On American Poetry Criticism;
& Other Dastardly –Isms

PART 11:
S.O.S.: Cyber-Crit & Verse- New Venue, Same Old Shit?
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 7/21/02

Wannabes   Eliot Weinberger   Erich Vogel & William Logan   Ruminator Review   Contemporary Poetry Review   Marjorie Perloff & Dana Gioia   Ekphrasis   Web Del Sol   Plagiarist.com   Wrap Up  When Hacks Attack!

  Most of the focus of my attacks on APC, in this ongoing series of essays, has been directed at the print medium- specifically magazines & books. However, far more outlets for poetry & its criticism now exist in the cyberworld. It is here where I will now turn my attention to the rarely good, mostly bad world of cyber-crit. Here, we see a panoply of voices, from all over & all strata, unrivaled in the print world. Unfortunately, virtually all of them are boobs, illiterates, or money-seeking apparatchiks who were too low on the totem pole to latch on to the print side of this bonanza of the banal.
  I will examine a # of online critics, magazines, & pieces & do my usual rotisserie on their massively abundant flaws & maybe, just maybe, discover a sliver of insight & integrity in the cyberworld outside the friendly confines of Cosmoetica’s domain (pun intended!).

JAK-Oh! & Other No-Names

  Let me start off with a very familiar sort of faux cyber-crit: the laudatory explication by an editor. I will start off with the poetry editor of a website, storySouth, maintained by an attendee of the Uptown Poetry Group I run. Despite my personal like of Jason Sanford, & respect for his taste & opinions as an artist, I have disagreed often with him over the poetry ½ of his website, run by a college pal of his: Jake Adam York. JAK is, unfortunately, all-too typical of the ‘poetry editors’ online. But, the real sin is when they try to develop rationales for the crappy poetry they choose to feature. I will now give some excerpts from the Poetry Afterword for storySouth’s spring edition. It is a brief essay titled Interstates, Interchanges: Telling Souths. It can be found at http://www.storysouth.com/spring2002/poetryafterword.html .
  JAK makes the hack’s error of beginning his essay by trying to link all that follows with the implied genius of what is quoted, usually by a big name writer. This says that both the quote & the works described are ‘of a like kind’. He quotes: 

  But you were not listening, because you knew it already, had learned, absorbed it already without the medium of speech somehow from having been born and living beside it, with it, as children will and do: so that what you father was saying did not tell you anything so much as it struck, word by word, the resonant strings of remembering?.

  So is described Quentin Compson's experience of hearing (and re-hearing and ...) the story of the Sutpen family in Absalom, Absalom! The words come from Quentin's college roommate Shreve McCannon and from Quentin's father, whom Shreve ventriloquizes, and, in part, from Rosa Coldfield who first starts telling it to Quentin, whom Quentin's father voices, and ultimately from William Faulkner.’


  What follows after the quote is the statement of the very obvious, though dragged out & stated multiple times. This is an old technique which not only is designed to show that depth abounds, but meant to add padding- length equates with depth in a lot of critics’ minds.
 Then, aside from stating the obvious, there is the old ruse of slightly re-stating the obvious again & again, then digress slightly, re-state the obvious (again), relate it to a non-sequitur- but make sure you pad a lot- to seem discursive & authoritative. Witness:


It's a version of the solid South, the cultural idea that outlives the bygone political moment.

But however haunting and attractive the notion of such solidity is, however much we may maintain the conceptual validity of the category The South, much of our contemporary experience must complicate this beyond such simple deployments. Whether we eat at a McDonald's, exercising our membership in a decentralized and perpetually instantiated (and thereby re-centralized) American culture while a perfectly good local barbecue smokes down just across the two-lane, or at an Indian restaurant only blocks from the re-incinerated Margaret Mitchell house, there is something perpetually not-South about our Souths, something Southern still, but Southern in its own local way.

Which means that there's a great deal to say. That we are not so contiguous with the history and the place that we don't need telling. That writing is not simply reminder.

The poems in this issue of storySouth bear witness to this reality even as they bear witness to the stories that require them, even as they teach us those stories. These poems as in conversation with the South (and The South) even as they are in conversation with diaries, relatives (mothers, brothers, ancestors), themselves.

  Don’t you just love all the PC clichés JAK refuses to let die a natural death? Let’s count’em: the ‘fill-in-the-blank’ South, ‘contemporary experience’, his way cool use of ‘instantiate’  

[Main Entry: in·stan·ti·ate
Pronunciation: in-'stan(t)-shE-"At
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): -at·ed; -at·ing
Date: 1949
: to represent (an abstraction) by a concrete instance <heroes instantiate ideals -- W. J. Bennett>
- in·stan·ti·a·tion /-"stan(t)-shE-'A-sh&n/ noun],

  ‘American culture’, the plural Souths, ‘contiguous’, the idea of ‘telling’- as well its need, ‘bearing witness’, ‘in conversation’, & wrapping up with a reversion to ‘the self’. This dreck could only have come from the mind of a refugee from MFA-dom.
  Need I say the poems are uniformly bad? Yet he relates them to this well-known & respected author to gain some patina for them, all the while peppering the fancy ‘instantiate’ to say these poems are deep. Of course, the ‘essay’ ends with generic pabulum that says absolutely nothing, & an ‘end’ meant to be memorable & convey JAK’s commitment to art, all the while betraying his utter lack of originality. Word:

These poems help us know. They tune us to the talk and invite our replies. They demand and satisfy the curiosity of Quentin Compson's fictional roommate — Tell about the South. What's it like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all?

For this, they say. For this, at least.

Jake Adam York is the poetry editor of storySouth.


  Ugh! How did this guy not end up suckling at Oprah’s tit? But, he’s an anomaly, right? He’s a freak, totally unrepresentative of the pap that is infecting all forms of American writing? Unfortunately not. Let’s gander at this little slice from an essay that was on Hyde Park Review, ‘Octavio Paz: A Meditation, Reviewed by C.M. Mayo’:

Poet, essayist, critic, translator, and editor, Octavio Paz was, writes Stavans, "the quintessential surveyor, a Dante's Virgil, a Renaissance man... and a believer in reason and dreams and poetic invention as our only salvation." Born in 1914 in Mexico City, Paz lived past the age of eighty, having written over forty books of poetry and essays, among the latter, the classic Labyrinth of Solitude, in which, writes Stavans, "he articulated, in lucid, erudite, nonacademic prose, and with Olympian authority, the key to the question he nurtured in his heart for years: What does it mean to be a Mexican in today's world?"


  This is a critical 2-fer. 1st is that CMM feels the need to critically shorthand by constantly quoting, thereby letting the work, de facto, review itself. If that bullshit were not enough we get the pap of the quoted author, Stavans, which (of all that could possibly be quoted from a tract of book-length) is inevitably banal & PC itself.

  Think of it- we get a critic who is so lazy that he quotes from the worst part of a work in order to justify the work. There is nothing ‘critical’ in the whole piece!


The Doyen


  You counter: But, who the hell ever heard of C.M. Mayo? Even in the small poetry world he’s a nobody. True. But let’s look at the critical skills of a ‘somebody’- at least in name value he’s got ‘brand’. This is from an essay by noted poetry critic Eliot Weinberger called ‘What Was Formalism?’. The essay can be read in full at http://www.jacket.zip.com.au/jacket06/weinberger-formalism.html. EW starts off on a familiar trope:


I have recently come across an anthology with a fire-alarm red cover, an inflammatory title (Rebel Angels ), and a gaseous introduction whose first word is "Revolution." It is not, as one might expect, a lost artifact of the Beat Generation, but rather a Molotov cocktail tossed by the radical right of poetry, the self-styled "New Formalists."
      According to these Rebel Angels -- who, like most conservatives, have short historical memories for what they are conserving -- it was during the "cultural upheavals of the 60's and 70's" that formalism, defined as "meter and rhyme," was "largely . . .  abandoned by American poets." The result was that "poetry and prose became nearly indistinguishable." [The 150 years of prose poetry aside, to what are they referring? People reading projective verse mysteries at the beach?] Happily, however, certain poets -- Wilbur, Nemerov, Hecht, Van Duyn, among them -- "courageous in their commitment to their art," withstood the onslaught, kept the faith, and inspired a renaissance launched by those misfits from the Generation of '68 for whom baba was a rhyme-scheme and not a guru, and who are now in their forties and fifties.


  Here, EW opens by trying to defend poetry against the obvious charge of banality in recent decades. But, instead of sticking to the colloquial sense of the general criticism he snidely dismisses it with the brush-off remark about Projective verse- itself a fairly banal & prosaic poetic branch. He then veers into the eternally pointless debate over free vs. formal poetry- as if either claim matters as much as good vs. bad poetry- regardless the style:

  The formalism they have collectively revived is not merely "the art of making poems in measured speech." It "assumes a valued civility . . .  a larger cultural vision that restores harmony and balance to the arts." According to the poet Timothy Steele, formalist poetry, more than any "other pursuit," can "nourish"

a love of nature, an enthusiasm for justice, a readiness of good humor, a spontaneous susceptibility to beauty and joy, an interest in our past, a hope for our future, and, above all, a desire that others should have the opportunity and encouragement to share these qualities


which presumably were and are absent from "free verse," not to mention the "other" pursuits. The thought that justice and equal opportunity are the hallmarks of a flourishing formalist verse culture (such as Victorian England, the Court of Versailles, Heian Kyoto . . . ) belongs in a parallel universe, perhaps one where a group named after Lucifer & Co. promotes hope, good humor, beauty, and joy.


  Here we get the classic conflation of art having benefits outside of merely enlightening &/or entertaining. The fact that I doubt most true devotees of poetry subscribe to it, well…. But, then EW emerges & lashes back at what we thought was his own point. It turns out he has some decent prosifying in him, but his critical eye is wanting:

  Rebel Angels collects the poems, each labeled with the form it employs, of twenty-five poets "deserving attention for the beauty, accuracy and memorability of their language, as well as their feelings and ideas." They "represent nothing less than a revolution, a fundamental change, in the art of poetry as it is practiced in this country" -- and, if poets deserve attention for their feelings, a revolution in criticism as well.
      As a devotee of poetic revolutions, formal or informal, I cracked the book at random, hoping for a new specter haunting America. But these were the first lines of the first poem I read:


We stood on the rented patio
While the party went on inside.
You knew the groom from college.
I was a friend of the bride . . . 


Every revolution must lose a few skirmishes, so I flipped again, to a rebel sonnet:

Four years ago I started reading Proust.
Although I'm past the halfway point, I still
Have seven hundred pages of reduced
Type left before I reach the end. I will . . . 

  EW is correct in pointing out the 1st 4 line quote is not good- but broken as free verse it also would suck- & I’ve read this kind of casual dreck far more in free verse than formal:


We stood on the

rented patio while the party

went on inside. You knew the

groom from college. I was a

friend of the bride . . . 


  See what I mean? The 2nd quote is too brief to say good or bad- but it has potential. In, & of, itself it is too fragmentary & could belong to a good or bad poem. Overall, EW fares better than most online critics- even though he is more ossified than most cyber-critics.


Bad Asses, Young & Old


  Let’s look & see if the younger generation does any better. Here’s a review from the Poetry Harsh archives by Erich Vogel, Poetry Harsh, Issue 1, Nov-Dec 96. It’s on Louise Gluck's Meadowlands. 

Louise Gluck is my favorite poet; she has been since I first began reading modern poetry in earnest. I think The Wild Iris is the most perfect book of verse ever written. That it should be followed by a mediocre book like Meadowlands is depressing. Gluck's work has been so consistently brilliant for so long that her latest false step comes as a rude shock.
Louise Gluck's poetry has always been strong on unity of theme, image and style…. 

  The opening is the classic feint. The critic is being coy & telling you he has biases, only so his current review, however dull or wrong or both, will take on a patina of ‘truth’. Of course, EV then quotes from Glück poems that totally point out his critical hackery- devoid of any ‘unity’ (gotta love that cliché of criticism, eh?) of theme, image, or style. But, give him props- he’s actually here to do a negative revie. The problem is that his critical skills in praise are so woebegotten that his negatreviews have no real heft behind them- unlike, say, me- who both makes a case very directly & counters with writing great poetry, as well. EV, in truth, shows he is far more a fan than a real critic. Think I’m lyin’? Well, get set on dyin’. Check this use of quotation by EV:


In the past her poetry has seemed to fashion gorgeous evocative imagery out of a seemingly inadequite {sic}number of descriptive terms, with a talent that was impossible to pin down to mere technique.


