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Updated: 2018-03-25T04:36:16.261-05:00


Ezra Pound in the Bughouse: New in Chicago Review


Rejoice! The latest issue of Chicago Review has dropped, and in it you'll find new writing about Fernando Pessoa, FLARF, and Basil Bunting, as well as an essay by Peter Middleton, Donna Stonecipher's translations of Friederike Mayröcker, and much more, including a little something I wrote about Daniel Swift's book The Bughouse: The Poetry, Politics, and Madness of Ezra Pound.Here's how it starts: There’s an old black-and-white photo from the 1965 poetry festival in Spoleto, Italy, in which we can see Ezra Pound surrounded by younger poets: Bill Berkson is there, along with John Wieners, Desmond O’Grady, Charles Olson—so large he looks like he’s been sloppily photoshopped into the scene—and a partially obscured John Ashbery. The scene is significant, I think, for how it projects two moments yet to come in Pound’s posterity: the Olson-led renaissance of his reputation in the late 1960s, and his eclipse as a model for younger poets after the rise, a decade later, of Ashbery’s star.  Pound had already been in and out of vogue many times: in the 1910s, he was at the center of a creative vortex, and an influence on the shape of poetry on both sides of the Atlantic.  By the late 1930s, he was largely an outsider, and at the end of the Second World War he hit his nadir, politically disgraced and caged like an animal by the American army occupying Italy. Our own moment should be a propitious one for another look at Pound.  He isn’t currently a model for many poets (Nathanial Tarn and John Peck are the most significant talents carrying a torch for Ole Ez), but we do live in times that seem uncannily Poundian: times of public madness, resurgent fascism, and crackpot economic theories.  Perhaps it’s not a great time for a young poet to take her cues from the author of Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, but it’s certainly a good moment to examine Pound as a phenomenon, if not a model.  The 1959 anthology A Casebook on Ezra Pound provided excellent fuel for the reevaluation of the poet after his release from St. Elizabeths Hospital, when, as Donald Davie put it, Pound’s politics had “made it impossible for any one any longer to exalt the poet into a seer.”  We would welcome another book capable of opening up a new discussion of the meaning and significance of Pound, and Daniel Swift’s study of Pound’s dozen years in St. Elizabeths Hospital, The Bughouse: The Poetry, Politics, and Madness of Ezra Pound, promises to be just such a book.  The topic—and, especially, the subtitle—lead one to hope for a study packed with insight into the moral and aesthetic conundrum that is Pound.  Is he to be held responsible for his fascism? Does his mental health exculpate him? How do madness and politics bear on the poetry itself? One opens the pages of Swift’s book eager to find out. The Bughouse, alas, does not live up to its topic, or its moment, when the issues of Pound’s politics have an alarming currency...The rest of the piece can be found in the the spring issue.  Ordering info and selected content available here. [...]

I Think of Myself as a Kind of Shaman, You Know: Reading the Syndicate of Water and Light


If there is an international man of mystery in contemporary poetry, Marc Vincenz is it: British but also Swiss and in some meaningful sense Hong Kong Chinese, multilingual, with an unplaceable accent, a past featuring stints as an Island Records musician, a high-level industrialist, a Chinese fantasy novelist, and Icelandic hermit, not to mention an interval as assistant to legendary poet-novelist Reynolds Price, he is the walking definition of an interesting man.  And, in a time when most of us on Planet Poetry can easily be filed away in a dusty folder labeled "professors of English," his is a refreshing profile.  He's prolific, too, and his latest book, a kind of ecological Divine Comedy called The Syndicate of Water and Light, is just now out from Station Hill.I've written an afterword, and it begins like this:“I think of myself as a kind of shaman, you know,” Marc Vincenz once said to me, “communicating with the other side.”  I didn’t quite know what he meant then, and probably mumbled something about Claude Levi-Strauss or Jerome Rothenberg, but reading The Syndicate of Water & Light, I think I finally understand.  And I think, too, that it’s appropriate that Vincenz made the revelation when we were in a dingy, black-walled Manhattan bar down below street level, where we went to wait out a heat wave that had engulfed the city. The place—dim and somehow squalid—had the feel of a kind of underworld, and it was of journeys to the underworld that Vincenz referred.  This book is exactly such a journey, a voyage to another reality beneath our quotidian world, and, in the end, a journey back: a communication with the other side.            It is tempting, if one knows something about Vincenz’s peripatetic and multilingual life, to trace an autobiographical story in The Syndicate of Water & Light: those teeming cities and markets ringing with exotic languages, surrounded by burgeoning industry, seem like the China where he spent a good portion of his life.  And the pristine land of windblown grass, mountains, and sea could easily represent Iceland, where Vincenz retreated after a harrowing experience of venal modern Chinese klepto-capitalism. The sections dealing with Christianity, and a struggle to move beyond its formality to a more open view of the spirit, seem as though they may have come from his education in a Swiss monastery school, but I am cautioned against too autobiographical a reading here by Vincenz’s statement that he arrived in the monastery an agnostic child and emerged a confirmed teenage atheist. Vincenz’s life is present, here—how could it not be?—but it is refracted as if through a kaleidoscope, distorted and reformed into new patterns and symmetries.            The primary pattern is that of the expedition: the poem’s presiding spirits, Ulysses and Dante, are both inveterate explorers.  Significantly, they are not merely explorers of physical space, but seekers after knowledge—Dante’s is a spiritual quest figured as geographic travel, and Vincenz’ Ulysses is Tennyson’s Ulysses, more than Homer’s: the old mariner follows knowledge like a sinking star, sailing on to the shores of Mount Purgatory. Vincenz is an optimist, when it comes to journeys. The Syndicate of Water and Light opens with a sense that we can grow in knowledge and that we can change—if not, perhaps, the world, then at least ourselves...The rest is in the book itself, which can be ordered here.  The official launch will be at the AWP, where Marc himself will be adding some much-needed extra-academic zest to the proceedings. [...]

