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.

★★ The Latest Posts on Hatter's Adversaria
Something I Read #17 – D.S. SavageDelillo's Underworld – a Review/Response
Visual Labyrinths in Body DoubleSomething I Read #16 – David Perkins

Monday, November 10, 2014

"Journey of the Magi" by T.S. Eliot

poem can be found here


line construction, and sham or genuine poetics

– minor editing, Jan. 20, 2015
This post has been added to the Hatter's Cabinet site via its Best of the Poetry Daily Critique page

Perhaps it is not as often the case as once might have been, with pop-poetry being so inundated with bad free verse, if not defined by bad free verse, that the question of enjambement is one of the first, major, creative explorations in poetics for novices. Though, in truth, that statement does not fit my own experience with younger explorers of poetry. That experience points to that the natural tendency is to write in defined lines and explore through defined lines, even if not formal lines, and enjambement is a complexity added much later to that base idea. But then again, looking at poetry posting sites online, that individual experience may not be telling of the statistical norm. Irrespective, I know I am not the first person to say that free styling culture of poetry of the last half century has had a detrimental effect on the ability to read and hear poetic structure.

You would have to work to convince me that even a substantial minority of pop-poets have any real, organic idea of the line, or write their poetry through any such idea. There is far too much bad prose with line breaks being published in books and chapbooks and mags. This goes for formal poets as well, who to most appearances defer the considerations of writing lines (couplets, stanzas) to the mechanical procedure of rhythms and rhymes.

In my own introductions to writing poetry the idea of enjambement was something counter – contrapuntal – to the beginning want to write lines; it was an idea that was at the start not wholly trusted, something that had to be explored, justified, before being implemented. It was (for me) introduced through what I am sure are familiar phrases: a means to have the flow of the poem cross lines; a means to create importance or energy by varying from a norm within a poem of end-stopped lines. Given such justifications, my fellow, novice writers would merrily introduce enjambement into their writing – or increase its frequency if already present. They would then learn how to defend the use of the running lines through the same or similar phrasings: "It creates a more natural flow" or "It creates an interesting moment in its variation." And you will hear the same and similar justifications by poets higher up the learning curve, even for poetry that exhibits a dearth of end stopped lines. Lest I forget, there is also that most important one: "that is how contemporary poetry is written."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

My Life by Lyn Hejinian

My Life (Sun & Moon Press, 1987) – apparently this is a second edition, differing from a 1980 edition also published by Sun & Moon Press.

Other works:

William S. Burroughs. The Soft Machine, The Ticket that Exploded, The Nova Express (Grove Press, originally published 1961, 1962, 1964)

Marjorie Perloff. The Dance of the Intellect: Studies in the Poetry of the Pound Tradition (Northwestern UP, 1985).


a question of confidence; an issue of strength


Hejinian's My Life is usually classed as prose. But because of (1) the nature of the book, (2) Hejinian's relation to L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, and (3) the issues covered, it fits well on this site.

This full length essay has been posted as well to Hatters Cabinet site, here. On that page is a link to the essay in pdf format.


I have read Lyn Hejinian's My Life twice (if I remember correctly). And with "read" it should be understood that both times I was forcing my way through the book. I did not get to the end by the energies of the pleasure of reading; I got to the end because, for essentially academic reasons (if self-imposed), I felt it necessary: the first go through was because I felt I needed a basic familiarity with the book; the second was because I wanted to affirm or reject my first response. If that response has somehow evaded you in this paragraph I will be blunt: no, I do not hold My Life to be meritable literature.

I picked it up again a couple months ago (indeed, I pick it up here and there when I come across its name to test it yet again) and it has since sat within arm's reach at one reading place or another, though mostly I have only been re-reading the first few chapters. The reason I picked it back up this time was because I have recently finished re-reading Burroughs's Nova Trilogy, and wanted to explore the differences between the works, as both present a fragmentary text though of different methods and natures. (For the record, that was the second time I had read the Nova Trilogy straight through; though, unlike My Life, I first came to the trilogy because Naked Lunch and Cities of the Red Night had already made me an admirer of Burroughs.)

The question that I was and am exploring is a simple one: why do I revel in and praise Burroughs but am bored by and reject Hejinian?

Monday, September 29, 2014

"Metzengerstein" by Edgar Allen Poe

Story found here


it takes two to tango


A quick post on something I caught last night while chilling with Poe. It is from a short story, yes, but the event applies across literature. The moment lies in this sentence:

Stupified with terror, the young nobleman tottered to the door.

Compare it to this construction:

Terrified, the young nobleman tottered to the door.

The difference between the two is that in the latter, the idea of terror is merely stated, while in the former, the idea of terror is given energy through effect. It may seem a very simple thing but it is actually an example of something central to literature: a direct statement is energically dead without a second idea with which to interact.

That said, we need to add one more construction:

Terrified, stupified, the young nobleman tottered to the door.

Is the "with" relationship necessary? I would say not necessary to the end of coupling the two ideas, but definitely to greater success. It is not that you are giving the reader guidance as to how to couple the ideas. You are, for sure. But what makes it better is that you creating a structure out of the two words rather than merely dropping them onto the page, leaving them there for the reader to find something with which to do with them.


Which, now that I write it, is a curious thing. I have been thinking recently about the difference between William S. Burroughs's cut-up, Nova Express Trilogy and works such as Lyn Heijinian's My Life, asking myself why I find the former so interesting and the latter so banal. And I am wondering if it has to do with that even though Burrough's cut-up is fragmented to the nth degree, books written with the intent of creating "novel[s] presented through a series of oblique references," there is still, within the texts as a whole, relationships being generated between the elements. But in My Life, the ideas presented are more like a jumbled, disorganized list.

