The bloodhounds have miss’d the scent of her way,
The hunter is rif’led and foiled of his pray,
The cursing of men and clanking of chains
Make sounds of strange discord on Liberty’s plains.
Oh! Poverty, danger and death she can brave,
For the child of her love is no longer a slave.
From “She’s Free!” from Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911) LINK?
Harper wrote antislavery verses and gave many lectures and sermons before and after the Civil War. She wrote a prolific seven volumes of poetry and her novel Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted was the best-selling 19th Century novel by an African American writer. She's also the first poet I want to investigate further from these cards.
From “Auguries of Innocence” by William Blake (1757-1827)
Blake, the infamous poet/printer/painter, was “bereaved” by the “cult of reason” which he said was a big bummer to imaginative thinking. You can’t have both? This particular poem is a treaty against cruelty to animals.
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.
“The Force That Through the green Fuse Drives the Flower” by the long-title guy, Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)
This poem is from one of his teenage notebooks. Another quote from the same poem, “Each image holds within it the seed of its own destruction…Out of the inevitable conflict of images, I try to make that momentary peace which is a poem.” Take that post-modernists! Thomas was a public poet, earning money on the lecture circuit and famously boozing it up. The card says he died after a legendary bar binge (at the White Horse in the West Village) and implies he might have died of alcohol poisoning. But, he might have actually died of pneumonia. It was also a time of severe air pollution in NYC. Read the revisionist theories:
Week four stats:
1 white French male
1 white American colonialist female
1 white Andalusian male
1 white Italian male
1 black American female
1 white Welsh male
1 white English male
1 1300s poet
1 1600s poet
1 1700-1800s poet
2 1800s poets
2 1900s poets
Check out the lit journal El Portal for two poems from the new Cowboy/Zen book, (estimated publication sometime in late 2017), from the Fall 2016 issue under the moniker Emmy McCray (just trying something new).
It was announced on Oct 13, 2016 that Bob Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” A few years ago I took a class on Nobel Prize Winning Poets at Santa Fe Community College and our teacher told us that no American poet had previously won the prize. This isn’t entirely true. Reports also stated he was the first songwriter to win. This wasn’t entirely true either. It turns out poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote a tune or two in his day.
Here are the Americans who have won:
So if you decide not to include T.S. Eliot as an American poet because he had emigrated to the U.K., then you have to accept Joseph Brodsky as American by the same standard. You could split hairs and say Bob Dylan is the first native American winning while living in America.
In any case, there are a slate of full-time poets and novelists who are pissed off. Which seems to happen every year the prize is announced for one reason or another. This case is no different: http://time.com/4529524/bob-dylan-nobel-prize-literature-reaction/
Fictionistas usually feel like they should take precedent over poetry for reasons of cultural popularity and poets are always every-ready to be jealous of any competition from inside or outside their circles. I can easily see how a whole new subcategory could riffle their feathers. "What’s next? Bruce Springsteen?" I do think Bob Dylan deserved the Nobel Prize for taking songwriting in folk and rock to a higher level, (Both Scorsese's No Direction Home documentary and the book Jingle Jangle Morning touch on his elevation of the lyric), and for being a writing influence to so many writers and musicians worldwide. But I appreciate that he strongly problematizes the line between poets and songwriters.
Poet’s fully intend to die before this crepe-paper tent, the idea that poetry is somehow fundamentally different than song lyrics. "Songs are not poems!" they say. But they kind of are. I would put up a few Sting, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen lyrics as poems; Bernie Taupin admits to having written poems that Elton John set to music. And many poets will concede that Dylan's lyrics are poetry. Plus, he has the best book of celebrity poetry I've read so far. Many poetry verses have turned into songs and song verses have been just as inspiring and meaningful to people as poem stanzas, arguably more so in modern times. If you were presented with four lines of poetry and four lines of Bob Dylan lyrics, I’ll bet you would be hard pressed to find a difference. You can’t say, on the one hand, that form is essentially the power of rhythm but yet it doesn’t quite reach the level of melody. You’re playing a losing game of intellectual Twister. The hard cold facts of life, (thank you Porter Wagoner), are that the American Songbook is a canon of literature and Dylan has made enormous worldwide contributions to it.
