Thursday, March 24, 2005

To C. Dale

C. Dale,

Commentary has been disabled.
I suppose I will post it here,
re: "...Bitterness"
(A.D., where would you like the
punctuation? Ah, yes)


C. Dale, Odd dichotomy. I suppose I am in the "bitter"
category to some extent, but it is because of the careerism.
To me, it goes back (actually to Juvenal -- we'll keep it
English) to Pope and Swift, Colley Cibber and Prose
Run Mad.

One can accuse people like me of being a quaint
romantic anachronism. I am often comforted by
fantasies of the nineteenth century. It is arguably the
birth of American culture. The Trinity being Lincoln,
Twain and Whitman. By the standards of the time none
of them had a "formal" education. The poetic
temperament seems ill-served by it being comfortable
with institutions. The personality traits that lead me to
the written word as way of life were the same ones
that caused me to despise the university.

This gets into the discussion about "greatness."
Lately, it has been all over the sphere and in the
pages of all sorts of publications, not the least of
which being POETRY. One conclusion arising
from the conversation is that today's Professional
Poet is far more likely to desire some type of
upward mobility within the poetry world at the
expense of any poetic ambition. Thus, they crank
out good poetry, but nothing likely to be "for the ages."

So, to the "bitterness." I am aware that you are
speaking largely of this Future "Proet" class
within the academies. My bitterness resides in
having spent the last nine years with the sole
preoccupation of (pardon the New Agist sound of it)
being poetry. I've certainly read much more than
I've written. My sole purpose on earth has been
the metaphysical ecstasies of the written word.
The more I study, the less I write. I submit very little,
because the measuring devices for "good" poetry
are deadly serious.

I've given my life to words, and as a result
I've volunteered myself into a very low tax
bracket. My disgust with the poetry landscape
lies in the widely held misconception that if one
doesn't hold an advanced degree, he is a dilettante
who picked up a few phrases from Whitman with
no understanding of the Classical elements,
archetypes and tonal relationships
integral to the art form.

What's missing in today's poetry scene is the
wisdom of a man like Yeats, who famously
stated of the young Pound that he made
many errors, but at least they were vigorous errors.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Sticky Wicket

Ana passed the stick. Quite nice of her,
I must say.

you're stuck inside fahrenheit 451, which
book do you want to be?

"Ham on Rye" by Bukowski. (I figure that
way I'd burn quicker -- all the booze --
so it would be more humane.)

have you ever had a crush on a fictional

Which ones have I not had a crush on?
Ophelia, for sure. Lady MacBeth a little bit.
And Kate and Bianca.
Plus, most of the Orwell heroines to a certain
extent -- and certainly Hamsun's lasses in
"Pan" and "Hunger".

the last book you bought is:

"Complete Poems" Ernest Hemingway.

the last book you read:

"Collected Poems" Donald Justice.

what are you currently reading?

"The Saint of Incipient Insanities" Elif Shafak
"More Collected Poems" Hugh MacDiarmid.

five books you would take to a deserted island:

1. The Yale Shakespeare
2. "Collected Poems" Ted Hughes
3. "The Cantos" Ezra Pound
4. The Unabridged Mark Twain
5. The Mathnawi of Celalludin Rumi

(at any time Attar's "...Birds" may be a
replacement pick in the top 5.)

I'll trust A.D.'s contention that the baton has
passed the finish line. I'll introduce it to
three "offliners" or otherwise non-blgrs.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Handy Writing Tips I've Heard (Or Made Up)

Well, it seems that the hot new trend is
quitting, or at least suspending, one's weblog.

It is a tough topic to tackle, so I'll leave it
dormant for the time-being. The difficulty
is that of the four or five that have recently
been pulled by their authors, two are from
people I like, the other three... not so much.
And were I to sharpen the quill for an invective
on the three, I run the risk of inadvertently
associating the ones I like with them. (Here,
I would love to stream audio so I could cough
names out without the solidity of print.)
So, anyway... next subject.


C. Dale Young has been posting (off and on)
handy publishing tips. As he said, and as
has been oft-repeated, writing and publishing
aren't the same thing. So, I've decided to
share some tips for writing, with a few
publication angles.