I have been planning on rereading My Life (again), having recently reread Burroughs and large parts of Williams's Paterson (which is related, though it may not be clear why). Now I have an hypothesis to carry in to the book. I will let you know what I find.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"Pelicans in December" by J. Allyn Rosser — Verse Daily, 9/13/2014

from Mimi's Trapeze (U of Pittsburgh Press)
poem found here

First lines:
One can't help admiring
their rickety grace


an exploration of poetic structure


Fortune smiled on me and gave me a poem right after my last post that might prove an interesting exploration of poetic structure and poetic ideation ("poetic" being in the sense put forward by the last number of posts, as opposed to "prosaic"; as "organic"; as aesthetic as opposed to nomic; as creative as opposed to representational).

What I want to do first is trim down the poem to its core structure, to the basic statement. For this poem is of the nature of something not infrequently seen in pop poetry: it consists of a core structure, one that is not terribly complex, which is flushed out (one might say "made poetic") through description or modification of the elements of that core structure.

When I pare away those modifications, I find three basic statements.

1. One can't help admiring [the pelicans'] grace and feathers.

2. They pass in silent pairs.

3.a. The wind tips them into a wobble,
3.b. like old couples arm in arm on icy sidewalks,
3.c. mildly surprised by how difficult it has become to stay dignified and keep moving.

Nothing should be surprising, there, structure-wise, since the poem is constructed of three sentences. What may be surprising, though, is the nature of those three sentences. The second is simple and straightforward. But the first presents what cannot avoid being called an odd pairing.

Friday, September 12, 2014

"Mariana" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Originally published 1830.
Poem found here

First lines:
With blackest moss the flower-pots
     Were thickly crusted, one and all;


poetic structure: aesthetic ideation vs. brute factuality


A Note before beginning: "Mariana" is a more difficult poem than one might think at first read. It is a dense poem, and attention to detail is important. Yet, it is very easy to get lost in the sound of the poem and lose that attention. So, before reading the below, I recommend giving the poem – if you are unfamiliar with it – more than a couple of reads.


Tennyson's "Mariana" is one of my all time favorite poems.[FN] In reading Tennyson criticism you will hear it said that it is one of his best; and you can occasionally hear it said that it is can be comfortably held among the best of English poetry, or at least Victorian poetry. I have had a print-out of it on my desk for a short while now, wanting to do a post, though not really sure how to approach the effort. It has been more than a couple of weeks since my last offering here, so I figure I will give this a go and post whatever results, whether it comes to complete fruition or not.

[FN] To note, Tennyson wrote a second poem on the same theme, "Mariana in the South." It is not as great a poem, which may be why Tennyson essentially rewrote it in the years after its first publication. Or perhaps the fact that Tennyson so greatly rewrote it speaks, in itself, that it is not so great a poem.

An opening note: it may seem as this progresses that I am veering away from my normal approach of exploring poetry from the viewpoint of the writer and moving toward a straight act of criticism. I definitely am doing the latter, but I am not in it abandoning the former. Yes, there is a gap between a critical exploration of a poem and the question "how do I learn to write like that?" That gap, though, is one that can only be bridged by the explorations and attemptings of the writer. The step I am (hopefully) providing may not be part of the actual stepping, but it is the revealing of a place to which to step. But, then, how is that any different than any other post here?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Burial at Thebes and "Hercules and Antaeus" by Seamus Heaney

A Burial at Thebes: A Version of Sophocles' Antigone (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004);
"Hercules and Antaeus" is found in Selected Poems: 1966-1987 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990), originally from North (1975)

exploring the poetic-prosaic axis through example

This post has been added to the Hatter's Cabinet site via its Best of the Poetry Daily Critique page

I have be dwelling these last couple of posts[FN] on the idea as presented by Owen Barfield in Poetic Diction of recognizing that a literary text (or any text of any medium) can and should be analyzed through the recognition that the material and ideational elements of a text are two different (though not independent) elements of the text. That to speak of the material aspect — the verse-prose spectrum — is of a different subject than speaking of the ideational (spiritual) aspect — the poetic-prosaic spectrum.

[FN] In order, "'Hymn to Life' by Timothy Donnelly", "'A Way' by Rosanna Warren" and "Re-examining the Verse-Prose Poetic-Prosaic Graph"

Consequential to that idea — and central to its importance — is the recognition that what makes poetry art, the aesthetic aspects of it, that nature of poetry, literature, and art in general that sustains the idea that true art speaks of the highest natures of humankind, does not lie in the material but lies in the ideational/spiritual. That is, what makes poetry poetry, what makes it art, is not found in the material, in verse. Rhyme and meter, or structure of whatever kind, may work to the poetic or prosaic aspects of a text, but they in themselves are not part of that spiritual spectrum.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Re-examining the Verse-Prose Poetic-Prosaic Graph

correcting some problems in an earlier post – a theoretic exploration


This post has been added to the Hatter's Cabinet site via its Best of the Poetry Daily Critique page


A couple of posts ago (this one) I used a diagram that depicted literary texts (and art in general) as being describable by two axes: one the material, one the spiritual, as described by Owen Barfield in his Poetic Diction. Barfield does not present the two spectra as axes on a graph; and, even in creating that highly technical graphic, I knew intuitively that it was not, as a representation of the possibilities of literature, a terribly accurate one, and may be creating more false ideas than it was presenting valid ideas.

So I gave the graph an afternoon's exploration. Seeing, now, that there is a problem in making the jump from "we can – and should – talk about literature recognizing two related but distinguishable spectra" to "we can make a visual graph of those spectra by crossing them," I think it is something of a necessity to offer a correction to my previous graph-work. Especially in that the quality of the graphics themselves might have falsely created an authority of voice that was never really intended.

Though, having now finished that exploration (or, having taken it as far as I wish to take it), I see also there there need to put up front here a note. A reader's guide. A suggestion to how to read and get anything out of the following. That is, the graphs themselves are, in the below, the least important part of the exploration.


