UNREMARKABLE POETS.

Jeffrey H. Gray’s essay “Poets’ Puffery” is a standard-issue grouse about the hyping of everything that gets published as “one of the most original voices in contemporary American poetry” and the like (hey, no man cries “stinking fish”), but it has a nice excursus on disparaging references to earlier poets, irrelevant to his point but entertaining:

Nathaniel Evans (18th century) is “noted by most historians as a ‘fledgling versifier’ whose occasional verses were wholly ‘unremarkable.'” Elizabeth Akers Allen (19th century) “was considered a minor Victorian poet even by her contemporaries.” Her sentiments were “expressed competently, but with no attempt at innovation in style or content.” William Byrd’s (18th-century) “contribution to poetry is not at all significant.” Indeed, “he published merely a few short, uninteresting poems.”
In our present-day culture of inflation, such humble assessments are appealing. Faint praise is sometimes appropriate. Charles Henry Phelps’s “Love-Song” (1892), a political overture to Canada, makes a poor bid for immortality:

Why should we longer thus be vexed?
Consent, coy one, to be annexed.

But even William Cullen Bryant, surely a bright star of 19th-century poetry — the prodigy who, at 17, wrote “Thanatopsis” — is treated with disdain: “By the end of the 20th century, most critics pronounced him ‘minor’ when they took note of him at all.”
My own favorite entry, on Gertrude Bloede (19th century), sums up a poet’s bad dream of posterity: “Interest in her work, always limited, declined after her death.”

You can actually see a portrait of poor Gertrude here, along with a brief biographical sketch; she looks like she wouldn’t be a bit surprised by her posthumous reputation, or lack thereof. (Thanks, Paul!)


Incidentally, I had to read “Thanatopsis” in grade school; I’ll bet few of my readers can say that, and those who can are of my graying generation.

Comments

  1. Lately my favorite negative review of a poet is Edward Dahlberg’s judgement on e.e. cummings: “As for Cummings, I find him a tedious urchin and steet gamin of versification. I never liked him personally, because he is a shallowpate, with a little nose stuck up in the air like a puffed-up weasel of Parnassus.”

  2. A name like Blöde was surely a pretty severe handicap.
    More seriously, are we talking about consensus opinion here, or individual opinion? If you want harsh individual opinions of living poets, Ron Silliman, for example, will give you plenty (as I write, he’s excoriating Andrew Motion). I’m not sure how we could establish consensus contemporary opinion for 19thC poets (though I’ll admit the difficulty is less than for 20thC or the present).

  3. This post has me again in awe of how widely read Douglas Adams was. His whole “Paula Nance Millstone Jennings” piece makes even better reading now that I can see it as modelled on or inspired by, actual commentary on poets. Thanks, Hat!

  4. marie-lucie says:

    The incredible prolificity (?) of modern poets (50 books, 100 books, etc) surely has to do with the fact that most of these “books” are only a few pages long.
    I am not a literary critic by any means, and not a fan of poetry in general, but I am annoyed by the current type of criticism which seeks to fit every work of literature and even non-verbal arts into a sociological framework: “X addresses issues of gender, ethnicity, etc” as if the author of the work in question was doing so deliberately and that was a test of its worth. That a critic finds something to say about those social and intellectual issues as reflected more or less consciously in a given work is not the same as that the poet or other artist actually thinks in those intellectual terms and sets out to plan a poem or painting as if it were an article in a journal of sociology or other academic discipline.

  5. “Edward Dahlberg”
    Now there’s a name which has stopped ringing out across the literary field. As someone who loves the poetry of E. E. Cummings, I can’t but experience a bit of schadenfreude over that.

  6. A.J. P. Crown says:

    Yes, but isn’t it fun speculating on what might have caused Mr Dahlberg to feel so strongly about E.E.Cummings’s nose?

  7. J.W. Brewer says:

    Allow me to recommend the spectacular “The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse,” originally compiled circa 1930 by Wyndham Lewis and another guy and per Amazon apparently now back in print.

  8. Bill Walderman says:

    This neatly captures why so much contemporary American “poetry” is so, well, minor:
    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/feature.html?id=146880
    His summation of the genre is particularly on point:
    “…as a rule, isn’t poetry at all but prose arbitrarily broken into lines masquerading as poetry…anecdotal, wistful: more often than not a middle-aged creative writing instructor catching a whiff of mortality in the countryside—watching the geese head south, getting lost in the woods, this sort of thing”

  9. A.J. P. Crown says:

    For a moment there, I thought that contrary to all previous evidence Wyndham Lewis the strident Vorticist might have had a sense of humour, but I see this is one ‘D.B.’ Wyndham Lewis.

  10. I had to read “Thanatopsis” in high school, it was actually in our textbook…a sign of educational decline, or of more realistic expectations…?

  11. “Poet, whoe’er thou art, God damn thee; / Go hang thyself, and burn thy Mariamne.”
    “I am in the smallest room in my house. Your [work] is before me. Soon it will be behind me.”
    They don’t get much more disparaging than that.

  12. “…as a rule, isn’t poetry at all but prose arbitrarily broken into lines masquerading as poetry…
    Exactly as I find most of the poetry in the LRB (as I have boringly told LH many times !)

  13. An older edition of Gibbon’s Autobiography has a footnote with some verses by Hayley on the occasion of his birthday and the publication of the last three volumes of his magnum opus. In Dero A. Saunders’ version, a note says:

    It is here omitted, as comprising forty-two of the worst lines of verse in the English language.

  14. A.J. P. Crown says:

    I’ve never had reason to quote from an Amazon review before, but I like what David Bryson at Amazon uk says about The Stuffed Owl:

    The funniest things in the book are not so much the poems themselves as the commentaries. These are mainly the work of Wyndham Lewis and Lee, but there is some Olympian demolition by Macaulay of a certain Robert Montgomery (1807-1855) who specialised in obsequious piety. The anthologists themselves contribute a wonderful preface, the captions over the extracts, and, maybe best of all, the index. From this you can easily access, say, ‘Leeds, poetical aspects of’; or ‘Oysters, reason why they cannot be crossed in love’; or ‘Trains, rapture of catching’.

  15. …”writes from a postcolonial, diasporic aesthetic”…
    God, what an odious phrase.

  16. marie-lucie says:

    “The Stuffed Owl” must be the poetic pendant to “It was a Dark and Stormy Night”, except that the latter is not full of quotations but of specially written, original paragraphs.

  17. jamessal says:

    Exactly as I find most of the poetry in the LRB
    The LRB publishes John Burnside — does he do anything for you?

  18. mollymooly says:

    1. I just googled to try to confirm my suspicion that Spinal Tap was the first creative force to “fill a much-needed void”. Imagine my delight on finding that most uses are oblivious overnegated sincere praise.
    2. What was the last good poem to use the word “ere”?

  19. Allow me to recommend the spectacular “The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse”
    I second the recommendation—it’s one of the most enjoyable anthologies I know.

  20. J.W. Brewer says:

    I had not hitherto realized there were multiple Wyndham Lewises, so I have learned something today and am much obliged to AJPC + wikipedia. Maybe Vorticism isn’t as funny as I thought (or maybe it was only unintentionally so).

  21. I can’t help but notice that Gray’s piece stays away from making any comment that might be perceived as negative toward any specific living poet or group related to poetry. One does not become “a professor of English at Seton Hall University, author of Mastery’s End: Travel and Postwar American Poetry (University of Georgia Press, 2005), and editor of The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Poets and Poetry (Greenwood Press, 2006),” or publish in The Chronicle of Higher Education, by doing foolish things.
    As a reviewer, mainly of poetry, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to say “this is a pretty good book” without making the book look unattractive, underachieving compared to the revolutionary books others are reviewing. That I’ve had the degree of success I’ve had is surprising. As the rule, the contemporary reviewer survives inasmuch as he or she is a cheerleader for the home team or a writer of advertising copy.
    This is as true of the M.F.A. poetry world as of the Buffalo-centric post-modern school (to which Silliman belongs) or the local open-mic group. If a reviewer is going to pan a book, or poet, it must be associated with another team that threatens viability of the home team’s brand. One also never pans, or gives so low as a B+ grade, to someone who may ever conceivably sit or be well connected with a grant or hiring committee before which one might ever conceivably wish to make an appearance.

  22. David Marjanović says:

    so much contemporary American “poetry” is so, well, minor

    It could be worse. Much worse. I’m told 2/3 of contemporary German-language poets are in psychiatric treatment for depression; it certainly shows in their works!
    (The francophone ones, however, seem to be mostly cheerful.)

