Entry 1707 — Some Either/Or Americas

January 28th, 2015

Would you prefer  an America in which the three-and-a-half million richest Americans and their spouses, children, grand-children and great-grand-children  disappeared forever (assuming you were not any of the persons named or an America in which everyone in America but the persons just named, and you and the one hundred people closest to you disappeared forever?  I thought this question up to illustrate the difference between egalitarianism.  Since the richest Americans are (for the most part) the Americans making the rest of us the happiest their loss would diminish our lives much more than the loss of the masses.

On second thought, I realized that would not be the case because of all the high productive Americans who are not rich, and also because I doubt that the very rich would not be fairly easy to replace with the almost very rich.  It’s also true that the disappearance of the masses would make it difficult for the very rich to be anywhere near as effective as they had been.

Or would it?  Things would surely be bad for a while, but possibly they would eventually . . .

NEW SCENARIOS:  nicer ones (because while I have very little problem with the painless extinction of anyone, including myself, due to my belief that extinct people will not likely be unhappy about their state, I do have a proper problem with causing the unhappiness their extinction would cause those left behind, so however easy it is for me to make up dire scenarios, it would be impossible for me to cause them in reality if I could, and as the Christian God and most of his brothers and sisters can and do): my new scenarios would be the same as my old except that no one would be rendered extinct–and America would first be transported to an exact duplicate of the earth a billion light-years away except that it has no human beings on it until the duplicate of America is deposited on it.  The choice given then is which of the two groups I described should be sent back to the now unpopulated original America, and which left with you on the new planet–which will have not outside countries to contend with.

My not yet carefully-thought-out verdict is that the one with the very rich would be less successful for those in it than the other one would be for those in it, but after a generation or earlier, it would become stupendously better.  The one with the masses would definitely not be better off with the very rich gone because the huge majority of the very rich are not the monsters that the socialistic demagogues rant that they are.  But its suffering would not last long, I don’t think.  It might even fairly quickly become significantly better than it has because of all the positions that would open up at the top for younger persons equal to the old people blocking their way.

A scenario more interesting to me would replace the richest 3,500,000 and families with the 3,500,000 most anthreffective Americans and their families, by some evaluational process vastly better than we have now.  “Anthreffectiveness” is my term for, roughly, “full human capacity to be effective,” or over-all intelligence, including the physical intelligence to catch fly balls, the auditory intelligence to compose symphonies, the “cartoceptual” intelligence to be able to find your way around, the social intelligence to get half-wits to elect you U.S. president, and so on.

An interesting question would be how many of these would be in the very rich group.  Certainly much less than half . . . I think.  But I’m basing that on my impression that many more of those of the past (before the twentieth century) who got into encyclopedias for their positive cultural achievements–e.g., not Nero–were not rich than were.

Lots of other varieties of either/or choices based on scenarios like the ones I’ve described are fun to think about.  How about a choice between an America on the far-off second Earth having either only  the best 3,500,000 American “progressive” minds (according to Paul Krugman and Elizabeth Warren) and their families or the best American anti-authoritarian minds (according to George Will and Rand Paul)?  Or the actual best (and most benevolent) progressive minds and the actual best (benevolent) anti-authoritarian minds according to a computer with a political IQ of 10,000 and access to the total political understanding of every American . . .  That would get me in with the anti-authoritarians, something that might not happen with Will and Paul running the show.  (Maybe as a long-time subscriber to both The New Criterion and Free Inquiry I’d get into both far-off Americas.  Nah, neither side would want me.)

An interesting possibility is that an America here without its best freedom-loving minds might soon become entirely socialized.  What would happen then?  A revolution of the right-wing few against the wimp majority?  And how about the other possibility: an America here without its leading progressives.  Also a revolution?  Again of a wimp majority against a right-wing few, but much bett

A related idea: two Americas on two far-off planets, one with just the best freedom-lovers, the other with just the best security-lovers, let me try neutrally to call them.  Would leftists evolve on the free planet, anti-authoritarians on the welfare planet?

