Monday, December 05, 2011

Row Row Row Your Boat

Call it whatever you want, but don't call it Fight Club. That would be easy. And we so hate easy.

There’s a fascinating conversation going on around post-modern New Orleans trumpet player Nicholas Payton’s blog post “On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool Anymore . . .” circulating. I’ve never been much interested in the term “Jazz,” because when I’m talking about music with someone and I say I like Jazz, they will get a very wrong idea of what I like. What I like in “Jazz” is instrumental bebop from almost exclusively the 1950s. That’s a pretty narrow slice. I pretty much am ambivalent to actively disliking the most of the rest of what is called Jazz. So I’m pretty fine with Payton’s manifesto of freeing ourselves from the constraints of terms. The jazz part of this for me, then, ends there.

Why I’m thinking about it this morning is the possibility of overlap into the problems and fights surrounding contemporary American poetry. A lot of the problem Payton has with “Jazz,” and the reactions to such problems, is something of a cognate for contemporary American poetry.

Here’s Payton’s post:

Here’s a reaction to his post, talking about race in jazz:

And here’s the NPR aggregation:

OK, so now, the link to poetry.

First off, to echo Payton, something has happened to make poetry no longer hip in the way it was for people who carried around copies of Howl or Ariel or something by Robert Lowell or Charles Bukowski. And what it is isn’t about the quality of contemporary writing, or what poets are writing about, but instead about what’s hip to do. In some circles, it’s hip to carry around something by Tao Lin or Zachary Schomburg or Heather Christle, true, but these poets aren’t as culturally noticed as Ginsberg/Plath/Bukowski were. What’s hip is now hip on a much smaller stage. Why? How?

Should we talk about that, or should we pick up our horns and blow? Yes, that’s what we should do. But as soon as we do, we begin setting something down. What is it we’re setting down? Does it reflect the loss of possibility that the past has closed off? Are we limited by what has happened before? Or are we trying to preserve and extend the past? Because the past was so grand, right? Where do we remain? Where do we attempt to go? Where can we attempt to go? Are we to attempt ignore the past, or to better it, perfect it, extend it? Do we believe there is such a thing as the future? Are we being culturally relevant? Should we be worried about being culturally relevant? Whow decides what’s culturally relevant anyway?

And what do we call what we’re doing?

So here are a few of Payton’s points (I’ve collaged them into an order that best [in my mind] reflects the cognate problems in contemporary American poetry. To get the flavor of his intention, I direct you to the link above.):

A glaring example of what’s wrong with Jazz is how people fight over it.

Jazz was a limited idea to begin with. Jazz is a label that was forced upon the musicians. The musicians should’ve never accepted that idea.

Jazz is incestuous.

Jazz is only cool if you don’t actually play it for a living.
The very fact that so many people are holding on to this idea of what Jazz is supposed to be is exactly what makes it not cool. People are holding on to an idea that died long ago. Jazz ain’t cool, it’s cold, like necrophilia.

Jazz worries way too much about itself for it to be cool. You can be martyrs for an idea that died over a half a century if y’all want. Lot’s wife turned to a pillar of salt from looking back. Playing Jazz is like using the rear-view mirror to drive your car on the freeway.

Jazz is haunted by its own hungry ghosts.

People are too afraid to let go of a name that is killing the spirit of the music.

Some people may say we are defined by our limitations. I don’t believe in limitations, but yes, if you believe you are limited that will define you. Some people may say we are limited. I say, we are as limited as we think. I am not limited.

Jazz has nothing to do with music or being cool. It’s a marketing idea.

Jazz is a marketing ploy that serves an elite few. The elite make all the money while they tell the true artists it’s cool to be broke.

People are fickle and follow the pack. People follow trends and brands. So do musicians, sadly. Jazz is a brand. Jazz ain’t music, it’s marketing, and bad marketing at that. It has never been, nor will it ever be, music.

Our whole purpose on this planet is to evolve. Jazz has proven itself to be limited, and therefore, not cool. Existence is not contingent upon thought. Life isn’t linear, it’s concentric. When you’re truly creating you don’t have time to think about what to call it.

Definitions are retrospective.

Too many musicians and not enough artists. Not enough artists willing to soldier for their shit.

I am not speaking of so-called Jazz’s improvisational aspects. Improvisation by its very nature can never be passé, but mindsets are invariably deadly. Not knowing is the most you can ever know.

I believe music to be more of a medium than a brand.

You can’t practice art.

I create music for the heart and the head, for the beauty and the booty.

Silence is music, too. It’s where you choose to put silence that makes sound music. Sound and silence equals music. Sometimes when I’m soloing, I don’t play shit. I just move blocks of silence around. The notes are an afterthought. Silence is what makes music sexy. Silence is cool.

- Nicholas Payton

[JG: I’ve taken several important things to consider out of his post. One strand I’ve taken out is the topic of race, and the history of race in Jazz. Race is also an important topic in contemporary American poetry, but it’s different enough from that of the Jazz conversation, that I thought it could be left out. A good question that is asked now and then is how race plays into the cultural practice and reception of poetry in general, and in what is termed Post-Avant and Experimental poetry, as well. And there’s the empty space Payton doesn’t approach, the problem of gender and sexuality in Jazz . . . ]


Incestuous . . .

It’s only cool if you don’t’ read it . . .

What he’s striking out at the most is the problematic nature of the term, and the power and aesthetic economies that term sets up. And then, how the fight about the term itself (what we’re doing and what we should be doing) is sucking the life out of what could be a better conversation on the art. I think of it as passengers on a leaking lifeboat. Some are pointing, blaming the sinking of the ship on each other, while others are consumed with deciding on a name for their new vessel, and still others are saying a different boat would have been better, and yet others are complaining about the paintjob. Who’s rowing?

I’ve felt uncomfortable calling myself a poet in something of a similar way that Payton would feel uncomfortable being called a Jazz musician. I rather dislike what that term sets up. I’d rather call myself a “Word Artist” but that sounds pretentious, so I don’t. I’m OK saying I write poetry, so that’s what I try to say when I can. Fewer people think of black berets and finger snaps or Romantic visages of standing on the Alps. It’s the same problem Payton has. But what use can he possibly get out of saying he's a Post-Modern New Orleans Trumpet Player? That jsut sounds silly. Like walking around saying "I'm a Hybrid, pleased to meet you." There are cultural expectations of Genre, and those expectations, if we let them, make us do things. Nothing should make us do things but the art itself. Not the names or the sub names of the art. And then the aesthetic camps and all the blah blah about what’s this or that about styles and groups. If you just ignore all that and do what you do it'll at least makes sense to you. All this hoard mentality and then anti-hoard hoard mentality. Bah and fie.

And then there are some people who are still saying prose poetry isn't poetry? Really? And on. Whatever is done will become the past that will become the problem with which the future will have to deal. And to go forward, it’s important to go back, but it’s impossible to stay there, no matter how beautiful, for in the end, what strength an artist has is that artist’s alone.

