On the Web: The Poetry of Troy Camplin

Troy asked me to review his blog, Thyme and Time Again, and, by extension, his poetry. The first thing to say about Troy’s blog is that it’s well-presented. Nothing can be more off-putting than a slipshod blog (doesn’t encourage readers to take a blogger seriously). His brief little autobiography tells us that he has a Ph.D. in the Humanities from UT-Dallas, an M.A. in English from the Univ. of S. MS, and a B.S. in Recombinant Gene Technology. He writes: “I specialize in spontaneous order and self-organization theory (from the brain to cities), network theory, Austrian economics, aesthetics, and cultural studies. I also write plays and poems.” Wow.

The  libraries of poetry are filled with books by educated and well-heeled Ministers, Physicians, Diplomats, Aristocrats, etc…  They had a love of literature, poetry and some spare time. John Donne is the most famous. There are also poets like John Collop and Edward Taylor. Edward Taylor was a minister but it’s John Collop who would be Troy’s spiritual and professional antecedent. Collop was a physician who didn’t suffer fools gladly, including other physicians. The editor writes that Collop “rejected as ignorant folly the most popular remedies of his time — phlebotomy, purges, fontanels — and the accompanying theories of defluxions and bodily humors. His poems attack quacks in all varieties: the astrological quack who assigns each herb to a house in the Zodiac and reads its properties in the stars…”

Hillberry, the editor of The Poems of John Collop, writes that Collop was no John Donne (a poet who Collop admired and imitated in some ways) but his poems are nevertheless rugged, avoid sentimentality and are intelligently alive with observation and wit. Camplin writes in this tradition – the gentleman poet. If he doesn’t already, Camplin should have some Collop on his shelf.

Camplin is doggedly prolific, writing one poem a day, and they range from free verse to traditional. No creative artist, can keep that pace and produce lasting work unless they possess surpassing ability.  Since today is today, and that would be December 29th, let’s take a look at his current poem:

Morning Tea

I know when roses fill her breath,
This morning she’s been drinking tea.
I wonder then what were her thoughts –
Of house, of work, or even me.
As honey drips slow off her spoon –
An amber made, not trapping bees –
Under the shade of old live oaks,
Her chair well-set on roots of trees,
She dips her spoon into the cup
To stir the light brown liquid sweet
And closes eyes to hear the air,
Relaxing back in plastic seat.
I see a smile spread through her eyes
As any fear within her dies.

Morning Tea is safely representative of the kind of poetry you will find — accomplished but showing the hallmarks of quick writing. The imagery is fairly straight forward and moves line by line. One doesn’t find the carefully planned imagery or conceits of more considered poetry. All but one of the lines are end-stopped. This is commonly the mark of haste – get the lines out and get them to rhyme. However, in fairness to Troy, I actually find this poem to be atypical. Many, if not most, of his other poems show greater freedom with enjambment and end-stopping. Another mark of speed, perhaps, is a willingness to invert grammar for the sake of rhyme:

To stir the light brown liquid sweet

One’s not sure whether we’re to treat liquid as the noun, or sweet as the noun. Troy has chosen not to punctuate the line so we’re left to our own devices (and this may be deliberate). I think most readers would read liquid as the noun and sweet as the adjective.  There’s some grammatical awkwardness earlier in the poem as well:

I know when roses fill her breath,
This morning she’s been drinking tea.

Normally, we would probably say: She’s been drinking tea this morning. We would also, probably, more normally order our thoughts as follows:

She’s been drinking tea this morning,
I know it when the scent of roses is on her breath.

Something like that, but Troy has a rhyme scheme to keep. His lines aren’t exactly ungrammatical (though they flirt with poor grammar through their lack of punctuation), but there’s frequently something a little off kilter about them. They don’t feel organic. Rather, it frequently feels as though the form wrote the lines rather than the lines writing the form. A poet who isn’t writing a poem a day might be less willing to let such lines slip by. He might not close the line with the inverted grammar of:

As any fear within her dies.

Rather than:

As any fear dies within her.

Another mark of haste is Troy’s willingness to discard articles for the sake of meter (rather than re-write the line so that standard English is preserved). Poets up to the 19th century had the luxury of synaloepha when they needed to keep their lines iambic. These days, about the only shortcut left to poets is the omission of articles, but it’s not really an effective shortcut. It almost always risks making the lines sound amateurish.

And closes eyes to hear the air,
Relaxing back in plastic seat.

Should read:

And closes (her) eyes to hear the air,
Relaxing back in (the) plastic seat.

Haste can also be revealed by logical oversights. In the lines just quoted, Troy observes that the woman, as she sips her morning tea, has just closed her eyes. And yet, two lines later, he tells us that he sees “a smile spread through her eyes”. I’m not sure how this is possible since her eyes are, presumably, still closed. It’s possible that he’s speaking rhetorically and figuratively, using eyes as a catchall for closed eyes, eye brows, facial expressions, etc.; but in either case the lines don’t feel thoroughly thought out. All these little flaws, to a greater or less extent, can be found in all his poems.

But it wouldn’t be fair to leave it at that. Just as with Edward Taylor and John Collop, Camplin’s better poems show a poet’s grasp of metaphor and imagery. Consider the following:

An Inordinate Fondness

In all my travels I have noticed God
Is fond of filling fields with yellow flowers.
There’s blue and red and pink and white – how odd
It’s golden yellow glowing after showers

Sow fields with water blown in flowing sheets
To dew the sod anew. No matter where
I look, I note that God both greets and meets
The eye with golden threads He’s sewn with care

Into the blooming fields. Indeed, in fields
He fills with lupines, blue in sun and shade
Of pines, some yellow shines. The yellow yields
A sharp define to all the mellow grades

Of blue and green that wave as warm winds blow.
It seems He couldn’t help Himself – He felt
He had to throw in just a note, to show
That sorrow’s blues and greens would always melt.

And even when I tried to plant a plot
Of only purple flowers, God slipped in
A golden dandelion that would not
Let me get lost within the purple din.

So now I look upon the yellow glow
Of God’s gold fingerprints upon the earth,
And know I owe him all I own – I grow
And glow with yellow petals from my birth.

Now, compared to the broken glass of a poet like John Ashbery, this is going to feel simplistic, mawkish and sentimental but, for all that, the poem is well put together. And, to be honest, it’s no more mawkish or sentimental than the free verse of Maya Angelou. I’d rather read Camplin than Angelou.  Complin works harder. There’s nothing safer or easier than free verse – like putting up the frame of a house and calling it done. Meter and rhyme is the finish work. Even if his efforts aren’t always successful, I know far more about his stature as a poet than Angelou. I know that if Camplin took just a little extra time he could, potentially, write some spectacular stuff:

····················Indeed, in fields
He fills with lupines, blue in sun and shade
Of pines, some yellow shines. The yellow yields
A sharp define to all the mellow grades

Of blue and green that wave as warm winds blow.

The sense of rhythm and structure in these lines is strong. I’d like to see him think twice about the alliteration and internal rhyme of words like lupines, shines and define – mainly because they feel contrived. I’d like to see him loosen the meter. If I were to re-think the lines, here’s how I would do it:

····················Indeed, in fields
Filled with the lupine and the blueish shade
Of fir, there’s a yellow of the kind that yields
Nothing to any of the mellow grades

Of blue or green blending where the warm winds blow.

To my sensibilities, this gives the lines a more vernacular, less halting feel. The meter, while still strong, feels less forced into the mold.

