Poets & Poetry

Part One








It would help to know what poetry isn’t before any declaration is made regarding exactly what poetry is, has been, and may become.

Poetry is not attitude, nor advertisement. It is not the approximation of a recognizably magical moment captured in one frieze of a combination of attitude, a mythical fancy, nor an established attitude limning on the page what is apparently or realistically poetical.
The first is a pose, dangerous in that it represents itself as poetry whereas the real poetry is of a whole, not an imitation, derived from abused elements that have established themselves as tools of the trade of the art of poetry.
That of course is where the attitude has greatly substituted for the art.

Real poetry will result from the poet gorging on the classics; assume the essence of such as its own, and through a passionate breath of love for the rhythm and the intellect in such art allow for the true voice of the poet to be discoverable. The resultant poetry may arise as much as a surprise to the poet as to the reader, otherwise there’d always be the possibility of intellect overwhelming the creation of art.

Poetry is of course an art. Something often dismissed by the fact that at this time and for a long while now it has been assumed as a cloaked attitude by the same ‘writers’ who once stuck to the creation of what were referred to as ‘nurse novels.’
The problem with stating that poetry is an art is that you will confront the stuck-up moralizing fragments of dusty academics who are as far from the reality of poetry as a coroner is from life. They will confront you with lies about poets who lived ordinary lives, were accountants, etc., without also noting that these people were the exceptions.

There will even be ‘poets’ who have somehow – through connections of those wanting to build a sense of personal power – been granted status academically, or in a literary life, unassociated with a realistic assessment of their work.
These will be the neighborhood articulates about whom you will hear other ordinaries commenting that likely they’re merely educated idiots.

This alone can result in a ‘beat poet’ moment where you want to tear off the suit and tie and run away to who knows what, catching the rhythmic notion of Mexico City Blues like Kerouac. And many have done so.
However that place of the Mexico City Blues, celebrated by such music poets as Bob Dylan, and Allen Ginsberg, is not a destination (see ‘Ithaca’ by C.P. Cavafy), but a resultant melding of place and metaphor, from and to which the artist later known as Kerouac to the public arrived without a notion of such. His journey was honest.

The only way an attitude of taking the same journey – almost – can be honest is if the poet or writer is well aware of doing such a thing to contrive a similar sense of discovery, combined with the fact that if they will lose themselves in it what they will discover about it will be themselves, with far different results of the same ‘blues’ since time and its changes will have made it so.
Central to such a journey would be such a poet’s own passion and talent. Some will arise out of genuine being, some out of a mixture of authenticity, and artificiality or attitude.
Only the resultant work will prove what is true poetry, or not.

This is where the mythos of the poet, which can serve as a necessary impulse for the real poet, must be separated from the contemporary poetic attitude.

However, let’s not forget that poetry is ultimately about poetry, in a sense. First, it is about the life of the poet. It may be a rich life as Shelley briefly enjoyed, or a poor life as many minor and major poets have had since. Rich and poor financially, anyway. Poetry is untouched by such things, though the ease or impediment of producing poetry is heavily influenced.

Poetry is not what a contemporary and well known poet has said about producing poetry as a result of poetry. That may be the case for him in his portraitures, and stance as a poet. But his stating it to be so without making the effort of distinguishing how and why he says so is simply a lazy cynicism. And a self-justification for an awareness of a lack of greatness, and thus a self-fulfilling prophecy.
He writes as though poetry entered into existence and went out with both the beginning and end of his own work.

Poetry is an informed and learned enjoyment, an enlightenment, and a passion as discoverably brought into being by observation as it is a celebration of the most ordinary, the most different, and the forever unique where all boundaries of discipline and knowledge result in that art of poetry. I might label all of Jackson Pollock’s works as a statement of Poetry, to illustrate this.

This illustrates where poetry began, and how it continues.
With that open mouth of darkness closing in, that vision of beauty if nature, people, and a greater aspect of civilization.
And how it is learned – absorbed – through the passionate embrace of great poets’ works: more than willingly, since these are the real forbears and ancestors of the poet.

Poetry is freedom to create and recreate worlds, and the world.

