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Tortillas Yay or Nay

By Eileen Myles

bone-flag4

I love that somebody didn’t like my exchange with Bobby Byrd about whether the tortillas were good. Is it tortillas they didn’t like, our friendly exchange or whaa? I rarely use a question mark. Gertrude Stein said if the sentence doesn’t contain the question you didn’t write it well enough. Though whaa is a cartoon Americanism up there with #@%!!! and all kinds of swears. If you’re getting baroque you might as well go all the way and throw in an excessive punctuation mark at least one. Paint your sign! I’m looking forward next time I’m online (maybe tonight) to tell whoever that I didn’t like him not liking my exchange with Bobby. Not only will I say not like. I’ll say Phew! You stink.

Just before I bought the tortillas Bobby and I went to the gallery at UTEP and saw part of an amazing show called The Disappeared. It is work by fourteen artists from the Americas on the subject of the extensive tortures, imprisonment and political murders of dissenters in South America and Mexico in the last quarter of the 20th C. The show is accompanied by a succinct statement by an American academic about what exactly the plan was country by country in terms of our country’s support for these murderous regimes. A state department dude calmly explains in 1948 that it’s time to cease talking about “vague and unreal objectives such as human rights” and that a lot of the world wants what we have and we are going to have to work hard securing a future in which THEY will not be able to get their paws on OUR stuff. And as usual a lot of our stuff happened to be underneath the ground or in the trees of their land. So in this show we have a Chilean flag made out of human bones (Arturo Duclos) a swastika made out of light called “Joy Division” (Ivan Navarro). The wall text of the show and earlier readings from the poet novels of Roberto Belano will help remind us that the transmigration of the Nazi ethos to South America during and after World War II contributed to the style and effectiveness what South Americans refer to as “The Disappearance.” These recent artists’ (who themselves grew up in the wake of these events) work has strong resemblances to Holocaust art. I’m thinking for example of Christian Boltanski’s 80s photographs of kids. Class pictures here are enlarged and “the missing” from someone’s high school class are circled. Class reunions in South America thanks to the Monroe Doctrine are very different affairs from our own American ones.

A stained and mottled child mannequin is obsessively photographed until its plaster dents and abrasions stand in for a real kid’s wounds. In a like manner poets and readers of my generation have found Roberto Belano. His fictions are changing my own past. When I think that while I was sitting in workshops at St. Marks Church (1975-77) poets in Chile were having rats forced up their vaginas and electrodes attached to their testicles for attending the wrong poetry reading, having the wrong friends, going to a demonstration against our government and its puppet dictatorships. It really is as simple as that. Some countries (Uruguay) had only small numbers killed but thousands tortured and imprisoned. Others (Guatemala) had more like 200,000 dead. Because it was good for business. My generation likes to tell younger poets how different it was when we were coming up with our cheap rents and free government supported art classes. When I backpacked in Europe after college it wasn’t with the memory of listening to the howls of agony in other cells that I couldn’t know for sure wouldn’t soon be my own. I’ve faulted myself for not being wilder, not staying in Europe longer after college but I didn’t have enough to run from yet. I wonder if knowledge, eventual knowledge is enough to make one turn against their own country for good. I’m at MacDowell tonight and a filmmaker showed a bunch of clips from his films including one about the Weathermen. He kind of laughed about how little he knew about that bunch of 60s weirdos, middle class kids, who wanted to do something drastic in response to the killing going on in Southeast Asia. His films got funnier and funnier until the final one was about a giant mall in China, the biggest in the world that was such a failure it was going to get knocked down. It was really his best film because his own ambivalence had found its perfect subject. I gave him a hard time, not for his work but for his attitude. I felt that he got funded for his project because he seemed a little dumb. Not that he was stupid. He was obviously a smart man. But there’s that American way we have where we’re always just kids, not really understanding at all what’s going on. That’s where we start. For that boyish tone we will get the big reward, and the promise that the show will go on. Until it falls which seems to be happening right now. Finally we have brought it on ourselves. There is nowhere to go since we have exported our product everywhere. We are pulling the covers up tight tonight. Hey where’s MacDowell’s money from. I mean really?!

Comments (31)

  • On July 19, 2009 at 2:09 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Eileen, I would like you to know Juan Gelman, Argentina, 1939, who won the Cervantes Prize, the most important prize for a Spanish-speaking writer, in 2007.

    The Cervantes is one step short of the Nobel; you get 100K euros personally from the King of Spain. My guy Gonzalo Rojas won it in 2003, and I would have attested to that when Brady derided “someone says is great” but Tom would never have heard of the Cervantes since Keats and Poe never won it so why bother.

    Gelman was always strongly committed politically, left the CP in the 60′s, went to Mexico when the generals and initiated the guerra sucia of which Eileen speaks, in March 1976 armed men took away his 24-year-old son Marcelo and his pregnant daughter-in-law Maria Claudia. Marcelo’s remains were later found in a 55-gallon drum. María Claudia was transferred to custody of allied death squads in Uruguay and slaughtered after giving birth. The baby was given to a military family.

