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Hayden Carruth (1921-2008)

By Joel Brouwer

carruthhayden

Last summer, I was asked to write something about Hayden Carruth, and I did, but the folks who had asked me to write the piece never published it. Carruth died in September of last year. He had been an idiosyncratic but pervasive force in American poetry — both as a writer of poems and a critic of poetry — for more than fifty years. Here is a link to his obituary in the New York Times. And below is the appreciation I wrote last summer. It’s lazy of me, recycling old material here, but I’m grateful to have the opportunity to offer this piece for your consideration. Hopefully it will both garner Carruth some new fans and spark good memories for old ones.

It’s an ancient story: I went to graduate school because I thought I was smart, and immediately discovered how stupid I was. Among the many indicators of my ignorance, one stood out: Hayden Carruth’s Collected Shorter Poems, which had just won the 1992 National Book Critics Circle award for poetry. I went to school at Syracuse, from whose faculty Carruth had only recently retired, and he retained the status of a household god in those parts. He is older now, nearing ninety, and I doubt he does much socializing. But those fifteen years ago, he would be installed in a corner at parties, offered tidbits and drink, doted upon and feared. I tended toward the fear end of the spectrum. I never spoke to him. But I read his poems.

I wish I could go back and watch that kid I was reading those poems and turning pale and clammy as the winter skies of upstate New York. For starters, there were so many of them: two hundred or so, from thirteen books, written over more than forty years. Then the chilling realization that there had to be even more somewhere, since these were only the “shorter” poems. (Copper Canyon published a companion Collected Longer Poems in 1993.) And then there was the extraordinary diversity of the poems themselves. Formally, it seemed Carruth could pull off anything. There were poems in all manner of meters, rhyme schemes, stanza patterns, and received forms, some of which I recognized, others I knew I should know but didn’t, and not a few I suspected had simply been invented by Carruth himself. But Carruth was not a strict formalist, or not exclusively; there were also poems that scattered language across the page, using white space for pacing, and poems in very free verse, some with lines of two or three syllables, some with lines as gigantic and manic as Ginsberg’s, and every imaginable variation in-between. For a young writer who hadn’t (hasn’t) yet figured out how to do even one thing well, this apparition that could do at least a dozen things brilliantly was terrifying.

Beyond the remarkable how of the poems—the solidity and variety of their constructions—there was also the what to be reckoned with. I’d read a poem like “Marshall Washer”–a deeply felt, sternly authoritative account of Carruth’s friendship with his farmer neighbor in rural Vermont, full of insight and information about spreading manure, raising cows, and building fences–and think I had a bead on Carruth’s tone and concerns as a poet. But then some pages later I’d come across translations of short lyrics by Nerval and Lamartine, and be forced to expand my sense of what he was up to. Then there were pitch-perfect and hilarious dramatic monologues in the voices of working-class rural New Englanders trying to keep body and soul together on their dying farms and in their dying mill towns. Then paeans to classical Chinese poets. Caustic political poems about Vietnam, nuclear weapons, and industrial pollution. Erudite lyric flights with titles like “Almanach du Printemps Vivarois” and “Loneliness: An Outburst in Hexasyllables.” Ecstatically ragged analyses and recapitulations of obscure old jazz recordings (“When Dickenson came on in it was all established, / no guessing, and he started with a blur / as usual, smears, brays – Christ / the dirtiest noise imaginable / belches, farts / curses / but it was music . . .” (“Paragraphs”)). Nature poems, love poems, political poems, lyrical poems, narrative poems, dramatic poems, funny poems, serious poems, angry poems, sad poems, joyful poems. The poet seemed at ease with Chinese, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Indian, French, Italian, German, and English literatures. He also knew how to bale hay. He was witty and scholarly, but utterly allergic to bullshit and pretense. Who was this guy? When I came to “A Little Old Funky Homeric Blues for Herm,” and after much study realized what I was looking at—the 2,700-year-old Homeric hymn to Hermes, recast in jazz slang (“Knock off that hincty blowing, you Megarians, / I got a new beat, mellow and melic, like / warm, man. I sing of heisty Herm”)— my last screw came loose. Was such an exercise supremely nerdy? Sure. Was I nevertheless supremely jealous of the poet’s knowledge, and wholly won over by his humor? Absolutely.

The equal measures of anxiety and enjoyment I felt as I came to understand the depth of Carruth’s technical skill and vastness of his frame of reference ensured I would return to his Collected Shorter Poems again and again as I struggled to bring together my own first book of poems. But these years later, taking the book down from the shelf, it’s not so much the how or what that strikes me as the why. When I think about why these poems were written—what it was that hurt Carruth into poetry, to borrow Auden’s phrase—I realize that reading them, I never feel the author is writing to be admired, or to fulfill or defy expectations, or to dazzle or baffle or flatter or decree. Carruth never panders; not to himself, and not to us. Galway Kinnell’s blurb on the back of the book gets it right: “This is not a man who sits down to ‘write a poem’; rather, some burden of understanding and feeling, some need to know, forces his poems into being.” And T. S. Eliot, describing his “Impersonal” theory of poetry in “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” makes the point even more clearly, in terms which seem to me to describe Carruth’s achievement perfectly:

“There are many people who appreciate the expression of sincere emotion in verse, and there is a smaller number of people who can appreciate technical excellence. But very few know when there is expression of significant emotion, emotion which has its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet. The emotion of art is impersonal. And the poet cannot reach this impersonality without surrendering himself wholly to the work to be done. And he is not likely to know what is to be done unless he lives in what is not merely the present, but the present moment of the past, unless he is conscious, not of what is dead, but of what is already living.”

It’s hard to learn how to write poems, and it’s hard to decide what to write them about. It’s hardest of all, though, to discover (or create) a good reason to write them at all. I don’t think I realized when I read Carruth’s Collected Shorter Poems in 1992 that the most crucial lesson he had to offer me was the necessity of confronting that fearful task directly and continuously, with honesty and integrity. If I’ve begun to understand that lesson in the years since, it’s in no small part thanks to the present moment of the past which lives in that book’s pages.

– JULY, 2008

Comments (255)

  • On July 17, 2009 at 10:26 am Joel Brouwer wrote:

    Here, a bonus, one of my favorite Carruth poems. (You can hear a recording of him reading it on the Poets.org web site.)

    Of Distress Being Humiliated by the Classical Chinese Poets

    Masters, the mock orange is blooming in Syracuse without scent, having been bred by patient horticulturalists
    To make this greater display at the expense of fragrance.
    But I miss the jasmine of my back-country home.
    Your language has no tenses, which is why your poems can never be translated whole into English;
    Your minds are the minds of men who feel and imagine without time.
    The serenity of the present, the repose of my eyes in the cool whiteness of sterile flowers.
    Even now the headsman with his great curved blade and rank odor is stalking the byways for some of you.
    When everything happens at once, no conflicts can occur.
    Reality is an impasse. Tell me again
    How the white heron rises from among the reeds and flies forever across the nacreous river at twilight
    Toward the distant islands.

  • On July 17, 2009 at 1:01 pm Joseph Duemer wrote:

    Carruth has been a constant touchstone for me since the 1970s when I first read his poems. I return to them all the time, for the reasons you so eloquently elaborate above. Carruth’s work is full or real sentiment, but he is almost never sentimental — that technical skill works as a sort of filter against the trivial. Another thing: Even my beginning poetry students understand much (not all) of what this awesomely learned and technically skilled poet has written. He speaks to them as well as to those who catch the Greek and French references.

  • On July 17, 2009 at 2:22 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Oh, poop, this is all wrong.

    Poetry shouldn’t be some ‘impersonal’ mission to make us feel intimidated and stupid.

    Is this the sort of blurby hyper-praise we’re supposed to dole out as we genuflect our way into the academic priesthood?

    ‘Of Distress Being Humiliated…’

    Will I be whipped if I say I’m not impressed by its disjointed prose and its scattered utterances of half-truth on the state of reality and tense and time?

    I assume this poem is an ’11′ on a scale of 10. What’s “Ode On A Grecian Urn,” then?

    If Carruth wounds me with 11 lashes, does Keats murder me with a thousand?

  • On July 17, 2009 at 4:09 pm Tim Upperton wrote:

    As is your wont, Thomas Brady, you put up a straw-man that bears no resemblance to what the poster actually said, and attack it with ferocity. Why do you do that?

  • On July 17, 2009 at 5:21 pm Joseph Duemer wrote:

    Have you read even the Selected Shorter Poems? The Collected Longer Poems? Individual books? Any of a hundred essays Carruth wrote about poetry, philosophy, jazz? In other words, do you know what the hell you’re talking about? The fact that you are “not impressed” is completely irrelevant — you’re not qualified to be impressed.

  • On July 17, 2009 at 6:12 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    Have you read even the Selected Shorter Poems? The Collected Longer Poems? Individual books? Any of a hundred essays Carruth wrote about poetry, philosophy, jazz? In other words, do you know what the hell you’re talking about? The fact that you are “not impressed” is completely irrelevant — you’re not qualified to be impressed.

    Not qualified? Not qualified? This kind of arrogant condescending attitude is why so many people are turned off and away from poetry—

    Only admirers of X are qualified to judge one of X’s poems, it seems: one must first read X’s Collected and sign an affidavit affirming so, in order to have an opinion about any single poem by him—

    If readers are expected to pass some kind of test and “qualify” before they have the right to make choices among poets, no wonder the audience for poetry is ever-diminishing . . .

    At some point in the past I had read enough poems by Carruth to know I didn’t want to read any more by him, and I haven’t—and I won’t—

    and if that makes my opinion irrelevant,

    most people consider poetry irrelevant, and their dislike and or lack of interest

    is due in no small measure to the snobbish customs officials who police entry to it—

  • On July 17, 2009 at 6:41 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    and that anthology he edited is a perfect example of arrogance and elitist condescension—

    he had the chance to create a low-priced (Bantam mass paperback) alternative to the costly Norton Modern,

    and he flubbed it bigtime—

    he could have chosen the famous canonical poems by the big names,

    he could have created an anthol of standards which

    teachers (I was one of them) could have assigned their students

    in lieu of the egregious Norton edited by the two Irish guys—

    Carruth could have saved hundreds of thousands of students from having to buy that overpriced monstros,

    he could have put together a “Modern” which would have been affordable

    not only to cash-strapped students but to

    general public readers who might

    have appreciated a low-priced handy
    pocketsized compendium of the best Modern poems,

    but no,

    Carruth had to smarm the editing and eccentricize his selection——

    leaving most teachers with no option but the Norton—

    “The Voice that is Great Within Us”—

    huh . . .

    what an arro

  • On July 17, 2009 at 7:14 pm Joseph Duemer wrote:

    Well, Bill, I’ve read most of your books and I’m qualified to say that I’ll keep reading them despite the rediculousness of this comment. Unlike the original commenter, you have read enough of Carruth’s poems to decide you don’t need to read any more of them; that commenter gave every impression of having only read the one poem posted here. While I was reading Carruth’s work back in the 1970s, I was also reading yours. Had I seen one poem of yours in a magazine, say, and dismissed your work out of hand as self-involved and coyly surrealistic, I would have missed the pleasures and challenges of the rest of your work. I’m glad I persisted. Surely you believe in giving a poet a chance? Reading more than one poem? You obviously want your poems read or you wouldn’t publish them in books or put them on the internet. Please note that I asked the commenter whether he had read “any” of those things I listed, by the way: I did not demand he read them all before offering an opinion. All I asked was that he come up to a kind of minimum standard of competence.

    It is not me who is arrogant here. Now, you want to cut the bluster and have a conversation about Carruth and about the anthology he edited, which has its faults certainly, but which I have used to good effect with students.

  • On July 17, 2009 at 7:15 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Well, Bill. I suspect you are joking. But sometimes it’s hard to tell when you are or you aren’t. So in case you aren’t, that last comment does kind of beg the question:

    When will your more affordable anthology be done?

    You will probably make some good royalties from it.

    Kent

  • On July 18, 2009 at 8:08 am Bill Knott wrote:

    if you promise to stop hitting me with your billyclub (and your collinsclub), officer,

    i’ll confess: i didn’t read Carruth’s Collected, nor his Selected, which according to you means i am not qualified to have an opinion about any of his poems . . .

    but what about Jahan Ramazani: is he qualified to exclude Carruth from the Norton Modern/Contemporary?

    and J.D. McClatchy: did he qualify by reading Carruth’s Selected/Collected before unselecting him for the Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry,

    not to mention Helen Vendler’s leaving Carruth out of the Harvard Book of Contemporary American Poetry—

    canonizing anthologists like these and others have relegated Carruth to his also-ran status—

    are they “qualified” to do so?

  • On July 18, 2009 at 8:22 am Joel Brouwer wrote:

    Bill Knott! You owe me $200, man! But I bet you’ve forgotten all about that. It was a long time ago. You know what? Keep it.

    Anyways, you can like Carruth’s poems or not, but he’s way down the list–not as far down as you, but few are–of people I’d accuse of “elitist condescension.” He lived out in the middle of nowhere and went to town only when absolutely necessary to make a buck.

    Your argument that Carruth somehow sold out by choosing poems he admired for The Voice That Is Reasonably Good Within Us instead of stocking it with chestnuts is flat goofy. True: He didn’t include “Sunday Morning” or “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” and did include “Sea Surface Full of Clouds” and “No Possum, No Sop, No Taters.” This makes the anthology unusable in a classroom? You’ve got to update your lecture notes every decade or so anyway, you know. Every anthology has its idiosyncrasies and errors in judgment, and this one’s no different–way too much cummings, not enough Hughes, the boneheaded omission of St. Geraud–but come on, it’s pretty good.

    Ooh. An anthology fight. These are always fun.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 8:29 am Joel Brouwer wrote:

    Bill Knott! We were both typing on this thread at the same time. Good morning! How is your weather? It’s already a hundred and forty degrees here in Alabama. I’m wearing a straw hat and that’s it. What are you wearing? I’m probably not supposed to ask that.

    OK, now what exactly is your position on elitist condescension, Bill, are you fer or agin it? B/c it seemed like a bad thing yesterday when you accused Carruth of it, but now you point to the kanon kops who control the anthologies and say that because they think Carruth’s beneath notice he must be.

    Huh?

  • On July 18, 2009 at 9:09 am Henry Gould wrote:

    I really like the Carruth poem offered as an example by JB. Along with that ineffable ending passage, I like these lines especially :

    “The serenity of the present, the repose of my eyes in the cool whiteness of sterile flowers.
    Even now the headsman with his great curved blade and rank odor is stalking the byways for some of you.”

    The mixture of tones of calm, dread, deadpan irony, absurdity, politics… all at once… this is JAZZ poetry.

    All the who’s-who whatsit anthology status blah-blah pecking-order comparisons commentary here seems otherwise irrelevant to me.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 9:12 am Joel Brouwer wrote:

    Yup. One of my favorite Carruth books is Asphalt Georgics. You don’t have to have read Virgil’s Georgics to find Carruth’s poems in that book a total hoot and formally scintillating to boot. Which is a good thing, because I haven’t!

  • On July 18, 2009 at 9:15 am Joel Brouwer wrote:

    Right on. When everything happens at once, no conflicts can occur. A condition to aspire to.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 9:16 am Joel Brouwer wrote:

    Here’s the link to the audio clip:

    http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19777

  • On July 18, 2009 at 9:40 am Joseph Duemer wrote:

    You don’t know me, Bill. You don’t know me even though years ago you asked for my help getting your poems on the internet. You were tired, you said, of the elitist crap you had to take from BOA Editions (The Quicken Tree) and Farrar, Strauss and Giroux (The Unsubscriber) and wanted to go it alone online. Anyway, you don’t know me or you wouldn’t accuse me of beating you — something of an over-reaction, no? — with a “collinsclub.” Apparently, we both agree that Billy Collins is not the final arbiter of quality in poetry. That is, he is in some sense, ah, unqualified. Or are you against making literary judgments altogether? Apparently not in the Case of Carruth Famous Anthology, which I think is one of Connan Doyle’s lost Sherlock Holmes stories. Whatever, I’d need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what you are actually arguing for here.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 9:55 am John Oliver Simon wrote:

    As a translator, I’m grateful for the Hayden Carruth poem upthread because it takes off from, and then transcends, the helplessness of translation.

    The mock orange in the opening line is wry acknowledgment of the send-up occasion. Syracuse is an ideal topos with its double classic and upstate location (“The Boys From…). Squarely, not without tongue in cheek, Carruth takes up the implications of a world viewed, through the filter of the Chinese, without tenses, in which the poet finds himself synchronous and simultaneous with the boys from Tang, while the guy with the scythe stalks us all. I’m compressed.

    Over the busy years, for no particular reason, I never gave Carruth much of a reading, and now he’s gone. Our loss. Appropriate tribute. Grand poem.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 10:40 am Iolanthe wrote:

    I disagree with you on two counts. As a teenager in the 70s just beginning to learn about modern poetry, I picked up The Voice That is Great Within Us at Waldenbooks and was introduced to so many good poets. It was a great launching-off point for me. Secondly, as a college student, I adored all my Norton Anthologies, including the poetry one. The price was negligible compared to what students majoring in the sciences paid for their calculus and chemistry tomes. I’m sorry as a teacher you felt hemmed-in by the choices around you, but as a student just beginning to learn about poetry, almost any book with a wide selection of poetry was manna from Heaven.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 12:46 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    i guess if you teach at a rich kids’ school, it don’t matter,

    but i know the pennysqueezed students in my Modern Poetry class at Emerson College during the 1980s and 90s

    would have preferred a lowcost alternative to the fatcat Norton,

    and Carruth’s corrupt anthol could have provided such——

    i guess it didn’t matter to him either,

    that poor students (and general public readers) would have been grateful

    for a popular-priced anthol of the ModPo canon—

  • On July 18, 2009 at 1:00 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    and given the current economic fix,

    there are probably many students today (and general public readers too, don’t forget them) who would like

    to have a lowcost anthol of the standard Moderns,

    instead of being stuck with the overpriced textbooky anthols that are the only thing available . . .

  • On July 18, 2009 at 1:18 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    Carruth’s attitude was (it’s clear in his intro),

    “Well, they can get the Modern standards, the canon, elsewhere: so I’ll do these off-the-wall selections, and won’t it be cool!”

    —thereby ensuring his Bantam paperback priced 5.95

    would be no competition for the 20-30-40 buck Norton—

    money money money—

    i hope he at least got a kickback—

  • On July 18, 2009 at 1:18 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Blame the editor for antho costs? There must have bean counters at Bantam in 1970 who made decisions Carruth had to live with in the service of getting the poetry out there.

    About that same time (1969), Richard Krech and I, under the imprint of Jolly Roger Press, printed a pirate edition of Jack Spicer’s masterpiece, The Holy Grail, as the Blaser/ Black Sparrow tome was taking its own sweet time in appearing and everything Spicer was out of print. Our little book (8 1/2 x 11, three staples, sevn colors of paper) bore the notation that “anyone caught selling this book will be drawn and quartered.”

    Shortly after we ran up that pirate flag, there was a famous mussel feast at Muir Beach to welcome Gary Snyder back from Japan. An older gentleman (I was 27) beckoned me over and interrogated me about my motives for printing the illicit Spicer. Apparently my radical purity convinced him, because he let me go on my way. Somebody told me later that was Donald Allen.

    That is what we mean by doing poetry for love, O weightless blatherers of the red thumb down.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 1:41 pm Joseph Duemer wrote:

    I love that book, too. The way Carruth gets the voices in the monologues out of those syllabic stanzas is really astonishing.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 1:48 pm Joseph Duemer wrote:

    Really, Kent must be right — this must be a joke. Carruth “corrupt” for making (slightly) unusual selections in his anthology? Yeah, that’s right — a guy who lived on nothing most of his life cashed in on that cheap anthology. Do you even read what you type, Bill?

  • On July 18, 2009 at 2:38 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    “There must have bean counters at Bantam in 1970 who made decisions Carruth had to live with. . .”

    yeah, Simon, the bean counters made him choose Stevens’ “Sea Surface Full of Clouds” instead of “Sunday Morning”—

    go read his Intro where he brags about deliberately choosing to not include the famous canonical poems—

    thereby, as i repeat, ensuring the Norton would have no popular-priced rival—

    whaddaya you guys think here, if you shill for the Norton, they’ll put you in it? it didn’t work for him, despite all the money he made for them . . .

  • On July 18, 2009 at 2:52 pm Joel Brouwer wrote:

    Just a point of information: Spicer’s in The Voice That is Great w/in Us.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 2:55 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    “(slightly) unusual selections”—

    slightly unusual? slightly? you’re the one that’s gotta be joking—

    you’re editing the only popular-priced anthology of Modern American Poetry on the market

    (Oscar Williams’ valiant efforts being out of print),

    and you don’t include “Sunday Morning”?

    not to mention all the other famous poems which most readers (and teachers/students) want to have available

    at a reasonable cost . . .

  • On July 18, 2009 at 3:03 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    “Sea Surface Full Of Clouds” is one heck of a poem. And good on Carruth for including Spicer, which was not the slam-dunk call in 1970 it would be today.

    I think we get your theory, Bill: Carruth was toadying to Norton by doing an idiosyncratic selection. I find it more credible that he was doing it for love.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 3:09 pm Joel Brouwer wrote:

    Bill Knott! Just so’s I’m clear. It is your contention that Carruth chose slightly-less-canonical poems (I can’t quite get to calling his choices “off-the-wall”; they look fairly tame these years on) for TVTIGWU for three reasons. First, he was an elitist egomaniac. Second, choosing the poems he did as opposed to others somehow made him a lot of money. Third, he wanted to ensure that the anthology he’d edited would not be adopted by teachers for classroom use.

    Um, huh?

    I do hasten to grant you this: The textbook game is a RACKET. But it’s easily circumvented by a prof with some imagination. When I assign anthologies, I never ask students to buy the most recent 60 dollar editions. I have them buy the previous edition used, online. You can get copies of the perfectly serviceable (and canonical as all get out) Ellman 2nd Edition Norton Modern Poetry at Amazon for the low low price of one penny.

