Current Archives: From December 2013-
We Lose A Master
Poet Dick Allen, one of the three founders of the Expansive Poetry movement, could not be fenced in by definitions. He wrote wonderful formal verse, had a gift for short narratives, but also wrote a funky epic nearly fifty years ago (Anon), where the short, free verse lines fit the material so well that you could not imagine him writing any other way. But, of course, he did. In Regions with No Proper Names, the verse often employed was vers libre, metrical, but with varying line lengths, evolved not only from the vers libre movements in France in both Moliere’s time and later in the 19th century, but from the marvelous 17th century English poet, Abraham Cowley.
Allen kept up with everything in the field. Meet him on a Monday for a reading, or visit his cottage in Trumbull, where he and Lori lived, and he’d wonder if you’d read half a dozen poets he’d just finished with that weekend. He didn’t understand writers who weren’t immersed in what we do as poets. Why bother if you aren’t he seemed to say. He had a passion for verse, exercised in at least ten published books. His talent embraced criticism as well, not only through insightful essays on verse, but in editing critical anthologies in science fiction and in detective fiction. And there was more as yet unseen, including an epic written within the last ten years that has yet to see publication. Such passions don’t go unnoticed.
Dick received a variety of awards and grants over the decades, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Overnight in the Guest House of the Mystic, the New Criterion Poetry Prize for Shadowy Place and the Connecticut Book Award for Present Vanishing. He received the Robert Frost Prize, the Pushcart Prize, the Hart Crane Poetry Prize and fellowships from National Endowment for the Arts and the Ingram Merrill Foundation. In 2010 he was appointed Poet Laureate of Connecticut, a position he held until 2015. He was a draw in the poetry circuit and could draw audiences in the hundreds, and sometimes in the thousands.
But, a troublesome heart did him in on December 27th, just yesterday. Lori and Dick, writers both, living in a house barely big enough for them with 15,000 books, inspired one another, competed gently in their way, and became bright lights separately and together. No matter what one might say about 78 years being a pretty good run, for a genuine master the years were far too short.
Carolyn Raphael, a fine poet, an old friend of Allen’s, and a fellow grandparent, notes that “Dick and I exchanged notes on grandchildren (He was a valued advisor for my recent book, Grandma Poems--Not Too Sweet.). In this year's holiday card, he said, ‘This doting is quite incredible & totally unexpected..’ A wise and gentle man....”
Expansive movement co-founder Frederick Turner, the former English expatriate now a dyed-in-the-wool Texan, remarks that “In my year back in England, from 1984-5, his poems, which he sent every few weeks, were one of the things that decided me to come back to America. I admired his political wisdom, which has always been for me a touchstone of the genuine American commonsense tradition, the practical wisdom that Tocqueville celebrated. Allen did put his shoulder to the American wheel, with tolerance, decency, and principle. And this wisdom makes a space for beauty, dream, and memory. A joy that one can trust, not based on illusions or posturing....”
Wade Newman, a long-time friend and colleague, remarks that “Dick Allen’s loss is immeasurable to the world of Poetry, let alone his family and friends. He was one of the stalwart Guardians of the art form of those who came before him and his contemporaries. His integrity as a poet and a person can be read in carefully crafted poem after poem throughout his lifetime. His highest compliment to a fellow poet, if he read something he liked, was that he wished he could have written the same poem or that he had chosen to commit it to memory. I can boast that I own, have read, and cherish each of his books, and can testify that his poems only got better and better with each new volume. I had begun reading his Zen Master Poems only a few weeks before his passing, and finished the last poem this past week without knowing he was departing. The book, a meditative masterpiece, composed over 20 years, speaks of acceptance, celebration, and wonder.
How Long Shall I Wait (excerpt)
from Zen Master Poems, by Dick Allen
How long shall I wait
beside this small lake
envying the high clouds?
The passage my life opened
is closing soon.
How have I walked it?
"Dick Allen walked it for a long time and left us a wonderful universe of poems to read, reread, and be inspired by."
Allen is survived by his wife, Lori; their daughter Tanya, of Wallingford; their son, Rich, of Sayville, N.Y.; their son-in-law, William Weir; and their grandson, Lincoln Weir. The service will be held Saturday Jan. 6 at 2 p.m. at St. Paul's Episcopal Church at 25 Church St., Shelton CT.
Expansive Poetry & Music Online
We Lose Another Friend
Poet Daniel Fernandez, a good friend for many years, passed away on the 22nd of June at the age of 79. Friends with many throughout the world of poetry, he published in dozens of journals and magazines and won many prizes from across the country. Host of the NY Poetry Forum for decades, Dan, as he preferred, wrote and published poetry for more than sixty years. But the story few knew lay in his somewhat shrouded past. Daniel was also a playwright. And his theater was composed solely in verse.
His model was not Maxwell Anderson, the best-known playwright/poet in American theater, but Racine, the great classicist of 17th century France. And he could write, and is as good a verse dramatist as has ever been produced in American theater. In rhyming couplets, he managed dialogue with the vivid realism of an O’Neill, but with the elegance of a classic poet. Alas, only scattered audiences on school and library tours ever heard his remarkable Hamilton, or his Tupac Amaro, or his Phaedre, or any of the other dozen or so plays. Modern directors in subsidy and commercial theater alike have had no patience for verse for several generations, at least outside of musicals, shunning such work as affected .
Still, a lot of people in theaters across the country had read his manuscripts; he sent them everywhere, hoping as we all do that somebody would appreciate the work. Hundreds of readings, sitting and staged, provided memories to many friends and acquaintances. A dear friend toured with Dan’s Hamilton for a year, one library to the next. It wasn’t the Hamilton we know today of course; it was however a remarkable history play in verse of rare quality. His sense of theater, developed from long study and his own imagination, was enormously enhanced by his long marriage to the late Carmen, a flamenco dancer who had danced with her cousin, the great Pilar, decades ago.
I hope someone in the family, or among friends, will make the effort to conserve the manuscripts of these remarkable works. His two books of verse, Apples from Hesperides, released decades back, and Flight Numbers, which Pivot Press released a decade ago, along with many published poems in journals and magazines, are what we can still directly appreciate. We should, and I hope, one day soon, see the rest of his work. Daniel Fernandez was unique, as an artist and as a man. I will miss his voice, his company, his fiercely argumentative spirit, and his unabashed willingness to speak both opinion and poetry with great clarity and grace.
Burial was on July 3rd in Brooklyn. On September 2, starting at 2PM, a memorial program will be conducted by James DeMartini and the New York Poetry Forum. It will be held at Soldiers, Sailors, Coast Guard and Airmen's Club at 283 Lexington Avenue in NYC.
Expansive Poetry & Music Online
Photogaph: Daniel Fernandez in Ft. Tryon Park, 1987
Flags as Symbols
Thoughts on an ongoing controversy.
For the generations that lived under them, now obsolete flags and imperial banners had genuine symbolic power. But, no matter an empire's skill at administrative sleight-of-hand or outright terror, how quickly one fades!
At the beginning of a century, the haunting trumpets of a triumphant return from a battlefield astonish thousands along a parade route. Sixty, seventy years later, within a lifetime, the center of government is an ash-filled ruin, the official statuary smashed by mobs, the fearsome armies disbanded, and, softly waving in a breeze, a new imperial banner instructs the populace of how time passes.
In the blink of an historical eyelash, what once symbolized fearsome power and domination disappears into a dusty room in a museum or is captured and hangs in an enemy's palace as a prize.
The following represented a variety of what were held by statesmen and poets as the final answers to political and military power in the ages their empires presided over. None still fly. More than a few writers have found poetry in this, including Keats in Ozymandias
Roman Empire, Labarum banner of Emperor Constantine,
symbol of the Empire's conversion to Christianity.
