aesthetic/conceptual object (the poem) is an experiment in disinterestedness, aiming for an object “in the round”, like architecture or sculpture or music. This form can’t be reduced to an act of the persuasion of rhetoric, or the proof of logic, or even to the grammar of diction. A work of art’s meaning is (ultimately) itself (within which all the other meanings are enfolded); so its form keeps turning, reflexively, on itself, which keeps us returning to it, quasi-magnetically.

    “I say poetry EXISTS to give the lie to the notion that beauty is “rhetorically constructed”.” Take a look at Paul Fry’s “A Defense of Poetry” for a very idiosyncratic argument in this direction. Poetry, for Fry, is “ostensive” : it gives us a REST from meaning and intellection (& persuasion).

  • On May 13, 2009 at 3:10 pm john wrote:

    Henry said: “A work of art’s meaning is (ultimately) itself (within which all the other meanings are enfolded); so its form keeps turning, reflexively, on itself, which keeps us returning to it, quasi-magnetically.”

    Meaning is secondary in art to the experience as a whole, which is primary. In this, I agree with Eileen’s critique of didacticism.

    Art is an experience staged in the context of its history and culture. John Cage’s lesson: The auditor can create the stage when the instigator of the event does not intend it; hence, “accidental poetry” — if John Cage (or Thoreau) can hear environmental sounds as music, then any of us can hear or read (or feel, tactilely, if one knows deaf-blind tactile language) any language event as poetry. A major difference: Unlike sound, language is always human-produced. “Found” poetry necessarily appropriates a person’s language in ways that “found” music doesn’t have to.

    In non-accidental poetry, the poet huffs him/herself onto the stage and utters. The experience of the poem is primary. The meaning(s) of the words are part of the experience. And rhetoric is almost always part of that experience too, as Michael R. and others have said.

    To qualify my previous comment: I feel bad for using the words “ignorant” and “dishonest” regarding James on poetry and jazz. He’s neither ignorant nor dishonest about poetry — just a smirker who’s overly casual with the facts. Regarding jazz, in an article on Ellington he completely misrepresented Ellington’s on-record attitudes toward bebop and Coltrane’s post-bop style. But I apologize for “ignorant” and “dishonest”; he’s one or the other regarding jazz but probably not both, and he’s neither about poetry. Also: I think my friend was glad that the rhetoric dept. got moved in with Eng.; my “alas” was my own aesthetic opinion.

  • On May 13, 2009 at 3:13 pm Dale Smith wrote:

    I hear what you’re saying, Henry, but isn’t “beauty” persuasive, too? One premise of my “research” is that readers and auditors and viewers are persuaded by beauty based on the various contexts of presentation–as well as the social and cultural condition of the audience. Modern rhetoric assumes motives in the making of art as well as its reception. Kenneth Burke calls it “pure persuasion,” a kind of dance in which we scrutinize and accept or reject certain forms. (I’m not a Burkean, by the way, but he’s useful for this topic.)

    I’m going to try posting something on rhetoric and poetry later today at Possum Ego. I think this is an important discussion, even though what I’m saying seems like “namby-pambyism” to some. Literary theory and rhetorical theory of the epideictic mode share much in common. One thing that can be confusing (not to you Henry, never you) is that deliberative and forensic rhetoric carry some of the unpleasant associations we may have when we think about this art. In deliberative rhetoric, for instance, we may persuade someone to act in public. Epideictic rhetoric persuades in much more quiet ways, and may not lead anyone to act at all. Poems are suasive in that they can create environments or situations that influence a reader’s attitudes, desire, beliefs, etc. But more of this later….

  • On May 13, 2009 at 3:15 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    You’re right Dale – but aren’t the motivations different? I mean, the poet isn’t making something beautiful to persuade someone with it. The poet’s making something beautiful in order to make something beautiful. It’s an end in itself. The poet is not a persuader – the poet has been persuaded.

  • On May 13, 2009 at 3:19 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    John, there’s the poetry of the accidental (something like Stevens’ “poetry of life”). Then there’s the opposite kind of poetry : something so shaped with relentless intent that every element seems saturated with fate & necessity.

  • On May 13, 2009 at 5:15 pm Dale Smith wrote:

    Henry, the poet can be pleased as punch with his/her creation–offered in the service of beauty. But without others–or the imagination of others, or the possibility of including others–to read/view/hear the aesthetic object, who cares?

  • On May 13, 2009 at 5:20 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Psychological aspect to poetry/rhetoric. With examples.

    *

    Face en face avec une belle jeune femme, some fellows become, suddenly, extremely RHETORICAL. Emphasis on eternal-NOW persuasion. [Issue point-by-point rebuttal, with ancillary countertop-proposal. Sign here.] Rather narrow ends in mind.

    Not I. A man without guile, I become tongue-tied.

    I am the PERSUADED, not the persuasive.

    *

    Beauty is difficult, Yeats.

  • On May 13, 2009 at 5:26 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    p.s. see illustration in this week’s New Yorker :

    a Whitman-lite poem by Dean Young, which is a mathematically-perfect resolution of ACCIDENTAL POETRY & FATEFUL LOVE-POETRY (“Delphiniums in a Window Box”).

    Young must have been reading this blog. Nothing happens by accident. As Rilke, the ultimate paranoid, put it :
    “in the depths, everything becomes Law” (Letters to a Young Poet).

  • On May 13, 2009 at 5:38 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Dale, agreed, the problem of sentimentality & narcissism… but if Beauty is something objective, there is the aim of Art to convey that, without illusions… which seems to involve the whole struggle of Modernism/Classicism/Romanticism etc… how best to do that…

    my suggestion is that Beauty is just as impersonal & justified as (political) Truth… they are one & the same, if you accept

    “some reconcilement of remotest mind”

    The Greeks thought Beauty was Divine – & found very sublime forms of representing same. The Jews thought Truth was Divine – & found very beautiful forms of representing same. Simone Weil & others tried to figure this out…

    see Psalm 23…

  • On May 13, 2009 at 7:04 pm Michael Theune wrote:

    Henry says,

    “…there’s the poetry of the accidental (something like Stevens’ “poetry of life”). Then there’s the opposite kind of poetry : something so shaped with relentless intent that every element seems saturated with fate & necessity.”

    True, but I’d add (in a friendly ammendment–I think Henry might agree) that there’s at least one other (perhaps even rarer and potentially more spectacular) possibility: poetry that incorporates both necessity’s fittingness and the accidental’s surprise.

    Pierre Reverdy (in Nord-Sud, 1918) offers a formulation of this particularly magical juxtaposition, stating,

    “The Image is a pure creation of the mind. It cannot be born from a comparison, but from two realities, more or less distant, brought together. The more the relation between the two realities is distant and accurate, the stronger the image will be—the more it will possess emotional power and poetic reality.

    “Two realities that have no relation whatever cannot be brought together effectively. No image is created. An image is not strong because it is brutal or fantastic—but because the association of ideas is distant and accurate.”

    Such fitting surprise also is the heart of wit. According to Barbara Herrnstein Smith (in Poetic Closure), “A hyperdetermined conclusion will have maximal stability and finality; and when these qualities occur in conjunction with unexpected or in some way unstable material…the result will be wit—which, as many have observed, occurs when expectations are simultaneously surprised and fulfilled.”

    This is a linguistic effect I (and others) greatly value–regardless of whether it embodies the heights or the negation of rhetoric.

  • On May 13, 2009 at 8:16 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Reverdy – c’est une formule incomparable du Metaphysical Conceit. Ne’er so well express’t.

    The French manage toujours to perfect the Laws (like unities of Time, Place & Guillotine) a few centuries later. Gauloise & cognac. Camel & Legionnaire. Magnifique.

  • On May 14, 2009 at 12:15 pm Curtis Faville wrote:

    One gets the impression that Updike should have been ashamed of his heterosexuality. One gets the impression that James should be ashamed to describe Updike as heterosexual. One gets the impression that straight writers must be embarrassed at their own identities.

    I read through the James review three times and could find no evidence that he had promulgated a “construction” of Updike as a raging chauvinist, or a virile conquistador. Those labels might have been appropriate to Norman Mailer, in his prime, but even Norman was aware of his female side.

    I am not an undiscriminating admirer of Updike, but to punish him (posthumously) because a reviewer supposedly exaggerated his maleness–and to serve this up as an example of the prejudicial contempt of the New York Times towards poetry generally–seems like quite a stretch.

    I also found Myles’ review poorly written.

  • On May 14, 2009 at 2:29 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Henry,

    re: Dean Young ‘New Yorker’ poem, which I read on the train this morning…

    It reminded me of this:

    She’s come undone
    She didn’t know
    what she was headed for
    And when I found
    what she was headed for
    It was too late

    “come undone” kind of belongs to someone else, Dean.

    Also, I usually find the list to be an insincere rhetorical device. It belongs more in a David Letterman show than a poem. Look at all these things Dean Young loves. Good for him.

    Thomas

  • On May 14, 2009 at 2:35 pm Don Share wrote:

    Shouldn’t that be… “Undun”?! Sorry, I’m an old Guess Who fan. Good call, though – and it helps boost our Canadian content, eh, Jason?

  • On May 14, 2009 at 2:37 pm Don Share wrote:

    What if instead of calling it “rhetoric” we called it “discourse”?

  • On May 14, 2009 at 4:14 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Michael,

    You wrote:

    Pierre Reverdy (in Nord-Sud, 1918) offers a formulation of this particularly magical juxtaposition, stating,

    “The Image is a pure creation of the mind. It cannot be born from a comparison, but from two realities, more or less distant, brought together. The more the relation between the two realities is distant and accurate, the stronger the image will be—the more it will possess emotional power and poetic reality.

    “Two realities that have no relation whatever cannot be brought together effectively. No image is created. An image is not strong because it is brutal or fantastic—but because the association of ideas is distant and accurate.”

    Such fitting surprise also is the heart of wit.

    BUT don’t we need an example? Also, I’m not sure how this works: ‘The Image is a pure creation of the mind.’ This sounds hyperbolic. Also ‘comparison’ is rejected, and yet juxtaposition, which is a similar idea, is put in its place. ‘two realities…distant and accurate…’ I’m trying to understand this… An eagle…and a lion…creating a griffin? But a griffin is not a ‘pure creation.’

    Anyway, maybe you’d like to add more…

    Thanks,

    Thomas

  • On May 15, 2009 at 1:04 am john wrote:

    In his songwriting how-to book, “Tunesmith,” Jimmy Webb calls out the “standard” (pre-rock) technique of giving the title phrase a twist at the very end. An example, the Gershwin standard “But Not For Me,” famously sung by Chet Baker, “They’re writing songs of love / But not for me / A lucky star’s above / But not for me . . . ”

    ends with the twist,

    “When every happy plot / Ends with a marriage knot / And there’s no knot for me.”

    Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” might be a better example. “Good authors too who once knew better words / Now only use four-letter words/ Writing prose / Anything goes,”

    ends with the twist,

    “And though I’m not a great romancer / I know that I’m bound to answer / When you propose / Anything goes.”

    A charming teasing irony — “in an era of declining standards, yes, I’ll marry you.”

    These are the examples that the phrases “hyperdetermined conclusion” and “wit — which, as many have observed, occurs when expectations are simultaneously surprised and fulfilled” called to mind.

    Interesting to note that many of the standards-era lyricists either studied or practiced non-song-related light verse.

  • On May 15, 2009 at 1:17 pm Eileen Myles wrote:

    Maybe she just doesn’t share that part of her life with you. I don’t think marriage proves much. Your tone is what’s eliciting my comment. Maybe you’re a lesbian. It’s not an insult. Not anymore than Updikes mental pawing.

  • On May 15, 2009 at 1:35 pm Eileen Myles wrote:

    And I think you’re a very bad reader, Sir. The piece is patently absurd in its fluffing of Updike’s masculinity. Top gun, team america, priapism, Errol Flynn, or even this quote in the review intended to illustrate what a cad, what a stick man he was when he was young:

    I drank up women’s tears and spat/
    them out/as 10-point Janson, Roman and ital.

    I mean I think a dead poets sexual accomplishments might be fun to read about in a trashy or even good bio but maybe are not so much to the point in a review. And the part about him needing to be ashamed of his heterosexuality or the litany of other shames and the final punishment reference at the end of your quote just sounds to me like you are uncomfortable with male excess being up for grabs as fodder for female discussion. I don’t anyone should be ashamed or punished, even you Curtis. But laughed at. Absolutely.

    Finally – and I regret I’m giving you post so much attention when so much smartness has been happening on the blog. But my central problem with the piece was that this kind of cock a doodle doo could still occur in a mainstream paper, underlining a description of reality that for most of us I believe no longer holds true, that we are living in a consummately man’s world where this kind of hale and hearty backslapping is both fun and welcome and the news. I say that’s gross. Whereas you say it’s not even present.

  • On May 15, 2009 at 4:13 pm Terreson wrote:

    Just a few random comments of no moment

    To begin with I do not buy the Ashbery comment that poetry amounts to “managed chance.” This may be true of Ashbery’s poetry. It may even be true of the poetry of others working in a similar fashion. But it certainly is not true of Dante, Cavalcanti, Shakespeare, Pushkin, Cavafy, etc. What could be closer to the truth relates to something an editor said about Goethe. “Goethe certainly had, in a marked degree, the capacity of the genius for ‘inspiration’ – that is verbalization and composition at the pre-conscious level.” This makes more sense to me, at least as regards poetry’s first moment(s). Then of course come the deliberate constructions a poet keeps to in order to achieve a particular affect, or anything else she is looking to effect.

    About the reviewer’s obsession with Updike’s manliness it rather begs the question, saying more about the writer than about his subject. My dark secret is that I am heterosexual. My darker secret, just out of the closet, is that few poets speak to me the way Whitman does, Cafavy does, Rimbuad does. Updike is not one of them.

    Last item. This off-hand comment to the effect poetry would have been better off had Updike turned to it is simply tripe, not to be taken seriously. Far greater novelists than was he have also worked in world-class, maybe even great, poetry. Victor Hugo did. So did Thomas Hardy. And if Herman Melville’s Civil War poems are not some of the best of 19th C America, and, I would argue, some of the most original composed in 19th C English, nothing is. But then they approached poetry seriously.

    Doesn’t anybody screen these reviewers?

    Terreon

  • On May 16, 2009 at 1:49 am Dale Smith wrote:

    Curtis, weather or knot Eileen’s post is “poorly written,” it provoked more than 80 responses so far, including yours. Your marvelously cranky response somehow skips rocks over the bigger picture. Updike’s an extraordinary bore for a number of reasons, but one of them is the projection of masculinity in his writing. And his reception by the League of Checked Out Readers is predominantly influenced by male supporters. I remember once hearing Allen Cheuse (spelling?), the NPR reviewer, describe Updike as the great prose stylist of that generation. The airs and assumptions of seniority and assertions of final-word-ism made me laugh at the sad creature at the podium. Updike seems to have been at the top of a vast cultural ponzi scheme wherein the likes of Cheuse have patched together some minor sense of legitimacy for him, and by relation, them. I don’t want to diss either of these cats for their labor, etc, but I don’t get too hot and bothered over anyone taking them on. Listening to Updike put down Kerouac, for instance, with a patrician sneer on NPR said a lot to me. If any nerve cluster deserved a good popping, it’s Updike’s. His generation (and class) could never reconcile the sad and complex gifts of a Kerouac precisely because of their self satisfied investments in good and proper writing.

    It’s late. I don’t think you gave Eileen’s post a fair run.

  • On May 16, 2009 at 11:48 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    “Curtis, weather or knot Eileen’s post…”
    - Dale Smith

    Is this some sort of nautical pun? We don’t spell that poorly even down here in Texas.

  • On May 17, 2009 at 10:41 am thomas brady wrote:

    Terreson,

    As for maleness, Updike, and, on another thread, Walcott, I have to assert my theme–of which I can’t let go–that Modernism indeed was a Stupid Men’s Club; it’s more than a theme, really–which is why I can’t let it go–and it also ties into how you just now qualified “managed chance” as a feature of the Ashbery School and not all poetry. Thank you, Tere.

    I just found this and I’m dying to quote it. It represents the School of Byron, and it doesn’t strike me as “managed chance” at all.

    Finding her body woven
    As if of flame and snow
    I thought, however, often
    My pulses cease to go,
    Whipped by whatever pain
    Age or disease appoint,
    I shall not be again
    So jarred in every joint,
    So mute, amazed, and taut
    And winded of my breath–
    Beauty being at my throat
    More savagely than death.

    These lines are an unpublished fragment by George Dillon, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet who assumed the editorship of ‘Poetry’ following the death of Harriet Monroe.

    The lines are about Edna St. Vincent Millay.

    The kind of poetry which George Dillon wrote, and which Millay wrote, and which made her instantly famous in the first part of the 20th century, was contrary to the theoretical spirit of the Modernist Men’s Club of T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound and all the editors and sub-editors who, in spite of themselves, desired to marry Edna St. Vincent Millay. But the spirit of her poetry was buried by academics and carping reviews and by the physical decay of Millay herself, who had bragged in her famous youth of burning her candle at both ends, as the crackpot theoretical School of Pound and Modernism triumphed at last.

    Dillon resigned from his post at “Poetry” after WW II, saying he was not inspired by the current poetry he saw, which he felt had been taken over by “theory.”

    I don’t want to build up a crazy Millay v. the World trope here; I’m just asking for balance. If Millay was crazy, another kind of crazy won, and I think we need, at the least, both kinds of crazies: poetry written by flesh-and-blood men and women who sing and make us swoon AND theoretical poetry written by insects–some of which is fascinating. This is more exaggeration on my part just to make a point; Millay’s kind of poetry is more than just fleshy; it has taste, it has beauty, it has art. Millay found the poetry of Pound “coarse” and Eliot’s “humorless.”

    Taste unites the male and the female, the coarse and the bloodless.

    I’ll finish with something I just wrote, in your honor, Terreson, because I believe it speaks to something you are passionate about: the performance of the poet fying untainted past the critic. It is FOR you, but it was inspired BY Millay–I’ve been reading her bio “Savage Beauty.” It also refers to that agonizing period when the actor is waiting to go on. But I suppose it can mean many things.

    I hate the performance,
    I hate waiting around for it.
    I want to be in the performance
    When it is no longer a performance.

    And, after the performance is over,
    I don’t want a review of the performance.
    I only want the performance
    To perform inside me again.

    It’s not a poem, yet, and I don’t know if it will ever be one, but there it is now.

    Thomas

  • On May 17, 2009 at 4:06 pm Terreson wrote:

    Well, Thomas Brady, what are we to do? I hesitate to engage you because we’ve been here before in different venues, always to the same end. Let me try this.

    You and I fundamentally approach the so-called Modernists differently. Yours seems to be an ideological approach. I confess I don’t know how to label mine. Maybe it is morphological. When you see the Modernists you see the Pound/Eliot tradition which became a line of inquiry chased after for another couple of generations, and probably ended with Ashbery. When I approach the Modernist period I see the Pound/Eliot tradition as one of many threads, one of many lines of inquiry. To me, Millay, Sarah Teasdale, Vachel Lindsay (who Ginsburg worshipped), Frost, Yeats, Auden, Graves, Hart Crane were equally as much Modernists. To me, Modernism was less ideologically driven, less theoretically underpinned, than it amounted to a certain set of sensibilities that got expressioned, so to speak, in various ways. For lack of a better term, and it really does suck, I’ll call this set of sensibilities Modernist. I’ll also remark that the period sported the greatest inflorescence of English language poetry since the Elizabetheans were romping about, which has always struck me as fascinating. At this point I can only repeat myself. Millay and the others mentioned above were equally as Modern as those poets you seem to think had a stranglehold on the scene, which I don’t think they did. If you are reading Millay’s biography then you know that when she gave a reading it was invariably to SRO performances. Pitting Pound against Millay reminds me of an anecdote involving the Russians, Mayakovsy and Anna Akhmatova. Mayakovsky, the good Soviet poet, would denounce Akhmatova in public. He confessed that in private he would go home, read her poetry and weep.

    A side note here. It probably can’t matter to anyone but it is important to me. You attribute Dante with inventing the poetic concept of romantic love Dante didn’t invent romantic love. He got the idea from the earlier, 12th C, Troubadors. He admitted to as much, calling the Troubador poet, Arnaud Daniel, a greater poet than himself.

    Thanks for the poem.

    Terreson

  • On May 17, 2009 at 4:16 pm Terreson wrote:

    It occurs to me I should apologize for the digreesion. It has nothing to do with Updike.

    Terreson

  • On May 17, 2009 at 4:31 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Terreson said:

    >My dark secret is that I am heterosexual.

    Don’t beat yourself up *too* hard!

    (just kidding!)

    Kent

  • On May 17, 2009 at 5:07 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Once again with the modernist “men’s club,” eh?

    Stein. Loy. Woolf. Barnes. H.D. Niedecker. Lowell. Colette. Richardson.

    Etc. Etc.

  • On May 17, 2009 at 7:51 pm Terreson wrote:

    And don’t forget Laura Riding, Michael Robbins. She whose notions about textual readings inspired both the Cambridge boys and the New Criticism boys. Auden called her the one philosophical poet of his generation. Or A. Nin whose poetic prose has never been equalled. And talk about a sexual imperialist. I know she wasn’t a teacher. But she makes the likes of Walcott look domesticated. Your comment is to the point.

