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The Mulch Shoveler

By Martin Earl

Walter Earl, age 76, suffering from Parkinson’s disease, shoveling mulch.

This is supposed to be the post in which I sign off, pack up my bags and leave as gracefully as possible.

Unfortunately I’ve been distracted from that task by a recent article in the Boston Review by Stephen Burt called “The New Thing”, an attempt at typology, so typical in American letters, especially in the so-called post-post phase, when what critics are left are scrambling to make sense out of an ever expanding bevy of institutionally educated poets. Burt reminds me of Zhivago, the poet-doctor, arriving at a field hospital overflowing with the casualties of war and having to perform the healer’s art under deplorable circumstances. Burt has to do something, so he names this ward of the riven “The New Thing”. The New Thing is of course derived from an old thing, namely the objectivists and Williams (no ideas but in things – one of the most self-limiting utterances ever made by a great poet, with which even Dr. Williams himself soon lost patience). I found the article fascinating, as I find most of Burt’s articles, but I didn’t believe a word of it. In fact it seemed like total fabrication, a parody of poetic “school” formation. Evidently though, Burt is serious, as serious as Yuri Andreievich, who, after throwing his hands up in desperation, gets down to the task at hand. 

 Here is what he has to say:

“The poets of the New Thing observe scenes and people (not only, but also, themselves) with a self-subordinating concision, so much so that the term “minimalism” comes up in discussions of their work, though the false analogies to earlier movements can make the term misleading.”


“The poets of the New Thing eschew sarcasm and tread lightly with ironies, and when they seem hard to pin down, it is because they leave space for interpretations to fit. Woodward’s Rain, with its five-word lines and five-line elegiac stanzas, makes a good example:

                      the slick

of rainwater converts each thing’s

outside to an image of

inside the only object without

a soul is the sun

“So says one stanza; six pages on, another reads:


                     the tar they use to

fill the cracks shines orange

from the orange streetlights but

is blacker than the asphalt 

which doesn’t shine

Burt goes on, by way of justification: “We may have to reread to see, amid these scenes, the grief (for Woodward’s dead friend Patrick) that guides the whole book.”

My response after reading these stanzas, was to blink twice and go back to Burt’s explanation. I’m not quite sure which I find more inane, the explanation or the poetry itself. I even wondered whether or not I was being toyed with. Surely, if you are going to create a new school of poetry, or describe one, you’ve got to do better than that. “The poets of the New Thing eschew sarcasm and tread lightly with ironies, and when they seem hard to pin down, it is because they leave space for interpretations to fit.” What is Burt trying to say here? The poem quoted not only “eschews” sarcasm and irony, it eschews poetry. There is absolutely nothing there that would make me want to read, as Burt recommends I do, this 5 X 5 bit of puddle exploration more than once.

What could Mr. Burt be thinking? Or is there something I’ve missed simply by having lived for a quarter of a century outside of America?

At the moment I am actually, for the first time in two years, in the United States, looking out at the sea as I write, and struggling with several competing interests: a huge translation project (a book length ethnographic study on the history of nationalism in Galicia and Northern Portugal), a very ill father, a tired mother and, alas, trying to say good-by to Harriet, whom I have come to love. As a stay, I suppose, against disorientation, a shoring up of my ruins, I have found myself, since arriving, writing my personal diary in Portuguese, the language I speak with my wife (who is not with me on this trip). This – writing my diary in Portuguese – happened spontaneously and has surprised even me who thought himself beyond surprise, beyond the need for acclimatization. I think it lends credence, were any needed, to the fact that I am no longer gracefully adjusting.

Burt’s article has only fueled that impression.

I would not even be here (I would have preferred the Baltic to the Atlantic this year) were it not for my parents, both of them trying heroically to live as one lives in the grip of crisis, to get on with it despite my father’s Parkinson’s. Four years ago, in an even worse phase of the disease (after my father had broken his hip and his neck chasing my mother’s car down the driveway because he wanted to go to the dump with her), I spent quite a bit of time here. I was needed physically for things like transference, lifting, rolling, swabbing, etc. Since then, my mother has been coping alone and my father, thanks to a very talented physiotherapist and no little will of his own, has regained his agility. He is no longer allowed to sit in his favorite wheelchair, and he moves about the house and the garden unassisted by anything other than his walker, of which he has four models placed in strategic locations. The blue anodized one with the seat and the disc brakes he calls his Corvette. My father is a boy from Detroit who did exactly what he wanted to do in life. He made money in the automobile business and passed his time around cars. If there is a silver lining to his disease (and their usually is a silver lining to all misfortune) it is that he became too ill to continue working and sold his business right before the whole industry went bust. All of his automobile cronies, some of them now bankrupt, persist in remarking on this bit of serendipity. Walter Earl, even though he had no choice in the matter, knew when to get out. I think there is true poetry in that convergence of necessity and intelligence.

Being with my parents, especially now, is more important to me than poetry (which doesn’t mean I have stopped writing it). T.S. Eliot said that poets should write as little as possible. I don’t quite agree, but I think some restraint should be practiced. Besides provocation, which Eliot raised to both an art and an embarrassment, what he meant was that poets should write out of necessity and not out of mere reflex. There is, frankly, in America too much of what people call poetry written out of reflex. Supply has outstripped demand. I think it behooves us, especially in these times of economic meltdown, to look more closely at the economy of poetry, to not continue printing it recklessly and to recover, if it is possible, if it is not too late, something of poetry’s gold standard. Otherwise it is just so much worthless paper money.

Burt’s exercise seems a perfect example of how American critics and poet-critics and just plain poets (or not) attempt to confect silly sounding schools out of wan spats with the self and then tell us that if you didn’t get it the first time it’s because you didn’t fill in your own meaning, or understand the “the grief that guides the whole book.” What’s wrong with you?

The problem is that grief is not a guide. It has no legs. It cannot walk. It is a weight, a coagulation, an inert mass of meaninglessness sitting on top of you and suffocating you. It is poetry that must guide grief and not the other way around.

My impression is that what is left of poetry in America is not, except for a few cases, getting talked about by the dwindling supply of critics competent enough to talk (Burt certainly being one of them), or adequately published via the committee-based, consensus-driven selection employed by poetry presses who award prizes instead of making books that will be read beyond that ephemeral fifteen minutes of publishing fame. Poetry like science is non-consensual. Burt’s New Thing is a consensus-forming gimmick whose soul purpose is to legitimize fluff and perpetuate awful, anemic, limping, bedpan poetry.

Poetry in America is in crisis. It is irrelevant because it has lost its capacity to put a name to what is wrong, to blame squarely the perpetrators, to witness what is real, to not shy away from what is tragic, what is ruined, what is bereft of value and spiritually corrosive. It has lost its talent for trafficking in facts and it has misread the relationship between the fact and the aesthetic possibilities locked within the fact. Indeed, in its very flight from the aesthetic, it has lost access to the fact, to the work of transformation, of redemption, of truth telling. Prominent movements in the 1980s and 1990s with their insistence of conceptual strategies, with their misreading of Nietzsche and their uncritical reception of the philosophies of the unmoored referent left American poetry neutered, blinded, gelded and hysterectimized.

An event as unspeakable as September 11 was simply beyond the purview of American poets. Poetry in its reduced state was wholly incapable of measuring up to the dimension of such horror. American poetry spoke to the horror in the voice of the politician, it became fickle and evasive like politicians, it became forgetful like politicians. It retreated quickly down the university rat-holes and hooked itself back up to the drip drip of sinecure, privilege and pretension.

I leave Harriet in even more despair than I was in when I arrived. I am more profoundly impressed with my father’s newfound ability to shovel mulch than I am with American poetry.

And yet, ever the businessman, the guy with his eye on the books, my father says to me after dinner, slumped sideways in his chair, talking about one of my friends, “but he has a book out and you don’t.” Those are his exact words. 

So, Stephen and Jon, you still have one up on me, according to the mulch shoveler. 


Comments (143)

  • On July 13, 2009 at 12:03 am michael robbins wrote:

    >>>“The poets of the New Thing observe scenes and people (not only, but also, themselves) with a self-subordinating concision, so much so that the term “minimalism” comes up in discussions of their work, though the false analogies to earlier movements can make the term misleading.”

    Huh?<<>>An event as unspeakable as September 11 was simply beyond the purview of American poets. Poetry in its reduced state was wholly incapable of measuring up to the dimension of such horror. American poetry spoke to the horror in the voice of the politician, it became fickle and evasive like politicians, it became forgetful like politicians. It retreated quickly down the university rat-holes and hooked itself back up to the drip drip of sinecure, privilege and pretension.<<<

    Huh? Both Frederick Seidel & Donald Revell have provided astute responses to September 11 that go far beyond whatever straw men you have in mind here. As for your weird belief that “misreading of Nietzsche” & “uncritical reception of the philosophies of the unmoored referent” somehow are responsible for the ills you misdiagnose in American poetry, one hardly knows where to begin. For one thing, theory doesn’t drive poetry; they are, rather, responses to identical cultural conditions. Blame Theory! is a tired rallying cry. Allying yourself with Allan Bloom is at least an interesting strategy, however.

    The arrogance & presumption of this post are staggering. Poetry’s job is “to blame squarely the perpetrators,” is it? Nice idea. Too bad a mere glance at the tradition of poetry in English reveals it to be nearly the opposite of true. As someone who shares your interest in blaming squarely the perpetrators, I want to borrow a little of your arrogance & let you know a secret: the field of cultural production impinges not a hair on real politics. The question this post raises more than any other, alas, is: is Martin Earl even slightly acquainted with American poetry?

  • On July 13, 2009 at 12:05 am michael robbins wrote:

    Well, whatever, Harriet. The first half of my comment disappeared. Formatting problems persist.

    The gist was: I find Burt’s essay vapid, but the sentence you quote with a sneering “huh?” is not even confusing. It’s perfectly comprehensible.

  • On July 13, 2009 at 12:28 am John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Heartfelt and powerful farewell note, Martin. Much to agree with about the sad state of Ampo etc. However one book which powerfully impressed me lately is Rusty Morrison’s *the true keeps calm biding its story* (Ahsahta Press, 2008). Do you know it?

    Morrison’s book-length poem about her father’s dying could be described in similar terms to those Burt uses to talk about The New Thing (silly phrase) and Woodward’s work. Your care and admiration for your dad remind me of her theme.

    Rusty Morrison is roughly situated in the post-avant, which I can be as cutting about as the next reactionary on my block (Iain).

    But talk about language and formalism in cahoots (Annie): Morrison’s book is nine sections of six poems each, each nine lines (3 x 3), all flush right, each of the 54 poems titled *please advise stop*, seven or eight of the lines ending with the word *stop*, occasional lines ending *please*, the ninth line always ending *please advise*. The lines are of varying length and seem to consist simply of images thrown together with off-handed intuition.

    All blocked off by the retro telegraphese.

    Her father’s dying edges in and never quite takes all of center stage but casts everything in its light. Here’s the first poem of the ninth and last section (think flush right, which I know Harriet can’t do):

    please advise stop

    I throw a stone into air as if every motion were his motion come back to me stop
    will is its own endless distraction stop
    how many kinds of sight have I condensed into blindness stop

    institute a side and there’s no end to drawing a longer and longer disturbance line stop
    too singular the father I have thinned to a divining stick stop
    so many sticks and stones strewn beside the gravel that grinds and gives under my feet please

    my every demand for direction already raided of its corporeal continence stop
    microscopic organisms are absorbed in every breath but none are penetrable stop
    alwaays there will be a past and no need of ingenuous retrieval please advise

  • On July 13, 2009 at 8:00 am Annie Finch wrote:

    What you see as arrogance and presumption, Michael, I see as an energetic application of the perspective of an outsider to the big picture of American poetry. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest we are in for the trees; Martin is presenting his view of the forest, and it is a bracing view, a challenge, a gauntlet. Allow 20% exaggeration for his current personal challenges and grief over his father, and there are, as always in Martin’s posts, many gems of wisdom here worth long and serious thought. Some of my favorites:

    “It has misread the relationship between the fact and the aesthetic possibilities locked within the fact.”

    “It is poetry that must guide grief and not the other way around.”

    “Poetry like science is non-consensual.”

    “I think it behooves us, especially in these times of economic meltdown, to look more closely at the economy of poetry [and] to recover, if it is not too late, something of poetry’s gold standard.”

  • On July 13, 2009 at 8:50 am Ange Mlinko wrote:

    I have to second Annie here. I have been intermittently shocked at the vitriol directed at Martin, especially when I think back to the bien pensant bloggers who dominated Harriet when Martin arrived: here was a breath of fresh air, I thought. Martin’s perspective rings uncannily true to my experience as an expat in Morocco in 1999, and will probably prove to be even more prescient when I arrive next month in Beirut, where the recession (depression?) is sending my family for the next few years. We shall see whether poetry, which fancies itself a critique of the dominant ideology, was ever anything but a product of that ideology for all those years of fed-exed sushi and semi-affordable (outsourced to Hong Kong) Prada.

  • On July 13, 2009 at 9:46 am Iain wrote:

    I haven’t labeled you a “reactionary”. I just thought one thing you said was a little reactionary. I mean, this is the Internet, we all seem a little more reactionary here.

  • On July 13, 2009 at 9:48 am John Oliver Simon wrote:

    I second Ange and Annie on the perspective of the expat. It sounds arrogant, but I believe I understand the historical currents of, say, Chilean or Mexican poetry better than most Chilean or Mexican poets, precisely because I stand Outside it. Conversely, Latin Ameriican poets who have taken the trouble to read in English understand North American poetry better than I do. For instance, a twenty-three-year-old poet in Lima, Martín Rodríguez-Gaona, said to me, “so Jack Spicer was the great poet but Lew Welch was the great person?” You got that right, I told him.

