Archive for July, 2010

This is what I saw from my office yesterday

July 31st, 2010

salmon pink brick wall
contains parked cars’ owners in
rows of blank windows

nothing moves except
sun’s glint sliding from chrome trim
to side view mirror

from somewhere unseen
engines’ gritty hum carries
floating birdsong chimes

Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, and Barnaby Rudge

July 24th, 2010

I was reading Barnaby Rudge, Charles Dickens’ novel set in the London of 1780, and thinking of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party.  The novel centers on the Gordon Riots, an outbreak of mob violence instigated by the anti-Catholic agitation of Lord George Gordon.  The entire city was paralyzed, many Catholics were killed or injured, and many Catholic homes, businesses, and places of worship were destroyed, as well as Newgate Prison.  Gordon’s mob briefly besieged and almost invaded Parliament itself.  Eventually the military had to be called out to restore the peace, killing 285 of the rioters in the process.

Dickens characterizes Lord Gordon as a weak-minded, physically striking, passionate, flamboyant politician, not taken seriously by his peers, heavily influenced by bad advisers, with a gift for inflaming that part of the population inclined to be inflamed by someone like him, excited to be leading a popular cause and soon addicted to that sense of power, mistakenly believing he directed the movements of the wave on whose crest he actually was riding.  Dickens observes that if Gordon’s policy proposals had been spelled out in dispassionate, clear language – mainly, maintain the crippling legal disabilities to which English Catholics of the time were subject, against parliamentary proposals to remove them – he might have won a few adherents but would have remained a figure of marginal significance.  Instead, he adopted a rhetoric in which the soul of Protestant England, its very existence, was imminently threatened by the purported papist machinations of its Catholic minority, and he terrorized the nation.  Dickens also observes that Gordon’s followers ultimately didn’t care what their cause was said to be about; they were motivated by their own rage, which Gordon fanned, providing a convenient outlet and direction for its expression.

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The Poetry-Biz, the Pulitzer Prize, and the Emperor’s Wardrobe Malfunction

July 21st, 2010

Vermont Author, Seth Steinzor, brings attention to the Emperor’s Wardrobe Malfunction

Poems that skirt meaning or avoid it altogether may be appropriate, somehow, to a time and place that has grown uncertain of meanings, but as acts of communication they are failures – intentional failures, perhaps, but failures nonetheless – and despite their possible congruence with the zeitgeist, one wonders whether it is preferable to multiply examples of a problematic situation, or to seek a way through it.

But put that aside. As a Vermont author who realistically may expect his audience to number in the dozens, my concern is more practical.

When our highest awards and honors go to poets whose work represents failed communication, that helps explain the state of the market for poetry. People are not going to engage with an art form that is not interested in engaging with them on levels that they can understand and, more importantly, enjoy.

And that is all I want to say about Rae Armantrout, for now. Or John Ashbery, for that matter. The question I want to ask is, cui bono? The obvious if only partial answer is, people whose main interest lies somewhere else than in communication; that is, somewhere else than poetry.

Blues, Blogging, Boehner, Orwell, Yglesias, All in 348 Words

July 16th, 2010

After years of slogging away at a multi-volume narrative poem to which nearly nothing human is extraneous because its subject is the moral universe, it’s an interesting challenge to learn to write in the blog form.  Almost every idea seems to want to blossom into a tome of ramifications, illustrations, sources, anecdote, and argument.  Obviously, that won’t do.

One solution would be to blog on a single topic, say “poetry,” developing the theme a paragraph or two at a time.  Or let events take control, as in “politics.”  Just take the headline of the day and say something snarky about it: my god, John Boehner’s butt looks big.  Either of those strategies may work for others, but I’m a Gemini – couldn’t stay on topic if my life depended on it.

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Prayer in a godless world facing environmental disaster

July 7th, 2010

Dante says somewhere, I think it’s in the Paradiso, that the purpose of writing his Commedia is to help create new and better ways to pray.  Not the Miltonic explaining of god’s ways to man, or the expounding of doctrine, or the description of the world with the rewarding of the just and the punishing of sinners and the placing of everyone in his place – just prayer.  I love that.  I don’t believe in god, but I do believe in prayer.

Since I’m neither a theologian nor a philosopher, I can’t define precisely what I mean by the word, but it has something to do with using language as an instrument to place oneself in proper relation to the world. 

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