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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Sunlit morning, interrupted--

Thanks to Noah Clark of Erie, Colorado,

Started the green, sunlit day by politely explaining my allergy to politicians to a nice telephone lady from the one or the other of the two major U. S. political parties. I do hate to be interrupted when reading, perhaps particularly when the words come from Nabokov. (I say perhaps because it occurs to me that I have not read nearly enough Nabokov. There's another reason to regret that life is so brief!) I like what he said in answer to a question about what it is best to be: To be kind, to be proud, to be fearless.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Stephen Fry on poetic form

A genial, inviting discussion. Evidently Fry has much fiercer things to say about poetic matters (particularly form and shapeliness) in the book... And that book is The Ode Less Travelled. Tom Disch (in the form of poet Thomas M. Disch, author of The Castle of Indolence) would be proud.

Hat tip to A. M. Juster.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Foliate Head, on sale--

Just back from the coast and noticed that The Foliate Head (second printing, hardcover) is now listed as not out of print and is on a very good sale. In fact, it is no longer 15 pounds but a mere 4 pounds. So, get it while you can--P. S. Publishing end of print run and clearance sale! Scrumptious wodwos art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, wonderful design by Andrew Wakelin. Poems by me--for more samples, go here.


Peering from medieval churches,
Dressed in leaves of ash and birches,

Camperdown elm and English oak,
Doghobble, sassafras, and poke,

Here winks the sprite who can transcend
His yearly death, for whom no end

Can be unless by our misdeed.
His verdant woman bleeds to breed

A world of leaves, his phoenix-pet
Cries cockerel against regret,

Remorse, and all that’s passed away
While crowing-in triumphant day.

The green man’s lodge is budding wood,
His roofbeam’s resurrection rood,

The axis mundi staking cloud
To earth and realms below the shroud.

The roulette balls fly round the sun,
The spiral years are never done . . .

Within my dreams, he’s young and lithe,
Unheeding of the reaper’s scythe,

But when I meet him in the park,
He’s changed his guise from light to dark;

I go to grasp his creaking hands
And find him dressed in swaddling bands.    

    Tuesday, June 21, 2016

    A thimbleful

    Parable of the Thimble

    A being dedicated a life to words, to art, and to the great transcendentals of beauty, truth, love, and goodness. One morning, the being woke up and looked about at an apocalyptic landscape of toddler-slaying fanatics and Kardashian idol-worshippers and flashy, trendy drek. The being took up a thimble, pouring sparkling drops of cleanness into the oily, crimson, trash-islanded sea.

    * * *


    The thimble at right was found at "There's More to Thimbles Than You Think," where I learned that the oldest known thimble was in the form of a Han dynasty ring. Before that, we mortals evidently made use of "press stones." And those little dimples? Knurlings. Isn't that a wonderful word? You can tell an old dimple because the knurlings are not tidy and even, not machined.

    * * *

    To be of use

    The thimble to the left is Meissen, 18th Century. (Wikipedia. For some Fabergé thimbles, go here.)

    Like so many small, charming things, thimbles eventually became souvenirs and keepsakes and collectibles. They have been made out of many materials--gold, silver, steel, mother-of-pearl, porcelain, whalebone with scrimshaw designs. What does it mean to be of use if you are a thimble made of soft silver or breakable porcelain? Another parable, perhaps. Many, of course, are still made for the needle's use.


    Saturday, June 18, 2016

    A singing muse

    Here's a challenging-for-poets and intriguing-for-readers paragraph from Bruce Bawer's review essay about Paul Mariani's biography of Wallace Stevens. While I haven't read anything else by Bawer, I have a strong interest in approaching music in poetry--in the recovery of joy in sound play--and so his thoughts interest me. (The emphases in black below are mine.) He concludes:
    We began with Frost and Williams. Of Stevens’ contemporaries, it was these two, above all, with whom he felt competitive, setting his preoccupation with the abstract up against their firm embrace of reality, of what Williams called “no ideas but in things.” But it was Marianne Moore to whom Stevens felt a real “kinship,” as he put it—which is scarcely a surprise, given that Moore, like him, had worked up her own rich, fastidious private language in poems that often resisted interpretation. (This, Stevens argued, was what good poetry should do.) As Mariani reminds us, it was, of all people, Williams—whose aggressive lifelong struggle to cultivate a plain, unreflective, “anti-poetic,” contemporary-sounding, patently New World voice continues to influence American poetry far more than Stevens ever did—who pointed out that, in the last analysis, readers are drawn to Stevens’ work not by his ideas but by the beauty of the language in which he expresses them; by, that is, the sheer music of his lines. It is, alas, a species of music that Williams himself fought against successfully—and that is, largely as a result of that effort, notable in most of the American poetry of our own day only by its near-total absence. Paradoxical though it may seem, in short, Stevens, while widely recognized as the greatest of them all, has not had anywhere near the impact on his successors that his inferiors did—which goes a long way toward explaining why American poetry today is so much less than it was, and than it might be.
    And what do you say about that?

    Tuesday, June 14, 2016

    Epistle to F. D.

    "Epistle to F. D." is up today--a blank verse poem written when I found the great Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in my head. I've read the autobiography a number of times, though not in a long while, and his clever, determined efforts to learn to read came to mind strongly, along with thoughts of sitting on the floor with my mother as she showed me flashcards of words. Frederick Douglass barely remembered his mother, and had to resort to his own wits to learn how to read. I still find those passages in his life to be painful yet inspiring--as did many who read it when Douglass was alive.

