Postcards From Pluto: The Small World Of Bob Grumman
Copyright Ó by Dan Schneider, 7/10/04
The Criticism & The Poetry
Have you ever met a mumbler? By that I mean not just someone who mumbles, but someone who mumbles constantly & deludedly to themselves? Growing up in New York City mumblers were those odd folk- usually schizophrenic- who lived in their own world & spoke to demons no 1 else could see. Of course, in earlier days they were not called mentally ill, but possessed or seers. There is great debate about what the provenance of such is, even if mental illness exists, what with these days of autism, ADHD, & a 1000 other phony so-called mental ills. My surmise is that often such people come about creating their own little worlds after failing in the real world- it’s easier to be a god in Narnia than in Flushing or Peoria.
Well, literature, especially poetry, has its own equivalents of mumblers- these are the devotees of –isms. Even worse or those oddball writers who write prose or poetry so whacked & off-kilter that only they (& occasionally a small band of acolytes) understand, or care to, what is written. Among the noted poetic mumblers of the last 50 or so years were David Schubert, Ramon Guthrie, John Wieners, Bob Kaufman, & even more mainstream, & far superior, Confessional poets like Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton. Of the 1st quartet only JW had any real talent or potential- & all spent time in mental hospitals &/or heavily medicated. Their disciples will rave on about how prescient &/or farsighted they were, even though their poetry is manifestly banal, ‘experimental’ only if you consider ceaseless typographic playing ‘experimental’, & almost always bad.
While the aforementioned were all well known for being, well- nutcases, there are other poets who have made careers- or at least brief ‘names’- for themselves with similarly bad poetic venues that they actively chose, not which were a consequence of their mental ills &/or substance abuse. In this category would be noted folk like A.R. Ammons- whose idea of innovation was writing prose on adding machine tape, therefore claiming a rhythm was invoked by the very form of the paper, Hayden Carruth- who unsuccessfully tried to meld Blakean psychosis with Whitmanian looks & little writing talent, Michael McClure- whose uneven career of mostly page-centered primal chants has been mostly miss, with a few notable excellent exceptions, Larry Eigner- a wheelchair bound man who typed doggerel 1 finger at a time & made William Carlos Williams seem verbose, Wilfred Watson- a Canadian poet whose numerological obsessions long eclipsed whatever talent he may have had, & Jerome Rothenberg- a famed poetaster & anthologist whose idea of poetry goes back to the clichéd, & false, idea that poetry emerged as a result of oral language, not that oral language emerged as an outcome of the poetic tendencies of the evolving human mind. A typical Rothenberg anthology will have alot of repeated words & fragments & not an ounce of insight.
Blame for this tendency has usually been foisted upon the aforementioned WCW or his contemporary e.e. cummings- but both poets were worlds better than the nutbags & delusionaries I just mentioned. WCW, despite being vastly overpraised, did leave a dozen or so poems that showed how ‘plain speech’ could be poetic- in fact, what he really showed was how poetry could be disguised as plain speech. The problem is that far inferior poets only saw the plain speech affectation, not the underlying poetry. As for eec? He was 1 of the 3 or 4 best American lyric poets of the 20th Century- the tension in many of his poems came from the visual distortion of highly musical lines & phrases.
None of the poets I mentioned could match those qualities in WCW nor eec. Another factor in the poverty of their verse is that virtually all consider(ed) themselves political poets, 1st. To them art MUST be about social change- mere pleasure be damned! They also are heart-over-head poets. They don’t see the banality of their thoughts & words as demerits, because their hearts are in the right place. It’s easy to see they laid the loam for the Spoken Word tripe & PC Elitism that dominates published poetry today.
But, what happens when you mix a deluded nut with a politically oriented heart-over-head poet? Instead of a mumbler you get a grumbler- a poet who is both deluded about what any art, theirs included, can do, yet also resentful because no 1 else recognizes their ‘manifest genius’! A few weeks back I got an email from a prototypical grumbler named Bob Grumman, who runs a website called Comprepoetica, a site I’ve long linked to. In his post he warned me of an article he was writing about me on his website. He was gonna put me in my place, tear me a new asshole, whoop me good, etc. Of course, over the years I’ve had Cosmoetica I’ve had 100s of such poetasters challenge me & I’ve soundly whipped them all- be they fellow grumblers like Jack Foley, deceitful cowards like the editors of Web Del Sol, or mumblers like Araki Yasusada hoaxer Kent Johnson. You would think that grumblers like BG would at least read some of these earlier pieces since it would give them a clue as to what they were in for, but no- I’ll have to continually expose their deceits, strafe their stupidities, & bear their condemnations as a poet/critic/thinker of no consequence who’s an even worse person. So be it. In the rest of this piece I will 1st detail our correspondence (with annotations), then explore his criticism of both me & others, & then denude his ‘poetry’- a loose approximation of what this mumbler-cum-grumbler named Grumman claims. Ooh, alliteration & assonance! What’s that?
Here’s the exchange. The words in red are my reply to BG’s 1st post on Cosmoetica’s contact form. The italics are BG’s wan reply. The triply asterisked*** comments are my reply to BG’s italicized reply to me. Let’s go at it:
From: Dan Schneider
To: Bob Grumman
Subject: Re: Data posted to form 1 of http://www.cosmoetica.com/index.htm
Date: Thu, 17 Jun 2004 09:47:40 -0700 (PDT)
***On the wife's laptop:
Bob Grumman wrote:
Thanks for the
link. I don't know why you'd think I'd not like it.
My calling you a "sub-mediocrity?" But, you're right: if I'd thought about it, I'd know that wouldn't bother you anymore than someone's calling me that would bother me.
Later, when I examine his crit you will see that BG has little to say that demonstrates any knowledge of how to write poetry- most of his assertions are things that he’s cribbed from the writings of many of the aforementioned mumblers & grumblers as mere justifications for their own doggerel. In the piece, however, he actually has to admit he admires me. This is an old technique that inferior writers use to ingratiate themselves with superior 1s: play the part of the rebel from ‘the rebel’ (in BG’s case, me), so that it would seem hypocritical for the supplicated to rip the supplicant’s (BG’s) attack, for after all, the supplicant is merely doing to the supplicated what they do. The appeasement comes in the form of backhanded praise.
Of course, that does not work for me because I do not brink supplication, I seek congress at equal eye level, even with those that have to look up to me, ala BG, for the hope is that they will learn & ameliorate. As for the actual attempt at rank-out, BG, of course, does not realize that I always account for in criticism- good or bad- its source. For example, in the Uptown Poetry Group I knew that Don Moss & Art Durkee were good poets, but had limitations- Don was not familiar with most non-Academic poetry & Art was a far stronger critic in nature & lyrical verse, than in deep philosophy. By knowing their, & others, strengths & weaknesses I could know if I succeeded even if the crit was negative from them because that might be the response I was looking for from them when cast out of their element. A quick scan of BG’s ‘poetry’- & not even including his crit- therefore shows him to be a Kindergarten finger painter trying to mix it up with Picasso.
As for the article- it's 5 years old.
Ah, yes, that explains a lot.
***Such as? When I was a kid I went thru alot of real world BS- no amount of namecalling will faze me.
BG’s comment is 1 of those throwaways designed to imply he has more knowledge than he does. The fact that he refuses extrapolation exposes his failed gambit.
As for aesthetics- whether I'm writing short humorous This Old Poem pieces or the longer involved pieces I shy away from aesthetics- they're bullshit. Many times I delineate the differences between what I like & what is good- I like pro wrestling & Godzilla films but I do not confuse them with Tennessee Williams & Orson Welles.
What do you look for in poems if not aesthetic value?
***Here is where you diverge into the mainstream- aesthetics is all 'like'. I look for technique & skill- easily definable qualities. I cannot think of a great poem that is not technically sound- even if not apparent on 1st glance.
Note how BG has no rejoinder. He has exposed a fatal weakness in his thought- the dread like over excellence affectation. I will point out, as we proceed, how all of what BG says revolves about his liking a word, a line, a sentiment, or a poem, then constructing elaborate & subjective justifications for his pleasures.
That's 1 of the key differences between me & all other published critics.
That you've read--in your opinion, I might add. I've read critics who very much distinguish between escape reading they like, and better stuff they like--and even better stuff they like, etc.
***I've read many critics- online & off, & there is rarely 1 who will name a 'name', for too often they're wannabe critics. The few that will attempt objectivity belie their biases, as well limitations in poetic craft & knowledge- I've lauded Emanuel, Jeffers, Patchen, Larkin, Plath, Liz Browning, Tu Fu, & in ways that others have not- I'm not merely cribbing opinions.
Of course, I could counter by naming many other critics, but at this point BG is reeling. He’s already clamming back into no, No, NO! mode- i.e.- the Bartleby gambit- simply deny all. It’s a manifestation of his claim’s weakness. Of course, there are critics who claim they value objectivity, but a quick scan of their writing reveals a plenum of biases & justifications.
I've read some pieces by this Dale Peck- a critic who's a so-so novelist, as well as that Atlantic piece by Myers a few years back. The problem with both is that they make no differentiation between not only bad & good but types of both. Same is true of a Harold Bloom- he lumps Plath & Angelou together as poets- unreal, no matter how you feel about either.
I don't read mainstream critics much, but have read Bloom, who is fun though wrong-headed most of the time and stupidly right the few times he's right. I don't think much of either Plath and Angelou but can think of ways you could lump them. Especially in their whining poems.
***They have cunts, ‘tis true- but even in their whiney poems - Plath is infinitely superior. Excellence, at a certain level, is not just a diff of degree- but kind.
The 1st honest admission from BG- he’s not as well-read as he portrays. Of course, his acumen is revealed, for Plath is a great poet- & especially as a Language poet, & manipulator of forms. My last point is something few critics dare admit, because it means the delimiting of their purview. A plain old critic is not a creator- a poet is, so for someone ala Bloom to admit that excellence is a difference of kind, when high enough, is to admit they’ve not the equipment to deal with it.
As for sub-mediocrity or my poems being not good. Well, if you cannot even tell that the 2 sonnets quoted are excellent at minimum- you've already severely undermined your arguments for being an astute critic.
If you want to debate that, you need to rise above argument by assertion.
