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.
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—
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 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
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
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.
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.
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 thegreat 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-alone–in-the-world greeting card verse. Devoue will write:
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 beanything 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.
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.
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
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.
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 clashofarmsovermy 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.
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.
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.
you’ll sit across from me saying
similes explain the human
condition—we can never be ourselves
but only like ourselves (though some of us
ascend to metaphor).
at first I won’t
know what the hell you’re talking about
(and maybe never). what does it even mean
to be like ourselves if we’re not already
ourselves? but I’ll agree because
even if the meaning isn’t self-
evident, profundity is implied; and you
will likely remind me of girlfriends
I used to drive cross-country with (their
bare legs lifted, their feet out the passenger side
window V’d like the winged heels of a Greek
Goddess, ankles crossed on the rear view mirror)—
when all I could think about
was the intoxication of a girl’s bare feet
in an 80 mph air stream; and you might say:
that’s the way it is to be a barefooted
girl—always that 80 mph wind licking your feet
until the tank runs out of gas
until the sun runs down the sky, until she finds
herself landed barefoot on the sun-cracked
asphalt of a seedy, run down
motel where the parking shines with glass
ground to glitter after God knows how many bottles
but afterward in bed,
I know, it won’t be me she remembers
but the 80 mph hour wind like fingers
at her ankles that, if they could have, would
have parted her thighs and you
have no idea or, knowing you, you do,
what an 80 mph wind can do to the imagination
(or a hippy sundress); but anyway, we didn’t even
get that far because she’d say something like,
‘we can only ever be like ourselves
never ourselves,’ or she’d say,
‘all men ever want to do is fuck me’
and Christ, I’d want to say, is that so much
to ask? and before the end of the road trip she’d
be hitchhiking to LA and
I’d be broken down in Wichita.
maybe you’re wishing you were in LA too?
I have that effect on chicks like you.
and by the way I expect
you’re the type who reads the rhymes
in a toilet stall. goddamn those people
know how to write—artists and poets all.
and know damned well who their audience is
and where to find them.
I wouldn’t be surprised
if you came back from that temple
of runes and oghams reciting
what omen was given you to give the masses:
women drinking booze
talk of dicks and new tattoos
and that has me asking if there shouldn’t be
a comparative lit course in men’s and women’s
toilet stalls; and anyway what happened
to you and rhyming? is nobody singing you the blues?
do you really think if Keats had to choose
between you and Fanny Brawne,
you’d stand a chance if she recited lines
about crumbling cathedrals and dandelions?—
in corseted iambic pentameter
with a bouquet of rhymes? you poor
deluded poet. have you even read your own poetry?—
there’s more anatomy
than tits and ass that sag, though maybe yours
were archetypal? i don’t know
but honestly, does the world really need
more self-pitying poets eulogizing the loss
of their fearful symmetry?
we’ll soon enough all fit inside a Grecian urn—
but I feel your pain.
did I tell you about the time I met
Hayden Carruth in Bennington, Vermont?
there may have been me, his publisher,
students and admirers, but there was mostly
the red-haired woman in the sleeve-wrap leopard print
top and black leather mini-skirt
and I can tell you there was no talking poetry
that night or at that table with Hayden Carruth.
Carruth is your poet. Keats
never knew how to treat women, but Hayden?
I tell you, go for the man with the yellow McCulloch
but who hasn’t woken
to some new piece of poetry wondering
what in the hell happened
the night before? who said what and what
was spoken and never mind the hangover—what’s
the fucking title? I’ve been there—
a fifth of rum, midnight, some piece grinding
moves on the dance floor, moves
I’ve never seen before until, the next morning,
I’m wondering what-the-hell future I ever saw in it.
must have been the drink because I can’t
begin to explain whatever goddamn
Picasso of indiscretion I woke to—words tossed
like underwear across the exaltation
of the page. spontaneity. sure. call it that. the kind
you used to find at a 90s rage;
but as I was saying: isn’t anybody, these days,
singing you the blues?
women drinking booze
talk of dicks and new tattoos
stuck in my head now
for Christ’s sake, but haven’t any
of those poets promised, at midnight,
to walk you sly along the railroad track?—
just smooth as Scratch himself?
