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The line’s for real

By Don Share

180px-female_lion

Not infrequently, we get letters or blog-responses to individual poems published in Poetry that cite particular phrases or lines in order to prove somehow that a poem or poet (and, by implication, our taste) is lousy.  It’s an invidious tactic, and it occurs to me that one can make any poem in the world look bad by pulling a line or so out of context.  Summer’s here and the time is right for fun and games, so… shall we give it a try?  Are there any foolproof poets or poems?   Care to dissect a few?  So far, the only poem I can think of that seems immune is Blake’s “The Tyger.”  Or am I wrong about all this?

Comments (99)

  • On June 24, 2009 at 10:33 am michael robbins wrote:

    I’m surprised you didn’t think of this poem from Clark Coolidge’s Space: completely foolproof:

    miss ship
    wren
    sown
    is
    tow new
    a gray
    thin are under
    a blacker
    G road
    stand grayling powder none
    bout
    stiff coiler some
    trouble an
    pin pin pin pin pin pin
    go

    soap

    clutch

  • On June 24, 2009 at 10:35 am Don Share wrote:

    No soap, Michael. “pin pin pin pin pin pin” just doesn’t cut it!

    But I thought of another: maybe Saroyan’s famous “lighght”? Can’t find fault with that one…

  • On June 24, 2009 at 10:49 am Henry Gould wrote:

    Yeah, but there seems to be an extra “gh” in that line. Room for imphphrovement?

  • On June 24, 2009 at 10:57 am Don Share wrote:

    Good point, Henry. But it’s a swell techique you must admit; Michael Hofmann uses it nicely in his poem “Cricket” in the June ish:

    “Another one of those Pyrrhic experiences. Call it
    an expyrrhience… “

  • On June 24, 2009 at 11:25 am michael robbins wrote:

    Ron Padgett:

    Nothing in That Drawer

    Nothing in that drawer.
    Nothing in that drawer.
    Nothing in that drawer.
    Nothing in that drawer.
    Nothing in that drawer.
    Nothing in that drawer.
    Nothing in that drawer.
    Nothing in that drawer.
    Nothing in that drawer.
    Nothing in that drawer.
    Nothing in that drawer.
    Nothing in that drawer.
    Nothing in that drawer.
    Nothing in that drawer.

  • On June 24, 2009 at 11:26 am michael robbins wrote:

    This is hilarious: I keep trying to post Ron Padgett’s “Nothing in That Drawer,” but Harriet’s spam filter keeps refusing it. Foolproof indeed!

  • On June 24, 2009 at 11:27 am michael robbins wrote:

    Harriet Blog Unfair to Second Generation New York School!!

  • On June 24, 2009 at 11:32 am Joe Safdie wrote:

    While I take Don’s rhetorical point, there is this from Oppen’s “Of Being Numerous” (and a great many of his other poems as well):

    So spoke of the existence of things,
    An unmanageable pantheon

    Absolute, but they say
    Arid.

    A city of the corporations

    Glassed
    In dreams

    And images —

    And the pure joy
    Of the mineral fact

    Tho it is impenetrable

    As the world, if it is matter,
    Is impenetrable.

    I thank the present company for allowing me to start my day by reading Oppen.

  • On June 24, 2009 at 11:34 am Don Share wrote:

    Oppen is a dam good counterexample. Thanks, Joe!

  • On June 24, 2009 at 11:48 am michael robbins wrote:

    Oh, it appeared with some help from the Harriet elves. Not as funny now, of course.

    This post made me think how fitting it is that “Arid” constitute a line in itself.

  • On June 24, 2009 at 11:53 am Henry Gould wrote:

    I like the way the suspense builds.
    I like the way the suspense… builds.
    I like the suspense.
    I suspense.
    Suspense.

    Nonsense
    in
    that
    drawer
    either.

  • On June 24, 2009 at 11:54 am michael robbins wrote:

    I like to imagine it’s about how he keeps going into the kitchen to get something & opening the wrong drawer. He is frustrated: he knows that drawer is empty! Fine, he will write a poem.