"and then, all winter, their wool scarves
floating behind them as they sink
until at last they are quiet.
And the pond lifts them in its manifold dark arms."
(from "The Drowned Children" in Descending Figure

    The image of scarves fluttering behind is very trite. The 4th line quoted could be from bad Victorian verse. But, then, EV has basically precluded any crit of his crit with his opening ‘admission’ of possible bias. See how that works? But, then he is striving to be a Bad Boy Critic- this is what failed poets often resort to. Let’s now turn to the self-professed King of Bad Boy Critics- William Logan. Now, you might expect such a guy to be doing the Kerouackian deal, right? Especially being born in 1950 & coming of majority in the epochal 1968. Well, let’s see how outside this guy is before we see how ‘outside’ his crit is. This is from his online bio:

  Professor William Logan is the author of five books of poems: Sad-faced Men (1982), Difficulty (1985), Sullen Weedy Lakes (1988), Vain Empires (1998), and Night Battle (1999). He is the author of two books of essays and reviews on contemporary poetry, All the Rage (1998) and Reputations of the Tongue (1999), and co-editor of a book on the poetry of Donald Justice, Certain Solitudes (1998). Reputations of the Tongue was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award in criticism. Another volume of his criticism, Desperate Measures, is forthcoming in 2002.

  Professor Logan is a regular critic of poetry for the New York Times Book Review and writes a biannual verse chronicle for the New Criterion. He has won the Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle, the Peter I. B. Lavan Award from the Academy of American Poets, and the John Masefield and Celia B. Wagner Awards from the Poetry Society of America. He has also won the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship and has received grants from the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the Florida Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

  Professor Logan teaches poetry workshops and an occasional seminar on contemporary poetry. He graduated from Yale (B.A., 1972) and the University of Iowa (M.F.A., 1975). He was the English Department’s Director of Creative Writing from 1983 to 2000.

  Professor Logan’s office phone: [see When Hacks Attack! below]  Professor Logan’s email address: wlogan@english.ufl.edu

  Go ahead, email him with this article, He won’t reply. Like most wannabe artists & critics he bristles at being on the receiving end. But he’s a rebel, dammit! Read on & see how rebellious he is as he plays it safe in this criticism of Robert Frost. This is from ‘The Other Other Frost’ @ http://www.newcriterion.com/archive/13/jun95/frost.htm

 Frost was a poet of missed chance, of failed opportunity, of regret and cold disappointment. Of all the moderns he is the one we have not come to terms with, yet part of the problem has always been Frost himself.

More than forty years ago Randall Jarrell wrote two marvelous essays of rehabilitation, “The Other Frost” and “To the Laodiceans,” arguing for the gloomy, hard, human Frost (“human” was a favorite Jarrell word), the Frost of “The Witch of Coös,” “Provide, Provide,” and “Home Burial.” Most of the poems Jarrell favored are now part of our Frost—but instead we have two Frosts, a farmer schizophrenic, half Vermont maple-syrup and half raw granite, an old man of the mountains people can take home to dinner.


  Note the classic collectivizational we? He even underlines the damned thing. You know a critic is on shaky ground when they need to resort to saying, ‘Well, everyone else agrees!’ Then we get the conflation of self with a respected elder. The fact that Randall Jarrell was a mediocre critic (see my essay), well…. This allows WL a vague rationale for the whole criticism. But then we get a load of crap:


Has any major poet written a worse poem about America than “The Gift Outright”? It contains every part of Frost’s terrible sentiment for the Land, America, the Past, for Ourselves, for the general myth that replaces the mangled event—even the best line, “To the land vaguely realizing westward,” drowns in the horror of all that is left unsaid.


  Well, yes, WL. Think of any of the major (& how does WL define that term?) poets pre-Whitman & post-1950. I won’t name them all, but you know who I mean. Then we end that fragment with a tip-off to upcoming dimestore pop psychology. Check this out:


If Jarrell’s Frost was the Frost of interior and melancholy, of moral observation and metallic cunning, he was also the Frost whose monologues and scenes tended toward sentiment (a poet a lot like himself, in other words). I would like to propose what might seem impossible after Jarrell, a list of a dozen or so of Frost’s best poems rarely seen in anthologies and likely to be new to most readers. Here is the list: “The Code,” “A Hundred Collars,” “The Bearer of Evil Tidings,” “Snow,” “Place for a Third,” “The Exposed Nest,” “The Fear,” “Spring Pools,” “The Thatch,” “Sand Dunes,” “The Strong Are Saying Nothing,” “The Draft Horse,” “The Silken Tent,” and “Willful Homing.” This is a list of moral ambiguity and suspended grief, of stark horror and shy confusion—if Frost was a confusion to himself, we should, part of the time, be as confused and surprised by the Frost we read.


  Not a bad list- but very hit & miss. & note the near knee-jerk fellating of old RJ! But, it’s the headshrinking attempt that is the worst! Yet, it continues!:


Frost knew when to let a poem go—in his best poems the ending comes as a slight shock, as if the poem couldn’t be over (in his worst the reader feels the poem shouldn’t have begun). The actions seem to move beyond the end of the lines—this is an old trick in fiction, but how many poets have used it well? Fiction wouldn’t have served Frost’s temper (if he’d been a novelist he might have written something awfully like Ethan Frome), but when we place him it must be alongside those moody gothics Hawthorne and Melville, the New England geniuses of guilt and redemption, and failures to redeem. Something of the violent Fate that moves their fiction moves through his verse, but it is a Fate blinder and more callous. Here is “The Draft Horse”:

With a lantern that wouldn’t burn
In too frail a buggy we drove
Behind too heavy a horse
Through a pitch-dark limitless grove.

And a man came out of the trees
And took our horse by the head
And reaching back to his ribs
Deliberately stabbed him dead.

The ponderous beast went down
With a crack of a broken shaft.
And the night drew through the trees
In one long invidious draft.

The most unquestioning pair
That ever accepted fate
And the least disposed to ascribe
Any more than we had to to hate,

We assumed that the man himself
Or someone he had to obey
Wanted us to get down
And walk the rest of the way.


This is the Frost who makes readers uncomfortable. We ought to be able to call it an allegory—but no allegory suggests itself (or, rather, the allegories are too simple for the savagery). The murder of the horse is so abrupt, so unforeseen, that the murderer seems more than just part of that unknowable agency that makes life harder (no memory “keeps the end from being hard,” Frost wrote in “Provide, Provide”). The couple, with their faulty lantern and fragile buggy, with the wrong horse, are destined for trouble—and how Frost loved those scary old woods. (One critic asked—this is the sort of question critics should ask—why the couple had hitched a draft horse to a buggy. The answer should have been obvious—because they had to.) Frost knew more about depravity than any American writer after Melville and before Faulkner— and he had a cellar knowledge of our irrational fears (Frost tells us the man stabbed the horse deliberately; but first, in the way he grips the horse’s head, Frost shows us deliberation). This is the Frost people don’t want to care for, and yet look how compellingly the poem ends. The couple don’t curse their fate; they’re so unquestioning they seem slightly stupid. Yet isn’t this a philosophy, a kind of clear religion, not “to ascribe/ Any more than we had to to hate”? As readers we know we wouldn’t act this way, and we’re not finally sure that we should act this way—but we’re not sure we shouldn’t, either. That makes Frost strange, and us, in our settled, suspicious natures, ill at ease.


  Here is where WL really reveals himself as a BAD (sans the Ass or Boy) critic- even as the specter of the old query in to what defines a good critic rises. Is a critic good because they have great technical acumen, regardless of how well they can convey that acumen? Or, is a critic good because, despite the value of the opinion, their dialectic skills reign supreme. In other words, the old Siskel vs. Ebert debate! Well, WL is wrong in 3 ways: 1st off, his take on the poem is wrong- but I won’t delve in to that since a) I agree with him that the poem is good- the reason why he gets wrong; & b) the purpose of this essay is not to critique poems but to apply that to the criticism. 2ndly, let’s look at the definition of allegory:


Main Entry: al·le·go·ry

Pronunciation: 'a-l&-"gOr-E, -"gor-
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -ries
Etymology: Middle English allegorie, from Latin allegoria, from Greek allEgoria, from allEgorein to speak figuratively, from allos other + -Egorein to speak publicly, from agora assembly
Date: 14th century
1 : the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence; also : an instance (as in a story or painting) of such expression
2 : a symbolic representation : EMBLEM 2


  See? He does not even know what the terms he uses mean. He says, ‘The murder of the horse is so abrupt, so unforeseen, that the murderer seems more than just part of that unknowable agency that makes life harder’- i.e.- he states the very allegory the poem uses! The poem makes very good use of symbolism- it is, almost a poem that could be appended to the definition that follows. 3rdly, this is BAD criticism because he unspools his very points as he elaborates them- again, reread the italicized part I just quoted. 3 strikes- get the hell outta here, Billy Bob!

  Well, maybe not, because he comes back with easily the best point of the essay- if not his critical career: 

The women in Frost’s poetry usually stand apart from the action, like a Greek chorus—and yet we’ve had few poets who understood women better. How many wonderful women he created as characters: the wife in “The Death of the Hired Man” and the wife in “Home Burial,” the Witch of Coös and the Pauper Witch of Grafton, the wife in “The Fear” and the depressed wife in “A Servant to Servants,” the mother in “The Housekeeper,” the wife of “In the Home Stretch.” There’s a fine anthology to be made merely from Frost’s women, merely from Frost’s wives (Frost must have been a bit afraid of women—in the dialogues, the women usually come off better than the men). Frost wasn’t ashamed of being a man, and that gave him an understanding of women—not the understanding, but an understanding that can only come from liking what women are.

  But, another hallmark of anyone who is bad at anything is their lack of being able to be consistent. WL follows up this excellent point with this: 

In “Place for a Third” (what an awful maker of titles Frost was—sometimes they’re slapped on like gummed labels)….


  Huh? Frost is known, almost, for his great titles. How many other poets’ titles stick in the memory? Usually readers fumble around with vague memories of the poem’s subject matter. Just look at the title he disses- it’s not expected in the least- & could lead a reader in many directions. WL ends the long piece with another tired tope in criticism- that of the eternal font of wisdom from the master:


Frost was a vain and arrogant man, and some of his humility is merely vanity. But some of it is humility, too. He knew his poems might not always be of use—he knew his life had not been much use to those he loved. When we tire of “Birches” and “Mending Wall,” of “After Apple-Picking” and “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” of “Nothing Gold Can Stay” and “Fire and Ice” and all the other poems anthologized into the thick crust of our memories—after we have tired of these, there is another Frost, and another. The good in Frost often lies so close to the sentimental and bad, it is difficult to remember that some of the best-loved poems are the best, just as some are the worst and most trivial.


  A year & a ½ later WL was still opining for the New Criterion when he tried his hand at critiquing Surrealism. The results were not pretty. You can read the whole thing @ http://www.newcriterion.com/archive/15/dec96/verse.htm, but here are some slices. It’s interesting to note the sheer # of poets never even remotely associated with Surrealism that WL points to. This isn’t bad as a critic should be able to point out links to things unlinked before. The problem is he’s been smokin’ some good shit to come up with some of these opinions. F’rinstance:


Mitteleuropa Surrealism isn’t what it was when the Balkans, the Orthodox Church, and the Ottoman Empire brooded in the background. Surrealist poems, those uncompromising, gritty, erotic protests against logic or meaning, were once the dreams Kafka suffered, the dreams of an insurance clerk. In America, Surrealists like Charles Simic write like this:


They had already attached the evening’s
    tears to the windowpanes.
The general was busy with the ant farm
    in his head.
The holy saints in their tombs were burning,
    all except one who was a prisoner of a
    dark-haired movie star.