My Race Sees Me: On African-American Poetry


The latest Hudson Review has dropped into my mailbox, and along with writing by William H. Pritchard, Zara Raab, David Mason, and others, there's an essay called "My Race Sees Me," in which I talk about three African-American poets: Marcus Wicker, Cameron Barnett, and Evie Shockley.  It begins like this: I once attended a debate between two distinguished poets, both women, who were to dispute whether one wrote as a woman poet, or as a poet who happened to be a woman.  I don’t recall who won, but perhaps that’s less important than the fact of the debate itself: it indicates how, if one is not from a dominant group, the question of identity can’t be taken for granted: even if one wants to shunt it aside and write of other things, one often feels compelled to make a case for doing so.  If that can be true of women, even several generations into feminism’s transformation of the world, it is even truer for African-American writers—especially in a time when police violence against black people in America has become more visible than ever.  2017 may have been an especially difficult year for people of color in America, but, as recent books by Evie Shockley, Marcus Wicker, and Cameron Barnett make plain, it has also been an outstanding year for African-American poetry.Evie Shockley’s third book of poetry, semiautomatic, certainly addresses issues of African-American identity and the racially charged political urgencies of our time, even as the poems refuse to be limited to such issues.  The book is notable not only for the way it navigates questions of identity and politics, but for the variety and virtuosity of its use of form.  Form, for Shockley, begins with music.  How couldn’t it? The daughter of a jazz musician, she grew up in Nashville, in a part of town where, she says, there were “churches on two out of every four corners” and where one could come to believe that “any six or seven people with vocal chords could produce four-part harmony at the drop of a dime.” “My relation to poetry was shaped,” she says, “by the jump-rope and hand-game songs the girls in my neighborhood sang.”  These sounds, along with Mother Goose and Ogden Nash, worked their way into the deep recesses of her mind, and find their way into her poetry, even as she explores a wide range of formal possibilities.  In semiautomaticwe find poems that show considerable agility with traditional forms like the Spenserian stanza, as well as innovations with rhymes and refrains, such as “a-lyrical ballad (or, how America reminds us of the value of family),” which tells the story of race-based murder in America from the days of midcentury lynchings through the deaths of Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, and various victims of contemporary police violence.  It opens with three stanzas on Emmett Till, the form of which (rhymes of xAA//xx//BB) repeats throughout the poem, along with the insistent refrain italicized refrain that ends each section:he was a boy from chicago, in mississippi heat,being as bad as a good boy could be,whistling his eyeful of an off-limits she,            and her menfolk dragged him out of bed, beat him to death, tied            a cotton gin to his body, and sank him in the tallahatchie was three days before the remains were retrieved.and the family grieved ~ o ~ the black family grievedSuch grieving, Shockley implies, is the harsh and lamentable method by which our country has taught, and continues to teach African-Americans the value of family.The full text is available here. [...]

The Erotic Paul Verlaine


Rejoice! The latest issue of American Book Review has hit the streets, guest-edited by Anthony Madrid and focused on erotic poetry.  I wrote a little something called "A Feminine Canaan," about Paul Verlaine's erotic poetry.  If you want to see how many kinks there were in that guy's rope, check it out.  It begins like this:
Early on in his literary career, Paul Verlaine swore off most of the traditional sources of poetic ecstasy. "Nature, nothing about you moves me," he writes in the poem "Anxiety," adding "I scoff at Art, and mankind too." Verlaine throws Classical Greek civilization—the source of quickening heart rates for many a European writer from Winkelmann to Rilke, from Pater to Cavafy—into the dustbin of the uninspiring. Out, too go the monuments of Christianity, and God himself, and even love. Well, maybe not love, or at least not all forms of love. Agape he can do without, but in the absence of so many sources of delirious exaltation, Verlaine leaves himself one: the realm of the erotic. 
You'd be forgiven if you hadn't noticed. For one thing, the most explicit parts of Verlaine's erotic oeuvre were long repressed. Les Amies (1867), a little book of poems about fantasy lesbians luxuriating for the male gaze, was published illicitly in Belgium and smuggled into France. A later book, Femmes (1890), in which Verlaine recounts in great detail his encounters with Parisian prostitutes, was a similarly underground document, and its companion volume about men, Hombres (1891), wasn't published until after Verlaine died. The erotic poems have had a checkered publication history since: they didn't even find their way into the otherwise comprehensive and canonical Pléiade edition until a special supplement was issued in 1989. But once you dial into Paul Verlaine's particular erotic frequency—which was less about male or female bodies than about genderless surrender, less about penetrating or being penetrated than about a kind of soul-shattering act of submission, you find that his kind of erotic ecstasy had been hiding in plain sight since the beginning of his poetic career.
You can read the whole essay now at Project Muse, or, if you don't have access to that, you might check from time to time to see when it comes up at the ABR site.

2018 Plonsker Prize at Lake Forest College: $10,000, Residency & Book Publication, Judged by Lida Yukanavitch


It's time, fiction writers, to submit your manuscript for the 2018 Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writers Residency Prize.  The image above depicts the Glen Rowan House, where the winner will be in residence.  Other details below!


Judge: Lidia Yukanavitch

Lake Forest College Press/&NOW Books is open to submissions on January 1st for the Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writers Residency Prize from fiction writers under the age of forty who have not yet published a full-length book.

The winning writer receives $10,000, three weeks of residency at Glen Rowan House on the campus of Lake Forest College, and publication of her or his book by Lake Forest College Press / &NOW Books, with distribution by Northwestern University Press.

To enter: Submit (here!) a thirty-page sample of a book-length work in progress, along with a one-page statement of plans for completion. We cap submissions at 200. Submissions close on March 1, 2018. Submissions will not be accepted before January 1, 2018.

For more information on the Plonsker Prize, click here.

Past winners and judges

2017 Winner (Poetry)
Christine Larusso, Los Angeles, CA: MAR (forthcoming, 2018)
Judge: Carmen Giménez Smith

2016 Winner (Prose):
Meg Whiteford, author of An Ordered World, a novel (forthcoming, 2018)
Judge: Brian Evenson

2015 Winner (Prose):
Christopher Perez, author of gaugin’s notebook, a poetic narrative (2017)
Judge: Eleni Sikelianos

2014 Winner (Prose):
Matthew Nye, author of Pike and Bloom, a novel (2016)
Judge: Anne-Laure Tissut

2013 Winner (Poetry):
Cecilia K. Corrigan, author of Titanic, a book of poems (2014)
Judge: Lisa Roberston

2012 Winner (Prose):
Elizabeth Gentry, author of Housebound, a novel (2013)
Judge: Kate Bernheimer

2011 Winner (Poetry):
José Perez Beduya, Throng, a book of poems (2012)
Judge: Jennifer Moxley

2010 Winner (Prose):
Gretchen Henderson, Galerie de Difformité, a hybrid narrative (2011)

2009 Winner (Poetry):
Jessica Savitz, Hunting is Painting, a book of poems (2010)

Revolutions in Manchester!


I am, apparently, at the height of my powers—at least according to Ian Pople at The Manchester Review, where he discusses several books by John Matthias, including Revolutions: A Collaboration, in which my commentaries mingle with Matthias' poems and artwork by Jean Dibble. I'm kind of hoping being at this dizzying height doesn't mean it's all downhill from here...

