Culture

Horrible, Horrible Free Verse

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This is what a poet laureate looks like!

If you're looking for Sunday reading and you are in the mood for a good jeremiad, try Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist, a novel/polemic that argues for the supremacy not only of rhyming poetry, but for the four-beat line (not the French-import five-beat or six-beat line) as the essential unit of English language song.

I've slagged Baker in the past, and off the top of my head I'd put up the all-hexameter "Paint It Black" as evidence against the dogma of the tetrameter (which I think speaks mostly to the circumstances of late-20th century childhood, when Dr. Seuss was the only popular writer regularly producing rhymed verse).

But Baker (for whom I rediscover my fondness as he becomes more of a full-service crank getting equally exercised over World War II, presidential assassination, and card catalogues) unleashes his genius for micron-level description, anthropomorphism, and faux-innocent revisionist narrative. Here Baker describes his first experience of the national catastrophe of haiku, in fourth grade:

So the teacher said: we're going to learn something new today. A new way of writing poetry. It's called haiku. And it's going to allow you—to make art.

And it has a couple of different lines, three lines, and one line has some arbitrary number of syllables, and another line has another arbitrary number of syllables, et cetera. And I heard her describing this, and I knew, even then. I knew even then that it was bogus.

This, children, is a kind of poetry that makes perfect, thrilling sense in Japanese, and makes no sense whatsoever in English. That's what she should have told us. This form is completely out of step with the English language. And the person who foisted it on us—that person was a demon.

Although the novel part of the book consists of some disposable scaffolding about a not-quite-Bakeresque hero and his relationships, the structure is an argument that poetry has been under a rhyme-hating hipster dictatorship for nearly 100 years. Baker traces all "evil" to Ezra Pound (I'd have said Ezra Klein), the regrettably prolific author, modernist and gadfly, and he traces the solidification of Pound's doctrine to the post-war period, when Pound was institutionalized after having made ecstatically pro-Mussolini broadcasts from Fascist Italy: "Pound, who was by nature a blustering bigot—a humorless jokester—a talentless pasticheur—a confidence man—was now supported by the American state."

I think Baker is even more right here than he knows. A persistent theme of the cultural cold war—evident in Encounter magazine and the promotion of Jackson Pollock as a cultural ambassador—was the U.S. government's belief that high modernism was the right language to use against the Soviet project. Baker traces the evolution through public and private intitutions, in stories such as the see-saw anthologizing and de-anthologizing of ace rhymester and one-time laureate Karl Shapiro.

That is, the consensus for poetry as nothing more than "prose in slow motion" was supported by all officialdom, from the Poets Laureate to The New Yorker, whose page-warmer poems get a vivid depiction:

Let's have a look at this poem. Here it is, going down. You can tell it's a poem because it's swimming in a little gel pack of white space. That shows it's a poem. All the typography on all sides has drawn back. The words are making room, they're saying, Rumble, rumble, stand back now, this is going to be good. Here's the magician will do his thing. Here's the guy who's going to eat razor blades… The prose will have been pulled back, and the poem will be there, cavorting, saying, I'm a poem, I'm a poem. No, you're not! You're an imposter, you're a toy train of pretend stanzas of chopped garbage.

I would say Baker is clearly right in asserting that the consensus for prosaic poetry was once so strong that to be in favor of rhyming was to be a wild-eyed hippie, or Richard Wilbur. Disrespect for rhyme was actually taught in school. Baker's fourth grade scenes again:

What did she really mean by "It doesn't have to rhyme?" Did she mean it could rhyme but it didn't have to? No. She meant Don't rhyme. She meant: I am going to manacle your poor pliable brains with freedom. I'm going to insist that you must be free. She wrote "FREE VERSE" on the board.

And I…thought, What does she mean it doesn't have to rhyme? It does have to rhyme! It's got to rhyme, because rhyme is poetry. Where did Little Miss Muffet sit? Did she sit on a cushion? Did she sit on a love seat? No, she sat on a tuffet.

The prosing conspiracy, in Baker's telling, is Pynchonian in its sweep. It dates back as far as a 1602 Thomas Campion essay in favor of blank verse. It encompasses metaphysical questions like Thomas Babington 1st Baron Macaulay's guess that the really popular songs of the Greeks and Romans were never written down, because everybody had them memorized.

I think Baker may miss the degree to which the regime of free verse has weakened. Five years ago, future poet laureate Kay Ryan wrote this riveting first-person piece acknowledging that sessions on sonnets and sestinas were the biggest seat-fillers at a conference of self-identified poets. The New Yorker does occasionally publish rhymed verse under current poetry editor Paul Muldoon (with whom Baker conducts one of those imaginary friendships he does well).

I would say this transition has been something forced on the Fellowship of the Fellowships by popular demand. You can only ignore for so long that there is a vast audience willing to pay 99 cents at a time for rhymed verses—often rhymed verses that are spoken with accompaniment rather than sung. Somebody's filling up those poetry slams. Baker even flirts with the idea that market forces improve art:

At some point you have to set aside snobbery and what you think is culture and recognize that any random episode of Friends is probably better, more uplifting for the human spirit, than ninety-nine percent of the poetry or drama or fiction or history ever published. Think of that…. [S]ome of the most inventive people get no recognition at all. They get tons of money but no recognition as artists. Which is probably much healthier for them and better for their art.

Baker could have been a sport and mentioned that The Rembrandts' "I'll Be There For You" is composed in a combination of hexameters and pentameters. Or he might have updated his TV references to include Legend of the Seeker, which here exposes Baker's favored ballad stanza as the last province of male chauvinism:

 

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  1. Into My Own

    One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
    So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
    Were not, as ’twere, the merest mask of gloom,
    But stretched away unto the edge of doom.

    I should not be withheld but that some day
    Into their vastness I should steal away,
    Fearless of ever finding open land,
    Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.

