Tag Archives: criticism

The Critic: riddle

Who tears apart, but never builds;
in summer, says he prefers chills;
proclaims “I won’t” when others will;
expects to never pay the bill?

Who tends to “no”, withholding “yes”;
predicts more failure than success;
looks to curse rather than bless;
just compliments under duress?

Who finds the flaw in beauty’s whole;
un-masks delusions in each role;
runs not to praise, at best, cajole;
and celebrates his self-control?

Who gets no joy in dance or song,
unless detailing things gone wrong;
and sits aloof, above the throng
who sway and smile and sing along?

Who in the end has only words;
an empty theater of absurd;
gray stones that never turns to birds;
and empty echoes never heard?

Who condescends, too proud to bend;
see only foes, and not one friend;
from years of living to offend;
alone, unwanted in the end?

The Critic.

28 APR 2017

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I will never deconstruct another poem
in search of hidden metaphor, by line
eviscerating some writer’s creation
to satisfy some professor of mine.

These exercises do not help the reader
connect to what is said, or truly why
in given circumstance one word is better,
or how one’s own perspective may supply

a wealth of connotations beyond measure.
Too many now who read seek just what caters
to their limits of taste or frame of mind;
and would have poets soft and built for leisure.
Why use the stairs, when there are elevators?
Because some things are NOT a waste of time.

17 FEB 2005

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Ranting on Poetics

I will not write for other poets.

They exist to ridicule each other,
and failing that, to share inside jokes
on what words are or aren’t clich
on poems written in metered speech
on lines that rhyme, even if well done,
on absurd show instead of tell
(as if a poem could only exist for its own sake,
without serving a greater purpose
than entertaining a few self-important snobs;
perhaps, I offer to such critics,
if you don’t feel a connection with the work
you’re either in the wrong profession,
the piece was beyond your frame of reference,
or just maybe the poem wasn’t all about you).

And those who claim to teach, who write
in back rooms, sneaking off to slams on weekends,
lording it over a gathering of teen angst
and tossing their black pearls of wisdom:

How dare you offer as advice
“For God’s sake, nothing before 1900”
as if what’s new and now and wow
will be remembered even half that long?
Poetry is how culture is transmitted.

It’s not just a mindless TV program designed
to inundate the captive audience
with strings of images.

It’s a story, too. And sometimes a lesson.

And it’s the way poets talk.

About what’s important to them.

And if that happens to also be meaningful to just one other person,
let’s hope that person hears or reads it —
because the other poets also in the room
don’t mean anything without that, either.

28 DEC 2004

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Passing Fancy

Having been notified by Google Alerts that a new service is available that takes your original website and scours the web to check and see if your content is found elsewhere (that is, borrowed liberally without permission), I give another thought to what has to be my favorite take on plagiarism:

Lermontov: “…and remember, my dear Mr. Krassner, it is far more disenheartening to have to steal, than to be stolen from.”

— from The Red Shoes, of course

In another sense, poetry (at least good poetry, in which the author has said something from their unique perspective) is as difficult to pass off as one’s own work, if it is not, as it is difficult to use someone else’s driver’s license and claim it is you. The fact of the matter is that driver’s license pictures are purposely so horrible (I have yet to see one, from any state, that manages to even vaguely flatter its owner) and these photos are so unlike the license holder, for the simple reason that only the REAL and authentic owner of such a license would claim that the picture contained thereon is themselves. There is something to be said, in many respects, for the ultimate audacity of truth.

And with poetry, it is I have discovered the same. After all, it is only the most audacious explanation of a poem’s meaning (and that is typically the one that is at the polar opposite extreme from any literary critic or literature professor’s interpretation, although it need not be, which oft surprises both the poet and the professor LOL) that is typically the one belonging to the author. Perhaps it is too simple, perhaps too obtuse. But an imposter trying to pass off the piece as their own work would NEVER use that particular exegesis. And other poets (if not the caffeine-laden, vapid dilettantes who frequent readings and slams and/or think themselves by virtue of their own pomposity and inflated sense of gothic me-o-centrism to be the next Plath, Rimbaud, Morrison, Shelley, Bukowski or whatever) can tell the difference. In a heartbeat.

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No Critique Requested

So many poets trace, or seek to trace the root
of their art back in time, but just so far;
and would attempt to judge all verse to suit
their own agendas. Doing this, they scar

just the veneer, the surface of our craft,
by quoting others’ rules, like “show, don’t tell”;
throughout the ages, true poets have laughed
at limitations that disdain the well

of inspiration that knows not of schools,
of petty squabbles that divide with scorn
the select few from all the rest. What fools
think they decide what makes good form?

