Guest Book

full-fox-print-color-corrected-reducedWelcome!  Please read some of my poetry while you’re here. Even if a post is two years old, they’re being read every day. They’re all current. Feel free to join the conversation. Lastly, treat this post as a Guest Book. Offer suggestions, improvements, requests or just say Hello! If you have a question concerning poetry or a poem, click read more at the end of this sentence and fill out the form. Continue reading

Freedom of Speech and Censorship

For all of the faults of the US, and there is no country or people without sin, we are unique in having freedom of speech as, arguably, the indispensable and fundamental tenet of our political system. There’s a reason this amendment came first. And it’s especially important to me as a writer. Ron DeSantis’s cynical and sociopathic contempt for the First Amendment, with the full encouragement and participation of the Republican Party, is bad enough, but whatever ethical or moral authority the Left might have had has in part been squandered by the censorship of “sensitivity readers”, as applied to writers like Roald Dahl, the British poet Kate Clanchy and now Agatha Christie. And there are others. Where will it stop? Mark Twain? Milton? Shakespeare? I can hear all the arguments in defense of sensitivity readers, and I sympathize with them, but it’s censorship. Works of literature are being censored, defined as “deleting parts of publications or correspondence…“.

And though I may sympathize with the intent of sensitivity readers, it’s not possible to defend the censorship of the Left while castigating the censorship of the Right. Sensitivity readers can defend their work as protecting readers from negative stereotypes and ostensibly harmful depictions, but the Right can make the same argument. Aren’t they also protecting their constituents from material their constituents don’t want to read? One may argue that it’s a false equivalence but, in the political realm, rhetoric matters. Publishers, academics, sensitivity readers & etc. are playing with fire so long as they continue censoring literature they disapprove of. They are giving the very people opposed to them permission to do the same. No one wants a child feeling diminished because of a writer’s prejudices, but if censorship is the answer, then it’s the answer for everyone. While material is being censored that you or I might not want to read, somebody else is going to censor material we do want to read.

I don’t have an elegant solution, but I can tell you that it’s not removing/rewriting material. Why not annotations? Yes, they’re intrusive; yes, they interrupt the flow of the narrative; yes, they’re less than ideal for children; but the message they send is that discussion, not suppression, is the answer. And that is an argument we can win with the DeSantises of the world, who don’t even want to allow discussion they don’t like.

up in Vermont | March 26 2023

About AI, Art, Music and Poetry

I’ve gotten into a number of conversations about this recently and I just wanted to throw my 2 cents into the ring. And the first thing I have to say is that I consider Artificial Intelligence to be a misnomer. It suggests notions of sentience and consciousness that, despite what some random and panicky Google employee might think, is never going to happen. I’m not going to go into why Algorithms ≠ Sentience and never will. That’s a rabbit hole full of quibbles and false equivalencies. It’s like arguing how many angels dance on a pin. Suffice it to say, science can’t even currently define sentience/consciousness, let alone create it “artificially”. AI is just a set of algorithms no different—and I can’t emphasize this enoughno different, practically speaking, than a pocket calculator. If you ask any calculator what 2+2 is, it will tell you. 4! My God! Artificial Intelligence! Sentience! Consciousness!


Correctly answering questions is not a sign of sentience. ChatPGT is just a glorified calculator. That’s all it is. Which is why I would call it algorithmic intelligence rather than artificial intelligence. Ask ChatGPT a question and you’re asking a calculator a question. The only difference between the two comes down to the sophistication of the algorithms used and the answer given. That’s all it is. You can unplug it or take out the batteries when you get bored with it. It’s just algorithms.

Now, onto the subject of algorithmic intelligence vs. art, music and literature. It ain’t gonna happen. Here’s why: Back in 2015, AlphaGo became the first computer Go program to beat a human professional Go player without handicap on a full-sized 19×19 board. AlphaGo accomplished this feat through the use of “Deep Learning“, what developers termed a “Neural Network”. The unfortunate upshot of all this terminology, like “neural”, is that it leads one to think that developers must have created something like a brain. But that’s not what they’ve done. What they’ve done is to write elegant algorithms that mimic perceived cognitive features in biological systems—and in a very limited sense. They’re not mimicking “consciousness”. They’re mimicking, at an algorithmic level, the way biological systems are perceived to organize and analyze information. I write perceived because AI is only mimicking one aspect of a biological system ascertained through observation. Neural networks in no way define or recreate “intelligence” or “sentience”. The reason that AlphaGo could master Go is because, though the algorithms were difficult to perfect, there was a fool-proof evaluation function that defined success. Either AlphaGo won or AlphaGo lost.


The same doesn’t work for producing art, a symphony, or poetry. Algorithmic intelligence, for example, has no way to evaluate the aesthetic/emotional success or failure of a poem. Given that human beings can’t even agree on what constitutes a great poem (mostly for lack of knowledge, ability or talent) an algorithm has no hope. I’ll occasionally be asked why I obsess over a definition of great poetry and why public appeal matters. It’s because public appeal is humanity’s version of an evaluation function; and it’s most effective when it functions over time. That’s why we can say that Shakespeare, Bach, Keats, Mozart, da Vinci and Beethoven are our greatest artists and why we can say that as an objective measure (despite all the hand waving among those who continue to insist that all art is subjective and a matter of taste). A work of art’s appeal, over time, is an objective measure. It’s the only one we’ve got.

The problem for algorithmic intelligence is that genius is rare.

This means that if Algorithmic Intelligence is tasked with creating a poem, its models—the thousands and thousands of poems it can sample—are going to be almost wholly mediocre. And because algorithmic intelligence has no concept of mediocrity, has no evaluation function pertaining to the artistic accomplishment of a poem, it will, at best, “learn” how to flawlessly mimic humanity’s mediocrity. By way of example, I get sent dozens of poems over the course of a year and, with few exceptions, they are all mediocre. But what is striking is how similar the mistakes of algorithmic intelligence are to the mistakes of mediocre poets. In short, algorithmic intelligence is rapidly “getting better at “learning to mimic” mediocre poets, and that’s because mediocre poets and algorithmic intelligence are both drawing from the same well. (Interestingly, part of what makes mediocre artists mediocre is they lack the ability to accurately evaluate their own output, called the Dunning Kruger Effect.)

