Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Brian Fawcett (Part Five)

Thanks to editor Zach Wells for the organization of the Jailbreaks book launch last night, and to him and other contributors and readers. The volume is attractive, the poems I've read so far are various and fascinating, and the idea is an excellent one: I've always enjoyed a good sonnet, and the choices and evolutions in this book are well-researched and worthy.


"In 1970, such ostensibly technical and mundane insights didn’t seem like something I could transform into poetry, while chewing the cosmic and/or human scenery did." -- Brian Fawcett

Why the silly need to choose one over the other?


"Too bad. If I’d pursued some of the practical messages that episode tried to deliver to (or was it from?) my teeming brain, I might have produced a piece of readable writing." --Brian Fawcett

Ahh, yes, "practical messages". And that's what poetry is all about, no? A tidy moral. A ten-step rule of "right living". A way of "getting ahead" and doing something "serious" with one's life.

There are a lot of fuck-ups in the history of world poetry, fuck-ups who wrote timeless lines without which the world would be a lot sorrier place in which to schlepp around. Dentists, economic advisors, peak oil grass roots organizers, horse racing analysts, and spiritual adepts, and others, give me needed and valuable insights, but they would be the first to admit they know shit about poetry.

The "bigger" his statement is, the worse it gets.


"This time, I did get the implicit lesson: It is what people accept as authentic that matters, not how the authenticity is produced."--Brian Fawcett.

Bullshit. People accept all sorts of crazy things, en masse, as authentic: organized religion; white bread; TV commercials selling cars where the model couple, smiling suggestively to one another, glide over a mountain pass while eagles dive athwart the golden shafts of the setting sun as reflected from the inside of the side windows.

The "how" is everything. If someone tells me something, what does it matter if it's not an organic and deep realization already encoded in their spiritual DNA? If someone else can create something ( a poem, a meal, a table, a worthy gathering) through a mysterious and artful process of accumulated careful understanding, then that's what matters. I want an intuitive authority (not authoritarianism, which is completely different), not a rule-setting, facile declaimer.


"Too bad it didn’t occur to me to apply this to writing poetry or to my personal life, because it pointed straight at my best talents as a writer and as a human being: I was and remain a late-in-the-game fabricator of apparently inappropriate and disparate materials, a rectifier—partially and perhaps inexactly—of major foul-ups, fuck-ups, errors-in-judgment, slapstick mistakes, and so forth." --Brian Fawcett.

Great. Self-knowledge. But now he wants it both ways. Or, rather, he's negating everything he said originally about the "narcissism of the lyric mode", because he's still concentrating on himself, only in a different way: rather than a loopy romantic, he'll be an "objective reporter". That it's regarding his learned life lessons means nothing: the focus is still on him, so where's the new, supposedly superior focus on something "bigger" than the personal?


"I don’t foresee the future any better than John Naismith, Charles Olson, or NORAD and CNN, but then art and artists are with us to let us know what’s on the end of those forks we’re putting in our mouths, not to predict the future."--Brian Fawcett.

More gross misunderstanding.

Poetry lets us know what we're currectly ingesting (and digesting) as well as what the future will be like. The prophetic force is a major and serious value of high poetry. It's often pooh-poohed, but it's not as high-falutin' as it always appears to the superficially-minded: poetry (and other arts, done well), in intuiting what is happening now, therefore by definition understands what will happen in the future, since what we do today is planting the proverbial specific seeds. When I say "what will happen in the future", I don't mean predicting certain, exact events, but a broad outline or paradigm, if you will, where those events will be a natural match waiting to fire with the inevitable sulphuric trigger points.

But, Fawcett, despite his "big picture" focus, seems content to rehash his boring beach "farce" for the un-universal non-appeal of his readers.


"What art—alone of all the human mental crafts—does well is what I managed to do that day: read a messy situation and act on it accurately enough to bring some small part of it, alive, laughing and whole, through to the other side of the ongoing fuck-up called the human condition. For posterity, or for itself, or for the sheer joy of the human dance. Doesn’t matter."--Brian Fawcett.