  23. It can get even worse than the Germans. During the time Gray was writing his essay, fully one-tenth of the entire population of Yiddish poets expired.

  24. What was the last good poem to use the word “ere”?

    The last bad poem with it was surely

         ‘Ere we go,
         ‘Ere we go,
         ‘Ere we go etc.
    ‘ere’s the Jungle Book:

    Ere Mor the Peacock flutters, ere the Monkey People cry,
    Ere Chil the Kite swoops down a furlong sheer,
    Through the Jungle very softly flits a shadow and a sigh–
    He is Fear, O Little Hunter, he is Fear!

    Farther back, Romeo and Juliet:

    The grey-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night,
    Chequering the eastern clouds with streaks of light,
    And flecked darkness like a drunkard reels
    From forth day’s path and Titan’s fiery wheels:
    Now, ere the sun advance his burning eye,
    The day to cheer and night’s dank dew to dry,
    I must up-fill this osier cage of ours
    With baleful weeds and precious-juiced flowers.
    The earth that’s nature’s mother is her tomb;
    What is her burying grave that is her womb,
    And from her womb children of divers kind
    We sucking on her natural bosom find,
    Many for many virtues excellent,
    None but for some and yet all different.

  25. rootlesscosmo says:

    Another enthusiastic admirer of The Stuffed Owl here. Unlike some collections, it concentrates on writing by respected, famous writers, who had serious, not satiric, intentions; the title is from Wordsworth, who is represented by more selections than anyone else in the Author Index. (The Subject Index is a joy in itself.) Here’s how Lewis (not the Vorticist) and his co-editor, Charles Lee, explain their methods:
    “Bad Verse has its canons, like Good Verse. There is bad Bad Verse and good Bad Verse. It has been the constant preoccupation of the compilers to include in this book chiefly good Bad Verse… good Bad Verse is grammatical, it is constructed according to the Rubrics, its rhythms, rimes, and metres are impeccable. A rough illustration of the distinction will readily occur. Bad Bad Verse is a strong but inexperienced female child doggedly attacking Debussy’s *Fêtes* in a remote provincial suburb on a hire-payment pianoforte from the Swiftsure Furnishing Stores. Good Bad Verse is Rummel or Lamond executing *Warblings at Eve* at Queen’s Hall on a Bechstein concert-grand.”

  26. As an enthusiastic admirer, perhaps you could explain the relevance of the word “female” in the passage you quote….

  27. A name like Blöde was surely a pretty severe handicap.

    No, blöde had various meanings 150 and more years ago, including “shy” as well as “short-sighted”. I just read Effi Briest, where I noticed the following in chapter 1:

    Die dritte junge Dame war Hulda Niemeyer, Pastor Niemeyers einziges Kind; sie war damenhafter als die beiden anderen, dafür aber langweilig und eingebildet, eine lymphatische Blondine, mit etwas vorspringenden, blöden Augen, die trotzdem beständig nach was zu suchen schienen, weshalb denn auch Klitzing von den Husaren gesagt hatte: »Sieht sie nicht aus, als erwarte sie jeden Augenblick den Engel Gabriel?«

  28. I suspect that a strong but inexperienced male child usually has better things to do than doggedly attack Debussy’s *Fêtes* in a remote provincial suburb on a hire-payment pianoforte from the Swiftsure Furnishing Stores. Often, one of those things will be to prey on the strong but inexperienced female children in the vicinity.

  29. It’s a pretty comprehensive appeal to prejudice, really — bad because provincial, feminine and poor.
    I originally meant to link to Grimm — not sure the broader older meanings of the word are any more auspicious for poetry.

  30. marie-lucie says:

    a strong … female child …
    There was a time when most children learning the piano were female (I think this is still the case now). There were families in which boys were expected to go out and start earning a living at fourteen or so while girls were staying home and learning “ladylike” skills, one of which was the piano if the parents could afford it. On social occasions before the advent of mechanical music (piano rolls, or recordings) it was more likely that a girl or woman would accompany a male singer on the piano, rather than the opposite. At least this is how it appears from reading nineteenth century literature.

  31. There is no “appeal to prejudice” where contemporary attitudes simply appear as what they are (were then). Otherwise, you would have to convict yourself of appealing to a modern prejudice against “prejudice”. You sell the past short when you insist on looking at it as an underdeveloped, ignorant version of the present. How would you rate your righteousness without that foil of “the prejudiced past” to set it off against?

  32. There was a time when most children learning the piano were female (I think this is still the case now).
    My brother and I were equally lucky in this regard. In our little town somewhere to the west of Lake Wobegon there were roughly equal numbers of male and female students of music, whether in private classes or later in high school. The piano teachers were all female; there was an occasional male guitar or organ teacher. School attendance was required until the age of 16; it was totally unthinkable that anyone would not continue until the age of 18 and complete high school.

  33. marie-lucie says:

    Nijma, were the various instruments studied in roughly equal numbers by boys and girls? and why do you think the piano teachers were all female, while the male musicians were not only in shorter supply but taught other instruments?

  34. scarabaeus says:

    poetry be like vino, like ‘wot’ thee like, discard the rest.
    or be like Horace ” Ars Poetica 455, flee a versifying poet.
    Vesanum poetam qui sapiunt fugiunt.
    or read Martial on poet Critics.
    Epigrammata I 91

  35. You sell the past short when you insist on looking at it as an underdeveloped, ignorant version of the present.
    Oh, whew, now I feel so much better about genocide, slavery, the hardware collection in the tower of London, all that stuff that the unenlightened sniffers of ethics consider to be icky. It’s just so much work to put value judgments on stuff from the past.

  36. SnowLeopard says:
  37. were the various instruments studied in roughly equal numbers by boys and girls?
    There weren’t any hard and fast rules about this but in general the larger instruments were played by the boys, this would be mainly drums and brass, the girls ended up with flutes. The way this was determined was a prospective band member was given a flute and told how to produce a sound on it. If they could produce the sound they went to the flute section, if not the clarinet section. The clarinet section was the most mixed with girls having the edge but the boys had the edge in the saxophone section. I can’t remember how the strings ended up, for some reason they didn’t get as much practice time as the marching band.

  38. Oh, I forgot the question about the piano teachers. There were probably more male music teachers at the university level. I suspect everyone started with piano and then diverged to other instruments–you can look at a piano keyboard to get a visual reference of the notes, which helps with music theory. I suppose it’s the old story of the higher paid positions going to the males. Teaching piano in the home had to be very penny ante/pin money. In addition there was at the time a strong prejudice against women working outside the home, especially married women or women with children, so it was something women could do without leaving the house.

  39. i don’t know much poetry in English and poets
    song lyrics seem pretty enjoyable poetry
    official poetry, from what i read, leaves me kinda indifferent, perhaps it’s my limited English
    i liked to read e.e cummings and Auden

  40. Reflecting on the prejudiced past.
    I suppose it’s impossible to say what you yourself would have done if placed in some hypothetical historical situation with the potential for oppressing someone else. However there were plenty at the time who did not accept the social norms they found themselves in the midst of. (preposition alert!) What about John Wesley (http://camelsnose.wordpress.com/2008/11/23/john-wesleys-anti-slavery-broadside/), Quaker aboloitionist Anthony Benezet, or theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dietrich_Bonhoeffer)? I might add to that the son of a clergyman I know who let the photos of Abu Graib out into the public. Those difficult ethical choices are not all in the past.
    I don’t think it is at all out of place to recognize and point out the prejudices and assumptions in the attitudes of those writing in a different era. It is how we learn to distinguish ethical behaviour for ourselves.

  41. read: i don’t know much poetry in English
    My favorite poem by an American is Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken. I think a lot of the people who read LH have more literary tastes in poetry, but a lot of ordinary people like this one. Someone read it at my husband’s funeral.

  42. thank you, Nijma, i enjoyed to read the poem very much
    reminded me my own roads not taken, i always had like not many, but two options at the critical points of my life, it’s like every 3-6 yrs when i have to choose something, so worrisome
    sometimes wonder too what could have happened if i had chosen the other ways

  43. rootlesscosmo says:

    @VanceMaverick:
    I agree the quoted passage appeals to prejudice. Lewis and Lee (from the context) believed that the “strong…female child,” etc., was inherently funny, not least because girls are funny to a certain kind of sniggering public school Englishman; they likewise believed, as their ascription of one verse simply to “a Babu poet” shows, that “natives” were inherently funny, above all when they affected the arts proper to their imperial masters. (And I don’t think it’s “presentism” to charge L&L with these ugly views; they were, after all, contemporaries of Virginia Woolf and Motilal Nehru.) Despite this, I think the passage, which I posted, gives an account of what L&L flattered themselves they were doing, i.e. going after what they considered bigger game; they met this self-imposed standard inconsistently, but they did set it, and it explains why Wordsworth, Byron, and Leigh Hunt are represented by more examples than Eliza Moore, the Sweet Singer of Michigan.

