Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Poetry aphorisms; Skewered by Poe

The Palace Poetry Aphorisms,
continued

no. 55 Let your poems be as a piece of news heard on a distant planet, lit by a green star.

no. 54 Like a fairy mound, the poem wants to be a place where you and time get lost.

no. 53 Gusto is in the marrow of poetry.

no. 52 Only fearlessness in poetry will ever win the laurel. Fearlessness is not the same as “risk.” No American poet has ever committed “risk” in a poem. Revised after reading the comments!

no. 51, or the pollen-tube poetry aphorism: In the little green room of poetry, an egg waits for the magical unfurling of a hallway and a door to let the pollen in.

The photograph of a holographic eye was found on the sxc.hu website and is used by permission of Georgios M. Wollbrecht. Many thanks!

For more aphorisms, take a slide down the page.

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Quote of note

. . . the qualities I'd suggest are essential if something is going to be called a poem, among which I' d say were a definite inner and outer design, an unassailable sense of itself as something made and not to be broken or tampered with, and a complete resistance to paraphrase. --from Martin Stannard, “The Question That Has to Be Asked,” in Stride Magazine (U. K.)

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Reprint of a note on William Wilberforce Lord

In the last century, many a poet found himself bleeding on the thorns of life planted so assiduously by Edgar Allan Poe in his guise as critic. Here's a little something written for readers of poetry in Cooperstown, but perhaps interesting elsewhere as well. William Wilberforce Lord was a poet of considerable fame until he fell into the clutches of Poe. Lord also has the distinction of having been rector of the Anglican church at Vicksburg during the Civil War's great Siege of Vicksburg. After poking around the web, I conclude that he must have hopped from Christ Church Cooperstown to Christ Church Vicksburg. A dangerous leap! Later on, he returned to the Village of Cooperstown. He is buried in a plot overlooking the lake, not in the Christ Church graveyard.

LORD OF POETRY; OR, POE’S CONTEMPTIBLE IMPUDENT?

Curious about the former rector of Christ Church, William Wilberforce Lord, the poet pilloried by Edgar Allen Poe? It’s said that Father Lord dared to parody Poe’s “The Raven.” Poe proclaimed the following in print: “The fact is, the only remarkable things about Mr, Lord’s compositions, are their remarkable conceit, ignorance, impudence, platitude, stupidity, and bombast. We do not know, in America, a versifier so utterly wretched and contemptible.” If you would like to see for yourself, hie yourself to the web and visit http://www.bartleby.com/248/index14.html, where you may find a number of Lord's poems. (The headings on individual poems confuse him with the famous abolitionist, William Wilberforce.)

If you like poetry, you may find something familiar here, because the poems are workmanlike pieces with a sensibility that evokes the English Romantics and our own William Cullen Bryant. The little wandering blind girl at “The Brook” harks back to Wordsworth’s rural figures and the love of the English Romantics for the rural and common man. “Worship,” with its mingling of faith and wild, romantic nature, could be a page out of Bryant: “For them, O God, who only worship Thee / In fanes whose fretted roofs shut out the heavens, Let organs breathe, and chorded psalteries sound: But let my voice rise with the mingled noise / Of winds and waters;--winds that in the sedge, / And grass, and ripening grain, while nature sleeps / Practise, in whispered music, soft and low / Their sweet inventions, and then sing them loud / In caves, and on the hills, and in the woods.” Like the Romantics, he is a devotee of all the arts; his narrator listens in rapture to a great singer as “a cloud of sound, / Rising in wreaths, upon the air around / Lingered like incense from a censer thrown.”

Clearly he sought to place himself on the highest ground as a poet, and his “Ode to England” praises a pantheon of contemporary poets—among whom he no doubt wished to place himself. Here is the close of his passage on the death of Keats: “Into that gulf of dark and nameless dread, / Star-like he fell, but a wide splendor shed / Through its deep night, that kindled as he fell.” Though he invokes Keats as Endymion, beloved of the Moon, in a reference to one of Keats’ own poems, Lord’s blank verse conjures up the blank verse of Milton’s Paradise Lost, with Satan falling like a star from heaven—a “twist” on the former image, and an expression of lost heavenly power.

Drop by www.bartleby.com and take a look. You’ll see what appears to have been Lord’s most famous poem, “On the Defeat of a Great Man,” and some creditable verse, by no means deserving of Poe’s gleeful roast. Unfortunately, Lord the poet did not manage to be the defeated “Great Man” whose enemies “fall who give him not / The honor here that suits his future name” and “towers aloft.” Achievement in poetry has never been doled out on the basis of personal goodness and contentment, and the anxious, fevered Poe sits in that pantheon where Lord wished to sit. Yet Lord was as much or more what Hawthorne called “the artist of the beautiful,” the maker who has snatched at and seized high goals, and who may look on the destruction of his art with equanimity.

11 comments:

  1. This has nothing to do with Poe, but it does have some good imagery. I was driving home this morning listening to it and for what ever reason I thought you might like it.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3btiaTjyILg

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  2. Hi there, Susanna--

    Ah, youtube. I am pelted with the stuff by teenagers--the decline and fall of an innocent pumpkin is the latest. Come to think of it, the thing was rather Poeish. Or Kafkaish. Pumpkin taken by strange bureaucracy for unfathomable reasons, tormented and at last destroyed. Will stick this on the list...

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  3. Yes, the site has been down, very down...

    All Blogspottian spots scrubbed away, I hope.

    Thanks for the alerts!

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  4. What do you mean when you say 'no American has ever committed risk in a poem?' I'm sure you are right, but I just don't follow.

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  5. Laura,
    you unfortunate artist, you--you have not read enough poetry book blurbs and poetry book reviews. Okay, here's a fat, longwinded explanation that makes me think that the aphorism can't possibly work!