Well, here's something, finally, I agree with. Let's end it (for the eve) with a "Kum-baya, my Lord!" Can I get an amen?

Part Six to follow .....

Monday, April 28, 2008

Brian Fawcett (Part Four)

"The insights I might have gleaned from the slapstick had profound (and for me, permanently relevant) implications: They are, from the specific to the general: 1.) If one is going out into the big world to make the world’s first quadraphonic audio taping of surf, one ought to take some competent technicians along if one doesn’t want to risk a.) catastrophic failure and b.) the destruction of expensive equipment;" --Brian Fawcett.

The fable is a little unclear: writing depends on the knowledge of successful antecedents? (Good.) Or technicians in the way of writing content are not only preferable to, but make laughingly irrelevant, the enthusiasms of "emotional" impetus? (Nonsense.)


"2.) The tides are caused by the moon’s gravity, not by ours;"--Brian Fawcett.

Since this terse edict is the header for the essay, I would assume it has particular import for its author. Let's explore it, then, in some detail.

Don't fight nature. It can be terrifying, dwarfing human pretention, powerful in its indifference to human desire. This is how I translate it in less oblique fashion.

So how does this relate to what he's previously written on modern poetry, his own efforts as well as the relevance and effect of poetry on the reader of today?

And it's here where I have to bring up the common analagous fallacy, hard to recognize if one is impressed with the associative leaps (ala poetic shaping). His long insertion of the "slapstick" failure of recording sound on the beach (left out of quotes here, but available on the link in part one of this on my blog) is supposed to impress upon us the futility of an earnest overreaching of personal, emotional investment in the object of our focus. Of course, in and of itself, this is nonsense. Emotional involvement is the sine qua non of poetry. Without it, it becomes ...... well, an essay. A prose arguement. A logical, detached elevated perusal of the object (or issue, to be more exact). There is nothing wrong with detaching oneself from the object in poetry (if an "object" or person can be said to be the sole focus), but in order for the detachment to have contrasting meaning, there first has to be a concern, a desire-- an attachment (unless you're a "spiritual" writer. But, then, what's the point of writing poetry when everything is in equanimous agreement?). Fawcett sets up a fallacious analagous anecdote, and then strikes at the ghostly strawman. One can write objective and subjective poetry (realizing that there's a large measure of subjectivity in all of it).


"3.)Don’t run in the surf if you’re not prepared to get wet;"-- Brian Fawcett.

Don't publish poetry if you're afraid of being that masturbator on the busy street corner whom no one notices.


"4.) Don’t be stargazing unless you’re in a warm, dry location;" --Brian Fawcett.

Don't show emotion and idealism unless you're prepared for turmoil and suffering.

Can one get any more patronizing?


"5.) There is more safety in foresight and planning than in trusting to technology."--Brian Fawcett.

And how does this relate to poetic composition? There is more effort, planning, reworking, and technical knowhow and employment in the creation of a good (lyric) poem than there is in the essayistic obtuseness of what passes for "important" thematic salvos and ponderous pulpit-pounding.

Part Five to follow ....

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Brian Fawcett (Part Three)

"But it wasn’t until I said I was going to take a ten year raincheck on the business of publishing poetry, and then made a deadly serious proposition that other poets do likewise, that I got myself into serious trouble." -- Brian Fawcett.

So the publishing or performance or communal sharing of poetry can easily be preordered to conform to a (dubious) goal, whatever the motivation. It reminds me of those earnest scribblers who maintain the opposite pact with their anti-Muse, the workmanlike teeth-gritting setting-down of lines every single day for ten (or more) years into complete "poems" in order to keep the sensibilities alive. At least I can sympathize with the latter; but what, other than arrogance and a kind of petulant self-righteousness, is the reason for promising to forego any public poetry for any length of time? It results from a reverse "look at me" emotional reaction.

But, really, what can one say of someone who has the out-of-touch arrogance to also propose that other poets do likewise? Brian, if you want to be a martyr or spokesman for the "anti-lyric" age, you're free. Others have good reasons to fight the forces of published superficial factoids, however. And I know of no better way this can be done than by the crafted, imaginative powers of good poetry. The lyric mode has always been the predominant one, and (in a good or great poetic age) always will be.