  Simic is known in this country as a bad translator, worse poet, bad critic, but passable proemist. Surrealism is appended to his name because of his Slavic origins- no other reason. But, Goddamn!, look at the crap Logan selects- even though he is trying to make that point. But to WL it is crap not because the writing is bad (damn the Style!), but because it simply doesn’t fit into his Surreal box. But, what devotee of Surrealism would have thought even Surrealism would come down to its clichés? True, you & I, intelligent readers, could foresee that, but not those knee-deep in the muck. To most, Surrealism is just an excuse to write poorly & lazily, & to blame the art work’s failure on the ignorance of the audience, rather than the artist’s failings.
  WL next conflates Surrealism with A.R. Ammons. ARA is not a Capital nor lower-case surrealist. His poems simply don’t say much. To his credit, WL points this out- but why Billy call him a Surrealist when he’s manifestly not- by any standard?: 

Ammons’s flaws are so disfiguring it’s impossible not to notice them: a lot of his poems are tedious (you trudge through the physics to get to the nature, but it wasn’t worth the trudge); they’re ponderous, muddled performances, terrible and trivial at once, like an elephant balanced on a pinhead. Just when you fall in love with a stripped-bare description of the natural world, or an improbable insight into the human, he’ll start a poem, “Anxiety clears meat chunks out of the stew, carrots, takes/ the skimmer to floats of greasy globules,” or succumb to blather like “The flow-finding of the making impulse/ rounds the curve, of what-is/ and shakes out scaffolding/ suitable to the outline of the perception. . . .” He’ll end a confused rumination on the limits of nature with a line so awful it ought to receive some sort of prize: “remarkable sucked fizzy drinks burning the mucous.”
Ammons doesn’t always take himself seriously—a big galoot of a poet, he’s proud of being nearly unreadable (his poems “bowing to no one, nonpatronizing and ungrateful”), but knows he likes to be read. You can tell it gets under his skin when a review says he falls “far short of Stevens”—but it’s true, he does fall far short of Stevens. 

  Well, duh! Next, WL takes on Robert Hass- trust me, he says nothing of import about an unimportant poet of little talent- but he WAS Poet Laureate! WL then fumbles over C.K. Williams:


Williams has turned the long verse line of Whitman, that brawny lover of men, of laborers and loungers, into the medium of modern urban anxiety, of naked souls in the naked city.

Many of these poems are anatomy lessons (you feel Williams would like to buy a textbook and take out his own appendix).


  As with ARA the opinion is dead-on. But even fewer folk have conflated Surrealism with CKW than ARA. CKW’s poems have been called prosaic, dull, & too long- but never Surreal by anyone who knows poetry. So why do it? Well, it’s the idea of ‘critic-as-creator’: WL wants to create a new paradigm (another cliché of criticism) so that future critics will quote from this essay in years hence. &, hey, I did- except not in a way he would like! The next silly conflation is with Russian émigré poet Joseph Brodsky. Again WL nails a good point, only he lumps the target in the wrong group, which therefore invalidates the whole criticism- even the good!:


What are we to think when a poet as gifted as Brodsky, a Nobel laureate, writes “one keeps carving notches only/ so long as nobody apes one” or “the tear could be mine, chin-bound” or “The eye tracks the sinking soap, though it’s the foam that’s famous”? Or “The battle looks from afar like—‘aaagh’ carved in stone” and “seven/ years later and pints of semen/ under the bridge” and “a cross between muscular torso and horse’s ibid” and “O if the transparent things in their blue garret/ could hold their eye-dodging matter in second gear”? The words are generally right, but all their music is wrong.
  Brodsky’s career in English was a career of might-have-beens. He plainly wanted to stake his claim in two languages (his essays may be his lasting achievement in English), but his pride could not accept his limitations, while mere ambition could not overcome the absence of what a native speaker absorbs through his pores.


  The only other poet of interest that WL tackles in the piece is Anthony Hecht. It’s a very VERY bad criticism. Look how WL slavers over AH. I will under line the critical clichés. 56 words’ worth in 4 lines!:


  Very few poets have ever handled English words with such devotion, and Hecht has written with extraordinary passion (always dry, dry passion—like a martini mixed with the memory of vermouth) into late age. We have had no better poet of war to honor these decades of peace, or what we have chosen to call peace.


  The # is 7. All are flat-out verbatim clichés, except the martini metaphor- there it’s the idea, not phrasing, that’s cliché. So, we see that WL- perhaps the most noted poetry critic of the pre-geriatric generation, is mostly bad- even his good points are undermined by his own lack of understanding. Even worse is a recent essay in New Criterion called ‘Falls The Shadow’ (http://www.newcriterion.com/archive/20/jun02/logan.htm). Let’s have a little fun this time. I’ll go rapid-fire through the piece, pull a quote, & then nail it down for the tripe it is. Here WL takes on the eternally dull Charles Wright:  


  These gentlemanly Southern poems lie drowsily on the page, as if the poet had handed you a mint julep and invited you into a hammock. When a poet admits he’s “getting too old and lazy to write poems,” the prognosis isn’t good.

  Wright is one of our most talented poets; but he’s content to make bad jokes. But however much I want to believe that Wright’s carelessness and over-reaching might be crucial to his casual beauty, too many of these poems skim the surface of the poet’s impressions the way a cook skims fat. 

  Smack-dab in the middle of another good shot is the ‘one of our most’ cliché. The unanswered question is that if his poems do as WL describes, how in the hell can the cliché be true? It can’t. Bad critic with a bad point. In this next snippet- also pretty accurate- it is important to note the laziness of the writing. This is another hallmark of a bad critic. The laze comes in all the referentiality that leaves a tyro bewildered & clueless. The critic makes no attempt to look a large audience in the eye.

Alan Dugan’s poems are essentially Hobbesian—nasty, brutish, and short. His taste for sour (and vituperative) complaint and bare-knuckled self-analysis became characteristic, though many poems were cast in a monstrous diction half Dylan Thomas, half Hart Crane:   
  Dugan is scathing about the pointlessness of work (“for wages, some shit’s profits, and his own/ payment on his dreamed family plan”), the degradations of love, the ghastly human condition (where the first imperative is Eat! and the second, Screw!); but this hard-boiled austerity, this isolation from the causes of joy (Catullus knew pleasures, but for Dugan pleasure is just the crass satisfaction of instinct), left him no room to develop. The poems have ground on, decade by decade, in cruel repetition, like a bread and water ration.
  But is that enough? Without Larkin’s appreciation of foible or Hecht’s taste for darkly beautiful lines, Dugan’s poetry has been cruelly limited: his world reduces everyone to Freudian complex and Marxist statistic. 

  This selection dips into referentiality, yet without explication. Add to it the poor selection of the poem; well, read on:

Cynthia Zarin’s delicate, whimsical poems are knowing in a disquieting way—as if she doesn’t quite want to know what she knows (the dust jacket claims The Watercours was written after a divorce, though you can scarcely tell from the poems). She has learned much from Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop and Amy Clampitt, and when you read her poems you often think you’re reading Moore or Bishop or Clampitt. 

The rationing, the slugs on the lawn, the spirit
     lamp casting up the mute face of
     the charwoman’s dead child, the elephantine
          car that made it through another

winter, the hoarfrost dotting the lawn. An utter
     frenzy of communication, of agendas
     surprisingly fulfilled in the glossy umber
          evenings with—downstairs—the wireless
going, each typed letter (for later, she typed
     them) a stitch in the seam every so
     often righted by an exclamation, a scrawled
Such stanzas are lovely, but you’d swear they were torn from Clampitt’s notebook (ventriloquism can be forgiven in a young poet—in an older it looks like ill-breeding).

  The unsaid is that Amy Clampitt was the quintessential ‘style over substance’ poet. This selection is terribly enjambed & dull. But the 1st sentence is classic critical crap when dealing with a poet who does nothing but glop images upon images: ‘Cynthia Zarin’s delicate, whimsical poems are knowing in a disquieting way—as if she doesn’t quite want to know what she knows’. Does WL comment on any of this? What do you think? Instead we get more in the same vein:

Dick Davis was part of a group of proper English formal poets, ardent admirers of Yvor Winters, that made almost no impact on British poetry in the seventies and eighties. Like many New Formalists in America, their verse was a little too careful, a little too ordinary, and a little too dull. Sometimes as formal poets age they unbend (all too often they become fossilized instead) and use their trained ears to write in classical simplicity.

The sun comes up, and soon
The night’s thin fall of snow
Fades from the grass as if
It could not wait to go.

But look, a lank line lingers
Beyond the lawn’s one tree,
Safe in its shadow still,
Held momentarily.

The first stanza might have been written by Frost, it’s so cleanly expressive; but the second must have been by Frost’s deaf yardman, with its clogged alliteration and the awkward rhyme on a secondary accent. It’s amusing to find an exponent of the classical virtues guilty, elsewhere, of a dangling participle as bad as some freshman’s (“Lifting her arms to soap her hair/ Her pretty breasts respond”). 

  Oh boy. Stanza 2 is obviously the better stanza- musically, technically, & narratively. Stanza 1 has been written by many before & line 3 is poorly enjambed- period. Again, WL starts out with a good point but shoots himself in the foot by revealing his terminal ignorance about technical poetry skills.
  Let me end my rail against WL with his view of Geoffrey Hill: 

  Hill rails at his critics (“I’m/ ordered to speak plainly, let what ís/ speak for itself, not to redeem the time/ but to get even with it”), making direct appeal to readers (“Don’t look it up this time; the sub-/ conscious does well by us”), as if he were Luther translating the Bible into the vernacular. But Hill would be delusional not to realize his poetry is beyond the reach of the common reader, or even most uncommon ones. Beyond the tags from half-a-dozen languages, The Orchards of Syon assumes a knowledge of the cleric Thomas Bradwardine, of a scrap of Job that appears as a chapter title in Moby-Dick, of the influence of Richard Jefferies on Henry Williamson, of the bridges and canals of James Brindley and the coin presses of Matthew Boulton, and much other arcana. The diction reaches from the fixed past to the fluid and temporary present of cell phones, refuseniks, and rap cassettes. A reader must know that Silvertown was the set, on a ranch outside Los Angeles, where hundreds of westerns were born.
  Amid the disordered lines of rant and reprisal, there are scattered passages of physical beauty (a beauty Hill sometimes resents and winces at): 

Distant flocks merge into limestone’s half-light.
The full moon, now, rears with unhastening speed,
sketches the black ridge-end, slides thin lustre
downward aslant its gouged and watered scree.  

  The Orchards of Syon is the testament of a poet nearing the end of life, a poet who has earned the reader’s trust by long careful mistrust of his own words. If there is no consolation in this contemplation of the grave, there is no self-pity, either. These monologues have been a preposterous, irritating, and baffling addition to the work of the major poet of our laggard age. Their fraught understandings of guilt, and grace, have been rivalled in the last century only by Eliot’s Four Quartets

  The piece starts with scattershot referentiality, & ends with a single conflation with an older, & greater, poet (all the while ignoring the Four Quartets' many flaws). All in all, WL is a superfluous, bad, & generally banal critic. It’s only because his contemporaries are absolutely TERRIBLE that his reputation has been burnished. 

The Damned 

  But he’s not the only critic to gizz his opinions hell-mell. Let’s take a turn away from the individual critic & pounce on a magazine. This time let’s hit the infamously bad Ruminator Review (nee Hungry Mind Review). A few years ago, before the name change former editor (Artsy-Fartsy) Bartsy Schneider edited a special section called ‘HMR's Millennium Books, Twenty Writers Choose Books for the Twenty-First Century’. Need I tell you that the opinions & critical assertions were atrocious?  Not to mention the writing, itself- such as this trite bon mot to start the piece? 

‘The responses, as you'll see, are magnificently varied. We hope you find among them a book to take with you.’ -Bart Schneider  


  Is this the best Bartsy can do? Really? Let me hit the books chosen & savor the horror of the very worst bits: The Diary Of Anne Frank; The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks; Hard Times, by Charles Dickens (Emily Carter chose it); The Woman Warrior, by Maxine Hong Kingston; Ecce Homo, by Friedrich Nietzsche; The Varieties of Religious Experience, by William James; Essays before a Sonata: The Majority and Other Writings, by Charles Ives (Bill Holm chose it); Call to Arms, by Lu Xun; On the Road, by Jack Kerouac (chosen by Adrian Louis, who essays in doggerel); Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino; The Fourth Dimension, by Yannis Ritsos (chosen by Jim Moore); Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell; The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro; Remembrance of Things Past, by Marcel Proust; & Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-80, by W. E. B. DuBois. These retorts were, if not good, at least not blatantly stupid. What follows cannot claim the same.