You might object that if it takes time for humans to identify and agree on great art, then expect the same from algorithmic intelligence. The problem is that the next one hundred years are going to expose algorithmic intelligence to vastly more mediocre art, music and literature—along with a hundred years worth of confused human evaluation. That’s only going to make algorithmic intelligence even better at mimicking mediocre poets and readers. Ultimately, the mirror that AI will hold up to humanity, in terms of art, is not humanity’s genius but it’s bland mediocrity. And that’s because mediocrity, with rare exception, is what humanity produces.

To summarize, the only evaluative guidance algorithmic intelligence has as regards the “success or failure” of its art is human taste. God help it.

Pity the mediocre poet, composer or artist, because that’s who algorithmic intelligence is going to put out of business.

up in Vermont | March 22 2023

Quintet in C D. 956

	she brings
to me the frank contagion of
an afternoon; the moon’s delirium when
the sun, too soon, goes down. I pick the panicles
of grass that dart her dress—I love
her dress. I love it the color of her hips
and love the green odor of the summer’s cuttings
at her lips; and I forget myself,
I—the smelting of ore into the bone
and tissue of an hour—am made, for an hour,
more than what I am.
	she arrives
through slow intersections where
the riders come and go; she among them, opening
her umbrella into snow. she arrives.
I take her raincoat and umbrella
and where we sit before the window, the windows
outside our own show buildings from
the inside out; and here and there
the men and women like ourselves who gather
as we gather, who take wine
wineglass, cutting board and bread
before the window-lit climes of the city.
the streets thrum below us with their ebb
and flow. let’s drink to the waves
we can’t see but feel incessantly	
against the window’s glass; the tide
subsiding beneath the mass of steel and concrete
	don’t ask what savagery
or tenderness, what thousand lives
have brought her life and mine together. the sands
of Troy are clotted by the blood
of men, killing and killed for Helen’s beauty—
and love. 
	when she’s mine again
and the great ships set sail and the fire
and feast are done, the snow’s ashes descend
on the cars parked and departing. what ruins we leave
we never leave behind.

	the girl,
the girl with the many-colored braids
replies: love leaves no ruins. she, barefooted,
who dances in the scarab’s eye with enameled hair
and lips. she leaps over the leaping seas.
love leaves no monuments, she says, no cold
command or shattered torsos sinking, sinking
into the desert sands. 
		a cracked tin pail
locked in ice beneath the barn light catches
the snow and roundabout the bottom where
the tin is welded, rust has rusted through;
and were there anyone to pick it up
the bottom, where the raindrops drum, would fall
into the mud.
	the girl who dances, dances
in rusty pails and with the singing rails
of streetcars. some nights the river walks
among the signs and storefronts, and streaks
the watery roads with lampposts; the evergreens
with its twisting gray ribbons. some nights walking
along the river bank, the waters move
in leaden contemplation, darkly indifferent
to what reflects. 
	the girl who dances, dances
among the shock of willows and her hair
is rapturous as the water-witch. love leaves
no ruins, she says. love builds no edifice
of glass or stone but beats the drum of flesh
and bone. 
	let go the finch’s cry, the cry
of root and mud; the stench of earthen growth
out of the ruinous sludge, and from the soil
the berries of the spindle tree, but
the berries—colored like the girl’s lips—
are poisonous to taste or kiss. do you see
the purple shadows drip and pool beneath
the yellow birch? 
	She’s dancing in an orange
and yellow skirt. she won’t answer where
she goes. The rain has turned to snow; the bus
pulls out into the afterglow of brakes
and headlights.  
	I’ve seen her out among
the cattails, dancing in a rusty pail,
but don’t believe me. I’ll lie for beauty,
I’ll burn the city to the ground; the sands
To sheets of glass. I’ll pull the towers down,
I’ll throw the pail into the trash—the rusted pail.
The snow has turned to ash.

	the sun’s still not gone down
and out the bedroom window is the laundry,
the wind billows in the sail of sleeves
and lifted backs as though the clothes and bedsheets
pulled the world after them into
the distant waters—the world’s dark waters
that edge a summer’s field with starlight. we are
ourselves our passion’s ruins. I say
To her, the downspout buckled, maybe
tomorrow I’ll replace it. I’ve waited
so long to mow that now the tall grass flounders under
the heady weight of seed.

	I stand outside the store.
	a bookstore looking in.
	the woman walking through the door
	is what it’s like in Berlin—
	always wondering where she’s been.

	to think that even while I’m writing,
	I’m already gone;
	that for a little while, delighting
	here and there in song
	I’ve been vanishing all along.

as I was saying to her, before the iron brawling
of the streetcar interrupted us,
the yellow streetcar that follows
the preordained rails through the cobblestone streets: 
as I was saying: let us be naked side 
by side. there’s nothing better or as truthful. 
let us lie together and let us lie. there’s nothing otherwise
to make sense of. 
					don’t try. 

	Patrick Gillespie | March 17th 2021
	Quintet in C D. 956
  • Note: I continue to tweak this poem so, until I update my reading, the reading will reflect the original version.

What’s selling…

I happened to be down at one of our “local” bookstores—this one being Books a Million. I don’t normally stop by because they don’t normally carry anything I’d be interested in, but they’re a great indicator as to what’s being read. The book store doesn’t pretend to be interested in literature. They’re strictly in it to sell; and that means knowing what’s on trend. They’re like a glorified airport bookstore. If you like those bestseller, glossy paperbacks with the cheap paper, that’s their specialty. In the fantasy section, for example, they don’t mess around. You’ll find several different collections of Tolkien and all of Christopher Tolkien’s various collections, and Game of Thrones. Sarah J Mass seems to be a hot ticket right now, but it’s hit or miss for other fantasy authors. The poetry section is a footnote, but I took pictures.

Apparently Bukowski sells well. I’d go so far as to say that, according to the popular readership, Bukowski is the great poet of the latter 20th century. I’ve written about Why I love Bukowski. I think what this demonstrates, above all, is that his popularity is durable. The same can’t be said for Robert Lowell, for example. He’s championed by critics like William Logan, among others, as the great poet of the post-modernists, but who reads him? I can’t remember the last time I saw a book of his in a bookstore. BAM isn’t buying. Bukowski is a story teller and connects with readers in a relatable and comprehensible way. And he has a biting sense of humor. Do I think he ranks among the greats? Maybe. If he can be, it’s not because of his skill in verse or language. He wrote lineated prose. But he arguably did it better than any other poet in the sense that readers remain affected by and interested in what he wrote. That’s also what poetry does. The poet W.S. Merwin wrote lineated prose that’s just as easy to read as Bukowski’s, but none of his books are at BAM. I find Merwin’s verse to be unmatchably generic and the content of his poetry dull as the day is long, and it looks like the general public does too. So it’s not just that Bukowski’s verse is comprehensible, but that he has something to say.