    I just found this conversation –

    http://theplumblineschool.blogspot.com/2009/03/voice-that-is-great-within-us.html

    – which seems germane.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 3:13 pm Joel Brouwer wrote:

    Hoo golly. Anyone who cares to check out the TOC of TVTIGWU can find it at the link below. Whether its choices are “(slightly) unusual” or utterly insane or somewhere in-between is prolly more a matter of opinion than fact.

    http://www.amazon.com/Voice-That-Great-Within-Twentieth/dp/0553262637/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1247947789&sr=1-1#reader

  • On July 18, 2009 at 3:54 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    i repeat: where is the lowcost alternative to the Norton Modern (and its overpriced clones)——

    all of you are defending the gouge-job Nortony textbooky anthols——

    i guess you know where your bread is buttered—

  • On July 18, 2009 at 4:32 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    it’s very simple: back then yay years ago Carruth could have created an anthol

    that would have essentially duplicated the Norton

    at one-third the price per copy—or less—

    and at least one generation of students and general public readers would have saved a lot of money with which

    who knows they might have even bought some of Carruth’s
    boring books (unlikely, but possible)—

    why he chose not to, you have your theories

    and i have mine—

  • On July 18, 2009 at 5:31 pm Joel Brouwer wrote:

    Bill Knott! I have for more than 20 yrs loved you despite/because of your molecular-level obstreperousness and will not stop no matter how bonkers you are/become so rail on, you crazy diamond.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 5:57 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    i speak out against greedy rapacious publishers,

    and in favor of lowcost popular-priced anthols to make poetry widely available to those on limited budgets,

    and you all call me crazy or think i’m joking—

    i realize this site is an ego dump for third-rate poets like you and me,

    but must we always be so selfish that we never take into account or consideration

    the needs of students and common readers???

    p.s. your ad-homineming me only proves your inability to refute me—

  • On July 18, 2009 at 6:13 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Yes.. but the “guy with the scythe”, in THIS particular poem, only stalks SOME of you. The line here is not just aimed toward allegorical, philosophical Death. It’s about the political Headman, the predator who stalks the truth-teller (Mandelstam, 1931 : “my blood is not the blood of a wolf – / only an equal will kill me”). In the chess match between Word & Power… all those Taoist retired poet-bureaucrats, in hiding, up in the mountains…

    The headman I’m thinking of today squirms around in Chechnya…

  • On July 18, 2009 at 6:26 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    i guess it’s a matter of class, of socioeconomic status, like most things in this society——

    if you’re middleclass comfortable with ample educational funding and an adequate allowance,

    then you don’t think about the prohibitive cost of anthologies and books,

    it doesn’t get you upset that there’s no lowcost alternative to the Norton and its clones,

    it doesn’t worry you because you can afford the Nortons—

    it doesn’t occur to you that there are many poorer than you,

    and that they might want a popular-priced anthology which would offer the same canonical content as the Norton, but at a lower expense—

    and if anyone says that such an financially-accessible anthology is needed, you heap scorn and ridicule on him

    for even suggesting the idea——

  • On July 18, 2009 at 6:31 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Let me get this straight. What Carruth SHOULD have done – back in the day, 40 yrs or so ago, when the Oscar Williams anthologies of Major American Poets (I agree, great anthologies) were still WIDELY in print, in very inexpensive Mentor editions – what Carruth SHOULD have done, was copy all the already widely-anthologized canonical modern poets into a NEW inexpensive edition (sort of like the Oscar Williams), so that now, 40 yrs later, we would have an inexpensive anthology available to students today?

    O-K…

    Bill, here’s a free 800 number you can call :
    1-800-OLD-POEM, where you can listen to the actual SPIRITS of DEAD POETS recite – LIVE, FROM THE GRAVE – their Collected Works! & it’s free! The only one missing is TS Eliot, unfortunately, who protected himself by copyright from both Oscar Williams & this 800 number (until 2156 AD).

  • On July 18, 2009 at 8:19 pm Joseph Duemer wrote:

    “and if anyone says that such an financially-accessible anthology is needed, you heap scorn and ridicule on him

    for even suggesting the idea——”

    No, that is not correct. No one here argued that a good inexpensive anthology is not needed. The scorn, such as it was, was directed at the idea that Hayden Carruth, who lived much of his life in real poverty and expressed great sympathy for the poor in his work, chose the poems for his anthology in bad faith, to curry favor with a powerful publisher. The claim is outrageous and deserving of scorn.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 8:28 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    Hayden’s anthol, be honest – is fantastically forward looking: in the sense that he knew what strands and lineages of poetry taste and fashion was flash in the pan, and what was timeless.

    When I read it; it made me see how some of one’s own strategizing on the issue of compiling a definitive collection of texts which would transend time and taste: in effect, look towards the period of history when all Americans could share and bond and bind the brave, brilliant, clear and true American ideals of eternal unchanging amazingness we have come to expect, as a people who have the oldest democracy in the history of civilization.

    The immediate, entertaining and ever-now’ness of the here and now that America has always been known for culturally; as the oldest civilization in the world in the dreamy sense of thinking we know best, is what defines Hayden’s choices on who to put in and who not to. That he choooses, X over Y and Y over X; speaks, I think, about the brave intelleginence that knew about what would best serve America, stand free and noble and do the right thing by ways of minorities. This I think is his most famous acheivement – to be bold and gallant in the selections he made; valiently facing the dangers he faced as a man choosing poems.

    One of my fave people.

    God Bless America.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 8:29 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    I guess I’m a little confused, Mr. Knott. I just pulled out my copy of ‘The Voice that is Great Within us’, which I had to buy for a University poetry class in 1971. The price is right on the front: $1.95.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 9:52 pm Joel Brouwer wrote:

    Yes, Gary, it was inexpensive, Bill Knott concedes that, but it was also defective, because it doesn’t have “Sunday Morning” in it. I regret to inform you that you were ripped off.

    God, I so understand now why I’ve avoided po-blogs, this shit’s CRACK.

    I’m logging off now to go splash around in my dune of golden Norton anthologies, Scrooge McDuck style.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 9:58 pm Michael James wrote:

    I have read selections from Whisky and Scrambled Eggs (or is it the reverse?) and knew I wanted to buy it but never did due to a money situation.

    I have read some of his essays.

    But I really adore Carruth for The Voice That Is Great Within us — this anthology blew my head off when I first read it and it took me years to grow it back. But once I did it was better shaped, had 20/30 vision (literally, my vision is 20/30 now, before I read that book my vision was 20/20 or less. I needed reading glasses).

    He is less pretentious than the usual “master poet” (as if one could master poetry) and he makes me smile. I don’t feel like rolling my eyes while reading any of his work. I never sigh in because I am bored or feel as if I “need” to read him for some reason.

    I like him. It’s a weird sort of like. I think he’d be a cool cat to sit around and talk about pretty random though intellectually stimulating subjects. Like if the people who have digital media players miss shining light onto the bottom of their CDs and watching the spectacle of color. Or if he knew when you boil a CD and turns rubbery you can stick razor blades in the edges, and when you let it dry it’ll turn hard again, blades stuck.

    And then you could talk about Angel Gonzalez and Neruda in the original text. Then talk about fermenting your own beer.

    That’s one cool guy.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 9:59 pm Joel Brouwer wrote:

    Come on you target for faraway laughter, come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!

  • On July 18, 2009 at 10:49 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Bill, you should start taking notes on what you say so that you can retroactively provide it with at least a flimsy veneer of coherence.

    I too dislike it, that stuff Carruth wrote. But to argue the ToC of his anthology is off-the-wall is just plain weird. Have you had a look at this fabled ToC? “Sea Surface Full of Clouds” isn’t even one of the odder Stevens choices on the anthology market.

    But when you start outlining the nefarious motives he had for choosing this completely mundane selection of poems, you start sounding a little bats. Not simply because the various motives you propose are mutually exclusive, but because you seem to truly imagine that Joel & the rest of yr interlocutors are in the bag for Norton—because they contend that Carruth’s Bantum is not totally wild!

    The truly strange attributions of careerist intention aren’t helping yr argument, such as it is: do you really imagine that anyone here thinks that arguing with you about this is increasing his chances of being included in a future edition of the Norton—or, hell, that anyone actually gives a shit about being included in it?

    I too love yr poems, Bill, but you could stand to make a bit more sense on forums like this. And yr posturing as an ignored third-rate poet has been hard to take since even before you had a book out of FSG. I mean what do you want, man? A spread in Time? Past Bill Knott-level recognition, there are only the Ashbery & Collins levels. Seems like a pretty snug niche to me, that one you fill so writhingly.

  • On July 19, 2009 at 5:47 am Bill Knott wrote:

    what the public needed then (and now) was a lowcost version of the Norton, for students and general readers—

    a public anthol, as it were—

    but Carruth opted for a personal private selection,

    neglecting ignoring the public’s need—

    unlike you i don’t applaud this selfish decision

    to indulge his private preference over the public’s:

    i consider that choice a corrupt one—

    I see what Carruth did with the anthol as a betrayal

    of his obligation to the public,

    and you see it as the act of a free individual,

    a poet proudly presenting his vision—

  • On July 19, 2009 at 6:16 am Bill Knott wrote:

    “yr posturing as an ignored third-rate poet”

    i see yr point, Robbins, mea culpa,

    so i’ll change my phrase in the post above to say this blog is an ego dump for third-rate poets like Bouwer and his chorus of yesmen, and other hacks like _____ and _______, not to mention __________.

    >>>>>

    (but you n me, MR, we’re not third-rate, man, we’re, we’re . . .)

  • On July 19, 2009 at 6:41 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    Hello Michael.

    I want to use some poems by a Michael Robbins, who has five at this link, and I am wondering if they are your own work please, mister Robbins?

    Thank you very much

  • On July 19, 2009 at 8:09 am Bill Knott wrote:

    i repeat: where is the popular-priced pocketsize paperback version of the Norton ModCon?

    —with all the major poets from Pound to Ashbery et al, and with all their most significant poems included—

    the one that costs 7.95 instead of the Norton’s extortionate 75.00—

    why doesn’t it exist?

    you can all throw your hands up and shout it’s not my fault, don’t blame me—

    i don’t see any of you offering any solutions to this problem,

    or even considering it to be a problem, for that matter—

    this is a malignacy afflicting the body politic of poetry, and you’re making jokes and insulting me ad hominem—

    why aren’t you all supporting a campaign to boycott the Norton ModCon and its equally gouge-priced clones—

    every poet who teaches should publically and loudly refuse to order the Norton ModCon (et al) for their classes,

    and use xerox/print-out course-packets instead—

    students should boycott poetry professors who assign overpriced anthols like the Norton ModCon—

    and where are the pirate pdfs of the Norton ModCon for students to download free—

    poetry to the people! (in case you hadn’t heard)—

    (and general readers, don’t forget them, though I know many of you are contemptuous of the public which buys the volumes on the poetrybook bestseller list that appears on this site)—

    instead of defending Carruth’s shameful irresponsibility in the past,

    why aren’t you demanding that something be done now, in the present,

    to change this oppressive situation?

    —and where are your ideas and suggestions for changing it?

  • On July 19, 2009 at 8:47 am Bill Knott wrote:

    the norton modcon is about 2000 pages,

    so it would take what, about 20 or so poet-teachers, they could form a consortium on a private online site,

    and assign their 200 or so students to scan about 10 pages apiece of the norton modcon and upload them onto the private site,

    where the teachers could collate all the 2000 scanned pages

    for free download by the students, or for laptop use in the classroom—

    why isn’t this being done?

    Maybe it is already being done, in private, secretly,

    and if so, bravo——

  • On July 19, 2009 at 9:09 am Bill Knott wrote:

    or, of course, a consortium of poet-teachers could create from scatch their own private-site online anthology and have their students access it for free—

    (i assume some are already doing this)

    the norton is obsolete—it needs to lie down and die—

    or else move to the net and offer free access/download to everybody—

  • On July 19, 2009 at 9:18 am Bill Knott wrote:

    any poet-teacher who makes their students buy the norton or other gouge anthols

    is a traitor to poetry——

    every poet-teacher should be creating (in conspiracy with her students) an online pirated anthology to use

    in lieu of the nortons

  • On July 19, 2009 at 10:08 am Joel Brouwer wrote:

    Bill,

    I apologize for my ad hominem attacks. I really do love you and I always have. I once witnessed you reading a book in the audience at a poetry reading. For that alone, sir, you would have earned my eternal admiration, were you not already in possession thereof.

    No one disagrees that there should be a good cheap anthology. As I stated above, such are easy to come by. Many poet-teachers (myself among them) assign earlier editions of anthologies. Students buy used copies of these via the “internet.” They can be had for less than the price of two packs of cigarettes (one if you buy your cigarettes in New York City). They are a little dogeared but the poems inside them still function within acceptable tolerances.

    If you prefer your textbooks even freer than that, there are lots of web sites through which teachers can cobble together virtual anthologies for their students, as well as a number of databases available at your local public or school library.

  • On July 19, 2009 at 10:25 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Henry:

    “Taoist bureaucrat” is an oxymoron, retired poet or not.

  • On July 19, 2009 at 12:06 pm Rich Villar wrote:

    Seriously? Harriet has red and green thumbs now? Wow.

    I have done my part by greenthumbing all of Bill Knott’s posts. I’m going to write some poems now.

  • On July 19, 2009 at 1:30 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    I have made my living as a poet-teacher since 1971, and have never used the Norton Anthology. Never owned a copy.

    Unlike Bill Knott, who took the travelled path to teaching in a college, I work at the roots, where poetry begins, with third through eighth-graders, most of them bilingual, first through California Poets In the Schools, then as a full-time teacher in a leaky portable, and now with Poetry Inside Out, a project of the Center for the Art of Translation in San Francisco.

    We find our texts online and also in dusty bookstores in León, Nicaragua, or the calle Donceles behind the cathedral in Mexico City, and we hand out our own poetry-pages from teachable poems by Neruda or Gabriela Mistral or Mariana Sansón, which we coach the kids to translate and thence write their own.

    Here’s one by fourth-grader Thamar León. It’s a knockoff on Argentine poet María Elena Walsh, who isn’t in the Norton either, “Con esta moneda,” the assignement is, what will you buy with this… Thamar wrote it bilingually, but I’ll just give the English:

    With This Quarter

    With this quarter
    I will buy
    a suitcase full of Mexican ruins;
    a thimbleful of joy;
    a pocketful of voices;
    a wagon full of dreams,
    a teacup of nonsense,
    and mothing else.

    There is such a larger world beyond your narrow Norton-centered North American perspective!

  • On July 19, 2009 at 1:32 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    fe de errata

    mothing else

    should be

    nothing else

  • On July 19, 2009 at 2:03 pm Lucia wrote:

    I wanted to add that “Collected Shorter Poems” does not include all the short Carruth. One of my favorites (for personal-associative reasons) is “Mending the Adobe”–but I couldn’t find it in there.

    Carruth wrote in the style of the jazz he loved (improvisationally, voluminously) and anyone who does so is bound to spew out a healthy number of clunkers. I’m impressed by how low his clunk-percentage is.

    (full disclosure: Syracuse alum, ditto JB on the fear. But we became friends through correspondence in later years,)

  • On July 19, 2009 at 5:23 pm Michael James wrote:

    I love it when young ones write better than I did then and even sometimes better than I do now.

    Makes me giddy at the idea of where they will be when they are my age and still writing. I become excited for the future of poetry.

    That poem is insanely gorgeous.

    Have you read Maria Elena Cruz Valera?

  • On July 19, 2009 at 5:57 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    María Elena Cruz Varela, yes! very strong Cuban woman dissident poet, pro-democracy activist, long lines, haunting images. I translated and published several of her poems in the early 90′s. Got in trouble with doctrinaire types for doing so.

  • On July 19, 2009 at 6:20 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    John Oliver Simon,

    This comment is unrelated to the Carruth exchange, but I don’t know how to get hold of you directly. I have a question related to Ernesto Cardenal, whom I’m trying to reach regarding a program I’m involved in that sounds similar to what you are doing. I was wondering if you might be in touch with him or in touch with any of his translators? If so, my email: kent.johnson@highland.edu

    thanks,

    Kent

  • On July 19, 2009 at 6:26 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Sorry, John, found your contact info. Will write. Pardon the interruption!

    Kent

  • On July 19, 2009 at 7:27 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    I’ve been following this thread with some interest because Hayden Carruth has always seemed to me just a little too good to be true. And the poem above, I’m afraid, adds to my discomfort–it’s all just a bit too masterful for my tastes, a bit too wise and good. For me it reads too much like the face in the photo you chose for the article, Joel Brouwer. I mean, we all have our bad hat days, goodness knows–but why choose this particular day to represent a great deceased poet? Of course it’s a famous snap, but it’s also such a pigeon-hole–Johnny Appleseed just back from Shanghai and now doing hard labor at Stanford. It’s so dour too, formidable even–a bit of a nightmare I’d say.

    And here’s where my doubts really come up, I think–the pressures on a lesser American poet to look deeper than he is (usually male!). Seamus Heaney never does this, does he, to try to look or dress the part? Or Tomas Tranströmer? Because in this photo I see someone who is not at all unflattered to realize he looks a bit like Pound at St. Elizabeth’s, at least as Pound wanted to be seen, or Whitman at the end—and with a bit of raw red-neck thrown in to show the vitality that’s supposedly the true American grit. I mean, if your car broke down in the woods and this face looked in your window with an offer to help you if you would just get out, would you? In the dark?

    So too the poem itself leaves me in a mixed mood. It’s just a little too precious for my tastes, a little too wise and multi-cultural—too aristocratic for a backwoods poet, too folksy for a “master.” Alright, you say he was both, but I just don’t believe it, I’m afraid. I mean, at a certain point you’ve got to make up your mind. Unless you have some sort of ‘Chinese master’ fantasy you want to live-out in your own life, but then Chinese masters were never slovenly or in-your-face in their person (do any still exist who aren’t already in a suit in the west?). This is just the fantasy of an over-developed and over-educated denizen of a western great power—no one finds dirt or poverty romantic anywhere in Asia!

    I doubt very much that Gary Snyder, whom I much admire as a person and a poet, would expose himself in a poem like this one. I don’t think Gary Snyder sought kudos either, or even to look good, at least not much–perhaps you could comment on that, John Simon Oliver. Whereas “Of Distress Being Humiliated by the Classical Chinese Poets” smacks a bit of the old pose, I’m afraid. Even the title sounds like words “too deep for translation”—you know conjured up by whom!

    I’m so sorry to say this—I used to be such a fan before!

    Christopher

  • On July 19, 2009 at 8:14 pm Rich Villar wrote:

    Sorry for the meta-commentary, but really? How does one “dislike” trying to get a hold of Ernesto Cardenal? You crazy kids! GREEN THUMBS FOR KENT JOHNSON, DAMMIT!

  • On July 19, 2009 at 10:57 pm “With This Quarter” (Thamar León) | Cosmopoetica wrote:

    [...] unfair swipe at Bill Knott aside, John Oliver Simon’s comment (following a rather heated comment thread stemming from—of all things—an appreciation of Hayden [...]

  • On July 20, 2009 at 7:59 am Joseph Duemer wrote:

    Wow! Criticism of a poet’s whole body of work based on a photograph and some remarks on a single poem. That’s breathtaking. I guess country folk shouldn’t read the classics. (Of course, I feel the same way about Gary Snyder. Suspicious.) And by the way, Syracuse University is a long, long way from Stanford.

    I’ve spent a fair amount of time in this discussion defending Carruth’s integrity and while I realize integrity doesn’t guarantee good poetry, it can’t hurt. But what has surprised me is the ungeneraous responses to this poet’s work, amount in some cases to arguing in bad faith, I’d say. I’m new to this discussion forum, having only checked in once or twice before, so I’m wondering if this is standard operating procedure for discussing poets and poetry at Harriet: The Blog.

  • On July 20, 2009 at 9:07 am Henry Gould wrote:

    OK, Confucian bureaucrat-poet forced into early retirement w/non-optional exile, become Taoist soul-survivor. In poetry you have to read between the lines.

  • On July 20, 2009 at 10:39 am John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Huh?

  • On July 20, 2009 at 10:53 am Matt wrote:

    It’s one of those things that links to a post on another blog that discusses this post. I think it’s called trackback…

  • On July 20, 2009 at 10:56 am Don Share wrote:

    What Matt said.

  • On July 20, 2009 at 11:17 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    :-)

    (Sorry, Simon, for the “lightweight” smiley face.

  • On July 20, 2009 at 11:48 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    It’s very tentative what I said, Joseph–it’s exploratory and comes with an apology. But it’s hard to see the things I’m talking about, which will be clearer when the dust settles.

    Look at Alan Ginsberg, whom I met by hazard a number of times starting in London after the International Poetry Incarnation in 1965, and before I became Trungpa Rimpoche’s personal assistant in Scotland. Alan was a mess back then, but was always blessed with the sweetest disposition and humility to burn. At Naropa Trungpa got him into a tie, like himself (he was still berobed in my house) which helped Alan not to identify with the wiseman in him, in Jungian terms. Not a great poet, I maintain, but among our greatest poetry personalities–mainly because of that disposition. And even if the poetry isn’t great he’s still our master, and we will always celebrate him.

    My post was just an attempt to begin exploring aspects of all that in Hayden Carruth–whom I never met but always admired. During this thread I began to reassess his reputation in my own mind–based parttly on the photo that has come to be almost an icon. Such phenomena need reassessing, and why not on Harriet?

    Christopher

  • On July 20, 2009 at 12:34 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    My Chinese is not as good as yours, I feel sure, John Simon Oliver–and I don’t say that with my tongue in my cheek at all. When anyone gets as bilingual (or much more!) as you obviously are even Chinese is possible (and it’s such a bitch!).

    But to say there are no tenses in the Chinese language is simply wrong–the fact is there are no tenses in the verbs, nor are there verbs as distinct from nouns or adjectives, for example–as we assume must be true of all languages because we only know Indo-European grammatical structures. Like Thai, time is expressed in Chinese in other ways, but the language is every bit as nuanced and precise with regard to time as ours. Indeed, to assume Thai or Chinese had no tenses would be to suggest they were in some way defective, and ALL languages (like all human talents, regardless of race or stage of development) are equally deep and expressive, and equally complicated.

    If anything language is simpler today than it was in the past!