He died 337AD. In a century or so, the western empire
was falling apart, and came under the domination of Vandals.
It didn't have an official national flag, but its merchant ships bore this with its mark of crown and shield. It was also used as a battle flag until 1915. A few years later, at the end of World War I, the Austro Hungarian Empire collapsed.
The thousand-year caliphate's last flag flew in 1923.
Spanish Empire, Cross of Burgundy Flag
Flown over Spanish colonies, from the early 1500s until 1785, when the empire began to disintegrate.
USSR -- Soviet Russian Empire
The greatest armed force in human history, a political system based on total control of an entire population. Its last flag was pulled down from the Kremlin on December 25, 1991,ending the Cold War and occupation of eastern Europe.
British Empire, Crown Colony of India
Flag pulled down after Ghandi's revolution in 1947. Enlightened as the British claimed to be, they were powerless before the revival of Indian nationalism. Over the next twenty years, the rest of the largest empire ever built split apart.
Empire of Japan
Ended after defeat in Second War War and new constitution of Japan, 1945-1947. Brilliant employment of arms on land and sea and in the air, as well as an astonishing will to employ cruelty and violence on defeated populations, could not stop its enemies.
China, Qing Dynasty
Perhaps the world's oldest organized society, at the end of the 19th century, it was disintegrating at every level, and then was swept away by war and revolution. Banner no longer used after 1890.
A vast assembly of colonies until its collapse two hundred years ago, the worst of slave trading economies,one of the most oppressive regimes.
This banner was used in the Absolutist period. The Empire fell apart at the end of this, when it was no longer affordable -- 1816.
The eastern remnant of the Roman Empire that outlived it by a thousand years; survived an errant crusade that turned from fighting Muslims to overunning Constantinople (modern Istanbul). This is the banner of Palaiologos Dynasty, used until the fall of Byzantium to an army of Moslems, 1453
Confederate States of America
A slave-centered, rebel republic that spun off from the United States in 1861. This flag was replaced with new designs twice before Richmond was overrun by U.S. Federal troops in April of 1865, 150 years ago.
Each of these vast domains was constructed on an overpowering foundation of one form of slavery or another, with the exception of Britain after 1848 and the post-Stalin USSR. Each empire has passed into history, its banners and flags now safely described as symbols of very little beyond what can be captured of their former authority in books. What otherwise, besides rot, happens to flags of extinct nations and empires? One fate is that of becoming an historical signpost. But, despite the former fame and ambit of what each represented, nowadays we may have to engage in a little scholarship to ferret out just what they stood for. What else? There's entertainment value in its use as a prop in an historical fiction for instance. There may be a possible moral lesson expressed by an old flag, thought that will have most likely been drawn from a successor empire. That's all there is. Dust to dust, as the saying goes.....
Well, maybe there is another value in an historic flag in use as funerary art. General Lee's battle flag (the Stars and Bars at the center of current conflicts over North American political history) is still used that way in some Civil War battlefield cemeteries (though less so recently). Mourning is a valid response to wartime death, obviously, and more Americans died in the Civil War than in any other conflict, but one has to look twice. Such commemorative art has genuine meaning only to those who remember (first or second hand) who and what it stands for. When that connection is lost, as late as a third generation, but more often, especially in America, within twenty years, what remains? It looks to this writer to be nostalgic fantasy (a prop for Civil War re-enacters, for instance) or as a propaganda tool to manipulate the ignorant.
By far the best way to appreciate such things, whether old funerary statues, or ancient flags of dead nations, is to note their fabulous irony, that, no matter how beautiful or how hideous, each flag stands for a dream that's been dead for centuries. Fortunately or not for all of us, time doesn't just pass; it erases. Dragging out old symbols to inspire fear or outrage should be left to politicians with a taste for losing elections.
Expansive Poetry & Music Online
Music and Verse
Interview with Claudia Gary, with Philip Quinlan of
the UK's online poetry journal Angle, August 2014
From the online journal Angle in the UK: Claudia Gary on music and verse. The linkage between music and poetry, and how important it can be, is an ongoing discussion among poets, critics and readers. Gary's views on this are clear, well-founded and nicely presented here. Both as a composer and a poet, she presents a thesis with which one can agree or disagree. However, you won't find a basis for discussion, of course, unless you spend time investigating thoughts in the interview. Claudia Gary's published works includes Humor Me, from Wordtech Press, 2005. Claudia Gary, Wade Newman, and the late Alfred Dorn wrote the first four releases from the critically acclaimed Somers Rocks Press chapbook series (1996-2001, 22 titles in all). She has set numerous poems to music, including several by Frederick Turner. Attention to the rest of this terrific journal is strongly enouraged.
When the PDF appears, jump to page 79, where you'll find the interview. (It's not directly recorded in the table of contents.) There are links to performances of Gary's songs in the body of the interview. Don' t miss them. The essay she occasionally refers to by the late Richard Moore is in the old archives for EP&M. (See below)
Expansive Poetry and Music Online
Poems by Frederick Feirstein
Grolier Established Poets Series
74 pp., $17.95
The Expansive movement began decades ago to counter a depressing reality in published verse: most poems were lame efforts at self-mythification -- poor imitations of the first Confessionalists. It felt as though a tsunami of oatmeal had dimmed poetry's most attractive facets, including prosody, strong diction, storytelling, and the use of reference and language clear enough to bridge the divide between individuals.
Stopping in at the now-extinct Gotham Bookstore to survey what was new, this writer too often spent more time looking at photos on the walls of what used to be than at current journals and new books. Hoping to find someone as engaging as, say, a Beat from the 1950s, or Eliot, Stevens or Millay from the 1930s, he found very little with real energy. Most poems and lyrics communicated mirror images of people this writer neither knew nor cared to meet, and in a style best described as the prevalence of sincerity over craft.
Then, at a bridge of lost hope, something emerged both old and new. Growing out of regional magazines like the Kenyon Review, this new poetry wave featured writers who knew how to use classical means to develop modern material. One of them, made visible by little presses called Countryman and Seagull, was Frederick Feirstein, a noted psychoanalyst in Manhattan who'd once written for theater and television. What made his work jump off the page? The poems were alive; they told stories about someone else, and in a recognizable voice:
The siren's screaming in my head again,
This time it's Grandpa waiting to go down,
With his last preserves hooked up to his vein,
The sick king crumbling in his common gown.
Among the pots bubbling with grapes and plums
In his huge kitchen, we blow on tablespoons
Of juice, while Grandpa seals the vacuums
In the finished jars....
from "Grandpa Borea", The Survivors, 1974
The poet is not standing off at third person distance. This Grandfather is his; and, the wonder, shock, and horror at realizations about his Grandfather's life (including his survival of the Holocaust), belong to the poet, as they should. Strong, symbolic figures are created that way, by who sees them, and how. When found in a mirror, they're usually transmitted by the damaged and the deluded.
It's now forty years after that first, exciting book. Feirstein's shelf has grown long, and is one this reviewer often refers to. Some favorites include Manhattan Carnival, about to be re-released by Grolier; City Life, which includes the delicious comedy "Psychiatrist at the Cocktail Party,"; Fathering; Ending the 20th Century, New and Selected; and Fallout. His newest, though hardly his last, as another book works toward publication, is Dark Energy, brought out by the Grolier Established Poet Series in Cambridge. The title is strongly related to a theoretical assumption of the same name in physics. A little quote about "dark energy"from the NASA Web site:
More is unknown than is known. We know how much dark energy there is because we know how it affects the Universe's expansion. Other than that, it is a complete mystery. But it is an important mystery. It turns out that roughly 68% of the Universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 27%. The rest - everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter - adds up to less than 5% of the Universe. [Ed.'s bold] Come to think of it, maybe it shouldn't be called "normal" matter at all, since it is such a small fraction of the Universe.
