Entry 1611 — Interpretation of Poems, Part 2

October 25th, 2014

I came up with a few more possible layers:

13.    The ethical layer.  I at first thought ethics would be in the ideational layer, but am now not sure.

14.    The anthroceptual, or the human relations layer: character, as opposed to plot.  At this point it occurs to me that maybe I ought to link each layer to an awareness or sub-awareness in the cerebrum as I have here.  I could also rename the ideational layer the “scienceptual layer.”  Will think it over.

15.     The allegorical layer, or the only layer those questioning the authorship of Shakepeare’s sonnets are really interested in, the one—if it exists—that arbitrarily attaches real people and places to objects in a poem.  Perhaps I should make two layers out of this, the sane allegorical layer, for poems like Spenser’s Faery Queene that use straight-forward allegory, and the psitchotic allegorical layer for poems a lunatic has found to be allegorical.

Actually, this layer should be called the allegorical paraphrasable layer, because it is everything a poem is thought to be under its surface.

Because I have it readily at hand, here’s a rough full paraphrase of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 I did to show Paul Crowley how sane interpretations of poems are made.  Needless to say, I found no allegorically paraphrasable layer.

> 1.   Shall I compare thee to a Summers day?

“Would it be a good idea to make a comparison of you to a day in the most pleasant of the four seasons?”

Note that my explication is a paraphrase of the line that takes the DENOTATION of every word into consideration and tries to make linguistic sense.  It is concerned primarily with what the surface of the poem means.  It ought to deal, too, with any clear-cut connotations of the text it concerns, as well as any secondary meanings, if any.  In this case, I find no connotations worth mention, and there is nothing in the line (or, to my knowledge, outside the line–that is, in the background layer, which should be consulted by one making a paraphrase of a poem) to indicate it means anything more than it says.

> 2.   Thou art more louely and more temperate:

“You are superior to the summer’s day mentioned in both beauty and temperament.”  Ergo, In other words, there’s really no comparison between you and a summer’s day: you’re much the better of the two.
Again, there is nothing in the text to indicate it means anything more than it directly says.

> 3.   Rough windes do shake the darling buds of May,
“Unruly, harmful movements of air upset the delicate early blossoms of summer flowers.”  Note: May may have been thought a part of summer in Shakespeare’s time.  Or May’s buds may still be present by the true beginning of summer.

> 4.   And Sommers lease hath all too short a date:

“And that season does not remain in charge of nature for very long: its “contract” to do so is short-term.”
This line and the previous one point out in some detail the defects of a summer’s day, but, implicitly, not of the addressee.  There is nothing in them to suggest they mean anything else.

> 5.   Sometime too hot the eye of heauen shines,

“There are times when the sun is unpleasantly too high in temperature,”

> 6.   And often is his gold complexion dimm’d,

There are also frequent times when the sun is overcast.”

Again, two lines providing further details of what makes the summer’s day inferior to the addressess, who–we are led to believe–has no equivalent of temperatures that are either too hot or not warm enough.  And who is never “grey” in disposition.

> 7.   And euery faire from faire some-time declines,

“Every good thing is subject to decay, and therefore must lose some of its best qualities.  “In summation, each good thing in a summer’s day must eventually retreat from its peak, or lose its best qualities,”

> 8.   By chance, or natures changing course vntrim’d:

“the victim of some random event (like being trodden on by some animal) or of the normal way the natural world behaves (turning stormy, for instance).

Ergo, we have two more lines finishing up telling the reader what is wrong with summer–and, it is strongly implied, NOT with the addressee.  So far, not a hint that anything other than the surface meaning of the words (beautifully) used is intended.

> 9.   But thy eternall Sommer shall not fade,

“Your never-dying prime season, however, won’t ever decline”

> 10.  Nor lose possession of that faire thou ow’st,

“or surrender the beauty of appearance and disposition, and other excellences you are in possession of”

Two more straight-forward lines, these ones claiming the addressee will not fade in any manner the way a summer’s day inevitably will.