    Yes, there are more distinct names for certain things in Thai, for example, like rain and water, but that’s because the rice growing regions of South East Asia are a water world entirely–like Inuit with ice. But in the hands of a poet there’s no need to sound eternally present–as poetry translated from Chinese (or Thai) into English usually sounds. That’s just the inadequacy of the translator!

    Which I worry about in the poem as well. Pound created many of the illusions we have about Chinese poetry because he could hardly manage the language!

    Christopher

  • On July 20, 2009 at 1:09 pm michael robbins wrote:

    this # doesn’t work need new # for dead poets pls kthx

  • On July 20, 2009 at 1:43 pm Chris L wrote:

    That’s what Harriet does when links back to an entry here are mentioned in another forum. It’s unfortunate the snippet included caught only the first line, since the meat of the post was to share the poem you shared here because I found it remarkable…

    Anyway, if you click the link below the message that reads “WITH THIS QUARTER” (THAMAR LEÓN) | COSMOPOETICA it will take you to the post where I quoted you.

  • On July 20, 2009 at 1:51 pm Chris L wrote:

    Christopher– what are you exploring, exactly, given that you are working with so remarkably little: a photo that doesn’t strike me as extraordinary (he looks like any number of folks up here where I live, among which you’ll find perhaps a greater number of good guys than a random sample) and a surmise about Carruth’s authenticity based on a (I would say a bit far-fetched) assumption of position from your reading of a single poem?

    Reassess away, but you might want to make a bit more of a connection with what the man and what he wrote, said and did in life not just in your mind. Otherwise, Joseph Duemer’s reaction is quite sensible.

    I have misgivings of this sort of my own, particularly in other media w/r/t celebrity, but on its own it’s not much of a case…

  • On July 20, 2009 at 2:17 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Forgive me yet again for messing up your name, John Oliver Simon–three posts in a row! I promise I’ll never do it again, God willing.
    C.

  • On July 20, 2009 at 3:30 pm Michael James wrote:

    Mr. Christopher…

    Do you realize what you’re saying in your initial post?

    A person must choose to be one way. A person can only have multiudes within specific parameters? There can be only red and blue no purple? Really?

    It is almost a little insane to even think about further…

  • On July 20, 2009 at 4:08 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    everytime i call for lowcost anthols, i get thumbdowns—— all of you love to pay those nortons their bloodmoney i guess…

    or:

    Poems for the Millennium, Volume Three: The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry
    Price: $80.00

    Eighty bucks.

    Who said recently that poetry was fifty years behind art—

    i wish that the poetry publishing production process

    was fifty years behind:

    in 1963 Doubleday Anchor published a two-volume anthol of “English Romantic Poetry”

    in a pocket-sized paperback edition

    costing 2.45 apiece—

    volume one 456 pages, volume two is 544 pages, fontsize easily-readable—

    fuck i want to know is why

    the greedheads at the U of C (and other presses) can’t do the same

    kind of pocketsize paperback lowprice production today!!!

    what is it? the printing presses can’t do it anymore? the bookbinderies have lost the capability to produce books like

    these Anchor anthols which are 45 years old and the paper hasn’t faded a bit, the spines are intact,
    they’re in as good shape as any new po-book i’ve bought in the last year—

    why aren’t poets and teachers boycotting all these high-end anthols,

    and demanding that publishers put out reasonably priced ones?

    >>>>>

  • On July 20, 2009 at 4:32 pm Don Share wrote:

    I’m only sticking my thumb in here to mention for what it’s worth that Poems for the Millennium, Volume Three is currently available new (not used) from Amazon for $23 bucks.

  • On July 20, 2009 at 4:41 pm Joseph Duemer wrote:

    $2.45 in 1963 would be a little over $17.00 in 2009, after taking inflation into account. I agree — and have never disagreed — that there should be a good anthology of canonical Anglo-American poetry for under $20.00. I agree — and have never disagreed — that the Nortons and UC press books you mention are too expensive. As a teacher I have tried to avoid them, thoujgh I treasured my own copies for decades after buying them in the 1970s before giving them to students. (I can see why specialist books are expensive: they have very small audiences, but we’re not talking about, say, 16th century lutanist court poets, but the canon.) I’ve been teaching for 30 years and while I have once or twice used the Norton Intro to Literature for a survey course, I try to avoid the Nortons when I can. I recently used Schakel & Ridl’s 250 Poems, but it costs $25 dollars new, which is still a lot of money; also, it focuses on individual poems, not representative groups by acknowledged masters, which is what you want. I just did some looking around on Amazon and found you can get A Book of Luminous Things, an international anthology of poems selected by Czeslaw Milosz for their “clarity” and accessibility for around $10, but that’s not the sort of thing we’ve been talking about. Amazon offers a special three for one deal on the boxed two-volume Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry plus the Norton Anthology of Poetry for $97, which represents quite a library of poetry that a serious student might want to consider saving up for, or working a bit of overtime at the coffee bar to afford. Carruth’s anthology is still available for $8.50, but then it lacks “Sunday Morning” and a couple of other war horses (most now easily available online) so it is fatally flawed.

    But, Bill, that’s not why so many people reacted negatively. Speaking only for myself, I reacted negatively because you tried to use the bogus charge that Carruth was corrupt for choosing to edit his anthology the way he did, that he was in cahoots with Norton. Charges for which you provided no evidence, only insinuation and character assassination, which you then extended to your interlocutors, implying that they lacked working class values and were, like him, corrupt. That’s what all the thumbs downs are about, Bill. That’s where all the animosity is coming from.

  • On July 20, 2009 at 4:50 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    why can’t the U of C Press

    put out their Romantic anthol

    in the same format as

    Doubleday Anchor did their Romantic Anthol

    and charge 17.95 for it,

    instead of 80.00?

    fire away, thumbdowners—

  • On July 20, 2009 at 5:45 pm michael robbins wrote:

    I’ve been upping you, Bill. (Harriet doesn’t seem to have figured out yet that, contrary to her keepers’ claims, one can indeed vote more than once from the same IP address, once a certain amount of time has passed. I’ve clicked thumbs up on yr posts many times!)

  • On July 20, 2009 at 5:58 pm michael robbins wrote:

    OK, Bill, some facts: volume 3 of Poems for the Millennium costs $35. Period. The hardcover costs eighty bucks. Have you ever seen the hardcover on sale anywhere? Who buys hardcovers of poetry anthologies?

    You’re missing two key points about how college kids shop for books. One: they buy online; two: they buy used. On Amazon Poems for the Millennium vol. 3 is easily available for under $20, & the two volumes of the Norton for around fifteen bucks each.

    The online part might be new, but when I was in college, pre-internet, my bookstore sold used copies of anthologies. As I recall, I purchased the 2nd edition of the Norton Anthology of Modern & Contemporary Poetry for under $10.

    No one denies the anthology racket is a racket. But there are ways around it, & professors use them. I, for instance, point my students to places where they can find cheap copies, or I use earlier editions, or—& this is very common now—I just show them where to find the poems online. You want yr students to read “Sunday Morning”? They can do so for free, anytime they access the internet.

    There are also these things called libraries that I made great use of when I was a poor undergraduate who didn’t want to shell out for expensive books. The great thing about being assigned poetry is you can almost always find a copy of the poems somewhere in the library.

    Finally, the animosity around here toward you has, I’m sure, nothing to do with yr call for low-cost anthologies (anyone with an internet connection & a printer, or access to same, can make their own) & everything to do with the weirdness about Carruth & his defenders.

    Haden Carruth has nothing to do with yr crusade against anthologies, with which many of us are in sympathy. (If you’re in the mood for a laugh, read the intro to Poems for the Millennium vol. 3).

  • On July 20, 2009 at 7:13 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    my copy of the norton modcon started excoriating pages from its faux-glued spine six months after i got it—i had to scotchtape jorie graham to keep her from falling out—

    are those fifteen dollar used copies really usable? (if you were norton, wouldn’t you opt for built-in obsolescence?)

    but in any case, why doesn’t a NEW copy cost fifteen dollars? if Doubleday Anchor could do it, why can’t today’s publishers do the equivalent (inflation adjusted) of what they did back then?

    SOMEBODY must be paying the U of C Press 80 dollars for that hardback, or that wouldn’t be its list price—

    are you saying NOBODY buys that 80 dollar edition? Libraries do, don’t they? College libraries, paid for by exorbitant tuition fees,
    by parents and students—

    those “college kids” Michael Robbins writes about above as if they were the only ones who buy poetry,

    he doesn’t mention the general public of poetrybook buyers

    (the ones who put Mary Oliver et al on the bestseller list this site features)

    (sorry—i know you most of you hate to have that list mentioned)—

    what about the general public: why isn’t there a 9.95 pocketsize paperback anthol of modcon standards available for their purchase? (Where’s Oscar Williams when we need him?)

    The poetry publishing system now in place needs to

    retrofit itself to meet the new economic reality, or die.

    *

  • On July 20, 2009 at 7:34 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    Robbins seems to me the most intelligent poster to these threads,

    but as you can see from his note above,

    he usually thinks of poetry only or mainly in its relation to the university—all the examples he cites refer to that milieu—

    i don’t want to rehash or restate my objections to Carruth’s anthol—

    it was a popular-priced massmarket paperback

    intended primarily (yes?) for the general public,

    and not for the academic market per se—

    what we need today—what is needed for the wellbeing of poetry—

    are not more anthols aimed at the academic market (there are enough of them),

    but lowcost anthols intended—as Carruth’s anthol was—for the general public . . .

    though of course such popular-priced anthols would benefit students too—

  • On July 20, 2009 at 8:28 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    So sorry on your name–of course it’s John Oliver Simon. I wrote this while my brain was still scrambled.

  • On July 20, 2009 at 8:38 pm michael robbins wrote:

    fair enough, Bill, but you mentioned yr students at Emerson as among the wallet-challenged would-be purchasers of anthologies, so …

    if you enter “poetry anthology” on Amazon, as I imagine what little general public there is for poetry would do, the first thing that pops up is Parisi’s Poetry Anthology, 1912-2002 (this must be why it bears such a ridiculous title), which lists for nineteen bucks & Amazon sells for 13. used copies from three, count ‘em, three bucks. throw in a few bucks for shipping.

    now, Parisi’s nobody’s idea of an ideal anthologist, but luckily he has the twentieth century on his side. starts with Pound. first Stevens is “Sunday Morning”! it starts to break down as we approach the present, but what anthology don’t? I’m actually a little impressed.

    don’t forget Paul Keegan’s Penguin Book of English Verse (lists for 20, sells for 15, used copies from 4 bucks). no Stevens, obviously, but what a selection.

  • On July 20, 2009 at 9:03 pm Don Share wrote:

    Ridiculous title? It’s an anthology of poems published in Poetry magazine!

  • On July 20, 2009 at 9:06 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    I’m not saying that at all, Michael, I’m just drawing attention to that most difficult of all dynamics in the artistic temperament, inflation. Everyone, even the greatest amongst us, even the most gifted and, yes, reflective, has to wrestle with the demon of self-interest, and when it comes to being a “wiseman” the temptations are even greater, not less. I mean, what famous person, and I don’t mean just artist, can you think of who has NOT had to wrestle with the demon of inlation, that is appearing more centered and unified and rooted than he or she actually is? And when you get to the whole thing of AMERICAN POET and you’ve got Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound stalking your self-image, it’s going to be hard to resist!

    I used the example of Alan Ginsberg in Trungpa’s tie to help us think about ways that one might fight the temptation to identify with one’s image. He was a serious Buddhist, and was deeply occupied with the Buddha’s teaching on anatta, or no-self. So he wore his tie like a hair-shirt, to constantly remind him. He wasn’t a tie sort of person, goodness knows, but he took the vow to reduce himself so seriously he walked around all the time in a dog collar. And I know what I’m saying too. Amazing!

    Of course Trungpa had a massive ego himself, but to his credit he jettisoned the robe because he knew it made people think he was wiser and holier than he actually was. He claimed his worldly habits (!) were also part of his special brand of self-denial, but for me the jury’s still out on the legitimacy of that one…

    Because, of course, it’s the spectators, i.e. you and I, who impose sanctity on our wisemen, and that can be the very most perilous of traps for any poor guy. So Buddhist monks in the Theravada shave not only their heads but their eyebrows to reduce the tendency to identify with being a self at all–human beings just don’t look there without eyebrows. That’s a hard teaching, and I’ve said it a bit glibbly, but it’s at the root of everything that’s human, what’s more important.

    It’s we ourselves who must be careful not to lock Hayden Carruth in that particular photo, because in so doing we’re setting up yet another ego-trap for ourselves what is more our future poets. I mean, what would this conversation have been like if we hadn’t had that icon looking at us? How would we be viewing that poem, which itself is a bit of an altar?

    Christopher

    Christopher

  • On July 20, 2009 at 9:20 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Michael Robbins said:

    >(Harriet doesn’t seem to have figured out yet that, contrary to her keepers’ claims, one can indeed vote more than once from the same IP address, once a certain amount of time has passed. I’ve clicked thumbs up on yr posts many times!)

    I haven’t demeaned myself to click the button up or down once for anyone. But this is revealing!

    So that’s it…

    Huh. Inresting.

    Kent

  • On July 20, 2009 at 9:21 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    True, Chris L–and that’s why we’re blogging rather than writing. Exploratory. Ephemeral.

    Ezra Pound was an enormously gifted guy but accomplished so little of lasting value beside his influence and his reputation. Condemn that statement with the same argument if you wish, but for all of us the man, Ezra Pound, great or not, is also a huge object lesson, the well that’s filled in to save other children. That’s why he’s so interesting, the human lessons he offers to each of us if we’re willing to listen alone.

    There’s something in Pound for each one of us in person, not just for academia. He’s relevant, not just a referent.

  • On July 20, 2009 at 9:51 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Michael, THE LINE IS DEAD. Only dead fingers & operators (remember operators?) have access to that number. Use your dead finger, if you have one. Otherwise… [Gallic shrug]

  • On July 20, 2009 at 10:00 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    I can relate to the photo-phobia, Chris. I used to like Homer – Odyssey, Iliad, all that – until I saw the author pic. Freakin’ old bald guy, with long white beard… what a bring-down! Had to get myself a whole case of those Mystic Bulgarian Space Rocks, just to restore my yin-yang balance. Hoping I never see a photo of Dante Alighieri.

  • On July 20, 2009 at 10:05 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Kent, it’s all done with ROBOTS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    This is the viral Hippodrome !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Soon our remarks will be anthologized & priced at $700. smackeroons!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    No one will be able to afford bitter honey-tongued Bill Knott!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    The sky is Falling !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • On July 20, 2009 at 10:06 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Thanks, Chris!

  • On July 20, 2009 at 10:14 pm michael robbins wrote:

    ah, that explains why it falls apart toward the end!

    [I truly can't bring myself to type the winky emoticon, but I invoke it here.]

  • On July 20, 2009 at 10:21 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Henry,

    I can barely bring myself to type it:

    ;~)

    Kent

  • On July 21, 2009 at 6:09 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    It’s different when you look at the faces in your own community, Henry. T.S.Eliot removed himself from our neighborhood and came up with a face that tells us almost nothing about the poetry we love–which is, of course, what he intended. In the end the T.S.Eliot face the poet left with us never gets in the way of his art, at least it doesn’t for me.

    Even if we did have a photo of Homer or of Dante, we’d have no real cultural references with which to make sense of it, and the poetry isn’t personal anyway. I myself think Homer was Nausicaa–seriously I do. And if not I still want a woman to be the author of at least The Odyssey.

    And I want Shakespeare to look like whoever he or she really was, like the Wizard of Oz.

    I find John Ashbery’s face fascinating. Ditto Robert Frost and Langston Hughes. Ditto Edna St Vincent Millay, Denise Levertov, and Jean Valentine, to choose three very different sort of women poets I love. They all look just like their art.

    I was knocked out by the photo Camille Dungy posted of John Laurence Dunbar.

    I’ve tried to look at as many photos of Hayden Carruth now as I could find, and the one on this thread is the only one that would lead me to pose those questions. So why do we like that one best? Why do we want Hayden Carruth to be remembered like that?

    That’s all. Just a very tentative question — how we establish our historical record, how at the death of an artist we admire we come face to face with our archetypes.

  • On July 21, 2009 at 7:44 am Joseph Duemer wrote:

    Christopher, you seem to be talking more about how certain poetic lives get framed by others, rather than thw actual work of the poets involved. This is especially true of your remarks on Carruth and Ginsberg, less true of this bit on Pound, whose work you mostly dismiss. It’s true that Pound squandered much of his ability in mania, but he left us the exquisite “Mauberly” and a handful of other poems, along with swatches of The Cantos, that seem priceless to me (since this is a discussion about, among other things, prices). But what have these facts about Pound got to do with Carruth? Are you suggesting that Carruth squandered his talent in mania? He suffered mania, for certain, but I’d say he turned it into art at a far higher rate of return than Pound, though Carruth may have written no single poem as great as Pound’s “Mauberly.”

    Your earlier comment about Ginsberg focuses on the ways in which poets collaborate — or refuse to collaborate — in the mythological framing of their biographies. I only met Ginsberg once, in 1970, in Seattle, and he was wearing a flower-printed shirt and cutoffs, as I recall. When I met Snyder a few years later, he was wearing a suit and tie. Ginsberg certainly participated in the framing of his own narrative, no doubt about it; but he managed to write some great poems from that frame — much of the Fall of America sequence, I’d say, which is from that period, I think, in which Ginsberg was most self-consciously playing the role of a Blakian bard. poets have to do a lot of crazy things in order to get their poems written and I’m willing to give them a pretty wide latitude in that central project.

    Having said that, I don’t think Carruth participated much in framing his own myth, which is that of the Recluse. From what I know of his life, Carruth was driven to a hardscrabble life because he suffered from anxiety and depression. His autobiographical writings, collected under the title Reluctantly, seem genuinely reluctant to me, but others of course may disagree. Carruth, whose work explicitly sees authenticity, seems to me to have managed a pretty authentic life and so I was — bringing this back to where I began — startled at your suspicious de-mythologizing.

  • On July 21, 2009 at 8:42 am Bill Knott wrote:

    surely, when new copies of novel X and memoir Y are no longer being bought, those books go out of print—

    why, then,

    as you all swear,

    nobody buys new copies of the norton,

    why is it still in print?

    hmm?

  • On July 21, 2009 at 9:00 am thomas brady wrote:

    yea, I’ve only read one Hayden Carruth poem in my life…

    “Galway Kinnell’s blurb on the back of the book gets it right: “This is not a man who sits down to ‘write a poem’; rather, some burden of understanding and feeling, some need to know, forces his poems into being.” And T. S. Eliot, describing his “Impersonal” theory of poetry in “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” makes the point even more clearly…”

    I see…everyone else ‘sits down to write a poem’ but with HC, ‘some burden of understanding…forces his poems into being…’ and this MUST be true, because GALWAY KINNELL said it in a BLURB.

    I love this, too: GK “gets it right,” but T.S. Eliot “makes the the point EVEN MORE CLEARLY…”

    OK. So we have to just put up with this kind of…rhetoric…

    Has anyonre read ‘The Function of Criticism’ by M. Arnold, recently? You know, T.S. Eliot’s bible?

    Wow.

    Shame, shame…

  • On July 21, 2009 at 11:52 am Bill Knott wrote:

    nobody buys that 80 buck U of C Press book, you all say—

    what about this 75 buck book below: is “nobody” going to buy it?

    Poet’s Craft: The Making and Shaping of Poems by Annie Finch
    Price: 75.00
    Hardcover: 496 pages
    Publisher: University of Michigan Press (November 15, 2009)

    Don’t the people at these presses ever read the economic news?

    The University of Michigan: what’s the unemployment rate in Michigan now, 15 percent?

    I’m sure those out-of-workers in Michigan would be glad to hear all of you say that “nobody” is going to buy this book published by their state university press with tax/tuition funding—

    I repeat the question I’ve raised several times here: if publishers fifty years ago could put out reasonably-priced editions, why can’t they do it today?

  • On July 21, 2009 at 12:07 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    Joseph Duemer above states that Doubleday Anchor’s price of 2.45 for its 1963 anthol of Romantic poetry

    when adjusted for inflation would be about 17 dollars today—

    so why can’t the University of Michigan Press publish a book of similar length for 17 dollars? Or 19.95—

    why is it 75 dollars?

    and will someone please answer my earlier question:

    if nobody buys new copies of the Norton Modcon, why is it still in print?

  • On July 21, 2009 at 12:19 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    not to mention this one:

    The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner (Hardcover)
    List Price: $150.00
    Publisher: Stanford University Press

    only 150 smackers, what a bargain!

  • On July 21, 2009 at 1:00 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Why don’t you get off your whiney butt & do a little research yourself, Bill, & come back & tell us?

    My own theory (based on contemporary AI science) is that these expensive academic Poetry Bungalows have been implanted with bots. What I mean is, the books HAVE THEIR OWN BRAINS (& sex organs). THEY SELF-REPRODUCE (& set their own prices).

    In this sense, the academic poetry scene is actually a kind of amoebic growth or appendage on the brains of large heavy hardback anthologies – books that nobody reads. But the books don’t care! They read themselves!

  • On July 21, 2009 at 1:05 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    i’ve read that public libraries all across the state of Michigan are suffering cutbacks in funding and have to curtail their purchase of new books—

    how many public libraries in Michigan will be able to buy this 75 dollar book published by their state university?

  • On July 21, 2009 at 1:45 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    judging from all the thumbdowns

    my pathetic pleas about the high cost of poetry books

    are bruised and aching from,

    it’s obvious that everybody else who attends this site is financially secure

    and can well afford what seem to me—

    subsisting as i do on my monthly social security check—

    to be egregiously extortionate prices . . .

    i wouldn’t buy the Eigner if it was 1.50 instead of 150.00,

    but the Finch i would try to budget for if it was available

    in a popular-priced edition—

  • On July 21, 2009 at 1:50 pm Joseph Duemer wrote:

    Who says “we” like this one best? That’s a huge assumption. Most people contributing to this thread, I bet, haven’t given a thought to which picture of HC they “like best.”