Plus, Nobel judges have always followed their own drum. As I learned in my class, Nobel prizes are political and subjective. See the full list. Sometimes writers win for a single work, sometimes for a body of work, sometimes in recognition of leadership qualities or other nebulous reasons. Many of their choices look obscure to us today.
Dylan has gone all Woody Allen on us and has ignored the award. Good for him. The award comes with no requirements.
By the way, I just saw the Bob Dylan show this week at his Albuquerque visit to The Kiva Auditorium (see the set list). It was a great show. I loved the new revamps of old songs and particularly loved "Desolation Row."
I've also posted on my Cher blog a similar post to this with the added information of Cher's 10+ covers of Dylan. The fan blog All Dylan also gave a very lovely review of Cher’s history recording Dylan songs on her 70th birthday this year: http://alldylan.com/cher-covers-bob-dylan/.
The HarvardX Poetry in America classes were an amazing survey of U.S. poetry history. The series was so generous is scope: a variety of videos, talks and locations, ways to read difficult poems, links to the poems and they even tried to build a tool that allowed you to do explication exercises online. Unfortunately this tool never worked with an iPad. And who wants to watch poetry videos sitting upright? Not me.
The Poetry of Early New England class was about the Puritan poets mostly. I worried, from my college lit experiences, that this would be a very dry experience. But I really enjoyed Elisa New's perspectives on this group, their biases and challenges.
Nature and Nation, 1700-1850 covers poets before and after the Revolutionary War, nation building and identity forming, including Emerson and other transcendentalists, the fireside poets and Edgar Allan Poe.
The Walt Whitman class was the first one I took on the EdX platform. While I was commuting to ICANN in Los Angeles back in 1999 I had already taken the CD class from Modern Scholar on Whitman and this really helped me break into his poems for the first time. But the HarvardX class approached the subject from different angles.
I followed that with the Emily Dickinson class. The only other ED instruction I've ever had was from the ModPo MOOC that got me started on this whole crazy, online poetry journey. I thought Elisa New's instruction was a bit more accessible than Al Filreis. It seems like a personality issue. Filreis' classes are very exciting but I learned more from the straight-shooting Professor New.
The Civil War and Its Aftermath. I was never able to take this class. It's been consistently closed.
Most of the classes were around 4 or 5 weeks, but the Modernism class was 7 weeks! Brutal! And this is the only class that competes directly with Al Filreis' ModPo MOOC but I would actually recommend taking them both. Filreis and New both choose different material to study and have different tactics for helping you get through some difficult stuff. Also, Harvard's class stops short of anything contemporary.
Click on some of those links and you'll see some of these classes are archived but closed. I could never figure out why some courses were closed even though they were archived already and some were open. Access seems hit and miss with the HarvardX classes.
After I finished the HarvardX stuff, I took the 6 week Davidson College class on Electronic Literature. And this class blew my freaking mind. I had to slow down the experience because my mind was smoking too much. I got headaches trying to wrap my head around this stuff. And before taking this class I had never considered having done any E-Lit myself; but then I remembered some of the pieces we did for Ape Culture, specifically our Choose Your Own Celebrity Adventures (1998-2002) and the Michael Jackson Fan Hatemail Generator we created in 2002.
The E-Lit class asks you to explore the idea of what a book or poem really is and how writers have always been design reading experiences. And what exactly happens when you change your reading platform. I collected some amazing links from Professor Mark Sample and this class. But it's no substitute for actually taking it, which I encourage you to do because it's currently open enrollment.
I'm still working my way through some of these. Many require pesky plugins.
We also learned about Lit Bots
Around this time I found a good related article from my marketing life, "User Memory Design: How To Design For Experiences That Last" and I keep wondering, should reading experiences be designed? Should memory be manipulated?
Don't believe it. One of the most awesome aspects of the E-Lit course were the first few lectures on the technology of physical books. Some more book talk:
Life is no dream! Beware and beware and beware!
We tumble downstairs to eat the damp of the earth
or we climb to the snowy divide with the choir of dead dahlias.
But neither dream nor forgetfulness, is:
brute flesh is. Kisses that tether our mouths
in a mesh of raw veins.
Lovely. This is from “Unsleeping City” by Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936), translated by Ben Belitt. Lorca is Andalusian (Southern Spain). The Poet in New York pieces, like this one, are from his year-long visit to New York City in 1929. It was his first time out of Spain and he wasn't so fond of it. The poems were published after his death. He is considered the most revered poet in Spain and he was murdered by fascists.