All in all, I find Troy to be one of the stronger traditional poets on the Internet. The inquisitive reader will find poem after poem by this prolific scientist/poet, all in need of comments. I encourage any reader with a taste for traditional poetry to visit his site and comment. Interaction is the artist’s life blood. If you like his poems, say so. If you think they can be improved, share your thoughts. Camplin writes in the same tradition as a Taylor, Collop, or a Thomas Traherne, who, as they made their living in other ways, wrote poetry for the sheer joy of it. Traherne would have immediately appreciated Camplin’s more devout poems, and shared Camplin’s child-like  contemplation of God. The accessibility of so many voices on the internet is as promising as the self-published poetry of an earlier ra. Take a look and see if you like it.

And why not end the post with a poem by John Collop, the poet who Troy most reminds me of.

On the Atrologicall quack.

As th’Colledge of the stars he did commence,
And Statesman-like will speak the houses sense,
Each house for mans use stranger herbs hath got,
To them they essence property, seed allot.
But is’t not strange; when they so numerous be,
How all do with a fewer stars agree?
Each pil and potion too hath diff’rent sign:
Nature ith’ stomach sure now can’t refine.
Or ist since Heav’n stands still, and earth turns round,
We here are giddy, there no truth is found?
The Heav’ns a book is, where men wonders read,
The stars are letters, most a Christs Cross need.

23 responses

  1. As always you should be commended for lending a helping hand (or should it be head?) to the poor, unknown working poets slaving in the deep, recessed shadows of the internet. I took the time to read several of Camplin’s poems and I largely agree with your assessments about the hallmarks of haste. That said, some of the things that bother you–the elision of articles, some of the inverted syntax–doesn’t bother me. In fact, I tend to find that modern poets are too often slaves to straight-forward syntax, which is bothersome because substantial effects can be created by how you order the various elements of a sentence within a line and across lines.

    EG, you mention the syntactical awkwardness of: “I know when roses fill her breath, /This morning she’s been drinking tea” I’d certainly prefer that to the more traditional: “She’s been drinking tea this morning, / I know it when the scent of roses is on her breath” primarily because it goes from the image to the inference made from that image. That said, I think it would be better if he went the whole way by, eg, writing “This morning roses fill her breath; / I know that she’s been drinking tea” because it doesn’t split up the “I know” and “that she’s…” with the image itself. I mean, these are three valid ways of writing the same thing, but it just depends on what effect you’re going for. Should image precede inference, inference precede image, or inference be split by image? I think the last–the one he chose–is probably the least of the three choices in this case.

    Yet, regarding this: “As any fear within her dies.” I find the inversion more effective, because “fear” and “dies” bookend the line while the “within her” is more potent by being “within” the line itself. Perhaps the only flaw there is that “any” is obviously “padding” the line and mars the bookending effect. There’s an instance where I think being slavish to meter can be a detriment, because I think it would be interesting to, eg, elide the last unstressed foot and just remove any. You get a nice surprise, punchy effect at the end of the poem. So something like ” As fear within herself dies.”

  2. //That said, some of the things that bother you–the elision of articles, some of the inverted syntax–doesn’t bother me. In fact, I tend to find that modern poets are too often slaves to straight-forward syntax…//

    I’m not at all opposed to grammatical inversion, Wilbur calls it poetic “heightening”. All else being equal, I would agree with you. The risk, as I see it, is when it doesn’t feel organic, but contrived for the sake of meter and rhyme. The point at which a line goes from feeling organic to contrived, I suppose, is somewhat subjective.

    As to the first two lines, I don’t offer my alternative as an improvement. I only meant to illustrate how we, normally, would say the same thing. Again, the question is this: Does the grammatical inversion feel organic, or does it feel contrived for the sake of the form? Does the context support grammatical inversion? Everyday, in normal speech, we turn things around for the sake of emphasis, but we have a reason. I think you’re right. I like that the image precedes the inference. I just wonder if there isn’t a way to write it more organically.

    As to the last line, I also wondered if dropping any might be an acceptable alternative. And thanks for commenting Jonathan, you know your stuff. :-)

  3. Thanks for the review. I really appreciate it. As I say on my blog, I seek feedback to improve the poems. I’ll think about your comments and probably make some changes.

    A few factual points. One, I’m not actually writing a poem a day. I set it up to post a new poem every day, but the poems have been written over more than a decade. Morning Tea, for example, was written many years ago, well before many of the poems before it. One cannot assume chronological order with the poems.

    None of this detracts from the analysis, of course, which is excellent. Thanks!

    • Thanks for the clarification Troy. You are no less prolific, even if the poems are over the last decade. I admire your determination to write and keep writing. :-)

    • Getting good feedback on poetry is difficult. The average reader just doesn’t have the background or experience. I remember being asked to look at a fresh painting: “Give me some feedback,” said the artist. I. Had. No. Clue. I might as well have uselessly said: “What a pretty picture.” You’re going to get the best feedback from other poets and poetry critics – they will, at least, speak the language.

      You could try Eratosphere. I recommend them warily. I can stomach the place for about three days before all the absurd preening, posturing and cliquish self-importance (and frequent incompetence) just about sets my keyboard on fire. But maybe things have changed. There are oodles of poets who like it there.

  4. [[[I remember being asked to look at a fresh painting: “Give me some feedback,” said the artist. I. Had. No. Clue.]]]

    Indeed. There’s a broad chasm between knowing what you like/dislike and knowing how to express why you like/dislike something. Criticism is an art into itself, and I’ve found out the hard way that reading my poetry to the ‘uninitiated’ is destined to elicit nothing more than “that was nice/pretty/cool” or what-have-you.

    [[[You could try Eratosphere. I recommend them warily.]]]

    I’ve never heard of this place before… I’m curious as to what happened there that provoked your ire; care to fill me in?

    • //I’ve never heard of this place before… I’m curious as to what happened there that provoked your ire; care to fill me in?//

      I’ll try to make a long story short.

      Way back when, I joined Eratosphere and submitted a couple of poems for feedback. That was the first mistake. I don’t have the temperament, as Frost put it, to write poetry by committee. The mechanical advice — misspellings, poor grammar, logical inconsistency — is more objective and useful, but then there’s aesthetics. My sense of what makes a good poem is writ in granite. That’s not to say that I’m right, only that is what it is. I don’t respect another poet’s opinion unless I think they’re better than me. So, I have an ego problem; but I am what I am.

      What pissed me off was when it became obvious that there were two or three roosters and 30 hens. When I dared to hew to my own standards, about a dozen hens would fussily come pecking. I found that if I made comments on other poets, my comments would often be followed by snide digs. The message was clear, I should respect the pecking order. At the time, they were absurdly cliquish. I told them where they could stick it.

      My second mistake was in daring to criticize A.E. Stallings. My post on her book, HAPAX was one of the first posts I wrote (back when Poemshape was hosted by blogspot). If you read the post you will see that, as a factual matter, calling her use of the word “nor” archaic was incorrect. However, I stand by my assertion that the effect is precious and affected. I also criticize her (and all formal poets) for their use of “upon”. In every instance the word is either an affectation or a metrical filler. After daring to criticize Stallings, there was a lot of bad blood; and I just don’t care for that kind of nonsense.

      The third thing that ticks me off is the in-your-face one-upmanship. Sometimes it feels as though every post is a fire hydrant and every dog has to piss just a little higher than the one before. If you’re really curious, you can probably find my conversations and judge for yourself. I try not to take myself too seriously, knowing my foibles, but you’d get the sense that their community was god’s gift to poetry. If the roosters who crowed the loudest were actually good poets, I could respect that (to a degree), but they produce mediocrity while lording their status (at Eratosphere) over any member gullible enough to be obsequious. They’re a choir singing to themselves in an empty church.