Here are a few remarks on Revolutions from near the end of Pople's review:

If the methods of composing the poems are semi-aleatory, Archambeau goes on to remark that a central influence on Matthias’ poetry is Modernism, ‘Not only is his work written in accord with a thousand Modernist techniques…it constantly invokes the Modernists themselves: the poets, the artists and especially the composers.’ One particular Modernist spirit invoked throughout the poetry is that of the Russian Modernists, not only Mandestam , but also the others in Akhmatova’s ‘four’; Akhmatova, Pasternak and Tsvetaeva. Archambeau claims that another Modernist spirit for Matthias’ is his refusal to compromise. 
In part, that invocation of Russian modernism occurs from the moment you pick up the book with its rather Soviet-style cover of hammers swung in the pattern of sickles, and the book’s title. The collaborative nature of the book might also be seen as ‘revolutionary’. Matthias’ poems hint at a subdued ‘Russian’ narrative; they contain lexical gestures towards that narrative: ‘hussars’, ‘steppe’, ‘vodka’, ‘tsar’ all occur in the first two poems. The poems also contain ‘characters’ who are engaged in an often surreal narrative in which the lexical gestures help to both pin down the action and also move it centrifugally away from possible narrow concerns.   Archambeau riffs off all this with his own centrifugal commentaries. ‘Onomastic’, for instance, stimulates Archambeau to mention the ‘Oulipo’ movement and George Perec’s La disparition, a novel length book written without the use of ‘e’. Archambeau also mentions another modernist ancestor, in Gertrude Stein. 
Overall, what this book offers is something which is not quite revolutionary. There have, after all, been many books of poems with illustrations, and Archambeau’s lively, focussed criticism is not the only time such poems as Matthias’ have been put under the microscope. But what this book offers, that is new, is a sense that these are three artists who, each in their own way, are operating at the height of their powers, to bring this collaboration to a uniquely satisfying whole.
The whole review can be found here.

From Rhymed Lines to Mongrel Tongues: Now Online!


Not long ago the latest issue of the Hudson Review hit the streets, with a little survey of new poetry I wrote inside.  It's called "From Rhymed Lines to Mongrel Tongues," and takes a look at new books by X.J. Kennedy, Charles Simic, and Julian Talamantez Brolaski, along with very strong debut volumes by Alan Felstenthal and Airea D. Matthews.  Now, thanks to the good people at Ugly Duckling Presse, you can read it online here!

Karl Pilkington and Reggie Watts Wrestle in Heaven: Now Online!


Hey hey! The good people at Copper Nickel have posted an essay I wrote for their print edition online.  It's called "Reggie Watts and Karl Pilkington Wrestle in Heaven," and it's about comedy, identity, and, in a roundabout way, our perilous political state.  You can find it here.

From Rhymed Lines to Mongrel Tongues: X.J. Kennedy, Charles Simic, Alan Felsenthal, Airea D. Matthews, & Julian Talamantez Brolaski


Rejoice! The new Hudson Review has dropped with a satisfying clunk into the mailboxes of subscribers and onto the magazine racks of the more self-respecting sort of bookstores! As always, there are many fine things—including, this time out, Mark Jarman on postmodern poetry, A.E. Stallings on the literature of the sea, and much else.  I've contributed a "poetry chronicle" feature, a round-up of recent books I've found impressive in various ways.  It's called "From Rhymed Lines to Mongrel Tongues" and covers a range from formalism through Surrealism to deeply experimental works. The poets are X.J. Kennedy, Charles Simic, Alan Felsenthal, Airea D. Matthews, & Julian Talamantez Brolaski.  Here's a small taste from what I have to say about each...*X.J. Kennedy isn’t just a poet—he’s a poet emeritus, or so claimed R.S. Gwynn, holding a laurel wreath aloft over Kennedy’s head at the 2017 West Chester Poetry conference. With dozens of poetry collections, textbooks, edited works and volumes of light and children’s verse behind him, Kennedy has certainly earned the title—and nowhere does he seem more emeritus than in the poems of That Swing.  Here, in Kennedy’s signature combination of storytelling, formal nimbleness, and comic moments mixed with reverie and melancholy, we find the poet assessing the past and looking out on a future beyond his own lifetime...*Unlike X.J. Kennedy, whose That Swing peers into the dark with uncharacteristic frequency, Charles Simic is the kind of poet who has long since set up housekeeping in the dark existential abyss.  His latest collection, Scribbled in the Dark, contains poems in his established idiom: short, eerie pieces rich with image and stingy with discursive explanation—poems in which the world appears uncanny and, for the most part, vaguely menacing.  The images are typical of Simic: injured flies, threadbare gypsies, bare light bulbs hanging over rooms equally bare, an actor “unable to recall his lines/At the end of some tragic farce.”*One could be forgiven for thinking that some of the poems in Alan Felsenthal’s confident debut collection, Lowly, belong in a book like Scribbled in the Dark.  Were one to meet Felsenthal’s “El Dorado” running wild in the deserts of Arabia, one might instantly scream out “Simic!”:A firefly committed to the orphanagethe night I graduatedand prayed for the petite kindnessunknown to an aiming handinside a shoe. The imagery, the tone, the darkly comic sense of a violent world devoid of divine justice: it all seems to come out of the Simic playbook. But this sort of poetry doesn’t represent the heart of Felsenthal’s book, which is in essence an extended rumination, over many poems, on the theme of connecting with one’s ancestors through rituals connected with death and remembrance...*If Felsenthal fears distraction and forgetting, Airea D. Matthews fears self-deception—or so we can gather from her debut collection, the Yale Younger Poets Prize-winning Simulacra. The book—a contender for strongest debut collection of the year—is formally audacious. Matthews packs it with lyric poetry, prose poems, and closet drama, as well as epistolary poems and their contemporary analog, poems composed of fictitious text messages. The poems of Simulacra treat the theme of addiction—not from the addict’s point of view, but from the point of view of the addict’s family. The poems are particularly powerful in revealing a well-meaning family’s complicity. They cast light on the willingness of families to enable destructive behavior and, especially, the urge to cover up violence and disorder, to put up a false front so as to convince the world, and themselves, that everything is somehow okay when it most decidedly is not.* Julian Talamantez Brolaski is, I say with some confid[...]

Live! Free! One Night Only! Reading at the Poetry Foundation


Check it out! See you there!