How about two Americas one of which has no one but the 3,500,000 and their families who most ardently believe in a supreme being like the Christian god, and the 3,500,000 who most ardently disbelieve in such an entity?

Now the best pairing: the 3,500,000 and families most enchanted by poetry, and the 3,500,000 and families least enchanted by it.  Frankly, I think I’d rather be with the latter.

I suppose I’d really prefer (sob) America as is.  I’d love to learn what happened to each of the others, though.  Some will, in virtual realities of the future.

* * *

I began this entry with a near-complete blank mind.  Finally, thinking I would present a brief description of my first pairing of Americas, then kept going.  Have I abominated even worser than usual?  I seem to have devolved from poetry and poetics into a village socio-political ranter against all that is holy?  I do seem to have stopped composing poetry.  I am not happy about that.  Why?  Maybe I’ve run out of creativity.  Maybe now that I’m in my final years I feel a need to have my say.  A big reason that makes sense is it has been obvious for a long time that trying to keep from being too ignored by the just about all Establishments (including the libertarian one)  by keeping quiet about my political views has no chance of helping me.

Humorously, the true main reason for all my pronouncements and blither is simply my need to get a blog entry posted daily!

Let it be inscribed on the pot holding my ashes: “He was Honest, but nevertheless Harmless.  Urp.”



Entry 1706 — On the Spelling of English Words

January 27th, 2015

Preliminary draft of an essay about one of the three news stories I mentioned two days ago that I’d read and wanted to write about:

Here’s the headline my local paper gave the story I’m writing about here: “Experts: English spelling needs overhaul.”   The newspaper story begins with: “Today Sam will plough through the city’s rough boroughs in search of artisanal cookie dough, even though he ought to stay home to nurse his bad cough.”   The reader is then asked what is wrong with that picture.  Answer: “Eight words containing ‘ough.’”  They are “wrong” because not all pronounced the same.  They are orthographically unregimated!

“Experts” having been trying to correct the spelling of English words for decades.  Some seventy years ago, one of my favorite writers, George Bernard Shaw, was been given credit for the spelling of “fish,” as “ghoti,” from rouGH, wOmen, and moTIon (or any of many words containing “tion.”  Almost a century before that, someone had invented the word in a letter, but no one made it available to the world-at-large until Shaw, or someone of his time, did.  Shaw seems a fair choice because of his fanatical devotion to “improving” the language by regulating spelling.

Note: Shaw was a brilliant prose writer, but not a poet.  I bring that up because it seems to me centrally important.  What is going on here boils down to a confrontation between efficiency experts and poets, with a lot of more or less indifferent bystanders.  I’m on the poets’ side not just because I’m a poet myself, but because of the kind of poet I sometimes am.  Here, in their entirety, are two examples of my work as what I call an “infra-verbal poet” (for a poet who works below the level of words): “lighf” and “whomb.”

These are from Ampersand Squared, an anthology of one-word poems edited by Geof Huth that includes many other similarly misspelled poems, such as bpNichol’s “groww.”  Each of these, by the way, is the sole occupant of the page it is on, which is important for bothering a reader into paying full attention to them.

Two more worth mention are from Huth’s collection of his own one-word poems, wreadings (besides his collection’s title): “myrrhmyrrh” and “sweeat.”   In an ideal whirled these examples would be enough to convince just about everyone of the high value of the varied ways the English language is spelled—and of the need to defend it from those calling for its orthographic sterilization.  Some will fail to be convinced, however, so I guess I’ll need to provide a few details to bolster my claim.

First of all, let me say that the English language’s variety of spelling is valuable for many reasons other than the way it can enlarge the possibilities of poetry in English.  Pointing out its value for poets, though, should help indicate its over-all value.  So, I have five samples of poems that could not exist if English spelling were regularized the way spelling puritans would like it to be.  We would then have “life” and “lite” (I assume) for “life” and “light,” and “gh” would probably never be used in a word.  My “lighf” as a sort of pun suggesting the conversion of light to life would be impossible.  Nor would a single word suggesting the mystery of an unknown person developing inside a womb be possible if “whom” were spelled “hoo” or however the experts thought it should be.

