Thursday, February 24, 2011

good poets are worthless (repost from my old blog, mid 2007


Interesting article in the May 14 2007 issue of The New Yorker: "Crash Course," by Elizabeth Kolbert, concerning CERN and its efforts to build a supercollider . . .

two paragraphs from page 74:

Particle physicists come in two distinct varieties, which, rather like matter and antimatter, are very much intertwined and, at the same time, agonistic. Experimentalists build machines. Theorists sit around and think. "I am happy to eat Chinese dinners with theorists," the Nobel Prize-winning experimentalist Samuel C. C. Tang once reportedly said. "But to spend your life doing what they tell you is a waste of time."

"If I occasionally neglect to cite a theorist, it's not because I've forgotten," Leon Lederman, another Nobel-winning experimentalist, writes in his chronicle of the search for the Higgs [particle]. "It's probably because I hate him."

. . . is there an analagous split in poetry, "two distinct varieties"?

I think the Langpo or Post-Avant would say, if I understand them correctly, and I'm not sure I do, that no poetic activity can occur in a theory-free state, and that those poets who try to proceed as if it were otherwise are deluding themselves, no matter how loudly they assert the process is essentially an empirical experience . . .

. . . are there poets who have tried to follow the intricate measures of Harold Bloom's six-step recipe for the Great Modern Poem, the Great Post-Wordsworthian Poem ("the High Romantic crisis-poem model of six revisionary ratios"): especially since Ashbery's masterpiece Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror seems to have been (coincidentally?) baked to those specifications . . .

or is Nobelist Tang right: "to spend your life doing what [the theorists] tell you is a waste of time" . . .
If Nobelist-by-rights Ashbery neglects to cite Bloom, is it probably because he hates him?

from page 76 (I've slightly altered some of the preliminary text):

Asked to explain how their work, supported by public funds, contributes to the public good, particle physicists often cite [the words of Robert Wilson, in his testimony before a Congressional Committee in 1969] . . . a Senator wanted to know the rationale behind a $250 Million government expenditure for a new collider:
Did it have anything to do with promoting "the security of the country"?
Wilson: No sir, I don't believe so.
Senator: Nothing at all?
Wilson: Nothing at all.
Senator: It has no value in that respect?
Wilson: It only has to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. . . . It has to do with are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about. . . . It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth defending.
Three things strike me about his last answer there, which I've quoted verbatim as the New Yorker prints it:

First, the way Wilson takes the Senator's use of the word "respect" and shifts its meaning . . .

Second, [given this nation's] celebrations and glorifications of War, the irony of his saying that painters sculptors poets are among "all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about."

Third, his use of modifiers here: "good painters, good sculptors, great poets."

Why GOOD painters, GOOD sculptors, but not GOOD poets?

I don't think the distinction Robert Wilson offers here is wrong. Intentionally or not, whether he knows it or not, he is being rather scientifically or at least historically correct in his assessment of relative value:

good painters and good sculptors are respected and venerated, but not good poets . . . only great poets (like Ashbery) make our country "worth defending." Elizabeth Bishop is worth a Hiroshima, so to speak.

The works of good painters and sculptors can increase in value posthumously: if you've ever seen the Antiques Roadshow, you know that even artists who were "regional" or ignored during their lifetimes can generate higher market prices eventually.

The work of art, the object produced by a deceased artist can still function as merchandise . . . and therefore can survive.

But the work of a good poet?

Prior to the current Norton Modern, the edition before this latest one was edited posthumously by two dead Irish guys, therein you can read James Stephens: he's no longer in the Now Norton,

which does "rescue" theoretically, for the moment, a few obscurantes, specialcases to replace Stephens et al . . . :

or for a dollar from usedbook venues you can obtain Oscar Williams' anthologies of "Modern Poetry": they're filled with good poets whom no-one reads anymore, whose efforts will never be resurrected by the Antique Po-Show . . .

The harsh truth is that Wilson (and Bloom) is right: only GREAT poets count. The good ones are worthless.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

prize winner

For the eeriest poetry post of the day, see this:

Maybe Biespiel isn't being disingenuous about Meredith, maybe he really admires him—well!

Meredith was the PoBiz equivalent of a figure you often see in politics:

a mediocre rich guy who buys his way into favor, onto boards and committees,

and through decades of backroom deals and bribes and kickbacks and collecting IOUs

finally weasels his way up the ladder, a "pol" who gets his pay-off in the form of

a cabinet post or an ambassadorship or the governor's mansion,

i.e. the PolBiz equivalent of the Pulitzer, NBA, etc.

Meredith: just another Ivyleague richguy poet like all the other IV-richguy poets whose oh so prestigious work is deepsixed six months after they die. (Howard Moss et al.)

Hey, all you Pulitzer Prize poets, you National Book Award-winning poets, you Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets, all you Yale Younger poets, aren't you proud to share those honors with him, with William Meredith? —Because he copped every one of them: he won the Pulitzer, and the National Book Award, and he was a Chancellor of AAP, and he was a Yale Younger poet!


Monday, February 21, 2011

uh hunh

A lot of poetry readers are snobs who will only read verse which bears the imprimatur of establishment venues.

Living as I do on a Social Security budget, I can't afford to place advertisements for my books in prestigious periodicals like American Poetry Review or Fence or the Yale Review et al.

Hence most of the poetry-reading public doesn't even know that my books exist and that they can be downloaded free as PDFs and/or bought inexpensively in paperback editions (I always set my "profit" at zero when I prep the books).

Many poets have websites or blogs where they promote their own mostly deadtree publications and those of their friends, but few if any of these poets ever mention the availability of my "vanity" volumes because my publishing activity constitutes a threat to the economy of their supposedly legitimate practice.

I think a lot of poets are really angry at me for giving my books away free, and that they engage in a conspiracy of silence regarding my publications.

And of course, none of my available-for-free books has ever been reviewed (or even listed, for that matter) by any online webzine or poetry site. They pretend I don't exist.

And who knows, maybe they're right. If nobody notes that my books exist, then I guess they don't exist.


Sunday, February 20, 2011


The world of Art mirrors the world of Society. Just as the latter is based on hierarchy, on a class system, so is the former.

And in the world of Art, poetry is the lowest class.

In the world of Art, poets are the proles, the slaves.

Just as slaves in the world of Society are bullied and beaten, treated as subhuman, so in the world of Art poets are similarly abused.

All the wealth/value produced by Society's slaves is stolen from them by those in the higher classes. The latter grow rich on the former's misery.

Every idea or good generated by poet-labor is also stolen, plagiarized by the higher classes of Music, Painting, Film and Prose.

They prosper on the poet's back.

All their wealth comes from stealing and using what the poet-slave produces.

As slaves, poets internalize their inferior status. We grovel before the Masters of Music Painting Film and Prose. We become their lickspittles, their toadies, their dogs, obsequiously grateful for the least crumb falling from their fat tables.

We flatter kiss-ass praise these Masters for their greatness, forgetting that every good every gram of worth they possess, every virtue, was stolen from us.

From time to time the slaves of Society have risen up against their evil Masters, have rebelled against their oppressors.

But the slaves of Art, the poets, have they ever revolted against their oppressive Masters?


We have never protested against the Prosewriters the Filmmakers the Musicmucks the Painters, the Masters who daily steal our resources, we have never tried to expose their criminal acts of theft and exploitation.

No, we never even dream of rising up in fury to confront and attack these overlords whose cabals conspire against our welfare,

whose cultural institutions and media are designed and operated to keep us in penury and abject submission.

Whose statutes of power stand ready to cripple and punish and murder us.

As they have done so often.