Looting Versailles

Looting Versailles
My first book of poems, just released by Alabaster Leaves Publishing

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Meeting of Great Poets and a Novel Form

Recently I revisited - for pleasure - Theodore Roethke's "The Waking." It dawned on me that a remarkable number of great, mid-century (20th) poets writing in English have poems that are highly anthologized and, relative to the rest of their oeuvres, relatively simple. The examples that came to mind did so for two reasons: 1) the poets were writing at a similar time period to Roethke, 2) the poets were writing a villanelle, a form imported to English from the French and becoming relatively popular at the time.

The examples that came to mind ought to be familiar to anyone beyond new to poetry; and to anyone new to poetry, they ought to be read (which will make them instantly familiar):

1) Elizabeth Bishop, "One Art"
2) W.H. Auden, "Time Will Say I Told You So"
3) Dylan Thomas, "Do not go gentle into that good night..."

Another poet and poem that came to mind was Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." I'll get back to this point.

Thomas, despite the appeal of his allegedly drunken, raucous readings, is actually a poet's poet - highly figurative and not afraid to write beautifully and forget about cogency or coherence. See those sonnets about the owl for what I mean.

Bishop is stately and intelligent, literary to the Nth degree; so is Auden. Also, Bishop and Auden wrote many poems far superior with regards to beauty and complexity, bravado and originality, than the examples above. Though for both, these rank highly.

Here's why I think the poems above were written: These highly talented poets were approaching a novel form (to my knowledge) and so by virtue of that, they were taking a poetic risk. Therefore, to prevent further risk, they chose "safe" themes and stuck to simple rhymes and diction.

Bishop: the art of loss -- great paradox built on simple diction, relatively simple rhyme, and the bittersweet subject of loss.

Auden - the bittersweet subject of loss via time passing. Classic...

Thomas - the heroism of facing death bravely, the bittersweet triumph that cannot (write it!) be.

Roethke, I think, plays it less safe: The theme of sleeping / waking is LESS "poetic." What I mean by that is - Love and Death, time, the sun and moon, the stars and the sea - these are present in ALMOST every poem; they are akin to the comedian's farts, dicks and faux pas. But the sleeping-waking dichotomy is minor - the row row row your boat, what dreams may come - it echoes death but is NOT death. It is not a major trope, but indirectly it touches one, and has been used to do so often.

This is an opportune time to turn to Frost -- "miles to go before I SLEEP." Echoing the idea of unknowing and mortality without directly addressing it (although the isolated landscape and snow helps).

I think the historical confluence of great talent and new form were two strains of a three-part happenstance which lead to these pieces.

You have the novel form, provoking talented poets to make safe choices (moving in unfamiliar ground), and the novel form happens to satisfy the RHYME desired (or expected) by a common reader. On top of that, the desired or expected rhyme is decidedly NOT anything like a sonnet, providing the common reader a little bit of novelty without too much.

So in the mid-1900s, four great moderns (Bishop and Auden far-greater than Thomas who's wilder than Roethke) met a great (and possibly intimidating - to the poets at that time) form, and thus four great poems were produced. Kind of great poets taking baby steps; enacting what Roethke says in the writing of these poems: "learn by going where I have to go" -- these poets were literally taking their poetic awakening (into the villanelle dream) slow (by creeping; taking little risk).

Everybody knows Dylan Thomas's poem. Bishop's poem is in every anthology and beloved by those who know it. Roethke's poem is simply Roethke's best, in my opinion (or at least ranks very highly in a slimmer body of work compared to Auden and Bishop; the "lovely in her bones" poem also comes to mind as highly memorable, as long as some about his father's greenhouse). (To my mind, Roethke is one of those rare strong minor poets I think Bloom mentioned once (in my reading) -- like Berryman or Jarrell -- that group is highly similar in their lesser triumphs, lifetime popularity and medicine cabinets, I think. As my reading deepens, I see Berryman's celebrated Dream Songs losing influence and likely not lasting much further into "posterity." Then again, anthologies of other nation's poets are filled with weak poems relative to their shining stars - the French, the Russians. So much pales next to Pushkin and Pasternak. But it seems as you go backward, there are less and less weaklings, as if they - the minors - simply require more time to be shed: there are a LOT of 20th century weaklings in 21st c anthologies; a few less 19th cent weaklings; even less 18th c...then there are only 1-2 poets from centuries 17th and further back.) Auden's poem is probably quite popular with readers newer to poetry who take a look at Auden (as any new reader should relatively early on -- his books are at most book stores and libraries, and most general poetry reading will refer to him often).

