Category Archives: Poetry

Andre Breton, “Sunflower”

The traveler who crossed Les Halles at summer’s end
Walked on tiptoe
Despair rolled its great handsome lilies across the sky
And in her handbag was my dream that flask of salts
That only God’s godmother had breathed
Torpors unfurled like mist
At the Chien qui Fume
Where pro and con had just entered
They could hardly see the young woman and then only at an angle
Was I dealing with the ambassadress of saltpeter
Or with the white curve on black background we call thought
The Innocents’ Ball was in full swing
The Chinese lanterns slowly caught fire in chestnut trees
The shadowless lady knelt on the Pont-au-Change
On Rue Gît-le-Coeur the stamps had changed
The night’s promises had been kept at last
The carrier pigeons and emergency kisses
Merged with the beautiful stranger’s breasts
Jutting beneath the crepe of perfect meanings
A farm prospered in the heart of Paris
And its windows looked out on the Milky Way
But no one lived there yet because of the guests
Guests who are known to be more faithful than ghosts
Some like that woman appear to be swimming
And a bit of their substance becomes part of love
She internalizes them
I am the pawn of no sensual power
And yet the cricket singing in the ashen hair
One evening near the statue of Etienne Marcel
Gave me a knowing look
Andre Breton it said go on

From L’Amour Fou (Mad Love) 1937.

The woman in “Sunflower” is Jacqueline Lamba, an artist who was Breton’s second wife.

Andre Breton, "Automatic Writing," 1938.

The Surrelalists’ political platform, which they attempted to ally with the French Communist Party, was threefold:

1. Dreams
2. Mad love
3. Freedom the color of man

The Communists were not buying it.

Breton was barely allowed to speak at the meeting of the Communist Writers for the Defense of Culture meeting in 1935. He was initially banned, but after Rene Crevel’s suicide, they reluctantly allowed him to speak, but only at midnight after most had left.

A year later, Breton broke decisively with Stalin and aligned himself with the Trotskyites. In 1938, he and Jacqueline spent four months with Trotsky, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Mexico. Trotsky and Breton co-wrote Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art. Two years later, Trotsky was dead, an icepick in his skull.

The War was beginning. By 1941, the Bretons were fleeing internal exile in Marseilles on a ship for New York City, a place he hated. He would have hated anywhere that kept him away from Paris. Within a year, Jacqueline left him, and he fell into depression. Two years later, he met another young woman in a New York cafe.

After the war, he was back in Paris with a new wife, but it was not the old Paris. Many of the old Surrealists had joined a French Communist Party which wanted no part of Breton. Others remained in exile. Still others were in asylums or graves.

The war had taken its toll on everything. Even Breton’s poetry was dying. For the next 20 years, he wrote little while Existentialism, Pop Art and the New Novel supplanted Surrealism. By Fall 1966, he was dead.

He died too soon. Had he lived two more years, he would have seen French students shouting his lines in the streets. Even later, Surrealism had infiltrated the entire modern visual realm.

Andre Breton!

Breton is the founder of Surrealism, a man who frequently dresses entirely in green, smokes a green pipe, drinks a green liqueur and has a sound of knowledge of Freudian psychology.

Time Magazine, reporting on the Surrealist Exhibition at MOMA in New York, 1936.

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Of Dogs and Men

With apologies to John Steinbeck.

Boatswain

When some proud son of man returns to earth,
Unknown to glory, but upheld by birth,
The sculptor’s art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And storied urns record who rests below;
When all is done, upon the tomb is seen,
Not what he was, but what he should have been.
But the poor dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, the foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his master’s own,
Who labors, lives, fights, breathes for him alone,
Unhonored falls, unnoticed all his worth,
Denied in heaven the soul he held on earth.
While man, vain insect, hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole, exclusive heaven.
Ye! Who behold, perchance, this simple urn,
Pass on; it honours none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones rise,
I have never known but one – and here he lies.

Lord Byron, “Boatswain”

Who says that we have souls and dogs none, anyway? The Bible? What kind of religion is that, then?

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Harold Bloom, “The Anxiety of Influence”

A book review of his latest book, very nicely written, from the New York Times, by the editor of the book review section.

Bloom is one of our finest literary critics. He’s defended the “dead White men” Western canon at universities in the face of nutty Third Worldists, feminists, queer theorists and other silly postmodernists. These types are the PC brigade of modern lit. They’re mad because there are not enough queers, lesbians, non-Whites and women in the annals of authors of the Great Books. So they champion often marginal works of literature just because it’s written by some queer, lesbian, Black, American Indian or woman.

It’s part of the New Left PC War on the West. They’re mad at us because we are good.

The problem is that a lot of the best lit was written by dead White men! Deal with it.

Bloom has a webpage up on the Western canon, where he lists great books down through the years, starting with the ancients, going on the Greeks and Romans, then to the Shakespeare era, to the 1700’s and 1800’s, and on to the modern era. Here it is online. It’s great! Great just to read through it and at least familiarize yourself with the great authors. And in the modern era, he does deal with India, the Caribbean, Africa, Latin America, the Orient, etc.

