Little Emerson

29 July 2005

Sincerely Eclectic Translation


Every man alone is sincere. At the entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins.
Big Emerson.

I am uncertain about new sincerity. I’ve always been stuck with the old kind. I’m confused about sincerity in general. Tony says that it isn’t new after all, so that kind of explains things, no? I suppose that sincerity—the new kind—may be something akin to truthfulness; that is, new sincerity may be truthful, while old sincerity may be just plain truth. Whatever. How does one strive to compose as a newly sincere poet? I wish to imagine that it just might happen, pretty much on its own. Is Lorca sincere hearing trees speak! I mean, green, he wants you green. !Josh might object! But if one doesn’t know how to go about it, what are the patterns to follow? I want to be sincere, I really do. I just love the way it gets me into trouble.


Joshua has trouble with translations of poetry. He’s a lucky guy. I have trouble with poetry. Period. I’m translating it all the time. Aren’t we all doing that whenever we encounter poetry alien to us be it in language, style, sound, visual construction. Shouldn’t we strive to understand its why? Else, why bother at all. Do we have to understand a poet’s background, a poem’s context to fully walk away with a slice of what it offers? I tend to think not. Feeling does not exist within a context. Poetry has been so devoid of it under sentimentality crimes and charges that one senses that poetry cannot exist outside of schools and contexts and historical facts and present pretensions. How can you read—read—Neruda’s Sonnet 20 if you have never been in love and out of it? Or one or both. Perhaps that’s what Ron meant when he praised the “innocence” of the young Mayhew. How can you read—read—a poem about a pencil’s feelings during sharpening if you have forgotten the child’s—your own—imagination and innocence. Yes. All poetry requires translation: translation to that language of the heart’s mind.


Music is not a fair choice in describing or tackling the perils of eclecticism. Even elevator music has its place: in elevators. Imagine life without music. Imagine all those...still more boring elevators? What poetry would you want recited in an elevator to improve on things? Never mind. You guys are poets and would soon be asking how high would the building be, how long the elevator flight. Music crosses barriers poetry cannot, which doesn’t make it better, of course. Not all in life is about better or worse in spite of poetry or the olympics. People in Moscow don’t go around translating Pink Floyd or Camel or Bizet, not the way we require poetry to be translated into our contextual world. What poetry might the people of Irak prefer now? Pastoral?
Eclecticism is best described in terms of food. Yes, I am that base. Peace and food. Hamburger is compatible with duck l’orange, though Kasey may be right that you shouldn’t have both as part of the same meal. White wine with fish? C’mon. How about White House, white wine and fish. No. He doesn't drink. Such are the perils of sobriety. Octopus can always handle a little Rioja. Trust me on that one. It just takes time to appreciate it.

14 July 2005


"Desert walks can be invigorating."

“The prairies were once so lonesome and dreary and treeless that men called them the Great American Desert.” William Logan.

We get the point. Oh, let’s face it, everyone likes a little blood. It is as though innocence requires that someone brave enough, dumb enough, crazy enough throw that stone crashing through the golden temple’s stained-glass window. If William Logan were a pitcher we’d say he had a hell of an arm. His recent attack on part of the established American poetry scene—and you can tell me whether that’s SoQ enough or not or something graver, deeper and wider—lights up like a Christmas tree in August; he is that exaggerated. The question is whether he needs to be in our age of poetry idol makers.

Logan has been compared to Jarrell as the hard critic of our days. The comparison isn’t fair though if Logan started his own poetry review magazine it would no doubt be called “Little Jarrell”. (He even hits on poor old Walter de la Mare, the one that wrote poems on a typewriter, like a typewriter.) I’m not so sure whether the poetry world needs viper-tongue criticism, but it is almost morbidly refreshing to see some negative asides on writers otherwise untouchably immortal. Imagine this plug in Ashbery’s latest book cover: “The quality of whimsy is not strained. It falleth from Ashbery like the gentle rain—and it falleth on a lot of young poets now, students in the School of Goofball Poetics, boys who cut their teeth on Ashbery and Charles Simic and James Tate and now show little interest in any poems written before Dada came to town.” Wow! That hurts. Bringing down idols may be a by-product of jealousy, such statement being jealous enough, (though Logan cannot out-versify any of the poets he blasts here), but it’s almost criminally fun to see John Ashbery slapping his pants after falling in the dust. The fall is, of course, not a fall in desert sand, but a slip on icy pavement from which he might smile slightly embarrassed.

So ok, Ashberry is human, as is Dean Young (“full to the gills with geegaws and thingmabobs and dojiggers”), Jorie Graham (“loves big ideas the way small boys like big trucks”), Ted Kooser (“a prairie sentimentalist who writes poems in an American vernacular so corn-fed you could raise hogs on it”), and even Richard Wilbur (“it’s curious that John Ashbery, who is only a few years younger, still seems our contemporary, while Wilbur sounds like an old fussbudget sorry he threw out his last pair of spats”). C’mon, it’s that little devil in us that says “stutter, Placido Domingo” on that big night at the Met. That’s right, even gods have those awful mortal days.

Viper-tongue criticism is a part of us. We think it, but rarely state it. Our ego has been trained too well. We now stroke it to make it grow. “Don’t burn them bridges now, boy.” So, yes, to me, here, alone a small dose of Logan feels like a cool breeze. I am otherwise terribly concerned with rising sugar-blood levels. Everyone ‘s so nice. It’s no gospel, Logan’s word, God forbid, but rather like a cool glass of ice tea veranda side. It always seems like a heat-wave summer in poetry anyways.

