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

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

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"Epic" by Ange Mlinko -- Poetry Magazine (December 2013)

poem found here

first lines:
It’s you I’d like to see Greece again with
You I’d like to take to bed of cyclamen


more is not better; ergo, the few are not the best

– 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

Those of you who read this blog probably already know (and for those of you who do not I will be up front about) that I have little respect for Poetry Magazine. Nor, for that matter, for most (if not nearly all) of the major poetry journals. That is because for all their posturing, they mostly fill themselves with generic, banal, and, far too often, plainly bad poetry -- but poetry which fits nicely and neatly into the category of pop. Poetry most of all, for it has become a serial issuing of poppoetry, and it should -- beyond all the others -- know better. Usually I can go through the newest issue on-line and point out with each poem the pop hook that got it past editorship despite the poem's many shortcomings. And, it does not take too critical a look at the magazine's web face to see that the magazine has become mostly a shill for the poppoetry/pop-culture-studies industries. (Just as Rolling Stone is now little more than such for the music/entertainment industries.)

However, the magazine does deserve one moment of pause in its defense.

Looking through the Poetry Magazine site, in the editorial statement by the new-ish (2011) editor, Don Share ("To Our Readers">, I see that the magazine gets upwards of "120,000 poems a year."

How, ever, could that statement be taken as a banner of excellence? How could any magazine that wades through 10,000 poems a month at all be able to succeed as a magazine seeking to print "indispensible reading" (as the 'About' page states)? One might think that such a large submission pool offers the magazine the ability to truly find exceptional writing. The reality of it, however, is that by permitting such an inundation, they decimate that very possibility, and nearly assure that they will be publishing quite the opposite.

How? Primarily in that the sheer numbers involved necessitate one or both of two editorial realities: (1) either they must have a large number of first-line readers, or (2) the individual readers must face a massive number of poems. Neither result is a positive. The issue with the second should be obvious: inundate a person with a thousand submissions and they will become numb to what they are reading. (Watch J.J. Abrams all day and you will start to think the Die Hard movies are really good.) Also, the time constraints create a situation where the readers cannot possibly approach each poem with a honestly critical eye. Considering aesthetic poetry usually takes far more effort than conventional poetry, you see the results. The readers start noticing hooks rather than poetics.

As for the first, a broad distribution of editorial labor means that your first-line readers are going to be your weakest readers: those least able to spot the wheat in the chaff, and, more importantly, those most likely to promote pop poetry: i.e., those most likely to pass a poem up the editorial ladder not because of its creative energies but because of is conventionality. It destroys the magazine's sophistication at the start, in an process that has no means of correcting it: the whole point of the distribution of labor is to lighten the load on the upper echelons, to leave to them the final decisions only. They are not going to go back through the piles to check to see if what was handed them is, indeed, the best to be found. They are simply going to accept it as such.

(This is why I generally have little interest in journals edited by university students: most of the time, the people who are working through the submissions are the people most entrenched in pop poetics. And those people are by definition the least capable of spotting the truly creative, because the truly creative is the least conventional.[FN])

[FN] Which does not mean there is no place in poetry for such magazines. Only, those magazines should recognize that they are not upper tier journals. They should not behave as such, nor expect to be recognized as such. Rather, they should use the freedom offered them by not being an upper tier journal to be creative in the magazine itself. For example, they can get away with things like issues devoted to somewhat limited ideas. For example: "The Spring issue of next year will be wholly devoted to fiction about alien abduction: humorous, serious, poetry, prose, photography -- let's see what you can do with that." The results will be spread about in terms of sophistication; but it has the positive service of opening up -- and energizing -- avenues of creativity and creative exploration not normally available.

So it should be no surprise that Poetry Magazine offers, month after month, little more than pop fare. Their practices -- their willingness to accept a reality of 10,000 submissions a month -- has to have sabotaged the magazine from the very start. How can there honestly be, in such a massive sample, any real possibility for the discovery and presentation of excellence, of "indispensible reading."