Bloom’s always been big on Shakespeare. He considers him to be the greatest author of all time. I agree with Bloom. Shakespeare may be as yet unequaled. He’s also big on T.S. Eliot, and I’m an Eliot fan too. Even if you can’t figure him out, there is something glorious about that deadly and doomed poetry.

One of his curious arguments deals with the trajectory of modern poetry. There’s long been a debate about poetry in the modern era along the lines of a despairing, “There’s nothing ieft to write! All the great poems have been written.” The hidden suggestion is that there is nothing left to do but copy the greats of the past.

Strangely enough, Bloom agrees. He sees all or most poets as copying in one way or another some predecessor. This is like a war in which the new poets, like rebellious sons, fight against the ghosts of the poets of the past, representing their fathers. It is fraught with tension. The best poets are simply better at copying or rewriting the poets of the past. The lesser poets are poor at it, and their plagiarism is obvious, hence they drift down to the forgotten archives.

The critic’s role was to map the geneology of “influence.” That is, to find the ancestor of the poet, hard to do because poets mask their influences so well.

Bloom showed how John Ashberry came from Wallace Stevens, Stevens had come from Walt Whitman, Browning had come from Shelley and Tennyson had come from Keats.

In the chapter, “Milton’s Hamlet” he shows how Milton’s Satan is the offspring of Hamlet.

It does not matter that Satan is an obsessed theist and Hamlet is not.  Two angelic intellects inhabit a common abyss: the post-Enlightenment ever-augmenting inner self, of which Hamlet is a precursor, intervening between Luther and Calvin, and later Descartes and Spinoza.

Nice prose!

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“Drunk and Disorderly: The Joys of Ranterism and Other Topics,” by Jacob Bauthumley

For white English or American readers of this blog, a question.

Who went to church this morning? Go on, own up. Nobody?

Coming home on the bike I passed the Catholic church on the corner of my block (West Earlham). Everyone was of Indian origin, speaking Indian languages! In white Norwich! Not a white Caucasian in sight.

This morning I was up extremely early, and at first light I was worshipping at the church of my allotment, delighting in the alchemy of all life. Yes really! Just enjoying it.

Then, I went scrumping windfall apples, and gathered 150lb of different varieties, which I moved on my bike trailer in an old plastic cistern back to my friend Ruth’s place. I am so knackered now that I have to go back to bed. I’ve been up since 4am, and I’ve had three hours’ sleep. What the hell. Sleep it off, baby. It’s a Sunday!

I rang a friend, a local poet, and he put me in touch with a local cider maker with a press, out in rural Norfolk, in Old Buckenham. My friend John and I plan to turn the apples into ten gallons of cider and sour the cider to make ten gallons of cider vinegar.

Religious views are a very tricky area, aren’t they? The two things you are not supposed to discuss in polite English society are religion and politics. It is clear that I do not have the manners of an Englishman, since I talk about both.

My nom de guerre Abiezer Coppe gives his views on the Christian religion at the end of the piece.

I have been at times an Marxist atheist, an Marxist agnostic, and a Marxist with Christian leanings. In the next phase of my life I shall settle for a Marxist gnosticism, marrying the rational materialist dialectic of Marx, to the otherworldly insights of the Christian Gnostics, starting with Valentinus (3rd Century AD). I am in good company. Ernst Bloch (1885-1977) was also a kind of Marxist gnostic. True, he was a Stalinist, too, but Stalinism is not the main thrust of his remarkable magnum opus on Hope, Das Prinzip Hoffnug, or of his biography of the 15th Century revolutionary peasant leader, Thomas Munzer, which I found in French translation.

Spiritual search: should I give it up entirely? I have tried the Cheshire Cat Buddhists at the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (I swear they all had the same smile) but they gave me the creeps, as every religious group does.

Experiential spirituality is the only type I can connect to: I learned Vipassana meditation once. Ten day silent retreats in Herefordshire, no speaking, no eye contact: it takes a lot to discipline a wild mind. I’ve always been poor, and even the poor can afford it: I gave service instead of cash, and went back and worked in the kitchens on another retreat.

Vipassana was good, and it works, but who wants to spend two hours a day sitting on their arse meditating? It certainly chills you out like nothing else does, the ten day retreat. You come out feeling clean, really clean. A good friend of mine called L–a came on a Herefordshire retreat with me (I drove my totally illegal French taxed, French MOT’d and French insured Citroen BX from Norwich to Herefordshire and back, and around on the roads of the UK for 2 years, and the police never stopped me once). She’d smoked dope and tobacco, and drank alcohol all her life. After the 10 day retreat she just stopped, without even a struggle. No alcohol, no drugs, no tobacco. She just didn’t want them anymore.

Buddha was really onto something, then. Buddhism is a practical spirituality centered on the practice of compassion, and the meditative practices of Buddhism actually renders one more compassionate. It can’t be a bad thing.

