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A SHORT, HIGHLY PERSONAL OBSERVATION COMPLETELY LACKING IN EXAMPLES WHICH I COULD HAVE NEVER HAVE MADE THIRTY YEARS AGO WHEN I WAS A YOUNG POET STILL LIVING IN NEW YORK, BECAUSE I DIDN’T KNOW ENOUGH TO KNOW IT WAS TRUE. BUT I DO NOW.

By Martin Earl

paula_rego_gallery_14-1Germaine Greer, 
Paula Rego, 1995. (Pastel on Paper laid on aluminum
 120 x 111 cm., National Portrait Gallery).

W.H. Auden once said that he always felt that he was the youngest person in the room, even at an older age, when this was certainly not the case. I’ve felt similarly while blogging, especially when being reprimanded by commentators half my age. This could have all sorts of explanations. But for the moment let’s file them under “Monkey Glands”, aka W.B. Yeats. Today, I have a more pressing issue at hand, a comment on the younger generations of scriveners; or to reverse Auden’s impression, all of those younger than myself and involved, in one way or another, in the palimpsestic quest of poetry. I mean poets in their twenties, thirties and forties – fifty being the cut-off date.


Of course, there are exceptions but for the moment I am intent on generalizing. In the field of poetry, women make better bloggers than do their male counterparts, also better commentators, better critics and, increasingly, better poets. Of the younger generation of poets I am discovering through my involvement with Harriet, the women are clearly superior. Not only is their poetry more ambitious and achieved but their criticism is more daring, their originality of thought deeper and their wit more honed.

Why should this be? One reason perhaps (and this is undoubtedly one of those clichés for which I will be run out of town) is that women have an ontological connection that men don’t have to making and creating, to nurturing form out of raw materials: out of themselves, out of language and out of the ground, in the sense of both lettuce patches and the Heidegerrean notion of fundamentum absolutum, or der grund. Heidegger posits a reversal of the Cartesian first principle and says “I am therefore I think.” This stands in well for the difference between male and female sensibilities.

Traditionally discouraged or prevented from taking part in social paradigms of creative expression (with the exception, of course, of motherhood) women have learned patience, the art of autonomy and a capacity for restraint. Related to these qualities is the fact that they are more open to difference, generally more tolerant, and less threatened by the mechanisms of authority: those mechanisms that are found in traditional knowledge structures, traditional language structures and traditional institutional structures. Since historically women have had to defend themselves against the power emanating from these structures, their mastery and insight into the workings of power is deeper. Likewise, women’s competitive instincts are more subtly attuned to the task at hand, the medium they are dealing with, the objectives of a given project than they are with the impression they would like to make upon the world. This comes from ease with self-effacement, which in artistic endeavors results in a more thoroughgoing capacity for immersion in the project at hand. They are more apt to experiment in ways that produce organic forms for expressive purposes rather than try, as men so often do, to trick language into duplicating the will. Because women are generally more sensitive to others, they are more sensitive to the needs of the poem. Because they are more coherent, grounded and possess a higher degree of self-knowledge at a younger age, they are better prepared to resist the influences of their teachers, their education and even the expectations of the medium they are working in. Hence they are more original.

Decades of work by women to open new formats, create equalities, to encourage creative and intellectual work, to valorize the special experiences of women (both material and intellectual), and to formulate a critical framework for understanding the various forms of oppression woman have born, and continue to bear, is, in my opinion, and in my special field of concern (poetry and literary criticism) also responsible for the health, innovation and continuing wonder of the medium. But it is not the whole story, and it is time to move on, away from theory and back to practice. On a practical level, that of making and reading poems, male poets now have more to learn from how women work, and from what they are saying and creating than vice versa.

And yet in spite of what I say above (characterizing women’s experience, perhaps inaccurately, and seeing their poetry as having benefited from that experience) I have never been comfortable with the designation “women’s poetry”, or with any of the other normative appellations that marked 20th century discussions on the subject and that led to misleading typologies and atomizations. In fact, I follow Berryman’s cue in not distinguishing between British and American poetry – and I carry that further to all poets writing in English: Irish, South African, Indian and West Indian, Australian etc. (two of my favorite poets, John Kinsella and Less Murray, are from down under).

I’m even uncomfortable (since I live and work in a polyglot setting) with classifying poets or their poems by language. To pit French poets against German poets seems hardly useful when we finally arrive at the poem itself. My Portuguese colleagues, some of whom I’ve translated, are essentially doing the same thing that I do when I write a poem. The fact that they are writing in Portuguese doesn’t matter in the end. Of course different situations produce different poems, but this is a question of topicality and character and follows no scientifically consistent pattern. When I have to use categories I prefer them to be as large as possible and related to historical conditions, which effect poets in an aleatory fashion. I recently argued that postwar Central European poetry was stronger than that produced in Western Europe over the same period, but these are supranational categories and have more to do with how two different political systems effected creativity in a variable and highly unorganized fashion. Just as women, over the last three centuries, have had more hurdles to overcome than men when it came to legitimizing their status as artists and poets, Central Europeans had far more difficulties creating poetry and publishing freely in the postwar period. Perhaps a degree of resistance helps in the creation of art. Be it as it may, it is the art that we must finally look at, independent of even the most sweeping categories.

(cf. http://www.ou.edu/worldlit/onlinemagazine/2007May/20quintais-earl.pdf )

This is not to say that poets should not use (if such were possible) their special experience, experience that can derive from many things: location, language, race, gender, poverty, wealth, temperament, what they read and what they don’t read, or whatever. But for the reader or the critic to use these experiences taxonomically corrupts our capacity to evaluate poetry at the level of the poem.

By looking at poetry qua poetry we are more apt to read more sensitively, praise more accurately and winnow more decisively. But just in case you’ve missed my point, I think we’d all be the better for paying serious attention to the poems now being made by poets who happen to be women, and trying to figure out why they’re so good.

Comments (111)

  • On May 19, 2009 at 10:20 am Michael J. wrote:

    I find that the moment one says “there are exceptions”, the act of generalization becomes a fallacy. It is impossible to generalize unless you are willing to deal in stereotypes and false structures.

    I grew up in a family of women, a house of women. And when I say this, I don’t mean we were outnumbered by a small margin… I mean we equaled 3 or 4 other men in the range of 50 women. If that. And if I were to remove those other men, I was usually alone with upwards of 15 women at a time.

    But I agree female creatives are way more fascinating to me than my male counterparts. I recently bought Sandra Beasley’s “Theories of Falling” and Olena K. Davis’ first book “And her soul out of nothing”. They should arrive this week. But they aren’t the only ones tickling my poetics.

    Anyway… I really don’t think it comes down to simply male and female, though we have our differences… but those differences, I am realizing, are less inherent.

    You could view me as the exception, meaning, I am very in touch with my feminine side — what does that mean? Nearly all the personality qualities you may associate with the feminine, you could see in me. Same with the masculine. Which then tend to cancel each other out and simply allow one to be themselves, without the need to tag certain qualities with “masculine” or “feminine”.

    And if I am then viewed as an exception, I am not special enough to believe I am *the* exception. This means there is another, and if this is two, there is likely three, and so on and so on… which then possibly leads us back to the phrase: there are exceptions, but I will deal in generalizations…

    It is possible then that when people say this, they are saying (obviously, I guess) generalizations outweigh the exceptions… of course, this is impossible to account for. As generalizations exist in this outer realm of opinions and wants and other things…

    You did mention personal experience coloring ones self and in turn ones work… which I agree with…

    And I haven’t attempted to answer your original question — why are women creatives so enticing (read: popular?) these days when put parallel with the male creatives…

    Maybe it is the swing of times that we, males that is, are truly and finally noticing such things? Maybe there are more women on the position to give notice to other women who may go unnoticed? (this I want to doubt, because I’d hope art is the only space where such prejudices and sexism do not exist… but this is only a wish, as I have seen mass amounts of ego and childish antics involved in poetry when I used to perform with a poetry group).

    I feel I am contradicting myself here.

    It is very likely we are all exceptions…

    I dunno…

  • On May 19, 2009 at 12:14 pm Zachary Bos wrote:

    The will to debunk this post point-by-point has been leached right out of me by the solar intensity of the poor reasoning on display. Among the topics misunderstood are ontology, gender, Heidegger, instinct, creativity, and logic. Pious affirmations of generally agreeable statements do not give shoddy thinking a pass. To self: is my hyper-critical response a masculine trope?

  • On May 19, 2009 at 12:20 pm Joseph Hutchison wrote:

    Michael J.—I take exception to your statement about generalities and exceptions. We can all agree that there are mammals, and that mammals are distinguished by the possession of hair or fur, the secretion of milk by females for the nourishment of their young, and by giving birth to live young. The platypus and the spiny ant-eater are exceptions: mammals that lay eggs, i.e., monotremes. The problem is not with the generalities; the problem is that our systems are not completely congruent with the world.

    This is part of Martin’s point, I think: in a world where gender equality is assumed, we still find women writing stronger poems. By “we,” of course, I mean Martin and me; I share his feeling but know as well as he does that it’s highly personal and subjective.

    Nevertheless, I think what Martin says is true about the superiority of women poets, especially in certain “camps.” I’ve especially felt this when criticizing so-called Language poets for their many weaknesses. I always have to insert the caveat that I admire several poets in that camp, and that for some reason they are all women. (Not that I admire all female Language poets!) I too wonder why this should be so. But I’m a poet and a reader, not a critic and certainly not a theorist. So I’ll have to wait for someone with talents in that direction to suggest an answer….

  • On May 19, 2009 at 1:27 pm Daniel E. Pritchard wrote:

    I’m interested to know who the women are to which you refer. (Also, I think it’s accepted generally that anyone over 40 isn’t young anymore, by any standard except comparison.) Also, though my memory may not serve me, I recall that in the late 19th and early 20th century, most of the most popular and well-respected authors, essayists, and poets were women, though few have persisted — how would this be a substantially different phenomenon?

  • On May 19, 2009 at 2:02 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Who is this mysterious gunslinger leaning quietly against the wall?

    Be still, my heart!

  • On May 19, 2009 at 2:51 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    I think this measuring the contemporary quality of one’s writing based on gender, contains elements of both truth and fantasy, but is ultimately a defective and redundant position to put forward.

    Consider the following statement, which is the exact same as Jason makes, but with the genders reversed:

    “Men make better bloggers than do their female counterparts, also better commentators, better critics and, increasingly, better poets. Of the younger generation of poets I am discovering through my involvement with Harriet, the men are clearly superior.”

    The comedian in me calls to mind a (good looking and cunning) pal i knew when i was in my mid twenties, who donned a right-on cloak of ultra PC Femminism when in his university years.

    any (often totally innocuous) comment which he construed as sexist and/or insulting to women, even when the (inevitably) student-men making what he considered to be such, did so in innocence and even if though most others would not see the anti-woman slant — my pal would stand up for the sisterhood and generally sing to the skies of his battle for the gals.

    But in reality, it was all an act he engaged in purely to ingratiate himself with the women, in order to pursue a thoroughly male agenda of bedding as many women as he could. And it worked. he got a name as the metro-sexual all caring fella, amongst early twenties women and when this three year period of his life finished, went back to being the sexists git i always knew.

    My own background is, i was reared with four sisters, three older, one younger and myself and my father, the only men.

    Currently i have seven neices and three nephews, all seven necies arriving on the scene before the nephews. Growing up, i was effectively a token girl in the sense of having no brothers.

    ~

    I think the Amergin text i have been banging on about, which explains what Poetry is, the fundamental of it, that 50% of all humanity will be born with the poetic gift, can be appropriated to this debate.

    Rather than reversing it and elevating Woman to the position Man previously held in the delsion that He was God, my learning has brought me to making Jason’s statement this:

    “wo/men make better bloggers, also better commentators, better critics and, increasingly, better poets. Of the younger generation of poets I am discovering through my involvement with Harriet, the wo/men are clearly superior.”

    This is true 50/50 gender neutrality.

    Our mind is neither male or female, but a s/he and once we transcend gender, come to understand it in these plain terms. The bnest writing is gender neutral, a third person eye speaking for all pronouns.

  • On May 19, 2009 at 3:12 pm Colin Ward wrote:

    Martin,

    There may be another perspective to this. In the print world, among living poets we tend to see men dominating the scene: Cohen, Ondaatje, Heaney, Hill, Walcott, Collins, etc. By contrast, a poll of internet poets had all four top spots taken by women: Grinnell, Griffith, Carter, Copeland, plus Lindley (6th) and Kelleher (10th)–and this was before Kristalo arrived on the scene!

    Others will judge which media or process can serve as the better meritocracy, now or in the future.

    Best regards,

    Colin

    “If you don’t think your work is competing against the works of others you’re probably right!”

    – Elizabeth Zuk

    “Even a burning flag has to be waved, if only to put out the flames…”

    – Dale M. Houstman

    -o-

  • On May 19, 2009 at 7:23 pm Pris Campbell wrote:

    I’m a female blogger/poet over 50 and I don’t feel any gender superiority at all. It’s true. Reverse the gender in this post and we women would be screaming ‘chauvinistic!’.

  • On May 19, 2009 at 9:40 pm Steve wrote:

    Dear Colin Ward: who are these Internet poets described in your poll? they’re not the poets I know from the Internet. Can you post a link?

    Dear Martin: Provocative, certainly; but I wish you would name some of your favorite younger, or “younger,” poets. Do they all write about experience that has historically, or biologically (e.g. parturition) been the province of women? Some women poets write about things like parturition, which men can’t do (Elizabeth Alexander has a whole sequence); some women poets seem to be undertaking ecriture feminine (Larissa Szporluk, sometimes); some women poets write about topics traditionally considered feminine– sex, beauty, the beauty myth, raising young children, managing a household (Laura Kasischke! Laura Kasischke!); and some women poets, most of the time, don’t do any of those things (Kay Ryan, Lucia Perillo, many many others). Does your claim apply equally to all four categories? If so, why? If not, isn’t it just a claim that we seek out, and should seek out, contemporary poets whose topics and approaches are under-represented in the literature of the past? (As we should.)

  • On May 19, 2009 at 10:04 pm Reb Livingston wrote:

    Well I feel all kinds of superiority and not just because of my gender, but that’s a start. Heh.

    I concur with much of what Martin Earl has written, of course he can get away with writing it and not being labeled as bitter or a ball snipper.

    What I mean is that as an editor, I too have noticed a trend in the submission pile. On *average* I find the work of contemporary female poets to be more daring, original and interesting. My magazine receives more submissions from men (about 10-15% more), but it publishes more women. Years ago when I first noticed this, I was surprised. All along I thought I preferred male poets. I owned more books by them, was definitely more familiar with their work from major literary magazines and from my education. Turns out I was incredibly ignorant.