1. Quit your day job.

I can't relate how important this is! If you
haven't noticed, the majority of authors
published since the printing press have had
either large trusts and leisurely lifestyles
allowing them to write productively or
chosen abject poverty (see: Knut Hamsun)
in order to liberate themselves from the
eight hours of mind numbing subjugation
of work. Some have even (like Sait Faik,
whom we'll discuss later) opted for both,
denouncing their privilege and living with
the folks. In any event, the only writer
worth a fuck that has maintained his
daily drudgery was Kafka. This was also
a man who decided to become a vegetarian
in early twentieth century Prague -- a city
that makes Chicago look like Eugene, Oregon
in terms of meat consumption. This was
a man who ate less than his household rodents
and died on the daylight side of forty.
His writing discipline was admirable, but
seems a more self-destructive path. (Hamsun,
we'll recall, lived to be 92.)

2. Never Revise

The common mythology that has been
bandied about in writing circles is one of
self-obsessive crafting. Editors have
urged that one not send out work
"still dripping with inspiration." Bollocks.
The aforementioned Faik, widely acknowledged
as one of Turkey's best modern writers,
often responded to assignments by penning
a piece and stuffing it in the envelope
with the ink still wet, let alone the inspiration!
It is debated whether these tales of Sait
were a form of self-mythologizing... to which,
I'll only say, "Good Form, man!"
In terms of poetry: If you look at a poem
long enough, every single deficiency will
scream out loud at you and none will
be worthy of the journal you wish to publish
in. This revision process is a form of
neurosis. Besides, the whole thing is a
crapshoot. One is no more likely to earn
the praises of an editor after workshopping
a piece into the ground than if he sends
in the "wet" piece. Also, if you're not one
of the SoQ minions, it is best to not try
and write like them. You will be discovered
as a fraud, without that elbowpatch and
ivy background and will have gained nothing
of it save failing to emulate little men and
women when you could have been ripping
off more worthy stenographers.

First thought, best thought.

3. Experience the other, non-canonical
Great Poets.

We all remember the Honorable Professor
Bloom's Western Canon. Though I tend
to agree with many of Harry's (can I call ya'
Harry? Thanks.) choices, I do take issue
with the heavy dose of Proust (from Ed
Abbey: " 'The mind is everything,' wrote
Proust. No doubt true, when you're dead from
the neck down." or, "Proust again: One can
only wish that a man with such powers of
total recall had led a less tedious life, moved
among somewhat livelier circles....") and
the exclusion of some great wits.
Randy Newman, for example. He is by
a long stretch our best satirist. I would
also include Shane MacGowan in a
must-read category. There's also Ted
Rall. Judging from someone's (I'll not
mention names, being a gentleman) new
"film noir verse novel" it seems Tom
Waits has made his way into the back
pages of POETRY. I salute this development,
just wish Waits was given the proper

4. Don't read the publications to
which you are submitting.

You've quit your job, remember?
You aren't made of money! And if you
were, you would've joined an MF(A)
program and met the editors anyway!
Pick up POETRY and Hustler. That
should suffice.

5. Drink yourself stupid and
act A Fool.

Hey, it has worked for writers from
the dawn of time! A quick refresher:
Li Po, Ernest Hemingway, Rudaki,
Omar Khayyam, Ed Abbey, W. H.
Auden, Rabelais, Charles Bukowski,
Villon, Hart Crane, Faulkner, Chaucer...
feel free to add at will. I recommend
whiskey or absinthe. Gin is nice,
but one must buy a special keyboard
with five by five inch keys. Also,
one will write (and say) things on a
whiskey drunk that he wouldn't
otherwise have written or said.
This is also true of gin, but as a general
rule the song of whiskey tends to
be more true. Strong drink is the
food of the author. Other chemical
preoccupations are to be generally
avoided. With that other fine intoxicant
we all know so well, the tendency is
to begin a project updating Goethe's
Faust and ending with a disco opera
about Tony Danza. Stick with the
sauce and you'll be alright, kid.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

An Observation

Seems that Hart Crane had boundless
expectations for The Bridge. I can't
recall the quote, but it ended in the
assertion that if he put it down, no such
dancing would have ever been recorded
on paper.