I found it interesting that there were so many copies of The Odyssey. Do people buy it because it’s the Lord of the Rings of its day? Or because it’s assigned in classrooms everywhere—and always in demand? I’m inclined to think it’s the latter. I find it hard to believe that most people, sitting at home, would say to themselves: Today I shall read The Odyssey. Feel free to disagree with me if you have some life experience in this regard. I’d be interested in hearing it. Notice the book to the right: How to be Love(d), because this pertains to the next photo:

Notice all the books by devoue and Drake/Sin (and the yellow and purple books on the left all by the same publisher). These all fall, in my opinion, under the rubric of Instapoetry. There’s probably an apt description for the content of the poetry but I’d call it a combination of Self-help, Affirmations, and you’re-not-alonein-the-world greeting card verse. Devoue will write:

as women
everyone thinks we're fine
because makeup hides
the sleepness nights
and the tears we cry

The verse has zero (0), as in null, literary value. It’s just the mawkish poetry of affect. But, it’s what sells and what it demonstrates is that the general public is still in love with poetry and open to poetry that communicates. Full stop. The general public is emphatically not interested in the pointless obscurities that typifies too much poetry of the latter 20th century. There is a clear disconnect between what the editors at Poetry Magazine and the New England Review publish, and what the broader public wants to read. It’s been that way ever since Harriet Monroe, when she founded Poetry magazine, declared war on the popular taste in poetry. That said, I wouldn’t say that all poets should start writing instapoetic affirmations. Bukowski showed that a poet doesn’t have to write greeting card verse to engage the public. But the durable poets will be the one who can communicate and have something to say. There was also one book of Robert Frost and one of Mary Oliver. Notice TS Eliot on the right. There’s one copy of The Waste Land and several of Practical Cats. The modernist poets get at least one book each in BAM’s poetry section. Covering their bases.

There’s Oliver’s book on the right, but notice all the books by Lovelace. These all fall under the same instapoetic affirmational content as devoue’s verse. It’s strikingly similar and that’s probably why it’s popular and why BAM is stocking multiple copies:

she cries just as much when
she's completely happy
as she does when
she's utterly devastated.

(she likes to think it's enough to
water wildflower meadows.)

they may call her pathetic.
they may call her dramatic.
they may call her a baby.

but she thinks it's a blessing
to feel everything so much.
she cries just as much when
she's completely happy
as she does when
she's utterly devastated.

(she likes to think it's enough to
water wildflower meadows.)

they may call her pathetic.
they may call her dramatic.
they may call her a baby.

but she thinks it's a blessing
to feel everything so much.

The three light blue books on the left, by Shelby Leigh, are also instapoetry:

like an anchor
around my ankles
i can't escape the voice
in my head that says
you'll never be
anything but nothing. 

If you’re having trouble telling one poet from another, you’re not alone. I’d love your opinions, but my own is that all these poets have hit on a demand that is unquestionably aimed at and caters to a female readership. Between these books and the many Youtube bloggers also catering to the emotional seascape otherwise known as womanhood, I have a new-found respect for the tortured, emotional terrain of the female psyche.

And these books by Courtney Peppernell? I’ll give you one guess as to the kind of poetry inside:

Flowers on Your Doorstep

You deserve flowers on your doorstep
and coffee in the morning.
You deserve notes left on your dashboard
and ice cream sundaes at 3 a.m.
You deserve honesty every day
and to be kissed every hour.
You deserve to be reminded
how beautiful you are.
And if you let me,
I'll show you every day.
I promise.

This is from Pillow Talk, which is a bestseller at Amazon. If you see other multiple copies in the pictures above, books I haven’t mentioned, I’m willing to bet they’re also in the instapoetic affirmation genre.

So. This is what poetry sells. This is what the poetry section looks like at BAM. I know there are independent bookstores with more diverse selections, but how much of it do they sell? BAM wouldn’t be buying multiple copies if they weren’t selling them. I just find it interesting how clearly BAM’s poetry section demonstrates the disconnect between the poetry that sells and the poetry of the MFA and literary journals. None of the poems in any of the books above would ever, in your lifetime or mine, appear in Poetry or the New England Review. Let alone APR. I don’t want to write instapoetry,. myself, and I don’t admire instapoetry in any literary sense, but one must acknowledge that it’s offering something to readers that the vast majority of poets don’t—content that is relevant and meaningful.

One last comment. This sort of affirmational instapoetry isn’t new. Way back in 1987, a book called Emmanuel’s Book: A Manual for Living Comfortably in the Cosmos was offering strikingly similar fare. And if you go back further, Kahlil Gibran’s books and poetry are comparable. But that’s all I really have to say. You all deserve flowers on your doorstep.

up in Vermont | March 3 2023


How discretely she arranges
her porcelain figurines
in 18th century skirts; with cheeks
like amorous tangerines.

What if, between their thighs, beneath
the lace and filigree
there were sculpted just a touch
of incivility?

But let's discuss the weather.
The crumpets are divine.
She says: 'I baked them just this morning.
The recipe is mine.'

'I wonder if I could,' I say,
'if I were short of yeast
or flour— Could I skimp a little?
Would it matter in the least?'

'On no, my dear, leave out no detail!
The recipe's exact.
I'll know if there's been skimping but,
as mother always said—"Tact."'   

Recipes | March 2nd 2023
by Me

I’m currently working on a separate poem and this one snuck its way in. Enjoy.


So I was reading an article in the New Yorker entitled The End of the English Major. Which relates the sad decline of English majors in favor of STEM. And full disclosure, despite being a writer, poet and reader of great literature, I can’t tell you how happy I am that all my daughters are STEM majors, not English majors. I have read articles in the past, explaining the benefits, to an employer, of a major in “English”, but I can’t say as I’ve found them all that compelling. If you’re an English major who has parleyed their education into something more than being a struggling author, who didn’t end up in a completely unrelated career, or who didn’t perpetuate the pyramid scheme by producing more English majors, then let me know how it’s done and why you’d recommend a degree in “English”.