    So when certain editors talk about the “number troubles” I don’t understand why this is even an issue. Are these editors living in a cave?

    One can chalk up my observations to my taste and bias, which I most certainly have, like every other editor and poet.

    Reb

  • On May 19, 2009 at 11:21 pm michael j wrote:

    Reb, and other Editors out there,

    If you were to remove the names from submissions (unless this is done already), do you feel you’d naturally gravitate towards female writers? Very curious to know.

    ___

    All this talk of child raising and such, is, to me, a stereotype which frustrates me. Men can raise child just as women do. The pregnancy aspect is agreeable. No man (except the fictional character Arnold played in that one movie where he got pregnant) can ever experience pregnancy. The genetic/instinctual chain-link which rises from the bottoms of the stardust which binds us will eventually explode from the creative mind. It is inevitable. And this does, possibly, provide a different slant to ones work.

    Though the specific experience of being a woman can’t be recreated, meaning — shoot, you know what I mean — but the oppression can be. That type of experience can be. On many various levels, no?

    If I am reading the article correct, Martin is wondering if this is why the work is more daring. Or, rather, one of the reasons. Good question. The natural instincts instilled in us seep into our work, most definitely. Creativity is one of those deeper, ancient things.

    But I dunno, I think the better way to approach this is where you almost went but stopped, “On a practical level, that of making and reading poems, male poets now have more to learn from how women work, and from what they are saying and creating than vice versa.”

    Approach it from why male’s aren’t doing the daring work to figure out why females are. I think I’m gonna attempt that. Thanks Martin!

    And did anyone else find that portrait genius? How the hands are held, with the head cocked, she is purely an adult woman. But with the foot soles touching, her legs slanted like that, she is purely a young girl.

    The juxtaposition makes me keep staring at it.

  • On May 19, 2009 at 11:59 pm Reb Livingston wrote:

    “If you were to remove the names from submissions (unless this is done already), do you feel you’d naturally gravitate towards female writers? Very curious to know.”

    Yep. Like I said, I began the magazine believing I preferred male poets. It wasn’t until after a year of publishing different poets each week that I “looked at the numbers” and realized my preference leaned otherwise.

    Not sure why this is such an unbelievable or questionable concept. I’m trying to be honest and open here regarding my editorial leanings as I best understand them. If certain poetry magazines dropped the malarky of “we only publish the BEST regardless of . . .” and were more open/aware of their own leanings, whether it be style, subject matter, etc., I’d have much less of an issue with them. If the editors came clean and said something like “Well, we’ve been publishing for 20 years and 75% of the poems are by white men and 65% are narrative, so we must at least have some unconscious editorial leanings in those directions.” But no, instead they blame it on women having babies or being too shy to submit or lacking a certain kind of ambition. Because as editors of course they have no control what appears on their pages!

    Reb

  • On May 20, 2009 at 9:08 pm mearl wrote:

    Some Initial thoughts on the thread:

    I think I can find common ground between the first two comments (by Michael J. and Joseph Hutchison). Michael’s comment came in first, and upon reading it I thought sure, there’s nothing like a couple of exceptions coming along to disrupt the perfect sweeping generalization. In the case of mammals, as Joseph points out, the playtipus and the spiny ant-eater. I like (Michael) how you refer to “female and male creatives” – interesting designation, reminds me of Blade Runner. You go on to say that you’d hope art would be a place free of sexism. I share that sentiment, certainly, but somehow, perhaps, naively, I didn’t think I was talking about sexism in this post, though sexism, as a subject, certainly shadows what I have to say. What I really wanted to emphasize was how much a like women’s poetry and why that should be. As I have begun to read younger, contemporary poets, which, for many years, I hadn’t done, partly because of where I live, and partly because, I am one of those poets who reads poetry to feed my own poetry. I read selfishly. I’m not the kind of poet who feels the need to read everything, or to keep abreast. I tend to read what I like over and over again. And I don’t personally know a lot of poets, by today’s standards. (an aside: I liked your chapbook – click on Michael J, dear readers. We should talk about Russell Edson.)

    Joseph, the fact “that our systems are not completely congruent with the world” is the stuff of philosophy, which I’m not very good at according to Zachary Bos, who, in turn, is not very good at creating metaphors (“the solar intensity of poor reasoning”). But I agree with you, in a politically corrected world, poetry still refuses to behave, continues to defy our ability to construe it according to an ever-evolving set of designations designed to do just that. Susan Howe, Lyn Hejinian, Leslie Scalapino are not language poets. Even Charles Bernstein is no longer a language poet. The whole notion of “school” has been superceded by a more open look at poetry. But among what we used to call language poets, the women, going back to what they wrote in the seventies and eighties, seem much more plausible today, much more vital, far less formulaic, more anticipatory, less dubious of the hidden depth of narrative.

    Daniel Pritchard, you ask, justifiably, who are the women I refer to, a question that I figured would come up in the thread. My justification for not naming names should be clarified by the title of the post, an extended caveat, really, which limits the purview of the thing even as it, perhaps, weakens the argument I am trying to make. I realize this is a case of having my cake and eating it too. The reason I don’t want to name names is that, as I say above, I have just started to read younger poets seriously (as opposed to casually). So far, these are impressions. I could (and perhaps I should in a later post) attempt a more systematic evaluation of the poets I’m talking about, but for the moment my relationship with their work is one of enthusiasm, emotional rather than critical. I didn’t really understand your last question. Maybe you could reformulate it.

    Desmond (don’t worry, I’m flattered that you confuse me with Jason)…you have a rambling style, and rambling well is an art. “Both truth and fantasy” sounds agreeable, but that is not what I am talking about. It’s rather something in between, as I say above, something like an impression, or a feeling. The story about your “pal”, the male feminist, speaks of agenda. I know the type. Of course when I wrote this post I thought that might be a charge leveled at me as well, as though I were set on establishing my credentials. Your charge is “indirect” and shows a certain delicacy. Men trying to write about women. Indeed. Pris Campbell, frames the same predicament, down the thread a bit. She’s not a rambler, it would seem, like you, but you both arrive at very similar formulations: what if I was saying the opposite of what I was saying. This is a loaded subject, no doubt about it. I had hoped that readers would see this as a post about poetry, about the nature or quality of certain poems, even though I don’t mention any poems. I wanted to see if people could fill in their own blanks.

    Your reduction of one of the key sentences (and one is always gratified when readers fall upon important sentences) to a 50/50 formulation of gender neutrality is artificial. It is not a reading of how things are but how the current orthodoxy would like to think they are. Any attempt at making value judgments – which is the whole point of this exercise – is automatically discredited by that line of thinking. “Gender neutrality” sounds like Francis Fukuyama’s notion of the “end history.” A kind of poetic eschatology, a harmonious endgame. Is there such a thing?

    Colin: do you think I am prejudging? You’re two lists are one-eye openers, for me at least. Admittedly, you’re speaking of the print world, which I have very little access to. But I recognized all the male poets (two of them are favorites of mine), but none of the women poets. Not that I’m accusing you of making up their names. But of course it makes for a wonderful contrast. I almost feel undermined. But tomorrow I’ll let Google do the walking. Thanks for the two wonderful cites. I’d refer Zuk to WBY’s argument with the self. That could actually be what she’s talking about.

    Steve, I touched on the naming thing above. Maybe some of the things I said in my post were misleading. But I tried not to talk about a direct link between experience and the poem itself. The closest I get to that is to say that women may have benefited from their experience, and I mean because, in one sense, socially and historically they have faced more resistance to getting that experience out. I’d add further, upon reflection, that historically, men are beginning to pay, almost at a karmic level, for having ignored something fundamentally different about the way women put poems together, though not all women put poems together in the same way, of course, but very few of them put them together in the way that men do. Including Kay Ryan, who I think is a fantastic poet. Her poetic heritage lies with Emily rather than Walt, don’t you think?

    Reb, as an editor, like Daniel who contributed above, you’re working differently…If this thread were to end here, I’m glad I have you an Michael J going back and forth. Editors, tell me if I’m wrong, follow their noses, like dogs on the trail of something. The dog might think he/she knows something, but if the nose tells him differently, he’ll go with the nose. People who edit, whether that’s their only gig, or they do it in combination with writing, are, by definition, the most honest readers. I like the straight-shooting. Poetry needs its editors, unsung heroes as far as I’m concerned.

    Michael J, thanks for drawing attention to the portrait. It’s the best part of the post I think. I’m sure Paula Rego, the painter, would love your description.

    Martin

  • On May 20, 2009 at 9:31 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    Actually Marty my arl ramblin mahn,

    you are right.

    At least, going on the poems in an edition of a British e zine i recently read, edited by a woman, with around 80% of the poems by men, and with a preponderance of authoratitive philisophical all seeing all knowing narrator ‘I’s going for the majestrial note and not pulling it off.

    The few women that were in there, by contrast, there stuff was much more creative.

    The blokes tended to try to hard to be God, and in British poetry, the legacy of Larkin (a misanthropic man with racists leanings obsessed with swearing and with a massive complex about women) who introduced or at least made the the eff word acceptable as a poetic one – is the wrapping of mundane events (catching a bus, having a dump on the crapper) in a conversational prosaic style and then a stab at high blown lingo, evinced in the Larkin’s sun-comprending glass and nothingness schtick.

    Unfortunatley, it just comes across as posey twaddle by straight faced blokey bores.

    The gals gear though, was less ambitious – didn’t want to tell us the deepest fundamental secrets of the universal knowledge in a poem about a fridge- but instead seemed to spiral about in and around the concept of poetic expression in general, per se, vis a vis, a bit more jiggle, phwaor ‘n oomph Marty me arl god-like knower.

  • On May 20, 2009 at 10:02 pm Colin Ward wrote:

    I tried posting a version of this yesterday but it didn’t show up. If it does so belatedly, I apologize for the double post.

    Martin:

    No, I don’t think you’re prejudging at all.

    Incidentally and for what it’s worth, those interested in gender differences in writing who haven’t seen this site might be amused:

    Gender Genie:
    http://bookblog.net/gender/genie.php

    Steve:

    Dear Colin Ward: who are these Internet poets described in your poll? they’re not the poets I know from the Internet. Can you post a link?

    The “Caught on the Net” poll was taken a few years back. The site is defunct now but, fortunately, I kept a copy of it, which I can email you if you’d like. The question posed was: “Suppose there were an anthology of poems by the best online English language poets. Whose work (other than your own) would you like to see included?” The respondents were members of the more serious, expert internet venues: Poetry Free-For-All, Gazebo, Eratosphere, and Usenet (the web’s evil twin). Here are the URL’s for these moderated critical venues:

    The Poetry Free-For-All:
    http://www.everypoet.org/pffa/

    Gazebo in Exile (this URL is about to change):
    http://thegazeboinexile.iforums.us/

    Eratosphere:
    http://www.ablemuse.com/erato/Ultimate.cgi

    QED:
    http://www.qedpoetry.com/

    All of these sites have thriving discussion and theory forums within them. Members are often called “workshoppers”, but that is something of a misnomer; many members spend more of their time discussing poetry–much as we see here, but with the ability of all members to initiate threads and edit their posts–than posting or critiquing individual poems. One caveat regarding PFFA in particular: behave yourself and bring your best game.

    To access Usenet you need to install a newsreader program (e.g. Free Agent); the two most active newsgroups are rec.arts.poems and alt.arts.poetry.comments. One has to wade through a lot of trolls to get to the good stuff, though. N.B.: webbers (among whom workshoppers and bloggers are subsets) and Usenetters form two very different communities, often oblivious to each other.

    As for the poets I mentioned, I’m not really qualified to write their bio or CV but here are some impressions and what few facts I know:

    Professor Claudia Grinnell is perhaps better known as a fine critiquer. I believe she was one of the founders and administrators on QED–one of the smaller advanced online workshops. Claudia hasn’t been very active lately.

    Britisher Margaret A. Griffith, aka “Maz”, is the author of “Studying Savonarola”, a poem that might be trotted out when onliners speak of the best poems of the 21st century, whenever anyone says that free verse “isn’t poetry” or that stunning romantic poems aren’t still being written. When Carol Ann Duffy was named as Poet Laureate more than a few internetters wondered if selection committee members shouldn’t be subjected to mandatory drug testing. Maz is a member of PFFA, Gazebo and Eratosphere.

    Julie Carter is “the sonnet lady”, active on Usenet, Gazebo and Eratosphere. She’s also a huge baseball fan.

    Kim “K.R.” Copeland is arguably the most consistent, quirky and interesting performer. She seems to post mostly to Gazebo.

    Rachel Lindley is a very good theorist, along with the likes of Howard Miller (PFFA), Robert MacKenzie (PFFA, Usenet), Harry Rutherford (PFFA), and, of course, Peter John Ross (Usenet). Her articles on PFFA’s “Blurbs of Wisdom”, especially those on the topic of sonics, are a must read for any serious student of the art form.

    http://www.everypoet.org/pffa/forumdisplay.php?s=&daysprune=&f=34

    Rose Kelleher is a solid performer whose stock, like Ms. Copeland’s, may have risen in recent years.

    D.P. Kristalo (Poets.org, Gazebo) wrote both “Beans” and “Joie de Mourir”. Need I say more?

    Francesca Sweeney-Androulaki (Gazebo), Jennifer Reeser (Eratosphere), and Sarah Sloat (Desert Moon Review) are others well worth Googling on a rainy afternoon.

    If anyone is curious, humourist Sam Home (Gazebo & Eratosphere) topped the male poets. Robert J. Maughan (Usenet), Frank Matagrano (Gazebo), Andrew Kei Miller (Usenet, Gazebo), Oswald LeWinter (Gazebo, Zoetrope), Jerry H. Jenkins (Usenet) and Dale Houstman (Usenet) are other familiar names to those internetters outside the blogosphere, at least.

    I hope this albeit sketchy overview helps, Steve.

    -o-

  • On May 21, 2009 at 10:34 am gmc wrote:

    “..as man won’t be male
    and woman won’t be female..” (gospel of thomas)

    what kind of poet are you, dear martin, whose memory is like a hole full of kaleidoscopic souvenirs?
    what you call man and woman are simply male and female, anything else, and your text is like an hallucination of yours, not less, not more.