    Terreson

  • On May 17, 2009 at 11:18 pm thomas brady wrote:

    “Stein. Loy. Woolf. Barnes. H.D. Niedecker. Lowell. Colette. Richardson.”

    Michael,

    Grasping at straws, are we?

    Gertrude Stein learned automatic writing at Radcliffe from William James, Emerson’s godson. Leo Stein’s art collecting and her and her brother’s wealth and connections served the Modern Art Men’s Club well. (Modern Painting was even more of a Men’s Club)

    Mina Loy, like Gertrude Stein, and a friend of Stein, owes her importance more to modern art, not poetry; she, in fact, said she was “never a poet” and her poems were out-of-print by the 30s. They owe their trifling notoriety to the fact that U.S. customs found them pornographic. Pound and W.C. Williams liked them, no doubt, for this reason. Yvor Winters, the crackpot who landed at Stamford, shoring up the academic west coast for a flaky, slightly more traditionalist, writer’s workshop modernism, praised Loy as well.

    James Russell Lowell’s god-daughter, Virginia Woolf, was a artist’s model for the Pre-Raphaelite painters. It didn’t hurt that she was the daughter of the well-known Sir Leslie Stephen. Woolf, a suicide, self-published on her husband’s Hogarth Press, which also published T.S. Eliot, among others.

    So, these women don’t really stand on their own at all as figures of Modernist poetry; we have an art dealer, a painter, and a painter’s model who published T.S. Eliot.

    Niedecker was hardly read; her friends and family didn’t even know she wrote poetry; her first book didn’t come out until 1946.

    H.D. was Pound’s girlfriend and married Richard Aldington, poet and anthologist.

    Amy Lowell used her money and influence to jump-start the short-lived Imagist (or Amy-gist) movement, slavishly following T.E. Hulme. She humiliated Pound so that he had to leave London; this is probably why hardly anyone mentions her anymore.

    We might mention Anderson, Monroe, Beach, Morrell, and a whole long list of women who funded and helped along ‘the boys.’

    The critical and poetic contributions of these women are quite negligible.

    A few highly eccentric females were allowed a kind of decorative function on the fringes of the movement, or, if they had money and connections, or were willing to publish or edit, they of course were allowed to contribute in that way. A poet like Edna Millay, who succeeded on the force of her poetry alone, simply didn’t exist in the Modernist Men’s Club. Millay would have told the Modernist pimps to jump in the ocean.

    There were no Elizabeth Barretts, or Emily Dickinsons, or Edna Millays allowed in the club. Marriane Moore took over the duties of editor of “The Dial” as then-editor Scofield Thayer had a nervous breakdown after E.E. Cummings eloped with his wife. Her skills as a poet are rather exaggerated. So are Pound’s, of course, but the point is that almost all the glory went to the men.

    I’m glad you brought up Laura Riding, Tere, as well. We have a letter by Ransom to Tate sneering at Riding’s lack of money and connections; the Fugitive/New Criticism wing of the Modernist All-Male Club quickly dumped Riding, and she latched onto Graves and they withdrew from the scene to pursue their rather eccentric relationship. Not much of a poet, either.

    Thomas

  • On May 17, 2009 at 11:40 pm Don Share wrote:

    Re Niedecker – she had 3 poems in the September 1933 issue of Poetry (and lots more much later), so somebody knew she was writing…

  • On May 18, 2009 at 12:06 am john wrote:

    All due respect, Thomas, but if you disqualify the women as lacking autonomy because they hang around with men, then why not disqualify the men for hanging around with women?

    Saying that Stein learned something from William James is interesting but hardly disqualifying either: Even if James taught her automatic writing, she was still the only one — or the first — to place the technique in the history and culture of poetry — it’s still a literary innovation, regardless of whatever extra-literary influence she brought to it. Breton got the same idea from Freud, and it came out startlingly differently; that Breton was influenced by Freud doesn’t disqualify him either. Shakespeare was influenced by Montaigne — but that doesn’t mean that we should condescend to “Hamlet”! I don’t get it.

    Stein’s enormous innovations, whether you like them or not, in themselves prove that modernism wasn’t a male phenomenon. To me, only Duchamp rivaled Stein in the first three decades of the 20th century for the monumentality of the rethinking that she brought to her art.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 12:34 am michael robbins wrote:

    “The critical and poetic contributions of”

    Mina Loy, Lorine Niedecker, Gertrude Stein, H. D., & Virginia Woolf

    “are quite negligible”!!!

    Nuff said. To believe the above proposition you’d have to be incapable of understanding the first thing about twentieth-century literature. At least three of the above authors are immortal.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 12:38 am michael robbins wrote:

    I mean, sorry, but Stein & Woolf are not simply major modernist writers; they are among the giants of English literature since Romanticism. To call them negligible is like calling Joyce, Proust, Eliot negligible. It beggars belief. It indicates, perhaps, a deep-seated, irrational tendency to hold absurd & untenable positions simply for their own sake – or a tendency not to read or understand what is read.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 3:11 am john wrote:

    I’m all in favor of absurd and untenable positions, up to a point, and you’ve gone beyond that point, Thomas, when you’ve dismissed Woolf, Stein (who, I agree with Michael, are amazing writers), and the others as non-writers — to trivialize their lives as writers, as you have done, is to be gratuitously insulting.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 9:19 am thomas brady wrote:

    John,

    I just think these discussions are worth having; I’m stirring up the stream, looking under rocks and stones. I’m not willing to accept the history as it is currently presented.

    First, Stein is not Shakespeare. Notoriety is not necessarily excellence. William James and Gertrude Stein are cultural phenomena with roots and branches that need to be examined far beyond anecdotal vagueries declaiming “innovations” in a naively fatuous manner–as if Modernism were some wonderful, various, healthy movement of “innovative” do-gooders.

    I cannot abide this rhetoric:

    “Stein’s enormous innovations, whether you like them or not, in themselves prove that modernism wasn’t a male phenomenon.”

    This is mere cheerleading: “enormous innovations.” What do you mean, exaclty, by “enormous innovations?” One cannot just make statements like this out-of-context.

    And “whether you like them or not.” Isn’t this sort of the whole point? Whether I like them, or not?

    “To me, only Duchamp rivaled Stein in the first three decades of the 20th century for the monumentality of the rethinking that she brought to her art.”

    Again, this is sound extremely hyperbolic to me.

    Specialization is the word of 20th century education, but we founder terribly in terms of culture, history and the humanities when we niche ourselves and give in to vague rhetroic.

    Who was Getrude Stein, really? Why don’t we care about this? Why are we silly cheerleaders?

    Thomas

  • On May 18, 2009 at 10:21 am thomas brady wrote:

    Michael,

    “Giants” to whom? You are being hyperbolic. This sort of “scholarship” simply won’t do.

    Thomas

  • On May 18, 2009 at 10:26 am thomas brady wrote:

    “Insulting?”

    You can’t be serious! Literary criticism should not be measured by your petty, third-hand social outrage. Indeed, with all due respect, your reaction here is part of the whole problem.

    History is not a tea party thrown by Gerturde Stein.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 10:33 am thomas brady wrote:

    Here. This might bring you back down to earth:

    http://eapoe.org/works/tales/lione.htm

  • On May 18, 2009 at 10:50 am john wrote:

    Thomas: Your thesis is that women didn’t contribute to modernism.

    Your argument is that the female modernists associated with men and should be known more for their ancillary activities — art collecting, modeling, publishing — than for their deep passion and commitment to writing. Trivializing women is an old, tired — and yes, insulting — cliche. Go to town, Thomas. And nice of you to display it on a thread that began with a critique of literary machismo!

    Our respective literary judgments are irrelevant to the falsity of your thesis. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my pom-poms.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 11:32 am Don Share wrote:

    And the great modernist W.B. Yeats learned automatic writing from his wife Georgie!

  • On May 18, 2009 at 11:37 am Daisy Fried wrote:

    Hey, a bunch of men deciding whether the little women are great or not. Now there’s a refreshing change.

    Daisy

  • On May 18, 2009 at 11:41 am Kent Johnson wrote:

    >History is not a tea party thrown by Gerturde Stein.

    Well, now that we finally know *this,* I suppose we can get on with our lives.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 12:34 pm michael robbins wrote:

    So, Daisy, only women have the authority to refute the thesis that women contributed nothing to modernism? Next time I’ll just wait until someone with the correct parts points out that Gertrude Stein & Virginia Woolf contributed quite as much to modernism as Joyce or Proust or Eliot.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 1:40 pm Daisy Fried wrote:

    Not sure what it has to do with authority, actually.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 2:54 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Oh, Modernism Shmodernism… Apparently (according to Steve Burt in new Boston Review, as reported by Robert Archambeau today at his blog), Third Way/Elliptical poetics has now been transcended. The new thing changing everything is called “The New Thing.”

    How will Ron Silliman handle this, I wonder?

    Kent

  • On May 18, 2009 at 2:58 pm Terreson wrote:

    The first problem will all ideologies is that the argument becomes ideologically driven and not allowing of any evidence to the contrary. The second, and in my view, more debilitating problem is that all evidence perforce gets filtered through ideological preconceptions and made to fit the theory. Again in my view, this is the intellectual killer.

    Thomas Brady, I’ve never understood why you can’t see the extreme degree to which your argument, vis a vis the Modernists, is in fact driven by a set of ideas and not by the evidence. It is also a bit specious to me how at first Millay gets championed as a lone woman up against this monolithic Men’s Club, and then all other women artists who worked, at one time or another, in tandem with the men you condemn get dismissed as attractive accessories. Or worse, as inconsequential. The logic involved is fascinating. It is also contra the evidence. In many cases these women you dismiss had long, long careers. In some cases their best work, and enduring, appeared much later in life, long after the Modernist associations of the teens and the twenties.

    Truth is there is a hidden agenda behind your argument. Millay wrote poetry, possibly the only kind of poetry, you recognize as legitimate. (The same is true of your championing of Poe.) It is the closed-form versification. What I have never understood is this deep seated need to trash all other poetic and prosodic approaches. I respond to sweet Edna too. But it doesn’t mean I can’t get seduced by other poets working with different materials. Just call me a poetry whore.

    “Let me not dare, here or anywhere, for my own purposes, or any purposes, to attempt the definition of Poetry, nor answer the question what it is. Like Religion, Love, Nature, while those terms are indispensable, and we all give sufficiently accurate meaning to them, in my opinion no definition that has ever been made sufficiently encloses the name Poetry; nor can any rule or convention ever so absolutely obtain but some great exception may arise and disregard and overturn it.” And again: “The Poetic area is very spacious – has room for all – has so many mansions!” That is what Whitman said. And frankly I prefer his comprehensions to anyone’s whose comprehensions are driven by ideology. There is more oxygen there.

