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Weep and Howl…

April 23, 2009

damage
.

Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. —James 5:1, KJV

.

The Chancellor and the pundits can blow sunshine up your undies all they like: there’s a depression coming and it’s going to get very ugly out there. Let’s have poems in the form of Decasyllabic Quatrains on the theme of the financial crash and the coming misery. I’ll work on mine just as soon as I get back from the soup kitchen…
.

A La Carte

Money’s tight and it’s going to get tighter,
Tighten your belt and get set for the storm;
Your pocket’s light: it’s going to get lighter;
Your passions are cold, the soup is luke-warm.

Bodies are stacked in the street like cord-wood,
Burn them for fuel when they’ve dried out enough,
The parks are all deserts where trees once stood,
Denuded now of all burnable stuff.

Eat all the rich and the fat and your pets:
We’d eat humble pie but pies are long gone;
Stone soup and dream bread: as good as it gets;
We ate all the frogs–there’s none left to spawn.

I’ve eaten the kids; the wife was a treat,
The postman was quick, but not quick as me;
I’d eat my leg if it had any meat:
Oh, for a fat politician or three.
.

231 Comments
  1. freep permalink
    April 23, 2009 3:26 PM

    Where did you find the picture, mish? removing the sign from Mr …tler’s shop is stroke of genius; I assume it is A. Hitler’s Magic Toyshop.
    Elegy on the Extinction of Cash to follow, when I finish rebuilding steps out of my garden which lead into the recession-proof world of Northumberland Estates.

  2. mishari permalink*
    April 23, 2009 4:17 PM

    The pic is by Walker Evans, one of the many terrific photos he took of Great Depression-era America. It’s a little remarked upon factoid that the failure of A. Hitler’s Magic Toyshop led directly to WW2…

  3. April 23, 2009 5:59 PM

    All good things must end I’m told
    Although what must end was okay
    All the things I bought must be sold
    To stop my fragile lifestyle
    Slipping
    Away.

  4. MeltonMowbray permalink
    April 24, 2009 10:25 AM

    An Elegy,
    Written In St Paul’s Churchyard,
    In the City of London.

    The Footsie tumbles to 79,
    The Thund’ring Herd jumps in the River Lea,
    In soup kitchens CEOs get in line,
    And bond traders hang themselves in Chelsea.

    Night is falling on the gloomy City,
    Throughout the Mile there is a squelching sound
    As results come in from Dow and Nikkei;
    Another jumper is hitting the ground.

    Winds of recession are stirring the air,
    Up Ludgate Hill and round the Bank they moan,
    On Cheapside and in Paternoster Square
    Investment bankers and their clients groan.

    The man in the street is feeling the pain
    Without the chance of a nice tax fiddle:
    He sees his pension going down the drain,
    And swaps his trip to Waitrose for Lidl.

    No problems for the Owl of Downing Street,
    And all the little MP owlets too,
    They’ve got their beaks stuck in the trough and tweet
    Their traditional song ‘Tough-shit, fuck-you’.

    So drain those hot tubs and those swimming pools,
    Flog the cottage in France, the flat in Rock,
    The kids can go to comprehensive schools,
    The paintings and the vintage port in hock.

    And no more Porsches, no more Hugo Boss,
    No trips to BVI or Val d’Isere,
    No more spending and not giving a toss,
    Just checking the prices and taking care.

    No tea at Brown’s, no lunch at Le Gavroche,
    Fuck off Ramsey, hello Big Mac and fries,
    Take every chance to preserve your dosh,
    And always make sure that you supersize.

    One day we’ll be scraping out baked-bean tins,
    And fighting over a leaf of cabbage,
    We’ll source our ingredients out of bins,
    Eat alfresco under a railway bridge.

    The time’s going to come when everything’s gone,
    No plants or animals, just skin and fur,
    We’ll make them into broth and suck it down,
    And then, I suppose, we’ll eat each other.

    The Epitaph.

    In dreams you might find a bottomless purse,
    And extract from it an infinite sum.
    Here lie the Masters Of The Universe,
    Who stayed asleep until too late. Fuck ‘em.

  5. freep permalink
    April 24, 2009 11:37 AM

    You beat me to it , MM

    A Philosopher, Rejecting the Fripperies of this World,
    Mistakenly Attempts an Elegy in Lombard Street

    The curfew tolls the knell of parting wealth,
    The banker closes up his empty till;
    The plutocrat puts diamonds by in stealth,
    The elderly decay in grey Bexhill.

    Now fades the prospect of our State’s largesse;
    Th’Exchequer’s spent, its seed spilt in the dust,
    The Gherkin wilts, and more have less and less;
    O Lazard Freres, I fear you too are bust.

    I found a coin, and viewed its metal sheen
    Assayed its weight, admired it, made it spin,
    And pondered on the image of our Queen.
    Then, singing, threw the dross into the bin:

    ‘How jolly fine it is to have no cash;
    Radix malorum est cupiditas
    To accumulate wealth is but stupid and brash –
    Consider the end of Ozymandias.’

    My shoulder felt a gloved hand weigh it down,
    And all the air a solemn stillness held.
    ‘You’re nicked, you foolish debt-encumbered clown!
    You must have wealth and cash, you’ll be compelled,

    For money’s life, and lucre’s all we’ve got.
    I saw you chuck that valued quid away.
    I’m authorised to take you to be shot,
    Our new laws came in force just yesterday.’

    ‘But Constable, this stuff that you call money
    Is naught but filthy clinker, muck and trash …’
    He drew his automatic: ‘Must seem funny,
    To see your life removed for hating cash …’

  6. MeltonMowbray permalink
    April 24, 2009 1:31 PM

    Yes, thought I’d better get my quantitative easing in first. I hadn’t read the Elegy for years. Like the lady said, it’s full of quotations.

  7. freep permalink
    April 24, 2009 2:33 PM

    Gray was a very slow poet. He was always a good choice for idle undergraduates doing a ‘Special Author’ paper, because he hardly wrote anything. You can read the complete poems in a few hours. But trying the famous Elegy as a model is instructive; it looks like a doddle, but it’s not as easy as it looks. It’s awkward once you move away from single-syllable rhymes (when Gray deviates, he always uses words with a weak first syllable: supply, command, serene). To get the mournful plodding note of an elegy, it works well to stick to iambics quite rigidly. Mishari, you’ve gone for a rising rhythm, as suits a mocking tone. If we had been aiming at a proper imitation or parody, MM and I have both got polysyllables stuck in the net.

    The Eton College Ode isn’t as well-known, but has just as many quotations … It ends of course with
    …where ignorance is bliss,
    ‘Tis folly to be wise,

    But I like this stanza :

    Alas, regardless of their doom,
    The little victims play!
    No sense have they of ills to come,
    Nor care beyond today:
    Yet see how all around ’em wait
    The ministers of human fate,
    And black Misfortune’s baleful train!
    Ah, show them, where in ambush stand
    Tp seize their prey the murth’rous band!
    Ah, tell them, they are men!

  8. April 24, 2009 4:32 PM

    This all sounds very complicated with rising rhythms and iambics – I like the mathmatical approach 4 x 10, that’s where I’m starting. As usual I’ll be back here with an attempted poem probably weeks after you’ve all moved on to something else…

  9. April 24, 2009 11:31 PM

    23 years before it passes
    23 years without a break
    Who are these incompetent arses
    Creating financial stomach ache?

    Capitalism’s screwed well and truly
    It’s time to practice minimalism
    As things are going to be unruly
    Add a touch of pessimism.

    Labour’s only legacy are the Tories
    Who’d believe that to be so?
    Sounds like one of those made-up stories?
    Hate to say it, the answer’s “No.”

    Time for hard-core escape-ism
    Time to bury heads in the sand
    No light escapes this grisly prism
    Time to emigrate to la-la land

  10. MeltonMowbray permalink
    April 25, 2009 7:41 PM

    A Banker’s Dream

    When I look at the current interest rates,
    I want to kick that fucker Gordon Brown,
    My paltry savings, my accountant states,
    Are only going one way, and that’s down.

    Without a healthy five per cent or so,
    Inflation will just flush them down the bog,
    If no-one can force the munter to go,
    I’ll be spending my dotage eating dog.

    I’ve worked hard and saved hard all of my life,
    Been out in the cold and taken the heat,
    I have two children and a lovely wife,
    And a Labrador dog I don’t want to eat.

    I’ve made some mistakes, that’s true of us all,
    But I only did what I thought was right,
    We can all be let off for one bad call,
    But nothing excuses that Downing Street shite.

    I’m there when he’s finished, there when he’s done,
    I’ll see his legs sticking out of the bin,
    His face in the fish-heads and stale cold chips,
    Or my name isn’t Frederick Goodwin.

  11. April 26, 2009 12:33 AM

    Untrelated news. Bono spotted up at Clement Freud’s funeral. What’s the connection? Emma Freud ( cue joke ) did Comic Relief but I can’t see any reason why he’d be there unless he’s older than he looks and went to school with Sir Clement.

    Does he now spend his time reading the obits and turning up at funerals of people he’s heard of in order to get some reflected credibility?

  12. Captain Ned permalink
    April 26, 2009 12:45 AM

    alarming – if you haven’t already read it, you may be interested in this bizarre story: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2008/dec/21/celebrity-victoria-coren

  13. mishari permalink*
    April 26, 2009 2:00 AM

    Bongo is a fucking ghoul, Al. I noticed he’d oiled his way into CF’s interment. I suspect he’s one of those pitiful creatures who feels that he doesn’t really exist unless the cameras are on him. I suspect he may be on to something.

    As Victoria Coren said (in the article the Cap’n linked to) about another corpse fancier who latched onto her late father: “It was funny. It was also creepy, parasitic and sinister.”
    You said it, kiddo…

    Still, at least he’s moved past the Bs (Balthus, Beefheart, Bozo The Clown, Boromir and Benny Hill).

  14. April 26, 2009 11:06 AM

    Mish you forgot Bilbo Baggins.

  15. parallax permalink
    April 26, 2009 12:46 PM

    I’m on the wrong thread but … reeling back SA’s my-story … yes, I agree it definitely engages (gotta love the passive). It reads like a synopsis, a pitch perhaps? The book’s there already if each para became a chapter – although if you use Tim as your connecting thread the reader may want to follow his story – I wanted to know what happened to him.

    Anyway that’s just a preamble to say, ‘Yeah thanks Steve for totally wrecking any future enjoyment I’ll get from my Joan Armatrading collection’ – from now on I’ll listen to *I’m not in love* or *water with the wine* imaging some giner-haired bint feeling yer goolies – great – thanks.

    here’s a bit of Joan singing a fitting Down to zero

  16. parallax permalink
    April 26, 2009 1:02 PM

    Ginger – not giner

    And then there’s Cool Blue

  17. MeltonMowbray permalink
    April 26, 2009 2:57 PM

    I have never voluntarily listened to Joan Armatrading.

  18. parallax permalink
    April 26, 2009 3:21 PM

    That’s probably because you’ve never had a a googly fondling associative recall experience Melton

  19. parallax permalink
    April 26, 2009 3:22 PM

    Fuck, googly?

  20. MeltonMowbray permalink
    April 26, 2009 3:33 PM

    It’s true that I haven’t fondled a googly, though I have good memories of a chinaman.

  21. parallax permalink
    April 26, 2009 3:52 PM

    arf – was that when you were a nightwatchman at Ventnor Breweries

  22. MeltonMowbray permalink
    April 26, 2009 4:09 PM

    Ventnor Breweries don’t need security. No-one would break into a piss factory.

  23. April 26, 2009 4:51 PM

    Para:

    It was, indeed, googly. And her name was Lorelei! I tried Googling Tim (+ actual surname, of course)… would’ve been nothing short of a miracle if anything had come back. I actually left a lot of the funny bits out (a dog eating a placenta; “Aria” trying to get her money back by demanding I trim every bush on her estate; the acid trip at the Funeral Home) to preserve the narrative shape of the tale.

  24. HenryLloydMoon permalink
    April 26, 2009 6:45 PM

    Al, that’ll be “Love and Affection” by Joan Armatrading. “I’m Not In Love” was 10CC.

    Yes, I have seen her in concert. And though I may have fondled short leg, I’ve never been near third man.

    Back to work…

  25. MeltonMowbray permalink
    April 26, 2009 7:08 PM

    Bit of deep cover from HLM there. I think we all know when a chap’s been in the gully.

  26. April 26, 2009 8:47 PM

    Is it time for the “She was only a cricketer’s daughter/full toss in the crease “joke” yet?

  27. mishari permalink*
    April 26, 2009 8:47 PM

    Politely Homicidal–Where A Sticky Wicket Isn’t What You Think It Is…

  28. MeltonMowbray permalink
    April 26, 2009 9:28 PM

    Chien a la Mode

    It’s good practice to hang your Labrador
    For several days in a cool place
    The stages of dissolution ensure
    A tenderer meat and superior taste.

    When the animal is suitably blue,
    Then remove the tail and put it aside,
    Unfurred, skinned and filleted, it will do
    In hearty soups or stocks, or simply fried.

    Hack off the paws and butchery can start.
    So, make a cut from anus to sternum,
    And tug out the guts, while saving the heart.
    Then place your hands either side of the rump.

    It’s like unrolling a girlfriend’s stocking,
    Though you can take it a bit more slowly,
    And it’s less likely that you’ll be drooling.
    You can save the skin to make lingerie.

    Now you have a glistening tube of meat,
    With no resemblance to your girlfriend’s leg,
    I hope and trust, which you can choose to eat
    According to taste and seasonal veg.

    Roasted barbie-style on a petrol fire
    Is good with a salad and polenta
    Or hot-smoked over a burning car tyre
    Or stewed with a couple of cats. Voila!

  29. April 26, 2009 10:06 PM

    MM if you need food parcels flown over from the mainland a poem is a nice way of doing it but you can just ask

  30. April 26, 2009 10:29 PM

    Good Gawdz, remind me to knock twice before peeking in on this thread the next time…

  31. mishari permalink*
    April 26, 2009 10:47 PM

    If I hadn’t already eaten my dinner, Melton “The Galloping Gourmet” Mowbray’s poem would have out me off it. It’s little wonder MM’s the RSPCA’s Public Enemy No.1…

    …still, cracking poem.

  32. freep permalink
    April 27, 2009 7:23 AM

    My dog is now extremely distressed. Luckily, he has a good psychotherapist; some lavender compresses and a week’s dieting on millet and dried elderflowers should put him right and get him biting the postwoman again.

  33. April 27, 2009 9:08 AM

    I’ve eaten the dog
    I’m ready to drop
    Luckily there’s a local pet shop.

    I’ve considrerd the morals
    I know it’s not right
    So I’ll do the break in over-night.

    Birds and fish
    What more do you need?
    To build up a larder on which to feed.

    I’ll keep them in cages
    To avoid any affray
    I’ll await the recipes from Melton Mowbray

    By writing down such affairs
    I have become the anti-PamAyres.

  34. MeltonMowbray permalink
    April 27, 2009 1:11 PM

    A POTW made for Alarming this week. I picture him sniffing the air as the scent of mangelwurzel permeates the ether.

    Nice villanelle on the Psychotherapy of the Week thread, arturo. An elephant seemed to be following in your footsteps.

  35. mishari permalink*
    April 27, 2009 2:01 PM

    Thanks, MM. I’d been up all night with a sick child. Having been called a swine times without number, it occurred to me that perhaps she had swine flu, which appears to be the Let’s Beat Ourselves Into Quivering Jellies Of Terror flavour of the month.

    I took the opportunity to read through the POTW thread and my villanelle was in the nature of an exasperated reaction to the endless fucking blather–honestly, POTW’s become a sort of endless hokey-cokey for the lexicographically incontinent…

  36. parallax permalink
    April 27, 2009 4:42 PM

    yo HLM … ‘I am not in love’ is exclusively 10cc? oh dear – Houston we have …

    It’s a beautiful standfirst for Joan Armatrading – check it out here – yep, I know it’s L&A.

    No surprises then that I’m big on Tracy Chapman

    hey mish, sorry to hear that your little one’s not well – lucozade and best wishes is the most I can offer from afar

  37. MeltonMowbray permalink
    April 27, 2009 8:45 PM

    Nothing serious I hope, Mishari.

    God, Tracy Chapman. Jill Sobule is as far as I am prepared to go in the snivelling female singer field.

  38. mishari permalink*
    April 27, 2009 9:02 PM

    Thanks for the good-natured enquiries, chaps. It’s nothing serious, although it always feels serious initially. Mind you, don’t think the little darling isn’t milking it for all it’s worth.