  44. marie-lucie says:

    I guess they did not also include “Sarah Binks, the sweet songstress of Saskatchewan”.

  45. GWPAs a reviewer, mainly of poetry, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to say “this is a pretty good book” without making the book look unattractive, underachieving compared to the revolutionary books others are reviewing.
    I just received an email invitation to write online reviews for the ooze.com by a Michael Morrell–they are great admirers of my blog etc., and want to friend me on facebook (I’m not on facebook)(elsewhere I see they are fast approaching facebook’s 5000 friend limit). It’s unpaid of course, and what they get out of it is their own blog with content created by other people. But they send you free books to read as long as you keep posting occasional reviews. Hmm. The subjects are supposed to be science, philosophy, art, ecology, literature as well as theology, but when I look at their website it’s all theology. Bummer. Still, I seem to be addicted to writing. Maybe it would be a curious experience. Or maybe it would be a waste of time.
    Did I mention that I “don’t have to like the book” because “we love you for your honest blogging” or that they consider me to be a “top-tier blogger”? Amazing. (My technorati rank is all of 560,829, which I think means there must be more than half a million “top tier” bloggers).

  46. Read, if you like Robert Frost, two of his most popular poems are Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening and Mending Wall.

  47. Frost is also responsible for a famous definition of poetry particularly suited to this blog. It’s worth quoting a bit of Untermeyer’s lecture:

    “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is a poem that says much in little. It seems to say so much that it has been subjected to many interpretations and even more misinterpretations. The determined analysts and explicators in their hunt for double meanings have turned the homegoing man into a symbol of all men lost in the world. They have claimed that the woods represent the darkness of death, that the man’s momentary pause is a universal desire to withdraw from life with possible thoughts of suicide, that even the aimless little horse represents the kind of intelligence which, objecting to a man’s watching snowflakes, resents anything it cannot understand.

    Although Frost ignored—or pretended not to see—reviews and articles about his work, he spoke to me about an analysis of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” in which the sixteen little lines were subjected to pages of heavy-handed explication.

    “The trouble with this sort of criticism,” he said, “is that it analyzes itself—and the poem—to death. It first depersonalizes the idea, then it dehumanizes the emotion, finally it destroys whatever poetry is left in the poem. It assumes that criticism is not only an art but also a science; it acts as though poetry were written in order to be dissected and that its chief value is its offering a field-day for ambiguity-hunters. You’ve often heard me say—perhaps too often—that poetry is what is lost in translation. It is also what is lost in interpretation. That little poem means just what it says and it says what it means, nothing less but nothing more.”

  48. MMcM,
    When I was looking for a source for “Stopping by Woods” to link to, I happened on a critique of the poem that said,

    What appears to be “simple” is shown to be not really simple, what appears to be innocent not really innocent…. The poet is fascinated and lulled by the empty wastes of white and black. The repetition of “sleep” in the final two lines suggests that he may succumb to the influences that are at work. There is no reason to suppose that these influences are benignant. It is, after all, “the darkest evening of the year,” and the poet is alone “between the woods and frozen lake.” His one bond with the security and warmth of the “outer” world, the “little horse” who wants to be about his errand, is an unsure one. The ascription of “lovely” to this scene of desolate woods, effacing snow, and black night complicates rather than alleviates the mood when we consider how pervasive are the connotations of dangerous isolation and menacing death.

    “Dangerous isolation and menacing death”???? Did this person never see snow or what?
    I see now it was from 1959, but I had to flee from the website in terror. It was stuff like this that made me save my greatest creativity for devising a plan for how not to take English in my senior year in high school and forever after. The plan worked and I never looked back.

  49. Jamessal: I regret that I haven’t found any poetry yet in LRB that attracted me enough to remember the poet’s name – my Neanderthalism, I suppose.
    I do like DH Lawrence, e.e. cummings and Dylan Thomas, among others, so I’m perhaps not all bad, just old-fashioned (and grumpier than Grumbly Stu).

  50. s an enthusiastic admirer, perhaps you could explain the relevance of the word “female” in the passage you quote….
    I’m with Grumbly Stu on this: it’s a cheap thrill to go around sneering at the insufficiently progressive attitudes of our ancestors. Yes, there were people in every age who rejected the prevailing attitudes, some of them in ways we actually approve of, and good for them, but to hold them up as idols who supposedly prove that everyone in their day could have had the same progressive views if they’d only wanted to is (in my view) repellent priggishness. If someone gets a thrill out of reacting to mention of any premodern author by pointing out that they accepted slavery and the subjection of women and gay people, fine, but rejecting pretty much the entire cultural heritage of mankind to give yourself the warm feeling of righteousness strikes me as a poor tradeoff. (I realize you can read and reread Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and a few others.)
    And bear in mind that it is inevitable that our descendants will look back at us and point with disgust; who knows whether it will be because we weren’t all vegan or because we didn’t realize that vegetables feel pain or because we didn’t relieve the sufferings of the creatures under the seabed? Whatever it is, there will turn out to be a few people today who anticipated the correct point of view, and statues will be raised to them and the rest of us will be chastised for not having followed their example. Do as ye would be done by. To me it makes sense to fight injustices you see around you, that you can do something about, and give our ancestors a break. Plus it means you get to enjoy a lot of great art without feeling dirty.

  51. Take the start of this poem by Ruth Padel in the current LRB:
    At night the savannah comes to claim me.
    Thirty females and their calves
    in search of a leader. Shaggy manes
    down each nape. White cheeks
    and that dagger of kohl down the nose.
    Vibrissae, strands of black glass
    under a pure white chin. Nefertiti eyelashes,
    each aching hair standing proud
    from each whiffy pelt. That ready-to-flee gaze…
    Now as straight prose:
    At night the savannah comes to claim me. Thirty females and their calves in search of a leader. Shaggy manes down each nape. White cheeks and that dagger of kohl down the nose. Vibrissae, strands of black glass
    under a pure white chin. Nefertiti eyelashes, each aching hair standing proud from each whiffy pelt. That ready-to-flee gaze …
    I fail to see why the arbitrary line breaks turns it from “prose” to “poetry” – the staccato, incomplete sentences ? But then that’s common in prose. I guess it’s just my poetry-blindness.
    BTW, I find the descriptive very attractive, just not “poetry”.

  52. John Emerson says:

    There was a time when most children learning the piano were female

        Complainte des pianos qu’on entend dans les quartiers aisés
    Menez l’âme que les Lettres ont bien nourrie,
    Les pianos, les pianos, dans les quartiers aisés !
    Premiers soirs, sans pardessus, chaste flânerie,
    Aux complaintes des nerfs incompris ou brisés.

    Ces enfants, à quoi rêvent-elles,
    Dans les ennuis des ritournelles?

    “Préaux des soirs,
    Christs des dortoirs !

    “Tu t’en vas et tu nous laisses,
    Tu nous laiss’s et tu t’en vas,
    Défaire et refaire ses tresses,
    Broder d’éternels canevas. “

    Jolie ou vague ? triste ou sage ? encore pure ?
    Ô jours, tout m’est égal ? ou, monde, moi je veux ?
    Et si vierge, du moins, de la bonne blessure,
    Sachant quels gras couchants ont les plus blancs aveux ?

  53. John Emerson says:

    It still is normal for moderately prosperous families with some pretentions around here to teach their girls piano. It was regarded as rather doubtful if boys learned piano, as I did “Somethimes I wonder about you, John” (actual quote). Piano is oriented to accompanying singing especially church music, and some graduate to organ.
    The band was equal opportunity. When I wa sin band the lead trumpet and lead trombone and one of the tuba players were all ladies.
    The band was divided in two, regular band and swing band. Regular band was everyone, and the swing band was a spinoff for musicians belonging to the less conservative churches.

  54. John Emerson says:

    While Read has had only a few binary choices in her life, they all seem to be bigger than most of our choices: Mongolia -> Russia -> Japan -> U.S and maybe medicine -> poetry now.

  55. I had to work overtime to format that poem with my Hattic powers, but Laforgue deserves no less.

  56. John Emerson says:

    Nijma may be in agreement with me that, beyond snowy landscapes not being depressing, even more so bare winter trees aren’t depressing.
    With a little care you can easily find a grove of bare winter trees which are almost alll older than you and which will almost all outlive you. Trees are not victims of winter at all. They are images of resurrection, not death.
    Why the idea that trees will outlive me cheers me up, I don’t know, but it does.