The work of poets starts first with the tale,
spoken aloud, and then put down in books;
to show, not tell, like television, pales
its gift for message, and relies on looks

to transmit to a world that cannot see
beyond its own small, self-enamored frame;
into this setting, the false sense of free
expression is not proud and strong, but lame.

For poetry is far more ancient than
the movement touting art for just art’s sake;
it must encompass all that is human
experience, or it is a mistake.

And it must tell a story, even though
there is no audience that seeks to learn,
and stand its ground, despite foul winds that blow,
to keep alight what flame in us still burns.

As for the countless journals, zines and such
that would critique using a focused knife:
To poetry, they do not matter much;
They represent its corpse, and not its life.

16 JUL 2004

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Dathy Pahka and the Couscous Bauble

We sit in circles, crop circles, like silver-clad heroes at Arthur’s table, dark knights of the soul of verse, our words colliding in the jousts of wit and criticism. Is it the flame that draws us moths to it, and so we dance in the flickering candlelight, hoping to stay entranced and yet remain un-scorched? Like ashes on the forehead can remind us of our lone and bitter days, days when we thought “if I could only be accepted, if they would only listen” and so drank ourselves silly in the inconsequentiality of the moment, we titter, stumble, laugh and tumble against the cold, hard steel of our truths, our realities.

And in the end, we want of wealth, of fame, of power, of “don’t I know you from somewhere” and “weren’t you with…last seasons” and “oh, I thought your last…was simply marvelous” and so on and so forth and furthermore and insofar and even if it mattered, even just one smattering of an insignificant jot of ink that spilled on blotting paper or stained the index finger rather than died its immortal death on the crucifix of watermarks and typesetters’ thorns – yes, even if that could save our tortured souls from waking in a world we could not evade with our descriptions, make light of in our comedic stances, would we want to pass it by, relinquish our hold on that which makes us realize how much we need to simply create, to form, to place under our power that experience of living, of dying, of falling down drunk in an alley watching our world crumble in half empty tea cups?

Written, it seems so concrete, so decisive and bold – yet it is the journal of a hallucination, created in our minds and carried out on the gurney of the flesh into the streets we barely recognize, and the stones in the pavement do not glint or glitter as we remember them, nor so brightly as they can.

An in our drunken haze we drop our curtsies and highballs half-full of the contraband elixir we consider our inspiration – and we ask for it by name in the password prose of prayer: give me three or four rounds of Dark (and often cloudy and thick swirling dark it is), and then a couple of clear and crystal Brights for the road, the road I must trod down in inebriated, lucid celebration of my inhibited yearnings. I want, I announce to the “wicked and expedient stones,” the world of my choice, of my creation: a world where one can morally possess a mind and venture to speak it, a world where social conventions are gatherings of gregarious and yet not sheep-like folk who know not only which fork to use with the salad, but which one to take at the bend in the road that leads to funny or witty, separating dull chortles from mirthful laughter.

Laughter, yes, and tears that come from excess – these are the signs by which we will be known; and they shall sing our praises while they curse us, hound us for mementos while they scour the tabloids for our inadequacies, and read until the wee hours of morning each drop of saccharine and strychnine we draw from our veins with the prick of a vengeful pen.


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Thoughts on Poetry

I extract this comment from a thread on my Poetry at Poetryslamming, not because I want to draw attention to the person who wrote it, but rather because I think that forum is not the place to engage in a debate, at least at this time. The gist of it is that this person thought my Poetry boring – which I thought a valid comment, but wanted clarification, as follows:

Are the poems boring because you are not interested in the subject matter, or because they did not make you interested in the subject matter, or because they simply did not convey their content in a manner that was exciting to you?

Their response was:

Yeah. You got it. Pretty much all three, or some combination thereof. Because it is both short and exemplary of your other two, let’s look at the last poem Rilke.

(Here’s the poem, for reference’s sake):


Where did you find the most inspiration,
as each line cut like a diamond-edged drill
through layers of effluvia that still
the seeking heart? Was it your frustration
with a cold and unfeeling world, that sought
to silence any expression of joy
in the blossoming soul of a young boy
whose only sinful act was being caught
worshipping beauty in ordinary
things? Was it a way to battle against
each day’s regimen of daily dross,
the hardness that can infect one’s very
core and so cheapen the experience
of living that its end is no great loss?

