Friday, July 22, 2011

Compare and Contrast the Future and Past

Because the present is all we get, right? And Emily Dickinson dies almost completely unknown . . .

This, from Stevens in 1951:

Not long ago I was listening to a conversation between two men about modern poetry. [I have just used the words “modern [poetry]”. These words are intended to mean nothing more than a poet of the present time.] One said to the other “Do you really think that any of these fellows are as good, say, as Sir Walter Scott?” Now, how many of you when you go home tonight are likely to sit down and read The Lady of the Lake? Sir Walter Scott’s poetry is like the scenery of a play that has come to an end. It is scenery that has been trucked away and stored somewhere on the horizon or just a little below. In short, the world of Sir Walter Scott no longer exists. It means nothing to compare a modern poet with the poet of a century or more ago. It is not a question of comparative goodness. It is like comparing a modern soldier, say, with an ancient one, like comparing Eisenhower with Agamemnon.

. . . [W]hat a modern poet desires, above everything else, is to be nothing more than a poet of the present time.

What he derives from his generation he returns to his generation . . .

+

Stevens states it more strongly as I would, as I can think of a lot of cases where an ancient poet can suddenly gain new relevance, either through translation (Sappho, for instance), or through rediscovery (the way Melville and Dickinson have become more relevant to future generations than they were to their own).

But that said, in general, I agree with his Eisenhower vs. Agamemnon analogy, though it does raise the question, why has no one made that video game yet?

33 Comments:

At 7/22/2011 7:29 AM, Blogger Justin Evans said...

I know it's not the focus of your post, but I think Steven's description of Victorian poetry is the best I have ever read.

 
At 7/22/2011 7:38 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Somewhere I think he talks about it as walking into a room that hasn't been entered in years, the pleasure is not that of discovery but ruin. I think. Or else I'm making that up.

 
At 7/22/2011 8:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about this a lot lately and find myself going around in circles. To what degree (if it's a question of degree) is the "newness" of art important because of relevance vs. novelty?

In this case I use novelty to mean newness, or apparent newness, for its own sake, as opposed to the service of some more important end.

Like John, I tend to agree with Stevens (and not just because I hate disagreeing with Stevens), yet also notice that some old things can become relevant again—possibly through some transformative power of history / perspective, or possibly because some things are good at not getting old.

Paul

 
At 7/22/2011 9:38 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

The obvious problem with Stevens's statement is that Sir Walter Scott is proposed as stand-in for all pre-Modernist poetry. I suspect he made the remark with a sly smile, pooped and in a mood, after one of his marathon walks. The proposition is scaffolded on a hyberbolic fallacy, really.

The Eisenhower/Agamemnon comparison is clever enough, but most "Modernists" and post, safe to say (Stevens included), would much rather read the poets of ancient Greece than, say, John Crowe Ransom, esteemed poet of the Eisenhower era.

Right?

 
At 7/22/2011 10:08 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I don't have much insight into it, but I think the conversations each generation has about art are conversations, necessarily, of us talking about us, and so we bring up or dismiss writers from the past as they support or deny our claims for ourselves, while the Greeks come and go, talking about Ivanhoe.

 
At 7/22/2011 10:39 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

Comparing a John Gallaher poem to a John Lydgate poem isn't like comparing Eisenhower to Agamemnon. It's like comparing a Black & Decker chainsaw to a Ford Mustang. It's meaningless to ask which is better because they're not examples of the same thing. The Black & Decker chainsaw should be evaluated against a chainsaw by a rival company.

I won't say I agree with Stevens, though, because usually when I read something by Stevens I just make it an amulet and sew it into my coat. It'd be presumptuous of me to say I agree or disagree. Nevertheless, I'm not comfortable with "how many of you when you go home tonight are likely to sit down and read The Lady of the Lake? etc." It endorses a chronological snobbery or historical provincialism too prevalent today. But I wouldn't fault Stevens for writing that any more than I'd fault Ginsberg for dissing John Crowe Ransom back in the 60s. Both were reacting to a milieu that no longer exists.

 
At 7/22/2011 10:56 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

David,

Yeah, he went too far into it when he started into what people are or are not going to read tonight.

But his larger point, about compare / contrast is good. It's not saying the past is bad, or that we shouldn't read it, or that the now is better. It's just that the now is what we have. And yet, how does one talk then of things like "tradition"? Maybe I'm going easy on him because I don't like such conversations. What he says here suits my version of the contemporary . . .

That said, I endorse Black & Decker chainsaws. Everybody needs one today.

 
At 7/22/2011 11:06 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

When I read this the first time I thought it said "omelet" instead of "amulet":

>usually when I read something by Stevens I just make it an amulet and sew it into my coat.

 
At 7/22/2011 11:22 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

I make omelets out of stuff Johannes Goransson writes and tuck them in my armpits.

