Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2001 13:56:44 -0400
Subject: Re: Why I was a bad poet (was: greatness; editors, editing, etc.)

I was especially taken by Jacques' (pronounced "Zha-KEEZ", as in Shakespeare's "As You Like It, yes?) confession, "The way I've settled it for myself is to stop writing poetry". And I was somewhat miffed by Behrle's discriminatory agism, ---especially on the same day that the Social Security Administration for the first time offiicially admitted that reducing Soc. Sec. payments is under current serious discussion (but I've been shaking a good finger at Behrle, back-channeled/bare-backed, tsk tsk, the disrespectful ingrate).

Not enough is said by or about poetry's silent phases ("to stop writing poetry"). I am either in one or just coming out of one, and I don't know if I want to come back to poetry as poet, etc. Laura Riding Jackson's continued public articulation and writing from the position of a poet who is not writing is supremely interesting to me. ("I will never write poetry again, but that is not enough to change me and revoke my 'essence' as poet,--- and it is upon that authority that I'm going to keep blabbering and write kooky dictionaries here in a trailer park in Florida.")

(I have wanted to get in touch with (presumed) computer-programmer Alan Jennifer Sondheim about a language-generating program that could apply the rule base [morphologies] of Jackson's syntactical-grammatical sentence structure choices to the discrete vocabulary she was using in her last poems. I believe that the output of such manipulations would in essence be "by" Jackson, or by whomever else such operations could be performed upon, Hart Crane, say, or someone of a helpfully small output. New but posthumous. Ouija poetry. Our language and poetry on the page, absented of voice, is just that: vocabulary arranged according to discrete, idiosyncratic rules. You ARE the sum of those factors. --- But ongoing attempts to construct a "paper machine" version of that R.I.P. by hand, lists, formulae [N-V-N; N-V-Aj-N; . . . for Noun-Verb-Noun {Subject-Verb-Object, Noun-Verb-Adjective-Noun, etc.] are difficult to draw to completion.)

To cite only the easy reference immortals: The legendary silence of Rimbaud, the interim silences of Rilke and Valery, and what they did with or during those silences fascinates me (Valery's immersion into mathematics during his poetry-less years, for example).


In my own case (WHO CARES!), now that my personal life has been callously ripped open on The List--- after the death of my 16-yr. old cat Shiki in January 2000, two years of nightly, hour-and-a-half sitting, eventually 28-line maximum poetry production came to an abrupt stop. When, after the fact, I realized that I had "stopped writing," I wasn't sure I entirely minded or that I should force myself back into it. Instead, it being a new millenium, me being on my own [cat-less] for the first time in 18 yrs., I decided that secondary paths of "creativity" that I was playing hide-&-seek with all my life, such as music (composition) and photography, this being a technological age, might be worth finally taking up "seriously." I entered a "non-verbal" arts period that lasted a year and a half.

(Avant-garde cat requiescat photography of Shiki at

Click on thumbnails to enlarge.)

Then, --- strange how crises, Scylla and Charybdis, bat me back and forth between poetry and no-poetry, --- when I injured my left hand in May, within days (at first I assumed I had "regressed," defensively), I was picking up on the Greek translation stuff and poetry projects I'd put aside years ago. I don't entirely like the change. "Poetic consciousness" is in many ways a more personally uncomfortable, conflict-ridden state of mind (being the most long-lived axis of my personality, with archaic roots in ["Maxims from my Mother's Milk", Messerli] nursery rhymes etc.) than the empty-headedness music and imagery had given me. Camille described her bed-time "poetic"/"audio-hallucinatory" consciousness recently. "Poetic consciousness" is very bothersome for me now: my mind goes into a sort of Sort mode, where words begin coming out of nowhere, based on their shape, consonants mainly: consonant -- cnsnnt --- Nissan --- canzone --- nascent --- niente --- can son not . . .

Currently, I'm sort of teeter-tottering as to whether poetry is going to "break loose" again, and whether I'll "let it." With musical composition, because my proficiency was so far below my language fluency, I found that I could work for hours and get up to have produced barely four chords or a couple of measures. The time/output ratio was absurd. --- But that's accustomed me to, and changed my expectations about what constitutes artistic activity, so that I'm more open to a similarly glacial poetic "flow": lately, a day may produce, if at all, less than a half dozen unrelated words,--- because I weigh and measure every phoneme so infinitesimally now. (There has been maybe one full "poem", a few lines here and there, and a stalled attempt at a "longer" poem using a historical character persona, something I'd never done, besides the 2001 slowdown I mention. I can't evaluate them, though: aesthetics/taste, too, is likewise dematerializing for me and I tend to perceive only in terms of power-functions, social configurations, etc., where "quality" becomes, as MM was saying, obscurantist.)

Enough about me.