  • On June 24, 2009 at 11:55 am Matt wrote:

    oppen’s “tho” is to saroyan’s “lighght” as a classified ad reading “bassist wanted” is to a classified ad reading “bassist for hire”. (now if only someone had a ‘u’…)

  • On June 24, 2009 at 11:57 am Henry Gould wrote:

    As the world turns, and the wine remains uncorked.

  • On June 24, 2009 at 11:57 am Don Share wrote:

    Just my two cents, but I hereby nominate Matt’s comment as the best made to date on this blog. Thanks, Matt!

  • On June 24, 2009 at 12:19 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    The late Elwood P. Grainger (with an “i”) never wrote an imperfect line of poetry. His poems were a cross between polished bronze and Superglue : imperishable, unbreakable, & saturated with that odor – pungent, indelible – of fresh glue. Here’s just one example :

    SUBWAY TOKEN

    this tiny silver sun
    light fare for
    going under

    This was included in Grainger’s inaugural collection, “Orphic Scrapings”, which was self-published (anonymously, in Flatbush) in 1940. You can find more about Grainger at the Elwood P. Grainger Family Crypt and Archive, located at 113 Skimway Blvd, Queens (hours : 3-5 pm, 3rd Thursday of odd-numbered months. suggestion : call ahead).

  • On June 24, 2009 at 1:30 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    You gotta be kidding about this Blake guy. Doesn’t he even know that eye doesn’t rhyme with symmetry? He’s probably one of those goofy ‘new formalists’ and lives out in California or something.

    Jeez, he couldn’t even spell tiger right!

  • On June 24, 2009 at 1:35 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    :-)

  • On June 24, 2009 at 1:45 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow
    by Robert Duncan

    as if it were a scene made-up by the mind,
    that is not mine, but is a made place,

    that is mine, it is so near to the heart,
    an eternal pasture folded in all thought
    so that there is a hall therein

    that is a made place, created by light
    wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.

    Wherefrom fall all architectures I am
    I say are likenesses of the First Beloved
    whose flowers are flames lit to the Lady.

    She it is Queen Under The Hill
    whose hosts are a disturbance of words within words
    that is a field folded.

    It is only a dream of the grass blowing
    east against the source of the sun
    in an hour before the sun’s going down

    whose secret we see in a children’s game
    of ring a round of roses told.

    Often I am permitted to return to a meadow
    as if it were a given property of the mind
    that certain bounds hold against chaos,

    that is a place of first permission,
    everlasting omen of what is.

  • On June 24, 2009 at 4:27 pm Miriam Levine wrote:

    The critics gave it to Shelly in the neck for “I fall upon the thorns of life. I bleed.”

  • On June 24, 2009 at 4:32 pm Miriam Levine wrote:

    Does Wild Nights stand up?

    Wild Nights–Wild Nights!
    Were I with thee
    Wild Nights should be
    Our luxury!

    Futile–the Winds–
    To a Heart in port–
    Done with the Compass–
    Done with the Chart!
    Rowing in Eden

    Ah, the Sea!
    Might I but moor–Tonight–
    In Thee!

  • On June 24, 2009 at 4:34 pm Don Share wrote:

    I dunno, “Ah, the Sea!” is kinda weak…

  • On June 24, 2009 at 4:34 pm Don Share wrote:

    Ouch!

  • On June 24, 2009 at 4:36 pm unreliable narrator wrote:

    And then there’s that line from Keats’s well-wrought urn, a line which honestly left me scratching my head as a teenager: “More happy love! more happy, happy love!”

  • On June 24, 2009 at 4:51 pm Jamey Hecht wrote:

    Maybe you are referring to the stanza recently discussed by one Freewill Applicator (it ain’t me & I do not know the person) at the seemingly genderless blog:
    http://nonprovocativeurl.blogspot.com/2009/06/review-of-poetry-magazine-julyaugust.html, in a less-than-enthusiastic review of a particular issue of POETRY Magazine?