    Not keen on Joan Armatrading or Tracy Chapman or snivelling female singers. I do like Linda Thompson, Laura Nyro and early Joni Mitchell. Obviously, I would never have admitted any such thing when I was younger…well…I mean…one just couldn’t

  39. April 27, 2009 9:16 PM

    “It’s nothing serious, although it always feels serious initially.” The awful drama of it halves when they can talk, then halves again when they can describe the symptoms… still no sleep in it, though. We haven’t been through one since last November (knock in wood; most likely because she isn’t in a kindergarten or daycare, despite the fact that the Germans often start them at *one*). Good luck, man!

  40. April 27, 2009 9:47 PM

    I like Joan Armatrading as much for her non-starry attitude as anything else. I wouldn’t bracket her as a sniveller either – Janis Ian, now there’s snivelling in excelsis deo.

  41. mishari permalink*
    April 27, 2009 10:16 PM

    I think the sniveller par exellence is whatsername…the one who doesn’t know what the word ‘ironic’ means…

  42. April 27, 2009 10:30 PM

    Alanis Morrisette is the name – though I think she moved on to a different attitude when the bottom fell out of the market for her brand of snivelling. I think she went a bit sarcastic though no doubt with a mild snivelling undertow to it.

  43. mishari permalink*
    April 27, 2009 11:00 PM

    Oh, you mean she actually knows what ‘sarcastic’ means? Let’s hear it for the OED…

    I’ve just watched the wretched Jaqui ’88p Bathplug’ Smith on Newsnight telling us she’s abandoned the government all-in-one database of our phone calls, internet use, text messages, etc.

    She said (with a straight face) that on reflection, she’d decided that it would be too intrusive. It is to laugh…the lying scrub. What she meant was some wonk from the Treasury has informed her that she can’t afford it. Grrrrrrrr…..

  44. April 28, 2009 2:43 AM

    Ha, yes, ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife isn’t ironic it’s just bloody annoying. Plus that will definitely bust my new cutlery drawer!

    Hang on Mish I was under the impression that the all intrusive record of all our digital dealings was a requirement of EU law (to be kept for a year by ISPs or am I thinking of a different thing?) didn’t think Bathplug Bertha would be able to dispense with it.

    OK – so I go away for a weekend and then you guys end up talking bollocks… as far as music and sex goes, take my advice, don’t shag to Carmina Burana.

  45. April 28, 2009 8:06 AM

    MM, I’ve been following with some interest your attempts at educating the PotW regulars in the ways of countryfolk. I’ve kind of decided not to comment too much when I just do not like a poem in future, but I will say that your pointing out that the the guy is so obviously a townie was bang on the money, not that anyone will pay a blind bit of notice to anything that isn’t pure speculation in those discussions, I fear.

  46. MeltonMowbray permalink
    April 28, 2009 1:44 PM

    Oi does my best, zur, but oi thinks Mr Alarmin’s the man t’go to fur country matturs.

    Yes, I wouldn’t want to offend CR. She didn’t seem to comment much on the last POTW. Probably because she doesn’t have a psychiatric qualification.

  47. MeltonMowbray permalink
    April 28, 2009 2:08 PM

    Blimey, you’d be expecting something special if you put on Carmina Burana. I’m a Birdie Song man myself. Well, the first thirty seconds anyway.

  48. April 28, 2009 2:35 PM

    I’m always reminded of Eliots reply to the question “What did you mean by the line, Lady two white leopards are sitting under the juniper tree?” “I meant, Lady, two white leopards….”

    The comments on IG’s rhyme and sound patterning were interesting, but are now lost under a pile of interpretation.

  49. freep permalink
    April 28, 2009 3:00 PM

    …a pile of interpretation … your exasperation sounds like mine, Billy.
    Many years ago, teaching undergrads about poems, I picked up a little toolkit that I used for a long time in tutorials. It came from an old paperback called, I think, Hamlet and the Art of Literary Criticism, and set out this hierarchy of things to do with a poem. It went, when trying to understand a poem (or anything else for that matter – a wall, the Vatican, toads, Wigan …)
    1. Describe 2. Explain 3. Interpret 4. Evaluate. In that order.

    The main use was to say to a student that you shouldn’t evaluate a piece of writing until you were sure that you could say what was in it. Or, don’t say it’s shit until you know what it’s about. The bits in between – explaining or interpreting – I was never quite so sure about, and usually I would change that and tell them to go away (with strong emphasis on those two words) and come back when you can supply a context and background. Of course, it’s a flawed procedure. To ‘describe’ something always involves a measure of interpretation, unless it is a wall or a toad, and if it’s something really interesting like a delicious piece of anatomy, best just to get on and explore it, and not worry about the rigour of your interpretation.
    Nowadays, being old and all, the history and the scaffolding of a poem or an artefact is usually the thing that exercises me most. GU poem ‘interpretations’ seem to go for explanations at the expense of other more absorbing matters. I am rarely bothered about what a poem means.
    Proof: 1. Read a poem. 2. Say what it means. 3. Now read it again, knowing that the poet was blind / died the next day / was an insane murderer / hated his mother the Queen / was never published in her lifetime / was fourteen / had English as her sixth language…. 4. Now, say what it means stage II.

  50. April 28, 2009 3:30 PM

    I am rarely bothered about what a poem means.

    Very sensible; the key to ask of any poem question is “is it well made?” The IG in question this week seems to me to be flawed because he tried to marry Anglo Saxon sound (and syntax) patterns to loose end rhyming and the result reads as a bit of a mish-mash, but I’m reluctant to say so over there because someone is going to come along and say “but he fought in the trenches, so this is about the war and it’s wonderful because he suffered” (BTW, what is it with the British and WWI and II?) or some such.

    These things matter to me much less than sound and word order; so there.

  51. mishari permalink*
    April 28, 2009 3:49 PM

    I came across this quote the other day:

    “…it’s too easy to talk the life out of poetry.”

    – Elizabeth Bishop, in a letter to Anne Stevenson

    Sums up my feelings about the state of play at POTW, really…

    “Is it well made?” is the only question that matters as Bill and I and many others have said so many times I’m tired of repeating it.

  52. April 28, 2009 4:13 PM

    I agree with that quote! (notice me not hanging around POTW) Good I’m glad I’m not just a philistine in that I don’t talk about poetry or books that much. I don’t often feel the compulsion to progress any further than appreciating or dismissing the effects of the words or imagery used. That’s the point of it isn’t it the individual experience? It seems that the effects are diminished as soon as I start to put it into words. Somehow I feel like I would when I view some stunning scenery – the view from a hill top or down the valley – any particular words would be inadequate to describe it so why cheapen it and reduce it by trying?

    God I wish I was better at explaining myself… sigh…

  53. mishari permalink*
    April 28, 2009 4:18 PM

    Mangling Wurzel

    It was after the fall; Fred Goodwin had fallen on his arse-
    I was walking by Cheapside, fuming at faux-kings
    And the course of madness; it was February; in the House
    Jack Straw besmirched and mangled language and things
    Of value: pious homilies on thrift and young dead soldiers
    Dead in an unfitting place–on Helmand’s front line.
    West End farce made deadly by unregenerate swine.
    Across the road in a grace and favour flat, the whining sounded,
    Heavy on self-pity, jingling of small change, Geoff Hoon waited
    For the other shoe to drop: can’t the press stop their confounded
    Prying? Ruddy cheek and purple prose–are they never sated?
    Etc.,etc….

  54. mishari permalink*
    April 28, 2009 4:33 PM

    It’s not talking about poetry that I object to, Polly. Far from it. It’s just the endless futile speculation on the poet’s motives, meaning, agenda, sub-text, etc. ad nauseum, that bores and irritates me.

    It’s one thing to discuss the structure of a poem–that’s something we can see and have perfectly valid opinions on. But all this blather about a poet’s motives, meanings etc.–stuff that we can’t possibly know anything about unless said poet has actually told us–leaves me cold.

    I know Bill’s not an admirerer of Auden (I am…well, pre-war, anyway), but Auden wrote that he very often had no idea what a poem meant when he wrote it. It came to him, an artefact constructed of words, hopefully the right words in the right order.

    Later, Auden would try to winnow the meaning from a poem–more often than not, with little success. Honestly, I think the question “what does this poem mean?” is as useful as asking what Bach’s Goldberg Variations mean.

    Does beauty (or terror, for that matter) have to mean something?

    I don’t think it does. What does a glorious spring day mean? Search me–I don’t need to know to love it and be delighted by it.

  55. April 28, 2009 4:58 PM

    Mish what you’ve just said is what I was thinking really, but you said it better. There is something wrong with my brain this week – it’s very tired I think and it can only think of words like “stuff” and “thing” instead of anything precise. I might as well write “bla bla bla” and you can just insert intelligent (or not) comments at will.

    That’s happened with a couple of my poetic attempts, I start off with one idea and by the time I’d finished it’s totally different. Got to go with it though, if some inner or higher power is steering your art then it’s probably taking it the right way.

    Yes beauty doesn’t have to mean anything, that’s what I meant about reducing a scene’s worth by trying to express it in words.

    It’s the trouble though isn’t it – the most difficult way to express things in art is through words and yet it’s the medium people are more prone to “have a go at”. Pictures and music are accepted as things which invoke individual feelings and which don’t need to be scrutinised or can’t be scrutinised, but people also have a clearer idea of what they consider to be good versions of these mediums. Somehow writing is different, possibly because people understand words very differently to each other. I’ve had this discussion before and failed to articulate it then, which is an annoyingly good bit of evidence for my argument, were I able to make it, about us all understanding the language we use differently, but thinking we’re using the same one.

  56. mishari permalink*
    April 28, 2009 5:24 PM

    Dream Song: 125

    Bards freezing, naked, up to the neck in water,
    wholly in dark, time limited, different from
    initiations now:
    the class in writing, clothed & dry & light,
    unlimited time, till Poetry takes some,
    nobody reads them though,

    no trumpets, no solemn instauration, no change;
    no commissions, ladies high in soulful praise
    (pal) none,
    costumes as usual, turtleneck sweaters, loafers,
    in & among the busy Many who brays
    art is if anything fun.

    I say the subject was given as of old,
    prescribed the technical treatment, tests really tests
    were set by the masters & graded.
    I say the paralyzed fear lest one’s not one
    is back with us forever, worsts & bests
    spring for the public, faded.

    John Berryman

  57. April 28, 2009 6:46 PM

    Picasso equated art to a bird-song. Beautiful and there’s no meaning to that beauty.

    The problem comes with words I think. As soon as they are written or spoken people load meaning onto them. POTW is an example of over-interpretation to the power of 10.

    In my work we eradicated talking over the years as people put too much emphasis on what was said, assumed it was the only means of conveying what was going on and overlooked the visual elements which for us were far more important.

  58. April 28, 2009 6:47 PM

    MM you are a gurt lummock and I leave it at that.

  59. mishari permalink*
    April 28, 2009 7:00 PM

    Is that ZyderSpeak for ‘great lummox’, Al?

    (although ‘Gert Lummock’ does sound a bit like the name of a circa-1960s East German women’s Olympic javelin champion)

  60. freep permalink
    April 28, 2009 7:10 PM

    My Aunt Maggie was a lummock, too. Maybe MM is related? I like the Berryman song, mish.
    (I am afraid I have stupidly baited atf. Should know better by now. But is it possible to cleanse a blog? Will only Cillit Bang do?)

  61. mishari permalink*
    April 28, 2009 7:38 PM

    Actually, freep, I couldn’t prevent myself from baiting her too. The endless dreary analysis that @atf specialises in (in truth, it’s always about @atf, not the poet) caused me a minor frenzy of irritation.

    The long misspelled, syntactically fractured lectures–regurgitations of a recently read book or OU lecture–cast a pall of gloom and desperation. I feel sorry for poor Carol, who’s a fundamentally good egg.

  62. MeltonMowbray permalink
    April 28, 2009 8:43 PM

    (BTW, what is it with the British and WWI and II?)

    We’d tonked the Boers and got our revenge
    For Spion Kop and Mafeking too,
    It was time to find another challenge
    World War One and World War Two, we love you!

    There was a small problem at Paschendaele,
    But in best British style we saw it through,
    We forced the filthy Hun to turn his tail,
    Oh, wonderful World War One! We love you!

    Now the next one really wasn’t our fault,
    But we took on Adolf and his vile crew,
    We brought the Reich to a shuddering halt,
    Fully justified World War Two, we love you!

    Time and again we show British is best,
    Gentlemen, lift up your glasses and sup
    To the land which is supernaturally blest,
    I give you two World Wars and one World Cup!

  63. mishari permalink*
    April 28, 2009 9:29 PM

    If It Ain’t Broke…

    My displeasure with damp, dismal Blighty
    Began in my normal light-hearted style:
    I tore off my wife’s sheer chiffon nightie
    (my well-filled crack-pipe alight all the while)

    And downing half a bottle of Bushmills
    I pumped some good smack in a bulging vein
    Topped it all off with some prescribed blue pills
    Said to prevent me from going insane;

    Just when I thought I’d properly cracked it
    That I stood at the peak of the mountain
    Newsnight came on–I went fucking batshit:
    They’ve mucked up old Barretts Sherbert Fountain.

    What we need is a squadron of snipers:
    Sort out this generation of vipers.

  64. April 28, 2009 11:07 PM

    The Interpreter has been on this evening – I’ve kept half an eye on it whilst pretending to be busy. Best bit is when Nicole Kidman receives the note-books of her murdered brother. In one there are a list of words he finds interesting. Shellac, gravitas, hypotenuse are amongst the words. It’s difficult not to laugh out loud at scriptwriters who evidently haven’t any imagination word-wise.

    I looked out for drubbing which wasn’t on the list but is what this film deserves

  65. Captain Ned permalink
    April 28, 2009 11:10 PM

    I had a go at the set task, but couldn’t get any further than four stanzas. I invite continuations.

    Gordon the Great of the Albion Pier
    Held his audience rapt in resentment.
    ‘Don’t worry, my friends, you’ve nothing to fear,
    For soon you’ll be pink with contentment.’

    So he assured while massaging his brow;
    He was trickster of mild expertise.
    But nobody cheered as Brown took his bow,
    For he’d charged the most exorbitant fees.

    Shut in a box was an old Scottish dame,
    A spinster of quite hideous aspect.
    Prudence the Fair was this matriarch’s name,
    Her integrity spotless, but suspect.

    Gordon the Great held aloft in his hand
    A ramshackle saw, which, clearly, was blunt.
    Mr. Brown crowed ‘I’m the best in the land!’
    ‘No you’re not,’ cried the crowds, ‘you’re a cunt.’

  66. mishari permalink*
    April 28, 2009 11:55 PM

    I think, Cap’n, that you’ve already established your sterling credentials as a master of the epic form. So far, so excellent. Take your time…there’s no rush here.

    I watched The Interpreter a few weeks ago, Al. An exceptionally silly film. But if you want to see Kidman in a truly eye-watering piece of cack (along with Mr. Sense-Of-Proportion, Hugh ‘It’s A Tragedy That My New Film’s Been Pirated, A Terrible Crime’ Jackman, check out Australia. 30 minutes was all I could stand…

  67. MeltonMowbray permalink
    April 28, 2009 11:58 PM

    ‘No!’ he roared, ‘Let me make it crystal clear,
    There’ll be absolutely NO spending cuts!’
    The angry crowd began to laugh and jeer,
    ‘Come off it! Do you think we’re fucking nuts?’

    ‘And now’, yelled Gordon, ‘Just to illustrate,
    I shall cut into this ancient female!’
    He bent to his task and sawed at top rate,
    But suddenly his flabby face went pale.

    First the blood trickled, then it spurted,
    Prudence screamed twice and then she was gone.
    Then Gordon rang down the curtain and said,
    ‘Lessons have been learned. It’s time to move on.’

  68. mishari permalink*
    April 29, 2009 12:05 AM

    ‘Lessons have been learned. It’s time to move on.’ ?

    The hapless fucker’s begun plagiarizing Blair. If Brown were even the slightest bit likable, the arc of his time at the top would make an affecting tragedy. However, because he’s a power-obsessed, emotionally and socially maladroit creep, it’s high-farce and low-slapstick with Nemesis waiting in the wings with the hook.

  69. MeltonMowbray permalink
    April 29, 2009 12:32 AM

    Yes, more Blair than Brown. I tried to do something with ‘the people’s flag is deepest red’ but it wouldn’t work out. Gordon’s a bit of a Tommy Cooper, though not funny at all.

  70. April 29, 2009 12:46 AM

    I’m glad you’ve got back to the poetry challenge – here’s my attempt. It’s not “epic” but it fulfils the maths requirement…

    I would watch the world with such amusement
    In those bygone times of limitless boom
    As it always caused me much bemusement
    Why they called “investment” what I called “home”.

    Funds hedged against risk with minimal proof,
    Pitted their muscles against stocks and shares.
    Instead I invested in a strong roof,
    With four walls and antique table and chairs.

    For years I wondered whether I should dive
    Into the lush money-making lagoon
    Now the tempest I don’t need to survive
    As I lay basking on sunny sand dune.

    Their portfolios have turned into dust,
    Scorched to cinders by the sub-primal beast.
    Spent, on its back, they see the belly’s rust,
    But they’re helpless to halt its fiscal feast.

    I now watch the world still with amusement
    In these gloomy times of endless downturn
    Living happily in my investment
    No savings to lose, no interest to earn.

  71. mishari permalink*
    April 29, 2009 1:09 AM

    Home Is Where The Cart Is

    I’m not a shining-eyed property slut
    I yawn at the thought of bricks and mortar
    We’re perfectly happy in our grass hut
    And we don’t even miss running water.

    The next step downward, away from all rent
    The next logical step in the thrift plan
    Is moving the whole damn show to a tent.
    Welcome to the Descent of Modern Man.

    Good job, Polly…

    “Gordon’s a bit of a Tommy Cooper, though not funny at all.”
    Actually, MM, Brown’s a much better magician. He made umpteen billion £ really disappear…’just like that’.

    Para (if you happen to look in): Do you know an Australian composer named Brett Dean? The other night I listened to the opera he wrote based on Peter Carey’s Bliss. I loved it. I’m not much of an opera fan but this was very modern and very odd and very unsettling and very beautiful. I think he may be based in Sydney. Give it a listen if you get a chance.

    Actually, Steven or his Harp Angel may be familiar with Dean as he spent 1985-1999 as principal viola player with the Berlin Philharmonic…

    freep, I’ve been re-reading Berryman and being reminded of how good he is:

    TLS

    Animal Henry sat reading the Times Literary Supplement
    with a large Jameson & and a worse hangover.
    Who will his demon lover
    today become, he queried. Having made a dent
    in the world, he insisted on special treatment,
    massage at all hours.

    Love in the shadows where the animals come
    tickled his nerves’ ends. He put down The Times
    & and began a salvage operation,
    killing that is the partly incoherent,
    saving the mostly fine, polishing the surfaces.
    Brain- & instinct- work.

    On all fours he danced about his cage, poor Henry
    for whom, my love, too much was never enough.
    Massage me in Kyoto’s air.
    The Japanese women are better than the Swedes,
    more rhythmical, more piercing.
    Somewhere, everywhere
    a girl is taking her clothes off.

    –John Berryman

    • parallax permalink
      May 4, 2009 3:47 AM

      No Mish, I’m not familiar with Brett Dean – put thanks for the tip-off, I’ll keep an ear out for him.

  72. April 29, 2009 1:22 AM

    Setting up in a tent is indeed the descent of modern man – caravans are much superior, I don’t know why people keep on blowing them up!

    I’m nursing the smell of burnt rubber in my house, and not in a good way, I discovered myself in a cloud of foul smelling smoke when visting my downstairs bathroom (there’s got to be a pun in there somewhere). Then I panicked and rang the fire brigade, which made the evening look up slightly, who put my bathroom out and switched off all my electric. I then spent an hour and a half with no telly, no kettle, no phone (it runs off the mains) and no lights waiting for an emergency electrician to come and fleece me, so I decided to write my poem by candlight (against the strong advise of the lovely fireman who decided to test my fire prevention knowledge – surely I started with minus points?) – turned out that I’d forgotten to replace the batteries in the smoke detector downstairs so I would have melted in my bed if I hadn’t decided to be domestic and do some washing – nice to know…

  73. April 29, 2009 1:26 AM

    Suffice to say I’ve got an S where there should be a C (advise instead of advice) – I blame smoke inhalation!

  74. mishari permalink*
    April 29, 2009 1:31 AM

    So what on earth was it that caught fire? You didn’t say. Do be careful. You know that the vast majority of fire deaths are due to smoke inhalation.

    People are overcome in their sleep, completely unaware. The smell of burning rubber suggests to me that some kind of plastic-synthetic shit was burning–doubly dangerous as that stuff gives off the most toxic fumes. Test your fire alarm at least once a month, silly girl.

  75. April 29, 2009 1:45 AM

    Well we have smoke alarms dotted about the house, they seem to frequently run out of batteries as they are wired into each other somehow, but I’m generally pretty good at sorting them out – just this was the one time I’d forgotten – it’s like a plot in Casualty (or the fire-related equivalent) where they focus in on the batteries still in the packet whilst the person is frying to death…
    It wasn’t too dramatic in the end, but I’ve become more overwrought by it as I’ve had my other half on the phone (who’s always away on business when the dramas strike) getting me to recount every word the electrician and the fireman said and telling me off for not remembering because it was life and death, which was rather too overdramatic as the problem is now sorted and not at all helpful in my opinion as it’s not his life we’re talking about here, or his night’s sleep.

    It was a badly sealed off something-something-block… oh dear – I did know this… the thing with screws in which caps off an electrical wire where it’s been cut. It was some old wiring which hadn’t been finished off properly and had arched or melted or something.

    No worries it’s all ok now and like I say I now have 5 fully functioning smoke detectors…

    I’m just at moaning stage. I went three hours without a cup of tea!

  76. mishari permalink*
    April 29, 2009 5:58 AM

    Governments across the world must prepare for swine flu pandemic

    • Poorest nations would be hardest hit by a swine flu pandemic, says WHO

    • California declares a state of emergency as 13 cases are confirmed

    The call came as the number of confirmed infections rose above 100 on four continents and the head of the US Centres for Disease Control, Richard Besser, said the virus is almost certain to claim lives in America.

    “I fully expect we will see deaths from this infection,”
    he said.

    In New York officials said 18 children from two schools were being tested for swine flu after showing symptoms, and the city’s health commissioner said “many hundreds” more children who have fallen sick may be infected with the virus, although all appear to be recovering.–The Grauniad, today.

    For Christ’s sake, let’s keep this in perspective. A million, I repeat, 1,000,000 people die from malaria every year.

    50 people a day are murdered in South Africa.

    We’re supposed to freak out at the news that ‘the number of confirmed infections rose above 100 on four continents’ and ‘city’s health commissioner said “many hundreds” more children who have fallen sick may be infected with the virus, although all appear to be recovering.’?

    This isn’t merely iresponsible scaremongering, it’s downright lunacy. Scaring everyone in the world half to death achieves what, exactly? Adds to the load of already overburdened health services, turns immigration controls even nastier and more paranoid than usual and sends the stock prices of companies like Smith, Kline and Glaxo soaring. Meanwhile the levels of stress created will probably kill more people than this so-called incipient pandemic. It’s fucking SARS all over again. Honestly, I despair sometimes…

  77. April 29, 2009 8:19 AM

    “Scaring everyone in the world half to death achieves what, exactly?” – ratings darling! Money. Fame. Bludy media…

    Scaremongering is pernicious you’re right and it causes situations to worsen. I’m still convinced that the recession (which a journal nicely called “the worst economic recession in living memory” yesterday) is 50 % actual problem and 50% self-fulfilling media prophecy.

    To be fair though you only know afterwards how serious a particular disease is going to be and what kind of -demic it ended up being, if at all. It’s like me and my fire, with hindsight I probably could have watched Eastenders and had a cup of tea before it became life threatening but best to call the fire brigade at the start of things because you don’t know how things are going to go.

    I only got up three times during the night to go and inspect the basement!

  78. Captain Ned permalink
    April 29, 2009 8:31 AM

    Line 5 should read ‘massaging his brow’. (sorted–Ed.) I may write my own conclusion at some point, but meanwhile, well done to MM for an excellent job.

    Mishari, it’s as if the media want there to be full-scale pandemic. SARS, bird flu – they’re built up to such a degree that when disaster fails to sweep the globe, there’s almost a sense of disappointment, so that the next health scare to come along gets hyped up even more by way of compensation. The thing with flu, though, is that does have the potential to be really catastrophic, as there’s only so much that can be done to combat it. However, it’s certainly unnecessary to be consumed with panic before scientists have properly understood the nature of the virus.

  79. mishari permalink*
    April 29, 2009 9:12 AM

    I read a book (years ago and title gone now) about the Great Spanish Influenza pandemic that followed closely on the heels of WW1 and actually killed more people than the war.

    At the time, I knew nothing of the subject and I was fascinated and horrified by the scale of the destruction wreaked by the virus. Even more surprising to me was how little known (or rather, remembered) it was. So I’ve no illusions about the potential of these things to wreak havoc.

    Mind you, I’ve heard and read it convincingly argued that given the scale of overpopulation and its dire effect on our habitat (planet earth), Mother Nature’s response, as a self-regulating mechanism, might very plausibly be a plague of some sort to redress the balance.

    I must say, I find the relentless playing up of the story, the ghoulish relish in evidence, the obvious attempts to create, if not panic, wide-spread terror very disturbing–and it’s so damn counter-productive in that it can only make things worse. I just wish there was a bit more restraint and responsibility on the part of the media.

    Of course, governments are aiding and abetting the media for what I think are obvious reasons. In a time of financial disaster with the populace seeking sacrificial lambs, the lambs (Brown et. al.) are delighted to be gifted with this world-wide distraction…

  80. April 29, 2009 9:14 AM

    A quick look at PotW this AM and the title of this thread here seems more apt than ever.

    Auden, mish, falls into that category of poets who I recognise as being good, but whose work I do not like, Larkin (to a lesser extent), is another, the old sheep of Grassmere being the nec plus ultra.

    Berryman was so much better than, Lowell, on the whole, don’t you think?

    And why do poets like birds? Well, because birds don’t do lit crit?

  81. mishari permalink*
    April 29, 2009 9:21 AM

    I love Berryman and certainly value him (and Delmore Schwartz) above Lowell. In fact, I value him far above Auden and Larkin (both of whose work I admire for various reasons but mostly because their poems, in the main, please or delight or fall on my inner ear in a way that ‘feels’ right).

    As to poets liking birds…weeeelll…some do, some don’t. I could, without too much trouble, scan my shelves and dig out any number of works that contradict that view. It’s the sort of lazy piece that’s becoming far too common on GU Book blogs, in my opinion…

  82. freep permalink
    April 29, 2009 11:23 AM

    Gout is a far greater threat than flu. News from Oporto is that port bottlers are agitated about sales; excessive anxiety about the condition known as ‘health’ is spreading among consumers of that generous liquid. European governments are preparing leaflet drops to every home in the continent, warning that consumption of over three bottles a night can induce gout-like symptoms. Scaremongering again. A balanced diet will include between five and ten bottles a day; Britain’s greatest prime minister, Wm Pitt, flourished on such a regime, consolidated the Empire, saw off Napoleon, invented the income tax and ‘died of old age’ at 46.
    And besides gout, I see a lot of dropsy in Northumberland these days. Are there any government warnings about this?

  83. mishari permalink*
    April 29, 2009 11:43 AM

    Are we having a revival of antique ailments, freep? The marthambles? The palsy? The quinsy? Dropsy? The King’s Evil? Let’s hope so.

    These modern diseases are a lot of swank–overly complicated in symptoms and treatments. The old diseases just required more brandy, port and ale, perhaps some opium, cupping and bleeding. Let us reject the modern medical conspiracy and demand a return to sturdy, yeoman English diseases. Away with these nasty foriegn ailments. I mean…Attention Deficit Disorder. It’s unmanly…

    God save the King..

    BTW, I’ve started another blog exclusively for poetry. Basically, just a tabula rasa for people to post stuff, experiment, go wild or slip into a coma. It’s here:

    http://artpepperspoetryhell.wordpress.com/

    …there’s also a link on the blogroll, upper right.

  84. MeltonMowbray permalink
    April 29, 2009 11:46 AM

    The dropsy epidemic hasn’t been publicised because the government fears there may be panic-buying of leeches. There have been some localised warnings of unscrupulous people selling slugs claiming them to be leeches: they are harmless but may cause feelings of disgust in sensitive individuals. In the absence of leeches NHS Direct recommends inserting a large sharp knife into the dropsical areas and twisting it. Then calling 999. Caution should be exercised owing to the risk of staining clothing or carpeting.

  85. freep permalink
    April 29, 2009 12:18 PM

    Ah, I’m pleased to hear you can still find a good leech on the IoW, MM. Wordsworth met the leech-gatherer in Cumberland (Resolution and Independence, nicely parodied by Lewis Carroll), and ever since, they’ve been in short supply in the North:

    He told, that to these waters he had come
    To gather leeches, being old and poor:
    Employment hazardous and wearisome!
    And he had many hardships to endure:
    From pond to pond he roamed, from moor to moor;
    Housing, with God’s good help, by choice or chance,
    And in this way he gained an honest maintenance.

    The rise in knife crime has obviously something to do with leech-lack. I suppose slugs could be supplied with dentures …

    Thanks for the new blog, mishari. Do you intend it should only be for original matter?

    Actually I’ve had a touch of the Evil my self; I don’t get to London much these days, but i imagine the queues outside Buckingham Palace waiting for the monarch’s touch must be quite long these days ….

  86. April 29, 2009 12:46 PM

    Freep – “excessive anxiety about the condition known as ‘health’ ” – Brilliant!!

    My husband had gout, he was very pleased with himself and I was proud of him too. It’s a condition which suggests that a life has been lived.

  87. seanmurray permalink
    April 29, 2009 12:56 PM

    ‘ “Is it well made?” is the only question that matters as Bill and I and many others have said so many times I’m tired of repeating…

    ‘It’s not talking about poetry that I object to, Polly. Far from it. It’s just the endless futile speculation on the poet’s motives, meaning, agenda, sub-text, etc. ad nauseum, that bores and irritates me.

    It’s one thing to discuss the structure of a poem–that’s something we can see and have perfectly valid opinions on. But all this blather about a poet’s motives, meanings etc.–stuff that we can’t possibly know anything about unless said poet has actually told us–leaves me cold…

    Auden wrote that he very often had no idea what a poem meant when he wrote it. It came to him, an artefact constructed of words, hopefully the right words in the right order.

    Later, Auden would try to winnow the meaning from a poem–more often than not, with little success. Honestly, I think the question “what does this poem mean?” is as useful as asking what Bach’s Goldberg Variations mean.

    Does beauty (or terror, for that matter) have to mean something?
    I don’t think it does. What does a glorious spring day mean? Search me–I don’t need to know to love it and be delighted by it.’

    You once wanted me to clarify what I meant by formalism, Mishari. You’ve nailed it above.

    Some questions, boss:

    Does the same apply to films or fiction (I can’t really see why it shouldn’t)?

    Would Dante and Milton agree with the above? If not, why should I ignore their objections? Would their epics have been just as splendid (or even better) if they’d been equally well-wrought but about, say, belly-fluff or the flavours of the author’s earwax?

    Have you *never* read a poem where the meaning mattered? What do you do when you perceive meaning in a poem: ignore it completely? Quarantine it in your mind as some sort of infection? I’d really like to know. Is lit merely origami with words, after all?

    Why this century of abject terror in the humanities of saying/hearing anything whatsoever about the only subject that really fucking matters: how to live? Is there not something about this that — [donning balaclava and fatigues again] — reeks of camp? Why this widescale Russell-Brand-like terror of substance ? Could somebody point me to these enclaves of poets, novelists and humanities profs where the art of living has been so perfected that further discussion is unnecessary and, well, more than a little declasse?

    Again: Geoff Dyer’s Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi is a pretty stylishly-written book (Zadie Smith: ‘his prose is the equal of anyone in the country’). It is also the worst UK artwork I have encountered this decade because of what it *says*.

    [Cool As Ice was a gas btw. Very much a sense of the whole cast and crew being in on the joke — weird Dutch tilts; unnecessarily Lynchian cameos from old couples, etc — apart, of course, from the poor dead-eyed leading man. Firmly in the ‘so bad it’s good/get yr friends round and hoot and throw shit at the screen’ category, though. It’s doesn’t strip you of the will to live like freep’s true ‘bad, bad, bad’ efforts e.g. The Boat That Rocked.]

  88. April 29, 2009 1:44 PM

    Have you *never* read a poem where the meaning mattered?

    I can’t speak for mish, but I’ve never read a poem where the meaning made it a good poem, or, indeed, a bad one.

  89. seanmurray permalink
    April 29, 2009 1:48 PM

    That’s not quite the question, Billy.