  57. Thanks, Hat!

  58. SnowLeopard says:

    I was never aware of any gender bias in the assignment of musical instruments in school, though I played classical trumpet daily from age 10 through the end of law school (dipping back into it now), and took up piano partway through college. How everyone chose their instrument seems to have been the result of an individual and largely autonomous process. If there was bias, it was vastly overshadowed by the various cliques and rivalries between different sections of whatever band or orchestra I found myself in at the time. Fellow brass players were always friends and allies, and woodwinds often so, but string players almost never. Percussionists belonged to a fringe society all their own.

  59. John Emerson says:

    A topic worthy of a fuull post might be poetry anthologies. (There are some for whom the very idea of a poetry anthology is an abomination, but chief among them was the recently-discussed Laura Riding.)
    I recently bought Selden Rodman’s 1945 Anthology of modern poetry. This is the first poetry book I ever read on my own, and going through it I encountered 20-30 poems that stayed with me permanently. Lines like “Especially when the October wind / with fists of turnips punish the land” recur to me from time to time for no reason.
    Over the last few years I’ve also rebought the Oscar Williams anthologies, the Auden Medieval English anthologies, and a French Renaissance anthology I learned from 40+ years ago. It’s been very positive, with no feeling at all that tastes have improved since then. But I did not rebut Allan and Hall’s two programmatic / polemical anthologies from the fifties-sixties.
    More recently Carruth’s “The Voice that is great within us” has introduced me to five or ten poets I’d otherwise been unaware of. Rexroth’s “100 French Poems” also is an entirely new reading of French poetry than the one I’d seen assumed, one not dominated either by the Surrealists or their genteel enemies. E.G ., Jouve, Jammes, Lubicz-Milosz, Supervielle. Rexroth’s American Poetry of the Twentieth Century, which is quite even handed, also introduces many poets and praises others, e.g. Carl Sandburg, quite unexpectedly, and he anthologized contemporary British poetyr too.
    And then there were the little penguin anthologies in French, Spanish, German, and Italian…..

  60. John Emerson says:

    Jouve, Jammes, Lubicz-Milosz, Supervielle were poets unexpectedly featured by Rexroth, not genteel enemies of surrealism. And I didn’t rebuy anything, only rebought or did not rebuy things.
    Also, I’m posting on an alien comoputer which only uses IE and has the habit of highlighting randomly, though generally in optimally dissatisfying ways.

  61. marie-lucie says:

    SnowLeopard, I don’t know how old you may be, but at first I was referring to an older period, and specifically to the piano as a social marker (as in the French poem above), which it still is in many cases, especially for little girls. School bands are/were a different case as the instruments are taught within the school program. Bandmasters want players and often can’t be choosy, so they have been glad to accept either sex, especially for the less common instruments.
    I think the cliques and rivalries between the different types of instruments you refer to in your school band also exist in professional orchestras.

  62. John Emerson says:

    When I was in Taiwan in 1983, the piano for girls in newly-genteel phenomenon was in full force, and you could more or less reproduce the Laforgue experience walking through the upward-mobile neighborhoods.
    Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans were already playing a role in American classical music in 1968 when I briefly studied music, and increasingly ever since. I suspect that the impact would be much greater excpet that the dwindling classical music audience is mostly older people who’d like things to stay the same or return to the past, when we recruited our musicians from Odessa and Poland.

  63. jamessal says:

    I fail to see why the arbitrary line breaks turns it from “prose” to “poetry”
    I was resisting engaging this because a) Hat and I were just discussing it, b) you and I already have enough cause for throwing spears at each other (PRESCRIPTIVIST!!!!), and c) I admittedly haven’t been reading poetry nearly as long as most present; BUT! I still think your exercise of un-chopping the poem is pointless. Sure, because contemporary poetry has looser rules more people are trying their hands, turning out prose randomly chopped up into lines — Hat assures me the ratio of bad free verse to good is even higher than the ratio used to be of bad poetry overall to good, and I believe him — but so what? There are still great poets out there; why not pay attention to them instead of just being grumpy? Also, if your point was more narrow than that — if you were just casting a dubious eye on the powers of enjambment rather than grousing about contemporary poetry on the whole — then I submit this to your attention, a beautiful, chopped-to-all-hell free verse poem by Mark Strand, which would not work as prose:
    Shooting Whales
    When the shoals of plankton
    swarmed into St. Margaret’s Bay,
    turning the beaches pink,
    we saw from our place on the hill
    the sperm whales feeding,
    fouling the nets
    in their play,
    and breaching clean
    so the humps of their backs
    rose over the wide sea meadows.
    Day after day
    we waited inside
    for the rotting plankton to disappear.
    The smell stilled even the wind,
    and the oxen looked stunned,
    pulling hay on the slope
    of our hill.
    But the plankton kept coming in
    and the whales would not go.
    That’s when the shooting began.
    The fishermen got in their boats
    and went after the whales,
    and my father and uncle
    and we children, went too.
    The froth of our wake sank fast
    in the wind-shaken water.
    The whales surfaced close by.
    Their foreheads were huge,
    the doors of their faces were closed.
    Before sounding, they lifted
    their flukes into the air
    and brought them down hard.
    They beat the sea into foam,
    and the path that they made
    shone after them.
    Though I did not see their eyes,
    I imagined they were
    like the eyes of mourning,
    glazed with rheum,
    watching us, sweeping along
    under the darkening sheets of salt.
    When we cut our engine and waited
    for the whales to surface again,
    the sun was setting,
    turning the rock-strewn barrens a gaudy salmon.
    A cold wind flailed at our skin.
    When finally the sun went down
    and it seemed like the whales had gone,
    my uncle, no longer afraid,
    shot aimlessly into the sky.
    Three miles out
    in the rolling dark
    under the moon’s astonished eyes,
    our engine would not start
    and we headed home in the dinghy.
    And my father, hunched over the oars,
    brought us in. I watched him,
    rapt in his effort, rowing against the tide,
    his blonde hair glistening with salt.
    I saw the slick spillage of moonlight
    being blown over his shoulders,
    and the sea and spindrift
    suddenly silver.
    He did not speak the entire way.
    At midnight
    when I went to bed,
    I imagined the whales
    moving beneath me,
    sliding over the weed-covered hills of the deep;
    they knew where I was;
    they were luring me
    downward and downward
    into the murmurous
    waters of sleep.

    Also, two poems and a lovely memoir by John Burnside.

  64. Thank you, JE, for encouragement
    And miles to go before I sleep
    reminded me Lermontov’s podojdi nemnogo otdokhnesh i tu (wait a bit you’ll rest too)
    and from there my attempt of translation of our pop or more like enka song
    Blurring pagodas of blue mountains far away
    Bitter old world of departures and arrivals
    Truly, one would never get bored with you
    Rivers flow to the quiet rhythm of tears
    Years are flying harsh winter winds
    To meet and to leave the dearest one is our fate
    Life, its brief and bright dream, is a precious gift
    A mouthful of cold mountain stream
    One hardly sees destiny’s way.
    so i can understand the critic who interpreted the poem ‘menacing death’, but it’s not pessimistic, the poem i mean
    perhaps i like to read it that deadly coz i’m reading SB now and one of the latest choices i had to make was to go either here or Ireland, three yrs ago
    so far i’ve tried to translate only two pieces of poetry from my language

  65. downward and downward
    into the murmurous
    waters of sleep

    see?! it’s like a sign or something /(;)

  66. The core of poetry has always been meter; before rhyme or anything else the act of poetry is the arrangement of language with respect to rhythm. Free verse is not the abandonment of rhythm, it is merely the abandonment of fixed rhythmic structures. The great, virtuosic free verse like _Whales_ has as much metric complexity, play and arrangement as anyone could ask from any poem; but even more modest fare like the above Nefertiti poem still couldn’t be anything but verse. If absolutely nothing else, the line breaks turn the light of the aesthetic mood onto the words’ rhythmic structure, thus making an artistic object out of them.

  67. -est

  68. I’m sorry; that last line should read, ‘thus making an artistic object out of themest.’

  69. sorry, if i wanted to add i’d write +something
    the -est was referring to the word in my translation, dearest sounds kinda comical i thought, so corrected it to the dear one, please read the line like that

  70. SWFrance says:

    Excuse my pedestrian ignorance but how can an “aesthetic mood” shone light on objective rhythmic structure? Be the mood aesthetic or dyspeptic, the words will fall as they are written regardless of the cast of artistic shadows you may ascribe to them.
    If “free verse” is the abandonment of fixed rhythmic structures and the act of poetry is the arrangement of language with respect to rhythm where does that leave Strand’s “free verse poem”?