    Terreson

  • On May 18, 2009 at 3:02 pm Don Share wrote:

    Maybe we can give up and call the new thing “No Way.” Or iPoetry 3G? And… I take it American Hybrid just didn’t take?

  • On May 18, 2009 at 3:08 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    >I respond to sweet Edna too. But it doesn’t mean I can’t get seduced by other poets… Just call me a poetry whore.

    Can’t we just call you “sweet Terreson”?

    :~)

    Kent

  • On May 18, 2009 at 4:34 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Terreson,

    I can’t argue with your response here, Tere; I just have no use for it. You see, I’m looking for things. Your reply is merely a wholesale rejection that I should even look for things.

    It’s not that your wrong and I’m right. We’re just on different paths.

    So Whitman felt poetry was difficult to define. And so? Incomprehensibility of this kind is not necessarily a largeness or a virtue.

    What does Whitman’s quote have to with anything? What has it got to do with Gertrude Stein protected in plain sight by a high-placed Nazi in Vichy France while Pound was broadcasting for the Axis? Isn’t anyone curious?

    I’m looking at Ford Maddox Ford, Allen Tate, Robert Lowell sitting around the table beneath the Confederate Flag in Tennessee, where Lowell had left Harvard to study with Ransom. I’m watching their friends Warren and Brooks working on their “gold mine” textbook and these men all getting Pulitzers and Fellowships and recommendations from T.S. Eliot and Mark Van Doren and Blackmur and was it a ‘who-do-you-know?’ Men’s Club. I think it was.

    You don’t care. I do. Whether we like it or not, there is a hierarchy. You kill Poe and Millay, take them out of the picture, and yes, the whole house falls down. I don’t believe in a democracy of literary criticism, a prairie dog village of literary criticism. You don’t call minor writers major and ignore major writers, especially in a relatively small historical period that we’re talking about, a mere 200 years of American literary history. It’s woefully stupid. What’s important, if not this?

    Stein was a creation of her Radcliffe prof, the nitrous oxide philosopher, William James. My fortune cookie fortune today argues against Stein, for god’s sake. It says, “The most valuable of all talents is never using two words when one will do.” A rose is a rose is a rose my ass.

    I think we have to lay things like this side-by-side.

    The nitrous oxide philsopher:

    Sow an action & you reap a habit; sow a habit & you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.

    Habit is thus the enormous fly-wheel of society; its most precious conservative agent. It alone is what keeps us all within the bounds of ordinance, and saves the children of fortune from the envious uprisings of the poor…. It keeps the fisherman and the deck-hand at sea through the winter; it holds the miner in his
    darkness, and nails the countryman to his log cabin and his lonely farm through all the months of snow; it protects us from invasion by the natives of the desert and the frozen zone. It dooms us all to fight out the battle of life upon the lines of our nurture or our early choice, and to make the best of a pursuit that disagrees, because there is no other for which we are fitted, and it is too late to begin again. It keeps different social strata from mixing…. It is well for the world that in most of us, by the age of thirty, the character has set like plaster, and will never soften again.

    With this, by Liesl Olson:

    Stein rates habit–rather than, say, innovation–as the singular most animating force in the English literary tradition. Similarly, William James–Stein’s mentor, with whom she studied in the 1890s when she was a student at Radcliffe–celebrates habit as a result of the freedom to choose, and the subsequent indication of a fully formed character.

    Stein’s household felicities–her late mornings, her love of large meals, her relationships with her servants, her attachment to Basket the poodle (and subsequent poodles named Basket)–constituted a life of specific routines that, even when the two world wars ravaged Europe, she was exceptionally reluctant to give up.

    And this, by the incoherent Ms. Stein:

    The thing that has made the glory of English literature is
    description simple concentrated description not of what happened nor what is thought or what is dreamed but what exists and so makes the life the island daily island life. It is natural that anisland life should be that. What could interest an island as much as the daily the completely daily island life. And in the descriptions the daily, the hourly descriptions of this island life as it exists and it does exist it does really exist English literature has gone on and on from Chaucer until now.

    “Island life?” More fatuous, reactionary talk from the modernists.

    Thomas

  • On May 18, 2009 at 4:51 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Yes I wonder how distant in the rear view mirror the 20th century has to become before the whole idea of “modernism” and the “modernists” with their great “innovations” becomes silly and quaint and outdated? I think it’s already happened, or is happening as we speak. Just a few, like Michael Robbins and Stephen Burt, haven’t heard the word yet.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 5:06 pm john wrote:

    The only way I can understand your umbrage, Daisy, is if you think that people should ignore Thomas’s mis-characterization of literary history, because neither Michael nor I were being condescending to female writers, as your comment implies.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 5:17 pm Eileen Myles wrote:

    Michael I think you missed Daisy’s humor. She was suggesting that yawn once again a bunch of men are feigning to decide whether women are in or out. She was framing your activity. When you try and reframe her jibe into a question of who has the authority or who has the parts you’re just digging a deeper hole. It isn’t about our genitals or our rights. It’s history. I think trying to fit women retrospectively into male art movements is a convenient idea but it doesn’t work. Women are often fellow travellers but the actual conditions of our lives and the nature of the kinds of economic and social supports we receive make us always in a parallel history even if we are reading in the same reading. Printed in the same book or not. Even when we’re far better writers than the men it still often falls upon the next men to decide whether we belong or not. I think we don’t and yet here we are. The challenge is always for men to find a way to have some grace about their position, rather than to endlessly reinscribe it.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 5:19 pm john wrote:

    Finally, a literary movement wholly dedicated to 1960s free jazz!

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/
    0,9171,943994,00.html

    “For [the late] trumpeter Don Cherry, the music [known as "The New Thing"] speaks most eloquently for the whole musician. ‘Man is a species, all human,’ Cherry observes. ‘The rest is pastels. Beware of distractions.’”

    Good advice. Cherry was a great and far-seeing musician.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 5:52 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Oh, what nonsense — someone said modernism was a boys’ club, I responded that obviously women writers were indispensable to modernism. If this offends you because I happen to be male, then I’m afraid you’ve not read Woolf or Stein very carefully, neither of whom would have stood for your idiotic caricature of feminist thinking. Thanks for letting me know just how churlish & misinformed you are.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 5:55 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Well then enlighten me, Daisy. Your comment managed to be both incredibly unfair & delightfully empty. Do you really believe that because I’m a man nothing I have to say about the role of women writers in modernism could possibly be either a) accurate or b) relevant? If so, maybe you could let me know what the right answer is, since you have the magical chromosomes which allow you to perceive literary history free from ideological taint.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 6:06 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Thomas, this is more than usually dumb. First, you contend modernism didn’t exist, then you denounce the modernists.

    No one happens to believe that modernism is more than a handy term to characterize certain social tendencies certain artists responded to in certain categorical ways. You are free to go on thinking that it is a mistake to think about literary history in this way, but most people who think in this way have a leg up on you: they understand what is gained by thinking in this way, & they have studied the writers in question with some care. They also have reasons for deciding that Eliot & Stein & Pound are major writers; it would behoove you to attend to them; you seem to believe that it is an objective truth whether x or y is “major.” Or perhaps the hapless ghost of E. A. Poe will settle the question.

    I’m glad you’re reading Liesl, but I promise you she’d find your usual inability to understand what you read laughable. “A rose is a rose is a rose” is supposed to sound rather silly, Thomas. See if you can work out why.

    Gertrude Stein & William James knew more than you do, Thomas. Liesl knows more than you do. I shan’t proffer any further thoughts on the subject, although I have a few.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 7:17 pm thomas brady wrote:

    John,

    I believe you are sincere.

    However, your “their deep passion and commitment to writing” is hyperbolic rhetoric. It is you who are “trivializing women” by exaggerating the importance of Modernist Men’s Club amusements. And please drop the pretense that you are somehow outraged for all women, when you are merely defending a tiny segment, a tokenism which defiles what you say you are defending?

    Thomas

  • On May 18, 2009 at 7:24 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    And the great modernist W.B. Yeats learned automatic writing from his wife Georgie.

    I think it was the other way round Don. The Coole, Dublin-Sligo-London genius introduced his wife to it.

    In January of this year, after finishing Barbara Maddox’s George’s Ghosts: A New Life of W.B. Yeats, I picked up on the more accurate human picture of this most respected poet of the 20C.

    The above UK Amazon link above, has used copies for 65p.

    And this is the American Amazon link with new copies for $2.95 and second hand copies for $3 (duh! go figure)

    He didn’t mind making a dick of himself, which I think has a lot to be said for in our PC times when conformity is king. There’d be no chance of Silly Willy getting the Oxford gig today of course.

    I really can’t recommend it enough. I read all Yeats’s prose and the huge crotical tomes on him, (Ellmann, Jeffares, Foster etc) and none of these (men) managed to give all his Golden Dawn, Astrological Magic, a human slant.

    Maddox however, delivers a four hundred page precis, deconstructing the mythical mist of reverential respect surrounding the old goat’s one man religion.

    American Maddox casts a refreshingly normal light upon our hitherto holy hocus pocus poet-priest.

    Yeats isn’t much of a mage in this book that the pedagogic men with their inbuilt a priori prediliction for lickin ass usually paint him as – because Ms Maddox takes the automatic script produced by his wife George Hyde-Lees, as the launch pad into gabbing on Silly Willy and constructing her own view of what Reality was going on behind the eloquent gobble dee gook, and very rewarding it is too.

    She read the entire 36,000 pages this woman 30 years his junior created, from the second day of their honeymoon on and her portrait of Billy Butler, dilineates in a more humanly persuasive hue than the previous lads, the true quotidian picture of (arguably) the greatest and most influential poet of the 20C writing in the English language.

    She articulates with greater regard for and focus on, how his maj’s various female entanglements form the domestic-creative background of the magician’s life as he hit the first frisson of the OAP lane, and which the clever fellas — interested only in proving how complicated and intelligent Willy was to be top sage (and therefore they too by association) — miss; or rather downgrade as silly women stuff.

    Yeats’s decision to marry, was based on his reading of the heavens and his depseration to produce an heir. Like me, he had the aristocracy bit going on. A Butler, who with the Desmonds, were the two largest Hiberno-Norman royal houses on the island and sworn enemies. He was a Butler on his mother’s side and this explains all his high talk, and by the time he hit fifties, as his verse shows, wanted top issue a son to go forth and keep up what he thought as his rightful royal lineage – as he wrote in the Introduction poem (lines 10-12 and 19-22) of his 1916 collection: Responsibilities.

    A Butler or an Armstrong that withstood
    Beside the brackish waters of the Boyne
    James and his Irish when the Dutchman crossed;
    …..
    Pardon that for a barren passion’s sake,
    Although I have come close on forty-nine 20
    I have no child, I have nothing but a book,
    Nothing but that to prove your blood and mine.

