The reason I started musing on the literary version of separation between Church and State—the separation between poet and critic—is because I think more and more we’re getting these hybrids, the poet/critics (or “pitics”) (or “croets”) who feel that they can straddle these two distinct bodies and attempt to satisfy them both, as if the point of studding is the mounting and not the siring. Would that it were so; there would not be nearly as many lame ponies limping about, half-workhorse and half-racer, too thick-boned to run and too delicate to work.

And it’s not that I think an adept critic can’t also write a good poem, or that a good poet can’t also write essays. But, as I heard Justin Cronin say once (and I don’t know if he got it from someone else, but kudos to Justin or to whomever first said it) the tools of the maker and the tools of the critic are very different. The mindset is different, the approach to language is different. A poet must surrender to duende. Whereas a critic should probably lay off the duende and stick to reasonable propositions based upon close reading.
Oh, and yes: these are broad assertions. Someone will no doubt list a couple dozen croets of note. Bully for them. I’m not interested in how many times the recessive gene is expressed, thereby creating fish with legs or gigantic five-leafed shamrocks. That doesn’t mean that evolution has taken place; it simply means that exceptions may exist in all manner of species.
Write poems because you want to write poems; write criticism because you want to write criticism. But don’t write criticism because you want to assert a case for your poetry. Let someone else be your advocate. Write the kinds of poems that other people fall in love with.
Wayne Miller recently sent me a copy of an interview with Philip Levine from 1998. It originally appeared in Rattle, issue 10. The interviewer was Alan Fox. In the interview, Levine reminds us that the publishing, the prizes, the notoriety—these are all ephemeral. The “work” of being a poet might include a certain amount of review-writing and committee-serving. But ultimately, what matters is the writing itself:
“Well, there are two avenues I think you have to talk about because we live in two poetry worlds. About a year ago, I had a terrific argument with a guy who administers a book prize. He had chosen a committee that I thought was just hopeless, and I, being a fat-mouth, told him so. I said, ‘You shouldn't have these people on this committee. They shouldn't be giving prizes. These are people with very narrow agendas and so they are going to be fighting amongst each other to push their agendas.’ I said, ‘You should choose people with much broader tastes who can accommodate each other and who care about a great variety of American poetry.’ And the guy said to me, ‘You don't think I know anything about poetry, do you?’ I said, ‘I didn't say that.’ ‘No, you think I just don't know my ass from a hole in the ground, right?’ I said, ‘No, I didn't say that. You obviously don't know who these people are.’ He said, ‘I studied with Robert Creeley. I know a lot about it.’ I said, ‘I'm not talking about that, I'm not talking about poetry eternal.’ I used the classification of the Catholic church. You have the church eternal and the church temporal. In the church eternal, the priest is Jesus Christ's shepherd on earth. In the church temporal, he may be trying to make time with the little boys. To the altar boys he may be a real creep, but in the church eternal he has a function that is an eternal function. I said, ‘I'm not talking about poetry eternal, you know a lot about that;’ I knew because I had read a book he'd written about William Carlos Williams. I said, ‘You know a lot about that, but you don't know anything about poetry temporal, which has to do with making out, getting ahead, pushing your agenda, pushing your friends, earning points from other people, getting renown, fame, jobs, all that crap.’ Then there's poetry eternal where you draw strength from Milton, Dante, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Keats, and you encapsulate it in your own words and you pass it on to the generations to come.
“I try to get my students to focus, and young poets to focus, to forget about all this temporal crap. If they were my students at Fresno State where I taught for years, they were already so behind the 8-ball. They're going to send their poems to the The New Yorker and it's going to be from Fresno? They'd say, ‘From Fresno? Oh shit.’ (both laugh).
“Whereas if the student is a student at Columbia or Harvard, the poetry teacher gets on the phone and says to the poetry editor at The New Yorker, ‘I've just found this wonderful, talented young man (or woman), you must read.’ ‘Of course I'll read it, send me the poem.’ So I try to get them to focus on poetry eternal. I didn't even know there was a poetry temporal until I was well into my 20s. I didn't know poetry was a business. I had no idea. I didn't even bother trying to publish. I didn't even know how you would go about it. I didn't even know it was important. I was just trying to write and to become a better writer. Then at a certain point when I had two children, my wife was about to have the third child, I realized I was going to have to go to work (laughs) and I didn't want to go back into industrial Detroit. I began sending my poems out and I was lucky enough to get a lot of them published, and then I began to have to have truck with this poetry temporal. And it hasn't been such a pretty sight. In that arena, poets are no better than anybody else. So my central thing is to try to get the students to focus on the eternal aspect.”

