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
Analytical Thought and MythReview: The Sandman
Critique: Malick's The Tree of LifeCritique: Scorcese's Silence

Friday, January 27, 2023

Laurie Sheck, The Willow Grove

just because it looks like poetry, doesn't mean it's poetry


I am pretty sure I have said before I do not often buy individual books of verse. Mostly I buy collecteds or selecteds, because they are people important enough I want to get a broad feel for them, or writers I have enjoyed that I want to collect them all, as it is said. (And, as has happened, you find a gem in the collected that you probably would have missed one book at a time.) Truth is I can look through shelves of individual books at the bookstore and not find anything I am at all interested in. For the most part sophistication just ain't there. But, occasionally, I do buy them, carefully and with thought beforehand. Laurie Sheck's The Willow Grove is such a book. It was recommended to me and I took a look online at what can be found of her verse and thought it interesting enough for eight bucks. Greatly, though, the fellow who recommended it previously recommended to me Freda Downie so I was willing to give the benefit. Maybe he was starting a streak.

And the first two verses in the book – "White Noise" (3) and "The Return" (4) – I rather enjoyed. Perhaps a little question on the lines feeling somewhat like broken prose but it was just the first two verses so I would overlook it. Though, in "The Return," there is this:

pressed between the other, similar last names,
laid down there in print deep black as the wires
that carry one human voice to another.

That simile feels weak, more effort than the simile is worth. Printed text is normally pretty black, so is there a difference being made by comparing it to the wires? (And, actually, as I remember, as those wires aged, they grew more grey; they lightened.) Plus, is "that carry one human voice to another" something that needs to be said? Is it, really, adding anything to the verse?

Then came "The Storeroom" (5), and such as:

And what tense in which the musty dampness holds the ovens
like moldy, unrocked cradles, eye-holes, graves,
and street-cries skip and flare above our listening, but they are muffled
from back here, as if they could not touch us, yet still here?

There's lots of imagination there. Lots of words that look very poetical. But does it stand examination? First off, there is a problem in setting (not wholly evident in the given lines). The site of the verse is a storeroom in a store, a storeroom what shares a wall with what used to be a bakery, shares the wall that holds the ovens. So while the verse occurs in a storeroom, it is concerning itself with ovens in the next store over. That's a problem (or there's the problem that the verse is describing the geography so poorly I am misreading it). The natural question to ask is, how is the "musty dampness" of the ovens in the abandoned bakery being felt within the storeroom? And at a very basic level you have to ask, why is there all this concern, in a poem about two persons isolated in a storeroom, with something that is not even in the store? The verse is stretching way outside its setting to find ideas. Generally not good practice. Particularly when stretching out works exactly against the desired effect of closeted isolation.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Freda Downie, "Moon"

non-sequiturs and the composition


So I have been reading the British writer Freda Downie's Collected Poems. She only had three verse books in her writing career, but they were (and are) highly regarded. And, I will add my voice to that in saying they are quite a pleasure to read. In the general, I would say the average British versifier seems better at the art than the average U.S. versifier; but then it very much seems they take the aural and verbal aspects of verse much more seriously over there than over here. Over here writers seem more concerned with their politics, or their diary.

Thus, in going through Downie, it is not unknown to come upon a stanza like this, the close of "The Lesson," about a boy not so good at his piano lessons, wishing he were elsewhere:

And when she turned away to mark his music,
He sighed and looked to the window to see
His bicycle gleaming in the early dusk
Against the rain-wet trunk of the apple tree.

Just to point out, note she does not – here or elsewhere in the verse – say, overtly, he wishes he were elsewhere. She puts the idea in the image of the bicycle against the tree, of the boy's focus being on the bicycle, not upon his lessons. Good imagist practice; which is on that point to say good poetic practice. But also, the language, though formal, simply glides. The formality works toward the overall sound rather than putting strictures on it. It creates an aural effect out of the stanza, not just the sound of some short string of words (as with throwing in some consonance in a verse that otherwise ignores sound).

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Life in the Cereal Aisle

the poetic line


I want to posit a question. Or posit an idea that in itself presents a question. Perhaps many questions. It depends on how seriously you take the idea of the poetic ear.

Take this phrase that I have been playing around with (unfortunately to little fruition):

time well spent in the cereal aisle

Except, that's not the phrase I'm playing with. This is:

time spent well in the cereal aisle

There is a world of difference between those two phrases, entirely because of how they work on the ear. The latter has an aural resonance that is wholly lacking in the former. Why? What am I talking about? Break it down:

time spent well in the cereal aisle
spent well ------- cereal aisle
speh / ell ---------- see / ayl
seh / ell ----------- see / ayl

So that you can read it without going back up, and hear what is going on:

time well spent in the cereal aisle


time spent well in the cereal aisle

Do you hear the aural construction that is created by reversing the order of "well spent"?