    The slashes in Gelman’s quatrains are silences and disappearances. Believe it, Richard Epstein:

    I want no other news except of you / anything else
    would be feeding crumbs to the memory
    that is dying of hunger / that digs and digs
    to keep on looking for you /

    24 years later, after an arduous search, Juan Gelman found his granddaughter. Her name is Macarena Gelman (she had her surname legally restored, though she loves the mamá who ended up raising her) and she is a firecracker. Macarena is petitioning the Uruguayan courts to reopen the cases of the officials who have been amnestied, on the basis that the crime against her went on for over twenty years.

    Juan Gelman is available in English translation in Uspeakable Tenderness (UC Press), trans. by the late, great Joan Lindgren, and now in The Poems of Sydney West, Gelman’s North American heteronym (!), trans. by Victor Rodríguez Núñez and Katherine M. Hedeen, — my next purchase!

    • On July 20, 2009 at 10:57 am Eileen Myles wrote:

      Wonderful. Thanks.

    • On July 21, 2009 at 7:15 am Richard Epstein wrote:

      Mr Simon,

      Thanks for dropping my name into the conversation, though if a “friend” hadn’t emailed me an alert, I should never have known.

      I’m sure you can make a case for those slashes. What critical ingenuity can accomplish is always amazing and sometimes useful. But it’s difficult to tell a priori whether it is the poem being served or the critic–whether he’s courting the poem or just displaying his tail feathers. (Of course, as peacocks prove, sometimes he is doing both.) One could, if one wrote well enough, winningly argue that every colon is a reference to the poet’s attempt to digest the world or to the internal affairs of the poem. You’d have to know the poem pretty well to decide just how plausible that was.

      RHE

  • On July 19, 2009 at 3:02 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Also wanted to mention that Bobby Byrd, my life partner Rebecca Parfitt and I gave a well-attended bilingual poetry reading in 1994 in the Bar Hormigas at the Casa del Poeta in Mexico City. ¡Hola Bobby, qué tal?

  • On July 20, 2009 at 2:15 am disenchanting wrote:

    The inconvenient truth seems to be that many folks in the U.S.A. like Mexicans/Latins whilst they are quietly selling them cheap and tasty food 24/7, or when they represent some kind of hopelessly doomed romantic/revolutionary/artistic alternative to wicked ol’ Uncle Sam. What they seem reluctant to do is to engage with them as regular people, or (whisper it)equals.

    I might write a disenchanting poem on this theme.

    Agree with Gertie re the question mark

    • On July 20, 2009 at 10:56 am Eileen Myles wrote:

      I don’t suppose I have to take this as pointed, but you know there it sits next to my post. Hmmm.

      • On July 20, 2009 at 1:50 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

        I think it’s true that North American poetry goes to Spanish with an uncritical heart, just as it goes to French with a disembodied head.

        Nobody wanted to hear it when I came back from Nicaragua in the mid-nineties with the news that many of the young poets — especially the group calling themselves los cuatrocientos elefantes, the 400 Elephants, in Managua — were reacting against the Exteriorism of Ernesto Cardenal and writing tortured, interior, highly personal, apolitical poetry.

        Reality is complex.

    • On July 21, 2009 at 1:47 pm Eileen Myles wrote:

      Re-reading this I just have to say this is such a dumb read. Is political sympathy always opportunisitic, romantic, and never deep and urgent. I like how you post using words like “whilst” and “good ole” as if “you” , Disenchanting, weren’t writing the post but the romantic and classist clowns you are shooting your thin barbs at. Take your mask off and proclaim your boobery under your own name and be proud!

  • On July 20, 2009 at 1:40 pm Chris L wrote:

    I know of no way to ask this question without likely being flamed without mercy, but…

    I read the lines of Juan Gelman quoted above and, while they are powerful (at least in part) because of Gelman’s backstory and what he endured, I’m not sure many would find those lines remarkable without that story. Does it matter? Maybe not… but there’s a large body of poetry that comes out of often horrific experiences– a form of political poetry, poetry of witness, etc– that seems, in terms of language and what I expect from other kinds of poetry, unremarkable unless it is combined with a story that isn’t a part of the poem. Maybe that’s the way it should be. Maybe it’s not a weakness. But some poets find a way to create remarkable poetry as such from and about their experience…

    • On July 20, 2009 at 8:28 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

      No, I won’t flame you, Chris, it’s a fair comment and an honest reaction. We shouldn’t feel that we have to love everybody else’s enthusiasms just because we say so. I quoted what I had to hand, I was looking for Unthinkable Tenderness, I thought I had a copy somewhere around here…

      Gelman’s backstory is so wrenchingly epic, and I don’t know if I can find a quotable eight lines that would knock your socks off. I was in Buenos Aires one night when Gelman read with a famous bandoneón player, that’s not exactly an accordion, the tango… I hear the echoes… I don’t even remember what he read…

      Here’s a little one we’ve used with the fourth-graders, I’ll knock off a translation:

      EPITAFIO

      Un pájaro vivía en mí.
      Una flor viajaba en mi sangre.
      Mi corazón era un violín.