-- "What Is Dark Energy?", NASA Science: Astrophysics:
Feirstein's a poet and psychoanalyst, not a physicist, but you can hardly miss the analogy. What we think of as our manifestation in the world, our behavior, acts, conversation, deeds, etc., is an incomplete picture. If we're able to negotiate growing up, career, family, and relationships with uninterrupted progress, we may never see what's missing. However, when something disturbs us without apparent cause, or makes a major part of our life narrative break up, we may go to someone like Frederick Feirstein. But most of the time, it's not that serious. We solve the problem by manufacturing a story or myth to satisfy our questions. That new piece of our narrative may not be real or complete, yet still reveal just enough to allow us to move on, assured that we know where we are on life's through line. Story and myth, insubstantial though they may seem, are arguably the dark energy of the human psyche. They drive us; they shape us; we can fall apart when they don't ring true. And that, in part, is the foundation on which Feirstein's Dark Energy is built.
We all tell stories that rationalize things otherwise not quite explainable. So do families, community groups, tribes, even whole nations. Here's an example of the latter. The tale of the Founding Fathers, for American Constitutionalists, is the story that justifies a concept of universal law that may otherwise be fairly regarded, as it was by Hannah Arendt, as a fiction. But, so long as the story holds, exemplary evidence attached, it has unmistakable power to change the way we think and act. Feminist stories about the Seneca Falls Convention, and its role in political emancipation of women, are just that; the facts can be interpreted differently. For instance, women were politically and economically emancipated first in the Wyoming territory (written about with some astonishment by European observers in the 1890s). One myth doesn't fit everyone. However, it seems clear that Seneca Falls is as strong a founding myth for some as Wyoming is for others.
We tell stories to comfort us in the night, to give solace during in the day. Stories translate shattering grief into manageable mourning. At a wake, or sitting shiva, we tell stories about the dead, proving not only that they once lived, but that we knew them and can speak about them. But we also have power to change the story, or tell a revelatory anecdote that nobody has ever heard before. Other stories create order in a world far too complicated and dangerous to face without a strategy. Stories and myths can help. We often depend upon them to do so:
Wheeling down Main Street in technicolor light
Are Disney's heroes, our mythology,
A comfort in the middle of the night.
Mickey Mouse, Minnie, Uncle Donald help.
The children of America are sick
Of war, cultural suicide, and greed.
Snow White, Bambi, Lady and the Tramp,
It's midnight now, help us in our hour of need.
"Gravity of the Black Hole, Prologue"
It's good to start an exploration like this with humor. While it may seem silly to ask cartoon characters for help, could they offer any? They're amusing fictions, fun to watch (as art and story), but -- and this is telling, they're also predictable. That makes them comforting. If you're really distressed when you start to watch one of these and end up laughing and feeling better, it looks like Mickey, et al, did something besides flit about on a screen. And there's more to it. Myths are prefigured stories. We know how each episode will turn out, whether it's set on Mt. Olympus or on a movie screen. We accept those conventions and, by doing that, we know how the complications will resolve. These restrictions on fictions also tell the stories' authors how to behave, so that we'll feel right about a retelling. And we can be nasty when someone violates that agreement. Look at the response to Ralph Bakshi's Fritz, the Cat (1968), regarded by many as pornography parading as a cartoon. Another critics described it as a wickedly funny variation on an old standby. We can't ignore the importance of this.
Myth creation, and storytelling, are vital to individual psychic health, and to whole societies. Colin Turnbull, in a controversial book, The Mountain People (1972), posited the theory that the Ik tribe of Uganda suffered complete social disintegration after a government-forced move from a rich valley to a near-desert. The change, according to Trumbull's account, undercut almost every social and cultural tradition the Ik observed, leaving a desolated people behind. Similar theories have been posited about the effect of the Bureau of Irish Affairs (or the American Bureau of Indian Affairs) by deliberate suppression of standard cultural stories, or myths, as well as local language. A large part of the Irish revival in the 20th century arose from poets reconstructing the great cultural myths of Eire. Much the same happened with the American Indian Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Cultural myths can take on a variety of forms, as this one from Vienna.
Freud found his myth in self-analysis
Where Orpheus, ne Oedipus he led
Us lost boys, naked, to our soul's abyss
-- To see in flashbacks what we missed in bed.
So ask yourselves, what myth became your Fate,
What traumas drew you in to play what part,
What self-deceptions, and what hypnoid states
Determined what exactly broke your heart.
"Gravity of the Black Hole, Myths"
(A note: don't expect extremely formal abstractions, academic obfuscation, or rarefied references from this poet. Thankfully he's not that kind of maker. The movement he co-founded all those years ago was strongly opposed to such tactics, describing them as means of avoiding, not delivering, meaning and story).
The sequence travels with Freud to the end of Part I, from the comforting, pre-war illusions of Vienna ("Daydreaming"), to the shock of the Nazis -- horrible confirmations of vital segments of Freud's perceptions and understandings, his story breaking toward scientific knowledge:
The mystic quest for light inside the dark
Witch's wood always is doomed to fail.
Heroic in our search for mother's milk,
We find poison in the Holy Grail
So we must cherish every nanosecond
And not turn Paradise into a hell --
Public in war, private in neurosis --
But live in every nonmalignant cell.
"Gravity of the Black Hole"
A remarkable figure like Freud developed his stories toward a greater purpose, pushing toward a science of understanding variations of the human psyche. But the rest of us do the same thing, for similar (if more personal) purposes, as children do with fairytales.
In almost every fairytale we've ever heard
We children can't be seen, can't say a word,
And know our Fate must always be absurd.
For instance, when the father suffers grief
He sends us children to our stepmom's double
Who puts us on a cross or bas relief.
Our task, then, is to be resurrected
By challenging the unexpected,
To re-appear the fractally perfected.
Hansel and Gretel, Snow White are the best
To learn from. learn never to trust or rest
--The poorest of us and the wealthiest.
When we toast Life, remember we're Death's guest.
"Gravity of the Black Hole, Fairytales"
This is an important book, not only for the excellent poetic sequences, but for reminding us of a truth we can't safely ignore. Stories and myths stem as much from observation as from imagination. A good example is the apocryphal story about the best scientist making a difficult area of research suddenly visible. It sounds impossible; it's hard to prove, and can be misleading (failing to credit Rosalind Franklin is a very good counterargument about that story's plausibility). Still, we're surrounded by examples that are hard to ignore. Insoluble problems beset us and then, one day, thanks to Newton or Einstein or Freud or Feigenbaum, we go "Ëœoh, that was easy.' And so we keep the myth in our repertoire of tools for understanding our world and our place in it. Feirstein offers something related, telling us what we should know about human storytelling and mythmaking.
We've always known that we make things up about people and the world. When we tell little fibs to cover up a mistake, most of us know what we're doing. We're papering a potential hurt with a (hopefully) harmless tale. But we don't talk about the process very much, or very honestly. And that's bad, because, with myth and exemplary story, when we forget what they can do, we turn them into sentimental mush. Then, the adults start texting while the movie's running and the kids wonder why they're being lied to. It happens a lot; it's a big part of commercial translation of popular culture.
To protect the children from the scariness of Little Red Riding Hood, right-thinkers turn the wolf into a nice creature who'd be a sweet doggie if he were fed more often. In the original, the message of the wolf was transparent: things are not what they seem. If you succumb to lies, even from someone who looks like your grandmother, you will be eaten alive by a world without tolerance for the ignorant. Scary -- but kids need those messages, not the squishy-soft versions written by committees looking to avoid liability. The stories and myths are not just warnings, but jumping off points from the illusory comforts of childhood. Feirstein does this especially well with wonderful variations on old stories, such as an aging Snow White (surely meaningful in American life):
Her face is now a zero of despair
Over aging, money, the fatality
Of menopause, sexual schemers...
