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
A Twisty Look at EnsoulmentReview: Catherynne M. Valente, Radiance
Thoughts on Fantastic BeastsReview: Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter


Monday, April 11, 2022

Amanda Gorman, "The Hill We Climb"

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 poets.org 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

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Update

It's been five months about since my last post. I've been very preoccupied by a large project that not only takes up all my time but also keeps my attentions and thought elsewhere. In truth, I've hardly been reading outside the project so there hasn't been much prompting toward new posts. So, for the time being, we'll consider the blog here on hiatus. I'll post if I happen upon something interesting to post; but I won't be actively searching for subject matter.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

"A Bushel and a Peck"

Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser

 

two somethings worth two moments' thought

 

Something short; well, two somethings short, that have caught my mind recently, both about the lyrics to "A Bushel and a Peck."

The song is originally from the Broadway show Guys and Dolls. It is also a single by Doris Day, which is the version you presently here on television in a State Farm commercial. (Here's a Youtube of the song [link].)

 

My first thing:

The song plays with repeating phrases, with the repeated phrases opening up a new line. The commercial uses the second verse so I will too.

I love you a bushel and a peck
A bushel and a peck though you make my heart a wreck
Make my heart a wreck and you make my life a mess
Make my life a mess, yes a mess of happiness

The question that always popped into my mind: what would happen, if anything, if I broke the lines up?

I love you
A bushel and a peck
A bushel and a peck
Though you make my heart a wreck
Make my heart a wreck
And you make my life a mess
Make my life a mess,
Yes a mess of happiness

It might take some reading aloud to be able to read it without the music. For me there is a shift: the repeated lines now connect backwards instead of forwards. That is, where in the long lines the second "A bushel and a peck" is connected to "though you make my heart a wreck" (and it works whether its with the music or not), with the lines broken the second "A bushel and a peck" connects backwards, to the first use of the phrase. The second instance becomes an echo where before it was a leading in.

It's a little thing, but I find it interesting.

 

Second thing:

A bushel is only eight dry gallons, and a peck but two. So the song is saying the speaker loves the target of the song only as much as ten dry gallons. (Wikipedia tells me that a dry measure is about sixteen percent larger than its wet equivalent.)

That's not all that large an amount, really. Not when one might say "I love you tons." Yet the song works. Why? (Or maybe it no longer works for you now that you know just how big the measure is?) I believe the song works because it is not dependent on just how much the actual measure of a bushel and a peck is. Rather, the phrase "a bushel and a peck" is used merely as a lead in to other, greater things, like a life being a mess. A bushel and a peck must be representative of a lot if it is measured against a wrecked heart and a messed up life.

I find that interesting. The verse did not need to commit to large amounts to speak large amounts. It could use something relatively small, but a something that connects – through the aural play – to larger things.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

"Orgy" by Muriel Rukeyser

From The Speed of Darkness (1968) as found in Collected Poems (2005)

"Orgy" is found on PoemHunter.com [link], but there is an error in the text there (see below)
 

First lines:
There were three of them that night.
They wanted it to happen in the first woman's room.

 

a reading of poetic eroticism

 

Taking a look this time at Muriel Rukeyser's "Orgy," presenting a reading of the verse.

But first a word first about Rukeyser's work in general. I purchased her Collected Poems two years ago, not because of any previous familiarity with Rukeyser but almost entirely on repeatedly coming across "you should know this person's work" mentions, and seeing a verse of hers (which I always enjoyed) here and there. Before purchasing the book I had read far more about her than by her. I'm not going to say I read through the whole of it one sitting. (It's a big book.) I still haven't read through it all, even after many sittings. But then it is normal for me with new collecteds to read at best half at first purchase (that half not necessarily being the first half) and saving the rest for future visits. I actually think it's a poor habit – at least for me – to read a large collected straight through. A collected is (usually) a gathering of multiple volumes, and when I read it through the latter parts of the book begin to loose the freshness of the first sections: that certain 'freshness' that can exist even at the tenth time of re-reading a book, if you but come to it clear of mind.

I am going to say, however, that you should know Rukeyser's work. It did not take much reading for me to be convinced of her talent, her skill, and her sophistication. After reading a decent chunk of the book – and I did a lot of hopping around, looking up texts I found mentioned online – I was ready to set Rukeyser on my very short list of major U.S., twentieth-century poets. Nothing I have read since has given me reason to bump her from that spot, and my confidence in keeping her there has only grown.

So I will pass it on to you: if you are serious about verse (about the best of U.S. poetry) you should know Muriel Rukeyser. Odds on, you will do far better spending money on her collected than you will on three or five or fifteen contemporary books.