A very kind LH reader sent me a copy of John Burnside’s The Music of Time: Poetry in the Twentieth Century (thanks, Michael!), and I’m slowly making my way through it — each chapter discusses one or two poets, and I enjoy taking a break after each to digest the poems and Burnside’s thoughts. At the moment I’m reading the chapter called “A Very Young Policeman Exploding,” about Hart Crane and Dylan Thomas (you can perhaps see it at Google Books; the title is from Thomas’s description of Crane’s his own early poems, “with their vehement beat-pounding black and green rhythms like those of a very young policeman exploding”). Crane is the first of the poets Burnside covers who is essentially alien to me; as a young man I tried to make my way into his work but gave it up on grounds of incomprehensibility, as I did with Jacques Derrida. Burnside makes an impassioned case for him that convinces me he was up to something real, but my little Doubleday Anchor Complete Poems may well go another decade or two without being opened again (I must have had it for half a century now). At any rate, the poem he focuses on is “The Wine Menagerie,” set in a bar (necessarily, in 1926, a speakeasy, as Burnside points out), and it begins:

Invariably when wine redeems the sight,
Narrowing the mustard scansions of the eyes,
A leopard ranging always in the brow
Asserts a vision in the slumbering gaze.

Then glozening decanters that reflect the street
Wear me in crescents on their bellies. Slow
Applause flows into liquid cynosures:
— I am conscripted to their shadows’ glow.

(Burnside says “‘Mustard scansions’? Did that mean something? Anything? In literal terms, I didn’t think so…”) Leaving the general phantasmagoria aside, what strikes me is the word, or alleged word, “glozening”; it appears to exist only here in the entire corpus of the English language. It seems to be Crane’s extension of the verb gloze “To minimize or underplay” or “To use flattery or cajolery,” originally the same word as gloss “brief explanatory note or translation” (from Greek glōssa ‘tongue, language’), but why? If your poetic vision insists on your using a phrase like “mustard scansions,” fine — at least we can try to make our own sense out of those violently juxtaposed concepts — but what’s the point of making up a word that just (as far as I can see) adds to the general sloppiness? Is it to suggest the drunk’s creative language use? All I can say is, it doesn’t work for me.

While I’m on the topic of the Burnside book, I’ll mention a couple of errors that are unimportant but that amused me. In the introduction he writes:

[…] poetry is a way of ordering experience, of giving a meaningful order to lived time – and that that process of ordering could be summed up in a phrase from the Old Irish, a phrase that is first found in a tale of the Fianna-Finn, who, during a break from hunting, begin to debate what might constitute ‘the finest music in the world’. […] Finally, they turn to their chief, Fionn, and ask him what he would choose, to which he replies: ‘The music of what happens … that is the finest music in the world.’

A lovely sentiment, but as soon as I read it I thought “that can’t possibly be Old Irish,” and sure enough it seems to have been composed by James Stephens in 1920. And earlier in the introduction he discusses Lev Gumilev and Anna Akhmatova, saying “Anna Akhmatova survived, but the regime punished her indirectly by persecuting her son with Gumilev, Lev Nikolayevich, who would spend the best part of eighteen years, off and on, in Stalin’s labour camps.” Understandably but hilariously, the index includes an entry “Nikolayevich, Lev, 3.”


  1. “Mustard scansions of the eyes”
    Alcoholic hepatitis, which is common and is a precursor to cirrhosis, causes jaundice. The wine causes his yellowed eyes to cease their darting motion, to narrow, and then to close entirely. The verse means that even when he drinks himself into a stupor, his mind remains active and agitated (the leopard ranging in his brow) and causes him to see visions.

  2. To me, “glozening” suggests a portmanteau of “glowing” and “glistening”. It paints a picture of a row of bottles of wine, lit from behind. Or perhaps lit from the side. It’s hard to tell the exact setup. Are the bottles behind a bar, or perhaps displayed in a window?

    And in the next line, showing a distorted reflection of the speaker.

    “mustard scansions” is a bit more puzzling. The general sense I get from it is that when you come into a room, your eye roves all over the place to get a sense of the place, but if there’s a glowing bottle of wine there, your eye will be attracted to it like a leopard seeking out its prey. Still doesn’t explain the mustard though. It could be a field of mustard, but that’s not something I generally associate with leopards. Or perhaps the walls of this establishment were painted yellow.

    Another idea is that the scene takes place in the late afternoon, at what photographers call the golden hour. Clearly the place is open to the street, because the scene outside is reflected on the bottles. So perhaps the golden late afternoon sunlight is flooding into the interior of the wine bar.