"The business I was making sport of, you see, really is a biz, within which moderately lucrative and very secure teaching careers can be wrought, money made, and absurd quantities of over-distilled self regard bottled for the decline. Entrepreneurs even leave their silver trails across the walls and ceilings of the temples of contemporary verse, just like in the real world." --Brian Fawcett.

He has it backwards, of course. Academics first secure their teaching careers, gain tenure, and then proceed to indulge in their poetic "vice". They make their sponduliks from teaching, and although a poetic "impression" and track record certainly helps with the creative writing industry, most academics have initial careers in teaching, no different in enumeration or process than a poetic non-practitioner.

And I have to give an offhand subdued chuckle at the assertion of poetic "entrepreneurs" greasing their pockets with filthy lucre. It's a poor career choice to invest the necessary time and
effort towards the writing, promoting, and performing of one's own poetry (not to mention the endless reading of others' verse, and the organic human connections made) if the focus is the gathering of fast loonies.


"When the essay was published, "the Biz" simply disappeared me. I can’t recall a single publishing poet who has acknowledged the existence of that essay since it was published, and only one or two academics who have gone beyond rolling their eyes and tsk, tsking me about it." --Brian Fawcett.

Could be they were annoyed at your not "playing the game". Or it could have been that your reasoning lacks proportion, nuance, and personal credibility, (as I've already suggested), and that those few who did read your essay responded in kind.


"I got on with my writing life. I’d pretty much mined out my youthful lyric vein anyway, and had already begun the process of learning that human life is not quite about my feelings—and that the "I" part of it was the one I have the least shot at articulating accurately. The years started passing, swiftly and pretty happily, and I ended up in different parts of the geographical, human and literary universes." --Brian Fawcett.

I see. Lyrical poetry somehow equates to a selfish interest in the workings of one's own tortured soul. It's non-transcendent, then, by nature. The personal never meets the universal, and the personal "I' in the poem is always (and exclusively) the I of the poet. I'm glad that's been illuminated for me. I hope others are reading, as well. The information on the poetic process in this essay is necessary and educative. Too bad Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, Robert Lowell, Philip Larkin, and many other "personal obsessives" hadn't come across these words before their untimely demises. We might have been spared the lyrical irrelevance of such pieces as "A Severed Head", "Dockery And Son", and the like.


"I’d been in my late 20s when I wrote those poems, and it hadn’t been a happy time for me. I’d begun to get a dark inkling that my first wife and I might not make it, and that neither would a lot of other things that had once seemed pure and sure. This quite naturally got into the poems I wrote, and it made them embarrassingly personal and coded, whiny elegiacs of how hard and complicated adult life was. I should have been making thorough and precise registrations of the things around me or trying to figure out what I might be able to do to save my marriage and make my life more satisfying and interesting. Alas, I was more compelled by the Virgilian gloom I detected at the edges of everything, and I couldn’t see that most of it was emanating from inside my own dopey head." --Brian Fawcett.

This is confusing the (agreed) self-indulgent outpourings of emotivity (not emotion) for the shaping of nuanced and meaningful verse, often reflective, mature, and revelatory for more than the elliptical situation of the writer. The latter can turn out to be timeless poetry; more examples are legion -- and superfluous.

It's obvious, though, that Fawcett has a mixed stated emotional response to the rereading of his earlier verse: he can't help but give a muted congratulatory kudo or three for his "technical brilliance" (how very Canadian-- the "muted" modifier, that is); but he also groans at any emotion which is personal, and doesn't amplify itself with the more "serious" concerns of how it's supposedly shaped by society, by one or more communal belief systems, and by intermeshed world politics. This blather is the rampant Atwoodian nonsense: in her theme-polemic Survival, the macro arguement is historical Canadian literature; in Fawcett it tends to be provincial news-headline politics, where his "victims" are chess pieces to be queened off the board. But poetry, as anyone with a small sampling of grey-matter perspective can conclude, has to do with idiosyncratic detail, with people who emote with disdainful off-the-tracks sparks towards anything suggesting "theme", "positional historicity", "political metaphor", and "colonial hardwiring".

