Richard and Mafalda sitting beneath a Pontus Carle painting, Lisbon 2008

The image of Thomas Mann at his writing desk is, for me, emblematic. The writer at work. Five thirty am, the light of day nowhere apparent, two candles illuminating the mahogany surface of his desk, haloing pens, inkstand, blank pages. The order in his studio is impeccable; filled with antiquarian trinkets, a crisp bourgeois density pervades. His only music, the scratch of the nib as it begins to fill the empty pages.

Shift to your typical painter’s studio: the smell of turpentine and oils, dust, canvas, glue, cigarette smoke. The music is often blaring and if not that the shuffling of the painter’s feet creates a kind grating effect, as though someone in an empty apartment on the floor above were rearranging the furniture. Add to that the spotting, dabbing, swatching brush; then the lurch of the observation stool (every painter has a stool, a bench, a chair) on the uneven, bedabbed, begrimed and, otherwise, abused floorboards of the studio.

That’s what Mercer Street was like. What today they might call a microloft, was, in 1981, when I first met Pontus, a dark and desperate attempt to draw domesticity out of some industrial past. You could see, beneath the clutter of canvases and pallets and tables with their jumble of tubes and pots that someone had tried to make a home there. But Pontus, the subletting painter, new to New York and its city-wide project of gentrification, had let the whole thing slide back. You had the sense that pure unwavering industry was again reclaiming the space. I only went there once or twice to meet this tall Swede in his paint-streaked foreman’s outfit, who spoke three languages fluently, and yet employed each with a different tone of reticence. He wanted me to tell him what he was doing. So I talked.
Broom Street Studio, New York

Soon the conversation moved to a grander studio. Thomas Mann brought the same mahogany desk from Germany to Switzerland, to California and then back to Zurich. Pontus moved all of his stuff to Broom Street in the winter of 1982 at the invitation of Jean Miotte, a French painter, with Orientalist leanings. Pontus flatly dismissed Miotte’s work, but Miotte would leave for weeks at a time, leaving Pontus in charge of the studio (the top row of arched windows looked due west, to the river and Hoboken beyond). Pontus and I entered into a kind of collaboration almost immediately. I sat in the middle of the studio with my portable Adler, drinking tea and smoking as I wrote, while Pontus painted. Later we’d make dinner, drink wine, and talk about his paintings. We rarely talked about my poems. The emphasis was on his paintings. And I would do most of the talking. Already his Bauhaus inspired canvases (Kandinsky, Klee) from Mercer Street, with their delicate surrealist dance of suspended figures, were exploding into heavier and thicker forms with chewed edges and boldly stenciled overlays, cryptic traffic signals, grillworks, screaming color-rattling heads, the canvases larger and the paint more thickly applied. A new visual language was developing – or was it enhancing an earlier language. I have watched Pontus’s style shift, double back, and then move forward again. His painting has always been located between abstraction and figuration, at times moving in one direction, at times in the other. These changes can often be linked (vaguely perhaps) to his particular working space, and also to whatever state he is in emotionally. He works in Paris, where he now does more sculpture, which look like his paintings in 3-D, ceramic slabs with similar motifs and palette; or in his Berlin studio where he paints, and then, each summer, in a village in the south of Sweden which looks out onto the Kattegat, the strait of water the lies between Sweden and Denmark. He is always shifting and adapting himself, never staying longer than a few weeks or a couple of months in one setting. Although, for two years he was gravely ill, and mostly stayed in France. During this time he kept a “diary” of very small paintings, a little larger than the average postcard; these were covered with painted and drawn images, little applications, cut-outs glued to the surface and a lot of scrawled writings. There are at least a hundred of them. They reminded me of poems.

Painters and poets have been wed from the beginning. Language itself has pictorial roots. The best know examples date back 17,000 years to the cave paintings in Lascaux and elsewhere. And yet the first representational art was found near Schelklingen in Germany and dates back the to beginnings of the Upper Paleolithic period, 35, to 40,000 years ago. It was out of this Aurignacian culture that the first cave art develops. From these drawings eventually (over a period of twenty thousand odd years…an unimaginable number, really; it almost makes us seem contemporaries of what we refer to as the Classical World) came pictograms, symbols still based on seen forms, but simplified and standardized, used to represent objects (and used today, in fact, in places where different language groups cross – cities, train stations, traffic signs – making sure we walk into the correct bathrooms). This was a kind of proto-writing still based in copying the shapes of nature. The development of writing followed a path of gradual abstraction; out of pictograms come ideograms, which represented ideas instead of objects. The rebus principle allowed the pictogram to represent the sound of a syllable pushing pictograms toward phonograms. Only Chinese and Japanese preserve the their logographic origins. Rebus writing was already part of Egyptian culture by 340 BCE, whence modern alphabets began to form.

Poets are attracted to the symbolic and pictographic traces of their own language in painting. For poets, painting is full of atavistic vocabularies. Painters, on the other hand, have always looked to poets to articulate what we might call their sublime backwardness. It is curious that the language of painting reached its most sophisticated moment, its representational apogee, in the late Renaissance and Baroque and only discovered a new language through a gradual loosening of the nearly photographic rigor of such artists as Vermeer and Dürer. The early Baroque painter Caravaggio preserved an exacting realism but upped the fever pitch, adding a dramatic tension that went beyond Renaissance composure. Like Rembrandt before him, with his almost psychoanalytic insistence on the self-portrait, Beethoven was already in departure mode. Große Fugue is the death rattle of the classical style. Arnold Schoenberg’s “Verklarte Nacht” is full of Beethoven’s late quartets.

It is over a period of nearly three centuries that prose begins to overtake poetry. Ironically Latin, which had continued to develop beyond the classical period began to fade as a civic, academic and theological language during the Renaissance. With its fascination for the pure forms of antiquity, it insisted upon a return to classical Latin, which hindered its further growth as working language. Modern European languages evolved in various forms. The novel, the essay, reportage, even the printing of gossip grew along with the growth of literacy and the mechanization of publishing. As the demographics of literacy spread, prose was ready to absorb the growth.

As though in retreat from public relevance and in search of aesthetic and formal purity, or perhaps forced inward by the demands of the market place, poetry and painting became less transparent, more expressive of the individual “soul”. By the time we reach the late 19th and the early 20th century, painting’s documentary role had been replaced by photography. Poetry would begin to construct its own parallel universe. The notion of entertaining the masses fell apart after Tennyson. Swinburne perhaps tried, or rather the job was handed to him, but he was already too debilitated by erudition and alcohol to be an effective “public” poet. Thomas Hardy is an amazing example in which this tension between public and private discourse (read prose and poetry) is played out in the selfsame author. There are also the belated exceptions – Robert Graves in some cases, who like Hardy constructed a popular prose persona and a more intricate poetic one; the short-lived Dylan Thomas; Robert Frost and Philip Larkin. But in all of these cases the public’s acceptance was based on the poet’s own construction of a public persona rather than on the poems themselves, which led to a misreading of an underlying nihilism and to an inability to attend to the high alter of poetic craft (which is what really drove these masters). Poetry and painting became, in the public eye, eccentric and difficult. Your average reader or connoisseur now needed guidance. A critical industry arose to usher us through the intricacies of post-modern painting and poetry.

Lithography, from Stundenglas, by Martin Earl and Pontus Carle (Edition Maldoror, Berlin, 1992)

The relationship between painters and poets (there were many poets who, themselves, painted, and painters who wrote) is well documented. There are the towering examples, from Michelangelo to Gertrude Stein, Cummings to John Ashbery, who for many years made his living as an art critic, while pretty much refusing to engage in literary criticism.

Frankly, as a poet, my own visual and musical education has been at least as important as my poetic one. At times more important. I have loved poetry, but my belief is that poetry looks up to the condition of music and to the sheer visceral impact of painting, whose special formal dynamic is released from time.


What sparked this meditation was a blog I read last week, or two weeks ago, on the Venice Bienalle by Stefano Tonchi, entitled “Venice, Slowly Surely” in the New York Times, June 9. Tonchi only uses the word “painting” once in the article, and it was used in passing. Nowhere does he discuss a painter.

Of course, the death of painting has been announced several times, perhaps most explicitly by the Russian constructivist, Aleksander Mikhailovich Rodchenko. In 1921, in Moscow, he exhibited three monochrome canvases, Pure Red Color, Pure Blue Color, and Pure Yellow Color. He would later say that “I reduced painting to its logical conclusion and exhibited three canvases: red, blue and yellow. I affirmed: it's all over. Basic colors. Every plane is a plane and there is to be no representation.” In the context of the Russian revolution this could be seen more as a political and ideological expression than and aesthetic one, a rhetorical rather than a painterly gesture, utopian in its intent to mark the death of the bourgeois past and the beginning of a new Soviet Russia. Yet it echoes the Dadaist proclamation in Zurich in 1911 that “art is dead.” Marcel Duchamp would follow: his last painting, Tu m’, was meant as a statement of not only his own retirement from traditional oil on canvas, but the death of painting generally.

There is a 2003 article in The Guardian, by Andrew Marr, in which David Hockney is quite candid about the modern art world.

“Hockney lights a Turkish cigarette and quotes a thought from David Freeburg's book The Power of Images: ‘When the history of art parts company with the history of images, the power is with images - and art becomes just a small thing.’
“As for himself, ‘I just say that I am interested in painting and drawing and picture-making, meaning, including photography.’ But he thinks the art world has become brittle and fragile, with too much power in the hands of too few.”

There are many painters who have resisted the post war dominance of conceptual art: Hockney, Gerhard Richter, Julian Freud, Kitaj, Paula Rego, Jane Freilicher and my friend Pontus Carle, just to name a few off the top of my head.

I know the expression “the death of painting” has become journalistic shorthand, but, as poet, I still feel threatened.

Originally Published: June 17th, 2009

Martin Earl lives in Coimbra, in central Portugal. From 1986 until 2001 he lectured in English, translation, and American culture at the University of Coimbra. For the last ten years he has worked as a translator and a journalist. Earl has blogged on Harriet, and his translation of Antonio Medeiros’s...

  1. June 17, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Oh what a wonderful piece of writing!\r

    The monsoon rains have swept in and after months of dry heat it's dark with wet this morning. Do ideas matter when the world is sinking?\r

    Such writing is the answer.\r

    Thanks, Martin

  2. June 17, 2009
     Barry Cunningham

    Speaking of poetry and images, let's not forget photography. I notice a few well chosen photographs illustrating this post. The only one I missed was a photo of Thomas Mann at his writing desk; I had to Google that up on my own.\r
    Thank you.

  3. June 18, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    I'd like to know who are Richard and Mafalda, Martin, and if I don't need to know I'm really impressed by the captions as well as the illustrations. Makes me feel right at home in a world I'd love to be---a glass of wine, imagine, and I think she's wearing tights!\r

    Also, if there is a specific poem that goes with that very striking lithograph, why don't you post it? I'd love to read it in the context.\r

    Finally, I'm intrigued by this statement--the point really I guess: "There are also the belated exceptions – Robert Graves in some cases, who like Hardy constructed a popular prose persona and a more intricate poetic one; the short-lived Dylan Thomas; Robert Frost and Philip Larkin. But in all of these cases the public’s acceptance was based on the poet’s own construction of a public persona rather than on the poems themselves, which led to a misreading of an underlying nihilism and to an inability to attend to the high alter of poetic craft (which is what really drove these masters)."\r

    I don't think Philip Larkin or Dylan Thomas tried to create a public persona, I think they were one--which is an astonishing dimension in them both, and one which gives their work such power and legitimacy. As to Robert Frost, did he have to try, was there any inability in his art at all? Underlying nihilism, yes, but a surprising, and even refreshing, confidence in his art. No self-doubt there, whatever the secret demons that beset him in his heart.\r


  4. June 18, 2009
     Margo Berdeshevsky

    Adding to applause, Martin for a beautifully written post. That poets and visual artists hunger for one another's language(s) is intriguing to me--I believe both use the metaphorical, only, one can do so in silence, as you suggest ...and the cape or feather of personality rather belongs to both, if the ego dances thattaway. \r

    I'd also add that each of the arts is nurtured by its kissing cousins. The color in words, the crescendo-language in symphony, the high drama, or kitchen-sink drama--in the swathe or dribble of paint, the open iris of the camera in the eye of the poet. The thing is not to be jane of all trades, mistress of none, but to earn the capital letter "A" in a word, artist, at the end of a life devoted to the arts--hopefully, able to hone if not perfect one along that road. But the need to be known as an "x"--painter, or poet or candlestickmaker - isn't that just the child in any of us trying to have a name as a grain of sand? \r


  5. June 18, 2009

    yes, yes, and oh yes.\r

    i love this post.

  6. June 18, 2009

    "I don’t think Philip Larkin or Dylan Thomas tried to create a public persona, I think they were one–which is an astonishing dimension in them both, and one which gives their work such power and legitimacy."\r

    It makes me flinch when readers assume great poets don't spend a lot of time & thought on self-positioning. In the new LRB, there is a very good piece limning the ways that Larkin and his friends did so:\r\r

    "Power and legitimacy" is a direct result of thoughtful self-positioning and self-creation.

  7. June 18, 2009
     John Oliver Simon

    Here lies one whose name was writ in water.

  8. June 18, 2009
     Annie Finch

    Wonderful post, Martin. I'm reminded of the months I spent during my twenties in the studio of the painter Alix Baer. The smells, textures,the entire world, captivated me entirely.