We can get a grasp on the material axis if we wholly divorce it from the spiritual axis[FN], which is to say isolate it as far as is possible from meaning in its broadest conception: an entirely artificial act, but workable so long as we stay alert to its limits. (For an exaggerated comparison, imagine reducing the discourse about fish to the shape of their dorsal fin without any other consideration. Yes, we can make useful analyses in such a manner, but they can only ever be limited – even limited in their own validity – until we bring in the rest of the body.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"My God, It's Full of Stars" and Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith

Life on Mars (Graywolf Press, 2011)
poem found online at Poetry Foundation site here

First lines:
We like to think of it as parallel to what we know,
Only bigger. One man against the authorities.


reading selectively and reading collectively — another demonstration that reading well means close reading

minor editing, an added footnote, and moving a bit to the end — 7/31/2014

This post has been added to the Hatter's Cabinet site via its Best of the Poetry Daily Critique page

This post focuses on "My God, It's Full of Stars" because it has been published online in Poetry Magazine. Though, I will take the opportunity to reach out from the one poem and give some consideration to the Pulitzer winning book Life on Mars as a whole. In such, I hope to offer something of a critical review of the book without abandoning the normal focus here of exploring poems to the end of writing poems. One of the motivations I had in expanding my purview beyond the two Daily sites was to be able to talk about books of poetry – which is to say poems in an organized group – as well as individual poems. What better choice for such exploration than books already selected for consideration by the Pulitzer committee.

There needs to be here some words towards transparency. First, I do not think much of the Pulitzer prize. I do not buy books on the basis of the committees' judgments. Indeed I have never bought a book because it either won the prize or was short listed for it. The Pulitzer has never done anything for as long as I have given attention to it (when I give attention to it) to convince me that it has any genuine, valuable, critical merit; and, it has done much to persuade me otherwise. Second, I did not purchase Life on Mars for the purpose of reviewing it. I bought it only because it was new to the poetry shelf at a used bookstore I frequent. Thus, it is only chance that it came to my possession and in turn only chance that it is appearing here. What previous knowledge I have of the book is limited to my having picked it up in a book store after it won the award. Though, I put it back finding it on perusal as something that was not going to change my mind about the Pulitzer.

Monday, July 21, 2014

"A Way" by Rosanna Warren -- Poetry Magazine

from Poetry Magazine (July/August 2014)
poem found here

First lines:
She said she sang very close to the mike
to change the space. And I changed the space


an exploration post


No one theme here, just exploring what is offered by the text.


Let's begin with the first sentence. To write

(1) She said she sang very close to the mike to change the space.

is not the same thing as writing

(2) She sang very close to the mike to change the space.

is not the same thing as writing

(3) She said, she sang very close to the mike to change the space.

For clarity I'll modify it slightly:

(3) She said, I sing very close to the mike to change the space.

The difference between (2) and (1), the addition of the "she said," changes the focus of the sentence. Sentence (2) is a statement of fact that does not in itself go beyond that uttered fact. The function of such a sentence is only to present the fact to the reader. However, with the addition of the "she said" — and, importantly, without any comma marking the rest of the sentence as dialogue, as in sentence (3) — the content of the sentence is moved in focus from a mere fact to a fact connected connected to the actor: that it, the fact of singing close to the mike is brought within the domain of the speaker.

It is made personal; it is given personal interpretation. Without the "she said" the reason for the singing close to the mike will only imputed to act from outside the singer. Yes, it is presented by the narrator of the poem, but without the presence of the speaker herself in the sentence, the narrator is imposing a "reason" upon the action.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

"Hymn to Life" by Timothy Donnelly -- Poetry Magazine

from Poetry (July/August 2014)
poem found here

First lines:
There were no American lions. No pygmy mammoths left
or giant short-faced bears, which towered over ten feet high


verse or prose, poetic or prosaic

– some minor editing, Feb. 5, 2015
This post has been added to the Hatter's Cabinet site via its Best of the Poetry Daily Critique page


The ideas in this post are given further examination in "Re-examining the Verse-Prose Poetic-Prosaic Graph"


As is obvious from the last post, I recently read Owen Barfield's Poetic Diction, and want to bring into the run of this blog one of his ideas. Though, in truth it is not a thought peculiar to Barfield. Coleridge (who stands in the background of Poetic Diction) posits the general idea through his own theories, and it is a central idea to the Modernist endeavor (in both literature and the arts), not to mention that strain of philosophy that runs through Nietzsche into the post-structuralists.

I will let Barfield speak for himself. (This is the opening to chapter IX, "Verse and Prose.")[FN]

At the opposite pole to the wide sense in which I have been using the phrase "poetic diction," stands the narrowest one, according to which it signifies "language which can be used in verse but not in prose." This artificial identification of the words poetry and poetic with metrical form is certainly of long standing in popular use; but it has rarely been supported by those who have written on the subject. As Verse is an excellent word for metrical writing of all kinds, whether poetic or unpoetic, and Prose for un-metrical writing, in this book the formal literary distinction is drawn between verse and prose; whereas that between poetry, poetic on the one hand and prosaic on the other is a spiritual one, not confined to literature [i.e., open to all the arts].

The idea is rather a simple and obvious when it comes to it: we can readily speak about the formal properties of the material aspect of a text without dependence upon the spiritual or ideational aspects (which is the aim prosody), and we can speak about the spiritual/ideational aspects of a text without dependence upon the formal properties of the material aspect of the text (exploring meaning, metaphor, etc.)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sharing a Found Bibliography

This post has been added to the Hatter's Cabinet site via its Best of the Poetry Daily Critique page

The Afterword of Owen Barfield's Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning, added by the author after the third edition, consists mostly of a list of works in the same exploration as Poetic Diction, works written at or before the first edition of 1928 and in the time between then and the third edition of 1973. It is quite an excellent list of works for people interested in aesthetic literature (and the aesthetic in general), including writers thereof. (Indeed, Barfield's text is itself equally applicable to both appreciators of aesthetic literature and writers thereof.) Being familiar with a majority of the works (or authors) on the list, and what with it being in Poetic Diction, quite the worthwhile book on its own measure, I have no qualms with passing it on here in this post (and adding it, after, to the library). For a better basis of recommendation than my own familiarity, I will say that this is a list of the usual suspects of the field, works and authors that I have frequently seen referenced to this very end. (In truth, this list has reorganized my theoretic reading list.)