The observation being: reading that
poem, it is quite obvious that he failed
in what he set out to do, but this is a
different "risk" category, if you will.
Crane failed at upstaging Whitman, but
if one didn't know the lofty goals he'd
put up for himself he'd no doubt declare
The Bridge a triumph. Here we have
that elusive risk, which seems to be the
common thread in all really great writing:
attempting something beyond your power
which results in something better than
you would have produced with more common

It takes that combination of sheer audacity
and a library large enough to solidify a
rightful self-consciousness to do what Crane

I know very little of Donald Justice as a person
or creative force. I don't know how he works,
or what his ambition is when he picks up his
pen. Reading his Collected Poems makes me
glad he is out there, and can teach a writer
quite well the auld Poundism (though he
adopted it, I can only think of Pound when I
utter it) Dichtung = Condensare. (Or thereabouts.)
Justice seems to have a discipline that is
lacking in most of today's vanguard. (Economy
of language isn't the phrase one thinks of
thumbing through most quarterlies.) If one
judges from the body of work, the man's
picture and his bio, it would be hard to imagine
Justice having that streak of romanticist
self-destructiveness. It would be hard to see
him saying "This will change the course of
literature." It seems rather absurd, actually.

Dugan, yes.

His oeuvre is replete with grand failures. There
is a tone to each of his Poems that reminds
the reader of those wild-eyed poets, the poet
fixed in the popular imagination of most
outside the publishing industry/MF(A) circles.
The kind of guy a person would love to get
drunk with and swing sticks madly at passers-
by. Naturally, I see most of Dugan's poems
as brilliant -- but I'm sure he'd tell you different,
probably about the best ones. He seems the
natural progression past Bukowski, who may have
worshipped Hemingway to the point that
advancing past a certain point in poetry was
made impossible.

I recently engaged in a correspondence with a
fellow wild-eyed romantic who declared all of
his work to be "drafts." I don't know if this
was because of self-doubt, but in reading one
of these "drafts" I was struck by the fact that
it was indeed better than most of what is being
produced in the quarterly market. My guess
is that he is actively pursuing something great,
if not a new thing under the sun at least a
shake-up of the poetry hierarchy that seems
to be bookended by "Proets" whose work
is workshopped to impotency (I miss that word!)
and langpos who tend to display a "postmodern"
(a word I wouldn't miss if it were to be hurled
into a great chasm of word-death) hipness that
doesn't resemble poetry at all. (I am not saying
the work is without value, but for those of us
who revel in our romantic anachronism it is
just too coy.)

In this one page "draft" I feel more comfortable
about the future of poetry than I have in some
time. I am certain that those from the two
opposed schools feel a return to transcendental
or romantic verse is beyond anachronism and
into the territory of second-rate modes of thought,
something one decides upon because s/he hasn't
read enough contemporary verse, or refuses to
step into the 21st century... Well, I've seen about all
I need to of the 21st century as it is (a continuation
of the twentieth with a few nightmare twists)
and I'd wager the two schools will be outmoded
quicker than you can say "Wordsworth, Whitman,
Keats" three times quickly.

Neruda is a hell of a model for the New 21st.
South America is the global bright spot. There
is hope on the one continent actually ambling
into democracy. Big Hope is the only antidote
to the poisonous atmosphere of fear and repression
we see in, well, everywhere else. Neruda maintained
that type of Hope through very dark days for
Chile. Did he see a Chavez, a Lula coming? Maybe.
The two schools are an "is" type of equation.
The new poetry landscape, should people like
that friend of mine continue to write and not
jump off of anything high anytime soon, will again
be that of "what should be." I can tell you
"is" all bloody day. In third person. Big fucking
deal. We're through the looking glass where
"objective" writing is the most narcissistic.
Imagine the solipsistic weltanschaung of a writer
whose goal is strictly portraying "is" through
his own glasses, actually pretending to have
objectivity. It is a pessimistic way to do things,
and art (especially poetry) should be a
vaccine against the shit this criminal enterprise
of a Western World throws at us.


Maybe this will fail. Maybe South America
will fall again. And maybe those of us who
think like nineteenth century outcasts are
going to be scorned or ignored.