  • On July 21, 2009 at 2:57 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    magazines and poets and critics (and poet-critics)

    should refuse to review any poetry book which is overpriced,

    and isn’t also available as a free PDF download—

    (and watch out for the brown acid, man—)

  • On July 21, 2009 at 3:48 pm Brent Cunningham wrote:

    Sorry to Joel that this comment stream has become the Bill Knott show, but I guess I can’t help taking some of the bait.

    I’m sure, Bill, that you could reason this out if you wanted to, but in order for a publisher to assign cheap prices to their books they must print a lot of them. This turns out to be something on the order of tens of thousands to get them down to your idea of cheap. The more a publisher prints, the less each book costs them, and this curve is quite dramatic & exponential. So it’s only a major house that can have the kind marketing and distribution reach to even consider an anthology at the prices you’re talking about. The publisher has to be certain to move tens of thousands of units beforehand, and only a few houses have the physical and infrastructural capacity to do so.

    On that level, the numbers simply aren’t there for the project you want to see. It might seem to you, from your rather subjective position, that the numbers are there, but I’m skeptical that you know what you’re talking about better than editors & managers at the major houses who have as their job, motivated by money and the desire to keep their jobs, the task of identifying economic opportunities for themselves.

    And that’s really the core absurdity in your ideas here. You seem to desperately want to avoid a structural critique of market logic, and so have to find all kinds of personalized corruptions and stupidities and greeds out there which are preventing people from meeting this crying desire for affordable access to Sunday Morning you’ve identified. We should be asking you: if certain publishers are greedy enough to overcharge for their books, why aren’t they greedy enough to make some serious money with your project? In fact they call them “mass” market paperbacks for a reason–those books are many many times more profitable (assuming they sell) than things like the Norton or UC anthologies. Let’s not forget that the really yacht-owning rich are exactly those who sell books for $8.24 (cf. Amazon, Harry Potter, paperback), not the people publishing $80 hardcover university press books (who seem to mostly drive 15+ year old cars by the way).

    So is it ethics and concern for young readers you’re standing on or not? If it’s ethical to give kids access to cheap poetry, great, I agree, but stop with this implication there’s any market logic or populist outcry for what you’re talking about. In fact, almost ANY project related to the publishing of poetry is a complex web of subsidies from governments or foundations, personal sacrifice, acceptance of financial losses (perhaps in exchange for vague or sometimes specific returns in terms of cultural capital), and etc.

    If you could admit this project of yours is a cause you want to see funded, it’d be possible to talk about it in scale to reality. Yes, it’s a little bit too bad kids don’t have affordable access to Bill Knott’s Poetry Canon. Meanwhile, it’s an outrage people are exploited and sick and lack access to the poem called Health Care. In both cases the problem actually includes and is sustained by people who prefer to express righteous anger about the injustice of it all instead of analyzing the structural problems and formulating & forming effective group resistances and alternative economies.

    To answer one of your other questions: fifty years ago, publishers put out a few mass-market anthologies of poetry because (a) poetic culture was more uniform and the distribution channels fed more directly into standardized intro English courses, thus the probability of some financial return was higher, and (b) perhaps even more importantly, the cultural capital that accrued to a house for publishing an anthology of poetry was higher. My sense is that almost none of the poetry anthologies you’re talking actually made much money if any, but many poetry projects back in the day were often bones tossed to editors (I mean commissioning editors and senior management editors, not anthology/book editors like Carruth) who had earned the press some money, often in some other genre. By now, like Hollywood, the major presses have worked out what sells to something far closer to a (faulty, inexact) science than it used to be. It’s sheer business: editors don’t get to try out pet projects for their own personal or aesthetic reasons, and publishers don’t publish a mass-market book until the market research shows they can move those units in dramatic fashion.

    If you don’t like that, great, I don’t either, but by not following the reasons any farther or sharpening your resistance tactics beyond–what?, boycott expensive books?, seriously?–you’re doing as little against it as anyone.

    yrs,

    Brent Cunningham

  • On July 21, 2009 at 3:50 pm Matt wrote:

    Libraries, Bill, libraries.

  • On July 21, 2009 at 4:36 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    you obviously know more about it than i do—

    i defer to your expertise—

    what i don’t understand is why boycotts wouldn’t work in this case when they do elsewhere—

    publishers with captive consumers (prisoner students in the case of the Norton) have no incentive to lower their prices,

    i would imagine—

    in any case, given the economic decline, how sustainable are these 75-80 dollar prices,

    and given the budget cuts most university presses are facing,

    how long can they run—

    i don’t have the answers to the problem of pricing poetry out of the reach of the public,

    only questions—

    as for my paltry “resistance tactics,” if you look back over my posts you’ll see i’ve made all kinds of suggestions

    ranging from boycotts to
    samizdat/pirate free-PDF sites to urging everyone to refuse to review overpriced books,

    and i’ve repeatedly begged for others to voice their own suggestions for resistance—

    one thing’s for sure: sneering at me won’t kill the Nortonomic monster,

    which most of you seem to be happy to cuddle with—

    ….

  • On July 21, 2009 at 4:43 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    libraries? do you live in Denmark or what? maybe in the socialist democracy of Scandinavia where you reside the libraries are thriving,

    but in this country, U.S.A, libraries everywhere are being budget squeezed to the bone—

    Michigan unemployment is heading like a lava for 20 percent, and its taxbase is teetering,

    i repeat: how many of its public libraries can afford the 75 dollar Finch book published by its state university’s press?

  • On July 21, 2009 at 5:20 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    but i know what you mean when you say “libraries”—

    you don’t mean all libraries,

    you mean college/university libraries,

    since, to your ilk, the only place for poetry is academia,

    and to hell with those peasants out there and their public (i hear you sneer) libraries—

  • On July 21, 2009 at 5:22 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Poetry is not about BOOKS, you morons.

    Poetry has been at odds with books from Day One. In this regard, read, since you like to read : Plato. Bible.

    For example, see Jesuit priest Eugenio Zolli’s 1950 book, THE NAZARENE. Zolli suggests an etymology of “Nazarene” from the Hebrew “nazir” (variably, poet, singer, holy man). According to Zolli, Jesus was a sort of proto-rapper.

    Listen, what would Jesus do? In the face of socio-economic injustice, corruption, indifference, apathy, despair, ignorance, materialism, oppression of the poor? (Which are the social & psychological roots of the symptoms Brent & Billy are bemoaning?)

    He might not be writing & reading books. He might be too busy strumming his blue, his heavy, his gauche, his unsophisticated, illiterate guitar, somewhere. Somewhere far outside the literary arts communities…

  • On July 21, 2009 at 5:45 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    I run a book-distribution company,

    so when I tell you that the prices imposed by the publishers I represent

    are fair and reasonable and based on standard marketing practices,

    and that in any case peons like you can do nothing to change them,

    and you are naive and foolish if you think otherwise,

    you better believe what I say.

    Or else.

  • On July 21, 2009 at 6:22 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    I run a book-distribution company,

    so of course I have no financial stake or conflict of interest

    when I step forward and urge the public to passively accept

    the extortionate prices imposed by the publishing industry,

    and to abandon any hope of changing its draconian practices.

    Resistance is futile.

    The principles of Lee Kuan Yew have proved our power is imperative.

    Don’t make me warn you again.

  • On July 21, 2009 at 7:56 pm Matt wrote:

    Bill, you don’t know me, you don’t know what my “ilk” is, and your assumptions about me are false. This meaningless trash talk is not helping your case.

  • On July 21, 2009 at 8:01 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    As I understand this debate, there is consternation about the cost of poetry anthologies for College students these days. This seems to beg the question. Let’s see…we should add to our book budget our Chemistry books, and Biology books, and Philosophy and History and Mathematics and basic English. Oh, and we have to buy supplies, buy food, pay rent. And, gosh, we have that whole tuition thing which, I would guess, has far outstripped poetry anthologies in its rising cost.

    How about this from the ‘public’ front: “Yeah, I know, I can’t find a job and my electric bill is due…but I just bought this cool new poetry anthology.”

    Forest, trees and all that rot or, maybe, just fantasy, reality and all THAT rot.

    “I swear, your Honor, I was going to feed the kid but…I saw this anthology, you see.”

  • On July 21, 2009 at 8:01 pm Boyd Nielson wrote:

    “You seem to desperately want to avoid a structural critique of market logic, and so have to find all kinds of personalized corruptions and stupidities and greeds out there which are preventing people from meeting this crying desire for affordable access to Sunday Morning you’ve identified.”

    I in no way want to undervalue Bill’s provocative energy, but I think Brent’s comments above are quite precisely true.

  • On July 21, 2009 at 9:29 pm Michael James wrote:

    Why goodness G… not only did you make ma smile and feel fuzzy inside, but you caused me to issue my first thumbs up. Good deal.

  • On July 21, 2009 at 10:24 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    That was my point, Joseph–people give very little thought to anything they like best, and there’s always a moment for a wake up. I can remember the moment when I realized my face didn’t look like all Americans, and also the moment in Freshman English at Columbia in 1958 when a Jewish student with a yarmulka made the observation that obviously thick lips and wide noses weren’t beautiful.

    And what are young American women liking best when they walk around Chiang Mai with just their waists exposed, and the fat hanging out in ripples? A fashion, o.k, but would we be prepared for a Susan Sontag exploration about that image and hunger? Or would that be over the top as well?

  • On July 21, 2009 at 10:28 pm thomas brady wrote:

    I agree with Knott; the Carruth anthology is a travesty; it isn’t just missing ‘Sunday Morning;’ the best poems of the 20th century are absent; the book begins with Frost, 16 pages, and no ‘Road Less Traveled,’ ‘Birches’ or ‘Stopping by the Woods.’ That’s not individual or unique; that’s perverse; this blockheaded attitude persists throughout the book. No ‘Daddy’ by Plath, none of Millay’s famous poems, and on and on, for over 700 pages. Knott’s right; Carruth was given an opportunity and he blew it.

    Also, counting the pages, 12% for women poets.

    William Carlos Williams, John Crowe Ranson, Ezra Pound, and his girlfriend, H.D., these four, get more pages than all the other women *combined.*

    40% of the space to women go to only *two* women poets: H.D. and the token Black Mountain poet, Levertov.

    Two poems by Bishop, and one is about Pound.

    It aint just about ‘Sunday Morning.’

    Anthologies are crucial in so many ways. “Understanding Poetry,” 3rd edition, a textbook, published 10 years prior to Carruth’s anthology, and which includes extended commentary and includes both British and American poetry of all eras, somehow manages to include all the important poets featured in the Carruth.

    The sly “Understanding Poetry” managed to elevate all sorts of minor 20th century Modernists (Robert Penn Warren’s friends) by including them with canonical poets from previous centuries in what was a ‘textbook anthology,’ not merely an ‘anthology.’ The student was made to feel that “Red Wheel Barrow” and “In A Station Of the Metro” were masterpieces and Poe’s poems are worthless (Warren’s textbook comes right out and says this) but the Modernist elation of ‘I-can-write-that-I-can-be-a-great-poet-too’ was short-lived as ‘how-easy-it-is-to-write-tiny-poems’ was replaced quickly in the public’s mind by ‘modern-poetry-is-dribble.’ With the release of Carruth’s anthology in the beginning of the 70s, the game was pretty much finished. The reign of academic subsidy had begun, and shows little sign of letting up.

    As we feel compelled to announce re: the Carruth poem THIS IS GREAT! THIS IS GREAT! THIS IS GREAT! THIS IS GREAT! THIS IS GREAT! THIS IS GREAT! THIS IS GREAT, don’t we ever wonder that perhaps this silly, hyperbolic, blurby, exaggerated praise might just be a symptom of why the public no longer cares for poetry? And maybe we keep yelling THIS IS GREAT! THIS IS GREAT! THIS IS GREAT! so loudly because itisn’tgreat is true? Carruth’s poem succeeds in a New Critical manner–all the sights and sounds and metaphysical reflections crowded into a short poem begging to be liked and admired (and many a professor could go on for hours about how and why they admire it) and yet, unfortunately, at the end of the day, the poem is contradictory and dull. The head has convinced the heart of things not even the head believes.

  • On July 21, 2009 at 11:58 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Thanks for that, Joseph.
    I wish I hadn’t dismissed Ezra Pound’s poetry so glibbly, which wasn’t my point at all.

    What I was trying to say is that it’s the influence and reputation of Pound that is so remarkable. Considering the size of his tree, and the huge shadow it cast, there are surpisingly few great poems on the ground. It’s Pound’s life that’s the object lesson, not his art. His mania, that extraordinary energy combined with flamboyant eccentricities, is the well that has to be filled in to protect other children, even if the life it propelled did have a profound impact on our literary history. That was my point.

    I personally don’t find Pound’s naive anti-semitism any more grounds for dismissing him as an artist than I do the heart-wrenching fact that Sylvia Plath gassed herself while her children were in the house. In Pound’s case, on the other hand, I think you could argue that the capacity to hold such ridiculous views was linked to the unsatisfactoriness of his poetry, the exhibitionism and lack of genuine connection. Sylvia plath, on the other hand, had more genius for poetry than Pound, and the details of her death don’t diminish twhat she wrote.

    I also wasn’t dismissing Hayden Carruth for anything, or accusing him of ‘mythologizing’ his life. I was talking about us. I was encouraging us to look carefully at the way we are looking at Hayden Carruth, 1921-2008, right now. This thread is a sort of festschrift, and hagiography is inevitable at such moments. We feel so involved when people die, it gets so close to our own private endings, that we tend to over do it. Understandable. But in the case of a poet we have to be more careful or we may get saddled with an encomium that becomes fact.

    Finally, the observations about Ginsberg’s tie were related to the photograph, not to a comparison of the two poets. Hayden Carruth did not choose the photo, and for all I know he may have detested it. Joel Brouwer chose it because it had already become iconic, and I was questioning that.

    So much more, but I talk too much.

    Christopher

    Ezra Pound was an enormously gifted guy but accomplished so little of lasting value beside his influence and his reputation. Condemn that statement with the same argument if you wish, but for all of us the man, Ezra Pound, great or not, is also a huge object lesson, the well that’s filled in to save other children. That’s why he’s so interesting, the human lessons he offers to each of us if we’re willing to listen alone.

    There’s something in Pound for each one of us in person, not just for academia. He’s relevant, not just a referent.

    Christopher, you seem to be talking more about how certain poetic lives get framed by others, rather than thw actual work of the poets involved. This is especially true of your remarks on Carruth and Ginsberg, less true of this bit on Pound, whose work you mostly dismiss. It’s true that Pound squandered much of his ability in mania, but he left us the exquisite “Mauberly” and a handful of other poems, along with swatches of The Cantos, that seem priceless to me (since this is a discussion about, among other things, prices). But what have these facts about Pound got to do with Carruth? Are you suggesting that Carruth squandered his talent in mania? He suffered mania, for certain, but I’d say he turned it into art at a far higher rate of return than Pound, though Carruth may have written no single poem as great as Pound’s “Mauberly.”

    Your earlier comment about Ginsberg focuses on the ways in which poets collaborate — or refuse to collaborate — in the mythological framing of their biographies. I only met Ginsberg once, in 1970, in Seattle, and he was wearing a flower-printed shirt and cutoffs, as I recall. When I met Snyder a few years later, he was wearing a suit and tie. Ginsberg certainly participated in the framing of his own narrative, no doubt about it; but he managed to write some great poems from that frame — much of the Fall of America sequence, I’d say, which is from that period, I think, in which Ginsberg was most self-consciously playing the role of a Blakian bard. poets have to do a lot of crazy things in order to get their poems written and I’m willing to give them a pretty wide latitude in that central project.

    Having said that, I don’t think Carruth participated much in framing his own myth, which is that of the Recluse. From what I know of his life, Carruth was driven to a hardscrabble life because he suffered from anxiety and depression. His autobiographical writings, collected under the title Reluctantly, seem genuinely reluctant to me, but others of course may disagree. Carruth, whose work explicitly sees authenticity, seems to me to have managed a pretty authentic life and so I was — bringing this back to where I began — startled at your suspicious de-mythologizing.

  • On July 22, 2009 at 12:02 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    SORRY ABOUT THAT. EVERYTHING AFTER “CHRISTOPHER” IS JUST THE TEXTS I WAS TRYING TO REPLY TOO. I MEANT TO DELETE THEM.

    I talk too much and now I’m incontinent.

  • On July 22, 2009 at 6:14 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    O.K. Pick up the baton/gauntlet — on your marks — GO!
    And lest you panic at the challenge, I’ll join Hayden Carruth’s side, because although I am a little critical of some parts of the poem, including the title, I like the whole of it enough not to be bothered. I think it’s a wonderful poem all in all, and would be pleased to have it as a friend. Like a painting I’ve decided to live with, I enter into the bargain and it’s now a companion for life — even if we quarrel from time to time we’re now part of each other.

    Of Distress Being Humiliated by the Classical Chinese Poets

    Masters, the mock orange is blooming in Syracuse without scent, having been bred by patient horticulturalists
    To make this greater display at the expense of fragrance.
    But I miss the jasmine of my back-country home.
    Your language has no tenses, which is why your poems can never be translated whole into English;
    Your minds are the minds of men who feel and imagine without time.
    The serenity of the present, the repose of my eyes in the cool whiteness of sterile flowers.
    Even now the headsman with his great curved blade and rank odor is stalking the byways for some of you.
    When everything happens at once, no conflicts can occur.
    Reality is an impasse. Tell me again
    How the white heron rises from among the reeds and flies forever across the nacreous river at twilight
    Toward the distant islands.

    Even better than my start, here’s what John Oliver Simon says right at the beginning:

    “As a translator, I’m grateful for the Hayden Carruth poem upthread because it takes off from, and then transcends, the helplessness of translation.

    The mock orange in the opening line is wry acknowledgment of the send-up occasion. Syracuse is an ideal topos with its double classic and upstate location (”The Boys From…). Squarely, not without tongue in cheek, Carruth takes up the implications of a world viewed, through the filter of the Chinese, without tenses, in which the poet finds himself synchronous and simultaneous with the boys from Tang, while the guy with the scythe stalks us all. I’m compressed.

    Over the busy years, for no particular reason, I never gave Carruth much of a reading, and now he’s gone. Our loss. Appropriate tribute. Grand poem.”

  • On July 22, 2009 at 6:52 am Henry Gould wrote:

    My apologies to all for the rude intemperate language.

  • On July 22, 2009 at 7:07 am Henry Gould wrote:

    There is no perfect anthology, Thomas. I for one would rather have a generous & idiosyncratic basketful, collected by one understanding eye & sensibility, than some authoritative junta’s compromised notion of what makes the List of Authorized Mighty Standards that Everybody Must Read. I believe that’s one reason for the success & popularity of Carruth’s project. No one is exempt from honest, useful criticism – but to my mind your comment sounds like more latter-day carping from an easy-chair coach.

  • On July 22, 2009 at 8:04 am Joseph Duemer wrote:

    But at least Thomas Brady enters the argument without accusing Carruth of being corrupt. He provide some specific examples that one can agree or disagree with. I, too, tend to come down on the “eccentric basket full” side of the argument, but I think a reasonable argument can be made that Carruth’s book would have been “better” or “more useful” (according to one or another legitimate perspective) if it had included a more standard selection of poems. Thinking back to that bygone era, though, I tend to take Carruth at his word (in the intro cited by Bill Knott) that the well-known poems were easily available and that he was trying to shine some light in a few corners. Back in the day, there were quite a few New Crit anthologies floating around and there were a lot of used bookstores in those days. As for Stevens, Vintage published a mass market Selected Poems in 1967 — I still have my copy, which I just pulled off the shelf. It cost $2.45 when I bought it in the mid-1970s, so all the important Stevens was available cheap. Hayden Carruth made a good faith effort to produce an anthology that, by his lights, served to open some possibilities beyond the New Crit canon. One can argue with his selections, or even his purpose, but one has to grant, I think, that The Voice that is Great Within Us was edited in good faith.

  • On July 22, 2009 at 9:35 am Bill Knott wrote:

    I am a book-distribution company,

    an obsolete business model

    via which authors once used to conduit their works to the public—

    today of course they “create their own links to audiences over the Internet”(NYTimes, 07/22/09)….

    Now poets and writers publish and sell their books directly to readers through the Net,

    which means that former intervening obstacles like editors and publishers and distributors

    (not to mention anthologists and critics and reviewers)

    can no longer clog up the pipes—

    (…)

  • On July 22, 2009 at 12:29 pm thomas brady wrote:

    I’m happy to have the fish remain in the lake; the fish can stay there, happy, and certain of us can admire our hooks and lures, but the sport demands we catch some fish.

    The public isn’t biting. We can admire the ‘idiosyncratic’ nature of anthologies and poems all we want, but who benefits? Certain people will be pleased by whatever is idiosyncratic and for that reason alone, but how does this help the art of poetry?

    Is poetry an idiosyncrasy itself, or not? And if not, how shall poetry defy mere idiosyncrasy and please, enlighten, and elevate the general public?

    This is the issue at hand. If we continue to let poetry be defined by the standards established pedagogically by Messrs. Warren and Brooks over the last two-thirds of a century, poetry will remain an idiosyncrasy, with no public value.

    Poetry’s existence in the academy has made it possible to keep making lures while catching no fish; the lure has become an object valued for itself alone.

    No one has escaped the lure-standards set by Warren and Brooks, and we are at a stage now where perhaps this doesn’t matter, and for the sake of the public, and for the sake of poetry, it matters not, since popular songs now provide the pubic with its poetry, and a steely disregard for poems is a healthy thing for society–which Plato thought it was all along.

    The recalcitrant public is not a myth. It exists. The fish no longer recognize the lures. The public no longer recognizes poetry.

    But our inquiry need not focus on the problem–for there may indeed be no problem; but it would seem an impartial survey of the various reasons Brooks and Warren triumphed would be of paramount concern, rather than, say, a study of John Ashbery’s nose hairs, if poetry would become the subject for any genuine, practical interest in the future; the art’s slow, sinking death into idiosyncratic obsolescence at present would seem to have no public benefit whatsoever.

  • On July 22, 2009 at 1:41 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Not sure where the fish came from; the image related to “basket” (in relation to “anthology”) would actuaslly be flowers…

    But your harangue, Thomas… I don’t see what it has to do with any actuality connected with the specificity of our subject here, Hayden Carruth.

