Thursday, January 29, 2009

Farewell, dear sir.

Rest in peace, John Updike.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Gnomic Poetry


Mysterious and often incomprehensible yet seemingly wise.


A saying pertaining to the manners and common practices of men, which declareth, with an apt brevity, what in this our life ought to be done, or not done.

Viz (from Armantrout, via Silliman):

Dreams unspool
with an ersatz
familiarity, conspicuously

Viz Liz:

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.

I think, perhaps, I may have been too harsh (is that possible?) on lyric poetry.

I think my disdain for it comes from the seeming fact that so much lyric poetry devolves into Gnomic Poetry -- the poet-on-high telling us how to behave. But it's worse than that. It's the poet-on-high, the poet-guru, telling us in enigmatic phrases, how to behave. What is. What to be.

What's more, this is done with gnomic language -- it "sounds nice" (if they're lucky) -- or rather it "appears complex" without meaning anything -- or without deeper meaning. It's either a smudge or a stock photo -- there's no there there.

Now, I'm not sure that modern lyric poetry can save itself from the gnomic. Lyric poetry now well may be inherently gnomic. There's a fine syzygy between observation, explanation, and indoctrination.

Maybe indoctrination is too strong. Certainly most poets don't give pronouncements about not smoking or believing in nothing. But the idea pronouncing of "this is what is" (spouting tautologies and eschewing explanation ) is a terribly strong pull for most folks. Especially most poets.

This shouldn't be surprising. Most published American poets are progressives. Progressives are Puritans (generally sans all the trappings of religion). Purtians, as we know from grammar-school history, love to tell us what to do without explaning why.

So they publish what they know. They publish "how they want to be" -- that is, they publish and promote work that is inherently didactic -- that is, gnomic-lyric poetry.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural poems

Oh jeez, y'all.

Here is the text of the "poem" read by Ms Alexander:

Praise Song for the Day.

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each others' eyes or not,
about to speak or speaking.
All about us is noise.
All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din,
each one of our ancestors on our tongues.
Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform,
patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.
Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.
A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin."
We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.
We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, "I need to see what's on the other side; I know there's something better down the road."
We need to find a place where we are safe;
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.
Say it plain, that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce,
built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.
Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.
Some live by "Love thy neighbor as thy self."
Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.
What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.
In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.

Um. "lettuce" and "edifice" might be a clever rhyme, but in the words of a colleague, "it didn't really seem like a poem to me -- it was more like an essay."

This, my friends, is the epitome of poetry in America?

We should all stop writing.

In better news, let's look at this poem:

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
thou who has brought us this far along the way,
thou who has by thy might
brought us into the light,
keep us forever in the path we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world we forget thee.
Shadowed beneath thy hand
may we forever stand
true to thee O God
and true to our native land.

That, of course, is the end of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" by James Weldon Johnson. A better poem by far than the piece of crap written for the inauguration.

I weep for our letters.

Edit: A lot of people have been looking for an explanation of Alexander's inaugural poem. There isn't one. It's nothing more than agrammatical slosh filled with hackneyed quasi-poetic phrases. It wouldn't have passed muster back when I taught introductory creative writing to sixth graders.

Poem: Inaugural Sonnet

I won a "blog contest," which is either cool or lame depending upon your need for officiation. . .

Here's the whole thing:

If today is inauguration day
remember to turn off your televisions.
Don't read what the newspapers have to say.
Don't read the posts from academic prisons.
Don't listen to the hatemongers and their jive.
Ignore the fawning sycophantic crowd.
Look outside at winter, hard, alive.
Hear the news of the red-tailed hawks crying loud.
Tomorrow the written world will not see change-
but the sun will rise to an ever-changing song
over the crowds of swallows who arrange
a million brilliant patterns in their throng.
And those who feed from the cancer-trough of fame
will hang their bloody, blinded eyes in shame.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Poem: The Sturdy Dreamers

I'm not generally one for posting poetry here. I just can't shake the connection between this poem (written in 2003) and the current viciousness. Edit: I've shortened it.

I have seen something else under the sun:

The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.

– Ecclesiates 9:11

Are ye able, said the Master, to be crucified with me?

The Sturdy Dreamers


David waits for his lover to leave her home.
The engines of war trumpet around him.
She is barefoot in a scarlet scarf.
It will be hard not to cut herself on the breaking glass.
From a falling tent he sees a flash of red;
she flees into the rising light of the dawn.


Rahmah waits for her lover to come home.
She is riding to him in a crowd of the blind and faithless.
His is the only voice that cries for her in the night,
it is his voice that she longs for
as the soldiers march around her tower,
each step drawing them closer.
Moving among them is the sweetest child, dressed in scarlet,
with a scarf tied around her head to hide the scars.


Rahab waits for her lovers to return:
two young men, strong and clever;
she melts for them and their country.
Her hair blows in the window with the scarlet scarf
as she sits on the sill, watching the waves
of soldiers crash cymbals as they march on
the towers and walls of Jericho.

Friday, January 9, 2009

AWP with Me?

Anyone going to AWP this year?

It'll be my first time. I hope they don't make me wear a silly costume and stand in the front of the theatre.

Oh yes, and Go Gators!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009