    I wouldn’t expect speakeasies to have windows. It seems more like he’s describing somewhere in France or Spain.

    If this place also served food, he could be checking out the selection of condiments. But that’s perhaps getting a bit far-fetched.

    The suggestion from Bloix has some merit too.

    The language is so cryptic that you could read a lot of different things into it.

  3. maidhc-
    The bottles are on the table in front of him. He is sitting alone at a round barroom table, with his back to the window but slightly to one side, so that he can see bits of both the street and himself in the bottles, illuminated by a street light. “Shadows’ glow” is a stunning oxymoron. The bottles, as you point out, glow and glisten. They (or the wine in them) are cynosures – brilliant objects. But the “glow” that holds him is the shadow they cast on the table – in the vision of his stupor, it is dark that attracts him, not light.

  4. Shameless commercial about one of Crane’s more notorious obscurities, the name “Skygak”:

    In “The Significance of The Bridge, by Hart Crane, or What Are We to Think of Professor X?” (in In Defense of Reason, on, Yvor Winters puts on his deerstalker and deduces that Crane didn’t jump off that ship, he was pushed — and (despite an apparently airtight alibi — he was dead!) the culprit was none other than Waldo Emerson.

  5. Jonathan Morse –
    “thine eyes bicarbonated white by speed, O Skygak”
    So he had a thing for eye color 🙂

  6. Bloix, yes:

    “And why do I often meet your visage here,
    Your eyes like agate lanterns?”

    — “The Tunnel,” section 7 of The Bridge. “You” is Edgar Allan Poe, and there are other eyes all over the place in Crane. If you can get hold of it, an excellent introduction to the oeuvre is Ken Burns’s documentary about the Brooklyn Bridge.

  7. Yes, that’s a fine documentary.

  8. “Shadows’ glow” is a stunning oxymoron.

    Light, shining on a curved bottle or glass filled with liquid, can both cast a shadow, and refract and reflect so as to shine as a caustic inside the shadow. The shadow of a bottle or glass can glow.

  9. but what’s the point of making up a word that just (as far as I can see) adds to the general sloppiness?

    ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe

    I suspect that “glozening” was intended as a portmanteau of “glowing” & “glistening”, with the “st” softened to a “z”. The lines seem to be describing light interacting with the bottles in different ways. A drunken and verbose way of saying “ooh, shiny thing”.

  10. Here is a discussion of what Crane could have meant when he coined glozening.

  11. Something’s wrong with the link, Hans.

  12. ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe

    If Crane was trying to be Lewis Carroll, he made a wretched job of it.

    I should say that I’m not against unintelligibility in general; I’m as fond of Dada as the next anarchist, and I love “Dyr bul shchyl.” But for me it has to go in tandem with modernism in the sense I understand it, not the kind of high-flown cod-Victorian rhetoric that was inherent in the Ransom-Crane-Tate-Lowell line. I just looked at the John Crowe Ransom section of the Norton Anthology at hand and happened on (random Ransom) “Vaunting Oak“:

    […] More than a hundred years and a hundred feet
    Naked he rears against cold skies eruptive,
    Only his temporal twigs unsure of seat,

    And the frail leaves of a season, who are susceptive
    To the mad humors of wind, and turn and flee
    In panic round the stem on which they are captive.

    Now a certain heart, too young and mortally
    Yoked with an unbeliever of bantering brood,
    Observed, as an eminent witness of life, the tree […]

    Nobody needed to write like that after December 1910.

  13. Do you like glozening?
    I don’t know, you naughty boy, I’ve never glozened.

  14. Glozen little glow worm, glimmer, glimmer…

  15. Is Ransom/Crane/Tate/Lowell a conventional grouping? Although I think I see what you mean in terms of the stylistic similarities. Yet it’s a style that seems just as fundamentally connected to the (or at least a) post-1910 worldview as whatever you might prefer to it. I am now reminded of my earnest-yet-failed attempt to make cocktail-party small talk about John Crowe Ransom with his onetime student and disciple Cleanth Brooks, when I was 21 years old and Brooks (one of the very last survivors of the fugitive/agrarian milieu) was 80.

  16. Is Ransom/Crane/Tate/Lowell a conventional grouping?

    No, it’s ad hoc, created by me flipping through the anthology to pick out examples of the style I dislike.

    Yet it’s a style that seems just as fundamentally connected to the (or at least a) post-1910 worldview as whatever you might prefer to it.