***Bob, you've not even shown that you can separate your intellect from yr emotions re: art. When you can then you can deconstruct my or anyone else's poems.
Here is a favorite tactic of bad critics- merely assert without any substance. Bob claims I am asserting, but as the supplicant to me, he has asserted my poems’ excellence is not, yet not done a thing to countermand that. Later, in his crit he does, but it is a laughably poor attempt I will deal with as we get to it. Of course, I nail him again with the blindness of his emotions over intellect approach.
In a ltr to the editor 1 poetaster decried my use of the term limn as cliched- except that a cliche is not a word but a word or image used in concert with other overly familiar terms- which that word was not. I've 60 or so poems online at my site, & a few 1000 others. Show me a single poet from anytime that can match some of the painting poems, Skyline poems, sonnets- including my 1 on Chang & Eng. If you can- past or present let me know cuz I'll promote it just like I've done an excellent living poet named James Emanuel.
Haw, all my poems are better than any of yours.
***Just like Foley? I mean- I've seen yr ditties- you may be able to argue you’re better than a Wilfred Watson- so? From what I've seen you remind me of this fellow named John Murphy I knew who went to poetry groups & wrote Burma-Shave ad type poems- his relentless avant-gardism led him to chime 'wow' whatever crit someone gave him. Of course, I- nor anyone else- cd argue the merits or not of his poetry- to him it was just like or not. I can't argue your likes, nor will I- because I cannot be you- nor would I want to. This is why you value aesthetics. To me, the magic of verse comes from the ingredients & construction, not the ethereal. I guess arguing the point is like me- an agnostic poet, trying to convince a Fundamentalist poet- & you have revealed such even if unaware, & think you're not- of The Muse's inexistence. I won't argue the point in religion, & won't in poetry. But, a quick scan of history will show the Salon types- like a Foley (despite his airs) always falls to the real deal. If you cannot or will not see that- oh well. I provide the nitty gritty for many apostates from many areas. Despite being just me my site is slowly taking ahold.I 'm larger than Poets & Writers in terms of hits. That's shocking, even to me- but, it's a hopeful sign that there are folk who wanna learn & improve. You, too. This is why even though you disagree on the surface, there's a part of you that knows I'm right, even if you are not able yet to dash your aesthetics for a hands-on approach.
Remember what I said about bad critics & assertions? After falsely claiming such of me he does what he damns me for. Hilarious! Of course, he dares not tackle some of my great poems lest reveal his ignorance in toto.
There's a fellow named Jack Foley who has ripped me several times because I disfavorably reviewed his books & pointed out his endebtedness to Dana Gioia as a sugar daddy. His attempts at ad hominem are wan & see-thru. My attacks are not ad hominem- given Nye's doggerel, the only good thing to say about her is she is a sexy little thing. I do not personalize- I can satirize with acid, but I'm not accusing Bly of tax evasion nor Nye of spreading AIDS. As for the cliches- they were the writers. City Pages was trying to do a hack piece on me but Zellar resisted so they took away the editing from him. He originally wanted to do more analysis of the poems, but they went with the tale of my wife. They also used the 10,000 monkeys gambit & applied it to Maya Angelou to imply I was racist- although she was the only black poet of among a dozen I said cd fit that model.
Jack, as it happens, is a pal of mine, and has done some good turns for me. A very nice guy, and he's done poems I admire. But I don't agree with some of his views or much of his politics--and you're right about him and Gioia (another nice guy but, unlike Foley, an absolute jerk).
***& he's not a bad guy. But I've seen many like him at readings- he's sort of a hipper Gary Soto. I've also seen poets who do the stuff you do. That's ok, but you're limiting yourself & painting yourself in a corner with isms. Y'see- I don't care if Gioia were a rapist- if he wrote well. Give me Albert Speer as a great poet over another anti-Holocaust book of doggerel. Does that mean I endorse Speer- of course not- as a person. But art is not about niceness- it's about quality. Picasso was a scumbag of legendary proportions. Who gives a shit?
Ok, so DG is a nice guy & a jerk? By now BG is spinning out of control. You can hear him pulling out his hair over the Speer comment: Art is about TRUTH, BEAUTY, etc. Of course, BG will not say such for it would show how much in common with the PC Elitists he disdains he shares. As for palling around with Jack the Whack- real shocker, eh?
As for why the story was done on me & not far better poets? 1) The story was not about poetry but the paper's ballocksed attempt to try to cast me as yet another outsider/rebel- i.e.- like the beatniks, someone envious of 'real' artists. 2) There are no far better poets. Nor critics. The piece actually backfired on them.
Scott Helmes is far better than you, unless you've done far better poems than the ones I've seen, which is quite possible.
***I thought the name was familiar. Yes, he's another Wilfred Watson sort. Again, there are some cute little poems- but even in a rigorous discipline like haiku, there are limits that cannot be superseded. A great sonnet will always be more complex than a great haiku. But, of course, I cannot argue with a Fundamentalist who subscribes to an -ism.
There he goes assertin’ again! When I talk of BG’s ‘poems’ you’ll see what I mean. SH is another poetaster who- surprise, surprise- writes doggerel very similar to BG’s. I am drawn to poets because of excellence- regardless of their aims or claims, while folk like BG claim poets excellent if they share similar views or traits. To me the art comes 1st, then the artist- to BG the reverse is true. As I said- he’s a Fundamentalist, I’m an agnostic.
Look, there are a handful of sites that try to veer away from cliches in how to write & approach poetry, but they usually fail. Unlike, say a Randall Jarrell, I actually point out egregious cliches, faulty music, & bad enjambment. Do I always go into depth as to why water & rock symbolism is a cliché in lesbian poetry- no? Cuz if you're reading about it I assume you've an interest & don't need to be condescended to.
I disagree with this attitude--because you can never be sure what a reader knows; I am sure I know a lot more than you about some aspects of poetry but am very limited in my knowledge of, say, the lesbian poets you mention. So you could help a reader like me with knowledge you think I should have. If you're a good writer, you can do it in a way that doesn't seem like condescension to others. Moreover, a reader can be reminded of pertinent well-known knowledge, too. To me, a critic should be as thorough as possible, and not worry about seeming to condescend.
***Your POV is ok if teaching a class on Poetry 101. Let me just tackle the TOP series. When I do a poet I'm not doing a career or ism overview, although I may. These pieces are specifically designed for casual readers who say- I never thought so & so was good- now I get it. In my S&D sections I tackle things much more in depth. I've just not had the time. Hopefully, in the next yr or 2 I'll have time to do a book on art- I'm gonna eviscerate Joseph Campbell's nonsense- as well as the Blooms & Vendlers.
Note how I am dealing with the nuts & bolts, or material aspects of art, while BG is all feeling. He has misconstrued the purpose of TOP essays for being in-depth crit, when they are not. Still, compared to most critics- BG included, they touch upon the very things that make or break a poem. As for condescension- sometimes that is not just in the tone of a statement but in the very addressing of obvious points. I can be very genial in asking you if you know what 2 + 2 =, but it’s still condescending to ask. Note, too, that BG says a critic should be thorough, yet we’ve seen the paucity of his reach & I will show you more.
I checked out some of your essays & I see you're struggling with poetry & criticism. You need to unconstrain yourself, & move towards objectivity.
For some reason, I doubt you know what objectivity is.
***Said the mullah to the shepherd boy.
Don’t be swayed by the brevity of this exchange for it may be 1 of the most important points- note how my wit confounds BG. Both he & his pal Jack Foley are very dry, somber folk. You’ll see this further in his other writings. Poetry is serious biz, folks- we gotta change the world & all. Few truly probing minds have ever been able to function without the grease of humor. It’s important to note just how humorless most grumblers like BG are.
It'll never be 100% successful, but I'm closer to it than anyone I've ever read- be it the old timers or the newbies. I do not like Ginsberg nor Frost's aesthetics but admit the former had a dozen or so great poems & the latter 2-3 x as much. I still don't like them, but I wish I cd claim Wales Visitation or Stopping By Woods.... as my own. I'm frustrated with Millay's relentless Classicism, but damn- show me a better published sonneteer- she & Liz Browning (& John Donne) are better than old Willy. I like Richard Brautigan & am even sympathetic to the sentiments of a Lucille Clifton or Nikki Giovanni- but they're horrible poets- at least RB was a humorist.
Lastly, provocateur is 1 of those labels- like rebel or street poet- that is meant to marginalize. The Blooms, Halls, Angelous, et al. will be footnotes to 20th Century poetry. On a radio show I did a poet named Fred Glaysher argued with my cohost & said that real change in the arts only comes around when a new master comes along & buries the dinosaurs.
Well, I'm heaping the dirt- but I realized that poetry will not get me the shovel big enough. So, that's why I'm doing memoirs. Once they're published & I can swing the hammer of a 'name' like Bloom or McCourt the real fun'll begin.
But, keep on trying. Despite your lack of poetic acumen critically it's good you're swinging. But realize, it's not the few folk like me that are your foes- in spirit, you're 1 of the grunts as we head up San Juan Hill. For every me there are 9,999 online Blooms. It's your decision where your sympathies lie. I'll excuse you while you plotz on that.
I consider you more ally than foe. But you seem to me to be in the knownstream fighting to be taken as the best there whereas I'm in the otherstream fighting not so much for personal recognition but for the recognition of entire schools of poetry.
***Ditto. Believe it or not, I reciprocate. The fact that you are 'thinking' puts you 1 up on the Blooms- he just regurges all he's read b4. That's what I want- not a pack of me's. That wd be insane. Perhaps 1 day when I've more time I can engage more with you, but I'm swamped with trying to finish my memoirs, keep the site up to date, & looking for work.
As for what I'm fighting for- recognition of my poetry, memoirs, website, will come- history shows that quality rises. Only the young (like my wife in her 20s) care about 'recognition'. To me success is being read in 10,000 years by some alien on an intergalactic cargo cruiser, having it pause, & say- That old human animal- he KNEW! It's the aha that we all want, as well as that other knowing who so moved him/her. You even admit what I surmised- you're a devotee of -isms. Be a devotee of Grummanism only- if you cannot break away from the rest.
Here BG tries the old, ‘OK, I realize I’m beaten, so I will try the we’re in different spheres mode.’
