Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads

Standard

Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads helped launch the revolution of Romantic poetry, but today it manages to boldly advocate traditional notions of linguistic reference. This it does by supporting the notion that words are properly rooted in real things, and that writers can evoke experience through natural expression.

There is curvy; there is straight; and all in between.
There is base; there is noble; and the even mean.

That itself is stunning, but what is more is that there is language for all of that, indeed, one would suspect, for everything. And why should that be so, in a world merely naturally evolved? The issue of innate power in language, and man’s central place in the world, by eye, by ear, by mind, heart, and mouth, are what Wordsworth helps us tackle through this essay.

Asher Blake’s Statement of Purpose

Standard

I want to thank God for comforting me tonight by giving me some insight into my portion, the still half-wild poetry. My poems tend to come easily, though so far they have value it seems only for me. I would like to mention a word of encouragement again to all writers who aspire to fame, plaudits, a large readership (and plus-strokes of all kinds). We are true artists ultimately only to the extent we really labor at the art. Let’s try to separate our sincere purpose from professional ambition. If success comes that is great, but as this Mission Statement tries to make clear, the creative work itself is a different enterprise and has great profundity even if it does not touch others.

These images represent both the positive and negative instruments of our art.

Dorothy Dehner Drawing

famliy silhouette

 

3 Poems by Robert Hayden

Standard

Hayden’s Poetry Foundation Bio talks about his somewhat unique place in African American literature as a great African American poet who focused on race and ethnicity, yet nonetheless denied the limitations of a narrow label for himself. At least, he seems to be one of the first major black poets to take that stand so seriously.

[From the poetry foundation:]
“‘In the 1960s,’ William Meredith wrote in his foreword to Collected Prose, ‘Hayden declared himself, at considerable cost in popularity, an American poet rather than a black poet, when for a time there was posited an unreconcilable difference between the two roles. . . . He would not relinquish the title of American writer for any narrower identity.’ Ironically, much of Hayden’s best poetry is concerned with black history and the black experience.”

Perhaps Hayden’s crowning achievement is the longish poem, Middle Passage. It is gloriously complex and fine, with meaningful dramatic surprises throughout. It is also a grisly depiction of moral baseness set with rich, elevated language. I suppose it must be one of my favorite poems. In 1976 Hayden became “Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress”, that is, our Poet Laureate.

Here are three poems by Robert Hayden in PDF: Middle Passage; a dramatic poem on Harriet Tubman Runagate Runagate; and a wonderfully even handed poem on Malcolm X, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.

 

Sam Allen’s A Moment, Please

Standard

Sam Allen (1917-2015) first studied with the magnificent James Weldon Johnson at Fiske, a black university in Nashville. Allen’s bachelor’s degree was in sociology. Then in 1941 he received a law degree from Harvard. He taught both law and literature on the college level.

After serving in WWII, then briefly in New York’s D.A. office, Allen moved to Paris, where he became immersed in the expatriate literary scene. Allen became friendly with people like James Baldwin, (both men were the sons of pastors), Richard Wright, Leopold Senghor, and Aime Cesaire. And through Wright he began to publish in the black literary journal, Presence Africaine. Mr. Allen also attended the Sorbonne on the GI Bill.

Sam Allen began publishing poetry and translations and writing essays under the name Paul Vesey. Here is one of his most deft and delicate pieces of his I’ve seen: A Moment, Please. This poem interests me especially because of the interplay between the two strings of speech. The one in caps at the margin works as an independent meditation, while the indented lines give a narrative. In experimental poetry magazines today, (really this is a centuries old practice at least), poets will sometimes give a poem that runs across rows that is also divided into two or more columns. However, usually the relevance of the phrases is much looser than in Allen’s A Moment, Please; and I appreciate the way that he chooses to build meaning through actual coherent syntactical structures.

In fact, the tension of the meditative column, which is vast in time and space, and naturally inclines the soul to a perspective of freedom and detachment, is caught and caught again by the needling humiliation at the hands of a few impudent teenage girls. The experience of being worn down by something constantly, unfairly, nagging away at one’s vision is thereby well captured. The technique of having two columns, to communicate two things in this struggle is thereby not at all arbitrary.

Old Testament Biblical poetry commonly uses paired expressions, in lines A and B, where B is often a recasting of the sense of A, but with greater specificity and intensity. Much of the time these parallel lines are contraries, however, or are very distantly or obliquely related. Poetry is captured here in some cases when the reader’s mind is not merely called to process the line’s assertion in terms of truth value, but expression A is pitched against expression B, and the contemplation mounts up, even makes us gape in awe, or stuns us, as we consider the relations of the terrain of the entire “burden”, that is, flow of prophetic speech. Parallelism is a technique which tends to provide depth to thought.

There is an incredible ability of the human mind to appreciate a vast number of things that may seem meaningless at other times, like one’s kitchen backsplash, or the West Texas plains, or the mole on a face. We can appreciate flat lines, even fall into them. But this poem contains a great height, (in the lines in caps), still almost undiscernible in a quick read, (as though the TV were on), such is the attractive force of the little pathos laden narrative. In poetry with paired lines and contrasting juxtaposition, as in Biblical parallelism, there is given a fair freedom to compare the meaningful values of the things represented. And so as Allen says, “a moment, please”.