Similarly “groww” would be killed if “grow” were spelled “grow,” and the proper spelling of “myrrh” as “mur,” or whatever, and of “eat” as “eet” would make the suggestion of the spreading fragrance of myrrh as a murmur, and  of sweetness as something to be really savored the way Huth’s poems have impossible.  In short, for those sensitive to such things, the bad spelling of English improves it as a language.

More important, while the fact that spellings are not so predictable in English as they are in other languages, may well make English harder for children to learn “basic literacy skills,” as the experts the newspaper story is about, a group called “The English Spelling Society” headed by Stephen (not “Steven!”) Linstead, argue (with support from some academic study), I strongly suspect that the literacy skills English-speaking children eventually gain are superior to those of children speaking other languages.  An indication of that is the high reputation of poetry in English.

I have a fairly complex amount of completely uncertified ideas about why children might gain from having to learn English.  One is simply that it’s more fun than others!  I still smile whenever I think back to first grade when I learned that “see” and “sea” were pronounced the same.  Another is that English is more like reality than other languages are, so one learning it simultaneously learns how to avoid difficulty in general.  And a kid who has to learn it will be better prepared for later learning challenges, both by realizing they be there, and by feeling confident about his ability to meet them, if he’s succeeded reasonably well with English.

If not, well, there will always be those with learning problems with everything.  But it’s clear that just about everyone learns English well enough to get by eventually.

I haven’t yet mention what I consider the most important value of English’s bad spelling: the way it tends to trip one off-course because of the many homonyms (different words that sound the same) it results in.  Each of these connects a listener to more than one meaning: someone hearing the word, “reign,” may more vividly experience a bad king’s time on a throne as rainy, for instance.  This may seem very trivial, but I claim that the more connections a brain can make, even if many are arbitrary, the more creative it will be.  Needless to say, my dependence on such connections as a poet is a big reason for that.

It will also result in a greater likelihood of errors—losing a track of thought, for example, as opposed to lucking into an unexpected but relevant helpful thought.  Perfect “good spelling” and you’ll tend to produce robots always going from “rane” to the same place in his brane—and making a lot of mistakes, anyway, out of boredom with the language’s predictability.

Finally, I view the controversy as, finally, between those favoring a country run by experts over a free country.  But that’s politics, so I won’t say nothin’ more.


Entry 1705 — More about Me & School

January 26th, 2015

I forgot to say, when ranting about compulsory formal education, that I would never claim I learned nothing while in school–but that’s only because a human being is designed to learn things no matter where he is.  I merely say that I do not believe I learned more in school than I learned outside school.  I also feel that the most important things I learned, I learned outside school.  They include what a learned about art in general from my life as a kid magician.

I feel I would have learned everything I did learn while in school outside it had I not be forced to go to school.  I more or less knew how to read before kindergarten, although not well-and that was from nursery school!  Our teacher read from a nursery rhyme book to us, pointing to words as she read them.  That was enough for me to read “Hickory Dickory Dock” to my sister on time when we sneaked into the little house where the nursery school’s books were and looked through them.  (We lived next door, as I remember–or very close by if not exactly next door.)

My sister, a year younger than I (5, I guess), accused me of just remembering the rhyme, but I distinctly remember connecting each of my spoken words to the proper printed version of it.  Certainly, I had no trouble reading once “taught” it in school.  I learned arithmetic mainly from my older brother, particularly long division, the staple of my incredibly advanced poetry.  That came from my having been a fanatic fan of baseball and wanting to know about batting averages.  Of course, you could say I still learned it from school, but my brother’s, not mine.

I learned most of algebra when excited enough by it on first exposure to it in high school to read ahead a couple of chapters in our textbook on my own.  By most, I mean its general principles, not anything like all the tricks you need to learn.  I’m convinced, though, that the book would have been enough to teach me as much as I learned in school–and probably would have because of my innate attraction to mathematics.