Tell me, where do you point out just what it is you're doing as a poet that is new, that will bury the dinosaurs?
***Quantity, quality, & diversity. There is no other poet I've read cd write in as many voices, styles, etc. as well. The difference is not in style, but in overall quality & heft. If you cannot see that, well- I cannot convince you that Jesus is a myth, either. But, if you HAVE to believe, at least make the myth more yr own & interesting.
No rejoinder. What could be said?
Feel free to post this reply. If you reply know it'll be a few days b4 I can reply back as my pc is about to go into the shop. Hope you get this. Be well, DAN
I do feel you're worth corresponding with. Take your time replying. And visit my Blogsite again before doing so: I plan to take some shots at you as a critic in my entry for today. Also: please be patient with me if I don't answer promptly. I'm a terrible correspondent. But I'll eventually respond. --Bob
***Fire away Grizzly- just get the name & URL right. In a few years I'm sure there will be plenty of PC Elitists trying to crib your & Foley's attacks as their own. Do I smell a plagiarism lawsuit? DAN
To his credit, BG told me of some of the bullshit he was gonna sling at me, unlike many inferior snipers. But, as of this writing, I’ve not heard back from BG- not that I expected to, after my evisceration of his art & beliefs. I’ve sent a few follow-ups but, apparently, BG has decided to go more into the Jack Foley mode in his attacks on both my poetry & poetry criticism. I’ll tackle that next.
The Criticism & The Poetry
Well, if you were not impressed with BG’s ability to explicate within the email exchange then, I’m chagrined to say, you’ll get no better in this section- so you may as well just skip ahead to the next section- at least that will be somewhat amusing. Excelsior!
1st I will tackle BG’s criticism of my poetry, then some of his crit in general. I will annotate &, in some quarters, translate what the Grumbler’s really saying. Here’s his 1st dig at me, from 6/16/04 the 1 he was so proud he had to email me on:
Today, my topic is a guy named Dan Schneider, "a poetic provocateur," who was recently the subject of an article in an apparently prominent Minneapolis online publication called City Pages. Here's what I said (slightly revised) about it at New-Poetry, where I learned of it: "Pretty funny. One sub-mediocrity raging against other sub-mediocrities. I agree with a lot that Schneider says but somehow wonder how much substance there is behind his hostilities. At one point, he comes out with the Emperor's new clothes cliche, for God's sake; later, he uses the one about the blind men and the elephant. And the two poems of his that were quoted are . . . well, not very good."
Note the immediate label- this is to diminish anything else he claims I said, for a ‘provocateur’ is usually someone not so serious- ala an Allen Ginsberg or the Beatniks. Although some provocateurs- say, Picasso, were serious, it’s true, & most folk sense this, that a ‘provocateur is just a child pissing over a loss. Thus the 1st swipe. As for this poetry discussion group? More later. Of course, after tasking me for ‘mere assertion’, guess what BG does? Asserts I’m a sub-mediocrity. Another attempt at diminution comes from labeling my criticism as mere ‘hostilities’. Then I’m accused of clichés- except that the former cliché I never uttered- that was the assertion of the tabloid that ran the story, & the latter is not a cliché, especially not in this age. It’s an old fable, 1 I did use for its easy appeal to a tabloid audience. Then he asserts the 2 poems of mine were not very good. I’ll examine BG’s poetic take on them in a bit.
After reading this, New-Poetry Webmaster James Finnegan remarked that he was "surprised (that), despite some deep aesthetic differences, (I was) not a little more sympathetic to someone like DS who seems to so gleefully like to play 'whack-a-mole' with contemporary poets."
"He and I have a lot in common," I admitted, "and I enjoy his attacks--but you hit it when you spoke of 'deep aesthetic differences.' Aesthetics is just about everything with me.
This last line is crucial, because it reiterates BG’s fatal flaw in both his crit & ‘poetry’- he’s all about ‘liking’ things, not about examining them with dispassion to figure out how they work or fail. Right away you know you have someone with a deep, if not unalterable, bias. In fact, the word ‘like’ is probably used more than any other word (outside of articles, prepositions, etc.) in his crit.
"Also," I went on, "I mainly knock the attitude that the Ashbery-to-Wilbur continuum is all there is in American Poetry, I don't knock every poet on that continuum. Unlike Schneider, too (at least so far as the article on him indicates), I am a fairly energetic appreciator of many poets--though not so much at New-Poetry, because poetry outside the Ashbery-to-Wilbur continuum gets discussed so seldom here."
Of course, I don’t knock every poet on the continuum- only the bad, whatever their group, school, or –ism. This is key, for BG will betray his biases over & over. I recognize that there are good & bad poems & poets in every school & that the really great poems & poets have more in common with each other than they do with lesser poets or even lesser works by themselves. At a certain level difference of degree becomes a difference of kind. As for appreciator? Anyone who came to the UPG, or actually read my critical corpus will see that no one loves great poetry more than I do, & few as much.
I then wondered why no one in Minneapolis, where Schneider goes to poetry readings and lashes out at the poets whose work he thinks bad, even if (or especially if) they're big name poets like Robert Bly or Carolyn Forche, seems able to stand up to him. I think a problem with poets across the country, in fact, is that they're so incapable of defending their art, and so pathetically whiny about those who find something wrong with it. They should welcome attacks--as opportunities to find out if their work does have flaws, and to batter the idiots who say it does when it doesn't, at the same time forwarding their kind of art, and educating those unfamiliar with what they're doing.
Here we go again with distortions. Nowhere in the piece does it say I lash out at poets. Over the years I’ve gone to some readings & calmly challenged bad poets like a Robert Bly, David Mura, or Nye, to defend their work. By simply not asskissing, but showing reasoned dissent I am somehow lashing out? This is ad hominem merely designed to marginalize, but it’s transparent. Then, bizarrely, he turns about face & agrees with my denuding poetasters.
Professor David Graham, a frequenter poster to New-Poetry, also commented on Schneider after going to Schneider's website, averring that "Dan Schneider's critical prose speaks for itself. Alas:" He then quoted the first two, very politically incorrect paragraphs of an essay by Schneider on a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, which includes Schneider's positive opinion of Nye's ass.
Whoa boy- you know you’re on the right track when a Professor takes a shot at you. His comment? It loops about on itself. What was that about those who can….? As for Nye’s gluteus- I firmly stand behind my assertion that it’s nice, especially for 1 nearing 50. But, the big point here is to notice the utter lack of humor in BG’s own writing, nor any appreciation of that in others’.
Graham often uses the same technique against me, so I fired an annoyed post back at him. Said I (almost--I corrected one word and added a word to this before using it here): "David Graham's quotation of a critical essay's ungenteel and politically incorrect introductory paragraphs by themselves as a sufficient example of the critical prose of its author speaks rather more accurately for itself." I went on to give my opinion of the rest of Schneider's essay, which didn't impress me, but was certainly more than an ad hominem attack. I'll say more about it in my next entry.
Here BG is trying to have his cake & eat it, too. I slipped that 1 in for the tabloid readers, out there. He attacks me spuriously, yet tries to curry favor (recall who supplicated whom) as my faux defender.
I finished my counter-snipe at Graham with the opinion that the poetry world could use more Schneiders, and fewer complacent stasguards voicing sage dismay at the bad manners and opinions of poets insufficiently admiring of Wilberia, while carefully avoiding subjects they can't be measured, thoughtful and sometimes mildly entertaining about. Yes, I introduced another new term, "Wilberia." That's the Wilbur-to-Ashbery Continuum that stasguards want to keep everyone from finding out is only one segment rather than the whole of the actual American poetry continuum.
While I'm not yet an admirer of Schneider as a poet or critic, I commend him for his website, which (among sundry other essays) has a hundred or so analyses of poems by various authors. In other words, he's out there, fighting for his poetic beliefs, and stimulating thought about poetry. And he rates each poem he analyzes numerically, something I've long thought would be a good idea for critics to do but haven't yet done myself. Thus, a reader can get a much more accurate idea of Schneider's taste than he'd otherwise be able to.
Last thought. At first, I agreed with one poet in the City Pages article who criticized the publication for covering Schneider after never covering far better poets. I've changed my mind. What's the point in covering poets who just repeat received opinions and sentiments? Cover one and you've covered them all. Schneider is probably as predictable as the better poets, but from a minority viewpoint--and often with verve.
He ends on an up note, but how is it I’m predictable? Take a good look at the whole trope of BG’s piece & you will see that it follows the common- reveal poet, attack poet, back off from assertion, then actually tacitly endorse poet- tack that appears in countless journals. Even as he tries to align himself with me, however gingerly (for he truly knows- or at least senses- that I’m the real deal), he probably unconsciously falls into the very same patterns critics like those he argued with in the chatroom use. Of course, he does not mention ‘supposed’ better poets, much like banal poetry reviews never mention the ‘bad poets’ that the poet they are reviewing is superior to. BTW- shouldn’t the term be ‘Wilburia’?
Here he is the next day:
Now, for a look at a sample of Dan Schneider's criticism, a discussion "Blood," by Naomi Shihab Nye:
"A true Arab knows
how to catch a fly in his hands,"
In the spring our palms peeled like snakes.
Years before, a girl knocked,
Today the headlines clot in my blood.
I call my father, we talk around the news.
Schneider, who is generally an okay writer, starts his diatribe unfortunately: "Naomi Shihab Nye is about as Arab as I am, which nowadays could be dangerous--but given the blood I have means that both she & I are relatively safe. In truth NSN is 1 of the premier hausfrau poets of our times. Along with the deadly dull Carolyn Forché she is 1 of the leading lights of the hausfrau brigade."
Why is it an unfortunate start?
I tend to suspect that Nye is more Arab than Schneider. The latter's main screw-up in the preceding, though, is stylistic: his twice telling us Nye is a leading housefrau poet. He then bops into slams of hers and Forché's behavior, and the latter's appearance. After a quick run-down of her biography, he turns to "Blood." He finds it disjointed because, in his view, its first three stanzas fail to relate to its title. But, they clearly do: each has to do with being an Arab, or having "Arab blood." According to Schneider, "NSN hopes that by tossing up those stanzas it will distract the reader from her real intention, which is to whine about the Israeli-Palestinian nonsense." How does he know what her motives were? It seems to me that the stanzas appropriately portray the poet's background as an Arab-American (or whatever the correct term is). From them, she goes to her feelings about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which oppress her father and her because (one assumes) of their blood-ties to people whose lives are being devastated by that conflict.