    One of the very biggest and most time-worn clichés in the world of lit biz babble is the idea that a certain poet (this is especially said of poets) or writer "takes risks" in his/her writing. Of course, this is the veriest nonsense.

    There are writers who take 'risks' when they follow the muse in countries with oppressive regimes. Now, that's risk that could land you in jail or worse.

    For that matter, there are plenty of the world's children who take more genuine risks in a single morning--just going to school or public well or church or whatever--than the entire population of American poets manages in years.

    Go out your door, girl of 16, and risk being kidnapped, converted (or killed), and forcibly married to the pimply neighbor boy you never liked? Now that's what I call risk.

    Also, much of what gets proclaimed as "risk-taking" poetry is very safe and tedious, even when it's convinced of its own astonishing and radical departures.

    It is a shame for poets and reviewers to make these claims about poets, when the planet is so full of at-risk people. It reminds me of my father, who wore overalls as a sharecropper's child ploughing the fields and then was disgusted when they became a fashion. Those sweaty, shirtless overalls had a meaning in his childhood that no fashion could express or redeem.

    In some very large sense, all of human life is "at risk," of course--and all must go through the dark door. But some know risk, and some mostly don't.

    Maybe that aphorism can't work because "taking risks" in poetry is not a cliché that's generally known, even though to me it's pervasive... I'll have to think about it.

    Did the Alka-Seltzer revive the Paris-sated protoplasm?

    Hope so.

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  6. I really appreciated your opening that "risk" topic.

    Now wonder what your thoughts are about that art which is intentionally focused on the commonplace. Not the somehow condescending fastening onto "primitive artists" or "empty middle-class culture" but more those who reflect what may be an Asian, Zennish tradition where the art's center is found in "nothing special."

    Am looking for links to illustrate what I mean...but until then, what about art where fearlessness is not at all part of the equation?

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  7. "Intentionally focused on the commonplace."

    Like "mundane SciFi"?

    Like Wordsworth and Coleridge turning back to common figures and rural voices?

    Like O' Connor, looking around at her low Protestant neighbors?

    Or the Snopes trilogy?

    Wendell Berry, "The Art of the Commonplace?"

    Whitman looking at us all, the spiring grass that lives and dies in a few moments?

    Etc.

    ***

    Yeesh, this is so huge that one could write a book on the topic. You could write a book!

    There are, I think, two threads. The first is not really what you're talking about.

    That's the idea that, as artists have done whenever art grew rococo or encrusted or overly romantic, one should turn back to the earth, the common people, and the ordinary stuff of daily life. When sated with pearls, the honest earth on your palm seems true. The examples above hew to this impulse.

    The other is the idea of simplicity, of looking at a small thing surrounded by space.
    Paradoxically, light and space that bathes and surrounds something simple will then elevate it and enlarge it.

    The Tulip Bed

    The May sun--whom
    all things imitate--
    that glues small leaves to
    the wooden trees
    shone from the sky
    through bluegauze clouds
    upon the ground.
    Under the leafy trees
    where the suburban streets
    lay crossed,
    with houses on each corner,
    tangled shadows had begun
    to join
    the roadway and the lawns.
    With excellent precision
    the tulip bed
    inside the iron fence
    upreared its gaudy
    yellow, white and red,
    rimmed round with grass,
    reposedly.

    William Carlos Williams

    A blown glass animal pin by glassmaker William Morris. http://www.wmorris.com/

    The barely visible tree in Mako Fujimura’s Shalom. http://www.makotofujimura.com

    Will a moon so bright ever arise again?
    Drink a cupful of wine and ask of the sky.
    I don't know where the palace
    gate of heaven is,
    Or even the year in which tonight slips by.
    I want to return riding the whirl-wind! But I
    Feel afraid that this heaven
    of jasper and jade
    Lets in the cold, its palaces rear so high.
    I shall get up and dance with my own shadow.
    From life endured among men how far a cry!

    --Su Tung Po

    The Jewel Stairs' Grievance


    The jewelled steps are already quite white with dew,

    It is so late that the dew soaks my gauze stockings,

    And I let down the crystal curtain

    And watch the moon through the clear autumn.

    --Pound

    ***

    To me, both of these seem to embrace the idea of "fearless." One intends to "break" with the past (an impossible but freeing desire.) The other embraces tradition.

    The first resolutely turns its back on much of art, and is quite conscious of its own determination.

    With the second, neither fear nor fearlessness matters. And that is in itself a kind of fearlessness.

    ***

    And those are but a few rapid, careless thoughts on a matter deserving of much thought and many well-considered words.

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  8. A banquet of ideas, and thanks so very much for the rich feast of quotes (Pound! Su Tung Po!)

    Yes, I was after the nugget in the second thought -- and I think you got right into the heart of it when you wrote, "With the second, neither fear nor fearlessness matters. And that is in itself a kind of fearlessness."

    Am going off to digest now...hope the rest of your weekend is as full of light as this post-and-comment thread have been for me.

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  9. Ah, well, even a glowworm has its tiny shine.

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  10. Ah….the sweet, smell of perfume! Today's market is flooded with hundreds and hundreds of different fragrances ranging from floral to woodsy. Most women love the smell of perfume, wearing it even when going to the grocery store. The problem is that perfume allergy for some women, is anything but nice.

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  11. Dear Eric,

    I am very sorry but salesmen are not allowed at the palace when practicing business. A footman will show you to the door.

    He is, however, wearing some of your own mineral makeup and a quite entrancing pefume created out of a lost buttercup and the remains of a distant star.

    You will find one of your motorcycles just outside. Please come back when you feel inspired to be a reader.

    Sincerely,
    Marly

    P. S. You had me fooled for a minute; I was sure that there was some abstruse connection, somewhere, somehow.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.