She lifts a wisp of gray hair
And tries to grin, "Bring me no more dreamers."
"Snow White", from part 2., Gravity of the Black Hole
Or the Prince with his hope:
So here's Snow White, apparently not living.
Behind her glass, she doesn't look too well.
Yet the Prince has the innocence to hope
He can resuscitate her with this kiss he's giving.
Warmed by the fire in her inner hell,
He doesn't hear her cackle, "Your breath's smoke,"
Or see the Mother Witch inside her unforgiving,
Or the Victim shouting in the mirror, "I can't cope!
This Prince here thinks I'm actually living?
"He doesn't know I'm happiest with dopes,
My seven ex's with their dwarfish living....
"The Prince", from part 2. Gravity of the Black Hole,
Ralph Bakshi never did better! And there's more to this. Common reference points make changing the story possible. The Prince and Snow White, older now, experienced, and in different circumstances, are still recognizable characters. The new stories build on the original, without which there would be nothing to work with. These variations, based on what students of chaotic systems call "recursion", or "re-entry," allow us to travel a familiar path, in the process of repetition gaining a different perspective, and sometimes a dramatically different outcome. Storytelling and mythmaking are how human beings build civilized perceptions of themselves and of their relationships to others. Some animals can talk. Some use tools. Some remember each other. And some can even predict the future a little. Human animals, through a luxury of intelligence, can construct enormous stories from anecdotes, original myths, carefully filtered experience. These stories are the framework on which we hang the canvas of our lives, whether as individuals or civilizations.
Feirstein develops this at some length in the opening sequence, "Gravity of the Black Hole", and its three parts are worth going back to again and again, for their wit, wisdom, and often dark humor. You'll never see Three Blind Mice in quite the same way again, or Cinderella:
The Prince with Cinderella was persistent.
Twice he lost her, twice he freed her from
Her own masochistic disasters,
And married her and lived forever after.
The Prince went twice to her crazy house,
Smoking cigars, riding on Fantasy,
Trusting himself, his courage; he knew he could
Rescue Love, rescue himself with Reason.
He knew he was the damned but favored son.
He married what's unconscious, what we shun.
Adults have different versions....
We've discussed the content but only implied the craft in Dark Energy. Reading these poems, with their delightful structure, intricate rhymes and supple flow, it should be no surprise that Feirstein has written lyrics for several full-length musicals. These poems, in their dramatic pitch, reveal Feirstein the playwright as well. The excerpts cited indicate that Feirstein has a terrific ear, with the sense to leave space for a reader (or listener) to fill in the blanks. That's a requirement in verse as much as in lyrics for a song. Versification got a bad name under the Modernists, hardly better under post-Modern critics. But, if you enjoy good songs, lyrics and poems, their success most often requires their author knowing what to do with prosody and how to fit the music. Feirstein figured that out a long time ago. Dark Energy is the latest example.
Reviews are not intended as survey courses for sophomores, but as teases to tempt readers to the bookstore, online or off. The rest of the book should be a surprise. You will be, not only by the reworked fairy tales and observations about them, but by Part II, the second sequence, "The Two Sides of the Moon."
Dark Energy is a remarkable book and is highly recommended. And special thanks to Ifeanyi Menkiti, who has not only started a fine new press but has also saved Grolier's of Cambridge, one of America's great bookstores.
To buy the book at Grolier's Bookstore in Cambridge, select the following: http://www.grolierpoetrybookshop.org/~shop/dark-energy/250089
It's also at Amazon and other outlets.
Expansive Poetry and Music Online
Arthur Mortensen is a playwright and a poet. His latest collection is Why Hamlet Waited So Long, from St. Sebastian Press. He has been the Webmaster for a very long time.
Broken Hierarchies - Geoffrey Hill;
Collected Poems -Michael O'Siadhail;
Collected Poems - Sean O'Brien;
Collected Poems - Paul Petrie;
Drysalter - Michael Symmons Roberts;
Dogwatch - R.S. Gwynn;
Walking In On People - Melissa Balmain
(All titles available at outlets such as Amazon.com. Sean O'Brien's Collected P:oems is a Kindle book on Amazon.com, but can be found in paper elsewhere.)
The New York Times Book Review has long been something of a sad joke played on the literary world, so I should not have nourished very high expectations for their recent special issue supposedly devoted to contemporary American poetry. Beside some pretentious posturing of less-than-insightful considerations of the value (or lack of same) of poetry in the contemporary world (William Logan, usually one of the few critical voices worthy of consistent trust and one of our best poets, is not enhanced by his company here), the NYTBR did actually review a few books"â€a very few, but multiple factors of their usual allotment. Given particular attention are books by James Franco, actor and degree-accumulator, and Patricia Lockwood, whose collection Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, ponders such imponderables as: "What if a deer did porn? Is America going down on Canada? What happens when Niagara Falls gets drunk at a wedding? Is it legal to marry a stuffed owl exhibit? What would Walt Whitman's tit-pics look like?" (I quote from promotional copy). The Times has reviewed the book not only in the Book Review but in the regular paper and profiled her in the magazine in the past month. Most poets would die for such coverage; obviously, they're not asking the right questions.
(Lockwood's is a bad book, but not as bad as I anticipated. She has a much better sense of humor and of the absurd than Sharon Olds. Parts of some of her poems actually display a certain amount of wit, but she is a one-trick pony and, like Frost's fireflies, "can't sustain the part.")
But there have been books of poetry published over the past year or so that are worthy of close and continued and repeated attention, though they seem to have escaped the Times' attention span. All should have much more consideration than I can give them here"â€and I could easily mention more"â€but if a few readers are directed to books they might otherwise have missed, my purpose is served. I also am going to include books by non-American poets; although I am ill at ease in a world ruled by multinational corporations whose claim to personhood grants them more rights than actual people, to we who are both blessed and cursed with an international language it seems parochial to restrict one's coverage to these shores.
Certainly the highlight has to be the publication of Geoffrey Hill's Broken Hierarchies (Oxford University Press). This is Hill's Collected and logs in at nearly 1000 pages, over 800 of them written since the mid 80s. Ludo and three of the collection of books Hill calls the Daybooks see book form for the first time; in addition, several other works, in particular Hymns to Our Lady of Chartres, have been substantially revised and expanded. This explosion of work, particularly since the mid-90s, has brought concern from a number of critics. Hill's poetry up through The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Pe"guy in 1983 emerged in small, tightly-knit collections spaced over gaps of several years. His work since has been much more expansive and tended to be freer in form, though much of the work in the past decade has returned to extraordinarily complex forms, some of which seem arbitrarily imposed over extended sequences.
I have been particularly wary of his triptych The Triumph of Love, Speech! Speech!, and The Orchards of Syon, which appeared between 1998 and 2002. Speech! Speech! I find especially troublesome, the effort it demands seems to result in diminishing returns. Hill's poetry has always demanded a great deal of effort, but it usually rewards it. The manner in these poems also appears a return to high Modernism; Hill has always been influenced by Modernism as a poet as well as being an insightful critic of it (Hill is one of our greatest living literary essayists), but I remain skeptical that its influence in these poems is benign for the most part.
These caveats are offered uneasily. Hill has been a difficult poet from the beginning and he takes no prisoners. I have read Broken Hierarchies in its entirely twice and the other collections that appeared previously many times. This is a volume that anyone who wants to know the poetry of the last fifty plus years has to come to some sort of terms with; the work of the past couple decades will take many critics more than a couple decades to come to terms with. With all my equivocations about the more recent work"â€and there is clearly greatness in it"â€just the work of Hill up through the Pe"guy would make him our greatest living poet.