    His natal chart has Venus the planet of love at ninety degrees (or square), and semi-square to his Uranus: a menacing aspect. For ten years moreover, he had known from learned advice that he could never expect a better time to overcome the liabilit yof his stars than late in 1917. Then the number of favourable planetary conjuctions would be quite extraordinary. In other words, according to astrological interpretation, if 1917 was the year for his marriage, October was the month.

    (Maddox)

    Yeats was committed to getting married as close as possible to this time, and was working his way towards it on a number of fronts, getting his tower at Thoor Ballyl ready for whoever he ended up marrying.

    He asked on several occassions during 1916-17, Isuelt Gonne, the daughter of his long-term Muse Maude, to marry him. Maude had already turned down his final proposal of marriage to her in the summer of 1916 after her hubby John McBride had been executed in the Easter Rising, more through a sense of duty than anything else, and after turning his attention to her daughter and her turning him down, he then put plan B into action, by asking a dead-cert who he knew from his occult circles, George Hyde-Lees. A young woman who was starstruck by the magician.

    George Hyde-Lees mother, Ellen (Nelly) Tucker, was the sister in law of his ex-lover Dorothy Shakespear. The wife of Ezra Pound, who was the best man at the wedding in Harrow registary office, was Olivia Pound (nee (Shakespear) the daughter of Dorothy Shakespear and best friend of Silly Willy’s bride George. And when it happened on 20 October 1917, Yeats could breathe a sigh of relief he had got hitched in the window of opportunity most beneficial to him in an astrological sense.

    However, as Yeats letter to Isulet Gonne on his honeymoon and the two poems he wrote (unusually swift) about her show, he was wondering if he had made the right choice and if all would be well. If he had married the right one, who was only a reserve choice.

    Maddox’s thesis is that with Yeats on his honeymoon, two days in to marriage and openly moping after Isuelt Gonne, wondering if he had done the right thing marrying the 24 year old instead of the 21 year old, George pulled a masterstroke by arresting the attention of Yeats away from his possible regrets, just after he had written the poems and letter to Gonne, by getting the script on the go, (at his instigation). After this, thinking his new bride was a medium, he became totally focussed on her, as she produced 93 pages of script in their first week communing with the otherworldly Communicators, who said they had come to

    “give you metaphors for poetry”.

    They were due to spend their honeymoon in Stone Cottage, (where he and Pound had spent the past three summers working on Japanewse poetry) but ended up at the Ashdown Forest Hotel because the cottage was taken, and another important function George was going to fulfill of course, was take over from Pound as his amanuensis and general dogsbody.

    The script therefore, became a buffer through which she could talk in code about sex at a remove and engineer and negotiate the old goat into doing what she wanted, whilst all the while the silly git thought it was the ghosts talking. Which sounds about right.

    The code for sex became the Sun (male) going into moon (female)

    Most (male) Yeats cheerleading intellegensia are outraged at this theory, preffering to have their Man as god untainted by such mappings which show the human, and are not best pleased with the straight talking American woman who says it as she sees.

    ~

    Yeats had what all great artists need, the capacity to believe what is not so. Indeed the craftiness and cunning which keeps the top imaginations as fresh and daft as a childs throughout their adult life.

    This is a man who thought Maude and he were on some higher spiritual marriage jag, when all along she was the mistress of another bloke, and became a laughing stock defending her in verse against charges which turned out to be true; so a brilliant self-deciever when the need arose
    Maddox gets a few bullseye digs in at the man, and with Yeats the intellectual bar to reach for any writer, it is a must read, as it just dispenses with the clap trap.

    When she soon fell pregnant During their many sessions, Yeats Controllers, had informed him (via the wife) that their child was going to be much more than an ordinary son and heir, but initiate some great change, a Christ like saviour baby, which when it happened, turned out to be a girl and not the boy they had both been informed it was going to be by the spirits speaking through George.

    ~

    As for Maud and Bill getting all the attention critically, it is clear that the wife is really the woman who has been overlooked by the blokey intellectuals, as I have found it gave me a purchase on the boss, which allows one to contextualise him in a far more human light, and escape the shadow cast by the hocus pocus propigated by the man brigade.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 8:22 pm thomas brady wrote:

    It is singularly interesting how it is somehow demeaning to women when it is pointed out that Modernism was a Men’s Club. A few token women are mentioned, and this somehow proves that Modernism was NOT a Men’s Club. I am not making a specific judgment one way or the other; it is simply a reminder that Modernism belonged to its time, a time of classism and sexism, a time when morals loosened and many wealthy women chose salons over marriage and children, when American railroads began to eclipse British shipping, when Paris and London were still art centers, when many aristocrats were banking on fascism as a cure for communism and entrepreneurs in art were coalescing around guilds of anti-populist experimentation, when men were professionals and women, either mothers or amateurs, and the anti-populist experimenters moved into the universities, led by respectable men with classical/radical pedigrees and sophistical arguments.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 8:47 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    In Carol Rumen’s Poem of the Week series at the British Guardian Books Blog, (which has been running about 18 months) she had a female American poet I hadn’t heard of prior to Rumen’s featuring her in the first week of april.

    The poet was Elinor Morton Wylie (1885 – 1928) and the poem Sanctuary

    Though she was no modernist, she wrote some decent enough poetry, 60 or so are here in a pdf file at Poem Hunter.

    Just wondered of you have heard of her, what you think and if it will spill a bit more of the Brady take on the whole shaboodle, please? This is one of hers.

    The Eagle and the Mole

    AVOID the reeking herd,
    Shun the polluted flock,
    Live like that stoic bird,
    The eagle of the rock.

    The huddled warmth of crowds
    Begets and fosters hate;
    He keeps above the clouds
    His cliff inviolate.

    When flocks are folded warm,
    And herds to shelter run,
    He sails above the storm,
    He stares into the sun.

    If in the eagle’s track
    Your sinews cannot leap,
    Avoid the lathered pack,
    Turn from the steaming sheep.

    If you would keep your soul
    From spotted sight or sound,
    Live like the velvet mole:
    Go burrow underground.

    And there hold intercourse
    With roots of trees and stones,
    With rivers at their source,
    And disembodied bones.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 8:56 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Michael, this is a mere condescending act on your part. You are saying, ‘Well, Thomas, I accept the wisdom of those who know more than me but you don’t’ etc but if you don’t bring specifics or argue with a little pizzaz, your gesture towards your mythical status quo is meaningless.

    Thomas

  • On May 18, 2009 at 9:19 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Terreson, Daisy, Thomas, Michael, John, Eileen, Kent, Don, Desmond…Wow! This has got to be the best reply string on Harriet ever! So knowledgeable and scholarly.

    But…really weird.

    Anyway, this ‘reply to the reply’ thing has got to go. It disrupts the chronological order and results in cacophony…cross-talk. It’s like when you’re in a big meeting with, maybe, twenty people. The speaker is giving his presentation but there are five or six different side conversations going on. Nobody is paying attention to the speaker or the conversation at hand. In other words, chaos.

    Besides, this entire line of thought is ridiculous. Are the Stones better than Mozart? Willie Nelson better than Coltrane? The Beatles better than Earl Scruggs? Neil Young better than Pete Seeger? B.B. King better than Bob Dylan? Anyone better than Dylan Thomas or William Blake or John Keats or E.E. Cummings?

    Good grief!

  • On May 18, 2009 at 10:06 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Des,

    “Yeats had what all great artists need, the capacity to believe what is not so. Indeed the craftiness and cunning which keeps the top imaginations as fresh and daft as a childs throughout their adult life.”

    Well put. I like this.

    I studied Yeats in college and remember that red paperback of his Selected edited by M.L Rosenthal, a U. Chicago alum who championed Pound, Eliot, Williams, & Robert Lowell. Rosenthal coined the term “confessional poetry.”

    It was Eliot who first popularized the notion that Yeats was the greatest English speaking poet of the 20th century, but though I do like Yeats, his greatness is tremendously exaggerated. Yeats has a few fine poems; he didn’t really succeed in other genres. His Collected doesn’t hold up, really. To explore his Collected almost makes one doubt the greatness of his Selected. He wrote quite a bit of doggerel, actually. Yeats didn’t appreciate Keats or Poe, the dowdy twit.

    I suspect he was an Irish traitor and his attempt to marry Maud Gonne was an operation against the Irish cause. He was very close to that degenerate fraud, Pound.

    Yeats wrote drinking songs and fighting songs and love songs, but none of them were sentimental, none of them had any feeling, really, and that, more than anything else, was the odd, strange, characteristic thing about Yeats–songs without any real feeling–and that’s why Pound liked him, who hated sentiment, the pompous right-wing shit. Eliot believed that, too. Hard, hard poetry, no softness, a melody of cynicism and despair. Tough, cold bastards. They wrote about stuff bigger than themselves with a certain classical coldness, but their lives and their ideas were fraudulent. All three, Eliot, Pound, and Yeats, will eventually be remembered as three minor poets with nutty, forgettable ideas, self-conscious magpies of Letters during a strange, post-Romantic, mannerist era.

    Thomas

  • On May 18, 2009 at 10:26 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Mr. Brady, what you just wrote about W.B. Yeats would be considered by many as treason.

    You should expand your study of history beyond American Letters to that of the rest of the world.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 10:28 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Des,

    My take on this poem is that Elinor Wylie was bonkers, a mad, cold bitch. “Shun the polluted flock, live like that stoic bird, the eagle of the rock.” Doesn’t that almost sound nazi to you? It’s pretty creepy symbolism, if you ask me. Read her bio. It kind of fits. She was an American, but her first book was published in England. Why does that sound so typical of the Modernist era?

    “Avoid the lathered pack,
    Turn from the steaming sheep”

    is grotesque, misanthropic symbolism. And then when you think it can’t get any worse, to “avoid spotted sight or sound” (?) one is advised to live like a mole.

    This kind of misanthropism reminds me of DH Lawrence and Bertrand Russell and Aldous Huxley, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound…

    I find this poem to be a glimpse into the tortured soul of a rich, spoiled, selfish person, pretending to be an artist.

    Thomas

  • On May 18, 2009 at 11:11 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    Yeah, liddle ole yeatsy the faker, is one take on it i suppose, but i have to confess Tom, he is my god.

    As you say to another poster, we are all on our own path, and there’s no reason why the cards traded in our pack need cause the flow of chat to shudder over ideological preferences.

    Devils advocate on Yeats, would point out the sheer scale of his achievements. His own theatre, got to pursue all he wanted and (though you disagree) left some top class verse. The generally accepted contemporary take (which posterity may judge to be flawed, as you point out) is that he is one of the few poets who got better as he aged, and by the finish was writing at his best.