Originally Published: August 1st, 2008

Born in Albany, Georgia, D. A. Powell earned an MA at Sonoma State University and an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His first three collections of poetry, Tea, (1998), Lunch (2000), and Cocktails (2004), are considered by some to be a trilogy on the AIDS epidemic. Lunch was a...

  1. August 1, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    As someone who just had a poem accepted by The New Yorker & has criticism forthcoming in Poetry (I am shocked -- shocked! -- to find myself promoting myself on the internet), I have to say I find this post rather severely divorced from reality. Oh, sure, it makes for a nice reductive picture that a lot of people like to believe in -- it partakes of all the right Jarrellian shades. But Phil Levine's tired caricature of the way things work is unintentionally revealing. Yeah, yr MFA thesis director gets Paul Muldoon (speaking of five-leafed shamrocks) on the horn, & Paul whispers to his capos, & you're in.
    The truth, of course, is far more complex, & as is often the case with posts on Harriet, a dose of historical acuity would have shed some light on that complexity. The imaginary divide you posit has to make room for "exceptions" from Sidney & Spenser to Shelley & Coleridge to Eliot & Pound to whichever of the dozens of remarkable writers working wonders in both fields at present you'd accept as worthy.
    Since I can't think of anyone who writes criticism in order to produce a brief for their own work, I wonder if what this post really comes down to is a valorization of poets as the "true" artistes as against those who believe, with Andrew Ford, that although "critical theory often was, as it still may be, a means of appropriating cultural objects held in common, and its terminology lends itself to being used as a sort of Pythagorean watchword, a secret token exchanged among those 'in the know,'" "critical terminology can succeed by expressing, compendiously, axioms of a common discussion."
    And I don't like having to say this, since I'm a great admirer of, especially, Cocktails, which I've more than once required my students to buy & study, often to no small benefit.

  2. August 1, 2008
     stan apps

    When you suggest that "what matters is the writing itself" you seem to be suggesting that criticism is not writing. Criticism in fact is writing and can expres anything poetry can, as long as silly genre limits or tonal limits are not observed. (Similarly, poetry can express anything criticism can, as long as irrelevant limits are not observed.)

  3. August 1, 2008

    I have to laugh at Levine's assertion about poetry teachers at the Ivies, which runs absolutely counter to my experience, though perhaps not to yours (weren't you a poetry teacher at Harvard once?). And I hope someone more versed in Spanish poetries than I will Lloyd Bentsen you on your duende reference.
    As for the main premise here, that as a rule poets who do not write criticism are more likely than those who do to attend to what Levine calls poetry eternal, that's no more useful than any other truism. If you need a reason to dismiss entire categories out of hand, bully for you.

  4. August 1, 2008
     C. Dale

    I think Doug is poking fun here, as in mild satire.

  5. August 1, 2008
     Henry Gould

    Michael Robbins writes :
    "Since I can't think of anyone who writes criticism in order to produce a brief for their own work, I wonder if what this post really comes down to is a valorization of poets as the "true" artistes as against those who believe, with Andrew Ford, that although "critical theory often was, as it still may be, a means of appropriating cultural objects held in common, and its terminology lends itself to being used as a sort of Pythagorean watchword, a secret token exchanged among those 'in the know,'" "critical terminology can succeed by expressing, compendiously, axioms of a common discussion." "
    I don't get the logic of this paragraph. Andrew Ford's statement in defense of the value of criticism dces not negate the notion attributed to D.A. Powell, and paraphrased above, that poetry is a distinct activity, which poets, in particular, do.

  6. August 1, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    >...I think more and more we’re getting these hybrids, the poet/critics (or “pitics”) (or “croets”)
    boy, I'm glad I'm not a "croet" from Croatia!
    I'd be a Croat croet.

  7. August 1, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    >A poet must surrender to duende. Whereas a critic should probably lay off the duende and stick to reasonable propositions based upon close reading.
    And to take up Jordan's comment on duende, though without presuming that I know more about Spanish-language poetry than he does...
    I believe this conviction that Real Poets should lay off the essayistic and just "surrender to duende" is rooted in Lorca's propositions about duende in a critical ESSAY!

  8. August 1, 2008
     Caryn File

    As Doug once said to me, it's good to know people out there think Harvard stands for something.

  9. August 1, 2008
     Jonathan Mayhew

    All poets makes a brief for their own poetry in their critical writing, whether that's what they think they are doing or not, and that is the most valuable critical writing about poetry that exists. Lorca, Pound, Duncan, Creeley, for starters. If you are not convinced I could make a list many times longer. I can think of a very few truly significant critics who are NOT poets.
    I think there should be a fine levied against anyone who takes the duende in vain, without knowing what it's about.