What to do about it? I can not help but think about the phrase learned in the economic crash and the profit gluttony that has followed: too big to fail means it has to be torn down. And 120,000 poems a year is definitely the label of a bloated sow. Of course, here, I am not saying Poetry Magazine should cease publication, but it should change its policies and procedures so as to make the idea of 120,000 a year a recognized issue, not a sign of success. Which is not to say they should find new means to successfully navigate the flood: the problem is the flood, not the issue of how to wade through it.

One possibility -- and I'm just going to throw out a couple of obvious ideas here -- is to have the magazine cycle through periods of editorial focus, to announce, "for the next five (or whatever) years, we will be heavily concentrating on X. Don't submit what does not apply." There are two benefits. First, it narrows the submission pool, obviously. But, second, since Poetry is so well established, it creates an atmosphere of mass exploration of poetics and poetry. Three or five (or whatever) years of absolute focus -- including web presence -- on a topic of poetics/aesthetics? Imagine the dialogue that could be created.

For that to escape pop poetry culture, however, such focusing would have to be on subjects of aesthetics and poetics. Topicality is pointless (as magazines such as something devoted to poetry about cats can demonstrate). Issues devoted to topicality (without a previously established focus on poetics/aesthetics) only generates a larger pool, because the focus is on content, not on poetics/aesthetics. And pretty much anyone can write and submit a poem about cats. Political/cultural topicality does not solve the issue: just because your theme carries political resonance does not mean the poetry is not banal: themes like "transgender poetry" or "poetry of the inner city" gets the same results -- sophistication wise -- as "poetry about cats." (The quicker the culture of poetry will admit to that truth, the better off the culture of poetry will be.)

Another obvious solution is dividing up the magazine into different titles of different focuses: Poetry/Lyricism, Poetry/Narrative, Poetry/Form, Poetry/Translation as examples. (Of course, rejecting submission to one because it also fits in another would be counter productive.) The magazine could easily divide its web presence into such, and have the primary (print) masthead be the best of the best. What it offers is not only that the submission pool is divided up, but that the reading process is performed by people whose own poetic interests are focused on that narrowed field: hopefully that results in better eyes looking over the submissions. (A reader with a aesthetic stake in narrative poetry will make for a better reader than someone who just like poetry.)

In truth, I believe the greatest weakness of most poetry/lit journals are that they are too expansive in their coverage: in being so they have watered down their own editorial talents. If you narrow coverage, you narrow the selection pool and make first-line-reader decisions much easier. But also, you present to the writers a statement of purpose: we want to see excellence in this. Can you successfully pull it off?

Now, of course, as with every awards show, for such a challenge to work there has to be the possibility of wholesale rejection. And here we get to the third suggestion, one which really underlies every other possible option with magazines that claim to be -- or, even better, strive to be -- indispensible reading: Don't print it if it's not brilliant.

As quoted on the "About" page, the purpose of the "open door" policy of Poetry Magazine is as such:

May the great poet we are looking for never find it shut, or half-shut, against his ample genius!

I think the key word there is "genius": the purpose of the open door is so as not to miss excellence because of "where, by whom, or under what theory of art it is written." The point of the open door seems to me to say to the poets, "If you are willing to make the time and effort to write a brilliance like 'Prufrock' [one of Poetry's points of pride, and something would probably have no chance of being published today], then we will publish you."

But, if a magazine publishes conventional poetry, that intent and search for the "great poetry of genius" will get lost in the resulting flood. Publish only Prufrocks and Prufrocks will come your way. Publish velvet Elvises, and that is what you will get. And in far, far greater numbers.

Can you imagine an issue of a major magazine that had two poems in it?; that stated overtly, "out of 5,000 submissions, these are the only ones that were really worth publishing, that was not simply more of the same." Can you imagine if they wrote not the names of the people who they have published, but the names of the famous poets they rejected? And then prided themselves even more on the poets that came back with "oh, yeah? how about this!" and smacked one out of the park? Can you imagine a magazine that said (as so many do), "to be published in our pages means something," and then actually backed up the words with editorial actions?