Enter Prospero in his magic robes:

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,
And what strength I have’s mine own,
Which is most faint: now, ’tis true,
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardon’d the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell;
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands:
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon’d be,
Let your indulgence set me free.


At 12/05/2011 6:38 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

If names are weapons, the phone book is an arms catalog.

At 12/05/2011 7:45 AM, Blogger David-Glen Smith said...

I have noticed lately, people in general are obsessing about labels. Perhaps it is a shift in the culture of thinking, a new way of branding the unfolding decade's attitudes—

As a gay man myself who writes poetry and who recently adopted a baby I have noticed a huge breakdown in my approach to "identity"— father, writer, activist do not individually add up to ME. I am all of these labels, COLLECTIVELY.

What results for 2011, I realized some narratives suit poetry, some narratives do not.

Everyone, anyone can disagree with me. When I was just a "poet," the gay community disliked my work. When I was a "gay-poet" the "straight" community disliked my work. For my son, when he asks me what is it that I actually do, I will say I am a Poet/Teacher. We are already prepared for the two-father conversation, years in advance. That aspect, my choice of a partner, does not influence my voice in a large, overwhelming tide of emotion.

Maybe I am an average writer, an average intellect, but as of now, I have given up labels, trends, manifestos, movements, and definitions. The craft should be the focus and not what we call it. Too many people are hung up on being a product of a loud label and are not creating art...

In Payton's case, his issue is larger than music. I can respect his direction and resentment. I respect a large amount of what he is declaring. New Orleans is an environment of conglomerations. It has and always will have issues. Having lived there for a few years I saw the issues everyday.

In Poetry's case, however, I do not see the immediate need for a re-definition, re-identification. If the public doesn't get it, why do we care?

What is that song?. ... "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool"-- my students think of Hallmark greeting cards when I say poetry. So I try to reshape their ideas. Sometimes it clicks with them. Soemtimes it doesn't.

I carry Plath's/Whitman's/Ginsberg's/ in my pockets everyday-- and damn the weight is killing my back

--and so I call myself a Poet.

At 12/05/2011 7:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know how a polemic like Payton's even could be construed as interesting. It's a bunch of unsupported (and unsupportable) assertions ... a way to air out his angry opinions with put-on authority.

So jazz died in 1959. Just as many blowhards say it died in 1949, or 1939. I listen to all the stuff Payton likes, and what can I say? For me the golden age was the 60s. Mingus, Coltrane, Miles in his modal mode. Others think Jazz came to life in the 70s.

This is just another Balkanizer who's sure he's right. Yawn.


At 12/05/2011 8:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'd be more open to some of Payton's ideas if was sure he was talking about "jazz" and not jazz.


At 12/05/2011 8:32 AM, Blogger David-Glen Smith said...


Actually Payton does redefine his terms in a later post:

"When Black American Music became “JAZZ”, it separated itself from the American popular music idiom. 
I’m just trying to take it back to its roots. 
American popular music has been separated from its root (what you call Jazz) and, as a result, all of the branches of the tree are dying.
 American music is dying and I’m trying to help save it. 
Turn on the radio, if you don’t believe me. 
How many Jazz records that have come out in the last 5 years that you’ve really loved?"

In the above quote I actually see his point... more so than in the earlier, angrier posting.

Payton also points out in a later post that everyone with a blog now has an authoritative, critical voice. I cringed a little when I read this because, yes I have a blog. And I do want my opinions to matter in the long run.

But his specific channeling of words express a situation that is outside of my experience.

I want to read more of his posts to see if he declares what started these declarations in the first point— find out what initiated the manifesto.

At 12/05/2011 8:50 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

The part that I took away (because my interest is really poetry, not jazz) is how he sees the argument on “what jazz is and what it should be” is paralyzing. It seems to me a similar thing is going on in the current poetry fights. What we should be doing! What they shouldn’t be doing!

This has always been with us (cue the preface to the Lyrical Ballads), but it’s gotten to a level of paralysis, it seems to me, where there’s nothing that can be said without a constant fight for authority. This stuff is a distraction from better conversations about individual artists and what they’re doing.

At 12/05/2011 10:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John, that suggests that he's indeed criticizing "jazz" the category and not the music that falls into it (or doesn't). I think that's a more defensible and interesting critique, although I wish he'd be more clear about it.

This has been an ongoing category fight, where every generation tells the next generation "you're not jazz," and does so in a manner that's as indignant as it is historically ignorant. It's all about embracing lexical fallacy, really ... as if we had to define poetry the way Homer did.

Alex Ross, the excellent classical and Jazz critic for the New Yorker, makes a similar (but more nuanced, I think) point about why he hates "classical music."

FWIW, the most interesting (to me) voices in Jazz today are opting out of the dumb taxonomy altogether by not bothering to call themselves jazz musicians. They allow the record labels file them under jazz at the two or three remaining record stores, but otherwise are happy to be called whatever people want to call them. John Zorn is the most obvious example from this crowd.

I imagine there are a lot of poets who are equally happy to do their thing without concern for categories. Of course, as soon as they get thrown into someone's anthology it can be hard to know this about them.


At 12/05/2011 10:10 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Yes, precisely. It’s the move to definition, the move to naming that I see him positioning himself against. In the way that artists tend to rebel against people calling them things. (The non-manifesto artists, I guess.) But Payton does call himself something . . . it’s just not “Jazz.” The fight is a waste of energy, but these definitions, thought they don’t really define much, have consequences. Money is involved. And prestige, etc.

At 12/05/2011 10:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just re-read the Ross article, and noticed what sounds like his take on post-po-mo metaxy:

"I have seen the future, and it is called Shuffle—the setting on the iPod that skips randomly from one track to another."


At 12/05/2011 1:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting how Payton is saying exactly the same thing about jazz that Scarriet has been saying about modernist could be said that modernist poetry died about the same time jazz did, that modernist poetry, like jazz, was run by exploitive cretins who snatched poetry from its roots, so that all sense of continuity was broken for the sake of a shallow attempt to be "new," because yes, Paul, why shouldn't poetry be defined after Homer---and the best examples of the past? Why shouldn't it be? We are *so* enlightened that "Red Wheel Barrow" and Ashbery's non sequiturs are *really* that ground-breaking? Only in our hipster minds.

Tom Brady

At 12/05/2011 2:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"why shouldn't poetry be defined after Homer---and the best examples of the past? Why shouldn't it be?"

I'm suggesting that poetry shouldn't be restricted to the Homeric. Shouldn't there be room for expansion of an idea over a century or thirty? If you don't think so, you're free to keep reading Homer. Personally, I'm a lot more interested in Williams and Ashbery. If that makes me a hipster, then stone me to death. Isn't that what Leviticus says you had to do if your neighbor was a hipster?