  10. August 1, 2008

    If criticism can express anything poetry can, why bother with poetry? There has to be something about it that's different, right? Or else there wouldn't be a word for it. A line of poetry might be, "stuck midget, protective scrape, the avalanche was horny...". Now, how exactly could the meaning of that be expressed in the form of criticism?

  11. August 1, 2008
     Don Share

    "The scholar ought to be like the poet, an Ishmael, scouted and feared; a magician, impious, to be consulted in secrecy and shame. Only the neglected by man can keep either truth or beauty in view. The moment advantage has a part in his studies or his craft, his work perishes."
    - Basil Bunting, crossed-out and unpublished passage from a notebook of material for Briggflatts

  12. August 1, 2008
     D. A. Powell

    What I found to be so funny about Levine's comment re: Harvard and Columbia is that it gives voice to that thread of paranoia and conspiracy-theorizing that seems to hang like a booger out of the nose of art. But I don't think the misinformed quality of that comment should necessarily detract from his larger argument, which is that poets should pay much less attention to the "temporal" aspects of being poets. But...look where I'm saying this! On a Blog! Isn't that what one might call "ironic"?
    D. A.
    PS--there are a great many more things I could say in response to some of the other posts, but then I would be getting sucked into the vortex, having to act as if my opinion is somehow righter than y'all's opinions. I only want for there to be a controversy. I don't insist upon being right and/or accurate. Meanwhile, let the comments fly, have some fun. It's summer.

  13. August 1, 2008

    Tell me Levine doesn't (or didn't) have as much pull at the New Yorker as a certain Harvard professor or two did (or does)!

  14. August 1, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    >there are a great many more things I could say in response to some of the other posts, but then I would be getting sucked into the vortex...
    Speaking of the vortex, maybe DA has a deeper point one should consider.
    Because if Poets had just minded their P&Qs and not turned into uppity Croets, we might have been spared the Jacobin bloodletting of Modernism and the long interregnum of Bonapartist New Criticism...
    And then MFA programs might have got started, unencumbered by all that non-poetry stuff, under the rule of King George V!
    Ah, it is summer, and it's almost over, so yes, let's have some fun.

  15. August 1, 2008
     Travis Nichols

    Also bad:
    Architoets--Architect poets
    Photogrophets--Photographer poets
    Poelumbers--Poet plumbers
    Poefs--Poet chefs
    Copoets--Police poets
    Pourses--Poet nurses
    Poecists--Poet physicists
    Cognitive Neroets--Cognitive Neuroscientist poets
    Software Developoets--self-explanatory
    and of course, the worst, Professets--Professor poets

  16. August 1, 2008
     Aaron Fagan

    In light of the Bunting, I'd say the critic is to the temporal poet, what the scholar is to the poet of the eternal. Eliot, through his criticism, sort of designed the methodology by which he would be remembered, which of course has fallen apart into as many fragments as his verses.
    A critic is a student of criticism whereas a scholar is a student of scholarship and of poetry probably more so than a poet. I can think of nothing more thankless that all of the good scholars that have taught us what to remember in such a way that we prance around, self-centered to an extreme, like our taste was forged of our own original resources.

  17. August 1, 2008

    You lost me at should.

  18. August 1, 2008

    I can't help feeling that it was too bad that Lorca tried to import the concept of duende -- a concept specific to a specific performing practice in a specific, unlettered, European subculture -- into European culture as a whole, where it's gotten vague-ified and abstracted. Lorca himself is vague on it, because, outside of its specific context, it's vague.
    A flamenco musician once told me that summoning the duende was the goal of any flamenco performance, and it rarely happened, and it had never made it on records; had never been recorded. Never. The key thing, though, and Lorca goes back and forth on this, is that it's a matter of a performance, not of writing. Or, at least, in its original context, it's a matter of performance. In its post-Lorca context, it's a matter of argumentation!

  19. August 1, 2008
     Jonathan Mayhew

    I heard Levine give a reading years back and say he cut his lines in half because the New Yorker paid by the line. He could get paid more for the same poem that way,
    just by

  20. August 1, 2008
     Henry Gould

    Have to disagree with duendo Jonathan Mayhew. The most valuable criticism out there was written by Aristotle. & after him, the Chicago Critics, who were Aristotelians. Criticism is a branch of philosophy.
    Poets who write prose with the aim of justifying or explaining their own poetry are not, in this case, writing criticism. They're writing introductions. This is not to say that poets never write criticism.
    We hardly know what criticism is, actually. It's pretty rare. Almost as rare as poetry.