> 11.  Nor shall death brag thou wandr’st in his shade,

“Nor will the ruler of the realm those who die be able to boast that you have entered his realm”

> 12.  When in eternall lines to time thou grow’st,

“when in ever-living lines of verse you continue to flourish and perhaps even improve,”

Again, a straight-forward set of lines, these bringing in the speaker of the poem’s second main thought, which is that poetry can make one who is its subject immortal.  I admit to not yet knowing exactly what “to time” means, but I believe I have given the most plausible meaning to every one of the other words in the poem.

> 13.      So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

“Until such time as human beings are unable to keep alive by taking in air or there are organs sensitive to light,”

> 14.      So long liues this, and this giues life to thee,

“the poem you have been reading or listening to will endure, and it will grant you immortality.”

That does it.  My explication accounts for every word in the poem except “to” and “time,” and even those can be accounted for as having something to do with resisting what time does to all things.  It is also completely plausible AND sufficient, for those with any ability at all to appreciate poetry.  (Of course, there’s much more to any poem than an explication of its sanely paraphrasable layer.) To show it has an allegorically paraphrasable layer (or further meanings of the kind just revealed) requires evidence of them in the from externals like the notes of the poet saying such meanings are there, or poems by other poets that seem on the surface like this one but have some significant hidden under-meaning, or permit a second explication that comes up with such a hidden under-meaning that is as smooth, coherent, and reasonably interesting as the primary meaning I’ve just shown the poem indubitably to have.

The third course is the only one you have available, Paul–because we have no notes or anything else relevant from the author or from anyone else to indicate any hidden meanings, nor are there any poems in the language (or any language, so far as I know) that are like the kind of poem you claim this is.  I am absolutely sure that you cannot provide an explication that reveals a smooth, coherent, reasonable hidden meaning.  In fact, I’m pretty sure you will claim it’s not necessary to–the poet was too complex for any academic or even you fully to explicate.

That would be nonsense, and clear evidence that your interpretation is defective.  But not to you.  Nor will you ever accept my claim that it is an argument against your interpretation
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Entry 1610 — The Interpretation of Poems

October 24th, 2014

Essay on the Interpretation of Poems
(First Draft)

One way of dividing verosophers, it seems to me, is into those who are able to construct permanent understandings of a given subject, and those who constantly construct understandings that they immediately forget.  Well, they don’t wholly forget them, but fail to remember any of them well enough to grasp it.  That’s me.  I continually re-construct my various theories, only to make them pretty much all over again six months, a year . . . or five years later.  My incredible defectiveness as an organizer helps.  More often than not, I can’t find previous versions of understandings.  That seems the case right now.

There is an advantage to this, I believe: it is that I, at least, do remember a sort of underunderstanding that returns each time I build a new version of a given understanding.  This, I claim, makes me superior to those whose first construction of an understanding is more or less permanent in the long run due to my not being able to restrain myself from wobbling often into substantial improvements of my understandings they are locked out of.  I would not call them rigidniks, just perhaps too close to being that.  Meanwhile, I doubtlessly am too far from being that, at least some of the time.

The freewending verospher versus the academic verosopher.  Then there is the psitchotic verosopher.  Such a character can be either excessively prone to freewendry or to academicality.  The one I’ll be introducing here is one who is amusingly anti-academic—but nevertheless himself the victim of an academicality of almost unbelievable magnitude.  One thing I’m sure of is that if I am psitchotic (and I will never rule out the possibility), it is due to my being excessively freewendrical.

Note: I am here speaking of the “sane insane.”  Both I and the psitchotic you’ll be meeting are sane enough to stay out of mental institutions, and seem rational enough to others.  Both of us are normal—but possibly normal to an excess.  That is, according to my theory of psychology, everyone is a mixture of three normal character-types, the rigidnik, the milyoop and the free-wender, and becomes a neurotic or psitchotic due to being too entirely one of these types but does not become psychotic, or nuts across the board.  To put it simply, psitchosis results from a single gland’s being under- or over-active; psychosis from greater defects spread throughout the brain.