It is the responsibility of the poet. Thus, the next question would be: what is the poet.

©Dean Baker

-excerpt from https://www.amazon.com/Poetry-How-Gets-That-Way/dp/1508737525



Poetry & How It Gets That Way – Poetry has been an essential art in history and is in danger of being trivialized into extinction.
Several seminal events in recent literary history are detailed in illustrating how poetry is not merely an adjunct to history and culture but can elucidate, influence and in changing perspective alter those same events and deeds.
Find out more in this treatise more sociologically descriptive than academically oriented.















Contemporary Arts, and Philosophy

what's on your desk

what’s on your desk

Religion has nothing to do with philosophy, such as #Rumi. Either way the free- floating fart cloud of sentiment and bogus goodwill gives me #Rumitism. Such reflective types of philosophy are a substitute for thought on the part of the individual who is basically being kindergartened by being shown pretty pictures of thought concepts.

This is not to say that there isn’t a distillation of wisdom in the works of such figures as Lao-Tse, or Jiddu Krishnamurti, two of my favorites; along with the ruminations of the playwright Witold Gombrowicz, and E.M. Cioran, along with Harold Pinter, Ionesco, and some others.
In their distillations there is more than wisdom, but a direction into which a direction may be discerned with applications of the mind-set, and a fierce determination that would eventually bring a person back to their own solitariness unless they happen to be a fanatic committed to unthinking action.

We are all one irretrievable second away from loss of memory, the imbalance of a mortal shift; whether that proves fatal, or merely discomfiting. Any philosophy that does not take this into account is simply an elision of hope, and thus fakery.

I learned and absorbed more in several disparate evenings of hearing the music and watching the dance and actions of Karen Kain[watch], and Nureyev in a few ballets than in the discussions of who or why or what philosophy had the greater implications for understanding.
Central to those facts are that I absorbed, and in absorbing became.
I did not put out a critical eye or ear, nor chumpingly pat myself on the back with a specialist mindset.

I know this is essential to the true appreciation of poetry, and the arts. Not to surrender, but to give oneself over, almost unwillingly. This I find almost inseparable from being taken over by the art, as long as there is that first innocence of the act of being open, listening.
There is great beauty in that which has beauty but is held to be none-useful in a society of sociopathic equality, which merely amounts to a leveling: the greatest being seen these days on the internet.

And those are the very sources to which attention must be paid if a person is to escape the net of mindset and contemporaneous appreciation which is more like obeisance and itself notably lacking in a realistic and thus broader and more far-ranging appreciation. Something like stepping out of your own shadow of modern times and acknowledging that every ‘modern’ time thought that they knew it all and best – with minor reference of course to what was past artistic achievements.
Most so-called art simply restates the obviously held thoughts and views and thus becomes popular due to its familiarity.
That itself is a signal to start checking on actual achievement of the artist in bringing something new and somewhat startling to the forefront, not simply regurgitating what subconsciously makes its way around the hamster track of the current mindset.

Real art is thus discovery without the need for a false affirmation, or a distant sense of confirmation, though these may follow. And those who merely affirm in their art works what is apparently needed at the time or simply confirm what is in the broader mindset actually stand in the way of discovery, self and artistic.

For that real art I find no substitute for great poetry – whether it is George Seferis, Adam Zagajewski, C.K. Williams, Irving Layton, or any of the aforementioned playwrights.

I don’t mean by that any cerebral convolution of an articulate conjugation of the alphabet and unfamiliar words, but the distillation of the essence of the poet and the times into something strange and new, yet immediately recognizable.
I believe that is why there is such a fascination for the figure of the poet as related not only to the poet, but the outlaw, the gangster, those outside the laws of leveling circumstance. And the costume as such is taken up by the intellectually lazy who do not apply themselves to the study of their forebears with great passion and interest, but proclaim themselves as born from some God’s forehead.