  • On July 13, 2009 at 9:51 am John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Thanks, Iain. I was a little stung by the epithet, but I was teasing in reply. I was surprised to find how much I like Rusty Morrison’s work once I slowed down enough to really read it.

  • On July 13, 2009 at 10:41 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    Thank you very much Martin for giving me the best read I’ve had up till now on Harriet, with your second practical advice for young poets considering exile.

    Without my coreligionists, my fellow travelers: my teachers, my friends; without that certain quality of air that filled the cultural bubble I’d inhabited during my New York years, where I’d blended reading and writing and talking into an essence, a vehicle, a means forward. Without all that, and with all the newness and the loneliness of my present situation bearing down on me, I broke.

    Everything I’d written up until that moment, everything I’d thought about how poetry should be carried forward, that whole linkage between ourselves, as writers, and a certain tradition we’d grown up by, seemed discardable, flimsy, irrelevant and self-indulgent.

    When I first read it at the end of April, i had been posting here for only a short while, and on reaching the first paragraph, began to feel a dual intellectual/emotional state, of respect and jealousy swelling, which dissolved into acceptance, at the end of the second paragraph above.

    Respect because the authorial veracity in the writing caused solid real life to appear on the page, eloquently and effortless to read, seductive, human and civilized – though not in any way airy fairy or wrought from ivory tower abstractions. Not a smug Critic closetted in a parallel academic reality advocating self-important unreadable arguments to a specialized audience of the few same-as-you po-biz colleagues, careers coddled in a congratulatory air of the Cambridge quad – but a man whose hard-won craft was plain for any lover of Letters to read.

    There was (only a twinge) of jealousy, because that’s the normal state of being between nearly all poets in print and person I think – except the Ashbery and Heaney sort who, in the absence of competitors for top-spot in the pecking order consensus, have little to be getting green about career wise.

    It was only a momentary emotional thought-cloud passing across the surface stream of consciousness, transitory and fleeting, much as a:

    horse-hoof slides on the brim,
    And a horse plashes within it;

    …travelling from a condition of denial to one of recognition, and I continued ingesting the remainder of the text in far-away fan mode. Envy being one of the most potentially destructive forces for a human being (and writer) i (try to) work on a premise that we’d be a shmok to try and deny the reality of another’s talent because of petty jealousy.

    Luckily I learnt onstage at 14 playing Malvolio and experienced how childish the reality of theatrical politics is, as others sought to out-pretend my 14 year old childish self who was happy in the cloud cuckoo land that comes within a magic circle whose psychological circumferance seemed natural and normal. Discovering early on that when genuine artists intersect, we raise each other’s game, rather than sinking one another on stage in a show failing due to personal non-pretend bitterness.

    However, at that age I’d not witnessed what prolonged exposure to fantasy can do to an adult mind. In severe cases of living in a dream world, we can end up building spurious schools.

    Whether Burt has or not, we will never know in truth as it won’t be us sorting the goats and sheep but those who follow us.

    I have read the article and don’t want to reveal my hand just yet Martin, as there are many poets named in the article and the full impact and impingement which moulds one’s concern, complaint and issue to blip on the critical equipment which activates an inner knee to seek a jerk for take-down; not least for reasons of wishing to keep posts within acceptable boundaries of compliance, erring on the side of caution – one need return anon mon amis.

    for reasons of unsurety due, in part, to a desire for compliance in regard to

    The long-legged moor-hens dive,
    And hens to moor-cocks call;
    Minute by minute they live:
    The stone’s in the midst of all.

  • On July 13, 2009 at 10:46 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    arghhh cut the for reasons of unsurety due, in part, to a desire for compliance in regard to blah blah blah and het Yeats off, the old fraud, he wasn’t magic and otherworldly, that Mick and Dev at Flood innit?

    ha ha ha ha – nah

  • On July 13, 2009 at 11:02 am thomas brady wrote:

    Beautiful post, Martin. You’ve said it all. Thank you.

    Burt’s star is rising precisely because he’s willing to be inane with a straight face.

    Meet the new manifesto. Same as the old manifesto.

    It would be funny, if it weren’t so sad.

    Thanks again, Martin. Poetry needs people like you.

  • On July 13, 2009 at 12:57 pm Joseph Hutchison wrote:

    Thank you for this smart, humane post, Martin. It’s funny in a sad way to see you attacked for “arrogance & presumption” by someone who seems very good at mindless invective but very bad at facing up to your critique.

    From my point of view you describe the issue perfectly when you observe that American poetry has been left “neutered, blinded, gelded and hysterectimized” about the poetic movements of the past 15 or 20 years, with their “insistence on conceptual strategies, with their misreading of Nietzsche and their uncritical reception of the philosophies of the unmoored referent.” The sputtering partisans of these movements, lacking a way to respond effectively, all too often fall back on slurs against one’s intelligence, one’s educational bona fides, one’s reading preferences (you can contemplate life without Wittgenstein? off with your head!), and even one’s sanity. The truth is that too many American poets behave like piranhas in an ever-shrinking backwater. And they wonder why there is no audience for their work!

    There is, of course, something of an audience, chiefly among what you quite accurately call the “ever expanding bevy of institutionally educated poets.” It seems to me that our country’s decline into a “service economy,” where I pay you to wash my car and you pay me to mow your lawn, but neither of us makes anything of value, is simply being mirrored by our poetry. Not all of our poetry, certainly, but much of it. And as you say, the gold standard is a poetry that does more than reflect and/or embrace our growing inanity; it must face it critically, honestly, imaginatively, directly—hopefully with what I can only call visionary energy. The collapse we are witnessing deserves poets who are willing to engage its tragic dimensions.

    I have to add that I’ll miss your posts here, but hope that you’ll be posting elsewhere, in between stints of helping your father shovel mulch.

  • On July 13, 2009 at 1:06 pm michael robbins wrote:

    The only response necessary to reveal the confusions of this comment is to point out that its author believes Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language to be among the philosophies of “the unmoored referent”

  • On July 13, 2009 at 1:23 pm Don Share wrote:

    The value of poetry is… instruct, entertain, etc.?

    As an aside… I once came across a book on the subject by, of all people, William Henry Hudson, called The Meaning and Value of Poetry (ca. 1901)!

  • On July 13, 2009 at 1:49 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Apparently it’s to beat each other over the head with!

  • On July 13, 2009 at 1:54 pm Don Share wrote:

    I keep forgetting that. 🙂

  • On July 13, 2009 at 1:58 pm Matt wrote:

    I stopped reading this post as soon as you dissed Jon Woodward. You should read the whole book those poems come from. It’s pretty awesome.

  • On July 13, 2009 at 1:58 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Let me just remind everyone that this has been said:

    Poetry in America is in crisis. It is irrelevant because it has lost its capacity to put a name to what is wrong, to blame squarely the perpetrators, to witness what is real, to not shy away from what is tragic, what is ruined, what is bereft of value and spiritually corrosive. It has lost its talent for trafficking in facts and it has misread the relationship between the fact and the aesthetic possibilities locked within the fact. Indeed, in its very flight from the aesthetic, it has lost access to the fact, to the work of transformation, of redemption, of truth telling. Prominent movements in the 1980s and 1990s with their insistence of conceptual strategies, with their misreading of Nietzsche and their uncritical reception of the philosophies of the unmoored referent left American poetry neutered, blinded, gelded and hysterectimized.

    Am I really the only one who believes that the symptom is confused with the disease here? Poetry’s not irrelevant because of any developments within it! It has followed these courses (which are misdescribed in Earl’s account, but whatever) because it’s irrelevant! It’s almost charming that so many are naive enough to believe that, in a nation of electronic media & biotechnology, a quarter of whose high school biology teachers believe humans lived with dinosaurs, poetry would recapture its hold on the social imagination if only it threw away Derrida.

  • On July 13, 2009 at 2:41 pm Don Share wrote:

    Indeed, e.g., Edmund Wilson’s “Is Verse a Dying Technique,” ca. 1928 (click here) …. Joseph Epstein, “Who Killed Poetry?” – sixty years later…

  • On July 13, 2009 at 3:22 pm thomas brady wrote:


    You exemplify Martin’s thesis beautifully. You blame the crisis within poetry on people who don’t read poetry. You pass the buck. Your statistic about science teachers sounds inane, like ‘the New Thing.’

    This is precisely why Martin is spot on when he writes:

    “It is irrelevant because it has lost its capacity to put a name to what is wrong, to blame squarely the perpetrators, to witness what is real, to not shy away from what is tragic, what is ruined, what is bereft of value and spiritually corrosive.”

    You’re in denial, Robbins. When you write, “Poetry’s not irrelevant because of any developments within it” you put yourself in Martin’s sights. You couldn’t be more wrong. You’re the problem, kiddo.

    It’s not that difficult to trace these ‘developments within it,’ either. I’ve done so numerous times on this site.

    It’s a downward spiral: as poetry becomes more inward-looking and obscure, it keeps justifying that obscurity in terms of its own obscurity; it keeps hysterically blaming society, blaming other things, blaming the audience that no longer cares.

    The “New Thing” is a real symptom of a real disease. The issue is not so much commerical as pedagogical–and because poetry exists mostly in the pedagogical realm, in academia, this is why it’s such a big problem. The will to honestly look at what’s going on seems to be gone.

    Derrida was the New Critic’s French revenge; Derrida didn’t doom poetry; he was merely a symptom of a general New Critical (‘only the text’) malaise; Lacan’s ‘Purloined Letter’ was Poe’s French revenge; Lacan makes a little more sense than Derrida. Our problem now isn’t theory, however, or lack of theory; the problem is far more mundane.


  • On July 13, 2009 at 3:51 pm Martin Earl wrote:


    I take this as a complement, intended or not. (I suspect the latter). The problem, however, is that the most recently written of these texts is twenty-one years old. Glibly citing them as you do, as though they were somehow relevant, or held anything other than historical interest, could not offer a better illustration of my concerns. Of all forms of literary journalism, polemic has the shortest shelf life. These articles address different issues, in an entirely different world. It would be lazy and dishonest to conflate our problems with theirs. Not only has the nature of literary production and the education of poets changed in ways that none of these authors would have come close to predicting at the time, but the post 1989 world shares very little with the contexts in which they wrote their articles. The inability of most poets and critics (especially in the United States) to recognize this, not to mention deal with it, IS the problem.


  • On July 13, 2009 at 3:51 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Robbins, you grumble grumble grumble. Grumble grumble, kiddo! Bark, bark, grumble! Backwards, backwards grumble. Grumble backwards! Grumble kids these days grumble! Kids grumble Robbins. Robbins Robbins Robbins grumble New Critics! Grumble Poe grumble Poe! Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe New Critics! Modernism! Grumble!

    [to be spoken in gravelly Christian Bale Batman voice]

  • On July 13, 2009 at 3:57 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Inane…see what I mean…?

    More proof of Martin’s thesis:

    Exhibit A, Michael Robbins.

    Thanks for playing, Michael!

  • On July 13, 2009 at 3:58 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Martin, you’re going to confuse Tom. He thinks he agrees with you, but if you start pointing out the ways in which poetry is determined by history, he will quote Poe at you.

  • On July 13, 2009 at 4:00 pm michael robbins wrote:

    It occurs to me that I am America! I’m talking to myself again!

  • On July 13, 2009 at 4:16 pm thomas brady wrote:


    Edmund Wilson wrote ‘Is Verse A Dying Technique?’ because he was dumped by Edna Millay.

    Verse wasn’t dying at all.

    Readers loved Millay’s verse.

    The rest is mostly envy and manifesto-ism.

    I have shown how Dana Gioia’s famous essay complaining of a crisis in poetry, that resonated with so many, gave the Modernists a free pass. Gioia actually used Ransom’s ‘Kenyon Review’ publishing Lowell’s poems as an example of how healthy and fair things used to be!???!?

    The Modernist/New Critics like Howard Gregory, Hugh Kenner, and Allen Tate attacked Millay.

    Sometimes the truth is missed for being so terribly obvious.

    The rhetoric of the wooly-headed intellectuals is not always the place to look for the real answers.

    We might look at the people.

    The 20th century mist of cultural commentary and poetic theory (see Modernist/Fugitive/New Critical documentary record) has blinded us, perhaps.


  • On July 13, 2009 at 4:20 pm michael robbins wrote:

    You see, I knew there was a simple explanation for why Wilson wrote that essay!

  • On July 13, 2009 at 4:42 pm Don Share wrote:

    I’m just pointing out, not that it needs to be, that the death knell has been sounded before. And though I don’t believe that movements exist that can kill or maim poetry, I agree with you about how easy it is to confect them, which is another matter: is there a new thing, does hybrid poetry exist, etc.? – I figure you’re right to notice that they’re a function of journalism, croynism, canon-formation, polemic, opportunism, marketing, and so on. But they’re mostly harmless. We can argue about whether imagism/imagisme existed and who belonged… about whether there really were “Objectivists,” ad nauseum. In the end it’s the poems we’ll read, one by one. And so the best thing someone can do is to read everything, to understand more and not less about what one disagrees with, etc.

  • On July 13, 2009 at 5:22 pm Iain wrote:


    My many disagreements with this post aside for the moment…

    It was good to have you blogging here. Your posts infuriated me a lot of the time, which I hope you’ll take as much as a compliment as possible. They’ve all been very engaging, which is as much as I can ask for, keeping me reading them over and over.

    I’ve learned a lot about where some of my poetry disagreements with various people are rooted, which is why I come here. I don’t come to Harriet to argue, harass, complain, or talk shit (which is what some people might think). I come here to learn about where people I disagree with are coming from, and to be challenged. Your posts certainly did a lot of that for me.

    So thanks, be well, and come back often.