Pipe dream, obviously. This is the U.S. of Mediocrity, where our major cultural awards are wholly subservient to the entertainment industry's bottom line. Where inaugural poems are at a level that invites drinking games. Where, if you are to believe the blurbs on the back, every third book of poetry published offers an experience of profound spirituality on the level of Faust or cultural insight on the level of Democracy in America.

When a poetry magazine fills its pages with what it has on hand, despite quality, it is doing a disservice to literature. That is because people read magazines as though they are printing the best of the best. People read Poetry Magazine thinking that they are reading the best poetry has to offer, which is not only not the case, it cannot be the case. The inevitable end result is a watering down of both the idea of excellence and the expectations for excellence, and an anchoring of the culture of poetry within mediocrity and pop. It leads us to accepting banality as excellence, conventionality as creativity.

Even beyond that, it creates a culture of poetry that offers bad poetry as examples of good poetics, conventionality as examples of creativity: it creates a school of creative writing whose exemplars need not hide their incompetency, because publishers of those exemplars are more than willing to ignore those incompetencies. Which tells the up and coming writers that they too can ignore incompetencies. Moreso, teaches new writers that brilliance is far easier attained than you might before have thought.

And I cannot help thinking about the Bridge of Death, and Sir Robin's enthusiatically shouted "That's Easy!"

Which leads us to today's poem, which is, if you go to the Poetry Magazine site for the newest (December) issue, the first poem on the table of contents page (here).

So, we've opened our magazine. It is the first page; it is the first poem. This time, however, let's read it differently. Let's read it without an assumption of excellence (of which there can be no real expectation). This time, read it against the grain, against the assertions of pop culture that "it is on the radio, so it must be good." Read it instead assuming, say, that the first line is an aural trainwreck. Read it instead assuming that the first stanza is laughably bad. Read it instead assuming that the poem as a whole is riddled with bad poetics and tone-deaf wording. Read it assuming that the poem's play is not clever poetics but cheap gimmickry. Read it looking for the poppoetry hooks that got it through the editorial process. Read it assuming that it is not a good poem, but something that is preying upon the fact that you are not sophisticated enough to see just how bad it is. Read it assuming that the magazine does not want a sophisticated readership, it wants a top-40 readership. Read it assuming that the poem wants you to write poems no better than it is, just as bad as it is, because then it will not need fear the comparison.

Read the poem with this expectation: prove to me you are as good as you claim, for I know most of the time that that is a lie.

Read the poem out of the natural conclusion of "120,000 poems a year": there is no way this could possibility an exceptional poem; there is every reason to believe that it is poppoetry, that it is probably mediocre at best, and that it probably got through the editorial process for reasons that have nothing to do with brilliant aesthetics or creative poetics.

When you read, demand that the poems show you they are worth reading. Where they do, you have found something to learn from. Where they do not, you very well may be wasting your time.

One of the interesting things I have noticed in reading the Poetry Daily and Verse Daily sites, in writing these posts, is that, when taken on the whole, poems that come from books tend to be better than poems that come from journals; even the prestigious ones. (Now, this an observance, not scientifically acquired data. But, one with which I am comfortable at the moment.) This does not suprise me: 120,000 poems a year makes for a poor magazine. That is the underlying truth of it. How could it possibly be otherwise?

So when pick up a Poetry Magazine, you should read its contents with this idea in mind:

My endeavor is to write better poetry than this.

That is all Poetry Magazine has to offer a poet who is striving for something beyond pop.


I want to add a note on the idea of "tiers" brought up in the footnote above. I believe one of the problems with poetry publishing in the U.S. is that they are all far too ecumenical, and yet so many of them still want to claim status as being a publisher of important poetry. A great number of Poetry Magazine's submissions would disappear if they simply took the stance of "We are an top-most tier journal. We only publish the best of the best." It would be a very interesting event if journals were to divide themselves into tiers, and expected from their submissions work of the level of their tier. There would be in the submissions itself a great deal of self-ordering. A poet that knows they are only of whatever degree of sophistication would not expect to be published in journals of higher tiers.