  9. June 18, 2009
     Martin Earl


    Thanks for launching this thread on such a positive note.\r

    The top photograph is in Richard Zenith’s sala. Richard is, by consensus, the most important Pessoa scholar and translator working today. He’s responsible for producing some of the best translations (of any poet) in the last fifty years. His English version, to take just one example, of Pessoa’s prose masterpiece, Livro do Desassossego (The Book of Disquiet), by Bernardo Soares, one of Pessoa’s principal heteronyms, is simply indispensable. Richard’s work on Pessoa goes beyond translation. His editing and scholarship have set the bar for the work that will obviously unfold from his efforts in the future. His editions of Pessoa have become the templates for Brazilian, French, Spanish and Italian editions and others. Mafalda Lopes is a scholar of comparative theology and mathematics and an editor, most recently, of Ler, one of Portugal’s principal book review magazines. Picture taken: just before dim sung around the corner, if memory serves me. \r

    The point I’m trying to make about public persona is that it misleads the public as to the true nature of the poetry. These guys were clever operators, as AM says in a follow-up comment to yours. To get my cats to take pills, I coat the pills in butter. The better the butter the easier it is to swallow the pill. \r


  10. June 18, 2009
     Martin Earl

    Barry Cunningham,\r

    Photography, absolutely... See my last post. It’s still in the “other recent posts” section, at the bottom of the page, “The Fallacy of Rejecting Closure.” I take up photography there. Let me know what you think. In the present post, I thought I’d let David Hockney speak for me. I wonder if you'll find that picture of Thomas Mann. I pulled it out of memory. Could have invented the whole thing. Maybe it comes out of Mann’s own introduction to Magic Mountain, in which he advises the reader to read the book twice. \r


  11. June 18, 2009
     Martin Earl


    What you describe at the end of your post puts me in mind of Seamus Heaney’s poem about Socrates’s last day, from The Haw Lantern. \r

    A Daylight Art\r
    On the day he was to take the poison\r
    Socrates told his friends he had been writing:\r
    putting Aesop’s fables into verse.\r

    And this was not because Socrates loved wisdom\r
    and advocated the examined life.\r
    The reason was that he had had a dream.\r

    Caesar, now, or Herod or Constantine\r
    or any number of Shakespearean kings\r
    bursting at the end like dams\r

    where original panoramas lie submerged\r
    which have to rise again before the death scenes - \r
    you can believe in their believing dreams.\r

    But hardly Socrates. Until, that is,\r
    he tells his friends the dream had kept recurring\r
    all his life, repeating one instruction:\r

    Practise the art, which art until that moment\r
    he always took to mean philosophy.\r
    Happy the man, therefore, with a natural gift\r

    for practising the right one from the start –\r
    poetry, say, or fishing; whose nights are dreamless;\r
    whose deep-sunk panoramas rise and pass\r

    like daylight through the rod’s eye or the nib’s eye.

  12. June 18, 2009
     Martin Earl

    John Oliver Simon, Annie and Michael...\r

    I thought I'd tip you off with a link to where I keep my first drafts. I think they're better than my final ones. Please advise.\r


  13. June 18, 2009

    Good stuff, Martin Earl. While I find the sweep of the essay a bit over-arching, I also find a certain pepper in the thinking. I've made notes to follow up on and get back to the essay on come Saturday.\r


  14. June 18, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Re. your first draft, Martin, and of course speaking strictly as an admirier and friend. Don't you think the sweep of the essay in it's final, polished version is, what could you say, a bit over-arching? I mean, aren't you a bit ashamed?

  15. June 18, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Such a poem, such a poem. "A Daylight Art" indeed. \r

    Whenever I have doubts that anyone can write poetry today I think of Seamus Heaney, and all is well.\r

    I'd love to know the genesis of this poem. I'd love to know at what moment Heaney got the idea of a "daylight art" that can be glimpsed through the ferrule of his rod by a fisherman even when he's concentrating on the "deep-sunk panoramas" of his much darker, more obsessive art below. And then to apply that to Socrates, of all people, a daylight art that can be glimpsed even by someone so obsessed with the examined life, even at his death!\r

    I'm not making any comparisons when I mention Ted Hughes, and anyway I'm thinking more of "Thrushes" than of any of his dark fish poems. Of course I'm thinking Virginia Woolf too, like everybody else. But what's really important is to recognize that to write a poem like this you have to know fishing as a humble activity as well as a high art, and both Ted Hughes and Virginia Woolf certainly did, and very, very well. You have to know fishing in a river like the Itchin where she died, a chalkstream, brilliant, clear, and how you wait and wait and wait, and in the waiting is the tiny glimpse of daylight art that's even more important than the fish you never catch!\r

    Or any old French fisherman sitting on his stool all day beside the Seine, even in the rain!\r


  16. June 18, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Can I just add the extraordinary lack of clutter in Seamus Heaney's art, the ability to say anything, of course, yet never to lose the simple glimpse of daylight in the nib's eye!\r

    The total lack of pretension!

  17. June 18, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    I think you have to be urban English to realize that self-positioning is all you do. There's nothing else beside the weather, button up and bother.\r

    That's one of the hugest ironies of the Empire, that such clumsy, local people could have done it!

  18. June 18, 2009
     John Oliver Simon

    A. Martin's first ¶ first draft:\r

    The analogy of Thomas Mann at his letter desk is, recompense me, symbolical. The sob sister at induce. Five thirty am, the inconsequential of inconsequential of day nowhere unmistakable, two candles illuminating the mahogany emerge of his desk, haloing pens, inkstand, saddened pages. The placid in his studio is impeccable; filled with antiquarian trinkets, a frizzled middle-class density pervades. [interpolation...] His just music, the injure of the nib as it begins to complete the desolate pages. \r

    B. Final:\r

    The image of Thomas Mann at his writing desk is, for me, emblematic. The writer at work. Five thirty am, the light of day nowhere apparent, two candles illuminating the mahogany surface of his desk, haloing pens, inkstand, blank pages. The order in his studio is impeccable; filled with antiquarian trinkets, a crisp bourgeois density pervades. His only music, the scratch of the nib as it begins to fill the empty pages.\r

    It sounds like you put B through an Altafish translator to get A. "The sob sister at induce" or "The writer at work"? One sane thing our friend Pound said (but didn't always follow) was that poetry should be at least as well written as prose; the corollary is that prose should be as well written as poetry. What subterranean processes we put ourselves through to mine these nuggets. Recompense me.

  19. June 19, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    You know, AM and Martin, I think we Americans have so bought into the idea of some sort of balanced, unified Self, that we can't really understand a middle class (European definition of a lower middle class, i.e. NOT financially determined!) self like Larkin's. We're so indoctrinated by our 'get help' culture we assume everybody has a real self, or ought to, and that everybody has the obligation to at least try to be who they truly are. Indeed, haven't we lost touch with the majority of cultures in the world in which it's even more important to be who, or even what, you were when you were born?\r

    I find Americans in particular have a really hard time getting their minds around the Buddha's anatta (no-self) teaching, whereas your average London, Brugge or Lyons bourgeois understands it only too well. In reality there's nobody at home at all!\r

    Philip Larkin lived, worked, loved and died in a very unified and sensible identity. Part of his genius was NOT to pretend to be somebody else, and by so doing he made his lower middle class experience not only interesting but deep and noble. And what a sense of humor!\r

    Same goes for Thomas, who despite a lot of effort on the part of his wife, friends and managers never graduated beyond a very normal pub-bound, drink-drowned self. And how he made all that fly!\r

    A poet's not about the self---it's a humble, daylight art!\r



  20. June 19, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    My reply to that last paragraph got posted just above.\r

    Butter, o.k.--try fish paste and they'll go down even faster. Cats, unlike dogs, have no problem knowing who they are!

  21. June 19, 2009
     Margo Berdeshevsky

    Indeed what a Heaney poem, Martin. Thank you, how it creates its conversation with what I was trying to articulate & continues my reaching. For the arts wanting ongoing conversations with one another. Now that you've printed the Heaney poem here, I had to go and reread "In my Craft and Sullen Art," the two poems speak to one another. Wonderful, that, over Paris morning coffee, its silver fish of light. practising light.Practising the art. Where and when I can. \r
    Wonderig for a moment about the differences between Aesop's fables, Socrates, dreamt like a good fisherman (?) tho not caught, and La Fontaine's...& then, for the reach for a different humbling, back to Thomas' night, not daylight...:\r

    In My Craft or Sullen Art\r

    In my craft or sullen art\r
    Exercised in the still night\r
    When only the moon rages\r
    And the lovers lie abed\r
    With all their griefs in their arms,\r
    I labor by singing light\r
    Not for ambition or bread\r
    Or the strut and trade of charms\r
    On the ivory stages\r
    But for the common wages\r
    Of their most secret heart.\r

    Not for the proud man apart\r
    From the raging moon I write\r
    On these spindrift pages\r
    Nor for the towering dead\r
    With their nightingales and psalms\r
    But for the lovers, their arms\r
    Round the griefs of the ages,\r
    Who pay no praise or wages\r
    Nor heed my craft or art. \r

    On the last day, or the first, is our reach the same? \r


  22. June 19, 2009
     Martin Earl

    To everyone:\r

    Of course that's not my first draft. Someone (I would love to know who) has done an excellent parody of my post.\r

    I thought I should share it.\r

    The "first draft" idea was to return the compliment (in parodic fashion) to the unknown author.\r

    Excuse me,\r


    ps...John, what's an altfish translator - maybe could use one of these?

  23. June 19, 2009
     Henry Gould

    An idea that recurs to me is that the kinship between poetry & painting is rooted not so much in images per se, but in the image-making process. Painting, compared to photography etc., is (in most cases) a "slow art" - requiring time, concentration, manual labor. It's this laborious gradual descent/ascent into a composition - effected by slow & careful overlays of color & design - which helps to "do justice" to the inherent richness of the subject-matter, to present an adequate representation. A kind of meditative/active (manual) synthesis, which is present also in poetry's absorption in its own verbal medium, in contrast to the telegraphic/functional tendencies of prose (or photography).

  24. June 19, 2009
     thomas brady

    One of the obstacles to suspending one's studies\r
    In order to finally appreciate good poetry as a mature person\r
    Is the general feeling that poety is a useless item.\r

    No matter how many times we read a critic extolling\r
    The "virtues" and "uses" of poetry, no matter how eloquently\r
    And how often such a defense is put (whether self-interested or not)\r
    Let the argument be psychological, scientific, spiritual, political, \r

    Even economic, the feeling (a universal one) remains:\r
    Poetry is not a useful art, it is not a practice\r
    Which furthers the world in a material sense, nor does the practice\r
    Of it alone deserve any direct material award.\r
    This humbling fact prevents the student from ceasing to be a student.\r

    The inner voice which keeps insisting that poetry is trivial\r
    Prevents the reader from securing his unspoken right--\r
    And it is a right, ironically enough, in the highest political sense--\r
    To enjoy poems, instead of learning from them.\r

    For learning (aside from learning the mechanics of the art itself,\r
    Which should be poetry's chief study, if we are honest)\r
    Is continued, with the unconscious hope that all this education\r
    Will some day make it matter more, since poetry itself,\r
    Says the student to himself, is of so little use in itself.\r

    This is not to imply that poetry is without content, without history,\r
    Without a potentially endless learnable context;\r
    The point is, that these do not define poetry, per se.\r
    The poem qua poem does not find them necessary.\r

    Another obstacle is the belief (now a cliche) that we're always learning.\r
    It is one of those sentiments expressed, as a matter of procedure,\r
    Everywere we look: just one example is the talented person\r
    Who humbly protests during an interview or an award ceremony:\r
    "I still have so much to learn. I'll be learning until the day I die."\r

    This is true, but at some point the show must go on.\r
    The rehearsals end and the performance begins. The performance\r
    Is an entity to be judged or enjoyed; it has a necessarily \r
    Finished or completed existence. The painter cannot add\r
    More paint, the director cannot shout out to his actors\r
    In the middle of the performance, the poet cannot\r
    Amend a line while the published version is scanned by a reader.\r

    But as the distinction becomes more and more blurred\r
    Between the study of poetry and the enjoyment of poetry,\r
    The result is precisely what we would expect in poetry now:\r
    Poems with an unfinished quality, as if the poet did not want\r
    The process to end, was reluctant to let his poem go,\r
    As if the poet could, in fact, have continued writing the poem\r
    Forever, so that the length of the poem (the ultimate form of any\r
    Poem being its length) is determined by "rehearsal time," not by\r
    The "poem's time." Anything can happen in rehearsal.\r
    That's the point of rehearsal. \r
    Learning is always artificially timed.\r
    A professor must always determine how much time there is to\r
    Cover the subject. "Sorry," the professor says,\r
    "We don't have time to talk about that."

  25. June 19, 2009
     james stotts

    my brother, who's an artist in nyc, has spent the last ten years of his existence seeking out space to make his art. not just a place to put his molds and blowtorches and saws, to stack the canvases and materials, but rooms big enough to step away from the walls. it's a burden that digital photography has done away with in an effective way, and that most poets never have to consider. looking for studios and extra rooms, exhibition places.\r
    graffiti is absolutely essential.\r
    i'm always amazed when i walk into one of his impossible studios, how he can 10'x10 into a maze you can get lost in. half of his apt. deposits always go to fix the floors. and painters and sculptors require their own libraries, too. the first person to show a real interest in my translations was the man my brother works for in the navy yards. he's an artist who runs a studio making sandblasting, etching and woodwork commissions, etc. he knew tsvetaeva, one of his favorite akmeist writers (which isn't exactly true) and spends a lot of free time versifying with his other artist friends.\r
    i've always felt that the need to do both is not a matter of their similarity, but a compensation--that what we cannot do in a painting we are compelled to do in a poem, or vice versa. we are constantly facing the severe limitations of our favorite medium, and trying to break free. it's exactly parallel to the struggle against death

  26. June 19, 2009
     Martin Earl


    Thanks for citing Dylan T. Here's link to him reading it live.\r\r


  27. June 19, 2009
     Martin Earl

    Sorry Christopher,\r

    For misleading...\r

    But the idea of shame was never present. \r

    You're using Terrence's term [above} "overarching"...I didn't understand it when T. used it, and I still don't. Maybe whoever wrote the parody thought I was overarching. This word shouldn't carry a negative connotation: it means "being comprehensive."\r


  28. June 19, 2009
     Martin Earl


    I agree with you, and perhaps my image-thesis could be worked out further. The process happens differently in different poet’s minds. And you’re right to highlight the role of process. One of the notions that holds fast behind my idea here is the art of Chinese calligraphy, in which painting and writing merge into one act, and the scroll and the poem itself is traditionally appreciated as one thing – not like reading Matsuo Basho in Penguin, though that’s pretty good too. \r

    Likewise, all painters don’t paint in the same fashion. I love your description of the “careful overlays of color”, but some painters are hardly careful and work at breakneck speed. It takes all kinds. Painters like Hockney, who seriously study the masters, are very important to me, as a poet. \r

    As to photography, by returning from digital to analogue I’ve come to see analogue as a kind of “slow art”. After spending a decade shooting only digital, I finally came to the conclusion that I liked the film negative better than the digital sensor. Going back to film slows everything down, drastically: composition, sensitivity to light, contrast and ultimately processing the negative. I still have digital cameras, but I’m increasingly using completely mechanical cameras – one of them a year older than I am. And I’m retrieving that sense of the manual you speak of, “slow photography”. You’re right, the slowness is crucial. \r


  29. June 19, 2009
     Martin Earl


    You've landed a verse treatise in the middle of the thread. The thread is honored! Seems you are responding more to my last post on closure. Give us all some time to digest what you are doing here, and I, for one, will get back to you.\r



  30. June 19, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Sorry too, Martin, I didn't know what it meant either. I hadn't yet got my mind around the parody, and thought that perhaps the word "overarching" in the previous post was part of the same joke.\r

    We need Terrreson to sort us out on this.