    “Idiosyncratic” was probably the wrong word on my part. The thought was that we were being offered an anthology which was the product of one person’s sensibility. When you have someone as interested, engaged & informed as Carruth to do the project, it shows. Of course, it’s not perfect. But YOU try making an anthology! It’s not so easy, either.

    Your lament about the lack of an audience seems rather belied by the fact that this anthology has remained in print for… what? 50 yrs now?

  • On July 22, 2009 at 4:03 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Henry,

    The Carruth anthology is still in print?

    As a HS textbook? So what? Last time I checked, they teach poetry–as defined by Brooks & Warren–in school. (shrug)

    Christopher,

    As for Carruth’s poem, it is kind of interesting how stock images, ‘heron,’ ‘white flowers,’ appeal.

    I’d tried the trick myself and wrote a pretty good poem in a few minutes. I bet anyone could do it:

    Poet, you are frozen in my memory
    among the white blossoms on the mountain,
    the poem you wrote, forgotten,
    written once, and once only, upon the jasmine-scented air. I am losing you as you ascend;
    I am losing you as you descend.
    The hills make you do that.
    I can say it was spring, for I remember
    the blossoms, but you, what of you,
    lasting but a day in my poem’s evening?

    Thomas

  • On July 22, 2009 at 4:18 pm Joseph Duemer wrote:

    You imagine that you diminish Hayden Carruth, but you only diminish yourself.

  • On July 22, 2009 at 4:30 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    The Carruth anthology is sold as an unpretentious inexpensive mass-market paperback, not a textbook. The kind of thing I used to snap up as an avid adolescent bookworm – outside of school. I bet there are still some of those around (I mean young bookworms taken with poetry). You are too jaded, man, when you’re not pontificating. Wake up & smell the fish-flowers.

  • On July 22, 2009 at 5:46 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    university presses in the state of California seem to specialize in publishing extortionately-priced volumes of esoteric poets nobody wants to read—

    the Stanford Eigner 150 boondoggle being an obvious case—

    the July 11th NYTimes, page A11, recounts how

    “The University of California will use . . . furloughs, deferred hiring and cuts in academic programs to make up for [large reductions] in state financing. . . .”

    Student aid and programs for minority applicants are being sliced to the bone it seems,

    but nowhere in the Times piece does it mention the University of California Press

    and its scandalously wasteful publication of recondite poetry books,

    books that have to be subsidized by the (tuition-funded?) U of C Press

    because let’s face it regular publishers would never be foolish enough

    to put out these unpopular shelf-saggers—

    (I append a list below)—

    most of which will surely not recoup their cost, never mind show a profit—

    Real editors as opposed to the fatcat fed-by-taxpayer elitists at the U of C Press are not eager to produce books

    guaranteed to lose money—

    Hopefully the fiscal crisis in California will bring the University to its senses

    and end their current spendthrift splurge program of issuing poetry books nobody wants to read—

    I’m pulling their leg with that hyperbole—

    but seriously, the books of Mary Oliver and Jane Hirshfield and Billy Collins et al don’t have to be subsidized by state funds, do they—

    and where DOES the U of C Press get the finance from, to publish these arcane volumes? The University’s stock portfolio? Alumni donors? The C.I.A.?

    Perhaps if the U of C Press Series of Obscure Poets

    does become in danger of losing its funding,

    the students there will all vote in favor of increasing tuition fees

    to make up for the loss of cash from Sacramento—

    *
    Below is a list of some of these “avantgarde” masterworks published recently by the U of C Press—

    Wait a minute, Knott!—

    Are you saying these poets below don’t deserve to have their books published?—

    No, I’m not saying that.

    I’m saying that the U of C Press should publish them the same way my abstruse nobody-wants-to-read-it poetry is published,

    in P-O-D volumes, with free downloadable PDFs—

    When you look at this list below, notice the extravagant prices of the hardcover editions:

    who’s buying those 45-50 dollar poetry books?

    (some of their authors purport to be leftist, so maybe they’re being snapped up by proles everywhere)—

    (Joshua Clover will communally share his Socialist verse with you, if you slip him 45 smackers)—

    One thing’s for sure: they don’t appear on the Bestseller Lists the Poetry Foundation posts on its website.

    That doesn’t mean I think these books shouldn’t be published—

    or that these poets shouldn’t be read, however large or tiny their audience—

    But if university presses continue publishing poetry that has a limited readership at best, in series which can only end in debit,

    don’t the taxpayers/tuitionpayers funding them have a right to demand that the costs of such books should be curtailed—?

    University presses who want to save their poetry series will have to move to a P-O-D model,

    for economic reasons, won’t they?

    As somebody said, if it’s not on the Net it don’t exist—

    Should poets and critics (and poet-critics) refuse to review any poetry book that isn’t a P-O-D, and isn’t also available as a free PDF download—?

    Poetry to the people, perhaps.

    *
    Thing of Beauty: New and Selected Works (Simpson Book in the Humanities) by Jackson Mac Low and Anne Tardos (Paperback – May 1, 2009)
    Other Editions: Hardcover

    Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy (New California Poetry) by Keith Waldrop (Hardcover – Mar 2, 2009) Buy new: $50.00

    The Holy Forest: Collected Poems of Robin Blaser by Robin Blaser, Miriam Nichols, and Robert Creeley (Paperback – Sep 10, 2008)
    Buy new: $24.95

    It’s go in horizontal: Selected Poems, 1974-2006 (New California Poetry) by Leslie Scalapino (Paperback – April 8, 2008)
    Buy new: $16.95 Other Editions: Hardcover

    Ours (New California Poetry) by Cole Swensen (Hardcover – April 8, 2008)
    Buy new: $45.00

    The Age of Huts (compleat) (New California Poetry) by Ron Silliman (Paperback – April 9, 2007)
    Buy new: $21.95 Other Editions: Hardcover

    Green and Gray (New California Poetry) by Geoffrey G. O’Brien (Hardcover – April 9, 2007)
    Buy new: $50.00

    The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan by Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley (Paperback – Mar 21, 2007) Buy new: $24.95

    I Love Artists: New and Selected Poems (New California Poetry) by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge (Paperback – April 10, 2006) Buy new: $19.95
    Other Editions: Hardcover

    The Totality for Kids (New California Poetry) by Joshua Clover (Hardcover – April 10, 2006)
    Buy new: $45.00

    The Wilds (New California Poetry) by Mark Levine (Hardcover – April 10, 2006)
    Buy new: $45.00

    >>>>

  • On July 22, 2009 at 5:55 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    also recently in the news, speaking of university presses and their plight—

    it doesn’t mention their poetry series:

    what’s its fate? anybody know?

    …..

    July 10, 2009
    Louisiana State U. Press Will Not Close, Director Says

    There’s good news from Baton Rouge. Louisiana State University Press will not be forced to close despite the state’s budget troubles.

    Mary Katherine Callaway, the press’s director, confirmed in an e-mail message to The Chronicle that the press would live to publish another day. “Yes, it is good news,” she wrote. “We will need to retool several parts of our operation due to the budget cuts, but we’re focused on what we need to do and optimistic about the future.”

    That puts an end to two months of deep and widespread anxiety about the press’s fate. Word [came] in early May that LSU might cut its subsidy so drastically that the press would have to shut down.

    With its reputation for publishing some of the best writing and scholarship from and about the South, the press has many supporters inside academe and in the larger literary community. They rallied to lobby the LSU administration and the state’s governor, Bobby Jindal, to keep the press alive.
    The university agreed to appoint a panel of deans to look into ways to save the press. . .

  • On July 22, 2009 at 8:12 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    some elitist ilker above claimed libraries will buy these 75/150 dollar pubs—

    but how many public libraries in California where Stanford lords it o’er the land, can afford its latest disgusting scam,

    the Eigner excrescence,

    at 150 bucks a copy?

    And Michigan, where i live, going bankrupt as California,

    how many of its public libraries will be able to obtain the Finch book pubbed by its state university’s press,

    that 75 dollar doozy—

    but of course for the ilkers, public libraries don’t count—the public doesn’t count—

    only the academic audience registers as valid for them—

    the public—all those Mary Oliver/Billy Collins reading fools—

    are despised by the ilkers and the coterie cognoscenti

    (and the spd’d purveyors of their unpopular poesy)—

    the public is hated by the editors at Stanford U and the U of Cal, and similar entrenchments—

    it’s obvious that public libraries and the public

    are of no interest to them—

    but hopefully this current fiscal crisis will cause that same public to rise up

    and rein back the outrageous excesses of these porkbarrel presses—

  • On July 22, 2009 at 9:17 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    With state parks closing, prisoners released en masse, kids losing medical benefits and 40 third-graders jammed into classrooms, I’m sure the wrath of California voters will focus on the collected works of Larry Eigner.

  • On July 23, 2009 at 8:46 am Bill Knott wrote:

    exactly: universities in California are wasting money on boondoggles like the 150 dollar Eigner and the UCal Press Series of Unpopular Poets,

    money that could be going to help the situations you describe:

    “state parks closing, prisoners released en masse, kids losing medical benefits and 40 third-graders jammed into classrooms . . .”


    the “California voters” you mention should be protesting waste and corruption wherever it occurs in its public agencies and institutions,

    whether it’s the Highway Dept or the University—

  • On July 23, 2009 at 9:53 am Eileen Myles wrote:

    Bill don’t be such a bitter pussy. You’ve written so much great poetry but the fact that you aren’t published well today doesn’t mean the UC Press and it’s smart avant garde list is to blame. Since when are you anti avant garde. You’ve spawned some of what you sneer at or are right in there in so many ways. What’s your argument – cause I’m poor everyone else should be poor. Regular presses publish unenlightened garbage. Nobody knows what poetry is so in the more mainstream realms the attention goes to who NPR gives the mediocrity award to or who gets the nice bourgeouise (I can never spell that word) gentleman lady award. You can’t tell me you admire what “regular” presses do. They would be publishing you if they were admirable. UC displays some taste and whether you like it or not taste is always better than an applause meter or a country club aesthetic.

  • On July 23, 2009 at 10:42 am Don Share wrote:

    I’m glad UC can and does spend money producing their wonderful poetry books. I hope they can continue to do so. Being bourgeois myself, I buy ‘em. But both NPR and UC are enormous and powerful institutions with wealthy patrons (country clubs? faculty clubs??), pitching their wares, as they must, to affluent and bourgeois consumers. I don’t see that much difference between them. (I don’t listen to NPR, though.)

    Bill’s been published by FSG, BOA, Iowa, and he also nobly publishes himself. All good, it seems to me, as a reader.

    Where is this applause meter, though?

  • On July 23, 2009 at 10:50 am John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Not everyone here may know that Larry Eigner (1927-1996) was a quadraplegic from birth who lived with his parents in Swampscott, Massachusetts till he was 50. Mom and Dad thought of him as retarded, and believed he was incapable of language until he taught himself to use a typewriter as a teenager. He started writing his idiosyncratic poems in total isolation. Their spareness has a lot to do with the physical effort of banging the keys.

    I published Eigner in one of the first issues of Aldebaran Review, and Alta and I visited him in Swampscott in 1969. His speech was hardly intelligible but he was plenty sharp. Later he moved to California where there was more support for disabled folks. Jack Foley did a wonderfully consistent service of showing up for and with Larry at literary venues. Of course the Language poets recognized him as a kindred spirit and made much of him.

    I think of Eigner as someone who was true to his own perception and gave his all to make poetry where he found it. I’m not defending $150 for anybody’s book but Larry Eigner was one of our true poets. The easy equation of his collected with a boondoggle is a cheap slur.

  • On July 23, 2009 at 10:58 am Bill Knott wrote:

    maybe the students there at UCal will agree with you and urge their tuition be raised to continue the Cal Series of Elitist Poets Nobody Wants to Read—

    but I hope the budget cuts just announced will end that boondoggle
    and others like it—

    University presses have a moral obligation to the taxpayers/tuitionpayers of their states to not waste the funding they provide—

    it’s not “taste” that counts,

    it’s cost—

  • On July 23, 2009 at 11:19 am Travis Nichols wrote:

    Tom Hibbard on Eigner:

    http://jacketmagazine.com/25/hibb-eign.html

    Interesting take on Eigner work and the relationship between it and his disability. Similar, in some ways, to what Lucia Perillo talks about in her interview here:

    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/journal/article.html?id=237156

  • On July 23, 2009 at 11:32 am Bill Knott wrote:

    it may be a slur, but at a hundred and fifty bucks a pop, it ain’t cheap—

    i don’t think i ever said the Eigner book shouldn’t be published,

    but why can’t you avant-assholes pay for it yourself?

    okay, you avanties want to resurrect all these marginal minor poets nobody read while they were alive,

    fine, hooray for you,

    but you should shoulder the cost,

    not heap it on the backs of tuition/taxpayers . . .

  • On July 23, 2009 at 11:48 am michael robbins wrote:

    wait, Thomas’s harangue has nothing to do with the specificity of the subject?? I sure hope you aren’t implying that Understanding Poetry is not responsible for Carruth’s idiosyncratic selection & anthology price-gouging & the price of tea in Sag Harbor!

  • On July 23, 2009 at 12:14 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Though some of Bill Knott’s tantrums are over-the-top (the tonal theatrics are quite intentional, I’m sure), his focus on book prices for “post-avant” titles from up-scale university and commercial presses points to a fraught and somewhat impolite-to-raise issue– one he sarcastically encapsulates in his reference to a book from a Badiouian Marxist poet from U of California Press (though I’ve published with U of C Press, too, along with Princeton, and those books are also pricey, so don’t take this as self-righteousness):

    The extent to which the so-called post-avant is now a thoroughly institutionalized and housebroken sub-cultural phenomenon.

    It all comes at a “price,” one might say…

    By the way, Press Release from Madison Avenue: FSG (Bill Knott’s publisher!) announced today the forthcoming Selected Poems of Charles Bernstein. No retail price yet listed.

    How much does that big, fancy book cost, incidentally– the one about U.S. avant-garde poetry once upon a time, titled _From a Secret Location on the Lower East Side_?

    Kent

  • On July 23, 2009 at 12:35 pm Don Share wrote:

    The list price of Charles’s book is given at Amazon as $14.95 – CHEEP! It’s available for pre-order in hardback from them for ten dollars and seventeen cents right now. (The FSG catalog sez 26 bux for hardcover.)

    The Rothenberg book you mention – which has great stuff in it about the “mimeograph revolution” – is avail. at $27.95. I believe I published the last mimeographed literary magazine in the country – it ran until 1986 out of Houston. Anybody know of a mimeo rag that existed later than that? I donated the machine to a Baptist church on dissolving the mag.

  • On July 23, 2009 at 12:39 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    oh foo, Kent Johnson, you know FSG is not my pubisher:

    FSG is my publisher in the same way that Big Table is my publisher,

    meaning they once published a book of mine—

    my current publisher is Lulu.com,

    from which pdfs of all my 19 books can be downloaded free—

    (it wouldn’t surprise me if FSG did add CB to its White Male Poets Series)

  • On July 23, 2009 at 12:41 pm Joseph Duemer wrote:

    “On average, university presses operate on a combination of earned income (80-90%) and institutional subsidies (5-15%), supplemented by title subsidies and endowment income (5%).[48] As presses depend on earned revenue for 80-90% of their operating budgets, they must manage their publishing activities overall to balance mission fulfillment and revenue generation. Some press projects will balance both the press’s mission and revenue objectives, while other projects may cross-subsidize mission-worthy publications that are incapable of covering their own costs. Whatever the mix, overall, the press must manage its publishing portfolio to cover both direct and indirect costs to remain operationally self-sustaining.” Source SPARC

    The whole purpose of a university press is to publish books for which there will be a small audience. The libraries of California already have shelves sagging with the work of Rod Mckuen. Maybe it’s a stupid mission, but historically it has been what they do. And tuition does not support university press projects except very indirectly. I’d argue that university presses represent the best impulses of democracy, providing a way to distribute works if intellect and imagination for which there is not a mass market.

  • On July 23, 2009 at 12:55 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    What was the name of your magazine,Don? I’ve been in Houston since ’73 and spent two years at UH, but I don’t recall your magazine.

    Gary

  • On July 23, 2009 at 1:03 pm Don Share wrote:

    No reason why you would recall it. I wasn’t connected to UH or their writing program, so never distributed it there or even went onto the campus. It was called “To Heart” and began as a music magazine in Providence, RI. Most of my distribution was guerrilla – or by mail on request. Even the lovely folks at the Brazos bookstore wouldn’t take it! This was between 1982 and 1986. My print run was only 50, tops – which was a lot to hand crank!

  • On July 23, 2009 at 1:35 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    University presses are complacent bloated bureaucracies

    larded with waste and corruption—

    they’re no different than the Parks Dept. or the Police Dept.,

    or any other governmental agency

    whose primary goal is to bilk the public—

    every penny UCal loses on that Series of Phoney Poets Nobody Wants to Read

    is a penny that should be going to student aid—

  • On July 23, 2009 at 1:56 pm Don Share wrote:

    The entire staff of a typical UP is usually just a handful of people.

    If it’s the budget and funding of the UC Press you’re interested in, why not just read their annual reports, made freely available here:

    http://www.ucpress.edu/press/annual_report.php

  • On July 23, 2009 at 2:09 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    that’s an interesting phrase you use:

    “published well”—

    to be published well is to be,

    well, what?

    are you being published well when the cover price on your book

    is 45-50 dollars,

    like those volumes in the UCal series?

    is that being “published well”?

    i may not be “published well today,” as you put it,

    but i think (foolishly perhaps) that i’m being better published today than i’ve ever been,

    because i’m publishing myself, and making all my books available free to anyone in the world able or willing to download them—

    for the first time, i have control over what goes into (and on) my books—

    my work will not be as it was in the past, censored suppressed or rewritten by editors —

    maybe vanity PODpubs can never be “published well”,

    but i’d rather be free on the Lulu list than fiftybuckfucked on the UCal—

  • On July 23, 2009 at 2:17 pm Brent Cunningham wrote:

    Bill,

    You might try following out your chain of reasoning a little farther–you’re almost there, but the problem is that nearly ALL poets and poetry publishing projects have subsidies and supports of one sort or another. What you’re really proposing is the end of all poetry publishing and most of the culture of poetry in this country. Take the plunge and call for it!

    Your examples of poets whose work isn’t subsidized are ridiculous. Do we really have to go through these?

    Billy Collins: the work that eventually brought him a wide enough audience to be, I’d guess, slightly profitable sans any sort of subsidy (although his numbers aren’t higher than any decently-performing gift book or romance novel or cookbook) was published on Pitt, subsidized by the good students there at U of Pittsburg. His National Poetry Series book, which brought him significant early attention, was subsidized by a gift from the good James Mitchner long ago as well as lots of other foundations and givers. His widest p.r. exposure thusfar has generally been on some kind of public tv or public radio. His success is almost entirely a creation, in fact, of government and foundational subsidies, something I’m sure he’d admit. Plus: Guggenheims, taxpayer funded fellowships from the NY Foundation for the Arts, the NEA, etc.

    Mary Oliver: she’s been a writer in residence at all kinds of colleges, and no doubt that’s helped her have the time and funds to write her books. Her books might be as close to an unsubsidized and truly profitable case as one can get–her first book was on Houghton Mifflin. But you have to wonder how well they would have sold without the many subsidized prizes she’s won: the Pulitzer; the National Book Award which has been funded by the NEA for decades; Poetry Society award, Guggenheim, etc.

    Jane Hirshfield: Wesleyan Poetry Series for her first significant book, Guggenhiem, Rockefeller, Academy of American Poets fellowship, NEA fellowship, etc.

    Just for the record, I don’t run a book distribution company, I work for a non-profit book distributor (which also, by the way, gives free books away to kids whenever there’s funding for it). But, yes, I’m biased: for instance, I think literary publishers and organizations and infrastructure should receive more support and subsidies not less. I’m really not sure how you do that without pulling resources from admittedly more vital things like health care, education, etc. But, in principle, I hold that there’s some very hard-to-define point where lack of arts in a society would begin diminish the general quality of life for lots and lots of people in ways that are just about as serious as anything else in life. And I think that many of those people might not know beforehand how deeply the loss of an arts culture would affect them, or might not vote with their wallets correctly beforehand. I’m not overly worried about individual artists, who tend to be resilient, but you can’t just decide, after devastating artistic institutions and artistic infrastructure, that you really wish you hadn’t and just snap your fingers and undo it.

    The state park system, which is one place you seem to think UC Press’s subsidies should be going, is a decent comparison I think. Why do you think that state parks deserve to stay open when the same arguments could be used there: can’t nature pay for itself? You have to take taxpayer money? Why not shut down all the small parks no one visits, just keeping open the ones that turn a profit on their own? But you’re somehow also against expensive access to these parks/books, so want the parks/books to be free or cheap yet without subsidies. Maybe virtual tours of state parks and PDF-state-parks on blogs instead of actual parks?

    I do wonder why you think POD technology and websites and Lulu and free PDFs are outside the economic dynamics that currently obtain in poetry culture, or what’s so different about them? Blogs aren’t free (you have to agree to be marketed and advertised to), Lulu is adamantly not free they have a business model and they’re raking it in, PDF software to MAKE a free PDF isn’t free, POD is merely a new printing technology but it still costs money. All you seem to be asking for is a poetry world where people with private resources get to control poetry even more than they currently do.

    These ideas of yours are forcefully expressed, Bill, but they’re really a muddle.

    yrs,

    Brent Cunningham

  • On July 23, 2009 at 2:30 pm Jordan wrote:

    You may have been the last, Don. I believe Mag City (eds. Lenhart, Masters, and Scholnick) ran into the mid-80s, but not as late as ’86. Steve Clay at Granary Books might know best.

    Stephen Paul Miller curated a mimeo/offset/photocopy hybrid journal into the early ’90s — I say curated because each participant brought a stack of copies of one page to a collating party overseen by Miller. At the time I imagined some of the pages were mimeo, but they were probably photocopied, not actually hand-cranked on a Gestetner or an AB Dick.