  71. A.J. P. Crown says:

    Why the idea that trees will outlive me cheers me up, I don’t know, but it does.
    It’s better than the alternative. I like trees in winter, too.
    contemporary British poetyr
    “Somethimes I wonder about you, John” (actual quote)
    I’m posting on an alien comoputer

    Stick with this computer, John. It’s giving you that bit extra.

  72. jamessal says:

    If “free verse” is the abandonment of fixed rhythmic structures and the act of poetry is the arrangement of language with respect to rhythm where does that leave Strand’s “free verse poem”?
    Bad syllogism! Bad Syllogism! Because: “Arranging language with respect to rhythm” is not synonymous with “writing within the confines of fixed rhythmic structures.”

  73. I’m coming back to this late, but I’d like to defend my snipe at the Stuffed Owl. I’m not interested in condemning the authors or their time for their prejudices (indeed, they may personally have been above reproach). But I do think that passage appeals to prejudice — specifically, it expects that we will laugh at the activities of the female, provincial and poor for that reason — and I think that’s bad writing.

  74. SWFrance says:

    Bad association! Bad association! Let me refresh your memory, what was written earlier “free verse is the abandonment of fixed rythmic structures”. Next thing you’re going to tell us that Strand was “writing within the confines of fixed rhythmic structure” I suppose? Chop-it-all-to-hell if you wish but it still looks more like free verse paraffin than poetic ambergris.

  75. Jamessal : No spears, no spears …
    … and Z.D. Smith, thank you both for the explanations. “Whales” is marvellous reading, but I think I must have an irredeemably tin ear and am condemned to continue enjoying such works on a different level.

  76. Bill Walderman says:

    “where does that leave Strand’s ‘free verse poem’?”
    The Strand poem is actually very metrical, even if the lengths of the lines are not fixed. There are even a couple of classical dactylic hexameters. And the irregular lines and stanzas are perfectly constructed. Jamessal, thanks for sharing it!
    The best free verse, the Strand poem, for example, is highly structured metrically and otherwise. FREE VERSE IS NOT FREE. Maybe that would make a good bumper sticker for F-350s with big tires, gun racks and NRA insignia.

  77. A.J. P. Crown says:

    Come on Paul, you’ll like this. i had it on a calender once, during the Eighties. From ‘Two Tramps in Mud Time’, this is my favourite bit of Robert Frost.
    The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
    You know how it is with an April day
    When the sun is out and the wind is still,
    You’re one month on in the middle of May.
    But if you so much as dare to speak,
    A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
    A wind comes off a frozen peak,
    And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

  78. jamessal says:

    SWFrance: Forgive me, but this is the argument I thought you were making:
    Major premise: “poetry is the arrangement of language with respect to rhythm”
    Minor premise: “free verse is the abandonment of fixed rhythmic structures”
    Conclusion: because “Shooting Whales” is free verse it can’t be poetry.
    “Bad Syllogism!” I declared (jokingly), not because Strand’s poem was written according to fixed rhythmic structures but because: “arranging language with respect to rhythm is not synonymous with writing within the confines of fixed rhythmic structures.” In other words, I don’t think poetry can be defined so narrowly.
    I’m sorry you don’t like Strand’s poem.

  79. jamessal says:

    Jamessal, thanks for sharing it!
    My pleasure. Really. I’m absolutely crazy about him.
    I’m gonna scan it now for those dactylic hexameters.
    Paul: I’m glad you enjoyed it, even if on a different level.

  80. jamessal says:

    And why the hell do I keep capitalizing “syllogism”?

  81. A.J. P. Crown says:

    Vance, prejudice that expects you to laugh at the activities of the female, provincial and poor is not “bad writing”. That’s like condemning Hitler for his hairstyle and bad breath. You’re mixing two things up. However, it is a very characteristic comment of our time, which, ironically, is something you don’t care about.

  82. I too read Thanatopsis in school — high school. For some perverse reason I memorized the first sentence even though the school didn’t require it. Decades later, the Washington Post “Invitational,” a weekly humorous puzzle contest, conducted a variant of the Bulwer-Lytton contest. Rather than a really awful first sentence of a novel, they sought first sentences of poems. Invented, of course, like the B-L sentences. I sent in three or so of my own, which sank without a trace, but also threw in the opening of Thanatopsis, identifying its source. Imagine my surprise when they published it as “so bad we have to publish it even though it’s not original.” I still have the (really ugly) t-shirt I won for it.

  83. jamessal says:

    Totally off-topic, but Robin just sent me this link — http://academicearth.org/ — sort of a cross between TedTalks and The Teaching Company.

  84. SWFrance says:

    Free verse is not free AND IT ISN’T EVEN POETRY would be better. “Otherwise” highly structured, you’ll have to do better in the way of evidence than that? The irony being that more of those NRA types will recognize and appreciate good poetry OR free verse than the reductivist bogey-men proferers amongst much of the soi-disant literati.

  85. SWFrance says:

    By the way, I do like Strand’s versifying. It would make a great oversize illustrated kid’s book. It has all the pathos, imagery, first-person centric, reader friendly, ecologically correct thematics that parents love to recount to their progeny. I just wouldn’t term it “poetry”.

  86. J.W. Brewer says:

    As the thread’s original Stuffed Owl proponent, let me address Vance’s restated snipe. Setting aside the anachronistic feminist critique, it’s probably fair to say to say the piano-player passage is designed to appeal to a reader’s elitism, snobbery, and/or capacity to derive amusement from the shortcomings and blunders of people who are sincerely trying to do their best. But if you are so saintly as to lack any of those unappealing qualities, you frankly won’t enjoy reading the Stuffed Owl. Hmmm. Maybe I should refrain from rereading it during Lent.

  87. Hmm, Hat accuses me of indulging the “cheap thrill” of “sneering at the insufficiently progressive attitudes of our ancestors”, and AJP finds that I don’t sneer enough. Can’t win, I guess….

  88. AJP: Now that’s poetry. It has a rhythm which I associate with poetry and don’t find in, for example, Whales. Oh, and of course, it rhymes !

  89. A.J. P. Crown says:

    If you want to win, you should sneer at contemporary attitudes not at past ones. It’s a lot more fun, but a lot more complicated — partly because you don’t know how it’s going to turn out.

  90. Bill Walderman says:

    I take back the comment about a couple of hexameters. But “turning the rock-strewn barrens a gaudy salmon” and “sliding over the weed-covered hills of the deep” come close.

  91. Debussy’s *Fêtes* on the piano? I don’t think any child – male or female, provincial or metropolitan – is going to get very far with that – unless they have four hands.

  92. Sneering at contemporary attitudes is valuable, of course. But I like reading old texts too. And “attitudes”, ours, the writers’, and the texts’, are part of how we interact with them.

  93. A.J. P. Crown says:

    I’m glad you liked it, Paul. On the other hand, I do love the Whale one too — the big hurdle for me was the title, because I categorize writers partly by their attitude to whales (I love WH Auden and I hate Herman Melville) — a lot of poetry is similar to music: you may not like it the first time, but when you get used to hearing it you notice more things you enjoy.

  94. …partly because you don’t know how it’s going to turn out.
    You might end up getting shot by both sides too. Look at Mozart’s ”Cosí fan tutte”, despised by the Victorians (and Beethoven) for its “indecency and lack of high-mindedness” and attacked by modern feminists for its “sexist attitudes” (and, IIRC, censored in the interim by the Nazis because its librettist was a Jew).

  95. John Emerson says:

    Whales are really beastly to squid. I say, exterminate the brutes.

  96. A.J. P. Crown says:

    I didn’t say don’t read old texts. It’s just that you ought to remember that you’re reading them now and not back then. If I look at Nazi propaganda I interact with it by learning about the tricks of propaganda. I already know what the Nazis did, and if I say something like ‘That was very, very wicked’, I feel like I’m actually trivializing it.

  97. A.J. P. Crown says:

    It’s just verbal abuse.

  98. read’s quote “Подожди немного, отдохнёшь и ты” is from Lermontov’s translation of what I consider the most beautiful poem in German, Goethe’s “Wandrers Nachtlied II” (linked page has German and literal English).
    But I do think that passage appeals to prejudice — specifically, it expects that we will laugh at the activities of the female, provincial and poor for that reason — and I think that’s bad writing.
    OK, I can respect that (although I disagree that it’s “bad writing”), and I’m sorry I got so snippy; pointing and laughing at our ignorant/prejudiced ancestors is one of the things that gets my goat, as you could probably tell.
    Free verse is not free AND IT ISN’T EVEN POETRY would be better.
    There’s no point trying to argue, because you’ve defined “poetry” as “stuff with rhyme and meter” (or so it seems), but if you’re defining that wonderful Strand poem out of the realm of poetry, you should really reexamine your definition. There’s a reason poets wandered away from rhyme and meter during the last century, and it’s not because they were lazy.