  31. June 19, 2009

    Martin Earl says: "Sorry Christopher,\r

    For misleading…\r

    But the idea of shame was never present. \r

    You’re using Terrence’s term [above} 'overarching'…I didn’t understand it when T. used it, and I still don’t. Maybe whoever wrote the parody thought I was overarching. This word shouldn’t carry a negative connotation: it means 'being comprehensive.'"\r

    My dictionaries, all three, tell me that to over-arch, or overarch, simply means to 'form an arch over.' None of them say anything about being comprehensive. In my view to be comprehensive requires attention to detail. Also in my view to arch over sometimes, especially in the case of historians looking to prove a theory, misses out on the human, environmentally biased, interstices in the below spaces.\r

    A small example of what I mean would be this. The essay suggests that earliest human art was representational and that poetry is tied to this first instance of cave painting. Such is not the case. Fact is, and judging on the earlier artifacts found on at least four continents, abstract, petrographic, art came long before such scenes as found at Lascaux. It seems to me a certain development was needed before our species could conceive of things representationally. It also seems to me possible, if not likely, that poetry was around before those first representational paintings in the caves. No. Were I to tie poetry, primordially, to any other art, it would be to music, to primitive song and chant.\r

    Terreson (not Terrence)

  32. June 19, 2009
     Martin Earl


    I say exactly that: cave art didn’t start at Lascaux.\r

    Citing the post:\r

    “The best know examples date back 17,000 years to the cave paintings in Lascaux and elsewhere. And yet the first representational art was found near Schelklingen in Germany and dates back the to beginnings of the Upper Paleolithic period, 35, to 40,000 years ago. It was out of this Aurignacian culture that the first cave art develops.”\r

    I think trying to figure out whether something was figurative or abstract before 40,000 years ago is problematic. At any rate, my interest here is that written language developed out of pictograms, much later. Perhaps you’re right, “primitive song and chant” is more on target in terms of a kind of ur-poetry. I guess it depends what you call poetry. In the post above I am really just trying to figure out why there has been such a connection between visual art and poetry. Michelangelo, Blake and up to our own times. It seems primitive song and chant don’t account, at least not fully, for that affinity.\r

    And here’s from one of my dictionaries:\r

    overarching |ˌōvər'är ch i ng |\r
    adjective [ attrib. ]\r
    forming an arch over something : the overarching mangroves.\r
    • comprehensive; all-embracing : a single overarching principle.\r


  33. June 19, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    It was an odd use of the word in any case. Indeed, I felt "overarching" was a bit arch--which is why I made my arch reply (which fell flat!) \r

    I guess I was overarching.

  34. June 19, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald



    The mystery of the early dark,\r
    the secret of the caves,\r
    altar to the fear of not surviving.\r
    What purpose these tinted beasts,\r
    these invisible creatures seen only\r
    in the fi re light of the spirit\r
    and imagination?\r
    A token to the animal gods,\r
    tithe to the hunt?\r
    A prayer to the bear for good luck?\r

    I don’t think so, no. These beasts\r
    were painted with the pigments\r
    of gratitude and wonder,\r
    the suppression of hunger\r
    with the colors of guilt and regret,\r
    after dinner.\r

    Copyright 2008 – SOFTWOOD-Seventy-eight Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

  35. June 19, 2009
     John Oliver Simon

    Altafish, Babel, Shylock... machine translators guaranteed to make babble out of whatever you feed them. They are used straight for businesses that don't know better, proving, I suppose, that language is way deeper than our current AI c an cut it.\r

    A contemporary Chinese poet, Hsia Yü, is working with such a program, taking Stephen Bradbury's English translations of her work and feeding them through the machine to achieve a stranger flavor.\r

    Sob Sister At Induce. And other poems.

  36. June 19, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Throw away all three, Tere---obviously your dictionaries aren't for poets as they've failed to spot the metaphor!\r

    Interesting word, actually. Grows on you.

  37. June 19, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Why do you do this, Gary? I mean, what is it in this poem that contributes one iota to this discussion, beside the title?\r

    Indeed, the content of the poem is way off mark, as it fails to touch any of the issues Martin has raised about words and images. Whether or not it's a good poem is not the point--it's just grafitti here, pissing your corner.\r


  38. June 19, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    Christopher...take your meds and go to bed.\r


    William Logan, Joan Houlihan, Helen Vendler, Colin Ward...even Thomas Brady, okay...but until you cough up something better, STFU, will ya?\r

    Bugger off!

  39. June 20, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    It's only good form to not comment on a poem you don't like, don't you think? No advantage in hurting feelings for a poem you don't even like and a poet you don't even know.

  40. June 20, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    I'm not surprised no one has taken me up on this challenge--I'd hate to be set it myself!\r

    What I'm trying to say about Philip Larkin, and to a lesser extent Dylan Thomas, is that they didn't have to try to be who they were, that what is important about them is that neither of them posed, in their verse or their lives. \r

    I wrote that PL lived and died "a very unified and sensible identity," but I wasn't implying by that that he was "integrated" (what is more "individuated!") in some sort of higher, more examined and wholer Self. He was merely unified in what he was given, what he was born into, including those glasses and his dirty sense of humor (Benny Hill if you must!), even his unhappiness was part of his climate and the sitting room coal fire (have you ever tried to be happy in an English sitting room with a coal fire?). And what was transcendent, so often, were the bicycle clips he took off when he went church going, for example, or the train station, or the smell of his fart.\r

    Dylan Thomas wasn't posing either, I'd say, any more than Andy Capp is posing in the pub more than he is posing when he's lying on the couch in his parlor. Dylan Thomas was a huge, heroic bag of selfish wind that came out in full song, and even today you can meet up with him all over the place in Wales, and even more so in Connemara.\r

    Was he posing to bring all that into the reading hall and recording studio after he was famous? I personally think he was just very lucky, and of course a genius of the first order.\r

    They both were, and we don't need any big literary theory or analysis to account for that either.\r


  41. June 20, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    And here...check this out. There's a whole world going around that you haven't even noticed.\r

  42. June 20, 2009
     Henry Gould

    Right, Martin - you've written about that (analogue photography) before, as I remember.\r

    & I started to think of that too - I mean the speed of some artists, their ability to sketch quickly. \r

    So maybe what we're dealing with, rather than quickness or slowness, is a balance between the materials (the medium) and the idea. The complexity of the material medium demands a certain amount of labor, in order to shape & organize those diverse materials to the concept or idea... otherwise it's unfinished, incomplete...\r

    & on the other hand, if you take away the labor - if the technique is handed over to a machine & then given back to you, already assembled - then the temptation is to apply these readymade media to comparable ideas or concepts - that is, to ideas which are similarly pre-digested, ready-made...

  43. June 20, 2009

    Okay, Martin Earl. The essay is yours. Go with what you got.\r


  44. June 20, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Do I dare? Do I dare?\r

    Forgive me if I do, dear friends.\r

    He's such a simple poet too, with just one big schtick, a whole kitful of chutzpah, and of course oodles of friendly Welsh kitsch. \r

    The thought behind this poem is superficial, and probably not even honest. Indeed, what makes it is what made Chagall too, hence the Yiddish vocabulary above--and a painter I still love to distraction, of course, despite all the hoohaa. I mean, do you believe any of this "Art," as my demon of an acting teacher in NYC used to shout at me when I overacted (which was usually)? Do you believe the "raging moon," for example, or the "lovers abed" or the "singing light" or the "ivory stages" or (ugh!) "their most secret heart?" Utterly over the top, self-indulgent, uncritical, derivative to the enth degree, and aesthetically, historically, and theologically unpalatable. \r

    But for that one word, the fulcrum, the master-key, the great raw wormhole to heaven: "sullen!" \r

    And do we ever get to the end of that?\r

    Does the poem ever stop singing after that?\r


  45. June 20, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    In case you hadn't noticed, dear Martin et. al., I love this thread--it's so comfortable in Richard's sala, and although I haven't dared put my feet up yet as he has, or even had a glance at Malfada, I'm heading toward that empty chair with my eye on the bottle.\r

    Meanwhile I want to challenge you all, you poets who write like painters, or at least share their studios. Why don't you talk more about the words, not just the brushstrokes and the vectors? I've only been on Harriet for a month, and maybe I'm completely wrong in what I'm going to say, but I get the sense that I'm one of the few participants who dives into the poems with my own search for meaning. I get the sense that most of you, far from that, go first for the influence or the theory, firmly shoring up your critical positions with current URLs, articles, pronouncements and bibliographical blocks. Having done so you wait. Has somebody seen more? Has somebody trumped me?\r

    So here's where I'm at. I've posted a number of my own readings of specific poems in the last few days, among them some great work by W.S.Merwin, Jane Miller, e.e.cummings, Seamus Heaney and Dylan Thomas, and never once has anyone come in and said "Hey, I like that!" or "I don't!" or, best of all, "Look at this!"\r

    And why not?\r

    And because I'm so old and not in the running for anything left in the literary life, let me venture to say that I think it's a habit. I think you've all either been through, or too near, or judged too often by an academic system that so emphasizes secondary material that you're afraid of the text. I think you feel you'll get laughed at for even thinking there's meaning in what you read what is more meaning for you, for your life, for your own understanding.\r

    And if I'm right, how does that affect what you write in turn? Is there anybody out there that still writes as opposed to sounds right? \r

    That's a challenge. Let me have it!\r


  46. June 20, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Or as Thomas Brady's poem just above concludes:\r

    “'Sorry,' the professor says,\r
    'We don’t have time to talk about that.'”\r

    Isn't that where it's at?

  47. June 20, 2009
     james stotts

    dostoyevsky thought penmanship (почерк) was significant of the soul. his 'idiot,' prince myshkin, was a calligraphic master, among other things.

  48. June 20, 2009


    I like the way the poem turns (turns on itself?) after the stanza break to examine the cliché described above. I would take out the “no” in the first line of the second. But the second stanza is beautifully done, an examination of feelings and the “emotional” costs of survival. The last line, “after dinner”, is crucial, since it clinches that dynamic between the brute need to stay alive and the internal life, the imagination, of our very clever forbears.\r


  49. June 20, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    I never said it was a bad poem, Gary--and you know me well, and you know I'm a friend to Gary B. Fitzgerald. At the same time I have to say you are lucky to be on a thread started by such a generous author, and Martin Earl has given you the feedback you crave. But I still say you are wrong to have put him in this position, you are wrong to have shouldered in to his space with a poem that does not address the issues he is raising, however great the poem.\r

    I've said this to you many times on four different sites. This Blog:Harriet is the most open of all those places, and we are all very lucky to be here. I think it's time you learned to honor the freedom and the welcome it presents you. \r

    Poems should never be posted here unless they specifically address the issue. Period.\r

    Your friend, and you know that, \r


  50. June 20, 2009


    About the “words”. There’s plenty of excellent close reading and presentation of poems in Camille’s posts and Annie’s posts. I’ve been amazed at the facility with which they get at the pith or the tone of a poem even while describing its various contexts. On the other hand, if you want someone with her finger on the button and who knows just about everything there is to know about the way the poetry world works, and the way poems come out of that world, read Eileen’s posts. She’s insightful, she’s ironic and she writes with a kind of spontaneous realism that’s addictive. Of course, I’ve done a lot of literary criticism, but, for one thing, I need more space to do it in. Here at Harriet my project from the beginning has been to try to see where poetry and poems connect with other things: painting, politics, exile, how we get on with the job of writing, in short, all of the influences that go into making a poet who he or she is, and how that bounces back at the world at large. Having researched what people were doing on the blog before I arrived, I figured that there was a need for that. I’ve also used the space to examine my own motivations as a poet. My feeling is, that, at least for me, blogs are not appropriate for “serious” lit-crit. Everything moves too quickly and provisionally. There are better venues for the close reading of poems. I’m always open to writing essay-reviews. Part of my income comes from that. Here’s a link to a recent piece that might interest you. \r\r


  51. June 20, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Thanks for that, Martin, and I'll follow up the URL and get back to you at an appropriate moment.\r

    Also, of course I'm new here--indeed I'm new to everything. I didn't think of my brief essays into "words" on Harriet as "reviews," or even literary criticism. I just think like that when I read a poem, I get involved, in other words---and am surprised that that's obviously not such a natural or comfortable way to get involved for you all.\r

    But then I don't have nearly the literary resources you all take for granted, or the textual skills.\r