  21. August 1, 2008

    . . . adding, by "any flamenco performance," this musician meant, any *private* flamenco performance, a public performance being by definition "for the tourists" and inimical to the duende's appearance.
    I don't doubt that this musician's definition might be controversial among flamenco musicians, but I'm confident that they would agree that it's a matter of performance, not of writing.

  22. August 1, 2008
     Rich Villar

    Jeez, we seem to be lumping critics in with that eternal bugaboo of the writing world, The Gatekeepers. That is, the ones who hold the keys to those doors leading from obscurity to Guggenheims, a species I know and loathe and would stamp out with Raid if I could. While there are certainly still those uber-critics who hold keys to some doors--and those who are maddeningly unable/unwilling to examine their own positions of privilege and power--I'm not so sure it's that cut and dried all the time.
    Confession: I used to see critics as balding middle-aged white guys engaging in some very American male behavior: armchair quarterbacking the poet's duende. Then I read Ed Hirsch; I heard Afaa Michael Weaver deliver a lecture on Bishop, Hayden and Wright; and I read some Harold Bloom. Of the three, only Bloom is considered a pure critic and nothing else, but even he has tried his hand at some of that Stevensian "perfect fiction" we've all grown to love. (Say, isn't that another croat/croet talking about theory? Fascinating, que no?) The point here being, the critic does not have to be the picture of detached gatekeeping and territory preservation, and I think even Levine knows that, even as he makes some valid points in his own right.
    The best critics, to my mind, are the ones who are able to meet the poet at those dark depths from where duende rises, and bring those notes back for the historical record. One need not separate them, and indeed, I think many non-poet critics believe themselves kindred to the poets, if not poets themselves.
    Oh and by the way, it is altogether too true that too many poets think themselves qualified to be critics. Not all poets read other work, nor do they care to. Some of the worst gatekeepers are poets themselves.
    Rich Villar,
    (A Latino Poet Who Speaks Spanish and Is Thus Qualified To Speak on Lorca. Um. Right?)

  23. August 1, 2008

    Gosh, and way back when Plato banished the poets - obviously not the philosophers - from his res publica - that tells you something.

  24. August 1, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    >You lost me at *should.*
    That's OK, Jordan. It was only a bit of minor irony, trapped in an overly self-conscious sentence.

  25. August 1, 2008
     Henry Gould

    Plato ain't the only philosopher, Doodle.
    Dante called Aristotle The Philosopher : "the master of those who know".

  26. August 1, 2008

    Aristotle said that all forms of poetry are modes of imitation, to which Plato pre-replied:
    "The poet is like a painter who will make a likeness of a cobbler though he understands nothing of cobbling; and his picture is good enough for those who know no more than he does, and judge only by colors and figures... There is an ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry."
    Here's something Lorca said about Duende:
    "The duende that I speak of, shadowy, palpitating, is a descendant of that benignest demon of Socrates, he of marble and salt, who scratched the master angrily the day he drank the hemlock; and of that melancholy imp of Descartes, little as an unripe almond, who, glutted with circles and lines, went out on the canals to hear the drunken sailors singing."
    The true struggle is with the Duende!

  27. August 1, 2008
     Jonathan Mayhew

    I propose a moratorium on the duende. No one is allowed to use this word for 100 years. I will impose penalties.
    Lorca is not vague. He is multifaceted and metaphorical. The definition of the duende changes over the course of his lecture; it is an inherenlty fluid concept, tied up with problems of cultural identity in early twentieth century Andalusia and Spain and Lorca's own poetics. Being a Latino does not qualify you to have an opinion on it, sorry. I'm hoping that was not meant seriously, because it only takes a moment to realize how absurd that would be.
    I'd rather have Sophocles's working notes than Aristotle's Poetics. Since we don't have the former, we'll have to do with the latter.

  28. August 1, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    >I propose a moratorium on the duende. No one is allowed to use this word for 100 years. I will impose penalties.
    I don't think the duende cares much for any "moratorium." Those who know that "the definition of the duende changes over the course of Lorca's lecture and is an inherenlty fluid concept, tied up with problems of cultural identity in early twentieth century Andalusia and Spain and Lorca's own poetics" should also know it can suddenly sieze them up, too, and seize them hard, make them roll their eyes back into their heads, push the mouth out into an O, shout sharp, unearthly shouts, cause them to throw down with violence to the gravel a gentle book of epigrams, make them--and literally--stomp rhythmically upon it (in midst of dark clapping circle).
    In fact, this has been known to happen to experts of duende in beer gardens at the AWP!