  • On July 13, 2009 at 5:23 pm Martin Earl wrote:


    It’s no longer possible to read “everything”. In this “Age of Proliferation”, as Eliot Weinberger prophetically called it in his 1997 essay “Vomit”,* it would be sheer madness to even attempt such a thing.



  • On July 13, 2009 at 5:27 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Um, it’s been impossible to read literally “everything” since about, oh, the advent of printing. Can we grant Don the same amount of rhetorical license other commenters take for granted? He wasn’t being literal.

  • On July 13, 2009 at 5:47 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    Michael O’Brien, the most senior of the bunch who does have talent and 70 years of life to sing, his name mentioned only, just once in passing without praise, no link to Sinstead:

    Directing a forensic eye in search of gaiety to (a hopefully soon to be, Sir) Stephen Burt’s attempt in the Boston Review, at talking into existence a contemporary poetry movement he (perhaps) hopes may lead one day to an eternal fame, one cognized Stevie B asks we close our eyes, give me your hand, do you feel my heart beating, do you understand? Do you feel the same, am I only dreaming or is this burning an eternal fame?

    OK, i’m lying, but Burt aint. Steve aint lyin ’bout The New Thing – which is an uncommon label I know, which Burt accords to various contemporary poets he’s coralled beneath this banner, and whose work he claims:

    “is this-worldly, friendly to nature, but not always averse to the supernatural”

    ..before asking:

    “Is the New Thing—with its documentary cousins—related to 9/11?

    To the depredations of the Bush administration, which cast as irresponsible a Clinton-era poetry of free play? Or simply to the exhaustion of the effusive, associative, neo-Baroque mode that came just before?”

    Is it?


    The essence of Burt’s position is the New thang practitioner is one who takes the ancients as their model.

    A backlash to Kenny G and Ronnie S, which i think is a bit of a liberty as one is exceedingly fond of Ronald and Kenneth. Naturally we need names and pole-star, prime minister, president and Taoiseach, is Devin Johnston who gets elevated by Burt to a hierophantic podium, along with seond in command dick cheney dave cameron type of Tánaiste gig, Jon Woodward; a shy young chap (judging by this reading) Live from Iowa’s Prairie Lights).

    Woodward is verily near a poet god, glowing with holy praise, floating in the rarefied air and deified almost:

    “..who reinvents our sense of what an image is, collapsing allegory into realism and realism into fable in ways that are vertiginous and deeply instructive” – blurbs Jorie Graham, in whose Harvard nemeton Jon when a neophyte knuckled down and jolly well found that:

    “..compression, compact description, humility, restricted diction so bound up with ideas of durable thinghood that we can name the tendency simply by capitalizing: the New Thing.” – blurbs Burt.

    Listening to Jon and noting his tender years, what struck one was the weight of praise burdening him. I did not receive any sense from his radio reading linked above, of a poet who’d reinvented *our* sense of what an image is: but that’s just because Jorie G and one are not singing from the same blueprint, perhaps.

    There is nothing wrong, bad, no good, spurious or lacking in these few to several book posse of poets which will stop what intrensic personal power they individually possess, from attaining enoblement via po-biz; but if they are to arrive at the source of self inside their soul by hard graft practiced within a cloistered frame of mind free to flower alone away from the noise Burts brand of white magic conjures from air with nought but the faery force of Macalester Minnesota, telling us how Dev and Mick O’Leary are colleagues in control, of a wholly New Thing, rockin off what eleven years agoan Ste called Elliptical, and other (often hostile) observers termed New Lyric, Post Avant or Third Way poo arms – who knows?


    It’s not the poets work which is at fault, and Burt really, should be appaluded for his effort at gaining immortality as a Critic with this…erm, memorable Now Thing…is it, in the here and now at Harriet..oh sorry NEW, of course, of course yes, i knew Burt’s dream wins this years trip to the moon, for services to P oh trees in Minnesota, moi moi yaw, what a palava over several kids and abstract verbs and nouns..

    Bravo, hip hip ho nah (only joshin 99/10)

  • On July 13, 2009 at 5:59 pm Joseph Hutchison wrote:

    Gee, did I saddle Wittgenstein with “unmoored referents”? I did not. Once again, your urge to produce a riposte outpaces your understanding of the words you’ve read—or read over….

  • On July 13, 2009 at 6:18 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    The Falls

    Nerves, those fine pianos,
    plaintive as the applause of palms ;
    under the rain the green goes dark,
    muted, difficult as desire.
    The nights are white pages, the feelings accidental.
    In the dream the river runs over stone
    to the falls where a girl lies on her side
    under the moving water. I see her clearly
    through the moving water which descends the stair
    to the pool below, whose floor you touch
    before you let the water
    bear you back to the air.

    Michael O’Brien, whose book I purchased after surfing the Salt poetry pdf catalogues when Hamilton Emery made the panda bear plea to save his Business. I had promised a poster with the handle of kolf, who works in publishing in Cambridge were Salt is based, is a huge Salt supporter and works in a publishing business with a large turnover, knowing a heck of a darn lot about po-biz – that I would help their pal Chris out by buying three..sod it, four books, just coz I wanna give him MONEY.

    I skimmed fast many samples and the first poetry my eye stopped and decided to buy, was the work of a poet i didn’t know of, Michael O’Brien’s Sill

    plaintive as the applause of palms;

    That image is very original, apt, exact and has great acoustic grace, the soft plosive and labial mix, seductive and, the way my own insitinctive intellectual and emotional measuring equipment operates – immediately twitched, alerting me to the fact i think i’m in the presence of the real thing (as i grade it).

    Purely personal opinion of course as what’s at stake in the Opinion (criticism) game of you say i say, is nothing but our own pride in the poetical choices we make.

    Now, there is one simple way to guage linguistic originalty with contemporary IT, by googling in parenthesis, the syllabic-strings in a poem, down to a minimum of two words. If there are two words which return zero, depending on how poetic their combination – that’s the holy grail of po-biz, (technically speaking) which a poet could wish to make real, as it gives some indication of how often those two words have been put in that order. How original we are.

    “applause of palms” is a zero return and perfectly a picture of leaves brought together in the breeze, which alerts us from the off, that if it goes on in this vein, poetry is here.

    And combined with the image it makes, the average Reader, the objective person who has no interest in our little lives and wan spats with self and other (cheers Ma, spot on combo) who only desires to read decent gear, s/he would say, “hey, i like that” – and i am willing to bet with cold hard cash, because i was that s/he for most of my life, being a builders laborouer before i became a full time bore sat on one’s fanny winding up others up to the same caper of appearing knowledgeable about Great Work or The New Thing, as poetry is termed by the seriously unemployed-professional-poetry professing ollamhs.

    “under the rain the green” – zero return: and as you carry on, it’s all in the same vein, fulfilling the Horace rule of thumb to have plain simple placed in startling order.

    Does Stevie B?

    He clouds the issue and needs to come here and be reprogrammed by our merry band methinks titterers, non mon amis, fwendz?

  • On July 13, 2009 at 6:33 pm michael robbins wrote:

    the poetic movements of the past 15 or 20 years, with their “insistence on conceptual strategies, with their misreading of Nietzsche and their uncritical reception of the philosophies of the unmoored referent.” The sputtering partisans of these movements, lacking a way to respond effectively, all too often fall back on slurs against one’s intelligence, one’s educational bona fides, one’s reading preferences (you can contemplate life without Wittgenstein? off with your head!)

    Nope, no reading “over” here: the “partisans” of the “movements” that “uncritically receive” “the philosophies of the unmoored referent” are saying “you can contemplate life without Wittgenstein? off with your head!”

    I guess what you’re saying is that I should assume that you’re well aware that Wittgenstein’s philosophy is not only completely at odds with that of the partisans who nevertheless decapitate those who can live without him but is actively detested by most of them—doubtless you have Rorty & Cavell in mind, both of whom, you should have noted if you didn’t want to be perceived as careless, had to argue for Wittgenstein’s relevance to continental philosophy because of his incompatibility with many of its representatives.

    But the truth is the sentence you wrote is clear, & it is indeed the “partisans” who are, very strangely for partisans of “the unmoored referent”!, shrill in defense of Wittgenstein.

    I won’t conclude that you know nothing of the matter. I’ll ask you: precisely which “philosophies of the unmoored referent” do you have in mind? Please name which works you’ve studied. Same for Wittgenstein: when you invoke these straw men who cut heads off, are they defending his early or much different later work? Is it safe to assume that you’re equally familiar with each phase?

    If you do not, in fact, possess a facility in the relevant philosophies (& please note I heartily desire yr head to remain firmly on yr shoulders, if that is indeed where it is located), may I politely inquire how it is you know that poetry has become besotted by them? Finally, might you name someone who has threatened to decapitate you or anyone else for contemplating life without Wittgenstein? I find this distressing in the extreme.

  • On July 13, 2009 at 7:58 pm Don Share wrote:

    Yes, thank you for getting the gist of it…

    We’re lucky to have, in our time, unprecedented access to books, to texts of all kinds and in many formats. Read first, read lots; opine later. If reading is madness, then let’s be mad.

  • On July 13, 2009 at 8:07 pm Don Share wrote:

    Well put! Thank you, Iain. And thank you, Martin!

  • On July 13, 2009 at 8:21 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    I’ve enjoyed your thoughtful & bemused jeremiads, Martin : thank you. Hope to see more of them here, now & then.

    My own view about the issues raised here, is that there is something futile in asking from the poetry community, or from the culture at large, for something that neither can really provide. It’s like asking a wheel to turn itself.

    You argue that the fault lies with the ignorance/narcissicism/venality/preciosity of the poetry community. Michael Robbins suggests that society at large is at fault, for marginalizing poetry.

    I think perhaps each culture develops its own dramatic plot involving its literary figures, its iconic “speakers” – a plot which plays out over the whole life-span of a nation’s (or even a language’s) history. So the witness from “exile”, while valuable & often necessary, is perhaps not the whole story (I’m sure it plays its part in the European culture(s) which you inhabit, in some comparable fashion.) & it’s futile to ask the chorus to play the part of the protagonists.

    The U.S., I suspect, also has some kind of obscure literary-historical-eschatological “plot” underway, being figured forth by its poets. In this plot, there are long dull stretches, when everything seems dark & meaningless! My sense is that the poets of every culture become those culture’s poets because they discover, by some unknown process, what is the poetry in the life underway in front of their eyes. So American poets speak the poetry hidden in American life & culture. But this isn’t a process subject to anybody’s reductive blueprints or schemes. It’s the last thing from “obvious”. It’s subject to unpredictability & surprise.

  • On July 13, 2009 at 8:36 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    p.s. My guess is that a major dimension of the literary “plot” of the USA stems from the fact that its sub-plots have been (and are being) written by so-called “others” : exiles, ancestors, natives, foreigners, immigrants, slaves, women, prodigals, outcasts… (the autumn Thanksgiving of awkward strangers remains THE national holiday…)

  • On July 13, 2009 at 8:51 pm michael robbins wrote:

    I do not suggest that “society at large” (who he?) is “at fault.” There’s no blame here. If poetry no longer adequately embodies what Raymond Williams called “structures of feeling,” that is simply a historical fact. You can lament it if you want to, but you could just as well lament the discovery of electromagnetism.

  • On July 13, 2009 at 9:01 pm thomas brady wrote:

    “In the end, it’s the poems we’ll read, one by one.”

    Don, are you describing purgatory?

  • On July 13, 2009 at 9:24 pm thomas brady wrote:


    Do you recall how I knocked out Jeffers in one round? Can you imagine what Martin and I would do to you in a tag team wrestling match?

    I’ve mentioned a number of poets in this thread, and Poe only in reference to Lacan, while you’ve mentioned only a few obscure philosophers who have zero influence on the state of American poetry.

    Your response to Martin’s post can be summed up by: ‘Poetry’s in a state of crisis? Well…Wittgenstein…blah, blah, blah…’

    You know this is Harriet, right? The *poetry* foundation blog?

    Do you really think Richard Rorty has anything to do with the actual state of poetry?

    Or that naively name-dropping Wittgenstein has anything to do with anything?

    Turn off the smoke machine, take off the John Cage record, put down the hand grenade…

  • On July 13, 2009 at 9:41 pm Don Share wrote:


  • On July 13, 2009 at 9:44 pm Martin Earl wrote:


    Thanks for this comment, truly. The hardest thing is to be generous in the midst of disagreement. And you’ve been very generous in this comment. I have a lot of archiving to do now that I’ve finished my contract with Harriet. I hope to be in touch with people in the future. First I want to go back and take a second look at what people were saying (in tranquility…Wordsworthianly). Like you I came to Harriet to learn (and to make a little money of course, something freelancers have to keep in mind). The next phase is to apprentice myself to all those who spoke out loudly in these threads, and in my colleague’s threads. And to follow the leads. Thanks again.


  • On July 13, 2009 at 9:52 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    You knocked out Jeffers, Tom, as recorded by your admiring heteronym Woodman, with a right cross to your own jaw. Lying on the canvas, you saw stars.

    The barroom brawl analogy is seriously inappropriate.

  • On July 13, 2009 at 9:52 pm Martin Earl wrote:


    What an absolutely beautiful gift of a comment – thank you. You are right, we do “raise each other’s game” – you’ve certainly raised mine and continue to do so with your careful reticence on the present post. Stephen Burt, who I admire as a critic and a poet, upset me with this piece, caught me off balance, and I went for his throat. But I have the sense that I used him to illustrate a larger problem that might not even exist. So karmic reparation will be due. I can feel it. Likewise with Jon Woodward (the very talented and cryptic Matt calls me on that one). The two of them, unfortunately, Stephen and Jon, represented each other so awfully in that article that it would have been ridiculous not to say what I did. We are obligated to take out the exposed rook, to do it surgically and quickly. Tomorrow I am going down to New York and will, on Matt’s advise, buy Jon Woodward’s book. If I’ve done damage unjustly I want to repair it.


    ps…I see you have another comment down the thread. Give me a minute…

  • On July 13, 2009 at 10:02 pm Steve wrote:

    Dear Martin: That’s a beautiful essay and I was glad to read it. I’m sorry you don’t see what I see in Jon Woodward’s poetry; perhaps you’ll run across another piece of it later that’s more to your liking. And yes, of course, “‘no ideas but in things’ doesn’t mean ‘no ideas.'” (Good to see people quoting O’Brien here, too.)