To me, it’s the cost/benefit ratio. Given the ruinous debt incurred by a college education, what student would want to obtain a degree for which there’s little to no demand? All the various articles defending the English major essentially appeal to the intellectual and spiritual benefits. But that don’t pay the bills. Besides that, the New Yorker article devotes one paragraph to the argument that the decline is due to the emphasis on criticism and theory rather than literature itself—feminism, post-structuralism, deconstructionism, Marxism etc… (I can’t begin to name them all.)

~ Others, though, suggest that the humanities’ loss of cultural capital has been hastened by the path of humanities scholarship itself. One theory is that the critical practices have become too specialized. Once, in college, you might have studied “Mansfield Park” by looking closely at its form, references, style, and special marks of authorial genius—the way Vladimir Nabokov famously taught the novel, and an intensification of the way a reader on the subway experiences the book. Now you might write a paper about how the text enacts a tension by both constructing and subtly undermining the imperial patriarchy through its descriptions of landscape. What does this have to do with how most humans read?

Certainly, any high school student with an interest in literature will no doubt come across literary criticism, the kind made incomprehensible with academese—language that will be utterly inaccessible to anyone but members of the priestly class. They might, for example, stumble across the book American Poets in the 21st Century, an all but unreadable and stultifying book full of chestnuts like these:

  • “Central to Spahr’s work of moving the poem away from poetry’s implicit emphasis on individuals and toward collectivities is the understanding that collectivities are often composed against a constitutive outside.” P. 144
  • “Morris effectively valorizes somatic experience to dispossess and repossess the language of identity. This is no hairsplitting intellectual argument…” p. 226
  • “As the remainder of this essay will demonstrate, the “cobbled solutions” Wheeler devised in her own attempts to invigorate poetry’s radical cultural force involve foregrounding, both formally and in her poems’ content, the contemporary “problems” of “steamroller” consumerism/commodification and of artistic assimilation so as ultimately to recast them as opportunities and resources.” p. 306
  • “In other poems, performivity asserts the constructed identity over the essential self when poems speak from the male voices of Casanova…” p. 58
  • “She tests the potentials of the work she samples in relation to their points of contact and fracture — where the palindrome meets the merry-go-round. What happens to both structures upon contact and what futurities are proposed at the point of contact?” p. 284

These examples were taken from my own review. And I ask you, what high school student, on what planet, in what universe, would be inspired to major in English having read any of this word salad—this miserably written academese by people who profess to know something about writing? If potential English majors were made to read this book first, it would be the end of English departments. (And it occurred to me that there are also schools of poetry that have gone down rabbit holes like these, paralleling criticism, but since no one reads this poetry anyways, it’s beating a dead horse.) So.

Moving on.

This whole post was begun to share a single sentence from the New Yorker article that— I don’t know. Was it some kind of performative irony? Because I tell you, I’ve reread it a dozen times and it’s completely above my pay grade. It follows in the same paragraph quoted above:

Rita Felski, whose book “Uses of Literature” is studied in Adams’s A.S.U. class, has argued that the professional practice of scholarship has become self-defeatingly disdainful of moving literary encounters. “In retrospect, much of the grand theory of the last three decades now looks like the last gasp of an Enlightenment tradition of rois philosophes persuaded that the realm of speculative thought would absolve them of the shameful ordinariness of a messy, mundane, error-prone existence,” she wrote. “Contemporary critics pride themselves on their power to disenchant.”

To which I can only say: Wut? I briefly tried to look up “rois philosophes” but, nah, forget it. I don’t know what in the hell she’s talking about. None of it. And I just think it’s supremely ironic that even the critics of the critics have made themselves incomprehensible, and then wonder why undergraduates have decided that organic chemistry and fluid physics are far easier to grasp. Do any of you understand what she said? If so, educate me.

In the meantime, to help you count sheep tonight, here is a paragraph from an Atlantic article entitled The Needless Complexity of Academic Writing:

~ The work of the text is to literalize the signifiers of the first encounter, dismantling the ideal as an idol. In this literalization, the idolatrous deception of the first moment becomes readable. The ideal will reveal itself to be an idol. Step by step, the ideal is pursued by a devouring doppelganger, tearing apart all transcendence. This de-idealization follows the path of reification, or, to invoke Augustine, the path of carnalization of the spiritual. Rhetorically, this is effected through literalization. A Sentimental Education does little more than elaborate the progressive literalization of the Annunciation.


After unloading on Modernism I felt—guilt. What boorish behavior, I said to myself. Why can’t you just get along? Why can’t you be like Edward Hirsch? He just published The Heart of American Poetry, where he writes “deeply personal readings of forty essential American poems we thought we knew… exploring how these poems have sustained his own life and how they might uplift our diverse but divided nation.” Why do I find this insufferable? How am I any less insufferable? Instead of my blog nourishing our diverse and thriving ‘community of poets‘, I oil my axe. Even here in Vermont, I pick fights with former Vermont poet laureates—and in the local paper no less. I guess I enjoy blood-letting. In the clash of arms there’s more to be learned about poetry (for me) but probably not for the vast majority of readers who prefer to simply enjoy poetry, not dispute it. Robert Frost once wrote that “No sweeter music can come to my ears than the clash of arms over my dead body.” Same here.

That got me thinking, why am I like this?

The answer, strictly in terms of poetry, is that I might be more like Ezra Pound than not. Pound had little patience for the generation of poets preceding him, and neither do I. I find little to admire in the poetry of the latter 20th century. Like him, for better or worse, I have opinions about how poetry should be written. For Pound, the aesthetics of Georgian poets made him grind his teeth. He struck out anything resembling it from Eliot’s The Waste Land. Britannica has the following to say of Georgian poetics:

~ …taken as a whole, much of the Georgians’ work was lifeless. It took inspiration from the countryside and nature, and in the hands of less gifted poets, the resulting poetry was diluted and middlebrow conventional verse of late Romantic character. “Georgian” came to be a pejorative term, used in a sense not intended by its progenitors: rooted in its period and looking backward rather than forward.