It would not be such a bad thing for the poets either; for they would know where to go to find journals that offered them something fruitful in their development; a journal that offered (perhaps in online presence) a place for dialogue at their level of exploration. Also, on the part of journals, it would prompt the end what to me is self-limited publication strategy: to go national. There needs to be more local journals: that is, that journals only reach out to their areas. Then writers of the region have journals that are interesting in their development. Does, say, Southern Review really have a stake in developing the liteary culture of its region if its eyes are all over the globe? Wouldn't it be better for both the journal and the region if they brought their eyes in?

I believe this to be a lesson learned in bookstores, both local and chain. The more a store interacts with its customer base, responds to the customer base, is developing the readership in its customer base, the more successful the store tends to be. Why does this not apply to literary journals?


  1. Poetry only published Prufrock because Pound hassled Munroe. The editor the august magazine not only left it on the desk but seems to have asked Pound to ask Eliot to rewrite the ending.
    they also published Dunning and gave him a prize for his verse much to Joyce and WIlliam C. WIlliams' bafflement.

    1. I had forgotten that bit of the story. Rather damning note in the middle of your blog post with:

      "Dear H.M.: No, most emphatically I will not ask Eliot to write down to any audience whatsoever. I dare say my instinct was sound enough when I volunteered to quit the magazine quietly about a year ago."

      Though, I'm not sure if that speaks more to the 'myth' of Poetry Magazine or to my own optimistic tendency to hope for the better possibility . . . . until proven otherwise.

      For convenience, I try to repost urls as links, so here it is:
      "Pound and the Publication of 'Prufrock'"

  2. Pound-Munroe was exactly what was in my mind, and a lot of the other stalwarts she published. Where is your Pound today?

    1. He's over there. I'll let him know you mentioned him.

      (*Looking about the room seeing if anyone gets the joke . . . . Nope.*)

  3. I think you made a lot of good points, but like Mr. Guilar already noted, Poetry Magazine never really was devoted wholly to the best 'aesthetic' poetry. Now, I think that's largely due to the fact that it's such a mainstream publication, which naturally binds it to the ethos of its time.

    Pound didn't have to merely 'hassle' Monroe - he literally forced it down her throat. From what I read, she was never really convinced of the poetic value of the work, and only ended up publishing it because Pound was such a big force in the literary world at the time. There aren't really any people that are equivalent to Pound today, sadly.

    I think your last point is really fantastic, though, especially in the light of how modernist poetry functioned in the early 1900s. A lot of the really, really excellent poetry came to be published in journals that had small circulations and were focused on very specific kinds of poetry. I'm thinking of magazines like "Blast" and "The Criterion", which had pretty short lives but managed to do amazing things during their brief lifespans.

    Probably what most annoys me is the prose at the end of the Poetry magazine, though. Something about it is so utterly insufferable to me. Maybe I'm just a boring reactionary, but the whole writing style I see there seems sickeningly self-indulgent, and perhaps even somewhat cliquish. Just the way that they italicize their words every other line is enough to turn me off to the writing.

    1. Like most everything else it seems to me that internet and the potential for gobal audiences has presented a crux in publishing. Though (and also with most everything else) I see the moment in lit mags as opportunity not for mere expansion of readership but of a re-understanding of the form. Let me say that again: the crux as it applies to lit mags is not negative, but positive. To prevent myself from wandering I'll go straight to conclusions: Might it be that it is revealing that the natural domain for print magazines -- and thus most profitable, both monetarily and culturally -- is regional? Make it available on-line, of course, but focus upon the region and developing a literary conversation within that region. In turn, might it be showing that internet is not merely new medium for the same thing (and, in fact, the mere transer from page to screen is a poor endeavor) but demands -- and more importantly offers -- an entirely new concept of the literary journal?

      The internet offers the potential for conversation without consideration of geography: which is not at all the same as opening up to a global market. Rather, the untapped potential is in creating magazines that focus in non-regional ways: that is, magazines that cannot exist within a geographical area simply because it would be too difficult to create a profitable enough readership. But I am not only talking about a mast-head and a "statement of purpose." I am talking about a redesign of the literary magazine such that it creates the atmosphere that one wants to create in the geographical market: that is, the situation where people in a coffee shop will (and are able to) both discuss the magazine and readily get their hands on the magazine -- specifically, get up out of the coffee shop chair, walk over to the bookstore/magazine rack and buy one.