    The drinking poems, i agree, are not that hot, and were written along with the crazy janes ones, after he had had the Steinach operation to rejuvenate a flagging libido.

    There is something inherently comic about Yeats, as George Moore pointed in his memoir Hail and Farewell (at archive.org for free) in which Yeats gets wickedly satirized. After he had returned from a lecture tour of America, he gave a lecture Moore attended and wrote about, capturing the essentially comedic centre of the man:

    “As soon as the applause died away Yeats, who
    had lately returned to us from the States with a
    paunch, a huge stride, and an immense fur overcoat,
    rose to speak. We were surprised at the change in
    his appearance, and could hardly believe pur ears
    when, instead of talking to us as he used to do about
    the old stories come down from generation to gen-
    eration, he began to thunder like Ben Tillett him-
    self against the middle classes, stamping his feet,
    working himself into a great passion, and all because
    the middle classes did not dip their hands into their
    pockets and give Lane the money he wanted for his
    exhibition. It is impossible to imagine the hatred
    which came into his voice when he spoke the words
    “the middle classes”; one would have thought that
    he was speaking against a personal foe; but there
    are millions in the middle classes ! And we looked
    round asking each other with our eyes where on
    earth our Willie Yeats had picked up such extraor-
    dinary ideas.

    Yeats’s voice.

    “We have sacrificed our lives for Art ; but you,
    what have you done? What sacrifices have you
    made?” he asked, and everybody began to search
    his memory for the sacrifices that Yeats had made,
    asking himself in what prison Yeats had languished,
    what rags he had worn, what broken victuals he had
    eaten. As far as anybody could remember, he had
    always lived very comfortably, sitting down invari-
    ably to regular meals, and the old green cloak that
    was in keeping with his profession of romantic poet
    he had exchanged for the magnificent fur coat which
    distracted our attention from what he was saying,
    so opulently did it cover the back of the chair out
    of which he had risen.”

    ~

    My own take on it, is that with Yeats, there is a foreboding oeuvre to conquer before we grasp the essential, that his root-poetic was bardic, steeped in the myth and lore, knowing the greatest Celticists of the day translating all this stuff that had lain dormant for three hundred years, and single-handedly steering Irish poetry in the english language, into the highest streams of public consciousness.

    He seesm to be the one poet who straddles the divide of Romantic-Modernist, with both camps willing to claim him as their own. Something we should all be striving for today methinks.

    Pythagoras planned it. Why did the people stare?
    Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
    His mind moves upon silence.

    The tower’s old cook that must climb and clamber
    Catching small birds in the dew of the morn
    When we hale men lie stretched in slumber
    Swears that he hears the king’s great horn.

    The horse that comes from the road.
    The rider, the birds that range
    From cloud to tumbling cloud,
    Minute by minute they change;
    A shadow of cloud on the stream
    Changes minute by minute;
    A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
    And a horse plashes within it;
    The long-legged moor-hens dive,
    And hens to moor-cocks call;
    Minute by minute they live:
    The stone’s in the midst of all.

    Maybe you are right and this is second-rate in a parralel reality where the best of critics prate

    But i am happy to make-believe he knew his trade and sung
    what was well made

    see the stones in the midst of it all and ask

    What becomes of love when roses fade and birds migrate
    beyond the realm of meaning,
    subverted, staid and losing faith in the pleasure
    of abandoning reason?

    And what reason,
    whereby all sober thought’s discarded in lust’s flame
    to serve beside raw passion
    beats now within?

    That order is swept away along with all censure
    of rash or ill judged action
    in hot days of flush youth when belief has words that say
    the day is of small matter.

    And what matter,
    creating still days when time abundant, unable
    to cease or stray from life

    traps now within?

    The initial register of that quivering timbre
    becomes a significant hush
    as each immeasurable moment sequentially
    steals forward all dawn through dusk.

    And the dusk,
    like a rainbow ring arching to a cloud
    startles colour to the eye,
    does dance the
    imagination chaotic, by upending sound,
    reason, and trying
    in constant attempt, to straddle some powerful force
    all shades of passion embrace.

    And this embrace,
    like youth’s fading light draws softly in darkness
    quenching ardour by decay,
    relates to a force:

    The Heraclitan stream upon whose surface all thought
    fixes logic and symbol
    our world of flux creates, and which I seek to harness
    the event of this temporal
    manifestation of unknowable order to,
    as though it were dolmen stone.

    But this stone,
    riven deep into a wet rich clay of live cold earth
    impervious to us all
    holds no thought
    but the imprint all sequential moments that drew
    each to the next have made known

    before passing to fade like the rose and migratory bird.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 11:39 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    That is to say: “A rose is a rose is a rose.”.

  • On May 19, 2009 at 5:25 am Terreson wrote:

    Autumn is over the long leaves that love us,
    And over the mice in barley sheaves;
    Yellow the leaves of rowan above us,
    And yellow the wet wild-strawberry leaves.
    The hour of the waning love has beset us,
    And weary and worn are our sad souls now;
    Let us part, ere the season of passion forget us,
    With a kiss and a tear on thy drooping brow.

    A sonnet by WBY who, as we’ve all been instructed, had no capacity for sentiment or feeling.

    Terreson

  • On May 19, 2009 at 5:35 am Terreson wrote:

    And before the poetry police come down on my, by sonnet I mean ‘little song.’

    T

  • On May 19, 2009 at 7:55 am thomas brady wrote:

    Terreson,

    This leaves me stone cold. It doesn’t move me at all.

    It’s doggerel, by the way.

    Listen:

    Autumn is over the long leaves that—love us,
    And over the mice—in barley sheaves;
    Yellow the leaves of rowan—above us,
    And yellow the wet wild—-strawberry leaves.
    The hour of the waning love has—beset us,
    And weary and worn are our sad souls—now;
    Let us part, ere the season of passion—forget us,
    With a kiss and a tear on thy drooping—brow.

    The mood is mournful but the rhythm is rollicking. This is second-rate, or third-rate verse, I’m afraid.

    You see, the opinions of his Yeats’ friends in the press, his friends, Pound and Eliot, the coterie! the coterie! have convinced us of something that is false, and we’ve listened, I’m afraid.

    There is nothing that poetry needs right now more than independent thought; that, and listening, independent hearts and ears.

    Here, by contrast is lyric poetry that IS moving, which can move one to tears, which is NOT doggerel, written by a lower-middle-class teenage girl:

    If I should learn, in some quite casual way,
    That you were gone, not to return again –
    Read from the back-page of a paper, say,
    Held by a neighbor in a subway train,
    How at the corner of this avenue
    And such a street (so are the papers filled)
    A hurrying man — who happened to be you –
    At noon to-day had happened to be killed,
    I should not cry aloud — I could not cry
    Aloud, or wring my hands in such a place –
    I should but watch the station lights rush by
    With a more careful interest on my face,
    Or raise my eyes and read with greater care
    Where to store furs and how to treat the hair.

    Thomas

  • On May 19, 2009 at 8:16 am thomas brady wrote:

    Desmond,

    Oh that’s great, Yeats with his big fur coat cursing the middle classes! Yes, that’s the modernists, haters of the middle classes. Well-connected, aristocratic haters of the middle classes. That’s Modernism’s face which their supporters try to hide, making them into “innovative” cultural heroes–when they were really men of low ambition and haughty expectations.

    As for Yeats being some great Romantic-Modernist straddler: T.S. Eliot’s first blast of criticism (introduction to the Sacred Wood) was to quote Arnold calling Byron “empty” and Shelley “incoherent.” You have to forget Shelley in order to think the Modernists are any good. That’s the thing. The Modernist weren’t expanders. They were narrowers. They wanted us to forget Shelley (and Poe and Millay). They were haters, not lovers. You have to buy Eliot’s pessimism before you can buy Modernism. Yeats was closer to Pound than he was to ancient bards–but then who the hell are the ancient bards? It’s all religious rot, don’t you think? This craggy, misty, bardic tradition? Misty is great, I suppose, for poetry, but…

    All these ‘isms! All these schools! All these ancient bardic pretensions! Nah, there’s just good people who write good poetry, and then there’s the ambitious swine…

    This is what’s it all about, right?

    This:

    Happy the man, whose wish and care
    A few paternal acres bound,
    Content to breathe his native air,
    In his own ground.

    Whose heards with milk, whose fields with bread,
    Whose flocks supply him with attire,
    Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
    In winter fire.

    Blest! who can unconcern’dly find
    Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
    In health of body, peace of mind,
    Quiet by day,

    Sound sleep by night; study and ease
    Together mix’d; sweet recreation,
    And innocence, which most does please,
    With meditation.

    Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
    Thus unlamented let me dye;
    Steal from the world, and not a stone
    Tell where I lye.

    And who the hell da ya think wrote this Romantic thing, eh?

    Alexander Pope!!

    Thomas

  • On May 19, 2009 at 9:30 am Daisy Fried wrote:

    umbrage? what umbrage?

  • On May 19, 2009 at 10:04 am thomas brady wrote:

    Des,

    One more thing about Elinor Wylie. I read more things by her on-line, as she’s actually quite good. She’s a force to be reckoned with, in fact. Look at this:

    Love Song

    Lovers eminent in love
    Ever diversities combine;
    The vocal chords of the cushat-dove,
    The snake’s articulated spine.

    Such elective elements
    Educate the eye and lip
    With one’s refreshing innocence,
    The other’s claim to scholarship.

    The serpent’s knowledge of the world
    Learn, and the dove’s more naïve charm;
    Whether your ringlets should be curled,
    And why he likes his claret warm.

    This lady was one hot lady! Good lord!

    Why someone would prefer Marianne Moore to this is…well, Marianne Moore belonged to that clique, you see…the important one…Moore was editor of ‘The Dial’ the magazine in the 20s that published ‘The Waste Land’ and gave E.E. Cummings, WC Williams, Ezra Pound, and Eliot the annual Dial Prize–wealthy Scofield Thayer, who Eliot met at Milton Academy ran the ‘Dial’ before his crack-up.

    Yes, Marianne Moore gets far wider notice than Wylie, even though Wylie is a thousand times richer and more enjoyable to read, as hackneyed as her verses sometimes are. But Moore, her brittle, rock-hard verses are as sickeningly dull as a bored housewife letting cookies burn into hard little rocks and throwing them at you. Moore, the bric-a-brac poet.

    I’m all for ‘experimentation’ and it’s fine if someone like Moore attempts to turn poetry into a plastic art, but if you’re going to take a temporal art and turn it into a plastic one, you better learn how to work in the temporal art first. Have you ever noticed that the poets who make poetry feel like sculpture are the ones who can also make it sing? The modernists experiments of those like Moore were complete failures, like burned, rock-hard cookies.

    Thank you, Des, for giving us Wylie, a neglected woman from the modernist era, who, obviously somewhat deranged, at least gives us some interesting poetry, unlike the Modernist Club token Marianne (BO-RING) Moore.

