Statement of Philosophy

A site for exploration and discussion about verse, poetics, the aesthetic, and creative writing in general.

Because there is a profound difference between writing something to be read and writing something worth reading; and in that difference might beauty be found.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"The Hollow Men" – T.S. Eliot

"The Hollow Men" can be found here [link]

some of Eliot's own line periods


Perhaps I move a touch too quickly with this post. In defense my intent here, as with other posts of this nature, is not to argue definitively but to prompt thought.


Seeing a small word – an adverb or pronoun or conjunction – at the end of a line is these days a too reliable cue that the break is unpurposed, in continuation of the previous post that the line carries no sense of a line period, that it is not a constructed line; such words are too frequently strong evidence that the text is not verse at all but prose with line breaks pretending to verse.

Take, as a quick example, and possibly too easy an example, Philip Levine's "The Second Coming," which appears in the February Poetry Magazine, found online here [link]. Out of eight lines, five of them end in small words: "the," "only," "is," "a," and "of." At first glance – indeed at that first "the" – a reader should know that the text is not verse, that it will show little of that fundamental quality of verse, the crafted line.

That the text is shaped does not defeat the assessment, it does not magically turn a prose text into verse. One need only think about the shaping of text in magazine advertisements as cases in point. There is nothing about concrete shape that excludes the possibility of crafting lines, as such


the text

is physically

shaped does not

excuse the author who

desires to write verse from

the requirement of writing lines.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Tamburlaine the Great, Pt 1 by Christopher Marlowe

Back from my break. To say, I was able to finish the project for which I had blocked off the time. Which is a good thing. Perhaps the final result was not as good as I had hoped for, but we can't expect the best results every time.

As I said on my last post, initiating the break, I am unsure how I want to proceed with this blog. The longer posts like this one are fun, but can also be laborious. And I would like to try to give more effort to smaller, "spur of the moment" posts, as well as more posts that respond directly to verse. Whether and how I might do that, however, I do not yet know.


the line period


My launching point for this excursion is a moment from T.S. Eliot's "The Blank Verse of Marlowe" (found in The Sacred Wood). There is no reason not to get right to it, so:

The verse accomplishments of Tamburlaine are notably two: Marlowe gets into blank verse the melody of Spenser, and he gets a new driving power by reinforcing the sentence period against the line period. The rapid long sentence, running line into line, as in the famous soliloquies "Nature commended of four elements" and "What is beauty, with my sufferings, then" marks the certain escape of blank verse from the rhymed couplet, and from the elegiac or rather pastoral note of Surrey, to which Tennyson returned.

We will pick up Marlowe shortly. Right now I want to focus on the concept the Eliot brings into his discussion of Marlowe, that of the line period.

It is a wonderful term. It is not synonymous with line break, and the reasons why are important and speak to its general superiority. For a line break can be arbitrarily had. Simply apply a carriage return and, voilà, you have a line break. However, a line period – as with the sentence period – speaks to a construction that is attending to far more than the mere question of where the line ends. A sentence period does not exist merely because it marks the end of the sentence. The presence of the period speaks to the nature of the words that precede it – and to the words that follow it in that a period also marks the beginning of a new sentence.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Winter Break

Shows where my mind has been that I meant to post this a week ago.

The ol' blog will be on hiatus for a month or two while I survive the holidays, and work on another slow-going project that I want to dedicate as much time to as possible. Posting this will remove some of the guilt of not fulfilling my self-imposed time constraints.

Looking forward, and I tend to give this blog a look forward every winter, I feel like I've gotten a little too hung up on writing long essays for the blog. Maybe a break will help me find some rhythm for including more frequent, shorter posts. I'm also contemplating a shift in focus back to including more responding to verse found on the web. Though, I'm not at all sure on that, and want to give it a taste test before I go live again.

So, Merry Holidays to everyone. See you on the flip side.

Monday, November 14, 2016

"the mind is its own beautiful prisoner" by E.E. Cummings

The text of the verse is found on-line, here [link]. To note, there is variation in how the verse is published. In the Collected Poems: 1922-1938, it is published as presented on the website (so also, then, I presume, in 100 Selected Poems, the named source for the linked page). In the Complete Poems: 1913-1962, however, the text is presented with spaces after all punctuation. (I do not know how the verse is presented in the most recent edition of the Complete.) As well, in both the Collected and the Complete, the text reads "Mine" in the second line, not "Mind": we can presume that is a typo.


the erotic and the merely sexual


The presentation here is divided, the theoretic discussion first, the exploration of the verse coming after. Most of the work of this essay will lie in that opening discussion; as such, it will be a relatively short exploration. However, because the verse is such a good example for the ideas being presented, it is my thought that by keeping the verse in mind from the start both the verse might work as demonstration of the theory and the theory might work as explication of the verse even as the theoretic ideas are being presented. For that, and because of both the brevity of the verse and the differences in the online version and the version in the Complete, I will break from my normal habits[FN] and give the verse in full, here, to be read as part of my presentation. (As with most of Cummings's work, it is untitled.)

the mind is its own beautiful prisoner.
Mine looked long at the sticky moon
opening in dusk her new wings

then decently hanged himself, one afternoon.

The last thing he saw was you
naked amid unnaked things,

your flesh, a succinct wandlike animal,
a little strolling with the futile purr
of blood; your sex squeaked like a billiard-cue
chalking itself, as not to make an error,
with twists spontaneously methodical.
He suddenly tasted worms windows and roses

he laughed, and closed his eyes as a girl closes
her left hand upon a mirror.