At 12/05/2011 3:23 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I take Payton’s point to be very much against your position. It’s also against Modernism or whatever brand, or at least J-A-Z-Z as a brand. He’s for the artist investigating where art can go to next, to respect the past, but to not replicate it or deal in its idiom.

At the same time, here’s a link to what he calls Postmodern New Orleans Trumpet:

It’s the name he’s fighting, the closing down the name forces. He wants to be free of the name games of the past. So, in that way, he’d also want to be free of your conceptions of what art should be. He’s for radical freedom, and he makes some beautiful, atmospheric music, as well.

It’s this fight we’re having right now, you and me and this blog and this atmosphere that’s the problem. We’re dealing in constraints, not in freedom. Our positions are our traps. That part of what he’s saying (even as it’s problematic and impossible and hypocritical) is important to remind ourselves. It’s a more open creative space.

At 12/05/2011 6:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


"Freedom's" your bag and I can dig it. But as soon as you say that word you know you're trapped by it, don't you? As much as you might be trapped by the "past," or any other term you might think is "freedom's" opposite---our "positions" did you say?

But before we drift away in platitude and smell of weed, here's what Payton wrote right at the beginning of his screed:

"Jazz separated itself from American popular music.

Big mistake.

The music never recovered."

Modernist poetry separated itself from American popular poetry.

Big mistake.

The poetry never recovered.

Edna Millay or Marianne Moore? One was both Shakespearean and modern, the other brittle and crazy. The hipsters chose crazy.
The hipsters chose self-conscious sterile broken bric-a-brac paste-board crinkly kindergarten glue stick mo-dern-it-y.

Big mistake.


At 12/05/2011 6:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


'shouldn't there be room for expansion...?' etc

Of course. I'm all for that.

But you start with something. You have to start with something. Homer, because he was there first and for no other reason. How can you expand on nothing? How can reverse the order of things if you are truly interested in expansion? How can you be interested in what is new and original if you reverse the order of things? How can you know the new if you don't know the old? Plato spent half his time fighting with Homer. For that reason alone, you start with Homer.


At 12/06/2011 4:05 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Sure. And what he means isn't very applicable to poetry. What he means is that (from what little I know of jazz history) jazz musicians have mostly stopped covering pop tunes.

It's the names he's fighting with, not the art. Listen to his music. He's all for what musicians have been doing since the 60s, he just thinks the label is a curse.

I think the current LABELS in poetry are equally worthless and need to be ignored. By freedom, I don't mean ignoring history or culture or popular poetry or whatever, I mean not being tied to a definition of what one is doing while one is doing it.

Artists create. Labels that come before the art object limit its potential. That doesn't mean one can't write in form or in whatever style you like best, it just mean that they shouldn't be forced by preconceptions to write that way or some other narrowly defined way. Freedom isn't absence, freedom is freedom to choose how and what to do.

The fact that this is a controversial stance shows just how bad things are in the arts and culture.

At 12/06/2011 8:41 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I posted this comment on the last thread, but as I was writing it I felt it was more a response to Payton than Surrealism.

I remember once, years ago, Jorie Graham talking about her difficulty in understanding how young writers could write in various styles, or have various influences, without bringing along the history, the contradictory histories, of those styles. (The mixing of Sylvia Plath and Lyn Hejinian as influences, for example.)

I saw her point then, but as I get older, I feel it less and less. It's a large picture, the world, and picturing it is always going to be incomplete, and each way of looking is a part, a real part, of the picture. Everything that’s done in art is relevant in some way because it’s there. I like some things and dislike some things. I find some things to be boring or reductive or unhelpful or propaganda or whatever, yes. There is bad art. But it’s individual, not style bound.

I suppose this is a relativistic, post-modern attitude, but it seems to me, as a writer, having an open view of "Surrealism" or whatever, might give you that much more of a step toward what we are, than the reductive terms and histories allow. So, for Payton, Jazz works this way. The term “Jazz” is more baggage than help. I feel strongly that this is also the case for Post-Avant or Hybrid. These names are boxes. Well, all names are boxes, but we still use names. I use names all the time, as well. One can’t talk about something without calling it something. So, though Payton is doomed to failure in his cause, I take away from his fight, the need to be careful that what we’re naming something doesn’t suck the life from it.

A term like Modernism. I hate that term. It’s very, very dead for me. In poetry especially, it doesn’t do a good job describing the poets I like from the 20s generation. And we’re still there/here, messing around with names. The dumb names we’re using for art is often all we’re talking about. It’s not a pleasant way to enjoy art. It’s just a border dispute.

At 12/06/2011 9:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


It's not about LABELS.

Meter is not a label. It's a technique.

Willed obscurity is not a label. It's a technique.

It's not even about POETS, since if you are influenced by Plath, that can mean a thousand things and not all of them good. Do you mean you are influenced by Plath's bad writing? Or what she did well?

Payton said we don't think about what we are going to call the baby when we are fucking. But this is true only if we are talking about labels, what we are going to CALL the baby. Fucking does make babies.

Why would you write like Plath if you are not like Plath? Why would you be obscure just because X was obscure, and some critic said it was OK?

True, you can write in meter and still suck, but that's not meter's fault.

That's the difference.


At 12/06/2011 9:26 AM, Blogger David said...

Well, all names are boxes, but we still use names. I use names all the time, as well. One can’t talk about something without calling it something. So, though Payton is doomed to failure in his cause, I take away from his fight, the need to be careful that what we’re naming something doesn’t suck the life from it.

That makes a lot of sense to me. Without the box, the stuff inside just kind of spills out everywhere. Maybe there's a name for that ...

At 12/06/2011 9:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But you start with something. You have to start with something. Homer, because he was there first and for no other reason."

I'm not sure what you think you're arguing with. No one said anything about ignoring roots. My annoyance is with assertions along the lines of "if it's not [insert historical definition of choice] then it's not [poetry / jazz / painting / photography / ballet / whatever.]"

Every generation has critics that define authenticity with some kind of dead anachronism. Wynton Marsalis comes to mind. Possibly Tony Hoagland, but this doesn't scratch the surface of his issues.


At 12/06/2011 10:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But this is true only if we are talking about labels, what we are going to CALL the baby. Fucking does make babies."

It feels like you're deliberately torturing the analogy here. Humans happen to be confined by biology to babymaking. Artists face only cultural or imaginary restraints. (Yes, if you are medicated in some avant-garde fashion you might be able to make a flipper baby, but this is probably an unwelcome digression).

I'm facing the tyranny of labels right now in my own work. I have a new project, one that barely exists yet, still very much in the awkward, early stages of fucking ("I'm sorry sorry, did I pull your hair?" "Ow, your elbow.") But I have a grant application due in two weeks, for which I have to pretend I know what I'm making. I have to call my work something.