I think I can simplify: great poets checked themselves (limited their potential hazards, simplified) while attempting a new form that would (ultimately) prove satisfying to the common reader -- This created a great poem for the common reader: Satisfying their desires (semi-novel rhyme, traditional poetic themes, toned down diction) and thus proved (for now) lasting. I think they seem - in fact, are - accessible; at least the emotion is (communicated before it's understood), as the content rarely strays from the main topic or shocks with a weird metaphor: that emotion connected to loss, O grief be its name, tragedy and despair; love lost.

I include Frost because his poem achieves something similar, though I'm not sure it's for the same confluence of issues. He writes a novel form of the terza rima, adding a 4th line to make each stanza a quatrain and ending on a quatrain. So it's a variation on the terza rima. The theme and diction are rather simple, the accessibility seems to be there. And that final line completes the terza rima in an unusual way - a couplet, actually blues couplet really: a 100% faithfully repeated line. Only again - he reminds the reader "sleep" is not just the temporary kind. Thus, simple emotion, simple diction, classic themes - all safe territory CONTENT-wise in the relative terra incognita of the Novel Form.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Auden approximating Shakespeare, etc

As a deep reader of poetry, I'm confused by a recent finding: Auden's "Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue," and the fact of it being (relatively) little spoke of, championed, praised. Maybe I'm wrong, but I have read little to really buttress and strongly recommend this long poem. I recently read it, I think inspired by Auden's large role in Merrill's "Mirabell's Books of Number." Another inspiration for reading it, I think, was Auden's role in Hollander's long poem I'll refer to as "Cupcake" ("Reflections on Espionage: The question of Cupcake," is the full title).

The Age of Anxiety, I think, reaches peak-poetry - the equivalent height reached by Shakespeare and, IMO, the lyrics of Donne and Dickinson, and the exceptional "essays" of Pope; I'd probably consider Wordsworth's Prelude there  as well. The Age of Anxiety includes the full depths and richnesses of Shakespeare and Pope's essays. Moore is too mathematico-intellectual and Stevens too exotico-surreal to quite match the all-encompassing strongly Anglo-traditional poetry that extends from Shakespeare to Auden's Age of Anxiety; I mean this in terms of sound and sense. Bishop's lyrics may reach that realm, and Lowell's stronger pieces. Hollander and Ammons too, though Ammons leans the direction of Moore, reaching into the language of logic, science, the dialects and lingoes of specialists. Hollander, I think, is very tongue-in-cheek poetically; he's kind of Stevensesque, whereby he acknowledges the beautiful things he says are "supremely fictive," that is, he says it with a playful wink, but plays by the rules -- he just doesn't toss out unusual, alien sounds (Francoish?) the way Stevens does.

Sadly, about 3/5s of the way through Mirabell's, it really starts to bore, stagnate. It gets too stuck on colors and numbers in the other world, where the voices come from. At times it fascinates, but ceases to enthrall. Sorry Merrill :(

Hollander, at least the long poems, ought to be talked about more. More people ought to read them, as they really extend - in the Stevens vein - the English tradition of music and quizzical figures. Powers of Thirteen is really really spectacular fun.

Ammons' "Sphere: the form of a motion" was really enthralling, and several portions really resonate. I think Ammons succeeds very well at inserting some genuine insights or feelings betwixt obvious nothingness, so that these phrases of sincerity are able to pass in and out without disturbing the trance -- those (what I believe are) authentic, sad truths have rang in my mind (sort of refrain) in past days, long after I finished reading the poem.

In paraphrase, what has stayed with me is he said something about being able to see all sides of an argument, which ultimately demonstrates the lack of truth in a lot of human activity and opinion, politics; both sides build airy castles on baseless foundations. Or both sides are true. Dissatisfaction reigns in, or reins in, the mind of that perspective, what F Scott Fitzgerald would call "first rate." Anyway, the other thing he said is, once a poet gets the accolades they long sough and longed for, all the people he'd (or she'd) hoped to impress or prove themselves to are gone, so poetry as redemptive in the minds of familiars is a moot aim or goal, hope etc.