Isn't Robert Grenier the master of "impoverished idiom" that you were searching after? Hannah Weiner seemed to be constantly bungling her diction in a laughably frank way. Heather Ramsdell's Lost Wax has numerous, shockingly inarticulate phrasings.

I'm not an advocate of "Great Books", necessarily (despite appearances), but--- it's precisely this agism --- damaging not only in turning against the most unheard voice in America, that confined in nursing homes --- that prevents boy from seeing the adolescent youthfulness of these Great Male Authors! Milton is big great eternal post-pubescent wanting to kill king, sympathy for the devil . .
. Milton: our first Satanist.

I've been re-reading Dante's Paradiso,--- and he's so f--kin' weird. Here you have this guy, right (I know little about Dante's actual autobiog)? who falls in love --- is it some under-age minor, like Petrarch's? --- and he does nothing that 2001 young can understand to consummate that passion. To the contrary he's possibly living in religious chastity (crossing knees),--- and he sets up this architecture where he SPEAKS ILL OF THE DEAD!, putting people he personally knew and political figures in dioramas.

Paradiso Canto III: he meets in heaven Piccarda Donati, deceased sister of a friend of his; he's already shown us that friend of his in Purgatory (thanks, Dant'. Nice pal); Piccarda was forced into some sort of "hateful" marriage that betrayed, I take it, her nun's vows; --- so, she's IN A LESSER HEAVEN, as far as Dante can tell, cause she's in the outermost ring. Like living in the suburbs: a fate too unthinkable, Tantalus paradise. VICTIMS GIVEN "LESSER PARADISE" FOR HAVING, what, BEEN WRONGED/RAPED? How come? Dante wantsa know. Telepathic untouchable Beatrice soul knows what he's wondering and goes into a philosophical critique of will --- but--- here your head'll spin, whee: in the process, Bea' holds out as moral models a PAGAN Roman who STUCK HIS HAND IN FIRE because he hadn't STABBED an enemy of the state, and a great Christian martyr who was roasted alive on a gridiron. Like, nice holy saint mentality, Bea'.

Young fogey, the truth now: can you get that weird?

My "attitude" (4:15 a.m.: fogies will "go to bed now" as soon as you crawl under the sheets first, Endymion stretched out under moonlight, hustler):

I wasn't really calling for a "moratorium" on poetry. What I meant was more that the "I am a poet and worth listening to in my self-centeredness" position is insufficient to advance the common cause of XXIInd century poetry in general. Overpopulation plus hyperproductivity equals--- our current Hong
Kong/Calcutta/Times Square inundation.

Most poetry has no Other.

Confessionalists/autobiography has the Other of the maligned parent (Mr. Olds) who's being badmouthed without recourse to defense since there is no opportunity we know of to hear Mr. Olds' or the Lowells' side of the story. Poetry like Susan Howe's, or Garret Lansing's "Stephen Phillips' Marpessa" poem, or etc. or etc., the utopian poetic care that I was calling for that would CARRY FATHER across the river on back, Aeneas-wise, instead of just or at least prior to stereo-Oedip-ically murdering him --- work like Howe's, presents the Influence of Anxiety antecedent literary figure as an Other who, uniquely, we can meet on their own terms: I have gone back and read AND I LOVE HER Watts-Dunton (Swinburne's boyfriend) whom Howe uses in Pierce.

Libraries are columbariums. Books are funerary urns you can rattle and hear an echo of the dead.

Print and literature are ultimately a necrophilia.

"Fame" and "greatness" wane in their drive, for me. "Love"/"lust" and "attraction" take on more force. EVERYTHING, if you have the dedication to persevere, THAT YOU HAVE WASTED YOUR ENTIRE LIFE ON will be SWEPT AWAY by a multitude of current global population nine billion multiplied by another generation to total WHITE NOISE people UNABLE even if they wanted to distinguish "good"/"bad" art when there are N-zillion logically valid aesthetic positions and a mountainous heaps of remaindered poetry books like toxic waste dumps of "sincerity" nobody'll be able to stomach for an instant in our increasing emotionlessness.

The smaller the audience the better, because a very small audience approaches the limit of an audience of one. And an audience of one, you and another person, is the real condition of INTIMACY.

("Audience", I detest the term--- like: clap, audience! Now performer will bow.)

Fame, outside Hollywood/Time Warner, can only begin by you dedicating yourself to making SOMEONE ELSE who isn't already famous famous. Ashbery was a fine model: this fogey harped and harped, whoever would talk to him, like Monsieur Idee Fixe: "Have you read Raymond Roussel?" "Have you read de Chiricho's Hebdomeros?" (WHO?) "...Laura Riding Jackson?" and when finally he made it big the first thing he did was turn all of that authority he'd garnered to getting Roussel and
"Hebdomeros" into print and attention.

Come to bed now. The mattress is still warm with your father's sweat.