The Birth of Athena
When Zeus married his first wife, the Oceanid Metis, Metis soon became pregnant. According to a prophecy at that time, Metis would bear a son who would pose a severe threat to Zeus. So, right after Metis revealed her pregnancy, Zeus swallowed his child fearfully in order to protect his kingdom.
Nine months passed by and then suddenly Zeus started feeling a strong pain in his head and asked the Gods’ smith Hephaestus to comfort him. Hephaestus obeyed and opened Zeus’ head with an ax without hurting him. All of a sudden, goddess Athena sprang out of Zeus’ head. She was already an adult, wearing armor with a shield in her hands and uttering warlike cries!
From the first moment goddess Athena came into the world, she won the heart of Zeus and became his favorite child. However, she never received a mother’s care. That’s why she inevitably possessed more masculine than feminine attributes.

This speaks to the Gods of Authority being fearful of displacement. i.e. the establishment of artists fearing what is inevitably to come, and thus aligning and distorting those in the first vanguard, praising and raising them up as what is new – rather than recognizing, whether willfully or hesitatingly, that such judgment may not be theirs to discern; or design by such passive sabotage, since they bring to light a product or producers inferior to what has been, which undercuts the new in favor of a looking back in a re-establishing of what has been: the authority of their own achievements.
Of course they may likely not be the great, but false gods.

Of course to discern such things you would need and want to have a great and wide familiarity with poetic achievement, those you admire and those you don’t.

All of which goes to say that you cannot achieve and create newly, the only actual and true creation, unless you have a passionate and intimate understanding and appreciation for what has come before, and what is currently ongoing.

In other words: read. And read again. And keep reading. Great poetry won’t betray you, leave you open to the wounds of the wolves of what-is-current.

Being misled by contemporaneous opinion, a slack attitude toward philosophy, and an under-appreciation of History, or philosophers such as Santayana, without references from great minds and souls learned and absorbed, plus no actual interest in anything but an egotistic advancement of what would say Great Works Ahead! will stuff you full of apparent success leaving no room for the value of truly applicable poetry and great art.
Read a truly wonderful and great summation in The Denial Of Death by Ernest Becker.

What is great about such poetry and the arts is that it cannot be taught, but it is open to being learned through discipline and a fine-tuned absorption. And once that is first conceived and acknowledged you and the poets will be your own best teachers, not opinion not matter how popular in the positive sense or the negative.

Those writers, artists, musicians, philosophers and poets are your true family, our real ancestors who could speak in any and all languages to any and every person no matter their station in life.

Great poetry once discovered can never be taken or replaced; and will continually return the favor of study by the betterment of the mind and humanity of those whose involvement is genuine.


©Dean J. Baker


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The Bull Calf by Irving Layton









The thing could barely stand. Yet taken
from his mother and the barn smells
he still impressed with his pride,
with the promise of sovereignity in the way
his head moved to take us in.
The fierce sunlight tugging the maize from the ground
liked at his shapely flanks.
He was too young for all that pride.
I thought of the deposed Richard II.

“No money in bull calves,” Freeman had said.
The visiting clergyman rubbed the nostrils
now snuffing pathetically at the windless day.
“A pity,” he sighed.
My gaze slipped off his hat toward the empty sky
that circled over the black knot of men,
over us and the calf waiting for the first blow.

the bull calf drew in his thin forelegs
as if gathering strength for a mad rush…
tottered…raised his darkening eyes to us,
and I saw we were at the far end
of his frightened look, growing smaller and smaller
till we were only the ponderous mallet
that flicked his bleeding ear
and pushed him over on his side, stiffly,
like a block of wood.

Below the hill’s crest
the river snuffled on the improvised beach.
We dug a deep pit and threw the dead calf into it.
It made a wet sound, a sepulchral gurgle,
as the warm sides bulged and flattened.
Settled, the bull calf lay as if asleep,
one foreleg over the other,
bereft of pride and so beautiful now,
without movement, perfectly still in the cool pit,
I turned away and wept.

©Irving Layton

The economy of language, the spirit of truth; sociology, philosophy: the distillation of experiences reflected, and altered, in one brief poem – that’s the magic of poetry, and a great poet.
Irving Layton is a poet everyone should read.