Of the available categories, I've chosen "mixed media," because the project involves photography and text—but I'm now discovering that this category has a history, a taxonomy, and a lot of opinions and arguments attached to it—much like jazz and everything else that we bicker about here.

So my flipper baby isn't even born yet and she's being forced into boxes. This is influencing what I write about my intentions, how I think about the context that will frame the project, and almost certainly will influence the work itself.

Obviously, I could say to hell with all that, ignore everyone and their categories, do my own thing in isolation, and make up a label if I want one at all. But then it will be even harder to find an audience than it will be under the best circumstances. And my chances with the grant committee will go from next-to-nothing straight to nothing.

Is avoiding the first kind of problem worth the second kind?


At 12/06/2011 10:31 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Absolutely, Paul, whatever one does in art one is going to inherit problems, so yes, this is indeed the question:

“Is avoiding the first kind of problem worth the second kind?”

At 12/06/2011 5:35 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

soHas anyone here brought up Philip Larkin's jazz criticism? You can read it in All What Jazz and Required Writing. Larkin hated 50s bebop and other avant garde jazz. He thought it was like Picasso putting both eyes on one side of a woman's face. He thought Dizzy Gillespie unemotional, Charlie Parker a demented drug addict, and Coltrane chalk squeaking on a blackboard. In his opinion, you defined jazz thus and so--i.e., Louis Armstrong. If you imported Afro-Cuban sounds or raga sounds until your music bore little or no resemblance to "Muskrat Ramble," you no longer had jazz. He didn't believe in the evolution of jazz at all. You might disagree with a lot of his jazz crit--I like just about every jazz luminary he lambasts--but it's worth reading because it's Larkin, a great writer.

At 12/06/2011 5:43 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

Larkin also wrote some interesting--mostly negative--stuff about the Beatles, the Stones, and Dylan.

And yet he wrote some kinky pornographic novels under the pseudonym Brunette Coleman. Strange.

At 12/07/2011 8:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul & John,

You guys want to have your cake and eat it. You say the label is the enemy on one hand, and yet you keep fanning the fires of its importance on the other. Typical Modernist behavior: a Revolution based on Finding New Names for mere twists on the old by well-placed lesser-talents.

Isn't jazz loose blues, and the blues a variation on the well-tempered clavier?

This all comes down to good v. bad. Some souls are offended by the good and they want to be "bad." It's a morality play, finally. A rather stupid one. That's why we all feel rather stupid half-way through all discussions like this. I was feeling stupid a half hour ago, and look, I'm still typing...

Be-bop de-lula.

when the bee stings when the dog bites when I'm feeling sadddd..


At 12/07/2011 8:28 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


You are so wrong. So terribly wrong. It’s not “sadddd.” It’s “saaaad.”

It’s four As, not four Ds.

Sheesh, everybody knows THAT.

At 12/07/2011 10:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You got me.

I do admit when I'm wrong.


At 12/07/2011 10:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Additionally and peripherally,

"Isn't jazz loose blues, and the blues a variation on the well-tempered clavier?"


And I don't believe I mentioned "good" or "bad" in my post. If you'd paraphrased me with something along the lines of "labels are important in a lot of ways and problematic in a lot of ways," then I'd agree. If you still think this is an example having/eating cake, then I'm baffled.


At 12/07/2011 10:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Baffled, yes, but apparently well-fed.

- A cake fan

At 12/07/2011 11:56 AM, Blogger David said...

The black grand piano, the gleamy spider/ Stood quivering in the center of its music net.

~ Tomas Tranströmer

The trumpet propped against the stage cares not if "jazz" lives or dies. The slender words writhing incestuously in their quiver cannot hear the squeaky farts of the "surrealist" camp.

At 12/07/2011 2:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


"If you'd paraphrased me with something along the lines of "labels are important in a lot of ways and problematic in a lot of ways," then I'd agree."

But I wouldn't be Thomas Brady if I talked shit like that.

David: Are we mixing this thread up with the surrealist one?

At 12/07/2011 2:26 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

It's about time Atropos cut that one, isn't it?

At 12/08/2011 6:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Poor Transtromer. He may have written good things, but people quote him willy-nilly, the good with the bad; having one's work exposed without editorial discretion will only hurt the reputation in the long run.

"The black grand piano, the gleamy spider/ Stood quivering in the center of its music net."

The clumsy comparison of a piano to a spider in a "music net (??!!)" is bad to a frightening degree. Perhaps some might be impressed by this 'surrealism,' but like the half-baked rhythms of so many modernists, this is half-baked comparison. Bad passed off as good. In his famous attack on art in 'The Republic,' one of Plato's points was that the idol of the theater consists in behaving in a rebellious mode in which modesty is thrown to the winds. Most bad writing is bad simply because it's bad, but it also tends to be immodest. How can a true poet stomach the idea of a grand piano as a 'gleamy spider' in a web???


At 12/08/2011 7:51 AM, Blogger David said...


Pardon my editorial indiscretion. I was only trying to comment on the discussion at hand. Just my poor attempt to imagine how the instruments of art might comment, in their way, on silly artists' squabbles. Tranströmer's image (not necessarily my favorite) inspired my thought.

At 12/08/2011 7:55 AM, Blogger David said...

By the way, say what you will about Tranströmer, but "rebellious" and "immodest" don't seem to be apt characterizations of him, IMO.

I'd like to understand more of what you mean by "modest" and "immodest" as qualities of good and bad writing.

At 12/08/2011 10:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Baffled, yes, but apparently well-fed."

Yes, Cake Fan, that's the other baffling thing. What's wrong with having one's cake and eating it too. If we knew how, who wouldn't?


At 12/08/2011 12:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


"Pardon my editorial indiscretion."

I'm afraid your punishment is going to be a grand piano dropped on you.

You think Transtromer too 'church-y' to be 'immodest' or 'rebellious?' I just mean anything that's in bad taste, even if it's an image, or as Plato meant it, anything you'd do when alone (or in a mad throng) but would never do in front of those you love and respect...


At 12/08/2011 12:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's from Book X of 'The Republic' by the way....

If you consider, I said, that when in misfortune we feel a natural hunger and desire to relieve our sorrow by weeping and lamentation, and that this feeling which is kept under control in our own calamities is satisfied and delighted by the poets;-the better nature in each of us, not having been sufficiently trained by reason or habit, allows the sympathetic element to break loose because the sorrow is another's; and the spectator fancies that there can be no disgrace to himself in praising and pitying any one who comes telling him what a good man he is, and making a fuss about his troubles; he thinks that the pleasure is a gain, and why should he be supercilious and lose this and the poem too? Few persons ever reflect, as I should imagine, that from the evil of other men something of evil is communicated to themselves. And so the feeling of sorrow which has gathered strength at the sight of the misfortunes of others is with difficulty repressed in our own.