Michael O'Siadhail is not a name much known in American poetry, but his Collected Poems (Bloodaxe) incorporates thirteen volumes and logs in at 800-plus pages. O' Siadhail is an uneven poet"â€he writes a great deal and individual poems can include a stinker of a line within a lovely passage. Many collections focus around particular themes: The Gossamer Wall is particularly interesting in how it deals with the Holocaust through a series of interconnected lyric and narrative poems. A Fragile City is heavily influenced by the ethics of Levinas. Yet he can also title a collection Rungs of Time which makes too much of a metaphor that certainly would be exhausted after a couple poems, rather than winding through an entire volume. His 2010 collection Tongues deals with etymological roots of words from an impressive array of languages (the poet is a linguist), but dozens and dozens of poems dealing with word origins pall after a bit. O'Siadhail has a Victorian expansiveness about him which can make him difficult to quote in snippets that would leave an appropriate impression of his work. But through the entire corpus of his work the poet's spirit is one of graciousness and, at his best, subtlety:
I feed on such courtesy.
These guests keep countenancing me.
Mine always mine. This complicity
Of faces, companions, breadbreakers.
You and you and you. My fragile city.
The overtones of "countenancing" and "complicity" add a further dimension to what is going on here. It would be welcome to have a good selected edition of O'Siadhail's work. His Collected can be a bit much to wade through at times, but there is much fine work here. The book comes with a CD of the poet reading nearly 40 of his poems.
Sean O'Brien's Collected Poems (Picador) weighs in at a bit less bulky 500 pages, consisting of nine collections plus an excerpt from his translation of Dante. Long identified with Newcastle, O'Brien is also a good practical critic. His Collected shows considerable range of themes and styles. His earlier books in particular demonstrate an energetic anapestic line:
They are bored with the half-life of scholarly myth,
Bored with the gaze of the sunblind student
Attacked by nausea on a bus to the Gut
Where adventure appears in a glass of anis
As a species of maritime fraud
At which the police can only smile
As they sit by the fountains comparing their guns.
There is a restless, searching quality to O'Brien's poetry, an urban poetry of decay, concerned with the city's hidden places. Trains and ghosts, and ghost trains, inhabit a number of poems, and we see the detritus of a post-industrial north, further ravaged by Thatcher, Blair & Co. O'Brien has a strong satirical sense; witness the beginning of "Welcome, Major Poet!":
We have sat here in too many poetry readings
Wearing our liberal rictus and cursing our folly,
Watching the lightbulbs die and the curtains rot
And the last flies departing for Scunthorpe.
Forgive us. We know all about you.
His collection The Drowned Book was the first collection ever to win both the T.S. Eliot and the Forward Prizes (The feat has since been duplicated by John Burnside), so he has merited considerable attention in England, though his Collected has, surprisingly, not been widely reviewed. Although he is a very English poet in terms of reference, he clearly deserves more attention on this side of the pond.
Continuing with retrospective volumes, I want to call attention to Paul Petrie's Collected Poems. Petrie, who died in 2012, was my mentor and friend, and I can't pretend to much critical distance here, but this book holds the work of a lifetime successfully dedicated to poetry. The poems are not arranged chronologically; the ordering was carried out by the poet late in life. The subject matter is wide and the styles are varied; Paul would work the gamut of available forms. I cannot do better than quote X.J. Kennedy: "When the best American poems of the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries are assembled, it won't matter who copped more prizes or was the subject of more dissertations. All that will matter will be the poems and whether people want to remember them. And then, if there is a just God in Heaven, or even if there isn't, Paul Petrie will have some poems in there. He did so much that will keep."
Moving on to individual collections. I cannot think of a book in a long time that I've found more impressive than Drysalter (Cape) by Michael Symmons Roberts, the winner of the 2013 Forward Prize. Roberts' previous collections have been of interest, but Drysalter boosts Roberts into elite company here. The book is a series of 150 fifteen-line poems, matching the number of Psalms. Roberts seems to find about every available conceivable way to shape his fifteen lines; most long sequences tire and seem to demand selection. Not here. Roberts hits a high level from the first poem ("Small breaks first: cup on the marble floor, / mirror on staircase, cracked watch-face, / hairlines in roof tiles. Then it escalates.") to last ("So once again we walk and witness, / give thanks to the tangible and visible, / but no one dares to sing a note, dig in a heel.") There is a visionary quality to many of the poems"â€the beginning of "The Sea Again":
has been among us in the night.
I knew it from the trace of grit,
beneath my feet, salt on my tongue-root.
The very last S of the backwash
filled my ears. Yet by dawn there is was
tame between the harbor walls.
Drysalter ranges widely over subject matter; it is unified by its sense of vision as well as the number of lines. It demands, and rewards, re-reading. Roberts has set the bar high and cleared it.
It has been far too long since R.S. Gwynn last published a full-length collection. The wait is now happily over with the publication of Dogwatch (Measure). The collection does not strike out in new directions, but the wry and witty perspective one and the consummate use of forms (particularly repeating forms) one associates with Gwynn are very much in evidence here. Literary take-offs frequently offer a good vantage point for the world's follies: "A Darker Round" updates Dante to find room for plumbers, contractors, insurance claims adjustors and their ilk. I am glad to see "Ballade Beginning with a Line by Robert Bly" (remember him?) in more permanent form and delighted in finding Larkin's Mr Bleaney reincarnated as "Mr Heaney": "'This was Mr Heaney's room. The peat's / From off his boots. It got into the rug / And won't be Hoovered out. Likewise the sheets / And pillow case"'" More seriously, "On the Lea, April, 1621" is a poem that will last a long time, certainly one of the greatest fishing poems ever written. Making use of a shared pastime of two fishermen, who happened to be Izaak Walton and John Donne, the poem does not lend itself readily to being excerpted. A three-page poem written in heroic couplets, it unfolds gradually and with considerable grace. One couplet reads: "Praise be to Him Who has provided much / To one of supple wrist and gentle touch." Suppleness and a gentle touch are certainly in evidence in this poem.
With her first full-length collection, Walking in on People (Able Muse), Melissa Balmain stakes her claim to membership among our best writers of light verse. Light verse is a misleading term. Most of Balmain's poems are not light in the sense of frivolous or superficial. They often raise serious topics, but they do so with a wonderful sense of humor. Children know poetry can be fun; that seems to be educated out of people quickly. And "Walking in on People" is fun. The puns"â€that use of words condemned by writers of more substance than Shakespeare or Joyce"â€are wonderful. "Hard-shelled" begins "A noble urge to liberate the lobsters / came over me in Wal-Mart yesterday" but economics soon overcomes idealism. I quote "Tale of a Relationship, in Four Parts" in its entirety: "Kissing / Hissing / Dissing / Missing." Pretty simple? Try coming up with one yourself. Or maybe talk with a Gen-y-er: "Come hang with me and all my bros-- / we'll grab some brews and Domino's / and Netflix The Avengers next. / Later, maybe we can sext." Fluffy doesn't like the family's new arrival: "It can't climb up a tree, / it can't chase balls of string, / it leaves you zero time for me-- / just eat the wretched thing." And many, many more like these. If you are wanting to convert someone who thinks reading poetry is only a slight improvement over visiting the dentist, get him or her this book. Balmain is now editor of Light; I can't think of anyone better to carry on the tradition.