  Sven Birketts chose Rilke’s Duino Elegies. Listen up:


  Because it is there we find the most potent possible distillation of subjective inwardness, our most endangered attribute. Because there we find the most potent possible distillation of subjective inwardness, our most endangered attribute.
  Why Rilke? Because if he cannot persuade us directly of inwardness not just as a human capacity but our raison d’etre, then he can at least allow us to sample what the momentum of the soul's life might once have felt like.
   Failing that, his Duino Elegies can report with wrenching eloquence on the road not taken, the one that would have made all the difference.


  Repeat after me: the collective WE! & why the gratuitous recycle of the Frostian cliché? Are these literatistas so devoid of original thought? Minnesota’s favorite barfly, Robert Bly, ends his stab at  José Ortega y Gasset’s The Revolt of the Masses with:    


It is hard to write a book that deeply insults the Right, the Left, and all the good people in between, that offends the fundamentalists and the atheists, and all the good New Age people in between. But Ortega has done it. It is a book of genuine wisdom.


  To say that being offensive, in & of itself, is a good thing is flat-out dumb- but then it explains Bly’s entire raison d’etre. But the last sentence is pure cliché. Noted AIDS enthusiast & bad poet Mark Doty gushes over Dream Palace by Herbert Morris:


Let this stanza from "Boardwalk," one of the great poems of the last twenty years, suffice. It is a parenthetical aside-a favorite Morris technique-in the larger body of the poem, but it speaks worlds. In it, the speaker's mother is examining with him a family photograph from a childhood vacation taken fifty years before.


(Scrutinizing this photograph with me,
decades later, tracking down lost details
until, one by one, each has been recovered,
restored to its incomparable luster,
the past freed from the dust which settles on it,
freed from the past, made whole, retrieved intact-
Those were drop earrings I wore, see them? pearls;
that vast collar was fox, black-as-night fox,
and your leggings had buttons down the side
which I would fasten with a button hook-
slowly, quite slowly, Mother turns to me-
the turn as lovely as the need to turn-,
tears filling her eyes, spilling to her cheeks,
whispers these words: You two were dazzling, dazzling.)


  Okay, Marco- where’s the greatness?  Forgive me for the Clara Peller reference but this snippet is merely a trite photo poem, loaded with the clichés of such. It lacks both music & invention. Geez! The next example of critical pap comes from famed poetaster Naomi Shihab Nye. It concerns a former mentor of hers- although she does not address that fact, of course. Not that that would disqualify her feelings & opinions but- admit the goddamn cronyism! Her choice?: The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, by William Stafford. Aside from the trite recommendation, it is in shockingly BAD prose:


Give this book to the person who hasn't read any poetry for a long time, who hungers for it without knowing what's being missed. Give this book to the person who reads poetry every day. It will be out in paperback momentarily-notice how in the cover photograph the shining, translucent droplets of water on the leaves haven't run together yet. This book is poised, alert, waiting for us-wherever we are, wherever we will be tomorrow.


  Forget the collectivizing ‘we’. There are 6 year olds who can write better. Period. Lastly we get the moronic Bartsy himself. He chose William Carlos Williams’ Selected Poems, &- like many would-be writers- quotes the author chosen. Yet, it’s the truest words old Bartsy’s ever penned, & the best of the quotes from Ruminator’s piece:


I cannot say
          that I have gone to hell
          for your love
but often
          found myself there
                   in your pursuit.




  But all is not lost. There are sites that attempt some criticism of merit- with mixed results. Contemporary Poetry Review is 1 of them. The essays mentioned here were actively posted as of June, 2002. Outside the Cosmoetica domain it probably has the most interesting articles/reviews of poetry. That said, 85-90% of the pieces are dreck, but a few stand out. Notable in the failures, however, are how routinely generic they are. This typical snippet is from a review called ‘Shakespeare's Inner Workings, The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets’ by Helen Vendler:

  For Vendler, words alone are certain good. She is the New Critic par excellence and much of the theory operant in The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets is that of evidential or structural criticism. 


  What is immediately wrong with this snippet? To the vagabond poetic peripatetic not much. But to anyone familiar with Vendler’s spew it is apparent that she is in no way, shape, nor form a New Critic. Does she rely on ‘structural criticism’- to a degree, in her own limited way. But to equate ‘structural criticism’ with New Criticism is akin to calling a Brachiosaurus fossil an iguana fossil, merely because dinosaurs were a form of reptiles. The point? Even at a fundamental, offhand, level most critics do not know what they are talking about. & I won’t even get into the more technical aspects of poetry- alliteration, rime, or the myth of metrics.
  Here’s another snippet from 1 of the site's major domos, Garrick Davis. While occasionally writing salient (if cursory) pieces, this piece The Breakdown Of Criticism Before The Printed Deluge is all-too typical of the not-really bad but not-good-either writing that suffocates poetry criticism online & off-:


  We live in an age awash with bad books. This fact, though that statistical non-entity the average reader may be unaware of it, constitutes the greatest crisis facing literature at the end of this century. It has for some time been axiomatic among critics that the sheer volume of new works has effectively silenced their profession; it is simply impossible to cover or recommend or dismiss the desideratum of even narrow disciplines.
  True poets depend upon critics to advertise their difference from their inferiors, though most are loathe (sic- DAN) to admit that fact. Indeed, this era has rendered the very name poet meaningless, since it confers that title on its popular singers, its performance artists, and eloquent journalists-- in short, on anyone who uses language and wishes that dignity.
    In such an environment, anthologies and surveys will abound because no one is sure what constitutes poetry and thus no one is certain what is not poetry. Lacking a set of critical principles, the age cannot discriminate between the authentic and the counterfeit. Critics will find everything either commendable or equally bad; poets will veer from one fashionable style to another, uncertain who to imitate. Publishing lists will expand, vanity presses multiply, as a shallow and misinformed culture bloats like any bureaucracy.
    Until criticism asserts itself again, by its exercise of judgment and thus exclusion, poets will be free to construct their own Tower of Babel. Worst of all in such an onslaught, as criticism breaks down, libraries founder in their acquisition budgets, and lovers of poetry relent and read the classics, is that some new and important poet will surely be lost in anonymity, from the sheer number of his inferiors. 

  So why is this writing not good? Well, 1st off, everything he says is true. 2ndly, it has all been said before. 3rdly- & here’s the crux, like all the other damnings of bad poetry GD refuses to get specific. He refuses to name names- of bad poets, bad critics, bad magazines, etc. So, what’s the point of writing this? It’s like saying a serial killer is bad, but refusing to name Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. The difference is that JD nor TB can do nothing to advance GD’s career. Compare this snippet with any of dozens of similarly-lengthed pieces on Cosmoetica. I name names- like GD, himself! The fact that so many people have written on the death of poetry- or its tangential bitches, is not unique either. Even worse are the defenders of doggerel. As bad as the cowardly critics of it are, the naïve-or really faux-naïf – stances of doggerel’s boosters are even worse.  

Brand Names Forever! 

  1 of the few online journals that can rival CPR in import & ‘quality’ is the online version of the Boston Review. Here is a piece http://bostonreview.mit.edu/BR24.6/perloff.html by that diva of discombobulative criticism- ‘Large’ Marj Perloff. Can you guess its title?: ‘In Defense of Poetry, Put the literature back into literary studies’. Here are some samples with my comments appended:  

  We might begin by noting that the treatment of poetry as a branch of history or culture is based on the assumption that the poetry of a period is a reliable index to that period’s larger intellectual and ideological currents. Beckett’s Endgame, for example, testifies to the meaninglessness and horror of a post-Auschwitz, nuclear world. But as critics from Aristotle to Adorno have understood, the theory that imaginative poetry reflects its time ignores what is specific to a work of art, along with its powers of invention and transformation. Thus Aristotle’s point, in the ninth chapter of the Poetics:
The difference between a historian and poet is not that one writes in prose and the other in verse.... The real difference is this, that one tells what happened and the other what might happen. For this reason poetry is something more philosophical and serious [kai philosophoteron kai spoudaioteron] than history, because poetry tends to give general truths while history gives particular facts.


    This snippet is so wrongheaded that I may just end the essay here & rest my case. But, if I did so I would not be able to run up those neat college football type scores you get when Nebraska or Florida State plays Shitlicker U. After all, I need to stay atop the BCS ‘Top 25 Poetry Critics’ poll, right? 1st word- what have I railed about over & over in this essay? Yes, the damnable collective ‘we’. This is an immediate bold, italic, underscoring of the critics lack of belief in their own statements. Then we get the obligatory mention of other critics to bolster what really could be said in 10-12 words. Then we get the gratuitous [however impressive] foreign quote- all the better if it’s from the Ancients. Lastly we get the sad & familiar & WRONG, WRONG, WRONG conflation of art (poetry) with truth. In the Large One’s defense, by conflating as she does no one at Contemporary Poetry Review will dare call her a New Critic! Hi-ho Silver!:


  I have been speaking only about poetics; in other humanistic fields there are no doubt different problems and solutions. But, whatever the specific field, it might be well to remember that apologetics is never a fruitful mode of discourse. Never apologize, never explain! I thus deplore those new MLA-sponsored National Public Radio programs (and I refused to do one) in which "we" (academics) explain to "them" (the public) what it is "we" do in our classrooms.


  This bit says it all; everything that I have railed against for years. How indefensibly arrogant! Thi-s in a nutshell- is an INCREDIBLE display of Academic hubris! Marj weakly ties to garb her disdain for intellectual conversation, much less dialectic, by making it appear as if she’s defending some right to privacy- or privilege. But it is a transparent ploy. 1 only wonders if she realizes just how damning a statement this is- not just of her own person, but her whole profession. I’ll bet she took alot of heat for that statement. But the heat was not for the substance of the statement, but for its utterance in a public forum. The Large One continues with another Oldy-But-Goody of bad criticism- the reference to a bad, but respected quotation &/or the selection of an inappropriate poem to make a point, &- of course- show how wide-ranging you are.           


  [Theodore] Adorno’s adage that there can be no poetry after Auschwitz seems to be taken as a given. This retro Kulturdrang strikes me as just as misplaced as Weisbuch’s "how-to" practicalities. One cannot kill the human instinct to make poetry–the German verb Dichten is apposite here–and to enjoy the poetry making of others: indeed, the study of poetry has been with us much longer than any of those current academic orthodoxies Steiner deplores, and it will continue to be with us. Some things, it seems, never quite collapse.
  Let me conclude with a little Frank O’Hara poem that is nicely apropos:  

Lana Turner has collapsed!
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up

  The gist of this snippet- be yourself as a poet- is totally lost under the fatback of Adorno & O’Hara. Granted, there are a few relevant passages & points in this generic ‘We gotta fix poetry’ piece. But these points have been made & unacted upon ad nauseum. The Large One’s piece, therefore, is mere filler, with nothing new nor nutritious to bring to the plate.
  But Large Marj is not the only flourishing mediocrity of ‘name’ out there, criticizing dully & dinkishly. Dana Gioia- a rather poor poet, but hit & miss critic- even has his own web domain, www.danagioia.net, where he houses most of his noted works. Noted for his ‘attack’ essay & book- both called Can Poetry Matter?- DG is rather laconic. In fact, DG’s ‘attacks’ were hardly attacks- & came to the rather banal conclusion that yes, poetry can matter- if we want it to. Didn’t see that copout comin’- did’ja? That said DG is far from the worst critic out there. In fact, would that he were the ‘worst’ poetry critic out there the state of poetry criticism & poetry would be worlds higher. Unfortunately, in the bush leagues of Poetry Criticism’s Kansas he is a notable- & noticeable- woof in the warp of the land; for whatever props that earns him. Yet, he is so banal so often that on his whole site I could only find 1 instructive essay to quote from: http://www.danagioia.net/essays/efrost.htm. It is a review called ‘Frost Complete, At Last, Robert Frost: Collected Poems, Prose & Plays, Edited by Richard Poirier and Mark Richardson’. Now, bear in mind my earlier selection of Critical Bad Ass William ‘There Goes My Snarl’ Logan’s take on the duplicitous- or even triplicitous- nature of that old demon- Bobby Frost. Read this: 

For students of American poetry, this is not just an important book; it is an irreplaceable one.