It's entirely possible (and commonplace) to write of "big themes" in a bland and illegitimate way, also from "inside [one's] own dopey head".

Part Four to follow ....

Friday, April 18, 2008

Brian Fawcett (Cont'd)

(Continued from yesterday)

"I allowed that I was intellectually embarrassed by the lack of rigor in contemporary verse manufacture, including my own, and that I wanted to do a kind of writing that had some degree of affective influence on things, indirect or direct. Until I could produce the kind of verse in which the investigative rather than the self-revelatory elements were in the forefront, I’d desist from further public waste of paper and public attention and would inflict no more unwanted poesy on sleepy audiences."--Brian Fawcett

This is staggering in its naivety of how ideas are accorded respect, if not seminal stature, amongst individuals, never mind "society at large". So many things to say. Where to start ....

The self-described "subtle and technically elaborate lyrical poems" of his have now been endowed with a "lack of rigor". Is he separating form and content completely here (if that were even possible, as a misinformed basis for discussion)? Is he positing that form is irrelevant, and that prosaic content is all that matters? Because from previous enthusiasms, and his take on what sells (oops, I mean what the public is tuned into), a "message" or cultural, wordy and worldly, dialogue is what he's after and into. What is this "investigative" verse he mentions? Vague, either disingenous in setting out, or in honest confusion of how to go about it. But it's clear he has a fundamental misunderstanding of what constitutes worthy verse, never mind lasting poetry. If Fawcett wants to do "investigative" writing, fine. But call it what it is: journalism.

He even states it more plainly: "I wanted to do a kind of writing that had some degree of effective influence on things, indirect or direct". I stare at that statement with incredulity. What does "influencing" people mean? Is it setting forth an overt political statement? Exposing certain cultural misdeeds? Reportage of social injustice? All worthy endeavours if done in the right spirit, and with a high level of accomplished writing. But that is only one level of influence. Another level is much more subtle, fundamental, and powerful. It is the kind of core "influence" which sets the tone for what he lauds, which is mere opinion based on fact-gathering, acknowledgment of newsworthy shifts, and because it can't be objectively, effectively, and accurately measured, Fawcett has little patience for it (even if he admits, or is aware, of its importance, not entirely a given).

Poetry operates on this more subtle and powerful "statement". It's often oblique, ambivalent, ambiguous, complex, metaphorical, suggestive, allusive, allegorical, and open-ended. It often has no pretention or intention of "making a statement". Often, the author is not even clear on a definitive "meaning". And that's just fine. But Fawcett is not only impatient with this approach: he is also dismissive of it, despite his obligatory high-toned "defense" of poetry.

The "sleepy audiences" Fawcett notes at his readings happen for many reasons he doesn't seem to imagine. As noted before, maybe the audience is uninterested in HIS poetry, but enamoured of poetry in general. After all, the audience for it is small, and there's little cultural "buzz" or selling of it to convince the marketable masses, so many of those who venture out to readings must already have some pull towards poetry, even if not aware of Fawcett's own work. And if they are aware of him, perhaps a few actually do like his poetry somewhat. Is it possible that he's unaware of how interest, if not wild desire, works? I've already mentioned how I was taken by my first experience of his reading the butterfly/Congo poem. Subsequently, I found the poems wanting, but the opposite is also often the case: a reader may appear to be sleeping, and then be awakened in his actual sleep later that night by a line he or she heard from the poet, and then proceed to investigate the work further. "Sleeping" can be a direct compliment, at times: one can be heavily caught up, rapt with fascination, with the present altered world that the poet is creating. It appears as if that one is "uninterested" when the opposite is true.