    Have you never read a poem where the meaning added to it? Do you think Paradise Lost could have been just as good if it was about earwax?

  90. April 29, 2009 2:29 PM

    Sean, I felt that you had asked the wrong question. But here goes

    Have you never read a poem where the meaning added to it? No.

    Do you think Paradise Lost could have been just as good if it was about earwax? Yes (but then I don’t think it’s very good as it is).

    There are no intrinsically *better* subjects for poetry, neither is poetry (or any art) about improving us as people or whatever. A beautiful poem “about” earwax is no more or less good than a beautiful poem “about” something supposedly more “sublime” it is the writing that makes it so, not the topic.

  91. seanmurray permalink
    April 29, 2009 3:43 PM

    Billy —

    Assuming that at some point you have experienced awe, terror, pity, fervour, ego dissolution (to name a few) when reading literature, can you seriously imagine experiencing these while reading about the different flavours of the writer’s earwax and nothing but?

    I would certainly struggle (and, you know, life’s short enough, eh?). And any art stripped of these qualities would be much the poorer, I suggest, so much so that it could easily change many works so stripped from ‘good’ to ‘bad’.

    Incidentally, I believe that a work’s formal qualities are what matter most, and a number of the works I rate the highest (e.g. Pale Fire or the stories of Bruno Schulz) are certainly agenda/’message’-free. What I object to here at Formalism HQ is the proposal that formal qualities are *everything*.

    ‘1. Describe 2. Explain 3. Interpret 4. Evaluate’ seems to me a pretty sensible approach. However, the chances of the C20th formalist tide being reversed are virtually nil, if only because formalism (for both artist and audience) is much, much easier than engagement. Plus of course formalism is no threat whatsoever to our political and economic masters.

  92. mishari permalink*
    April 29, 2009 3:57 PM

    Sean, I certainly don’t propose that formal qualities are everything–in poetry or any other art form. I would say, however, that poetry is a special case and I’ll tell you why I think so later on.

    I’m absolutely knackered and I’m going to get my head down until this evening. When my head feels less like a biscuit-tin stuffed with cotton wool and ball-bearings, I’ll dazzle you with the…erm…adequacy of my discourse.

    …but fuck my old boots–what a pain in the hole you are, what with your complex questions requiring serious thought. Try to be a little gentler on an old man with rusty synapses, yacuntya (to borrow a formulation of yours that took my fancy)…

  93. seanmurray permalink
    April 29, 2009 4:02 PM

    My use of ‘yacuntya’ in turn being lifted from Alan Warner’s The Man Who Walks, the *best* British novel of the decade because of — yup — its formal qualities!

  94. April 29, 2009 7:00 PM

    What the artist thought, felt, or wanted to convey in their work is pretty much wholly irrelevant in my opinion. Be it poem, painting, musical work, whatever, it’s the person appreciating it who puts the meaning to it and for each person it’s different. It’s more noticeable with words because they are more easily defined and easier to argue about, but it’s really the same with the other forms of art too. People will see/read/hear whatever they are predisposed to do so through their own experiences, needs and personality – it’s different for everyone, so there is no single meaning. Thus it seems pointless discussing the meaning with any aim of agreeing on it.

    Once the poet has written down the words and put them out there they have absolutely no control over the meaning any more. The motive or political views or meaning behind the poem are totally unconnected to the way in which the poem should be read.

    But I don’t think a poem which could only ever be interpreted as being about earwax could ever be as good to me as my favourite poems. They are favourites precisely because they mean something to me. Maybe I could see a hidden meaning in the earwax poem, a meaning which only I can see, maybe that would make it a good poem to me. But I can’t just take in words, nomatter how beautifully written, without assigning some meaning to them. It’s human nature isn’t it? At a base level it’s a form of processing, of categorising what is being read so that it can be understood and kept.

    When you see a beautiful scene – that Spring day – you don’t just see grass and oxygen and water vapour, you see fields and blue skies and clouds. You don’t just see a well constructed example of some weather, you see a beautiful day and you have experience in your head which makes you immediately assign some kind of emotion to what you’re seeing.

    Does any of this make sense?

  95. April 29, 2009 8:08 PM

    Sean I tend to the thought that in art no treatment of a subject is automatically better than another. Soap by Francois Ponge is an example. It’s about ……soap but is allusive, ambiguous as well as trying to nail down what soap actually is. It’s intensely formal and incredibly beautiful to read.

    But having praised that doesn’t mean I want a particular kind of art. What I want is to remain open-minded about all of it.

    For me as soon as one subject becomes more “important” by default than another then you get artists scrabbling for moral high grounds and a glut of things like Auschwitz literature where the subject matter drowns out the art. In real life it should do but I’m less certain in art

  96. April 29, 2009 8:37 PM

    Yeah, I’d have to say that the *last* source I go to to find out “how to live” is a fecking Artist, since Real Artists (check out the miserable earthly spates of the Great Modigliani or Godard or Flannery O’Connor or Bill Hicks or Franz Kafka or Marvin Gaye or Isadora Duncan or or Egon Schiele or Mr. Mozart or Richard Pryor or… I don’t really have to finish this list, do I? ) tend to live atrociously. From an Artist I want *Art*; for advice I lean on my Rabbi/Grandma/perspicacious friend, since advice of that nature only really works if the advisor is acquainted with the details of one’s life. DFW was a grand writer… would I take any input from the feller’s shade on how to live? Not on yer life.

  97. April 29, 2009 9:18 PM

    Or, as La Sontag has it:

    “…interpretation amounts to the philistine refusal to leave the work of art alone. Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. Interpretation makes art manageable, conformable.”

  98. Zephirine permalink
    April 29, 2009 9:38 PM

    But surely a big part of a poem’s being well made is the choice of subject? Or, if you accept Auden’s (I suspect disingenuous) account, the choice to scamper down this particular lane of poetic happenstance?

    And surely the manipulation of meaning is as much part of writing as the manipulation of language? While I accept Pinkerbell’s view to some extent, writers who are good at what they do are usually pretty good at ensuring that most of their readers will respond to the work in the way intended. Human beings aren’t all that different, after all, most of them will see a spring day with pleasure, unless it so happens that their parents were killed in a plane crash on a lovely spring day when they were five.

    You can decide to write something where the meaning is more important (though that doesn’t excuse it’s being ill-executed in terms of form) or you can write something where the skill of form and language is the main interest (though if it’s about a boring subject people may not stay around to notice how great the form is).

    If you’re really smart you can do both, like MacNeice with Bagpipe Music, and other fine works I can’t currently think of.

    But I completely agree that being about a subject which is generally considered important, or which a particular reader considers relevant to his/her life, or which reflects a certain worldview, doesn’t make a work automatically a good piece of writing. Though it seems to, for some of the POTWers.

    I have to say I’ve never quite seen the point of POTW, CR is noble to keep on doing it but there doesn’t seem to be a lot to say about many of the poems. Which doesn’t stop some people saying an awful lot.

    But then, they’re only doing what so many professional reviewers do – write about themselves.

  99. seanmurray permalink
    April 29, 2009 9:48 PM

    St P —

    I completely agree that searching for consensus on what an artwork means is futile. Art, however, is a form of communication and so the meaning intended by the artist is fundamental. The denial of this is yet another fad of the ‘Seen it all, ducky’ faux-urbane*. It is bullshit and it will pass.

    Let’s say I have a discussion with my brother about a day we once spent with our grandfather. Turns out we both have different memories of stuff he told us. This does not remotely mean that — either now or on the day itself — his intended meaning is/was ‘wholly irrelevant’, just as your intended meaning above (or mine here) is not. And just because lawyers argue over how to interpret legislation does not render it meaningless. Same with that other form of communication: art.

    ‘Once the poet has written down the words and put them out there they have absolutely no control over the meaning any more. The motive or political views or meaning behind the poem are totally unconnected to the way in which the poem should be read.

    ‘But I don’t think a poem which could only ever be interpreted as being about earwax could ever be as good to me as my favourite poems. They are favourites precisely because they mean something to me.’

    I’ll pedantically point out that the second paragraph above not only does not follow from the one before, but flatly contradicts it. No. 2 says (correctly) that a poem’s meaning is in fact very closely related to how it should be read. The rest of the same paragraph is bang-on and perfectly illustrates the absurdity of literary formalism, i.e. the attempt to deny or suppress words’ meaning(s).

    Al —

    ‘you get artists scrabbling for moral high grounds’

    Where oh where? If only!

    I can’t think of any way to reply other than what I said to Billy above. I do believe there are subjects that are so trivial they necessarily deny us valuable aesthetic responses such as awe, terror, etc.

    But I am not saying no worthwhile art has ever been about trivia. I am simply arguing against the extreme relativism above, which brings to mind perfectly some words of my granda’s: Bring back National Service.

    * Not a reference to anyone hereabouts.

  100. April 29, 2009 9:57 PM

    Sean – most agit-prop theatre scrabbles intently for the moral high ground. Most Hollywood product that drags cancer into a story in order to further enoble the suffering is aiming at that position. There are numerous examples of poverty-chic, junkie-chic blah blah. Aren’t they using these themes to amplify the affect?

  101. freep permalink
    April 29, 2009 10:12 PM

    Education has added much to the problem, Sean, as practised on the Gradgrind model.
    English Literature began to be studied at Oxbridge in the late C19, chiefly on historical principles. Over time this survey of How English Came to be a Wonderful Thing, and What are Its Chief Beauties (with plenty of philology and High Gothic), shifted into ‘practical criticism’ and the application of theories.

    University practice infected the school curriculum, and it was the examination system – matriculation exams and then A levels – that meant that pupils needed to be tested to show they knew how to read Hard Writing. And one crude way of doing this was to invite the youth to show they know what Hard Poem Number 493 ‘means’ ; they were given tools by people like I A Richards to perform this task, and then gentlemen like Leavis added in notions of Literary Hygiene.

    Certain poets obtained the privilege of being on the curriculum because their work tested young heads. In the upper sixth, you should be able to find a lot to say about Hopkins (knotty diction and rhythm), or Marvell (ambiguity) or Eliot (plenty allusions and What is Modernism?), but poets like Herrick or Edward Thomas often defy paraphrase and don’t present problems of interpretation. So there was a period in the academy when ‘hard’ poems were macho, sound and cool.

    I haven’t been in a school for decades, so i don’t know what they get given to read now: Simon Armitage I guess, and unproblematic poems about knifing old ladies. I hope they are still hygienic.

  102. seanmurray permalink
    April 29, 2009 10:14 PM

    ‘Yeah, I’d have to say that the *last* source I go to to find out “how to live” is a fecking Artist, since Real Artists… tend to live atrociously.’

    Mibbes aye, mibbes naw. If so, they may well accrue wisdom. I want to hear it.

    For a non-formalist, dear Steven, your post above seems curiously… well, it’s all open to interpretation, eh?

    Except no it isn’t because Sontag (in the same volume containing Notes on Camp) has instructed us that interpretation is for philistines, it seems.

    Except no she hasn’t, actually, because what she’s really opposing — correctly– is *interpretation and nothing but* (‘reducing the work of art to its content’), i.e. *only* no. 3 on freep’s list.

    At no point have I supported any such thing. I am simply saying (Zeph’s done it better) that meaning has *some* place in art/lit. Neither form nor content are everything.

  103. seanmurray permalink
    April 29, 2009 10:23 PM

    Al —

    Fair enough, but that doesn’t mean morality should therefore be banned.

    Now, get down in the mud and gimme fifty, soldier.

  104. April 29, 2009 11:00 PM

    Sean I’m not suggesting it should be banned more that we should be circumspect about assuming some kinds of art are automatically better than others by dint of what they are about.

    Soap as mentioned is one of the best things I’ve read in years because the form and the content mesh in such fresh and invigorating ways. Yet it’s about soap. Impossible to forecast that a prose poem about soap would be such a delight yet if you were more excited by the content you’d overlook a little gem.

  105. Zephirine permalink
    April 29, 2009 11:29 PM

    One of VS Pritchett’s best short stories (and I believe, his own personal favourite) is about having a tooth out. Difficult to describe, but the story (it’s very short) is very skilfully written so that it builds to the climactic moment of extraction, and along the way it has funny dialogue and a quirky character. Form and content conspire to hold your attention, and it isn’t off-putting even though most readers will be hostile to the subject.

    It doesn’t make any Statements about dentistry, though. And I don’t think Pritchett considered it a more valuable work because it deals with acute oral pain.

  106. April 29, 2009 11:44 PM

    Sean – There is something rather disturbing about having your posts quoted at you whilst being told that you’re contradictory. I’m liking it though, a very bracing experience. I’m slightly loathed to explain myself in case I’m just digging a deeper hole, but I’ll try…

    When I said “irrelevant” this was possibly the wrong word. I wasn’t saying that meaning/emotional response/feelings etc were irrelevant to poetry. What I was saying was that a poet can’t rely on their meaning to get through to the reader if they are relying on individual words to convey it, because we all interpret words, or phrases, differently. I’ve had a rather heated discussion with a poet friend where we had opposing views of the meaning of a word in one of his poems which completely changed what was said. I might not have had the “correct” meaning of the word in so far as how he was intending it, but I wouldn’t concede that my interpretation was wrong. That’s my prerogative as the reader. Most of us dont’ have the luxury of knowing the poet and being able to ask what a precise word means, so these sorts of adverse interpretations will go unchecked.

    This particular poem was an example of being beautifully constructed and on first glance was beautiful, but it turned out that I’d come away from it with a very different meaning to the one he intended.

    The “meaning” which the reader assigns to the poem is their *own* meaning and not the poet’s meaning – isn’t that what I said? I don’t think those two paragraphs contradict each other, but then that’s a difference in interpretation (ha ha)…

    Take the example of that famous Police song (sorry I know this group are not Sting fans) “Every Breath you Take” – it’s about stalking apparently, but an awful lot of people see it as a love song because of certain lyrics, some people have had it as their wedding song for God’s sake.

    I could possibly form a clearer opinion if the offending earwax poem was provided of course …

  107. April 30, 2009 12:00 AM

    SeanO:

    “Assuming that at some point you have experienced awe, terror, pity, fervour, ego dissolution (to name a few) when reading literature, can you seriously imagine experiencing these while reading about the different flavours of the writer’s earwax and nothing but?”

    The last time any of that happened to *me* while reading a novel, I was ten.

    “Why this widescale Russell-Brand-like terror of substance ?”

    I happen to think that *Aesthetic Pleasure* is substance aplenty.

    Art is not for “improving” us; it doesn’t (the list of Art-worshipping monsters is long, and the list of monsters who looked to Art for life-lessons even longer, perhaps… we can spend a day doing Wagner, if you want); it’s merely one of the Deeper Pleasures. To that extent it’s one key to a richer life in the universe of a questing mind but has no bearing on whether said mind will react one way or another upon finding a Playboy Bunny unclothed and in a coma in an unmonitored field on a warm summer night.

    The pleasure/utility in reading Lolita has naught to do with its ancillary role as a cautionary tale against sex with one’s 12 year old stepdaughter; as I’ve said before, using Lolita “morally” is like using a Saab for a nutcracker. Neither is it useful as an anthropological codex of mid-20th century motels of North America.

    No, the “point” of Lolita, for those who take pleasure in reading it, is that it is a pleasure to read, a formulation which neatly covers subjective complications like, say, some perfectly intelligent readers finding it to be over-written, porno-Satanic bilge. I don’t agree with them, but I don’t have to. But it’s perfectly obvious that there’s more “moral instruction” (whatever the fuck that is) in the work of Dear Abby (or in the Koran) than in any well-written novel.

    Art’s weaker cousin, Polemic, is better suited to telling people what to think and do (see: Socialist Realist Art, or Steinbeck, or Chairman Mao’s blockbuster), but it is rarely (if ever) a *pleasure* to consume. Mainly because I don’t need some shut-in with a mustache hectoring me about cliches such as “the workers” or whatever. Yes: aren’t moral or instructional formulations in “Art” invariably cliche-dependent? Something to do with trying to instruct the millions (across all Time) with easy-fit templates? Moral Instruction in the novel may have been a durable fad of the 19th century, but as a foundational column of Art Eternal it’s styrofoam; a red herring.

    You can find whatever you want in any work we can both agree is “Art”… but I can find the opposite of whatever you find: stalemate. This is unlike the case of, say, Dear Abby or The Koran. Which indicates, to me, that “values” in a work of Art are audience-added, whereas the same in Dear Abby, or the big K, are structural and therefore necessary (ie, not a red herring).

    The faux binary you’re actually setting up is Sentamentalist/Formalist. I am neither, man! Lolita (again) draws its power from being a formalist exercise neatly *grounded* in raw animal verities of sex/violence/longing; this perfect high/low balance is the key to the work’s genius… this has nothing to do with any “message”.