There.  400 words and I haven’t gotten to my topic, the interpretation of poems.  I will now, with a list of what I’m calling the layers of a poem until I can come up with a better name for them.  For now, I’ll stick them on my list as they occur to me.  I hope in my return to my understanding

I may at least be able to find this list and better organize it.  Anyway, here goes:

1.    The background layer.  This consists mainly of what the person analyzing a given poem knows of its author, the poem’s form and . . . the poem’s title, if it has one.  Its presentation—as an inscription on a monument rather than on a page in a book, for instance—may be part of this layer, too.  (Oops, before I forget, I must tell you that this essay will be concerned with poems one encounters in a book, not oral poems.  What I say can be readily applied to oral poems, I believe, but I am not up to showing how over and over again.)

2.    The sensory surface of a poem: what it looks like to the eye, sounds like to ear, and perhaps feels to the tactile sense, or even smells—meta-verbally.   I distinguish the sound and visual appearance of words acting as words from their sensory effect beyond that, which I call their meta-verbal appearance.  For instance, the word, “oh,” is heard verbally as a long o, but may be heard meta-verbally as a shriek, grown, mumble or any of numerous other enunciations; similarly it may seem visually just an o or, in a visual poem, be (meta-verbally) ten times larger than the rest of the poem’s letters, and orange instead of black.

3.    The melodational layer, or how a poem sounds verbally.  The sound of “oh” as “oh” spoken normally.  Alliteration, rhyme, assonance, euphony, etc.

4.    The narrative layer, or what story the poem tells, and I believe every poem must tell some story.

5.    The symbosensual layer, or the sensual imagery the poem’s words denote (symbolically), generally the visual images they represent, but also at times sounds (“the clang of a bell”) or even smells, the taste of food, the feel of satin.  I coined my awkward term for this because I feel it important to distinguish verbal images from actual images like the graphic ones that may turn up in visual poems.

6.    The ideational layer, or all the ideas that may be in a poem.

7.    The unificational layer, or everything in a poem that, en masse, acts  as the poem’s unifying principal (if it has one).

8.    The metaphorical layer, or what I call its metaphormations.

9.    The archetypal layer, or everything in a poem that gives it archetypal depth.

10.     The paraphrasable layer, or what a poem is, on the surface, about.  It can be a repetition of the narrative layer, but will often be quite a lot more.

11.    The allusional layer, or the sum of a poem’s allusions to other poems, or cultural material of any kind, and to parts of itself.  Some of this will have been in the background layer, but some not . . . I think, but won’t be sure until I’ve worked entirely through a poem using this list.

12.    The twelfth layer, which is the layer containing everything in a poem not in the other layers.

A proper full explication of a poem, or what I call a “pluraphrase,” will identify each of these layers in a poem, or a particular layer’s absence, and evaluate it.

TO BE CONTINUED
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Scientific American Blog Relocated

October 23rd, 2014

My Scientific American Blog is now here–with a complete table of contents.

AHOY!  I finally got Entry 18 done.  It is now here.    Comments Welcome! Please let me know of any typos or gross factual errors. Warning: it’s me at my abstrusest worst–for over 8,000 words.

Later note: From time to time, I will be revising Entry 18.  I hope eventually to correct all the many mistakes in the version first posted.

Entry 1609 — The Volume of the Intellect

October 23rd, 2014

While thinking about getting back to my essay on formal education, I got to thinking about the difficulty of measuring the value of any kind of education.  That led me back to old ideas of mine concerning the volume of one’s intellect.  My thought is that an objective measurement of one’s intelligence would be very difficult, but a way that might help to make it in theory would consider one’s over-all understanding of existence as an object with three dimensions.  If so, one could simply measure it.  The larger the volume, the greater the intelligence it was the result of.

What I would begin with is a map of God’s understanding of existence–assuming existence is the same for him as it is for us.  I would divide it into several general understandings.  (1) understanding of the physical world–physics and, basically, all the other sciences . . .  I’m brainstorming . . . while trying out of another null zone of mine to jam something, anything, into this space so I will remain true to my vow of posting a blog entry every day.  Anyway, I’m interrupting myself almost immediately because an understanding of the physical world requires (a) visual knowledge, (b) verbal knowledge, (c) mathematical knowledge.  God will know what’s in the world, all of it.  Knowledge.  But that’s not enough for understanding.  Understanding means knowing how everything relates to everything else.