      Quise o no quise. Pero a veces
      me quisieron. También a mí
      me alegraban: la primavera,
      las manos juntas, lo feliz.

      ¡Digo que el hombre debe serlo!

      Aquí yace un pájaro.
      Una flor.
      Un violín.

      EPITAPH

      A bird lived in me.
      A flower travelled in my blood.
      My heart was a violin.

      I wanted or I didn’t. But sometimes
      they wanted me. Also what
      gave me joy: springtime,
      hands clasped, being happy.

      Here lies a bird.
      A flower.
      A violin.

      • On July 20, 2009 at 8:55 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

        Uff, I left a line untranslated…

        EPITAPH

        A bird lived in me.
        A flower travelled in my blood.
        My heart was a violin.

        I wanted or I didn’t. But sometimes
        they wanted me. Also what
        gave me joy: springtime,
        hands clasped, being happy.

        I say a man should be that! [or... be one!]

        Here lies a bird.
        A flower.
        A violin.

  • On July 20, 2009 at 10:45 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    John Oliver Simon wrote:

    >Nobody wanted to hear it when I came back from Nicaragua in the mid-nineties with the news that many of the young poets … were reacting against the Exteriorism of Ernesto Cardenal

    John,

    You were there? I was in Nicaragua myself– on two occasions: in 1980, when I spent five months in the central northern part of the country, as a volunteer teacher in the Literacy Campaign, and then in 1983, when I spent eight or nine months teaching adult education on a State farm outside Matagalpa. I translated and published a book in 1985 called A Nation of Poets: Writings from the Poetry Workshops of Nicaragua (West End Press), which sold very well during its time (it won a Pushcart Book of the Month Prize, was featured in the New York Times Books Review). It’s the most complete gathering of work from the Talleres de Poesia, which was one of the great working class poetry projects of all time, really, though the program is almost forgotten now. I’m hoping to write a longer essay about the program and add it to a new edition of the book. A Nation of Poets carries the most complete interview Cardenal has given, so far as I know. I conducted it with him in Managua in 1984, and he goes into some fascinating detail there about Exteriorismo, the history of Nicaraguan poetry, 20th century Nicaraguan poetry’s debt to Pound and U.S. poetry in general, the cultural and poetic debates then raging in the revolution, etc. If you’d like a copy, send me your address and I’ll gladly send you one.

    best,

    Kent

    • On July 20, 2009 at 11:40 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

      I have your book, Kent, thank you. Wondrous, important work, documenting the talleres.

      I was first in Nicaragua in 1985, en plena onda Sandinista, and met Gioconda Belli (a sweetheart) and (briefly) Padre Ernesto. I was impressed by a young woman named Alba Azucena Torres (b. 1953) who begins with a hot afternoon:

      I’ll tell you about my land
      and the sun setting fire to the orange leaves,
      about the hot air and the buses getting lost
      on their way from Managua to Chontales
      on the last hour of the afternoon…

      then a page of sweet coming of age stuff, and it ends

      Then everything remained there
      in the green silence of the great mountain
      and I lost the dream of the river.
      Later Ahmed and Alejandro came and the others
      and talked to me in secret about Sandino.

      The poet I really treasure from that visit is Mariana Sansón (1918-2002), the first Nicaraguan woman poet to be taken seriously. We talked among parrots in her patio in León. She said she used to think up her best poems in the bathtub but lost many of them because it was too wet to write them down. Here’s a brief one, as translated by a fifth-grader:

      A lo lejos del camino
      gritan las cosas:
      ¡Despierten!
      La eternidad no espera.

      Far down the road
      things scream:
      Wake up!
      Eternity doesn’t wait.

      I went back in 1995, on a voyage that would cover ten countries in nine months. The Revolution was done, people were cynical, and disillusioned about the ex-comandantes who had profited hugely. That’s when I met the angry young Elefantes, including Marta Leonor González, who is now literary editor of La Prensa.

      One of the Elefantes, Juan Sobalvarro (b. 1966), was a Sandinista soldier fighting the Contras. His poems read ike the best of our veterans — Brian Turner, W.D. Erhart, Yusuf Koumanyaaka. But a good war poem is always anti-war, and we were rooting for Juan’s side, weren’t we?

      I didn’t kill anyone in that war
      and if I did, I was innocent and ignorant.

      I never heard anyone’s heart beating to shoot at.
      We fired into the fearful noise of the dark mountain,
      into the mist continually bathing those hills.

      I say we didn’t kill anyone.
      We’re all innocent.

      I will run naked so you can see.

      • On July 21, 2009 at 12:27 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

        Beautiful, John Oliver Simon–both the poems and your own words presenting them. Indeed, one of the most uplifting reads I’ve had in quite a while.

        So why don’t American poets want to sound more like this? Why just Flarf and all that–like throwing up in your hand just a little? Why doesn’t anyone want to sing, or even to speak?

        That’s a serious question.

        I know no Spanish (boo hoo) but I’ve reinvented your wheel by trying to invent a style for myself that might recreate the Thai peasant world in which I live. I call it “trying to write poetry that anyone can understand, living as I do in a world where nobody reads at all.”