  • On July 13, 2009 at 10:02 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Now that’s funny. You haven’t been reading (if you think you knocked out Jeffers, you haven’t even been reading yr own comments, not that I blame you).

    Oh, Tom. I’m the one who’s been arguing, against Martin & Joseph, that decades-old trends in philosophy have nothing to do with the current state of poetry! I’m not the one who brought up Wittgenstein—indeed, the whole point of the post in which I mention him argues for his irrelevance to the debate!

    I mean, Tom, whatever yr real name is (& how interesting that you hide behind a pseudonym), you’ve outdone yrself. If you’ll reread my posts, which you skimmed for tidbits, you’ll be chagrined to discover that I argue exactly that Rorty & Wittgenstein are absolutely the wrong places to look when assessing contemporary poetry.

    I wish you the best of luck in reversing the meaning of this comment.

  • On July 13, 2009 at 10:16 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    Watching the plot?

    L Oh ! L Oh !

    1,189,025 times

    Stephen Burt: (no) New Thing movement is complete without its poetical expression. If such a movement has caught hold of the imagination of the masses they will seek a vent in song..

    On an island of 8 million, one million died in the Bad Life, the same again paid into a pot of one in ten Americans connecting to An Gorta Mór.

    Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys lyric.

    Oh You don’t believe me I hear you say

    The Taoiseach’s as Irish as was JFK

    His grandmammy’s granddaddy came from Moneygall

    A village in Offaly well known to you all

    Muine Gall – Moneygall
    Grove of the Foreigners

    FOREIGNER – …noted on arrival. F bomb is not the offical term used for non-national.

    His mam’s daddy’s granddaddy was one Fulmouth Kearney
    He’s as Irish as any from the lakes of Killarney
    His mam’s from a long line of great Irish mama’s

    80 million in the diaspora …

    He’s fenian ke-Kenyan it’s the American way

    “Until the movement is marked by the joyous defiant singing of revolutionary songs, it lacks one of the most distinctive marks of a popular revolutionary movement:it is the dogma of the few not the faith of the multitude.”

    James Connolly 1907

    O’Leary O’Relly, O’Hare and O’Hara
    There’s no one as Irish as Barack O’Bama.

    2008 Spetember 14

    Shay Black sings a New Thing at the Starry Plough Pub, Berkeley, CA.

    1,189,025 times

    L Oh L Oh

    you at a place called

    V E..rtigoo yet Blert?

    wow ! wow !

    Do not fink sooo

    Wow ! Wow !

    de dair!

  • On July 13, 2009 at 10:18 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Further amusement, Tom: you apparently believed that the quote from Joseph in which Wittgenstein is name-dropped was authored by me! You’ve been assuming that I am arguing for Wittgenstein’s relevance to a debate that, I argue, has zero to do with Wittgenstein. Yr beef is with Joseph, & Martin, too, who blames the whole thing on French theory (my only point, in response to Joseph’s bringing Wittgenstein in, was that Wittgenstein is a non sequitur).

    Then, you didn’t bother to read my comments far enough to realize their basic point: there is no crisis in poetry. If poetry is irrelevant, that’s not a crisis. It has zero to do with Lacan or any other philosopher, zero to do with flarf, zero to do with insufficient politicizing (Martin’s ideas)—& everything to do with its insufficiency to the structures of feeling of the larger culture, as a form, regardless of its content. Flarf, Jorie Graham, Robert Pinsky, you name it: it’s irrelevant.

    Now, Tom, I know you don’t like me, & that’s fine. But I’m going to ask you a favor. I’ve asked it of you before. You have yet to grant it, which is why I keep resolving not to engage you anymore. It is this: please be honest. Do not accuse me of having said things that a cursory reading would reveal are the opposite of what I have said. I’ve said lots of things about yr comments, Tom, but I have never lied about their import. It will save time, is all, if you actually attack me for positions I am on record as holding, rather than for those I explicitly & at length oppose. Don’t you think?

  • On July 13, 2009 at 10:21 pm michael robbins wrote:

    I hope it goes without saying, Martin, but in case it doesn’t: I mean nothing personal by my rather harsh critique of yr position; I am glad to have people writing for Harriet with whom I might productively disagree; I am quite sorry to hear of your father’s illness; & I wish you & him all the best.

  • On July 13, 2009 at 11:16 pm Martin Earl wrote:


    “It seems to me that our country’s decline into a “service economy,” where I pay you to wash my car and you pay me to mow your lawn, but neither of us makes anything of value is simply being mirrored by our poetry. Not all of our poetry, certainly, but much of it.”

    This is simply a fabulous idea for an essay: to apply the model of the service economy as a kind template to the way the poetry world presently functions. Ange Mlinko says something very similar (as only she can say it) up thread: “We shall see whether poetry, which fancies itself a critique of the dominant ideology, was ever anything but a product of that ideology for all those years of fed-exed sushi and semi-affordable (outsourced to Hong Kong) Prada.” Poetry needs to be seen in real world terms and the crisis of production is at the heart of our present ills. Recently, a friend of mine took all of his money out of the stock market. His stocks were part of his inheritance, which he’d never really looked at closely while his parents were alive. Of course this was a case when an ethical reaction proved to be a financially sound decision, since he sold his shares before the bust. The thing is, though, he wasn’t looking to make money. He was just revolted at the notion that money could make money independently of the production of something useful and that a company’s performance as a producer of goods was not necessarily linked to the value of its shares. Simple Marxist algebra stripped of all the bogus ideology once again making important sense. Thanks for this Joseph…are you going to write it, or am I going to write? You get first dibs. Just don’t let the line touch the water.


  • On July 14, 2009 at 12:47 am Martin Earl wrote:


    I don’t now how Wittgenstein found his way into the mix (I think it was something between you an Joseph). But now that he’s here, just a question. Aren’t you ever just slightly dissatisfied with how poets and critics of poetry have, to some extent, co-opted what is the fun part, and neglected the difficult part in W? For instance, don’t you think Perloff’s Ladder, in its attempt to make W. into the ur-poet of the AG, goes too far and ends up being reductive in terms of W’s own processes? My point is that to equate Wittgenstein’s philosophical rigor with the practice of poets is to confuse the scattershot of influence with actual philosophical method?


  • On July 14, 2009 at 2:24 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    Earl (marty)

    Desmond (kevin)

    My mother’s name is Pauline Swords and my dad’s Jeremiah Desmond.

    I got sidetracked somewhat in the first comment, as what i wanted to say first as i read advice number 2, reaching the admittance to full collapse, it revealed humanity few reach to voice in print. And something of Kavanagh.

    There is the simplicity of going away, and the simplicity of return.

    “In the final simplicity we don’t care whether we appear foolish or not. We talk of things that earlier would embarrass. We are satisfied with being ourselves, however small.”

    Who can say, who but me can say much Foetry po-biz Alphas Omegas and any letter going, one need only History to draw a not illogical conclusion from the plain bald obvious Thing that is, that there’s an intoxicating amount of Tom SE’s ‘fools’ approval Jarrell nailed: “most of the thousands of poets were bad, most of the thousands of critics were bad, and they loved each other.”

    What’s different?

    Foetry po-biz is founded on Fear. The fear of upsetting poet open mic Z through to AAA impregnable inviolates who move o’er the scene in sonorous tweet impervious to a horridness they visualize at work when dreaming exquisiteness its very self: Jorie Gee’s “vertiginous and deeply instructive” bland oblvious unaware mechanical waft of abstract noun and verb fabricated to talk up boring young boys who know only quads in which they wandered in a subsidised bubble deluded but safe from the truth of s/he who is you, me, everybody – needs some body, to love or hate, Harriet fwenz?

    Gosh what square brainers on three a day with only marvelous, wonderful, delightful Reality to keep them extremely concerned about the wars on TV, the images of which can upset and ruin a very agreebale and pleasant session with same-as-me Foetry faces never failing because they are in the richest places where MONEY buys rep?

    Our reality has not been one way darlingly marvelous, four sqaure quad-clique on all sides of a puddle connecting us, chattering innanities in a world of Unreality, voyeurs capturing TV reality and claiming, Marto lah, cerebral privilege on the page of experiences for those in the gutter: voicing them, us, me my poor people who have zip but eloquence and wan bland bores crassly packaged telling us, ME, what its REALLY!! like to be a poor poet with the weight of sushi, handbag, accesorize, lie fix face don’t say what you know and go, go tell me their poetic Reality is ME, telling me who I am: condescending not interested one iota in a 1200 years-in-print dán – Poetry – dán, is fate arrant random chance that brought us all here and who know it to be Foetry, mizters and mizzers.


    America’s Poet Laureate learnt first his job with four Tipperary brothers and a baritone expert in long-necked 5-string banjo, guitar, bagpipe and tin whistle – Tommy Makem the Bard of Armagh at the White Horse Tavern in New York’s Village, where a supernatural Burt will never know (i know)dán made Bob’s life sing:

    I can see that your head
    has been twisted and fed
    with worthless foam from the mouth.
    I can tell you are torn
    between staying and returning
    on back to the South.
    You’ve been fooled into thinking
    that the finishing end is at hand.
    Yet there’s no one to beat you.
    No one to defeat you,
    except the thoughts of yourself feeling bad.
    I’ve heard you say many times
    That you’re better than no one
    And no one is better than you.

    If you really believe that,
    you know you have
    nothing to win and nothing to lose.
    From fixtures and forces and friends,
    your sorrow does stem.
    That hype you and type you,
    and making you feel
    that you gotta be just like them.

    I think it’s great gas because one is extremely happy. Reality just is and in poetry, whoever cleverest, keys into being happy as both Emporer and non-entity simultaneously, wins the pretend because poetry = happiness and Foetry = Upset fwenz fighting.


    Who can that be, i wonder Stephen Burt, Jorie Graham, names names names Kevin Desmond maybe, it can’t be me because Des is the epithet my eight year every waking hour dreaming brought from others, not me.

    All a poet can want, known by a Sir name which reveals a real supernatural flow and not made up with thousands and thousands of dollars, but what don’t cost kind Kev a cent, Marty mate: Mister.

    Don’t get me wrong, Burt wants this hoo ha that’s why he says such outrageous things, to get you gassing as we laugh at shmoks extremely displeased about us having a giggle in print using poetry as the mechanism to achieve personal happiness.

    He is very clever and talented and lovely and fab and i would love to give Stphen a hug, but the fact is, US poetry aint selling coz few write it. Eight years, every waking hour of every day since Jan 1 2001, addicted, wholly unplanned chance, dán fate meant to be: Foetry.



  • On July 14, 2009 at 4:07 am john wrote:

    “Prominent movements in the 1980s and 1990s with their insistence of conceptual strategies, with their misreading of Nietzsche and their uncritical reception of the philosophies of the unmoored referent left American poetry neutered, blinded, gelded and hysterectimized.”

    Martin, I have no problem with your distaste for the movements whose names you refrain from naming here, but I do take exception to the notion that they have had the power to do anything in particular to American poetry. The Slam movement has never lost its capacity to witness the real and the tragic, to name names, and to make the connections between speech, fact, the aesthetic, the spiritual, and the political; nor has it bothered with the movements you’re referring to.

    “New Thing” was a name for a style of dissonant, polyrhythmic, aurally intense jazz in the 1960s. I love a lot of that music, and find the appropriation of its name for a mild brand of poetry amusing. Coincidentally, some of the forebears of the Slam movement — Jayne Cortez, Amiri Baraka, Ntozake Shange — worked with musicians associated with or influenced by the (since superseded) New Thing.

  • On July 14, 2009 at 5:10 am thomas brady wrote:

    uh…OK, list all the profound reasons Bunny wrote that essay…

  • On July 14, 2009 at 5:27 am thomas brady wrote:

    my paradise would have an occasional break from reading poems…

    your paradise sounds like a purgatory dreamed by derrida

    I would have spoken argument, and song layering the distances, and first gaze into the eyes of Edna St. Millay, and then hear her sing little songs to Elinor Wylie, and then I would kiss the cold lips of Harriet Monroe and feel them getting warm…

  • On July 14, 2009 at 5:55 am thomas brady wrote:

    Robbins took up Wittgenstein as a smarty-pants-cudgel in order to beat Joseph with it, after Joseph had merely mentioned W. in passing as an example of the smarty-pants rhetoric poets have become so besotted with. Robbins wishes us to see that all poets and all poetry critics of the last 100 years are blameless for poetry’s sorry state. What difference, Wittgenstein, or Cleanth Brooks or Ezra Pound? NO ONE is to blame, or has any responsibility at all, according to Robbins. So why should Robbins get so defensive when I say that he name-drops Wittgenstein? That’s precisely what he did–he name ‘dropped’ W. on Joseph in a bombing raid, in an act of crude rhetorical violence, not wishing to discuss ideas or their consequences for poetry; Robbins merely wishes to defend the Burts of the world (hoping to make a career of publishing inanity with impunity himself one day, perhaps?) by making as much noise as he possibly can. Look! He’s spinning in circles right now, while making a loud humming noise from deep in his throat… I guess there’s some amusement in it…

  • On July 14, 2009 at 7:17 am Annie Finch wrote:

    I grew up on Tommy Makem and the Clancy Bros. Singable, and quite trailblazing in their time–it was nice to see them interviewed in Scorcese’s Dylan film.