The video below shows Allen in a short reading. Highly recommended.

George Herbert’s Jordan (I)

Standard

Jordan I
by George Herbert

Who says that fictions only and false hair
Become a verse? Is there in truth no beauty?
Is all good structure in a winding stair?
May no lines pass, except they do their duty

Not to a true, but painted chair?

Is it no verse, except enchanted groves
And sudden arbours shadow coarse-spun lines?
Must purling streams refresh a lover’s loves?
Must all be veil’d, while he that reads, divines,

Catching the sense at two removes?

Shepherds are honest people; let them sing;
Riddle who list, for me, and pull for prime;
I envy no man’s nightingale or spring;
Nor let them punish me with loss of rhyme,

Who plainly say, my God, my King.

 

Robert Hass On Poetic Form

Standard

On YouTube, former poet laureate Robert Hass can be found delivering a really mind blowing lecture on poetic form. His talk is very abstract, brimming with connections between evolutionary theory, psychology, the connection between stanza length, and Greek maths. He links haiku and the blues, and gives a fascinating brief on how the power of theater lies in its resemblance to a grammatically complete sentence. Totally anti-texting. There are good things in the video not included, but I invite you to read through the link here, Robert Hass Lecture Highlights which also includes some comments of my own. To just see the video you can look up “Robert Hass Sewanee Craft 2010”.

Asher Blake’s Dominant City

Standard

The Dominant City is a piece originally composed when Bush Jr. had been president two years, before the invasion of Iraq. It is a blend of two genres themselves mutations of mainstream genres, the faux essay, and prose poetry. Watching James Baldwin on youtube inspired me to revisit and revise it.

Man in Gutter

Books Unfit To Read (part 3)

Standard

Like plants we cannot flourish without light. And though Christ has already brought the revelation of His superabundant light, our arts and sciences are not the harvest of a righteous world, but an exceedingly wicked one. If the light offered by unbelievers is darkness, for we are all darkness before we have Christ, then should Christians reject all non-Christian culture? Or going further, if the public culture made available by the world is even a deception meant to ensnare us, then how should we be separate or on guard?

For some like me, to reject certain authors is like abandoning family. True that sometimes we outgrow authors, or they lose their spell, while others stay relevant. The vital testimony of a whole generation, of a soul, or of our humanity, can make reading such witness holy even when the author puts forth bad fruit. At least that is what I argue as part of my conclusion in Part 1 of this series.

In this effort to see in darkness, (and we must maintain the effort even in church, and with Christian media), we should expect to detect both good and bad, beneficial and potentially harmful things. Some work is too unwholesome or dangerous and should be avoided, at least that is what I conclude with alarm when I confront the material of Part 2 of this series.

Ultimately we will create a new Christian culture based on higher Truth, and filled with Life, and greater loveliness. And this must come into full flowering in the Peaceable Kingdom of Christ. God willing we can begin laying the groundwork by His blessing now.

And I want to just offer this video as a kind of demonstration of these issues, because it shows the matter in several poignant dimensions. Here James Baldwin, the celebrated novelist, debates William F. Buckley, the conservative intellectual and wit, on the issue of race in America. The actual motion of the debate proves somewhat hard to tack down, but the evening essentially becomes a referendum on the significance of racism in America, what toll it takes, and/or whether whites can be held accountable, or even for Buckley, whether they should be thanked.

Baldwin’s father was a Pentecostal preacher, and he was a preacher himself as a youth, though he grew up to reject Christianity. He seems invested with a gifted preacher’s eloquence; even referring to himself as a Jeremiah figure. He asks us, ‘isn’t your position in life what determines your morality, and your motives, and your convictions?’ This is true a great extent, both economically, and in terms of election. Were we raised slaveholders we would see the world one way; but if we were black in Harlem in 1950, we would see the world another way. Then in contemplating the human heart and seeking to love our neighbor as ourselves, what position is our neighbor in? What abyss is stretched a shadow out beneath our neighbor? If we cannot truly know our neighbor then we cannot effectively love our neighbor. Perfect love does not smile at a burning man.

And this fact was played out so dramatically in the debate. Buckley took strong positions all the time on his show, matching himself against very brainy people with his arguments and humor. But here he cannot help arguing the position that white people have not achieved the American Dream at the expense of the black people whose labor they exploited for hundreds of years, and while you could say, no, they achieved a nightmare at the expense of black people, we (whites) have had the privilege of inequality at every step. Buckley is caught in his position and it is terrible and amazing to see him squirm so much.But this is the thing about Buckley that night: it is okay to love him too. He is human too, and he is lovable too.

This series is called, “books unfit to read”, and here in this debate we see what this really means, though it is oral and ex tempore. Engagement often makes it possible for Christian ministry to take place, and this does not only mean evangelism. However, for culture to be dominated by anti-Christian products does no good. That is, thinking of the debate, reason and language can get us touched with goodness, with repentance. Reason and language can also enable us to contemplate difficulties we endure like prejudice.

