Thursday, November 30, 2006


JH: That writing is a "narrative of fixing onto the inspiration" is a great point - an apt phrasing of something that we've discussed but unphrased. Some poets verbally disown their poems, some physically destroy them. How to remove what never existed materially? To remove a poem from the world is to remove a picture of the poetic. Another picture, similar or identical, will exist again or exists already. To destroy a poem is to provide another example of the impersonality (person, here, in the sense of an individual) of the poet. To disown a poem via speech is story-telling, as much as anything in speech; to disown a poem via writing (essay, letter, poem, etc) is vain so far, yet problematic (especially in the case of the palinode - a poem recanting a poem) in that anything can happen in writing, even the erosion of a bit, or all, of the poetic. Or, once in writing, can a poem, as a representative of the poetic, be disproved? It's impossible to prove or disprove a poem, or one's thoughts about a poem - it's also impossible to prove the preceding words of this sentence. Is proof anything other than rhetoric? A feeling of something behind words lends weight to rhetoric, a feeling of something behind poems lends weight to an idea of the poetic. Speaking of the poetic, could you write something about your Captain Element, please?

Captain Element

Captain Element has a wide array of narrative and lyric approaches, as do many of your long or lengthy poems. The poem is unbroken by these transformations (which are not disruptive to the shape of the poem -- one of the most fascinating aspects of this and other of your poems).

AHB: There's a lot of scientific proof engaged in the poetic. I mean attempts thereof, which fall mostly to naught, I suppose. Tho I agree with Pound that a conscious understanding of one's aesthetic ought to be required, certainly by critics. I used to be in the wine business. there's a mechanical means for tasting a wine. 1st observe the colour and viscosity, then sniff the aroma (which, given our taste mechanism, i.e. olfactory bulb, is where the fancy flavours are perceived), then taste. being so procedural allows one to cast off distracting extraneous concerns. naturally, if you are hooting at a gala thrown by the Comte de Incroyable, you can throw procedure to the wind, one needn't be stiff-necked all the time. I like what you say about Captain Element, that it is unbroken by the transformations. this would be because the narrative is not meant to get the reader anywhere. I like twining these characters, Fu Manchu, Tarzan and the one I made up, Captain Element. the Fu Manchu books are particularly rife with tense moments that fizzle out. Sir Denis Nayland-Smith, Fu Manchu's arch enemy, is pretty much a bumpkin versus the diabolical doctor. but God or Fate favours the English because despite all his advantages Fu Manchu is thwarted by some silly means. the narratives of the various characters are nearly meaningless and certainly just about interchangeable. and maybe archetypal as well. there's something about pop fiction that carries an archetypal zest and essence. full of elemental movement, desirously toward or desperately from some Object. Captain Element seems rooted in these basic actions. the exact goals are not unimportant, just the movement is. so I guess. well let me turn to a poem of yours, for it has 'characters' too. This was posted to the Wryting-L list.

The Edward Gibbon of Phyllis Wheatley




In the second century of the Christian Aera, the empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilized portion of mankind. The frontiers of that extensive monarchy were guarded by ancient renown and disciplined valor. The gentle but powerful influence of laws and manners had gradually cemented the union of the provinces. Their peaceful inhabitants enjoyed and abused the advantages of wealth and luxury.


mr. snider

The principal conquests of the Romans were achieved under the republic; and the emperors, for the most part, were satisfied with preserving those dominions which had been acquired by the
policy of the senate, the active emulations of the consuls, and the martial enthusiasm of the people. The seven first centuries were filled with a rapid succession of triumphs; but it was reserved for Augustus to relinquish the ambitious design of subduing the whole earth, and to introduce a spirit of moderation into the public councils.








Happily for the repose of mankind, the moderate system recommended by the wisdom of Augustus, was adopted by the fears and vices of his immediate successors. Engaged in the pursuit of
pleasure, or in the exercise of tyranny, the first Caesars seldom showed themselves to the armies, or to the provinces; nor were they disposed to suffer, that those triumphs which their indolence neglected, should be usurped by the conduct and valor of their lieutenants.




The native Caledonians preserved, in the northern extremity of the island, their wild independence, for which they were not less indebted to their poverty than to their valor. Their incursions were frequently repelled and chastised; but their country was never subdued.



The poet Buchanan celebrates with elegance and spirit (see his Sylvae, v.) the unviolated independence of his native country.



Ossian's Poems, which, according to every hypothesis, were composed by a native Caledonian.