  • On July 14, 2009 at 7:22 am Annie Finch wrote:

    No kidding—ah, Rima!! I should have figured WHH was a poetry lover. . .

  • On July 14, 2009 at 7:39 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Ok, here’s a paraphrase of Harriet’s famous remark that adds in a missing piece–and I think that perhaps if the missing piece is added, we have a model by which both Martin and Michael can be seen to be right at the same time:

    In order to have great poets, we need great audiences. And in order to have great audiences, we need great critics.

  • On July 14, 2009 at 7:40 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Oh, please let me rephrase that just a bit (as one of my editors told me once, poets are constant tinkerers:)

    In order to have great poets, we need great audiences. But in order to have great audiences, we need great critics.

  • On July 14, 2009 at 8:09 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Ange–aside: it is very cool that you are going to Beirut! I look forward to hearing from you about poetry there.–Annie

  • On July 14, 2009 at 8:47 am Sina Queyras wrote:

    I’m increasingly suspicious of the role of critics in contemporary poetry, Annie. Perhaps even more suspicious than I am of all the discussion.

    So I want to say take out the word “great” out of the equation period, and shift the emphasis to readers.

  • On July 14, 2009 at 8:50 am duane sosseur wrote:

    …poetry is all around us every day, always has been and always will be. Seeing it is the trick….
    Getting other people to see it is what we do.
    Like capturing a beautiful butterfly then letting it go to flutter forever in the dappled sunshine, surrounded by flowers and sprinkles….

  • On July 14, 2009 at 9:18 am Don Share wrote:

    We’re complete opposites!

  • On July 14, 2009 at 10:05 am thomas brady wrote:

    I’m a rambler, I’m a gambler,
    I’m a long ways from hooome,
    And if you don’t like me,
    Well, leave me alone!
    I’ll eat when I’m hungry,
    I’ll drink when I’m dry,
    And if a tree don’t fall on me
    I’ll live til I die…Yip!

  • On July 14, 2009 at 10:19 am John Oliver Simon wrote:

    We “high culture” poets don’t like to look at categories this way, but…

    Bob Dylan is the most important American poet of the last fifty years. By far. And he has never lacked for an audience.

    Dylan took an end run around “poetry” the same way Shakespeare did, by casting it into a popular, low-culture, out-of-category form.

    I mean, what has Ashbery, or Charles Bernstein, or Sharon Olds, or Billy Collins, or anybody you love or I love, got to put up gainst “to live outside the law you must be honest”?

    And it’s all right, Ma.

  • On July 14, 2009 at 10:25 am michael robbins wrote:

    More nonsense. Again, if you’d read instead of bloviate you’d see I’m not defending Burt’s essay, which I think is, alas, quite bad. Nor does Burt need me to defend him. I’m arguing against a position I disagree with—you should try it some time; it entails more than simply announcing that the New Critics are responsible for everything bad.

    My reviews appear in The London Review of Books & Poetry, Tom. The last thing I am is worried about yr impact on my publishing career. I just want you to read what people write before you attack what they wrote.

  • On July 14, 2009 at 11:09 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    “Bob Dylan is the most important American poet of the last fifty years. By far.”

    – John Oliver Simon

    I completely agree with this statement about Bob Dylan.

    I think this statement about Bob Dylan is completely ridiculous.

    And there I have hung, suspended in air like a ball bearing between oppositely magnetized poles for over forty years.

  • On July 14, 2009 at 11:21 am thomas brady wrote:

    We can mistrust critics all we want.

    But we should realize that every poetry conversation we have, every judgment we make as we read poems, is due to criticism.

    The most independent, poetry-loving, critic-hating reader is swayed by criticism’s distillment.

    Poems don’t grow on trees. Critics grow the poems we see, and grow how we see them.

    I read Millay’s biography again last night. Millay was poetry embodied, she not only marched for Saco & Vanzetti, but she actually got a hearing with the judge who decided they had to die, and she almost saved them, or got as close as anyone could, and when some Lady’s poetry group cancelled an invitation to Elinor Wylie because of Elinor’s personal indiscretions, Millay stood with her, and refused the group’s invitation to her (Millay) in Elinor’s name, and when Elinor Wylie died, Millay leaned down over her coffin and whispered a poem to her. I never knew this story.

    Critics ultimately decide what stories we hear. Readers cannot possibly read all the poems and stories for themselves. The distillment is crucial. Now Elizabeth Bishop is a good poet, but how many MORE times do we hear about Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, for instance, than Edna Millay and Elinor Wylie? The abuse of Millay by certain well-placed figures in Ransom’s coterie is well-documented, and instead of being part of ‘the story,’ is a repressed element–while yet influencing ‘the stories’ we hear, nonetheless.

    This is just one, small example. The number of icons and stories we hear are a relatively small number, and criticism, far more than ‘the poems,’ determines what we ultimately ‘know’ of poetry–in all respects.

  • On July 14, 2009 at 12:12 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Which was Bob’s game, living out there on the fine line that resists definitions.

  • On July 14, 2009 at 1:20 pm john wrote:

    But what does Dylan have to put up against “Awopbopaloobop alopbamboom”?

    Seriously, Dylan has a lot of great lines, and some great, great songs, and so does Johnny Mercer. “My huckleberry friend” — gorgeous. “One for my baby and one more for the road” — unforgettable. Dylan changed pop music, but I love the Cavalier Tin Pan Alley writers as much as the Romantic rockers that Dylan ushered in.

    And “Awopbopaloobop alopbamboom” is a great line too. As are plenty by Ashbery, Notley, O’Hara, Antin, Ntozake Shange, Bob Kaufman, Patricia Smith, Robert Duncan . . . The great catchy line is a tasty poetic treat, but it’s not the only measure of terrific poetry.

  • On July 14, 2009 at 1:22 pm Don Share wrote:

    Some of Dylan’s lesser-known verses:

    If dogs run free, why not me
    Across the swamp of time?
    My mind weaves a symphony
    And tapestry of rhyme.
    Oh, winds which rush my tale to thee
    So it may flow and be,
    To each his own, it’s all unknown,
    If dogs run free.

    (Click here for full lyric and audio.)

  • On July 14, 2009 at 1:58 pm john wrote:

    I love that song!

    Speaking of high-low juxtapositions, I recently got classical (and soundtrack) composer John Corigliano’s settings of Dylan “poems” out from the library, and it’s unspeakably vulgar, almost a parody of classical song-style, almost Spike Jones-worthy. Corigliano had never heard the songs (!!!), so he approached seven lyrics as poems to be set, and, get this, for the refrain of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” he used . . . tambourine!!! I like his soundtrack to “The Red Violin,” but his Dylan record is depressing, and not only because Corigliano, when asked to set words by an American poet, couldn’t think of any contemporary poets (he allowed as how he like Whitman and Dickinson), and he’d heard that Dylan was highly regarded as a poet, so he went searching . . .


  • On July 14, 2009 at 2:07 pm Jeannine Hall Gailey wrote:

    Several poets responded, I thought, with quite strong pieces around the theme of 9/11. Denise Duhamel’s “”Love Which Took Its Symmetry for Granted” is one of those. I also thought that some of Matthea Harvey’s Modern Life – specifically, “Terror of the Future/The Future of Terror” also were obliquely themed around the anxiety that 9/11 caused.

    I didn’t think Burt’s article was all that hard to read, but it is hard to throw your arms around (and label) the things that are going on right now in poetry – the different branches seem to defy that, purposely, perhaps.

  • On July 14, 2009 at 2:37 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    I know this will sound silly to all of you young’uns who are hip to contemporary music, I mean it will be “like, Duh!”, but if you haven’t heard the 30th Anniversary Bob Dylan tribute concert YOU HAVE NOT LIVED!

  • On July 14, 2009 at 3:02 pm thomas brady wrote:

    The subject matter–9/11–is not the point. The public has lost interest in what the poets have to say.

    If a restaurant serves a bad meal every third or fourth time, it doesn’t matter how many good meals they serve; people will stop going to that restaurant.

    Po-biz suffers from the same fate.

    Po-biz has failed too many times and lost the public’s trust.

    Criticism which behaves like a restaurant critic cannot help a restaurant which the public no longer trusts.

    Criticism needs to go right in the kitchen and find out what’s wrong with the food, the preparation; it needs to question the whole enterprise.

    The Po-biz restaurant served up rotten food which should never have been offered to the public in the first place. The po-biz restaurant managers back in the kitchen couldn’t smell the rot which turned off the public.

    Until the restaurant gets new management, the public won’t be buying.

    When Charles Olson announced that the typewriter allowed the poet to compose typewritten music based on spacing on the page, this should have been greeted with hysterical laughter. Instead, Po-Biz treated Mr. Olson, a disciple of Pound, Cummings, and Williams, with seriousness, dignity, and respect. Reeking garbage was permitted in food preparation.

    The restaurant’s management has not changed; the discipleship of modern American poetry is easily traced.

    The public will not come near the door of the New Thing restaurant. Critics like Stephen Burt are writing restaurant reviews for a restaurant closed to the public.

  • On July 14, 2009 at 3:22 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    I think I said that right. Maybe ‘Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary…’. Anyway, worth the price of both discs just for Eric Clapton’s version of ‘Don’t Think Twice’.

  • On July 14, 2009 at 3:39 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Thomas: I’ve been considering your ideas about poetry. I don’t want to get too personal but, I was wondering…do you still warm water on the pot-belly for your bath? I bet you drive a Model T, don’t you?

  • On July 14, 2009 at 3:57 pm thomas brady wrote:


    I dare not say.
    You see, I’m afraid you’ll go away.
    A light rain might interfere with the sun
    In terms that might upset you, or anyone,
    Gliding though an ordinary day.

    I’m afraid you’ll go away.
    A rain dissolves near the mist-resembling sun.
    Clouds were bright last night, and I see every document is done.
    Will it rain? Will I be kissed?
    Is it wise to duck the sun?

    Perhaps aeroplane and typewriter
    Made poems go where they didn’t want to go.
    Futurism was a gas–funny and slow.
    Is the light of those eyes light of night or day?
    I dare not say.

    Do you need me to trace the discipleship for you?
    It’s difficult to get a read on your erudition sometimes…


  • On July 14, 2009 at 5:16 pm mearl wrote:


    It’s extremely gracious of you to drop in on this thread. It means the world to me. I’ve just arrived in NYC this afternoon and plan to root around for the poets you bring up in your article.

    Over the last few years your poems and your many essays have given me countless hours of pleasure and a huge amount to think about, all of it made even more crucial by my distance from everything.

    Thanks again,


  • On July 14, 2009 at 6:07 pm Martin Earl wrote:


    I’ve been on the train all day, first coming up from the South Shore into Boston and then taking the marvelous Acela down to NYC. Nothing really seemed to work. The Internet connection they proudly advertise rejected all my attempts at hacking into the system. The so-called bullet crawled. And everything vibrated. I think I invented a new kind of handwriting called Northeast Corridor Cyrillic. At any rate, it’s taken me a while to climb back up to the top of this thread, but I wanted to tell you how crucial this comment of yours is, not only for what your words mean to me, but because I think it saved the thread from getting off on the wrong foot. You did a wonderfully graceful job at making sense out of Michael’s enthusiasm and bringing things back into balance. And with your citations you gave me the very dear pleasure of reading myself through your eyes. That’s a gift.


  • On July 14, 2009 at 6:09 pm Ange Mlinko wrote:

    Thanks Annie. I don’t quite know what to expect once I get there, but it won’t be boring, I think!

  • On July 14, 2009 at 7:12 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    “It’s difficult to get a read on your erudition sometimes…”

    What do you need to know, Thomas?

  • On July 14, 2009 at 8:23 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Forget about poetry… is there a doctor in the house? I mean the blimp…

  • On July 14, 2009 at 8:27 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    …in fact, could we rename Harriet THE BLIMP?
    & light a thousand air bags…

  • On July 14, 2009 at 9:01 pm Terreson wrote:

    I too will miss Martin Earl’s articles. While I’ve had difficulty, from time to time, with the thicket of his prose style, the ideas he has brought to the table have been salient and productive. In the present case, for example, I essentially agree with his ‘outsider’s’ assesment of the American poetry scene. Over the last two decades it has incresingly become irrelevant not only to the American experience but to the global experience. The strange part about it all is that, over the same period of time, the scene has been damn near obsessed with establishing its relevance. There is some sort of inverse ratio equation at play here it seems to me. Nor do I blame readers of poetry or pop culture or mass-society for the problem. I blame practicing poets, professional poets for hire, teachers of poetry, theorists of poetics, and second-rate critics. It is like they’ve all become as unstuck, ungrounded, as has the American middle-class. (In a twisted sort of way maybe the scene reflects the country’s current experience of itself after all.)

    Recently I’ve had reason to pull out of a box the poetry of a friend who died of cancer in ’90 at age 36. The collection had been written in ’88 and after the diagnosis. And I haven’t had the courage to pull up the material all of these 21 years. I scanned to the pc and posted the poetry on a poetry board I maintain. One very gifted poetry reader (gifted I say and not ‘smart’ or polished) said it best when she said about the poetry: it is so alive. Later she further explained herself by saying: it’s all so in-your-face.

    Also, upthread Sina Queyras says: “I’m increasingly suspicious of the role of critics in contemporary poetry, Annie. Perhaps even more suspicious than I am of all the discussion.

    So I want to say take out the word “great” out of the equation period, and shift the emphasis to readers.”

