Sunday, May 22, 2011

repost from January 13, 2007


Today's NYTimes reports a connection between the C.I.A. and The Paris Review. One of its founding editors has been revealed as a C.I.A. agent.

No word yet on how many of the other names which have appeared on its masthead over the years were also "undercover."

How many other of our most prestigious litmags were founded and funded by the C.I.A.?

Do their editorial decisions and directions come direct from Langley?

(I think this explains the rise of Elliptical poetry, don't you?)

Which literary journals are currently receiving support from the secret intelligence agencies of the the U.S. government?

I always suspected Rat Vomit Review had a hidden agenda.

Makes me wonder about one of our local mags here in Boston. Maybe that's why they named it The Nixon-Agnew Review.

If you've read anything at all about the U.S. Intelligence community, you know how heated their inter-agency rivalries have always been.

—So if the C.I.A. has its own private litmag, each of the others is going to want one too,

the NSA, the FBI, the DIA, the DEA et al,

and that's not even including Area 51.

They're all going to want a piece of the pie.

So who's running what? Any guesses?

Which acronymic clump of spies is behind that magazine that publishes all those "spiritual" poems?

Whose Black Budget is supporting that overspend journal of avantgarde non-absorptions?

Which evil group of faceless killers is sponsoring YOUR brilliant breakthrough verse?




Mallarme's Commandment:
"Everything that wishes to remain sacred must surround itself with mystery."
Poets must surround their work with an aura of obscurity.
A moat of mist.
Like the mouth of Avernus they must exude a miasma.
They must remain unapproachable, hidden amid the cloud of their strange verbiage.
Skulking there behind their verbal herb-hedge.
Here's how D. H. Lawrence describes the nameless Christ-figure in The Man Who Died:

"So he went his way, and was alone. But the way of the world was past belief, as he saw the strange entanglement of passions and circumstance and compulsion everywhere, but always the dread insomnia of compulsion. It was fear, the ultimate fear of death, that made men mad. So always he must move on, for if he stayed, his neighbours wound the strangling of their fear and bullying around him. There was nothing he could touch, for all, in a mad assertion of the ego, wanted to put a compulsion on him, and violate his intrinsic solitude. It was the mania of cities and societies and hosts, to lay a compulsion on a man, upon all men. For men and women alike were mad with the egoistic fear of their own nothingness. And he thought of his own mission, how he had tried to lay the compulsion of love on all men. And the old nausea came back on him. For there was no contact without a subtle attempt to inflict a compulsion. And already he had been compelled into death. The nausea of the old wound broke out afresh, and he looked again on the world with repulsion, dreading its mean contacts."


Given the world of "mean contacts,"
the mania of societies and hosts to compel a mass mindless allegiance,
is it any wonder poets recoil in self-isolation from that "mad assertion"?
Better the dreamstate of our semi-somnolent rhymes,
our hallucinatory lulls of glossolalia,
our REMpoems,
than that "dread insomnia" . . . .


Noli me tangere, unless you're a disciple:
didn't Mallarme say somewhere he would be content with a readership of 12?
(Every poet gets to be his own Judas, of course.)

brilliant enders


Jonathan Mayhew is currently trashing Charles Simic in a flashback rehash of the whole Simic/Creeley question.

I thought then and still think Simic has a good point about how much/how little, what quantity, of a poet's work will finally be distilled down to, his figure of 80 pages is close to the 90 I suggested was feasible in an earlier post here.

But don't take Simic's word for it, or mine (or Mayhew's)— take RJ's:

Randall Jarrell, in "The Third Book of Criticism," page 65:

"Stevens's poetry makes one understand how valuable it can be for a poet to write a great deal. Not too much of that great deal, ever, is good poetry; but out of quantity can come practice, naturalness, accustomed mastery, adaptations and elaborations and reversals of old ways, new ways, even—so that the poet can put into the poems, at the end of a lifetime, what the end of a lifetime brings him."

(Creeley to me has always seemed a very readable poet, comparatively easy to read. When I say a poet is readable I mean it as a compliment, as an admirable virtue—)

Speaking of writing a great deal: in this same book, Jarrell devotes 18 pages to The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens—

and an equal number of pages to the The Collected Poems of Robert Graves.

Is Jarrell right (and can one apply this to Creeley and every poet):

"Not too much of that great deal, ever, is good poetry . . . ."


One of my observations in that earlier post was that by restricting her output Bishop was closer to Larkin than to Lowell . . .

add the pages of their Collected Poems and get a total hundreds less than the latter's Collected . . .

Count the pages. But who's counting, and what counts—

Not too much of Lowell's Collected is good poetry: according to Jarrell, that is.


Speaking of Larkin, I came across this recently in Peter Levi's biog of Tennyson:

"Tennyson (like Auden) is one of the most brilliant beginners of poems, as Larkin is one of the most brilliant enders . . . ."