Little Emerson

28 June 2005

The Taste of the Age

Red Hooded Sheep by Patricia Traub
Sheep or Wolf?

Jarrell made a comment once:
“The name Little Red Riding Hood seems to me both long and nonessential—why not call the child Red, and strip the story down to Red meets wolf, Red escapes wolf? At this rate, one could tell a child all of Grimm’s tales between dinner and bedtime.”

But then again, not everyone likes Jarrell. Misery loves company and it eventually finds it.

Oh, matters of taste. Ok so I made that up about my famous dead poet friend, the one licking poems on paper. It wasn’t true; the poet was neither famous nor dead. But she did lick poems on a page—something you might laugh about, but which, given time, might just help with the accessibility of poetry in America. I wouldn’t mind a Silliman popsicle myself. (Collins take note, Jimmy take note.) (And just as an aside the results of her licking choices were, well, accurate. She could actually tell the author of a poem by the taste of ink on paper: “Snow” was Frost’s by its cool, frosty touch on the palate; Bishop was identified as being basically fishy once, Lorca as minty green.)

Taste is like that, like that famous saying of it lying in the tongue of the beholder. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the editors of Little Emerson are having their bouts of difficulty with taste and choice. I must defend them, you know. (Others are also talking of taste in a different but related context. Interesting.) What surprises me about some of the reactions to this “experiment”, which is wholly lacking in any scientific rigor—no shit!—but which nonetheless sounds awfully serious as Little Emerson: That Failed Experiment in Quantum Poetics, is that as arbitrary as it is many people are focusing on the competitive aspect of getting through nine judges for a poem to be published. Will that mythical 9-vote poem, should we ever find it, be better than that lonesome ranger that got but one vote? (Mayhew over at C. Dale’s place essentially argues that it is a statistical impossibility; do check the man’s numbers—any person who can get through that calculation can no doubt make it through Little Emerson in a jiffy or at least to a tenured professorship in random stats at M.I.T.) If you want to see further statistical shock see The Hermit Poet via Dumbfoundry.

Will the mythical “niner” be schizophrenic in style as Charles has suggested (also at C. Dale’s place)? Or will it simply be bland, boring, blah? Or will the editors simply sigh in despair and say “Hey, Alberto, to hell with your little grammar-school-experiment-
in-the-attic thing! Anyway, some interesting comments—did I say it—over at C. Dale’s place.

Or we may turn to the simpler solution suggested by A.D.: Does anybody know Ashbery well enough to get him to submit to L.E.? (Oh, you mean-spirited ones, you’d love to see him rejected, wouldn’t you?)


  • Haha, I would.

    By Blogger A. D., at Tue Jun 28, 11:01:00 pm  

  • I know. I know your evil ways!
    Thought the suggestion great nevertheless. Sometimes it's just nice being beaten to the punch. KO.


    By Blogger A.R.B., at Tue Jun 28, 11:51:00 pm  

  • Hey Alberto,

    Caught your post on Barbara's blog. Glad you're back in the blogging world with your new project! Missed your presence. And news of your blog apparently traveled slowly to me, though fortunately, not too slowly. We should definitely have more conversations about poetry, and I'm interested where your blog goes.

    - Roger

    PS: I'm trying not to violate my own biased version of proper internet etiquette here and making this totally off-topic comment not to the most recent post. :)

    By Blogger Roger Pao, at Thu Jun 30, 05:22:00 am  

  • Hi Roger,

    No etiquette here. Not one tuxedo to be seen. Good to hear from you. Been watching you, you know. Good work.


    By Blogger A.R.B., at Thu Jun 30, 02:16:00 pm  

  • So what we're looking at, if each of the 9 editors picks 50% of submissions, is a likelihood of approximately one over 2 to the ninth, which is one in 512.

    or, with a much more probable chance of each editor picking 10% of submissions (one over 10 to the ninth) - an approximate likelihood of one in a billion.*

    Of course, this doesn't dismiss some very interesting questions about the possible qualities (positive or negative) of a poem that 10 different people might like enough to publish. Whether we'll even see that poem, however...

    *(OK, I admit it. I was vice-president of the math club.
    But only so I could go on the annual Yosemite trip.)

    By Blogger Lisa, at Wed Jul 27, 01:26:00 am  

  • Ouch, Lisa! Please don’t tell anyone else the truth. Stats will kill us. Captain Ahab almost knew that. I presume this your comment will require a new post on the subject of poetic impossibility.

    Thank you so much for reading. (Is that what presidents of math clubs did?)


    By Blogger A.R.B., at Fri Jul 29, 02:04:00 am  

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