See a Memoir of M. d'Anville, on the Province of Dacia, in the Academie des Inscriptions.


The praises of Alexander, transmitted by a succession of poets and historians, had kindled a dangerous emulation in the mind of Trajan. Like him, the Roman emperor undertook an expedition against the nations of the East; but he lamented with a sigh, that his advanced age scarcely left him any hopes of equalling the renown of the son of Philip.

It was an ancient tradition, that when the Capitol was founded by one of the Roman kings, the god Terminus (who presided over boundaries, and was represented, according to the fashion of that age, by a large stone) alone, among all the inferior deities, refused to yield his place to Jupiter himself.



St. Augustin is highly delighted with the proof of the weakness of Terminus, and the vanity of the Augurs.





Careless of the difference of seasons and of climates, he marched on foot, and bare-headed, over the snows of Caledonia, and the sultry plains of the Upper Egypt; nor was there a province of the
empire which, in the course of his reign, was not honored with the presence of the monarch.


The terror of the Roman arms added weight and dignity to the moderation of the emperors.




The emperor Domitian raised the annual stipend of the legionaries to twelve pieces of gold, which, in his time, was equivalent to about ten of our guineas. This pay, somewhat higher than our own, had been, and was afterwards, gradually increased, according to the progress of wealth and military

Besides a lighter spear, the legionary soldier grasped in his right hand the formidable pilum, a ponderous javelin, whose utmost length was about six feet, and which was terminated by a massy triangular point of steel of eighteen inches.

The European provinces of Rome were protected by the course of the Rhine and the Danube. The latter of those mighty streams, which rises at the distance of only thirty miles from the former,
flows above thirteen hundred miles, for the most part to the south-east, collects the tribute of sixty navigable rivers, and is, at length, through six mouths, received into the Euxine, which appears scarcely equal to such an accession of waters.

The authority of Plato and Aristotle, of Zeno and Epicurus, still reigned in the schools; and their systems, transmitted with blind deference from one generation of disciples to another, precluded every generous attempt to exercise the powers, or enlarge the limits, of the human mind. The beauties of the poets and orators, instead of kindling a fire like their own, inspired only cold and servile imitations: or if any ventured to deviate from those models, they deviated at the same time from good sense and propriety. On the revival of letters, the youthful vigor of the imagination, after a long repose, national emulation, a new religion, new languages, and a new world, called forth the genius of Europe. But the provincials of Rome, trained by a uniform artificial foreign education, were engaged in a very unequal competition with those bold ancients, who, by expressing their genuine feelings in their native tongue, had already occupied every place of honor. The name of Poet was almost forgotten; that of Orator was usurped by the sophists. A cloud of critics, of compilers, of commentators, darkened the face of learning, and the decline of genius was soon followed by the corruption of taste.

At that time the archiepiscopal throne of Alexandria was filled by Theophilus, the perpetual enemy of peace and virtue; a bold, bad man, whose hands were alternately polluted with gold and with blood.

* * * * *

I hadn't heard of Wheatley before, fault to me, but I found her works at Project Gutenberg, and will check her out. this is one more of your collisions between authors and/or others. please speak on it. oh, Robert Fitterman has a book in which, using Google searches, he updates Decline and Fall.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


JH: The piles of writing you speak of reminds me of something that's been on my mind for a year or so: a poet's abjuring of a poem or body of poems. This progression of the poet's thoughts goes beyond the limits of the poet's thoughts needed by the particular poem to get itself written. If a poem didn't need a poet to write it, the poem (if the word "poem" can even be used in this context) would appear as a dream or a thought. The writing, letter by letter, of a poem is the poem's growth into maturity. As an infant cannot speak, so the poetic, appearing as inspiration (and thus much like a dream or idea), cannot speak. A poem that becomes, however quickly or slowly, unacceptable to its poet may be less formed in a worldly shape (lack of factors, whether classifiable or of the je ne sais quoi variety, that would assimilate it into a civilization's idea of the poem). This may be due to the poet's literary tools, but a poet can only work with the materials presented, whether by a civilization or by the poetic. Perhaps a poem's power comes from what is left upon the subtraction of civilization and the poetic. What we speak typically resembles prose more than poetry, but prose is written, formed from previous sentences (today's newspaper, Sir Thomas Browne, etc). A key element in writing is alteration before presentation. This element is as unalterable as any element, since it exists as a potential (it may not occur to one to change a note reading "Going to the store be back soon", but one has the power to add, eradicate, or substitute any part of the note before it is read). Our thoughts present themselves to us as unchanged -- our own thoughts and we cannot dictate their initial appearance. In writing, we can give the appearance, to the reader and to our own intellectual satisfaction, of going far back to the very hint of a thought. On the page, speculation can give the promise of an answer, that will come from a reader or from the author (in another work, or further down the page). Rhythms, as dictated by punctuation and varying word length, are controlled by the author (again, potentially). Rhythm, the pace of arrival, is uncontrolled outside the page, within the sphere of thought and natural phenomena. The poetic is what explicitly asks for the poem, for writing. Writing, that is to say, what can be altered, both scene and letter, is a potential result for any thought, but is necessary for the poem.