    Sure, it’s just one I object to. If you want to write like that, get in your time machine and go back to the nineteenth century! If Pound could unlearn all that crap, you can too!

  17. People are free to enjoy it, obviously, even if I don’t. This is Liberty Hall.

  18. It’s Cubism, but not the tough Cubist realism of Picasso and Stein, for whom the technique narrowed focus and revealed objective reality, but the more decorative cubism of e.g. Ozenfant and even Gris, for whom the technique tended to devolve into merely a new way of seeing painterly technique.

  19. This is Liberty Hall.

    You can spit on the COT/CAUGHT, and use mat to say “bastard”.

  20. It’s useful not hyperbolic that Virginia Woolf gives a precise date, December 1910. She lived through the pre WW1 years among people who were partly responsible for inventing some of modernism. That’s quite unusual; the date doesn’t cover everything but she knew first hand what she was talking about.
    As a non painter Gertrude Stein had nothing to do with inventing analytical Cubism, you’re I hope thinking of Georges Braque. Realism has quite another meaning and connections within 20C art. You’ll find many later interesting comments by Picasso on Gris, whose work he admired, Leger and the other synthetic Cubists but decorative is just an uninciteful cliché that’s been used about anyone you don’t like just as honest describes the good guys. If you want to discuss early Cubism you’d be better off comparing Braque & Picasso to Marcel Duchamp s nude descending a staircase 1910 or1911 and how that worked out for modernism. Apologies for banging on about a subject that’s not of interest to many hatters.

  21. So far as I can see, Gertrude Stein’s 1938 prose study Picasso is available on only under “Books to Borrow,” and the borrowing period is just one hour. So seize the hour, jump immediately to pp. 14-16, and take in its epigram “One sees what one sees” and the surrounding luminescence. If you have any time after that, look at the last page of the book (50) and take in the view as Gertrude ascends in her DC-3 in 1934-35, looks down, sees “all the lines of cubism made at a time when not any painter had ever gone up in an airplane,” and concludes that “Picasso is of this century, he has that strange quality of an earth that one has never seen.”

    Or better still, buy the book from Dover Publications. It’ll be one of the best $8.95s plus tax and shipping that you’ll ever have spent.

  22. The link – I hope that works.
    What I did was googling for “glozen / glozening” to see whether the word had been used elsewhere, and what it led me to was a skin whitening product called “Glozen” and the discussion of Crane I linked to.

  23. As a non painter Gertrude Stein had nothing to do with inventing analytical Cubism, you’re I hope thinking of Georges Braque.

    Cubism extends beyond painting; I never suggested Stein had anything to do with inventing analytical Cubism; I am sufficiently aware of Braque not to confuse him with Stein.

    Realism has quite another meaning and connections within 20C art.

    I wrote “Cubist realism”, meaning the word in its usual sense; just as I use”decorative” in its; the use (and “meaning”) of words needn’t be compromised by their misuse In jargon.

    I’m not sure what Duchamp has to do with any of this; his Nu descendant un escalier, generally dated to 1912, was rejected by a jury of Cubists in that year. He lost interest in painting in 1918.

  24. I don’t know if it’s good or bad poetry but the big picture it paints is more or less clear (a drunk man looks at the bottles) while it allows for multiple interpretations of certain details. Good or bad, it draws readers into an interpretative frenzy. The puzzling words are all smartly chosen. As you say, LH, they showcase “the drunk’s creative language use” but not just that. “Scansions” sounds as if the speaker had recalled the root “scan” but couldn’t quite decide which derivative to use – and, realizing for a moment he was a poet above all, dealing in meter and rhythm, chose a term from the lexicon of his trade, although “scanners” would be the obvious choice. And which of the clauses does “narrowing” refer to, “wine redeems” or “a leopard asserts”? Whose eyes, then? I don’t know the answers but the uncertainties make me want to read more of the poet’s output.

    I’d suggest that “glozening” be treated as an offspring of “gloss” in all the senses: glistening and revealing (the printed word also makes me think of “cozen” and “lozenge”). There’s a video somewhere of Tennessee Williams reading The Glass Menagerie while being interviewed some time in the 1970s.

