Mike Snider's Formal Blog at the Sonnetarium :
poems, mostly metrical, and rants and raves on poets, poetry, and the po-biz



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Mike Snider's Formal Blog at the Sonnetarium

Monday, June 30, 2003

You'd think I'd tell you what the book's about
Before I started pushing verses out
As if my every iamb were a jewel
Your progeny will memorize at school
Since I'm the author, which'll be the day
That I join Peter Martins' corps de ballet,
And that won't happen if the gods are kind.
But it's already late, so please don't mind
These links instead of rhymes: the author here,
His Pushkin here, the book I'm reading here.
Tomorrow or this weekend chapter 2,
Unless back home I've got too much to do.

Before I sleep: Mike Burch has let me know
About The Hypertexts—you should go.

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Monday, June 23, 2003

It's a different sonnet,
And she didn't send it here,
But she's Ululated on it—
Nada's Baudelaire.

9:28:33 PM  
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The former Wine Poetics (now a pretty lively Corpse) posted the hay(na)ku results last Friday, and I'm most pleased to have gotten a mention. The winning hay(na)ku deserved the distinction.

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Friday, June 20, 2003

He tried to warn me, back on page xvi—
    "spontaneous intrusions absolutely pervade
the book on every structural level." Routine
    Weirdness all right, just look at what he's made!
It's strange to see the chapter justified
    When anapests in fours, most rhymed but not all,
Bounce Marot's life from birth until he died
    And I have nearly thrown the book at the wall.
But then an interlude of careful thought
    Redeems the work for now—Marot's sweet verse,
Our author shows, though doubtless slight, is fraught
    With traps to help translators make it worse.
Still, many tried when Douglas made his dare,
And only Kasey's tried to rework Baudelaire.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2003

by Thursday—
sleep and poetry!

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Since Wilbur, Bly, and Howard had each englished Baudelaire
He came from lime-tree bower with flashing eyes and floating hair

And Kasey's fingers made the keyboard clatter just to show
A poem's not a mountain, and Mohammad needn't go:



Nature is a temple where (ugh) ants are dissected with pliers,
Where parfaits are sorted lazily by confused parolees:
The home of passé travelers, their forays into symbols,
Who are observant as far as it regards familiar stuff.

The echos at Longs confound the commie's loins
Who was dancing profoundly having united ten brews,
The vast commie of the night and the commie of clarity;
His perfumes, his coolers, and his sons refill his pond.

Ill are the perfumes that fray the chairs of the commie's children;
The commie's ducks on highboys avert the commie from prairies,
And the otters, romping together, and the rich triple elephants….

Away with the expansion of these infinite choices,
The tan commie, his muscles, his bent joints and his ensigns,
Who chant for less transportation and wear Esprit at these scenes!

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Monday, June 16, 2003

"Nipple" in German? I turn to Chapter 3,
Where that, at least, will be revealed to me,
And find brustwarze: "breast wart." Who'd have thought?
But though it's odd, it's almost right, le mot
Just off, a word that alters prurience
At once to not-quite-chaste luxuriance
In the queerness of the world and of our speech,
Which separates and binds us each to each.
God, that's enough from me. But you, out there,
Why don't you send me your own new Baudelaire?
I'll post them all so all of us can share.

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Sunday, June 15, 2003

I've started rereading Douglas Hofstadter's Le Ton beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language, one of the books that quickened my near-dead interest in translation and in meter and rhyme. In the next few weeks, if the creek don't rise, I intend to post a kind of metrical journal of my new reactions to the book (hey, Jordan—Williams is involved). For a teaser here's a poem by Baudelaire, followed by 3 translations:


La Nature est un temple où de vivants piliers
Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;
L'homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l'observent avec des regards familiers.

Comme de longs échos qui de loin se confondent
Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité,
Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté,
Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.

Il est des parfums frais comme des chairs d'enfants,
Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies,
Et d'autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,

Ayant l'expansion des choses infinies,
Comme l'ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l'encens,
Qui chantent les transports de l'esprit et des sens.

Intimate Associations

The natural world is a spiritual house, where the pillars, that are alive,
let slip at times some strangely garbled words;
Man walks there through forests of physical things that are also spiritual things,
that watch him with affectionate looks.