    Katy Lederer’s Explosive Magazine was in the mimeo format, though certainly produced otherwise. The student anthologies produced by Teachers & Writers Collaborative’s writers-in-residence used to follow that 8.5 x 11 and three-staples format too. Laserprinted and photocopied.

    I still think the typography and page design of mimeo books is hard to beat. Centering on the page, few to no line-overs, tons of white space — tons! — the implication being that text is art. The other implication being that, as it is busy being art, this text may not have time to also be a story, or a song, or a gameplan.

  • On July 23, 2009 at 3:17 pm Don Share wrote:

    Thanks for this, Jordan. Two things stand out in my mind about working with mimeograph machines (mine was a Gestetner): 1.) how HEAVY the machines were! I moved mine from Providence down to Houston, and it wasn’t easy; 2.) how gloppy the viscous & endlessly black the ink was – once it oozed out on you, it stayed on you! I had to think ahead and be neat and careful at every stage to get the work done without making a botch mess out of things. The ink flowed freely, but everything else was about using space wisely, and visualizing pages before you made them. And the cranking was work. Fun!!

  • On July 23, 2009 at 3:25 pm michael robbins wrote:

    What I like most about this “debate” — & Brent’s posts should constitute the final word on the subject, so that the rest of us should just start posting variations on “PWND” — is how much latitude everyone is giving Bill despite his wrongheadedness. This is because everyone loves Bill. I love Bill, you love Bill, dude is a poetry machine, lovingly constructed, purring along.

    He wears out his welcome with random precision, but he shines.

  • On July 23, 2009 at 3:27 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    of course you support the pobiz enterprise and all its scams:

    you work for it! it pays your screw—

    plausible-sounding apologists like you are vital to its functioning,

    so congratulations on refuting and ridiculing me so well—

    but nothing you say convinces me i’m wrong to raise the questions i’ve asked here,

    nor do your industry-approved justifications and excuses answer
    my objections—

    your bureaucratic bushwa is typical cover-your-ass propaganda—

    your spd business model is obsolete, and you know it—

    all your desperate thrashing and throwing up waves of rhetoric will not save your archaic system—

    to paraphrase Stevie Smith, you’re not waving,

    you’re drowning—

  • On July 23, 2009 at 5:22 pm john wrote:

    “nearly ALL poets . . . have subsidies and supports of one sort or another.”

    Not true at all. Miles from the truth, unless you count public education as a subsidy.

    I worked in social services for years, and have known a number of homeless poets, some very accomplished and committed, and at least one of them fairly widely published. So yeah, they benefited from staying in the publicly-subsidized homeless shelter (though not as nicely as I benefited from working there), but it wasn’t for their poetry.

    “I hold that there’s some very hard-to-define point where lack of arts in a society would begin diminish the general quality of life for lots and lots of people in ways that are just about as serious as anything else in life.”

    But we’re surrounded by, bombarded by art, all the time, every day. Unless you don’t count popular arts as arts.

    Everything’s muddled. It’s no aspersion, no valid critique.

  • On July 23, 2009 at 5:29 pm john wrote:

    Talk about muddled!

    Sorry everybody — I started to reply to this sub-thread, then changed my mind and was replying to Brent Cunningham’s muddled critique of Bill, below.

    I love Carruth’s anthology — its low price, its range (though no Stein), and the modest and lovely way he included himself.

  • On July 23, 2009 at 6:40 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    smoke and mirrors:

    “On average, university presses operate on a combination of earned income (80-90%) and institutional subsidies (5-15%), supplemented by title subsidies and endowment income (5%).”

    —How much of that 80-90 percent comes from sales to university/college libraries?

    (it’s not likely many in the general public are buying these 50, 75, 150 dollar poetry books, is it?)

    University presses can overprice their books because they have an incestuous backscratching arrangement with university libraries,

    an interlocking duopoly formed by their mutual need to bleed the public coffers and defraud tax/tuition payers:

    a two-party cartel that fixes prices and profits via the usual restrictive practices of collusion and subterfuge—

    with (do you doubt it?) the usual kickbacks and rake-offs and pay-offs—

    it’s a self-sustaining system, an autarkic loop designed to maintain

    and protect its bureaucratic bulge in the pythonous coils of academe—

    but, considering the current economic crisis,

    who knows, that snake just might get bitten back—

  • On July 23, 2009 at 6:47 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    ps: i can’t let you get away with misrepresenting what i said:

    i didn’t say the money wasted by UCal on its pukey poetry series

    should go to public parks,

    i said it should go to student aid.

  • On July 23, 2009 at 6:50 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    M. Robbins said:

    > Brent’s posts should constitute the final word on the subject.

    Not sure I see how they would? Especially after the following “analogy” offered above:

    >The state park system, which is one place you seem to think UC Press’s subsidies should be going, is a decent comparison I think. Why do you think that state parks deserve to stay open when the same arguments could be used there: can’t nature pay for itself? You have to take taxpayer money? Why not shut down all the small parks no one visits, just keeping open the ones that turn a profit on their own? But you’re somehow also against expensive access to these parks/books, so want the parks/books to be free or cheap yet without subsidies. Maybe virtual tours of state parks and PDF-state-parks on blogs instead of actual parks?

    Kent

  • On July 23, 2009 at 7:07 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Don,

    Mark Nowak had a magazine called Furnitures, in Bowling Green, Ohio, ca. 1987, I think this was the founding year. Anyway, I remember being in his apartment when the first issue was being prepared, whenever that was. He manually formatted the contents on an old typewriter, I know, and I think the copies were mimeo. I’m pretty sure, anyway. It ran for a number of issues, for a few years, maybe into 1990 or ’91– a really great mag, which he mailed out to people he wanted to send to, about a hundred, as I recall.

    Kent

  • On July 23, 2009 at 7:34 pm Boyd Nielson wrote:

    Not sure, Kent, I see your point here? Beyond the suggestion that it is turtles all the way down.

  • On July 23, 2009 at 7:37 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Brent,

    All this publishing/distribution talk is hollow if the poetry isn’t good.

    Billy Collins is good. That’s why he sells.

    If you knew Billy Collins, you wouldn’t write “His success is almost entirely a creation, in fact, of government and foundational subsidies, something I’m sure he’d admit.”

    Billy Collins is happy that he appeals to the public–because he’s a good poet.

    Parks are called ‘parks’ because they are PUBLIC and the PUBLIC likes them.

    Art which holds no interest for the public shouldn’t be allowed to HIDE behind the word, art, which like park, has, as its very definition, that which has a public character–because it appeals to the public.

    That is, unless we are ready to admit that parks are really not good for the public and someone just made that up.

    Billy Collins didn’t come to my attention from Pitt; I saw his poetry in magazines and recognized their quality.

    ‘His success is almost entirely a creation, in fact, of government and foundational subsidies’ is an incredible thing to say.

    What about his poetry?

    Your point of view seems very close to Joseph’s, who, up-thread a little bit, somehow thought I was trying to diminish Carruth because I sought to ascertain the aesthetic worth of Carruth’s poem–published at the beginning of this thread.

    Thomas

  • On July 23, 2009 at 8:07 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    What is it about the teeth-gnashing of Bill Knott, & related posts, that somehow offends me?

    Why is it that this single-minded relentless complaint-cycle reminds me of Osip Mandelstam’s remark about the “unclean goat-smell of the enemies of the word”?

    Am I simply complacent, indifferent to the absurd manifestations of socio-moral Decay in our time, so inimical to Poor Poets & Poor Readers, like poor Bill Knott?

    I don’t know. In my book, art and poetry and music have something unaccountable in them. “Beauty will save the world” : this was Dostoevsky’s faith.

    There’s something demeaning about the measly rants against a lack of worldly rewards for one’s supposed artistic gifts & creations.

    That’s not what it’s about.

    Art is so much more powerful than the world, because it’s related to the powerlessness & dependence & grace of children. We are all inheritors of something for which we are not responsible, of which we are not the origin, in which we live & move & have our being.

  • On July 23, 2009 at 8:11 pm michael robbins wrote:

    I fail to see what’s objectionable about Brent’s point there, which is: of course taxpayers are paying for the publication of these books, as they pay for parks, & public transit, &—well, actually, for corporate bailouts & corporate tax breaks & corporate expansion & about a billion other things much more reprehensible than the printing of Ted Berrigan’s poems. You’d have to be what is insanely called in this country a “libertarian” (or just a screwball who believes that it is objectively true that Billy Collins writes good poetry) to see anything objectionable in principle in the notion that the state should subsidize artistic production.

    One can raise questions about the wisdom, the aesthetics, the economics of such production, but those are different questions, & they all keep getting confused here.

  • On July 23, 2009 at 9:01 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    M. Robbins said:

    >I fail to see what’s objectionable about Brent’s point there, which is: of course taxpayers are paying for the publication of these books, as they pay for parks, & public transit…

    Michael, Brent patronizingly asked, after telling Bill he “was almost there with his chain of reasoning”:

    “Can’t nature pay for itself?”

    The answer, obviously, is that no, nature can’t pay for itself. Poets, hard as it may be, and hard as it may be to see, given where we are, *can*; “Nature” *can’t*.

    I know, I know, Nature is a “social construction,” etc. But poets are not quite trees, for example, nor spotted owls.

    Now, I’m not saying that poets should just pay and go it alone, and I’m not saying that I’m opposed to funding by the State (I’m a lapsed Trotskyist, fallen into left-wing Social Democracy!). And yes, like you, I find some of Bill’s rants ridiculous, especially his cartoon dismissals of historically important poets like Larry Eigner or Ted Berrigan, along with his embarrassing ritual prostrations before historically minor ones, like Mary Oliver or Billy Collins– just to reveal my own prejudices…

    I’m just saying Brent Cunningham’s analogy was silly.

    Kent

  • On July 23, 2009 at 9:21 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    For Bill:

    .
    Don’t You See?

    Doesn’t anyone see around us
    this unnatural lethargy, a nation almost
    hypnotized into digital complacency,
    the loss of all community?
    You look out for you. I’ll look out for me.
    It’s as though we all agreed at once
    to look away.

    Don’t you sense a certain general slow
    decrease in energy, some kind of
    supernatural invisibility?
    And so the greedy and ambitious men,
    disengaged from this reality,
    after twenty-thousand years still
    rule the Earth. Still make a mess.

    But if no challenge then no consequence,
    no task to overcome, reason to proceed.
    Then no victory or success.
    Does no one see this debilitating need?
    This desire to run away and hide?

    Being handed what you want is not a challenge,
    or finding it or stealing or having lied.
    Knowing you can’t have it but honestly
    obtaining, that is winning a hero’s rest.
    So how should we obtain, then,
    rise up to take this challenge?
    How do those without greed or blind ambition
    learn to care for what the greedy need,
    the evil then to best?
    How do those without need for dominance
    learn to fight and inflict violence?

    .
    Copyright 2008 – Tall Grass & High Waves, Gary B. Fitzgerald

    .

  • On July 23, 2009 at 9:29 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Poetry is theoretically a pleasurable thing.

    You’re all a bunch of assholes!

  • On July 23, 2009 at 9:46 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Henry,

    Now you sound like a transcendentalist–Knott is ‘worldly’ to gripe about exclusionary practices in po-biz; you’re going to do an end-around now by playing the Ralph Waldo Emerson card.

    Nature’s ‘beauty’ hits us instantaneously, but Man’s ‘beauty’ resides in argument, and always will.

    Human relations belong to argument, dialogue, symposium, decision, exposition, explanation, wooing, courting, orating, singing.

    When Waldo said poetry was an ‘argument’ in ‘The Poet,’ he was uttering a truism–OF COURSE poetry is an ‘argument;’ ALL human expression is an ‘argument’–and this truism was used by Emerson against a type of poetry which Emerson reviled, the kind of poetry people loved in Emerson’s day, the ‘popular’ poetry of ‘music-box tunes’ or whatever pejorative description Mr. E from his towering soap box attached to it. Emerson was not a reviewer, because he never offered samples of Tennyson or Barrett or Longfellow, but instead he was a philosopher, or a sermonizer, which meant he could spout sans actual example, and from Mount Transcendentalist came the GREAT TRUTH: a poem is an argument!! and professors to this day tremble and shake as they pass on this knowledge… Yes…a sonnet from a 19th century lady or a LangPo construct from a bald guy with a large adam’s apple…both are arguments.

    The parks service doesn’t have to make a case for natural beauty–there she is; nature’s beauty is felt and understood immediately.

    Poetry rises to this standard only when the jingle of a nursery rhyme tickles a child, and this tickling happens musically, not philosophically or argumentatively.

    Argument happens later–and, if we aspire to citizenship, it will happen. Politics, history, Plato, etc will be studied in school, and ‘argument’ will become the chief element of human development and consciousness. The choice of a poem’s subject, and how that subject is treated is ‘argument,’ no matter how banal and trivial that subject is, or how it is presented. An ‘uh’ is a part of an argument, or a pause…

    ‘Argument’ is the ONE constant from the lowest to the highest in poetry. Again, this is not any insight we need from Ralph Waldo Emerson; it is a truism. Music is plentiful, like the sweep of natural scenery in federal parks; also plentiful is imagery and word-play and other aspects of pure experience which our poetic imaginations
    put in poems.

    But ‘argument’ makes us human; parks aid our natural selves and poems aid our human selves–but the former is self-evident, while the latter must be ‘argued’ into existence on a daily basis.

    Poetry cannot exist without argument. If you want respite from argument, go to a park; if you want poetry, you’re going to have to argue for it, with it, of it.

    The rub, however, is that you must always argue for or against *something*; argument, unlike nature, doesn’t just exist; argument has to argue itself into existence by using the things it wants to argue for, or argue against.

    A jingly, rhyming poem is not just a jingly, rhyming poem; it exists only as such because it is arguing for itself as such, and the better the argument, the better the jingling will be.

    Genres of all types are, first and foremost, representatives of that particular genre arguing for themselves, whether it is the very first of its kind, or one in a long line of a genre long known as such.

    Plato argues against one kind of poetry only to make philosophy into another kind of poetry and the argument against poetry is precisely the argument for a new kind of poetry–arguing against poetry only works if it is creating poetry; poetry can only exist as it argues against itself. But arguments, if not attached to reality, fail, especially if argument for its own sake eclipses everything else, which, in intellectuals, it often does.

    Poetry must argue for itself; poetry cannot be subsidized, like parks, for poetry is created by Man, and parks, by nature.

    Unlike parks, poems have no passive value.

    Don Share says he buys poetry from UCal, as if this statement has any meaning; it does not; such a statement has no force whatsoever; it is like saying, “I buy eggs” or “I visit parks.”

    Bill Knott’s argument against de facto subsidized poetry is divine in spirit; the condescending sneer against Bill is merely the sneer of the sophist.

    Thomas

  • On July 23, 2009 at 10:00 pm michael robbins wrote:

    But Kent, the analogy is hardly far-fetched: I could point you to a dozen different arguments, from the far right to the center left, arguing for free market “solutions” to environmental crisis, & as many more suggesting that the state should not be in the business of preserving “nature” at all. All Brent was doing was taking Bill’s point to a logical extreme, one that it is taken to all the time.

  • On July 23, 2009 at 10:12 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Michael,

    This is getting kind of dumb. I know that is what Brent was suggesting. I’m just saying that his attempt to “take Bill’s point to the logical extreme” with such a trope was knuckleheaded. It;s what they call a false analogy. But it’s no big deal, really.

    Kent

  • On July 23, 2009 at 10:17 pm Boyd Nielson wrote:

    I am a fan of your substantive critiques, Kent. But in this case it seems to me that you are less interested in whether Brent’s analogy was silly than in whether Brent’s tone was “patronizing.” (In context, it surely was not).

  • On July 23, 2009 at 10:27 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Boyd,

    I like your posts, too, But OK, I give up!

    Is this my ninth post today?

    my god.

    Kent

  • On July 23, 2009 at 11:14 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Huh?

  • On July 24, 2009 at 12:09 am Michael James wrote:

    Exactly. What Mr. Brady is missing that those poems which were exluded were done purposefully. To include those poems negates the attempt of Carruth’s anthology.

    “What keeps on moving if your body stops?”

    Do you know how many people, poets even, that I have encountered who do not know who Thomas Hornsby Ferril is? His poems are grand. And if his poems had been removed to include space for more readily available and ‘token’ canon installations, I would be missing out on some fantastic work. You gotta take a dive into a new pool some days. Can you really find continued enjoyment while looking over the fence at your neighbors pool-grounds, wondering what their water feels like?

  • On July 24, 2009 at 12:24 am john wrote:

    What’s so graceful about the poems of his own that Carruth included in his anthology is that they only took up two pages (modesty), and they’re *occasional* poems, written upon the occasion of editing the anthology. (I enjoyed Annie Finch’s discussions of occasional poetry hereabouts some weeks back.)

    I love what Carruth included by others as well.

    RIP, Hayden Carruth, and thanks for the poems.

  • On July 24, 2009 at 1:10 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    But your both on the money, Michael and Joseph–there is on the one hand a strong argument for eccentric anthologies that wean us off the canon, and on the other for anthologies that celebrate what our society has come to feel represents us best. And who would banish either?

    So my question still stands as I express it in the following post, and if you shun that question you are also keeping your money well away from your mouth. Because the poem in question is extremely well-known, and much loved by a legion of readers who in their admiration have created what can be called “our taste.” Thomas Brady is arguing that “our taste” is just a fashion that has been cobbled into shape by charismatic lecturers in academic strong-holds, and then been deified by lesser academics who want to be up on the scene. Every society does this, every historical moment has its leaders, cheeleaders and apologists, and only when the dust settles can the really uncomfortable questions be asked. Like Euphues, for example–who would ever have expected that taste would be so short-lived, and indeed why was it? It’s no more extreme than many of the tastes we spend a huge amount of intellectual energy defending today, including on this site? I mean, it’s early langpo!

    So why not re-evaluate “Of Distress Being Humiliated by the Classical Chinese Poets” as well? Why aren’t we allowed to? Why is this enquiry a somehow rude and anti-social gesture? Is the poem just another example of a momentary taste that has become a chorus as Thomas Brady says — THIS IS GREAT! THIS IS GREAT! THIS IS GREAT? Is it just a knee-jerk poem for intellectuals? Are its images just “stock?”

    I’ve already committed myself to defending the poem even though I’m critical of some aspects of it — though the aspects I am critical of are not the same as Tom’s. So where do you all stand, and I mean quite specifically? You’ve got this poem hanging on your wall, you’ve committed yourself to living with it as I have. So what’s your answer to the bad-mouth critic? Is he a revisionist, a zealot, or a refresher?

    Christopher

  • On July 24, 2009 at 8:41 am Don Share wrote:

    I’m thrilled that someone else knows T.H. Ferril’s work; he was one of America’s great poets, and is unjustly neglected. He was also a great editor – of the recently defunct Rocky Mountain News. Michael’s point is very important, and he states it well.

  • On July 24, 2009 at 8:47 am Don Share wrote:

    Don’t be silly. My statement that I buy books has the force precisely of this meaning: that books such as Bill disparages do, in fact, have a paying audience. It is incorrect to say that they do not.

    Buyers of poetry books may be fewer than egg-eaters or park-goers, but that point has no force.

    The sneers are yours and Bill’s, in this case.

  • On July 24, 2009 at 10:54 am thomas brady wrote:

    Gary,

    I was replying to Henry Gould’s post above—I didn’t hit ‘reply’ to his specific post– sorry– fearing elongation of my remarks into a stick.

    To summarize one item of my post quickly: Parks and poetry are both subsidized, but the value of parks (nature) is straightforward, while poetry, as a category, is not as simple, since poetry’s value lies apart from nature; nature can be fouled up by Man and herein lies the rationale for parks; poetry, however does not require the same ‘protection.’ Protected or subsidized poetry weakens poetry as a philosophical and pedagogical process within Letters—the more we treat poetry as an endangered species the more it becomes one. Are you following me thus far?

    Thomas

  • On July 24, 2009 at 11:09 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    If I may clarify your analogy for you, a park is not “Nature” any more than a vegetable garden is. Nature is either wilderness or, in a grander sense, the Universe itself. Like so poetry. Right?

  • On July 24, 2009 at 11:12 am thomas brady wrote:

    Don,

    Bill grumbles that eggs cost 50 bucks for a dozen.

    You say, “I buy eggs!”

    Your comment isn’t really getting at the nub of Bill’s complaint.

    That’s all I meant.

    There’s all sorts of reason why an individual might buy a UCal poetry book. You can share that with us–or not.

    Thomas

  • On July 24, 2009 at 11:19 am thomas brady wrote:

    Gary,

    So the National Parks Service has no interest in preserving wilderness? Of course I mean nature with a small ‘n.’

    I’d love to discuss your poetry and “the universe,” but my point is slightly more mundane.

    Thomas

  • On July 24, 2009 at 1:41 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    must i repeat that i do not object to the publication of these books,

    but to their obscene prohibitive prices?

    i personally don’t like these poets particularly, but that’s immaterial,

    mox nix, c’est la vie—

    Don Share, if you admire these poets and think they should be read,

    why wouldn’t you want them available to a larger audience than their high cost allows?

  • On July 24, 2009 at 1:45 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    i don’t see how it’s “sneering” to protest

    against the overpricing of poetry books——

    are you in favor of these 50 dollar 75 dollar 150 dollar books?

    maybe you’re in favor of them because you’re about to raise the price of PoChiMag to 40 dollars per issue—

  • On July 24, 2009 at 2:52 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    “sneers” con’t:

    their own publisher UCal is in effect insulting and sneering at the poets on their list,

    by pricing these books out of reach of the public:

    thereby implying that the public would/could have no interest in reading them,

    and that only an elite group of cognoscenti will care to buy them—

  • On July 24, 2009 at 3:00 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    seriously: wouldn’t you prefer to have your books priced at a cost most people anywhere could afford,

    or do you want them only bought by university libraries?

    And re the latter: which would you prefer them to buy: a 50 dollar hardcover of your book, or 5 ten-dollar paperbacks of it?

  • On July 24, 2009 at 4:11 pm Don Share wrote:

    Answer: they are discounted heavily, e.g., at Amazon, and almost nobody pays list price. This makes them pretty darn available. What constitutes a large audience? I have no idea. What’s the size of your audience, and of UC Press’s? Do you have a larger audience for your work because it’s free? Maybe so, but part of what, say, an FSG or UC Press has built into their “high” cost is stuff like marketing, ads, distribution, etc., so that this theoretical audience can find out about the work they invest in and publish.