Pound played his part in that characterization. When Frost came to England, he said he had ‘come to the land of The Golden Treasury. That is what I came for.’ Pound referred to that same anthology as ‘that stinking sugar teat’. Pound’s objections to Georgian Poetry were both political, he bristled at their insular British imperialism, and aesthetic—what he perceived as their roots in Victorian verse and sensibility. Interestingly, when Poetry’s Harriet Monro planned the series of anthologies called Georgian Poetry, she originally meant to include poems by Frost and Pound. They were excluded at the last minute when Edward Marsh decided to keep the anthology a purely British anthology. That might have contributed to Pound’s contempt, but his aesthetic differences were nonetheless very real.

If it’s possible to set aside Pound’s antisemitism, which TS Eliot shared by the way, and Fascist collaborating; if it’s possible to consider his ambitions and inestimable generosity in isolation (to writers and poets including Joyce, Hemingway, Eliot, Yeats, and Robert Frost) then I admire him as a poet. Even if the execution of his vision was flawed, The Waste Land wouldn’t exist in its current form without him. To quote Hollis, who was referencing Hemingway, “He witnessed their wills and he loaned his own money, and encouraged in each of them a fortitude for life. ‘And in the end,” said Hemingway, “a few of them refrain from knifing him at the first opportunity.'” [p. 319, The Waste Land, A Biography of a Poem]. He had an eye for greatness in other poets and writers, and knew where to find it even when the writers themselves didn’t. Pound didn’t accomplish what he did by writing glowing encomiums. He picked fights. He made enemies. While there’s a place for those who think every poem is precious, I like the Pounds of the world. I’m of the mind, as I’ve written before, that it’s the responsibility of every generation to smash the sacred icons of the generation before. There hasn’t been enough of that in my opinion. Despite the unqualified praise that has anthologized many latter 20th century poets—they’ve produced little that holds a candle to Frost, Stevens, Eliot, Cummings, etc… Freed by an elder generation from the conventions and mannerisms of the 19th century, they turned modernism into their own mannered conventions. There are latter 20th century poets who stand out, but they aren’t, by any stretch, among the great poets.

So maybe this post is partly to further clarify what I wrote in Matthew Hollis & the death of The Waste Land. I meant, not the death of The Waste Land, but the death of the mannered and conventional poetics that grew from its example. I like and admire the modernist poets. The Waste Land itself, along with a number of other poems by Eliot, rank among the very greatest. Pound, on the other hand, was no Eliot. His Cantos fail the test of first rate poetry but, to his credit, he was truly original and was attempting a poetry equal to his vision. In my show of penitence, I decided to finally buy my own copy of the Cantos (the full text is available online). And it was this copy that spurred this post.

The book was discarded by the Chandler/Gilbert Library in Arizona. What made me feel like I ought to revisit Ezra was the due date slip. The book was only checked out once, due back on April 24th 1990. The book was printed in 1986. So, arguably, the book was only read/checked-out once during its 37 years at the library. Pound himself recognized the inaccessibility of the Cantos and worried that his poetry would be forgotten (despite Eliot’s reassurances). Inasmuch as Pound himself is integral to the story of modernist poetry, his own writings won’t be forgotten. But they may be seldom read. The same fate awaits most, if not all, of the better known poets of the latter 20th century.

I also picked up Pound’s Personæ, an original hard cover printed in 1926. More of my making amends.

There’s a rugged quality to Pound’s versification that I like, despite or because of his contradictory predilection for archaic grammar and poeticisms—thees and thous, hasts and haths, -ests and -eths. And yet it can work. I like it most of all in his poem, The Seafarer. The idiosyncrasies of Pound’s versification feel perfectly suited to the rugged and ancient Anglo-Saxon he was translating. It is, frankly, a breath of fresh air next to the generic and characterless versification of contemporary free verse. Pound left off, as he called it, the “platitudinous address to the Deity” which, some argue, was added later by a separate author. My own opinion is that the Christian moralizing of the final third are nothing like the first two thirds of the poem. They possess none of the evocative poetry but read like the self-satisfied bloviating of a third rate theologian. You can read a complete modern translation here. Pound was right to omit the final lines, in my opinion. Based on the quality of the poetry and the complete shift in tone, it’s hard to imagine that the poem, as we have it now, is by a single author. My own completely evidence-free speculation is that the original Anglo-Saxon Seafarer concluded with a possibly similar but more secular, if not ambivalent, note. The original poetry certainly would have been much better. But this was entirely inadequate to the sensibilities of some secondary author who couldn’t resist closing the poem with a pompous and aphoristic sermon—much like the prim Victorians who loved nothing better than a closing moral. If I’m correct, then the secondary author probably also touched up earlier portions of the poem. Pound was having none of it.