  52. June 20, 2009
     Martin Earl


    I’ve been saving this one, because I really think you hit it in the last paragraph. I should have been so articulate. First though, thanks for the up to date look into the difficulties of painting in NYC & Brooklyn (someone who actually met Tsvetaeva…that’s very cool)…and your brother must be a hero for putting up with New York. It was easer to get space when I was there in the early eighties, albeit, in dangerous neighborhoods. I had the perfect poet’s apartment, but it was in Spanish Harlem, top floor overlooking the shooting galleries on a completely abandoned 100th street. I think one of the things that makes American art strong is the existential rigors of living the life. Western Europe is cushy by comparison. \r

    But to the point you make at the end of your post: “…we are constantly facing the severe limitations of our favorite medium and trying to break free. It’s exactly parallel to the struggle against death.”\r

    Man, you really pin it down there. Yeats’s notion of poetry as an argument with the self hits a similar note. One of my early reactions to writing at Harriet was the total immersion/interest in poetry on the part of everyone involved to the seeming exclusion of everything else. I once mentioned this to my friend Luís Quintais, a poet and anthropologist. His comment: “Oh that’s very American”. \r

    This early impression I had about Harriet was that there was a lack of perspective. No one seemed to understand that poetry, like contemporary classical music, is a minor art these days. That doesn’t devalue the art; it’s a social comment. There were simply not enough people on Harriet saying, as you do, wake up guys, what you’re doing has serious limitations, not only in terms of impact, but even formal limitations. Poets are not addressing the world. Perhaps that’s not their office – but… one of the ways to do that is to stop worrying so much about poetry, per se, and go out and see how things actually are out there, and then to more honestly incorporate the fact of one’s mortality in the process. \r


  53. June 20, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Damn, I didn't answer that well at all--abject obeisance!\r

    Of course I've got the "literary resources," and my "textual skills" are just fine. And I wasn't talking about the "Contributing Writers" either, all of whom do a bang-up job, each in his or her own inimitable way. I was talking about the Harriet community as a whole, for there simply hasn't been any sign of textual interest since I've been here, and no response to my initiatives at all.\r

    I was trained in the 60s, Columbia, Yale and Cambridge. What I take for granted in a reading is what I take for granted, what you take for granted is what you take for granted--and none of you, none, ever talk about the words or, more frankly, what the poems actually say. Maybe that's just been an anomaly in my one brief month here, but I doubt it---because I experienced the same at and Yes, Kaltica would come in with some Greek prosodic pearl, but I never heard him discuss a poem. Only Thomas Brady---Monday Love, Sawmygirl, TomWest, whatever you want to call him. Nobody else reads poetry round here.\r

    So that makes me boil a bit, dear Martin. I'm well brought-up, so don't worry, I won't start f-ing. But I still leave you there with my challenge. \r

    Let me have it!\r


  54. June 20, 2009
     John Oliver Simon

    Christopher: I spent a year traveling down through Latin America in the 90's, hanging out with poets. When I got to Buenos Aires, I had an arresting interview with Jorge Fondebrider, who had recently edited an inclusive anthology. I started chatting about the fault-lines I saw in Chilean poetry, going back to the thirties when Pablo Neruda, Pablo De Rokha (the original larger than life Bukowski) and Vicente Huidobro were reviling each other – epithets like "plagiarist" and 'degenerate" and "pink-fingered señorito playing with his parents' money" were thrown back and forth – and Fondebrider stopped me. "¿Estamos hablando de la literatura, o de la vida literaria?" he asked me. "Are we talking about literature, or about the literary life?"\r

    I don't remember what I came back with at the time, but for me there's no separation, or at least they illuminate each other.

  55. June 20, 2009
     Martin Earl


    I can't believe you're riding me this way. I'm not in the business of "letting people have it."\r


  56. June 20, 2009
     james stotts

    i have to apologize and correct myself--he knew OF tsvetaeva, which in itself is rare enough. sorry.

  57. June 20, 2009

    Martin Earl, your essay brings two items to mind, one amounting to a question and the other amounting to an anecdote.\r

    About Pontus the Swede's small, postcard size paintings. Back in the twenties Frida Kahlo did a bunch of postcard size paintings. 3x3. 4x4. 4x6. That sort of small. She got the idea from Mexican folk culture. The practice is to make these small renderings and place them as votives on holy spots and shrines particular to the Madonna. (There is a Spanish word for the practice which escapes me right now.) Anyway, Kahlo drew on the folk art to wonderful affect. The paintings I think are some of her best. Concentrated. Vibrant. Damn near too much concentration in such a small space. So from where did your artist get the idea? Was it from his mother country's own folk tradition?\r

    My anecdote is brought about by your description of an artist's rather chaotic space. Malraux told a story about El Greco when he was working in Toledo. One day a friend named Clovia comes by and proposes a stroll. He finds El Greco sitting in the dark. El Greco declines the invitation, saying, "No, the glare of daylight would spoil my inner light." Long before I read the information I was in Toledo. I visited El Greco's studio space which has become and still is kind of enshrined. You can't go inside. You can just look through the open, but gated, door space. It is dark space indeed, very dark, even in midday. But old Toledo is an ancient fortress town situated on a tor, high above the Castillean plains. El Greco's studio faces west, overlooking the plain. I lucked out when I was there. The moon was near full. One night standing on the prado just below the large windows of El Greco's studio I saw the same light El Greco painted almost obsessively. And I saw the same underlit clouds he painted. There is a geological explanation for what El Greco saw. The Castillean plains are high in chalk, just like the cliffs of Dover and the vineyards of Champagne. They do indeed intensely reflect moonlight. I've always been struck by the intense still point of El Greco's paintings that put me in mind of some sort of mystical capture. But now you got me to wondering. Maybe his studio space was as furious and chaotic as you describe. This would make him more human than I've thought of him.\r


  58. June 20, 2009
     Henry Gould

    James, your comment reminded my of my grandfather's (the railroad man's) older brother, Paul Ravlin - who was sort of a midwestern self-taught idealist-mystic, back around 1910 (when Cosmic Consciousness was in the air)... out on the farm, wrote Keatsian nature poems... studied Transcendental Meditation... collected his own private zoo/menagerie... died at 21 of tuberculosis... (my grandfather was the practical one).\r

    Anyway, the family still has all his journals, written in big black record books, in ink... his penmanship gradually growing more wayward, crabbed, in tandem with the foggy-mystic solitary thoughts... \r

    - their cousin, Grace Ravlin, one of the unsung women painters of the early 20th century... never married, lived in Paris & Chicago, mostly... ambulance volunteer in WW I (see her painting of the NYC red Cross Parade down 5th ave, 1918... it's on the web...) traveled around New Mexico, Morocco, Tunisia, & elsewhere, painting... her works are in the Louvre & Chicago Museum & other places... - one of my wishful ideas being to drop everything & write a book about Grace Ravlin...

  59. June 20, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Of course you're not, Martin--that's evident in every word you write. I also much respect the way you go back and answer things you've missed, even when you're obviously very busy, and even when their off the track.\r

    "Let me have it" means let me have your answer, dude (I learned that word from Tere). The challenge was phrased in that aggressive way to force some answers.\r

    It was also phrased, I'd hoped, in such a way that you'd be free to say I'm just too greedy in the way I vacuum up the words, like a prisoner, or a camel.\r

    But of course there are no answers, and if there were it would be a sure sign we were through with that and ready to move on.\r

    Like the end of the Women's Work thread, where I've just come from. That's a beautiful example.\r


  60. June 20, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    So that's fascinating, John--that's poetry alive and kicking.\r

    I think that's too what I meant when I said, let me have it! Get my pinkie, tie it in a knot!\r

    I think I'm also commenting on the fact that there's this kind of unwritten rule that says don't talk too specifically about people, and above all not about a living poet. Can you imagine a rule more detrimental to our discourse here than that?\r

    Specificity is what we're not allowed, and if we were a whole lot of our poet role models (such an American concept) would be dead!\r

    Seriously, my challenge to you all is out there. Is it law suits you're worried about, or the china closet?\r

    Let's get some Chile in the air!\r


  61. June 20, 2009
     Brian Salchert

    Thank you.

  62. June 21, 2009
     james stotts

    not that this necessarily mother's proudest moment, as far as i'm concerned, was seeing me write in russian cursive, since i'd never learned legible english cursive as a boy.\r

    i've long planned to write her life's story, and have accomplished just that to a small extent in poems and stories. her story is the story of the iditarod that ended in nome the year that the inuits saw their first ever paved road, the fall of flint, michigan, the santa fe railroad in all three of its rocky mountain generations. and even after the accident and paralysis, she still has exquisite penmanship.

  63. June 21, 2009
     Margo Berdeshevsky

    The eye. The breath. The whisper of both. The Zen masters said it took a lifetime to make one stroke well. The poet's drafts or ordered desk; the patient image maker waiting for lightening, or painting over layers; whether it takes an instant or a lifetime. \r

    Henri Cartier Bresson (who first loved painting, whose black & white life-long array is re-played at the Paris' Museum of Modern Art right now, influenced as it was by the intuitive "moments' of the surrealists) favored the instant grasped like a holy bird from a lightening bolt, and rendered it into the quotidian. \r

    The poets we've recently been quoting on this thread (with no need to analyze their words, true Christopher,that doesn't seem to be a need in many here now,)-but they may have taken a slow and arduous route or the blessed instant.Heany. Thomas.The iranian poet on youtiube, right now, in her darkness. Does that make it any more or less? I don't see it so.I see that your quest, Martin, to remind how the arts interlace--is a valuable one, and adds to my own. That the visual, the image is what we know ourselves to keep translating into any language that will have us. that other arts need other languages. And we are thankful for each.\r

    Bresson was also a master of the capture, as Terreson's El Greco portal. Wherever we were trained -- we are trained by our life. And light. For me the rest is the eye. the breath. and the silence. \r

    One silent moment from the Bresson exhibit, a poem in stasis, silence, in the eye: "Resistance, Bords du Rhin, France 1944." One shadowed body, the resistant, one may believe, lies horizontal in its silence, perpendicular to the feet of two fog swathed vertical bridges, to who knows where? And the body's...the photo's...resonance, to me at least, to the Youtube poem that Annie Finch posted on her other thread here - (whispered from a rooftop in Teheran this week, while shouts of the quotidian filled the flickering dark below that voice) -- what more may we ask of poetry, on this day? \r \r

    Sometimes I believe I may know--why one has eyes. and breath.\r


  64. June 21, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    That's beautiful, Margo."The eye. The breath. The whisper of both. The Zen masters said it took a lifetime to make one stroke well. The poet’s drafts or ordered desk; the patient image maker waiting for lightening, or painting over layers; whether it takes an instant or a lifetime."\r

    But also the artist's mess and dysfunction, the intolerable wrestle with the floorboards on Mercer Street, and then on up to Broom (what names!). I had just moved to NYC at that time too, and remember what the neighborhood was like before it became a more familiar Soho. Perhaps Martin and Pontus passed me on the street, or I looked up to see the lights still on in their loft.\r

    So what interests me a lot, Martin and Margo, is that Pontus painted while Martin typed, and when they both had finished Martin talked about the painting. Words can do that better than paint, of course, they can run things by again without much mess or fuss, make new drafts in words, recelebrate the strokes and color in the air.\r

    "He wanted me to tell him what he was doing," says Martin, repainting his painting in the smokey air. Recelebrating.\r

    I think that's the word I would use, Margo, celebrating, not analyzing---and even more recelebrating. I have no complaints about the amount of literary analysis on Harriet, and also how much we celebrate whatever topic is beiung discussed and of course each other in almost everything we say, like your last post, Margo. What I miss is what I think Martin did for Pontus, get into his painting with the words, dare to repaint his painting in the air.\r

    That obviously meant a great deal to Pontus, and I suspect just as much to Martin who got to repaint Pontus in his words. Which is the kind of "criticism" (for want of a better word) I miss.\r


  65. June 21, 2009
     Margo Berdeshevsky

    The Iranian poet I referenced does all the re-painting I can bear for this day. \r

    Why paint or why word? Tools. Only tools.\r


  66. June 21, 2009
     thomas brady


    In your poem, you were asking why those paintings were painted; you were being an archaelogist, not a critic. I think what Christopher (he and I actually disagree quite a bit on aesthetics) is looking for is criticism, and he admires my critical spirit, even though he actually agrees with only perhaps a quarter of what I say. Criticism has largely gone out of poetry; I mean the attempt to look for critical principles, that criticism which removes the rock to get to the statue; the criticism that chops away, that desires clarity, and is not looking to comfort--which should be the role of the art itself! How misplaced is the criticism of comfort! How facile comfortable criticism is! And how facile that manifesto-ism which insidiously subverts criticism, a prime example: the modernists and post-modernists who pre-determine what a poem shall be for a select few in order to shut the public out and own the game completely! You, Gary, have no criticism--except as it is expressed in your poetry--your cave painting poem, and almost all your poems, tend to produce critical ideas: "no, *this* is why they painted those animals!" (for example) but this is not criticism; in this case it is an essay on cave paintings, which is quite different, and sometimes it makes for didactic poems, and they seem all the more artless when used as an argument in a critical discussion. I agree with Martin and Christopher yours is a good poem.\r

    I don't know if what I'm writing is relevant to Martin's thread. I'm a little on Terreson's side here; I'm wary of the easy mix of painting and poetry; I never liked the Imagists, and I dislike most modern art, just as I dislike nearly all the ideas and manifestos of modern art. The following might help to explain my feelings. Here is my response to John Gallagher's blog which you linked, in which John rants against 'accessible' poetry, putting himself in that modernist 'difficult' camp which I am so much against. Anyway, here's my spew, which I just posted anonymously on his blog:\r

    Of course poems should be accessible. This is simple logic, which has not existed in poetry since the insanity of the moderns. \r

    The nuttiness here is the same as that ridiculous phrase 'make it new.' Make WHAT new? If 'it' is new, then why should we 'make' it new, and if 'it' is old, then 'new' simply becomes another word for 'make' and the command collapses into 'make new' and finally into the absurdity of 'make.' The error here is the assumption that when we say 'it' should be accessible, or inaccessible, that we know what 'it' is. 'It' is inaccessible as a matter of course. So why are we complaining that it is accessible? Once anything becomes accessible, the whole notion of accessibility or inaccessibility fades away as we experience the thing and it becomes accessible. \r