To begin again: An understanding of existence consists of (1) an understanding of the physical world which depends on one’s ability to reason mathematically, verbally and spatially–but that ability is not part of the intellect, only the understanding, if any, that it provides.   One builds an understanding of existence using math, words, and visualization.  This understanding thus has a measurable volume.  This might be called intellectual understanding as opposed to emotional understandings like music, visimagery and literature.  There’s also psychological understanding–how large one’s social life is–to put is simplistically: how many friends one has,  how long one has known them, and–most important–how deeply one’s relationship is to each of them.  But the complexity of the over-all group one is ultimately part of counts, too.

These are notes toward notes.  My goal is to show that basically the size of one’s intellect depends on how many subjects one is significantly involved with, and how deeply one is involved with each.  I know what I’m talking about,but am too tired to show it.

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Entry 1608 — A Semi-Interesting Misstep

October 22nd, 2014

I’ve been feeling aimless the past two days or so, I think because I’m starting physical therapy sessions for my weird foots and back, etc.  Anyway, I tried an idea I’ve had for a while for my Athens poem but will not use:

FaerealityIntoAthensRevised#3
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Entry 1607 — 2 Photographs by t. kilgore splake

October 21st, 2014

I don’t know where the day went, but it included my first physical therapy session.  It was just an evaluation of my problem, which my physical therapist and her trainee assistant agree is due to my back, and ought to be amenable to pt exercises that I’ll begin doing tomorrow.  I bought some cat food, too.  I read some.  I forgot about doing this entry until almost bedtime, which is why it’s just the two photographs below from Backwater Graveyard Twilight, a collection of poems and photographs by t. kilgore splake I recently got a review copy of:

 

tKilgoreSplake2fotos

The (first-rate) photographs here are representative of his work as a photographer.  A quite good poet, too, he reminds me of Bukowski and Kerouac.  I’d come across his name before but not his poetry, that I remember.
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Entry 1606 — “Poem, Enlarging”

October 20th, 2014

Nothing today but:

Poem, Enlarging

Poem was enlarging around 
a revision of

             the Sky 
                 by the 
                song of an unseen thrush. 

For miles in every direction 
               it was 
                   2 o'clock 

                       in the afternoon.

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Entry 1605 — Nasty Ideas about Formal Education

October 19th, 2014

Yesterday, I began an essay on formal education purely for fun.  I went wild–to the point of exposing the worst of my sexist and racist views.  Today, I went through what I’d written and took the racism and sexism out–but not only left a good many abominably politically-incorrect opinions in it, but added to them.  The result, which is still only a rough draft of the beginning of a fairly full essay, I hope, follows:

The Function of Formal Education: a Nastily Elitist View

I love knowledge, but I also love freedom, genuine freedom, by which I mean maximal appropriate personal freedom, or the freedom to do whatever I want to do so long as I do not physically encroach on someone else’s private property against his will except to prevent such an encroachment on my own private property (which I define as all material objects I legitimately own and my physical body) or to respond legally to the results of such an encroachment (to take back a stolen computer, for instance).  To give a partial reasonably full definition which should suffice for my purposes here.  My love of knowledge keeps me from being as hostile to America’s system of compulsory formal education as my love of freedom constantly tries to drive me to.  It also will prevent me from scaring off 99.9% of the potential readers of this essay by arguing that no American parent should be forced to send his kid to some school, or even to force home schooling on him instead.

I have no doubt that many teachers and others involved with the running of schools share my love of knowledge, though I’d be surprised if more than one in a thousand of the teachers, or one in ten thousand of the administrators, gave it the value I do, and therefore deemed it close to being the sole proper aim of any school, or even a school’s highest aim.   Be that as it may, formal education is America’s true state religion.  Hence, my arguing that it should be abolished would be a waste of time.  Better that I ignore my love of freedom, and use this essay to show how to go about making that will forever be forced on us better, something it would seem just about e very feels the need to do.