  99. if I say something like ‘That was very, very wicked’, I feel like I’m actually trivializing it.

    Moralizing is an activity whose purpose is to guide behavior, that is, to set full stops and put an end to thought and inquiry. Its end is itself, the self satisfied. What do most people tend to do when someone moralizes, if not counter-moralize?
    Kirkegaard sez: read me.

  100. John Emerson says:

    I still feel her breath upon my cheeks
    How can it be, that these close days
    Are gone, gone for ever, completely passed?
    This is a matter that no one fully comprehends,
    And it’s far too grim for any complaint:
    That everything slips and passes away.
    And that my own Ego, limited by nothing,
    Slips away from a small child
    To me unearthly silent and alien like a dog.
    Then: I existed a hundred years ago
    And my ancestors, those in the shroud,
    Are as related with me as my own hair.

    I’ve been dabbling in genealogy for the last couple of years, and part of what came from that is an awareness of howfar from me my own forebears are. My grandfathers and I didn’t know one another at all except (with the one I even saw once) stereotyped kid-adult interactions. Five of my great-great grandparents didn’t even speak English, and in their photos they look grim.
    But then, our own hair is strange to us, dead an no longer a functioning part of our body. We cut it off and throw it away as trash.
    In any case, it’s very hard to know how to related to past generations. Ridiculing inept provincial schoolgirl pianists is not high up on my list of ancestral sins to protest against.

  101. John Emerson says:

    HTML is to blame. Hofmannsthall didn’t write that bit about my grandparerts, whom he didn’t know.

  102. jamessal says:

    Yeah, what Hat said about free verse. Also, I don’t even know who’s being sneered at here: “The irony being that more of those NRA types will recognize and appreciate good poetry OR free verse than the reductivist bogey-men proferers amongst much of the soi-disant literati.”
    In any case, it’s very hard to know how to related to past generations. Ridiculing inept provincial schoolgirl pianists is not high up on my list of ancestral sins to protest against.
    Hear, hear. Nice poem too.

  103. jamessal says:

    Come to think of it, Hat didn’t say anything about “free verse”; I don’t think he likes the term.
    Yeah to what he said about 20th century poetry, then.

  104. It’s not so much that I dislike the term “free verse” as that it’s so contentious that it’s pretty much useless.

  105. jamessal says:

    Gotcha.

  106. it’s a cheap thrill to go around sneering at the insufficiently progressive attitudes of our ancestors
    Of our ancestors? What about us? The rest of the LHers may be enlightened bodhisattvas but I assure you I am fully capable of cruelty, elitism, brutality, carnivorism, and even inattention. The first time I read that passage I read quickly and did not even pick up on the ingrained attitudes. Language IS important. Remember Babel-17?
    I don’t object to something like Huckleberry Finn or minstrels or totalitarian propaganda, but I think it has to be done carefully so it doesn’t look like an endorsement of those attitudes. Thanks to Vance for being my conscience.

  107. Emerson: beyond snowy landscapes not being depressing, even more so bare winter trees aren’t depressing.
    Anyone who has lived in Minnesnowta will know the reverent hush of a snowy woods in December (the shortest month–darkest evening–of the year). December isn’t harsh like January (when everyone has gotten tired of snow) and even mellower in Frost’s moderate New England climate. It has been said that the bedouins don’t need mosques because they have the desert. Like the desert, the snowy woods is a sacred space.

  108. There’s a reason poets wandered away from rhyme and meter during the last century, and it’s not because they were lazy.
    Would it be impossibly jejeune to ask you to expand on this ?

  109. I don’t like the words of “Hyde Flippo”. Here are mine:

    On the hilltops
    There is calm,
    In the treetops
    you sense barely
    a breeze;
    Within the trees the birds are still.
    A while yet, and you
    will find rest too.

  110. Gornue vershinu (mountain peaks)
    spyat vo t’me nochnoi (sleep in the night darkness)
    tikhie dolinu(quiet valleys)
    polnu svejei mgloi(are full of fresh haze)
    ne pulit doroga (the road does not give off dust)
    ne drojat listu (leaves are not trembling)
    podojdi nemnogo (wait a little while)
    otdokhnesh’ i tu (you too will have rest)

  111. SWFrance says:

    Taking as a point of departure what was said above, that Strand’s piece would not work as prose, which I think it would, here’s just the first two verses:
    When the shoals of plankton swarmed into St. Margaret’s Bay turning the beaches pink,
    we saw from our place on the hill the sperm whales feeding. Fouling the nets in their play and breaching clean so the humps of their backs
    rose over the wide sea meadows.
    Day after day we waited inside for the rotting plankton to disappear. The smell stilled even the wind, and the oxen looked stunned,
    pulling hay on the slope of our hill. But the plankton kept coming in and the whales would not go.
    Prose of a poetic quality more than a prosaic poem?
    Not to be mistken with this decidely non-metrical and rhythming POEM:
    Snake
    A snake came to my water-trough
    On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
    To drink there.
    In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree
    I came down the steps with my pitcher
    And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before
    me.
    He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
    And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of
    the stone trough
    And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
    And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
    He sipped with his straight mouth,
    Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,
    Silently.
    Someone was before me at my water-trough,
    And I, like a second comer, waiting.
    He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
    And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
    And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
    And stooped and drank a little more,
    Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
    On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.
    The voice of my education said to me
    He must be killed,
    For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.
    And voices in me said, If you were a man
    You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.
    But must I confess how I liked him,
    How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
    And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
    Into the burning bowels of this earth?
    Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him? Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him? Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
    I felt so honoured.
    And yet those voices:
    If you were not afraid, you would kill him!
    And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid, But even so, honoured still more
    That he should seek my hospitality
    From out the dark door of the secret earth.
    He drank enough
    And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
    And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
    Seeming to lick his lips,
    And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
    And slowly turned his head,
    And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
    Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
    And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.
    And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
    And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
    A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole,
    Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
    Overcame me now his back was turned.
    I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
    I picked up a clumsy log
    And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.
    I think it did not hit him,
    But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste.
    Writhed like lightning, and was gone
    Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
    At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.
    And immediately I regretted it.
    I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
    I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.
    And I thought of the albatross
    And I wished he would come back, my snake.
    For he seemed to me again like a king,
    Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
    Now due to be crowned again.
    And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
    Of life.
    And I have something to expiate:
    A pettiness.

  112. jamessal says:

    “I think very few people can manage free verse…You need an infallible ear, like DH Lawrence, to determine where the lines should end.”
    — W.H. Auden
    I’d include Strand for sure. For me, it’s so crucial to the experience of reading “Whales,” having your eyes guided from one line to the next, that for you to write it out in prose like that and say “See? Not POETRY” — well, we must have some unbridgeable gap.

  113. jamessal says:

    Also, you must be aware, “rhythming” and capital letters (POEM) is no better “evidence” than “otherwise highly structured” — which I never even said.

  114. Would it be impossibly jejune to ask you to expand on this ?
    Not at all. It’s the same reason composers abandoned classical tonality and sonata-form structure: they had come to feel stifling, played out. It’s not that there was literally nothing that could be done with them, and Prokofiev’s First Symphony (to take a particular favorite of mine) is delightful demonstration of that—but it was a one-off, a proof of concept, not part of his artistic development. Artists have to be continually doing something new; repetition isn’t art. If you (the audience) don’t care for it, that’s the way it goes; they’ll hope that later generations feel differently. But they can’t keep using their grandfathers’ forms.

  115. John Emerson says:

    On the music front, in the situation comedy “Reba” tonight, the 12 year old daughter comes home with a tuba (and Eb helicon, specifically, which is smaller). It turns out that this cute boy she knows is a tuba player too.

  116. John Emerson says:

    Two of the pioneers in escaping from tonal music (major-minor common practice harmony) were Musorgsky and Satie. Both were hafl-trained and to a considerable degree self-taught, and broke the old rules in part because they didn’t know them, though I think that they didn’t know them mostly because they didn’t like them.

  117. Jamessal: Re-reading Whales following your last comment, I may be starting to see what you mean. Making a deliberate mental pause at the end of the line and treating the idea in the next line as a “surprise”, does (to me) add some emphasis to each development, each new idea introduced this way.
    Am I right ? Is this why you differentiate it from prose ?