As the echoes of great bells coming from a long way off
become entangled in a deep and profound association,
a merging as huge as night or as huge as clear light,
odors and colors and sounds all mean—each other.

Perfumes exist that are as cool as the flesh of infants,
fragile as oboes, green as open fields,
and others exist also, corrupt, dense, and triumphant,

having the suggestions of infinite things,
such as musk and amber, myrrh and incense,
that describe the voyages of the body and soul.

Robert Bly, from News of the Universe: poems of two fold consciousness


The pillars of Nature's temple are alive
and sometimes yield perplexing messages;
forests of symbols between us and the shrine
remark our passage with accustomed eyes.

Like long-held echoes. blending somewhere else
into one deep and shadowy unison
as limitless as darkness and as day,
the sounds, the scents, the colors correspond.

There are odors succulent as young flesh,
sweet as flutes, and green as any grass,
while others—rich, corrupt and masterful—

possess the power of such infinite things
as incense, amber, benjamin and musk.
to praise the sense's raptures and the mind's.

Richard Howard, from Les Fleurs du Mal


Nature's a temple whose living colonnades
Breathe forth a mystic speech in fitful sighs;
Man wanders among symbols in those glades,
Where all things watch him with familiar eyes.

Like dwindling echoes gathered far away
Into a deep and thronging unison
Huge as the night or as the light of day,
All scents and sounds and colors meet as one.

Perfumes there are as sweet as the oboe's sound,
Green as the prairies, fresh as a child's caress,
—And there are others, rich, corrupt, profound

And of an infinite pervasiveness,
Like myrrh, or musk, or amber, that excite
The ecstasies of sense, the soul's delight.

Richard Wilbur, from Mayflies

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Thursday, June 12, 2003

Here's the miraculous email (I should have told Chris Lott it was OK to post):

Subject: Danger, Will Robinson!

That robot was never very helpful, was it? And it looks like I wasn't either, or at least not very clear--I meant that Whitman's attitude in "When I Heard the Learned Astronomer" was dangerous for poetry, not for science. Dangerous in that it closes off a way of writing seriously about the world, an analogue of which was once available (through the Bible and the Book of Nature) to poets up until and even into the Enlightenment. There's a reason poetic ambition has shrunk (in both senses) from Milton's desire to justify the ways of God to Men. I think the new cognitive sciences, based on Darwinian theory, might provide a way back into the garden.

Need I say that I'm not accusing Whitman of a lack of ambition?

BTW, Chris has been on a tear, lately. Read his message to Ron Silliman, the peculiar response from Ange Mlinko, and Chris's generous and funny reply to that.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Out playing mandolin the next two nights ...

I'm not as good as what they hear—
The difference partly due to beer
And partly to the rule they've taught—
Finish strong, no matter what.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Good stuff from Josh Corey, related to the discussion Chris Lott and I've been having.

Seablogger is now Fresh Bilge: check out Cruising with Catullus.

Jordan Davis (I really am reading Williams!) wants to stop excluding rhyme on "dubious ascetic grounds" and I think he means it.

Kasey, consider that Ron Silliman's a computer geek and the slash/virgule mystery dissolves. Hey, I'm a geek, too.

David Hess notices something peculiar about the avant garde.

There have lately been many interesting comments about form in the blogosphere and elsewhere, which I'll have to leave to a day when I have a brain. Saturday? But I do want to call attention to this odd comment introducing an enthusiastic review of Tim Murphy's Very Far North: "Where are the heirs of Richard Wilbur? If you don't care, skip the next two paragraphs."

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Monday, June 9, 2003

Chris Lott's elaboration of his objections to my comment last Tuesday that Whitman's "When I Heard the Learned Astronomer" was "dangerously wrong" sent me back to Whitman himself, and I've spent most of the last few days re-reading all of both the 1852 and 1891-92 editions of Leaves of Grass (reprinted in Whitman: Poetry and Prose). I recommend doing the same if you think Whitman was no craftsman: the changes from one edition to the other are almost always improvements and often exhilarating. If you don't have the time for 600 pages of Whitman, try the excerpts in W. D. Snodgrass's wonderful De/Compositions: 101 good poems gone wrong. Anyway, go read Chris's post before reading on here.