    I agree with the assessment. Actually, I’ve gone a step further. I’ve stopped heeding them, critcs. It all started when I took into full account something Aristotle said about the poet and her metaphors. In paraphrase he said that the metaphor is the great thing, the one thing that cannot be taught. When I extrapolate on the insight I come up with this: if poetry cannot be taught then the critic is of no use to me. There are no short cuts he can show me. I am on my own and chasing down the roebuck in the thicket (R. Graves’ metaphor for poetry – chasing down the roebuck in the thicket.)

    I see that once again Mr. Brady is pleading the critic’s case. In my view it amounts to special pleading. I’ve had this conversation with him before on another site. I am as familiar with his views as he is with mine. He and I stand on opposites sides of a certain divide. I remember clearly his position to the effect that critics are the poets’ lovers. It gave me the queasy sensation. Physical it was.

    Queyras’ post also, and slight handedly, shifts an attention in relationships from poet-to-critic to poet-to-reader. This resonates. In the same earlier conversation with Mr. Brady I too posited the same shift. I called my ideal reader the gifted poetry reader, the one whose participation in a poem is as active and purposeful and determining as might be the poet’s. I think I’ve always relied upon the gifted poetry reader whose thumbs up or thumbs down response can make or break a poem the way no critic can. Vonnegut was asked once who he wrote to, or what was his audience. Absolutely without pause he said it was an older sister he always had in his head, the best reader he has ever known. (I miss Vonnegut. I miss his way of thinking with his whole body and I miss the way he spoke to my whole body.)

    One last item and please give me a certain dispensation for saying this. Above, Mr. Brady is of the mind that, on another thread, he knocked out Jeffers with one blow, or some such nonsense as that. What the gentleman doesn’t seem to get is that, in these online conversations, intelligent readers and members tend to let go of no-end conversations. It is often a case of the last man standing being less a victor and more a case of the last man rambling.

    Martin Earl I’ll miss your thinking. You got the notion of the sister to sister relationship between poetry and philosophy. It is true, man. I should like to have had further chance to pick and pique your estimations of things.

  • On July 14, 2009 at 9:02 pm Martin Earl wrote:


    Moving to Beirut is huge. My word! Let’s leave that for later…it’s way larger than this thread. What I wanted to say, as I said to Annie above, is that I’m very glad you came in to this thread so early. Important for many reasons (top of the list, really, your own work, poems (esp.) and essays, which I hear echoes of in your razor sharp sentences here on Harriet). But then the way you bring in the whole question of “perspective”. That was very important to say. You’ve had the experience of living abroad…some others who’ve been writing in have had it as well. But most haven’t. Why should they? That’s why it’s not something that should be used as a criterion, but simply as a fact. If anything (even if on a personal level it can’t help but be transformative) on a public level it can be a handicap. This was one of the things I was worried about when I started my work on Harriet. It’s different writing essays for print, or writing poems and watching them move from inception, to the cooling drawer, to friends who read them and then eventually seeing them into the world. Everything we make comes freighted with our experience. But these things have their own time. Blogging imposes its time and it traditionally traffics in the epherma of its concerns, whether politics or poetry or sucking stones. If you’re not precisely up to date while blogging, then you’re not blogging. “Perspective” was precisely what prevented me from actually blogging. I realized that to blog from the outside was simply not going to work. Michael, and others, have accused me of not knowing anything about American poetry. I do know something; I just know it differently. But more importantly I know how to read, since I’ve spent the last twenty-five years reading by myself. Perspective is a great word, because it names the location of the eye, and then provides the rules for what can be realistically seen from that point. With this set up, I’ve always felt that one’s vision is less confused. And over years one’s optics are refined within a restricted setting. This kind of restriction was as important for Emily Dickenson, as it is for Harry Mathews, as it was for the philosophical methodology of Ludwig Wittgenstein, who always started from a restricted frame, in a an attempt to eliminate static. Of course it drove him half mad, or drove him to Tolstoy’s Gospels. The method, as it does with all exiles (like Celan), is exposed by the conclusion, the thing achieved, that which fits back into the world. Perspective is very important, not only in poetry, but it will be in Beirut. You will learn gradually which streets fit and which streets don’t. I admire your courage. Things are very up in the air in Lebanon at the moment.


  • On July 14, 2009 at 9:27 pm michael robbins wrote:

    I’m not sure whether you’re implying that I’ve never lived abroad—not true—& the reasons I was driven to do so would doubtless resonate with you—or that I don’t know how to read. It’s interesting—someone’s affiliated with the academy, so folks make all sorts of assumptions. Well, I spent my twenties & early thirties decidedly on the outside, reading on my own, as you put it, barely supporting myself. I’d think the less we presume to know about people’s history & experience from their public personae, the better.

  • On July 14, 2009 at 9:30 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    Sorry Martin, i forgot to say thank you for the compliment.

    I was coming to the peaks of a wave which began last week, non stop spamming online, averaging 7 hours a night, up and back at it in the saddle of blather – so the few comments made yesterday, where created i the sham-anic zone of displaced, out-of-kilter mental reality.

    I am at my sisters tommorow near Howth, and have to get off my fanny and cycle 8 miles, and am in the process of landing back down on solid cerebral ground.

    Since i began writing the process has been read read read and write, with last two years writing more, and its one wave after the other, which lead to an altered state of consciousness, and in the high of fantastical thought last night – only returning now after 12 hours in the sack, making up for the 4 5 and 6 hour snoozes of the last week – I see i didn’t thank you properly, so thank svery much.


  • On July 14, 2009 at 10:18 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    The image of the hammer was actually mine, and to be sure everybody read it as the tabloid headline I intended I put it up in bold. It was toward the beginning of Joel Brouwer’s thread on Robinson Jeffers (“Keep the Spot Sore”) if you want to have a look.

    My hammer has caused all sorts of problems now, I’m afraid, but it really was intended as a joke. Indeed, it could appear anywhere on Harriet when someone feels they’ve dealt the whole subject a knock-out blow, and is specifically relevant to Martin Earl’s fascinating evaluation of Stephen Burt’s The New Thing–and in many ways. The critical hammer K.O.s the reader, said my post, and like in the Carl Sagan based film ‘Contact,’ instead of a sudden, mind-bending revelation there’s a quiet space–not a beach as in the film but a quiet pasture full of cow’s grazing.

    Then, like all fertile images, there’s a dysjunction that moves toward an unsuspected meaning. The cow’s don’t ‘hammer’ the field, they ‘poop’ in it. So the hammer-blow becomes a poop!

    Which the original one certainly was!

    But there’s a silver lining to the image, because the poop is also good fresh, healthy manure. And of course the astonishing twist is that out of an instinct for hygiene cows avoid the manured places in a field for more than six months–they just won’t eat it! So the pasture absorbs the dung slowly, and for each poop there gradually emerges a circle of super green grass. When the instinctual probation period is over, the cows go back to it and eat the grass with relish. Indeed, it’s the best spot in the field!

    So that’s a take on critical bombshells like the one that had just been dropped when I posted the hammer headline in the first place. And it’s suggestion is, of course, that all critical bombshells are poops initially, but given time they can become something else. They can be absorbed intellectually, emotionally, creatively, even spiritually in time–which is a very positive take on what was originally a blow well below the belt!

    To start mixing my metaphors disastrously yet again.


  • On July 14, 2009 at 11:38 pm Martin Earl wrote:

    No, Michael, absolutely not. This was for Angie mostly. And I say specifically that the fact of distance is just a fact and should not be used to make value judgments – a different perspective results, naturally. That’s all I’m saying. The comment wasn’t directed at you at all. And I wanted to thank you (but hadn’t got to it yet) for your comment down thread somewhere and assure you that I take none of this personally. I enjoy the engagement and learn from it. You put a link in somewhere to a new review of yours in the London Review, if I’m not mistaken. Can you point me to that? I’m exhausted after traveling and work and trying to respond to everyone, but the thread has gone all over the place. It’s going to take a couple of days to deal with it as it deserves.

    Sorry if I mislead,


  • On July 15, 2009 at 8:45 am thomas brady wrote:


    You asked that odd question re: the Model T (I guess that’s your way of showing you’re clever) implying that tracing the lineage of American poetry was some arcane practice that no longer had any relevance. I asked about your erudition because perhaps you have not have studied the issue enough, and need some help. You mostly read about zen and haiku, don’t you? Do you want to play a game? How much do you want to bet I can trace any critic or poet, living or dead, in three steps or less, to either Ezra Pound or John Crowe Ransom, or both? All writers (poets, poetry critics, poetry editors or salon hosts) you can think of, English or American, within the last 100 years. I’m not talking influence here, but personal acquaintance. What say you, Mistah Fitzgerald? You game?


  • On July 15, 2009 at 9:00 am thomas brady wrote:


    I think we’re much closer to each other than we realize. You fear to call ‘astute reading of poetry’ criticism. I have no trouble *calling* it criticism. Aren’t we quibbling over words?

    Because where I think you might be coming from is that you have a healthy suspicion of Writing Workshops which *teach* writers to write. The Writing Workshop was the Trojan Horse of the New Critics like Ransom and Tate, who took over the academy in their 1937-1950 coup. Poetry as history and language studies was replaced in the academy by poet-teachers teaching themselves and their friends: instant canonization.

    Allyson Stack, of Edinburgh, Scotland, responds in this week’s “New Yorker” (‘The Mail’) to Louis Menand’s review of Mark McGurl’s “The Program Era,” and defends Creative-writing programs by saying they teach students how to write because it’s very different to read with an eye to writing yourself than to read for the purposes of “writing a term paper.” This begs numerous questions, however, and still does not justify, in my mind, ‘Criticism Inc’ by John Crowe Ransom, or any excuse for Writing Workshops beyond their ‘casting couch’ existence.


  • On July 15, 2009 at 9:44 am Don Share wrote:

    “It is part of our cultural deprivation that whole ranges of human consciousness have fallen into a privatized self. The failure to know modern art and the current retreat from it further displace and sentimentalize the past. The contemporary artist, then, hasn’t a chance of being understood by a large public, because his or hers is an imagination in dialogue with the triumphs and faults of modernism.” – Robin Blaser, ca. 1986

  • On July 15, 2009 at 10:11 am michael robbins wrote:

    Hey, Martin. My first review for the LRB (of Seidel’s collected) should be out any time now. Thanks for responding.

  • On July 15, 2009 at 10:24 am Catherine Halley wrote:

    Ditto. I’ve been on vacation for a few days. It’s amazing to see what I’ve missed.

  • On July 15, 2009 at 11:16 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Mr. Brady: You have expressed your disdain for ‘Modernist’ poetry on many occasions (now there’s an understatement). Since the ‘Modernist’ period in the USA is generally defined within a time frame of 1890-1940 and since you have stated that the ‘Modernists’ ruined poetry or, at least, resulted in the failure of poetry to be popular, I had to assume that any poetry you do appreciate predates 1890. That was the intent of my remark. I, for one, thought it was funny, not an attempt to be “clever”.

    At any rate, what motivated my response was the following comment by you:

    “Instead, Po-Biz treated Mr. Olson, a disciple of Pound, Cummings, and Williams, with seriousness, dignity, and respect.”

    This would imply that you don’t consider Cummings a good poet. It would be interesting to see a single recognized living poet or genuine authority come here to Harriet and publicly agree with this assessment. Rots o’ ruck!

    I won’t be able to take you up on your challenge because:

    A) My study of literary history and letters was, to coin a phrase, ‘long ago and far away’ and I don’t have time to review details I learned in College forty years ago, and

    B) I couldn’t care less.

    You will note that I do not interject opinions in discussions of an academic nature because I am no longer qualified or inclined to debate this trivia. I just write poetry, dude (for almost fifty years, now), that’s all.

    And that’s my quandary. Unlike yourself, my interests lie in contemporary poetry, not the poets and their relationships that led us here. I really don’t see how these associations actually prove the value of one work over the other, anyway. Unfortunately, though, where contemporary poetry IS discussed on the web the focus is usually on ‘conceptual’, ‘language’, ‘flarf’, ‘experimental’, etc., which also leaves me out, expertise-wise. The only actual poetry books I have purchased and read lately are Merwin, Hass, Franz Wright, Paul Muldoon and Carl Dennis (one needs to keep up with the competition, you know.) 🙂

    You, on the other hand, Mr. Brady, appear to have little interest in contemporary poetry at all.

  • On July 15, 2009 at 11:17 am Martin Earl wrote:

    Don & Thomas,

    Don thanks for this amazing citation from the late master. I recall an evening spent, in Portugal several years ago in the company of John Ashbery and Robin Blazer…and the repartee between the two of them, poets of similar age, but different schools, was really something to die for: the breadth of knowledge always lightly employed, the mutual respect, the long shared history of American poetry… It’s a night that I will take with me as long as I can.

    What I wanted to say was that it has been a great pleasure to see the two of you spar, a pleasure with comes not only from the clashing of tastes but from the depth of knowledge you both bring to the discussion and the way it is always expressed as concretely as possible. Obviously you are both men of unusual erudition – your grasp of the particularities of our tradition, both historical and living have enlivened things from the beginning. It is the exposition of detail in each argument which so fascinates. The aesthetic differences are one thing – I see reason in both – but most of all it is the way each of you use our concrete history and the living examples of the art as integers of the argument, avoiding fanciful flights and generalizations as much as possible. For a generalist like myself, I feel I have much to learn from both of you, which is exactly what I have been doing for the last six months.


  • On July 15, 2009 at 12:21 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Oh, and zen? No. Haiku? Not even close, bucko.

  • On July 15, 2009 at 12:23 pm thomas brady wrote:


    “I had to assume that any poetry you do appreciate predates 1890.”