  5. No, no, come on now; tell me how you REALLY feel about them! Wow, man, sounds like there’s a lot of bad blood there. I may check it out anyway, if only because I have a good track record with message boards and an ability to walk away quietly when I feel I’ve outstayed my purpose/reason for being there in the first place. Hopefully it’s changed for the better since your absence. There just doesn’t seem to be many places online that provides a place for any kind of in-depth discussion on poetry, which is one reason I appreciated finding you and this website. But there’s always room for more in my mind.

    • //No, no, come on now; tell me how you REALLY feel about them!//

      :-) Join up. Try it out. Get back to me and tell me what you think. If you like it, maybe you’ll decide my opinion says more about me than them, and that’s OK.

  6. [[[Join up. Try it out. Get back to me and tell me what you think.]]]

    I’ve been there a week, here’s my assessment of the attitude that I expressed to another newbie in a PM:

    “Most every comment I’ve seen is mired in ignorant a priori biases rooted in a shaky, shallow understanding of and kowtowing to modern aesthetics–the classic “everything that’s now is good, everything that’s then is bad” thinking that leads to critics looking like morons in subsequent generations–combined with an attitude that their status as poets privileges them as critics (it doesn’t; poets often make the worst poetry critics just like filmmakers often make the worst film critics), exacerbated by a defensiveness when anyone questions their reading or ability to engage with a poem on the level it deserves.

    You’re better off reading a poem to trained monkeys as I find their poo-slinging less offensive.”

    I know we have our aesthetic differences of opinion, but at least you show an ability to intelligently defend your position. I read that thread you mentioned on archaisms in poetry, and I generally agree with your assessment about there being a lot of pecking hens and a few “cocks”. I admit that the discussion was interesting, and I think both you and Roger made good points, but it did get bogged down in misunderstandings and flamings. I can’t tell who made the first mistake, but I’ve already noticed their tendency to turn a thread towards the person to avoid intelligently addressing their points. It’s known as ad hominem in logic, though it’s in a more subtle shade than the classic example.

    I’d comment on the subject of the thread itself, but I think that’s for another time and place, and perhaps a refresher as to who made what points. The only thing I’ll say is: as much as I defend archaisms in poetry (insofar as they’re just another tool to be utilized in the right context), I think you made the best point by asking what artists ever made a lasting impact in practicing nothing but archaisms. I can think of some examples in film, but not many in literature. But you definitely gave me something to ponder, which is more than I can say for the others.

    • So, tell us what you really think. :-)

      Right. Ad hominem. I do my damnedest not to engage in it. I can’t remember all the players in that conversation on archaisms. I do recall, it must have been Roger, having a stupidly hard time with the notion that Keats’ use of archaisms was, at the time, aesthetically and stylistically current. In his box of tools, it seemed that a thing was either archaic or it wasn’t. Toward the end, I wondered if he was being deliberately obtuse to save face. I would have thought, and said so, that this aspect of Keats’ style (and that of his contemporaries) was self-explanatory.

      There was one prissy British editor (she’s probably still there) who felt it was her duty to explain some of the antagonism. She pointed out one of my typos. Really? Really? I’m on a forum, presumably having an informal discussion, and rather than discuss ideas, we’re going to posture over typos? I think that was when I left and never went back.

      “…Everything that’s now is good, everything that’s then is bad”. I wouldn’t have expected that. How can they be writing metered and rhyming poetry if they believe this? – or am I misunderstanding?

  7. [[[How can they be writing metered and rhyming poetry if they believe this? – or am I misunderstanding?]]]

    I was referring to their attitude towards archaisms, which, ironically, most of them defended in your thread, and yet all I saw was blanket dismissing of any attempts from anyone towards using them. I’ve noticed a unique phenomenon in these New Formalists in that they seem to want to keep the “archaic” notions of meter and rhyme but do away any archaisms in diction and syntax. I don’t understand that, any more in your attitude than in theirs. If one archaism is allowed, why not others? How is it that there is not a right place and a right time for such tools? Who determines what is/isn’t OK?

    I think the Keats discussion was illustrative in that it seems each generation has a set of ideas about what archaisms are allowed and which aren’t. In modern film there’s frequently an automatic backlash against anyone that chooses to make a film in black-and-white, which I find completely ridiculous. Likewise, the attitude of never including any archaic words or syntax strikes me as equally near-sighted thinking. Archaisms have their own sets of qualities that have not changed since Keats, Milton, and others decided they were OK to use. What we’re speaking to now is modern aesthetic tastes, which always sees itself as atemporal and infinite until the revolution comes.

    I have a workable hypothesis as to why that is. Once upon a time there was a respect and reverence towards the past. Stories became mythology became religion became philosophy became the roots of society and culture. In that context there was a desire to aspire towards those distant heights and poetry, again working off tradition, found archaisms on every level eminently useful towards that goal. With the infection of postmodernism and extreme subjectivism has come a cynicism towards that past, towards any sense of loftiness and generalities, towards distancing, etc. Reverence and devotion has turned to rebellion and repulsion.

    In one sense, as a revolution, I think it was needed. As I said over there, blind acceptance is intellectual rot and eventual death. We need the injection of freshness. But that has come at the expense of expressive tools, which, as an artist, as an aesthete, I find unacceptable. A more meta approach demands to be taken. Not “this is the way it should be and A, B, C is not included” but “this is the way it could be with everything included.” I like Picasso’s Blue Period, but people forget that it is OK to work with other colors.

    • //I don’t understand that, any more in your attitude than in theirs. //

      I can only speak for myself. There’s that which is archaic, antique or old fashioned, and then there’s whatever aesthetic or style that is current in any given period. In Keats’s day, usages like thee and thou were archaic, as a linguistic matter, but they were still current and a conventional part of the poet’s toolkit. Even in Walt Whitman, you will find these stock poeticisms.

      And who art thou sad shade?
      Gigantic, visionary, thyself a visionary,
      With majestic limbs and pious beaming eyes,
      Spreading around with every look of thine a golden world,
      Enhuing it with gorgeous hues.

      [From Passage to India, published in 1871]

      As readers, we don’t ask ourselves: Why is he writing like this? We expect it during the 19th century. With the advent of the 20th century, those conventional poeticisms were decidedly tossed out of the poet’s toolkit — and so were many of the abbreviations (synaloepha) and grammatical inversions that served no other use than to preserve the meter.

      So that’s Part A — Summary: All of the poeticisms which, in the end, served no other purpose than the preservation of meter or rhyme, became all the more obvious as contrivances with the advent of free verse.

      Part B is the artist’s perspective:

      Poets like Stevens, Wilbur and Robert Frost above all, proved that poets didn’t need these contrivances to write great poetry in the traditional mode. I think of myself, foremost, as a poet, not a critic. I have a very peculiar attitude toward poetry. The content of the poem, as a matter of importance, doesn’t exceed the importance of the poem’s craftsmanship. I don’t want to write free verse because it’s too easy. There’s no challenge. When I write poetry, they’re like a crossword puzzle. The challenge is to write in the traditional mode without the grammatical cheats available to 19th century poets (and before). From my perspective, the majority of poets writing in traditional forms, when they use “archaic” formulations, are doing it for the wrong reason – as a contrivance. I don’t have a problem with archaisms per se, but I can’t think of any poets, but for Wilbur perhaps, who can pull it off without the feeling that it was contrived or for the prettiness of its effect (the latter sin I find too often in Stallings poetry). That’s writing poetically. That’s not writing poetry. My obsession with the word upon is a reflection of that. There were many poets at Eratosphere who were outraged (I say threatened) that I would eliminate this precious word from their toolbox. Why? Because it’s an all too convenient Iamb. It never, to my knowledge, appears in modern formal poems as anything other than a metrically convenient substitute for the word on. Whenever I see it used this way, I think dilettante.