May I for my own self song’s truth reckon,
Journey’s jargon, how I in harsh days
Hardship endured oft.
Bitter breast-cares have I abided,
Known on my keel many a care’s hold,
And dire sea-surge, and there I oft spent
Narrow nightwatch nigh the ship’s head
While she tossed close to cliffs. Coldly afflicted,
My feet were by frost benumbed.
Chill its chains are; chafing sighs
Hew my heart round and hunger begot
Mere-weary mood. Lest man know not
That he on dry land loveliest liveth,
List how I, care-wretched, on ice-cold sea,
Weathered the winter, wretched outcast
Deprived of my kinsmen;
Hung with hard ice-flakes, where hail-scur flew,
There I heard naught save the harsh sea
And ice-cold wave, at whiles the swan cries,
Did for my games the gannet’s clamour,
Sea-fowls, loudness was for me laughter,
The mews' singing all my mead-drink.
Storms, on the stone-cliffs beaten, fell on the stern
In icy feathers; full oft the eagle screamed
With spray on his pinion.
Not any protector
May make merry man faring needy.
This he little believes, who aye in winsome life
Abides ’mid burghers some heavy business,
Wealthy and wine-flushed, how I weary oft
Must bide above brine.
Neareth nightshade, snoweth from north,
Frost froze the land, hail fell on earth then
Corn of the coldest. Nathless there knocketh now
The heart's thought that I on high streams
The salt-wavy tumult traverse alone.
Moaneth alway my mind’s lust
That I fare forth, that I afar hence
Seek out a foreign fastness.
For this there’s no mood-lofty man over earth’s midst,
Not though he be given his good, but will have in his youth greed;
Nor his deed to the daring, nor his king to the faithful
But shall have his sorrow for sea-fare
Whatever his lord will.
He hath not heart for harping, nor in ring-having
Nor winsomeness to wife, nor world's delight
Nor any whit else save the wave's slash,
Yet longing comes upon him to fare forth on the water.
Bosque taketh blossom, cometh beauty of berries,
Fields to fairness, land fares brisker,
All this admonisheth man eager of mood,
The heart turns to travel so that he then thinks
On flood-ways to be far departing.
Cuckoo calleth with gloomy crying,
He singeth summerward, bodeth sorrow,
The bitter heart's blood. Burgher knows not —
He the prosperous man — what some perform
Where wandering them widest draweth.
So that but now my heart burst from my breast-lock,
My mood ’mid the mere-flood,
Over the whale’s acre, would wander wide.
On earth’s shelter cometh oft to me,
Eager and ready, the crying lone-flyer,
Whets for the whale-path the heart irresistibly,
O'er tracks of ocean; seeing that anyhow
My lord deems to me this dead life
On loan and on land, I believe not
That any earth-weal eternal standeth
Save there be somewhat calamitous
That, ere a man’s tide go, turn it to twain.
Disease or oldness or sword-hate
Beats out the breath from doom-gripped body.
And for this, every earl whatever, for those speaking after —
Laud of the living, boasteth some last word,
That he will work ere he pass onward,
Frame on the fair earth ’gainst foes his malice,
Daring ado, ...
So that all men shall honour him after
And his laud beyond them remain ’mid the English,
Aye, for ever, a lasting life’s-blast,
Delight mid the doughty.
Days little durable,
And all arrogance of earthen riches,
There come now no kings nor Cæsars
Nor gold-giving lords like those gone.
Howe’er in mirth most magnified,
Whoe’er lived in life most lordliest,
Drear all this excellence, delights undurable!
Waneth the watch, but the world holdeth.
Tomb hideth trouble. The blade is layed low.
Earthly glory ageth and seareth.
No man at all going the earth’s gait,
But age fares against him, his face paleth,
Grey-haired he groaneth, knows gone companions,
Lordly men are to earth o’ergiven,
Nor may he then the flesh-cover, whose life ceaseth,
Nor eat the sweet nor feel the sorry,
Nor stir hand nor think in mid heart,
And though he strew the grave with gold,
His born brothers, their buried bodies
Be an unlikely treasure hoard.

Pound’s translation, or transliteration, can’t be beat. His archaisms somehow perfectly capture the flavor of the source. In some ways the poem itself reminds me of Tennyson’s Ulysses. Maybe the original Anglo-Saxon, if there was an original, ended somewhat like Tennyson’s poem. “No man at all going the earth’s gait, But age fares against him,” Then better for the seafarer to return to the sea, to strive, to dream and to perish in his “self song’s truth” than in a grave strewn with gold. There is no treasure hoard but to live life to the fullest. Maybe I’ll write that ending myself.

up in Vermont | February 27th 2023


So I was just reading this article The husband-and-wife forgers who fooled the art market — and made millions, and thinking to myself: there’s no greater historian or critic than the forger. In order to produce the kind of forgery that can fool anyone but a chemist, one has to be greater expert and historian than any of the experts and historians examining your forgery. Not being an artist, I can only marginally imagine what goes into producing a convincing fake: what colors were available; how they were produced; brush strokes, the thickness of the application, the canvass itself, how it’s aged, etc… Literary forger happens too. the Britannica discusses literary forgery here. It’s not just a matter of imitating the poet or writer’s style, but one has to also (as with art forgeries) use the right paper and ink. My sense, reading the entry in Britannica, that if one is going to forge Steinbeck, for example, the smart money is on forging correspondence rather than a short story or novel. The reasons are obvious. It takes far less artistic competence to forge a letter than to forge a literary work. To judge by the success of art forgeries, it’s apparently easier to forge art than literature. Then again, a far more mundane explanation might be that there’s far less money in forging poetry or novels.

There have also been musical forgeries. You can find a discussion of that here. And I’m frankly disappointed that there aren’t more musical forgeries. That said, there are white hat forgers and black hat forgers. The white hat forgers are the ones like Robert Levin and Timothy Jones, who are so knowledgeable of Mozart’s composition that they can “forge” completions of Mozart’s incomplete works. And then there’s Rudolph Lutz. He goes a step further by creating entire compositions, from the ground up, in the style of JS Bach. Lutz’s understanding of Bach’s compositional technique is astonishing. But it’s more than that. Lutz composes. He has the knowledge and he possesses the compositional genius to make music out of that knowledge. As an example: Cantata 145. The original first movement is missing, so what did Lutz do? He wrote an instrumental introduction in the style of Bach. You can watch it here. Not only that, but Lutz also wrote an entire Cantata in the style of Bach, and it’s incredible. You can listen to that here.

There was the black hat forgery of Haydn’s piano sonatas that were so good they fooled the “great” quote-unquote Haydn historian Robbins Landon, who (when I was an 18 year old and naïve idealist) told me that the only reason he wrote his mammoth Haydn biographies was for the money. I kid you not. “Why, for the money! he said.” The forgeries also fooled the great pianist Paul Badura-Skoda. You can listen to Badura-Skoda playing them on Youtube: Hob XVI:2a – Keyboard Sonata No. 21; Hob XVI:2b – Keyboard Sonata No. 22 ; Hob XVI:2g – Keyboard Sonata No. 26; Hob XVI:2d – Keyboard Sonata No. 24; Hob XVI:2e – Keyboard Sonata No. 25; Hob XVI:2c – Keyboard Sonata No. 23. (Sadly, you won’t find these on Spotify because the whole affair probably embarrassed Badura-Skoda.) None of these sonatas are by Haydn but they’re very good. When I first heard them I thought they were oddly redolent of CPE Bach, but I didn’t put too much thought into it after that. Haydn was a great admirer of CPE Bach. Haydn, like Mozart, kept a catalog of the music he had written. In the case of these sonatas, he had written down four measure incipits (the theme on which each sonata was written). The sonatas were lost and only the incipits remained. So, all the modern forger had to do was to write sonatas, in Haydn’s style, based on Haydn’s own themes. I personally think they’re pretty good. I have no trouble listening to them and enjoying them. Even knowing they’re rank forgeries, I include them in my Haydn playlists. They fit right in. The most famous musical forgery, which really was a forgery intended to fool the recipient, was Franz Xaver Süssmayr completion of Mozart’s Requiem. Mozart died before completing the Requiem. In need of the money, Mozart’s wife commissioned Mozart’s hapless student, Franz Xaver Süssmayr, to complete the Requiem. Pity poor Süssmayr, a composer who Mozart once characterized as clueless as a duck in the thunderstorm, having to forge the music of one of the greatest composers who ever lived. In all honesty, and given his limited skill set, he did okay.