    (sorry for my bad english, but i’m not english-speaking born)

    HAMMER IN AMBER

    Two ravens on your shoulders
    Smile as a dark and bright sun
    Two ravens on the night
    In a surrealistic flight
    Nuclear energy in the hand
    Atomic escape to nowhereland
    Just listen to your ears
    They tell the way you forgot
    By drinking a foolish wine
    With those exciting girls
    Sailors find in harbors
    Of dusty empires

  • On May 21, 2009 at 11:21 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    .
    I Hate Female Poets

    .
    And this is true…they irritate me.
    If only I knew why
    it probably wouldn’t trouble me.
    A misogynist, sexist bastard I am not…
    but these awful words they write!
    So unlike mine! So unmasculine!
    They touch. They take. They rue.
    Well, I hate the men as well…
    they generally drone on & on
    with nothing new and usually just bore me.
    But these damned women!
    They make me think, make me feel.
    They make me cry!

    .
    Copyright 2009 – Ponds and Lawns, Gary B. Fitzgerald

  • On May 21, 2009 at 12:44 pm Daniel E. Pritchard wrote:

    I’d like to have a few examples, at least about whom you’re thinking — my favorite poets of this general age range (sub-50) are D.A. Powell, Mark Levine, John Kinsella, and Karen Volkman, although I hesitate at that because what I like in each case is more like single collection or group of poems. So three men, one woman, despite the fact that women do today seem to dominate the literary magazine scene.

    My second question is just that there was a similar perception of female authors outpacing their male counterparts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, from what I understand. Yet most of these women’s work has been re-evaluated and judged to be products of their time but generally uninspired — but that is not the body of work that we receive today. What marks this era as significantly different from that?

  • On May 21, 2009 at 1:53 pm thomas brady wrote:

    MASCULINE

    “a literary critic should have no emotions except those immediately provoked by a work of art” –T.S. Eliot

    Testosterone is a beautiful drug,
    A lion to serpent and bug.
    Let the male spread his streets over you,
    Let his towers loom over Christian and Jew.

    Let maleness be our religion,
    Our philosophy and our song,
    Women are emotional,
    Intervening–and wrong.

    Testosterone is the engine of life,
    The broad and dulcet tone—
    Don’t trust the mistress and her childishness,
    The swamp of her, her moan.

    The sun gives light,
    The moon is cold and mad.
    The male holds out his hand in the morning.
    The female cannot make you glad.

  • On May 21, 2009 at 3:01 pm Matt wrote:

    open mike thread

  • On May 21, 2009 at 4:47 pm thomas brady wrote:

    poetry makes nothing happen…it’s a way of happening, a mic…

  • On May 21, 2009 at 6:36 pm mearl wrote:

    GMC,

    Can you give me the number in Thomas…is that your translation from the French?
    And what’s the difference between “man and women” and “male and female”? You’re probably right, I “hallucinated this post.”

    For that charge, of course I feel obliged to dampen your anonymity…je suis obligé, mon cher Gilles-Marie Chenot…since you are a wonderful poet (Le chant du danseur, Poésie (broché))…Yeats? Mais vous êtes très Rimbaudian…voilà:

    GROS-OEUVRE D’UN VERS

    De l’amante au vin

    Et du vin à la menthe

    Les mots ne manquent pas

    Pour raconter ici-bas


    D’étranges fleurs d’abeille

    Au sang de sucre doux

    Déclinent les élévations

    Dans la ferveur d’un sourire



    Et des formes pérennes

    S’allongent au fil de l’eau

    La taille d’un rasoir arc-en-ciel

    Et d’une lame de parfum

  • On May 21, 2009 at 7:24 pm Annie FInch wrote:

    Martin, you’ve nailed it! Exactly what I’ve been thinking! That’s just why we’re better! Oh, just kidding.

    Seriously, i just recently met a very young male poet who told me the poets who inspired him most were all women, and first he had been concerned about it, and then he realized that those women had all been inspired mostly by men.

    This brings me to a thought I have re Daniel”s question: “My second question is just that there was a similar perception of female authors outpacing their male counterparts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, from what I understand. Yet most of these women’s work has been re-evaluated and judged to be products of their time but generally uninspired — but that is not the body of work that we receive today. What marks this era as significantly different from that?”

    Daniel, the answer is that the judging does not necessarily reflect on the value of the poetry. Some of it is good and some of it isn’t, but it has all been forgotten. This is because good, valuable poetry does not exist in a vacuum; its longterm survival value must bs created through building up, through criticism and full awareness of its antecedents, its relation to other poetry. That process failed for most women’s poetry of the late 19th and early 20th century, presumably because men were not interested in building a tradition in which to appreciate it, and women did not have the literary and critical power to build a tradition. But many women and men are now working on reclaiming this poetry of women of the past, and when they do, it will help build that tradition at last, and it will change how we read the women poets of today. There are comments that touch on this idea in in the threads called Women Poets and Mentorship, Is Sylvia Plath a Major Poet, and Happy Mother’s Day (which has a good discussion on Millay). There’s also a good book by Cheryl Walker on women’s poetry of this period, and a brief essay of my own called “How to Create a Poetic Tradition: Letter to a Young Poet” in The Body of Poetry.

    over and out, Annie

  • On May 21, 2009 at 8:55 pm gmc wrote:

    martin,

    it’s the number 22; my translation is maybe wrong in words, but not in meaning.

    i won’t argue; if you really want to see the difference, you will see it; it’s terribly simple.

  • On May 21, 2009 at 10:01 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Annie Finch said:

    “This is because good, valuable poetry does not exist in a vacuum; its longterm survival value must be created through building up, through criticism and full awareness of its antecedents, its relation to other poetry.”

    Oh. Poppycock! Good poetry steps away from the past, leaves it behind…steps forward.

    Good poets learn everything they can. Great poets forget everything they learned.

    So, since it’s “open mike” night, I offer this:

    .
    Breaking precedent
    is never well received
    until that which broke it
    becomes the standard,
    the precedent to break.
    And other than being, in its time,
    just a fresh annoyance,
    a sudden fire to erase,
    it is barely noticed
    until the idol it became
    is also broken.

    .
    Copyright, etc., etc.

  • On May 21, 2009 at 10:07 pm Daniel E. Pritchard wrote:

    Annie: Yes, thank you, but I do understand that there are cultural circumstances that mediate all such things, and perhaps, as you say, that’s just the case. Or, perhaps not.

    What if, if not? As a young male I certainly feel as if there is no readily available identity-construction in our culture for literary young men besides being a (often economically privileged) outsider. Writing poetry, I think, is feminized pursuit. I wonder if that doesn’t come in to play.

  • On May 21, 2009 at 10:11 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    So this guy goes down to the beach and he sees a bottle washed up on the shore. He picks it up and starts wiping the seaweed off and, poof, a genie pops out.

    The genie says: “I will grant you one wish. What is your desire?”

    The man replies: “I want to be ten times smarter.”

    And…

    Poof…

    he was a woman.

  • On May 21, 2009 at 11:58 pm Ange Mlinko wrote:

    “Writing poetry, I think, is feminized pursuit.”

    Can someone hook the kid up with Bok/Goldsmith/et al. please? He’s obviously missing out on Fight Club:

    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2007/11/repost-in-barry-bonds-i-see-the-future-of-poetry/

    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/author/cbk/

    I’ll take their swagger over Pritchard’s — at least they’re having fun.

  • On May 22, 2009 at 7:09 am thomas brady wrote:

    Further proof that Modernism was Men’s Club:

    An ambitious, good-looking 1938 anthology ‘A New Anthology of Modern Poetry’ by Selden Rodman (Random House) which contains ‘Negro Songs,’ ‘Last Speech to the Court’ by Bartolomeo Vanzetti, and attempts to stir up left-wing feeling with all its selections.

    Yet, men are represented 10-1 over women, in terms of number of poems.

    Here’s how they describe Millay:

    “Her intense feminism struck a responsive chord and she became the idol of more than one generation of rebellious young women. To modern poetry she brought a new freedom of mood and movement and an attractive bitter-sweetness. Critics who looked for major poetry to follow the flowering of Miss Millay’s talent were disappointed…”

    And Elinor Wylie:

    “But in spite of her fine craftsmanship, this poet is destined to remain an essentially feminine talent.”

    Two women poets, however, come off well:

    Marianne Moore:

    “editor of that focus of revolutionary writing, ‘The Dial,’ from 1925 to 1929. Her impressive ‘Selected Poems’ was published in 1935 with a preface by T.S. Eliot who said, ‘Miss Moore is the one of those few who have done the language some service in my lifetime…carrying on that struggle for the maintenance of living speech, for the maintenance of its strength, its subtlety for the preservation of quality of feeling, which must be kept in every generation.'”

    You see. Moore belonged to the ‘Dial’ clique which presented prizes to Pound, Eliot, Williams, and Moore, and Moore gets explicit approval from Eliot.

    This is how it works.

    This is also how it works:

    Muriel Rukeyser also comes off well. She is represented with 5 poems (out of less than 20 by women poets in the whole anthology) and one of these poems is a horrible thing called ‘Citation for Horace Gregory.’

    Horace Gregory’s poems are also in the anthology.

    Horace Gregory is also the same gentleman who damned Millay in a review in the New York Herald-Tribune (the same paper formerly operated by Horace Greeley, who published Griswold’s smear-obituary on Poe)

    In Horace Gregory’s review from 1935, he claims Millay’s audience no longer trusted her, and now ‘their freedom is of the kind described by Spender and Auden, a map whose landmarks are ‘Das Capital’ [sic], the poetry of T.S. Eliot and the novels of D.H. Lawrence…’

    Finally, here’s what Rodman’s anthology says about Muriel Rukeyeser:

    “Muriel Rukeyeser’s poetry has a physical quality present in few, if any, other women poets: not merely flesh and blood–but bones.”

  • On May 22, 2009 at 9:03 am gmc wrote:

    @thomas brady:

    “a poet has to give traces, not proofs” (rené char)

    and modernism is just a word only used by prisoners of time ( or by free men^^), isn’t it?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sv813f2Xtrg&feature=related#

    WEST COAST BLUES

    Show me words of yours
    Unknown traces of the unbelievable
    Show me pieces of silk
    Diamond spells
    Crystal fever

    Show me gold
    Instead of lead
    Make your lies as bright
    As a silver bullet
    Crossing oceans
    Like a snow torpedo

    Show me green sky
    Purple reason
    From under the mist
    Tales of nowhere
    But an island
    As white as a graveyard
    For heroes and princes

  • On May 22, 2009 at 10:17 am Daniel E. Pritchard wrote:

    Ange:

    In regards to Goldsmith: I would prefer not to. (About Bök I can’t say.) Although KG is an excellent example of that type of “alt / hipster.”

    Maybe it’s not the case that writing poetry is conceptualized in our culture as feminine, but my experience in creative writing courses, in reading literary journals, and even in people’s subtle reactions when I tell them that I’m a poet, all indicate that it is. (In particular, young women proportionally dominated the men in university classes.) That doesn’t bother me much, for various reasons (except for a condescending attitude I sometimes encounter), but I can imagine it having a larger effect on the landscape of contemporary poetry. So it’s a question worth asking, I think, if a claim such as the above is going to be discussed.

    I fully accept that women’s writing was simply pushed out of the received cannon, and don’t deny it to be shown true. My question can be taken at least two ways, a) are the gendered biases that affected the female author’s reputations of that time still in effect? and, b) is there some aspect of our culture that unilaterally reinforces young female poets?

  • On May 22, 2009 at 10:56 am thomas brady wrote:

    GMC,

    “The Prisoner!” Good one!

    Are you male, or female?

    My research ought to make a giant lightbulb go on among the women here.

    If the progressive wing of the 1930s poetry establishment can toss EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY overboard, then it’s a good chance NO WOMAN POET from the 20th century will be read in generations to come.

    ALL of the woman poets today, every last one of them, will be forgotten.

    Look at the 20th century woman poets in the canon today:

    MOORE (member of the ELIOT/POUND 1920s ‘Dial’ clique) annointed by ELIOT.

    H.D., GF of POUND.

    BISHOP. Mentored by…let’s see… MOORE!

    (Also, Bishop was friend of LOWELL, who studied with John Crowe RANSOM, the American ELIOT)

    Adrienne RICH: Studied at Harvard, married Harvard professor, selected by AUDEN for Yale Younger.

    PLATH/SEXTON, studied with LOWELL. Suicides.

    Horace Gregory, the influential poet/anthologist/professor, Bollingen Prize winner, who slammed Millay, married his student at Wisconsin, Marya Zaturenska, who won the Pultizer for Poetry in 1938.

    Who reads Pulitzer Prize winner Zaturenska anymore? Or Gregory? It turns out Gregory was a soldier in the war, obeying orders from his masters, and now that’s he gone, surprise! no one cares about him. Or Muriel Rukeyser’s anthologized poem, “Citation For Horace Gregory.”

    How many wonderful women poets have been ignored because they don’t belong to the Eliot/Pound/Williams Men’s Club Clique?

    One can dismiss all this as outmoded, but as superannuated as this may be, the past does tell tales of the present, and points the way to the future.

    Edna Millay’s reputaton was demolished almost overnight.

    Warning to the Women: If Millay can be thrown under the bus, NONE are safe.

    Thomas

  • On May 22, 2009 at 11:13 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Gary, yes, good poetry tends to step away from the immediate past and from its contemporaries, but often digs back much deeper into the past instead.

    The building of tradition I was speaking of isn’t done by the poet in question, but by readers, reviewers, critics, and other canon-builders. This is why Millay is, as Thomas points out, so misappreciated–because no-one has done the kind of critical, canon-building work on her behalf that has been done on behalf of, for example, Eliot.

    Thomas, I hope that at some point you’ll publish some essays about Millay. Your belief in her work is inspiring, and I agree with you that if she can be thrown under the bus, no woman poet’s work is likely to survive. By the way, I’ve finally found the name of the essay I mentioned in my Women Poets and Mentorship thread, which argues this point very persuasively. It’s by Jane Dowson, called “Older Sisters are Very Sobering Things: Contemporary Women Poets and the Female Affiliation Complex.”
    http://www.jstor.org/pss/1395641

  • On May 22, 2009 at 11:17 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Daniel, here’s one idea for you: you can start writing very consciously about being a man and what that is really like. I don’t see men poets doing this at all, and the world needs them to do it. There is also plenty of work to be done editing books of self-awarely male poetry and writing essays about male poetic tradition and the ways that men represent maleness in their work–basically applying the gender self-awareness that is evident everywhere in women’s poetry and criticism to the other gender. People may say that the world is full of male poetry and criticism alraady, but that work isn’t self=aware as being male; most of it is posing under the banner of neutrality and universality, and whenever gender comes in, women are dragged in to represent it.