        Your poems don’t read as if they’ve been written by readers either, or at least not by readers that have read too much. Indeed, they sound like what we all dream of, a poesy that still jumps straight out of the heart, without schools and critics making you self-conscious. Do they?

        Or is it that we don’t have anything to write about, or that matters?

        Christopher

  • On July 21, 2009 at 12:47 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Here’s a tiny bit of a new one I’m working on right now, just so you can see what I’m doing. It’s a new departure for me, and I don’t know what models I’m unconsciously hearing. Any ideas?

    Is anybody else interested in writing like that?

    (The multiple dots are an attempt to get “and unsoiled …” to start just under the “l” of “unfamiliar.”)

    Under the great holy Bo Tree sits the beggar,
    his alms bowl as empty as his pockets
    and the soles of his feet
    as unfamiliar
    ………………….and unsoiled as a baby’s
    in a house full of men with no eyebrows,
    ambition, trousers or truculence
    even if the dogs do bark.

    Christopher

  • On July 21, 2009 at 2:42 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    “When I think that while I was sitting in workshops at St. Marks Church (1975-77) poets in Chile were having rats forced up their vaginas and electrodes attached to their testicles for attending the wrong poetry reading, having the wrong friends, going to a demonstration against our government and its puppet dictatorships.”

    indeed—

    here’s the beginning of a post earlier this year from my blog:

    We poets of the USA should be grateful for all the support we receive from our state institutions.

    Take just the CIA: not only do they found and fund magazines like the Paris Review for us,

    but they also take on the dangerous task of going into foreign countries and eliminating our potential competitors . . .

    For example: How many young Chilean poets were murdered or suicided or impoverished or exiled by the CIA-installed Pinochet regime?

    Who remembers today the chagrin and embarrassment

    we North American USA poets suffered in the past when we compared our poetry

    to that of the great Chilean poets like Neruda and Parra,

    how solipsistically small and provincial and futile our poems seemed when set next to their poems . . .

    but now, in the last couple decades, hasn’t that situation improved thanks to the CIA’s intervention?

    It’s not just in Chile, of course.

    Imagine how many other South American poets have been killed or otherwise quashed and quelled by CIA-funded activities.

    Not to mention Africa, Asia et al.

    Yes: All those poets who might have produced better poems than us, whose poems might have put ours to shame, we don’t have to worry about them now, do we,

    because they’ve all been murdered for us by the CIA.

    We should bow our heads every day in the direction of the CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia, and say a silent thanks for their benefactions.

    We have been blessed. We are the Langley Poets.

    anybody interested in reading the rest of it, it’s here:

    http://knottprosepo.blogspot.com/2009/06/paris-review-poets-cia-poets-how-tony.html

    ….

  • On July 21, 2009 at 3:43 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Hey Bill,

    The great majority of Latin American poets still consider us their comrades. They can regard things, most of them, with a sense of high irony and dispassionateness. They feel pain and deep anger for what happened, and they know that most of us know it was really bad, and they want us to care and think about it, even though they know we will never be able to fully understand it as they do. But they wouldn’t want us to slit our wrists because we come from the U.S.A. They tend to be more mature and less histrionic in their politics than we generally are. They would, believe it or not, draw a distinction, for example, between U.S. poets, on the one hand, and the CIA on the other. Which is not to say they aren’t aware that even poets and their institutions can be tied to the State… The possibility is second nature to them, nothing to lose one’s head about. They go to the cafe and smoke and drink and argue about this or that. They xerox our anthologies and pass them around. Literary movements rise and fall. And they generally don’t mention (especially if they’re from Chile) Neruda and Parra in the same breath.

    Kent

    • On July 22, 2009 at 12:08 am John Oliver Simon wrote:

      “I have tried two methods of refuting Neruda. One was not reading him. The other was reading him in bad faith. Neither one worked for me.”

      —Nicanor Parra

  • On July 22, 2009 at 7:37 pm Bobby Byrd wrote:

    Thanks, Eileen, for your piece that begins its journey at THE DISAPPEARED exhibit at UTEP’s Rubin’s Center here in El Paso. And to John Oliver Simon for bringing along those poems. My gosh, such a generous and interesting run of comments and poems. I’m late as always, but I found two cents in my pockets.