    If so, I think defending your choice (which you seem to be interested in doing, here in the current post) would require posting the entire poem, since you suggest that it only seems to suck because it was quoted “out of context.” By all means, let’s see the context. Will that change our perception? If context was the missing thing, we should have quite a different experience once it is restored. On the other hand, if the poem is part of a literary “movement” that deliberately spurns context and narrative in the belief that these are somehow primitive, or somehow have been discredited by WWI or the Internet, then “context” is irrelevant, right? Can one have it both ways?

    ——
    I was sort of doodling Hitler at my friend’s
    house and we couldn’t stop watching
    unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-cards
    containing scenes in which the baby angora unicorn
    and Hitler stay warm on a cold night.
    ——

  • On June 24, 2009 at 7:06 pm Jamey Hecht wrote:

    Turns out this whole idea has been around for a spell:

    SOCRATES: “Writing, Phaedrus, has this strange quality, and is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing. And every word, when once it is written, is bandied about, alike among those who understand and those who have no interest in it, and it knows not to whom to speak or not to speak; when ill-treated or unjustly reviled it always needs its father to help it; for it has no power to protect or help itself.”
    Plato, Phaedrus, 275e.

    http://artflx.uchicago.edu/perseus-cgi/citequery3.pl?dbname=PerseusGreekTexts&query=Pl.%20Phdr.%20275d&getid=0

  • On June 24, 2009 at 8:09 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    .

    Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
    Because their words had forked no lightning they
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
    Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
    And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
    Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    And you, my father, there on that sad height,
    Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
    Do not go gentle into that good night.
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    – Dylan Thomas

    .

  • On June 24, 2009 at 8:47 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    You just don’t know enough about sex to get that one, Don.

  • On June 24, 2009 at 8:51 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    I dunno, I think the line “do not go gentle into that good night” is pretty awful, and is tolerated in the poem only because it makes for an arresting title.

  • On June 24, 2009 at 8:57 pm Don Share wrote:

    Of course one can have it both ways!

    But no, I’m not referring to the Nada Gordon poem specifically, which will be online here next week, however, in Kenneth Goldsmith’s portfolio of flarf and conceptual poetry, presented precisely so that readers may form their own judgments. As you have done.

    By the way, here’s part two of Stan’s review:
    http://nonprovocativeurl.blogspot.com/2009/06/review-of-poetry-magazine-julyaugust_25.html

  • On June 25, 2009 at 1:01 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    I almost said is tolerated because it comes from such a famous title.

    Like the word “sullen” makes that other poem. (I won’t say all that again–you can go and look on “Poets and Painters.”)

    A wholly other thread might be devoted to bad lines we’ve come to love, or great lines we love because they’re bad, or so-so lines that might have gone either way but for circumstances quite beyond the poet’s control.

    Christopher

  • On June 25, 2009 at 5:11 am Annie FInch wrote:

    I’m not sure “Wild Nights—Wild Nights!” really stands up, actually. Without the following line, one wouldn’t know one should draw it out longer when reading aloud.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 9:04 am Franklin Bruno wrote:

    Perhaps it’s too obvious to be mentioned, but Padgett’s poem above alludes to sonnet form. (I won’t say “is a sonnet,” because I don’t want to get into that argument.) To my mind, it would be a less intriguing poem if one line were removed (or a fifteenth repeition added). In that respect, every line is perfect.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 9:52 am Jordan wrote:

    There’s another poem in that form in Bean Spasms, dedicated to Andy Warhol, and inspired by/titled after (I think) Warhol’s film “Sleep.” At the risk of misquoting it slightly, I present a version of the poem from memory below:

    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  • On June 25, 2009 at 11:44 am Sina Queyras wrote:

    Don, I can’t think of a poem immune, but to say a poem is awful? That a poem fails? To write a letter about why one dislikes a poem so?