I also liked just about all my teachers, but the only subject I really liked was physical education–except, beginning in junior high, having to take a shower with the other boys, because I was either the last kid in my class or the second-to-last to reach puberty (at just about exactly the age of 15-and-a-half when, in the bathroom, I learned something weird about my penis–and thought for a little while was wrong with it but kept quiet about until things I’d heard about but didn’t understand clued me in on what was going on).

I think almost no assigned reading got me excited but I have to admit books from the school library, some recommended by a teacher, were important to me–although many became so after I left school.  Individual poems–from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam and Keats, for sure, did excite me as a high school junior or senior.  Definitely not anything by Emily.  I also used the regular public library regularly, and my parents did, too, and bought paperbacks I began reading as a teen-ager: science fiction and mysteries, mostly.

Once stuck in a classroom, I often enjoyed something–for example: making clay models of the Egyptian pyramids (with secret rooms inside), dinosaurs and something boys apparently aren’t allowed to make now: ray guns, one with a straw for shooting others with little clay pellets was my favorite.  There wasn’t too much I really minded about school, except that I wasn’t free the way I was on vacation.  And, the stress of test-taking, which I never adjusted to, even though I just about always did well on them until virtually giving up trying to do well on them at around the age of 17.



Entry 1704 — My Latest SPR Review

January 25th, 2015

Lazy, as usual, I’ve decided to take care of this entry with an example of my reviewing for Small Press Review instead of the piece I said would be here (and, I hope, will be here tomorrow); it’s one I just finished this morning, and think rather fair-minded for me:

Left Curve. No. 38. 2014. 144 pp.
Editor: Csaba Polony. Pa;
http://www.leftcurve.org. $12.

My review of Left Curve will be politically biased.  I’m pro-Israel, for instance, so had trouble its over 20,000 words by Harry Clark, “The End of Modern Jewish History,” which is so far left as to attack Noam Chomsky, famous for his opposition to Israel, and his leftist followers for—finally—not acknowledging Zionism as “the major source of genocide and destruction in western Asia.”  However, if I were editing a book of pro and con essays about Israel, I’d definitely want it in it.

While politics is a part of almost everything in Left Curve, it has non-fiction about a variety of subjects not directly political, like film criticism by Christy Rogers of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, visual art criticism of “Rodochenko & Popova: Defining Constructivism” and by Rahela Mizrahi about the supposed “appropriation of Palestinian Heritage (malignly, of course) by Israeli fine arts (yes, back to Israel).”

Its literary criticism includes some densely Franco-academic stuff by E. San Juan, Jr. about Kafka which I can’t follow well enough to be sure it doesn’t make any sense at all (exaggeration—it veers ridiculously far from sense at times, but makes a few interesting points along the way), what seems to me an idiotic protest of Walt Whitman’s “appropriation of Native American names” by Patrick Cahill; and Robert Buckeye’s discussion of Croatian poet Irena Vrkljan’s Marina; Or, About Biography.  Here’s one snippet from the latter indicating the sort of literary criticism prominent, it seems to me, in all leftist discussions of literature: Marina “constantly interrogates itself (my italics) with a tenacity and relentlessness with which a lawyer questions his witness. It must answer the world to justify its existence.”  I’m referring mainly to its puritanical need to cleanse . . . basically, everything.

Left Curve also features poetry, some of it by two members of the Academy of American Poets, James Skully and Jack Hirshman, as well as short stories and memoirs—one of the latter by Susan Gallymore so artfully self-revealing to capture me fully in spite of its passionate leftism (which Gallymore got me to sympathize with emotionally though not agree with intellectually).

Conclusion: I’d call Left Curve must reading for anyone with a leftward lean politically, and worth trying for anyone leaning right with a serious desire for widening his political knowledge, for the magazine seems notably honest, clear-headed and mostly intelligent in its portrayal of its political curvature.