    By the way, I notice that H.D.’s husband Richard Aldington’s big anthology from the 30s picks one Wylie poem, and it’s that “Eagle and the Mole” atrocity, which is really her WORST poem. Why did you choose it?

    Thomas

  • On May 19, 2009 at 10:25 am john wrote:

    Ah, tone can be hard to catch, Daisy. But then, as you said once, you don’t put effort into writing you’re not being paid for.

    The idea that Michael or I have the power to decide whether the little women are great or not is absurd, of course. I was just trying to speak up for a literary history that I had thought was settled already. I started reading Stein and Woolf as a teenager, and I have always taken them to be part of my heritage too. I agree with Eileen that in some respects Stein and Woolf’s literary history is parallel because the experience of female writers is so different than that of male writers — literary history can be sliced and diced by any demographic indicator, and that would be true — class, race, gender. Eileen was being neither churlish nor misinformed about Stein and Woolf in this observation, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call them fellow travelers, as she does; nor do I think that Stein and Woolf were mistaken to aim for an un-hyphenated literary history, as Eileen does. I’d be curious to hear from others on this opinion of Eileen’s.

    Meanwhile this got started because Thomas got harrummphy about Michael making a list of great female modernist, saying that Michael was grasping at straws and characterizing Woolf as an artist’s model and publisher. Then Thomas got outraged when I pointed out that it was an insult to dismiss a professional writer by saying we should think of her by her ancillary activities, and mentioned that it was traditionally sexist for men to use belittling rhetoric about women. Then Thomas, master of hyperbole, lectured me about my use of hyperbole. And so Daisy makes a barroom-style quip about men men men men men men men men (to quote Monty Python), lumping us all together. I have failed to heed Don Cherry’s advice to beware distractions, and while this tea party is indeed not one of Gertrude’s it has at times reminded me of another literary tea, in which the immortal question was asked, “How is a raven like a writing desk?”

  • On May 19, 2009 at 10:32 am Kent Johnson wrote:

    >But Moore, her brittle, rock-hard verses are as sickeningly dull as a bored housewife letting cookies burn into hard little rocks and throwing them at you.

    Matters of Mr. Brady’s grammar aside, this “housewife” sounds less than “dull” to me!

    Kent

  • On May 19, 2009 at 11:04 am thomas brady wrote:

    Kent,

    I’d rather drink Elinor Wylie’s “warm claret” than eat M. Moore’s cookies.

    Thomas

    P.S. A thousand apologies for my grammar, I’m writing fast…

  • On May 19, 2009 at 11:22 am Kent Johnson wrote:

    >I’d rather drink Elinor Wylie’s “warm claret” than eat M. Moore’s cookies.

    That’s perfectly fine, Thomas. I don’t doubt your superior tastes would be perfectly fine with M. Moore, as well.

    >P.S. A thousand apologies for my grammar, I’m writing fast…

    Don’t let your typing get ahead of your thinking!

  • On May 19, 2009 at 12:23 pm Daisy Fried wrote:

    It weems I’ve hurt some feelings. I apologize.

    First, of course Michael and John and others are right about the importance of Stein, Woolf, etc. Of course Thomas is wrong about several things, especially Marianne Moore.

    Second, of course, anyone can have opinions about anything regardless of gender, and express them.

    Third, especially this: Eileen–thanks for elegantly explaining what my jibe apparently didn’t communicate.

    I’m always mystified by the need to rank greatness, excellence, etc. There’s a gatekeeper-mentality to this, and though gatekeeping does seem to be something of a boy’s game, of course I play that game myself; when I read I’m always saying, this is good, this is great, this is mediocre, this is awful. Of course. I like to make judgments. It’s important to reading and writing. But judgment is only a small part of gatekeeping; this kind of gatekeeping–who’s in, who’s out, who’s *really* as good as her reputation and who was just in the in-crowd–has very little to say about what art and life are about.

    Still, it’s not for me to tell anyone not to have the conversations they want to have. I apologize for seeming to want to shut anyone up.

    Carry on, boys, and the occasional girl.

  • On May 19, 2009 at 1:27 pm john wrote:

    I’m with you on the gate-keeping, Daisy — not my game — my opinions on these historical matters, as Thomas can attest, aren’t fresh — they’re received. Nor do I have anything fresh to say about Woolf or Stein or Moore; that I have loved reading them is enough for me. I understand anybody’s exasperation with the over-garrulity of men, and had we been in an actual rather than a virtual bar (or tea party) when you made your quip, the lumping would have struck me as fair. Feeling oneself immune from being unjustly lumped into a demographic generality seems to be a white, male, middle-class, heterosexual privilege, and while you have found me out as someone who enjoys mine and takes it for granted, and even pouts when it gets taken away, I have no interest in monopolizing it. Here’s to a day when everybody can take such immunity for granted.

  • On May 19, 2009 at 1:58 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    Thomas.

    There is a regular commentator on the guardian books blog, going by the name anytimefrances, who is quite simply the best critic there, who can handle her own with all comers and has proved themself to be capable of the sharpest wit going, able to slice to the core in one line, any pretenders to the Critic throne.

    s/he is the only person whose gender is unknown and just by being there, taught me some of the most fundamental lessons in writing one can learn. for example, how to deploy upper case effectively, by keeping all lower until the Critic needs to make an arresting point.

    s/he is a very intelligent mind and i am indebted to this person, as one anytimefrances, is worth a thousand less sharp voices.

    However, much like you, s/he has a pet hate which sends atf into spewing apoplectic rants in a paroxysm of pure bile, directed towards the tax- money spent on the Monarchy, *junkie literature* and people who make too much noise. what s/he terms BOOM ! BOOM !

    a/he is a sufferer from tinnitus and these outbursts can vary between mild and funny, to a volcano of incoherent rage, littered with fuk this eff that, cnut and all the rest of it. s/he claims to despise swearing but when something sets her off and s/he gets going – phwoar, yer wanna stand back Tom me arl mucker.

    . but this side of atf, the mad side if you like, s/he couldn’t be the top class with s/he is, without it. this is anytime frances on William Burroughs:

    I have read a few threads here on Burroughs and those who say they’ve read him and that he’s not ‘all that good’ are usually ganged up on and abused and insulted. I’m more inclined to believe these readers who have read him and are not fanatical about him. These reader seem to me to have a reasonable balanced attitude. His idolisers seem to think he is the greatest writer of all time, that he is the best, that no one can touch him, that he is a super hero. This fanaticism puts me off him.

    There has always been a division of opinion about him on the blogs and this is reflected in the field of criticism,

    “Novelist and critic Anthony Burgess panned the work in Saturday Review, saying Burroughs was boring readers with repetitive episodes of pederast fantasy and sexual strangulation that lacked any comprehensible world view or theology, but other writers, like J. G. Ballard, argued Burroughs was shaping a new literary “mythography”.”

    These are two of the titles of his novels “Junkie”, “Queer” so why condemn someone for calling it ‘junkie literature’ – that’s what they themselves say it is, to appeal to a certain sort of reader. It’s not meant to appeal to others types of readers, it’s meant to shock them and put them off; the shock value of the titles – and contents – is what makes it appeal to the other sort of reader, who wants to feel that they know what life is at the underbelly, who want to know about the drugs and prostitutes that obsessed him all his life.

  • On May 19, 2009 at 2:39 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Oh it’s so cute the way my typing runs after my thinking! You should see it… Oh, that’s right…you do.

  • On May 19, 2009 at 2:43 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Desmond,

    anytimefrances, huh? Tell anytime Thomas Brady says hello. Frances seems a tad verbose, though. One needn’t waste so many words on Burroughs. I can describe Burroughs and his appeal to the Beats in one word: money.

    Thomas

  • On May 19, 2009 at 2:59 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Thomas Brady said:

    >Frances seems a tad verbose, though.

    The purloined letter, in plain sight, all along!

    :~)

    Kent

  • On May 19, 2009 at 3:23 pm thomas brady wrote:

    If the men say Virginia Woolf is great, what can the women do? They must either rebuke one of their sisters, or accept the judgment of men. There is no way around it. Woolf was exceedingly beautiful; I don’t wonder that she was a model for the Pre-Raphaelites. She was perhaps the most beautiful woman who ever lived.

    “A woman must have money and room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

    Why is this the only thing for which Woolf is remembered?

    She wrote 500 essays, but when we read the formulating essays of modernism we always read Empson, Eliot, Pound, the New Critics, Jarrell, Schwartz, etc. “A woman must…” Here is how she is remembered as an essayist. Which is disgusting. Which proves my point.

    And again, Woolf, herself, wrote that literature had been controlled by men. Yet Woolf is put forth my Michael Robbins as proof that I am wrong!!

    Do you see the absurdity here?

    The status quo (and we would expect this in a field as clever as literature) rule the roost not only by exclusion, but by the tokens (of some oppressive stereotype) they choose to include.

  • On May 19, 2009 at 3:32 pm Matt wrote:

    I really don’t think anyone considers Woolf a token. I don’t understand where you’re getting this. Like her or not, she’s considered one of the giants of her era or whatever. (Deservedly, in my opinion, but my opinion doesn’t even matter.)

  • On May 19, 2009 at 3:48 pm thomas brady wrote:

    “she’s considered…”

    Bingo.

    Yea, you’re right, Matt. Where do we get authority to queston authority? Exactly, dude, you’re speaking right inside the dilemma I’m talking about…

    What essays of hers do you consider influential?

  • On May 19, 2009 at 4:51 pm john wrote:

    You don’t need authority to question authority, but to have your questions taken seriously, you should ask them with the authority that you earn. Trying to knock Woolf from the pedestal of Great Modernists by aiming at her essays won’t work, because her essays didn’t get her there, her novels did. Nobody’s questioning your right to dislike them or to say why, but you haven’t said why, so once again I’m not sure what we’re talking about. More tea, please.

  • On May 19, 2009 at 5:23 pm Terreson wrote:

    Well, I see Thomas Brady is in the zone. Having tried to engage him twice before, in different venues, I choose not to engage again. I guess we all remember Einstein’s definition of insanity.

    But upthread Daisy Fried points out the gatekeeping mentality among us who look to rank poets according to our respective sorting systems. This is certainly more incisive than anything I’ve contributed to the conversation. It rather brought me up short, got me to reflecting. In brief, there are times when I much prefer the kind of reader I was a good thirty years ago when I knew nothing about nothing. Maybe I am a better reader than I was then and better equipped in my approaches and comprehensions. But I didn’t have a sorting system back then, having no reference points and fewer opinions. And so the page in front of me was closer, more immediate, not at all filtered through the bias of perspective. I remember reading Proust, for example, in my teeny weeny twenties. Many times since I’ve thought, man, you were way too young to get him that first time around. But I think I’ll still go with the first reading. Albertine, Swann and Marcel showed up more vibrant then. But for this, I can’t imagine wanting to be a young man again.