AHB: Great riff! "The poetic is what explicitly asks for the poem", c'est vrai. It may be enough to say all that writing that one does is process, but to do so only hints at the story. And it is a story. It is this narrative of fixing onto the inspiration (if I can use that word, meaning the instigation to write), finding the words, accepting the terms of the writing (choosing what to alter). In Winnie-the-Pooh, Pooh ponders the mysterious message 'bizzy baksun'. The message was intended as ordinary speech: busy, back soon. The non-standard English and the enigma-seeing bear without a brain combine to place a poetic in the world. It is the reader who discovers he transmogrification, the language that twisted. anyway, I was taken by your thoughts here because any writer or artist will have lots and lots of work that finally he/she abjures. Though abjures may say it too strongly. It may be that the artist failed the work (or vice versa?). It may be that the artist's needs later have been transcended. Certain artists, because of their fame, are known for every available scrap of work they did. Picasso, for instance: people are avid to see anything of his. Partly, mostly, this is because of the commodification factor that envelopes Picasso. But that respect for all his work (respect, not necessarily adulation) gives us an opportunity that most of us do not bequeath to ourselves. I think most artists want to run from their earlier work, or their casually done, or their failed. With Picasso we honour (that is, we pay attention) not just to his juvenilia but his napkin doodles. The very hint of a thought, as you say. The artist develops those hints, or develops a means to deal with those hints, those rhythms, those dreams. Those hints, rhythms, dreams are hard to see.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


JH: I haven't written a lipogram, though I may some day (no plans yet). I wonder if there is ever a real method, an actual procedure. There is always disjunction in writing. The idea of a method, such as the lipogram, is as imperfectly committed to paper as the description of a sunset is, compared to the poet's thoughts, incomplete on the page. A lipogram seems simple (to read, that is), but what exists aside from the method, from the means? Is the content of a lipogram closer to the poet, or farther, than the content of a non-procedural poem? We've spoken recently about disjunction in the poem - what about disjunction in the poetic? The disjunctive poem could result from an unwillingness to write anything not dictated. There could be a disjunction in the poetic that arises from an unwillingness to be translated into words. The lacunae in a poem could be a result of the poetic, not an omission but a copying. With all the varieties of poems, there's a question of whether the poetic is one thing, or whether there is a hierarchy among the poetic. Certain poems are considered preferable to others, even poems by the same poet. Is this due to human judgment, or are there weaker poetics than others? How can anyone tell? I feel there's a way to see if there's one poetic or several. I don't know if that way has arrived yet. Any suggestions? How would this knowledge change anything? Couldn't a poet proceed as if there was one poetic, wouldn't the reference(s) to only one poetic make it, in the poem, only one poetic? Wouldn't the reference(s) to multiple poetics differing in value make them, in the poem, thus? If the poetic is known solely through the poem, what to say of differing references? Are they only apparent references, with prose being the only place where explicit statements can be made about the poetic?