    I do not see why I should e’er turn back,
    Or those should not set forth upon my track
    To overtake me, who should miss me here
    And long to know if still I held them dear.

    They would not find me changed from him the knew–
    Only more sure of all I though was true.

    1. disappoint

      1. Indeed.

        1. My little horse must think it queer
          To say this shit with no poets near..

          1. Your little pony knows your queer
            He packs your shit with K-Y clear…

    2. Frost wrote some great “non-rhyming” poetry too.

    3. A man said to the universe:
      “Sir I exist!”
      “However,” replied the universe,
      “The fact has not created in me
      A sense of obligation.”

  2. The dog yawned
    and almost swallowed
    My Dharma

    1. Damn hippies killed all the beatniks. That’s why you never meet any beatniks today.

      1. Good Lord, who do you root for in that fight? I don’t even know.

        1. Whoever has the most pot.

        2. Beatniks of course.
          They had better haircuts.
          And clothes.

          1. Hazel:

            Allan Ginsberg v. Abbie Hoffman.

            You really have your money on Ginsberg?

      2. I thought it was cheap gin and syphalis that killed them.

  3. Waiting for the Barbarians:

    What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

    The barbarians are due here today.

    Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
    Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

    Because the barbarians are coming today.
    What laws can the senators make now?
    Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

    Why did our emperor get up so early,
    and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate
    on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

    Because the barbarians are coming today
    and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
    He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
    replete with titles, with imposing names.

    Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
    wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
    Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
    and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
    Why are they carrying elegant canes
    beautifully worked in silver and gold?

    Because the barbarians are coming today
    and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

    Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual
    to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

    Because the barbarians are coming today
    and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

    Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
    (How serious people’s faces have become.)
    Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
    everyone going home so lost in thought?

    Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
    And some who have just returned from the border say
    there are no barbarians any longer.

    And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
    They were, those people, a kind of solution.

  4. Maya Angelou or Rod McKuen?

    I’ll have to say … neither.

  5. THE MOON AND THE DEAD (1945)

    The road of the battle languished,
    The hate from the guns was still,
    While the moon rose up from a smoke cloud,
    And looked at the dead on the hill.

    Pale was her face with anguish,
    Wet were her eyes with tears,
    As she gazed on the twisted corpses,
    Cut off in their earliest years.

    Some were bit by the bullet,
    Some were kissed by the steel,
    Some were crushed by the cannon,
    But all were still, how still!

    The smoke wreaths hung in the hollows,
    The blood stink rose in the air;
    And the moon looked down in pity,
    At the poor dead lying there.

    Light of their childhood’s wonder,
    Moon of their puppy love,
    Goal of their first ambition,
    She watched them from above.

    Yet not with regret she mourned them,
    Fair slain on the field of strife,
    Fools only lament the hero,
    Who gives for faith his life.

    She sighed for the lives extinguished,
    She wept for the loves that grieve,
    But she glowed with pride on seeing,
    That manhood still doth live.

    The moon sailed on contented,
    Above the heaps of slain,
    For she saw that manhood liveth,
    And honor breathes again.

  6. To a Mouse

    WEE, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,
    Oh, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
    Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
    Wi’ bickering brattle!
    I was be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
    Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

    II

    I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
    Has broken Nature’s social union,
    An’ justifies that ill opinion
    Which makes thee startle
    At me, thy poor, earth-born companion
    An’ fellow-mortal!

    III

    I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
    What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
    A daimen-icker in a thrave
    ‘S a sma’ request;
    I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
    And never miss’t!

    IV

    Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
    Its silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
    An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
    O’ foggage green!
    An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin,
    Baith snell an’ keen!

    V

    Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
    An’ weary winter comin fast,
    An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
    Thou thought to dwell,
    Till crash! the cruel coulter past
    Out thro’ thy cell.

    VI

    That wee bit heap o’ leaves an stibble,
    Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
    Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
    But house or hald,
    To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
    An’ cranreuch cauld!

    VII

    But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
    In proving foresight may be vain:
    The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
    Gang aft a-gley,
    An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
    For promis’d joy!

    VIII

    Still thou art blest, compared wi’ me!
    The present only toucheth thee:
    But och! I backward cast my e’e,
    On prospects drear!
    An’ forward, tho’ I cannot see,
    I guess an’ fear!

  7. Democracy will not come
    Today, this year
    Nor ever
    Through compromise and fear.

    I have as much right
    As the other fellow has
    To stand
    On my two feet
    And own the land.

    I tire so of hearing people say,
    Let things take their course.
    Tomorrow is another day.
    I do not need my freedom when I’m dead.
    I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.

    Freedom
    Is a strong seed
    Planted
    In a great need.

    I live here, too.
    I want freedom
    Just as you.

  8. “Oh freddled gruntbuggly/thy micturations are to me/As plurdled gabbleblotchits on a lurgid bee.

    Groop I implore thee, my foonting turlingdromes. And hooptiously drangle me with crinkly bindlewurdles,

    Or I will rend thee in the gobberwarts with my blurglecruncheon, see if I don’t!”

  9. Through The Never

    All that is, was and will be
    universe much too big to see

    time and space never ending
    disturbing thoughts, questions pending
    limitations of human understanding
    too quick to criticize
    obligation to survive
    we hunger to be alive

    all that is, ever
    ever was
    will be ever
    twisting
    turning
    through the never

    in the dark, see past our eyes
    pursuit of trhuth no matter where it lies

    gazing up to the breeze of the heavens
    on a quest, meaning, reason
    came to be, how it begun
    all alone in the family of the sun
    curiosity teasing everyone
    on our home, third stone from the sun

    all that is, ever
    ever was
    will be ever
    twisting
    turning
    through the never

    on through the never
    we must go
    on through the never
    out of the
    edge of forever
    we must go
    on through the never
    then ever comes

    all that is, ever
    ever was
    will be ever
    who we are
    ask forever
    twisting
    turning
    through the never

    never

  10. The Little Boy and the Old Man

    Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
    Said the old man, “I do that too.”
    The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
    “I do that too,” laughed the little old man.
    Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
    The old man nodded, “So do I.”
    “But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
    Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”
    And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
    “I know what you mean,” said the little old man.