Something non-poetry that's really enthralled is Michael Pollan's "Second Nature." I highly recommend it - at times it IS poetic, and the reason I took it up again (I've read it off and on for almost two years in iBooks) is because Michael Pollan was referenced by Paul Muldoon in his Oxford lecture series, "The End of the Poem." I figured if Pollan was included in Muldoon's reading (the New Yorker's poetry editor, now) and I liked him, that maybe my fascination was well-founded. Pollan strikes me as an Ammons-type mind - able to see both sides, through the metaphors, into the facts, trying to find a compromise without compromising what's real.

Riffing on my drive to work a few days ago, I realized how many F-words (some four letters) can describe a good poem:

"Formicating, fornicating, forlorn forms; feverishly fictive and fantastically figurative; funereal and fun; self-effacing fathoms, faithful and facetious; farcical on the surface, folly and filial; follicular and  foolish; philo-x-ical... furthering the farthings, far-reaching fortnights" ha ha ha

Main point being:

Auden's Age of Anxiety is Shakespeare-level poetry
Hollander and Ammons are your children's Wallace Stevens and Marianne Moores
Michael Pollan is beautiful non-fiction / botany
Merrill's Changing Light at Sandover epic is proving a bit uneven, but I'm not giving up

Otherwise, Jay Wright's Transfigurations is on the way - I discovered him recently reading some Harold Bloom essays, and was incredibly impressed! Looking forward to reading him.

Still enjoying Don Quixote, and wondering whether Moby Dick or Ulysses will be next...

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Poetry of Cervantes' Don Quixote

I'll admit I don't know much about this poem: the origin, namely, or history. I assume, by its presence in Don Quixote, it to have been written by Cervantes, sort of ad hoc in service of the story, the context it appears in...

The form is - and I can't say I've seen this done often contemporarily - an "echo poem" (according to Hollander's Rhyme's Reason). Probably part of the reason it's rarely written - because the form itself has so much potential for being wonderful - is because today's editors (outside of specifically pro-meter journals) are ideologically opposed to verse forms (or received forms, tradition), somehow believing vers libre is STILL avant garde (after what? 1.5 centuries...), or somehow "more democratic," or less constraining; this, of course, refers to the American scene only, where dumbing-down is often considered both virtuous and disdainful, often unknowingly in the same mind.

Here's the poem - I don't believe any laws are being broken republishing something 500 years old...

What makes my quest of happiness seem vain?


What bids me to abandon hope of ease?


What holds my heart in anguish of suspense?


If that be so, then for my grief
Where shall I turn to seek relief,
When hope on every side lies slain
By Absence, Jealousies, Disdain?

What the prime cause of all my woe doth prove?


What at my glory ever looks askance?


Whence is permission to afflict me given?


If that be so, I but await
The stroke of a resistless fate,
Since, working for my woe, these three,
Love, Chance and Heaven, in league I see.

What must I do to find a remedy?


What is the lure for love when coy and strange?


What, if all fail, will cure the heart of sadness?


If that be so, it is but folly
To seek a cure for melancholy:
Ask where it lies; the answer saith
In Change, in Madness, or in Death.

-- To me, this poem epitomizes the essential qualities of poetry, or rather, the state it describes is the state of wonder induced by great music, powerful paintings; the serenity of detachment, a sort of free fall into grace (if I may wax poetic). Rather than re-state or paraphrase, I'd like to just present that poem as exemplary. There's music - and Quixote liberally (but regularly) moves between stanzaic AABB quatrains and echoes - and the content itself is pure unknowing, pure possibility.

Interesting to me that within this episodic, tragicomic novel (said to be one of the earliest examples of that form, the extended prose narrative) I'd find (discover, or simply stumble upon, come across) what I consider a great, great poem. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Jane Austen Parody (Style as guide)

Auden once said (I've read) that instead of criticism, he'd rather people wrote parodies. I suppose a parody is a great method for exaggerating certain characteristics of a writer's style to the point of absurdity or ridiculousness, but it can also reveal the style's (author's) merits, and possibly deliver, or lead to, a work that isn't altogether terrible or stupid sounding. What I mean is, by writing a parody, making ridiculous the elements that together form a certain author's DNA or constellation maybe, it may also reveal the ways such a style works, effects the reader, recreate (in a seemingly cheap manner) the mere excellence of it. It may prove fruitful, and demonstrate some styles' inability to be made ridiculous; exaggerating it may actually prove potent rather than malignant. Or instead, if not potent, teach the author (comedian?) whereby potential exists.