I’ve dabbled in forgeries myself. I understand how poets write. I see how they think and how they use language, similes, metaphor and imagery. I’m good at that. One of my “white hat” forgeries would be Sunday, which is not meant to fool someone into thinking it’s by Wallace Stevens, but imitates his habits of thought. It’s meant to be, in its way, an answer to his. Another would be Ulysses in Burlington Vermont, which riffs on Tennyson. I did, once, forge Shakespeare. I did such a good job that I was banned from the Shaksper Listserv (this would have been in the 90s). I typed the anonymous The Wisdome of Doctor Dodypoll “into the internet” and, because the devil whispered in my ear, I added a touch of “Shakespeare”. I’m an easy mark for the devil. For years, this version of Doctor Dodypoll could be found on the internet. Even when I wrote to websites telling them that they had reposted the forgery of a con artist, they didn’t believe me. Can you spot me?

Leander. My Lord, he fears that you will be angry with him.
Alphonso. You play the villain: wherefore should he fear?
I only proved her virtues for his sake,
And now you talk of anger. Aye me wretch,
That ever I should live to be thus shamed!
Alberdure. Madame, I swear the Lady is my love;
Therefore your highness cannot charge my father
With any wrong to your high worth of her.
Constantine. Sister, you see we utterly mistake
The kind and princely dealing of the Duke:
Therefore without more ceremonious doubts
Lets reconfirm the contract and his love.
Katherine. I warrant you my Lord – the Duke – dissembles.
It is not love doth speak, for such strong terms
Hath ever love. Dear Sister, do but note
The fruit tree giveth not that is not pruned
For nature teacheth us th’extravagance
Of outward show doth sap the inward stock
In substance and of worth. It is love
That like the gentle drop of rain speaks not
Its name unto the earth yet calls from forth
The ground the weary seed. (Nor yet the voice
Of angels can amaze the knotted bud
As doth a single drop of rain from heaven.)
And so true love should do, for that speaks not
That does in deeds what words may never do.
Alphonso. Here on my knees, at the alter of those feet,
I offer up in pure and sacred breath
The true speech of my heart and heart itself.
Require no more if thou be princely born.
And not of rocks or ruthless tigers bred.
Katherine. My Lord, I kindly cry you mercy now,
Ashamed that you should injure your estate
To kneel to me; and vow before these Lords
To make you all amends you can desire.
Flores. Madame, in admiration of your grace
And princely wisdom, and to gratify
The long wished joy done to my Lord the Duke,
I here present your highness with this cup,
Wrought admirably by th’art of spirits,
Of substance fair, more rich than earthly gems,
Whose value no man’s judgment can esteem.
Alphonso. Flores, I’ll interrupt the Duchess thanks
And for the present thou hast given to her
To strengthen her consent to my desires,
I recompense thee with a free release
Of all offenses twixt thyself and me.
Flores. I humbly thank your excellence.
Katherine. But where is now unkind Earl Lassinbergh,
That injures his fair love and makes her wear
This worthless garland? Come, Sir, make amends,
Or we will here award you worthy penance.
Lassinbergh. Madame, since her departure I have done
More hearty penance than heart could wish,
And vow hereafter to live ever hers.
Katherine. Then let us cast aside these forlorn wreaths,
And with our better fortunes change our habits.

Unfortunately for me, my forgeries have not made me a millionaire. Or maybe that’s a good thing. Looking at my Dodypoll forgery after 30 years, older and wiser, I know I could do better. The syntax wouldn’t fool a real Elizabethan/Shakespearean scholar, but now I’m betting I could. My only regret is that my forgery isn’t better. One of the best ways to learn how to write poetry is to imitate, and in truth it’s how most poets start out anyways—whether they know it or not.

The other question that forgeries bring up, and that others have discussed elsewhere, is if a forgery is good enough to fool the experts, then doesn’t that make it a work of art? If someone were to forge Mozart’s 28th piano concerto, and fool the world’s musicologists, wouldn’t that make the piano concerto as great an accomplishment as the 27th? The same question was asked of the Haydn forgeries. What does it mean to be a sonata by Haydn? Why should we treasure one and not the other? What, in truth, makes a work of art valuable? Getting back to the original article from CNN, why should Wolfgang Beltracchi’s forgeries be considered works of art? Shouldn’t they be? Isn’t the art of forgery an art in and of itself? Why not a Wolfgang Beltracchi exhibition a hundred years from now? Consider Salvator Mundi by Leonardo daVinci. Question Mark.

Most believe it to be by daVinci, but others don’t.

~ The British art historian Charles Hope dismissed the attribution to Leonardo entirely in a January 2020 analysis of the painting’s quality and provenance. He doubted that Leonardo would have painted a work where the eyes were not level and the drapery undistorted by a crystal orb. He added, “The picture itself is a ruin, with the face much restored to make it reminiscent of the Mona Lisa.” Hope condemned the National Gallery’s involvement in Simon’s “astute” marketing campaign. ~Wikipedia Feb 15th 2023

Before it was identified as possibly being by da Vinci, it was bought for $1,175. After being claimed as a Da Vinci (and being “touched/cleaned up”), it eventually made the rounds until it sold at Christie’s in New York on 15 November 2017 for $450,312,500. That’s right. You read that right. The same painting went from being worth just over a thousand dollars to almost half a billion. ‘But it’s a da Vinci!’ you say. But it’s also the same painting that was bought for just over a thousand dollars. What are you really paying for? The name or the art? The answer is obviously—the name. The same is undoubtedly true of the Haydn forgeries. They may be quite good, musically, and might do Haydn no shame, but they’re not “a Haydn”. Could you imagine if poetry sold like art? I’ve often thought that I should offer to sell my individual poems, written by me, by hand, on something like a canvass (or on the best paper money can buy). And framed. Should I? They won’t be cheap. There will only be a limited number. They will be “a Gillespie”—the poetry of the poet written in his own hand. Make me an offer because, you know what? They’re going to be valuable. I’m not famous now, but I will be. Whether that happens when I’m alive or dead is a whole other matter. Bet on dead (if you’re the betting kind).