    As you know it is the language around poetry, the careful coiffing of one as masterpiece and another as shite, that I find problematic

  • On June 25, 2009 at 12:01 pm michael robbins wrote:

    I’ve always thought this poem is terrible.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 12:14 pm Don Share wrote:

    I agree. This is what happens, I suppose, when there’s no longer a functioning critical vocabulary. And that’s why I used the word “immune,” and would never myself say “awful” or “shite.” Not to sound sanctimonious or anything!

  • On June 25, 2009 at 12:40 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Or when one dilutes the art of discussion with the overly personal.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 12:45 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Oh, Michael.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 1:02 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    I’m reminded of Coleridge’s famous definition :

    “A poem is that species of composition, which is opposed to works of science, by proposing for its *immediate* object pleasure, not truth; and from all other species (having *this* object in common with it) it is discriminated by proposing to itself such delight from the *whole*, as is compatible with a distinct ratification from each component *part*.”

    “Context”, in other words (as you point out), is the key. A line abstracted from the whole poem is, in Coleridge’s terms, strictly useless as a measure of the poem’s value.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 1:03 pm Tom Harr wrote:

    Plato didn’t think much of poetry, as I recall.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 1:08 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    p.s. I guess I’m oversimplifying, in an authoritative way. A bad line (awkward, dull, 2nd-hand, irrelevant, etc.) will weaken the poem as a whole. I guess what I’m saying is : a line, or even several lines, are insufficient evidence, according to Coleridge’s dictum of proportion.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 1:15 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    That’s called suspense. (Besides, on occasion of such Wild Nights, gosh, usually best to draw it out as long as possible, I would think…!!)

  • On June 25, 2009 at 4:37 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Has anyone noticed a ratio here? The more inane the poem, the more immune to criticism it is. The more beautiful the poem, the more vulnerable it is to having individual lines held up for ridicule.

    Pope, in his “Essay On Criticism” pleads with critics to temper their fastidious fault-finding if the whole is good.

    Shelley is a good example of a great poet who took hits for occasional small lapses, and the anti-Romantic Modernists had guns out for Shelley generally, so that the triumph of Modernism saw a correspondent curbing of Shelley’s flights; the beauty of Shelley was replaced by the ugliness of William Carlos Williams, the sun-tinged cloud replaced by the weed.

    I’m glad someone quoted Phaedrus. I always laugh when they say, “Oh Plato hated poets.” Poetry as we know it wouldn’t exist without Plato. Poetry owes more to Plato than anyone else.

    I do think Millay’s “Dirge Without Music” was the germ for Thomas’s poem, this stanza especially,

    Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
    Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
    Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
    I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 5:45 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Fast-forward: year 2059.

    “How about Dylan Thomas?”

    Not my favorite, but he’s okay.

    “How about Michael Robbins?”

    Who?

  • On June 25, 2009 at 5:46 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    ;-)

  • On June 25, 2009 at 5:52 pm michael robbins wrote:

    You recall incorrectly!

  • On June 25, 2009 at 6:50 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    You have to row the line, with a huge reach and longer than usual slide under your bottom. Also check out where you are in the “aah” and then again in the “eee,” also anatomically in the mouth.

    I’m sure Don does really know that—he was just rushing.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 7:27 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    The line (“Ah, the Sea”) doesn’t just row in Eden. It also breaks like a wave all the way from the huge open mountain of the crest to the flattening out up and up the slope of the beach to the untouched dry edge at the limit.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 7:31 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    And of course there’s the dip of the pendulum in it, the bottom of the curve after the wave has broken and before the white chute of water is propelled on up the hill of the beach.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 8:05 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Whenever I’m discussing poetry and feeling in a really bad mood, invariably someone comes along and quotes the following as proof that it was Ezra Pound who was the master of the irreproachable line.

    Seal sports in the spray-whited circles of cliff-wash,
    Sleek head, daughter of Lir,
    ……eyes of Picasso,
    Under black fur-hood, lithe daughter of Ocean . . .

