Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pearls before swine...

This article reminds me of those CDs with titles like "Classical Music for People Who Hate Classical Music!" After mentioning Anna Akhmatova's magnetic influence in Russia, it goes on like this:

If you grew up in America, it might surprise you to learn that a poet has ever had that sort of impact. Poetry here is best known for the simple, sentimental verses found in Hallmark cards and the lyrics of pop music. The word "poet" probably calls to mind some weirdo in a beret. And poetry's power to influence American politics is, at best, a fizzle--if you heard anything about the anti-Bush anthology Poets Against the War, then you listen to a lot of NPR. The truth is most Americans have lost touch with the best of what poetry is: a record of some of civilization's greatest writers--and wisest people--taking on the questions and emotions that define us.

Then follow three dorky reasons why Americans don't read poetry:
Reason 1: I've never understood it.
Reason 2: I can't get past the whole rhyming thing.
Reason 3: Poetry is for angst-ridden teens, hopeless romantics and the aforementioned weirdos in berets.

I just don't get it. What is the point of articles like this? Sometimes I feel like giving up on American English and learning Farsi or Arabic or Urdu, because that's where the action is right now.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

J.K. Rowling Tells All!

Yes, she put in all that Christian stuff on purpose. Oh, and Dumbledore was in love with Grindelwald.

"Falling in love can blind us to an extent," Rowling said of Dumbledore's feelings, adding that Dumbledore was "horribly, terribly let down."

Dumbledore's love, she observed, was his "great tragedy."

"Oh, my god," Rowling concluded with a laugh, "the fan fiction."

I wouldn't worry much about the slash fanatics if I were her... those people always write whatever they want, regardless of canon. But I think that this revelation helps explain why Dumbledore put on the cursed ring so many years after he was supposed to have renounced the search for the Deathly Hallows. The whole Grindelwald episode was more than just a Gnostic power-trip. It shows Dumbledore trying to create his own reality in more ways than one. Think about it: he was the most brilliant student ever to attend Hogwarts, and he let himself become consumed with pride over this - remember his resentment when he had to stay home with his disabled sister instead of touring the world after his graduation. Then Grindelwald came, bringing his plans for world domination. It would have been ridiculous, if they hadn't been two of the most powerful and intelligent wizards of their age. The occult means by which they were going to effect said domination added another element of private reality. Throw in a disordered affection for Grindelwald, and you can see how Dumbledore thought he could overturn everything, not just the balance of power between wizards and muggles. He was disappointed in all his hopes - his plans for the Deathly Hallows, for the conquest of the muggle world, and not least for Grindelwald (who didn't return his affections). In fact... couldn't that be one of the reasons that Dumbledore was so intent on defeating G.? He had plenty of good reasons, but anger at being rejected would be a plausible addition. Anyway, it's obvious that he didn't magically become a different person after his sister's death and the capture of Grindelwald. He said he had learned the hard lesson that he "wasn't to be trusted with power," but passing up heading the Ministry to become headmaster of the most eminent school of magic didn't exactly remove him from a position of authority. And he kept manipulating people and events, as we all know. He wanted things his way.

So Dumbledore has changed over the years from a sort of cartoon Gandalf into this very tragic figure. I wonder how it will be for the next generation of children to read the series? Because they won't have to wait years and years to read the whole story. They could conceivably get through it all in a year. And I think that one needs to read the first book early on and grow into the last four books, really.

To comment on the first article, I find it interesting that she compares herself to Graham Greene:

"The truth is that, like Graham Greene, my faith is sometimes that my faith will return. It's something I struggle with a lot," she revealed. "On any given moment if you asked me [if] I believe in life after death, I think if you polled me regularly through the week, I think I would come down on the side of yes — that I do believe in life after death. [But] it's something that I wrestle with a lot. It preoccupies me a lot, and I think that's very obvious within the books."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fools, angels, etc...

While poking around on the website of the GMH International Summer School, I discovered this lecture: Gerard Manley Hopkins's Misdirected Faith.

Now, it's only logical that a self-described non-believer is not going to get Hopkins' Jesuit vocation. How could it be otherwise? I can only cite Cardinal Emmanuel Suhard, who said this in Priests Among Men:
To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist.

Hopkins certainly lived his life in this way, and he has been paying for it ever since, as can be seen from this lecture. But ignorance is one thing, and ignorance arrogantly flaunted to an audience is another. It would be fun to fisk the whole thing, but I don't have the time and I don't really want it taking up too much space on my blog. So I'll just go through some of the more offensive statements:

Viewed from the perspective of a non-believer, Gerard Manley Hopkins's unfortunate religious obsession seems responsible for the suppression of one of literary history's great poetic talents and as likely for his early death.

"If only GMH hadn't been Catholic!" No matter what you believe, that's still like saying, "If only Dylan Thomas hadn't been Welsh!"

His outscape, quite literally, would be the way he clothed himself as a priest, even as he wrote like a pantheist and a free spirit.

GMH was most emphatically not a pantheist. His emphasis on the singularity and "thisness" of each thing is diametrically opposed to a view that treats the entire created universe as one undifferentiated God-blancmange.

Compare his duty-ditties for God to his passionate observation of human nature and nature more broadly, and Hopkins becomes the poster-boy for a person in need of deprogramming.

So... which of Hopkins' poems does he consider uninspired "duty-ditties?" The Wreck of the Deutschland? The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo? That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection? I don't need to go on, do I? Then there's the bit about deprogramming, which strikes a rather Stalinist note. The Hopkins I know from poems, journals and letters would not have willingly undergone "deprogramming" - there is a verse of his on the subject which begins "Fawning fawning crocodiles" - and I am glad that Axelrod doesn't flesh out this idea.