Reggie Watts and Karl Pilkington Wrestle in Heaven


Rejoice! The new issue of Copper Nickel is out.  It includes an essay of mine called "Reggie Watts and Karl Pilkington Wrestle in Heaven," about comedy, populism, globalism, and, of course, Karl Pilkington and Reggie Watts.  It starts like this: They don’t wrestle, and they aren’t in Heaven, but it’s a better title than “The Wind and the Lion, or: Reggie Watts and Karl Pilkington, an Essay That Gets a Little Dark and Political at the End.* At the end of The Wind and the Lion, a mid-seventies orientalist extravaganza of a film, a Barbary pirate king played by Sean Connery writes to a distant Teddy Roosevelt, whose warships and Marines—representatives of modernity and the budding American empire—threaten to destroy him and his people.  “I, like the lion, must stay in my place,” intones Connery in voiceover, not quite managing to get the Scotland out of his voice, “while you, like the wind, will never know yours.”* There are many ways to understand comedy. There’s Hobbes’ way, which is all about feeling superior to the schmuck who took a pie to the face; Kant’s way, which is about the unexpectedness of using a pie as a projectile; and Freud’s, which says we’re just giggling with relief when we stop suppressing our forbidden aggressions and smash a pie into some fool’s face. But if you want to understand two of the most striking figures of contemporary comedy, Reggie Watts and Karl Pilkington, you could do worse than to start with the words of a fictional Barbary pirate. To be clear: Pilkington’s the lion in this scenario. The bald, Mancunian lion. And Reggie Watts, whose voluminous afro differentiates him from Pilkington as much as his apparent cosmopolitan placelessness, is the wind. Let’s start with the lion.* Everyone who stumbled through graduate school in the humanities knows Kant credited David Hume with awakening him from his dogmatic slumber, but few know that he cribbed from another Scottish philosopher, James Beattie, when he put together his theory of the comic as the incongruous. Laughter, Beattie says, arises when things that don’t belong together unite—and Kant said much the same, more prominently and with far less clarity. And incongruity does explain a great deal of comedy, from Steve Martin wearing an arrow through his head while playing banjo in old Saturday Night Live episodes, to any solemn cleric or public speaker letting loose with a burst of surprisingly audible flatulence. It would seem to explain much of the comic effect of watching Karl Pilkington travel the world in the Sky TV series An Idiot Abroad.  When, for example, Karl Pilkington stands on the Great Wall of China, looking out over the vast, venerable, and sublime fortification as it snakes away over the mountains of the Chinese north, we’d expect something like awe from him. He even seems, for a moment, to provide it, saying “It goes on for miles, over hills and such,” before deflating it all: “but so does the M6” (a perpetually traffic-clogged British motorway). The reaction is incongruous in a way Beattie and Kant would understand. And it involves something like the special kind of incongruity Mikhail Bakhtin saw as central to comedy—the “transcoding” in which something grand or sacred is juxtaposed to something banal or (in the most powerful cases) obscene.  But if we understand Karl Pilkington merely as a producer of incongruous comments, we miss what’s special to him. We miss what makes him a lion.* You want to understand Karl Pilkington? Then you want to understand the power of narrowness. You want to understand the brilliance of narrowness....UPDATE: Now available online here.The issue can be ordered here. Another essay of mine on comic poetry is here.[...]

When a Poem's Wrongness is Right: Notes on Anthony Madrid


The laws of logic may well maintain that something cannot be simultaneously wrong and right—but the laws of poetry beg to differ.  The laws of Anthony Madrid's poetry certainly do.  I talk a little bit about why and how in "When a Poem's Wrongness is Right," just out in Hyperallergic.  It begins like this:

“There was an old man of Toulouse,” Edward Lear once wrote, “Who purchased a new pair of shoes.” He continues his limerick this way: “When they asked, ‘Are they pleasant?’ he said, ‘Not at present!’/That turbid old man of Toulouse.” Anthony Madrid, a lover of limericks (along with ghazals, and more or less any kind of formal verse), says this about the Lear’s poem: 
Someone could say it’s clever. To which I shrug. It is clever; there’s a technical ingenuity involved, OK. But the beauty of the thing has everything to do with the slight incongruities of asking a person if his new shoes are “pleasant,” and of that person’s responding that they currently are not. This is a very choice example of the “right wrong thing.” The wrongness is right. 
If we were looking for a pocket-sized synopsis of Madrid’s poetics — his answer to Pound’s “Make it new” or Wordsworth’s “spontaneous overflow of feelings recollected in tranquility” — we could do worse than to go with “the wrongness is right.” At the very least, it’s a good clue as to how we might read his latest collection, Try Never (Canarium, 2017).
The rest is available here. 

Poetry and the Alphabet


Years ago, Ron Silliman wrote an essay called "Disappearance of the Word, Appearance of the World," where he claimed that popular fiction sought to make language disappear, putting words together so innocuously that they disappeared, letting a kind of movie play in the head of the viewer (his example for this, if I recall correctly, was a novelization of the movie Jaws).  There's something to this line of thinking, and I tried to push it a bit further in an essay on the use of letters (alphabetical letters, not epistolary ones) in poetry. It's called "Immigrants and Kings: The Letter in the Empire of Poetry." Here's how it starts:The writing of letters is an art as old as any other, and came to us, if Berossus, Priest of Marduk in Babylon is to be believed, when Oannes, a great fish with the head and feet of a man emerged, speaking, from the Erythraean Sea. Oannes taught the ignorant people of Chaldea not only how to write, but how to build houses, found temples, compose laws, collect fruits, and distinguish between the seeds of many different plants.As venerable as writing was in the tale told by Berossus, it is more venerable still as described in the pages of the Sefer Yetzirah, the first great work of Jewish esoterism. Reading this ancient work we find that God created nothing—not mankind, not the seraphim, neither the earth nor the heavens nor seas—until he first created the alphabet. “Twenty-two letters did he engrave and carve,” we read, “he weighed them and moved them around into different combinations. Through them, he created the soul of every living being and the soul of every word.” The letters, fixed on a wheel of 231 gateways, precede and give birth to all else in creation.We don’t know exactly when poetry began, though we have, from a few surviving totems and similar relics, a sense of when symbolic thinking came about—some 70,000 years ago—and we can surmise that poetry, in the form of ritual incantations, funeral rites, and tales of tribal origins, emerged around the same time. Writing, even in its most primitive forms, came about many thousands of years later, after the agricultural revolution created a need for contracts and tally-sheets for merchants in grain and cattle. Only later still did writing become sophisticated enough to record poetry.All of this is by way of saying that letters come late to the great and ancient kingdom of poetry, a kingdom that accepted them begrudgingly. The whole essay is in the Ilanot Review, and you can read it online here. [...]

Revolutions Reviewed!