  Typical hyperbole. Nothing new said. Think that’s bad? Here’s how he ends the piece:

We have had many versions of Frost. At last we have the real thing.  

  Sounds like a Coca-Cola commercial, no? Or this snippet:

-after we have tired of these, there is another Frost, and another. The good in Frost often lies so close to the sentimental and bad, it is difficult to remember that some of the best-loved poems are the best, just as some are the worst and most trivial.  

  Oh, wait, that was bad ass Logan. See? Both banal smiley faces coming from 2 ‘critics’ known for attacking- not being sheep, like the rest of the crowd of critics are. Sad. Dana Gioia’s entire website contributes 3 sentences of value- & negative, at that. & he’s 1 of the BETTER critics- name or otherwise!  

The Deluded 

  What’s even worse, I guess, than just being a bad critic is being an arrogant critic- or worse, online site. Late last year a site was recommended to me to submit some of my The 49 Gallery Poems. These are poems which are based on paintings- usually great &/or famous- which go beyond just the generic ‘describe-what-you-see’ poems on paintings. I was told the site, Ekphrasis, was going to be doing an issue devoted to painting poems. I could not sample the site online since it includes no art of any sort. A few months later I ran across a paper copy of the magazine in a local bookstore. Of course, the poems on paintings were of the ‘describe-what-you-see’ variety. What was frustrating was the arrogance the editors/critics showed. Bad enough that the poems they ultimately published were banal, generic workshopped retreads. Worse that they refused to publish my far superior poems. But most damning of all was how they refused to even look at my poems.   What I did was merely send an inquiry email with a direct URL link to the page they were on on Cosmoetica. I was not gonna bother to print up & mail the poems, & I realized that few editors wanna open up attachments- fearing possible viruses. So, this was a quick way to expose them to the writings & see if they were actually interested. The editors emailed back that they did not look at the poems because they only look at poems mailed to them, etc. What sheer laziness. What contempt. Damn, you can send me good poems or essays on shitpaper & I’d take the time to retype & post it! These ‘poetry-lovers’ wouldn’t even take the time to look at my poems online. Forget their superior quality- the very arrogance is symptomatic of all of poetry & poetry criticism’s ills. Of course, online, they whistle a different tune:  

Ekphrasis is a poetry journal only accepting quality poems focused or centered on individual works from any artistic genre.

Ekphrasis is in the forefront of the growing body of poetry of this orientation. We strongly recommend that you familiarize yourself with the quality of the journal's content before submitting. Ekphrasis is a digest-sized publication.

P.O. BOX 161236
SACRAMENTO, CA 95816-1236

e-mail: ekphrasis1@aol.com

  Do true poetry-lovers everywhere a favor & email these dolts & rip them for their arrogance. Y’know what I mean- those editors who request your name, address, email, etc be on every page because they cannot remember which tripe belonged to which doggerelist? Or, worse, those folk who have gotten so arrogant that they refuse to even go to a mailbox & return your poems- even if you’ve sent the SASE! They feel that poets should have to spend their own money copying & re-mailing the same poems over again- why return a copy you don’t want?
  The point for this digression is 2-fold. 1) it mirrors the arrogance that critics display- & that Large Marj admitted. 2) It segues me nicely into my next point of attack. 

The Chaos; or The Web Sells Its Soul! 

[click for a follow-up piece on Adam Dressler]

  Recently I received the following email from the online literary portal Web Del Sol. Last year I’d emailed them to see if they wanted to exchange links. Most of the online links are total crap; but some have a bit of merit- like the non-poetic side of storySouth. Trust me, this is gonna be a long arc in this essay so hold on to your hats. Anyway, here’s how it starts: 

From: "Adam Dressler" daddydress@hotmail.com
To: cosmoetica@att.net
Subject: Portal del Sol
Date: Fri, 05 Jul 2002 20:18:46 +0000 

Hello, my name is Adam Dressler.  I'm the new editor for Portal del Sol, on the Web del Sol site.  I'm sorry to have taken so long in getting to you.  I've just finished reviewing your site, and while some of the writing is quite fine, I don't feel it's in high enough proportion or that there is enough on the site at present for me to reccommend [sic] it on Portal.  I'll be updating Portal fairly often, however, so please don't hesitate to contact me with news about your site.  I wish you the best in this and all future endeavors.

Adam L. Dressler         


  This unintendedly hilarious bit of news prompted me to look a bit closer at this ‘portal’ which claims to be the ‘cutting edge’ of online literata. Basically it’s a clearinghouse & omnibus for mostly MFA & selected ‘hipster’ type online sites & zines. But, there are the Contemporary Poetry Reviews, Rain Taxis, & other, too. These, I guess have a ‘higher proportion’ of fine writing than Cosmoetica does. Translation- they do not offend, name names, or actually individuate themselves nor their writers from each other. Aside from me you will read poems by my wife, Jessica, Uptown Poetry Group folk like Bruce Ario, Art Durkee, Don Moss, & even some lesser pieces by ‘name’ writers like Clayton Eshleman & Frederick Turner. None of the writers’ writing is anything alike, in any measure- a claim few of WDS’s sites can make between each site, much less the writers on each site.
  1st off, few of the sites had any criticism- & the little that appeared was atrocious. But, there was a goodly share of doggerel by ‘name-brand’ poetasters. Especially displayed was Vox- a Bulgarian site that offered some tripe from 2 ‘names: Pulitzer Prize winning poet Henry Taylor, & poetic hanger-on & radio diva Grace Cavalieri.
  Here is my experience with HT. I received an email from him 1 day last year. Apparently he had come across Cosmoetica & felt compelled to share his opinions with me. No, it wasn’t the usual threat/rant I’ve received 1000s of times in the last few years, &, no, nor was it the condescending brushoff typified by Adam dressler of WDS. After surveying Cosmoetica, & all its poetry & prose stylings, this Pulitzerata- supposed ‘Master of Words’- had just 1 question that gnawed at him. No, he did not think I had an ax to grind against Robert Bly, he did not think my poems sucked, he did not upbraid me for attacking his Academic domain. No, this Made Man of verse asked me why I always used the 1 word form of alot, rather than the standard a lot? I explained to him that ‘standard’ rules of writing have little place in any mature writer’s canon- especially a poet’s, that ‘alot’ would probably be standard in a few decades, much as other words dependent on an a-prefix had become, & that it was mere stylistic preference- just as I’ve almost single-handedly resuscitated the little used semi-colon (;) from extinction, & prefer the ampersand (&) to the word ‘and’, & the numeral (1) version of a number to the written out (one) equivalent, in my prose. HT was puzzled, & returned to his shell. But he did get posted on Vox, dammit! & what would a new site be without the superfluous & gratuitous plug-cum-c.v.?:

Henry Taylor is Professor of Literature and Co-Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at American University in Washington, DC., where he has taught since 1971. His third collection of poems, The Flying Change, received the 1986 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry; his first two, The Horse Show at Midnight (1966) and An Afternoon of Pocket Billiards (1975), were reissued in one volume in 1992. His translations from Bulgarian, French, Hebrew, Italian, and Russian have appeared in many periodicals and anthologies, as well as two collections by the Bulgarian poet Vladimir Levchev. He has also published translations from Greek and Roman classical drama; his translation of Sophocles' Electra appeared (spring 1998) in the Sophocles, 1 volume of the Penn Greek Drama series. Another collection of poems, Understanding Fiction: Poems 1986-1996, appeared in the fall of 1996, and his collection of clerihews, Brief Candles, appeared this spring from LSU Press. He is now at work on a new collection called Crooked Run, titled after a creek in his native Loudoun County, Virginia.


  Not impressed? I doubt this HT poem- evidence of Vox’s high proportion of fine writing- will do the trick either. But I want you to suffer like I have:


Landscape With A Tractor

How would it be if you took yourself off
to a house set well back from a dirt road,
with, say, three acres of grass bounded
by road, driveway, and vegetable garden?

Spring and summer you would mow the field,
not down to lawn, but with a bushhog,
every six weeks or so, just often enough
to give grass a chance, and keep weeds down.

And one day--call it August, hot, a storm
recently past, things green and growing a bit,
and you're mowing, with half your mind
on something you'd rather be doing, or did once.

Three rounds, and then on the straight
alongside the road, maybe three swaths in
from where you are now, you glimpse it. People
will toss all kinds of crap from their cars.

It's a clothing-store dummy, for God's sake.
Another two rounds, and you'll have to stop,
contend with it, at least pull it off to one side.
You keep going. Two rounds more, then down

off the tractor, and Christ! Not a dummy, a corpse.
The field tilts, whirls, then steadies as you run.
Telephone. Sirens. Two local doctors use pitchforks
to turn the body, some four days dead, and ripening.

And the cause of death no mystery: two bullet holes
in the breast of a well-dressed black woman
in perhaps her mid-thirties. They wrap her,
take her away. You take the rest of the day off.

Next day, you go back to the field, having
to mow over the damp dent in the tall grass
where bluebottle flies are still swirling,
but the bushhog disperses them, and all traces.

Weeks pass. You hear at the post office
that no one comes forward to say who she was.
Brought out from the city, they guess, and dumped
like a bag of beer cans. She was someone,

and now is no one, buried or burned
or dissected; but gone. And I ask you
again, how would it be? To go on with your life,
putting gas in the tractor, keeping down thistles,

and seeing, each time you pass that spot,
the form in the grass, the bright yellow skirt,
black shoes, the thing not quite like a face
whose gaze blasted past you at nothing

when the doctors heaved her over? To wonder,
from now on, what dope deal, betrayal,
or innocent refusal, brought her here,
and to know she will stay in that field till you die?


  Were I doing this poem in my patented This Old Poem essay series I would grade this out as a passable example of workshop poetry. The poem does not offend, yet the introduction of murder, especially of a black woman, is meant to seem daring. 48 lines could easily be shaved down 2/3s- even a sonnet could better wrap this up. Instead we get this free verse sonnet on steroids. The standard painting-like title is supposed to be ironic, but it merely is out of place because the poem is far too long to contain any real power in the revelation of the dead body. The What If? Tone of the speaker is also meant to be pushing boundaries- but this is not 1950, when pre-Confessionally- this poem’s fat would have been counterbalanced by its ‘shock value’. ½ a century later we’ve seen literally 100s of these middle-aged white man tries to balance PC & Confessionalism-type poems. Compare how this poem fares against, say, my Ninth Murder poem. What does this have to do with criticism?, you ask, since this is a poem & not a piece of criticism. Alot (HT, for you), because this is part of the fine writing AD deems WDS-worthy. This is critical skills on display?
  Of course not, we all know that WDS is like any other clique, & Vox is just 1 of the homey mags that has latched on. Here’s another gem, this from Grace Cavalieri:


Pinecrest Rest Haven


There was no
where else
worth sitting


so Mrs.P stayed in the lobby.
The radio said


Elvis was king. But Mrs. P
had been taught Jesus


was king. She knew it took
different things to keep


different people alive but this
was confusing.


Remembering the past was
far more perilous

than living it, so why do they
bring us to our knees

this way? Thinking of kings
made her way too sad.

When she was in school, the
wind was cool

on the field, blowing like a


straight up through her cheek


connecting her to the stars.


That was then.


  At least HT’s poem was competent in its technical skills. This poem is poorly broken, trite as can be, & wholly generic. Then, again, old Adam must know something- after all, how else would he get so ‘in’ at WDS? Another denizen of the ‘in-crowd’ at WDS is the Potomac Review. Like many of the links this mag is outdated, albeit only by 2 seasons. Read this piece of sterling prose from the Winter 01-02 issue & ask yourself- is this the good writing AD means?


Eli Flam
End Pages: To Bear Witness [Ugh! I smell a Forché out there!- DAN]


"The writer must write so we can learn to believe the horror we have seen."
—James Baldwin


[The obligatory nod/association with an older, more well-known writer, even if what is quoted is banal & obvious.]