Irving Layton was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, twice. He was friend and mentor to Leonard Cohen. Looked up to by Allen Ginsberg, Williams Carlos Williams, Margaret Atwood, and many other fine and great writers for decades.

Disclosure: Irving was my friend for decades. He once said of my early writing, ” Dean is a combination of thought and torment that has made him write more than a baker’s dozen of fine poems.. he might produce a collection that could astound us all.” 

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Sweetness – by Stephen Dun









Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac

with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
has come
and changed nothing in the world

except the way I stumbled through it,
for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving

someone or something, the world shrunk
to mouth-size,
hand-size, and never seeming small.

I acknowledge there is no sweetness
that doesn’t leave a stain,
no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet ….

Tonight a friend called to say his lover
was killed in a car
he was driving. His voice was low

and guttural, he repeated what he needed
to repeat, and I repeated
the one or two words we have for such grief

until we were speaking only in tones.
Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough

to make sense of what it means to be alive,
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don’t care

where it’s been, or what bitter road
it’s traveled
to come so far, to taste so good.
© 1989 by Stephen Dunn

Stephen Dunn, “Sweetness” from New and Selected Poems 1974-1994. Copyright © 1989 by Stephen Dunn.

A truly great poet – with  any number of fine books to choose from.



Fishnet by Robert Lowell





Any clear thing that blinds us with surprise,
your wandering silences and bright trouvailles,
dolphin let loose to catch the flashing fish. . . .
saying too little, then too much.
Poets die adolescents, their beat embalms them,
The archetypal voices sing offkey;
the old actor cannot read his friends,
and nevertheless he reads himself aloud,
genius hums the auditorium dead.
The line must terminate.
Yet my heart rises, I know I’ve gladdened a lifetime
knotting, undoing a fishnet of tarred rope;
the net will hang on the wall when the fish are eaten,
nailed like illegible bronze on the futureless future.

©Robert Lowell

-excerpt from The Dolphin

Just read the first two lines and know that is not only about poetry but also about how
poetry in the world is recognizable, and the contrary is true: what isn’t poetry is known as well.

The brilliant use of metaphor matched with the physical aligning into discovery: how important poetry is when with only a few lines
endless senses of intellect, art, and personal renewal can be seen and pursued in a manner that the world itself would never allow, and thus must be and remain an object of delight and study,
because in that moment of poetry where the lines resound the reader is forever altered.

For those interested in literary trivia, ‘Dolphin’ is the nickname by which Lowell would often refer to his wife.

Fitting then that I came across this volume and others I relate to it such as For Lizzie And Harriet,   Day By Day and History among others of Lowell’s great works.

©Dean J. Baker


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In Dispraise Of Poetry by Jack Gilbert








In Dispraise Of Poetry

When the King of Siam disliked a courtier,
he gave him a beautiful white elephant.
The miracle beast deserved such ritual
that to care for him properly meant ruin.
Yet to care for him improperly was worse.
It appears the gift could not be refused.

Brilliant work.




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©Dean J. Baker

The Canadian Authors Meet by F. R. Scott






Expansive puppets percolate self-unction
Beneath a portrait of the Prince of Wales.
Miss Crotchet’s muse has somehow failed to function,
Yet she’s a poetess. Beaming, she sails

From group to chattering group, with such a dear
Victorian saintliness, as is her fashion,
Greeting the other unknowns with a cheer—
Virgins of sixty who still write of passion.

The air is heavy with Canadian topics,
And Carman, Lampman, Roberts, Campbell, Scott,
Are measured for their faith and philanthropics,
Their zeal for God and King, their earnest thought.

The cakes are sweet, but sweeter is the feeling
That one is mixing with the literati;
It warms the old, and melts the most congealing.
Really, it is a most delightful party.

Shall we go round the mulberry bush, or shall
We gather at the river, or shall we
Appoint a Poet Laureate this fall,
Or shall we have another cup of tea?

O Canada, O Canada, O can
A day go by without new authors springing
To paint the native maple, and to plan
More ways to set the selfsame welkin ringing?


Frank Scott has many fine poems, but this one I think applies not only to Canadian authors…

©Dean J. Baker

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