I’ve met atheists and Marxists who are – or seem – spiritual, and plenty of Christians who are not. It’s about the being, the beingness of the person, the kind of love they put forth into the world. I’ve met Muslims with a spiritual energy to die for.

Spirituality is? – taking the risk in every moment to be honest, to connect with other beings (it might be a frog, my favourite amphibian) and live and love from my deepest sense of whom I am, from my wild and untamed self. And damn the consequences. It’s difficult. We are English. We are fairly shy. We like dissimulation and subterfuge; it is what, as a nation, we are more comfortable with. At least the chattering classes, the bourgeois, the middle classes. I can only speak for my own class, and I am not Jay Griffiths, though I admire her guts. I am more comfortable with Latins, personally, than the emotionally repressed public school Englishman (I did that. I went to a small private boarding school in Suffolk for six years).

WYSWYG: What You See Is What You Get, in my experience with people of Latin  extraction.

If they don’t like you they come straight out with it. I respect that. In fact, seriously, who would WANT to live any other way once the inner wild being in each of us is brought to light? Who then would settle for the psychic equivalent of suburbia?

Read Wild: An Elemental Journey, by Jay Griffiths, to get an idea of what we have lost touch with, our mammalian, our animal nature, our inner wild being. Once we were wild beings, too.

Wild: An Elemental Journey is a magnificent book, and the woman has bags of courage, lots of cojones, as the Spanish say. Maybe we need to “re-wild” ourselves a bit (if a return to barbarism is all that’s in the offing, barring a socialist revolution: Socialism or Barbarism, Rosa Luxemburg), like Jay, sing from the rooftops, dance naked, and masturbate on a rock in the sun, as Jay describes doing in her book: she was doing a bit of Deep Ecology that day, connecting with nature, worshipping the sun and giving her all to the big O. Her account is in the book.

People are rarely so frank. In fact she was intensely lonely, in a wild place, far from human company. The orgasm brought her back to her sense of self, and reconnected her with her surroundings. Orgasm as sacramental act; I like it. Spirituality is not about going to church, it is not about which imaginary friend you have: it’s about love, love and respect for yourself, love and respect for your neighbours too, even the little frogs who come and visit me when I am harvesting vegetables I have grown.

Social revolutions are carnivals of bacchanalia, festivals of the spirit and festivals of the oppressed (Lenin), explosions of creativity and joy (it is not nice being oppressed, is it? It is often fearful, too): or they are boring barracks socialism, and end in Five Year Plans, the Fulfillment of Quotas, the Meeting of Production Targets, and the ruination of nature. And ultimately, a return to capitalism, consumerism, conformity and fear: China now. So revolutionary politics must include this spirit, as it will inspire the people of this land to rise against their oppressors.

Leftist political parties can be hard work emotionally! I didn’t see much joy and revolutionary fun in the 1970’s British Communist Party: it was a bit dour, a bit too serious, and very English. Yet there was also a real warmth among the comrades. We were en route for a better future, or so we thought…And when we stood up at District meetings and sang Jerusalem, by William Blake, it warmed my heart to sing the words of the greatest English gnostic poet, just as singing the Internationale in French to anyone who will listen does now.

Which Communist country kills 600,000 workers a year from overwork, and has a flexible working day of anything between 20 and 35 hours? China, the West’s new slave empire that produces all our electronic goodies. Someone died of exhaustion on a production line somewhere in China making my laptop…that thought does cross my mind (more here on Chinese workers).

I still identify as a Marxist, but as a Marxist Feminist Gnostic, which is totally unacceptable to the comrades! I’ve done the Communist Party (CPGB, PCF), done the Socialist Workers (SWP), but I couldn’t hack it, organised male Marxist politics (yawn…), so these days I work for the Green Party, campaign for them, but I won’t join. I’ve stopped being a joiner.

At least the UK Green Party do not have the one thousand hang-ups about the Soviet Union that the Communists had, and all that bloody coded language… They mean the things they say, too….it’s prefigurative politics, of the type I’ve always believed in. You carry the changes you want to see into your personal life. If you’ve rubbed shoulders with Stalinists for several years, as I have without ever being one of them, you’ll know how refreshing that is.

Where’s the Libertarian Marxist Feminist Gnostic Party?

That’s what I want to know. I haven’t seen one yet. When I do I’ll sign up.

I struggle with the materialist epistemology of Marxism. I have had a go at being a philosophical materialist, read the books (back in the day it was Maurice Cornforth, now completely and deservedly forgotten, and Emile Burns)  but found it kind of miserable…back in the day I read a lot of Marxists. The only ones I could go for were the outliers, the non-conformists like Ernst Bloch, a German Marxist who wrote a thousand page book about dreams, day dreams, hope and the place of utopia in the human imagination (Hope The Principle, 3 vols). Bad Marxists, utopian dreamers. William Morris and his News From Nowhere. Nowhere is where I live – the name of Utopia!

Philosophical materialism, in the forms in which I have encountered it, rules out as nonexistent that which palpably exists!