The always-interesting journal Galatea Resurrects has been kind enough to run a review of my recent book written with John Matthias and Jean Dibble, Revolutions: A Collaboration.  Ralph La Charity says some kind things.  He understands the relationship between the historical source in Mandalstam's poetry, Matthias' reworking and riffing on those poems, Dibble's prints reaction to Matthias, and my own commentary, and concludes by saying:
Throughout REVOLUTIONS the beholder is treated to a many-angled banquet of effects.  As elusive as any one effect might be, it is in the mixing of all those effects that the book achieves itself.  The poet achieves grace for his terrorized forebear, the visual artist achieves a poetics of sighted sound, and the critic takes us into an orientation we receive as grandly utile in its breadth and particularity both.  And yes, the book manifestly rewards re-reading and re-apprehending, since I have managed to give but a teasing hint as to how its complexities meld into a variegated whole that is, truly, sublime. 
La Charity also calls me a "a speculative unraveler par excellence," which may be my favorite epithet ever.

The review can be read online here.

The Politics of Stupidity, or: The Prescience of Pierre Bourdieu


In the last years of his life, Pierre Bourdieu turned with increasing urgency to political questions.  Seeing in globalization an ever-greater concentration of all forms of capital—financial, educational, symbolic, and so forth—he called for a true internationalism, a set of reforms at the European and, ultimately, global level to rein in the forces that would reduce everything to a commodity, and render up all commodities into the hands of the few. Speaking to an audience of students in Berlin in June of 2000, he said a few words about the nature of the emerging global elite that resonate particularly well with today’s grim political picture. Those words go a long way toward explaining the nature of the kind of resentful populism—and in some cases, fascism—that we see rising around us.He speaks of the unequal distribution of cultural capital, including the kinds of capital (advanced educational degrees, international travel, familiarity with the keywords of prestige fields like economics or the sciences, readership of intellectually challenging books and media, etc.) amassed by the elites of the emerging global economy. To be clear: this is an elite broadly conceived—not merely the 1% we railed against at Occupy, but the professional and managerial classes.  I, and most of those reading likely to be reading this, are members of that class, whether we care to admit it or not.The ruling class no doubt owes its extraordinary arrogance to the fact that, being endowed with very high cultural capital (most obviously of academic origin, but also nonacademic), it feels perfectly justified in existing as it currently exists… The educational diploma is not merely a mark of academic distinction: it is perceived as a warrant of natural intelligence, of giftedness.  Thus the “new economy” has all the characteristics to appear as the “brave new world.”  It is global and those who dominate it are often international, polyglot, and polycultural (by opposition to the locals, the “national” or “parochial”). It is immaterial or “weightless”: it produces and circulates weightless objects such as information and cultural products.  As a consequence, it can appear as an economy of intelligence, reserved for “intelligent” people (which earns it the sympathy of “hip” journalists and executives).  Sociodicy [the means by which a society justifies itself] here takes the form of a racism of intelligence: today’s poor are not poor, as they were thought to be in the nineteenth century, because they are improvident, spendthrift, intemperate, etc.—by opposition to the “deserving poor”—but because they are dumb, intellectually incapable, idiotic. In short, in academic terms “they got their just deserts”…There’s a kind of smugness, Bourdieu says, to the widely-held belief among elites that we got here because we’re smart, and others ended up where they are because they’re stupid—a smugness based on an almost willful blindness to the barriers to the development of human capital faced by the majority of the population, and a on a discrediting of forms of knowledge other than those held in esteem by elites.  But so what? Well, there’s this, when Bourdieu continues:The victims of such a powerful mode of domination… are very deeply damaged in their self-image. And it is no doubt through this mediation that a relationship—most often unnoticed or misunderstood—can be traced between neoliberal politics [the deregulated, financialized, and internationalized world of globalization] and certain fascistoid forms of revolt among those who, feeling excluded from access to intelligenc[...]

Arks & Covenants: The Poet as Aphorist & Essayist


Poussin's paintings, Shakespeare's epitaph, Thom Gunn's existentialism, and many other things animate the elegantly written essays in Alfred Corn's new collection of prose, Arks & Covenants. As fascinating as the essays are, though, my favorite part of the book is its collection of aphorisms. There have been times and places when collections of maxims and bon mots have been expected from writers—but our time and place is not one of them.  This makes me love them all the more. Here's what I said about Corn's aphorisms in an essay called "Without Trumpets" that serves as an afterword to the book:
Corn’s own eccentricities include his commitment to the aphorism as a literary form. The aphorism, of course, has an ancient and distinguished tradition: for centuries, any French writer without a book of maxims would have to make excuses for the omission. But, as Corn points out in the introduction to the collection of his own aphorisms included here, the form has passed from fashion, and has difficulty finding a publisher and an audience. Corn’s aphorisms certainly deserve an audience for their exemplary mondanité. For the present context, though, it is interesting to note how many of his aphorisms turn upon observations on the same themes around which his criticism revolves. When, for example, Corn writes this observation about dogs, we are back in the realm of cultural influence and transformation: “Dogs outside their masters’ houses at night inspire each other to ‘speak.’ One bark sets off another, and so on until all within earshot wake up and join in. The same with literary folk.” Similarly, when Corn writes ““Insofar as the author’s task is to find speech capable of communicating what can’t be said, writing resembles the Incarnation, in which ineffable deity becomes visible flesh and audible word” we are returning to his obsession with Christian forms of the sacred. And how can we read “Humility is not the same thing as humiliation, but if you’ve never been humiliated you probably won’t attain it” without feeling Corn’s compassion for the social outsider?
Arks & Covenants is available here. 

Laureate Poets and Heretic Poets in the TLS


I've always romanticized the Grand Old Literary Newsprint Journals—the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books and, best of all, the Times Literary Supplement. It's not often I've encountered references to my own work when flipping through the TLS (three times, not that I'm counting), so I was delighted to run across Stephen Burt's "Laureates and Heretics" in the May 3 issue—an article that takes its name from a book of mine that came out several years ago.Burt's essay isn't about my book: it's a review of two books of essays by contemporary poets, Alan Shapiro's The Self-Forgetful Perfectly Useless Concentration and John Matthias' At Large.  But—noting that both Shapiro and Matthias studied in the considerable shadow Yvor Winters cast at Stanford (Matthias under the man himself, Shapiro under his disciples)—Burt chose to use Laureates and Heretics as a means of understanding the two poets.  My book, after all, was about Winters' last generation of students, and the poetic careers they went on to have.  Burt gives a good, quick sense of the book in his introductory paragraph:In 2010 the Illinois-based poet and critic Robert Archambeau published Laureates and Heretics, about “six careers in American poetry”: those of Yvor Winters (1900–68) and five of Winters’s last graduate students at Stanford University. Of those, Robert Pinsky and Robert Hass became US Poet Laureates, while John Peck, John Matthias and James McMichael (the heretics) found small, loyal, contrarian audiences for their drier and more obviously learned poetry. Archambeau showed that Winters’s astringent yet charismatic pedagogy, his early modernist experiments and the severe doctrines of his later years – against raw emotion and modernist uncertainty, in favour of reason, control and inherited rules – could generate sharply divergent poetic programmes. He also showed how a particular way of reading, indebted to Winters’s poetic tastes and touchstones (including Ben Jonson, J. V. Cunningham and George Herbert’s “Church Monuments”), could persist for generations, even as its acolytes diverged.Burt goes on to use the notion of "laureate" and "heretic" poetics to describe Shapiro and Matthias, respectively:Shapiro’s fourth volume of prose. Most of its nine essays recommend, persuasively and movingly, what Archambeau might call a laureate programme: personal but guarded, never opaque, fiercely committed to the double notion that poetry can be read by everyone, and that it requires hard work to write. Shapiro may never become US Poet Laureate, but his moderate, democratic, inviting prescriptions fit Archambeau’s laureate frame.... John Matthias remains one of Archambeau’s heretics, and he writes for readers who have already read a great deal, or in some cases for readers who have read every issue of Notre Dame Review, the literary journal that Matthias co-edited in the 1990s and 2000s.There's something in that critical distinction.  And there's something special in it for me: it's always good to encounter one's own paradigm put to use.The article is available in print, and online, here, to subscribers.[...]