    Thanks, Daisy Fried, for the slap upside the head. Sorting systems can be such killers, with poetry the loser.
    I would mention in this context what Joyce said about what constitutes the supreme question of a work of art, but it would just get slapped down and bandied about. I am just glad I knew nothing about nothing when I first read him.

    Terreson

  • On May 19, 2009 at 5:35 pm thomas brady wrote:

    John,

    But she wrote 500 essays! She started writing essays in her 20s and did not publish her well-known novels until well into her 40s. Why can’t I ask about the influence of the essays?

    I’m not trying to ‘knock Woolf off her pedestal’ or anything so petty as that. Really. I’m not trying to crap on anybody except to determine more clearly how Modernism continues to play out in Letters.

    Her ‘stream of consciousness’ style surfaced quite a bit after William James and his student Gertrude Stein and James Joyce, etc etc She always seems to be included as a Modernist Writer, affirming the agenda of that Men’s Club, rather than a writer of merit on her own.

    I also find it interesting that her press not only published “The Waste Land” but the complete works of Freud and that she herself seems to have been gripped by an early (and negative) sexual experience, which, as far as I know, was a secret to the public for a very long time. This is not, again, meant to diminish her in any way, but just to show how inextricably caught up she was in the male world of her time. Her work certainly fits into ‘The Waste Land’ anxiety of upper class Britain.

    Thomas

  • On May 19, 2009 at 6:12 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Terreson,

    Please! I wouldn’t want you to take leave of your senses on my account! I’m not worth it!

    I would like to say a word, if I may, on sorting and ranking.

    The philosopher in us often rejects ranking systems as too competitive or small-minded.

    But not so fast, says MY inner philosopher.

    I recall that Arnold’s “Touchstone” idea really is nothing more than a variation of ‘ranking.’ It admits that we know little until we compare. There is nothing wrong with this, I think.

    It really is nothing more than another form of organization, and it does not mean there is a final answer, but that’s just critics keep doing it to keep their senses alive, rather than merely accept some authority which says ‘this author is great and you shall not question it.’

    Also, it is valuable, given that there is SO much to read and ponder, especially for young students, to be given works and writers of high quality. And how do we know which ones are important if we don’t compare (i.e., rank) them?

    To say why something is important is to rank it, really. We can’t get away from this completely. Ranking may not be the only method, but it is helpful, and I don’t think we should run away from it in the name of some misplaced superior-sounding prejudice.

    Thomas

  • On May 19, 2009 at 7:05 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    Ranking is relative.

    Imagine the spectrum of human intelligence and creativity being an inch long from the lowest to highest IQ.

    Then think of the Intelligence beyond a mile long and then 10 and a 100 and 1M ad infinitum. In the cosmic scale, our minds are paltry things, always getting it wrong, thinking the erarth flat till Newton came along.

    But we cannot help it, we have to have the pecking order, Leavis the sneery cheeerleader ass lickin Eliot ushering in the 20C version of it. Major and minor, all designed to exclude, whilst the real artists take no part, just doing what they do.

    I blame Plato, Aristotle and Socrates, who were that dumb they only had men in their gang. And look at the churches. I saw a picture of an old man in a strange ornamental dress, standing by a wall in Palastine, eighty and more years of age, in control of billions, claims he speaks for the God we all share and him, unmarried, a single bachelor. That’s what the pecking orders lead to, fights and death under a guise of doing waht’s right, what’s in our best interests, to go kick ass, do the Taliban the US created when it’s short term view was on the reds, telling the rest of us what’s important and all along, selfish singular interest.

    If i had my way, no one would be allowed to judge and free love and hugs would be the order of the day. I’d be at the head, dispensing wisdom texts and having a gang of fawns agreeing with all i said. Isn’t that the truth, we all wanna be a benevolent dictator, global rulers and what we say respected, carved into brick, our forms made into statues, our minds hailed as the prophetic source of the cosmic creator – with all the rest just, conversation.

  • On May 19, 2009 at 8:56 pm john wrote:

    Woolf “always seems to be included as a Modernist Writer, affirming the agenda of that Men’s Club, rather than a writer of merit on her own.”

    Not true, but even if it were, it would be easily correctable, Thomas. Simply take a work of hers and point to its merits.

    Have you read any of her novels?

    The description of the father thinking in “To the Lighthouse” has always blown me away — so incisive, witty, humane (and, so I’ve read, probably a portrait of her own father at least in part). It’s too long to quote here, but if anybody is interested, I quoted it at length on my blog a few years ago while thinking about Dylan & Lennon’s differing conceptions of truth.

    http://utopianturtletop.blogspot.com/search?q=woolf+meltzer

    Terreson, I often want to turn off my “judgment button” too. Nice description. Thanks — and thanks to Daisy.

  • On May 20, 2009 at 11:08 am thomas brady wrote:

    Desmond,

    Plato didn’t think the world was flat. Read “The Timaeus.”
    Read Plato, in fact. It sounds to me like that’s what you need. Aristotle’s fun, but Plato is far more grounded, far more interesting.

    Nothing sinks a literary discussion faster than shallow politics and religious prejudice.

    “Ranking is relative.”

    Precisely.

    Thomas

  • On May 20, 2009 at 11:53 am thomas brady wrote:

    John,

    I read Woolf’s novels a long time ago. I found them really odd. Frankly, she sounded like a nutter, if you want to know the truth. Brilliant and sensitve, yes. But bonkers, that’s all.

    I noticed the comments that Dylan’s sense of the ‘truth’ was deeper than Lennon’s. “Gimme Some Truth” was written during John’s political Yoko phase; you can’t go entirely by that. I agree Dylan is subtle and brilliant, but Lennon certainly is his equal, especially if you listen to outake recordings in which Lennon deliberately imitates Dylan–he gets him absolutely spot on, and I’m sure you’ve heard Lennon’s satire of Dylan’s “Serve somebody.”

    Thank you for sharing Woolf’s actual words. We can argue all day about her worth, but it’s really helpful to look at her actual writings and attempt a judgment which people seem so cowardly about making–it seems they’d rather believe in some well-placed authority, so I REALLY appreciate you linking to her work. We do not have to agree here; that’s not my aim, I’m OK with disagreement, and I welcome it, because I can’t ‘rhetoric’ very well with agreement; Disagreement had a baby and they called it speech.

    OK… Take it away, my dear lady…

    Ladies and Gentlemen, Virginia Woolf:

    Very few people in the whole of England ever reach Q. Here, stopping for one moment by the stone urn which held the geraniums, he saw, but now far, far away, like children picking up shells, divinely innocent and occupied with little trifles at their feet and somehow entirely defenceless against a doom which he perceived, his wife and son, together, in the window. They needed his protection; he gave it them. But after Q? What comes next? After Q there are a number of letters the last of which is scarcely visible to mortal eyes, but glimmers red in the distance. Z is only reached once by one man in a generation.

    “Very few people in the whole of England ever reach Q.”

    Is this meant to be funny? I find it funny; inane, really.

    “Here, stopping for one moment by the stone urn which held the geraniums, he saw, but now far, far away, like children picking up shells, divinely innocent and occupied with little trifles at their feet and somehow entirely defenceless against a doom which he perceived, his wife and son, together, in the window.”

    I had to read this sentence over a number of times before I grasped it. She is comparing the man’s ‘wife and son, in the window’ to ‘children picking up shells, divinely innocent and occupied with little trifles at their feet and somehow entirely defenceless against a doom which he perceived…’ I’m not sure why she needs this comparison–figures in a window cannot be occupied with trifles at their feet, because you don’t see figures in a window so preoccupied since you tend to see only the upper body of someone in a window. Secondly, isn’t the innocence of ‘wife and son’ enough? Why do we need the ‘children picking up shells?’ This is milk-and-water type composing. The good writer will reject this at once. ‘defenceless against a doom which he perceived’ also strikes me as vague and hyperbolic.

    “After Q there are a number of letters the last of which is scarcely visible to mortal eyes, but glimmers red in the distance. Z is only reached once by one man in a generation.”

    Finally, is she seriously pursuing this sequential idea as a symbol of great thought? I find this faintly ridiculous. And why is the end “glimmering red?” This seems absolutely mad. Are we supposed to get from this that the “end” of “knowledge” is “hell?” Yet she doesn’t seem to be using irony; she seems to be really trying to convince us of this man’s intelligence and humanity, but in such an odd way. And finally this: “Z is only reached once by one man in a generation” seems painfully blinkered and elitist.

    Do you feel this is a sample of her best writing?

    Tell me if I am being unfair, because this is my sincere impression.

    Perhaps we can look at something else. I don’t wish to rush to judgment.

    Thomas

  • On May 22, 2009 at 3:35 pm Michael Gushue wrote:

    1. I believe Doris Day (Mary Anne von Kappelhoff) is still alive. Should we say she “is” (not “was”) a lesbian?

    2. Here’s my favorite Updike [non] poem (reproduced, I’m afraid, imperfectly):

    LOVE SONNET
    John Updike

    In Love’s rubber armor I come to you;
    b
    oo
    b.
    c,
    d
    c
    d:
    e
    f –
    e
    f.
    g
    g.

  • On May 24, 2009 at 11:40 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    It’s funny how in my musical analogy, above, which is intended to demonstrate that various (poetic) genres can not be compared, I selected all male icons to represent the different types and styles of music. I could have just as easily selected Joan Jett, Heart, Janis Joplin, Liza Minnelli, Aretha Franklin, Emmy Lou Harris, Joni Mitchell, Judy Garland, Joan Baez, Lily Pons, Patsy Cline, Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand, Alanis Morrisette, Peggy Lee, the Indigo Girls, Linda Ronstadt, Connie Francis, Olivia Newton-John, Diana Ross, etc., etc.

    Is this a reflection of our culture or simply unconscious male bias on my part?

  • On May 25, 2009 at 12:05 pm Joshua Clover wrote:

    I heart Eileen from here to the moon. If she is misinformed and churlish on this score (or precious many others), I stand with the churls and the misinformed. (Can’t wait for that to be quoted out of context)

    Also, I sort of do think that history is a tea party thrown by Gertrude Stein.

  • On May 25, 2009 at 3:04 pm thomas brady wrote:

    “Also, I sort of do think that history is a tea party thrown by Gertrude Stein.”

    I hear William James is bringing nitrous oxide. And be sure to use the secret handshake at the door. One must be so careful these days…

  • On May 25, 2009 at 6:13 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Good to know, Joshua. I’ll keep it in mind next time I’m trying to describe Eileen’s endlessly stupid position to some incredulous “fellow traveler.”


Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, May 12th, 2009 by Eileen Myles.