‘don’t you know,
‘sweet girl,’ he’d say, ‘the kinds of rhymes your hips
could make with mine?’
take me down your boulevard
of saints and swindles, where the old men leer
and the young men sing beatus vir;
where the women preen with looks as flammable
as gasoline. let’s you and me find out
the lanes and alleyways that rub against
the skin, where neon advertises sin
and preachers lick the air sweet with the carnal
and serpentine locution of the streets;
we’ll find a sidewalk curb or sway backed porch steps—
we’ll sit among the bottle caps and cups
the foil, paper wrappers, and cigarette butts
and talk about the raff we leave behind:
the drafts and stanzas; maybe here and there
a poetry worth the reading? but why guess?
go a few stone steps into the cellar
and there the mystic Madam Coriander,
who owns the laundromat around the corner,
will tell us how the roots of the raspberries finger
the sockets of a skull—
Mary, where the thorns are many,
where the autumn’s black leaves eddy
do you hear the children skipping
while your bloodless bones are slipping?
Mary, Mary, dead and buried,
buried beneath the red raspberries.
one for the money,
two to elope,
three for the noose
in the jump rope’s rope.
four for the crime
beware of four!
four’s for the rhyme:
Mary’s no more.
Mary, Mary, in the brambles
where the barren winter ambles
do you hear the children’s laughter
singing of the ever after?
Mary, Mary, dead and buried,
buried beneath the red raspberries.
—the thorns, the brambles,
the twisted vine are growing from my skull,
and children pick the berries—I see it all.
I hear them mocking the divine, their laughter,
and Madam Coriander asking if
I understand. do you? my mouth is filled
with sand and weeds are sprouting from my eyes.
I can’t decide. but do you know the spikes
of bulrush where the river dimly swims?
down by the salt-fingered pilings? I’ve been meaning
to describe the way the yellow lights
oil the river’s slippery back, the wharf,
the detritus of the clouds before they’re swept
at midnight out to sea. there’s a place
the moon goes up mechanically. behind it
the turning plate of stars goes round and round
the blinking lights. there’s not a night I’d trade
for this but I digress. the filigree
of roots, the brazen nettles, the skull beneath
the winterberry—was it winterberry?
I’m guessing you would answer: whiskey. whiskey
works just as well. you could almost mistake
the sky— let’s put it this way: let’s say
we stuck our feet out of the world’s side window,
the ocean rolling underneath. we’ll tell them
we crossed our ankles on the far horizon
and dipped our toes into the moon, we stirred up
comets and let the streaming Milky Way
wash clean our feet. (don’t ask me who the hell
but we’ve been here before,
barefooted in the parking lot. don’t ask
the exit number. if I’m first arriving,
I’ll have the front desk bring your room a bottle
of Vanni Fucci (if that isn’t wine
it should be) vintage 1954—
I wonder if you like my metaphor?
but then I’m thinking back again to driving
with my girlfriend’s heels on the rear-view mirror, and
she asks me—’don’t you understand?
we’re never ourselves but only
like ourselves: the skull, the briars, the raspberries,
winterberries or whatever—
what Madam Coriander meant
was: in the end—but you should change the poem
to winterberries. you never
eat a winterberry raw—they’re poisonous.’
but raspberries bleed, I say.
and by this I mean: if I hear you caterwauling
at the trash bins in the middle of the night, I’ll always
put out a saucer-full of gin
Ode to Kim Addonizio
writ by me
January 3rd 2023
The reverend stood before the congregation,
A godly man afflicted and heart-sore.
"There's someone stolen every last donation,"
He grieved. "Funds devoted to the poor!"
A strident wailing filled the pews. "The Beast!"
"The Devil's work!" If little Peggy-Sue
(At six months due) was first to cry, at least
Her pearls and patent pumps were still brand new.
"But Satan won't impoverish us!" he cried,
"Those, rich in faith, are wealthy!" (After all,
Was not the reverend's day-old car outside?)
“But Jesus needs your money!” he warned them all;
Adding (with tearful prayers at the pulpit)
“Just a little more—praise God!—we’ll find the culprit!”