Monday, April 11, 2022

Amanda Gorman, "The Hill We Climb"

bad verse is bad verse


Addendum before the text:

So, Google must have been playing tricks on me because previously, no matter the search, all it would show me of Gorman was page after page about "The Hill We Climb." Except for the page. Now, of a sudden, it is offering me other fare, and I get a look at what Gorman is capable of besides "Hill." Which is nice to see, considering how bad "Hill" is. For example, there are the five poems from her then upcoming book posted on The New Yorker site [link]. And, as said, I am pleased to see that she does write other things better than "Hill." Which is not to say I change my opinion on "The Hill We Climb." That mess is among the worst pieces of published verse I have ever seen. (Well, I include there things published in online mags.) There is a large difference between "Hill" and the bits on the New Yorker page. And that should be recognized.

Not that I see in those bits any sign of excellence. They are of the average fare for what is published today. Which is to say, rather mediocre. Unlike what the article writer says, they are neither "bold" nor "oracular." (But, then, forbid a poetry book reviewer to pass up the chance for grotesque hyperbole, their own "poetry.") They have their weaknesses, through and through. I would not have minded doing a post on them alone to show those weaknesses. In truth, were I to pick up this book blind in a store I would never buy it. Though, they are still head and shoulders better that "Hill," which is an absolute trainwreck, and makes me wonder if she wrote that calamity on a three day bender two days before it was due.

Do I now regret my post about "The Hill We Climb"? Absolutely not. It needs to be pointed out just how very bad that bit of verse is. The single greatest comeback to the people who defend "The Hill We Climb" is that it is so bad it is indefensible. Even if you want to say Gorman is a decent poet (and I would not say that from the New Yorker bits, I would say only she is an average versifier), even if you wanted to defend her, you have to start by accepting that "Hill" is miserably bad. It may be an outlier in her work, but it is, as I show below, a amateurish failure at verse.

To say, after a brief exchange I had with an FB friend, it is to be noted that I agree with such as Yeats and Auden: politics and poetry are oil and water. The more a writer wants to politics, the worse the poetry will be, the less it will be poetry. The best "political" verse may have a political subject, but they are not themselves political. The more political a verse is, the more it tends to, as I say below, "dead father" poetry. If I may risk aphorism, True poetry is about the human soul, and when you bring in politics, you no longer tread on those grounds.


Recently an essay on the Chained Muse site [link] was brought to my attention, wherein its author, Adam Sedia, brought to task Amanda Gorman and her inauguration poem, "The Hill We Climb."

Now, I watched the inauguration and, granted, inauguration poems have a tendency to be not very good. Such is the recent history of them. But even as she was reading it I was yet struck by just how really, really not very good Gorman's verse was. It was terrible. Remarkably so. Laugh out loud so. And I thought, in the days after, when transcripts became available online, to do a post here about just how not at all good "The Hill We Climb" is. But, to be honest, it seemed to me a little too easy a target. Fish in a barrel, and that. And when something is that bad, it is hard not to come off as vicious. It would not, after all, be merely pointing out a flaw here, a weakness there. To speak about "The Hill We Climb" would be to say, quite bluntly, "This is wholly awful stuff and the lot of it should be tossed in the bin," and without kindly amelioration (for such would be mostly impossible). So I let it pass.

So why take it up now? Well, three reasons. First, there are some things in Sedia's post that I would like to give word to on their own, even if briefly. Second, perhaps he does not do so well a job at showing just how bad "The Hill We Climb" is, and for that it opens the door to many of the comments defending "Hill." So, third, perhaps it is worth, after all, giving a line-by-line demonstration of just how bad the verse is. Of course, one need only look at the inanity of those comments that follow Sedia's post to know however the proof, some people will still blindly defend the verse. Yet, by looking that those comments, you get a decent showing of just how ridiculous and grossly fallacious those defenses can be. But maybe a line-by-line would end most of those.

And, if may add a fourth, perhaps a show of solidarity is merited.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

C.K. Stead and "Eliot's 'Dark Embryo'"

It’s been a while since a post. I’ve been working diligently (if not a touch obsessively) on another project, and have been unwilling to take breaks in it to work on posts for here, because these posts can occupy my mind for a week before appearing on the blog. But I’m a little stuck in the other project, so thinking something different for a moment is not such a bad thing.

It is my thought to start permitting more posts, if not frequently. I’ve a small list of possible topics to work on; and I wouldn’t be surprised if the discussions that prompted this post don’t prompt more. We’ll see.



verse vs. poetry


This is an essay I have been sitting on for quite a while – wholly unwritten except for the occasional expeditionary jot on a yellow pad (pages quickly abandoned), myself being unsure of where to go with it – since my re-reading a while ago of C.K. Stead's two books on Modernist poetry, The New Poetic: Yeats to Eliot (1964) and Pound, Yeats, Eliot and the Modernist Movement (1986). (Both of which I greatly recommend.) In the latter I came across again a moment in criticism that is a favorite of mine.