Please, dear reader, keep count for me the # of times BG misses a point
& also shows his humorlessness. Then we get some egregious crit- by any
standards- 1) he misspells hausfrau- even though I had it spelled correctly.
Then he claims I misspoke by twice calling her that. As sportscaster Warner Wolf
used to say- let’s go to the videotape!. It’s important to note that not only
does BG misrepresent what I state, but does so AFTER quoting me in full, The
reader is witness to his distortion right after the reality. It’s almost as if
BG WANTS to subconsciously betray himself. Here’s what was said: ‘In
truth NSN is 1 of the premier hausfrau poets of our times. Along with the deadly
dull Carolyn Forché she is 1 of the leading lights of the hausfrau brigade.’
Note- I said she was a hausfrau who was in a hausfrau brigade. This is no more
redundant than stating I used to be a Cub Scout in Cub Scout Pack 555, or I’m
a civil engineer who works for the Army Corps of Engineers. The reason for this
implication is for BG to try to diminish my critical ability, in a reader’s
mind, before he even gets in deeply. He then states: ‘he turns to
"Blood." He finds it disjointed because, in his view, its first three
stanzas fail to relate to its title. But, they clearly do: each has to do with
being an Arab, or having "Arab blood."’
But, I do not state that the poem is disjointed, which implies
that it is fractured. What I state is ‘The 1st 3 stanzas all belong to separate poems because they do
not connect & they do not relate to the titles, despite an earnest attempt
to wedge them in.’- that they do no connect. & they do
not. Proof? Remove the title, & all that is left is banal prose bits
whose only connection is the word Arab in them. Suppose we substituted a
different culture? Eskimo. Would it work? No. It is a cookie-cutter approach
that many poets use to relate something- be it a fishing trip with their uncle
when 6, or cooking sushi in a Japanese home. If I give you 3 nouns- bat, house,
noodle- & preface them with a term like ‘big’, well, then they’ll
connect, especially if they are in a piece titled Things. The point,
which BG knows, is that Nye was merely trying to tie things together by
appending a word or image to each thing. Can that work? Potentially, but not if
the only reason for a world like Arab or Blood is to tie so superficially. BG
knows this, of course, but- having taken arms- he has to attack something.
As for me knowing Nye’s intent? By reading many, many poems by her & PC Elitists like her. By his own earlier admission BG is not as well read poetically as I am, so that may leave him an out- BUT, not if he uses his own ignorance as a reason to attack & display his own ignorance. BG’s last sentence shows that, although he is not exactly like her, he is simpatico with Nye’s heart-over-mind approach to art.
Schneider "improves" the poem by cutting it to the following:
A little Palestinian dangles a truck on the front page.
Homeless fig, what flag can we wave?
I call my father, we talk around the news.
When I first read this, I thought
it was an improvement. A somewhat poignant if predictable little imagist
plainlyric whereas the poem it replaced dripped with too much sensitively
wounded pathos for me. But hold: the cut version has nothing about the persona's
background, and it is crucial. I didn't notice it initially because I knew what
it was from the uncut version of the poem. I also missed the first and third
stanzas, which I thought excellent atmosphere-and-tone-setting vignettes.
(Frankly, I couldn't follow the second stanza.)
Of his improved version, Schneider says, "No music, no real imagery of power, & no real ‘poetry’ of any sort. The original lays like a silent fart & the rewrite is more focused, but lacks the earlier possibilities. That could well describe NSN’s poetry career." That's it for his "analysis." Nearly all assertion. He does make the point that Nye is guilty of over-writing. I would have suggested she cut, "What flag can we wave?/ I wave the flag of stone and seed,/ table mat stitched in blue" and "Who calls anyone civilized?" (a really bad line, because so standardly noble-hearted)/ Where can the crying heart graze?" (which seems to me to be straining to be poetic, but coming off simply illogical). I'd have her keep "What does a true Arab do now?" to tie the poem together.
I don't find either version of Nye's poem very musical, which isn't surprising, since it's basically nearprose. "Pleading with air" works for me as an expression of helplessness, although it's not genuinely very fresh. The image of the little Palestinian dangling a toy truck is effective. What makes the poem minor, at best, though, is that it is so standard--in outlook, subject-matter, form, technique. Schneider only partially indicates this, and fuzzily.
Nor does "Blood" attempt to achieve and/or express beauty, except secondarily to its trivial attempt to elicit sympathy. I consider the pursuit of beauty and the search for truth vastly more important than the yearning for sympathy and having much more potential, as a result, for giving pleasure, but I admit that that may be my personal bias, so won't go further into it.
Another self-betrayal by BG. He actually ‘gets’ the improvement upon reading it, then has to argue against himself to convince himself he’s wrong! Astonishing- not only to do so, but to admit it. Let me chuckle for a moment….Ok, I’m done. BG states he misses the generic stanzas I cut, & that the cut version ‘has nothing about the persona's background, and it is crucial’. Well, no, for in the original the title is about both the violence & the connections to Arabism. In the better version the title refers to the violence, the commonality of all people, & the fact that a speaker of unknown descent feels for the Arab gives it a far grander meaning & universality. The only thing crucial about the speaker’s background in the original is its necessity if 1 desires to politically correctly pound 1’s ethnicity into a reader’s head. 1 ‘Arab’ reference would have sufficed. Note- BG is more concerned with the poet’s ‘intent’, not the ‘result’. Good critics deal with what is in front of them, not what they desire to see, or read.
Then, we go back to the ‘assertion’ tack. Yet, BG has just asserted the cruciality of the poet’s background & that 2 stanzas worked well. He never explicated either. The fact is that assertion will go on in any argument or piece of criticism. Unless I wanted to parse every possible meaning of every possible word & word combination in a piece of writing I will have to rely on assertion. So does BG. I admit the obvious though. The trick is to see where the demonstration of principles takes place. If 1 sees consonance with that view then it’s likely that most assertions will be assented to by the reader. By this analogy I’m pitching a shutout in a rout of BG. It’s like comparing the ’98 Yankees against the Bad News Bears, or Walt Whitman against Eugene Field. Also, the provenance of the assertion bears some defending. If 1 is talking about Modern Art & dealing with assertions from Picasso & a bad wannabe what Picasso says will have more heft. That does not guarantee correctness in any individual assertion, but a greater probability of correctness in any chosen assertion vs. that of the wannabe. You know which of us occupies which role. There I go asserting again! & wasn’t there something about humor?
Then BG states ‘What makes the poem minor, at best, though, is that it is so standard--in outlook, subject-matter, form, technique. Schneider only partially indicates this, and fuzzily.’ In prose he’s correct, but it’s all there in the rewrite. Unlike BG, I manifest that point in the rewrite far more effectively & concisely than he states it. In effect- I show & he tells. Which do you think will impact a savvy wannabe poet who’s looking to learn? He then openly admits his biases- a good thing , I guess- but admits his helplessness to them. I ain’t cheering that admission!
The rest of Schneider's discussion concerns an interview of Nye that Schneider quotes and comments on. At one point, he writes, "Is it me or do they just not make interviewers the way they used to? These questions are as off-the-rack as NSN’s answers are. Where would NSN be if she actually had to think & answer a query she had not hear 10,000 times before?" The interview and the answers are off-the-rack. I suspect that's been the case with almost all interviews since the first one, however It's also the case with Schneider's piece of criticism. He is mainly against Nye's outlook, which is what just about all that bad critics are significantly concerned with in poetry. He has no problem with his victim's small and very conventional tool kit--I suspect that, as a poet, he has the same tool kit, just thinks he uses it better than she. He does little more than tell us in his cheerfully contemptuous way that she's no good. That's not enough to convince me he's close to being the major literary critic he advances himself as--however better he is than the ones currently being published in the mainstream.
Now BG goes asserting (shame) that my criticism is off-the-rack. Has he shown this? No. In fact, the very fact that he has spent so much time on it belies the point. Even worse, in the prior piece he states: ‘the poetry world could use more Schneiders, and fewer complacent stasguards voicing sage dismay at the bad manners and opinions of poets’. Clearly there is a schism. If I am so off-the-rack why would BG endorse more of me? He then claims my critical concerns are ‘outlook’, when clearly I have shown in this piece a total concern for structure- lest why rewrite the poem? It is BG who admitted his biases against real nitty gritty approaches, & his concern for the outlook of the poem. The only thing he got right, though, was the fact that that fact makes for a bad critic- in this case, BG, himself- not me. So clearly, I have demonstrated that BG is both not a good critic in poetic substance (dare I assert the manifest?) & an even poorer dialectician. His crit shows off his ample list of flaws- not mine, & could stand alone as an argument in my favor. In essence he states what I did of the poem , only with more words & more banality. & like his buddy, Jack Foley, he needs to distort, because the truth is a losing proposition for him- clearly Nye’s outlook is irrelevant to me. & to claim he does not know what Nye is doing is either an admission of his ignorance & lack of knowledge re: contemporary poetry, or simple intellectual dishonesty. But, am I as bad as Nye is a poet?
The next day- 6/18/04- BG attempts to rip my poetry. Here ‘tis:
Now a look at Dan Schneider as a poet. He considers himself about the best poet around. I've read very few of his poems but called him a sub-mediocrity on the basis of those few, and his criticism. In an e.mail, he replied, "As for sub-mediocrity or my poems being not good. Well, if you cannot even tell that the 2 sonnets quoted are excellent at minimum- you've already severely undermined your arguments for being an astute critic."
I replied, "If you want to debate that, you need to rise above argument by assertion."
"Bob, you've not even shown that you can separate your intellect from yr emotions re: art. When you can then you can deconstruct my or anyone else's poems," was his comeback to that.
Why do I bother with him--or with others whose poetry I find defective? I've been hit with this question more than a few times. Just yesterday, for example, I was criticized by someone at New-Poetry for "always" roughing up poems that aren't burstnorm. My critic wanted to know what I thought I was getting out of it. After all, nothing I said would have any effect on the world of poetry.