I don't intend this quick jaunt through the above to be in any way an exhaustive look at all the best that's been published in English-language poetry recently, or even a typical sampling (I only wish it were), but simply some of the work I have been most impressed with over the past year or so. It's not all the poetry that's fit to read, but more than one finds in the Times.
http://www.expansivepoetryonline.com/ Robert Darling
Expansive Poetry and Music Online
July 30, 2014
Robert Darling, a noted and widely published poet and critic, is also an afficionado of Irish music, much of which he has shared with a grateful Webmaster, He has has been a professor for many years at Keuka College, in both the English department and the Fine Arts department..
from Wade Newman
East and West/
Poems by Wade Newman
Brooklyn NY 11231
123 & 75 pp., $15.00
Wade Newman's Final Terms / East and West is/are his first poetry collection(s) since Poisoned Apples, also from Pivot Press. The reason for the equivocation(s) is that the collections are published in one volume; when readers are finished with one compilation, they need merely flip the book over and begin the next, there being no back cover to the volume but two front covers. (I'm sure there is a technical term for the context, but my printing and research prowess fail me here.) Poor bookstore clerks must be confused as to how to shelve the book, but it is a boon to the reader, having two volumes for the price of one.
Regardless of the format, it is good to have more of Newman's work available for a wider readership. While he has won several awards and been widely published, this substantial collection more than doubles Newman's poems available in book form. East and West is the briefer of the two volumes and consists mainly of very short poems, heavily influenced by Japanese forms. Final Terms focuses more on Occidental forms, including many villanelles. The poems in both collections are dominated by love and love's mishaps and the motif of dance permeates both as well. Some of the women are mentioned in both collections as well; for the purposes of concision, I will therefore consider the books as one for the rest of this review"â€the reader should, however, keep in mind the collections are presented separately.
While a few of the villanelles lack repeating lines of sufficient interest, many are fine uses of a difficult form; in particular "She Loves Me Less than Cigarettes" is wonderful, balancing the title line with the more positive "After each pack, we have wild sex." And then there's the rueful "Villanelle": "There's always a woman walking out the door / They exit the same way as the one before." "Four Poems in the Spirit of Catullus" do a fine job of incarnating a contemporary Catullus: one could easily imagine him declaring "No one's sexier when your temper's turned on" and delighting in such finery on his woman as "the spaghetti-strap black dress, / Argentine stiletto heels, / And edible underwear."
This brings us to another point: the poems in this book are overwhelmingly from a male perspective. One hopes we're past the time where this would be a problem for many readers. While there's no denying that a corrective was necessary, the commendable assertion of the female viewpoint should not render the comparable male one inappropriate. These poems, while strongly from a male viewpoint, should not be inaccessible to female readers. Doubtless, though, some will raise this complaint. Dogmatic readers will miss the playfulness of many of the lyrics. But that's their loss and not the fault of the poems.
Dance dominates many of these poems, several of which replicate the measures of a dance. Newman even offers special tango glossaries for the non-initiate. And one sometimes wonders whether the poet loves foreign women or their names more"â€he takes a great rhythmic delight in Uta, Yuri, Miwa, Nga, etc. Their names often merge marvelously with the dance steps and directions of the poem. It should be impossible for women so-named to be other than agile of foot.
The persona in many of these poems often seems as ill-starred in love as Larkin's; the women are often leaving, the speaker hears things second-hand ("Or at least that's what everyone says"), things are passing ("As each year I get older"; "The party was long over"), insults are endured ("I just crawl some hole and die"). But he keeps coming back for more and it is the dance that invigorates him.
There are poems of social comment, poems concerned about the craft of poetry, elegies and remembrances. But the overwhelming concern is with male-female relationships"â€several of the poems concerned with poetry end up addressing the muse as fickle lover. And this questioning and exploration of relationship is probably Newman's greatest strength, at least in these collections. And these lines at their best achieve a kind of simple profundity not easily captured. Consider the conclusion of "Before":
Before we slept together,
I slept with you alone.
Before we loved forever,
I loved you in a poem.
This looks simple"â€until one tries to write it. There is not much in the way of verbal fireworks in this collection but a plain-spokenness enhanced by formal technique that is impressive. Final Terms/East and West deserves repeated reading. Much like Japanese ink drawings, the poems have an understated elegance.
http://www.expansivepoetryonline.com/ Robert Darling
Expansive Poetry and Music Online
May 14, 2014
Click here to purchase Wade Newman's Final Terms / East and West
Robert Darling, a noted and widely published poet and critic, has been a professor for many years at Keuka College.
Baudelaire Visited Anew by Helen Palma
Selected Poems from Baudelaire's
Les Fleurs du Mal
Translated by Helen Palma
Brooklyn NY 11231
88 pp., $15.00
Though the writer has enduring philosophical differences with Charles Baudelaire, I found in Helen Palma's translations many caverns of jewels: an urbane sensibility; an interest in vice; numerous sensual and aesthetic pleasures; symbols of sex and death; corruption; the macabre; sound and sense and beautiful color. I also found the difference between myself and the 19th century French poet: where I discover a hole in my jeans, I smile free and easy, at one with Huck Finn; when this Frenchman contemplates his thread-bare pantalon he damns all the world. So be it. What is under consideration are Helen Palma's superb translations, not my discomfort with the author of the originals!
A major difference touching translation is how the original language sounds. English is different in nature compared to French, not so much as consonant French to vowel-rich Italian, yet bold, practical English is not well-suited to the soft, subtle alliteration of the sweetly soothing, and effeminate, French dropping of vowels. With fewer bellowing vowels there is the opportunity for musical mellifluousness -- lush and Debussy-like. Palma evidently heard, for this lushness is well translated in "The Sun":
And sometimes find the rhymes that died in dreams.
This life-giving father, and pallor's foe"
I should mention that "The Sun" is almost unique in this collection for the sincerity of its Romanticism. There is little of the picturesque decadence of the Symbolists; it betrays the poet's youthful optimism. I am reminded that Baudelaire's school chums recollected his writing-in and thinking-in verse. I can almost hear Blake.
Something else of French that Americans find unnatural is the cultural obscenity of the gigantism of Rabelais' Gargantua, Lachaise's Standing Woman, and Beaudelaire's "La Gante":
I'd probe at leisure her enormous limbs,
Climb up the slope of her tremendous knees;
And when the humid sunlight spread disease"
"et cetera, although I cannot agree with the poet's point-of-view because I was never so young, never diseased, and never so French, yet, through Ms. Palma's translation, I can see what he saw in the manner that he sees. This is how translation is supposed to work.
And then, the rhyme: Here I found delight, word to word, line to line, stanza to stanza, and verse to verse. I found the rhymes fitting in almost every instance; accurate in translation, appropriate to the purpose, and telling in meaning. Most any verse would serve as an example. I choose "Autumn Song" almost at random. The rhymes alone can tell the action of the drama:
dismal gloom / dreary boom
my soul / infernal pole
sacrifice / blood-red ice
log's descent / shall be rent
fearful throes / repeated blows
monstrous thud / fall's mud
for whom / with doom
Nowhere did I find that stretching after rhymes which is the sometime bane of translation. I found an ease, a rich variety of rhyme's application: in "To a Passing Woman" couplets that dragged deep in lament to rise in the concluding couplet above the pallid skies; in "My Beatrice" couplet after couplet of promise and fulfillment; and I expect that you will find meaning in many rhymes that I have overlooked.
Then, Ms. Palma is fastidious in her fealty to Baudelaire's peculiar adaptations of standard sonnet forms. Sometimes the rhyme scheme seems higgledy-piggledy, at other times to the purpose. A random reading of the 24 sonnets in this collection will surprise and delight. I choose the "The Blind Man" for example of strophic structure, a division of what would be the final sestet divided with a turn between tercets (eef/ggf):
And thus they navigate unending Night,
Eternal Quiet's twin. While at your height,
O City, how you laugh and sing and roar!
Your lust for pleasure carries you astray,
And yes, me too; far more blunted than they,
I ask: What are those blind men looking for?