(Note: I’m afraid I’m unable to keep myself from saying one more thing that will horribly antagonize any leftist reading this: in the final analysis, I don’t think it matters what kind of system of formal education we have: regardless of how bad our schools are, those with the right genes will find ways to learn what they need to lead productive lives; and regardless of how good our schools are, those with the wrong genes won’t.  The majority with neither the right nor the wrong genes will readily enough take the many simple jobs those with the right genes are too intelligent to be good at.  Meanwhile, most of us without the wrong genes will have sufficient innate empathy to support a substantial imbecile class, even without being forced to as we are now.)

The first point I need to make concerns something I think very few of the huge number of articles currently being written on this subject bother with, or—it they do—spend more than a paragraph or two on: it is “what should the goals of a system of formal education be?”  My impression is that the answer to this is assumed to be: to give students the knowledge they need to lead fulfilled lives in our society, be good citizens, and slide smoothly into various properly-regulated holes (implicitly-regulated if not explicitly) in the country’s economy they’ll be paid to fill.

Having assumed this answer, the writers concerned will generally pick one of the three goals to berate as being over-emphasized at the expense of one or both of the other two, or to bewail how under-emphasized some goal is because of the foolish over-emphasis of one or both of the other two.  Rather than get into any of the inane solutions such articles then present to their authors’ perceived defects in our schools, I am going to try to tackle the question anew, beginning with a fact other commentators are either unaware of or discount as unimportant: the fact that schools at present have more than the three goals indicated, each of them important.  Hence, all of them must be addressed.

Here’s one obvious goal: to free parents of their children for over six hours a day.  Two more that leftists will not want to hear about: to give positions of power to busybodies (I’m thinking of teachers and school administrators much more concerned with instilling their moral standards into their charges than imparting any kind of worthwhile knowledge), and provide a source of high income for union organizers.  Closely related is the goal of providing work for government overseers of education.  One other goal is to help the country’s economy by providing a huge market for books and other educational materials, some of them superfluous, many of them of only partial value (I’m thinking of the many preposterously expensive hardbound books students are given that most of them pretty much ignore, and that are unnecessarily large and expensively-packaged).

I forgot one other quite important goal: to provide jobs for teachers, school administrators, and centralized administrators (the most preposterously over-paid and superfluous of the system’s parasites).  I was a high-school substitute teacher for fourteen years and come from a family that’s almost always had a teacher in it, including my sister and her husband, and I found almost all the ones I’ve known to be good people dedicated to their jobs; but I’m tired of continually hearing how underpaid they are.  (When I retired as a sub, I was taking in ten dollars an hour, with no benefits—and quite content with that.   But I never had a wife or automobile to support, so was able to get by on a low income; moreover, except for a period in my life when I lost a lot of money investing in a nowhere-going career as a visual poet that led, finally, to severe credit-card debt I still haven’t worked my way out of although a wealthy friend has helped me financially, I’ve always tried to do something Americans no longer seem expected to: live within my means.)

My real problem with how much teachers make is my problem with what all government workers make: they get paid, basically, for time in grade—although many bureaucrats get paid for ability to pass tests, as well; very few of them get paid for performance.  Some schools do manage to weed out the ones they believe to be under-performing but without very intelligent ways of determining under-performance.  This topic I will return to later in my essay.  My main point is that individual teachers are as accountable as they should be.  Even less accountable are individual schools.  Least accountable are entire systems of schools.

To be fair, however, school systems are accountable to the voters of their communities, who ultimately decide how much their local governments can steal from property owners for the use on the schools.  This is not much accountability—because the average American voter is far too ignorant of what schools are doing with the huge sums of money squandered on them, and indoctrinated with the educational establishment’s crap about how much formal education repays tax-payers by providing them with tomorrow’s doctors, for instance (I like and admire my own doctors, but not one of them has deducted the taxes I paid for his education from what he billed me; aside from that, I believe almost everyone learns a lot more that he will go on to use in his vocation outside schools than in them, and has to unlearn a lot of what was forced on him in schools).