I have yet to meet a Marxist, for example, who takes homeopathic medicine at all seriously, and I trained as a homeopath, so I know it works!  They parrot the standard line. One would think that a revolutionary would have had a little more insight than that. If I had breast cancer, for example, a homeopath would be my first port of call. See Dr A U Ramakrishnan’s work in that area: consistent success across many types of cancer, with five year follow-ups, and none of the extreme toxicity and immune devastation of chemotherapy.

Mr Abiezer Coppe was, I imagine, a Christian gnostic sans le savoir, and inspired William Blake, who I think knew he wrote in the gnostic tradition (see historian E P Thompson’s last book, Witness Against the Beast: William Blake and the Moral Law, which is a brilliant study).

That is why I identify with Blake, too, and especially with The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793), a text on the dialectic before Marx and Hegel. It is a lot more fun to read than Karl Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach, too!

The English Ranters rejected all forms of spiritual, sexual and religious authority, and insisted that the only church was the human body. They were good chaps, religious anarcho-communists before communism, and more libertarian than Gerard Winstanley’s more puritanical Diggers, the only other Commies on the block at the time.

The Ranters had a endearing habit of preaching naked (if their enemies are to be believed) in the open air, on heaths, and drinking ale and fornicating at religious meetings. Very endearing. The Ranters did not believe in sin. Ranter women are said to have looked for sin in men’s codpieces, and on being unable to find any, declared there was none. That’s a kind of healthy materialism I like. So they didn’t believe in that superstitious shit the Church teaches, either, the Virgin Birth, Original Sin, or the sexual perversions resulting from the Christian, especially Catholic, strictures on the priesthood.

The Ranters were not feminists, but you can’t have everything, and in any case, who was a feminist in 1650? Ranters believed everything should be held in common, including women; they weren’t keen on the legal union of marriage and, I guess, just as in the 1960s, these 17th Century anarcho-hippie Ranter men enjoyed their sexual revolution and their sexual libertarianism while Ranter women got pregnant, had the babies, and were left holding them on the heaths of England, bereft of the men who had sired them. Maybe the Ranter males were indeed “only around for the conception”. Nothing new there, then!

So much for sexual liberation in 1650s England. Did they know about satisfying a woman in bed?

Funnily enough a feminist historian (Alison Smith) of early modern England told me that that there was a generally held view at the time that if a woman did not have an orgasm during sex with a man, then she could not conceive. So, in the beliefs of the time, no female orgasms equaled no babies…Quite progressive really, but did condoms exist then? I doubt it – condoms came in later…18th century, I think. Any condom historians here?

English Ranterism and the Digger movement represented a political dead end. With the Cromwellian Thermidor of the English Revolution after 1649, and the general persecution and ostracism of the Ranters, a lot of them recanted their beliefs, including Abiezer Coppe, stopped railing against the rich (one of their specialties!) and settled down to become Seekers, or Quakers (who are very much in the Gnostic lineage – no priests, no service, no dogmas, no crap, just the Inner Light of Not-God, etc…) or even Muggletonians…see E P Thompson’s book on William Blake (1993) for more. He interviewed the last surviving English Muggletonian. How about that?

More on the Ranters below:

Discussion of the Ranter historical context, and Ranter views.

- Extracts from the writings of Abiezer Coppe

My comments, writing as Abiezer Coppe, on Christianity and gnosticism:

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Virgilio Giotti, Triestine Venetian Poet

Repost from the old site.

Let’s take a look again at Triestine Venetian.

Virgilio Giotti was a famous poet who wrote in Triestine Venetian. He was born in 1885 in Trieste, a child of Riccardo Schonbeck and Emilia Ghiotto. He died in Trieste in 1957. He is considered to be the most important Triestine Venetian author. For this, he was honored in 1957 by the Accademia dei Lincei.

Highly-regarded critics such Mario Fubini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Gianfranco Contini, Cesare Segre and Franco Brevini enthusiastically described Virgilio Giotti as one of the most important Italian writers in Italian “dialects” of the 1900’s.

From 1907 to 1919 he lived in Firenze. In 1912, he met Nina Schekotoff, a Russian from Moscow, the only woman he ever loved. In Tuscany, she bore him three children – Natalia, (Tanda), Paolo and Franco. Sons Paolo and Franco both died in Russia during World War 2.

Giotti first book was Piccolo Canzoniere in Dialetto Triestino, published in Florence in 1914.

He became famous in 1937, when the great critic Pietro Pancrazi, in a review in Corriere Della Sera pointed out the anti-dialectal character of Giotti: his poetry was described as écriture d’artiste (literary writing) or patois de l’ame (the language of love).

Pancrazi described Giotti as a poet who wrote mainly in dialect, but he differed from the usual poetry of Italian “dialects” that was often folkloric, standardized, generic, etc.

Giotti spoke Tuscan Italian as his principal language, and he considered Triestine Venetian as “the language of the poetry” only – that it only had a literary and cultural value, but was not useful beyond that.

Giotti’s Triestine Venetian lexicon was impoverished and full of simple words, with only a very sparse use of idioms. Giotti’s Trieste was far from the Trieste of Svevo, Saba and other writers: there’s no Port wine, no psychoanalysis and no Mitteleuropa.