    Another reason we err is by assuming that the accessible is shallow and the inaccessible is deep. In fact, the opposite is true: accessibility allows us to go in, inaccessibility does not. A cliche is inaccessible because it holds nothing--there is nothing to go into. \r

    The inaccessible is always flat and shallow, like an Ashbery poem-- which typically lacks a unity of effect; this lack is a sprawl, a flatness; it has no depth. It is inaccessible. The inability to understand this is precisely the reason that Ashbery is able to trick so many contemporary poet-tasters and fools into a certain admiration of his 'depth' and 'inaccessibility.' \r

    For the fool, the inaccessible has a real existence, when, in fact, by its very definition, it has none.\r


  67. June 21, 2009
     thomas brady

    How fortuitous, in my spew above that I used the following to describe Ashbery:\r

    "We err is by assuming that the accessible is shallow and the inaccessible is deep. In fact, the opposite is true: accessibility allows us to go in, inaccessibility does not. A cliche is inaccessible because it holds nothing–there is nothing to go into. \r

    The inaccessible is always flat and shallow, like an Ashbery poem– which typically lacks a unity of effect; this lack is a sprawl, a flatness; it has no depth. It is inaccessible. The inability to understand this is precisely the reason that Ashbery is able to trick so many contemporary poet-tasters and fools into a certain admiration of his 'depth’ and 'inaccessibility.’ \r

    For the fool, the inaccessible has a real existence, when, in fact, by its very definition, it has none."\r

    I describe the flatness of abstract art--the inaccessible, WHICH ONE CANNOT GO INTO. Ashbery is one with Gertrude Stein and her nitrous oxide mentor, William James (and his brother Henry James, also used explicitly by Ashbery in a review by Ashbery of Gertrude Stein's writings when Ashbery was a young reviewer--one can SEE it very easily) and it's now part of the accepted canon of modern culture, Stephen Burt in his new book on contemporary poetry, displayed prominently at the Harvard Coop, merely has to say in passing "Ashbery hung out with abstract painters" in his introduction of 'how we got here.'\r

    Well I say to hell with your manifestos of IMAGE and COLOR.\r
    Down with flatness and inaccessibility! Down with mere image, down with mere color! Down with abstract art!\r

    Shakespeare said in one of his sonnets: perspective it is the painter's art.\r

    Yes, the accessible, with perspective. Thank you, Will. \r

    Not the innaccessible, not the flat! Not cutesy, insidious, modernist manifesto-ism!\r

    If I have only one wish, it is that the Iranians and all the other people in the world yearning to escape poverty and tyranny, rising up, learning, looking to our culture for some answers, my prayer is: Please, please don't fall in and drown in Abstract-ism and Imagism, and Flat-ism and nitrous-oxide-ism, and Ashbery-ism, dying, before you have really lived, in the School of the Inaccessible!

  68. June 21, 2009
     michael robbins

    Yes, the really important desideratum for the Iranian uprising is that it not fall for John Ashbery.

  69. June 21, 2009
     Brian Salchert

    Do not know who he is, but in his double comment to Gary, Thomas Brady has clearly presented views which resonate favorably with those of us who do not particularly care to learn this and/or that theory in order to unlock (get into) a particular work (poem, painting, song, etc.). Still, I have sometimes found that not being able to understand a poem does not prevent it from pleasing me in other ways. Thus, for me, Ashbery often becomes what I call a magic carpet poet. I just hop on and enjoy the ride.\r

    Brian (baj) Salchert

  70. June 21, 2009

    Margo Berdeshevsky, your second to last post is a delight to read. It's got soul.\r


  71. June 21, 2009

    Martin Earl, there is one, late paleontologist whose findings, mostly accepted by scientists and scholars, could evidence the association between painting and poetry you look to make. Alexander Marshack was his name. In 30,000 year old notched bones he contended that he found a system of lunar calendation. He felt the artifacts indicated the earliest yet evidence of complex language. Out of his research came his book, "The Roots of Civilization," which is a delight to read.\r

    Here is the best link I can find to give an idea of what he thought. It is his NYT obit.\r\r


  72. June 21, 2009
     james stotts

    my brother lived in spanish harlem for a while. his bathroom roof caved in with sewage water and there was a building fire--and he decided he had to go. the exact same events happened to him again in a brooklyn apt last year, these the fault of voodoo chemicals from a jamaican healer that were always spilling into the hall and clogging the plumming. i mean, real voodoo shit.\r
    but he's staying on, since there are two extra rooms he's turned into studio space. just across the street from the brooklyn botanical gardens

  73. June 21, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    It’s funny how people look at a poem and think it was just dashed off that evening to post on some silly blog when, in fact, it was written years before, revised at least five or more times, carefully sculpted and honed until every single word was exactly right. I think Wallace Stevens had something to say along these lines.\r

    Always read a new poem out loud the first time to hear the music. Then read it quietly to yourself to hear the message.\r

    Yes, Mr. Earl, the 'no’ in L1 of S2 will remain, as intended.

  74. June 21, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    Christopher: if you don’t see the relevance of my poem to this thread, that is, the underlying mystery of why we create…or even exist… that motivates us to express ourselves at all, visual or verbal notwithstanding, then you, my friend, just don’t get it. Poetry, I mean.

  75. June 22, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    I don't know whether to read Thomas Brady's comments about me just above as a castration or a compliment. Indeed, I would say I don't agree with him even 25% of the time, and probably even never. I don't believe a word he says, in fact, and I don't believe he does either!\r

    And yet? Over the best two years Thomas Brady/Monday Love/TomWest/Sawmygirl has been the keeper of the keys for me, and regularly unlocks the gates to heaven! [just joshin, as Desmond Swords taught me to say earlier this morning---wow, I'm almost blog literate!]\r

    But it's true too in a sense, and to show you what I mean here's a little matter arising, a fable for our condition and times. Yesterday, believe it or not, I went by chance to the same blog as Thomas Brady, and entered the fray inspired by something he had just said without even knowing it was him---that is until Tom blew the whistle himself right here (cf. above)!\r

    The blogger, the poet and editor of The Laurel Review, John Gallaher, ( had just described how during his first writing workshop his teacher had encouraged him to write what he "knows," to get back to his own childhood and tap his own personal experience--which John refused to do much to his teacher's disgust, and in not so doing found his own voice. I wrote back that John might have given the impression he was writing about something he didn't know about because at the time his language and his images might not have rung true. I told him many young people do that, and that I myself had been through exactly the same problem at the beginning---that I had in fact abandoned writing poetry altogether at the age of 20 for 30 years, no less, because I was so bedeviled by the dirty tricks and deliberately misleading sleights the poet in me unpacked in everything I wrote at the time. I was so disgusted with myself that I stopped.\r

    "Perhaps I could have been a great post-modern way back in the 50s," I said in my reply to John, "perhaps I threw away a great career. Unfortunately for me I still had a conscience."\r

    Earlier this morning (my time, late at night yours) I had a bad experience on Harriet, and to let off some steam went back to John Gallaher's blog to post the following: \r
    "It's not about 'hiding a meaning,' John, it's much worse than that. It's about placing a higher value on the sound of one's own voice than the meaning, as if just saying 'I'm a poet!' were the credential, not what I write... Indeed, such a trickster should be locked in the stocks, mocked ferociously, and the key thrown away with the garbage!"\r

    What I admire about Tom is that it obviously is the sound of his own voice that inspires him, but because he knows it he always remains free!\r

    And that's something to think about plus!\r


  76. June 22, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    I quess I failed to unlock those italics, and will try to do so here like this

  77. June 22, 2009
     thomas brady

    Ashbery-ism. The worship of the inaccessible. \r

    The acceptable inane. \r

    'You don't understand this poem? That's the way it's supposed to be, and anyway, the poet who wrote it has more awards than you.' \r

    I think the Supreme Leader is Ashbery-ism: inaccessible and you can't question it. The Iranians surely have enough of that. \r

    So the Iranians probably will not fall for Ashbery-ism. But they might; you never know.\r

    There's a traffic light on a very quiet street, where I drive often, which is always yellow; the other day, for the first time, it was red, but I and other drivers couldn't check ourselves; we were all driving through it. If people cannot 'see' a RED LIGHT, then I imagine there is nothing that people, through force of habit, will not fail to see. \r

    Many Iranians do support the Supreme Leader; there's often a large, conservative, religious core in any society, those who prefer allowing a Supreme Leader to take care of things...the conservative impulse is always strong, because, let's face it, one cannot be protesting and questioning all the time, often one just wants to live a quotidian existence with a fixed amount of routines and certainties...a passive, optimistic belief, an acceptance...we all need this to some Ashbery-ism will be forever attractive...the curious thing about Ashbery-ism in the U.S. is that Ashbery is considered, ironically enough, avant garde...the MOMA cred...the Gertrude Stein, William James, Auden cred...but these are, in fact, highly conservative impulses, all of them... it just amuses me that an Iranian might escape the madness of his own country and then check out the U.S. poetry/art/avant scene and think...this is great...and yet...there's something vaguely familiar...\r

    The acceptable inane.\r

    It can live in all sorts of guises...

  78. June 22, 2009
     thomas brady


    'going along for the ride' can certainly be a pleasure and a relief. We are tired of people and books and paintings and poems 'telling us things' so we allow Ashbery to take us into his gallery of abstract YELLOW (oooh YELLOW look at that) here, have a drink, relax.\r

    I understand that.\r

    Ashbery is a Relaxation Technique.\r

    But if Ashbery poems were the only means to relax, we would would soon see Ashbery poems for what they are; but we don't see them for what they are, because the sedative 'Ashbery' is very mild compared to other ways of relaxing available to us. Ashbery as relaxation technique fades into our life's background of more powerful relaxation techniques: daydreaming, picking out curtains, staring into space, consuming alcohol, psychedelic drugs, etc\r

    But IF the Ashbery Relaxation Technique were the only method available, Ashbery-addicts would KNOW what Ashbery was: a ruthless, brain-mangling depressant.\r

    "Come over here, woman! I got somethin' to say ta yooouuuu..."\r

    "Oh, no, have you been reading Ashbery again? I told you not to read so much Ashbery! Look at you, with that wild look in your eyes! What's the matter with you"\r

    "Ha ha, hee, hee, I saaaiiid...! Come over here, woman!!"\r

    Ashbery is obviously depressed. That's why he writes that type of poetry. \r

    He's miserable. \r

    We, as readers, would be miserable, too, IF we were able to experience Ashbery's hell, but we never do, because the dosage isn't strong enough...we merely smile because the dosage is very small...\r


  79. June 22, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    I did too, otherwise we'd still all be fixed in italics!\r

    Forgot to say about Thomas Brady--he may have the keys but haven't a clue who he is. I remember once on Foetry I said to Monday Love angrily, "I have no toes to step on," implying my own age and lack of functional ambition---and he replied he didn't have either. So I had this fantasy that he was an old man in a wheelchair, and I determined to be more civil before him.\r

    Didn't work.\r

    It was Kaltica gave him the name "Thomas Edward Brady," after the debacle on during which he posed as TomWest. I guess we know who Kaltica supports!

  80. June 22, 2009


  81. June 22, 2009
     michael robbins

    It's not really worth responding to someone who simply rehashes the most common & lazy caricatures of Ashbery - who is, I'll go ahead & say, the greatest & most important poet in any language of the last forty years.\r

    But there's something about the persistence of these clichés about his "inaccessibility" that makes one wonder what service they are really meant to perform. And whether what they encode is a deep-seated resentment of intellectual discourse; not simply that of Ashbery's poetry itself, but the cottage critical industry that has sprung up around it. "It is offensive to me," these platitudinous objections insist, "to be asked to consider what something means, to have to work to arrive at a conclusion rather than receiving it ready to be printed on a t-shirt."\r

    I think often of the astonishing "As One Put Drunk into a Packet Boat." From what perspective might one imagine oneself capable of claiming to have tried each thing? A perspective necessarily situated entirely outside of experience. A professor of mine reads this poem with great subtlety as a sustained meditation on what he calls, following Allen Grossman, daytime & nighttime phenomenologies. Ashbery is endlessly preoccupied with the criteria of poetic speakers & poetic time. This lends his language a schizophrenic quality, as the rhetoric of highest value & authority alternates with analytical indirectness & low comic demotic speech. It's not a poetry for readers who desire a style that will put an end to understanding, to questioning.