On Rhyme Out Now!


Rejoice! David Caplan has edited a collection of essays called On Rhyme, with contributions from a host of interesting people. Here's the table of contents:

Rhyme in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry

Stephen Burt – Cornucopia, or, Contemporary American Rhyme
Robert Archambeau – Inventions of a Barbarous Age: Rhyme in Contemporary American Poetry
Maureen N. McLane – Divigations on Rhyme: For Rhyme, or Rhyme
Roi Tartakovsky – Rhyme Random: Robert Creeley's Sporadic Rhymes.

Rhyme Across Time Periods

Simon Jarvis – Why Rhyme Pleases
Anthony Madrid – Seventeen Quotations with Commentary.

Rhyme in Earlier Poetry

Christina Pugh – Emily Dickinson, Rhyme, and Sonic Ambivalence
Michael C. Clody – The Matter of Rhyme in Tudor Poetics
Peter McDonald – Boundaries and Ways between: Rhyme and the Hermetic
David Scott Wilson-Okamura – Spenser's Drone.

Poetry Portfolio

Charles Bernstein – "Fare Thee Well" and "What Makes a Poem a Poem?"
Maureen N. McLane – "On Not Being Elizabethan"
Jennifer Moxley – "The Bittersweet Echo" and "The Poetry Lesson"
Albert Goldbarth – "Migration Song"
Michael Robbins – “Sonnets to Edward Snowden”

Hip Hop and Rhyme

Natalie Gerber – Stress vs. Syllable Timing: Global Englishes, Rhyme, and Rap
David Caplan – The Inheritors of Hip Hop: Reclaiming Rhyme

Rhyme in Other Texts

H.L. Hix – Identical Rhyme and Multiplicity of Identity
Marjorie Perloff – Afterward: What the Ear Demands.

Revolutions: A Collaboration — Or How to Write in the Age of Trump and Putin


p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 12.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Times} How to write in the time of Trump and Putin? In words and images, John Matthias, Jean Dibble, and Robert Archambeau give you an answer to consider: find the muse of amusement and the reality of facts and twin them: you will arrive at "Revolutions," which instructs us on the possible meanings and uses of poetry in an Age of Emergency. These collaborators sing of methods of representation and ways to make new. Visually stimulating, linguistically innovative, this is work of invention and innovation to help us survive. From eidolon to Eisenhower, from Eiffel to Eichmann, the leaps keep us on our toes. There is much consolation in the anxiety of forms.—Maxine ChernoffThat's the jacket copy got Revolutions: A Collaboration, a book I co-wrote with John Matthias, with images by Jean Dibble. It's just out from Dos Madres Press and looks great. But what's it about? There's no easy way to say, but I'd start with this: it takes scenes from the life and works of the great Russian poet Mandelstam, crosses them with events from the life of John Matthias, and bends everything toward a fictive realm, all the while commenting on the nature of cognition, memory, and the (possibly redemptive) imagination.  Here's an example of one of John's poems with my commentary (the "HIJ" is a fictive character based on the three consecutive letters of the alphabet H, I and J, and the poem uses words from the entry for those letters in the dictionary based on a kind of Oulipo-derived formula):From THE HIJOFIT Poems by John Matthias, commenatry by Robert Archambeau      1. Haphazard            is the method of the new hussars;the tsar’s unhappy; bless himand applause aplenty bring to his tsarina.All bells toll this inauspicious hour.Peasant absentee shuns orthodoxy ofthe Bishop of Pah. It reigns down from cloudsO hallelujah crowd and ever after: Winds blowacross the steppe, the messengercaught up in mass and missionfails in the individual soul: Everything’s for sale,especially oil, soil.  Ahph!  Our brother’s pipelinesabotaged by cabbage claims.  Borsht!Poetics is no longer worth a pensioneven for a splaygirl in from Budapest. Anapests – the three red accents on her breasts.Hazard me a guess, dauntless guest of hap-penstance drinking vodka at our happy hour.That was the moment. That was the power.Hapax Legoman was his love, who drove a nine and twenty for her dower. H is for Haslam’s History            Who are they, then, these new hussars? And who’s the windblown messenger caught up in mass and mission? Who, also, is our brother, and who the splaygirl come from Budapest? “Hazard me a guess,” we hear. I’ll hazard this: they’re all from Haslam’s History, or close enough. Dull critic that I am, I won’t mimic Matthias, no. No, I’ll explain.            Silas Haslam’s History of the Land Called Uqbarexists only in one place—or three, depending how you count the reality of immaterial things.  For the most puritanical of enumerators, it exists only in a story by Jorge Luis Borges, “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” The hero of that story comes across a mention of Haslam’s History in the bibliography appended to the last article of a stray volume of the fictitious 1917 Anglo-American Encycl[...]