As Hart Crane might tell you, that grand
failure is better than any measured success.

Monday, March 07, 2005

"All the Federalis say/ they could've had him any day/ they only let him slip away. Out of Kindness, I suppose.

Turnstyled, Junkpiled

"Railroaded, too."

Today, March 7, commemorates the birthdate
of The Late Great Townes Van Zandt. I would
join Steve Earle naked in cowboy boots on
Bob Dylan's dining room table to bear witness
to Townes being the greatest American folk
song writer since Woody Guthrie.

I missed the fifth, which found Gabriel Garcia
Marquez celebrating his birthday, along with
Lou Reed on the second. I suppose the lesson
here is that the Fish reigns supreme. (We are
the oldest souls, you know.)

Townes has been one of those profound influences,
the kind that has caused me to follow -- sometimes
to my detriment.

The first person to act upon me in this fashion
was Joseph Conrad. I was so full of Conrad,
I joined the Navy. Thanks, Joe!

Blind Willie McTell and Tampa Red influenced
time in Georgia.

I was in Lincoln, Nebraska when I really got into
Townes. I was driving a 1983 Cadillac Coupe de Ville
(still my favorite car) with a cassette deck, rotating
Woody, Lyle Lovett (Ensenada) and Townes.
Every night after work we'd have a pickin' session,
as they say, usually culminating in either "White
Freightliner Blues" or "Heavenly Houseboat Blues."

It wasn't long before the Caddy was loaded up,
broken down ("No Deal" hadn't any influence on that,
just bad luck) and the wife and I found ourselves
in Wise County, Texas. This was just a few miles
from Mr. Van Zandt's final resting place in Dido.
No small coincidence there. I wasn't aware of the
whole "dry county" phenomenon (even though I'd
lived in Bowling Green, Kentucky which is surrounded
by perpetual drouth -- but I worked at a liquor store,
after all!) and was not pleased when I finally broke
down and asked a gas station attendant where in the
hell I could get a twelve pack of beer. (This was while
gassing up the U Haul!) He told me "Lindsey."

"Alright, how do I get to Lindsay Street?"

"No, Lindsey's about twenty miles thataway."

Never has the phrase "You have got to be fucking
kidding me" rang more truthfully.

Well, one advantage was that I made it a habit to
do my beer run in "good ol' Denton" Texas (the
Right Oner capital of the low plains) which was
a cultural island from the whole DFW metromess
and footwashin' rural atmosphere. The road
I took went through Sanger, and from what evidence
I can gather, by the motel in which Townes wrote
"Pancho and Lefty." At this time in life the only
thing in my Ford Festiva (yes, if you're wondering,
the de Ville to the Festiva will adjust one's driving
habits significantly) was a copy of "The Late,
Great Townes Van Zandt" (Side A) and "High,
Low and In Between" (B).

Enough of the personal stories, now to the man

Townes is special for a number of reasons. His
distinctive voice, his skillful guitar playing, and
most of all his gift for songwriting. There are only
a few songwriters who have been given the title
"Poet" not only by fans and peers, but those
outside folk circles. Woody, of course. (He is our
Robert Burns, after all.) Many say Dylan. I'll
accept that. Guy Clark, surely.

But what separates Townes is the way he wrote.
Take a song like "She Came and She Touched Me."
There are precious few who would put such an
adventurous scheme in a love song. (If you could
ever call one of his songs such.) Simply put, Townes
scans better than any other songwriter this nation
has produced.

Further, he forged his own mythology. The holy
writ of Townes Van Zandt can be found in
Our Mother The Mountain. There is a mysticism
that runs throughout. A Comanche Sufi lamenting
fast women and in turn consoling them; bridging
the sacred and the profane throughout (see: "St.
John the Gambler" for the primary surah); and
the power and spirit of nature in the mountains
themselves. Townes was an American of two
citizenships. Steve Earle would pardon me for
asserting that he was both a Texan and a
Colorado mountain prophet.

Recently, Townes has been receiving more
attention. Though purists tend to bemoan
the popularization of "one of their own"
(myself included in this: I finally landed
a copy of the once vinyl-only two lp
Live at the Old Quarter, the best live
album ever made, for what it's worth...
two years later they release the damn thing
on CD! Now that's just cheating!) Townes
deserves his place on the turntable of any
serious fan of music or poetry.