  25. None of this is worth dragging out beyond one comment & reply.

    But I set you on a pretty good path with Duchamp’s Nu and, if you dig a bit, you’ll see. Who was on the jury of Cubists? Neither Braque nor Picasso but people like Ozenfant. And then there’s the comparison of analytical Cubism (what you’re calling ‘tough Cubist realism’) which starts with drawing space but works outwards to all sorts of other subjects & techniques (Dada, synthetic Cubism, collage) with (non-Russian) Futurism which is more about movement & light than anything else. And which is Duchamp’s painting closet to? Well, it’s got both.

    He lost interest in painting in 1918.
    I doubt he ever lost interest. He stopped doing it and, except in Art History 101, these things don’t go on and off like light switches – in fact it’s a good example of the opposite of Virginia Woolf saying “On or about December 1910 human nature changed”, which if it’s credible at all is only because of her having been there to verify it. imo, Duchamp’s problem was this double-edged sword of continually rationalising his progress. Yes, it allowed him to more-or-less invent readymades but in the end he argued his way out of working at all: ‘(insert subject here) is now dead because I’ve made (insert work)’. It’s one reason why he hung around for decades smoking, posing for Man Ray and playing chess. Lazy bastard. Both Picasso & Braque painted some of their best work after WW1 & Cubism well into the nineteen-fifties. I suggest “Life With Picasso” by Françoise Gilot for later Picasso; it has great biographical detail as well as very detailed discussion of painting, including about Matisse’s work, in Picasso’s words.

  26. I meant to say “The Wine Menagerie” by Hart Crane above, of course, but – having typed “Tennessee Williams” – inserted “The Glass Menagerie” on autopilot.

  27. None of this is worth dragging out beyond one comment & reply.

    Cutting off debate, are we?

  28. No, but I don’t find art discussions really work at LH because no one’s that interested, except maybe Brett a tiny bit. But go ahead, I did after I said I wouldn’t, I just don’t promise to respond (you may be glad to hear). 🙂

  29. I’m interested, I just don’t know enough to take part!

  30. (But I know what I like.)

  31. Same here.

  32. ‘I know what I like’ usually means ‘I’m fairly predictable about what I don’t like’. Not with you guys, however, so it’s more of a challenge.

  33. Well I don’t know about art but I know what I like
    I’ll be a-surfin in a swamp on a Saturday nite

    The pure/core/paradigm Cubism of Braque is so dreary and beige. Maybe Mrs. Woolf and/or Miss Stein actually felt dreary and beige in December 1910 and thereafter so it spoke to her/their mood/worldview, but that’s her/their problem not mine. Almost any adjacent style which some manifesto-writer tried to affix a different label to is better: Cubo-Futurism! Orphism! Derblauereiterismus! uzw.

  34. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Probably not directly relevant, but the Scottish National Dictionary gives ‘gloze’:
    2. To warm at a fire. Ppl.adj. glozened.
    Behold him on his glozened knees, … Greetin’ through reek to mak’ a bleeze And boil his pat.

    I think that would mean that the bottles were doing the warming, which doesn’t seem quite right, but (other) dialectal forms of the OED’s third sense, ‘To shine brightly, to blaze; also, to gleam/To cause to shine’ are not impossible…

  35. I must admit that what I personally don’t like is fairly predictable when it comes to Cubist art. I tend to strongly prefer Cubist still lifes to portraits, whether by Picasso, Braque, or others. This seems to be an unusual position; a lot of people feel that Cubist portraiture manages to abstract a lot of the dynamism of the human form. However, while I can see something Les Demoiselles d’Avignon as an impressive technical achievement, it does not speak very strongly to me. I almost find myself more drawn to the fruit in the foreground than to the stylized faces of the five women. Picasso seems to have included a significant still life component in his painting throughout essentially his whole career. However, Braque’s still lifes tend to come more from the later part of his life; this video shows some excellent examples and talks about some of the circumstances of his move toward still life painting.

    The other component of Picasso’s oeuvre that I find particularly compelling is the fauvist work the he did mostly early in his career, especially during the blue period. In general, I am quite fond of fauvist painting, and something like Picasso’s Buveur d’Absinthe is a very effective example of favuist stylization.

  36. Phenomenal transparency is an expression coined about modernism in art & arch. in a pretty famous, fairly dense essay Transparency: Literal & Phenomenal by the Le Corbusier expert Colin Rowe and Bob Slutsky, a NY painter who taught at Cooper Union and knew a fantastic amount about colour. Anyway there’s a lot of it in the Braque paintings in Brett’s great video link, if anyone’s interested.