  We still stand aghast at the horror of this past September 11, a day that will live on for millions around the earth. Time and again, all the more near ground zero at New York’s World Trade Center or the Pentagon, people have said that words cannot describe what they’ve seen, what they have felt. Yet we keep trying to put it into words. At the heart of literature—of any writing worth its salt—is the need to bear witness.


[FDR need not worry at this invocation of him- by the last sentence we are clued in to how banal & tame this writer’s insight is.]


"Literature," comments a colleague, "is our shared roadmap to life. While for some, oral stories fill the same need, offer the same sense of communion and shared insight, those of us likely to read a magazine like this probably rely heavily on the written word to seek and find deeper meaning in our lives."


[More vapidity, however PC & obvious.]


  Let us consider what we are. In the immediate aftermath of the death and destruction September 11, Joel Achenbach wrote in the Washington Post that this "dominant species combines extreme cleverness with an unreliable morality and a persistent streak of insanity....We are a marvelously talented form of animal, yet strangely unevolved."
  For all of our thousands of years on earth, for all our ever-developing artifice, homo sapiens—crossing all kinds of borders—commits murder in vicious ways that victimize not only the dead, but many of the living. Some, like Adam Mayblum, write about it, "so we never forget." On the 87th floor of 1 World Trade Center—the North Tower—on September 11, most of his associates were already in their office at 8:30 a.m., "joking, eating breakfast, checking E-mails, and getting set for the day when the first plane hit just a few stories above us....The building lurched violently and shook as if it were an earthquake." In the developing disaster, Mayblum joined thousands clumping down crowded, collapsing stairways, helped others to get out.


[With all this quoting does EF have even a single original thought to share?]


  "Today," he wrote on E-mail, "the images that people around the world equate with power and democracy are gone, but ‘America’ is not an image, it is a concept. That concept is only strengthened by our pulling together as a team."


[Pap, 2ndhand- I guess not.]


  A warning comes from a historian at Adelphi University, Nicholas Rizopoulos: "In our triumphalism, we like to think we are the best that ever inhabited the earth (and) assume that everyone else will just accept this as a given." There are many with deep grievances against the United States, grievances that should be heard openly and examined carefully.
  Early every morning, I walk a quarter-mile from my rural home in Southern Maryland to pick up the newspaper. Just down the road is a building site whose foundations had been laid in early summer. Only into September, though, did construction start. A handful of men raised walls, braced underpinnings, framed out windows and doors. New life begins on all sides; if only we can learn to turn bloodiness into neighborliness, to be constructive instead of destructive—to evolve to a truly higher state.


[It’s always handy to have an ‘expert’ of some sort around to reinforce that the 2nd- or 3rd- (or 4th-) hand garbage you quote is on the money! Note how nothing even the expert says is original, nor apropos.]


  In the poem "Kin and Kin," Denise Levertov at first thinks perhaps our species is "best unborn, and once born/ better soon gone, a criminal kind,/ the planet’s nightmare." But, working through "the wise, the earthen elders/ humble before the grass," the poem concludes that there still might be "a chance to evolve, a swerve we could take,/ a destiny still held out (if we would look)/ in the Spirit’s palm."

[That Levertov is not around is a comfort to many who value true insight, I’m sure, but what the hell was the point of this piece. I understand the need to sometimes work things out via writing. I did it recently in my essays mentioning the love I had for a cat that ran away. [LINK] The point is I gave more than just banal lamentations, & most of the email feedback recognized that fact.]

  This, however, is deemed quality by the likes of Web Del Sol & Adam Dressler. I’ve already quoted from pieces on Contemporary Poetry Review & others that have links to & from WDS so I need not rehash the banalities. Let me return with another typical bad poem that is online in 1 of the WDS satellites. This is a poem from the ‘current’ 2001 Summer issue of the North American Review. Trust me, there are no ‘reviews’ worth reviewing here. This poem is from another Pulitzerata- Yusuf Komunyakaa. He’s a poet whose career rationale seems to be dispelling the myth that black men (such as himself) have innate rhythm. His poems are uniformly dull, poorly constructed, & utterly lacking in any music- even as he poorly tries his best to invoke music by any other means necessary. Look on:


Dear Mr. Satchmo,
        I’m on the other side
                with “Tiger Rag” & “Way Down

Yonder in New Orleans”
         on the turntable, a heart
               drawn on the soles of my feet.

Here, in the inner sanctum,
         I see you toting buckets of coal
               to Storyville’s red-light houses.

You are a small figure
        raising a pistol to fire
               at God in the night sky,

but when I turn to look
        out at the evening star
               your face is mine. You

are holding a bugle
        in your first cutting contest
               with fate. From back o’

town to the sphinx
        & Buckingham Palace,
               to the Cotton Club

& soccer fields in Africa, under
        spotlights with Ella & Billie
               one hundred nighttimes sweated up

from Congo Square. Listening
        to your notes across the river,
               the sea across miles of salt

trees, I hear a birth
        holler pushing through brass
               at the Lincoln Gardens

in ‘22 with Papa Joe,
        the Hot Five,
               the Hot Seven . . .

the sun on your horn
        makes me think this note
               can find you, Satchmo.

The Singing Brakeman
        beckoned you to Culver City
               to cut your deep light

into wax & Miss ‘Lil
        followed trying to sew up
               a ragged seam. When you blow

I feel like you’re talking
        to me, talking about Mayann
               & Mama Lucy as if

they’re the same person—
        Lucille dancing on the edge
               of the stage—a loved one

selling fish in the Third Ward.
        In a corner of the naked
               eye, your smile isn’t

a smile: confessions & curses
        drip from your trumpet,
               & notes about the FBI

dogging your footsteps
        since ‘48 float like ghosts
               of reefer smoke in an alley.

Ike wanted you to change
        your words about Little Rock
               as you wove hex signs

into “Indiana” & “Sleepy
        Down South.” By the time
               that bomb in Memphis

settled into your mind,
        you were already back
               in Corona blowing triplets

for three or four boys
        sitting on your front steps.
               If you & your drummer

couldn’t play on the same stage,
        New Orleans was only a bronze statue
               in a park. Satchmo, I believe

in your horn, how it takes us
        to a woman standing in a cane field
               circled with peacocks.

  All the referentiality- especially those warhorses Ella Fitzgerald & Billie Holliday. Can we even ‘attempt’ to rise above the expected- I mean, black men being compared to peacocks? Were the race of this poet unknown I’m sure other black poets would pillory the imagery as indefensibly bigoted. Just compare this poem with my wife Jessica’s poem on Ella Fitzgerald. Many of WDS’s sites, such as the Northwest Review, don’t have ANY writing online! Others, like Conduit, are all style over substance- love them bells-n-whistles! Facture (Faction/Fracture?- wow!) tries to be hip by having the ‘experimental’ poetry of Ronald Johnson (of Ark infamy), George Oppen (another Pulitzerata), & Lorine Niedecker (the only worthy poet of the 3). Then there are the reliably bad dregs of Rain Taxi, & the Beloit Poetry Journal.
  Let me now turn to another WDS mainstay, Archipelago, as proof of Cosmoetica’s enduring superiority over all other online poetry websites- for verse, criticism, or both. Printed on Archipelago’s pages were assorted pieces of doggerel by a Dr. Prasenjit Maiti. If you Google PM you will find much of his refried Victorianism littering poetry magazines in the English speaking world. Apparently PM writes as a hobby & is more well-known for whatever it is he has his doctorate in. What I found amazing/appalling was that 3 of the poems Archipelago posted by PM were the exact same poems he tried to get me to post on Cosmoetica last year. Of course, I rejected them. PM was persistent & seemed determined to have his verse on my site, at all costs. Finally, after 5 or 6 emails- & 20-25 poems- I dissected the doggerel & spelled out why the poems were bad. Consequently, I never heard from the good doctor again. That the very poems I rejected ended up on a site that found them well-written, as does- apparently Adam Dressler & Web Del Sol, only bolsters everything I’ve ever said about the problems rife in contemporary poetry- both American & worldwide.
  So, for the benefit of Dr. PM, AD, & Web Del Sol, I will point out why I rejected his 3 bad poems:


Where are you going my youth?
my fears, my poetry, my lines blown away
by whisky and aircraft crashing like a clash of cymbals
Where are you going my sanity? my images
that walk out on me and leave me whimpering
like silly old Calcutta
Where are you going my love? drying my tears
in tampons and the nowhereness of sorrows

  This poem is a typical American teenager’s poem on loss. The only real difference is that PM uses the banal title to suggest the speaker is older than a teen, the Calcutta reference to show he is not a westerner- despite the obvious tropes of the poem, & the reference to tampons to show that, despite his name & poetic predilections, PM is- indeed modern & Western.  Don’t believe me? Read:



my fears, my poetry, my lines blown away
by whisky and aircraft crashing like a clash of cymbals
Where are you going my sanity? my images
that walk out on me and leave me whimpering
Where are you going my love? drying my tears
in tampons and the nowhereness of sorrows


  Now, this is a re-write of PM’s poem. The only differences are the seasonal title, & disappearing lines 1 & 6. Now, STOP READING THIS ESSAY: go to www.google.com & type in words like poetry, teenage girls, Confessionalism, Sylvia Plath, or Sharon Olds. I guarantee you will find a poem nearly like this re-write (sans perhaps the aircraft) within the 1st 12-15 poems you spy on on 1 of these sites. Show me any attempt at music or structure. Next in line of PM’s Cosmoetica rejects:


Sunday At Church


Your lips like skies and your eyes like anger
as I return all my rivers to myself
my rivers saline and sad and forlorn
your arms like castles and
their pits like wells of honey and dew
where I may swim and reflect awhile like myself
your smile like skies, your lips serene
your lips curled in silent rage
your smile frozen like yesterday’s salmon
that I chewed like vengeance
the mustard dropping slow down my teeth
like mercy, your smile like skies
your lips like skies
your lips like Calcutta
your lips serene, your lips divine


  Again PM tosses in Calcutta to show he’s not a Westerner, yet this formless attempt at a love poem is so poorly wrought it lacks music, so poorly imaged that its title (& any hoped for comment on religion &/or politics) is lost, its images so alternatingly trite (my rivers, lips like skies) & clunky (pits like wells of honey and dew, frozen like yesterday’s salmon) that 1 can barely stifle an outright guffaw, its….oh, you get the picture. C’mon AD, tell me, again, why this Archipelao is linked & Cosmoetica is not? The answer probably lies in the shared lists of published poets each of these sites boasts. Not content with merely gratuitously tossing in Calcutta into otherwise typically Western teenager poems, this poem boasts the city as title:




To a man and his resolution
a woman is someone steadfast
to be decided in the early morning
sun surrounded by the aroma
of a coffee drizzle
as the skies and the gods above
smile down bereaved and jovially
not benign but somewhat clumsy
in and out the Central Avenue traffic
lights smothering the blossoms of
all your soul’s passion flowers
as if in life as if in frenzy


  Bad enjambment, & nothing said well- forget about the sexism, were it written well it would make that pointless. Let me emphasize, I only take on these poems for the very reason that some online poetry gurus have decided that this is good writing, worthy of promotion, while Cosmoetica’s denizens are not. Do a taste test- I dare you- & tell me any literary reason for this judgment. Assuming you know anything of poetry you will draw a blank- & that is exactly why the online poetry world is as bad as the non-cyber version.
  Next, & last, I will take on another WDS denizen- Stirring magazine. I 1st became aware of this mag last year when Jess’s poems were put on the Avatar Review website. On there were the pretty good poems of a young poetess named Erin Elizabeth. I asked her to send some poems to Cosmoetica but, being too PC, she refused. In checking out her site I was unsurprised to find that it had mostly 10th rate Plathianism, leavened with poor photography lamely thought to be ‘erotic’. EE is apparently bisexual, or confused, or both- she hasn’t decided yet! Most of the writings of her posse (all on the site) reflect this confusion is not unique to EE herself. Let’s look at this unmusicked & banal piece of prose-cut-cum-poem by a Kris Raido. To save time I will underline the clichés. But, regardless of my opinion you can email him/her: here’s how- from the Stirring info:

Location: Port Angeles, Washington
Email: kris_raido@hotmail.com
Publications: Outsider Ink, Stirring, etc.

A Strange Thing

Love is a strange thing.
I said I loved you at the time, and sometimes still
I wake when night is middle-aged, a crisis
she solves by getting her nails done and buying a sports car,
hot-flash red.