The Devil’s Work Written on ye 21st of December 2022
These four words occur in Act I Scene iii of Hamlet. They’re followed by: “It is very cold.” It’s not a famous soliloquy but in these four words, eight words perhaps, Shakespeare’s genius appears in miniature—a mind that perceived strife, competition and drama animating not just human endeavors but the inanimate. What often goes unmentioned in Shakespeare studies is not just the human drama, but the contest of wills in nature itself, or in Shakespeare’s nature—in the inanimate. There are hundreds of plays within plays that bubble up like quantum particles in the vacuum of the page. Some are almost fully realized while other dramas, like the four word play above, disappear as quickly as they appear. (Shakespeare was born to write drama the way Mozart was born to compose music.)
The first thought that occurred to Shakespeare was the cold, and Shakespeare straight away perceived that not as a condition but as an ongoing struggle between two characters—the speaker and the shrewd and biting air. For a bubbling instant, the air becomes a character, almost like an Elizabethan humor—and having as its humor a shrewd and intelligent aggressiveness—shrewdly biting. How? The four words tell us as much about the speaker as the air. If the air can bite, then the speaker’s clothes, like another character in the play, must be a poor and ineffectual servant. We can guess that there must be holes in the speaker’s clothes, or they’re ill-fitting or too thin. The air doesn’t just bite, but does so shrewdly, with intelligence and cunning. In this little play, the air outwits the speaker’s defenses.
If Einstein’s peculiar genius was to see the world relativistically, Shakespeare’s genius was to perceive world and all its various parts as being in a never ending and creative contention. When Shakespeare wrote that “all the world’s a stage”, he meant it and with a comprehensiveness exceeding what most think he meant. The world isn’t just a stage where we play our parts, but the stage itself is in contention with itself and with us. Where you and I might feel an icy wind and call it a cold day—these being the static and inanimate properties of the elements—Shakespeare might perceive the elements as having intelligence, motive and intention, contending with or against us on the world’s stage. He perceived a different world than most of us do—or at least the adults among us. You could think of Shakespeare as the great animist—whose perception of the world as intelligent, in all its parts, gave to his poetry and drama a vibrancy and life beyond the human characters on stage.
Perhaps one of the finest examples of Shakespeare’s animist world bubbling up and becoming a play within the play, like a small morality play, comes from Titania’s speech in Act II, Scene i of the Midsummer Night’s Dream (one of my favorite speeches in all of Shakespeare).
These are the forgeries of jealousy:
And never, since the middle summer’s spring,
Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead,
By paved fountain or by rushy brook,
Or in the beached margent of the sea,
To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturb’d our sport.
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck’d up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents.
The ox hath therefore stretch’d his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain’d a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine-men’s-morris is fill’d up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable.
The human mortals want their winter cheer:
No night is now with hymn or carol blest.
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose;
And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown,
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set; the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries; and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which.
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.
The play within the play begins with “Therefore the winds” that pipe “to us in vain”. The wind is like a character, a musician, whose intention is to entertain, but who pipes “in vain” due to our own contention. This makes the winds vengeful and so they suck the water from the sea to pelt “our lands” with it, and that makes the rivers, now another character in the play, “proud”. Shakespeare perceives the rain and flooding as their own characters in a play—the vengeful wind and the proud rivers suddenly full of water—water like a proud King’s train that topples all where the King strides. The green corn, among those who suffer, rots before it can grow a beard. The moon, who Shakespeare’s imagination makes a governess in the dye of his enlivening imagination, washes the air with “rheumatic disease”. “old Hiems”, meaning winter, is mocked with a crown of “sweet summer buds”. (The frost mocks the air shrewdly bites.) The seasons and angry Winter—because in drama every character’s action has its consequence—are made like confused characters at the close, who “change their wonted liveries”. The worlds elements are full of contention and consequence and with an intelligence of their own—and of which we are an unwitting part. In other words, Shakespeare didn’t see nature as a dumb force to be acted upon with impunity, but as an intelligence having its own course that will contend with us or benefit us. (Shakespeare still has much to teach humanity given our treatment of the natural world.)
Try seeing the world the way Shakespeare saw it—the great poet. When the wind shakes the last leaves today, what does the wind want and what do the leaves take away? Think of the elements as characters in a play—the rain, frost, moon, or the sunlight cannily peering through the rigid trees. Find out the “humor” in the inanimate. See the drama staged around you every day and maybe see the world a little like Shakespeare.