The answer to BG’s query is because there is a part of him that seeks to move beyond. It’s small, but he recognizes I have that ability. You see, just like my knowing Nye’s poetic intent from reading her poetry, prose, & interviews, I do not come to BG a virgin. I’ve linked to his site for many years, & know many folk like him- –ismists- who believe that ‘their way’ is the only way to approach poetry or the arts. He’s admitted this above.
This is a tough question to answer--because of the disorganizedly many answers I have for it. One is simply that I find analyzing poetry, good or bad, of way of keeping fit as critic and poet. Posted or printed, a negative analysis (and no one seems to wonder about the value of posting positive analyses) also may help the poet whose work I analyze, or teach some other poet things to avoid, and/or a way of looking at poetry that might prove useful to him. It may help critics improve. At worst, it will help provide the poet whose work I analyze data to gauge how his work is being taken--which I can't imagine he would not be curious about. Aside from that, I think it would help a poet to know what those who don't like his work think of it, so he won't be taken unawares by future attacks. And how can it not give him something to mull over, even if he considers it completely wrong-headed, for it should help him know what he's doing better, and become better able to defend what's he's doing, if only to himself?
Look above & note the underlined word: like. More self-betrayal. BG likes or does not like a poem- he cannot think good a poem he does not like, nor think doggerel 1 he likes. & what guides his like or dislike. From his own pen- aesthetics, which is wholly subjective- the whole eye of the beholder schtick. Period.
Slamming crap must also be morale-boosting to others who share one's opinion of the crap, but are discouraged by the praise it's gotten from the big names. This could inspire them to reveal their own misgivings about poets they consider over-rated. Consequently, they might merge into a genuine movement instead of simmering mutely in separate, solitary marginalities and actually make inroads into the deader precincts of the mainstream.
Another way negative criticism might affect the poetry-world-at-large, would be by making a few editors have second thoughts about what they're publishing, perhaps without really thinking about it--automatically publishing second-rate work by prize-winners, for instance.
And, hey, what if the slammer is wrong?! There's a chance someone will point that out to him, and help him.
As for Dan Schneider's poetry, I doubt I'll help him much, but he seems to have this important trait in common with me: he can take negative criticism in stride. He's also completely candid. So maybe he'll counter with attacks on my poetry (which he seems to think like Wilfred Watson's, I guess because Watson invented something called "number grid" poems that have numerals scattered through them; in any event, Schneider doesn't think much of Watson's or my poems). I'd love such attacks because they would give me an excuse to talk about the poems he attacks, and as any reader of my blog must be aware, there's nothing I more like doing.
Actually, slamming crap is taxing. I’d much rather praise the bounty of great poetry, but it is so rare, which makes it so precious, that to NOT slam bad poetry is to disservice the good & great. Again, BG shows his desires- for a movement. Movements are like dictators, they’re always replaced by another 1. Excellence simmers in individuals. BG claims he can take negative crit, but, in the few weeks since writing he has not replied to my several email attempts. Not that I expected him to, & besides, I’ve better things to do. So, why respond? 1) Like I did to a moron who falsely accused me of plagiarizing a description of Oscar Madison 1 should try to reply to all attacks, regardless how wrong. How could I criticize a Harold Bloom or Robert Bly for their elitism if I do what they do? Of course, I cannot reply to all, but BG has taken time & attempted more than the 1000s of mere ‘Fuck you’ emailers I’ve dealt with. 2) I’d not reply if I thought he was dumb. He’s just merely wrong &, if you’ve read closely his words, a part of him knows it & knows I’m right. It’s just his little way of tweaking a superior so that I notice him, & ‘hear his say’.
BG’s verse is like Watson’s in that he writes mostly ‘gimmick poems’. Watson’s grid & BG’s mathemaku- which I’ll tackle later- are not so much poems worth attacking, for they are not really poems. Watson’s ‘poems’ were what they were- occasionally engaging cryptograms- not poems. To attack such is akin to rating crossword puzzles or brain teasers as art.
Okay, now at last to the two poems Schneider, for some reason, calls "sonnets"--I suppose because they're 14-liners. Actually, I've decided to accept this after long feeling a sonnet had to rhyme and be in iambic pentameter. I merely distinguish "plaintext sonnets" for "songmode sonnets," the latter, it should be obvious, being the traditional kind of sonnets.
I have disposed of the metric fallacy before. A brief recap:
millennia a similar seemingly ridiculous dictum has held a grip over the world
of poetry. The absurdity is meter. For the uninitiated meter is the theory
(claiming origin by several cultures) that spoken language consists of 2 primary
vocalizations of a sound- i.e.- stressed & unstressed. A word like meter
itself would consist of the stressed me- & the unstressed –ter. So far so
good, especially when a word is hoisted out of a phrase, line, sentence,
paragraph, story, novel, etc., & diagnosed like a lab rat. However, real
life is not so pretty. In the context of spoken words, as well as those internal
voicings, an absolute plenitude of stress levels ensnares one. To say that a
‘spoken word’ (whether that speech is aloud or internal) has stress(es) is
about as meaningless as saying things have color in light. In fact the dualistic
notion of mere stressed & unstressed sounds is- in practice by its many
proponents- almost always so loose as to be meaningless anyway, as metrics
should really redefine its definitions as greater & lower stress(es) (with a
plenum of in-betweens), since (obviously) a truly unstressed syllable would be
silent….For those of you who adhere to the metric fallacy no copious amount of
disproof will suffice. You are the Flat Earthers of literature. So I will not do
what most pedants would do at this point in an essay- i.e.- bore you with
endless examples of diacritically forced pronunciations & bastardized metric
scansion. Instead I will offer up a simple word that disproves the theory for
those of you willing to listen- sorry for the pun. About a decade ago- perhaps
the late 1980s, these similar, & other- thoughts of metrics alighted.
Perhaps I was watching the late ‘80s version of the TV show Star Trek at the
time, or had it in mind. Anyway, I decide that any 3-or-greater-syllabled word
should readily disprove metrics. I picked up my Webster’s & opened it at
random- yet landed on the word generations.
A nice 4-syllabled word. The dictionary had it diacritically marked as ge¢ ne ra¢ tions, or (stressed-unstressed-stressed-unstressed). But really listen: if you say the word over & over; just this word, mind you, free of context & naked upon the table- generations, generations, generations….it should become clear that there are 4 distinct stress levels. The hardest stress is on the 3rd syllable ra. The next hardest stress is on 1st syllable ge. 3rd hardest stress is on 4th syllable tions. And the least stressed syllable is the 2nd ne. Numerically put, in descending stress order the 4 syllables queue up as 2413 or ge2 ne4 ra1 tions3 ….the music of words rests upon such things as rime (in all its varied form & types), alliteration, assonance, enjambment, & in the overall tropes of lines in accordance with the lines directly before & after it- as well as the sound of the words in concordance with the emotions the words’ definitions convey. The last 2 examples need some explication. Let us say that the 4 lines of a quatrain (free or formally versed) have a lot of sharp sounds bunched in tight packages at the start & end of the lines. If all 4 lines are similarly formed then the stanza will be musical- if even harsh-sounding to the ear. But if line 2 digresses from the rest of the stanza with long richly flowing diphthongs (2 sounds which blend to one- i.e. the o & y in toy) then- no matter how well sounding that line may be alone, it is unmusicked in context to its stanza or poem.
Now the but….But, depending on the content of the stanza- the seemingly unmusicked digression may indeed be musical because the poem’s speaker may be talking of a violent situation in the sharply-sounded lines, & the digression- say, to some warm memory of love- may necessitate or facilitate the abrupt switch in line sound, & therefore enhance the content of the lines’ words with its switch in sound- especially in contrast with the rest of the stanza soundwise & emotionally. Of course, if any of these coherent elements I espouse is not present then the discordant line 2 may indeed be unmusicked!
Simply put, music in verse- or language- depends on the congruence of syllable with syllable, word with word, line with line, stanza with stanza, etc.- as well as each of those congruent units’ emotional/intellectual congress with sound & meaning. The instant you recognize that 3rd level of stress in any word, phrase, or line the whole bulk of the metric fallacy is logically toast. Period! Of course, this formula implies a far more complex relationship than the absurdly simplified metric codes.
What is interesting is that a poet whose own poetry- mathemaku or not- is so prosaic should try to shoehorn my sonnets into that old garter belt, is amusing, to say the least.
Midnight at a White
Castle in Bloomington, Minnesota
The girl recalls 7:37 p.m.,
Jenny, at Five, at Her Telescope
A grace that no poet has ever limned
I'm afraid I have to admit that I can't follow the first of these well enough to critique it. A little girl is Normal Rockwelling against an Edward Hopper diner window, hungrily watching people eat. The grammar tells us that she is recalling "7:37 P.M./ and its twilit heart," whatever that is. A "burgeoning light" and a "white square" (sic- like his pal Jack Foley BG cannot even correctly copy & paste- the phrases are 'burgeoning white' & 'light square'- oy!) play a part in the scene, or are they one and the same? Whatever, I don't know what they are, unless a streetlamp or the like. I take it a "slider" is some kind of sandwich, but have no idea what the "unawareness, undiscovered" that the girl is said to share with the diners is, or why it is finally said to never have existed. The girl is eventually told to scoot. She goes away, then recalls--the food that was being eaten in the diner, I guess. At that point, the poet tacks some moral onto his poem that sounds sensitive but makes no sense to me.
Amazing. BG cannot follow these poems. Here’s BG’s crit of the 1st 2 lines: ‘whatever that is’. This is not even assertion, but demurral. Let’s see, just a reasonable amount of cogitation would connect 7:37 pm & twilit heart, or essence, meaning that that is when the sun set. Hence, it is summer. I guess saying ‘the girl stands in the summer recalling sun set’ would be easier for BG to follow, but would it be poetic? He then confuses the light & the square. Ok- if a light is shining though a window in the dark it will likely form a square outside. So far, BG is either showing incredible stolidity, or he is just so pissed that the poetry is ‘real poetry’ that he is lashing out without reason. A slider is a White Castle hamburger, but that’s forgivable if he’s never been to such a fast food joint. Misread alert: BG thinks the unawareness, undiscovered is shared with the building, yet it clearly connects to the customers within for she shares it with ‘them’- plural. The separateness & hermeticism of the girl & the customers is what is recalled by the scents, & the lack of awareness is what is grieved. The poem is straightforward. BG simply cannot follow it because it’s NOT prose! This is him just doing the Bartleby schtick- NO, it’s not good. Yet, we’ve seen how delimited a critic &, worse. a reader he is. A final point that also went WAY over BG’s head is not only is this a poem on politics, but on American racism. Note that the ‘White Castle’ is in Bloomington, Minnesota- an affluent suburb in 1 of the ‘whitest’ states in the union. Also that lightness is in the safe confines of the restaurant, while the girl is in the darkness. Without ever stating the race of the people in the poem it is implied very deftly to show the effects of a more ‘benign’ form of racism. Of course, because this was put in a poetic manner & not merely stated in a ‘racism is bad/ain’t it sad’ manner BG has no use for it in his dim little purview.