      The potential for internet journals lies in creating a format not just for collecting poems, but talking about them in more than a superficial, "thumbs up in the comments" manner. Consider the idea of a magazine where submission of poetry also required submission of defense of the poems, and willingness on the part of the poet to engage what on-line dialogue that defense creates. The potential is for a journal that does not merely present poetry, but is a focus, a gathering point for the exchange of ideas, for the development of culture of literary sophistication. Rather like what the good list-servs (the ones that were hard to find) used to be like, only with greater pragmatic usefulness.

      Thanks for the comment, and the opportunity to take the ideas one step further. Took the opportunity there to posit potentials -- perhaps in a possible future. (Where did those 'p's come from?)

      (Just for a quick note on the essays, They usually read to me like puff pieces; feints at the intellectualism of an essay without the effort of intellect. Kind of like Christian Rock: music not good enough for the high wattage FM stations, but what with its subject matter it will play well on the AM dial. Which is not a universal with lit mags; but, it always seems to me those magazines committed to their essays rather make revealing contrast to those who are not.)

    2. I want to add a note on the idea of "defense of the poems" above. A conversation elsewhere pointed out the inadequacy of that phrase to the idea intended. My thought was to express the idea of doing something more than online journals merely being a place to which to submit poetry: the results of which, to me, usually appear to be little more than an electronic filing cabinet of submitted poetry. It strikes me odd to see a poet's CV, with poems published in ten or fifteen different magazines scattered about the internet and the U.S., if the globe. How exactly are you developing a readership, there? What the the odds that people in your immediate poetry community would ever see any of them if you were not pointing it out to them? How at all are those on-line magazines developing an identity, if every issue is a random collection of random people?

      Rather, what the internet offers is a place not for filing away poems, but a gateway to discussion. The possibility of somethng beyond "comments," something that utilizes not a moderator, but an editor. Something that offers a forum from writers who are actively exploring what can be created out of the written word, and which would give opportunity not only to present the current results of that exploration, but to open dialogue of that exploration with other writers and persons invested in language as a medium for aesthetic creation.

  4. Overall I agree with the assessment about the "insufferable" prose. There are exceptions - I've read essays by Clive James or Adam Kirsch wherein you find a respectable seriousness markedly in contrast with the rest - so much so that it's a wonder that they're appearing in the same publication. (But I see Poetry so rarely, I couldn't really tell you how it differs under Don Share from his predecessor.)

  5. I feel like I should focus on this. The whole of your response was very well-reasoned and thoughtful, of course, but this portion of what you wrote fascinated me the most. It’s an intriguing idea – having poets personally defend their work. Now, I’m fairly tired and have been slaving over schoolwork, so I apologize if I’m less than articulate in my response (And if there are some awkward sentences in here).

    I don’t think that having poets personally ‘defend’ their work will lead to the best poetry being published, or even to a discourse that would lead to a general improvement in the state of poetry. For almost every piece of poetry there can be an extensive debate over its ‘aesthetic’ value. While it’s undeniable that certain poems have more aesthetic value than other ones, having the choice be relegated to the ‘mob’ doesn’t really seem like the best way for good poetry to shine through. I’m also not sure if all poets would want to engage in something so active as defending their work. It’s important to remember that a lot of really great poets were hesitant to explain what their work –meant-, much less defend it. T.S Eliot, for example, was famously evasive in putting down a solid meaning of the Wasteland, even though it’s undoubtedly one of the greatest works of the 20th century.

    Another issue is that the defense offered for very strong poems would be the same defense as those offered for very strong poems. A lot of artists, whether they are very good or very bad, will ultimately defend their work by putting it into a subjective context where it can’t be judged. This is probably a weak defense of a poem no matter how strong of weak it is, but very strong works can be strong with a very weak defense.