The authors and books below all approach the same general subject — the aesthetic modality of being — though often from different approaches, both in content and in the nuances and details of their theoretic/critical systems. The aesthetic, by the very nature of its modality of thought, cannot be spoken of in the manner of the theoretic, arriving at any sense of theoretic definitiveness: it can only be spoken about. To approach it genuinely is invariably to approach along one's own path. As Jung wrote about the exploration of psychology, which is concomitant to the exploration of the aesthetic, "[t]he psychologist should constantly bear in mind that his hypothesis is no more at first than the expression of his own subjective premise and can therefore never lay immediate claim to general validity" (The Spirit in Man, Art, and Literature, Collected Works, 85).

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Sonnet 128 — William Shakespeare

First lines:
How oft, when thou my music music play'st
Upon that blessèd wood whose motion sounds


structure and organic unity

This post has been added to the Hatter's Cabinet site via its Best of the Poetry Daily Critique page


Before I start the post proper, let me give a couple of notes as to my project here and the blog itself.

I have said previously that I have decided to extend my subject matter outward to cover more than just the poems of the two daily sites. There really is no reason not to be exploring works by non-contemporary authors, or works not of the immediate now (which is the domain of daily sites). Also, I have for a while carried the thought to start looking at books of poetry. One of the issues I have with contemporary poetry is its apparent laziness: books seem too often assembled and printed — and then praised as worthwhile effort — simply because they are books with enough poems in it to fill a hundred, or eighty, or sixty pages. Even though, like a pop album, once you get past the songs that get air play, the rest of the can be fairly banal, if not bad. The general work of poetry culture today is too small: too small in size, and too small in thought. To explore that requires exploring the larger contexts. Also in that vein, I have wanted to start looking at things like Pulitzer winners, to see if there is really anything there worth trumpeting. Through such explorations, I feel, might be able to speak to the culture of poetry while still maintaining the purpose of this blog: to talk about poetry from the viewpoint of the writing of poetry.

Simultaneously, my posting here will stay somewhat slow for a while. In no small part this is because of some major projects cluttering up my desk and holding court in my mind. I would like to try to have one good post every seven to ten days but cannot guarantee it. I am hoping that starting larger explorations, like books of poetry, may actually aid in the rate of posts. Such explorations — and the expanding of the coverage area — will bring the blog project into more interaction with my other projects, which is good all around. In honesty, I am disappointed in myself that I have let my rate of posts here slide, though only in the lesser degree in the sense of production; in the greater degree simply in that I have also stopped exploring the poetry being presented by the dailies. Hopefully, these changes will give this project new life for me.

That being said . . . .

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A General Update

For those following the story, I have been struck with a touch of computer misfortune. As such, I do not expect to be posting anything here for the next couple of weeks. In part, it is simply because of the hassles of decreased connectivity. In part, though, I am turning the disconnect into an opportunity to focus on a couple of larger projects that have been cluttering up the desk for some time now.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Poetry that Writers of Poetry Have No Excuse Not Reading 3

Poetry that Writers of Poetry Have No Excuse Not Reading, Studying, and Reading Again, Parts 3


Developing the Poetic Ear


The bare truth of the matter:

Most of the people I have met who write poetry and write primarily if not wholly free verse are unable to give reason why they do not also write more formally rhythmic verse beyond comments that can always be reduced to "because I don't want to" or "I don't like to."

Granted, a writer should be writing toward where one's mind wants to explore and develop. But a writer developing their sophistication should also be writing and exploring where they need to develop. In that language is an aural event, that means also developing aural skills.

Let me be clear: the writing of people who have never taken the time and effort to develop their aural skills speaks that deficiency in their development. There will always be found the clunkiness, the absence of control, the jerky melodicism that one hears in the work of a poor musician. But more importantly, there will also be the absence of creating with sound. The whole point of the creative endeavor is to make beautiful things out of the chosen medium. So explain to me how one would willingly ignore one of the key aspects of the medium of language: the sound of the text.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Notes on the Idea of Organicism — Part II

Notes on Organicism in Literature

This post has been added to the Hatter's Cabinet site via its Best of the Poetry Daily Critique page

This second of my posts on organicism (the first preceding this one, here) is something of a patchwork quilt of notes, some short, some long, that attempt to take the information of Part I on the mechanistic and organic theories of artistic invention and expand them out from theory into praxis, and then also to show — if only in a beginning of such — how they are not artefacts of the history of ideas but observations and of the human psyche. There is no attempt here at presenting an organized, unified argument. Rather than lengthen the text by trying to tie it all together, I left this mostly as notes. There is only the barest ordering here. There is no attempt at continuity from one to the next.

As said in Part I, these posts were originally spawned by comments on FB about organicism. Those comments in part guide the subjects of these notes. Though, I did not intentionally structure the notes around the comments, nor are these notes solely guided by the comments: some moments were spurred by the writing of part I, and some I brought to the table myself.


Part I
Some Exploratory Notes


Section jump menu:
1. Note on Terminology
2. Organic and Inorganic "Design"
3. Organic "Unity"
4. The Organic Text and "Natural Laws"
5. Qualities of an Organic Text
6. Organicism from the Reader's Side
7. "How do you certify an organic text?"
8. How can the idea of the organic text be used as a critical tool?
9. Inorganic Literature


1. Note on Terminology

Within this commentary, when I am speaking outside of the context of Coleridge, I am going to shift the use of terminology and use inorganic as opposed to mechanical . Neither term is perfect: I believe the word mechanical is today too bound to the material idea of machine to fit well as the term of choice. Inorganic sets up the contrast to organic well, but it might be better if there was a word that did not use organic within it. Since Coleridge himself used inorganic, I am going to move mostly to that one, and give it a spin, as it were.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Notes on the Idea of Organicism — Part I: Coleridge

Notes on Organicism in Literature

— replaced the italics that was lost in translating to html 5/8/14
This post has been added to the Hatter's Cabinet site via its Best of the Poetry Daily Critique page

Right now, I am working on a number of interconnected explorations in the areas of prosody and meter, of Modernism and the aesthetic text, and of a groundwork on the subject of poetry/literature. As I work them through into words I will throw them up here part by part, without consideration as of now of generating a whole (or wholes). I figure two aims will be served: that they will this way be posted in small, digestible portions; and these posts could serve as an oven where they can bake while I work into the next parts.