    Click on the title to go to the dedicated page; then if you look below the "share" and "like" buttons at the foot, you'll also find links to "I Met My True Love Walking" and "Landscape with Icefall." Thank you to editor Christine Klocek-Lim.

    Monday, June 13, 2016

    Saturday, June 11, 2016

    Poems at Mezzo Cammin

    New at Mezzo Cammin: "A Curious Incident," a poem from the manuscript of The Book of the Red King; and "Rider Entering a Ruined City," a poem I wrote for painter and occasional penpal Graham Ward (UK.) Unfortunately, I cannot find an image of Graham's painting--thought I had saved it--but shall post later if I unearth one.

    Monday, June 06, 2016

    Poems at At Length

    Poems inspired in mode and form by Yoruban praise poems. These are from a manuscript called RAVE. Read 'em here. Thank you to At Length editor Jonathan Farmer! And to photographer Paul Digby for the portrait on the home page slide show.

    Saturday, June 04, 2016

    Becoming what we eat

    Carlos Sillero of Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil,
    Old Books,
    The content we devour on the internet really can have a lasting effect on our cognitive abilities. At least, so says a new study published by the International Journal of Business Administration this May.... it may not be the screen time that’s at fault for lessened abilities—it’s the low quality of most online content. The IJBA study suggests that people who read more low-quality content had lower sophistication, syntax, cadence, and rhythm in their own writing. ... If you really can’t resist, all is not lost. The authors prescribe a heavy dose of literary fiction or academic journals as a countermeasure to fight the mental fatigue of listicles and tweetstorms and their super-ultra-meta offspring.                      --Chelsea Hassler at Slate. 
     So. So go. Go on now. Go get a book! Me too.

    Thursday, June 02, 2016

    Dear Yale English majors,

    Wikipedia public domain
    Various people have reasoned with the demands of your petition (included below) on many grounds: the paltry numbers of "women, people of color, and queer folk" actively writing major work in earlier centuries; the fact that literature speaks to the larger human condition; the brutal truth that we can't time travel to correct injustices and insert diverse writers; the idea that foundation survey courses are, in fact, foundational. My business is not with these arguments, interesting though they may be.

    In fact, I have no wish to reason with you. Instead, I speak as a writer and poet, and as a reader who is passionate about poetry.

    Among you at Yale, I am quite sure there are young men and women who openly or secretly consider themselves to be poets. Some of them are "women, people of color, and queer folk." Now, when you take away the major tradition of poetry in the English language--Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, and many others--you deprive your own future poets of the rock they will build on. The now-and-future poets of Yale may choose to write against these voices that belong to us all. Your poets may even write in distress or anger. And yet, whatever their background, their word-wielding force will not be unchanged--will accrue strength and power--by encounters with the work of the great writers of the past. Your poets may not even like some of what they read. But any dislike does not matter a whit. The way forward always involves the tradition, and strong poems of the past are still the rock on which your Yale poets will build. (I note that in no discipline or art do its followers throw away the past before starting their own work.) Great poems of the past remain the touchstones against which new poems of our own day will be measured.

    And for a reader of literature who has no intention of becoming a writer? Like it or not, the great works of the past are still the touchstones of power--the words played with in joy until the work is bright--against which an understanding, informed reader instinctively measures the work of his or her time. Without respect and some degree of love for the achievements of the past, how can a reader assess the fresh achievements of the present? If they are worth surviving the flail of time, the poems of our own day will eventually live in the past. But what about the reader's work of supporting and sharing the best that is made now? Without regard for past monuments of the spirit and intellect, how can a reader begin to winnow today's gold grain from the chaff--in fact, how will the reader be able to tell what is gold from what is chaff?

    As a reader and as a poet, I look forward to reading your future Yale poets, including "women, people of color, and queer folk." I wish them well. And I wish them well read.

    Petition to the Yale English Department Faculty 
    We, undergraduate students in the Yale English Department, write to urge the faculty to reevaluate the undergraduate curriculum. We ask the department to reconsider the current core requirements and the introductory courses for the major. 
    In particular, we oppose the continued existence of the Major English Poets sequence as the primary prerequisite for further study. It is unacceptable that a Yale student considering studying English literature might read only white male authors. A year spent around a seminar table where the literary contributions of women, people of color, and queer folk are absent actively harms all students, regardless of their identity. The Major English Poets sequences creates a culture that is especially hostile to students of color. 
    When students are made to feel so alienated that they get up and leave the room, or get up and leave the major, something is wrong. The English department loses out when talented students engaged in literary and cultural analysis are driven away from the major. Students who continue on after taking the introductory sequence are ill-prepared to take higher-level courses relating to race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, ability, or even to engage with critical theory or secondary scholarship. We ask that Major English Poets be abolished, and that the pre-1800/1900 requirements be refocused to deliberately include literatures relating to gender, race, sexuality, ableism, and ethnicity. 
    It’s time for the English major to decolonize — not diversify — its course offerings. A 21st century education is a diverse education: we write to you today inspired by student activism across the university, and to make sure that you know that the English department is not immune from the collective call to action. 
    It is our understanding that the faculty must vote in order to reconsider the major’s requirements — considering the concerns expressed here and elsewhere by undergraduate students, we believe it would be unethical for any member of the faculty, no matter their stance on these issues, to vote against beginning the reevaluation process. It is your responsibility as educators to listen to student voices. We have spoken. We are speaking. Pay attention.