Only those blinded by a similar religious indoctrination would say his sacrificing a position of wealth and position in society, for a post as a priest and teacher, was a good decision.... How much longer he might have lived and created if he had lived the privileged life he was born to, we can't know but as likely, he would have lived much longer as a comfortable and famous poet.

Because everyone knows that the essential ingredients of great art are money, privilege, celebrity, and a cushy upper-middle-class lifestyle! Seriously, though - the image of Hopkins as a "comfortable and famous poet" is an impossible fantasy. It was his cross to be perhaps the only English poet who was ever truly ahead of his time. People often say it of poets that they are avant-garde; but that term implies followers, comrades, partisans to join the poet in his charge against convention. Hopkins was not avant-garde. He had no reader, Catholic, Anglican or atheist, who really understood his work. He was unpublishable in his age. Bridges only dared to publish the poetry in 1918, and it only became popular in the 1930's, nearly half a century after Hopkins' death. It is possible, of course, that Hopkins would have become a famous poet in his lifetime if he had been less experimental and less of a papist - in short, if he had stopped hanging out with High Church types at Oxford, let his father find him a job, and kept writing in the Keatsian vein that won him prizes when he was a precocious schoolboy. But he wouldn't be the Hopkins we know.

He made lists of what to give up for lent, but he made poems of what he knew best—the teeming natural settings he frequently visited. A trip to a new location might require his visiting a church but his journals, letters, finest creations were the notes he took observing the landscape, the clouds in a valley, the predominance of oaks and birch.

This is sloppy. It completely ignores Hopkins' intense interest in Gothic architecture, the terms of which appear throughout his notes on trees and clouds and water as well as in his poetry.

His reiteration of religious canon is boring. His poetics are new, fresh, important.

Yawn. More unsupported personal opinions.

Equally.... the case can be made that, but for his indoctrination into an overbearing society, he was one of the English language's greatest practitioners—indeed innovators —of poetry.

Isn't this all pretty much canon by now? Except for the Know-Nothing bit?

I won't flog this any longer, but I think will give Hopkins the last word, since he already had a gentle answer to such patronizing criticism of his beliefs in one of his letters:
It is long since such things had any significance for you. But what is strange and unpleasant is that you sometimes speak as if they had in reality none for me and you were only waiting with a certain disgust till I too should be disgusted with myself enough to throw off the mask.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

In Order of Non-Appearance...

This is funny.


Our Mission Statement:
We are dedicated to the non-publication of the best works of the best poets in the English-speaking world. We value diversity and strive to include new voices in our evaluation process. Our goal is to provide a non-venue for all kinds of poetry and avoid the labeling of differing aesthetics. We eschew poetry politics and never let personal relationships enter into our decisions. The bedrock principle of The Futility Review is that any poet, no matter whether accomplished or beginning, will be rejected in the same open-handed manner.

Awards and Honors:
Poems that have gone unpublished in The Futility Review have failed to appear in every Best American Poetry anthology since its inception in 1988, and have been absent from dozens of Pushcart anthologies.

Be sure you click on "Guidelines":

How would you describe the poems in your submissions?

- Confessional Blubbering
- Mostly Whitespace
- Whimsical Anecdotes with Redemptive Close
- Post-Avant Jabberwocky

(Courtesy of Choriamb, of course.)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Whatever is fickle, freckled, who knows how...

Two of the poems in Dappled Things really stood out for me this time, for very different reasons. My favorite poem in the issue is Gabriel Olearnik's English Apocalypse, which pleases with alarmingly whimsical eschatology, more Douglas Adams than John the Evangelist - right up until the tiger-pounce of the ending. Very well done. The other poem can't realistically be called good, but when you account for the author's age - 17 - you see that it's enormously promising. Timothy Barr's The Paschal Four is about birth, passion, death, and resurrection. After that, don't ask me what's going on in it. It reads like a bubbling farrago of Francis Thompson and Dylan Thomas, with the grandiose touches that you expect from a high school poet ("Nightish bastion," "My soul rejects the hero’s fate," etc.). But anyone who can write a line as riveting and odd as "Fugues fly from pipes veiled in my spine" is up to something. This aspiring poet has a strong instinct for the harmonious arrangement of vowels and for the feeling of a four-stress meter - although he can't decide on whether it is trochaic tetrameter, iambic tetrameter, or a four-stress accentual meter. Attention and practice will get rid of the metrical awkwardness, and hopefully the clotted imagery will become more vivid and intelligible. One fault that's easy to identify, if not to correct, is the Missing Article. It is apparent from the opening lines: "When in subtle mass I weighed, / Latent boughs kicked fleshy drum." Three nouns here, all without articles. The poet could have gotten away with the first two, but the third is intolerable and it seems to expose the other two epithets to the same sense of surfeit. It's true that Hopkins liked to omit the article, thinking it colorless; but he concealed his art. Here, the lines are so swollen with imagery that the articles have simply been washed out, like water from an overflowing bathtub. But all this aside, "The Paschal Four" manages to be the most intriguing poem in the issue. It is not content to be fashionably plain-spoken and understated. It wants to sing, loudly. So I hope that Barr will keep writing and "brace sterner that strain."

Thursday, October 4, 2007

New Dappled Things!

The Mary Queen of Angels issue is out. I have a very short poem in it, one I wrote while I was in Assisi this year.