    Well, I’m afraid I don’t believe a word of it. This is either the ‘work’ of a bad actor on a good day or a good actor on a bad day–but whichever it’s simply not convincing, and judged in the light of eternity not a single line, not a single word of it passes the mark.

    It lies, as my acting teacher used to say to me. It pretends.

    So let’s see.

    “Seal sports” to “cliff-wash’–yes, we’re voyaging with Beowulf, and everybody knows Beowulf and the word-hoard of A.S. metaphors and kennings. On the other hand, few know those cliffs like the Beowulf poet knew them, and even fewer have gotten close enough to see the head of a seal in the cliff water back-wash. That’s a horrendously dangerous place to be, even on the calmest day, and it’s obvious this poet hasn’t been there because the language is so derivative, self-conscious and manipulative.

    It’s “exquisite,” in other words. It’s written for literary friends and to hood-wink the hoipoloy.

    “Seal sports”–adjective and noun or noun and verb? Lazy language, literary stuff. And the seals don’t “sport” in such conditions, and if they do put in an appearance they just look at you with ravishing disdain and then disappear.

    They sport sometimes in still water clambering on or off the rocks to sun themselves, but mostly in zoos.

    “Spray-whited?” Have you ever seen a cliff spray whited? And if you haven’t but have a good imagination and ear, would you make this choice? Does the amateurish little -ed flourish make the water stick more convincingly to the sheer face of the cliff?

    “Black fur-hood?” This is a ridiculous piece of literary fluffery. Real seals in the ocean are naked–that’s why they’re lithe, that’s why they’re lovers. Seal fur is what you find in dry shops far from the sea. Fur hoods are for avenues, and not black either like the seals in your Life Magazine or National Geographic.

    “Making choices.” That’s what my acting teacher insisted we must do, and by doing so commit ourselves to excellence. This passage is a cop out, pure summerstock schtick!.

    The absurd affectation of it, the lyrical intensity of the homero-celtic bard who just can’t help it because the gods are pressing in so hard from every direction and what can you do but name them? You hear voices and the voices must be named so the gods will leave you alone. It’s their poem–they love you so much they won’t leave you alone!

    What a joke, what pretension. And let’s not even think about “eyes of Picasso,” about what sort of demon might have been possessing Pound there, and I don’t mean Pablo Picasso!

    And Lir… lithe daughter of Ocean? You’d have to be Ezra Pound to think you could get away with that, or a disciple or a graduate student. We’re not Greeks or Romans or Irish Republicans or English Public School boys fighting Victoria’s little wars all over the Empire with the Latin gods in our pockets. We’re just American Masterpiece Theatre intellectuals, that’s all, and we talk about Yeats, Pound and Eliot because they’re our gods. And if we admitted we weren’t always convinced by them or that sometimes they were bad? I mean, what better way to look, perish the thought, uninformed, uncritical?

    Which was a major part of the ploy of the one of these three who was the least gifted, the most self-absorbed, and by far the most influential!

    In these lines the emperor’s stark naked.

    Christopher

  • On June 25, 2009 at 9:03 pm Latino Poetry Review wrote:

    One of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 9:10 pm Don Share wrote:

    Mine, too!

  • On June 25, 2009 at 9:13 pm Don Share wrote:

    I was just being silly. If anyone’s entitled to say Ah, it was E.D. And maybe Allen Ginsberg.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 9:21 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Wow, the most public and the most private of all poets, Ah, the Sea indeed!

  • On June 25, 2009 at 9:23 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    And I forgot to say Sea sizzles.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 9:31 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Don’t nobody mess with DT when I’M sober and/or conscious, by Golly! And that goes for WS, WB, JK, ED, RJ, EEC and WBY too!

    Watch your P’s and Q’s.

    (I’ll leave EAP & JA to TB and MR).

  • On June 25, 2009 at 9:32 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Damn! That’s almost like poem, ain’t it?

  • On June 25, 2009 at 9:34 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Hey…where’d my ‘a’ go?

  • On June 25, 2009 at 10:31 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Hey…
    where’d
    my
    e
    go?