  • On May 22, 2009 at 11:48 am gmc wrote:

    thomas,

    wind is always blowing, waves always crashing, so what?

    however, emily dickinson still rocks and is not forgotten.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18efPLq34xA#

    let’s have two very different options, choose the one you prefer:

    In one of thine, from that which thou departest;
    And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestow’st
    Thou mayst call thine when thou from youth convertest.
    Herein lives wisdom, beauty, and increase;
    Without this, folly, age and cold decay:
    If all were minded so, the times should cease
    And threescore year would make the world away.
    Let those whom Nature hath not made for store,
    Harsh, featureless, and rude, barrenly perish:
    Look, whom she best endow’d she gave the more;
    Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish:
    She carv’d thee for her seal, and meant thereby
    Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die.

    (shakespeare, sonnet XI)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElY5Gr845Fw#

    Ooh, watching me
    Hanging by
    A string this time
    Don’t, easily
    The climax
    Of the perfect lie
    Ooh, watching me
    Hanging by
    A string this time
    Don’t, easily
    Smile worth
    A hundred lies

    If there’s lessons
    To be learned
    I’d rather get
    My jamming words
    In first, so
    Tell you something
    That I’ve found
    That the world’s
    A better place
    When it’s
    Upside down, boy

    If there’s lessons
    To be learned
    I’d rather get
    My jamming words
    In first, so
    When your playing
    With desire
    Don’t come running
    To my place
    When it burns
    Like fire, boy

    Chorus (4x):
    Sweet about me
    Nothing sweet
    About me, yeah

    Blue, blue, blue
    Waves, they crash
    As time goes by
    So hard to catch
    Too, too smooth
    Ain’t all that
    Why don’t you ride
    On my side
    Of the tracks

    If there’s lessons
    To be learned
    I’d rather get
    My jamming words
    In first, so
    Tell you something
    That I’ve found
    That the world’s
    A better place
    When it’s
    Upside down, boy

    If there’s lessons
    To be learned
    I’d rather get
    My jamming words
    In first, so
    When your playing
    With desire
    Don’t come running
    To my place
    When it burns
    Like fire, boy

  • On May 22, 2009 at 12:05 pm thomas brady wrote:

    (tap tap) Is this thing on? ahem…

    How many female critics today, how many well-placed women in the last 50 years, have said something good about Edna MILLAY?

    (chirping of crickets)

    Forget about Harold BLOOM, and other such blowhards. I’m talking the female gender here. Sis-tahs.

    PERLOFF? VENDLER? JORIE GRAHAM?

    (crickets)

    Women who have ANY influence in poetry worship at the shrine of T.S Eliot, Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, or the next generation version of the DIAL CLIQUE: The NEW YORK SCHOOL/BEATS Boy’s Club.

    The whole sordid affair can be outlined on a small blackboard and the whole thing is MISSED because it is so colossally OBVIOUS.

    We have testimony from Ted Hughes himself that Marianne MOORE swooned before Ted and spurned Sylvia; the behavior of the MODERNIST SNAKE repeats itself over and over, through generations, and just cannot help itself.

    W.C. WILLIAMS helped spawn the BEATS, the most SEXIST club there ever was, except for perhaps the FUGITIVE/NEW CRITICS, the American Wing of the Modernists.

    POUND’s St. Elizabeth’s visitants, like OLSON of BLACK MOUNTAIN, another male club.

    GERTRUDE STEIN contributed vastly to MODERN ART, which is even more sexist than MODERN POETRY, if that’s possible.

    STEIN was mentored by EMERSON’S godson, WILLIAM JAMES.

    WLLIAM JAMES is the first word (look it up, it’s kind of amusing) in the first BAP volume edited by ASHBERY/LEHMAN in a poem by AMMONS. JAMES taught SANTAYANA at Harvard; SANTAYANA who in turn taught students T.S. ELIOT & WALLACE STEVENS, is mentioned in POUND’S CANTOS, and happily resided in fascist Italy for years.

    Never mind the SEXISM & MACHISMO of the European Wing of the Modernist Men’s Club.

    I HEART someone is all well and good. But I CLUB them is much, much, much better.

    Thomas

  • On May 22, 2009 at 12:10 pm Ange Mlinko wrote:

    Okay, Daniel — sarcasm aside — I’ll bite. Your question (a) is a good one, but it can’t be answered in a comment thread ruled by opinions. Literary history exists — research it! Too often on Harriet, questions and discussions that go back — sometimes centuries — are reduced to lame assertions by people who call themselves poets but are not well read in the history of literature at all. There has been scholarly work on literary reception — claims backed up by evidence. Why does nobody care to apply the same standards to poetics that other disciplines demand of their practitioners? Would this ever happen at The Valve, for instance? So, I would like to throw the question back at you: why don’t you research this and tell us what scholars have found?

    As for (b), which is not a question of literary history per se, I’ll venture this: the appeal of poetry in our culture lies in its perceived emotional not intellectual provenance. You don’t read for easy emotion, I gather, from your liking of G. Hill. I’m with you there. But that puts us outside the mainstream uses to which poetry is put in our culture right now.

    This is what you call “feminized.” But I don’t buy it: between the two intellectual extremes of American poetry — the avant-garde and the formalists — the vast soft middle is equally occupied by male and female: Olds and Strand, Hass and Oliver, Siken and Gluck … wherever readers want blood and tears, men are just as willing to provide it. On the other hand, if you want intellectual rigor, there are plenty of women providing it too, just as Martin Earl says. But they are outside the mainstream by definition. Poke around a bit more instead of relying on Big Names.

  • On May 22, 2009 at 12:33 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    on the weekend preceding our most obscene holiday, the day when militarism and war are even more obsequiously glorified than usual by USA media and politicos——

    in “our culture” there are ads and revenues and message pressures constantly encouraging the young to join the armed forces, but none to join the arts——

    and in line with Pritchard: on the whole, in this society, aren’t young males herded and driven away from the arts (by the coercive agents of “identity construction”)

    and toward violence as an expression of adult manhood? (Dick Cheney: Terminator Salvation)——

    when I was young they drafted me into the army, not into the New York School . . .

    Our government pays more to torturers than to poets——

  • On May 22, 2009 at 1:08 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    Pritchard asks:

    is there some aspect of our culture that unilaterally reinforces young female poets?


    I can’t speak to that with any expertise,

    but: considering the evil history and vicious imagery surrounding “Memorial Day”, not to mention the respective budgets of the NEA versus the Pentagon,

    wouldn’t you say that many and perhaps most “aspects of our culture” discourage young males in general from participation in or appreciation of the arts——?

    In our society, it’s easier and more profitable for a young male to become a CIA torturer than to become a poet——

  • On May 22, 2009 at 1:34 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Bill,

    I’m sorry, but to me this is just more diversion.

    If canonical poetry is basically a club of sexist crackpots, this is poetry’s problem and it needs to be addressed as a problem of poets and their philosophical mentors.

    As completey correct and well-meaning as I know you are, introducing a heavy-handed topic into a discussion of poetry will just melt down any attempt at reasonable discourse re: poetry.

    As I pointed out earlier, the 1930s was a thousand times more socially aware and left-wing than we are today, and yet crude right-wingers like Eliot and Pound and their successors continued to shape the canon. The 1930s progressive literary establishment kicked out Millay–Millay!!–and rode Pound to Bollingen and the bank.

    When you talk of war and militarism, you can’t just be against these things. One would hope for a bit more nuance. Torturers v. poets is an unfair comparison, even though I completely agree with you that there is a problem with males not being interested in poetry.

    There’s nothing wrong with a nation celebrating its wartime accomplishments, as much as we all hate war. This aspect of a sovereign nation is never going to go away.

    But back to poetry. Perhaps males and much of the public isn’t interested in poetry because it’s a corrupt little club run by crackpots, where success is due more to clubbiness than merit.

    Thomas

  • On May 22, 2009 at 1:35 pm Martin Earl wrote:

    nb: as I was writing this comment back to Daniel my inbox beeped about ten times, so this could be already out of date. I’ll try catch up.

    Daniel,
    I’d hoped this post would not descend (or ascend…who knows) into a masculine/feminine dialectic; in Hegelian terms I was looking for synthesis, poems themselves. I see now, not only in your comments, but just about everyone else’s, that the unresolved dialectic still holds enormous sway.

    You bring some extremely important questions to the table, questions with which I am somewhat unfamiliar, but find interesting nevertheless. (Things like identity-construction.) These were simply not issues in my day. In fact, I think we were probably more interested in “identity-destruction”, as in the Rimbauldian “Dérèglement systématique de tous les sens”.

    There was simply no time for identity construction when I was growing up, nor was poetry a career, it was your secret life, the life beneath the life. There were all sorts of reasons for this. For instance, even though I came from a comfortably well-off family, I always had to work, either in my father’s business (he was a Chevrolet dealer, and I wasn’t spared the greasy realities of the shop, socializing with mechanics and hopped-up salesmen) or anywhere else I could get a job. I became a professional chef, and prided myself on the fact that I could find work in under three hours in Manhattan on any given occasion, in any number of very chichi kitchens, with all their pretensions and all my talents as a saucier. I worked on farms, was a professional gardener, painted boats, houses, fences, mounted ski-bindings, sharpened edges, modeled for drawing classes. It was not about the money, it was an ethical issue. You see my father had this “protestant work ethic”. And in that kind of context there was no reason to tell anyone I was a poet. I think they must have known, at any rate, because I was always reading between chopping things. But there was simply no time to construct an identity; there was not even a concept around which to construct one. The first time I heard about identity-construction, I realized that I fell into the category of dead white male, which I rather liked…it was fun being dead, less superficial. As soon as I could, I fled, first to Paris, then to Italy (I even tried China) before I came to a grinding halt in Portugal, utterly identityless. Likewise, I never distinguished between the poetry written by men and that written by women; I think I was equally inspired. I just loved what seemed to me great poetry. At least half of my personal canon was comprised of women: Laura Riding, Elizabeth Bishop, Lorine Niedecker, Alice Notley, Susan Howe, Ann Lauterbach (who was one of the best teachers I ever had, and one of the best poets I’d ever had the good fortune to meet). Later, when I became interested in more formalist poetry, it was Stevie Smith, Marilyn Hacker, back again to Bishop, reading her in a totally new light, and always Gertrude Stein was by my side, because I decided she was a poet who just happed to write prose. But I never thought of any of them as “women” poets per se, just as I never worried about my own identity overmuch, perhaps because those kinds of questions tend to evaporate abroad. I don’t know. But I missed a whole generation of what were becoming known as women poets, Gorie Graham, Sharon Olds, Louise Glück, to name a disparate three. And it is only now, really, that I am becoming interested in what younger poets are writing that I notice it is the women I am more attracted to. But it’s their poems I like, not the fact that they are women. Ange, for instance, who is goading you a bit: it would be hard to say in a blind taste test whether she was male or female. You’d have to have a very sharp nose. It’s like distinguishing between a 95 Pauillac and a 95 Saint Estèphe, or just a really fine haut-medoc; the first two are tucked into little pockets along the Gironde, the last comprises the whole region, from St Seurin-de-Cadourne downriver to Blanquefort, just north of Bordeaux. Angie is just writing extremely good poetry and extremely good criticism, and if her name was Douglass Blueberry, I’d say the same. But for some reason the Blueberries are not, in my opinion, at the top of their game for the moment. My post tries, very tentatively, to understand why this might be. Like Ange, I think you should look beyond poetry as a “feminized pursuit”, or even a “pursuit”. For me, unfortunately, it’s often just a matter of psychic survival, and often more trouble than it’s worth. I never pursue it; it pursues me.

    Martin

  • On May 22, 2009 at 2:28 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    I find it interesting that Mr. Brady reprimands Mr. Knott for changing the subject on this post which originally had nothing to do with Modernist misogyny.

  • On May 22, 2009 at 2:59 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Martin,

    Beautiful autobiographical essay! A kind of ‘from the bunker of myself’ view of poetry—very well done. Bravo. I’m sure this chimes in with many of us—it does with me: here is a passion for poetry tempered by the ‘real world.’

    I’ve got an autobiographical tidbit to share: Some years ago, I fell hopelessly in love with a woman who tried to pick me up in a bar in Harvard Square—one of the most intense persons I ever met; she was tall and beautiful. We went out a few times before she simply disappeared. She was like ‘Ruby Tuesday’ in that Stones song; she was mysterious and beyond my reach; I understood her to be a 27 year old virgin, but I could have been wrong. She told me she had been in Maine trying to find the ghost of Edna St. Vincent Millay. I could feel her obsession for the poet; it was palpable. At the time, Millay was barely on my radar screen, but I’ll never forget this woman’s intensity (she was not a poet herself; she certainly did not present herself that way). Now that I know Millay better, I’m beginning to understand this woman’s obsession. This was way beyond “I like this poet.” Millay had a put a spell on this woman, and for various reasons, which I may, or may not understand, this woman put a spell on me.

    There was another woman I met, who I also developed a crush on, and she was a poet, an ambitious one, and quite prolific, but much cooler in her whole attitude towards the art; she was a big fan of T.S. Eliot; she liked Jorie Graham and Leslie Scalapino; she went off to study with Allen Ginsberg.

    Thomas

  • On May 22, 2009 at 3:11 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Gary,

    ‘Modernist misogyny’ has a nice ring to it. Thanks.

    I do think my remarks are keeping with the topic of the post, which is, after all, men v. women poets, etc. Bill’s remarks re: men are drawn to war more than poetry is germane, and I did say that.

    I am flattered you feel the need to defend the celebrated Mr. Knott against the likes of me.

    Thomas

  • On May 22, 2009 at 3:37 pm Dale Smith wrote:

    Michael Davidson’s Guys Like Us: Citing Masculinity in Cold War Poetics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004)is a good place to enter an excellent conversation about performances of masculinity in the context of Cold War-era poetry.

  • On May 22, 2009 at 3:39 pm Daniel E. Pritchard wrote:

    Martin,

    I’m not sure whether people my age are more interested in identity, or whether it’s a personal interest of mine; maybe from my background, the judgmental attitude I encountered as a kid. Neither am I trying to make a case about some essence of gender (sounds like a cologne) because I think that gender is one of the more limited concepts we have available to us when thinking about identity.

    I completely agree that most poetry isn’t obviously gendered, and just gravitate towards poetry that engages me: Bishop has long been a favorite, as well her penpal Lowell; Sexton, Moore; Smith I just recently encountered and enjoyed; Hopkins and Hill; the Greek Classics; ye olde “Modernists”; the four I listed earlier. But that only makes such gender-related comments stranger, my own tastes running so even-split.

    I did notice Ange exhibiting that condescension that I before mentioned, giving the impression that I’ve entered a realm where I don’t belong, like being in the wrong neighborhood at night. This is the second time in two days I’ve been accused of not really understanding what it is to be a poet, or a critic, in some existential sense. Ah — well. How to respond? Every poet comes to poetry in their way? Sounds hollow, pardoning. Any response feels like another avenue by which to be mocked. Back to the camp of my own resource.