    For me, the critic and the poet have to be distinguished, too. I think you probably draw a lot of influence from Eliot’s whole idea of the “poet-critic” (he’s probably the most famous of them!), but I’m personally more aligned with Frye in this regard. A poet shouldn’t have to be a critic – if they are, that’s great, but if they’re not, then they shouldn’t be forced to ‘defend’ their works. Poetry and criticism are two different faculties, after all.

    What would make more sense is to have some sort of outside critic defend the work. They could be a ‘presenter’ of the poem, with an accompanying essay. Personally, I’m still not convinced even this would create a good poetic environment. The best poetry doesn’t need ‘defense’ whatsoever, because its competition isn’t with critics, but instead with the great works of the past. (And yeah, I’m stealing this idea from Harold Bloom.)

    1. [Have to split this in two. Part 1:]

      First, I made a reply to one of my replies, above, that rather admits the phrase "defense of the poems" was poorly chosen, and hopefully clarifies it somewhat.

      Second, with your comment here I can expand my ideas (which is to say correct my ideas through expasion) in what may be an important area (clarification-wise): that is, coming out of this sentence of yours: "I don’t think that having poets personally ‘defend’ their work will lead to the best poetry being published, or even to a discourse that would lead to a general improvement in the state of poetry."

      I agree, loosely with the first part, in the sense, as you state it, poor poems can have a strong defense just as can strong poems. But what if you think of the idea of the forum a different way: the purpose of the forum is, primarily, to create a site of discourse, the submission of poems (and talk about the explorations that lead to the poem) is the material that is the basis of the discussions. If the purpose is the discussion over the poems themselves, than it is less important in the short run whether the poems published are always the best possible. Want is wanted by the editor is, rather, the poem-discussion combination that offers the best exploration of poetry and the aesthetic.

      But that's the short in. I disagree with both parts of your sentence when viewed in the long run. I think such a forum has the potential to create a movement toward both better poetry within the journal itself and a general improvement in the state of poetry. The former because if the forum succeeds, then it will be creating at forum whose very purpose is the exploration of the medium of poetry and the development of sophistication for those who read or participate in the forum. The whole purpose of participation would be the development of sophistication, which is to say, writing better work. The latter (a "general improvement") because the purpose of the forum is exactly to create that kind of developmental energies.

      But, I wholly believe that key to both is that it is not merely, in the nature of social media or a blog like this, an open forum. Nor can it be something in the manner of a moderated list-serv. It would have to be understood and operated in the manner of a both an edited journal, only one where the discussions that can take place in the "Letters to the Editor" sections of magazines can function as a tempo measured in days rather than in issues. (Indeed, where "issues" are measured by topic, not by time.) With an editor, there is not merely a person overlooking, there is a person (hopefully more than one) invested in generating the forum of conversation, and in controlling the conversation to the most productive ends.

    2. [Part 2:]

      And the above reads wholly like plotting out a future on-line journal. But it speaks equally to the basic ideas of a culture of poetry. Is the culture of poetry, as focused around something like Poetry Magazine really about the exploration of language as a medium for creating aesthetic objects? Or is it merely a place to submit poems (or essays) and have the tucked away in that particular filing cabinet? Is that culture of poetry invested in the exploration of language, or merely in being a part of the pop poetry machine (one that is concerned more with publication, position, and social standing than with poetics and the aesthetic)? It is well known that, historically, the most productive artists and thinkers (speaking in terms of their own development and sophistication) are those who are able to exist within a community of like artists and thinkers. (Vienna in the end of the 19th century, for example; or Paris, in the beginning of the 20th.) The idea I am presented, if in the langauge of the mechanics of a hypothetical journal, is really an appeal to that idea: the internet offers a brilliant opportunity for the creation of such communities without the participants having to pick up and move half way around the world.