  29. August 1, 2008
     Henry Gould

    I don't believe that Aristotle says anywhere that "all forms of poetry are imitations".
    With Aristotle, you have to be very careful with words like "all", "forms", and "imitation".
    Furthermore, unlike as with Plato, A's use of the term "imitation" was not derogatory at all. His sense of the word in no way involved ranking art in relation to truth or reality.
    Are you letting Plato define for you what the relationship is between poetry & philosophy, Doodle? Is Plato setting the agenda here? That's not actually very Platonic (dialectical) on your part.

  30. August 1, 2008

    "Epic poetry and tragedy, comedy also and dithyrambic poetry, and the music of the flute and of the lyre in most of their forms, are all in their general conception modes of imitation. They differ, however, from one another in three respects - the medium, the objects, the manner or mode of imitation, being in each case distinct." - Aristotle, Poetics - right at the very beginning!

  31. August 1, 2008

    "Fluid," "metaphorical," and "multifaceted" are more accurate words than "vague" to describe Lorca's invocation of duende. "Metaphorical" is key -- it's a metaphor to get at something in writing, that other metaphors could get at -- depth, darkness, intensity, soulfulness, otherness, "the rag and bone shop of the heart," chthonic . . . None of them are "duende" exactly, and since you, a Lorca expert, would rather ban the use of the word than show us how Lorca would authorize us to use it, I would rather stick to the other metaphors.
    I've never witnessed duende's appearance, but I have witnessed the descent of the Holy Spirit into a Pentacostal Church service. I love gospel music, and no gospel record I've heard -- awesome as some of them are -- has come close to representing the shrieking and convulsing, and the running up and down the aisles of the church, that I've seen. If a U.S. poet were to try to import the concept of "possession by the Holy Spirit" into Western culture as a whole (as Lorca did, with his duende claim for Bach), even if he were working out "problems of cultural identity" in the U.S. and/or some specific region of the U.S., I'd probably think it was a mistake, no matter how well-intentioned, and no matter how beautifully put (as Lorca's lectures are). A perfectly good gospel song may or may not inspire possession by the Holy Spirit. As with duende, it's not a matter of writing, it's a matter of performance.
    As Kent's comment shows, "duende" remains a perfectly serviceable word in flamenco culture.

  32. August 1, 2008

    I forgot to mention "form breaking" and "death-soaked" -- or, "open to the presence of death" -- as two key metaphors invoked by Lorca's duende.
    Goth rock!

  33. August 1, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    OK, my goodness. Aristotle does NOT equate poetry w/ imitation, nor does Plato, because mimesis doesn't mean "imitation," at least not in its twenty-first century English sense. It is sometimes translated that way, but as the Aristotelean Stephen Halliwell & a great many others have repeatedly emphasized, it's a very misleading translation. A better solution is to leave "mimiesis" untranslated, but "representation" is probably much closer to the sense Aristotle intends than "imitation."
    Halliwell: "While it made some sense for, say, sixteenth-century Italian, seventeenth-century French, or eighteenth-century Englsih writers to use imitatione, l'imitation, imitation to translate Plato's concept of mimesis in the Republic or Aristotle's in the Poetics, & at the same time to frame arguments applicable to contemporary issues of artistic representation in their own cultures, I believe that it no longer makes good sense for us to do either of these things. It is an extension of this point that we need to be extremely cautious before supposing that we can automatically grasp what neoclassical critics & theorists meant by 'imitation' in their various languages."
    Mimesis is a terribly complicated concept. I recommend Halliwell's The Aesthetics of Mimesis to anyone who assumes Plato disapproved of it or Aristotle thought it was mere copying. (It contains, not incidentally, some corrections to the Chicago school's misapprehensions about Aristotle's poetics.)
    While we're on the subject, Plato didn't "banish the poets" from the Republic, either. Doesn't anyone actually read Plato & Aristotle any more?

  34. August 1, 2008
     Henry Gould

    You'll notice that didactic or discursive poetry is not included in this list... which leaves out Lucretius, Dante, Pope, a few others...
    The signal virtue of the Philosopher is artlessness. She sits down in the marketplace and talks about how things are. Her domain is Truth, the Poet's, Beauty. & they need each other. Otherwise the philosopher is only a dull, deluded pedant - & the poet an egotistical, epicene narcissist.
    The Critic occupies a middling position - between Samuel Johnson and Walter Pater (between Charles Bernstein and William Logan and Helen Vendler and David Orr) - between an obtuse, tin-eared, philistine empiricism, and an effete, gold-plated, a-historical aestheticism.