The first couple – first in their appearance here but the last in their arrival to my desk – were spawned by a comment in a conversation on FB about organicism, which mostly could be summed up in a very simple question: "Ok, I get the idea of organicism in general, but what use does the idea have from a critical side or from the reader's side?" Which is actually a pretty good question. And, considering I throw the word (or its synonyms) around on this blog here and there, one that is probably worth addressing as a post.

So what I have done is broken it into two parts. This first part is a to-the-point explanation of what the idea of the organic text is, as it was generated by Coleridge in response to the then prevailing, mechanistic theory of invention. (Note that just because I say "then prevailing" does not mean it is not still prevailing, if in different terms. But that's another conversation.) Part II will be a loose collection of comments as regards the text. (It is still in progress. As I said, I've a number of projects going on at the same time.)

Part I
Coleridge's Theory of Organic Invention


The idea of organicism comes primarily from Coleridge, who was the first to develop a full, organic theory of invention. As concerns Coleridge, I am going to work out of M.H. Abrams's book The Mirror and the Lamp (1953, chapter VII). For those unfamiliar with that book, it is a seminal text on Romantic theory, and is about as safe a source of information on the subject as can be found.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Aphorisms on the Creative Endeavor I

– Fixed the link to the page on the site that broke along the way, June 9, 2016


I have a page on my site (here) where I used to occasionally (perhaps I should say infrequently) put down short aphorisms about aesthetic writing. With my wanting to integrate this blog more with my writing, I realized the opportunity to use this to build on that. Thus, we have here the first page of additions to that list.

The numbering starts here at '21' to coincide with the numbering on that page.


    The difference between "poetry" and "prose" as types of form is irrelevant to the creative process. If you begin by thinking one or the other, you have already limited your creating. Indeed, they are terms that are applied most accurately only with the least creative works. That is to say, they are only genres, and the creative endeavor is the opposite of the replication and reinforcement of genres.



    If you are going to use paragraphs in your writing, then those paragraphs should have a purpose. A paragraph is a unit of form — you cannot pretend it otherwise. Poor attention to paragraphs makes for poor creating and poorer reading. You throwing the burden of organization upon the reader, declaring yourself to the public too lazy to be bothered with it yourself, and your work too addlepated to know the difference.

    So also with line breaks and stanzas.

Monday, April 21, 2014

"Rain of Statues" by Sarah Lindsey — Poetry Daily, April 21, 2014

from Poetry (April 2014)
poem found here

First lines:
Our general was elsewhere, but we drowned.
While he rested, he shipped us home


why the basics are so important (at least, to me)


A short and simple post. An object lesson in that poetry — writing — is not merely putting words on paper. A demonstration that there is a certain level of basic technique and knowledge that should be had, and a certain level that should be mastered if you at all want your work to be taken seriously.

Look at the very first line:

Our general was elsewhere, but we drowned.

Here is the very simple and obvious question: In what way are those phrases in a 'but' relationship?

The answer: they are not. The five definitions provided by are quite sufficient to the proof:

1. on the contrary; yet
Our general was elsewhere, yet we drowned.
So then they successfully drowned even though the general was elsewhere? They didn't need his leadership to pull it off?
2. except; save
Our general was elsewhere, except we drowned.
If you squint a bit it could mean Our general was elsewhere except when we drowned. Which is silly.

Monday, April 14, 2014

"Modigliani's Cellist" by Barbara Siegel Carlson — Verse Daily, April 10, 2014

from Fire Road (Dream Horse Press)
poem found here

First lines:
He plays to the violet walls,
to the window’s curly brown shadows


ekphrastic poetry and ideational strength

This post has been added to the Hatter's Cabinet site via its Best of the Poetry Daily Critique page

A couple of days ago VerseDaily offered us another ekphrastic poem. As I have said in an earlier post (here), ekphrastic poetry has always intrigued me. When done well there can be very interesting energies created between the poem and the work.

This poem is an engagement with Modigliani's work The Cellist. This post will be wholly exploration: intending only to prompt ideas as to the nature of ekphrastic poetry, this poem, and of ideation of poems in general. (Though, some critique will be unavoidable.) Let me put in an image:

I want to work this by talking abstractly before pointing to the text of the poem. So, let me open with a question: Is the poem too skimpy? Does it not work as well as it might because it relies too heavily upon the work? An ekphrastic poem is meant to be an engagement with a work of another medium, but it still must be a poem. There has to be ideas and energies generated within the poem that are beyond the ideation of the subject art work, or the poem is not doing anything beyond using many words to say "look at that painting."

Monday, April 7, 2014

When Four Plus Three Does Not Equal Seven — An Hypothesis for Testing

an exploration of measure and musical phrasing


This thought popped into my head just not that long ago — not for the first time, by any means, but this time in a context that made me stop and think. Like anything with the aesthetic there is no fixed truth or definition being sought here, only presentation of an hypothesis meant for exploration of the event.

I'll present it in the form of question and answer:

Why (or how, if you prefer) is ballad measure (4-3-4-3) not the same as heptameter couplets (7-7)?
Ballad measure is actually a variaton of tetrameter, 4-4-4-4, only the last beat of the second and fourth lines are implied and not overtly stated.

This is wholly hypothesis, and I can already see a way that the wording above creates a problem with the idea being explored. Also, there needs be the question of the difference between a four-line stanza against a two-line stanza (which by necessity brings in the issue of enjambement). I am now wondering if I can think of examples to the contrary (which is where there exploration would get really interesting.)