When somebody bothers to forge my poetry, then I’ll have made it.

Matthew Hollis & the death of The Waste Land

I’m still reading, at my slow pace, Hollis’s book The Waste Land: A Biography of a Poem, which gets mixed reviews (from me). Hollis spends at least half, if not more, of Part I discussing Ezra Pound and his poetry. And yes, Pound’s editing was essential to the development of The Waste Land, but Hollis’s discussion of Pound fails to elucidate his editorial process or, really, The Waste Land itself. Hollis seems to assume that discussing Pound and his poetry is enough, but it’s not. One could start the book on Page 219 (Part II of the book), where Hollis actually begins his “biography” of the poem, and the book wouldn’t horribly suffer. The first 218 pages are largely scene setting and, of that, the same could have possibly been accomplished with a third as many pages. We don’t need to know how much Eliot paid for rent, how many times the water swept over the estuaries of Bosham Channel, what Virginia thought of Vivien, or who attended this or that boozy dinner party.

But here’s what really struck me about the book (and I in no way dispute The Waste Land’s greatness), it reads less like a centenary celebration of the poem and more like an unwitting elegy to the era. When I read Pound’s poetry, especially his poetry, and the development of the modernist aesthetic, it all strikes me as tired and exhausted. We’ve lived in the fallout of the modernists all our lives. And sure, Pound wrote a handful of anthologizable poems, but so did any number of serviceable poets in the centuries prior to Pound. Pound was nothing exceptional in that respect. And yes, Pound was an original poet. His Cantos were original. His poetic ideas were original. But originality, as the 20th century has amply demonstrated, isn’t enough. By no stretch of the imagination are the Cantos a first rate poetic achievement. They’re the uneven product of a troubled visionary. There are moments of rigor and beauty, but also the banal masked by inaccessibility.

We’re almost a quarter of the way through the 21st century and modern poetry is still largely 20th century poetry—and it’s exhausted. One senses a public desperate for poets to move on, to let go of the 20th century and its facile conflation of “difficulty” with originality, depth and artistic worth. Think of Rupi Kauer’s poetry. Think of it as minimalist poetry—as if all the junk and excess of 20th century poetry had finally been jettisoned from the living room. And think of her incredible success! Consider how strange that Mary Oliver’s poetry, the most successful and widely read of the latter 20th century, still needs defending while John Ashbery’s poetry, with only a fraction of the readership, is already published in the Library of America. While he was still writing! The difference is that Oliver didn’t write the “difficult” poetry that is still consistently favored by poets, academics and critics. As the New Yorker puts it:

~ By any measure, Oliver is a distinguished and important poet. She published her first collection, “No Voyage and Other Poems,” in 1963, when she was twenty-eight; “American Primitive,” her fourth full-length book, won the Pulitzer Prize, in 1984, and “New and Selected Poems” won the National Book Award, in 1992. Still, perhaps because she writes about old-fashioned subjects—nature, beauty, and, worst of all, God—she has not been taken seriously by most poetry critics. None of her books has received a full-length review in the Times. In the Times capsule review of “Why I Wake Early” (2004), the nicest adjective the writer, Stephen Burt, could come up with for her work was “earnest.” What Mary Oliver’s Critics Don’t Understand

The difference is that the editors (and poets) who decide these things have a stake in exalting the aesthetics of the last hundred years (themselves being acolytes of modernism and its various offshoots—Acmeism, Imagism, Free verse, Futurism, Objectivism, Dada, Postmodernism, Surrealism). But one gets the feeling that they’re at war with 21st century readers. Readers read poets like Oliver and Kauer in the millions all while being subtly (and not so subtly) told that the great poets are the “difficult” poets—poets they have little interest in reading. There’s a clear disconnect. That’s okay if you’re an artist, have a canvass to sell, and can auction it off to the 1%. If success is defined as living off your creative work, then artists optionally don’t have to care whether the general public likes their work. They only have to appeal to a narrow coterie of critics, taste-makers and the auction house. Poets don’t have that luxury.

But really, getting back to The Waste Land: A Biography of a Poem— It’s the exhaustion. It’s how Pound and Eliot’s novel ideas, to me, sound spent and worn out. The last hundred years have run their innovations into the ground—along with being misunderstood. When poets lacked the talent to make their subject matter new, they turned from content to medium. “Make it new” meant hiding mediocrity behind a veneer of “difficulty”—the pointless obscurities, the superficial complexities in verse and language, the vapid “profundity” signaled by abstruse and obscure allusions. Joyce recognized the academic appeal of “difficulty” when he wrote that Finnegan’s Wake would “keep the critics busy for 300 years.” He perfectly understood his audience. Think of academia as a secret society and academics as the high Priests of inaccessible 20th century texts. Only through them, their books and their classes, can the keys to the obscure text be found. Is it any wonder they champion these texts? Do you want the keys to Pound’s Cantos? Then how about A Companion to the Cantos by Carroll F. Terrell, Pound’s Cantos Declassified by Philip Furia, A Guide to the Cantos of Ezra Pound, Revised Edition, by William Cookson, etc… Without their keys the Cantos are inaccessible to even the most sophisticated reader. They would have to speak multiple languages and simultaneously be familiar with extensive biographical trivia concerning Pound’s life and times. But it’s in the interest of a variety of editors, critics, and poets to give the impression that literature is great when and because it’s difficult. It’s their livelihood after all. But one wonders when the 20th century will end for poetry? Maybe we’ll know when it no longer feels necessary to write New Yorker articles defending a poet who was the most successful of her generation from critics championing poets who remain among the least successful of their generation.

erotic poetry | sudden weather

  you should know,
  I only meant to recite
  a poem of love and gratitude,
  but seeing you tonight?

  forgive the weather
  that pinches buds into cries
  of burst leaves—for the runoff
  between April’s thighs.
  sudden weather
  by me
  February 1st 2021

Alongside all my other projects, I’m working on pulling together a collection of erotic haiku and poems. Thought I’d post some along the way. I want to write one erotic poem for each week of the year—many already written. This is part of an effort to gradually collect all my writings in one place. These for my belovèd muse, Erato, the muse of the erotic, poetry and lyric poetry.