  35. August 2, 2008

    Come to think of it, a U.S. poetry movement did polemically ally itself with the music of a U.S. minority group, when Ginsberg claimed "bop prosody" as descriptive of his writing and that of his friends.
    While good public relations, I don't find his claim aesthetically persuasive. (I like -- often, love -- the writing of Ginsberg and some of his friends; just don't think they're "bop" in any significant aesthetic sense.)
    I wrote about it almost 2 years ago: "What does Bud Powell's piano have to do with Jack Kerouac's prose?"

  36. August 2, 2008
     Rich Villar

    Yes, I'm quite aware that my ethnicity has nothing to do with expertise on the subject of duende. But yes, I have read the darn thing, and I personally think it not so absurd to be able to meet Lorca in the original Spanish, and that I think DOES give me a leg up over my non-Spanish-speaking but equally intelligent homies. I mean, I haven't written a book on it or anything, but there it is. ;-)
    I simply mean to point out that the best critics are lovers of all things poetic, strange, dark, and mysterious themselves. That they themselves use their criticism as a means to search, much like a poet does. The poet-critic does not have to be a demon to pillory; he/she can possess a certain intimate knowledge of duende just the same as the poet. And...going back to Powell's original point, MY picture of the poet-critic counters the annoying self-absorbed po-critic too interested in nailing together and worshipping his own poetics.
    In other words. We should all grow up to be Ed Hirsch. :-)
    Sorry, though, I cannot honor your moratorium. I just like the word too much. I'm gonna start using it like a smurf, replacing all my active verbs with it. And now it's time to duende my ass out of this forum...

  37. August 2, 2008
     Michael Gushue

    I think we need to use a better translation of Aristotle here. I'd try Seth Benardete or Joe Sachs. Also I'm looking for Aristotle's treatise "On Duende." Anybody have that handy?

  38. August 2, 2008

    I am a Croat poet. But as a Croatic I'm a little chaotic.

  39. August 2, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    a few more relevant passages from Halliwell (whose translation of Poetics is well worth consulting):
    "...the neoclassical slogan of 'the imitation of nature,' a phrase that, contrary to an alarmingly common misapprehension, is nowhere to be found in the Poetics or in any other Aristotelean discussion of poetry."
    "...the inadequacy of the still prevalent translation of mimesis as 'imitation,' a translation inherited from a period of neoclassicism in which its force had different connotations from those now available."
    "Works or acts of artistic mimesis need not (always) be thought of as corresponding to specific, empirical 'originals.'"

  40. August 3, 2008

    I'd love to just skip that binary critic/poet stuff and talk about Philip Levine's interview at the bottom of this entry.
    If you're talking about students at Fresno and who are trying to be poets, wouldn't an awareness of the po-biz be MORE important? If you've got a prof advocating for you at the New Yorker already, then you don't need to work your contacts. You just sit back and take consolation from the greats and make your poems and let them do the talking while the fellowships and the tenure-track positions roll in. But if you're at Fresno and no one knows who the hell you are, you gotta advocate for YOURSELF. Or maybe I've got it all ass-backwards, but.
    I'm suspicious. Levine's quote sounds like, "Take heart, Fresno kids, in Chaucer and Keats," sounds a lot like "bury yourself now, so you'll never worry too much about not-making-it because you didn't go to Harvard."

  41. August 4, 2008
     Don Share

    "... everyone throws the duende around like it was a ham sandwich."
    - Michael Palmer, "Counter-Poetics and Current Practice," ca. 1986

  42. August 4, 2008
     Don Share

    Sure nuff people read Plato and Aristotle anymore, and regarding giving poets the boot from the "republic" see below, and please feel free to quibble about the translation:
    "... we must remain firm in our conviction that hymns to the gods and praises of famous men are the only poetry which ought to be admitted into our State. For if you go beyond this and allow the honeyed muse to enter, either in epic or lyric verse, not law and the reason of mankind, which by common consent have ever been deemed best, but pleasure and pain will be the rulers in our State."