      The other issue is that 19th century poets (and before) were trained in rhetoric and the formal arts of poetry. This was the air they breathed.

      Like Pound, I ask why would a modern poet, not steeped in these traditions, want to attempt what previous generations already perfected? You’re never going to do as well as they did because you don’t live in that artistic era. Each artist has to create something out of the milieu in which they live, and if that makes the use of some archaic formulations (like SOV inversions) all that much more difficult to use without the feeling of contrivance, then so be it. Every generation faces its own challenges.

  8. As always, Patrick, there’s a great density of intellectually provocative content in your posts–something that all of the posts I read over at Eratosphere lacked. Most seemed little more than zombies parroting the leads of the moderators, who are themselves lead by the nose of their unexamined noodles.

    I’ll start with the simplest:

    [[[I ask why would a modern poet, not steeped in these traditions, want to attempt what previous generations already perfected? You’re never going to do as well as they did because you don’t live in that artistic era. Each artist has to create something out of the milieu in which they live…]]]

    I’m reminded of a quote by RF Leavis (I think) who said “every generation and every culture gets the art that they deserve.” I question if ours, with our aesthetic attitudes, are deserving of a Shakespeare, Milton, or Donne. There’s something about that milieu that fostered their genius, and I equally feel there’s something about ours that’s hindering it.

    As for your question I’d say this: only Lilliputians are afraid of standing in the shadows of giants. The true giants were never afraid of such a thing. I don’t know why your question couldn’t have applied to Virgil trying to “do as well” as Homer, or Dante trying to “do as well” as Virgil, or Milton trying to “do as well” as any of them. You’re talking about four very different cultures immersed in very different ideologies and scholastic systems, yet they were still able to produce epics that directly drew on their predecessors while reshaping them in terms relevant to their own. Each is a masterpiece that dared to stand in the equally tall shadow of what came before it, each ultimately casting an equally long shadow itself over future generations. Shirking from those shadows with the defeatist attitude of “we’re never going to do as well” seems depressingly nihilistic to me.

    I agree that each artist must reshape their milieu through their work, but there’s no reason that can’t be done using the past as a platform, a basis, a reference, a mold. In a respect, Modernity was partly about “owning up to” the past. What is The Waste Land but a complex way of saying “see, everything new is really old. See all of these quotes I culled from past poets? See all of these “archaisms” embedded there?” Postmodernism took it a step forward in saying “hey, you know all of those boundaries between genres and types? Let’s throw them into a blender and see what comes out.”

    You may say that the contemporary milieus made these types of “archaisms” acceptable, but I’ll address that in a moment.

    [[[As readers, we don’t ask ourselves: Why is he writing like this? We expect it during the 19th century. With the advent of the 20th century, those conventional poeticisms were decidedly tossed out of the poet’s toolkit]]]

    But I think this is a cop-out. It chalks everything up to historical taste, which is nothing more than a collective–usually grossly generalized, as there are always disagreements–of what certain people (artists, critics, etc.) thought at a certain time, and it so frequently happens that they’re (even the best–like Samuel Johnson) “overruled” by subsequent generations. Sometimes what can look out of step and/or archaic can seem thoroughly modern in another, or vice verse. Look at Alfred Hitchcock who went from being on the cutting edge of contemporary tastes with Psycho and The Birds, only to be charged with being old-fashioned and out-of-touch when he released Marnie, only to have that film rescued as being his last “masterpiece” by a few select critics. Alexander Pope was the scourge of many critics in his day, including the most prominent in Dennis (I think it was). But why? Because Dennis felt Pope wasa threat to his underlying ideologies, and I’m wondering if the same can’t be said for all critics in all eras.

    As I said in my review for Taymor’s The Tempest: “critical opinions” (and, by extension, aesthetic tastes) “are themselves baseless fabric… such stuff as dreams are made on.”

    Plus, this seems like historicism combined with homogeneous “follow the leader” thinking. We learn that the “well, they’re jumping off a bridge so it’s OK for us to do it to” argument doesn’t work as children, and I’m reminded of Blake’s “I must create my own system or be enslaved by another man’s.” So, actually, I WOULD ask myself “why is Whitman (or anyone) writing like this?” Whether I expect it or not is irrelevant, whether it was historically common or not is irrelevant. That style (and any other style) had an aesthetic flavor that the writer chose for a certain reason, and I’m interested in knowing what that flavor meant for them, and what it means to us now, and how/if they can be reconciled.

    Here’s perhaps the crux of my argument: I don’t think archaisms sound to us today any differently than “thees” and “thous” sounded to Keats. He realized they were archaic, and even though it was still aesthetically acceptable to use them, I don’t think that’s enough to “forgive him” if we deem them truly worthless. What I’m interested in why he chose to use them knowing they were archaic. “Because others did it” is not enough. It’s lazy historicism. Such archaisms, again, had their flavor to Keats’ (and others’) generations that were palatable FOR A REASON that no longer holds for many today. What I said in my last post about that reaching for the lofty past and our cynicism towards that today is, I think, the entire reason behind why they’re no longer “acceptable.”

    Now, there’s the other key point you bring up about certain archaisms being nothing but ways to “cheat” at meter, and I’d agree with your distaste of that. But even then I think harping on a lowly preposition like “upon” isn’t even missing the forest for the trees; it’s missing the tree for the bramble laying around it. There’s also frequently an irony in the “archaisms” of certain devices like synaloepha that I think renders colloquial/contemporary speech better than its complete absence. Donne is a great example who could use such a thing to be quite colloquial, contemporary, down-to-earh and common. The major difficulty in Donne is his complex syntax and his ambiguous usage of pronouns and the elision of certain filler words. But it’s remarkable that complexity is couched in a language that does feel quite, well, common.

    But I feel that’s off the point. Using archaisms solely make meter work I’ll agree is bad. But what I’m referring to more is the desired elimination of archaic diction and syntax completely. Both, I think, are valuable tools at getting at a certain aesthetic occasionally. I recently wrote an ode composed almost entirely of archaisms, even going back and consciously trying to replace many contemporary words with older ones and finding ways to mess with syntax, etc. combined with tons of references to classics, mythology, etc. In that piece it was more a challenge to write archaically rather than modern and common. The “wherefore” is because I wanted it to feel like a relic, a complete work of contrived artifice. Why? Because the piece is about how easily we mistake art for truth, and that Keats’ “beauty’s truth…” just isn’t applicable, I feel, to how we find truth in art.

    A lot of what I gathered on Eratosphere is that they hate anything engineered, self-consciously poetic, distancing, etc. It’s the same complaints I hear against the films of Stanley Kubrick or Luis Bunuel. They’re artificial, they’re too constructed, there’s no humanity, there’s no warmth, they’re too cold, they’re too “artsy”. Kubrick, for all of his technological innovations and thoroughly modern themes was as aesthetically “archaic” as you could get. Bunuel was drawing on 20s surrealism in the 60s and 70s, long after it had gone out of fashion (and before Lynch’s revival of it).