    THE DISAPPEARED exhibit, as you know from visiting here, has found an eloquent venue in El Paso. When you look out the west window at the Rubin Center you can see the city of Juárez, Chihuahua. Like maybe 300 yards away. The infrastructure of the city, especially the system of law, seems to have dissolved like salt in hot water. And it wasn’t much to start with. What 30 years ago was a mordida system that was at the beck and call of an oligarchy of families has morphed into a system that seems bought and paid for the cartels. Since January 1, 2008, somewhere around 2400 people have been assassinated gangland-style in the continuing narco wars there. El presidente Calderón sent in 10,000 troops, but who knows what side they’re on. Rumors say that the federales work for the el Chapo and the Sinaloa Cartel and the local police bow down to the Juárez Cartel. Before the cartels were the murders and disappearances of the women. Approximately 300 in ten years. Women mostly in their late teens and 20s. Their bodies sprouted in the dumps and alleys and deserted fields. The authorities didn’t seem to care. It still happens from time to time, but the newspapers aren’t counting the women so much anymore. A weekend body counts of 30 or so is not out of the ordinary. The poor and the lower middle-class are bearing the brunt of the carnage. And now everybody seems to be at risk. It’s one of the worst places in the world to be a journalist. Life expectancy is nil if you’re doing your work. Now the intellectual and social activism communities are making careful decisions on how to go about their business. A few weeks ago a professor at the Juárez University, Dr. Manuel Arroyo Galvan, was driving to his office. A car pulled up next to him, the window rolled down and a man shot the professor dead. Galvan was a scholar and a social activist. “What was he doing,” people ask. “Was he dirty?” The cartels are making the way we think change. Charles Bowden says that Juárez is “the laboratory of the future.” Chuck wants to be our prophet. Likewise Roberto Bolaño, who wrote in Barcelona for God’s sake, created “The Part about the Crimes,” part four of 2666, set in the fictional city of Santa Teresa which is Juárez. It’s like reading a police blotter. It’s boring, it’s scary and it’s enthralling. “The Part about the Crimes” has no end. It just keeps going. It’s difficult to write about this stuff. I’ve put a couple of pieces on my blog but the prose and a little bit of poetry I’ve done about that chaos feels useless and dull.

    Like this does.
    So I’ll stop here.

    It was good to touch base with John Simon Oliver and to be reminded of that wild reading we did together with Rebecca in 1994 at the Casa de Poeta in DF. I’m going to get the Nation of Poetry that Kent Johnson edited. That’s a book I want to have. But I have a question to anyone reading this: Is there a good anthology of poetry translated into English about those internal wars in Latin American countries? A poetic companion to this exhibit THE DISAPPEARED that Eileen describes?

    Again, thanks.

    • On July 28, 2009 at 9:40 am Kate Bonansinga wrote:

      “The Disappeared” exhibition resonates because certain strains of the sociopolitical situations that it describes are not dead and of the past. They have not disappeared. Your comments are valuable to us here in El Paso, Eileen, and I thank you for them.

  • On July 23, 2009 at 10:02 am Eileen Myles wrote:

    Bobby thanks for all the beautiful long (worth reading long) clarity. I’m not flaming anyone through this comment. Just wanted to thank you and say hello.

    • On July 23, 2009 at 10:30 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

      Eileen:

      I read your interesting interview linked to at Silliman’s blog today. I enjoyed it very much. It’s helpful to know a little about the people whose blog posts you regularly screw up in the comments thread. (Should be smiley face here but we don’t want to upset John Oliver Simon again).

      I didn’t understand you final comment, though.

      Speaking as an outsider, that is.

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

    Bobby,

    A second to Eileen Myles on your comment.

    Send me your address for A Nation of Poets!

    Kent

    • On July 23, 2009 at 5:30 pm Bobby Byrd wrote:

      Kent, that would be a great and generous gift. Please send it to me at 701 Texas, El Paso, 79901. I’m sure I’ve seen it before–John Crawford is a friend. I just don’t have it. Mil gracias.

  • On July 28, 2009 at 12:31 pm thomas brady wrote:

    “The Cervantes is one step short of the Nobel; you get 100K euros personally from the King of Spain. My guy Gonzalo Rojas won it in 2003, and I would have attested to that when Brady derided “someone says is great” but Tom would never have heard of the Cervantes since Keats and Poe never won it so why bother.” –John Oliver Simon

    Poe, a famous and beloved author, one of the greatest writers the world has ever known, was ‘disappeared’ in broad daylight in 1849 in the United States of America, a penniless vagabond, quickly buried, the crime covered-up, the author libeled by anthologist Rufus Griswold in Horace Greeley’s ‘Tribune,’ no questions asked about the death, just a dire warning, ‘Poe had few friends,’ meaning, ‘anything can be done to you if you don’t have friends.’

    OK, John? Poe was ‘disappeared’ in this country, and since 1849 the event has been carefully and consciously covered up, with extremely little interest by anyone on what really happened to Poe, you know, Poe, the guy who invented the detective story and whose influence on Latin and European and Asian and American citizens is incalculable, so yea, ‘why bother.’

    Not only is it ‘why bother,’ when it comes to Poe in his own country, in the United States, but his reputation’s been spat on and abused for decades by one distinguished literary group after another.

    So, yes, ‘why bother’ indeed.

    If Poe can be disappeared, then why is it surprising that anyone is? The problem is too vast for us to comprehend. We are motes of dust in the universe of disappearance, and no one has any right to expect anyone to care about any disappearance. The whole thing is more fucked than any of us can possibly know. Every last one of us is stuck deep in Plato’s cave. Latin politics can take a leap into hell for all I care.

    Poe and Keats wrote in English. They are outstanding authors. So now I’m supposed to know about every author of every language in the world? And I’m naive somehow because I don’t ‘bother’ to know about some writer who got money from the King of Spain?