Here are some text message parodies of Jane Austen (sounds like Auden) I sent my wife, a huge Austen fan, after finishing Pride and Prejudice. If you've read it, you understand the excited, creative-feeling state that book can leave you in, and the reason I did this; it wasn't intended really as mockery, just playful, enthusiastic sort of fan-boy stuff: homage. Imitation as flattery...

"I finished p&p. 

"I wish lydia had not been so foolhardy and was more resolute with regards to her station and had promoted, by means of her inborn (by way of fair gender) virtues and her simple country pleasantry, a more upright moral standing and a modicum of modesty; her character, her ineptitude of manners, or just plain lack thereof, has left me in a most heated - nay charged - and agitated state!!! 

"But aside from that, i guess it wasnt bad. 

"Oh and dont get me started on mrs bennets meager portion of good breeding and general sociality that nearly led to the bennet sisters complete ruin, a state of affairs that would, no doubt, befit a woman of such crass misbehaviors, ill conceived schemes and reprehensive endeavors; such folly is truly an unfortunate lot for a mind astute and prone to meandering as our dear,  goodhearted mr bennet, the sort of man no shire can manage to retain without a silly shrew like mrs bennet to engage his thoughts until he simply exhauste his mental talents and one day finds himself satisfied by little more than news of the neighbors and a decent novel or history book."

I think certain parts of the above sound more Victorian but not so much specifically like Austen: the heated or charged state is the main example. Otherwise, feels pretty accurate. But by copping the style, sort of feigning the Austen voice, it felt pretty good -- kind of like Merrill's Changing Light at Sandover, I sort of channeled the famous author as a lark, but was surprised by, to me, the faux-quality of the work produced.

It makes me wonder about a style having inherent merits, for one, and also the potential benefits for a contemporary author of "channelling' a past success. When I took to aping Mrs Austen, it was the sonic structure and diction-ideas - sound and sense - I took as guide. (Style as guide.) The style is almost a lens or filter that augments and makes visible the actual, even though in the act of speaking through it, I wasn't really sure how sound (sensible) the content was, since the process was entirely intuitive, or felt so. (It felt as though I was feeling through it - sort of meta-feeling or meta-intuition.) It's almost as if Austen's voice were imprinted like grooves on a vinyl record in my mind, and I was able to sort of trace those grooves -- it's almost like a cover song. Same structure, different voice and instruments, only different....

I believe Auden was onto something - no surprise there, his depth of knowledge with regards to poetics and the aesthetic was akin to Eliot's and Pound's; it's a depth very few a generation seem to possess (maybe requires some obsessive qualities of mind coupled with more: memory, wit...) - I think the parody form can unlock or reveal merits that can be therefore "stolen" by mature artists who take the time or have the mind to recognize it; can be beneficial, a benediction maybe. At least, for the fellow writers who care about language and artifice, producing the new amidst the cacophonous clutter of redundancies and superfluities (that was on purpose there...).

One thing I'll note -- I think there is not so much a difference between Austen's prose and Marianne Moore's poetry: they both lean heavily on polysyllabic Latinate vocabulary, only Moore in the Dickinsonian strange, dissonant way, Austen in the sensible (real-ish, literal-ish) but complicating and enriching way - her word-pictures create a depth, richly textured, similar to the paradoxical world-figures of Joseph Heller and Marcel Proust. (I just read them both recently, too.)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Simplified Way of Seeing (If I may) Seeing

It seems to me, as a fan of comedy and literature (and music, and art in general), and frequent maker of things humorous and beautiful, that there's a simple way of seeing those creative endeavors not unlike Aristotle's definition in "Poetics":

On the vast - possibly infinite - spectrum of ways one can see or know a thing, there exists 1) the ridiculous, stupid, funny, and 2) the beautiful, exalted, new, unexpected or impossible. When experiencing POV 1 we laugh, when experiencing POV 2, we're baffled, astonished, amazed, captivated -- when experienced for a long time, you may cry, the same way laughing a long time can have the same effect.