  • On May 22, 2009 at 3:58 pm john wrote:

    Annie Finch ain’t crickets. Poet, professor, Harriet blogger, anthologist, editor — she’s spoken up for Millay. Sounds pretty well-placed to me.

    (I’m reading an anthology Annie co-edited, “An Exaltation of Forms,” right now — it’s terrific.)

    (I like Millay too, as well as a number of other populists, of which she was one; Sandburg was another. The populists got wiped off the canonical map post-WW2 to a large extent, and despite the Beats’ neo-populism they [shrewdly?] shunned their mod-pop forebears. There’s no denying the impact of sexism in the literary-reputation marketplace, but the wipe-out of the populists didn’t fall on gender lines.)

  • On May 22, 2009 at 4:25 pm thomas brady wrote:

    John,

    “The wipe-out of the populists didn’t fall on gender lines.” That’s a good point.

    As for “crickets,” I hope it’s understood I wasn’t talking about Annie.

    Annie and I have talked about Millay, and this issue, on Harriet.

    I don’t need to convince Annie. Annie knows about this.

    Thomas

  • On May 22, 2009 at 4:59 pm Ange Mlinko wrote:

    Thank you!

  • On May 22, 2009 at 6:17 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    Man poets are now redundant of course.

    s/he the poet, a finely balanced mind
    gender transcending, no room for he or she

    is what my 5000 years of research serendipitously
    led to, accumulated in the information refracted
    through the most intense knowledge-prism and lens.

    A computer programme called the human Brain
    nothing to touch it in terms of organic memory
    has been around for a long long time and houses

    everything which came before it to make it
    the signature of ancestoral antecedants

    contained in our DNA. a Fibonacci sequence
    spiralling within through brahmin and brehon

    long forgotten knowledge, the harmonic prosody
    in oblates offering consonantal dharma – Hail

    the s/he of Rigveda, praise-verse-knowledge
    druidical ovates and seers anterior to M&M

    SP before the oven ended it all, older still
    than Evan Boland, third wave French feminism
    existentialy on borrowed lines, loving s/he

    of our minds.

    ~

    Of course, the female s/he are writing white-hot, at the top of their play, their torque more powerful than a Bosch CSB 520-2E interrogating oranges in Cuba, really

    authoritative, capable, cogent,
    commanding, compelling, competent,
    controlling, convincing, dominant,
    dynamic, effectual, efficacious,

    energetic, forceful, forcibly impressive,
    in control, in the saddle, influential,
    mighty, omnipotent, overruling, paramount,

    persuasive, potent, preeminent, prevailing,
    robust, ruling, sovereign, stalwart,
    strapping, strengthy, sturdy, supreme,

    tellingly upper handed, vigorous, weighty, wicked, wieldy substantial, amazingly transendental and in the investigation of the spaces between sapience where the hollow hand draws forth from the Great Abyss of otherworldliness, what is superbly there and prescient, questioning and making the Man-project look a bit frayed around the edges – s/he loves Poetry and lives their life a poem.

    Dán – poetry, gift-talent-vocation, fate-destiny speaking in tongues the ban-filidh and ban-droi declaring to the planet their genius, all pipes and sashes concur, freeze us in the fixity of their seriousness with a hugely playful centre of sheer free-wheeling wordiness and risque projections, heretic emanations of their own volition taking and breaking that tired old modernist misogyny shtick and exposing it for what it is – information technologists trapped in a battered liddle ole bag ‘o bones with an appendage uselessly swinging and King Cod, Old Man grifter conning his way to a god-like apical perch with Modernist mumbo jumbo of Ulysses, full of puns and allusions, modelled on the living Dublin wags and wits, St. John Gogarty’s Buck Mulligan, Leopold Bloom ten blocks from Kilmainham in Clnbrassil Street, turn left into the Coombe, and ask there in the Liberties if Jimmy’s cell is 085 or 086, Meteor and Orange, Vodaphone and AOL, make me wanna shout –

    s/he the ruler of here and now –

    Kathy Acker
    Aphra Behn
    Amy Clampitt
    Emily Bishop and Dickinson
    Diane Di Prima
    Patti Smith
    Gertie Stein
    and Anne Sexton

    all Woman, each one a faery force for fabuosity incarnate, and so much do i praise them daily, so in deep is my life of sacrifice to bring attention to this species of seer, i must lie down twice a week from faint, such is the Love i have for these Women Creators of divinely driven verbal blueprints which to live one’s life – buy now and spend some carbs – save the planet by shelving the tomes of these prophets – book them now and fly them round the world to stand and speak, inspire and put that jet fuel to some good use.

  • On May 22, 2009 at 7:09 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    We’re all equal here, Thomas.

  • On May 22, 2009 at 7:33 pm Ange Mlinko wrote:

    Again, Daniel, “feminized pursuit” — who’s being condescending there?

  • On May 23, 2009 at 3:33 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    .
    Annie said:

    “The building of tradition I was speaking of isn’t done by the poet in question, but by readers, reviewers, critics, and other canon-builders.”

    Harrrr, me buckos. I say we bring ‘er round and cannon the canon! Then we set sail for the uncharted seas and seek fortune.

    Yo ho!

    (Oh, like those damned renegade poets have been doing for, what…a few thousand years?)

  • On May 23, 2009 at 6:47 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Gary,

    Are we all equal? Let me be honest. When it comes to poetry, I don’t think we are.

    It is, in fact, the desire to bridge a great great gap in understanding that I come here at all. If all were the same, if all were equal, there would be no electricity, no dark energy, no planet circling the sun.

    Sure, I may be a small planet compared to the gigantic sun, but I speak of what makes me move.

    As T.S. Eliot wrote, “there are many lines and tercets in the ‘Divine Comedy’ which are capable of transporting even a quite uninitiated reader, just sufficiently acquainted with the roots of the language to decipher the meaning, to an impression of overpowering beauty. This impression may be so deep that no subsequent study or understanding will intensify it. But at this point the impression is emotional; the reader in the ignorance which we postulate is unable to distinguish the poetry from an emotional state aroused in himself by the poetry, a state which may be merely an indulgence in his own emotions. The poetry may be an accidental stimulus.”

    Eliot is quick to aver a great gulf; he is seeking a truth in a place where few bother to seek it; in this passage he is attempting to judge emotions and go past opinion to a truth, and even if he fails, the scientific spirit he shows is admirable, and it surely contributed to his success in Letters, both as a poet and a critic.

    I am struggling towards science as well, though in Letters it is almost impossible; yet it is better to move slowly along the ridge than to leap blindly into the abyss.

    The existence of cliques in our literature are dry facts. They cannot be disputed. They are not emotional utterances. Marianne Moore’s membership in the 1920s Dial group, her subsequent mentoring of Bishop, and these sorts of connections, have all the reality of hard science, and for this reason, if no other, should not be cast aside as we proceed.

    It is not to defend accident that I am here. I do not seek accident.

    Equality does not embrace accident.

    Why should I?

    Thomas

  • On May 23, 2009 at 7:03 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Thank you, Annie. I’d love to read that article, but I have to find a way to access JSTOR… Thanks, again!

    Gary, Poets need champions.

    Thomas

  • On May 24, 2009 at 12:21 am Terreson wrote:

    Man, this thread is so rich it makes me want to go out to a local Mexican restaurant, a favorite watering hole among local professionals, and order two top shelf margueritas. Initial blog entry is juicy. The ensuing conversation with its ideological lines drawn fascinating. And, rather to be expected, there is Thomas Brady championing the poetry of Millay like some good feminist. Elsewhere on this forum he has expressed perfect dismissiveness of such women poets as H.D., Mina Loy, Marianne Moore, and Laura Riding. But that is all silly stuff, perfectly inconsequential.

    Martin Earl, here is what I get from your blog entry. Mind you, I am having to dig a little here. Your entry relies a bit much on short-hand for its thinking. You are not saying, categorically, women are better poets than are men. But you are saying there is a certain capacity for poetry, and for poetry comprehension, women poets have a main line to that men poets do not constitutionally have. And I agree. (It would have been beneficial, by the way, had you made the effort and given the examples you said you wouldn’t. That you don’t amounts to a laziness.)

    From your comments I am figuring you are over fifty. So am I. I read your post and I think: is he just now coming to the tidal turn in poetry women have always, always made? Your discovery, while it may be new to you, is really not all that new. Speaking for myself, I say flat out the big discoveries I’ve made in poetry, and in writing in general, have always come at the hands of women writers. H.D., Colette, Riding, Dickinson, Sexton, Heloise, Madame de Sevigne, Lady Murasaki, Italian folk poets of the strege tradition. These are the poets and writers who’ve taught me the essential things. They happen to be women. The exceptions to the rule have tended to prove the rule: both Rilke and Goethe.

    There is a story Robert Graves tells. He is speaking of Sappho whom he considered about the greatest poet who has ever lived. He felt she gave perfect voice to The Lady of the Wild Things.

    “Sappho undertook this responsibility: one should not believe the malevolent lies of the Attic comedians who caricature her as an insatiable Lesbian. The quality of her poems proves her to have been a true Cerridwen. I once asked my so-called Moral Tutor at Oxford, a Classical scholar and Apollonian: ‘Tell me, sir, do you think that Sappho was a good poet?’ He looked up and down the street, as if to see whether anyone was listening and then confided to me: ‘Yes, Graves, that’s the trouble, she was very, very good!’ I gathered that he considered it fortunate that so little of her work had survived.”

    I am glad for you you’ve come to what you’ve come to. Maybe it is important to put it out yet again. On the other hand I got to say this. One Sappho, one Dickinson, one Millay, one Sexton, one Pattie Smith no more makes a poet than one Eliot, one Crane, one Lorca, or one Neruda.

    Anyway, your picture amounts to an idealization of women I am not sure Jane Austen, George Eliot, Colette, or Simone de Beauvoir would cotton to. While I note the biggest lessons I’ve learned have come at the hands of women poets I also note the majority of women poets are no less or more mediocre than their male counterparts.

    Terreson

  • On May 24, 2009 at 9:39 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    The only champion a good poet needs is Father Time.

    Ask Emily and John.

  • On May 24, 2009 at 11:20 am thomas brady wrote:

    Terreson,

    So I’ve been hoisted by my own petard?

    “there is Thomas Brady championing the poetry of Millay like some good feminist. Elsewhere on this forum he has expressed perfect dismissiveness of such women poets as H.D., Mina Loy, Marianne Moore, and Laura Riding.”

    Your strategy is insidious, Tere, this damning with faint praise all women poets, dooming every last one.

    If one ignores the light-years of talent separating

    Edna St. Vincent Millay, author of half of the 10 best sonnets ever written in English

    and

    H.D., Pound’s GF,

    Marianne Moore, Dial Clique editor and supporter,

    Laura Riding, Fugitive club member and Robert Graves’ GF,

    then one is merely damning with faint praise ALL WOMEN POETS. This is a TRICK by the male status quo: include a few women (a GF, why not?) whose poetry is laced with FAILURE, and by doing so blur all distinctions so that it is assumed critical rigor is not even necessary when it comes to women.

    As I said before, if Millay is thrown under the bus, no woman is safe.

    There is plenty of documentary proof for what I am saying. Millay actually felt a kinship with Poe, who was abused by the same envious, low readership, fragile, ambitious, Modernist clique, and there’s a plethora of evidence to back up these facts.

    Tere, you like to believe, with Mr. Fitzgerald, that poets are superheroes who don’t need critics and that criticism is mostly an annoyance and a sign of impotent envy, but I’m afraid this is a childish belief; a few well-placed notices can destroy a poet’s reputation, especially if she is a woman.

    Thomas

  • On May 24, 2009 at 1:16 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Hey…don’t drag me into this sordid affair.

    I’m just a simple, didactic, philosophical Nature poet, remember, Thomas?

  • On May 24, 2009 at 2:16 pm thomas brady wrote:

    You can’t wriggle out of this one… Mr. Wordsworth!

  • On May 24, 2009 at 4:50 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Actually, Thomas, I’m a lot closer to your hero, Eddie Al, than I am to all these others.

    Especially in the drinking department. 🙂

    I’d be happy to declare my own heroes here but the only ones I can come up with are William Blake, Dylan Thomas, Lao tzu and E.E. Cummings. Oh, and Bob Dylan. Oh, yeah, and Charles Darwin, Galileo, Newton, Einstein and Copernicus and oh, that’s right, Shakespeare and Keats and Whitman. And did I mention Dickinson, Lindsay, Snyder, Frost, Plath, Wright, Roethke, Merwin, Yeats, Millay, Stevens, Eliot, Williams, Pound, Bishop, Lowell, Crane, Patchen, Rexroth, Moore, Ashbery, Creeley, Bly, Sexton, and everybody else who ever taught me how to think?

  • On May 24, 2009 at 7:08 pm Terreson wrote:

    Thomas Brady says:

    “Edna St. Vincent Millay, author of half of the 10 best sonnets ever written in English.”

    On whose authority, please. The sonnet in English has been pursued for a good 500 years. 5 out of 10 best sonnets in English might be a bit of a claim even for the most ardent of Millay’s enthusiasts.

    Thomas Brady says:

    “There is plenty of documentary proof for what I am saying. Millay actually felt a kinship with Poe, who was abused by the same envious, low readership, fragile, ambitious, Modernist clique, and there’s a plethora of evidence to back up these facts.”

    I look forward to reviewing the documentation.

    Thomas Brady says:

    “Tere, you like to believe, with Mr. Fitzgerald, that poets are superheroes who don’t need critics and that criticism is mostly an annoyance and a sign of impotent envy,…”

    Actually, I view the case of critics in a much less flattering light. They put me in mind of cowbirds (species: molthrus), whose parasititic habits have become a seriously impacting disruption in the natural history of other bird species, what with their learned behavior of laying their eggs in the nests of other birds. Now there is an objective correlative for you.

    Terreson

  • On May 24, 2009 at 10:56 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    I forgot Shelley, Tennyson, Byron, Pope and Poe. And that’s the thing, Thomas. It’s like a smorgasbord, a cornucopia of flavor and styles, ideas and thought. No one selection is any better or more delicious than the other, just…different. Different people have different tastes.

    You don’t like the fish, try the beef. Don’t like the crab, try the steamed peas and lamb.

    It’s an unending buffet for the mind, the whole world in a sauteed kipper. It’s poetry!

  • On May 24, 2009 at 11:16 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Nice list.

    Yea…Einstein’s great.

    Your point?