In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.
That's it. That's the full quote. It's from what is often referred to as "Dante's Inferno." It's technically from “The Inferno” portion of The Divine Comedy by Italian poet Dante Allighieri (1265-1321), translated by John D. Sinclair.
Dante's life details are very sketchy but we do know he was forced into exile toward the end of his life due to pissing off Pope Boniface VIII.
Week three stats:
1 white French male
1 white American colonialist female
1 white Andalusian male
1 white Italian male
1 1300s poet
1 1600s poet
1 1800s poet
1 1900s poet
Last year I convinced Monsieur Big Bang that we should be listening to Great Courses on the way into work. He wasn't keen on this nerdy idea but we got wrapped up in etymology classes, one of which lead us to the entertaining and informative Slate podcast called Lexicon Valley and we've been working through something like 99 podcast episodes that have been airing since 2012.
Last week, we came upon the 2015 "The Many Lives of Anna Karenina with Masha Gessen" episode which is a great, succinct outlining of the issues surrounding creating translations using Anna Karenina as an example, how different translators are making different word choices based on meaning and tone.
The official show blurb:
Last November saw the publication of two new translations—by Marian Schwartz with Yale University Press and Rosamund Bartlett with Oxford University Press—of Leo Tolstoy’s epic love story Anna Karenina. But why does a novel that already has at least six or seven English-language editions need yet another update? Journalist and author Masha Gessen discusses the difficulty of translating a literary masterpiece and argues the more the better.
In silent night when rest I took,
For sorry near I did not look,
U waken’d was with thundering noise
And piteous shrieks of dreadfull voice.
That fearful sound of “Fire! And “Fire!”
Let no man know is my Desire.
This excerpt is from “Upon the Burning of Our House” (1666) by America's number one Puritan poet, Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672). This year I took a course in Puritain poetry from HarvardX. I took all their classes. More on that later. One thing I learned was that Puritan poets weren't only writing about their Puritan hangups. They weren't even all Puritan. But they all had a pretty tough time of it there in New England with disease, bad weather, angry indigenous Americans and those creepy, scary woods everywhere. Imagine showing a Puritan the Blair Witch movies. They would have lost their minds. Anyway, Bradstreet was the wife and daughter of two governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and her poems, the card says, were “steeped in ‘the Puritan darkness." She wrote 400 pages of poetry, (you go, girl!), and not all of them were “starkly religious.” She is "considered the first poet of consequence in the American colonies.” Her poems show a “suppressed emotional life" and, sadly, only one of her books has survived (The Tenth Muse, Lately Sprung Up in America), the one that was "published in London in 1650 and posthumously in Boston in 1678."
Week two stats:
1 white French male
1 white female American colonialist
1 1800s poet
1 1600s poet
In the summer 2016 issue of the poetry journal Rattle, there's an interview with Alan Fox:
Rattle: What impact has the Internet had on poetry?
Alan Fox: I think you’ll get very different answers from different poets…I just had a conversation with a poet I can’t name, who was very angry because they felt that the internet was flooded with lots of mediocre poetry. Now that anyone can put a badge on their shirt that says “poet” and communicate with other poets and have all this great access. The world, the media, the “readers” are overwhelmed with bad work, and thus can’t find or recognize where the “good” work is. That is a paranoia I don’t share. It’s an argument I’ve heard, over and over, that bad poetry somehow diminishes our joy and plight. That if the “bad” poets are allowed to publish, it destroys connoisseurship. I don’t see that to be the case. I think that every great artist, like every great art critic, will die ignorant of most of the good art of their time. That’s been true of virtually every generation. I mean, why else does it seem that half the work that ultimately “comes to define a generation” is discovered posthumously?”
Now I read that at the very same time I was reading the book Harriet Monroe and the Poetry Renaissance: The First Ten Years of Poetry (1912-1922) by Ellen Williams (1977) while researching local Santa Fe poet Alice Corbin Henderson (who was the assistant editor during that time). From the book:
William Marion Reedy acknowledged a renaissance in writing Harriet Monroe on June 1, 1915, and remarked that he felt Poetry was responsible for it…Reedy visited the annual banquet of the Poetry Society of American in New York, and the sleekness and propriety of the assembled poets made him feel grubby…He felt irritated by the sheer volume of verse poured out: "Never before were there so many pleasant, well-phrased, melodious poems written as there are today, and at no other time has there been such a dearth of really distinguishable poetry.”