Also in that spectrum is the everyday, common, cliche, literal - these are neither funny nor awe-inspiring. They reside in the majority of us, probably all of us - that's why the people who can help everyone else SEE / KNOW what else is possible are themselves exalted and known, and by nature, a rare breed.

These ways of seeing or knowing have to be made artificially usually - a thing in itself is rarely funny or awe-inspiring, you have to MAKE THEM so. (National Geographic is a great way of seeing how it does not have to be made if one views their table of contents, the subject matter; the writing and photography on the other hand are both supremely Beautifully-Made renderings of said subject matter. And the subject matter is beautiful-in-itself (unexpected, new) by virtue of Nat Geo being read predominantly in America by middle class white adults, so that all the exotic people and locales are unfamiliar, incapable of being everyday to that audience.) One can even UNDO the funny-making or awe-inspiring changes by an artist by simply stating "I'm offended by that joke," "too soon," or "people don't talk that way," "turtles don't have wings." These people are jerks with bad taste and intolerably puny intellects. Or they have ulterior motives, like appearing smart or smarter than the artist making them feel stupid, or jealousy of the attention the successful artist is getting before them.

A couple of things are funny by themselves - dicks, farts, malapropisms sometimes; a couple of things are awe-inspiring or beautiful by themselves - autumn, love, healthy human bodies, death.

Political poetry is an oxymoron: the poem is transformative in nature, but a political statement requires taking a well-defined, already well-known and firmly established POV. Poems and art establish one-of-a-kind, novel, previously non-existent POVs; Comedy the POV of making something ridiculous - politics the POV of a contemporary party or ideology.

Here's a rough image of the spectrum of Ways of Seeing:

Ridiculous <-----------Common, Everyday, Cliche-----------> Magnificent, Splendid, Gorgeous, Mysterious, New

Think of it as a Sphere with Common in the Core (nothing to do with Common Core) and spokes from that hub flying out to infinite Artistic (New) possibilities and infinite (Ridiculous, humorous) possibilities. Try to do that in FOUR dimensions. Just kidding...

What artists and comedians show you is that a Thing can be seen a million ways, known a million ways; they expose the narrow-minded viewpoints of Politicians and their parties, and that goes for BOTH sides of the aisle. They expose the truth: That no political party is sole-possessor of Truth and Morality, and by their very claim to be that sole-possessor they are liars in the same way artists and comedians are, only they are lying earnestly, sincerely. This condition of earnest or genuine or sincere lying (so inadvertent fibbing) strikes me as more grievous, or at least less desirable for myself; somewhat pathetic, puerile. An individual chooses to see things one way, or simply does not have the mind to see it otherwise, or the point of view is practical; that is personality, what Eliot described escaping from in his seminal essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent." That's why Shelley says poetry helps us empathize or sympathize, because it teaches the multitudes of seeing that Whitman professed to possessing (I contradict myself, so be it).

I suspect poetry (maybe art in general) would have a larger audience (not to comedy's level, but closer) if it were seen more in this light: not as Truth, but as "making fun of things," only instead of "fun," "beautiful."  MAKING BEAUTY OF THINGS. (The "turn" in verse, the "make" of poiesis, is to TURN SOMETHING INTO A BEAUTIFUL THING, MAKE a thing beautiful - NOT, as Plato would have it, MAKE a representation of a THING ALREADY BEAUTIFUL. That IS - as Plato said - just a rip-off, a copy. MAKE BEAUTY out of (from) it, NOT re-make a beautiful-it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Dylan Cutting Edge, James Merrill Changing Light, Sense of Poetic (like Humor), Austen, Proust

I emailed my friend Grace, and she recommended I post what I emailed her...

I hope your sister is well. Was pretty jealous to see your pictures from the Antioch workshop. X’s hair, man. Hipster. Same goes for Y with that hat lol. 

Anyway, I got kind of into basing poems loosely on the pantoum, I want to keep doing it. I wrote a couple - one not so unusual, one where I added a fifth sort of “form free” line that just hangs out with the rest of the stanza, not keeping to any strict rules. I think there is room to play with that form that I’ve not seen others do, aside from loosening rules and altering lines a bit. But there’s room for more altering while keeping something of the essence.  