  • On May 25, 2009 at 1:06 am Terreson wrote:

    Because the interest is vital to me, I keep trying to make sense of this blog entry and subsequent exchange. It would help this reader tremendously if ya’ll blog starters would learn the Montaigne lesson, learn the art of the essay, and compose your thoughts before composing your words. But so it goes.

    I am thinking this is what the thread is about, how Martin Earl caps his comments:

    “By looking at poetry qua poetry we are more apt to read more sensitively, praise more accurately and winnow more decisively. But just in case you’ve missed my point, I think we’d all be the better for paying serious attention to the poems now being made by poets who happen to be women, and trying to figure out why they’re so good.”

    This is the substance of the post, right? Or that serious attention should be given to women poets writing today because they are so good. If this is the proposition I can go with it. I regularly meet in online venues (women) poets who rock me, knock my socks off clean into the washer, who show me something new in rhythm, syntax, and sense. And so I must wonder just how familiar the blog’s author is with the scene, which has pretty much shifted from print to screen.

    And I must wonder about something else too. At least in America, women poets have been shifting the scene for a long, long time, or for a good hundred years. The proof is in the popular anthologies of poetry. (You got to love the dialogue we guys and girls got going.) So again I am wondering. Am I allowed to reach back to Lola Ridge, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Angelina Grimke, Sara Teasdale, Elinor Wylie, Hazell Hall, Georgia Johnson, or do I have to put my sights on young women poets working today?

    Just following the logic of the thread.

    Terreson

  • On May 25, 2009 at 9:55 am thomas brady wrote:

    Terreson & Gary,

    You guys are great. You love poetry and you love the scene, and Terreson you are right to think in terms of essay-focus as best as we can in Harriet’s format.

    Martin Earl:

    “By looking at poetry qua poetry we are more apt to read more sensitively, praise more accurately and winnow more decisively.”

    The key phrase for me here is “winnow more decisively.” If we don’t winnow, 9 times out of 10 we’re blathering, we’re giving a long list of what we like, as Gary just did. Such list-making becomes a competition; who’s got the longest list? Who’s got the most obscure poets in their list? Listing without judging to me is…I don’t know, flaccid?

    Terreson, when you say above, “I look forward to reviewing the documentation,” well, this is all I can expect, right? I can only hope that you will review the documentation–you owe me nothing more, or less. Some would shrink from this, and feel like they are facing a border guard demanding papers, but I welcome the challenge. I have nothing to hide in terms of proving my case, even if my case elicits skepticism.

    Gary, critical judgment is obviously no habit with you.

    If one of the sonnets in Shakespeare’s famous sequence lacked all metrical qualities exhibited by the rest of the sonnets in the sequence, it would for this reason receive extra attention. If women were better poets, this, too, would receive extra attention, especially if such a thing became really evident.

    Criticism and philosophy can be defined simply, thus: extra attention.

    It is my judgment that Millay and Poe receive less attention than is warranted and this is quite naturally a triplicate concern: how is it so, why is it so, and how can it be corrected?

    The bubble gum card display of your “heroes,” Gary, lacks critical acumen. You are making a lot of noise in the forest to scare me away. If this is the result of drinking, then reading Poe should convince those who do not know Poe personally how little Poe drank compared to you.

    Richard Wilbur, in the Times Book Review many years ago, took delight in elucidating Poe’s characteristic and well-known disdain for hero-worship. Poe said the public owns opinions of their heroes the way a person owns a book which they did not write. The book (or opinion) isn’t really theirs, but they ‘own’ it.

    Because critical thinking is second nature to me, (while my creative thinking cannot, thus, hold a candle to yours) I will respond to the bubble gum card display of your “heroes.”

    Critical thinking asks questions, so let me make inquiries regarding your knowledge of your heroes, to discover the nature of that knowledge.

    The cards (or the German philosophical monads) of your understanding which you have presented do not consist of aphorisms, facts, social or poetic theories, essays, or poems, but “heroes.”

    In what manner are these your “heroes?”

    Do you admire these “heroes” from an inspirational standpoint, and, if so, what is the nature of this inspiration? Is it the sort of non-intellectual inspiration a sports fan receives from his sports team, or a sports star?

    Does the “hero” inspire from actions that are excellent (hitting a baseball, for instance) that you–yourself–do not do well? If you cannot understand the advanced mathematics of Einstein, if you cannot write “Don Juan, are you then appreciating your “heroes” from afar, like fans in a stadium who watch the performance of a skilled athlete?

    Are you interested in the origins and development of your “heroes,” or do you merely appreciate them as they are?

    Do these “heroes” provide you with useful facts? What are these facts?

    Do these “heroes” provide you with specific pleasures, and which aspects of their works have done so, and why?

    Do you respond to the novelty and originality of these “heroes?” Their lifestyle? Their morals? Their science? Which “heroes” provide which of these, and which parts of their writings do so, and in what manner do they effect these things in you?

    Lastly, is it your judgment that these works are significant for society at large, or you, personally?

    Is it Gary Fitzgerald who benefits, or do all of us, and if the latter, how do you know what benefits everyone? How do you know in which ways society at large can benefit or will benefit by the various procedures in which your “heroes” inspire, or teach, or provide pleasure?

    Are you beginning to see the importance, and even the necessity of Martin’s “winnowing,” Gary?

    Do your “hero” bubble gum cards reject, or prove Nil homini certum est?

    What do Gary Fitzgerald’s household gods have to do with the sad case of Edna St. Vincent Millay?

    Thomas

  • On May 25, 2009 at 5:26 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Thomas Brady said:

    “Because critical thinking is second nature to me…”

    I wonder. The point of my “heroes” post is that I have no ‘heroes’. I have learned a little bit from everyone.

    “Good poets learn everything they can. Great poets forget everything they learned”
    – Gary B. Fitzgerald

    GBF

  • On May 25, 2009 at 6:17 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Don’t worry, Thomas. My poetry has been accused of being a little too subtle and wry as well.

  • On May 25, 2009 at 6:31 pm mearl wrote:

    One of the supreme privileges of writing for the Poetry Foundation is the “profit” one takes from interacting with readers, contributors and colleagues, all of them entirely unwilling to let the blogger, the contributing writer, or whomever, sit happily atop a published piece and assume that “now the world will learn from me.”

    The virtue of Foundation is that it is discrete and unobtrusive and that its site is designed for near full interactivity. Here, writing about poetry becomes less an exercise in “fixing” (in photographic terms, literally stopping the development process) and instead draws us into working within earlier and more traditional parameters of open debate, dialogue and all manner of serious bickering. It hearkens back to the coffee shop publications, broadsides and hurriedly produced opinion pieces that marked the 18th century, “real-time” periodicals like Addison and Steele’s The Spectator and the later and somewhat weightier production, The Rambler, which Samuel Johnson published on Tuesdays and Saturdays. In our new version of 18th century literary skirmishing, we also see the same mixture of the amateur, in the best sense of the word (the serious writer who is unpaid) collaborating with the serious writer, who is paid, on an equal basis (“We’re all equal here, Thomas.” GARY B. FITZGERALD ON MAY 22, 2009 AT 7:09 PM).

    My feeling is that, with our increasingly adept technologies we are returning to the very origins of one of the original projects, the Socratic dialogues and the peripatetic debate; writing is again taking place in the public square… writing, or as Andrew Sullivan describes it, a hybrid between speaking and writing. Samuel Pepys’s 17th century diaries – which were certainly written with for publication – are really the model of our modern blog, which in its best sense is at times a painstaking study of the ephemera that is later cooked into history, and in its more popular manifestation a joyful act of reaching out via the written word, video, image and the recorded voice.

    This thread, with some of Harriet’s regulars taking charge in the last day or two in a spirited, smart and disciplined denouement, has been rewarding beyond measure. Thanks to all of you.
    Martin

  • On May 26, 2009 at 8:15 am thomas brady wrote:

    Thanks, Martin.

    Here’s a few quotes from my two favorite critics; Poe & Eliot, and I believe they describe Harriet to a certain degree:

    It [Poe’s ‘the Stylus’] will enlist the loftiest talent, but employ it not always in the loftiest — at least not always in the most pompous or Puritanical way. –EA Poe

    It [the Stylus] will aim at affording a fair and not dishonorable field for the true intellect of the land, without reference to the mere prestige of celebrated names. –EA Poe

    It [the Stylus] will support the general interests of the Republic of Letters, and insist upon regarding the world at large as the sole proper audience for the author. –EA Poe

    When one creative mind is better than another, the reason often is that the better is more critical. But the great bulk of the work of criticism could be done by minds of the second order, and it is just these minds of the second order that are difficult to find. They are necessary for the rapid circulation of ideas. The periodical press–the ideal literary periodical–is an instrument of transport; and the literary periodical press is dependent upon the existence of a sufficient number of second-order (I do not say “second-rate,” the word is too derogatory) minds to supply its material. These minds are necessary for that “current of ideas,” that “society permeated by fresh thought,” of which [Matthew] Arnold speaks. –TS Eliot

    Thomas

  • On May 26, 2009 at 12:45 pm Tom Harr wrote:

    As Samuel Beckett noted, however, T. Eliot spelled backward is “toilet.”

  • On May 26, 2009 at 3:15 pm thomas brady wrote:

    No doubt this is why T. Eliot decided he could no longer use the toilet and preferred the loo.

  • On May 26, 2009 at 3:23 pm Don Share wrote:

    A curious “loo” footnote: according to Eliot scholar Christopher Ricks, T.S.E. would have been aware of some racist comedic ballads by W.S. Gilbert – one of which was “King Borria Bungalee Boo,” which featured a “Queen Loo,” and perhaps influenced Eliot’s weird scurrilous Colombo and Bolo poems…

  • On May 26, 2009 at 10:48 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    So…did you hear about the two silkworms that had a race?

    Yeah…they ended up in a tie.

    Yes, we’re all pretty silly here, too, aren’t we? About all this poetry stuff, I mean?

    I mean, really..poetry? Jeez, get a life, will’ya!

    🙂 😀 🙂 😀 🙂 😀 🙂 😀 🙂 😀 🙂

  • On May 27, 2009 at 12:31 am john wrote:

    Eliot finding inspiration in material that people now consider racist is a rich subject. He quoted outright a minstrel-style song in “Sweeney Agonistes” — the “Under the Bamboo Tree” bit takes words from a big hit of the same name from 20-some years before. The minstrel tradition is complex: the music to the song whose words Eliot quoted was written by the composer of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (a/k/a “The Black National Anthem”), J. Rosamond Johnson. (Rosamond’s brother, poet James Weldon Johnson, wrote the words to “Lift Every Voice.”) Johnson refrained from claiming “Bamboo Tree” initially, thinking it an undignified song, which it is. It appeared in a show called “Sally in Our Alley” (the name of a once famous and still anthologized 18th century English ballad; don’t know the connection to the show, if any). Judy Garland later sang it in “Meet Me In St. Louis.” The diction of the original song makes me think it was probably originally presented in blackface; Garland’s presentation is blackface-style but thankfully without the burnt cork; Eliot’s stage direction for his version of the song names minstrel/blackface characters, Tambo and Bones.

  • On May 27, 2009 at 6:44 am thomas brady wrote:

    John,

    The whole right-wing, reactionary nature of Modernism is a rich subject, one I suppose that is studiously avoided because it embarrasses too many people.

    You have Eliot’s rather notorious reputation, Pound & Santayana thriving in fascist Italy, Stein with her Nazi protection in Vichy France, the Fugitives (the U.S. wing of Modernism) with their 1930 “I’ll Take My Stand,” the reactionary agrarian Old South manifesto, and there’s more, of course.

    Now much of this could have been genuine ‘Red fear,’ I don’t know.

    But certainly it’s a very rich topic, and it’s not an isolated personality thing–Eliot here and Pound there, it was more than that.

    Thomas

  • On May 27, 2009 at 9:38 am Daisy Fried wrote:

    “The whole right-wing, reactionary nature of Modernism is a rich subject, one I suppose that is studiously avoided because it embarrasses too many people.”

    Actually, it’s hard any more to find a mention of Pound without a mention of his Fascism, or of Eliot without a mention of his anti-Semitism. Which is probably as it should be. I haven’t done any kind of survey of the literature, but my impression is that people actually talk a lot less about the leftism of a whole other swathe of Modernists, like Williams.

    Daisy

  • On May 27, 2009 at 9:53 am semiote wrote:

    There is poetry that is political, leftist, and contemporary, without being Slam Poetry, or that ilk.

  • On May 27, 2009 at 10:13 am Don Share wrote:

    Indeed, John; and not only that, but you can hear Eliot almost sing the lines from “Under the Bamboo Tree” in the Harvard recording of “Fragment of an Agon.” I’ve tried for years to get someone to legitimately release this, without any luck – but it must be heard to be believed. And it bears out what you’re saying.

  • On May 27, 2009 at 11:58 am thomas brady wrote:

    Daisy,

    “Actually, it’s hard any more to find a mention of Pound without a mention of his Fascism, or of Eliot without a mention of his anti-Semitism. Which is probably as it should be. I haven’t done any kind of survey of the literature, but my impression is that people actually talk a lot less about the leftism of a whole other swathe of Modernists, like Williams.”

    Good point, but can anybody give real examples?

    Williams was personally left, but he had little public sway on that count; his poetry was simply too obscure, he was too close to Pound, perhaps.

    Williams is one of those ‘famous’ poets who almost nobody reads, and who had no influence of any significance–beyond a sort of personal help to Ginsberg and the Beats. He never really got beyond Imagism and his ‘wheel barrow’; his attempts at epic and ‘poetry for the working man’ were a failure, since he had no real popular appeal and only interests academics.

    A defining moment for Williams was his reading at Cooper Union on Feb. 18, 1940, with almost a thousand packed in for the reading.

    W.H. Auden completely stole the show, to Williams’ horror.

    Thomas

  • On May 27, 2009 at 12:52 pm Martin Earl wrote:

    Thomas,
    I think we have to give Williams more credit than that. I, for one, read him all the time. (My wonderful two volume New Directions collected, edited by Christopher MacGowan (1988, is one of my treasures). Also, there are some unlikely cases of indebtedness. John Ashbery was always telling me how important and liberating Williams was for him. Of course W. doesn’t fit the Bloomian version of Ashbery’s influence-kit, but neither do Robert Graves, Laura Riding or Delmore Schwartz, all of whom J.A. thrived on. Likewise, Robert Lowell’s mid-career shift to a freer and less constrained approach to poetry with Life Studies, owes a substantial dept to Williams, whom he praises repeatedly in his letters. This, not to mention W’s influence on the Objectivists, Black Mountain and Charles Olsen. And, as Daisy says, his politics were uncompromising, though he was not a “political poet”.