10 AUG 2003

They went on to say:

Number one, the language is flat. Chock full of too many large, grand, vague, general, etc. abstractions:
inspiration, layers, effluvia, heart, frustration, world, sought, silence, expression, joy, soul, beauty, things, battle, hardness, infect, experience, living, loss
These words I find especially boring. They are not specific. They are not interesting. I cannot see them. They are cliche.
As for subject matter, it’s very difficult for me to care what a poem is about when the language is this bland and abstract.
To improve your Poetry, I suggest you try to write about these things (loss, experience, beauty, frustration, joy, etc.) without actually referring to them. For example, in the third stanza,
worshipping beauty in ordinary
instead of saying “ordinary things”, which is vague and abstract and nearly meaningless, why not list a few actual ordinary things? I.e., what ordinary things did the boy worship? Make a list if you want, and if your list is effective, I as the reader will be able to tell they are indeed ordinary without having you tell me. A mental spark will fizzle in my brain and I will think to myself, “Ah! That boys only sin was worshipping ordinary things! How unjust and fucked up.”
That is, it is much easier for me to be interested in, empathize with, care for, not be bored with, etc. a boy who worshipped the beauty of
two yellow monopoly die,
a red ribbon in that girl’s hair,
the frown of a goose,
and the pitcher of water on the stove about to spill
than a boy who worshipped the beauty of “ordinary things.”
And I’d suggest the same thing for each day’s regimen of daily dross. As in, what is the regimen? What is the daily dross against which he battles? Give me examples.
In general, replace every single abstraction in that centered and italicized list of abstractions with a specific image that conveys the meaning of the abstraction.
Once you do that, I think your Poetry will be much less boring to me, regardless of subject matter.

Now, let me start off by saying that Rilke is not in my opinion a great poem. It has its weaknesses, I’ll admit – the first being that it is an immediate visceral response to having read some Rainer Maria Rilke. But it got me thinking about Poetry in general, and here are my thoughts.

First of all, Poetry to me is, as Francis Bacon described painting, “a distillation of images”. Distillation is the process by which the essence of a thing is extracted from its parts. In that process, the defined form and substance of a thing is eradicated to extract something that is, but is not, a concrete representation of a thing. Think of rose oil, distilled from the petals and other flower parts of a rose. Once you have the oil, the rose itself as a defined, separate thing is no more. What you have left is its “essence”, that suggests the original rose, but in no way actually could be used to identify that particular specimen. That abstraction, if you will, is used to suggest, to provide in memory and by association, a quite different thing than if I were to hand you a rose. To me, that abstraction, the large, grand, the vague and general are absolutely ESSENTIAL to Poetry. If a pure, concrete, absolute description is what you are after, what you have is prose, not Poetry. The point of Poetry, to me, is not to provide absolute images that do not require anything of the reader to interpret. To say that a poem must include, like a grocery list, an itemization of “things that are ordinary” so that the reader can say, oh, yes, those are ordinary things, limits the scope of the poem. After all, the point is not that THESE things are ordinary, but rather that each of us, in our own individual lives, considers a widely varied and perhaps unusual set of things to be ordinary versus magical or special. And the daily dross that each of us encounters, that must be swept away in order to find the kernel of meaning in our own lives? It is as different from person to person as one snowflake from another. To put specific examples into words is to dilute, to weaken, the meaning that is required to be provided by the individual reader. The point is, that words such as “inspiration, layers, effluvia, heart, frustration, world, sought, silence, expression, joy, soul, beauty, things, battle, hardness, infect, experience, living, loss” have must have specific meanings to the reader, that may be completely different from that of the poet – and I’m sure are quite different for me than they were for Rilke, who is after all the subject of the poem. To know Rilke’s history is to have an inkling of what “daily dross” or “ordinary” might have meant to him, but that context is only secondary to the meaning that they have for you, the reader. Who has not found something quite ugly, ordinary, mundane or commonplace that when put into the perspective of a day’s events has become a Grail, of sorts? Even if it is unique and magical for only a moment, it is, like in the Little Prince, no longer just any rose, because it has been named, and it is yours.

The bottom line, I guess, is that for me, if a poem doesn’t keep your interest simply because it doesn’t tell you what to feel, how to interpret, or which square inch of the snapshot to focus on, then it is not the fault of the poem. My interpretation is that Poetry is not supposed to do those things — it is about possibilities, not actualities. It is about our potential, rather than our past. The abstract, rather than the concrete. For Poetry is the basis by which culture is defined, inherited and ultimately evolved and transcended. It deals not so much with how things are, their definition and shape, the rigid lines of meaning that describe the box in which our experience is caged, but rather how to bend the bars, blur those lines, and step beyond.

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