  • On June 26, 2009 at 6:17 am thomas brady wrote:

    Christopher,

    Pound has hoodwinked many. You gave that passage more thought than it deserves. A ‘sporting’ seal with his cute little hood of fur, who is also Lir’s daughter. It’s undergraduate hack-work, but it’s praised, not for what it actually is, but for its manifesto-ism of modernism: ‘Rrrr! ’tis pity we can only experience the classics in fragments thru our moderrrrn eyes!’ One can see this pathos in Robert Lowell (who camped on New Critic and Princeton Workshop founder Allen Tate’s lawn in Tennessee, when Tate was hosting the Modernist ambassador, Ford Madox Ford) when he tried, sadly, to write like Milton.

    When the scales eventually fall from our ‘modern’ eyes, and we see the crude affectation of the Pound school for what it was–not ‘new,’ or even topical, but rather the imitative stinkery of a drunken bookworm unable to write two metrical lines in sequence, a boorish incompetence passed off as ‘modernist’ significance, we shall wonder why we were so anxious to believe this fairy tale.

    Thomas

  • On June 26, 2009 at 8:04 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    The great Chilean poet Gonzalo Rojas (born 1917 and going strong) demolishes Thomas Brady on Pound. My translation: the book is From the Lightning, Green Integer, 2008).

    Blog constraints may play slight havoc with some long-line line-breaks.

    DON’T PLAGIARIZE POUND

    Don’t plagiarize Pound, don’t plagiarize Ezra the marvellous
    plagiarist; let him write his mass in Persian, in Aramaic, in Sanskrit,
    with his half-learned Chinese, his translucent Greek
    from the dictionary, his scraps of Latin, his blurred
    freehand Mediterranean, his ninety-year-old artifice
    of making and remaking till gropingly arriving at the grand Palimpest of the One;
    do not judge him by the fragmentation; he had to put the atoms together,
    weave them, from visible to invisible, in the fleeting warp
    and the unmoving cords; let him go free
    to see in his blindness, to see once more, because that’s the verb: to see,
    and that the Spirit, the unattained
    and burning, what we truly love
    and what loves us, if we are Son of Man
    and of Woman, the innumerable at the depth of the unnameable;
    no, you new half-Gods
    of language without Logos, of hysteria, apprentices
    of the original portent, don’t rob the sun
    of its shadow, think of the Canto
    that opens as it closes with germination, make yourselves into air,
    a man of air like old Ez, who always walked in danger, leap intrepid
    from the vowels to the stars, the bow
    of contradiction bent to all velocities of the possible, air and more air
    now and forever, before
    and after the ultraviolet
    of the simultaneous
    explosion, instantaneous
    spin, because this blinking world will bleed,
    will leap from its mortal axis, and goodbye
    fecund traditions of marble and light, and arrogance; laugh at Ezra
    and his wrinkles, laugh from now to then, but don’t steal from him; laugh, weightless
    generations, going and coming like dust, pullulating
    intellectuals, laugh and laugh at Pound
    with his Tower of Babel on his back like a warning of that Other
    who came with his tongue;
    the Canto,
    O men of little faith, think of the Canto.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 8:35 pm thomas brady wrote:

    John,

    So Mr. Rojas believes that Ezra “had to put the atoms together…?” And he puts this in a poem? And this proves…what? That one can say any ridiculous thing in a poem, and that if one has a reputation as a ‘great poet,’ someone might publish it and someone might read it? (shrug)

    Thomas

  • On June 26, 2009 at 9:01 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    “It is a heap of broken, context-free toys that a grown-up is trying to want because they are what s/he has.”

    That’s Jamey Hecht on his eloquent Blog, ‘Poetry, Politics, Collapse. Fiddling while Rome burns, At least there’s music…’ URL cited just above.

    Thanks for that, Jamey–and please do say more here too.

    Also thanks to John Oliver Simon for the Gonzalo Rojas translation. What a scintillating opening: “Don’t plagiarize Pound, don’t plagiarize Ezra the marvellous / plagiarist.” I’d love to see the Spanish that launched that one, John. I bet it’s not nearly so good!