    I’m just picking my battles like everyone else, John.

    Sheesh.

    Thomas

  • On July 28, 2009 at 1:21 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Your championing of Poe as a ‘desaparecido’ is commendable, Thomas. Poe does have a huge influence particularly in France. As for Latin America, Rubén Darío (Nicaragua, 1867-1916), the hugely influential founder of Modernismo, which is not at all akin to what we know as Modernism but a lush lyricism much more like French Symbolism, loved Poe, calling him “the master of dreams and death,” and writing, “He has expressions, ways of saying things, that can only be compared to those found in sacred texts.”

    I was being cutting about the Cervantes Prize when, after using Gonzalo Rojas to nail you on your cheap dismissal of Pound, you attempted to come back with “somebody says he’s great.” It’s worth noting that the man I cite is not a nobody but is arguably the greatest living Latin American poet, and has won a hugely prestigious prize for lifetime achievement.

    I don’t fault you for not knowing that. I have no clue what the most important prize for, say, Japanese poets might be. I have no idea who won it last year. Whoever it is probably has quite a body of work and might have something to say about our parocial bickering. Or not.

    If I were more strategic about picking my battles I probably wouldn’t keep arguing with you.

  • On July 28, 2009 at 4:46 pm thomas brady wrote:

    John,

    I don’t approve of X because Y tells me to. I’m sure you could cite thousands of distinguished poets and scholars who approve of Pound. I don’t approve of Pound. You can say my dismissal is ‘cheap,’ but this is nothing more than a ‘cheap’ defense of Pound. All defenses of Pound, in my opinion are ‘cheap,’ while in your opinion, the reverse is true, but you are implying your opinion weighs more than mine because of someone else’s opinion. My opinion of Pound may not reveal how much I have studied the subject, but that doesn’t mean I cannot make hold that opinion with not only impunity, but respect. To ask me to proceed at length with my opinion would be to give Pound more credit than he deserves. Even Pound’s defenders admit he’s a “crank,” and that he made cheap dismissals of entire eras of literature. But Pound is allowed to do this… why? Where, exactly, is the Pound that is so important, that justifies all of his nonsense? Where is the one work by Pound that justifies Pound’s nonsense? It does not exist. Let us not be intimidated by Pound’s friends–who were his friends because of his other friends–in the world of networking actuality is endlessly deferred. Let us look at the actual writings and opinions Pound authored. One can have negative influence–be actually worse for mankind than if one had never existed–and Pound is one of these men, in my opinion. Literature is not some game where one accrues accolades, is it?

    It might be interesting to understand WHY Pound is so admired when he was a below average translator, a bad to average poet and a worse critic. Have I left anything out? Let’s see…did he write novels, short stories, scientific treatises, reviews, pieces of journalism? No, he’s remembered for translations, poems, and a few essays. Pound’s great accomplishment in the eyes of some was to cut Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ down to size. Michelangelo took a block of marble and found a statue; Pound took a fish tank and scooped out some fish. Poor Vivien edited the ‘The Waste Land,’ too. But Eliot knew who to thank. Anyway, if we look over Pound’s actual work…what do we see? Anything the world would miss if it were gone? I’m afraid not.

    No, Pound is a symbol of a new kind of poet, a symbol of a poet who doesn’t have to be *good,* who doesn’t have to be a Shakespeare or a Milton or a Dante or a Goethe or a Poe or a Shelley or a Keats or a Tennyson or a Longfellow, who needs only to be *active,* to be a busy-body, highly opinionated, lots of friends, travel about, hold any crazy opinion they wish, write shoddy, crazy, unfinished work, translate without knowing the language… Pound represents a greatness that *flatters us* into thinking that we, too, can be an important literary force merely on the account of a no-holds-barred, busy-body *energy.* Thomas Carlyle was the 19th century Pound; Poe called Carlyle an “ass” once, and Carlyle’s reputation continues to fade. In 50 years or so Pound will be a footnote, a puzzlement…

    Thomas

  • On July 29, 2009 at 7:04 am thomas brady wrote:

    Poe was the victim, back there in that nasty era right before the Civil War, of what might be described as a gangland murder, one of those murders which ‘sends a message’ and the play of it is more in the cowardice and silence with which it is greeted than anything else.

    Griswold, pal of Greeley, the most influential newspaperman in America at the time, was the preeminent anthologist of his day–Poe was murdered mere weeks after he told Grizzy, OK, you’re my literary executor–and Grizzy was the man who informed the world about what happened in Baltimore, hours after it happened, in a style that was zero percent ‘investigative journalism’ and 100 percent ‘this is what happens to those who mess with the transcendentalists.’ Poe is dead. He had no friends, people. You must have friends. “Friends” meaning friends in high places, like Horace Greeley and Ralph Waldo Emerson who are serious people, who don’t mess around with you.

    It’s easy to name names in a case like this, because they are still known today, but difficult to believe a case like this–for precisely the same reason: the participants are still known today, as respectable writers, and this bookworm familiarity bars the sort of disquisition years hence which could strike an uncomfortable chord, to question the sagacity of placid commentators who have yawned over transcendentalist literature for years would be heresy.