    About Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, there’s so much cultural heat on that picture or say Guernica that it’s hard to look at them without the baggage. However, one thing that’s always struck me is the very elongated arm (her left arm) of the figure in the centre. It looks stuck-on behind the head rather than being a natural part of the body. I assume he wanted to extend it for compositional reasons, because he knew how to draw it properly and you can see the lines where he’s adjusted the arms’ sizes, but it bothers me. Nevertheless, I love the faces painted like African masks (I have a several hundred mask pics on Pinterest) and Brett’s right about the still life, it’s a lovely foreground focus like in Velazquez or Goya.

    One thing about Cubism on our screens is that we can’t take in the different sizes of these pieces. The Demoiselles is huge, 2 1/2 metres sq., in MOMA and so In your face, whereas other Cubist paintings are very small. To see the scale difference gives a better idea of their way of working; tiny pieces are obviously produced quicker and more frequently so there’s perhaps a different kind of thinking involved (like in a diary vs a novel). And there’s a hell of a lot of missing detail in a small screen image. It’s the same as with b&w photos: though it’s not often possible for me nowadays, because I live in the bush, it’s always best to see the originals in galleries & museums (also the color: yes, Braque has many beiges but they work better in life, like in a b&w photo, than on my screen).

  37. Yes indeed. I never really “got” Picasso until I visited the famous 1980 MoMA Retrospective; I wandered dazed from room to room and from floor to floor, spending much of the day there, and was permanently converted. What a great painter, the Miles Davis of art!

  38. Great painter, terrible on the trumpet – or so they say.

  39. Certainly don’t want to say that Miles was a *bad* trumpet player, but perhaps his real skill was as a bandleader, i.e. there are lots of good records with his name on them where IMHO the trumpet-playing is far from the most interesting thing going on. Not sure what the art-world analogy of that would be although there probably is one. But now I wanna know: who’s the Freddie Hubbard of early 20th century painting? Who’s the Lee Morgan? The Nat Adderley?

  40. Thanks for the mention of Hubbard, JW. It led me to a name for a sound cloud I didn’t have a name for (my musicology is sketchy): a minor eleventh chord “using D Dorian”.

    Now I wanna know too: who is the Virginia Woolf of modal jazz ?

  41. Great painter, terrible on the trumpet

    but a demon with the horn, nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more…

  42. Although it’s tempting to try, I can’t get this to work. You might say that Lee Morgan is the Matisse in some way but in the end it’s too much apples and oranges. I’m also doubtful whether Matisse knew any more about jazz than Shostakovich did, though that may not be relevant. I wonder if there’s a Picasso of jazz, to put it another way?

    I used to know this guy Billy Childs who played with Freddie Hubbard. He visited my mother when they played in London, an extREMELY nice person.

    Btw it was Picasso I meant, on the trumpet. Not Miles, obvs.

  43. Gilles Goyette says

    “Upon the steep floor flung from dawn to dawn
    The silken skilled transmemberment of song;”

    —From Voyages, part III

    “Transmemberment” is another great example of Crane’s imaginative use of connotative made-up word as stand in for ready-made word.

    I personally like glozening; esthetically, it conjures something far more subtle. I don’t think it’s sloppy at all. On the contrary. It reaches a level of musical precision and abstraction through language. It’s function is purely musical. Of course, sound is far more robust when subjected to rigorous interpretation than delicate sense. Sense demands less from the intellect and lends itself quite readily to the often pleasing but predictable habit of “unpacking” meaning. So why does Crane trade sense for sound? Because, as a poet, he wants to challenge our preconception of what to expect from reading his poetry. He wants us to enjoy the full experience as such, without having to then rationalize it. He wants to, in the words of Emily Dickinson, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant – ” Most readers of poetry dislike this kind of practice. There’s an almost obstinate unwillingness to accept what’s down on the page, because it refuses to be familiar. Being a musician, I tend to admire poets and poems that place more emphasis on sound. Meaning is always preferable in the context of discursive writing and prose (I do like prose to be clear and precisely meaningful). But, as the title of one of Wallace Stevens’ poem states: “The Ultimate Poem Is Abstract.” How this may be achieved, whether through novel metaphors, non sequitor, or freshly minted words, is up to the discretion of the individual poet. Used sparingly, the effect, and affect, can be quite striking. Not that I find it easy, but the more I come back to these poems, the more they reward, especially through memorization, at which point the poem’s unique complex becomes fused with the brain.

  44. Thanks for that — I think it’s the most eloquent justification of this kind of thing I’ve ever read! I may try going back to Crane with eyes freshened by your spectacles.

  45. Gilles Goyette says


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