Entry 1703 — A Question and Some Other Stuff

January 24th, 2015

Has there ever been a quarrel between two people in which one of them was entirely in the right?

* * *

A math poem that is resisting effectiveness (so far!): the sun times wonder, rhyming stairs up to a blazing need to be heroed over equals Zeus. Ah, I will replace the word, “sun,” with color. And “wonder” with “wUnder?”

* * *

Now for a news story I read a little while ago that is most certainly worth a rant. Actually, now that I think of it, I’ve recently read two stories–no, three(!) that are worth rants.

One I read over a week ago.  It was about the local schools’ recent decision to increase the school day by fifteen minutes.  Since I believe the school day should be reduced to zero minutes, except for the parents who want it forced on their unfortunate children, because such parents are unlikely to have children bright enough to be made too miserable by it, I am opposed to this.  On the other hand, I’d not be so against it if those running the show would dare let some random number of kids have a school day shortened by fifteen minutes, with a comparison made between how much they learned and how much the others kids learned at the end of a full years of shortened and lengthened school days.  If there were an intelligent way of measuring how much each kid learned (as opposed to how much each kinds’ ability to do well on tests about moronically small portion of the significant kinds of knowledge their are), I would bet actually money that the kids with the short days would score pretty much the same as the kids with the long days, bit be a lot more happy (or less unhappy) about their time in school.

Note: yes, I’m biased: I have more than once asked myself if there was one day when I was going to school (k-12, I mean) that I looked forward to an upcoming school day.  Of course, my old memory isn’t too accurate, so it may be wrong that there were none whatever.  But there could not possibly have been more than a few.  Oh, actually, I did look forward to all the last days of the school years, and the ones before Christmas and spring breaks.

Note #2: I believe educators, not just locally but throughout the United States, have no idea whatever as to how to determine how much learning the victims of formal education get directly from what they are taught in school.  Otherwise, an interesting research project for sociologists would be to interview a large number of different adults and carry out background checks on them in depth with the goal of determining how much what they genuinely learned from school they used in their vocations.

Needless to say, such a project is ridiculously unfeasible.  It also has the disadvantage of lacking enough adults with little or no formal education to compare with the ones with it.  I claim that, except for those vocations making it against the law for anyone lacking the right formal schooling to practice it, those without the formal education our laws require would be found to be as effective at their vocation as those with  it.

A bit of real-life support for this is the number of persons practicing medicine who don’t get caught because of incompetence but because someone disliking them checks up on where they said they got their degrees from and finds out they never went to college.

Before considering me entirely crazy, remember that I am speaking of formal education.  In order to be effective at any vocation, a person has to learn a great deal.  I merely contend that most people can do this better by something Americans like Edison and Franklin used to be quite good at: self-education.  That means, among other things, finding the right teachers, and getting a lot of on-the-job training, and–even more–off-the-job osmotic absorption of the knowledge the person learns well because he was looking for it, unconsciously or consciously–looking for it because he believed he would find it wonderful, not because his search for it had been assigned.

 * * *

 I didn’t expect to write so much on the first of the stories I read.  The other two, like the first, had to do with the rapidly expanding power of rigidniks in the world.  One concerns a group of scientists who want to “improve” the spelling English words, the way George Bernard Shaw (among others, I’m sure) wanted to.  The other has to do with a local government’s decision to stop subsidizing a visul art gallery.  I’m against all government subsidies, BUT will argue for this one because, not being a moron, I do not believe that I am compelled never to take advantage of some government law because I am opposed in principle to the law.  Why? Because there is a hierarchy of principles for me, and at the top is the principle of doing what in the circum-stances seems best for me.  In this case, if I were living in a free country whose government wanted to use tax money to subsidize poet, I would be against it.  If the government succeeded in passing a law allowing it to subsidize poets and I were offered a subsidy, I would accept it, because I would no longer be living in a free country, and getting money would seem best to me in those circumstances.