    Daisy,
    I agree whole-heartedly with what you have to say, but it has led me to another thought about what Don, Thomas, John and Gary have been discussing. Politics and the way it has involved or influenced writers in America has always differed from the way politics in Europe have permeated the very textures of European writer’s lives, and by extension, the lives of self-exiled American writers, except perhaps Hemingway, whose instincts as a journalist fed into his genius for detachment and distancing. I would say that William’s “lack of public sway”, as Thomas refers to it, has less to do with his commitments and political beliefs than it does with the fact that the American public is not, by nature, political. In Williams’ case, there was nothing to sway. Vis-à-vis Eliot, Pound et al., the discussion above and the general harping on their miserable political credentials, fails to take into consideration the Europe of their day. It was nearly impossible not to become permeated with the two extremes of fascism, and the list of writers who were compromised is more extensive than those who were not. The issue still won’t die; the latest to come under the axe of the past are Milan Kundera and Gunther Grass. Very few are the writers like Samuel Beckett who comported themselves with nobility in this period of Holocaust and cultural and social mass destruction. Both the left and the right were fascist, totalitarian, anti-democratic and dictatorial to the extreme. I still see the scars of it in Portugal, where one of Europe’s longest running fascist dictatorships held power until 1974. To counter this, Portugal was [is still] blessed with the most hard-line Stalinist communist party in Europe, whose leaders actually came out against the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. In political terms, Jean-Paul Sartre was as guilty on the left as Ezra was on the right. Eric Hobsbawm is still unrepentant and Nobel Prize winner José Saramago has been reduced to political infantilism through his continuing love of dictatorships and the Soviet model of communism.

    Martin

  • On May 27, 2009 at 2:05 pm Zachary Bos wrote:

    No Peacemakers here, Thomas. I’m a pacifist at heart if not always in act: as a youth, rash and young, such inconsistencies are my inheritance.

    As for my shoddy metaphor, Martin: does not incongruity obtain comic effect these days?

    My main response to the original post was to call out its philosophical confusedness, and I still think that’s where the conversation stops. Earl makes claims we don’t have the means to analyze, as when he writes: “This comes from ease with self-effacement, which in artistic endeavors results in a more thoroughgoing capacity for immersion in the project at hand. … Because women are generally more sensitive to others, they are more sensitive to the needs of the poem.”

    Opinions such as these — ungrounded as they are in data of any kind — serve to end conversations, not to start them. The attitudes from which are the precursors to such propositions as “They are more apt to experiment in ways that produce organic forms for expressive purposes rather than try, as men so often do, to trick language into duplicating the will”, are too often incommensurate. I don’t enjoy talking past others, and so try to steer clear of conversations in which the launch is from the get-go fuzzy.

    The topic is fascinating nonetheless. I don’t agree with the suggestion that Daniel Pritchard write male poets about his maleness, since we are in such desperate need of self-aware masculinity. Better that he write about parturition, especially since it has been practically forbidden him.

  • On May 27, 2009 at 3:34 pm john wrote:

    I’d love to hear that, Don!

    If you’ll forgive the personal reminiscence, an at-the-time friend directed “Sweeney” onstage in Chicago in 1991 and asked me to set the two songs, “Under the Bamboo Tree” and “My Little Island Girl.” (Eliot — that popster!) I didn’t know, or even know about, the original Johnson song, nor did I know anything about the minstrel/blackface tradition (which continued onscreen into the 1950s — indeed, Judy Garland “blacked up” in other movies, though not to sing “Under the Bamboo Tree”; this stuff gets a *lot* less attention than Pound’s fascism, comparatively). But I did vibe on Eliot’s primitivism/exoticism, and for pre-show music I made a collage (they’d call it a mashup now) of Fred Astaire singing “like the beat beat of the tom-tom when the jungle shadows fall” (Porter’s “Night and Day”) accompanied by Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” It was a fun show to work on. Wish I would have recorded my settings of the Eliot lyrics; I should track the director down, because they revived the production at least twice after I moved away from Chicago, and maybe she recorded the songs at some point.

  • On May 27, 2009 at 4:13 pm Martin Earl wrote:

    Zhachary,
    Your just-filed comment landed way up the thread, out of sequence. So I thought I’d copy it into my own response and put it down here, where it has more chance to be read.

    Zhachary comments:

    No Peacemakers here, Thomas. I’m a pacifist at heart if not always in act: as a youth, rash and young, such inconsistencies are my inheritance.
    As for my shoddy metaphor, Martin: does not incongruity obtain comic effect these days?
    My main response to the original post was to call out its philosophical confusedness, and I still think that’s where the conversation stops. Earl makes claims we don’t have the means to analyze, as when he writes: “This comes from ease with self-effacement, which in artistic endeavors results in a more thoroughgoing capacity for immersion in the project at hand. … Because women are generally more sensitive to others, they are more sensitive to the needs of the poem.”
    Opinions such as these — ungrounded as they are in data of any kind — serve to end conversations, not to start them. The attitudes from which are the precursors to such propositions as “They are more apt to experiment in ways that produce organic forms for expressive purposes rather than try, as men so often do, to trick language into duplicating the will”, are too often incommensurate. I don’t enjoy talking past others, and so try to steer clear of conversations in which the launch is from the get-go fuzzy.
    The topic is fascinating nonetheless. I don’t agree with the suggestion that Daniel Pritchard write male poets about his maleness, since we are in such desperate need of self-aware masculinity. Better that he write about parturition, especially since it has been practically forbidden him.
    POSTED BY: ZACHARY BOS ON MAY 27, 2009 AT 2:05 PM (EDIT)

    What can I say? Both “opinions” and “claims” are, by definition, not grounded in “data”. The title of the post should have certainly clued you in to the fact that what you were about to read was and opinion piece. You admit to youth and so a certain entitlement to “inconsistency”. However, I don’t think that entitles you (especially if you are the pacifist you claim yourself to be) to have made such a hostile and unsupported comment (I’m referring to your first comment.) The aggression was just not appreciated. As for your statement in this comment: “opinions like these…serve to end conversations, not start them” – you might reflect on the fact that this post has generated 82 comments to date. Likewise, I have no idea what you mean by “does not incongruity obtain comic effect these days?” Zachary, you were decidedly not going for “comic effect”, you were going for my throat. Finally, about my “shoddy thinking” (first comment) and that I know nothing of Heidegger or ontology, etc., I would only reply that I have been reading philosophy since the age of fifteen and my credentials on that account are in order. Why not cast your eyes over the following (http://books.google.com/books?id=YsHYVzgO-DwC&dq=earl+nabais&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=xoYorhsa5X&sig=vrMR
    ToeTTqH5rdTOaPzRj_UDOX0&hl=en&ei=QZgdStrlMYnN-Aacq83PBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4#PPR7,M1) This is a peer-reviewed study of Nietzsche, a book that I recently translated for Continuum Press, Britain’s most prestigious publishers of philosophy.

    Of course I have tracked your own interests and what I have discovered looks very worthwhile indeed. So, I hope that you will keep commenting on my threads, but that if you do so, it is with a little less aggression.
    Martin

  • On May 27, 2009 at 4:52 pm Daniel E. Pritchard wrote:

    Ange —

    I’m glad that you “bit,” so to speak.

    When I asked Martin — whose position here I think comes with a bit of responsibility — about the history, it’s because I thought he might know (have done that research). If I’d asked at “The Valve,” I’d have expected some reader (or the blogger at hand) to know as well. A comment thread can be ruled by citations and proof instead of ad hominem assertions; we may just have to raise the level of debate. If I have the time, I’ll have to read into it myself (with that in mind: does anyone have a grant; or suggestions of where to begin?).

    I agree about there being an actual even split, on the more and less difficult sides of poetry, at least in my experience. I wanted to know who, besides the marquee names, I might be missing, and that is exactly why I asked Martin to know of whom he was thinking. I read journals pretty regularly, online and in print, and was surprised by his assertion.

    I’m not intentionally being condescending, at all, either in my questions or in using the terms I have to analyze this idea; “feminized” being the way a “pursuit” is conceptualized and gendered in / by the culture at large. (I didn’t call it anything but poetry, but I do notice the ways different activities and identities are engaged.) In turn, it might be more constructive not to assume that commenters here are so ignorant of “the history of literature,” if only for the sake of mutual respect and some slight benefit of the doubt.

    D.

  • On May 27, 2009 at 4:54 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Martin,

    “I think we have to give Williams more credit than that. I, for one, read him all the time. (My wonderful two volume New Directions collected, edited by Christopher MacGowan (1988, is one of my treasures). Also, there are some unlikely cases of indebtedness.”

    I can’t argue with my own taste. I get no pleasure from Williams. I can’t read him.

    “John Ashbery was always telling me how important and liberating Williams was for him.”

    I don’t believe Ashbery. That sounds like blurb talk. There’s some early Auden (during his highly obscure phase) which sounds exactly like Ashbery.

    “Of course W. doesn’t fit the Bloomian version of Ashbery’s influence-kit, but neither do Robert Graves, Laura Riding or Delmore Schwartz, all of whom J.A. thrived on.”

    Yea, I’m sure Ashbery’s a wide reader. So are most poets. But real influence is something different. Ashbery has a recognizable style and I think he copped it from early Auden, who probably got it from LeForgue.

    “Likewise, Robert Lowell’s mid-career shift to a freer and less constrained approach to poetry with Life Studies, owes a substantial dept to Williams, whom he praises repeatedly in his letters. This, not to mention W’s influence on the Objectivists, Black Mountain and Charles Olsen. And, as Daisy says, his politics were uncompromising, though he was not a “political poet”.

    I can’t read Lowell, either. That’s another poet who is wildly overrated, in my opinion. And don’t get me started on Black Mountain and Olsen. I have no patience for most of that stuff. I just can’t read it with pleasure. And I suppose I should blame Williams.

    Thomas

  • On May 27, 2009 at 6:57 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Quite right. I’ve never picked up a book or read an article on modernism that didn’t prominently address the rightist activities & views of several of its most famous practitioners.

  • On May 27, 2009 at 7:00 pm michael robbins wrote:

    This is, again, just untrue. Go to any poetry course on any university campus anywhere in the country – but particularly check out ones at Harvard, Yale, the U. of C., Penn, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford – & you’ll find you’re quite wrong about how widely Williams is read. As for influence – well, it’s almost too easy. Besides Ginsberg, how about Ronald Johnson, Oppen, Creeley, O’Hara, Fanny Howe. I could go on & on. I have to ask, in all sincerity, Thomas, how you arrive at your peculiar sense of the field of contemporary poetry, which almost always is the reverse of what you assert it to be? This is just an empirical observation, completely verifiable, &, often in these threads, thoroughly verified.

  • On May 27, 2009 at 7:57 pm mearl wrote:

    Thomas,

    “I can’t argue with my own taste. I get no pleasure from Williams. I can’t read him.”

    Then forget Williams, but I think we should always argue with our own taste.

    “Yea, I’m sure Ashbery’s a wide reader. So are most poets. But real influence is something different. Ashbery has a recognizable style and I think he copped it from early Auden, who probably got it from LeForgue.”

    You’re right about the connection between early Auden and Ashbery, but Auden was never really interested in French poetry (Baudelaire in passing). Nor did he speak or read French with any fluency. Of course he read Julian Symons’ book on the French symbolists, like everyone else, but Symons was later utterly dismissive of Auden in the London journals of the day. In the Prologue to The Dyer’s Hand Auden says the following: “If I were to attempt to write down the names of all the poets and novelists for whose work I am really grateful because I know if I had not read them my life would be poorer, the list would take up pages. But if I try to think of all the critics for whom I am really grateful, I find myself with a list of thirty-four names. Of these twelve are German, and only two French. Does this indicate a conscious bias? It does.” In Edward Mendelson’s definitive study of Auden, LaFourge is not once mentioned. It would be a mistake to reduce Ashbery’s sphere of influence to early Auden, just as Bloom makes the mistake of reducing it to Wallace Stevens.

    At any rate, Thomas, you’ve piled so much intellectual energy and really topnotch commentary into the various threads on Harriet that you are to be complimented. We all owe you a great deal, and I, for one, feel your eccentricity of taste and the way you stand by it is one of your best qualities. For me, it’s extremely refreshing. I mean it!

    Martin

  • On May 27, 2009 at 8:55 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    And what a fine forum to be able to accommodate you both, I say, Thomas and Martin—which all goes to show that something is better at least on some side of the Atlantic.

    Just look at Padel v. Walcott—that prize fight makes it all the way to The Guardian!

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/may/27/poetry-padel-walcott-oxford

  • On May 27, 2009 at 10:04 pm thomas brady wrote:

    My dear Robbins,

    You write:

    “This is, again, just untrue. Go to any poetry course on any university campus anywhere in the country – but particularly check out ones at Harvard, Yale, the U. of C., Penn, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford – & you’ll find you’re quite wrong about how widely Williams is read.”

    In my post on Williams above I did say that he “only interests academics.” I won’t deny Williams has a certain following in the ivory tower.

    “As for influence – well, it’s almost too easy. Besides Ginsberg, how about Ronald Johnson, Oppen, Creeley, O’Hara, Fanny Howe. I could go on & on.”

    I think there’s a great tendency nowadays to throw around the word “influence” without really thinking about what we mean.

    First, if Williams did not exist, no poet would have lacked models. I cannot picture Ginsberg (!) or Oppen (!) or Creeley (!) or O’Hara (!) pacing the floor in a world without William Carlos Williams and fretting, “How shall I write? What shall I write?”

    Second, was Williams an ‘American voice?’ Obviously not. Who elected him to that role? This is nothing but empty talk.

    Let us take “influence” seriously, for once, shall we? I could, right now, write a haiku and it would be obvious to everyone what I was being influenced by the haiku form. Now someone could say, ‘OK, Thomas, that was a good haiku, write a sonnet,’ and once again it would be impossible for me to indulge in this exercise without being ‘influenced’ by the sonnet form. But how would Williams be imitated? Beyond a certain flippancy and metrical looseness–which did not originate with him, and which thousands of poets had been doing for decades before Williams was even on the scene?

    I have no vision of anyone caring about Williams, except for maybe a young person of little talent saying, “Oh, is that considered poetry? I can do that.” Which, when you think about it, is enough to make a poet beloved forever.

    In the 40s Williams thought the two best poets living were Pound and Cummings. These were two poets who received the annual Dial Magazine awards in the 1920s along with Williams himself. On the other hand, he couldn’t stand Eliot (another Dial Prize winner from the 1920s) because Williams felt Eliot lacked some notion of ‘purity’ that Williams held–but what right had Williams to hold such a notion? Who the hell was Williams, anyway?