 
At 7/22/2011 11:34 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

From what I read on Montevidayo, I'd say he'd be flattered.

Actually, you've just written a great blurb! We've been writing a bit today, so I'm going to send it to him right now.

 
At 7/22/2011 1:26 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Interesting, new good things unfolding for de Luna, it seems.

Unfortunately, it appears he has decided he will not be posting his poems here again. But you will see them in the future. And there is always the history of it John will be able to evoke: Julio de Luna, the brilliant, strange, and apocryphal poet who first published his searching poems at this blog, when he was in his twenties.

 
At 7/23/2011 10:43 AM, Blogger Julio de Luna said...

But first, a farewell! I am not
leaving carrying Chatterton's cup,
nor through the hole in Lorca's head.
I am not sprawled beneath
a butterfly of blood
across Stanford's bed.
I'm not listening to Bernini's
lions blabbering with my lungs
beside me in a pan, nor
am I taking a deep breath
of ocean and being burned
on some foreign shore.
I'm not leaving the keys
in the car and leaping
off a gate of gold, nor
am I stepping off a friend's
back porch beneath
the fruitless branch
of a gun. I'm not disappearing
into the mesas of northern
Mexico. I'm not dying
in a pool, in a cab,
in an AWP bathroom,
in Italy, under the wheels
of a dune buggy. I'm not dying
in my boyhood
bed with my face turned
toward the wall. I'm not
dying. I'm going away
for awhile. When you look
for me, look for me
under the apples
of your laptops.
Oh pure contradiction!
The joy of being
my deepest sleep
under your open eyes.

- de Luna

 
At 7/23/2011 10:47 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Farewell, de Luna. I'll look for you under the hp, singing Amy Winehouse songs to the aligators...

 
At 7/23/2011 1:21 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

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At 7/23/2011 4:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Senor de Luna, can you take Mr. Fitzgerald with you? Or at least his recycled verse? Thank you.

 
At 7/23/2011 5:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And ev'ry man knew, as the captain did too,
That the good ship and true was imperilled.
And later that night, when the waves were mast height,
Came the wreck of the Gary Fitzgerald.

But the legend survives of the sailors whose lives
Were taken by Lake Gumee Gitchie,
And we'll ne'er break the curse of Fitzgerald's bad verse,
Though the post-avant bloggers turn bitchy!

 
At 7/23/2011 5:51 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/23/2011 6:38 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

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At 7/23/2011 6:49 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

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At 7/23/2011 9:11 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

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At 7/23/2011 9:29 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/23/2011 10:49 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/23/2011 11:38 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

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At 7/24/2011 4:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If there is ever the slightest possibility
of our finding ourselves
in the same room or general vicinity,
I want to advise and plead with you
to get away from that place, fast,
because if I find out about it,
I assure you
it is distinctly possible
that I will not be able
to resist giving you
the crippling beating
you so clearly
masochistically
desire.
I do not wish to kill you
or hurt you,
and so I beg you
to get away from me,
without delay, if you realize
we are in the same room
somewhere.
Best,
Franz.

 
At 7/24/2011 3:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, this isjust like in the world of profitable poetry, hip hop, where they "keep it real," (which I gather is academic jargon for "threatening bodily harm.")

Paul

 
At 7/24/2011 7:16 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/24/2011 7:38 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

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At 7/24/2011 8:09 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

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At 7/30/2011 6:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's truly astounding, and pardon me, but a little pathetic, isn't it?--it is now nearly August of 2011 and some of you, who must have just been born, are bringing up this sad episode, very painful, in someone's life--something incidentally that has long been patched up by the people involved. Not you, the Tabloid People, the Night of the Living Bloggers, &c. Must be pretty uncolorful out there, aren't there any new ways to cause other human beings pain in the poetry world? Well, you're free to enjoy yourself with me. It has been a long time since any of you fleas bothered me, or you dogs stopping to piss on what is precious to another human being. Excellent! Lovely life. FW

 
At 7/30/2011 6:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So you say, FW. But you cause more needless pain and hurt upon people who have admired you for years than all the rest of the poetry community combined. You're despicable. You always have been and you know it. Your constant ego pushing is a hollow shield for your feelings of inferiority. I'm one of those people you used to talk nice to. You injured me as you injure everyone around you. And then the big apology. And then you hurt again. I used to admire you and now I'm just sad whenever I hear of your latest.

 
At 7/30/2011 8:05 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

These could be genuine comments from Franz Wright and an anonymous former friend of his, but the fact that they came so soon upon each other makes me wonder if perhaps someone isn’t putting us on just to create some drama.

So please, if you come upon these comments, think several times before engaging either or both of them. There’s really no fight here. These are all personal attacks. There is room for disagreement, and it’s necessary we argue about some things, but not this. Please.

 
At 7/30/2011 3:24 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/30/2011 7:01 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 

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