    Why do you assume this? By isolating the worst features of “Modernist poetry,” I am, in fact, *denying* that ‘Modernism’ is an inevitable feature of a certain time period, but see ‘Modernism’ FOR WHAT IT REALLY IS, a specific manifesto-driven clique. Therefore, why in the world would you assume that my taste in poetry is confined to a *time period?* I am simply denying the ‘Modernists’ ownership of a time period—which you seem, by your remarks, all too happy to give them. Do you see, Gary, how you are mistaken, not only in reading what I have said, but allowing yourself to fall into the very trap the coterie of ‘modernists’ have set for you?

    I have said on many occasions how much I admire the poetry of Edna Millay, for instance, or Elinor Wylie and others; I gave kudos to Larkin’s ‘High Windows,’ and the list could go on; I have never once said that my taste in poetry is governed by *time period*–and by assuming this, you are only proving again how toxic the whole ‘modernist’ coup has been, for it has blinded you in these two ways which I have quickly noted here.

    I hate to ‘whip and hang you’ as an example, but you provide yourself as a superb one.


  • On July 15, 2009 at 1:00 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Millay and Wylie died before either of us were born. Larkin’s been dead for almost twenty-five years. How about LIVING poets, Thomas. Do any of them meet your approval?

    P.S. I always thought it was a shame that Edna St. Vincent Millay didn’t marry Stephen Vincent Benet. Then she could have been Edna St. Vincent Vincent Millay Benet.

  • On July 15, 2009 at 3:23 pm Brian Salchert wrote:

    I’m late in responding, but Mr. Martin Earl,
    thank you for your presen(ce/ts) at Harriet.

    Safety and strength to you and yours,
    Brian Salchert

  • On July 15, 2009 at 3:39 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    And BTW:

    This would imply that you don’t consider Cummings a good poet. It would be interesting to see a single recognized living poet or genuine authority come here to Harriet and publicly agree with this assessment.

    Well? Huh? Huh? Huh?

  • On July 15, 2009 at 5:04 pm thomas brady wrote:


    You can’t be serious. Are you saying for a poet to matter to you, they have to be ALIVE?

    “The only actual poetry books I have purchased and read lately are Merwin, Hass, Franz Wright, Paul Muldoon and Carl Dennis (one needs to keep up with the competition, you know.)”

    Franz Wright,

    son of James Wright: GI Bill to Kenyon College, colleague of Allen Tate and Berryman at Minnesota, student of Roethke, who was lover of Louise Bogan, poetry editor at ‘New Yorker’ and friend of Allen Tate.

    Merwin at Princeton with Allen Tate.

    Haas, student of Yvor Winters, friend and supporter of Allen Tate.

    Paul Muldoon, BBC, Poetry Professor at Oxford, poetry editor of ‘New Yorker,’ another Poetry Professor of Oxford, Robert Graves, had affair with Laura Riding who also had affair with Allen Tate.

    Carl Dennis, B.A. in English from U. Minnesota which included on its English faculty, professor Allen Tate.

    Gary, you win!

    Let me tell you what you’ve won…

    The Collected Poems of…Allen Tate!

    Are you thrilled, or what?


  • On July 15, 2009 at 7:58 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    You may have studied American Literature, Thomas, but you must have skipped out on your Logic classes. You have just provided us with a classic non sequitur.

    I said: “How about LIVING poets, Thomas. Do any of them meet your approval?”

    You said: “You can’t be serious. Are you saying for a poet to matter to you, they have to be ALIVE?”

    A complete non sequitur. I don’t find the link, here. Apparently another devious redirection.


    But, to your point…are you saying that all five of these Pulitzer Prize winning poets are complicit in some vast conspiracy or are you just holding their educations against them?? In fact, these particular individuals couldn’t be more different Jeez, and I thought the Kennedy assassination was complicated.


    P.S. You also never answered the question about E.E. Cummings.

  • On July 15, 2009 at 9:43 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Correction: delete one ‘s’ and one question mark. Add one period and a clove of garlic. If you didn’t notice, never mind. Go have another beer.

  • On July 15, 2009 at 11:27 pm Martin Earl wrote:


    I would certainly never say the ‘witness from “exile”’ is the whole story. There are no whole stories anymore. Rather the “subplots” you describe in your p.s. seem more likely to provide the plot, as you call it – the fragments of cultures in process of constant atomization due to pressure from above, the pressure of compliance, standardization, adaptation. I’ve just come down to New York for a couple of days to see a friend. I used to live in this city – in Spanish Harlem. My street credentials were entirely in order. Harriet certainly doesn’t have much to do with Broadway. Indeed it was easier for me to write in from Portugal, than walking in off Broadway and posting. I spent the day today downtown photographing the light, the people in the light, using very vivid slide film, Velvia 50, hardly any grain, deep rich primaries. The light spoke to me, framing images of light provided me context, allowed me to see. There was language everywhere, but I couldn’t find the poetry in it. Not yet at least. So, no lines for my notebook, although my ear was cocked. I saw a Mark Cohen show. He came from a generation of street photographs that includes Robert Frank and William Klein. But he stayed very close to home, photographing principally the working class poor of Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvanian. This show comes from stuff he did during the 60s and 70s. He uses a process called color dye transfer, which produces a rich and saturated palette that has to be seen in person to be believed. What struck me was not only the homogeneity of that color (the exhibition is called “True Color”), but the homogeneity of the subject matter. This is no longer America either. Cohen’s beautiful work is already historical, and he was only born in 1943. People will make blue prints and schemes. That is how art is codified, how taste is set up, how criticism works. When you say that “this isn’t a process subject to anyone’s reductive blue prints” my question is how then will we recognize it as art. “Unpredictability and surprise” have always been part of the process. Imagine when Vermeer first looked through a camera obscura, as he was said to have done, and saw a more perfect vanishing point than the naked eye could see. But his critics and patrons had to come to terms with what he was doing and he then came to terms with their coming to terms. He had to do this to make a living. The artist is gradually drawn into the process of her own legitimization, the values that are assigned along the way. Susan Sontag trying to convince herself that she was a novelist in the last 15 years or so of her life simply didn’t work. It wasn’t part of her aesthetic/genetic make-up and it wasn’t part of how her reception had been molded in collaboration with her public. The problem in America is that the notion of culture is unstable. “Life underway in front of their eyes” as you say is only a fraction and an artist’s application to it cannot represent anything more than that fraction. The paradigm has changed drastically. This is why I said what I said about Stephen Burt’s article. My feeling was that his attempt was artificial, and the poets he chose only represented themselves. My worry is that American life is being drained of the poetry that you say is hidden within it. Or perhaps, whatever it is that is hidden within should no longer be called poetry. Or perhaps there are simply too many poets – we no longer see the poem through the poets.


  • On July 15, 2009 at 11:36 pm Martin Earl wrote:


    Never seen the difference between ‘and’ and ‘but’ so finally parsed.


  • On July 15, 2009 at 11:44 pm Martin Earl wrote:


    I’m not exactly sure what you mean about switching the emphasis to readers. Critics, after all, are readers…readers that talk out loud. Can you elaborate?


    ps… I actually think of myself as a reader first…before poet or critic. At the University of Coimbra where I taught for 17 years my position was called “leitor”, which I’m sure you know means “reader”. I used to tell my students that my job was to go home and read and then come in to class and talk about it. That’s basically what I did. Now, as a translator (where most of my income comes from) I still see myself as a reader. Wasn’t it W. Benjamin who said that the difference between translating and reader was the difference between walking down a country road and flying over it in an airplane – both of them are forms of reading.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 1:20 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Yes, a beautiful essay indeed, Martin, and I’m even adapting to your paragraphless style. And you know what it’s particular good for, for exactly what you use it for–thoughts that are unlikely to be read more than once simply because the blog-medium is so fast and ephemeral. I mean, who goes back to yesterday’s thread?

    I’m still writing old fashioned language, I’m afraid, meticulously structured and revised—that’s how much a ‘witness from “exile”‘ I am. I suspect I may be misunderstood partly for that reason too–there’s too much deliberation on my part, and nobody is prepared to figure anybody out when their composing their reply at top speed even before they’ve finished reading the last post!

    For me it’s instructive how many of the threads I have liked best on Harriet in the last six weeks have ended up with a Christopher comment left dangling, and on 2 of those occasions it’s been a Christopher question. Open, I thought, fertile, provocative even. Obviously none of the above, no way.

    Which brings me to the way movement after movement in contemporary poetry has ended up without readers too, regardless of how much the critics get excited about them, or classroom hours they consume.

    You conclude just above that Stephen Burt’s attempt was “artificial,” and that the poets he chose “only represented themselves.” “My worry is that American life is being drained of the poetry that you say is hidden within it. Or perhaps, whatever it is that is hidden within should no longer be called poetry. Or perhaps there are simply too many poets – we no longer see the poem through the poets.”

    But the “New Thing” and the other odd American poetry fashions do represent American life today, I’d say, simply because American life is now about kids going to college–or kids going back to college for another degree, or kids getting a job in a college until they retire. I mean, every single kid who is writing the New Thing etc. is writing from college. Every single last kid of them! That’s what you should be talking about, Martin, how American poetry is satisfying perfectly today the community of college kids that is both paying the kid-poets and paying for the kid-poetry they produce. It’s an economic no-brainer–American poetry, even the New Thing, is exactly what America wants, i.e. a rationale for college!

    Now you may think that’s a really stupid thing to say, because of course everybody who possibly can goes to college today, and everybody has that right In America, and aren’t we lucky. But wake up, the world has never seen anything like this before, and no poetic movement has ever been generated in this way either. Never once.

    Look what it’s like in the rest of the world. My wife left school at 11, and far from assuming college was where she was headed didn’t even assume that adolescence was where she was headed. She never had an adolesence as she went straight to work at 12 as an adult, and slept with a 45 revolver under her pillow to boot as she had to care for her 6 brothers and sisters for weeks alone as there were still pythons and tigers. The other adults slept in thatched huts in the paddies.

    And that’s normal for most of the earth’s people, and was normal in America too up until only very recently. Even when I was a boy the local high school students didn’t assume college, that’s why I wasn’t sent to the local high school. I was sent to a prep school–i.e. to be prepared for college. And 50% of my classmates went straght to Harvard too–which is why I went to Columbia, a raging leftist and a loser right from the start.

    Real Americans, even in my childhood, grew up to go to work, not to go to college!

    So that’s my take on it, Martin–the New Thing’s a new norm, the New Thing’s our people’s poetry even if you and I in our exile don’t know who they are. We’re passé.


  • On July 16, 2009 at 5:48 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    After several reading of Martin’s post, and yes, an online reading of Mister Burt’s “New Thing” in the Boston Review, I have to say I believe Martin not nearly so much of an outsider as a truth teller. Cassandra? Yes. And so? More than one, satisfied with the “present tense,” refused to listen to her, as well.

    Thanks Martin, for crying in the wilderness.

    Insider/outsider may also be worth a few more breaths. To be global, vis a vis America’s contemporary scene is to take off the rose colored specs.

    Thanks, Martin, for raising the danger cry–which should be ignored by American poets, and/or global poets, also, at our collective peril.

    I add one other notable cry to Annie’s list culled from Martin’s post, just above.
    “It is irrelevant because it has lost its capacity to put a name to what is wrong, to blame squarely the perpetrators, to witness what is real, to not shy away from what is tragic, what is ruined, what is bereft of value and spiritually corrosive.”

    In the best of times or the worst, and we so need to admit just where we are, now, and now, and now — we daren’t be irrelevant, even to our humblest ourselves.


  • On July 16, 2009 at 6:12 am thomas brady wrote:

    ah, yr part of the problem then. is that why you feel justified in telling martin he doesn’t know anything about american poetry? because you appear in the london review of books? I couldn’t care less about the london review of books.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 7:14 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    Self correction, forgive: after several reading(s)
    & we daren’t be irrelevant, even to our humblest selves.

    & still, Martin, thanks.


  • On July 16, 2009 at 8:29 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Speaking of Eliot Weinberger, here’s the piece where he nailed New Formalism:

  • On July 16, 2009 at 8:33 am thomas brady wrote:


    The issue isn’t really whether Cummings is a good poet, or not. Bachelors and Masters from Harvard, a clever and erudite man, absolutely, and at least he had a sense of closure in most of his poems…but I consider him, like nearly all 20th century poets, really, a minor figure. This, for instance:

    all which isn’t singing is mere talking
    and all talking’s talking to oneself
    (whether that oneself be sought or seeking
    master or disciple sheep or wolf)

    is didactic, miserably so, too clever by half, and it obviously betrays where most Modernism really finds its source: the Transcendentalists, those blue-blood New England puritans who picked up some German and lost their wits…

    Poetry ought NOT to be studied or traced, but we have whole schools who wear ‘trace me’ on their sleeves, and such are the manifesto-driven Moderns. I always laugh at how we take them SO seriously.

    As Professor Kirby-Smith says,

    “For my part, I admit that whenever I encounter the lowercase personal pronoun “i,” thejammingtogetherofwords, an excess of ampersands, and the abbreviation “cd” for “could” in a piece of writing by anyone other than cummings, I immediately stop reading.”

    The minute we take Cummings seriously–have you ever heard him read his poetry? slowly, ponderously, with self-imporantance, it’s deathly boring–the game is up.

    Imagine someone ponderously intoning ‘all which isn’t singing is merely talking’ and that, in a nutshell, is the problem with modern poetry.

    Now someone very clever could say, ‘but it’s brilliant, you see? He’s defending singing while talking and showing how poetry is really both…’ but the divine poetry does not travel with such blah blah blah. Poetry shouldn’t be something which explains us to death. The didactic DOESN’T GET BETTER as it explains itself. Cleverness kills poetry.