Obviously, how much a school system contributes to the greater good is a highly debatable matter.  I don’t expect very many to agree with me on it.  What I hope a fair number of those reading this will agree to, however, is that it is a debatable question, and depends on what a given individual considers the greater good.

Which brings us back to the goals of schools.  The over-all goal has to be to make a contribution to what most people would agree is the greater good of society.  My way of dealing with how schools should do this is to go back to my list of the goals I say all institutions of formal education have (with some fascinating additions):

1.    to give students the knowledge they need to lead fulfilled lives in our society

2.    to make good citizens of students

3.    to help students to slide smoothly into various properly-regulated holes (implicitly-regulated if not explicitly) in the country’s economy they’ll be paid to fill upon graduation.

4.    to free parents of their children for over six hours a day

5.    to give positions of power to busybodies (I’m thinking of those teachers and school administrators much more concerned with instilling their moral standards into their charges than imparting any kind of knowledge

6.    provide a source of high income for union organizers

7.    provide work for government overseers of education

8.    to help the country’s economy by providing a huge market for books and other educational materials, and–of course–the construction industry, and many other industries

9.    to provide jobs for teachers, school administrators, and centralized administrators (the most preposterously over-paid and superfluous of the system’s parasites)

10.  to help pederasts meet suitable marital partners

11.   to make dangerous sages like Socrates was easier to keep track of.

12.  to more readily identify those of superior intelligence before they become dangerous sages

13.   to give politicians something to fight over and persuade citizens to give them more funds and power to oversee

14.   to give halfwits a basis for believing their children can get somewhere in spite of being the children of halfwits

15.   to facilitate licensing, and–therefore–facilitate possibly the government’s most important function: assuring that credentials rather than accomplishments will be materially rewarded in America
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Entry 1604 — Almost Finished

October 18th, 2014

.

Here’s my “light” poem again:

.

FaerealityIntoAthensRevised

I felt that “faereality” was strained as my divisor.  I wanted light becoming Apollo, whom I consider a god of rationality, times a kind of reverse of rationality, and faereality was certainly that, but it felt wrong.  I believe now that what was wrong with it was that it opposed reality as well as rationality, and I don’t think of Athens as being significantly unreal.  I considered using “intuition” or “intui-tiveness,” but felt they were to abstract.  Then I thought of “X,” representing the unknown.  It could stand for anything, which made it an easy choice–but also a kind of cop-out.  So I made it a window on a part of faereality, or (happy) magic.  I could take Athens as being to a degree magical, but only to the small degree I thought my fragment of faereality would give it.  As I write this, I’m no longer sure I was right.

In any case, I soon felt my “X” was too lazy a choice.  At that point, I remembered the version of “mystery” I’d used in my “Odysseus Suite,” and re-used elsewhere.  I thought I might use it times X as my divisor.  When I found it, though, I saw it already had an “x!”  I changed it slightly to what it is here.  It worked pretty well, I thought, for the amazing rise of Athens was as mysterious as it was magical.  And both opposed rationality.  The rest of my term worked, too–the combination of “idea” and “dream,” the hint of “yesterday, ” and the allusion to my poem about Odysseus, specifically the portion of it about his homecoming was a lucky bonus.

I now think I was right about including magic in my divisor.  No great event is without that.  The allusion back to several poems of mine that “faereality” is part of, is a nice extra, too.  Speaking of that, I began to make more of the fact that I was using so many things in this poem from other poems of mine: just about the whole of the divisor, but also the idea of stacked terms from more than one poem of mine, including in particular the one with the swans in it the preceded this one.  I began to think that I might by now, without thinking about it, have developed a sort of set visiopoetic mathematical terms.   What, I wondered, if I were to begin consciously making such terms and repeating them through a sequence as a way of knitting it more effectively together.  Inter-textuality.  Something to think about . . .

As for this particular poem, it still needs a background, and I probably need to color “Athens.”  I may have all its essential components right, though.