I’ve read about 1/3 of Book of Ephraim, which is supposed to be a major long poem in itself, part of Merrill’s Sandover epic, and I’ve been happy that it’s typical Merrill style, but not blown away as I’d hoped to be. 

I saw a painter’s work recently that I really like — I assume like most poets, you probably enjoy most the other classical art forms: Paint, Sculpture, music. Check out Edward Burne-Jones if you aren’t familiar (apologies if you are and I’m insulting or offending you!). His colors and figures are so striking, chromatic and dramatic - reminds me of Caravaggio and Titian with the refracting and flare of the bodies. 

The Bob Dylan discs - some unreleased takes from the mid-60s I posted about on FB - is insightful regarding the creative process, the purely aesthetic disinterested making. I mean, he rarely shows much devotion to an idea (isn't "married to it") - a sound fragment, lyric or instrument, if he doesn’t like the result. He doesn’t have “anything to say,” just wants to drive the crowd wild sort of - the interest is in the experience, it’s impersonal, made up. 

Have you read about the aesthetic response much, or considered the idea of “disinterestedness” much, heard of it? I think it’s kind of an odd expression, but probably best-suited to how I feel I should approach an art object. Not ask it FOR anything or to do anything i.e. give me some meaningful message or wonder “is it good?” and “why?” Just experience it - the effective ones ought to absorb us then, or grab our attention — at least, that much was stated in the Encyclopedia of Poetry, and I think Wilde and Keats have said as much in similar terms. Definitely the absorbing I’ve recognized in myself, I agree the disinterested approach is useful - anything less is obstructing my appreciation, I find. Also, freeing yourself from disinterestedness is robbing yourself of a beautiful experience and an easy way to cheapen one - "this doesn't make any sense, people don't talk like that, blah blah..."

I’m beginning to wonder if a sense of the poetic is a thing like a sense of humor. Some can produce a poem as natural as some “witty” people can a joke? I know John Ashbery has said he doesn’t need inspiration or any special circumstances to write a poem, it’s something he feels he can just turn off and on or tune into internally when he’s sitting to write. I actually can 100% relate to that sentiment - I can write poetry anytime or place unless I’m tired or not well, I just prefer dedicated time without distractions. Usually it’s when I’m distracted that poetic sense is there but the music is off…or when I’m rushed. Usually the ideas are good, but the phrasing is less than right. But I do think there’s a sense of the artistic or poetic akin to the sense of humor, in that both are just approaching things from new angles basically, so it’s a style of thought. I think I find that style of thinking comes easily to me - social thinking, knowing what to say in conversation, or how to gesture etc, that alludes me. So maybe that inability to grasp one way of being is similar to some people’s inability to turn a phrase or be funny? It seems so obvious it’s not even worth stating, still feels somewhat revelatory to me, embarrassingly. 


That's the bulk of the email, aside from more personal stuff or poems I sent her. 

I wanted to add a couple comment:

Proust's prose is really lyrical and enchanting, but damn are those sentences long. I don't think a common reader would like it, and I think in a "workshop setting" with idiots (whom generally fill those things) it'd get completely annihilated, especially by the people convinced of their own brilliance. Visit any online poetry forum to meet those self-satisfied sort of jerks. But I agree with some criticisms I've read of Proust - the narrative itself is simple, and it's really his beautiful explanatory or descriptive passages that enchant. Although his characters, too, Odette, Swann, are so deep and complex and ugly and flawed and beautiful - really exemplary. 

Catch-22 was marvelously dark and subversive - another example of "rule breaking" that shows real literary talent can't be taught (can't teach funny), but can easily be taught away. Be careful who your teachers are -- if nothing else, that racist patriarchal canon is a good teacher for people who want to write in the Emersonian / Eliot sense, or Stevens, of supreme fiction, literature that creates or transforms. If you want to tell us how oppressed you are by X, then by all means, read 99 % of contemporary vertical writing (the other 1% is old nostalgic white dudes, then a barely traceable amount is real poeisis). Catch-22 was hilarious, scary -- it captured the happy-grief of good writing, the complicated and compacted mood of reality. 