The Diminishing wage of Authors and Traditional vs. Self-publishing
Having finished North of Autumn, my second novel, I’ve begun another round of submissions to agents. I chose three this time, one of whom is in Berlin and who I’m hoping will actually want to read the novel. But the waiting game begins again. Based on submitting my first novel, about half of agents simply don’t respond if they’re not interested. So be it. Since I only have so long to live, however, I’ll be giving agents 4 weeks to respond, then move one.
On the other hand, I go back and forth as concerns traditional publishing. There’s very little money in traditional publishing for the vast majority of novelists. Don’t even ask about poetry. Agents are largely allergic to contemporary poetry (and for good reason). I was reviewing some other websites so I could write a minimally informed post, and stumbled across some interesting percentages. The most striking was a site claiming that 97% of writers don’t finish their novels. No source was given for this figure and so it may be click bait. I’m not even sure how such a figure would be calculated, so be skeptical. Less skeptically, another site offers some interesting figures on the percentage of authors who earn a living wage. The site reported that “63 percent of authors who reported receiving book-related income in 2017, the average total income was $43,247“. Alternatively, of course, that means that 37% of authors received no income at all. If I were to earn the average, that would be a step down from what I could make as a builder but a hell of a triumph given what I’ve made by writing so far. The site also notes that “three-sevenths of full-time authors with any earnings were making over $50,000″—the proviso being “full time”. If one is earning enough to be a full time writer, then it stands to reason that one is making something like $50,000 or more.
If you’re a writer like me, with ambitions to be published, there’s an interesting article at the Atlantic you might enjoy—entitled “Now Do Amazon“. The author, Franklin Foer, begins the article by stating a fact I did not know:
~ One of the great literary hoaxes of our time is the book spine. A staggering number of logos stare out from dust jackets, celebrating names including Crown, Vintage, Ballantine, Knopf, and Dial. But the pluralism implied by this diversity of monikers is a sham. In the U.S., nearly 100 of them belong to a single company: Penguin Random House. The rest are owned by a small handful of competitors, one of which is Simon & Schuster.
Foer’s main concern, however, aren’t the mergers and acquisitions (blocked by the Justice Department) that have largely turned publishing into a monopoly (to the detriment of authorial income) but Amazon, which he rightly labels a monopsony.
~ Amazon is arguably the ultimate embodiment of monopsony power. It has, in the past, used its dominance to demand a large cut of publishers’ sales, according to industry insiders. And companies such as PRH have had little choice but to accept—or become bigger, so that they can bargain harder. Amazon’s pressure on publishers has sometimes come out of authors’ pockets in the form of reduced advances.
In other words, not only is Amazon making its billions by squeezing publishers (who are/were themselves hardly saints) but is greatly contributing to the long-term decline in authorial income.
~ …many more self-published authors make a living than traditionally published authors, with self-publishing royalty earnings outpacing trad pub’s advance plus subsequent royalties. This was proven by several years of Author Earnings reports — most notably, one study that divided authors into groups earning more than $10k, $25k, $50k, and $100k. The study found that the number of indie authors earning 5-6 figures/year from book sales was much higher than the number of Big 5 authors earning the same.
This is almost solely, from what I can tell, because of the difference in royalty. While a self-published author won’t get an advance, they can expect to earn 50% to 70% on each book sold while the average royalty for the traditionally published author is 7.5%, and that doesn’t include any agent’s cut.
And so I’m torn, and it’s not necessarily about the money. I probably have another 25 to 30 years to live, so what does a million dollars mean to me? A traditional publisher can market and promote my book and get it on shelves. I don’t have that skillset. On the other hand, a traditional publisher could also sit on the book and decline to market or promote it. That happens. Then all I’m left with, best and worst case, is a small advance and a book that will never see a readership. In that case, I would have been better off self-publishing. Even a small readership is better than none, and with a greater share of the royalty, I would still be apt to come out ahead.
If I’m disappointed by the results of shopping both my books this winter, then I am definitely open to self-publishing and/or looking for an Indie publishing.