Giotti’s world is one of sensations, little places, family and friends, the arcana of quotidian existence. He was a romantic poet of everyday life.

Let’s look at one of Giotti’s poems, With Bolàffio, in classic Triestine Venetian, then in modern Triestine Venetian, then in an Italian translation by Antonio Guerra (Italian language link) or Tonino Guerra (a famous Italian screenwriter), (Italian language link) and finally I will try to translate it into literary English.

If you think you can do a better job of translating this into nice poetic English, even a line or two, give it a shot. This translation stuff is kind of fun!

Con Bolàffio
Virgilio Giotti

Classic Triestine Venetian

Mi e Bolàffio, de fazza
un de l’altro, col bianco tavoja

de la tovàia in mezo,
su i goti e el fiasco in fianco,
parlemo insieme.

Bolàffio de ‘na piazza
de Gorìzia el me conta,

ch’el voria piturarla:
‘na granda piazza sconta,

che nissun passa.

Do tre casete atorno
rosa, un fiatin de muro,
un pissador de fero
vècio stravècio, e el scuro
de do alboroni.

Xe squasi mezogiorno
E un omo, vignù fora
de là, se giusta pian
pian, e el se incanta sora
pensier. Bolàffio

in ‘sta su piazza bela,
noi, poeti e pitori,
stemo ben. La xe fata
pròpio pai nostri cuori,
caro Bolàffio.

In quel bel sol, in quela
pase, se ga incontrado
i nostri veci cuori;
là i se ga saludado
stassera alegri.

Con Bolàffio
Virgilio Giotti

Modern Triestine Venetian

Mi e Bolàffio, de muso
un co’ l’altro, col bianco tavoja

dela tovaia in mezo,
su i calici e il fiasco de fianco
parlemo insieme.

Bolaffio, de ‘na piazza
de Gorizia il me conta

ch’el voleria piturarla
‘na grande piazza sconta

che nessun passa

Do tre casete atorno
rosa, un fiatin de muro
un pisador de fero
vecio stravecio, e il scuro
de do alberoni

Xe quasi mezogiorno
E un omo, vignù fora
de là, se giusta pian
pian, e il se incanta sora
pensier. Bolàffio

in ‘sta sua piaza bela
noi, poeti e pìtori
stemo ben. La xe fata
proprio pei nostri cuori
caro Bolaffio

In quel bel sol, in quela
pase, se ga incontrado
i nostri veci cuori;
là i se ga saludado
stasera alegri

Con Bolàffio
Virgilio Giotti

Italian translation by Antonia Guerra

Io e Bolaffio, l’uno
di fronte all’altro, col bianco
della tovaglia in mezzo,
i bicchieri alzati e accanto il fiasco,
parliamo insieme.

Bolaffio mi racconta di una piazza
di Gorizia, che vorrebbe dipingerla:
una grande piazza nascosta,
dove nessuno passa.

Due tre casette intorno,
rosa, un poco di muro,
un pisciatoio di ferro,
vecchio stravecchio, e lo scuro
di due alberoni.

È quasi mezzogiorno.

E un uomo, venuto fuori di lì,
si mette a posto pian piano,
s’incanta sopra pensiero. Bolaffio,
in questa sua piazza bella,
noi, poeti e pittori, stiamo bene.

È fatta proprio per i nostri cuori,
caro Bolaffio.

In quel bel sole, in quella pace,
si sono incontrati i nostri vecchi cuori;
là si sono salutati stasera, allegri.

With Bolàffio
Virgilio Giotti

English translation by Robert Lindsay

Bolaffio and I, face
To face, sitting down
At a table dressed in white

In the middle
Picking up the wineglasses and a bottle nearby
Together we’re talking

Bolaffio is telling me
He would like to draw

A picture of a square in Gorizia
It’s a big hidden square

Nobody is walking through

2 or 3 small houses around
Rose-colored, a small wall
An iron pissoir*
Very old, and the dark shadows
From a couple of trees

It’s around noon
And a man came out
Of that pissoir
Slowly, he buttons up his pants
And he stops himself
No thoughts in his head
Bolaffio

In his nice square
We, painters and poets
We feel good here
It was created just for our hearts
Dear Bolaffio

In this nice sunshine, In this
Peace, our old hearts
Have met each other
And tonight
They’re enjoying each other

*pissing place= Vespasiano, where to piss

My friend Paolo describes Giotti’s language as the old “Modern” Triestine Venetian.

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Will Shakespeare Ever Be Equalled?

According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, he was not yet surpassed 150 years ago. Doubt if much has changed since. In glorious prose the likes of which we don’t see much anymore, Emerson lays out precisely what the contenders are up against:

Shakespeare is as much out of the category of eminent authors, as he is out of the crowd. He is inconceivably wise; the others, conceivably. A good reader can, in a sort, nestle into Plato’s brain, and think from thence, but not into Shakespeare’s. We are still out of doors. For executive faculty, for creation, Shakespeare is unique. No man can imagine it better. He was the farthest reach of subtlety compatible with an individual self – the subtlest of authors, and only just within the possibility of authorship.