How very true!
And does not the same hold also of the ridiculous? There are jests which you would be ashamed to make yourself, and yet on the comic stage, or indeed in private, when you hear them, you are greatly amused by them, and are not at all disgusted at their unseemliness; --the case of pity is repeated; --there is a principle in human nature which is disposed to raise a laugh, and this which you once restrained by reason, because you were afraid of being thought a buffoon, is now let out again; and having stimulated the risible faculty at the theatre, you are betrayed unconsciously to yourself into playing the comic poet at home.

Quite true, he said.
And the same may be said of lust and anger and all the other affections, of desire and pain and pleasure, which are held to be inseparable from every action ---in all of them poetry feeds and waters the passions instead of drying them up; she lets them rule, although they ought to be controlled, if mankind are ever to increase in happiness and virtue.

I cannot deny it.
Therefore, Glaucon, I said, whenever you meet with any of the eulogists of Homer declaring that he has been the educator of Hellas, and that he is profitable for education and for the ordering of human things, and that you should take him up again and again and get to know him and regulate your whole life according to him, we may love and honour those who say these things --they are excellent people, as far as their lights extend; and we are ready to acknowledge that Homer is the greatest of poets and first of tragedy writers; but we must remain firm in our conviction that hymns to the gods and praises of famous men are the only poetry which ought to be admitted into our State. For if you go beyond this and allow the honeyed muse to enter, either in epic or lyric verse, not law and the reason of mankind, which by common consent have ever been deemed best, but pleasure and pain will be the rulers in our State.

At 12/08/2011 10:28 PM, Blogger David said...


Plato isn't arguing against aesthetically deficient poetry -- he's arguing against any poetry that isn't sanctioned by the State. He thinks that lyric poetry is a vice that the poet (in bad faith) acts out in public while being privately ashamed of it.

All of us stand condemned by Plato, not just Tranströmer.

At 12/09/2011 2:56 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

Let's condemn Plato. He was a fascistic enemy of the arts.

At 12/09/2011 7:49 AM, Blogger David said...

I agree with David Grove. Occupy the School of Athens!

At 12/09/2011 12:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You write:

"Plato isn't arguing against aesthetically deficient poetry -- he's arguing against any poetry that isn't sanctioned by the State. He thinks that lyric poetry is a vice that the poet (in bad faith) acts out in public while being privately ashamed of it.

All of us stand condemned by Plato, not just Tranströmer."

Not quite. First, Plato was a poet. Second, if you read 'The Republic' closely, he doesn't ban ALL the poets. Third, if you are not a dishonest person or a schizophrenic, and you judge good and bad in life the same as in art, you will not have such a problem with Plato. Shakespeare is the sort of poet who would pass Plato's test with flying colors and would be allowed in his "Republic," Poe, as well. And meeting "Plato's challenge" makes you a better artist, in fact. It is a challenge, indeed, and many artists and poets since Plato have risen to it. Some artists and poets, however, slink from the challenge and portray Plato as a tyrant. These poets and artists tend to be spoiled children, and simply don't 'get it.'

It's a pity that Plato seems to be read less and less these days, especially by the poets.


At 12/09/2011 12:52 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

Oh, okay, he wouldn't ban ALL the poets--just the ones he deems immoral or irrational or something. He'd put those outside the city walls to starve--don't want their base genes mucking up the gene pool. Well, that's not so bad.

At 12/09/2011 1:20 PM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

"Oh, okay, he wouldn't ban ALL the poets--just the ones he deems immoral or irrational or something. He'd put those outside the city walls to starve--don't want their base genes mucking up the gene pool. Well, that's not so bad."


Your response points to exactly what Plato is talking about. you write: "the ones he deems immoral or irrational or something." Plato's langauge is more precise than that. He doesn't say "immoral or irrational or something." Nor does Plato say a word about "genes" or "starving" the poets. That's your take. You haven't read the document in question and your reaction is nothing but a freak-out. But do the "immoral" and the "irrational" have something to do with it? Sure. If you were writing about your ideal society, would you aim to have its citizens "immoral?" Just wondering.

At 12/09/2011 1:28 PM, Blogger David said...

... but we must remain firm in our conviction that hymns to the gods and praises of famous men are the only poetry which ought to be admitted into our State.

How do the tragedies and comedies of Shakespeare pass this sniff test? What about Sophocles? With all that incest and eye-gouging?

Who are some modern poets who would be welcome in Plato's ideal State?

Bear in mind that I'm a Christian of decidedly conservative theological bent. There is much in Plato that I value deeply. I've just never adhered to his views on poetry. Same with St. Augustine, who like Plato decried the theatrical arts that he practiced in his misspent youth.

At 12/09/2011 1:33 PM, Blogger David said...

... the better nature in each of us, not having been sufficiently trained by reason or habit, allows the sympathetic element to break loose because the sorrow is another's; and the spectator fancies that there can be no disgrace to himself in praising and pitying any one who comes telling him what a good man he is, and making a fuss about his troubles ...

Hamlet? Bah and fie!

At 12/09/2011 2:11 PM, Blogger David Grove said...


Plato would've loved Shakespeare, especially Titus Andronicus. He was a big playgoer.


I'm an ordinary reader of Plato. I won't try to pass myself off as more than that. I've read parts of Republic, and I've read about it. I haven't read it from cover to cover. About the only book I've read from cover to cover is Finnegans Wake.

What I wrote about genes and starving was an attempt at satirical exaggeration. My understanding is that Plato advocated both rigid censorship and Nazi-like eugenics. Admiration for Plato requires no justification, but surely your admiration is not unalloyed. Surely.

If I wrote about my ideal society, I'd describe an open society, a society in which individuals are not compelled to subordinate their individuality to a collective identity. In which my "immorality" is none of the government's damn business--as long as I'm not hurting anyone. In which I'm free to do as I please--until I infringe on your freedom to do as you please. In which no fallen man who fancies himself a "philosopher king" can seize control and impose his utopian vision on his subjects.

At 12/10/2011 9:17 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

Plato would be the last person to say, treat the 'Republic' as the final word---the 'hypothesis' was his invention. In the 'Symposium,' after the guests say how great and beautiful the god of love is, Socrates says, no, he's needy and ugly. So there's a 'hymn to a god' which can fit almost any modern definition. Plato demands we be flexible in reading him, and that's part of the hidden point which the too-literal (and resentful) miss. Plato was a comic genius and his laughter is us; as for Shakespeare, there's a little thing called Christianity between Shakespeare and Plato, but just as every dialogue explores a different flaw in human nature, Shakespeare's comedies/tragedies do the same. The Greek poets (Homer, Sophocles) and Shakespeare are very different, and that difference is Plato/Augustine. Shakespeare's sonnets have been misread as searing, emotional confessions, but they are actually rational, sober and moral, keeping within Plato's suggestions. Poe, also highly rational, has also been misread by moderns as 'scary, etc' Modernism can almost be defined as a cranky, trivializing, pathetic and hopeless misreading of Plato's great tradition.