When we use our human gifts to the full regnant Christ engages, enters our kitchen, our little fright, our holy sacrifice. Then we can be reconciled to the Absolute Light, whether as a friend of the King for a minute, or forever. Were not Ahab, and Balaam, friends with God, when they repented, when they said, “my heart is with God, and I will bless?” Possible as this is by engaging a relatively godless work, friendship with God flourishes in a godly society.

Finally I just want to say that this debate shows the inner workings of reason, more specifically, logos; they way the Word works in human beings, both in conversation and when we consider rhetoric privately. How moved and transported these young men and women were! This was because they revered a man who used his hard won power to set others free, as if his tongue were a hard forged instrument of liberation. And God’s own reflections on the Word are mixed with the logos we bear. Listen for the moment (around the 21:50 mark) when Baldwin raises his voice to make a point, as he turned poetic in the second block of text here. Did the outdoor speakers echo with that word?

Baldwin said,

“Now, we are speaking about expense. I suppose there are several ways to address oneself to, some attempt to find what that word means here. Let me put it this way. That from a very literal point of view, the harbors, and the ports, and the railroads of the country; the economy, especially of the Southern states, could not conceivably be what it has become, if they had not had, and do not still have, indeed and for so long, for so many generations, cheap labor.”

“I am stating very seriously.
And this is not an overstatement.
That I picked the cotton,
and I carried it to market,
and I built the railroads.
Under someone else’s whip,
for nothing!
for nothing!”

“The Southern oligarchy which has today so much power
in Washington, and therefore some power in the world,
was created by my labor and my sweat,
and the violation of my women,
and the murder of my children.
This, in the land of the free
and the home of the brave.
And no one can challenge that statement.
It is a matter of historical record.”

God’s mind is a Supreme Glory. Because man can have a mind such as found in Baldwin’s oratory, it is like the prophets, and in that sense God-like, echoing, resonating with the Living God. We should have reverence for human culture, and our intellectual output, laboring to handle God’s scriptures rightly, but also handle the logos rightly in the world around us; rejecting some things, and embracing others.

 

 

 

Books Unfit To Read (part 2)

Standard

This post began as a book review of a poetics manifesto written in the 1970s by counter-culture leader Ed Sanders. This short manifesto, Investigative Poetics, instructs poets to keep research files on the historical conspiracies of their time, on friends and enemies. This moral material he suggests is the stuff of poetry with a political vector. In certain ways this can work. Gulag Archipelago was a prose work of similar motivation and is a tremendous accomplishment. However Investigative Poetics struggles at just making sense and is more than a bit cracked. I was going to give it two stars out of ten.

Ed Sanders has had a complex career though and getting a file on him for the post was a bit involved. Of particular relevance here is his history of the Charles Manson murders. Sanders, who was a hippie who lived in New York, spent time camping with “the Family” (Manson’s followers) in Death Valley after some of the murderers were apprehended for their crimes.

In part 1 of this post I weighed the claims for reading poets who are sacrilegious or anti-Christian, concluding that to know, and truly love the lost, means to witness with them their pain, even the way they curse, without being moved to poor judgment. And I believe that view has validity. What else is hearing our children’s painful rejection of our own Lord? What else is it to understand our times, its dangers and darkness? A prayer ministry for the lost implies an understanding of their plight.

Nonetheless, we are also called to be separate. We are prohibited from fellowship with unbelievers, and we cannot walk with those with whom we do not agree.

“Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3)

“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’ Therefore ‘come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.”
(2 Corinthians 6:14-17)

God instructs us to  be separate and not seek communion or fellowship with those outside of Christ. So a writer who is darkness ought not be our fellowship or communing friend, even if they seem innocent, like perhaps Rumi or Ginsberg or Bly. We may say “is this really necessary? I have known such nice people outside of Christ.” I am not advocating a view that makes all unbelievers devils. But most are; most never believe; most are devils just like Judas, and on the broad way. And they deserve love, and humane treatment and have tremendous value, and are the parents, spouses, children, of Christians. And they despise Christians from the deepest parts of their being, and are advancing an attack against our Lord, before they go to the place they are expecting to go.

The truth is not always what it seems. In the following interview with Kerouac and Ed Sanders on William Buckley’s show, all the men lined up, with their legs crossed, and such a big point being made about Kerouac’s drunkenness, the shot of the audience lapping it up, leads with such careful design to the Nazi greeting shouted by Kerouac, and echoed quietly by Sanders. These are “poets, beatniks, hippies”. So what country do we live in? And this puts everything in the right light because God warns us for a reason and there is a fourth beast coming.

The second video is Ginsberg’s subtle glamorization of this outburst, and that despite Kerouac’s rejection of Ginsberg on the show. Why does Ginsberg or anyone else need to be reminded that Hitler was one of the most evil men to ever live, an extremely worthless leader, and is responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people better than himself? Comments welcome.