  82. June 22, 2009
     thomas brady


    There's a very old fashioned idea, now forgotten, that the poet does the work, not the reader, but in our enlightened times, in the Ashbery Era, bouyed by 'daytime and nighttime phenomenologies,' we have seen the light, and we who are enlightened, see that it is the reader who must work for the glory of the poet who can't, because the poet is preoccupied with phenomenologies, day and night! while drunk, and rocking to and fro in a packet boat.\r

    Oh, see here, you're not making 'intellectual discourse;' is that what you think you're doing? You're only repeating something silly your professor told you, claiming that he: \r

    "reads this poem with great subtlety as a sustained meditation on what he calls, following Allen Grossman, daytime & nighttime phenomenologies." \r

    Well I'm glad Allen Grossman is 'in the packet boat,' too. That's three of you who might one day explain what is meant by 'daytime & nighttime phenomenologies.' Is that like daytime and nighttime bathroom visits?\r

    Ashbery-ism is a device, like nitrous oxide. When you are high on nitrous oxide, you say whatever comes into your head, like, "As One Put Drunk into a Packet Boat!" \r

    Hey, that sounds pretty cool. 'As one put drunk into a packet boat.' \r

    In a mere phrase, one has distinguished oneself as more erudite than 99% of all speakers. 'as one put drunk' and 'packet boat' is enough, by itself, in its phrasing and vocabulary, to win the day. \r

    The distinguished phrase, 'As One Put Drunk into a Packet Boat' needs no further elucidating. That's how good it is. It requires no more. It has come into the world, a triumph, and lives in glory by itself and alone. One could curl up with a phrase like that for the rest of one's days. \r

    However! if one went on speaking like that, one would pretty soon begin to sound like a pedantic clown. Or, one would find it necessary to keep coming up with glorious phrases as good as 'as one put drunk into a packet boat' and, while doing so, one would find it necessary to show that one really had an idea attached to 'as one put drunk into a packet boat,' one had a story to tell with it, and one had not simply uttered it, as if one were drunk oneself and had been merely reading the dictionary, or, one had been playing a 'come up with the most evocative, erudite phrase' parlour game, and so one would have to 'go on' as if one were actually aware of what one was doing. But such a thing would be impossible--it would expose the poet as a fraud, and the lovely phrase, 'as one put drunk into a packet boat' would be spoiled forever. \r

    The Ashberian strategy then, seeing the difficulty, nay, the impossibility, of 'really making a poem' from 'as one put drunk into a packet boat,' leaves the phrase alone; leaves it as it is; does not touch it; puts nothing else with it; it remains inviolable! Immaculate. This is the stroke of genius. This is what allows an educated person to come along, much later and utter:\r

    I think often of the astonishing “As One Put Drunk into a Packet Boat.” \r

    Erudition in love with erudition! \r

    So then the genius, John Ashbery, goes ahead and writes the poem, 'As One Put Drunk...' careful not to say another word about boats or being drunk. Carefully now. Not...another...word!\r

    Take a deep breath of that nitrous oxide...and forget what you just wrote...and say...'I tried each thing, only some were immortal and free.' Immortal and free! That's good! OK, leave that alone now, and push ahead. WE CAN DO THIS. 'Elsewhere we are as sitting in a place where sunlight/Filters down, a little at a time,/Waiting for someone to come. Harsh words are spoken/As the sun yellows the green of the maple tree...\r


    Yes, John, we have. \r

    You have finished the first stanza. Now why don't you go lie down and rest a bit, and then we'll write a few more, and the poem will be complete! (So to speak.) Hey, maybe you can read some 18th century essays in the meantime, you know, while you're resting, whatever's lying around, and you'll get some ideas for more phrases, OK?\r

    "John Ashbery is the greatest & most important poet in any language of the last forty years."\r

    Hey, do you think that will fit on a T-shirt?\r


  83. June 22, 2009
     michael robbins

    If you're serious about not realizing that the title of that poem is a line from Andrew Marvell, then no wonder you don't like to do any work when you read.

  84. June 22, 2009
     michael robbins

    &, uh, you do realize that it's self-evident that daytime & nighttime must contain differing phenomenologies? Unless you live in Antarctica, maybe. You haven't read the poem, but it contrasts the daily desire for transformation - here figured as the an engagement with the poetic tradition epitomized by Marvell's line "As one put drunk into the Packet-boat" - with "night, the reserved, the reticent," which "gives more than it takes," in which such transformative longing is deferred. The word "phenomenology" has meanings! Why imagine that. And do feel free to read Allen Grossman if you're a bit confused - except, no, wait, I just remembered, you don't like to actually be bothered with reading anything. (Because I didn't publish an essay on the subject in a tiny blog comment box, you assume my actual words are meaningless, so you may ignore them, & imply that my professor told me something or other. Actually, I was referring to a lecture he gave, but whatever.)\r

    I have some reviews coming out in the London Review of Books & Poetry that might interest you, Thomas, since they take as their premise that readers must always be doing work. I hate to think what it must be like to stop, transfixed, at the glimmering surface of poems. I love their surfaces too. But the only reasons to stop there are laziness & incompetence.

  85. June 22, 2009
     michael robbins

    To be somewhat clearer: I take it that when Ashbery is trying "each thing," finding only some "immortal & free," he is speaking of a negotiation with the poetic tradition signaled by his borrowing his title from Andrew Marvell. In the daytime, the sun, the summer, he grapples with authority, with external constraints: most things are neither immortal nor free. Writing a poem is always an act of inheritance, a struggle with a lineage. The daytime here represents the desire to be transformed, to be allowed to find "new breath in the pages" - the desire for impossible originality, a mere "promise" of "fullness" that is dissolved when the revelatory trumpets turn out to be mere tooting horns (often in Ashbery, the deferral of desired transformation takes the form of comic deflation). But toward the end of the poem we move into the night, which fails to distinguish the immortal from the mortal, the constrained from the free: night is a place for the mortal, the small, the personal, not the "great formal affair" that "takes in the whole world" which preoccupies daytime thoughts. (It's worth comparing "As One Put Drunk" with "Sailing to Byzantium.")\r

    A brief enough sketch of the argument, brief because of world & time & indifference. But a deep & genuine reading of Ashbery reveals how truly he is what Grossman calls him: "He is fundamentally a manager of traditional resources."

  86. June 22, 2009

    Thank you Michael for this bit; it's wonderfully lucid and dovetails with what Ashbery has recently said, that if he has a subject, it's time.\r


  87. June 22, 2009
     Desmond Swords

    I think what Brady is arguing Robbins, is against density of language generally for the sake of what the author may think of as poetic, but which the non-collegiate lay Reader we are all after hooking in, will stop reading as soon as they hit daytime & night-time phenomenologies, because it just sounds tossy, like it was made up for the author to sound clever, rather than for the epistemological advancement of verifiable knoweldge and ultimately, poetic Scholarship.\r

    The danger is, the Reader may come to think that rather engaging in the Gravesean act refining complex poetic truth to exact statement, they will think the author is just gassy, displaying a tautological propesnisty for circumambulatory pleonasm and using inaccesable words just for the sake of it.\r

    And in this scenario, rather than drawing the mass Reader in because we have acquired the practical (Platonic) technê of poetry which we marry to out natural ability for crafting readable reads -- we end up writing in a wholly theoretical realm of Art formed only on a cerbreal level of techne, which is just psychological know-how gleaned and got from reading rather than Knowledge of the fully proper rounded polis dweller who could dig and die on the shield as well as hang about with the young fellas talking bollocks like Socrates.\r

    The danger of aping what we think of as Socratic discourse when we are unable to handle a shovel, is that we mistake our guff for genuine gear, just because a load of other bores who've never done a proper days graft are all up to the same caper, talking gobble dee gook about blah blah blah.\r

    Especially with the waffle at the fruiter end of the po-mo spectrum in which all kinds of crazee specs are conjured into being by eromenos-like groovers in the (many, many) groves, being supervised and strategically steered by senior erastae into writing 50,000 word theses on how the theories of their profs three doors up have made amazing epistemological advances in the name of Scholarship. It can all get a bit on the airy fairy side.

  88. June 22, 2009
     michael robbins

    So? Someone uses the word "phenomenology," you can't just assume "airy-fairy" or "pseudo-intellectual" or whatever. The anti-intellectualism of this blog has always been wearying. I can understand that the "lay reader" (now we're a clergy!) might not want to read academic criticism. But that hardly justifies his deciding, from a position of ignorance, that all such criticism is so much wankery.

  89. June 22, 2009
     John Oliver Simon


  90. June 22, 2009
     Desmond Swords

    So? \r

    As the young gurrier said after peeling off from his scanger pals and approaching Roddy Doyle to ask:\r

    Are you Roddy Doyle? - who replied:\r


    ..and got the classic response:\r

    So what?\r


    When i wrote my last post i had not seen your expansion about the night and day \r

    You mistake the "you" for the *i* behind the man behind the mask acting the maggot here Mickey boy. The voice being ventriloquized in the above follows the Ashberyean mode of remaioning detached for the purpose of speculative discourse. Wearing a mask to voice whatever feels apt at the time and a practise, daring to fail, learning how to look stupid in order to find a way into becomine a knowing one as per Auraicept na N-Éces (working methods of the knowing ones).\r

    Have you read it Robbins?\r

    It is vastly superior to anything you can pick up off old Ashers dear boy, because it is a core text used to instruct the poets of Ireland for 1000 years, and was only first translated only in 1917.\r

    If you can find the time in between cheerleading Ashberry and speaking the nouveau argot and ideolect of whoever's the fifteen minute Idol of the modo Mickey lah - you might actually challenge yourself. \r

    The word "phenomenology," is a couple of hundred years old, coined in 1797 by German physicist Johann Heinrich Lambert, for the title of the fourth part of his "Neues Organon" and means the study of phenomena. Phenomena being etymologcally routed to phainomenon "that which appears or is seen,", which over time has taken on an objective slant, so phenomenolgy means to you Robbins, (i am guessing) the objective study of stuff - though the apical word phenomena terminates at is phainein "extraordinary occurrence", which the word phantasm also springs from. \r

    So the one pool of objective fact, also contains the seeds of the slippery indefinable spectre always beyond our ken and grasp. \r


    Now, i was thinking of joshing with you Mickey, by winding you up about the anti-intellectual crack, which is comedic really, to try and don a bit of wankery as the cloak a knowing one who knows the Auraicept na N-Éces has to wear when sporting intellectually with the non-faux and psuedo-phenomenologists displaying airy-fairy anti-intellectualism on the blog, which far from wearying. I find a great gas, because it's like shooting fish in a barrel, dropping a feather from the Empire State building and waiting for the cops to come and arrest me for vandalism. \r

    But chill out Robbins, we are all human here bud.\r

    I like Ashberry, because he is a rogue who has been getting away with it all his life and has become the real thing.\r

    He has no interest in reading or beating any other bore, because he's considered the top bore by everyone in America and thus the reason for him being so relaxed. 50 years at the top, it is irrelevant to him what the truth is as his mind's the one everyone's taking an interest in.\r

    Who knows how posterity will judge him, but his sleight of hand routine, having all the youg crew imitating his way of going about things, that's as good as it gets - but the American's have a thing for modernism, i mean, Bush is ancient history know, the past a moveable feast or famine, depending how if it's Coke or Pepsi, TV culture, knowledge of the ancients more a T shirt to get and say, been there, done the 10,000 BC gig, now, where's my burger and fries, chips and sausage knowledge Robbins, intellectually lite candyfloss of fluff and yah, dude and wankery banjery hockery knock, knock\r

    who's there\r

    Mickey Robbins\r

    So what?\r

    Love is all we have in the Write-Through of \r

    One as the Packet Drunk put into the Boat: \r
    Jan Berryhosh.\r

    I tried each immortal thing freely\r
    sitting in a place elsewhere in sunlight\r
    Filtering time, waiting little for it\r
    to come. Harsh the Sun-yellow word,\r
    the flattened green of pages in maple\r
    sentences, reticent as a tree. This \r
    was so ah ! The equalizing cardboard-night\r
    felt like an old breath full and yet not\r
    past the center stirrings of a new summer \r
    long winter obscurely wandering away, \r

    notice the mid-point postponed, smelled \r
    limpid as a catalogue staring at the new\r
    well. But promise that time falling silent\r
    along with that fullness, no longer dark \r
    and even - demands a sigh heaving \r

    from that heaven least attentive to watch \r
    a thing preparing to happen in a looking-\r
    glass ballade that stops our reflection, \r
    and shakes out the light one perceives.\r

    Did time, as I am to you children, do \r
    again deeply still at one’s game, a cloud \r
    swiftly arising in the impatient afternoon\r
    Sun sleeping in sky dissipating dense \r
    twilight motes and tooting informal \r
    moments of a horn orchestrating thought, \r
    great beginnings of color flaked gray?\r

    One's affair concentrated in the old white \r
    garters, a whole world in a glance \r
    that lightly still a sphinx climbs, lightly \r
    with a smile of authority and shadowy tact.\r

    A union buttoning across to ask - have you \r
    slept Sir John?\r

    The prevalence of those flaked gray failings\r
    are motes no longer from the sun, but from one\r

    and none are wiser for reading it, John. \r


    I felt him come in my back-door, but it was \r
    only once more John came because I was coming \r
    in a hurry in case I couldn’t come again. \r

    The sheen of moon took the business of night \r
    over, installed somewhere a cistercian box, \r
    the heavenly pallor of papers finally cities \r
    involved with darkness - small things \r

    from earthly books our union kept in a version\r
    suited to lower takes, away with too much \r
    summer under the night, and reserved, giving \r
    more than it takes - I come with John\r
    Michael Robbins.\r

    So what?\r

    love you really. goive us a kiss?

  91. June 22, 2009
     michael robbins

    Sorry, Des, but I'm not reading all that. This is a blog, not a lecture hall.

  92. June 22, 2009
     Desmond Swords

    Michael Robbins \r

    "This is a blog not a lecture hall"\r

    anti-intellectual isn't it, the behaviour of a runner away from the mountain, surely poetic learning is not something that can only happen if you hand over thousands of bucks and have some pedogog try and get you worshipping at the altar of their genius in person.\r

    I must be doing summat right if you react this way over a simple speculative discourse being ventriliquized in a safe, controlled environment of the New Free University where a fully ticketed ollamh sniffer sits and sings to sue the suit of one's whole art and soul via the medium of write-through of one of Ashers finest - yer young fogey.

  93. June 22, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    What you say about John Ashbery reminds me of bound feet, Michael Robbins.\r
    How beautiful the gait in the cool imperial household, how delicately refined, porcelain movements behind the screen, willow sheltered, ancient blue, perfect nuanced white frozen on the plate.\r

    Worth studying in the study, worth having all that free time and deep thoughts to settle late at night.\r

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

    Worth the light girl lost, worth the lost skip.

  94. June 22, 2009
     michael robbins

    As I've said, I've not handed over one penny for my education. And if you can't tell the difference between posts on a blog & poems or essays, well, I can't help you. It's simply arrogant to write as much as you do on a forum like this, to pour forth pages of words in a tiny comment box. It indicates a lack of consideration as well as of self-knowledge. Sorry, but that's how it is.

  95. June 22, 2009
     michael robbins

    yeah, real poetry's like a girl in a meadow or whatevs. snore.

  96. June 22, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    What you say about John Ashbery reminds me of bound feet, Michael Robbins.\r
    How beautiful the gait in the cool imperial household, how delicately refined, porcelain movements behind the screen, willow shelter, ancient blue, the perfect nuanced white caught forever on a limpid plate.\r

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

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

    Worth the light girl lost, worth the lost skip.