And then, there is an exemplary excellence in many of these sonnets which can be found in the final word of the final line: That fulfillment of the expectations of the preceding 139 syllables is found in "The Cracked Bell" meaningfully and musically when the sound of the nail of the caesura "dies." Yet, for me, the most rewarding of exits was found in "The Setting of the Romantic Sun". Here is an ending, ending the ending: The end of the Romantic; the end of the sun; the end of the verse and of the song, a true sound sounding the fading echo of the clarion, ringing "How splendid"" and ending "cold snails." not so much a note as spittle on the reed.
In "The Cask of Hate" I found the meter of feet, hearing the poet's heavy steps beating a bear-like rhythm. This heavy foot-fall makes substitutions all the more poignant, all the more telling: As is heard in the heavy step and squeezing of,
"Buckets of blood and tears squeezed from the dead"
followed later by the stumbling dactylic,
"Hate is the drunk in the depths of a dive";
concluding with the slow spondaic substitution of,
"To ever fall asleep beneath the table."
Lovely. Another verse rich in knowing prosody is the first stanza of the first verse in this collection of translations, "Spleen (IV)" where the slowing spondaic substitution and the descending drag of alliterations well meets the sound to the sense:
When the low, leaden sky weighs like a lid
Upon the mind that old vexations bite;
When the horizon in black bile lies hid,
And pours a dark day down, sadder than night"
This spleen is just that, not in good humor, yet it is skilled versification, demonstrating invention both in French creation and in English recreation. Another instance of rich prosody is found in "From the Depths", a personalized Psalm 130. Do yourself a favor. Read this verse translation aloud, allow the sweet melodies to caress the tongue, the vibrations to message the throat, the invocations to seduce the ear. Here, the final quatrain of "Hazy Sky" will deliver a taste of Ms. Palma's recreation of the French-like luxury in language:
Dangerous woman, with your changeling clime,
Shall I adore as well your frost and rime,
And learn to draw from that pitiless winter
Joys keener than its ice-and-steel-tipped splinter?
I found in this collection many invitations to participate in ethical corruption, much in the way that Shakespeare requests our participation in the corruptions of Richard III. In "The Lid", Baudelaire would make us complicit in his stroking pleasures, the little sins against the cradle of his culture, which for myself I cannot do, yet I can and do find sympathy in the sound and in structure of the verse:
Go where we will, be it on land or sea,
Beneath a sun that's searing or cold-white,
As votaries of Christ or venery,
Possessed of millions or a widow's mite"
Why accept the pleasure but deny the seduction? Because, in the actual virtue of structured verse, Baudelaire rejects the corruption of transitory phantasmagoria, as do I. I wonder if he knew? Perhaps I have dilated over much on the grotesqueries and the psycho-personal excesses. Even so, knowing something of biography, you may also be reminded that the poet during composition was enjoying syphilitic euphoria while suffering syphilitic agonies; that he and his mistress were soon to die of syphilis; and of that body of Symbolist art inspired by The Flowers of Evil (think the etchings of Baudelaire's friend, Flicien Rops).
But then, here the question concerns the skilled translations of Helen Palma, which surpass goodness, and deserve a reading. Buy and read this highly recommended book.
http://www.expansivepoetryonline.com/ Michael Curtis
Expansive Poetry and Music Online
March 14, 2014
Michael Curtis, of Arlington, is a well-known sculptor, architect and poet.
For Ezra (Online Journal Of Translation) review of Palma's book click here (Don't be misled by page title. It's the Spring 2014 issue. You'll have to page through the poems to find the review)
To purchase Helen Palma's book, click here now.
Frederick Turner Review:
The Gardens of Flora Baum
A Poem by Julia Budenz
(To read Turner's review at World Literature Today,
click on the photo or on the headline)
Kudos to Frederick Turner (author of poetic epics Genesis; The New World, and numerous critical works) and World Literature Today for this review of one of the major literary events of the still-new century, the late Julia Budenz's Gardens of Flora Baum, published posthumously by Carpathia Press, under the able direction of Emily Lyle and Roger Sinnott. This writer had the privilege of publishing a very small piece of this work in 2007 under the Pivot Press imprint. Five volumes long, a single, unified work, it is the poet's life's work, begun in the mid-60s, and left partially unfinished at her death in 2010. Read Turner's review, and then, to get your own copy, go to Carpathia Press, which offers the book in a gorgeous sewn edition (shown in Turner's own photograph), and in a more affordable paper version, which is also quite beautiful, its covers decorated with photos, including several of the poet.
A New Harvest from Robert Darling
Poems by Robert Darling
Kanona, NY 14856
92 pp., $16.00
A poet, as the rest of us, runs a constant race to stay ahead of mortality's tsunami. The author of Gleanings, with this collection, sends a loud message that he's still on the track. Despite ailments in the last few years that would flatten a healthy bear, Darling is out there. Of course, he's taller than most, so his strides can be long. And Gleanings is one of those, a fine new collection that steps along with a delightful mix of craft, humor, and wordplay. The latter two have become rare in any writing, and almost illegal in poetry. But they are only part of the overall mix.
Darling has always written with great clarity, sometimes mistaken for simplicity. As with Tom Carper, a poet with whom Darling shares strong traits, what seems simple may be a lens into deep water, as in the poem "Undine."
There were the three of us: the water,
me wedded to the silent hills,
and, yearning back to water, her.
Strange now, the quiet of the house.
I move among possessions I
am doomed to always think are hers....
The risk with references to mythology is that the author who starts in a pond may find himself in an ocean. Undine (often spelled Ondine) has been the subject of dozens of poems, novels, films, operas, ballets and even the Andy Warhol film The Loves of Ondine. Variations of Undine can be found as characters in eight or nine video games. And that's just what's exposed by a casual visit to Wikipedia. A more interesting look at Undine came from the iconoclastic Paracelsus (17th century). Sometimes described as the first modern physician, he considered alchemy not as magic but as a psychic process, how one peeled away presupposition and myth as barriers to seeing things as they are. His description of Undines as female spirits in the magical water of alchemy has to be taken in that light to be understood as anything but medeaval fantasy. (see Carl Gustav Jung's Alchemical Studies (1967) for more on Paracelsus). Darling's poem, in its contrasting female and male spirits, works the same theme with considerable art. The lost female lover, the male narrator left onshore, despite precise delineation, are given a dimension by their conflation with the Undine myth that turns them into archetypes, the Philosopher's Stone of psychological analysis. A poem of what may have been a personal loss becomes terribly familiar. And yet the poem works well without knowing anything about Undine.
Darling is a poet who likes to play in many fields, as in "The Abject Gardener."
My eggplant hatched some chickens,
My ginseng turned to scotch.
Primrose turned prurient
even while I watched....
The whole poem turns on metaphors, puns, a slightly sprung meter, and a basic hymn rhyme scheme. As a linguistic artifact, it's the kind that political reviewers cite to beat up poets they consider as unserious. But for this writer, this poem, and many others in Gleanings, suggest a poet with a strong grip on craft and art. "The Abject Gardener" through its art presents a funny representation of how many weekend gardeners see their little box of nature. But it's also about nature's joke on the fellow who thinks he knows her rules. One could go on but there are only twenty lines to hoe.
A post-modern trick that's probably used more in science fiction than anywhere else is to open with a long citation from another author, not a pithy quote, but a hundred or more words, as in "Post-Modern Love." In what will be a sonnet, Darling starts with a long quotation from Umberto Eco regarding post-Modern expressions of love. The quotation is tendentious, the sort of blather that makes this writer reach for a baseball bat. Darling takes the challenge he's made to himself.
"I love you madly." His lack of irony
all too apparent to his lettered belle.