  11. Rail against Haiku?
    No on my watch my good sir!
    Cherry blossoms rise.

    1. An haiku
      By Kerroack
      Above you

    2. Pete Rose sat upon

      A tack whence winning a game

      Then Pete Rose again.

      (By me)

      1. glad you went to med school;-)

        1. ‘Twas not specified

          The Haikus submitted here

          Had best be perfect.

          1. Groovus Maximus|4.4.10 @ 8:20AM|#

            1. Yes, they can: provided the proper technique is practiced to perfection;-)

    3. Me and Raquel Welch
      I hear her orgasmic moan
      The best sex ever

      1. She’s 69. Something kind of hot about that;-)

      2. OK finally one I find appealing.

        Great job, TedS.

        1. asdfgh thought too much of himself
          for he did not know
          that the alphabet that followed
          was needed for words to grow

    4. Let’s get this Haiku party started!

      Share a sleeping bag?
      Guess you won’t make Eagle Scout
      Ah, there’s the sweet spot!

  12. stillness
    a chestnut leaf sinks
    through the clear water

  13. after the thunder-shower
    one tree in evening sunlight
    a cicada’s cry

  14. the library book
    overdue ?
    slow falling snow

    1. he kept the book late
      he loved to pay fines
      the money went to the city
      he gave them another dime

  15. Oh, when I was in love with you,
    Then I was clean and brave,
    And miles around the wonder grew
    How well did I behave.

    And now the fancy passes by,
    And nothing will remain,
    And miles around they ‘ll say that I
    Am quite myself again.

  16. twilight
    staples rust
    in the telephone pole

  17. Whiff the strong odor
    Fouling this spring day.
    ‘Tis libertarianism
    its true face revealed.

    1. Since the putrid odor of feces and stale urine was coming from your direction I thought it was you. Thanks for clearing that up. Now the only question is why the stink disappears when you leave.

      1. Remember: you’re not paying them for the time you spend with him, you are paying him to leave.

      2. As for the stink, I might suggest you be more selective in your rent-a-buddy menu selection. Because you have recognized the odor suggests a pattern.

        Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

  18. Is there no poetic way to tell my story?

    1. Yes there is, it’s called limerick.

      1. for a sense of humor?

  19. Easter, 1916

    I HAVE met them at close of day
    Coming with vivid faces
    From counter or desk among grey
    Eighteenth-century houses.
    I have passed with a nod of the head
    Or polite meaningless words,
    Or have lingered awhile and said
    Polite meaningless words,
    And thought before I had done
    Of a mocking tale or a gibe
    To please a companion
    Around the fire at the club,
    Being certain that they and I
    But lived where motley is worn:
    All changed, changed utterly:
    A terrible beauty is born.

    That woman’s days were spent
    In ignorant good-will,
    Her nights in argument
    Until her voice grew shrill.
    What voice more sweet than hers
    When, young and beautiful,
    She rode to harriers?
    This man had kept a school
    And rode our winged horse;
    This other his helper and friend
    Was coming into his force;
    He might have won fame in the end,
    So sensitive his nature seemed,
    So daring and sweet his thought.
    This other man I had dreamed
    A drunken, vainglorious lout.
    He had done most bitter wrong
    To some who are near my heart,
    Yet I number him in the song;
    He, too, has resigned his part
    In the casual comedy;
    He, too, has been changed in his turn,
    Transformed utterly:
    A terrible beauty is born.

    Hearts with one purpose alone
    Through summer and winter seem
    Enchanted to a stone
    To trouble the living stream.
    The horse that comes from the road.
    The rider, the birds that range
    From cloud to tumbling cloud,
    Minute by minute they change;
    A shadow of cloud on the stream
    Changes minute by minute;
    A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
    And a horse plashes within it;
    The long-legged moor-hens dive,
    And hens to moor-cocks call;
    Minute by minute they live:
    The stone’s in the midst of all.

    Too long a sacrifice
    Can make a stone of the heart.
    O when may it suffice?
    That is Heaven’s part, our part
    To murmur name upon name,
    As a mother names her child
    When sleep at last has come
    On limbs that had run wild.
    What is it but nightfall?
    No, no, not night but death;
    Was it needless death after all?
    For England may keep faith
    For all that is done and said.
    We know their dream; enough
    To know they dreamed and are dead;
    And what if excess of love
    Bewildered them till they died?
    I write it out in a verse –
    MacDonagh and MacBride
    And Connolly and Pearse
    Now and in time to be,
    Wherever green is worn,
    Are changed, changed utterly:
    A terrible beauty is born.

    1. William Butler Yeats was a drunken Irishman. My kind of people. If only he could have managed to get over that annoying poetry problem of his.

      Damnit, man, what in the world are you trying to say? Just spit it out!

      None of us are perfect, some are only more imperfect than others.

  20. I wasted my poetry posting on Dan T yesterday. But no one here has posted in Welsh.

    1. Accept posts
      In non-English
      Script.

      1. It did yesterday.
        not sure
        how
        that happened.
        Check the Salinas thread.
        Free Verse!

  21. ‘Fear No More’

    Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
    Nor the furious winter’s rages;
    Thou thy worldly task hast done,
    Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages;
    Golden lads and girls all must,
    As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

    Fear no more the frown o’ the great;
    Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke:
    Care no more to clothe and eat;
    To thee the reed is as the oak:
    The sceptre, learning, physic, must
    All follow this, and come to dust.

