It gives me a great deal of pleasure, satisfaction and even excitement to announce that The Agonist will soon have a new Editor-In-Chief:
A friend sent me an email today, quoting an Opinion from The Spectator, in which the writer was bemoaning that NYC is not what it was in his younger days. My response to her email was:
A blend of truth and I’m-getting-old-and-the-world-is-going-to-Hell-in-a-handcart, which they’ve found scratched on the walls in Pompeii.
Grandma knew the river would be high. The snowpack was still melting even in mid-July. The ranchers in the valley would be wearing grins like hogs at a slop bucket as they saw their pastures and hayfields sprout with the bounty from the San Juans. She always had water for her own herd and hay crop, since grandpa had dug a ditch from Devil’s Creek to fill a couple of large ponds on the upper and lower pastures. Devil’s Creek never dried up – Charles had picked the right spot for his ranch and worked hard to make a go of it.
Why Poetry Matters
What is the point of an art form so utterly uncommercial, impractical, and distant from the prosaic focus of our daily routine?- Julian H Lowenfeld
The point, as Wordsworth put it, is that “the world is too much with us, late and soon…” and we sometimes need release from that imprisonment of our mind and soul.
We need poetry because “Poetry is the link between the real and the ideal worlds” and without an Ideal, the Real descends to chaos and decay and barbarism.
And the less we seek and experience the ideal, the faster and worse our descent. Poetry civilizes us by keeping us in touch with what really matters.
Years ago, browsing through the great bookstores that used to be so plentiful, I began to wonder if anyone read poetry except poets and the occasional reluctant student. Certainly many people dabble in writing poetry, and while chatting with others in the poetry section, I found all of us were ‘amateur poets’. I suspect we dilettantes are the only market for poetry, a fact that professional poets probably find depressing. (Many poets of an earlier time had mundane professional lives. Their poetry was ‘dilettante’ by definition, but age seems to have cast a patina of respectability over their efforts. Go figure.)
Back in my Greenwich Village days in the golden ’60s, I wrote pretty consistently, to the point that I finally had to decide whether I wanted to Become-A-Poet or just write poems. I very deliberately chose a different livelihood. Marriage and family were added to the mix, and poetry was moved to the back burner. Whether I should have taken the other road is a question that will always haunt me.
It wasn’t so much a question of time to write, as a poem can be written in a matter of minutes. However, it may take hours or days or even weeks to achieve the necessary mental and emotional ambience for those few minutes of actual creation. I passed on becoming a poet because I was unwilling to accept, or at least uncertain about living in a poet’s mindset. And if you know much about the lives of most modern poets, you can understand my reluctance. There are many poets whose work I respect and love – and whose lives I would definitely not want to emulate. (My liver probably wouldn’t take it).
To the extent that art concerns itself with the Ideal World, artists will always be out of step with those whose lives are an attempt to master the Real World. Neither the artist nor the non-artist will ever really ‘master’ their respective worlds, but at least the artist is striving for something worth attaining, something which is intrinsically valuable.
In my view, art of any sort has two components. The first, and lesser of the two, is the craft to embody the artist’s perception. The more vital component is that perception; the ability to look at the same things we all look at and see something different, something extra, something beyond. It is this ability of the artist which expands our perception, enhances our grasp of the world, increases our humanity. All true art does that.
Poety is “Language that tells us  something that can not be said…” – E. A. Robinson
Sir Philip Sidney also noted “…poetry is of all human learnings the most ancient  from whence other learnings take their beginnings…”
Man’s first attempt to grasp the nature of the world and our place in it was expressed in poetry. It was the language of Truth and universally recognized as such by all cultures. It is no accident the ancient bards stood high at the king’s court; that a composition of a bard might settle a dispute that would otherwise mean battle; that all tribal societies seem to have a sacred language.
How does one identify poetry? Robert Graves quoted Houseman’s practical test:
Does it make the hairs of one’s chin bristle if one repeats it silently while shaving?
I have my own criterion:
Can I recite it aloud without breaking down mid-poem
The final chorus of Eric Bogle’s “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda:
But the band plays Waltzing Matilda and the old men still answer the call,
But as year follows year, more old men disappear.
Someday no on will march there at all.
Padriac Pearse’s “The Mother”
I do not grudge them: Lord, I do not grudge
My two strong sons that I have seen go out
To break their strength and die, they and a few,
In bloody protest for a glorious thing,
They shall be spoken of among their people,
The generations shall remember them,
And call them blessed;
But I will speak their names to my own heart
In the long nights;
The little names that were familiar once
Round my dead hearth.
Lord, thou art hard on mothers:
We suffer in their coming and their going;
And tho’ I grudge them not, I weary, weary
Of the long sorrow–And yet I have my joy:
My sons were faithful, and they fought.
Excerpt from Padriac Pearse’s “The Fool”
And the wise have pitied the fool that hath striven to give a life
In the world of time and space among the bulks of actual things,
To a dream that was dreamed in the heart, and that only the heart could hold.