    And just to say that anybody who has taught Ezra Pound to eager young students or budding poets, particularly abroad in those places where America is still considered risqué, will know the irresistable pull of his glamor. Any broad stroke literary-historical presentation can fly on the backs of the Modernists, because they so brilliantly constructed their own publicity, inventing along the way both the myths and the standards by which they would be judged, and by extension the market. Because that pull is also an undertow, of course, and it’s been rolling American poetry underwater for so long we’re starting to breathe water.

    Doctors, I believe, call that drowning.

    My destruction of those famous lines from Canto II just above can also be seen as an endorsement of them, of course it can–as Jamey Hecht points out about the blogger ‘Freewill Applicator’s’ “less-than-enthusiastic” review of the issue of POETRY Magazine I just received in my mailbox yesterday (!). Apparently, F. Applicator actually LIKED the lines by Nada Gordon in question, and you know, so do I! I like the lines: ” the baby angora unicorn /and Hitler stay warm on a cold night.”

    But that may also be because like everybody else here in Thailand I’m mourning Michael Jackson. It’s all so truly transcendent and odd.

    But we Americans have an obligation to reassess our own myths and to redefine our standards. And I don’t mean by that to re-evaluate the life of Michael Jackson, to weigh up the pros and cons and make an aesthetic decision here, a moral one there. I mean to look at the way his imagery evolved just like Ezra Pounds did, precisely just like that, and to disentangle what was just genius show business from what was profound.

    This thread is about the line and what’s real. I think we need to make some distinctions between the poetry show and the poetry while we’re still alive, and not just wait for posterity.

    Christopher

  • On June 26, 2009 at 9:15 pm Don Share wrote:

    Thanks, Christopher! To be clear, it’s Hoagland’s lines not Gordon’s that Stan Apps criticizes, as is his right. A very good discussion on his blog, so check it out – read the comments, too, which are also useful. It’ll be good to hear from more folks who actually have the issue in front of them now that it’s out.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 9:19 pm michael robbins wrote:

    It’s transcendently amusing that certain folk believe anything that’s been said here even begins to touch Pound (or Ashbery for that matter). We shrug, & return to our reading.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 9:42 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Good, Don. I understand that now. But it’s interesting that even Jamey Hecht was surprised when Stan Apps made it clear to him in a personal communication that he, Mr Applicator, actually liked the Nada Gordon.

    You just can’t imagine what it was like to have received this particular issue in Thailand, Don. I started on it last night, and I simply didn’t know where to look. And of course the irony in that very English (U.K.) expression is that if you did catch somebody’s eye in the middle of the shock you might reveal the fact that you actually liked smut!

    Read that as my joke, Don–for me the jury’s still very much out on this issue. I shall sit down with it again this evening and see where we’re at.

    And as I said in another context yesterday, God bless Ruth Lilly and Harriet!

    Christopher

  • On June 26, 2009 at 9:56 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Michael,
    I’ve never done this before and probably won’t do it again, but I’m going to repost something I wrote to you a few days ago that you dismissed as adolescent. I think you might want to reconsider it.

    Everything you say reminds me of bound feet.

    How beautiful the gait in the cool imperial household, how delicately refined, porcelain movements behind the screen, willow shelter, ancient blue, the perfect nuanced white caught forever on a limpid plate.

    Worth studying in the study, worth having all that free time and deep thought to settle into late at night. Armchaired.

    Worth the pain, the cruel mess of toes crushed into a tiny, shrieking sausage.

    Worth the light girl lost, worth the lost skip.

    Christopher

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:32 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    would fit well into small notebook

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:33 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Yes, bound feet were exactly like that in China, Michael. Such a beautiful world grew up around them, but it was still a terrible tragedy for the girls. But the hard part is to grasp the corresponding tragedy of the men who came to idealize crippled girls.