I suppose it all comes down to book sales. Fawcett finally wised up, and found out that, with the anomalies of a few crossover "stars" in other genres, ALL poetry sells little in this country. He even states a major reason for it: the lyrical approach has been supplanted by the exponential distractions of modern culture. Whereas the highly discernible see this as a further reason for the worthiness of good poetry, Fawcett throws up his hands and joins the other camp, all the while wanting to regurgitate the cake and eat it again by defending a confused sort of "artistic" alternate approach to tap into the shrinking attention spans of the "marketplace". Bah.


(cont'd again later)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Brian Fawcett

Brian's turned off the poetic tap. I just came across this essay scribed quite some time ago. It's a melange of self-importance, muddled "grand statement", pomposity, and patronizing twaddle.

The link is

I first became acquainted with Fawcett's verse at a public reading in '82 or '83. There were the usual Vancouver poetry scene suspects of the time: bissett, Persky, too many others I've forgotten, as well as the only two bright spots: Norm Sibum, and an interesting poem about the author instructing his young son to release a butterfly while meditating on the widespread slaughter in the Congo war. The reader: Brian Fawcett. I have no idea, now, if the emotion was sentimental or profound, or whether the poem was moderately pleasing in its form. But I went out and bought the book in which it was encased:Aggressive Transport. The poems therein, as it turns out, were your standard contemporary fare: mildly interesting anecdotes with occasional telegraphed philosophy, and no discernible rhythmic individuality or verbal flare. After a few rereads, I promptly remaindered it at the bottom of a box where it sat, obscured and forgotten, during a series of moves.

Which brings us up to this article.

"In the early 1980s, after 15 years of publishing reasonably subtle and technically elaborate lyric poems in magazines and books that no one read, I woke up one morning to the unpleasant truth that publishing my lyric poetry in the late 20th century was equivalent to playing with my dick on a busy street corner—and having everyone ignore me. The insight was humiliating enough that I decided to stop publishing my verse and to stop giving public readings of it. I haven’t published a poem since, or at least I haven’t crossed the street to do so." -- Brian Fawcett.

Well, that's a plump handful, isn't it? Let's tiptoe through the minefield of assumptions and hilarious symbolism to try to make sense of it.

"Reasonably subtle and technically elaborate lyric poems" is highly subjective. Poets are usually the worst judges of their own poetry, often inflating their own self-worth (ah, so sorry, I mean the worth of the poems). This is why it is so wonderful to have an instant, as well as a longer-standing and considered, assessment from all sorts of people, who experience the verse at a reading as well as between the covers of a book, to compare and contrast it with what they already enjoy, as well as to be delighted (or not) with any originality which has no reference. Of course there are poets who are "misunderstood" as well as misunderstood, but time is the greatest judge. Ranking is often a mug's game, even though it's a necessary one. I'm spinning off-topic here, but any poet who quits a craft he's been working at for fifteen years and seven books simply because the audience was "unreceptive" to it is telling me that he's in it for fame, for a large following (which amounts to the same thing), and for power by way of influencing a sizeable chunk of the populace, usually with an ideology.

The "dick playing" analogy is too tempting to pass comment on, and I never pretend to be above salivating over a soft, fat slowball down the middle of the plate. Perhaps it's accurate in that: no one noticed because his dick is small? playing with one's dick in public is equivalent to giving a shamefully poor reading of good verse, a good reading of embarassing verse, or a poor reading of bad verse? or, it WAS fascinating for a small number of people, but dick-playing, like reading the same poem over and over, is only amusing for a short period of time? or, fourthly, that it's a poor analogy because passing strangers on a street corner means there's no pressing connection, no rub for the other in staying and making acquaintance, whereas at a poetry reading, there is often a common bond of artistic appreciation even if the audience, en masse, is unfamiliar with the poet.

Of course, another blindingly obvious reason for an audience ignoring one's (his) work is this: perhaps they're right to do so because the poems suck, or at least don't attract stimulating purchase on the imaginations of busy people who, justifiably, have many other competing fascinations from which to choose, and become obsessed with. Another simple and overlooked reason is provided by Fawcett himself, though he doesn't seem to be able to make the connection. (It appears later in the long essay, so I'll deal with it later.)