(I have the want to say more in introduction but I am intentionally holding off so it can remain an open point of exploration. Perhaps I might come back and add to this in the future. Perhaps as part of a future post exploring Pound's definition of the poetic line as a musical phrase: something, to me, which is blatantly obvious once stated. But for now, I'll leave it as merely suggestion for open exploration.)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Ticket That Exploded (excerpt) by William S. Burroughs

(Grove Press, 1967)

the aural effects of poetic grammar


So I've been re-reading William S. Burroughs's Nova Trilogy (in part for fun, in part for exploration). For transparency, I am a huge fan of Burroughs's works (though I have not read the couple earlier, more narrative works).

The Nova Trilogy (which is made up of The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded, and Nova Express) is generally considered a masterwork of the cut up process. I do not see how someone can say they are not difficult reads. For one, the three books feed each other, at times out of order of the pages. For another, part of the result of the cut up technique is that a fragment read a cut up passages usually has its source in a straight(er) narrative passage — which can also appear later in the works. (As well, a phrase sometimes appears in multiple narrative passages, which adds more to the play.) As such — and I speak from experience this being my third time around &mdash they are easier to reread than read. But, then, as Barthes pointed out, aesthetic literature cannot be read; it can only be re-read.

Of course, there is also the more fundamental difficulty in that even at the level of the passages of straight narrative, the books do not have an overlaying narrative structure. But then, as it is stated within The Ticket That Exploded: "this is a novel presented in a seried of oblique references" (13).

While reading Ticket I had the idea to present a part of the text as written, and reformat it a couple of ways — including using line breaks — simply to put out and example of a well written cut-up text (so, simultaneously fragmentary and unified) to explore how format affects reading. For most of the trilogy the cut-ups are separated with dashes. What if you changed it to periods? What if you broke it up into lines?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot (or, at least, the first stanza thereof)

The Waste Land can be found pretty much everywhere online; Bartleby tends to be very good with formatting

the importance of knowledge to creating

This post has been added to the Hatter's Cabinet site via its Best of the Poetry Daily Critique page

Fired off a couple of posts rapid fire here. I wanted to get this one off before started on a essay project which might take some time.


I had an interesting thing happen this last Sunday. My daughter (who is 6) made mention of the cup and balls trick (without really knowing what it was), so I showed her Ricky Jay's performance of it on youtube (here). She found it an amazing feat of magic. (She knows it's a trick, but was dumbfounded by it.) So I also showed her a video of Ricky Jay demonstrating card control (this one). It flew right over her head. She did not at all understand what he was doing nor could she see the "magic tricks" he was performing.

The reason why is that she knows very little about cards. So the fact that he is shuffling away and yet the aces are magically right side up in the middle of the deck was beyond her. It was, very simply, an issue of knowledge: she did now that that would not normally happen. She did not know enough to see the event so she was blind to the event.

This is actually demonstration of a very important idea about the arts: to be able to see what an artist is doing you have to have knowledge about the medium. To say it another way: sophisticated artists/writers/musicians are creating for other sophisticated artists/writers/musicians, because those people are the people who will be able to perceive what they are doing in their respective mediums.

Another example: Martin Scorcese's version of Cape Fear.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"One Little Good Thing About it" by Patricia Smith -- Poetry Daily, March 26, 2014

from Southern Indiana Review (Fall 2013)
poem found here

First lines:
We wanted shredded silk on our job-greased heads, poised
to be dramatically kinked by several versions of migration


shifts in subject (with a footnote on rhythm)

---- minor change, March 27, 2014

There's a couple points to bring up with this poem. For one, up until the end of the poem it mostly holds a six beat accentual meter. When that meter falls apart (mostly at line 11, "Across town . . .") it feels like, to me, the poem is losing control.[FN] I'm not at all sure what "migration ghost" means, and really can't make anything of how "migration ghost" could kink. (If "migration ghost" does have a direct meaning, I'd love it if someone let me in on what it is.) (Just to say, I like "rippling rivers on each foot," so it's not that I'm opposed to that more surreal imagery.)

[FN] It is not sufficient to say "I wasn't paying attention to rhythm; it was an accidental thing." You should always be paying attention to rhythm — that is what it is to have a poetic ear. A sophisticated reader will be paying attention to rhythms so as to enjoy the sound of the text. And when you set up a rhythm — whether intentionally or by accident — and then suddenly ignore it, it will either sound jarring, clumsy, or like a failure of attention. Which ever the result, it sounds sloppy. Also, "paying attention to rhythm" does not mean you have to be writing in meter: free verse still has its rhythms.

"We yearned beauteous" -- a wonderful sentence, perfectly set up by the sentence before, perfecting establishing a forced point from out which the next sentence can flow in a (slightly) new direction. Both rhythmically and ideationally the defining sentence of the poem, against which everything else is set, even "us soldiers in Chicago's war." (Though, for me the "red wounding" line is too heavy handed, even too cliche an appeal, and clashes with what was before then a more subtle presentation.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"Congenital" by Amy McCann -- Verse Daily, March 12, 2014

from West Branch (Fall 2013)
poem found here

First lines:
Inside every heart
slumps the same


exploring structure


An interesting poem here, worth exploring.

And since I'm thinking structure, I have the sudden thought to stop and look at that sentence what I just typed. Not everyone may have thought about why that sentence uses a comma. The reason is because it is a list of adjectives: the poem is (1) here and (2) worth exploring. This may be pointing out the obvious but it is worth the pointing out so as to take it to the next step. A less sophisticated writer sees the need for the comma because of the rules of grammar -- or, more likely, an intuitive understanding that a comma is used in such sentences. But a more sophisticated writer does not look at the comma, but looks at the underlying relationship of words: it is a phrase that links two adjectival phrases to one noun. What is the difference? The first is technical mimicry; the second is seeing the medium.

But back to the poem.