      But, it would require (1) participants who are likewise invested in such a community, and (2) "editorship," as it were, that expends energies into making the forum function to its best. (Rather, perhaps, not unlike Gertrude Stein's involvement in the art and literary circles of Paris.) Such a community will need not a moderator, not a webmaster, but a facilitator. And, participant-wise, this is why the idea "outside moderator" is not an "incorrect" idea but a somewhat invalidated idea. Any voice by an outside critic becomes not pointless but less productive as soon as the writer says "really, though, I was trying to do X." Even with the posts I do here on this blog I know that I am limited in that a far more productive post would be an honest engagement with the writer what the writer was trying to do, and exploration of what other writers/readers see in the results. "Honest," there, meaning "with the intent of creating a discussion that can develop the sophistication of everyone involved": which means, first and foremost, participation on the part of the writer to that end (and participation of all to that end.)

      In a way, a forum like this that is very successful would create a second journal, which would be the ultimate results of the conversation: the formal presentation the results of the ongoing discussion. (That was poorly stated, because it does not speak the necessary recognition that the primary forum could very well become a site of "explorations in progress," things such as "this is a finished poem, but it is really a preliminary sketch to a different, greater project, and I would like to talk about whether what I am exploring in this poem is working."

      And that is many more words than I intended. Hopefully that corrects the errors in my language, and expands upon my thoughts in engagement with your own.

      Thanks for the continued exploration. (Obviously, in that I am correcting myself, it has been very helpful.)

  6. ""Consider the idea of a magazine where submission of poetry also required submission of defense of the poems, and willingness on the part of the poet to engage what on-line dialogue that defense creates. The potential is for a journal that does not merely present poetry, but is a focus, a gathering point for the exchange of ideas, for the development of culture of literary sophistication".

    I meant to quote that at the beginning of the post above!

  7. Thanks a lot for the response. There were a few things that I disagreed with, but by and large I agreed with the spirit of the post. It was a helpful clarification, too, and my own thinking was probably too narrowly focused around the word 'defense' and its connotations.

    Regardless, I look forward to being part of this continuing 'discourse' on this blog. I notice that you didn't really write about the poem that you quoted, so I think I'll just share my thoughts on it.

    To me, this poem seemed very -alluring-. Its alluring in the sense that you can really enjoy it, especially if you have a fondness for myth. It's the sort of poem that can be very pleasing for a person, especially an artist to read, but for me it feels sort of like 'cheap pleasure'. 'You know I nurse a certain myth about myself" reads like a sort of astrological fortune of sorts. That is, it's vague enough for us not to know what it really is, and general enough that it applies to almost everyone. The poem deals with history, after all, and this poem offers a very easy immersion in history.

    But when I prod deeper, I don't really see anything. For one, the phrasing is a bit awkward to me. "Cleaving to a Hellenic Mystique", for one. The poet is identifying herself with Greece in some way, but why is she -cleaving- toward it. It's too physical and somewhat artificial.

    This seems like a history poem that doesn't offer anything more than history. It's written in the sort of myth-making tradition that started with the modernists, but unlike them it seems like the OBJECT of the poem is to create the historical 'feeling', whereas for the modernists that was only a sort of 'tool' to write good poetry.

    The next stanza we see that the doors that opened to lovers 'pulled like tree roots from the darkness'. This is beautifully mythical too and has lots of connotations. As a reader one of my weaknesses is that I can get lost in this very, very quickly. But when you actually look at the poem from a more rational standpoint, you don't see why doors pull like 'tree roots' from the darkness - and how it's really related to the greater narrative of the poem.

    Now, I might be wrong, and might just not possess the capacity to properly understand this poem (especially given that I only read it over a few times). I'm interested in what you think.

    1. Since it would rather explode this replies column, and since I wanted to do something beyond mere "what do I think," I wrote it up as a post:


  8. To me, the poem posits a romantic vision - romantic in the sense of "Sleepless in Seattle", not in the sense of Shelly and Keats - that is hard to sustain: "Love we think is our due" (how the inversion helps here I'm not sure). Really, who is it speaking for?

    In an essay which foolishly remains behind a paywall, Mark Edmundson says poets will not say "we" "on any fundamental truth of human experience". I don't quite buy the premise, but this poem corroborates it: how different would be a poem saying, "We are hungry, we are poor."

    It doesn't seem to be so much about history as about vacationing.

    1. As stated in the reply to the previous note, I wrote it up as a post.

      And, here is the above url as a link: