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

https://www.amazon.com/Dean-J.-Baker/e/B00IC6PGQM

https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/profile

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.

http://www.amazon.com/Dean-J.-Baker/e/B00IC6PGQM

 

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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.

Struck,
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.” 

my books http://www.amazon.com/Dean-J.-Baker/e/B00IC6PGQM

alternatively, direct from – https://deanjbaker.wordpress.com/links-to-my-books-in-print//

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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.

©DeanJBaker

 

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

https://deanjbaker.wordpress.com/links-to-my-books-in-print//

The mothership: http://deanjbaker.wordpress.com

The Canadian Authors Meet by F. R. Scott

frscott1

 

 

 

 

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?

©F.R.Scott

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

©Dean J. Baker

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Ithaca by C.P.Cavafy

cpcavafy1

 

 

 

 

As you set out for Ithaca
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what Ithacas mean.

 

©C.P.Cavafy

 

©Dean Baker

https://writingsofdeanbaker.wordpress.com/

C. P. Cavafy, “The City” from C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Translation Copyright © 1975, 1992 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Reproduced with permission of Princeton University Press.

***NOTE – I used Keeley and Sherrard’s translation for this poem. I believe the book with an intro by W.H. Auden and the translation by Rae Dalven to be the absolute best:

http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Poems-Cavafy-Expanded/dp/0156198207/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

 

Everywhere I Go by John Newlove

jnewlove

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are people talking about. Everywhere I go they whisper.

They stick their eyes at me, right at the base of the breastbone,
when I’m not looking.

The breastbone seems flat, pointed like a dagger to the top
of my stomach.

O, my stomach, my stomach… when the knife rips you open
it will find coffee and four strips of bacon, pieces of chewed
beard and a handwritten note saying I have left town forever
again.

©John Newlove
– excerpt from his brilliant work, Lies, jnewlovelies1972 and from A Long Continual Argument, The Selected Poems of John Newlove

John was a friend of mine – yet I had only said hello back him when I heard him read this live one time at York University. I’d been searching for the room in which the reading was to be held, and came around a corner to come face-to-face with him and Joe Rosenblatt.

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©Dean J. Baker