A better argument, I now see, is that my principle would actually be of being for government which would not subsidize anything except the few things I believe a government is justified in subsidizing such as a military establishment (and, perhaps, regulation to curb a very few economic practices who probable short term effect would occur too quickly for the sluggish correction of the market to take effect such as pollution of the environment and over-population because of the limited long-term intelligence of the masses, and many who are superior to the masses but unable to say no to a quick profit).  I do not see that my second principle of being also, given a government that grants subsidies, for such a government’s giving subsidies to artists of any kind.  

Another example: I was against the draft, which was in effect when I was a young man, but when (in effect) drafted, I served in the military.  My principle of avoiding hassle or possible imprisonment, trumped my principle of opposition to the draft.

I am in favor of the death penalty for murderers.  Nevertheless, if the government passed a law requiring murderers free room and board in prisons instead of execution, and I murdered someone and were caught, I would not beg to be executed.

If the government decreed that a bridge be built over a river a mile away from a bridge already crossing the river, and I had voted against the construction of the second bridge, I would use it rather than the first bridge when it seemed more convenient to do so.  And so forth.

I’m not sure I made my case that well.  It’s a difficult one to make although I am completely sure I’m right.  I would be extremely grateful to anyone who pointed out in a comment where I went wrong, if I did.  I’ll even promise not to call him a moron.

I think those for the kind of ersatz consistency I’m against would probably tell me I ought not favor making the school days fifteen-minutes than they now are, I should not be for anything other than reduction in the school day’s length to zero.

* * *

Tomorrow, my response to the rigidnikry of regimented spelling of English words, then one one in favor of the subsidy of the visual art gallery.



Entry 1702 — The Three Meaningfulnesses

January 23rd, 2015

“Meaning in life is a matter of meaning to others,” writes Wayne L. Trotta, encapsulating a central view of Philip Kitcher’s Life After Faith in his review of it the February/March 2015 issue of the secular humanist periodical, Free Inquiry.  It seemed an excellent expression of what I’ve recently been writing about our need to matter to others . . . except for one significant thing: it suggests that the only meaning in life is what I’d slightly change to “meaningfulness to others.”  And that reminded me of the liberal compassion that was a subject of one or two recent entries of mine.  It reminded me how tunnel-visionedly liberals (and all secular humanists are wholly liberal) over-value their idea of compassion.

I immediately saw that my life was ruled (as far as I know) by three meaningfulnesses, anthroceptual, reducticeptual and aesthetic meaningfulness, of which the first is the least important.  I would not be surprised if this turned out to be a premature conclusion, but right now I can’t think of any other meaningfulness–for me, at least.  Mere survival is as important as any of the three meaningfulnesses, but not meaningful, just something we have to do.  One might call reproduction biologically meaningful, but I’d call that, and survival, sub-cerebral meaningfulnesses, if meaningfulnesses at all.

There are many different varieties of the three main meaningfulnesses.  Liberal compassion, for instance, is only one kind of anthroceptual meaningfulness, and mathematical meaningfulness just one kind of reducticeptual meaningfulness.  But I would call the final goal of each goodness, truth and beauty.



Entry 1701 — The Elements of Free Verse

January 23rd, 2015

“Imagery, the only prevailing poetic element in modern free verse,” quoth Sarah Ruden, a skilled translator of classical literature in “Back to Tragedy,” an article in the January 2015 issue of The New Criterion.  Others may have said things about poetry more ignorant, but none come to mind.  Ruden is an amiable, knowledgeable writer, so I have to think she just stopped thinking for a moment.  I doubt her editors knew any better.

Imagery is of course one of the many poetic elements in modern free verse (if we consider my own free verse “modern,” as I do), but much more important that imagery is the metaphoric use to which the best poets put it, figurative language being an element of free verse.  As are all the melodational devices of formal verse except regimented rhythm (meter).  Freshness of language and syntactical expression are also elements of all poetry, including free verse.  Infraverbal devices are central to many of the best free verse poems, and–it seems to me–can play a role in formal verse, too.  Then there is the defining poetic element of free verse, expressive lineation, or line-breaks placed where they work best aesthetically rather than where a metrical form requires them to be.  I doubt if Ruden, or David Yezzi, the poetry editor of The New Criterion, are even aware of such things–or of the wide-spread addition of purely visual or purely auditory matter to free verse poems.