The poem is near prose. The diction, or turns of phrase, are somewhat individualistic but, as observed, blurry. The poet tries for metaphor but none of them work, for me. He uses a little rhyme, a little near-rhyme, but basically his piece is nearprose. I detect no mastery of traditional technique or use of innovative technique. Using Schneider's way of scoring poems on a zero to one hundred scale, I'd give it around a twenty. However, I would credit the poet with possibly having a few semi-fresh ideas that might form the basis of some future much more coherent poem. His greatest flaws seem those of a poet trying to do more than other poets, not those of a poet badly imitating other poets.
Of course, were the poem prose it would have been followed & approved by BG. The diction is more than individualistic (a backhand compliment)- it’s utterly musical. Look at the assonance in ‘her eyes as the customers glide by/the burgeoning white’ & the alliteration & internal rhyme in ‘It is not fair--/this notion of unawareness that no one’. This is poetry- great poetry in technique & statement. But, even if we go by BG’s assertion of pentameter most of the lines would scan near iambic, such as ‘engages her eyes as the customers glide by’. Of course, they are well musicked by the stress system I laid out in my piece on Robinson Jeffers & the Metric Fallacy, as well. Only a total or willful ignorant (which is BG?) would claim the poem is prose, especially considering all the prosaic poetry out there- some of which drip from his pen. I’ve just explicated the mastery, as well BG’s own limitations as the cause for his failure to grasp it.
His second plaintext sonnet starts horribly with a gross cliche worsened by a poeticism, "an X so unique that no poet has described it," ending with "limned." I now fear I should not have bothered with these poems, after all. There simply isn't anything much to say about them. They're just meditative free verse, although the second's lines are at least mostly about the length of iambic pentameters. There may be pathos in this second one, but one can't be sure. Something in the girl of the poem's eyes is "echo(ing) the stars collapsing into death." A poetic image--but what does it mean? Is something in her eyes going nova? And what kind of disease that makes her father think she'll "defeat the fates" by living another five years does she have? Maybe I'm not being fair. The poem is cohesive and coherent and probably shouldn't be more explicit. A sad little piece on a happy little girl who will soon die (in the cold immensity of the universe), and her father's love for her. But so what? Lots of human beings die way too soon. As poets and others have lamented. What's the point of going there yet again, in a poem with no truly fresh imagery or anything else to make it worthwhile?
My rating, using the Schneider system: maybe a 40. That is, not too much below the rating Schneider gave the Nye poem of entry.
On to the 2nd poem. ‘A grace that no poet has ever limned’ is the start. Where is the cliché? Or is BG asserting again? The poeticism is true, but that is not a cliché, & the uniquity of the phrase argues against his claim. Note how BG gets stuck with a word like limned- why? Does he think a word, itself, is a cliché? In its context it is not- it sets up a Classical start to a poem that veers away from Classicism. It is a feint to get a reader expecting something, & then the rest of the poem undermines that expectation. He can’t be sure of pathos? If you don’t feel it (as BG is wont to assert) is it there? Note how BG tries to crit, then throws up his hands when things go above his head? Note how he cannot grasp unique metaphors- he NEEDS clichés! I could go on of the subtle touches that remove this poem from cliché- like the paycheck metaphor, but BG does not even want to engage the poem. Worse, he shows his inability to read. The poem is about the father’s belief that she WILL live. Then BG complains that I don’t use fresh imagery, even as he wails I confound him with things he’s never read before. Unreal!
Worse, he rates the 2nd sonnet higher than the 1st. Both are great poems, but the 1st is inarguably great. The latter poem is too much a set ‘anthology piece’ for me. The 1st 1 dares to tread where other have, but in totally new ways while the latter is merely greatly elevated poetry of a scene that has been done before. In short, if on the cliché meter the 1st poem rated a .1% the 2nd might rate a full 1%. It’s instructive to note that even in his tortured & butchered crit, BG still gets it wrong, & prefers the poem that is the more conventional- despite its excellence.
I could go on of his claims about meter, etc. but it would be like arguing with this girl from a Sylvia Plath List who claimed Robert Hayden’s great sonnet Those Winter Sundays was not a sonnet because they were not Shakespearean. But, I don’t wanna be too hard on BG- he’s a funny, well-meaning little writer. Ok, maybe he’s just envious of my writing & his blog entries were just spite work. Let’s gander at his opinions & criticisms of other poems. Here’s from about a week earlier- 6/12/04:
I can't believe it was eight days ago when I last reflected on my Poem poems here; it seems like just a few days ago. Maybe that's because I did toy with my new character, Criticism, a few days ago. I bungled him in the direction of an origin that I just now built a poem out of. Disappearing in the process was the very rough draft I introduced Criticism in:
The winded mud
Except for the use of "or" as a noun. And redness. I think the result has a number of interesting elements, but I'm not sure how successful it is, over-all:
Back when Poem was mostly feathers,
Piffling roundly absent to resin
Alwaysed thereafter in the reddest invisibilities
Poem followed the diagrams eleven-twelfths unknowingly,
Note the clumsy use of personification & neologisms. Emily Dickinson BG ain’t! 8 days earlier he had this rationale for the 1st poem:
Here my attempt to make a longer single poem out of the three early efforts I didn't like stopped. I bother posting it because I may have done something often done by writers that is nonetheless a possible Major Breakthrough for me: I've brought a second character into my series. Conversation may be next! Thirty poems and I never realized there was no conversation in any of them, nor interaction between Poem and anyone else. I find it ever-amazing how long it can sometimes take even a "creative" person like me to make--no, merely think of making--the simplest changes. To anything.
That my new character is to literary criticism what Poem is to poetry, on the other hand, is clever, I think. It ought to yield Great Dividends, but it's deep in thunkland, right now. (I think of how comicbook super-heroes so often begin alone, but nearly always end in Justice Leagues of some sort. . . . I now want to give Criticism an origin poem, but he's mighty hazy to me, at the moment.)
This is laughable. He believes that the relationship of a personification to the personified is clever. This is BG’s breakthrough moment! At best, these poems are cute- but they are definitely prose (no alliteration, nor assonance, nor even image-rhyme). Poetry abounds with such poems, workshops abound with them. A day earlier he, again, reveals his biases spot on- it’s all like & feeling- heart & no head- & it shows.
Today's excuse for a lazy entry is that I spent over two hours in a dentist's chair this morning. Plus, Florida summer is definitely here. So, I'm just going to quote four poems of mine from my 1995 chapbook (dbpq press), Of Poem, which contains 19 of my solitextual poems, all of them about my alter ego, "Poem." I'd been thinking about my Poem poems because of Mary Veazey's selection of them at her Sticks site, and two days ago wrote about them here. In spite of some of the derogatory remarks, and seemingly derogatory remarks, I made about the poems at Mary's site, I have to say that I quite like them all, and I'm quite capable of not liking poems of mine--of hating them, in fact.
Anyway, out of curiosity, I took a look at Of Poem yesterday. I discovered that I still liked most of them, but had trouble liking the four below:
The sky stayed in the nylon
A Woman's Red Chores
The winded mud.
In Santa Monica
Poem lowers himself into
Each of these has a phrase or something else I like, and they all express genuine moods of mine. Actually, as I was typing the last of the four for this entry, I fell for it, again. I think it one of my very best. Here's my chief problem with it and the others: they seem too similar to each other, and to others like them, that are better (in my opinion), like these from Of Poem:
These are the works that the 1st poem seen derived from. Now, poems like this can work- Stephen Crane’s ‘poems’ succeeded because there was an inversion of the ‘moral’ end- usually with wit. These poems are free verse haiku, or 10th rate William Carlos Williams. They all posit, personify, then peter out. That’s their de facto ‘form’. There’s nothing unusual here. They are 5th rate Ritsos, or 10th rate Cavafy.
Now, for a side-by-side comparison of 1 of BG’s personification poems & 1 of mine- a sonnet:
Back when Poem was mostly
Piffling roundly absent to
Alwaysed thereafter in the
Poem followed the diagrams
Turing knew is that 1 or 2 were more
For neologisms to work what is around them must engage- there’s little that is engaging in this poem. It’s not Lewis Carroll enough to engage, it lacks music, & is just a paint-by-#s sort of poem where you toss in a new word or 3, try to sound dissonant, & if a reader questions you it’s their fault for not appreciating your ‘genius’. Contrast that with my sonnet. The only personification is in the title, it plays off of science & math, & ends up posing some interesting thoughts. It’s also rife with music (distinguish dyspeptic pepperonis) & striking metaphors & rhymes (subtle motions/of emotions belonging to them, in shifts/of state. Anyone can relate)- which BG, likely, cannot follow. The end line is also devastatingly good because it can refer to the personified, the personifier, or both. BG’s poem is that of a grumbler, off in his corner, counting his toes & praising schizophrenia, while mine is real poetry- great, fresh, & resonant.
BG, however prefers poems like this, from 6/10/04:
I suppose you have to have been on the dump a long time to appreciate Robert Lax's version of the the in his "river":
It would help also to have been immersed in haiku
and more minimalist forms of poetry for some significant part of your
life, and to have read at least a few other things by Lax (for instance,
a text featuring just the following, "the sea," "the
stone," "stone" and "water," which he repeats
into something close to a final representation of . . . flux and
stasis), as I have. Whether it's possible for me to provide any useful
idea of what it is about this work that gave me a lasting Yow-moment as
soon as I encountered it is uncertain, but I'll try.