With this wisdom of life, is the equal endowment of imaginative and of lyric power. He clothed the creatures of his legend with form and sentiments, as if they were people who had lived under his roof; and few real men have left such distinct characters as these fictions. And they spoke in language as sweet as it was fit.

Yet his talents never seduced him into an ostentation, nor did he harp on one string. An omnipresent humanity coordinates all his faculties.

Give a man of talents a story to tell, and his partiality will presently appear. He has certain observations, opinions, topics, which have some accidental prominence, and which he disposes all to exhibit. He crams this part, and starves that other part, consulting not the fitness of the thing, but his fitness and strength.

But Shakespeare has no peculiarity, no importunate topic; but all is duly given; no veins, no curiosities; no cow-painter, no bird-fancier, no mannerist is he: he has no discoverable egotism: the great he tells greatly; the small, subordinately. He is wise without emphasis or assertion; he is strong, as nature is strong, who lifts the land into mountain slopes without effort, and by the same rule as she floats a bubble in the air, and likes as well to do the one as the other.

This makes that equality of power in farce, tragedy, narrative, and love-songs; a merit so incessant, that each reader is incredulous of the perception of other readers.

Whoa! That’s some kickass prose. I didn’t know Emerson could write like that.

He’s right. Shakespeare’s in another world altogether. There’s Shakespeare, and then there’s everyone else.

References

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. 1850. Representative Men. Boston: Phillips, Sampson and Co.

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Writing Is Like Music, Cinema, Painting or Photography

I recently complemented a commenter on the site by telling him he’s a genius. By that, I mean he’s a great writer. He’s also a fine thinker, but the two go together. We have lots of fine thinkers on the board, but not all are great writers too. He’s Korean, and Koreans don’t seem to write English spectacularly. I don’t know why, but they are better in visuospatial than in verbal IQ:

Thanks. I found one of the secrets to writing that is engaging is having a musical awareness. Walk down a street and run a tune through your head. Preferably one that you made up. Then just play with it. Volume, pacing, accelerate, decelerate. And volume is key. Change in volume completely changes the tune. Try it. Try Beethoven’s 5th bahm, bahm, bahm, baaahmm.

Quietly. Done quietly it’s nothing. LOL. So here’s the dramatic conclusion to why Koreans don’t write spectacularly. They are raised to be quiet. It shows in their writing.

And we are not even getting into poetry yet. Sure the best poetry is musical, always has been. That’s why it’s so hard to translate. But so is the best prose. We are talking strictly prose here. How do you translate Finnegans Wake into any language other than English? Where do you even begin?

So when you write, your prose is music. Well, it should be, if your aim is artistic. Or at least that’s one way to write

Of course, the best prose is both music and even visual art like painting. I don’t know if it’s cinematic. And the best prose sings like poetry too. It’s all about the rhythm.

I write musically too, and I also write cinematically or like paintings. I get little pictures in my mind when I writing. They just pop up. Then I look for words to describe the paintings or scenes. Sometimes they are pictures like storyboards for a movie or just a painting or picture or frameshot or photo or other visual image. In other cases, it’s like a scene from a movie. Then I search around for the words to describe the scene I just saw in my mind.

When I was 22, a could of friends read my fiction and said it was like Joyce, “painting pictures with words.” My junior college journalism teacher threw me off the paper for “hallucinating with words.”

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Filed under Art, Cinema, Literature, Music, Photography, Poetry, Writing

Forgotten Romantic Poet: Anna Laetitia Barbauld

Anna Laetitia Barbauld was an English poet from the school of Romanticism. She is now largely forgotten, but at the time she was writing, she was one of the most famous authors of the Romantic Era. Sadly, she is now forgotten, but at the time, she was compared to Samuel Johnson and Joseph Addison. She was a professional author at a time when such women were rare.

Her reputation suffered after her time for a variety of reasons, most of which had nothing to do with her ability as an author and had more to do with politics, ego and fads.

Romanticism was a great literary movement.

Eugène Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People (1830). Romanticism!

The Big Six of English language romantic poetry were:

William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats.

Other great Romantic authors include:

Others included Mary Shelley, Robert Southey, John Clare, George Crabbe, Thomas Hood, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, (England); Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, William Cullen Bryant, John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., Edgar Allan Poe (US); Robert Burns, Walter Scott and James Macpherson (Scotland); Aleksandr Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov (Russia); Ugo Foscolo, Giacomo Leopardi (Italy); Rabindranath Tagore (India); Novalis, Friedrich Hölderlin, Heinrich Heine, Heinrich von Kleist, Clemens Brentano, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Friedrich Schelling (Germany); Adam Mickiewicz (Poland); Almeida Garrett (Portugal); Victor Hugo, Théophile Gautier, Alfred de Musset, Charles Baudelaire, Alfred de Vigny, Gérard de Nerval, Stendhal, Leconte de Lisle (France); Álvares de Azevedo, Castro Alves, Gonçalves Dias (Brazil); and Gustavo Adolfo Becquer, Rosalía de Castro and Jacint Verdaguer (Spain).

Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818). This great painting captures the spirit of Romanticism perfectly.

The following two excerpts are undated, but they were probably written around 1770-1800 (around the time of the American Revolution).

Title Unknown

But passion’s wild, impetuous sea
Hurries me far from peace and thee
‘T were vain to struggle more.

Thus the poor sailor slumbering lies
While swelling tides around him rise
And push his bark from shore.

In vain he spreads his helpless arms
His pitying friends with fond alarms
In vain deplore his state
Still far and farther from the coast
On the high surge his bark is tost
And foundering yields to fate.

Song

As near a weeping spring reclined
The beauteous Araminta pined
And mourned a false, ungrateful youth
While dying echoes caught the sound
And spread the soft complaints around
Of broken vows and altered truth

An aged shepherd heard her moan
And thus in pity’s kindest tone
Addressed the lost, despairing maid:

“Cease, cease, unhappy fair, to grieve
For sounds, though sweet, can ne’er relieve
A breaking heart by love betrayed.
Why shouldst thou waste such precious showers
That fall like dew on withered flowers
But dying passion ne’er restored?
In Beauty’s empire is no mean,
And woman, either slave or queen,
Is quickly scorned when not adored.
Those liquid pearls from either eye
Which might an Eastern empire buy
Unvalued here and fruitless fall
No art the season can renew
When love was young and Damon true
No tears a wandering heart recall.”

Cease, cease to grieve
thy tears are vain
Should those fair orbs in drops of rain
Vie with a weeping southern sky:
For hearts o’ercome with love and grief
All nature yields but one relief

Die, hapless Arami…

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Filed under Literature, Poetry, Women

“What’s Eating Rufus Griswold?” by Alpha Unit

Rufus Griswold is a fascinating character, but hardly anyone has ever heard of him anymore. Most of the events below were happening in the 1830’s and 1840’s. He was part of the Young America movement along with Longfellow, Thoreau, Emerson, Lowell, Bryant and some others. This movement sought to create a real American literature rooted in the continent. Logically, it also sought to break away from Britain.

There was also a big debate about Classics in education at this time. Classics had always been a big part of education in Britain, if not in Europe as a whole. The new American literary crowd sought to do away with or reduce the level of Classical study by US students. Studying the Classics was also an Elitist thing, since the son of your average American worker or farmer could hardly understand Homer or Juvenal. So getting rid of Classics was a way to democratize education.

AU touches on Griswold’s lies about Poe’s character. These lies continued in almost every Poe biography for the next 100 hundred years, but finally historians got the truth mostly sorted out from the fantasies. It’s interesting that Poe’s fans loved these scurrilous and character-assassinating lies, since they made him seem “evil,” and they wanted to see Poe as an evil man, the better to go along with terrifying stories.

The part about mourning his dead wife is incredible. I think he must have set a Guinness world record for Greatest Mourner of all Time.

He was a defamer and character assassin, variously described by contemporaries as a liar, “irritable,” “vindictive,” “an ass.” He was a forger and a cheat. A licensed clergyman who was, by all accounts, as thoroughly un-Christian as they come.

He was Rufus Wilmot Griswold, newspaper editor and literary critic. He adored and detested with a passion. And nothing could excite him more than his intended target’s demise.

Griswold is usually given credit for being one of the first influential people to push the teaching of American poetry alongside English poetry in American schools. He is also usually noted for publicly supporting copyright law at a time it was being considered (his reputation being that he shamelessly stole from other writers).

But if not for his association with the American poet Edgar Allan Poe, no one would probably know or care who he was. It was in his dealings with Poe that he achieved lasting notoriety. Poe’s death became Griswold’s shining moment, in a sense.

Both Griswold and Poe were writers with backgrounds in journalism. Poe submitted poems to Griswold for inclusion in an anthology of American poetry; Griswold included several of them. Poe then arranged to write a review of the anthology.

Poe’s review included some mild criticisms of the book; but even these were evidently too much for Griswold. In addition, Poe expressed his true feelings about the book in private letters. In one, he called it “a most outrageous humbug,” and, in another, he divulged his belief that Griswold’s help in getting the review published was intended as a bribe for a favorable review.

These events were the opening salvo in a war of recriminations between Griswold and Poe, a war that outlasted Poe.

Once Poe was departed, Griswold’s hostility toward him took on a new and almost surreal twist. He pseudonymously published an obituary of Poe that amounted to character assassination. But Griswold was just getting warmed up. He subsequently made the claim – a dubious one, it appears – that he was Poe’s literary executor and was therefore authorized to edit a posthumous collection of Poe’s works, for the supposed benefit of Poe’s survivors.

Poe’s survivors didn’t see any of the profits from the collection. If that wasn’t enough, a third volume included more attacks on Poe. According to one account:

[Griswold] even forged letters from Poe to exaggerate his own role as Poe’s benefactor and to alienate Poe’s friends.