The Flash of Up: Reading Eric Elshtain


Here’s a poem called “Shawl Dance.” It’s by Eric Elshtain, from his 2015 book This Thin Memory A-Ha.The sky of it causesharmony in the bendingas a bird maneuvercreates a flash of up—she starts to sing—the youngLakota in a high school gym—to reverse the historyof the crowd’s shout—.And since, no sky is likethe kind that caused usunder the actof a single danceto be all too created*The referent is a very particular thing—the shawl dance, something performed by tribal groups of the Great Plains and the Canadian prairies.  In its way, it is an adaptation to humiliation and defeat.Starting in the 1920s, it became illegal for Native Americans to perform traditional religious and ceremonial dancing. In response, they developed new dances and costumes, a collection of movements and sartorial signifiers that went under the name of “the fancy dance.” It was a way to get around the laws that were meant to stamp out Native American cultural identity, to mutate old forms and let them survive, shorn of much of their old significance.  The dances, while not religious, became rituals of identity, and so gained a different kind of dignity—even when they were commodified, and performed for tourists during the Depression, when plains tribes were harder pressed even than the homesteaders of the dustbowl.The shawl dance was a particularly female element of the fancy dance, and represented a butterfly coming out of a cocoon.  Rebirth, a perennial theme in all human cultures, takes on a particular resonance in the context of the fancy dance, born from the murder of old religious forms, and born as art, and beauty.I like that in Elshtain’s representation of it, the shawl dance forms a harmony that is also a sky: it is the rebirth of a universe, of a cultural world that might have disappeared.I like, too, that it takes place in a high school gym—that it is a moment within a larger, encompassing culture that speaks back against the history that brought that encompassing culture to dominance on the plains (Elshtain adds a note, “South Dakota, 1998” indicating the location of the depicted events).And speaking of larger cultures, there’s an elegant, if oblique, reference to Christianity at the end of the poem: there is no sky, we read, like the kind under which we were all created—or, more specifically, under which we were “all too created.”  That’s the fall we’re talking about—how we came into being with the potential to sin, to be expelled from the Edenic harmony prepared for us into a world of suffering and (oh Cain, oh Abel) violence.  Eden only exists for us now in dreams and artifice, in the harmony to which we can feel we  ascend, just momentarily, in the “flash of up” flights of art.*The referent is compelling, but it is presented somewhat obscurely, a little sideways, a little odd of angle.  When we hit the first line, it takes just a moment to be sure the “it” is the shawl dance of the title.  And we don’t read “The Lakota girl, in the traditional dance, casts her shawl up in a birdlike motion to create a kind of artificial shawl-sky above her.” We read something that asks us to make a bit of a leap.  And I’m still not quite sure how to take the part of the second stanza about the crowd’s shout.  I mean, I understand, or think I understand, about the dance reversing history, given what I know about the history and meaning of the fancy dance tradition of which the shawl dance is a part.  But in this scene, is what[...]

In Which I Am Interviewed By The Huffington Post


The good people at the Huffington Post have interviewed me about what’s going on in the poetry world. Here’s a snippet:
I’ve always thought the most uninteresting thing a critic can do is say “thumbs up!” or “thumbs down!”—at least if its just a matter of holding a book up to one’s pre-existing set of critical standards and seeing if it conforms. I’m always most excited when I encounter a book that either leaves me baffled or seems entirely at odds with what my instincts tell me poetry ought to be. This can be avant-garde work, of course, but it can also be things that are the poetic equivalents of mammoths unfrozen from the polar ice—as if they’d dropped in from another time.
The rest is available here.

When Revolution Was Sexy, or: Tania, Ché’s Woman in Bolivia


Not long ago, as I was shuffling my way through the local used bookshop, I saw a pristine copy of the November 1968 issue of Evergreen Review. William Burroughs! Céline! Nat Hentoff before he slid rightwards! The Chicago police riot! Something called “Tania: Ché’s Woman in Bolivia,” for which the only appropriate response is to shout “how was this not turned into a movie with Dennis Hopper in heavy makeup and Jane Fonda with a brunette dye-job?” And speaking of Jane Fonda: an ad for Barbarella on the back.  Hell yes I bought it. For a fiver, too.Reading around in the thing—the articles and letters, but also all the ads and paratext—made one thing absolutely clear to me: the revolution was eroticized.  I mean, half of the ads for books are for sex-themed reading, the ad for the Village Voice is a kind of callipygian parade, and you’ll see headings like “How about those kookie nudists?”  Of course it’s nothing new to note that the revolution that stuck, from those heady days of wide bandwidth rebellion, was the sexual revolution. It is striking, though, to see how hooked into other forms of rebellion it was. Revolution—the word, the concept, the display on the street.What’s amazing about this element of the 1960s is how it sits vis-a-vis some of what that great guru of the sixties, Herbert Marcuse, had to say in One-Dimensional Man. One of his better inventions was the notion of repressive desublimation. One element of the theory of repressive desublimation takes the form of a contention about libidinal energy.  Once upon a time, when we were all jammed up Victorians in tight corsets and high collars, goes the story, we couldn’t simply follow our erotic urges, so we attached them to higher ideals of one kind or another. Think Tristan and Isolde yearning for one another—the idea of erotic fulfillment becomes attached to something grand, something set in an imagined historical elsewhere, where passions are immense, where actions are significant, where we are heroic. It’s all very Madame Bovary, isn’t it—this sense of a better literary elsewhere as criticism of this world, and of that elsewhere being charged with eros? (Bovary is, in fact, one of Marcuse’s examples). From our perspective, of course, this kind of celebration of tragic and romantic love, “appears,” as Marcuse said, “to be the ideal of a backward stage” of development.  Good riddance to whalebone corsets and virginity-until-marriage!But wait. That better or idealized world we’d suffused with eros functions as a kind of critique of the world we live in: Marcuse calls it “The Great Refusal”—and it’s desirable, juiced up, because we’ve made it the sexy place. It’s where our sublimated sexual energies went.  When we stop sublimating, and decouple the erotic from the ideal, those other worlds lose their drawing power, and we miss the force of their implicit critique of our own world. Instead, we all just fuck—or, as Marcuse put it, we find our satisfactions “rigidly reduced” to “a localization and contraction of libido, the reduction of erotic to sexual experience and satisfaction.” We’re not freer and more happy than those Victorians who sublimated their erotic energy into dreams of other, better worlds.  “The Pleasure principle,” Marcuse writes, “is reduced—deprived of the claims which are irreconcilable with the established society. Pleasure, thus adjusted, generates submission.” And [...]

His Swords and Armor: Michael Donaghy Remembered at Poetry Daily


Happy to say that "His Swords and Armor: Remembering Michael Donaghy" is available in its entirety at Poetry Daily.  The piece originally ran in The Hopkins Review.