My conclusion (if only visceral until I later found words for it): the poem put me in the presence of river-as-flow, so also in the presence of poem-as-flow. Chanted river/poem-as-flow, I might add. And the flow was an archetypal, eternal essence out of Nature, an absolute preceding all meaning, a thing-in-itself . . . or form of "the the." Eternal repetitiveness, unchangingness . . . Time, itself, and all it contains. Seen and heard rivering down a page.
So, a poem seeming at a first glance emphatically "nothing"--a single humdrum word repeated on an otherwise blank page--grows into . . . everything. Or can grow into everything for one open to it, and lucky enough (at some point) to be able simultaneously to experience versions of the interactions with the poem I've clumsily tried to describe.
This tripe is very similar to many poems of this sort, including Pulitzer Prize winner James Tate’s 25 line poem of the same line about Lewis & Clark. Compare the tortured extrapolations of this ultimate gimmick poem with his confusion confronting real & great poetry. The only similarity is that he has to convince himself of the worth of 1 & the disworth of the other. A good critic realizes that such convincing is the job of the poet/poem- not the critic. This is the root of objectivity, & its lack why BG fails as a critic. As a poet he fails for a) lack of skill & b) not really writing poems, per se; at least in regards to his mathemaku. He is like a kid with a wild colored Mohawk who thinks he’s individual, yet so conformist, because no 1 else can differentiate him from the next Goth kid with a wild ‘do. Or, as BG states on 6/20.04:
To retain symmetry, I split knownstreamers in two, as well, calling the bad ones "Knownstreamers by Default," the good one (yes, I believe there are good ones--very good ones) "Knownstreamers by Choice." The former make conentional poems because standard poems are all they are aware of, and they are natural conformists; the latter make conventional poems because, after exploring a reasonably broad spectrum of kinds of poetry, they have found that conventional poetry comes naturally to them, and still seems to them have enough unmastered consequential nooks and circuits to build fresh new worlds out of.
Here is BG’s rationalizing bared. He thinks that his poems are pushing boundaries- even when a poet he mentions- Scott Helmes – does the same thing. Of course, BG would argue that his gimmick poems are substantively different from Helmes’s, but without their author’s names only he & Helmes could separate them. Whether you ‘like’ my poetry or not, there’s no confusing my great poetry with someone like BG, Bly, or Ashbery. Individuation is 1 of the hallmarks of excellence. I even go beyond that with many poems that no 1 would think were all written by me.
Yet, despite the puerile posturing, BG longs for mainstream acceptance. He names Shalkespeare, of course, as his favorite- not best- playwright. Then there’s his list of top 10 poets- his heroes.
1. William Wordsworth
2. Wallace Stevens
3. William Butler Yeats
4. E. E. Cummings
5. Theodore Roethke
6. John Keats
7. Percy Bysshe Shelley
8. Ezra Pound
9. Robert Frost
10. Robinson Jeffers
Note, that BG does nothing in the way of trying to emulate their excellence. He has shrunk back to the shadows of an alleyway. He knows he can never write like they could, & accepts it. The 1st time I read Walt Whitman I said, ‘This is good, but I can do better.’ I couldn’t at the time, but knew I eventually could; I’ve long since left old Walt in the dust in terms of #s & variety of great poems. Still, I can never out-Whitman Whitman directly, but that does not mean I cannot, nor have not, surpassed his scope.
I could go on of BG’s inferiority complex, but it manifests itself throughout his site- a need to theorize on all manner of things, then wedge these theories into art, rather than engaging art & allowing ideas & theories to emerge. Of course, theorists by their nature are oppositional to artists- 1 ponders, the other enacts. Other than his Top 10 list he links to some other poets & poems. Here’s 1 by a Joseph Duemer:
Days are like grass the wind moves over:
first the wind & then the silence—
what cannot be said we must pass over
in silence, or play some music over
in our heads. Silently, a wind goes over
(we know from the motion of the grass).
Days are like grass the wind goes over:
first the wind & then the silence.
Recall when he ripped the opening line of my sonnet Jenny, At Five, At Her Telescope? Ok, here the title is a clichéd trope, & the whole poem is a string of clichés. Fuck whatever Wittgenstein may have stood for, to argue that his philosophy justifies this tripe is to say the only way to write a poem on boredom is to write a boring poem- a claim made by youngsters who hang out too much in cafés. & don’t even dare the repetition gambit as its salvation- this is a horrible poem. Yet, he thinks my White Castle poem is only a 20? This is why folk like BG cannot be taken seriously. He’d spend alot of time justifying this crap, only because he either knew the poet or was simpatico with his aims.
Here’s another (untitled) by an Irving Weiss:
the stones stillies
beath the mans movies
running in place
with the speed of always
Why BG ‘likes’ this ‘poem’ is obvious- it’s virtually indistinguishable from his own. Speaking of which- let’s hit the mathemaku- 1 of his & another person’s. Here’s 2 of them, & a defense, from 6/28/04:
Today's entry is devoted to a lesson in the creation of a mathemaku. It features the mathemaku that Johna, the little girl I mentioned a couple of entries ago, made last Thursday. The next evening, I got a copy of it, which wasn't written as a long division example. When I put it into the long division set-up, I realized that she'd left out one component, the term I call the "sub-dividend product":
I was at a poetry reading at the time. When I showed the poem to a fellow named Jim, he suggested "armistice" for the missing element, more jokingly than anything else. We discussed it briefly, and came up with two better choices, "solitude" and "refuge." Of course, these were not very effective. It was tough going. I wanted a reasonably resonant image, but since "Nature" was the remainder, the image couldn't not be out of Nature (since it would then already have Nature in it). Jim and I couldn't think of any others that evening.
Of course, this is not a ‘poem’, but a puzzle. Is it cute? Perhaps to those who have not read poems like this before. & yes, mathemaku, as BG calls them, are not his creation. Avant gardists have done such for years. Beatniks, eccentrics like Wilfred Watson, some Iron Curtain poets in the 60s, as well as others with mental ills. I mention this because the fact that mental illness can curry a favor to oddball works of semi-art, & propel someone to declaim them as genius, is well known. A similar thing occurred with many avant gard prosists- James Joyce’s mind suffered terribly when he wasted decades on Finnegans Wake. I recall once arguing with a college prof that a study of Joyce’s syphilis in conjunction with his break from the great prose of Dubliners into the ‘gimmick’ prose of his later works should be done, & prove invaluable to scholars of Joyceana. The prof scoffed- Joyce did not have syphilis, even though that was the cause of his death & his wife admitted it in her memoirs! Then, again, folk like that or BG have little use for the real world. Especially when mathemaku hold such fascination.
Nor could I later when I thought about the poem. Eventually, though, I did what I've done with my own poems in many cases: tried putting terms in different places. I decided (without consulting Johna) that "serenity" was a larger quantity than "peace," so tried it as the dividend. No real improvement. Then, finally, I realized that it wasn't necessarily out of Nature, so I could make it the sub-dividend product, and create a new dividend. The latter could have Nature in it--in fact, should have Nature in it, so that "serenity" plus "Nature" could equal it. I thought of "pond" and a few other things out of Nature, but none gave me any kind of jolt.
My next breakthrough soon occurred. It may seem trivial (just about all the breakthroughs I have when working on a poem are incredibly trivial-seeming in retrospect) but I considered it major: I remembered that my terms need not be single words! I grabbed "pond" and worked it nostalgiac: "Willow-fringed pond/ in a childhood's slowest moments,/ 100 years ago." On second or third thought, I added "still" to make sure "serenity" was suggested. For an extra specific, and some alliteration, I put "ferns" into it, too. The usual fooling around took place. For instance, I first had "willow&fern-fringed" and tried "a small child slowed against" instead of the odder but, to me, more off-right "slowed against by a small child."
I like it the way it is, but hope to add color--with Johna's help. Right now, though, I consider it a good simple example to use in my workshop, if anyone shows up for the next session.
Note how often BG uses a term like ‘breakthrough’. This betrays his desire to be seen as daring, a pioneer. This is the delusion that most bad writers suffer from, & 1 they like to fob off on truly superior writers like me. Recall when he questioned what dinosaurs my great poetry was tackling? Well, these mathemaku are BG’s delusions that he is Arthur having at the dragons with Excalibur. Having never met the man I cannot speak of his person, but his writing does bespeak the great possibility, if not probability, that he suffers from some sort of illness of the mind- be it the typical bipolarity of most wannabe artists who delude themselves that crazy = genius, or manic depression, or delusions of grandeur. I also knew from his email’s tone, & his claims of poetry, in general, & his mathemaku, that I was dealing with an altacocker- someone 60+. I was right, as he is 64- as of February 2nd, a quarter century my senior chronologically, but at least that my junior artistically. Still, I do admire the genuine love he has of words. The fact that he prefers a child’s building blocks to the more intricate chemistries of the great writers is just how it is. The weirdo in the alleyway that is mumbling is just that- nothing more. That sound you hear is not your cat purring but Bob ‘The Grumbler’ Grumman doing his own thing. Ain’t that sweet?
Some final thoughts on Bob ‘The Grumbler’ Grumman, his writing, & how he relates to many other of the wan, & sometimes pathetic, bunch that toddle along on the fringes of art, swearing that they are visionaries because they are a bit wacked, like Blake. 1 of the major problems with ‘Gimmick art’- be it famed folk like a Jackson Pollock or stupefied grumblers like BG, is that they don’t know when to quit. Had Pollock only done a series of 8-12 ‘drip paintings’, or if BG had only done a similar # of his mathemaku, they might be taken seriously by future art historians, but the novelty soon wears off & what may have been able to fool some (aren’t the most educated often the most gullible?) becomes the revelation of at the least obsessiveness, & at the most pathology. Either way it reveals a stunted & delimited mind- whether it’s a choice or an illness is of no real matter to those who have to read such dreck.
Of course, BG is not alone in his obtuseness. As revealed earlier BG is part of an online chatroom (http://wiz.cath.vt.edu/mailman/listinfo/new-poetry) that is monitored by a James Finnegan- a poetaster whose crap can be Googled. Like BG he’s a middle-aged (as he would say) sub-mediocrity- or über-atrocity?- whose pride & joy seems to be being zoomaster to a bunch of poetic wannabes & never-weres like BG, David Graham, Languagist Ron Silliman & refugee from bad 1970s poetry books, Barry Spacks, author of tripe such as this:
gaze into an empty room
is not becoming Buddha.
feed a starving lion, Buddha
gave up one of his precious lives.
a rabbit, as food,
he leapt in the fire.
paired to help,
like hands, like feet.
gaze into an empty room
is not becoming Buddha.
loveable about a hum?