    And when it comes to anthologies: big permissions fees, moreso than when Carruth was assembling his.

  • On July 24, 2009 at 4:13 pm Don Share wrote:

    You’ll notice that our cover price per issue is $3.75, even for the summer double issue. Some folks spend that on a couple of cups of coffee each day. And who says we’re raising the price???

  • On July 24, 2009 at 4:18 pm Don Share wrote:

    Again, this is a fallacy. Otherwise free books like yours (which I treasure) would have a wider circulation than those that cost something, like say, Spicer’s collected… listed at $35, but discounted to 23 at Amazon. Seidel’s pricy collected is selling pretty darn well just now. No -

    It depends on the book, and on the poet, right? (And this is a whole other kettle of fish.)

    Interested folks should go look at what’s actually selling, in any case, which you can do, more or less, here:

    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/journal/books.html

    If I want a book and have the dough, I buy it. I also go to the library. Readers in this country have unprecedented access to books just now, and should count ourselves lucky.

  • On July 24, 2009 at 5:42 pm michael robbins wrote:

    A major flaw in Poetry’s business model is that, actually, the cover price is zero, since the entirety of each issue is available for free online. Although this is only because a) journals typically lose money on actual sales of issues & b) Poetry runs on big pharma profits.

    Not that I wish to open that particular tin of centipedes again, Don!

  • On July 24, 2009 at 5:50 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    You could review it and get a free copy that way! But anyway, Amazon says the paperback of A Poet’s Craft will be $28.95 ($75 is the cloth edition for libraries).

  • On July 24, 2009 at 8:32 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Thomas,

    I have nothing against argument; anybody who knows my traffic in online po-biz should know how much I relish a good slanging match.

    No, I was offended by the specific tone & substance of Knott’s line. He reduces everything to economics, the cash nexus, popularity in terms of book sales, etc., and he does it in a tendentious & small-potatoes demagogic way (as if the Emperor-Has-No-Clothes strategy is going to bring down the monolithic Poetry Publishing Establishment); and all the while I think he’s making a pseudo-argument, for a pseudo-crusade, which is a cover for his real interest : a chest-beating caterwaul complaint against his own shortage of official recognition & Big Name support (but perhaps this is unfair on my part… it’s definitely just my supposition).

    To me this is evidence of a sort of lack of faith. It’s putting the cart before the horse, because we make art for its own sake. It’s an end in itself. To demand the world re-arrange itself to suit our own sense of our artistic trajectory & our own self-worth… well, it’s everybody’s ego demand, everyone’s unquenchable desire for self-validation, I guess… but it’s not art. It’s a distraction from art. Art is a kind of happy construction process – castles in the sand.

  • On July 25, 2009 at 12:24 pm Joseph Duemer wrote:

    You said it, brother! Is “popularity” really the basis for an aesthetic? Didn’t most of us get over that particular hang-up in high school? Apparently not.

  • On July 26, 2009 at 9:17 pm Joel Brouwer wrote:

    Emergency Haying

    Coming home with the last load I ride standing
    on the wagon tongue, behind the tractor
    in hot exhaust, lank with sweat,

    my arms strung
    awkwardly along the hayrack, cruciform.
    Almost 500 bales we’ve put up

    this afternoon, Marshall and I.
    And of course I think of another who hung
    like this on another cross. My hands are torn

    by baling twine, not nails, and my side is pierced
    by my ulcer, not a lance. The acid in my throat
    is only hayseed. Yet exhaustion and the way

    my body hangs from twisted shoulders, suspended
    on two points of pain in the rising
    monoxide, recall that greater suffering.

    Well, I change grip and the image
    fades. It’s been an unlucky summer. Heavy rains
    brought on the grass tremendously, a monster crop,

    but wet, always wet. Haying was long delayed.
    Now is our last chance to bring in
    the winter’s feed, and Marshall needs help.

    We mow, rake, bale, and draw the bales
    to the barn, these late, half-green,
    improperly cured bales; some weigh 150 pounds

    or more, yet must be lugged by the twine
    across the field, tossed on the load, and then
    at the barn unloaded on the conveyor

    and distributed in the loft. I help –
    I, the desk-servant, word-worker –
    and hold up my end pretty well too; but God,

    the close of day, how I fall down then. My hands
    are sore, they flinch when I light my pipe.
    I think of those who have done slave labor,

    less able and less well prepared than I.
    Rose Marie in the rye fields of Saxony,
    her father in the camps of Moldavia

    and the Crimea, all clerks and housekeepers
    herded to the gaunt fields of torture. Hands
    too bloodied cannot bear

    even the touch of air, even
    the touch of love. I have a friend
    whose grandmother cut cane with a machete

    and cut and cut, until one day
    she snicked her hand off and took it
    and threw it grandly at the sky. Now

    in September our New England mountains
    under a clear sky for which we’re thankful at last
    begin to glow, maples, beeches, birches

    in their first color. I look
    beyond our famous hayfields to our famous hills,
    to the notch where the sunset is beginning,

    then in the other direction, eastward,
    where a full new-risen moon like a pale
    medallion hangs in a lavender cloud

    beyond the barn. My eyes
    sting with sweat and loveliness. And who
    is the Christ now, who

    if not I? It must be so. My strength
    is legion. And I stand up high
    on the wagon tongue in my whole bones to say

    woe to you, watch out
    you sons of bitches who would drive men and women
    to the fields where they can only die.

    - Hayden Carruth, 1969

  • On July 26, 2009 at 10:31 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Reminds me quite distinctly of my own haybaling days (Wyoming, early 70s). Though we had baling hooks, which made it a little easier. (My brother was Wyoming state haybaling champion about that time – not an easy thing to be!)

    but similar thoughts… (was reading the Bible in the bunkhouse, in those days). The adolescent rush of giddy invincible power & well-being, after a very hard day’s work (“my strength / is legion…”). But Carruth adds another tone, of pathos & suffering, irony. (“Legion” – as in the Roman legions – or the man in the Gospels beset by demons, “whose [corporate] name is Legion”…)

    Thanks, Joel.

  • On July 26, 2009 at 11:21 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    I never read much Carruth, but I’m sure glad you posted this poem, Joel.

    Annie, for one, will appreciate the internal rhymes that rig the poem from the start (tongue-strung-hung) as the argument rises stanza by stanza on a framework of earned labor taken to its largest implications — against the throwaway concession to the famous prettiness of landscape — echoing again when the wryly disowned metaphor of the Christ is affirmed and transformed: eyes-I-high-die.

    That’s what I call an ear. And it wouldn’t happen unless the poet actually got blisters.

  • On July 27, 2009 at 1:11 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    o, gorgeous. thank you, joel.

    margo

  • On July 27, 2009 at 10:58 am thomas brady wrote:

    “because we make art for its own sake.” Henry, in your attempt to be holier than thou, you’ve made the most naive pronouncement on Harriet, ever.

    What happened to you? You used to be funny and insightful… Bill did NOT reduce “everything” to money; he simply made a point that many people spent a lot of energy trying to refute, and couldn’t… those with a different opinion then accuse Bill of ‘riding a hobbyhorse’ or ‘trying to bring attention to himself,’ or something. I’m familiar with the game…

  • On July 27, 2009 at 11:46 am Henry Gould wrote:

    Clearly both art & human motivation are labyrinthine in the extreme. But you have to understand that art, at its most basic, fundamental, ground level, is a distinct process of making, which has its own center of gravity, its own distinct (if mysterious) set of purposes.

    Those who don’t understand this, & yet feel compelled & entitled to traffic in endless theories & arguments about art & its use-values… well, I have an old-fashioned name for them : philistines.

  • On July 27, 2009 at 12:49 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Henry, you don’t even believe this pretentious claptrap; please say you don’t. What happened to your warm, human wit?

  • On July 27, 2009 at 1:02 pm thomas brady wrote:

    I prefer the white heron rising out of the reeds to the sweaty guy who thinks he’s jesus christ…

    Isn’t this the sort of ‘workshop poem’ with the hyper-self conscious, lyric “I” which a whole generation has condemned?

    I never bought into the idea that there was anything wrong with first-person lyric, per se, but it does raise the question: why does poetry attract the egomaniac? Can we blame the first-person lyric? I don’t think we can. When it comes to fabulism, first-person and third-person are strategies, not selves; but the first-person address certainly provides a platform for autobiographical excess, an excess usually better, however, than its opposite, if that excess can be shaped into a certain unique memorableness–beyond the merely chatty utterance, beyond the merely autobiographical, hectoring address.

  • On July 27, 2009 at 3:26 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    I’m giving you a green thumb on this one, Tom, which as you might suppose is a rarity for me with your posts, for contributing alertly to the discussion without dragging in your favorite deadening bête noires.

    Your disquisition on the first person egotistical is quite acute. There is a passage where Bill W. writes about the infantile grandiosity of alcoholics for which you could easily substitute the word “poets.” Give us a podium and we think we’re Jesus on the Mount.

    Is your preference for white heron over sweaty guy (let alone Chriat-pretension) an instance of simply preferring pretty retro imagery to true grit? When was the last time you saw a white heron outside of a diorama of Yeats?

    I see white herons all the time when I kayak, actually. Blue herons are rarer and more beautiful. I’m not sure what the ratio of herons to sweaty people is in my own poetry. Might be a dissertation in that.

  • On July 27, 2009 at 3:40 pm Don Share wrote:

    I can’t resist mentioning that the title of Derek Walcott’s forthcoming book is… “White Egrets”!!

  • On July 27, 2009 at 4:40 pm thomas brady wrote:

    John,

    I have no green thumb!

    Plants wither before me.

    I don’t think ‘true grit’ is possible in a poem.

    True grit is only found in actual…grit.

    Actual people sweat, not poems, and when poets try to make a poem sweat, the effect is merely comic, not poetic.

    This is why Carruth had to haul in the tragic slave labor of Rose Marie–not because it was necessary in itself, but because the artless ego talking in the poem required it. Every gesture in a poem is for that poem’s own surival. This is the iron law. We don’t weep for Rose Marie; we smile at the poet’s unconscious need to toss her on stage.

    Imagine the curtain rising on some famous aria from a Puccini opera, and our soprano or tenor is singing in the shower. Just imagine, the same heart-felt song, but an actual shower is on stage, complete with shower-curtain and water running and soap…

    This is the problem with poets who attempt to step out of the Yeats diorama and into the ‘true grit’ world…

    Naked ego doesn’t work in poems. You always have to wear clothes….

    Poetry is stultifyingly conservative from Homer to Millay. It reposes in custom.

    The radical impulse attempting to be poetic is fraught with all sorts of problems.

    To be caught in the middle is no place to be; one must embrace what is customary or be cleverly derisive–there is no in-between.

    Thomas

  • On July 27, 2009 at 6:10 pm Joel Brouwer wrote:

    Hm! I assumed that Carruth wasn’t inflating himself with the Christ reference, but rather deflating Christ.

    I also assumed that the first jabs at the poem would come not at that point but at the trans-historical and -cultural leap to the “gaunt fields of torture.” I happen to quite like that move, but if I were assigned by a poetics grump squad to find the poem’s soft underbelly, that’s where I’d stick my fork first.

  • On July 27, 2009 at 7:01 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Customary or cleverly derisive? That’s a false reductionist dichotomy I don’t want either horn of.

    As in the contemporary Argentine example I mentioned, are you a Neorromántico or an Objectivista, check one. Taken together, “customary” and “cleverly derisive” cover what, maybe one-sixth of the spectrum of great poetry.

    Go deeper, if you will, and see the serpent of poetry, pulsing through time, between two large forces which Octavio Paz named as Tradición (Tradition) and Ruptura (Rupture, but it’s stronger than that).

    The standards of Rupture, after awhile, become hoary with Tradition, calling forth a new Rupture, often in contrary direction to the last. The largest vision embraces both.

    This obviously happened with Modernism. It began as a Rupture and became entrenched Tradition, leading to other Ruptures, most of which we are too much in the middle of to see clearly.

  • On July 27, 2009 at 9:55 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Still no takes on my above on the poem Joel Brouwer posted some days ago — I’ve been away and the thread has moved on. I’ve also posted a further comment on it upthread if anybody is interested [JULY 24, 2009 AT 1:10 AM].

    So how does one answer the accusation that Hayden Carruth’s “Of Distress Being Humiliated by the Classical Chinese Poets” is superficial, derivative and relies on stock images?

    Here are a few ideas that are helpful to me in my own defense of it, and I think might be useful here too in the context of this new poem.

    Huge greatness can equally be achieved with a minimalist palette, as in the minute and painstaking concentration involved in some of the Far Eastern arts, haiku, ikebana, calligraphy, where the same movement or image is repeated again and again, like a prayer or a mantra.

    Or a myth, or an icon.

    Here’s another. The same limited movement or image is repeated over and over again until the self, unmoving, becomes the palette. From another angle, 180° different, greatness arrives at the moment where there’s no further intervention from the self with its terrible need to be unique and original.

    And another angle. The sign of a great poem, in the sense of famous, at least, is that in the end it lives all by itself, without reference to anyone or anything. Also, the great poem’s distinctive voice and flavor continues to grow and blossom long after the poet’s death. Indeed, one might ask how some of our great poems ever came to be written in the first place? And beyond even that, how could the world of American poetry ever have managed to get started without them, or we to get on with our own work uninspired and alone?

    Finally, not all great poems are born (‘made’) great either—some become great in time through historical accident, schools of criticism and even hagiography. Like “In a Station of the Metro,” “So Much Depends Upon,” and some of e.e.cummings — or Alan Ginsberg, a wonderful example, or even some of John Ashbery. Familiarity breeds contempt, but it also breeds home-comings, and such poems are truly the American Poet’s Home.

    And the Hayden Carruth poem, specifically? How do we evaluate it? How can we be sure that this poem will deliver forever, or anywhere, and in so doing prove Thomas Brady was wrong?

    Or does it matter, and if not, why all the outrage a few days ago?

    (I personally think it does matter. I also find Tom’s attack interesting, which is why I’ve taken the time to answer it even down here. And there’s so much more to say, isn’t there—and I mean in favor of the first poem at least?)

    Christopher

  • On July 27, 2009 at 11:59 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Thomas Brady said:

    “I prefer the white heron rising out of the reeds…”

    Hey…I’ve got a poem about herons.

    John Oliver Simon said:

    “I see white herons all the time when I kayak, actually. Blue herons are rarer and more beautiful.”

    Hey…I’ve got cattle egrets, Snowy Egrets AND blue herons.

    John Oliver Simon said:

    “There is a passage where Bill W. writes about the infantile grandiosity of alcoholics for which you could easily substitute the word ‘poets.’”

    Hey…I’m a poet AND an alcoholic! So, since this is all getting a bit dry and serious and academic (which wouldn’t be so bad if you weren’t all basically full of shit), I’ve got a poem about egrets which I herewith dedicate to Hayden Carruth:

    Fields

    We live in the fields, like mice,
    surrounded by meadows
    magnetic and pulsing, a sea
    of modulated voices hissing
    on waves spread electric and quantum;
    fields seen and unseen,
    cast wide and imprecise,
    the radiated glades
    of gravity and time and mass.

    In my field are two horses and some herons,
    out near the pond by the trees.
    Between the trees and the fence
    is a small splash of white in the green.
    A patch of wild lilies stands alone.
    Reminds me of those we are missing,
    those surrounded by fields
    of gravity and time and grass
    beneath some flowers and a stone.

    .
    Copyright 2005 – Evolving: Poems 1965-2005, Gary B. Fitzgerald

  • On July 28, 2009 at 1:05 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    I left out something so important–how hard it is to be genuine yet simple!

    Just because some white-clad disciple in a zendo in Sonoma or Bali says “this is it” doesn’t mean it necessarily is–indeed, the very fact that the man in white said it means almost certainly it wasn’t and isn’t. Talking about deep things is very often a sign that one hasn’t yet gotten started on the mystery, just as the more confidently one claims God is on one’s side the more surely he isn’t.

    Writing a perfect minimalist poem is as difficult then exhausting then impossible then easy as arranging an enlightened vase of flowers — or being a good grandfather.

    Having said that I also know from experience it’s worth trying.

  • On July 28, 2009 at 6:18 am thomas brady wrote:

    Gary,

    I like your poem. It’s very beautiful. It’s better than e.e.cummings and w.c. williams and ezra, which their friends brooks and warren told the world to like in their text book. ezra pound’s defunct.

    Good poems can be found on the highway these days, better than the ones on display in academia’s high windows. That’s especially so now. I don’t believe poetry’s worse now than it was; the fault’s with the compilers, the anthologists, the critics, the editors, who have lost their way, because 1) they get no help from the public, there’s no sense of ‘the popular’ to guide them, and 2) their editorial model is the one set by the little magazinists at the beginning of the 20th century, a coterie of friends who spread out into institutions and supported one another in their minor ‘revolution’ of taste which left the public behind in a triumph that was unfortunately humorless and arrogant. Pick up a copy of ‘Understanding Poetry’ and listen to Robert Penn Warren selling Pound and Williams and Cummings. It will make you bored and ill. No wonder the public got turned off in school.

    Let me debut a poem which I just wrote, which is destined, I think, to become a classic, in the way it speaks to a point; I was replying to John Oliver Simon, who believes you can put ‘true grit’ into poems… I love the title…

    The Poem

    “I’ll give you true horror,”
    The horror movie maker said.
    No, you won’t, I said.
    “I’ll give you true romance,”
    The romance movie maker said.
    No, you won’t, I said.
    When horror and romance
    Are conveyed that way
    Horror and romance will be dead.

  • On July 28, 2009 at 10:32 am John Oliver Simon wrote:

    I’m convinced… that Tom Brady can put no grit in his insipid poetry. Without grit the oyster can’t secrete a pearl, and without the gnarl and rubble of our lives, see-saw vaniulla rhyme is oh so slight. Let’s see you take on, say, an amputation without anaesthesia:

    Cut of cordage, dangle of rigging, slight shock of the soothe of waves,
    Black and impassive guns, litter of powder-parcels, strong scent,
    A few large stars overhead, silent and mournful shining,
    Delicate sniffs of sea-breeze, smells of sedgy grass and fields by the shore, death-messages given in charge to survivors,
    The hiss of the surgeon’s knife, the gnawing teeth of his saw,
    Wheeze, cluck, swash of falling blood, short wild scream, and long, dull, tapering groan,
    These so, these irretrievable.

  • On July 28, 2009 at 11:56 am john wrote:

    Gary,

    I’m not going to go anonymously Ebert on you and click those silly red & green buttons (maybe those thumbs are a Chicago-fantasizing-itself-Rome thing), because I want to tell you directly that I like your poem.

    Thanks.

  • On July 28, 2009 at 1:24 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    I said:
    “I’ve got a poem about egrets which I herewith dedicate to Hayden Carruth:”

    Actually, I mentioned herons in that poem. Following is my egret poem which I dedicate to Robinson Jeffers, whose worst fears we see being realized today.

    If it’s any consolation, my “Free poetry for all on the internet” campaign is drawing to a close. I have learned that you can sell twice as many books at a poetry reading as you can on the internet and, as everybody knows, two times zero is…Oh. :-)

    (Oops. Sorry about that “lightweight” little smilycon, there, John Oliver Simon. He just kind of snuck in all by himself.)

    Changes in Texas

    A river of birds as dark and wide
    as the Mississippi once separated
    these blue skies, a flowing endless
    stream of solid black and feather.
    But these days the skies are threadbare,
    empty and sparse, thin like old carpets.
    Now birds pass over like a nearly dry creek,
    blow by like a trickle of ashes.

    Once flocks of Egrets, thick and swift,
    returned each sunset to the nest,
    surged like whitewater rapids through red hills,
    washed over in waves of white wings.
    Lately they’ve grown thinner, like a spare slurry
    of pale water in a bare sandstone canyon.
    A larger flood has dammed the river.

    .
    Copyright 2008 – SOFTWOOD-Seventy-eight Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

  • On July 28, 2009 at 5:04 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Thomas:

    When I first posted my poem ‘Sunday on the Rio Religio’ on Poets.net you said, and I quote: “It is exquisite”. When I posted the same poem on Harriet (See ‘Rebecca Wolff – This is about Jane Austen’) you said:

    “Let us admit the Reverend Gary Fitzgerald has uttered two poems; but one features the tired old cliche, ‘How can God love us if things are so bad?’ and the other seems to be demonstrating the notion that birds fly faster than people walk across bridges.”

    How can I trust your judgment, Thomas, if you’re on both sides of the fence? Do you claim to be a critic or a Will-o’-the-wisp?

  • On July 28, 2009 at 7:37 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Thank you, John. That means a lot.

  • On July 28, 2009 at 7:58 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Negative votes noted. Thank you for your efforts.

    I apologize to Harriet for my antics and what was, for me, at least, a “fine madness”.

    And my apologies to others as well for intruding on their exceptional nescience.

    Farewell and good luck!

  • On July 28, 2009 at 8:20 pm john wrote:

    How amusing that my comment has netted a score of negative 2 as of 8:13 PM Central Time on July 28. Is it because I noted that Ebert uses the thumb system too, and that he, like Harriet, has (or had; I’ve lost track) a Chicago base, and that the thumb system ultimately tracks back to a decadent, cruel sport of the Roman Emperors? How easily the truth can offend, I suppose! Or perhaps it was the light bantering tone that offended.

    Anyway, Gary, thanks again for the poem.

  • On July 28, 2009 at 8:34 pm thomas brady wrote:

    John,

    You cannot pile on bits of description in an effort to point to, or reflect, some gritty reality outside the description itself. You’d be adding bits ’til doomsday.

    Your description must describe the poem in the poem; in poems, description can only describe itself. The primary experience is the poem; only when the primary experience is the poem can we identify poetry as such.

    You cannot proceed thusly: let me keep adding gritty adjectives and naming objects of grit until I have sufficiently amassed a description of the gritty. No poem was ever written thus.

    Thomas

  • On July 28, 2009 at 8:50 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Gary,

    Pay the ‘dislikes’ no mind.

    They mean nothing.