    Fear no more the lightning-flash,
    Nor the all-dreaded thunder-stone;
    Fear not slander, censure rash;
    Thou hast finished joy and moan;
    All lovers young, all lovers must
    Consign to thee, and come to dust.

    1. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
      For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
      And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
      This above all: to thine own self be true,
      And it must follow, as the night the day,
      Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

      We may never know for fact who Shakespeare was, but he/she/they/it was/were very wise, and about that there is no doubt.

  22. There once was a magazine called Reason,
    that failed to acknowledge a Christian season.
    A weekend full of filler posts,
    but without Randian ghosts!
    Aw, you guys know I’m just teasin’.

    1. There once was a boy called Etiquette,
      he worried about Christian etiquette
      his posts are always filled with smut
      that’s why I like him very much

    2. The Food Nanny

      When Myron McGee was
      A small boy of three
      A contented, well nourished
      Young toddler was he.

      But when he turned seven
      He learned folks had died
      From starches and fats
      And foods that are fried.

      At twelve he was told
      Caffeine is a killer
      That salts make you ill
      And trans fats make iller.

      The nanny said Mc D’s
      Causes dreadful disease
      Like the the ones people get
      From school pizzas with cheese.

      Today it’s little wonder that
      Myron looks sickly thinner
      With food fears like these
      Would’nt you skip your dinner?

      (By GM)

      1. “If you’re really hungry quit bawling and put your hand back in the meat grinder.”

        (By Unknown)

        1. Ahh the scintillating aroma of your vacuous critique is directly proportional to the bloody seborrhoeic vaginal maelstrom vomiting from your orifice.

  23. Troll sat alone on his seat of stone,
    And munched and mumbled a bare old bone;
    For many a year he had gnawed it near,
    For meat was hard to come by.
    Done by! Gum by!
    In a cave in the hills he dwelt alone,
    And meat was hard to come by.

    Up came Tom with his big boots on.
    Said he to Troll: “Pray, what is yon?
    For it looks like the shin o’ my nuncle Tim,
    As should be a-lyin’ in graveyard.
    Caveyard! Paveyard!
    This many a year has Tim been gone,
    And I thought he were lyin’ in graveyard.”

    “My lad,” said Troll, “this bone I stole.
    But what be bones that lie in a hole?
    Thy nuncle was dead as a lump o’ lead,
    Afore I found his shinbone.
    Tinbone! Thinbone!
    He can spare a share for a poor old troll,
    For he don’t need his shinbone.”

    Said Tom: “I don’t see why the likes o’ thee
    Without axin’ leave should go makin’ free
    With the shank or the shin o’ my father’s kin;
    So hand the old bone over!
    Rover! Trover!
    Though dead he be, it belongs to he;
    So hand the old bone over!”

    “For a couple o’ pins,” says Troll, and grins,
    “I’ll eat thee too, and gnaw thy shins.
    A bit o’ fresh meat will go down sweet!
    I’ll try my teeth on thee now.*
    Hee now! See now!
    I’m tired o’ gnawing old bones and skins;
    I’ve a mind to dine on thee now.”

    *[as read by Tolkien on the tape:]
    Thee’ll be a nice change from thine nuncle.
    Sunkle! Drunkle!
    I’m tired of gnawing old bones and skins;
    Thee’ll be a nice change from thine nuncle.”

    But just as he thought his dinner was caught,
    He found his hands had hold of naught.
    Before he could mind, Tom slipped behind
    And gave him the boot to larn him.
    Warn him! Darn him!
    A bump o’ the boot on the seat, Tom thought,
    Would be the way to larn him.

    But harder than stone is the flesh and bone
    Of a troll that sits in the hills alone.
    As well set your boot to the mountain’s root,
    For the seat of a troll don’t feel it.
    Peel it! Heal it!
    Old Troll laughed, when he heard Tom groan,
    And he knew his toes could feel it.

    Tom’s leg is game, since home he came,
    And his bootless foot is lasting lame;
    But Troll don’t care, and he’s still there
    With the bone he boned from it’s owner.
    Doner! Boner!
    Troll’s old seat is still the same,
    And the bone he boned from it’s owner!

    1. You wouldn’t be a Tolkien fan if you knew he was a Serbophile, troll.

  24. Conscience

    Conscience is instinct bred in the house,
    Feeling and Thinking propagate the sin
    By an unnatural breeding in and in.
    I say, Turn it out doors,
    Into the moors.
    I love a life whose plot is simple,
    And does not thicken with every pimple,
    A soul so sound no sickly conscience binds it,
    That makes the universe no worse than ‘t finds it.
    I love an earnest soul,
    Whose mighty joy and sorrow
    Are not drowned in a bowl,
    And brought to life to-morrow;
    That lives one tragedy,
    And not seventy;
    A conscience worth keeping;
    Laughing not weeping;
    A conscience wise and steady,
    And forever ready;
    Not changing with events,
    Dealing in compliments;
    A conscience exercised about
    Large things, where one may doubt.
    I love a soul not all of wood,
    Predestinated to be good,
    But true to the backbone
    Unto itself alone,
    And false to none;
    Born to its own affairs,
    Its own joys and own cares;
    By whom the work which God begun
    Is finished, and not undone;
    Taken up where he left off,
    Whether to worship or to scoff;
    If not good, why then evil,
    If not good god, good devil.
    Goodness! you hypocrite, come out of that,
    Live your life, do your work, then take your hat.
    I have no patience towards
    Such conscientious cowards.
    Give me simple laboring folk,
    Who love their work,
    Whose virtue is song
    To cheer God along.

  25. Every morning I listen
    To NPR on my commute, and
    Every morning it starts off
    With Garrison Keillor’s selection
    Of asinine free verse.

    It did not take long to realize that
    Because I hit
    Enter randomly in the course
    Of this comment,
    I have just written a poem.