    I don’t think it’s an entirely modern thing, but I do think there’s such a strong desire to escape into art through identification. Jung called it the longing for the mother, the desire to dissolve the ego into our origins. “Identifying” with art is the quickest route to that state of ego-death. But all it is a comforting regression–an adult suckling on the teat of pacifying art(ifice). To me, substantial art must make one aware of that artifice. I’m not just talking about a Brechtian aesthetic here, but I’m talking about some–however minute–retention of one’s conscious ego when approaching art. It’s too easy to give over to the “junk food” side of aesthetics.

    Perhaps it stems from my general distaste for most all realism and naturalism in art. There is no art I can experience, perhaps with the exception of music–which, fwiw, is probably why Keats chose music for his Ode about being in love with death–that I can experience and not be aware of that artifice on some level. What’s more, the ignorance of the artifice of art blinds people the expressive, communicative properties in the art. On Eratosphere, everyone was so concerned with the fact that something was “engineered” and “archaic” that they didn’t even bother looking to what the artifice had to say about the subject being rendered.

    To me, I see people fussing over whether tools (like archaisms) should be used when they should be fussing over how and when to use them, and what their particular usage in each particular case “says” about what’s being rendered.

    One final point, I like what you say about writing poetry as like a crossword puzzle. I think I said on Amazon that it was like a jigsaw puzzle, so we’re on the same page there. But I think the challenge is not arhcaisms/no archaisms or making the meter work. The challenge is seeing something in an original way and not blindly using one’s tool to make something by blueprint. I think one common problem to any poet writing in traditional model is coming to a metrical foot and having a particular word in mind that doesn’t fit, and then they’re forced to choose between meter or diction. I used to always go for meter to “play by the rules,” but these days I’m starting to think that getting that perfect word is frequently more important than maintaining the meter. Equally, I’m thinking that meter without meaningful variations is dead. It’s a metronome. And like you quoted Pound about archaisms, I’ll quote him about rhythm: “compose in the sequence of musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.”

    Let me give one example from an older sonnet I recently revised. I originally had the line:

    …incessant buzzings in the mind

    It fits the meter: -/-/-/-/

    I changed it to:

    immutable mutterings in the mind

    It disrupts the meter: -/–/–/-/

    I like it better sonically, and I like it better rhythmically when I consider the rhythm as paired with the diction and semantics. I feel that there’s something more immutable about the mutterings if both are paired with their own unique rhythm, as if they can’t even be tamed/controlled by the commonality of the meter. Or, one more example:

    I originally had:

    Eternal life and death WILL PASS before their eyes.

    Changed it to:

    Eternal life and death PASSES before their eyes.

    To me, that interruption of the trochee in the iambic pattern makes all the difference to how the aesthetic is rendered. I can’t explain how, but I like it infinitely better than the perfect iamb of the original, though I think part of it is the switch from simple future to simple present.

    To me, it’s finding spots like that for where to break the rules that’s more of a creative challenge than blindly playing by them.

    And I’ll still disagree with you about the “easiness” of free verse, at least about good free verse. Auden considered it by far the hardest form to write in. One needed “an infallible ear,” as he claimed. I don’t know how a poet looks on the complete freedom inherent in free verse without a shutter of terror at the immense responsibility of controlling everything. Playing by rules and playing with complete freedom has their own set of challenges, and, personally, I feel the former is the easier.

    • //Most seemed little more than zombies parroting the leads of the moderators, who are themselves lead by the nose of their unexamined noodles.//

      Seems we’re in agreement as concerns Eratosphere… :-)

      //There’s something about that milieu that fostered their genius, and I equally feel there’s something about ours that’s hindering it.//

      Perhaps, but then it’s worth remembering that every generation has its doomsayers and Pollyannas.

      //As for your question I’d say this: only Lilliputians are afraid of standing in the shadows of giants. The true giants were never afraid of such a thing. I don’t know why your question couldn’t have applied to Virgil trying to “do as well” as Homer, or Dante trying to “do as well” as Virgil, or Milton trying to “do as well” as any of them. You’re talking about four very different cultures immersed in very different ideologies and scholastic systems, yet they were still able to produce epics that directly drew on their predecessors while reshaping them in terms relevant to their own. Each is a masterpiece that dared to stand in the equally tall shadow of what came before it, each ultimately casting an equally long shadow itself over future generations. Shirking from those shadows with the defeatist attitude of “we’re never going to do as well” seems depressingly nihilistic to me.//

      OK, but I think you’re taking my argument a little further than I do. (Also, when championing Virgil, there are so many provisos as to make the comparison unuseful – let alone that they (Homer and Virgil) were writing in different languages and cultures. My argument concerned the use of archaisms (as in linguistic techniques that aren’t reflective of modern usage or aesthetics). “Doing as well as” another artist can have connotations that have nothing to do with whether one adopts an older poet’s outdated techniques. Milton did as well as Spenser but didn’t imitate or adopt Spenser’s archaisms (and which were archaic in Spenser’s own day). Besides that, we’re in agreement as to the use of techniques (which have become archaic in the meantime) originally developed solely to make the writing of rhyme and meter easier.

      But it seems that you’re moving away from the question of archaisms to that of influence — and that’s a fascinating discussion in itself. I resist conflating the question of archaisms in style with influence. That’s something different. I agree that the past can be profitably used as a “platform, a basis, a reference, a mold”. To what degree is an eternal question. T.S. Eliot addressed it with the quip that “good poets borrow, great poets steal”. That’s so open to interpretation that Eliot is able to characteristically have his cake and eat it too. What his quip boils down to is talent.

      As to the wholesale rejection of the past (which one frequently finds in the artistic currents of the 20th century), I’ve never bought into any of those arguments.

      [[[As readers, we don’t ask ourselves: Why is he writing like this? We expect it during the 19th century. With the advent of the 20th century, those conventional poeticisms were decidedly tossed out of the poet’s toolkit]]]

      //But I think this is a cop-out. It chalks everything up to historical taste…//

      Yes, but that’s a balancing act. Interestingly, your frame of reference is movies, mine is music. Musical tastes changed drastically during the early to late 18th century. While some composers of the late 18th century led a wholesale rejection of composers like Bach. The great ones, like Mozart and Haydn, learned from him. The finale of Mozart’s 41rst symphony is an object lesson in counterpoint and the study of Bach – but Mozart pulled it off using the musical vocabulary of his own day. Fugues and counterpoint were considered archaic by the 1780’s, but Mozart showed how the techniques could be made modern. That’s all I’m arguing for. I’m not saying that artist’s can’t use predecessors as a platform, but only that they transform what they learn through the vocabulary of their own day. This is what Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens did with Iambic Pentameter. They used precisely the same techniques as the Victorians, but transformed it with a 20th century vernacular. Most poets, I notice, seem unable to pull that off.

      //I WOULD ask myself “why is Whitman (or anyone) writing like this?” Whether I expect it or not is irrelevant, whether it was historically common or not is irrelevant.//

      Yes, but you’re not the average reader. If thees and thous pop up in a poem written yesterday, most readers are going to consider it the sign of an amateur.

      //Here’s perhaps the crux of my argument: I don’t think archaisms sound to us today any differently than “thees” and “thous” sounded to Keats.//

      Perhaps, but the difference is that the reading public expected this elevated diction. When Keats or any other poet was criticized, it was not because they used this brand of archaic diction or language.

      //Now, there’s the other key point you bring up about certain archaisms being nothing but ways to “cheat” at meter, and I’d agree with your distaste of that. But even then I think harping on a lowly preposition like “upon” isn’t even missing the forest for the trees; it’s missing the tree for the bramble laying around it. //

      Aye, ’tis a little thing, but no less a fly in ones soup.