    But let us leave the ‘real story’ and the ‘real events’ behind. There is still the fact of the gangland hit and its effects on our literature since. Our literary history is short–it happened yesterday, and the significance of Poe naturally goes far beyond the person who was disappeared; it is highly significant aesthetic debate which needs revisiting–again and again, since the mass of literary humanity tends to be dull, and easily swayed by coteries even in the best of literary republics. It is stone’s throw from Emerson to his godson W. James to T.S. Eliot and G. Stein and the rabid clique of anti-Poe modernism.

    • On July 29, 2009 at 8:25 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

      I have no information that would lead me either to believe or disbelieve this theory about Poe’s demise. On the other hand, having spent 15 years in a part of the world where hits are an almost daily occurence, I can assure you that the logistics of it are a piece of cake.

      Here’s how it works here–how I would go about it myself if I ever had to.

      First of all I would phone up my good friend Anchalee (not her real name), a prominent antique and real estate dealer from a very high family with connections to the local royal family. I would tell her I wanted so much to see her because I had things on my mind that were so difficult to speak about and I needed her advice. She would understand immediately that I meant something illegal, and she was very proud of being the best in town at that. So we would meet in a chic little bar overlooking the river for margheritas, just the two of us. Almost immediately she would understand that I meant someone simply had to be gotten out of the way, for whatever reason wouldn’t matter. She would tell me that someone named Sam (good Thai name!) would meet me tomorrow at the Noodle Shop in the Night Market at 8pm. He would know me and introduce himself to me. I should have a bowl of noodles with him, and during the meal hand him a slip of paper with the name of the person and a few bits of relevant information like his address, where he works, his habits if he had any etc, and he might ask me some questions. I should also have a packet with 50,000 baht (+/- $i500.00) in it in a newspaper and place it on the table between us just as we got up to leave. When we parted I should leave the newspaper on the table.

      That would be the hitman’s money.

      Before going to the Noodle Shop I should have gone to the nearby bookstore on the moat and sat on the bench just outside the door on the right hand side at 6pm with another newspaper in my lap. Inside the newspaper there should have been a packet with another 50,000 baht (+/- $i500.00) in it in cash. A woman would have come and sat next to me and asked me for the time. I should have looked at my watch and told her, and then have gotten up and left the newspaper on the bench with the packet in it right beside her. Then I should have walked away toward the night market without looking back.

      That would have been Anchalee’s money, and the hit would happen within a week.

      In fact the woman with the packet has no idea who or what it’s for but simply knows what to do with it–give it to her boss, a big gem dealer or hotel owner whose mistress she is, or whatever. The man in the Noodle Shop will have no idea he is working for Anchalee, and when he passes on the information to the intermediate who knows the hitman with 30.000 baht in cash, my name and person will also be out of the loop. The gunman riding pillion and the motorcycle driver driver will make 20,000 baht between them, and the body will be left quite dead beside the road.

      Nobody knows anybody anymore what is more why, and the police know there are always big people behind all such hits and won’t bother to make enquiries. Also, most of the hitmen are off-duty policemen.

      And what are the reasons? Rivalry usually, or humiliation, or potential humiliation–or as a lesson to someone else who needs to be put in their place, financially, politically, very often sexually, occasionally artistically (advertizing, publicity, self-promotion etc.). That’s all–just like Edgar Allen Poe but today in Chiang Mai.

      Christopher

  • On July 29, 2009 at 9:49 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Thanks, Christopher, a chilling scenario– so feasible and traceless.

    Poe had humiliated extremely well-connected and successful folk–there’s no doubt about that. To damage a person’s hard-earned literary reputation is to steal their land, wife and property, and a savage, sarcastic review from Poe did occasionally do that.

    But Poe couldn’t be put away THAT easily; he had a name, a face, a gigantic literary reputation.

    If Poe had been found by just anyone, with his throat cut or a bullet in his belly, he would have been martyred at once, and many questions would have been asked. ‘Who did him violence?’ would have been on everyone’s lips.

    Instead, the events Oct 3-7 leading up to Griswold’s ‘few or no friends’ libel in Greeley’s NY Tribune Oct 9, were shrouded in mystery and cover-up, from which a hurried burial without an autopsy peeped out. Rumors of debauch and self-affliction, not murder, arose from the haze–thanks to Griswold’s piece and thanks to the actions of the few who found him on the 3rd and kept the whole thing hidden after his mysterious death on the 7th, and after his hasty burial on the 9th–all documents pertaining to Poe’s death went missing, and his death remains a complete mystery, but at the time, the unofficial verdict rushed to the world was ‘death by drunken binge,’ simply by rumor and default. It was the perfect crime–because they managed to make Poe seem not only responsible for his own death, but in a way that played right into the hands of his slanderers.