    1. You have my pity. NPR must be the only station your radio can pick up. Have you heard about satellite based radios? It’s the 21st century, there are alternatives.

      1. Naw, their news coverage is actually quite good. I find that I scream at the radio much less listening to them than others. It’s just that damned writers’ almanac that I hate.

        1. Despite its many failings, NPR really is one of the best broadcast news sources going. Not exactly a high bar, but what can you do?

  26. Someone watches Legend of the Seeker?

    1. It’s a very underrated show in my opinion. Sure, it’s kind of campy and corny, but it’s fun. I’ve never understood why shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Firefly were generally applauded by critics, while Seeker isn’t. The production values are on the low side, but the story is interesting and the acting is surprisingly good.

      Plus there are a lot of very attractive females on the show, which doesn’t hurt at all.

      1. If you are seriously comparing Firefly to Legend of the Seeker, you deserve the flaming you are about to get. That is not my doing; I merely foretell.

        1. I watched an episode of Firefly once. Fucking terrible.

      2. Sarah Michelle Gellar is very fine. I’d have to see Firefly and Seeker before I could critique them.

        Well, I haven’t actually seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer, either. My positive review is entirely based on Gellar. So a Google image search of the other two programs would be a less time consuming, and therefore preferred, method of reaching the same end.

    2. Sure. Where else are you going to see a Mord’Sith spouting rhyme?

      1. It seems to be written by BDSM-obsessed 12-year-olds. It hits the neverending question of gender relations with a carnival hammer every episode. There’s a fight or implied sex every five minutes. And it’s steady work for Bruce “Gyro Captain” Spence. I voted Yea even before they threw in the country where women have to speak in ballad verse or not at all.

        1. So Tim, just to clarify: you like the show because it’s has a aura of early pubescents into leather and shackels?

          And hey, no digging on the Trainman!

          Your implied misogyny is showing;-)

          Seriously, I have caught the show a few times and it’s entertaining. I really need to get one of those confessors.

  27. A dreaded sunny day
    So I meet you at the cemetry gates
    Keats and Yeats are on your side
    A dreaded sunny day
    So I meet you at the cemetry gates
    Keats and Yeats are on your side
    While Wilde is on mine

    So we go inside and we gravely read the stones
    All those people, all those lives
    Where are they now ?
    With loves, and hates
    And passions just like mine
    They were born
    And then they lived
    And then they died
    It seems so unfair
    I want to cry

    You say : “‘Ere thrice the sun done salutation to the dawn”
    And you claim these words as your own
    But I’ve read well, and I’ve heard them said
    A hundred times (maybe less, maybe more)
    If you must write prose/poems
    The words you use should be your own
    Don’t plagiarise or take “on loan”
    ‘Cause there’s always someone, somewhere
    With a big nose, who knows
    And who trips you up and laughs
    When you fall
    Who’ll trip you up and laugh
    When you fall

    You say : “‘Ere long done do does did”
    Words which could only be your own
    And then produce the text
    From whence was ripped
    (Some dizzy whore, 1804)

    A dreaded sunny day
    So let’s go where we’re happy
    And I meet you at the cemetry gates
    Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side
    A dreaded sunny day
    So let’s go where we’re wanted
    And I meet you at the cemetry gates
    Keats and Yeats are on your side
    But you lose
    ‘Cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

  28. Twelve o’clock.
    Along the reaches of the street
    Held in a lunar synthesis,
    Whispering lunar incantations
    Disolve the floors of memory
    And all its clear relations,
    Its divisions and precisions,
    Every street lamp that I pass
    Beats like a fatalistic drum,
    And through the spaces of the dark
    Midnight shakes the memory
    As a madman shakes a dead geranium.

    Half-past one,
    The street lamp sputtered,
    The street lamp muttered,
    The street lamp said,
    “Regard that woman
    Who hesitates toward you in the light of the door
    Which opens on her like a grin.
    You see the border of her dress
    Is torn and stained with sand,
    And you see the corner of her eye
    Twists like a crooked pin.”

    The memory throws up high and dry
    A crowd of twisted things;
    A twisted branch upon the beach
    Eaten smooth, and polished
    As if the world gave up
    The secret of its skeleton,
    Stiff and white.
    A broken spring in a factory yard,
    Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left
    Hard and curled and ready to snap.

    Half-past two,
    The street-lamp said,
    “Remark the cat which flattens itself in the gutter,
    Slips out its tongue
    And devours a morsel of rancid butter.”
    So the hand of the child, automatic,
    Slipped out and pocketed a toy that was running along
    the quay.
    I could see nothing behind that child’s eye.
    I have seen eyes in the street
    Trying to peer through lighted shutters,
    And a crab one afternoon in a pool,
    An old crab with barnacles on his back,
    Gripped the end of a stick which I held him.

    Half-past three,
    The lamp sputtered,
    The lamp muttered in the dark.

    The lamp hummed:
    “Regard the moon,
    La lune ne garde aucune rancune,
    She winks a feeble eye,
    She smiles into corners.
    She smooths the hair of the grass.
    The moon has lost her memory.
    A washed-out smallpox cracks her face,
    Her hand twists a paper rose,
    That smells of dust and old Cologne,
    She is alone With all the old nocturnal smells
    That cross and cross across her brain.
    The reminiscence comes
    Of sunless dry geraniums
    And dust in crevices,
    Smells of chestnuts in the streets
    And female smells in shuttered rooms
    And cigarettes in corridors
    And cocktail smells in bars.”

    The lamp said,
    “Four o’clock,
    Here is the number on the door.
    Memory!
    You have the key,
    The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair,
    Mount.
    The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall,
    Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life.”

    The last twist of the knife.

  29. Reminds me of this:
    http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~…..meani.html
    Andrew Gelman on Anthony Burgess on John Updike.