    “Mibbes aye, mibbes naw. If so, they may well accrue wisdom. I want to hear it.”

    Get specific and we’ll argue. Who? Who “accrued wisdom” I need to (or even can) absorb via experience of their Art?

    “Art, however, is a form of communication and so the meaning intended by the artist is fundamental.”

    ‘Fraid not, SeanO! You’re using the word “communication” rather broadly. In placing an order for a pizza (or in reading Dear Abby), the intended meaning is fundamental, but, erm, if I need Chagall whispering in my ear before I can “understand” a flying green cow, there’s something wrong with my approach to looking at paintings.

    Ditto’s Bach’s possible explanation of his “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”: not only do I need it not, I *want* it not.

  108. April 30, 2009 12:05 AM

    Erratum dammit:

    *Sentimentalist” (I stared at that for an extra two seconds before hitting “send” but the penny dropped a minute after)

  109. seanmurray permalink
    April 30, 2009 12:20 AM

    St P —

    I agree with you about multiple interpretations/meanings.

    But the relativists above want little or no interpretation. They want lit appreciation restricted to structure, tone, rhythm, etc — the formal qualities. I need more.

    Goodnight!

  110. Zephirine permalink
    April 30, 2009 12:24 AM

    St P/Pink:

    This particular poem was an example of being beautifully constructed and on first glance was beautiful, but it turned out that I’d come away from it with a very different meaning to the one he intended
    Not meaning to diss your friend, but if there was a meaning that he intended, and you didn’t get it at all, I’d say that in that case he’d failed with that particular piece of work, even if it was beautiful at first glance. Unless you had actually assigned a meaning to the vital word which was not the meaning anyone else would assign.

    Of course people will misinterpret poems and songs if they’re really determined to, though how anyone can think Every Breath You Take is a love song beats me – isn’t it about his first marriage breaking up?

  111. April 30, 2009 12:53 AM

    Oh, and I forgot; Billy:

    “Berryman was so much better than, Lowell, on the whole, don’t you think?”

    Only by stellar magnitudes. It’s *very* hard to make Berryman look bad.

  112. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 1:05 AM

    Sean-Bwana: you say, “…Art, however, is a form of communication and so the meaning intended by the artist is fundamental” and “I am simply saying (Zeph’s done it better) that meaning has some place in art/lit. Neither form nor content are everything.”

    Absolutely. I don’t think anyone, least of all me, was suggesting otherwise. I was making the point that the ‘meaning’ of a work of art, like the politics of the artist, shouldn’t be foremost in your mind when considering said art. A fairly uncontroversial view, I think.

    A few points: the meaning inherent in any work of art is entirely governed by the artist. S/He dictates a wealth of meaning or a paucity, whether that meaning is readily apprehendable or not and even–although Zeph suspects Auden of disingenuousness– whether or not the artist is conscious of what meaning is being conveyed. Any meaning added by the reader/viewer/listener is purely speculative (assuming the artist hasn’t provided a manual) and consequently of nugatory value.

    You seem to have decided that there are two possible stands to take. The Doctrinaire Formalist stand that you’ve evidently saddled me with (and Steven and Bill, I think) or the Meaning and Emotion Trump Beauty For Beauty’s Sake stand. Honestly, Sean, won’t you credit me with a little more complexity than that?

    Let’s consider the ‘art-consumer‘ for a minute (typing the phrase ‘art-consumer’ gave me a delightful frisson of evil:

    The viewer/reader/listener may distill/absorb/sense meaning from a work that the artist never intended and may, in fact, be antithetical to everything the artist knows/believes/asserts.

    Now the perceived ‘meaning’ has become an impediment to appreciating the work. Would the reader/listener/viewer have been better served by ignoring any putative ‘meaning’ and instead appreciating the artefact on its own terms; i.e. as something wrought of beauty and mystery, something otherworldly but at the same time, profoundly of this world?

    (Christ…lay off the brandy, willya? This is beginning to read like the sleeve notes for a Hawkwind LP–Ed.)

    Of course , the matter of ‘meaning’ looms so large and has done so for so long that considering it daunts me. Never mind. I don’t mind appearing foolish. I’ve had hell’s own amount of practice…

    Since the first homo sapiens carved little stone fertility figures with myriad breasts and knocked themselves out covering cave-walls with georgeous paintings, we can safely assume that ‘meaning‘ preyed on their minds.

    Every idol, every cult, every religion, funerary rite, juju fetish, the naming of stellar constellations, the compulsion to up-sticks and head over the horizon–all have been expressions of the need for ‘meaning‘. Simplified even further, the foregoing are all functions of the eternal question: Why?

    (I think I’d better drink some strong coffee before continuuing)

  113. April 30, 2009 1:32 AM

    Ha, yes, Zeph you’ve probably hit on the truth when you suggest that I had “assigned a meaning to the vital word which was not the meaning anyone else would assign”. But that’s the chance the poet takes isn’t it and in the end the reader doesn’t know whether they’ve got it wrong or not do they? (usually)

    Mish are you playing a drinking game where you take a swig every time you use the word “meaning”?

    I think I might have to give up on this for now, and leave you with a Monty Python quote, “I might not know much about art, but I know what I like”

  114. April 30, 2009 1:33 AM

    I did not expect *that* to happen…

  115. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 1:45 AM

    No, neither did I. Hitherto, all that showed was the link. I think I must have absent-mindedly changed a setting. Good. Saves time if you’ve got a vid for people to watch

  116. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 1:47 AM

    Let’s see if it works for me…here’s John Berryman in Dublin, 1967, interviewed by Al Alverez and with Dream Song 14:

  117. April 30, 2009 7:56 AM

    No, the “point” of Lolita, for those who take pleasure in reading it, is that it is a pleasure to read

    Beyond which there is really nothing more to say.

  118. April 30, 2009 8:25 AM

    Wagner is an interesting case in point. Daft to the point of insane story-lines, a list of celebrity fans that you’d rather not have, performed in the most obnoxious contexts yet when I listen to it I can’t help but be impressed by what he was trying to do musically.

    I’ve read socialist denouncements of his work, I’ve read communist defences of his work but the most interesting were the comments of composers who took apart the music he wrote and illustrated what he was up to on a formal level.

    It becomes confusing – I don’t tend to like bombast, I’m not ( as far as I am aware ) a Nazi with longings for a supe-race, I don’t spend hours listening to his work in a forest of fir trees imbibing the sheer Teutonic-ness of it all, I laugh at opera singers on stage in silly costumes showing themselves incapable of acting and I actively detest the cultural milieu in which opera is presented yet there is something else going on in Wagner that, dare I say it transcends all that whenever I infrequently hear it.

  119. April 30, 2009 8:30 AM

    Or to return to Dante; I am indifferent to almost everything he is writing “about”, and hostile to some of it, but the Divine Comedy is still one of the greatest poems ever written. Why? Technique.

  120. April 30, 2009 8:36 AM

    Billy if only I had your concision!

  121. April 30, 2009 8:44 AM

    Alarming, I was very interested in something you wrote earlier about leaving language out of the work you do because it distracted form the other elements. I’ve always wondered why Picasso and Stravinsky (to take two examples) have become completely assimilated by the audiences for visual art and serious music, but Pound and Joyce are still seen as difficult. Part of the answer seems to lie in this insistance on viewing language as solely a means of communication, one that must be instantly accesible and transparent.

    Beckett once said, somewhere, that art has nothing to do with communication; an extreme position, but you can see what he was getting at. Brian Coffey said in an interview that if communication is the transference of bits of information from point A to point B, then poetry is not communication. I think what he meant was that a poem, if it works, is not paraphrasable, its “meaning” is the totality of what the poem is, not some extractable essence, the only thing that can be communicated is the poem itself. So much for concision; I think I better stop now.

  122. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 8:45 AM

    Never mind, Al. Here’s the antidote to concision…

    Confused, Contradictory 3am Waffle-Pt. 2

    …but I wanted to discuss Sean’s question regarding poetry:

    Have you never read a poem where the meaning mattered? What do you do when you perceive meaning in a poem: ignore it completely? Quarantine it in your mind as some sort of infection? I’d really like to know. Is lit merely origami with words, after all?

    It’s not that meaning doesn’t matter so much as meaning is of secondary or tertiary importance. I can hear the sneer in the phrase ‘origami with words’. Is music, then, origami with notes? Bach’s Brandenburg Origamis? This brings me to the point I wanted to make about poetry being unique amongst the arts.

    Because a poem compromises the written word, it too often is viewed as a variety of prose (”…it’s just bollox, innit? Bunch of words chopped into short lines an’ that”).

    But poetry isn’t a kind of prose. In fact, written poetry is a relatively recent development. Poetry and song are certainly the oldest of art forms, coeval with the development of the human voice. To subject the words to an inquiry into their meaning is to miss the point.

    Poetry is closer to music than to prose. The sonic qualities of the words, the manner of their speaking by a bard or troubador or a father reading Kipling to his children, the pacing, stresses and rhythm…all these things combined with the right words in the right order, i.e. words–distilled and refined–from experience, memory, dreams and talk overheard. Words that a poetic sensibility can make evocative, stirring, terrifying, bleak, warm, joyous, etc.

    The actual sound of the words is crucial, all-important, as it is in oratory, which aspires to the poetic. Even in oratory, meaning is subsidiary to–for want of a more precise word–magic. The millions of Germans who listened to Adolf Hitler on their radios were not thinking:

    Donnerwetter! Zis Hitler chep iss tokking gut zenze!

    What H. was saying was less important than how he was saying it. Ditto Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech. Check it out:

    …it’s pure poetic theatre. The meaning of his words hardly matters at all. He could have been reading his shopping list…but check out the delivery. The sonority. The pacing. The rhythm. It’s an inspired performance but the meaning is to be gleaned more from the context than from the actual words.
    The crowd weren’t going wild for the ‘meaning’ of the words but for the sound of them.

    And so with poetry, close kin to song. How often do you ask yourself what a piece of music ‘means’?
    Not often, I suspect. Why is that? Because music creates its own meaning, with help from the listener.
    If the music moves you or delights you or frightens you–then that is, effectively, its meaning. But music only has meaning if it provokes a response in you. Otherwise, it’s just noise. What does that tell you?
    So with poetry, I believe. Meaning is contingent on response.

    Scientists studying whale song initially thought that the songs were purely utilitarian, of call and response designed to locate other members of the pod, to alert potential mates to a whales presence and availability,etc. They soon discovered that whales sometimes sang for hours for no discernible reason. They concluded that whales often sang for the pure pleasure of it, making what the Old Testament calls “a joyful noise”.

    ‘Meaning’ and ‘value’ are not synonymous, What have you got against making a joyful noise, young Murray?

    I’ll leave the last word to Baudelaire. In the dedication of his volume of prose poems, Spleen de Paris, he wrote:

    Who among us has not dreamt, in his ambitious days, of the miracle of a poetic prose?

    It would have to be musical without rhythm and rhyme, supple and resistant enough to adapt itself to the lyrical stirrings of the soul, the wave motions of dreaming, the shocks of consciousness.

    This ideal, which can turn into an idée fixe, will grip especially those who are at home in the giant cities and the web of their numberless interconnecting relationships.

    PS: So that Vanilla Ice flick’s really as bad as it sounds, is it? Guess I’ll have to check it out.

  123. April 30, 2009 10:11 AM

    Mish.

    Indeed one worries over these questions.

    http://tomclarkblog.blogspot.com/2009/04/paper-people.html

  124. freep permalink
    April 30, 2009 10:16 AM

    Mishari: nice discussion.
    There are scores of examples of different kinds of what we might call ‘meaningless noise’, whether they come out of the end of a trumpet or a human voice box, or, importantly, in the form of ‘implied noise’ as shaped in words on a page. In other words, reading a poem, we have a sense of how it might or should sound in our head.
    I am much persuaded by Alarming’s Wagner example. I don’t much care for the stiff formalities of classical opera – arias, recitative etc – but in music drama of the Wagnerian kind , the seamlessness buries the form and makes it less visible. There are bewitching noises. I know some of the meanings that the narrative dictates – all the epic, mythic stuff – and I’m aware of what Wagner’s music has meant to various unsavoury persons – but the noise is often great, and tricks or seduces you, as Wagner’s did Nietzsche.
    Your example of Martin Luther King, mish, is similarly compelling.
    But there are easier examples to grasp: prayers and hymns: performative words. I was raised (or dragged) up as a Catholic, and as a young child parroted the words of prayers and hymns with barely any sense of a meaning they might have. I loved some of the hymns, syrupy sweet things though they were. But the prayers – well, I didn’t even know they had a meaning. They were just prayers, magic words. There was one prayer you could say that would prevent you going to hell if you were about to snuff it and father O’Keeffe was not around. Pure, wonderful, frightening ritual.

    It seems to me that there is some stuff served up as poetry which fails utterly to recognise that there might be a magic in the creation of word music; your Desmond Graham example on your other thread comes near it, mishari. Prose in chunks with a bit of patterning.

    But Education, like imposed religion, can do terrible things, as I was trying to say earlier; it can introduce kids (or adults) to poetry as if it is no more than a collection of Sudokus or crossword puzzles, and the history of what passes for Literary Criticism is like a series of Road Traffic Accidents. If you were involved in the 50s or 60s in the car crash called Leavisite criticism, you just think Literature is a football league in which Milton has been relegated to Division 3 and Lawrence and Conrad are vying for the leadership.

    I liked St Pollyanna’s allusion to chance. There are histories that shape the way we think words might be read, but those histories can always be rewritten.

  125. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 11:08 AM

    “In other words, reading a poem, we have a sense of how it might or should sound in our head.”

    Exactly, freep. When I read a poem, I’m ‘listening’ to it with an inner ear. I have a feeling that we viscerally somehow know that a poem should sound well. Before the triumph of print, this must have been sledge-hammer obvious as people had no choice but to store poems in memory or await the arrival of someone who did.

    It seems to me that the words would be so chosen and arranged as to make them especially memorable, both to make life easier for the wandering bard and to provide enough of a memory to an audience for them to want to repeat the experience.

    The advent and subsequent conquest of the oral tradition of poetry by print had, I believe, the same effect as the advent of the gramaphone.

    Whereas before, people had relied on themselves to make music and it was considered unusual not to have some sort of musical skill, the making of music and musical tastes rapidly became the preserve of ‘professional’ musicians, tastes were guided and formed by businessmen and manafacturers and the people were relegated to the position of passive ‘consumers’ of music.

    Poetry went from being something possessed in common, something universally appreciated and where felicity of language was acknowledged by the lettered and unlettered alike, to being a minority interest, provided by and catering to an elite.

    I know Bill has argued that poetry was always a minority interest and the preserve of an elite, but I’m not so sure.
    My knowledge of the history of European poetry isn’t good enough for me to argue the point with him.

    However, I do know that it’s never been true nor is it true now in the Arabic-speaking world. Poetry has always enjoyed a universality. I was in Egypt not long ago, where I overheard a gang of brick-layers and labourers reciting poetry from memory with great gusto, arguing with one another over the choices and trading friendly insults in rhyming couplets.

    I have never nor do I expect to ever hear British brickies doing the same.

  126. seanmurray permalink
    April 30, 2009 11:22 AM

    Steven —

    ‘Art is not for “improving” us; it doesn’t…’

    Problem is, chief, you don’t believe that *anything* improves us. You believe we are formed in early childhood and then flatline till death.

    Such fatalism had little appeal for me before I worked in the psych hospital from ’03 to ’05 and since then, none at all. Dozens of ex-patients have badly deteriorated since then — a couple have committed suicide (howzat for not flatlining?) — but dozens have massively improved as well — usually through learning how to choose better. This is simply a fact, man. A good number of non-patients I know have had similar trajectories.

    Now: a number of those who have improved have pinpointed certain pieces of writing (some non-fiction, but by no means all) as key to their recovery. Some have mentioned individual poems whose *meaning* stopped them committing suicide (rhyme scheme perhaps mattering a little less at such moments). I know these people well enough to believe them.

    Art is perhaps not *for* improving us, true, just as music isn’t *for* making us don disco shorts and boogie — but both *can* do so, if a particular member of the audience is receptive to the idea, perhaps the right age, in the right (or wrong) place, and hasn’t listened to any shite about ‘Life-changing art? Well, how passe’ or ‘Music is for listening to politely in a ballgown.’

    What I find amusing from the Doctrinaire Formalists (to use Mishari’s term) is the shift from ‘I don’t appreciate meaning in my art’ to ‘No! No! No meaning ever! Banned! Out with it! Out! In fact it was never there in the first place!’