  97. June 22, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    snore sneer

  98. June 22, 2009
     Desmond Swords

    Well, this is where a real exchange of ideas can begin Michael.\r

    It's a very proscriptive definition, to claim the arrogation by an individual, of what you illogically state is a *tiny* comment box, to write as much as instinct releases on a forum like this, and to pour forth pages of words, which you believe indicates a lack of consideration (for those here who only want me to become the best i can?) and self-knowledge. \r

    You then apologise for having to tell me your bald truth, anding on a maxim all those in the closure-based SoQ would heartily welcome - that's how it is - for you maybe, but not me.\r

    It is interesting, in the week we are all celebrating the outpouring on twitter of those agitating for political change in Iran, that a person on a poetry blog waffling what in the cosmic scheme and earthly reality, is totally harmless opinion - that you seek to curtail this Freedom of Speech, not advocating anything which could be remotely construed as contentious in the real world, existing entirely in print, text you are under no obligation to read and which takes less than five seconds out of your life to scroll past.\r

    First you come and have a pop at Brady for speaking the truth as he sees it, not seeking to counter what he says by the very methods of democratic debate ( i assume) you have at the center of your practice as a bore, by writing words, which you are unable, unwilling or too lazy to compose here, using the pitiful excuse that this perfectly suited medium of exchange is somehow not the venue for democratic ping pong between consenting poetry lovers.\r

    I find it odd, here we are, all working at various levels and in various degrees of seriousness, in the contemporary Poetry biz, which is entirely formed by and run along competitive lines, where Prize and Winning is (almost) the sole measure of poetic success to most, and yet one of the very operators at the heart of the industry, a sinecured near-ollamh with wit and intelligence, refuses to play the game of speech in print.\r

    You can't counter the eloquence of Brady by composition, so cast him (and me) as anti-intellectuals because we are both widely read in areas you are not, whilst offering zero evidence that you are doing anything other than mid-level bluffing.\r

    It's a game Robbins and if you don't like what you read, written in a spirit of good natured and healthy competitiveness by people who have learned how to play the game of encouraging others whilst ignoring the goading which inevitably comes when you are in any way good - for the purpose of bettering ourselves as bores who are here for one reason only at this level of professionalism:\r

    To enjoy ourselves by writing stuff which takes us further and further into understanding Poetry, and to take pride in whatever elegance and eloquence appears as we practise writing in order to become a poet with a practice.\r

    And the practice of a poet invoplves what?\r

    writing. Simple as, and those who write a lot, love it because we know we are on the right road. Look at Woodie, spent most of his life taking the advice of people like you who put yourselves up as poetry professors - and unfortunatley Robbins, many of this species are after encouraging others to find themselves by practising writing; only if those they encounter do not display an ability superior to their own.\r

    As soon as that happens, the bullshit starts. The old how can i get this person to shut up routine - not because their flowing is going to lead them to poetic attainment, but because we feel creatively threatened by others being happily themselves, especially if what they have to say does not lick our own ass and have them silently lapping up our own outpourings as the word of God.\r

    Now, i could be wrong, but i have met clever young men-poets who are just coming up to or have become academic doctors of poetry, and do you know, they are amongst the most insufferable tight assed intolerant performers one can meet, because not only do they want you to wank over their dense dry gobble dee gook, but for those who don't and who are happily minding their own business, they make it their business to come over and tell us to shut our gobs, trying to con us that being a poet is all about silence, about keeping it zipped and not speaking.\r

    Now, i know you're not one of these Robbins as you are a liberal democratic kinda bore (i am guessing), but puh leeze, drop the prefect act and write summat creative, hey? and if you don't want to engage or find what i write bugs you, it is very very simple - scroll past and bingo ! problem solved. Two seconds out yer life, lover.

  99. June 22, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    But Michael, seriously, it's not an easy call whatever you might say--the poetry is superbe on one level but it's deeply flawed as well. It's ingrown.\r

    It's not an easy call for John Ashbery himself, I feel sure, and some of his very obvious reticence may be that he too knows that what he writes is crippled, that what he creates is exquisitely refined at the expense of something else he longs for even more, a certain free movement and sense of significance he has never found. \r

    The cruel irony, of course, is that being so good at what he does has locked him in it.\r

    What I worry about is teachers like you, Michael, who hold him hostage to your arid theories, and of course palm them off on generations of students. But then your career depends upon it, as will some of theirs---but of course others will recover, indeed, many of them will.\r

    Bound feet were exactly like that in China. Such a beautiful world grew up around them, but what a tragedy for girls. Also what a tragedy for the men who came to idealize crippled girls!\r

    Girls aren't poetry, by the way, Michael. Girls are girls and they skip. \r


  100. June 22, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    The only thing here that I haven’t figured out yet is whether we have fallen into a looking glass or a rabbit hole.\r

    "The time has come," the Walrus said,\r
    "To talk of many things:\r
    Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--\r
    Of cabbages--and kings--\r
    And why the sea is boiling hot--\r
    And whether pigs have wings."\r

    From 'The Walrus and the Carpenter'\r
    in 'Through the Looking Glass’ - 1872\r

    - Lewis Carroll

  101. June 22, 2009
     michael robbins

    Des, if you want to read my writing, Google is yr friend. I dare to claim I match Brady in eloquence of composition & then some, in my actual work, as opposed to my comments on a blog.\r

    I didn't read yr entire post, of course, but:\r

    1. You're damn right it's proscriptive. What's wrong with proscription?\r
    2. Who are you calling a liberal?\r
    3. I don't believe in the "school of quietude" or in any other such nonsense.

  102. June 22, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    Just pigs have wings?

  103. June 22, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    Just wondering...about silk purses and pearls.

  104. June 22, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    "I didn’t read yr entire post, of course, but..."\r

    Did you read this far, Michael? Desmond Swords wrote:\r

    "I find it odd, here we are, all working at various levels and in various degrees of seriousness, in the contemporary Poetry biz, which is entirely formed by and run along competitive lines, where Prize and Winning is (almost) the sole measure of poetic success to most, and yet one of the very operators at the heart of the industry, a sinecured near-ollamh with wit and intelligence, refuses to play the game of speech in print."\r

    Part of the game is to read it, the other part is to reply to it. If you're a good reader you may well be able to fashion a reply that's interesting and helpful, and may even make people want to read more of what you write.\r

    This moment has not arrived yet.

  105. June 22, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    Michael...have you never been caught in the three card monty...the pea under the shell? Surely you can recognize a con when you see it.\r

    "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." - Pope\r

    "Shakespearean fools are usually clever peasants or commoners that use their wits to outdo people of higher social standing. In this sense, they are very similar to the real fools, clowns, and jesters of the time, but their characteristics are greatly heightened for theatrical effect."\r

    Would you buy a used car from these people?

  106. June 23, 2009
     michael robbins


  107. June 23, 2009
     michael robbins

    Yeah, no, this is not "speech in print." (Y'all know what print is, right?) The blog comment stream is never going to be anything but an echo chamber. I said what I said, then dude's gonna write twelve pages, half of them in Gaelic dada? Later for that, ya heard?

  108. June 23, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    The bound feet image has had no response from you, Michael. Let me try to wrestle you awake with another.\r

    I've mentioned before that I like that Robert Zemeckis film called 'Contact.' Based on the novel by Carl Sagan, it's about a young female radio astronomer (Jodie Foster) who is studying the huge hum that fills outer space in an effort to find a single 'message' sound, one that can detach itself from the clutter to become something else---something relevant, significant, communicative, helpful perhaps, hopeful even, almost like a friend. During the film we listen and listen and listen, and then suddenly we do hear something different from the senseless hum, a sound which resonates in us in a way the random noise doesn't. Like the young scientist herself, we are passionately drawn toward something other than ourselves out there, something that comes toward us full of what we call in ordinary, down-to-earth terrestrial life, meaning.\r
    I think the ending of the film is truly extraordinary. A huge, towering centrifuge is constructed and then begins whirling and whirling with the young astronomer inside a pod dangling in the middle of it. When the wheel becomes a rushing blur of speed it suddenly disintegrates entirely and becomes the most astonishing display of cosmic light, distance, staggering speed and wonder. Then suddenly there is silence as the young woman arrives upon an ordinary beach, and in a silvery moment meets another simple person face to face.\r

    John Ashbery disintegrates in cosmic light and wonder alright, but for me rarely steps upon that beach. Of course I love the light show and the music, who wouldn't, but for me that's not enough. I want the real encounter.\r

  109. June 23, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Real in the sense of an actual encounter within the busy-body hum.\r

    In John Ashbery there is nobody there in one sense, nobody to meet in other words, and in another sense there is nobody there but John Ashbery, so there's only him to meet if only he were there. He's the hum.\r

    Rarely has there been a poetry that was so much a solo act---he must be so lonely!

  110. June 23, 2009

    I think I will henceforth put all my comments here at the bottom of the thread and refer up to which one I am addressing.\r

    My comment above:\r

    Thank you Michael for this bit; it’s wonderfully lucid and dovetails with what Ashbery has recently said, that if he has a subject, it’s time.\r


    POSTED BY: MEARL ON JUNE 22, 2009 AT 6:08 PM\r

    was referring to Michael's comment of JUNE 22, 2009 AT 12:47 PM, and particularly to the following sentence: \r

    "Ashbery is endlessly preoccupied with the criteria of poetic speakers & poetic time."\r

    which I think hit's the mark. \r

    My comment (I know it's a small one compared with the rest of them) has been shunted around so often that it has lost all meaning, and looks fairly ridiculous on its present foothold.\r

    I'd also like to apologize for not having time to come into the discussion in any meaningful way. I've been working against a major deadline this week. But I will do. Ashbery was my teacher, and continues to be one of my closest friends and favorite poets, though I've long since shirked off his influence (except for the buried part, the pith of what he taught me about poetry). Part of moving abroad and removing myself from the scene was to see if I could survive poetically without my supports. \r

    One thing I would like to expand on (this evening I hope) is that I have never really understood the importance of this paradigm (much in evidence in the above discussion) - "difficulty vs. transparency", or poems "about something" vs. poems "about the process" of getting to that something (or not getting to it). There are simply "ways" of writing which cannot be justifiably valorized to the disadvantage of other ways of writing. There has got to be another way to conduct what seems really to be more a discussion about personal aesthetics than it is about poetic technique.\r


  111. June 23, 2009

    Desmond, this comment doesn't make much sense. Michael has been one of the very few intelligent commenters on this blog. Really, the idea of a "democratic debate" between him and Brady is laughable, like a tennis match between Roger Federer and Stephen Hawking.

  112. June 23, 2009

    (Or an Unlocking The Secrets Of The Universe competition between Stephen Hawking and Roger Federer.)

  113. June 23, 2009
     michael robbins

    Ha! Thanks, Matt. If I had a nickel for every time I've been compared to Stephen Hawking & Roger Federer!

  114. June 23, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    Jeez, Michael...I was trying to stick for you. Now who's being mean?

  115. June 23, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    stick 'up' for you, that is.

  116. June 23, 2009

    I think of it more as Boba Fett vs. Cliff Clavin in the Bachelorette.

  117. June 23, 2009
     michael robbins

    And thank you, Martin. You're right that the "inaccessibility vs. transparency" paradigm is always about something else, which I was trying to elucidate in my comments above. Gratuitous name-dropping alert: I was having dinner with Michael Palmer once & we discussed this very question with respect to Ashbery. My point then was that there's no one more lucid than Ashbery; it's just that he leaves a lot of the syntactical & semantic scaffolding out of the poem. Like Emerson; like Stevens.

  118. June 23, 2009
     michael robbins

    O ho, Gary, many apologies! I read three-card monty as metaphor for Ashbery's poetics. I now see you meant it to describe the mug's game of debating certain of our confreres. My bad. So let me revise my yawn to a co-sign.

  119. June 23, 2009
     Don Share

    Here, to meditate upon, is John Ashbery, writing in the July 1957 issue of Poetry magazine, excerpted from his review of a recently-published edition of Gertrude Stein's Stanzas in Meditation:\r

    There is certainly plenty of monotony in the 150-page title poem which forms the first half of this volume, but it is the fertile kind, which generates excitement as water monotonously flowing over a dam generates electrical power. These austere "stanzas" are made up almost entirely of colorless connecting words such as "where," "which," "these," "of," "not," "have," "about," and so on, though now and then Miss Stein throws in an orange, a lilac, or an Albert to remind us that it really is the world, our world, that she has been talking about. The result is like certain monochrome de Kooning paintings in which isolated strokes of color take on a deliciousness they never could have had out of context, or a piece of music by Webern in which a single note on the celesta suddenly irrigates a whole desert of dry, scratchy sounds in the strings... Like people, Miss Stein's lines are comforting or annoying or brilliant or tedious. Like people, they sometimes make no sense and sometimes make perfect sense; or they stop short in the middle of a sentence and wander away, leaving us alone for a while in the physical world, that collection of thoughts, flowers, weather, and proper names. And just as with people, there is no real escape from them... Sometimes the story has the logic of a dream... while at other times it becomes startlingly clear for a moment, as though a change in the wind had suddenly enabled us to hear a conversation that was taking place some distance away... The poem is a hymn to possibility; a celebration of the fact that the world exists, that things can happen.

  120. June 23, 2009
     Bill Knott

    this has become an Ashbery pro or con forum . . . \r

    my 2cents: he's certainly a worldclass poet and if they don't give him a Nobel they'll be as ashamed in retrospect as they are about Rilke, Auden and all the other greats they passed over––\r

    Ashbery, Parra, Bonnefoy, Tanikawa, Enzensberger, Transtromer,\r

    the list goes on and on of poets who should have already won Nobels––\r

    i never understood why they don't split it and give two every year, one to prose and one to poetry––\r

    just another example of how poetry is undervalued and insulted . . .\r

    incidentally, for what it's worth, may i invite readers to look at an "appreciation" i did of one of his poems:\r\r


  121. June 23, 2009
     John Oliver Simon

    I never had a lot of use for Ashbery; it seems my heroes of that generation were all on the West Coast, Duncan, Spicer, Welch and Snyder... and then the Latin American poets more or less of that vintage, Rosario Castellanos, Gonzalo Rojas, Blanca Varela, Juan Gelman... but this thread, and especially the prolix mindlessness of Ashbery's detractors, has given me the notion that I need to give the man a slower and more intimate read.