  30. Not all free verse is bad.

    Here’s a little gem about the goddess Anath from the Ugaritic tablets:

    Under her bounce severed heads like vultures
    Over her fly severed hands like locusts
    She plunges knee-deep in the blood of heroes
    Neck-high in the gore of troops.

    It’s a bit Rumsfeldian, and maybe it rhymed in the original, but it’s still OK.

      1. I also like it – a lot.

    1. If your officer’s dead and the sergeants look white,
      Remember it’s ruin to run from a fight:
      So take open order, lie down, and sit tight,
      And wait for supports like a soldier.
      Wait, wait, wait like a soldier . . .

      When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
      And the women come out to cut up what remains,
      Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
      An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.
      Go, go, go like a soldier,
      Go, go, go like a soldier,
      Go, go, go like a soldier,
      So-oldier ~of~ the Queen!

      -Rudyard Kipling

      1. Kipling never pulled any punches.

        1. Kipling’s great, too. I have to give him props.

  31. Saturday Night Live‘s animated “TV Funhouse”: “The Poetry of Jewel.”
    “The producers wish to apologize to and be spanked by Jewel.” Naturally, we all do.

    1. I agree that Jewel’s poetry sucks. But is it really any worse than anything by Whitman, Tennyson, or Byron? All poetry sucks. It’s a shame that I had to read and write so much of it when I was in (public) school.

      1. Public school sucks the joy out of everything, but are you seriously saying you hate all songs? All songs are poems. If you forget what school taught you about the virgin-whore type of dichotomy between “art” and entertainment, you surely can find poetry you like?even if only filthy limericks. At its heart, poetry is just playing around with words.

        1. All poetry sucks.

          Lies! T.S. Eliot, Alexander Pope and E.A. Poe rock! I will say that the ratio of bad poetry to good poetry is worse than that of any other art form.

      2. Jewel the singer?

        1. Yes, it’s poetry from Jewel Kilcher, the singer.

          1. Singer, no. Lip-syncer, perhaps.

            1. In the days of auld she was a singer.

      3. All poetry sucks.

        You really ought to peruse some of the stuff upthread before saying something so ignorant.

  32. Konechno b eto bylo smelo,
    Opisyvat moe zhe delo:
    No pantalony, frak, zhilet,
    Vsex etix slov na ruskom nyet.

    1. Noch, ulitsa, fonar’, apteka
      Bessmyslenny i tuskly svet.
      Zhivi escho khot’ chetvert’ veka,
      Vsyo budet tak. Iskhoda nyet.

      Umryosh — nachnyosh opyat’ snachala.
      I povtoritsya vsyo kak vstar’.
      Noch, ledyanaya ryab’ kanala,
      Apekta, ulitsa, fonar’.

      For that large majority of the readership that doesn’t speak Russian, that’s a poem by early 20th century poet Aleksandr Blok, and translates roughly so:

      Night, a street, a stoplight, a drugstore
      A dim and meaningless light
      Even if you live another quarter century
      Everything will be like that. There’s no way out.

      You die — you start again from the beginning
      And everything repeats again like before
      Night, an icy wave on the canal,
      The drugstore, the street, the stoplight.

      1. Phonetic Russian. Russian, unlike Serbian, is always Cyrillic alphabet, where Serbian may be either Latin or Cyrillic.

        1. Yes, but Reason won’t let me post in the Cyrillic alphabet….

  33. I read the words every time
    I hear them whispered in my ears
    The orgasm in my mind is quenching

  34. Holy Sonnet XIV

    Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you
    As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
    That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
    Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
    I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
    Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
    Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
    But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
    Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
    But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
    Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
    Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
    Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
    Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

    [In other words, come fuck me, God! My paraphrase is flippant, but I can understand and appreciate this poem’s spiritual perspective.?B. S.]

    1. Sounds like the nuns in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who want to be spanked….

  35. The boy recited a gentle poem to me
    He was the greatest lover
    He never knew it
    I still cry from the release

  36. ‘All hands on deck, we’ve run afloat!’ I heard the captain cry
    ‘Explore the ship, replace the cook: let no one leave alive!’
    Across the straits, around the Horn: how far can sailors fly?
    A twisted path, our tortured course, and no one left alive

    We sailed for parts unknown to man, where ships come home to die
    No lofty peak, nor fortress bold, could match our captain’s eye
    Upon the seventh seasick day we made our port of call
    A sand so white, and sea so blue, no mortal place at all

    We fired the gun, and burnt the mast, and rowed from ship to shore
    The captain cried, we sailors wept: our tears were tears of joy
    Now many moons and many Junes have passed since we made land
    A salty dog, this seaman’s log: your witness my own hand

  37. i like my body when it is with your

    (Alternatively, you can try to find some Ernst Jandl poems on the web.)

    1. Great stuff! Why the link:

      i like my body when it is with your
      body. It is so quite a new thing.
      Muscles better and nerves more.
      i like your body. i like what it does,
      i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
      of your body and its bones, and the trembling
      -firm-smooth ness and which i will
      again and again and again
      kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
      i like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
      of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes
      over parting flesh . . . . And eyes big love-crumbs,

      and possibly i like the thrill

      of under me you quite so new

  38. Five four three two one
    Counting back from seventeen
    That makes poetry?

  39. From the SPAMku website:

    A prostitute leans
    From a rust-stained balcony
    Spooning from a can.

    Winter trailer home:
    Bills unpaid–no heat inside.
    Raw SPAM for dinner.

    Boy trapped in ice box
    Nothing else inside but SPAM
    Boy eats own left foot

    1. Refer to my above post on putting the hand back in the meat grinder.

      BTW, SPAM is good stuff. I have no idea what animal (or spaminal) it’s taken from, but who cares, it’s delicious.