  43. August 4, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    Hi, Don. Well, first of all, we have to remember that the State is a paradigm of the well-ordered soul. Second, the passage you quote clearly refutes the idea that no poets or poetry are to be admitted ("the only poetry which ought to be admitted..."). Third, Socrates' argument is always dynamic: it evolves. Book 10 especially cannot be read in isolation, for much of what is said about poets & poetry there are qualified by moments in earlier books (despite Wehrli's weird contention that Plato expects readers to have forgotten what was said before). Fourth, & most important, the passage you cite is immediately followed by a serious qualification: Socrates allows for the possibility that someone might be able to construct a defense of poetry that would change his mind. Plato writes always from the perspective of someone who is deeply affected by & intimately acquainted with poetry, & whose concerns about representation are motivated by an acknowledgment of its pleasures & powers: Socrates says "We'd certainly profit if poetry were shown to be not only pleasant but beneficial." If it can't be, the philosopher will be like someone who is in love but recognizes his passion is harmful, & regretfully withdraws from the beloved. This isn't unqualified, by any means.
    Hope this legitimately helps; sorry to be pedantic!

  44. August 4, 2008
     Don Share

    Howdy, Michael! I don't disagree with what you say, but I did want to put what Socrates/Plato said out there for discussion. I'd just add that nobody ever did come along to change Socrates's mind; and that I don't think anyone disputes S.'s love for poetry, yet it's precisely what he says qualifies him to express those famous reservations about it. The nub of the whole matter, it seems to me, is what S. means by finding poetry "beneficial" - and it's not, I'll wager, what any of us mere mortals would mean by it!

  45. August 4, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    Don, quite right, although I wonder whether it's more accurate to say it's not what any of us mere liberals would mean by it. We all know, without ever really having examined the question or having had to explain how we know, that reading Homer isn't harmful. But anyone who's ever wondered whether it's quite the best idea for our young people to be practicing, in their free time, the simulated murder of prostitutes & police officers & random citizens (cf. Grand Theft Auto, which I've played once) has felt the force of Socrates' questions & challenges about representation - which is what, Halliwell argues, rather than prescriptions, those passages are.

  46. August 5, 2008
     Don Share

    Why confuse these things, then? If we all know reading Homer isn't harmful, then we dispense effectively with Socrates' point about poetry. If Socrates' challenges and questions make poetry and the likes of Grand Theft Auto equivalent, then out the poets must go.
    If I were a liberal, I'd argue that poetry might counterbalance, in some measure, the likes of video games and other commodified corruptions. It's surely more reasonable to challenge the latter than the former, unless you are Socrates.

  47. August 5, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    I'm saying we all "know" Homer isn't harmful, but we haven't come to terms with Socrates' challenges to representation that, if we took them seriously, would cause us to examine what we know, & perhaps to admit we don't know as much as we think. I'm not at all sure reading Homer can't be harmful in certain ways. But I believe that the reading of Homer should be encouraged. Reconciling these views leads to considerations of representation tout court, ones that I think Plato meant us to take up. While video games & poetry are not equivalent, the questions they raise about artistic value & the possible harm inherent in art make them, I think, closer forms of representation than we'd like to admit. I don't believe, for instance, that video games can be dismissed as "commodified corruptions" (as much as I'd like to so dismiss them), & I don't believe poetry escapes the circuit of commodity & corruption. I also think that we are all liberals now -- have internalized liberal values -- whether we like it or not (& I don't).

  48. August 5, 2008
     Henry Gould

    Whenever we talk about poery, thought, and representation, it's extremely vital, as Foucalt once put it so memorably, to "re-read the story". In this sense I think it is also vitally important to note some of the real historical echoes and parallels to the theoretical-philosophical set of fictional Laws proposed in Plato's works. I am referring here, of course, to the specific legislation enacted in 1952, and ratified by the Duke, which imposed a sentence of banishment on all practicing peots in the Duchy of Grand Fenwick. The particulars of this earth-shaking event have been unaccountably downplayed in the standard historicism of that era, and our own; in fact, I believe the only extensive historical study on the Grand Fenwick Expulsion, as it has come to be known, was published by an obscure scholarly press in the Netherlands in 1963 (T'Hooven Van Dinghen Puhoobliceties) by the late Ernst von Studebaker, titled "The Fenwick Expulsion : an Historical Study of an Hysterical State".
    The question simply imposes itself : why Grand Fenwick? Why 1952? Why the poets, for crying out loud? We are only at the very preliminary octagons regarding a solution to these chronological-philoligco-sophical cruxes; but one leading line of inquiry involves the local constabulary in the rural regions of G.F. during the early part of the last 700 years, where, apparently, a longstanding tradition of dichter-sploshtinghen, translated roughly as "poet-dunking", has been veritably underway for perhaps millennia (at least since before tha last Ice Age in Europe, anyway).
    I will have more to say about this matter in future postings, I am certain : but for the time being I leave you with this thought : If Socrates was a human being, and you were human being, and Socrates was in Grand Fenwick, and the Duke of Grand Fenwick was a human being, and the Law of Grand Fenwick had a thing about poets.... ?????????