Literary Revelations Publishing House
Speaking of Indie Publishers, I recently submitted a Shakespearean sonnet to Literary Revelations Publishing House. I haven’t submitted any of my poetry anywhere for years, not since founding this blog, but, you know, if I’m going to stop being a hermit… Their home page states that they are “an independent publishing house dedicated to showcasing the best literary and art work. We publish poetry, short stories, interviews, art, and novels.” Their website is really quite professional. My sonnet was in answer to their call for poems on the theme of childhood: “Hidden in Childhood: A Poetry Anthology – Call for Submissions“. If you have written poems on childhood, or have one to write, then consider submitting something and supporting your local, Indie publisher.
Chaucer was not a Rapist
Unfortunately, this article, entitled “Chaucer the Rapist? Newly Discovered Documents Suggest Not” is behind a paywall, but the gist is this: “A court document discovered in 1873 suggested that around 1380, Chaucer had been charged with raping Cecily Chaumpaigne, the daughter of a London baker. In the document, Chaumpaigne released Chaucer from ‘all manner of actions related to my raptus’— a word commonly translated as rape or abduction.” Apparently, two scholars discovered a second copy of the document in which the word “raptus” had either been removed or omitted as a result of Chaucer possibly having hired a new lawyer. The suspicion, that this was Chaucer whitewashing, led the scholars to the original writ of the case (previously unknown). It turns out that Chaucer and Cecily Chaumpaigne were both the defendants and were being sued by a Thomas Staundon who accused Chaucer of poaching Cecily from Staundon’s service. In that case, the scholars argue, raptus refers to ““the physical act of Chaumpaigne leaving Staundon’s service.” So, Staundon was not suing Chaucer for raping Cecily Chaumpaigne but suing both of them—she for leaving his service and Chaucer for poaching her. According to the article, this discovery landed like a bomb. Needless to say, there is considerable resistance from scholars, especially among feminist critics, who have produced criticism predicated on Chaucer’s having raped Chaumpaigne. That’s a tough spot for them, but it’s daily life for any scientist. One day you’re working on your unified field theory and the next some new scientific discovery invalidates the entirety of your corpus. I personally am just as happy to see Chaucer’s good name restored. Judging an artist by their art is fraught with self-deception, but the kind of man who could write Chaucer’s stories, with their humor and wisdom, doesn’t mesh with a man accused of rape.
The first Poet & Writer
There’s a lovely article in the New Yorker about the Priestess Enheduanna. I first ran across her poetry about a decade ago and fell in love with it. It’s truly powerful and beautiful verse. The article is entitled “The Struggle to Unearth the World’s First Author“. The article primarily addresses the strange reluctance of scholarship to acknowledge and celebrate Enheduanna’s primacy or that she even existed—emphasis on ‘she’. The author, Elizabeth Winkler, writes:
~ But since their discovery, in the mid-twentieth century, scholars have fiercely debated Enheduanna’s authorship. Did the priestess really write these works? Is the idea of a woman at the beginning of the written tradition—two thousand years before the golden age of Greece—too good to be true? This winter, an exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, “She Who Wrote: Enheduanna and Women of Mesopotamia,” will try to give the priestess her due.
Winkler later in the article elaborates on the apparently male-centric biases that have resisted Enheduanna’s identity not just as a writer/poet but as a female:
~ Of particular note is a statue of a woman with a tablet in her lap—evidence of women’s literacy and engagement with writing. (When it was first discovered, in the early twentieth century, the German scholar Otto Weber reported, “Our specimen carries a tablet on her knees. Its meaning is not clear to me.”) The statue and others like it have been ignored in the academic literature, Babcock told me. “If this was a man with a tablet in his lap, there would be twenty articles about it.” Such artifacts upend long-held assumptions—about literacy as the preserve of élite male scribes, and about Middle Eastern women as being confined to the domestic sphere.
What I didn’t realize, until reading the article, is just how much of her writing has survived (which is astonishing given how many thousands of years ago she wrote) and the extent to which her writing was kept alive by later generations, even to 500 years after her death. My own opinion is that when reading the poetry of Enheduanna we read the work of a literary genius—the Shakespeare of her age. To think that her voice could survive for thousands of years! It bespeaks a woman, star-gazer and poet who, in her suffering, was capable of communicating our common humanity with a language, symbol, metaphor and archetype that still holds meaning thousands of years later.