      //But I feel that’s off the point. Using archaisms solely make meter work I’ll agree is bad. But what I’m referring to more is the desired elimination of archaic diction and syntax completely. //

      I don’t make that argument. My argument is with the use of archaisms as a technical cheat or, pejoratively, “poetic affectation”.

      //I recently wrote an ode composed almost entirely of archaisms, even going back and consciously trying to replace many contemporary words with older ones and finding ways to mess with syntax, etc. //

      Keats did the same thing – deliberately. Nobody reads those poems but as curiosities.

      //A lot of what I gathered on Eratosphere is that they hate anything engineered, self-consciously poetic, distancing, etc. It’s the same complaints I hear against the films of Stanley Kubrick or Luis Bunuel. They’re artificial, they’re too constructed, there’s no humanity, there’s no warmth, they’re too cold, they’re too “artsy”. Kubrick, for all of his technological innovations and thoroughly modern themes was as aesthetically “archaic” as you could get. Bunuel was drawing on 20s surrealism in the 60s and 70s, long after it had gone out of fashion (and before Lynch’s revival of it).//

      I can’t speak to your film analogy. I have little interest in film (unfortunately for your analogies) but I catch the drift and it’s interesting to read a knowledgeable viewer’s insights. I think that what they are objecting to is amateurish poetry, but of course they can’t say that. They have no problem with A.E. Stallings using the same “engineered, self-consciously poetic, and distancing” techniques because she’s good at it or, at least, she’s better at it than they are.

      //Perhaps it stems from my general distaste for most all realism and naturalism in art. There is no art I can experience, perhaps with the exception of music–which, fwiw, is probably why Keats chose music for his Ode about being in love with death–that I can experience and not be aware of that artifice on some level. What’s more, the ignorance of the artifice of art blinds people the expressive, communicative properties in the art. On Eratosphere, everyone was so concerned with the fact that something was “engineered” and “archaic” that they didn’t even bother looking to what the artifice had to say about the subject being rendered.//

      Yes, but I think you conflate. Issues of archaic usages, influence, and artifice in art are three very distinct subjects.

      //To me, I see people fussing over whether tools (like archaisms) should be used when they should be fussing over how and when to use them, and what their particular usage in each particular case “says” about what’s being rendered.//

      I agree.

      //Equally, I’m thinking that meter without meaningful variations is dead.//

      Yes. However, Milton is a staunchly strict metrist and yet he pulls it off. There’s something to be learned there and critics have analyzed just that subject. A relentless meter is not, in itself, a poem’s death knell.

      //And I’ll still disagree with you about the “easiness” of free verse, at least about good free verse. Auden considered it by far the hardest form to write in. One needed “an infallible ear,” as he claimed.//

      Yes, but that’s just Auden posturing; and it’s a completely vacuous statement. A poet needs “an infallible ear” to write anything worthwhile – let alone free verse. Free verse is too easy. Now, if you’re talking about
      great poetry, then that’s another matter. That’s exceedingly difficult in free verse and exponentially harder in traditional verse.

  9. Ah, Patrick, you’re after my own heart. Mozart was one of the revelatory discoveries of my adolescence, and I am very familiar with his 41st; it’s probably my absolute favorite symphony. Although, I’ve never taken to studying music as I have film and poetry. But, on the Mozart point, I guess my question is “where does one draw the line?” Fugues were “archaic,” so what allowed Mozart to craft not just a fugue, but one of the most complex ever? I guess you might say that it’s not a standard fugue, it doesn’t announce its contrapuntal nature from the beginning, like so much of Bach. It saves it for the climax. Before then it develops its themes more along the lines of Classical tastes for lengthier, more fluid melodies and textural support, etc.

    But, maybe it’s just the way my brain is wired, but I hear it and I just can’t hear it as being something thoroughly “classical.” It still sounds baroque to me. It’s like when I read Keats, I see the Renaissance inspirations. When I listen to late Stravinsky I hear Mozart. When I read Eliot I see the Romantics. When I watch Spielberg I see Lang. It’s not that I can’t see what was current/modern in their works, but it’s more like I get the sense that the “archaic” is always so much stronger. Aesthetics seem to change by small steps and degrees while the basics, the core remain the same. I think that most people look at minute changes and register them as something revolutionary, thoroughly modern and new, and blind themselves to how much they’re entrenched in past modes.

    When I mention Virgil/Dante/Milton et al. what I’m saying is that their epics were shaped almost as if in dialectics with their predecessors. Yes, you can say that Milton’s blank verse is a “modern” version of the Dactylic Hexameter, but so many of the techniques Milton forged in BV were already there in Virgil’s Latin: how he used spondees for emphasis and slower rhythms, inversions to alter perspective and syntactical/semantic import, utilizing elisions to suggest something about the content. You said it yourself that Iiambic Pentameter was a reaction, in part, for poets to find an “equivalent” of what the Greeks and Romans had. So there’s a certain archaic component built in with the base desire to have such a fixed meter at all. But not only that, the entire notion of an “historical epic,” all of the conventions, were already set in stone. They were archaic themselves. I don’t know how one reads Paradise Lost and thinks that it ever sounded “modern.” Even Milton’s diction was thoroughly entrenched in complex, Latinate words. You’ve read a good chunk of lyric poetry and BV drama from that time; what of it really reads like Milton? To me, Milton’s closest predecessor IS Virgil, even more than Spenser or Dante.

    You want to say that “well, THAT archaisms was aesthetically acceptable,” but I ask “why?” Why one kind and not another? It seems to me they all provide the same “sense” of something old, classic, distant, grand, etc. I think it’s possible that Keats’ rejection of “Miltonic inversions” had less to do with them being archaic (if that was the ONLY reason it makes no sense why he would accept the “thees” and “thous” he also recognized as archaic; Keats was ONLY following tastes? Why were tastes like that anyway?), and more to do with him realizing he was doing them only to make the meter work. He didn’t have Milton’s talent of making such inversions syntactically/semantically relevant. So when Keats “accepted” the archaisms of “thee” and “thou” I don’t think it was purely out of modern aesthetic tastes. I think he knew that addressing odes to personifications had an archaic element built in, so addressing them in contemporary language didn’t “fit”. The archaic distance created by a “thee” and “thou” fits with the antique urn, the eternal nightingale, the goddess melancholy, etc.

    So I still can’t buy into the “archaisms as defined as being linguistic techniques that aren’t reflective of modern usages or aesthetics should be avoided” paradigm. I just feel it’s catering to a mindless mass of taste, and I can’t share Billy Wilder’s humorous quip that: “the audience is never wrong. An individual member may be an idiot, but a thousand idiots alone in the dark? That’s critical genius.” You say that “the reading public expected this elevated diction” then, conversely implying they don’t expect it now, but that just doesn’t fly with me. The fact that a reader of poetry will read an archaic word, an inversion, a device (like synaloepha or other elisions), etc. and their wee brain goes “archaic -> old -> old is bad -> KILL IT WITH FIRE!” is not my problem, because I do not share the sentiment, nor do I think I should. Again, I will agree with you insofar as no device (not just archaisms) should be used thoughtlessly, without artistic/aesthetic reason, but that’s as far as I go. The fact that their absence may make readers all warm and snuggly, giving them that nice “winter night by the fire with cocoa” feeling is irrelevant to me. There’s a time and a place for that too, but not all the time.