13 July 2005

Frida Kahlo's The Broken Column

Over fifty (50) submissions considered so far and not one poem has gotten more than four (4) “yes” votes out of nine (9). It’s a little sample, it is little emerson, but I must say that it crosses various borders of style, aesthetics and things. I’m so desperate at this point that I only want one poem that can muster a majority decision, Supreme Court-style to rule the poetic world. But no. It isn’t happening. Has Ashbery submitted as per A.D.’s suggestion? Has he been rejected? Where is Jorie Graham when you need her? She hasn’t submitted, not even anonymously. Vendler give us a hand!

These my editors are not licking ink on paper to get right down to the real taste. My poet friend, now deceased, who licked poems in front of me, literally, to make a point is laughing in the grave. It seems that consensus is out of the question. Is poetry like the stock market? Can we get a bunch of monkeys to throw darts and get the same results as learned humans? (Dear editors: read irony here.) I don’t have any friends who own monkeys. I don’t even have any poet friends who own monkeys. Anybody have a connection with the nearest zoo? It seems that majority consensus is out of the question. Is poetry doing this bad? This boring? Are my editors doing this bad? This boring? (Editors: read irony here or desperation to post something). Something.

This may be poetry after all, my friends.

04 July 2005


John Koch - The Cocktail Party
Cocktails anyone?

K. Silem Mohammad makes some interesting commentary in a recent interview at Tom Beckett’s e-x-c-h-a-n-g-e-v-a-l-u-e-s. I’d like to center on Kasey’s views on the concept of “audience” in poetry and the role the poet may play in that regard. Maybe Kasey’s advise would be helpful in light of our inability here—at Little Lonely Emerson—to publish anything or to find any poem that excites more than four out of nine judges at a time. What role does audience play in this regard?

Kasey notes:

I’m increasingly interested in the whole notion of “audience,” and the different kinds of creative-writing dogma that spring up around the notion. Like, you should or shouldn’t write with a particular audience in mind. My take is that you’re always writing for an audience, even if that audience is just yourself. But who wants to go through life writing “for themself” (sic)? Invite some friends along from time to time. Get out more often!

Sometimes I think shyness is a cover-up for hostility. Our initial instinct is often to excuse people who don’t participate in group discussions, etc., on the basis that they’re sensitive souls who shouldn’t be prodded to step into the spotlight against their will. But that kind of sensitivity is like a wound that will get infected and potentially spread to others. Poets who cling to a “dark-horse” romantic investment in their own maladjusted anti-sociality (here I’m thinking of Jim Behrle’s very funny comic strip “Dark Horses” on his JimSide blog) and complain bitterly about nepotist publishing practices, cliquishness, etc. often seem to be longing for a poetic universe in which each poet is one omnipotent god complete unto him-/herself, and somehow the whole cosmos of solipsists is supposed to integrate magically into a heaven of objective purity, uncontaminated by things like friendship, desire, ambition, flattery, and other human diseases. So I’m interested in that other poetic cosmos, where we’re all minor cherubs who promote ourselves and each other shamelessly. Because all that stuff definitely keeps me going.

I find Kasey’s opinions interesting though I do not agree with some of them. I believe the concept of “audience” can be dangerous to poetry. And it can become increasingly dangerous when it plays an active role in the creative process. Indeed, as a marketing tool it is fine if the object is to “sell” poetry and selling becomes a necessary evil. This may very well be the case. When audience gathering and audience response becomes an integral part of the creative process, however, artistic integrity may be at stake. It may very well result in mimicry and mediocrity, a sort of “sequel” concept: “If this works and they like it, I’ll give them more of this until I exhaust the process.” It is very Hollywood in a sense and it works as far as audience gathering goes. But how does it affect the individual work of art and the artist? Was this, say, what Eliot thought of when he wrote “The Waste Land”? Can original works of art be created to please audiences without sacrificing art?

Kasey maybe right. It is said that Shakespeare wrote for his audience, though I would tend to doubt that truism. It may also be true that Shakespeare could have written for a herd of cattle with the same artistic result, but then again cows would’ve had a hard time applauding. Will may not have appreciated the silence. Best we learn from Joyce and write directly for moocows, like moocows. That did him well. In the end, however, do we appreciate Shakespeare for his popularity or for the inherent quality of his works? Or both?

While writing with an audience in mind and writing for oneself may not be mutually exclusive concepts, I would still err on the side of narcissistic creation where the audience plays no part at all in the creative process other than as final guest at the wedding, as Jarrell might say. Though Kasey is right short term I think the ages have proven otherwise in terms of artistic permanency: true poetic works of art are rare and no amount of audience gathering or popularity can change that, primarily when no audience exists for the original poem when it is written. Being widely read by an audience assures success today; but tomorrow it may have the same effect as not being published or read at all.

But I know I ought to climb down from my high horse. Most poetry is not and has never been an everlasting artistic accomplishment. Wasting our time in such ethereal notions does nothing for poetry today and little for the living poet. In all fairness to Kasey I think that he is being more pragmatic and practical than I’m able to be or admit to being. That doesn’t make either position wrong. It maybe true that we ought to get “shy” poets out more often and cure them of their disease. It may also be true that poets may accomplish more in one cocktail party than in a thousand fabled nights of anguished work by the lantern. Given a choice, though, my suspicion and bias sticks to the loner. Anybody out there hear me?