"There was nothing tragic in this. Ceasing to publish verse didn’t profoundly affect the quality of my life, spiritual or otherwise. My heart didn’t break, the Muses didn’t torment my sleep, nor did I slip off my edge of the so-called real world because I stopped mumbling short-line sentences to small, close-to-comatose audiences. Actually, it was more like coming up with the right insight at the right time, even if the insight had been clubbing me over the head for years." -- Brian Fawcett.

And "the right insight" is what, exactly? To Fawcett, no one reads his poetry, so he takes his ball and goes home. What, then, is the purpose of writing poetry? (In another essay, he gives six specific reasons for writing in general, in typical unintentionally funny, condescending and pompous declaratives. It reminds me of D H Lawrence's takedown of the schoolmarmish moral prescriptions of Benjamin Franklin., the latter who loved to corral the messiness and complexity of life in a tight, rule-bound list of solemn order.) I must have been mistaken; I thought that people wrote poetry because they enjoyed it, and in the case of those who published seven books over a decade-and-a-half, because they were even obsessed and driven to do so. It's clear, now, that this is wrongheaded. Plainly, one writes to further an agenda, to curry favour with a community, to scramble to the top of "the competitive shitpile" (to use Irving Layton's memorable phrase, in a different and ironic context, from the preface to his Collected Poems.)


"When I stopped being a poet, I was able to make a relatively smooth transition to being a writer, one who produced big, long sentences that turned into paragraphs and pages of prose quite easily. Soon I was writing heavily revised books, some of it fiction, but more often the metaphor-laced philosophical speculations and cultural or political commentary that had always been my secret passion. I had a lot in my mind, and a lot on it. Ceasing to publish poems opened up the length, breadth and the depths of the world to write about, and I wrote energetically and often. For a decade, I continued to write verse in private, but in steadily decreasing quantities and with a gradual but relentless decay in the attentions that provoke occasional verse. I kept thinking about that street corner, I guess." -- Brian Fawcett.

Well, things are becoming clearer. An influential impact can be made, but one must know one's desires and talents. Fawcett realized that he has a prosaic, journalistic mind, not a poetic one. No crime there. Most would identify with that. Again, though, it's up to the reader to fill in the spaces between words on the screen with the equivalent unvoiced emotions.

But isn't that last short sentence revealing? He's back playing with himself on "that street corner". The shame of having no one whom he can sufficiently influence, or rather in numbers which are insufficient to him. Because this entire matter of an audience, of accepted influential mien, of cultural cachet, is, to me, one of a personal, idiosyncratic lack, a subjective transference of passive ego onto an optative received communal glorification. If one is writing for numbers, for popular approval, even for the esteem of one's peers, certainly there are other, much better avenues than poetry, with its insular, tree-falling-in-a-forest, trade. Fawcett knew exactly why he quit publishing poetry. He's just being disingenuous. But more on that later, as he grows increasingly "macro" in his argument, elevating dubious ambition into a rude metaphysic.


"Several years after I stopped publishing verse, somewhere near the mid 1980s, I accepted an invitation from Ottawa trouble-maker and editor John Metcalfe to write an essay for one of his critical anthologies about why I’d stopped publishing verse. I wrote 3000 words on my Apple II+ within a few hours of Metcalfe’s invitation, then rethought and rejigged it fifteen or twenty times. Before long, I had a version of my street-corner trauma dressed up in the ideas that had been swirling around it, and I’d become a writer who, for the first time, felt productive rather than merely sensitive." -- Brian Fawcett.

Aha, the false dichotomies begin. Being "sensitive" is anathema to being "productive". The ersatz romanticism of the busy-bee typer, hammering the keys for an ever-widening word-count, interacting in purposeful dialogue with his reader, both eager to transcend the "feckless emotion" of the poet.


"The essay started by suggesting that verse has become a technically obsolete art form that new media has recently rendered culturally and cognitively incomprehensible to most people." -- Brian Fawcett.