Amusingly, these people have almost as much trouble with the American Poetry Establishment as my crowd does, but because the certified poetry of today is beyond them rather than beneath them.



Entry 1700 — A Poem Poem

January 22nd, 2015

Poem, Stuck in an Iowa Workshop Poem

Poem was in an Iowa Workshop Poem,
he wasn’t sure why.
Probably to give his author an outlet
for his feelings about such
and their near-monopoly of
markets paying money
for poems.

He was having trouble staying awake.

For some reason, he thought
of a beach.
It became a particular beach
where, long before he
was born, his father
had been a life guard. The captain
of the lifeguards was my mother’s
older brother.
This was before my father married her.

At this point, a sparrow so small Poem
could hardly see it flew in from
the right and entered his ear.
It was pulling a long long length
of railroad tracks, perhaps a hundred
yards of them. A
tiny locomotive
was on it, coming
along very quickly. Much less than
half the railroad tracks
had disappeared into his head when
the locomotive,
sounding its horn, roared into it.
The rest of the tracks kept coming until
they were all in Poem’s head.

Poem knew about surrealism, how it
was used, generally delicately, to give Iowa
Workshop Poems mystery. Iowa Workshop Poets
firmly believed that
one of their main duties was to
remind their readers that life is a mystery.

Ten minutes later the sparrow
came out of the ear it had
earlier gone into. Still inside Poem’s head, the
locomotive sounded its horn. When it emerged,
it was pulling numerous freight cars loaded with
cattle. Poem felt sorry for them,
but not sorry enough to make the poem he was in
a prize-winner.



Entry 1699 — More Scraps

January 21st, 2015

Scrap #1: Yesterday’s mail included another chapbook from Mark Sonnenfeld, Check Check Done and Done, half of it devoted to poems by Mark and half to poems by Dory L. Williams.  Good reading but one thing in it by Dory L. Williams really knocked me out: to me, it’s an epigram, because a statement of an opinion, so according to my taxonomy a work of informrature.  Be that as it may, it’s as good an epigram as I’ve come across in years, if ever:


If you want fame and money without real
achievement behind it, you’re not greedy enough.

Scrap #2:  After I posted yesterday’s entry, I remembered a central feature of Iowa Workshop Poetry I’d intended to mention before any other, but then forgot: it’s the recognition of the potential of ordinary subject matter for tranfiguringly successful poetry–as in Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow,” and in all the best haiku.   I am all for ordinary subject matter . . . but it can’t do much unless connected to archetypal matter one needs to be in one’s magniceptual awareness to be able to employ.  Williams’s poem is, finally, not about a wheelbarrow anywhere near as much as it is about Beauty.

Lesson for poets: keep explicit abstracts and generalities out of your poems as Ezra tells you to, but build you poems on them as I tell you to.  This, incidentally, you don’t necessarily have to consciously strive for, but you must be able to recognize when something worthily archetypal begins to show under your poem’s words so as to strengthen those words’ connection to it–and/or weaken the visibility of their path to it.  The archetypal foundation of the best poems is much more often understood in their engagents’ marrow long before it’s dealt with the reasoning parts of their higher faculties, if it ever is.  (Few poets have very large reducticeptual awarenesses or scienceptual awareness, which are where analysis is carried out.)

Possibly more important than the connection to the archetypal is the technique, the freshness of the technique employed to make that connection, which is usually metaphorical.

I’m just repeating old thoughts of mine, disorganizedly.   Jus’ tryin’ to make it through another blog entry.