Resist Much/Obey Little, or: Here Comes Everybody, and They All Hate Trump


Remember how the anti-Trump demonstrations were so vast they sent our president running to his phone to squeak out some angry tweets? I'm hoping the vast list of contributors to Resist Much/Obey Little: Inaugural Poems to the Resistance will do the same. I've got a piece in the book, and so do these people:Nibaldo Acero Nancy Agabian Andrés Ajens Youssef Alaoui Rosa Alcalá Charles Alexander Will Alexander William Allegrezza Caitlin M. Alvarez Joe Amato Bruce Andrews Robert Archambeau Bob Arnold JoAnn Balingit Barbara Barg John Beer Ana Belén López Rosebud Ben-Oni John M. Bennet Steve Benson Jay Besemer Stephen Bett Richard Blevins BLUNT RESEARCH GROUP Andrew R. Boettcher Kathy Bohinc Charles Borkhuis Dianne Borsenik Michael Boughn Kent Bowker John Bradley Susan Briante Alan Britt Christopher Brown Lee Ann Brown Laynie Browne John Burns Melissa Buzzeo Don Byrd Anthony Cappo Xánath Caraza Brenda Cárdenas Jessica Wilson Cárdenas Kristen Case Hayan Charara cris cheek Chin-In Chen Maxine Chernoff Abigail Child Wendy Chin-Tanner chiwan choi Andres Cisneros de la Cruz Franklin K. R. Cline Norma Cole Victor Coleman Ed Coletti Matthew Cooperman Michael Copperman Joshua Corey Paul Corman-Roberts Lydia Cortes Ricardo Cortez Cruz Curtis L. Crisler Garin Cycholl Lyle Daggett Beverly Dahlen Pedro Damian Bautista Chris Daniels Ruth Danon Jill Darling doris davenport Michael Davidson Jenny L. Davis Jean Day Terence Degnan Ian Demsky Lynne DeSilva-Johnson Reed Dickson Linh Dinh Dante Di Stefano Thom Donovan Johanna Drucker Andrew DuBois Alice O. Duggan Denise Duhamel Patrick Dunagan Rachel Blau DuPlessis Marcella Durand Patrick Durgin Tongo Eisen-Martin Stephen Ellis Clayton Eshleman Carrie Etter Amy Evans Tanya Evanson Jim Feast Robert Fernandez Crystal Field Guillermo Filice Castro Bonny Finberg Annie Finch Norman Finklestein Norman Fischer Kass Fleisher Lewis Freedman Lisa Freedman Ru Freeman Bill Freind Philip Fried Gloria Frym William Fuller Kelle Grace Gaddis Matt Gagnon Forrest Gander Edgar Garcia Drew Gardner Joseph Gastiger Galo Ghigliotto David Giannini Robert Gibbons Daniela Gioseffi Judith Goldman Larry Goodell Nada Gordon Noah Eli Gordon Jaki Shelton Green Peter Milne Greiner Myla Grier Whit Griffin Rosemary Griggs Gabriel Gudding Jeff Gundy Eduardo Guzmán Chávez Rob Halpern Janet Hamill q.r. hand jr., Daniel Y. Harris Roberto Harrison Carla Harryman Quintus Havis Marwa Helal Michael Heller Jeanne Heuving William Heyen Matt Hill Owen Hill Brenda Hillman Jack Hirschman Andrea Hollander Bob Holman Darrel Alejandro Holnes Christopher Howell Detrick Hughes Brenda Iijima Alan W. Jankowski Lisa Jarnot Edgar Artaud Jarry Paolo Javier Brooks Johnson Judith Johnson Kent Johnson Patricia Spears Jones Pierre Joris Janine Joseph Fady Joudah Michael Joyce Judy Juanita George Kalamaras Eliot Katz Vincent Katz Tim Keane Douglas Kearney Burt Kimmelman Basil King David Kirby Davy Knittle Robert Kocik Ron Kolm Anja Konig Irene Koronas Dean Kostos Dee Dee Kramer Sean Labrador y Manzano Mark Lamoureux Susanna Lang Ted Lardner David Lau Patrick Lawler Mercedes Lawry Ruth Lepson Ken Letko Andrew Levy erica lewis Susan Lewis Genny Lim R. Zamora Linmark Joan Logghe Janice A. Lowe Brian Lucas Nathaniel Mackey Steven Manuel Filip Marinovich Al Markowitz Shelly Marlow Jack Martin Valerie Martínez Paul Martinez-Pompa Siwar Masannat Farid Matuk Syreeta McFadden Rubén Medina Caits Meissner Miranda Mellis [...]

Anthony Madrid's Defense of Rhyme


You want to know about rhyme, you ask Anthony Madrid.  Trust me on this.  Here's the beginning of his new essay, "A Gallery of Rhymes from Palgrave's Golden Treasury," the latest installment in the "Essays & Commentary" section I edit for Plume: Spring, the sweet Spring, is the year's pleasant king;Then blooms each thing, then maids dance in a ring,Cold doth not sting, the pretty birds do sing, Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!This is the first stanza of a short poem by Thomas Nash. I have “bolded” the rhyme words, as I shall be doing throughout these notes.The poem first appeared in Summer’s Last Will and Testament (1592), a play that no one has read in hundreds of years. The poem occurs near the beginning of the play. It is a song.There is another poem from Summer’s Last Will that is more famous nowadays, I mean the one with the refrain “I am sick, I must die. / Lord have mercy on us.” Naturally, it occurs at the end of the play.“I am sick, I must die” did not make it into Palgrave’s Golden Treasury. “Spring, the sweet spring” did. Nothing else by Nash is in there. However, it was used as the first poem on page 1. “Book First,” first poem: “Spring, the sweet spring.”It was a bold choice. It only has one good line in it. However, that line is repeated three times in thirteen lines: “Cuckoo, jug-jug,” etc. Palgrave and the other people on his secret committee (which included Tennyson), had no doubts about this piece.Forget the good line. Look at the rhymes. At least two things worth commenting on. Number one, the fact that you get not a rhyme pair but a rhyme hexagon. That’s not common. Number two, it’s not an equilateral hexagon. What do I mean by that.I mean the status of the words sting and ring is quite inferior to that of spring, king, thing, and sing. Look in any concordance to any lyrical poet’s works. You’ll find the words sting and ring are not used as rhymes with anywhere near the frequency that the other four are.Your concordance will also show that the rhyme pair {spring|sing} beats any other combination of those six words, probably by a factor of ten-to-one. The reason is obvious, we needn’t get into it.The crazy thing is: If you rank the words by frequency, you’ll find the “pecking order” is more or less the same among poets born in the same generation. This is because lyric poets are a bunch of brainless babblers, just as we ourselves are. They want more than anything else for their song or poem to sound like a song or a poem, and so they are forced by powers larger than themselves to say things like “Spring, the sweet spring, is the year’s pleasant king.” It can’t be helped.But I’m about to say something very important. There was nothing wrong in 1592, and there is nothing wrong in 2017, with using the same rhyme pairs over and over and over. You can call {sing|spring} a “rhyme cliché” if you want, but that attitude leads to flushing six sevenths of world literature down the toilet. More on this hereafter.Hereafter begins here, where the whole essay can be found. p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 24.0px 0.0px; line-height: 32.0px; font: 16.0px Times; color: #858585; background-color: #fdfdfd} span.s1 {letter-spacing: 0.8px} [...]