Emersonian Frost

[…] it is not possible to get outside the age you are in to judge it exactly. Indeed it is as dangerous to try to get outside of anything as large as an age as it would be to engorge a donkey. Witness the many who in the attempt have suffered a dilation from which the tissues and the muscles of the mind have never been able to recover natural shape. They can’t pick up anything delicate or small any more. They can’t use a pen. They have to use a typewriter. And they gape in agony. They can write huge shapeless novels, huge gobs of raw sincerity bellowing with pain and that’s all they can write.

[…] When in doubt there is always form for us to go on with. […] The artist[,] the poet[,] might be expected to be the most aware of such assurance. But it is really everybody’s sanity to feel it and live by it. Fortunately, too, no forms are more engrossing[,] gratifying, comforting, staying than those lesser ones we throw off, like vortex rings of smoke, all our individual enterprise and needing nobody’s cooperation; a basket, a letter, a room, an idea, a picture, a poem. For these we haven’t to get a team together before we can play.

The background in hugeness and confusion shading away from where we stand into black and utter chaos; and against the background any small man-made figure of order and concentration. What pleasanter than that this should be so? Unless we are novelists or economists we don’t worry about this confusion; we look out on [it] with an instrument or tackle it to reduce it. […]

—Robert Frost, “Letter to The Amherst Student,” March 25, 1935. Selected Prose (Holt, 1966).

In response to the newspaper having sent the poet congratulations on his birthday. (Or Beckettian? Either way.)

The Business of Books

I think Cortázar had the last word on the too-many-writers, not-enough-readers problem over forty years ago:

As the scribes will persist, the few readers there are in the world are going to have to change their roles and become scribes themselves. More and more countries will be made up of scribes, and more and more factories will be necessary to manufacture paper and ink, the scribes by day and the machines by night to print the scribes’ work. First the libraries will overflow the houses, then the municipalities decide (now we’re really into it) to sacrifice their children’s playgrounds to enlarge the libraries. Then the theaters will go, then the maternity homes, slaughterhouses, bars, hospitals. The poor use the books like bricks, they stick them together with cement and build walls of books and live in cabins of books. Then it happens that the books clear the cities and invade the countryside…

—Julio Cortázar, from “End of the World of the End,” from Cronopios and Famas.

The books spill beyond the land and fill the oceans, like papier-mâché; the extra ocean water overflows the continents; the newly jobless presidents move to the ships stuck in the papier-mâché, which are now casinos; the world ends.

An Autodidact’s Request

Dear poets, a favor: I’ve had this sudden realization that my education in, and familiarity with, twentieth-century poetry comes to an abrupt halt somewhere around Eliot and Stein, leapfrogs over World War II (using some kind of Modern-Postmodern, Joyce-Beckett sinew), and picks up again somewhere around the Beats and the New York School, with writers in rebellion against form, tradition, the establishment, a repressively conservative social and political climate, etc. (bless their avant-garde, antinomian hearts!). But somewhere in there is an entire sprawling mid-century world that I missed out on—Bishop, Moore, Lowell, Millay, Jarrell, Berryman, Schwartz, Auden, Rukeyser, Roethke, Plath, Sexton, Stevens, Levertov, Kunitz, etc. (A list that admittedly might not make a lick of sense, since I know little—but I guess at least I know that I know little, which is worth something—see this post.)

How do these poets mean? And how should an autodidact begin? Directions to individual poems, collections, anthologies, histories, biographies, criticism, and/or essay collections, most appreciated.

Addendum: the autodidact’s reading list: Dana Gioia, Can Poetry Matter?; Randall Jarrell, No Other Book; Donald Hall, ed., Claims for Poetry; J.D. McClatchy, ed., The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry; David Lehman, The Last Avant-Garde; Mark Strand and Eavan Boland, eds., The Making of a Poem; Daniel Kane, All Poets Welcome; Elizabeth Bishop, Collected Prose; Nancy Mitford, Savage Beauty; Melissa Kwasny, ed., Toward the Open Field; Stephen Burt, Randall Jarrell and His Age. (For starters!)

More Improvements

Slowly adding older, unpublished articles from journalism classes (see categories in sidebar, right). (Dates and times of postings are retroactive to when the pieces were written.)


Okay. Think that’s done it. Finally figured out a nav bar (above) and a sidebar (right), thanks to this person; pretty sure these elements are consistent across all pages; brought back a server-side include or two, plus naked old guy loitering in the background (left); am very, very glad I’m using MovableType now; figured out how to incorporate MT’s “archive” page, called it “contents,” also brought back “about” page, called it “colophon,” in both cases borrowing from Michael Chabon (thanks for the tip, Eric!).



There’s little an editor could do, presumably, to prevent this, but it seems nonetheless lousy timing to run an ouvre-trashing review of a poet’s work approximately the same week that the guy’s getting married.