At 12/10/2011 9:36 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...


"If I wrote about my ideal society, I'd describe an open society, a society in which individuals are not compelled to subordinate their individuality to a collective identity."

Your "individualty" is crushed by the "Collective identity" even as you write those platitudes. Your own truisms define, more than anything else, your very point. You found the enemy and it's you. Look, the 'collective' dominates our 'individuality' every moment of every day, and yet 'individuality' can be as tyrannical and frightening as anything.. These are words (indivuality, collective) and you are too certain of them. This is why the Socratic dialogue is so valuable.

"In which my "immorality" is none of the government's damn business--as long as I'm not hurting anyone."

But you are confusing 'government' with a hypothetical treatise. Plato's "Republic" is not the government, but in fact, a poem. By confusing the two, you bring on the evils you seek to mitigate. Your libertarian response is as strong as it is shallow.

"My understanding is that Plato advocated both rigid censorship and Nazi-like eugenics."

"Rigid censorship." Would you prefer easy-going censorship? Don't allow children to watch snuff films---except on Tuesdays.

'Nazi-like eugenics.' So Plato was like Darwin? I'm not sure what text you're referring to, but before you make a charge like that, you should at least quote the text. I've heard Plato accused of being a communist, but never a nazi.

At 12/10/2011 9:51 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...


"Rigid censorship." Would you prefer easy-going censorship? Don't allow children to watch snuff films---except on Tuesdays.

That's a pretty thin argument for censorship. A culture can produce explicit material and still restrict access to certain groups. Anything more is about restricting the rights of adults, which never ends well.

At 12/10/2011 1:28 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

Brady, when you say Republic is a poem or a comedy or a hypothesis, you're taking refuge in chicanery and tacitly admitting that if Republic is taken at face value, it's appalling. Consider these quotations:

Bk II--Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction, and let the censors receive any tale of fiction which is good, and reject the bad; and we will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorized ones only.
[You don't have a problem with that? Or with the prohibition of certain kinds of music and loud laughter? Or the banishment of dramatists?]

Bk III--And god proclaims as a first principle to the rulers, and above all else, that there is nothing which they should so anxiously guard, or of which they are to be such good guardians, as of the purity of the race. [Smack of Nazism? Ethnic cleansing? Sterilization of the unfit? Genocide of "inferior races"?]

Bk. V--Well,I said, the principle has been already laid down that the best of either sex should be united with the best as often, and the inferior with the inferior, as seldom as possible; and that they should rear the offspring of the one sort of union, but not of the other, if the flock is to be maintained in first-rate condition.[You have no problem with any of this? Doesn't this smack of the infanticide practiced by the fascist Sparta, which Plato admired? Plato would allow only men 30-35 and women 20-40 to procreate, and he'd have any child conceived under state-prohibited circumstances aborted or murdered. That doesn't give you pause?]

Unlike Plato, I believe in the primacy of the individual over the state. I oppose despotic pressures to conform to herd mentality. You know about the eyeball lottery? There are lots of blind people, so the government forces people with two good eyes to donate one eye. The recipients are chosen by lottery. A good idea? Of course not. But why? If this egalitarian redistribution of eyeballs ensures that almost everyone will be able to see, and if the eyeballs can be removed painlessly, what's the problem? The problem is that no one can take away your body parts--even for a good cause--without your consent. You own yourself. No philosopher king has a right to regard you as a means to the realization of his utopian vision. You're a sovereign individual with your own projects.

At 12/10/2011 2:51 PM, Anonymous David said...

It has been argued by some scholars, e.g., Hans Georg Gadamer in Plato and the Poets, that The Republic is actually an ironic depiction of a dystopia. Thoughts on this theory?

At 12/11/2011 8:31 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...


"That's a pretty thin argument for censorship. A culture can produce explicit material and still restrict access to certain groups. Anything more is about restricting the rights of adults, which never ends well."

But yours is equally 'a pretty thin argument' against censorship. Censorship is a normal part of any society. Larry Flynt censors. It's part of existence. We all censor ourselves, in acting and thinking. We often don't know when we are doing it, but we are doing it, and when we do it, it's not necessarily a bad thing. I agree censorship ofen has a time and place, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't exist, or is without good or benefit. I suppose all would admit, no matter how moral or loose they happen to be, that censorship should always be as limited as possible and is a necessary evil---on that we can all agree---we're arguing about the details, not the thing itself, which all admit must exist to some degree. In my ideal society, let me censor the children, and in yours, you can *not* censor the adults. Which will be the happier, safer, and more thoughtful society? I have a hunch mine will be.

At 12/11/2011 9:24 AM, Blogger David said...

Following is a short poem that was read by Monica Tranströmer on behalf of her husband at the Nobel Prize banquet. I find it apropos of our discussion of labels, censorship, and poetic immodesty ...

Tired of all who come with words, words but no language
l went to the snow-covered island.
The wild does not have words.
The unwritten pages spread out on all sides!
I come upon the tracks of roe deer in the snow.
Language but no words.

At 12/11/2011 9:24 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...


You've misread my comment. You made an argument for rigid censorship by saying the alternative is that we allow children access to pornographic material.

My point was that there is an acceptable level of censorship that allows both the existence of explicit material and restricts that access to people for whom the content may be too mature.

Strict censorship goes beyond that. We can't read books that have scenes pornographic in nature. The human body cannot be shown bare. Music cannot be disseminated through the airwaves and internet that contains explicit language. Beyond all this, discussing anything explicit becomes taboo, which has been shown to be harmful again and again.

What about my argument is saying that it shouldn't exist?

Lastly, I'm not interested in playing your game of who has a better ideal version of the world. It's possible to talk about concepts without taking them to extremes like that.

At 12/11/2011 9:51 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...


Book II---Censoring what stories are told to children? But this is normally done in all societies.

Smut has certain legal rights, but it's censored as well, to differing degrees.

A utopian text is going to theorize on what is best for society. Subsequent ideals, in order to protect the rights of individuals, still must come up against 'Plato's test' or the 'Utopian test'---any legislator is going to advance a law by saying 'this is best, ultimately for all of us' and then debate follows. There's never any one right answer. Utopia-building is a bitch, but it should always be done, because if you give up, the strong will simply take over, and then you've got 'might makes right,' the default government. Never give up philosophy---no one said you have to agree with everyting in "The Republic."

The 'eyeball lottery' which makes the blind see is a rich example of how complex issues often have two complicated sides. You are against the lottery because you want to protect the superiors (two eyes) against the inferiors (blind)---you are taking the position you would seem to be against, the position you ascribe to Plato! But you cleverly pretend to be for the 'individual,' when you are really for the rights of superiors! Your 'individual' is code for 'superior,' since 'inferiors' always benefit when 'society as a whole' is the first consideration. See how compex these issues can be?