So, if you haven't come to know the Tao
of Townes, I'd suggest running to the nearest
record store and acquainting yourself, and
joining us "purists" in March 7 festivities from
here on out. If you are already a devotee,
pour a big glass of jug wine and drink one to
him. Pick a guitar, get a friend with a fiddle or
mandolin, and don't forget to end the night with
this, remembering the C run at the end:

"I'm goin' out on the highway,
listen to them big trucks whine
I'm goin' out on the highway,
listen to them big trucks whi-hine.
White Freightliner won't you haul away my mind.

Bad news from Houston,
half my friends are dying.
Bad news from Houston,
half my friends are dying
White Freightliner won't you haul away my mind.

New Mexico ain't bad, lord
the people there they treat you fine.
New Mexico ain't bad
the people there they treat you fine
White Freightliner won't you haul away my mind.

Lord, I'm gonna' ramble 'til I
get back from where I came.
Lord, I'm gonna ramble 'til I
get back from where I came
White Freightliner, won't you haul away my brain.

I'm goin' out on the highway,
listen to them big trucks whine.
I'm goin' out on the highway
listen to them big trucks whi-hine,
White Freightliner won't you
Haul away My Mind."

Thursday, March 03, 2005

3 March 2005

William Godwin's birthday today.

Should anyone desire links to free online
versions of his timeless Enquiry Concerning
Political Justice, comment away.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

"I am wrapped in dismal thinkings."

I am about to repeat a sentiment that
virtually everyone has at one time no
doubt uttered. I think it bears repeating
from time to time.

You can't go wrong with Shakespeare.

Watched All's Well That Ends Well last
night. If measured up against most of his
plays, it is weak tea. The Countess in this
comedy provides not nearly as much comedy
as Polonius in his "advice." (I understand,
of course, this is not her function; however,
it seems that the play could have used such
a thing from someone.) Paroles isn't, as they
say, a pimple on Falstaff's arse as a character.
The Merry Wives of Windsor is far funnier
in every Act and Scene. One could go on and on.

Yet, it is an evening well spent. The King
is responsible for some great lines (such as the
title here) and the farcical capture of Paroles
is a delight. Which delivers the main point:
A lower tier play (there are no lower tier
sonnets, I'd posit) by Shakespeare is better
than the best of anything else.

The debate has raged at times as to whether
Wagner was a greater mind. My knowledge of
German leaves something to be desired (I have
grown rusty, not living in Milwaukee or Bonn)
but from the librettos a case could be made.
Add to this that Shakespeare didn't (to our
knowledge) write any of the sweeping music
that sweats out of every pore in one of Richard's
operas. That said, I still find no competition.
This may be an Anglo bias, which I will freely
admit having, but as a singular artist Shakespeare
maintains that "I know not what" -- that magical
element is ever-present. Others have moments.
Wagner has hundreds (though one could argue
that the presence of the music is an unfair
emotive advantage) and even Hasek and Heller
have that magic in certain passages.

Only our friend William manages to mystify,
to codify our collective religion as writers. The musical
element is enormous in his work. I suppose
that is the triumph above all else. The spoken
words of any Shakespeare play well-acted
contains musical elements, an otherworldly
("oceanic" to use Jung's term) sensation that
even music cannot match. That is a triumph
never before seen and never to be repeated.

If ever there was a competitor, possibly it
would be Mark Twain. I am unable to
think of another author who has defined
a country the way Twain did, or who has
been so much to so many. Wrap up all of
the Roman playwrights and collected
satirists (though we know precious little
of Bion) and you have in their collected
body about half of what Twain accomplished.
Obviously, having any writer do battle
with Shakespeare is akin to matching Jack
Johnson with the best of the lightweight
divisions. My contention is simply that
Twain may well be the only middleweight.

Alright, I have accomplished the feeling
Larry King lives with.

I shall endeavor to not follow this with
such posts as:

"Leo Kottke is a good guitar player"
"That Citizen Kane was pretty damned good"
"You know, Groucho Marx was funny."