* * *

Note: Yesterday I saw my GP and he felt my problems with the my legs were due to various back problems we already knew about but considered minor.  He still feels my problem is minor but no longer so minor as to ignore, so he prescribed physical therapy.  I’ll be signing up for it on Monday.  I’m to go back to him if there are no signs of its helping in two weeks.
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Entry 1603 — Thoughts and a Story

October 17th, 2014

The following is from an email I sent to Karl Kempton in reply to a thoughtful response of his to my entry of today, the 16th:

Still walking on partial legs.  Being the kind of person I am, I’m thinking maybe what’s screwing me up is polio: in fact, I’m hoping it’s that instead of what I’m sure it is: brain cancer–although I had some kind of scan of my brain when I went to the hospital a month or so ago about this same problem and it was negative.

One interesting thing: I’ve sort of given up on myself–and it’s a kind of release: I’m just doing things I like to do, the heck with the things I think I should do.  Fortunately most of the things I like best to do may be worth doing, like an essay I’m writing about my “Mathemaku No. 10,” which is on the cover of the Journal of Mathematics and the Arts.  I’m calling the essay, “The Story of My One Almost-Famous Poem” (“almost-famous” because it got into a college textbook, then into a hard-cover mathematics poetry anthology and finally into the JMA).  I’m trying to depict the lot of the invisible poet.

Here’s the essay I was working on–which I find too cut and dry, so I guess it’s a rough draft:

The Story of my One Almost-Famous Poem
by Bob Grumman

MathemakuNo10The poem above was first published in a micropress publication containing just 7 poems of mine called, simply, Mathemaku 6-12.  The press (which I term a “micropress” because too small in readership to be considered a “small press”) was “tel-let,” the publisher was John Martone, the poems involved were what I considered to be mathematical haiku—i.e., short lyrical poems in which a metaphorically significant mathematical operation, like the long division of “Mathemaku No. 10,” was carried out.

John had previously published the first five of my mathemaku in 1992 in a collection called, yes, Mathemaku 1-5.  Mathemaku 13-19 came out in 1996. Like me, John was what people call “an experimental poet”—and I call “an otherstream poet,” meaning basically a poet seeking poetic fulfillment in a different stream than the one most poets do.  Hence, we were both getting published in the same very few magazines receptive to unconventional poetry.  I don’t remember now how it came about, but a correspondence developed between us.  Soon after that, I used my micropress, the Runaway Spoon Press, to publish some of his poems, and he reciprocated by publishing some of mine . . . or vice versa.  Such is the way it generally is in the micropress: it’s either self-publication or publication by colleagues who like what one is doing.

During the next ten or fifteen years, “Mathemaku No. 10” got re-published a few times, mostly at my poetry blog, poeticks.com, or elsewhere on the Internet.  Eventually, came its publication (as a visual poem, which it is not) in the college textbook the half-page I’ve reproduced is from.  Interestingly, I was supposed to get paid for my contribution with a copy of the book, but never did, nor did anyone replay to the letters I sent the publisher about what I thought was a minor mix-up.  I eventually bought a second-hand softcover copy of the thing from Amazon.

It’s not a visual poem in my view, incidentally, because the heart and the two pieces of arithmetical paraphernalia are the only things in it that are not purely verbal, and they are all symbols with specific meanings, just like words, much more than suggestive visual images, so I consider them to be acting primarily as words, albeit pictorial.

The textbook was printed in an edition of over a hundred thousand, I believe.  And one student actually wrote me about my poem!  A year later it was included in the only other hardbound book I’ve ever had anything in: an anthology called Strange Attractors, edited by Sarah Glaz and JoAnne Growney, who were among the poets writing mathematics-related poems that I had recently met at a conference for such people in Washington, D.C., having by then encountered some of them on the Internet.

As a result of my friendship with Sarah, my poem made its final splash (so far!) with an appearance on the cover of the March-June 2014 issue of Journal of Mathematics and the Arts (with an essay on “visiomathematical poetry and a book review by me inside!) that Sarah had been the guest-editor of.

And here, in this essay, is my poem yet again.  But it can’t possibly make me more almost-famous, can it?

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