Sometimes still I wake with your name on my lips
because I remember
that we lived in nights: it was at night you came home
(home was you, then, and wherever you were,
and the small house we shared, too young to understand

that love fades as quickly as the curtains,
piles up resentment like unpaid rent). Night
when you kissed me quietly and held me closely
and we stifled in love's syrup, sweet and thick.
Love is a strange thing.

Nights spoke little things. It was at night
you whispered fear against my scalp, at night
I curled up my small fists and hit you, at night
we twined slowly, surely, ecstatically
in love

Nothing mattered but nights: not the mornings
I stood in, half-dazed, listening to the world
and watching it move by me like a video
stuck perpetually on fast-forward; not the afternoons
silent and bitter as gall. Only night.

Night was a synonym for love, for your face
crudely carved with stress, a small idol
I dug from the rock with bare hands and bloody nails.
I worked for love. I sowed its seeds in me
and prayed secretly for time.

Love needs time,
time like rain, time the one thing we did not have --
only night, only the streetlights
glaring in your window, laying their stripes
on my favorite blue blanket, you know the one,

we spread it out on the sand at the beach
and watched the mysterious coming of dawn, only night
and the harsh taste of wine, lingering
in my mouth, beer on your lips
and the sadness our eyes sometimes shared.

Love is a strange thing, and like all strange things
it grows, changes, solidifies
or in some cases evaporates
into the air. Not gone, but forgotten.
You're fucking a new sixteen-year-old now.

Love is a strange thing. Was it love, really?
You came home those nights smelling of grease,
of salt, of burnt sugar and sweat, wearing black.
You showered it off and pretended you had
dignity, instead of a job at McDonald's.

You drank eight beers one night, I forget which --
sometimes I lose time in the hazy memories
of parties, impaired by liquor and loss --
and sat down beside me and I asked if that
was really necessary, and if that was

your eighth or your ninth. You weren't sure
and threw it away
and pretended you didn't resent me for it.
Love is a strange thing. Night remembers
that I said I'd follow you to Hell,

aware all the time of how my voice sounds
when I am making promises
I do not intend to keep. I am a liar
but believe me, I wanted very badly
to love you
that much.

We lived in the nights. The spaces between
dusk and dawn were the only ones that could hold us,
our mirrored, multifaceted deceptions,
the lies we told each other and ourselves.
Love, like a lie or a death, is a strange thing.

One night I got really resoundingly drunk
and told you I'd rather fuck girls,
and we broke up for a week,
and pretended there was no magnetic pull
in the air between us.

Sometimes I still think I'd rather fuck girls
and sometimes I'd rather fuck you: I remember
the way night remembers the curve
of your fingers
, how thoroughly you fucked me,
how we never seemed to fit together quite right

except for that moment when I, beneath you,
gasped in startled harmony with your harsh pants,
the sound of breath thick in the air,
and saw stars
night remembers. And love, love is a strange thing.

  After poems like this, & the resultant lack of anyone- even a non-poet or non-critic to not go up to this person & slap them silly, I opine that there may be as big a gap between me & other critics as there is between me & other poets. I mean this writing is SO bad as to defy any attempts to justify it, much less push it on a website as insightful. Maybe this Kris was an ex-love of EE’s- wouldn’t surprise me to see minor league webmaestros doing & abusing the ‘Professor of Love’ schtick so many Academes have done for centuries.  

Steal this idea! 

  You ask if that’s all there is? Is the tripe pushed by Web Del Sol the best out there? No. Is Cosmoetica alone out there in the cybervoid? Is Contemporary Poetry Review really the next best thing? No. There is a site that’s pretty good. Does it have the bite Cosmoetica does? No. Does it feature great original poetry? No. But it is a pretty good archive site for poems & recently added some original essays. Now, hold your breath because I am gonna do something no other writer you’ve ever read has done- be honest about my connection with this site: www.plagiarist.com . No, I’ve never met its webmaster, Jough (Joe, Huff, Joof, Jew?) Dempsey, but we did exchange essays for each others site. This is not a case of 2 asshole buddies recommending each others’ shit, rather a case of like minds stumbling across each other & cross-pollinating. Plagiarist is, for better or worse, a much larger & much more traveled poetry site. I would guess it’s gotta be in the top 10 poetry sites in terms of hits. The site is a great compendium- which is its mission; which differs from, say, my Neglected Poets page whose main aim is to showcase only good poetry. Manifestly, the Plagiarist archives dwarf mine. As for JD’s writing, I’ve looked online & seen his poetry. It’s mediocre, at best, to flat out bad. There’s a reason why the essay from his site that I will review is titled Not As I Do- that’s because even though he lays out some pretty good criteria within the piece his own poetry rarely follows suit. Nonetheless, his essays are a quantum leap better, if not at Cosmoetica levels. That said- this essay is better than all the prior writing showcased. & if there are any other websites beside Cosmoetica & Plagiarist that engage in actually attacking the bad poetry that is 99.99% of what’s out there I beg you- PLEASE LET ME KNOW so I can connect with more intelligent & ethical individuals. The piece is found at: http://www.plagiarist.com/articles/?artid=44 , ‘Not As I Do, The Art of Writing Poetry. I’m gonna go section by section:  

  This time around I'm going to list some quick "do's" and "don'ts" that you should consider while you write your poems. Keep in mind that no guidelines are absolute, but if you're going to break any of these "rules" - bear in mind that you have to have a firm grasp of the rules before you can break them. It's your poetry. I'm only here to help. But pay these words heed before you start crying yourself to sleep on that moth-ridden blankey you've had since you were nine years old because your poems keep getting rejected from that magazine.


  The most important point, & 1 only I seem to mantra, is: ‘Keep in mind that no guidelines are absolute, but if you're going to break any of these "rules" - bear in mind that you have to have a firm grasp of the rules before you can break them.

Avoid cliché like the plague.

  Clichés are those hackneyed phrases that you hear over and over and weaken your poems. Poetry is about variety and inventiveness - if you use phrases and images that are already part of your culture and have been heard a gazillion times before, you're not doing your job as a poet.
  Some clichés that may be familiar: "from the bottom of my heart," "to the depths of my soul" - these stock phrases take no imagination, and do nothing for your poems.
  The reason that most amateur poets use clichés (other than laziness) is usually an attempt to side-step sentiment and go straight for the easy road to sounding "poetic." 

  JD shows a sense of humor toward poetry absent outside of Cosmoetica & Erich Vogel’s defunct Poetry Harsh website in the very subsection’s title- a cliché. It would have been a little better & more useful had JD used clichés that are used a bit more frequently in Academic & published verse rather than the 2 he does, but he makes up for this slight misstep in the last paragraph. Then, again, this is more or less a how-to for beginners rather than an in-depth essay on poetry, such as I might pen on a despised doggerelist. 

But I saw that phrase in a poem by SHAKESPEARE! 

  Yes, and when Shakespeare used it, it was new, fresh - it was his own invention. As James Joyce wrote: "After God, Shakespeare has created most."
  A friend of mine, and one of the finest poets writing today, said that one of the reasons she was excited by writing poetry was the possibility of changing the world for someone - of coming up with an image that was so new and inventive that it changed their perception of that thing forever (although she said it far more eloquently than that).
  So don't believe the hype. Avoid cliché as if it were a social disease.


  This is not a good section. 1) The phrase used was probably clichéd in Willy’s day, as well. I mean, is there a more hackneyed tale than Romeo & Juliet- even when it was 1st produced? Not to mention that Willy, as we now know, was not so great a Creator as a great Borrower- or to be generous, a great Elaborater. Then JD makes the dread error of quoting the older & wiser- & a bad quote, at that! He then lapses into MFA-ese: ‘A friend of mine’ & then adding, ‘and one of the finest poets writing today’. Would anyone really wanna wager on the truth of that claim? & the last paragraph is a [cringe] reminder of the title of the 1st section. But the pal’s hope is the desiderata of every artist- a good point! 

I said "Sentiment," not "Sentimentality." 

  What's the difference? "Sentiment" is simply a thought or feeling based on feeling rather than reason. "Sentimentality" is an idea or expression marked by excessive sentiment. The former will give your poetry "depth" without pandering - the latter pushes the line by trying to artificially make a sentiment do more work than it can handle. It's the difference between comedy and farce - between drama and melodrama.
  In his seminal volume, Can Poetry Matter? Dana Gioia wrote: "In poetry sentimentality represents the failure of language to carry the emotional weight an author intends."
  It's a delicate balance, to be sure. To write poems that are completely based on rationalism is to cop-out, to hide from the emotional impact that a poem needs, but to overly emotionalize an idea until the poem drips with sentiment won't help your writing, either. No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader, but overt sentimentality is just laughable because it's often false sounding, like bad soap opera dialogue. In other words...


  This section starts off well but why does JD slough off into quoting a mediocrity like DG? Yes, the definition is okay but not anything that hasn’t been uttered many times before. Couldn’t he have phrased it his own way without trying to show off? & ‘seminal’? Sorry, while the book is a hit & miss affair it’s hard to call a volume like that seminal since it contains not a single fresh idea, nor has it had much of an impact- even in the tiny world of poesy. Fearfully, I would say that the dread Nuyorican poetry anthology Aloud, published in the same year, has a far greater claim to that word. 

Shelve the melodrama, Dorothy. 

  Instant melodrama - just add trite "insights" and pepper your poems liberally with as many clichés as you can cram in there.
  Here's a not-too-far-from-reality mock poem (worthy of mocking, as well):


An Awful Poem

           The darkness of the night
stared into the abyss of my soul,
           always dark, never bright
           dragging me down into this hole.

           The depths of my being
are dark and full of pain.
           Everything I'm seeing
           is the absence of sun, only rain.

  Dear God, make it stop! Besides the clichés and the piercing end-rhymes, this poem isn't really saying anything. What darkness? What hole? What's the point? Are you trying to impress us with your trite phrasing? Will anyone think you're "deep"? Will writing such solipsistic pap help to get you laid?
  I seriously doubt it.
  That awful poem that I wrote above isn't far off from much of the tripe I had to suffer through in poetry workshop in college - the "poet" in question would usually be quite proud of how "deep" his or her poem sounded, and would read it with the affectedness of a poet in a cartoon. And then, my friend... you die.
  Here's a tip: if you're trying to sound cool, you probably won't. Adolescent posturing rarely makes for good poetry, although if you can master it you may have a successful career as a pop song lyricist. Oops, I did it again.


  All I can say is the title of the piece is apropos, Not As I Do. Don’t believe me- go to Google & look up some of JD’s poems. Then, again, if he’s trying to be relentlessly Postmodern it’s cool, unless it’s not. But the insights are sound- & hopefully humorous. 

Mind your lines. 

 Not all poetry has to rhyme. Let's just get that out of the way. Some does, some doesn't - and there are good and bad examples of each. If you decide that your poem must be written in a regular form (in meter, with a rhyme scheme, etc.) then you should be careful of not "ringing" your line endings with lines like:

    Unless your poem's meant for one to sing,
     Be careful of the line endings that 'ring.'

  Making rhymes that are too direct, too close to one another (visually or audibly) makes your poem sing-songy, cute, and unsubtle. Well crafted rhyme can be extremely powerful - "If the glove don't fit, you must acquit." Very effective. That's why so many slogans rhyme - they're easier to remember. Children's books often rhyme because children can appreciate the repetitiveness of language and the effect that it creates (usually comic). Unless you're writing for politicians or children, though, you may want to be more creative with your rhymes.

  More effective rhyming can be made easily using slant rhymes (words that almost rhyme, like dizzy/easy), rhyming vowel sounds (some/funny), or even by using "sight rhymes" (words that are spelled similarly but pronounced differently, like glove/clover or heard/beard).


  As for meter- click here to end that delusion. Some more good points. The truth is, alot of times more advanced writers take these things for granted. Spelling them out does have a virtue. However, glove & clover are not sight nor eye rhymes- glove & prove are. 

But the way that I end my lines is way that.

  Besides making rhymes that ding as though a hunchback were ringing a large tower bell, you can ruin your line endings by ending on a less-than-important word.

  Here's a famous poem by Theodore Roethke, re-written to screw up the line breaks.