    FWIW, you mention Stevens and Frost as the ideal poets who wrote modernly in an “archaic” mode. Well, I love a lot of Stevens, I like most Frost, but I still see plenty of archaisms that pop up in their poetry that still provokes me to think of it as owing as much (if not more) to the past than any modern aesthetics. What is “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” if not a “Miltonic inversion”? What about “And round it was, upon a hill”? You mention Wilbur, even more recent. What is “They swoon down into so rapt a quiet” if not thoroughly archaic diction? I mean, these are some of the most acclaimed poems of the 20th Century. I read them and I hear the antiquity. I don’t know how anyone doesn’t.

    [[[I think that what they are objecting to is amateurish poetry, but of course they can’t say that. They have no problem with A.E. Stallings using the same “engineered, self-consciously poetic, and distancing” techniques because she’s good at it or, at least, she’s better at it than they are.]]]

    Well, that cuts to one of the points I was making there: if it’s not the “engineered” style, because, as you say, their hero Stallings uses it, then where’s the critical insight of why one usage (hers) is better than anothers’? There’s something more there they’re failing to get at, and as a critic with high standards for criticism, that bugs me. I always say that a sign of bad criticism is when you read something negative that could apply to thousands of works most would deem great, or read something positive that could apply to thousands of works most would deem bad. Nobody there seems capable of operating in particulars (which is one reason I appreciate your critical abilities).

    [[[I think you conflate. Issues of archaic usages, influence, and artifice in art are three very distinct subjects. ]]]

    I tend to think they’re interrelated, myself. I think archaisms are disliked because they announce themselves as being artificial. Anything that’s not a part of everyday parlance does this. One negative critique I read of Ahl’s translation of The Aeneid said that “there’s too much here that announces itself as poetry,” and I can’t help but think to myself: does that idiot have no conception of Virgil’s original? That’s what bugs me about the Fagles and Lombardos that attempt to bring the classics down to modern colloquialisms when the originals never attempted any such a thing even in the context of their culture. That was the whole purpose of allegory, afterall; finding the modern parallels in the consciously archaic.

    Art has always had a challenge being convincing as a recreation of reality, because there are too many techniques that manipulate reality away from itself. Why do you think the classic “unities” were so important to the Greeks? They couldn’t convince themselves of the reality of a play if what they were seeing in front of them, in real time, leapt around so much temporally and spatially. Shakespeare even took to “apologizing” for this in his Henry V. Of course, we don’t care about THAT artifice now. But I’m fascinated by why what one generation considers to be artificial and in bad taste becomes so acceptable in another as being realistic and vice versa. It seem so damned arbitrary.

    And if it’s not that “artificiality” that people react to negatively when it comes to archaisms, I don’t know what else it could be.

    [[[Yes, but that’s just Auden posturing; and it’s a completely vacuous statement.]]]

    Well, I, at least, sympathize with what he’s saying. When a poet has nothing chosen for him he has to choose everything himself. That much responsibility shouldn’t be taken lightly. More freedom = more responsibility = more pressure to do everything right one’s self with no help.

    • Your responses are strong and interesting. I feel like we largely agree but differ in ways that separate us in the ways that all artists and readers will differ in preferences.

      //…so what allowed Mozart to craft not just a fugue, but one of the most complex ever?//

      Not sure it’s the most complex ever. Mozart wrote a powerful double fugue, but Bach wrote triple fugues with all sorts of contrapunctal devices untried by Mozart (not that Mozart couldn’t).

      //I guess you might say that it’s not a standard fugue, it doesn’t announce its contrapuntal nature from the beginning….//

      Actually, it does, just not at the outset of the finale.

      //So I still can’t buy into the “archaisms as defined as being linguistic techniques that aren’t reflective of modern usages or aesthetics should be avoided” paradigm. I just feel it’s catering to a mindless mass of taste…//

      I guess I don’t feel at war with modern aesthetics the way you do. I see it as more of a challenge. If you can successfully write counter to modern usage and aesthetics, then you should do so. I personally can’t think of any artist who successfully (or even wanted to) write or compose according to the tastes of a prior era. I also wouldn’t use the word archaic as broadly as you. Drama and epics are ancient forms but not yet, it seems, archaic.

      //The fact that a reader of poetry will read an archaic word, an inversion, a device (like synaloepha or other elisions), etc. and their wee brain goes “archaic -> old -> old is bad -> KILL IT WITH FIRE!” is not my problem, because I do not share the sentiment…//

      Whenever I’m asked to critique poetry, my outlook is that as long as the poet is aware of the effect they’re writing is going to have on the reader, then they’re making an aesthetic choice rather than a blunder. As long as you’re aware that certain words and formulations are going to seem outdated, then why not? Who am I to argue with your aesthetic choices?

      //What is “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall”//

      Even in modern times, we turn grammar around for the sake of emphasis (if not for colloquial reasons). Miltonic inversions work on a different level. Milton used them to elevate diction in a way that didn’t always have to do with emphasis. I’m not sure that I would consider Frost’s grammatical inversion an example of a Miltonic Inversion.

      //What about “And round it was, upon a hill”?//

      I think that’s a better example. In this case, Stevens is deliberate with his affectation. It works. The smart reader knows what he’s up to. Again, I’m not blindly opposed to anything that rings of the 16th century as long as there’s a good reason.

      //I think archaisms are disliked because they announce themselves as being artificial. Anything that’s not a part of everyday parlance does this.//

      Some criticism can definitely be ideological, but I disagree that everything “not a part of everyday parlance” is going to feel artificial; but then we get into the meaning of artificial. As you say, some consider anything that isn’t sidewalk vernacular, artificial. They’re entitled to their opinions but I don’t know that any of those poets make a living off their poetry.

  10. [[[Not sure it’s the most complex ever. Mozart wrote a powerful double fugue, but Bach wrote triple fugues with all sorts of contrapunctal devices untried by Mozart]]]

    I was referring to the quintuple fugato in the coda of Jupiter’s finale. It’s been quite a while since I read the liner notes to the various editions I own, but I seem to recall it being said that Bach never attempted a quintuple fugue, and he never completed a quadruple one (but had an incomplete one written that was meant to be the crown jewel of his “Art of the Fugue”). Now, I’ve hears some commentators argue that the Jupiter finale isn’t a “fugue” proper, but because it has fugal elements they call it a fugato. I’m simply not learned enough in the language to tell the difference, but I know it’s about as close as I get to an orgasm listening to music every time I hear it.

    [[[I guess I don’t feel at war with modern aesthetics the way you do.]]]

    I don’t think I’d consider myself “at war” with modern aesthetics. What I’m “at war” against is the same thing I’m “at war” against in all artistic mediums, and that’s the attitude that certain devices/techniques/tools are not allowed and should never be used. As someone who’s in love with language and all its expressive capacities, telling me I can’t use syntactical inversion or archaic words is like telling a painter he can’t use a color, or telling a composer he can’t use an instrument, or whatever. My attitude is that if it’s out there and available, make use of it. I’m “at war” with any and all closed-mindedness on the matter.

    [[[I personally can’t think of any artist who successfully (or even wanted to) write or compose according to the tastes of a prior era.]]]

    Well, I go back to film if only because I’ve been with that much longer (more than a decade), but great modern directors like Guy Maddin and Bela Tarr are, essentially, making films in accordance with the tastes of prior eras. Maddin makes what are, essentially, modern silent films, Tarr makes black-and-white art-house pieces that haven’t been “in style” since the early 60s. I consider both to be amongst the best filmmakers in the world today.