Speaking of reality, I find, that as Picasso says, art is the lie that shows us truth, and like many have said, poetry rescues language from politicians. Namely, reality can NOT be truthfully or adequately recreated by a direct, literal statement; it takes the figurations, complexities and compaction of art, fiction, poetry, to relay what is more like reality than literal language can approach. 

Madoc, by Muldoon, is similar to Merrill's Sandover for me - I love Muldoon's lyrics, but wasn't blown away. It was fun (as he's said) but at times dipped into juvenile territory too often, and didn't flesh out the narrative quite to my liking. But it was classic Muldoon style -- I just would have liked to see some more narrative, or character fleshed out. Not to say Muldoon didn't do this, but could've more -- some of those 2 or 4 line sections left more to be desired. 

Reading Pride and Prejudice finally. Jane Austen's prose is highly intelligent and accessible and lyrical even with, what I feel is, prose written at a highly educated level. It still, probably due to the characters, feels down to earth or like Popular Fiction. It's not as flowery as Proust, and it doesn't leave the realm of concrete imagery as often as Proust does, layering metaphor and descriptions on as Proust does. So far, I actually think the reading experience is more pleasant with Austen, maybe because she's not as challenging, and to be honest, her characters are not as complex as Proust's. For all the charm of Elizabeth and the way she transforms Darcy by virtue of her virtues is not nearly as fascinating and true to life as Odette and Swann's frustrations of each other; maybe these characters, Elizabeth and Darcy, have become sort of stock or archetypal after Austen? Certainly Elizabeth could be that "manic pixie dream girl" to Darcy? 

One recommendation: John Hollander's Powers of 13 -- he ought to be read more, or spoken of more. His "Rhyme's Reason" is one of the greatest books - I mean, people talk of Merrill and Muldoon being virtuosos, to their detriment at times. I think Hollander was a virtuoso - it seems so natural to him, and his writing switches up style and varies itself so flawlessly and effortlessly. If you love poetry, John Hollander is great. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Frank Stanford: Don't Believe the Hype

What - what a trite headline, but it's what I want to say.

I've read the poetry, and there is no way other people who read poetry often and deeply can believe Frank Stanford's has any staying power.

The people trying to build him up today, writing about him, are doing it for reasons other than the quality of his work. I'm afraid that, whatever their biases or interests or motivations truly are, what I see happening is another Sylvia Plath myth being created: That of the "tortured poet-genius."

The myth is that poets suffer often and hard - this is probably true. But it leads to people for whom "death is quite romantic."

I suppose I'm angry because myths can lead people to do silly, hurtful, wrong-headed things. Because myths are beautiful, and I love them, and because with Frank Stanford - and also David Foster Wallace - I'm watching myths get built around writers who did not produce work I care about. This blog post isn't about DFW, but my stance is against his sincerity - his use of High Style to convey his true feelings, the same standard-issue emotions I deal with regularly. To me that's egotistical - forcing somebody to be themselves again to glorify his name. Art is artificial, the end. MacLeish's "Ars Poetica" is dead-on.

And the problem with Stanford is that he dated a respected poetry gate-keeper - CD Wright, so there's a bit of Insider Trading going on that's really ugly, the kind that seeing a possible third Bush elected to the White House makes one seriously question the existence of a meritocracy. The other problem is that a lot of people who read about poetry - maybe naive beginners or old people giving it a second look in their later years - don't actually read poems, so they're gullible, clueless, and being sold something no different than what's on infomercials at 4 am to grow back hair - magnetic bracelets and copper-infused socks, etc.

Honestly, it's so ugly and sad. Read a poem by Auden, Tennyson, Ashbery, Merrill, Crane, Eliot, Dickinson, Moore, Stevens. Then read Bukowski. Then read Stanford. The proof is in the pudding, or something.

As for DFW - it's content. But I can't say I've read quite enough to judge conclusively. I've read some shorts and essays and a lot of Infinite Jest - the big words, the sprawl, the rhythms are all there: Structurally and Verbally it's High Style, but the content is not transformative, the word that comes to mind is reaffirming, like the memes on social media with crosses and grandmothers smiling and grandchildren and sunbeams, rainbows, mountains. Just not my aesthetic.

I think though - DFW's and Stanford's canonizations-in-process, to my mind, has a nasty fit in today's Literary climate where Otherness is prized: two white males are gaining entry by killing themselves.