  49. August 5, 2008

    I'm with Michael in seeing video games and poetry as part of a continuum of commodified representation rather than as oppositions (junk v. art), even if, as with Homer, the original poetic production did not occur in a commodified context. (No aesthetic judgment implied in this observation -- I prefer Homer too.)
    As for Homer's possible harmfulness -- how art affects people is unpredictable. I will say that I was taken aback when, at the same time that ethnic cleansing and rape camps in the region formerly known as Yugoslavia were all in the news, the New Yorker published a piece by a middle-aged upper-middle-class (or upper-class) professional man who went back to school to read The Iliad and found revenge warfare, and the taking of war-prize concubines, quaintly anachronistic.

  50. August 5, 2008
     Don Share

    Me, I'm post-liberal!
    Seriously, I wonder whether Socrates wouldn't find a video game closer to the work of a cobbler than to those ostensibly dangerous poets.
    I won't belabor any of this - not being a philosopher by any means, as you can tell.

  51. August 5, 2008
     Mary Meriam

    Henry wrote: I will have more to say about this matter in future postings, I am certain...
    I certainly hope so, Henry, as I myself, and several of my closest friends and relatives, have been in the dichter-sploshtinghen boat and we would appreciate learning more about these important, and apparently woefully suppressed, hysterical considerations.

  52. August 7, 2008
     John Gallaher

    What I like best about this little on/off switch from Levine is that Levine has been one of the best "Poetry World"-savy poets we've had. The most profitable stance for the capital P poet to take is the Poetry Eternal stance, and then to say something snarky about The New Yorker. Very well-done. Nice!

  53. August 7, 2008
     Henry Gould

    More essential (& sadly neglected) Fenwickiana :
    This is a transcript of a ripped manuscript tipped from a blimp over Luxembourg, on October 31,1970, and picked up by a milkmaid (on her paper route) named Genevieve De Longheboots. Genevieve (being a Girl Scout) promptly delivered the material to Sir Charles ("Dutch") Van Sluyve, the curator of the Luxembourg Ripped Manuscript Museum at that time, who in turn (as he was a Boy Scout) sent it by Special DeLuxembourg Courier to the Duchy (of Grand Fenwick). Which is why I am able to present it for you here today. The ms. appears to be a partial timeline of Fenwickian literary history for the last 3000 years.
    1014 Huggicka writes first lyric poem (carved into a chunk of Fenwick Limestone) - now considered a bit of her juvenilia - titled "My Love is Like a Red, Red Chunk of Limestone".
    1014 (a few days later) Officer Togg, assisted by the villagers, performs first recorded "dichter-sloshtigen", upon - you guessed it - Huggicka.
    1014 (same day) Huggicka smashes limestone poem.
    1014 (later) Togg apologizes to Huggicka, weeping. Villagers stunned. Togg reveals astonishing fact : Huggicka had written the poem for TOGG.
    1015 Huggicka marries Togg.
    1022 Huggicka proclaimed Poet Laureate of Grand Fenwick.
    742 Steen T'Vistenblatt, early Fenwick historian, writes biography of Huggicka.
    741 The Literary Society of Grand Fenwick, an informal group of old fogies, young fogies, and some fogies, organizes historical re-enactment of Huggicka dichter-sloshtingen, which is broken up by the police.
    735 F.O.G.F.C. (Fraternal Order of Grend Fenwick Constabulary) submits request to Duke Jan-Jan for permission to dichter-slosh recalcitrant poets as necessary. Request granted by Duke (with proviso that the Duke's own writings will remain exempt in and for perpetuity and superfluity).
    730 Ghost of Huggicka is seen in several locales throughout G.F.
    To be continued !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  54. August 7, 2008

    2008 OMG!!!

  55. August 8, 2008
     Mary Meriam

    Surely, Harriet has a separate room in her mansion for Henry Gould to continue his extraordinary historical work on the tragically ignored subject of the Hysterical State? So many more years to go... we're only in 730 B.C. Bring us up to date, Henry!!!!!!!!! Give Henry a chance, Harriet!!!!!!!!
    The particulars of this earth-shaking event have been unaccountably downplayed in the standard historicism of that era, and our own; in fact, I believe the only extensive historical study on the Grand Fenwick Expulsion, as it has come to be known, was published by an obscure scholarly press in the Netherlands in 1963 (T'Hooven Van Dinghen Puhoobliceties) by the late Ernst von Studebaker, titled "The Fenwick Expulsion : an Historical Study of an Hysterical State".