My Papa's Waltz: Bad End Break Edition  

The whiskey on your
breath could make a
small boy dizzy; But I hung
on like death: Such waltzing was

not easy. We romped until the
pans slid from the kitchen shelf; my
mother's countenance could
not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist was
battered on one knuckle; At
every step you missed my right
ear scraped a buckle. You
beat time on my head with a
palm caked hard by dirt, then
waltzed me off to
bed still clinging to your shirt. 

  The only way to make this version of the poem worse would be to pause... at each... line... break when reading it. What's wrong with this? Besides breaking the form of the poem, our new version puts an emphasis on articles, prepositions, and pronouns. The poem is weaker because the line breaks are uncomfortably jagged.  The third line is especially insidious in this version, because the phrase "hung on" is broken over the line, causing a strange caesura (pause, break) that wasn't intended. Breaking lines on words like "the" or "a" weaken a line by putting emphasis on unimportant words.

  As we saw in the previous article, line and stanza breaks are extremely important in a poem. Hopefully you'll be able to see how much better the poem reads with "proper" line breaks. Here's the version as Roethke wrote it:


My Papa's Waltz 

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.
We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.
The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

  Besides noting that there are three strong stresses in each line (3/4 time is "waltz time" in music - three beats in a measure/line, etc.) and that there's an ABAB CDCD EFEF GHGH rhyme scheme, you'll notice that the end words are important words in the poem:







  This isn't to say that you should save all of your "big words" for the ends of lines, or to invert your syntax so that a natural unit of expression is altered to the point of unintelligibility (splitting infinitives, ending lines with a preposition, etc., are generally to be avoided), but rather that you should be careful not to end a line on a weak word, since so much attention is given to the ends of lines (just because of the physicality of the eye meeting the blank page at the ends of lines - there's a natural tendency to pause there).


  This is probably the best & most instructive section in the piece, although split infinitives occur naturally in speech & the prohibition against them is an odd remnant from staid Victorianism. As a treat, you can read my take on this poem by TR. Onward: 

Poetry Pro Gratia Poetry

  So many poems, especially those written by young poets just discovering the pleasures of writing poetry, are generally what I call "Diary Entries With Line Breaks." (DEWLB)
  An immediately recognizable difference between a poem and a "Diary Entry With Line Breaks" is that the syntax of poetry is generally more carefully constructed, and verbs are far more active (more on this next time) and nothing exists in the poem that does not further the voice, images, idioms, or plot. Whining about how your boyfriend left you doesn't (necessarily) make a poem.

  A nice little coinage & some solid advice.

But it's my personal expression! How could it not be art?

  Personal expression is a part of "Art" like the bleachers are part of a football game. You can have a bench without the game, but then it's just furniture. The same goes for your "self expression." Just because you're expressing yourself does not mean you're making art - you have to do so artfully. This means, at the very least, careful attention to detail. It also means that you'll probably not get it right the first time. You're going to have to... it will probably pain you to even hear the word, but you're going to have to... revise (GASP!).


  As humorous a little poetic gnome as Allen Ginsberg was, he did alot of lasting damage with his insidiously insipid ‘First thought, best thought.’ dictum. Given the lot of most homo sapiens can anyone honestly say that apothegm can be true more than, say, perhaps a handful of times in even the life of a great, in some area. Even when old Ike Newton got bonked on the noggin’ with that apple do we really think the laws of gravitation preceded, ‘Shit, that hurt!’? Revision is the key to all great art, or thought. 

Always... I mean, Never... No... Always... 

  As I said, no rule is absolute. These are just guidelines to follow. However, the guidelines come from centuries of experience writing and refining the art of poetry - if you're going to break the rules, you should make damn well sure that you understand them, first.

  Tune in next time for a look at the "Internal Censor" - that voice that you can develop to help keep the doggerel from spreading, as well as some simple techniques for making choices while you write - think of it as immediate revision - to save you time and energy later.


  This is a good little essay with just a misstep or 3 here or there. Let me repeat- I have no connection to this site or person save for stumbling across it online. Still, take even whatever you deem the worst paragraph from his piece or any of my essays, & compare it to the bits of commentary I’ve laid out from others- there is a significant difference in knowledge & tone. JD, or me- even if you disagree with our opinions, at least have distinct authorial voices. Now, go back & reread the William Logan & Dana Gioia takes on Robert Frost- scary, ain’t it? You may argue that I gave too little of each, especially DG- but, go ahead to his site & read it all. My argument still holds up.


End This Puppy!


  Which brings us back to the Web Del Sol Master’s comments- what old Adam meant was that by actually treating my readership with respect, & not condescending to them by claiming patently bad writing is good, & by not manifestly whoring my principles for quick & easy publication, Cosmoetica ain’t gonna be invited to the party. Boohoo. Does that mean that everything posted on Cosmoetica is a gem? No. The poorly written diatribes by a Michael Gause, or a Dave Okar, or the airy nonsense of a Clayton Eshleman, or the didactic dullery of a Frederick Turner, or some of the lesser poems by UPG members, are proof that nothing is perfect. But I posted those pieces to show the diversity of essaying & poetry- THAT was the point!
  A quick gander at the better poems of an Art Durkee, Don Moss, Dave Nelson, Bruce Ario, Jessica Schneider, or me, or a gaze at the sheer diversity of my essays- the compendial (like this, or my pieces on Poetry Hoaxes, Defending Doggerelists, Woody Allen, or The Prisoner), the critical (Harold Bloom, Robert Bly, or the This Old Poem series), & the personal (Loren Eiseley, on Christmas, Stephen Jay Gould, or my lost cat Chia)- shows that I am pushing the boundaries back in this form, as well as my poetry.
  The real question is why so many of the websites, writers, critics, & poets I have mentioned in this & other essays, fail to do so- & fail so manifestly. In short, critics should be in the profession of destroying excuses, not manufacturing them. In this regard, there is no difference at all between the Online & offline breeds. Part of the problem, of course, is that Online zines spend so much time trying to raise money that little time is left for the production & promotion of good art. Even Plagiarist is, of late, guilty of this- & time will tell how it affects the editorial end of that site. Here’s hoping that some readers of this piece will choose to emulate the site they read it on; after all- do we need more William Logans or Web Del Sols?




  You'd think anyone viewing the site would have learned not to so blatantly reveal their stupidity after my exposure of the Araki Yasusada hoaxer Kent Johnson & my revelation of Clayton Eshleman's attack on Art Durkee. But, no, they keep on coming:


1st up is King Logan- who- to be fair- was the coolest of the people attacked within:


From: William Logan wlogan@english.ufl.edu 
To: cosmoetica@att.net
Subject: dear dan
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2002 00:05:57 +0100

Dear Dan,

  I don't always (or even often) agree with you, but I like the  take-no-prisoners approach. Sometimes I'd like to see some prisoners.
  The piece entitled "Old Guys" was a verse chronicle. My comments on surrealism applied only to the first book, Charles Simic's. I never make introductory comments or try to tie books together with a theme. I'm not sure why you thought I was calling the other poets surrealists, when the word isn't used in any of the other reviews.

***reread the piece- yours I mean. Perhaps it's been a while.

  You'll have to show me where I've professed myself king of bad boy critics. (The professions of publishers don't count.) And if you're going to print my phone number in your column, shouldn't you print your own as well?

***The point is Eliot never refused his laurels as last century's most lauded poet- if yr called something & don't refute it, even by laughing it off, it's a de facto acceptance. As for the # &/or email- I only posted what's readily available on the Internet. I wd not have done it were it not proudly pasted on yr cv. As for me- I had my # up till too many nuts started harassing & I had to take a local journalist to court last year. Besides, if you ever do get eml re: the piece my $ says it'll be 9:1 pro-you! DAN

Best, William


From: William Logan wlogan@english.ufl.edu 
To: cosmoetica@att.net 
Subject: Re: dear dan (fwd)
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2002 13:30:12 +0100

  Thanks, Dan. You may take it from me that I laugh such laurels off and thought allowing my publishers to use that quote a way of taking the notice with a grain of salt. Or sand.
  I'd appreciate your removing my number. The office number's available on the university site only because it's required. Don't make it easier for people to get hold of me--the common calls are not from lunatics but from people who want me to review their books.
  Good luck with your site. I wish more critics agreed that poetry is not of  more use than deep entertainment and narrow enlightenment.

Best, William

Next up is this doggerelist:

From: cosmoetica@att.net
To: "Kris Raido" kris_raido@hotmail.com 
Subject: Re: Stirring
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2002 11:05:52 +0000

Uh! Actually not, since I critique Stirring & a 'poem' of yours. DAN

  Why was I sent this? I have no connection to "Cosmoetica" and no desire to be so connected. I didn't sign up for any mailing lists. Unless the originators of this message have anything both personal and worthwhile to say to me, don't bother. Frankly, what it looks like to me is advertising, and mass-mailed advertising has another name--spam.
Kris Raido


From: "Kris Raido" kris_raido@hotmail.com 
To: cosmoetica@att.net 
Subject: Re: Stirring
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2002 13:51:26 -0700

A 'poem' of mine. I see. You're one of those people who make a living out of being obnoxious; it's a fine old tradition. Well, you're entitled to your opinions, and I'm entitled to not give a damn. Have a nice day, and don't send me messages unless you have something worthwhile to say, instead of your mindless venom.

Kris Raido


From: cosmoetica@att.net 
To: kris_raido@hotmail.com 
Subject: Re: Stirring (fwd)
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2002 22:05:57 +0000

I make a living at this? News to me. DAN


Here's Kris's boss- note how this compares to some of her online laments about her sex life & failure to be declared a genius. Oh, Sylvia!


From: StirringMag@aol.com 
To: cosmoetica@att.net 
Subject: Re: (no subject)
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2002 14:07:10 EDT

Please remove me from your list.
Thank you.

Erin Elizabeth

Note the  pretension in EE (Editor-In-Chief!)& the utter lack of humor in Raido, & the underlying resentment because (s)he know it's true. Mindless venom? I guess (s)he knows.


I end, so far, w/this by Jough Dempsey:


From: cosmoetica@att.net 
To: master@jough.com
Subject: Re: Stirring (fwd)
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2002 23:20:26 +0000

Actually I read 4-5 that I Googled back in Dec or Jan. I only mentioned it because of yr pieces's title- see my posted replies beneath- incl. this one. DAN
---------------------- Forwarded Message: ---------------------
From: Jough Dempsey master@jough.com 
To: cosmoetica@att.net 
Subject: Re: Stirring (fwd)
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2002 18:39:35 -0400

  Heh. "A living." Good one.
  I read your little article. It's cute, attacking your peers. I thought it was a cheap shot to mention my poetry, mostly because I don't publish poetry online, and haven't given a publisher permission to publish any of my stuff for the past three years. So it's just bad journalism to assume that you can say anything of "his own poetry" without really having a 
sample of said work (unless you know of a Jough Dempsey "fan site" of which  I'm unaware). But hey, if you want to have fun with Google trying to find my work, I salute thee.
  Some points about your article - I think you're too kind to Dana Gioia to refer to him as a "mediocrity." In my opinion he's much worse than that - unforgivable at the very least for being *dull*, and perhaps for more (I haven't widely read his poetry - it's hard for me to keep down the convulsions of bile rising up my throat).
  By calling "Can Poetry Matter?" his "seminal work" was a bit of a joke - one which was lost on you, but okay. I do like that quote, though - it's simple and serviceable.
  If you think CPM? had little impact, though, perhaps you were asleep during the early to mid 90s. It was much talked about and caused quite a useless stir among the academics.
  Glove and Clover *are* sight rhymes (technically) but I like glove/prove better and may update the essay.
  Split infinitives may occur naturally in speech, but not necessarily naturally in a poem - splitting one over a line is generally bad practice, unless you're trying to go for the "Me make bad grammar" effect, in which case pretty much anything goes.
  Anyway, thanks for more free publicity. This piece is going to be picked up by an Australian E-Zine as their featured article next month. I'm still considering revisions, so if you've more sets of two pennies I'd love to hear them.
-- Jough


[As for DG's essay & book- all sound, no fury- see, I'm pulling a [Omitted name- due to hypersensitivity]- guess who I'm quoting from?]

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