Alan Fox is right. This was the era of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens and Robert Frost, among others. Nothing distinguishable as it turns out.
While working on a novel about landscape, I decided to quit my sporadic library education on New Mexico art history and actually take a class here at CNM. I was on a quest to learn about the ways other artists describe the landscapes here.
Grabbing library books was great but taking a class can give you a more comprehensive overview and lead you to some art subjects you might not normally investigate. A broad history could even bring in international elements of the story, which my class did. Not only did we touch on prehistoric and modern Indian art but colonial and modern Hispanic art tracing its roots back to the Islamic Moors in Spain, as well as immigrant European influences.
So much was mind blowing in this class.
We watch a Hung Liu Video from a Kansas City museum, not this one but a similar one. In the video we learned:
You can see how some of these ideas might benefit a writer.
We also watched a video about making manuscripts by hand, an amazing video if you love books as objects.
My main focus in taking the class was to learn about modern New Mexico art, but I ended up really getting into colonial and territorial Spanish pieces and ended up doing my class paper on a tinsmith named Higinio V. Gonzales. I picked him because he was also a local poet and a local museum exhibited not only his tin pieces but one of his poems painted out as an object of art. Turns out he has an interesting poetic legacy in territorial New Mexico as well, having published poems about how the state should be named, poems about relationships and local Las Vegas, NM, politics, and one reminiscent and far predating in structure the Beach Boy's "California Girls."
His lifespan was also incredible in how he brushed against many iconic historic New Mexico figures. He was a teacher, an artist, a writer, and served in the military during the Civil War. To read more, visit:
I also veered off at one point reading about painter Agnes Martin, who left the art world and came to New Mexico to lead a monastic life of painting. Agnes wrote poems, too, but I haven't been able to find very many of them.
In the class also fell in love with straw applique, colcha embroidery and bultos carvings (along with retablos and reredos paintings), all colonial Hispanic carved Catholic pieces made predominantly in New Mexico in the 17th century for homes and local missions. Coincidentally around this time I came across Dana Gioia’s poem about a bulto,“The Angel with the Broken Wing" which was published in Poetry magazine.
And you may think none of this ties back to landscape painting, which set me off on this class journey in the first place. But it does. All these pieces were devised locally in response to the landscape, the distance of the New Mexican community from either Spain, Mexico City or the United States and the shortage of gold, silver and other materials with which to create art objects. These forms wouldn't exist without the harshness of the landscape and its remoteness from civilization at the time.
Tin frame made from railroad delivered tin cans:
Bultos (or Santos), Retablos, and Reredos (for Church altars):
I was on vacation in Pennsylvania last month helping my parents clean out stuff. I found a bunch of books I loved as a kid and this stack of poetry-related cards, Poet’s Corner Knowledge Cards published by Pomegranate Publications. And you know I love conspicuous poetry products!
“It’s time. Old Captain, lift anchor, sink!
The land rots; we shall sail into the night;
if now the sky and sea are black as ink
our hearts, as you must know, are filled with light.
Only when we drink poison are we well—
we want, this fire so burns our brain tissues,
to drown in the abyss—heaven or hell,
who cares? Through the unknown,
we’ll find the new.”
The back of card shows the source of the quote, which is “The Voyage” from 1957, translated by Robert Lowell, followed by the name of the poet, Charles Baudelaire with his birth and death year and a thickly justified paragraph called a Life Sketch, which compares the ever expanding Les Fleurs du Mal with Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. But rather than poems of rejoice, Baudelaire's were poems of revulsion with life. The card also notes how Baudelaire is a great French literary figure who has served as a mentor to many modern poets.
So conceivably, you could learn about a new poet each day for 48 days. I'll go through the cards every few weeks here and we'll keep track of the demos.
Week one: White French Male, 1821-1867
Pomegranate Press has lots of cards for sale including some esoteric decks like Famous Animals and another called Canadian Literature and even a deck of One Letter Words (which could be useful for something I suppose): http://www.pomegranate.com/knowledgecards.html.
However, the poetry deck only seems to be available now on Amazon.