  122. June 23, 2009
     thomas brady


    That's a very illustrative review by Ashbery, paying homage to Gertrude Stein and Henry James. He is absolutely in the line of William James/Gertrude Stein Modernism. He knew where he stood. He wasn't about to give Gertrude Stein a bad review. Thanks to Aristotle and a misreading of Poe, he doesn't have to.\r

    Aristotle said poetry was imitation, which is precisely why Plato did not trust it, for poetic imitation is 1) inaccurate 2) unlearned and 3) there’s no certainty it will be socially useful. \r

    Ashbery can barely disguise his contempt for Stein’s poetry; he calls it “annoying” and “tedious.” \r

    But Ashbery is tacitly rescued by Poe’s famous formula: a long poem will inevitably be “tedious” in parts. When Ashbery tells us Stein pleasantly surprises now and then, he hints that it is the “annoying” and “tedious” passages which condition the reader for a pleasant surprise. \r

    Ashbery, invoking Aristotle's mimesis theory, compares Stein’s words to people, and people, he says, will inevitably be annoying or pleasing. He then goes on to compare Stein’s poetry (and by inference all poetry) to a scene in which the wind shifts and we are suddenly able to hear a far-off conversation; a landscape of physical filtering is described, which inevitably creates both obscurity and clarity, sun and shade, look! Someone suddenly ceases to speak and wanders off. Here is Ashbery’s poetry by way of Stein’s, excused because it imitates the vicissitudes and confusions and brief clarities of life. \r

    Ashbery compares a pleasing moment in Stein’s poetry to a splash of de Kooning yellow, a pleasant experience because the yellow is “out-of-context.” Here is Poe’s formula taken to its logical extreme: all moments of poetry, because they ARE moments--in the otherwise tedious flow of the long poem (or the tedious flow of life) are “out-of-context,” and here we see the justification of abstract art (out-of-context 'moments’ of color, pure because they are out-of-context, out-of-context because they are pure).\r

    But of course this is pure arrogance. Comparing a poem to 'people who are sometimes annoying’ is a strategy both cowardly and inane; and Ashbery’s tacit use of Poe forgets that Poe said a poem should not be too brief, either. A splash of yellow, no matter how delightful to the eye, is no work of art.

  123. June 23, 2009
     michael robbins

    Aristotle did not say poetry was imitation. The word is "mimesis." We've had this clarification on this board before, but the point is, as Stephen Halliwell argues in a book anyone concerned with the question should read, The Aesthetics of Mimesis, that "representation" is much closer to the full meaning of the word in the Aristotelean (& Socratic, although here the imitative faculty is clearly at issue -- but not only this faculty) sense.

  124. June 23, 2009
     Brian Salchert

    Yes, and that is exactly what often happens. The enjoyable surface of a poem pulls the reader back to it and into slowly appreciating the levels beneath that surface, granting that there are such levels; and that is where a knowledgeable reader becomes a blessing. Michael Robbins here has shown himself to be such a reader. \r
    Years ago during a time when I was reading Ashbery's Three Poems I wrote a poem for him. It is in four sections. Each section in a different style. It ends with the thoughts: \r
    Time swallows us.\r
    We do not digest well.\r

    It's unlikely Ashbery ever read it, and that's fine.\r
    My point is that conversing with other authors (albeit indirectly) and tangling with the vagaries of time are activities I, for one, cannot break from.

  125. June 23, 2009
     Don Share

    A few quick notes. It's not a good or bad review, in its entirety: it's balanced. He says what he likes and doesn't. In a part I've not reproduced, for example, he says he doesn't think much of the minor pieces collected in the book. So you've jumped to a conclusion about his willingness or not to be critical of Stein. Next, he says that lines of the title poem, NOT poems, are like people, etc.; big difference. And I don't see anything in his review connected to Poe or Aristotle, including readings or misreadings of either, but that's just me. Also: Wm. James as a modernist, eh? Color me in splashes of unconvinced this time, Thomas!

  126. June 23, 2009
     michael robbins

    My girlfriend just read this & she said "So you are a hired killer from space and the other people on the message board are drunks in Boston?"

  127. June 24, 2009
     thomas brady


    You're right, Ashbery's review of Stein is 'balanced;' I said as much; Ashbery said Stein's work was "annoying" and "tedious" but, then, as I was at some pains to point out, he talks of moments of pleasant surprise. I was trying to talk *past* the superficial idea of 'balance:' the mere formula of: he found some good things, he found some bad things, etc. \r

    I guess I don't see what your disagreement on this point with me is. \r

    As for the ideas of Poe and Aristotle, these happen to be tools which fit the case; Ashbery doesn't have the right to repel them just because he doesn't mention Poe and Aristotle by name in his review. I would not be so hand-cuffed. Ashbery is a mountain terrain; he has a natural defense, though no human one; Mr. A. is always agreeable; no critical armies invade because Harvard '49 and Yale Younger '56 is a small, neutral country, like Switzerland; Ashbery's offense is all defense--we don't think we have the right to invade. I feel differently; little Switz. is not as innocent as it seems. We defend Ashbery-ism at great cost. If my soldiers have thrived in his mountains and taken his cities, they have been kind; my intentions are good, better than Ashbery's in any case.\r

    You misquoted me misquoting Mr. A; I did not say he compared Stein's poems to people; I knew he was talking about parts of a poem--my thesis depends on this; he said lines, not words; I had written lines originally; I didn't have the actual text before me at that moment.\r

    William James is one of the major pieces which connects the transcendentalists and the moderns. The sister of 19th century 'Dial' poet Christopher Peace Cranch (whose 'Correspondences' sounds like Baudelaire's) married T.S. Eliot's grandfather--William Greenleaf, Unitarian companion of Channing and Emerson. Mr. Emerson, of course, was William James' godfather--James taught Gertrude Stein and Santayana who taught Eliot and Wallace Stevens at Harvard.\r

    I am glad distinguished defenders of Ashbery are coming out of the woodwork, so to speak, for otherwise we don't get the balance which is always required, even though balance is rarely a simple manner.\r

    The poetry world is so small that my taking shots at Mr. A almost feels like I'm saying unpleasant things of a beloved uncle at a family breakfast. But Letters ought to be larger than this.\r

    I speak up only because I sincerely feel the insidious nature of Ashbery-ism is real and the damage it is doing to intellectual discourse is real, and larger than anyone can know. \r

    The smallness of the poetry world is certainly not my fault! The small, coddling, nature of the poetry world is certainly a problem, too. It is a bigger problem than all of us. We live in its alps-shadow. We are hemmed-in by its hidden correspondences.\r


  128. June 24, 2009
     Martin Earl


    Thanks so much for digging up that 1957 review. J.A. would have already been in France when he wrote it. I was going to suggest to people on this thread, or anyone for that matter, who find Ashbery's work "difficult" - or worse - to read some of his prose: Other Traditions, Selected Prose and Reported Sightings are all readily available. These books, besides being monuments of contemporary criticism (especially the more formal Other Traditions) will show Ashbery from another angle in that they connect more directly with the man himself.\r

    Here, as well, is a marvelous video, in which the poet shares an "autobiographical" poem with us - written by accident, or so he says. He also talks about the difficulty of living abroad and his relationship to American English.\r\r


  129. June 24, 2009
     Don Share

    I respectfully disagree with much of what you say, but that's old news. I simply cannot understand how Ashbery repeatedly gets singled out as a whipping boy. He never tries to stand for anything beyond his own work and is the least polemical of poets. Beyond that... Much of what people complain about in his poems they praise unthinkingly in, say, Whitman. (I'm not saying you do this, Thomas.) It is precisely because the poetry world contains multitudes that I feel lucky and happy to enjoy reading Ashbery quite as much as any other poet. Neither he nor any other poet - or poetry - needs to be defended: If one doesn't like a poem or poet... simply turn the page!

  130. June 24, 2009

    Well, not everyone else. Just one in particular.

  131. June 24, 2009
     thomas brady


    I agree Ashbery is the 'least polemical of poets.' \r

    Ashbery's dreamy, flowing, indefiniteness is evasive in the extreme. Ashbery won't be pinned down; he won't argue; he won't fight. Which makes him pedagogically worthless.\r

    Polemics is the soul of Letters. Polemics is necessary for a healthy society. \r

    Ashbery is jelly. He has no bones.\r

    The polemicist is always preferable to the solipsist, for you can always play lovely music and calm the polemicist down; play a trumpet blast for the solipsist, and he will only cover his ears, sinking deeper into his solipsism.\r

    The polemicist, by nature, cares for things outside himself, and because he cares, he illuminates those issues to some degree, by attacking or defending them; Ashbery, as you have said, is the 'least polemical of poets;' Ashbery has nothing to do with issues or things or ideas; he is only a relaxation technique, a stiff drink, which may be a good thing after a hard day's work, but if there is only the relaxation technique without the work, without the need to relax, then you have the still waters of the swamp, the damp mold, the cake which will not rise, the giggling guru who lazes before his sleeping followers.\r

    Of course he is a sweet man. I want to give John Ashbery a hug.\r

    The problem is that he has never written a poem which is memorable. He has written nothing that is memorable as a whole piece, memorable in its entirety. This is why he has never caught on with the general public, while having great opportunities to do so, being so feted by the poetry establishment for so long. Unity of effect is perhaps the single most important criterion in aesthetics; poets once understood this; now they do not. Rhetorical sweep and Paterian gems lose a great deal without unity of effect. Ironically, you mention Whitman, and he is to blame for much of this. Ashbery was born into an era in which unity of effect had been smashed as a requirement by the modernists, and Ashbery took this license--to have NO unity of effect--and ran with it.\r


  132. June 24, 2009
     thomas brady


    That is a lovely video. Auden envied Shakespeare his biographical blank, saying all poets should be so fortunate. Perhaps it was this blank in Ashbery's poetry which appealed to Auden on some unconscious level when he chose Ashbery for the Yale Younger. \r

    When I learned the tragedy of Ashbery's childhood I couldn't help but feel I shouldn't have known that, because Ashbery seemed funny, possessing the abandon of a Burns or a Byron, two poets who Auden, in his Light Verse anthology, said were two of the greatest Light Verse poets; the Ashbery I thought I knew was free of tragic taint, sitting under ferns, reading French philosophy, watching cartoons. I was reminded that no poet could be as blithe as Ashbery seems to be, and suddenly all his evasive poetry seemed to be pouring in from a different direction, the fractured nature of his prose-poems arising not from elan, but from silence and heartbreak. \r

    The erudite who read Ashbery find him refreshingly hilarious, but the rest mutter to themselves, 'what torture! who could read this?' Ashbery's restraint, in never revealing his life, his polemics, never 'getting to the point,' will seem a virtue to the erudite but a thorn to everyone else. To the religiously dogmatic, God has a point; but to the erudite who embrace a more random view of the universe, Ashbery's restraint, his 'never getting to the point' seems to them almost divine. Ashbery is almost erudition itself. Or perhaps a spoof version of erudition? Isn't Modernism a kind of spoof of all that was once considered morally and intellectually virtuous? This divided view of Ashbery is the crack in the House of Modernism, that divide which rips in two the Public for Poetry, since Modernism will always seem to be AGAINST the general public before it seems FOR anything else. Ashbery's dilemma, his great split, his failure to be popular in general while being wildly loved within po-biz, is the odd-looking Flower of Modernism.\r


  133. June 24, 2009
     thomas brady


    "How much longer shall I be able to inhabit the divine sepulcher of life, my love"\r

    "I tried each thing, only some were immortal and free."\r

    "No more disappointing orgasms."\r

    "My wife thinks I’m in Oslo. Oslo, France, that is."\r

    "This honey is delicious, though it burns the throat."\r

    "We were on the terrace drinking gin and tonics when the squall hit."\r

    "It might give us–what–some flowers soon?"\r

    "The lake a lilac cube."\r

    "The academy of the future is opening its doors."\r

    "The poem is you."\r

    You see? He doesn't even have a memorable line, much less a memorable poem. Well, that's the problem. You need ONE memorable poem, at least. ONE hit. If you stopped 50,000 Americans randomly on the street, I'd wager not one would know any of these lines. Now this doesn't cancel out Ashbery, of course, but it does kind of support my point. If you translated these lines into French, and stopped 50,000 French people on the street, I could see many stopping and saying, "Wait, I think I know that one..." Some of it has to do with this country, but I don't know if one can say that France is a better country than America...\r


  134. June 24, 2009
     Travis Nichols

    I remembered these without much effort after reading TB's comment that Ashbery "has written nothing that is memorable as a whole piece, memorable in its entirety." I could probably go on and on for The Skaters in its entirety, but how about the first ten lines that come up quite nicely from a range:\r

    How much longer shall I be able to inhabit the divine sepulcher of life, my love\r

    I tried each thing, only some were immortal and free.\r

    No more disappointing orgasms.\r

    My wife thinks I'm in Oslo. Oslo, France, that is.\r

    This honey is delicious, though it burns the throat.\r

    We were on the terrace drinking gin and tonics when the squall hit.\r

    It might give us--what--some flowers soon?\r

    The lake a lilac cube.\r

    The academy of the future is opening its doors.\r

    The poem is you.\r

    . . . . . . . . it's actually a very pleasurable game! But will the long line of people like Thomas who make this claim over and over again be satisfied only once someone memorizes the entire Collected Works? Ask David Shapiro to recite some! No, surely it will still be said that he is not memorable until Thomas himself tries to memorize a poem. Why not try "As One Put Drunk in the Packet Boat"? It's worth it!

  135. June 24, 2009
     Travis Nichols

    They are memorable. I remembered them.

  136. July 2, 2009
     Pam Glaven

    Hi Martin, nice to find you here... Px