Chris's main points seem to be, first, that Whitman was not so much denigrating scientific activity as promoting another kind of truth, an aesthetic truth, and, second, that given when Whitman lived, it was natural for him to turn away from the ugliness and social disruption of the Industrial Revolution.

Whitman did write, in the preface to the 1855 edition, "Exact science and its practical movements are no checks on the greatest poets but always his encouragement and support. . . . [T]he anatomist chemist astronomer geologist phrenologist spiritualist mathematician historian lexicographer are not poets, but they are the lawgivers of poets and their construction underlies the structure of every perfect poem. . . . In the beauty of poems are the tuft and final applause of science." He also wrote the following in the body of what later editions titled "Song of Myself":

Hurrah for positive science! Long live exact demonstration!
Fetch stonecrop and mix it with cedar and branches of lilac;
This is the lexicographer or chemist . . . . this made a grammar of the old cartouches,
These mariners put the ship through dangerous unknown seas;
This is the geologist, and this works with the scalpel, and this is a mathematician.

Gentlemen I receive you, and attach and clasp hands with you,
The facts are useful and real . . . . they are not my dwelling . . . . I enter by them to an area of the dwelling.

Notice the ending of that passage, which, in any case, doesn't appear in the 1891-92 edition. Wherever scientists or their work are mentioned in that last edition (in "Eidolons," "Passage to India," and "When I Heard the Learned Astronomer") it is only to reaffirm that last phrase: the poet's work supersedes that of the scientist.

I don't think it's because Whitman didn't like the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, over and over again he praises the mechanic and the engineer, the railroad, the steamship, and even the machinery of war, even after his horrific experiences as a nurse in the Civil War. Chris pointed me to this piece by Gary Sloan, who wrote "Rather than science preying on him, Whitman preyed on science." Whitman did pay attention to current scientific work, but only as a kind of scenery, another landscape, in which to present his metaphysical views.

That is what I think is dangerous for poetry. In Whitman's own words, from the preface to the 1855 Leaves of Grass, "From the eyesight proceeds another eyesight, and from the hearing proceeds another hearing, and from the voice proceeds another voice, eternally curious of the harmony of things with man." Too often, and certainly in "When I Heard the Learned Astronomer," Whitman neglects that first eyesight and that first hearing, and his beautiful voice just blathers, already convinced of that harmony.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2003

A while ago I promised Jordan Davis I'd retrieve my WC Williams from North Carolina over the Memorial Day weekend so I could say something not too foolish here about the poems versus the theory. Well, I've got the books now, and I'm gonna do it--but while I was there I read Chris Lott's blog on Walt Whitman's birthday. My great-grandmother used to recite Whitman, including some of the same pieces Chris mentions, so I grabbed old Walt, too.

There's nothing more gorgeous in American literature than Whitman at his best, but, at the same time, if ever there was a reason for Reader's Digest condensed books, Whitman is it. I've come to believe that's because he so distrusted intellect—those immense jumbled catalogs, everything flattened because everything seemed precious except difference. That's not quite right: difference was precious, but only the fact of difference, not the how or the why. The poem Chris quotes in its entirety, "When I Heard the Learned Astronomer," is a little illustrative jewel. I still think it's as gorgeous as I did when Granny recited it, but I now think it's dangerously wrong as well.

This sonnet of mine is a kind of response to Whitman's poem:


My daughter's learning how the planets dance,
How curtseys to an unseen partner's bow
Are clues that tell an ardent watcher how
To find new worlds in heaven's bleak expanse,
How even flaws in this numerical romance
Are fruitful: patient thought and work allow
Mistakes to carry meaning. She writes now
That Tombaugh spotting Pluto wasn't chance.
Beside her, I write, too. Should I do more
Than nudge her at her homework while I try
To master patterns made so long before
My birth that since then stars have left the sky?
I'll never know. But what I try to teach
Is trying. She may find what I can't reach.

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Last update: 6/26/08; 8:56:09 PM.

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