One hardly knows whether to laugh or weep at this abominable statement. New media, as in fast media, exciting (and even creating) the surface reactions of unreflective mouth-breathers, as well as distracting the more thoughful of the species, away from the contemplative arts of reading, thinking, conversing, and writing. What else is this but a shameful apologia for the inundation of TV, music videos, one-week movie blitzes, cell phone jingles, text "holla" junk messaging, superficial computer link-mazes, junk newspapers and mags, commercial intrusion, and artless communication (inevitably) of the heart. Pandering to our distracted realities, Fawcett, out of either a cynical alignment with the cult of commercialism he rails against, or out of a resigned and defeated shrug, becomes another entry-point in the fifteen minute notoriety stakes, with topical footnotes on society, on politics, on "lifestyle".


"I went a long way out of my way to diss both the publishing apparatus behind its publication in Canada—along with the self-expression industry that has built itself around verse everywhere—as the product of feckless neurotics, incompetent exhibitionists, lazy, grant-sucking publishers and cyber-capitalist opiates too numerous and loathsome to name." --Brian Fawcett.

OK, lots to like there, though how it incorporates his personal involvement in poetry is, as yet, unclear.


"But I wasn’t completely bloody-minded in my condemnations. I made what felt like a slightly cute distinction between verse-making and poetry, then announced that I believed that poetry remained "the most profound manifestation of human imagination that exists, and …one of the most powerful tools human intelligence has ever devised—the act from which nearly all civilized behaviors have derived." The polemical altitude I reached with that zinger made me feel giddy, but I wanted to go higher before I sent everything crashing down to the level of common sense. So I shifted ground, rustled my priestly cassock, rubbed my hands along the edges of the pulpit, and murmured that I couldn’t "imagine living a life that does not have poetry somewhere near its centre." -- Brian Fawcett.

Bravo, Brian! Shelley would be proud, though perhaps not so self-congratulatory. After all, poetry has survived without your defense long before you were a star in the firmament of your father's cornea. It makes me wonder, again, though, as to your departure from this exacting and triumphal art, especially after writing many books of "technically elaborate" lyrics.


"After adding that that fewer people now read poetry than write it and that publication has become either a sour academic sport or a semi-obligatory response to the availability of government publishing subsidies, I concluded that I couldn’t see any acceptable reason for continuing to publish verse."-- Brian Fawcett.

I don't understand this. This is either disingenuous reactive sourness, or whiny defeatism. Did Whitman have an immediate and enthusiastic audience? Donne? Dickenson? And why stop at "precious" poetry? Even Beethoven, at the height of his powers, notoriety, and influence, couldn't get an ensemble or audience for his incomparable late string quartets, sounds which have (now) often been called the pinnacle of Western music. Shostakovich had to hide his Symphony #4 in his desk for twenty years (wisely), or else he would have been executed on Stalin's orders. So the fickle winds of the publishing climate blow from Erato's quarters to the frenzied newsroom and computer-jazzed culti-bytes. The obvious decision: blow with them. (Paul reveres: "The skittish are coming! The skittish are coming!")


(to be cont'd)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Popular Blogs
Discovered this through bookninja (thanks to George Murray) regarding getting a book deal through attracting the attention of publishers scouring the tech ether for product.

I read the first five posts of the site author (the comments section runs from 500 - 800 entries, typically), and can see what the popularity is about: he hits all the cultural hot-topic buttons: hip or wannabe hip "white" folks (substitute "middle-class") showing their coolness and commercial greed (while covering it with moral alternative choice) by attaching to here-today-gone-tomorrow trends, all as receivers of cultural envy and as assuagers of self-guilt.

The intriguing presentation of the author is that the latest trend is depicted by an anonymous smug and superior interviewer/prosecutor, and in which the target of the cultural hypocrisy is punctured by a winking moral elevation. He deflates his own smugness, thus wanting to have his cake while also slobbering over it, as a means to say "I'm implicated" (ironically and hypocritically, in my opinion) when he brings up his own inclusion into this "trend" by announcing the book deal.

He has an endless unfolding present and future industry going here, since mass-media-stimulated ephemeral cultural desires engender exponentially their own success in a psychologically familiar process of "more diversion, then more still to cover the insatiable dissatisfaction".