There is in Western European civilization a large minority of sensitive, intelligent, and usually productive people whose lives are given shape, order, meaning, a sense of elevation and a certainty of purpose, by their pursuit of the best in music, painting, literature and film. These works of art, it is hardly too much to say, are their religious texts, their shrines and their chapels, their sources of enlightenment, order and hope; and for half a century, far more consistently than any one poem or group of poems by Yeats, The Waste Land has been one such text. It has been so because it is a superbly rich composition, rich in fine writing, varied in feeling, moving, not as the conventions of communication require, but as the mind moves, from image to idea, from perception to feeling, from revulsion to exultation, from love to disgust, at every point occupying that foreshore between subjective and objective which since the Romantic revolution has been the exclusive property of poetic discourse, but engaging the reader so that his too is the imagining mind, he too participates in the act of creation. Academics like to deal with Yeats because it is possible to tell students in abstract what he is saying, what he means. It is almost impossible to "teach" a Modernist poem because if it is not misrepresented (as for so long The Waste Land was) it is hardly possible to say more than "Here is the territory – plunge in, experience it, and report back." (165-66)

As gestured toward in the quotation and in the full context of the book – of both books, and the later is in a sense a continuation of the earlier – the reason for the elevated stature of The Waste Land is not merely in that it is in some objective way "better" than other verse, but in that it is fundamentally different from most other verse. It acts differently on the receptive reader.

Within the context of this blog, that difference is obvious: The Waste Land is in the terms I use of the modality of the aesthetic; it lies on Barfield's spiritual spectrum to the side of the poetic (as opposed to the prosaic); in Eliot's own terms, it is what he calls true poetry.

What I want to do is to take a moment and look at Stead's examination of Eliot's view of what constitutes true poetry and – more importantly to the moment – of how it is made. To do that, I will move to Stead's earlier The New Poetic. I am working out of the chapter "Eliot's 'Dark Embryo,'" and in that I am mostly just relaying Stead's presentation, this is almost entirely Stead's argument and effort. I'm merely rearranging it to suit my own purposes. (Unless otherwise stated, all quotations are of Stead.)

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Knossian Oracles – Yours Truly

If I may take a moment to talk about something I made.

Let me introduce The Knossian Oracles. It is a verse book, one written over a number of years, that I have now brought out for the world to see. I tried for a couple of years to get it published the normal way, but to no luck. (Something not unexpected: for example, its size eliminates most presses right off the bat.) So I self-published through CreateSpace, and put the whole of it online for anyone to read. And that is the point, no? Readers?

What is The Knossian Oracles? Here is the description I am using on the Amazon page:


The Knossian Oracles is a journey in the traditions of myth and magic; in the erotic; in literary fantasy; and in poetic invention. Its themes rest heavily in the esoteric: from alchemy to mysticism, to traditions of witchcraft and the occult, and to myth, tapping many sources, but especially the tales of Daedalus and Pasiphäe, Theseus and Ariadne. However, while the book is woven from literary fantasy, the thread that unifies it is the characters of a contemporary man and woman. Through those characters and their many incarnations, The Knossian Oracles explores (what may be) its central theme: the hieros gamos, the union of the eternal masculine and eternal feminine. As an erotic work it takes up in words what is an important theme in the plastic arts: the female form. And it is not false to call The Knossian Oracles a meditation on beauty. Some may even say it is best described as a love poem in long form, though that may be putting to the fore what is an inevitable current within all the previous. Though, with The Knossian Oracles, how can you begin to distinguish what in the above is current and what is river?

While The Knossian Oracles is constituted of eighty-three “fragments” plus the seven part poem that brings the work to a close, it has development and progression, scenes and characters. It is not, however, a novel-in-verse: it does not have a plot as found in a novel, nor is it uniform in style. The fragments vary greatly, from the formal to the experimental, from the lyrical to the narrative, from the very brief to the somewhat long. Creating a unity of these stylistically disparate and thematically ranging parts is one of the endeavors of the work. This is not a collection of verse. It is a book. And a book like none other.


It's a good description. I think it serves its purpose well. If you would like more information on the book, including something of an artist's statement, you can find it on the "About The Knossian Oracles" page [link] on my website. If you would like to go directly to the text and see what it is for yourself, then here is the first page [link].

It's a large book, as I said. There's much to peruse and explore. Fragment 29 is a gathering of witches in a wood. Fragment 64 gives us Pasiphäe after her meeting with the bull. Fragment 79 is a creation story of one type; fragment 15 is one of another. Fragment 43 brings the Song of Inanna to a living room couch. Fragment 35 brings William S. Burroughs to the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Fragment 27 is a meeting with the Sphinx. Fragment 55 with a spirit cat. If you read anything of it, read the closing section, And the Light Falls, Remir. It is the climax and perhaps the high point of the book. Though, keep in the mind the Oracles is, as said in the description, a book and not a collection, so not every fragment works on its own; and the greatest value is found when it is read as a whole. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy it however you venture into it. Feel free to drop a line if you do.


Those links again:
     To: the "About" page
     To: the Title page