      1. Further proof of your sartorial and discriminating taste, I’m sure.

        1. mad

          1. Worry not, you are adored.

            1. fun

      2. It’s chopped up ham bits and spices.

  40. Split your lungs with blood and thunder
    When you see the white whale
    Break your backs and crack your oars men
    If you wish to prevail

    This ivory leg is what propels me
    Harpoons thrust in the sky
    Aim directly for his crooked brow
    And look him straight in the eye

    White whale – holy grail

  41. My best art work literary work still hangs on mom’s fridge.

  42. Wow, that is like way cool dude I like it.

    RT
    http://www.anonymous-surfing.us.tc

  43. “When I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver”

    Hermann Goering

    Don’t get all shocked, folks.

    Today that rates as performance art if you can cuss out George Bush while you’re doing it…

    1. “reach for my Browning”
      although Goering did favor Smith and Wesson revolvers as well

      IIRC, someone else actually said this and it is only attributed to Goering (who likely repeated it)

      ah…hier:When I hear the word culture, I reach for my Browning!

      * Variant: “When I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver.” Often attributed to G?ring, who might have used such lines, these statements are derived from those in the play Schlageter by Hanns Johst: “Wenn ich Kultur h?re … entsichere ich meinen Browning!” [Whenever I hear of culture… I release the safety-catch of my Browning!] (Act 1, Scene 1) The play was first performed in April 1933 for Hitler’s birthday.

  44. Drinking Games

    Four governments walk into a bar.

    Nature says she has been,
    “?and always will be”.

    Man over men says,
    “?but further through me.”

    Religion claims,
    “?and I above all of these.”

    Man,
    alone?

    ?says nothing,
    orders a drink,
    drinks it,
    and leaves.

    None or all agree.

    The punch line?
    ?escapes me.

  45. Introduction to Poetry

    I ask them to take a poem
    and hold it up to the light
    like a color slide

    or press an ear against its hive.

    I say drop a mouse into a poem
    and watch him probe his way out,

    or walk inside the poem’s room
    and feel the walls for a light switch.

    I want them to waterski
    across the surface of a poem
    waving at the author’s name on the shore.

    But all they want to do
    is tie the poem to a chair with rope
    and torture a confession out of it.

    They begin beating it with a hose
    to find out what it really means.

    –Billy Collins

  46. I so agree with the whole rant about how Haiku in English sucks balls. I, quite frankly, don’t know anything about Haiku in Japanese, but I do know a lot about Chinese poetry, particularly Tang poetry (which, I believe, heavily influenced the Haiku form). The most fundamental form of those poems is a 5 word, 4 sentence poem that not only has rhyme but even requires that the tones match a pattern. The English versions (which like Haiku don’t rhyme) sound sophisticated (in a post modern type of way) but have none of the simple joy as the originals in Chinese.

    1. bore

      1. Still pissed off forrest/Tony/MNG

      2. How sad for you.

        1. forrest/Tony/MNG and not pissed off but you still are a pretentious bore and I mean it in the kindest way;-)

          1. Ok, your got me. Guilty as charged

              1. I would have cheated during a duel anyway;-)

    2. but I do know a lot about Chinese poetry, particularly Tang poetry

      Would that be the poetry of astronauts?

  47. You just had to bring up haiku, didn’t you.

    1. Up Next: Origami – Why folding sheets of paper into little animals doesn’t work in American.

      1. Maybe if it was re-named Orgasminami and we folded the paper into representations of our favorite porn stars it would become popular.

      2. I can make a wicked paper airplane.

  48. “Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together. I’ve got some real estate here in my bag.” So we bought a pack of cigarettes, and Mrs. Wagner pies, and we walked off to look for America.

    “Kathy,” I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh, “Michigan seems like a dream to me now.”

    It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw – I’ve gone to look for America.

    Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces. She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy. I said, “Be careful, his bowtie is really a camera.”

    “Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat.”

    “We smoked the last one an hour ago.”

    So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine, and the moon rose over an open field.

    “Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, though I knew she was sleeping, “I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.”

    Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike – they’ve all come to look for America.

    All come to look for America.

  49. Poetry — it’s not just for the prose.

    Ack, acka dack.

  50. Is that Jerry Lewis in the image?

    1. Percy Dovetonsils

      1. Or Earnie Kovacs irl.

        1. Looks like I was mistaken. It sure looked like Jerry Lewis..

  51. For all those struggling to pin a label on, or define, libertarians, this article should hold their answer. Libertarians are poets who believe in free markets and the liberties of the individual.

    Nick, isn’t about time you traded in that leather jacket for a paisley bloused shirt?

    1. Poetry is a pretty individualistic endeavor.

      Although, when I was in high school, me and my friends used to write “pass me back poems”. Everyone would write one line and the next person would have to make one that fit.

      As poetry they sucked horribly, but they could be pretty hilarious.

      1. I was just noticing all the poetic response to this article, Hazel. To be quite honest I really don’t understand poetry. I used to write songs, but all but a few would agree my lyrics sucked. So looks like I’ll most likely never get it.

        It’s Greek to me (except Greek actually makes sense).

    2. It has been pretty enlightening. I’m not surprised that a bunch of people who have trouble putting together a decent four stanza poem with the correct meter have no faith in central planning. Projection ain’t just something the CBO does.

        1. I like this guy. What spews from his mouth is far better than Forrest’s bilge.

  52. Isn’t it about time you ceased raiding Elton John’s closet?

  53. There once was a magazine called Reason,
    whose writings perhaps bordered on treason.
    Statists’ hatred runs deep,
    of libertarians (they’re cheap!)
    who defend a Constitution government pees on.

    1. FTW and DRINK!

      1. With a limerick
        no one can possibly win.
        They’re just horrible.

        1. that deserves a

          +1

        2. The Irish like them. The Irish like to drink. Therefore limericks must be good.

          1. A steady and consistent meter is critical to the success of any limerick. The one above fails in so many ways. Broken meter = broken limerick. D-.