[FN] The main reason I do not normally give the text in the post is because having a link to the text permits having the text open in a separate window for reference.

From very early on in my literary studies I have held to the belief that any theory of literature must successfully account for two test cases: the comedic and the erotic. That is, account for them as inherent to the proffered theory, without, as I have often seen, bracketing them in one manner or another as peculiarities lying outside the central ideas. While the test case of the comedic was to the fore of my puzzling early on, it has not maintained a central place in my thinking as has the erotic. In part, because it ended up being a puzzle solved by happenstance in my early theoretic studies. But in part also because my own creative writing, while often light hearted, is rarely out and out comedic: I thus had no practical impetus to study the comedic beyond a general understanding.

That is not so with the erotic. For not only has the erotic always and ever held interest to me as a field of study (not only in literature but across the arts), it has held and has maintained a position as one of the primary themes of my creative work. As such, I have continually been forced to confront, genuinely and in depth, the question of the relation between the erotic and the aesthetic[FN].

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

"Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock" by Wallace Stevens and "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" by Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich's "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" can be found here [link]
Wallace Stevens's "Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock" can be found here [link]

another example of the difference between the poetic and prosaic modalities


In writing the previous post, it was not my original thought to follow up with more examples to the same point. Though, a door had been opened (if not a new door); and I was not unaverse to holding to the line of thought if opportunity presented itself. Which it did, by two unrelated online incidences, the first of which returned Wallace Stevens's "Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock" to my thoughts, the second of which brought Adrienne Rich's "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" to my attention. By coincidence, both verses feature tigers and use them in similar ways. Plus there is the bonus that "Disillusionment" is one of my favorite short verses by Stevens. So why not.

This post will differ from the previous in three ways. First, I am going to speak a little more about verseform, about the material aspects of the works. Second, in this post I cover the poetic work, Stevens's, and before the prosaic, Rich's. Third, I'm not going to dwell as much on the theoretic aspects of the poetic and prosaic; indeed, I may take this post in a different direction.

That said, I will begin with the reminder that while the prosaic works in the modality of the factual and the poetic in the modality of the symbolic, that does not mean that the poetic cannot or does not use factual statements. In the two verses under examination here the tigers appear in sentences that, on their own, are factual statements.

Aunt Jennifer's tigers prance across a screen, bright topaz denizens of a world of green.

Only, here and there, an old sailor, drunk and asleep in his boots, catches tigers in red weather.

"On their own" is key to the point. A prosaic text functions through independent statements logically coordinated into a whole. The statements in a prosaic text never move outside their own factual being. Putting two factual statements into coordination with each other does not change the nature or reading of the statements, even when the logical relationship established is one of opposition.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

"Patterns" by Amy Lowell and "Garden" by H.D.

This ended up more an academic essay than a verse exploration post – not that I haven't posted essays here before. Despite it not turning out as planned, it fits in the mission statement, so I'll post it here as well as to the home site [link to page].


Amy Lowell's "Patterns" found here [link]
H.D.'s "Garden" found here [link]

demonstrating the difference between the prosaic and poetic modes


Obviously, as one would guess from the title, Robert Duncan's The H.D. Book is an engagement with the works of H.D. (particularly her Trilogy). It is also an extended meditation upon the idea of Poetry: that is, capital-P Poetry; not "poetry" in the broad, populist, use of the word but in the sense of that literature that is the rarity in any and every period, that is that rarefied experience that separates Poetry from mundane verse. The primal scene of the book, the opening scene, is his first experience of what Duncan calls that "second order" of literature, in a high school classroom, in his having read to him by his teacher H.D.'s "Heat." It is a scene of revelation, in the context of the book a first initiation into the possibilities of that higher realm of literary (and artistic) experience. I will permit myself one extended quotation from The H.D. Book, one that speaks to that "second order" of literature:

More than sensation, then, more than impression, gave force to the image. It was not only a vivid representation of sensory data but an evocation of depth. Image in Amy Lowell's poem ["Patterns"] had meant that words could illustrate and give mood. But in this poem "Heat," image conveyed not only the appearance of things or the sensual feel of things and moods, but experience, the reciprocity between inner and outer realities. There was another working of the image, more than Amy Lowell proposed, back of sense and mood, partly conscious and partly unconscious. I was aware that sensual intensity in this poem of H.D.'s, like the sensual intensity in Lawrence's work, demanded some new beginning in life from my own intensity. Such images were more immediate and real than likenesses of seeing, hearing or smelling were. (42-43)[FN]

Duncan sets up Amy Lowell, specifically as regards the verse "Patterns" as counterpoint to H.D. and "Heat": both verses involve gardens, and both H.D. and Lowell were considered (or called) Imagists, though Pound did not consider Lowell all that much of an Imagist and H.D. was and remains the foremost Imagist. (As Duncan points out, Pound would later say he created Imagism primarily to promote H.D.'s work.) For Duncan, Lowell is of that "order of poems and stories that we must know all about if we were to be accomplished students" (38). Though, Duncan, there, is speaking both of texts that are of the same modality as "Patterns" and of the reading of texts in the manner that texts like "Pattens" can only be read. That is, I believe he includes the act of forcing second order texts to be read as though of the first order, turning them into those culturally requisite – which is also to say culturally safe – texts. (While Duncan does not explicitly make that statement, I believe it is inherent in his wording. The H.D. Book would not be written as it were if Duncan was not quite aware that there is no small body of literary criticism that strives to treat literature universally in just that way.)