    There is no equivalent in poetry (that I’m aware of). I mean, even popular music had a “retro revival” a couple of years ago with bands like The Strokes.

    Anyway, we see largely in agreement with the rest. My Stevens/Frost/Wilbur examples were just things that I think could fairly be called archaic. You defend them by saying that “an informed reader knows what Stevens is up to,” and I agree. But what about uninformed readers? Again, I saw too many of the Eratosphere goons jumping over an example of inverted syntax in one thread that I thought was extremely relevant to the poem in that context. The line was:

    “Finds she then peace”

    I felt it was striking because it was the ONLY line not written in straight subject -> predicate order, and it was the line describing the subject’s death. To me, it felt as if it was written to de-emphasize the willfulness of the subject (the “she” subjected to rape), suggesting simultaneously that peace ACTUALLY finds her, and that peace can’t actively, by will, be obtained. As I noted in my crit: “the verb and advberb pancake the poor subject,” it displaces the linearity of the thing being described.

    But all I read in the thread was “disastrous archaism! Get rid of it!” So am I an “informed reader?” Are they just kowtowing to modern aesthetics? Who’s “right”?

    • //I was referring to the quintuple fugato in the coda of Jupiter’s finale.//

      I see the references to the quadruple fugue elsewhere on the net, but I don’t think they’re correct. The New Grove writes the following: “The finale of no. 41 is even more famed, for its ‘fugue’. It does not possess a fugue, as such; rather, this is a sonata-form movement including fugal material”. (Which is why I referred to Mozart’s transformation of Bach’s techniques through his own musical ethos). Elsewhere, I see the finale referred to as having “a double fugue and canon” (this by Elaine Rochelle Sisman in Mozart, the “Jupiter” symphony, no. 41 in C major, K. 551. It’s the canon that is sometimes referred to as having five part invertible counterpoint (The ‘Jupiter’ Symphony in C, K. 551: New Perspectives on the Dramatic Finale and Its Stylistic Significance in Mozart’s Orchestral Œuvre), not the same as a quadruple fugue. Keefe, the author of the latter article, also refers to the fugue as a double fugue. Anyway, I’m just trying to clarify, not prove myself right or wrong.

      //I’m “at war” with any and all closed-mindedness on the matter. //

      Fair enough. I don’t see that your take is all that different from mine.

      //But all I read in the thread was “disastrous archaism! Get rid of it!” So am I an “informed reader?” Are they just kowtowing to modern aesthetics? Who’s “right”?//

      That’s the problem with writing by committee.

      Without reading the rest of the poem, hard to say anything pro or con. As with anything like this, the effectiveness of the phrase depends on the skill of the poet and context. Personally, if I were to object to it, it probably wouldn’t be because it is “archaic” but because the phrase tries too hard — is too affected — as though the rest of the poem hadn’t done enough work.

  11. Fair enough on Mozart’s 41st. Again, I’m not informed enough to really argue it. I’d have to hunt out the various liner notes I have to really recall what was said about it, but I do know there is some kind of controversy over what exactly to call it.

    [[[Personally, if I were to object to it, it probably wouldn’t be because it is “archaic” but because the phrase tries too hard — is too affected]]]

    And perhaps that’s where we differ most because being affected just has never bothered me in the arts, in general. Again, my film background, but Guy Maddin and his “modern silent films” are affected (watch his 6-minute “The Heart of the World:” http://www.youtube.com/user/wallydanger#p/c/FD477AA6331CD5D7/6/1swHMvMlg_g), Robert Bresson and his “actors as models” (who can’t act) are “affected,” Kurosawa and his noh inspired melodrama is “affected,” but I’d say in all cases (just like in cases of the great poets and their affectations, and there are many) it’s just part of the flavor rather than a negative.

    The poem I referenced to is here: http://www.ablemuse.com/erato/showthread.php?t=16607

    It has problems for a host of other reasons, but the “archaic” inversion is, to me, not one of them. In fact, I find it one of the most redeeming, interesting aspects of the thing.

    I can’t remember who said it, but there’s a saying that goes that all art is created out of one consistent and a variable. I’ve found that that holds true in all cases. So in film you may have montage VS long-take, or in music you may have staccato VS legato, or in poetry you may have end-stops VS enjambment (just as some examples). So what I find interesting in a piece like that–whatever its archaisms and cliches and abstracts–is the fact that, eg, the whole piece is end-stopped except one line, all of the syntax is straight-forward except one line, there’s only one caesura, only one elision, etc. To me, those are the building blocks of writing great poetry. I think Shakespeare understood those contrasts intuitively better than any other. I always come back to his Sonnet 29 as a perfect example of a poem that saves all of its “variables” (the image, the metaphor, the enjambment, the main “clause”) for climax, the moment that contrasts so much with everything that comes before it. I remember Vendler making the comment that Shakespeare’s mind seems to work in the mode of antithesis; no sooner can he think of one idea then it’s opposite comes up. And since all drama is created out of the tension of thesis/antithesis I think that explains why he was such a tremendous dramatist, but equally a great poet.

    To me, poetry and art is about mastering those contrasts. A piece like the one in the link I think shows a proficiency with some of them, but is just lacking in the right diction and a structure to its images. I even said in my crit of it reminds me a bit of Blake’s Daughters of Albion, which would’ve made an interesting model for the piece, perhaps fixing some of its problems in other areas.

    • I notice that Janice corrected your use of it’s and its

      I hesitate to comment on another poet’s poetry unless she’s privy to the comments. I’ll say this much: I thought your comments were a useful perspective she wasn’t getting elsewhere.

      I wouldn’t mind watching a movie with you. I would obviously learn a great deal. I’m familiar with Kurosawa’s movies, though uncritically. I know enough to recognize the noh inspired melodrama. However, I question whether this is really an “affectation”. Noh, as far as I know, is alive and well in Japan.

      The insight that Shakespeare reveled in opposites doesn’t originate with Vendler, but is true and a remarkable facet of his genius.

  12. That thread I posted is, to me, indicative of what I’ve seen on that site. There’s a few helpful suggestions bogged down in a ton of ignorant, near-sighted crap flinging based on cursory readings and a complete unwillingness to try and engage with what a poet is trying to accomplish, instead preferring to hammer out what they want the poem (any poem) to be according to their limited tastes.

    My approach with criticism is always to try and balance what a work is, what it was intended to be, and how it affects me. Frequently in my film criticism I’ve had to admit that my own biases have put up a wall I couldn’t quite “get through” in order to enjoy/understand a work. But even to this day I see people lambast Kubrick and 2001 for being “cold, distance, engineered, affected, etc.” and yet it’s probably the greatest film ever made. How can one ever offer advice to a poet if they take that same attitude of trying to turn something that was intended to be a certain way (like 2001 being cold, distant, observant, detached) into something they feel more comfortable with (ie, a linear narrative film with sympathetic characters and method acting)?

    [[[However, I question whether this is really an “affectation”. Noh, as far as I know, is alive and well in Japan.]]]

    Noh is alive and well in Japan, but not in its film. By comparison, watch some of the 50s films of Ozu (Tokyo Story, Early Summer) and Naruse (Sound of the Mountain, Repast) and you’ll see a style much more in tune with Japanese film sensibilities as opposed to Kurosawa’s intended melodrama. Mizoguchi (Ugetsu, Sansho the Bailiff) was a bit more in tune with Kurosawa’s style, but he tempered it a lot and usually saved it for the climaxes, and he preferred to do as much as possible purely through mise-en-scene.

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