    Thomas

  • On July 28, 2009 at 9:54 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Nobody seems interested to hear my defense of “Of Distress Being Humiliated by the Classical Chinese Poets” my best efforts to arouse interest. So the poem obviously hasn’t a wide following after all, which makes it all the harder for me to understand the violence of the attacks on its critic.

    I personally like it a lot even though I find: a.) the title awkward and unmusical; b.) the assumptions about Chinese language untenable and, worse, insulting to the Chinese people (Edward Said called it “cognitive imperialism!”); c.) the assumptions about the process of translating Chinese poetry amateur (by the 80s everybody knew!): and d.) the choice of certain words too metaphysical for a poem that isn’t like that anywhere else. On the other hand, if this disjunction is deliberate it’s brilliant, and it would have to be specifically satirical!

    What I like about the poem is the way it builds on the Cathay inventions of Ezra Pound, which have had such a profound impact upon all of us, and even upon the much later American translators of Chinese poetry from Arthur Waley to Tony Barnstone–who really do know what they’re doing. It also builds nicely on the whole ‘Oriental’ mystique of the 60s, though the poem is much later and, in my estimation, actually a commentary upon it.

    The whole of this tradition is an important aspect of 20th Century American poetry, and by my way of thinking “Of Distress Being Humiliated by the Classical Chinese Poets” is one of the best in all of it. The poem has a certain ironical, almost satirical flavor which I find extremely attractive. It’s actually quite irreverent, you know, and it’s funny!–it knows exactly where it’s at and where we’re at. Yet we take it so seriously!

    Christopher

  • On July 28, 2009 at 10:24 pm thomas brady wrote:

    “Finally, not all great poems are born (‘made’) great either—some become great in time through historical accident, schools of criticism and even hagiography. Like “In a Station of the Metro,” “So Much Depends Upon,” and some of e.e.cummings — or Alan Ginsberg, a wonderful example, or even some of John Ashbery. Familiarity breeds contempt, but it also breeds home-comings, and such poems are truly the American Poet’s Home.”

    Christopher,

    ‘In a Station of the Metro’ and ‘The Red Wheel Barrow’ are both lauded in the textbook ‘Understanding Poetry,’ Brooks & Warren, which greeted the G.I. Bill soldiers who filled the universities following the second world war. Pound and Williams enjoyed notice in Aldington’s fat Viking press anthology of 1941 (Richard Aldington was H.D.’s husband) as well as Conrad Aiken’s Modern Library anthology of 1945 (Aiken was T.S. Eliot’s friend) and Oscar Williams and Louis Untermeyer were hardly necessary.

    If you got in a textbook, it used to be that you were long dead, for a lasting fame it is to be taught in school, more so even that a statue by the side of the sea. But minted in school books while still living!

    Unfortunately for American poetry, the public accepted the new fame of E.E. Cummings and no doubt thought the metro petals and the wheel barrow with its chickens something wonderful and passing strange, even if it were thought slightly that maybe these little odd poems were a little bit of a joke, (no matter how loftily and sternly recommended by the deep commentary of Brooks & Warren in the school book) and gradually the public grew to regard poetry as just that–an odd, tidy little joke, so that finally ‘the joke’ was turned against the poets themselves and the false fame of Pound and co. had to be payed for (and is still being payed for) in shame and obscurity for the art as a whole.

    Poe’s recommendation of originality in metre and stanza was traded in for ‘the image,’ a gross error, since poetry is not recognized in our minds by its image, but by its rhythm; the seduction occured because image appears infinite, while rhythm is rather limited. Image seemed to offer more variety and was pursued by those with a poor understanding of art; no really wide scope is possible in art, the use of ‘stock images’ (herons, etc) is the retro-impulse of art seen playing out unconsciously in poets who cleave to a modern everything-ness. Art is not building so much as it is a negating–what we reject is always as important as what we put in, perhaps more so–but poetry was a palace, after all, Tennyson kept the hour and Shakespeare still roamed, singing in its rooms; Western poetry was not built in a day, and yet the Modernist manifesto-ists thought to remake it in a few hours; no wonder they instinctively carried to such an extreme the impulse of brevity and negation, which are the handmaids of the keen and the original.

    ‘What oft was thought but ne’r so well expressed’ was forgot by the Moderns. They strove for originality, for what had never been thought by anyone at all: a sweaty man on a hay wagon imagining he is christ and thinking of real suffering beyond his mere labor is too unique to be ‘oft thought,’ it is the expansion of the Imagist experiment into a dramatic inconsequence: the frozen image prosaically bursting forth into solipsistic speaker, reveling in sisyphean aches and self-congratulatory contemplations.

    Thomas

  • On July 28, 2009 at 10:39 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Tie yourself up in knots telling me how not to write a poem, Tom.

    Sadly, I didn’t write this poem (this closing fragment of a section of a poem). I wish I had. Do you know who did?

    It really shouldn’t be a trick question. You can google it and pretend you knew all along. It’s far less obscure than Andrew Marvell drunk on a packet-boat. No poem was ever written thus…

    These so, these irretrievable.

  • On July 29, 2009 at 12:09 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    “Hurrah for positive science! long live exact demonstration!”

  • On July 29, 2009 at 6:33 am thomas brady wrote:

    John,

    I thought I was untying knots.

    I promise not to google…I think it’s Whitman, (or failing that, Hart Crane) who got his style from Emerson, who derived his from Seneca. I would call the style moral impressionism: the poet/philosopher loads the page with sights and sounds which may, or may not, coalesce around some moral dimension afflicting or ennobling the addressee. This type of writing becomes overly metaphoric at once, since by implication every bit of information, every image presented, every tuft of grass described, is expected to ‘mean’ what the author says. It gives many of us fits, but it will tend to impress a lower order of mind.

    As Seneca says, “What is required, you see, of any man is that he should be of use to other men—if possible, to many; failing that, to a few; failing that, to those nearest him; failing that, to himself.”

    Who can argue with this? Who can argue with Emerson? Or Whitman? Or petals on a wet, black bough?

    One can only be ‘swept away,’ as they say in the car commercials.

    Thomas

  • On July 29, 2009 at 8:40 am John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Whitman, Song of Myself, section 36.

    The enormous balance between the one long vowel of SO and the many scurrying vowelettes of IRRETRIEVABLE, summing up a huge moral weight.

  • On July 29, 2009 at 10:14 am thomas brady wrote:

    Bad move on my part.

    I insulted the gods of the Dislikes themselves.

    But I did it for you, Gary.

  • On July 29, 2009 at 10:57 am thomas brady wrote:

    Shall I Compare Thee To A Leaf Of Grass?

    Poet! Shy, stuttering, singer–
    In the random is your significance sought–
    Your image teaches only what
    The moral cynic taught,
    Oh! Massive metaphor!
    I cannot feel your meaning anymore,
    Or see your meaning’s thought.

    Is your sympathy symbolized
    By this leaf of grass—
    Or should I see you as you are–
    A prating ass?
    Remember what the philosopher
    Socrates, the wise one, said?
    A thrice-removed truth
    Is festering in your head.
    Lose your inhibition,
    Climb the globe’s stage,
    Sing of times which crush youth
    And kill old age.

  • On July 29, 2009 at 12:03 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Margo,

    I will give you positive science and exact demonstration.

    I’ll bet that I can take a single passage from Emerson, and give you Whitman, Pound, and Ginsberg.

    Not a parody of them, but them.

    Do you think I can do it?

    What will you wager?

    Thomas

  • On July 29, 2009 at 3:01 pm Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    Whitman’s “Song of Myself” verse 23. Sufficient unto the day, Thomas. The line spoke for itself, in context.

    You might it up with Mr Whitman if you choose. I’ve noticed that you have certain agendas. But then, so did he, and the line I quoted seemed apt to the discussion, if not necessarily to your own ongoing fascination.

    “23
    Endless unfolding of words of ages!
    And mine a word of the modern, the word En-Masse.

    A word of the faith that never balks,
    Here or henceforward it is all the same to me, I accept Time
    absolutely.

    It alone is without flaw, it alone rounds and completes all,
    That mystic baffling wonder alone completes all.
    ….”

    etcetera.

    margo

  • On July 29, 2009 at 7:59 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Margo,

    Here we go. I have not changed one word of the Emerson passage.

    It doesn’t get any better than this.

    1. EMERSON AS WALT WHITMAN

    What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions,
    if I live wholly from within?

    No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature.

    Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this;

    the only right is what is after my constitution,
    the only wrong what is against it.

    A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition,

    as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but he.

    I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names,

    to large societies and dead institutions.

    Every decent and well-spoken individual affects and sways me more than is right.

    I ought to go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways.

    If malice and vanity wear the coat of philanthropy, shall that pass?

    I shun father and mother and wife and brother, when my genius calls me.

    I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim.

    I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation.

    –Wald O. Whitman

    2. EMERSON AS ALLEN GINSBERG

    Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members!

    Society is a joint-stock company in which the members agree to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater!

    The virtue in most request is conformity!

    Self-reliance is its aversion!

    It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs!

    Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist!

    Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind!

    –Ralphy Ginsberg

    3. EMERSON AS EZRA POUND

    If an angry bigot assumes this bountiful cause of Abolition, and comes to me with his last news from Barbadoes, why should I not say to him, ‘Go love thy infant; love thy wood-chopper: be good-natured and modest: have that grace; and never varnish your hard, uncharitable ambition with this incredible tenderness for black folk a thousand miles off. Thy love afar is spite at home.’ Rough and graceless would be such greeting, but truth is handsomer than the affectation of love. Your goodness must have some edge to it, — else it is none. The doctrine of hatred must be preached as the counteraction of the doctrine of love when that pules and whines. Expect me not to show cause why I seek or why I exclude company. Then, again, do not tell me, as a good man did to-day, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my poor? I tell thee, thou foolish philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent, I give to such men as do not belong to me and to whom I do not belong. There is a class of persons to whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold; for them I will go to prison, if need be; but your miscellaneous popular charities; the education at college of fools; the building of meeting-houses to the vain end to which many now stand; alms to sots; and the thousandfold Relief Societies; — though I confess with shame I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold.

    –Emerz Pound

    All excerpts are from ‘Self Reliance’ by R.W. Emerson

    Whitman IS Emerson, and so IS Pound, and so IS Ginsberg. This does not necessarily reflect well on any of these men, but Emerson, it should be noted, did come first…

    Thomas

  • On July 30, 2009 at 2:16 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    Thomas, I did not ask. You, I suppose, rhetorically, challenged with exercise which you present, and have proceeded.It’s “your” fascination. I did say, (tho I fast-fingered, left out one word,) “You might take it up with Mr. Whitman, if you choose.”

    It’s believed we owe something to our parents & forebears.

    A good Oscar Wilde sentence: “I remember saying once to Andre Gide, as we sat together in some Paris _cafe_, that while meta-physics had but little real interest for me, and morality absolutely none, there was nothing that either Plato or Christ had said that could not be transferred immediately into the sphere of Art and there find its complete fulfillment.”

    Then, also Wilde: “Every woman becomes her mother. That is her tragedy. No man does, and that is his.”

    I find more in these.

    margo

  • On July 30, 2009 at 8:41 am thomas brady wrote:

    Margo,

    Tragedy? I guess it would depend on who your mother is.

    Oscar Wilde ignored morality until it killed him. Why does Wilde want Plato and Christ put ‘into the sphere of art?’ Plato and Christ have more than enough art in themselves.

    Wittiness is not truth, but truth purified; Wilde’s wit is like Poe’s poetry, popular, deft, pure, but surely Wilde knew morality colors everything human, even art, even wit.

    Wilde’s wit ignored morality, but he couldn’t.

    Thomas

  • On July 30, 2009 at 10:08 am john wrote:

    Wilde was a moralist through and through. This is no complaint. I love him.

    We had a party once where we read aloud “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” one of his romantic comedies, and by the end, people were in tears.

    He may have invented a rarely-seen but powerful archetype: The-compassionate-person-as-worrier. My favorite representation of this archetype might be Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolfman in “Abbott and Costello Meet the Frankenstein Monster.” Chaney *knows* he’s the Wolfman, he *knows* he’s bad, and so, face furrowed with worry, he manhandles Costello and makes him promise not to open his hotel room door on the night of the full moon. He gets out, of course, but . . . well, I won’t give the story away any more than I have.

  • On July 30, 2009 at 11:01 am Don Share wrote:

    Love it, John!

    Here’s a bit of moralizing, in the voice of Gilbert, from Wilde’s “The Critic as Artist” -

    We are sometimes apt to think that the voices that sounded at the dawn of poetry were simpler, fresher, and more natural than ours, and that the world which the early poets looked at, and through which they walked, had a kind of poetical quality of its own, and almost without changing could pass into song. The snow lies thick now upon Olympus, and its steep scarped sides are bleak and barren, but once, we fancy, the white feet of the Muses brushed the dew from the anemones in the morning, and at evening came Apollo to sing to the shepherds in the vale. But in this we are merely lending to other ages what we desire, or think we desire, for our own. Our historical sense is at fault.

  • On July 30, 2009 at 12:26 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Wilde is famous for preferring beauty to morality.

    John, you call Wilde a moralist, and I agree with you up to a point. One cannot write of society without involving oneself in moral issues.

    We weep at a play, however, from sentiment, not morality. Sentiment manipulates moral precepts, but is not moral in itself.

    One could define sentiment as that which presents morality in an unfair light.

    Thus, authors without morals can be sentimental.

    Thomas

  • On July 30, 2009 at 12:29 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Don,

    Is that bit about the ‘historical sense’ an exercise in ‘moralizing?’ Do you really think so?

    Thomas

  • On July 30, 2009 at 12:35 pm Don Share wrote:

    It isn’t an exercise in moralizing, it is moralizing. Which is good if you agree with what’s being expressed, bad if not, I suppose.

  • On July 30, 2009 at 3:57 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Ouch! I think I’ve been moralized.

    I thought the passage in question was aesthetic, not moral.

  • On July 30, 2009 at 5:00 pm Don Share wrote:

    Here’s some more:

    “To me, poetry and goodness are almost synonymous. They go together . . . To be a good poet, you have to have a vision at some point.” — Hayden Carruth

  • On July 30, 2009 at 10:40 pm john wrote:

    Wilde’s more famous for “Importance of Being Earnest” and “Salome,” neither of which are moralistic, but his other plays, as popular in their time (or close, anyway) as “Earnest,” are all about morality, as is his novel, which also contributed an archetype to the culture (Dorian Gray). People cried at the end of “Lady Windermere’s Fan” because of the pathos of the self-sacrifice of one of the characters, and that the situation was such that nobody but the one making the sacrifice knew the whole story. George Bernard Shaw loved Wilde’s comedies until “Earnest,” which he found heartless, nothing but a joke machine, which he admired as such.

  • On July 31, 2009 at 12:14 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    You undermine your whole argument by saying that “The Importance of Being Earnest” isn’t “moralistic,” John, because you seem to be associating being “moralistic” with being a moralist. Oscar Wilde was never “moralistic,” God forbid, but in everything he did and wrote and, yes, posed as, he was a moralist through and through, a moral revolutionary, in fact, a being totally in the face of Victorian culture. That’s why he was considered so dangerous.

    Every moment in “The Importance of Being Earnest” is moral, and exposes layer after layer of social hypocrisy. “The Importance of Being Hypocrite” could equally well have been the title if the name had existed–and which is, of course, the whole joke about earnest.

    I haven’t seen “Bruno” yet, but that’s more of the same. Isn’t it fascinating how Sasha Baron Cohen also gets misunderstood in everything he does? The 21st Century is simply not ready for such intense moral scrutiny. Has anybody seen the Ali G fashion interview on You Tube, for example, the one that ends up with the question, “Do you think consistency is important?”

    That’s a most wonderful moral moment.

  • On July 31, 2009 at 1:50 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    Wilde, lacking in morality, in its deeper sense, or heart? Hardly. But interested in it for such different reasons. Tragedy, its expression & possibility.

    In “De Profundis” : “Where there is sorrow there is holy ground…Some day people will realize what that means. They will know nothing of life till they do.”

    “…the dreadful thing about modernity was that it put tragedy into the raiment of comedy, so that the great realities seemed grotesque or lacking in style.”

    ”He is the Philistine who upholds and aids the heavy, cumbrous, blind, mechanical forces of society, and who does not recognise dynamic force when he meets it either in a man or a movement.”

    “I was a man who stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age. …”

    & finally to bring these quotes back, maybe to the conversation of that poem of Carruth’s which we were looking at, the wagon-rider, weary as a Christ:

    “To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.”

    Sleeping in fields would be enough “provided I had love in my heart. The external things in life seem of no importance to me now.”

    All told, it may be his “De Profundis” that has the strongest relevance to Carruth’s poem, in this case. And for him, Wilde, making the imaginary into art, was his urge to truth. And, albeit, the agnostic, he compares Christ to a work of art: “Indeed, that is the charm of Christ, when all is said: he is just like a work of art. He does not really teach one anything, but by being brought into his presence one becomes something.”

    So, yes, John, and Thomas, a moralist, in a true-ist sense. And no mere wit.

    And as for beauty: “Forgive your enemies,’ it is not for the sake of the enemy, but for one’s own sake that he says so, and because love is more beautiful than hate.”

    Again, sufficient unto the day.

    margo

  • On July 31, 2009 at 3:36 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Of course the point would have been clearer if I had used the example of a play called “The Importance of Being Hypocritical,” but I would have lost the delicate balance between the forename and the quality. That is what is so wonderful about the title, the exquisite confusion of the two.

    A little known aspect of the title is that the name ‘Ernest’ had only recently begun to be spelled ‘Earnest,’ itself an indication of the degree to which the Victorians admired that most absurd of Victorian qualities. It was, after all, the quality that the Marquis of Queensberry most affected.

    In fact his son Bosie got the full sexual training he needed to become a prominent member of the British upperclasses at that time at his Public School, Winchester, which I also attended. Although I was there a bit later, the sexual atmosphere, like the plumbing, was I feel sure much the same as in Lord Alfred Douglas’ day. What the boys really learned is that all sex is servile and compromising — which is one of the reasons they became such superb imperial administrators out there in the bush or up in the hills all alone. It wasn’t that they were all gay, far from it. They just all knew that sex was trouble, and you steered clear of it. The stiff upper lip’s not a dick.

    Of course it was also the time that the East India Company was doing its utmost to develop its most lucrative market by far, the opium trade — the British Empire was at the time the largest drug cartel the world has ever seen, and it subverted whole cultures!

    Oscar Wilde’s brave and eccentric moral stance has to be seen in the context of all that, as does Sasha Baron Cohen’s. That’s why there are so many ambiguities in the latter’s work, which makes me, in any case, feel as angry as hysterical. Wilde ditto.

    Christopher

  • On July 31, 2009 at 3:42 am john wrote:

    Thanks Margo, for the marvelous, opulent quotes from “De Profundis,” a piece of writing that inspires something like awe.

  • On July 31, 2009 at 9:18 am john wrote:

    Good point about how “Earnest” exposes hypocrisy. Thanks.

  • On July 31, 2009 at 10:47 am thomas brady wrote:

    “Of course it was also the time that the East India Company was doing its utmost to develop its most lucrative market by far, the opium trade — the British Empire was at the time the largest drug cartel the world has ever seen, and it subverted whole cultures!”

    British Empire’s East India Co./Opium Trade division’s prime directive: foster discord in other cultures. Imagine if you had a job like this. Spread hedonism and be a hedonist yourself. Travel. Perhaps be a professor at Oxford. Go to cool parties. Be respectable, but slum. Experiment in wild pleasures and pass them along. Be cutting-edge and modern in outlook, while taking a strong stand against industry and progress. Be sympathetic to ancient peoples. Take the latest and grooviest drugs. Marry rich women and have numerous affairs. Wear comfortable clothes and affect insightful intellectuality. Write poems, novels and the occasional essay. Be disciplined, however; as soldier for the Empire always remember your duty. Keep secrets. Find recruits who ‘get it’ with a mere wink. Don’t be found out. Promote incendiary politics on the left, on the right, it doesn’t really matter which. Stir up fires, discord, orgies, and revolutions whenever and wherever you can. If the Chinese don’t like opium, convince them of how wonderful it is. If the Americans don’t like bad poetry, convince them of how modern and important it is. Always have LSD or mushrooms handy. Convince the West to loathe and despise itself. Convince the East to worship its primitive habits. Aldous Huxley and Robert Graves! Go!

    Man, I wish I had a job like that.

  • On July 31, 2009 at 10:22 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Hayden Carruth, dear Hayden Carruth.

    What a thread, what a wonderful celebration and critical re-examination, and how suitable that the longest thread Harriet has ever thrown up should be this one — 254 posts up to the moment I’m writing.

    And what a surprising place to end up too — Thomas Brady fantasizing about the job he’d really like! And look at the ingredients of that fantasy, all based on poetry, creative writing, living it, defining it, and having so much fun at its expense! A wonderful satire — imagine what Jonathan Swift could have done with it, or the play Oscar Wilde could have written starring our poetry’s first lady, Jorie Graham? And how she would have revelled in it, and how much everyone would have laughed and loved her all the more for what she had done with such panache and brilliance, just like in an Oscar Wilde play. And how the poetry would have flown on it’s wings too, clearing away the miasma of the profligate, proletarian gasses!

    That’s funny, but this thread has had it’s serious moments too, very, and I am sure that in the future historians will come back to it to review the arguments and see how people thought back then. Also about Hayden Carruth, but only indirectly — because the dialogue has been mainly about ourselves, not about him. Indeed, how little actual discussion there has been of his special talents either as a person or a poet. Only two poems were put up, for example, and both of those discussions were aborted. That will be important to see too, as it will be to see the startling performance of Bill Knott and the reverence accorded to him — and I say well-deserved, but then that’s just my opinion..

    The historians will know by then that American poetry was in fact moving through a very difficult transition following the post-war explosion of almost universal university education. Creative writing had suddenly appeared on every curriculum throughout the country, and staff had to be found to teach the courses and publishers to keep them supplied with raw material. That will be the context, and this will be an astonishingly rich vein to mine, or mirror to fathom.

    Christopher


Posted in Uncategorized on Friday, July 17th, 2009 by Joel Brouwer.