Let's start with lines. The lines here read mostly as two beat accentual meter (two stresses per line, number of syllables irrelevant). That is, up until the last stanza which is three beats per line. Though, there are a couple of lines that do not quite work, as in the eighth stanza:

inflames the slack-winged
birds, our half-mast
tails slapping the base

The issue arises in that the natural reading of the second line is "BIRDS, our HALF-mast."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"A poem should not mean but be." -- Archibald MacLeish

post title is from "Ars Poetica"
originally from Streets in the Moon (1926), also found here among other places

Bocola on Modernism and the "primitive," and Cassirer on theoretical and mythical thinking

– minor editing/formatting Jan. 28, 2015
This post has been added to the Hatter's Cabinet site via its Best of the Poetry Daily Critique page


Yes, I post immediately behind my note on my absence, but I told you I had a couple things on the burner. And, yes, I realize my last handful of posts seem to be as often about theory or criticism than looking at specific poems. But, as I said a few posts back, I had a feeling I would be branching out from the original paradigm, and I think it is rather more fruitful to go where I am thinking than to force my thinking to go somewhere else.

The aim of this post is to present two interweaving ideas from two texts without adding too much commentary beyond the ideas being presented. The first is more demonstrative, the second wholly theoretic. I just want to lay them out for you and let you address them – and their interaction – as you will. Both concern the aesthetic. Both also concern art and language.

The first is a moment from Sandro Bocola's The Art of Modernism (Prestel 1999), which is to me the best survey of Modernism in the plastic arts that I have yet to come across: not so much in its inclusiveness but in its exploration of what was/is Modernism, and in turn what is a period of art, and in turn (though less to the fore) what is art. It succeeds greatly because it lets the artwork, and the social and intellectual currents influencing the art world, speak the nature of Modernism. That is, it is descriptive, not prescriptive exploration.[FN]

[FN] For example, even though much of Bocola's discussion comes out of the ideas of the psychologist Heinz Kohut, the use of Kohut does not act to define Modernism. It is but a tool through which the currents of Modernism can be described.

As I said, an excellent read, though if I may one critique of The Art of Modernism, it is that Bocola understates the importance of the occult in Modernism (and the period leading up to Modernism): taking that word "occult" in its most expansive, to include not merely spiritualist (to wit) explorations, but what underlay the popularity of the occult in art and society from the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries: a spiritual engagement with the cosmos and, ultimately, with the unconscious self.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Note on My Absence

so a link about AWP


It's been nearly a month since my last post. Looking back, I find it amazing I got as many posts out in January as I did. Let's just say the months of December through February were not memorable.

Though, to be honest, I haven't seen a poem in a couple weeks that I've wanted to write on. (I don't look at every one, though.) So maybe also a bit of a drought in the prompts department as well. (This might be the little nudge that pushes me outside the original parameters of the blog.)

I have a couple of posts on draft, though. And life seems to be finding some stability. So hopefully I'll be back with some regularity to soon.

Until then, I thought I might drop this essay pointed out to me by an internet friend: "Thoughts for AWP Week: Glut in Creative Writing is Reverse Side of Drought in Humanities" by Anis Shivani, recently posted on The Nervous Breakdown site.

I have never heard of AWP spoken of in positive terms by a voice for which I have any respect. It is, as I said elsewhere, only ever been described as a bloated and rather grotesque game of Commercial Pursuit. But what makes this a particularly brilliant presentation is its spot on critique of Creative Writing in academia: one that simply and precisely pointing out the 900 lb gorilla that MFA culture swears doesn't exist.

Yes, you can find defenses of AWP, like this one by Aaron Gilbreath. Notice, however, how Gilbreath essentially is saying "go to the conference, but not actually for the conference." (I find the cult jokes in the article ironically humorous -- and not in the irony Gilbreath intended.)

So, my advice for today, read the Shivani with the mentality of "what to learn from this," not the mentality of "this is crap! AWP's great!" It is nigh clinical in its vivisection of MFA culture. (However brief the presentation.) Read it from this angle: "Assume everything is on the nose. What is that revealing about Creative Writing in the U.S.?" (Which is actually a very good method for any non-lunatic fringe criticism.) A final hint to reading it: it offends you, the problem is not with Shivani. It offends you because the hit was palpable.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"Sleeping Women in Movies" by Janet McCann -- Verse Daily 2/12/2014

from The Crone at the Casino (Lamar University Press)
poem found here

First lines:
She is sprawled arms akimbo
Yawns and stretches luxuriously


exploring a poem (organic form and pop conventionality)


Simply, there are some interesting moments in the poem and in what the poem is working to do, and I want to explore.


There is between the first two lines a shift from the descriptive to the active, from a view of a still scene to a participating in action, and there is nothing to give the reader a clue as to the coming shift. To me it reads as a clumsiness, something which perhaps is very visible when the lines are brought together within a quote: "She is sprawled arms akimbo / Yawns and stretches luxuriously." What is happeing is the second line is clashing with the syntactic expectation created by the first line, which would read something like this: "She is sprawled arms akimbo / Yawning and stretching luxuriously." As such, it reads to me as an error in the poem.

It happens again at lines 4 and 5: "she is curled on a lush divan / Shrugs off the cat" (instead of "she is curled on a lush divan / Shrugging off the cat"). That it happens twice cues to me it is not a mistake but an attempt at something structural. Amd there is something worth saving in the play of introducing through the static "is" and then developing through motion. Can the felt clumsiness be cured by creating a structure that sets off the latter type of lines as different from the former? For example:

She is sprawled arms akimbo—
      Yawns and stretches luxuriously
      In black and white, tosses a satin pillow
Or she is curled on a lush divan—
      Shrugs off the cat
      Reaches for her cell phone playing Bach

Saturday, February 1, 2014

"Gymnopédia No.3" by Adrian Matejka -- Poetry Daily 01/20/14

from Poetry (Jan. 2014)
poem found here

First lines:
The sunlight on snow

This decrescendo


reading typography


Saw this poem when it was posted and wanted to drop but a very quick comment on a typographical moment within the poem, within the fourth stanza:

the way it always will
at the rock ⅔ of the way down.

I am talking about the use of "&#8532."

All I want to do here is make a comparison and ask a question.

First the comparison, between the two stanzas in poem as posted

the way it always will
at the rock &#8532 of the way down.

Stop & shiver in it: the ring
            of snow inside gloves,
            the cusp of red forehead

and with the words written out

the way it always will
at the rock two-thirds of the way down.