  127. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 11:41 AM

    Sean, you do me an injustice. If art is therapeutic, if it does some poor soul some good…great. I’m all for it. I’m not claiming that art can only be one thing or serve one purpose.

    Thing is, you mustn’t expect or demand that art be therapeutic…or even useful, for that matter. If it is–cool. If it ain’t–well that’s cool too.

    That’s what I’m saying. You keep trying to portray this as some kind of unbridgable chasm between the Art For Art’s Sake mob and the Art Must Serve Some Useful Purpose mob.

    I don’t see it like that. If art serves a useful purpose, all the better. I’m just a bit wary of people who think that if it doesn’t serve some tangible purpose, isn’t of some discernible benefit, then it’s somehow just effete, elitist wank…

  128. seanmurray permalink
    April 30, 2009 11:48 AM

    Mish (warm fuzzy feeling as I finally drop the ‘ari’) —

    ‘Sean-Bwana: you say, “…Art, however, is a form of communication and so the meaning intended by the artist is fundamental” and “I am simply saying (Zeph’s done it better) that meaning has some place in art/lit. Neither form nor content are everything.”

    Absolutely. I don’t think anyone, least of all me, was suggesting otherwise. I was making the point that the ‘meaning’ of a work of art, like the politics of the artist, shouldn’t be foremost in your mind when considering said art.’

    ‘You seem to have decided that there are two possible stands to take. The Doctrinaire Formalist stand that you’ve evidently saddled me with (and Steven and Bill, I think) or the Meaning and Emotion Trump Beauty For Beauty’s Sake stand. Honestly, Sean, won’t you credit me with a little more complexity than that?’

    I certainly would. And while there are doctrinaire formalists hereabouts, you are clearly not among them. And I’m certainly not here to represent the Meaning and Emotion Trump Beauty For Beauty’s Sake Party. As I said above, I believe an artwork’s formal qualities are what matter most. The attempt to relegate belief/philosophy from lit was a C20th fad, like the attempt to relegate character and plot from fiction. The latter fads passed. I would like to see the one we’re discussing pass too but it won’t because (a) formalism is far, far easier than engagement, and (b) it suits our economic masters to a tee.

    ‘It’s not that meaning doesn’t matter so much as meaning is of secondary or terciary importance. I can hear the sneer in the phrase ‘origami with words’.’

    I don’t actually sneer, man. Ever. These blogs are light relief for me.

    Re MLK —

    ‘…it’s pure poetic theatre. The meaning of his words hardly matters at all. He could have been reading his shopping list…but check out the delivery. The sonority. The pacing. The rhythm The crowd weren’t going wild for the ‘meaning’ of the words but for the sound of them.’

    Well, here we reach an impasse. For me, the meaning (esp. in the historical context) in that speech is absolutely fundamental to its impact. No matter how technically supreme, you will never ever see a crowd that size respond that way to a speech about a shopping list (or earwax). That I’m ever having to state this is bringing on one of those ‘The world’s gone mad moments’. It will pass.

    ‘What have you got against making a joyful noise, young Murray?’

    Notin’, boss. Let’s rock.

  129. seanmurray permalink
    April 30, 2009 11:54 AM

    Crossed posts, Mish .

    ‘Thing is, you mustn’t expect or demand that art be therapeutic…or even useful, for that matter. If it is–cool. If it ain’t–well that’s cool too.’

    Yes and yes.

    ‘ You keep trying to portray this as some kind of unbridgable chasm between the Art For Art’s Sake mob and the Art Must Serve Some Useful Purpose mob.’

    No, no, no. See above.

    And let’s dance.

  130. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 11:56 AM

    Oh, don’t get me wrong. I think I expressed myself clumsily, as usual. It’s not that MLK’s words were meaningless–far from it. His brilliant use of Biblical intonations (with their air of authority and inevitability) was stunning (tho hardly surprising from a clergyman).
    It’s just that I’m absolutely convinced that the exact same speech, delivered word for word by, say, Geoff Hoon, would put you into a fucking coma.

    MLK understood the power of language; the hypnotic, stirring effect of the sounds of language. Words act as triggers or pre-cursors, but it’s the delivery that kicks it into over-drive, I think…

  131. April 30, 2009 12:01 PM

    “Steven –

    ‘Art is not for “improving” us; it doesn’t…’

    Problem is, chief, you don’t believe that *anything* improves us. You believe we are formed in early childhood and then flatline till death.”

    SeanO:

    Don’t put words in my mouth, chum, it’s unseemly. I certainly believe “we” can and often do improve ourselves… and that we can, and do, often do the opposite.

    Being no form of hippie, on the other hand, I don’t believe in some wonderful, huggable planetary “we”. Dick Cheney, for example, is a Shit and he has probably been one since he was 12. That’s just the way it is. If you’d like to try to “improve” Dick with anything short of a brain replacement, it’s your time/dime… go for it. But getting him to read Jonathan Livingston Seagull probably won’t do the trick.

  132. April 30, 2009 12:07 PM

    Anyway, man, put your money where your mouth is and show us to specific texts that do what you would claim is the thing you want to see done. Show us the higher lit with built-in (rather than projected) morality and show how the morality is key (or at least a partner) to its brilliance. Give us a list. I’ve started with Lolita, and Billy and Al did Dante and Wagner to excellent effect. Where art Thine examples?

  133. seanmurray permalink
    April 30, 2009 12:21 PM

    “Steven –

    Mish —

    Yes, absolutely. As Zeph was the first to say: form *and* content.

    (As St P pointed out, the attempt to split them and bin one will always be futile).

    Steven —

    ‘Don’t put words in my mouth, chum, it’s unseemly.’

    I can dig out the precise quote if you wish, min.

    ‘I certainly believe “we” can and often do improve ourselves… and that we can, and do, often do the opposite.’

    Very relieved to hear that.

    Still, you are one sleekit rhetorical bugger, you are. You constantly debate by subtle misrepresentation:

    1. The implication (via Sontag) that I was arguing in favour of interpretation and nothing but (’reducing the work of art to its content’).

    2. The subtle elision into ‘Art is not *for* improving us’ when I had never once said it was, i.e. that I believe improvement is its *purpose*.

    3. That I believe any of this could apply to yer Dick fecken Cheneys.

    I have my eye on you, matey!

  134. April 30, 2009 12:21 PM

    “I can dig out the precise quote if you wish, min.”

    Do it!

  135. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 12:22 PM

    …catfight! catfight!

  136. April 30, 2009 12:29 PM

    SeanO:

    I think you’re making very broad claims which are extremely open to “misinterpretation” (when it suits you). So, get specific. Name the texts, say what’s good/bad about them, give us a whack at engaging your contentions in a way that will satisfy all… bring this to the level of the concrete. I think you’re arguing from the position of a Noble Attitude, rather than for an arguable theory/practise: show me otherwise.

  137. April 30, 2009 12:32 PM

    Mish:

    (Donning cat mask and tights) Aye! (muffled)

  138. April 30, 2009 12:44 PM

    (Erm… it’s getting rather stuffy in this mask… Sean…?…)

  139. seanmurray permalink
    April 30, 2009 12:45 PM

    Uh, Infinite Jest.

    Though there you go again with the misrepresentation. Where have I said it *has* to be morality?

    Here’s an imaginary example, one that has more to do with practicality than morality (this may well apply to IJ too):

    Girl aged 12 is feeling depressed. Friends have been prescribed anti-depressants and she asks her mother if their doctor might prescribe some for her. The mother has reasonable trust in her GP’s judgment.

    A friend gives the punter’s mother a novel by someone who was once misprescribed anti-depressants. This resulted in multiple suicide attempts. Novelist in a polemical frenzy has written a technically poor effort about her experiences.

    Punter’s mother is no lit connoisseur and does not notice the technical flaws, nor has she ever been instructed that technique is all. Through her reading she comes to have less faith in the medical profession in general and the mass prescribing of anti-depressants in particular. She decides to seek another solution to her daughter’s depression.

  140. seanmurray permalink
    April 30, 2009 12:50 PM

    Next e.g.:

  141. April 30, 2009 1:05 PM

    (Scratching bum through tights)

    SeanO, perhaps we’ve been arguing in two different languages. I don’t understand how your first example either refutes any position I’ve held or… makes a point. And if you back off from your claims about “Postmodernism” and its shallowness/faddishness in order to argue the unrelated point that Bill Hicks’ comedy routine involves criticizing stuff we can all laugh at: fine. But…

    Yeah. Huh?

    Are you claiming I claimed that real Art should in no way, at any point, reference life on earth?

  142. seanmurray permalink
    April 30, 2009 1:07 PM

    Fuck it, I’d drawn up a list but I’ll stick with Wallace and Hicks, the only two artists of the last 20 years I can comfortably call geniuses.

    It way well be, too, that these two are the only modern artists to pull it off. I’m okay with that. I’m not — despite repeated misrepresentations — arguing for content-heavy art to dominate. I’m saying it has a place and is honorable* and the attempts to suppress/deny it are bizarre and silly. Who the hell wants Hicks talking about his mother-in-law?

    Steven —

    Even with loads of squinting, I’m struggling to separate you from formalists like Billy Mills. Geeza a helping hand, mate.

    * Okay, *now* I’ll go a little further and say it may also sometimes send certain artists into the stratosphere, e.g. the two masters above.

  143. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 1:10 PM

    I dunno, Sean…are you suggesting that DFW is somehow responsible, that an artist must consider the knock-on effect his/her imperfect art might have? Whoa…perhaps they should have prosecuted Goethe for The Sorrows of Young Werther.

    And what about Tom Crooz, whose passionate hatred of head-shrinkers might persuade impressionable young people to avoid treatment?

    (Personally, I’m in favour of having him executed for crimes against cinema)

  144. April 30, 2009 1:17 PM

    SeanO:

    Okay, let’s reduce this to a sentence or two we can argue about: I don’t think Art *has* to what DFW or BH attempt to do, neither do I think it shouldn’t. But I think that Art I believe is truly *great* doesn’t make any decisions for the viewer, is rich with ambiguity, and can’t be reduced to a simple message. Unlike Bill’s socially-important-though-not-super-genius comedy routine, which *can* be reduced to a simple message. I think Hicks was/is great; I firmly believe in Resistance… but I think the essence of Resistance and the essence of Great Art are two different things, though traces of each may be found in the other.

    Essentially: I can re-read Lolita (or Underworld) many times and derive even more Pleasure each time; ditto viewing EGon Schiele; but after the third viewing of Bill’s routine, the thrill is gone, love him though I do. Because he is practising a (socially important) Minor Art.

  145. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 1:41 PM

    If this doesn’t put a smile on your face, check your pulse–you might be dead.

    “…and looking very relaxed, Adolf Hitler on vibes…nice!”

  146. April 30, 2009 1:50 PM

    (in cat mask still, muffled laughter)

    Brainiac on banjo? Where was I…?

  147. seanmurray permalink
    April 30, 2009 1:52 PM

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2007/dec/18/pornographyashighart

    Looks like at least one doctrinaire formalist (12.01) is quite prepared to dismiss an unread novel simply due to its… (squints) well, by golly, simply due to its subject matter.

    Sing it with me, Billy: D. I. S. C. O!

  148. April 30, 2009 2:02 PM

    SeanO:

    You’re beginning to sound like someone who lives so completely in the realm of books (and arguments about them) that you haven’t any connection to Life… ironically.

    You label someone a “Doctrinaire Formalist” and then attack when shown evidence that they aren’t? This is an irrational debating technique, man. Show me the point in this thread where anyone claims that “Art Excuses Anything”.

    You’re being silly instead of rebutting about a dozen sound points. And you’re all over the map, like an epileptic at the urinal at precisely the wrong moment. Focus!

  149. April 30, 2009 2:05 PM

    A: I’m not a doctrinaire anything, but name-calling is one way to distract from a hollow argument.

    B: An interesting way to interpret the meaning of my comment there. Where did I say I was dismissing the book because of anything? I was actually arguing against trying to use “art” to score a political point, which seems fairly consistent with what I usually do. The merits or otherwise of the book in question had nothing to do with it. In fact, I was careful not to comment on the book itself, so I can’t quite work out how you assume that I hadn’t read it.

    Must try harder, Sean.

  150. April 30, 2009 2:06 PM

    Should read:

    “You label someone a “Doctrinaire Formalist” and then attack by showing evidence that they aren’t?”

  151. April 30, 2009 2:12 PM

    PS Sean: The fact that you’re indulging in one of WordNerd’s favorite Stasi Auntie techniques of unearthing ancient comment thread stuff to tighten a baggy argument (or in an effort to slap an opponent with his/her own sock) is worrying, man. What point is it you’re trying to make here, again?

  152. seanmurray permalink
    April 30, 2009 2:16 PM

    ‘I dunno, Sean…are you suggesting that DFW is somehow responsible, that an artist must consider the knock-on effect his/her imperfect art might have?’

    Surely, Mish, you accept that a novelist must consider/realise that writing celebrating the rape and torture of young girls is going to have a different impact on his/her readership than writing about e.g. why the writer has to be saved from his record collection by his girlfriend. *Huge* leap from this (and one I’m not prepared to make), though, to holding the writer responsible for every freakoid’s (mis)interpretation of the text.

    Catman —

    ‘But I think that Art I believe is truly *great* doesn’t make any decisions for the viewer, is rich with ambiguity, and can’t be reduced to a simple message.’

    Sounds like IJ to me. And/but once again I’d like to replace a ‘must be’ or ‘is’ with ‘can be’: *most* of what I’d regard as great art fits the description above, but by no means all.

    I’d say Hicks’ entire sets constitute great art and though not reducible to a single message, are not especially complex or ambiguous. Same with The Grapes of Wrath (the film) and The Night of the Hunter (book and film).

  153. April 30, 2009 2:18 PM

    “I’d say Hicks’ entire sets constitute great art and though not reducible to a single message, are not especially complex or ambiguous.”

    I think I have a different notion of Great Art, man. Nothing to argue there. Difference in taste. Can I go now?

  154. seanmurray permalink
    April 30, 2009 2:24 PM

    Can I?

  155. seanmurray permalink
    April 30, 2009 2:43 PM

    Billy —

    Having read your post again, I’m afraid I simply don’t believe you. (Nice try, though).

    Still, it’s heartening to see you don’t really believe the stuff you’ve posted here.

  156. April 30, 2009 2:50 PM

    Sean, you believe what you want to believe. I’m not a believer, sorry.

  157. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 3:06 PM

    Much as I like Bill Hicks, he was very much in the tradition of Lenny Bruce–telling people uncomfortable truths in a scabrously funny way.

    But great Art? Nah…I don’t think so. The performances I’ve seen were terrific and they bore watching a further 2 or 3 times (with fairly lengthy intervals in between) but that’s it. I really wouldn’t want to watch them again for a long time. I feel the same way about Lenny Bruce. I’ve owned, at one time or another, every thing he’d recorded (not a huge oeuvre) and listened to them many times over. But I wouldn’t now seek them out. Bruce wasn’t a genius nor was his work ‘great Art’ (in my opinion).

    I don’t think The Night of the Hunter is a useful comparison. It’s a small masterpiece. I dunno how many times I’ve seen it but I don’t think I’ll ever think I’ve seen it too many times.

    “Surely, Mish, you accept that a novelist must consider/realise that writing celebrating the rape and torture of young girls is going to have a different impact on his/her readership…”

    Actually, no I don’t, any more than I accept that Stanley Kubrick was obliged to consider the hysterical dishonesty of the media or the alleged actions of a few impressionable pin-heads when he made Clockwork Orange. It veers dangerously close to prior restraint.

    Don’t you think it’s up to an artist to do as good a job as S/He can without any thought of some purely notional audience?

  158. seanmurray permalink
    April 30, 2009 3:52 PM

    Billy —

    I also find your formalism above, doctrinaire or otherwise, hard to square with my memory of your Sustainable Poetry essay, which I admired. Steven, of course, described it as ‘toe-curling’ and attacked its pro-engagement stance iirc using the sort of the formalist/anti-engagement arguments you and he have used above.

    The original link is dead. All I can find online is “Sustainable poetry… illuminates the deep ecology view that we need to adopt an ecocentric mode of living in the world if we are to survive. If the role of philosophy is to inspire action, the role of poetry is to be in the world.”

    Mish is cool with it, could you post the essay here? If I have misremembered it then I apologise.