"How can he mean," she thought, "what he says to me
if Barbara Cartland, in each wretched novel
has sprinkled her limp pages with these words?"
She looked at him, her trembling supplicant.
And then a line from Yeats occurred to her:
We loved each other and were ignorant...
As wonderful as it might have been to show the entire poem, that's illegal on a Web page regulated by copyright restrictions. Suffice it to say it's one of the cleverest and funniest sendups of academic theorizing this writer has read in a long time.
A central problem to a poet of recent generations is the demystifcation of nature. With the astonishingly rapid development of science, lots of easy metaphors went into the trash. In a world dominated by science, a lot of comparison is not so much hackneyed as it is idiotic. The modern attitude is best expressed by Mark Twain in Life on the Mississippi when he notes (in paraphrase) that he'd rather know why the sun shines than write a metaphor about light. Darling looks at this still controversial notion in "The Geese".
An arrowhead without a shaft,
impelled by instinct's sure return,
aimed at a target, north and south,
geese narrow over altered land.
They'll have to do for myth. These woods
were dispossessed by pious folk
who cleansed the savage with the Word....
Pond to ocean again -- the dispossession of magic from the world by science has not been an altogether clean process. Indeed, it's fair to consider demystication as the original sin of modernity, as the British Bureau of Irish Affairs, or the American Bureau of Indian Affairs, both run by the Puritan's intent on removing the "wrong" magic from their subjects. The poem's resonance is not just with the logical positivism derived from science, but with the arrogation of authority by yet another way of seeing things only one way. This won't make anyone on either the Left or the Right very happy, and probably not many in the sciences either, which is why it's such a terrific poem, reminding me of A.D. Hope's "Standardization," which looks at another clash of perceptions. Darling manages this quite differently, however. The strongest trait Darling shares with Maine's Tom Carper is a deceptively simple diction. The Australian poet (Hope), on the other hand, could often strike a reader as speaking from Olympic heights, which is not always an advantage with contemporaries. Further, on the theme Darling opens, not only is clarity required, but a trace of humility and more than a little regret, as in his final characterization of the geese:
Poor one note Sirens whose crude calls
no one will follow but the seasons...
"The Geese" is a brilliant poem in a brilliant collection. Gleanings is a book to spend some time exploring. The poet is a gifted prosodist (his uses of assonance and consonance deserve another review -- he is master of both). Darling does not write especially long poems, but each needs careful reading, the first time for enjoyment, the second to catch what you missed, the third to enjoy again, etc. Poetry collections aren't airport novels.
This is Robert Darling's fifth collection, including So Far and three chapbooks. He has also written a literary biography of A.D. Hope.
Foothills Publishing produces a good-looking volume, with nice layout and typefaces, and handsome covers. The addition of a bit of sewing in the binding looks good and will help the book survive being opened and closed repetitively, which an attentive reader will surely do. You can order this fine collection directly from Foothills Publishing's Web site. After last year's catastrophic fire, it's quite a feat that they're still able to do business. A greater one was publishing such a fine collection as Gleanings.
Expansive Poetry & Music Online
January 12, 2014
New Release From Pivot Press
Selected Poems from Baudelaire's
Les Fleurs du Mal
Translated by Helen Palma
From Pivot Press, just out, a fine translation of thirty-six poems from Baudelaire's 1857 Les Fleurs du Mal. Palma, who holds advanced degrees in Classics and Comparative Literature from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, has been published in numerous journals, including The Formalist, Iambs & Trochees, Trinacria, The Raintown Review, and Pivot. Her e-book, Selected Translations from Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal, which contains some of the translations in this new book, appeared in 2007 at The New Formalist.
"Helen Palma has accepted the challenge that others have sometimes declined: to turn poems by Baudelaire into rhymed, metered lines that approximate the French forms. These translations retain what Baudelaire termed the 'evocative magic' of poetry...."
--Catharine Savage Brosman, Professor Emerita of French, Tulane University
"Palma has collaborated with Baudelaire's muse to create English poems that masterfully blend those hallmarks of post-romantic symbolist poetry: the seemingly inevitable flow of the original discourse and the armature of metrical and rhyming strictures whose faithful retention is always a challenge to the poet's translator....Baudelaire is well-served here by Helen Palma's versions, in which she once again bears witness to the axiom that to translate poetry successfully one must not only be a good translator but also a good poet."
-- Eric Sellin, poet and translator.
"Superbly surpassing such illustrious predecessors as Roy Campbell, Robert Lowell, Arthur Symons, and Richard Wilbur, in her faithful metrical translations Helen Palma seldom various Charles Baudelaire's rhyme schemes and always reenacts the eloquent splendor of his splenetic élan."
-- J.B. Sisson, poet and translator
Expansive Poetry & Music Online
February 3, 2014
The Loss of a Great Friend
We have sorry news to greet the New Year of 2014.
Poet, scholar, professor, performer and raconteur Dr. Alfred Dorn passed away on New Year's Day. Dr. Dorn, whose seminars in the 1980s and 1990s were instrumental in the classical revival (also called New Formalism), was a mentor and friend to many leading poets of the last three or four decades. His own poems appeared in over 50 journals. He won dozens of major awards. At last count, he had published six collections, including Flamenco Dancer (1959), Wine In Stone (1959) , From Cells to Mindspace (1997), Voices from Rooms (1997), and Claire and Christmas Village (2003).
For three decades Dr. Dorn, as Director of the World Order of Narrative and Formalist Poets, ran a worldwide contest for poets who used classical prosody, often in poems that told stories. He served as editor and publisher for a definitive collection of translations of Renaissance Italian poets, From Marino to Marinetti (1974), translated by Joseph Tusiani. For some years, he was Vice President of the Poetry Society of America. From their home in Queens, with its remarkable collection of literary and other artifacts, including the last word in literary lions, Dr. Dorn and his marvelous spouse, the late Anita Dorn, held court for nearly thirty years, hosting numerous and memorable parties and dinners. Dr. Dorn's readings on the poetry circuit were rare but usually heavily attended, especially his annual October library readings with fellow poet and playwright Daniel Fernandez. One can only pray that Alfred's heirs know that the treasures in the house are not so much the collectibles but the poems, prose, and other papers he left behind. The heirs of his mentoring will remember and celebrate this exceptional human being for the rest of our lives. Dr. Alfred Dorn, who was 84 at his death, will be greatly missed but will always be with us. Burial was on Saturday, January 11, in Flushing Cemetery. The family asks that memorials be given in Alfred Dorn's name to the Poetry Society of America.
For a marvelous essay on Alfred Dorn, visit Pennsylvania Review for Joseph S. Salemi's tribute.
Copies of these and other books by Alfred Dorn may sometimes be found at alibris.com or powellsbooks.com
Expansive Poetry & Music Online
January 3, 2014
Some favorite authors: For Frederick Turner and Dick Allen, search Alibris.com, Amazon.com, and other online bookstores. Check also on Frederick Turner's Facebook and his web site. For those who wish copies of prior books published by Pivot Press, or by Somers Rocks Press, please contact the Webmaster. For Frederick Feirstein, the 3rd Musketeer of Expansive Poetry, check his website. For Carolyn Raphael, whose short narratives continue a great chain that includes Robert Browning, try her Web site. A writer from the South who's made a strong mark over the past decade or so, Jennifer Reeser, has a Web site to look at. For the very engaging Suzanne Noguere, she maintains a Web site here.
Those of you fond of Dr. Salemi's essays and poems might want to look at the late Leo Yankevich's Pennsylvania Review.
A very rich site for art, essay and poetry: Newington-Cropsey Cultural Education Studies Center
For the painter Liz Holly's Web site, look at lizholly.com
For the Webmaster's new novel, an alternate history story, try: A Private Enterprise, Book 1, The Recruit