Poe’s choice not to return to the University of Virginia became expulsion for wild and reckless behavior. Poe’s honorable discharge from the army became desertion.

Once again, Poe’s friends came to his defense, but Griswold had done his work well. For every magazine that carried a condemnation of Griswold’s infamy, three repeated his titillating slanders.

Talk about an inability to “let it go.”

There was no escape, apparently, from being the focus of Griswold’s passions, not for Poe, but also not for his first wife, Caroline, who might have elicited more devotion from him in death than she ever had while alive.

Upon being informed that both she and their third child had died not long after delivery, he became the soul of despondency.

Deeply shocked, Griswold traveled by train alongside her coffin, refusing to leave her side for 30 hours. When fellow passengers urged him to try to sleep, he answered by kissing her dead lips and embracing her, his two children crying next to him. He refused to leave the cemetery after her funeral, even after he other mourners had left, until forced to do so by a relative.

Griswold had difficulty believing she had died and often dreamed of their reunion. Forty days after her entombment, he entered her vault, cut off a lock of her hair, kissed her on the forehead and lips, and wept for several hours, staying by her side until a friend found him 30 hours later.

A colorful character, and one who apparently attached some significance to doing something for 30 hours.

One scholar who has documented some of Griswold’s behavior suggests that Griswold was mentally ill. He does come across as obsessive. And those he felt strongly about couldn’t even be the focus of attention upon their deaths.

When I review some of the descriptions of narcissism, it’s very tempting to go through a checklist and say,”Yep – that’s Griswold, all right!” But does diagnosing him really make him any more sympathetic? Isn’t anybody just a good old-fashioned son of a bitch anymore?

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Filed under Alpha Unit, American, Culture, Guest Posts, History, Literature, Narcissism, Novel, Personality, Poetry, Psychology, US

Just How Many Poets Are NOT Queer, Anyway?

I’m going back through a lot of poetry these days for some reason, mostly native English language stuff. I find it annoying that so many of these guys were queer! It seems like just about all of my favorite poets were a bunch of queers, or often bisexuals. I mean, I still love these guys and all, but it’s sort of deflating to my image of these dudes.

It’s rather distressing because I like poetry. I went back reading the poets of centuries past and this same fagginess seems to creep up yet, even though back in those days this was a definite no-no. Novelists seem to be less queer, but there’s a fair amount of fagginess there too. Being a novelist is definitely a straighter occupation.

I don’t even want to go into playrights. When I was living in Los Angeles in the early 1980’s, I got into the theater scene a bit, and it was gay as Hell. The guys of course, but quite a few of the women too. You can actually do all right in these scenes if you’re a good-looking, masculine straight guy. The women are a bunch of frustrated fag hag types, often sort of bi, but you know how women are, they say they hate macho guys, but they just can’t resist the bad boy in the scruffed up leather jacket even though they sort of hate him, macho pig that he is.

Anyway, in these scenes, and in Hollywood and places like that in general, you can clean up in you have good game, good looks, or some combination. There are all sorts of single women there who are pretty frustrated. Most of the guys are either married or queer, and there aren’t many single guys to go around. You’re hot property, if you don’t mind being surrounded by hungry queers and bi guys (these latter are everywhere in those gay neighborhoods) lusting after you all the time. Actually, that is pretty annoying right there!

Anyway, brings me back to my original question. What is it about literary writing that turns guys queer, or seems fit mostly for queers? One could argue that writing poems is a pretty faggy thing to do, and that makes sense. It’s not exactly tackle football. But that begs the question of why so many of these literary women, especially the poets, are a bunch of lesbians! I mean, if poetry is feminizing, why aren’t female poets these swaying, coquettish Southern belle types afraid to get their hands dirty?

Either that or just being a poet attracts weirdos and misfits in general, sexual and otherwise. That’s about the only sense I could make of it.

Another thing I noticed is that most all of these guys are depressed. Many were manic-depressive, and alcoholism seems to be epidemic among poets in the last century anyway. Pretty similar with novelists. Lots of depressives, lots of boozers. Many were suicides in one way or another. It’s starting to make me depressed just reading about all these guys.

Why? Is writing depressing? Is depression good for the creative spirit? How could it be, as it’s so enfeebling?

One reason I got into journalism is that journalists are fairly sane types. They had a reputation, at least at city papers, for being squares. Some were sort of eccentrics, but they worked hard, often all night. They drank, but they also worked. They were sort of these hard-bitten types. They were either family men or straight bachelors, but city room journalism isn’t a very faggy job. It’s kind of macho, actually. Check out any old Hollywood movie where they show the newsroom guys.

I still don’t see why you practically have to be queer to be a poet. Poetry is kind of cool. Anyway, it’s a good way to get chicks, cuz a lot of women are romantic, and a lot of them love writers and even poets. At least that’s been my experience anyway. C’mon guys! Crank out those poems! Chicks dig em!

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Filed under Depression, Heterosexuality, Homosexuality, Literature, Mental Illness, Mental Patients, Mood Disorders, Novel, Poetry, Psychopathology, Sex, Theater, Vanity, Women