    Follow through a bit what’s being said, Michael–give new arguments a chance. Thomas Brady writes such an eloquent critique of John Ashbery, one which can only exist because he also loves him, which he freely admits. I’ve just said more or less the same thing about the Canto II passage I critiqued so hard. So it’s not simple.

    For you ideas are always about where you stand, Michael. But there’s another level of ideas which begins to address the more complicated issue of where we stand, and if we’re really good and hang in there, even down on our knees on the cold stone floor sometimes, maybe even in a hairshirt, we may get a glimpse of where it stands.

    Christopher

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:33 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    egg noodles?

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:34 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Chariots of the Poetry Gods?

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:35 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Bug soup? possibly

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:36 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    analyze the word “tourniquet” in 70,000 words

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:37 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    I ask myself, am I an expert?

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:38 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    stay tuned for more droolism

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:39 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    my name is actually Gerard

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:41 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    with the dead fish

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:43 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    sorry, way too obvious
    sorry, way too obvious
    sorry, way too obvious
    sorry, way too obvious
    sorry, way too obvious
    sorry, way too obvious
    sorry, way too obvious
    sorry, way too obvious
    sorry, way too obvious
    sorry, way too obvious
    sorry, way too obvious
    sorry, way too obvious

    sorry, way too obvious
    sorry, way too obvious

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:46 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Can you give us the exact dilution formula? please?
    20% total universality
    5% throw
    75% dice ?

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:48 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    the word is “transcenduntly”, Robbins. spelling, man. play havoc!

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:50 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    enough already with the faux humble, OK, Chief? this ain’t Chicago

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:52 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    slurp, slurp! Gnostic, man! Far OUT!

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:53 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    spell-check, Miriam

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:56 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    You mean “Spiderman”, right?

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:59 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    God, that stinks.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 11:01 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    You live in an area.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 11:03 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    especially during periods of deep sleep.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 11:05 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    “Often I am permitted -”

    kills it right there

  • On June 26, 2009 at 11:07 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    all I can say is – “whoopee”. “Whoopee”, period.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 11:19 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    No, Thomas – make that 700,000.

  • On June 27, 2009 at 12:11 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    No, slow down, Henry, don’t rush to conclusions. It’s not les petits morts, it’s la petite mort!

  • On June 28, 2009 at 12:18 am Lilac wrote:

    92 posts later….arrived to say that this wasn’t it either. I was looking for something meaningful here.

    You can’t be serious. Is this all you have to think about in June? No weather or bright bugs? Nostalgic spasms even?

    Sheesh.

  • On June 29, 2009 at 9:51 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Michael Robbins said:

    “I’ve always thought this poem is terrible.”

    Michael:

    ‘Do not go gentle…” is probably the finest villanelle ever written in English. (I’m sure you know this… I did detect a little mischievous sarcasm back there, didn’t I?)

    Nevertheless, do you think any of us could do any better?

    (money/mouth, proof/pudding and all that rot.)

    :-)

  • On June 29, 2009 at 10:00 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    And, to the point of Don’s post… not one bad line!

    The line’s for real.

  • On June 30, 2009 at 8:50 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Lines and Tygers and…

    bears. Oh, My!

  • On July 8, 2009 at 11:24 pm duane sosseur wrote:

    somewhere, someone somehow
    could be the real thing that I need
    somewhere, someone somehow
    could be the smart and sexy woman for me, aw me
    somewhere, someone somehow, someway
    up in the sky, I don’t know why but she’s comin my way
    could be tonight, or even today
    somewhere, someone somehow
    she’s callin my name….out loud…
    and I can hear it, through the crowd
    she’s waiting for me
    and yes I can see
    her there
    somewhere, somehow

    “Somewhere, Someone Somehow”

    ……….

    …another one of my poems, for real…
    ..duane

  • On July 13, 2009 at 10:18 am duane sosseur wrote:

    I’m shocked and hurt that my stuffs not good enough for poetry magazine. All my work is for nothing


Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, June 24th, 2009 by Don Share.