    A well-known writer during her day, Elizabeth Oakes Smith, published a piece in 1867 that claimed Poe died as a result of a “beating.” Snodgrass quickly responded in the same publication, assuring the world Poe had been in a “beastly state of intoxication” –the letter said so, you see? The strange letter written by Joseph Walker upon finding Poe near Snodgrass’s home–how odd that Poe should leave Richmond for Philadelphia and end up miles out of his way in Baltimore–near the home of Snodgrass, who made sure Poe perished miserably and alone, away from those who loved him. Snodgrass, Poe’s friend! The letter actually said ‘worse for wear,’ but Snodgrass, so anxious to save the world from Mrs. Smith’s idea, became so worked up in his article that he remembered the letter–which was in his possession–as saying in “a beastly state of intoxication,” and that’s what Snodgrass told his readers it said. Snodgrass, Poe’s “friend,” was making sure the Griswold story stuck, 18 years after Poe’s death. The attending physician is on record saying Poe had not consumed alchohol; Snodgrass was the only ‘witness’ to the Griswold spin of dissolution.

    To describe Poe in the obituary in Greeley’s newspaper, Griswold actually copied a entire passage of a novel, verbatim, where a villain is described.

    As a biographer (Quinn) put it:

    ‘The damage this article did to Poe’s reputation is incalculable. Printed in Horace Greeley’s paper and republished in the ‘Weekly Tribune’ on Oct. 20, it was accepted as authoritative, and it was copied, even in journals friendly to Poe. It appeared, for example, in ‘The Richmond Enquirer’ on Oct 13 and it created that *first* impression, so hard to efface.

    Greeley’s circle included the transcendalists like Emerson who Poe liked to poke fun at. Poe moved easily from South to North, one of the very few writers in that day who could do so, but he did pick on New England (and England)–the friends Greeley and Griswold were both from Vermont.

    Meanwhile Helen Whitman, to whom Poe had been engaged, was realizing some things on her own, after Poe’s death. In a letter to Fanny Osgood, Whitman wrote:

    “from the numerous efforts which have been made both before and since his death to prejudice me against *him* I cannot but infer that similar agencies have been employed to convince him that I had ceased to regard him with interest” and she goes on to say she always held him in high regard. Whitman discovered that rumors were being carried abroad by more than one “lady who had quoted Mrs. Whitman as her authority that Poe was ‘an intemperate and dissolute man.’” There was some strange shit going on. A letter does exist in which Greeley writes Griswold asking if there is any way the impending marriage between Whitman and Poe can be stopped, with Greeley implying Poe is a monster.

    Whitman had to badger Griswold for letters she wrote to Poe, and when he finally replied, after ignoring her, he wrote, “I was not his [Poe's] friend, nor was he mine” and then it gets really wierd when Grizzy writes, “be very careful what you say to, or write to, Mrs. Clemm, who is not your friend nor anybody’s friend and who has no element of goodness or kindness in her…” and he goes on to say that poor old Muddy has “wickedness in her heart” and tells Helen Whitman that Mrs. Clemm believes he, Griswold, is her friend, so do not repeat what I am saying to anyone and destroy this letter. Creepy.

    Another of the few who participated in the mysterious events of Oct 3-7 and beyond, and who made sure Poe had a hasty burial, were two cousins, one of them by marriage, who, by sheer coincidence, showed up just as Snodgrass was deciding what to do with Poe, and, according to the Snodgrass account in 1867, recommended hiring a carriage to take him to the hospital, refusing to take Poe into his home to recover because Poe, in the opinion of said cousin, was a drunken lout–this according to Snodgrass. The other cousin, Nielson Poe, gives an indication of *his* feelings for Poe in a letter he writes to Mrs. Clemm following the funeral, in which he fails to tell her what happened to Poe (even though he was there with Snodgrass) and writes, “Edgar had seen so much sorrow–had so little reason to be satisfied with life–that, to him, the change can scarcely be said to be a misfortune.” Poe ended up away from home and friends, in distress, and waiting for him was a small band of men who clearly did not like him.

    The explanation which Poe sympathizers make is that Snodgrass, being a fanatical temperance man, was anxious for Poe’s death to be by alcohol–to set an example for ‘the cause,’ but this does not explain why Snodgrass kept Poe’s whereabouts a secret while Poe was supposedly dying from alcohol poisoning Oct 3-7. IF Snodgrass realized Poe, the famous author, was on death’s door because of a drinking binge, how much better for ‘the cause’ if this gentleman temperance newspaperman were to alert the world to this fact while Poe was dying. The world would have been able to witness first-hand the greatest temperance scoop of all time: Edgar Poe found dying of alcohol!! But the temperance man did no such thing. During the whole time in question, he kept Poe’s death under wraps. Snodgrass was the man on the spot to report and prove to the world that Poe was dissolute and to make sure the world knew intemperance did Poe in. Snodgrass needs to be examined in a different light, not to mention Greeley and his associates, which included Margaret Fuller, who was in the middle of a love letter scandal that almost got Poe killed by a jealous husband in 1847, but that’s for another day…

    In October, 1849, Poe was disappeared. Mystery attends him.

    Thomas


Posted in Uncategorized on Sunday, July 19th, 2009 by Eileen Myles.