    “Surely, Mish, you accept that a novelist must consider/realise that writing celebrating the rape and torture of young girls is going to have a different impact on his/her readership…”

    Actually, no I don’t, any more than I accept that Stanley Kubrick was obliged to consider the hysterical dishonesty of the media or the alleged actions of a few impressionable pin-heads when he made Clockwork Orange. It veers dangerously close to prior restraint.’

    My response is in the rest of my paragraph you snipped!

  159. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 4:08 PM

    Snipped? We don’t do ‘snipped’ here at Politely Homicidal. What are you on about? Re-post whatever it was and tell me where it’s supposed to go and it shall be done…

    By all means post the essay here, Bill.

  160. seanmurray permalink
    April 30, 2009 4:30 PM

    Surely, Mish, you accept that a novelist must consider/realise that writing celebrating the rape and torture of young girls is going to have a different impact on his/her readership than writing about e.g. why the writer has to be saved from his record collection by his girlfriend. *Huge* leap from this (and one I’m not prepared to make), though, to holding the writer responsible for every freakoid’s (mis)interpretation of the text.

  161. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 4:51 PM

    Sean, that bit is in your post of 2:16…oh, I see…you mean I cut it short when I quoted it. Sorry, but I wasn’t suggesting that you do hold artists responsible for the effect their work might subsequently have on the impressionable.

    However, you do say a ‘novelist must consider/realize’ etc.

    I still disagree. What I believe a novelist ‘must consider’ is the work. After it goes out into the world, it’s on its own, no?

  162. April 30, 2009 5:17 PM

    Mish,

    Just dropped by to rudely interrupt this gripping discussion of serious literary topics to let you know that over at my site I have left another grateful and hopefully this time clarifying response to your welcome comment on my hopeful poem of the day.

    Let us have Hope!

    By the by, as the thread here appears to have looped again around and about the issue of the guilty or not guilty pleasures to be derived from certain artworks– “Essentially: I can re-read Lolita (or Underworld) many times and derive even more Pleasure each time; ditto viewing Egon Schiele”–Steven A., above)–perhaps readers might be interested in some Schieles it would seem almost impossible to feel guilty about viewing:

    http://tomclarkblog.blogspot.com/2009/04/sunflowers.html

  163. April 30, 2009 5:22 PM

    ..And of course that comment is here:

    http://tomclarkblog.blogspot.com/2009/04/hope.html

  164. seanmurray permalink
    April 30, 2009 5:37 PM

    ‘After it goes out into the world, it’s on its own, no?’

    I wish I could agree with that, man. I really do. And I’m not even sure how to go about opposing it.

    But here’s a start: have a look at Steven’s objections to the Robbe-Grillet novel in the GU link above. Leaving Billy’s denial aside, SA is undeniably objecting to that book — assuming, as he says, Max J’s synopsis is accurate — for moral/non-formalist reasons. He has objected to The Wire and the film Irreversible for similar reasons, and I therefore believe him when he says he’s not a formalist, though he often can seem like one. In the first instance I believe he’s right to object, by the way, though not the second or third.

    But if ‘After it goes out into the world, it’s on its own’ were really true, there would be no valid reason to object *any* artwork on anything but technical grounds. Now, if that’s what you want then fair enough. But I want us still to have the opportunity to object to e.g. the oeuvre of Jim Davidson on non-technical grounds.

    However, I’m none too optimistic that the influence of ‘After it goes out into the world, it’s on its own’ will not continue to spread, because it very much suits the various art industries.

    Instead of me wittering on about this, though, I’d be more interested to know precisely where you feel artistic responsibility begins and ends.

  165. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 6:06 PM

    Sean, I’m a bit frazzled at the moment, but your post requires, I think, an extensive rebuttal. I think. The trouble is, I’m having great difficulty understanding your point. I’ll try to manage as coherent a reply as I can, given my bafflement.

    “But if ‘After it goes out into the world, it’s on its own’ were really true, there would be no valid reason to object *any* artwork on anything but technical grounds.”

    I honestly don’t know what you’re asserting here. Are you saying that an artist, any artist, is to be held accountable for any and every knock-on effect his/her work causes, forever and a day?

    When you say “there would be no valid reason to object to any artwork on anything but technical grounds…”, do aesthetic reasons count as ‘technical grounds’?

    And anyway, surely I can still find a work morally or aesthetically or culturally or politically disgusting even if the artist has disowned it?

    Surely one can have valid reasons to object to a piece even if the artist is unknown. We judge the work and we judge it on whatever grounds we choose. Whether it’s still attached to its mother’s apron strings or not (so to speak)…

    I dunno, maybe I’m just to cereberally fried today, but I’m having trouble grasping what you’re actually asserting. I’d be grateful if you’d elucidate. What, exactly, are you saying?

  166. seanmurray permalink
    April 30, 2009 6:16 PM

    That between ‘an artist, any artist, is to be held accountable for any and every knock-on effect his/her work causes, forever and a day?’ and ‘Well, I just concentrate on the work, y’know? How my readers interpret my Let’s Rape and Torture Kiddies series is entirely up to them’, neither of which I support, there lies something called artistic responsibility. I really hope you agree. If so, I’d like you to delineate where you believe such responsibility starts and ends.

    How’s that?

  167. April 30, 2009 6:23 PM

    One Person Dies In US; None In Europe Horror.

    I also like the way the papers say that the “victims” are “responding to treatment” – as if this treatment was something slightly more than the flu jab they’ve just been given.

    Actually, I’m beginning to think I’m coming down with something….

  168. seanmurray permalink
    April 30, 2009 6:24 PM

    ‘When you say “there would be no valid reason to object to any artwork on anything but technical grounds…”, do aesthetic reasons count as ‘technical grounds’’

    Certainly. I want to be able to object to Jim Davidson morally, not just because of poor delivery, pitch, rhythm (which isn’t that poor btw).

    Incidentally, if I (seem to) overrate Hicks above, that might be because stand-up is probably my favourite artform. From you and SA’s comments, it seems to follow that no stand-up can be great art. I disagree, but then I also disagree that great art *must* be ambiguous.

  169. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 6:53 PM

    I don’t believe great art must be ambiguous but I can’t fit stand-up into what I understand great art to be…or rather, I can’t fit any stand-up that I’ve seen into what I understand great art to be.

    My definition of great art, roughly and necessarily imprecise, would go something like this: work that, whether one is aware of it at the time or not, changes you.

    It may be a dramatic moment of revelation or it may be that it sinks in and works its magic so that months later, you find you’ve changed in some way–your attitude to X, your understanding of Y, your new openness on the subject of Z–the point being that like installing a new operating system on a PC, your mind has been re-formatted and new neural pathways have been created, directly attributable to a book or film or piece of music or a poem.

    But that’s an unsatisfactory definition. After all, there are things aside from great art that can do all of these. Physical or mental trauma, love, loss…etc

    So, let’s try again. Great art is….nah…you’re going to have to allow me my dinner, lots of strong coffee, talk this over with Inez, see what she thinks. The trouble is, I’ve rarely tried to articulate it because, I suppose, I’ve always felt that, ‘Hey..I know it when I see it.’ I’ll have to do better than that.

    Your question about the parameters of artistic responsibility is a really tough one. Again, I’m going to have to mull it over. Although my first instinct is to say ‘The artist has no responsibility except to his/her art…’, a little voice in my head says that that’s not good enough. That, in fact, it’s a cop-out and an abdication of responsibility on my part.

    So excuse my dull wits but the questions both deserve some proper consideration. I’ll have some sort of answer for you (and me) later…

    obooki, if only you’d listened to President Obama, who was on TV last night telling everybody to wash their hands properly…

  170. April 30, 2009 7:18 PM

    Billy I wonder in the case of visual art being more easily absorbed into the”mainstream” is because it’s all there in front of you and if it’s any good more feelings/responses will come the more you look at it. Whereas a book is a more guarded experience and it takes a lot more time to unearth its treasures.

    The spoken word is different to the written word too – I think we are programmed to expect it to be the main way of communicating so the minute you speak people consciously or unconsciously expect what you say to be the only method of revealing things. They get distracted by the words which is why we are trying to wean them off such things. We still talk in some of the shows but ( hopefully ) the words are another texture to what people are seeing rather than an explanation. I make it sound like we are some avant-garde troupe but it’s just something that has interested us for years.

  171. seanmurray permalink
    April 30, 2009 7:31 PM

    ‘My definition of great art, roughly and necessarily imprecise, would go something like this: work that, whether one is aware of it at the time or not, changes you.

    ‘It may be a dramatic moment of revelation or it may be that it sinks in and works its magic so that months later, you find you’ve changed in some way–your attitude to X, your understanding of Y, your new openness on the subject of Z–the point being that like installing a new operating system on a PC, your mind has been re-formatted and new neural pathways have been created, directly attributable to a book or film or piece of music or a poem.

    ‘Your question about the parameters of artistic responsibility is a really tough one. Again, I’m going to have to mull it over. Although my first instinct is to say ‘The artist has no responsibility except to his/her art…’, a little voice in my head says that that’s not good enough. That, in fact, it’s a cop-out and an abdication of responsibility on my part.’

    What a weird thread. You have gone from perfectly summarising the formalist stance, I felt, to a near as dammit perfect PR job for meaningful art and why I could never be just a formalist. Amen to every word of yours above.

    (And I think Hicks changed me when I was younger).

  172. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 7:41 PM

    I guess I feel that both stances have aspects that satisfy me. Or maybe I’m just hopelessly wishy-washy and don’t really know what I think…

  173. April 30, 2009 7:44 PM

    re: BIll Hicks. when I saw him live he was very poor. A 90 minute set of which 1 hour was padding of a most dreary kind. He had “heavier” material than say Harry Hill ( before HH became a TV star ) but was far less original in his structure, far less startling in what he came out with and really far less funny. So I’d have to say that despite his moral stance on the evidence I had he was by no means the best stand-up I’ve seen. If he’d done the 30 minutes it would have been fine but he really padded his set out. Bad instinct and extremely surprising given his reputation.

    I knew the guy who was touring with him and asked if this was a bad night – there was a LOT of asking the audience what they did and improvising lame jokes about that – and he said it was actually a good night.

  174. Zephirine permalink
    April 30, 2009 8:26 PM

    If an artist is genuinely concerned only with his/her own response to the work and has no interest in a ‘purely notional’ audience and no intention to make that audience feel or think anything in particular, then there’s no point in releasing the work out into the world at all. Except an entirely cynical one, if the artist knows that the work will bring in money (though that’s also an audience response, of course).

    Most, if not all, artists want to communicate something, probably to people they’ve never met or will never meet. Which is a very odd activity, but one that human beings do (unlike whales, who seem to sing purely for their own amusement).

    And, as I said before, IMO getting the intended ‘meaning’ across is a big part of the author’s job, even in poetry, even if the meaning is “I’m not telling a story here, I’m giving you beautiful words and sounds to enjoy for their own sake.”

    So I think the author absolutely has a responsibility for the audience’s interpretation of the work, because s/he has created the piece with the ingredients arranged in a way which produced that reaction. And claiming that it was all created unconsciously doesn’t wash with me, I’m afraid: you may not know where the idea came from but you still worked on it and revised it and lived with it for a while.

    But artists can’t held responsible for deliberate distortions of their work by others, whether by wilful misreading, or terrible film adaptations, or claiming the work as an expression of political beliefs, or writing endless comments on blog threads…

  175. April 30, 2009 8:34 PM

    I’ve spent my second day in Berlin – my new home for the summer.

    Looking forward to the May Day protests tomorrow; or at least watching them from the window. Does anyone, especially SA obviously, have any tips for how I could fritter the next three months? Apart from conjouring devilish prose from the ether, obviously.

  176. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 8:56 PM

    Re-build the Wall–you know, just for a laugh.

  177. April 30, 2009 9:00 PM

    Poor Shakespeare, Beckett, Kafka, Joyce… after all this time, and with so many working on the problem, no one can agree on what they “meant”… they obviously didn’t do a very good job of “communicating”. Now, Upton Sinclair: there’s an Artist who got his *point* across. Every year, I re-read The Jungle…

    (signed: a pro-Snuff Film Formalist)

  178. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 9:01 PM

    Zeph, there has to be a happy medium–a sort of Golden Mean. Too much concern about the reaction to your work and you become a poltroon, a creature at the mercy of the whims of others.

    Utter indifference and a complete lack of regard for your audience and you’re a bit of a monster…

  179. April 30, 2009 9:01 PM

    Great idea. I could lobby Roger Waters to repeat his 1990 ‘celebratory’ performance of Pink Floyd’s entirely-unrelated-album-whose-name-happens-to-be-The-Wall. That should get the East Berliners’ reconsidering their options pretty fast.

  180. April 30, 2009 9:02 PM

    ExtraBarny:

    Good Heavens, do you live in Xberg, or on Friedrichstrasse?

  181. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 9:02 PM

    The Jungle is one of those rare-as-hen’s-teeth works of art that actually changed the world. I must re-read it…

  182. April 30, 2009 9:04 PM

    zeph – Even artists concerned with the purely formal want the audience to realise that they must look at the formal aspects of the work rather than expect a narrative. They work at trying to make that the reaction. I wasn’t sure what you were saying so sorry if I’m merely agreeing with you.

    My own visual theatre work is very concerned with narrative but when I’ve wanted to drain a scene of meaning ( reasons too complicated to go into ) it’s extraordinarily difficult to do as everything comes with baggage and people are hard-wired to look for meaning. In the theatre work I do you can completely alter the meaning of something by changing the sequence in which its presented. The individual scenes remain the same but when placed in another order they take on lots of meanings you never prepared for. You almost have to fight interpretation off.

    I’m not an author or poet but I imagine its the same when writing a story or a poem.

  183. April 30, 2009 9:05 PM

    “Utter indifference and a complete lack of regard for your audience and you’re a bit of a monster…”

    Don’t follow this, M. If the material is the work of a human mind, other human minds are automatically included in the process of creation, whether they were consulted/considered/fretted over or not.

  184. April 30, 2009 9:08 PM

    “The Jungle is one of those rare-as-hen’s-teeth works of art that actually changed the world. I must re-read it…”

    So did the Communist Manifesto; let’s do a round table discussion of it!

  185. April 30, 2009 9:08 PM

    Not sure I’m qualified to comment on this (dunt even know what a formalist is), but Zeph, I think, has hit it for me. Just as too much creative freedom can be as corrosive to art as too much social restriction, the interesting stuff happens in the crazy ping-pong between the poles of the ‘Golden Mean’. It’s often an artist’s attempt to avoid or achieve one or the other extreme that creates the tensions inherent in work that wriggles away from definition and lives independently of its era and creator’s intentions.

  186. April 30, 2009 9:10 PM

    “Just as too much creative freedom can be as corrosive to art…”

    Wait; how did this work its way in as a given?

  187. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 9:13 PM

    Would you not agree, Steven that there exist and have always existed people who, by any civilized light, are monsters? I don’t mean the Death Camp commanders who personified Arendt’s ‘banality of evil’, I mean people whose lack of humanity, whose cruelty and absence of all common feeling disqualify them from the human race.

  188. April 30, 2009 9:14 PM

    @SA,

    Xberg (is that what the groovy people call it?) We’ve been exploring today; some tourist sites then a sleepy stroll through the Tiergarten and down to the Volkspark. Got lost in a very eerie cemetary. These tomb walls, like stage-flat entrances to mausoleums. Some polished Art Deco, some half-anihilated or bricked up with cinderblock and sloppy cement. Yet all very gentle, overgrown and almost rural. Three words I didn’t think I’d use in Berlin.

  189. April 30, 2009 9:16 PM

    @SA,

    Okay, it’s not a given, just something I think. But I think it a lot, if that makes for a stronger case.

  190. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 9:21 PM

    BTW, ex-b, if you’ve got any verse (any form, any subject), we’d like to see it. Ditto for any favourites or discoveries by anyone else that you think deserve exposure (this reminder is for everyone, actually).

    Post it here:

    http://artpepperspoetryhell.wordpress.com/

    …and I’ll re-post it properly with a suitable (to my eye) image.

  191. April 30, 2009 9:33 PM

    Thanks for the invite, Mishari. I have plenty of new stimuli to provoke me. Like the huge, hefty-beamed cellar above our apartment (which is in a converted industrial building, I’m told).

  192. pinkroom permalink
    April 30, 2009 9:34 PM

    “The Jungle” is one of my very all time faves, aside from the last few pages which really do crash into vulgar agit-prop. I visited the stockyard district just as it was coming towards its final death. Very huge. Very grim.

    Great to have the Baron back… do visit the little, tasteful memorial etc where the Nazis burned the books back in 1930 whatever … such a little space but, in a sense, the world caught fire from that very spot. Chilling. Much better than that huge field of concrete slabs.

