Saturday, July 02, 2011

Stones in and out of the wilderness

"Balanced Rock" courtesy of Steven Ritts of Tempe, AZ


"To have an audience, you must care about a reader: that statistical non-entity who must purchase your book, read your poems, and be moved enough to remember or even memorize a line or two. So much contemporary poetry seems written for the void, for no one at all— like spam email, it is merely sent out by publishers conditioned to shrug at the public’s indifference. The audience for our good poets is so small that it’s easy enough to supply it with the not-so-good, or even the self-evidently awful, since the mediocre and the majestic sell the same number of books."  --from a review by Roy Nicosia at Contemporary Poetry Review

  originally published in Mezzo Cammin

One was already there, all rough
   To feel and pitted, slashed
By a wedge of smoother rock that must
   Have been upthrust and dashed

Into the first before the world
   Was writ in hardened stones.
A second one I heaved onto
   The first; I paid in groans

And sweat to lay it there but left
   It so to judge the place
Where I, battered by word, raised arms
   Against a burning face.


  1. Love this poem, Marly. As you know it touches on my love of rocks, along with a personal struggle, such as building an inukshuk.

  2. Oh, marja-leena, that seems right! I didn't even think of it when I picked it (probably picked because it was short...)

    I need to go look and see if an inukshuk is a monolith or a stacked stone marker. Seems to me it is one or the other (but maybe it is something else entirely!)

  3. I'll have to look it up too now! I think this poem is about (what else?) making a poem, at least in part. It comments on the sad but true comments of that article you quote.
    Do I think much about my readers? Only in the abstract, but I enjoy the idea that they exist. It is crucial to me; that is why I am so anxious to read the poems aloud, in person, to see their faces and read their reactions. I want it to be an interaction, not an echo.

  4. Robbi,

    It works that way and is a perfectly legitimate way to read the poem, and certainly setting it next to the quote makes it seem more that way.

    I was not, however thinking about poetic but about spiritual things. Of course, they are kindred, though not the same.

    The review was commenting on a number of things--disintegration of form after Modernism to the point nothing makes sense, the minute audience for poetry, the reasons for the minute audience, etc.

  5. Love your very strong voice here. Makes me think of Stevens' 'Ancedote of the Jar' somehow. And, darnit, I can't get the link to Victorian Violet, below, to work! Can you fix it?

  6. Laura,

    Thanks! Good compliment...

    I did test the link, and it worked, but who knows... I shall go check it.

  7. Laura,

    I have to eat early tonight--shall check right after before going on to the next thing... I think she changed the link.

  8. It worked for me when you sent it yesterday, and in fact, I sent the journal some poems. Maybe she didn't want any more (please no! AAAAHHH!), and changed the link to avoid them?

  9. Robbi,

    That is called RAMPANT PARANOIA! Stop!

    No, what happened is that she changed the link, then realized that all the links were messed up as a result, and so changed it back--in the meantime I had changed my links to match, so then I had to change them again!

  10. I think there is a great deal of good poetry out there, and an audience that is respectable in numbers and growing. This may not be reflected by book sales, but that is another story altogether!
    Sublime poetry is rarer though - and not written or fallen into by many. It will not die though, for it is resilient to time and culture - speaking universal observations and truths as it does.

    This is the case with most art - and always has been!

    Love this poem. It indicates so much strong kinetic force! This poem is about spirituality?
    Ah... the energy we expend wearing ourselves out heaving up monoliths, when spirituality is quietly there for us at all times; ready - for when we have hewn out our understandings and are worn out - to seep into our tired selves!

  11. guess what is in Monroe Township, NJ~~~~my very own HARD BACK copy of "The Throne..."!!! Its heading my way love, and then I will be reading and reading in my slow way.

  12. Paul,

    What I was thinking about in part was the way that the wandering Jewish people would set one stone upon another in commemoration of a blazing, transformative encounter or struggle with God.

    While I did use realm of spirituality as opposed to realm of poetics in that comment, I did not mean “spirituality” in the slack sense in which it is usually mentioned—somewhere in the misty regions of New Age or the warm and fuzzy. Nor did I mean it in the way you mean it here, a substance like a gentle and refreshing rain.

    It is an encounter with God, not an encounter with “spirituality.” Does that make sense? So there was not any place for something relaxing about the encounter in the poem!

    As for the sublime—that region of the uplifting beautiful and true and pure—what I find most mysterious about those poems is that they must also have a life force in them that allows them to outlive their own time, the place where most poems live and die.

  13. Susanna,

    I am glad you will have a copy, by hook or by crook! And I am glad that something good can come out of New Jersey…where I always get lost.

  14. Yes, I can see how an encounter with God could be a different thing to an encounter with spirituality : )

    For me, they are the same thing (and far from New Agey!. But for many they are very different things.

    I like the poem even more to the background of this information!

  15. The essay was most enjoyable. Thank you for pointing it out to us. Did you notice that its author is taking his doctorate at the Institute for Metrical Research (located in Hailey, Idaho)? Must look it up. Sounds intriguing. Almost like something out of an Ayn Rand novel.

    It does often seem that in the last quarter century or so, much of what, throughout history, was considered poetry has been supplanted by something else.

    Your poem, on the other hand, is marvelous. It captures well the magnificence of the rocks and the force(s) that wrought them.

    I have seen the Balanced Rock in the photo. These monoliths stand in Utah’s Arches National Park. Quite an amazing place on this earth of ours. Indeed, a place that goes a long way toward nourishing the spirit. Of poets and other living things.

  16. Paul,

    I know what you mean, but I also know that that word “spirituality” is now used to cover so many different things that it has become almost meaningless. But you, my friend, climb up to the ethereal in your music!

  17. Elsa Louise,

    Oh, so you looked it up. I didn’t put a link because it seemed a bit mean to connect to such a hard-hitting review…

    Yes, that Institute for Metrical Research was definitely intriguing! And why in Idaho? Curious. If you find anything fascinating, tell!

    We have created a condition of utter brokenness in much of our poetry—also true of many other things after Modernism.Restoration is not easy after such crumbling, but I do believe that the push for a way forward has begun in painting, poetry, and other fields.

    I dearly loved Arches, although it is one of those places where a bag shower outdoors in August feels like heaven. The Fiery Furnace: loved that walk, jumping about from ledge to ledge through wonderful nooks and crannies…

  18. I just popped along to read that poetry review (and the poems quoted in it) and now my head hurts. Is the whole book like that? Of course I know the things of art that make my head hurt, but I didn't realise the world of poetry was similarly afflicted. Now I'm REALLY worried!

  19. Clive,

    Oh, yes, both arts have been in a parlous state (in many quarters) for quite a while... Never fear, we have our shoulders to the wheel and shall spin the world around! Right?

  20. Feeling dubious about whether there is such a thing as the Institute of Metrical Research, given how amusing people can be in their contributor's notes. And wasn't "La Révolution Surréaliste" a dada magazine? Shall go dig around...

  21. Agreed; it appears to be a clever writerly camouflage. I should imagine those poets the review skewers would like to know more, too.

  22. Might be some tomahawks in the offing...

    Both of the pieces by that author are ruthless, aren't they? He's after the Emperor's new clothes with a vengeance. Did you look up the other one? Different reasons for rejection, but also wholesale rejection there too.


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.