  118. A.J. P. Crown says:

    Southwest Fr: ‘something that rhymes’ is a rhyme, not a poem.

  119. jamessal says:

    Jamessal: Re-reading Whales following your last comment, I may be starting to see what you mean. Making a deliberate mental pause at the end of the line and treating the idea in the next line as a “surprise”, does (to me) add some emphasis to each development, each new idea introduced this way.
    Am I right ? Is this why you differentiate it from prose ?

    I wish I could say yes, because I’d love to think that you’re getting — that I’d shown you the way! But really it’s much more fluid an experience for me. The short lines run so quickly and naturally into each other that I can’t help smiling as my eyes flit down the page. Then the longer lines, the near-hexameters Bill Walderman pointed out — they just demand to be savored. Then I go back to admire the first stanza and realize that each line, in addition to being amazingly fluid, constitutes an image: the plankton swarming into the bay, the pink beaches, the people watching from the hill, the sperm whales first fouling the nets, then playing, breaching, their humps rising “over the wide sea meadows.” I don’t know. I guess if I had to say why I differentiate “Whales” from prose — aside from the fact that it was written by a former laureate and I found it in a book labeled “poetry” — it’d be that the line endings show me how to read it. Guide me, actually. How that is is somewhat ineffable.

  120. jamessal says:

    I hope that helps. I also hope someone else can do better.

  121. Jamessal: I’ll have to think a bit on that, but right now I’m afraid I’m too busy. I’ll get back to you….
    PS: As the SF thread is a way down, I note here that Philip Jose Farmer has died. Another real original.

  122. Yes, PJF made it to a ripe old age but it’s still a sad loss.

  123. jamessal says:

    I’ll have to think a bit on that, but right now I’m afraid I’m too busy.
    Thank you. Seriously. You’re strong for both of us.

  124. This post has me again in awe of how widely read Douglas Adams was. His whole “Paula Nance Millstone Jennings” piece makes even better reading now that I can see it as modelled on or inspired by, actual commentary on poets. Thanks, Hat!

  125. Yeah, what Hat said about free verse. Also, I don’t even know who’s being sneered at here: “The irony being that more of those NRA types will recognize and appreciate good poetry OR free verse than the reductivist bogey-men proferers amongst much of the soi-disant literati.”
    In any case, it’s very hard to know how to related to past generations. Ridiculing inept provincial schoolgirl pianists is not high up on my list of ancestral sins to protest against.
    Hear, hear. Nice poem too.

  126. Jamessal: You say that when you re-read it, you find each line produces an image. I vizualise that as a series of small images, like a slide-show. When I read it as prose, I can see a broad panorama composed of those individual images, rather than the perhaps rather staccato image-to-image progression.
    I guess if I had to say why I differentiate “Whales” from prose …it’d be that the line endings show me how to read it. Guide me, actually. How that is, is somewhat ineffable.
    Perhaps that’s my basic problem – ineffable. A bit like religious belief – if you have to try to reason it through, it’s not belief.
    Or perhaps it’s been a long day doing some good neighbour work, and I’m not making sense !

  127. marie-lucie says:

    I don’t usually hazard a comment on poetry, but in this case I feel myself in agreement with both Jamessal and Paul. When I first read Whales it felt to me like prose with a few more literary images (so why not write the text in paragraphs and call the work a “prose poem”?), then I reread it trying to pay attention to the lines. So that is the purpose of the lines, to force the reader to pause slightly after each line in order to focus on its words (something one does more or less automatically with more conventional poetry). That misunderstanding of the meaning of the lines is probably the reason why I often enjoy hearing poetry read by the author, but not so much silently reading a written poem, which I probably read too fast to really understand and enjoy it. Thank you, jamessal and Paul, for your enlightening contributions.

  128. A.J. P. Iffy says:

    Both to understand and enjoy a poem, it helps to read aloud to yourself, Marie-Lucie.

  129. marie-lucie says:

    Exactly, and I was not doing that.

  130. Bad Bad Verse is a strong but inexperienced female child doggedly attacking Debussy’s *Fêtes* in a remote provincial suburb on a hire-payment pianoforte from the Swiftsure Furnishing Stores. Good Bad Verse is Rummel or Lamond executing *Warblings at Eve* at Queen’s Hall on a Bechstein concert-grand.”
    As long as LHers are overwhelmingly enthusiastic about insulting rural schoolgirls who practice on inexpensive rented pianos, might as well have a listen to what they were talking about in the first place. This is Nocturne “Fêtes” for Two Pianos by Claude Debussy (5:27 minutes), played by “schoolgirl” Martha Argerich. Then Warblings at Eve (3:06 minutes). Extra points for anyone who can guess how many minutes of each I was able to listen to.

  131. marie-lucie says:

    What the authors of the quotation were talking about was just the opposite of what you present: they contrasted beautiful music (although wrongly identified) performed by an incompetent pianist on a mediocre instrument, as opposed to mediocre music performed by an excellent pianist on a beautiful instrument. And Martha Argerich, although she is shown alone in the picture, is not single-handedly playing two pianos.

  132. marie-lucie says:

    p.s. I had to rewrite the above paragraph: my first draft using played instead of performed was refused, because the combination of pl coming after music was rejected as “unsuitable”. LH, what is going on? (and can you delete the repeted paragraph just before?)

  133. But the Debussy-played-by-a-nonelite-rural-girl is called “Bad Bad Verse”, (as opposed to the saccharin music–Good Bad Verse–a played in hoity toity circumstances) which makes me wonder if Debussy wasn’t controversial in some way at that time. They seem to be contrasting “bad music p1ayed in bad circumstances” with “bad music p1ayed in good circumstances”.

  134. marie-lucie says:

    good Bad Verse is grammatical, it is constructed according to the Rubrics, its rhythms, rimes, and metres are impeccable.
    So according to this analogy, Debussy is Bad Bad Music because it is not classically constructed (and also played by an incompetent performer), while Warbling is Good Bad Music because it is classical in form, and also well played, although it is musically uninteresting. I think the authors should have stuck to literary criticism.

  135. Read, what is this? I think it is in Russian.

    Posted by: read at March 5, 2009 06:03 PM :

    Gornue vershinu (mountain peaks)
    spyat vo t’me nochnoi (sleep in the night darkness)
    tikhie dolinu (quiet valleys)
    polnu svejei mgloi (are full of fresh haze)
    ne pulit doroga (the road does not give off dust)
    ne drojat listu (leaves are not trembling)
    podojdi nemnogo (wait a little while)
    otdokhnesh’ i tu (you too will have rest)

    I’m just getting around to reading all the poetry on this thread and the line about the road stopped me up short. (For some reason I read the poem from bottom to top.)

  136. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Marie.Lucie,
    Here is a very nice little video by Jonathan Glancey that shows how English-speaking architects typically omit the ‘Le’ of Le Corbusier in speech. This was something we discussed a while ago.

  137. I had to rewrite the above paragraph: my first draft using played instead of performed was refused, because the combination of pl coming after music was rejected as “unsuitable”. LH, what is going on? (and can you delete the repeted paragraph just before?)
    Done, and sorry about that—it’s another case where I was getting a bunch of spam from a URL, in this case ending in music.pl (i.e., a Polish site), and decided to ban the salient string without taking into consideration that it might affect ordinary comments. It’s unbanned now, so we can talk freely about music playing, music plaudits, music plums, etc.
    (I think this first came up when I banned “cialis” and quickly discovered that people couldn’t talk about socialism or specialists.)

  138. marie-lucie says:

    LH, thank you. I was at a loss to understand how that combination could possibly be unsuitable.
    AJP, thank you for the link. I found the narrator hard to understand as even at full volume the voice was very soft. It seemed to me that sometimes he used Le and sometimes not. But the other articles on the site all did use Le. Perhaps one reason for omitting the Le is that English speakers are not sure where to place the stress. When the show Les Misérables came on, English speakers were stressing the article as well as the first syllable of the noun, ending up with Les Miz with equal stress on the two syllables. In French you would never emphasize the article, anymore than you need to emphasize The in an English title. So Le Corbusier pronounced with stress on Le may give the impression that the word is a first name, and only the second name is used in casual reference to the man.

  139. A.J.P. Crown says:

    It’s possible, although I’d hazard a guess that most English speakers using his name have some familiarity with how to pronounce it in French. In England, as you may know, there’s no attempt made to adjust the stress of French words when you’re speaking an English sentence, whereas in the USA there’s a tendency to pronounce, actually, ALL foreign words with a French-like pattern of stress. In England someone might pronounce his name acceptably in a French sentence, but then the same person could then say LE corbYOUzier or leave off the article altogether, in an English one. In fact I would probably do so myself. So the British and the Americans have two different ways to conform here, and nobody wants to be in the embarrassing position of doing it wrong and appearing badly educated — not fitting in, in other words.