    Thomas

  • On May 27, 2009 at 10:26 pm michael robbins wrote:

    I never said he was an “American voice,” but he obviously is. Read In the American Grain, then read it again. And I really don’t think of my students as “academics,” but it is among the students that I note Williams has his largest following. I know literally hundreds of people for whom Wiliams is absolutely necessary, many of them not “academics.” Also, yes, I have no trouble saying that without Williams’s example, Creeley, Olson, Ginsberg, Johnson, & a number of other poets simply would not have written the poems they wrote. That is what influence means. Lowell is a good example too, & I daresay that it doesn’t matter whether you think he’s overrated. If you’d been following the field, you’d know that he is as underrated as he’s ever been (check out what Silliman & the post-avants think of him). No matter; the work endures.

  • On May 27, 2009 at 11:29 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Martin,

    Although Auden cared more for German critics than French, not even Auden could ignore the importance of French verse to the free verse revolution in English speaking poetry.

    Poe was treated rather roughly by the Moderns, but they read Poe secretly (especially Eliot) and knew that their free verse experiment could not successfully pass Poe’s critical ghost, for Poe had seen free verse in numerous poets he reviewed in the 1830s and 1840s and called it “trash.” Poe’s rigor would not allow for even Eliot’s defense of free verse–that it was not really “free” etc. The Modernist revolutionaries were anxious for their free verse revolution to succeed, and were afraid the historical scholars would call them out as frauds, raining examples such as Poe on their heads.

    I’m guessing that one of the Moderns, desperate for a winning strategy read with unbridled joy the following:

    “I began the “processes” by a suggestion of the spondee as the first step towards verse. But the innate monotony of the spondee has caused its disappearance, as the basis of rhythm, from all modern poetry. We may say, indeed, that the French heroic — the most wretchedly monotonous verse in existence — is, to all intents and purposes, spondaic. But it is not designedly spondaic — and if the French were ever to examine it at all, they would no doubt pronounce it iambic. It must be observed that the French language is strangely peculiar in this point — that it is without accentuation and, consequently without verse. The genius of the people, rather than the structure of the tongue, declares that their words are, for the most part, enunciated with a uniform dwelling on each syllable. For example — we say “syllabifiCAtion.” A Frenchman would say, syl-la-bi-fi-ca-ti-on; dwelling on no one of the syllables with any noticeable particularity. Here again I put an extreme case, in order to be well understood; but the general fact is as I give it — that, comparatively, the French have no accentuation. And there can be nothing worth the name of verse, without. Therefore, the French have no verse worth the name — which is the fact, put in sufficiently plain terms. Their iambic rhythm so superabounds in absolute spondees, as to warrant me in calling its basis spondaic; but French is the only modern tongue which has any rhythm with such basis; and even in the French, it is, as I have said, unintentional.” “The Rationale of Verse” E. Poe

    Ah, the French! They had just the right combination of learning and decadence to lend authority to an English speaking free verse revolution, but even better, as Poe said, THE FRENCH HAVE NO VERSE, so all we have to do is be influenced by French poetry (the kind that is splendidly decadent) and voila! we have English speaking free verse! And rather than looking inept and silly, we will appear learned and dangerous and decadent and…French. Pound led the charge with his French cheerleading, Eliot supplied the cautionary, classical tone, lending an air of respectability to the Modern madness, and the revolution was won. Verse was dead, thanks to a couple of American rogues, three or four English dons, an English lord or two, and a few French poet maudits to de-versify us and disarrange our senses.

    Thomas

  • On May 28, 2009 at 2:19 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    I have to ask you to bear with me sometimes, because I’m hardly computer literate (I touched my first keyboard at 52!).

    The Padel/Walcott “spat” was brought to my attention just yesterday by a friend from that “other” place, Oxford, and it was only after I had posted my reference on this thread to the May 27th Guardian article that I realized you’d already had a go at it here—and what a go too (“Derek Walcott Drops Out”).

    What a wonderful site is this Harriet!

    In reading the thread over I spotted Thomas Brady’s May 15th quip, “I think we should let Alan Cordle get to the bottom of this.”

    And I suspect that’s just what John Sutherland of The Guardian wants the British to think about too in his article —because although we Americans always leave it late, and always do it the hard way, we do do it!

    Like the appointment of Sonia Maria Sotomayor to the Supreme Court!

    So is that an appropriate analogy? Am I allowed to be so political? Because I don’t mean that in a partisan way at all, and of course I’m speaking as a poet.

    Just as Thomas Brady is surely speaking as a poet when he insists that nobody reads William Carlos Williams.

    We’ll let Tom say that, and not just because we know he means well, but because we know he means true–even when he’s wrong!

    Christopher

  • On May 28, 2009 at 8:54 am thomas brady wrote:

    Michael,

    I don’t believe you.

    Give me just one, concrete example of his “American voice,” his “influence.”

    I’ve read ‘In the American Grain.’ Williams blathers; he has nothing to say. I’m sorry, but I just find him stupid, and I think that’s the point. You had these super-intellectals making Modernism work on either side of the Atlantic–Eliot and Ransom–and the work Modernism did was ‘against the odds’ and a coup that needed real brains, and Eliot had them, and Ransom had them, but you needed the token inarticulate American to round out Modernism’s triumph and it fell to Williams by default just because he was there–he knew Pound.

    Sorry, I just get very irritated even talking about William Carlos Williams. To quote Gerturde Stein, there’s no there there.

    Thomas

  • On May 28, 2009 at 1:04 pm Daisy Fried wrote:

    “Who the hell was Williams, anyway?”

    Greatest American poet of the 20th C.

    Daisy

  • On May 28, 2009 at 2:20 pm thomas brady wrote:

    And the evidence for this is…?

    (please please please don’t quote that plum poem!)

  • On May 28, 2009 at 3:04 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Better than Frost? Stevens? Berryman? Crane? Really?

  • On May 28, 2009 at 3:35 pm Joshua Clover wrote:

    @Gary: yes, maybe, yes, yes.

  • On May 28, 2009 at 3:44 pm thomas brady wrote:

    The thing about Williams, Gary: there’s NO poet more AMERICAN!

    You betcha!

    Dépend tellement du rouge
    brouette de roue
    vitré avec de l’eau pluie à coté
    les poulets blancs

    You see, Gary? It doesn’t get any more American than that.

    The AMERICAN…OBJECTS…(swoon)

    Do you want to be extra-modern, Gary? Extra-American? Do you want to write superb, flawless FREE verse?

    Here’s the secret…

    shhhh….

    (whisper) all you have to do is learn French!

    Thomas

  • On May 28, 2009 at 6:04 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Evidence? Spring & All. Paterson: Book One. All the evidence anyone needs.

    I don’t think Williams was “better” than Frost, Stevens, Berryman, Crane (& why are Eliot & Pound left out of that list?). But only because at that level, such distinctions are parlor games. Can’t imagine American poetry without a single one of them, & neither can you, because it would be unrecognizably different.

  • On May 28, 2009 at 6:25 pm thomas brady wrote:

    ‘Spring and All.’ (Shudder)

    I’d rather read the phone book. A random list of names would be more interesting to me than ‘Spring and All.’

    lines ending with ‘the?’ Grab my coat, the revolution’s startin’!

    Tell me the secret
    handshake so I, too, can
    appreciate
    ‘Spring and All.’

  • On May 31, 2009 at 6:29 pm Terreson wrote:

    First off, I feel bad that Martin Earl’s blog topic got derailed. While I may not entirely agree with it the topic had promise. I believe I said somewhere upthread that the biggest lessons I’ve learned at the craft have come from women writers. And I am okay with that, choose to celebrate the fact in the same way, say, that Socrates, that supreme dialectician, bowed his knee to the purely intuitive intelligence of the witch of Dodonna. (Martin Earl this is the approach I would have taken had the topic been mine.)

    Since the derailment is established I just made a discovery I wish to share. I’ve for long wondered why Thomas Brady, in argument, tends to the slash and burn tactic in his forensics. Upthread he quotes from Poe’s essay, “The Rationale of Verse.” So I pulled down my Everyman’s Library copy of Poe’s poems and essays. And I scanned the Verse essay in order to refresh my memory of his thesis. To some surprise I’ve discovered the source of Master Brady’s forensics.:

    ” ‘But if this is the case, how,’ it will be asked, ‘can so much misunderstanding have arisen? Is it conceivable that a thousand profound scholars, investigating so very simple a matter for centuries, have not been able to place it in the fullest light, at least, of which it is susceptible?’ ”

    “A leading defect in each of our treatises, (if treatises they can be called,)…”

    “A grammarian is never excusable on the ground of good intentions.”

    “So general and so total a failure can be referred only to radical misconception. In fact the English Prosodists have blindly followed the pedants.”

    “On account of the stupidity of some people, or, (if talent be a more respectable word,) on account of their talent for misconception…”

    “Were anyone weak enough to refer to the Prosodies for the solutions of the difficulties here…”

    “Now, had this court of inquiry been in possession of even the shadow of the philosophy of Verse…”

    “All the Prosodies on English verse would insist upon making an elision in ‘flowers,’ thus (flow’rs), but this is nonsense.”

    So there it is. Speaking as a student of human behavior I am fascinated by the extent to which Master Brady has adopted, or absorbed, the forensics of EA Poe. Mind you, I don’t disagree with the essay quoted from. Poe’s essential idea was right and he might have been the first to realize as much: that the system of scansion still followed, and based on Classical, syllabic quantitative, prosodics, has never, can never, will never, snugly fit the syllabic accentuated English language poetry. It ain’t going to happen and never has happened. I am just fascinated by the extent to which Poe’s pugilistic style of rhetoric is on display again.

    Terreson

  • On May 31, 2009 at 9:42 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    I don’t quite understand the point you’re making here, Terreson: that Thomas Brady learned to fight from Poe, period, or that Thomas Brady learned to fight against the misconceptions about scansion most of us take for granted from Poe?

    “Poe’s essential idea was right,” you concede at the end. From your tone it’s obvious you yourself didn’t need Poe’s help to arrive at that conclusion, the position being so obvious. So perhaps it’s “the slash and burn tactic in his forensics” you find so derivative in Thomas Brady, almost as if you weren’t using the tactic yourself in the post.

    I myself am not too concerned about this problem of scansion, mainly because I don’t know too much about it. I use the established terminology I grew up with and simply apply it to what I hear in the verse I want to understand better, or discuss with a friend. For me, it’s just terminology that I can do what I want with, and most often, antique and rigid as it is, it still helps me more or less to muddle out what I hear in the verse.

    It wasn’t always like that, because I grew up in the last throes of a classical education, and would have failed my Vergil if I’d done what I do now with the lines. In fact, I did fail my Vergil, but mainly because at that time I was bored and delinquent.

    What we often forget is how steeped in the Classics all education was until very recently, and that nobody STUDIED poetry as such, what is more Modern Poetry. If you were from the tiny elite that got to study at all, you studied the Classics, Latin and Greek, and scanning as much as grammar was the discipline through which you became that educated man who could rule Estate and Empire without blinking. Everybody in that class had Horace in their pockets, even as they went into battle, the bar or the boardroom. But they were officers, not toughs in the ranks, and it would have to wait until the toughs in the ranks got to school to give anyone the chance to start majoring in English!

    And that’s why we are where we’re at—products of an educational system that was never designed for us democrats. And we still play the games by the rules that were formed, like those for tennis and rugby, in the courtyards of Harrow—or Christs, my and John Milton’s college.

    Christopher

    Christopher

  • On June 1, 2009 at 1:00 am Terreson wrote:

    Well, Mr. Woodman, had I known beforehand I was entering into an exchange with a peer of John Milton’s I would have demured.

    Terreson

  • On June 1, 2009 at 1:13 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    C.P.Snow’s college too.

    Famous for rugby, when you went up for your interview the Master of Christs threw a rugby ball to you as you entered his rooms. If you came from the right school that gave you an advantage–if you caught the ball instead of dribbling it you were in.

    ‘Football’ was for louts.

  • On June 1, 2009 at 7:45 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    A Footnote on that:

    “Football’ (soccer) was played by the lads in Manchester and Liverpool, Rugby, or versions thereof, by the boys at the great ‘Public Schools” (oh, the ironies!), Winchester, Harrow and, yes, Rugby.

    I’m no peer of John Milton, Tere, partly because I’m a football fanatic. Indeed, I was heartbroken by the recent results in Rome.

  • On June 2, 2009 at 10:58 am thomas brady wrote:

    Terreson v. Thomas on the rugby field? LOL

    Terreson, you’re insight is correct; I’m a mere hack, imitating Poe. Truly! I’ll fully admit that’s all I am.

    The Modernists tried to bury Poe, but, as I’ve shown, Eliot read Poe (and stole Poe’s critical ideas) and Ezra Pound’s whole ‘pedantic yet rude’ schtick comes right from Poe, even while Pound and his prissy pals, Yeats, Eliot, Winters, both the Euro-trash Modernists and their American, ‘tough guy,’ Fugitive, New Critical, Creative Writing establishment soldiers were bashing Poe–and that other great Amercian, Millay.

    (The ‘practical’ bridge between European & America Modernism may be glimpsed in Ford Madox Ford–who was an Ezra Pound in interconnection and energy between these two wings, facilitating London’s Little Magazine Modernism while also working for Britain’s propaganda War Machine and then coming to the U.S. and working with Ransom, Allen Tate and Robert Lowell)

  • On June 2, 2009 at 8:55 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    .

    “What we often forget is how steeped in the Classics all education was until very recently, and that nobody STUDIED poetry as such, what is more Modern Poetry. If you were from the tiny elite that got to study at all, you studied the Classics, Latin and Greek, and scanning as much as grammar was the discipline through which you became that educated man who could rule Estate and Empire without blinking. Everybody in that class had Horace in their pockets, even as they went into battle, the bar or the boardroom. But they were officers, not toughs in the ranks, and it would have to wait until the toughs in the ranks got to school to give anyone the chance to start majoring in English!”

    Well said, Mr. Woodman.

    “Well, Mr. Woodman, had I known beforehand I was entering into an exchange with a peer of John Milton’s I would have demured.”

    Lighten up, Tere.

    .

  • On June 2, 2009 at 11:47 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Thanks, Gary—and I mean that.

    (I might take this opportunity to strike out the word “bar” in that passage and replace it with “club.” Football fans go to bars, rugby supporters to clubs, and rarely to this day in the U.K. or its dominions do the twain ever meet.

    The difference is that today there’s far more poetry in the bars than the clubs.)

  • On June 2, 2009 at 11:54 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    The last line of that post got deleted: “That’s why were so lucky to have Gary.”


Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, May 19th, 2009 by Martin Earl.