Think this is Arthur Symons from Poetica Erotica anthology but could not verify
All that I know of love, I learned from you,
And I know all that lover ever knew,
Since – passionately loving to be loved –
The subtlties of your wise body moved
My senses to a curiousity
And your wise heart adorned itself for me.
Did you not teach me how to love you? How
to win you? How to suffer? I suffer
For you now with that same skill
Of self-consuming ecstatsy whose thrill
– may Death someday the thought of it remove –
You gathered from the very hands of Love.
The American Way
Excerpt from The American Way – Gregory Corso
What is the Way?
The Way was born out of the American Dream a
The state of Americans today compared to the Americans
of the 18th century proves the nightmare—
Not Franklin not Jefferson who speaks for America today
but strange red-necked men of industry
and the goofs of show business.
Americans are a great people
I ask for some great and wondrous event
that will free them from the Way
and make them a glorious purposeful people once
I do not know if that event is due deserved
or even possible
I can only hold that man is the victory of life
And I hold firm to American man.
What poets/poems enrich your life?
h/t Carol Lea Booth And as long as we’re on the subject…
There’s a bit of dialog I always liked in the novel ‘Lord Johnnie’:
“How did you get to be so hellish wise, old one?”
“You can’t travel a long road without picking up some dust.”
In that vein, I offer the following dust:
Most people acquire some understanding of the world, correct or otherwise, in early adulthood and cling to that no matter what happens. They haven’t had a new thought since they found out little boys are different from little girls (they’re still working out the implications on that one). They think at 40 or 50 or 60 pretty much the same as they thought at 25. Aside from whether or not their original understanding was correct, the world changes and they don’t.
(A lot of marital problems arise from similar cause:
She marries thinking she can change Him. She can’t.
He marries thinking She will never change. She does.)
…but I digress…
From time to time, I systematically re-examine my beliefs as a way to improve my understanding of the world and integrate new ideas and experiences into my decision-making process – and hopefully avoid becoming an old fart (which has worked better than expected but not as well as it should).
It’s a habit I got into in my teens when I could no longer ignore the disconnect between the reality I saw around me and the Establishment view of life, religion, politics, morals, culture, truth, Justice and The American Way.
That is, the hypocrisy was beginning to wear thin.
Over several years I separated what I believed because I’d experienced it or figured it out myself and what I had accepted because it was taught by others. I wanted to be able to predict everything so I could be prepared to handle whatever came down the pike.
In other words, I was insecure.
A lot of bullshit got dumped, but unfortunately more accumulates, so I repeat the process periodically.
Although I try, I guess I’m just not cynical enough to avoid collecting some of the bullshit.
(I don’t think anyone is immune to bullshit and wouldn’t want to know anyone who was).
Over the years I have discovered several things:
1) Robbie Burns was right – “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.”
2) I can successfully fly by the seat of my pants most of the time.
3) When #2 fails, advance knowledge wouldn’t have helped anyway.
4) The simplest things are usually the most important and valuable.
Regarding #1, for various reasons, some under my control, some not, my nest egg got scrambled. I now look forward to an involuntary retirement with reduced income. However, because of #2, it may well be the best thing that could have happened at this point in my life. If I had retired several years ago and committed myself to the lifestyle of the day, I’d be much worse off when the shit hits the fan in the next few years. Forcing me to re-target my future now was a favor.
Now I just have to keep #3 & #4 in mind…
I am reminded of #4 by Don’s post of the video interview with Dmitri Orlov. A great takeaway line when he remarked that immigrants were sending money home – “take care of others and they’ll take care of you”.
Having spent most of my adult life in highly intellectual pursuits – computer programming & hi-tech, voracious reading, writing, etc. – I find myself lacking many of the skills that are useful in a downsized, community-based world.
I do not have as much to offer others as I would like, both for their sake and my own.
I am therefore in the process of relearning some of the skills of my youth: gardening, rough carpentry and cabinetry, food preservation (gotta learn to make cheese!). If time and opportunity permit, I will get into masonry, homebuilding and geology/mineralogy (lot of prospecting to be done in my calf country).
I am also learning spinning, weaving and metalworking – hobby crafts today, possible necessities tomorrow.
Making myself more independent is good. Using whatever skills I have to help others is good.
Though I’m improving, right now I still live too much in the ‘money economy’ but there are some benefits to that.
I spend a lot of time Online – reading, learning, downloading, communicating and shopping.
Figure I might as well get as much as I can out of the high-tech world while it lasts.
Within the next 12-18 months, I expect to be building a new home, as off-the-grid as possible, in the small town where I grew up.
I want to do as much as I can (at 74) of the actual construction myself, but I will surely benefit from members of my extended family who have significant skills in that area.
I will probably blog about it as I go along and once I get started I’ll post a link here for anyone who’s interested.
…assuming I (and you) still have electricity and Internet access…