Stop and shiver in it: the ring
            of snow inside gloves,
            the cusp of red forehead

What is the difference between the two when I read the lines?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

But You Don't Have to Call Me Johnson

taking a run at the words poetry, poem, and poet


This is a post I have wanted to write out for a couple of months now, with my increasing use of the words poet and poem and poetry in these posts (and in discussions elsewhere). I always feel as though I am betraying this blog when I use them without the readers understanding something of my use of those words. So, to that end . . . .

A good long while ago I came to recognize that the word "art" had little functional value -- especially as I was using it at the time, within my own speaking about the aesthetic. The problem is that the use of the term "art" brings into the discussion a multitude of "art" obects that have nothing to do with the aesthetic. (Indeed, an ocean of such in comparison to the small lake of the engagements with the aesthetic.) How could I talk about Picasso's Guitar and Violin

as "art" or even "high art" if use of the word meant bringing into the conversation something as unengaging as this

(Daisies #2 by Alex Katz, )

Thursday, January 23, 2014

"Academe Quits Me" by D.G. Myers

A post from the blog "A Commonplace Blog."

The primary post is here

There is a follow-up, "Replies to the Critics of 'Academe Quits Me,'" here.

(They are currently the first two posts in the blog, but over time they may no longer be, so I linked directly.)


when you no longer care about literature, it's hard to show you care about literature


A morning after consideration:

A couple comments by my friends on FB (comments on the Myers blog, not this post) showed me that most people will read "Academe Quits Me" as being about the situation of the job market, whereas I read it more toward the status of the idea of "literary studies" in US academia. Indeed, most of the comments I saw to the post were about the economic marketplace. But the two are not unconnected. One of the failures of English departments these decades is that they have tried to stake their importance on political situating, when they should be staking their importance on (1) literary-cultural appreciation, and (2) the fundamental recognition that reading is not wholly a subject of literature. To learn to read deeply is a skill that carries to success in every department, and English departments should be running tendrils through the whole of university saying "we can teach your students to be better students, better graduates, more successful in their fields, irrespective of that field of study."

But when social criticism has a stake in avoiding deep reading (because, usually, deep reading rather undermines their claims as regards literature), when MFA departments are afraid of what deep reading might do to their not-quite-so-talented and easily-ego-bruised student pool, there is a whole lot of "we don't want to go there" going on. You want to see a prof teaching social criticism blow up? Bring in someone capable of deep reading both the subject texts and the writings of the social critic. Like a cornered cat. It is hilarious how quickly their "scholarship" moves from pounding the scholarship to pounding the table.

So, let me give a qualifying statement to what is below. I did not yesterday, nor today intend Myers's post to be read as evidence or damning moment or anything substantial beyond a means to posit an idea in your head for to be thought about. There is something to be said for a required core knowledge, and there is something to be said for the idea that a field that eschews core knowledge is rather signing their own death warrant. Put it in your head and ponder it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"Slight Pause" by Joy Katz -- Verse Daily, 1/5/2014

from All You Do Is Perceive (Four Way Books)
poem found here

first lines:
We looked at each other, then at the plate of tomatoes,
and you said, do we eat them?


appreciation; alternatively, forcing the poem for an easy audience


It has been a while, so we might as well first take the moment to state once again how Verse Daily's people are demonstrably idiots. Let us count the ways: "Fallen over in, her front hall"; "us green. tomatoes"; "e night of the hanging." Incompetent, disrespectful gits. That's all I'm going to say (until the next time).


Yes, again, I admit, this post has been sitting unfinished in the WordPad file cabinet for some time. I am guilty of having been very unattentive to my smaller projects. But, as I said before, December is never a good month for me.

The negative of letting a piece sit half-started for too long is my head gets filled with too many different directions with which to take it. (An ailment cured in my last post by limiting myself to but one.) Hopefully this won't get away from me. Where I want to start is with a comment made to an earlier post (looking at the poem "Bethany Man" by Ricardo Pao-Llosa, here). That comment:

I think it is a lovely poem. You unfortunately will never be able to appreciate anything in your life with this attitude.

Comments like this perplex me a touch. More so, they irritate me.

This is the simple question: how can you be appreciative of something unless you have the ability also to be critical of that very same thing?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"Confession" by Carrie Shipers (Verse Daily, 11/25/13), and "When Fruit and Flowers Hung Thick Falling" by Katie Peterson (Poetry Daily, 11/24/13)

"Confession" from Southern Review (Winter 2013)
poem found here

first lines:
I stopped calling for no reason because
you didn't always seem glad to hear from me.


"When Fruit and Flowers Hung Thick Falling" from The Accounts (U Chicago Press)
poem found here

first lines:
Never a gardener, she
became interested


the very important importance of lines


These two poems appeared on successive days at the end of November, and I started writing a long post on the day following. Unfortunately, between spending most of December fighting one illness or another and the chaos of the holidays (and I will be honest, I despise the time of year between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve), it pretty much sat on the burner: for so long, now, that I've mostly lost the energies behind the post.

Except for one point, which I have held on to and now finally sit down to write out.

These two poems are interesting in that they are both versions of a style of poem that you see not infrequently in poppoetry circles. (I should really start collecting and naming these pop-sub-genres . . . .) They are poems that are (1) built upon a list of statements (2) usually with an ironic and/or humorous bend, both in solo and in tandem; that (3) are intended to be read as lists of more-or-less equal elements; and (4) which have a concluding statement which serves to define the poem. That is a rather general (perhaps even inadequate) description of the sub-genre, and both of these poems vary from it in one way or another: though, not enough that they are not obviously trying to fit within this mold (or, perhaps I should say, "work out of" this mold?)

Originally I was going to parse the two poems primarily as regards the sub-genre, and work a little comparison and contrast to show how they are, in fact, quite generic, pop poems, but from that show the strengths and the weaknesses of each (and they do play well off each other in that the strengths of one tend to be the weaknesses of the other). In this abbreviated post, however, I will narrow myself to one item alone: lines.