            1. Limerick rhymes AABBA? Check.
              Three beats first line? Check.
              Three beats second line? Check.
              Two beats third line? Check.
              Two beats fourth line? Check.
              Three beats fifth line? Check.

              Turn in your tenure.

            2. There once was a commenter, Yo teacha,
              who said, “Eff-oh-ee, I beatcha.”
              Poetry class, he’s a sloucher.
              A walking ad for a voucher.
              My limericks, they’re so dope and sweet, ya?

  54. This thread is worse than Hitler. Horrible.

    1. Hitler’s poetry was even worse than drawings. Just aweful.

      1. I’ve seen some of his drawings – they aren’t really so bad. Probably many people would think they’re pretty good, if they were unaware of who did them.

      2. His drawings were considerably better than his politics. It was a textbook case of misapplying the economic law of comparative advantage.

    2. BAM! Godwinned a post on poetry. +infinity.

  55. stillness

    a chestnut leaf stinks

    through the clear water

  56. Informative, entertaining, and out of my league. Thank you all.

    1. Agreed, out of my league likewise.

      Better log off before I’m even farther behind than I already am.

      *click*

    2. It belongs in the Negro Leagues if you ask me.

  57. Nicholson Baker hates haiku because his name has five syllables, like dudes whose names rhyme with genital synonyms don’t like limericks.

    (That’s two haikus.)

  58. That’s total bullshit
    As a bilingue I must say
    English Haikus Rock.

    1. See, I even managed to have a kigo in there – the smell of bullshit is highly reminiscent of hot summer days on the farm.

  59. A Noiseless Patient Spider

    A noiseless patient spider,
    I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
    Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
    It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
    Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
    And you O my soul where you stand,
    Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
    Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
    Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
    Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

  60. Blagojevich just got fired on Celebrity Apprentice. Too bad.

  61. Blagojevich just got fired on Celebrity Apprentice. Too bad.

    1. fired?

      1. The guy who keeps green-lighting more seasons?

        1. Darryl Strawberry?

  62. The Moving Finger writes and having writ,
    Moves on; nor all your piety nor wit
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
    Nor all your tears blot out a word of it.

    1. I love this one…there are so many diverse fragments of poetry that are brilliant…I think a poet could spend a whole life working and have just four lines justify all of his or her efforts.

      1. Hear! Hear!

        Alas my own efforts should be shredded, burned, buried in we peat for three years then taken out and stamped on before being tossed in a rubbish bin.

    2. The Moving Finger…otherwise known as the Fickle Finger of Fate.

  63. Higgledy-Piggledy
    Timothy Cavanaugh
    Holds that to rhyme is to
    Cures what’ll ail all ya

    Only so long as ya
    Keeps walled the border
    That separates reason from
    Panglossolalia.

  64. My senior high school English teacher and I had a conversation about Randall Jarrell, one day. I asked if she thought he died by accident or suicide, she insisted he threw himself in front of the car. Many years after that, I opened up the paper one morning to find she did the same damn thing.

    1. Now *that’s* poetry.

  65. Good to see that that English literature and composition degree is finally paying off for some people here.

  66. Jeeper creepers

    1. Don’t you go insulting the lyrics of Johnny Mercer!

  67. All the friends I ever had are gone

  68. A priest and rabbi walk into a bar.

    The rabbi says, “I got a bar mitzva this coming Saturday.’

    The priest says, ‘Thanks for the invite, but the crowd sounds a little old for my taste.’

    1. Thank you, and don’t forget to tip your waitress!

      1. Tip her, or tip her over?

        1. I’ll be here all week! Tip the veal and try the waitress!

  69. Nicholson Baker
    Takes a break from killing Bush
    To kill poetry

  70. But Baker (for whom I rediscover my fondness as he becomes more of a full-service crank getting equally exercised over World War II, presidential assassination, and card catalogues) unleashes his genius for micron-level description, anthropomorphism, and faux-innocent revisionist narrative.

    You can just forget about that Time magazine gig, Tim.

  71. In high school I was forced to read the (non-rhyming) poetry of poet/insurance company executive Wallace Stevens and thought it was the stupidest, most pretentious drivel ever concocted.
    Now, his The Idea of Order at Key West is one of my favorite poems. Perhaps I’ve gotten stupider and more pretentious. (And, poet + insurance executive = awesome.)

  72. Too long to paste here, but the greatest poem of the English language is Lewis Caroll’s The Hunting of the Snark.

    -jcr

  73. Why does anyone even care if there is a distinction between poetry and prose? If you like it, you should read or listen to it. If not, don’t. Only pointless academics care whether something is really poetry.

  74. At some point you have to set aside snobbery and what you think is culture and recognize that any random episode of Friends is probably better, more uplifting for the human spirit, than ninety-nine percent of the poetry or drama or fiction or history ever published.

    Uh, no the fuck I don’t.

  75. It’s good to see some people keep the beautiful parts of our cultural heritage alive, especially after discovering Regietheater.

  76. its rhyme and meter
    thats what makes it a poem
    all else is a sham

  77. Well, the ice man’s mule is parked outside the bar
    Where a man with missing fingers plays a strange guitar
    And the German dwarf dances with the butcher’s son
    And tonight a little rain never hurt no one

    And they’re dancing on the roof, and the ceiling’s coming down
    And I sleep with my shovel and my leather gloves
    And a little trouble makes it worth the going
    And a little rain never hurt no one

    Oh, the world is round
    And so I’ll go around
    You must risk something that matters
    Oh, my hands are strong
    I’ll take any man here
    If it’s worth the going, it’s worth the ride

    She was 15 years old, and she’d never seen the ocean
    She climbed into a van, with a vagabond
    And the last thing she said,
    was “I love you mom”
    And a little rain, never hurt no one
    And a little rain, never hurt no one

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