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Giller Prize Judges

The Giller Prize judges have just been announced, and one of the three is Liberal MP Bob Rae?


Sounds like it's ripe for some usual political backroom deals. Maybe Lib-friendly advertisers could get involved (shades of AdScam?), and an Oprah sticker could be slapped on before Rae settles into his mahogany couch to wrestle with reams of metaphors. Call it a tie-breaking "helper".

Friday, April 4, 2008

Shhhh!!!! Church Is In Service


(After Tim Lilburn, while shining my halo)

The deer, folding, and folding, like nippled accordions growing bismuth
Shadows clear under declensions of John Stuart Mill's laborious
Forehead .... ahh! Fistfulls of elm shavings.
The Light of the fields, Light of the fields, Light of the fields,
The phlox flummoxed in mossy willows, down, down,
Gemstrewn sky under I ache, moon filtertipped and smoking a bangle.
Hooded wasp, hay-fevered river, we submit, low sounds, say no more,
Under earth's dark limestone, Augustine sleeping by the tree's knees,
Laxative oblations propositioning, prepositioning the willow's sad hauteur.

Deer offal.
Awful light.
Worm swim.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Not Yet Turning The Page

Blue day, and I don't mean the sky. Two hours of dental surgery, eleven hundred dollars lighter in the pocket (no dental plan since I'm self-employed) and thoughts of my mother throughout. She would have been eighty-nine today. I wrote this last year:

MAMIE PALMU 1919-2006

You're already air.

Skin and bone housing
Flicking gusts of sound.

"I love you.
You'll always be helped."

Outside the dirty pane
A robust crow alights
On the denuded elm's
Smoky stump, and picks
Its breast clean of snow
Falling in fat flakes
Amongst the winged folds
As if agitating flow
(O cruel illusion)
Through your black and purple feet.

And when I look back,
Sudden as a dreamstop,
Your breath faint as smoke,
The crow is gone,
But in my mind
A hawk devours
A butcherbird
And lifts its song through
Gravitational flakes
In devolving circles
Till, a black dot,
It disappears.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Robert Lowell's "Streamers: 1970"


The London windows bloomed with Christmas streamers
twenty-five days before their Christmas Day
I will not see if I can reach New York;
but I was divorced from my passport --
"The Home Office can't keep your passport, it isn't theirs,
it isn't yours even, it's God's, or Nixon's."
Everything gets lost in life's strip-tease --
who stripped for the guards at Auschwitz? They caught whores
good Germans, and married them themselves for Hitler --
one would assume those marriages were consummated;
who'd marry a whore to read 'Mein Kampf' in bed?
After the weddings they packed the wives in planes;
altitude gained, the girls were pushed outdoors --
their parachutes their streaming bridal veils.


Most critics disparage Lowell's later oeuvre, especially the blank verse sonnet five-iambics of "History", "For Lizzie and Harriet", and "The Dolphin", for being unfocussed and unmemorable. I strongly disagree. The images are (for the most part)just as breathtaking, bold, unique, internally resonant, and politically apt as anything he had previously produced. Though my fave Lowell volume is "For The Union Dead", which is studded with many remarkable efforts, "History" in particular is filled with highlights, the above poem just one gem in a neglected mine.

The way Lowell contrasts -- and resolves -- the opening two lines with the last two is stunning. And only Lowell could dare (and succeed at) a seemingly diversionary aside in the tight strictures of the sonnet. Of course, as it turns out, it's not diversionary at all: the absurdity of the lost passport becomes the horrific absurdity (in different circumstances, but with the same evil negligence and unconcern) of "wrong identity" in the world of the Third Reich.

Lowell is my favourite American poet, and in my subjective mind the best American poet. Laughed at by the Beats for being square, by Donald Hall for being a lugubrious manic-depressive, and by Robert Bly for being willfully violent in verse (but Bly always confuses the role of the poet with that of the saint), he nevertheless dwarfed his detractors' poetic efforts, as well as refuting their poetics with deathless lines.