  193. April 30, 2009 9:39 PM

    M!

    “Would you not agree, Steven that there exist and have always existed people who, by any civilized light, are monsters?”

    Without a doubt, man… and far too many for my comfort. I just don’t think an Artist gets thrown in with that lot for hewing with astonishing closeness (with no room for the interposition of others) to a vision.

  194. April 30, 2009 9:41 PM

    Hi, Pink

    Thanks! I think I was near the site today but in too much of a sleep-deprived, dust-blown state to absorb all but the most easily digestible information.

    Last year I stood where Savonarola terrorised Boticelli into burning his own (and others’) ‘vanities’. Seems I’m doing an unintentional tour of the horrors of ideoloy’s impact on human expression.

    Next year, Woodstock.

  195. April 30, 2009 9:44 PM

    ExtraBarney:

    “Got lost in a very eerie cemetary.”

    Yeah, I know that one (at the end of the Volkspark), but it’s by no means the eeriest here! Anyway, watch your step tomorrow in Xberg (I think there’s something planned for Friedrich strasse, too)… Mayday has tuned down considerably since the Battle of Kottbusser Tor I caught in (’94?), or the time they burned down that Turkish department store, but there’s still the chance you’ll be brained by a random paving stone. If you’ve got a window seat, though, send me some pix.

  196. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 9:48 PM

    Oh, I agree, Steven. Monster is too strong for a socially maladroit artist. Further, I’ve always found the truly obsessive, single-minded, tunnel-visioned artist more engaging than not.

    Better a genuine artist who burns than some fucking careerist who loses sleep over pleasing an audience (i.e. shifting more product)…

  197. April 30, 2009 9:58 PM

    Thanks, Steven

    Warning well noted. We were actually planning to arrive on the first of May, which would have given us a rather confrontational first impression (once I’d got over the disappointment that it wasn’t a welcoming committee).

    It was the cemetary you mention, I’m planning to find more.

    I never understood what was so anarchistic about protesting in a pre-organised group, anyway. I always wait until the next day.

  198. April 30, 2009 9:58 PM

    Anyway: XtraBarn: Prenzleberg (as they call it), Friedrichshain and Bergmann Strasse (in Xberg) are to be avoided until deep, deep in the evening… otherwise, it’s nothing but trying to thread through anglophone tourists with nasal deliveries.

    Shift your day/night rhythm and plug into the nightworld… the best thing Berlin has to offer. Berlin in the summer sun is a little like a reeky old Queen stumbling out of a club into cruel, cruel daylight. But at night she’s luminous! The Mysteries etc. Tiergarten is fine for a picnic (keep those Coke cans covered: you’ll swallow wasps) on odd Sundays but the rest of the week, I suggest the vampire’s path.

    And the best walk I ever had in my life, man, was walking along under the U-Bahn tracks, from Goerlitzer Bahnhof all the way towards the Ku’Damm, in a deep fog, 3am, with Diamond Dogs on the headphones. This is the city for it!

  199. April 30, 2009 10:00 PM

    M!

    “Better a genuine artist who burns than some fucking careerist who loses sleep over pleasing an audience (i.e. shifting more product)…”

    *Punches the air upward with an agreeing fist.*

  200. April 30, 2009 10:03 PM

    Exitbarnadine:

    I’ve been running riot with your name, I see. Is it French, btw?

  201. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 10:09 PM

    I believe it’s a stage-direction (no, seriously). Baron Charlus, born in the orchestra pit with the faint lingering aroma of greasepaint and pancake clinging to his nappy…

  202. Zephirine permalink
    April 30, 2009 10:13 PM

    Alarming: you were agreeing with me:) Or I agree with you anyway. So difficult to express this what-is-Art (or indeed who-is-Art) stuff clearly. I shall stop.

    Only to say I’ve always liked this quote from that well-known designer of uncomfortable chairs, Charles Rennie McIntosh: There is hope in honest error, none in the icy perfection of the mere stylist.

  203. April 30, 2009 10:16 PM

    ExitB:

    This is a rather tacky site but a good way into it all:

    http://berlin.unlike.net/categories/19-Club

  204. April 30, 2009 10:17 PM

    Mishari as if to prove my point about not applying rules to art. Hitchcock was every bit the audience panderer, every bit the pragmatist as far as budgets, stars and scripts, acutely conscious of commercial necessity. Yet re-watching Vertigo, Rear Window, the Birds and Psycho I’d say they are as convincing a display of surrealist cinema as Bunuel ( who also played the game ).

    I share your anti- populist sentiment to a degree but there are a lot of good artists who also work in that area.

    Personally I try and avoid making diktats about what art should be – there’s always someone who doesn’t play ball.

  205. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 10:24 PM

    Al, I don’t think I’d describe myself as ‘anti-populist’ in principle; it just usually works out that way, simply because the vast majority of ‘popular’ tastes, concerns, desires, ambitions, opinions etc. are of such surpassing imbecility, vulgarity, ugliness, nastiness etc.

    No, I’d say I was a Man of the People, at heart. I just wish the scum would raise their game….

  206. April 30, 2009 10:39 PM

    Alarming:

    Re: Hithcock: I wouldn’t say that working within (yet testing) the traditions of a known form, or forms… is “pandering”. I don’t think many people in the first audience of Vertigo knew that that was what they wanted before they got it, and I don’t think Hitchcock knew, for a fact, that they wanted it… and there were certainly easier ways to give people chills and thrills than Hitchcock’s approach; the films of his era that *were* pandering to the audience are largely forgotten now, or beloved as kitsch.

    “Pandering” is making “The Wild One” to cash in on the youth or cycle craze; it’s not making “Rear Window” and putting the lead in a cast, clutching binoculars, staring at one set for most of the film. I think we remember Hitchcock as a “great” for the extent to which he *didn’t* pander.

  207. April 30, 2009 10:45 PM

    Eg:

    Re: Vertigo: “Vertigo premiered in San Francisco on 9 May, 1958. It performed averagely at the box office and reviews were mixed. Variety said the film showed Hitchcock’s “mastery”, but was too long and slow for “what is basically only a psychological murder mystery”. Similarly, the Los Angeles Times admired the scenery, but found the plot “too long” and felt it “bogs down” in “a maze of detail”

  208. April 30, 2009 11:18 PM

    Al:

    One more point, though… and this will be controversial: I sometimes think that the true test of whether Hitchcock’s oeuvre was indeed High Art (as opposed to High Craft, or High Entertainment) is if we can imagine the films being just as haunting/powerful/allusive… *with old fat fucks as the leading men and frumpy dowds as their ladies-in-peril*.

    Because most film *cheats* in this way, doesn’t it? Put Grace Kelly on the screen and light her well and the battle is halfway won, innit? In some respects, even many of the most “serious” films are just stupendously expensive fashion shows.

    I love La Dolce Vita… but *why*? Isn’t Yvonne Furneaux (I always preferred her to the bovine Ekberg) a big part of the magic? Ditto Godard’s work, even… imagine Godard without the cheesecake bait for horny intellectuals.

    Just wondering out loud here…

  209. mishari permalink*
    April 30, 2009 11:30 PM

    ‘Bovine’ is right. The former Miss Malmö was a cypher, really. I got the impression that Fellini used her simply to contrast the almost albino colouring with the darker beauties of Rome. According to wiki:

    In America, Ekberg met Howard Hughes, who at the time was producing films and wanted her to change her nose, teeth and name (Hughes said “Ekberg” was too difficult to pronounce).

    That Hughes was a tough audience…

  210. April 30, 2009 11:38 PM

    Notice he felt the boobs could stay as were.

  211. May 1, 2009 12:17 AM

    Stage direction, indeed.

    Thanks for the link, SA. Will report on any politically-motivated raids I see on the huge off-licence outside tomorrow.

  212. May 1, 2009 8:15 AM

    I’d say Hicks’ entire sets constitute great art

    It was at this moment, Sean, that I realised that you are talking in Chinese and I am talking in Urdu.

    When you adopted the Wordnerd gambit, I also realised that even if we could speak the same language, I would not want to have the conversation.

    Nobody here, as far as I can see, is saying that a poem cannot mean or be about something; what some of us are saying is that it is not the meaning that makes a poem or any work of art good or bad, it is the technique. Stis seems to me to be so axiomatic that anyone who denies it is speaking from their fundament; sorry, but there it is. I have nothing further to add.

  213. May 1, 2009 8:18 AM

    Steven, your point about films being fashion shows is perfectly correct and I’d like to believe (!) makes my point for me. There are art-forms which hover precariously between being a high art ( hate that term ) and pieces of popular art – comic strips are another example.

    I’m sure you’ve read it but Hitchcock’s interviews with Truffaut are superb and reveal someone very conscious of the commercial needs of his films. Not terribly far from how Hollywood operates these days but of course vastly superior in terms of the finished article.

  214. May 1, 2009 8:25 AM

    “Nobody here, as far as I can see, is saying that a poem cannot mean or be about something; what some of us are saying is that it is not the meaning that makes a poem or any work of art good or bad, it is the technique.”

    I found this of Billy’s of particular interest given the coincidence of having learned twice-over from a single comment thread on a single post today that I am currently finding it impossible to find any meaning in anything whatsoever, yet the meanings keep persistently finding me. (And I’d as soon they didn’t, come to admit it.)

    http://tomclarkblog.blogspot.com/2009/04/une-jeune-fille.html

  215. May 1, 2009 10:40 AM

    Al:

    “Not terribly far from how Hollywood operates these days but of course vastly superior in terms of the finished article.”

    The natural direction of things (unless we use blessed force) is down, I’ve learned.

  216. seanmurray permalink
    May 1, 2009 11:23 AM

    Nice try again, Billy.

    ‘Nobody here, as far as I can see, is saying that a poem cannot mean or be about something’

    Well, not quite, no, but what you said was:

    ‘Have you never read a poem where the meaning added to it?

    No.

    Do you think Paradise Lost could have been just as good if it was about earwax?

    Yes’

    Still no sign of that Sustainable Poetry essay? Not even in Urdu? Perhaps that’s just as well. My aim here is not to humiliate you. It is to show the absurdity of outright formalism, an anaemic, simpering, capitulatory, faux-urbane, late capitalistic farce than even its supposed champions like yourself cannot maintain with any consistency. Your forefathers would be proud of you!

  217. mishari permalink*
    May 1, 2009 12:06 PM

    Sean, your rejection of Bills views are fair enough, but it’s beginning to take on the air of a personal vendetta, with a soupcon of personal abuse thrown in. I won’t tolerate it. The odious wordnerd school of disputation ain’t gonna fly here, so put a fucking sock it and change the fucking record…

  218. seanmurray permalink
    May 1, 2009 12:38 PM

    Sad thing is, your pro-robust-debate, pro-evenhandedness credibility actually lasted a respectable amount of time.

    Best of luck with the site, Mish. (And cheers for the books).

  219. mishari permalink*
    May 1, 2009 12:50 PM

    ahhhh…didumms…feel hard done by? Never mind, wordnerd’ll feed your paranoia, just like she’s feeding poor simple Des’s, assuring him that Billy’s responsible for his being banned from the Grauniad. Pathetic. Or haven’t you spotted that yet? Check it out. It has a kind of gruesome fascination, like watching a spider eating a live bird.

    But don’t kid yourself. There’s a fucking difference between robust debate and insulting nastiness and if you haven’t noticed the tone that your posts addressed to Bill have taken on then you’re the only one that hasn’t.

    I do this blog for the pleasure of good conversation and a few laughs. Score-settling is off the menu. Or did you take all that insinuating tosh that wordnerd kept spouting about how Billy robbed you of your rightful glory as the progenitor of Poster Poems seriously?

    Get a fucking grip, son. I like you and you’re welcome here but the permanent state of febrile nastiness and paranoia that is the wordnerd aesthetic is something I won’t permit.

  220. MeltonMowbray permalink
    May 1, 2009 1:50 PM

    Dear, dear. WordNerd7 has certainly fallen in my estimation (if that’s possible). I would have said that BM is one of the more sympathetic voices as far as Swords is concerned. It’s far more likely that somebody such as myself who despises the talentless knob would be turning him in. Not that I could be bothered to. Really, the gigantic egos of these people.

  221. May 1, 2009 5:59 PM

    Play nicely children, otherwise I’m going to have to take your blog away from you!!

    The trouble is that it’s a discussion about the meaning of words, which is always going to be problematical when you’re using words to do it. Discussions on meaning are beset by misunderstanding because it seems so much more frustrating for others to not understand your meaning when you’re talking about meaning (I’m well down a bottle of vodka on this drinking game now!)

    A discussion turns into an argument and then it’s inevitable that eventually one party will tell the other to proverbially f-off because their words are no longer enough to get their point across, which is particularly frustrating for those who consider themselves to be good with words.

    I’ve had this particular discussion before and it’s always ended up in upset. Notice how I soon disappeared again…

    Anyway I was thinking about my actual viewpoint (which may or may not contradict the words I used higher up this thread) and though I’d illustrate it with an example from my own writing experience. I don’t pretend to be much good at poetic structure and formalism, although I’m learning (mostly here actually).

    Basically I write a poem for my own purposes to tell a story, or an emotion or to convey something – that’s my *personal* need. I spot something I want to write about. I wrote a poem when I was very upset about not being pregnant, in that I had no baby. I wanted to let those feelings out, but the poem I wrote read like the mother in it had lost a real actual baby because it just happened to work out that way. I used the phrase “earth mother” which to me meant a woman who was a natural mother, despite not having a baby. Some people who read it thought it was about mother earth, some said it was about the connection between nature and man being lost, about consumerism and us destroying the climate bla bla bla, some thought it was just about a mother losing her baby. One person actually suggested that there wasn’t a baby in the first place, so they got the bottom of my feelings as the writer. But all the rest took away from it what they read into it. I mostly failed to convey my exact emotion, but I wrote what I think is a reasonable poem.

    However I do feel a bit schizophrenic as I’ve written three poems here, following the strict formalist rule of ballade or quatrain-whatsit and I’ve not really had any emotional need behind those, they’ve been for the sake of writing something and I do see that actually both sides of this argument are valid when applying it to my own poems.

    I don’t feel like I’ve compromised though by following my emotions in one poem or concentrating on rhyme and form in another, but I would still stick by what I said that my emotions when writing it are not relevant to the person reading it and the meaning they take away.

  222. pinkroom permalink
    May 1, 2009 8:24 PM

    I always thought Billy did his very best to advise the banned poet to “self-edit” the more gratuitous insults/aggression that would inevitably lead him to outer darkness. As something of a fellow-traveller in the school of winding-up the grander pashas I had hoped to have shown him, by example, that the (pink ostrich) feather duster is often much more effective than the studded hurley.

    “Spider eating a live bird…” bang on there. I too had a @guilty lurk@ recently and it was through the fingers stuff as a study in advanced unctuousness as smoke is blown-up the rapidly dwindling band. It can only be a matter of time before another is noisily cast out.

    It would be funny but that kind of “love him/hate her” sneakiness eventually spoils people.

    Disagree with MM that the banned poet is talentless but his real potential is as a witty, sometimes profound, chronicler of the fringe between various cultures. Needs a sympathetic/well-educated editor. MM might be just the fellow!

  223. May 4, 2009 2:31 PM

    Have I missed anything?

  224. mishari permalink*
    May 4, 2009 3:04 PM

    Nah…

  225. May 4, 2009 3:34 PM

    I’ve been in London all weekend in lovely sunshine and now I’m back in Yorkshire and it’s raining profusely… nothing ever changes.

  226. May 5, 2009 9:32 AM

    St Pol!

    Behold… the parcel goeth into the postman’s big pink hands TODAY!

  227. May 5, 2009 10:33 AM

    Aha – fabulous! Thanks!! I shall requisition the communal CD drive and listen to it as soon as it arrives.

    Can anyone else see a tiny smilie at the bottom of this page? Or am I going mad….?

  228. mishari permalink*
    May 5, 2009 11:05 AM

    No, I see it it too. Funny. It used to be at the top of the page in the other page design. I hadn’t see it before because I have an object dock at the bottom of my screen…

  229. parallax permalink
    May 5, 2009 1:23 PM

    an object dock at the bottom of my screen

    hmm – you’re an apple man then mish?

  230. mishari permalink*
    May 5, 2009 1:56 PM

    Linux, actually, para…faster, cleaner, more configurable and infinitely more powerful. Check out the new distro, Jaunty Jackalope, the best yet.

    I’m using a variant–Linux Mint, developed by Irish code-jockeys–here’s a review.

    But Jaunty Jackalope is great for those new to Linux/Ubuntu..

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