  140. marie-lucie says:

    AJP, I didn’t mean that English speakers familiar with the name would actually think that Le was a first name, only that the combination of the two words would fit into the sound pattern of first name – last name and be treated the same in casual speech. Another factor could be that English names never begin with an article and that makes the French names of this type more likely to be cited without the article.

  141. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Yes, exactly. You’re absolutely right with both points, I think.

  142. John Emerson says:

    “El” and “Del” can both be American first names.

  143. marie-lucie says:

    JE, perhaps, but they are not English words.

  144. Perhaps that’s my basic problem – ineffable. A bit like religious belief – if you have to try to reason it through, it’s not belief.
    Yeah, when Hat and I had a similar discussion we took for granted that “Whales” (we drop “Shooting” for Kron’s sake) was poetry, and I must admit, I’m not really sure how to “prove” the fact if you just don’t see it as such. But I have started a book whose author definitely has a more sophisticated understanding of poetic rhythm than I do, and if I learn anything relevant I’ll pass it along.
    Thank you, jamessal and Paul, for your enlightening contributions.
    You’re most welcome — I was thrilled everyone was eager to take up the Strand poem. Here’s two more in case anyone’s still interested:
    Fiction
    I think of the innocent lives
    Of people in novels who know they’ll die
    But not how the novel will end. How different they are
    From us. Here, the moon stares dumbly down,
    Through scattered clouds, onto the sleeping town,
    And the wind rounds up the fallen leaves,
    And somebody — namely me — deep in his chair,
    Riffles the pages left, knowing there’s not
    Much time for the man and woman in the rented room,
    For the red light over the door, for the iris
    Tossing it’s shadow against the wall; not much time for
    The soldiers under the trees that line
    The river, for the wounded being hauled away
    To the cities of the interior where they will stay;
    The war that raged for years will come to a close,
    And so will everything else, except for a presence
    Hard to define, a trace, like the scent of grass
    After a night of rain or the remains of a voice
    That lets us know without spelling it out
    Not to despair; if the end is come, it too will pass.
    Courtship
    There is a girl you like so you tell her
    your penis is big, but that you cannot get yourself
    to use it. Its demands are ridiculous, you say,
    even self-defeating, but to be honored somehow,
    briefly, inconspicuously, in the dark.
     
    When she closes her eyes in horror,
    you take it all back. You tell her you’re almost
    a girl yourself and can understand why she is shocked.
    When she is about to walk away, you tell her
    you have no penis, that you don’t
     
    know what got into you. You get on your knees.
    She suddenly bends down to kiss your shoulder and you know
    you’re on the right track. You tell her you want
    to bear children and that is why you seem confused.
    You wrinkle your brow and curse the day you were born.
     
    She tries to calm you, but you lose control.
    You reach for her panties and beg forgiveness as you do.
    She squirms and you howl like a wolf. Your craving
    seems monumental. You know that you will have her.
    Taken by storm, she is the girl you will marry.

  145. Jamessal: LH’s piece today on Chinese led me through Language log to the following. I don’t know if it is intended to be poetry, or if not, why the lines are broken as they are.
    Is it a poem, in your reading, without it actually being described as “poetry” ?
    A relevant section (48) from the Dao De Jing (in Mitchell’s translation) is:
    In pursuit of knowledge,
    every day something is added.
    In the practice of the Tao,
    every day something is dropped.
    Less and less do you need to force things,
    until finally you arrive at non-action.
    When nothing is done,
    nothing is left undone.
    True mastery can be gained
    by letting things go their own way.
    It can’t be gained by interfering.
    Re your comments above, I read the first page provided of Poetic Rhythm and it looks interesting, I’ll have to see if my library in the UK can get it for me. In the meantime, anything you forward will be welcome.
    As for the two poems:
    in the first, my earlier observations stand. For instance:
    …Riffles the pages left, knowing there’s not
    Much time for the man and woman in the rented room,

    the line break tells me nothing. I think your observation
    I’m not really sure how to “prove” the fact [of it being a poem] if you just don’t see it as such.
    is probably, unhappily for me, true.
    As for Courtship, I find the same (and the ideas contained plain bizarre).
    LH: As it’s fallen off the main page, can you keep this thread available on the right hand panel of Recent Entries, if possible, in the interests of my education [if anyone has the patience to keep trying with me 🙂 ] ?

  146. LH: As it’s fallen off the main page, can you keep this thread available on the right hand panel of Recent Entries, if possible, in the interests of my education [if anyone has the patience to keep trying with me 🙂 ] ?
    Paul, even if that’s a pain for Hat (I have no idea how much energy he expends wielding his Hattic powers) I’ll keep looking up this thread to post quotes from that book (plus more poems, thoughts, whatever feels apposite); right now, I really should be working.
    (“Courtship” is supposed to be funny, by the way.)

  147. I’ll of course answer the question about the poem you posted soon too.

  148. Is it a poem, in your reading, without it actually being described as “poetry” ?
    It does not read as a poem to me (in English); I have no idea how it sounds in Chinese (or more relevantly how it might have sounded in Ancient Chinese). It reads like a series of thoughts expressed compactly and broken up into lines. To me, poetry has to continually reflect a joy in the sounds and rhythms of the language it takes place in.

  149. If it falls out of Recent Entries, you can use the “Search this site” box; “puffery” would be a good word to search on.

  150. I forgot to thank Kron for the link to Corbu’s summer place at March 10, 2009 05:11 AM. Small Scandinavian spaces always amaze me. The sound was just fine for me, but I have external speakers.

  151. A.J.P. Crown says:

    You’re welcome, but it’s not in Scandinavia, it’s at Cap Martin in the S. of France, overlooking the Mediterranean between Menton and Monaco. It’s only about 40 sq. feet, not much bigger than a closet, really. I love it, check out these pictures. It was a birthday present for his wife.

  152. marie-lucie says:

    All wives should be so lucky. Or did he want her to get away sometimes?

  153. A.J.P. Crow says:

    If I’d been married to that guy, I would have needed a chance to get away. I read in one of these articles about ‘le cabanon’ that the reason he ended up being not on speaking terms with Eileen Gray — the great Anglo-Irish interior designer, who lived in Paris and built her own very famous house, called E1027, close by on Cap Martin — is that once when he had been allowed to stay there on his own Corbusier decided, unasked, to paint murals all over the interior. Can you imagine coming home to that? Poor Eileen Gray.

  154. marie-lucie says:

    I read an even worse homecoming story: a woman in London had lent her apartment to a male friend while she went on vacation. When she came back, her dining-room table was the height of a coffee-table! The guest explained that he preferred to sit on the floor, so he had just sawn through the table legs.

  155. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Very rude.

  156. Kron, I started wondering about the location of Corb’s summer hut as soon as I hit the post button and went back to check, but I didn’t think you would catch it. I guess I was thinking about a photo of some tiny summer cabins in I think Finland that were packed together like sardines with the windows full of lace and flowers.
    There was also an American farm/hobo tradition of living in a one room shack, but those didn’t usually have much for decor. Usually a mattress on a platform, a chair and a stand for a washbasin–and a Folger’s can for a spittoon. I inherited a baby changing table from one such shack. When I took off the linoleum piece from the top it was solid walnut with peg construction and a few square nails for repairs.
    Corbu’s place is fun to look at but I wouldn’t last ten minutes living there. Imagine waking up in a place like that.

  157. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Yeah, what, right by the Mediterranean, you mean? The windows are wide open, the sun is streaming in. It’s warm but not too hot. Hummingbirds are buzzing around, the hibiscus and bougainvillea are in bloom, there’s fruit on the fig tree. You run down to the beach below and take a swim. Then you have breakfast next door at your friend’s restaurant. Awful.

  158. Location, location, location.
    Bougainvillea, ahhh, and the smell of jasmine in the night air. What I would give to be in Amman right now.
    Then there’s the beach at Dahab in Sinai. I would prefer that room to Corb’s, nothing but a bed with a two foot space around two of its corners and a few ants on the floor, protected by a plywood door with a tiny padlock. Then you walk down to the beach and eat next to the water sitting on a gigantic rag rug. The food is clean healthy Arab food. The music might be Um Kalthoum, Lebanese teeniebopper music, or international club music. No swimming though for women, in anything less than a full length overcoat. But your chances of running into any nudity like on Spain’s Costa del Sol are a whole lot less.

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