Book III -that's a mistranslation; "race" is properly translated as "nation" for Plato; "tribe" refers to what we think of as "race." Also, this is in the context of Plato's gold, silver, brass, and iron, which refers to levels of general goodness, not racial attributions. If you want real racisim, check out Ralph Waldo Emerson's 'English Traits.' Plato wrote on every subject; racism and slavery existed as quite normal things in his time, (and unfortunately prejudice and subjugation still exist today) and he's remarkably free of those vices.


At 12/11/2011 9:52 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...


continued, part II

Book V---the best should mate with the best. We are taught to wince at this principle, to be wary of it, due to events in the 20th century. We should be on guard against this idea because of its history. But as a general concept, uttered in an ancient utopian text, one can see the plain logic; and in the realm of pure logic, it's hard to argue with; just as a healthy body is a worthy aim, and the healthy body should please the soul that resides in that body, so we would seek to increase health by matching healthy bodies and healthy minds---in the same person---so, we do *not* say: 'here's a smart person, so their goodness must reside in their mind, not in their body---no, instead, we should care for *both* the body and the mind; likewise just as we assume a good mind also needs a good body, we shouldn't assume that a healthy person will automatically create health in the presence of sickness; advocating for 'purity' is only an acknowledgement that ill health can actively corrupt and we should be on guard against active disease. The Black Death wiped out healthy people, too. A lot of this changes with new medical knowledge that Plato would not have had, (though this can be a two-edged sword; if you are an older person who wishes to have a baby today, doctors now earnestly warn you of the increased chances of having a less-than-perfect child.) That's all this simple decree would have signified to Plato; only in corrupt *practice* would it lead to horrors like infanticide or genocide. Pro-abortion advocates use a version of this principle to jusity their philosophy: life is qualified; breeding is qualified; it shouldn't be automatic. To be wary of benign principles simply because they can be corrupted in practice only makes corrupt practice more possible in general. The Nazis were not theoretically sound; they were madmen---without philosophy. They were murderers; Plato does not condone murder or savagery or oppression. To paint Plato as a Nazi is a Nazi act in itself, a blow against philosophy.

At 12/11/2011 10:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pass the hemlock, please.


At 12/11/2011 10:18 AM, Blogger David said...


I'd like to see if we can circle back around to Plato's criteria for the sort of poetry that should thrive in a state conceived on principles of Justice (and we should indeed recall that Justice, not the "ideal State", was Plato's theme in The Republic). I was reading yesterday Robinson Jeffers' preface to Tamar and Other Poems, wherein Jeffers articulates what he sees as the criteria of poetry worthy of the name, i.e., it must deal with "permanent things", it must be rhythmic, and it must be free of affectation. I hear in Jeffers certain echoes of Plato.

At 12/11/2011 10:28 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...


John Stuart Mill, a defender of the 'eccentric individual' against all political systems, nevertheless, like all political thinkers, had his 'systems,' as all thinker must, whether they say they do, or no. I mention him because he coined 'dystopia' in describing Irish land reforms. But since 'dystopia' is the flip of 'utopia,' it cannot but find itself forced to answer the same questions. Plato was better than to play games of this sort; knowing how Plato thinks, I have no doubt his "Republic" is a utopia, even with all the problems that stance is naturally forced into. Edgar Poe used Mill as a whipping boy re: truth and the senses.

At 12/11/2011 10:37 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...


"Lastly, I'm not interested in playing your game of who has a better ideal version of the world."

Why not? It's the best game in the world.

The game you do seem interested in playing, however, is dismissing a great philosopher's utopian suggestions because you vaguely deem him a censor, and dismissing anyone who might defend Plato as a censor.

There's all kinds of ways to be a censor: abstract artists are censors---they never show the body 'bare.' Art may be one thing and society another---or maybe not.

I'm saying censorship is a natural part of life and art, and what we 'leave out' (censor) is as important as what we 'put in,' whether we are talking about a poem, or a society. Surely there are greater challenges speaking of a society, rather than a poem; the greatest poets are up to that challenge; the minor poets are not.

At 12/11/2011 10:38 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

Pass the hemlock, please.


drinking kool-aid instead.

At 12/11/2011 10:38 AM, Blogger David said...

Tom, I agree. Plato didn't play games, although he did have a refined sense of irony. Essentially, The Republic is a serious philosophical quest for the true nature of Justice. In that context, Plato's view of poetry raises some rather interesting questions for poets today -- philosophical questions, not political.

At 12/11/2011 11:08 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...


'Justice' as the theme of "The Republic."

True. From "Measure For Measure:"

"Of government the properties to unfold,
Would seem in me to affect speech and discourse;
Since I am put to know that your own science
Exceeds, in that, the lists of all advice
My strength can give you: then no more remains,
But that to your sufficiency as your Worth is able,
And let them work. The nature of our people,
Our city's institutions, and the terms
For common justice, you're as pregnant in
As art and practise hath enriched any
That we remember. There is our commission,
From which we would not have you warp. Call hither,
I say, bid come before us Angelo."

Angelo takes the reigns, but Duke Vincentio is careful to hide himself and watch the proceedings.

Art (practice) is watched by philosophy (hidden). If the philosophy is not hidden, it becomes mere practice; if the art doesn't please philosophy, it might as well be hidden.

Jeffers had a powerful philosophy, but it ruined his poetry, since that philosophy lives on the surface of his poetry.

For instance, "Signpost:"

"Civilized, crying how to be human: this will tell you how.
Turn outward, love things, not men, turn away from humanity,
Let that doll be.


Lean on the silent rock until you feel its divinity...


...But now you are free, even to become human,
But born of the rock and the air, not of a woman."

The muscle of this poem lies entirely in its philosophy, and nothing else. Had the philosophy been hidden, we might have found his poetry more engaging.

At 12/11/2011 11:15 AM, Blogger David Grove said...


I'm not trying to protect superiors against inferiors. A distinction between superior and inferior people was lightyears from my mind. I want to protect citizens against govvernment's tendency to violate human rights. You have a right to liberty, as the Declaration of Independence says. That means the government should in no way abridge free speech. And you should be free to mate with anyone you want--to make a disastrous match, even. Procreation should not be state-controlled in the way Plato advocates. That's compulsory eugenics. And Plato advocated the practice of infanticide. A child born by a woman over 40 or sired by a man under 30 would be aborted or murdered; deformed children or children of "inferior" parents would be hidden "in some mysterious unknown place." The Nazis practiced eugenics and infanticide, too. There's a similarity. But you can still read Plato, just as you can still read Heidegger, Pound, and Celine.

At 12/11/2011 11:23 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...


You're putting words in my mouth and responding to arguments I never made. My latest few comments have all been in reaction to you suggesting that without rigid censorship, we would be permitting children unrestricted access to pornography.

Now you're arguing from the middle ground when you're the one who offered that insane hyperbole in the first place.

At 12/11/2011 1:42 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...