AHB: Weaker poetics might be a way of considering the difference between successful 'good' poems and less successful 'bad' poems. the duality is unsatisfying because it is too clearcut. certainly we deem what works and what does not. such a judgment doesn't live in heaven, the empyrean, Parnassus, or whatever. I mean, it's only fair to assume that every poet meant something serious with every attempt at a poem. but that person's means may be worn out, unnatural, stupid even. I think we can only comprise one poetic, in the sense that we can't get what we don't get. I know I can't. human judgment enters the picture, even clouds it. I think we allow that human judgment can be exceeded or transcended, in rare moments at least. that something in the poem powers beyond what the poet intended and understood. your questions are tough because who writes except as they yelp and whoop on the playfield. we're involved in an act that rushes by. I suppose our thinking bifurcates, left brain and right. we can do both simultaneously but not with equal weight. we have prose mind and poetic mind, and constantly wobble between the two. what do you think (id est, get off my back with your hard questions)? I make far reaching statements as if I could see all sides but it's hard not to accept a magic explanation. that Erato (Errata?) sent me a poem via email, woo hoo. I don't really mean get off my back, but these considerations are perplexing, unsettling even. artists take a lot for granted. the longer one practices, the more one sees the shakiness of those assumptions. as artists start out, the process is a lucky happenstance of finding and netting. but prolonging in the arts, the magic weakens and one seeks procedures by which one may move 'in that realm'. it seems to me that some younger artists of promise disappear (as artists) as they age. when the leave the nurturing precincts of high school and college the art becomes more distant and unimaginable. that is, unless one develops a means of creation that includes study, practice and reflection. for years and years, I produced piles of writing that I would now declare only shows my ignorance of the poetic nature. I'm sure there are things in that grey mass that I could take pride in having written but largely that work is just a flow of words that I couldn't stop. I care little for what I wrote prior to 1999 or so, the learning process is just that slow. it is slow because the nature of the creative act boggles every mind. it's a good boggle, but perplexing.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


JH: What weren't poems are now poems - this also applies to poems that were never written, does it not? Think of all the poems that could have been written had poets not lived in a time when a poem was held to be only a certain form. This applies to this day - though today there are a lot of poets who are constantly thinking of what a poem could be. The internet allows these experiments to be seen by a wide audience, who then may add to the efforts. All poems are experiments, I've heard, and this may be true - but some poems are more experiment than poem. Why is this? How can one be more the other? How can anything be more something else than it is itself? The author could say "this is an experiment; this is writing, as prose is writing, more than a poem", and the reader could disagree. Who, then, says how the poem is itself? If a writing is more experiment than poem (and how can this writing be partially a poem at all - is it because it alludes steadily and convincingly to poetry and past appearances of poems?), does this mean experiment is prose? Many experiments could be described in prose rather than illustrated via what meets the eye or ear as a poem. Poems cannot be paraphrased, but experiment can. This last statement is problematic, as much experiment is a kind of grammar. A lipogram, for instance, omits the same letter from every word in the text. One can point out that there are instances of subject-verb agreement (subject and verb in a sentence must be singular, or both must be plural) in a poem, without paraphrasing the poem. Can one paraphrase a lipogram by pointing out that there are instances of an omitted letter, considering these instances are found in every single word of a lipogram? Is a lipogram an experiment at all?

AHB: the formal structures of yore, formal as in agreed upon (I accept that Mac Low's structures are formal, but they are idiosyncratic, or sui generis, whichever term makes me seem more intelligent), presented challenges of subtlety. I have done a few, not many, poems in strict form. these were experiments because, as much as I admire many writers within such strictures, I'm not the child to be using said structures. I've done poems using Mac Low's formulae, and other methods I'd picked up from others. mostly these have not seemed like 'my' writing. I've mentioned my flarf experiments. I believe I use the same packet of methods as those who proudly wear the badge. many of my earlier attempts seemed like imitations. now I feel like my efforts are 'my' poems, and some are pretty good ones. I'm not even sure why this is. my point, and thank goodness I came equipped with one, is that experiment is a land of possibility. the image of someone in a landscape deciding what is and aint edible comes to mind. this berry looks good [barf], this one looks weird [mmm], etc. experiment can be soulless, a going thru motions. educational, but soulless. but experimentation can be the driving force itself, with risk involved. experimental as a descriptive for a type of writing is tedious to me, at least to the degree that experiment means an urge to be different. I respect that urge but ask for a sensibility behind it, overarching it, in fact. I guess (emphasis on the verb) that a lipogram can be an experiment if the writer had, um, something in mind. if the writer determined that lipogram was part of the path, not the destination. perhaps you could answer this question, as I gather you have done the lipogram. there are works of art that at least partly needn't need fruition. the idea of Jeff Koons creating a rose parade float is almost enough, so that one can say, someone made a drastically cute dog out of flowers, hahaha. but the execution does make it real. and it is something, even tho if you wake up early on New Year's Day, you can witness 'the real thing', which aint ART. I think a lipogram is no longer an experiment, but it can be used experimentally, a means to an imagined end. I think a lot of dull poetry accepts that a method is exceptional, but method isn't the poem. the monkeys who write Hamlet could as easily have produced last year's roses are red yawp. so let's give a shout out to the how of the usage, not the why. I guess.