Entry 1698 — Scraps of Possible Brilliance

January 20th, 2015

Scrap #1: while I was idly thinking about my theory of knowlecular psychology’s main flaw, that it is a cluster of invented mechanisms with little known neurophysiological basis, like Freud’s subconscious, id, ego, etc. ,  it occurred to me that the two main ways of doing science, theory-spinning and empiricism, can be thought of as  striving for a maximally-plausible explanation of known events (theory-spinning) versus striving for a maximally-accurate description of unknown events (empiricism).   Wanting to know what in the brain causes a person to remember his fourth-grade teacher versus what results from the activation of a given brain-cell.  Theorizing from result to possible cause versus physically searching from cause to possible result.

Scrap #2: Scrap #1 indicates how long it can take a fairly competent brain to turn what seems to it an idea of more than small interest badly expressed into what seems a trivial idea better expressed, in this case: The two main ways of doing science are theoretical science, which is the full use of the imagination to theorize one’s way from event to possible cause, and empirical science, which is the minimal use of the imagination to physically explore one’s way from event to possible result.

Scrap #3: Scrap # 2 may be a lie . . . no,make that, “unintentionally inaccurate statement.”

Scrap #4 (something about poeticks!): For the past two or three years I’ve been reading a lot of mainstream poetry and reviewing it for Small Press Review.  I have genuinely liked twenty or thirty percent of it, and found almost all the rest of it passable, just not to my taste.  Only a few times has a mainstream poem made me bubble o’er with delight, however.  Why?  Because, however snowflake-unique they are, the differences between them come to seem barely noticeable.

Now I’m talking about a kind of poem that has dominated the mainstream for fifty years or so but which may not be the only kind of mainstream poem, the one often called the Iowa Workshop Poem.

Background Scraps:

The Iowa Writers’ Workshop is a two-year residency program which culminates in the submission of a creative thesis (a novel, a collection of stories, or a book of poetry) and the awarding of a Master of Fine Arts degree.

For more than 75 years emerging writers have come to Iowa City to work on their manuscripts and to exchange ideas about writing and reading with each other and with the faculty. Many of them have gone on to publish award-winning work after graduating. With the spirit of an arts colony and the benefits of the research University of which we are a part, the Writers’ Workshop continues to foster and to celebrate American literature in all its varied forms.  (Note: by “all its varied forms” is clearly meant, poem, novel, play, short story, etc., nothing more specific, like “visual poem,” which it may begin”to foster and celebrate” in another 75 years.)

This program either was the first to grant MFAs in poetry, or central to the academic, then socio-economic success, of them–to the benefit of mediocrities and cost of their superiors in the field.

Scrap #5: Actually, for possibly twenty years, jump-cut poetry under the misleading pseudonym of “language poetry” has been acadominant, which is to say that it has become the most prestigious kind of poetry in academia.  Its practitioners have won more than enough prizes and positions for it to now be considered one of the mainstream poetries.  But it doesn’t get into any of the mainstream publications I’ve been reviewing–well, except for token appearances in Poetry and the like–and is not reviewed by mainstream critics like William Logan (unless you count poets like Jorie Graham and John Ashbery “language poets,” as some do).

Scrap #6: My problem, in any case, is with Iowa Workshop Poetry.  Writing these scraps, I suddenly see that much of it, curiously, is due to my preference for theoretical science to empirical science, for it is almost entirely a kind of empirical poetry, carried out mainly in a poet’s practiceptual awareness, and never, it would seem, in the higher regions of the poet’s magniceptual awareness.  (And just as many more science professionals are empirical workers, not theoretical thinkers–although the most gifted of the former sometimes make just as important discoveries, many more poets are MFA poets, not otherstream–i.e., adventurous–poets.)

The poets I’m speaking of are more than anything else, personal poets telling us about their lives and the real world around them, in easy to understand language.  Personality and point-of-view are important for them, not technique.  Their poetry is basically conversation.  You empathize with them or you don’t, you agree with them or you don’t.  Little else matters.

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I’m sure I had more to say about Iowa Workshop Poetry, but my head has gone blank.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll remember enough of it for an entry.