The Editor

“I’m not finding many references in this poetry.”

“This is true… I write poems, not puzzles.
It’s not an English test, you know.”

“Yes, but shouldn’t there be more depth?
I’m not seeing much history.”

“Depth? I wrote about a beautiful Tiger Swallowtail
eaten by an ugly featherbare, old grackle.
What does that mean? Explain this mystery!
What value is put on beauty by death?
What purpose the esoteric and arcane?
A poem should be a pleasure…words to enjoy,
to enlighten, make easily plain.
It should be old but familiar, even if new,
not an enigma that requires a degree to explain.
Let the students study the scholars.
Let the rest of us hear poetry.”

Copyright 2008 – Softwood-Seventy-eight Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

At 12/11/2011 2:12 PM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

Poetry is the afterthought of philosophy. After much mental wrestling, after much heart's anguish, after much wordless joy, poetry leaks, and if it happens to fall through the filter of disciplined craft, a poem! Some think a poem arrives before philosophy, or in spite of it. No, it always comes after it.

Philosophy is what helped us escape nature and build the city that protects us. The 'nature poet' would like to think they write from some 'natural' and 'pre-philosophical' impulse, but they do not. The pre-philosophical poem would be grunts and chirps, and hence the 'nature poet' is an oxymoron.

I don't care how many craven inuendos and mistranslations are brought to bear against Plato by the crude and resentful. So many attacks on Plato so far, without quoting the text, but mere hearsay! Plato is the mountain of many lovely springs. When we sit down under a tree to make our philosophy of our society, should our philosophy get into the purposes of a tyrannical mind, so will our minds be tainted, like the dyer's hand

At 12/11/2011 2:51 PM, Blogger David said...

... hence the 'nature poet' is an oxymoron

Interesting irony here, when it is noted (and perhaps rightly) that a "nature poet" like Jeffers let his poetry be killed by his philosophy. :-)

At 12/11/2011 3:31 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

I was referring to statements like these in Book V:

A woman, I said, at twenty years of age may begin to bear children to the State, and continue to bear them until forty; a man may begin at five-and-twenty, when he has passed the point at which the pulse of life beats quickest, and continue to beget children until he be fifty-five.

Any one above or below the prescribed ages who takes part in the public hymeneals shall be said to have done an unholy and unrighteous thing; the child of which he is the father, if it steals into life, will have been conceived under auspices very unlike the sacrifices and prayers, which at each hymeneal priestesses and priest and the whole city will offer, that the new generation may be better and more useful than their good and useful parents, whereas his child will be the offspring of darkness and strange lust.

And the same law will apply to any one of those within the prescribed age who forms a connection with any woman in the prime of life without the sanction of the rulers; for we shall say that he is raising up a bastard to the State, uncertified and unconsecrated.

And we grant all this, accompanying the permission with strict orders to prevent any embryo which may come into being from seeing the light; and if any force a way to the birth, the parents must understand that the offspring of such an union cannot be maintained, and arrange accordingly.

The children of good parents they will take to a rearing pen in the care of nurses living apart in a certain section of the city; the children of inferior parents, or any child of the others born defective, they will hide, as it is fitting, in a secret and unknown place.

At 12/11/2011 3:53 PM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...


"... hence the 'nature poet' is an oxymoron

Interesting irony here, when it is noted (and perhaps rightly) that a "nature poet" like Jeffers let his poetry be killed by his philosophy. :-)"

I suppose one could say the first philosophy is Nature's, and Man's philosophy is a correction to that original philosophy---and so all 'nature poets' are faced with the paradox of participating in that correction, which by its very nature 'spoils' Nature with its poetry; if the 'nature poet' encourages nature-contemplation, it's Man they are talking to and will always be talking to; if the 'nature poet' attempts to replicate Nature herself in the poetry, they woefully fail, since how can marks on a page compete with Nature? And all that's left is some path that leads away from Nature and speaks on behalf of Man in some manner. This is why Socrates says in "The Phaedrus" that he doesn't leave the city gates for the wild, and prefers to learn from Man.

This thread began as a discussion of music, and since music is 'speechless' we sometimes think this is a way of experiencing Nature, of 'getting back' to the larger reveries of natural bliss; no 'philosophy' necessary in music's sensual waves; certainly the ectstasy of music can approach the feeling of having the sun, or a lake, on our skin.

John Gallaher's a music fan; I'm sure John also loves Nature, and experiences Nature in the music he loves, and does *not* experience Nature in Gary Fitzgerald's 'nature poetry,' which for all its glorious simplicity, Gallaher probably experiences more as one of the annoyances of Man's philosophical discursiveness.

To get back to our original topic, jazz suffers today from being at the same time too urbane (human) and too speechless (natural).

At 12/11/2011 4:31 PM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...


You are doing it again!

You quoted out-of-context. The passage below does not refer to children of the State born to parents of incorrect age, but only to offspring when mothers sleep with their sons or fathers sleep with their daughters---that's a little different!

"And we grant all this, accompanying the permission with strict orders to prevent any embryo which may come into being from seeing the light; and if any force a way to the birth, the parents must understand that the offspring of such an union cannot be maintained, and arrange accordingly."

I don't agree with this passage, and I would happily abort it from most of what I admire in Plato, but you've deliberately tried to make it look much worse than it is.
You are faulting Plato for objecting to fathers sleeping with their daughters, or---what you've really done---is you've made it look like this opposition is another kind entirely, one involving a much larger population.

We must remember too, that the whole discussion of breeding for the state in the "Republic" is done in an especially fanciful and self-conscious manner, and there's a sense that Socrates realizes it will never fly: not allowing parents to know who their children are? Having a child and giving it to a nursery, so that no parent owns their children? Yet at the same time, the idea is brilliant; taking away 'pride' and 'ownership' and 'toil' and 'care' from breeding and giving it over to nurses? Think of mothers in the Victorian era and the hell of that child-bearing, all that suffering and sorrow, especially with infant mortality at 40%. Plato's plan would have relieved so much of this suffering from mothers. Is the plan finally viable? Probably not, but the speculation has merit.

The "Republic" is speculation, not law.

Book V, especially for its time, is an extremely powerful document for woman's equality, way ahead of many 'liberals' even into the 20th century.

At 12/11/2011 5:11 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

Okay, Brady. There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in reading Plato.

But I hope you don't reread him too late, like this guy:

At 12/11/2011 7:09 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

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At 12/11/2011 9:02 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

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At 12/11/2011 10:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad no one's made the allegation that Plato, in addition to being a Nazi, committed literary fraud by attributing his own ideas to Socrates.

Please keep quiet on this subject or I'll be forced to sue Kent.


At 12/12/2011 12:04 PM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...


Herman Melville's greatest ambition was to be a poet.

Poor bastard.

At 12/12/2011 12:05 PM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

Sit down, Paul! I can't see Kent Johnson.


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