Needlessness. It stops, or continues.
on a moving stream.
is all we need to offer each other.
my cat knows,
and my trees.
Doubtless, BG or Finnegan would rhapsodize about this string of clichés, but the funniest thing is not that they are lacking any acumen, but that they lack humor, as I’ve said, & insight. Then, again, I could be wrong on the humor thing for in a retort to the Grumbler Finnegan boasts, ‘Bob, he must know he'd be overmatched climbing into the cyber-robes of this ring.’ Now that we know Finnegan shares a bong with the President, does he present any crit of interest? No, it’s pretty much the same stuff BG says, save for slightly differing biases. Go to that chatroom to verify my assertion, & how it utterly undermines the credibility of a statement such as this, ‘this Schneider character seems to believe that bad manners and egregious behavior are the same as mordant literary criticism. Finnegan’.
Of course, anyone who has read through the TOP series, & my Seek & Destroy essays- especially my series on Poetry Criticism, knows that a critic can be insightful, correct & populist! The thing that kills folk like BG & his ilk is that I am doing what they’ve wasted their lives attempting, with little chance of success for a dearth of talent & insight. Rather than really get to the nuts & bolts of art & then relate it to the higher aspects BG & his ilk settle for faux depth & apothegms like this 1 from BG, himself, from http://www.fieralingue.it/corner.php?pa=printpage&pid=287, ‘Poetry is what birds would do far better than we if they could play tennis.’ A quote like this has no intellectual depth, nor metaphoric heft, but is an exercise in vanity to try to ‘sound’ deep & get a small place in Bartlett’s. Of course, all the discussion & crit at the New-Poetry site is at this level, although the sundry poetasters argue among themselves over the minutiae of bad, bad poems & poets. They promote poets who are pals of theirs (like a Scott Helmes- whom he hypocritically & cronyistically asserts as better than me after damning me for assertion) who are talentless, but share their biases or friendships, & embrace all sorts of intellect-defying theories, just like former Cosmoetica contributor Frederick Turner. Why?, you ask.
Because most of them are old men who have wasted their lives in pursuit of the arts, & now have to doggedly justify the waste by whatever means they can grasp at. BG is 64, as of this writing, & he knows this. This is why he has dodged my emails & not replied. He envies writing on the level I do because I don’t believe he really thinks his crap is good. He knows this, & he knows that I know this. Of course, he’ll never publicly admit it, but eventually he’ll read this & weakly attempt a rebuttal, or huff & puff, but he will fail, & then have to try to justify his failure in life with another transparent ‘defense’ of his doggerel, & his friends’. Like his pal, Jack Foley, he will overlook things that contradict a claim, he will willfully try to say black is white & good is bad (or its reverse), just so the act of NO gives him meaning. The most obvious application of this tenet has been his attempted crit of my 2 sonnets, & the claim that I do not ‘delve’ deeply into the craft- a demonstrably false claim because 1) My S&D essays deconstruct poetry with a precision, depth, & insight no other published ctitic ever has, & 2) the TOP series, even though it is, by comparison to the S&D essays, ‘Poetry Crit Lite’, is still PCL by Dan Schneider, meaning it does contain far greater insight than most crit of a similar nature that is much longer & much dryer. What kills snobs like BG & his ilk is that I make poetry accessible top the masses, who instinctively can tell most good from bad writing, but lack a vocabulary to state why. I give them that vocabulary. The TOPs also vacillate between satire & crit- most bad poetry gets way too much ‘serious’ crit attention that does nothing, & does not to say the bad poetry is bad. TOPs show that bad poetry can be summed up & dismissed with both brevity & humor. There is also a difference between positive & negative criticism & good & bad criticism. I most often write negative criticism because 99.9% of published poetry is horrible- but it is also good criticism because it’s well written, unique, engaging, often detailed, & correct. BG, on the other hand, writes mostly bad criticism- be it negative or positive- because he lacks my qualities. Bad poets rarely attack each other unless they differ in outlook over something like religion or politics but they almost always attack the greats of their day. That a bad poet & critic like BG attacks me is a good thing because it means my work really is good. I’m a good critic for the many reasons I’ve stated, but also because I don’t Schneiderize the poems- I fix’em by their own strictures. Too often critics think good writing is only how they write. Proof of these posits, my reader, lies both within the body of this essay, as well as the fact that you are reading this some time in the future because you have heard of me, while BG & his ilk are whosits? known to you only via my writing- their own tripe long since disappeared from print & cyberspace.
BG, on the other hand, wants to claim himself a ‘real’ critic- yet his attempts to justify doggerel, his total lack of understanding of the metric fallacy, his unoriginality in verse & its crit, as well as its components & counterpoints- scansion, meter, alliteration, & assonance- point to his being yet another poetaster who likes to say he’s ‘different’ yet he’s not- he’s the rebellious teen kid with a funky-colored Mohawk who thinks he’s making a statement, which he is- except that the statement he’s making is unknowingly how strongly he desires to be part of the crowd of other funky-colored Mohawk teens. He’s just pure ego cribbing ideas from better poets & critics. Instead of being a lone force- a renegade- BG is a rebel with nothing to rebel against, because he is part of the faceless mass that has stifled poetry for the last few decades. Who is part of the problem cannot understand that fact. By his own definition he is a knownstreamer of the highest order. This fact is plain before you’ve even started reading the 5th poem of his. That recognition comes quicker with a single paragraph of prose.
The reason poetry is so bad is because, too often, the intellectual bluffs of poseurs like BG are not called by insecure & craven young writers, who then fall into line & become the BGs of the next generation. Homey don’t play that- I not only call the BGs of the world on their shit, but raise the ante far beyond their level to call. This is why the This Old Poem series, as well as my poems, befuddle BG- they go beyond him, as I’ve shown. The TOP essays show just how easily doggerel can be dispatched, & how flatulent bad criticism- like BG’s for the river poem- is. The reason for the TOP essays is to show that most bad poetry does not deserve its criticism, nor the attention. In a sense, the only good thing about BG’s display of his ignorance to me is that it gave me an increasingly rare opportunity to go into greater critical depth on poetry & crit than I’ve been able to do in recent times. However, seeing the level at which he writes it also serves as an argument not to waste time with such impoverished thoughts & works.
He also betrays the flaw of bad readers- reading only what they want to read in a given piece. The White Castle sonnet is not only a masterpiece of a poem- but a highly innovative poem, in its metaphors, symbolism, phrasing, & all too uncommon trust in the intellect of its audience. It’s not mere typographical mumbo jumbo that will leave readers bored after 1 reading. It invites rereads. You see, BG & his ilk have made ‘innovation’ & ‘experimental’ synonyms for formlessness & trickery. The results are the rebuses & anagrams he & his posse try to pass off on uninformed poetry lovers. But, this isn’t 1950. What’s more innovative in 2004?- another poet who writes 10th rate William Carlos Williams wannabe poesy or a poem like this 1, on Douglas MacArthur, which casts the largely reviled World War 2 figure in a Neo-Romantic light? Any reader of poetry of the last few decades will tell you the banality is the word game. Yet, to a BG, this is all airies- he & his pals in the little New-Poetry world are consummate talkers, but they never walk the walk- they waste what little talent & time they have on such blogs & chatrooms, slowly drying their already arid personae to each other, as self-marginalized as the Nuyoricans or Langugists.
But, this marginalization is key to their own definitions of self- they need to believe there is a conspiracy or clique out to suppress their crap- it gives them a meaning art cannot. There is the need to stick a tongue out where a real artist answers with real art. Or, as Jess said of BG’s mathemaku: ‘2 + 2 = I’m better than you!’ is what all those sorts of poems say.
To sum up: individual works of art are good or bad, not any particular school- the road to perfection knows many ways. 1 can toss out a jumble of words & claim depth, but a jumble does not engage & too many poets want to be read, but do little to solicit readers, that’s why most published poetry is hermetic & solipsistic- ala BG’s & his ilk. They are the problem, not the solution, to poetry’s woes, but demoticism itself is not the answer, if it means slack-jawed PC bullshit ,or dumbed down pabulum, or self-marginalized mind games like BG’s. Brad Zellar- a poetry critic- once said my poems made him better reader- that, not self-satisfaction, is a goal of art. Intent, also, is meaningless, because 1) it’s arguable if an artist even truly knows their intent, & 2) even if so, that places an unnecessary burden on the reader’s own ability to get something from the work.
BG is a critic manqué & poet manqué- with allies like him it can only weigh the real artists down. Great poets tend to, however often grudgingly, recognize the greatness in others- bad poets rarely do. Still, folk like BG serve a purpose in that they are exactly NOT what to do in the arts. The Grumbler is out there with the UFO Conspiracy nuts & the Oxfordian delusionals- all gimmick artists are. They remind me of the time a cousin of mine tried to get me to join Mensa. I declined after seeing how non-creative their tests were & meeting a woman who just wanted to rub my chest all night, & 2 Civil War buff nerds who almost got into fisticuffs over who was the superior Confederate General- Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson? But, I digress.Good criticism, unlike art, must be honest, pointed, & learned- it is something that slices & dices whatever it comes into contact with- for the good or poor, not something to be impervious to, as BG claims he is. I love good criticism (positive or negative) of a poem of mine, because I wanna be better; it’s how I became a great poet in the 1st place! I never settle- ex-UPGers can confirm all this. My objectivity as a critic (the difference between knowing good & bad vs. like & dislike) puts me far above BG, & those like him. This fact is not unknown by him & his ilk- they wish they could write poetry & crit like me. That may sound egoistic, but it’s also true. A great poem may, indeed, be its own best explanation- like my 2 sonnets- but too many lack the Rosetta Stone that good crit can be. Positive change in the arts comes about not by political revolution, nor the masturbatory minutiae of mumblers & grumblers of no consequence, but by the simple, unadulterated production of great art. That’s something that’s true in this or any other world.
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