    Cummings knew Scofield Thayer very well–married his wife–the wealthy friend of T.S. Eliot who published his ‘Wasteland,’ but High Modernism doesn’t want to have anything to do with Cummings, because he’s silly, and “High” cannnot afford to be silly. That’s the problem with Modernism: it’s either silly or very, very serious. It’s either lowercasehahaha or ‘The… Waste… Land.’ The playfullness of Futurism, which is really all ‘Prufrock’ and ‘The Wasteland’ are, in the end, is fine, I have no problem with it at all. But we make it so much MORE than silly Futurism. What I dislike is how High Modernism’s little party solidified into Self-Importance, and thanks to the New Critics, became American Poetry itself.

    Cummings is OK as a brilliantly, secretly, erudite, silly, minor poet. But as an influence, he’s poison.

    Just take Merwin and his lack of punctuation. I’d like to see Sacha Baron Cohen do a send-up of American Po-Biz. I can see a Modernist Professor teaching a Workshop, coming into his classroom and sitting on the desk at the front of the room, stark naked, and saying, “Now why do you think a poem needs punctuation? Does a poem really need punctuation? What do you all think?”

    Here’s a poem I wrote on the train this morning which gives a glimpse of my true feelings on the matter:

    O, Mallarme

    O, Mallarme
    Picture in your mind
    Some poetry
    writ LARGE
    on Charles Olson’s
    ass Pound Williams
    does anyone really like
    that poetry
    Romantic Primitivism (hey)
    Roussea Derrida (hey)
    idiot ideogram (hey)
    is this poetry
    O, Wieners
    feel sorry
    for me


  • On July 16, 2009 at 8:35 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Thank you Martin.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 8:40 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Dylan was a crucial early influence for me, modelling vibrant contemporary use of fixed structure at a time when it was not readily available to me on the page (c. 1968-75).

  • On July 16, 2009 at 8:50 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Thomas, I take you up on this. As a living American poet, I dare you to trace my work, in three steps or less, to either Ezra Pound or John Crowe Ransom, or both. –Annie

    “How much do you want to bet I can trace any critic or poet, living or dead, in three steps or less, to either Ezra Pound or John Crowe Ransom, or both?”

  • On July 16, 2009 at 9:37 am john wrote:

    Annie, you already answered this question.

    Pound influenced Ginsberg, who influenced Dylan, who influenced you. (I wouldn’t have guessed this if you hadn’t said it.)

    Anyway, Thomas is talking about personal acquaintance more than influence here. Everybody’s connected personally. I tried to think of a poet who wouldn’t be, and couldn’t.

    It’s fun for me to think about musically. I’ve played with people who played with people who played with Louis Armstrong, Toscanini, virtually any musician in the world. Which means, of course, that the New Critics are to blame.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 9:43 am Henry Gould wrote:

    Martin, thank you for this rich & strange (& generous) response, to my rather vapid & shallow comment.

    Interesting to me (& I should have seen it coming) that you would take my remark about poets seeing the poetry of America “before their eyes” in a very literal (photographic) way. My mother used to call my brother “the eyes”, and me, “the ears” – because I missed seeing what was in front of my nose, but heard things. What I was thinking of, I think, was the unpredictable way that an artist senses the “poetry of life” (in Stevens’ sense) – in the midst of terrible crises & existential demands – or, in this case, in the midst of what seems to be an anti-poetic (American) situation. & in recording that (poetry of life) in actual poetry, the poems become, again in Stevens’ sense, “the sanction of life”.

    This is a concept of poetry which is greeted mostly with scepticism today.

    On this question of “blueprints” & critical reception, you write :

    “People will make blue prints and schemes. That is how art is codified, how taste is set up, how criticism works. When you say that “this isn’t a process subject to anyone’s reductive blue prints” my question is how then will we recognize it as art. “Unpredictability and surprise” have always been part of the process. Imagine when Vermeer first looked through a camera obscura, as he was said to have done, and saw a more perfect vanishing point than the naked eye could see. But his critics and patrons had to come to terms with what he was doing and he then came to terms with their coming to terms.”

    – Yours is a very commonsensical response to my truisms. But I think the blueprints of critics & the negotiation of reception are ALWAYS secondary phenomena (no matter how much the artist herself learns from the critic).

    This kind of remark of mine is usually held up to ridicule in online forums : it’s considered either rose-tinted idealism or as a cliche. But I think it needs reiteration, in a climate where various febrile, hybrid & opportunist forms of intellectual gamesmanship try to pass themselves off as poetry. As I understand poetry, the compositional process itself enfolds both blueprint & the element of surprise. We need to return to a sense of poetry as a kind of superior harmony – a kind of singing-speech which effects the reader on a measurably more refined & intense plane than anything “outside” its own harmonic world. The poem should offer the powerful shock of beauty (maybe as Aristotle understood catharsis) : & not just the knowing pleasantries & sophistries & all that jaded guile.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 10:03 am Annie Finch wrote:

    “i kissed goodbye / to the howling beasts / on the borderline / that separated you from Me–ee–e-ee”

  • On July 16, 2009 at 10:10 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Oh–thanks John, now I see Thomas did say he was talking about personal acquaintance rather than influence. I imagine the personal acquaintance issue would play out the same in just about any area of endeavor that people make a career of, from quilting to neurosurgery. But from the perspective of thinking about POETRY, I’d have found the influence question/challenge more interesting.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 11:21 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Well said, Christopher.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 11:22 am John Oliver Simon wrote:

    I’ll take degrees of separation for $500, Bob.

    My girlfriend Becky’s daughter Susannah’s kindergarten teacher was Kevin Bacon’s mother.

    I sat at the feet of Robert Duncan, Josephine Miles and Lew Welch. I’ve known Gary Snyder for forty years, and he blurbed my book. I heard Jack Spicer read a month before he died. I met Allen Ginsberg once and he came on to me, without success. I read with Kenneth Rexroth, Brother Antoninus, and Michael McClure. I studied as an undergraduate with Daniel Hoffman. I had a baby with the pioneering feminist poet Alta. Ron Silliman used to read at the open readings Richard Krech and I organized in Berkeley in the late sixties. The very radical and invisible, at least to the mainstream, Northwest poet Charles Potts has been my close buddy and collaborator for four decades. Charlie was a student of Ed Dorn’s, which bounces right to Olson. I met frequently with Lawrence Ferlinghetti over a period of several months but he didn’t end up publishing any of my projects. Dorianne Laux, Jane Hirshfield, and devorah major were my close working colleagues in California Poets In The Schools. Judy Grahn called me a few months ago to apologize for some things she said to me thirty years before. I was the first person to review Juan Felipe Herrera. I met Annie Finch for about 30 seconds at AWP. That should be enough connect me in three steps to just about anybody.

    I know many of the most important contemporary poets in Latin America very well, and I translate several of them. Gonzalo Rojas connects me in just two steps to Pablo Neruda.

    I knew Catullus. Catullus was a friend of mine. Tom Brady, you’re no Catullus.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 12:06 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Electromagnetism is real–I don’t blame that.

    That which manifesto-ism ‘discovers,’ however, is not real.

    Here’s what you wrote, Robbins:

    “If poetry no longer adequately embodies what Raymond Williams called “structures of feeling,” that is simply a historical fact.”

    See? You’re a manifesto-ist yourself.

    You confuse a fact like electromagnetism with the content of your Raymond Williams quote, which is speculative crock.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 12:09 pm thomas brady wrote:


    Unfortunately, the ‘reply’ feature can make it hard to follow a thread. I think maybe it was you who first questioned it when it was first put into use–good call.

    If you scroll up, you’ll see I did answer your ‘FOOKIN’ question, and I also gave a rather in-depth opinion of Cummings…


  • On July 16, 2009 at 12:22 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Found it. Thanks, Thomas.

    I’m just having a little trouble deciding if they’re Green or Red…the beans you’re full of, I mean.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 12:37 pm john wrote:

    And it’s not just restricted to fields of endeavor — it’s human existence. The homeless guy knows the social worker, the social worker knows the Mayor, the Mayor knows Obama.

    And Obama and Cheney are cousins . . . which means, of course, that the New Critics are to blame!

  • On July 16, 2009 at 1:52 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Beans, Gary? They look like peppers!

    “When it comes to the sauces or stews made from these respective types of chile, many connoisseurs ask, which is hotter, the red or the green? The answer is: it varies. Green is usually considered a bit hotter, while red is said to be milder but more pungent. Some consider the red to be more consistent in its heat level, with the green more likely to vary between extremely spicy and not so spicy. One point in the green chile’s favor, though: it definitely has a higher level of vitamin C than its red counterpart.”

  • On July 16, 2009 at 2:08 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Dear John Oliver Simon:

    If you’ve really known Gary Snyder for forty years then please ask the old coot why he never answered my e-mail. Everybody else writes back.


  • On July 16, 2009 at 3:35 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    It would be silly for me to bug Gary S. on your behalf, Gary F. To be blunt, he has probably decided not to take you seriously, You sometimes come across a little lightweight, with your smily faces. For my part, which ain’t his, there’s an elfin spirit in you I very much appreciate, and I enjoy your sincere and contentious presence on this board. Snyder must have taken a quicker scan, and your stuff went in his wood-stove. That’ll happen.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 3:57 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Kidding, John…just kidding.

    It does offend me a little, though, that you would think I’d write a personal letter in the same way as a silly blog post. Really, dude.

    P.S. Lightweight. You should read my books. I take things very seriously. Blogs are for entertainment (preferably when completely snockered).

    I’ll try to be more humorless in the future.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 4:40 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Sorry if I offended you, Gary.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 5:52 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    The only person you’ve offended, John, is probably Mr. Snyder. I doubt if a Buddhist would appreciate this terrible arrogance that you have saddled him with. Do you really think that he would dismiss a fellow human being (and poet) so disrespectfully, not taking him seriously and tossing his words into the fire?

  • On July 16, 2009 at 6:03 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Well, he didn’t write back to you. Probably he meant to. Or not. Famous poets get lots of unsolicited stuff. Many people want their attention and approval. Everybody’s got their own way of dealing with what in effect becomes junk mail. I am not responsible for Snyder’s responses, although, as I say I have known him for a long time. I shouldn’t have speculated on his state of mind.

    I had a 15-minute fame moment at a Latin American poetry conference where I was the only invitee from north of the border. Everybody loaded me with their self-published chapbooks and such. Before I left the conference I went through the box and tossed about half. I felt a little guilty about it but I was flying a long way home. Those were precious human beings too.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 8:21 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Hey, John: I AM a famous poet. New century and all that.

    Catch up, man. You should learn to Google.

  • On July 17, 2009 at 1:09 pm thomas brady wrote:

    ‘Schools of poetry,’ not ‘degrees of separation,’ is really the issue here, of course, though the latter can surely be a useful tool.

    Obviously, I’m not talking about:

    “My girlfriend Becky’s daughter Susannah’s kindergarten teacher was Kevin Bacon’s mother.”

    (Also, I’m not impressed: I acted in a musical with an actress who was in ‘Animal House,’ so my Bacon number is ‘1.’)

    This, however, is useful:

    “I’ve known Gary Snyder for forty years, and he blurbed my book.”


    “I studied as an undergraduate with Daniel Hoffman. I had a baby with the pioneering feminist poet Alta. Ron Silliman used to read at the open readings Richard Krech and I organized in Berkeley in the late sixties. The very radical and invisible, at least to the mainstream, Northwest poet Charles Potts has been my close buddy and collaborator for four decades. Charlie was a student of Ed Dorn’s, which bounces right to Olson.”

    So, thanks, John. This, for good or bad, helps me aeshetically peg you–whether you like being pegged, or not.

    And it reveals why you would, of course, howl at my critique of Modernism.

    No surprise there.

    I’m not sure what Catullus has to do with it.

    Annie, thanks for playing. Who was your mentor at Yale? You’d have to give me more of your direct influences before I could place you, but having conversed with you here on this board, I feel that you might be one of those rare poets who is truly independent, and not attached to a school. We need more of those.


  • On July 18, 2009 at 12:21 am mearl wrote:

    John Oliver,

    Thanks so much for giving us the news on Rusty Morrison’s book from Ahsahta Press. I’ve read the section you quoted over and over and find it haunting, economical and bled to the essential. The formal apparatus too, on the basis of this one passage, compels. In your comment above you ponder “the arrogance of standing outside” … I think that’s the way you put it. That is a powerful issue, cleanly stated. I said, in my comment to Ange above, that this perspective (her word for it) is not something that should be used as a criterion, but simply as a fact. Your framing it as a potential form of “arrogance” extends even more deftly what I was trying to say. There is a danger in assuming some sort of special knowledge when really what we are speaking about is, as Ange said, perspective – a different angle of view should not be considered commensurate to some sort of extra wisdom. That, as you intimate, surely would be a form of arrogance.


  • On July 18, 2009 at 12:24 am mearl wrote:

    Sorry for spelling your name with the added “i”…it’s a combination of dyslexia, needing new glasses, and the experimental pedagogy of the 1960’s. It’s a wonder I can ride a horse.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 3:45 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    I just composed a lengthy response to your question, but since it seems I have commented on that question many times here and on my own blog, I will spare people the plaintive cry…

  • On July 18, 2009 at 5:03 pm Ange wrote:

    No problem about my name, Martin.

    Yes, Lebanon does fill me with some trepidation, more for the safety of my kids than my own person. (See the article on Beirut by the estimable Michelle Orange in the current Virginia Quarterly Review — most of it is up on the VQR website.

    But above all, my sojourn in Morocco a decade ago left me with the sense that experiment in poetry, at least the Ashberian experiment, is very culture-bound. It checked my cherished belief in the infinite plasticity of logopoeia. I can’t say more here, but it did resonate with what you had to say about poetry and expatriation in an earlier post. Thanks for your posts here on Harriet. I enjoyed them!

Posted in Uncategorized on Sunday, July 12th, 2009 by Martin Earl.